Memories of Mother’s Days Past

5C93CC37-7C33-49EC-9775-968D6FFE0A4EA double repost today, both about past Mother’s Days.

As you will discover, we don’t pay much attention to these commercialised ‘Days’, but every once in a while, I receive a lovely surprise. Plus, I never tire of telling these stories of my children’s Mother’s Day surprises.

I won’t be seeing my family on Mother’s Day, but my son, daughter-in-law and their family of littles will be visiting next weekend – although I am under no illusion that he is coming especially to see me, it is the prospect of a long bike ride with his dad and the club that lures him here in reality!

If you’re celebrating, I hope you have a lovely day together. If you find this time difficult, my thoughts are with you, and I hope you can find a way of nurturing yourself through it.

An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …

  Mother’s Day: A Tribute to My Children

 Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Raw Vegan Fruit & Nut (or seed) Chocolate – not just for Easter!

28328736_UnknownIn my opinion, one can never have too many recipes for raw chocolate, so here is another easy version of the do-it-yourself kind. It is quite rich, you only need a small amount, so bear this in mind when giving it to young children. It contains minerals, protein, antioxidants and is dairy-free.

Probably best to do this alone: if young children are involved there will likely be none left to go in the freezer!

Homemade raw chocolate melts quicker than commercial chocolate so either make in advance, freeze, break into pieces and store in the freezer until a short while before you need it, then transfer to the fridge; or make it, freeze it, break it up, eat it and keep any leftovers (haha) in the fridge for later.

In this version, we used almond butter and sweet apricot kernels, but you can swap for tahini or other seed butter and either leave out the nuts and use seeds or cacao nibs for texture.

And remember, raw chocolate is not just for Easter 😉

INGREDIENTS

(organic where possible)

1/2 Cup Raw Cacao Butter*, melted in a bowl over hot (but not boiling water)

1/2 Cup Raw Cacao Powder*

1/4 Cup Maple Syrup

1/4 Cup Raw Unsweetened Almond, Cashew or Sweet Apricot Kernel Butter (no palm oil) (or seed butter if nutfree)

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 Cup Raw Chocolate Company Goldenberries or Goji Berries* (chopped) or other preferred berries (dried mulberries, apple juice-infused cranberries, raisins)

2 Tbsps chopped Almonds, Cashews, or Sweet Apricot Kernels (or seeds or cacao nibs*) (plus a little for sprinkling on top)

METHOD
Whisk together raw cacao powder, maple syrup, melted cacao butter, vanilla extract and nut butter. Stir in the berries and nuts.

Spread chocolate mixture onto lined, freezerproof tray, sprinkle with chopped nuts or seeds.

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Place in freezer for 30 minutes, then break up into bite-size pieces.

Best bit? Licking the spoon!

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See also

Fill Your Easter Basket with Home Made Vegan Raw Chocolate Eggs

Food Matters’ ‘One Minute Slice’ Raw Chocolate Protein Bars

Vegan Gluten-Free Raw Chocolate Love Hearts

+

Raw Treats – Recipes

for more homemade chocolate recipes

*The Raw Chocolate Company sell a Make Your Own Chocolate box which contains 2 each of Organic, Raw Cacao Powder, Cacao Butter and Coconut Palm Sugar.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

The Gift of Kindness At Christmas

IMG_1098At Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in the seasonal excitement of buying and exchanging often expensive gifts we can’t afford and they don’t really need. We look forward to seeing the faces of our loved ones light up when they open our presents, the all-round smiles say it all. But sometimes it can be just a temporary happiness: the item breaks down, doesn’t fit, goes out of fashion or needs updating, it wasn’t the right model, they already have two… And then the credit card bill often provides one heck of a shock in January.

Many of us are feeling the pinch this year and Christmas can be a worrying time financially. But there are other ways of giving that bring joy and make a positive difference to the lives of the recipients which won’t almost bankrupt us when the festive season is over. There are savings we can make that could also allow us to help others in a small but significant way. (See later in the post for ways of helping others this Christmas).

Do we really need such a big tree, so much alcohol? How much do we overeat and drink only to bemoan the extra pounds on our bodies and the lack of pounds in our pockets? How much rich food gets thrown away?

IMG_1084 How many of us buy and post cards and then also wish our friends and relatives ‘Seasons Greetings’ in person or by text or social media as well?! Stamps are expensive but most people have email or can receive texts, we can send our greetings for free with news and photos of the family, for example. There are some lovely animated ecards available, see my suggestions later

Here are some ideas for spreading some Christmas cheer that will hopefully last throughout the year, some can be given as Christmas gifts to those who already have all they need and introduce children to the real message of Christmas: the gift of kindness, compassion and consideration. (For US readers, Tamara at The Purple Almond blog has written a Post listing non-profit companies who sell beautiful gifts and give back to good causes).

CARDS

  • Apart from elderly friends and relatives, we are sending seasonal greetings by email and using the money saved on cards and postage to buy food for our local food bank.
  • If you would like to send a more personalised greeting, for £9 a year to http://www.jacquielawson.com you can send as many beautiful animated cards as you like throughout the year.
  • The cards we do send will as always be either homemade from recycled items or bought direct from charities so that they receive all the profits. Even if you buy charity cards from stores, they take their cut too so the charities only receive a percentage of the price of the cards.
  • Years ago, we realised that colleagues who worked within inches of each other would wish each other a Merry Christmas *and* give everyone an individual card as well. This seemed crazy and we initiated a Christmas whip-round in lieu of cards that would be donated to a local charity which everyone voted on each year, Air Ambulance and the local hospice being favourites.

 

 

  • This year I have been painting and découpaging rocks to leave on my neighbours’ doorsteps in lieu of cards – link here to see how.
  • If you have access to foliage, you can make your own Christmas displays –much cheaper and more satisfying than buying them.

 

 

There are many people for whom compassion and kindness would be the best gift of all this Christmas. Often, all that is required is a little thought and some of our time. Perhaps you remember when you were in need but are now able to ‘pass it forward?’

SUPPORT THE ELDERLY & VULNERABLE

  • An elderly relative or neighbour, or someone who has recently lost a loved one may appreciate a phone call or visit. Christmas can be particularly difficult for people who are isolated through immobility or having no family nearby or being recently bereaved.
  • Perhaps invite an isolated neighbour for Christmas lunch or tea. Check that they have everything they need to see them through the holidays, do they need any shopping or cards posting? If the weather is icy or there has been snow, offer to clear their path.
  • Help make a refugee family feel welcome and help them settle into the community.

VOLUNTEER

In the UK, there are 2 organisations that provide advice and friendship for elderly people who could use volunteers and/or donations:

  • Volunteers are also needed at food banks and shelters for homeless people.

DONATE

  • A donation will provide a hot Christmas dinner for a homeless person at

http://www.crisis.org.uk

It costs £26.08 and they can also have a shower, haircut, health checks, clothes and advice that can potentially set them back on their feet. Even my mum asked me to reserve a dinner on her behalf this year when I told her what I had done.

  • A microloan of as little as £15 to

https://www.lendwithcare.org/

helps individuals or groups in developing countries set up their own businesses. I was given this as a gift one Christmas and each time the loan is paid off, I roll it over so someone else can benefit.

GIFTS

  • Oxfam and Good Gifts have catalogues and web sites with life-changing gifts which benefit individuals and small businesses at home and overseas, some at stocking filler prices:

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/Unwrapped

https://www.goodgifts.org

HOMEMADE & HANDMADE 

  • Homemade gifts, especially from children, are always appreciated. Children learn about giving and not just receiving. For several years when our grandchildren were young, they would give us something of their own, many of which we still have, although one of my husband’s prize gifts from our eldest grand-daughter – a plastic microphone with a loud echo – is permanently hidden away!!
  • Older children and adults can make gifts of homemade food: I used to make pickles, shortbread, petits fours, my husband made wine and beer. These days, nut butter, chocolate avocado mousse and raw chocolate truffles may be more likely.
  • My daughter knits mittens and fingerless gloves, beanie hats, socks and sleeveless jumpers.
  • My son has made kitchen chopping boards from offcuts and fallen trees, as well as belts, wallets and even clocks from discarded bicycle tyres and firehoses.
  • Last Christmas, we all made food that contributed to an extended family dinner, which occurs only once a year and was all the more special for that.

*

How many of us watch the Christmas adverts, look at all the presents we’ve bought and all the money spent on food and complain about the over-commercialisation of Christmas? How many vow that next year we will do it differently?

Make next year, this year.

I wish you all peace, love, health and happiness.

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Updated 4/12/17

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Stop food companies from putting our kids at risk | Union of Concerned Scientists — Our Green Nation

Incredibly, there are no FDA limits to the amount of sugar allowed in so-called ‘healthy’ foods in the US.

 

Science in Action Demand Honest Health Claims on Foods Loaded with Added Sugars The FDA currently has limits on the amount of cholesterol, fat, and sodium that can be in foods bearing health claims, such as “healthy.” But there is no such limit for added sugars! Overconsumption of sugar has been linked to serious health…

via Stop food companies from putting our kids at risk | Union of Concerned Scientists — Our Green Nation

Ode to Our Piano: Guess What?

(For Parts 1 and 2 see Ode to Our Piano and What Happened Next)

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Okay, so where we? Oh yes, our beloved old piano moved house yesterday to take up residence with a family of six children.

Except…

Make a brew and pull up a pew, this could take a while, the old lady hasn’t quite finished her story yet…

Last night I went bed sad at waving goodbye to our friend of 33 years but consoling myself – as lots of you have reminded me – that she will be given lots of love and attention in her new environment. When I got up today, I peeked in the ‘piano’ room and my heart skipped a beat. It looks cavernous, not helped by the fact that the shelves and their contents have also been removed while the floor is replaced and the room decorated. But, that’s ok, it will be alright in the end. We can get on with it now that we don’t have to work out how to manage the piano in amongst all the upheaval.

We went about our day, ‘discussing’ paint for the better part of it – our daughter is coming this weekend to paint the garage too (she’s bored, poor thing, so we thought we’d find her something useful to do or she’ll start decluttering again and they barely have a seat to sit on after the last one!) HB wants Forest Green ie the same colour he always does it, I want Sage, but there’s a £33 difference in price so guess who wins – again! (I’m keeping my powder dry, cos there’s the ‘piano’ room to come, haha!)

Anyway, back to the story…HB was about to go and buy the paint when I could hear him talking on the phone and his tone was downbeat, then I heard him say ‘I’m very sorry to hear that, I’ll speak to you soon.’ My stomach lurched. Those words usually mean only one thing, but as I’d spoken to everyone in my family in the last 24 hours, I realised it could mean only one *other* thing: a problem with the piano. It doesn’t play. It broke in the transfer. The daughter doesn’t like it. It’s too old and ugly. The husband hates it, it takes up too much room.

He trudges up the stairs to where I am resting in anticipation of the onslaught of testosterone later today when my grandsons descend on us. I hear his sigh and prepare myself for the words that are sure to come out of his mouth…

It doesn’t fit.

Come again? IT DOESN’T FIT?!!!

It doesn’t fit.

WHY DIDN’T ANYONE THINK TO TAKE A TAPE MEASURE AND MAKE SURE IT WOULD FIT?!

(I am a little overwrought by now)

They had to put it in the lounge, not the room they’d planned on becoming *their* piano room, and the neighbours have complained! Already!

‘Would you like it back?!’

ARE YOU KIDDING?!

DID THEY NOT TELL YOU HOW HARD IT WAS TO GET IT OUT AND HOW MUCH PAINT WENT WITH IT??

(Stressed and Distressed don’t adequately describe my demeanour now)

DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND HOW HARD IT WAS TO LET IT GO AND NOW YOU WANT US TO GO THROUGH IT ALL AGAIN?!

Ok, calm down, Chris. All is not lost. She is just making sure.

She understood that a second person had asked us about the piano after she had said she wanted it. Yes, yes, that’s right! The lady was so disappointed when we called her last night to confirm it had gone. Yes, we’ll give you her number. Oh, but, wait a second, we told her there was one being advertised in the local newsagent’s and she was going to check it out. We’ll phone her and see.

SHE STILL WANTS IT!

Oh, thank you, thank you…

She has two children who play saxophone and want to have piano lessons at school but don’t have an instrument to practise on. Plus, she also came round a few weeks ago to donate some garden gloves for our Garden Glove Love collection, so that’s reassuring, too.

There’s a tiny snag, just a small, teeny tiny one: her husband wasn’t keen the first time she came to ask, but she had cajoled him into agreeing. She would have to go through it all again.

And so we wait…

See Ode to Our Piano – Flowers & Phew! for the final installment!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Mother’s Day: A Tribute to My Children

imageTo all our mums, grandmas, aunts, daughters and neighbours caring for families, partners, relatives and friends. We couldn’t manage without you!

(This is the card I made for my mum, I thought I would share it with you all.)

 I also wanted to tell you this little anecdote that will stay with me for all of my life:

Many years ago, I came downstairs one Sunday morning. My husband was working, my daughter was sleeping over at her friend’s. The table was set for my breakfast: grapefruit, muesli, toast, orange juice, black coffee, a flower in a vase, and the Sunday paper all set out like they do in a newsagents with all the supplements lined up on top of one another very neatly. My teenage son was sitting on the sofa looking very proud of himself. He got up and switched on the tv, pushed a video in and pressed play (yes, it was that long ago!) It was my favourite film, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. I was overwhelmed and I said ‘Thank you, this is lovely, but what’s it all for?’ He grinned and said ‘Happy Mother’s Day! ‘ I didn’t know what to say. I was so overcome at all the work he’d put in. I smiled and said ‘This is so lovely, but… it’s not Mother’s Day until next week!’

Do you know what? He got up early the next Sunday and did it all again!

We don’t normally make a big deal out of this day in our house. I don’t need a card company telling my children to appreciate me, they do that on a daily basis. And I feel for all those who have lost their mums or their children. But occasionally my children do pull out all the stops and surprise me.

Last year, I was sitting at the table, reading the paper, thinking about when I should phone my mum and the phone rang. It was my daughter. She wished me Happy Mother’s Day and asked me what I was doing. I told her in a long rambling comment about nothing in particular, and when I finally stopped for breath she asked ‘Could you put the kettle on and let me in?!’ She had left her bemused boys with their dad and travelled the hour and a half with her labrador pup to come and spend the day with me! Her boys said, ‘But your our mum and it’s Mother’s Day!’ And she replied, ‘Yes, it is and I’m going to see my mum!’ It was a lovely surprise. We rarely spend time together on our own and I miss her so much. It is very hard to get anything past me, but she did that day!

Thank you, K and R, I love you very much💕

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Quiet Saturday Doing Nothing Much – until…!

It began early. Too early! My husband decided that as there was a load of logs being delivered at any time today as well as the possibility of a family visit, he’d better get up at the crack of dawn to make the juices, light the fire, have breakfast and get to the shops as soon as they opened. No matter how ‘quiet’ he tries to be, I always wake up and this is never a happy start to our day: I don’t react well to being woken up, whatever the hour. I need time, lots of it, to come to, review my dreams, make an inventory of my aches and pains,  work out what day it is – always a tricky conundrum during school holidays because I don’t have the school children or school traffic to at least give me a clue as to whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. I don’t usually manage much sleep –  Morpheus and I are mere passing acquaintances – so when I do slip into slumber I like it to last as long as possible.

So his getting up even earlier than usual is not an auspicious start – the usually full-throated blackbird hasn’t even warmed up his vocal chords yet!  I want to stay supine for as long as possible, in order to gather my strength and my wits ready for the possible onslaught, I mean visit, of my lovely grandsons who usually like to invent some kind of medieval torture to inflict on their doting grandma – their favourite ‘game’ at the moment is Demon Dentists! They seem to have grown out of spies and pirates. We have a playroom full of cardboard instruments of torture designed by them over the years (see Creativity is Contagious), usually after a visit to the local ruined castle and of course used only on yours truly – I don’t know how Grandad always manages to get away with it!

We haven’t seen them since Valentine’s Day and I was looking forward to the annual Easter Egg frenzy, I mean well-organised, leisurely garden hunt (I swear they only love me for my chocolate 😉). So was Grandad, you’ve never met someone with as sweet a tooth and being well-brought up, they usually take pity on him and donate a small portion of their Easter booty.

But at 8.22 our daughter rang. This couldn’t be good news. It wasn’t – or it was, depending on how you looked at it! She couldn’t get the boys moving – the youngest (not that young) wanted to travel in his pyjamas!  The oldest didn’t thnk it was worth travelling all that way just for a couple of hours. She would try again during the week.

Ok. So I’m up but not dressed, I’m still in ‘coming to’ mode, when my husband gives me this news. I was off the hook, my sentence to torture has been commuted, but I am disappointed, though I understand. They’ve had a busy couple of weeks. The oldest had performed in a play, they both had violin exams, they just want to chill. But I’m up now. I sip my hot water as I look out on a damp, dark sky that looks leaden with rain, and groan. No sun then. I should have stayed in bed.

Nevertheless, I gird up my spirits (?!) and decide to go in the shower, wash my hair and see what the day has to offer by way of compensation. I love a scalding hot shower! It eases some of the kinks in my muscles and I love the total privacy of it, no interruptions, no extraneous noise, just quiet contemplation and a cocoon of hot, relaxing water. I let it cascade over me and muse about the new day ahead.

I go back to bed! I can’t face drying my hair, it can do what it likes, I don’t care. Bed is warm. Bed is quiet. Bed doesn’t require any effort. Bed doesn’t make me look at dark clouds. I can close my eyes and shut everything out. Just for a few minutes.

An hour later, I get up – again – and in passing the mirror I realise I made a huge mistake. My hair is standing on end! I mean literally standing on end.

Throughout the following hours, I don’t know what to do with myself. I was all geared up for chatting and playing. The house had been cleaned and tidied,  I had even discovered my husband cleaning the big kitchen window – wow, everything was so sharp, so clear, I had begun to think I was developing cataracts! – raw chocolate eggs had been made…

The day needed recalibrating but I didn’t know how to do it.  I write a post, I watch a recorded episode of NCIS, I contemplate the woodburner – a  very calming ‘activity’, I highly recommend it – I watch my husband going back and forth, back and forth with a wheelbarrow full of logs. I watch the rain and feel sorry for the people fighting with umbrellas in the wind and am grateful that I am inside contemplating the woodburner!

I would have watched the cycling Tour of Catalunya, but we prefer to watch the recording so we can fast forward the ads and the boring bits and besides, my husband was otherwise engaged with a log store.

At one stage my daughter texts me to say her oldest has just come downstairs and asked if it was too late to go to Grandmas! We’re now looking to Tuesday.

And so we arrive at dinner-time – pasta since you ask – and our evening date with a  boxed set of The West Wing.

Except, well…

My husband goes to the utility room to fetch something from the freezer and…

A flood happened. Not the freezer, the drain under the sink. Silt and water flow along the vinyl and he gets everything out from the cupboard, shines a torch, dons rubber gloves and begins digging out the silt. A tremendously heavy downpour had coincided with him emptying the bath and this was the result.

Except that turns out to be only the half of it. I look over to the door leading into the small extension we use as a playroom/craftroom and groan. When we open the door, we discover the flooded drain is just the apéritif: the flow of silt-sodden water has found its way into the playroom and the carpet is sodden. I groan again. And again. My husband is right royally fed up. It’s getting late, dinner is half-prepared, he’s been stacking logs most of the day, he’s tired and hungry and this is what he faced.

And do you know what bugged us most? Last autumn, we decided we would raise the floor in the playroom, it’s taken us years to get around to it. For some reason the previous owners had added the extension but it was a step down from the rooms it led off. So finally, we decided to bite the bullet and raise the floor as well as some other minor alterations. We decide we’ll do it in February this year.

Only we didn’t. If we had, it would have created a small step up from the utility room and the flood would have been stemmed before it reached the playroom!

The best laid plans and all that.

The next couple of hours are spent cutting out carpet and clearing up.

I put photos of the flood on Instagram to show the family. I half-seriously asked ‘What to do now?’ My son wrote back, ‘put a couple of convector heaters in there.’

Oops.

I’m not sure how to relay this to my husband. He has just come in, in short sleeves, cold and damp from dragging a sodden carpet out to the garage, which is all the way around the side of the house and up at the top of the drive. He is exhausted and hungry. He has locked up and is standing at the stove, ready to start over with dinner. He opens the pasta. The packet splits in two and the contents hit the floor.

The heaters are in the garage.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Creativity is Contagious – Pass It On!*

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Thank you, timelesswheel for nominating me for this award, I am a little taken aback as I am a blogging novice and I feel I am still serving my apprenticeship! It did, however, inspire me to write a post on creativity and health:

Creativity is a basic human instinct, a need. We all need to express ourselves and if we repress this instinct or we are not given the physical or emotional space to do so, we can become withdrawn, resentful, introverted, insular, develop disease or depression, become frustrated and even angry, often hurting those close to us.

If we are not creative how do we progress as a society?

Being creative doesn’t mean you have to be an artistic or writing genius or require other people’s approval for your efforts. Doodling is being creative! Making a meal is being creative. Constructing medieval weapons or a castle out of cardboard for your grandchildren is being creative!

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One blogger, scribbleartie, makes lovely whimsical images out of ink blots and soap bubbles, she is still working on her technique and loves having fun experimenting. She also takes everday items that have been discarded and turns them into works of art.

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My son-in-law gets great pleasure from stacking logs and has recently studied Norwegian methods of creating different shapes out of these stacks from a book he was given for Christmas.

My husband, who was never interested in food, cooking or nutrition, now spends Sunday mornings communing with bread dough.

I like to make cards and paint rocks, you can read how to in these posts: Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting & How To Paint Christmas Card (or any) Rocks & Taking A Break

My first efforts were nothing to write home about at all, but as with anything, the more you do it, the better you get. The benefits to your wellbeing of mindfulness, of being completely in the moment, having fun through being creative, are many and varied, from increased self-esteem to a strengthened immune system and improved mental health.

Watch a child unihibitedly splashing paint on a large sheet of paper: she doesn’t ask what colour she should use or what shape she should make, she doesn’t feel she has to keep within the margins or hold her brush a certain way – heck, she doesn’t always even use a brush, her fingers and toes will do!

Go on, free your mind, let it wander where it will, pick up a pen and write a silly story or poem for your children, or even a letter the old-fashioned way; or grab a pencil and sketch the cat or the dog – it can be a cartoon or as surreal as you like; find a pair of scissors, some images or card and some glue; grow some plants or vegetables; look at the clouds or the embers in the fire and see what shapes are developing, what thoughts and images do they conjure up? Arrange some garden flowers or twigs in a vase. Pick up your camera, go for a walk. Build a bike from recycled parts. Meditate, find your inner creator.

Take a leaf out of timelesswheel’s book, she had no idea why she wanted to write a blog or what she wanted to say. She just started writing and is still finding her voice and her creative eye in her photographs. And we are enjoying watching her do it.

Give it a try. Express yourself. You will be so much happier and healthier for it.😊

Now *I* have to get creative and come up with 5 things about myself:

  1. I have pens, pencils, paper, scissors, glue in every room I or visiting children use
  2. When I can’t sleep, I create new recipes for juices, smoothies or raw treats
  3. I love watching children playing, talking to themselves and being completely focused on what they are doing or being
  4. At school, I was no good at art, sewing or knitting nor did I ever have a cookery lesson, yet these became my main pastimes in adult life.
  5. I think maybe I should buy shares in Caran d’Ache! Their watercolour pencils are so soft and have such depth of colour, I can predict a growth in their future sales!

Here is my list of recommendations for creative blogs that I hope will inspire:

Thethomastimes – encouraging children to be creative

Watching the Daisies

BrewNSpew

http://spiritualfoodie.org

http://katyhadalittlefarm.com

Storyville

http://susanrushton.net – beautiful photography

About

*Albert Einstein

 Copyright: Chris McGowan