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Little Rock Family Blog

Events, activities, news, insight and opinion from the trenches of parenthood by Little Rock Family Magazine Editor Heather Bennett and her editorial staff. Share tips, news and feedback with Heather here.
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Family Travel: Vacation Tips & Pointers for Scotland

It’s a big, big world after all and child development experts say exposing kids to new things and cultures widens their horizons, increases their empathy for others, encourages creativity, and can improve those all important test scores. With busy schedules and bitsy budgets though, how can you realistically take one of those vacations that tops bucket lists like traveling abroad, visiting our nation’s capitol, and going to see Mickey and Minnie at Disney? We’ve assembled some first-hand experience to help our readers crack the code on family vacay success. Whether you’re going some time this year or this decade, here are top tips for tipping the scales in your favor.

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During the eight months our family has lived in Scotland, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that the home of golf and whiskey is also an outstanding destination for families. Our younger boys’ brave hearts have embraced medieval stories along with trips to castles, and our older kids are growing in their love for history and hillwalking.

Because Scotland is as shrouded in mystery as it is in mist, my perfect visit here would leave time and space for exploring the wilder countryside after hitting some of the more classic sightseeing.

The brilliant city of Edinburgh is the proper beginning to a trip to Scotland: Journey back in time as you walk to the top of the Royal Mile to tour of one of the most magnificent castles in Europe. Enjoy impressive views of the city as you peer out from the walls of Edinburgh Castle.

Our kids would tell you not to miss the Camera Obscura, a museum full of optical illusions just a few steps down the road from Edinburgh Castle. Then stop in at The Elephant Café and ask for a table in the back where J.K. Rowling penned Harry Potter with views of the castle from the windows. Walk around the corner to dive into centuries of history at the National Museum of Scotland. After your tour of Scotland’s past, head to the east wing to see three floors of animals mounted in action and be sure to say hello to Dolly, the world’s first cloned sheep.

If the city streets get too crowded, take a walk up to Arthur’s Seat, a hill overlooking the city, for a bit of air and a new perspective of Edinburgh. Or pick up a picnic dinner from Marks and Spencer and enjoy it on the sprawling lawns of Princes Street Gardens.

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After a couple of nights in Edinburgh, rent a car or take a train north to see a different side of Scotland. Our best days in Scotland are spent among the sheep in the fields and along ancient stone walls, and we always try to take our visitors to spot a Highland Cow, or Heilan Coo in local parlance.

Stop at our favorite seaside village Stonehaven, where you can get fresh Fish ‘n Chips and carry it just a few steps to eat it right on the shore of the North Sea. Walk or drive a couple of miles south of the village to Dunnottar Castle, impressively situated on a rock outcropping in the sea. After the fancy halls of Edinburgh, you’ll be relieved to let the kids roam through the ruins of Dunnottar, where they can battle to their hearts’ content or pretend to be William Wallace, who fought and won this castle back from the English during the Scottish Wars of Independence.

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After your coastal drive, head for the Highlands. Go west into Cairngorms National Park. Just a few miles from Balmoral, the Royal Family’s country estate in Scotland, Ballater and neighboring Braemar are picturesque sleepy little Victorian villages full of restaurants, B&Bs and helpful hosts. In the mornings, we love to grab fresh pastries from a local bakery; stopping for tea and scones with jam and cream in one of Scotland’s many tea rooms is a great way to break up the day. Also, a traditional Scottish breakfast of eggs, potatoes, sausages and even haggis is served at most hotels and B&Bs, so be sure and try it at least once!

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You will have your choice of castles to visit on the way as this area of Scotland has been dubbed The Castle Trail for its high density of fortresses. Castle Fraser is a favorite because of its children’s woodland garden. Also, one of the Lords (or Lairds) of Castle Fraser lost his leg after being shot during the Napoleonic Wars, and his wooden leg is still on display in the castle library.

Speaking of legs, you’ll want to be ready to use yours for some hiking (or hillwalking, as it is called in the UK). The scenery is the real star of the show in Cairngorms National Park, and we find that walking is the best way to discover more of its beauty and to let our kids burn off extra energy. We hike these hills almost every weekend and I never get tired of wandering Scotland’s wilder side.

For more travel tips and Scotland tales from the Chino family, visit AlisonChino.com.

Visit Mid-America Museum in Hot Springs Before It Closes for Renovations

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This summer is your last chance to visit Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs before it closes for a $7.8 million renovation of the building and exhibits! The museum will be open until Aug. 10, so families can still enjoy exhibits and events during summer break. Then, after closing for the fall and winter months, the museum plans to unveil its transformation in March 2015.

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When the museum reopens, families can expect exciting new amenities, such as the Oaklawn Foundation Digital Dome Theater, which will include a full-dome projection show that immerses the audience with a 180-degree viewing area.

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Another highlight is The Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, an outdoor walkway that will connect the main building with the forest canopy outside.

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Other new plans include a 5,600 Arkansas Gallery that explores the effects of erosion and weather on the state's geology, geography, flora and fauna.

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A Forces in Motion exhibit gallery will be dedicated to topics like matter, energy and gravity; The Inventors Workshop where children can engage discovery learning through hands-on workshops.

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Currently, families can explore two special exhibits: "Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches" and "Design Zone." The "Amazon Voyage" exhibit exposes visitors to the wonders of the most biologically diverse river in the world -- the Amazon. Examine live fish in unique tanks and discover unusual river-dwellers, such as the pink dolphins. In the "Design Zone" exhibit, kids learn about exciting careers that utilize math and science, such as roller coaster designers, video game developers and music producers.

Be sure to check out the museum's website for current summer camps and special events. If your family is a frequent visitor, the Family Summer Pass is a great deal: For $50, the pass gives its user unlimited visits until July 31.

For more info, visit MidAmericaMuseum.org.

Expect Scorching Summer Fun at These 5 Central Arkansas Hot Spots

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Get outdoors and beat the heat at its own game. Here are five playful destinations in central Arkansas that are fun for the whole family.

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Big Rock Fun Park recently opened two, brand-new mini golf courses, each with 18 holes. Each course includes 9 handicap-accessible holes, for players using wheelchairs or walkers. The first half of the course, aptly named Willow Greens, winds around scenic willow trees. The next 18 holes, Boulder Falls, is named for the course’s giant boulder and cascading waterfalls. Perched alongside the brook, you’ll see a miniature version of North Little Rock’s Old Mill—the mini is an exact replica of the original, complete with a turning watermill. In addition to playing mini golf, families can also bounce around in bumper boats, zoom around the go-cart track, take a swing in the batting cages or visit the indoor arcade. For more info: 455-3750.

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Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs presents its monumental summer exhibit, Mystic Creatures, which is sure to spark imaginations. The topiary-like sculptures depict mythic beasts, such as Sasquatch and a magical sea serpent. The large-scale displays are a mixture of steel frame structures covered in living plant materials, which is called mosaiculture. The end result is an exhibit of impressive displays, some of which stand up to 13-feet tall. In addition to the monsters, families will also see the Fairy Gourdmother, a ‘Shroom Family and Fairy Village. The exhibit is open through Aug. 31.

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Bass Pro Shops may seem like an unlikely pick for family fun, but the outdoor store actually hosts free family activities throughout the year. The Family Summer Camp includes free workshops on fishing, archery, kayaking, camping, water safety and backyard adventure. Plus, kids can try out the BB shooting range and make a different craft (noon-2 p.m.) each week, from designing a magnifying glass to making a camp journal. On weekends, fish in a catch and release pond, and pose for a free souvenir photo. Family Summer Camp is each Tue., Thu., Sat. & Sun. through July 13.

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Magic Springs Water & Theme Park in Hot Springs can’t keep us away on sunny summer days. In addition to the thrilling roller coasters and water attractions, there’s always something new at the park. This summer, we’re excited about the brand-new “Dive-In Movie” series (see Summer Cinema), and the return of the Character Series featuring Yo Gabba Gabba’s Brobee and Plex (June 27), summertime Santa (July 18), Peppa Pig (Aug. 16) and others. The concert series, free with regular admission, will keep families rocking with performances from Chris Young (July 5), Bridgit Mendler (July 19), Skillet (July 26), Rodney Atkins (Aug. 2) and Switchfoot (Aug. 9).

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The Arkansas Travelers baseball games are a grand slam for families. Home games are played in North Little Rock at Dickey-Stephens Park, which includes a family zone outfitted with bounce houses and play equipment. July kicks off with a big Fourth of July weekend celebration: Score $1 hot dogs on July 2, dress for the Christmas in July theme night July 3, and stick around after the game on July 4 to watch the annual fireworks on the river. Plus, families who bring a church bulletin on Sundays can gain admission for their whole crew for just $10. Look for more special giveaways and promotions throughout the month, including Little Rock Zoo Nights on Tuesdays, the Remote Dig game (July 24), the first-ever Clunker Boat Night (July 25), the Arkansas Diamond Series Cup games against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (starting July 28) and more. Young players can also sign up for the Travelers Youth Baseball Camp (July 28-30). Right on the Dickey-Stephens field, boys and girls ages 7-12 learn fundamentals from coaching staff and players. Camp is $100 for three days, and includes four tickets to a Travs game.

Foodie Families: Le Pops Debuts New Truck and More

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We're always on the the hunt for good eats in central Arkansas. In our blog series, Foodie Families, we share the latest news about Little Rock's family-friendly restaurant scene. Here are a few of tasty morsels we've heard about lately:

Maui Wowi Hawaiian: This smoothie spot recently opened a drive-through stand in North Little Rock, so you can get your frozen treat while you're on-the-go! In addition to fresh-fruit smoothies, the stand offers gourmet Hawaiian coffees and espresso drinks. The stand is located in the parking lot near Hobby Lobby at 4639 JFK Blvd. Read the full post by Little Rock Soiree here.

Le Pops: Speaking of cold summer treats, Le Pops has officially opened in its new Heights location -- and you just might see a Le Pops Truck zooming around town, too! We spied their new ride on their Facebook page.

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Ray's More Than Mex Family Dining: Empanadas made fresh daily -- that's all we need to know about this new restaurant named for Arkansas Sports Hall of Famer and former Arkansas Razorback Ray Hamilton! Little Rock Soiree reports that the Mexican spot offers more than the usual suspects, including the Woo Pig Sooie that boasts fried pork tenderloin with BBQ pulled pork, black pepper bacon, swiss cheese and fried egg. The restaurant is located at 10815 Colonel Glenn. For more info, read the full blog post here.

Brown Sugar Bakeshop: This downtown bakery delivers on some seriously delicious desserts and this summer they are even offering $5 tiny treat sampler boxes -- perfect for road trips, pool snacks and more. Boxes are pre-assorted and desserts vary, from cookies and cupcakes to other special treats. Read the full article about BSB's new treats here

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Pizza, Pizza: Little Rock's newest pizza joint doesn't even have a name yet, but it's sure to be a tastebud-pleaser. Sync Weekly reports that chef Jason Neidhardt, formerly of the Packet House Grill, will open a Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant in SoMa this summer. Read the full report here.

Have a family foodie tip for Little Rock Family? Email bneel@abpg.com.

Movies in the Park Screens Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Wednesday

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Fans of wizards and Hogwarts will gather at Riverfront Park this Wednesday, July 9 to watch the free outdoor showing of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." The family-friendly screening at the First Security Amphitheatre is part of the annual outdoor film series, Movies in the Park.

Movies in the Park presents free films screened outdoors at the First Security Amphitheatre in Little Rock's River Market. Audiences can bring picnics (no glass containers) and settle onto the grassy field or snag seats in the amphitheater. Concessions will be available for purchase, including soft drinks, candy and popcorn, hot dogs, ice cream and more.

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The park opens at 6:30 p.m., and films begin at sundown. For the full schedule of upcoming films at Movies in the Park, including click here.

Fishy Family: 8 July Fishing Derbies, Workshops and Exhibits

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From beginners to collectors, each family member can catch one of these fishing-themed events this month. Kids can drop a line and compete for prizes at MacArthur Park, little artists will paint sharks at the Arkansas Arts Center and fishing-enthusiasts of all ages can learn the basics of the sport at the Central Arkansas Nature Center.

29th Annual City of Little Rock Fishing Derby at MacArthur Park: Kids ages 6-15 are invited to fish in the lake at MacArthur Park at this event sponsored by the City of Little Rock and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. Participants will have the chance to win prizes. Cane poles only. 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. July 17. For info: (501) 371-6858, MacArthurParkLR.com. FREE!

Antique Tackle Roadshow at Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center: Find out what your old fishing tackle is worth and the history behind it. Members of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club will evaluate, identify and appraise any old fishing items brought to the event. Enjoy other events and fishing-themed activities, too (10 a.m.-3 p.m.); tackle appraisal drop-in and learn (1-2 p.m.); Real Women Fish: a historic look at women and fishing (2-3 p.m.). 10 a.m.-3 p.m. July 26. For info: (501) 907-0636, CentralArkansasNatureCenter.com. FREE!

Basics to Fishin' at Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center: Fisherman of all ages and skill levels  learn tips on gear, bait and where to fish in Central Arkansas. 10 a.m.-noon. July 15. For info: (501) 907-0636, CentralArkansasNatureCenter.com. FREE!

Beginner's Fly Fishing Seminar at Bass Pro Shops: Fishermen/women/kids of all ages are invited to a beginner's fly fishing seminar led by Jack Shock. 7-9 p.m. July 15. For info: (501) 954-4517, BassPro.com. FREE!

Family Summer Camp at Bass Pro Shops: Free family activities include workshops on fishing, archery, kayaking, camping, water safety and backyard adventure. On weekends, fish in a catch & release pond and pose for a free souvenir photo. Tue., Thu., Sat. & Sun. through July 13. For info: (501) 954-4517, BassPro.com. FREE!

Saturday Workshop: Shark Attack! at Arkansas Arts Center: Students ages 10-14 will study sharks in their natural habitat and create their own original shark scene watercolor painting. $55, members $44. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 26. For info: (501) 372-4000, ArkansasArtsCenter.org.

Women's Fishing Workshop at Bass Pro Shops: Danalee Lofton, accomplished outdoor enthusiast, leads a workshop for women who like to fish or are interested in learning. 7-9 p.m. July 8. For info: (501) 954-4517, BassPro.com. FREE!

Exhibit: Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and other Riches at Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs: This exhibit takes you to seven ports of call along the most biologically diverse river in the world: the Amazon. Here, visitors encounter amazing creatures including notorious piranhas, enormous anacondas, beautiful stingrays, and mysterious pink dolphins. Through hands-on activities, original multimedia presentations, computer interactives, story telling, live fish in uniquely designed tanks, original artifacts, dance, music, and live demonstrations, guests will investigate the region's incredible biodiversity, encounter field researchers making incredible new discoveries, and participate in a celebration of the Amazon River. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sun. through Aug. 10. $10, kids ages 3-12, military & seniors are $7, kids under 3 are free. For info: (501) 767-3461, MidAmericaMuseum.org.

For more events, browse our full online calendar here.

6 Picnic Spots in Central Arkansas with Beautiful Views

Looking for a great spot to enjoy your lunch and bask in the sun? Little Rock has a few awesome spots that have beautiful views, and great places to grab some grub nearby. The picnic basket -- that's optional. Here is a look at our list:

  1. Clinton Presidential Library: This hot spot in downtown Little Rock is so gorgeous, everyone should make a least one stop here. Set up at one of the picnic tables (if there are any available), take over one of the many benches that line the sidewalk parallel to the river or spread out that blanket on the lush green lawn in front of the library. You'll get beautiful views of the super-modern library, Clinton Presidential Bridge and the William E. "Bill" Clark Presidential Park Wetlands, as well as the Arkansas River and downtown Little Rock. Food Stop: On your way to the picnic, stop by Boulevard Bread Co., located in the River Market and pick up a delicious sammy or salad already prepared. Check out the full menu here. #asset
  2. Murray Park: Located just a few minutes from downtown Little Rock, this park is situated right on the banks of the Arkansas River next to the Big Dam Bridge. Several pavilions are lined up and picnic tables are scattered all around the park, so there are plenty of options to enjoy the great outdoors during your lunch hour. What's great are the picturesque views of the river, as well as the bridge and the bluffs on the North Little Rock side of the River Trail. Food Stop: If you don't have a lunch already prepared, stop by one of the few restaurants on Rebsamen Park Road and get your food to-go. Spots like Maddie's PlaceBuffalo Grill and Pizza Cafe make for a fantastic non-traditional picnic lunch. #asset
  3. Two Rivers ParkTwo Rivers Park, a 1,000-acre tract at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Maumelle Rivers, is a perfect shady spot overlooking the Arkansas River and I-430 bridge in west Little Rock. Cross over the Two Rivers Bridge that is connected to the Arkansas River Trail, and you'll find several picnic tables on the trail and cozy spots to throw down that blanket. Food Stop: Looking for an ideal place to pick up lunch? You can stop by Chipotle in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center and get a delicious burrito bowl to-go, or even a salad or burrito. See the full menu here. #asset
  4. Riverfront Park: The sprawling downtown Little Rock park right on the Arkansas River is filled with plenty of spots to eat your grub outside while taking in the spectacular views of all of the park's cool features (sculptures, playgrounds, etc.) and the river. Picnic tables are scattered around the park, with most concentrated right behind the River Market. Food Stop: If you're needing a quick lunch, stop by the one of the many River Market Hall vendors, ranging from authentic Mexican dishes and Asian cuisine to pizza and Middle Eastern food. Check out the full list of vendors here. #asset
  5. Pinnacle Mountain State Park: If you're on the other side of Little Rock, the state park is a great place to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of downtown and enjoy nature. There are several picnic sites and two pavilions to enjoy your lunch, including wide open spaces for a picnic on the grass. Food Stop: Call in your order to The Main Cheese, and make a pitstop for gooey grilled cheese on your way to the mountain. The family-favorite even has gluten-free bread for those with special diets. See the full menu here. #asset
  6. North Shore Riverwalk Park: Cross over to North Little Rock from downtown Little Rock, and you'll find a scenic promenade along the Arkansas River. A grand entrance right across from Dickey-Stephens Park will put you right where you need to be for superb views of downtown Little Rock's skyline, as well as the multiple bridges that span the water. Spread a blanket on the lawn or nestle into a park bench along the Arkansas River Trail. Food Stop: Make your way over to Main Street a few blocks away and find Mugs Cafe. Grab an iced coffee and a baked treat, and choose from burgers, tacos, sandwiches and salads. See the full menu here. #asset

Picnic necessities:

  • Basket filled with napkins, eating utensils and condiments you like
  • Blanket (if you plan on posting up on the grass)
  • Frisbee, football or soccer ball (for those who want a little entertainment)
  • Hat, sunscreen and sunglasses

Family Travel: Vacation Tips & Pointers for Washington D.C.

It’s a big, big world after all and child development experts say exposing kids to new things and cultures widens their horizons, increases their empathy for others, encourages creativity, and can improve those all important test scores. With busy schedules and bitsy budgets though, how can you realistically take one of those vacations that tops bucket lists like traveling abroad, visiting our nation’s capitol, and going to see Mickey and Minnie at Disney? We’ve assembled some first-hand experience to help our readers crack the code on family vacay success. Whether you’re going some time this year or this decade, here are top tips for tipping the scales in your favor.

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Washington D.C. - America's H.Q.

My husband and I have both been fortunate enough to travel on business to the capital city. We’ve collected several books for our children about the city, the sights, and its rich history. With that being said, we knew it was definitely on the Bennett vacation bucket list. We just had to figure out when to do it.

Heather’s Hints:

Our family has so many places we want to go and adventures we want to enjoy over the years. We knew going to D.C. would probably only happen once, so we wanted to make sure we did it at an age the kids were very independent, able to enjoy things, and remember a lot. That way we were able to see and do more and not have to lug around extra gear. Keep in mind D.C. is very crowded, very busy, and very big. We went when our kids were 13 and 11.

We bought a D.C. travel guide at a local bookstore to tap into more tips. We wanted to stay for at least 10 days and try to live like locals...truly absorbing the whole D.C. experience. Then we looked at Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO.com) to see if there were brownstones/rowhouses available for rent. With lots to choose from we found one in our price range, the area of the city we wanted, and the amenities of home with a full kitchen and washer/dryer. That way we could pack less for our flight and cook some of our own meals to save a little dough.

Packing light and packing mostly exercise gear/casual hiking gear is the way to go. You can take the Metro, but it depends on your family dynamic. We really got into meandering around the city to take in things that were off the beaten path. We found restaurants, shops, and interesting people we would have never met had we always taken public transportation. Hoofing it also allowed for great exercise and great conversation.

Definite To-do’s in D.C.

  • All of the Smithsonians
  • Any of the monuments in the National Mall
  • Ford Theatre and Museum
  • International Spy Museum
  • Jefferson Memorial (Ride paddle boats in the Tidal Basin)
  • Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
  • MLK, Jr., Lincoln Memorials, and more
  • Mount Vernon
  • National Academy of Sciences grounds
  • National Archives
  • The National Zoo
  • White House grounds and the Capitol

Yummy Food Finds

  • Johnny Rockets
  • Lincoln’s Waffle Shop
  • Matchbox Pizza in Chinatown
  • Morrison Clark Historic Inn
  • Ollie’s Trolley
  • And of course, street vendor hot dogs galore!

 

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About The Author
Jennifer Pyron is the Associate Publisher and Editor of Little Rock Family magazine. She is the go-to gal for family events, activities, news and opinion. She and husband Charles are the proud, exhausted, penniless parents of Charles Jr. and Emily. Plus, should you need a pop culture lifeline on "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire," you may call her.
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