Erin’ Go Yumm!

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It might be the night before St. Patrick’s day, but the point of this entry is that it is the night before…..not the night after. Time still remains to make a family tradition out of this very green holiday. Serious or silly, recycled (green) or newly constructed, this occasion can be one that bring families together to enjoy each other.

This year we are making leprechaun beards out of construction paper and string, creating homespun tall tales about St. Patrick’s Day, and making some yummy food!

One tradition I always try to honor on St. Patrick’s Day is getting together and connecting with friends. Franz Schubert said “Happy is a person who finds a true friend” and this year I reached out to my dear friend Kristen to see what she and her family were up to in Charlotte, NC. She is a amazing friend and I am one lucky lass to know her.

Sixteen years ago we traveled cross country, visiting the Southwestern United States for 3 months. In those months, I began a love affair with all things western, realized that working with horses was enchanting, and pulled more tumble weed from under our car than one could imagine. To bring things full circle, I recall our trip to Collins Irish Pub in Flagstaff, Arizona. In the midst of a February Blizzard, we enjoyed some excellent music and good laughs, all while still making it home without freezing. Collins Pub is still in operation, and I still have the T-shirt to say I was there. One the back is printed this Irish blessing:

“ MAy the road rise to meet you
 May the wind always be at your back,
 May the sun shine warm upon your face,
 May the rains fall softly upon your fields,
 and until we meet again,
 May God always hold you in the palm of his hands”

In our family we vary a bit each year with what we do, but good friends and good food are the staples. This year I decided on making Organic Shepard’s pie. So enjoy the recipe and blessing, take some time to reach out to a good friend, and do something that truly makes you grin. You’ll be one lucky leprechaun and perhaps find your  very own Pot O’ Gold at the end of the rainbow this St. Patrick’s Day!

Organic Shepard’s Pie

Ingredients:
2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled
1 teaspoon coconut oil
2 pounds ground chicken (thighs preferred)
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1 medium onion, thin sliced
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen peas
1-2 tablespoons butter or Earth Balance spread

Preheat oven to 350F.

Steam the potatoes in a steamer basket until soft. Once soft, mash them and add 1-2 tablespoons Earth Balance spread. Mix until the butter is dissolved and throughout.

Heat a skillet, add coconut oil to coat, and brown the meat, moving the meat continuously. While moving the meat add the spices and continue to mix throughout.

Remove meat and saute the thin sliced onions until translucent. Put meat back into pan, along with peas and corn. Cook till meat is just a bit underdone and swimming in its juices. Add a little bit of chicken broth or water if necessary to keep the meat lightly swimming.

Take a casserole dish or 2 large pie pans and spread the meat and veggie mixture along the bottom. Make a second layer of mashed potatoes to cover the meat.

Place in the oven for 20 minutes at 350F.
If you want to brown the top of the potato topping, remove the casserole dish, put on the broiler, and place the casserole dish back into the oven on the top rack. The potatoes should turn golden and a bit crisp on top in a few minutes, so keep an eye on them to avoid burning.

Serve alongside a green salad -a complete meal. Yummi!

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Sensing Christmas: When will I feel it’s here….

IMG_6948A few days to go before Christmas and I have completed list number 4. I feel like there is much to still organize and prepare, from groceries to gifts. But I have to stop and ask, do I want my Christmases to be recognized by a feeling of stress and fast paced work? I can say that if Christmas is really all about stress and fastness, then it is nothing special. BUT, I would like it to be special, so I best just stop and look at things a bit differently.

What come to mind, are years gone by, when a student of mine told me that she was really good at enjoying the season of Halloween. She explained that she loved the glow of the candles in the jack-0-lanterns, the smell of leaves, and the colors of orange and deep red all around as she walked home from school. She was in third grade, and honestly, I think she taught me more about sensing the world around me than anyone ever did. Since then I have applied this mindfulness to Halloween, and it has made it more enjoyable. Can I do the same for Christmas?

What are the sensations of Christmas?

Last year, I was told a true story about an Amish woman who was preparing for Christmas. The story was a lesson in simplicity. At first my mind conjured ideas of beautiful tables and rustic buggy rides, but I was shocked to hear that the only preparations she would do would be to put a fancy table cloth on the table, and buy paper plates. I asked why the paper plates? To give her and her family all good a good rest after the Christmas meal. Good rest. A good gift we all could use, right?

Now my thoughts drift to a play-date for my daughters’ choir friends. The kids played well and all the moms had such a great time talking and sharing and listening. Since the play-date, I noticed that I have been feeling grateful for the time to connect, given our sometimes texting disconnected world. Good sharing and good listening make a good gift we could all use too, right?

So now one week before Christmas, I sit down to think. How can this Christmas be one to remember. And I realize all I need to do is be simple, connect and sense the would around me for all the goodness it is sure to deliver. Just like fall and it’s splendor, Christmas has it’s charms too. They are simple and all I have to do is take them in with my eyes, and ears and heart.

The sights of candles, and greens and ornaments. The beauty of poinsettia plants, candles in the windows, and trees all aglow.

The smells of fresh garlands and pines my husband and I collected, pinecones my daughter collected, and the smell of “cookies” from the candle my friend gave me to help me cozy down.

The tastes of hot cinnamon tea, still red and crispy apples, hot coco and fresh cookies from the oven.

The sounds of classic choirs and common carols. The jingle of bells and the patter of my dogs feet on the snow covered deck. The holiday music from my daughters’ old- fashioned toy gram-a-phone.

The feel of warm blankets and hot mugs. The snuggly slippers and warmth when my dog sleeps on my feet while I read in the family room.

So this year, as I take a warm bath and listen to choirs on the radio, I will take the time to remember the sesations of the season. I can take the time to be thankful for all of them, and more. Health, family and friends, and another year to make my mark on the world. In gratefulness, I tune in and am in harmony with the Peace of Christmas. And when this happens, I will know in my heart that Christmas has arrived.

All the best to you and yours this holiday season! Merry Christmas!

Posted in My Beautiful Winter, Sensing Emotions | Leave a comment

Quintessential Thanksgiving Playdate

The past week, my daughter and I had the most wonderful time sharing the joys of Thanksgiving. We did this with friends sharing coco-popcorn, cider, snow-globe crafts, confetti in dazzling turkey and leaf designs, laughs and good conversation.

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Of course, the best part was sharing time with friends we are truly Thankful for. Jacki, a long time friend that I have know since my college years when we bravely completed our coursework, clinical rotations and one amazing trip to Africa, has a son and daughter that my daughter just loves. So, a playful get together can’t be missed should the opportunity arise. It can be busy with three little ones scurrying around, but Jacki and I chat while our children get a sense of significance and love knowing that they have caring friends in a world that is often so big to them.

The games and snacks and activities were so much fun, but even more important to me is the environment in which the kids play. Jacki has done so well (along with her husband!) to teach her kids how to play peacefully. They don’t hit, push, take or yell! They are really able to just have innocent fun! With these play dates, I feel truly at peace myself.

When the fun is all over we clean up and look forward to the next time. But even more important they provide a touch point for us to refer. When a bully messes with my daughters emotions, or a child pushes another child in her preschool music class, we use these play dates to learn and remember what is most prized for both children and adults- Peaceful play where we can stretch beyond our current abilities to learn and grow more while feeling safe and joyful.

So enjoy on us a few pictures and recipes you might use for your very own Thanksgiving playdate. The coco-popcorn is made in the old fashion stove-top way, and the snow-globe re-purposes for the purpose of fun courtesy of Jacki’s creativity.

As at the original Thanksgiving, where friends got together in the spirit of gratitude,  we are thankful for good health, family and joy, plus one big sense of gratitude for good friends too.

I  wish the same for your family. Joy. Gratitude. And Friends! Happy Thanksgiving!

IMG_6903IMG_6886CoCo-Popcorn:

Materials:(organic or Non-GMO if you can find it!)popcorn kernals, coconut or canola oil, cane sugar, cocoa-powder, salt, cookpot

Pour the oil to cover the bottom of the cookpot. Add 1-2 tablespoons cane sugar and 1 tablespoon of cocoa-powder. Mix. Heat this mixture till it is so hot that when you throw a kernal into it, little bubbles form around it. This is a high heat task so use caution and keep your eyes on the oil to prevent fire. Then add kernals to the oil till they are covering the bottom of the pan. I usually slosh the kernals and oil mixture around to allow for equal coverage.

Put a lid on it and keep the heat high. The kernals will begin to pop. Turn the heat off at 2 minutes after the first pop and the heat will be just enough to heat the rest of the kernals and pop them, but not burn them. To make sure the popcorn on the bottom does not burn, pour the popcorn into a metal or glass bowl soon after the last kernal has popped. Serve and enjoy!

Snow-globe:

Materials: Various size jars, plastic confetti, dye, water, glue-gun, plastic turkey figurines

Have the kids pick their favorite confetti pieces. Have an adult glue the confetti pieces in patterns inside the jar using a glue gun. This will allow the snow-globe to snow even when it is sitting at rest. Have an adult glue the bigger confetti or plastic turkey figurine to the inside of the jar lid and let dry. Put additional confetti into the jar, fill with water, and add 1-2 drops of dye to the water. (If you add too many drops you can’t see the confetti through the colored water.) Put the lids on the jar tightly and flip it over. The plastic turkey will be right-side up and you will have a Thanksgiving snow globe.

Posted in Infant and Toddlers, My Beautiful Fall, My Beautiful Winter, Social Learning | Leave a comment

Fresh Handmade Rice Milk

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Ok, so you got me. I enjoy the occasional visit to Cosco. Buying their organic rice milk was a plus for the entire family budget, but recently it all went wrong. No more rice milk. end up their only selling Soy milk.

What to do? ? ? Simply stand tall and confidently embark on making my own, of course!

Turns out, it is really simple to do. A little clean up from a bowl, blender and strainer and presto! Interestingly, the finished product only stays fresh for 3-4 days in the fridge…..but it tastes so good….there isn’t much left by the end of the second day anyway.

Yummi!

4 cups white rice
1 gallon filtered water
2 cinnamon sticks
Anywhere from 2 tablespoons to 2 cups organic cane sugar (to taste)
2 teaspoons GF vanilla extract

Toast the cinnamon sticks until fragrant.

Soak the rice, water and cinnamon sticks over night.

Next day, in your blender or food processor, blend soaked rice 1 cup at a time, with about 2-3 cups water that was used in soaking. You can add more filtered water if you like. Strain the pureed milk into a bowl using a fine mesh strainer. Try to get all the liquid out of the puree.

Add vanilla and blend in sugar to taste.

Suggested serving style: Try this milk in a tall glass with ice. Maybe even with cereal in the morning!

 

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A Pristine  Start To Summer

Mid-June my family and I decided to visit Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. We went so my husband could learn more in depth study of yoga. I went to refresh my soul and bond with my daughter. My husband was tired of long days at work, I was happy to be ending my 2 year position in the school system, and my daughter was throughly ready to spend quality time with each of us. Once packed we hit the road already exhausted.

We took the trip slowly and stopped in Chautauqua, New York for a day to enjoy the lake front breeze, crisp air, and beautiful sunsets. We were honestly so out of tune with the natural beauty all around us we took 2 hours to transition from feelings of “grumpy” to a feeling of “calm”. However, once we were at ease it was smooth sailing. An ultimately non-glueten free meal (we are generally a gluten free family) of fresh baked pizza and ice cream, eaten while lakeside, made for the very best end to our first day of travel.

An early start the next day began with a quick trek to the Bemus Point playground. Our daughter was delighted and we were happy we could get her the chance to move a bit before the 6 hour drive to Kripalu. Little did we know the lake would turn quickly into a sea of fast food family-unfriendly food options as we crossed New York state via interstate 90. Several stops later and several more quick ice cream cones (milk is healthy right?) we entered Massachusetts ready to meet out accommodations.

We rented a cabin in Stockbridge, only seeing pictures from the internet before signing on as the renters for one week. Once we got close our eyes were filled with panoramas of green mountains and pristine yards of neighbors enjoying old time summer homes along the Stockbridge Bowl lake shores.  Lucky for us, our cabin did us just right! Cute and cozy and filled with years of love from a history of summer family fun, the stage was set for a week of relaxing, bonding and rejuvinateing!

Gar had gotten an early start to his class the  night we arrived and spent the next 4 days from 7 am to 9 pm at night going in and out of yoga nidra state. Although this state appears as deep sleep, he was tired by the end of each day and ready to cozy up in the cabin by 10 pm. My daughter and I had the days to spend exploring, something we both enjoy.

The first day we spent visiting the outdoor beauty of Kripalu. Huge willows provided a wonderful stage for hide and seek and huge trunks for tree hugs. The flower garden provided a path to meet and greet many wild flowers and interesting trees. New seedlings provided conversation as we walked back to Kripalu hall to enjoy our organic lunch! By the end of our first morning, I was refilled with inner warmth and my muscles began to relax and let me mind ease.

We took the afternoon to visit the quaint town of Lenox, just 1/2 mile down the street. We happened upon a bakery for a sweet treat enjoyed on the porch as French music played through the speakers above. G. played a game of “I’m going to eat it” as she ran back and forth between her pastry and the end of the deck. I took the time to enjoy my Birthday blueberry tart complete with pink box and white bow wrapping. We ended our walk with the purchase of warm and cozy sweatshirts.

The next day was just as dear to us as we found the Kripalu lake and met some of my husbands co-conferencers. Garriella and Kata from Hungary and Margot from Iceland. Wonderfully lovely souls open to share their insights on deepening their practice of yoga and glimpses of their lives in far off lands. Equally as amazing was the crystal clear lake water. I could walk out to my waist and still see my feet. It was the clearest that I have seen since visiting the Caribbean. It seemed to speak refreshment with each step I took. Pure bliss.

Getting into the rhythm of the week, it began a regular occurrence that we would eat with Gar in the cafe, so again we joined him for dinner on the second day of our stay. With the gluten free pancakes the best I have ever had, eating together as a family was an excellent choice to help keep us in touch as well as satisfy our taste buds. Rice milk, homemade teas, brown rice wraps, gluten free breaks and amazing culinary explorations are just a few of the menu items that helped my stomach smile from deep within. This was the experience of Yoga Eating for sure!

After dinner Grace and I would either read books and snuggle in the cabin or play in the Kripalu playroom. Both activities were greatly enjoyed by Grace and myself. The playroom itself was plain but in it’s simpleness quite exquisite. We played “mama” to little horses who needed mommies, we tickled the keys or a tiger shaped xliphone, and road in circle in the big read Radio Flyer wagon. As the night neared later evening we were sure to snuggle up with a book weather at the cabin or the playroom. Sometimes we read about baby whales, sometimes about wolves, and if we were really up to a fine time we read our book on manners, one of G’s favorites.

The following days drifted together in a relaxed haze with rain drops sprinkling our heads as we roamed between out wonderful cabin, the graces of Kripalu and the town of Lenox. We even happened upon the Berkshires Co-Op Market to get their very special offering of Vermont brewed Kambucha Tea. It was so potent I think I experienced a full detox from just one bottle, yet with comfort and ease. The market itself was oh so special with every organic item my mind could imagine!

As Gar’s conference wound down, I noted that he began to look a bit sad, and in asking him he reported that his bonding with so many wonderful people was indeed wonderful, it was in leaving them that was to be so hard. I encouraged him to get his good friends contacts and even proposed a trip to Iceland to catch up with friends in the year to come. Gar was thankful for the ideas and was glad to hear I understood his feelings. He offered that I take some time for myself in the bookstore and whirlpool room and to take advantage of the Yoga Dance classes at noon on our remaining days. I was quick to answer a spirited “yes” to his offerings!

Yoga Dance was the first luxuary I enjoyed. It was a heart centered class. We were encouraged to move our body and limbs as part of the outer world that radiated from pure expression at our heart center. Being moved by the rhythm and the spirit deep within I let loose and took up my space on the dance floor. It was as though I was a winged bird set free for the first time, that is outside of my own living room. Followed up by another amazing lunch, time at the bookstore and a trip to Lenox with Gar and G. I was in my element. The day ended with 30 minutes in the whirlpool and hot showers. My whole body had been restored.

We left the next day after another Yoga Dance and whirlpool adventure, as well as one last yummy Kripalu lunch. G. hugged each tree goodbye as we left and Gar made peace with his desire to stay in touch with his new made friends. We traveled back to Chitauqua for one more overnight before ending back in Pittsburgh late Sunday night. After unpacking only the essentials we  all snuggled in for a long summer night sleep.

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Pebbles and Dancing

This is an account of an amazing day.

My daughter Grace and I begin our day with a celebratory breakfast. My husband started a new job, and to celebrate, Grace and I pull together a “basket of office supplies” gift  and a mega breakfast. I am not sure which one of us enjoys it more. We are all pretty much smiling throughout.

After our morning routine, Grace and I head out to the playground that she calls the “castle”. It is constructed out of timber and has multiple towers and bridges, making it look like a castle with a moat of pebbles all around it. She is really most into the pebbles so I decide to accept where she is and make the most fun out of it. The towers and draw bridges will have to wait a few more months.

I realize that she is in bliss with the tactile feeling the pebbles bring to her hands. We start talking how these pebbles feel hard, how big ones feel heavy, and how our clothes and hair are the opposite in their softness. Two other little girls, Rachel and Nina, join us. They kindly ask if Grace would like to play with them. My guess is that they are really asking if they can play with us.

We all make pebble cakes and pebble pies. We create apple chocolate cake, berry cake, strawberry pie, and blueberry muffins. We all start talking about how rocks feel hard, and soon Nina and Rachel are running around finding all the hard objects in the castle. Hard poles, hard chains, hard swings, and when all options are nearly exhausted, they even say they have “hard heads”! The same process is completed with all things soft and soon everyone is giggling.

We pretend to be pirates of the castle and are sailing on our sea of pebbles to distant islands. Grace is happy to have playmates and I am happy to have everyone so excited learning about the textures of our pebble wonderland. This is where it all begins for Grace and her emotions.

If Grace can describe her emotions as she feels them in her body, she will one day be the master of them. She won’t be afraid to deal with them as they make themselves present in her life. It takes little effort on my part to give her a vocabulary for her tactile experiences, and hopefully experiences will present themselves that will enlarge her vocabulary in detail, degree and also in relation to her multiple senses. Sadness can be “heavy”, anger might feel “hard” and peace might feel “soft”. Grace will be prepared to deal.

Nina and Rachel continue to play with us. Rachel begins hugging me and tries to sit on me like a horse. At this point, I realize it is great to be playing with these little girls, as they so need attention. Their mom is on the other side of the castle the whole time. She can not see her children as they play and she does not check on them once during the forty minutes we are playing. Nina begins to initiate hugging more and more, and so as to avoid any major attachment that can not be fulfilled, Grace and I decline their offer to go to the ice cream shop, and head on our merry way to our next destination, a dress rehearsal of a dance performance in the city.  I truly hope that Rachel and Nina find the attention that they need.

Grace and I attempt to eat lunch, but Grace is so excited about the dancers that she can’t begin to concentrate on her banana. We end the meal early, and head to the theater to see the dress rehearsal. The venue is a converted bar with a stage; it is very hip and has lots of room for Grace to “be a dancer” herself.

The second stage normally used by the musicians is not in use, so the dancers say that Grace can go up on the stage. She is spinning, twirling and looking quite proud as she says “I’m a dancer!” She even tries the lifts as I swing her around the stage and she copies the dancers’ lunging patterns to the music. We both really enjoy ourselves.

As we leave the venue to find our car, I notice the sky becoming darker and darker. We have driven almost the whole way home when it begins to rain, and before I can process what is happening, cars are turning around in front of me due to downed trees. I also turn around and try an alternate route. As I navigate, our car begins to rock, the surrounding trees look horizontal, and the traffic lights take on the appearance of feathers being tossed by a majestic wind. Regardless of the nature of this wind, I am intent on getting home as fast as possible. Several turns later and we arrive home. Shingles from the roof are scattered on the front lawn; gutters and moulding have been detached from the roof, and there is no electricity.  We make our way inside.

Once we are settled in, I check with my neighbors and soon learn there was a tornado that touched down a mile from our home. It is still raining, and Grace continues to nap. My own emotions of ”heavy” fear subside and gratitude for my blessings begins to “soften” me once again. We are safe and sound at the end of a beautiful fall day.

Posted in My Beautiful Fall, Sensing Emotions | Leave a comment

Beautiful Blueberries

This past fall we went as a family to pick apples on a nearby farm, and having had such a great time with the experience, we decided mid-July blueberry picking was worth a try. Two trips to the farm, 13 pounds of blueberries and two cans of sweet cream later, we find that we are quite a natural picking bunch!

Our first trip was in 90 degree heat, and we literally all almost melted. My husband with the spray bottle, Grace with her sun hat, and myself with the bottled water trekked to the middle of the blueberry fields to pick the plumpest of blueberries. But all of our “cooling provisions” could not sustain us in the heat, and we left with a mere 5 lbs of berries. Actually, Grace ate so many directly off the bushes, it was probably more like 5 1/2 lbs.

Several days passed, and my husband’s idea of berries and cream had hit full stride. Grace had several bowls of berries a day, and the fancy sweet cream dispenser on top of the pressurized can kept her coming back for more. We were soon to run out of berries, but Grace was not soon to stop asking for cream.  I knew it wouldn’t be long before we would head back to the fields.

Friday came with wild storms, and a cooler weather forecast for the weekend. When I suggested that we go pick berries, there were smiles all around. This time, the weather was breezy and sunny. We spent a good hour in the fields and left with 8 pounds of blueberries. On the way home we stopped for another can of sweet cream….yum!

Below I have listed some recipes for berry baked goods. I start with berries and cream, progress through berry muffins, and end with a song we sang while in the fields to make sure that Grace ate blueberries at a pace that would leave some berries for other pickers too!

Berries and Cream
Fresh blueberries
Sweet Cream
Cute dessert bowls for fun eating!

Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins

1/2 cup organic canola or safflower oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
11/4 cups soymilk (or rice milk)
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup Sucanat, date sugar, maple sugar, or org. unrefined sugar
4 cups brown rice flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole fresh-picked (or frozen) blueberries

Preheat the over to 350 degrees F. Oil a 12-cup muffin pan or line it with paper liners and set aside. In a small bowl, mix 2 teaspoons maple syrup or sugar and 1 teaspoon brown rice flour as a topping to drizzle over the muffins just before putting the muffins in the oven.

Mix the oil, syrup, soymilk, vinegar, and vanilla in another small bowl. In a separate, larger bowl place the sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Sift the flour to ensure there won’t be clumps. If you are good with the mixing, and feel it is consistent throughout, you really don’t need to sift. It’s up to you!

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Do not overwork the batter. If the batter is stiff, add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time. Fold in 2 cups of blueberries and do not overwork the batter or it will turn blue. (This actually could look interesting if you dare try it!)

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and sprinkle with the topping mixture prepared ahead of time. You may place a few berries on top of each muffin to make them extra juicy on top.

Bake for 20 minutes and rotate the pan a half turn to ensure even baking. Bake 5-6 minutes more or until a knife inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes, remove from the pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

(This muffin mixture was adapted from “Simple Treats: Wheat-Free and Dairy Free Guide to Scrumptious Baked Goods by Ellen Abraham)

Blue Belly Button Girl (A recipe For Fun!)
(with each verse I would pick a blue berry and put it on her belly button. We would cover it up with her shirt and after each round of the song, we would look to her bellybutton to see if she was the blue belly button girl! She loved it and asked for more over and over again!)

Chorus:
There once was a blue belly button Boy (girl)
Boy oh boy was his belly button blue
If you could see blue belly button Boy (girl)
You would say it’s the bluest too!

Posted in My Beautiful Summer | Leave a comment