Casa, DIY, Family life, Nature, Practical Life, Preschool

DIY: wax-dipped autumn leaves

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Have I mentioned how much I love autumn? Even with the high spirits of Halloween behind us and the disturbingly eager holiday retail machine kicking into gear, I’m determined to stay present with the season as long as possible. Particularly since otherwise, November can seem like one long grey wait for better days.

23158082_10102016913446891_704227450_oAs the night time wild winds blow, the kids and I seem to collect beautiful and colourful leaves spotted on our travels each morning, adding to our collection daily. Some get put on the nature tray by the back door, some founder on the floor of the back seat, some crumble out of pockets in the laundry.

But a chosen few are dipped into sweet-smelling wax, saved, and hung up to bring the glory of the outdoors into our home. Because it involves using some caution around warm beeswax, this is a great activity for ages three and up, depending on the child. (If your kids are anything like mine, that added element of manageable risk makes leaf-dipping extra appealing!)

It’s simple really.

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What you need: 

A bunch of beautiful leaves

Beeswax, grated

A double-boiler or some other method for heating the wax

A length of string or yarn

A hole punch (optional)

How to do it: 

  1. Gather up your leaves and grate up your beeswax into the top of your double-boiler. Start water boiling on the stove. Note: I have a metal bowl and grater that are used exclusively for beeswax, because it can be tricky to clean up once it hardens, and you don’t want any melted wax going down the kitchen drain.
  2. Lay out some paper to catch any wax drips and some parchment for your wax-wet leaves to dry on.
  3. Heat the beeswax on top of boiling water until just melted. Once it’s melted, you can either bring the bowl of wax over to your leaves, or bring your leaves right to the stove — whichever is safer.
  4. Hold each leaf by the stem, and dip it into the melted wax, being sure to cover the whole surface of the leaf, front and back, with a thin layer of wax. Set it onto the parchment to cool.
  5. When your leaf is cool and dry to the touch, and flexes without cracking the wax, it’s ready to prep for hanging up. Have your little one punch a hole in each leaf, and thread through with a string.
  6. Hang up your sweet nature bunting, and take in the autumn splendour!
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Family life, Montessori philosophy, Peace education

On a bad day

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Recently, I had a bad day.

A late-for-everything, take-out for supper, yelled at my kids, fat lip of the heart kind of day.

The kind of day where it feels like no matter what I got right, forget how many books I read or the art-making or cooking, it still doesn’t feel like I’m really connecting with my kids. The kind where it feels like every time I sat down to eat, or text a friend, or take a shower, it got interrupted.

The frustration and the guilt turned into a vicious cycle.

At some point on this terrible, no-good day, I realized: respectful parenting and Montessori ideas are a useful guide for our home not because I’ve got it all together as parent, but because I don’t. The philosophy offers tools and support when my own go-tos fail.

I’ve written before about creating space for children to experience error in order to learn, and it occurred to me that I rarely hold that kind of space for my self. It seems silly really — after all, it’s not as though I have nothing left to learn.

This week I’m trying to be more gracious with myself, as I aim to be with my children, in order to foster learning and growth.

That same frustrating, messy, human day, I read these words in the beloved book The Tao of Montessori by Catherine McTamaney, and felt both seen and buoyed:

“Abandon fault. Leave behind the blame placing. Even the best teaching is messy.”

May your messy days be days of learning too.

 

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22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, 3-6 Years, Family life, Nature, Practical Life, Preschool, toddler

Autumn activities for little people

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Autumn is one of my favourite times of year — a time for circling back, for settling in, and for reaping the harvest. It’s also the time when I celebrate my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and two amazing holidays — Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween. Looking for ideas on how to make the best of the season? Take a few tips from a pro. 😉

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Plant bulbs now for flowers next spring. During last week’s Milkweed Montessori morning, my toddler friends and I read Planting a Rainbow, and then spent some time digging holes and popping in bulbs for crocus, tulip and daffodils. It’s great way to connect this moment within the flow of moments that make up the days, weeks, months, and seasons, that lead us to a moment next spring when, green shoot pokes through the earth and offers up a bloom.

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Get in touch with the fruits of the season. Part of what makes autumn so magical is that it is the culmination of the warm sunshiny days that came before it, and no where is that better illustrated than in ripe apples and big, round pumpkins. Apple picking, the pumpkin patch or a wander through a corn maze offer opportunities to connect with tradition in a hands-on way, from toddlers on up. These are the icons of the season for a reason, so throw out the cliches, and get out there and see how and where they grow. If your tastes run a little wilder, keep an eye out for high bush cranberry or autumn olive on outdoor adventures.

Ready to take it to the next level? Save your pumpkin seeds for growing in the garden next year. This year our backyard pumpkin patch has provided two perfectly round specimens for two perfectly spooky jack o’lanterns.

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Make a pie! A few years ago, a morning-long Pie 101 presentation from my friend Katie (an award-winning pie baker!) helped to conquer my fear of pastry. Now I always make a few pies when the fruit is at its peak, and I nearly always have help from my helpers, who love to peel the apples, bust up the butter, and roll out the pastry. If you do brave pie-baking with preschoolers, snap a pic and use the #montessoripie hashtag!

Follow along with Fall Outside 2017, an annual online reminder to go outside, and a welcoming online community to share those experiences with. For me, November is one of the hardest times of year — a wistful goodbye to the joys of October, and a grey introduction to the months to come. I’ve enjoyed following along with the prompts since November 2015, and we’ll do so again this year.

What are you up to this season? Share your ideas and tips with me, because there’s still some autumn left! 

Related posts: 

Autumn fun – a bumper crop of apple works 

A whole post dedicated to Planting a Rainbow

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22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, 3-6 Years, Books, Casa, Family life, Nature, Preschool

Montessori books to celebrate changing seasons

After Mother Nature hit our area with some late-breaking hot hot heat last week, it seems that finally crisp mornings and falling leaves are signalling the seasonal shift from summer to autumn. Feeling these changes as each season rolls on is something that I’m more and more attuned to, both as I get older, and my kids do. Growth, change, forward momentum, life in all it’s many forms — it’s a daily celebration on this traveling orb we call Earth.

I love to read books that are tuned in to these seasonal rhythms, and that reflect the times we’re having as a family. Sometimes a book that cycles through all the seasons, reminding of us of where we are in the big picture can be just the thing to remind us to celebrate the present.

Friendly for both toddlers and preschool-age reading times, and full of good curiosity-building possibility, here are a few books that our family has enjoyed reading, no matter the season:

Out and About: A First Book of Poems

Lovely to page through from cover to cover, or to read through the poems that fit today’s season or weather, this book is a treasure. Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes, the creator of the beloved Alfie series, you’ll find these poems are a true reflection of family life lived in season.

To Be Like the Sun

A girl, her sunflower seed, and the glory of the flower it produces… and then, midwinter, a girl, and her sunflower seed once more. This book is beautifully illustrated, with a story told with enough energy to keep even the tinies captivated.

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights

In our family, we have a particular connection with the arctic, but I think the subtle changes that this book follows through one of the planet’s most unique environments will delight any curious child as each page follows the light.

The Year at Maple Hill Farm

A sweetly-detailed book that follows the calendar year through each month on a busy farm, this is an evergreen book that seems to expand to meet the growing child’s awareness.

When the Wind Stops

A favourite of mine to read, and of Jasper’s to hear, this book is the kind that settles the whole family into the peace of evening after a busy day. It answers those simple and yet big questions every child has in a way that is plain and true and also deeply metaphorical. Where does the sun go when it sets? To bring morning to another place.

Do you have a family favourite for all seasons? Let me know in the comments below! 

 

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18 months, 18-21 months, 22-24 months, 24-28 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy

The toddler question

 

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Life with toddlers: it’s not for the faint of heart.

Toddlers are wonderful humans. They are curious and compassionate, full of energy and emotion. I live with one myself, a little sprite who brings joy to the whole family each day, and who embraces and insists upon independence, choice, and doing it herself!

One of the greatest gifts I received during my Montessori training a few years back was my teacher’s wonderful advice to, in the midst of those inevitable stormy moments with a toddler, step back from the intensity of the storm and ask: what is the child’s developmental need? 

I learned that, contrary to our culture’s comments on tantrums and the “terrible twos,” a toddler isn’t developmentally capable of being willful. Toddlers are naturally without motive — it’s not until around three years-old that a child’s own will actually even develops.

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What drives a toddler is this forward movement into their own development.

Occasionally, there are limits that interrupt that forward motion — whether it’s a parent, who absent-mindedly takes over zipping up a jacket, or needs a child to be buckled into a car seat — or even just the physical limits of the natural world, like when a child wants to fit a large block into a small hole. Encountering these edges can mean that joyful child is suddenly frustrated — more so than seems reasonable to the parent who has their own set of expectations front of mind.

It’s then, in the moment, that we can step back, take a deep breath, and ask: what is the child’s developmental need? It’s a crucial moment, one in which we take ourselves out of the heat of our own emotion about what’s happening, and try to see the world from our toddler’s perspective. Rather than, say, this one:

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Montessori identified that there are certain times in a child’s life when they are overwhelmingly interested in and able to take in certain developmental stages, called sensitive periods. Sometimes parents see their child acting “obsessed,” repeatedly doing the same thing: taking shoes on and off, climbing the stairs, turning lights off. Whenever that repeated activity is happening, you can bet that it’s because some big learning is happening.

As caregivers, understanding sensitive periods can shed light on what is happening for a frustrated toddler. Toddlers are sensitive to order, they have a need for movement, and for language.

A toddler who is sensitive to order — a natural desire that things should be “just so”— might be like the little guy I met at a party a few years ago. People were gathered around the door, some dressing, some going out, and a little toddler stood in the midst of it all, insisting that the open door should be closed. His mother was getting annoyed, it seemed inappropriate — some folks were about to go out. But from his perspective, he saw something that was out of order: an open door should be closed.

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I used to see this chart Maria Montessori created as a sort of report card, to see how my child measured up. Now I understand: it’s a list of needs. What if a child at 15 months NEEDS to walk without help? Game-changing. (Chart from The Absorbent Mind)

I know a sweet little girl who lives in a one-storey home. Get that girl into a house with stairs, and she’s got one focus, every time: up, then down. Up, then down. She’s gotta move! I remember reading somewhere that Maria Montessori suspected that the reason young kids love slides so much isn’t actually about the sliding: it’s all about the stairs.

I’ve faced all kinds of challenges with a child in need of movement: a long flight with a toddler on my lap, a music class for toddlers that expected my 13-month old to stay seated for 30 minutes, or simply a Tuesday afternoon preschool pick-up deadline, with a toddler who didn’t get enough playtime after her nap.

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So what’s to be done when developmental need bumps up against the edges of regular family life?

Sometimes just recognizing what the developmental need is takes the intensity out and gives me compassion for my child in the moment, and that in itself feels like enough.

Sometimes you spend most of a party over on the stairs, letting that eager girl climb.

Sometimes I have to say: “I know you’d like to keep walking, but we need to take the car to get there on time. Do you want to climb in or do you need my help?” And if she keeps on running, I take that as a choice that she needs my help getting into the car (and I make a note: this toddler needs some freedom to move).

This parenting thing is always imperfect, but looking for the developmental need can offer just the type of opportunity I’m always looking for as a mom: to bring a little more space into a stressful moment.

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3 years old, 3-6 Years, Books, Family life

Do you read chapter books?

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Do you read chapter books with your preschool-aged children?

Around the time that Jasper turned three, we started reading longer “chapter” books at bedtime. The usual routine includes one or two picture books, and then a chapter from the longer book we’ve got on the go. As a (tired) parent, I appreciate the way a chapter or two really mellows out a keyed up kid, and it also moves the concept of books, stories, and reading, beyond the picture book.

We started this routine last fall with Thorton W. Burgess’ “Adventures of” animal series. I (and many other Montessorians) don’t usually delight in the glut of kids’ books featuring talking animals, but hear me out on this one: the animals in Burgess’s books talk to each other, but never become anthropomorphized. They retain all the characteristics of their natural counterparts, and because of that, the books become a really accurate illustration of life in the woods — the predators act like predators, and the beavers and birds are concerned about things that beavers and birds would really be concerned about.

And best of all, the stories are well written and entertaining to read. And there are a lot of them — 170 according to Wikipedia!

We’ve also discovered a love for Bink and Gollie, a series of shorter, semi-illustrated books by the great Kate Dicamillo about two pals with wonderful vocabularies and a silly sense of humour. Next week we are going on a big trip along Canada’s East Coast, so we’ve been reading an abridged version of Anne of Green Gables.

Do you read chapter books? What are your favourites? We’d love some more recommendations!

 

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3 years old, Family life, Nature

Tracks in the snow

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Our best discovery yet: bobcat tracks!

This winter, one of the outdoor projects our family has added in to our lives is animal tracking — that is paying attention to, asking questions about, and learning from the signs animals leave behind.

My husband David has years of practice and some pretty respectable training in this area, but Jasper and I were starting out from ground zero. Luckily, this wintery season has given us the opportunity to engage with the tracks left in the snow a whole lot of different animals.

Tracking animals with kids is enriching in a number of ways — from language acquisition as we name animals and use descriptive language, to animal classification and developing the inquiry process — all while getting our bodies moving outside and engaging all of our senses in the natural world.

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  • Pay attention. This is the wonderful gift of developing knowledge about the natural world: developing awareness is inherently calming to the mind. It’s like meditation with a mission. The only way to notice signs of the other creatures we share the world with is to be mindful in the moment.
  •  You don’t have to go far. In fact, it’s okay to stay home.  We’ve had great conversations about the tracks we see in our own backyard, and I’ve been able to identify several high traffic, multi-species areas in our little patch of the world. Even learning to recognize what makes my tracks different from yours is useful.
  • Take pictures and follow up with more information. When you notice a set of tracks, talk about what you see — how big are they, how many toes do we see, etc. Was it a bird or a mammal?Ask questions before immediately identifying what animal you assume it is. Take a photo (sometimes placing something beside a print is useful for scale) or make a sketch (a great nature journal exercise).   When you get home, look up the print. iTrack Wildlife is a great app for this.
  • Make tracks, animals and the outdoor world part of your indoor life, too. Some time last year, in the tornado that is the dinner-making hour, I stumbled on a brilliant toddler activity: making animal tracks in playdough with toy animals. The key here is good quality (we have both Schleich and Safari Ltd animals) models, which are made from safe materials and have accurately shaped feet! We also have this wonderful print-out hanging on our fridge, where these local animals and their tracks become part of our everyday life. If your little one is into nomenclature cards, this free, printable set from Montessori For Everyone is a great addition to your selves.

What are you discovering this winter?

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Family life

Family collaboration

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The decision to offer the child space for movement has important implications for both parents and child because it implies the decision to have a family life oriented increasingly toward the collaboration of people living together.

There is really no need to buy objects but only a need to understand the value of free movement and how important it is for children always to feel their bodies free to move and work in a space.

 – Understanding the Human Being, by Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro

I found this wonderful quote on an old post on the (truly wonderful) how we montessori blog, and I felt like it summed up so much — both how our family is spending our days now that Sage is nearly ten months and crawling, climbing, and discovering cupboards, and very nearly walking; and also the joy and meaning of bringing the Montessori method into our home.

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These shelves in our kitchen hold the kids’ dishes, a Buddha board, a basket with clay and tools, and a few other practical life activities for Jasper. And, in this moment in the life of a three year-old, Jasper himself.  

Our home is a place where real people are living out their lives together, while individually working on separate objectives. There are four of us, and while two of us are kids, and two are adults, we are all whole people, living our days here. It’s often messy, imperfect, and spontaneous; we are also always working to prepare and improve the environment to meet the needs of each person who shares the space — from Sage, to Jasper, who’s interested in jigsaw puzzles and has a need to identify letters right now, to my husband, who also does much of his professional work from home.

We experience moments where everything is moving too fast as we hustle out the door to get Jasper to his casa class, and moments where everything slows, as Jasper slowly and carefully pours the wet ingredients into the mixing bowl, or Sage determinedly stands and claps her hands together, her weight balanced just-so against a stool of the perfect height.

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Each day, in small ways, we are making a decision. We aim to have a family life oriented increasingly toward the collaboration of people living together.

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Christmas, Family life

It’s the holidays: be here now

IMG_4583Last night our neighbours and family gathered here to celebrate the solstice, with a warm fire blazing in the drizzling rain, a sweet solstice mead for the adults and far too many mini-cupcakes for the kids (okay, and the adults too). A four year-old friend did an amazing job sweeping up every possible crumb, and a grown up friend arrived with two cheese dishes, a plate of monster cookies and the afore-mentioned cupcakes. #soblessed

We woke this morning to find that the sun has returned, after all, and from here on out, the days will be longer and brighter. So worth celebrating!

I hope to keep the peaceful feeling I get from a candle-lit evening with beloveds all week long, even through mornings at the grocery store and later-than-usual bedtime stories.  Here are a few thoughts from around the web that are inspiring me through this holiday season:

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Last week we went to visit family on the West Coast of Canada, and while we were there, we also met our friends Beth and Quentin of Our Montessori Life for the first time. It was a really special moment — both to meet friends we already feel we know, and to spend time together in Beth’s beautiful casa classroom. Quentin gathered gifts for us from the peace table, and he and Jasper prepared a snack side by side. Beth wrote a sweet post about the experience

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Because of that trip, Jasper’s going to have a total of four weeks away from his own casa classroom, so though we usually don’t try to replicate school works at home, I wanted to bring some more focused work into our home through this season, but I didn’t want to add more to my own plate during this busy time.  The Merry Montessori Christmas e-book from Montessori Mischief was just the ticket. Filled with holiday-oriented activities for 2.5-6 year olds, it’s laid out in a super-simple style, and it doesn’t require much effort. I was able to flip through, choose a few activities I thought Jasper might like, and put together a few trays from things we had on hand. He ended up coming up with an idea for an extension on one of the activities we found in A Merry Montessori Christmas — pin-punching!

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I’m happy to have interesting materials on hand for my kids to explore and work with, but I know the secret to peaceful living isn’t about the stuff. The Montesssori Notebook has been hosting an online advent calendar, with peaceful parenting quotes each day. It’s helping me to keep my priorities straight.  You can “Like” The Montessori Notebook on Facebook to follow along.

I’m wishing you all a peaceful, warm, and restful holiday. Really take a break. Look after you. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Speak gently. Ignore anything that comes with the words “last minute” attached. Light a fire (or a candle) and watch the flames dance. Be outside.  Write a blog post with words of advice to yourself. 

See you in the New Year, friends! 

 

 

 

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Christmas, Family life

How to avoid rapidly changing holiday priorities: a gift guide

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Last week a budgeting email arrived in my inbox, alongside a whole lot of Black Friday advertisements. It warned to “beware rapidly changing priorities on Black Friday.” Retailers can entice with deals so good that the purchases seem like a great idea. Once you’ve seen the ad, that TV, or that cute sweater, or whatever you had not been thinking of before, suddenly rises to the top of your purchasing priorities.

The advice was to set out priorities ahead of time, and to set them in stone — not to make them on the fly, when you’re sensitive to the pressures of retailers and sales stickers.

As the weekend passed, with December just a few boxes away on the calendar, I found myself thinking of life’s other priorities. The wellbeing of my children, my relationships, myself.

Is it a busy time of year for you? It sure is for us. My freelance work has been turned up this fall, and now I’m trying to cram it in before our vacation starts, with a trip across the country next week. Along with a cookie swap, a baby shower, and a funeral. I’m grateful for this life, but some days it all flows a little faster than I’d like.

In spite of all of that, I’m being mindful of planning my priorities and I’m setting them in stone. I want to get the cooking done ahead of our big solstice party, so that I can relax and be present with our friends and family out at the bonfire. I’d like my children to be nourished deeply and to get enough sleep, so that they can really enjoy the season. I’d like to laugh and play games with my family on Christmas Eve, rather than anxiously waiting for bedtime so that I can get the wrapping done.

During this season, there are some really high pressure salespeople, both in the malls and at the relatives’ homes. There is so much to say “yes” to — gatherings, errands and outings, late nights, platters full of Christmas treats.  We can’t afford to make priorities on the fly. 

Here’s a simple way that we’re keeping the “gifts under the tree for our children” priority simple. Our children are each receiving a darling pair of pajamas, and one fun and thoughtful gift. That’s it.

No struggles to keep track of spending, no loading the cart with “just one more” spur of the moment purchase, no finding un-given gifts stuffed in a sock drawer a month later, no flurry of wrapping.

Twinkling lights on a Fraser fir, songs to sing, brunch in the oven, a couple of really wonderful toys — and time.

I encourage you to think of your priorities ahead of time this December. What would really benefit you or your children through the holidays? What would make it the ideal Christmas? Create a list before hitting the shops (even, or especially, the online shops!), and make your own wishlist of priorities before you head out to that family gathering.

Here’s the short and sweet (and simple!) 2015 Milkweed Montessori gift guide:

baby truck

For our baby on the move, a Moover Baby Truck, like this one.
Fun to push, ride on, play open and close and in and out, take apart and build back up.

wooden train set

And for our creative builder and engineer, what could be better than his own railroad? We haven’t settled on a set yet (any opinions?), but we’re considering this one.

Stockings have always been my favourite part of Christmas, like a mystery bag for all ages! We’ll include a few practical things and a few fun surprises. I’m thinking a great toothbrush, a natural bubble bath, a locally made, hand-carved spoon for Jasper, and for Sage, a little wooden robin, a match for fox I bought for Jasper’s first Christmas.

And, of course, two identical pairs of pajamas with feet. Pictures to follow.

Last year’s “Merry Montessori Christmas” gift guide.

What’s on your wishlist? 

P.S. This post contains some Amazon Associate links, which don’t cost you a penny, but do send me a percentage of any purchases made from the links from my site. Thank you!
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