Beyond the rain-drenched streets

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It’s pouring out right now, which is kind of soothing actually. I get the feeling that we will have a cool rainy summer to follow our cold, snowy winter. But while I’m watching the rain, I am thinking about my little boy in a cabin and really, really hoping that he’s either getting better weather, or enjoying his stormy weather with some new BFFs.

The guy I’m missing

I’ve sent Grey away before. Camp Gramp started when he was like 2 years old. I’ve cheerfully bundled him off with my parents and only had light levels of “aw, I miss my boys”. He’s been at daycare since he was 8 weeks old. I’m a pro at parting, solid in the assurance that I’ll see him soon and he’ll have had a great time. So I didn’t anticipate much problem with this whole Summer Camp plan. I’d send him. He’d have a great time and learn a lot and make friends and grow up in new and amazing ways. I’d spend extra time with Thane – the younger, quieter child.

But man, I’m suffering. We’ve had no news since Sunday – which is good. No news means no problems that the counselors haven’t been able to help him with. They had cell phones, those wonderful teenage boys, and Grey knows my number. I have enough confidence in his – ahem – effective communication of his desires to believe he could’ve talked one of them into calling me if he really wanted to. So signs point to a great outcome. He’s fine. He’s happy. He’s awesome.

But I don’t KNOW! Before it’s always been someone I know that I left him with, and that he knew. So often I’ve sent them together. I didn’t realize I counted on the fact they had each other. My mom always sends Camp Gramp updates, and we call when we can. Just those 30 seconds of “Hi mom. I’m doing great… (then trailing off as some new fun thing totally distracts him)” put my mind at ease far more than I realized until I didn’t have them. I’m almost happy that the pickup time is at oh-dark-thirty on Saturday, so I don’t have to wait so long to see him.

I’ve been consoling myself by *thoroughly* cleaning his room in his absence. (With his permission.) I think I could entirely recreate his IKEA bunk bed using nothing but Lego bricks. The older the kid, the smaller the toys, the harder to clean. But it’s nice to come home to a clean house, even if you’re an 8 year old. I suspect it serves to make me even snifflier though.

So to console me – tell me about your first time at summer camp!

Hello mudder, hello fadder

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I don't know about all this, mom.

I don’t know about all this, mom.

I have often thought about a “Baby Book” to capture the truly meaningful firsts our children present us with. Today’s first is a doozy: first time I dropped him off in a place where both he and I knew exactly zero people and drove away with a promise that I’d be back in a week. Not only that, but you go to podunkville (aka Concord NH) and take a left for about 40 minutes. The route there involved actual dirt roads. I felt like Abraham going on a nice little walk with Isaac.

Classic summer camp.

Classic summer camp.

Grey was super subdued on our trip up. I’d opined that I thought it would be good for him to do the trip up without screens, expecting that this was completely unrealistic. I also bought him Garrison Keillor’s “Pretty Good Joke Book”. This lead to predictable results. Also, the book is clearly less G-rated than I thought, as I, um, had to explain quite a few vocabulary words I was hoping to have a few more years on. I guess it was a good chance to tell him what they really mean? (Sample: “Son, let’s have a talk about sex” “Sure dad, what do you want to know?”) But even without any screens on a 2.5 hour trip, the back seat was very, very quiet.

“Mom? Is it normal to feel both excited and scared at the same time?”

Yes son. It’s very, very normal.

Archery? Things are looking up!

Archery? Things are looking up!

Last night he had a rough night going to bed. I think packing his bags helped impress upon him that he was really doing this thing. He was really going to a new place he couldn’t visualize with people he didn’t know doing things he couldn’t imagine. It probably doesn’t help that 100% of his knowledge of overnight camp comes from Foxtrot cartoons. (“Will people prank me?”) I called my folks, and my brother the Presbyterian-Summer-Camp-Champlain who all reassured Grey it would be fine! Great! I could hear his skepticism. He squirmed and looked miserable. “I’m not going to know anyone! I wish I wasn’t going.” He finally fell asleep with his head on my lap, for the first time since he was a baby.

I was super relieved this morning when he insisted on an early departure because he didn’t want to be late. There was the quiet ride. We drove over the highly civilized dirt roads, and got to Camp Wilmot maybe a half hour early. He and I walked the grounds while the camp got itself ready for the latest influx. He insisted on carrying his very heavy backpack (“I need to learn to carry my own things!”), but didn’t want to see the lake. Or the cabins. Or the labrynth. Or the big hill.

Instant BFFs with Ethan

Instant BFFs with Ethan

As we were walking back up the hill to register, a young man – Ethan – came to introduce himself. “Hey, I think I’m your counsellor!” They hit it off like a house on fire. Grey stood up straighter and looked much less skeptical. As we registered, he confided to me that he and Ethan were “just alike!”. When the time came to walk down to the Purple Cabin that will be his home for the week, his stride had the strength of a kid who no longer knew no one. I said goodbye and turned to go. He sentimentally started showing Ethan the “Grossology” section of his Bible. (Mom knows how to keep a kid’s attention!)

Grey's home for the next week

Grey’s home for the next week

He was great. I was fighting tears. And that’s it. I will have an update in a week, if all goes well. So will you. We’ll both wonder together how things are going. Will he remember his sunscreen? Will he have trouble going to sleep without his brother? Will he like camp cooking? Will he feel the Holy Spirit sneak into his soul at the evening campfire?

You and I will never know the full story. Grey is the writer of his own tales now.

Someone who is temporarily an only child spent the day creating wooden Dragons of Kir pieces with his daddy.

Arthur, King of the Britons

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It's a bad sign when waterfowl make themselves at home in your campsite

It’s a bad sign when waterfowl make themselves at home in your campsite

Some people go camping to have fun. Others to spend quality time with their family, relax, enjoy the outdoors, and build really big fires. I – apparently – go camping to see how much suffering I can inflict on my family before they start refusing to go camping with me.

After a five day Memorial Day camping trip last year where it rained every day – except for the last when it snowed – I moved our longest camping trip of the year to the Fourth of July this year. The fourth usually has the best camping weather of the year, with the heat mitigated by the cool breezes over the eponymous lake. After a long cold winter and the buggiest weekend ever for Memorial Day this year, I looked forward to long afternoons on the still waters of the lake baking beneath a New Hampshire sun.

We arrived later than desired to White Lake on Wednesday, but with plenty of daylight and fire-time ahead. The site seemed unusually dark for the time of day and year. Adam started slinging ropes in his inimitable manner. The first knot was not tied when the rumble of thunder drifted across the darkening waters. By the time the guidelines were set, the rain started. Halfway through getting the first of the tarps up, the rain was so fiercely intense that even Adam and I had to give up. We went to Hart’s Turkey Farm, hoping the storm would abate with enough daylight left for tent-pitching, or we might have to (for the first time ever) give in and get a hotel.

My rope-ninja husband managed to get everything strung. We slept contented that night to the staccato fugue of raindrops on a tarp. Thursday started strong. We went swimming in the morning. However the forecast said a major thunder cell would come through at four, and that the rest of the weekend would improve. So we went to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2″ at 5 pm. We emerged to a sultry hot evening that would’v been perfect for swimming. D’oh! We got a chance to roast our hot dogs, but the rain started about bedtime. Once again, the sound of the loons was drowned by the tap tap tapping on tarp tarp tarps.

Friday was a complete loss. When it wasn’t raining, it was because it was pouring. Buckets of water. Multiple emergency alerts on the phone saying things like, “For the love of Pete, you idiots! If you’re camping, stop camping! What part of extreme thunderstorm makes camping sound like a good idea!” We spent the entire day in our tent. With our tarps up I didn’t really consider bugging out, until I started getting texts from a friend back home asking who my next of kin was and whether I preferred cremation or interment. Apparently Stoneham got hit hard. (I’m writing this on the iPad on the way back, so I don’t know what the damage looks like yet.) Happily we missed the hardest punch that Arthur landed, but as I lay there next to a vernal creek flooding its banks, listening to branches creak above me and – yes – the veritable 1812 overture the rain was playing on the tarps I wondered. Just what would it actually take to talk me into getting a hotel room? Pondering this unponderable, I rolled over and zonked out.

Upon waking on Saturday, I felt the expansive five day trip compress before me. We had exactly one full day of non-crap weather in which to do all the summer camping things that needed doing. I stepped out. It was cool and windy. Now, I’ve been training my eldest son in the finer ways of the world. Specifically, I’ve managed to convince him that Mt. Chocorua is taunting him and calling him a weenie and claiming that Grey can’t climb Mt. Chocorua. All this was in preparation for getting some company in my attempt to get Mt. Chocorua to stop calling me a weenie and taunting me all the time. However, I had an unexpected attack of common sense, and realized that my 8 year old actually couldn’t hike Chocorua, especially since I was a little nervous if I could make it.

Instead, the whole family headed North to Pinkerman Notch to make an attempt on Lowe’s Bald Spot. It looked easy on a map – 2.5 miles in and 2.5 back. I strapped on my brand new hiking boots and loaded up a 25 pound pack entirely filled by water bottles and sweaters. Adam and I are planning to backpack the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier this summer. That’s my first backpacking trip since I got my ACL replaced, and so I reckoned I needed to do some training and figure out what my knee will require to be comfortable. The four of us (plus Puppy) set off up the trail.

In my head, I knew that the whining would start about 10 minutes in. I planned on at least 3 times when one or both boys would just sit down and refuse to proceed. We forded rain-flooded streams. We climbed up roots and boulders. We walked across log bridges. The boys? WERE SPECTACULAR. Grey was a gazelle, running like Legolas across boulder-strewn pathways with unconscious ease. Thane was more a Gimli character, if Gimli liked to skip and preferred to find the muddiest, soggiest, wettest path. He had my heart in my throat as he crossed flooded streams. Still it took him nearly 2 miles of hiking before he ended up completely in the drink. Then he complained about the fact he had wet shoes and socks… exactly zero times.

We made the summit we were headed for and tasted the sweet flavor of victory. Also, Hershey’s chocolate with those great peanut-butter filled pretzels. (At least SOME of us did. Others of us had our chocolate cruelly given away.) The path back home, my knee starting to ache with unaccustomed use, melted away in front of us as Thane talked Pokemon and Grey laid out some awesome ideas for a role-playing games he was going to run. It was an awesome hike. Grey, Adam and I all think it was the best part of the trip. (Thane votes for the swimming on Thursday.) Plus, I got the data I needed. I do need two hiking sticks, plus a regular support brace on both knees to feel comfortable backpacking. Also, my new hiking boots are da bomb.

Today, the plan was to go swimming after we broke camp. We were faster than usual about the camp breaking, since Adam got a head start last night. We sunscreened, bathing suited, etc etc. We got to the beach. The wind was blowing hard off the water. The sun was MIA. We spent like 20 minutes attempting to have fun.

But Hurricane Arthur did not defeat us! My streak of sticking out the weather remains unbroken! I admit I’m getting a little nervous, though, about how our bad weather keeps raising the stakes. For Labor Day I’m anticipating either a Category 3 Hurricane, a blizzard. or maybe both!

You can see pictures, mostly of our hike, by clicking here.

Because futbol

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Three of the Team Greece players

Three of the Team Greece players

There have been many discussions during this World Cup round whether this is finally the moment where the United States joins the rest of the world in not just FIFA-fever, but in a regular love of the game.

I remember when I watched my first soccer games. There was no soccer in my community or school – it simply wasn’t an option available. But the summer of 1998 I was home for the summer. I was working, but not SO hard. And the World Cup was on tv. I don’t remember any of the games I saw, or the teams. I do remember that it was sponsored by Snickers and there was a Snickers logo right under the score box for every game. I probably ate 10 Snickers during that World Cup, and just watching the game still makes me want a Snickers Bar.

My sons have a different experience of soccer. We’ve tried a number of things: swimming, aikido, dance (ill-fated), basketball. (They both really want to do t-ball, but the times for t-ball are completely unworkable with two working parents.) But they’ve done more soccer than pretty much anything other than aikido. I actually love the games and practices. I love sitting on the sidelines in a camping chair that smells like woodsmoke, next to MY friends, and watching the boys play. I love on gamedays, when all six fields are full of blue and white jerseys and parents and neighbors and friends – with little siblings putting together their own little games on the sidelines. (I’m impressed and grateful to the excellent run Stoneham Soccer Club for the program they’ve put together for our kids.) My sons know soccer better than baseball, football, hockey, basketball or any of the other classical American Sports.

Grey’s team, Greece, coached by our excellent next door neighbor, came in second for U8! I found myself engrossed and full of nerves while I watched these 8 years olds I have come to know and love do actual ball handling and real actual skills and passes. It was amazing to see how much they learned and improved in one year!

And it’s not just the prior generation. I’m a suburban WASP, surrounded by many other folks whose families have lived in the US for generations. And you know what we’re talking about these days? How great it feels to finally leave Ghana behind. How we owe Renaldo a debt of gratitude. How we’re caught between wanting to watch Messe play and not wanting to face him and Argentina on the field. Whether that biting suspension was a bit too much, and how hilarious it is that he fell on the ground and clutched his teeth after the whole biting incident. We’re messing up details and maybe not 100% sure on all our countries/claims, but we’re watching and talking.

I think the time has come for the international game to take its rightful place in the US. I think that we’ll not have to wait another four years – or watch Univision – to watch the game!

What about you? Are you watching the World Cup? Do you find yourself having to Google things in order to follow along with the conversations? Are you feeling inspired to go see your local MLS team?

Stylin' on the sidelines

Stylin’ on the sidelines

Deadliest Catch: Five secrets to winning over a tough team

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Matt Bradley: problem solver

Matt Bradley: problem solver

The Northwestern has had its share of trouble in Season 10. It almost caught on fire, the steering broke & then half the fresh water was lost due to a leak. The men working 20 hour days doing physical labor were barred from taking showers. Edgar even brushed his teeth using coffee. (“Not half bad!” he opined about the toothpaste/coffee mix.)

But the one hit hardest by this was Matt. Watching how he dealt with his team piling on about his BO was one of the most instructive lessons I’ve ever had in how to deal effectively with a real problem in front of an aggressive group. Watch how he does it.

The classic definition of a Salty Tar

You could almost hear the relish in Mike Rowe’s voice as he called Matt’s aroma a “manly musk”. All the fishermen stunk, but Matt stunk worst. Eating dinner, his crew joked about how badly he smelled. They told him, quite literally, that he smelled like shit. Sadly, Discovery has not yet developed Smello-cam, but based on his reactions and the universal comments of his crew, his fragrance was appalling. But what could he do? The remaining freshwater was needed to run the engines. He wasn’t ALLOWED to take a shower. His work required him to work hard, and in working hard he sweated. He had no options for fixing the problem, and so he just grinned back and kept working.

But on deck, the situation got worse. The men of the Northwestern are not ones to delicately pass by the opportunity to discuss your aromatic characteristics in case your feelings get hurt. Every time he walked by they’d tell him how awful he smelled. They left him alone on the crab sorting table with a “crabalanche” in front of him because (they said) he smelled so bad. At one point a look crossed his face as he realized: this was not going away, and this was not going to get better.

Matt stalked off the deck.

Now, Matt has a temper. We’ve seen fistfights before. We’ve also seen our fair share of greenhorns running up to the captain complaining that the crew is not treating them right. (This is often true. See also: poor Myles on the Cape Caution). I wondered what he would do: take a forbidden shower? Show them how much less fun it is to work on a deck one seasoned hand down? Douse himself in cologne? Tell the captain that they need to lay off him, that it’s not his fault? Wipe his body down with a damp towel and hope it improves things enough to stop all the teasing?

He comes back onto the deck, stripped down. He takes off his shirt as he walks to the middle, leaving boxers and his wellingtons. (Still can’t figure out why he left his boots on!) Then, he jumps in the crab tank. In January. On the Bering Sea. In sub-freezing temperatures. In front of all his crewmates. He stayed in long enough to get totally wet, making a huge show of scrubbing his armpits with a bar of soap. As he comes out, his “friends” aim the saltwater hose at him to help him rinse off.

But once that’s done, his teammates thank him for fixing the issue and all the teasing stops.

I’ve never actually seen someone effectively counter that kind of personal, embarrassing, destructive abuse before. And Matt, with his tank-dunking technique, not only completely countered it, he used it as a way to make himself closer and more respected by the very jerks who were tormenting him.

I thought a lot about that last night, and I think I’ve isolated some of the elements that made this most effective.

1) He didn’t deny there was a problem
Matt didn’t try to deflect the issue at all. He owned it. “What day is it? I can say I haven’t taken a shower all year!” He didn’t diminish the concerns of his team, he didn’t remind them they smelled bad too, and he didn’t trot out the excuses for his stench. He just moved on.

2) He correctly judged the point of no return
He didn’t fall all over himself to fix the issue until it was clear that it wouldn’t resolve, and was escalating. He didn’t escalate the issue himself (see also: decking the other guys), but he didn’t start panicking at the first joke about his olfactory objections. He waited until the issue was clear & quantified.

3) He thought “outside the box”
Matt’s solution never crossed my mind. It probably didn’t cross his teammates, either. There was a solution to his problem (which did require great personal sacrifice). He was clearly thinking about it, instead of getting mad or feeling trapped. None of this would be possible without his problem solving creativity.

4) He fixed the problem obviously, and in public
If it had been me, I would have been hiding in my bunk trying to fix the smell. But Matt was smart enough to know it wasn’t just about the smell, it was about the reputation of smell. Even if he’d snuck in a surreptitious shower and fixed the actual issue, I bet he wouldn’t have gotten much credit for it. They either would have continued to tease him about his (now non-existent) smell, or made fun of him for caring that much. Making his ablutions in front of the entire crew was the ONLY way that he could permanently put this issue to bed. It is KEY that Matt did this in front of everyone – with a smile. Not only that, but Matt enhanced his reputation for toughness (a key on the Bering Sea) while erasing his reputation for stench. An illicit shower would have been more thorough, but it would have been massively less effective.

5) He engaged his critics in the fix
It may not have been part of his original plan, but when the guys turned the seawater hose on him, they were buying into his solution. He didn’t duck the stream, or get pissed. He took just long enough in the stream to make the other deck hands feel like he accepted their addition to his solution. As he walked off the deck (freezing cold, holy cow) his teammates were thanking him for solving the problem, grinning and clapping him on the back.

Matt managed to take a really uncomfortable situation of being ostracized and humiliated for his unavoidable odor, and turn it into a way to bond more deeply with his team and enhance his reputation. I was deeply impressed.

Now, I don’t work crab boats on the Bering Sea, and I’m unlikely to be in the exact same pickle. But I have never been able to figure out how to handle situations where you’re coming under fire for a deeply personal problem with no clear resolution. Matt just gave a masterclass in doing just that.

Preschooler No More

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My company hosted its annual convention this past week. In addition to presenting at a session and connecting with my clients, I was also the official event photographer (which was wicked fun, by the way). On Thursday, though, I walked out of the cool, dim & artistically decorated rooms and crossed high bridges between crane-risen buildings back to the parking lot, to head home for a rite of passage. Preschool graduation.

Stoneham YMCA Preschool Class of 2014

Stoneham YMCA Preschool Class of 2014

Now, much fun has been made of the proliferation of graduations. I confess to a bit of mirth on my part at the banner strung between the sensory table and block area proudly pronouncing the “Class of 2014″. But when those small, bright faces in pint-sized blue robes came walking through the room to find their chairs, my heart swelled with the pride of the mother of a graduate. The celebration was short. There were readings by two of the emergent readers (including my sweet Thane). The classes sang the songs with Music Jill that I’ve been hearing so much of lately. They called forth the graduates and presented them with both diplomas and “superlatives”. Thane was “Most Likely to be a Scientist” – a role I was heartily glad to hear for him! (I was betting on “Most Likely to be a Pokemon Trainer”)

Thane delivers the keynote

Thane delivers the keynote

I glanced around the room at the kids I knew from playdates and birthday parties. At the parents who shared the 5:59 pickup time with me, and the ones I’d never seen before. We had been together a long time, those of us in that room. Thane has attended the Stoneham YMCA since he was just over a year old, and many of the kids had been in those infant rooms with him. Now they scatter – some to other school districts, some to other elementaries. A handful will find themselves the smallest members of South School in the Fall.

A rare picture of all four Flynns

A rare picture of all four Flynns

Thane is ready for it. He hasn’t napped in like 3 years, so giving up the enforced nap time will be great for him. He has started to read everything around him. Curious and literal-minded, he asks again and again for definitions he knows, trying to ensure he has them just right. His reading is ready. His math is ready. I think – I fear to say it – but his behavior is ready too. He has become amazing amounts more helpful and cooperative over the last year.

He’ll have two more days in the Orange Room, with the beloved Miss Laureen and Miss Jenn. And on Wednesday, when I drop him off at the Y, it will be downstairs at Summer Camp instead of upstairs. A swimsuit will replace the blanket. He’ll be ready for new adventures. And ready he is.

He's ready.

He’s ready.

For more graduation pictures and videos of the kids singing, you can check out the album!

Two notes from billpaying time

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First – I got a notification from the Y today for the new preschool price list. I stared at it for quite some time. Then I threw it in the trash. I will never pay for preschool again. I am paying my last right now. It is all summer camp and afterschool from here until it’s time for college tuition.

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Second – we put a new floor into our kitchen! Very exciting. The former floor was considerably older than me. It was white. It showed everything. Being so old, it also could not actually ever be clean. We put in Pergo floors. I have some more structural fixes to the house (after Adventures in Roofing last year it will be Fixing Rotting Windows II this year) so I didn’t have a huge budget. When I first saw the floor I was admittedly skeptical, but it’s growing on me. Which – once installed – you really had better like it no matter what.

I like it.

Before:

 

What the floor looked like when clean


The big picture view of the white floor

After:

Definitely different. It took some adjusting.


With the furniture restored

Four Flynns in a tent

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Brothers in books

Brothers in books

It’s a great question why any of us choose to have children, in this age. We don’t need them for their labor. We no longer expect children to provide for parents in old age. We aren’t allowed to use them for spare organ parts. Kids are tremendously expensive, and an iffy proposition since it turns out their eventual success is much more about their efforts than ours. Having kids comes along with a burden of bearing others’ judgements, not sleeping in, cleaning up vomit, worrying and making excellent meals that no one will eat. And yet we continue to have children.

If I thought about why I wanted to have children, other than just seeming like the thing I ought to do, I think I wanted children so that someone else would get to enjoy childhood as much as I did. I thought back the the joys of my youth and wanted to offer them to someone else.

I remember in particular one car trip we took as a family. (My family practically grew up in a car.) My brother was a nascent reader – maybe four or five. My sister and I – eight and six years older – were already well versed in reading. On this particular day we drove through the rolling desert hills of Eastern Washington and told my brother about all the books we were jealous that he’d get to read for the first time: Mrs. Buncle’s Book, The Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare. My entire family breathed a deep sigh of relief when my brother finally picked up books and started reading along with the rest of us. We spent our vacations with book bags larger than our clothing bags. I married a man with the same predilections.

But the last decade or so has been somewhat lacking in the reading department. We’ve had a non-reader as part of our family for the last eight and a half years. Until now.

Last night, we sat around the fire on an incredibly buggy night on the shores of White Lake. (Ask me about how I and my phobia survived my first ever tick bite!) Adam was reading some book of Cthulu horror on his Kindle. I had managed to lure Grey into reading “My Side of the Mountain”. Ah – is there anything sweeter than watching your child devour a book you had loved as a child? He was deep into it, head dancing with dreams of living off the land, just as I did. And Thane was doggedly working his way through beginner books. He read “Are You My Mother” and “Put Me In the Zoo” and slogged his way through a Pokemon book. For an hour or so the four of us sat around the campfire swatting mosquitos and reading.

The joys of slightly older children did not stop there, though. Finally chased into the tent by the ravening hordes of starving, blood-sucking insects, we broke out a board game. On the tent of the floor, we played through an oddly cooperative round of Carcassonne – an actual game that Adam and I play for fun. Thane played a tough game, and Grey actually won. Then we read some more before bed. Thane tired before he finished his book, and I woke up to the sound of him slogging his way through it in the morning light (at a reasonable hour).

This Memorial Day camping trip was wet, but dryer than last year. It was cool, but warmer than last year. (Actually, Friday night was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.) It was irredeemably buggy. But it felt like the dawning of a new age, with the company of these cool kids who like to build forts, imagine themselves as outdoorsmen and sing old folk tunes in front of the fire. They can open the zipper to the tent, go to the bathroom by themselves and be safely out of my sight.

In the buggy, moist air above the loons of White Lake I had that moment of joyful realization: this is why I had children.

You can see all my pictures for May, including video of Thane reading, by clicking here!

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