Rainbow Looming Our Way To Gender Equality

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There are little plastic rubber bands all over our house.  On my way upstairs this morning, I noticed them strewn on the stair treads like colorful flower petals after a spring storm.  That’s because my 11 year-old son spent more than an hour yesterday at the top of the stairs, “where the light is good”, perfecting his starburst bracelet on the Rainbow Loom.   Technically, it’s his 8 year-old sister’s, but his Rainbow Loom will be arriving tomorrow via Amazon Prime.  He used some of his Christmas money to buy one for himself.

Anyone with kids in elementary or middle school will understand what I’m talking about, but this is something worth talking about even if you don’t have kids.   The Rainbow Loom has been popular for months. What is striking for me as a parent, however, is that this is a toy that is equally popular with both boys and girls.  Of the more than $3 million in sales since August, almost half of the Rainbow Looms reportedly were purchased for boys.

I first noticed the Rainbow Loom’s gender-neutral popularity last month at a PeeWee hockey tournament.  Since the tournament was out-of-town, the team and their families were all staying at the same hotel.  I noticed that all of the younger siblings – especially the boys – were prodigious Rainbow Loomers.   A group of younger brothers, all 9 and 10, were Rainbow Looming by the pool.  Later that night, they were Rainbow Looming at the rink before the game.

“Do the guys on your team like to Rainbow Loom, too?”  I asked my son.  He’s one of the youngest on his PeeWee team; most of the boys are already 12.

“Sure,” he said.  “But we didn’t have much time for it this weekend. You know, because we had to focus on hockey.”

Before my oldest son was born 14 years ago, I thought I could raise my kids in a gender-neutral way.  I had a wide range of toys on hand for him to choose from, including a baby doll.  But he and his younger brother showed no interest at all in playing with dolls or stuffed animals or Barbies or anything like that. When I caught them drop-kicking the doll, I finally gave it away to a more loving home.   By the time our daughter was born, we had no toys left that could be characterized as stereotypically female.   That is, until the day that I found her cradling a Darth Vader action figure.  She was kneeling next to a bowling pin that she had put to bed with a Kleenex for a blanket.   The premise of my nurture v. nature theory having been blown out of the water, I took her to Target and let her pick out a baby doll.  At eight, she is still taking excellent care of her “family”.

The bigger lesson for me was that kids will choose to play with what is interesting to them.   My kids inherited a substantial Hotwheels collection from my brother, but the boys never played with them much.   My daughter has always enjoyed playing with the cars, although she often plays with them differently.   Sometimes I’ll find them all lined up by color, for example.  Instead of making car noises like “Vroom! Vroom!”, the conversations I’ve overheard coming out her room are about relationships.  “Oh, Baby car!  Are you lonely? Do you want to park by Mommy car?”

Toy choice is the single most sex-typed behavior that children display.   Sure, my daughter chooses the stereotypical feminine toy most of the time.But the point is that she should be able to play with any toy and in any way that she wants to, regardless of what our society traditionally dictates as the appropriate gender-based toys.  And that goes for her brothers, too.

This holiday season, my daughter and I talked a lot about the gender-based marketing of toys.  It’s especially noticeable in the toy section – some stores even have aisles blatantly identified with pink for girls and blue for boys.   On the same toy aisle where she picked out her first baby doll, we noticed a ultra-pink display for “Lego Friends”.  My daughter, unimpressed at this new line of Legos marketed to girls, observed that,  “I don’t get it. It seems like they should just sell all the Legos in the same aisle.”

Which brings me back to the Rainbow Loom, a toy that has grown tremendously popular without much marketing at all. Rainbow Loom is popular because of word of mouth and YouTube.  Kids decided it is cool and fun to Rainbow Loom, and they shared that information (along with the colorful, plastic bracelets) with each other.

I witnessed something similar last summer when my son and the other boys at camp were obsessed with fingerweaving.  I have a mental picture of a group of them, all 11 and 12 years old, sitting around and fingerweaving during their free time.  In the middle of the circle was a huge mound – yards and yards and yards – of their collective fingerweaving.  Every once in a while, someone would call out, “I need more yarn!” and someone else would make a run for the craft room.  Fingerweaving was cool and fun in their social context and everyone, regardless of sex, was doing it.

I see the same phenomenon with the Rainbow Loom.  When tween boys are making jewelry at the hockey rink, you know it is not a popularity bogged down by gender-stereotypes.

“Why do you like to make things on your Rainbow Loom?”  I asked my daughter.   “Because it is creative and fun!” she replied.

When I asked my son the same question, he replied,  “Because it’s fun.  And creative.”

That pretty much says it all.   In a gender-biased world, they found a gender-neutral toy that they both love for the same reasons.   So I ordered them each a new package of 1800 colorful little rubber bands.  I won’t even mind picking them up off the floor.

The Rainbow Loom – and the kids that have made it wildly popular – give me hope.  Hope that this generation will keep our society moving, slowly but surely,  towards gender equality.

Best of My 2013 Facebook Status Updates

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And when I came downstairs this morning (after a second night of being up half the night with a sick child), THIS is what I saw when I turned on the light.

December 31 – the last day of the year. Time to take a few moments to reflect on the highlights of 2013.  Some technologically forced reflections have been available for weeks to help with this task.  This, for example, appeared on my Facebook timeline:

2013

Jennifer Prestholdt

A look at your 20 biggest moments on Facebook.

Learn more.
Share Your Year.

Frankly, it looked suspiciously like 2012, but with more directives and a slightly larger font (and now in United Nations baby blue, I might add).

Year in Review
Jennifer Prestholdt
A look at your 20 biggest moments from the year including life events, highlighted posts and your popular stories.

But this Year in Review app most certainly does not accurately reflect  my “20 biggest moments from the year”.   Some of the pictures were not even from 2013!  So, in what has become an annual tradition, I’m taking charge of my Year in Review and creating my own”Best of My Facebook Status Updates”of some of the funniest moments for me in 2013.  (And if you like this post, you can also check out Best of My 2012 Facebook Status Updates and Best of My 2011 Status Updates.)

Best of My 2013 Facebook Status Updates

#25      The fifth graders are studying puberty, so the dinner conversation was interesting. It was a spectacularly unfortunate coincidence that we grilled tonight – and tubular meat products were on the menu.

#24      Some families set a place for Elijah. Our family apparently sets a place for Trouble.

Photo: Some families set a place for Elijah. Our family apparently sets a place for Trouble.

#23:

Eliza (age 8):  “Are you drinking barf?”
Me: “Yes. I threw up in the smoothie machine and added a banana. Now I’m drinking it.”
(Pause)
Eliza: “Is this called ‘sarcasm’?”

#22  I’m helping my 7th grader study for his Tom Sawyer test. So I showed him the classic Rush video. To which he responded, “Mom, this is not really helping.”

#21       In 5 minutes, I have to give a lecture on international human rights mechanisms to a class at the U of Iowa Law School. Unfortunately, I just figured out that since it is via Skype, they will all see how messy my office is. Gotta go stuff some documents in the closet and sweep some files under the rug…

#20     “When in doubt, add cheese.” This is the kind of advice I give to my daughter.

#19     Positive things about below zero weather: I stuck the tragically unchilled bottle of wine outside for 5 minutes. Now it is cold (and DE-licious!)

#18

Mom, when I grow up – if I’m a teacher – on the first day of school I’ll pull down a map of Europe and say “I see London. I see France.”And I’ll be wearing, like, really bright pink boxers or something and I’ll have my jeans low.

So then I’ll turn my back to the class and pull down another map and say, “Class, what else do you see?” And the kids that raise their hands and say, “Mr. ___, I see your…”

Well, that’s how I’ll know who the troublemakers are.

#17     Note to self:  Be careful doing laundry this week.  Very, VERY careful!

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There were 2 pockets. Each pocket held 17 snakes. How many snakes in all?

#16    My flight out of Delhi was cancelled, so I was re-routed through Paris. Perhaps the only major airport in the world that smells of fresh-baked croissants at 6 am in the morning!

#15

“Simon, turn off the TV.”

“I can’t, Mom! Everything I need to know about life is on Dr. Who!”

#14     Home! And, as always when I return from the developing world, I am feeling so thankful for clean air, hot water, high-speed internet, urban planning and traffic control – and a democratic system of government that is not perfect, but which functions smoothly and provides us with services without corruption. Perspective is a valuable thing.

#13     Lady behind me at the grocery store:  “Girl!  You’ve either got a big family or you’re done shopping for 2013!

#12      First week back at school update:

Eliza (grade 3):  “What’s the difference between fiction and non-fiction again?”

Simon (grade 6): “Non-fiction is real. Like Facebook.”

Eliza: “So what is fiction?”

Simon: “It’s fantasy, it’s not real. Like Facebook.”

#11   The Polly Pockets were willing to sacrifice their heads for the opportunity to skydive off our back balcony.

Photo: The Polly Pockets were willing to sacrifice their heads for the opportunity to skydive off our back balcony.

#10

“Mom, do you have a name for our toilet?”
“No.” (pause) “But something tells me you might.”
“Yeah. Our toilet is named Bob.”

#9     (The next day)   I have been informed that the gender of our upstairs toilet “Bob” has been reassigned. Depending on who you ask, she is now either “Tina” or “Betsy”.

#8     Well, at the request of one of my sons, I bought ramen noodles for the first time in 25 years. Still the same price – 29 cents. The way I figure, it’s never too early to prepare them for college.

#7

 Eliza: “Hannah says that when I grow up, I should be a doctor.”
Me: “I concur.”
Eliza: “An American Girl doctor.”
Me: “I retract my previous statement.”

#6     Still life with retainer.

Photo: Still life with retainer.

#5     I could have done without these 6th grade boys and their dinner discussion. All you need to know about it is that their creation myth involves the planet “Poopiter” and explains why there is so much cosmic gas in the universe.

#4     I made the mistake of taking my 11-year-old son with me when I was shopping for bras. With having to yell so many times, “Don’t touch that!” and “Stop squishing it!”, I ended up accidentally buying a nursing bra.

#3     I sent my 13yo son to camp with two pairs of shoes.   Somehow, he managed to come home with just one.   One shoe, that is.

#2     I very much appreciated that the employees stocking shelves at the downtown Target let me participate in their “Churchill-off”. I only made it two rounds (they were still going when I went to check out) but I got to use the only two Churchill quotes that I can ever manage to remember:

        1. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

        2. Lady Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”

            Churchill: “If I were your husband, I would take it.”

#1      It’s just not a holiday in our family until someone gets a pie in the face.

Photo: It's just not a holiday in our family until someone gets a pie in the face.

Thanks for reading The Human Rights Warrior!  See you in 2014!

Happy New Year from Sullivan's Island, South Carolina!
Happy New Year from Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina!

Unexpected: Weekly Photo Challenge

"Munchkin Village"My daughter discovered this unexpected “Munchkin Village” in our backyard last spring.    There’s so much beauty in the imagination of a child!

This photo reminds me of something Henry David Thoreau once wrote,

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected.

The Regular

Beauty's Special
Order up! Beauty’s Specials at Beauty’s Luncheonette in Montreal

“I’ve been coming here since the beginning,” he said conspiratorially, leaning towards me from the stool next to mine.

I had noticed the white haired gentleman earlier, as he was shouldering his way through the Sunday brunch crowd at Beauty’s Luncheonette.  He took a seat on the chrome-and-blue pleather stool next to me. As he carefully placed his folded Montreal Gazette on the formica countertop, he caught the server’s eye.  “Hi hon!” she sang out as she filled his coffee cup.

He didn’t even have to place his order.  In a matter of minutes, “the usual” was set in front of him.  Side of home fries, black coffee, and a Beauty’s Russian Black Special.  Most people who come to Beauty’s get the Beauty’s Special – smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, and onion on the infamous Montreal sesame bagel.  But The Regular clearly prefers the Special on on a Russian rye bread so black that  it looks like it is made of dark chocolate.

“You’ve been coming here since 1942?” I asked.

“Sure, I went to high school just down the street. I used to buy my school supplies here back when it was a stationary shop.   There was always a poker game going on back in the back room.”

He pointed towards an open door behind the kitchen to a small room where they now store the mops and brooms and cleaning supplies.  (You can see it in the background of the photo above.)

“They won’t tell you THAT in the history.”

He gestured vaguely towards the blue and white menu, which contains a detailed history of Beauty’s.  How newlyweds Hymie and Freda Sckolnick bought the shop on the corner of Mont Royal and St. Urbain and started serving lunch to the garment workers from the  factories in the neighborhood.  The name “Beauty” came from Hymie’s bowling nickname.  It grew so popular that the workers started bringing their families on the weekend.  “And the Montreal brunch was born,”  to quote the menu.  Indeed, there was no mention of the poker game in the back room.

“I’m in my 80s,” he confided, “so Hymie must be into his 90s.  You met him when you came in, right?”

I had indeed met Hymie.  He was guarding the door when we arrived – literally standing in the inner doorway and quizzing the groups of Montreal hipsters queued up outside.  Since we only had two in our party, we scored an immediate seating at the lunch counter. “I like American money,”  Hymie told me as he resettled, ever vigilant, on his perch by the door.

“Hymie opened up this morning,” The Regular told me.  “That’s the son, Larry.”  He waved dismissively at a white-haired man with black frame glasses who was dashing about with a pot of coffee. “He just showed up now.”

We talked for a few minutes.  He told me how he grew up to be a lawyer and a politician.  He represented the neighborhood for a number of years before returning to private practice.  He lives downtown now, but he made it very clear that he is not retired.

“What’s your practice area?” I asked.  Corporate, I thought.

“Immigration,” he said.  “There’s always work and it’s interesting.”

“I know,” I said.  “I’m a human rights lawyer at a non-profit, but I started out practicing asylum law.  We always look to Canada as the better asylum system.  Even now in the debate about immigration reform, we are using Canada as the example of why we should provide counsel for indigent asylum seekers.”

“Well,” he replied, “It was a hell of a lot better before the Conservatives took over.  Now I’m not sure we’re a model for anyone anymore.”

As he paid his bill and gathered up his car keys and his black leather gloves, he asked, “What are you going to do today?”

“We’re thinking of going up to the top of Mont-Royal.”

“Mount Royal?  How are you going to get there? Do you have a car?”

“No, we’re planning to bike,” I said.

He looked at me for a few seconds, as if assessing whether I was truly insane.  Then he moved on.

“Well, you’re going to want to go to Schwartz’s Deli, so here’s a tip. Don’t bother with the line.  Go across the street to Main Deli.  It’s just as good, but without the wait.   We call it “smoked meat” here.   There’s no such thing as “pastrami” here in Canada,” he said emphatically.

“Thanks for the tip,” I said.  As a vegetarian, my interest in cured meat – whatever you call it – is minimal.

It struck me later that, based on the facts that he dropped,  I could easily pin a name and full bio on this guy.  It would just take a couple of quick internet searches.  But I have not chosen to do that.

As he said good-bye, I felt I had been privileged with a small glimpse into not just a life, but also into a unique time and place and people in this city’s history.  I saw in a flash the habits of a lifetime, traces of a distinctive community.  The institution of Beauty’s Luncheonette will certainly continue, but someday in the relatively near future it will be without Hymie and the others who were there from the beginning.  On this, my first visit to Montreal, The Regular had given me a rare, small gift.

He put on his long, black wool coat and headed for the door, threading his way through throngs of young people – young people  of all races and backgrounds, chatting energetically and switching effortlessly between French and English.  In the midst of this microcosm of contemporary Montreal, The Regular turned back, eyes twinkling, and winked at me.

“My wife is in Florida.  Don’t tell her I was here.”

Chronicles of a Bike Commuter

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I’ve been a bike commuter on and off for twenty years.   But it wasn’t until I began posting about it on Facebook recently that I began to realize that maybe biking is more for me than just transportation to and from work.  I know that bike commuting impacts my daily  life (I’m definitely grumpier when I have to drive), but is it possible that the simple act of riding a bike has also influenced me in other ways?

I started bike commuting back when I was in graduate school in the Boston area, motivated partly by the fact that I had no money and partly because driving, parking and everything associated with cars is a PAIN in that city.  I biked to law school a lot, but I took a break during the long years of managing babies and daycare pick-up for young children.  Although I don’t consider myself a serious cyclist, I have returned to steady bike commuting now that my children are older.

I have to admit that, living in Minneapolis – America’s most bike-friendly city,  I have it easy as a bike commuter.  It is only a 4 mile commute to my office downtown, with most of the ride in a dedicated bike lane (thanks to the 2008 economic stimulus package for cities).  We even have a shower in our office building.  While I don’t ride in the ice and snow of the Minnesota winters, I do bike commute almost every day from late March until early December.

Everybody knows that there are obvious benefits to bike commuting.   Riding your bike to work increases your physical activity,  thus helping you drop pounds, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, improves your mental health, etc etc.    There is an environmental benefit as well in terms of reduced emissions.  While I can’t do anything about my carbon footprint when I travel internationally, I can do this one small thing when I am at home.  And, of course, there are economic benefits:

October 10, 2012:  The financials are in! By bike commuting for 5 months, I saved more than $700 in gas and parking. (There’s probably a way to calculate the calories burned, too but that’s too complicated for me.)

Upon reviewing and reflecting upon my Facebook posts, however, I think I can identify some other benefits of bike commuting that are a little more intangible.

I have learned to be a little more organized.  Bike commuting  require some planning.    I have a stash of work clothes in my office and a collection of shoes under my desk.  Shopping when you have to transport things in your bike panniers really forces  you to plan ahead. Many a time, I have felt like a Parisian, peddling home with a baguette in my bike pannier.  Other times I have kind of pushed the limits…

July 17, 2012: I’m getting to be an expert bike commuter. Tonight I rode home with two bottles of wine and a litterbox in my pannier.

I definitely notice a lot more about the world around me. I think it may be the combination of the need to watch out for cars and the time to reflect, but I have become a bike seat philosopher.

April 29, 2013: I saw some interesting things on the bike ride home from work tonight: old guy strolling cheerfully down the street in his boxers and fedora; lady going for a walk with her cat in a Baby Bjorn; guy singing at the top of his lungs while driving a black Cadillac convertible, MN license ISLAM4U; guy tossing hot sopapillas out of his apartment window to delighted passers-by on the sidewalk below; lady biking with her little-dog-Toto (whatever breed that is) in a Camelbak; and a lady in a motorized wheelchair racing a lady pushing a baby in a pram, both laughing hysterically.

I guess spring brings out the crazy in all of us!

October 15, 2013:  I’ve noticed that people in convertibles smile a lot more than people driving regular cars.

I feel more connected to my community.  You interact with people much more when you are on a bike than when you are in a car.

October 2, 2013:  On this gorgeous fall morning, the cop directing traffic near the Convention Center called out to me as I passed him, “Have a good ride, miss!”

October 3, 2013:   I am chronically late, always rushing to get to the place I was supposed to be 5 minutes ago. So I had to laugh at the guy who called out to me as I passed him on his bike, “Slow down there, girlie! You’re gonna get yourself a speeding ticket!”

There are certain characters along my bike route that have become familiar to me.  People that I once would have zipped by without noticing are now friendly faces.  There’s a tall homeless guy who wears a gray polarfleece jacket regardless of the weather.  I pass him walking near the Convention Center most mornings and he shouts a hello.  I can tell by his accent that he is from West Africa.  There’s a kid who goes to Whittier Elementary who I have ridden with several times for half a mile or so on his way to school.  He’s saving up to buy a day-pass to Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America.   There is an elderly Somali gentlemen who raises a hand to salute me every afternoon near the Horn Towers.  And then there is Gandalf in Boxer Shorts, a grizzled old guy with a long flowing beard who generally strolls down Blaisdell Avenue wearing nothing but boxer shorts and dress shoes.

May 23, 2013:  I spotted Gandalf in Boxer Shorts again on the bike commute home. Then, one block later, a new character – Smeagol, Tan and Extremely Cheerful!

Is it possible that bike commuting has made me into a more compassionate human being?

October 1, 2013:   This morning, I stopped and helped a kid who took a wrong turn and got lost while biking to school. So I was in Good Samaritan mode, see. On the ride home, I stopped to help an old man lying face down on the sidewalk. Imagine my surprise when it turned out he was just taking a little rest between sets of push-ups.

Nope, I guess not.

October 11, 2013: If I were a”Spiritual Healer” (which admittedly, I am not), I do not think I would choose to solicit customers by standing in front of the White Castle on Lake Street and darting out to the the bike lane when the light is red. Also, I would be a little less judgmental when the bikers refuse to take my “Spiritual Healer” card.  And I would definitely not say to them,  “Ohhh-kaaaay. Your loss!”

Of course, bike commuting is not all smiles and sunshine.

October 3, 2013:  On this misty morning, the whole city smells like wet dog.

October 7, 2013:  This morning, I rode over a banana peel in the road and almost fell off my bike. Much funnier in the cartoons than in real life.

October 8, 2013:  Strong winds on the ride home tonight. Once or twice, I was standing up and peddling as hard as I could but literally going nowhere. I felt like I was in the cyclone scene from the Wizard of Oz. (Cue the Wicked Witch of the West theme song!)

 

October 10, 2013: I was biking home from a lovely event on a perfect fall evening under a canopy of majestic elms, gloriously ablaze with color …   when a bird pooped on my shoulder.

 Stay tuned!  More Chronicles of a Bike Commuter to come!

October: Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota
October: Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota

One Day in Zanzibar

House of Wonders and Stone Town waterfront, Zanzibar
House of Wonders and Stone Town waterfront, Zanzibar

A little more than 10 years ago, I had a rare moment of clarity.  I was sitting with my second child, who was 9 months old, on my lap while my 2-year-old danced and swayed around me.  Everyone else in the Mommy and Me class was singing – with gusto – the Barney song “I Love You”.  Glancing at the clock, I realized that the week before – at exactly this time – I was being interviewed live on national TV in Peru about that country’s truth and reconciliation commission.

The stark contrast made me realize that I had chosen a life in which there might never really be a “typical” day.   Setting aside the insipidity of Barney, I realized that these small moments with my young sons were as important and valuable as the other, more high-profile moments of my career, which often takes me to exotic locales.  I learned not to compare my days.  Not to sift through the experiences of each day and measure the worth of one against another, but to see them all as a whole.  To acknowledge that each endeavor for work and for family gives me strength for the other. To realize that I am fortunate to have these varied experiences, which, woven together form the rich tapestry of my life.

So for the Weekly Photo Challenge: A Day in the Life, I am choosing to share one day that I recently spent in Zanzibar for work.  As I write this, my daughter is sitting beside me, looking at the photos and talking about them with me.  One day in Zanzibar, one day of spring break at home. Days and experiences, knitted together – so many days to be thankful for!

 

(See more Weekly Photo Challenge entries here.)

“So Shines A Good Deed In A Weary World”

Packing meals to be sent to Haiti.
Packing meals to be sent to Haiti.

I spent the last few hours of a waning 2012 with my son Simon’s hockey team.  Not on the ice, but instead in the nondescript, suburban warehouse where his Squirt hockey team was volunteering for a service project.  In just a couple of hours, Simon and his teammates (and the dozens of other volunteers who were there that afternoon) packed more than 5,000 packets of meals for children in Haiti.

It was a small act, but it will have a tangible impact on the lives of some others, kids we don’t know and will never meet.  On the way home, with the radio droning on about Congress and the looming fiscal cliff, Simon talked about what he had learned that afternoon about malnutrition and hunger.   “Don’t you think that was a good time?” he asked.  “I feel good about doing something to help out.”

It reminded me of one of my favorite lines from the movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

“So shines a good deed in a weary world. ”  ~ Willy Wonka

In looking up the quote, I realized that it in fact a reference to a line from the Merchant of Venice.

“How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”  ~ William Shakespeare

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions.  I figure if something is important enough to take action, I should just do it regardless of the time of year.  But this New Year’s Eve volunteer experience with my son, while brief, makes me think that I should make a resolution for 2013.  This year, I will be on the lookout for opportunities to do good deeds, both small and big, at home and abroad, acknowledged and unacknowledged.   In 2013, I resolve to see how far a little candle can throw its beams.

storm 2