Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wild Lights

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Sophie ( 9 yrs.) and Matthew
Matthew successfully turned eleven years old shortly after Christmas, which we celebrated with a trip to the zoo. We went early enough to see some animals, and then enjoyed the Christmas lights after dark.


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At our first stop, a lioness extended her birthday greeting to Matthew. He promptly shot her...with the digital camera that we gave him as a gift (purchased used off of eBay). He did not have to zoom in. She walked right up to us, as we prayed that the plexi-glass would prove to be an adequate barrier (reminiscent of another zoo trip.)


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Picture by Matthew
Bye lioness! Thanks for some birthday excitement.


My current header (also posted here for the time when it will change) features pictures of Dahl's sheep (white) and Big Horn sheep taken by Evan and Matthew on this trip.


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Picture by Matthew


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Picture by Matthew
Hay there, pachyderm!


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Picture by Evan


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Evan "swirled" his camera around to produce this impressionistic Christmas lights picture.


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Picture by Evan


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Picture by Evan

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Logan-Speak

Clearing out my sidebar to make room for yet more two-year old hilarity...

I am not a person. We are not people. I am Logan. (10/29/08)

In reference to the Ergo Carrier:
It hold ups me. (10/29/08)

In response to my teasing:
Mommy is just crazy! (10/14/08)

I want some apple spider. (10/11/08)

I want to go at the store and buy some money. (10/11/08)

Melissa attempts to sing to Logan to entertain him in the van on the cross-country trip. During all but two songs, Logan repeatedly shouts: That is not a song! (9/24/08)

Melissa to Logan: What did the clown's hair look like? Was it curly?
Logan, looking at the curly-headed member of our family: Uh huh. Evan is a clown. (9/20/08)

I am the baby van. You are the mommy van. (9/19/08)

I am not cute! I am sweet. (9/16/08)

Logan, stuck between the chair and the table: Woe is me. Woe is me. Woe is me. (9/11/08)

I am not a train. I am an SUV! (9/10/08)

Evan to Logan: Here is your Pooh Bear.
Logan: No! It's a bear!
Evan: Oh! here's your bear.
Logan: No! It's a Pooh Bear!!
Repeat 5 times. (9/8/08)

The electronic phonics toy: Press a button!
Logan: NO! (9/9/08 )

Logan, lying on the floor: I am a dead spider. (9/4/08)

James to Logan: Eat your soup
Logan: I'm too busy. (9/2/08)

Most recent quotes in sidebar...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Positively Providential

Shortly after purchasing Sophie's cello (there seemed to be no rental options in the area), the cello teacher Mrs. R pointed out that the bridge was too flat, making it difficult for Sophie to play only one string at a time. I have also been dissatisfied with the sound produced by the instrument, but the music store was so far away that we kept putting off getting the bridge fixed. Besides, I no longer had much confidence in a place that didn't fit the cello up correctly the first time. (I didn't catch the problem in the first place, because I could clear the strings more easily than Sophie when I tested it out in the store, and because I thought it was just an issue caused by a dinky-sized cello.)

At Sophie's last cello lesson, Mrs. R mentioned that another student had gotten a bridge repair done on the spot at a music store in Golden.

On Monday, Sophie and I had a homeschool orchestra concert in the morning. (I play along with the cellists in the orchestra in order to mentor them.) James took the day off to be the chauffeur. He "happened" to mention that our concert was near Golden.

After the concert, we jaunted over to Golden and stopped a the visitor's center to locate the music store. At the music store, I pointed out the problems with the bridge and also a problem with the bow. The repairman explained that the bow had been rehaired too tightly and agreed that the bridge had been made completely wrong. He asked where we had acquired the cello and when we said "Rockley's Music", he told us that their shop often received botched up stringed instruments from Rockley's. He explained other problems with Sophie's cello and showed us another messed up cello from Rockley's in the shop. We asked if the quality of the cellos sold by Rockley's improved with the larger-sized instruments, but the repairman told us that was not the case.

In other words, we spent too much on the small-sized cello that we purchased and it would be a bad investment to continue trading in the instrument on larger sizes at Rockley's Music. Bad news on the one hand, but on the other, I was glad to learn the truth before making more costly purchases.

The Golden music store, which specializes in stringed instruments, replaced the bridge on Sophie's cello, made other adjustments to the instrument, and reset the frog on the bow to relieve the pressure on the hair, all within the time it took us to run to a grocery store, get gas, and run the van through a car wash.

Sophie and I had another orchestra performance the same evening, and when I tuned her cello, I was amazed at the improved quality of sound that resonated from her cello! Sophie also noticed how much easier that it was to play.

We are thankful that, in God's Providence, we found the best place in the area to fix Sophie's cello.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Christmas Folk Song

Sophie, in her first "public performance" on cello, plays "O Come Little Children"...



Tarantella by Pieczonka

Last night, Evan kicked off our church Christmas program by playing this piece. It is not Christmas music, but it's his "homemade" gift to anyone who wants to listen. :-)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Try-It-You'll-Like-It" Black Bean Brownies

The Nourishing Gourmet is hosting a Nourishing Sweets and Treats Food Carnival today, featuring recipes sweetened with natural sweeteners. Baking is not my "thing", and I am no gourmet. I tend to avoid baked goods in general due to my gluten intolerance. However, since a person can only go without brownies for so long, I tweaked a black bean recipe that I found online. I realize that black beans and chocolate are not a food combination that would seem good at first glance. However, the beans do provide a moist, gluten-free "flour" for brownies and the taste is completely masked by the cocoa.

Ingredients:

15 oz. can black beans (drained and rinsed well)
3 eggs
1/2 cup agave nectar
3 T. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350*F. Lightly oil an 8x8 baking pan. Mix all ingredients in a food processor or blender. (I use my stick blender.) Add the beans last and blend thoroughly. Bake for 30 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test. Allow to cool before slicing.

Confession: These brownies crack on the top when baking, but the cracks close up when they cool. If anyone comes up with a recipe tweak to prevent brownie crevasses, let me know! :-)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Sisters...Sisters...

My sister Jen has made it quite clear that she thinks Facebook is dumb and will not join. She's a nonconformist, that one. Or maybe anti-social? ;-)

Anyway, I sent her the perfect e-card for her birthday:



She had already seen the card, though, and emailed me, "I knew you would send me that card."

Gotta love sisters!



Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Why I'm a Fan of Facebook

Months ago, several people at church ganged up on me told me that I should join Facebook, a social networking website. I thought the idea a bit pointless, wondering how it would be any different than just emailing my friends, but I caved to peer pressure went ahead and joined. Noticing that Facebook had a search feature to locate any friends that also might be members, I decided to type in the name of my long lost friend, Janet.

Janet and I grew up in a town in Kansas, attending school together, grade school through high school. We became friends especially beginning in fourth grade through the strings program. Janet played violin, and I played cello. Janet already had a head start on violin as well as other instruments, including the accordion! She always set the standard for maturity, hard work, and accomplishment at anything she pursued, whether it be music, or 4H, or academics, yet she was down-to-earth, humble, and easy to talk to. I stood in awe of her achievements, such as winning Grand Prize at the county fair for her sewing, playing accordion and fiddle in a country music band, earning one of the top chairs in the State Honors Orchestra, or accompanying our choir on piano, but she never put on airs or looked down her nose at anyone. Janet always had a strong sense of right and wrong, and was even willing to go to the mat to defend the right. I have to grin when I remember her scraps with two different school bullies over the years, and I recall accompanying her to the vice principal's office in high school in order to discuss our concerns over the conduct (no pun intended) of an orchestra teacher.

Janet and I kept in contact off-and-on through our college years and for several years after. Our last visit together occurred in 1994, I believe, when she visited me in Denver before she traveled to Europe. We wrote to each other during her trip, but I didn't return the last letter and then lost contact with her. I often regretted dropping the ball in our correspondence.

Because Janet had a very common last name, entering her name in the search field of Facebook to find her seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack. Hitting "return" brought up over 500 results! However, the very first person listed with her name featured an avatar of an orchestra with a woman conducting. It turned out to be a fan page for a music teacher in a school located in a country of northern Europe. My curiosity was definitely piqued! I did a Google search and found the website of the school named on the Facebook page. Combing through the site, I found my friend's name and an email address! I sent a brief email to the address, asking if this Janet had grown up in my hometown. When I received a return email, I discovered that I had indeed found MY friend, Janet!

Janet and I exchanged emails and family pictures, but the best part of all came when she had a layover in Denver when visiting her mother this fall. My family and I met her at the airport, and she and I had time to talk for a couple of hours, catching up on each other's lives.

Here we are at the airport:


I celebrated my fortieth birthday the week after our reunion, and I consider the renewal of a good friendship the perfect gift!


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Babyface

Museum Volunteer to James: Are you an intern?

Ken to Volunteer: He's in his mid-forties!

Volunteer to Ken: No, he's got to be in his twenties!

James: Well actually, I'm forty.

Ken: He's been working for the department for almost twenty years!

Volunteer to James: You look so young!

James: You are not the first person to say that.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Should We Call the Fire Department?

I am thankful that my husband did not turn into a human torch this week.

About 8 pm Tuesday night, I sat at the computer desk finalizing the family reunion photo book that I'd been working on all day. When James walked by and asked me, "What is that noise?" I tuned back into reality and heard a loud rushing sound.

At first I replied, "Do the kids have the water on upstairs?" but the sound was different... and louder. Next my mind formed the idea that a pipe from the sprinkler system had blown, creating a giant geyser outside. James must have had the same thought, because he dashed outside.

Seconds later, he ran back in exclaiming, "It's a gas leak! Get out of the house!"

We rounded up the kids, telling them to put their boots on in the garage as we headed out. We didn't take the time to grab coats and stood shivering on the street with our next door neighbor, listening to the loud hissing noise between our houses. James called public service and was told not to attempt to turn off the valve himself. They were probably worried that he might pass out.

Since the leak seemed to be outside only, I ran back inside to quickly grab coats. We donned them outside and I put Logan's cold feet in my pockets while I held him. Soon the strong sulfur smell of mercaptan filled the air in the neighborhood.

James decided to call the fire department and neighbors across the street invited us into their warm house. We watched at the front window as a fire truck arrived, parking down the street, while firefighters ran to our house. They turned off the gas and then monitored inside. When they found no gas inside the house, we returned home, waiting for public service.

Hours later, public service had the leak fixed. It had been caused by the ground settling around our house, snapping the pipe leading to our gas meter.

We are very thankful that we were home and awake to hear the gas leak and take steps to get it fixed right away!

James had another big adventure in store for him just the next day when he and a coworker named Ken went to Kiowa to assist the Elbert County Museum sort through some donated items from a local doctor who worked in Kiowa during the late 1800s to mid-1900s. When James and Ken arrived, a retired couple volunteering at the museum showed them a large cabinet in the basement with three large shelves packed with boxes. James and Ken carefully sorted through the boxes and came across several interesting items including an unused flu vaccine from 1934, tablets for infants with the ingredients of codeine and a narcotic, and drugs with opium, barbituates and habit-forming narcotics. They found a license that the doctor owned to distribute cocaine and opium.

When James picked up a corked bottle of dried white powder labeled Picric Acid, his eyes got really big as he gingerly and carefully set the bottle back down. The doctor probably used the picric acid as an antiseptic and maybe as a treatment for burns or herpes. The acid has a molecular formula similar to TNT and becomes unstable when dry. In other words, it could have blown up if James dropped it!

James and Ken found other explosive substances and called the fire department. The local police and fire department showed up and evacuated the building. The Elbert county sheriff came, and since Kiowa didn't have a bomb squad, they called the Douglas County sheriff's office. Their bomb squad came with other sheriffs. Several fire trucks arrived from the Castle Rock and Elizabeth fire departments with an ambulance. They put police tape along the highway in front of the museum. Kiowa police directed traffic and other police were stationed around to keep people out of the area. A rumor circulated around the tiny town that a hostage situation was in progress. James and Ken left before the explosives were detonated. They stirred up trouble and then left!

Click here to read the newspaper article about it, though it is not quite accurate. It makes it sound like the volunteers discovered the chemical and knew enough to call for help. Actually, they were more concerned that they got sent out of the building and couldn't get back in to retrieve their soda pop.

We had some stories to tell this Thanksgiving, and we are thankful for God's protection this week.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

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Cute kid by my sister Jen
Photo by my sister Jackie
Edited by me

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wordy As I Wanna Be Wednesday: Toddler Smiles

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Here's Logan with a big, goofy smile plastered on his face, posing with the town he built with his brothers.

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Zoom in on the "Smile big for the camera" face. How is it possible for him to stick his jaw out so crooked?!

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I had to scan in this picture of Evan (now 12) at close to the same age, flashing the same crooked grin!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Rambling Homeschool Post

There has been an increase of foot-dragging and time-wasting lately in Home Sweet Homeschool. This week I have been trying a new strategy to encourage the kids to stay on-task and to complete their work in a timely fashion.

Previously, each child had...


this type of weekly planner to keep track of assignments. This week, I gave them a different kind of checklist.

Here is Evan's:


Evan's Assignments November 3-7

Piano (30 minutes per day):

Math (60 minutes per day):


Latin (Together with Mom & Matthew):

Grammar (30 minutes per day in Analytical Grammar review activities):

Activity #8 - Parse, then Check & Correct

Activity #8 - Read any past lessons assigned by Mom and diagram all sentences

Check & Correct diagrams; Activity #9: Parse, then Check & Correct

Activity #9 - Read any past lesson assigned by Mom and diagram all sentences.

Spelling (2 lessons per day):

Writing (IEW's Student Writing Intensive):

History (Tapestry of Grace):

Geography – Complete everything listed on SAP 16, labeling and shading map. Use the historical atlas or Encyclopedia maps.

Together with Mom & Matthew – read and outline Streams of Civilization pp. 104-109 , then finish section on Persia on Mesopotamian Empires Comparison Chart

Read Usborne Encyclopedia of World Religions p. 98 on Zoroastrianism. Next re-read Streams of Civ. Pp. 108-109 (just the small section on religion). Write a summary of the beliefs of Zoroastrianism.


Bible (Tapestry of Grace):

First read the questions on Ezra on SAP 16, then read the Book of Ezra and answer the questions, using complete sentences, including the question in your answer. Please be specific and detailed in your answers.

Read the questions on Nehemiah on SAP 16, then read the Book of Nehemiah. Answer the questions, using complete sentences, including the question in your answer. Please be detailed and specific in your answers.

Read aloud and discuss the Book of Esther with Mom, Matthew & Sophie. Read Understanding Jewish Holidays and Customs pp. 62-69 (more of a history assignment.)

Discuss Bible and History with Mom & Matthew

Science (Apologia General Science, following a Sonlight schedule):

Each box equals one lesson or one day's worth of work. If the student does not get his work done in the time allotted, he has to pick up where he left off the next day and then any lessons not complete at the end of the week get done on Saturday. If the student chooses to work ahead in the allotted time, then he can have less to do at the end of the week. So far, this checklist approach with a daily time limit on certain subjects seems to be improving the kids' focus.

I have been wondering lately when my children will become more self-motivated (I don't mean selfishLY motivated, but motivated by their own desire rather than mine) to get their work done and to do their best at whatever they are given to do. I will have to say, though, that Evan is self-motivated when it comes to his Apologia General Science work. He never has to be prodded to do his science for the day, and he doesn't mind spending time on it. He uses a schedule published by Sonlight which assigns daily reading, writing or labs, and he follows it on his own. James and I just check his work: lab reports, study guides, other writing and tests.

This week, even though he can use more practice, Matthew has begun typing his "written work" which is less tiring to his hand, and he can more easily do corrections. Matthew says that his favorite part of school this week was our read aloud of the Book of Esther in one sitting.

Tapestry of Grace had the book Victory on the Walls, a fictional account of Nehemiah, scheduled for literature reading this week. I pre-read the book and despised it. The sketchy dialogue often left me wondering, "Who is talking?" and I did not like the harsh characterization of Nehemiah or the whiny fictional nephew that the author created. I kept the book on its shelf which left more time for the large amount of actual Bible reading for the week.

I enjoy using Writing With Ease Workbook 2 with Sophie. Since she is not pencil-phobic as the boys have been, she does two lessons per day. If Workbook 3 comes out on schedule, we can progress through that workbook as well this year. I appreciate having narration, copywork and dictation mapped out in a way that progresses through necessary writing skills. I am finding it quite thorough and helpful to Sophie. The writing models from quality children's literature have lead her to re-read old favorites and to find some new. Presently, during her free time, she can be found with her nose in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling for the first time. Recently she has also re-read Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes and Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.

Speaking of books, Evan has had his nose in a Sherlock Holmes book lately and told me that it is his new favorite. This surprised me, since books usually do not measure up to Redwall in his estimation. (He has read Redwall seven times, not to mention the multiple times that he has read the other books in the series.)

Logan (2 yrs. old) is going through a stacking phase in his interest and development. He uses a set of small hardback books like blocks, either re-stacking them on the shelf itself, or loading them up in his wagon to carry to a different room to build on the floor. He also likes stacking cups in the kitchen and even gets into the Corelle dishes and stacks them on a different shelf or on the table. He continues to enjoy water play in the sink, playing with homemade playdough, and drawing. And now he can perform a mean somersault! (See the sidebar for his latest quotes.)

Picnik collage

Mistaken Identities

Alternate Post Title: I Used to be a Blond

Alternate Alternate Post Title: A Laugh at My Expense

I really need to pay closer attention to what I am doing in the kitchen.

I like to make homemade chocolate pudding occasionally. Recently while stirring my pudding on the stovetop, the mixture started to foam up when it got hot rather than thickening. I quickly removed the saucepan from the burner, perplexed at the crazy pudding. I looked around at the ingredients on the counter, realizing then that I had grabbed the wrong yellow box and had mixed in baking soda rather than cornstarch.

I know...DUH!

This morning, I swept the high traffic areas of the floors and, noticing some sticky spots, I grabbed the Bona spray floor cleaner to spot-mop. After mopping, I wondered at the strange smell in the kitchen and noticed that my feet were sticking to the mopped areas. I looked up at the counter, and got a closer look at the white spray bottle that I had grabbed: "Stainless Steel Magic" (No, we don't have stainless steel flooring.) The bottle also read, "Gently Polishes!" I'm thankful for the gentle part and that it did not take the finish off of the wood floor.

Double Duh!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Our Newest Music Venture

On the way home from our family reunion in Pennsylvania, I received an email about a beginner orchestra starting up within reasonable traveling distance. I had been looking forward to an opportunity for Sophie to begin playing in an orchestra, knowing that the social experience and the challenge of playing with a group would encourage her to continue with cello. At first I was very interested in the orchestra, because of its location and the originally-stated evening rehearsal. However, my enthusiasm become somewhat dampened when the time got changed to a school day morning

Why, oh why do so many HOMEschool activities get scheduled so as to interrupt HOMEschooling?!!!!

...and now you know my basic approach to homeschooling. I am not a go-with-the-flow homeschool mom that sees life and all of its interruptions as educational. I have found in my family that if schoolwork doesn't get done on a regular basis during the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon, it is very easy to get derailed and not get it done adequately.

But I digress... I decided to try attending the first day of orchestra to see how it would go. Thankfully, James had the day off from work and was able to supervise the boys while I chauffuered Sophie. It was a brutal day. Two hours of driving: back and forth to the orchestra, and then back and forth to Sophie's cello lesson. I had all but decided that I couldn't handle it, but I prayed about it while driving, and surprisingly (to me) the cello teacher was able to reschedule Sophie's cello lesson for the half hour before orchestra with a fifteen minute break to jaunt the few blocks over to the rec center for rehearsal! Additionally, the conductor, more of a winds guy, recruited me to help the cellists.

Sophie and I have now been to three orchestra rehearsals while Grandma (James' mom) supervises the boys so that the older boys can focus on their schoolwork instead of tagging along. Sophie willingly practices a lot more and is quickly learning how to read bass clef applied to cello. (She already read bass clef for piano, but she hadn't gotten far enough with the Suzuki method to get to sight reading for cello.) The cello section is quite small, only three young cellists, but I play along in order to help them. Since the orchestra also includes winds and brass, some of the music is really a bit too difficult for a truly beginner orchestra. It really is not ideal. However, since I can help Sophie on a daily basis, she can keep up relatively well, enough that I think it is a beneficial experience.

The Most Important Issues In This Election


Monday, October 27, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuscan Country Dinner

In order to participate in The Nourishing Gourmet's Fall Recipe Carnival, I am reposting this recipe that I put together last year. My friend Colleen came up with the name. My family has enjoyed this meal several times at home and I have shared it at a brunch.

Ingredients:

* 1 pkg. chicken apple sausage (I like Applegate Farms brand the best.)
* 1/4 - 1/2 pkg. bacon or turkey bacon (I used Hormel bacon that says gluten free on the label. Jennie-O turkey bacon which is also gluten free, would be another option if you have to concern yourself with such things.)
* 1/2 onion
* 2 bunches Swiss chard or green chard
* 1/4 cup water

* 1 yam
* 1 head cauliflower
* 2-4 red peppers
* olive oil
* dried rosemary
* garlic powder
* salt
* pepper

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 450
2. Peel the yam and cut into bite-sized pieces. Fill a saucepan partway with water and bring to a boil with the yam. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 10-15 minutes until yam is tender but not mushy, then drain.
3. While the yam is cooking, break the cauliflower into florets, discarding the large stem, and cut the peppers into bite-sized chunks.
4. Combine the yam, cauliflower, and pepper pieces in a large shallow roasting pan without the rack. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with spices to taste. (I did not measure spice amounts; just sprinked.)
5. Roast the vegetables for 25-30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. The vegetables will brown nicely. Don't be afraid of some blackened spots here and there. :)
6. Wash and tear the chard, setting aside.
7. While the veggies are roasting, dice the onion and bacon and fry in a large skillet over medium heat until browned. Cut the sausage into rounds while the bacon and onions cook, adding the sausage when the bacon is just about done to brown it slightly.
8. Add the chard to the skillet and toss with the meat mixture. Add the water. Cover and simmer for ~10 minutes.
9. When the veggies are roasted, add them to the skillet. Mix well and serve. If your skillet is not large enough, add the sausage and chard to the roasting pan instead to serve.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

More Snapshots from Our Family Reunion

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My cousin Julie, her daughter Molly, and my sister Jackie


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Picture by Jackie of her daughter Lily with Sophie


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Uncle Craig discussing politics with Logan: "Good guy. Bad guy."


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View of James and Sophie from the roof


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My sister Jen and her youngest son Oren


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My sister Loey with Jackie's son Noah and Jen's son Seb


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