Archives for December 2008

Last Night Made Six Nights in a Row

When you’re on a roll…

Just keep going.

Last night PhilBillPaul and I did it for the sixth night in a row.

Can anyone check if I should submit this to the Guiness Book people?

Okay, you’re probably right. It’s really not that extraordinary. Except for me.

I should be satisfied that it’s my personal record.

Fine. Whatever.

But last night we did go to our sixth movie in a row.

There aren’t many of his movies I miss and I knew had to see this one.

I give it a solid “A” for all the things I like about movies. It made me think and it took my breath away.

Some of you will never see it because of its “R” rating which was deserved for raw language and violence.

But if you do choose to go, know that Gran Torino is gritty and real and disturbing.

I’m pretty sure we’re breaking the streak tonight. Because the big kids are all going in different directions.

Then again, maybe we can take Scary Baby to a light-hearted, family movie before we get settled in at home to watch Dick Clark at midnight and ring in the new year…

Enjoy this last day of 2008.

Here’s my wish for each and every one of you in 2009…

May you be blessed with enough…

Enough…

Whatever that may be…

With love,

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Holiday Movie Reviews

Sunday night I was thinking I should have posted a lovely holiday message last week and said I’ll be back on January 5th.

But that would have required planning.

Which has not been my strength of late.

I wish I had planned a few posts for the coming days because I know it can be a good feeling instead of flying by the seat of your pants.

So now here is my Monday post on Tuesday which will make total sense when you see how doggone busy I’ve been. Busier than the rest of the universe. Sure. Right. That’s me…busy, busy, busy.

Or not.

So…now it’s time to guess what I’ve been busy, busy, busy doing.

Go ahead.

Guess.

I’ll wait.

Look, we don’t have all day.

Hurry up.

GUESS ALREADY. I’M BUSY.

Geez, here’s a hint:

It is something I did with PhilBillPaul for five days IN A ROW.

STOP IT.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

My family reads this blog for goodness sake.

For FIVE DAYS IN A ROW, starting on Christmas Day…

Sort of as a quasi-Christams gift to PhilBillPaul…

I gave him the gift of QUALITY TIME.

Yes, I know what his primary love language and it’s actually not quality time.

But that’s my primary love language so that’s the gift I gave.

Hey now – good manners dictate that you should be gracious and say thank you for any gift you get.

The quality time I bestowed on him was in the form of going to FIVE MOVIES in the last five days.

Side note: See that line in the middle of the ticket stubs that says: Pass $0.00 Oh yeah…

If your teen is ready for a part-time job, check the local movie theatre. Ours allows the immediate family to go to the movies for free. Thus, PhilBillPaul, an avid moviegoer who will sit through bad movies, has informed The Grunter that he must work at the said movie theatre for the rest of his life. Which is not exactly the career choice I was picturing for him. Pun intended.

Here are my very short movie critiques with the disclaimer that I’m a tough critic, don’t necessarily like mainstream, predictable movies and often like non-box office hits. You can click on the movie titles for more movie details like: plots, professional movie critic reviews and Yahoo! movie reviews in case you don’t value my opinion–I don’t take it personally.

Really. To each his own.

  • 1. Doubt starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman
    Unusual, different, love, love, love Meryl Streep. Lives up to its title from beginning to end. No tidy ending, made us think and have conversation which I always like.
    A-
  • 2. Quantum of Solace starring Daniel Craig
    James Bond, *man* movie, cars, boats, dizzying chase and fight scenes.
    C
  • 3. Marley & Me starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
    Dog lover movie, I’m not a dog lover in spite of the two wiener dogs at our house. Still, I cried remembering our own naughty family dog, Andy, who ate at the table with us but when company came we pretended we were appalled when he sat at the table.
    C+
  • 4. Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise
    World War II movie, love the history, love to learn something new during a movie and I did.
    B+
  • 5. Seven Pounds starring Will Smith
    Roger Leroy’s words, “It was kinda weird.” Yeah. I’d have to agree. A little too melodramatic for me or maybe it was Will trying to be melodramatic that I didn’t like.
    C

In previous weeks we did see Australia (Hugh Jackman=lovely=A), Slumdog Millionaire (A) and Four Christmases (C).

I’m telling you, if you like movies, get your kid a job at the theatre!

Might go see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but at almost three hours, that is a real time investment and I guess I’m not that curious. Anyone want to change my mind?

We’ll definitely see Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood.

So how was your Christmas? See any good movies? Come on, give me your reviews!

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Unique Christmas Eve Tradition

Merry Christmas Eve to all!

Growing up, we got to open one present on Christmas Eve.

It was very, very, very EXCITING.

All those presents under the tree and we waited in eager anticipation to get to open ONE present early!

I decided to carry on the same tradition with my kids because I remember it so vividly.

I have also come to find out that it isn’t all that unique and I’ve met many people who have the same darn tradition.

I’m guessing many mothers discovered what my mother discovered in the early years with toddlers.

We might have looked a little ratty – I appear to have outgrown my pajamas (unless they were capris).

But let’s be real – who looks great when they pop out of bed at 6:00 am to see what Santa brought them?

But mothers across the land decided the kids photograph better in NEW matching pajamas!!

Ahem. Sort of.

I’m pretty sure we weren’t allowed to come downstairs until Mom fixed our hair too. I think everyone will agree that part of the reason I am the way I am today is because of the childhood trauma of my mother pulling my hair back, exposing my forehead, with no bangs. Hello?!

As we got older, I think it got harder to make us look decent for pictures. We have evidence (that appears to have been tampered with) to prove it. But she still tried.

Bless her heart.

Side note: My youngest sister is not special needs. I think she is the one who tampered with our matching pajama Christmas Eve evidence tradition. She may have creased the above photo trying to destroy the picture.

I think we were not cooperating for the pajama photo shoot. I sense some holiday tension. Those *smiles* don’t look genuine.

Probably got in trouble for making the youngest laugh…I’ll get back to you on that because luckily, my mother will remember in excruciating detail what happened that Christmas Eve as soon as she reads this.

But in spite of the trauma of no bangs and feathered bangs and all the years in between, I continued this adorable tradition with my own children…

Imagine how excited I was when Grandma sent matching Red Flannel pajamas from Cedar Springs, Michigan for the darling twins first Christmas just like the ones we wore back in the 70’s!

Whoa! Check out that startled bug-eyed look Roger Leroy is sporting. Unfortunately it’s genetic. Yet another thing I blame thank my mother for.

Or maybe it was the granny cap pinching her tiny head?

Or maybe not.

Yeah, so the bug-eyed thing is genetic. There’s no denying it…

Scary Baby asked me yesterday if everyone could open ONE present on Christmas Eve.

I immediately said:

Absolutely.

She countered with:

Can it please NOT be pajamas?

Such a silly child – we’re not breaking tradition here!

In honor of Grandma, those new p.j.s are in the warsh right now! 😉

How many of you have this tradition? Or do you have a truly unique tradition to share?

Wishing you all a very happy holiday with your loved ones,

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Small Business Owner Gift Idea on a Shoestring Budget

I have been a small business owner and entrepreneur since way back in 1986.

With a desktop publishing business, I was the proud owner of Apple’s very first LaserWriter.

Financed by a $5,000.00 bank loan which is what the printer cost.

Holy smokes. I was wild.

And when Christmas came, I was also cutting edge.

Found these fan-cee canister sets on clearance.

Designed a beautiful sad label on aforementioned LaserWriter and filled them with homemade Chex Mix.

Added the trick green bows all by myself.

I guess the bigger clients got the bigger cans?

See, I’ve been taking the handmade pledge for DECADES!!!

I am a trendsetter.

This year is no exception and the baking frenzy is just about over. PhilBillPaul made 12 pounds of fudge and chocolate dipped pretzels were everywhere!

I’ve made 2 double batches of Chex Mix plus 12 mini loaves of bread and all these cookies…

I forgot to mention last week that I do have some baking rules:

  • I do not use a rolling pin. That means cookies must be of the drop variety. Rolling them in a ball by hand is about as far as I will go. I truly prefer that handy cookie scoop contraption that I first bought from my Pampered Chef friend–not sure how I ever managed without it.
  • I do not do yeast dough. Quick breads and muffins only. No kneading, punching down and all that messy flour stuff. Bread recipes are of the dump-all-ingredients in one bowl, mix together and pour in pans variety.
  • I do not do pies or pastries. Technically falls under the “no rolling pin” rule. And the icky flour everywhere thing. I will buy those Pillsbury pie crusts in the refrigerator section if forced to make a pie.

I share these rules with all my non-baking friends because maybe your Home Ec teachers scared you with fancy cooking. I really stick with no-fail, simple recipes. Complicated recipes with many steps create stress for me.

Scary Baby delivered EIGHT teacher baskets bags (I couldn’t find any bargain baskets) on Friday.

Today I just need to mail a few boxes to family and friends. I bet my “friends” at the post office will be filled with the holiday spirit when I come in with six or eight priority mail boxes on December 22.

I’ll keep you posted…ha…get it…pun intended. 😉

And I will be personally delivering the giveaway winner’s box of goodies since she is local!

Hope your last few days before Christmas are both festive and peaceful…do those two things go together?

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Giveaway Winner ~ Holiday Baked Goodies!

Woo-hoo! We have a winner…

Congratulations to #12 Lisa who wins a box of homemade holiday baked goodies!

Lisa did ask me to *cheat* so she could win but she can actually thank random.org for picking her comment number!! Might be a good time to buy a lottery ticket to keep your lucky streak going 🙂

Special thanks to everyone who shared a great recipe – I’m printing them and adding them to my recipe collection to try. They all sound delish!

Winner will receive a personal email from me requesting their address and contact information so they can get their prize. If I don’t hear back from winner within 5 days, I will use random.org to choose another winner.

Flexible Friday #24 Holiday Music Favorites + Free Holiday Music!

Special note: I’m learning that 99% of my friends don’t bake…ladies, I never knew! Don’t despair, you still have time to enter my giveaway and I’ll send you your very own box of yummy homemade holiday goodies! We’ve been entrenched in the holiday baking frenzy for the last two days. There was not a surface in our house that didn’t have cookies, bread, pretzels, or chex mix covering the counters and tables. Even if you don’t bake, all you have to do is share a favorite holiday recipe (even if you don’t personally make it).
Click here and leave a comment by midnight EST, Friday, December 19th.

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Last week it was about our FREE vacation.

This week it’s about FREE music. And bargain music.

PhilBillPaul is a nut for holiday music.

It is all he listens to from Thanksgiving day until New Year’s Day.

Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is mandatory.

We have a very healthy collection of Christmas music…from Bing to Garth Brooks to Josh Groban.

I was excited to find this great link from amazon.com called “Friday 5” where they are offering 5 albums on Fridays for $5.00 each.

Because anyone who knows me knows I love, love, love a bargain!

And if you look further down on the page they have 25 days of FREE music where I was really excited to score some FREE holiday music!

Woo-hoo Yee-Haw Fa-la-la-la-la!!

This made my holidays a little more jolly 🙂

Personal recommendations beyond the old classics you might want to add to your playlist…

If you have any yay-hoos or hillbillies in your family (yes, I do, and I might be one of them–thank you very much) then this song will make you laugh.

Side note: If you are one of the cultured few reading here today, just skip the above suggestion.

For something sweet and different, I really like this one.

And if you have never heard this song, treat yourself today!

Okay, I’ll stop now – I could spend hours on Amazon.com just in their music section but I need to get the baked goods ready to mail!

What’s your most favorite holiday song or album?

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Jingle Gourds

I’ve heard that you should try to embrace your spouse’s hobby.

So that you have something to talk about.

And you validate them as human beings.

I have tried to do this when possible. Or at least be tolerant.

PhilBillPaul’s fascination with GOURDS has been going on for years.

Thanks in large part to my Uncle Jack.

He created this awesome GOURD TREE after a dogwood tree died in his front yard. Photo circa 1994.

Side note: You might see where I get my quirky sense of humor – it’s all on my mother’s side.

PhilBillPaul was fascinated by Uncle Jack’s creative gourd tree.

So my Uncle Jack was kind enough to send him back to Georgia with some special Indiana gourd seeds.

We had gourds coming out of our ears.

Mr. Nice/Fun Dad spent time with the kids proudly spray painting and drawing faces on his crop of gourds.

To create this lovely arrangement on our front porch.

Not to be outdone, after the Fall festivities and with Christmas just around the corner, it seemed a shame to let the gourds go to waste.

And when the kids were younger, I apparently had way more time on my hands.

Because I went out and spray painted every one of those gourds silver and gold.

I then strung up those gourds with fishing line and attached JINGLE BELLS to each and every gourd and hung them around our porch.

Who needs wind chimes when you can have jingle gourds?

I think this was a very eco-friendly thing I did.

We might even call it re-purposing or recycling one of our natural resources.

Back then, I just called it embracing my husband’s weird hobby.

Imagine our excitement when we came upon the PERFECT Christmas gift for him a few years ago while we were on our Tennessee mountain trip.

Side note: It was very, very early on Christmas morning which is why PhilBillPaul looks a wee bit puffy.

He’s trying to get Scary Baby to embrace his gourd-loving excitement.

As you can see, I can no longer hang them on the porch.

Does your spouse have any weird fun hobbies you have come to enjoy?

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P.S. Have you entered in my holiday goodie giveaway yet? Did I mention that we all fight over PhilBillPaul’s Maple Fudge and I’m including some of that? Just sayin’…

Favorite Holiday Recipe AND Giveaway!

****Comments are now closed.****

We have a winner! Congratulations to #12 Lisa. She’ll be receiving a box of holiday goodies!

Thanks to all who participated and thanks for all the yummy new recipes I can’t wait to try!

My kids are spoiled by our baking week.

I thought when the big kids got to high school, the teacher gift load would be substantially reduced. I thought we didn’t really have to give high school teachers gifts (sorry but the kids don’t usually bond with them nearly as much as they did their elementary and middle school teachers).

I thought wrong.

My darling twin daughters believe differently and love to take goodie bags into their teachers. Since I’m not above the brown-nosing I let them but the gift bags are a bit smaller than the gift baskets that Scary Baby will take to school.

The girls have also added a list of friends that they MUST give gift bags to before the holiday break. Your popularity increases significantly for at least a few hours when you bring in fudge, cookies and chex mix on exam day.

PhilBillPaul takes a tray into work. We send packages to our mothers so they can make a tray for themselves and guests.

I figured since I have to make about 25 goodie bags and packages, what’s one more?

I am going to send one lucky reader an assortment of holiday goodies.

All you have to do is enter one of your favorite holiday cookie or confection recipes into the comment box below.

Then we’ll all have some great new recipes to add to our holiday collection!

Leave a recipe in the comments by Friday, Dec. 19th midnight EST. I will post the winner on Saturday and if my good intentions and priority mail don’t fail me, I will mail your box on Saturday as well!

Here are the 5 star chocolate mint cookies from allrecipes.com that I tried out last year that we all loved!

How “sweet” of my friend Leigh Anne to make them and take one her beautiful pictures for me so you could see what they look like. We seem to have a bad habit of eating the food before I ever think to take a picture of it.

Chocolate Mint Cookies

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 36 chocolate mint wafer candies
    Side note: If you can find the Andes® holiday mints with light green on the outside and chocolate in the middle, they look pretty when melted and swirled on top of cookie. And if I remember correctly we used a whole mint on each cookie which really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

1. In a large pan over low heat, cook butter, sugar and water until butter is melted. Add chocolate chips and stir until partially melted. Remove from heat and continue to stir until chocolate is completely melted. Pour into a large bowl and let stand 10 minutes to cool off slightly.
2. At high speed, beat in eggs, one at a time into chocolate mixture. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients, beating until blended. Chill dough about 1 hour.
3. Preheat oven to 350º
4. Roll dough into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 8-10 minutes. While cookies are baking unwrap mints and divide each in half. When cookies are brought out of the oven, put 1/2 mint on top of each cookie. Let the mint sit for up to 5 minutes until melted, then spread the mint on top of the cookie.

[print_link]

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P.S. If no one enters this FIRST EVER giveaway, I will silently weep and eat all the goodies myself. Save me from that. Type a favorite recipe in the comment box right now. Please.

Tell at least one friend to enter. Two would be better. And telling three friends would be your personal Christmas gift to me. If your friends mention your name in their comment you get an extra entry for the drawing! I’m obviously not above bribing you with baked goods 😉

Holiday Baking Week & Teacher Gifts

This is my big holiday baking week. It’s a tradition that I started when the kids were in preschool. I bake all our favorites over the course of two or three days freezing much of what I make for later.

Since we had an Annual Fondue Party at our house for about eight years, I combined my baking efforts and made enough for the party and for gift baskets for their teachers.

Try to imagine that I actually crafted my own centerpiece with real apples and votive candles.

Scary I know because I am so-not-a-crafter.

But the baskets have always been lovely in spite of my missing crafter gene. Sometimes I’ve even busted out a can of gold or silver spray paint to make a natural wicker basket more festive.

One year I think that totaled eight baskets including music, art, computer and PE teachers plus the administrators and office staff.

I remember thinking how many darn apple notepads, pencil holders and smelly bath salts could one teacher endure year after year. I know that gift cards are always appreciated and many times the room mother takes up a collection for this but I really like to give a more personal gift.

I was delighted to read this “Announcement on Behalf of Your Child’s Teachers” blog post last week and if you don’t have time to read the whole post (but really you should because it’s worth reading!), here’s the section that validated my teacher gift giving.

Feed them. If money is an issue and you have many teachers to gift, there’s nothing wrong with making several batches of fudge, toffee, cookies, haystacks, peppermint bark, etc., wrapping them up with ribbon, and presenting them with a nice card (written from your child or you). Being able to go home on the last day of school and gorge on all the goodies is a wonderful thing. Giving the gift of treats also might allow the teacher to not have to do work in the kitchen this holiday season, as they can take some of the goodies along with them to parties or serve them if they are hosting. It’s essentially the opposite of forcing them to run an errand.

You can read the rest of the post here.

My gift to the teachers is heartfelt. I appreciate how much time and energy they spend with our children for way too little pay. I think by the time the holidays arrive, they are exhausted and ready for the holiday break. I’ve always written a little note of thanks and let them know that I hope the basket of homemade goodies will help them and they can make a platter or two if they have guests. Or they can just sit down and eat it all themselves. 😉

I set up the kitchen assembly line style with saran wrap, cellophane gift bags, labels I print on the computer, curly ribbon, tissue paper and baskets or containers I try to score on clearance after Christmas. I always included a colorful plastic knife to cut the mini loaves of bread and tuck in a few holiday napkins. Sometimes we have added a couple of Dollar Tree mugs and assorted envelopes of gourmet hot chocolate.

Here’s the kitchen island from last year…

There is not a surface in our house that doesn’t have some baked good on it for a few days.

We have standard non-negotiable items that HAVE TO be made or we can’t have Christmas at our house. I make the mini loaves of quick breads and cookies and I delegate fudge and miscellaneous confections to PhilBillPaul.

Sherra’s List:

  • Poppy Seed Bread
  • Pumpkin Cranberry Bread
  • Mini Black Bottom Cupcakes
  • Illinois Soft Sugar Cookies
  • Raspberry Shortbread Dreams
  • Fudgie Bon Bons
  • Chocolate Mint Cookies
  • plus at least 4 batches of my special “Semi-Cajun” Chex Mix

PhilBillPaul’s List:

  • Maple and Chocolate Fudge
  • Toffee
  • Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Rods
  • Cinnamon Almonds

Then we have a wish list of a few new recipes to try to see if they will be basket-worthy for the next year.

This may be where I’ve gone wrong. We keep adding instead of subtracting!

These are my additions to add this year:

Any creative or crafty teacher gift ideas you will share? If you’d like a specific recipe for anything on our list just leave a comment and I’ll be glad to share!

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Flexible Friday #23 Our Free Vacation

Granny is gone.

Which means the laundry is starting to pile up.

But I’m not complaining – really I’m forever grateful for all that she did while she was here.

The list is too long and it might appear as if I were gloating if I told you everything she did.

And I’ve told you before how we feel about gloating.

Then you might start leaving comments filled with jealousy and that would not be appropriate at this holly, jolly time of year.

I can however speak for PhilBillPaul – and often do – hey, he can get a blog if he wants to.

Speaking for PhilBillPaul, he was incredibly thankful for Granny’s presence. So thankful that when we returned from our little vacation that he thanked her so many times she finally told him to shut up be quiet.

We pulled off this last minute vacation by using the last of his soon-to-expire Delta Skymiles which translated into two “free” tickets. Emphasis is not on the word “free.”

I will refrain from making this a post about Delta and their lack of customer service. I have some suggestions for the struggling airline and a new ad campaign they could launch. But first, they’d have to launch some new customer service training that I’d be glad to provide on a contract basis. I’ll save that for another post.

Sooooooo…

Where did we go?

Somewhere I’ve been before. This was my 5th time but it was his first.

Arizona

Hotel Kim is a lovely boutique hotel where we made last minute reservations the week before. You may or may not remember but I was just there in July of this year.

Upon our arrival, my friend Kim our private chauffeur drove us directly to Culver’s for butterburgers, cheese curds and frozen custard.

If you are a V.I.P. like me, there will be a personalized welcome gifts in your room when you arrive.

This time, the gifts were personalized for PhilBillPaul with appropriate reading material and a medley of specialty cashew items – which are his favorite. And some delicious cinnamon almonds.

There was a “Merry Christmas” gift bag on the bed with a warm and cozy chenille jacket just for me.

Furthermore, if you know the right people when you check in, you get a personal tour guide to take you around Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale and treat you to adorable boutique shopping, great restaurants and fun facts about Arizona.

Bonus: The tour guide’s delightfully nice husband will join you for meals.

This kind of service really made up for the NOT-free Delta flights.

Especially since Hotel Kim comped our room which is located in a beautiful area of Mesa.

We introduced PhilBillPaul to my favorite restaurants including Oregano’s, Butterfield’s, Red, White and Brew and Kim added a new, fabulous breakfast place, Crackers and Company Cafe. (twice).

Side note: I think by January I’m going to weigh as much as Oprah. I have a lot in common with Oprah. I didn’t realize how much until her latest article. The things we have in common may not be obvious on the surface since
I am white, several inches shorter and I am not rich. But don’t be fooled by appearances, we really do have a lot in common:

  • I also have a thyroid problem just like she does.
  • I am also unable to sleep for days and this started last year.
  • I am also irritable and lethargic.
  • I have never loved exercise.
  • Oh yeah, and I’m pretty sure I have a food addiction.

You’ll truly see this next week when I show you what I bake at the holidays…

Oh, sorry, I got distracted thinking about my weight gain – back to the trip.

We did rent a car and drive ourselves to Sedona.

Gorgeous.

Then headed to Flagstaff to spend the night.

No comments on Flagstaff in case someone reading this lives there.

The next morning we drove to…

The spectacular Grand Canyon.

Which was breathtaking and more beautiful than these pictures.

It feels good to add that to a list of incredible places in the U.S. that we’ve been lucky enough to visit.

Don’t miss checking in here next week because I’m going to share one other little tidbit from our Grand Canyon trip that gave us plenty to talk about.

AND, I’m going to have a very personal surprise giveaway that will rival
Hotel Kim’s hospitality.

Until then, have a great weekend and if you go out Christmas shopping, I’m glad to know you’re not in calendar denial like I am. Would you pick up a few gifts for my kids?

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