Notes From the Cookie Jar

Monday, September 15, 2014

Shift Work Cooking and 3 Menus to Get You Started

This summer has been one of crazy change and growth, where I've done things I never thought I'd ever do again. Nothing glamorous mind you, but I went back to a place where I once worked long ago and am, if you can believe it, starting over. It's both exhilarating to be out of the confines of the job I've been in for 20 years, along with slightly scary and utterly exhausting, but I'm so, so happy.

So happy.

Along with this increased pace in my life, as well as getting used to shifts being all over the map, the family dinner is changing. Our family has changed, too. I don't think anyone talks about that when they speak of the family dinner-kids grow, circumstances and budgets change, and what may have worked for you at one time isn't feasible or practical during another. Kevin is now more than capable to take on cooking duties and John is also more than able to re-heat, or start something and they both can assist with clean up.

This is something I've never done before; delegate cooking or clean up duties because I'm working or tired, but in conversation with fellow moms on Twitter, it's a matter of survival when you are working shifts. Everyone needs to eat, and it becomes a team effort rather than one person shouldering all the responsibility. Previously, I didn't mind and even enjoyed it-now I just can't do it all nor do I even want to try.

A particular issue that came up is getting dinner on the table when you work the evening shift and want to get dinner prepped ahead of time, ready for kids and/or your spouse to finish when dinner time rolls around. I've had to deal with this over the summer since sometimes my shifts start in the late afternoon and run through dinner into the evening. What have I been doing to combat this? Well, a few things, and since I had three evening shifts last week I'll show you how we managed.

The important thing is, give your family members a job. Leave behind written instructions stating what the menu is, and put their name beside a job that needs to be done. If they need a recipe, leave that out as well. 

When I've talked about kids cooking, Moms often respond that it takes more work. Well yes, initially-but look at that work as an investment. By making your kids responsible for helping to put dinner on the table it teaches them life skills that they will carry into adulthood, make them feel like part of a team, and eventually, they may take on an evening's cooking by themselves.

Kevin cooking dinner
Kevin frying up some meatballs
The trick is, I think, to start small. Teach them how to make rice. Write down the instructions in a book for them to refer to when you aren't around. Then, how to make salad. If you're worried about them using your big scary knives, direct them to something smaller and show them how to use it, as well as where the band aids are if they accidentally cut themselves. In all the years I've worked with kids and food, I've never once had a kid cut themselves. Show them how to cut various vegetables, wash them, etc. Starting with basic skill will give them the practice they need and build confidence.

More good skills to learn:

-boiling pasta
-hard boiled or scrambled eggs
-heating things up, such as pasta sauce or soup and following basic directions
-steaming vegetables
-oven fries

..and much more. You know your kids best, just get them to take on something when you think they are ready. Even if it means you chop the veggies for something and have them assemble, it gives them practice following directions, which is really what a recipe is all about. Just make sure to keep your directions short, to the point, and even include doodles if you want. How about some sample menus?

Dinner #1: Tacos

Tacos, or any "top it yourself" dinner is perfect for everyone to pitch in.

Jobs to delegate:
-brown and season meat
-chop/slice toppings (peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions)
-grate cheese
-make guacamole

To prep ahead, take on the job that you feel you do best, which in my case, was making tortillas. Then the family can do the rest depending on age or ability-there's no reason an 11 year old can't make guacamole, shred cheese, or chop up some peppers.

Dinner #2: Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

Things for you to prep ahead: the chicken filling for the sandwiches

Jobs to delegate:
-toast buns
-make a salad
-oven fries (optional)

This recipe is made in the slow cooker, which makes things easier. I prepped it ahead and turned it on before I went to wok so that it would be finished by dinnertime. Sometimes, I make particular side dishes optional. If my family REALLY wants the oven fries, they'll make them, but there's a chance they won't-and that's okay. If they don't want the salad, they can substitute raw veggies with some dip. Kids like it when they are given a choice, so delegating but allowing the cook to decide what they want to make gives them some ownership over it as well.

Dinner #3: Soy sesame steak, rice, steamed peas

Things for you to prep ahead: marinate the steak

Jobs to delegate:
-cook the steak
- make rice
-steam peas

This dish is super easy and a great one for teenagers to practice their cooking skills with. The steak is sliced so thinly that you barely have to cook it, and then only thing they have to remember is to keep the pan hot and not crowd it. If they do, it's not the end of the world.  An 11 year old can easily make rice and heat up some peas in the microwave, and there you go! Dinner! You can, if you wish, add in other side dishes, but we try to keep things as simple as possible.

If steak isn't your thing, try making drumsticks, or homemade chicken fingers. All are very easy and an older child should have no trouble. Make sure there is some discussion around handling raw meat so that kids know they have to wash their hands well.

Then just sit back and let them play. Sure, the rice may be a little crunchy. The lettuce could be ripped into pieces a bit large, or your meat a little overcooked but praise them for trying. It's all a learning experience, after all. For some of us, it's learning to hand the spatula over to someone else and let them have a go.

Go on, you can do it!
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Friday, September 12, 2014

20 Things

So if I'm to go back to blogging old school, and I've been away for all this time, we have some catching up to do. Things have changed-even I've changed a little. Want to know what's up in the Cookie Jar? How about an old fashioned list?

1. Kevin was 10 when I started blogging. He turns 19 in December. This is slightly strange for me, adjusting to the fact that my kid isn't really a kid anymore. He's nearly 6' tall and eats non stop. The thing with having a kid this age is I found myself no longer doing all the kid friendly things I pulled together when he was young. For instance, Halloween now consists of me shutting off the outdoor lights, buying a box of candy for us to consume, and we watch a movie together.
I admit, it was fun while it lasted but I'm enjoying being finished, too. Did I mention we were thrilled that he was finally done with school?


2. We live in the eastern Fraser Valley, which is about 1 1/2 hrs out of Vancouver. There's a lot of farms out here. I can drive down the road and buy cheese or pork right at the farm gate, or even apples and hazelnuts. There's a duck farm not far from my house where I can pick up duck eggs. This place is a food lover's dream. Fresh and local takes on a whole new meaning when it's grown just down the road-or an elementary school has a corn field right across the street.

Cows in Yarrow

3. The trade off for all that great local food is that Chilliwack sometimes smells like manure. I'm okay with this, but people who don't live here complain.  I figure it's better than sniffing fumes from a pulp mill.

4. My kitchen is awesome, and I don't cook nearly as much. Weird, huh? There's a few reasons, the largest being that I don't have a job creating 5 recipes a week anymore. I absolutely burned myself out there for quite a long time. These days I take it easy; I don't even bake much, but then my family whines that they are missing some tasty treat and I whip it up for them. Even then I haven't delved into anything too complicated, and have gone back and re-made old favourites.


5.  We still do family walks, just maybe a little less often and Kevin doesn't always come with us. There's lots of outdoor spaces around here to walk; the big challenge is having us all home at once! We're busier than ever, and sometimes I barely even see John for a few days.

6. Our favourite coffee spot in Chilliwack is Starbucks. John likes True North Blend, I love Verona and Pike Place, Kevin adores Komodo Dragon. We spend more time there than I should really admit.

Is is me, or do we look highly caffeinated here?

7. My favourite fancy coffee drink is a toss up between the cinnamon dolce latte and caramel macchiato. I love them both.

raspberries 3
Raspberries fresh picked from Mann Farms

8. Grocery shopping here has so many options compared to the Sunshine Coast that there are stores I've never set foot in. Between farms, country markets and big box stores, our options are endless. The first time Kevin and I walked into Superstore we just wandered around in awe at the sheer size of the place. 

9.  In the fall, huge flocks of Canadian geese fly over our house at dusk on their way to Cultus Lake. You can hear them honking inside, even with the doors closed.

10. I'm not used to the traffic here yet, but I think I've accepted that it's part of being here. There's also the people who ride a skateboard in the middle of the night down the middle of the road, or their scooters in weird places, and those who text and drive. The very best time to get anywhere in Chilliwack is before 5:30 am, strangely enough.

11. I ate an A&W hamburger this summer and I actually liked it so much I saved the coupons in our newspaper. Who am I?

12. I miss Stewart's lime soda and have searched all over Chilliwack for it with no luck.

13.  I haven't actually wandered around Cultus Lake yet and we've lived about 10 minutes away from it for 2 years. In the summer it's crazy busy for parking, so we just haven't gone. Perhaps I should, I hear it's nice.

Powerhouse at Stave Lake
The powerhouse at Stave Lake was interesting

14.  When we're looking for something to do, we get on the bike and take the back roads into Fort Langley past farms and country-like spaces. The BC Hydro powerhouse at Stave Lake is a great place for a walk and we enjoyed a fun tour. We also have gone to the fort a few times, and then walk around the village. There's loads of great places to ride around on the motorcycle, but we love wandering around the backroads in the valley, heading up the Fraser Canyon, or going to Manning Park.
Taken from the back of our motorcycle!

15. I can go to Costco and still buy under $60 worth of stuff. Mostly I buy baking stuff there like flour, cocoa, sugar, and butter. I go with a list and rarely leave with anything extra.

16. When we first moved here I almost convinced John that I needed a cat, but he held out until I changed my mind and decided that I didn't want to clean up after a pet after all.

17. I'm going to be a mother in law next June when John's daughter gets married. Her fiance is the same age as me!

18. Our house has 3 bathrooms. If you know how much I loathe cleaning bathrooms, you'll understand how this makes me feel. I make Kevin clean some now so it's okay.

19. After we moved to a place with a kick ass movie theater, both my guys announced they don't like going to movies. We've been there once. I'm going to have to find friends to go with from now on.

20. There's so many new things to do and places to go here, we've barely scratched the surface. I'm so lucky to have great friends to hang out with and explore-we have a grand time checking out places here and there, be it food or just fun. Everyone is happy, healthy, and we're doing awesome.

Which is the whole point, right? I think we've found our groove again and that, more than anything, makes me happiest.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014


Sometimes, writing takes you by surprise-the thoughts are rolling around in your head, you type them out or scratch them onto paper, publish, and walk away. As they sink in, enveloping your heart with all the emotion and resolve that went into that piece, things become really clear and you can't ignore them any longer.

Usually that happens to me late at night when I'm either drifting off to sleep or about to-and last night, that's exactly what happened.

I miss this place. is all shiny but it's not home. Even the name scatteredmom seems like it doesn't fit anymore. I'm a mom, yes. I'm not a mom blogger. My kid is practically an adult. I don't fit in the world of school days and extra curricular activities, packing lunches and finding the right gear for my kids. I love the Fraser Valley, but I don't have time to always seek places out. I want to write about what I love, not be stuck in a niche that holds me in. While it was a great attempt, I'm not sure is really me.

We've dealt with a lot of changes over the years. There's been a lot of moves to new towns, big houses and little, places by the ocean and in the city. There's been foster kids, one kid, and now soon there will be no kids. There has been one thing, through it all, that has been a constant which is what has pulled me back to this blog.

My cookie jar. For me, It symbolizes my family and home more than anything.

Well, truthfully it's not a jar. It's a tupperware. I've tried for years to find the perfect cookie jar and haven't been successful yet. The point is, throughout all these changes, my kitchen has always been the central theme of our family; no matter how big or small, there has always been cookies. The recipes may have evolved over the years, but they are still churned out, once a week. When I visit people, I often bring cookies-just ask some of the ladies at Telus when I met them downtown this summer!

This place is me. It's my family. For awhile there, I lost myself and some will say that closing this place down, half starting another blog, and then not really working on that has killed my traffic and future as a blogger. You know what? I don't care. I started here years ago for me, writing because it made my soul sing, and everything else was gravy. What followed was more than my wildest dreams, and if that's all that ever happens to me again in the world of blogging, I'm good with that.

Where am I going now? Well, I'm going back to old school writing. Sure, some say blogging is dead and that's fine. I'm not doing it to be published or have recognition from anyone. I've done that. I'm writing because this place is home, and you're invited to follow along.  There will be food, yes. Snippets of where we go and the Fraser Valley. Things I love. Bits of family life while John and I figure out empty nesting, and the adjustment to when your kid is an adult.

So. Let's dust this place off, shall we? Here's to cookies, family, and being home again.

(ps: please let me know if anything isn't working, I haven't looked around here for a long time and may not catch all the bugs if there are any. I'm going to be going through posts, cleaning stuff up and dusting it off, but you can expect this place to be back in action.)

chocolate meringue cookies
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Monday, November 11, 2013

Teaching Kids How to Use Dragon Naturally Speaking (Part 2)

So you've done all the work to get Dragon, you've researched equipment, you are all ready to hit the ground running, and you aren't sure where to start. Want to learn from my mistakes? Yep. I've made them. Between teaching my own kid to high schoolers and elementary aged kids, I've spent a lot of hours with Dragon and trying to make it fun for kids. The truth is, it's work. Once you have them trained and a voice profile built, the only way to really make Dragon work for them is to get them to use it and get comfortable with the program. I start off with the easy stuff, teach them the ins and outs of the program, and then wean them off my prompting so that they are completely independent. How long it takes them to get there really depends on the child-some will learn faster than others, and that's entirely okay.

1. Get them used to dictating.

A lot of kids aren't used to hearing their own voice, or saying their thoughts out loud to someone. To get them used to dictating, I start by scribing for them. When I do that, I also ask them to say punctuation, such as "period", "comma" and "question mark" so they are used to doing this for Dragon.  Getting used to hearing their voice and being conscious of how they are talking (speed, volume, etc) is a skill that some catch on to faster than others.

Trouble shooting: Dragon's accuracy declines if kids talk too fast, tend to slur words together, are too quiet, or aren't speaking clearly. Now is the time to point that out and encourage them to be conscious of how they speak.

2. Teach them some computer basics.

Knowing how to turn on the machine, save a file, format text, copy/paste, print and move things around is really helpful. Having a comfort level using a computer will make them more comfortable using Dragon.

3.  Run them through activities in the curriculum, and stick close by

This curriculum that I recently found is amazing.  I print it out and give it to each student in their own folder. Step by step, it takes kids through the functions of Dragon by starting small and working it's way up to more difficult and technical stuff. I recommend that you work through it yourself and become familiar with the program before you teach it. My students particularly loved the part where they are asked to cough, sneeze, or hum and see what happens. Much giggling ensued as they saw all the mumbo jumbo hitting the screen.

It's really important that you stick close by. To start, I talk to the student about what we are going to do, and I sit right beside them as they go through the activity. One of the first things I teach them is that whatever they say into the mike will be picked up and put on the screen, so they need to know how to make the mike go to sleep or turn it off. Sitting close by is also helpful if they are easily distracted and lose their place in the activity. I quietly point where they are, or if they forget to turn off the mike and begin talking,  I can reach over and click it off.

Once they are finished the activity, we talk about what they just did. I ask what they learned and may go over it again, showing them exactly what happened. It helps me to have my own laptop with my own Dragon voice profile on it, but you don't need to do this.  I ask if anything surprised them. I then may write notes for them right in their workbook.

3. Once they are comfortable, start dictating actual school work

Once the kids are comfortable dictating and know how to correct things, move things around, etc they can start dictating some school work. The pace at which the student picks up Dragon varies-some kids just run with it, while others take more practise.  Depending on their comfort level I may do the following:

a) hand them the laptop and let them run with it on their own but be close by for help

b) have them dictate to me, and I will scribe onto an index card. Then I  have them dictate from the card so they don't lose their train of thought or forget their answers. This helps with kids who have memory issues. I slowly wean them off dictating to me, and get them to try dictating more and more without the cards.

c) sit close by and have them dictate directly into Dragon

Whatever you do teach them how to save as they go, because as we all know with computer programs, sometimes things don't go as planned and you can lose work. This has happened to us a few times-especially when we were using Microsoft Word with Dragon, and not just Dragonpad.

4. Get them comfortable managing their own voice profiles

As the kids get more proficient, teach them how to back up their voice profiles to a memory stick. It's always good to keep a separate back up of those files so that if anything happens to the computer, you have it. This also teaches them to be responsible for themselves and will be helpful for school.

Once the kids are proficient, I like to get them to use the accuracy training section of  Dragon about once a week. Sometimes the reading can be a really long process, but often they enjoy it and it can pay off in the long run. Some of the readings are really long so I always tell them to just stop when they are tired.

Do you use Dragon? What about your kids? Let me know in the comments how it's worked for you.
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dragon Naturally Speaking With Children: What You Need To Know

About ten years ago, my husband went back to university. Already with a Master's degree in Psychology that wasn't getting him anywhere, he returned to get his Bachelor's degree in Social Work, hoping to land a job. The thing is, John is dyslexic. Writing papers was a long, hard process where he'd write things by hand and I would valiantly attempt to decipher his script onto a computer screen. Often, it took many hours.

Somewhere along the way, we discovered Dragon Naturally Speaking, and it changed his life. No longer relying on me to scribe his words, John could simply speak into a computer and have the words appear on the screen. The independence, and resulting improvement in his writing skills, was incredible. Today, he uses Dragon at work every day, writing emails and paper work with ease. In fact I haven't scribed for him in many years, and even when he does occasionally ask me to proofread something there are very little changes that need to be made.

Which is great, you say, for adults. what about children? Can children and youth who are learning disabled, or who have trouble with writing, benefit by using Dragon? As someone who works with youth and trains them to use Dragon, I say yes-but there is much you should know.

1. Dragon is a technical program that doesn't work for everyone

Too often, people think that they can just hand a youth a laptop with Dragon on it, train them, and it should work seamlessly. They get frustrated when it doesn't, then say that it's not really the greatest program, and set it aside.  This is just wrong. Dragon is built for professionals; doctors, lawyers, and the like and not really for kids. Youth can learn to use it, but they must be directly taught how. The kind of youth who succeed with Dragon can tolerate frustration and understand that by working now and teaching the program, it will pay off in the long run. They must be motivated and determined. It also helps if they are into computers and understand the basics of how they work such as how to save a file, basic formatting (underlining, bold, copy, paste), printing, moving files around, etc. They must be able to understand the commands that make Dragon work, and that by using them, it will be more accurate. A requirement that I have while training them is that they must follow my directions. If they don't, the program won't do what they want.

If the child is easily frustrated and cannot understand that hard work now will pay off later, they won't be successful with Dragon.

A note re: kids with autism: in my experience, I haven't had success with autistic kids using Dragon. Their level of frustration is high, they have difficulty not making extra sounds (which interferes with accuracy), and they often can't see that the end will justify the means. I'm not saying that it will never work, but I haven't had success here. It may be worth a try but there are many, many other programs out there that may be a better fit.

2. Be sure you have the right equipment

First of all, the computer that you have installed Dragon on has to have enough memory and a sufficient sound card to handle the program. If it doesn't, the program will not work. Dragon isn't a "well let's just try it and see" program, it's one where things have to be exactly right. There is no half way, with Dragon it's pretty much all or nothing. To see if your equipment is compatible, check this list.

From personal experience, I suggest that you have the optimal amount of memory required. Also, note that different operating systems require different kinds of memory and may affect how Dragon operates. Our experience has been that when new operating systems come out, they sometimes don't work well with Dragon and it takes a bit for the people at Nuance to catch up by releasing a patch.

Your microphone is important-the one that comes with Dragon is sufficient, but a better quality one will increase your accuracy.

3. Location, location, location is important

First of all, let me impart a really crucial piece of info on you: Dragon MUST be installed on a computer's hard drive for optimal performance, AND the youth needs to use the SAME computer each time. What you are doing is building a file. Each time one uses Dragon, the program learns your voice and adjusts itself-so logically you want to be building on that profile every time you use it. If you have Dragon on a server and multiple machines, using it here and there, you will only end up with multiple voice files that never accumulate into one really accurate file. The very point is to build your file, so this completely defeats the purpose. Having Dragon on a server, as my husband discovered at work, isn't the best because as you talk and Dragon deciphers what you are saying, the info must pass through the server and often becomes corrupt-which greatly decreases your accuracy. Dragon will become ridiculously slow, crash, it won't recognize commands, and behave erratically.

Once you have Dragon trained and you are using it, you should be able to use the program in environments with some background noise as long as you:

a) re-calibrate the microphone
b) have a really good noise cancelling microphone

Without these things, your accuracy will be impacted. With kids, I have found that sometimes it depends on the student. I have some students who speak clearly and with enough volume that they are successful even in a moderately noisy room, and others who do not and the program just can't pick up their voice well enough.

So, now you have the equipment and a motivated student, what do you do? Watch for part 2 this week when I point you to a great Dragon curriculum that I'm using, and give you tips and tricks on how to actually get kids in there and dictating.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Say No to the Selfie

summer hike

It's Labour day weekend, and we've decided to go on a family hike. This doesn't happen very often these days, since Kevin is older and now has things to do and places to go. John and I usually end up walking by ourselves, reminicing about the times when Kevin, young and full of energy, was easily tricked into running ahead and back. He never did figure out that we encouraged him to do this in order to wear him out, but after a few runs he'd be sufficiently tired to fall asleep when we got back to the car.

On this hike, I brought my Blackberry Z10 and decided I was going to take photos. Although somehow in the snapping of pictures, I had hit a button that is more useful for taking photos of myself rather than the usual point and shoot.

"Kev! Ack! What do I do?!" I squealed, holding the phone out to him. He takes it from me calmly, smiles, presses a few buttons, and hands it back. Gratefully, I accept it, until I realize the possibilities of taking my own photos-namely, I can use them as avatars for twitter.

"Wait! How do you get it back to that?" I run after him and thrust the phone back in his hands. Amused, he presses the buttons and watches as I begin taking photo after photo. He walks away but again, I'm stuck. Honestly, I'm not that great with smart phones. Again, I run after him.

"Wait! How do I do this? Show me." 

I make him stand while I take photos of us together, changing the light, the way we are standing, waving my arms in weird directions because he's so much taller and my arms are obviously not long enough to get us in the frame. He obliges for a few minutes, before wryly commenting,

"Mom. You are not going to turn into one of those girls who posts all kinds of bathroom selfies on Facebook, are you?" He looks at me with slight horror, I'm sure imagining his middle aged mother doing duck face portraits in the bathroom mirror. 

"Maybe." I snap a few more.

"Put it away," he commands before drawing himself up to full height in front of me and taking the phone. "Because if you do, I'll just have to unfriend you on Facebook."

"Please?" I jump after the phone, trying to get it back. "Just a photo of us? Just because I'm your Mom and I love you, and I have few photos?"

He holds it out of reach, but eventually relents and hands it back before giving me a stern warning.

"Say no to the selfie, Mom. Or I may need to hack your account."
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Monday, November 04, 2013

How to Get Your Teen to Clean Their Room

Our house has this downstairs room that really was the deciding factor when we bought it (besides the kitchen, of course) which Kevin has turned into his own personal little tech office, or 'man cave', as we've come to call it. In the last year he has turned it into a little business of his own and spends a lot of time down there doing site design, web security, and more.  Filled with all kinds of computer equipment, it's often not quite in the state I'd like it to be and after months of nagging, I decided to speak in a language that I thought he'd understand better. He is, after all, nearly an adult and was asking if he could turn that space into a full on office for a business he's launching. So, if you want to be treated like the CEO of a company, here's what you get when you are lacking in your housekeeping skills.

Dear Tenant:

Re: inspection on October 26, 2013

The state of the space I am allowing your business to occupy rent free was unacceptable. To be clear, my expectations for how said space will be kept is as follows: 

-all garbage will be placed in a garbage can and emptied weekly. No food garbage

-there will be no garbage and items loose on the floor.

-there will be no dirty clothes or dishes

-the bathroom will be cleaned on a weekly basis: toilet scrubbed, floor swiffered, mirror  and sink cleaned

-surfaces, including baseboards, space heaters, and windowsills will be wiped occasionally so they are free of dust and dirt

-carpet will be vacuumed weekly. 

You appear to be having difficulty keeping this space in a state that is acceptable. As a result, I have decided to conduct weekly inspections as opposed to bi-monthly. There has been some improvement, but not enough. My inspections will occur each Saturday at 3pm. If the room has not been cleaned, your business will be shut down as I call in a cleaning lady, at the charge of $30 an hour. (payable by you, of course)

If you continually fail to keep the space in a state as per the above requirements, I will have to consider eviction. However, if you have questions regarding how to clean anything in your space, the cleaning lady will be happy to help you free of charge. She will give you a tutorial, and after that you are responsible for the space yourself. 

Have a good weekend, 

Your landlord (otherwise known as YOUR MOM)

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