09 October 2014

Turn a plastic drink carton into a pet food scoop

Turn a plastic juice carton into a pet food scoop. #parenthacks

I HATE buying small, overpriced packages of anything. Because of this hack, the money I save on dog food will pay for the fancy pet food storage bin I now keep in my basement.

I admit, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself about this one.

I invite you to follow me on Instagram -- I share mostly personal stuff there, but I occasionally come across a cool hack that's better presented as a photo. I also like to repost other peoples' photos tagged with #parenthacks.

06 October 2014

10 ways your butcher can save you time in the kitchen (for free)

If you cook for meat eaters, these tips will save you prep and cleanup time and might even save you some money.

Did you know that your butcher can get your dinner started before you even leave the grocery store? 

10 ways your butcher can save you time in the kitchen (for free) #parenthacks

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Compfight cc

This hack took me too long to discover given how clumsy I am at handling raw meat.

I get intimidated at the butcher counter, so I keep it simple and generally stick to straightforward cuts of meat -- boneless, skinless chicken; flank steaks; ground beef. This limits my cooking and isn't the cheapest way to go.

One day, my favorite local grocer was having a killer sale on whole, organic chickens ($1.99 per pound!). I stood at the butcher counter lamenting my lack of skill.

When I mumbled something about having no idea how to handle a whole chicken, the butcher said, "how about I cut it up for you? I can skin and bone it, too, if you like."

There were boneless, skinless breasts and thighs sitting there for three times the price. It felt like cheating! But the butcher assured me that he cuts, trims, and prepares meat all the time -- it's part of being a full-service butcher.

LIGHT BULBS WENT OFF IN MY HEAD. I may have heard angels sing. Now, I never buy meat without asking the butcher to prepare it for me.

Here are 10 ways your butcher can streamline your next meal:

1. Cut a whole chicken into parts

Why not? Think of the mess you won't have to clean up!

2. Skin and bone chicken

My mom tried to teach me to skin and bone chicken when I was a kid. Yeahhhhh, no. Raw chicken gave me the willies (still does). I love that it takes my butcher moments to do this unpleasant job for me.

3. Cut meat into strips or chunks

Making stir fry? Stew or soup? Skewers? Let the butcher cut the meat just how you want it. I sometimes ask the butcher to cut stew meat into smaller pieces -- it's never a problem.

4. "Tenderize" meat

The butcher can pound chicken or steaks so they're of uniform thickness. Great if you're making a pan-seared meal.

5. Grind meat

If the meat you want isn't already ground, ask the butcher to do it for you.

6. Trim and prepare meat for cooking

Butchers can trim fat from steaks, tie roasts and hams, butterfly chicken breasts, make meatballs, and fillet whole fish. (If I missed anything, leave a comment.)

7. Wrap meat in freezer-ready portions

Keep this in mind when you come across a sale.

8. Slice and cube deli meat

Melissa left the following comment on a post about protein-rich snacks for toddlers:

Have the butcher cut a 1/4 pound of organic deli turkey into a slab and then into finger-food chunks. Great protein for toddlers on up.

9. Suggest simple recipes

When I come across a sale on a type or cut of meat I've never cooked before, I ask the butcher what to do. He or she usually has a few simple cooking and seasoning ideas, plus the experience to back them up.

10. Suggest less expensive cuts

When a recipe calls for a certain cut, I often ask the butcher to recommend a cheaper alternative.

* * * * *

Having the butcher help me with dinner is the closest I'll ever come to having a prep cook. I'll take it.

Have you ever asked your butcher to prep your meat purchase? Have I missed anything? 

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01 October 2014

DIY bottle holder lets babies feed themselves

DIY bottle holder lets babies feed themselves. Photo credit: sueb262/Instructables #parenthacks

At Amazon: Rhino Toys Oball Original (affiliate link)I already love the Oball by Rhino Toys -- it's my #1 gift for new babies. But THIS hack? Damn smart.

From sueb262:

From the very first, my granddaughter has been independent. When she was about 2 months old, she started trying to hold her bottle herself, but it was too big for her hands to grip. I made a very simple "cage" so that she could hold it herself by cutting a single joint out of an OBall.

Read the full how-to at Instructables. 

Thank you for sharing this, Adrienne!

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29 September 2014

Heat pancake syrup with your old bottle warmer

Use your old bottle warmer to heat syrup. #parenthacks

The bottle warmer is one of those baby gear items you just don't need. (Am I right?) But that doesn't stop people from giving them as baby shower gifts, or palming them off as hand-me-downs.

At least Ingrid came up with way to repurpose hers:

On the days we have pancakes for breakfast, we use our old Avent bottle warmer to warm up the bottle of maple syrup.

OK, fine. It's just as easy to warm your syrup in the microwave, but this saves you a dirty dish AND it gives your bottle warmer reason to feel a little better about itself.

Three questions for you:

1. How do you warm your syrup? (Do you warm your syrup?)

2. Do you agree that the bottle warmer is one of those must-not-have baby care items? I'm willing to admit I'm wrong on this one.

3. Do you have a bottle warmer hack/reuse?

Let's talk bottle warmers in the comments.

Parent Hacks is all about collective wisdom. Post your tip, shortcut or creative reuse on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #parenthacks, or submit it here.

25 September 2014

Your turn: Creative uses for...the binder clip

Binder clip iPhone Stand. Photo credit: Rich Sipe

I love "new uses for old things" -style tips. The cheapskate declutterer in me can't resist a) reusing an item I already have and/or b) avoiding buying another "unitasker" which will eventually make its way into the giveaway pile.

As I've been sifting through the archives for book research, I've discovered that we've got the makings for just this sort of list. Certain items are so multi-purpose they make their way into all sorts of hacks.

Take the binder clip. Useful for soooo much more than clipping together piles of paper.

A few examples:

  • Clip blankets to stroller for a quick sunshade
  • Wooden match lengthener so kids can light candles
  • Chip clip (of course)
  • Bookmark
  • Wine glass ID (if you use multicolored binder clips)
  • Pacifier tether

Rich Sipe (whose photo appears here) made an iPhone stand out of binder clips.

Help me find more uses! What's the most creative use you've seen for the binder clip?

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24 September 2014

Freeze french toast by the loaf for quick weekday toaster breakfasts

Freeze french toast by the loaf for quick weekday toaster breakfasts. #parenthacks

Jill's simple tip makes french toast easy and quick enough for weekday mornings:

Occasionally on a weekend, we'll make a whole loaf of french toast, then freeze it. During the week, we just snap off a frozen slice and put it in the toaster. Egg and whole grain bread right there. If you add vanilla to the egg mixture you get a sweet flavor without having to add syrup.

YUM. Warm and comforting on a chilly morning. It's even portable without the syrup.

To simplify this hack further:

1. Add the maple syrup to the egg mixture.

If your kids love that maple-y taste but you don't want to deal with sticky fingers in the morning, add the syrup to the egg mixture.

2. Bake french toast instead of pan frying.

Much faster to make large batches of french toast in the oven. Good Housekeeping's baked french toast recipe is a good place to start. The picture above was my solution to a stale baguette and the result was delicious. (I know, the French invented the concept.)

3. Quick-freeze individual slices rather than freeze as a loaf.

If you bake your french toast, your finished toast is already sitting on a lined cookie sheet. Let the pan cool on a rack, then pop it into the freezer. (I slide mine right on top of food that's already in there.) After a short time the toast will be frozen enough to transfer a Ziploc freezer bag for longer-term storage, and the pieces will stay separate and easy to grab.

Now I'm hungry.

What's your best warm weekday breakfast shortcut? For the kids or for yourself?

Leave a comment, or post on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #parenthacks.

I'm in Parent Hacks book research mode: a deep dive in the archives looking for gems among nine years' worth of hacks. Many of the best ideas are hidden in the comments. This tip -- left here in 2006! -- is one example. -- Asha

22 September 2014

Easier school lunch packing: designate a pantry "lunchbox zone"

My kids just started middle- and high school and I still hate packing their school lunches.

The obvious retort is well, then, why don't you get them to pack their own lunches?

Because I also love packing their lunches.

I should say: I love the nurturing, generous part of packing lunches. But I hate the details: the lost lunchboxes, the forgotten or unwashed containers.

But my #1 school lunch annoyance is the surprise disappearance of food I bought specifically to pack for school.

It's usually the stuff that's easy to grab and munch -- crackers, chips, cookies. Food that's more "treat" than "snack" that I throw into my kids' lunchboxes for a little mid-day perk. Food that -- unless I hide it -- gets mowed through during the after school snack rush.

(But when I hide it, I forget about it.)

This year, as part of my back-to-school organizing, I designated a "Lunches Only" shelf in a small cabinet in my kitchen. Stuff on that shelf is off limits for any other purpose (including my work-at-home husbands' snack attacks).

Set aside a "lunchbox zone" in your pantry to simplify school lunch packing. #parenthacks

Pretty basic, but it has made a huge difference to my sanity. Now, when I'm packing the weeks' lunches, I know everything will still be there, even on Friday.

I'm not alone in my battle to simplify school lunches because you've submitted many school lunch hacks over the years. But there's always room for more!

What's your #1 school lunch packing tip?

Tell us the comments OR post your tip on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #parenthacks.

19 September 2014

Teach kids time management by writing on the clock

I'm on a deep dive in the Parent Hacks archives. It's sort of like a treasure hunt; I'm looking for gems tucked among nine years' worth of posts so I can polish them for the forthcoming Parent Hacks book.

Many of the best hacks are hard to find because they're hidden in the comments which the blog's less-than-stellar Search function doesn't reliably access. This hack is one example. -- Asha


Time-management
It took one of my kids a loooooong time to "get" how the passage of time impacted this child's before-school routine.

There are the sorts of conversations we'd have every morning:

"If you take longer to eat, you'll have less time to brush your teeth."

"If you pack your backpack the night before, you can add those minutes to your breakfast-eating time the next morning."

"If you get up 15 minutes late, you have to shave 15 minutes off your morning routine so you'll still be on time to school."

There were a lot of tardies back then.

I came up with a hack to help my kids better understand time management; I stuck Post-It notes directly onto our mantle clock so they could "see" the morning routine progress. I found that using an analog clock (with the moving hands) visually represented the passage of time in a way a digital clock, timer or series of alarms couldn't.

That's a long backstory to set up Golden's hack, which is similar to mine but a little more elegant:

We have a cheap analog wall clock with a glass face, like one you'd hang on your kitchen wall. I use wipe-off markers to write the different tasks directly on the clock. Works great and you can add or remove tasks as they change.

Writing directly on the clock! Think how cool it would look with those oversized glass clocks (I think I've seen them at IKEA).

Another option: this adorable chalkboard wall clock. At the moment it's about $15 at Amazon which seems like a pretty good deal.

I'm happy to report that tardies are a thing of the past, and morning routines go smoothly. (I should hope so -- my kids have just started middle- and high school!)

How do you teach your kids to manage their time?

18 September 2014

Why "art career" isn't a contradiction in terms: my behind the scenes look at "The Boxtrolls"

Portland isn’t known for its show-biz glamour. We’ve got Portlandia and Grimm, but there’s not much celebrity glitz here in the Land of Clogs.

So you might be surprised to know that just outside of town, housed in a generic set of suburban office buildings, is LAIKA Studios -- premier creator of feature-length stop-motion animation films. Movies you’ve seen such as Coraline and ParaNorman came out of LAIKA, and a new feature is set to release on 9/26/14: The Boxtrolls.

Last Spring I was invited to LAIKA for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how The Boxtrolls was made. “Behind-the-scenes” anything is fascinating. But I was especially excited to learn about (and share with you) an example of a vital workplace filled with artists and technicians. Especially because my daughter is a budding artist herself.

LAIKA's particular brand of stop-motion is physical. In other words, the animators manipulate physical puppets which they snapshot then animate by stringing the snapshots together.

This isn't claymation or CGI, it's a painstakingly slow process of nudging eyebrows, fingers, and head angles of little figurines, and then taking pictures. An animator typically takes a week to complete 3.7 seconds worth of footage, which is just under 90 individual frames.

This is mind-blowing.

Adjusting props on the set of The Boxtrolls

photo credit: LAIKA Studios

I'm getting ahead of myself, because the puppets and props themselves -- the stuff getting animated -- is all made by hand. More than 20,000 props were handmade for the movie including 55 different sculpts just of cheese.

The sets were a remarkable study in detail...it was like standing in front miniature worlds. And the movie's main characters, a boy, a girl, and the Boxtrolls themselves...they took on personalities simply because an animator knew just the right angle and tempo to cock their heads.

Adjusting props on the set of The Boxtrolls

photo credit: LAIKA Studios

I was able to meet the animators, talk to the directors, and even meet LAIKA founder Travis Knight. I didn't say much because I was dumbfounded by the sheer inventiveness of everything I was seeing. I found myself wondering how I could arrange an internship for my daughter in about, oh, seven years.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the visit was that I was watching extremely skilled, creative people engaged in intense, paying work. I imagined their parents a few years earlier worrying about their kids' plans for a "career in art." Several of the blindingly talented people I met talked about how they only hit their strides after the tight structures of school were behind them, and they could think, learn and work in ways that were right for them.

Music to the ears of a parent of unconventional kids.

So mark your calendars and take the family to see The Boxtrolls next weekend. The kids will laugh and cheer along with the movie, and you'll marvel at the workmanship and skill it took to create it.

My visit to LAIKA Studios was arranged as part of a local press event. I was not paid to attend, nor was I paid or obligated to write this wrapup.

15 September 2014

Apply nonstick cooking spray in front of the open dishwasher

Right now I'm on a deep dive in the Parent Hacks archives. It's sort of like a treasure hunt; I'm looking for gems tucked among nine years' worth of posts so I can polish them for the forthcoming Parent Hacks book.

Many of the best hacks are hard to find because they're hidden in the comments which this site's less-than-stellar Search function doesn't reliably access. This hack is one example. -- Asha

At Amazon: Misto Brushed Aluminum Olive Oil Sprayer (affiliate link)

From Elisabeth in the comments of this kid's cooking hack (edited for brevity): 

Do you use nonstick cooking spray or spray oil to coat muffin tins, dough rising bowls, and baking pan? Hold the pan in front of the open dishwasher while spraying. You won't get the oil mist all over the kitchen and it will be washed away the next time you run the dishwasher.

Why didn't I think of this? FOREHEAD SMACK OF BRILLIANCE.

11 September 2014

Organizing tweaks now that "back to school" has become "in school"

It happens every year. I associate my kids' first week back at school with a return to routine and a predictable span of hours to work and think. Much as I'm sad to see summer fade, I think: it's easier during the school year.

But it isn't.

At least it isn't right away.

I forget that each year brings new routines. This year, my kids started middle- and high school, so the supplies, transportation and expectations are all different.

The back in "back to school" is also misleading, because the last time my kids went back to school, they were a year younger. They've grown in sophistication and competence, so our routines need change to reflect that.

Off to high school.
Off to high school.

Back to school has gone beautifully in my house. Both kids have taken up the challenge of new schools and bigger responsibilities with gusto. It hasn't always been this way, so it feels like a small miracle.

I'm also hard at work on a new book so I need the kids to take more responsibility for handling the daily details.

At Amazon: EasyLunchboxes 3-compartment Bento Lunch Box Containers (Set of 4) (affiliate link)
I've cleared space in my own mind by streamlining our family routines and organizing the kitchen and homework areas. Nothing too complicated:

  • I've planned 7-8 dinners that are easy to prepare, and we're going to eat those meals on rotation till the manuscript gets turned in. I did this while writing Minimalist Parenting, too.
  • I've given my kids more household chores, printed up (and laminated) charts for them to check, and set daily reminders to myself to follow up each evening. Honestly, I've been the weak link in past attempts to set and enforce chores...I find it hard to consistently do my own chores.
  • I'm collaborating with two new families on a carpool to my daughter's new school, My son walks to and from himself.
  • I had the kids write up lists of school lunch ideas so I didn't have to wrack my brain every morning. I also bought new easy-wash lunch containers that make lunch packing a snap.
  • I restocked our school supply drawer so no one's asking where the pencils, tape and rulers are.
  • My husband and I shuffled responsibilities to give me more time and mental space to work. I am lucky to have such a supportive, flexible partner.

There are tons more ideas floating around the Internet right now. One of my recent favorites is this collection of back to school organization projects at Modern Parents Messy Kids.

But finding, tracking and implementing new ideas comes with its own special version of overload. So try not to feel obligated to overhaul or perfect every aspect of your back to school routine. All my family needed were tweaks to what we were already doing, and I expect it will evolve as the year goes on.

How's your September going? Have you come up with any back-to-school hacks you think might help someone else?

Share in the comments so we can give you a high five.

"A new book?" you ask? Yes! I'm hard at work compiling the best of Parent Hacks (and much more) into a book for Workman Publishing, due out in 2016. Want to keep me company? And get insider access to the book writing process, plus special event invitations once the book is available? Sign up for VIP updates here.

02 September 2014

Turn baby food jars into LEGO storage

I'm deep in the research phase of my forthcoming Parent Hacks book.  I'm considering including illustrated lists of uses for exceptionally "hackable" items already lying around the house. Things like Ziploc bags, binder clips and...baby food jars.

My oldest kid just started high school (and I mean just started today) and I still have baby food jars scattered throughout my house holding small parts and treasures.

But this use was too clever not to share. Victoria of ObSEUSSed noticed that baby food jars resemble LEGO minifig heads, so she decided to do something about it.

Yellow spray paint and a Sharpie are all it takes to turn baby food jars into clever storage for mini LEGO. #parenthacks Photo credit (used with permission): Victoria of ObSEUSSED.com
Yellow spray paint and a Sharpie are all it takes to turn baby food jars into clever storage for mini LEGO. Photo credit (used with permission): Victoria of ObSEUSSED.com

I'm not one for fussy birthday parties, but I admit these would make pretty cute LEGO-themed party favors. Get the full how-to at ObSEUSSed.

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28 August 2014

Last chance to unlock vaccine donations: #Blogust ends August 31

#Blogust8/30/14 update: We did it! A huge upswell of comments and shares on Friday rocketed us over the finish line! Thanks to you, Shot@Life partner Walgreens will donate 60,000 vaccines to children in need. What an amazing way to finish the month.

If you missed any of the Blogust posts, I hope you'll go back and read them. The stories of "firsts" are all over the map -- some are inspiring, others poignant. All are heartfelt and remind us that we're in this together. -- Asha

As you know (especially if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook), I'm a participant in this year's Shot@Life #Blogust campaign to donate 60,000 vaccines to children in need.

I set a goal of 500 vaccine donations for my Blogust post, What I Learned By Sending My Kids to Summer Camp. With your help, we not only hit that goal, we surpassed it.

Thank you. Thank you so much. Reading your comments was so powerful. Special thanks to those of you who tweeted the link and encouraged friends to comment as well (Adrienne/@babytoolkit and Homa/@woodrumlaw, you come to mind right away).

All that warmth and generosity didn't just feel good, it directly affected the lives of over 500 kids.

We can do more.

Blogust ends August 31, 2014 and there are still over 10K unclaimed vaccines campaign-wide. Will you help unlock every single vaccine donation?

If the answer is YES, here's what to do right now (choose one or all):

1. Leave a comment on any Blogust post.

Single-word comments, multiple comments...they all count. Here are links to every Blogust post.

2. Leave a(nother) comment on my original Blogust post. 

(Not the post you're reading right now; my original #Blogust post here.) Every comment on that post unlocks a vaccine.

3. Click the "Tweet" or "Like" button at the bottom of my original Blogust post. 

(Not the post you're reading right now; my original #Blogust post here.) Every social share using those buttons unlocks a vaccine.

4. Tweet using the #Blogust hashtag.

Every original tweet containing #Blogust unlocks a vaccine.

5. "Like" and comment on Instagram posts containing the #Blogust hashtag. 

So easy to fire up the Instagram app, search for #Blogust, and then double-tap each photo you see. I just "liked" 50 photos in a minute or two. 50 vaccines: donated.

We can change the lives of 60,000 children right now.

Let's do it. Thank you, friends. You're the best.

 

20 August 2014

Blast stains out of white sports uniforms with a pressure washer

Blast stains out of white sports uniforms with a pressure washer. #parenthacks

Christine used a power washer (also known as a pressure washer) to blast the stains out of white baseball pants!

She shared this laundry trick for parents of busy baseball players in the “Parent to Parent” community at Parents.com. I found it because @ParentsMagazine tweeted the link with the #parenthacks hashtag. (Fist bump to Parents! Thank you!)

Give a little link love! If you come across something you think qualifies as a parent hack, share it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the tag #parenthacks or go to parenthacks.tumblr.com/submit

19 August 2014

Book review: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed

I’m undone by the beauty and wisdom of Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. Exquisite, funny, shocking, real and oh, so generous. I picked it up on impulse from Powell's and read it in a matter of hours.

I met Cheryl years ago at a literary salon in a Portland living room. Her first book, the novel, Torch, was newly released, and I remember being struck by her burning talent and humanity.

Since then she has gone onto great literary acclaim, and her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, is still topping the charts (Oprah picked it to kick off her book club 2.0).

Tiny Beautiful Things is an incredible read for parents, but not because it’s about parenthood (although Cheryl’s motherhood informs several of her responses to her readers). It’s about being human...the best human one can be under the circumstances.

Parenthood will challenge you to the core, especially if you carry painful history. Parenthood has a way of shining a beam on our deepest insecurities and fears. Parenting will show you who you are, even when that doesn’t line up with what you project to the world (or yourself).

Her storytelling is powerful, but it never overpowers her purpose, which is to help an individual in pain.As Sugar, Cheryl uses her own complicated childhood, upbringing and experiences to illustrate the life lessons she’s learned. But she doesn’t tell stories from a pedestal. With the utmost tenderness she sits with her readers, their hands in hers, as she “goes there” with them, willing to explore her own painful memories if helps them feel understood.

Sugar’s advice is electric, wise, funny, profane, searing, and honest without condescending. Her writing is top-notch. Her storytelling is powerful, but it never overpowers her purpose, which is to help an individual in pain. Witnessing that intimate exchange elevates Tiny Beautiful Things beyond “self-help” into a category I can’t properly describe. Perhaps because I’ve never seen it before.

If you need inspiration, entertainment, perspective, or a good kick in the ass, read this book. I feel better, and even a little braver, for having done so.

At Amazon: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed

09 October 2014

Turn a plastic drink carton into a pet food scoop

I HATE buying small, overpriced packages of anything. Because of this hack, the money I save on dog food will pay for the fancy pet food storage bin I now keep in my basement. I admit, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself about this one. I invite you to follow...

Read more

06 October 2014

10 ways your butcher can save you time in the kitchen (for free)

Having the butcher help me with dinner is the closest I'll ever come to having a prep cook. I'll take it.

Read more

01 October 2014

DIY bottle holder lets babies feed themselves

I already love the Oball by Rhino Toys -- it's my #1 gift for new babies. But THIS hack? Damn smart. From sueb262: From the very first, my granddaughter has been independent. When she was about 2 months old, she started trying to hold her bottle herself, but it was...

Read more

29 September 2014

Heat pancake syrup with your old bottle warmer

The bottle warmer is one of those baby gear items you just don't need. At least Ingrid came up with way to repurpose hers.

Read more

25 September 2014

Your turn: Creative uses for...the binder clip

I love "new uses for old things" -style tips. The cheapskate declutterer in me can't resist a) reusing an item I already have and/or b) avoiding buying another "unitasker" which will eventually make its way into the giveaway pile. As I've been sifting through the archives for book research, I've...

Read more

24 September 2014

Freeze french toast by the loaf for quick weekday toaster breakfasts

Jill's simple tip makes french toast easy and quick enough for weekday mornings.

Read more

22 September 2014

Easier school lunch packing: designate a pantry "lunchbox zone"

My kids just started middle- and high school and I still hate packing school lunches.

Read more

ALL hacks in October 2014 →

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