Thinking of You and the Art of Communication

Were you forced, as a child, to write thank you letters to relatives? Did you have to tell them which book you had bought with the National Book Token they had kindly sent you for Christmas? Yes? It sucked right? Don’t get me wrong, I loved my book tokens, I’d buy my brother’s from him because he hated reading and I loved the luxury of owning a book rather than borrowing it from the library.

But I hated writing those letters, they felt arbitrary and, weirdly impersonal. I guess it’s because we were forced to spend an evening writing two lines with great care to Aunt Flo lying about the book you had bought (had in fact not got around to buying) to somehow reassure her that she hadn’t spent her money on a voucher for an ungrateful little shit.

Let us skip forward a couple of decades and my own children are grandchildren, children of family friends, nieces and nephews and they’re receiving thoughtful gifts and the standard (and often preferred) Amazon or I-Tunes vouchers. And for a few years, I sat them down and sternly instructed them on how to write a thank you letter. And as a Godparent, aunt and family friend, I would receive thank you letters from various children whose parents had done exactly the same. And then when my children finally rebelled and I fully remembered the irritation of that time set aside to write thank yous, I stopped my maternal demands under the parenting rule #2, subsection #6 which states: Pick your fights.

…. and yet…. I have just spent months designing and producing a truly lovely pack imaginatively entitled ‘How to Write a Letter’.  It doesn’t, for a second, advocate the duty eschewing of “thank you letter” writing. But I ain’t no hypocrite – it doesn’t promote it either. What it does do, however, is encourage the great, time honoured tradition of actually putting pen to paper, how to layout a letter like a pro and includes suggestions of what letters can be written.

As with everything I write for 2littleboys, I keep the tone of writing to…. well…. this. I refuse to talk down to children. If you can imagine a middle-aged woman doing a silly face and basically saying stuff to give the impression that she’s the idiot in the conversation, then you get the general idea. Children tend to like that.

Letter writing is a dying art form and I really think we’re going to regret letting it go. That email you received from your tech savvy gran just aint gonna cut it when they’re gone. Those pen-pals we used to have when we were younger? Get your kids to take that up. Have them write to someone experiencing a different culture, a different climate, different circumstances and get a rapport going and then wait for their responses to come with weird stamps on the envelope.  It’s a joy. What’s the hurry? They don’t need to email each other because they’re getting a flavour of each other’s lives, not a blow by blow account that needs immediate response.

My father used to write (well, type, because the dude had the writing of a GP without actually being a GP) to my children when they were very young – it was utter nonsense, utter nonsense! But it had his voice (loud) and his sense of humour (bizarre) indelibly printed into every word. And that’s the point – indelible. We all look back at those letters every now and again and my children howl with laughter and I am grateful that they’re old enough to be holding those letters in their hands because I don’t want to ruin the pages with my tears.

I have letters from my great aunt – pedestrian stuff that she wrote from her homeland of Wales. But I’d wait and wait for the sample of her handwriting on an envelope to come through that letterbox with news of my beloved great uncle and various other family members that she liked to gossip about.

And then there’s my husband. We met at 15 (everyone say ahhhh!) and we wrote to each other twice a week until we were old enough to financially and legally move in together. And then the letters and the replies went into the same box. That’ll be an embarrassing couple of hours for our children when they come to clear out the loft.

And I still have a letter written to me 22 years when I was going through a really tough time. My friend wrote to me telling me that I’d get through it, that I was young and indestructible, that I was admired and loved and that she’d treat me to a cup of tea and a biscuit whenever I was ready. And I see that letter in my mind’s eye and I’m still glad that she took the time to write. Texts and emails and comments on Facebook all gratefully received, but ultimately erasable.

In fact, now I’m thinking about it, why on Earth did I not write a letter-writing pack for grown-ups?

Next week, it’s “Thinking of You” week. So think of someone you want to reach out to and write them a letter. In fact, buy the ‘write a letter’ pack from here and beg your child for a piece of the cute letterhead.

If your child is one of those ‘go away, get your own’ variety, then may I suggest you pop over to Julie Bell  – she produces the most stunning correspondence cards and letterheads. Then invest in an ink pen from Plooms and you’ll be good to go.

It’s at this point, I need to acknowledge that my niece, at the age of 21 and her parents continue to write thank you notes. And long may they continue with their missives that are just the right side of grateful, witty, personal and informative.

Now grab your child and spend 20 precious, quiet and companionable minutes writing a letter to someone.

Do it.

Seriously.

Just do it.

P.S. A mate of mine is spending a year reaching out with cards through the mail and I’ve been lucky enough to receive a card from him this year. Do check out his vlog about it all.

 

 

 

 

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Free Ticket Giveaway!

We’re going to be busy again this November. Making hay whilst the sun shines and all that.

Although, thinking about it, it’s going to be November so the sun aint gonna be shining.  So maybe a better saying would be: “let’s spend a load of money and book up those Christmas show stands because everyone’s looking for Christmas gifts and we sell excellent Christmas gifts so we need to put our gifts in front of those people so that they spend their hard earned money on the fruits of our hard earned year round labours.”

But that isn’t quite as snappy.  So we’ve booked up our November to ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’ and hopefully make enough money to keep producing the gifts that we’re proud to create.

It really is that simple.

Now, because we spend so much money on these stands, the organisers give us some complimentary tickets and we would like to offer them to you!  We’re not going to run a competition because we find that it ends up on some ‘money saving’ site that has a url to directly click through and even an answer that you may need; and then we have 1000s of requests from professional competition enterers. (One time, a bright spark had put the wrong answer up so we had to discount around 90% of the entrants).  It’s not that we’re judging competition enterers (see what I did there).  I can remember buying “Take a Break” in the late 1980’s and armed with just a few postcards and a book of stamps, I would very happily use my free stuff – particular favourites included the sun-cream and the bright blue mesh shower pouf to exfoliate my legs in the shower (do you remember those? awful things).  It’s just that we’re not Ambre Solaire and we don’t need tens of thousands of email addresses for people who simply aren’t going to see us on a supermarket shelf.

So, please only respond to us if you genuinely want a pair of tickets to one of the shows.  You are under no obligation to buy anything, to visit our stand or even to like us or follow us on our feeds (although that would be very nice).  We would just like to know that we’ll be sending out codes to claim tickets to people who will make use of them.

So, if you’d like the chance to win a set of 2 tickets to either the Spirit of Christmas at Olympia or to Country Living Christmas in Islington, then please EMAIL ME and tell me which show you would like to attend.  That’s it.  I won’t save your email address or bother you or do anything.

I’ll simply pick 15 people at random on September 30, which should give you lots of time to plan your trip.

We also have ONE precious set of tickets to the Wealden Midwinter Fair to give away so if you’d prefer to not come into London, do put Wealden as your preferred choice.

That’s all.

Further show information can be found by clicking on the images below:

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1 Set of 2 Tickets up for Grabs!

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10 Sets of 2 Tickets up for Grabs!

 

London MPU

5 Sets of 2 Tickets up for Grabs (Saturday not included)

 

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New Babies

It took me a long time to feel broody after I had my twin sons. But then being pregnant for 18 months with a three month gap would, in my humble opinion, kill the desire to procreate for a century or so.

But I’ve been surprised that I’ve started to feel it again, not really for me to actually do (I’m not insane) but just that urge to cradle, gaze at and smell a baby is becoming more appealing as I get older. And the great news is, I know a few ladies now expecting, so roll on next spring I’d say.

I do love a newborn, a baby, a toddler, a pre-schooler, a little one. Super-cute when they’re as small as dolls, delightful when they can be shocked out of a tantrum just by acting a little bit weird. Ultimate entertainment when you ask them about their family and how much wine their mothers drink. Ya know, the really entertaining stuff.

They can be excellent value, those friend’s and relative’s kids. If I’m honest, I’m happy not to spend so much time with them as teens, only because I found it irritating enough trying to glean conversation out of my own children and I’d rather wait until they get a bit older, more interesting and the attitude isn’t at volume number 11 anymore. But hey, that’s just me. (I’m not sure anyone has ever accused me of tolerance).

My best mate and I go to a rather nice hotel in central London a couple of times a year and we always spend our Sunday afternoons sitting and chatting and drinking tea and eating biscuits and reading the papers in the rather nice lounge. Generally speaking we are joined by a group of anything between 8 and 20 women celebrating a Baby Shower.

Bearing in mind that my best mate and I met within a few weeks of our first borns being ummm born and that we have six children between us, we can happily say that we have been there and we have done most things maternity wise. But having a Baby Shower isn’t one of them. They simply didn’t seem to exist when we were busy bringing up babies and I feel like we missed out, because they seem such sweet, supportive and joyous affairs. Mothers and mothers-in-law always seem to be in attendance, another few women in stretched jersey over football tummies waddle about for fun and everyone seems to be eating cake with gay abandon.

And I think one of the nicest things about them is that it gets the whole ‘come celebrate with me’ out of the way. You get to give gifts and be special and celebrate the start of a new life before the actual baby arrives. Because when your baby arrives, there are only certain people that you’d be glad to see and, quite frankly, most people won’t make the cut for the first few months.

I remember my uncle turning up out of the blue to see our first born when she was under a fortnight old and I resented every second of him drinking the tea I’d made whilst my baby slept and I didn’t.

And he wasn’t the only one. In hindsight, I should have sent a ‘round robin’ style note out that read something like this:

Come around to see us if I know you so well that I won’t even have to explain why there’s a cabbage leaf stuffed inside my bra and that I’m crying because I still can’t see my ankles. Pop in if you’re in the mood to do some washing up/ironing/cooking/cleaning of floors without us actually having to talk to you. Enter if you think I’d feel comfortable enough to have you sit there holding my baby whilst I change the dressing on my episiotomy and promptly fall asleep with a boob hanging out. If you want to bring flowers, expect a tight-lipped thank you, and be prepared to silently return in a week to throw them out.

And if you think that a nice 30 minute snuggle with a sleeping baby whilst you talk about how your boss is pissing you off to a semi-comatose woman with bruised eyes and bleeding nipples is your idea of fun, then you need to look at yourself in the mirror and try to work out what kind of human being you actually are.

And so, before I truly get into the groove about the unwitting idiocy of the visitors that we received with our daughter and then with our twins, I’ll get back to why I think baby showers are so awesome.

Because when you’re heavily, but not too uncomfortably pregnant, you can spend a couple of hours surrounded by friends and nearest and dearest celebrating with cake and sandwiches and tea. And then you get gifts that are useful, thoughtful and returnable whilst baby is still conveniently inside. And that’s it in a nutshell.

So, although I’m really looking forward to meeting new humans next spring and showing off my keeping babies alive skills, I think I’m also just as excited that I might be invited to a baby shower. I’ve got the best ever gifts to take. One will be our Award Winning Birthday Yearbook (it really is a frickin’ awesome gift for new babies).

The other gift will be the promise that I’ll not visit for the first two months.

 

If you’d like to give more than just the promise of your absence or the promise of your help, do check out our Birthday Yearbook here.

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The Birthday Yearbook cover

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yes, that is actually me with my firstborn

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The Birthday Yearbook

The joys of the approaching “back to school” day.

As the first day back at school approaches, are you like me and thinking ‘Thank God, a bit of peace” or are you lying to yourself? Or have you just spent 2 months in your house in Tuscany?

When I say that I’m relieved about the first day back at school, I’m not talking about that first ever bittersweet day of school. You know, the one when their blazer is too big and they look way way too young to be let outside, into the world to fend for themselves, to endure the horrors of playground politics. Because that very first day is the one that is indelibly inked into your DNA for evermore.

I can remember spending a year skipping merrily about, telling anyone who would listen how much I was looking forward to my house being empty from 8.30am until 3pm every day for the first time in what felt like forever. My husband took them and I sobbed uncontrollably for an hour. I’m never quite as pragmatic as I like to think.

But for quite a few years now, the long summer holidays have produced an awful cacophony of emotions and feelings within me. Because I have felt that maternal mix of guilt at being a terrible mother whilst simultaneously experiencing the certainty that I’m being a terrible businesswoman. I would go so far as to say that when I used to want to scream at them every time they innocently asked ‘what’s for lunch?’ I’d even feel the guilt of being a terrible human being. Ok, I’m kinda lying here – I did used to scream at them when they asked about lunch, so much so, they stopped asking for a while and then started to make their own.

So, if you have a child or children ranging from the age of 5 to, let’s say 14, you’ll be doing that whole trying to find shirts in the only Marks & Spencer/Asda/Tesco that doesn’t seem to know your child’s size even exists.

You’ll be working out if you should bother sewing/ironing/sticking those labels in or even whether you should bother marking the clothes with a Sharpie. Because, quite frankly, if they’re stupid enough to lose their pants at the swimming baths, they’ll more than likely find someone else stupid enough to not notice that you’re walking around in theirs.

You’ll be queuing, yes, queuing at a shoe shop with a ticket system exactly like the deli counter at a supermarket. You’ll be waiting to see how much your child’s feet have grown in the week that you feel it’s been since you were last there clutching onto a ticket with an unfeasibly long number.   You’ll then have a mini heart attack and weep a little when they ring up the total on the till – or perhaps that’s just me with three children exactly the same size who needed shoes and trainers bought for them every 2 weeks because their feet grew so quickly (or is that just my imagination).

And, if like me, you’re a bit of a neat freak and you like the smell of a new pencil case, you’ll be questioning your children on what they need for their next year. Is it time for compasses? (does everyone know someone who tried to tattoo themselves at school with a compass? No? Just me then).

And so it goes that you’re buying protractors, erasers, pencil sharpeners that you know will be lost within three hours on the first day, and you’re grabbing some colouring pencils, and HB pencils and possibly a Lamy if you’re feeling flush or they got a WHSmith voucher for their birthday. And of course, you have to get them a new pencil case because the unidentifiable ‘matter’ that is crumbed into the deep recesses of last year’s case is actually starting to smell and you can’t possibly infect the new items with the dirt. At least not for the first week.

And as the day approaches, you’ll start feeling a little guilty that you’re excited about getting some semblance of a life back, that you’re really wanting to look forward to hearing the word ‘mum’ again without it sounding like nails down a chalkboard. Because however much you love your children and even like spending time with them, there’s nothing quite like that moment of closing the front door and being able to just get on with your own stuff.

Unless, of course, you’ve just spent nearly two months in your house in Tuscany with your family, living the ‘simple life’ with bronzed healthy children who haven’t spent more than an hour on their computer for the want of getting back in that pool with their cousins. In which case, console yourself with the vitamin D that has been absorbed to last you through the winter.

Although I can’t help but think you’ve been a bit laissez faire with your preparations. Have you ever tried getting a pair of grey Teflon trousers on the day before term starts? No? I have – it’s not pretty.

Oh, and if you’d like to buy some excellent and very special ring binders, refill pads, pencils and notebooks for the new term, pop over to the site and grab some. We’d love to inspire your little ones with some plans…

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Capturing the randomness of a child’s mind

I like to think that my thought processes can be pretty random.  I remember very clearly at the age of 13 my english teacher asking the class to write a ‘stream of consciousness’ right there and then. I can only assume that we were studying Catcher in the Rye at the time.  That particular english teacher was one of those 1980’s cool teachers who wore dangly earrings, had mad mad mad almost mad hatter hair that she was constantly trying to control with her whole hand and a weird, contortion of long leg folding to sit on top of the desk rather than a chair.  You see, streams of consciousness; I like the randomness of them and if you’ve read this or any other paragraph of my writing, you can see I’ve run with it…

But however random I get, it is nothing to the near lunacy of little ones. The nano-second it can take them from ‘I want  a balloon’ to ‘ooh, that’s a corner of a table I’m not actually thinking about whilst searching for a twinkly thing I saw 2 seconds ago, but why does that woman have a… no she’s gone’.  You get what I mean.  And during these weird 10 second trains of thought, we, as parents can only look at them as their faces change; from excited, scared, perplexed and then through all of the expressions possible that will usually lead to a gormless stillness that will leave you, as the parent, wondering if they’ll ever be able to read, or write, or even remember their own name.

Creating the ‘This is my…’ range of books was really an answer to my need to capture that randomness.  To keep hold of memories that come directly from them, those gormless, chubby faces with personalities forming and vehement opinions that can change and be just as forcefully argued in the opposite only minutes later.

And so the “This is my” books were created. Originally accompanied by a 35mm camera, the resultant photos were priceless.  They were simple cameras, a little square window for a child to look through and a button to press to take the photo, followed by a pass to mum to wind on.  My children would often not bother with the looking into the little square and the resultant images were perfect.  A photo of his twin brother’s cheek and a bit of an eye; an image of a foot in a padder, now long gone; an unidentifiable mass of matter on a plastic plate.  And that doesn’t even touch on the number of photos of my bum – what an eye opener that was! (I mean, because that’s all they got to see most of the day!).

The book would guide them through which photos to take – and would have questions for them to answer.  And this is where the randomness would come to the fore.  In their first books, I would have to do the writing, so I would ask them the questions.  And they would answer with that honesty, integrity, seriousness and thoughtfulness that only a three year old can muster when asked ‘what did you like the most about your bed on holiday’.

And there I would sit, keeping a straight face to match theirs as they answered questions in their books.  “What did you like about the bed” – answers would include “It was colourful” (and the photograph to accompany that answer shows the most migraine inducing swirl of psychedelia that I’m surprised I didn’t remember it). The proximity of the bed to a television would also be another excellent reason.

Their ‘favourite bit about the journey’ were invariably the ‘snack’ and the photograph of something that they really “like to eat on holiday” was often the breakfast pastry.  And I love that.

Other questions in other books would induce brutally honest answers – no sensibilities when it came to naming favourite gifts at Christmas or on their birthdays.  It was often the piece of plastic tat bought for them by a childless friend (the piece of plastic tat that I had already earmarked to be sent to the charity shop as soon as their backs were turned).

I love every photo and every answer and I have them all because I got to record it all in the books that I had created for just that purpose.  Their photos were brilliant, their answers completely and utterly random and slightly insane, their funny spelling of words and their awkward less than perfect handwriting when they took over the filling out for themselves.  Because keeping childhood memories alive and doing so effortlessly and with laughter is what they always meant to be.  And I’m rather proud of how well they worked out.

I still look back on them, and those books are here with me, just waiting to be handed around on wedding days….

which will teach them for not consistently name checking my gift as their favourite each year.

 

All of the ‘This is my….’ memory books (including Day as a Bridesmaid, Day as Pageboy and other wedding titles as well as ‘This is my Baby Brother and This is my Baby Sister’ versions for siblings) will soon be available here on memorybooks.co.uk, but until then, they are readily available on our MotherShip site: 2littleboys.co.uk.

This is my Holiday Memory Book for kids

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Children, Patterns and Looking Up

My first ever ‘proper’ camera was for my 18th birthday.  (At this point, I can hear my teenage offspring pipe in with ‘they had CAMERAS when you were 18.’  Still…. moving swiftly on). My 18th birthday present was an SLR camera, it was black, it was heavy and I thought it was an utterly pointless 18th birthday present.

Yes, I have been and still can be an ungrateful bitch.

So on my 18th birthday, I snapped away until the button could no longer be pressed and took the film to Underwoods the Chemist in Victoria. Using a bewitching form of alchemy, they turned the metal canister of film into actual photographs that they then presented to me in a green and yellow envelope, in the process, they charged an exorbitant amount of money (photographs/process… see what I did there?… no… ok).  And so, from henceforth, the camera came out only on special occasions and gathered dust for the rest of the year.

Snap forward, if you will, a few years and I started to go on holidays.  I took photographs of hills, mountains, the sea, rivers, friends and the odd flower or two.  Oh, and my boyfriend; the ubiquitous selfie with camera balancing precariously on a rock, a table stacked with books, magazines, glasses cases to get to the right height or the car roof with a judicious use of the timer.

I’d then have Boots process the film (Underwoods closed down; I just wanted to show off my age and memory for triviality here) and on visits back to my parents’, I’d show them the holiday snaps and my father would flick through very very quickly and declare that there were not nearly enough photos of people.  “Why do I want to see pictures of mountains and lakes, it looks like every other mountain and lake. Take pictures of people”.  He sort of, kind of, had a point.  But still, I stopped showing him the holiday snaps.

And then I had children. And I took photo after photo after photo.  They were the most photogenic babies you’ve ever seen.  Actually, if I’m honest, my newborn daughter had an interesting look going on first thing.  After an extraordinarily difficult labour, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  Then when the photos came back, I realised that, my God she’d looked Fugly).  Still… her head popped back into ummm, a head shape and she, quite simply, gets more beautiful every day, every week, every month… you get the point.

And I’m managing, once again, to get away from my point.

So, the kids grew older, they stopped spending their days in a thankfully vain attempt to damage themselves beyond repair and they eventually worked out that mum was constantly taking photos of them and that they weren’t too sure that they liked it that much.  But the bug had bitten me. I loved taking photos. Husband bought me a better camera and a zoom lens and I was off.

I took photographs of doorknobs, I took photographs of patterns made by mesh, by doors, by window frames, buildings, paving stones, mosaics, pillars, columns, clouds, flowers.  When you’ve got three kids to keep entertained, it’s important to find order in chaos and I suspect that this was what I was doing.  And I think I was doing it pretty damned well.

And then we found little cameras for the children and we would go on ‘mummy adventures’, grabbing a cab into London and becoming tourists and they would snap away. Because you can never see all of London and you can never capture it all on camera. Columbia Market, Borough Market, Houses of Parliament, Smithfields, SouthBank, Soho, Covent Garden, St Catherine’s Dock, Seven Dials, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’ Park, Green Park, Barbican, Tower Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and all between.  I’d tire us all out and there wouldn’t be moment of complaint of sore feet and we’d stop for a frozen yoghurt or a hot chocolate (seasonal choices, but way more random than that if I’m honest).  A Pizza Express pizza, or for a special treat, some dim sum in Soho where you can eat the fluffiest cloud bun ever (also known as a char sui bu).  And after lunch we’d keep going.

I taught them to look for beauty in buildings, and patterns in the everyday.  I told them to look above the gaudy shop fronts, to see their London through the ages – the old shop signs left long after the shop had left the building. The intricate details of stone-carving. Warehouse buildings now cafes and boutique shops.  And how moving your own body to different angles, you can get to see things from different angles that then, in turn photograph interesting angles. And they listened and they would stop in a street and look around and take a photo of something that you hadn’t noticed before and suddenly you’ll see an intricate chimney pot, or a detail on a window sill that could only have been created by a highly skilled craftsman many many years ago.

memories of looking up

These 9 images in a box are just some of the many photographs we took on our adventure days into town.  (Although I think top right is from our weekend away to Manchester). And I know that at least 7 of them were taken by my children when they were about this age….

2littleboystaking photographs

So, if you’re looking for a day out, just grab any old cameras or phones, take the kids and get them to look up…. just so long as they’re not standing in the middle of a road. Because then we’re back to that whole “attempting to damage themselves beyond repair.” and you should be past that stage by the time they’re into this sort of thing.

Or, you can always leave them at home, and take a wander around your home town and get to know it just a little bit better.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.

 

Please feel free to share or comment or follow us by pressing any one of these tab things:

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and here are links to our 2 websites.  Memory Books for our award winning Yearbooks and 2littleboys for our award winning everything else 🙂

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Being Ahead of our Time!

I’m just going through some of our product images and found this one – I wrote the copy, the lovely Lenalisa designed it and it was published in 2006.  2006! 

For those who would like a gorgeous notebook/sketchbook to capture their moments, just click on the image to be taken to the MotherShip site.  I still use mine and I do love looking back.  Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

“Moments, we all have them.  The first time you hear “I love you”, your baby’s first steps, an amazing gig, a profound comment, a silly joke that made your stomach hurt, a truly awesome view.

Write them here, keep them for inspiration, for fun, for life.”

Actually, I think that’s rather nice.  #keepingmemories

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