One Megacoolmama…

…with fun and healthy ideas for kids!

Bringing in a new elf!

It’s that time of year again when Christmas decorations go up and elf magic is in the air!  Yes, I am one of “those” families who participates in the beloved “Elf on the Shelf” shenanigans.  😉  My kids seem to be a little more vigilant of their behavior because our elf is watching, and I can’t help but notice they are a bit more joyful as well.  My two older children love finding their elf, Buddy, every morning in a different spot, sometimes playing a little trick on them or bringing them a little surprise.

The tradition in our household is that our elf comes the day after Thanksgiving, and my kids count down to this day starting the day after Halloween.  This is the third  year that Buddy has made his appearance in our house, and the excitement of his impending arrival hasn’t wanted not even a bit! My husband and I decided that it was time that Buddy got a companion this year since he has been on his own for a while.  Also, we felt that a sisterly companion would be appropriate since we do have a little girl in our household!

So, this year, Buddy showed up with a sister elf .  Obviously, we didn’t just stick her out there and confuse the kids by making them guess as to why another elf was invading our space.  I tried to come up with a creative way to introduce her, and I ended up writing them a poem from Buddy.  The poem explains that she is now part of our family and that the kids will have to name her as well.  Take a look for yourself at what I came up with:

elf on the shelf intro

 

The kids were ecstatic and surprised to find their beloved Buddy with a new elf!  Of course, we had to give her a name, and the two older kids decided on “Annie Sunshine”- I think it has a nice ring to it!  Traditionally, our elf brings the kids a little surprise the first night he is in the home for the season, and this year was no different.  The elf duo gifted each child with a chocolate advent calendar, a special candy (no candy for the little guy- still too small!), and the movie “Home” for the family to watch.  The kids are looking forward to a month full of little surprises and fun with their brother and sister elf, and I don’t think my daughter stopped talking about how much she loved Annie all day!  Totally worth it!

Check out some pics of our elves’ first night arrival and of our little ones enjoying them the morning after!

Buddy, our elf, with candy, calendars, a movie, and a letter for the kiddos!

Buddy, our elf, with candy, calendars, a movie, and a letter for the kiddos!

 

Annie Sunshine, our sister elf, hiding behind the advent calendars to surprise the kids in the morning!

Annie Sunshine, our sister elf, hiding behind the advent calendars to surprise the kids in the morning!

 

The kiddos with their elves and their loot!

The kiddos with their elves and their loot!

 

Do you have an elf at home?  What are some traditions you do with yours?  I would love to hear from you!

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“Little Monster” first birthday party

 

The birthday boy enjoying his first taste of cake!

The birthday boy enjoying his first taste of cake!

My little guy recently turned one, and I wanted to focus his party on a theme that had not been overdone. Also, his birthday is on Valentine’s Day, so I wanted to make sure that I was making a clear separation between the holiday and his birthday.

The “Little Monster” theme came to mind when searching through Pinterest, (of course, where else?).  I wanted to try and do as much as I could myself in the way of decorations and to use as many scrap materials around the house as possible when doing it.

After a while, I was starting to drive myself crazy with all of the cute Pinterest-y things I was finding, hoping that I would find the time to do everything…yeah, didn’t happen!  However, I think we still pulled off a pretty cute Little Monster Party, and I did it by just focusing on a couple of main things instead of trying to make every single little detail perfect.  And, guess what?  I got lots of “Great party!” comments on the way out!  I would say that is a success!

I am sharing with you a few of the activities, foods and decorations that I did for the Little Monster party.  Feel free to use any of the ideas for your own Little Monsters!

 

DECORATIONS

-Tissue poms with pasted on eyes.  We hung a few and stuffed a few into buckets for centerpieces for the tables.

 

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tissue pom decoration

-Homemade birthday banner.  I used scraps of card stock that I had leftover from my scrapbooking days, and went with the colors I had most of- blue, orange, green, purple and yellow….those ended up being the main colors of the party!  I drew and cut out the letters and just pasted everything with Elmer’s glue.  I used a paper hole punch, strung some yarn through, and voila!  I plan on using this banner in years to come and just switching out the “1” with a different number!

photo (22)

-Big wall monsters.  I used big butcher block paper and colored paper plates for the eyes and claws/teeth.  I cut out the shapes, colored where necessary and taped to the walls and doors!

door monster

 

 

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wall monster

wall monster

-Hanging monsters.  These little inflatables I bought from Amazon and were a cute touch.  I hung them from the light fixtures in the kitchen and dining room and had another one just floating between tables.  Super cute and lasted the entire party!

 

FOOD

-Monster fruit.  I drew faces on some clementines and bananas, and then I used a chip tray to arrange green grapes and blueberries with a big eye in the center.  I used, once again, a paper plate and marker for the eye.

monster fruit tray

monster fruit tray 2

-Monster pretzels.  My sister helped me out here!  We took rod pretzels, dipped them in white chocolate, covered with colorful sprinkles and then stuck an edible eyeball on them.  So cute and a nice sweet/salty treat!

monster pretzels

-Monster mix.  For the sweet table, I had two buckets of Monster Mix (as seen in the far right and left buckets in the picture above).  One was a bucket full of colorful jelly/sugar candies, like gummy Jolly Ranchers and LifeSavers, jelly beans, and gummy SweetTarts.  The other bucket was full of M&M’s.  I had little striped cupcake paper wrappers out for the little ones to fill with candy.  The sweet table was a big hit, especially with the option to fill the cupcake wrappers from the buckets!

-Monster lollipops.  Yep, ordered these from Amazon, too!  Something simple, but added just the right touch to our little sweet table.

ACTIVITIES

-Adopt-a-Monster.  The goodie bag for the kids at the end of the party was a little monster that they could adopt.  I ordered a couple of bags of cute little monster dolls from Amazon and created an Official Monster Adoption Certificate that each child could fill out and take home with the monster of their choosing.  The kids loved being able to adopt a monster; as a matter of fact, I think my niece snagged three! 🙂

-Make your own Monster.  All I did here was make copies of a monster body parts template that I found here.  The kids cut out body parts, colored them and pasted them on their monster bodies.  It kept kids busy and creative at the same time!

-Monster labels.  I just printed these out, cut them, and left them on the table for the kids to do as they pleased with them.  Some used them as labels for their adopted monsters, others used them to give monster names to themselves, and others stuck them on their cups.  Just something a little extra to go with the theme.  🙂

 

We had a great time celebrating my little guy’s first birthday, but all of these ideas were just a fun addition to what made the party the most special– the people, of course!  We are blessed with amazing family and friends, and were are grateful to be able to celebrate our children’s milestones with the people we love most!

first birthday

Oh, and CAKE!  Lol…I almost forgot the cake!  To serve the guests, we just ordered a blank sheet cake from Costco, and I decorate it myself–not too shabby, eh?  And, the special birthday boy’s smash cake was ordered from a bakery by my house.  Loved it! (and, yes, those are Monster cookies you see in the background!)

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monster cake

 

 

Thanks for reading!  Hope you can use some of my ideas…I would love to hear some of yours in the comments below! 🙂

 

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No-mess water bag toy

I just thought I would share a super simple, frugal idea for a no-mess water toy for toddlers.  I got the idea from a friend after seeing a pic of her little guy playing with this on her Facebook.

All you need to make it is a large Ziploc bag, water, and duct tape.  Optional are oil, food coloring and small non-pointy items, like beads or buttons.

 

no mess water bag toy

My little guy playing with his water bag on the patio door window!

 

I filled the Ziploc bag with about 2-3 inches of water and added a bit of oil to add some interest to the plain water.  You will want to hold the bag over the sink once you have a bit of water in it to make sure there are no little holes that could spring a big leak!

Also, I had some old container of cupcake sprinkles that were in the shape of hearts and stars that I threw in there so the baby could see something moving around when he touched the bag.  Finally, I made sure the Ziploc bag was good and shut and then duct taped it to the window, right about the height of his head.

He spent a good 10-15 minutes just pounding on the bag, watching the water move around!  However, we did have to move the bag up a couple inches right after taking the above pictures since he decided that he wanted to try and eat the bottom corner of the bag!

I have left the bag taped to the window so that he has something else to pound on when he plays in his little area, and I will probably leave it there for the next few days or so…it seems to have withstood the pounding he gave it today pretty well, so I’m hoping it will survive a few more days!

Do you have any ideas for frugal, simple toys for your kids?

 

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Family time fun!

family time fun

We all know the importance of spending time together as a family, and at the end of the work week, the thing I want most is to come home and spend some quality time with my own.  Some time ago, I realized that the time I was spending with my kids seemed always to be occupied by other things that moms have to do- cook, clean, prepare lunches for the week, check homework, pay bills, and so on.  Yes, I was doing valuable work that needed to be done in order to keep the household running, but that guilty feeling kept creeping up every time I had to tell the kids “Just a second” or “Let me finish this” when they asked for me to play.

My husband and I talked and decided that we needed to change that.  At the time, our kids were six and four; the baby had not been born yet.  We came up with the solution of instituting “family time.”  Yep, it was that simple.  All we did was make a conscious effort  to spend 30 minutes together  as a family every night doing an activity that one member of the family picked, taking turns.

Before we knew it, “family time” became such an integral part of our routine every evening that the kids expected and asked for it.  We were so happy that all it took was a little change and focused effort; our kids felt so valued, and we all looked forward to having our turn at deciding the activity!

Read on for some of our favorite picks for family time…

1.  Play a board game.  Our favorites:

Operation— Fun to hear the buzzer if you hit the metal, and they come in different versions now!  We play the classic (but updated version).  Most appropriate for ages 5 and up.

 

Candyland— Been playing this one since the kids were old enough to move the little game pieces!  Still a favorite for the kids…of course, they love fantasizing that they are gobbling up all the sweets along the way!

 

Monopoly Jr. Party version— Lots of fun and a more appropriate version for the little ones.  Sometimes we make up our own rules for the Party Box (we pay the box instead of the bank when someone buys a party), and we take turns between myself, my hubby and my seven year old with being the banker.  Great math practice!

 

Time Will Tell game— Awesome game to help kids tell time!  We have been using this since my son was six and in the first grade.  I would recommend waiting until your child is old enough to understand the concept of time before playing this, otherwise tears and frustration may ensue!  (I learned this the hard way!


Kids Games: Kids Learn to Tell Time Game – Time Well Tell Game – $16.95

from: The Land of Nod

 

Zingo!— My five year old daughter LOVES this game, and I love it too since she is practicing sight words and patterns!  The kids love the card dispenser, and I love that the pieces are sturdy enough (made of a harder plastic) to withstand lots of play time!

Cat in the Hat, I Can do That— All-time favorite of the entire family!  Comes with cards and props.  You draw three cards from the bunch and have to complete the action that the cards describe. We have had some funny combinations, like “Walk backwards around the Trick-a-ma-stick three times while holding the boat under your left arm”.  Definitely a test of coordination skills, and it keeps the kids guessing what combination will come next!

2.  Have a dance party.  We either put on the iPad and rock out to our songs downloaded on iTunes or use the Pandora music stations on our tv.  Sometimes the dance parties get so intense that we go into dance-off mode!  This is one of my daughter’s favorite activities for family time! (See her take on dance parties in this video.)  The baby has definitely joined in on more than one occasion, too!  (Watch his first dance moves here!)

 

3.  Build something together.  We LOVE the Melissa and Doug Suspend game!  The idea is to build a tower of sorts with these long wire pieces that are kinda bent at different angles.  The object is to see if you can get all of the pieces to stay on the base together, obviously without having it fall.  This is such a fun, intense, and surprising game which practices strategic thinking !

Another building idea is to partner up and give each group the same amount of Legos or K’nex.  Then see who can come up with the best/most creative construction!  Of course, you may want to come up with some criteria ahead of time, like what you are building, time limits, etc.

 

4.  Have a puzzle competition.  We like to partner up (one of us per kid) and go against the other team to see who can put together a puzzle
the fastest.  Once again, this gets really intense, and we all really get into it!

 

5.  Play Transformers Hide n Seek.  Or My Little Pony, or whatever toy!  My little guy invented this game for one of his Family Time activities.  Check out the video we made explaining how to play!

 

6. Make something creative.  Cheerios, popcorn and pasta have all been victim to necklace accessories in this household!  It is also fun to just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl (old craft stuff, dry pasta, little trinkets that kids receive from birthday parties, etc.) and see which group can come up with the most interesting creation!

 

The most important thing of all is to do what is fun and meaningful to your family.  I have shared what works for us– use if you wish, or use my ideas as a starting point for something totally unique!

If you already incorporate family time into your routine, how is it done in your household?

 

 

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Fun with foil: a simple kids’ craft

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am constantly looking for something new to keep my kids busy and off of technology for at least a good part of the day.  I see some really cool ideas on Pinterest, but, most of the time, I don’t have the materials I need to even begin the project!  In my desperation to combat the dreaded “I’m bored” coming from my son’s mouth, I came up with this activity for him to do.  Honestly, I was cooking in the kitchen when he came up to me with the “I don’t know what to do” complaint.  I walked into the pantry to grab something, saw the aluminum foil, and “voilá!”, this idea was born!

All you need for this simple craft is aluminum foil.  Nothing else!  Just rip or cut it into strips, and let your kids’ creativity do the rest!

aluminum foil craft step 1

Step 1:  Take a out a piece of aluminum foil, about a foot out of the box.  Tear little starting “tabs” at the top of the foil piece (about an inch apart), like shown in the photo above.

 

aluminum foil step 2

Step 2:  Tear the aluminum foil sheet into (more or less) even strips.  You can cut, too, if you feel like your ripping skills are subpar. 🙂

 

aluminum foil step 3

 

aluminum foil 3b

Step 3:  Squeeze and pinch the aluminum foil strips so that they form pliable “wire-like” pieces.

 

aluminum foil step 4

Step 4:  Start pinching and pushing the pieces together to form different figures–let your kids get creative here!  In this picture, Devin is making a snowflake.  My daughter decided to break the pieces apart and try to make her name.

 

aluminum foil 5

Step 5:  Show off your creations!  Devin ended up making a mini tv set!

The kids had fun and stayed entertained for a good 30 minutes with this.  And, they really enjoyed crumpling all of the little aluminum foil pieces into a big ball when they were done.  I know this activity is SUPER simple, but sometimes simplicity = creativity, which is always a good thing in my book!

Did you try this activity with your kids?  Do you do something similar?  I’d love your feedback in the comments!

Land Of Nod: Design for Kids and People That Used to be Kids

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Create a reading niche for your kids

My own little ones' reading niche!

My own little ones’ reading niche!

Reading is a crucial part of learning and brain development for our growing little ones.  We all know that reading just 20 minutes a day has been linked to significant increases in achievement in kids as well.  Reading is pretty darn important, so it is necessary to give reading the respect it deserves, especially when dealing with somewhat reluctant readers (like my second-grade son).  By treating the act of reading as a special event and giving it an attractive “home”, I have seen that my kids are more likely to pick up a book on their own without me even having to ask them!  Thus, the idea of the “reading niche” was born.

How do you create a reading niche?  Basically, I included components that I felt would make my kids want to stay in the “reading niche.”  I wanted it to be comfy, colorful and full of light.  Here is what I chose (refer to pic above for image):

1.   Comfy seating.  This is a necessity.  If there is nowhere comfortable to sit, the kids won’t stay there very long.  The point is to entice them to relax.  So, don’t be afraid to invest some $$ in some seating that will do the trick.  I chose the ones in the picture from Land of Nod.  They are personalized so there is never any fighting over who gets which seat!  Also, I like that the cover to the seat is washable.

2.  Kid-friendly book storage.  This is absolutely necessary when creating a reading niche.  You will want to make sure that the place where the books are stored is accessible at all levels and safe for the kids.  I like the one we use since it has soft canvas pouches that hold the books, and it is the perfect height for all of my kids!

3.  A good reading light.  Once the daylight has gone, you will want to have a nice floor lamp that can be adjusted in order to give light to the little ones if they decide to read at night.  I like the one we have since it has three different lights, and I have the ability to turn one on or turn all three lights on at once!  I have placed the floor lamp behind the bookcase so that cords are out of reach.

4.  Natural light.  If at all possible, you will want your reading niche’s central location to be by a source of natural light.  My toy room is perfect for this because we have a little bump-out with the window that created the perfect spot to put our reading niche.  You don’t have to have yours right by a window, but somewhere near one is preferable since natural light is just better overall for kids. 🙂

5.  Basket of stuffed animals and blankets.  I decided to include this for two main reasons:  First, kids like to cuddle.  By placing their favorite stuffed animals and a few snuggly blankets in a basket, I am encouraging them to make themselves comfortable and stay a while.  Secondly, my daughter loves reading to her dolls, so I thought throwing a few of those in the basket would be fun. 🙂

And, finally, I thought I would share a few of my kids’ favorite books that have taken up residence in our reading niche.

–>Favorite books/magazines of my seven year old boy:

Pop-up Facts Human Body

Scholastic Wild Weather Pack

–>Favorite books of my five year old girl:

Pinkalicious

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

–>Favorite books of my 11 month old baby boy:

Disney Baby Einstein Amazing Animals Play-a-sound

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

–>Magazines my kids love:


Highlights for Children


Disney Princess Magazine

 

 

Do you have a reading niche in your home?  What are your children’s favorite books?  I would love to hear about what you do in the comments!

 

 

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Random stuff my baby tried to eat that isn’t food #1

In our household, it is an everyday occurrence that the baby (now almost 11 months old) will find something that is decidedly NOT food and try to eat it.  I do not know how he finds the the things he does; I swear to God I clean my house!  Honestly, I find this so strange and humorous that I decided to keep a record of it– why not?  So, here you have the first post in what I am assuming is going to be an ongoing series of “Random stuff my baby tried to eat that isn’t food”

Exhibit #1

Random things #1

Random things #1

Ok, let me explain what you are looking at.  From the left…

-A leaf from my money tree plant.  After calling the Poison Control Center because he had chewed and swallowed I don’t know how much of the leaf, I found out the plant’s scientific name is “Pachira Aquatica”.  Sounds pretty doesn’t it?  Good thing it is not toxic.  My husband thinks the baby tried eating this since I am always giving him spinach.  Fair enough.

-At top you will see a peeled sticker from a diaper box that was sitting on the floor in his room.  Look away for a second to straighten up in the room as he is playing on the floor and I hear him chewing…I managed to pull this one out whole.  Score!

-At far right you have one of those googly eye craft thingys…this was also found in his room on the floor.  We just vacuumed his room!  I don’t get how these random things keep appearing in HIS room, but I have a feeling it has something to do with my daughter and her dolls.  Maybe.

-And, finally, at bottom right you have a dust bunny.  Please do not judge.  These accumulate like CRAZY in my house during the winter with wood floors!  Never fails with baby boy.  Every time he sees one, he puts it in his mouth.  Every. single. time.

And, there you have it!  Stuff the baby tried to eat today…let’s see how tomorrow goes!

The cutie pie eating all of the randomness

The cutie pie eating all of the randomness

 

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Tips for a healthier you, around the clock!

Becoming “healthier” is something that tops almost everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions.  Though most of us moms and dads lack tons of free time, there are some things that you can do that take very little time to make your day as healthy as possible.  When you are healthy, you feel good.  And when Mama feels good, don’t we all?  Here are some tips that I gleaned from a few resources, as well as some I threw in myself.  Follow these and your day is sure to end with you feeling at least a little more awesome than normal!

In the A.M.

  • Wake up to natural light.  Your body likes it.  This could be as simple as waking to an alarm and then throwing open the blinds.  Or you could try one of these nifty devices if you don’t want to wake your significant other.
  • Do some stretches to get your blood flowing- just a couple minutes is enough.
  • Sit down and eat a nice breakfast, full of protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy and fruit.  This will give you the energy you need to get your day started and take you through mid-morning. If you don’t have the time to sit and eat breakfast, take it with you.  I have a banana with my coffee in the car in the morning, then a little later eat my Greek yogurt topped with fruit, cinnamon, a bit of honey, and a high fiber granola or cereal.
  • If possible, only have one cup of coffee so that you avoid a crash later on in the morning.  If you have to have more than one, try one cup of regular and one cup of decaf.
  • Get moving right after breakfast for at least 20 minutes.  Just sitting there is doing nothing for you or your metabolism.  Your nice breakfast will have given you energy to get up and going, so do it!  20 minutes of light to moderate activity will give you even more energy to start your day (this could be cleaning up the kitchen, taking the dog for a walk or running around getting the kids ready, too!)
  • Eat a mid-morning snack.  Pick from one of the recipes below, or just have a piece of fruit to hold you over until lunchtime.   Going into lunch ravenous will only cause you to overeat, which in turn causes your blood sugar to crash in the afternoon, making you tired and sluggish.
From noon to evening
  • Eat a lunch rich in protein, balanced with veggies-a-plenty and a serving of whole grains or nuts.  This will keep your mood and energy up throughout the afternoon.  Try a version of my Very Veggie Salad for all of the above.
  • Be briefly active after lunch (take a quick stroll, go grab your mail upstairs, etc.)
  • The after-lunch afternoon slump is brutal.  Instead of falling into that slump, focus your attention on doing a different task than the one at hand or get up and walk around a bit.  Also, some breathing and stretches will do the trick.  Get to some natural light if possible.
  • Have a snack that is balanced in protein and carbs,  such as one of the options below or a healthy protein bar or fruit and nut bar.
  • Have a light dinner.  Eating a big meal right before bedtime can make digestion more difficult and can lead to sleep problems.
  • Instead of a rich dessert, have some organic herbal tea and some fresh berries with yogurt or a frozen fruit/yogurt bar.
  • Get some movement in right after dinner by making a point to clean up the kitchen immediately after eating.  By getting moving, you aid both your metabolism and digestion.
Getting in my 30 minutes with the kiddos! (Baby in stroller, too!)

Getting in my 30 minutes with the kiddos! (Baby in stroller, too!)

Late evening
  • Try to hit the sack before 11 p.m.  Those who go to bed later and wake up later have been proven to gain and retain more weight over time.
  • Do some meditating or light yoga before going to bed to get into a relaxation state.  Taking a warm bath infused with lavender is also a nice way to get your body into sleep mode.  You could even rub some lavender oil on your pulse points to get the fragrance on you.
  • Try to stick to the same routine every night- washing your face and brushing your teeth at relatively the same time.  Your body will be trained to fall asleep around that time every night, making it easier for you to get some quality z’s.
SNACK RECIPES (one of these in mid-morning and one in the afternoon is ideal):
  • Coconut Celery-  Fill 3 celery ribs with 1 tbsp.  peanut or other nut butter; sprinkle with 2 tbsp. each shredded coconut and dried blueberries
  • Apricot Supreme- Slice open 4 dried apricots and stuff with 2 tbsp. low-fat cream cheese (I like the whipped variety).  Top each with half a walnut or pecan.
  • Coco-nutty Popcorn- Melt two tablespoons of unrefined organic virgin coconut oil in a pan on the stove; add 1/2 cup popping corn and pop until finished over medium-high flame on stove.  Add a pinch of sea salt before serving.  (This recipe makes about five servings)
  • Yummy Yogurt- Top one serving on organic non-fat Greek yogurt with a serving of chopped fruit (apples in my case), a few walnuts, some unsweetened shredded coconut, a bit of honey, and cinnamon.
Yummy yogurt ingredients

Yummy yogurt ingredients

IN GENERAL…
  • Try to get in about 30-45 minutes of cardio about three times a week, along with a few brief resistance training sessions (about 25 minutes per session is sufficient).  Also, yoga at least once a week aids in strength, flexibility and balance.
  • Never go more than three hours without eating something (healthy, that is!).
  • Drink LOTS of water!
  • When choosing foods, try to choose as many REAL and unprocessed foods as possible.  This is truly the key to optimum health and feeling and looking your best!

What do you do to stay healthy?

 

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