Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Research: The Nicer the Mom, the Smarter the Kid

New Research: The Nicer the Mom, the Smarter the Kids?
how to be more patient, patient moms means smarter kids, research


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Human nature is wanting what you can't have. My kids seem to think that I need lessons in how this works because no matter what they are currently playing with, they have a few items that are always in demand and they will instantly fight over any of the following:
1. The Mickey Mouse ball
2. The stuffed cow (from the dollar store)
3. The large Tonka Truck (from a garage sale)


Things can quickly escalate and in no time they are screaming at each other and crying. If I ignore the situation, it quickly turns into this:
siblings fighting over toys, how moms can be more patient
It really amazes me how they can be oblivious to the smoke that I am sure begins to steam out of my ears as they fight over that stupid stuffed cow.  I would love to go get another one, just so they each have one, but of course they don't sell them anymore.  Plus, I am trying not to get into the habit of buying them stuff just to make them happy.  It's amazing how quickly I can feel my blood begin to boil when the kids start fighting, but something I read recently has made me really attempt to control my anger.  Did you know that a new research study has been released that shows that Moms who get testy with their kids may actually permanently decrease their child's intelligence?

The researchers of this study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, studied two groups of children and their mothers. They were put into a frustrating situation. The mothers and children were left a small room that had a shiny package on the table.  They were told they could open the package, but only after the mother filled out all the forms.  The Mothers had no idea they were being watched. Based on the behavior of the mothers, everyone was categorized everyone into two groups. This was observed: Half of the mothers either ignored their child or harshly scolded them. The other half were more nurturing and explained patiently to the children why they couldn’t open the package yet.  The researchers used this event as a starting point and went on to study numerous other factors over several years, such as medication use, traumatic life events, and maternal history of depressions. 

They waited several years and brought everyone back in for MRI scans.  The study showed that children with nurturing mothers had a larger hippocampus (area of the brain that controls short-term and long-term memory) by almost ten percent than the children whose mothers tended to scold in a harsh manner. In order to make sure their assumptions were correct on how they categorized everyone, they added the external variables (such as medications etc) as co-variates.  


Of course, every study has its flaws, but if you look closely at the findings and the science behind this study, you will find that the evidence is pretty solid.  If you want to read more about the actual study, feel free to click here.

"It is to our knowledge the first study that links early maternal nurturance to the structural development of a key brain region," said study author Dr. Joan Luby, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "It provides very powerful evidence of the importance of early nurturing for healthy brain development and has tremendous public health implications."

Now, don't panic.  Researchers of this study stress that occasionally losing your temper won’t cause the hippocampus to suddenly shrink and simply being patient can't guarantee smart kids, but it is clear that long-term impatience can have lasting effects.  Ever since I read this study, I find it easier to take a deep breath, because I now have true motivation to quit snapping at my kids.  


So, if your kids get under your skin and you feel the need to snap at them, DON'T!  Instead, listen to this advice from child expert, author and former Kindergarten teacher, Susan Case.  Susan's blog, Kindergarten Basics, has other tips on discipline, crafting, and preparing kids for Kindergarten:

1.  Try a little self talk: “I am the adult. I am a role model. I teach respect.  I love my kids and they love me.”
2.  Put the incident into perspective. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself these questions: 
       -What difference will this make a year from now 
       -Can I let it go or let the child have his way? 
       -How is this making my child feel? How will I feel about this tomorrow?
3.  Take some time to pamper yourself so you don't have such a short fuse.  Go for walks, ask someone to babysit, indulge in your favorite reality TV show or take a bubble bath...whatever you enjoy, do it and don't feel guilty about it! 

If you liked this post, you will LOVE my new book (which is currently ranked#4 on Amazon in the category of Motherhood!).   If you have ever asked yourself questions like, these, then this is the book for you!
  • Why do my kids drive me so crazy sometimes?
  • Why do they just want to watch TV all day long?
  • How am I ever supposed to get anything done when my kids won't stop pestering me?
In this book, I teamed up with former Kindergarten teacher, Susan Case, and we worked together to give a Mom's point of view and a teacher's point of view, so that we could give you activities that not only keep the kids busy, but also keep them motivated to learn and develop their natural curiosity.  Here is what one of the reviews says on Amazon:

"This book seriously saved my sanity. I've read a bunch of parenting books but this is literally the only one that actually gave me real and specific advice and ideas for things to do with my daughter. I'm a stay-at-home mom to a 2-year old and I was at my wits end trying to come up with ideas of fun, easy, creative things to do with her that will keep her busy and occupied and help her learn. I wasn't very good at following through on ideas that I heard about from friends or read in other books or online because they seemed too complicated (aka: messy!) but this book broke it down and made it so simple. I highly recommend it!"
Did you enjoy my post?  I could really use your vote!!  Just click here and you're done!!  Pretty please?!?!?

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47 comments:

  1. Great tips. I remind myself of #1 quite frequently: I am the adult, so I need to model the behaviors I want to see in my kids.

    So easy to type, sometimes so challenging to live. Thank God for grace!

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  2. Awesome tips!! Looking forward to the release of your book!!! :)
    Ps: Love your wee poo/stick collection in the last post!! :)

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  3. Honestly, this is a poor experiment. It could just be that the smarter moms were on their best behavior, knowing they *might* be being observed.

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  4. I can't believe there wouldn't have been moms that let the kid open it anyway. And really, I should be an idiot, or I must have been destined to be a female Einstein, since I graduated at the top of my class with a very short-tempered mother. And my sister's daughter, who is graduating a year early, shouldn't be able to, because sis has a SHORT fuse...

    Don't get me wrong, I think patience with kids is necessary, because if they don't see it from their parents, how will they learn it? I just think there are some serious flaws in this study (size is probably #1)

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    1. Anecdotal evidence does not negate the results of a scientific study.

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    2. This study is not very scientific.

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  5. Any one who has research knowledge could tell you that this "Experiment" is not scientifically sound. Observing parent-child interaction ONE time is not enough to determine a Mother is "impatient" overall in her parenting. Secondly, there's too many variables not taken into account: obedience level of the child, current level of stress in the family, etc. You cannot possibly say that your worse day as a Mom will determine your child's overall intellect. I think this is far-fetched.

    Side bar: I do promote patience in parenting. But, I think we'll a little too hard on ourselves these days as parents. Our grandparents didn't read scientific studies or child-expert books- they loved, they disciplined, they modeled moral behavior. Stop believing the "hype" and start believing in yourself as a parent. YOU can do it! :)

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    Replies
    1. My thoughts exactly regarding the validity of this 'experiment'!

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    2. Jessica, thanks for your last thought--I think as parents, especially moms, we are WAY too concerned with being perfect (which can elevate our stress levels and result in our own bad behavior!). Love em, do your best, and teach 'em how to say "I'm sorry, I was wrong." Well said, girl!

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  6. Oh boy, my daughter is in trouble! ;)

    Seriously, patience is something I really need to work on. I think being a parent is forcing me to accomplish that.

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  7. haha after reading the comments above I feel better...I am not always short tempered but my boys have really been pushing my buttons. I'm fine until they start seriously hurting each other.

    I have noticed, the more time we are able to spend outside or getting exercise the better mood we are all in! I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL SUMMER!!! =)

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  8. While I do believe the theory has validity, the commenters are right, the experiment should be better to provide conclusive data. I'm also wondering how early you can start this, i.e., if you are a patient mom when the baby is crying and how that trickles down to the older years?

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. Also, if you click on the article referenced in this post, you will read this statement by Myers: "Brains develop over years and years, so it's the overall quality of the parent-child relationship that matters." The source of the article referenced is: Joan Luby, M.D., professor, psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis; Robert Myers, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor, psychiatry and human behavior, University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, and founder, Child Development Institute; Jan. 30-Feb. 3, 2012, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Copyright (c) 2012 HealthDay.

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  11. Here is the original article very well documented and researched: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/8/2854.full?sid=fb7a8c06-441a-455b-8930-2e564d766373

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  12. From what I can tell about the research, it's difficult to discern if the relationship with brain structure is causal. What if the different brain structures are inherited and do not result from different maternal behavior? You would need to do something like measuring the children at least two times, once when they're younger and once when they're older and show a change in brains that correlates with parent behavior. Even then, as others have pointed out, it's such a complicated situation that they'd need to eliminate other causes or the difference between different groups.

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  13. Anonymous - Did you read the original article by 9 researchers with 52 references? http://tinyurl.com/78bb3vb Annual studies were conducted. It is a brain STUDY giving some hope that parents will learn to be more nurturing so that children can become happier, healthier and more productive people. It's a step in the right direction on brain RESEARCH.

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  14. I am a little surprised at the amount of negative feedback about this study. I will just say that as a Mom, it has truly helped me to think about this every time my children get under my skin. I take a deep breath and I have found that I don't yell as much, which means I don't feel guilty later for yelling. I thought it might help other Moms do the same. As to the scientific validity, I did major in business and statistics in college and I can tell you that study was done by a very prestigious University, over the period of several years and also included yearly interviews of the participants and their families. Statistically speaking, the researchers found the P value to be P<.0001 regarding maternal support, as observed in the experiment. The whole idea was to determine whether or not their observations were valid that day. They took MRI scans with a very expensive piece of equipment and they took measurements of the brain. From there, they analyzed the data. They also studied other factors, such as medication use, internalizing and externalizing symptom severity, traumatic life events, and maternal history of depression. None of these other factors received a P value that was significant, but the maternal support did create a P value that was significant. This means that even though you can argue a Mom might have been having a bad day, the fact that the P Value was significant shows that the hunch was correct. You can find all the research on http://tinyurl.com/78bb3vb and I welcome you to read it for yourself. Of course, there is always the potential for error in any study, but I like to look at science and if it helps me interact better with my kids, I'm all for it!

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  15. This post could not have come at a more apropro time. I had a very difficult time with my daughter yesterday and I just about lost my cool. I followed what you said- I took a deep breath and realized that this tantrum is one minute of this one day and it will get better. For all moms, they should read your post.

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  16. Interesting study with concerning implications. That said, we shouldn't over-interpret the results. There is a HUGE difference between causation and association. And statistical significant and "very expensive" machines do not ensure correct INTERPRETATION of the results. The study suggests an ASSOCIATION between maternal "impatience" and smaller hippocampal size. It does not show causation. For example, depression itself is associated with smaller hippocampi. Is the disparity of hippocampal volume in this study simply a marker for childhood depression (which may be genetically OR environmentally based)? You CANNOT say these mom's behavior CAUSED the statistically different hippocampal volume. As mom's we need to have healthy skepticism about the studies we see. We also need to try to patiently nourish our kids (and ourselves), regardless of the results of this study :).

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    1. I thought the same thing regarding a causal link. Could the inverse of this study actually be true? What if the kids with the smaller hippocampus were generally worse behaved, giving their mothers shorter fuses when dealing with them? I didn't read through the whole study, but from the description above, I didn't see another that established cause here.

      I agree that it's better to be more nurturing -- regardless of this study -- but sometimes I worry that all these studies make us more critical of ourselves and each other. Maybe we'd all be more patient if we cut ourselves a bit more slack in the parenting department!

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  17. I found it got harder as my kids got older They are now 16 and 18 and its hard be patient when you think they should know better, but I know teenagers brains are still not fully developed. I need to use the tips and remind myself to breath and to use will this really matter in a year? thanks great tips...

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  18. Gosh people! Really, was the point of this post to critique the study? Or, was it to make us all stop and think about our actions and how they affect our children. Obviously, screaming at our kids will have a negative impact,and whether it truely makes them less intellegent is irrelevant. I for one appreciate the sentiment and the reminder to take a step back and a deep breath. It looks like many of us also need a lesson in negativity and criticism as well.

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    1. Depends, for application in your own life as a parent, you are correct, it serves as great introspection into your skills as a parent. However, If this study is used as basis for public health changes, or (GASP!) funding of public services by our tax dollars, then yes, we should critique the study. All it takes is for one of our moronic legislators to read this and think that it is true, then propose legislation based off this "statistically significant research".

      The problem with millions of Americans is that we too easily believe what is before our eyes. Teaching your children to use their brain and think for themselves will be far better than helping them to remember a bunch of stuff that probably is irrelevant and unimportant.

      Delete
  19. her tips for being more nurturing are good, but the study referenced here is not what it appears to be. The effect is only positively linked in non-depressed children - which shows that there are other factors that have greater influence than the 'nurturing' studied here. They also did not measure the size of the hippocampus at the beginning - perhaps the mothers with shorter tempers had children with smaller hippocamupuses - causality of the non-nurturing is not removed from the equation. Did they have their morning coffee? Is this the 6th time this week they've had to fill out bunches of forms? is this the 3,000th time today they've had to deny something to their children, stand in line, make their kids wait? Had the kids been fed recently? etc, etc. etc.

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  20. Regardless of the study's accurateness... the moral of the story is to chill out. The thing I really wish, is that society could take a chill pill in general.. I hate those rude looks people give when your kid is throwing a tantrum in public. Instead of being understanding that sometimes mothers have to put the selective hearing ears on when say a kid is crying because they didn't get that toy in the last aisle, and even explaining it nicely to them isn't working. Sometimes, we just have to ignore it! That is usually when I get the most steam is coming out of my ears!

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  21. Very interesting study, thanks for sharing!
    I agree with what you were saying, we do have a direct influence on our children's development. For good or for bad...I noticed that recently my little girl took an interest in puzzles because I took time to do them with her and praised her a lot. I'm thinking now what else I can encourage her towards? I see a direct link between my little girl "being good" at doing puzzles and my praise...

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  22. I can't speak to the validity of the study, but your advice at the end is definitely valid. I don't need science to tell me that keeping my cool is better - I just FEEL better. Besides that - it is Biblical --

    Proverbs 14:29
    "Slowness to anger makes for deep understanding; a quick-tempered person stockpiles stupidity." -the Message

    Thank you for posting.

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  23. I def could use these tips, my girls r 7and 4 and lately I have not.been able to keep my cool very well because they cant even be in the same room without constantly fighting over any and everything. My 7 yr old is also sooo mean to my 4 yr old shes constantly in trouble. I will def try to use this.more often and hopefully God help me it will work! Thanks for posting.

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  24. The problem is not the study or its accuracy but the logically unsound statements made about the study. The main offense is mistaking correlation with causation. If you're not sure what that means, look it up -- it's well worth understanding the distinction.

    The study shows is that hippocampal volume is correlated to maternal nurturing. The study does not show that maternal nurturing causes a larger hippocampal volume.

    It could be the case that the same cause of maternal nurturing is genetically passed on to also cause a larger hippocampal volume in the children.

    Can you argue with a P value of .0001? Well, technically yes -- but in this case, you don't have to.

    The very title of this post "The Nicer the Mom, the Smarter the Kid" is not proven by the evidence gathered in the study. This is why people are writing negative comments -- not that we think ignoring or being harsh or unloving to our children is a Good Thing (as a rule).

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  25. I really needed this today. I'm going to print your tips out and put them on the fridge so I can look at it often.

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  26. When I can feel myself starting to lose my temper with my kids I try (not always successfully )to stop and think about, a.) are you disciplining out of anger, or to teach your child a better way of doing what they are doing, b.) are you doing to others what you would want done to you . I hate being yelled at, it's degrading and intimidating, and not really an effective way to change things. I want to guide my kids , not scare them, or degrade them. I think this study is very interesting , thank you for sharing it.

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  27. Not to dismiss the benefits of patience in raising a little one, I really have to question the validity of the study you referred to. As a mother of 3 boys, 2 with learning difficulties and short term working memory being a big part of that, I could quite easily argue that the children with genetically acquired smaller hippocampus were actually the causative effect of the mothers having become completely exhausted with the daily challenges of dealing with children that have little impulse control. Who is causing what?? Science is NOT a fact. It is open to manipulation and misinterpretation and inadvertent rigging. Something to be aware of.

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  28. Title is a little misleading. The results states that the kids with supportive moms

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    1. Sorry... Didn't finish. The results also stated that not only do the kids with supportive moms have better cognitive function, they also have better emotional regulation. So kids with supportive moms tend to be smarter and sociable.

      Delete
  29. And you can easily argue any P value. The P value is only as good as the data included in the study. In fact, a p value so low make me vary wary that the researchers took out too much data that the didn't like in order to control the result so they could observe what they wanted to observe. A commonly accepted p value is .05 (5%) or .01 (1%), a p value of .0001 equals.1% (point one percent), meaning that only .1% of their data was due to natural (read human) error. For a study on human behavior, it is hard to believe that there is only that little natural (human) error. Also, why did this study only include moms and not dads. What implications does that have on public health? While I disagree some of the reporting here, the results of the study make sense.
    However, it doesn't take a genius or rocket scientist to agree with the notion that a patient parent helps better develop their child's cognitive functioning. I would say that such behavior also helps develop aspects of the parents cognitive functioning and ensuing behavior.

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  30. The based the study off of a single event? That sounds really scientific. My mother was always short tempered and impatient and I spent a good number of my pre-teen years convinced she was going to murder myself and my brothers in order to be a nasty boyfriend. Needless to say, we didn't feel nurtured. But today we are all of above average intelligence.

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  31. The study needs to be taken with a grain of salt. However, I think that this post was written to point out that if we want our children to be happy and successful then we should nuture and care for them in a way that allows them to become everything that they can and should be. Children need love and encouragement and you don't need a study to tell you that. Losing your temper with your child isn't going to effect their brain, but we should always strive to teach our children patience and tolerance for others through our own actions.
    ...at least that's what my take on this article was.

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  32. Patience is something my mom NEVER had. Funny that I have been intelligent enough to get my teaching degree and then go back and get my Master's. My son would tell you that I don't have patience and his IQ is OFF THE CHARTS. Nature vs. Nurture has been the LONG debate when studying child development. Of course, being a teacher, I look to the nurture aspect and see how many of my students would be better off if they had more caring parents. Bottom line... love your kids, read to your kids, and teach them right from wrong. If you lose your patience every now and then, you won't scar them for life and certainly won't stunt their brain capacity. You plant potatoes you get potatoes.

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  33. Thank you for posting a link to the original study as well. I am the geek that gets frustrated when people quote research and have never actually read it. This article gives me strength. Thank you!

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  34. Studies like that drive me crazy. They just assume that it is an effect of nurture, not nature. To me, it seems like the moms who aren't smart enough to think of ways to keep themselves and their kids content, make kids who are not as smart as other kids. Quite simple and obvious. Did they give the kids MRIs beforehand? It doesn't look like it. Only then could they test for a nurture effect - and that's iffy. Maybe kids with genes for high intelligence have brains that mature at a different rate than kids with genes for regular intelligence. So maybe even if you did do MRIs before and after, the growth rate could be different for each kid, making the smarter kids look like they have a huge boost in intelligence, when really, each kid is developing at their own normal growth rate according to their genes, and the mother's behavior had nothing to do with it.

    Not that I don't agree with keeping your temper with your kids. It's simply a good plan all around. :)

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  35. I totally agree with being patient but I also believe its the parents place to be stern. The only tip I like is #1 to remind yourself your the adult so act like it. But Of course I'm going to be over that situation the following day and its going to be ok. But you cant let children get away with everything. You have to be strict and teach them right from wrong as soon as they can understand you. I also have noticed that children with more strict parents are more respectful, wise in decision making, and intelligent because their parents pushed them to their potential. I'm not saying these people are perfect because some I know still got a lil wild in high school or college but still remember what they were raised on. Being strict ( i mean strict not abusive) is just caring in my opinion. I do spank and my kids do learn. But this study just said it affected the memory portion so maybe it is true. But I would rather have a well rounded child than one with a phenomenal memory , spoiled rotten one.

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  36. I loved your suggestions, and I think are wonderful enough that I printed them on a index card, and on the back side I printed Corinthians 13:4-7, Love is patient, love is kind... then laminated the card to carry with me because I need the physical reminder when I am reaching my limits. I think that as with any situation in life you have to adapt and adjust to your own situations. I interpreted your #2 as pick your battles, some are important (ie safety) while others may not bear as much weight tomorrow as they seem to in the heat of the moment (ie whining) Consistency is extremely important, that was the best piece of advice I have received from my grandparents and parents.

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  37. Regardless of whether or not the research on this study is completely accurate, parents can improve their relationships with their kids by being more patient. I am preaching to the choir on this one. It is good advice to remove yourself emotionally as the parent in probably 90% of the situations that arise from our kids.

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  38. holy moly this is getting a lot of attention! Great article -just saw it on the Popular board on pinterest too!

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