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30 December 2015

January Watercolor Challenge

The LDS Mother's Educational Course is getting re-organized again (yay!!). This course has been so good for me - it's how I finally learned to study and understand self-education - and we're going to do some more of it, and I get to put together a monthly watercolor challenge each month this year. I'm excited. I had gotten busy, and my study sort of took me in another direction for a while, but I can't wait to do some shared study with the girls again. I gathered up a number of tutorials a while back, but I haven't done much with them, so putting together some stuff for the group ought to be just what I need to get my stuff put together so that I actually do the painting. So, here's what I've got this month:

First, a quick discussion of basic supplies. Then, here's this comparison of nice paint vs. cheap paint. It was pretty interesting -- the Crayola paint actually stood up better than I expected it to, but not layering very well is a problem. At our house, Hero(9) and I both have our own paint pallets with tube paints; pallets are cheap, and our tube paints are not too expensive, and, much as I love him, it was annoying to share with him: we organize our colors very differently, particularly when mixing. Dragon(5) will be ready for his own pallet soon, probably.

Also, before getting out the paints, read chapters 1 and 2 of The Artist's Watercolor Guide: Understanding the Palette, Pigments, and Properties. There are no exercises in these chapters, exactly, though there are a number of ways of fiddling with the paints that could be suggested by the text, particularly experimenting with blending colors. You could also play around with the kinds of exercises from the paint comparison, and use them to get to know your colors better.

I'm suggesting two projects this month:

1. Using this tutorial, experiment with wet-lifting techniques. Don't worry about what it looks like; this activity is about learning, so that later projects will be better because you've messed around with the tools and techniques before you start a more formal project. Relax and have fun with it.

2. Choose a master watercolor artist (there's a list here and here and here, and I'm sure there's others) to imitate for the next several months, and copy a painting or a detail from a painting.

When you have some projects to show off, join us on Facebook so we can oooh and aaah over your work!

12 December 2015

An Example of the Believers (part 2)

Part 1 is here.

We should be an example of the believers~

In Spirit

President Monson said, of those who are successfully being an example in spirit:

We experience a special feeling when we are with them, a feeling that makes us want to associate with them and to follow their example. They radiate the Light of Christ and help us feel His love for us. (Be an Example and a Light)

This radiance of the Light of Christ is what Elder Ballard was hoping that we would allow others to see when he encouraged us to build gospel-sharing homes, and then allow our friends to come into them.

Now, the Greek that this comes from is extremely interesting. The Greek word, pneuma, is used 350 times in the Bible. Strong's says that it means "a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, demon, or (divine) God, Christ's spirit, the Holy Spirit:—ghost, life, spirit(-ual, -ually), mind." It reminds me forcefully of some of the Eastern philosophy I've rubbed up against. Very interesting. This section has really made me slow down and ponder what is being conveyed here.

What is it to be an example of the believers in spirit?  In our "rational soul"? Our "vital principle"? Our "mental disposition"? Surely we're not talking about skin-deep Sunday Christianity, here. This is no pretended virtue that our Prophet recommended to us in his extremity! This is something much more. The idea of a current of air or breath reminds me of how God put into us our spirits - the breath of life - and we were alive. It's THAT fundamental. No wonder the scriptures talk about a "mighty change" in our hearts. This goes right to the center of what it is to be alive, to be fully human, to be made (and remade) in the Divine image.

No wonder, then, that -

We experience a special feeling when we are with them, a feeling that makes us want to associate with them and to follow their example. They radiate the Light of Christ and help us feel His love for us.

In Faith

To be an example of faith means that we trust in the Lord and in His word.
-Thomas S. Monson, Be an Example and a Light (emphasis added)

Faith can be hard to really distinguish from trust in the Lord, because the two are so closely related. The more we trust Him, the more our faith grows. Or maybe it grows the other way, sometimes: the more our faith grows, the more completely we are able to trust in Him. In His words, in His timing, in His guidance - even when we can't see how it makes sense, or it leads away from what we think we want or need. Trusting Him means understanding that His ways are higher, better than ours, that He is wiser that we are, and able to counsel us wisely. No matter the topic, no matter the cost; His ways are better.

To be an example of faith means that we trust in the Lord and in His word. It means that we possess and that we nourish the beliefs that will guide our thoughts and our actions. Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in our Heavenly Father will influence all that we do. Amidst the confusion of our age, the conflicts of conscience, and the turmoil of daily living, an abiding faith becomes an anchor to our lives. Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.
-Thomas S. Monson, Be an Example and a Light

There was a lot of talk at the October Conference of how to go about nourishing our beliefs. I counted 5 different speakers who asked us to read and ponder our scriptures. And I don't think that I caught this one, from President Monson, where he said, "Nourish the beliefs that will guide our thoughts and actions," since he didn't come right out and say the words, "read your scriptures." (It's easy to miss things when you're watching with little kids!)

In Alma's sermon to the Zoramite poor, I think it's interesting that he compares faith to a seed. Not that this is particularly earth-shattering news; most people who have any familiarity with the Book of Mormon at all are going to be at least passingly familiar with this comparison, because it gets discussed frequently. But I think it's interesting because it's such a plain thing. A seed. We help our toddlers plant them in clear plastic cups so they can see the magic of a seed - and that with very little help. Some few types of seeds are fussy things, but when I think of seeds, I think of those cups we do with toddlers. As long as the toddler doesn't knock them over (too many times) or completely drown them, they're going to start growing. If you put it in damp dirt, there will be a plant. So what does that say about faith?

Paul taught that faith comes by hearing the word of God. Such a simple thing: exposure to God's word - to scripture. It's simple, like the kindergartner's seed. Just bring the elements together, and let the miracle happen. No wonder they're asking us to read our scriptures. Brother Uchtdorf said it like this:

Brothers and sisters, living the gospel doesn’t need to be complicated.

It is really straightforward. It could be described like this:

  • Hearing the word of God with earnest intent leads us to believe in God and to trust His promises.
  • The more we trust God, the more our hearts are filled with love for Him and for each other.
  • Because of our love for God, we desire to follow Him and bring our actions in alignment with His word.
  • Because we love God, we want to serve Him; we want to bless the lives of others and help the poor and the needy.
  • The more we walk in this path of discipleship, the more we desire to learn the word of God.
And so it goes, each step leading to the next and filling us with ever-increasing faith, hope, and charity.

It is beautifully simple, and it works beautifully.

In Purity

Purity is a very interesting word. It comes from the Greek hagneia, meaning cleanliness, and especially chastity. Which really surprised me. I have always understood chastity to be about sexual relations, but that doesn't fit this context very well. Webster's 1828 dictionary has this insight:

CHASTE, adjective
1. Pure from all unlawful commerce of sexes. Applied to persons before marriage, it signifies pure from all sexual commerce, undefiled; applied to married persons, true to the marriage bed.
2. Free from obscenity.
While they behold your chaste conversation. 1 Peter 3:2.
3. In language, pure; genuine; uncorrupt; free from barbarous words and phrases, and from quaint, affected, extravagant expressions.

That made a lot more sense for the context in 1 Timothy 4:12. Be an example by being sexually pure and by avoiding obscenity and "barbarous words and phrases". Thinking about that has made me reconsider some of the things that I occasionally say. Just as modesty is far more than the clothes we wear, the cleanliness that the Lord is trying to help us achieve is far more than sexual purity. We need the whole package to achieve what He has in mind for us: he wants to make us Zion people, heirs and joint heirs with Him. There's an awful lot of insight in this verse as to how that is to be accomplished.

01 December 2015

Commonplace Sampler: November

"Freedom is born of self-discipline. No individual, no nation, can achieve or maintain liberty without self-control. The undisciplined man is slave to his own weaknesses."
-Alan Valentine, quoted by Loren C. Dunn, Freedom of the Press in Our Bicentennial Year

In sudden gusts of temptation, God grant him grace to play the hero, if only through hasty flight; but in what are called besetting sins, there is nothing safe but the contrary besetting good habit. And here is where parents have immense power over the future of their children.
-Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character, p21

Ideas are sparks of truth passed from a great thinker to another mind.
-Colleen Manning, "Toward a Definition of a Living Book"

The Lord will not do for us what we can and should do for ourselves.
-Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of the Prophets ch. 21

Ours is a gospel of work - purposful, unselfish, and rendered in the spirit of the true love of Christ. Only thus may we grow in godly attributes.
Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of the Prophets ch. 21

Energetic, purposeful work lends to vigorous health, praiseworthy achievement, a clear conscience, and refreshing sleep. Work has always been a boon to man. May you have a wholesome respect for labor whether with head, heart, or hand. May you ever enjoy the satisfaction of honest toil... You will never wish or dream yourself into heaven. You must pay the prince in toil, in sacrifice, and righteous living.
-Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of the Prophets ch. 21

"The  world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?"
"As he ever has judged," said Aragorn. "Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house."
-The Two Towers, JRR Tolkien, p 49-50

I am restless over the possibility, ever present, that education may fail to achieve a righteous purpose and be perversely used. We have many examples in the world where the misuse of this power has degraded men rather than exalted them... The voice of atheism, of corruption, of faithlessness, of dissention resounds from a thousand platforms. It is subsidized from public funds. It is invited to the forum in public institutions, tolerated by most, and encouraged by many. The voice of faith, on the other hand, is fading. Few places are left where it might speak. -Boyd K. Packer, BYU Speeches of the Year, 29 April 1969, p.3

30 November 2015

Resources for Learning Japanese

A friend asked me to recommend some materials for learning Japanese, and this is a list of materials and ideas that I use and like.

The very first thing I recommend doing is learning a little about written Japanese. There are categories of things to learn. First, there's hiragana and katakana. These are two ways to write the sounds used in Japanese: they are phonetic alphabets. Hiragana is used for words that are native to the Japanese language; Katakana is used for words borrowed from other languages (there's lots of those) and also for onomatopoeia (Boom! Crash! Pop!). It sounds scarier than it is though, because there's a lot of similarities, and I think it's a lot like learning the upper and lower case letters of the English alphabet. 

So you can learn to recognize and read them from Memrise.com, which is a flashcards site that I use pretty extensively. The boys are both learning to recognize hiragana using this course, and I plan to have Hero work with this one after that, to both solidify his recognition of hiragana, and also to practice reading and begin expanding his vocabulary. (That's less of a priority for Dragon, because he's still learning to read English.) After that, we'll do a search to find a katakana course for the boys to work on, but they're pretty slow. An adult could probably do both alphabets in a few days to a few weeks, depending on the time commitment they were willing to give.

That will teach you to read, but not to write. If you want to write, I think that's a great idea, and will help to solidify. Plus, Japanese writing is beautiful. The first rule of writing Japanese is that you must follow directions. There will be directions for what order to write characters' strokes, and what direction to write them in. This matters; it affects how things look. It really doesn't in English (if you draw the vertical line second, rather that first when you write your T it's not a big deal), but in Japanese, it matters. So when you're ready to tackle writing, pay attention to stroke order. All the dictionaries and other tools will have it for you. Starting out correctly will save you tons of time and trouble. Get something like this printable hiragana chart. I like this one because it shows the stroke order. You can find them for katakana as well, like this. But you don't have to learn to write right away if you don't want to. You can get quite far with the language before you have to learn to write. It will help solidify things and make it easier to remember the kana you learn to read, and I think it's beautiful and fun, but it doesn't have to be first.

Also right near the beginning of your journey, you'll want to find some audio lessons. There are a number of places you can do this. I like JapanesePod101.  They have audio lessons that you can listen to and download. This is a pay site, but it's not very much, and I feel like they're worth it. I've done more 100 of their lessons, and I like them. They cover a lot of practical situations you'd run into in visiting Japan, and have a fair amount of fun culture notes in the lessons. And they'll start to lay down some grammar foundation for you. You can also use Mango, which is available online, and also supposed to be available through quite a few American libraries. Mango is a subscription service, but when I was using it through our library, the library offered it as one of their services, and they picked up the tab.

You'll also want to get a Japanese-English dictionary. I have one on my smartphone, Imiwa, which I love. I use it daily. I learn the sample sentences (more about that in a minute). I listen to the recordings of the words to help my accent. Imiwa is fantastic. And it's not very expensive. Like, free. Also, you'll need a grammar resource. I like Tae Kim's Guide. It's got an app; I can't remember if or how much I paid. But it's a nice one. There's plenty of gammar books on Amazon, too. Some kind of grammar resource is invaluable.

So those are some of the baisc supplies. But wait! There's more! Here are some of the ideas and techniques for using some of those things to start building fluency. A lot of my ideas that I use come from Kahzumoto of All Japanese All the Time. Basically, I do to types of study: the first is pretty typical, the stuff that we think of when we think about studying. I do flashcards. I attempt to read stuff. I look at grammar. I try to do some of that every day. But I also aim to do my second type of study every day: passive exposure to the language. I want to hear native speakers... speaking. And singing. And using their language. I want input.

Theirs is the hypothesis that input (reading, listening) matters more than output (writing, speaking), and that input of high quality and quantity naturally leads to high quality output, without much effort. In English, that means stop talking before you hurt yourself. -Kahzumoto of AJATT

Kahz points out that, as native speakers of English, a very important part of how we learned to speak was that we were surrounded by English: we had a huge amount of passive exposure. And through that we developed a sense of what sounds right together. We don't teach babies grammar; we talk to them. And Kahz suggests that trying to reproduce some of that environmental input will greatly accelerate our acquisition of Japanese, as well as significantly improving our accent. And I've found that to be the case for me. So I listen to a number of news and food podcasts that I've found. 新聞って面白い is a news program. I don't understand much of what they say (yet- I'm getting better), but I find that when I play this for a while I talk to the kids with more Japanese, and I find Japanese floating in my mind more, and I think it helps my accent, too, though I don't have good feedback on that right now. I also like こどもと英語で話そう (click the top of each entry, by the episode numbers to go to the individual podcasts, or look it up in iTunes), because it's got phrases in both English and Japanese, so you can hear them together, and try to say them -- and it's the sort of things that you'd say to kids, which is a huge part of what I'm doing in our work with Japanese.

We also have several playlists that I've created on YouTube. This one is toddler songs. It's full of words for animals, colors, shapes, and the like. My kids like this one quite a lot. The "kira-kira song" that's up first was Peanut's favorite song for a long time.

This list has a bunch of songs from Disney movies, as well as other songs in Japanese.

Shimajiro is a Japanese cartoon aimed at about the same audience as Dora the Explorer or Blues Clues: little kids. Which makes it great for learners, because it's simple words and simple grammar much of the time. And it's for natives, by natives, so even though it  doesn't look like "serious" language learning stuff, it's fantastic.

Speaking of babies and little kids, here's another bit of wisdom from Kahz:

If you forget everything else, dear reader, remember this: when you begin something new, you are a baby. So cut yourself the same slack you would cut a baby, because like them, you’re just starting out, and you will eventually get good at it. Now, I’m not a Hindu, but as the Bible says: in the beginning there was the sucking. And it was good.

Be gentle with yourself. Learning a new language is a HUGE undertaking, and it's going to take time. Expect that. It's ok if progress is slow; slow progress is progress!

As you get into the process a little ways, then start to think about kanji (the characters that each mean a word). Most people will tell you that kanji is the enemy; that it's what makes the languages the Hardest Thing In The World and they'll tell you that kanji are Practically Impossible For Foreigners To Master. Lies! Lies! It's all lies - don't listen to those voices!

Kanji are amazing. Not only are they beautiful - enough that people turn them into art and hang them on walls, or tatoo them on their body, or whatever - but also they are your secret weapon for learning to read Japanese. See, in English, once you know the alphabet, you have to use those 27 symbols to make around 10,000 words that a fluent speaker uses. But the alphabet really doesn't help you with that process. Once you know B, that's great, but it doesn't give you any hints about the meaning of words that use B, not even Bob, or Bubble, which are practically all made from Bs. But kanji do. So when you know that 日 means day, and 今 means now, it's not too surprising when 今日 -now day- means today. That happens a lot. So there's about 2000 kanji on the official lists of kanji that Japanese kids learn in school (and those lists are widely available, and easy to find for study), and they take those 2000 kanji and make bunches and bunches of compound words with them. So, pretty soon after you finish learning the kana on Memrise (or wherever- I hear good things about Anki, too) then start working through a list of kanji. I'm using this one

When you get to where you know a few words, and you understand the most basic of sentences (think, "I am Bob"), then I suggest that you try another of Kahz's ideas: Learn 10,000 sentences. Seriously. His method is amazing. My learning really started to take off when I started doing this (though, I admit, I don't do step 4- write it out by hand). I find it's easier to learn words in context, and, by learning words in a group, you start to get a sense of which words belong together, which is hugely important. It keeps you from saying crazy stuff like, "All your base are belong to us."

Basically, what you're going to do is take sentences that natives made - they can be sample sentences from your dictionary and grammar book, or from the board books you find on Amazon, or websites, or whatever is interesting. But you want sentences from people who know the language; don't -DO NOT- just make up your own. That leads to crazy talk. Get sentences from people who know what they're doing. And make flashcards out of them. I believe that Anki can do that (and may have pre-made decks of cards you can download. There's rumors of such, but I don't use it, so I don't know.). I use StickyStudy, which I like a lot. My sentence deck has about 1,400 sentences in it, and of those, I've learned just over 250, and the rest are in progress. So I still have a long way to go to 10,000. But I'm happy to do it, because it works. And it works in the 5-10 minute chunks that I have available for learning.

So, once you have your sentences, then you make flashcards. And you "pass" a flashcard when you can read the whole thing, without furigana (little hiragana next to kanji to help you know how to pronounce it), and understand the meaning. Both Sticky Study and Anki are spaced repetition systems (SRS), which means that the more times you get your flashcard right, the less frequently they show it to you. So you have a nice balance between new cards you're still working on, and old ones that you are reviewing. Kahz has a more detailed explanation on his site.

And that's the method. I study a bit, every day. And I listen a bit, every day. And I'm making progress. It's exciting. The process takes time. Lots of it - I've been working on it for several years. But that's OK. Babies don't learn overnight - they take years to become fluent adults. Once you have your method, then it's just a matter of finding resources. YouTube has a lot. Our local used bookstore occasionally has Japanese picture books; I check them every few weeks and periodically get something new. Amazon.com has some books on their English site, (they segregate a lot onto Amazon.jp), so searching for "Japanese Edition" is the best search term I've found so far. We have a growing collection of picture books, which are great because it's possible to work your way through a whole book in a reasonable amount of time (harvesting sentences as you go), and finishing a whole book feels really good.

頑張って下さい!Good luck! Enjoy your journey to speaking and reading Japanese!

21 November 2015

FAN Club - In search of Gardners

We have a persistent brick wall on my family's Gardner line, back in Scotland. It's bugged me for years and years. I'm attempting to learn more about the area and the people around my ancestors, in an effort to find where they disappeared to in the preceding generations.  So. I'm told this is called FAN club research. Here's an introduction.

I also located some Family Search pages about the areas these people are from. I know of records that were made in Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland, as well as several parishes in Renfrewshire, Scotland. I've started making a list of all the locations they were in, and after watching the FAN Club video, I will probably move this to a spreadsheet, the more easily to organize and search as I widen my net.

Gonna be an adventure!

19 November 2015

Busy Day

Some days are busier than others. 

Today Dragon is very busy. He's building a library. 

It's serious business. They are happy to loan books. Or sell them, so you can keep then forever. I'm not at all sure which my librarian would prefer. But I did borrow one, and his sister promptly demanded that I read it. Dragon doesn't seem to have time for stories today; he has Things To Do.

Next, the library installed sleeping space. Looks a mite cramped to me, but Dragon is pleased. 

Our "Teddy Bear" joined the game (she says she's Daddy's Teddy Bear), and the library had another nice expansion, courtesy of the kitchen chairs.

I suppose I could have interrupted their play for the book learning I had planned this morning, but play is important. So I didn't. They kept at their game for several hours. We'll actually read a few of those books tomorrow; today they are props.

18 November 2015

Math Games

Every so often, I like to do a section where we just play math, and it's just about time to have a couple of those days. Happily, we have some fun ideas that I've been finding, and I think that we'll be playing for the next couple of days. There's square numbers with pennies, and we tried hexaflexagons before, but they didn't work for us (we learned other fun things, though, and it wasn't wasted time), but a friend sent me the page that she found with templates. These will be on the agenda. Soon.

First, we played a cool multiplication game that I found on Pinterest. We rolled some dice, and colored in a matching rectangle: 2x4 gave us two rows of four. I made a rule that you had to color the correct rectangle, no breaking it up to fit better. At the beginning of the game, this was no big deal. 

But as things went on, and our game board filled up, it became an important rule. 

Not only did we each forfeit rolls that couldn't be placed on the board, but it also became very apparent that, although 2x6 and 3x4 both result in 12 squares, they are not exactly the same - the difference in those two rectangles could make the difference between scoring or not at the end of the game.

We played until we had 12 forfeits in a row; then we added to see who won. 

Hero had never done extreme column addition before, and so this part was also challenging. I showed him how to break it up into manageable chunks, and how to carry when you need to carry a double-didget. It was fun! He wants to play again, and so do I.

Days where we play math are some of the best math days.

06 November 2015

On Classical Education: Cultivating Godly Character

classical education for godly character traits

This post is part of a series:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character (this post)
What is a Student? 
Make Haste Slowly
Much Not Many
Ordered Affections
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Repetition and the Habit of Attention
Embodied Learning (part 1)
Embodied Learning (part 2)Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? (Psalm 8:4)

What is man, that thou shouldst magnify him? (Job 7:17)

One need not grope for answers to these penetrating questions ... “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9). “Ye … are … a spiritual house, an holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5).
-Thomas S. Monson, April 1988

Our little ones are no less than the Children of God. What education is suitable for God's children? What kind of education awakens and nurtures their divine spark, enabling them to obey the Savior's injunction to be perfect, and grow toward their potential as joint-heirs with Christ?

Given this view of the students, it makes perfect sense that the development of godly character should be the true aim of education. Knowing why provides the motivation, but there still remains the question of how best to go about offering this sort of education to my children. It will not, I think, be merely adding "character" classes to the lineup, alongside the math, history, science, and so on that we are already studying.

So, I began to ask myself, "How does one develop good character, and how can education be a tool in this process?" The first step is to reintroduce God to education.

“[T]he knowledge of God is the principal knowledge, and the chief end of education.
-Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education

"Our children should be indoctrinated in the principles of the Gospel from their earliest childhood. They should be made familiar with the contents of the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. These should be their chief text books, and everything should be done to establish and promote in their hearts genuine faith in God, in His Gospel and its ordinances, and in His works."
-Wilford Woodruff (source)

Wherever possible, scripture should be introduced into education. Handwriting practice can include verses from the Standard Works. Memorization of scripture, poetry, and other uplifting materials is appropriate for students of all ages. (The Scripture Memory System has been invaluable in our home for this.) Sacred history can and should be reintegrated into the study of history, and the hand of Providence, so often evident in the history of the world, should be discussed whenever it is noted. Current government school practice has made it the norm to divorce education from faith in any and every way, and to belittle, demean, or simply to ignore (as if He was of no consequence) the role of God in history, science, and all other areas of study. This tendency must be resisted. Doing as Wilford Woodruff suggested, and making scripture the first, chief, and most lasting textbook will go far in moulding our own character as well as that of our children, because it will impress upon us and them who they are, what their potential actually is, as well as cultivating the ability to perceive the active hand of our Father in shaping the fate of men and nations.

[T]he development of character comes only as we focus on who we really are. 
-Russell M. Nelson, Living by Scriptural Guidance

From a foundation of scripture, we then must seek for other ways to help our children grow into men and women of good character - and to help them understand why we are guiding them on this path, so that, when they are grown, they will continue along the same lines. Classical Education has a long history and well-worn paths, proven as effective methods of accomplishing these goals. Andrew Kern, quoted in "Classical Paradigm" said this: 

"Classical Education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue through meditating on the good, the true, and the beautiful."

So we put the good, the true and the beautiful in front of our children at every opportunity. One way we can do this is through the use of high quality literature. Indeed, in times past, one of the principle reasons for learning Latin and Greek was to be able to meet the great literature of these cultures in its own language. But even without such accomplishment in foreign languages, there is a wealth of high quality literature available. And when we spend time reading it, all kinds of wonderful things happen. We are exposed to ideas that might otherwise be absent from our circle. And we meet personality types we might not otherwise meet as well. This can be a significant assist as we teach and prepare our children for the wider world, beyond the shelter of our home.

I think, with books, I can warn my children against certain character types long before we actually meet any of them without encouraging a judgmental and critical spirit, and without exposing them to personal unhappiness in the process.
Charlotte Mason, in common with many classical educators, suggests reading good books for their moral lessons as well as for their literary value. The better the literary quality, the more likely it is that the reader will gain something of moral value from his reading. Miss Mason thought that children should be put in touch with the great ideas, with information clothed in literary language provided by great minds. Good books - meaning well-written books - contribute good material for moral growth.
-Wendi Capehart, Books Build Character

I am delighted by this idea that we can use these fictional characters to discuss persons and personalities - all without using specific real world examples, so as to avoid pointing out others' flaws (always a hazardous and questionable occupation) or potentially hurting somebody's feelings. How useful! I think we've already done this, to a certain extent, but now I want to watch our stories not only for the good behavior they may inspire, but also for the less desirable behavior to discuss and ponder. It is a whole class of teaching moments that I hadn't fully recognized in both literature and scripture.

"We know that the pillar of Classical Education is classics. ... A classic is a book, or a work of art or music or anything, which you can read or appreciate again and again and again, and get more out of it each time. ... It's particularly apropos for Christian educators, because implies what is the great classic? The Bible. Which you could read an infinite number of times, and get more out of it each time." -Andrew Pudewa, "What Are We Really Doing Here?"

There are, of course, many other areas of character development. Family work - the process of teaching kids to participate in and value work - is also hugely important.

Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. I don't know that, classically, educators would have had to explicitly include learning to do physical work in the curriculum, but in our day, with so many labor-saving devices, and the overly indulgent attitude towards childrearing  that has become prevalent, I find that it is helpful to specifically include work in our educational routine. And this also serves the ends of a Classical Education:

Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God.
-D. Todd Chirstopherson, Reflections on a Consecrated Life

Including household chores in our routine serves to break up the day, keeping everyone from getting stale from sitting around doing the same thing all the time, it teaches necessary life skills, and is one aspect of how we can teach our children to work hard.

“All true Work is sacred; in all true Work, were it but true hand-labour, there is something of divineness. Labour, wide as the Earth, has its summit in Heaven.”
-Thomas Carlyle, quoted in Reflections on a Consecrated Life

This idea of climbing toward a heavenly summit is really the basis of what happens in a Classical Education. In that process of climbing toward the divine, we are likely to see such fruits as jobs and citizenship, but those things, worthy as they are, are not the end of education in themselves. The education of God's children is much, much more than mere training for a transitory mortal job. It is setting their feet firmly on the path toward their Eternal Home.

03 November 2015

An Example of the Believers (part 1)

At the most recent General Conference, I was really struck by President Monson's Sunday Morning talk, "Be An Example and a Light." He took two New Testament scriptures and made them the basis of his remarks: Matthew 5:16, where the Savior commands us to let our lights shine before men, and also 1 Timothy 4:12:

...but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

I set this up as my first verse to ponderize, but when the first week was done, even though I picked a new verse, I found my thoughts drawn back to this verse. Our prophet struggled through his physical weakness so he could use this verse to teach us. That made a deep impression on me. So I'm spending some quality time studying and pondering this verse. It's not the first time President Monson has used this pair of verses; he also used these same two passages last October in the Priesthood session. Ten years ago this verse provided the title and theme for his remarks to the women of the church. In the time between, the Lord lead other speakers to use this verse nineteen times. I think it is safe to conclude that the Lord considers the message of this verse to be an important one for us to hear. So what is it about? There are six attributes listed. I thought it would be good to go through each of them, and spend some time on each attribute.

In Word

According to Strong's Concordance, word here comes from the Greek logos, which means something said, including thoughts; it's the reasoning and motive. 

We should be an example of the believers in the things we say, but the Lord, as always, is as much or more concerned with the inward parts; we should be an example of the believers in our thoughts, or reasoning, and our motives as well as in what we permit to actually come out of our mouths. It's not enough to say the right things; He wants us to say correct things for correct reasons. 

President Monson said:

Let us speak to others with love and respect, ever keeping our language clean and avoiding words or comments that would wound or offend. May we follow the example of the Savior, who spoke with tolerance and kindness throughout His ministry.

In Conversation

Strong's says that, in the Bible, when they talk about "conversation" they're actually talking about behavior, about the way we live our lives. It's our deportment; the way we conduct ourselves. That's so much more than just what happens when we exchange a few words chatting with someone. Even a lengthy chat.

Brigham Young said,

Kind looks, kind actions, kind words, and a lovely, holy deportment towards [children] will bind our children to us with bands that cannot easily be broken; while abuse and unkindness will drive them from us, and break asunder every holy tie, that should bind them to us and to the everlasting covenant in which we are all embraced. If my family … will not be obedient to me on the basis of kindness, and a commendable life before all men, and before the heavens, then farewell to all influence (Teachings, chapter 23).

That's the kind of "conversation" - our actions, words, and deportment towards others - that President Monson was recommending to us when he talked about modeling our lives the way that this verse suggests. Brother Brigham was speaking specifically about family, but there is no limitation on the verse from Paul - we should be an example of the believers in our conversation. Full stop. No exceptions.

In Charity

Charity is a fascinating thing. It really could have it's own series of posts. Charity is an important ingredient in unity - which we are commanded to have in our families, and in the church. Ultimately, we'll need it in the whole world. When asked what is the greatest commandment, Christ talked about love. Charity is a gift of love – of being able to love, to understand, even the most difficult of people. And, it is a Gift of the Spirit we are commanded to seek. Study charity in the scriptures. Pray for it. Practice it, and we will begin to have it in greater measure. And, perhaps even more importantly, we will begin to know the Lord better.

According to Strong's Concordance, the word "charity" appears in the New Testament 28 times. Almost half of them come from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where he famously discusses what charity is all about, and how critical it is for us to find it. In each case, the Greek word that became "charity" is agape. This is a word that appeared frequently in the Greek New Testament: more than a hundred times. This is, perhaps, not surprising, since the Two Great Commandments hinge on love. Christ said that the hallmark of discipleship is love.

Love is a difficult word to understand in the English language. For example, I could say to someone that “I love you.” ... We need to know who is speaking to whom in what context. The Greeks don’t have the same problem because they have three different words for love. The first is eros, or romantic love. The English word erotic comes from that Greek root. The second is philia, or brotherly love. The U.S. “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia, gets its name from that Greek root. The third is agape, or Godlike love, the kind of love that enables our Father in Heaven and the Lord to love us even though we are not perfect. I understand that each time in the Greek text of the New Testament when the Lord commands us to love our enemies, it is agape that is used. Here is a very important point for all of us to remember. If we want to cultivate spirituality, we should love everyone at the levels of agape or philia...
-Elder Joe J. Christensen, Ten Ideas to Increase Your Spirituality

I believe that the hallmark of discipleship is love (specifically this agape-love) because we are trying to learn to become like our Father. To be like Him, we must be motivated by what motivates Him, and the motivation that drives what He does is love for His children. To the extent that we do become like Him, we will be so much the better able to love like He loves. And there is so much need for that kind of love in this world.

President Monson, in his Sunday morning talk, said:

The next attribute mentioned by Paul is charity, which has been defined as “the pure love of Christ. I am confident there are within our sphere of influence those who are lonely, those who are ill, and those who feel discouraged. Ours is the opportunity to help them and to lift their spirits. The Savior brought hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak. He healed the sick; He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life. Throughout His ministry He reached out in charity to any in need. As we emulate His example, we will bless lives, including our own.

Charity will heal the world's hurts. It will make us more like Him.

Part 2 is here.

01 November 2015

Commonplace Sampler: October

If to me you can be true,
Just as true as I to you,
It's one, two, three, four, five and six
Sing the Bells of Aberdovey.
One, two, three, four, five and six
It's one, two, three, four, five and six
Sing the bells of Aberdovey.
Boys do love to be in love,
And girls do love to marry.
But my love's for only one,
For Bess of Aberdovey.
If your love is just as true
As this love I have for you,
It's one, two, three, four, five and six,
From the bells of Aberdovey.

2. Bold with love I'm back once more
Just to camp against your door.
It's one, two, three, four, five and six
Sing the Bells of Aberdovey.
One, two, three, four, five and six
It's one, two, three, four, five and six
Sing the bells of Aberdovey.
Here's and end to all faint hearts,
Till truth it is you're pleading.
If you just meet be half way,
It wil be all I'm needing.
If your love is half as true
As this love I have for you,
It's one, two, three, four, five and six,
From the bells of Aberdovey.
-Welsh Folk Song, which is more fun sung:

In New Testament apocryphal writing, Paul is described as being "a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness; for now he appeared like a man, and now he had the face of an angel.
Paul was small in size, and his personal appearance did not correspond with the greatness of his soul. He was ugly, stout, short, and stooping, and his broad shoulders awkwardly sustained a little bald head. His sallow contenance was half hidden in a thick beard, his nose was aquiline, his eyes piercing; and his eyebrows heavy and jointed across his forehead. Nor was there anything imposing in his speach, for his timid and embarrassed air gave but a poor idea of his eloquence.
-From Saul to Paul, p37-38

Some gardeners
Slash frantically
At the weed's
offending shoots -

And others
Labor steadily,
It's roots.
-Carol Lynn Pearson

A wise teacher, in preparing any lesson, will have definite ojbectives in mind. He will decide beforehand what he wants to teach and why he wants to teach it.
-Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, p143

Eragon looked at him, confused. "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't," said Brom impatiently. "That's why I'm teaching you and not the other way around. Now stop talking or we'll never get anywhere."
-Eragon, p148

The easiest way to have control over those whom you teach is to teach them something - to feed them. Be well prepared and have an abundance of subject matter organized and ready to serve. As long as you are feeding students well, few discipline problems will occur.
-Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, p182

True education seeks to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguist, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love. It seeks to make men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life.
--President David O. McKay, quoted by Ted E. Brewerton, "Character - The True Aim of Education"

"It seems strange that women want to enter into professions and into work and into places in society on an equality with men, wanting to dress like men and carry on men's work. I don't deny the fact that women are capable of doing so, but as I read the scriptures, I find it hard to reconcile this with what the Lord has said about women---what he has said about the family, what he has said about children. It seems to me that in regard to men and women, even though they might be equal in many things, there is a differentiation between them that we fully understand. I hope the time never comes when women will be brought down to the level with men, although they seem to be making these demands in meetings held . . . all over the world"
-Howard W. Hunter (Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 150)

If each chapter had a powerful central idea, and I read three chapters without stopping, I consumed one idea after another, and had no time in between for my soul to be instructed by each individual idea.
Afterthoughts Blog: Why Slow Reading Matters More Than You'd Think

"A stream can rise no higher than its source, so it is probable that no educational effort can rise above the whole scheme of thought which gives it birth..."
-Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education

To measure the goodness of life by its delights and pleasures and safety is to apply a false standard. The abundant life does not consist of never ending luxury. It does not make itself content with commercially produced pleasure, mistaking it for joy and happiness. On the contrary, obedience to law, respect for others, mastery of self, joy in servicethese make up the abundant life.
-Thomas S Monson, In Search of an Abundant Life, emphasis original.

19 October 2015

The Organ With the Organ Man

Dragon's current poems come from Robert Louis Stevenson's book, A Child's Garden of Verses. We don't do anything fancy; we just read them most of the time. This was today's poem:


Of speckled eggs the birdie sings 
And nests among the trees; 
The sailor sings of ropes and things 
In ships upon the seas.
The children sing in far Japan, 
The children sing in Spain;  
The organ with the organ man 
Is singing in the rain.

This, of course, requires some explanation; Dragon wants to know: "What's an organ man?" So we turn to YouTube, because some things just need to be heard to be understood, and music is one of those things. This, which isn't a proper song, just clips of hand organs strung together, is what we found, and they listened to it and gave it mixed reviews. Dragon liked it and listened to it more than once. Hero, on the other hand, was underwhelmed, but curious about how they work.

One of the things I really like about the things we've been using from the Ambleside Online curriculum is the way that it leads so naturally into enriching experiences, like this one. I doubt that I would have thought to introduce the kids to hand organs, but because we do the suggested poems, here we are.

17 October 2015

Working Out

This fall, I had wanted to do a Tough Mudder, but when the time came, I decided that I wasn't ready. I made some significant improvements to my core strength, but I still can't do the monkey bars at the playground, or even a single pullup, so I decided that it doesn't make sense to pay so much to do a thing I can't do. Yet. 

But I'm not done trying. This year's video is so encouraging.

My yoga workout has helped me. I have been working toward a handstand. I have more core strength than I've had, maybe ever. It's still not much. So when I saw this article on Pinterest, about how to do better handstands, I went to check it out. It's from crossfit, not yoga, but I figure that handstands are handstands, and however you label your stuff, you still have to develop the same muscles to get the job done. So I had a look. They've got a four week course... it's going to take more than four weeks for me. But I started.

20 tuckups - 20 sets of 1

And I did 15 superman pulses. I would have done more, but Tigress was sick and really wanted to snuggle.


20 tuckups. Mostly sets of 1.
40 supermans.
Added some of this "hollow body" stuff to my yoga.

The improve your handstand article also talked about doing a handstand with your belly toward the wall, and holding that for certain amounts of time. I just could not picture how to get there, so I headed back to YouTube.


This may take more than a week to do this first set of exercises credibly. 

After that, I wondered how it would look, done by yoga people, so I went looking for a video from Kino, my favorite YouTube yoga chick. She's always pretty amazing, but in this one, she's amazingly encouraging: apparently it took her five years to be able to do a credible handstand. Maybe it's not so unreasonable that I didn't get there in nine months. 

20 tuckups, a couple sets of 2 and even a 3.
40 supermans. 
Tried to try Kino's kick up thing. Gonna have to work to get to the beginner place.

20 tuckups

13 October 2015

The Plan of Salvation: What is Hell?

Recently, I've been asked what the Mormon theology about hell is. This post is an outgrowth of that conversation, which took place on Facebook. The question is this: Do we believe that hell is just a temporary state, or unending torment for the sinner who has rejected God and is consigned to be apart from Him for eternity?

There are two points in what we term the plan of Salvation or the Plan of Happiness that could be thought to correspond to the Protestant/Catholic Hell as it has been explained to me. I am a lifelong Mormon, and no expert in the theology of other Christian denominations, though I have tried to educate myself. I have made a serious study of Mormon theology on these points, but have only passing familiarity with the specifics of other Christian beliefs. Since I do not know your level of familiarity with our doctrine, I will first sketch the whole plan, and the address the question about hell more specifically.

The Plan of Salvation
We believe that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16, Ps. 82:6). That we lived with Him prior to our birth in mortal life (Job 38:7; Jer. 1:5). This is variously called the pre-earth life or the premortal existence in our vocabulary. 

It is our Father's Plan that we should become like Him (Matt. 5:48; Romans 8:17). As a part of this process we have been sent to earth, became mortal (Gen. 2:17), gain physical bodies (Gen. 2:7), and be tested as to our obedience and faithfulness (Romans 6:16).

Knowing beforehand that we would, even the best of us, fall short of perfection (Rom.3:23), our merciful Father arranged for mercy to temper Justice, through the intercession and sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son (John 3:16). Thus, this life becomes a probationary state, and allowing men a space in which to repent (Ps. 38:18; Mark 1:15). 

Upon our death, our body returns to the dust (Gen. 3:19), but the immortal soul continues (Luke 23:46; 1 Kings 17:21). 

Prior to resurrection, the spirits of the righteous and the wicked await judgement (Matt. 7:21-23; Romans 14:10). The righteous wait in paradise, which is a state of rest and peace (Luke 23:43; Rev. 14:13). The wicked wait in what we typically call spirit prison, though it can also be called  hell (1 Peter 3:19; Ps. 16:10), indeed, in the Book of Mormon it sometimes is called hell. The gospel is preached to those in spirit prison (1 Peter 4:6). Baptism being an absolute requirement (John 3:5); those who did not have the opportunity in life may accept proxy baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29).

Then comes the day of judgement (Rev. 20:12). 

We believe that that which is typically called heaven in Protestant/Catholic theology can actually be thought of as three heavens, or degrees of glory, as we usually call them (1 Cor. 15:40-42; 2 Cor. 12:2). Additionally, there is outer darkness, a place of torment with no glory at all (Matt. 8:12) reserved for those who blaspheme against the Holy Ghost and for whom there is no forgiveness (Matt. 12:31).

For clarity, we will sometimes sketch an outline of the plan, like this. Though this is a traditional sketch familiar throughout the Church, it is not without its flaws. It does not show Christ's indispensable role; this sketch is concerned only with our journey. But it is useful to kind of map out where we were, where we are, and where we hope to go.

What is Hell?
There are two places that are, in Mormon theology, both sometimes referred to as hell. These are spirit prison and outer darkness.

We believe that spirit prison is a temporary place. I'm not super familiar with purgatory, but I believe that spirit paradise and spirit prison, together, would be somewhat analogous. However, rather than lumping everyone into a single place, we believe there is a distinction made between those who have done their best to live righteously and those who have not. As we understand it, the ordinance of baptism (I know that some denominations use the word sacrament, rather than ordinance) also plays a role in the separation, with those who have not received baptism being barred from spirit paradise; hence the importance we place on baptisms for the dead. Peter talks about the gospel being preached among the dead in one of his epistles:

For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
1 Peter 4:6

God's requirement for baptism is absolute (John 3:5), so the justice of God requires that each and every soul must have a meaningful opportunity to hear and accept or reject Christ. Hence, God, in His mercy, has provided a space for those who did not have the opportunity in life to have that opportunity prior to final judgement.

On the other hand, outer darkness we believe to be permanent. That punishment the Book of Mormon describes as being "as eternal as the life of the soul", endless punishment "affixed opposite the plan of happiness". In my opinion, outer darkness is analogous to what Protestant/Catholic Christians refer to as hell, much more so than spirit prison, though both can be, and sometimes are, called hell. This is one reason why most Mormons don't use the term "hell" very often, preferring instead the more specific terms of prison and outer darkness. There is no Mormon belief in "dodging" Judgement; on the contrary, we believe that it will be universal: every single person must account for their choices, including the choice to accept (or not) Christ's mercy.

12 October 2015

Voluntary Reading!

I think one of the most exciting milestones in learning to read is voluntary reading. That's the part when you can tell that they are gaining enough skill to begin to see what all the hard work of phonics is about, and it just might be my favorite part of teaching the kids to read.

Dragon is reading today, without being asked. He asked for a box of Bob Books, and started out reading to the Daddy, but when Daddy had to go do other things, Dragon kept going. There are several books from that set that are lost now, but what was there, he read. 

Then he came looking for another box. 

But I think the best part was when he commented that practicing the Bob Books will make it easier to read the scriptures. 

Yes. Yes, it will. And that is a worthy goal for a little boy.

11 October 2015

The 7th Psalm: Justice Begets Trust

Psalm 7

The difference between "I do trust" and "I will trust" is important: it's the difference between a current, active choice to trust God RIGHT NOW, and a more flimsy, unspecified future trust.

When I posted the quote art for the first verse on Facebook, I made a typo - if you look, it's edited, because I typed "In Thee will I put my trust". But that's not what the first verse says.

"O Lord my God, in thee DO I put my trust"

I'm glad I made the mistake, because it made me really see that little word. The difference between "I do trust" and "I will trust" is important: it's the difference between a current, active choice to trust God RIGHT NOW, and a more flimsy, unspecified future trust. RIGHT NOW is when things are hard. But I choose to trust anyway. RIGHT NOW things don't make sense. But I trust the Lord to make it right. RIGHT NOW I choose to act on that trust. Do means an active use of agency in the present tense. Do means that the peace of mind the Lord offers us is available to us -- RIGHT NOW.

Trust Scripture Chain
Psalms 7:1
Proverbs 3:5-6
Psalms 125:1
2 Nephi 22:2
D&C 84:116

I had to work a lot harder at understanding the rest of the chapter. Initially, it just struck me as so... harsh. I had to really work at seeing anything but that, at first.

O Lord my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:)Let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust. -Psalm 7:3-5

Persecute me; kill me; trash my good name. This is serious stuff!

But, look: "If there be iniquity in my hands..." and, "If I have rewarded evil to him that was at peace with me..." This isn't random harshness, this is a recognition and acceptance of the unyielding demands of Justice. It's saying, "If I do evil, let evil be done to me."

This is a Psalm about Justice. And the Psalmist understands the different faces of Justice better than I do. Our culture enthrones Corianton's misunderstanding of Justice, and tries to depict it as virtue.

"...for ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery." -Alma 42:1

If I'm honest with myself, the essence of my issue comes from discomfort with the just demand that penalties earned be carried out. The Law of the Harvest can be uncomfortable because it means that when we don't "plant", or we neglect our "garden", we have no right to expect to reap the rewards - whatever they might have been. It's not an at all comfortable principle, when you get right down to it. I've been aware for quite some time now that personal responsibility is, culturally, quite unpopular, but it's still disconcerting to discover myself having such a difficult time with scripture because of the unyielding nature of Justice. So I started pondering Justice. I think there is a tendency to consider Justice as only an obstacle to be overcome by the Lord's Grace, but if that's all the further we look, we miss an essential aspect of the character of God. I've come to think there's more to it than just penalties, though penalties are definitely part of the equation. But consider:

...he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you...
-Mosiah 2:24

God has promised to bless us when we do right. It is, therefore, Just that He should keep His word. This is, at least in part, the source of the trust the Psalmist opened with: the unflinching, unerring Justice of God requires that both penalties and rewards be given as deserved, each and every time. Knowing that God is perfectly just enables us to trust Him in a number of ways: we can trust that we we do well, He will bless us. We can trust that if we rebel, the consequences will come. If we are lazy, industrious, kind, cruel, and so on, we will reap the rewards.

It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity. -Proverbs 21:15

Like day following night, so come the consequences for our actions. For better or worse, we get what we choose. Even Christ's mercy is applied under principles of Justice: we choose whether or not to permit the Lord to assist us - and reap the consequences of that choice, too.

The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.
Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.

Justice Scripture Chain
Psalm 7: 8-9
Alma 42:1
Mosiah 2:24
Proverbs 21:15
Alma 13:3-4



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