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As a former classroom teacher, I approached the idea of homeschooling with a very strict, organized mindset. Students need desks and a schedule and textbooks. School should start at 9:00, lunch at noon, and we would wrap things up at 3:00. My children will be intelligent and polite and will compete well with traditionally schooled children.

The truth is, none of that matters. There are hundreds of misconceptions about homeschooling. All of mine were based on the fact that I have a Master’s degree in Education. It ended up being a setback for me as I had to reconstruct the philosophies behind classroom management and align them with the reality of a household.

Here are the three most valuable lessons I’ve learned about home-schooling in the past ten years:

  1. A school schedule is not a home-school schedule.

The first year I homeschooled, my oldest daughter was five. Outside of dealing with guilt for ‘denying’ her a kindergarten school year, I felt pressure to be the best homeschooling mom. Ever. I quickly realized that the full load of lessons that I used to teach a classroom of kindergarteners was quickly completely by my one five-year-old.

I will never forget the very first day of our official home-school. We began promptly at 9:00 with prayer and the pledge of allegiance. We read stories, practiced handwriting, and did a craft. We made play-dough from scratch and formed all the letters in her name. And then her sisters’ names. Then mine and my husband’s. We played outside and I was careful to provide time for her to run and jump. Those large motor skills are important, you know.

At 11:00 we called it a day. She consumed my plans as if she was a fish and all my carefully formulated lessons were nothing more than water over her gills.

What was different from teaching 25 students? Much of the time I spent as a kindergarten teacher (1 semester – my experience in this world is quite limited) was used in teaching songs and steps for the daily projects, managing transitions, discipline, academic testing, walking up and down halls for special classes, managing recess, and communicating with parents. With one five-year old (and younger siblings – a 3 year old and a one-year-old), my duties were drastically different. I was the teacher, custodian, lunch lady, and principal. Parent communications were constant (I do talk to myself). I didn’t need academic testing because it was clear to me what she grasped and what needed more work. Special classes – gym, computer, library – were all right there in the house, but we still fit playgrounds and libraries into our schedule as weekly stops.

Note the map in the background. Every home needs a map. This mural map is from National Geographic.

Note the map in the background. Every home needs a map. This mural map is from National Geographic.

That was ten years ago. Our typical day is very different and we’ve gone through several different schedules and plans. For now, we work for 4-6 hours a day on reading, math, science, and music. We are going to add a foreign language to that mix in May. When most schools are winding down for the summer, we are changing gears and keeping the learning fresh with different subjects. Our schedule evolution could fill a book. Hmmm…maybe one day it will. It would be a comedy.

  1. Too many subjects a day keeps the Scholar away.

Because we only focus on four subjects at a time, my children don’t (typically) feel stressed about the amount of work they have to do. This feels like freedom to them because a year ago it was a different story. I had enrolled them in a faith-focused, accredited home-school. I needed the direction, the pre-planned lessons, and the books they use are amazing! When the lesson plans arrived, I unpacked three, four-pound bricks of shrink-wrapped lessons. Each brick had nine subjects spread out over a 36-week school year. They had several different recommendations of how to organize these lesson plans. I’m sorry to say, that after using this curriculum for two years, no suggestion worked well.

It was in the throes of a bitter winter that I noticed four things about our home-school:

  1. My daughters spent so much time at their desks, I didn’t really see them during the day. They may as well have been in school.
  2. The volume of subjects was weary. Mathematics, Religion, English, Reading Comprehension, Reading Thinking Skills, Spelling, Vocabulary, History, Science, Physical Education, Music, and Life Skills. Not one of these subjects overlapped.
  3. We were always behind. The lesson plans were organized by week and day. The only day we were on target was Week 1, Day 1. By the end of the first week, every child was on a different day in every subject. Despite the fact that the school said that was fine, to go through the lessons at your own pace, mine is the personality that doesn’t jive with that. By December, we should have been on week 16, but no one was. We felt like failures.
  4. That feeling of failure lead to short tempers. Mine, mostly.

Our solution was to return to what we love. Reading. We read and write for at least two hours a day. While this is the cornerstone of our education, there is also Math, Music and Science.

The kid's bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

The kid’s bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

  1. I am my own worst student.

Ten years ago as our home-schooling adventure began, I made a critical error. I believed that my degree in education gave me everything I needed to know about how to best teach. Only in retrospect and after many tears and prayers, was I able to admit that I had not studied enough.

My children’s education is only as good as the habits I exhibit. In other words, I can’t teach them anything. Every critical skill that my children learn, they learn from observation. If I want them to flip their lids when the dishes aren’t done, all I have to do is model that behavior once and they have it. They will take that lesson and apply it to moments when a sibling doesn’t return a borrowed jacket or absently leaves a glass on their desk. If I want to teach my children how to gently guide their youngest brother through the four-year-old stubborn streak, I have to model that day after day.

My bookshelf. I'm working my way through these books. Some are classics, some are based on leadership development. All are changing the way I see the world. And that is the goal!

My bookshelf. I’m working my way through these books. Some are classics, some are based on leadership development. All are changing the way I see the world. And that is the goal!

If I want my children to be avid, always-hungry readers, I must be an avid, hungry reader. If I want healthy children, I must follow healthy eating and exercise guidelines. The same is true for any circumstance: gentle nature, neatness, respect, gossip, etc.

To remedy my education in Education, I turned to un-schoolers, read about Montessori schools, dove into Classical Education and read up on Leadership Education. Taking the bits and pieces from each, I’ve applied what works for our family and am striving to create a household of learners who are eager to wake up each morning to join me at the table to read and learn. They have their own projects and books they are working on, but essentially, our family has taken a bold step to become Scholars.

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Brian Tracy, in his Book, Eat That Frog! titled after a statement by Mark Twain. Paraphrasing Mr. Twain, he essentially said: If, upon waking every day, you had to eat a live frog, it’s best to just do it and get it over with. Then, for the rest of the day, nothing can be as bad as that.

 

Essentially, don’t procrastinate the ugly job, because it’s only going to grow worse.

 

Stare that task right in the face!

Stare that task right in the face!

Mr. Tracy states that eating that frog indicates “Your ability to select your most important task, to begin it, and then to concentrate on is single-mindedly until it is complete is the key to high levels of performance and personal productivity.” (pg. 109) In essence, figure out what it is you need to do and work on that until it’s finished.

 

He goes on to suggest that “Starting a high-priority task and persisting with that task until it is 100 percent complete is the true test of your character, your willpower, and your resolve.” (page 111) Clearly, Mr. Tracy isn’t referring to parents who stay-at-home or work from home while there are children around. For anyone who has spent three or more hours caring for a child, they can attest that nothing happens as planned, nothing stays where you put it, and anything that is too quiet is either asleep or in the depths of making a ghastly mess.

 

“Starting a high-priority task and persisting with that task until it is 100 percent complete is the true test of your character, your willpower, and your resolve.”

 

I felt angry when I read that. The book is geared toward professionals in a professional setting. But I’m a professional mom. My setting involves very domestic chores, children, their schedules, needs, and all the lessons (both life and academic) they must learn. Even now, as I’m typing this, my willpower is being tested by the four-year-old who is claiming to be hungry after having a breakfast of oatmeal, scrambled eggs, sliced bananas, and two cups of milk. Honestly!

 

To achieve this standard of success seems impossible as caring for a child (or two, or four, or twelve) is not a single-minded task. It involves cuddling, caring, cleaning, feeding, reading to and listening to a child. There is the grocery shopping, the meal planning, gift buying, bribery purchases, laundry, toilet scrubbing. Chores at home are undone as quickly as they are crossed off the list. Then add to the list the task of raising three teenage daughters. They prefer to be called ‘young adults’. Most days they do act like young adults. On the days they don’t, they are frog princesses waiting for that kiss…

 

There are even tasks a parent must think of before they become necessary–what items will be needed during the shopping trip (i.e. a change of clothes, that special stuffed animal), how the schedule change is going to effect that child who is schedule-dependent, or any number of unexpected situations (usually vomit) that are the norm for those who spend their day with children.

 

What is the Frog of my day? Mothers have so many little things to manage. Which one is the Frog with its big bulging eyes and slimy skin that I just need to choke down and move beyond? What is the job that will only get uglier if I procrastinate?

 

I don’t have an answer other than to say that as a mother, frogs jump at me and I have to make split-decisions. I don’t always choose wisely.

 

Since reading Brian Tracy’s book, I’ve been dipping my not-so-edible frogs in a “Prayer” sauce. As I make my list of to-do’s and as I juggle the frogs that jump onto my plate, I am learning that the power of prayer and the gift of sacrifice make a savory meal of any frog.

 

And so I will pray for you. That whatever frog jumps onto your plate, it is one that brings a fullness to your life and brings joy to those whom you love (because watching someone eat a frog is what reality TV was born on!). Mostly, I will pray that when you do cross that frog off your list, you have taken another step toward satisfying your dreams.

 

Bon Appétit!

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“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Plato

This is why I love literature. Examining lives. Reading allows me to live beyond my own skin and time, stepping into a different world, exploring what it’s like to be someone else, with different expectations, different family, different abilities.

When I meet people who don’t read, I feel nervous. Not only do they not appreciate the hobby I hold dear to my heart, they also are lacking all the experiences gained from reading stories, biographies & autobiographies. They know nothing of making friends, or the art of communication, and becoming an influential person because they’ve read nothing on how to be great. The political world, the history of the world, the scientific studies…all are lost on those poor souls who don’t read.

But they watch TV and are informed, they say.

Yeah, right. That’s like saying, “I watched a documentary about Adolf Hitler and now know everything I need to know about leadership.”

Books, be it on paper or an electronic device, offer a different type of education. It requires the reader to do just one thing – read. In our society of multi-tasking – one of the worst things to happen, in my opinion – reading requires stillness, peace, and dedication. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or studying for a greater depth in understanding about a particular subject, reading is a focused skill that is the heart and soul of the human race.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Plato

It’s likely that Plato wasn’t talking about reading when he wrote this. I imagine that he is expressing a need for the individual to spend time each day reflecting on our actions, words, conflicts, triumphs and plans for the next day.

The advantage to adding reading to this examination of life is looking into other hearts, minds, and goals of other people. Whether they are fictional or historical, the nature of the human heart is to find happiness. Without a proper examination of life, how can we discover what will make us happy?

A few years ago, my two oldest daughters read Pride and Prejudice. It’s fiction, not a scientific study. It’s not an adventure or a fantasy. It’s a novel about manners. It’s an examination of different types of women and their role in family, society, and grace. From that reading, my daughters decided to practice self-control when talking to boys, lest they sound like Lydia and end up with her lot in life…which wasn’t much. My daughters were captivated by the language, the intelligence of their communication, the patience they exercised. They saw the happiness the characters gained at the end of the story and knew that that’s what they wanted for themselves.

In my hopes of raising daughters, I have often spoken (and try to model) self-control, patience and the virtue of purity. But my words are just words; and while actions do speak louder, there is something about it being spoken by a parent that renders the lesson moot. It takes an outsider to cause the lessons to stick; someone who has earned their trust, someone who doesn’t tell them to pick up their dirty socks or to make their beds. Outsiders can, for better or worse, teach children far better than parents. If the outsiders are the characters from books, readers can extend their experiences, their knowledge, and their friends (personally, my greatest lessons in friendship came from books – the most difficult lessons from my own life.)

In the moments spent between the lines of a story, readers can practice behaviors without actually hurting anyone. The behaviors of characters, of historical figures, even of creatures in books (think Gollum), shadows our own. But what do we do with those characters in our reality?

In the Catholic faith, we are encouraged to do a nightly examination of conscience: How did I do today? Did I live for God? Whom did I serve? What did I sacrifice? What did I give? Did I spend time in prayer and with scripture? Where did I fall short? What can I do differently tomorrow?

Regardless of faith, these same questions crack open a whole new way of looking the way people live. As we examine our days, we discover our weaknesses. Knowing our weaknesses leads us to overcome them in strengths. Exercising our strengths allows us to understand that we need proper information to become better people. Better information leads us to Wisdom. Wisdom will save the world.

An exercise that fell short:
 Years ago, in high school I believe, I was asked where I thought I would be and what I would be doing in 10 years. I don’t remember my answer specifically, but I’m sure it was something to the tune of: good job, happily married, a baby, nice car, nice home, annual vacations.

If I ask myself that question now – Where do I see myself in 10 years? – I’m looking at a 50-something year-old woman. While the question is a starting point, it doesn’t examine the deeper questions: What do I want for that 50-something year old woman? Am I robbing that older woman of her gifts and talents by the things I’m doing today? What I can save for her that will help her in the future? What can I do that will make that older lady happy, secure, and strong?

In examining my future, I can focus my plans for today. If I picture myself in 10 years as a woman living completely off the choices I make each and every day from now until then, how different do you think I will choose to live?

What I do today will determine my success in the future. My goals for today, this week, next month, and the coming year will all add up into something great…or, if they exist in an “unexamined life”, will lead to a failed existence.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Plato

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This blog is usually about writing, but on occasion I throw in a post about homeschooling or faith. Today? Self-esteem and how it influences what we do or don’t do.

Something occurred to me a few months ago…I disciplined myself enough to write a book. Heck, not just one book, but nine so far. Why am I not carrying that over to other aspects of my life?

And so I began writing about it. Shocking, I know.

I came to this conclusion:

Life is hard. Get over it and make your dreams real. (cue Disney music)

In other words: Take the tough stuff, feel it, explore it, and cry about it. Then make a plan and move on.

After practicing the ‘deal with it and walk forward’ plan, I began to look at my reflection, my body image, my children, and my house. In that order. Interesting.

I’ve blamed so many other things -diabetes, stay-at-home-mom, too tired, no gym membership, etc. – in my life I wasn’t happy with, I wasn’t giving the joyful areas of my life their due attention. My family, being a mom, being able to stay home, a husband and family that supports our homeschooling, amazing friends, my faith…the list goes on. Sad how body image can become such a wedge to everything else.

I saw myself first. Self centered me. I was not as thin as I wanted to be, but passably feminine. Because I have three daughters, it’s important that my body image and my ‘self-speak’ are all positive. I don’t want to feed them negative images of women, spiritually or physically. After all, is every woman you love able to grace the covers of magazines? No? Really? Same here. I won’t be on the cover of Fitness or Vogue, but in my kids eyes (and hearts) I am fit and vogue. Yes, I rock these yoga pants!

See that? Positive self-speak.

Say it out loud, believe it, and others will follow.

That is, after all, how politics work. For better or worse, it rocks a nation.

Part of changing how I see myself has impacted how my children see me. I have not talked about those last few pounds I need to lose, but I have talked about training for a 5K and then a 10K. My daughters run cross country, so this is something to which they can relate. We train together, talk about running pace, running shoes, trails and sports drinks. This week, we all went swim suit shopping…and it was fun! I actually liked almost every suit I tried on. They didn’t all look great, but I saw beyond my body’s short comings and could see my strength. It’s all about perspective:

If you train for it, the results will come.

The biggest lesson on body image came from my three-year-old son: At Barnes and Noble, as he played with the train set, a little girl joined him and they played for over fifteen minutes without any conflicts. (For parents who have ever monitored the train table, you know what a miracle this is.) As we left, my son whispered to me, “She is so beautiful!” I asked, “What makes her so pretty?” In his preschool ways, he answered, “Her smile.”

Pow! Truth!

The other area I struggled with was my house. Being a homeschooling family in a fairly small house, it’s been difficult for me to keep things clean and clutter free. I really wanted this to change. It’s hard to think in a mess. I don’t have a desk. Instead I use the dining room table and sometimes a lap desk. How could I possibly carve out a ‘writing space’ where I could truly become the writer I want to be.

The reading corner...favorite place to write.

The reading corner…favorite place to write. It’s clean in the picture, but today there is a pile of Legos on the floor.

I started with my heart. If I want this dream of writing to be real, I needed to make it happen. A desk won’t magically make the words come to life. Only I can do that.

Then I moved to the house and the de-cluttering. One room at a time, we attacked the corners, the papers I’ve picked up and set down a dozen times, the stacks of books. Once we had the room just how we wanted it, I took a picture. Now when I ask my children to clean the reading corner, the kitchen, the bathroom, the family room, there is a picture to refer to so everything is done properly.

The result? Cleaner house, faster runner, happier me. Happier me, happier kids, cleaner house. I’ve also written and read more in the past three months than ever before. The organized home, the positive thinking, the focus on forward movement all pays off.

This process has brought to mind five things we can do to change our thinking from self-defeating to forward thinking:

1. Identify where you struggle and be honest about it.

Journal about it. You can burn the pages when you are finished writing, but have a heart-to-heart on paper about areas of your life that are hurting.

2. Identify aspects of your life that you are good at and feel positive about.

Make a list and list everything you like: eye color, your name, your legs, your wide hips. Maybe you make kickin’ desserts or love to cook for others. That’s a huge gift…and if that’s true, I want to be your friend!

3. Focus on those positive things and figure out how to carry that over to the areas where you struggle.

I wrote books. I disciplined myself to make the time to sit down and write. Then I edited. Now I’m learning to carry that discipline over to exercise. Everything I do well in writing can help me do well in other areas of my life. The same is true for you. Explore that.

4. Don’t ever give up. Ever. Giving up on making changes – be it weight loss, career stuff, making a dream come true – only results regret.

In a journal, write a letter to yourself a year from now and talk about all the things you hoped you accomplished. Try writing a letter to who you were ten years ago. Keep it positive, but identify what is holding you back. Give that younger version of yourself some advice. Then take that advice. In ten years, the letter you write should be very different.

5. Remember that you didn’t get to this point in one day, one week, or one month. It will take time to make the changes happen and to make them real. Be patient with yourself.

This was the best advice I was given by a dear friend: Take it day by day, but move forward every day. This applies to so many different people in so many different ways. Sometimes it’s my house. Other times it’s diabetes. Today it was remaining calm with my son. No matter what, take it day by day.

There’s more for me to work on – next on my list is meal planning. It’s 4:30 right now and I have no idea what to make for dinner.

Baby steps.

 

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I am amazed at the similarities between gardening and raising children. We tend to the growing gardens of our children’s hearts and minds, trimming back the weeds of worldly distractions, fertilizing them with love and faith formation. There are days of rain followed by the warming glow of sunshine. Pruning isn’t always managed by a parent’s cautious mind, but it will happen none-the-less and we are there to help the growing start again.

Yesterday my husband and the kids picked cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots. They pulled all the basil, collected peppers by the dozen and rolled watermelons and cantaloupe toward the truck where Bill hoisted them into the back.

Then the work began. Canning: Wash, trim, snip, scrub, chop, boil. Then end product is a shelf full of colorful foods waiting for winter months and pots of soup. Months of sweat and dirt came home to hours of sweating in the kitchen. It is harvest time and we are gearing up for the long winter, preparing our cupboards for truly home-cooked meals. As I look at my pantry of canned foods, I feel satisfaction in my work and am eager to share it with my family.

But what is the harvest time for our children? Even in my adulthood, in my time of independence, I still turn to the wisdom of my parents, look for their guidance, seek their help.

Parents look toward the day their child becomes an adult, the day they move out, start their lives and become who they are meant to be. Reality is that it doesn’t happen in one day. I just turned forty and only now do I feel like I’m starting to become who God meant me to be. I graduated from college almost twenty years ago – had a career that directed my life – all before I came into my own. While I was independent, I still had much growing to go.

Just like farming, there are layers to harvesting our independence, different seasons of fruitful outcomes. Before we even planted a seed, we tilled the ground, prepping for the future – Infancy. Once the seeds were in we watered, weeded and waited – Toddlerhood.  As the vines spread and the sprouts emerged, we guided the growth on trellises and along poles. We clipped dying blossoms to keep the effort of growth on the stronger branches. Challenging us were beetles by the thousands nibbling away at leaves and weeks of drought leaving our earth parched – Adolescence. And finally, we harvested: peas and radishes, tomatoes and corn, beans and carrots, cantaloupe and watermelon, raspberries and potatoes, cucumbers and zucchini – Young Adulthood.

Then the real work began. Canning. True independence. Preservation…of our souls. Adulthood. Sometimes we are well-seasoned sauses or sweetened preserves. Other moments are pickles, steeped in sharp vinegar and tasty only with the right foods. But those sour tastebuds need time to accept the flavor and even those surprising tastes lend to richness.

In the fall seasons of our lives, we reap what we have sown. Be it weeds or fruit, it is ours and by our making. The colors of the season are more vivid to our wise eyes if we see the world in all its fall-time glory. For the weed-sowers, the colors mean only the coming of winter, the season of death and solitude.

I pray that the fall brings the joy of a season well-lived, a garden of fruitful meals made easier by a book of zucchini recipes and the hopeful anticipation of Spring – because it is sure to come.

 

 

 

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Feminine Genius. I like that term. Blessed John Paul II used it in several encyclicals, but it has only recently come to my attention. The concept of Feminine Genuis first appeared at the closing message of the Second Vatican Council. No matter what your view of the Catholic Church or your standing on women’s rights, this is a golden statement about the necessity and influence of women:

“The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling” (Second Vatican Council).

Think about it: Being a woman is a trip! Our vocation is absolutely unique. We are given amazing bodies that can bring new life into the world, we can do everything a man can do (and do it better sometimes) but still can’t open a jar of pickles without straining and looking rather unseemly as that vein on our temple nearly bursts. Our spouses, boyfriends, brothers and fathers, as manly and strong as they are, are dumbfounded at our complexities and unsure how to proceed when we give them “the look”. You know what I’m talking about!

We are tall or short, thin or plump, endowed or ready to run without a bra. We can laugh until tears blind us and our breath comes in gasping catches when our girlfriends tell a story, and we can cry at the death of a baby bird – a creature we didn’t even realize had been born under the eaves of our back porch until its little body is found floating in the wading pool (actual experience).

I was born after the feminine revolution of the 60’s, raised by a stay-at-home mom and now I am a stay-at-home mom. Motherhood is a 24-7 gig. It is the vocation I choose although sometimes I feel like it choose me. I love it, but I will also admit that there are days (usually laundry days or when the baby is teething) that I crave a 9-5 job with nice clothes and a pay check. Instead of swanky office chatter and big business presentations, I endure piano and violin practices, diapers and four little mouths that are always ready for the next meal. My job has no start time and no clock to punch. Vacations are included in the motherhood package, but they are taken in snippets during naps and the infrequent outings with girlfriends or my husband.

I do feel the burden of being a woman and a mother. It wears me thin to think that the mess I just cleaned up will return the next day. I have yet to walk into the kitchen without spying a dirty dish. And the only time that my house is clean is when…well, that hasn’t happened yet and I don’t expect it will any time soon.

Since I refuse to sell the kids and hire an interior designer, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing I can change is how I view my life.

So I will practice Feminine Genius; the art of taking what I have and filtering it through the gifts I have to empower the people in my life. The Catholic Church says that the influence women have on this world has never before been achieved. What do I have? Imagination, baby! I will no longer look at the laundry as a chore, but a mining expedition in search of stray gems hidden deep in pockets and after they are washed, I will be thankful for all the beautiful clothing we have. Mopping will now give me the satisfaction of being able to look back at a job well done, even if it lasts from now until the next muddy boot. Cooking is an endeavor I enjoy with my children, teaching them the art of chopping, smelling new herbs, taste-testing and following a recipe; all time well spent making memories. (It also helps that whoever helps the least in making dinner does the dishes.)

I can practice my feminine genius in many small ways, too. I will read that book for the fiftieth time, dig under the couch for the run-a-way legos, wipe a nose, kiss a cheek and dry those tears. I will do all things with immense gratitude in my heart because God gave me children to love, not spoil or ignore, but love. The genius of a mother finds its source of power in the love that God feeds us. I want to do this motherhood thing well and tomorrow will bring another opportunity to do it even better!

When a woman, no matter what her life situation, gracefully accepts her role as a wife, a single woman, mother, daughter, aunt, employee or manager, the beauty of the feminine genius fills her thoughts with empowering inspiration. And our actions follow our most powerful thoughts.

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