Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Small Update-Budgeting

- I sure hope this not-wanting-to-do-anything funk I am in is over soon.

- Something is up with the washing machine, so I may have to learn how to hand wash soon! Ugh.

+ We are seriously trying to stick to a grocery budget so far this week and including the $30 dog food, we a're only $2 over!  This happened because husband came with me, and wanted a certain cheese.  No more husbands at the grocery store :).  I also forgot a can of sauce, but I am going to come up with something else to eat instead so we don't go even more over budget.

+We decided to give ourselves a $20 allowance each week, and we can use it for whatever we want.  So we can go out for lunch or dinner, but it has to be with that money. So far it's working= neither of us has spent our money! Great way to actually make our lunches and eat at home.

+I got some great recipes to try for Mostly From Scratch Wednesdays.

+We survived another No TV Monday :)

+Writing this has somewhat motivated me.  So thank you.  :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

5 Things I Can Live Without: Thursday

There is a possibility that I am either out of the nesting stage, or I am entering a little burnout. I have not been cooking nor taking my lunch to work (but after reviewing our bank account last night, that is definitely going to change!), the decluttering process is getting slower by the day, the cleaning has been less, and after 3 successful loads of laundry being hung dry I used the dryer our of pure laziness.

I think I just needed a little break. So hopefully all this hard work is turning into habit, I just need a vacation from trying to do all this stuff, and quit doing so much research on new things to try (I am currently obsessed with diy soap, shampoo, lotion, etc).

The nice comments are so encouraging, and they could not have come at a better time (I received one while writing this actually, and it almost made me want to not write the above at all)!

That being said, I did keep track of the things that I am getting rid of/ did get rid of since last Thursday, and wow. Way more than 5!
  • Deleted 100s of emails, and it may be over 1000 now.
  • Went paperless on 3 bills (2 student loans and credit card)  
  • Unsubscribing to many spam emails (1000) more to go -Instead of just deleting, I have started the unsubscribe process. I was married well over a  year ago and still receiving wedding emails. --never give wedding vendors your email!
  • Most apps off my phone - I thought I would miss these, but not having to charge my battery all the time is worth it. I do still get Facebook on the browser, but it's becoming less frequent.
  • Many games off of my Kindle Fire
  • “likes” on Facebook - I deleted Facebook page likes that I have no idea why I "liked" in the first place.
  • Another shirt
  • 4 things of makeup - 3 to the trash unfortunately
  • Threw a pair of shoes away, unfortunately
  • Easter eggs in car - I bought them for my sister after season last year, and somehow I still have them. At least they are in the car now, and not in the house.
  • Dryer – well not really. I was doing really well. Clothes were hung, but towels and sheets are still in the dryer until I figure out some space issues. This morning I just stuck it all in the dryer because I did not prepare yesterday and my only pair of work pants need to be dry before 10:30 (It's around 8:40 now)
  •  Trash out of my car, and everything else out (except the Easter eggs and hopefully donations soon) 
  • All VHS tapes are in a box to donate!
  • 2 puzzles are in the same box
  • A book
  • A board game that for whatever reason we have two of. How do these things happen, and unnoticed?
The next step is to get the donation box to my car, and to the charity (most likely Goodwill).

Oh! I finished the count on the clothes for my husband and I. Without adding the clothes that had to be thrown away (still makes me sad that things go in the trash, but hopefully in the future I can work on this) the tally is... drum roll please...


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We Survived!

I'm not sure how much more productive we were on a TVless Monday, but we had fun, and I had much needed time with the husband. He was happy to have the TV back on Tuesday though :)

Some highlights of the day:
  • We learned what Oobleck is, what slacklining is, started a puzzle, and played online Madlibs (remember those?).
  • I learned a lot about more about minimalism and about air purifying plants (next on the list: buy plants for the house).
  • Thank you notes from my graduation went out, a sympathy card went out. By "went out" I mean put in the mailbox - President's Day = no mail person
  • I also finally, FINALLY! tried my hand at hang drying the clothes! Another post on that soon. I say success though, and the nerd in me enjoys laundry even more.
  • Cleaned the front closet again and started the linen closet - would be done if I wasn't so disorganized.
I am pretty excited to make No TV Monday a regular thing. It is already helped me not watch as much, and when I am watching, less interested. Already have a list of shows I'm about ready to toss.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

DIY Laundry Soap

I made another batch of laundry soap today.  Two actually.  This way a family member can try it for free.  I can be nice sometimes :)

I use this recipe, however there's a 1000 more online, so you can find the one that fits your own needs. I do use Ivory bar soap instead of Fels-Naptha.  Making the liquid version is probably even cheaper than powder, but it's not my style.  I may try it later on.

It only takes 20 minutes, and that includes everything from getting the materials on the table, grating the soap, mixing the ingredients, and washing the dishes.  The dishes come out the the cleanest you have ever seen them :).

I also add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.  It makes the clothes so soft, and I do not mind that it takes away any fragrance that the soap has.  Laundry comes out smelling clean without any soapy fake smell.  Just clean (which smells like nothing, but I like it now). And no need for fabric softener in the dryer.

Making my own laundry soap:
  • Saves money.  Here's my run down:
    • The ingredients cost $10.89 before tax. According to my calculations, it's $1.26 per batch. It looks like to be about 3 to 4 cups in a batch, so anywhere between 24- 32 loads of laundry per batch.
    • I tallied how many loads of laundry I washed with this last jar, and I only got around 21 loads of laundry. However, I believe I over scooped a few, and I am forgetful, so my tally maybe off.  I will keep tally this batch as well, may be it will be more.  21 is not bad though.
  • Helps the environment.
    • This is debatable.  Borax is controversial in the "green" world, as it can be toxic.  Regular laundry soap is not that good for the environment either!
    • Less plastic- everything except the soap comes in cardboard- recyclable.  I will probably try a different type of soap with less fragrance and better packaging.  The soap I bought was a 10 pack.
    • Not using fabric softener.  Google it.  Terrible for you and environment. 
    • Every product is just cleaning products, no extra dyes or unneeded ingredients.  Not 100% true for the soap, but you can easily use castille soap.
  • Using all products that are versatile.  Somehow it makes me feel better knowing all the ingredients can be used for something else it case I need it.  I am almost out of soap, so if I forget to buy some, I can just use the Ivory.  You can clean the house with the other two ingredients.
  • Having fun and staying motivated.  I do not know what it is about making the soap myself, but it makes me want to do laundry more!  Seriously. I am such a nerd, I know.
If you are not into making your own soap, you can still save money by:
  • USING LESS DETERGENT! The measuring cup and back of the laundry detergent will tell you to fill to level three for full loads. BOO! For a couple of years before making my own soap, I filled the cup to level one, sometimes less, and the only difference I noticed was less smell on the clothes.  Huge money saver. Remember, the detergent is more concentrated now so even the tiniest amount over "the line" has more soap than needed when measuring.
  • Mixing powder detergent with baking soda or washing soda. I have not tried this, but it was listed a lot when researching the topic.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

5 Things I Can Live Without: Thursday

Okay, I am a day early, but I had to share!

As I mentioned before, I took everything out of our closet and our dresser.  Husband and I have been going through all the clothes for almost a week now, and I am done with my stuff!  The only thing I need to do is go through the clothes in the basement and dirty laundry. Husband's clothes are almost done too, but he works more hours than I do, so it takes him longer.

My tally:
46 items I can live without.  This includes a purse, belts, scarves, tops, bottoms, things you would normally find in closets or dressers.  I haven't looked at shoes yet, but I am feeling pretty good right now.

This fits my goals by:
  • Living with less
  • Easier to clean, and less laundry to do
  • A great sense of accomplishment of actually finishing a task! 
  • All of these things are going to a charity.  There have been a couple of throw away items not mentioned.  So that is more than 46 items!

Becoming a Mother, Becoming a Minimalist?

I find it funny that most women who start nesting bring more things into a home to decorate and get ready for a baby, and I am trying to purge everything!

A few weeks ago, about the time I started this blog, I heard of the concept "minimalism" and "being a minimalist" from reading The Zero Waste Blog (I really need to stop mentioning this blog so much, but it is just so good!). The Dehoarding Diary had many websites listed to help the girl on her journey, and many being minimalist blogs.  My favorite of these has been http://mnmlist.com/, who has the same author as Zen Habits.  After reading all of his posts, I am now in the middle of reading http://www.missminimalist.com/, who is also great, and she even posts testimonies of other minimalists, many of whom also have blogs on the subject and lifestyle.

I believe embracing a more minimalist lifestyle goes hand in hand with all the goals I posted on the first post of this blog:

"I have so many things I want to try to save money and/or become more environmentally friendly such as:

  • quit using the dryer so much (if at all)
  • becoming a better cook
  • de-cluttering the house minimalism at its best
  • getting rid of my car minimalism at its best
  • cloth diapering
  • no more paper towels
  • greener cleaning (DIY cleaners I imagine) 
  • start a garde
  • living with less the definition of minimalism
  • etc. etc. etc. 
I also need to learn the "basics" of being a stay at home mom:
  • cleaning With less stuff, there is less to clean
  • cooking
  • taking care of a baby
  • less procrastination (the reason all the above as never been done) With less distractions in my life, there will be less reasons to procrastinate.
  • sticking to a schedule
  • sticking to a budget (I am determined to do what I have to do to stay at home with the baby at the least the first couple of years, and am willing to sacrifice a lot to do this) Not buying things is the best way to save money.
  • juggling a husband, baby, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 2 tanks (one with three turtles, one with the only fish the turtles didn't eat), and my dad whom we live with I won't have time for the rest of the junk in my life anyway!
  • becoming more patient Less stuff means less of a hassle to find things.
  • etc etc etc."

While reading all these blogs I mentioned above, I started getting rid of things.
  • Over half the papers in my desk and files (many I still have because I have not emptied the paper shredder-I am a work in progress)
  • My husband and I have 30 clothing items so far we are donating (and more to go)
  • I have started throwing trash away in the garage and sorting through those items
  • I have made many trips up and down the stairs to take things to the basement that I will eventually donate or I do not believe belong upstairs (please no lectures on pregnant women carrying things downstairs, I am being careful, and the loads are light) 
  • Many apps on my phone and Kindle Fire.  Including the Facebook app on my phone.
My thought process has changed.  For example, while working in the terrible hell of retail, I now just see Junk.  And lots of it.  Especially the Valentine's Day stuff.  I wanted some of that a month ago. I wanted a lot of things that now I simply see no point in. Looking at items in the house now I wonder "why do I have this?"
I even gave Husband official permission (in a text and on Facebook) to not get me anything on Valentine's Day.  He thought it was a trick, so I still ended up with two cards and a small stuffed animal. The point it, I loved cards and small gifts, but now I would rather just do something fun together.

I am also considering the following ideas (I have decided not to go into details on this because I feel these will be good posts later on):
  • Giving up my smart phone.
  • Giving up cable.
  • Giving up my car.
There are concerns with my new outlook on life:
  • Balance.  Especially for my daughter.  I do not want her to grow up with nothing, nor with everything.  I'll have to learn the right balance to the amount of toys she has, etc.
  • Family holidays, especially Christmas:  When I say I do not want anything, people do not listen. Just as I have not listened and bought things for others despite them saying "I don't want anything." I love the fact people want to give me things, but I really do not need anything at this point.  While Bea (from ZeroWasteHome) is good at refusing things, I am not going to do that.  Also, how to celebrate Christmas and other Holidays, such as Easter, with my family and with little waste as possible and with little junk as possible, but still be fun. 
  • Also gift giving to others now.  While it is my view we all have enough, should I still buy "gifts" for them as well, or go with consumable and experience gifts that I now want?  (Ex: baked items, tickets to museums, movies, promise to hang out, vs. physical objects)
  • Learning to compromise.  While decluttering now, I am leaving the kitchen for last because over half of those things are my dads.  I will have to learn how stay minimalist myself, even if my husband and dad don't embrace the lifestyle (I have not talked to them about this, so they may love the idea).
  • I do not want to hurt people's feelings if they find out I gave something away that they gave me.  I know many people who place a lot of worth on objects, but I am not one of them (I haven't been for a long time, I have just been too lazy to go through things and get rid of it).
  • I feel this way today.  Will I feel this way in a few months?
  • Habits take a long time to form.  I just hope I can stick to my guns long enough for these habits to take shape (I have started many new projects and habits, with no lasting success). 
Sorry for such a long post, but I wanted to include how I felt, and the new(er) journey I am going through.  For whatever reason I feel I have to explain myself (probably from experience-when I was a vegetarian it was always "why," and even considering cloth diapering has had me to defend my reasoning over and over).  I look forward to questions, comments, concerns, and even criticisms.  I think this post covers most of it, though.  :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

5 Things I Can Live Without: Thursday

This past Thursday I asked (maybe told) my husband to look through the closet and pick out five things he no longer wanted.

I would have done the same except that I found six things just by folding that day's laundry.

So this past Thursday we found 11 things we can live without.  We have them in a bag to take to a thrift shop.  I love having my husband on board with this, even if it is because I just keeping asking/reminding/telling him to please do it for his pregnant wife. :)

Since then, I have taken everything out of our closet and dresser and we are currently going through it. I'll keep ya updated.  :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mostly From Scratch Wednesday: Chicken Burritos

Have you ever tried Stouffer's chicken enchiladas?  Delicious!
Sinfully delicious.  Between whatever they use to make frozen foods taste good that are usually bad for you and all the packaging that gets thrown away (hopefully recycled)  this was a good first meal to try and substitute.  I also read while researching the microwave popcorn bags, that the same terrible ingredient found in the bag is also found in the plastic of these convenient easy meals.

So I searched for what I thought would be an comparable substitute on Cooks.com.  I love this website because there is about a million variations on anything you want to make.  I chose one with simple ingredients, and something I could put in the oven.  Not sure my obsession with putting it in the oven, but that was the requirement.  Maybe due to trying to mimic the frozen dinner.

Delicious!  Even though I bought soft taco tortillas instead of burrito sized.  Oops. In the end in worked out because I also did not cook enough chicken.  Lesson learned.  I also added cooked rice mixed with salsa at the bottom of the pan to try and get it closer to the Stouffer's meal.

Next time:
  • More chicken, less salsa.  I like tons of salsa, but husband was not impressed by the ratio.
  • Possibly add beans to the mix.
  • Possibly add mexican style corn to the rice.  The Stouffer recipe has corn in it, and it's only one simple step.
  • Track the cost.  I had most of the ingredients at home, so I did not spend much money.  I will update this post afterwards as that is another reason for this experiment.
  • Buy the right type of tortillas!
  • Find a good virgin margarita or sangria recipe to go along with this yummy Mexican dish!  :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

5 Things I Can Live Without: Thursday

I am writing two posts today, as I feel the two subjects deserved their own title and space.

After feeling defeated, unproductive, unmotivated and restless, I finally finished reading Dehoarding Diary last night. After reading it I felt newly inspired to keep up my cleaning and decluttering efforts.  Everyday for the last week, even if only 30 minutes, I have successfully conquared throwing things in the trash/recycle, moving things to their proper location, filing, or putting things in the "I do not want this" bag. For whatever reason yesterday, cleaning the car did not feel enough, and I felt I had wasted the day. The Dehoarding Diary helped me realize that nothing changes in a day.  The diary is for an entire year, and when she quit writing, she still had a long way to go.

  • Habits take time.
  • Small changes/efforts add up.  I am not going to clean my entire house in 30 minutes or even a day.
  • Taking a day off is okay, and needed.

These are the thoughts I am taking from her blog.  That and her "5 Things I Can Live Without: Thursday" idea.  Every Thursday I will make it a point to put 5 things in the "I do not want this" bag.  This bag is a collection of items to take to Goodwill or to sell somehow (I have a ton of schoolbooks that I do not want, but since some cost over $100, should I really just give them away for free?).  I will try to list the items in this blog to help motivate myself, and possibly others.  Hopefully I can get my husband on board so we can get some of the bigger things out (do we need the tvs in the basement, the extra dresser, the the love seat?) as I cannot handle these things myself.

In other progress:
  • I found the recipe for the chicken burritos I want to try tomorrow night, I just have to get the motivation to go grocery shopping. (I am also making changes to the recipe, and this is major because I always feel I will mess up the recipe if I don't do it exactly the way it says.)
  • I remembered to bring my lunch to work Sunday, but forgot a fork.  Instead of getting a plastic fork, I used my bread to eat the casserole.  One less fork in the landfill, and hopefully lesson slearned to not forget my fork again!
  • Husband's grandparents bought us a crib for Addy!  It's all getting so real!  I am trying not to panic about all the things we have not bought for her, and the things in the house we still need to get done to get ready.  Everything takes time.

Defeated Once Again by Miney and Mo

Last July 4 my husband called saying he found some kittens in the backyard of his dad's house. "Do you want one?"

How could I rescue just one!? So all 4 kittens came to live in my garage (these pictures are where I found them, not my garage-although it's almost as messy).

 and Mo

Poor Meanie passed away a week or two later, and one of my brothers adopted Eenie, now named Waylon. So I decided to keep Miney and Mo, and have them be outdoor cats (only after they are fixed). After all the hours (probably adds up to days!) spent in the garage getting the kittens to warm up to me, Miney still doesn't liked to be touched, and runs away from us. Come on, Miney, it's been over 6 months now. I feed you. Stop running. Mo, the more social one, comes out and demands attention... except when I need him.

Two times have made vet appointments to get them altered, and two times they have taken this day and the day before to hide and not come to me. How do cats know these things! One of them days being yesterday. I sat in the garage with the smell of garage things and cat litter for over 2 hours, and they wouldn't come out of hiding. Tuna did not work this time. This is very disheartening to a pregnant woman. Maybe even non pregnant women.

I decided to be productive through my frustration, anger, feeling-sorry-for-myselfness, by cleaning the garage a little (maybe if it's cleaned, they'll have less places to hide), and my car. Although I did not finish, I completely emptied the trunk, and about half the stuff in the seats.  Very little remains. I am still upset with the kittens, especially since they were sitting in the window this morning while I took the dogs out.  GRR!

From now on, I am going to try to spend more time with them, and more consistently in the past. I must get them spayed and neutered and out of the garage (before they start making incest babies!). It will be rewarding to not have to cancel another appointment too.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mostly From Scratch Wednesdays

I had plans all day to sit tonight and write an awesome blog post.

However, I spent most of the day with in-laws, and while they are sweet, and they bought us a crib today, I am now exhausted.

So, I will just let my new goal be known.

Once a week, I believe it will be on Wednesdays, I will pick one meal that I usually make out of a box, or something we order, or a meal I like at restaurants, etc, and learn to cook it "mostly from scratch."

Mostly From Scratch Wednesdays.  I like it.  By "mostly from scratch" I mean that if the recipe calls for tomatoes, beans, broccoli, what have you, I have the freedom of using the canned or frozen item.  After I get more basic cooking skills down, I'll start a From Scratch Day.  This will a take awhile...

I believe chicken enchiladas or chicken burritos will be my first endeavor.  Second.  My first was popcorn.  Of course I'll post the recipe and rate my results!  I assume I'll have some awesome fails that will seem hilarious to the outside world (I'm known for leaving bowling water on the stove so long it burns the pan, undercooking/overcooking things in both microwave and oven, and forgetting to put eggs in a cake).

Good night!

Friday, February 3, 2012

I'll Never Buy Microwave Popcorn Again!

I am so excited over my tiny accomplishment of popcorn making.  (It's the little things in life.)
I have been eyeballing popcorn makers for quite some time now.  I heard long ago that microwave popcorn bags are bad for you, but I have an addiction.  I love popcorn!  With a birthday last week, I started to think, "Hey, that's a great gift from the husband."

As I read The Zero Waste Home blog this week, I am determined to minimize the clutter in my house, and minimize the clutter that will come in contact with my house.  Plus, popcorn machines are typically made of plastic, which I am learning is the arch enemy of eco-conscious humans.  So I Googled (my answer to everything as you will see) "making popcorn on the stovetop," and would like to give a big THANK YOU! to Elise (that's my middle name!) who posted this recipe onto Simplyrecipes.com   Here's the delicious result of my experiment:
It's so easy and cheap, I'm wondering why poisonous microwave popcorn was even invented?
For those who still feel the need to make popcorn in the microwave, you can also put popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag.  I feel that this is still wasting a bag and tape, but it's much healthier and cheaper than buying the microwave popcorn from the store.

Learning to make popcorn (I know, it's the simplest thing, but I said before I'm a terrible unmotivated cook, so I have to start small!) I am:
  • Saving money.  The 32oz bag of popcorn (and you only use 1/3 cup at a time) is about $1.60, where as a 6 bag box of my favorite microwave popcorn is around $3.50 (of course buying canola oil, butter and salt cost money, but I always have that in the house anyway)
    • Also saving money from buying a popcorn maker.
  • Eating healthier.  This popcorn had minimal butter and salt, yet still tastes delicious (as I am not a dietitian, I cannot calculate the actual fat and calorie savings, but I do know it's less).
    • Don't forget about all those chemicals I'm not putting in my and the baby's body!
  • Not adding unnessessary appliances and clutter to the kitchen.
  • Not creating more eventual waste from the plastic and other parts of buying the popcorn maker.  Plus the plastic wrapping and and probabaly styrofoam cushion and cardboard box.
    • I should however look into buying canola oil and butter not in plastic containers.  One step at a time.  The bag of popcorn I bough is also wrapped in plastic, as I could not get myself to buy the 3x more expensive brand just for the glass jar.  Maybe in the future.
  • Having fun.  It's fun to see popcorn shoot out of the top when you take the lid off, and I think my future child will have fun with the process too.  I had fun making it when I was a kid.
In other awesome baby step accomplishments of yesterday, I reached my other two goals for the day:
  • Remember to bring my cloth bags to work (I work in a retail store where I usually buy lunch and shop after work).
  • Do not buy a drink at work (I have an aweful addiciton to vending machines, not bringing my cup, and soft drinks).
Added bonus: I refused the plastic bag Subway puts sandwiches in, and resisted the urge to use a disposable cup for water when I left my cup in car earlier that day.  Hooray!

 Now I must work on another goal: cleaning!  Nothing like the possibility of your husband's grandparents (who I am sure June Cleaver learned a lot from- his grandmother is amazing at everything!) to motivate you to get your house in order!  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I am Finally Doing This

There is something about being pregnant that has finally motivated me to start doing the things I have always wanted, and changing for the better.  I am becoming a mom! I do not want Addy (my future daughter  due June 7) to grow up the way I did (not that it was all bad), nor end up learning/changing things at 27 like me.  I want her to grow up with good habits in place.

I understand that this is probably hormones :), and may not last past month 6 (I am 22 weeks this Thursday).  I am still thankful that it's happening at all. :)

This blog started due to my homemade laundry detergent (another post about this in the future), and the amount of feedback from Facebook friends and a co-worker who suggest the blog.  After posting
the link to The Zero Waste Home on Facebook, a discussion among friends led to me telling them I am in the process of making my own reusable flannel wipes (again, another post on this in the future) for my baby. Which led to this comment: "Jenny--keep me updated as to things you are making to keep me motivated!"  This made my day.  Sealing the deal that a blog is appropriate for the journey I'm embarking on.

I have so many things I want to try to save money and/or become more environmentally friendly such as:
  • quit using the dryer so much (if at all) (This will be difficult as I recently learned a clothesline is agianst the HOA here)
  • becoming a better cook
  • de-cluttering the house
  • getting rid of my car
  • cloth diapering
  • no more paper towels
  • greener cleaning (DIY cleaners I imagine) 
  • start a garden (next year, not this year as I can't see myself raising a newborn and newborn carrots and tomatoes)
  • living with less (modeling most of what Bea and her family from the Zero Waste Home does)
  • etc. etc. etc. 
I also need to learn the "basics" of being a stay at home mom:
  • cleaning (I'm terrible at this, simply terrible.)
  • cooking (not motivated in the kitchen at all, but hopefully this will change)
  • taking care of a baby
  • less procrastination (the reason all the above as never been done)
  • sticking to a schedule
  • sticking to a budget (I am determined to do what I have to do to stay at home with the baby at the least the first couple of years, and am willing to sacrifice a lot to do this)
  • juggling a husband, baby, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 2 tanks (one with three turtles, one with the only fish the turtles didn't eat), and my dad whom we live with
  • becoming more patient
  • etc etc etc.

This list will get longer, and I intend on writing about each of these goals, what works, what doesn't, my personal adventures in these matters, etc. I hope others read this to help encourage and inform me, and possibly be inspired too.
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