Waffle Irons and Black Friday Ninja Skills

“That’s my mama,” says Kolby, pointing to me as I drive while talking to her sister.  My toddler’s burgeoning vocabulary makes me chuckle and I glance at them in the rearview mirror.

Faith smiles at Kolby.  “Yes, that is Kolby’s mama,” she agrees.  “But its Faith’s mama too.”

Kolby narrows her gaze into a territorial sneer, “No Faith.  That’s Kolby’s mama.  Not Faith’s mama.”

And so Faith volleys back and the next thing I know the car is filled with the wails of an almost two year old and her ten year-old sibling bickering over who has claims to me.

“Mine.”

“Ours.”

“No Faith, mine mama.”

It was funny at first –this cuteness of a toddler ensconced in a world where everything belongs to her; where sharing is optional and highly overrated (in Kolby’s opinion). 

But as we move into the holiday season and I reflect on our culture, I don’t know if the world operates much differently than an entitled baby fighting over her mama.

Last week’s Black Friday headlines have left me scratching my head and wondering what the hell is wrong with our country?

And even though I love Target and Wal-Mart, (as much as the next women out there who can pick up power tools and Goldfish all in one store) I have to wonder what kind of ideology I am buying into when the Target add on TV depicts a woman training for the super athletic event of shopping. 

After this year, maybe next year’s ad could show the woman training with weapons, like the lady in Walmart who pepper sprayed a group of shoppers to get to an X-Box? 

Or they could show her at the gun range learning how to protect her loot, maybe jousting with a waffle iron, or learning ninja smart phone skills to take down those pesky people who get their grubby hands on your goods.

Mine. Mine. Mine,

How about practicing the art of the trample?  There’s a nice pastime to usher in the Christmas spirit (and yes this is pure sarcasm because I know I will get a comment or another blogger posting Samantha Keller advocates trampling.  I do not nor have I ever trampled…just to be clear!)

But I am appalled at the greed and inhumanity Black Friday reveals about the state of our hearts.  Clearly, some Americans feel so entitled to a get a good holiday deal they will even kill for it. Really? 

We now have two holidays that have mutated. What are we going to lose next?

Halloween –dress like a slut day and Black Friday –act like an animal at the mall day.  (Use violence if necessary)

I’m taking a stand and reclaiming this Christmas. 

It’s not about Santa or the “Christmas Spirit”, the lights (though they are fun), the presents (which are grand) or the food (even though I sure love pie). 

Christmas is about a baby, born in a manger and a big God who made himself small to be with us.

And this Jesus is mine. And yours. And ours. 

Buy less stuff!  Instead of “Go Big or Go Home,” how about “Go Small and Go Home (and be with your loved ones.)

 

Cranky Pants

sad face

I am rounding up the week of the fractured foot. And it’s been so stinking DEPRESSING!  I never realized what a happy camper I normally am, until I wasn’t.

Warning! Here comes the vent….WAHH! My foot hurts. All I do is sit, sit, sit on the stupid couch. I’m not motivated to get my sorry behind up and do anything because it hurts even more. My kids look at me and think, “Hey, there’s mom parked on the sofa again. What happened to our vibrant, active go get’em mama?  Who is this long faced bummer gal?”

I am also depressed from the writing conference (Orange County Christian Writers Fellowship) which I attended this last weekend. I actually sat down in front of an editor from a big name publishing house and pitched my book concept . And then, miraculously he told me to submit a book proposal. (Which if you know anything about writing is like manna from heaven, because publishers almost never take random solicitations). You have to get a literary agent, and have a platform of 35,000 people and be on a speaking tour…and have all this marketing mumbo jumbo that makes my head spin around like Carrie.

So I should be happy that I got my shot, right?  But then the editor says to me, after he delivers the wonderful news that he is indeed interested… “But, it might be a long shot.”

Long shot! I am no long shot!  How dare he? I am Scrappy Sam the underdog.  How can he not see this spunk and fire in my belly? Doesn’t it radiate from my very being?

And so now, I feel this pressure to perform and to wow him with my Scrappy Essence. Which means some major edits to my slightly scrappy manuscript. It’s possible (ok, really possible) that I somewhat  haphazardly threw together the book for the writing contest I entered at the conference. 

It means really sitting down and defining my voice and the direction of my book.  It means getting my crap together and putting on the big girl pants.

This is serious stuff.

It’s a make it or break it moment. And even though I broke the foot, gosh darn it; I refuse to give up without a fight.

I’m getting all riled up thinking about proving Mr. Editor wrong. Of course, not enough to actually get off the sofa just yet, because I am in serious pain, but maybe enough to get my fingers tapping and get out of my funk.

To Do:

  1. Find theme song for motivation (Rocky, Oceans 11 soundtrack, any suggestions?)
  2. Ask for prayer (yes that’s you). Pretty please!
  3. Give myself time to heal (so hard)
  4. Surrender wounded ego to Lord (even harder)

The Birthcontrol Pill in Jr. High?

 

In line at Starbucks the other day, my seventh grade son grabbed a caramel macchiato from the barista, winked at me in gratitude, and headed out the door for the patio.  A group of Jr. High kids passed on the way out and gave him a subtle, but clear, “what’s up” in the form of a nod and cool appraisal. My son casually nodded his head back in response.

When we walked outside to join my husband and baby, I suggested my son might want to go and hang with his friends.  His face lit up and he sauntered over to the group, shared some high fives and sat down.  These were friends from school I didn’t recognize.  They appeared to be more mature than his usual sports buddies; it was a co-ed group and the girls looked about sixteen, though I knew they were barely teens.  

The kids were also unsupervised, raising instant red flags in the back of my mind, and so my husband and I watched them curiously.  We tried to look cool and blasé, but were staring none the less.

One pair in particular stood out, a boy and girl who looked a little too friendly with each other.    Completely oblivious to the world, the kids couldn’t keep their hands off each other.  The girl leaned back into the boy’s arms. Her bottom snugly tucked into his lap and his arms wrapped tightly around her waist.   Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream played in my head. 

It was an intimate act that suggested pure sex.  Generally, those kinds of lap wiggles are reserved for the bedroom or private Jacuzzi.  Clearly, certain  boundaries had already been crossed and if they weren’t already sexually active, then they were getting close. Either way, it was inappropriate and shocking. It was a blatant “get a room” kind of move that makes people uncomfortable.  I was even more surprised at their audacity, as if they were unaware of social norms and space, or parents in particular.

And there sat my baby boy in the midst of these horny teenagers.  My sweet and innocent little angel corrupted by tarts and P Diddies.  (Ok, possibly an overreaction, but I am relatively confidant my son is still pure) And I got scared and a little sad.  Because, the truth is I can’t protect him from a culture that is hyper sexualizing everything down to tennis shoes.

On the way home, I questioned my son about his friends.  He mentioned the affectionate couple was dating.  I strained to remember what dating in Jr. High meant.  All I could remember was spin the bottle at parties, holding hands and possibly a first kiss for the kids who were going out. (Where “out” was, we will never know?)

 After a little research, from the Culture and Media Institute, I discovered the average age for a youth in the United States who is sexually active has now dropped down to age fourteen. The general consensus among the public seems to be reluctant acquiesce.  In Portland Maine (2007), the school board voted to allow birth control pills to be distributed to children as young as eleven.  Maine also dropped the age limit for sex to be considered illegal down to fourteen.

More disturbing than these statistics are the disparity of messages we are sending our teens.  “Don’t have sex, but if you do, here is how you put a condom on a banana.”  Hmmm? It’s as if no one believes saying no is an option. 

Why can we Just Say No to drugs but throw in the towel on children having sex?  Clearly, there will still be defiant and curious kids that will engage no matter what, but the message is still the same…avoid at all cost.  I am concerned why this message is applicable to one and not the other?

The morning after the Portland school board approved the measure allowing birth control to be distributed in the school, NBC’s Today Show featured Meredith Vieira and Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the network’s doctor-on-call. 

As Dr. Snyderman said, “Middle school kids are having sex!” Rather than letting that be a call for contraception, shouldn’t it be a wakeup call to our culture? If 11-year-olds are having sex, there are greater problems that need to be addressed than any pill can ever hope to cure … or prevent.

I agree with Dr. Snyderman in the bigger issue our culture faces. I would suggest that in the absence of a compelling reason to not have sex, we have just raised the white flag.  If no one will fight for teen abstinence and purity in light of the constant sexual barrage by the media, then we have already conceded. Why should any kid care if no one is willing to take a stand?

After we gently questioned our son, my husband and I walked home from Starbucks with him and talked openly about sex, love and what God has to say about it.  And that day, we took a stand; ready for a battle we may lose, but willing to fight against a culture where sex sells and little girls take birth control pills with their chewable vitamins.

Wanted: Secret Agents

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency of the...

Image via Wikipedia

Many words come to mind when I think of the CIA— espionage, clandestine operations, INTELLIGENCE, authority, strategy and adventure.  Strangely enough, “desperate” is not a term I would ever have associated with this government agency. 

But what am I to think when I hear an ad driving home from work the other day on KIIS FM, a local teeny-bopper radio station, advertising for CIA agents?  It sounded like an open call audition that just happened to include a polygraph test and a background check.  

Shut the front door!  Are we, the grand ‘ol USA, really that desperate to find qualified civil servants, that we have to pander to a predominately under-aged audience of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga wanna-be’s?  

Now, I work in marketing, and generally my intended audience is the one I am targeting; so what this ad campaign tells me, is that these “CIA “jobs, once so coveted that major movies and books were penned depicting their glory and honor, are now being mass marketed to teenagers getting their first job at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s.

After reading Leon Panetta’s comments on “said” radio campaign, I am now even more befuddled. The new director of the CIA (former chief of staff for Clinton and an Obama appointee), who is responsible for the ads, states that his goal is to reach out to minorities and people with foreign language skills; he is also trying to recruit more “Muslims, Arabs, African-Americans and Latinos.”

Ok, let me get this straight.  Affirmative action and lagging language skills are behind this? Now, I went to UCLA during the prime years of affirmative action.  My 4.0 GPA guaranteed that I might, (did I say might?) get a seat next to my good friend who was a quarter Indian, with a whopping 3.2 GPA.  Yeah, that was fair.  I busted my butt and he cruised on in. He didn’t grow up disadvantaged or on a reservation.  He lived around the corner from me and his house was bigger than mine.

So, is this the future of the CIA?  We dumb it down so that it’s politically correct and turn it into a late-night joke?  Call me naive, but true equality seems pretty simple, it’s when the best man or woman for the job gets the job, without racial or gender stereotypes. End of story.

 And when it comes to the protection of our country, is this the best we can do? How about stepping up the language training?  Or, possibly investing a few dollars in better recruitment tactics that appeal to minorities? Why don’t we leave those radio ads to ProActive and Geiko?

My confidence in this nation’s defense just fell quite a few notches, not that it was high to begin with.  But hey, at least our new linguistically skilled CIA agents will be able to dance to Chris Brown and Britney Spears.  If there is ever a covert op at a disco in Cairo maybe they can stun them with their killer moves.

In the Shadow

Panoramic Night Vision Goggles in testing.

Image via Wikipedia

There is a simple truth about our culture that can only be found in the midst of suffering.  When great things happen, we rejoice, when good things happen we celebrate, from our normal mundane living, well, we escape, and when bad things happen, we generally do our best to avoid the pain

And this rampant avoidance applies not only to ourselves, but those around us as well. It’s only when you are smack dab in the middle of pain do you see, really see, as if you had special goggles,  how uncomfortable everyone else is with it. 

Ever notice how people are afraid of catching pain? It’s as if divorce, depression or death were viral.   So instead of leaning in and being present in the messy, we stuff it, hide it, and put on the Christian happy face.  We all too quickly forget that joy in Christ doesn’t mandate a perpetual façade of gooey sweetness.

We avoid the old folk’s home, complain about the smell, hide from the abandoned wife at church, and quarantine ourselves away from illness, regardless if it is contagious.  We sanitize empathy down to a Get Well card or some flowers and remain aloof from intimate relationship in the darkest moments. Genuine and heartfelt mourning seems to be so passé, as if they were thrown away with the old traditions of widows wearing black and communal lamenting

My husband has a dear friend who is extremely ill, and the other day, they had a long visit in the hospital.  By my husband’s own admission, it was a visit that was long overdue.  My husband didn’t want to admit or acknowledge that his friend wasn’t doing well, because it was easier to live in the land of hope, where everything remained in the status quo. Fortunately, another friend intervened, and he was forced to confront both his own avoidance and the reality of the situation.

Somehow my husband missed out on the blog that his friend started. It’s an online journal, that keeps his friends and family updated on his condition, and though it chronicles his physical journey with cancer, it also gives voice to his spiritual battle with this unseen and vicious enemy attacking his blood.

After recalling his emotional day, my husband mentioned that his friend noticed an unusual occurrence with his blog. When he updates positive news on his status, the comments and prayers come in abundance, but when the news is dire, which has been more the case recently, very few if any comments show up in the guest book. 

Why is it that our praises seem to dry up when circumstances go down the drain?  And when there are no words left, we conveniently disappear, because suffering interferes with our busy agendas. Mourning, compassion, empathy… the sheer ability to be present in the Valley of the Shadow of Death with anyone, even sometimes those closest to us, seems desperately lacking in our society. 

When I look at Middle Eastern culture, I envy their ability to emote, to wail like banshees and cry and grieve with passion.  It seems so much more acceptable to feel emotions.  The tough guy American demeanor never drops a tear.  It’s probably why I always apologize when I cry, as if tears were an affront to good manners.

Is it our fear of the dark, of death and the unknown that causes us to push away and to hide?   Could any temporary relief of an awkward moment or an uncomfortable confrontation ever be worth the loneliness and abandonment of those dear to us?

Yesterday my husband wept, prayed and laughed with his dear friend.  The cancer was only a reason for their relationship to grow deeper.  They mourned and looked to Christ, unsure of His plan, with unanswered questions and heavy hearts, but resolute in their double fisted faith of a Holy and mysterious God. 

They were precious moments, stolen and sweet, because time has become like gold as the shadow deepens.  These were moments of friendship, based on eternal brotherhood and bonds forged on Christ’s sacrifice.

And so my husband’s friend has hit on a profound truth, we are a culture of avoiders when it comes to pain.  And as the lines between heaven and earth blur for him, clarity comes like waves as he assesses his life.

The Psalmist proclaims that “though weeping may last for a night, joy comes with the dawn.” (Psalm 30:5)

True joy, it seems, can only be discerned on the other side of the deepest pain. For how would we recognize the light if we had avoided the dark?

Rom. 12:5 (NIV) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn

Biological Warfare and Snotty Noses

The Devil Wears Prada (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I am sick.  Snotty, green-nosed, hack up a lung sick. It’s a genuine mystery, how feeling like crap permeates every neuron of the body, particularly the brain cells, which I am pretty sure have started to atrophy.

I reach for a thought, strain to think and…nothing happens.  The synapses have lost their connectivity to a viral influenza blocker.  I think I can make a case for another conspiracy theory-biological warfare is at hand!

Wikipedia, my favorite source of mostly true information, defines this germ warfare as the deliberate use of disease causing biological agents such as protozoa, fungi, bacteria, protists, or viruses, that kill and incapacitate humans.  Biological weapons (often referred to as bioweapons) are living organisms or replicating entities (virus) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims.

This is high–tech warfare masquerading as sneezes, a strategic malaise allowing the perpetrator to gain a tactical advantage over their adversary. 

And I am pretty sure I know the little terrorist who got me sick.  My neighbor’s daughter, a bouncing baby girl about ten months old had all the signs of mal-intent.  The green nose, the distinct seal bark cough, watery eyes, and a grumpy demeanor. 

The baby infiltrator grabbed my own tot’s toys and polluted them.  It was stealth-like and swift.  Within forty-eight hours, my baby showed signs of infection, and a few days later the whole house has been taken out.

So here I am, left to wither and decay on the sofa…watching chick movies and scarfing down Dayquil and Robitussin. 

If other countries are out to get us, each time another family goes down, annihilated by germs and misery, than they have succeeded in making us a tad more lethargic and stupid.  If you multiple my lazy and weakened state, you have a whole country of sick idiots watching The Devil Wears Prada and Legally Blonde Part II, instead of being productive and contributing members of society.

If I get any brain function back soon…I will begin the search for real answers to what could become a national pandemic.  But until then, I think I saw a rerun of When Harry Met Sally on TBN that might just be the best medicine of all.

Hurling Darts into Jello…

Strawberry/Raspberry Jell-O Ring

Image by pirate johnny via Flickr

As a writer, I often wonder if my words connect with my audience.  Am I making a point, eliciting an emotion or provoking a response, that changes one’s paradigm, even momentarily?

As a follower of Christ, this question becomes even more pronounced… because in the art of losing myself to glorify Christ, I write to tell His stories, but then secretly wonder if anyone listens???

Often when I write I feel as if I am inspired by the Spirit.  Words flow like water.  My fingers tingle, I am in my element because I am operating within the giftedness I was created for.  Other times, I am at an impasse, relying on my own cleverness, or lack thereof, trying to find words when there are none.

Some might call it a writer’s block and try to push through it. I tend to file these articles away for another day when my eye is fresh.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way,  “The torpid artist seeks inspiration at any cost, by virtue or by vice, by friend or by fiend, by prayer or by wine.”

While wine sounds attractive, prayer must be my muse, or I am tempted to think of my art, writing in this case, as a gift in and of itself, versus an offering to the Giver of all good gifts.

If humility is recognizing who we are in light of God, neither overestimating or undermining our worth, then writing with humility allows us to release our work and give credit where credit is due.  We can let go of the insecurity of penning a masterpiece that may or may not be universally well received.

If our pen has been moved by the Spirit of God, and we write for an audience of one, have we not in all reality hit the mark?

But if we are merely trying to stroke our ego or gain a following to prove our prowess with the pen, then our words are vain folly.

In all honesty, much of my writing attempts are like hurling darts into Jello.  I aim, I throw, and then comes the distinctive sound of jello– blu..blu…blump.

Maybe no one cares or takes interest in something I thought was riveting.  Other times, I aim and hit dead center.  I am praised and feel loveable for my contribution.

Once again, the achievement ladder has stealthy crept into my sincere desire to create.

I…we… must constantly surrender to the Spirit–allowing God to take both the triumphs and the catastrophes, freeing me up to simply use the gifts and talents he has given me for His glory, and hopefully, someone else’s benefit.

Violence and pigtails…

IMG_1189 Thug Lovin or Jhug Lovin, stencil and...

Image by ww_whist via Flickr

I have only been punched twice in my life.  My initiation to aggression was at a Cult concert at the tender age of eighteen. 

Exiting the amphitheatre, a random drunk decided I was in his way, and launched a bomb to my right eye.  Knocked off my high heels, I laid writhing on the ground and cried like the girl I am, as my friends defended my honor and a large brawl ensued. 

I felt violated and angry that someone could be so abusive to a complete stranger, but the mosh pit and chaotic climate didn’t exactly exude peacemaking.  Though my pride was injured, I was able to process and come to terms with the assault. 

The second time I took a hit was far more traumatic than my college experience, but just as unexpected.  Almost twenty years later, serving at a local outreach center in a poor and downtrodden neighborhood, a little girl opened my eyes to the hidden realm of domestic abuse as I was thrust abruptly into an altercation.

We were painting the learning center that day, a large group of high school kids from our church youth group dedicating a three-day weekend to go serve in the community.  My husband, the pastor, was inside motivating the kids to paint the walls and a little less of each other.  Newly pregnant, I was relegated to the courtyard to avoid the fumes.  My job was to paint all the doors which had been removed from their hinges.  It seemed like an endless stack piled against the tree planter. 

As I painted,  a  few little girls played nearby  me and I bantered with them and tried out my limited Spanish.  I pointed to my little bump, “bebe,” and they giggled and rubbed my belly.  The girls were about six years old; one had dark pig tails and missing teeth (the distinct marks of a first grader), the other wore blue and for a small child had an air of sadness and maturity.  The girl in blue spoke English while my little pigtailed companion jabbered away happily in Spanish and had her friend translate for me.

Out of the blue, little pig tails approached me, head down and leaned in for what I thought was a hug.  I opened my arms wide and got the shock of my life.  With all her might, she reeled back and punched me in the stomach.

Stunned and staggering backward, I could only whisper, “no, no, no,” as the little girl, with terror in her eyes, started crying. Her friend started scolding her in Spanish, and she only cried more.  I asked what she was saying through my own tears, and the girl in blue translated, “She wants to know if she killed the baby.”

“What?” I asked.

“She wants to know if she is in trouble, because she tried to kill your baby,” whispered the little girl in blue, mortified at what her friend had done and scared I was going to haul them both off to the authorities.

My first reaction was to protect the baby in my womb.  I ran for my husband to get help.  In big hiccupping sobs, I explained what happened.  Dumbfounded, he just stood there in disbelief.  Then he moved into action, found the director and the two of them tended to me.  Slowly I moved from hysterical, nauseous, and light-headed to worn-out and emotionally drained.  Ironically, I had an ultrasound scheduled the next day and after a call to the Dr., who reassured us that the baby was probably fine, my husband forced me to lie down on a sofa and I passed out.

While I was sleeping, the director hunted down the little girl and dropped in on her parents who lived in an apartment nearby.  When confronted with the situation, the mother apologized profusely and pleaded for forgiveness, but the father, a migrant farm worker from central Mexico, smirked and refused to comment.  His defiant arrogance and lack of remorse suggested he was the model for her aggressive behavior.

The director realized all too quickly what was going on in their home and begged that he not hit the little girl or hurt her as punishment.  She left their home frustrated and sad.  How do you confront a child perpetrator who is also a victim in a vicious circle of domestic violence?

In all likelihood, the little girl had probably witnessed the abuse of a pregnant woman (possibly her own father hurting either her mother or sister).  Statistically, domestic abuse rises in pregnancy… add in poverty, language barriers and rigid sex role stereotyping, and the ratios rise even higher. 48% of Latinas in one study reported that their partner’s violence against them had increased since they immigrated to the United States.[1]  According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year in the United States more than 300,000 pregnant women experience some kind of violence involving an intimate partner, and about one-quarter of women in this country report having been sexually or physically assaulted by a spouse, partner, or boyfriend at some point in their life. Domestic violence is a leading cause of injury to American women between the ages of 15 and 44 and is estimated to be responsible for 20 to 25 percent of hospital emergency room visits by women.

The director of the learning center shared with me that domestic abuse and violence are common occurrences in the neighborhood. And sadly, it may only be the tip of the iceberg as to the real magnitude of the problem because of the very hidden nature of this type of abuse-one that women and children cover out of shame and desperation. 

One year later, I decided to go back to the learning center.  I took my three-month old healthy baby girl with me, snuggled in close in a baby sling.  I wanted and needed to redeem this place that offers so much hope and assistance to a hurting community.  Alas, my expectations were too high.  As, I walked through learning center and saw the brightly colored walls that our high school kids had painted, I was initially encouraged.  I paused and noticed the doors I had painted and cherished the scene of children happily studying and playing.

I sat down with a tutor and a small group of children and we worked on lessons.  But one little boy seemed to be having problems.  Distracted and belligerent, the boy refused to listen or obey the rules.  Frustrated the tutor called for backup and eventually his mother was called.  In walked a defeated woman.  She tried to get her son to leave with her quietly but he began to get physical and started to kick and hit her.  He was so out of control, it took two men to get him out of the room.   Trying to protect the baby, I backed into the corner with the other kids.  Fear and tension entered the room.

Once again, violence had broken into our midst.  The children were able to settle down quickly, but I remained apprehensive.  Their familiarity with physical aggression was unsettling to me.  I felt like a foreigner in a dangerous land, unprepared and unarmed.  Their toughness only magnified my insecurities. Growing up in a sheltered environment, I doubted whether I had anything to offer to these children that live in the face of constant danger.

Another little girl, seeing my discomfort grabbed my hand and asked me to play a game with her.  As she beat me at Go Fish, for the tenth time and cackled like a hen at her own cunning, she turned and looked in my eyes.  “Don’t worry about that mean boy. I like you.  Will you come back and read to me again? We can be friends.”

“Ok, I said. “Friends.”

The child’s wisdom is this…there are no simple answers for what seems like an insurmountable crisis in our society.  So, you do the best you can and hold on to God with double fisted faith. You survive.  And in the presence of evil, you find a friend and beat them at Go Fish


[1] Mary Dutton et al., Characteristics of Help-Seeking Behaviors, Resources, and Services Needs of Battered Immigrant Latinas: Legal and Policy Implications, 7 Geo. J. on Poverty L. and Poly 245 (2000).

%d bloggers like this: