Iceland day #7 & #8

Thursday we spent the morning searching for souvenirs. After some ice cream we headed back to the house for a bit before heading out to our puffin tour, which went off without a hitch this time. The weather was beautiful and the seas were calm. I think the puffin tour was one of the girls’ favorite things of the trip, they are still talking about going on a boat. Just my dad came with us since everyone else was satisfied with their puffin viewing the day before. Puffins are only around in Iceland for a few months in the summer while the mate (did you know they mate for life?). They come back to a few islands around Iceland every year in April/May. The puffins always return to the place they were born. Puffins are so much smaller than I imagined and they are very fast flyers, so it’s hard to get a good picture of them. Not all of the tour companies allowed children, so we found one that did.

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After a final dinner out, we said goodbye to everyone before bed. Everyone else had to leave the house at 5 AM for their flight, while we didn’t need to leave until 1 PM. We got up Friday morning and packed all of our stuff and cleaned up the house a bit before checking out and leaving our things in the hallway of the house. Then we headed out to get one last souvenir and then to lunch. What was our cheapest meal of the trip was also our last. If only we had found Cafe Haiti earlier in our trip we might have made more than one trip there. It is right along the Harbor near where all of the whale and puffin watching boats head out.

Then it was back to the house to gather our stuff and head home.

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Iceland day #5 & #6

Tuesday was the worst day weather wise for us. It was rainy and at some points very, very windy (40 mph gusts, 20-30 mph sustained). We started the day by going to the Settlement Exhibit which was just two blocks from our house. The long house that is located in the museum was discovered in 2001 during some renovations and dates to the 900s! It was excavated at the original location and the museum built on top of it. The museum was pretty dark inside, probably to preserve the house, but it was kind of hard to see, but still cool to see something so old. They had a table with some fun kids activities including digging for fossils, some viking games, coloring pages, and some swords and shields. The girls weren’t all that interested, but it was free for kids, so it was a win to be out of the rain and cold for a bit.

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Then we headed towards the church, which involves walking up a street filled with shops and restaurants. We stopped for lunch at a yummy Thai restaurant and had one of our more affordable meals. The food was definitely better than any Thai we can get near us (except for going into Philly or NYC).

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Then we finally made it to the church just as the winds really picked up. I thought the kids might blow over it was blowing so much. We went into the church for a bit, but it wasn’t all that much to see inside. It was very plain and it’s claim to fame is the giant organ (my dad went to see an organ concert another day).

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While we were there we took the elevator to the top of the church to see the city. The top has opening for air to flow through, so it was super windy up there, so we didn’t last very long up there before we headed back down. Just enough time for a few pictures.

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Matt headed home with the youngest two who were quite tired and cold. I walked slowly back down the shopping street with the older two and we stopped in oodles of stores to look for souvenirs.

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After that everyone slowly made their way back to the house where we stayed the rest of the day. The weather was just miserable and since we had no where specific to be, we decided we didn’t want to go explore in the miserable weather. We sent out two people to pick up pizza for dinner. The pizza was actually surprisingly good.

Wednesday it was off for our last day tour, which promised lots of rain. We stopped at two waterfalls that we could get up close and personal with. One required climbing on rocks in the water through a canyon in the mountain. Matt took Beatrice in first on his back and then Eloise wanted to go in as well. The rest of us just watched.

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Then we walked toward another waterfall. This one we all managed to walk behind. I left my camera at the bottom with my parents since it was quite wet and I didn’t want to ruin it. Matt took a picture of us back there, but then his phone shut off due to the moisture and the picture seems to have disappeared. So we only have these pictures of the approach. We got quite wet on this part of the journey and waterproof pants would have been nice to have.

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We stopped for lunch at the base of another waterfall and had a delicious meal. When we left it was raining quite hard and since we were still wet from the previous waterfall we opted not to get out and walk up to the next waterfall. I wish we had some waterproof pants so we could have done more this day, but alas we didn’t.

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Next stop was another black sand beach with stunning caves and views of puffins! Again it was raining quite a lot, so we didn’t stay too long to explore, but it was beautiful and we got to see puffins, which was pretty cool. They are much smaller than I thought they would be and they fly very fast.

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After a stop at a factory store, we headed back home tired and wet. It was a nice day, but the stops were much more crowded with people and the weather kind of put a bit of a damper on the day.

Iceland day #3 & #4

Sunday, our third day in Iceland was pretty low key. We went to mass in the morning, which was right across the street from our house. Then I think we went to lunch somewhere nearby, but I don’t remember where. We also made a stop at the Reykjavik flea market, where we bought some lava bead bracelets and some wool items. The prices were definitely the best we found for both wool and lava items. There were many regular flea market stands (books, used clothing, misc junk) mixed in with the Icelandic items. There is also a food market in there, but we didn’t make it into that part, so I’m not sure if there is anything worth while in there. It’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays, but definitely worth a visit.

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After a rest back at the house, we were scheduled to go on a Puffin Tour, but it ended up getting cancelled due to very rough seas (which according to the tour company only happens about once a month). Since we were down by the harbor, we took a walk over to the Harpa Center, which is a super cool looking building that hosts lots of different performing arts.

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The girls and Matt ate dinner at the house, and I went out with my family. We ate at Public House, which was an interesting experience. The experience is kind of like tapas, where you order a bunch of small plates of things to share, but there were some interesting combinations. It was a bit of Icelandic/Asian fusion with dumplings and reindeer croquettes. Then early to bed for everyone.

Monday we had another bus tour planned, this time to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It was quite a drive just to get there, but boy was it worth it. This was my personal favorite day because just about everywhere we went was not crowded and there was so much open space and unique beauty. I would definitely try to get here if possible. As you drive through the countryside there are oodles of sheep and horses out the window. Most of my out the window pictures aren’t great, but some didn’t turn out too bad.

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Our first stop was to see some seals lying along the coast. The girls loved climbing on the rocks out to see the seals. Some of the seals were very close and we loved just watching them. The girls favorite was the ‘banana’ seal. Beatrice needed to go dip her fingers into the ocean. It was definitely chilly on the coast and we were glad to have our winter hats with us and wind breakers/rain jackets.

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We made a quick stop to a small waterfall somewhere along the way. Many of the stops on today’s tour were very small and not very busy with people, which was nice, but I don’t know if I will be able to find the names of the places, but I’ll try (Matt used google maps to mark our locations and drives the whole time).

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All along the drives we would pass through these lava fields that are now covered in moss. I just thought they were so unique and beautiful. They definitely look like where you would imagine trolls live.

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Our next stop was some rocky cliffs. When we stopped there were lots of arctic terns flying around and our guide jumped out and picked up a baby for the girls to see and pet. There were definitely lots of possible fall locations at this stop, and unlike most places in the USA, there aren’t roped off areas you can’t go, you just have to use your common sense. So if you have wild runner kids, make sure to keep your hand on them.

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We made another stop at another place along the coast line. This stop had some playground equipment scattered along the walking paths and some whale bones for us to see. The girls are holding up a whale rib bone. Dandelions were also plentiful here.

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Next up we visited a black sand (rock) beach. There were rock formations to climb on and also the ocean to dip their toes into.

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Next up was finally lunch. By the time we ate it was nearly 4 pm, so everyone was hungry! Thankfully we brought lots of snacks with us, but I was starting to run out because I did not expect we would eat lunch so late. It was a full day. The last few stops turned into mostly just stopping to take pictures and then heading back. We were wiped out. There were more places we had planned to go that day, but didn’t quite reach it. Our guide says he always wants to show everyone every beautiful thing, but there just isn’t enough time in one day trip. I think this mountain is called church mountain.

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And finally we end with a map of where we went.

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Iceland day #1 & #2

We just got back from a week in Iceland. It was beautiful and a wonderful trip. Here are a few pictures (there are oodles more, but I can’t possibly share all of them). We went with my parents, sisters and brother-in-law.

We flew Icelandair from Newark, NJ since it was a direct flight and very reasonably priced. It costs just about as much to fly to Iceland as it does to fly to Florida to visit my family, so that was definitely a bonus for us. Just a note though if you are flying Icelandair, they don’t staff their check in desks around the clock. We got to the airport early because we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time in case there was a lot of traffic heading north to the airport. But that resulted in us having to sit and wait for 2 hours before we were allowed to check in. Not so much fun. So check their website prior to your flight and see what it says. For Newark it says check in 3.5 hours before flight, but that means that they won’t allow you to check in prior to 3.5 hours before the flight. Icelandair was great to the kids and we were impressed with them. The provided water bottles as you walked on the plane and handed each of the girls a bag with headphones, coloring pages and some card game. The girls also received free meals on the plane. We flew at night, so we mostly slept, but it was nice to have these little extras. The flight was only 5.5 hours, which meant that was the most possible sleep we were getting that night. No one got nearly that much sleep. A few took a while to fall asleep and the rest kept waking up all night. We arrived around 6 am, but we were not very well rested at all.

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We waited in the airport for the rest of the family to arrive before taking a shuttle into Reykjavik. The airport was very crowded and kind of a maze. They also had very little seating in most of the airport so we sat on the floor along with a whole bunch of other people. I think the tourism industry has exploded in Iceland and the airport hasn’t been expanded fast enough to accommodate that. Our plane also parked on a patch of black top far from the airport and we rode buses to the airport itself. (I was not impressed with the airport, but thankfully that was just a small part of the journey). Reykjavik is about a 45 minute ride from the international airport. By the time we made it to the Air BNB that we stayed around 11, we all just wanted a nap, so that’s what we did. We later got up and headed a few blocks away to the downtown area for dinner. Iceland is known for being relatively cheap to get to and stay, but food is quite expensive, definitely more than any place else we have visited in a long time. We also stopped and got some breakfast items to eat in our room. I think I paid close to $10 for a box of honey nut cheerios and $5 for a bunch of bananas. So plan for lots of money for food. Credit cards are accepted just about everywhere, which is nice, but make sure you know what kind of fees yours charges for international travel. It used to be that credit cards were the best way to get good exchange rates, but many now charge a percentage or fee for each transaction, so check into your cards before you go to see what kind of fees you will have.

The trip started off a little rough for us with lots of sitting in airports on the floor, but thankfully it turned around pretty quickly. After getting to bed at a reasonable hour despite the nonstop light outside, we got up pretty early for our first long day of a bus tour. We booked tours in a smaller mini bus that was just for our family of 11, which was nice because we kind of got to call the shots and didn’t have to worry about the kids being too noisy and disturbing too many people. On Saturday we went on a Golden Circle tour and saw lots of beautiful sites. Our tour guide, Tomas, was great and took us opposite of most of the tour buses, so we got to stops at different points in the day, which meant less crowds. The weather was pretty nice and mostly cloudy with bits of sun and not too chilly. We just needed a sweat shirt that day most of the time. We stopped at an earthquake museum (not much a of museum) for a snack break and got to see where the European and North Atlantic plates are separating.

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Then we stopped at a crater lake. The water was a beautiful color. Some of us walked around the upper rim and others went down to walk around the lake.

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We visited two waterfalls, one of which we walked close to and got pretty wet. Gullfoss is the bigger of the two with the beautiful rainbow.

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The morning was pretty sunny, which was nice and one of the few sunny times during our trip. We added a stop to the tour since we really wanted to visit the Secret Lagoon. Iceland is well known for their geothermal pools. There are plenty of them around, some more popular and crowded than others. We had heard that the Secret Lagoon was one of the better options, so we paid a visit there. I only took pictures before we got in the water since I didn’t want to bring the camera outside while we were in the water, which turned out to be a good thing because it started raining while we were in the water. The water was actually a little warmer than I would have preferred, it was definitely hotter than bath water, which is why you see people walking around the path around the lagoon to cool off. It was a lovely experience and everyone felt relaxed after standing in the water for about 30 minutes.

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For lunch we visited a tomato greenhouse. The tomatoes are grown with geothermal heated water and the plants grow very tall and last about 9 months. They have just three items on the menu, all based on the tomatoes they grow. They have tomato soup, pasta with tomato sauce and pizza. Between all of us we got all the items, but I think the soup is where they really shine. We stopped somewhere along the way to visit some Icelandic horses. There is only one breed of horses on the island and they are all over the countryside. They have longer manes and are shorter than the horses we are used to. They also grow long fur in the winter.

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We also visited a geyser, but I didn’t get very great pictures since we had to leave to visit the potty and then continued on with our tour. We saw it shoot water a few times, but sometimes little children make you miss pictures of things 🙂

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We made a stop at a delicious ice cream farm (well dairy farm that makes ice cream from their dairy) and all enjoyed a yummy cone.

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The last few stops of the day were in the Thingvellir National Park. As with most National Parks, there is lots to see there, but we were getting tired and so our last stops were much shorter than the ones earlier in the day. We could definitely have spent a lot longer exploring the park, maybe next time!

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Then to the lake in the Golden Circle that has delicious fresh water (the best in Iceland according to our guide). So we got out and filled our water bottles up.

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Last stop was a canyon. It was getting late, everyone was hungry and tired, so we didn’t get to explore too much there, but it was lovely.

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Here is a map of where we went on our Golden Circle Tour.

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And that’s a wrap for day 2. We visited a lot of stuff that day and it was a bit of a whirlwind. Thankfully my mom thought about the schedule ahead of time and didn’t book too many long bus tours in a row. We pretty much alternated a bus tour and a day in Reykjavik to give us all some time to recover.

books!

After many years, I have finally started reading books for myself again! Honestly I just didn’t feel like I had the time or brain space to read for a while, so many little kids and lack of sleep. At the end of last year I completed a book and decided that I would make a goal to read 24 books this year. We still have quite a few months left and I’m already at 20, so I think I shall reach my goal. I’m always interested in finding new books, so if you have any recommendations feel free to share. I tend to like memoirs the best (as you will see by my list) and especially stories about survival. I’m not sure why, but I love reading about how humans have been so low and some how come out on top and made their life better. So without further ado, here is what I have read so far this year. We also started using goodreads so that I could try and at least somewhat keep track of how many books the older two were reading. They book read a lot. Greta is still the most prolific reader in the house and since I have started keeping track towards the beginning of the year she has read 178 chapter books (I can’t possibly keep track of the picture books or other material she reads). I’m sure that doesn’t even include them all because it requires her to tell me she completed it and she doesn’t always remember. Eloise has read a solid 87 chapter books so far (far better than me).

My books can be grouped into a few categories:
1. Escaping North Korea
2. Scientology
3. Polygamy
4. Escape/living in from war torn countries

North Korea
1. The Girl with Seven Names

I think was my favorite from my category here, but it does offer quite a different picture of North Korea than the next book. The star of this book grew up much better off than the next girl. I love that Hyeonseo is smart and uses her smarts to get herself out of North Korea for good and eventually helps her to get her mother and brother out as well.

2. Stars Between the Sun and Moon: One Woman’s Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom

This book is definitely hard to read at points, especially all the horrors that she lives through. After reading these books I’m still surprised how North Korea is still doing these kind of horrific things right now.

3. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

This book was definitely a different perspective since Shin is the only known person born in a North Korean prison to successfully escape. I just didn’t like Shin nearly as much as I liked the women in the books above, likely because he has had a much different life than the others and didn’t really learn anything about compassion or how to treat others. I hope that all three (an the many others) are able to adjust and have a semi-normal life now that they are free from North Korea.

Scientology
1. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

It seems to be a theme that the first book I read on a topic is my favorite. I liked Jenna’s account of Scientology the most of the three books I read. I think this is partly because she was pretty much born in Scientology (her parents joined the Sea Org, the clergy when she was two years old). It seems so odd to me that the way the families are treated and separated at such young ages is still happening right here in our country. From a very young age she has very little contact with her parents because they are serving the religion. I also didn’t realize that those children who are so involved at a such a young age don’t attend traditional school in any sense. Their schooling is their religious education. Definitely an eye-opener.

2. Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me

This book was written by the current head of Scientology’s father, who brought his son to the religion at a pretty young age. At times I felt like he was just attacking his son and I almost gave up on this one. They only reason I continued to read it was to find out how he managed to get out of the organization despite his son being the head.

3. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

I wanted to read a different prescriptive of Scientology since both of the previous books were about people who were in the Sea Org. Leah was a public scientologist, meaning she did not work for the church as her job. Her prescriptive revolved a lot around Tom Cruise and really I just don’t care that much about him. It’s interesting to see how much power celebrities do have in the organization and how little they seemed to know about the inner workings of the Sea Org (based on what I read in the other books).

Polygamy
1. The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir

All of these books are about the Lebaron family. The first three are written by a woman related to one of the three brothers who held a high position in their church. This one is definitely the hardest to read and Ruth suffers much more than some of the others (at least it seems to me). Her life is filled with tragedy, but she somehow survives. All of these books are definitely easy and pretty quick to read.

2. The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir

While reading these books it was a little hard to figure out how everyone was related. I didn’t read them all in a row and so sometimes forgot who was related to who (they are all from LARGE polygamist families), so I definitely spent some time googling to remember who was who. Anna is the daughter of Ervil Lebaron, who breaks away from his brothers and does some pretty terrible things in his life, which result in him ending up in prison, thankfully.

3. Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife

Irene married one of the Lebaron brothers, so wasn’t born into the Lebaron family and in fact was recommended not to marry into the family, since they have a history of serious mental illness. But she does and she tells her side of the story here. Her struggles in this book are mostly how she wishes her husband could give her more attention and how she desires to have a husband who loves her.

4. Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement

This book tells a lot of the back story of the Lebaron family and helps to put everyone in their place in the story. It is written by Irene Spencer, who wrote the above book as well and so it is still from her perspective. It definitely helped me fill in some of the blanks. It’s completely foreign to me how Ervil’s commands could go on for so long before being caught.

Many years ago I read another book by one of Irene Spencer’s sisterwives, called His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy. I may go back and reread it since I can’t remember the details and want to hear her side of the story again.

Escape/living in war torn countries
1. A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival

This is a powerful story about a Syrian woman who endures such terrible things in her journey to freedom. It really puts a face and story to all the horrors that are happening over there right now. It definitely was difficult to read at times and there are scenes in the book that still flash through my head and give me chills. It makes me want to make a difference in the lives of refugees, since there are so many people who are taking advantage of them all over the world.

2. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

This book was just ok, not nearly as powerful as many of the others I have read. It is about a family that survives in Afghanistan. It is written by a journalist and some of the details seem to be exaggerated or not quite the way it really happened. I did like reading about what Afghanistan was like while the Taliban were in charge.

3. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

While I knew many of the above situations existed and knew a little about them before hand (Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea), I really knew hardly anything about the Rwandan Holocaust, maybe because I was so young when it was happening and as the author mentions not much news coverage was dedicated to it at all. This is amazing story of one woman’s survival during a time when just about all of the Tutsi people were destroyed very horrifically (over one million people in a 3 month period). What I love most about this is how much her Catholic faith helped her during her time in hiding and afterwards. Immaculee is truly a survivor and her story is definitely one everyone should read. There are definitely some very graphic scenes in here, but this was a book that I couldn’t put down. I borrowed it from the library and really wanted to find out how her life paned out after this book was over, so I went and bought the next book (below) since our library didn’t have it.

4. Led by Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide (Left to Tell)

This is a continuation of Immaculee’s story and it is powerful as well. I didn’t love it as much as the previous book, but I really like to know what happens after people escape their horrific tales, and so read this one rather quickly as well. She discusses her faith in greater detail here and I learned more about Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa (which lead to me reading her book about that as well).

Phew, did anyone read all of that? It took way longer than I thought it. I’ll come back and write about the other books I read that didn’t really fit well into these categories. What are you reading and enjoying these days?

All links are amazon affiliates links.

dance recital 2017

All four girls danced in the dance recital this year. Felicity started taking dance a year earlier than all the others because she really, really wanted to and the dance studio we are at now offered a toddler class. They all did great and had fun. I love our new dance studio so much more than the old one. This was our second year here and we hope to be back next year even though the studio is moving locations. Beatrice had both a ballet and tap dance this year even though she was only in one class. Everyone else just had one dance. Here are some pictures from the dance recital week. My parents also came to visit and watch the dance recital and they were such good sports to go to the dance recital two nights in a row despite it being the same show both nights.

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Eloise was upset about something and was not so into taking pictures on the last day of the recital, but I still needed to get some good pictures of them since we were too rushed other nights.

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And now for some individuals.

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IMG_1216-001

IMG_0694-001

IMG_1088-001

IMG_1264-001

IMG_1081-001

IMG_1182-001