Perfect gifts

THANKS

My kids were given two amazing gifts in the last couple of weeks.

Actually, they were given a lot of amazing gifts because my parents just got back from six weeks of travel and had to buy an extra suitcase to bring home all of the gifts they bought for various family members!

But two stand out as so awesome that I have to share them.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

The first was not part of their grandparental haul. It was a gift from my brother and his fiancee. My brother is a primary school teacher and he had read this book at school and knew I would love it for the kids.

He was right.

The book has a fantastic message and is told in a way that makes it simple and easy for children to understand. It starts by saying that if you plant a carrot seed or a lettuce seed, a carrot or a lettuce will grow. It then tells of the trouble that can be caused by sowing the seeds of selfishness, and of the rewards that can come from sowing seeds of kindness.

Even with such an excellent story, the real hero of the book is the pictures. They are just exquisite and truly make this book one to cherish. The animal characters are so sweet and you can really see all the emotions on their faces.

I can see why a school teacher was drawn to this book. My children were equally taken by it.

Thanks Uncle M and Aunty S!

Classical Baby:I’m Grown Up Now:The Poetry Show

The second was from the very generous grandparents. This part of the loot was given with some level of dismissiveness. They saw it, it was cheap, they knew I’d love it. They didn’t think it would be as exciting as the other gifts. They were wrong. This may not be a pricey gift, but it is truly a jewel.

We watched it together the very first night. Now, Pickles is not the sit still and watch something type. His idea of watching television usually involves running around and around in a circle, or doing somersaults, or climbing on the couch. But for this he sat still for the whole 30 minute run time. The only time that he moved was to run and get his copy of The Owl and the Pussycat when it came on so that he could “read along”.

There are four elements that make this dvd pure magic.

The first is obviously the poems themselves. The poetry chosen is perfect introductory poetry. It is simple enough to be enjoyed by the youngest audience. Yet, the poems chosen are absolute classics by the likes of Frost, Shakespeare, and (inevitably) Lear. They are wonderful, wonderful poems.

Secondly, the actors (including John Lithgow, Andy Garcia, Gwyneth Paltrow and Susan Sarandon) chosen to read the poems have beautiful reading voices and read the poems with just the right intonation and rhythm. You can really tell that they love the poetry that they are reading.

Thirdly, the animations. The animations are funny, beautiful, and soothing in equal parts. They work to hold the attention of the little viewer, while at the same time calming them. Pickles had a much smoother than usual transition to bedtime after watching this.

Finally, there are children interviewed about the poems and about poetry more generally. This is probably my favourite part of the dvd. The children are just gorgeous and their enthusiasm for the poetry is simply infectious. I think it’s great for kids to see other kids who enjoy poetry like this.

The whole dvd is just sublime. It was a treasure of a find, and I will be buying more copies to give as presents. If you have a little person, or know a little person, I highly recommend this as a Christmas gift.

Thanks Nanny and Papa!

You can find them at Amazon through the affiliate links below:

    

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No Word for You

Love

There is no word for you.
Perfect just won’t do.
It forgets that imperfections
Help uniqueness to shine through.

But unique is not quite right.
It can sound quite impolite
When said with roll of eye
As though you’re really not that bright.

The brightest star could never be
As dear as you are dear to me.
And when the brightest star is faded
You’ll go on shining brilliantly.

There is no word for you.
Mere words could never do.
For what you are to me my love
No language could construe.

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Bookends to My Day

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A sleepy morning kiss,
A tiny-armed embrace.
No amount of coffee,
Could beat that little face.

And thus the day begins
With all its ups and downs.
The work, the rest, the play.
The laughter and the frowns.

But when the bold moon rises
To herald in the night.
A happy bedtime ritual
Makes everything just right.

Cuddles in the morning,
A big hug before bed.
A smattering of kisses,
Atop a tiny head.

Nothing else around,
Could make me feel this way.
Those perfect little moments;
Bookends to my day.

Prose for Thought

Mummascribbles

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Ode to a Library

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Palace of books,
Oh how you shine.
You lend me your treasures
And, briefly, they’re mine.

Without getting up,
Or leaving my place,
I can travel the world,
Through time and through space.

I am old in the morning
And then very young.
I wake in the Winter
But then Spring has sprung.

I sail on the ocean,
A pirate at sea.
I’m snug in my bed
And yet wild and free.

I’m lost in a jungle,
A tiger is near.
But safe in my armchair
I’ve nothing to fear.

I’m a famous magician,
A queen on a throne.
I’m surrounded by people,
Right here on my own.

With every new story,
Every page that I turn,
I discover new wonders,
I grow and I learn.

No matter the cover,
No matter its looks,
There’ll always be beauty
In a palace of books.

 

Prose for Thought

A Bit Of Everything

 

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Top 7 Books About Friendship

Friendship

This week’s Booktober list celebrates all types of friendship in picture books. One of the most wonderful thing about children is they can make friends with anyone. Things that may be barriers for adults, such as whether the friend is actually a person at all, are not a problem for kids. These books about friendship look at that innocent joy.

1. Corduroy by Don Freeman

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I remember absolutely loving this book as a kid. It really made me feel something. My heart ached for both Corduroy and the little girl when her mum said she couldn’t have him because he was missing a button. My heart leaped with joy when she came back for him the next day. I still feel like that when I’m reading it now, and I see those same emotions reflected on Pickles’ face as we read it together.

Corduroy thinks he needs to find his missing button in order for Lisa to accept him as a friend. He is desolate when he can’t find one. But in the end, she comes back for him anyway:

“You must be a friend,” said Corduroy. “I’ve always wanted a friend.”
“Me too!” said Lisa, and gave him a big hug.

Pickles always insists on having a big hug himself after this heartwarming ending. I love that it shows the friendship between a child and a teddy bear. I told everything to my teddy bears when I was little. Pickles already refers to the massive pile of stuffed animals that he keeps on his bed collectively as his friends. He loves this story and I still do too.

2. The Very Itchy Bear by Nick Bland

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Last week in my Top 7 Books in Rhyme I included The Very Cranky Bear, so I wasn’t sure whether or not to include his itchy self in this list. I couldn’t go passed it though. The friendship between a bear and a flea is a very special friendship indeed.

Flea bites Bear to say hello. Despite the friendliness of the motivation, Bear is not impressed. He doesn’t much like being bitten. So he jumps into the water and flicks Flea off of his fur. But he realises that he is better off with Flea in his life just in time to save him from a hungry bird.

The ending is the greatest. There is a picture of the big Bear reading a book to the tiny Flea. The text reads:

This is Flea
and this is Bear.
Together they go everywhere.

It’s great for opening up a discussion about how our friends don’t need to look like us. Sometimes you can find friendship in the most unexpected places.

The book has Nick Bland’s characteristically wonderful rhyming style, and fantastic, funny, bright pictures. We always love this bear.

3. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

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This book makes me choke up a bit every time I read it. One time when I was reading it to Pickles and pregnant with Pords, the hormones and sentiment got to me and I sobbed to my husband: “That’s me. I’m the tree.”

The Giving Tree tells the story of a boy and a tree. When the boy is young, he spends all his free time with the tree. The tree loved the boy and gave him everything of itself. As time goes by, the boy grows and spends less and less time with the tree. But the tree goes on loving the boy and giving everything it has to make the boy happy. His happiness is the tree’s happiness.

The pictures and text of this book are simple but everything about it is beautiful. Of course the story can be a metaphor for many relationships, but at its essence I also love the fact that it tells the story of a friendship between a boy and a tree. It is a pure, joyful friendship. I hope that my children are able to find friends in nature too.

This book is a true classic. If you’ve never read it, stop reading this right now, go to the library and borrow it! You won’t regret it.

4. Slinky Malinki Catflaps by Lynley Dodd

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Slinky Malinki is one of the recurring cat characters in Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary universe and a particular favourite in our cat-loving household.

In this book, Slinky Malinki squeezes out of the catflap and calls out into the night to see who is about. Various friends appear from around the place and they have a good old catch up, until the villainous Scarface Claw (Pickles’ hero) comes to spoil the party.

I love the description of the group of cat friends “hobnobbing happily, ten in a row.” The cats are all different shapes and sizes and colours, but they are just content sitting in one another’s company. It gives you that feeling of what it’s like to catch up with a group of good friends.

Like all of Lynley Dodd’s books, this is an excellent read-aloud rhyme and the pictures are playful and attractive.

5. Little Pip and the Rainbow Wish by Elizabeth Baguley and Caroline Pedler

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When I was pregnant with Pickles, my husband and I referred to him as “Pip” and we often still use it as his nickname. So when we saw this book, we just had to get it. He has always loved that the mouse has his name. He loves it even more at the moment because there are dandelions in it and he is going through a dandelion picking phase. So it’s on high reading rotation at our place.

This book is especially good for shy kids; kids who tend to stand at the edges of things for fear of rejection. Little Pip thinks he needs to capture the rainbow in order for Milly and Spike to be his friends, but in trying and failing to catch it alongside them, he realises that they are his friends even without the rainbow.

It’s also a good book for talking about feelings. There are good visual prompts to ask your child how Pip is feeling at various times as his emotions change. You can talk about how it feels to be excluded or included. You can talk about your child’s own experience with friendships, exclusion, or inclusion.

The pictures are delightful, and there are shiny, shimmery bits in this book that kids just love. The night sky on the last page is particularly impressive and I love the line: “the night sky burst into a brilliant sparkling of stars.”

6. Friends by Helen Oxenbury

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I’ve often said on this blog that books with minimal text, or no words at all, are often the best books for young children. That’s what the research tends to suggest. It’s also what I’ve found personally when reading to my two little ones. Often when there is too much text, we just ignore it anyway and make up our own stories (the exception always being rhyme, of which I can never get enough!)

This book by the very talented Helen Oxenbury is a picture book in it’s purest form; it only has pictures. This means when I “read it” to my kids, the stories I tell and the discussions we have are almost always linked to their own lives. This is great for their learning and development. It is also great for the ongoing building of our relationship and bonding.

The book is a series of illustrations of a baby with various animal friends. I love to talk to my children about how they can develop friendships with animals. We talk about the qualities that an animal might have that would make them a good friend.

The pictures are absolutely the gorgeous. The baby is so happy and relaxed around the animals. The expression on the animals faces is sometimes slightly more alarmed but they all go along with him hugging them, or picking them up. I particularly love the expression on the cat’s face as the baby falls asleep against its fur.

This book is really just a delight.

7. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and William Nicholson

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To balance out the wordless book, I’m including this one which has lots more words than the other books on the list. But it is a great one for showing the power of strong friendship.

Like Corduroy, it shows the love between a child and a stuffed toy. The little boy loves the velveteen rabbit ferociously. They do everything together. When the boy gets very ill, the rabbit is of great comfort to him, but the child’s doctor says he must be disposed of when the boy is well. All ends happily for the rabbit though, as the friendship between he and the boy mean that he can now be a real rabbit.

“Wasn’t I Real before?” asked the little Rabbit.
“You were Real to the Boy,” the Fairy said, “because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one.”

There are parts of this book that are quite sad, but it is a great one for talking about unconditional love and friendship.


 

So that’s my seven for this week. But it would be remiss of me not to add in The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne. I have read bits of this to my kids at various times of their life, but we haven’t managed to get the whole way through yet as it is still a bit long. That’s why it’s not in the list, but I’m looking forward to them being old enough to appreciate the perfect friendship between Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin.

Pooh and Me

What other books would you add to the list? What is your favourite literary friendship?


MamaMummyMum

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Coding for kids

In a somewhat revolutionary move, The American Academy of Pediatrics is considering revising its renowned screen time recommendations for young children. On the Academy’s website, Doctors Brown, Shifrin and Hill say:

In a world where “screen time” is becoming simply “time,” our policies must evolve or become obsolete… Digital life begins at a young age, and so must parental guidance. Children who are “growing up digital” should learn healthy concepts of digital citizenship.

No matter how much you seek to restrict their screen time, your children are part of a generation for whom technology will be an integral part of everyday life.

The question then is not how we can remove it from our children’s lives, but how we can empower them to understand and be in control of the technology around them.

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Language is power

As the mother of a baby and a toddler, I’m developing a whole new appreciation for the power of language. My baby screams because she cannot tell me what she wants and sometimes I just don’t know. With each new word my toddler learns, he moves away from this frustration. Language empowers him.

Similarly when we arrive in a foreign land, knowing even a few words or phrases of the language can be invaluable. We can move from feeling lost and vulnerable, to empowered.

Learning a computer coding language is just like learning any other language. It empowers you in the digital space.

Give your kids the power

Despite your best efforts, technology will be an important part of their lives as they grow. The risk with trying to limit all access to screens is that your children become mere passive consumers; increasingly reliant on technology but with no real understanding of how it works.

My husband is a computer programmer and digital expert. When our children are learning how to read, they will also be learning how to code computers. They are living in a digital age, in a digital world. I want them to be able to face that world with knowledge and confidence.

To that end, we are developing a series of lessons for primary school aged children. We are looking for children between the ages of 5 and 12 to complete the first set of three lessons. If you have kids that age and would like them to take part, please sign up below.

The details

You will receive an email with a new lesson on Monday 16th, Monday 23rd, and Monday 30th November 2015.

The lessons are designed for short attention spans. They should only take around 15 minutes each to complete.

There is no prior assumed knowledge except a basic reading level (or a parent willing to assist who has a basic reading level) and the ability to operate a keyboard.

The lessons are completely free. We just ask that you fill in a short feedback form after each lesson before we send you the next one.

If you subscribe in this round, you will also have the option of getting free access to the next set of lessons to further develop your child’s skills.

We do not need to know your children’s names or any details that would identify them. Your email details will not be used for any purpose other than receiving information about these lessons. You can opt out at any time.

If you are interested in taking part, please sign up by entering your email address below. If you know anyone who might be interested, please share!



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Happiness insomnia

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Last night I couldn’t get to sleep. I wasn’t worried about anything. I hadn’t had too much caffeine. I was excited about today.

Why today? It’s not my birthday. It’s not Christmas. I’m not even going out for a fancy lunch.

I was excited about today because I wanted to see what new things my babies would do.

Pords is eight and a half months. What an age to be alive. She is much more mobile, getting into everything. Perhaps today will be the day she gets up on her hands and knees crawls properly.

She’s also understanding more, vocalising more, trying to say words. I remember getting this same level of excitement about tomorrows when Pickles was about this age. Every day brings new wonder.

Pickles has been trying to sell me tickets for a couple of days now. He’s been saying something very enthusiastically over and over again but I haven’t been understanding him. Then yesterday I got it:

“Welcome! Welcome, everyone, to the Pickles show! Tickets please!”

Every day he does a little performance, or comes out with a new word or phrase, or is excited to learn something. I’ll always buy tickets to the Pickles show. Front and centre.

Our days aren’t always sunshine and lollipops. Sometimes we all drive each other crazy. But this is just a little post about this moment in my life when I have trouble sleeping because life is just so wonderful. Hopefully when the world turns and I’m losing sleep for a less joyful reason, I’ll be able to look back at this time of happiness insomnia and smile.

Little Hearts, Big Love


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Top 7 Books in Rhyme

Hey Diddle Dum

For the third week of Booktober, I have a compiled a list of our Top 7 books in rhyme, or poetry books. This was always going to be the hardest one for me to narrow down. I love poetry and I think rhyming picture books are just the greatest.

I agonised over what would make the final cut. It’s amazing how many great poems there are to read to kids. Early childhood is probably the time in most people’s lives when they are exposed to the most poetry. From songs and nursery rhymes, to the multitude of amazing books in rhyme. There are definitely some masterpieces that have been unfairly missed from this too short list.

But, in the end, I’m pretty happy with this list because it represents the books that are most special to us.

1. The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear and Jan Brett

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Anyone who regularly reads this blog (hi mum!) could probably have guessed this one was going to make the list. The Owl and the Pussycat was my favourite poem as a child and is my favourite to read (or sing) to my children. Pickles already knows it pretty much by heart.

The lyrical quality of Edward Lear’s writing is hypnotic. You can get lost in his words. And what wonderful words they are. Some of them are completely made up but they all fit together perfectly.

The story itself is great too. A sweet tale of love between an owl and a pussycat.

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

The board book version that we have is illustrated by Jan Brett. The illustrations are really magical. You see the owl and the pussycat adrift on their boat on top of the water. You also see all of the sea life under the water.

Pickles can’t get enough of the pictures. He particularly likes the fact that the owl and the pussycat have a fish in a bowl on their boat who escapes right at the end to join her love in the ocean. He loves to find her on each page.

The pictures tell their own separate but related story, which is always a wonderful thing in picture books as it opens up ongoing exploration and discussion of the book.

2. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

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To be honest, this whole list could have been all Julia Donaldson books. Her books are all wonderful. But, oh, Room on the Room! Could this be the perfect picture book?

The book tells the story of a witch and her cat. They are quite content, just the two of them, riding around on their broom. One stormy day, the wind blows off the witch’s hat and so begins a series of events that sees the pair meet some new friends and face one terrifying foe.

I love this story because the witch is always happy to make room for new friends. Sometimes if I see Pickles determinedly heading outside on an adventure into the backyard, I will ask him: “Is there room on the broom for a mummy like me.” Invariably he will look delighted and shout “Yes!” And so off we’ll go together.

This was the first story he knew well enough to be able to talk about in detail. It is a great one for testing memory because I can ask him who found the witch’s hat, or wand, or bow. I am always surprised at how well he can remember.

Donaldson’s rhymes are always terrific. This is so much fun to read aloud. Scheffler’s pictures, too, are delightful. He is really able to bring the characters to life.

Just as with another one of Donaldson and Scheffler’s classics, The Gruffalo, this book also has an animated version which to date is the only “movie” that Pickles has watched all the way through. He may not have seen many but he’s seen this one dozens of times. It’s fabulous.

3. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

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I have had the rhyme from this book stuck in my head since primary school. I kid you not.

That is a lot of years; one severe case of ear worm.

I’ll be just be cooking a meal when suddenly I’ll have the urge to say: “Cinderella on the stairs I spy the three bears.” Or Pords will be crying and I’ll be thinking: “Baby Bunting fast asleep I spy Bo-Peep.” Or I’ll be asked the key question at a really important job interview and all I’ll be able to think is: “Wicked witch over the wood I spy Robin Hood.”

I really don’t know why this has stuck in my head the way it has for so many years, except for the fact that it’s so simple yet effective, and I read it over and over as a child. Now, as I read it over and over to my own children and I don’t even have to look at the words. I know the whole thing by heart.

The words aren’t even the best part of this book though. There is a built in game of I Spy in the pictures. So kids need to try and find the character to be spied in each picture. For older children this is a snap, but for toddlers, especially those who haven’t read it fifty times already, it can be challenging and fun.

The use of well known nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters makes it even more amusing for children. Pickles is going through a bit of a three bears craze a the moment so he especially likes the pages that feature them. These inclusions prompt further discussions about other books and stories that we’ve shared and make the book even more interactive and engaging.

This book has stood the test of time and it’s easy to see why. A definite must for sharing with toddlers.

4.  The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

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Without fail, the ending of this book makes me smile every single time.

Four animal friends want to take shelter from a rainy day inside a snug cave. Unfortunately, a very cranky bear has already had the same idea. Three of the friends believe they have the solution by giving the bear the attributes of themselves of which they are most proud. They all think of the fourth friend, the sheep, as rather plain. However, in the end it is the sheep that has the answer when she makes a pillow for the bear from her wool.

“Well, thank you very much,” said Bear and soon he fell asleep. Maybe he was dreaming of a plain, but thoughtful sheep.

See, I’m smiling again. Well, let’s face it, if you can see me that’s a wee bit creepy. Hopefully you can’t in fact see me. Trust me, there’s a smile.

The book is a sheer pleasure. The pictures are vibrant and appealing. The clever use of rhyme makes it easy and enjoyable to read. It’s fun to do voices for all the different animals. There is everything to like about this book. Even better is that the cranky bear also features in other books. He’s itchy, hungry, noisy, and brave. He’s always a favourite in our house.

5. I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Theo LeSieg

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My mum, who spent a long career working with young children, reported this as a favourite with pre-schoolers. She said that in one particular child care centre that she worked at, as soon as the children saw her they would run over and demand it be read. Part of that, no doubt, was that she has an exceptionally marvellous voice for reading children’s books aloud. The other part is the magic of Seuss (writing here as Theo LeSieg). It seems that even as he becomes dated he is timeless.

One of the magical things about Seuss books is their ability to get stuck in your head, much as a song might. When my toddler is being fussy about eating I often find myself thinking (and sometimes saying!) “Hay, just hay two times a day is all [you’ll] get to eat!” Such is the fabulous cadence of Seuss.

Particularly loveable about this book is that it follows the imaginings of a young child. The ideas might be silly, but the child is nothing but earnest. Earnest nonsense is nothing if not delightful. You can talk to your own children about what it might be like to have duck feet, or a long nose, or tail, or deer horns, or a whale spout on their head. Your children might imagine other additions that would be fun to have.

It is a perfect book for reading aloud and for sharing over and over again.

6. Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester

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My husband and I once spent a great weekend away with dear friends of ours at Waratah Bay, which happens to be the home of Noni the Pony. So we feel a special connection with her.

This book shows the pure joy of a day spent at the beach with friends. In fact, often after reading it Pickles will say: “Go beach now” and that’s exactly how I feel too. The happiness of the characters leaps off the page through the bouncing rhyme and the gorgeous pictures, and just makes me want to go beach now.

Because we love to spend time at the beach, this book is a really good one for us in terms of incorporating connections to things that we have done. As I often stress, reading the actual text in the book is only part of reading with your children. Talking about the story, the characters, and the pictures is also key in terms of helping with your child’s language and other social development. Choosing books that things that your child loves can be useful in promoting this contextual discussion.

There are many things to love about this book. I love the special friendship between the pony, the cat, and the dog. I also love that the cows are referred to as “the ladies next door.” The whole thing is really adorable. Perfect for sharing.

7. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and Axel Scheffler

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This is a collection of poems rather than one story like the others on this list, but it is one of our favourites. Before Cats The Musical there were the T.S. Eliot poems in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. It has such wonderful characters: Skimbleshanks, Macavity, Mr Mistoffelees, and all the others.

This is a great book to have if you want to introduce your children to poetry at a young age. You can pick it up and just read one of the poems at a time, or as many as you like. I used to read them all the time to my babies as newborns.

Each of the poems tells a fantastic story. Some funny, some poignant, all a joy to read. They are especially great if you love cats or have cats as pets.

I think at its heart, this book is also about the magic of things. Children love elves and fairies and so on, but they also love to consider the lives of animals. It is not such a leap for them to imagine that the cat that spends all day asleep on the floor might at night have some wildly adventurous life.

Our copy of the book is illustrated by Axel Scheffler, who has already appeared in this list for his work on Room on the Broom. His quirky and amusing pictures are a perfect pairing for these poems.

So there’s my list. What others would you add?

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A Partly Eaten Pear

A partly eaten pear,
Lies wasting on the floor.
I wonder what distracted you
And stopped you eating more

Did you suddenly remember
Your ball out in the sun?
Eating fruit’s delicious,
But football’s much more fun.

Was your sister crying?
Did you want to check on her?
We could always come and join you
While you eat if you’d prefer.

Perhaps you heard me coming
And thought I’d catch you out.
But eating healthy food
Is what mummy’s all about!

If you’re ever hungry
You know the bowl’s in reach.
You can always eat an apple,
A banana, or a peach.

You can even eat a lemon,
Since I know you like the taste.
The problem’s not the eating,
The problem is the waste.

Many things don’t faze me,
But some I just can’t bear.
Like the sight of yet another
Partly eaten pear.

Prose for Thought
http://www.reflectionsfromme.com



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