family, motherhood

What I Didn’t Expect about Working from Home

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Working from home with my baby wasn’t how I pictured it.

When I got the go-ahead to work from home two days a week with my daughter, I thought I had found the best of both worlds: I’d still be stimulating my mind and keeping my professional skills sharp, while getting to spend time with my baby.

I had always heard that working moms envied stay at home moms because they missed out on milestones while their precious babes were in the care of someone else. Meanwhile, stay at home moms daydream about a whole day in which a tiny human does not rely on them to deal with every bodily secretion.

Working at home was the holy grail. I had found the greenest grass; no other situation could possibly be better than this.

Or so I thought.

It turns out that working from home with a baby is a challenge. Some of the biggest struggles that I faced:

  1. Taking a “lunch break” meant multiple breastfeeding sessions throughout the day.
  2. Nap time was necessary if I wanted to get anything done during normal working hours.
  3. Most of all, my attention was never fully on my daughter and I felt guilty about that.

That last one came as a surprise.

My sweet girl loves interacting with others. And as she grew and gained mobility, she took to crawling over to my laptop and trying to sit on it to gain my attention. I apologetically pushed her aside every time, all while worrying that she would start to believe the screen in front of me was more important than her.

It wasn’t, of course. I was just trying to do my job so I could financially support her. I would be able to explain this to her one day, but you can’t explain this to a 1-year-old… no matter how many times I said, “I’m so sorry, baby. Mama has to work right now.”

What I learned is that ALL moms struggle.

Working moms are separated from their babies. Stay-at-home moms never get a break. And as a working from home mom, much of the time I was overwhelmed with conflicting priorities.

We would all do well to give each other more grace. 

Moms and dads alike struggle with balancing the demands on their time. No matter what your working situation may be, it is hard to be a parent. In fact, parenting is a full time 24/7/365 job in and of itself.

It’s also the best job in the world. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Encourage the parents around you. Lift them up with your spoken words, with an uplifting note, with your actions, and in prayer.

You never know which mom or dad in the office might have just spent their morning cleaning vomit out of the carpet. Trust me; they can appreciate a simple, “Your kid is lucky to have you.”

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”(1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Photo credit: Pexels.com/energepic.com
motherhood

The Gift That I Want to Give All New Moms

paying-bills-blog-1200“Write a down piece of advice for the new mom!” the sweet baby shower hostess announced.

I did as she asked and wrote down a helpful tip for my friend on the square of pink cardstock.

I didn’t write, “Enjoy those cuddles,” or, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” I didn’t even put down, “Don’t worry about your house for a few months. The mess can wait until you learn the new routine.”

I wrote something practical. Something that I had no idea about until it was too late:

“Get a bill paying organizer.” 

That has got to be the worst piece of advice ever written in one of those cute little mommy advice books. And yet that is exactly what I wanted my friend to know.

I didn’t expect to have a baby with hip dysplasia. There was no indication during pregnancy that my child would be anything but healthy. And yet, Emmanuella was born with a short-term special need.

As a new mom, I went into survival mode. We carted our daughter from appointment to appointment, from ultrasound to ultrasound. We became regulars in the hospital’s outpatient procedure waiting room. My focus was solely on her care, and rightly so.

Then the bills started coming in.

My C-section was billed separately from the anesthesia, which was billed separately from my hospital stay. The hospital pediatrician had his own bill. And of course, our regular pediatrician’s office sent a bill for the 4-day-old well check. And all of that was just from a normal delivery.

But Emmanuella wasn’t a normal baby.

So then came the orthopedic pediatrician’s bills. And hospital bills for each ultrasound. She got ultrasounds every two weeks and every bill was for the same amount: $267 (thank goodness insurance paid for most of the $800 total). The only way to distinguish one from the next was the date of service in small print at the top.

It was overwhelming, and caring for a newborn stole my attention from dealing with it all.

One day I spent eight hours paying bills and uploading them to our health share organization.

I ended up in frustrated tears. No one told me that this would be a part of the new mom job. The fact is I was unprepared.

When bills came in the house, they likely landed on the kitchen counter… and then got lost in the shuffle. With demands on my time like breastfeeding every two hours, attempting to pump in between sessions, washing and sterilizing bottles and pump parts, changing diapers, and maybe, maybe getting a nap in there, bills just naturally went to the wayside.

I wish someone had told me to get a bill paying organizer.

I bought one too late. It helped, but the flurry of bills had passed. Maybe if I had gotten one before I was bombarded, we would have avoided getting late notices and “FINAL WARNING” letters. Truly, it was an honest mistake when I missed a bill. After all, they all looked identical and had identical amounts. Didn’t I pay that one already? 

This is why I wrote that unsentimental note at my dear friend’s baby shower. I wanted to save her from the frustration and confusion that I experienced.

Yes, we received more bills that most new parents. But the thing is you don’t know if your baby will have a special need. You don’t know if your child will require extra trips to the hospital to see specialists or even require surgery after birth.

This isn’t about the money. While it was no fun carrying a financial burden during such a transitional time (and while I was only being paid out my vacation and sick time before getting a partial paycheck of short-term disability), the money itself is really not the point.

The point is this is one way new moms can be better prepared… but no one talks about it.

We prepare for motherhood by prepping nurseries, stockpiling diapers, attending baby and childbirth classes, and touring hospitals. So why not prepare for this aspect of parenthood as well?

It’s possible that no one else struggles with this. But I think that they do. Quietly.

Let’s put this out in the open. There will definitely be bills and they will be numerous. Sometimes the sheer multitude will bring us to tears.

But they don’t have to. We can be be better prepared for this. Mamas to be, I know this time is exciting and nauseating and painful and joyful and many other things. But don’t forget to make this time an time for organization as well.

Scrimp and save and squirrel away cash where you can. And please, please have a bill paying organizer ready and waiting for the day that the first bill arrives from the hospital.

You will be able to confidently tuck it away into the folder of the month it is due and go back to snuggling that precious, perfect baby. Maybe you can even squeeze in a nap.

New mama tip: I like this one with pockets and stickers to label the pocket by month or type of bill. But do what works for you. Just find a system and stick to it!

motherhood

I Didn’t Breastfeed a Full Year and It’s Going to be Okay

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I nursed my daughter for 10.5 months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics would say that I didn’t breastfeed long enough.

An average French mother would think I was insane for nursing for such a long time.

You know what? The method that I chose to feed my baby was neither of their business.

I had difficulty breastfeeding.

It hurt longer than I was told it would. Clogged ducts are no joke. I’m grateful I never got mastitis.

But most of all, I didn’t expect to have a supply problem.

I exclusively breastfed for 3 months. In that time, my daughter went from the 28th percentile for weight to the 2nd.

And yes, I drank TONS of water. Yes, I ate lactation cookies (and they were DELICIOUS, but did nothing to help my supply). Yes, I drank Mother’s Milk tea. Yes, I tried all the things. But nothing worked.

It was obvious that my newborn was constantly hungry and sometimes wanted to eat every half hour. In between feedings, I also tried to pump (supplement with breastmilk, say all the experts!) and the results were always discouraging. There was never any extra to save for later.

At my daughter’s 3 month check up, her pediatrician gently broke the news that she was undernourished. He suggested supplementing with formula. And he was a huge breastfeeding advocate (and good friend) so I knew his advice came from a place of loving concern for my daughter.

I started supplementing with formula and my daughter’s weight immediately jumped up the chart.

Formula was a blessing.

In my daughter’s case, she needed the additional calories from formula to grow. We found that supplementing with formula was what was right for US.

But that doesn’t mean it will be right for you and your baby.

Your baby may thrive with exclusive breastfeeding.

You may supplement with breastmilk or formula.

You might use formula from the start for a variety of reasons.

Guess what: it’s all good.

The choices that you make as a parent are yours.

New parents are inundated with decisions, and it goes far beyond feeding. Go on any new parent Facebook group and you will see parents battling each other over issues like co-sleeping, sleep training, first foods, screen time, and more.

But these decisions are yours to make. As long as your baby is loved, cared for, and safe, you are doing it right. You automatically made the right decision (and there is not just one right one.)

My daughter is now a healthy, thriving toddler, right smack in the middle of where she should be in height and weight. She constantly surprises me with what she is learning. Most recently, she chimes in with “E-I-O” when we sing Old MacDonald. Formula didn’t make her fat, or stupid, or cause her to be less emotionally attached to me – she runs to me just to give me a hug at least once a day.

What formula did do is help my daughter grow. It’s that simple.

Formula gave us peace of mind.

We gave our daughter formula with confidence, knowing that we were doing what we needed to do to ensure she grew and developed appropriately. On a personal level, I felt so much less stress and pressure to produce more, more, more to keep up with her demands. With that stress gone, I became a less anxious, better mom.

My focus went to my daughter, not to my breastmilk.

I was able to quit breastfeeding at 10.5 months so my husband and I could travel for a week without our daughter. I stopped because I wouldn’t be able to nurse during that time and didn’t want to pump. I thought I would miss it; I was sure that if it wasn’t for that trip, I would have nursed until she’s 2. But honestly? I don’t miss it at all.

  • I don’t miss wearing only easy access nursing clothes (although Latched Mama is the best in the business for them).
  • I don’t miss pumping. At all.
  • I don’t miss the scheduling demand… making sure that I was home from a haircut or a church event by a specific time in order to feed the baby.
  • I don’t miss planning a single glass of wine around my baby’s next feeding.

I thought I would miss it for the cuddle factor. My daughter and I logged a lot of hours together snuggled up nursing and I thought I would automatically lose that sweet time of connection.

But I didn’t. Even though my toddler would rather run around dumping bins of toys that be held, I still hold her every single day. We still rock in the glider in her nursery as we sing a bedtime song and say our prayers. She still falls asleep on me when she’s really tired. These things will end one day, but quitting breastfeeding didn’t stop them.

The point is this: love those babies. Think through the choices you make for them. But don’t let the choices paralyze you with anxiety or guilt. Breastfed or bottle-fed, cloth-diapered or disposable-diapered, homemade baby food or from the jar, the babies will turn out alright.

The babies will turn out alright.

family, motherhood

48 People Came to My Daughter’s 1st Birthday Party. Here is What I Learned.

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The week leading up to my daughter’s 1st birthday party was like preparing to go to battle. I had planned something party-related to do every single evening.

  1. Order balloons? Check.
  2. Order Chick-fil-A catering? Check.
  3. Order cake from Costco? Check.
  4. Go to the grocery store and buy pumpkins? Check. (Bonus check for spending an hour sorting through moldy pumpkins to find 25 that were mold-free.)
  5. Draw and paint poster boards of a cow and pig for a “feed the cow” and “feed the pig” cornhole game? Check.
  6. Draw and paint a John Deere tractor on a poster for Pin the Wheel on the Tractor (that wouldn’t even be played). Check.

And on and on it went.

During this process, I knew that I was going too far. But I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted my daughter’s birthday party to look like and would stop at nothing to make that picture a reality.

Bless my own heart.

Why did I work so hard and stay up late night after night to throw the perfect 1st birthday party? After all, my kid is one year old. She won’t remember it. Other kids at the party won’t remember it.

I’ll be honest. I wanted the pictures.

Pictures like this:

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And this:

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Oh, and this:

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I worked myself until the party almost wasn’t fun anymore to make these picture-perfect moments happen.

By the time our 48 guests arrived, I had a killer headache that almost ruined the party for me. Thank goodness my wonderful mother practically carries a CVS pharmacy in her purse. She was able to supply me with medicine, but the first hour of the party was tainted by nearly dizzying stress-induced pain in my temple.

Mamas. There has to be a better way. 

We’re doing too much. I didn’t have to invite our whole church to the party. I didn’t have to label each item of food with witty farm-themed names. I didn’t have to spend a lot of money (don’t ask me to add it all up) on pumpkin patch decorations. I didn’t have to do any of it, really.

But I felt like I did. 

For months leading up to my daughter’s birthday, friends and family members said that they couldn’t wait to see what I would come up with for her 1st birthday party. They knew my tendency to go all out and had high expectations.

Based on past experiences, I understand why they would think that. I truly do. But maybe we should all lower our expectations a little. After all, I have a child now. She requires a lot of time and energy, and there is only so much left for extras like party prep.

It comes down to this: there is too much pressure on moms today to be perfect. Pinterest perfect. We need to tone it down. Otherwise, we get tired, stressed, anxious, and generally become worse versions of ourselves.

That is not what our children or spouses deserve. After all, they probably didn’t ask us to do any of it in the first place.

My daughter’s birthday party ended up being a blast. She loved being in the spotlight and I don’t regret gifting her the experience.

But maybe, just maybe, it should have been pared down to the essentials. No guest would have missed the cute food labels because they wouldn’t have known about them at all. 

Stop worrying about doing less than what others expect of you. Start focusing on what your sweet babies need from you. I suspect that your littles would rather have your undivided attention than a Pinterest perfect birthday party anyway.

family, motherhood, pregnancy

8 Reasons Why a Scheduled C-Section is Not the End of the World

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When my OB/GYN laid out the possibilities for the delivery of my breech baby, I was devastated. A planned C-section was the safest option. And absolutely not what I wanted.

I had my plan. Visions of calmly laboring in the tub while soothing music played in the background had danced in my head for months. I wanted the room to be dimly lit and relaxing with Christmas lights aglow. I did not want my baby to come into this world in an OR.

I originally thought a scheduled C-section was the end of the world. I broke down and cried and felt all the hormonal emotions when I found out that my dream of laboring in that hospital tub with Christmas lights all around me would not become a reality.

But much to my surprise, I became the loudest cheerleader for C-sections after experiencing my own. Here’s why:

1. No Labor

I have a low pain tolerance. In fact, I found pregnancy itself painful. But what is more pain than general pregnancy discomfort? Contractions. Or so I’ve heard. The worst that I had to deal with were mild Braxton Hicks contractions. But childbirth has a reputation for being painful for good reason. And with a planned C-section, you get to avoid that.

2. No Tearing

When a baby arrives via a Cesarean incision, that means there will be no vaginal tearing. My daughter didn’t take the usual “path” and that was A-okay. Why? It turns out that she was born with a head in the 99th percentile for circumference. There would have been tearing if she had taken the usual way out. Personally, I’m glad she didn’t.

3. Recovery is (Sometimes) a Snap.

Of course, all recoveries are different because all women are different and have gone through different pregnancies. But with a little help from the pain meds I received at the hospital, I felt ready to be active again after about a week. I ran a 8K race just five weeks postpartum. Family members regularly told me that I should slow down, but I was listening to my body. I felt fine, almost completely normal. And I have a little scar below my belly button to thank for that.

4. You Get to Plan Everything

Type A mamas rejoice! Knowing exactly when you will have your baby means that you can plan ahead. This means you can have your house clean, your hospital bag fully packed, dog-sitters arranged, and even know the schedule of who is visiting the new baby the first few weeks. This was a huge benefit for me personally. Once we knew when the finish line was coming, all the arrangements could be made with a firm timeline. No more waiting and wondering.

5. No Rush to the Hospital

It’s a surreal feeling to park in the hospital parking deck knowing that you will leave with a baby, but not being at all in a hurry. I casually walked inside and even had time for photos along the way. It’s stress free. There were certainly no worries of having the baby in the car on the ride to the hospital when I wasn’t in labor.

6. Relaxed Atmosphere in Surgery

This is not the case for all planned Cesareans, but in many cases the surgery will be fairly routine. My OB/GYN chatted throughout the process, keeping me relaxed and at ease. In my experience, the explanation of a C-section sounds much scarier than it actually is.

7. It’s Faster

I have friends who suffered through labor for days and pushed for hours. But the C-section process took about an hour from getting a spinal at the start to being sewn up and wheeled back to the recovery room with a sleepy, pink newborn in my arms. After nine long months of waiting, it’s like you get an express lane for a baby. No harm in that.

8. The Result is the Same.

This is the main point: at the end, you still have a baby. On October 24, 2017, I became a mother. And on that day, I learned it doesn’t matter how your baby enters the world. What matters are the moments to come.

A C-section isn’t the end of the world. It’s the start of a little life who becomes your whole world.

motherhood

What I Want for My First Mother’s Day

me-and-ellaSunday will mark my first Mother’s Day. Six months ago Emmanuella made me a mama and I will be forever grateful. For 197 days, I’ve spent my time feeding her, changing her, rocking her, and trying to outnumber her cries by her giggles. They have been the most joyous days of my life.

In a way, I still feel undeserving of Mother’s Day. My sweet angel is nearly always content. Strangers ask me, “Is she ALWAYS like this?” when she shows off by smiling her most gigantic open-mouthed smile at everyone she meets. I respond, “Most of the time.” And it’s true. I’ve been blessed with an easygoing child.

But whether I deserve it or not, this is a holiday in celebration of me (and all mamas). And so, here is my first Mother’s Day wish list:

  1. I want Emmanuella’s happy days to overshadow the few in between that are sad.
  2. I want to provide for the needs of my child.
  3. I want to teach Emmanuella to care for others first.
  4. I want her to know that a relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in her life.
  5. I want my daughter to one day marry a man with a heart like her daddy’s.
  6. I want my baby to have a solid foundation of faith to fall back on when hard days come.
  7. I want Emmanuella to enjoy a healthy life.
  8. I want her to have strong bonds with friends and family.
  9. I want my daughter to never fear the consequences of doing the right thing.
  10. I want her to see the best in people.
  11. I want Emmanuella to grow up to be a woman of integrity.
  12. I want her to be known for her kindness.
  13. I want my baby to see the value of learning new things.
  14. I want my daughter to know that making mistakes is okay; we can learn valuable lessons from them.
  15. Overall, I want Emmanuella to always feel loved and cared for.

That is my greatest Mother’s Day wish of all.

 

motherhood

11 Things I Didn’t Expect about Maternity Leave

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I’ve now been back to work longer than I was on maternity leave (have been for awhile actually). Those 10.5 perfect weeks of baby bonding time seem so far away now. It was a whirlwind of not knowing what I didn’t know. Through my sleep-deprived fog, I wished for time to stand still. It didn’t.

Looking back, those days were filled with joy, tears, laughter, frustration, and many situations our hospital baby classes didn’t cover (though I would recommend those helpful classes to everyone – our sincerest thanks to Brenda!).

Here are 11 things that I didn’t expect about maternity leave:

1. For the first month, you will live in practically one spot. 

Give or take a month anyway. It was a month for me. From the day we brought Emmanuella home from the hospital (October 27) to Thanksgiving, my designated spot was parked on the left side of our couch in the living room. I didn’t plan to live my entire existence in this spot, and yet stayed there, day after day, (mostly) all day long. Or it at least felt like that. The reason? You’ll want to be somewhere super comfortable. Since my baby breastfed every 2 hours, I wanted to be in the most comfy breastfeeding seat. Emmanuella is almost six months old and I STILL hangout here (I am not afraid to ask you to move if you’re in this spot either).

2. You won’t feel like you get anything done. 

Except you are. You are keeping a human alive, which is kind of a big deal. It just doesn’t feel like much. Most of the time newborns are asleep (if you’re lucky like I was), so it’s a lot of watching the baby to make sure she’s breathing. And when she wakes up, you breastfeed, change her, and let her sleep again. This cycle repeats itself over and over, and slowly you get more little glimpses of awake time and personality.

I slowly figured out that in between feedings, I could do ONE thing. Whether that be to wash a single load of laundry (but definitely not have time to dry it, fold it, or put it away), put dishes in the dishwasher, or take a shower, I could only choose one. So I had to choose wisely. I’m still eternally thankful to the many people who brought us food in those early days. I NEVER had to cook. #blessed

3. Your hormones will still be out of whack.

While I never dealt with full-blown PPD (a very serious matter – and mamas if you are, PLEASE get help), my hormones were still crazy. It was a constant roller-coaster ride of sweet baby bliss and I’m-so-exhausted-can-I-please-just-cry?. It takes time for your hormones to level out, but they will. It’s a slow process that can only be aided by time.

4. There are a lot of doctor appointments.

I had no idea that my calendar would be so FULL! Now, admittedly, we did have extra appointments for Emmanuella’s hip dysplasia treatment. But it seemed like we were constantly going to the pediatrician, orthopedic pediatrician, or hospital for hip ultrasounds. But even without the extra ortho visits, we went to see our good friend and pediatrician Dr. Ted a lot (and she was healthy)!

5. Sometimes you’ll spend an entire day paying bills.

This is perhaps the number one thing I was not anticipating. There was one day in particular that I spent 8 HOURS paying bills. Again, we had more bills than average due to extra appointments, harness and brace fittings, and ultrasounds, but I just wasn’t expecting the sheer multitude of bills. Why every single thing seems to be billed separately is beyond me.

6. Coordinating visits is hard.

Everyone wants to see a new baby. Of course they do. But my goodness does it take a lot of thought and effort to make sure everyone gets the baby time that they want (and you want them to have). This is made harder if family is coming from out of town and will need to stay at your house to visit, as was our case. Thankfully, our families were very flexible and understanding that everyone could not come at once. Dustin and I even decided that we would take four whole days to be with Emmanuella by ourselves before having any visitors (except for those blessed people who brought us food). Our immediate families visited in the hospital, and then left so we could have our parent bonding time. It was a beautiful time that I look back on with fondness and so much gratitude.

7. By the time you’ve figured things out, it’s over.

Emmanuella was an incredibly easy newborn but we were still first time parents with a lot to learn. Adjusting to life as a family of three was incredible and full of joy, but not without its challenges. I had to learn how to function on little sleep. Emmanuella and I were still getting to know each other. I didn’t know what each little cry or expression meant yet. We were both learning to breastfeed which came easily at first… until it didn’t and we were both crying. Ten and a half weeks in, I finally felt like I had the whole mom thing down. And it was over. There was no time to bask in the glory of this huge success.

8. You’ll get jealous of other countries.

I was a big fan of baby forums, especially a What to Expect group of moms that all had babies in October 2017. These moms hailed from all over, including foreign countries. When we US mamas started talking about going back to work, the Canadians and Australians started chiming in with sympathy. I haven’t looked thoroughly into the maternity leave laws in these countries, but many mentioned that they would be spending 6-12 months with their babies… paid. Sigh. I made sure not to research that further because my jealousy would not be becoming.

9. Life might be easier than you expected…

In our case, we had the world’s happiest baby. Emmanuella is easygoing, and has been since birth. She’s happy to eat, happy to sleep, happy to play, happy to cuddle… you name it and she’ll go along with it. I don’t know how we were blessed with this angel-child, but we were and I’ll take it.

Other parents had warned us about how difficult it would be, how the the incessant crying would drive us to the edge of our sanity and how sleep deprivation would make us crazy, but that wasn’t our experience at all. I adored the newborn stage. If I could guarantee that all my babies were as easy as Emmanuella, I would have four. (Note: Some babies are really difficult because babies are unique individuals with different temperaments. I do not mean to say that being a mama is a piece of cake because, y’all, #momminainteasy. It’s just that in my case, my expectations if this life being SO HARD were not the reality.)

10. …But sometimes it might feel like just a small task is so much.

Yes, I had an easy newborn. But I still remember feeling overwhelmed sometimes. The first couple weeks I felt like I had SO MUCH to do… and I really didn’t at all. The thought of even taking a half hour to go on a walk seemed like a daunting task that I didn’t have time for (mostly because of that every two hour feeding schedule we were on). And I still had to find time to shower. And “sleep when the baby sleeps” (I was really bad at that). And every other little thing that I thought I had to do. I now realize I was putting too much pressure on myself. Basically my only priority should have been keeping my baby content and loved.

11. You’ll miss it more than you can ever imagine.

Tomorrow, my baby will be six months old. I don’t know how half a year has passed so quickly, but she didn’t stay a newborn long. I now have a giggling chatterbox who rolls all over the place and steals the hearts of everyone she meets. While I miss those sweet newborn days, I will still love my precious Emmanuella Joy no matter what age she is. Being her mama is the greatest blessing I could ever receive.

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Photo courtesy: Marshall Arts Photography