Making the most of a mess

I love the saying, “If you’re gonna make a mess, you might as well make the most of it”, especially as it applies to cooking and baking.

This, my friends, is a big mess of butter.

IMG_7674Yep – a lot of butter.  One and a half pounds, to be exact.  I was softening it for a quadruple batch of chocolate chip cookies (and a single batch makes 2 dozen, so a lot of cookies).

My thinking is that if I’m going to do the work of mixing, measuring, scooping, baking, and then cleaning it up, I’d far and away prefer to do it all at once and get it over with.  Why make several messes when you can make one big mess and get it out of the way?

I’m not referring to once-a-month meal prep.  I know there are families who live by making all their meals – breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, desserts – in one fell swoop.  They spend a day prepping or they work with other families and each person takes on a couple of meals, then they swap them out.  I think it’s great that they’ve found a way to make this work, but doing that much cooking and baking at once would knock me flat.

So, instead of making that big of a mess, I make slightly less messier messes.  If I’m making soup, I double it.  If I’m making one casserole, I double that, too.  I’ll put half in the freezer for a busy day and serve the other half that evening.  I like knowing that I’ve got a meal in the freezer, ready to be popped in the oven or reheated on the stove.

I’ve also found that having an extra meal in the freezer or desserts ready to be made up with just a few extra ingredients makes it easier for me to be hospitable.  One of my new friends had to have surgery a few weeks ago.  It was no trouble for me to pull some beef barley stew out of the freezer for her family.  If we’re going to a playdate, it’s simple to take out a dozen cookie dough balls and bake them (only 15 minutes in the oven!).

Which brings me back to all of that butter.  It’s no secret that I’m married to a guy who loves chocolate.  He’s always scrounging for chocolate chips or brownies or something with cocoa in it.  Having cookie dough balls in the freezer makes it easy for me to make 3 or 4 cookies for him in the evening.  Do we consume 8 dozen chocolate chip cookies by ourselves in a single month?  No, not even close, but I know that they’ll be eaten or given away eventually, and it makes Chris happy to have homemade cookies.  So, why not double (or in our case, quadruple) the recipe and have some on stand-by?

It’s not just freezer food.  We went to a Super Bowl Party last weekend and I wanted to bring something other than chicken wings or chips.  I had a big bag of brownie mix that I’d made up awhile ago (this is my favorite recipe for that… and it’s from PBS, of all places).  I’ve learned that 4 full cups of the mix = a 9 x 13 inch pan of brownies).  I measured out 4 cups, added the wet ingredients, and popped it in the oven.  Boom – homemade, from-scratch brownies.

Maybe you don’t think you have the freezer space.  I can understand that.  We’ve lived in itty-bitty apartments.  Even when we had a teeny-tiny freezer (I’m talking even smaller than the standard above-the-fridge freezers), I’d still make what I could, pour it in a Ziploc bag, and freeze it flat to save space.  It sounds silly, but it was like making a gift for myself, a gift of time for when I didn’t have any to make dinner.

I love having freezer meals for days when I have to take one or both of the boys to a doctor’s appointment (vaccinations are coming up for Jack this week – ugh) or when I want to spend their nap-time working on the unending amount of painting that awaits me in this house.  Or, let’s be honest, for when I plain don’t feel like cooking and would rather play with the boys.  So, when I do have the time to cook or bake, I make the most of it.  It saves time and cuts back on my stress levels in the end :-)

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Are you like me with making double (or quadruple) batches of things and storing it in the freezer or pantry for a busy day?  What are some of your favorite recipes?  This is the chocolate chip cookie recipe that I used (though I did sub some of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour and used a few “flaxmeal eggs” for some of the regular eggs).  Last night, I made a double batch of this Middle Eastern Chickpea & Rice Stew, which was economical as well as a big hit.  If you’ve got any tried-and-true favorites, please share!

The Importance of Work in a Child’s Life: 10 Tasks for 2 Year Olds

As Joe has grown, I’ve come to notice and realize something: he really, really loves to help.  In fact, he gets so much enjoyment from helping me and being useful that if I don’t let him work alongside me, it hurts his feelings.  It’s made me think about the importance of work in our lives.  Without work – whether enjoyable tasks or not – life isn’t as much fun or as fulfilling.

IMG_7652Joe helping with the laundry… this usually turns into jumping on the bed at some point!

It’s crazy, but right now (at the grand old age of 2 1/2) Joe gets a lot of enjoyment from helping me with household chores.  So much so that it’s not uncommon for him to break out laughing or begin to skip around in the midst of it.  True, he’s not like this with all work, and I’m not deluding myself into thinking he’ll always have this same level of excitement when it comes to chores.

For example, “tidy up time”.  “Tidy up time” is that magical moment before bed when Joe’s required to assist in picking up his toys.  More often than not, he’s displeased about having to interrupt his play and think about getting ready for bed.  He tends to be easily distracted (and quite tired) at that point, which means that either Chris or I have to help him a lot to get things put away.  Nonetheless, once it’s done and I thank him for helping me, he’s so pleased.

And true, there are times when he really isn’t all that interested in putting the crumbs in the rubbish and I have to firmly remind him that he can’t carry them around the house in his hands unceasingly, but again, once it’s done and I thank him for doing it, he can’t help but smile… usually :-)

Perhaps you might say that what he really enjoys is the praise and thanks from a parent.  I don’t deny that – I’m certain he loves it when we tell him that we’re proud of him and that we appreciate what he does.  I think it’s also fair to say that he plain old likes being around me, whether I’m doing work or not, and so it’s natural for him to want to do what I’m doing.  But I’m also certain that he loves knowing that he has a place in our family and that he, too, can be useful.

So, what sorts of jobs do you give a 2 year old?  Surprisingly, there are quite a few that they can do!

  1. “Tidy Up Time” – I’ve made a habit of always putting away the toys when Joe and Jack go to bed. This partly stems from living in small apartments where you’re liable to trip over things that are left out, and it partly stems from a desire to maintain a sense of order in the home.  It’s not all that big of a stretch to realize that when Joe was old enough to walk, he became curious about what I was doing and wanted to help.  This has turned into tidy-up time.  Some nights it’s truly a chore, but other night’s it’s practically a game with us rushing to see who can pick up the most toys or who can do the best job of tossing them in the basket.  And on top of all of that, I think Joe likes getting up in the morning and re-exploring the toy bins, getting things out, and “discovering” what’s there to play with all over again.
  2. Folding/Putting Away Laundry – Joe can do quite a few things to help with  laundry.  I’ll give him cloth diaper wipes to put in the changing table bag and he’ll race from our room to the nursery as quick as he can.  If the weather’s nice and I can hang things outdoors, then Joe is more than happy to hand me wet items from the basket to pin on the line.  When I’m carrying clothes to his room, I’ll give him some socks or underwear or a few pairs of pants.  Yes, stuff may come unfolded or might not end up in the right place, but that’s OK.  Just recently, we’ve started to work on hanging shirts on hangers.  So what if it took 10 minutes of diligent attempts that eventually ended with him asking me for help?  He enjoyed it and he’s figuring things out for himself (and hey, any mom will tell you that having your toddler fully occupied for 10 minutes is a very nice thing!).
  3. Getting Dressed/Undressed – Joe is at that stage where he loves to do everything by himself.  I sometimes have to remind him that, hey, I’m the momma and if I say you need help, then you need to obey.  But, generally speaking, I’m happy to let him attempt things on his own.  With dressing/undressing, this often results in pants being put on backwards or underwear being forgotten or socks on inside out, but this is fun for him.  If we’re in a rush or it’s just not a good time, then it’s OK for me to dress him myself, but if we’ve got the time, then why not let him try?  If he does things wrong or forgets his underpants, I still praise him and thank him for trying, then point out what he’s forgotten or mention that he’s shirt’s inside out.  Usually I’ll follow this up with, “Would you like me to help you?” and lots of times he’s happy for me to do it then.  If not, then I’ll let him try again.  If time is running short, then I don’t ask if he wants help – I just help him.  I’ve learned that you don’t ask a child a question if you’re not planning to give them a choice.
  4. Cleaning – Joe loves to be the big boy and wash his own hands and his own face.  Sometimes, it turns into a battle, like if we’re in a hurry and I need to get him quickly washed up so we can head out.  I’ve learned that in those moments I can either find some other way to get things ready and allow him wash his hands or face, or I can say, “Not this time” and do it for him.  Either option can be the right one, but generally, I let him do it.  I’ll then praise him and tell him that I’m going to clean up a few missed crumbs and usually he’s happy to let me.  If not, I use the “shrug philosophy” and shrug while saying, “That’s too bad – I need to wipe your face now, buddy.”  I’ll also let him wipe the table and often he’ll hop to the floor and pick up crumbs from the rug (if I remind him).
  5. Making the Bed – This is another one that may result in stuff being a little messy.  It’s hard to make your own bed when there are sleeping rails on the sides and your chin barely reaches the top of the mattress, but I let him help, anyway.  Who cares if there are wrinkles?  I smooth them out later.
  6. Carrying Things – Joe loves to carry stuff.  He’ll carry the diaper bag, carry his backpack, carry my keys, carry whatever he can get his hands on.  He loves it.  So if we’ve been running errands, I’ll ask him to help me by carrying something.  Or I’ll ask him to carry his plate to the sink.  Yes, sometimes he needs help or sometimes stuff falls on the ground, but usually it’s not a big deal (I just don’t let him carry stuff that I’d worry about breaking).  Sometimes, this is as simple as asking him to carry a box of noodles out to the car when we’re done grocery shopping.  Simple, but it makes him so happy :-)
  7. Helping Jack – Joe can do all sorts of things to help Jack.  He can bring Jack a toy or give him a pacifier.  He can help me by opening the door to the nursery when I’m waking Jack up from his nap or he can turn off the white noise machine that we have on while Jack sleeps.  He’ll help me push Jack’s stroller.  Sometimes, I have to gently remind Joe to be careful with Jack, such as giving him the pacifier rather than attempting to shove it in his mouth, but he’s usually pretty great with him.
  8. Cooking/Baking – Joe can’t whip up a cake by himself, but he can help me count the cups of flour or the number of eggs that I use.  He can help me pour a cup of rice into the casserole dish or help me stir something in a bowl (always with me saying, “One hand on the bowl, one hand on the spoon, slowly and gently”).  Does stuff get spilled?  Of course.  Is it a big deal?  No, not really.  I don’t let Joe help when company is coming over or if the food is meant for others.  I usually don’t have him pour or mix if I’m in a time crunch or just feeling plain stressed, but a bit of flour ending up on the floor or some batter sloshing over the edge is not a huge loss in our house, and Joe learns from it.
  9. Strapping Himself In – Joe has all kinds of straps to face during the day: car seat straps, booster seat straps, stroller straps… straps and straps!  If we’re in a hurry then I do it for him, but usually he can at least part-way strap himself in.  So what if the straps on his booster are twisted (or “all twisty” as Joe calls it)?  If I know that Joe loves to strap himself into the car seat but it takes him 5 minutes to do it, then I open his door first and then start to put Jack in his car seat.  By the time I’m done wrangling Jack and getting the diaper bags put away, Joe is usually three-fourths of the way through.  I can either wait for him to finish or, if we’re in a time crunch, praise him and thank him while telling him that I’ll do the last few steps.  I never let him strap himself into the car seat or stroller without checking and tightening things!
  10. Yard Work – Our new house has needed… and still does need… a fair amount of work done to the yard.  Joe loves to help out there as much as possible and it has the added benefit of getting us all out of doors into the fresh air.  I’ll have Joe help by pulling weeds (we have no flowers in our yard, no garden, and the only bushes are so firmly rooted that a pick-up will be required to get them out, so no worries about him yanking the wrong thing), carrying sticks to the back, or raking leaves.  Yes, I bought him a child-size rake (actually a shrub rake that cost just over $15 with free Amazon Prime shipping) so that he can rake alongside me.

Chris likes to joke and tease about Joe and Jack “earning their keep” or “pulling their weight”.  I certainly don’t think of Joe’s helping in those terms – I think of it as a (usually, but not always) fun way to teach Joe something about life.  There are lots of ways that I can have Joe help.  Every child is different, but it’s worth asking yourself if there’s some small way that your toddler can start to help around the house, too :-)

Homemade Yoghurt, er, Yogurt

I’ve nothing against store-bought yogurt.  I’ve eaten it for years, fed it to my family, and I think it tastes perfectly fine.

And yet…

The first time that I read about making yogurt at home, my curiosity was most certainly piqued.  “What’s this?  Make my own yogurt?  At home?  How interesting!”

Unfortunately, that interest quickly gave way to feeling overwhelmed.  I read blog tutorials that went on for pages and pages, involving steps like “rig a shop lamp to hang inside a drawer, then place the crock of yogurt, wrapped in a towel, inside the drawer… but DON’T JIGGLE THE YOGURT OR IT WILL BE RUINED”… and other similarly complicated, dire sounding steps.

Hmm – I think I’ll just buy my own, thanks.

But, then we moved to a small town, and you know what?  Finding plain yogurt that isn’t low-fat or fat-free is nigh impossible at our local grocery stores.  I have a skinny whippet of a two-year-old.  He doesn’t need fat-free.

There’s also the issue of cost.  Joe, Jack, and I all love yogurt.  I give it to them as snacks, use it in baked goods, in casseroles, make smoothies with it, and the cost can eat up my grocery budget, especially when you like the thick Greek yogurt.  The large, family sized (35 oz) container of Fage Greek yogurt runs around $7.50 at our local grocery store, and that’s only available in the fat-free variety.  Even the store-brand variety isn’t much more economical than name-brand.  I figured our yogurt consumption was just going to have to decrease, a casualty of small-town living.

Then, I found this recipe over at Keeper of the Home and thought, “I could do that”.  If you start on it in the morning, it’s done before you go to bed.  No shop lamps hanging overhead.  No storing it in the oven.  No excessive babying it.  No watching it over a 24 hour period.

I followed the recipe and was amazed that it resulted in edible yogurt.  Chris was surprised by my amazement.  He asked, “Don’t most of your recipes usually work just fine?  Why are you so surprised by this one?”

I don’t know – something about regular milk turning into yogurt in my kitchen seemed impossible.  But as it turns out, it’s not.

Here it is after I took it out of the garage (the recipe calls for putting it in the fridge, but it’s so cold in our garage that it basically is a fridge out there, so that’s where I stored it).

IMG_7616And here it is in the bowl, pre-taste-testing:

IMG_7620Yiaourti me Meli… yogurt with honey!

It tasted great.  It’s got a smoother flavor and isn’t as thick as Greek yogurt, but I’m guessing you could make it thicker by placing a cheesecloth over a colander, then allowing the yogurt to rest on that and drain some of the whey.  It might also have been a bit more tart if I’d let it stay in the “wrapped up” phase a bit longer (I put it outside after 8 hours) or if I’d purchased starter cultures rather than using store-bought yogurt I had in the fridge.

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Even nicer is the fact that I made it using the milk of my choosing, which for Joe means Vitamin D (not low-fat for our skinny-minnie toddler).  Added bonus: it’s much, much cheaper.  I buy milk for about $3.75 a gallon and used 6 cups of milk, so a little over a third of a gallon.  That comes out to around $1.40 for 48 ounces of yogurt.  Remember, the 35 oz container of Fage yogurt that I can buy from the store is $7.50.  Wow.

I have to admit – I did do my own taste-test before giving it to the boys.  If I was going to get sick from eating it, then no one else was going to have any.  I know, I know, the sacrifices we mothers make.

Next morning, I felt great!  So, lunch time dessert was a bowl of yogurt for both of my babies.

IMG_7634IMG_7645Definitely, definitely a success :-)

If you want to make your own yogurt, here are some tutorials that are worth checking out:

Keeper of the Home’s Tutorial (this is the one that I used)

Money Saving Mom’s Tutorial

Kitchen Stewardship’s Tutorial

Chowhound “Homemade Greek Yogurt” Tutorial

Annie’s Eats Greek Yogurt Tutorial

A Year of Slow Cooking’s Tutorial

Grumpy Plumbers and the Joys of Homeownership

Ahh, homeownership!  The American Dream, right?  The white picket fence, everything shiny and gleaming…

Well, I certainly don’t mind the idea of a white picket fence, having everything nice and shiny, or even of owning our own house… but the thing is, sometimes the shine gets rubbed off, and that’s when you realize:

You’ve got plumbing issues!

Oh joy.  Plumbing issues.  Thank goodness we have a home warranty that came with the purchase of the house, right?  Right?  Hello?

OK, so maybe having a home warranty is great for some things, but when you realize that there’s a $100 call-out fee for each and every issue, the gleam and grandeur of the H.W. wears off just a smidgen.

I seriously considered attempting to fix the toilets myself.  Don’t think I wouldn’t do it!  I ‘d even started researching “Plumb It Yourself” websites/discussion boards, watched YouTube videos, but I think that Chris had formed some sort of nightmare mental image of me, knee deep in water, yelling out, “I can fix it, I can fix it!” while trying desperately to wrap the pipes in packing tape.

Pfft.  Please.  As if I’d use packing tape – only duct tape for me, thanks.

So, Chris vetoed my ideas to fix-it-myself and I called our Home Warranty company, Secure 2-10, and told them the issues at hand.  They promptly called a contracted plumber, who then quickly called us, and then showed up less than 48 hours later.  Snappy service, indeed.

The plumber came.  He looked.  He grumbled about old toilets and flappers and fill valves and Home Depot.  He grumbled about cold weather and snow and make-up days.  And then he grumbled out the door to buy the necessary parts which probably added up to a grand total of $25.  Then, amazingly, he cheerfully came back to the house and fixed the toilets.  Bada-bing, bada-boom.  No more constantly running toilets, no more flushing difficulties, no more worrying about leaks!

Except, it wasn’t all happy news.

The toilet in our master bathroom is old.  How old?  Old enough that when the grizzled plumber looked at it, it caused him to say, “Wow – I haven’t seen one of these in a long time.  These things are almost impossible to break” (and therefore almost impossible to get your home warranty company to shell out for a new one).

Let me clear one thing up: we didn’t break the toilet.  The flapper/flopper thing-a-mah-what-zit had worn out, which is no surprise given that it was probably last replaced in the 1990s.  But when it comes to flushing, there’s naught to be done to improve it’s performance.  It’s a small toilet, single system, with a low low-volume tank.  Great for water conservation.  Bad for flushing.  Except, not so great for water conservation because we end up plunging and flushing and plunging some more and flushing some more… probably using three times the amount of water one would need with a newer low-flow toilet.  So, it looks as though we’ll be buying a new toilet and this time, if I can’t wheedle/cajole/whine my way into getting our HW company to cover it, I’m doing it myself, thanks very much!

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Update: I just watched this video from Lowes.com and yeah, I’m definitely installing the toilet myself if the HW company won’t cover it.  Added bonus – our county gives us a $40 rebate for installing a water-wise, energy efficient toilet, so it shouldn’t be too expensive.  Wish me luck!

Snow… in Williamsburg!

So many people told us that Williamsburg hardly ever sees snow.

I thought that our days of shoveling, salting, and slip-sliding through winter were over.

But apparently, I was wrong.

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We’ve gotten snow 2 weeks in a row now (I know, I know… my friends elsewhere with harsher winters are sarcastically gasping in shock) but, seriously?  Snow in Williamsburg is a big deal.

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All of the schools shut down for days last week.  Businesses closed.  Meetings were cancelled.  Mail was undelivered.  People raided the grocery stores.  Even Chris’ employer shut down early and was closed for half of the following day.  This week?  They shut down early again and were closed for the entire following day (not that this stopped Chris – he still carefully made his way to work, albeit a bit later than usual).

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It’s a little silly in this former Midwestern girl’s point of view, but I suppose when (a) you’ve only got 2 snow plows for the entire county and (b) most people here are unfamiliar with snowy weather driving, it makes a lot of sense to shut things down.

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Besides, I have to admit that seeing the boys all dressed up for winter is pretty cute :-)

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Banana Blueberry Flaxseed Waffles: Fun Activity, Fun Lunch

The recent cold snap has hit us in Williamsburg, though not so badly as our family in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana (stay warm you guys!).  The lower temperature has meant staying indoors more than normal, which calls for some creative play.

Enter waffle making!

119Joe loves to help in the kitchen.  I’ve never had him (or Jack) out of there when I’m cooking.  It’s nigh impossible.  Where I am, there they want to be.  I once tried rigging up baby gates to have some separation (“Do you really need to follow me everywhere?!”) but our current kitchen won’t allow for that.  I make sure that the fridge and oven have safety latches, keep all cleaning supplies out of the bottom cupboards and only store things down there that I don’t mind them getting into, but other than that the kitchen is a family territory.

128Yesterday morning I went online and researched waffle recipes.  I had ground flaxseed and coconut oil in the pantry that I recently purchased from Vitacost along with rice milk chilling in the fridge.  I found a few recipes that I liked and morphed them into one.  Joe helped with measuring flour and baking powder, helped count tablespoons of coconut oil, poured the rice milk, and (gently and slowly!) stirred the mixture together.

Waffles are great to make because (a) you can make healthy versions, (b) there are usually a few minutes between pouring the batter in the iron and the waffle being done which gives time for things like cleaning up, getting kids in highchairs for lunch, etc., (c) it’s easy to make a bunch for freezer breakfasts, and (d) you can eat them for just about any meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert!).

Oh goodness, I’m starting to sound like Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation.

image via

The waffles were a big hit.  I put peanut butter on top of Joe’s and he gladly ate them for lunch.

174Okay, maybe “gladly” is an understatement – more like ecstatically :-)

Jack loved ‘em, too.

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Happy tummies.  Happy kids.  Happy mom.  You’re welcome.

Here’s the recipe that I came up with.  I had a bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer so I added a few of those, too.  I’m sure you could use fresh blueberries or leave them out entirely – whatever suits your needs and preferences.

Banana Flaxseed Waffles with Wholewheat Flour (makes 5 – 6 waffles)

1 ripe banana, mashed with a fork

2 C rice milk (or other milk)

2 T ground flaxseed

6 T very hot water

4 T coconut oil, melted

1/2 C wholewheat flour

1 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 – 3/4 C blueberries, fresh or frozen (optional)

In small bowl, combine ground flaxseed and hot water.  Set aside.

In medium bowl, combine ripe banana and rice milk (if you don’t want any banana lumps, pour banana-milk mixture in blender and pulse for a few seconds).  Add coconut oil and flaxseed mixture.  Stir to combine (if your milk is cold, the coconut oil may harden somewhat – this is fine).

In another medium bowl, combine flours, baking powder, and salt.  Stir together till fully incorporated, then add to wet ingredients and mix well.  If adding blueberries, stir these in last.

Spray waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray or brush with some extra melted coconut oil.  Pour batter into waffle iron according to your machine’s instructions and bake.  I like a crispy crust, so I always set my waffle iron to well-done :-)

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Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

Goals for the Week: January 6th – 12th

Hmm, it would seem that last week fell off the goal-setting radar.  Perhaps I was too overwhelmed by all of the New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve never been much of a one for making those, though perhaps I should start.

Our trip to Georgia was nice.  We were able to visit with a lot of family and spend time with our loved ones.  We’re already planning another visit in March.

This week looks to be another full, busy 7 days.  Here’s a little bit of what I’m hoping to accomplish…

Around the House…

Paint the wall, trim, and closet doors in the front hallway

Finish priming the wall, trim, and crown molding on southeast wall of the Fireplace Room

Family…

Read at least 3 books to Joe and Jack each day

Call my sister in Iowa

Sit at the table while Joe eats his lunch (I have a bad habit of being up and down while he’s eating)

Create and help Joe decorate thank-you cards for various Christmas gifts

Personal

Visit the gym twice this week (they’ve still got wonky Winter Break hours, so getting a workout has been tricky)

Take my multivitamin daily!!!

Drink 64 ounces of water each day

Cut back on the homemade hot chocolate!

Read 3 chapters in “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”(loving this book so far)

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Those are my main goals for this week.  How about you?  Any New Year’s resolutions or big things are on your plate that you’re hoping to knock out in the next few days?

Goals for the Week: December 23rd – 29th

Happy Birthday to me!  Yes, today (23rd of December) is my birthday.  I feel like just a few years ago I was getting my driver’s license.  Now, I’m 32 years old!

My overriding goal for the last week was to do things while keeping in mind that no amount of box-checking was as important as maintaining happy relationships with Chris and the boys.  It was a very restful and, yes, very productive week.

Here are this week’s goals…

GOALS FOR THE WEEK: DECEMBER 23RD – 29TH

Around the House…

No goals!  We’re on holiday in St. Simons Island, GA, so I don’t have anything at our house that I need to do.  I do, however, plan on helping out around here by making dinners (made chicken veggie skewers last night) and cleaning

Family…

Take Chris on a date

Read 3 books to the boys each day

Take Joe on a Mommy-Son trip to the playground or to the beach

Call my grandmother in Michigan and my grandfather in Arizona

Personal…

Take my multivitamin each day

Drink 64 ounces of water each day

Find a new devotional book!

Not a whole lot of goals, really, but I’m OK with that.

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Here’s a check-in on last week’s goals

GOALS FOR THE WEEK: DECEMBER 16TH – 21ST

Around the House

Get back on a cleaning schedule. (Got it printed, posted and followed most of it every day).

Finish caulking in the hall bathroom – around tiles on walls, around the sink, and around the tub

Prime and paint the front hallway + trim (all priming complete, including the closet doors, but did not get to the painting other than the hallway closet handles)

Finish labeling all of the baby clothes and baby items that we’ll be bringing to GA for my sisters-in-law to borrow

Pack all of the suitcases for our trip

Plan and make snacks and lunch for the drive down

Set up holds for the mail and newspaper during our time away

Family…

Read at least 3 books to the boys (one at bedtime) each day

Tell Chris at least one thing that I admire about him each day

Send out photos and video to the grandparents of Joe and Jack opening presents from them, as well as photos from our trip to see Santa

Create and order our family calendar for 2014

Personal Goals…

Drink 64 ounces of water each day, half of that before my first cup of morning tea

Take my multivitamin and iron each day (taking iron has been making my feel ill lately, so I’m looking into alternatives for that)

Run 6 miles (campus gym = closed)

Settle on a new devotional book… I’m open to suggestions!

Add-On Goals…

Finished organizing all of the files in our filing cabinet

Primed all of the shelves in the hallway closet

Installed new curtains in the master bedroom

Set up the rug and trimmed the rug pad in the boy’s play area section of the main room

Visit to Santa Claus

Joe and Jack and I went to see Santa Claus at New Town Shopping Center in Williamsburg.  By far, it was the most low-key Santa visit that I’ve ever had.

005We almost didn’t go.  I’ve been so overwhelmed and busy lately that I thought perhaps it would be good to knock this thing off the list entirely rather than stand in crazy lines with grumpy parents and malcontent toddlers.

Hmm… sounds like someone hasn’t always had the best experiences when standing in line to see Santa!

011But, I saw a post on Facebook in one of the local mom’s groups that I’ve joined, and they all agreed that the New Town Santa was worth the trip – no fees, take your own photos, and very child-friendly.

018I’m glad that we went.  There was no line and, despite Jack’s disgruntled face and Joe covering his ears, both boys had a good time.

025While Joe’s first Santa visit was far more crazy with a long, zig-zagging line and crying children, I have to say that where I to choose between this year’s Santa and the one from 2011, I would have to go with the 2011 Santa in my old hometown.  He just seems more like a Jolly Old St. Nick!

So crazy to think that Joe was 2 months younger than Jack in the photo above.  Both boys are growing up so fast!

Goals for the Week: December 16th – 22nd

Another week down, another week to come.  Looking back, it’s easy for me to only focus on the things that I didn’t cross off my list rather than seeing what I accomplished.  But I need to remind myself of all of the things that I did that aren’t on my list.  In light of that, when I do this each week I’m going to have an “add-on” section at the bottom as a way of reminding myself of the other things that I did

LAST WEEK’S GOALS

Around the House…

Paint the shelf in Jack’s closet

Before…

IMG_6099 IMG_6103 IMG_6100Very dingy and beat-up!  The previous owners used this room as an office, which means that the closet’s main function was storing papers and boxes.  I took down the side shelves, got rid of the old pencil sharpener (still full of shavings) and repainted the entire interior of the closet – walls, trim, ceiling – and then painted the curtain rod an espresso brown.

After…

091 090My quick photos taken before Jack’s morning nap.  You can barely see that there are 2 shelves in there, one just above the curtain rod.  The whole thing looks better – cleaner and brighter.

Prime and paint the trim around the hall bathroom window and door (I’ve realized that in order to completely prime/paint the trim around the door that I’m going to have to fully remove the door… and I don’t want to do that until I’m ready to paint the door as well).

Finish painting Jack’s crib (close, but not quite)

Make 2 meals for the freezer

Send out Christmas cards

Update files in filing cabinet (again, close but not quite)

Family…

Read 3 books to Joe and Jack every day (one at bedtime)

Make a Christmas handprint wreath with Joe

122Personal Goals…

Finish my lesson in “Craving Grace Like Chocolate” at least 1 day early.

Run 6 miles (the benefit of using the student gym: it’s close and cheap; the negative of using the student gym: they adjust the hours to go with the semester and sometimes don’t open till later in the morning)

Take my multivitamin every day

Drink 64 ounces of water every day

Add-On Goals

Made 14 dozen cookies and frosted 10 dozen of them… some for family snacks, some for an upcoming baby shower, some for Christmas

Made 6 jars of spaghetti sauce for the freezer

Made 9 jars of kidney beans

Made an extra 3 casseroles for the freezer

Finished all of the Christmas shopping

Ordered the rest of the rugs for the main room, dining room, and rug pads to go underneath them

Trimmed and set the rug pad underneath one of the main floor rugs (we bought this one)

Jute Chenille Basketweave RugOrdered curtains for Joe’s room and the master bedroom

So, yes, I did do quite a few things in addition to the regular stuff that I always do, and I need to remember that when I start to compare myself to other people.  I need to remind myself of Romans 5:1 where it says that I’ve already been declared righteous in the sight of God and can have peace through Him, and then I need to keep recalling this verse when I feel like I’m not doing enough or that I need to do more to prove my worth.  I’ve already been declared righteous, and isn’t that a relief?

Now for this coming week!

GOALS FOR THE WEEK: DECEMBER 16TH – 21ST

Around the House

Get back on a cleaning schedule.  I love the simplicity of the one below and have followed it in the past.  Be sure to check out Christina’s blog for the PDF version.  I’ve already printed it out and hung it on the refrigerator.

Finish caulking in the hall bathroom – around tiles on walls, around the sink, and around the tub

Prime and paint the front hallway + trim

Finish labeling all of the baby clothes and baby items that we’ll be bringing to GA for my sisters-in-law to borrow

Pack all of the suitcases for our trip

Plan and make snacks and lunch for the drive down

Set up holds for the mail and newspaper during our time away (did this already this morning!)

Family…

Read at least 3 books to the boys (one at bedtime) each day

Tell Chris at least one thing that I admire about him each day

Send out photos and video to the grandparents of Joe and Jack opening presents from them, as well as photos from our trip to see Santa

Create and order our family calendar for 2014

Personal Goals…

Drink 64 ounces of water each day, half of that before my first cup of morning tea

Take my multivitamin and iron each day

Run 6 miles

Settle on a new devotional book… I’m open to suggestions!

Goals for the Week: December 9th – 14th

I like the blog “Money Saving Mom”.  One of the things that she does is create a list of weekly goals, then look back at the previous week’s goals and see how she’s done.  I’m going to start something similar.  It’s nice to be able to look back and cross things off of your list, especially when you feel like you’re not always accomplishing much.  So often, I reach the end of the day or the end of the week and think, “I barely did anything – where has the time gone?”  When in reality I did quite a lot… I just don’t remember it or think much of it.

So, here are my goals for this week (December 9th – 14th ).  Next week, I’ll map out some new goals and evaluate how I did on this week’s items.

Around the House…

Paint the shelf in Jack’s closet

Prime and paint the trim around the hall bathroom window and door

Finish painting Jack’s crib

Make 2 meals for the freezer

Send out Christmas cards

Update files in filing cabinet

Family…

Read 3 books to Joe and Jack every day (one at bedtime)

Make this Christmas handprint wreath with Joe

Personal Goals…

Finish my lesson in “Craving Grace Like Chocolate” at least 1 day early.

Run 6 miles

Take my multivitamin every day

Drink 64 ounces of water every day

Former Expat: Where Do I Begin?

My mind is flooded with thoughts whenever I attempt to share how our lives have been since returning to the States.  So many different emotions.  It’s hard to know what to focus on and where to begin.

For starters, let me tell you something about a little-known phenomenon called “reverse culture shock”.  I’d heard of it , but I had no idea that it could pack such a wallop.  For the first 2 – 3 months of being back in the States, everyday situations would leave me feeling overwhelmed, lost, and sad.

Grocery shopping.

Driving a car with 2 children in the back.

Entering a shopping mall.

Talking politics.

Never did the old saying “you can never go home again” seem so apropos.

Let me give you some specifics…

When we lived in NZ, I was often sticker-shocked by the cost of groceries.  More than once, I would bemoan the high prices.  I eventually realized that you get what you pay for, and in New Zealand, you pay for and get a very high quality of life.  But those groceries were still expensive compared to what I’d paid in the USA.

Then, we move back here.  I go grocery shopping, see the low prices, and start to cry in the aisle.  Not giant boo-hoo crocodile tears… it was the tiny, stinging, pin-prick tears that take your breath away and turn your nose bright red.  Still, tears nonetheless.  I was, and still am at times, consumed with guilt and regret whenever I shop.  I feel like a sell-out.  I regret my complaining about NZ prices, and I feel like those USA groceries are a smack in the face.  I got my lower prices, alright, but it cost me New Zealand.

Now, imagine feeling that way every single time you walked into a grocery store.  It gets old.  And overwhelming.  It means that when you get home, you’re in a blue funk and you’re constantly second-guessing yourself.  You’re so overwrought that you miss 1/4 of the items on your list and have to go back to the grocery store.  That was me.  I would get home from the store feeling like I’d been popped in the mouth.  Oftentimes, I did my shopping in the evening once the boys were asleep and I could peruse the aisles solo.  I would miss those NZ prices, the selection, and online grocery shopping.  By the time I’d get home, I was a mess.

All of this, from grocery shopping.

Don’t even get me started on politics.

Back in the saddle again

It was good to take a break.  I’ve never taken such a long blogging hiatus (8 weeks) but I’m glad that I did.  I started this blog as a way to share, chronicle, and remember what is going on in our lives.  And, to be blunt, there are some times that I’d really rather not recall in exact detail.  These last 8 weeks have been one of those periods.  A combination of postpartum depression + reverse culture shock has made my life a big, emotional mess.  I’m getting through it thanks to a supportive husband, friends, family, and a readily available nurse practitioner at the local medical clinic.  There’s still a long ways to go, but I’m ready to start blogging again and sharing what’s been happening with us here in Williamsburg, VA.

So, if you’re still following and still checking for updates, thank you!  Get ready for lots of cute photos of the boys, tales of weird wallpaper from the 1970s, and lots of other life updates and thoughts on what it’s like to return to the USA from yours truly :-)

Good-Bye For Now

I’ve tried to write in order to explain what this feels like, this moving back to the USA, and I can’t.  There’s so much going through my head, and I find that I need to step away from the internet to process all of what I’m thinking and feeling.  I hope that I’ll be able to come back here at some point, but for now, I need to say a temporary good-bye.

Thanks for reading, and check back with me later :-)

Tap-Tap… Is This Thing Still On?

I think that 5 1/2 weeks is the longest that I’ve gone without writing on this blog.  Normally, I seem to have lots to say and can never go without posting for that length of time.

This latest blog silence isn’t because I haven’t had anything to say.  It’s because I’ve had too much to say.  I’ve felt too many emotions to write them all down without starting to cry halfway through the process.  It’s hard for me to clearly convey what it has felt like to leave New Zealand and to move back to the United States.  Happy.  Sad.  Homesick.  Excited.  Nostalgic.  Guilty.  Relieved.  Familiar.  Lonely.  Hopeful.

I’m going to take another whack at writing some of these thoughts down in the next few days.  Over and over again, I’ve found it helpful to go back to old blog posts and remember what I was feeling at a particular point in time.  Sometimes, I laugh and shake my head at that younger version of myself.  Sometimes, I nod in agreement.  Sometimes, I remember things that I’d forgotten or am encouraged because what felt like a real low point was, in fact, a period of change and opportunity, something that I could only recognize in hindsight.

So, my lovely readers (all 3 that still remain, including my sister!), keep an eye on this space.  What comes next may be a jumbled mess, but moving back has been a messy, emotional process and I’m still sorting it out.  However, it has also been a growing experience that has revealed a bit more of God’s grace in my life, has brought me closer to my family, and has helped me to remember and discover personal strengths.  Thanks for reading :-)

Jack – 3 1/2 Months Old

Dear Jack,

I have to apologize to you.  As is so often the case, the 2nd child tends to get a little less attention spent on things like updates and photos and baby books.  Sorry :-(  Especially with all of the moving that we’ve been going through, I have to admit that I’ve let your baby updates slide.  Time to work on that!

005

Jack Tucker – 3 Months Old

General Health

You are such a healthy guy.  After your stay in Starship, you haven’t had so much as a cough or a sniffle.  It’s been great, especially in light of all of the traveling we’ve done.  So many visits with lots of different people, time in airports and on airplanes, and spending the night in various hotels.  I’m really grateful for that.  You have been pretty “regular” just up till recently, when your body has started to more efficiently process breastmilk.  This means fewer messy diapers, which worried me a bit at first but then I remembered that Joe did the same thing.

Sleep

We’ve begun to work a bit on consolidating your day time sleeps.  Now, I try to put you down for an official “nap” at least once during the day, usually in the afternoon.  If I’m lucky and if time allows it, I’ll put you down for a nap in the morning, too.  By “put you down for a nap”, I mean swaddle you up and lay you down in your port-a-crib.  When you sleep in the afternoon, it’s anywhere from 2 – 3 hours.  If you can sleep for 3 hours, then everyone is happy (especially you!).  You’re much more cheerful when you’re well rested, but then that’s true of us all :-)

022Jack – 9 Weeks Old

Nighttime?  Well, we’re working on it.  You usually fall asleep around 10pm and then, like clockwork, you start to grunt and groan and fuss around 3:30 in the morning.  I’ve learned that when you do this, I’m usually able to comfort you back to sleep in your own crib through a combination of shushing, patting you on your bum or on your back (rolling you onto your side – no tummy-time while sleeping), and giving you your pacifier.  I may have to do this 2 or 3 times over the space of 15 minutes, but it works.  And while you may blush to read this later in life, the reason why you’re unsettled at that hour is because you typically have to pass gas.  I apologize if people read this and tease you about it when you’re older.  We all do it!  But once you’ve done that, then you’re happy to go back to bed.

105

103

Sleeping in St. Thomas

The last few days, you haven’t woken up till 6 in the morning!  Hooray!  Before that it was around 4:30/5am (more consistently around 5am).  You’ll nurse like a champ, burp a ridiculous number of times (seriously, it’s hilarious and I find myself chuckling which is a nice thing to do when it’s so early in the morning and I might otherwise be grumpy), and then want to be cuddled and shushed back to sleep and go into your crib, where you usually remain for another hour.

Eating

Like I mentioned above, you’re becoming more efficient at absorbing nutrients.  What does that mean?  It means that you’re going a bit longer and longer between having to eat.  You usually eat at 6am, then aren’t hungry for another 2 1/2 – 3 hours, at which point you really only snack and then take a nap.  You’ll wake up and be ready to play for a bit, then nurse, then go to sleep for your afternoon nap anywhere between 1 – 2pm.  This is all pretty flexible at the moment.  Babies, including you, do not follow schedules all that well.  I have learned that it’s not just about adjusting you to a schedule but also adjusting Joe to a slightly different schedule.  He now eats a bit later in the morning, a bit later at lunch, and goes down for his nap a bit later.  It’s all part of the give-and-take and compromise that is so important in a family.

Your favorite time to eat?  Evening!  I’m OK with that.  I figure that if a baby wants to eat and eat and eat, even eating all the way up till midnight, then that’s fine.  Why?  Because it usually means that they’ll sleep for a good chunk of time.  That’s the case with you.  You’ll eat and eat and eat till around 10pm and then you’re out like a light.  It can be stressful at times for me, when I feel like I’m running low but you still need more, but then I see your happy, sweet, content face and it’s all worth it.  Thankfully, your dad is a great support to me.  I couldn’t do it without him.  He and I are a team and he will be a great example to you boys of how to support your spouse.

094General Activity

You are getting to be so good at grabbing things!  You hold your head up very steadily and love to sit in your exersaucer.  We do a little bit of tummy time each day and do some “crawling exercises”, which have you dissolving into giggles.  Those are nothing more than lying you on your back and then bringing your left hand and your right foot together to touch above your tummy.  I do 10 on one side and 10 on the other side, talking to you and making faces and giggling right along with you.

021

You are so good at turning your head and tracking objects.  You will follow your dad and your brother around the room with your eyes.

030

Speaking of your brother, he loves to do things with you, like hold you or lie next to you.  He frequently asks me “talk to him? talk to him?”  He loves to talk to you.  He’ll also ask “snuggle Baby Jack?” and want to snuggle with you.  I love watching the two of you interact.  If he sees that your pacifier has dropped out of your mouth, he’ll run over and try to help put it back in (you don’t always care for that, but it’s the thought that counts!).

Milestones

You sit up, sleep “through the night” (by that I mean you go from around 10pm – 6am with only one semi-waking session in between), you are trying so hard to sit up and are a champ at lying on your tummy and pushing your chest and upper body up with your arms.

055

You’ve even rolled over from tummy to back several times, though I suspect that this is entirely accidental on your part :-)

Jack and Joe

I’ve remarked on this already, but it’s fun to see the two of you interact.

129Joe will practically lie on top of you so that he can chat face-to-face, and you’ll smile at him.  You get excited when he comes into the room.  He loves to hold you.  He’ll lie next to you while you do tummy time and he is working on learning how to share his toys with you.

073

If he sees that you have a blanket (especially in the car when I bundle you into your car seat – you don’t like having your arms free) then he wants a blanket, too!  This is why I have 2 little boys sitting in the car in the middle of summer with blankets on them :-)

One thing that I was worried about was your pacifier.  Joe used to use a pacifier like you, having it off and on throughout the day or to help him calm down if he was upset.  Now, Joe only uses the pacifier at night, and we’re going to start working on weaning that.  I was concerned that he might not understand why you got to have a paci whenever you needed or wanted it, while he had to wait till sleeping-time.  But I shouldn’t have worried.  Joe knows that it’s “Jack’s paci” and he’ll even help you keep it in your mouth (though like I wrote earlier, this isn’t always something you appreciate!).

Postpartum Fitness and Health

Pppffffbbbt.  That’s the sound I make when I think about how I’ve done with exercising since getting back in the States.  I was doing pretty well for awhile there.  I first started up again when you were 4 weeks old (the day before you went into the hospital, actually).  I exercised fairly frequently while we were in St. Thomas for 2 weeks and did a lot of walking before then.  But since arriving in Williamsburg 4 weeks ago?  Ha!  Nothing.  I have turned into a couch potato.  Or a car potato.  Or both.  We drove around pretty non-stop that first week while looking at houses.  There’s been a fair amount of driving still, though I guess compared to most US households with small children we haven’t driven all that much.  For me, “driving a lot” means taking both you and your brother in the car on an errand more than twice a week.  That’s what happens when you go over 3 years without owning a vehicle!

I began to remedy some of the lack of exercise last week (I wouldn’t call it laziness – I’ve been really busy) by taking you and your brother on a long walk around the resort where we’re staying.  That’s pretty pathetic, in my opinion, but it’s a start.  My next goal is to take you guys on some of the trails round about these parts.  Where we’re currently staying isn’t close to anything like that and I’m often here without a car (your dad needs it to get to work for the time being, but that will change soon), so my options are limited.  Hence the parking lot walks!

Other Odds and Ends

We’re going to visit my parents next week.  This will be the first time that they see you in real life.  You’ll also definitely get to meet your Auntie K, see your cousin O, and meet your Auntie A.  There’s pretty good odds that you’ll meet your Uncle L, Uncle D, Auntie B, Auntie V, and cousin H.  That’s a lot of family, but no one expects you to remember their names, so don’t worry about it :-)  They’ll love you!

I’m so glad that you’re my little boy.  I’m so glad that I’m your momma.  I’m so glad that I get to see you and your brother interacting with each other.  I pray that you’ll always love each other even if you don’t always get along!

One Little Change

There was one change that I made within about 48 hours of returning to the United States.  I’ll give you a hint as to what it might be…

002

I had nearly a foot of hair cut off within 2 days of landing in Georgia.  My long hair had been driving me nuts for awhile (remember all those photos of me with my hair in a bun?) but I wanted to wait till I had enough hair to donate to Locks of Love, a charity that uses donated hair to create wigs for cancer patients under 21 years of age.  I knew from past experience that right around the 3 month postpartum mark, my hair would start to fall out as my body’s hormone levels began to drop and stabilize.  I also knew that I’d get those lovely post-partum night sweats… just another way that my body returns to homeostasis post-pregnancy.  So I figured that doing a preemptive haircut was the way to go, and I was right.  I haven’t experienced the giant tumbleweeds of hair falling out like I did with Joe.  The night sweats are still there, but not to the point where I’m waking up drenched.

How do I like my new hair cut?  Eh.  Honestly, I’m not a big fan of it.  I told the stylist to over-estimate rather than under-estimate so as to be sure to have enough for the donation, but this meant no pulling my hair back into a ponytail.  Instead of being less maintenance, it’s actually more work than when my hair was long.  Longer hair was capable of being worn in a ponytail, a bun, being curled, put in French Twist, etc.  This new ‘do is basically a one-style hair cut and I don’t think it fits me that well, looking at it nearly 6 weeks later.  The other issue is that the stylist left some uneven sections.  Not “uneven” as in “it’s supposed to look this way” but uneven as in weird little strands that were longer and out of place.  I ended up having to trim them on my own.

Nevertheless, I remain very glad that I cut it off.  I’m happy that my hair was able to be put to use by someone who needs it.  I said going into the salon that it’s just hair, after all, and I can grow it back.  And that’s exactly what I’m going to do!

Settling into Williamsburg

I wish it were possible for me to upload some photos to share, but the laptop wireless router/modem/thingamajig is not working and our temporary accomodations are wireless only, so I’m left using the tablet and there aren’t any photos on there.  So I’ll just have to paint you a few pictures with words!

Williamsburg is lovely, what little of it I’ve seen.  We’ve been here 3 full days and each interaction that I’ve had with people has been pleasant and friendly.  Having doors opened for me, people asking if I’d like to jump ahead of them in line at Panera, etc.  Very sweet.  I’m getting a good feeling about this place.

We had to leave a lot of Joe’s toys in New Zealand.  The ones we did take are currently en route in our small shipping container.  Other than that, there were only a few that we could fit in our suitcases (remember, we moved back from New Zealand with only 3 suitcases and 3 carry-ons + 1 very small shipped container, about the size of a large cedar chest).  I jumped on Freecycle.org to locate a Williamsburg chapter, joined up, and within 12 hours had picked up a stuffed “Woody the Cowboy” doll and a nearly complete “Thomas the Tank Engine” train set with rails.  One person’s trash is another one’s treasure :-)

And life as a full-time stay at home mom?  It’s going well, but I’m already feeling the urge and the itch to start checking out the local ERs and see if they need any nurses.  I know that, for the next few months at least, focusing all of my time and energy on this move, on seeing that the boys (especially Joe) get integrated into life in Williamsburg, and on supporting Chris while he starts his new job are my main priorities, but hopefully come January or February I’ll be working again in some capacity.  Perhaps not Emergency Medicine, but something that allows me to use my gifts and skills as a nurse to serve others in the community.  For now, I feel a peace and reassurance that this is what God wants me to be doing at this moment, and I’m enjoying it.

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