Feta-Studded Braided Loaf

 

 

Homemade bread is such a delicious treat alongside soup, pasta, or even a big salad. Don’t be intimidated at the thought of making it yourself! This lovely loaf comes together quickly and easily and requires absolutely no special equipment.

 

Feta-Studded Braided Loaf

 

Feta-Studded Braided Loaf
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
A beautiful, flavortul bread, studded with bursts of feta cheese. This loaf comes together easily and has a wonderful texture for alongside soup or pasta.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ cup butter (melted)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
Instructions
  1. Dump water in large bowl and sprinkle yeast and sugar over the surface. Let sit for 15 minutes-- it should get high and foamy.
  2. Add salt, oil, and flour. Stir with large spoon (I like my big wooden one) for as long as you are able, then switch to using your hands. Squeeze together as much as possible, then dump the entire contents of the bowl onto a floured surface. Knead for two minutes, until smooth.
  3. Place dough back in bowl and cover. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  4. Divide dough into three even balls. Roll each into a "snake", about 18" long.
  5. Lay dough snakes on a greased cookie sheet and fasten together at one end by pressing the dough together.
  6. Braid the dough. As you alternate sides, tuck crumbles of feta cheese into the braid. One you reach the ends of your dough strands, press them together and tuck underneath.
  7. Cover loaf with tea towel and allow to rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
  9. While loaf cools for about 10 minutes, mix melted butter and garlic powder, then brush evenly over surface of loaf.
  10. Slice and serve. This bread is tastiest when warm, but can easily be reheated if you make it ahead.

 

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Menu Plan: Lots of Meatless Meals

 

 

Let me cut to the chase here– the grocery budget is not doing what it used to. Between rising food costs and (significantly) growing appetites, I’m finding myself scrambling by the last third of the month. Don’t get me wrong– we’re certainly not going hungry and I’m not complaining. I’m just consistently amazed by how quickly we burn through what SEEMS like a lot of food. My kids are all at stages where they consume large portions of meat, eggs, cheese, fruit, veggies, and, in two of their cases, starches. It’s madness!

 

While we’ve learned to allow some grace in the budget for this, I’ve also learned some tricks to keep those “end of the month” costs down. One? Is simply using what we have. I cook based on what’s in my fridge, freezer, and pantry, not based on what sounds good. That’s key. Another way I keep the extra spending down is by cooking more meatless meals. Meat– especially good meat– is expensive! Cutting it out two or three nights a week helps the bottom line.

 

So, here’s the meal plan for the week!

 

you gotta eat

 

 

 

Sunday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)

Brunch-Ham, Egg, & Cheese Skillets over Fried Potatoes

poormanchickenparm

D–Poor Man’s Chicken Parmesan, Buttery Tomato Penne, Green Beans

 

Monday: 

 

B–Toast Strips, Sliced Bananas, and Strawberry Yogurt– I let them eat this however they wanted, together, separate, dipped, whatever.

D–Mixed Veggies in a Ginger Peanut Sauce over Rice

 

Tuesday:

B–Egg Wraps, Apples, Milk

D–”Short Spaghetti” (<– I broke the noodles in about fifths) with Marsala Sauce (tons of mushrooms, but no meat)

 

 

Wednesday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk

D–Cheesy Beans & Rice

 

 

Thursday:

B–PB  Toast, Yogurt

D–Shredded Beef Burritos w/ Peppers & Onions (behold! MEAT! ;) )

 

 

Friday:

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk

D–Lg. Tomato, Onion, & Mushroom Pizza, Med. Cheese Pizza

 

 

Saturday:

B–Scr. Eggs w/ veggies (mushrooms, onions, peppers, broccoli), English Muffins w/ PB

D–Beef Stew w/ Fluffy Dumplings

 

 

 

And that should do it!

 

 

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4th Place is Tough

 

 

My A… he’s quite a kiddo, that one. Math prodigy, confident performer, compassionate little soul. Faithful, kind, and bright, he really is a great kid. Sure, he’s got his quirks and less favorable traits (fiercely driven by place/score/percentage would be one!!!), but, overall, I hit the Lotto with that child.

 

He’s also a really good runner. If I’m honest, I”ll tell you that it’s actually weird for me to type that. I’m still sort of wrapping my own brain around it because the truth is that, for a long time, I sort of assumed that A. was one of these kids who’s wildly talented academically, but perhaps lacking athletically. I never vocalized that, but it’s what I was thinking. Of course, since I arrived at that assumption, the child has gone on to get his red belt in karate and crank out some seriously fast race times.

 

Lesson learned– don’t assume.

 

Anyway, this past Saturday was our town’s annual K-6 Cross Country Run. Up until junior high, we don’t have “official” cross country teams around here. Sure, you can join private clubs/leagues, but it’s not a school sport. But each October, the six PE teachers for our K-6 population organize a meet for the kids who want to run. And, of course, A. wanted to run.

 

I don’t know how much you know about running– I don’t know much, myself– but my nine-year-old typically runs a mile in the low sevens– 7:11, 7:18. 7:08, etc… those are all recent times of his. And they’re good. A time like that, for a fourth grader, will almost always make you the fastest in your gym class and will catch the notice of adult runners. Is it record-breaking? Of course not. But it’s fast. And, when your time is already considered quite fast, it means a lot to shave even a few seconds off of it.

 

A. ran the mile on Saturday in 6:58.

 

That is STAGGERING, really. It’s an amazing time. But you know what’s even more amazing?

 

That time got him fourth place. Among fourth grade boys.

 

IMG_20141019_203257

 

With only the top three receiving medals– AS IT SHOULD BE– he was the first to cross the line who didn’t receive recognition.

 

And it was rough.

 

I could see it all over his face– the harsh disappointment, the frustration, and, honestly, the surprise.

 

In that field of about 30 runners, we had FIVE fourth grade boys break a seven-minute-mile.

 

My competitive little guy was upset. He was angry with himself. He was bitter about his place. He was disgusted that he “lost.”

 

“Buddy– look at your TIME,” I tried to remind him. Your time was fantastic!”

 

He kicked a pebble.

 

“Honestly, kiddo, you were just in an incredibly fast group. A 6:58 mile? Would put you at the top of many fourth grade groups– just not this one. And that’s great! It means you’ve got lots of people to push you to get even better!”

 

He looked away.

 

The gym teachers praised his time. Other parents congratulated him. His peers remarked on his speed and high-fived him.

 

But none of it really mattered– because, well, fourth place is hard.

 

And then a group of high school cross country runners asked him, “So how’s you do today? Good run?”

 

And he responded, without expression, “6:58.”

 

“Dude! I can’t make that time!” A long-legged girl replied, her ponytail bobbing.

“That’s an AWESOME time,” her friend agreed.

“That’s a high school time,” a freshman boy told my son, giving him a nod of respect.

 

And A. looked up, still not really smiling.

 

I smiled crookedly and said, “He got fourth.”

 

Jaws dropped.

 

Because, that’s the thing– it’s a total fluke that this particular group of boys housed that much talent. Truly? The gap between number five and number six was vast. Huge, really. Almost thirty seconds which, when it comes to a mile time, is gigantic. That’s not because the rest of those boys were slow! Nope– it’s because five of those boys were incredibly fast.

 

And when those slack-jawed high school runners shook their heads in disbelief and mavelled at this little group of upcoming speed demons, I think it finally sank in for A…

 

And he realized that those words of Greg King’s are indeed true:

 

“There’s a difference between losing a game and getting beat. If you lose a game, then you have made mistakes that cost a victory, but that wasn’t the case.”

 

And he finally realized…

 

he didn’t lose that race.

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Spanish Rice with Chicken and Corn

 

 

Way back, well before we had children, when both of us worked in banking and I was just learning to cook and try new things, this was one of my favorite dishes to make. Of course, back then, I made it by buying the Spanish Rice & Sauce packet and a can of shoepeg corn. I’m gonna be honest with you– it’s mighty tasty made with those convenience items. But, with a little know-how, you can make it even better and cheaper and, likely, healthier.

 

Simple, flavorful, and frugal, this dish seems to please most people. There really aren’t any funky ingredients in it. Let’s get started!

 

Spanish Rice with Chicken & Corn

 

Spanish Rice with Chicken and Corn
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Simple and flavorful, this meal comes together quickly and pleases a wide range of people!
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 chicken breast, cut into small bite-size pieces
  • 2½ cups uncooked white rice
  • 8 oz. tomato sauce
  • 2 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 bag frozen shoepeg corn (I use the Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers brand)
  • 4 oz. colby jack cheese, finely shredded
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in large skillet over med-high heat.
  2. Brown up bite-sized chicken pieces until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove to small bowl for later.
  3. Using the same skillet, pour in rice, tomato sauce, broth/stock, water, and all spices. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer for 17-20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
  4. Meanwhile, heat shoepeg corn according to package directions. (Mine steams in the microwave for 5-6 minutes.)
  5. Once rice is cooked, stir in heated corn and cooked chicken pieces.
  6. Sprinkle cheese over the surface and a pop a lid on it to melt it quickly.
  7. This can be served immediately or saved and reheated.

 

*This can definitely be made with regular old corn– we just love the crunch and sweetness of shoepeg.

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Turning a Bummer into a Fun Surprise

 

 

 

I’ve told you all many times now that my nine-year-old son is a Bengals fan. It’s funny, to be honest, to see my orange and black clad kiddo milling about with his Patriots- and Giants-loving friends. They don’t really understand his loyalty to Cincinnati, but they totally accept it as part of who he is.

 

Two weeks ago, the Bengals were playing the Patriots– on Patriots turf, which is driving distance from our home. My husband scoured the internet, checking out tickets and, excitedly, showed me the deal he had found. Now, don’t get me wrong– two tickets plus parking weren’t going to be CHEAP, exactly, but, in terms of NFL ticket costs? It was a bargain.

Continue reading Turning a Bummer into a Fun Surprise

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Every Stage is Awesome

 

 

 

I remember cuddling my newborn baby, breathing in that incomparable smell, and blinking bleary eyes.

 

“Just wait ’til he can crawl!” seasoned moms would tell me, a knowing look of warning in their eyes. “THAT’S when things get interesting!”

 

And I trailed after my toddlers, hands outstretched behind them, marvelling at all their discoveries. As I did so, I heard–

 

“They SAY it’s the ‘terrible twos’, but really it’s age THREE you need to watch out for. Whoo–eee! That’s a rough one.”

 

And I’d look at these little ones, wondering what I was in for.

 

Three would come and three would go and, while it was never all sunshine and roses, it was a delightful load of fun. My three-year-olds enchanted me with their growing competence and independence. Their chubby legs lengthened and strengthened and I loved watching it.

 

“Well, sure, they’re cute now– just wait until they go to school and get influenced by all those other kids!”

 

And they went off to school. And made friends– some good, some bad. They learned lessons, formed opinions, strengthened convictions and, frankly, became even more fascinating little people.

 

“Kindergarteners are adorable, but, man, even by third grade, they get mouthy and mean.”

 

So I volunteered in the second and third grade classrooms– and I fell in LOVE with those kids. Wildly competent, they can read, manage self-care, carry on thoughtful conversations, yet they still care what I think! It’s like a miracle! I looked (and look) forward to spending time with those kids every week. Mouthy? Mean? Not usually. Typically, they’re kind and funny and considerate.

 

This past August, I prepared to send my oldest off to the intermediate school– it houses grades 4 through 6.

 

“Oh, you better brace yourself. This isn’t like the elementary school. These kids are totally different– they get cruel and crass and you just feel the unpleasant tween energy. Especially the sixth graders– oy, look out for them. You’ll see.”

 

And I did see.

 

I warily walked A. to the bus stop and watched as the group gathered. Over the first couple of weeks, I got to know this crowd of sixth grade boys and, you know what?

 

I LOVED THEM.

 

They were and are a clever bunch. They have a grasp of sarcasm that delights me. They are funny and determined and competitive. They are also kind and curious and willing to have all sorts of conversations. Why would I fear this age? Why would I dread these children?

 

And so here is where I tell you the truth as I know it–

 

EVERY STAGE IS AWESOME.

 

Every stage is awesome.

 

Yep, go ahead and read it again: Every.Stage.Is.Awesome.

 

Babies? Awesome.

Toddlers? Awesome.

Preschoolers? Awesome.

Early elementary kids? Awesome.

Mid-grade elementary kids? Awesome.

Tweens? Awesome.

 

Even now, I hear the whispers– “Just wait until they’re teens– you just don’t even know.”

 

And, you know what? I guess that’s true. I don’t really know. But, if I had to guess?

 

I’d bet they’ll be awesome.

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Menu Plan: Oh, the beauty!

 

 

 

 

The first half of October is spectacular here.

 

to the right

I know people have lots of hometown pride and like to argue about why their neck of the woods reigns supreme. Having lived a lot of different places all over this country, I’m one of the first to admit that there are amazing and wonderful things about each and every one of them.

 

But… people? I’d pit Connecticut autumns against ANY PLACE. It’s the combination of: 1) abundant trees, 2) hills and mountains, and 3) vast VARIETY of trees that combines to make it stunning around here.

top driveway

Now, don’t get me wrong. We pay for it. The raking is ugly. The barren November trees aren’t so gorgeous. Our winters, while often pretty, are also cold and trecherous. So, you know– I’m not saying this place is perfect.

IMG_20141014_083721

 

But, right about now? It’s pretty darn close. So let’s enjoy it! :)

back porch

 

 

In the meantime, here’s the meal plan for the week!

 

you gotta eat

 

 

 

Sunday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)

Brunch–Homemade Boston Cream Donuts, Eggs w/ Cheese, Oranges

D–Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa’s

 

Monday: 

 

B–Chocolate Chip Waffles, Apples, Milk

D–Slow-Cooker Sesame Chicken

 

Tuesday:

B–Egg Wraps, Apples

D–Pigs in Blankets, Salad, Pickles

 

 

Wednesday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk

D–Spaghetti, Cheese Bread, Broccoli

 

 

Thursday:

B–PB Raisin Toast, Milk

D–Spanish Rice w/ Chicken and Corn

 

 

Friday:

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk

D–Lg. Cheese Pizza, Med. Olive Pizza

 

 

Saturday:

 

B–Ham & Cheese Skillets over Fried Potatoes

D–Something on the grill! (Hot Dogs, Burgers, Chicken… we’ll see!)

 

 

 

And that should do it!

 

 

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One… Two… Ba ha ha ha!!!

 

 

There are people who love Elmo. There are people who love Big Bird. There are people who love Cookie Monster. And there are people who love Ernie.

 

Me? I loved the Count.

 

In fact, I loved the Count so much that, on my nineteenth birthday, my mom ordered a (DELICIOUS) cake for me from a local bakery in the shape of the Count that read “Count ‘em, Jessica– 19!” True story. I’ll always remember that cake. (Thanks, Mom!)

Continue reading One… Two… Ba ha ha ha!!!

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Dear Daughters– I’m trying so hard to not screw you up.

 

 

 

Dear Daughters,

 

You’re both still little girls, reallly, at five- and eight-years-old. I’d love to think I don’t even need to worry about this, that it’s something so far off, I can rest on my laurels ’til the teen years. But I know I can’t.

 

I’m trying so hard to not screw you up.

 

Here I am, this thirty-eight year-old woman, struggling daily to deal with the body I’m in. This is nothing new, really. I’ve battled this since the tender age of twelve, sometimes hiding it better than others. But it’s there, always, hovering in the background or straight up in my face– the body struggles never really go away.

 

The size, weight, and shape of my body is something I’ve been aware of for as long as I can remember, really. The younger of two daughters, I remember my mother and sister comparing their KNEES, of all things, one Sunday after church and, though not even a teen yet myself, looking down cautiously at my own, wondering if they were chubby, knobby, lumpy, or wrong in any sort of way.

 

I remember receiving a beautiful teal chemise nightgown for Christmas one year and weeping because it was a medium and the ivory one my sister got was a small. My mom tried to tell me that she had asked the clerk and that’s what she recommended because I was fuller-busted, but I didn’t want to hear that. All I heard was that I was bigger and, by that time, I had a firm understanding that thin women were better, that dieting was worthwhile, and that there was pride to be had in wearing a single digit.

 

I’d love to tell you that I’ve outgrown this. That I’ve learned that weighing a couple pounds over a hundred is not a good plan for a woman who’s five foot seven. I’d like to be able to say that I no longer care what a tag says and that I am proud of this healthy, strong body.

 

But last year I received a red Lands’ End cardigan for Christmas and it was a size medium. I’d received a hunter green Lands’ End cardigan the year before and it had been a small.

 

green cardigan

 

I spent far too much time over-analyzing what that meant. Was I fatter? Did I look pudgy in that green sweater? Had I put on weight I hadn’t even noticed? Did I look like a stuffed sausage when I wore the small? Why did I need a bigger size???

 

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is– I can wear either sweater and look just fine. One is baggier, the other trimmer– but it really doesn’t matter.

 

So why did it cause me such angst? And why must I always think about these things?

 

The size 10 (!!!!!) jeans I put on yesterday felt kind of snug when I was sitting and my heart almost broke.

 

Today, I have on some yoga pants that are a “Small Long” and they feel fine, so, somehow, I feel better about myself.

 

THAT IS STUPID.

 

I want you to know, sweet daughters of mine, that your mama is being stupid.

 

I work so hard– SO HARD– to not criticize my body in front of you. I make a valiant effort to just say “thank you” when you tell me how pretty I look in a top that makes me feel “thick.” I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it’s vitally important that you don’t grow up attaching value to a small number on a tag or tape measure. I KNOW THIS.

 

But I’m such a hot mess myself, I don’t know how I’m going to possibly get this right. I don’t know how I’m going to manage to convince you that your beauty and worth are not, in any way, linked to your weight or size when I fight that internal battle every waking moment of the day.

 

People don’t know that about me, you know. There’s something about being a totally “average” sort of size that seems to make people assume you don’t have any weight-related issues. I certainly don’t “look” like I have any kind of eating disorder. Sure, maybe back in college when I was rail-thin for a semester, but now? Nah. I don’t even know that I would call myself thin or slim. But I’m also not overweight. Even though I shudder at myself at times, I know that people aren’t really looking at me and thinking I need to drop some pounds. To be blunt– no one out there is thinking I’m skinny and no one is thinking I’m fat. I’m just there.

 

But inside, I’m a mess. I view myself as hideously lumpy, bumpy, and soft. I worry that, in adding a size, I’ve somehow become less.

 

My dear daughters…

 

I know already that you will both have totally different builds from one another. I can see the beauty and wonder of both of you. Truly, your bodies and limbs and movements just enchant me.

 

I can only hope that I don’t totally mess this up. I can only hope that you don’t get this warped view from me.

 

And I hope you never, ever see me cry over the size of a sweater.

 

Love,

Your Mama Who’s Really, Really Trying

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When “Below Average” is Miraculous

 

 

Yesterday morning, I spent almost two hours sitting at a long conference table. To my right was my husband. To my left was the third grade special education teacher. Filling up the rest of the seats– so many of us that we were shoulder to shoulder– were the classroom teacher, the physical therapist, the occupational therapist, the OT assistant, the adaptive technologies specialist, the speech therapist, the school psychologist, and the vice-principal. It was a crowd, to be sure.

 

Three years ago, we sat with the exact same group of people, subsitituting the gifted coordinator for the adaptive technologies specialist, and learned what A’s fate was to be, “special education-wise.” He was discharged, no longer qualifying for a single type of service. I’ve said it before and I will say it again– while that sounds like the dream outcome, it’s actually pretty scary. There’s some comfort in having an individualized education plan in place and having a large group of experts involved in helping your child.

 

But yesterday, we weren’t there for A. We were there for C. It was her triennial meeting and that’s a biggie– it’s the one where they do extensive testing and we get the results.

 

C & cat

I let her choose and edit the photo herself. :)

 

A lot of things were totally expected. She still struggles to catch a ball, for example. The vision processing is hard for her and trying to coordinate the various steps is frustrating.

 

Her handwriting is getting better, but she still has a hard time printing as small as some of her peers. Again, her depth perception is murky, at best, and it’s hard to get a good angle to really focus on the paper for tiny writing. She’s making progress but, if you put her manuscript up against the typical third grader’s, hers would probably look “young” because of its larger, chunkier size.

 

In the midst of some predictable news– e.g. math is a challenge– we all marvelled at the anomalies that have been revealed, such as her strong grasp of geometry. While her speech skills, for the most part, fall in a completely average range, her vocabularly and use of sophisticated language actually push into the advanced category. Fascinating stuff, and a very honest reflection of both her artistic nature and her love of reading and communication.

 

All-in-all, though, not much will change. She will, not surprisingly, continue to receive services– OT, PT, adaptive technology, academic support, and some articulation work (though she DID completely graduate the “language” part of SLP.)

 

I sat at the table, remembering a few years back, when I had been caught in a maelstrom of emotions at A’s triennial. This time, it wasn’t so dramatic. I had neither the devastation of worrying about her in the “mainstream” nor the thrill of knowing she had met or surpassed all goals.

 

And it’s that second thing that might make this seem like a failure.

 

So often, I hear people share their stories of children who “needed therapies but you’d never guess it now!” And, you know, I GET that. I really do. For pity’s sake, no one in the world would guess upon meeting A. today that he was ever labelled “profoundly delayed”– but he was. It’s super important to share those stories. They offer hope and perspective and those situations are very real and, honestly, not all that rare. Many, many children will need some therapy assistance early on and will then “graduate” and be totally on track. And that’s great!

 

But what does that mean for those of us who, after many years of therapy, sit at a table and still get a “below average” result in this category or that?

 

Well, I’ll tell you what it means for me.

 

I sat at that long table yesterday, listening to this team who knows my daughter SO well outline where she shines and where she struggles. Most of them have known her since she was three, so they get her. They were both compassionate and direct as they told me, “When we measure C. against C., we see her tremendous growth. She is fantastic and she’s doing beautifully. If we measure her against her peers, we see that they’re faster/stronger/clearer/etc…”

 

They weren’t being mean. In fact, I was the first one at the table to point out that fact. It’s just the truth.

 

But, in my mind, I wasn’t measuring C. against her peers. I wasn’t measuring her against her big brother or even her precocious little sister.

 

And, to be honest, I wasn’t even always measuring her against herself.

 

Slipping through my memories, I heard echoes of doctors’ voices:

 

“… likely won’t make it.”

“… may not ever walk.”

“… 85% chance of total blindness.”

“…. chances of surviving past 48 hours are slim.”

“… do you want to let her pass in arms?”

 

And then…

 

“It’s because she cried. Twenty-four weekers NEVER cry.”

 

C’s been doing things “twenty-four weekers never do” ever since.

 

And I don’t really care if she’s ever good at catching a ball.

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