How to Create a Fabulous Holiday Table

I love decorating for the holidays. Not only does it allow a much needed creative outlet, it allows me to spend time in the space and create a feeling of peace and joy.

This year, we are in a new house, where we will establish new traditions. First, I cleared the space (removed all artwork from the walls) as to not “clutter my vision.” The first pass was a bit barren, incomplete…

festive dining room table
Holiday Table – Take One

So, I began to gather more items to add interest. Some items were being used in other spaces, some were new, some were found. Here is the updated view and I believe it’s the final version of how our Thanksgiving table will appear (sans food and guests of course!)

Holiday Table
Holiday Table – Take Two

Ready for me to reveal my super secret?? (The local dollar store! The snowflakes on the back wall were exactly $1 each, the vases where I placed my own spray-painted branches were $1 each. I did purchase the party poppers (Costco) and little chocolate turkeys (Cost Plus) for the table as well as the cloche (TJ Maxx) as the main centerpiece, but I already had the other décor items.)

Here’s a closer look:

Holiday table center piece

I also spray-painted the pine cones that have been hanging around in the holiday bin for years, giving them a fresh and festive face-lift!

Silver pinecone table decor

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I recently purchased (on Craig’s List for 30% less!) the buffet table behind the table, which acts as a perfect addition to hold wine, and side dishes after you’ve served your guests (it keeps the main table free for elbow room, read=face stuffing!!) I love the final results.

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Beginning last year, we began the tradition of a “Gratitude Tree” that was placed on our Thanksgiving table.

How I created a Gratitude Tree:

I stenciled leaf shapes on double-sided craft paper, cut out the shapes, punched a hole near the top and added a piece of string for hanging. Prior to dinner, I asked that our guests select a leaf and write what they are most thankful for, then hang their leaf on the Gratitude Tree. All the blessings of gratitude were read before dessert.

This year, the repeat guests can either add to the leaf they created last year (writing on the opposite side) or they may select a new leaf to pen new attributes for which they are thankful and blessed. New guests will be included to participate in the tradition.

I recommend that everyone begin a Gratitude Tree, as your guest list may fluctuate from year to year, but the traditions and memories will last a lifetime!

Grateful tree silver branches

Gratitude tree silver decor

I invite you to share an image of your holiday table on An Authentic Life’s Facebook page for all my gentle readers, both near and far to enjoy.

 

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The Complexities of Life and Death

clouds

A heavy sigh greets me this Friday. So many thoughts swirling, suffice to say, death seems to be a recurring theme this week. So far, I’ve heard of the passing of two people with whom I have known remotely. They both lived long, productive and healthy lives, which makes their departure less shocking, but sad nonetheless.

The other death is one that is impending (aren’t they all??) It involves cancer and with someone who is much closer to me, and oh, it’s painful. I spent some time yesterday crafting a letter to this person, as I wanted him to know – while I am still able to communicate directly – that he is cared for and loved and his contributions to our family are greatly appreciated and not without notice. It was gut-wrenching and I spent a better part of the day bawling my eyes out over the impending loss and what that will mean for my family.

We are a society that does not deal well with death – on any level – even though it’s the one known inevitable outcome for every single living soul on the planet. I was visiting with some girlfriends last evening who were lamenting about attending an upcoming event for a colleague with cancer. They wondered “how” they would approach it. Based on the week that I’ve had, I offered this piece of advise: go in with the positive outlook that you are privileged to share their life, and recall happy times WITH THEM, versus waiting until they have passed to share memories at a funeral or other life-reviewing event.

Shouldn’t we all have a life-celebrating party while we are still able to comprehend the value and enjoy the people in attendance?

I remember a time, years ago, when my father – who continues to read an actual physical newspaper cover to cover each and every single day – shared an article with me. I remember staring at the black and white newspaper photo of an elderly woman, popped out of the top of a limo, in wild celebration. She had a huge smile on her face, and in her aged hand extended skyward was a champagne flute filled with a bubbly concoction.

It was her husband’s funeral – and she was celebrating his life. There were no tears – just joy. I remember marveling at that photo, wondering silently if I would be able to do the same thing? It was an odd concept – showing happiness in the face of death – who does that??

My dad looked at me and said, “When I die, I don’t want anyone crying. I want you all to have a party and celebrate the fact that the old bastard is finally dead.”

We laughed, of course. And now, all these years later those words still permeate in my brain.

“When I die, I don’t want anyone crying. I want you all to have a party and celebrate the fact that the old bastard is finally dead.”

In fact, I’ve envisioned myself speaking at his funeral, without tears, sharing funny stories about him. Yet it doesn’t matter, the thought still brings tears.

Death brings tears. And joyful memories. And if we’re lucky, an overwhelming feeling of love. I will carry those thoughts with me as I continue to walk in this journey. Especially with what’s on the horizon.

Go in love, my friends, for in the end, it’s the only thing that lasts beyond this realm of existence.

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Forty-Something Candles

Gloria Ferrer Champagne Bottle

 

On the eve of the 17th revision of my 29th birthday, I am many things, but mostly, I am peaceful. {I suppose the wine and chocolate doesn’t hurt the mood.}

I am grateful for simple things (my health, a new roof over my head, a steady income, family, friends, and of course, Rocco-puppy!)

I am accepting of the choices I have made – and perhaps those I haven’t made so far? One thing I’ve learned, you can’t worry about the choices made, but rather, focus on the lessons said choices have provided. Good, bad and otherwise.

Life offers us so many options – much like a trip to your local Baskin Robbins – with 31 flavors from which to choose. And don’t we typically choose the same two or three over and over and over again? But, at any moment, without instigation we can make NEW choices. We can pick flavors we’ve never tried before. We can explore, be edgy, take a walk into the unknown.

As the half century number (and not one that I love the sound of to be brutally honest) begins to crest the horizon, I believe there are also choices to approaching a birthday.

You can (attempt) to run and hide (not very “authentic!”) – OR – you can face it head-on, breath into it, and give it a giant appreciative hug.

I am thankful for the endless love, support, humor and shelter of my darling Sexy Hubby. I would not be half the person I am today without him offering me a shoulder to lean on.

And cake. I am most thankful for the traditional birthday cake. It’s not a true birthday celebration without it. (And, oh, I simply adore cake!) First order of business tomorrow, head to my local gourmet market in search of the perfect piece of forty-something German chocolate birthday cake.

Oh, aging is a beautiful thing. Especially when compared to the options…which brings me to my mother-in-law.

A birthday no longer passes without a special nod to my dear mother-in-law, as my birthday is also the celebration of the anniversary of her passing. It’s been 5 years without her infectious laughter. I hope she knows how much she is missed.

…and as my dear friend KSP always says, “onward and upward.”

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The New (Not-so) Normal

One year ago today, we experienced a loss so deep, so tragic, and so jolting, I’m not sure we thought we would ever move beyond the shock, pain and lingering question of “how could this possibly happen?”  In the twelve months since this tragic day, I believe we’ve learned a few things.

We’ve learned life is short and never guaranteed.

We’ve learned that no matter how devastating a loss, we can find a way to move one foot forward, if ever so slowly.

And, above all, we’ve learned to support one another – especially those experiencing despair. I’d like to believe we are better equipped to notice warning signs of couples on the edge, and are willing to step in and offer love, support and guidance when we can. The following post was written one year ago, but perhaps still has some value and insight.

In loving memory of Kim and Kevin. I hope they are watching from above and learning and growing right along with us.

Death, regardless of circumstances, opens nearly as many doors as it closes. And honestly, I’m not sure which one is more challenging. The opening or the closing.

The doors that close are painfully obvious. Our loved ones are no longer available to us. We can’t call them, or hug them or share holidays together, but we still see their smile, remember their quirks, and most importantly we remember how they made us feel.

The doors that open are akin to The Black Hole – dark, engulfing and without end. Doors called Sadness, Denial, and Disbelief open wide. The biggest door that opens is the also the toughest door and the one in which I am not able to open let along walk though. It’s the door labeled, “Why?”

Why did this happen?

Why did my loved one have to experience this?

Why are we left without them?

Why? Why? Why?

Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve found myself outside the door called “Why?” Yet, this is by far the most unnerving and unsettling why I’ve ever faced in my entire life. (Admittedly, I am on the periphery of this tragedy. Yet, I knew both the victim and the aggressor, and they were both someone I considered a friend. I also know both the families, which only adds to my personal swirling and spinning questions of why?)

When our best man died, I was plagued with why for years. Ultimately, we came to accept the fact Dominic died racing dwarf cars, which was his passion and hobby. The why still stung, but since racing was his choice, it was easier to accept. I recognize that now – eleven years later – as it’s taken me this long to come to that summation.

Regarding my hometown tragedy, there is no answer.

As we collectively move through the internal process of why, I’ve come to understand one major development. In this awful situation, there will never be an answer for why, but only a sad realization that it really happened, placing us squarely outside the door labeled “As Is.”

The O.C.D part of my brain grapples with “As Is.” I like things to fit into neat, little justified boxes. There is no neat, little justified box for this tragedy, but rather a reason wind-chime – dangling, wobbling and blowing with the wind.

So, instead of trying to open the why door, we are forced to open the “As Is” door and see what’s inside. It’s going to look different through that door. Nothing will be the same.

Only “As Is.”

Maybe someday “As Is” will come to feel normal.

The new not-so normal, yet, the only choice that unfortunately remains…

 

 

Another Epiphany? No Fooling

Oak Tree Reflection in Pool

Isn’t it ironic that after not crafting a blog post for nearly 45 days, that a new post should appear on national All Fools Day?

I thought so, too.

Where have I been hiding for the past few months, you wonder? (Or not!) Not anywhere ultra-fantastic (although I did take respite in the desert sun for a few days, while tagging along with a Sexy Hubby work trip.)

The bigger question is what have I discovered in the past weeks?

It’s a good one. And one that I love. It was an epiphany of sorts, and I hope that by sharing this personal nugget, it will enable you to look deep within yourself to discover hidden treasures, and moments of immense clarity.

The beginning of March 2013 marked three years since our very painful and very public embarrassment.

A loss of colossal proportions.

It was the moment our mountain log cabin delved into the abyss of foreclosure, taking with it every equity penny we had earned, all savings and retirement funds, and nearly every bit of our self-worth.

Of course, I always try to find “a reason” why something happened.

What was this suppose to teach us? How were we to do better after this? What was the greater lesson hidden in the jolting loss?

Oh, did I grapple. And I ignored reason. And I defied logic.

In a word, I think I just buried my head in the sand, hoping to wake up and find it was all a crazy April Fools joke. Only no one was joking. Or laughing. And I dared not to cry for fear I’d never stop.

Fast forward to today. Three years later. And only recently did the epiphany arise from the mire. And it’s a good one. And one that I feel compelled to share, as perhaps someone who reads this (either of my two followers) will gain insight.

In a nutshell, the events from New Year’s Day to April Fools Day are as follows:

Our current rental home recently was placed for sale. We thought, what the heck, we should try and buy it, realizing of course, no bank this side of normal would consider us a worthy credit risk, but we decided to roll the dice…

And we hit Lucky 7.

Then, all of the sudden, I really decided to double-down. If the bank was willing to sell us THIS place, would they sell us something we really wanted?

Turns out they did.

Also during this time, I reconnected with our friend/realtor who began sending me daily email listings on houses within our desired price range. Something popped up that looked interesting, and on a whim, I made an appointment to see the house. But,  on the drive over to this house, I thought, “What the heck am I doing? Why are trying to buy another house? This is crazy.” Good thing I didn’t listen to myself.

I viewed the house. A bungalow on a quaint street, with a park. I walked in, and after a very brief tour, I knew it was perfect for us. Small house, small yard = completely manageable.

With the bank’s blessing, we placed an offer, got approved, and in approximately 2 weeks, we will move into our new home.

It’s akin to winning the lottery for us.

But the real epiphany is this – the bank qualified us for a much larger amount of money, yet we chose to purchase something less. Considerably less – in other words, for the first time in our adult lives, we are choosing to live BELOW our means.

And it is the best feeling of comfort I’ve ever known.

Living below our means.

Words to live by.

And a lesson that was three years (or a lifetime?) in the making.

Thank goodness the lesson finally bubbled to the surface. Not only does it allow sleep to swirl around me peacefully, rather than fitfully, but it offers great information and explanation to the aforementioned foreclosure and how we missed the warning flags as we zoomed past reason and straight into the financial danger zone – a place where I never, ever care to make a return visit.

What lessons have you learned? Do you dare to share?

(And be ready for the blogs to follow sharing the before | after shots of the new house! Oh, and we’ve got tons of DIY projects up our sleeves!!)

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The Season of “Senioritis”

cameron beach

It’s official.

To everything, there is a season. And the seasons have recently shifted. Only this “season” won’t be named on any calendar sold in a nationally advertised office supply store, or labeled by a lunar moon. This season is unofficial and will only be found in teenagers with an impending high school graduation.

“The Senior” that lives under our roof (and one we seldom see in the daylight) has recently announced a change in season. The season is marked with proms, and college acceptance letters and God-willing, scholarship announcements. The season is otherwise known as “Senioritis,” and boy, are we ever in the thick of it.

As “The Senior” was preparing to leave for school on Monday to face his first-round of final exams, he plopped down next to me and began to tie his mangy shoe-laces. As he laced, he exhaled loudly, “I’m not going to lie. I’ve got Senioritis. I’m beyond the point of no return.”

Beyond the point of no return.

As a parent, I silently wondered how many times I have felt precisely the same way.

When he refused to sleep an entire night in his own bed and would end up sleeping on the floor next to me, while his father would grumble, “How long is he going to sleep in here, until he’s 15?”

(I don’t know about other “young mothers” but during that time, I was working full-time, commuting over one hour each direction and stressed to the max. Sleep was one of my few respites. And after being awakened night after night after night, I was certainly beyond the point of no return. I wondered and prayed, “Will this hell that has become my life ever end?” It did. When he was eight years old, but who’s counting?)

I exhaled loudly in return, and turned to face my son, not sure how to respond, nor certain he expected a reply. So, I remained silent.

He continued, “I mean, I’m already accepted to MSU, and everyone says they don’t look at your final grades.”

Everyone says.

Another favored expression, of which we have managed to escape, if ever so closely over the years.

At this point, I piped up, saying, “Well, the admissions department does in fact need your final transcript. Someone will be looking at your final grades to be sure you don’t flunk out of your final semester of high school.”

He looked at me like I had three heads, “Mom. I’m not going to flunk out.” I’m sure his eyes were rolling, only his head was bent over to inspect his tightly, double-tied laces, so I couldn’t see for myself the bottom third of his eyeballs as they flickered north. I sensed the eyeball rolling as only a “seasoned” mother is capable.

We’ve lived though the “terrible-twos,” chicken pox and more flu-seasons that I can rightfully recall,

We’ve endured potty training, sippy cups, guitar lessons, and numerous outdoor sporting events where we attempted to don every warm coat we owned to survive the elements, swearing he was not playing this sport again next year. But he did.

As he left for school that morning, I kissed him goodbye, wished him luck and ushered him out the door. As he drove away, I made myself a cup of coffee and retreated to my home office, trying to convince myself that once again, this too shall pass.

Everyone says it does.

I hope everyone is right.

Written and posted originally for Montana Parent Magazine. 

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7 Lessons From The Puppy

Want to spice up your life?

Want to stretch yourself?

Want to grow, expand and push yourself to the ends of the earth?

I have one answer.

Three little words.

Get. A. Puppy.

We are embarking upon our first month with our newest family member, and I can say, it reminds me of all the reasons I am glad I do not have small children anymore. And I’m not convinced a puppy is better or worse than human children.

Case in point = lessons I’ve learned from the puppy:

Puppy Lesson #1

Puppies take what they want then RUN.

And run, and run and run.

It doesn’t matter how cool and calm you are. If your arm is outstretched and you are talking in a sweet “come hither” voice, they know the real deal. And they run further and faster to get away from you – and keep the stray sock, glove, paper towel, hair clip or other random item that is three times their size, away from you. They found it, therefore, said item is now rightfully theirs.

Puppy chewing on Uggs

Puppy Lesson #2

Puppies sleep when the want, where they want and for as long as they want.

Which eventually means they will be wide-ass awake at some ungodly hour and insist that you be awake as well – it’s play time!

Yorkie Puppy Sleeping Rocco

Puppy Lesson #3

Even though the puppy is sleeping, if you stand up, and walk to the other side of the room, they are instantly awake. And they will follow you.

And get right in the middle of whatever you are doing.

Don’t think for one second your privacy is yours. That’s all changed. The puppy is now included in anything and everything you do.

Darling image of yorkie puppy

Puppy Lesson #4

Whoever said size matters never met a Yorkie puppy.

They may be slight, yet they are mighty (in their mind!)

(Best part of meeting Timber, the very gentle English Lab shown below, was when Rocco STOOD on his back. I wasn’t fast enough to capture the image, but Timber just laid there, probably thinking, will someone please remove this FLEA from my back!)

Yorkie meets English Lab

Puppy Lesson #5

That spot on the sofa that you thought was “yours” no longer belongs to you. (Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory better never get a puppy!!)

And if you think of a new spot, that spot also suddenly belongs to the puppy.

The sooner you embrace this lesson, the better.

puppy on the sofa

Puppy Lesson #6

When playing with the puppy, it’s best to just dig in, and get down to his level.

Especially when his legs are short and stubby and don’t allow for proper jumping up on you.

Joe playing with Rocco Yorkie puppy

Puppy Lesson #7

Forget your heart.

It’s gone.

And guess where it is?

With the puppy.

Sure didn’t take long for the puppy love to bloom!

yorkshire terrier rocco puppy

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Life’s A Beach

Yowza.

What a weekend.

Today, I’m in restore mode – which is a perfect time to share. Prior to arriving in Southern California, I had a few visions in my mind of beach shots I wanted to capture.

Take a look. They turned out splendidly.

 

This is my favorite shot! Lucky for me, my model is multi-talented. Not to mention flexible.

Connor couldn’t wait to get into the action. This shot reminds me of break-dancing in the air.

…and this was only the first afternoon.

I’ll share more. After a nap.

The Senior Countdown Continues…SAY CHEESE!!!

Photo: Circa 2001, when my son actually liked me and didn’t mind his photo taken.

I’m a planner.

I like things done well in advance – in some cases, crazy-advance – it’s because I know myself. I know, if I wait to the last-minute for anything, panic takes over, and all is lost.

I began negotiations for the esteemed “Senior Photo Session” months ago. I even did my due-diligence by ASKING “The Senior” what he wanted. His answer was half-mute, “Whatever you want, mom.” Did he even hear my question? 

Regardless, I trudged on, scheduling the appointment, and considering colors for shirts based on the season, Montana weather options, etc.

Early last week, I gently reminded “The Senior” regarding the upcoming portrait session. Again, my reminder was met with half an ear and eyes glazed-over. I assumed he heard and this was his form of acknowledgment.

All was going swimmingly (in my mind) until yesterday around 4pm, when “The Senior” arrived home, hell-bent to go hunting.

Me: Oh, no, no. No hunting today. You have senior pictures.

Son: What? Mom, I swear, do I have a say in anything??

Me: {Eyes glazed-over.}

Son: No. I’m not doing it. Why don’t you just take my picture. You have a nice camera.

Me: No. I’ve already scheduled it, besides, I’m a hobbyist, not a professional.

{This back and forth senior photo negotiation went on for a while, then I had to bring in the “big-guns.” I phoned dad.}

Dad said to son (via phone from a work-site in eastern Montana) “Do this for your mother. It’s important to her.”

After hanging up, my son glared at me, “You told him I didn’t want to do it!!”

(This was not getting any better, and we were losing time, quickly.)

I grabbed shirts to iron, showing “The Senior” he grunted. I took that as “Yes.” I proceeded to get ready, but secretly, I was nervous. In order for photos to turn out well, the subject should be relaxed and in the “right frame of mind.” My subject was neither at the moment.

This could all go down in a blaze of glory. I prepared myself for a fight.

Fortunately, the photographer (Jessie Moore) is young, and hip and fun – and “The Senior” seemed to slowly warm up to the idea of having his photo taken by a stranger.

He doesn’t like his teeth (still covered in braces) and doesn’t love his photo taken (what male on Planet Earth does?) and refused any hair-taming products. But all in all, he was a good sport – the Montana near-fall scenes were lovely, of which we changed more than half a dozen times over an untold number of miles, and dare I say, he actually enjoyed it??

All the while, I prayed, “We only need one photo to turn out. Only one.” And thankfully, I’ve seen only one photo so far, and it was so fabulous, it brought tears to my eyes.

Tip for surviving senior photo with sons, expect the worst, and hope for the best. (And bring the damn flannel shirt. You will hate it, yet it’s his favorite – and thankfully it’s not shown herein.)

Published at Montana Parent Magazine. 

Mother of three, Katie Walters is the author of An Authentic Life, a member of BlogHer.com and is proudly invited to share weekly within the pages of Montana Parent Magazine’s website.

The Emotions of 9/11 Are Never Far Away

{Editor’s Note: It’s chilling to me,  while watching a 9/11 documentary over the weekend, seeing the towers fall – and still, my breath leaves my body, and my stomach lurches to my throat.
Even now.
11 years later. 
I know I am not alone in this.
I bow my head in honor of those brave American’s who lost their lives on 9/11/01.
Most of whom did nothing more than wake up and step forward into what they thought was “just another day.”}
{Photo: New York City Skyline – circa 1998}

We all know the enormity of the day.

And honestly, I cannot think of anything profound to say. Or anything that hasn’t been said before.

Instead, I will share the story of how 9-11 affected our little family, and what we did in the days following.

Rewind: September 2001

We were planning the family vacation of a lifetime. Where memories would linger for years to come.

We’d experience epic levels of bonding. Kids frolicking in the warm ocean of the South Pacific. Sexy Hubby and I sipping tropical drinks, watching our children, smiles on our faces, and love in our hearts.

Only, it didn’t happen.

What happened instead will forever leave a pit in the stomachs of Americans who watched the perilous devastation  upon the World Trade Center.

Some in person.

Some on television.

Nationally, mouths hung wide open.

Tears fell on cheeks.

We didn’t know it then, but we would never be the same.

We would recover. But we would never, ever be the same.

Our little family was due to leave for Hawaii on September 12, 2001. Of course, at the time, and as a former member of the airline industry, I was certain flights would resume, and everything would return to normal.

But as events continued to unfold, it became increasingly clear. No one, not even the President of the United States knew what to do. Or what could possibly be next.

Que Sexy Hubby.

Realizing flights were immobilized, with no resumption date in sight, he moved quickly to Plan B and fired up the motor home. We were heading out on an impromptu road trip. We already had scheduled time off. We might as well do something.

We packed the kids, some food, a few Game Boys in the motor home, and hit the open road. Destination unknown.

I will say, because we spent the days immediately following 9-11 on the road, away from the 24 hour news feed, we were cocooned and in our own isolated world. We watched news when we could, which was few and far between, providing us a perfect opportunity to discuss the event with our children, away from the swirling tide of media commentary.

Once on the road, we decided on Las Vegas, to start.

Upon our arrival to Sin City, however, I must say, it wasn’t the same Vegas I had seen previously. Again, because we were isolated from the news, and were unaware that the world as we knew it had basically come to a halt.

Up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, where dancing billboards were normally flashing the local advertised talent, now humbly waved an electronic version of Old Glory. Not just one billboard, but every single billboard.

All shows of any type were canceled. It was eerily quiet.

Walking the Strip, which is usually akin to controlled chaos, was polite, humble. Quiet.

Strangers passed and smiled that feeble, knowing smile.

We were all in this together.

Sobering doesn’t even begin to describe the emotion.

At a local Las Vegas gas station, Sexy Hubby was chatting with fellow gas purchasers, many of whom were renting cars to get back home, wherever home was.

With flights down, and no sign of returning, people had lives to return to. Good or bad. Life needed to move forward.

One of the most memorable moments of this “vacation” was traveling through all the little towns of the Southwest. One  in particular (and for the life of me I cannot remember where we were) as we pulled onto Main Street, the entire street was littered with flags.

They graced every flag pole, every shop window, every car parked on the street. It was amazing.

I felt a lump form in my throat.

It proved to me, loud and clear, we truly are one nation under God.

We drove down that street in silence. Even the kids sensed the significance.

It was a quiet ride for awhile, and with three kids, that never happens. I wondered what they were conjuring up. I turned around to find all three seated at the table, silently concentrating, with construction paper and crayons.

They were making signs to put in the window of the motor home. Ones like they had just seen in Little Town U.S.A.

Hunched over their papers, they were furiously drawing flags and stars and soldiers and the words, “God Bless America.”

Home sweet home, indeed.

May we never forget.

May we never forget.

 

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