Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Traditions of Christmas

The Traditions of Christmas

Our families share their Christmas Traditions

We have a parenting fellowship that meets on Sunday mornings at our church.  We discuss parenting, marriage and family life topics.  Homebuilders, for Glenkirk, is a community that’s smaller than a church service, but bigger than a small group – allowing parents a next-step into community with other believers (and some non-believers) who seek to raise up Christ-following kids.

This year, at our last gathering before Christmas break, some of the families in the group shared their family traditions around Christmastime and I thought I’d share them here.  These might give you some ideas for traditions your family can start, or just give you a picture of what some of the families in our communities do to celebrate Christmas.

Families were asked to submit their Christmas Traditions…
Here’s how they responded:

  • Eat Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve.
  • Have Santa has come to our house every Christmas Eve, they love it and we go to church.
  • The best part is Christmas day when the entire clan gets together (26 and growing).
  • We got an “Elf on the Shelf” a few years ago, and it is one of our favorite traditions.
  • Glendora Christmas Stroll
  • Advent Cards
  • Visit Live Nativity Scenes
  • Neighborhood Cookie Exchange w/ Santa Claus and Snow
  • Give kids $ to buy Christmas presents for everyone at dollar store
  • Read the Christmas story
  • There’s the usual baking, decorating and getting dressed up for church.
  • Play “Christmas Guess Who” (this is for a large group).
  • We also play bingo after dinner!
  • Make Puppy Chow and deliver it to friends and neighbors.
  • Drive together in the Yukon and look at Christmas lights wearing Santa hats.
  • Advent calendars for the boys from Trader Joes.
  • Everyone knows that the one gift they will “surprisingly” open on Christmas Eve will be P.J.’s.
  • After presents Christmas morning, we have “eggie” casserole and bagels, lox and cream cheese.
  • Listening to Amy Grant’s Christmas album while decorating the tree
  • After putting the kids to bed on Christmas Eve, my husband & I enjoy Mimosas, wrapping & watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on TV.
  • Do the “What God Wants For Christmas” story
  • Take turns opening presents one at a time and will even stop and play with a present if one of the kids wants to…
  • Have the kids also give each other and each of us presents
  • We also have Eggplant Parmesan for dinner and Thin-Hotcakes for breakfast
  • We always buy a tied up tree and open it up at home
  • Give the kids new Christmas PJs on Christmas Eve.
  • Read the Bible on Christmas morn before we open presents
  • Have Cinnamon Rolls and hot chocolate on Christmas morning
  • At our dinner parties or when we host Christmas eve, we section the Luke 2 chapter in as many pieces as we have guests (kids included) and we read our parts around the table as our prayer.
  • We make about 10-15 loaves of cinnamon bread starting at the crack of dawn Christmas morning to give to neighbors and friends.
  • On Christmas Eve all the kids perform the Christmas pageant and then we sing “That’s How Christmas Came to Be.”
  • We go to my in-laws and have a white elephant gift exchange after dinner.
  • We celebrate St. Nicholas day on Dec. 6. The night before the kids put their shoes out and they get little goodies (a small gift, Clementine, candy cane, and chocolate gold coins)
  • We read stories about the real St. Nicholas and it is helpful to tie our Christmas traditions to a real person and the kindness he showed for others
  • We buy our kids three gifts each: something they need, something they want, and something that’s a surprise
  • We have a traditional Norwegian meal on Christmas eve
  • Santa brings 3 gifts, just like Jesus received 3 gifts.
  • We choose one Christmas card each night from those we’ve received in the mail and pray for that family/individual before dinner.
  • We bake a birthday cake for Jesus.  Then we sing to him and blow out the candles after Christmas dinner.
  • We spend the night with my brother’s family Christmas Eve and wake up to cook bacon, eggs, and cinnamon rolls and open gifts.
  • We spend the whole day playing with new toys and playing over-the-line.
  • Strawberry Farms Christmas Tree
  • Christmas Music
  • Opening a present on Christmas Eve (always PJ’s)
  • Church on Christmas Eve,
  • Christmas Lights- drive around
  • Angel on top of tree
  • Cookies and milk for Santa
  • Mrs. Claus lingerie (after the kids go to bed, of course)
  • Our nativity scene
  • Calendar that counts down to Christmas
  • My favorite, second only to baking with the family, would be our family night where we let each person open two gifts:  pajamas and then an ornament
  • We read the Christmas story (from the Bible) and Santa Mouse.
  • Our family always gets our our Christmas tree the first weekend of December.
  • We pop popcorn, drink eggnog and hot chocolate while we decorate and after its all done, the kids “camp out” on the floor in front of the tree and watch a Christmas movie until they fall asleep.
  • On Christmas Eve, we order pizza, go to Christmas Eve Service and then open one present
  • Do Elf on the Shelf which is huge fun and helps with behavior!
  • Get hot chocolate and drive around looking at lights.
  • Sprinkle oats mixed with sparkles on the lawn Christmas Eve for Santa’s reindeer.
  • Always watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Christmas Vacation” on Christmas Eve.
  • My wife and I started a tradition because she came from a family that never put a topper on the tree, while mine always did. So here is our compromise — we put the toppers on my science fiction awards…!
  • A family tradition all year long… Our family does finger food Friday: appetizers for dinner and play games or watch movies
  • For years we went the Disneyland when kids were little…. We took a break…. We’re starting it back up this year!
  • The past few years we have had MOM and Son friends night at the Crooks with dinner and games or gift exchange….
  • We always watch Mary Poppins Christmas
  • We read the night before Christmas and still leave milk and cookies for Santa!
  • Make gingerbread houses together
  • Read Christmas books that were put away for the year
  • Watch the Polar Express Making hard cinnamon candy
  • Pull out the Little People nativity set
  • Christmas morning always includes homemade cinnamon rolls
  • We wake up Christmas morning, gather on mom & dad’s bed   for a Bible reading of the Christmas Story, then we pray and thank God for his many gifts to us, and we ask for grateful hearts for the many gifts that we are about to receive this day.
  • Lots of baking
  • The one item we make and keep for Christmas day is our Happy Birthday Jesus Cake!
  • We have an “adult tree” with our breakable ornaments and a “kid tree.”
  • One of our big family traditions: Progressive Dinner.
  • Christmas dishes and advent quilt come out December 1st.
  • Christmas boxers
  • Surprise Night
  • Reading Luke 2 and singing “Happy Birthday Jesus” in the hallway before presents.
  • Monkey Bread Christmas morning
  • The nativity manger is empty until Christmas morning

Do you have a tradition you’d like others to know about?  As always, feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Kidmin, Resources


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I am Santa Claus

I am Santa Claus

How to: Talk about Santa in a Christian Context

“No he isn’t!”

“Yes, he is.”

“He is not! … he’s not fat enough.”

“Yes, he is.” … “Mr. Anthony, come over and tell them.  You’re Santa, right?”


It’s that time of year, when faithful Christian parents and Sunday School teachers cower in fear at the looming presence of the-jolly-one-who-shall-not-be-named.

Going into this year, as the parent of two preschool-aged kiddos, I knew that the way we begin dealing with Santa in our house had the potential to be a big deal.  I know this because each year, right around Thanksgiving, I begin dodging the land mine we face in Children’s Ministry about what we should do with Santa.  Balancing how my wife and I have decided to tackle Santa mythology while also honoring other parents’ plans for how they handle Christmas legends is a tricky line to walk – but one that I’ve learned to have a bit of fun with.  (more on that later)

A few weeks ago, I asked how other readers of this blog have dealt with Santa in their own context.  Some told me that they refuse to mention Santa’s name altogether, others see the myth of Santa as harmless fun and a part of the spirit of Christmas, while a handful of others spoke of the fear that their children will be traumatically hurt by the Santa myth – one note in particular was from a woman who feared that her children might stop believing in Jesus later because, if she lies to her children about Santa, then her children will assume that she must be lying about Jesus as well.

The Santa conversation is one that I actually don’t mind having with children – but it’s one that I’ve learned to be particularly sensitive about.  Here are a few things I keep in mind when Santa comes up in conversation.

Large rooms are diverse rooms

The larger the room I’m in, the quicker I change the Santa channel when it comes on.  If I’m leading a small group discussion with children, I’ll let a conversation about Santa happen for a couple minutes, giving each child a few moments to share their Christmas traditions.  I’m more likely to let that conversation go on in the group is smaller than 4 children.  However, if I’m in a room with 30 or more children, I’m going to quickly go to one of my go-to moves to distract a crowd (juggling, a quick rock-paper-scissors match, or the turn-to-your-neighbor-and-answer-a-question move) to allow for a chance for myself or one of my volunteers to tell that child that we’d love to have the Santa conversation at a later moment.

In a large room, kids don’t hear everything that’s said and it’s not the best time to try to have a tricky conversation with a child.  Crowd conversations rarely go well and are hard to steer away from controversial topics.  The faster you can shift a conversation, the better off you’ll be.  Just make sure to follow up with the child who had something to say at a later, more appropriate, time.  They need to know you care about them… you just need to also care about the diversity represented in the group at the same time.

Patience is a virtue

I’m not known for being patient in all things.  I show tons of patience to small children who can’t figure out how to tie their shoes, who forget how to hold a pencil or who ask the same question over and over and over.  Those kids are some of my favorites.  I’m less patient when I know that something needs to happen and that I can’t make it happen right away.  Part of why I love cookie dough and hate cookies is because the dough is arguably just as good as a cookie and requires no baking time.  I can’t stand puzzles because it will take me hours upon hours to create the picture that is right in front of me on a box.

I say that to say this – when Santa conversations come up, you need to remember to be patient.  I meet a lot of 1st graders who believe in Santa.  I meet less 7th graders who still believe in Santa.  I meet even less 42 year old adults who believe that Santa is actually coming down their chimney this Christmas.  I’m more interested in raising children who will grow up to be adults than children who will stay happy 7 years olds forever.  Don’t be afraid to listen to a child’s ideas about Santa and talk with them about traditions your family has at Christmas.  I often spend time simply listening to a child’s questions or hypotheses about Santa.  Then, if they want to hear, I’ll tell them about how my children get to be like Santa at Christmastime by giving away some of their toys to children who need them.  I’m willing to bet that you’d rather be remembered as a grown up who cared about and listened to children, rather than someone who smashed their hopes and dreams about Santa.

I’m on “Team Parent”

One of the old models (I’m hoping that calling it an old model will help you rethink things if this is still the world you live in) of children and youth ministry was to hire people who loved kids but couldn’t relate to other adults.  Just the other day, I was looking at an old job description for my position and noticed that there was a heavy emphasis on communicating with children and no mention of being in relationship with their parents.

When Santa comes up in conversation, I’m forced to remind myself that I’m on “Team Parent” – if I undermine a parent by going to far into a Santa conversation with a child, I risk undermining any future partnership with them.  I try to remind parents at any chance I get that I’m on their team – showing some grace around the Santa conversation is a great way to live into that partnership.  I like asking parents around Christmastime what their family traditions are – it’s a great way to get a feel for the pulse of the community you serve in.  In fact, we recently asked our Homebuilders group (a parenting fellowship that meets on Sunday mornings at our church) what their family traditions are – but that’s a post for another day.

I am Santa Claus

It was at one of our after-school programs a few weeks ago that I was asked if I was Santa Claus.  For context, it was one of my adult leaders trying to convince her daughter that I was Santa… a comical situation, to say the least.  When put on the spot, I confessed to a table of 1st graders – I am Santa Claus.

You see, one of the best ways out of the Santa conversation, when there’s no other way out, is to claim to be him.

Within moments, children were telling me that my beard wasn’t long or white enough, that I wasn’t nearly fat enough and that I’ve proven myself to be far too clumsy to sneak in and out of so many houses without injuring myself.  Clearly, I couldn’t be Santa.  I’ve learned to play it off with a bit of heavy sarcasm and, the funny part of the whole thing is, I avoid lying to children while still giving them the space to believe in the magic of Santa.  That day, a couple weeks ago, I replied by saying things like, “I have a whole month to grow a big beard,” … “I eat a lot of cookie dough in December, I usually pack on a few pounds between now and Christmas” … “You’re right, I would make a clumsy Santa.  That’s a great observation.”


I don’t think there’s a black and white answer to how to deal with Santa in Christian contexts.  Christmas, historically, did not begin as a Christian holiday.  The church, in an effort to refocus a pagan celebration that many early converts were struggling with, decided to lean into the culture it existed in and tried to blend the sacred into the secular.  It was kind of a brilliant move, if you ask me.  And so, it’s no surprise to me, that there’s a “battle” for Christmas every year.

I do find it surprising that many Christians forget that we’re the ones who first took this holiday in an attempt to shift the focus of our culture from selfishness to selflessness.  And, if you ask me, I think that the spirit of Santa is often more Christ-like than the spirit of consumerism that often surrounds the day when we choose to celebrate God’s greatest gift to us – His son, Jesus.


Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Kidmin, Thoughts


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The Son of a Small Town

The Son of a Small Town

Words of encouragement to those in small town ministry

The city limit sign that you see when entering Susanville, CA is misleading, to say the least.  Out of the 17,500 people that are considered residents of Susanville, over 11,000 are inmates at one of two correctional facilities just outside of town.

As the son of a prison guard, I grew up in this small town.

I was born at the tiny hospital on Hospital Ln.  On snow days in mid-January, I joined my parents in shoveling the snow off of the roof of our home and then invited my friends over to jump off into the piles of deep powder below.  I graduated from the local school district where I took classes from teachers who once taught my own parents when they were in school.  I went to the local junior college after graduation and worked as a delivery guy for the only furniture store in town to help cover the cost of books & tuition.  I grew up and married a girl from that same small town… our high school valedictorian and daughter of my family’s dentist.

I am the son of a small town.

I think back to my home church, pastored by two men who were also full-time teachers at our local high school, and I can’t help but wonder where I’d be without them.  I didn’t grow up in the Church and only attended a church after an 8th grade friend of mine bugged me enough to go to youth group with him.  At church, I found people who accepted me as a part of their family and men who took me under their wings and taught me much of what I know about leadership and integrity.

As a high school student, those men allowed me to be in inner-circle discussions about the future of our church – the facility we would rent, the ways we might reach out into our community, the direction of our youth group and even the content of our Sunday morning service. They gave me my first internship (for $50/month) and launched me into vocational ministry.  Every time that I speak at a conference, write an article for others to read, run a large event at church or lead a child to Christ, I think back to my own small town beginnings and wonder if other small town pastors know the impact that they’re making on the Kingdom.

So, today, I just want to take a moment to say thanks to the small town pastors out there.  My home church had 40 people on a busy Sunday and never had a full-time person on staff.  Yet, because they invested in a student that they saw potential in, the impact of their ministry has grown exponentially, children & families outside of their small town have come to know Jesus, and the Kingdom of Heaven has gotten a little bigger.

And, as a shout out to small town pastors who are investing in the Kingdom, I met a guy this last year who works his tail off to resource small town children’s ministry leaders.  His name is Jared Massey and he writes over at  This shout out is completely unsolicited.  He’s just a great guy who you should check out.

Today, I’m thankful for Jon Westfall and Jon Archer – my pastors, teachers, mentors and friends.

If you’re reading this today, I’d encourage you to thank the people who have pastored you along your journey.  And, if you’re doing ministry in a small town, find a young person to invest in – I look forward to learning from them one day.


Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Kidmin, Thoughts


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The Paper Cuts of Ministry

The Paper Cuts of Ministry

3 Steps to take when the little things start to take control

I was preparing an object lesson for our preschoolers at church yesterday when it happened.  Out of nowhere, when I was least ready for something tragic to happen, I was attacked by a white piece of card stock.  For the rest of the night, my newly injured thumb kept getting in the way of everything I tried to do.  While playing guitar and singing christmas carols with our church’s 3 and 4 year olds, I couldn’t quite grip my pick and kept dropping it on the ground.  As I high-fived kids and shook hands with parents throughout the night, I winced uncontrollably with each greeting.  Even as I signed my own two children out of childcare for the night, I could hardly grip the pen well enough to write my initials.

I hate paper cuts.

If you’ve ever had a paper cut, you can understand the pain I suffered in that moment (and continue to suffer this morning as I type).  Paper cuts happen fast.  Paper cuts don’t look like injuries to those around you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.  Paper cuts get in the way of ministry and disrupt our lives in little ways… and, if we’re not careful, those little ways can add up to big ways.

Over the years, I’ve suffered another kind of paper cut… an injury that would hardly be noticed by anyone else, something that shouldn’t hurt as much as it does and gets in the way of my day-to-day life.  It happens in the form of an email from a disgruntled parent.  It’s the sharp pain of hearing that a family has decided to leave your church.  It’s what keeps me up at night after a program you ran didn’t go quite as you planned.

If you’ve ever experience the kind of pain I’m talking about, you need to know you’re not alone.  Most all of us in ministry have experienced a paper cut of sorts and have lived to tell the tale.  I asked around this week in the ministry circles I run in to hear what steps some of our peers take in order to deal with and move on from some of those sharp pains in ministry that have the potential to overwhelm us.

Step 1: Call it what it is

One thing I’ve heard over and over is that perspective means everything when dealing with the paper cuts of ministry.  In my lifetime, I’ve never met someone who has died from a paper cut.  It’s important to take a step back after the sharp pain subsides and evaluate how lasting the injury is going to be.  Paper cuts teach us to move a little bit slower and to pay attention to what we’re doing.  One of the ways that you can take control over a painful situation is to remind yourself of the scope of the problem.

I have a notebook that I write the paper cuts of ministry in.  Every time I go to write a new thing in the book, I look over the old things in the book and I’m reminded of how big and sovereign our God is in my life.  The paper cuts of ministry can overwhelm us if we let ourselves get caught up in the initial pain – finding a way to put them in perspective will help you move on and not let the pain control you.

Step 2: Tell someone about it

Have you ever considered having someone in your life that you can vent to about the little things?  It’s hard for me to feel overwhelmed by the little sharp pains of ministry when I have to put them into words to someone else.  I’ve met a lot of people in ministry (children’s ministry, especially) who feel like they’re all alone when it comes to the hard parts of church life.  If you don’t have someone to talk to about your paper cuts, it’s easy to begin to think that your problems are bigger than they are.

This doesn’t mean that you post a Facebook status about your frustration or that you take to Twitter to vent about your paper cut in 140 characters or less.  That’s a great way to turn a little problem into a bigger one.  Instead, it’s better if you can find a network of real people that you can have conversations and build relationships with.  Kenny Conley, over at, recently posted a great series on starting a Kidmin Network – if you need a place to start (I’d encourage you to start with THIS POST if you don’t know where to begin).

Step 3: Pray for healing

I might not know anyone who has been killed by a paper cut… but, I’ve met a lot of people who didn’t take care of a wound well and ended up getting a bad infection from something that started out small.  In the same way that you’d want to treat a cut in life, paper cuts in ministry need healing – even if they seem like tiny little scrapes.  As I’ve asked around, I’ve heard story after story of paper cuts that turned into bigger problems because the people involved never moved on from them and they became much bigger and more infected problems.  Don’t let that happen to you.

I love that we have a God who cares about the little things.  We should be in the habit of taking our problems, even the little ones, to God through prayer and petition.  If you want to last in ministry, and in the position that God has called you to, you need to build prayer into the rhythm of how you deal with paper cuts in ministry.  Even the smallest frustration or hurt can turn into an infected mess – take your problems to the One who created you.  He’ll provide a greater healing than Neosporin and a Band Aid could ever offer.


Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Kidmin, Thoughts


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Finding a Job in Ministry

Finding a Job in Ministry

Three questions you should have answers for

There’s a good chance that, if you’re seeking out a career in ministry (or a career in most any field, for that matter), that one day you’ll find yourself without a job – and, when that happens, I want you to find this post and read it again.  In fact, there’s a chance that you’re reading this post because you’re out of a job and a friend shared the link with you – if that’s the case, take notes… your friend is trying to help you out.

I’ve never known so many friends in ministry without a job.  Off the top of my head, I can think of 6 people who I would consider friends – 3 of whom are close enough family friends that they’ve shared a meal at my home – who are actively looking to be hired on a church staff.  Now, out of that list, I think that some of them are doing everything they can to stay active in the pursuit of finding their next call in ministry.  There are others, and I’m afraid that they’re in the majority when it comes to the masses, who aren’t helping themselves out with the choices they’re making while looking for their next ministry position.

So, today, I want to ask three questions to those who are looking for a new job and what answers I’d be looking for if I were trying to hire you.

  • Why did you leave your last ministry position?
  • Where are you currently going to church and where in the Church are you serving?
  • When was the last time you did what you want me to pay you to do?

This is only meant to help – I promise.

Why did you leave your last ministry position?

For those of us who’ve worked at multiple churches, we know the heartache that can happen during transitions.  Rarely, if ever, do people leave ministry roles in a way that would allow them to return again as a staff member or as a member of the congregation.  In fact, one of the few people I can think of off the top of my head who has navigated that transition well is the former student minister at my current church.  She is now on staff at a local seminary and worships on Sundays at our church – where she was once on staff for somewhere around 5 years.  She’s a rare exception because of how great of a person she is.  Most of us didn’t transition as well – and that’s an okay thing to admit.

With that said, the way you answer this question will speak volumes about your character.  If, in the first 2 sentences of your answer, you throw your former senior pastor under the bus – I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t hire you. At times, you’ll disagree with your future senior leadership team and they need to know that you’ll have their back at the end of the day.  Honesty is important when answering this question, but you want to make sure that you speak well of your former church.  There are often a lot of hurt feelings when it comes to ministry transition.  It’s okay to talk about them – just don’t go there in the first two sentences of your answer.

Where are you currently going to church and where are you serving?

I might be the only surprised one in the room on this one (and that’s okay), but I’m shocked at how many people looking for a paid position in ministry aren’t currently a part of a church body.  And, when I say a part of, I mean in attendance and service within the church.

It. Blows. My. Mind.

I’m not sure why I’d hire someone to work on a church staff who thinks it’s okay to not belong to a local church body.  The best excuse I had heard, up until about a year ago, was that someone looking to go on staff at a future church didn’t want to create strong bonds at a church that wouldn’t be their final stop along the way.  However, during the last year, I had someone contact me during a ministry transition they were going through and they asked if they could serve at and attend our church in the meantime.  This person, and their spouse, have been worshipping with us for months and are becoming actively involved in the life of the church.  Will it make their transition away from us harder?  Sure.  Does it speak volumes to their conviction that belonging to a local church body is a big deal?  Absolutely.  Also, they can always point back to the fact that they told us they wouldn’t be around forever – they’ve been honest from the beginning and I love that about them.

If you can come up with a good reason to not be involved in a local church while searching for a new ministry position, that’s what the comment section is for. Go for it.  Maybe you’ll say something I haven’t heard before – it’s totally possible.

When was the last time you did what you want me to pay you to do?

So, you want to be a youth pastor?  When was the last time you taught at a youth group?  Or… you want to work in children’s ministry?  Are you currently working with Elementary-aged kids or Preschoolers?  These are important questions to have answers for because a good church will ask you and you should be ready to talk about it.

We’re currently in a job market where there are far more qualified people looking for ministry positions than churches looking to hire.  There are better resumes out there than yours.  The way you answer this question may be what makes you stand out in an interview process.  Also – are you willing to not do what you feel called to do for months, maybe even a year, just because nobody is willing to pay you for it?  I want you to consider what that looks like to a future employer.  There are days when ministry is exhausting – if the only thing keeping you going is the promise of a paycheck, something is broken.  Learning to serve in the areas you are gifted in, without pay, will make you better at what you do.

Why should you share this post?

I know, this isn’t one of the three interview questions.  I totally get that.  However, there’s a good chance that you know someone who is trying to get hired at a church and they’ve never thought of how they’d answer these questions.  I don’t want you to have to be the bad guy who asks the hard questions – let me do that.  You can be there to ask them what they thought of the questions and ask how they might answer them.  But, the only way you get to be the good guy is if you share this post and then talk in your circles about what your gut reactions are.

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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in Kidmin, Thoughts


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