House & HomeMom's LifeThe KitchenWork and Passions

How An Hour In The Kitchen Hour Gave Me Back My Evenings

by Meagan Francis on October 10, 2012

Michigan Snow

Last winter, I noticed that my late afternoons and early evenings didn’t seem to have enough shape to them.

Dinnertime felt uninspired and chaotic, the dishes were done haphazardly and homework time was becoming a rushed afterthought near the end of the day. March malaise was making it difficult for me to feel particularly enthusiastic about…anything.

Between writing work and housework and books to read and Facebook and permission slips and texting my sister and my husband texting me and – hey, how did the dog escape again? – and the daily schedules of five kids, I’ve got a lot going on. And with all these moving parts wheeling around my distraction-prone brain, when I don’t go through the effort to intentionally anchor things that are important to me, they have a tendency to get overlooked.

For me, part of that “anchor” is a routine, or series of routines, that help set my intentions in motion and keep them there. And that’s how The Kitchen Hour was born.

Around that time I discovered a few podcasts, and started listening to them in the kitchen to keep me company while I was (sluggishly) getting dinner on.  But I found that once I started really puttering around the kitchen, I didn’t want to stop.

Some days I’d cook a big meal. Other days I’d toss in an easy meal in the oven and then get to work cleaning off a shelf in the fridge or scraping who-knows-what off of a burner. Since I’d want to listen to the podcast all the way through, I’d find little jobs to do around the kitchen until it was over. One night my husband came home early and asked what I was doing, and I said something to the effect of “Oh, it’s my daily ‘stand around the kitchen cooking, talking to the kids and listening to podcasts hour’.” We eventually shortened this to “the kitchen hour.”

Like most modern families, the majority of the action in our house takes place in or around the kitchen. This is more than a little awkward, because our kitchen is small, cramped, and located at the back of the house, without an island to congregate around or so much as a chair to sit on. But it’s right off of the dining room, and I can easily carry on a conversation with somebody who’s sitting at the table.

Meagan kneading
I’ve noticed that where I am is where the kids want to be. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m present for them in a way that I’m not when I’m in my office, or my bedroom, or the living-room sofa. But at the same time, I’m getting stuff done. And that creates a nice feeling of productivity and connection that I find difficult to recreate elsewhere. In truth, my “kitchen hour” often stretches to two hours or more. And I love it.

Oh sure, I chase the kids out of the kitchen sometimes when I’m trying to transfer a pot full of boiling pasta from the stove to the strainer in the sink, or when their energetic bouncing makes it hard for me to concentrate on the recipe I’m working on. And I don’t actually spend the entire hour (or more) in the kitchen –  I wander in and out, straightening up the dining room or swapping the laundry. What counts is that I’m on my feet – not sitting at a computer or staring at the TV – and I’m in the heart of the home, available to my family, and making a point of doing things that matter to me instead of trying to squeeze them haphazardly wherever I can make them fit.

And I didn’t give anything up to have this time, either; at least nothing important. Sure, some end-of-the-business-day emails now go unanswered until later in the evening, and I stopped mindlessly watching Food Network in the afternoon, and I missed out on some Twitter drama, but the things that mattered to me still managed to fit, and the stuff that didn’t…well, it didn’t matter anyway.

The Kitchen Hour experiment is a good example of how time can just seem to open up out of nowhere when you create routine around it. On the other hand, time can slip into the abyss and just disappear when it’s not managed. Creating a to-do list is great, but you are far more likely to actually get around to the things on it if you set aside focused, committed time.

In fact, I look at my Kitchen Hour as the anti-to-do-list time in my life: I just take what comes, whether it’s a chat with my teenager or the sudden urge to make chocolate-chip cookies. Stuff still gets done, but it’s not always the stuff I would have planned for.

Meagan Apron
I’m great at setting aside time for big, creative projects, but the day-to-day minutiae of life sometimes slips through the cracks. Which is too bad, because that minutiae can be pretty darn enjoyable when you approach it with a sense of meaning. By setting aside focused time for something I felt was missing – dedicated attention to home and family – I wound up with a lot more than clean counters.

Could adopting a nightly “kitchen hour” help you enjoy, rather than dread, getting dinner on the table? 


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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Asha Dornfest {Parent Hacks} September 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I LOVE this! I identify with so much here, and I find that the kitchen is the place. So much so that the kitchen table is now pretty much exclusively for homework, and the dining room table is for eating.

After-school activities are throwing a wrench into my traditional 5-6pm dinner prep time, though, so we’ll have to see how that goes. I’ll be interested to see what your readers have to say!

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Catherine September 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm

YES! I’m down! I need this desperately. My *kitchen* needs this desperately!

I generally don’t like being in my kitchen for some of the reasons you mentioned – at the back of the house, pokey, small, dark and it puts my back to the kids (essentially). It often goes neglected, and while I like to cook, dinner is often fast and furious – get in, get done, get out.

So this idea is perfect – but I need some good podcast ideas! I thought maybe I could use those lunch/dinner doodle books for the kids to do while I’m in there… they can have some quiet crafting time, and I get my “Kitchen Hour”!!

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SusanP September 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I do this but didn’t know it had a name!! I have a Kitchen Hour with the family when I get home from work and a kitchen half hour after the kids are in bed. To keep me motivated I turn on Pandora through our TV/stereo (via our blue ray player that can also stream netflix). The kids love to dance along to the music and it energies me. We talk about the day, I go through their school folders, prep dinner, etc. If there is any extra homework I get them working on it at the kitchen table so I can be accessible for help. I have learned that if I sit down on the couch or go outside with the kids when I first get home then later the evening is so stressful. I much prefer to “work” first, then relax.

For my 2nd round by myself I clean up any dishes left from dinner / and prep lunches for the next day. I’ll put more soothing music on for me. And same thing goes — if after they are all tucked in, I go sit on my computer or the couch first…. it is SO HARD to get motivated to go back in and do those things. I’m much better staying standing and getting it done, THEN plop down somewhere :-)

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amanda September 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm

love this!! i could use a kitchen hour. i often go sit down and dont hear the timmer. this would probably be a good time to make lunches for the next day. what podcasts do you recommend?

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Aimee in Or September 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I’d love to know too.

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Jessicah September 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Speaking of podcasts, I found your blog after listening to you on the Simple Mom podcast! Good stuff.

I really like your idea of The Kitchen Hour — I think mine needs to be the morning/laundry hour. I had been working 30 hours a week so I was always at work in the mornings. My daughter and I have pretty standard afternoon/evening routines, but in the last week and a half since I quit, I’ve been finding myself wasting a lot of time online, or just laying around in bed too late, for the sheer joy of not having to go to work in the morning!

But today I got up, threw a load of laundry in, got her up, fed and dressed us both, moved the laundry to the dryer, put her in the jogging stroller, and did the first day of Couch to 5k! So by 9 am instead of still being in my pj’s, I’d already done quite a bit, and my whole day has felt better.

Maybe I should just call it the 7:30-8:30 productivity hour? Or the “you’re not allowed to turn the computer on till at least 8:30″ hour? :)

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Jen in MN September 7, 2011 at 7:05 am

How about the “start the day off on the right foot” hour ?? (-:

Or more simply, “morning productivity hour.”

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AJ September 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I love this post. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I am often just hurrying through dinner & homework to get back to my office and get stuff done. But the kitchen counter is basically a big piled up to do list – I could happily hang out, without trying to rush kids through homework, clean up more than usual in the kitchen and tackle some of that to-do pile! And the best part is – I will be happy to be there because that is the plan. I won’t be just trying to get it over with so I can go do something else. And maybe my kids will even tell me more about their lives instead of the usual “Nothing.” I just love the way you look at things! Many Thanks :)

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Melissa September 6, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Kitchen Hour is a wonderful idea and I think it is exactly what I need. It really helps to think that a block of time will be dedicated to the heart of our home each day. I cannot wait to get started tomorrow night…actually, I think I might also schedule a Kitchen Hour in the am too like another reader posted. I am a stay at home mom and do find it hard to stay focused. I am a big list writer as well but find it challenging to stay on task. (Especially since I discovered pinterest!!) I can’t wait to make friends with my kitchen again. I just remembered, my mother-in-law is in town for the week and when she visits she likes to sit at the kitchen table all day-and talk. ALOT! Okay so this might be a little more challenging than I thought for the first week..but that’s okay. Thank you for bringing your reader back to the basics, spending time in the kitchen and doing it a little better…one step at a time.

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Aimee in Or. September 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm

I love this idea and the school lunch too! I’m in but I dont have a website.

~Aimee

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Meagan Francis September 7, 2011 at 4:28 am

No need to have a website, just join in the discussions. It’ll be fun.

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shari September 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Love this. I’m definitely in, just need to decide what the best hour is — the one immediately preceding dinner, or closer to when we get home from school? Will need to experiment.

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Lisa September 6, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Oh Meagan, you are always so on target with your stuff! A Kitchen Hour – how lovely. I do truly admire the idea and would love to try, but it’s an “on-hold” idea for me. Transitions are huge for us right now, so I feel like I’m still in a survival mode and that’s probably not the right time to try too many new organizational strategies. You do have so many great ideas I’d want to implement in time though.

Thanks again for your wonderful posts.

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Meagan Francis September 7, 2011 at 4:28 am

Totally understand survival mode. The nice thing is that there is no rush to try any new idea, right? Just let it percolate. Sometimes I find that things have to percolate for many months before I am ready to give them a shot.

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Robin September 6, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Love this idea!! Thanks!

Also, by the way, if you’e looking for great podcast ideas to enjoy during the kitchen hour, check out http://www.openculture.com. Its all free, and there are tons of choices – audio books, lectures, etc. Your idea gives me an excuse to make more time for it!

Thanks!

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Meagan Francis September 7, 2011 at 4:27 am

Thank you! I’ll definitely check it out.

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Natalie September 7, 2011 at 4:04 am

Yes! This is a great idea. My kitchen sounds a lot like yours. Even though its small, the kids always want to be in it with me. They end up bringing their toys in and scattering them all over the floor, which is hazardous when boiling water is involved. I like the idea of setting them up with a simple craft at the kitchen table to keep them occupied while I cook and putter. I would love to know your podcast selections, although I don’t use my ipod. I have an android phone – can I still listen to podcasts on it?

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Meagan Francis September 7, 2011 at 4:29 am

Natalie, I almost always listen to podcasts right from my computer. But, yes, you can listen to podcasts from Android phones – we do it all the time.

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Meagan Francis September 7, 2011 at 4:26 am

Oh, I’m so glad there’s so much interest in the idea! I do a lot of podcast-hopping. Here are a few good places to start:

http://getbuttonedup.com/category/podcasts/feed/ (for people into “good enough” organizing

http://homefries.com/p/the-simple-mom-podcast/ SimpleMom’s got a great podcast on a wide variety of intentional family living topics

http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/strocel.com-podcast/id423632116 Amber Strocel covers a variety of parenting topics here.

Full disclosure – I’ve been a guest on each of those shows, which is how I found out about them!

I also listen to Dave Ramsey (you can download an hour of his show free each day) and all kinds of shows from NPR. I would love suggestions of other personal finance podcasts to listen to, because his is the only one I’ve been able to find and I like variety.

Anyone have suggestions for great homemaking/motherhood/organizing/writing podcasts?

Recording a podcast myself is actually on my long-term “to-dream” list, but I wonder if I should do one sooner rather than later!

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Leah September 7, 2011 at 5:32 am

i love this – I actually do this! But not consistently and it doesn’t have a name. I’m totally going to fit it into the schedule and name it now, though. I put on audiobooks, set the kids up with crafts at the table, and it gets me into cleaning mode better than anything else!

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Sarah September 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

Oh, what a fantastic idea! Thank you for yet another amazing post. I dread the late afternoon/early evening and love the idea of just abandoning the to-do list and embracing the task of ongoing work in the kitchen. I’m wondering if anyone else has suggestions on how to occupy very small children (2 & 4) at this time of day. This is their witching hour, and in order to stave off meltdowns and sibling altercations I usually plug them in to PBS Kids…the downside of that is that I can’t listen to anything of my own (the family room is adjacent to the kitchen) and they’re zoned out on TV. Thank you for the podcast recommendations too – can’t wait to check these out!

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SusanP September 7, 2011 at 8:32 am

I know exactly what you mean — and every day is differernt depending on moods!

I like to try the fun music idea first – my little ones love 90’s dance music (think Ace of Base -LOL!). If that’s a fail, then I sit them at the kitchen table for some sort of coloring project. Or sometimes the best thing for my 1 and 2 yo’s is to just sit them there with some graham crackers even though it’s right before dinner – often they are too hungry to wait. And yes, about 1 or 2 days a week all hell is breaking loose and I succomb to the 30min DVD while I prep dinner.

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Shari September 7, 2011 at 9:27 am

Sarah – Mine are 2 & 5, and also often end up in front of the TV when I’m cooking dinner. Realistically, a craft at the table will only hold the little guy for about 10 minutes max. I agree with others that dance music can help occupy them, and my other go-to, something I learned from Meagan a while ago, is to plop him on the kitchen counter. (Somehow I just never dreamed about doing that until Meagan posted about it, and I think you even had a picture of Clara (?) up there), now it’s his favorite place to hang out and “help” me cook.) That holds his interest much longer than a craft/coloring (though not for a full hour by any means) and both kids are often most willing to try new food/eat a couple veggies when I’m chopping & prepping them.

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Trixie September 7, 2011 at 9:51 am

sometimes i love to hangout in the kitchen i cooked food with my kids likes.I am a stay at home mom and do find it hard to stay focused.

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Jen Garza September 7, 2011 at 10:02 am

LOVE THIS!! Wow, this is so simple…it’s really wonderful. I am always frazzled at home after work, trying to get a meal ready and spending time with my sweet pea…I just never seem to pull off both in the same night. I’m up for a Kitchen Hour…at least 3 days a week. Baby steps… ;-)

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Meagan Francis September 7, 2011 at 10:29 am

Hey guys, some of you have asked about keeping kids busy while you cook – here’s a post I wrote on this topic last year: http://thehappiestmom.com/?p=1959 The photos were gone for a while but they’re restored now. Hope you enjoy!

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SusanP September 7, 2011 at 11:36 am

Yes, I totally forgot about this!! I did this with my daughter all the time when she between about 20mo – 2.5. At first my husband was a nervous wreck, but for all the reasons you mentioned it toally worked!! Now that she’s nearly 3 I don’t do it anymore — if she wants to “help”, she pulls up a kitchen chair to the counter and stands on it. My youngest is just 16mo and I don’t think she’s quite ready yet.

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Laura @MOMables September 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! We actually re-arranged my kitchen area so we could have the kids play and hang around -seriously, who needs 2 tables?- and you know what? I love it. we congregate more, talk more, and really creates and shapes our evenings together. Lots of recipe testing get done and since the laundry room is around the corner… things get done there too. Glad your wrote this!

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Tricia September 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm

A brilliant idea! I definitely could use a kitchen hour and can’t wait to fit it into our routine. In the meantime, you inspired me to spend some time in my kitchen today and clean out my pantry :)

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Ana September 8, 2011 at 6:12 am

Love this! Reminds me of my childhood, hanging in the kitchen while my mom got things done!

I actually have instituted an after-work get-things-done hour this summer—it requires me leaving work a little bit earlier than I used to so that I have a full hour before my husband & son get home. I walk the dog, sort the mail, make lunches for the next day, prep dinner, put in laundry—all those things that make dinnertime & post-dinner time so much more relaxing. I listened to your SimpleMom podcast on one of those days, but am happy for the idea of more inspiring podcasts.

Not sure how this’ll keep up with a newborn in the house, but I’d like to try!!!

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Alison Alfredson September 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I think I’ve been doing this similar thing for a while. Like others, I didn’t have a name for it. I cook a lot and since it seems my children (7, 3, 23mos) eat about every 15 minutes I’m in the kitchen no matter what. I also let the little ones sit on the counter or otherwise they are splayed out on the floor, with their blankets, playing with toys. I hate that! So the toddlers gets to play with the frig magnets which seem so much cooler to them when they are holding up photos and important papers and then they all come flying all over the place. Alphabet magnets are no fun mom!

I now have a radio that both my phone and iPod hook up to so the kitchen has definitely become my hang out. Laptop on the counter to AllRecipes.com, music, NPR, whatever, and I swear I never (want to) leave.

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Heather September 8, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Great ideas and inspiration! While dinner is cooking, I try to use that time to prep dinner for the next night, or get something ready for the next day. Last night I did the big dishes and put everything into the crock pot for tonight’s dinner. Today – since dinner was pretty much ready, I baked muffins that are easy to grab for breakfast. I think being mentally organized, as well as physically being IN the kitchen are essential.

Meagan, you certainly captured something important and valuable when you mentioned the kids want to be in your general vicinity. I have noticed if I put my two year old in her booster seat with a book, coloring book and crayons, something to do – a little bit before dinner, she and my son are more apt to be patient while I am finishing up the dinner and gives me just a few extra minutes to get the food to the table!

Thanks for the great ideas – being back to work now that school is in session make life more hectic and I need all the inspiration you have to offer!

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Julie September 9, 2011 at 8:23 am

I have been doing this, but along with other readers, I didn’t know it was a concept/had a name. My daughter is 3, so we don’t have homework yet, but she sits on the counter (with plenty of warnings and supervision) and helps make dinner, or we dance, or whatever. This has created quite a little cook out of her – so much so she just wants to make things for the joy of cooking (won’t even eat them). I think I need to make a better effort of not having my computer up or TV on, but thanks for the ideas!

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Jenny September 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Great idea. I’m percolating right now as you so eloquently stated. Often when I see a new idea, I feel paralyzed by not feeling like I’m living up to my best. Instead of not taking the small steps to head in the right direction, I freeze and pour self shame and doubt that is not needed. So instead, when I heard this great idea- I thought “I can start with the kitchen 20 minutes and add to it.” Anyone can find 20 minutes right?

Thanks as always for the simple yet inspiring messages. Lord knows I needed this just now. Perfect timing as always.

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Gretchen September 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm

I heard you on The Simple Mom podcast too! You were super. I just about split a seam when you told Tsh that you wanted to be a Solid Gold Dancer when you grew up (at the age of 6). I did too! Ha, couldn’t be further from that now!!
We have a similar Kitchen Hour at our home, though not official but I like the idea of making it so. Thanks for the post.

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Diane September 12, 2011 at 8:54 am

I have Saturday morning “Wait wait don’t tell me!” kitchen hour. (NPR) You can play the previous episodes on the NPR website. It’s so fun to play along and it comes on at a very relaxing time of the day for our house. It’s cool enough in the mornings that the back door stays open and the kids come in and out. I look forward to it all week. I don’t have an evening kitchen hour, but the idea is definitely appealing!

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Amy Suardi @ Frugal Mama November 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Love this idea, and I totally see how satisfying it can be. I hate it when I can’t be home for the Kitchen Hour (4:30 – 6) because everything gets thrown off.

And even though I know it can be distracting sometimes for my daughters to do their homework at the kitchen table, I will be a little sad if they someday have their own rooms with enough space for their own desks.

It’s nice to all be together sometimes — whether it’s piling in the big bed or doing our things during the Kitchen Hour.

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Sandy March 21, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Just found this website but I no longer have kids at home. I still love the idea of having a structured kitchen hour for planning and cleaning and prepping dinner. My kitchen gathers clutter and often I don’t have a dinner plan so I’m putting this on my calendar so that I remember to leave my computer and accomplish something.

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Stephanie Precourt October 10, 2012 at 8:59 am

Love it! And I do love what comes of being able to act on those urges to whip something up or just have time!!

Steph

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Amy @ Frugal Mama October 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I still love everything about the Kitchen Hour, Meagan! How you were able to identify what makes that time better, for example, and how I’m not the only one who wants to be productive while also being available to connect with my kids if they need me. Sometimes I feel guilty always trying to “get stuff done” but you make it seem like it’s all part of the master plan.

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Maria October 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm

So excited to see what this is about. I’ve totally adopted my own kitchen hour, and I love it as well. I agree wholeheartedly with your post about it, and I’m so glad you presented the idea that way! Thanks!

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Missy September 22, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Apltnerapy this is what the esteemed Willis was talkin’ ’bout.

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