Why I am not a Minimalist

Chances are, if you’ve even thought of decluttering in the last few months of years, you’ve heard of minimalism.

There seem to be some differences between what people would consider to be a minimalist. However, this is the best definition I could find.

When you call a person a minimalist, you’re describing their interest in keeping things very simple. A minimalist prefers the minimal amount or degree of something.

And while you could argue various other definitions, the central idea of minimalism includes some degree of freedom based on fewer material possessions.

What’s Wrong With That?

So far, so good. We already live a fairly uncluttered lifestyle. We live in a small house, I tend to be fairly frugal and we hate clutter, regularly purging the home of stuff we are not using. I am not sentimental about baby clothes, broken items, things we no longer use.

But I am not a minimalist.

While there is much I agree with, I part ways with minimalism when the focus shifts from creating and adding meaning to our lives to simply owning less.

The change in the focus is what bothers me. There is a starkness in the minimalist lifestyle I just cannot wrap my self around. Sure, starkness can be beautiful in a winter landscape kind of way, but that’s hardly how I want my life to be.

Embracing Life

Some recent changes in our lives have caused me to reconsider my habits. I tend to be frugal, which is a good thing, but to be perfectly honest, I also tend to be cheap.

I tend to be an underbuyer.

As someone who forgoes or delays buying what is necessary until the very last moment and then does it only grudgingly, I tend to lose enjoyment with my loved ones because of my focus on spending less.

Sometimes, life just costs money. This is especially true when raising children. I have had to admit this.

Especially when you have been blessed with having enough, it seems almost ridiculous to attach myself to a minimalist ideal. While being a hoarder is clearly an indication of having crossed a line, there is much room in the middle.

So this is it. This is where minimalism and I must part ways.

So as we enter a time when there will clearly be some excess, I want to not think of the budget and how much everything costs. I mean, let’s face it. I know I will know. I manage the family’s finances and I always know what’s where and how much.

What I mean is I don’t want that to be the focus.

Instead, I will think about showering my children with good gifts, with time and experiences we love. Even when they cost more than I think they should.

Because time is in smaller supply than money.
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Gamifying Frugality

It is no secret that we’re a gaming family. I write often about what video games do for us and how we do not fear or shun them. But after reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, I have begun to think of games in a different light. I have realized that I can turn frugality into a game.

Games need not be connected to a screen. And they are incredibly helpful in ordinary life. Let me explain.

Anything Can Be a Game – Even Frugality

I wrote a while ago about how my husband and I went out shopping only to come home with a coffee spoon. And that led me to think about frugality in general.

I treat much of my grocery shopping and budgeting in the house as a game. This is how: I begin with a template of our budget. And with the help of a budgeting program, prepare one each month. (We use Every Dollar, but there are countless others.)

Then, the game begins.

The idea is to shave as much off as I can in every category. I will admit that the harder and longer you play this game, the more difficult it gets. Just like in every game, there are easy entry points. When you first start budgeting, you see all the ways money leaks out. But as you begin to tighten it, at some point there are some tough levels to beat.

The Payoff

The caveat here is to set some money aside as fun money. I’m with Dave Ramsey on this. Budgeting does not mean torturing yourself. And it helps to have something you can spend on anything.

The payoff for shaving slivers off other categories can be whatever you decide as rewards for yourself. They will be tied to your unique personality, so remember that. (If you’re a very social person, you might want to play this with a friend or two. Create a Facebook group, maybe?)

My payoff is plugging in numbers into the app. Yeah, I know. But it makes me happy. And then I know I’ve won – or get to try again, as the case may be. If I haven’t saved anything, there’s always next week or next month. In this game, I always have unlimited lives.

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Children Encourage Frugality (and other Good Economic Skills) More Than Hinder Them

Kids are so expensive! is the mantra almost everywhere. Do you even know how much they cost? Especially as a homeschooler – how will we ever get by without some kind of financial aid?

I’ve been giving this idea some thought and it’s beginning to occur to me that the truth is the exact opposite of what people believe. Having children actually can encourage frugality and other basic financial and economic skills than hinder them. Of course, we want to give our children our best, we want them to feel loved. We have a fierce desire to protect them and shower them with gifts.

But in more cases than not, I have seen parents become become better not just at frugality but understanding and applying basic economic principles after having children. They might also more productive.

I have already mentioned that conversations are imperative in our homeschool. Curricula can be found anywhere, but conversations are what drive understanding. And many of our conversations tend to be about money. This is natural – children want to know how the world works, how to become a part of it and when. Children are born capitalists.

Another aspect we take seriously around here is getting paid for work and teaching our children how to handle money. A recent development in that regard was after reading the book Why Haven’t You Read This Book? 

In the essay titled Why Haven’t You Had a Bunch of Kids? the author Anthony Davies mentions that to encourage his (many!) children to save, he would double whatever they had in their savings at the end of the year.

Having a lot of kids means being more concerned with finances. But it also means making the kids more concerned with finances. And that’s a good thing. – Davies

We have recently started doing this. I’ll have updates soon on how it worked.

But here’s a challenge for you – take a look around you over the next few days and notice the most frugal and productive people you know. Chances are, like me and like the people in the study mentioned above, you’ll notice that – contrary to the stereotype of the unattached go-getter – they all have children.

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Before You Add, Subtract

Growing up, I never understood why my parents did not like me saying I can’t find it. Now that I have children of my own, I get it.

Just yesterday, I ordered a garbage bag because the kids were going through the closet where we  keep school supplies and were unable to find what they needed. Yes, a garbage bag – because the first thing you must do when you can’t find something is start throwing things away.

Before You Add…

So perhaps in math, you get to add before you subtract, all you PEMDAS fans. But when it comes to curriculum or teaching styles or even for simple sanity’s sake, it makes sense to subtract before you add.

This is not just true when homeschooling in a small house. While it is necessary in a small house to keep clutter down, this is an effective tool no matter what size of home you have.

It makes sense to get into the habit or removing before adding in almost every situation that demands space – mental, physical or temporal.

Buying Curricula

It’s the time of year when many homeschooling parents are excitedly making lists, looking over other homeschooling parents’ lists and searching online for what to add to their schedule. I love research! And if some books and classes are good, more should be better, right?

Um, no. Let’s not drown the children in work just yet.

Before you add anything to your schedule, consider removing something else.

We Have a Rule

Because we have limited storage in our home, our rule for bringing anything into it is pretty strict – there has to be a place we can put it before we buy it and we have to eliminate one other thing. This is especially true of clothes and books.

We choose to donate an equal amount of each. So if I buy a bag of books from a library sale, I have to donate a bag.

While this is good for frugal reasons, when it comes to planning for homeschooling, this idea works wonders. This year, when you decide you want to add something – an activity, a workbook, a read aloud, consider two things: where will it go in your day and is there anything you can remove before you add it in?

Do that first. Before you add, subtract.

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Frugality Begins in Contentment

This is part of a new series of blog posts on frugality, which will be a regular feature of my blog.

My husband and I recently celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we headed out to dinner. One of the things we like to do together that has fallen by the wayside after kids is shopping. We love decorating our home. So we headed to some of my favorite places that sell home items.

We spent a good three hours. Guess what we came home with? A coffee spoon. No, I’m not kidding.

It’s an odd thing, this frugality. We weren’t being stingy, let me add. It wasn’t like I had drawn our purse strings tight. We weren’t walking around saying, “No, no, no…” It was fun truly appreciating some things in the stores; we had fun looking around, but we didn’t want to own everything we appreciated. It was a great feeling to know that if we liked something, we could buy it. We didn’t need to deny ourselves.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. 

But there was also something else: a deep strain of satisfaction, of contentedness, if you will, that made grabbing for the next shiny object not that necessary. I believe when it comes to frugality, this is one many miss.

We truly are content where we are.
A Frugal Post
Daughter paints a leaf on our “mortgage tree” – a visual representation of our (only) debt.

This is not to say that we don’t dream. But there are two kinds of dreams – ones that are just fun and others attached to a plan. Our financial dreams get to sink their teeth in plans – we budget meticulously, I’m always on the lookout for inexpensive homeschool supplies, ideas and books, I love libraries, sales, thrift stores and clearance racks of the bigger stores.

This is where perhaps my love of video games and frugality intertwine. By accepting and reminding myself that I am okay whether I buy that next big thing or not, that I am content at any given moment, I can treat our budget as a game.

Gamification (and frugality) begins in contentment.

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The Three Lessons of Monopoly

We have a new obsession around here. It’s Monopoly.

At any given opportunity, my children will pull it out and begin playing. It’s surprising to me, really, how often they will beg me to play it with them and I find myself saying, “Are you kidding? We have to leave in thirty minutes!”

“Please?” they will whine then, “please, please, please?” with the blithe carelessness children have for time.

I usually cave and we end up forgetting lunch and extend bedtime. I play with them, but not only because I usually win. (And they still want to play. I’m in awe.) And not even because I’ve waited a long time to find anyone else as in love with it as I was as a kid.


I agree to play it so much because Monopoly has some fantastic lessons. (And before you roll your eyes, let me say, of course it’s okay to play it just for fun. Not everything has to have a lesson.)

However, if you’re an overthinker like me and you appreciate myriad reminders of frugality, budgeting, cash reserves, you’ll know where I’m coming from. Otherwise, maybe it’s best to go read about how to win at Monopoly each and every time.

Here are three lessons “the world’s most popular game” has taught me.

Pay attention

Children (did I say that out loud? I meant people – in general, but let’s stay focused) tend to have tunnel vision, especially when something looks fun. I find that Monopoly is a fantastic reminder to get them to be aware of their surroundings.

The Lessons of Monopoly

When a property goes to an auction, my children almost always reject if they’re not actively seeking it out as a monopoly or if they think it’s unimportant for whatever reason. (The light blue properties, for instance, are treated like trash and sold back to the bank with the least hesitation.) Here’s where I remind them.

“Look, I’m picking it up for a song.”

Shrug.

“No, look!” I insist, as I turn back around and resell the property to the bank and make some extra cash or hold it until it becomes obvious that it’s valuable to someone else wanting a monopoly. It’s been a hard lesson for my children to learn that even if they’re not interested in a property and it isn’t as expensive or high rent as Park Place or Boardwalk, it’s still a great way to make some money by what we now call “flipping.”

Also related to the auction is keeping an eye on what the other players have in terms of money and / or properties. Many a time, it is a good idea to let a property go to auction and not buy it for asking price if the other players don’t have ready cash available. My children rarely notice this and happily pay asking price if they’re excited about landing on a past favorite.

In terms of developing the art of paying attention, Monopoly is as good as a game as the Where’s Waldo puzzle books or playing Spot It and Spot It Jr. with younger children.

It teaches them that gathering information at all stages of the game – not just when it’s your turn – is a fantastic skill to develop.

Currency is not Value

My children never, ever want to part with their hundred dollar notes. Never. Ever. And this is not an exaggeration.

If there is ever a time that they have to pay fifty dollars, they would rather gather up all their change in five and one dollar notes rather than break the hundred dollar notes.

Also, once they own a specific property, even if they owe another player rent, they will get rid of all their cash and refuse to liquidate it, claiming they have “no money.”

Indeed, they will make all kinds of arrangements to simply keep playing. It’s fascinating to watch the odd combinations and permutations they come up with – including debts, forgiveness of said debts, even paying each others’ rents!

At some point, my husband declares, they’re not even playing Monopoly; they’re playing “rotten economy,” if such a game exists.

The Lessons of Monopoly

“So what is money?” my daughter finally asked at the dinner table the other day after a long conversation with my husband trying to explain the concepts of money, price, value and currency.

She may not have got it all, but at least the conversation had begun. And I understood that based on the classical model of education, they are still in the grammar stage and money versus currency is definitely a logic stage conversation, but there had been a hint in that direction.

“What is money, then?” she asked. I wanted to applaud. She’s only eight. It took me until I was in my mid-twenties to ask that question.

Fortunes change, be kind

This is one we all stumble on, but one specific child (I won’t mention who) really, really likes to win. I mean, really. And this specific child likes to rub our noses in the dirt when such a victory is about to take place, takes place and after it takes place.

I’m all for celebrating, but learning to be kind has been one of the best lessons from this game. And yes, while I will say that there is a tipping point after which fortunes certainly can not change, we have had some very interesting reversals.

Helping my children to manage their emotions and temper both their wins and losses has been challenging, to say the least. What are the chances that I would get one of each child who loves to win and one who hates to lose? (That sounds redundant, but I assure you, it’s not.)

So we have to learn, I guess, in one word, humility. Me too.

The Lessons of Monopoly

This is one subject with no lesson plan. I can’t put “kindness” in our daily planner. So we practice when we play. And when the winner loses, we remember the quote I had glued above my desk when I was much, much younger, a quote from Kipling’s poem If that I still recall with fondness.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”

And if you’re here reading this post and nodding up and down, saying, We knew this for years, maybe consider the Monopoly Luxury Edition! I can’t show this to my kids yet, because they’ll want it for tomorrow instead of for Christmas. *wink

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3 Must Visit Curriculum Hot Spots to Homeschool on a Budget

I’m feeling the pinch lately.

The children finished what we had set out to do by May in March and we’re scrambling a little to piece together a curriculum for the next stretch of our homeschool. I hate to call it a year because what I buy never lasts an entire year – apparently the learning never ends in homeschooling, even for me!

So what does a homeschooling mom do when the budget is small but her vision is grand? What do the children do when their thirst for learning and reading is growing? How do you piece together a curriculum that works for everyone but also works on a budget?

Everyone knows about the public library and how to use it. Here are some others that you may not have thought of while building your curriculum.

Your local thrift stores

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This seems like an unlikely place. But trust me on this one. I have had great luck finding not just educational games in thrift stores but also flashcards and beginning reading curriculum.

But my absolute favorite thing to buy at thrift stores is read aloud books. You won’t believe the treasures. And I do mean treasures because how wonderful is it to find a hardcover wonderfully illustrated copy of The Wizard of Oz for $2? It always feels like a treasure hunt.

Another tip: To keep from getting frustrated, go often but make the time you spend there short. If you don’t find anything within the first ten minutes, leave.

Used curriculum stores

I love these. Not only do I get to peruse and take a peek inside the books (which I can never do shopping from an online catalog) I also get to compare curricula against each other.

If you don’t know if there is one in your area, ask around. And if you’re in the greater Sacramento area, you’re in luck! My favorite one is Kingdom Builder Books which, incidentally, also has various classes for different ages of students. Check them out!

The owners there also offer free consultations (with an appointment) to help you find the right curriculum for your style of homeschooling.

Google Books

Ah, my favorite. If you have a computer or a pad, this is an amazing resource for books that are now out of print – good books that have fallen out of favor with the educational system for whatever reason (that’s a whole other blog post!) and are now only available digitally. For FREE!

I have found language arts readers, history, grammar and many others. Go browse!

And there you have it! Have you used any of these free or cheap unlikely resources? Know of any others? Let me know!

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I’m Planning Next Year’s Curriculum on Snapchat

Oh look, it happened – we’re out of things to do. Between the motivational chart and the burn out sessions and the readalouds – in the midst of life and whining and being bored, learning happened. We’re done.

We’ve exhausted all our planned, available resources. It’s happened sooner than I imagined. Not that I’m complaining.

So here I am scrambling to find more things to put on the agenda. Okay, okay, not scrambling exactly. While we’re enjoying the easy days of “just one sheet of math” and Minecraft broken in with some reading and writing, I’m beginning to start the search for next year’s (whatever that means!) curriculum. (whatever that means, right?)

In the upcoming weeks, I intend scouring the books/resources I have, checking off what I want them to learn in the upcoming months, gauging where they currently find themselves and working to engage them as much as possible in their education. As someone put it, homeschooling is of course “trying to work yourself out of a job.”

Only this time I’m doing it on Snapchat.

If you haven’t been on Snapchat, you should definitely check it out. The idea is that the content there only lasts for 24 hours. So come find me and watch the videos I put up. They can only be 10 seconds long, so I’ll try to make the most out of each snap.

I’ll provide you with a good idea of how to pull from many places depending on what you and your kids like. And you know I’m cheap, so I’ll do it frugally. If nothing else, you’ll come away from my snaps with your mind bursting full of ideas for your next curriculum planning session.

I’ll show you places I shop and what I buy and don’t buy. And also (to my great sadness) what I have bought in the past that was a complete disaster. And some curricula that looks nothing like curricula but teaches real life skills and even some – sigh – worksheets and flashcards. Because much to my disdain, I have one kid who likes them.

If I’m feeling really brave, I might even let you into the sit down work part of our day. Ten seconds at a time. Eep.

So come find me on Snapchat. Let’s have some real fun planning curriculum! Why should our kids have all the fun?

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5 Reasons Facebook Makes You Miserable

We recently had a wonderful visit with family from out of state and one of the more interesting discussions centered around everyone’s frenemy Facebook.

Some refused to use it, some deleted their accounts and others were in favor of limiting their use, even removing them from their phones to do so.

I too in the past have been one of those people who deleted my account. I decided I would never come back to Facebook, that I would be happier (not to mention, productive!) without it. Clearly, I came back. (Follow me here!)

So what is it about this social media site that makes everyone love to hate it? I have a few guesses, five to be precise.

#1 It “Shoulds” All Over You

You really should put down your phone, you know, you should observe and watch your kids because, God forbid they ever look up at you for approval and you’re reading/checking your screen, or, you know, doing dishes or cooking. How dare you, mom? You should be watching them all day long with adoring eyes. (I hope the sarcasm is coming through. I’ll stop. I will, I promise.)

But the “shoulding” unfortunately doesn’t end with making you feel guilty about your screen time. There are other forms of shoulds so common on social media, we almost don’t even notice them.

You should be more loving, you should be eating ice-cream, no, wait, that’s not healthy. You should be eating healthier, you should be working out. It’s your birthday? It doesn’t matter that you want to stay home and read. You should be out having fun.

It’s not that anyone comes out and says it to you per se, of course. It’s just that social media in its highly selective (all your friends) and yet universal (all your friends from everywhere you’ve ever been) creates an environment that fools you into believing that all those opinions matter.

It shoulds all over you.

#2 It Creates a Community of Sufferers Suffering Together

How many times have you been so angry you had to go to your Facebook page to vent and later regretted it?

You’re not alone.

Unfortunately so.

Angry vents make up quite a bit of my personal newsfeed and I imagine yours as well. What does that do to your emotional state and how you respond to your world? After all, remember this experiment conducted by Facebook?

The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts.

Perhaps the worst thing that does is justifies your bad mood by commiseration. Now think about what would happen if you didn’t share that experience. You would probably brush it off. You would maybe even forget about it.

But now that you have five hundred of your closest friends commenting on it and discussing it days after it happened, you’ve prolonged your indignation.

#3 It Interrupts Your Day

Which leads to the next reason for my frenemiship with social media: interruptions.

I noticed that ever since I downgraded from a Samsung Note to a Motorola, (thanks to Republic Wireless for bringing down my phone bill to $10 a month!) my Facebook notifications are hit-or-miss. And you know what, I couldn’t be happier!

Turning off notifications meant I wasn’t interrupted throughout my day. As I have written in another blog post, I already deal with interruptions through my day and they have a way of draining me and leaving me with a feeling of not having accomplished anything through my day.

Social media notifications add one more interruption to the mix. It’s hard to ignore the flashing light when the children are doing their math drills or writing practice for the day. It’s easy to pay attention to the urgent and ignore the important.

Thankfully, this one is easily fixed. Turn off notifications.

#4 It Forces You To Think In Snap Decisions

If you’ve ever read historical letters, you would likely be struck by how well-argued they were. These were times when people sat down and thought through their theses, took pen (or quill!) to paper and – most importantly – formed a coherent opinion.

We all know about the “type Amen” or “Pass it on – God is watching” posts and, rightfully so, ignore them. But how many of us repost or hit the thumbs up “like” on things in a hurry in our newsfeed just because they agree with our knee-jerk response?

Worse, how many of us are found forced to form opinions in the midst of cooking dinner – or teaching reading – about big things like guns, life, death and the next Presidential Election and then trying to write about them on a small screen letter by painstaking letter?

We can only be passionate about a handful of things at a time and they’re probably all related. But they show up on our newsfeeds as a constant barrage. Write a book or a letter; avoid sharing them on social media. Just a thought.

#5 It Offers the Perfect Life

We all know about this one. We’ve all read the post about why yuppies are unhappy and how it relates to social media.

Of course no one puts pictures of sad things and things going wrong on Facebook and I would argue that doing so –  far from giving you a sense of balance – would seem equally glorifying of the lazy, ugly and unruly side we all possess.

Just the fact that something is on a screen and being watched gives it value in our minds. Just like putting something in a book gives it a certain respect. No matter what. (I don’t know if it’s years of media exposure or what, but changing what we put on the screen to reflect reality just does not work. Because ultimately in choosing one or the other, we edit, opine and otherwise stitch things together to present to an audience.)

And, honestly, I find it takes much less time to clean up a room than to take pictures of it and post it to show how “real” I’m keeping it.

Final Thoughts

All this to say, I still love Facebook and see it as an integral part of my day. But I try to remember that nothing is perfect and trying to keep the above five things in perspective helps me distance myself from much of what would otherwise be a small annoyance or probably just ruin my day completely.

How do you keep your sanity on Facebook? I’d love to hear!

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Poetry Memorization in the Homeschool

Having come over to a slightly more classical side of education from the relatively scary (I kid, I kid!) unschooling side of things, we have lately been doing a lot more memorization work in our homeschool. We memorize poetry, Scripture, basic catechism questions and even some historical and scientific facts from the lessons we cover during regular school.

Why Memorize?

I have written in the past about our method of studying history, a subject I hold quite dear. And what I believe about what they should know was lately confirmed to me by reading E. D. Hirsch Jr.’s book The Knowledge Deficit.  There is much (and I do mean much!) I disagree with him on, including Common Core, but I had to admit that his argument for children to have a body of knowledge from which they can draw to increase their reading comprehension made perfect sense.

I began to wonder then if it wasn’t the lack of this background information that was holding my children back from speaking clear, proper English. 2 out of my 3 children are late talkers, so I understand they have some catching up to do when they do start talking, however, I would like to help their grammar along once they do. Poetry, Scripture and basic background facts do an amazing job of this.

The How of Memorizing Poetry

I went to a homeschooling conference a few months ago and made the decision to teach poetry memorization. But the book and CD they were selling gave me serious sticker shock. Wow, I thought, classical education sure costs a pretty penny!

I understood however why it cost so much. It was because the CD had to be recorded. Children – my children and perhaps yours too – like to listen to poetry and imitate the inflections and emphases of the speaker. There is a rhythm to the spoken word they hear and imitate. Poetry then isn’t that different from learning songs where the rhythm carries you along.

The Tools

No. I did not purchase the poetry memorization CD. I am too eclectic of a homeschooler, classical or not, to let someone else direct my curriculum so completely. I mean, picking things from here and there, putting it all together is one of fortes and my greatest joys.

Instead, this is what I did and where we find poetry to memorize.

Books

Okay, so this is quite obvious. Scouring literature anthologies can help with finding great poetry. Begin small, then add another stanza and another and another. We began with Tennyson’s The Eagle, which is six lines long.

Audio CDs

Check your local library. Our local library in Sacramento has books on CD which we may borrow. I’m not certain they have poetry as well, but it’s worth a try.

Online Resources

These are by far my favorite. Pandora, Spotify, YouTube – all these websites have poetry read by poets or voice actors that are just a joy to listen to! The added bonus is that you get to save the ones you like and begin your own collection which you can come back and play over and over.

I have the children listen to the poem while reading the words from an anthology and then repeat. The slowest we learn is a stanza a week. Short poems should take no longer than a month to memorize.

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