Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Seasons Always Change...

This week my parents took our 3 oldest children out to make gingerbread houses.  I was home with just my 1 and 2 year olds.  When we sat down to dinner that night, my husband remarked at how quiet our house was.  It was too quiet.  It felt empty.

But then we remembered...this was our life just a few years ago.  We had two small children and were expecting our third and life felt like it couldn't be busier.  Our house seemed loud and chaotic, and we were always chasing after one of them.

But now, having just the two littlest ones home, it felt completely different.  Our house felt peaceful.

So what changed?  Our 1 and 2 year olds are just as full of energy as their brother and sister.  Is it because we are older?  Do we have more patience now?  Maybe it's a little of both.  I think it's all about perspective.

Sometimes in the moment, we are so overwhelmed by life we can't see beyond our circumstances.

But life goes onThe seasons always change and these moments don't last forever.

I was thinking about all those cold winters in my life.  All those moments when we wondered how we would make it through.  We held onto our faith.  We held onto God's promise that He will never leave us.  And spring always came around again.

Sometimes it takes years for us to be able to look back and be thankful for those moments.  But as hard as they were, now I can say that I am a better person because of them.

I want to encourage you today, in whatever season you are in.  Through loss and grief, job changes and financial struggles...through pain and sickness, disappointments and rejection, through all the things in your day that overwhelm you...God will never leave you.  Never.

It's hard to see Him there in the moment.  It's hard to feel Him when our hearts are hurting, but we can't see the big picture.

It's like all those dry, dead looking bulbs hidden under the snow,the winter passes, the sun shines again, and their true beauty can bloom.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Review: The Money Saving Mom's Budget

I have been a reader of for the past few years and have learned so much from Crystal Paine's financial advice and couponing tips.

That is why I am beyond excited to be given the opportunity to review her first book, The Money Saving Mom's Budget!

I have to admit, when the book first arrived and I flipped through the chapters, I wondered how much I would really learn.  I feel like I'm a pretty savvy shopper.  I carry around my well-stocked coupon binder, and I have learned the importance of saving and patience over spending and regretting.

But then I read the first chapter...and I was so inspired!

Yes, this book is packed full of practical money-saving tips, but what I learned most from this book was the importance of dreaming big, setting goals and making a plan to reach them.

So many times I put so much effort into clipping coupons and living frugally that it can feel overwhelming.  It does take sacrifice and when I focus on what I am giving up, I forget what I am doing all this for.

I was very encouraged by setting goals for myself (big and small) and finding ways to break them into smaller, more reachable pieces.

This book is obviously about saving money, but she teaches you how to not only budget your finances, but budget your time.

I have been on a journey to simplify my life for some time now, and her chapters on decluttering, finding your priorities and choosing contentment were very inspiring.

I do not know Crystal Paine personally, but she writes in a way that makes you feel like you do.  She is open and honest about her struggles and weaknesses and as she shares her story, you feel like you are sitting over coffee with an old friend.

The Money Saving Mom's Budget also features budget sheets and worksheets in the appendix to help you get your plan onto paper.  She makes it feel doable, not intimidating.

But my favorite part is that Crystal has generously decided to donate all the proceeds from her book to Compassion International, a charity that is very dear to my heart.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Apron Experiment

A few months ago I had a visit with an old friend.  She brought me many sweet gifts, one of which was a poem about the history of aprons.

For our grandmothers and great-grandmothers (and their grandmothers and great-grandmothers...) aprons were an everyday necessity.

They were used to protect their dresses because they only had a few and were much easier to wash than a dress. 

An apron became an ever-handy pot holder and dishtowel.  It dried her busy hands and her children's tears.

Her apron gathered eggs from the chicken coop and carried in kindling for the fire.

But somewhere along the way many homemakers stopped wearing aprons.  Maybe we wanted to be young, modern women and associated aprons with being a matronly grandmother.

We stopped dressing up to start our day and met the demands of messy children and housework by bumming around in sweatpants if we got out of our pajamas at all.

I've always loved aprons and found them to be a necessity especially during my pregnancies.  My growing belly is much closer to the counter and stove top and I am forever getting something splattered on the front of my shirts.

This tired mama on Thanksgiving.  29 weeks in my vintage Christmas apron.

But this week I challenged myself to wear an apron everyday, not just while in the kitchen, but as I went through my day.

The first thing I noticed was that I felt more feminine, even when I was just wearing it over jeans and a t-shirt.  I felt like a cute 1950's housewife, not at all like a grandmother.

I felt more productive.  The apron tied around my waist was a constant reminder that there was work to be done.

It was useful.  I found myself searching for the dishtowel much less because my apron was the perfect place to dry my hands.  I used it to gather up toys that were on the floor and carry them to their homes.  My apron wiped the crumbs from my toddler's face before letting her down from her highchair.

I found that this simple piece of fabric, tied with a bow, changed the way I felt about my day.  I put on my apron like a uniform.  My day had a purpose.  It wasn't just about getting through it, I had a job to do and at the end of the day, when the kitchen was cleaned for the last time, I turned down the lights and untied that apron...and with it I was letting go of all the busyness of the day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Taste of Autumn

Last week we took our kids pumpkin picking.  As we boarded the hay ride nothing could shake the smile off their faces.  The smell of hay and harvest filled the air.  When we arrived at the pumpkin patch they were set free to roam the fields in search of the perfect pumpkin.  They all chose ones that were too much for them to carry, but they tried with all their might.

It's the simplest of traditions but one that they look forward to every year.

Their prized pumpkins have decorated our front porch with their warm, inviting colors ever since, until this week when they finally begged me to cut one open. 

I wrapped myself in my apron and set to work.

I sliced one in half and scooped out the pulp.  My boys dove right in separating the seeds from the slimy strings of pulp.  My girly girl was rather repulsed by the whole thing and waited for the end result.

We rinsed the seeds and spread them out on a baking sheet to dry.  Then I baked the rest of the pumpkin and the smell of autumn filled my house.

Once it was tender I scooped out the shells and pureed it for a week's worth of special treats.

The seeds were salted and roasted and snacked on while I fried up some cinnamon-sugar pumpkin donuts.

The next morning our pumpkin treated us to muffins.  Today we baked up some cinnamon chip pumpkin cookies. 

It is amazing how a humble squash can give so much and bring every bit of the season into our home.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How to Fake a Clean House

I think the goal of most homemakers is to have their home be a place of peace and rest for their families and to have everything clean and in order.  But the reality is that having a houseful of small children creates a huge mess every day.  Most of my day is spent just keeping up with the destruction and many household chores go neglected.

It's not that I don't try to keep a clean house.  But, the last time I scrubbed my shower, my 2 year old was in the kitchen spilling a whole gallon of milk on the floor.  It can feel overwhelming and hopeless when everything I do gets undone.

I've had to let go of a lot.  I've made peace with this season of my life and this has become my new motto:
When we moved into our new home (after 7 years of praying and patience) all of our family and friends were so excited for us and would just "stop in to see the house".  I was mortified.  It felt like nearly every day I was giving a tour of every room.

We still had boxes to unpack and were trying to find places for things.  I would apologize for the mess as I kicked toys out of the way across the floor.

Of course they still loved us, mess and all, but it was a humbling experience for me.  It's been months since then and I can't blame our mess on moving anymore.

We have a busy home full of life, and life is messy.

I wanted to share with you a few tricks that I've learned that keep my house looking a little cleaner than it actually is.

  • Keep it all behind closed doors
It's a really simple thing, but closing the doors to your closets can hide a lot of clutter and bring much cleaner lines to your walls.  Don't forget your pantry and laundry room and any bedroom messes that you want to hide.

The same goes for cabinet doors and dresser drawers.  Taking a second to close them fully really makes your space look more finished.

No time to scrub your bathtub?  Close the shower curtain!  Your bathroom will look instantly cleaner.

  • Make your bed
Our beds take up most of the space in our bedrooms and an unmade bed can make even a clean room look messy.  Take a minute to fluff the pillows and smooth out your comforter, it really does make a difference in your whole room.

  • Clear off the clutter
I realize this sounds like cleaning and I promised you we were only faking a clean house.  It may take some cleaning to begin with, but then keeping it that way will be much easier.

Take a look at your bathroom counter top.  Did you leave out your makeup, hair products and deodorant for the world to see?  Find a place to store these things out of sight, under the sink or in your medicine cabinet.  What really needs to be at your sink?  Hand soap and a towel.  I even hide our toothbrushes. 

Keeping less on your counter tops means less to move when you do actually get around to wiping it down.

Look at the other flat surfaces in your home.  Are they covered in nick-knacks and other things that are just collecting dust?  I'm not a minimalist and I do like to decorate my home, but sometimes less is more.  You will be much more willing to dust the furniture when there is less to move.
  • Tame the paper
Even in our digital world, life comes with a lot of paper.  You can eliminate some of what comes into your home by banking online and opting out of receiving offers in the mail.  I have to admit I am rather old fashioned and prefer to write out checks for my bills, but I know a lot of people who love going paperless.

When I get the mail I sort through it right away.   Junk mail goes right into the recycling bin.  Magazines and catalogs that I want to read go into a basket that I keep by the couch.  Bills go where I store them.  Grocery store circulars and coupons to clip have their own place too.  Invitations and reminders are pinned to the bulletin board. 
Nothing is left to pile up.
  • A little prevention goes a long way
There are a few rules in our house that help to keep the mess down.  I've taught the kids that certain toys are not allowed in the living room.  It is mostly because I have a toddler that puts everything in her mouth and I want there to be a safe place for her to play.  Legos and Polly Pockets are banished to the big kids' rooms, and my living spaces are much cleaner.

I've also trained the kids to take off their shoes when they walk through the door.  If they are especially dirty they have to come in the back door.  It has saved so much mud (and we have a lot of mud!) from being tracked all over my house.

We only eat in the kitchen.  Our kids are messy eaters so keeping it confined to one place saves me from cleaning up crumbs and spills all over the house.
  • Only clean what bugs you
I can overlook the toys on the floor if I know there is no dirt or food on the floor under all the toys.  It has probably come from years of having babies crawling around. 

I do vacuum at least once a day and keep my kitchen floor swept, but only the dirty parts.  I focus on the high traffic areas and save the furniture moving for days when I have more time.  I spot clean the sticky messes and only mop when I'm really ambitious.

Maybe you are different, maybe fingerprints on your windows is especially disgusting to you.  Clean what you need to to keep your sanity and save the rest for later.

I realize that by sharing my dirty little secrets everyone who comes in my house will probably look a little harder for the cobwebs in the corners and maybe even peek behind my shower curtain.  That's ok.  I'm not prefect.  I would never trade this busy, beautiful life to have a perfectly clean house again

Monday, October 24, 2011

24 weeks...

Ignore the crazy was a long day!

I thought I should get around to sharing a picture of my baby belly...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Joys of Raising Boys

At my last ultrasound we learned that we are having another baby boy

Afterwards, we were blessed to be able to make a date of it.  As we sat down over dinner, we discussed baby names and bedroom arrangements.  And then I stopped.  I took a deep breath and asked my husband, "Am I really a mom of 4 boys?"

It wasn't that I was unhappy or disappointed at all, I just wondered if I was really cut out for all this.

I thought of all the moms of many boys that I knew and they all seemed so much better at this than me.  My mother-in-law had 4 boys herself and she is the most patient woman I know.  I've failed at that one.

Then there are the moms who are OK with pet snakes and spiders in the house.  The moms who join right into the burping contests and football games.  And the ones who run their crew like a drill sergent.

And then there's me...

I'm petite and girly.  I don't think my presence commands authority.  I don't deal well with bugs and snakes and other critters, and I really can't handle blood.

I think there's a good reason why we can't choose the gender of our children.  We tend to see things just in the moment.  God sees our lives and the generations to come.

This season of my life will be full of dirt and scrapped knees and finding rocks in my dryer.  But it's also an incredible honor.  God has given us a house full of boys to raise into men of integrity.  He has given us a holy responsibility to teach them to have hearts of compassion and respect.  To be hard working and gentle.  To be protectors and warriors.

Am I ready for this?  Probably not, but God has chosen this path for me and I know that He will prepare me for the journey.

Raising boys is an adventure but it is also full of the sweetest moments.  There is nothing more comforting than hugs from my little boys, hearing "I wuv you Mommy!", and seeing a vase full of fresh-picked dandelions on my windowsill.

One day my mama's boys will be men and I will miss these busy days.  Today I am so thankful that God chose this adventure for my life.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Love's Simplicity

I just wanted to share this short video with you.  It is a documentary that was made about my sister-in-law, Suzanne.  I think it summarizes everything that I want A Simple Heart for Home to be.  I am inspired every time I go to her house.  It is a tiny home, but so full of love and joy.  There is always an open door and a cup of coffee waiting for me. 

She never complains.  I was so stressed trying to fit our family of 7 in our 900 square foot home, and then I would see what she lives with and how she makes it work.  I felt so spoiled and humbled.  Her home is a beautiful place of blessing, to her husband and family, and to everyone who enters.

I hope you are encouraged and inspired...

Love's Simplicity

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Perfect Ending

Autumn is my favorite season.  There is something so peaceful in waking up to a chill in the air and warming my hands around my coffee mug.

As the leaves begin to turn, the trees burst forth into their final masterpiece before sleeping through the stillness of winter.  There is so much color and life getting ready to settle in.

The busyness of a new season keeps us running, but there is so much we are missing.  If only we could sit still and savor the beauty of the season.  The beauty of a time of change.

Last night, after the dinner dishes were cleared, I bundled up the children and we went outside to light a campfire.

Their sticky faces, peeking out of their hooded sweatshirts, glowed gently in the firelight.

I sat there hugging our toddler as she covered me in graham cracker crumbs.  I watched my older children marvel at the way marshmallows change in the heat of a campfire.

Sparks flew into the night like fireflies and the gentle cracklings of the burning logs broke the silence of a perfect evening.

It was the simplest of moments but it made the perfect ending to an autumn day.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pet Peeves

I'm sure we all have things in life that really get to us.  Those little annoyances that can be so frustrating to one, may seem ridiculous to another.  I guess it's just how we are wired.

I'm blaming my father.

I remember as a child, my normally mild-mannered father, freaking out because someone forget to put the twist tie back on the loaf of bread.  I learned my lesson and changed my ways.

I will never forget the look on my husband's face, early in our marriage, when I yelled at him for losing the twist tie to the bread bag.  It was a look of part fear, part trying not to laugh, part 'crazy lady, you need to calm down!'. 

Apparently I married a man who will lose the twist tie every time he makes a sandwich.  Every. Time.

I've learned to adjust.  I've stopped nagging and started hoarding twist ties just in case.  Crisis resolved and our marriage was saved.  :)

I think that has been the hardest adjustment for me in becoming a wife, mother, and homemaker.  I like things to be the way I like them but in this full and busy house, rarely do things stay where I put them.

Another thing that really annoys me is broken DVD cases, or movies that are put back in the wrong box, or left out of their box altogether.  GRRRRR!!!!  You better watch out!

DVD storage has been an issue in our house for years.  It was seriously causing stress in my life.  That's why I am so excited that I think I have finally found a solution.

When we moved, I put all our movies in a milk crate, and because I couldn't figure out where to put them, that is where they have stayed - on the floor of my bedroom closet - for the last 8 months.

Before - So embarrassing!

I bought a media storage binder...seriously the best $20 I ever spent.

After - Yay!

I put the kids to work sorting through our movies.  I didn't dare alphabetize them because I know they won't stay that way, but I did group together movies in a series (like Veggie Tales) and try to keep younger kid movies separated from ones for my older kids.

I didn't go crazy with organizing because my main concern was just getting them in a place where they could be stored neatly.  We can easily flip through the pages to find what we are looking for, but also find ones that were previously forgotten about.

We then took all the labels out of the cases and stored them in a zip-top bag.  The broken cases were thrown away and the ones I was willing to keep were put back in that ugly milk crate.  The box is now in my attic.  I'm keeping them for now.  My thought is that I won't have little ones forever and when we do ever  pass those movies along (or when someone borrows one) we can put them back in a case with their label.

It's only been a week, but so far it's working for us.

I know it's just a little thing, but I really think that it will make my life easier and my kids will hear one less of my crazy, pet-peeve rants.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Surviving Soccer Season

It's that time of year again, the minivans are filling the parking lot of the soccer field.  There is a stampede of cleats and shin guards running through the grass.  Soccer season is here and it's taking over my life!

Having two kids playing this year has been a challenge, but I feel that we are slowly adjusting to this new way of life. 

I am such a homebody at heart and being out with all the kids 3 times a week is really a struggle for me.  I'm trying to be a good soccer mom, really I am, but I just don't think I am cut out for this.

I like having a schedule to my day and between a new school year, soccer games and practices, doctor appointments, and church activities there just isn't enough time in my day.  It just feels like we are going non-stop.

I've come to the realization that I just can't do it all...and that's ok.

I'm choosing my priorities and what is most important to our family.

My house is "clean enough". 
We will eat dinner together as a family every night, even if it is grilled cheese...again.

Surviving soccer season is going to take more planning on my part.  I'm trying to find easy meals that I can have waiting for us in the Crock Pot when we come home.  I'm trying to plan our school week so we can finish early on practice nights and the kids can have a break before we rush out for the night.  I've drilled the kids to remember to keep their gear by the door so we aren't running around like crazy looking for it.

We are all exhausted, but I'm trying to remember that it's only for a season.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back to School

School has started up again and life is feeling full.  I have to admit, it does feel good to have more structure to our days again, though the Summer was a wonderful break for me to get through my first trimester.

I wanted to share with you the curriculum that I chose for this year.  I am currently teaching 2rd and 3nd grades and kindergarten...with two toddlers making the day much more interesting!

This year we are using My Father's World: Exploring Countries and Cultures.

We used MFW last year and loved it.  It was my first experience with a pre-planned curriculum, the previous years I just pieced everything together myself, but having it prepared for me made life so much easier.  I was concerned that having a curriculum would take all the me out of teaching my kids...but it has actually been the opposite.

MFW is very flexible and forgiving and allows me to change up activities to fit our family or just be creative myself.  It has also taken a lot of work out of my part and allowed me to just enjoy teaching.

This year the focus is on World Geography

Bible is a study and memory verses from Matthew, as well as character qualities and biographies of missionaries, and learning about the prayer needs of other people groups and countries. 

Geography is focused on map skills, country studies and world cultures.  We will be doing a variety of activities for each country such as recipes, games, and crafts as well as worksheets for a geography notebook.

For Science we will be studying ecosystems and animals from around the world, and a weekly nature walk and journal.

World music, foreign language, and art are also explored for each country.

Language arts are weaved into the whole curriculum in a natural way.  The kids will be keeping journals, writing letters, learning new vocabulary words, practicing handwriting, and preparing pages for their notebooks. 

For Spelling, I chose Spelling by Sound and Structure (2nd grade). 

This is new to us this year, but so far the kids are really enjoying it.  I am using 2nd grade with both of them because I felt that my oldest needed more practice in this area and it is actually making it more fun for them because they can do the activities together, and I only have one list of spelling words to test on at the end of the week.

There are only 2 workbook pages for the week.  We split the pages up over 4 days and use the spelling drill suggestions to make a game out of learning their words.  The first day I had them each write their spelling words, leaving out the vowels.  Then they switched papers and had to fill in the vowels.  It was really simple, but they loved it.  It was a complete change from the workbook pages I had to beg them to do last year. 

For English we are using Primary Language Lessons.

I was nervous about this one.  It is completely different from anything I have used before, but we needed something new.  It is this sweet, little book that covers 2nd and 3rd grade.  It is an old fashioned, classical approach to English. 

When this book first arrived, I flipped through the pages and just had to smile.  There are different activities for each lesson.  They are short and sweet, but so full of rich content.  In our first lesson for 2nd grade, my daughter did a picture study.  She looked at the black and white painting and answered some questions about what she observed.  It was a great way for her to put her thoughts into words, learn to be more observant, and use her imagination. 

Other lessons include memorizing poetry, dictation, letter writing, etc...many can be done orally which I think is a wonderful break in a day full of writing.  It is very gentle, but I feel confident that they will still be learning the basics without even realizing it.  Punctuation and grammar and weaved into the lessons without a formal lesson.

Reading will come from our selection of library books related to our country and animal studies, and well as daily Bible readings.

For Math we are using Horizons Math.  We have used this for the last few years and really loved it.  It is a spiral approach, so lessons are constantly being reviewed, and new concepts are taught a little at a time.  I am shocked at how much my kids have learned in math without feeling overwhelmed. 

My Kindergartner is following along with us in Bible, geography and science, but I don't put pressure on him...he just soaks it all in and is having fun with us. 

I was given a set of Hooked on Phonics tapes, so we are trying them this year.  He loves them and can follow along independently which is a big help for me.  We will see how it goes, if I am not impressed, I will use Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

I make ABC worksheets up for him and we have a variety of games and activities in the house that he can play with while learning. 

Overall I am really excited for this year.  As I typed this all out it seems like a lot of work, and it is more than we have done before, but it is all coming together in a very natural way that fits our family.  We have only done two days of school so far, and I am still trying to figure out how to manage my home in the midst of such a full day...but that's another post for another time.  

I hope you all are enjoying the excitement of a new school year in your homes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our Schoolroom

I woke up this morning to a quiet chill in the air.  Autumn is almost here and a new school year is about to begin.  Our new schoolbooks have arrived and we've cracked open the fresh boxes of crayons.  I've spent the past few weeks rearranging things and making room on the bookshelf.  Things are fitting into place and there is a new season of excitement in our house.

But lately, I've found myself coveting my friends' schoolrooms.  These perfect and sweet little classrooms inside their homes.  There are desks for the children, matching shelves for supplies and precious nooks for curling up with a storybook. 

But I don't have any of that.  We do our lessons at our kitchen table.  I have a crowded bookshelf that holds our supplies and everything is packed up again before each meal.

Today, as I was putting things away, I was thinking about our homeschool.  We are not a school...this is our home.  I want our home to encourage a love of learning.  That doesn't only happen in a beautiful schoolroom, it happens because we are living a life of curiosity.

Yes, these rooms are beautiful and inspiring, and I'm sure they make managing home and school much easier, but I realized today, that for me, having a school room would be all about me.

I'm the one who doesn't want a world map on my dining room wall.  I'm the one who doesn't want science projects growing on my kitchen counter.

But it's not about me.

Kind of like all those baby nurseries I never got to decorate, and my babies never missed.

No, this is our home, and in our home we learn.  It may not be pretty, but we make it work and we are having fun.  And a thing of beauty.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Storm Maker

For everyone who just lived through this hurricane...and through every storm in your life, may you always feel the presence of your Maker.

This is my beautiful sister, sharing her beautiful song.  Be blessed!  Check out her blog here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's a rainy day...

With such gray skies outside, I needed a little sunshine inside.  So, I organized my closet by color.  Now before you think I am completely crazy...I am not a super obsessive organizing freak.  I just like to see the beauty in everyday things. 

It took me less than a minute to rearrange my clothes...but I think it makes my closet look so much more put together.  Now, I know I don't have the most colorful wardrobe, but putting like colors together really made a difference (and I realized that I really wear a lot of brown!). 

And now every time I walk by my little rainbow it makes me smile.  :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Yes, they are all ours."

Something rather intrusive happened when we started having children.  All of a sudden complete strangers were all up in my reproductive business.

I remember being pregnant with our first and shocked at the attention I received.  I could no longer go out in public without someone talking to me.  For a shy girl who would much rather go unnoticed, this was not an easy thing.  But, I was a proud mama and most of their comments were sweet.  What I was not happy about was that people I barely knew thought it was OK to just reach out and rub my belly!

Two years later came baby #2, this time a baby girl.  Everyone was so happy for us.  They thought that we had achieved the ultimate goal:  "The perfect family".

Then came baby #3 and people stopped being so nice.  Our perfect family was no longer was "a handful".

With baby #4, people were downright confused"Are they all yours?!"
And then just plain rude.  "Are you getting your tubes tied?"  "Do they all have the same father?"  "Better you than me!"

They also started to insult my children.  They assumed that we had been trying for another girl, and since we had another boy, our child was not wanted.  "Oh, your poor girl with all those brothers!"  The princess of our family certainly did not feel like she needed pity.

When I showed up pregnant with our 5th child, people put us in a whole new category.  "So, are you like those Duggars?"  "You should have a camera crew following you around!"

I've also been surprised at how much encouragement we've received.  For every one negative comment, we have probably heard five positive ones.  We are always being commended for how well behaved our children are in public.

I've had countless grandmothers pull me aside and say, "I just love your big family! My only regret is that I didn't have more."  And then they go on to tell me they had 7 children!

Over the years I haven't known how to react to all the comments.  Many times I just smile politely and walk away.  But lately I've been feeling very convicted.  I've been reminded of the Bible verse:

"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have..."  ~I Peter 3:15

Our faith absolutely has inspired our desire for a large family.  We are not trying to make a radical religious statement.  We have simply prayed that God would give us His heart for children.

Now that my baby bump with #6 is becoming more obvious, there has been a whole new set of questions and comments.  But this time around I am seeking wisdom in how to respond.

I want to encourage the weary-eyed mothers of little ones.  It does get easier.
I want to challenge the grumpy baby boomers to view children differently.  They are not a nuisance.  They are not a drain on society.  They are blessings.  They are our future.  Their innocence should inspire all of us to live differently.

We feel truly blessed to be given the gift of our children.  We now have a home that is so full of love and laughter it is bursting at the seams.

Monday, August 1, 2011

For My Daughters...

My sister in law handed me a basket full of colorful tissue paper.  "It's for your daughters, you'll understand when you open it."  As I dug through the bright layers and unveiled each piece, I knew exactly what she meant.

She had given me 3 mismatched teacups and saucers.  I just had to smile.  She knows how much I love found treasures.  They were perfect.

As a mother of 4 daughters herself, she understands the power of a tea party. 

She didn't just give me beautiful pieces of china, but a reminder to slow down, cherish these moments with my daughters, and keep an open conversation.

My oldest daughter is only 5 years old.  She hasn't built up those walls or shut me out, and it's my prayer that she will always want to come to me, tea cup in hand, to have a girl talk.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Organizing Toys

When we only had one toddler, organizing his toys was no big deal.  They all fit into one basket and it took all of one minute to pick up and put away.

Now we've added 4 kids, and when you multiply it by 7 years of birthdays and Christmases, that's a lot of toys!

Over the years, I feel like I have tried everything to keep the toys under control.  But no matter how well I think I have organized them, if it is too complicated for the kids to put away, it won't stay organized for long.

First we tried a toy box.  Toy boxes are theory.  You just toss everything in and close the lid.  But then my kids couldn't find the toys they were looking for and would pull out everything.  Toys would get lost or broken at the bottom of the box.

When our oldest graduated to things like Legos, Matchbox cars, and trains, I knew I had to find a way to keep them separated.  We bought one of those bin systems to replace the toy box. 

I thought I had found the answer.  I put it together and sorted everything into the colorful bins.  I even labeled them for the kids with little pictures of what should go in each one.

It didn't stay that way.  Rarely did the kids ever play with just one type of toy at a time, so everything would get thrown together, and it was too frustrating for them to sort it all out and put away.

Then they discovered that if they dumped out everything, they could play with the bins.   They had them lined up down the hall and would sit in them and pretend they were riding on a train.  That was cute until I saw the mess they made.

Before we moved, I went on a decluttering rampage.  If we didn't love it, use it, or need was gone.  I think I got rid of half of their toys, and they didn't really notice.

A few weeks before our move, I packed up the kids' rooms.  I let them pick out a few toys and the rest were packed up in boxes and hidden out of sight.

Their rooms were virtually empty, but they played so well with the few things they had.  My house was clean and we were no longer overwhelmed with toys.  It was a beautiful thing.

I loved keeping things out of sight so we installed a second shelf in their closets.  All those bins went on the shelves.  The kids can ask for one and I get it down for them, and now they no longer dump them all over the floor.

Things stay organized and they are much more excited to play with something that is not on their floor everyday.  It's like it's brand new all over again.

I do keep a small hamper in the little boys' room to hold a few larger toys, but that's easy enough to clean up.

The older kids' closets hold puzzles, games, playdoh, Legos and K'nex, and science and craft kits. 
 I love that I can close the closet doors, keep out little hands, and hide it all.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Since I don't own a microwave...

I thought you might like to see what I did with that space over my stove top.

I hung a small chalkboard so I could write inspiring quotes and Bible verses.  I love having sweet words of wisdom on my walls and it's the perfect place to read throughout the day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Trash and Treasure

"I have a surprise for you!", my husband excitedly told me over the phone.  While he was driving home, I was making a million guesses as to what it could be.

Then he walked through the door with this:

This was not exactly what I was expecting.

"Where did you trash pick it?"
"I didn't, I passed by a yard sale."
"You paid money for this?!"
"Yeah, it was only $12!"

I'm thinking we have very different ideas of what a good deal is.
But, the more I looked at it the more potential I saw.

It's a handmade trunk that some little boy had used as a toy box and covered in his sticker collection.

It took me over an hour just to get the top clean and I spent the rest of the day scrapping off stickers when I had a spare moment.

It was really sweet of my husband to think of me.  I've been looking for a bench or trunk to keep in our mudroom.  It's the perfect place to sit and take off your shoes and then toss them into, out of sight.

I wonder how many people walked by it, thinking it was just a piece of junk.

The owner himself thought it wasn't worth his time.

How many times have I been just as judgemental with things, or worse, with other people.
One glance at the imperfections and I walk away, never seeing the treasure that is hiding inside.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Organizing the Spice Cabinet

I'm short.  Not really short, but short enough that I can't see into my cabinets without a step stool.  It's made organizing and putting things away very frustrating.  I can't see and I can't reach and things are always falling down on my head. 

Thankfully, God gave me a husband that is a foot taller than me.  But, when he's not here, I am on my own so I have had to find ways to make it work for me.

One thing that has really made my life easier in the kitchen, is how I organize my spices.  I used to have to blindly dig through the cabinet, picking up each bottle until I found the one I needed.  Bottles were getting knocked over and falling out and it was so annoying.

So, I found a small bin that fits in my cabinet.  I placed all my spice bottles in it and labeled the lids with small stickers.  Now when I need one, I just grab the whole bin down to my level, and can easily find the one I want.  Super simple, but it changed my life.

I saved the bottom shelf for salt and pepper and other things I use all the time.  The top shelf is for things I use the least, like cake decorations and cupcake liners.

Maybe one day I will buy prettier bins and replace my spices with matching glass bottles...that would be organizing bliss...but for now, I used what I had and that works for me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

10 Years Ago...

This past week I celebrated my 29th birthday.  There is something about birthdays that always makes me feel nostalgic.  As my 20's are coming to an end I've been thinking about the last decade and how much my life has much I have changed.

10 years ago I was just 19.  I was a waitress at a little coffee shop, and I didn't even drink coffee.  I thought I was an adult, but now I know that I really had no idea what that meant.

I had so much freedom.  I would play my guitar every day.  I had time to paint and journal and be creative.  I could come and go as I pleased.

But, I also remember that time feeling very lost.  I was in a place of waiting.  I had all these dreams of "someday...", but I don't think I knew what I had right in front of me. 

Then one day my high school sweetheart took me to our special place.  There in that beautiful, white pine forest he asked me to be his wife.  Of course I said yes, and from that moment my life changed.  It was no longer about me, but about us.

The next 6 months were a whirlwind of wedding plans and excitement.  We had always planned on getting married young, and I have never regretted that decision, but I wonder if I really understood what I had at 19.

I don't miss those days.  I know I am where I meant to be now, and I can't imagine my life any other way.  But if I could go back and speak to the me at 19, there is so much I could say.

I wasn't prepared to be a wife.  I thought I was, I was in love, how hard could it be?

But I guess it's all part of the journey.  I wouldn't have listened then, I needed to learn things for myself.

I am so thankful that God took hold of my heart and changed me from the inside.  I'm sure in 10 years I will look back on this 29 year old and have so much more to say.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Gift of Help

We love our larger-than-average family, but not everyone I come across in life is supportive.  It does hurt to get stared at and hear rude comments from strangers.  It is even more discouraging when the people close to me just don't understand the choices I make and can't bring themselves to just be happy for me.

So I've become defensive.  I've felt like I've had to prove something.  Prove that I can handle all of my children by myself.

I have struggled while walking 4 small children across a church parking lot with a baby on my hip, a huge diaper bag over my shoulder, and my guitar case in my hand.  I have done grocery shopping and doctor's appointments with all of them in tow....which have ended in tears (mine, not the kids).

And then a sweet soul will see my distress and ask, "Can I help you?"

"No thanks, I'm fine. I've got it."

So they walk away quietly and I trudge on.

The truth's hard.  I'm exhausted.  I can't do it all on my own, all the time.  But my pride won't let me ask for help.

I have thought about the times when I have been able to help someone.  It brings us joy when we are serving others.  And when I refuse some one's help, I am letting my pride rob someone of joy.

I still struggle with asking for help, but I no longer look at their offers as pity.  I am trying to let go of my pride and let others help me.  It doesn't make me less of a mother.  It is softening my heart and giving an opportunity for someone to be blessed through the gift of help.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Taste of Summer

This weekend we took our family blueberry picking.  The blueberry farm was a sweet reminder to slow down and cherish where our food comes from.  Real food.  Pure food.

After driving down a dusty, winding road you are welcomed by a sweet little lady wrapped in an apron.  She stands on the front porch of her old farmhouse and instantly makes you feel at home, offering ice cold water and homemade cinnamon bread to the new harvesters.

We grabbed our buckets and went to work.  As we weaved through the rows or blueberry bushes a quiet peace blows in on the warm summer breeze.  As my hands are busily searching for the perfect berries, my mind was set free from the weight of the week.

With full buckets we walked the steps of that old front porch.  There she sells fresh brown eggs and local honey.  Our harvest is weighed, over 12 lbs!

Now that we are home, the kids have already eaten a bucketful, and there are a few pounds tucked away in the freezer.  I've made blueberry popsicles and I'm sure there will be many batches of blueberry muffins and pancakes.

It was the perfect, simple day to enjoy a little taste of Summer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Power of a Storybook


One of my favorite memories with my mother was that she would read to us everyday.  We would snuggle up in her bed with a stack of books and she would read to me until I fell asleep.  It didn't matter how many times we had read those books before, or that I had them memorized, it was always exciting to hear them again.  She had a way of bringing the stories to life.

When I had children of my own, this was the first tradition that I couldn't wait to carry on.  All of my childhood books had been lost in a fire, but I have found a few of my favorites again at yard sales and in thrift stores.  It is amazing to me when I flip through these old books that the pictures can instantly take me back and I still have them memorized, though it's been over 25 years since my mother read to me.

The power of a storybook can calm an energetic toddler and ignite imaginations.

I thought that when my older children learned to read for themselves, that they wouldn't want to curl up on the couch with me for a story.  But they love it more than ever and it has opened up a whole new world of stories.

We have been reading the Little House series, which I never read as a child, and we are discovering the joys of the simple prairie life together.  I love that when I close the book they beg, "Just one more chapter, please?!"

When we read to our children we are giving them a beautiful gift.  We are making memories and instilling a love for literature that will last a lifetime.  We are also giving a gift to ourselves.  We slow down and enjoy our children and bring life back to where it should be.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Life and Death on the Farm

This morning as I went out to feed the chickens, I saw white feathers scattered all over the ground.  One of our chickens had been attacked during the night.  Something had reached in through the wire fence and tried to eat it.  What was left of it was laying in the dirt, covered in flies.
Another one, which we think is a rooster, is pretty scratched up.  There is dried blood matted into the feathers around his neck.

I just stood there, shaking, staring at the crime scene.

I know this animal was just looking for a meal.  I know this is a natural part of life and death.  It was just unsettling to see it in my backyard.

I called my husband.  "It was probably a coyote."  His words did not bring me any comfort.  I know there are many animals in these woods that are capable of this, but I have not wanted to think of them wandering around and hunting where my children play.

I am scared.  I don't feel safe.  I am saddened because we have raised these chickens since they were tiny balls of fluff.  They are my babies, and I couldn't protect them.

But God is good.  We had made plans for our neice to spend the night, but then our two oldest decided to sleep over her house instead.  If they had been here I know they all would have run out there first thing in the morning and been the ones to discover it.

I am not going to hide the reality of life and death from my children.  I can't lie to them.  But I am so thankful that God protected their little eyes.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Just the mention of the word brings out a sigh, doesn't it?

I have yet to meet a mother who hasn't complained about laundry.  But why is that?  Laundry really is one of our easiest chores.  Most of us are blessed to have a washer and dryer right in our homes.  We do not have to drag the laundry basket down to the creek.  We just throw the clothes in and walk away.

But maybe that's the problem.  Maybe it's too easy to do the laundry and not so easy to finish the laundry.  We wash and dry load after load, but then we end up with piles that never get put away.

I think I've finally found a system that works for me. 

I wash and dry one load at a time.  I sort, fold and put it away before starting another.  It goes against everything I feel like I should be doing.  It is surprisingly hard to walk by the empty washer and resist the urge to just throw another load in.  But, if I can get one load fully finished and away before I start another, I am actually being much more productive.

I fold them right on top of the washer.  It is a 15 minute chore, not a mountain of laundry.  I still do about 3 loads a day, but it doesn't feel like it.  For the first time ever, I have empty hampers...that have stayed empty. 

Before, I would have a load in the washer, one in the dryer...and then forget about them until my husband would come home and need his work uniforms washed.

He would take the clothes out of the dryer, dump them somewhere, switch over the wet clothes, put in his load and go to bed.  In the morning, more clothes were piled up and his were in the dryer. 

So I would wake up to 3 loads to put away.  This, of course, was too big of a job to tackle while I'm trying to feed the little ones breakfast and start our school day, so I would throw another load in the wash.  At least I was doing something

But really, it wasn't helping at all.  Does this sound like your life?  I would encourage you to be a little lazy and just do one load at a time. 

Laundry is a part of life, but it doesn't have to take over your life.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Homeschooling with Little Ones

Of friend of mine recently decided to homeschool and asked me for ideas of what to do with her younger children.  Oh, I feel like I am in the thick of it!  This year I taught our 1st and 2nd graders and had our busy little ones, who are now ages 4, 2 and 11 months.  I am being pulled in 5 different directions and it can be very frustrating.  There are many days where I just can't think straight.  Here are some of my tips for homeschooling with little ones:

  • Keep them close.
When my little guys are out of my sight, they are usually getting into trouble. If I can keep them in sight while I am teaching it saves me from cleaning up a bigger mess later. 

While we are schooling I have them work on some quiet activities.  You can check out some that I've made here.  Most of these were made during desperate moments when I had to find something to keep them busy.  I'm planning on making more this summer.  We also have a supply of educational toys and activities that they can play with during this time.
  • Keep them close...but not too close.
Sometimes when they are at the kitchen table with us, they are trying to color on someone's math book or making a distracting mess.  So I set them up on a blanket on the floor (which they have to stay on) or have the older ones sit at the counter instead.  This way everyone has their own space.

  • Naptime is your friend
If you are blessed to have toddlers that take a nap (or 2!), use this time to your advantage.  Naptime used to be my "me time", but now that I have older ones to teach we use this time for our more involved subjects, science experiments, and projects.

  • But, if your little guys decides to protest his naps, all is not lost!
We went through this transition with our 4 year old this year.  I panicked a little because we really loved this quiet time, but he has actually done really well and just tags along with us.  I was so surprised at how much he actually learned. 

We use the "Bus Stop" approach.  While we were studying magnets, we did an experiment together.  Then, while the older ones were writing in their journals about what they observed, he would play with the magnets.  He could learn with us, but at his own level.  And then I moved on with the older ones.

  • You are a Home, not a school.
Homeschooling does not need to be from 9am-3pm.  You can make it fit your life.  Some states require your kids to work for a certain number of hours, but that doesn't mean that they have to be in a row.

We like to start our day with Bible, but I know a lot of families who save this for family devotions when Daddy is home.  Reading time might work best before bed, when your house is calming down for the night.

Work around naps and take advantage of mealtimes.  When they are all sitting still and busy eating lunch I read to them our read-aloud for the week.

I have really struggled with frustration with my little ones.  They have a way of making all our plans so much harder!  But God has been working on my heart.

When I am really overwhelmed I try to think of this verse.

"...(Jesus said) "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."  And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them."  Mark 10:13-16

Jesus wants us to welcome and cherish these little ones, not shoo them away (or just park them in front of the TV).  They are only little for a short time.  I don't want to miss this time because of my agenda.  Nothing is more important...especially not schoolwork.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I'm Featured!

I just saw that my grocery bag dispenser was featured on!  I am blown away by the response!  Thanks so much for stopping by!

Thanks also to Finds For Friends , Frugal Living NW , Chrystal's Corner , $Clippin 4 a Cause$ , and Coupon Closet  for posting it as well! 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Dress Experiment

This week I did a little experiment.  I challenged myself to wear a dress or skirt every day.  I certainly am not into legalism, and would never say that women shouldn't wear pants...I just think femininity deserves a comeback. 

The first thing I noticed when I put on a dress was how I felt.  I felt pretty.  I walked with a little extra twirl in my step.  I felt feminine and beautiful.  I found that it made everyday chores a little more...wholesome.  I just felt like the women of old, full of grace and strength and dignity.  Am I being dramatic?  I don't think so.  Our clothes have a lot of power.  It is amazing to me how wearing something a little too short or tight can completely change my personality.  I feel insecure...suffocated.  But, in a well fitting and flowing skirt, I me. 

I then noticed my husband's reaction.  He told me I was beautiful every day.  Now, this is coming from a man who will say that after I've been through 16 hours of labor.  He says it on days of no make-up and no sleep.  But this was different.  His eyes lit up

My children would say, "Mommy looks so pretty today!".  They saw a softer side of me.  They still reached for me with sticky hands, they buried their faces in my lap and wiped their tears on my skirt...did it make me more approachable?

I went through my day just like every day.  I chased after the chickens that had escaped from their pen.  I cooked and cleaned and cared for my children.  I wasn't afraid of getting dirty.  Clothes aren't meant to last forever. 

This challenge was really good for me.  Every girl should feel pretty.  It wasn't that I put on a dress and all my insecurities just melted away...they were still there staring back at me in the mirror, but dressing up made the mundane feel a little more magical.

A Deliberate Life

"To know God and to enjoy Him. To celebrate His diversity and live in His unity. To eat with sinners and worship with Lovers. To paint with children, to learn with scholars. To rejoice in dance, to contemplate in prayer. To live dangerously, and give extravagantly. To study, to hear, and to wonder. To sing, to drum, to laugh, to shout, to run. To heal, to reconcile, to serve and to be sent. Joyful expectation, holy discontentment..."

I read this quote many years ago and just fell in love with it.  I put it on the front cover of my Bible but I haven't let those words really sink in in a while.  Then I read it again tonight and it stirred something in my heart.  It's deliberate living.  It's not just going through the motions and getting through the day.  It's about making every day, every moment, matter...because there is a purpose to every day.

These words remind me of my brother Matt.  It's been almost 3 years since he passed away.  He was only 16 years old when God called him Home.  He lived a deliberate life.  I think of him and all that he meant to so many people.  He had a servant heart way beyond his years.  He didn't judge.  He never spoke badly of anyone.  He gave and he gave.  He never held back. 

I miss him.  Oh, how I miss him!  But, more than anything I am inspired by him.  His life has challenged me to truly live with no regrets, with no wasted moments.

Friday, May 27, 2011

So...I gave in and made a facebook page for my blog.  I went back and forth about it for a long just seemed like another thing to do, and I am all about simplifying things...did I really need more in my life?  But...I do think it might be fun and I can keep up with all my readers in one place.  So, be sure to stop by and hit "like"!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Adventure

I wish I was a photographer.  There have been so many moments in my life that I wish I could freeze in time forever.  Those sweet seconds when life is truly beautiful.

Yesterday I was pushing our baby girl in the stroller.  I couldn't see her face, but from behind I watched her throw her hands in the air and let out a delighted squeal.  She was full of excitement and joy, like riding a roller coaster...and we were just taking a walk to the mailbox.

As I was watching her I just wanted to capture this moment and not let go.  I'm not sure what has made me so emotional these days...I guess I just see life running away from me.  My children are growing so fast and I can't hold them back.

But that's all part of the adventure.  Everyday is something new.  We are learning and growing together.  I guess that's why God gave us the gift of memories.  We can hold onto these moments without holding them back.

Motherhood is an adventure.  And not one for the weak or squeamish.  It is an adventure that has completely changed my life and every bit of who I am.  And I know it is just the beginning... 

Do I look to the coming days with fear and complaining, or do I throw my hands up and squeal with excitement and joy?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Simple Household Notebook

I'm a list maker.  I can't help it, I just love to write out everything and see my thoughts all neat and organized.  I've actually written out a to-do list with things I've already done, just so that I could have the satisfaction of crossing them off.  But, my lists were getting out of control.  A shopping list here, a Christmas list there, little scraps of paper with my precious reminders were getting lost in the shuffle of life.

Then I started to read some wonderful homemaking blogs, and all these supermoms had a household notebook.  They would share pictures of these pretty notebooks packed full of their cleaning schedules, menu plans, to-do lists and everything else a list-addicted girl like me could want.  Everything was typed out in cute fonts and printed on pretty paper with matching dividers. 

Surely this was the badge of an expert homemaker.

I had to make one.  I gathered all the supplies and then set to work printing all the forms.  I had daily and weekly schedules, monthly menu plans, calender pages, cleaning schedules, pantry and freezer inventories, budget went on and on.

I filed them all into a notebook and then had to smile at the organized beauty of it all.  "This will make my life so much easier!" 


The first thing I realized was that my meticulously planned cleaning schedules made no sense in this house full of kids.  Why would I be worried about dusting the ceiling fan when my 2 year old just poured a whole gallon of milk on the floor?  I had so many emergency messes to deal with during the day, I never had the time (or energy) to work on my daily assigned cleaning.

Then there were the inventories that I never remembered to update, the menu plans we didn't follow and the daily schedule that was completely unrealistic to my real life.

I was left with a notebook that made me feel like an unorganized mess...a failure as a homemaker.  So I tucked it away and went on with my life.

A few months ago I dug it out again.  I decided that I could make this work for me, if I made it for me.  I can't live on someone else's schedule.  This is my life and I need to keep it simple.  I ripped out all the pages and started over.  So here is my simple household notebook:


This is my main page that I use daily.  I printed it from Money Saving Mom.  I used the customized version of the Daily Docket.  I keep it in a page protector and I cross things off with a dry erase marker, at the end of the week, I just wipe it off and start over.

On the left column I keep a list of weekly cleaning projects (clean bathrooms, dust, vacuum bedrooms...)  When I finish one, I cross it off.  Then, when I have a few free moments I can look at my list and see what still needs to be done that week.  I do what I can fit into my day.  Some weeks, I get everything done gradually, other times they are all left for Saturday.

In the middle is my list of daily chores (laundry, dishes, make beds, dinner prep...)  It just helps to keep me on track.  There is also a space to check off how much water I drink, if I exercised and when I take my vitamins.  This has been so important in reminding me to take care of myself.

On the right column I have our weekly menu plan.  This is a list of dinner meals that I come up with during my grocery planning.  I don't always make everything on here, but it gives me ideas when I need to prep something in the morning.  I just cross it off after we have one.

Everything on this page is written in pencil (which kind of annoys me).  This is so that I can easily change things without having to print a new page all the time.

On the opposite side is a monthly/seasonal cleaning list.  I also printed this from Money Saving Mom.  Then I keep a few pages of notebook paper for my lists:

My Wish List
Yard work Projects
Sewing Projects
House Projects and Repairs


This section is where I keep paper to jot down menu ideas and new recipes to try.  I keep my grocery shopping list on the fridge so I can write things down as we run out of them.  Nothing fancy, but it works for me.


The first page in this section is a list of family birthdays.  I found it here.  I like it because I can see the whole year at a glance and plan accordingly.  Then I have pages for birthday and Christmas gift ideas, handmade projects, and supplies needed.


I have a list of our debts (It feels so good to cross those off!) and a list of large and small goals that we are saving up for.  I also have some budget pages in there, but they are still a work in progress.

And that's it.  It's pretty simple, but it works for me.  I hope it inspires you to find what works for you.

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