September 18

The Incident Report that Never Got Filed

It started out as a typical midnight hike through the woods.

We had flashlights, jackets, and packs of Juicy Fruit. It’s important to have gum when you’re exploring tree-filled acres and planning a haunting. The moon barely cast any light at all and carefully, quietly, about 12 girls tiptoed over crunching leaves to make their way to the other troop’s tent in the dark.

It is somewhat customary to mess with girls while on a camping trip, though mine were definitely disappointed by the un-terrified reaction of the big city girls, a few years older than my Junior scouts.

They scratched their nails on fabric and shook the walls from each side, but only one peep of a shriek could be heard before the contemptuous complaining began.

“Knock it off.”

“Get a life.”

“We have a life.”

Just hours before we had a run-in with the wildlife. Our bagels had been ravaged by a pack of racoons. They also completely annihilated the insulated Pizza Hut bag that earlier contained the pepperoni, half cheese pan pizza. It took debating for 36 miles to decide on that because mushrooms or green peppers would be the death of certain 10 year-olds.

But we still needed more adventure. Or a Girl Scout showdown.

Erin had an older sister and was well versed in the art of verbal confrontation. She began chiding the older tent campers.

“Yeah! We have a life. We’re going to find the haunted cabin while you bunch of chickens stay snug in your sleeping bags.”

“Whatever. Get lost,” they responded.

Many wrong turns down darkened paths, that’s exactly what we did. Sometime after getting tangled in a sticky spider web and finding the BEWARE writing on the inside of the haunted cabin, we got lost.

“You go first.”
“I’m not going first, you go first.”

“Someone needs to go first,” I reminded them.

Two of the girls decided to go in together. It was creepy but not nearly as creepy as what we were about to encounter.

We had been walking for what seemed like miles. The girls, the other troop leader and I were starting to get tired. The fun of the adventure and the sugar buzz from the shared Starbursts was beginning to wear off.

“I think we should have taken that other turn back there,” she said.

“Maybe so. Let’s just keep walking for a little bit longer and see where this path takes us.”

And that’s when we heard it. The low roar of an engine. We watched as an old pick-up truck drove by. “Look, there’s a road!”

The girls screamed with delight and started walking quickly towards it. But then the truck turned around and started back towards where we were just about to come out from the woods.

It was going way too slow and we could only see the shadow of a driver.

“Miss Tina. Who is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“It might be a sexual predator,” one girl said in a hushed, suspecting voice.

“Yeah, it might be a sexual predator,” another agreed.

They loved to say those words as much as they loved to eat s’mores and it always made me laugh.

“It’s not a sexual predator,” I assured them. But then the truck crept closer, pulled in and stopped at the metal pipe gate directly in front of us and turned off the engine.

“Hit the deck!” I instructed the girls and they dropped their bellies in the dirt, attempting to hide.

The truck door made the eerie sound of metal rubbing against metal when the mysterious driver opened it to get out. The massive silhouette stood in front of the headlights.

Even my heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought the predator surely could hear it as we layed on the ground, surrounded by brush.

With a strong southern twang, there was a shout into the dark night, “Whatcha all doing out here?”

I responded hesitantly, “P-p-park Ranger Judy. Is that you?”

“Of course it is.”

We let out a huge sigh of relief, began laughing our heads off and piled ourselves into the back bed of a crowded pick-up for a ride back to our cabin. It’s a story these girls, now in college, still tell and talk about.

Most times our bad experiences, missteps, and wrong turns can remind us of something important.

Something we’ve endured, something we’ve overcome.

Badges of bravery and honor we hold in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

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September 15

Are We Coloring Ourselves into Corners?

You know I was determined to color when the old-timey, handle sharpener quit working and I had to get the screwdriver tool kit out of the garage to fix it. A chunk of lead was jammed in the corner of the sharpening mechanism. I disassembled the handle and with every turn of the tiny screw, I felt a little bit more proud. Like I was re-connecting a life-saving radio transmitter or something.

But I wasn’t. I was coloring. My oldest daughter Tara would sigh and tell me it’s not that serious, but I knew better. We all need creative down time.

Last night, I desperately needed 56 sharpened colored pencils and Pandora playing one heart felt worship song after another. More specifically, I needed the over-used aqua green to be pointy sharp if I was going to stay inside the lines of the coloring page that positively proclaimed,

She believed she could, so she did.

I believe in coloring inside the lines but also, I believe in living our lives outside of them. I believe in pushing the page of what’s possible, with a solid pink eraser sitting close by.

Because sometimes the shades don’t blend the way we intended and the color comes out all wrong.

Still, we should try.

I can talk a good talk and color quite well, but the fear of breaking barriers or stepping into new territory can be quite scary. We grab from our jars the worn down dull nubs that we know, even though there is a constant stirring to explore something more.

Outside of the black lines that sit so definitively on the page, where the white space is, your life is waiting to be colored.

Wanting to come alive.

This week I wrote a new children’s book. It’s almost finished. A flash of inspiration came the way it sometimes does when I force myself to sit and soak up the solitude. I hope it won’t land in the pile of hundreds of other pages I’ve written, unsure of how to proceed, leaving me feeling like the abandoned peach pencil that seldom makes it to the page.

I think of my daughter, Tara, who has been fighting her whole life it seems and has never wanted to live inside the lines. She is a boxer girl now, determined to push past the pain of an unexpected punch, learning new moves and better ways to stand steady. Someday, she wants to teach self-defense to women and young girls.

We have goals, but we have barriers too. Black lines we can’t see, but still, hold us back.

I’m going to try and let today be a day that I do something bold. Today, I will be determined to grab for the magenta that is usually a little more louder than I want on my page. Don’t color yourself into a corner.

Today, let’s do one thing.

Just one thing, to get us a closer the picture we see for our lives.

Sign up for that class, make that meal, meet your neighbor.

Be the brightest you can be. Live today like a day you want to hang on the fridge.

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September 11

Falling Up

I woke up that morning and noticed immediately the new nip in the air when I let the dogs out. The tingly goose bumps under my new paisley nightgown confirmed what I suspected. Crisp fall mornings were now in session.

Dragging the perfectly organized giant red wagon over to the picnic table at the Farmer’s Market, I realized what I had forgotten. 58 degrees doesn’t last long in a Texas September, and no, it’s actually not quite sweater weather.

For the next few hours, I sweated profusely under my clothes.

I finger painted, smiled and kept conversations alive with little Picassos who couldn’t wait to create, grabbing for brushes, sponges, and being somewhat careful not to spill, mix colors or get it on their clothes.

Sweet Nikita needs her own art studio.

I couldn’t stop staring at the way she carefully blended the palette to make her picture somehow magical. The colors came to together to make her page come to life.

There was the boy who took his time, carefully painting each branch a different color and I commented on his uniqueness.

“You are an original,” I told him. “I’ve had dozens of kids here today, and no one has thought to paint their tree like that.”

He smiled in that shy way, letting me know he was happy, but also a little bit embarrassed by the compliment. We all need to know we are special. Our unique differences bring out the best. Like the leaves in fall, no two people exactly the same.

We change over time.

Scientific words like photosynthesis and chlorophyll aren’t in my everyday vocabulary. In prepping for the kids’ craft, I was amazed to discover what I probably learned in third-grade science class.

Leaves show their true colors in the fall.

The crunching, the jumping, and the memory of the smell of leaves burning in a barrel in my grandpa Terrill’s backyard are fall reminders of the changing seasons.

Something new is coming.

We make it through seasons of drought and indifference. We anticipate the harvest, the bounty, the plenty.

I think about fall and the fall and am so grateful for days gone by and our own growing seasons. I’m thankful for the day someone subtly reminded me of a life lesson and a line from a movie, “Funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while.”

Just a little while.

If you’ve ever stood and watched the last leaf float to the ground, it brings an unexplainable peacefulness. The way I imagine it would feel to stand under the colorfully painted leaves of sweet Nikita’s tree.

When the last leaf falls, it leaves behind a barren tree with sturdy branches. It stands better, boldly grounded in the crisp new air, waiting expectantly for a new season.

And lasting changes that bring new life.

 

 

 

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September 8

When the Writing’s on the Wall….Or Sidewalk

I used to think I was a good speller.

But then I started blogging on a self-imposed deadline that usually gets squeezed in just before 10 am and recently realized the word, mochila, only has one L.

And it’s an “o”, not a “u”.

And for whatever reason, my brain refuses to accept the correct spelling for the word commitment. How hard is to remember it has two m’s and one t? I get red-lined on that one repeatedly when I type.

One of my favorite things to do as both a kid and as a mother of kids were studying for spelling tests.

We all love music and learn best when the letters are spoken in a rhythmic beat. I still hear my girls reciting back to me ORA-NGE. My mom taught them how to spell their colors on the midnight walks they took when it was barely dark and we’d just moved to Texas.

Last night, also barely before dark, I took the dogs out for a walk, not because I love to exercise so much, but because I can’t wait to get to the next chapter of my Audible book. Cecilia is really in a quandary with her husband’s secret and I want to know if Tess is going to forgive Will for falling in love with someone else.

I have to try and keep the stories straight because I’m also reading, or just finished a book called Margot and started In the Great Green Room about children’s author extraordinaire, Margaret Wise Brown.

New books are popping up everywhere and I’ve also put myself on a self-imposed timed television restriction. It was becoming too much non-activity and every single time I watched House Hunter’s International, I wanted to run away and harvest my own coconuts.

Anyway, last night I was walking with a trash filled poop bag, and Charlie and Mr. Riley were pulling me to walk over towards the garage where the black cat sits in the driveway. They were quickly disappointed to find the meow cat was missing so we moved on.

That’s when I spotted the spelling bee graffiti.

I refrained from ringing the door bell like the lunatic I can be sometimes. I imagined it would go about like this;

Ding dong

The screen door, barely cracked, “Can I help you?” she asks curiously while praying to God I don’t have a bible tract in my hand.

Far more excited and louder than a grown girl should be, I reply in squealed delight, “Oh my gosh! I saw the multicolored letters! I love that! Who wrote those words? What a super fun, great idea!”

The busy mother, cleaning up after dinner, would stand there staring at me like I surely must have just eaten the last two handfuls of last year’s Halloween candy. She quickly excuses herself before closing the door and hugging her child to safety.

A few weeks ago, I helped Saydee Grace learn to spell her name. We had a ton of fun screaming it in the car at the top of our lungs.

SAY-DEE!

She was in a mood and so that helped let off a little steam. For both of us. We also learned to spell her favorite color and the giant letters that adorn most of her mother’s casual wear. P-I-N-K.

One question has lingered in my head since 8 o’clock last night.

Who wrote those words? 

I thought of how you could mix those words around to make different stories.

“o”

u”

Sometimes it takes sidewalk chalk in every color to get our attention.

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September 1

I Saw the Sign

I was just coming out of the construction on IH 10, communicating with God in silence and forcing my thoughts and prayers up through the sunroof. That’s when I realized I took the wrong exit and turned around on the bridge in front of Frost Bank.

That’s also when I noticed the giant neon sign in the CVS parking lot.

INQUIRE WITHIN

Now I can’t get it out of my mind.

Sitting across from three interviewers, I steadied my knees under the table as I braced myself for the questions.

The director began, “I read through your profile and wanted to talk a little bit more about your responses.”

I figured this was coming. I over share. I tell too much. I am compulsively obsessed with trying to explain the whole truth, often times sharing more information than what’s probably necessary. It’s the Jim Carey, “I sped, I followed too closely, I ran a red light…” syndrome.

I think it’s good to be open.

As I considered what to say next, I ran my pointer finger in circles and rubbed the condensation that collected at the top of the sparkling water.

Do you want the real answers or the right answers? I wondered.

INQUIRE WITHIN

When I did that, I decided to go with real.

Real answers give God the most glory.

Real answers remind me of just how far I’ve come.

Miraculously carried on some days.

Real answers can make some people very uncomfortable. Not these people, I hoped, but the ones who don’t believe the same way we do. Believe me, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d become a person who was passionate about a life with Jesus.

I was the girl who would rather hear the spine shivering sounds of nails on a chalk board than listen to someone carry on about God. I had care and compassion for pretty much everyone except someone trying to pass a bible tract through the screen door. Religion was for the weak and delusional.

Except that when nothing else seemed to fill that nagging void, Jesus did.

Except when I had nowhere else to turn, I found power in that name.

When I find myself in a situation that feels uncomfortable or off, I turn inward. One of my favorites, Andy Stanley says, “Pay attention to the tension.” His Your Move podcast is one of the best I’ve ever heard. He gets right to the word and talks as fast as I do. I love it!

I will not likely ever hand someone a three-step pamphlet on salvation. But I can’t seem to stop myself from talking about the life giving stories I’ve read and the life changing times when I’ve experienced a presence like no other.

When there are so many terrible situations around us, peace can still be found within us.

It is a glimmer of hope when it all looks hopeless, a new perspective on what is important. A new direction on which way to go when we’re making big neon decisions.

I’m not always good at it, and often times fail miserably, but I do try to find the real answers, the ones that might show the most honor to myself, my girls and my God.

INQUIRE WITHIN

 

 

 

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August 28

The Importance of a #2 Pencil

Outside my bedroom window, just behind the giant oak tree, I watched as children passed by on bikes with training wheels, carrying backpacks bigger than their backs. The brightness of new school clothes lit up my sidewalk. The anticipation obvious as they chattered about this thing and that. The older kids sharing solid advice to the elementary school newbies.

I don’t know if there is anything more exciting than the first day of school and a pack full of new school supplies. The other day I gave Saydee Grace, still a pre-K girl, a perfectly sharpened yellow #2 pencil with a fresh pointy eraser top.

She couldn’t contain herself.

“Look, mommy! Grammie gave me a new pencil. It’s perfect. I’m gonna take it with me!”

Chelsea looked at me and laughed, “I wish I got that damn excited about a pencil.”

I told her she did and reminded her of her very own pencil box obsession. Just then Saydee hugged her #2 and repeated, “I love my damn pencil.”

The cover up sentences that followed were unsuccessful.

“I love those dang pencils so much!”

“Hot dang! I love pencils.”

“Just stop,” I said to Chels as Saydee watched both of us, taking it all in like the sponge she is.

I changed the topic to talk about her muchilla, one of my favorite new Spanish words that means backpack.

When I think back to my girls and their new school enthusiasm, I always recall Tara’s first day of school and the outfit heard around the world. She had a fresh bob haircut, white t-shirt, and blue patterned gaucho pants. They were fantastic!

Here’s a little tip for all the new moms. Never, I mean never, ever, ever in your long legged life make your kids wear something they don’t want to wear. Especially on the first day of school.

You will hear about that misguided fashion selection every holiday, bad day or any other day when you need to the be the sole reason that life sucks.

I can still see Tara standing on the green grass outside of our failed renovation project on 33rd St., smiling for my pre-digital camera with not so much as a smile but a disgruntled smirk.

Totally I would call do-overs on that day and let her wear the outfit she wanted. It was fuzzy with pink stripes in varying shades and as I recall there was a brown vest we bought to put over the top. I thought it would be too hot.

And I’m mad about airy gaucho pants with pockets. A perfect place to put the happy face and star stickers she was certain to achieve.

His mercy is new every morning. 

What misstep are you needing to forget?

It’s a new day. A fresh start. Every day can be like the first day of school if we look at it like that.

Another chance for a brand new beginning, new friends, experiences and something new to learn.

In my perfect scheduling for today, I imagined I’d get up super early, way before the school traffic started. I wanted to pray in this exciting first day, lifting up teachers and students, custodians, nurses and lunch ladies.

Four times I hit the dueling snooze buttons on my alarm and phone. I set both when it’s really important.

Tomorrow I will rise and start with a freshly sharpened #2 pencil with a really big eraser.

And this &^%# keyboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 25

Changing Perspective

Cora was her name.

This adorable fourth grader with her hair pulled back into a disheveled pony. She had perfectly placed freckles and dimples so descriptive, I couldn’t stop staring.

She sat across from me at my most favorite picnic table ever, the one at the Cibolo Nature Center that sits just outside the gift shop and turtle aquarium. It’s placed in such a way that you can closely view the wooded area and the colorful birds flocking to the feeders. The center is one of my most happy places, with architecturally cool buildings, hammocks and tweet full singing from the tops of the trees.

I volunteer as craft person and was there to help the kids with a project before the drone presentation. I’m also a nice diversion for the parents who need a punchy adult beverage on a sticky Thursday night. There are different presentations monthly and it’s super fun. Check out the next date in September or the new painting class at the Farm!

Back to Cora, who loves music, wants to be a veterinarian and loves horses.

Her sisters were equally beautiful, the oldest, Sophia, exhibited early signs of leadership the way most children do when they are at the top of the sibling pecking order. She helped her baby sister put the pieces together on her collage.

“Let me know when you’re ready to glue,” she told her in the kind voice I used on my brothers when they were little.

In his mid 20’s, I drove one brother to the Greyhound station and put him on a bus back to Iowa for eating my Chinese food in the middle of the night. In my defense, not his, I was 8 months pregnant and clearly labeled the take-out container with the foldable flaps before going to bed.

It was a more harsh version of Alice’s Eat Me cake.

I believe I wrote, Eat this and die! 

Those who know me, know me well. They also know I can get crazy dramatic over Kung Pao.

“Sayonara!” I likely said as I waved his bus out of the downtown station in San Antonio.

The three sisters who sat before me would never be so petty. They were from Canada and I don’t think Canadians get wound up like that over such silly things as missing meals.

We were making aerial mosaics, an idea I stole from a craft lady on PBS I think.

With a Hobby Lobby supply spread, we began with a black foam background. Next, we added pre-cut shapes of blue or aqua felt, squares of corrugated cardboard and many different shades of construction paper. The tiny green pom-poms made perfect shrubs and trees.

I remember the first time I flew over the quilted fields of the Midwest. I was in awe at how different it looked compared to driving those same roads in a car. The way the purposely planted fields showcased themselves like patchwork, the sections varying in shape and color, each one unique and different, just like us.

It’s a perspective we don’t often see.

As I watched Cora and her sisters carefully place the pieces on their own designs, I thought about God and all his creation. I thought we probably look to him, the way the fields below look from a drone or a plane. In Christ, I don’t believe he sees our every imperfection the same way we do. The way we focus and worry, stress and regret all the misplant-ings, sometimes afraid we’ve ruined the harvest.

Then again, maybe that’s just me.

I imagine God sees his handiwork.

It made me think how much I want to live my life like that, in a way that is still determined to trust that he is able to bring beauty from all of the mismatched pieces.

At any age.

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August 21

A Room with a View

I grew up surrounded by corn fields.

Fields that are mostly flat to very gently rolling.

As much as I love a big, huge vista views of the hill country, the switch-back roads it takes to get to the top sometimes terrify me.

When the girls were young, we took a road trip to Ruidoso so we could ski and stay in a beautiful mountain lodge. After stopping in Roswell to check out the scientific proof of aliens, we made it to the cabin.

Knowing that I am scared of heights and my stomach gets queasy and my brain begins to feel off balance, I was very proud of myself for getting us safely to our destination. Until the next day when we set out to ski and realized we were not anywhere near the top and had much further to drive.

Every time I looked to the side, where the pine trees grew and the road dropped off, I was certain we were going to roll the white suburban into the steep ravine.

We got to the top but didn’t get to ski, because they didn’t take credit cards and I left the cash in the cabin, so I didn’t lose it. Of course, I nearly lost it when I had three disappointed daughters to drive back down the hill.

And it had begun to snow.

I was literally frozen in my tire tracks with fear as we began the descent. My pre-teen, temperamental daughter, was wearing her baby blue cable knit sweater, the one that made her blue eyes pop like the brightness of the sun.

“Oh, my God! Just drive.”

“I’m scared. And it’s ‘Oh, my gosh!’ “

I’d never been so high up in all of my life.

“It’s not that serious. Just drive.”

The other two girls sat patiently in the back, Natalie’s eyes wide with winter wonder and Chelsea, apprehensive about a possible power struggle in the front seat.

Before we left for our bear dodging adventure in the mountains of New Mexico, I told all my friends I was going to meet God on the mountain top. I needed some Moses kind of one-on-one time, but when you’re looking for God, you really have to be looking sometimes. You have to pay attention the same way you do when you’re afraid of heights and driving down a dangerous road.

We have to notice the subtleties and the miraculous in the simple things.

“You’re going too slow!”

At that moment, I looked down at my speedometer for an exact speed but what I noticed was my odometer.

77777

Seventy-seven thousand, seven hundred and seventy-seven miles.

That had to be a good sign. Surely we were not meant to die on the mountain that day.

I turned on the radio and Third Day was singing, Show me your Glory. 

This weekend, standing in the living room at the top of Summit Loop, I thought to myself, I need a room with this kind of a view. Then I stepped out onto the balcony with views as big as God and I remembered the mountain in New Mexico.

I thought of all the blind hills and the switch-back, sometimes dangerous roads we’ve traveled.

My friend Ryan used to tell me trees don’t grow on mountain tops, but in the valley. I think trees with a strong root system can grow pretty much where ever they are planted, but I’m not a dendrologist. Yes, I looked that up.

I’ve also noticed that I am most afraid when I’m looking down.

Instead of up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 18

Remarkable

Boxes of plates, cups, and kitchenware were scattered all over the living room. The new 43″ flat screen was carefully placed in her bedroom where no televisions have been allowed for nearly 20 years.

It’s a rule that has been argued, discussed and challenged on more than one occasion.

26 pairs of shoes have been carried to the car. I’m almost certain three of them look exactly the same. I questioned the purchases as much as a parent can question the way an adult child spends their own hard earned money.

She has bussed tables, served food, dealt with unruly, non-tipping customers, dog sat and baby sat to earn her way to pay for college. I’m very proud of this girl and thankful for people like Dora and Ms. Klaener and Mrs. Smith and Shelby Watson and the entire town of Mason and her loyal Dennys customers in Boerne for helping me raise a girl we could all be so stinkin’ proud of.

Except…

She’s taking the white lacey shirt that hangs on the pink plastic hanger where it doesn’t bother me half as much as it does on her body.
Because I don’t believe in bellies showing unless you’re going to the beach or trespassing in a neighborhood pool.

Her sister, who is the queen of generosity, purchased every Pioneer Woman product on the shelf. I tried to steal the towels and the other spatula I have a desperate need for as we were sorting through everything, ooohing and aaaghing with every bit of envy I could not quite contain.

Natalie made Dean’s list both semesters last year at Texas State and is now completely freaking out over her major and the indecisiveness she has been battling since May. She is highly opposed to wasting money and needs to plan her entire life now.

Right now.

She doesn’t listen when I tell her I’m 50 and still don’t have a life plan.

I found a picture of her the other day and can’t believe the time suck. She was in sixth grade and just finished her Christmas program because we lived in a small town that still knew how to rock a Christmas program. Before you blink, it’s another year, Easter and then the fourth of July. I spent a lot of parenting years trying to put out fires.

Except…

This girl has always lived like a handful of sparklers. Her very presence lights up every occasion.

Right now, she is carrying the last of the stuff out to her car while I’m writing this blog. We were Girl Scouts. We believe that if a girl can do it, she should do it. So she is.

Which is probably why we are all so giddy over the Pioneer Woman products. We’re adventurous like that. But still, at that age, we do not want to be anything like our mothers. We don’t want to stand in their shadow but make our own light.

John is her boyfriend and muscle back-up to haul the tv, because, well, we are southern now and chivalry is not dead. I can tell by the look on her face that he is taking way too long. We are also bossy. She is in the early stages of the relationship, so she tries her best to contain that characteristic.

The other day I caught the awkward exchange between two sisters as they were showcasing the shower curtain, towels and all the new stuff. “I’ve had my towels for about 20 years,” I mention. “They now double as both a towel and a loofah.” They don’t fit around my body anymore either.

“Oh, mom, you should have seen her while we were shopping. She wanted everything to be like yours.”

An evil glare silently shouted, “How dare you!” from Natalie’s face to Chelsea’s.

“I’m sorry, sister.” We laughed.

There was a little bit on the inside of me, that felt like I did something right. It’s not what I carry around on a lot of days when I’m weighted by the worry and the screw-ups.

Except…

This girl is something I got right. She is remarkable, worth remarking about. She was hired on the spot at Red Lobster in her new college town when they heard she has had the same waitressing job since she was a freshman in high school. She is every wonderful thing I would want her to be. Blessed from the beginning and shockingly capable of a cuss word on a Twitter feed.

She has been the Moon over my Hammy since the day she was born.

I love you Goosie.

 

 

 

 

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