Being Human

In my last post I shared a DIY toy to contribute to my Little Guy’s imaginative play.  Trying to get a good photograph was a problem because he never stopped moving.

That smile makes my effort well worth it.

In thinking about cardboard box toys I was reminded of my youth and even my young adult years comparing them to the world I see around me today. It made me question if we are experiencing being human, being completely alive.

Technology plays a huge role in my thoughts lately.  Many of you may have noticed I have been taking extended breaks from the online world, from the computer itself.   I see too many sucked into their devices to the point that the real world around them is secondary.

I will probably sound like our grandparents who told stories we rolled our eyes to such as how far they walked with holes in their shoes but there are a couple of comparisons I’d like to make from my early life and today and how I see being human.

As a child we had one television, a black and white floor model. Coming from a large family we had a 25-inch black and while console television because it would be visible from anywhere in the larger room it sat in – my grandparents on the other  hand still had a “tiny” 19-inch when they passed away.

We rarely watched the television other than Saturday morning cartoons, we were too busy playing with each other or hanging out with our friends. Instead of fidget spinners and tablets our prized possession was our bicycle, or in my case a toss-up between the bicycle and my books.

Our lives were loosely structured. Thursday was grocery shopping and our weekends filled with social activities.  Those social activities included Friday night card games with extended family, cookouts with friends on Saturdays and Sundays involved church and a big cooked dinner that would provide enough leftovers separated into the makings for dinners the rest of the week. In the summer months Sunday afternoons were special because we visited friends who had farm stands to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Oh the delicious pies and cobblers that were created from those purchases.

My favorite memories of those years were when my grandmother’s aunt and uncle would come visit.  Uncle John was a retired career Naval officer and Aunt Virginia was a real southern belle he had met when stationed in the south.  After his retirement they relocated to Arizona to escape winter.  Uncle John had as Aunt Virginia called it “colorful language” from his years in the Navy, which is where we get the phrase “cuss like a sailor”.  He watched his language around us children unless he had a bit too much to drink and forgot about the children around him becoming the life of the party.

One such evening, I joined my grandparents and Aunt and Uncle for dinner out and then drinks after at our house.  A friendly contest broke out between my uncle and grandfather (who served in the army during WWII) as to whether the Navy or Army had better songs. My grandmother saw where this was headed and pulled out a cassette recorder with the plug-in microphone to record the two men compete by singing the songs they remembered from their military days.  Listening to the recording years later with my sons it was easy to pick up my giggles even though I’d tried to cover my mouth to conceal any noise that would interfere with the two men’s singing.

My youth was filled with characters both family and friends and adventures I will remember for the rest of my life.  There was the year I turned eight and was allowed to keep score for a bowling tournament for the blind because I was proficient in math and understood the scoring from my own years of bowling on a league since I turned six. Children were permitted, even encouraged, to participate in what were considered adult activities which encouraged us to master the skills we would need to join in.

There was the summer I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time and saw people riding mules along a narrow ledge into the canyon. Oh how I wanted to do this but alas because of my weak muscles it was deemed too dangerous as the ledge was too narrow for an adult to walk next to me in case I couldn’t maintain my mount.

Mule ride grand canyon

There was a gift of a pony from complete strangers because they wanted to provide me with exercise that would work all my muscles and extend the number of years I would be able to walk.  This came about so incredulously today I can’t imagine strangers coming together like this.  I was only four years old had just been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, my grandparents left the doctor’s office and stopped for lunch to let the diagnosis sink in. They were visibly upset and talking about all the things they wanted to share with me in the little time the doctors said I had left.  Suddenly, this couple arrived at their table and apologized for overhearing their conversation but wanted to help by giving me a pony for exercise.

I mentioned Thursdays were our grocery shopping days but other families chose their day to shop for the week’s groceries depending on what day was payday or more likely convenient for the woman of the house to borrow the car from her husband. I can’t recall a single household that had more than one car for family members to use..  This allowed for more socializing.  Having a car for shopping days it was common to stop and visit friends.  We would stop to visit a friend on our day out while another friend would stop by on their day out.

These visits were unannounced so the percolator, our coffee pot of the day, was always in easy reach to put on for guests and the kitchen table always had a fresh tablecloth on it as that’s where the socializing took place between adults.

I look back and see those days as ones where we fully experienced being human. We had an easy balance between home life and adventure. As I see it, even as a self-proclaimed loner, humans are social animals who need contact with others to be truly fulfilled.

We, at least in the US, don’t have many social encounters any more. We’ve replaced the weekly bowling league for Facebook. We’ve replaced conversation for staring at a screen, be that a television or a computer.

We use Facebook and other social media platforms to feel connected to others but knowing what real socializing feels like I find these platforms to lack in real substance.  Could eliminating most forms of depression be as simple as connecting with others again such as joining a civic group?

I’ve watched people out for dinner spend more time on their phones than they spend talking to the people they are dining with. I’ve even seen people texting individuals in the same room rather than talking directly to them  -something banned in my home.

I don’t follow the new tech devices so I’m a little behind. For instance I asked my son what was with people playing with their bulky watches all the time, only to learn these aren’t just watches and that they are connected to your email and other platforms.  We’ve gone from carrying our phones everywhere so we are never out of touch to now wearing them on our bodies. What’s next, implanting devices into our brains so we don’t even need our fingers to access our messages?

Movie Johnny Mnemonic

I hear about the self driving cars and am thankful I no longer drive. I mistrust self-driving cars as my belief is that a machine is only as smart as the people who programmed it and fear horrible accidents. As one who loved driving, why do we need to have a car that drives for us. When I first got my driver’s license my grandfather informed me he wouldn’t allow me to be lazy enough to drive a short distance if my two feet could get me there (not an issue as I knew I needed to move to continue walking and walked every where I could even after purchasing a car in those early years before children).  How would he feel about passively being driven around by our car?  I imagine I would feel pretty lazy to get in a car that would drive me around instead of doing it myself.

When I heard my sister remark recently that every home needs an Echo so young children will have a reason to learn to talk I was stunned and dismayed that anyone would believe an inanimate object would incentivize a child to speak over communicating with the people around them. I wondered should I have been surprised to hear anyone who has embraced technology, as my sister has, to extend the use of such technology to what I see as a human role.

I can’t help but wonder, have we allowed technology to make us less than human.

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38 comments

  1. I, too, worry about the lack of face to face communication these days. I just hope something causes the pendulum to swing back the other way. Humans were made to be social face to face and all of the benefits that come from that.

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  2. Oh, Lois. You are so right. I think you and I are at the same point in living – reflective of our lives and what we see around us. I do far more thinking and reflecting now – and less reaction. I think our family elders did the same thing as they got older (and wiser) and we didn’t always understand the value of their observations.

    A thoughtful post.

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    • Hi Elaine, you are so right. I can vividly recall my grandparents talking about how the world had changed on them and the things they didn’t like about it. I’ve been trying to reconcile the world we live in now with different periods in our recent history to see a possibility of restoring some of the most important aspects to experiencing life.

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  3. Well, you’ve said a mouthful there! I am trying to cut back on social media – especially the book of Face. I feel a bit conflicted about it because I do love being able to connect with folks from my past who live continents away – but the vast majority of it is simply mindless drivel. I also really enjoy conversing with my blogging buddies, especially since those conversations tend to have much more in the way of substance than the “see what I ate for dinner” crap you get on FB. I dunno, I think that the problem is not so much the technological format, it’s the incessant nature of the beast – they way it draws people in and keeps them hooked (which isn’t an accident, BTW.)

    Anyhow, I LOVE the stories from your childhood, and it saddens me to think that so many children these days are being raised by a screen rather than by people. CatMan and I always marvel at the dearth of children out and about when we’re riding… I just can’t imagine what their lives must be like. And the automation… it’s making me think of my very first trip to NYC. We got in an elevator and I was shocked that there was a person there… an elevator operator. I whispered to my friend “don’t people in NY know how to push a button?” I later learned that with some of those vintage elevators it wasn’t quite so simple.

    I don’t know where it’s all heading, but it is worrisome, especially since so many of the jobs in our society are quickly being replaced with machines. I think the more enlightened societies will start to pursue things like guaranteed minimum income, but alas, I can’t see that taking hold here. Heavy sighs all around.

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    • Hi Cat, I am saddened by the growth of media such as Facebook because the people I used to communicate with via face to face encounters or email now want to post on Facebook. Instead of emails that were private conversations and could get quite interesting now we get snippets of information put out for the world to see and quite boring to me.

      That must have been quite an experience to see an elevator operator!

      I began to worry about the experiences of children when I had mine. Things I took for granted were gone and others were so expensive they wouldn’t be able to enjoy them as frequently as I did. For example, I love music, went to every concert that came to our city I could. Our tickets were $8 each but by the time my oldest was 10 tickets were selling for $50 or more. In high school my friends and I would rent canoes for a few dollars but at the time my boys were little I would have needed a much higher income to afford the same for them to experience.

      I was watching one of the football games this year when a commercial for GE came on. It had this girl who was intrigued by automation and grew up to work at GE, at the end she tells her boss (?) that she reprogrammed the robots to do the inspections saving time. All I could think of was how many more people were losing their jobs, not that a girl was being featured in science related work. I too think the only way to solve the jobs problem is to have a guaranteed minimum income but the few times I’ve heard discussion on it for the US the income level is so low it falls below poverty levels. When I consider what society might look like with a guaranteed minimum income I think of the extra free time people would have and wonder how they would fill those hours. Would they just zone out in front of their TV or would they interact more with friends and family?

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  4. You lived a life quite different from mine. I rarely check FB and then just for a moment. I get little letters from my Aunt Helga in Australia when she’s having a lucid moment. It’s about how to balance all things. I’ve stopped reading all the blogs that come in and focus on just a few. As for people, most drain the life out of me. I’ve started eliminating a lot of social things I do for that reason. As for a self driving car, I’m not sure I trust them either yet but it would be nice when I need to get to urgent care and don’t feel well enough to drive or the fact that my vision is fading so the car could help me stay between the lines and if my concentration falters a little, it could stop before I hurt someone. Relying on others for transportation is not fun. My neighbor waits for the little bus for hours in the cold and then they don’t show up. She can’t see anymore to drive at all. There is always some good and some bad in everything. I didn’t let my kids watch TV any more than we did. Outside using their imagination is vital. Hopefully we can come to a balance that allow the devices to make our lives easier but not take away the basics that make us human, Our creativity. Good post, Lois. Made me think.

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    • I can see the benefit of a self-driving car for you Marlene, but for me it wouldn’t give me any more freedom than I have now, unless I could afford a wheelchair adapted vehicle which I can’t afford.

      I used to love riding the bus to get around, but like with so many other things (pay phones) we have come to rely on our cars so much that buses are cutting their routes and service times. I do feel for your neighbor it’s wrong and defeats even having a bus if people can’t count on them having a schedule that is adhered to.

      I hate Facebook but have it for my kids who asked me to join so I could see photos of the kids. If it weren’t for making them mad I would eliminate that too. I’ve tried Instagram but found that to be just as lame for me as well.

      I’ve also cut back on reading blogs and now only try to keep up with some of the blogs written by those I like to call friends.

      I fear we have come too far on our reliance on technology to see a way back. I do my part to show the little ones another way and have no TV or devices for them to use here, save for the very rare occasion we put a movie on the computer. You’ve read enough of my writing to know how I feel about children using their imagination and connecting to nature first.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have 26 family members on FB and read only the direct notes that come through messenger from my aunt. I do have a separate page for my blogging friends with intelligence. It’s a whole different animal. My family has so little intelligence. 😦 I read blogs the way you do and may not last that much longer with that either. I see your point in self driving cars. We still have a LONG way to go to get handicap friendly. BTW. as long as I can write, I’ll find a way to keep in touch with my “friends” You are definitely on that list.

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        • I have five family members on FB, my two sons, their partners, and one brother. I didn’t bother to link this blog to FB as by the time I started this I didn’t want anything much to do with it.

          You better stay in touch. 🙂 Btw, working on your cross stitch, close to starting the back stitching then it will be ready to send off to you.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Lois, I loved this piece of writing, and at the same time found myself nodding at the sentiments.
    In many ways it is a sad world we live in. I prefer the sound of the one you describe…
    Fond greetings from Switzerland xx

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    • Hi Swiss Rose. I think you have a well balanced life that still includes many of the things I enjoyed about life. The concerts, time with friends and family and so on. I don’t like the world on a whole that we inhabit today.

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  6. I so enjoyed the relating of your family life – it sounds so grounded. I have to admit that I love facebook – but I probably use the net to communicate more, being a bit of an introvert – I love staying home, and dislike skype and phoning people, so the written word is my thing. That Grand Canyon mule ride would have given me huge anxiety – is it still done today?? A lovely story about the couple giving you a pony – how wonderful.

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    • Hi Anne, as one introvert to another I completely understand communicating through the written word. One of my favorite things was writing letters and had several pen pals over the years. I think it was more acceptable to not want to be one the phone in the past because the phone wasn’t a big thing to any one. We even had a party line until I was in my junior year of high school so even if you wanted to use the phone someone in another home could be using the line.

      The last I was at the Grand Canyon the mule ride was still happening but by then I knew my limitations and didn’t attempt the ride.

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  7. Great post Lois! I’m with you on the amount of time spent on electronics – it’s so obvious in restaurants when everyone’s sitting around a table – and ignoring each other. You might as well put everyone in an individual cubicle! Kids have much too much self-esteem relying on social media – where there’s no body language to help you tell what the other person really means.

    I had thought the Echo was a kind-of-vaguely-interesting type of gadget without any really massive benefit or use. Your sister’s comment also left me stunned. I would not have thought of it that way, that’s very interesting!

    Personally I like the idea of robot / self driving cars. I’m terrified of spiders – if I ever discovered one on me while I was driving, I’d certainly cause an accident in my abject panic. Self drive cars wouldn’t drive off in a foul mood after an argument and drive too fast and without care. Having said that, I can also fully appreciate what you’re saying – computers do exactly what they’re programmed to do, not necessarily what’s right, and that could definitely cause problems. As I often reflect, we’re not grown-up enough to be able to run oil through pipelines without it leaking frequently. By that yardstick we’re definitely not grown up enough to go fracking. And definitely not nuclear energy!

    But I’m going off topic. I agree with you, humans are social creatures, and while I love having so much information at my fingertips, I do believe that omnipresent technology means that many kids are growing up without social skills, and I’m not at all sure that is a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clare, you bring up some very important points. I hadn’t thought about children’s self-esteem being too high from being on their devices, as most of the news focuses on those who have been bullied to extreme but to bully one like that you must have an inflated opinion of yourself.

      There’s a bit of a back story to my sister’s comment. My grandson, who at three has an extensive vocabulary thanks to his parents, turned to their echo and asked it to play a particular song. That one event led my sister to believe kids would learn to talk to ask for what they want from the echo. I see it the other way, he mastered speech from his interactions with the people around him and now can use the echo. Surprisingly, my sister studied early childhood development in college, makes me wonder if she learned any thing while in school.

      I see your point on self-driving cars but know I would be fearful of driving on the same streets as they do but I’m also the one who never used cruise control because I didn’t trust it.

      Love your mini rant. 🙂 We haven’t figured out how to safely use any of the technologies we already have in place. Fracking, oil pipelines etc. Makes me recall the crashing of the Mars rover because we used the wrong number system in the programming.

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  8. We are around the same age (not that old, frankly) and I remember all of this type of stuff, too. Cartoons were only available on Saturday mornings so that’s the only time we watched them. We had Disney on Sunday nights and watched the family together. I had no time for staying home because I was busy running around and hanging upside down on the monkey bars. Our parents didn’t kowtow to our every demand and we didn’t bother asking if we knew the answer would be no. Now… sheesh. It is okay to tell your kids that Mommy has a friend over so go and play elsewhere – I am in the minority in this thinking.

    New and improved is not so much improved. What a wonderful thing for those people to give you a pony like that! Wow.

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    • Hi Dale, you’re right we are around the same age and I remember too how parents didn’t cave to the kids every demand. Of course we made our own fun too no parents driving us to daily scheduled activities.

      Not only were cartoons only on Saturday mornings and over by noon but we had three channels and they were off the air by midnight Today’s kids, and young adults, wouldn’t know what to do it their televisions or internet signed off at night.

      When mommy had friends over we hung out with the friend’s kids and were always welcome in the kitchen to join the adults. Not like today.

      I didn’t hang from monkey bars too often but catching snakes was one of my favorite activities.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d say, all things considered, our childhoods were better. Kids figured things out on their own, settled their differences between themselves, learning negotiating skills, coping skills… Nowadays, a 16-yr old barely can figure out how to fill in a form!

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        • I would have to agree with you Dale. I wouldn’t trade my childhood for one today. I was shocked when my grandchildren informed me they don’t have to learn to write in cursive in school any more. My first thought was what about filling out checks or signing to cash a check which was pretty dumb when everything is being done with a computer and checks will be history very soon.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Lois
    somehow I missed this post…Must have been tied up with things..Just found it now.

    Wow. Agree with everything you said.
    And, it is all a matter of perspective. I am late fifties. We have had “friends” for yrs, ever since we were neighbors yrs back. These friends are 96. Nice folks, and been friends for yrs. We help them out on a regular basis, and are on call if anything is needed. They are now in a seniors apartment, and have quite a few services, but still need help fr time to time (their kids live far away, but do make every effort to “take care of them”)…Anyway, I bring these folks up, as through all the yrs I have known them, she has always minimalized and complained about what a drab/uneventful/ UN material/ not enough material goods or not enough clothes or not enough trips etc, life growing up in her home….I would never point anything out to her, she is elderly, and a bit of dementia…but…really, she should have been born a princess…Now she is 96, so eighty to seventy five yrs ago is roughly the time period she complains / has always complained so bitterly about (in that her father/stepmother were not giving her enough “thngs”/”activiites/etc)….so…eighty yrs ago…The family lived upstairs in a funeral home , owned by her Father/Stepmother…a) the kids had to walks quietly down the stairs if there were folks in the front office “discussing business” (oh she is bitter about that…(HUH?)…b) the kids all had some chores to do on Saturday (child abuse, right? eighty yrs back?)…c)they had to make their beds when they got up. d)often they had to do dishes after supper e)they only got to go to a “move” on Saturday f)as a teen she was not given a car (wtf?) but was allowed to ride with several friends who did have cars…——–I could go on, but…over the yrs , I have listened to this otherwise nice woman complain bitterly about much more like this (and we ARE talking eighty or so yrs back) and how badly they lived as such…Through the yrs I have tried hard to find some (in my own mind) redeeming virtue for her bitterness …(was she beaten? apparently not. worse? apparently not? have to spend her money earned working at a store on groceries? apparently not? etc..)….Compared to my own “growing up”….I am stunned… (and pardon me for being slow , but this has been going on for thirty yrs…me being her “ear”…sigh). I think back on my childhood, and often think how totally fortunate and lucky I was to have had the experiences I did..If my parents had that farm in this day and age, I am certain they could charge a fortune as a Niche Organic Bed and Breakfast…We had animals (horses/cows/calves/dogs/cats and more). We had totally healthy organic (because it was all fr my parents farm) food….No electricity, and a feather tick for warmth… ..sigh…Wood stove/coal oil lamps, no t.v…Big entertainment was a large upright radio.. ….I had an experience in grade one, which stuck with me, and made me realise that “riches” was really a matter of attitude. Up to that point, I had been somewhat influenced by my two oldest sisters (don’t you know they too had truly been destined to be princesses?)…Nothing was “good enough”/”everything was a defect of my parents faults somehow)..— we always had butter — because my Mom made it. (of course my oldest sisters yearned for store bought margarine)…..One day in Grade one, a group of the popular and well off town kids were clustered around, excited as all get out….Of course I listened closely. Then I listened in disbelief. They were TOTALLY excited because one of them’s Mom had bought butter the day before, and that is what they had on their supper potatoes….The others were shocked and envious at this outrageous extravagance (okay okay I went to a poorish country school…grin). I listened more closely…I couldn’t believe my yrs. Stunned, I offered “we always have butter at home”…(dam, I thought everyone did)…At first they insisted this was not possible, as we were “poor”..Then they came to believe me, and there (truly I still remember this/their faces), the wonder on their faces as they looked at me in a new light. I cant say any of use became wonderful friends….but there was a new “look” when they looked at me…”SHE HAS BUTTER EVERY DAY” sort of look…

    sigh it is all in attitude..
    (but I still wonder at some of the things this elderly friend has told me her father/family provided eighty yrs back, and how it is proof of how badly they were treated/raised…VERY sad, that she has spent her life with this attitude.)

    Sorry for the rant…but I look at the “modern” things (as you have talked above) and wonder if they will ever given kids/adults the satisfying/lifelong memories that I have had.

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    • Love your rants! I think things come too easily today that the youth will never know what it is to save and wait for their wants to be met. Just this past Christmas I saw a person post photos of her tree with all the gifts. This is a family that has little money yet the gifts were huge and were stacked all the way to the ceiling and around half the room….for three kids! It took a couple of pictures to be able to get all the packages photographed as they took up so much of the room. I can’t even imagine that or why you would do such a thing.

      As for your friend, yes, she must have believed she was destined to be a princess. I compare that to my grandparents who grew up with little and their reflections on their youth. My grandfather referred to his mother as a saint and told stories that would make you cry from laughing….he always tried to remember the good times. My grandmother might tell you how hard she had it but would then add how amazing it was that her mother was able to do what she did being on her own.

      I probably told you the story of my grandmother’s upbringing but the short of it was that her father died when she was three leaving her mother to raise five children. Her mother took in the laundry and ironing of the local church and baked pies and cakes the children stood outside selling. She would hold back one pie a week for her own children and would cut that pie into ten slices. The children got one slice Sunday evening and one on Monday. As a result my grandmother wanted all the nice things she could have as an adult but she still scrimped and saved for the things she wanted. My grandparents paid cash for everything including cars (and they never bought used cars because they didn’t want to take on repairs from a previous owner) and their homes! Can you imagine the younger generation waiting to buy a house until they had the full cash price? Or a car?

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  10. sigh…just came across a news article which I thought sort of applied…so i’ll give you the headlines..
    It makes me sad, to think this is what humanity is coming to, and the huge lack of human contact/interaction…

    “A library without books? Universities purging dusty volumes”…Universities are finding the students are so engaged with electronics that books are not being used/not much necessary…

    Also,
    I know of one Public City Library,
    that the big push when it was in the design process/being built
    was to make the Public Library nearly bookless. To put in many computers, and have the computers at standing height, no chairs (one assumes it can be adjusted to different heights etc? no idea though)…..It stated it would only have “few” books and more public meeting rooms.

    This was/is a huge main/downtown library in million plus city.
    I have no idea if the finished library completed as they intended. I found the entire idea offensive/sad.

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    • If this is the way of the future I guess I want to remain a dinosaur. I’ve already lamented the elimination of the card catalog. Children would be lost having to locate a book using one. Now that all the books are catalogued online if the library is busy you have to wait in line just to check for a book’s availability, or bring your own computer.

      Why bother to call such a building a library in the first place. I hope someone wakes up and realizes there is still a place for books in this world.

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      • even better (NOT), have just read in the news, the city has picked/assigned an artist/sculptor for the Library. Outside, the artist has three separate “balls on sticks”, multicolor, which are said to represent a cross between that old gizmo “drinking bird” and a hockey player. For these WONDERFUL sculptures, the city is paying the CALIFORNIA artist Two Million Dollars. The city art committee was so “taken” with the artist, they also hired same artist to make a sculpture for inside the Library, for which the refuse to state how much they are paying. The inside sculpture is apparently books, arranged to resemble (use the word loosely) a fish face.———–the price is obscene. The ridiculous “sculpture” is obscene. The one inside made of books, is something I have often seen as a craft for children. —- if they truly felt the need to spend three of four or five million, we do have incredible local artists. local/regional/national. at least employ/honour our own. Also, I cannot wait until it spreads through the hockey world these ridiculous balls are to represent hockey players. (seriously?)…— maybe this California artist has never seen a hockey player….horrible.

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        • I’m all for abstract art but that sounds hideous. Yes, let’s put our money into paying for sculptures rather than books and education! I should stop now as I could go on with the ridiculous spending of my country and it wouldn’t be pretty.

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