Disney World 2015
Disney World 2015

So, after a few years of saving and planning and saving, we took a little trip to Disney World. This post is not for the faint of heart. So grab a sandwich, have a seat, and get ready for a billion photos.

We sat the kids down a week before we were going to leave and surprised them with the news.

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Those photos don’t really do it justice. (This little instagram clip is kinda a better look at their reaction.)

The first step on any successful Disney trip is driving.  Lots of it.  Enter iOS devices and headphones.

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17 hours later.  We arrive.  The lines to meet Anna & Elsa are typically up to 2-3 hours.  We settled on meeting these two plants instead.

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One of the perks of homeschooling and going to Disney in September is the parks are less crowded.  (As in, parts of it are empty at times.)

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The last time we went, Eli was not a fan of meeting any of the characters, this trip he was all in on the process.

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Hey look, it’s Aunt Gabby!

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The step-sisters and I have a special relationship.

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Eli managed to lose a tooth on the Haunted Mansion ride.

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If you have ever stood around waiting for a parade, you know it’s a super magical time for everyone.

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Later that day Eli lost another tooth. :)

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Each morning they pick a few families to help them “open” Hollywood Studios.  You get to hold a clap board and get some fast passes.  We soon realized, if you get there early and smile hard enough, you might get picked.  We managed to pull this off for all three of our Studios days.

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Luke was slightly terrified of the Tower of Terror.

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Sara and I not so much.

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Wanna save a million dollars on your Disney trip?  Pack your meals.

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Luke was chosen to drive a full sized “remote controlled” car at the Stunt Show.

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Things Disney is great at selling:

1. Yummy food.

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2. Lego blocks.

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3. Plushes.

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We felt like we would be bad homeschoolers if we did not visit the Hall of Presidents and American Adventure Pavilion.

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Jo kinda fell in love with Captain EO.

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Russell would not get out of my face ’til I saluted him.  We are now best friends.

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Festival of the Lion King may be our favorite thing ever.

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Finding Nemo the Musical may be my favorite thing ever.

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Kilimanjaro Safaris may not be Eli’s favorite thing ever.

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Things we learned:
1. Danielle is creepy. 2. We all fit in a phone booth. 3. Lists are better if there are three funny items.

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Danielle almost used the barf bag on Mission Space.

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Me channeling my inner Fast and Furious.

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Joseph has mastered the art of the ride photo.

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Hey, remember how they pick a few families to open Hollywood Studios?  Turns out they pick one family to open the Magic Kingdom each day.  It’s kinda a big deal.

You get in early, when no one else is around.

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They take your name so you can be introduced to everyone.

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You get to go around the park posing for photos wherever you want, all alone.

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You get to meet the opening number performers.

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They flirt with your son.

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You are backstage when the train comes out.

(This may have been my favorite moment.  As the train pulls in all the characters are waving at the hundreds of families waiting in line.  For one brief moment though, Alice turned and waved to our family.  It was just a little nod to the fact that we were back there, too.  We were in on the secret.  It kinda made the magical moment even more fun.)

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Then you, Mickey, and his friends get to open the park.

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You know what else you get?  A Fast Pass to meet any character you want.  Remember how Anna & Elsa had a 2 hour wait?  BOOM!  Front of the line!

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We adore the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse.

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DOUBLE RAINBOW!!

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Sara challenged Gaston to a reading contest.  Without hesitation, he took the book out of her hands, put it up on a ledge and said “Good luck reading it now.”  I love that guy.

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Of course they each should eat a cinnamon roll the size of their head.  Why not?

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I do like a good parade. But even more than the parade, I like watching my kids watch the parade.

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One more shout to Cindy from St. Charles, IL.  She totally made our trip when she asked us to be the Family of the Day.  You rock.

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Of course I didn’t just take photos, by the time I edited our home movie of the trip, it came in at about an hour.  I won’t ask you to sit through that, but you might enjoy this little 2 minute trailer.

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Belize 2015
Belize 2015

True story.

I love mission trips.

I love them for 2 simple reasons.

1. By going somewhere and serving, you can impact another life.

2. By going somewhere and serving, you can impact your life.

It’s really that simple. I’ve been on about 7 of these type of trips in the past 3 years and each one reminds me more and more that they are worth taking.

This was a special trip because it was the first time Danielle and Sara joined Jo & I. I knew it would make for a totally different experience and I can’t wait to share these little snippets with you.
(Also, if 100 photos and lots of reading is not your thing, that’s cool. You can skip to the bottom and watch a little movie.)
Let’s start with this photo.

FACT: The 4 of us went to Belize for a week and did not check one bag of luggage. BOOM! #WINNING

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I loved seeing Sara sign her first customs form. I loved filling out 4 of those super annoying bad boys with all types of information and serial numbers. I loved Danielle giving me the stink eye when the first sign through customs was an Ebola warning. I also loved Danielle settling her nerves by reading a little Pride & Prejudice.

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Rule #862 of these types of trips: sleep whenever you can.  (This is Jo’s third trip.  He is a pro.)

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We were serving in a little village called Guinea Grass.  Population 3,000.

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One of the things we were doing was striping a basketball court we helped build last year.

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These girls are college athletes. They tried to jump in the air on “3”. They kinda failed. Take heart all you jumping bridesmaids and groomsmen. It’s harder than it looks.

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It was so great to go back and see so many familiar faces.  It’s crazy that they remembered many of us by name.

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Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner all came from this stove.

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The kids loved all of the crafts, songs, and Bible stories that we would do in the afternoon.

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Sara could usually be found in a crowd of kids.

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This is Dakota.  I love him.  He is tall.  Really tall.  As in… he played college basketball tall.  The crazy great thing about Dakota is anytime there were kids around, you would find him way way down on the floor, connecting with kids.  It was so great to see.

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After VBS, we would do a little basketball camp for the kids.  The skill levels varied greatly.  That was part of the fun.

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The other part of the fun was when it rained, the court could be used as a slip and slide.

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(I told you he was tall.)

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I took these photos within like 20 minutes of each other.  I love them because they look so similar and yet are so different.  Sara would go and seek out a group of girls to play and hang out with.  Danielle would look for just one, and then little by little others would flock to her.

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Reason #462 of why I love these trips: They stretch you.
Ryder ended up leading one of our devotionals. It was his first time doing anything like that and he crushed it. He shared from his heart and his experiences, and it was super open and honest. I loved listening to him and I loved seeing one of his closest friends kinda just ignoring him and stuffing his face with breakfast.

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This is Norman our bus driver for the week.  When he was not driving us around, he was giving impromptu bus driving lessons to one of our team members who was about to come back to the states and have to take her bus driving exam.  Crazy right?

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Reason #5208 of why I love these trips: The unexpected.

Another group had been to this village before us and met this little boy with a medical condition that keeps him from walking. A member of their group was able to find and purchase a walker that would grow with him. They got in touch with our group and had us deliver it. Needless to say, when this little guy started taking his first steps, his face lit up with joy. It was hard to keep shooting because all of the water in my viewfinder.

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On a less emotional note… Remember that girl who learned to drive a bus?  She was going to be without her newfound boyfriend for TWO WHOLE WEEKS!!!!!  (Forever, I know.) Anyway… I thought it would be fun to bring a little cut out so she could share the trip with him. #WINNING

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We also were able to take a little detour to see a Mayan ruin. This lead to us climbing it and making a Mayan face.

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Our last day was spent playing on a nearby island.

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The boat ride we took to the island was not Danielle’s favorite.

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Sara & I tried to snorkel but soon decided to just swim back to the boat and wait for the good stuff.

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Sharks & Stingrays (AKA: The Good Stuff)

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Sara was crazy brave and touched a shark. Danielle was crazy brave and climbed into the water, and then proceeded to climb onto my back and crush my lungs with her death grip.

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We walked up and down the island looking at gift shops and souvenir stores. Jo finally decided on getting a used Sherlock Holmes book. (Of course he did.)

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Towards the end of the week, we got a little video  message from the two boys we left back in the States.

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You know what’s neat?  When people get baptized.

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You know what’s also neat?  When you have your first cappucino and coconut water on the same day.

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Again, I love the sharks, the basketball, the songs, and the boyfriend cut outs.  But the thing that really makes these trips stand out is the faces of these little kids.

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One of my most favorite moments ever happened on this trip. Kids would constantly run up to me and ask me to take their photo. I would, then I would show them, then they would go get more kids. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

This little dude comes up to me one morning and says… “Can I trade you this mango for a picture?”

Seriously? Uh… yes. Absolutely.
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Like I said at the beginning, I love how these trips stretch you.

I love seeing my quiet homebody son be willing to interact with dozens of kids he’s never met and love on them.

I love seeing my bold, fearless daughter travel to a new country and fit right in like she’s grown up there her whole life.

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These trips help center us.
They help remind us that the world is bigger than our:

home remodel
photography business
iPhone 6
playstation
american girl dolls
10 year plan
5 year plan
1 year plan

They remind us that right now is the time to love others.

Right now is the time to serve and give.

You don’t have to leave the country. But you do have to serve.

Find a place to give back. Plug in. Pour yourself out.

And, in the pouring, and in the giving, you’ll find the strangest thing happens.

You are filled.

Thank you Belize for filling me up.

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Oh, one more thing, here’s the video I promised.

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danielle, jo, sara & i are going to belize. wanna help?
danielle, jo, sara & i are going to belize. wanna help?

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A few years ago I was able to go on my first mission trip to Haiti, the very next year I brought Jo along.  He was 10 at the time.  I loved seeing him connect with kids from the other side of the world and I love how he came home understanding that there is a bit more to life than video games and new Lego sets.  He’s since been to Haiti and Belize and this year Danielle and Sara are joining us on our trip to Belize!   We will be helping build a basketball court in a village as well as teaching vacation bible school during the week.

(This is the part where you come in.)

We are funding the trip ourselves and are still a bit short of the full amount. (Plane tickets are expensive yo!) So I thought, why not see if anyone out there is interested in contributing?!? As a little thank you for your gift, I’ll shoot a mini-session of your choice. Family, baby, maternity, senior, kittens? You pick it and I’ll shoot it. (These will take place in the East Texas area on selected dates.) I’m only offering 10 of these so get em’ while they last.

10 mini-sessions, $150 bucks each. All proceeds go to getting Danielle, Jo, Sara & I to Belize.

Two more things…

1. If you don’t need photos, but still want to donate. That’s allowed. (Email me here: alexmphotography@gmail.com)

2. If you don’t need photos, and don’t want to donate. That’s also allowed, passing this post along to others would be a HUGE help.

Ready… Go!

(Email me here: alexmphotography@gmail.com if you want to book a session.)

Here is a little video I put together from our trip last year.

And… if you still want more Belize goodness, you can click here to read about our trip from last year.

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Snake Attack Day Turns 9!
Snake Attack Day Turns 9!

Today marks the 9th anniversary of our families favorite made up holiday.

Snake Attack Day!

Short story: I heard Danielle scream. I ran outside. This happened.

Today we give thanks for surviving this close close encounter many years ago.

Eat a gummie worm & join us in celebrating our victory over the serpent.

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The Cruise
The Cruise

So, this post began sometime back in 2013.  At our house, we do a little thing called “Spending Day.”  Every other month, our kids are allowed to spend their allowance.  They plan ahead and get to go purchase what they have been saving towards.  Sara was great at saving, but never could quite find anything she wanted to spend her money on.  She started saving towards some larger American Girl purchases, but once she got to 30 or 70 bucks she would then say…. “Wait a minute… I don’t want to spend 28 bucks on a Beach Chair, much less 85 dollars on a Sunset Sleepover Tent.”
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So we suggested for her to save up for an experience or a trip of some kind.  One thing led to another and she found out she could go on a 5 night cruise for 300 dollars.  The girl was locked in.  She was on a savings mission.  Every other month, she would go on the spending trips with the family and watch her brothers purchase something.  She would bank her money and move on with life.  Some Spending Days were harder than others.  But overall, she was super determined.  We made a little chart to fill in for every dollar she saved, and after about a year and a half of extra jobs, birthdays, savings, and chocolate chip cookie sales, she had reached her goal!

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Danielle was not interested in getting on a boat, so I was awarded the honor of being cruise parent. (Try not to feel to sad for me.) From the beginning, Danielle and I knew she would love it. It would be a trip she would remember and cherish forever: that one time she got to go one a week long cruise with her dad.  I could already envision her coming home from college one Christmas as we sat around the fireplace and talked about it.
This was the first cruise for Sara and I so every little thing was a treat.

Examples:
Made Beds
Lounge Chairs
Bath Robes

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One of the things we both were looking forward to the most was free food.  Anytime.  All the time.

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Boats are long.

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Out favorite parts of the trip, were waking up each day and watching the sunrise on the ocean.

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Sara very quickly realized, this was the life she was born to live.

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Danielle was a little nervous that our diet over the course of the week might not be the healthiest.  She may have been right to worry.

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The boys were so sweet and surprised Sara with a lego set to build and play with while on the cruise.  She was super giddy.

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Mine. Mine. Mine.

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Our stop in Progreso was a blast.  Sara had her first experience with the fine art of haggling.  She could not believe that the bracelet that she liked went from 35 dollars down to 11 in about 18 seconds.

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Also in Progreso,  Officially Licensed Disney products.

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The ship had a spa where you could get a pedicure, manicure, eat ice cream, and look out on the ocean all at once.  Sara would have been content to stay there the rest of the trip.

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Wait… you can pick up the phone and they bring you free dessert 24 hours a day?  Done and done.

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I mentioned that Danielle was nervous about our meals.  We decided to document everything we put into our mouths.  We ate like kings and queens.

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Remember that time that we went snorkeling in Cozumel and I found a super nice girl that braided Sara’s hair for me?  Thank you sure nice girl from Dallas.

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These are fish we never saw while snorkeling, but were given a photo of.

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#islandlife

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Seriously?

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Our favorite times were really in the morning while most of the boat was sleeping.  So quiet and peaceful.

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Our best friend on the boat.

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Of course Sara loved all the little towel animals. (I didn’t take a shower all week because she would not let me undo any of them.)

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As we pulled back into Galveston Sara got her sad face on.  He dream week was coming to an end.

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Over the course of the week I realized something: I thought I was taking my little girl on the cruise.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that I don’t have a little girl; I have a young lady. Sometime between 2005 and 2014, Sara has grown up. She was more mature than I realized. I was prepared to make dad jokes all week to make her laugh, but her wit and humor kept me in stitches. I was ready for her to miss being home, but her sense of adventure is what helped get me through the week. She didn’t really grow up over the course of the cruise; she has been growing up all along.  But something about getting her away and alone, made me realize just how much of a young lady she is. Everyone who I spoke with before the trip just keep gushing over and over about how special it will be for her. Just how much she’ll remember it forever. How lucky it is that she’ll have these memories.

What I have since realized is that I’m the lucky one.

I’m the one who is treasuring that week.

I’m the one that will remember it forever.

I’m the one who will one day hold a grandkid in my lap and talk about that one time their mother took me on a cruise.

And, if I’m too old to remember the stories… I’ll turn on my vintage iPhone and show them this little movie.

The Cruise from Alex Maldonado on Vimeo.

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