Category Archives: Childhood

In Praise of Unfinished Basements

My sons get ready to play pool in the unfinished basement of their aunt and uncle’s home this Christmas at an extended family gathering. The space is scheduled for renovation in 2023.

The New York Times ran an op-ed recently called In Praise of Unfinished Basements. The author Brady Brickner-Wood talks about how he loved the unfinished basement of his childhood home. It was a place to play and imagine and pretend.

There was something about its unfinished status that gave it a certain allure. He says the unfinished basement was a place where life was more than what it seemed.

Our son and his cousin playing in the unfinished basement of their grandparents’ house after our family Christmas dinner in the space

That got me thinking about the role unfinished basements have played in my life. Houses were smaller when I was a child and until I was twelve I always lived in a home with an unfinished basement. My grandparents had homes with unfinished basements too.

Because in the past rooms in houses were much smaller than they are now, and usually closed off from one another with doors, it was in unfinished basements that families often gathered for special celebrations because it provided a large, open space for everyone to be together.

I remember Christmas celebrations in the basement of my maternal grandparents’ little house.

1950s Christmas dinner in my grandparent’s basement- note the cement walls, open rafters and electric cords strung through the ceiling
A 1960s Christmas in my grandparents’ unfinished basement. I am on the far left in hair ribbons pulling the wishbone from the turkey with my cousin.
Posing by the tree with my cousins in my grandparents’ basement in 1961

Basements weren’t just for holiday celebrations. In the photo below my mother has decorated the unfinished basement of our house for my birthday party the year I turned nine.

My parents’ wedding reception was held in the unfinished basement of a church.

Unfinished basements were often places to work as well. That’s where you did laundry, woodworking and home repairs and as illustrated in the photo below taken in my parents-in-law’s basement it was a place to do canning.

My son watching his great-grandmother make pickles

Unfinished basements are becoming rarer as people update and renovate them. Do you have memories of an unfinished basement?

Other posts………

Life and Death of a House on the Prairie

The House on the Highway- My First Home in Steinbach

My Grandmother Was a Guitarist

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They’ve Sacrificed Their Childhood

David Letterman interviews Volodymyr Zelensky in a Kyiv subway station-photo from Netflix

Last night I watched David Letterman’s interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Netflix. It’s a fascinating conversation. At one point Letterman asks the president about his family and Zelensky says it is only when he is talking with his wife and children on the phone that he feels normal, that he feels like he can actually breathe.

David Letterman asked the Ukraine president if he discusses the war with his children and he replied that it is impossible not to do so. The children of Ukraine, he says, know more about the war than their parents.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky with his family before the war

“The children of Ukraine are deeply immersed in the war. My nine year old son knows the names of all the weapons and he didn’t learn them from me. Vladimir Putin has stolen childhood from the children of Ukraine. “

President Zelensky goes on to tell David Letterman that every Ukrainian has made sacrifices for their country. “Our children,” he says, “have sacrificed their childhood.”

And isn’t that the way it always is. War robs children of their childhood. I have seen that over and over again in different places in the world.

Photo by Yannis Behrakis. I took a photo of this image at an art exhibit in Dubrovnik.

A boy looks through a bullet hole in a bus window during the Kosovo War from 1998-1999 when the Albanian Kosovo separatists supported by the United Nations fought for independence from Yugoslavia.

War Dread of Mothers by George Roualt. I photographed this artwork on my visit to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

 George Rouault painted Wars- Dread of Mothers nine years after World War I when his country of France was already involved in two new wars one in Congo and another in Lebanon.  The painting alludes to the Madonna and the infant Jesus and a line from the Odes of Horace an ancient Roman poet who wrote that while some rejoice at the sounds of war mothers detest them. 

A child’s burned tricycle I photographed at the Peace Museum in Hiroshima

Tricycle ridden by a child in his front yard when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 during World War II.  Thousands of children died in Hiroshima that day and thousands more died later from the effects of the radiation they were exposed to.

I photographed Khom at a landmines museum in Cambodia

Khom was our guide at a landmines museum in Cambodia. He had lost his arm at age five from a land mine explosion. The landmines were planted during the Pol Phot regime after a 1975 conflict in which the Khmer Rouge took over the country from the monarchy.

I photographed these stumbling stones in Frankfurt Germany

These stumbling stones have been placed in the sidewalk outside the homes of Holocaust victims in Frankfurt.  You are meant to ‘stumble’ over them as you walk and then stop and read the names of people who died as a result of the Holocaust during World War II. The family remembered with these stones was deported to Auschwitz and included three children.

I photographed this sculpture in the Vietnam Military History Museum in Hanoi

This sculpture shows a Vietnamese man going off to war. His mother and his child hang onto his arms. The Vietnam war lasted for twenty years- 1955-1975. Thousands of children lost their lives and countless others became orphans because their parents were killed.

David Letterman and President Zelenskyphoto from Netflix

David Letterman’s interview with President Zelensky of Ukraine was a good reminder that while adults start wars- it is children who pay the highest price for them.

Other posts……….

A Lifeline Then and Now

Ukraine- Exploring the Past- Mourning the Present

Thinking About Kyiv

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Filed under Childhood, Ukraine

Come On Manitoba Let’s Get With the Program

I wasn’t surprised when the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba called a news conference recently to expose the provincial government’s ineptitude in distributing the new federal subsidy for daycare.  

Susan Prentice from the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba speaks about the fact that daycare fees in Manitoba have not changed by even a cent for most parents. The chart behind her shows how in contrast rates in Ontario and most of the other provinces have fallen considerably for all parents. photo by Ian Froese for the CBC

I wasn’t surprised to learn Manitoba wasn’t getting the federal dollars for daycare into parents’ hands because I have two granddaughters in daycare, one in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba.  My children in Saskatchewan noticed a substantial drop in their daughter’s daycare fees, as did all Saskatchewan parents, shortly after their province signed a childcare agreement with Ottawa, but….. my children in Manitoba have received no price reduction at all in the fees for their daughter’s care.

In September I was visiting my niece in Ontario who owns a private daycare facility.  She spoke positively about how the federal subsidy was lowering rates for all her clients.

My anecdotal family evidence had me wondering why Manitoba daycare fees hadn’t been reduced like those in other provinces.  Now I know.  

Apparently, the Manitoba government wanted to be sure the federal money went to the neediest families. That’s admirable.  But they set the bar for what was needy at a level that meant few families could qualify.  

Then they failed to advertise properly, so most parents weren’t even aware they qualified, and finally, they made the red tape and paperwork for both parents and daycares so onerous that applying for the subsidy was a challenge. 

My member of Parliament Leah Gazan spoke to the House of Commons on November 30th about the importance of federal funding for daycare being used to improve wages and benefits for childcare workers, – From Leah Gazan’s Instagram page

The province also didn’t use the money to add more childcare workers, increase their wages, or improve their working conditions and benefits.  My member of Parliament Leah Gazan raised that concern in the House of Commons just last week. 

So…. most of the federal money Manitoba received to lower daycare fees and improve the quality of child care is sitting in the bank untouched, while in places like the Yukon they have already fully implemented a maximum $10 daily fee for all families, have created 236 new childcare spaces with their federal funding and have increased the wages of fully qualified childcare workers to $30.00 an hour.  

Some people have speculated Manitoba’s Conservative party didn’t want to make the Liberal leaders in Ottawa look good so they deliberately took steps to insure the daycare program the Trudeau government funded wasn’t successful.  

I don’t buy that, because as my family’s experience proves, Conservative governments in Saskatchewan and Ontario have successfully lowered all daycare fees.  In fact, it would probably be wise for the Stephenson government to consult with their politically aligned counterparts in other provinces, for guidance on how to make better use of the federal daycare subsidy. 

Image from the Toronto Star illustrating the labour shortage across Canada

The news is filled with stories about businesses and medical facilities and hundreds of Manitoba employers who are having trouble finding workers for vacant positions.

Many parents were forced to quit their jobs during the pandemic to care for their children. If we want to encourage them to return to work, we have to insure daycare in our province is affordable and high quality.  Doing so makes economic sense. 

I’d like to believe the daycare fee subsidy was ineffectively implemented in Manitoba due to a lack of planning and organization which can happen when you are trying to figure out how to administer a new program.

Political cartoon by Chuck Chukry speculating on why the province isn’t spending the federal daycare subsidy to reduce fees for parents

I’d prefer to discount the nefarious political motivations some social media sites have suggested for the botched rollout.  

However, now that the shortcomings of the Manitoba plan have been clearly exposed and other provinces and territories are providing models for more efficient and successful ways of lowering daycare fees and improving services for all families, we should expect our province to move quickly to make the necessary changes required. 

Hopefully, soon the parents of my Manitoba granddaughter will see the same reduction in daycare fees the parents of her cousin in Saskatchewan are already enjoying. 

Other posts………..

Kids of Career Moms Are Okay

I Shook Her Hand

Universal Child Care A Wise Investment for Canada

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The Christmas Books

Yesterday on the first Sunday of advent each of our grandchildren got a Christmas book and a pair of Christmas socks from their grandfather and me.

Every November I enjoy looking at children’s books for the holiday season old and new and picking just the right one for each grandchild.

A huge thank you to my online middle grade author community who brought The Vanderbeekers by Karina Yan Glaser to my attention. It was the book I chose for my ten-year-old grandson. A lively family with five children finds out just before Christmas they are about to be evicted from their brownstone apartment in Harlem. The kids begin a campaign to convince their grouchy landlord Mr. Beiderman to change his mind. They get pretty creative!

Dasher a New York Times bestseller by Matt Tavares was my choice for my six-year-old grandson. Dasher is a young doe whose family works and travels under the hot sun with the circus. Dasher’s mother tells her daughter stories about her own very different childhood. She lived where the ground was covered with snow and her family could see the glow of the North Star. Dasher runs away and follows the North Star. When she meets Santa a whole new life begins for her.

For my three-year-old granddaughter I chose Happy All-Days by Cindy Jin which introduces readers to all the different winter holidays that different families from different backgrounds and cultures celebrate including Christmas and Chanukah and Kwanzaa.

I thought I knew all of Robert Munsch’s books but I had never read Finding Christmas which is told in his usual engaging style with a funny twist at the end. The book is illustrated by Munsch’s long time collaborator Michael Martchenko.

For my youngest grandchild who just turned two I picked The Christmas Baby by Marion Dane Bauer. It tells the traditional nativity story but relates the birth of Jesus to the birth of every child.

Perhaps my favourite pick this Christmas is I’m Going to Give You a Polar Bear Hug written by Caroline Cooney and illustrated by Tim Warnes. With lovely lilting rhyming text it tells the story of a child who gets hugs from all kinds of winter animals- a reindeer, a polar bear, a fox, an arctic hare, a penguin and a seal.

My other grandchildren live in Saskatchewan but the youngest is here in Winnipeg so I got to read I’m Going to Give You a Polar Bear Hug to her yesterday and she smiled and named the animals along with me and asked to read it again when we were done. Clearly a winner!

Other posts………….

Christmas Books- 2019

Advent Books- 2020

Christmas Classics for Kids

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Holidays

But I Did Have Children!

Visiting Aunt Vi on Sunday

While I was in Saskatoon on the weekend, I paid a couple of visits to my Aunt Viola, my mother’s older sister who will be turning 100 in December. Viola lives in a nursing home. She never married and didn’t have any children of her own so I take care of her affairs and look after things for her.

By writing messages on a notepad I can communicate with my aunt even though she is almost completely deaf

I am so fortunate that Elizabeth a second cousin of mine who lives in Saskatoon visits Aunt Vi regularly and keeps me up to date on how she is doing. Since Viola is nearly deaf and has trouble seeing, Elizabeth has devised a communication system of writing messages to Viola in large capital letters with a black felt marker.

If my aunt looks at these carefully she can read them and responds. There is nothing wrong with her voice and she was eager to talk on my visits. You can really have a very meaningful conversation with her since her mind is still alert.

Aunt Vi with my grandson a decade ago. He is her great-great nephew and she had stitched a lovely needlework piece as a gift for him when he was born.

During our visit, Aunt Vi asked about my children and grandchildren and I wrote her messages to tell her about what they were doing. Then she said, “People often ask me if I am ever sorry I didn’t have children. But I DID have children.”

Aunt Viola is on the far left in the first row with the teaching staff at Holliston School in Saskatoon.

Aunt Vi then proceeded to talk about all the children who had been in her elementary school classes during her nearly forty years as a teacher, the children she had worked with as a volunteer in Washington D.C. neighbourhoods, the children in the many choirs for kids that she had conducted, and the many, many children she had taught in the Sunday School and summer Bible school programs at her church.

Me and Aunt Vi 1957

And of course her nieces and nephews. She always took such an interest in us all and remembered us with Christmas gifts, took lots of photos of us, made us afghans and needlework pictures and sent us cards. She hosted us in her home on SO many occasions.

Aunt Vi working as a volunteer in Washington DC

I realized Aunt Vi was right! She had indeed had lots of children. Her comment was a good reminder to me that we need to appreciate all the people who may not have children of their own, but who make such an important contribution to the lives of all of our children.

Other posts………..

Thanks to Aunt Vi

Aunt Vi’s Autograph Book

Happy 95th Birthday Aunt Vi

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Filed under Childhood, Family, Inspiration

Spanking

I was spanked as a child. Not often but often enough. My Dad would spank me with his belt and once he was finished he would tell me we were going to forgive and forget. I remember thinking as a child that it would be impossible for me do either.

I do recall Mom giving me a whack on the bum with her wooden spoon on exactly one occasion when she was really frustrated with me but usually if I did something wrong she would say, “Dad will take care of this when he gets home.”

There has been some back and forth on the editorial pages of the Winnipeg Free Press in the last few days about whether spanking children is a good idea. In one of his columns Carl DeGurse wrote about seeing a mother hit her child in the store because the boy was creating a disturbance.

No one stepped in to intervene which he thinks would have happened if a man had hit a woman during a domestic dispute or a caregiver had hit an elderly person.

DeGurse points out that it is not against the law to spank a child in Canada but bills introduced recently in both Parliament and the Senate could change that in the near future to bring Canada in line with some sixty other countries around the world who have made hitting a child a criminal offence. Right now our law has a loophole that says if the physical punishment a parent or teacher carries out is ‘reasonable’ it is not wrong.

DeGurse then goes on to cite all the academic studies and research that prove spanking is not only ineffective but detrimental to children.

Some people writing letters to the editor vehemently disagreed with DeGurse. One woman said she had been spanked as a child and it didn’t hurt her. She’s sure the crime rate would go down if more children were spanked.

Another writer said the current crop of children are pampered and spoiled and need a few spankings to learn respect and manners.

Of course other writers countered these sentiments including a woman who has studied corporal punishment for three decades and said no one has found evidence spanking helps children and many longitudinal  studies have proven it truly damages them.

Mother Spanking Her Child by Norman Rockwell

I don’t harbour resentment against my parents for using corporal punishment. I did feel loved as a child but I do think it would have been better if my parents hadn’t spanked me. However they were raising us in a different time and didn’t know what we know now. I am reminded of the Maya Angelou quote “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better I do better.”

As a school teacher I was sadly privy to knowing children who had been badly beaten and physically abused by their parents and it is imperative we have laws without any loop holes to stop that.

When looking on line for more information I discovered it was mostly ‘Christian’ websites that advocated still spanking children saying it was a Biblical directive. I found that incredibly disheartening.

There is plenty of advice available on effective and not harmful ways to discipline

There is plenty of advice from the Canadian Pediatric Society on how to more effectively discipline children in other ways than by spanking them. We need to heed that advice.

Other posts………..

What Will Our Grandchildren Think?

What Kind of People……

God Rest the Children

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Banning Books for Kids

I just finished reading the novel Property of The Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes. It is about a young girl who opens a library in her locker at school after the local education authorities decide they need to censor what books are available in the school library.

The school librarian is fired when she refuses to carry out instructions to purge the library of any ‘controversial’ content. Many of the books that are being banned are classics.

Although Property of The Rebel Librarian is a fictional story, book banning is becoming a major issue in the United States. I follow many authors for young people on social media and they are very worried about the way books about certain topics are being removed from school libraries.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, reports that the number of school boards being asked by the parents in their communities to ban books doubled in 2021. More than half of the books had LGBTQ characters or discussed issues related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of the others dealt with the topic of race and racism.

Veteran authors like Judy Blume whose books for kids have sold over 82 million copies and have been translated into 32 languages are worried about the new zeal for censorship of children’s books in the United States. – photo Wikipedia

In May a letter signed by 1,300 children’s authors including well-known writers like Rick Riordan and Judy Blume was presented to the U.S. Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties outlining their concerns about the number of books that are being purged from schools for what they believe are political reasons. 

The head of the committee Jamie Raskin agrees with them saying that books are being banned because they “address the historical and psychological reality of race, gender, sexual orientation, or power in ways that are deemed politically incorrect.” 

Raskin contends that “Book censorship wrecks a healthy environment for free inquiry and learning.”

So far the threats to ban books have not been nearly as widespread in Canada as they have been in the United States but we need to be on guard that the practice doesn’t spread here.

I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children’s lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don’t read about it, their children won’t know about it. And if they don’t know about it, it won’t happen.– Judy Blume

Other posts………..

Teaching Kids About the Diversity of Families, Gender Identities and Sexual Orientation

Learning From Judy Blume

Three Books- Three Engaging Sources of Information

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Education

I’m So Tired of You America

“I’m so tired of you America.” Those words from the song Going to Town by Rufus Wainwright came to mind yesterday when I heard about the school shooting in Texas.

I am tired of hearing about one mass shooting after another in America. One grows weary of the continual news about gun carnage because there is a way to stop the endless senseless killings. So many other countries have managed to do it. But in the United States, the right to bear arms trumps protecting the lives of innocent children. I find that totally incomprehensible.

Guns overtook car crashes to become the leading cause of death for American children and teenagers in 2020.

David Frum quoted Isaiah 1:15 in the Atlantic yesterday in his article about the Texas shootings.

“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!”

Frum pulls no punches. He says everyone in the United States has blood on their hands because they have failed to elect politicians who would curtail gun violence like so many other countries have done.

There is no point in Americans saying they are praying for the victims and their families. Those prayers are meaningless. God won’t hear them. Political change, not prayer is needed. David Frum calls on people of decency and kindness to bring that change about.

I know many people of decency and kindness in the United States but are there enough of them left? One wonders.

Other posts……….

Guns

The Shady Area Between Violence and Non-Violence

Generation Lockdown

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Kids of Career Moms Are Okay

I returned to teaching when I finished my maternity leave after the birth of my first son.

In 1979 when I went back to my teaching job after my first child was born I heard lots of critical comments about the fact that I wasn’t staying home with my son but returning to the classroom instead. The implication was that it was better for children if their mothers remained at home with them at least till they started school.

The disparaging comments I received about going back to work came from relatives, my school superintendent, fellow church members and even the parents of my students. A colleague bluntly told my husband our son wouldn’t ‘turn out’ (whatever that means) if he went to daycare instead of staying home with his mother.

With a class of my students in the 1980s

A recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail cites a study led by Harvard Business School professor Kathleen McGinn, that assessed 100,000 adult children across 24 developed countries. It found that children raised by mothers who worked outside the home were just as happy as the children of stay-at-home mothers.

Women who had been raised by mothers with careers were more likely to be employed, earn higher wages and have jobs with more supervisory responsibilities. Men raised by career women devoted more time to helping their partners with childcare and other domestic responsibilities.

Laren Bazelon who has written a book about mothers with successful careers interviewed adult children of mothers who had worked outside the home while they were growing up. The majority spoke of their mothers with admiration and affection and said they had felt bonded with their mothers as children and close to them as adults. They said their mothers had been role models for them.

I don’t know what the statistics are for Canada but in the United States, 60% of people still think it is better for children if one parent stays home to raise them. I don’t agree.

Of course, early bonding with a parent is vital and that’s why we are so fortunate to live in Canada where parents have the right to paid leave to care for their newborns. I also know many parents can’t choose whether one parent stays home with their children because it isn’t financially feasible and it is not ideal for a parent to be working outside the home when they would rather be home with their children.

But…….. many parents love their jobs AND love their kids and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about that.

A great many factors can impact whether children become happy, healthy, and responsible adults. Whether their mother works outside the home isn’t one of them.

Other posts……….

Should Women With Young Children Be Politicians?

Tully

Does a Female Finance Minister Make A Difference?

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The House on the Highway- My First Home in Steinbach

When my family first moved to Steinbach in 1961 we rented a house on the #12 Highway. I took this photo of the house in 2020 when I was in Steinbach on a visit. We lived in the house for two years before moving to a house we rented on Kroeker Avenue.

My sister and get ready to ride to school on our bicycles. We are on the driveway of the house on the highway. My sister and I shared a bedroom that was located up over the garage of the house.

My parents slept in a large bedroom on the main floor. Here my siblings and I are playing hospital in their bedroom. Since my Dad was a physician in Steinbach my brother is using some of his surgical gear and his stethoscope. I am the patient with my arm bandaged and my sister appears to have some medication ready to give me. Although my sister did grow up to be a nurse my brother and I both had long careers as teachers, following in our mother’s professional footsteps rather than our Dad’s.

Here I am with my younger sister and my brother on the steps of that house on the highway. My aunt and my grandmother are visiting us from Saskatoon and from the way we are dressed we are probably heading off to church.

This photo of me playing the piano was taken in the living room of the house. Through the window in the dining room behind me, you can see the big toboggan slide that was in the field just behind our backyard. It was high and scary and probably not that safe but was very popular with the kids in Steinbach in winter.

This photo was taken at Easter time because I am wearing one of the Easter dresses my mother sewed for me. Most of the photos I have of my childhood were taken by my mother’s older sister my Aunt Viola when she visited us from Saskatoon and she was visiting us for Easter in 1961 and 1962.

This photo was taken by my aunt in the dining room of the house on the highway where we were dying eggs with our Mom for Easter. My sister and I have curlers in our hair as we always did on Saturday nights.

When we lived on the house on the highway I attended the old Kornelson School just a few blocks from our home. It was on the site where Steinbach’s City Hall now sits. The school was demolished in 1964 just a couple of years after I attended it.

My grade three class at the Kornelson School in 1961-1962. Our teacher was Mrs. Mary Kihn and she had forty students in her class. I can still remember the names of about twenty of my fellow students. I am second from the right in the second last row.
This is my grade four class at Kornelson School in 1962-1963. Our teacher was Miss Esther Toews. I don’t know why this class was so much smaller than my grade three class. I am third from the right in the last row.

I have photos of a birthday celebration in the house on the highway. I am not sure if it is my 8th or 9th birthday. I am sitting in the big chair holding my gifts with my brother on my left and my sister on my right. Judy Kehler is to the far left, next is Marilyn Barkman and beside her is Valerie Hiebert. I don’t know who is peeking out behind my brother. Behind my sister are Penny Peters and Betty Hildebrand.

My mother had decorated a table in the basement of the house for the party meal. We are wearing hats we probably made. From left to right Judy Kehler, me, Penny Peters, Val Hiebert and Betty Hildebrand. My Mom always went all out for our birthdays making them really special.

I have lots of good memories of those two years we lived in the house on the highway in Steinbach fifty years ago. I wonder who lives there now.

Other posts……..

My Old House Is So Beautiful

I Lived At the Hospital

My First Home

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Filed under Childhood, My Old House