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Carpool Captive Audience

October 22, 2014

In effort to educate my kids, who know all the words to Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” about music and its history, I turned to Pandora.  After listening to a few jazz and doo-wop songs last night, we turned on a Motown station this morning.

While they ate their waffles and sausages, I sang along to “My Girl,” and “What a Wonderful World This Would Be.”  I danced around the kitchen while making sandwiches, filling water bottles and belting out top-volume, wholesome song lyrics.  My daughter came in and danced with me.  My boys made fun of us by fake dancing with each other, complete with goo-goo eyes and silly faces.  (But hey, they were still dancing!)

It put us in a great mood on this rainy, gray morning, so I kept my phone playing Motown as we walked out to the car to head to school.

We carpool with another family who has three kids, so it’s a full minivan every morning.  My oldest son sits in the front seat next to me since the rest fill the seats in the back.  We typically look like a clown car unloading in the carpool lane every morning.  As the neighbor kids loaded into the car, “Stand By Me” was playing and those who recognized it sang along.

Wiggles_big_red_carMy family is used to the fact that I cannot help but sing along to music.  Any song, any day, whether I know the words or not, I sing along.  If it’s a popular radio song, my minivan is hopping, with six kids singing along.  This morning, though, since Motown was fairly new to them, it was mostly me.

When Mary Wells’ “My Guy” came on, my son was a sitting duck.  Captive in his seat belt, within arms’ reach of me, in a slow-moving rainy day carpool lane, my son got to be my unwilling car-dance partner, to the entertainment of the five kids in the back seats.

He tried to scoot as far away from me as possible when I grabbed his chin and sang, “No handsome face could ever take the place of my guy, MY GUY!”

So I locked the doors, grabbed his arm closest to mine and wrapped it around my own, singing, “I’m sticking to my guy like a stamp to a letter, like two birds of a feather, we…stick together!  I’m telling you from the start, I won’t be torn apart from my guy.”

By the end of the song, he had learned enough lyrics to yell over my own voice, “…when it comes to being happy, WE AREN’T!!!!”

I pulled up to the front of the school, and the minivan exodus that usually takes a few minutes was done in seconds, with my oldest racing out as fast as his heavy backpack would let him.

I rolled down the window, wished them all a good day and kept singing at the top of my lungs with the rain landing on the leather seats.  I’m pretty sure the three girls kept singing all the way to the doors, chasing behind my poor kid.  A little fun and embarrassment is a mom’s prerogative.

Thank you, Pandora, for the great music lesson this morning!!  If you ask me, Motown beats out Meghan Trainor, hands down.

Presidential Resume – Requirements Needed to Run for Office

September 12, 2014

Our country is suffering. Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of the deaths of thousands of Americans due to terrorist activity, yet we are no closer to being safe today than we were on September 11, 2001. Two days ago, our President gave a public address about confronting ISIL, one of the many terrorist groups still at large.

white houseAs is my tradition, I refuse to watch televised addresses, preferring instead to wait a few hours and read the actual transcripts online. This affords me the luxury of avoiding seeing a man whom I deem as smug, arrogant, and bad for our country posture to the masses for sake of his approval rating and nothing else. I do not believe he has America’s best interests at heart, but always has selfish motives for every move he makes.

I agree with families like Billy and Karen Vaughn, who addressed their issues with Obama and his lack of leadership in an exceptional public letter over his mishandling and lack of response to many tragic deaths and outed state secrets.  In short, they stated the truth, “Mr. President…you are not up to this job.”  Then they call for his resignation.

While I agree and wish that were a likely result, I also accept that one of the core principles that makes this nation great is the fact that we have this lackluster dud as president because he was legally voted into office by the American people.  Therefore, we must suffer his remaining two years as best as we can.  We will get past this bump in the road and become great again.

How great we can become, though, depends on how much We, The People, have learned from Obama’s presidency.  In order to prevent another inexperienced, inept performer from winning the next election, it is time to recognize and demand the following from those who choose to run for this highest office.

While our legislators on both sides of the aisle refuse to write changes to the laws governing who can run for President, we can still require those prerequisites by using our voting power.  In polls, in the primaries, and certainly in general elections, it is time for us to use the power granted by our Republic.

These are the very basic bullet points that we should require from every individual who wishes to apply for the job of President of the United States of America.  There is no excuse for accepting anything less from the person who will hold the most powerful position in our country than we would for any other job interview.  If you cannot supply these items on or along with your resume, then you need not apply for the job.

Requirements Needed to Run for Office of President of the United States of America

curriculum vitae resume experienceFor the sake of our economy:  Candidate must have held a paid job in which s/he demonstrated the knowledge required to earn money, spend money, and invest wisely in order to promote the overall interests of the company or organization they served for the better.  If you haven’t been successful in business, you will not be good for our nation’s economy.  If you could not hold a paying job, you will not be able to protect our working citizenry.  Experience is required to hold this office.

For the sake of our national defenses:  Candidate must have served in some military capacity in any branch of the US military.  If you lack the courage to serve, you lack the ability to lead.

For the sake of our national security:  Candidate must freely offer proof of identity, including original copies of birth certificate to prove both citizenry and loyalty to our nation above all others.  There is no reason every individual who applies for a job must show these documents, but our President does not.

For the sake of our morale:  Candidate must be a patriot.  No one wants to work for a boss who doesn’t care for his company any more than the people of the United States want to band together for a leader who views the American people with condescension.  A populace who wants to work and wants to serve is always stronger than an apathetic public waiting for the next hand-out.  We need a leader who will inspire a strong work ethic, which will trigger a better economy.

We need experience.  We need patriotism. We need selflessness. We need inspiration.

Those requirements may rule out just about all known politicians in both parties, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I am disenchanted by the two-party system and self-serving individuals who have made a career out of politics.  If our next presidential candidate has the qualities listed above, but comes from a third party, I would vote for him or her in a heartbeat.

Remember, we can sit back and complain about the lack of legislation in who gets to run for President all we like, but to no avail.  Instead, let’s use our votes to make our requirements known.

14 Things to Look Forward to this Summer

June 20, 2014

no more school chalkboardThank you, Alice Cooper, for uniting us all in song with the heartfelt joy that comes with shouting your lyrics.

Yes, SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER!!  And we couldn’t be happier about it.

I’ve experienced all sides of this end-of-school-year phenomenon, and there’s one thing of which I can be sure.  Everyone: students, teachers, and parents alike, are all ready for the end.  Sure, we’ll miss being productive adults while our children are in school.  We’ll miss the incredible teachers they had, and we’ll eventually come to miss the routine.  But for today, we are just tickled with all of the possibilities that lie ahead this summer.

I feel a bit like Olaf from Frozen right now, but I can’t help but list all of the wonderful things I anticipate this summer.  (I’ll let you know later when the reality of snowmen melting into puddles hits home.)  But, for now, here is my list of

14  Things to Look Forward to this Summer.

1. No homework.  When your kids are young, their homework is your homework.  No more battles to get it started, to focus, to let me help you, to JUST. FINISH. IT. ALREADY.  Nope, for the next two months, there will be no checking of homework folders and no homework battles.

2. A season away from kids sports sidelines.  I acknowledge that many of your kids play summer sports, too, but not mine.  Summer is our time as a family.  The sports schedules will start up again in August and I’ll go back to having a bag for each sport with sideline snacks and activities for siblings as well as the endless clean-up of cleats and uniform laundry.  Oh joy.

3. A pause in volunteering.  PTA, class mom, Cub Scout leader, and all other volunteer hats are hereby thrown in the closet for the summer.  (I’m ignoring the small duties that still will take place, but require so much less effort.)  No more organizing people or events.  No more planning meetings or keeping track of who achieved what.  I’m clocking out, folks!   I’ll see you in September.

Beach Feet4.  The BEACH!!!  Living less than an hour from the beautiful Jersey shore means that we can wake up any day and decide it’s a beach day.  Pack up a cooler, put on bathing suits and head down for the day.  My minivan will have more sand in the trunk than a backyard sandbox by the time summer is over, but I truly do not care.  Who’s up for a beach day?

5.  Day Trips.  I can pile my kids into the car on a moment’s notice and head off to the local zoo, a great hiking trail, or an amusement park.  We are free to have fun and squeeze as many great day trips as possible into our summer.

6.  Camp.  What will get the kids out of bed early and excited to get on a school bus in the summer?  Camp!!!  Here’s to the magic of camp.  Fresh air, activities scheduled by someone else, and led by camp counselors instead of me.  Have fun, kids!!  Now, who’s free for lunch?

7.  kids in the poolThe Pool!!!  Second only to the beach, I love taking my kids to our town pool.  Whether we’ve made plans in advance with friends or not, I can always count on meeting up with familiar faces there.  And the very best part is that my kids are all old enough now that I can sit on the side and watch them in the water.  I still might get in to cool off and play with them, but I do not have to stand in the pee-warmed baby pool anymore.  HOORAY!!!

8.  YES.  My summer will consist of more Yes than the entire rest of the year.  You want to go outside and play right now?  YES!!  You want to go to the pool?  YES!!  Want to play a board game together?  YES!!!  Can we go to the boardwalk? YES!!!  You need new books from the library?  YES!!!  Want to go to the beach?  YES!!  You want to take a hike in the woods?  YES!!!!  With no other obligations breathing down our necks, I get to say yes and enjoy my kids doing what they want to do.

9.  Sleep.  There is nothing like the kid sleep of summer.  Days spent in the ocean or the pool, or running around outside with friends wears them out in a way that we don’t see during the school year.  Strict bedtimes need not be enforced because, by the end of a fun summer day, they’re putting themselves to bed.

10.  Summer cocktails.  I’m not saying we parents booze it up all summer long, but there are more social opportunities that lend themselves to a frosty beverage with friends.  There’s nothing better than a group of moms gathered together watching our kids happily tire themselves out as another summer day draws to a close.  Except the very same with a chilled cocktail in hand. Cheers!

11.  jersey tomatoesFresh Summer Food.  Summer food is so fresh and delicious.  We grow some in our own garden and are gifted with items from friends’ gardens, too.  Local farmer’s markets, fresh seafood, and fresh produce just make me happy.  Can you say, Juicy Jersey Tomatoes?

12.  Pajama days.  We spend so much time outside during the summer that the occasional pajama day is totally justified.  Usually on a rainy day or an excessively hot day where the heat index would keep us indoors anyway.  We stay in our jammies from breakfast through dinner, watching movies, building forts, playing board games, and reading.

13. Board Games.  Speaking of pajama days and Yes, guess what else works in the summer?  A 5-hour marathon game of Monopoly, Pictionary, Scattergories, or Clue.  And I’m not too proud to admit that we taught our kids how to play poker and blackjack last summer, too.  I see no harm in gambling for M&Ms.

14.  Eating Outside.  Breakfast on the porch, lunch at the pool, and dinner on the beach.  Porches, patios, decks, or picnic blankets.  We’ll take it anyway we can get it.  I’m enjoying meals with my kids when we eat outside over the summer.  No scolding to stop fidgeting, or sit back down until you finish your meal.  We’re eating al fresco every chace we get.  Bon Appetite’!

 

So enjoy the summer, families, kids, teachers and parents!  We’ll see you in September.

So I Could Be Free…

May 23, 2014

MemorialDayCemeteryI sit outside on my patio watching my children play in the yard.
They haven’t a care in the world and run with abandon.
Someone’s father died so I could be free.

I can believe whatever religion I choose.
I can also choose not to believe.
Someone’s grandfather died so I could be free.

I wear shorts when it’s hot and a bathing suit in the summer.
My daughter will never have to cover her face if she doesn’t want to.
Someone’s mother died so I could be free.

I changed my career three times
before quitting my job to stay home with my kids.
Someone’s sister died so I could be free.

I never served in the military.
I never wore the uniform of my country.
Someone’s brother died so I could be free.

Someone made the choice.
Someone donned the uniform.
Someone chose country over self.
Someone knew the risks and still served.
Someone fought with the intent of returning home.
Someone did not want to be martyred.
Someone wanted to march in the parade.
Someone hoped to escape the playing of Taps and the 21-gun salute.

We barbecue.
We march.
We wear red, white, and blue.
We enjoy the start of summer.
We love our three-day weekend.
We need to remember.
Someone died so we could be free.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I repost this every year as a tribute and reminder of the sacrifices too many have paid for our freedom.

Thank You to all who have served and continue to serve.

Motherhood’s Memories

May 8, 2014

french friesWhen I was little, my grandmother took care of my cousin and me one day each week.  I remember the highlight of my week would be sitting in the McDonald’s inside the Morris County Mall, comparing french fries.

“Look at how long this one is!”

“Mine’s really wiggly!”

“How many little crispies do you have?”

As I look back on those moments in my memory, I see the restaurant, our gray linoleum-topped table, and the red booths.  I can picture my cousin, sitting across from or next to me, and I know that my Nana was there, watching our every move and cackling.  I can hear her voice, and I can imagine her presence, but I can’t see her in my memory.

It’s been 22 years since she passed away when my cousin and I were Juniors in high school.  I have plenty of mental images of her in my memory from later years.  I can glimpse her sitting on my parents’ couch when they’d come over for family dinners.  I can see her in her brown armchair, trying to peer around their giant goofball golden retriever who thought he was a lap dog. And I can see her in her bathing suit as we’d swim in their huge pool in their yard.

But no matter how hard I try, I can’t picture her from those days when she took care of me in preschool and Kindergarten.

I know this is because I was so young.  Young children can’t retain as many distinct images in their memories as older kids and adults can.  My mom reminded me of that recently when she mentioned some of the things she had done for us as kids.  She was almost put off when I admitted that I couldn’t remember half of it.

“Just you wait,” she told me.  “One day you’ll realize that everything you do for your kids now will be forgotten, too.”

It’s a bit of a rude awakening to acknowledge that she’s right.

My kids may not remember all of the work that went into planning birthday parties and family vacations.  They won’t recall the particulars of potty training, trips to the ER and worrisome doctor’s visits.  And they, too, may not be able to picture us in their minds when they remember moments from days spent together.

Mirror Mirror On The WallNow that my mom is retired, she takes care of my daughter one day each week.  They come home with stories of picnics and playgrounds.  My daughter now sits at McDonald’s next to that same cousin’s children who are with their grandmother, my aunt.

It is bittersweet to recognize how everything comes full circle.  In my preschool days, I was the center of my own universe.  Now, my daughter is the center of hers.  As parents and grandparents, we simply get to orbit around their rays of sunshine and bask in the glow when they shine their light our way.

I watch her, as I’m sure my mom and my Nana watched me, and I love how she sees the world.  I love her discoveries, and I adore her declarations.  She makes me laugh every single day.  I don’t need to be imprinted upon her memory because she will forever be imprinted on mine.

Someday, my daughter may look back on her days with Nini, too.  She might remember what they ate, what Happy Meal toys they played with, and where they sat.  But she may not be able to picture my mom or my aunt, sitting there with them, cackling like their mother at their grandchildren’s antics.  She won’t remember skipping through the door, bubbling over with stories from her day, or the way she leaped into my arms when she came home.

But that’s okay. Because I will.

 

Proof That the Kids Are Listening and Learning

March 31, 2014

My kids walk home from school when the weather is nice.  My boys are in 2nd and 4th grade and we live only a mile from their school.  We started letting them walk just this year with a few other families in our neighborhood.

At first, I was a nutcase of a worrier over them walking.  Would they be safe?  Would they use their heads when crossing that last, busy street that has no crosswalk?

I started by waiting for them at their final intersection and walking the last couple of blocks home with them in the fall.  But, little by little, I began to let them do the entire thing alone.

Our rules were simple:

  • Walk straight home.  No stops along the way.
  • Stay on the sidewalks.
  • Cross at the crosswalks.
  • Always stay together as a group.
  • Never let anyone walk alone.

They needed to be reminded of these rules a few times when our network of friends would call us to let us know that they saw the kids being stupid.  Running across the street to grab acorns or pinecones, stopping to play in a friend’s backyard without telling anyone, splitting up and getting separated, or failing to find the group and starting on their own were some of their reported transgressions.

Most times they pulled this nonsense, they were called on it and forced to suffer either punishment or lectures about safety.  Nothing makes me happier now than when I hear them dissuade each other from breaking rules because, “the parent spies will catch you.”  Yes, they think we have spies strategically placed throughout the town and I whole-heartedly encourage that belief.

So yes, they are kids who don’t always use their heads, but more times than not, they have been responsible and smart about walking home safely this year.

Fast forward to last week, when my oldest son was home from school with a fever and a stomach bug.  I had heard from one family of neighbors that her kids would not be walking home that day, so I knew I had to find a ride for my younger son so he wouldn’t be alone.  I called up a friend who agreed to pick him up with her kids and keep him for a bit to play as well.  Satisfied and grateful that I have such wonderful, helpful friends, I went back to the business of washing out the puke bucket and monitoring my oldest’s fever.

Shortly after school dismissal time, my phone rang.

“Stace? It’s me.  I’m here with my kids, but your son is refusing to get in my car.”

“What!?!  Oh no, I called the main office and had them tell him he’s going home with you!”

“I know, and he said he got the message, but he won’t get in.”

I was so confused and annoyed and embarrassed.  Here I had called a friend for a favor and my kid was outright refusing an adult he knew very well.  I wanted to strangle him.  But my girlfriend just laughed it off.

“It’s fine.  He said something about not letting anyone walk alone, so I let both of the boys out to walk home with their friend.  I’ll trail them in the car and pick them up once they get to the first house.”

Mortified, I apologized and thanked her profusely for putting up with my stubborn son.

Not even 5 minutes later, my doorbell rang.  It was another neighborhood dad at the door dropping off my son and his friend.

“I saw them walking home with my kid, so I scooped them all up out of the rain.  They said they were going to play down the block, but I didn’t see a car there, so I brought them here.”

At that, I just burst out laughing in my neighbor’s face.  I looked down at my son as he pushed past me to get into the house.

“Scottie, what happened?  Why didn’t you get in the car when you knew you were supposed to go have a playdate?”

My son looked over his shoulder at me while he took off his wet shoes,

“You always said not to let anyone walk home alone!”

It was then that the lightbulb went off for both me and the dad who picked the kids up.  It turns out that their normal walking group all had other plans after school with the exception of my son and this dad’s son.  I had assumed my Scottie would be walking home alone, so I made plans to have him picked up.  But, if he had gotten into the car with his friend, that would have left only one person, this 4th grade boy, walking home alone.

In his refusal to get into my girlfriend’s car, he was actually standing firm in his knowledge of our group’s safety rules.  This girlfriend of mine didn’t know the other boy walking home, and he didn’t know her, so they decided to just all walk home together in the rain instead.

As we figured it all out, we laughed at the confusion.  Grateful for cell phones, we called everyone involved and relayed the story.  No, Scottie wasn’t being rude or stubborn, he was actually being safe and looking out for his friend.  And both my girlfriend and the other dad friend were understanding after both being so wonderful about helping out.

It’s one of my favorite things about this tiny little small town.  That all of the families get to know each other and look out for each other’s kids, even when not asked to do so.  With this little incident, now two more families have gotten to know each other, just further spreading the net of helping hands and watchful eyes over our kids.

And now I know for sure that, despite all of my worrying that they’re all being knuckleheads on the walks home, at least one of the rules has sunk in.

kids crossing guard

Playing Mom Hooky

February 21, 2014

escape keyIf you get a chance to play Mom Hooky, TAKE IT!!!

No, this isn’t a twist on a Sarah Palin post.  This is not about being a Hockey Mom, or playing Mom Hockey.  I’m talking about being truant from a day of chauffeuring, packing lunches, helping with homework, planning and cooking dinner, laundry, and all of the other things that fill our Mom days.  A chance to hit the escape key on the laptop of life and play hooky on Mom duty.

The planets aligned, I called up favors, and I was able to play hooky yesterday and let me tell you, it was downright MAGICAL!

After reading my post listing some New Year’s resolutions, my longtime girlfriend and college roommate called me up and said I had to make #11 happen this year.  We used to ski together in college and she couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been on skis in 13 years. As I listed the reasons I hadn’t been able to do it (babies, money, my husband doesn’t want to go with me and how do I take three kids by myself), she put her foot down.

“We should just go one of these days when the kids are in school.  How cool would that be?”

We started giggling on the phone at the possibility.

“You mean we would go out and have fun for a day, doing something just for us, with no kids and no husbands?!”

We knew that if we didn’t pick a date during that phone call, we’d never make it happen.  So we discussed our kids’ schedules and figured out a date that might work, promised to line up babysitters and carpool help, and wrote it on the calendar.  IN PEN.

During the days leading up to our ski date, I felt anxious, excited, and totally nervous.  I kept picturing the worst.  I really was going to break a leg and give my husband “I told you so” rights for the rest of our marriage.  Or I’d get to the top of the mountain and forget everything I used to know about how to ski.  Or my girlfriend would lap me as I snowplowed down the hill, too afraid to ski like a normal person now that I knew the paralyzing fears of motherhood.

But, I am happy to report, none of that happened.

Instead, everything went according to plan.  My girlfriend picked me up and we almost missed our exit, too busy chatting along the way to pay attention to signs and directions.  We literally giggled half of the trip there because it felt so funny and strange to be doing this. It was a surreal experience for us.

We were escaping to do something strictly for ourselves for fun.  This was not about furthering our professional careers.  This was not about researching for a family trip.  This was not about completing long-ignored projects or running errands for our kids.  No, this was an absolutely frivolous trip, with no other purpose than our own enjoyment.  We really felt like we were teenagers, skipping school.  Like we were getting away with breaking the rules and laughing about it.  And we hadn’t even arrived at the mountain yet!

Once we got there, we tossed our stuff in a locker, got our equipment on and headed to the chair lift.  There were no short people to corral, no extra bags to carry and stow.  The two of us carried so little with us, we even shared one locker.  It’s amazing how little you need to carry with you when you leave the kids behind.

As I snapped my boots into my skis, I prayed everything would work as it should and that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself.  I managed to push off and we boarded the lift with no problem.  I grinned to my friend, proud that I remembered how to move on skis.  Then we disembarked and headed for one of the green trails.

It was the moment of truth.  Either I was going to fall and have to re-learn everything again, or I would make it down the trail in one piece.  I let my friend lead the way, took a deep breath, and followed.

Even going as slowly as we were on an easy, green trail, I felt that old familiar surge of exhilaration.  It was a beautifully clear day with temps in the mid-40’s, but still winter enough that I enjoyed that cold wind in my face, making my eyes tear-up a little behind my sunglasses.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 WAfter thirteen years, one husband, four houses, three kids, and a thousand other changes, my body remembered how to ski.  Granted, this body is much different than my body was 13 years ago, but the muscle memory was there.  By the third run, we moved over to the blue trails and I was no longer hesitant and afraid.  I was shooshing again.

My lungs filled with brisk winter air; my nose and eyes felt the sting of chill wind.  Every turn heard the rush of skis carving a path in the snow, part spraying powder, part crunching hardened snow, and that all-familiar scrape of cutting edges in to the ice underneath.  My legs knew when to shift my weight, my arms knew when to plant my poles, and my eyes were ahead, looking to my next turn.

We talked, we laughed, and we skied all day long.  It felt utterly amazing.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was truly a magical, wonderful, fulfilling experience.  Our leg muscles were burning by lunchtime, but we didn’t care.  It was the combination of a beautiful day of fresh air and exercise plus the forbidden feeling of escaping our everyday responsibilities that had us smiling and laughing and living every moment to its fullest.

We ignored the aches and fatigue from underused muscles and kept going and going until we couldn’t ignore the clock any longer.  Feeling like our own kids at the end of a party or a playdate, we begrudgingly packed up our equipment and headed home.

I told my husband that night that it was so perfect, it ranked as one of my best days in the last three years.  It was really that incredible.

Even today, as I hobble around my house because my muscles are so sore, I’m still enjoying the leftover high from our amazing day playing hooky.  I love my kids, my husband, our house, and our wonderful life together.  But no matter how blessed a life we lead, everyone deserves a chance to experience some outside-the-box excitement for a change.

Playing Mom Hooky yesterday gave me such a sense of freedom and exhilaration, that I am ready to face the realities of life again with a smile on my face.  My second-grader woke up this morning with a fever, and my oldest son’s Pinewood Derby car’s wheels won’t turn.  But I can handle these challenges.  Because yesterday, I sailed down a mountain with the wind through my hair.

For one day, I was just me.  I wasn’t a mom, I wasn’t a wife.  I was just a girl who loves to ski.

Stace Leigh skiing

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