Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What Has My Children Reviewing and Learning U.S. Geography? {A Crafty Classroom Review}

My children have never been worksheet kids, but they were delighted to begin using the USA Activity Bundle by the The Crafty Classroom to review and learn more about U.S. geography.  To me, this speaks volumes: the well-designed pages  of each e-book included in the bundle equaled fun, not work, for my kiddoes.  Beautiful illustrations of state birds, fun sate-shaped mazes, and detailed (but not too busy!) state notebooking pages invited my children to color, research, review, write, and enjoy.

We received three downloads of activity packs in PDF format with bundle, which together provide a fun homeschool geography curriculum supplement for us - which could also act as the spine for a 50 States unit study for others.

The U.S.A. State Bird Art Cards download was a surprise hit with my children.  They all loved the detail of the line drawings in the 30-page pdf and had fun beginning to research a bit about each bird, using online resources to hear different bird calls and learn more about the birds. 

In the downloaded pdf, the book
United Tweets of America is recommended for researching in order to fill our the bird cards, but our library system's copy has been unavailable for a while.  So, I decided not to explain to my children that the small cards on each bird page are actually memory match cards.  My plan is that when the recommended book comes in, we will read it to learn and review more, and, then, cut out the small cards as a fun conclusion to our state bird studies.

One other thing I like about the Bird Art cards is that they include a small space for children to write fun facts about each bird.  None of my children like to write by hand, so the relatively small space encourages them to write something without discouraging them with too many lines to fill in.

A not-as-surprising hit with my children has been the U.S.A. 50 State Mazes.  I already knew my children like mazes, but what I did not know was how much they would enjoy doing the state-shaped ones in this 51-page pdf that includes each of the state's outlines filled in with mazes to print and complete.  They found the mazes challenging, but not too hard, and I liked that they were using basic critical thinking skills and increasing their awareness of each state's shape while completing the mazes. 

The U.S.A. State by State Activity Notebook was surprisingly well-received, too.  As I said before, my children are not worksheet kids, and I wondered if they'd find these activity sheets to "workbooky"  Happily, they did not.  Instead, they eagerly researched the abbreviation, bird, nickname, flower, flags, geography and other facts of some states in books that we own as well as online and, then, enjoyed coloring and writing to fill out activity pages. 

I plan to let them continue to move through each of the state activity pages in the 60-page pdf at their own pace and, then, to play the included full-color Bingo USA game and Roll-Across-America game when as an enjoyable review.

Our Thoughts

Truly, each of the three resources in the USA Activity Bundle compliment each other, balancing visual interest, research, review, and challenge.  The simplicity of the pages, yet (non-busy) detail of their design is quite appealing.

My oldest, at 11, said:

I really like this.  It's super fun.  I really like doing the state pages...coloring the birds.  I also like doing the mazes which are so fun to do.  Coloring the bird pages is good, too.  I have been reviewing things and learned Massachusetts was named from an Indian name.

I want Mom to get me a binder, because I want to put all my papers in it to make a state book.

My youngest, at seven, said:

I like coloring the birds and doing the mazes.  They are fun.  I've done a lot of mazes.

My middle-child, at 10, said:

I really like doing the mazes although they are really complicated.  They are the shape of the states.

I really liked learning about the birds.  That was fun to do.  It is interesting to find out what bird goes with what state.  I thought it was interesting that some birds went to more than one state.  Also, I like Rhode Island's bird: a chicken.  It is different, because it is a tame, domestic bird.

I liked the state pages, too... coloring and writing facts.

I would recommend these to people learning about the country.
USA Activity Bundle

I would not hesitate to recommend the USA Activity Bundle to others who have children that enjoy coloring, completing mazes, and learning about the states.

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Sculpt Away with this Quick-Sculpting Kit! {An ACTÍVA Products Review}

If you have tactile kids who loves to craft, then a Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit from ACTÍVA Products could be a huge hit in your household. If you have a sensory defensive child who gets squeamish with anything goopy or wet, then you may still welcome
this product as a therapeutic sensory diet tool which is big on sensory input, yet relatively easy to use and clean up and which also just happens to be 100% wheat- and gluten-free, non-toxic and non-carcinogenic!

{Disclosure: Some links which follow are affiliate ones.}

Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit

Our Experience

In my home, we have two children who love to dig in and get their hands dirty and one who has an aversion to many textures.  Thus, I opted to review Rigid Wrap and CelluClay in hopes of delighting my two tactile kids, while possibly enticing my sensory-defensive child to join in on some creative fun.  So far, only the former has happened. 

My two "hands in" kids have wrapped, shaped, sculpted, and painted, creating their own little projects, while their tactile-defensive big brother circled round, got curious, asked a lot of questions, and observed, but has yet to jump in on the fun. 

Because my oldest, unfortunately, has been having a tough summer, I did not "force" - or even strongly encourage him - to use the
Rigid Wrap and CelluClay with us.  For I knew that it would only exacerbate things.  What I did do, though, is quietly ask my younger two to keep their projects small, using only a portion of our kit, so big brother could use some later. 

Of course, when my oldest heard me suggest saving some of the plaster cloth and quick-set papier-mache mix for him, he declared that he has no interest in trying them.  However, as an observant mother, I could already see his curiosity piqued and his brain ticking with ideas for how the materials might be used.  And, okay, I admittedly fed my son's quite-active brain by letting him happen upon me browsing project idea videos on the
ACTÍVA Products website.

"Mom, can I watch to... Oh, that's cool... I wonder if..."

Yes, as my son commented while watching videos of various applications for
ACTÍVA Products, seeds were planted.  I am confident that as they germinate into visions of original projects for a future homeschool fair, products that might be sold at our church bizarre table, or a 3-d design that my son's imagination has cooked up, my son will be asking to use our remaining Rigid Wrap and CelluClay.  Years of parenting my child has proven to me that patience and timing are everything.  So, I am excited to have this easy-to-use, versatile sculpting media on hand for when the ideal time for overcoming sensory aversions while making visions realities arrives for my oldest.

Meanwhile, my younger two have been asking to use some more of it.

They had fun experimenting with it.

My daughter decided to adapt an idea from the FREE, full-color
ACTÍVA Products' Favorite Sculpture KIDS CRAFTS e-book in order to craft a St. Anne doll for our upcoming feast day celebration.

My son asked if he could make Daddy a tiny football to keep at work.

Then, my daughter decided to make an even tinier one.

Our Creations So Far

My younger two children both had fun cutting
Rigid Wrap plaster cloth, dipping it, wrapping it, and smoothing it.  Then, they patiently waited overnight for their projects to dry before finishing them off.

Their projects could have been dried more quickly in a microwave, but we don't have one in our kitchen, so just left their projects out overnight.

The children only used Sharpies and paint to finish their projects off - but I hear other finishing media can work, too. 

My daughter also used white glue to attach a baby Mary to her Saint Anne statue.  Hot glue or more plaster strips would likely have worked just as well, I'd guess.

Our Thoughts

Overall, I was quite pleased with the
Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit and can attest that is just what it is advertised to be: 
"A paper mache kit ... (and) excellent way to try the materials before moving on to larger projects... ideal for kids crafts and science fair projects (with)
  • 2 - 4" rolls of Rigid Wrap
  • 8 oz. of CelluClay
  • Complete instructions for 12 projects"

The only thing the kit lacks, in my opinion, is clear, easy-on-the-eye instructions on how to use the materials and build the suggested projects.  (Inside the box is only a photocopied page with relatively minuscule print.)  This drawback is easily remedied by going to the ACTÍVA Products website, though, where you'll find loads of helpful resources and ideas, such as:

Truly, the physical kit, when paired with the website, can easily unleash sculpting and creativity in children!  I am happy to have been introduced to this crafting media.

My youngest, at seven said:

I liked the texture of the dry strips, and liked how it sticks (when it is wet).  It was easy to clean up.

My daughter, at ten, said:

I liked how you can wet the Rigid Wrap and wrap it around your cardboard.  It was fun, but messy to use, because it was dry and had holes, then, you wet it, wrapped it, and, then, rubbed it to make the holes disappear.  It wasn't too messy though.

I let mine dry overnight, and, then, I painted it.  My project was a statue and it was good. I even made a baby to glue to it. 

I want to use this stuff again.  My brother also made a football, and I did, too.

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Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit {ACTÍVA Products Reviews}

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Celebrate St. Anne's Feast Day This Week (Even if Impromptu)

The Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne is coming up on July 26 and is a super simple one to celebrate as you and your children live the liturgical year. 


Catholic Culture offers prayers, recipes, background, and more, which you might find helpful if you're the planning type.  Tracy at A Slice of Smith Life shares a wonderful way to celebrate with grandparents on this day, and, in the past, I have also shared a variety of prayer, food, and resource ideas in St. Anne celebration posts.  Plus, if you're a more spontaneous type, you might enjoy hearing about the impromptu celebration that we enjoyed last year, which proves that feast day prayer, fun, and learning can be thrown together even on a hectic day!

St. Anne's Intercession, Our Lord's Grace and the Help of a Friend Made It Happen

Seriously, last year, I almost thought I would not be able to continue our family tradition of celebrating my Name Day - St. Anne's feast day.  For, as the day arrived, I found myself swimming in chaos!
Both my son and I were on meds for Lyme's disease, and our washer and dryer had been broken for days.  That meant the laundry room was piled high with dirty clothes atop sundry boxes, bins, and bags of "homeless stuff" from other parts of the house which were blockading the door where our broken machines needed to be taken out so new ones could be installed.  Having spent some time working budget wonders in the week prior, I had been able to find money to replace our old machines, and, on the day before St. Anne's fest day, I was faced with the formidable task of clearing the laundry room clutter while managing one Lyme-lethargic child and two exuberant siblings who had been helping as they could, but were also rearing to just enjoy youthful energy.

Needless to say, prayers for the intercession of St. Anne - patron of homemakers and mothers among other things - were needed and, Our Lord must have smiled on those prayers, because a wonderful friend offered to take my children on St. Anne's feast day, so I could finish up the laundry room and manage the removal of broken machines and delivery of new ones without children underfoot. 

Thanks be to God for sending me - a tired mama - a generously kind friend like that and, then, for gifting me with enough energy and focus to do what needed to be done before the delivery men arrived.  By afternoon, the laundry room was organized and the two men who sweated through removal of our old machines and installation of our new ones were sipping some iced water I offered them while I was inwardly offering prayers of thanksgiving for how smoothly things had gone and how happy I knew my children were in the care of my friend. 

I also was delighted, because the delivery and installation didn't take as long as I thought it would, so I had time to pillage our fridge for St. Anne celebration foods, and was able to call my friend to ask her if her children would like to join us for an impromptu feast day when she dropped my children back to me. 

Of course, my friend said that she would be delighted to join us, but that I didn't need to go to any trouble to prepare something special for her nor her children. She knew I had been working hard and must be tired; there was no need for me to expend any extra effort to offer them a meal.  I responded that it really would be my pleasure - not trouble - to put together an impromptu feast day meal for them to join us at.  I was quite grateful that she had taken my children for the day and, since things had gone so smoothly, was excited to continue our annual tradition and to share it with her and her children.

So it was that this happened:

I went through our fridge and cupboards to find any green and red foods that everyone might enjoy since St. Anne is typically depicted in wearing green (for rebirth or immortality) and red (for love).  In doing so, I attempted to keep things healthy with protein and produce choices, but also put out a tray of "treat" chocolate Silk and 100% juice so the children could enjoy something sweet.

I laid all the foods out on a low table outside and, also, put out our green, red, and white pillar candles (for St. Anne's typical colors and Christ's pure love shining down through the generations.)  Alongside these, I placed three books I was able to quickly grab from our shelves each have St. Anne stories and/or prayers in them.

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Credit: Amazon


Of course, these books are not necessary for your own celebrations.  If you don't have them - or something like them -  you can always use a saint day excerpt from online, like the brief one at Holy Spirit Interactive.

Let the Feasting Begin

My preparations went fairly fast, and everything was set to go when my children returned with our friends and, by chance, my husband got home from work and changed into casual clothes.

So, we began with a prayer and chat about St. Anne, and, then, I read a brief excerpt about her before drawing the children's attention to our feast table and asking them what symbolism it might have.

Of course, they quickly noticed the colors - green and red - and the "light of love" with the candles.  One of the children likened the GFCF pretzel sticks either to the tree where the bird's nest St. Anne was said to have spied and prayed by or to the nest itself.

Another likened the stuffed grape vine leaves to St. Anne eventually being full with pregnancy, and someone commented that the chick peas could be like little Mary in St. Anne's belly.  (Gotta love children's imaginations.)

The children noticed the smiley I had made with onions and tomatoes on farm-fresh beans - reminding us of our Lord smiling down on us in love.

They also noticed the hearts I had out on the regular and red pepper hummus bowls - again, representative of God's love for us, as well as of St. Anne's and St. Joachim's love for Mary, and Mary's love for Jesus and for us. 

Likewise, the chocolate squares that were on the table reminded them of the sweetness of God's love.

Chat complete, it was time to dig in...

The children happily served themselves nibbles of this and that...

While I enjoyed making "St. Anne cracker bites"...

And Nina, I think it was, prepared a full plate for Daddy!

Playtime in Honor of the Patron to Homemakers

Bellies satiated, it was then time for free play. 

I had asked the delivery men to let me keep the boxes for our washer and dryer, and, let the kids loose with them.

Before long, scissors, knives, duct tape, and more were coming out.

The children's imaginations and creativity were in full swing.

And on the feast of a saint who is patron to mothers and homemakers, the children made play homes.

Doors of friendship, faith, and gratitude were wide open!

With fridge forage, books, candles, boxes, and the blessings of friendship, faith, and fabulous kiddoes, our fifth annual St. Anne celebration - although impromptu - was a success!

I pray your Memorial of Sts. Anne and Joachim is blessed and happy.  As shared on Catholic Company, please join me in praying:

Good parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grandparents of our Savior, Jesus Christ,
When life seems barren,
help us to trust in God’s mercy.
When we are confused,
help us to find the way to God.
When we are lost in the desert,
lead us to those whom God has called us to love.
When our marriage seems lifeless,
show us the eternal youth of the Lord.
When we are selfish,
teach us to cling only to that which lasts.
When we are afraid,
help us to trust in God.
When we are ashamed,
remind us that we are God’s children.
When we sin,
lead us to do God’s will.
You who know God’s will for husband and wife,
help us to live chastely.
You who know God’s will for the family,
keep all families close to you.
You who suffered without children,
intercede for all infertile couples.
You who trusted in God’s will,
help us to respect God’s gift of fertility.
You who gave birth to the Blessed Mother,
inspire couples to be co-creators with God.
You who taught the Mother of God,
teach us to nurture children in holy instruction.
You whose hearts trusted in God,
hear our prayers for . . . (state your request).
Pray with us for the ministry of Catholic family life.
Pray with us for the ministry of Natural Family Planning.
Pray with us for all who give their time, talent, and treasure to this good work.
Hail Mary . . .  Our Father . . . Glory be . . .
God of our fathers, you gave Saints Anne and Joachim the privilege of being the parents of Mary, the mother of your incarnate Son. May their prayers help us to attain the salvation you have promised to your people.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A New Take on An Old Parable {A Mapelle Film and Book Review}

I'm always on the look out for wholesome family movies with strong faith-connected messages, so I was excited to receive a Trust Fund DVD from Mapelle Films for review and was even more pleased to have an opportunity to read Love Was Near, a companion book to the film.

Since film is rated PG for “mild thematic elements and brief smoking”, with a suggested audience is 12+, and the book is directed towards girls ages 12+, I initially thought I would watch the DVD with my husband, before deciding if we would share it with our children and, then, would read the book myself. before saving it for my daughter to read in a couple years.  But, you know what they say, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans."

As life unfolded, my husband and I never found time together without the children for a just-us movie time.  So, finally, one night, when my husband was working a late shift and I needed to unwind after reading my children a bedtime story, I popped the
Trust Fund into my laptop to watch on my own.

Ha!  I should have known better.  I was just beginning the film when my daughter's feet padded up next to me.  She could not sleep, and the next thing I knew, she asked if she could cuddle up to watch the movie with me.  I knew she was tired and might just fall asleep if she had a chance to snuggle into me to watch the film, so I said, "Sure, but this movie really meant for older children and grown ups, so if it gets to be too much I may ask you to leave."

A minute or two later, both my other children came into the room. Everyone wanted Mama and Mama just wanted to unwind.  So, we my children and I ended up viewing
Trust Fund together.

A Little About Mapelle Films

Once all my children were settled in next to me, before turning the movie back on, I shared two things with them:

Trust Fund is a family movie, but it is meant for families with older children, so we might have to turn it off.

(2)  One interesting thing about the movie is who made it:  a homeschooler and his wife!  Isaac Alongi, the producer and cinematographer of the film was homeschooled through graduation began making videos when he was just 11(my oldest child's age).  Now he makes feature films, documentaries, and more.  Sandra Marin, his wife, is a writer, director, and producer.  She teamed up with her husband to make this movie.

All of my children - who are super creative and imaginative and who like to dabble with stopmotion animation and making film clips with our camera on occasion -  thought these facts were cool.

(If you'd like read more about Isaac Alongi's story, take a look at this article from Midwest Parent Educators.)

A Faith-Inspired Romantic Drama

Trust Fund Movie

Then, it was onto watching the film, which was engaging enough that none of my children fell asleep and tame enough that I did not have to turn it off, although I definitely think an older crowd of teens and above would have made a better crowd for
Trust Fund than my children did, since the film had a lot of romance (which is something my children are definitely not into) and a storyline that involved theft, shady dealings, running away to live with a boyfriend, entitled adults,and examples of a number of mature topics, such as family dysfunction, promiscuity, deception, and jealousy.

Of course, the storyline was not all vice.  For the film is actually inspired by the popular Bible parable of the Prodigal Son, and, thus, contained strong messages of love and forgiveness.  In it, a young woman named Reese discovers that her late mother has left her and her sister a 10 million dollar trust fund that her father - who owns a profitable publishing company - has not told them about.   Unhappy with her life, and wanting to fly off to Italy to write a book and meet up with a love interest, Reese hacks into her father's company accounts using her Type-A sister Aubrey's computer in order to transfer half of their inheritance to her own bank account.  Promptly after that, Reese packs off for Italy, where she immerses herself in writing and romance, rekindling a relationship with an Italian man who is not what he seems to be and who ends up taking Reese's inheritance and using it for illegal dealings.

From there, the film takes off with mild suspense, plenty of drama and romance, and, of course,  heightened needs for forgiveness between family.  By the film's end, Reese (the dreamer and prodigal daughter) returns to the United States and has to face her judgemental, jealous sister Aubrey (the hardworking doer who is chagrined by her sibling) and her patient, loving father Grayson (the epitome of almost unbelievable unconditional love).

You can get a flavor for it with this trailer:

The characters' lifestyle - with multi-million dollar bank accounts, private jets, international excursions, gala parties, and more - may not be something many folks (myself included!) can relate to, but the moral of the story is one we can all use learning (or reminding) about.  Further, many will recognize aspects of Reese's and Aubrey's personalities among people they know in real-life and all should appreciate some of the camera angles, beautiful scenery, etc. in the film.

The Children's Reviews

Since my children watched the film with me, I asked each to dictate a review to share, thinking it might help others with younger children decide if this movie - meant for ages 12+, but said to be okay for younger children with moms and dads present,  would be a good fit for their families.

My ten-year-old daughter said:

I watched this movie because my mom was watching it, and I asked her if I could, and she said, "Yes." 

It is about a girl who figures out that her mom, who had died, had saved money for her in her father's name.  So, she took the money and left to Italy.  She dated someone there and gave all the money to him.  He used it to smuggle diamonds.

She escaped Italy and went back home.  Her dad had a little party, and her older sister, who was mad at her did not come.  She understood the sister was mad.

So, what does this story remind you of?  It's from the Bible....  The prodigal son!  But, it's a daughter.

The movie was okay.  It was filmed nicely, but I did not like it that much.  Too much romance.  I think it would be good for teenagers and stuff like that. 

My seven-year-old son said:

I thought it was okay.  I liked the scenery and the train. 
Some people did bad things in it, like steal diamonds and steal 5,000 million katrillion dollars.

Some good things were that the girl came home and her dad forgave her.  It was like the story in the Bible with the two sons and the father.  One of the son's left and spent all his money.  Then, he came home and they had a party for him and the other son was upset because he had not had a party and the other guy had done wrong.

The movie teaches forgiveness and love.

My eleven-year-old on said:

It was okay, but I don't like the romance.  I watched it anyway,  because it was a movie that was on, and I like watching movies. 

I liked the way they filmed Italy from above, but I would not recommend this movie to kids.  I'd recommend it to teenagers, like 14-18 year olds, because they like that stuff. 

After Mom told me the movie was like the prodigal son, I thought, I am the dumbest person in the world.  It is so much like it! But it has romance...

As you can see, my children appreciated the beautiful scenery, lighting, and angles in the film, liked part sod the storyline, and gleaned the overall theme of forgiveness.  They were non-plused, though, by all the  romance, which, in truth, is in balance with family relationships.

A Clever Companion Book and A Free Study Guide

Love Was Near Book

In the film
Trust Fund, the main character Reese writes a book called "Love Was Near".  Thus, as a companion to the movie, Sandra Martin wrote  Love Was Near, which allows readers to dive deeper into the themes of the movie by giving them background on Reese's life and thoughts in a clever package that weaves excerpts of the fictional Reese's diary together with insights written by her and journaling pages for the reader to examine her own thoughts on topics that the narrator of the book - Reese - brings up.

Basically, the book encourages readers to use the film as a jumping off point for taking a deep look at themselves and how they think while also examining love from different angles (as a part of our human nature that seeks approval, acceptance, companionship, and, of course, forgiveness and also as something that is always near - given as a gift from our Father in Heaven.)

Within the book, readers are prompted to reflect upon how:

  • family relationships affect us
  • we should not let desires rule our lives
  • dishonesty affects us and those around us
  • we should be grateful for what we have
  • needs and wants are quite different
  • we must be discerning
  • we sometimes fail to see truth
  • not everyone is deserving of our trust
  • some people's opinions really do not matter
  • forgiveness is healing and healthy
  • we never have to earn God's love

As a 40-something year old woman, I found the book to be a quick read with interesting background on the film's storyline (like how Reese's mom had died), strong messages of love and faith, and thought-provoking prompts I could absolutely see my 12-16 year-old-self having quite liked this book, for I was a tween and teen that read loads of romance novels, dated, was immersed in pop culture, etc.

That said, I cannot see myself handing this book to my daughter at 12. For, at 10, my girl leans towards the innocent and selectively unworldly.  She considers boys peers and playmates, not potential romantic interests, and she knows history and politics, but not a whole lot of pop culture.  Thus, even in two years, I would guess much of the book would still not be a good fit for my daughter.  That said,  I can think of plenty of tween and teen girls who would like - and even benefit - from the book as it would provide a safe-space to reflect while pointing them to God-centered truths.Additionally, for those that seek something more concise, 
Mapelle Films offers a free downloadable study guide that families and small groups can use in conjunction with the film.   It is 12 pages long, has video clips that are accessible online, includes Scripture references, and gets right to the point of the movie. 

Who I'd Recommend This Film-Book Duo To

Trust Fund and Love Was Near are worthy of a look for families with tweens and teens that like romance and could use an "in" for thinking about or discussing unconditional love and forgiveness between humans as a reflection of God's merciful love for us.  I can also see some young women or moms getting together for a movie night or book club chat with Trust Fund and Love Was Near.
Faith-centered families may wish to know that the movie has no overt Christian content, but is clearly inspired by the Bible and
prompts thoughts on relationships (romantic, familial, and divine).  It is wholseome in overarching theme, and contains no profanity, sex, nor nudity, but it does contain some content that could be confusing or provide bad examples for younger children.

The book picks up where the movie leaves off in the way of reflection and faith connections.  In fact,
Love Was Near seaks directly of God and His word.

Trust Fund Movie {Mapelle Films Reviews}

Ninety Review Crew families
reviewed the film and many reviewed the book as well, so if you'd like other takes on either, check out what they had to say.

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How might you exercise unconditional love?  Have you ever needed forgiveness?  Where can you turn to experience love and mercy?  Mapelle Films gets you thinking about all this.

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