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I’ve been wanting to do one of these newsletters for awhile, but really had no idea what to tell folks about my Brookolie jewelry.  Recently fellow writer Sa’diyya Nesar of the SISTERS Disability Feature Column and I had a brief chat about the bursts of creative energy and emotional maturity that often occur after a fever or other illness. Lo and stuff, it seems all I needed was to be knocked down with a bronchitis flare up for several days and now I have plenty to tell you! Firstly, I think this connection between illness and growth is a really interesting one worth exploring for most of us. We usually view sickenss as a horrid impedance, and sure it can be, but there is also a method to the erm hackiness.

As someone with congenital muscular weaknesses, Sa’diyya has experienced this cycle many times in her life. Sa’diyya was born with weak muscles, (congenital myopathy), making her vulnerable to get pneumonia easily. I have experienced this cycle frequently as well with reoccurring bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia and sinusitis in my youth. The first place I ever read about and had confirmation about the post illness bloom was in a homeopathic book I bought back in my days in Portland(ia) to learn how to care for my children, who I have since witnessed experience this phenomena many times. My daughter Zaynab, then 7 years old, was once in bed with a fever for two days when she suddenly popped up and had to “work on a shirt”. She had recently commandeered her older brother’s fabric pens and had been dabbling with them, but on this post feverish day she spent a couple of hours doubled over her shirt creating an elaborate and pretty awesome henna-esque design covering about 3/4s of it. Then she went back to be for another day and a half.

About a month before my current knock down I had finally received a long awaited order of 14 Goldfill and 22K Vermeil jewelry supplies. I hadn’t had the time to do anything with it, but while I was sick I dozed on and off in bed, visions of stringing gold rolo chain with sky blue Amazonite, frosty green Fluorite and vermeil connectors danced through my head. As soon as I could sit up I had several designs in mind which I had to crank out. And here they are…

Which leads me to… many people ask me where do I get my supplies?

I incorporate Moroccan-made elements in most of my designs, but the majority of my gemstones, pearls and even metal bits cannot be found in Morocco. I have been selling my gemstone and precious metal jewelry for a decade and brought a fairly nice stash of supplies with me to Morocco. One winter in Alaska, I worked in a lovely boutique bead store while the owner went on her annual shopping trip to Hong Kong, India and Thailand. I owed her a lot of money when she got back, but I am still using gemstones from those many, many strands I acquired that winter.

Nowadays replenishing my beads is much more complicated than running down to the Bead Shack to pick up a string of Carnelian rondelles or a few Chalcedony briolettes. Not only do I need to plan appropriately to have all my ‘findings,’ staple gemstone, and pearl beads in my favorite colors and cuts, as well as exciting and interesting new finds, but I also have to have someone bring them to me as shipping several hundred dollars worth of supplies through the post is both costly (they are rocks ya know and do weigh as such), and would be a business-stopping loss if they were ‘lost’. So I order all my supplies from sellers in the US, Hong Kong and Thailand, and have them shipped to friends in family who are coming to Morocco from all over the place.

Frankly it has been nerve wracking for some of my friends and family to bring supplies to me. When they see the value of the stones on the shipping receipts they freak out a little bit about the responsibility. This is where I lose all business sense and my (desperate) artist sensibility takes over. “Don’t worry,” I appease my friends and family. “If anything happens I understand, it’s a risk I am taking. Don’t worry. Please, just bring them!” And so far this has worked, though not easily, which is ultimately good. This is one of the good things about being an expat – I have to find new ways of doing things that makes me more resourceful, a little more organized and Ya Rubb (Oh Lord) more appreciative!

Local fair-trade-ish stuffs

I do try to acquire as much of my supplies locally as possible. I am very fortunate that Ibrahim, the man my mother-in-law has been going to for jewelry repairs, exchanges and purchases for nearly thirty years has not only an excellent selection, but he is also very prolific in buying back old (vintage and antique!) jewelry from so many long term customers like my mil and he is a very skilled silversmith who can make the sterling silver wire I use in nearly every piece of silver jewelry I make. Not only does he make fresh wire for me in several gauges, he also recycles all the cut off ends and bits of sterling I send him- pretty awesome, enit?

Gold and Cold 3

Gold and Cold 1

Ibrahim also keeps an eye out for things he knows I need, like the occasional Thai fine silver pieces that may show up around town, strands of ‘potato’ or ‘rice’ pearls (often used in Moroccan wedding jewelry), these particularly awesome little locally made sterling spacers that occasionally become available and any especially interesting old Berber silver rings- I can’t make rings (yet) but I like to have them available in my shop for a more complete feel. Okay, I LOVE vintage and antique Moroccan jewelry, so it helps me to not hoard items if I can admire them in my stock for a bit before they tumble along to their new homes, I can only own so many rings.

Here is a peek at Ibrahim’s inventory:

Gold and Cold 5

Of course, any chance I get I also go digging around in other jewelry shops for exciting odds and ends to hoard, I mean eventually work into my jewelry. This is a stash I collected in Essaouira, where I did get a little carried away and had to borrow a bunch of dirhams from my ten year old… I paid him back!

Especially if you made it all the way down to this portion of my newsletter, thanks so much for reading my ramblings! Please ‘like’ my Facebook page for updates and special discounts – ok, on my Brookolie Facebook page there is a not-too-hidden coupon code for % off, but for you non-facebookers, it is FANDF (that’s Friends AND Family). Just enter FANDF at check out to get the discount okay?


I’m really glad to have been a part of this conversation with Aaminah Shakur and company for the The Toast and also just for all the support and healing I have had through such convos. Check it out:

“…It took years for me to figure out that a lot of my struggles as a new mother were directly related to my history as a sexual assault survivor.

One of the unanticipated difficulties was breastfeeding. Eighteen years ago, when my son was born, breastfeeding was not quite as supported in my city as it is now. Just this year an ordinance was passed in support of public breastfeeding, so you can imagine the atmosphere nearly two decades ago!

…How sexual trauma can come back to us during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum varies. Our reactions are not uniform, and there are many possible reactions a survivor might have that are not readily seen as related to a history of trauma. We often live with shame, guilt, and isolation because we do not realize trauma is the root of our issues. When we struggle to breastfeed but cannot articulate why, it is also difficult to get the appropriate support. Lactation consultants, postpartum doulas, and other support providers should be better educated in sexual trauma and prepared to help parents with such history recognize if that may be what is causing difficulties.”

Thanks Aaminah and all, read the rest here.

Thank You Maria Zain

 

As I have been putting together an archive of Maria Zain’s articles for SISTERS magazine, many of them are pieces I am already very familiar with. Maria and I shared several similar passions – homebirthing, homeschooling, deen-centered parenting, balancing family/extended family with personal and spiritual obligations, sex and sexuality with an Islamic point of view, and even a fashion frustration with Islamic clothing designers’ negligence to cover pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

When I started as an editor at SISTERS in 2011, Maria was one of the professional, highly skilled and conscientious writers already on board who made my job a cakewalk. Her articles nearly always came in well polished and needing little editing, masha Allah. Over time we developed an easy working relationship, in which she could pop off a quick one liner idea to me about potential articles and I would often respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and brief suggestions to avoid this and that as we likely covered them, while maybe considering addressing this or that. The final piece would then be submitted covering a good scope of ideas, introducing me (the first reader) to new ways of seeing and often giving me a few (always needed!) giggles.

Several months back, SISTERS reintroduced their ‘Soap Box’ feature: Soap Box is the place for sisters to speak out on issues they feel strongly about.” This feature, though a popular one to read, is a hard one for writers to approach, as it is a fine balance between critiquing and demonstrating real social problems within the ummah versus whining about some lesser important pet peeve. Maria recently really took to the feature, addressing several issues she (and I!) would like to see taken more seriously by Muslims, and she also pitched me a few of those emotion-filled one liners for a potential Soap Box rant, which she would later tone down and round out into more… palatable articles for elsewhere in the magazine or even other publications.

As a writer myself, Maria and I had a great deal of crossover in the subject matters we both write about which easily could have made us competitive in such a small field for Muslim writers, yet it only furthered our sharing of knowledge and resources. Maria introduced me to her fabulous editor at an online publication we both enjoyed writing for, and when I discussed the pending possibility of having an unassisted birth with my sixth child, Maria brought me into a tight circle of hundreds of women choosing to homebirth without assistance due to legal restrictions on using midwives. This circle was phenomenal and supported me through my sixth and most relaxed and stress-free birth.

I often see myself as a reluctant advocate across several fronts, where I have chosen to take less popular and even (unwittingly to me) controversial paths. Maria walked many of these paths with me, though I never once saw her reluctance. When I did see her attacked, either via online comments, Facebook discussions or in private exchanges, she always maintained a calm composure and an ability to remain politely but firmly steadfast, with a grace I still hope to someday achieve.

Reading through the memorials posted online for Maria, I am well aware of the legacy she has left behind in her writing having already read so many of her writings as an editor, a peer, a person of shared interests and a friend, but seeing them anew – knowing that there will be no more follow ups, no more branching into new subjects, no more behind the scenes chats – I now know what a privilege and blessing it was to have known Maria Zain, to have had my hand held, to have been given both echoed reassurances of my own feelings and even new insights into many issues from a truly special sister. I regret that I do not recall ever once thanking Maria for all she did for me and my family.

I pray that Maria’s husband is given support and strength to carry on raising his family with a deen-centered focus and that their children know even a glimpse of the sacrifices both their parents made to protect and nurture them as Allah (SWT) guided them to do so, ameen.

Editor in Chief of SISTERS Magazine, Na’ima B. Robert, has set up a fundraiser to help Maria’s husband and family through this upheaval. Please consider sending them some support: http://www.gofundme.com/mariazain

 

You know that running joke from My Big Fat Greek Wedding about the dad who uses Windex on all kinds of wounds? We have habits like that in my family. There is an uncle who gargles with a substance I won’t name here for fear of furthering weirdness. As for myself, I have (had!) an unhealthy attachment to triple antibiotic ointment. It’s one of the few things I ask people to bring to me here in Morocco where I have only seen singular antibiotic ointment available. I need(ed) triple! This is an odd thing about me because I otherwise lean pretty heavily towards traditional and homeopathic ways of healing and caring for my household – there’s no Lysol or Mr. Propre under my sink. So when I caught a glimpse of Love and Light Healing’s Herbal Salve I had myself a little realization/awakening moment. And I got some! Oh but wait, actually it was swiped by son #1 who frequently injures himself and was the primary user of the ointment we shall no longer name.

lalh

I also picked up some of Chasity’s beautifully handcrafted teas- for both internal digestion and, um, external application. Yup, she makes a variety of yummy teas and yoni (vaginal) steam baths and even postpartum sitz baths. Easily my favorite thing from the Love and Light Healing shop is her herbal pain relief stick with arnica, lemongrass, clove, cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, ginger, tea tree, lavender, and beeswax. It works, it feels rather lux using it AND it smells so incredible. Love and Light Healing also carries handwrapped gemstone jewelry, a line of body and bath products, and lovingly handcrafted tinctures, such as elderberry and black walnut. Chasity is a doula and healer and can do a variety of special orders as well. I rate her shop and products: Absolute awesomeness.

Blankets

Next up in my #shopsmall adventures is Aaminah Shakur’s work, who I am a happy, happy repeat customer of. I ordered several custom crochet pieces, which I photographed the wrong side of the blankets above because they are just so beautiful either way and I am a dork. They are down in a cable stitch like these baby bonnets here. Last year I got some fingerless gloves and an infinity scarf for son #2 from Shakur, and son #3 was a bit coveting, so for this (very mild seaside) winter I ordered Mother and Son matching fingerless gloves for he and I. He LOVES them. And he was actually pretty excited that I gave him my pair on accident (I admitted to dorkdom) and so he got to wear both pairs. Those are mine on him in the photo below.

Gloves

CardsI also got a series of handmade cards from Aaminah that not I will not be sending to anyone but bought to frame and put up somewheres in my home, maybe by the kitchen… and a handpainted journal also for me, me, me. Aaminah’s shop also features their paintings, collages, jewelry, bags (which I need one of!) and some of their writing and poetry. Shop rating: a Generous Gathering of Gorgeous

SBraceletAnd one more shop I am featuring in today’s bountiful round up is Sumayyah Said So. In the past I have given Sumayyah’s unique, handmade jewelry as gifts, though I have bought a couple of her books for myself, but then this bracelet was seemingly made just for me… It looks great on me, huh?

It features Serpentine jade and three shades of wooden beads in a double strand. I am now “watching” her new moon earrings series and her surprisingly adorable skull ones. She also has a variety of unique bracelets and necklaces in her shop.

SBrace2
Sumayyah’s books and stories are just as original and unique as her jewelry, featuring super likable (even the bad guys sometimes!) characters often in fantastical and amusing situations. Sumayyah has hundreds of her own poems and short stories available to read on her website, but please consider clicking on her tip jar on your way out. Shop rating: Truly One of A Kind.

I shop small year round, both locally and online. It is often the only way for me to find exactly what I need, but it also does all those other great things, such as supporting great families and individuals, being kinder on the environment and filling my home with beautiful and well-made things.

The call of the athan, plentiful halal foods, people who know about Allah (SWT) similar to how you do, easier access to Islamic or Arabic resources for the entire family, and of course sending your kids to schools with Muslim teachers and peers are all among the perks of repatriating or making hijrah to The Lands of The Muslims. Scratch out that last bit for me and the growing handful of families who choose to homeschool even over here.

For many Muslim families who homeschool in the West, they expect to discontinue doing so once they move abroad as if all the reasons they chose to homeschool in the first place will be left behind. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that all the reasons are present in the ‘East’ too, where the Western model of education is mostly replicated and this is exactly why so many expats and locals are continuing or starting to homeschool.

Growing Pains?
When freshly relocated expats complain about the conditions they find in the schools locally available to them, whether the curriculum, the general ethics or particulars of the staff, often more experienced expats will appease these complaints with something like, “You’ll find a fit. You just have to keep looking.” By ‘fit’ I think they may mean another sort of compromise, such as with more drive time or maybe that’s just code for ‘You’ll get used to it’ as so many seemed to do. For former homeschoolers like Charlene Gray, who homeschooled in Australia but initially enrolled her daughter in schools in Morocco, she knew that there was no reason to compromise her daughter’s education when she found the school environments to be lacking in demonstrating Islamic principles as well as below her own standards of academics. Now Charlene’s daughter is back to flourishing as we know homeschoolers usually do.

Corporal Punishment? No Thanks
Another common thread of discussion I see among expats is about their kids being abused or bullied in school. This is something nearly every expat family I know of in my region has experienced. They have absolutely experienced it as far as other children bullying, throwing rocks at and fighting with each other, which I agree is a part of childhood that is unavoidable. I regularly deal with these kinds of problems outside of school hours, so would hate to think that my children were experiencing more while in school, but they would, and worse is that it even happens at the hands of the adults.

Just as discrimination is illegal in the states but still regularly happens, corporal punishment within schools is illegal in the region I live in but happens very regularly. Many parents deal with this by confronting their children’s teachers, often more than once and sometimes resulting in physical altercations. One such fistfight with her child’s (male!) principal is what led an expat friend of mine to return to homeschooling even though she obviously had thought she could quit once she made hijrah. This may sound like a worst of scenario, but unfortunately it is frequent when the parents choose to confront their children’s educators. Even if you step in and your child is no longer being abused by the teacher, they are still sitting among other students who are being emotionally and/or physically abused. While I want for your child what I want for my own, currently the best I can do with these circumstances is to home-educate and encourage the same for you.

What About Socilaization? Blah, Blah, Blah…
Daily incidents of bullying was just one paradigm shift motivator for unschooler and prolific writer Sadaf Farooqi who admits on her blog that sometimes her child (when younger) was even on the offensive side of bullying. While many non-homeschoolers cite concerns about lack of socialization as a reason not to homeschool, Sadaf, saw that her schooled child’s socialization was being adversely affected as her pre-primary daughter “…had more problems than improvement in her social ‘interactions’ (fights and conflicts) with peers…” as socialization in institutionalized school settings has multiple problems. As Sadaf has explained in the comments of her blog, “I personally think it’s debatable whether school improves social interaction. I think at the pre-primary and primary level, school actually curbs confidence, because such small kids rarely get to ‘socialize’ with each other freely only before first class, during break and in the short time after school before they are picked up. The rest of the time, any endeavor to ‘socialize’ innocently is strictly curbed by supervising teachers, and if continued, even results in that child being labelled as ‘naughty’ and ‘disobedient’.”

Sadaf discovered the concept of homeschooling through several teachers who, like many pioneers of the homeschooling movement in the US, chose to homeschool their own children instead of forcing them to sit through years of substandard and even abusive ‘educational’ environments, or they became ardent advocates for others to homeschool. Sadaf has become a semi-reluctant key figure in the steadily growing homeschool community in her native Pakistan, be sure to check out her blog for lots of good insight both on general unschooling and specifically homeschooling in Pakistan.

It’s A Muslim Thing
Another homeschooling and writer friend, Maria Zain, began her homeschooling journey in Malaysia and now continues in the UK. Maria perfectly sums up many of my own reasons for home-educating, even in the Lands of the Muslims, “After 6 years of homeschooling, I’ve had time to put in much thought as to why I have chosen it, and I believe, first and foremost, it’s because I believe that it falls upon the responsibility of parents to be the primary educators of their children, not the state’s or the institution. I think parents have lost a lot of their parenting skills, due to pawning off their children to schools at too young an age, for too long a period of their waking time, that both parents and children have lost the true value of education, which encompasses so much more than textbook – classroom learning. Our religion puts so much honour in parents – children have to be THE BEST to their parents up until old age, but I would like to question many adults (including myself), have we done enough to deserve this type of honour and respect from our own offspring? A “parent” is not just a noun, it’s also a verb, and adults need to honour this by being cohesively involved and understanding of their children’s growth and development.

Secondly, another belief – Islam champions the great diversity of the ummah. In fact, the strength of the ummah lies in the diverse heritage of its people. While other religions struggle with supremacy of certain races and caste systems, Islam has zero tolerance for discrimination against race, nor against genders (men and women are spiritually equal), nor age, nor upbringing. The same should be taught for the diversity of talents, interests, specialisations (all within Shari’ah of course). Homeschooling provides the platform for children to develop at their own pace and pursue their interests without prejudice or judgement. When children are encouraged to do things that they love and are given the time and space to explore, they flourish a lot more as compared to learning under stress and timelines.”

Ultimately my Best Reason to Homeschool While Living in the Lands of the Muslims is this: I like homeschooling. I enjoy encouraging my children’s diverse interests and talents, I believe in my role to be their primary educator (along with my husband) and know that there is plenty of support available to us to do it, so I do.

Yes of course homeschooling is exhausting and I have plenty of days in which I fantasize about the relief I may feel if I just put my kids in school. Ultimately this is one area of my life where I can delay gratification, insha Allah my relief will come later, but there is already plenty joy and gratitude in the right now. Plus my kids say they “won’t get on the yellow bus” so I’m stuck with it.

BTW, I am adding lots of shimmery, sparkly, one-of-a-kind things to my Etsy shop this weekend, which starts today. Please ‘like’ my Brookolie Facebook page where you will find a not-so-secret 20% off coupon. Thanks for looking!

Biwa! Loads of pearls and silver in this triple strand with charm(s) bracelet.

Ready set layered. Sterling, pearl, jade, briolette almost triple-strand necklace.

Like I said, many pretty, pretty things…

Front page


I have been meaning to cut back on activities that folks can use to judge my mothering and make more time to write about all the bad mommy things I have done, but then some other bad mommies suggested that I open an Instagram account. So, let me quickly tell you about how during my six+ pregnancies I managed to unknowingly or unaware-ingly eat everything pregnant people are not supposed to eat, and then I can return to posting pictures of the outcomes.

During my first pregnancy, I worked in a fine arts and crafts gallery where all but one of my dozen co-workers were women and there were several varieties of diets constantly occurring simultaneously among them. I had never been a dedicated dieter, rather I just exercised daily via my bike/walk/rollerblade commute and ate what I mostly wanted, but in that first pregnancy I was enjoying my opportunity to eat for two. A few times a day I would walk into the break room, of course always offering to share, with my daily indulgence in hand and mouth, such as a wheel of brie and a loaf of brioche. My svelte co-workers would groan and hasten out of the room; though on one occasion an entire family-sized tiramisu did manage to get eaten by someone(s) after I abandoned it back there.

I suppose it was because I was only the third employee to ever be pregnant at the gallery that none of my co-workers also got the Xeroxed hand-out that informed pregnant people which cheeses were and weren’t a no-no. Unpasteurized brie and especially its chewing moldy outer shell, according to some, should be avoided while pregnant. Though I would learn this detail postnatal, in a later pregnancy I would sort of forget or maybe just not being a caseiculturer I did not understand that the same theory applies to some soft goat cheeses which I more reservedly ate packages of in two sittings.

I’m not really sure what I was informed about smoked meats and nitrogen during this first pregnancy, but I was a newly quit vegetarian living two blocks away from the Pork Store and More. I ate a smoky, nitrogen-filled sandwich just about every day. In my third pregnancy, after having horrible morning sickness and food aversion while living overseas, I returned to the States and attempted to have a turkey sandwich from every delicatessen counter within a 30 minute drive of my house. Sandwich meat is a major childhood comfort food for me. At 40 years old, I still wish someone would learn how to make a porkfree bologna that tastes just like Oscar’s.

In the first pregnancy I was aware that I should go lightly on the tuna, and no doubt this is why I never indulged my craving curiosity about if water chestnuts would add an excellent crunch to tuna salad. And I must have been told something about the implied dangers of sushi because I hastened to a local sushi spot with my three day old newborn for a taste of what I had several months long missed out on.

I missed the boat about other potential dangers lurking in the deep, like, at the bottom. During that summer of my first pregnancy, my husband and I had our belated honeymoon/or only vacationish without children in the 17 years we have been married. We drove up and back down the east coast of the US, indulging on Americana brunch delights and all available varieties of seafood, except sushi and tuna, of course. When we hit Maine my husband was in near tears at the discovery of all-you-can-eat seafood buffets. I was baffled by why violently tearing lobsters open with my bare hands caused them to itch, and happily stuffed my face while my husband took over that messy task. While he turned on his heel at the first clam shack we came to and went over to order a burger from the “safer” fast food chain one parking lot over, I ordered three servings of fried clam necks knowing he would “just want to try one”. We then ate fried clam necks every time we happened upon a shack, let’s assume that was daily. In a subsequent pregnancy I would learn about bottom feeders and how those deliciously nasty little beasts troll the ocean floors eating any and all kinds of filth they happened upon, best to be avoided I was told.

Tore up that creamy chicken crepe and now me and this juice… orange, carrot, ginger.

A photo posted by Br00ke (@br00kebenoit) on

Raw eggs? Probably, most likely. That tiramisu noted above was pretty authentic, so maybe. And homemade mayonnaise was standard for a time in the home I lived in with extended family in Morocco. Yes, it does taste better, but personally I don’t have the time/desire to stand there slowly drizzling my oil into my egg, or maybe it’s the other way around, but it is delicious and I am happy to eat it when someone else makes it.

Unpasterized juice? Probably, most likely. Again a standard thing in Morocco, but I also spent plenty of time and $$$ at juice bars in NY and Oregon during a couple of my pregnancies, so yes, very likely.

In my second pregnancy herbal “pregnancy” or “uterus” tea became a major staple of my diet. I would make 32 ounces daily, tucking it into the fridge to “ice” and drinking up all of the bottle I had made the day before. I LOVED that stuff. Now, in researching for this article, I found a few suggestions that women should avoid all herbal tea while pregnant. Really? Certain herbs are standard in many mama well-being diets, but instead of addressing how some herbs can maybe be dangerous during pregnancy, just use scare tactics and tell women to avoid all… I imbibed a lot of one of these herbs-to-avoid while pregnant. At some point in my bulk herb buying I began buying horsetail. No idea how, why, or when that happened, but I brewed it with my raspberry leaf, oat straw and all the other yummy, herby goodness I threw in the bottle, and I drank it for sometime during the end of my pregnancy.

It seems a lot of these foods-to-avoid in pregnancy have to do with concerns around potentially poor food handling situations. Others, like the tea, are… weird. And a part of this firm foundation of relying heavily and even solely on medical-professionals who are not as objective and know-it-all in their handlings as many of us like to think. Of course I am not suggesting that we take on wanton abandon while pregnant (or any other time) and nor am I doing that thing where I say something like “It was good enough for our moms!” Remember, many of our moms suffered through the pregnancy related brutalities of their time. In my 6+ pregnancies spanning nearly two decades I have learned that a lot of medical advice is like most advice: personal, subjective, contemporary but not based on long term findings.

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