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More on Testing Preparation-- how do our KIDS view the testing situation?
Susan Richman, 3/31/2010

Susan Richman is the co-editor of PA Homeschoolers and a homeschooling evaluator in Pennsylvania. She regularly tests children in PA to help families meet the testing requirements of the PA homeschool law, administering both the Terra Nova achievemet test in group situations, and the Woodcock-Johnson Individual Achievement Test for students who need a one-on-one testing situation. She also leads AP US History online with homeschool students all across the US, and helps these kids learn to handle the high-stress AP exam situation.

Back to our on-going discussion of helping our kids feel reading and comfortable with standardized testing. We've discussed so far the first factors that can have an impact on testing: demographics, physical environment for testing, and the parents' view of the testing situation. Now on to how our KIDS view testing requirements. Here are some things you may want to ask yourself:

  • Does my child understand why we're doing testing? Have I communicated with me child about testing requirements of our homeschool law or regulations? I'd suggest being 'matter-of-fact' about testing requirements-- that it's something we need to do, and so we're doing it. And we're going to also use it to help *us* gain some insight into how things are going, and to just gain experience with this sort of testing. Know that some kids get really worried about standardized testing-- they view it as an 'all or nothing' sort of affair....


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Mock Trial-- great extra-curricular learning experience for homeschoolers!
Elliot Taylor, 3/26/2010

Elliot Taylor is an 11th grade homeschooler in my AP US History online class-- and I was delighted to learn that he was also involved in a Mock Trial team with area homeschoolers. And even more delighted when he gladly offered to write up an article about his experiences in this program that helps young people learn about the world of trial lawyers and courts and the legal system. I know at least one homeschooler in Pennsylvania who is now heading into law school-- and his interest in this field was sparked by his involvement in Mock Trial during his high school years at home. For full info on this program, and to learn about the details of signing up in your state, check out this site: www.nationalmocktrial.org There is also a college-level program: http://www.collegemocktrial.org Mock Trial is but one example of the many excellent programs open to high school students where homeschool teams are very welcome-- we'll be covering more of these types of program in future articles. And as Elliot points out so well, this is a terrific way for our teens to both learn about a fascinating aspect of the real world and to really get to know a group of friends very well from working cooperatively together throughout the year to get prepared for the competitions.

As a homeschooled student, I spend much of my time completing school assignments or studying. Not much time can be devoted to extra activities or to friends. However, for the past three years, I have participated in an activity called Mock Trial. While it falls under an extra curricular activity, it is a very educational experience that I enjoy immensely.

For those that don't know, Mock Trial is an activity in which the participating teams compete in a fictional court case. Every year around September, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation sends out the case that the teams will be using. This case will contain the facts of the story and the statements of the six indiviual witnesses who will show up in court to be questioned. The case is split into two sides, the Prosecution and the Defense. Each side must have three witnesses and two attorneys. By the following February, the teams gather at a court house in their respective counties and perform in “mock” trials. Judges presiding over the cases are attorneys, and the teams that make it to the final round in the county will be judged by real judges. Teams that win the county competitions will proceed to Regionals; the final two teams will compete against each other in the State Championship....


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Ideas for helping kids who are thinking about computer programming jobs in the future...
Susan Richman and Jacob Richman, 3/23/2010

I’m opting to share today an email correspondence my son Jacob and I had recently with a homeschooling mother from the Chicago area, writing for ideas about how her son might get a future job in the computer programming field (hopefully at Google, where Jacob works). I think many of these ideas may be helpful to others, too—and lots of links for further info and programs. I think this also ties in a bit to Kathy Wingert's wonderful piece (just below this one) on how to help a 'science kid' when you yourself weren't necessarily a 'science person' yourself. By helping our kids have good opportunities, encouraging them to learn on their own, and keeping alert to new options and other people and tools, our kids can indeed 'take off' in the field of their dreams. Enjoy!

First the email from the homeschooling mom:

Hello Susan,

I'm a homeschooling mother of two children now in 5th and 7th grade.  I came
across your home page this morning and read the "Who We Are" section.
Before I get lost in your web-site, I wanted to ask for information from
you.  My name is Sherri and my 13 year old son (Lance) has decided he wants
to work at Google.  Strange, I know, but we saw a video loop playing at the
doctor's office one day showing Google's California Office and he has been
hooked ever since.  Initially, he was thinking he wanted to be a video game
designer, but through various discussions we're not sure that this direction
will pay the bills.

If you have the time, I would love to hear about your son, Jacob, and how he
went about learning the skills necessary to gain employment at Google. 
Unfortunately, I have no computer knowledge other than working as a legal
secretary and typing 90 wpm....


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Birth of a Scientist? How to nurture a 'science kid' at home....
Kathy Wingert, 3/22/2010

Kathy Wingert is a longtime homeschooling mother in Central PA, and she's written several previous articles for our print newsletter Pennsylvania Homeschoolers. I'm proud to have been the family's evaluator throughout their son Daniel's high school years. Daniel is now a graduating senior in the PHAA diploma program, and he has also taken part in a very wide range of our AP Online classes, always showing exceptional interest and involvement and ability. Kathy has also taught a wide range of classes at their area homeschool co-op.

The blanks for “Intended Major” on all of our senior son’s college and scholarship applications are uniformly filled in with the words, “molecular biology.”  I didn’t think much about those words until my mother asked me at some point this year what they meant.  “Uhhh…,” I stammered.  “Er … biology…at the, um, molecular level?”  Rest assured I have since figured out that molecular biology is like a traditional biology major except that it includes an extra emphasis on chemistry and physics, but my initial inability to answer my mother’s question glaringly illuminates (like a neon sign in the Antarctic) my personal lack of natural bent towards the sciences and my highly deficient formal educational preparation to teach a kid with such aspirations.  I never took high school physics and felt clumsy (and queasy!) when it was time to dissect the earthworm in 10th grade bio. Now, lest you think I am married to a nuclear physicist husband who picked up the slack in our homeschool science studies, think again.  He, like me, is a completely right-brained English major.

So, how did we do it?  How did we navigate the murky (for us) waters of science--especially the upper level lab ones-- for the 13 years we have homeschooled our son, Daniel, and come out at the end with a kid who has the intellectual passion and necessary academic preparation for rigorous post-high school studies in buildings we never even dared walk through in college?  Looking back, here is what I think we, by God’s grace, did right....


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Looking Ahead to 2010-2011 AP Courses
Susan Richman, 3/19/2010

We’ve come a long way since first offering a small handful of AP Online test preparation classes way back in the 1996-1997 school year. From starting out with just AP English Literature, AP Psychology, and AP US History, and maybe 30 students, our program has grown to now offer classes in all disciplines, with over 320 students taking part—and many students take two or even more classes each year. We have 21 teachers now working with us to develop and lead these classes, giving people many choices of instructors and formats and approaches.

So just what is the Advanced Placement (AP) program? It’s a way developed by the College Board (the same organization that developed the SAT exam for college admissions) for bright high school students to demonstrate college level learning. Students take exams under strict security guidelines in May, and good scores can often net a student exemption from introductory university classes, college credit, or both. And informal studies have shown that even students who actually take AP exams, but don’t earn passing scores, generally still do much better in college than those students who never had this experience—AP students, regardless of exam scores, tend to stay in college till graduation and also tend finish up on time. That’s worthwhile ‘insurance’ in these times!

So why might you want to check out our Pennsylvania Homeschoolers AP Online classes for your bright homeschool teen? Here are some top reasons that families have expressed over the years:...


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Nature-Deficit Disorder??? Interesting topic to think about during this beautiful weather....
Susan Richman, 3/17/2010

Susan Richman is the Editor of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers, and the mother of four homeschool grads (fourth one graduating from college this spring!). She's also a Pennsylvania home education program evaluator, and serves on the PHAA Board of Directors, and is the AP Coordinator for the PA Homeschoolers AP Online program.


*Our dog Sadie-- my current hiking companion about our farm... she's always ready for an outing!* 

I hope many of you have had a chance to get outside with your kids over these last few glorious days. I'm in awe that just a week ago our rural driveway was still full of ice and snow, and parts of our yards were still 10 inches deep with the white stuff from the February storms. Now, the daffodils are peeking up bravely, even developing buds. I took a wonderful one hour hike about our farm property yesterday with our dog-- and remembered many walks and hikes I used to take with our kids when they were growing up.

So, when I was looking at the website from the National Environmental Education Week email I just received, to see if anything might be of interest to homeschoolers, I came upon this fascinating little section of their website....


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College Application Essay-- It is a Wonderful Thing to Want
Michael Matheny, 3/17/2010

Michael Matheny is a homeschooling senior from Delaware, and has been homeschooling since 2nd grade. He's also the son of our wonderful AP Statistics teacher, Carole Matheny, who shared in the previous post about the process Michael went through in crafting this marvelous personal essay for his college applications. As you read the essay, try to imagine yourself as a college admissions staffer-- and see what sense you get about Michael's ability to take on challenging tasks and contribute unique skills.

Most colleges do have at least one question that basically asks, "Tell us about yourself" Here's what the current Common Application (www.commonapp.org ) has as the essay guidelines and options:

Personal Essay Please write an essay (250 words minimum) on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below, and attach it to your application before submission. Please indicate your topic by checking the appropriate box. This personal essay helps us become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself.

  • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  • Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
  • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
  • Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
  • A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
  • Topic of your choice.

 As so many colleges do use the Common Application, students really can get started on thinking about their application essays well in advance. And if you start feeling overwhelmed just thinking about college admissions, check this page on the Common Application website, for some perhaps much needed perspective and common sense advice: http://www.educationconservancy.org/we_admit.pdf And, again, if your student has written a memorable college application essay that might inspire others to really reflect in a meaningful way on any of these Common Application questions above, do either email the essays on to richmans@pahomeschoolers.com for posting on this site, or post as a 'comment' to Michael's terrific essay.






It's a Wonderful Thing to Want...

            It started on a trip to the Adirondacks St. Regis Lake region with some borrowed kayaks. It was not my first time in a boat, but it left a lasting impression that nagged at me for months afterwards. I started surfing the web, constantly, looking at kayaks, trying to figure out how to get my own. I become obsessed easily, not over ideas or TV shows, but over projects....











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Writing Your College Application Essays-- Helps at the PHAA High School at Home Conference
Carole Matheny, 3/16/2010

Carole Matheny leads the PA Homeschoolers online AP Statistics course, and also homeschools her own children. Here's she's sharing about the process her son went through in crafting his main college admissions essay, using ideas gleaned from our annual PHAA High School at Home Conference. We hope you will be able to attend our conference this year-- we'll have many helpful sessions once again for parents, students, and homeschool evaluators. Many of our AP Online teachers present sessions-- Ruth Green, who led the very helpful session on application essay writing, leads one of our AP English Literature sections. We'll have full info on registering for this year's PHAA conference, set for Friday, July 16, 2010, up on our website soon. As always, there will be an 'early bird' special rate, so sign up early if possible! Tomorrow we'll post Carole's son's actual application essay about his sea kayak-- you'll love it! We welcome others to send on unique sample application essays for others to read and gain inspiration from-- just email to Susan Richman, editor, at richmans@pahomeschoolers.com. The very best advice I ever read about writing an effective college application essay is that the student should make sure that no one else in the entire world could possibly have written that essay, because it is so uniquely that student.


*Carole Matheny on a family hiking trip in Glacier National Park-- they hiked over 300 miles that summer!*  

July 17th, 2009, I drove from my home in Delaware to Carlisle PA to the 14th Annual High School at Home Conference. For the day I would be wearing two hats, one as the AP Statistics instructor for PA Homeschoolers and the other as homeschool mom.  My oldest, a rising senior, would have benefited by coming along  but he chose to spend the day working on his 18’ sea kayak.

I looked over the session topics and decided to attend Mrs. Ruth Green’s session, Writing the College Application Essay—Help for getting YOU down on paper. With a rising senior....


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Keys to designing an AP-preparation high school English Program
Maya Inspektor, 3/12/2010

Maya Inspektor has taught online AP English Literature and AP English Language for three years through PA Homeschoolers AP Online. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh in 2004, majoring in English nonfiction writing and Psychology. She obtained a Masters of Education in Secondary English from Carlow University, studying homeschooling English programs for her masters thesis. She has also taught at a private school in Pittsburgh, led creative writing classes at the School of Advanced Jewish Studies, and served as an SAT tutor for a major test preparation company. She currently lives in Israel with her husband and two cats.

mayas drawing www.JPG

*a drawing done in high school at home by Maya Richman Inspektor, of her mom, Susan Richman (editor PA Homeschoolers) reading aloud during meal times* 

Each year, I get a few applications to my AP English courses from students who seem young and unprepared. Often, I get the feeling that parents know their child isn't quite ready for an AP English course, but they're stumped about how to plan a high school English program without the structure of an outside program.

Surprise! The best preparation for an AP English course is usually an extension of....


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One Pennsylvania Homeschooling Family's Special Connection to Haiti
Carline Crevecoeur, 3/10/2010

Editor's Note from Susan Richman:  I first met Carline Crevecoeur, MD, when she brought her children to participate in our annual PA Homeschoolers National Geographic Bee-- scheduled this year on January 10th, just two days before the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. We were all intrigued that Carline's family was originally from Haiti-- and I know that we all felt an especially sorrowful connection when we heard so soon about the devastation of the island. I'm so very grateful to Carline for sharing her extended family's story of their Haitian connections-- and to hear of the family's work in creating effective re-building projects, especially near their family's old hometown near to Port-au-Prince. Carline Crevecoeur MD is the treasurer of the C-CHANGE for Haiti Organization.  She is also an obstetrician/gynecologist who volunteers at the Centre Volunteers In Medicine (CVIM).  She lives in State College, PA, with her husband, where they homeschool their five children.  Dr. Carline Crevecoeur will be travelling to Haiti in April.  Visit www.c-changeforhaiti.org to make donations or to find out about C-CHANGE’s most recent efforts in the struggle to rebuild Haiti. And, just for the record, all of Carline's children were exceptionally bright and capable in the Geo Bee-- and her young 4th grade son Joey won our local Bee. We just found out last week that he has also qualified for the PA State Bee to be held at the Penn State Campus in State College on April 9th-- a remarkable accomplishment for such a young student. All of the children are clearly carrying on the family's strong legacy of learning and achievement-- and giving back to their larger community.


The 1960s were the years of the great “Brain Drain” from Haiti.  The brutal dictatorship of Francois Duvalier, with its ‘tonton macoutes’, came to power on September 22nd, 1955, and indiscriminately terrorized the Haitian people by committing unspeakable atrocities.  A few years later, anyone who could flee from Haiti did. 

Like most Haitian intellectuals at that time, my father, a mathematician and a lawyer, was looking for a better and safer life for his family.... 


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Writing by Retelling
Kathryn Walker , 3/8/2010

Kathryn Walker is a PHAA graduate and holds a B.A in English from Hillsdale College, a Masters in Education from Eastern University, and PA Teaching Certification for English 7-12. After teaching AP Language and Composition for several years at Valley Forge Military Academy, she now lives in Lancaster and works as a consultant, evaluator, and online tutor in order to stay home with her baby daughter. Kathryn's husband Chris is a homeschool grad from Ohio-- who was also a star student in several of our AP Online classes during his high school years. Kathryn has published work in First Things, Touchstone Magazine, and Independent Teacher Magazine. This coming school year she will be teaching a section of online AP Language and Composition for homeschoolers.

maya cat blue hat.JPG

*A painting by Molly (Maya) Richman Inspektor, age 12*

I was surprised during my sophomore year of college to realize that Chaucer’s tales were not original. That is not to say that he didn’t artfully craft each of them, but the basic storylines were nothing new.  Pulling from sources like folklore, Greek myth, and medieval mystery plays, Chaucer used constructions his public was already familiar with, and made them fresh and poignant by tweaking the characters, events, and themes, often in startling ways. “The Clerk’s Tale,” for instance, was originated by Boccacio and then translated and commented on first by Petrarch and later by de Mezieres. Somehow thinking of the Canterbury Tales in that light made Chaucer seem a little more human to me.

In some sense, though, all of literature is a retelling: an adaptation of human events, conflicts, personalities, and themes as we perceive them....


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More Thoughts on Helping your Kids be Ready for Testing…. How parents’ attitudes can make a difference….
Susan Richman, 3/8/2010

Susan Richman is the editor of PA Homeschoolers, and has been doing group and individual testing with homeschool students for over 20 years. She's also helped all four of her own children approach testing with a positive attitude, from the required 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade testing in PA, to the SAT exam and Advanced Placement tests.


In my last posting about getting ready for testing, I listed the six variables of testing that can make a difference in your child’s ability to really demonstrate what they know on testing day. Today we’re going to look at how our attitudes as parents towards testing requirements can be key—and how we might be able to adjust these attitudes in a positive direction.

I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of parents at our testing sites over the last 20 years, and have seen lots of different attitudes. I’m going to imagine here a couple of ‘composite moms’. First I’ll give you a highly upbeat scenario—and then a practically full-blown panic attack scenario. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between these extremes—but thought this might give us a good way to tackle this topic, and see things with some greater perspective....


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Ask the Dean.... and get your college admissions questions answered!
Peter Van Buskirk, 3/7/2010

Peter Van Buskirk is the author of Winning the College Admission Game and former dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College. His student-centered messaging informs, motivates and entertains college bound students and their parents nationwide. To learn more about Peter, read his weekly college planning blog, or participate in his bi-monthly webcasts, go to www.TheAdmissionGame.com. Also look for his excellent book Winning the College Admission Game: Strategies for Parents/ Strategies for Students in our online store. His blog site includes such current topics as whether or not students should add a YouTube presentation to their application package, how to make sense of admissions decisions, the importance of finishing your senior year strongly, and much more-- you'll find much there of help.

Ask the Dean

The college admission process can be a daunting task for any student let alone those for whom school-based career resource centers and college advisors are not readily accessible. In “Ask the Dean,” former dean of admission Peter Van Buskirk addresses questions from home schoolers. For Peter’s perspective on what home schooled students can do to compete for college admission, contact him at Peter@TheAdmissionGame.com.

Dear Peter,

I took the SATs twice. The second time, my score was only 10 points better in Critical Reading but worse in Math. Do the schools really overlook the lower scores? ....


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Getting ready for Achievement Testing??? What can we do to help our kids be prepared?
Susan Richman, 3/4/2010

Susan Richman is editor of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers and mother of four homeschool grads. She also does all the 3rd grade testing during our Fall Testing Service as well as our smaller Spring Testing Service for homeschoolers.


(7th grade portfolio cover page for our son Jesse-- who's now 32 and the father of four!)

So, is it time for achievement testing for your kids? Many families do achievement testing with their kids in the spring-- for many, it's part of a state law requirement. For instance, in PA homeschool kids need to take a nationally normed standardized test in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades. In some states it's every year-- in some states it's an optional thing that many parents just like to do for their own information and sense of well-being. Regardless of why we are having our kids tested, most of us want  our kids to have a fair chance at doing their best. So let's think about how we can do this.

First, I think it's handy to realize what the variables are, so we can see what we might have some *control* over when thinking about standardized testing. One website I looked at years ago had the following list of key variables that all impact how a child does on a specific test, and I've found these categories very helpful:

  • Demographics
  • Physical environment for testing
  • Attitudes of teachers and students toward the testing program
  • Student's test taking skills
  • Alignment of the curriculum content with the test content
  • Quality of the instructional program

Now, this list was looking at kids in schools, but I think this can be a great start in thinking about how we can deal with testing effectively, too. We'll cover the first two in today's posting-- look back here every few days to see discussion of the rest....


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The Story Behind the Story-- how my novel 'Thicker than Blood' developed from my homeschooled days till now....
C.J. Darlington, 3/2/2010

C.J.Darlington is a homeschool graduate from Pennsylvania, who is also now a published author. Her first novel, Thicker than Blood, about the challenges of two sisters who live very different lives, just recently won a major Christian first novel award, as we noted in our left-hand side bar a few weeks ago. C.J. was active in the 1990's in the Chester County Homeschoolers group led by the Claudia and Don Joye (Don Joye, by the way, also has a first novel published!), and remembers her homeschooling days fondly. She has given us permission to reprint some of the postings on her excellent and comprehensive website, www.cjdarlington.com. I highly recommend this site to all aspiring novelists among our readership, of all ages. CJ has posted extensive interviews with other authors, has links to all sorts of helpful writing networking sites, and shares her thoughts on the writing life. This would be a terrific site for homeschool co-op groups to use when helping kids develop their writer's voice-- they'll hear from real authors about what the process is actually like. For our first entry from CJ, we're reprinting her description of how she got her idea for her first published novel-- you'll love it! And if you head to her site, you'll be able to read the first chapter of the book right online-- and click a quick link to order the book for yourself, too!

Thicker than Blood was born on May 1st, 1995 as a story called The City Girl and the Country Girl. I was fifteen-years-old, and I still remember the excitement I felt at starting a new story....


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Starting in on your Homeschool Portfolios-- Now!
Susan Richman, 3/1/2010

Susan Richman is editor of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers and the Coordinator for the PA Homeschoolers AP Online classes, leader of one of the AP US History class sections, and a homeschool evaluator. This is an article that first appeared in our print magazine back in the Spring of 2000, when our daughter Hannah was in 8th grade-- and it's still appropriate now. For those readers in other states, here in Pennsylvania we have a homeschool law requirement of preparing a portfolio of our students' work, which is reviewed at the end of the school year by a private evaluator of the family's choice. Interestingly, creating a portfolio of meaningful student work is considered a very worthwhile activity when preparing for college. You might find developing a portfolio a very special way to really preserve best work and communicate with family and friends about all you do in your homeschooling.


(This was one of Hannah's portfolio notebooks from 3rd grade-- what a family treasure!)

      Is this a familiar scene to you? It was January, halfway through the school year, and my daughter Hannah’s homeschooling work for the year was piling up. It was stacked in various ‘portfolio bins’ about the house, as well as in folders and backpacks and cluttered desktops, and many computer files. But none of it was yet organized in our final 3” thick portfolio notebook for the year. That notebook was still sitting on a shelf in our project room quite empty and forlorn.

      I kept on saying that we’d get to it this coming Friday, or on Sunday afternoon, or next Monday— but I kept letting these little deadlines slip away as the normal busy pace of our days took over instead. But finally we did it— we took that most important step of getting started. I usually like my kids to work on their portfolios themselves, but I quickly realized that the task was too daunting for Hannah to begin herself at this point. It was my fault we’d waited so long to get going, and so it was my responsibility to get us started....


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