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An Open Letter to My Daughter Gracelyn in the Era of Donald Trump June 14, 2017

Posted by Bruce Mulkey in Uncategorized.
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“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me … Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” –Shel Silverstein

Dear Gracelyn,

Today I write this letter to you so that you might better understand the tumultuous transformation that’s currently underway in our nation. For while your mother Shonnie and I are doing our best during your childhood to shelter you from adult concerns, I’m guessing that you sense a disturbance in the Force.

As you know, we have elected Donald Trump as our president. I believe Trump is unworthy of the office. He behaves like a spoiled schoolyard bully; he puts himself and his needs before all others; he refuses responsibility for his actions; he says hurtful things about women, people of color, those with disabilities, people from other countries, and anyone who disagrees with him. He even said it’s OK for someone to objectify his own daughter and speak about her in a disrespectful and demeaning manner.

In response to the mean-spirited actions of our president and some of our other so-called leaders, millions of Americans, including your mom Shonnie and me, are taking action—calling and writing our elected representatives, attending mass marches, organizing to elect worthy candidates, and more—to help create a more loving, fair, and eco-friendly society. And we are doing our best to discern how to be with you and how best to prepare you for life in times such as these.

First of all, we will strive to demonstrate love, partnership, sharing, and being good community members by how your mother and I live our lives. We’ll also do our best to get out of your way so that Gracelyn can be Gracelyn, so that you can dive headlong into life and live it exactly as you see fit. We will make it clear that you have our blessing whatever passion you follow—art, ballet, Wild Kratts, rock hound, yoga, the Moana movie, or music—and whatever work you later choose—brain surgeon, teacher, artist, corporate CEO, dancer, parent, accountant, writer, surfer, or any other. Whatever your choices, we will support you and give you our steadfast love.

You are perfect exactly as you are. And, you possess all the inherent qualities you need to live a full and fulfilling life—authenticity, personal power, creativity, curiosity, courage, compassion, persistence, resilience, and a spirited sense of humor. Regardless of what’s going on around you, never doubt that you can create exactly the life you desire.

A new day is coming, sweet girl. As the author and activist Arundhati Roy once said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” And you can help bring this day into being, by the way you are—with yourself, with others, with every living thing.

I deeply respect who you are and what you’re about in the world, Gracelyn. Your innate wisdom, kindness, and sense of justice help sustain my hope for the future. One final pledge: Please know deep in your heart that your mother and I will always love you, all ways, no matter what!

Your dad,

Bruce

P.S. This letter was first published in the June 2017 issue of WNC Woman.

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The Family Dance September 22, 2016

Posted by Bruce Mulkey in Parenting, Uncategorized, Wisdom of children.
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It was Saturday, and that meant pizza and homemade ice cream night at the Lavender-Mulkey home. It had already been a big day for Gracelyn—a playdate that morning with her new Evergreen friend Eleanor at our place, then an outing to the French Broad River with her friend Julian, his sister Ellie, his mom Katie and a few others. Gracelyn had had a great time, but she came home tired and it showed in her irritability and terseness when she spoke to us.

Bruce, Gracelyn & Shonnie

Bruce, Gracelyn & Shonnie

As a light breeze blew from the west, we set up dinner on the wrought iron table on the front porch and all sat down to enjoy pizza and salad. Then we began our evening gratitude ritual. On this night Gracelyn wasn’t really up for it and refused to join in. She nibbled her pizza circumspectly while Shonnie expressed her gratitude: “I’m grateful that my parent coaching program is going so well. Almost one-hundred participants signed up so far!” “Well, I’m grateful for this yummy meal and this pint of Wicked Weed ale,” I said. Before long Gracelyn abruptly left the table without a word while Shonnie and I continued eating and chatting, including a few words about Gracelyn’s weariness and the need for an early bedtime.

As the almond butter ice cream churned in the electric ice cream maker, we listened to a replay of Prairie Home Companion from October 2, 2004, and started to clean up after our meal. From the radio, Geoff Muldaur, Garrison Keillor and the All-Star Shoe Band began to perform a compelling version of Maria Muldaur’s “Stand By Me.”

stand by me
stand by me
take me in your arms and hold me, tenderly.
in the still of the night,
you can be my candlelight,
you comfort me,
and warm this lonely heart of mine,
oh, stand by me.

Stepping out of her fatigue and her funk, Gracelyn enthusiastically called for a family dance. During these family dances, Shonnie and I stand face-to-face with arms linked and Gracelyn lies in our arms facing upward. As usual, Gracelyn began our ritual by looking up into Shonnie’s eyes and softly saying, “I love you, mama. Do you love me?” On this evening, deeply touched, Shonnie began weeping, and managed through her tears, “I love you, my darling girl.” “Those are happy tears, I know,” Gracelyn said. “Happy tears swirl down your face and sad tears zig zag.”

Next Gracelyn turned looked at me: “I love you daddy. Do you love me?” “With all my heart, sweet girl,” I said. Then, Gracelyn added a new twist: “Now, you two.” So I looked in Shonnie’s eyes and said, “I love you, Shonnie. Do you love me?” And Shonnie then replied, “Yes, I do love you. ” Finally, Shonnie gazed into my eyes and said, “I love you, Bruce. Do you love me? ” And I closed the circle: “Yes, I do love you, Shonnie. ”

So all’s well that ends well. I think Willie Shakespeare said that.

Watching you becoming December 22, 2014

Posted by Shonnie in Familyhood, Life with a little girl, Life with a toddler, Life with Baby.
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Shonnie to Gracelyn recently: “I love seeing who you’re growing into.”

Gracelyn’s response: “Mama, you know who I am. I’m Gracelyn.”

This past week, Gracelyn and I spent about an hour sitting at my computer watching videos that Bruce and I had taken of her since her birth. I’d probably seen them all at some point, but either that point was very long ago or had gotten lost amidst other memories and thus some of the moments seemed brand new. Videos showed her pulling towels and dish cloths from a kitchen drawer, playing peep-eye with me, early crawling and stair climbing, being in her plastic swimming pool for the first time, splashing in rain puddles, and pronouncing our cat Desmond’s name for the first time that I’d understood. There was even a short video of me holding our then un-named daughter the first morning after her birth when we were still at the hospital (that one I didn’t remember).

It was heart-warming to see how she responded to each video, sometimes asking questions about the moment, sometimes remembering an experience, sometimes simply laughing or obviously entranced by these snippets of her life thus far. For me, it was a delightful and quick trip down memory lane, giving me glimpses into the lives of the people on the screen: Who was she back then? Who was I? Even though a few of the videos seemed entirely new to me, most gave me a deep sense of familiarity — I knew these people. I’d had the time and the space to get to know this child as she moved through her life phases — newborn, infant, baby, toddler, preschooler. I’d had the opportunity to bear witness to my own evolution from freshly-claimed motherhood status, to just-emerging-from-the-first-year-whilrwind mama, to mom who knows that this parenting gig is her own growth path as much as it is her daughter’s.

Being together

Bruce had originally encouraged me to stay home to be with Gracelyn for her first year of life. I hadn’t been opposed to this, though having been cared for by sweet, little ol’ ladies because my two parents worked outside the home, I didn’t think it was a huge deal to be the primary caregiver for one’s child. Within a few weeks of being home with Gracelyn, however, I’d become a convert and my desire to be with her the vast majority of the time hasn’t waned much in the intervening 4+ years.

days-long-years-short-quoteThose cliché sayings are true, of course. Time does pass in a flash. The days are long and the years are short. By having the freedom to focus my time and attention on my daughter, I’ve gotten to see her growing. I’ve been present as she had first experiences but also as she had second, third, fourth, and more trys at her discoveries. Having the time and energy allows us the space to get to know one another. I wasn’t merely a watcher of those videos of Gracelyn’s past, I was present then, either at her side, behind the camera lens, or nearby observing. Some call my — or our experience — a luxury, and it is in the sense that not everyone can easily have this experience of being together with their child most of the time. For me, however, it has also become a necessity to my spirit — the chance to soak each other in, to come to know one another intimately, confidently, gently as we both evolve into who we are becoming moment-by-moment, one lived experience at a time.

So as Gracelyn now passes age 4.25 and I approach my 43rd birthday, I give a knot-throated, teary-eyed thanks. First for the very precious opportunity to be a mama at all. Second for the gentle insistence of my husband to be at home with our daughter for that first year. Third for the continuing blessings that allow me to devote most of my time to nurturing my girl during these early years. Finally for the innumerable, mostly unrecorded yet nonetheless indelible, gifts that have come from, and been comprised of these many moments.

Being with Gracelyn–Guiding Principles December 13, 2014

Posted by Bruce Mulkey in Life with a little girl, Parenting.
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Our parenting choices have been made with discernment and purposefulness with the intention that Gracelyn remain authentic, powerful, creative, self-sufficient, grounded, happy, healthy and whole.

  • We practice the Golden Rule with Gracelyn: We treat her exactly as we would want to be treated if we were her age.
  • We express our love for Gracelyn frequently, openly and unconditionally.
  • We believe that love, compassion, creativity and authenticity are innate qualities, among others, with which Gracelyn was born. We can merely provide a safe, nurturing space in which she retains these qualities.Family
  • Gracelyn always makes her own decisions about whether she wants to be hugged, picked up or touched in any manner. The only exception would be an action necessary to protect her or others from harm.
  • Gracelyn is a sovereign being and is involved in almost all aspects of our daily life, including decision-making, conversations, conflict resolution, meal preparation, daily chores, etc.
  • Gracelyn does as much for herself as possible, including dressing herself, using the toilet, doing simple chores and cleaning up after herself.
  • Gracelyn is an adventurous explorer with excellent body consciousness who runs, climbs and jumps with great enthusiasm. So that she retains her strong sense of competence and independence, we do not use language such as “Be careful,” “Look out” or “Watch your step.”
  • We provide healthy, mostly-organic, unprocessed, sugar-free, tasty food for Gracelyn, and she decides what and how much she eats.
  • We communicate with Gracelyn honestly and directly as a fellow human being.
    • We use our normal tone of voice and vocabulary. If Gracelyn doesn’t know what a word means, she will typically ask.
    • We speak directly to Gracelyn when she is present, rather than about her.
    • We listen to Gracelyn when she speaks, and treat her wants and needs respectfully.
    • When Gracelyn makes a request, we endeavor to say “yes” unless there is a good reason not to. However, we don’t refrain from saying “no” when appropriate.
    • If Gracelyn makes a demand, we typically ask her if she could make it a request. If she speaks to us in a voice we consider disrespectful, we use a neutral tone to tell her that we don’t wish to be spoken to in that manner.
  • Gracelyn is given the daily opportunity to express her gratitude, however, she only says “please,” “thank you,” etc. when she is genuinely moved to do so, not when she is asked to do so or as an automatic response.
  • We avoid adult topics when Gracelyn is present, including such things as war, violent crimes, pestilence, etc., whether in conversation, on radio programs or on TV.
  • We encourage Gracelyn to use anatomically correct words for body parts–vulva, vagina, anus, etc.
  • We give Gracelyn the space to unreservedly express a full range of emotions–from love and connection to anger and frustration–as long as she is not harming herself, others or important material objects.
    • When she Gracelyn is upset, we merely sit with her, acknowledge her upset and empathize with her until it passes.
    • We do not ignore Gracelyn’s upsets, endeavor in any way to end them or try to “fix” it for her.
  • When issues arise with Gracelyn, we endeavor to work them out with her as we would with any other person.
    • We do not hit, spank, slap, handle Gracelyn roughly or hold her against her will.
    • We do not use timeouts, withholding of treats, withholding love or any other negative means of discipline with Gracelyn.
    • We do not use shaming, blaming or wrong-making language with Gracelyn. In addition, we do not yell or speak harshly to her or say anything that might harm or hinder her in any way.
    • We refrain from using positive reinforcement to obtain the behaviors we might desire with Gracelyn.
  • Gracelyn is typically generous with others, however it’s always her choice regarding whether she wants to share with someone else or not.
  • Should differences or conflict arise between Gracelyn and other children, we allow them to work it out.
  • On her birthday and at Christmas, we prefer to gift Gracelyn with a few simple gifts that are meaningful to her and, perhaps, have an educational component. Books are always a good choice as are hand-made gifts. We avoid commercialized gifts (licensed characters or commercial logos) for the most part.
  • We practice forgiveness with Gracelyn, apologizing for any mistakes we might make and forgiving her when needed.

# # #

Postscript: Many of us have unfulfilled dreams and visions, and if we are not conscious of these aspirations, we may pass them on to our kids in the vain hope that they might live out our forsaken dreams for us. On the other hand, we may just want what we consider best for our child. Yet what we consider best might not be. Each child who enters the world is unique, each with her own special gift. Our job is to love and respect them unconditionally just as they are, open the door to as many opportunities for growth and awareness as possible, then let them spread their wings and fly. We don’t have to tell them what to do or how to be; they already know much better than we.

Gracelyn enjoys the “big snow” February 14, 2014

Posted by Shonnie in Life with a toddler, Videos.
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We just got a “big” snow — for our area that can mean anything over a few inches. Our yard averaged 7″ and it was perfect for snow angels, building, and snowballs! Gracelyn thoroughly enjoyed herself, especially now that she has a warm coat and snow boots. Here are some photos as well as a brief video of some of her explorations.

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At the end of the video, Gracelyn says “Mama, I’m making the neighborhood of make believe. Will you help me?” Yep, she watches some Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood just like her mama.

From the mouths of toddlers . . . November 15, 2013

Posted by Shonnie in Uncategorized.
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Each day at our evening meal, Shonnie, Gracelyn and I participate in a ritual that provides an opportunity for each of us to say at least one thing that happened that day for which we are grateful. The following is excerpt from our conversation during last Saturday’s ritual.SLL_GLM

Gracelyn (to Shonnie and Bruce during her turn to express her gratitude): You are good friends. I’m a good friend too.

(Shonnie begins to weep quietly.)

(Silence)

Bruce (to Gracelyn): What kind of face does Mama have?

Gracelyn: Sad face

(Silence)

Shonnie: I’m crying because my heart was touched by what you said, and I’m feeling really grateful.

(Silence)

Bruce (to Gracelyn): Not all tears are sad tears. Sometimes you can have tears of happiness or joy or gratitude.

Gracelyn (to Shonnie): Are there signs in your tears?

Shonnie: Yes.

Gracelyn: What are they saying?

Shonnie: They’re saying how grateful I am that you are in my life. There aren’t enough words to say how grateful I am or say how much I love you.

Gracelyn: You love me as much as the universe!

Building a loving family foundation May 30, 2013

Posted by Shonnie in Familyhood, Healthy kids, Parenting.
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BRM-SL-wedding-closeupToday Bruce and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. We met 17 years ago this fall when we both joined a marathon training program in Austin, Texas. We began dating a year after that when we were both unattached, and moved in together on 1/1/97 (this date is auspicious for us, hence it’s when I decided to take that pregnancy test — rather both of them — back in 2010). Though this is officially Gracelyn’s “baby” blog, I wanted to write about Bruce and me today because who we are, how we live, and how we love is the primary “swimming pool” where Gracelyn will learn about how to be in intimate relationship with another.

“Love will enter immediately into any mind that truly wants it, but it must want it truly. Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

~ A Course in Miracles

A promise to love

Love is manifest in what we think, say, and do (and what we refrain from thinking, saying, or doing) — I mean this about all of us, not simply our family. Bruce and I wrote relationship vows when we first co-habitated back in 1997 because that was part of the way we wanted to keep our relationship “on track.” Similarly when we married, we each had written the vows we intended to uphold throughout our married lives. We reread these vows aloud to each other to refresh our personal commitments and remind and re”heart” ourselves of how we’ve chosen to be.

Marriage Vows — Bruce to Shonnie

  • I will join you in full partnership to cocreate the life we both envision.
  • I will join you in living consciously, purposefully, passionately, congruently.
  • I will join you in creating true community and a more compassionate world in which to live.
  • I will laugh and dance and sing and have fun with you.
  • I will tell you the truth even when I think you might not want to hear it, and I will hear you when you tell me your truth.
  • I will afford you your humanity and not expect you to always be at your best.
  • When you forget who you really are, I’ll remind you of your power, spirit, integrity, intelligence, creativity, athleticism, and beauty.
  • I will remember that any anger, resentment, frustration I show toward you is more about me than about you and will refuse to hold ill will toward you.
  • I will be true to you and honor the commitments that we make to one another for all our days.
  • I will open my heart to you and love you with all my being.

Marriage Vows — Shonnie to Bruce

  • I will be authentically me. Bringing all my gifts and challenges and willingly using all the tools I have to fully live out my life’s purpose.
  • I will be your mirror. Reflecting the truth and reminding you of who you are, listening attentively, with an open heart and mind as I seek to better understand and support you in fully living your life’s purpose.
  • I will be your helpmate. Willingly sharing our responsibilities and honors, owning my part in creating our life, readily and fully forgiving, and working together to put us back on course when we stray from our path.
  • I will be your partner. Treating you with respect and equality, being creative and flexible in living interdependently in a way that reflects who we are individually and as a couple.
  • I will be your lover. Passionate and playful, tender and loyal, sharing myself fully and nurturing our love so that we grow ever more intimate.
  • I will be your friend. Honest and trustworthy, compassionate and committed, sharing all that life brings us.
  • I will be your companion. Honoring these sacred vows as we walk together, hand in hand, heart to heart, soul to soul, for all our days, giving all that we have and being all that we are, to create a world full of peace, love, and understanding.

“We can choose to make our love for each other what our lives are really about.”

~ Werner Erhard

What I hope that Gracelyn will learn about love and intimate relationships

Love is something that you choose over and over again, because sometimes you stop loving (or choose something else like “being right” or “showing who’s in charge”) and create a disconnection in your naturally loving state. I know that’s our natural state because it’s how Gracelyn is (this is one of those big areas where our “teacher” and “student” roles are reversed). So I hope that she learns to maintain this natural state even though our “civilized” world and family will present her a different picture. What Bruce and I can model in this regard is:

  • You CAN ALWAYS choose love. It is a choice, an act of will. No matter how long it sometimes takes you to choose love, it is never off the table of options in how we can be with another person.
  • If you can’t get to feeling love immediately, there are many other love-oriented ways of relating to your partner (compassion, appreciation, positive regard, acceptance). Choosing one of these will help put you back on the road to love, yet it will require you to let go of competing/conflicting emotions.
  • Loving another never comes at the expense of not loving yourself. In love you may choose to compromise your wants or sacrifice something of value to you for something of value to your partner, but these are not the same as not loving yourself.
  • To love your partner you must love yourself. If we don’t love ourselves we might give to others or care for them but then we are doing these acts out of obligation rather than choice. When we choose to love ourselves we are filled up enough to choose to love another.
  • Love doesn’t eliminate problems; it helps to heal wounds. I once thought that if you were truly “in love,” your relationship would have no “down times.” What I now know is that my love for Bruce and my commitment to love him is what helps me do the hard work of relationships — self-forgiveness, forgiveness of the other, and choosing more loving ways to be with each other than our “inherited” modes of operation.
  • Love is worth the effort. Being in intimate relationship (with a lover, a friend, a family member) and maintaining that loving connection doesn’t just happen once we start to become acculturated. While I’ve found my times of solo-ness liberating (“Hey, I don’t need to consider what anyone else wants to do right now!”) and I enjoy my own solitude, I’m much more content when I have people I love to share my life with. So, even though life gets more complicated whenever you bring more than one person into the picture, I will opt for finding people with whom I can connect, love, and co-create.

Of course there are many other things I hope that Bruce and I can impart to Gracelyn. I’m also certain that what we may be teaching her about love pales in comparison to what she’s already shown me in her 2.75 years in the flesh. I trust that she will also learn to unlearn some of the things that we’re teaching in spite of wishing otherwise (that’s part of her spiritual journey though sometimes I cry for the fact that she would ever learn some things). Finally, I know that, without a doubt, there could be no better partner for me in my own journey of love and my quest to help my darling daughter learn how to love throughout all the years of her life, than my amazing husband, lover, friend, and partner, Bruce Mulkey. Happy Anniversary my love!

toast-closeup

Celebrating 10 Years of Loving Marriage!

“A happy wedlock is a long falling in love.”

~ Theodore Parker

Homemade popsicles . . . yum! April 24, 2013

Posted by Bruce Mulkey in Healthy kids, Life with a toddler.
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popsicleGracelyn and I made and enjoyed yummy homemade popsicles today–lots of nutritious ingredients with no added sugar. Later I found myself thinking that she probably got more essential nutrients from that one popsicle than most U.S. kids get from what they eat in an entire day. 😦

Today’s recipe started with a cup or two of milk and some yogurt, then we blended in camu camu powder, ground flax seed, chia seeds, cacao powder, coconut oil, frozen bananas and frozen blueberries (all organic). It should be noted, however, that the recipe tends to vary from day to day. Finally, we pour the liquid from the blender into a Zoku Quick Pop Maker, and the popsicles are ready to be devoured in 10 minutes flat.

Our little girl at 2.5 years old March 4, 2013

Posted by Bruce Mulkey in Uncategorized.
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It’s finally dawned on me: We’ve now got another full-fledged member of the family. Yeah, I know, I’ve said something similar before, but these days our family has a whole new dynamic. Gracelyn at age 2.5 takes part in meaningful conversations, organizes occasional dance parties, cajoles us into evening walks under the stars and takes part in our evening ritual of sharing what we’re grateful for that day. And that’s just for starters.

Gracelyn at age 2.5

Last night, as she has every evening since Gracelyn was born, Shonnie was sharing affirmations with Gracelyn: “You are loveable. You are worthy. You are whole. You are perfect exactly as you are.”

Gracelyn took it all in, and when Shonnie was complete, she responded to her mother with utmost sincerity: “Your heart is good. Your eyes are good. Your nursies are good. Your hair is good.”

I talked with Shonnie this afternoon about calling Gracelyn something other than “baby” at this point, instead using “girl” or “little girl.” Of course, Gracelyn named herself Baby Ghee, and we won’t mess with that, but it’s clear to anyone around who’s around her for a while that she’s not a baby anymore.

Gracelyn is, in fact, a bright, perceptive, creative, sensitive, independent, inquisitive, energetic, funny, loving, loveable, generous, compassionate little girl who spreads joy and laughter wherever she goes.

This afternoon, as Gracelyn was nursing, the prelude to her afternoon nap, Gracelyn told Shonnie, “When my nipples get big, you can nurse on them, Momma.”

No longer and right now September 13, 2012

Posted by Shonnie in Community, Parenting.
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15 hours since we first met face-to-face

No longer and right now

No longer do you ride in my belly sharing every step and breath I take.

No longer can your body be easily cradled in just my two hands.

No longer do you greet me solely with coos, chirps, and searching eyes.

No longer does your body curl into itself, holding the pose of a neonate.

No longer do you need me for all of your needs to be met.

I miss all that has passed before this time.

I grieve what we have lost because no longer are you who you once were then.

Without letting go of “right now,” I wish I could simultaneously hold “back then.”

But that is not possible. Right now is now. Then is then.

So I cry, moan, and ache for all the preciousness we have had together.

Then I give thanks for each of these “thens” that are no longer, even though I want to hold them close forever.

I give thanks that though the past cannot be re-lived, tomorrow is not yet.

I give thanks that we have right now.

~ Shonnie Lavender, 9/13/12

Almost 2 years since that original “birth day”