Monday Musings: You Can’t Do It All – Prioritize

Since I have been home from work, I have taken two naps.  It is really hard to take one long nap when you have two seven-year-olds running around your house.  It is almost the halfway point in the school year for my newest role in education.  I’ll get the number one question I have been asked out of the way.  Do you like your job? Yes, I love it, and I have no plans to interview this summer.  That doesn’t mean I won’t update my resume.  I read over it each month, but I have no intentions of completing any job applications.

The second question I have been asked is, “How is it going?” Truthfully, it has been time-consuming.  Luckily, I worked in Wayne Township for five years, four years ago. I know the Wayne way.  Teaching students K-6 short lessons is easy.  I have a big space, but I own it. Students know I’m not the one for foolishness.  The hard part is accepting a job when one of the previous people in my role passed away from cancer.  This media specialist was last at my school two school years ago.  Students loved her, and they miss her.  Some even talk to me about her.  I didn’t know her.  I just listen and try to support them the best I can.  When I walk around my space and look at the books, I can see a bit of who she was.  The person that replaced her last year, in my opinion, did not know what she was doing.  This is why my job has been time-consuming.

I have spent almost every day trying to fix her mistakes, such as the same book being labeled in multiple ways.  I looked up one book in the system, and it was labeled four different ways.  This means finding all of those books, changing the information in the system, and changing the labels on those books. The person relabeled books that were already labeled correctly by the media specialist who passed away.  She stuck incorrect labels over the correct labels.  I’ve also been fixing that.  It’s a good day when I can peel off the incorrect label without ripping the correct one.  The worse is the books that have the same barcode.  Students will scan a book and see another book appear on the screen.  I could go on, but I think you get the point.  My priority has been to fix these egregious errors.  I have also been evaluating each shelf for diversity and working with my principal to make sure I’m not too hasty in weeding out books I feel are antiquated, culturally insensitive, or boring for the diverse population my school serves.

So, when I heard we were going to do an equity scavenger hunt to see if we had culturally responsive environments, I got stressed.  When I accepted this job, I laid out of a vision of every problem I wanted to fix and how I would transform the space.  Getting decorations on the wall for diversity was not at the top of my list due to the other issues.  A diverse poster doesn’t mean anything without a diverse curriculum, and I know I am implementing diverse curriculum. I wanted to be intentional about decorating and have those elements well-thought out not slapped on the wall minutes before my colleagues walked around to check off boxes on a rubric. Honestly, if anyone gave me a three or a four, they were just being nice.  I don’t deserve any.

I hate to be seen not at the top of my game.  I have been teaching for over a decade, and I have learned that we can’t overwork ourselves over every little aspect of this job.  I know once I get it all together, it is going to be the bomb.  I know that I know how to appropriately set up a culturally responsive space.  I have helped teachers do that for the last three school years including help rip to shreds classroom libraries in majority-minority schools that screamed whiteness.  In my feedback to my colleagues today after school during the equity scavenger hunt, I did what I do.  I was direct, to the point, and signed my name.  I hope people did the same and left me some tangible ideas I could implement into my plan for the media center.

We get so stressed out in school over every little area.  It is okay to not be at the top of your game at every single moment, as long as you have a plan to fix and address the area you are subpar in at the moment.

Now, I’m off to bed…maybe Twitter…then bed. Ha! Good night!

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Monday Musings: Our Future Depends on More Class Discussions

One of my favorite activities to facilitate with students is a class discussion.  As a former literacy coach, I am well aware that too many teachers are still operating as the sage on the stage.  They are spending too much time providing knowledge to students and not enough time allowing students to analyze and discuss knowledge.  Yes, teachers have knowledge they must teach students, but they also need to teach students how to process knowledge, discuss difficult topics, and come to their own conclusions.

Here are three reasons why I believe classrooms need more opportunity for discussion.

1. Children need to learn how to express themselves.

If you read the comment section for about any article, even the ones that seem noncontroversial, you will discover that people have difficulty articulating an opinion.  Students need to learn how to process information and share their ideas in a clear manner so they can converse with others.

2. Children need to learn how to learn how to respond to ideas they don’t like.

There is so much hate in the world and much of this hate gets incited because people don’t know how to listen and disagree with differing views.  I tell students that my number one rule is to address the other side, not attack the person.

3. Children are the future.

As a teacher, I help facilitate discussions and many times my students are discussing difficult or even controversial topics. I see it as my job to help them learn how to express themselves appropriately.  They will be the ones leading this country when I am old.  I want to help be part of making the world better in the future.

If you are an educator, find ways to get your students to discuss various topics.  Our future depends on it.




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Monday Musings: Dealing with Tough Currents through Perseverance

Educator Barnes and her son Jerry having fun during swim lessons.

On Saturday, September 29, 2018, I decided to conquer a fear – learning how to swim.  I knew I should not embark on this journey alone.  I am taking private swim lessons with my seven-year-old twin sons.  It was a long journey to get to this point.  I had to obtain prescription goggles.  These goggles have helped me deal with some of my fear which mostly had to do with not being able to see. 

Now, I have hit a wall.  I suck at coordination.  You’ve probably seen those movies where students are in gym class and there are two captains choosing kids for their teams.  I was that kid who was always chosen last because I sucked.  I spent most of my time in gym class trying to avoid not getting hit in the face with the ball so I wouldn’t get yelled at for breaking my expensive glasses.  I struggled with dribbling, hitting the ball, catching the ball, pretty much anything that needs coordination and athletic skill.  I only had success at gym skills that involved solo work such as running around the track.

Our swim instructor has been teaching us all the skills we need to master so we can swim.  We have learned how to blow nose bubbles.  We have fetched a frog from the bottom of the pool.  We have practiced floating on our backs.  We have practiced scoops and rainbows to learn the arm work.  We have kicked across the pool using a floater. Now, we have to put it together, and I’m on the struggle bus for real.  My brain can’t seem to get the parts to work together, and if it wasn’t for my two kids cheering me on in the pool, I might have bailed by now.  Bailing would be easier.  I wouldn’t have to deal with my hair.  That could be another blog post.  My hair is really long at the moment; I picked the wrong time to grow out my thick and curly hair which has a mind of her own most days.


img_0825My boys wanted my husband to come to the lessons.  I was fine with that because he could take some pictures and videos of us in the pool.  Besides that, I didn’t really want him to come. My husband swam so well in high school, the swim coach tried to recruit him to the swim team.  My husband was an athlete and can’t help but to give unsolicited feedback.  When we left the last lesson, he mentioned I was not moving both arms the same way in the water.  He said I was overworking one side.  This probably explains the arm cramps I had all that weekend.  All I wanted was an arm massage, not feedback.

I know he is just trying to help. I’m going to stick with it even though it is hard and even though I feel like I will never get it.  That is what perseverance is all about. I don’t know what you may be stuck on right now.  I’m stuck trying to learn how to swim.  I feel inadequate and even too old to be learning this now.  I really want to quit, but I hate quitting anything.  If you feel like I do, stay in the fight.  I honestly don’t know how well I will learn how to swim, but I’m willing to stick around to find out.  Hey, I might never be on a swim team, but I have lost a few pounds. Check out the video my husband recorded.



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Monday Musings: Educator Barnes’ October Review

POPOctober was a month filled with both joy and sadness. The month started well.  I had an article published where I interviewed my superintendent who recently won superintendent of the year for the state of Indiana.  It was one of the most difficult articles I have written because I knew I would have to edit it for length.  I wanted to ensure I met the length requirements without my superintendent feeling like took him out of context.  I not going to say how many revisions I did to this article to get it right, but I still have a job in the district. All those late nights were worth it.

Then, sorrow came.  My great uncle and fellow gardener Lindbergh Guyse passed away a few days after his 89th birthday party.  I’m glad my school was closed for the last two weeks of October for fall break.  I did not want to begin my fall break with his funeral especially since we already had plans to hang out.  I was supposed to help him in his garden, bring him some harvest from my garden, and return his baking dish I still had at my house.  He made banana pudding for my 35th birthday party.  I had the dish sitting out on my counter so I would remember to take it with me.  A few days after his funeral, I finally put it in my cabinet.

That’s life.  There are ups and down.  Writing has been my constant.  Sometimes I just write for me.  I write words for only my eyes.  I had to do a bit of that for myself in October.  Self-care is important.

Check out the work I shared publicly in October.  

Education in Our Schools Articles

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10/26/2018 Birthday Invitation Policy Gives Students False Sense of Reality
10/25/2018 College Goal Sunday
10/24/2018 Do Schools Need a Book Character Day in October?
10/20/2018 Is the Student Lazy or Does the Student Have Dyslexia?
10/18/2018 5 Tips to Have a Successful Parent/Teacher Conference
10/15/2018 When the Bully is Your Teacher
10/10/2018 Adults Need to be Role Models in Helping Children Develop Mental Resilience
10/5/2018 World Teachers’ Day 2018 – Every Child Deserves an Education from a Qualified Teacher

TER Writer

10/10/2018 A Conversation with Dr. Jeff Butts, 2019 Indiana Superintendent of the Year

Education in Our Schools Videos

Click here to subscribe to my education YouTube channel to get notified when new videos are uploaded.

10/19/2018 Parents are Needed to Help Students Deal with Bullying (VIDEO)
10/2/2018 National Custodial Worker’s Appreciation Day (VIDEO)

GSUrban Gardening Educational Articles

10/27/2018 One Way to Use Extra Herbs
10/14/2018 Saying Goodbye to Lindbergh Guyse

I appreciate your readership.  If there is something you would like me to write about or talk about on video about, please let me know.  Thanks!

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Monday Musings: Know When to Take a Break


Shawnta S. Barnes at the Teacher Self Care Conference at John B. Murphy School in Chicago, IL on Saturday, October 28, 2018

I took a hiatus from my Monday Musings as well as some other areas of my life during the last two weeks.  My school was on fall break for two weeks and today is the first day back.

My sons attend a different school district in Indy than where I work, so this year was the first year our fall breaks did not overlap.  Since they began school, they have had one week and I have had two weeks.  Their fall break was always the first week of my two-week fall break.  I sent them to art camp at Newfields during their break since my school was still in session.

On my gardening website, I addressed the death of my uncle.  He died a few days after his 89th birthday.  During my fall break, we were supposed to hang out together.  Instead, my fall break began with his funeral.  Some years ago, a family member joked, “Shawnta is the person you sit by during a funeral; she always holds it together.”  That sums up how I am seen by nearly everyone.  I’m the person that always has it together; I’m the strong one.

My uncle lived ten minutes away from me and he was one of the people I vented to about my life.  I’m normally the person other people confide in or the person people feel safe talking to about their life.  There were some situations I wanted to vent about with him and I didn’t get that opportunity.  That made me incredibly sad.  I don’t trust a lot of people mostly because I have been burned too many times.

I spent the first week of my break being a hermit at home.  I only left my house to buy groceries during the day, to take care of dry cleaning, and to pick up my sons from school.  I needed to process his death and process the situations I wanted to talk to him about during my break.

I often talk about my battle with infertility.  Even though it was one of the most difficult parts of my life, the counseling sessions were beneficial because I learned how to take care of me.  Now, I try to give back to others.  This weekend I was in Chicago and was a presenter at the Teacher Self Care Conference.  I was candid and spoke about the struggles I had while teaching and how I learned to take care of myself.  (If you missed this conference, the next one is in San Antonio, TX on Saturday, January 26, 2019.)

I’m not ready to go back to work today because there was so much I wanted to get done like getting rid of these too little clothes my seven-year-old twin boys don’t want to admit are too small.  I know it was better for me to cancel appointments and take care of me.  We only get this one life.  Don’t run yourself into the ground trying to please other people or by trying to be the strong one that everyone else needs.  No one can be helped if you fall apart.  What is more helpful to the people who lean on you is to see how you take care of yourself.  By modeling this, you are providing another avenue they can use to take care of themselves.



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Monday Musings: Slow Progress

img_6129I have been dreading Saturday.  I couldn’t sleep last Friday night and I woke up early on Saturday because of the swim lessons I am taking with my kids.  I mistakenly thought getting these cool prescription googles would help ease my anxiety, but my lack of sleep on Friday night says otherwise.

If you are born, you will die.  We all know this, but we don’t think about it a lot or we wouldn’t be able to function during the days we are alive.  When I do think about it, I think the worse ways to die are being burned alive or by drowning.

On Saturday, the swim instructor helped me to float on my back and I was fine until I got into my head and freaked out. Getting out of my head has been hard lately.  I feel like I’m doing a lot of stuff but everything is taking a long time.  Enter the Ph.D. program.

This program is tough. I know I can do it, but it is hard.  There is tons of reading, so many assignments, group work, and class discussions.  It takes me forever to complete assignments unlike that amount of time it took when I was doing previous graduate work.

I want to accomplish both of these goals, learning how to swim and earning my Ph.D, but I see it is going to be a long road.  One day at a time isn’t going to get it.  Some days it will be one hour at a time.  I almost didn’t even write anything today because I am soooooo tired.

Then, I think about my children.  I have these two wonderful black sons looking at me.  We talked about how I feel about my homework and my fears about swim class.  I wanted them to know that life is hard.  Achieving a goal is hard.  Many times as parents we want to shelter our children from the truth.  I need them to know that sometimes I have fears that I will fail or sometimes I am struggling.

I don’t have any fast solutions except some parts of life takes time and that’s okay because at some point you’ll be on the other side and have completed your goal.


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Monday Musings: Educator Barnes’ September Review

POPSeptember was a busy month.  On top of writing articles, filming videos, being a guest for other publications, I also had to get my Ph.D. assignments completed.  Most of this month I slept three-five hours a night because I had so much work to do.  The good part is that I am enjoying what I am doing and I love being a writer.

I’m reorganizing my schedule to help me get more sleep.  Mr. Barnes was rambling about me being cranky or something…nonetheless, I know I must sleep more. Check back for the October review to see if that actually happens.

Here’s my work from September.  

Education in Our Schools Articles

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9/26/2018 College Application Day
9/25/2018 Banning Books Silences Stories and It Kills a Love of Reading
9/23/2018 Do Fountas and Pinnell Care if Children of Color and Poor Children Can Read?
9/21/2018 Cafeteria Food Sucks for All Students, so When are We Going to Address This Issue in Schools?
9/20/2018 If We Don’t Support the Whole Child, Violence in School Will Continue
9/19/2018 Should Corporal Punishment Make a Comeback in Schools?
9/15/2018 School Leaders Need to Pay Attention to World Afro Day

TER Writer

9/23/2018 3 Reasons to Burn Reading Logs
9/16/2018 Social Media: Should You Friend and Follow Your Colleagues?

Education in Our Schools Videos

Click here to subscribe to my education YouTube channel to get notified when new videos are uploaded.

9/24/2018 Say and Spell My Name Correctly Challenge (VIDEO)
9/2/2018 Regulating Black Hair is a Way to Control Black People & Traumatize Black Children (VIDEO)
9/1/2018 Black with Kids:  When Will Having a Black Teacher Become the Norm Not the Exception? (VIDEO)

GSUrban Gardening Educational Articles

9/29/2018 It’s Time to Ketchup!
9/5/2018 Stacking Green

Podcast Guest

9/17/2018 dfree Podcast: In the Black Episode 50: In the Black with Jermaine and Shawnta Barnes
9/9/2018 Truth for Teachers Podcast Why great teachers get saddled with the biggest workload (and how to advocate for yourself)

Guest Writer

9/10/2018 One Voice Blog Magazine Was School Integration a Blessing or a Curse?

I appreciate your readership.  If there is something you would like me to write about or talk about on video about, please let me know.  Thanks!

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Racism is Why Most Black People Can’t Swim


Educator Barnes and her sons at Community Healthplex for swim lessons.

It is clear from our current political climate that some Americans are in denial about the far reaching hand of racism in this country and how it affects people of color today. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, “nearly 64 percent of African-American children have no/low swimming ability, putting them at risk for drowning.”  The reason so many black children cannot swim is racism.

In the article “Swimming While Black” the author states:

Swimming and African Americans are not a classic pairing either. Imagine a pool party. The Black people mingle around the pool, while the white people are in the pool.  African Americans’ antipathy towards swimming is rooted in segregation and racism. It was not so long ago that public beaches and pools in the United States displayed “Whites Only” signs. Blacks who entered these beaches were chased off or got a good beating. Pools were drained if a Black person got in. One Black person contaminated the whole thing.

The author also points out that even after black people were allowed to go to any pool that white people would find ways to discourage black people from entering the pool.  “June 1964. Black children integrate the swimming pool of the Monson Motel in St. Augustine, Florida. To force them out, the manager of the motel pours acid into the water.”

In the VICE News article “Most black kids can’t swim, and segregation is to blame,” Jeff Wiltse, a professor of history at the University of Montana, and the author of “Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America,” added further background:

Pools were desegregated after World War II, frequently by court order, but like America’s public schools, integration in the water was more of a legal concept than a cultural one. In fact, racial desegregation of public pools rarely led to any meaningful sort of interracial use.

Why would black people even bother to go to a pool let alone learn how to swim when they could be threatened, have acid thrown in the water, or called racial slurs?  When your grandparents can’t swim, your parents probably won’t learn how to swim. I did not need to read any articles to know this. All I had to do is recall my own experiences and speak to my family members.

I’m 35 and I can’t swim.  My younger sisters can’t swim.  My mom and dad can’t swim. My maternal and paternal grandparents can’t swim.  When I asked my dad if he could swim, he said, “Where could I go to swim? I would have been chased out of there.  All we had in our neighborhood was a wading pool.  We couldn’t go to Garfield Park because we weren’t welcome.”  Because my parents could not swim, they weren’t thinking about taking us to the pool during the summers and not being able to swim has caused me some negative experiences.

In fifth grade, the end of the year party was a field trip to a swimming pool.  It was my least favorite day of the school year. I was part of desegregation busing, so there weren’t many black kids enrolled in my school.  I don’t recall any of the black kids swimming during the party. What made matters worse is my eyesight. I am severely nearsighted. My teacher would not let me get into the water with my glasses on nor would she let me not participate.  I had to get in the pool. Do you know how much it sucks to try to hit a beach ball when you can’t see that well? I eventually just walked to the corner and stood there until we left for the day.

In high school, we had to take swimming as part of gym class.  We had to do a test on the first day. Most of the black kids, including myself, just walked across the pool during the test because we could not swim. After the test, we were put into groups based on ability.  I was in the beginners group and every kid in this group was black. Only a few of us made enough progress to move to another group. Besides my vision people a barrier, the teacher was another barrier. It is the only time in school that I yelled at a teacher.  She kept calling us slackers and didn’t understand why we were afraid. She also kept mispronouncing my name. I snapped and told her why I didn’t like her or the class. When I got home, I told my mom what happened. My mom called the teacher.  I don’t know what my mom said just like I don’t know what my mom said when I had a similar incident about my name being mispronounced in 7th grade, but the teacher apologized to me the next time I had her for class. I earned a D on my report card for that quarter. I was completing coursework for the academic honors diploma, which I did earn, but I was devastated to have a D for that quarter listed on my transcript because I couldn’t master a skill that I had a real fear in learning.

Fast forward to today.  I am the mom of 7 1/2 (yes the 1/2 matters) twin boys and they can’t swim.  We signed them up for swim lessons when they were three but it didn’t go well. My husband can swim.  We went to the same high school, but he was a year ahead. He started in the beginners group but learned how to swim.  He was so good that he was even asked to try out for the swim team, but he declined because he didn’t want to be the only black kid.  In this particular swim class, the parents had to get in the pool. My son James was with my husband and Jerry was with me. James was doing fine, but Jerry was crying during every class and wanted out of the pool.  I’m pretty sure my low key complaining and comments about him slipping out of my hands was not helping the situation. When they were five, we signed them up for another class.  James made more progress, but he still couldn’t swim. Jerry made progress too. He would actually stay in the water. He didn’t do anything but at least he stayed in the pool this time. It probably helped that parents especially me didn’t have to get into the pool.  My kids still can’t swim and I still can’t swim.

I don’t want my sons to be embarrassed on a school trip or avoid a party at a pool.  Even worse, I don’t want them to drown. I also knew that I had to be a role model, so I needed to learn too.  First, I talked to my optometrist about my eyesight being a barrier. He sent me to see a consultant for LASIK.  There are two types of LASIK that can be done and I didn’t qualify for either type. Apparently, you can get permanent contacts.  I didn’t qualify. It just seems weird, so I probably wouldn’t have done it even if I did qualify. The only option left was custom prescription goggles.  My vision is different in both eyes so I had to find a place that would customize two different lens; all prescription swim google places don’t do this.  

Next, I had to find a place to learn how to swim.  I checked out Community Healthplex which is super close to my home and they offered private instructors.  I hired a person to teach my boys and me at the same time. It is harder to quit when young people are watching you.  Yesterday, Saturday, September 29, we had our first lesson. When the swim instructor said we were going to work on floating on our backs, that is when I would have quit.  I had a bad incident in high school. There’s no need to describe that here. My boys just tried it so I knew I should just at least try it. I floated on my back for two seconds.  That’s better than one, right?  

Racism is still a barrier today.  We know this from the event involving the lady named Pool Patrol Paula.  Racism is still a barrier, but I know the 64% cannot be lowered if black people don’t sign up their children for swim lessons.  Some of my black friends kids can swim even though they still can’t. I was honestly perfectly content dying as a non swimmer, but I want to be part of changing the narrative that black people don’t swim.

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Monday Musings: It’s Hard Not to be Hard on Yourself

img_6129I’m in this Ph.D. program at the moment.  This is my first semester in the program and I am currently taking two classes.  I received my grade on my first essay.  It was an 89% B+.  This grade is so frustrating because it is so close to the A range.

I know I should be happy that it wasn’t a grade of C or D or F, but I wanted an A.  I know this is just the first assignment and I am getting back into the swing of writing academic work, but I’m still not satisfied.

I decided to open a Google document and keep notes of feedback so I can be mindful of issues my professor highlighted in his comments on my paper.  That’s the only advice I can offer when you can’t get past how you are feeling about a situation. You have to take some sort of action to help you next time.  For me, it is creating this document.

I’m waiting on another assignment to be returned…so we shall see how I feel after I receive that grade.



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Monday Musings: Life in the Black


Many people know about our journey to add children to our family.  I was told during the second year of marriage that the chance of me ever getting pregnant without any intervention was between 1/2-1%.  Because we wanted children, we went through years of infertility treatments and tons of cash.  We got to the point where we had to borrow money.  The year we took out a loan to cover the next infertility treatments was the same year, I found out it had worked…and I was pregnant with twins.  The joy quickly turned to anxiety after several medical scares where I thought I had lost the pregnancy.  I ended up being rushed to the hospital during the school day and being put on bedrest for four months.  Two of those months, I was in the hospital.  After four months on bedrest, our sons were born ten weeks early and had to also stay in the hospital for two months.  If you add all of that up, that is six months of hospital bills, plus the loan we took out, plus normal bills, and then a daycare bill since I had to go back to work so we wouldn’t be under a mountain of debt forever.  This is when we decided to learn about dfree.  At this point, we thought it really couldn’t get any worse.

Since 2012, we have eliminated over $100,000 of debt.  Last month, we paid off my husband’s student loans.  Now, the only debt we have is my SUV (which I had to purchase after some idiot hit and totaled my car that had been paid off for six years) and the mortgage on our house.  The silver lining is because we were committed to the dfree lifestyle, I was able to upgrade from a car to an SUV unannounced and was able to put down a decent down payment.  I got my SUV right before Christmas 2017 and we have already paid off 1/3 of the loan balance and hope to have it 100% paid off by the end of 2019.

Today, at 5 p.m. my husband and I are featured on the dfree podcast In the Black, where we share an update of where we are today.

Click here to listen to the podcast.  Below is a video of us shortly after began the dfree lifestyle and won a dfree contest at our church (You get to see all my post twin pregnancy chubby face-ha!).

If you want to know more about dfree, please let me know.

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