A ridiculous amount of birthday love.

Was it ridiculous to turn my birthday into a month-long event/campaign/fundraiser/whatever? Yes. I am, as they say, pushing thirty. Women of This Certain Age are not supposed to wear Burger King crowns as “tiaras” and demand an ungodly amount of attention and/or ice cream. I should be embarrassed.

Does this look like the face/outfit of someone who is easily embarrassed?

Does this look like the face/outfit of someone who is easily embarrassed?

Ahem.

First and foremost, I need to thank everyone who donated to my charity:water campaign and helped me exceed my goal of saving 28 lives. To date, we’ve raised over $600! By far the most successful fundraiser I’ve ever had – even better than the time I offered personalized limericks as an incentive (And what an incentive it was – I rhymed “schadenfreude” with “does it annoy ya?” Poetry.).

I also had a lot of fun and some good response with the social media experiment portion of my birthday project – the 28 for 28 Facebook page. I like sharing things I care about, and I care about my birthday! No, I mean, I care about ways to make the world better. Thanks to those of you who got involved with that, too.

I was determined to spend my actual birthday committing 28 Random And Not So Random Acts Of Kindness. I made lists, I set a budget, I made timetables. But because I was excited, I started two days early. And because the birthday weekend involved several Unscheduled Naps, I finished two days late. That’s me all over.

I got the idea to do this by searching online, so I’m presenting this list in no particular order to maybe inspire another internet stranger one day:

Birthday (Weekend) Acts Of Kindness

1. Bought my boss tulips. They immediately folded in half and looked incredibly pathetic. But luckily I revived them (aka cut the stems) before she saw them

2. Stuck a coffee gift card on the door of a very deserving friend

3. Drew something for a friend who needs a pick-me-up

4. Donated my hair to Locks of Love.  The entire ponytail you see up above is now on its way to Florida. Factoid: the first time I did this, I was 14, and it made the front page of my hometown newspaper. I’m just trying to get to that level of fame again.

5. Tipped the stylist of my new ‘do 28%

6. Helped a stranger move a desk (or helped a stranger rob another stranger – either way, helping!)

7. Bought a friend lunch

8. Bought a different friend a beer

9. Helped yet another friend (I don’t want to brag but I have more than two) set up a blog – check it out, especially if you’re a beer fan! Also, I would like to note I agreed to do this before I knew there was going to be a paragraph of nice things about me in it. That just made me more eager to help.

10. Bought a bunch of children’s books to donate to a program I care about

11. Bought a friend tea (I was going to buy coffee for the person in line behind us, but he turned out to be a very cantankerous man, and my friend is nicer)

12. Bought a thank-you gift for someone who was nice to me recently

13. Helped the same cantankerous old man from #11 exit a “confusing” building at the St. Paul Art Crawl

14. Recycled plastic bags and donated food at a grocery store

15. Left money at a Redbox rental machine, along with a note

16. Left a 110% tip at Caribou Coffee. I did the math so that I, like every pro athlete, can say I “gave 110%”

17. Donated books to a Little Free Library (I love those things!)

18. Left money at Nice Ride MN station. I don’t want to talk about the poorly-worded note I also left there.

19. Dropped about thirty online coupons in a basket at Target

20. Donated clothes to Goodwill

21. Gave my neighbor’s dog a treat

22. Recovered a friend’s lost phone

23. Volunteered for Feed My Starving Children at Summit Brewery  (Worlds colliding!)

24. Picked up Target gift cards for The Bridge For Youth

25. Wrote thank-you notes

26. Left money at a vending machine

27. Bid on silent auction items for local fundraisers at BiddingForGood.com

28. Left quarters in laundry room for my neighbors

*************************************

So there you go. Twenty-eight mostly small, mostly deliberate acts of kindness to celebrate twenty-eight mostly great years. Thank you, everyone, for making them worth celebrating.

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28 for 28: A birthday celebration, a social media experiment

Last year, my friend Al gave me a birthday card that said, “I love those people who are like ‘It’s my birthday week’ or ‘It’s my birthday month.’ Even Martin Luther King Jr. only gets a day. Calm down people.

I’ve had it displayed in my apartment for the past year because I enjoy missing the point. And I really enjoy my birthday/week/month.

This one is particularly IMPORTANT, however, as it’s my golden birthday. The one I’ve spent my whole life waiting for. On April 28th, I will be 28.

I think the first time I went to a golden birthday party, I was 8. So was the birthday girl. I remember balloons and a serious amount of envy as I realized I’d have to wait 20 years for my extra-special birthday party. Now that it’s here, what do I want?

Last year I had friends over for mimosas, went out for breakfast, took a bus to the Twins game (which was unfortunately rained out), took a nap, grabbed a beer at my favorite local bar, and celebrated at a bonfire with a bunch of other friends lucky enough to be born at the end of April. I got a crown; I wore a crown. I woke up the next day still wearing said crown. It was pretty great.

That’s not what I want to do this year.

I’m actually giving myself the best birthday present ever – I’m taking my mom to Ireland for 10 days in April. That’s all the gift I need. But I still want to do something more.  To quote Wayne Campbell, “What I’d really like to do is something extraordinary. Something big. Something mega. Something copious. Something capacious. Something cajunga!”

I want to do something GOOD. And I want you to do something good, too.

So taking inspiration from the Birthday Project, the #26Acts of Kindness movement, GOOD.is and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, I’m starting something. Something fun, short-term, and (hopefully) Good.

28logo

My main undertaking this month will be trying to raise enough money to save 28 lives through Charity:Water. But even if you can’t donate, I hope you’ll join me in the 28 For 28 project.

I’m aiming to do 28 Good Things in April. All I’d really like you to do – is pick one.

Join with me as I celebrate 28 good years over 28 days.

#26Acts Completed. What’s Next?

Well, it’s taken me almost three months, but I’ve ‘finished’ my #26Acts of kindness. I hope I’ve been nice other times in between then and now, or at least not outright mean…Don’t answer that.

Things like this remind me that a lot can change in three months. Important things can be forgotten, and promises can be broken. I started following the #26Acts challenge to consciously do, in very broad terms, Good Things; they weren’t always the biggest things, and they weren’t always ‘random,’ but they were always done with good intent. It’s my choice to remember those 26 victims through positive actions; they should not be forgotten.

Anyway. The theme of this section is “free,” because I’m saving for a vacation (and kindness doesn’t have to cost a thing).

19. Helped two gentlemen across a parking lot and into Bruegger’s (which is where they were headed, not just, like, where I decided to put them)

This was maybe my first totally random act of kindness, and it was perfect for me, because a man after a sandwich is a man after my own heart. In this case, two older men. With walkers. Even better!

20. Did the dreaded unclaimed dishes

Every shared kitchen has unclaimed dirty dishes in the sink at almost any time. It can cause wars. So for a few days, I did other people’s dishes without writing a passive-aggressive note or acting like a martyr. Just blogging about it!

21. Tucked handmade bookmarks into books at the library (I AM VERY NORMAL)

I love finding things in books.  Hopefully I’m not alone in that.

isthisakissingbook

All the bookmarks I made had a quote from the movie version of my favorite book, The Princess Bride, and several of them wound up in romance novels, which just amuses me to no end.

22. Volunteered at Operation Glass Slipper

Operation Glass Slipper outfits around 1,000 girls for prom at no cost. Lacy and I helped out in the shoe section. Mainly we tried to keep the shelves stocked, but we also got to help a few girls find the perfect shoe. This is as close to being a Fairy Godmother as I will get in real life.

23. Proofread homework assignments for a friend

I may not know what your grad school paper is about, but I can tell you if you’ve misspelled “occurrence.”

24. Visited a home-bound friend on St. Patrick’s Day

A meaningful visit on a meaningful day, for both of us.

25. Brought leftover St. Patrick’s day goodies (not whiskey) into work to share

The shamrock cookies went immediately – but the Irish flag veggie tray was a little slower. What does that tell us?

irishflagveggietray

26. Finally bought my coworker a coffee. Then she bought me one back. This will go on forever so at some point the thought just has to count.

There you have it; 26 Acts of Kindness, some random, some not. But just because I’ve met my initial goal does not mean I’m done with kindness and going to turn into a Disney Villain. Although…I am plotting something. Scheming, if you would. Stay tuned.

Deliberately Random Kindness

I haven’t forgotten my pledge to complete 26 Acts of Kindness.  I did kind of take a break to have the flu/never-ending cough, but after working my way through several thousand naps and most of my DVD collection I’m more or less back in action. Aside from continually trying to buy my coworker a coffee or lunch (she keeps insisting on paying me back to the point where I now owe her a sandwich), here’s what I’ve been up to since the last time:

12: Volunteered with kids (on a day other than my usual day)

I hang out with some small people on a weekly basis, and I love it. After a long winter break, I jumped at the chance to pick up an extra “shift” of baby-holding, toddler-talking, kindergartner-laughing goodness (obviously, not while I was sick. That would not be great).

13: Donated cards to St. Jude’s Ranch

While fighting The Sickness, and also The Boredom, I cleaned out my desk and came to terms with one of my personal shames: I’m a craft supply pack rat. I keep every magazine, bit of ribbon, pretty old greeting card and sticker in case I might “need them.”

I don’t need them. So I finally went through the cards, kept only the most sentimental (like the Christmas card my pops signed “Peter (Dad)” because he forgot what he was doing), and popped the rest in the mail for the recycled card program at St. Jude’s Ranch. A few weeks later, they announced they have enough cards to keep them busy through June – coincidence?

14 – 16: Cleaned the closet for good

Continuing with my housebound cleaning theme, I established an “outbox” and divided my donations into three categories: Winter gear for Joseph’s Coat of St. Paul, old glasses to the Lion’s Club, and all other mostly useful things/ridiculous high heels I’ll never wear to Goodwill. (Full disclosure: the Joseph’s Coat bag is still sitting in my car due to the limited donation hours, but I swear it’s going to get there.)

17: Shared some Valentine’s Day love

I made a donation to the Jeremiah Program, which then sent a Valentine’s e-card to my mama and this bit of cuteness to me (CDC = Child Development Center):

jeremiahcard

18: Donated to ChiveCharities

Step one, read this horrible story. Step two, made a tiny donation. Step three, applauded as the entire project was funded in record time. I love it when the internet is used for good rather than evil.

‘Til next time, here is a nice song covered by one of my favorite YouTube musicians. I’m going to go try to do something nice for my coworker again and this time she’s just going to have to deal with it.

How does a vegetarian celebrate Turkey Day?

I’ve been a vegetarian for a stupidly long time. And stupidly is the right word choice here; I do not recommend it. I mean, if you are one for animal rights reasons or health reasons and it’s working out, that’s totally valid.*  But I am a vegetarian because I was a picky child. That’s it. My picky-ness just had a name that I liked saying to lunch ladies to make them think I was a smart six-year-old (we vegetarians are a notoriously snobby people), and I never grew out of it. Now, I spend a lot of time in dive bars surrounded by burgers and I love the smell of Dome Dogs, but if I try to eat meat I become immediately ill. After 24 years, my vegetarianism is essentially a food allergy.

Luckily, being a vegetarian has not interfered with my favorite past time: eating. There are so many delicious options out there for someone with an eclectic palate (I just pinned a recipe for kale quinoa pilaf and I am legit excited by it; how do I even have any friends). The world at large and the Cities in miniature are becoming more veggie-friendly. My friends and family are more or less used to me saying “Can I get that without bacon?” But there is this one time of year where it gets just a wee bit annoying.

This. This is that time. The week before Thanksgiving. People will talk about Thanksgiving or “Turkey Day” plans, and then shoot the vegetarian a look of pity. I call it the “Sad Turkey Side-Eye.”  Honestly, I don’t really think I’m missing out because Thanksgiving involves about fourteen side-dishes I can eat, and do (and how!). Also pie. So much pie. When I get the Sad Turkey Side-Eye, I find it best to respond with “I Will Be Eating Your Share Of Pie While You Are Taking an L-Tryptophan Nap” smirk.

I’d also just like to state, for the record, that I’ve never had Tofurkey.  I actually don’t know (or remember) what turkey tastes like. But I will not go near Tofurkey out of fear that it will taste like tofu, which I only enjoy if it’s completely masked by foods that taste like actual food.

tofurky package

If this looks appetizing to you, seek help.

Again, I’m totally cool just eating grandma’s jello salad and mom’s sweet potatoes and everyone’s pie. I am not missing out and neither, really, are the other vegetarians.**

Here’s the thing: Thanksgiving is not about turkey. It’s not even about pie. It’s about giving thanks for what we have, and I sure have a lot: a nice job, great family, wonderful friends, sweet apartment, lovely life, and the ability to turn my nose up at proffered food. This last one gets to me, particularly at this time of year, which is why I’m doing the Walk To End Hunger again this year. Thanksgiving morning, my mother and I will be up at the crack of dawn*** walking around the Mall of America. The funds we raise will be split among 12 local hunger charities.

Walk To End Hunger Logo

Half of us have far too much to eat on this one day, I am more than happy to continue; but let’s make sure every Minnesotan has enough to eat every day.

So how does a vegetarian celebrate Turkey Day? By confronting every Sad Turkey Side-Eye with a link to my fundraising page. By giving thanks. By Walking to End Hunger. And by eating the hell out of some pie.

*Unless you are a vegan. That is just crazy.
**Vegans are, though. Vegans are missing out on life.
***7 a.m. is the crack of dawn on holidays; also vegans are the worst.

Something Spooky 4, Or: Pumpkin, Book, Pumpkin Book

(Read parts one, two and three here)

Day 15: “Haunted,” This American Life

It turns out this wasn’t actually a Halloween episode of TAL, but it did feature one of my all-time favorite David Sedaris stories, “Ashes,” so at least I enjoyed myself. I also bought a pumpkin! I haven’t done anything to it yet, though, so no pictures.

Day 16: Read “5 Little Pumpkins” to several little punkins

Tuesdays are generally my favorite days of the week, because I spend a couple of hours volunteering with babies. (I don’t mean the babies are also volunteering, I mean I volunteer to hang out with them.) For two hours I try to stop small people from banging their heads into things and/or screaming, and it is not without precedent that I’ll call a friend after and say, “Hey, can I come over and watch a movie? Yes? Great! Also, can I borrow your clothes and throw what I’m wearing in your washing machine, because I’m covered in spit-up.”

Seriously, I love Tuesdays.

So for Day 16, I corralled the children (okay, two of them) long enough to read “Five Little Pumpkins” aloud. It seemed to be to their taste because they kept trying to eat the book.

Day 17 – 19: “The Twelve” by Justin Cronin (vampires are in this book so it totally counts)

“The Twelve,” the sequel to “The Passage,” was finally released on October 16th. I picked it up that day, and started it the next.

I finished it three days later.

This is not really unheard of for me, as once I get hooked on something I have trouble doing anything else. Plus, this storyline is really engrossing – I recommend this book to people who like Stephen King, post-apocalyptic storylines, Battlestar Galactica, and reading – and I’m already bummed I have to wait so long for the third to be released.

Still, finishing a 500 page book in three days turned some heads…

Twitter Screen

THAT’S THE AUTHOR, YOU GUYS

Ahem.

Day 20: Danced to “Thriller” at a wedding

Nothing scarier than me on the dance floor. These guys do it much better.

PS: If it’s not clear from this post, I love reading and I love kids. That’s why this year I’m going to participate in All Hallows Read. Consider giving a book this Halloween!

In response to everything.

I wish I didn’t understand hate, but I do. I hate things a lot. Waking up before I’m ready. The sound of gum-chewing. Little Drummer Boy. Hangovers. Pants.

Sometimes I even think I hate people. Sometimes the idea of going out and facing the loud world makes me quote Liz Lemon – “people are the worst” – and listen to Get Set Go on repeat. But that’s not really hate, that’s annoyance, often brought upon myself by gum chewing, pants, hangovers, etc. On days like that I’m so unpleasant I think other people have more of a right to hate me than the other way around. But the perfect strangers who are the victims of my mean stares, eye rolls, and silently composed insults move on, and I forget about them, and we don’t bother one another anymore. Maybe that’s not really hate, but it’s not really nice, either.

I thought I hated a person or two in high school, and maybe I did. Maybe I wasn’t very nice, because they weren’t very nice to me. Nothing unique about that story. It doesn’t bring up any darkness to think about them anymore; doesn’t make me imagine insults I wish I’d been brave enough to say out loud. Doesn’t make me wish ill things upon them.  Doesn’t make me want to go out for cocktails together, either, but if I saw them in a bar I wouldn’t throw the same cocktail in their faces. So if it was hate, it too has passed with time.

I know hate does me no good. I know it hurts everyone it touches. And I believe fighting hate with hate is the most dangerous concept out there. And yet I’m still so, so much better at understanding hate than forgiveness.

When I hear about a drunk driver taking an innocent’s life, I do not feel forgiving. When another act of senseless violence is on the news, I do not feel forgiving. When I hear unkind words, even if they are not directed at me, even if they are said without malicious intent, I do not feel forgiving. Sometimes I’ll feel it later, but never immediately; I’m in awe of anyone who can do that. What to do, then, in the moment when the wounds are fresh?

It seems like everywhere I look these days, I’m seeing hate responding to hate. I could be good at that. I could get in an argument and hurl insults with the best of them. I can be snarky on purpose and cruel by accident. But why? what good does that do me, and more importantly, what good does it do the world?

So this is what I’m trying to do: shut up. For a little while, anyway – long enough to remember that no matter what side of an issue I’m on, I want to stand for love, not hate. Long enough to think, does this argument need my negative words, or does it need my positive actions? Long enough to find out if I need to forgive, and how to do it.

I’m not saying I don’t want to stand up for what I believe in. If I need to add my voice to something, I will, but I want to do it in a way that does not hurt myself or others. No matter what I believe, I have no right to attack someone who sees things differently. No matter what they believe, I have no right to wish them any ill. To put it simply: I want to do more good, say less bad.

I have a fondness for Saint Francis of Assisi, even though he is often shown surrounded by birds and rabbits (two other things I come close to hating, but that’s for another therapy session). I like this quote, most often attributed to him: “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” Whether or not you’re Catholic, it’s a good mantra, if you believe (as I do) that “Preaching the Gospel” means love.

There are a lot of good mantras that remind me to close my mouth and move my feet.  Like this one, from the only rabbit I kind of tolerate: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

A Life Full of Color

I spent my day in a cloud of color at The Color Run in Minnesota.

Instagrammed photo of the Color Run

If you think I resisted making “Purple Rain” jokes, you are mistaken.

As a social media volunteer for Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless, this meant running around with my iPhone, snapping pictures and tweeting and Facebooking and generally doing things that actually don’t look that helpful but hopefully are (awareness, you guys!).

The event itself was pretty overwhelming. About 19,000 runners, starting out all in white and eventually turning into human canvasses, ran or walked the course. A portion of their fee was already given to Open Your Heart, but quite a few made extra donations at our booth. And a few of them apologized for the money being covered in color.

That’s Minnesota nice for you.

In preparation, I spent the past week thinking of color. Favorite colors (mine, obviously, are yellow and purple – SKOL Vikings), color quotes (“When in doubt, wear red.” – Bill Blass), color songs (“Lady in Red” is welcome to leave my head anytime now. Anytime.), and color references in movies (“Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?”).  But after participating in the event, and knowing the good these donations will do – going towards the people who truly need them – there’s one song lyric I think sums it all up for me.

What good did it do?
Well hopefully for you
A world without war
A life full of color

Now, I recognize The War Was in Color is not about a war on hunger. But today was a day full of color – and a day to fight hunger.

Let’s all enjoy our lives full of color.

All I Want For Christmas

My Christmas gifts to others are falling into four categories this year (uh, spoiler alert): free, almost free, events, or charity.

Free or almost free: My family started the “free or almost free” Christmas tradition two years ago, and it’s my favorite thing.  I never have to set foot in a mall in November or December.  Do you understand how freeing that is?  Instead, I spend the year gathering free things, or making things, or buying ridiculous things for a couple of dollars.  This can result in a pile of junk, or it can result in putting more thought and effort into gifts than I’ve ever bothered to in the past.  Last year my mother made me a t-shirt quilt, which is currently wrapped around my shoulders.  Two years ago, I drew a portrait of my grandfather for my dad.  It was a moving experience for me to draw it, and to watch him open it.

These handmade or sentimental things are worth so much more to me than, say, the DVD of North and South that I totally want but can buy myself.  And it makes me love the season, rather than dread it.  I can even listen to Christmas music without wanting to scream.  Except for “Little Drummer Boy,” of course; I’d rather shower with a bear than listen to that thing one more time.

Events: It turns out that in addition to family, I have some friends.  They’re not as big of fans of the “free or almost free” concept, and also it is way harder to make things than buy them for most people.  So I’m trying to give events, if possible.  A night out. A sporting event. A beer festival.  And less imaginative things too: the promise of a visit to friends who are moving far away.  Dinner and drinks some night.  A party at my place (this is only a gift as long as I don’t do the cooking).  It’s the most selfish of all my Christmas-giving, since I get to enjoy the events in the company of good people.

Charity: Look, I volunteer a lot.  I’ll be working with the Salvation Army in the coming weeks (including being on TV), I recently got Lacy to serve dinner with me at a shelter and we’re looking forward to doing it again, and I’m going to count the 45 minutes I spent agonizing over the perfect Barbie for Toys For Tots as “Charity” rather than “A Sad Activity For An Adult Woman.”  But this is not so much about what I’m doing as what I would like you to do.

Yeah, guys.  That’s right.  I’m asking you to be good people again.

If you are the type of person who wants to give me something for Christmas, just give me this: the promise that you will support my volunteer efforts from time to time this coming year.  You can throw money at me, or come to FMSC sometime, or not make fun of me when I show up at a bar with craft supplies stuck to my person.  Let me know you’re interested, so I don’t have to feel like I’m bothering you.  In return, I’m going to try to stop bothering you.

So there.  That’s all I want for Christmas, plus maybe to win the lottery.  I just wanted to tell you that.

And this:

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Also, this cannot be watched enough times this season:

Merry Christmas.

“Liquor and nuns”

I may not eat turkey, but I still like Thanksgiving.  First of all, there are so many other things to eat!  And it’s practically National Napping Day, which is a cause I celebrate.  And finally, I’m thankful for so much.  Here are a few things in no particular order:

  • coffee and lefse for breakfast (okay, perhaps these are in an order: the order in which they are in front of my face right now, and order of deliciousness)
  • my brother for the sheer amount of inside jokes and movie quotes that make me laugh and make everyone else wonder what we’re talking about.  “Bread.”
  • my sister-in-law for working Thanksgiving so we can finally, maybe, all get together for Christmas
  • the friends and family who helped me raise $220 for the Walk to End Hunger yesterday!
  • my mom for walking with me, and then asking “how does my walking help end hunger, exactly?” That kind of blind support is love.
  • Muppets.
  • My mom’s official review of the new Muppet movie: “Jason Segel’s mother should be proud!”
  • The ladies who found out I was without Thanksgiving evening plans and said, “Rachel, you should come over! There will be liquor and nuns. We won’t have room for you at the big table but we can set up a kids’ table for you.”
  • Great friends and their excellent families who take in strays at the last minute.  And feed them too much. More mint cake please.
  • My dad for driving through terrible weather last weekend to attend his first-ever Vikings game with me.
  • The Minnesota Vikings for keeping me humble.
  • Naps.
  • Laughter.
  • Beer.
  • God.
  • I told you these are not in any order.
  • The fact that my iTunes just started playing Protozoa’s “Zoom Zoom Zoom” from “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.”  Why do I own that? And how could I forget I own that? Amazing.
  • The fact that I can afford to have iTunes, and coffee and lefse, and access to the internet and clean water and everything so much of the world is without.
  • Hands On Twin Cities for introducing me to some great local causes.
  • Feed My Starving Children – and all the friends and family I’ve made go with me recently
  • Not working in retail on Black Friday.
  • Terrible/amazing action movies, and friends who send emails like this: “Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris are in Expendables 2. Get the f*** in line.”
  • Ten years of friendship with Lacy.  “Weebles Wobble…”
  • Really, just all of my friends who let me be my ridiculous self and seem to like me for it.  I like you, too.
  • And this: “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
    and try to love the questions themselves…
    Don’t search for the answers,
    which could not be given to you now,
    because you would not be able to live them.
    And the point is, to live everything.
    Live the questions now.
    Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
    you will gradually, without even noticing it,
    live your way into the answer.”
    Rainer Maria Rilke

Happy everything to you all.