November 26, 2007

Online Coupons

I am not a thrifty person. I am not a coupon clipper or much of a deal shopper. My mother is and she taught me how. I am just too lazy and not convinced it is generally worth my time and effort. With one major exception - online retailers.

Every time I load my online cart up (for me quite frequently) I stop and open a new tab and do a Google search for coupon codes, discount codes, etc for the store I am shopping at. Why on earth not? It takes me seconds maybe a few minutes at most and at least half the time I come up with a coupon that saves me money.

Just tonight I was doing my grocery shopping from an online grocer and started with a cart full of groceries at 123.45. I found a $50 off orders of $125. I went back to my cart and added a two dollar item in order to save $48. Another quick search brought me free delivery for the remainder of the year (retail value on the site of 50). Saved me another $7 off my current order. Grand total 68.00 - I saved nearly half my grocery bill plus I now have free delivery for rest of year. Say I order 3 more times that is an additional $21 saved. And because I don't need to worry about shipping costs I can make small orders in the middle of the week if i need to with no penalty.

Now that was worth a few minutes of my time. While that was one of my best deals in recent times i almost always manage to find anywhere from 10-20 off an order or free shipping - often both. Take a few minutes to Google coupon codes - it is usually worth your while.

I am nearly done with Christmas shopping. My personal goal is to be done each year by December 1st so I can just enjoy the month of December. This year, just like the past few years has been done almost exclusively online and with free shipping and no tax. Have to love that :)

Boys Will Be Boys

There is just something innately different between boys and girls. An interesting thing that they both like at my house is hammering rocks. There is something about banging a hammer on a rock sitting on another rock that they all seem to like. However the play ends differently.

When the girls do that here they tend to either examine the insides, notice the sparkles or find the pretty parts. They make fairy dust or collect the little bits. But boys - well boys find different things more fun.

Today Ciaran had two little friends over and they asked if they could hammer rocks. I said yes as that is not that uncommon, reviewed our safety rules and let them play. I checked on them regularly as I was watching the two year old year today. After awhile of doing this I checked on them again and noticed they had figured out how to use the back of the hammer and scrape it to make a spark or two. Next thing I knew there were piles of leaves on top of the rock as they tried to make sparks. The hammer was confiscated and they were quite unhappy their fun was over.

I reminded them about the danger of fire and how a little boy contributed to the large wildfires in California and how fire was nothing to play with. How their minds work that way amazes me. They did not mean anything bad by it - really just curiosity that left unchecked can go too far. Everyone is safe and it will be a long time before Ciaran can use a hammer for anything other than banging nails in.

Meanwhile my two little girls here have spent the day in dress up costumes, playing horses, princesses and tea party. The biggest dispute was over which pair of dress up shoes they got to wear. On the other hand I have had three boys playing together all day without a hitch - now three girls together? That might not have gone as well. So Boys will be boys and I am just thankful Ciaran has other boys to be boys with.

November 25, 2007

Reading Habits

Lately I have noticed I have been doing a lot less pleasure reading. I read atleast an hour out loud a day to the kids so it is not as if I was not reading but I have just not gotten into any good books lately. It is odd for me. Then today when reading my RSS feed I clicked over to look at my statistics. That is when I discovered this

"From your 82 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 4,860 items, starred 0 items, shared 227 items, and emailed 1 items."

So I have been reading a lot online haven't I? In 30 days I have read almost 5000 articles and/or blog posts on the computer. To be sure I just skim many of these - some only the first paragraph or so others I fully read. Usually everything I share I read in full. So even just that is about 8 articles a day in full. When I do the math for those my RSS feed says I read that would be over 150 a day. There is no way that is accurate. I guess maybe I read that many headlines in a day and decide what to read in more detail.

So in the past month I have added over 200 items to my Tenniel's read list over on the right hand column. Guess it gives you a peek into what interests me the most. It also gives me an easy place to store all my favorite things I have read in the past year or so. When I wanted to buy Serona a pair of headphones I went back through my shared items to find the Cnet review of the pair he liked. Useful for someone whose brain tries to keep up with too much information.

I recently read the article about how my generation is reading less but I really wonder if we are or if our reading interests have just shifted? As winter settles in there is nothing like a good book on my lap to read through. Though I would be willing to consider the Kindle if the price ever comes down to something more reasonable. Each winter I read atleast a classic a month - usually I start with Austen helps me think about the finer things in life during a season when it can be so dreary here in MN.

How about you? Do you read news online? My kids asked the other day why the paperboy never comes to our door and I explained I do everything on the computer for my news. That did not surprise my kids since I spend a decent amount of time on there.

Do you have an RSS feeder? If you use Google Reader you too can look at your statistics and be amazed at how much you read. Do you read a lot of books for pleasure? I find often after reading to the kids all day I just don't want to pick up another book but I am happy to read about what is going on in the world.

I also find I go through data fasts. I need to just disconnect for awhile especially after there is a lot of depressing news. Sometimes I just say nothing on the computer but email and that is good. Other times I will only allow myself to read my rss on my blackberry when I am otherwise waiting or wasting time. Sometimes I limit which subscriptions I will read - only blogs of friends and family, or only tech news (my single biggest time suck - I subscribe to lots of tech and science blogs that I find interesting). Anyway I was still surprised at quite how much data I actually peruse over the course of a month!


November 24, 2007

When NOT to turn out the light

One of the results of raising readers is a tough bedtime. Maybe not for everyone but I recall as a child as does Serona that it was tough for him. As a parent I am raising kids who love books and have learned quickly the one thing we have a hard time turning off the light for and making them stop doing is reading. So what do they all do the moment they get into bed? You guessed it pick up a book.

We go through phases of how much we push turning off the lights, stopping reading and how much we allow this time in bed. Generally if it doesn't affect them the next morning I can't say I mind. However if they are crabby because they are not getting enough sleep that is another issue all together.

Well tonight - it is now an hour after bedtime and two out of the three are awake still reading in bed. I was all set to turn off the light when I discovered Ciaran reading (not looking at pictures) but actually reading a Magic tree house book all on his own. There is NO WAY I am going to turn out the light on that one. He has been struggling with confidence on reading quietly alone and still prefers to read out loud which we are happy to help with. But if he wants to read until 11pm tonight that will be just fine by me. Given that he wakes up around 6am each morning I am guessing he will be asleep within a half hour but I won't be turning the light out tonight.

Return of Bob

We have an old friend in our house that alternates between being very loved and completely neglected. At times this friend is with us every day to the point we tire of him at other times he is tucked away on a shelf gathering dust wondering where all the love went and hoping that soon another child will discover him.

He is getting old, worn, and torn in some places. He has lost pieces and been replaced numerous times and will be looked back on with fond and unhappy memories by all. He has been in hiding for over a year - almost two now I guess. Today we had to do a major search to locate him - can you tell we love him?

Are you curious yet? Our friend Bob has returned this time into the hands of a very eager Sirah. This is Bob of the Bob books fame. Today we looked for over a half hour to locate the book Mat for Sirah who insists she is ready to start reading. She was very excited and climbed into Serona's lap very proud of her first turn with Bob.

Together they turned the familiar pages once more. This time for Sirah's very first time. As I watched Sirah in Serona's lap I was filled with joy and anticipation at what is to come. The time of teaching a child to read is so precious. It is an ongoing journey as we introduce them to more and more of the literary world. But there is something so very special about teaching them to turn individual letters into sounds and words and watch those ever important light bulbs go off in their cute little heads for the first time.

Just this morning I listened as Ciaran read Frog and Toad and Little Bear to me without assistance. As I listen and help him through the Magic Tree House books and the plethora of non-fiction books Wonder series books from the library he is rapidly devouring I can still remember the first time he climbed on my lap with a Bob book insecure about if he could read it.

Today we help Rhiannon understand a difficult word or concept or struggle to find reading material that is at her level but also appropriate for her reading level and substantial enough to fulfill her voracious appetite for books. We look forward to the days we can introduce her to Tolkein, Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Heinlein, and yes even Rowling. But for now we continue to watch her enjoy Bibee, Lovelace, Barrie, Ingalls-Wilder, and really any book she can get her hands on. Still it was only 4 years ago when she first climbed into our laps with a bob book with as much confidence as Sirah that she was in fact ready to read whether we were or not.

It all started in our house with Bob. Bob is out again and will be strewn through our living room, library, family room and bedrooms. He is here to stay for awhile until Sirah is ready to move beyond him. A funny thing happens with Bob. When he comes out suddenly the other kids pick him up again and visit their old friend. Maybe they are remembering how hard he seemed once to understand but mostly they just notice how easy it seems now. They will read to Sirah and with Sirah and maybe in their own way remember their reading journey.

This time when Sirah is done I have no logical reason to keep Bob around with no other youngsters in the house. Still somehow I know we won't be parting with him. Always good to have an old friend around. Maybe some day a niece or newphew or even grandchild will meet Bob and experience their first moment of climbing into a lap with trepidation and confidence all rolled together as they turn the pages for the first time and meet a familiar friend to so many.

Welcome back Bob! Happy to see you again old friend. Thanks for being the same after years on the shelf.

My TV made me want a Wii!

We have an old pair of rabbit ears to attach to our television that we keep in storage. We take it out a few times a year. To watch presidential addresses, the Olympics, thanksgiving day parade and a few other random things. In general though we just get static, movies and video games on our TV. Our reasons are plentiful and we have been tv free our entire marriage.

Recently with TV seasons coming out on DVD, Serona and I have watched a few shows we were curious about and from time to time I watch some reruns on the computer. Nothing is yet to convince us to get TV back into our home. The invention of DvR technology might one day allow for it - but nothing has impressed us enough to deal with the downsides for our family.

Anyway I digress. Thanksgiving morning we watch the parade. This year Serona and I were up late the evening before so we set everything up and allowed the kids to watch it together without us. About an hour or so after they started watching I came downstairs and said "Happy Thanksgiving" they responded in kind and then nearly immediately Rhiannon said "can we go see National Treasure II and Enchanted" and Ciaran pipes up "I want a Wii!"

I actually had to hold back a laugh because I realized this was all new to them, commercials. We talk about advertising a lot in stores or when we watch films. What makes you want that and why. It actually is a game we play. So we talked about their requests. In reality that wasn't too bad because we already planned to take them to see those films and as for the Wii well who wouldn't already intuitively KNOW that Ciaran would want a Wii?

So in a way I did not feel too bad about their requests because really the only commercials that seemed to stick with them were things they were already prone to prefer. I asked if they saw any other commercials they liked and wanted something from? It was a good discussion. Then we did an experiment with turning off the sound on commercials. A funny thing happened - they stopped watching them and started talking to each other. Even commercials they watched before. We talked about that. Anyway it was interesting to me to see their reactions to commercials.

I am thankful I don't deal with that on a daily basis. I know DvR eliminates some of that - but still it is one battle I don't need to deal with as frequently. So will they go see the films and get a Wii? Well our decisions on those questions have nothing to do with the commercials they watched.

November 16, 2007

Quiet Down Please

Our home is a loud home. We are loud people. Our life works at a decibel most people don't understand or function well in. My kids 'whisper' louder than some kids I know talk. The whole inside/outside voice doesn't compute that well because we are loud all the time.

Some days I just wish we could quiet down. I try with some sort term success. I brew tea, I put on classical music, I speak softly. It never fails though shortly after we start the volume meter is rising until it reaches near full throttle again.

I have learned to block a lot of it out. I can carry on conversations in a loud and crowded room, I can listen to both what the kids are doing in the next room and pay attention to the person in my room with me. I have even learned to tolerate the multiple and conflicting music playing in each room late in the evening as the kids go to sleep. What I am still working on is accepting the sheer volume of my childrens voices, Ciaran in particular.

Now I fully accept that we raised them in a loud home, we are loud adults and we love loud music. My kids favorite band right now is Relient K and there is not too much quiet about them. We play music in the car and in the house. We sing, we talk over music, we are just basically loud people. We are overwhelming to some other people. I have had kids in our car or home who are generally quiet kids and seem overwhelmed or shy at first. However, with only one exception so far, I have watched these kids relax and open up in our home and car once they know it is okay, the just kind of roll with it and I hope enjoy spending time with us. They come back anyway so that is a good sign.

Our home has it's sort of peace and comfort. It is comfortable here but it is not quiet. We have a certain peace that we find among the chaos and loudness of life but it is not the quiet respite of a bed and breakfast. I used to think it was just normal for houses with kids to be this loud. Kind of expected that this was life for everyone with small children. Then looking around I discovered there are many homes and families that truly have quiet kids and quiet calm atmospheres. Sometimes when we go there I worry that we are like bulls in a china shop. Because quiet kids can come into a loud house and you don't notice the difference so much but bring a few loud kids into a quiet atmosphere and you pretty nearly immediately notice something is different.

Our family personality is who we are and truly I am okay with it. I don't know that any of us would fit comfortable in the silence for too long. Don't get me wrong breaks of quiet reading and play are always welcome. Everyone has their quiet place they retreat to when they need to recharge. Whether it be in our library, living, room, bedrooms, backyard, everyone has a place they go to just be quiet for awhile and we respect when each of us needs that. Our main spaces though are usually full or energy, busyness, music, and lots of clear communication. It is also simply put loud.

Some days I just want the quiet - but then I look at my kids who are confident and very capable of expressing themselves and I remind myself that a home looks different for everyone. A home provides what its members need and while part of my idealistic brain would like that to be a quiet retreat place I know in my heart that is not what we need - we need a place to let it all hang out and be who we are, a boisterous and gregarious loud group. So bring out the kitchen band, microphone and escape to a coffee shop for a much needed break later on.

Peace in whatever form you can get it,
87% Geek

November 10, 2007


The kids had their annual standardized testing this week. It was Ciaran's first testing experience. He did not legally need one but we wanted to see where he was at and get him used to it. The kids both thought the test was fun. Of course being able to play with star wars legos when it wasn't their turn probably helped some with the enjoyment level. Both kids are doing just fine - at or above where we expected them to be. Tune in next year for the next progress report.

Some Days are Like That

You know those days when you wake up and you know what kind of a day it is going to be and you want to crawl back into bed? Well Friday was that day for me. We woke up at 6:00am and I wanted just 10 more minutes. Everyone up, dressed and out the door without breakfast by 7am(no milk in the house). But wait the garage door people call to inform us they are coming in 2 hours and the garage must be cleared from the walls so they can install new track, door and opener). Oh did i mention this was also going to be an expensive day? Since we just winterized anticipating the drop into the 20's we had this week (Complete with 2 days of snow flurries) our walls were lined with stuff. Throw an extra unanticipated half hour into our morning.

Run to the bagel shop where everyone consumed a non-healthy high carb breakfast low protein (great for our diets - not) - we keep running. Drop Serona off at work, run to friends home to drop children off to make it to my dr. appt. Pulled into the lot 2 minutes before my appointment was set to start to my amazement. What I was hoping was going to be a simple problem to fix appears to be more. Go from one dr. to a specialist who schedules an MRI to learn more about my nerves and see what is causing this chronic leg pain and numbness I have been having for several months that is steadily getting worse.

Run from dr to house to check on garage installation which is thankfully going well. Write a nice fat check to them only to discover that my water heater repairman came and left. Yes not only did we need to install a garage door and opener but our water heater sprung a leak the night before and it needs to be replaced with another big check. In addition to that our carpet is completely saturated and the the water got into our walls. Won't that be fun to deal with next?

Back across town to pick up the children. Skip our field trip to wait for the water heater installer to come. Kids are choatic, my emotions are high, my pain is increasing from the mornings testing. Serona discovers he needs to work late - oh and can you run to the dry cleaners and bank for me. Everyone back into the car, pizza for dinner and back home. Back out at bedtime to pick him up from work. Home to deal with the water damaged carpet.

Sigh. But some days are like that. Hopefully the weekend will calm down things a bit. Spent today watching movies, playing video games, knitting and relaxing with a dehumidifier and fan going all day. It could be worse and I know that. So take those days in stride and remember tomorrow will be better even if you just ignore the dishes, laundry and step over all the clutter so you don't have to face one more thing today.

Aren't you glad to know we have days like that too?
Now playing: Switchfoot - We Are One Tonight
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Now playing: Switchfoot - Gone
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Now playing: Switchfoot - Stars
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November 7, 2007

Raising Readers

That is one of our primary goals in homeschooling and in life in general - to raise readers. Since they were born (and before I suppose) we have been reading out loud to them and as soon as they could read we required them to read every day. Weekends are optional but no screen time unless they read, so they usually do.

We read a lot. We read a variety of things and at all sorts of times of the day. The library is our friend and we still have well over 1000 books in our home. Because we read so much I keep track of it. I always wondered about what I read when I was younger and now as my kids get older I still try to remember titles of books I loved growing up so I can share them. So I bought Book Collector software, asked for and received a bar code scanner for Christmas and keep crazy records - because I think it is fun. Maybe someday my kids will be glad I did. For now they simply know to put everything they read in the green box so mom can record it.

Recently I had to count how many books we read for the month of September and October for the Scholastic Classroom Care program. I realized that not including what Serona and I have read for fun or research in these months (I am not sure of that total would guess around a dozen books or so) we have read 303 books over just those two months!

Now the breakdown can be seen over in the right column in our reading list section. I know the number sounds amazing to a lot of people. I want to clarify something though. A great majority of those are simply storybooks that I read out loud to Sirah and Ciaran. On average a storybook takes me anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on the length. So lets average that and assume I read about 120 in a month and you discover I am really only reading out loud about 850 minutes a month or about 30 minutes a day.

Now look at how productive reading out loud 30 minutes a day to a young child is! As the kids get older we are doing more read aloud time in regular chapter books. For now I am doing both - chapter books and storybooks so I am probably a bit closer to an hour a day reading out loud. To be sure we don't read every day for that amount of time. Some days we don't read out loud at all and other days I may do it for almost 2 hours. The point though is reading is a regular part of our lives, a big part of our family actually. And the thing I love is that we all enjoy it. Reading to my kids snuggled up in a chair, couch or bed is probably my favorite thing to do with them. Rhiannon runs off to our library with a book to lay on the leather love seat when she needs some recharge time.

We are raising readers and that makes me very happy. Go read to or with your kids today. If they see and hear you do it regularly they are much more likely to do it themselves. I challenge you to read for an average of 30 minutes a day with your kids this next month - see how it goes and if you like the results, I know we are happy here.

November 5, 2007

How To Start Again

How do I start blogging again? I have been out of rhythm of blogging for awhile now it seems. This has been a fall of living the moments as they come and little time for anything else. I am tired and don't have the energy for much of anything extra. We have had a lot of missed blogging opportunities but have enjoyed just living life.

I went on a special vacation to see my brother and SIL and new niece in sunny Southern California. We had a great time, it was so nice to see them and to soak in some sunshine. Appreciating that even more today as the first snowflakes are falling in Minnesota! I think if money was no object Laguna Beach would be the place I would choose to live. It is simply gorgeous there even if I could not find a single geocache we tried to find due to altitude issues in California. The beach always holds a special place in my heart and that is a beautiful one with many private corners and interesting rocks and jetties. We had a nice visit and I enjoyed some baby time. I do miss the feeling of a baby in a sling held so close but I must admit I don't miss the sleepless nights! Enjoying that part of having older kids along with the independence it brings.

I arrived home and the next day my parents arrived for a nice long stay. Seems those weeks went by in a blur but we had a lot of fun. The time always passes quicker then we think it will. It is always the last day and we are taking pictures. The kids really enjoyed having the time with their grandparents. Since we only get to see them once or twice a year we really try to make the most of the time that we have whenever it comes up. This visit included a kids musical performances and plays, a trip to the zoo, an apple cider field trip, volunteering together at Feed My Starving Children, and of course the kids favorite a trip with an unlimited bracelet to the Mall of America. But really we just enjoyed being together as a family. One of my favorite random moments I think came when we were eating out and Serona was trying to convince Sirah to eat a little more before desert. He commented on how small her bites were and she took some on her fork and said "Is this a sizeable bite?" We all took a double take to see if that is really what our 4 year old said - It was. Mom and I even got out for an evening away and Serona and dad enjoyed playing video games together.

During their visit Serona and I purchased Zunes on clearance and began the HUGE task of ripping all our cd's into digital format. We were saving them onto a backup drive that just died after about 4000 songs. It crashed, all our music, backup files and pictures. Thankfully we have backups of the photos in other locations but all the time we spent ripping cd's - gone!

When the grandparents left would have been a natural time to calm things down - but our schedules did not really allow for that as last week was also really busy. It was a good busy but still busy. We had a great field trip to the Minnesota Raptor Center. I highly recommend it if you live in the area they did a great job and all the younger kids really enjoyed it. It is hard to tailor to our groups sometimes as our age range can be rather wide. Sirah was really excited as her favorite animal right now is the owl. She loved being able to see them up close and see so many different ones. I think this is a trip we will do again in the spring. All the kids enjoyed it and it made some of our craziness feel worth it.

Horseback riding lessons are still going steady but will be wrapping up soon with Rhiannon's first horse show. After she completes the show we will be stopping for a time. The overall experience has been great but intense for her. She really learned a lot about horsemanship and competition. She has enjoyed her time doing it and I am sure it will come back to be part of our lives again soon.

Next up for our family - Ciaran's first foray into basketball. Our neighbors generously gave us their basketball hoop and trampoline for Free!!!!! How wonderful is that for my very active kids? We have been playing together outside a lot lately and using their interest for some PE time for school even. That is the next activity we will be doing here.

Sirah is starting to pipe up interest in being brought into the rotation so I am going to need to figure out how to work it with three kids and we will see what she gets interested in and brings our family into.

Geocaching has been non-existent lately due to our schedule. I did try 6 or 7 of them in California with no success. My brother is convinced it doesn't really exist. Of course geocaching where he lives adds new elements like altitude, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and coyotes. So alas we have not been doing much in that area lately.

Our homeschool coop has been moving on steadily. The kids have been enjoying their classes. Ciaran is enjoying his so much that I am contemplating shifting next semester to just teaching him Five in a Row since he seems to really get a lot out of that type of lesson. Rhiannon has been enjoying K'nex, snack preparation, and learning about the oceans. Sirah loves having her own special class and all the crafts and games they do. I have been enjoying teaching my classes. This has been the most laid back semester I have done yet and I really enjoy it. I am teaching less intensive classes and having fun with it. The kids seem to be enjoying and still learning and getting things out of it.

I taught class in full jedi get-up last week and that was fun. Serona sewed all our family costumes. At least one of us knows how to sew. The kids in my class enjoyed it but I think the boys in the 8-11 year old group at our co-op really enjoyed seeing it more. I let several kids try out the lightsabers and tried to answer questions when asked. It was a bit uncomfortable for me at first, like when I went into Starbucks in costume or met the man replacing our garage door in full costume, but I eventually grew more comfortable in it. I have worn the costumes many times but usually for an event or special day - it is usually not quite so out of place as it was that day and in general I don't feel comfortable in a role of attention. But it was worth it and even fun.

I have really enjoyed teaching this Star Wars class. We are talking about different film and literary elements from the saga. I have found out more interesting details and the more I study and teach it the more impressed I am with George Lucas' work. We have covered things like: protagonists, antagonists, coming of age, climax, plot elements, themes, costuming, character creation, setting, special effects, sound effects and soundtracks. It is fun to see the kids understanding these concepts in a fairly natural way because it is related to things they understand really well from the movie. We even had the group over to play Star Wars trivia pursuit. It was a fun evening and a fairly close game. We did not let Serona play :)

My other class is just as fun to teach. The kids go outside each week and have free time to sketch things they see in nature. We provide minimum structure and offer ideas and suggestions but they are free to do as they want. The kids have made some really wonderful and creative drawings. I think they are most appreciating just having the time to sketch without being rushed or pressured. Some do just one drawing the whole time and others do many. This class can easily be taught for a variety of ages with very little prep.

At home school has been fluid. We have had intense days and slower days. Some days we get a ton done and others just a few subjects but somehow we have managed to stay on track overall. The biggest news here is Ciaran who has gone from resistance to reading bob books this summer to finishing reading his first Magic Tree house book last week! We are so proud of him. He is excited. He is also really enjoying that he gets to play more video games now that he is reading better. As I type he is playing Lego Star Wars and loving it.

Well that is all the time I have for blogging now, Sirah woke from her nap and came to snuggle in my lap. You can guess which choice I am going to make! Well I am back and hopefully more regular now :)


Now playing: Hawk Nelson - 36 Days
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Now playing: Hawk Nelson - Right Here
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Now playing: Hawk Nelson - Hello
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Now playing: Hawk Nelson - Things We Go Through
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