What’s on the Menu this week

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What’s on the Menu this week

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Another week, another meal plan πŸ™‚

To be honest, I’m running low on energy these days! I am going on 33 weeks pregnant and nesting something fierce, which is where my focus right now is. When it comes to meal planning, I’m just tired. So I’m trying to keep things simple right now, while still making fairly good and healthy meals for my family and not spending a fortune on groceries. Here’s a look at what I have planned this week (you’ll see I’m taking it way easy with breakfasts and lunches).

Breakfast:
*Cold cereal
*Oatmeal (topped with things like chopped nuts, berries, cinnamon, etc)
*Yogurt topped with homemade granola
*Fruit smoothies (my kids would probably drink smoothies every day for breakfast)
*Homemade breakfast burritos (if I have the energy to prep them this week)
*Eggs (such an easy and filling breakfast)

Lunch:
*Sandwiches…and lots of them! Turkey, tuna, PBJ, etc. Served with chopped fruit and veggies, chips, and/or crackers (We love Kettle Chips and Triscuits)
*Salads with leftover chicken breasts on top
*Soups
*Leftovers

Dinner:
*Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup (and simple cheese quesadillas for anyone who doesn’t want the soup)
*Pigs in a Blanket, cut up cheese and crackers, cut up vegetables served with dip, chips (Superbowl meal!)
*Hamburgers served with salad
*Spaghetti with salad and bread
*Italian Grilled Chicken served with steamed rice and vegetables
*Crispy pork served with vegetables and bread
*Tacos served with rice and tortilla chips

As you can see, I’m really going for simple right now. But simple doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy all prepackaged convenience foods, either. I hope you will click on some of the recipe links and find something simple you might like to try this week, too!

Happy eating πŸ™‚

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What we’re eating this week

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What we’re eating this week

I got a lot of positive feedback on my last blog post about eating well on a very tight budget, so I thought I’d make another one and outline what we are eating this week(ish)! I have slightly more recipes planned and ingredients on hand this time around, so it will stretch farther than a week. Between shopping trips yesterday and today, my total bill was about $175. So, slightly higher than what I had outlined in my last blog post, but still well within reason for a family of almost 7!

This week, breakfasts will include:
*Cereal (my kids picked out a special box of cereal which we usually don’t allow, but they are so excited to try it out)
*Homemade granola (great on yogurt, as a bowl of cereal with milk, or by itself!)
*Fruit and yogurt smoothies
*Oatmeal (topped with blueberries, sliced almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, pure maple syrup, honey, homemade granola…the possibilities are endless)
*Whole wheat waffles (I still have a few left on hand from the last time I made and froze these)
*Eggs
*Toast and yogurt (a kid favorite around here)

Lunch options this week will be:
*Sandwiches (a staple around here – we do turkey, PBJ, tuna, and grilled cheese. Whatever we are in the mood for)
*Leftovers
*Soups
*Turkey and cheese kabobs, fruit and veggie kabobs, usually served with applesauce, yogurt or peanut butter as a side
*Chicken salads (we we usually use up extra chicken from the night before as salads. Topped with sliced almonds, dried cranberries, some cheese, a hard boiled egg…it makes a very filling meal!)
*Cheese quesadillas

Dinners this week will look like this:
*Slow cooker chicken fajitas (serve with salsa, sour cream, cheese, cilantro, etc)
*Slow cooker Irish beef stew served with biscuits (one of our favorite recipes, but it is expensive to make so we don’t make it often)
*Homemade pizzas (another kid favorite)
*Grilled pork chops served with veggies
*Lasagna served with salad
*Chicken casserole (definitely not a whole food meal, but it is comfort food during the winter months)
*Turkey noodle and dumpling soup (I still have some frozen turkey leftover from Christmas and it makes the perfect soup!)
*Grilled chicken breasts served with rice and veggies
*Spaghetti and meatballs with salad

For snacks, we have the usual:
*Crackers
*Cheese
*Granola bars
*Fruit (oranges, bananas, berries, apples)
*Vegetables (carrots, brocolli, celery)
*Homemade orange creamsicle ice cream
*Store bought ice cream
*Raisins, dried cranberries, nuts, seeds, etc.
*Larabars
*Homemade popcorn

I hope this post is helpful and gives you ideas!

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Feeding My Family Well (On A Budget)

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Feeding My Family Well (On A Budget)

My husband and I have big goals for the next few years. We are getting serious about dumping debt and becoming debt free thanks to the Dave Ramsey plan. We know there will be a *lot* of sacrifices to get there. Don’t get me wrong, the end results will be worth it! But one thing we just can’t sacrifice is feeding our family well, even on a very small grocery budget. We have six, going on seven, people to feed. Today I’ll be sharing some of my favorite recipes on how to feed your family well on a budget.

Right now, I cannot afford organic food. But I still try to feed my family a mostly whole food, low processed diet. I make whatever I can from scratch and am always looking for ways to stretch our dollars (or meats, or produce, or what have you). I hate to waste and am always looking for ways to use up extras or leftovers for another snack or meal. This was my grocery shopping trip from this weekend, in which I spent $119 on mostly good, nutritious, filling foods:

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This grocery haul will last us about a week. Some things I did not need to buy right now but will use this week for meals and snacks are:
*Whole wheat flour
*Eggs
*Other pantry items for cooking and baking such as pure vanilla, honey, baking soda and powder, salt, pepper, seasonings, etc.
*Tortillas
*Wild caught Alaskan salmon (a gift from my parents!), chicken breasts and pork chops

Always take an inventory of what you have on hand and plan your meals based on that!

This week, we will be eating the following items for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks:

Breakfasts
*Homemade granola cereal (great on it’s own, with milk like typical cereal or on top of yogurt)
*Homemade whole wheat waffles (I made a large batch to freeze to have ready for breakfasts. You can serve these with maple syrup, fruit, yogurt, etc)
*Overnight oatmeal (Google is your friend for this one – there are so many great recipes and varieties and it takes just minutes to throw together!)
*Hot oatmeal (naturally sweetened with honey or maple syrup and topped with walnuts, almonds, frozen blueberries, diced apples, cinnamon, etc)
*Breakfast burritos (I made a large batch of these, approximately 20, and I freeze them to pull out easily for breakfasts)
*Bacon or sausage and eggs

Lunches
*Chicken noodle soup
*Chicken salads (add hard boiled eggs, sliced almonds, dried cranberries and some cheese for extra flavor and fullness!)
*Sandwhiches (Tuna, turkey, peanut butter and jelly)
*Hot dogs (We buy this brand)
*Leftovers (I typically make enough at dinner to have leftovers several times a week)
*Turkey and cheese kabobs, fruit kabobs, veggie kabobs, served with yogurt and crackers (These are a kid favorite!)

Dinners
*Hamburgers served with salad
*Teriyaki grilled salmon served with rice and veggies (I make my own teriyaki with whole food ingredients)
*Black bean bowls (a very filling vegetarian meal)
*Crispy cracker covered pork chops with veggies
*Homemade pizzas (So fun for the kids especially!)
*Turkey noodle soup with rolls and salad
*Slow cooker teriyaki chicken served over rice, topped with green onions and sesame seeds

Snacks and extras
*Bananas, apples, oranges, veggie sticks, berries, etc
*Fruit and yogurt smoothies
*Crackers (I try to by the least processed crackers possible. Try Triscuits or Back to Nature crackers)
*Larabars
*Pigs in a blanket (certainly not healthy, but they will make a fun New Year’s Eve snack)
*Homemade popcorn (our absolute favorite snack)
*Nuts and seeds
*Dried apples and granola bars (for the kids)
*Homemade granola cereal (I listed this above in breakfasts, but it also makes a great snack!)

I try to keep my grocery budget down by:
*Menu planning every meal
*Shopping once a week (those extra trips to the store always end up costing you more money)
*Taking a detailed list with me to the store
*Shopping in season when possible, shopping the clearance bins (think discounted meats, old produce and dented cans. They may not look the prettiest but they can still be used, old produce can be frozen! Most grocery stores have a section of clearance items. Ask if you aren’t sure where yours is.)
*Learning to say no. This really took me a long time. My kids don’t *need* a treat every time we finish a shopping trip. They don’t need to throw extra items into the cart just because they look good. We don’t *need* to eat out often. It’s hard to say no, but to keep your budget reigned in and for the health of your family, it’s important to learn to!
*Making as much as I can from scratch. It’s so easy to make a ton of pancakes and freeze them to last you a few weeks. Much cheaper and healthier than buying highly processed frozen pancakes from the store. Cooking from scratch really does take more time, but it’s so worth it. It’s a precious gift you give your family when you help save money and serve them healthy foods.

Happy saving, meal planning, shopping and cooking!

Buttermilk Pancakes (Large Batch and Freezer friendly!)

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Pancakes are such a simple, delicious way to start the mornings. Today, I’m sharing my favorite recipe for them – buttermilk pancakes! This recipe makes quite a large batch which is great for bigger families or if you just want a lot of leftovers. This recipe freezes well!

Buttermilk Pancakes
3 cups all purpose flour (I love King Arthur Unbleached flour)
3 tbsp white sugar (or your choice of sweetener)
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups buttermilk (don’t have any on hand? Try this simple homemade recipe!)
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, beat milks and eggs. Add butter and vanilla to milk mixture. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and combine. Bake pancakes on a griddle over medium heat until they are golden on each side.

This recipe makes 25 to 30 pancakes, depending on the size of pancake you make. To freeze, simply place in a freezer safe zip-lock bag until you’re ready to use. When you’re ready to use your frozen pancakes, remove from the freezer, heat up in the microwave and then toast a bit in your toaster or toaster oven (be careful not to over-toast, they tend to get crispy really quick!)

Enjoy them like my family does – with blueberries, chocolate chips or just as they are, covered in butter and maple syrup! Happy eating!

 

 

Why I love to meal plan – and how I do it!

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Today I wanted to share a post about why I love meal planning and how I do it. I spent the first several years of my marriage without any planning when it came to the kitchen. I found myself frustrated each day when it came to meal times – I didn’t even really ever know what I had on hand and, therefore, couldn’t plan meals to save my life. I was making multiple trips to the store each week just to pick up items for that day, when it reality this was costing us so much more money than I should have been spending, not to mention wasting time and gas!

I finally got serious about being more organized and thoughtful in the kitchen. I realized what a blessing it is to serve my family nutritious, tasty meals everyday, and I asked the Lord to start helping me see the blessing in serving them. I came into my marriage with barely any knowledge on how to cook (my poor husband suffered through my under-cooked BBQ chicken and tuna casserole pretty much every night I would cook), but with this new outlook on cooking for my family, I became determined to learn. I tried many new recipes each week – some would fail, but most of them turned out well, especially as I got the hang of preparing and serving meals to my family. I still love to try new recipes and now, planning, preparing and serving meals to my family is one of my favorite and most enjoyable things to do. I no longer look at it as a frustrating task that just has to be done as quickly and sloppily as possible, and much of that is thanks to being more prepared in the kitchen and having a bigger perspective on cooking as a joyful service to my family.

I am one of *those* ladies who plans every meal of the day for a week or two at a time. I do my “big” grocery shopping once every two weeks (based on my husband’s pay periods) and I always have to make one to two smaller trips in between that big one to restock things like bread, milk and produce. Before my big grocery trip, I make a detailed meal list with breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas. I take inventory of what I already have on hand and what I can make meals with based on that, and then I add to it what we’d like to have for meals and add those ingredients to my shopping list. This is a big onetake a list to the store! For so many years, I went into stores blindly and ended up spending way more than I needed, and I always forgot items and had to make more trips to pick up items I ended up needing. It was an exhausting, expensive cycle!

I don’t necessarily have a list that looks like: “Monday: Oatmeal. Sandwiches. Grilled Chicken.” And then force myself to religiously stick to that list and order of meals. What I do, however, is print out a “Meal Options” list and stick it to my fridge. I have posted what that looks like below:

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What I do is quickly scope out the meal options list the night before or the morning of and see what sounds good that day based on what we have on hand. Do the kids feel like having cinnamon rolls for breakfast? Oatmeal? If it’s on the meal options list, we are free to make whatever sounds good. My oldest son in particular gets very bored with normal lunch foods, so you see that I add extra ideas to the lunch section so he feels he has more of a selection, which has really saved him some frustration over being “sandwiched out”. (He is also the only one who will eat frozen turkey meals, so I pick up one or so a week for him from the store.) For dinner, I try to list what exactly I’ll make with each main dish so there are no surprises and I’m not scrambling to find sides to serve. But again, we don’t go in the exact order the meal options are listed – I simply can look at the list, know what I have on hand and decide what to make from there.

This method has really helped me over the years. It has saved me:
Time. No more running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to figure out what to serve.
Money. No more unnecessary trips to the grocery store to pick up just one or two items, which we all know, can easily turn into more if we are just going into the store blind, without a list and plan.
Frustration. No more looking up at the clock, seeing it’s 5p.m. and being frustrated and disappointed in myself for not even having a clue what to make for dinner.

I hope this will help inspire someone else out there to meal plan. Yes, it takes time and effort, but it really does make our home at mealtime run much more smoothly. Happy meal planning! πŸ™‚

How to survive the first trimester (with lots of little ones)

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How to survive the first trimester (with lots of little ones)

Being pregnant is such a blessed time. From the moment you realize you’ve got a new little life growing inside of you all the way up until you’re holding that baby in your arms, a lot of time is spent thinking of and preparing for the new baby. But what about Mommy? She has a lot of needs, too, during pregnancy and beyond. You’re tired but sometimes have trouble sleeping, you’re sick but also very hungry, one minute you’re feeling overjoyed and the next you’re crying. Pregnancy can certainly be like a roller coaster, can’t it? πŸ™‚

I am still in my first trimester with baby #5 and I thought I’d share a few ideas on how to survive the first trimester when you’ve got several other little ones who are counting on you.

1. Eat what sounds good.

Now, this doesn’t mean that your only food groups should be chocolate, pizza and fast food (though, some days, that may be all you can stomach for whatever reason). I totally encourage Mom’s to *try* to eat well and balanced meals and snacks. Your little one needs good nutrition to thrive! You need good nutrition to feel healthy. But, sometimes we all have food aversions, whether it’s meats, vegetables, dairy products, etc. Right now, one of the only things that doesn’t make my stomach churn is pasta. So, I make pasta ahead of time and keep it in the fridge so that when hunger calls, I can heat it up. I can use some homemade marinara sauce on it, or maybe just some sauteed veggies on top. Try to eat what you can stomach, and think ahead to what those things might be so that while you’re in the middle of your day and can’t drop everything to make a big meal for yourself, you have things on hand to pull out and whip up. Of course, try to make healthy choices when you can. But if all you can seem to stomach for a few weeks is pasta like me, eat the pasta.

2. Don’t beat yourself up for taking some easier routes than you normally would.

Some of my favorite things right now are: paper plates, juice boxes and the newly assigned “snack drawer” in my kitchen. Do I normally have all these things on hand? No. But, desperate times, people. I am learning not to beat myself up for needing to take some shortcuts right now. If I’m really not well one night, well, my family still needs to eat, and paper plates help alleviate some of my stress. If I’m sick and my children are thirsty or hungry for a little snack, they can easily help themselves to a juice box from the fridge or a snack from the snack drawer (think: granola bars, applesauce pouches, boxes of raisins, fruit snacks). It won’t always be like this, Mama. Take some shortcuts right now and give yourself the rest and grace you need.

3. Give yourself some grace.

You’re not going to be supermom right now. But that doesn’t mean you’re failing. Have your children bring you a big stack of books and read with them from your couch or bed. Sit outside (weather permitting…I know when it gets too hot, I simply can’t be out for too long before getting sick) and give your children your undivided attention – watch them do those super cool cartwheels they’ve just mastered, or time their bike races while you cheer them on from a comfy chair. Know that, yes, right now, your children may be watching a little more TV than usual, but it’s just a season. It’s just for a time. You are still an amazing and loving Mama, who just happens to need a little extra TLC right now.

Knowing when to say “no” is also a big one here. The only thing worse during the first trimester when you’re already sick, overheated, and going through a million changes is being over committed, stretched thin and completely and totally spent. There have been times recently where a really neat opportunity comes up and I have to choose to say “no”. For example, I recently left our home school co-op, knowing it was not going to be a good fit for us this year and it would not be wise to take on that extra commitment being pregnant. Other examples would be: that outing with friends and other kids that sounds really wonderful, but knowing it’s going to be stressful, exhausting and I’m going to end up being totally sick because of it is just not worth it to me. Sure, my kids really want to have that one friend over for a sleepover, but knowing right now what kind of extra pressure it’s going to put on me in an already fragile time (physically and emotionally) I have to say “no”. There will be so many opportunities to say “yes” in the future – sometimes saying “no” is actually being incredibly kind to yourself.

A spin off of this is – be honest with your children and your spouse. Let them know that right now, Mama’s body is very busy growing a new life (a pretty amazing feat!) and because of that, Mama just doesn’t feel like herself sometimes. Let them know what you need. Let them know you need them to be your big helpers and to look for ways to help with messes, or with little siblings. I know my older children have been *so* wonderful lately about taking my 2 and 4 year olds back to their rooms to play when they know I’m really not feeling well. I love hearing them giggle and play and then having them come to me after a time and telling me all the fun adventures they had. Does this mean I’m a bad Mom right now for not being able to play with my kids 24/7? No! It means I know my limitations and I know when to admit I can’t do it all.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to accept it when it’s offered.

I admit, this is probably the hardest one for me. I hate feeling like a burden or an inconvenience to anyone, so often times, I won’t speak up when I really do need help. I encourage other Mom’s not to be like me in this area. When people say things like, “How can I help?” or “Can I do XYZ for you?” they most likely really do want to help! My husband is gone a lot with the military (as he is right now) and I can’t tell you what an absolute blessing it has been the few times people will offer help and instead of pridefully turning them down, I accept. Whether it’s picking up a few things from the grocery store we really need, or dropping off a simple dinner, or coming and mowing my grass because it’s 100* outside and I simply can’t get out there to do it. People love you, Mama, and they want to help! Let them take the kiddos for an hour while you take a warm bath, or better yet, take a much neededΒ nap!

5. Pray.

It’s so simple and yet it’s such an often overlooked part of our day. We are busy from sunup til sundown tending our homes and our little ones, and by the time our heads hit the pillow at night, we think, “I haven’t even talked to my Father today.” I’m speaking to myself here! Prayer is not something we must do to earn “points” or a ticket to Heaven. Rather, it’s one of the beautiful privileges of being a child of God. He has promised to listen to our prayers; He hears you, Mama. Tell Him what you need. Ask Him for the strength, patience and the health to get through this day. Not every single day ahead of you, just today. He has promised to provide for our needs each day, and His mercies are new each morning. Believe and rest in that.

When Your Child Begins To Realize They’re Different

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Two of my kiddos have special medical needs; my oldest son has Cystinuria and my youngest daughter has Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. As time goes on, I’m kind of getting used to being a “special needs mom”. All the appointments are becoming routine, the kid’s medicine alarms and medication schedule have become second nature to me and I can tell you all about their diseases at the drop of a hat.

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My two “rare” kids, Ruby and Kilian

But lately, I’ve heard some things come out of my 7 1/2 year old’s mouth that have caused me to pause and reflect and have even broken my heart a little. A few things I’ve heard him say in the past week or so:

“Mommy, is that the last surgery I’ll ever have to have?”

“Mommy, when will my kidneys work better?”

“Mommy, will I always have to take this medicine for the rest of my life?”

My son was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney disease called Cystinuria almost two years ago. It’s incurable and chronic, which means it will always be there and potentially give him issues. He just had another surgery to remove kidney stones about four weeks ago and another minor procedure to remove a stent in his urinary tract a few days ago.

I think my son is coming to an age where he realizes he deals with something most children don’t…and that it will always be that way. Which just shatters my heart into a million pieces. I want to protect him and take away his hurt. I want him to live as normal a childhood as possible and we try very hard to make that happen. But, his disease is relentless, and even when we are doing all the “right” things, his body still makes kidney stones.

So, I thought I’d write a tribute to him/something that he could read later on, maybe when he’s going through a difficult or painful time or feeling down about this all. Maybe it could help someone else out there, too, who is walking through a difficult season medically or maybe has a child of their own with special medical needs.

To answer those questions above…

No, my son. This is not the last surgery you’ll ever have to have. Chances are you will have to have procedures in the future because we want those stones to get out of you when they form. But I promise that Daddy and I will always be there to support you during your surgeries, appointments or hospital stays. We will be your advocates. We will speak up for you and make sure you’re taken the best care of and as comfortable as you can be. We will fight for you.

No, my love. Your kidneys will not work better or differently. But you know what? You are an amazing little guy. A fighter. You’re strong. You’re brave. Your ability to have kidney stones, to have surgeries and still carry on with life, to still run and play, to still bring a smile to everyone’s face regardless of what you’re facing…you amaze us. You inspire us to do better and to be better in our own lives. You remind us that whatever we are dealing with that we need to smile, because it’s really not so bad.

Yes, my sweet boy. You will always have to take medicine. Maybe not this particular kind, but your medicine helps your kidneys work to their best ability. It makes those pesky stones have a harder time building up, which prayerfully means less frequent kidney stones. We want to keep you as healthy as possible. I know it’s a pain having to take your medicine multiple times a day. I know it’s a challenge to drink more water every day than most adults do. But you never complain. You are so compliant with it all. Like your Doctors say, you are a super patient! You are incredible!

So, yes, you’re a little different. But you’re also smart. You’re creative. You’re inquisitive. You’re thoughtful. You’re kind and compassionate. You’re opinionated and spunky and passionate. You’re funny. You have a great smile and laugh. You’re energetic. You would do anything for your family and friends and even those you don’t know. Truth is, I admire you.

Above all else, I want you to know how loved you are. You made me a mother, Kilian. No one could take your place in my heart. We share a bond that could never be broken or replaced.

Even so, your Heavenly Father loves you more than I ever could (which is a lot for me to imagine, because I love you and your siblings and your Daddy with all that is in me!).

He loves you with “an everlasting love”, and is “ever faithful and kind” to you (Jeremiah 31:3).

He tells us we do not need to fight our battles (2 Chronicles 20:17) because He will fight for us.

He tells us that He will go before us and will be with us, and we do not need to be afraid or discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8).

He loved you and I so much that He sent His only son to take our place, to die with our sin, that we might believe and trust in Him and receive everlasting life (John 3:16).

He hears the cries of His people and He is concerned with our suffering (Exodus 3:7).

He encourages us to cast our cares and anxieties on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

So, no matter what kind of trials or pain you face in this life, I pray you will always remember how loved and cherished you are. I pray that even in the darkest times, you will cling to your faith. You would remember you were made in the image of the Creator and that He does not make mistakes. I pray you would remember He has a very distinct purpose and plan for you, even if you can’t make sense of it or see what it is in that moment.

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You make me so proud. And you are so loved.

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With Love, Courtney