Healing on the beach.

There is something intrinsically healing in burying your feet in the warm sand as you watch waves crash on the shore.

I am completely serious.  (And no.  I don’t work for the Florida bureau of tourism.)

My friend is a foster mom to a little girl who has, no doubt, experienced more neglect and traumatic experiences in her six years than most people do their entire lives.  She is shy and quiet until you ask her about her recent vacation to the beach.  Then her eyes light up, her voice becomes animated, and she smiles.  I am convinced that beach healed a tiny portion of what is broken inside of her.


I wouldn’t classify myself as broken, but the past year has left me with several rough edges to my soul.  A long stint of unemployment, a bitterly cold winter, and the frazzled feelings that occasionally come with homeschooling three headstrong and independent individuals have all left their mark.

But sitting on a chair with my toes curled in the sand, smelling the sea air mingled with sunblock, and watching the light dance across the waves while my children run up and down the shore smoothed my calloused spirit.

Breathing felt easier.  Smiling felt easier.  Trusting God felt easier.



Quite simply, finding joy was easier.

My wish for you, Gentle Reader, is to find a little bit of that healing you don’t even know your bruised heart needs.

And I would suggest finding a beach to do it.


Posted in outings and trips | 2 Comments

Reflections after watching “Frozen” for the four millionth time.

Spring break.  It happened to us, Gentle Reader, oh it happened.  An entire week away from school and chores and forty degree temperatures.  A week of sun and sunburns (despite copious amounts of lotion applied.)  A week of beaches and dolphin sightings and seashell collecting.  And a week of watching HGTV and Bravo after the kids went to bed.

However, before all of this happened we had to actually get there, which is a tale of determination, courage, raw grit, and gratuitous binge eating.

Here is the mathematical equation:  two grown ups (my sister and I), five children (ages 12 to 4), and a metric ton of snack items (low salt Pringles for the win!) traveling in a grey mini van for a round trip total of 33 hours, spread across only two days.  You can do the math anyway you want to but you will always reach the same conclusion:  we were insane.  And very desperate for sunshine.

The key to our survival was a portable DVD player and the movie Frozen.  I have officially lost count of exactly how many times my children have watched that movie.  All I know is that I owe Walt Disney a debt of gratitude for keeping the seven of us emotionally and mentally sound during our long trek to Florida.

However, (and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful), watching an animated musical that many times within seven days does something to you.  I am not the same woman I was a week ago.

Here are my reflections after watching Frozen for the four millionth time.*

1.  The very next time I’m told to introduce myself, I’m going to say, “Hello, I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs!”  Because that is the best introduction I have ever heard.

2.  Whenever my children think I’m harping too much on a rule or a criticism they burst into song, singing the words “Let it go!  Let it go!”  Here’s the thing, offspring:  I can’t.  I can’t.

3.  The idea of eating a carrot now makes me a little queasy.  Make that a lot queasy.

4.  I am convinced that if I would only shake out my hair from a formal bun I would have an immediate, drastic, and sexy makeover.  The only problem is that my short hair isn’t long enough to actually go up into a bun.

5.  I feel a strong desire to use the word ‘impaled’ in a sentence, but no such desire to actually be impaled.

6.  Right before I start cleaning the kitchen I sing, “Here I stand…”, then I stomp my foot on the kitchen floor, hoping to see some cleaning magic emanate from my shoe.  It never works.  And yet I do it every single time.

7.  After listening to the forecast for the next few days and seeing temperatures in the high 20′s with a chance of snow flurries I have come to the conclusion that the snow really does bother me anyway.  I am no Elsa.  But my husband calls me “Feisty Pants” sometimes, so maybe I’m an Anna…

8.  Finally, if I ever meet someone who has gotten engaged the same day that they met their fiancee I will whisper to them, “Come watch this cautionary tale with me.” Then I will put Frozen on repeat and make them watch it until they get some common sense.




* If you haven’t actually seen the movie Frozen yet, the following list will make no sense to you.  Skim over it, it won’t hurt my feelings.  I’ll write something better for you next time.

Posted in lists, movies, outings and trips | 6 Comments

Flashback Friday: So much to love.

There are just so many things I love about this photograph that was taken six years ago.  How do I love thee photo?  Let me count the ways.


fam 034

1-  My nephew’s chubby cheeks.  They simply create happiness by merely looking at them.  Imagine if you got to nibble on them.

2-  How you can totally tell that Trinity is grinning to beat the band while holding her little sister, even though her little sister’s panicked face is covering her mouth.  When Trin smiles, she does it with her entire face.

3-  And how about that panicked baby Eden?  I find her little face hilarious.  She is completely thinking, “A crazy person is holding me!  Danger Will Robinson!  Danger Will Robinson!”

4-  And look at Will’s haircut.  It looks like I cut his hair by placing a bowl on his head.  (Which I might have really done.  The boy had multiple crazy cowlicks.)

5-  Finally, the homemade Bob the Builder pillowcase?  Love.  It.  Oh Bob, how I miss you.  You represent a simpler time in my life (a less groomed and sleep deprived time, but simpler nonetheless.)


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At least it’s not snowing.


Lots of rain.

Sooooo much rain.

I am starting to feel a little bit like Noah, except I haven’t prepared an ark.  I’m a procrastinating Noah who ends up floating around on a hastily built raft, pulling aboard drenched bunnies and wet chickens to safety.  But no snakes.  Or crocodiles.  In fact, reptiles of every kind probably won’t make the cut.  Rafts ARE quite cramped.

The point I am trying to get across is that it is raining a lot.  This is where everyone who has survived the polar vortex says, “At least it’s not snowing!”  This is now the go to response whenever we face any type of weather related event.  Comets could fall from the sky, fourteen inches of rain could accumulate, but the grocery store clerk will simply shrug her shoulders and merely say, “At least it isn’t snowing!”

As a direct result of all this rain my children are incredibly bored.  They languish on couches, draped across throw pillows as they moan about how there is nothing to do.  I give them options involving paint or books or play dough or toys.  But they are not buying what I am selling.  Only something with a screen can ease their pain.

Sadly, I am not about to budge on my limited technology stance.  So they are forced to languish.  Loudly.

Allthis rain makes me lethargic.  I sit in the recliner, forsaking household chores for reading and napping.  I have no desire to cook dinner, but all their languishing makes the children famished so I am forced to serve uninspired fish sticks or mac and cheese.  Boring food for bored children.

My husband is forced to eat these soulless entrees but all this rain makes him too tired to complain.  So dinner is a bland, exhausted affair filled with grumbling and whining and carrot sticks (which are delicious in their vegetable way.)

Still.  At least it’s not snowing.


Posted in rantings and ravings, Whoops. Got Lazy. | 1 Comment

Flashback Friday: Connections

This is one of the oldest photographs in my possession.

jen scrapbook

It is a picture of my great Grandmother Newell.  She is the young lady standing in the back wearing the dark blouse.  She is absolutely gorgeous and looks like something straight out of Downton Abbey.

I never met this relative of mine- she passed away before I was born.  But my Grandmother told me many stories about her, so I feel as if we’ve been introduced.

My great Grandmother Newell was a big believer in family.  Her own mother died when she was young and as one of the oldest she watched over her siblings.  When she married, she took her two youngest brothers to live with her so she could continue raising them.  Great Grandmother was the only mother they really knew.  She then went on and had six children of her own.

My great Grandmother Newell raised them all while living in a small three bedroom house close to the train tracks.  Hobos, hitching rides on the trains, would stop at her house and knock on her back door for food to eat.  I don’t believe she ever turned any of them away.

Despite its small size, her house was the place for every family celebration.  I have photo after photo of different relatives standing and posing on the front steps.  Quite simply it felt like home to everyone who visited.  My grandmother even returned there to give birth to each of her children, my father included.  No hospital, no medical staff, could make her feel as safe as her own childhood home.

I’ve visited this home, my great Grandmother’s house.  It was kept in the family after she was too old and alone to live there herself; my father’s cousin raised her family there.  So I’ve stood on that same front porch and posed for the same family pictures as my relatives did.

All these things make connections between me and the past: the stories, the old photographs, the visits to the places my ancestors lived.  I’m tied to the past and it comforts me, centers me.  It reminds me of who I am and where I come from.

My grandchildren won’t be able to visit the homes I grew up in.  These houses have either been destroyed or passed out of family hands.  So they will never know the feeling of standing on a porch they’ve seen in family pictures or sleeping in a bed their father was born in.

In these modern times I am forced to create new connections to my future descendants, keeping our family web intact.  I want them to feel as connected to me as I do to past relatives.

So I hand down stories and photos to my children as a kind of spiritual inheritance, telling them not only the tales of my childhood but the story of my father’s childhood, and the things I know of my Grandmother.

I think that is one reason why I blog- to keep a permanent record of my stories and the stories of my children- so that someday a great grand-daughter of mine will look at my pictures and read about my life and feel that connection to me.

At the end of the day, after the money has been spent and our possessions sit dusty on shelves and our health is gone, it will be the connections that matter most.

But the time to make those connections is now.

Posted in Blogging, flashback Fridays | 1 Comment

One hundred books I think everyone should read.

I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but I am a sucker for all those lists about books.  You know the ones: 30 things you should read before 30, the best 100 books, books everyone needs to read, etc. etc. etc.

And yet, after I read those lists I always feel a little guilty because I haven’t read all the books on the list.  Worse, I get a little argumentative with the writers of these lists.  Why on earth would they put a book like Ethan Frome on the list and leave out a clearly more awesome book like How Green Was My Valley?

So I have decided to write my own list of the 100 books I think everyone should read.  Right away you should know this list is flawed.  I admit it freely and without shame.

I can only recommend books I have read and I’m sure there are good books I haven’t read yet.  Also, I’m looking at this list through the eyes of my American heritage- so the greatest influence will be American and English authors.

That being said, I deliberately chose the books on this list because they all have something to give the reader, something that I think everyone could use.  For example, the number one spot on my list goes to Harry Potter because you can’t read that book (and hopefully the entire series, hint, hint) without becoming a stronger person.  After watching a young person grow up and face evil with conviction and strength, we gain a little of his strength to face our own conflicts better.

Additionally, I tried to put some books on the list from every genre.  In my Utopia, people are literarily well-rounded.  (Despite the fact that there are four books on this list about vampires.  Do as I say, not as I do.)  Also, I tried to include a few books from different cultures and different points of view.

Finally, don’t be weirded out when you notice there are lots of children’s books and picture books.  Sometimes the simplest things can say the most.

Here is my (flawed, but lovely) list.

1.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) Yes this is first on my list.  And yes.  Everyone should read it.

2.  How Green Was My Valley (Richard Llewellyn) Families, love, environmentalism, labor unions, imperialism, bullies, childbirth- this book as it all.  Additionally, it is the best written book I have ever read.

3.  East of Eden (John Steinbeck) This just might be the best written book in the world. Love, betrayal, murder, loyalty, evil and good are all key components to this novel.  Best of all the thread running throughout the book is that we can choose what side we fall on.

4.  Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen) This is perhaps the “easiest” of Austen’s works to read, probably because the situations and scenarios are the most recognizable.  It is the story of how two sisters respond to (and ultimately survive) hard economic times, heartbreak, and disappointment in very different ways.

5.  Nine Stories (J.D. Salinger) This is quite possibly the best collection of short stories on the planet.

6.  Then Penderwicks:  a Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Jeanne Birdsall)  This is probably my second favorite children’s book on the planet.  Lovely, charming, funny, and poignant.

7.  Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas) Read the translations by Lowell Bair- he is the best.

8.  The Stand (Stephen King)  Because everybody should read one book about an apocalypse that wipes out civilization as we know it- and this one’s my favorite.  Mr. King has some serious talent.

9. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)  Despite being a children’s book (or perhaps because of it), this is the best book I’ve ever read on death and friendship.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)  I think reading this book makes you a better person inside.  Truly.

11. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst)  Sometimes a picture book can say it best.

12. The Princess Bride (William Goldman) Funny, irreverent, and entertaining.  Read it and feel good.

13. Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

14. Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare) Every American junior high/high school student reads this play for a reason.  Some of the best literary phrases and constructs can be found in Shakespeare’s works.

15. The Read-Aloud Handbook (Jim Trelease)  Education would be so different if everyone read this book.

16. Oh the Places You’ll Go (Dr. Seuss)

17. Persuasion (Jane Austen)  Quite possibly her most sophisticated novel and one of her sweetest in terms of romance.

18.  Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

19.  Holes (Louis Sachar)  Great literature in middle school form.

20. Hamlet (William Shakespeare) Too many gems inside this play to skip.

21.  Dracula (Bram Stoker) Gothic horror at some of its finest.

22. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) Don’t argue with me- just read it!

23. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) Best book of revenge in the entire world.  Again, Lowell Bair is the best French translator.

24. Sugar Fat Salt: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Michael Moss) I don’t include very many pieces of non-fiction on this list.  So when I do, you’ll know I think it’s vital everyone knows what’s inside the book.

25. The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan) This is the first book in what I consider to be the greatest epic fantasy series of all time.

26. Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)  The list needed one dark, deep book on governmental oppression and censorship- this is my favorite.

27. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) Haunting and memorable.  Everyone should read a book when Death is the narrator.  Also, the more we read about the Holocaust, the more faith I have that we can avoid another one.

28. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)  A must-read children’s classic.

29.  The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) I have no rational argument why I need everyone to read this book.  The heart wants what the heart wants.

30. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) This is perhaps the best science fiction in the children’s department.  It also touches briefly on the question of what is true equality.  Is it simply being the same?  Or something different.

31. Lord of the Flies (William Golding)  Because everyone needs to know what happens when you get a large group of children together without adult supervision.

32. D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths (Ingri d’Aulaire)  Everyone needs some Greek mythology in their life.

33. Othello (William Shakespeare) Utterly desolating.  So obviously, it’s a must read.

34. Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson)  Because we all need to read things that make us cry.

35. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) I love this book.  I think you might too.

36. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) Such an epic, sweeping novel.  And after reading it, you’ll gain a little insight into France’s kooky history.

37. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) A true American classic.

38. Farmer Boy (Laura Ingalls Wilder)  Yes, I have Laura Ingalls Wilder on here twice.  It’s my list.

39. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Barbara Kingsolver) The list needed a memoir or two (or three) and the information about the American food process is enlightening.  Plus, it is simply a well crafted book.

40. The Chosen (Chaim Potok)  One of my favorite high school reads.  Discusses the Jewish culture and the fight for Zionism after World War II.

41. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) A lovely read and provides a little bit of African culture.

42. The Portable Dorothy Parker (Dorothy Parker)  Parker is one of the wittiest writers I’ve read.  Her stories are sharp, clear, and often bitter.

43. Old Yeller (Fred Gipson)  Everyone needs to read a sad dog book- this is my favorite.

44. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)  A fascinating look at Japan’s geisha system.

45. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Eugene O’Neill)  This is a semi-autobiographical play about the author’s life.  Moving and emotional.

46.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Grace Lin)  An oriental “Wizard of Oz” type book.

47. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) Another children’s book I think every one (young and old) should read.

48. America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (Gail Collins)  This is a well-written history of women in America, we were never taught in school.

49. Sunshine (Robin McKinley)  The list needed a few books about vampires and this is the best vampire book of all time.

50.  The Devil’s Arithmetic (Jane Yolen) A moving children’s book about the Holocaust.

51. The Help (Kathryn Stockett)  A strong book about the struggle for Civil Rights in America.

52. Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell) A book from my childhood- and one of the best survival stories I’ve ever read.

53. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)  Jekyll and Hyde have become such common phrases in our language- you deserve to read how they came to be.

54. The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) A contemporary book that is utterly gothic in feel and brilliantly written.

55. The Forgotten Garden (Kate Morton) Lovely, symbolic, and devastating.

56. Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss) One of my favorite books from childhood- it also contains some very practical information if you’re ever shipwrecked on a tropical island.

57. The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth Speare)  Historical children’s fiction for the win!

58.  The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (Emily Dickinson) Her poetry is (mostly) comprehensible and moving.

59. The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch) Because you’re never too young to learn about feminism.

60. Patriot Games (Tom Clancy) Clancy pays more attention to detail than any author I’ve read.  His political/espionage thrillers are the best in the genre.

61.  The Lorax (Dr. Seuss)  Has the best quote of any book ever:  “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

62.  The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) Just trust me.

63. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place (E.L. Konigsburg) An excellent middle school book on bullying, activism, and family issues.  Extremely well written.

64. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher) Everyone should read this book before going to high school, whether as a student, a teacher, or a parent of a student.

65.  Jacob I have Loved (Katherine Paterson) Because we all wrestle with jealousy and feelings of being inadequate.

66. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)  This is the best of Mr. Brown’s books, in my opinion, and you really should read one of his at some point.  Plus, you’ll feel cultured and artistic for a while.

67. Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus (Barbara Park)  Everyone’s life could use a little Junie B.

68. The Color Purple (Alice Walker) Memorable

69. Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake (Michael B. Kaplan) Again, trust me.

70. The Dream Songs: Poems (John Berryman)  This poetry is much less comprehensible, but incredibly rich in emotions and small details.

71. Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell)  One of the best books I’ve read about falling in love.

72. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf) Dense and multi-layered, this book is worth the work.

73. The Lottery Rose (Irene Hunt) A touching children’s book dealing with abuse, foster care, and death.

74. Dealing with Dragons (Patricia C. Wrede)  A tongue-in-cheek children’s book of slightly messed up fairy tales.

75. How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Paul Tough) A brilliant and fascinating read on when adversity can be learned and when it can’t.

76. The Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. LeGuin) A children’s book with a nice blend of fantasy and science fiction.

77. The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)  Yes, another vampire book.  I have no shame.

78.  Ballet Shoes (Noel Streatfield)  A children’s book that is utterly charming and lovely.

79. Clover Tig and the Magical Cottage (Kaye Umansky) Hilarious and entertaining children’s fantasy.

80. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)  The author got into all sorts of trouble, when this story was first published, for writing immoral and shocking things.  You should read this gothic fiction for that reason alone (but, it is also an excellent story.)

81. The Crystal Cave (Mary Stewart) This is one of the best renditions of the story of Merlin I’ve ever read.  Historical, but magical.

82.  Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink)  Children’s historical fiction at its finest.

83. The Prince of Tides (Pat Conroy) Gorgeous writing, haunting story.

84. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)  A mystery written with a unique style and slant.

85. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote)  I feel strongly that everyone should read something of Capote’s.

86. A Mind at a Time (Melvin D. Levine)  Non-fiction.  An interesting look at how children learn differently.

87. The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)  This is the first real detective story ever written.  Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, Philip Marlowe, Jim Rockford, Hercule Poirot?  All get their start from here.

88. The Probable Future (Alice Hoffman) Magical realism at it’s finest.  Hoffman is a master at the genre and this book is my favorite out of all she has written.

89. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love (Kristin Kimball)  A lovely memoir, nicely written.

90. The Borrower (Rebecca Makkai) A contemporary book about growing up.

91. Gossie and Gertie (Olivier Dunrea) A sweet picture book that sums up how to share without being preachy or moralizing.

92. Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls)  Just how many sad dog books does one need to read?  At least two, this is my second favorite.

93. Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (Jonathan Kozol) Every one needs to be educated (and horrified) about some of our children’s learning environments.

94. Our Town (Thornton Wilder) A play that teaches us there are no ordinary days.

95. King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub (Audrey Wood)  A gorgeous and lighthearted picture book.

96. The Firm (John Grisham)  A fast paced thriller.

97. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) Comedic science fiction at its finest.

98. Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year (Esme Raji Codell)  Another memoir set in the American education system.  I obviously have some strong feelings on that subject.

99.  Etiquette & Espionage (Gail Carriger)  Steampunk fiction!  (And vampires- sue me.)

100. A Separate Peace (John Knowles)  My tenth grade English teacher said this was the first book she ever reread.  I looked at her with pity- rereading books is one of my favorite things to do.  However, this book is a well crafted coming of age novel.


I absolutely know that I have left off this list a book you feel passionate about.  Let me know about it in the comments.


Posted in books, lists | 7 Comments

Becoming reacquainted with the sun.

All day the sun had shone bright and warm.  Inside, the cats have migrated from window to window following the sun, while my girls have played in the front yard with the neighbors, soaking up the heat they have missed all winter.

First, everyone outside plays with stuffed animals and sidewalk chalk until our driveway is more pastel than gray in color.  Then, almost simultaneously, they drop everything and ride bikes.  My youngest, at six, wobbles shakily as she pushes off and begins pedaling, but she quickly catches up with the other girls.

From the kitchen I can hear their voices, high and thin, through the window.  They laugh and urge each other to ride faster, farther.  The more adventurous riders throw their head back and bask in the sun as the less daring clutch tightly at their handlebars.

I have pushed back supper as late as I can so they can enjoy the sunshine, but eventually I call them in to eat.  My daughters tromp in through the garage, all complaints at having to come inside until they see that dinner is on the table.

Being outdoors has given the kids enormous appetites.  Everyone eats their supper quickly, almost inhaling their food and the girls beg to go back outside to play.  I hesitate, as I look at the clock, but reluctantly agree to let them go for ten more minutes.

The girls run out, triumphant, calling to their friends, “Ten more minutes!  We can stay out for ten more minutes!”  (It is amazing to me that when playing ten minutes is seen as a short time to these girls, but when they’re asked to clean their rooms or practice their piano, ten minutes acts as an eternity.)

The sun has begun setting in earnest while we ate and there is a chill in the air.  I close the windows throughout the house and half-heartedly do a few dishes but the girls surprise me by coming in before they’re called.

“It’s starting to get cold,” they explain sadly with red noses and chilled hands as they drop their jackets on any available surface but the coatrack.  “It’s not fun when it’s cold.”

My youngest daughter, in particular, has drooped visibly at the sun’s apparent abandonment.  Too much winter and too much cold has shaken her faith in the weather and I bend down to reassure her (and myself.)

“The sun will be back tomorrow, sweetheart.  We’ll have another nice day tomorrow.”

(Just Write.)

Posted in just everyday life, The Little Girl | 2 Comments