Feelings and Flash Mobs: Mental Wellness Looks Messy

By Stacie Prada

Life is not a straight line. Grief, coping, adjusting and recovery don’t follow straight lines from feeling bad to better. They’re more of a spaghetti diagram of past merged with present, conflicting emotions colliding without logic, and highs and lows mixed together as conditions change, time progresses and we adjust.

I can feel sadness, loss, fear, anxiety, love, connection, hope, strength and contentment in a single day. Usually I do. Often, I feel a combination of them all at once, and I think it’s normal for me. 

I’ve learned flash mobs make me cry. Every time. They can be upbeat, fun and joyful, and still tears stream. I love the combination of surprise, music, choreography, people coming together and people dispersing as quickly as they started. They make me happy. They also trigger overwhelm for the connection, surprise and happiness they elicit.

I can analyze flash mobs for why I can’t keep my emotions level while watching them, and I can accept I don’t need to fix it.  For me it’s a great example of how combinations of feelings can simultaneously occur when they aren’t usually related.

Remembering that feelings can be randomly triggered and illogical helps ease the desire to find the cause, the solution and validation. If I assume every feeling is valid yet temporary, I’m less likely to obsess over them.  They can surprise me, consume me and evaporate as powerfully and fleetingly as a flash mob.

Certainly, if I’m suffering, I want to shorten the timeframe of feeling bad. If suffering persists, I want to have help.   I know I’m susceptible to depression given my multiple sclerosis, and I watch for it.  If I know not every feeling has a logical reason or need for fixing, fleeting emotions are less worrisome.

When feelings persist, having a well-rounded support team is crucial for my mental health and living well with MS. This team includes:

  • Primary care provider who tends to my overall health
  • Neurologist who monitors my MS progression, symptoms and mental health
  • Counselor to call if things seem too much for me to conquer solo
  • Friends and family who will listen and help me assess my condition
  • MS Self-Help Group where I can share and learn from people who have MS

Not everyone has access to health care, and I encourage anyone who needs help to contact MSAA to see if there are services and support that might help. If you have a different condition and don’t have a care provider, search “mental health services near me.” Local health departments often have a web page with a list of resources.

To contact MSAA, call their helpline at (800) 532-7667 to speak with one of their trained staff members, or email them at msquestions@mymsaa.org.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

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Enjoyable Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

Mental health plays such a large role on your psychological and emotional well-being. It is super important to find enjoyable ways to improve your mental health. To help get you started, here are some cool ideas.

Sleep

Getting a good night’s rest is not only enjoyable, but it also comes with amazing benefits. Catching about 8 hours of sleep has been shown to strengthen the heart muscle, improve memory, and it greatly lowers your risk of depression and anxiety. Wow! *searching for my favorite pillow and blanket as I write this*

Pet Your Pet

Pets are AMAZING for improving mental health. Dogs are amongst the most common pets known to provide emotional support for individuals, but they aren’t the only ones. If you have a pet that brings you joy and happiness, you should totally pet your pet. Ha! See what I did there? Whether your fur baby is a dog, cat, bunny, squirrel, or guinea pig, petting your pet has great emotional benefits. I have a 4-month-old puppy named Oreo, and he definitely improves my mood. I love to snuggle him with his wittle cute fuzzy wuzzy face and his adorable big brown eyes and little curly tail and…focus, Selena, focus. *Inserts adorable picture of Oreo below.*

Doodle

Yes, you read that right. Doodle! Doodling and scribbling have proven to relieve stress and anxiety for individuals who are feeling overwhelmed. Doodling has also shown to help improve focus and the best part is that it’s fun too. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, bust out the pen and paper and give doodling a try.

Even though these cool ideas are fun and helpful, they aren’t a one size fits all deal. You know yourself better than anyone else does, so I encourage you to find something that is enjoyable to you. Whatever that thing is for you, do that whenever you notice your mental health is in need of some improvement and have fun with it. You are the best person to find enjoyable ways to improve your mental health.

You got this.

*If you ever find yourself struggling to manage your mental health on your own, please be encouraged to reach out to your physician or a mental health professional for help.

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Mental Health and Wellness

By Chernise Joseph

I’ll be real with you, for this month’s topic I struggled to come up with something that felt at least a little optimistic, but then I realized my best response is just to be honest.

Mental health is a tricky thing to discuss. For one, everyone’s story with both mental health and multiple sclerosis is different. There are some of us that are lucky enough not to struggle much with either, but the older I get, the more I realize those sorts of people are rarer than I realized. All my life, I’ve heard how “everybody’s going through something,” and my response was almost always “but they aren’t going through what I’m going through!” as if that somehow validated how I felt despite never actually feeling any better.

Here’s the thing with mental health: just like multiple sclerosis, it’s an invisible ailment in many people and that, to me, is the most unfair part of struggling with either because I’ve noticed the empathy factor from others in the world drastically lowers when you’re able to smile and–to them anyway–you “look okay.” Side note: I’m definitely including myself in that critique, especially pre-MS.

Three weeks ago, Texas did everything it could to put my mental health to the test. Yes, the entire state of Texas decided to perform some sort of survival exercise to see if we’re all prepared for the apocalypse, apparently. In southeast Texas where I live, the temperature rarely drops beneath 30 during our coldest days in winter. We’ll get some snow flurries here and there, but otherwise “moderate” would be a generous descriptor for the 3 months of winter we get each year. However, February decided to deliver a one-two (three, four, five…) punch and not only give us single digit days, but also complete it with snow and ice. I like to think of Dante’s icy layer of hell when I describe what happened that week to people because I had no idea cold could be so awful.

I’ll set the scene: I’m caring for my ailing mother, the temperature is steadily dropping outside, and all at once, the power goes out. It’s around 11AM on Monday at this point and we’re hearing reports from family members that their electricity is out, too, and they’re at least an hour away in Houston. It wasn’t a local thing, it was everywhere. Immediately, panic sets in. The snow has started to fall outside, and the temperature has as well, though we were thankfully still in the double digits. I call a close friend for help because already I’m beginning to see cars collide outside from the icy layers forming on the street. We’re Texan, y’all. We barely know how to drive in the rain.

My mom and I decide that calling an ambulance for her would be the best plan. She’s medically fragile and we knew the hospital would at least have power and nurses who could care for her. The medics arrive and I had to beg them to ignore COVID procedures and allow me to ride with her to the hospital. They agree and let me sit up front. While they’re loading her into the back, I overhear on their radio that all ambulances would be grounded at 5PM. At least in the town where I reside, we were going to be on our own through the night… I think it hit me right then that this wasn’t just a sit around and have hot cocoa situation.

The hospital wasn’t as nice as the paramedics and I couldn’t stay despite the winter storm. Luckily, I have a group of nice friends with big trucks who took a break from delivering firewood to come and pick me up. By then, the snow had started to fall harder than I’ve ever seen before, and we were ice skating through the city trying to figure out a game plan. We drove through town and saw dozens of people dressed up in snow gear roaming the streets in search of warmth just like we were. The power was out permanently it seemed and none of us had planned for that. I think back on it now and forgive myself because there wasn’t a right answer to the situation despite knowing, logically, that a little snowstorm shouldn’t have felt like the apocalypse.

The next few days are a blur for me. We huddled around a friend’s fireplace and ate what we could find while the power and water were down, charging our phones either in the car or in the brief moments when the lights would come back on. It was chaos for everyone, but I think the lesson I got from it was how our mental health can either suffer or improve dependent on how we choose to look at things, not the other way around. That week from hell, its new moniker if I do say so myself, was awful and I won’t try to sugarcoat it. I was lucky to be safe and warm, but I was also fortunate to be surrounded by people with positive attitudes and optimistic outlooks despite how bleak things got.

It was during that week that I experienced the importance of being present again. With the world quite literally frozen over, there wasn’t anything else to do but sit and just be. I got a chance to not think of anything and just sit and cuddle my cat (who had taken up residence in my friend’s bathroom) and wait for life to return to some semblance of how it was, if not changed because of the people who helped me during one of the hardest times of my life.  

*Born in the heat of Texas, Chernise Joseph is an avid writer with perpetual writer’s block. She was diagnosed with MS in 2016 and has been on the ride of a lifetime ever since. Read more from Chernise on her blog millennialwithms.com.

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Resiliency is a Powerful Tool

No secret here-life can be very unpredictable a lot of the time. It can be messy and chaotic and ever-changing. But even after a year filled with such challenge and turmoil as 2020, it’s incredible to see how resilient people are and can be. Yes, life and the changes experienced can have its ripple effects. Impacting not only physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. But it’s how people adapt and overcome these hurdles that helps foster improved wellness of the entire body.

Resiliency, among other aspects, can be an extremely powerful tool when it comes to mental health care and wellness. Learning to adapt to difficult situations and continuing to strive forward despite them helps build resilience. And the great news is-this is a skill that can be learned and taught. Whether it’s teaching yourself the skillset or working with a professional for guidance, building resilience is an important key to overall wellness.

There are different components used to help nurture resiliency, with two crucial ones being self-compassion and self-care. Being kind to ourselves and our bodies is so important for both mental and physical health. This helps to decrease issues with anxiety, stress, and depression. Practicing mindfulness, surrounding yourself with others who support you, and taking care of yourself physically are all key parts to resilience skill-building.

I think many of us would agree that taking time for ourselves and thinking about our own health and well-being usually falls towards the bottom of our daily agendas. This is something that we can all start to do better with. Because taking care of ourselves helps validate that we can take care of others around us too.

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How to Spot a Fake Disabled Person

By Scott Cremeans

If you are reading this post to find out the clues I can teach you so you can spot that faker, then read on. You saw a person park in the handicap space and walk inside unassisted, so you want to call them out. You might have observed an individual use a wheelchair one day and a cane a few days later, and you want to bust them. Well, the truth is: LEAVE THEM ALONE!

But unfortunately, sometimes, they are attacked by a self-entitled morality vigilante that assaults them verbally or worse. I have heard of these onslaughts to be demeaning notes left on a windshield or a vicious verbal violation that left my friend in tears for hours. This abuse was after she felt exceptionally jubilant because her illness had her bedridden the previous four days, and she was finally walking.

Just because you see a person using a wheelchair one day and a cane, the next only shows that disabilities change. The pain level or physical abilities could be high one day and drop like a rock the next day. When you see that person park in the handicap spot and walk in the building with no mobility aid, they could have a heart condition. These invisible symptoms can be as numerous and varied as fish in a lake, meaning: LEAVE THEM ALONE!

The truth is I have heard whispers of a widespread scam of people faking disabilities, and it is simply not true. I heard one person say they let these fakers know they are seen so the real disabled can park there. I then asked him what an individual with a disability looks like, and without giving him a chance to respond, I stopped him. I explained he might have good intentions, but in fact, he is probably about to ruin someone’s day. A person with a disability cannot be spotted in a crowd like a guy wearing a fluorescent ball cap. Some people with disabilities stand out because of a medical device like a walker, wheelchair, or oxygen mask. However, many have unseeable disabilities that need your support not your condemnation and criticism.

The ignorance of society and the way entitled people can treat others simply makes me sad. To all those who do not have enough in their lives, making them want to criticize others, I say STOP! Live your life to the fullest and let others do the same because what you think you see is not what you actually see. If your life is that empty, find a hobby and spend every bit of your time controlling every aspect of the said hobby. Most importantly, since you know nothing about strangers’ lives, allow them the peace to live their lives as well. Everyone should make this a topic of conversation with friends and family as the truth needs to be shared.

You may think you know, but you have no idea.

Read more of my MS mishaps by visiting www.myramblings.blog

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Janet Chojnacki – March 2021 Artist of the Month

Each year, we feature the work of artists affected by multiple sclerosis in our annual MSAA Art Showcase, including highlighting one artist each month as our Artist of the Month. This month – our first month of the 2021-22 MS Art Showcase – we are proud to feature artist Janet Chojnacki of Wisconsin Rapids, WI:

Janet Chojnacki artwork entitled Lily Pad
“Lily Pad”

About the Artist:

“After my diagnosis, I needed to move back to the family homestead so I could be around people who loved me and could watch over me. This allowed me to create art in the room that my dad built for my mom, who was a fantastic painter. Without MS, I wouldn’t have this opportunity to spend my days doing what I love in a place that I love. Art is what fills my days, calms my soul and occupies my mind. MS took a lot from me, but it will not take this too.”

Read more and see additional works from this artist and others at mymsaa.org/artshowcase.

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Community Views: What Society Believes About MS and Relationships

When MultipleSclerosis.net contributor Anita Williams wrote “Beggars Can Be Choosy” about what society believes about people living with the diagnosis, she hit a nerve. She brought to light many of the negative stereotypes that are often not openly discussed. 

After Williams’ article was shared to the MultipleSclerosis.net Facebook page, it sparked a response from nearly 150 community members. Here is what was shared. 

Having MS does not make someone broken 

Too often, people with MS can believe the lie that having an illness makes them hard to love or accept. There is a societal belief that having a disease makes someone “broken” or somehow “less than.” This is a horrible lie. 

When it comes to relationships, true love is unconditional, not transactional. Loving someone means loving who they are as a person, not loving how many chores they can do, meals they can make, or how much they can do for someone else. That kind of transactional love is not healthy. 

“This is exactly how I was made to feel. It is now 4 years after my divorce, and I now realize that I am a good person and not broken. I will be fine and, God willing, I will find the person who can love me as I am. My ex is the one with the problem, not me. He will not ever find the perfection he is looking for because nobody is perfect. He only thinks he is.” 

“Two days before I married, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The marriage ended, but not due to my illness. During our marriage, I often heard, ‘Wow, and he still married you?’ Yes, he did.”

A black woman looks lovingly down at her own heart in her hand.

Others believe someone with MS is “lucky” to be married 

So many community members shared that they, like the author, had been told that they are lucky to have a partner. This is never a kind thing for someone to say, nor is it true. Having an illness does not make someone less loveable. Some community members shared that they do feel lucky to have a partner. But truly, everyone who has a partner is blessed to have found love. 

“Ugh, it is true. I do not know how many times I have been called ‘lucky’ to have my partner. I wonder if anyone has ever told him he was lucky to have me. It is doubtful.” 

Both partners are lucky to have one another 

In a true partnership, both people will feel lucky to have one another. Each person brings their own unique gifts. Both people will give to one another, and both will receive – that is what partnership means.

Many in the community shared that they have no doubts about the value that they bring to a relationship. They know that having MS does not limit their self-worth. They also see that their partner is lucky to be with them.

“My husband is wonderfully supportive, as I am to him. A couple of years ago, he nearly died from sepsis and had to have his leg amputated. It was a dreadful time, and he needed a lot of nursing, which, at first, was hard with the MS. But we muddled through together, and I think we are even closer now.” 

“I am lucky to have my partner, and we are lucky to have each other. We take care of each other.” 

“In reality, I know I am lucky to have my husband with me, and he knows he is lucky to have me in his life. It does not really matter what anyone else thinks or says.” 

“Personally, I think he is bloody lucky to have me!” 

“Oh, way to go! I was married over 20 years before I was diagnosed, but I married a man with character, and he knows he is lucky to have me. I am not a victim. MS, nor any other disease, will never cheapen my value.” 

Thank you to everyone who shared. We are grateful to hear from so many community members about your personal experiences.

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Our Relationship? It’s Complicated

By Doug Ankerman

Relationships come in all forms. Personal. Family. Professional. Casual. The list runs as long as your arm.

Each relationship, different in its own way. And each, as unique as the next.

We try our darndest to be careful with words and actions not to lead, disrupt or inflame. Care must be exercised to keep a relationship in its particular form — as crossovers can mean trouble.

Add multiple sclerosis into the fray and judgements can be blurred. Thoughts jumbled. Feelings fuzzed.

That is why I am thankful for two very special relationships in my life. 

One, with a local auto parts store. And the other, the neighborhood plumber’s supply.

There, we experience connections on a higher plain. A shared silence of understanding.

Not being handy, nor mechanical, I am mummified to explain what I need or am attempting to do.

Relationships - Doug looking confused

Mostly, I shuffle into their establishment with a pathetic look on my face.

A blank stare of incompetence.

From my pocket, I produce a worn-out part, some gadget-gizmo. I don’t know its name or purpose. I simply put it on their dirty counter and let them go to work.

Not a word is exchanged as they see the desperation in my eyes. They will gather up everything I need. Then carefully explain how to complete my back-handed attempt at the project.

Of course, having MS, their words fly over my head like Blue Angels at an air show.

(They are seeing my dumb face pictured above, remember?)

So, they simplify their explanation. Even drawing me a crude diagram on the back of the receipt.

Satisfied, I shuffle back to my car and home again with new-found confidence.

Balsa-wood bravado. Paper-thin capability. But it’s all good. 

What we have is special indeed. A relationship that’s…yeah, it’s complicated.

*Doug writes about multiple sclerosis and other stuff on his humor blog at myoddsock.com

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Meet the Board – Meryl Ravitz

MSAA strives to be a leading resource for the MS community by Improving Lives Today through vital services and support – and we could not accomplish this without the help of our volunteer board members. MSAA’s Board of Directors is comprised of accomplished professionals from across the country who volunteer their time to further MSAA’s mission. With our ongoing series, Meet the Board, we look to introduce you to our wonderful volunteer board members!

This month, MSAA is proud to highlight our newest board member Meryl Ravitz and share her inspiration for joining the Board of Directors and future goals for the organization.

Professional Background: Meryl Ravitz is an entrepreneurial financial executive with more than 25 years of senior-level experience in small/mid-capitalization companies in the telecommunications and consumer products industries. She has been instrumental in Equity & Debt placements, IPO’s and the related SEC work, Sarbanes-Oxley, budgeting, reporting, audits, treasury, and human resource functions at her various companies.

Ms. Ravitz has been the CFO & Treasurer of XcomIP, a wholesale telecommunications company, since 2011. Prior to that, she held multiple finance positions at Vivaro Corporation, leaving as the CFO & Treasurer. She also held finance management positions at Wired Business as well as Destia Communications. She started her career at Deloitte & Touche.


What inspired you to join MSAA’s Board of Directors?

I am thrilled to join MSAA’s Board of Directors! I have been volunteering for MS organizations since 1992 when I joined the National Multiple Sclerosis Society – NJ chapter, as the youngest board member. My father had MS my entire life, and he passed away in 1988, prior to the availability of any MS medications. I vowed to do something to help other families not go through what he and our family went through. I was the Board Co-Chair and Treasurer through my 25 years at the MS Society, leaving in 2017. I then joined MS Hope for a Cure as Treasurer for three years.

MSAA’s focus on helping people living with MS is really exciting to me. During my time at the National MS Society, I instituted a scholarship program for teens with MS or a parent with MS to help with college-related expenses. I loved getting to know the teens and their families, who benefited from the scholarships, which for many was life changing. I also helped at various events (both programs and fundraising) over the years where I could meet the people we were serving. Helping others is something I’m very passionate about. My daughter and I have also been volunteering at a homeless shelter for the past four years, since she was three years old. MSAA’s mission of helping those living with MS inspired me to join.

Lastly, I joined because MSAA has the best CEO around. I have known Gina Murdoch since our days at the MS Society, and look forward to working again with someone so dedicated, trustworthy, and caring.

What are your goals as an MSAA Board Member?

I would hope to make a difference as a Board Member. Whether that’s starting new programs, helping at existing ones, raising money, or getting to know the people we are serving, it’s all interesting to me. I will be on the Finance Committee and am happy to help MSAA where needed. In addition to the needs of the organization, my personal need is to be an advocate and supporter in the lives of our friends with MS. I hope that my knowledge of MS and passion for supporting others enables me to be a great Board Member and I look forward to the days when we can meet in person!


Editor’s Note: MSAA is extremely proud and honored to enlist the support of Meryl Ravitz and all dedicated Board Members who volunteer their time, expertise, compassion, and leadership to help us achieve our mission of improving lives today for the entire MS community. We are very grateful for their service and look forward to their continued support as we strive to serve more people in more places than ever before. Thank you once again Ms. Ravitz!

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Good Confidants Can Handle the Tough Stuff

By Stacie Prada

Our relationships affect our health, and our health affects our relationships. Our health and our relationships evolve over time as each person ages and life chapters change. These are simple and obvious facts, but I find them to be something I need to remind myself periodically.

Living with a chronic and progressive illness like Multiple Sclerosis complicates the issues to tackle and the dynamics to navigate relationships.  As my body changes, my focus always shifts inward.  Is this symptom new and temporary, or is it a small indication of worse things to come? What do I need to do differently now, and what might it signal for my future?

These are important questions to consider.  Identifying symptoms, possible treatments and available resources are crucial for navigating the physical aspects of chronic and progressive diseases like MS.

In these times, I try to stay logical and pragmatic.  I try not to overreact. I try to work through my fears and frustrations in a healthy way that doesn’t impact anyone else.  They don’t ask me to keep it to myself, but it’s my natural preference.  Unfortunately, the agitation and worry usually seep out, and those close to me sense it.

Stacie Prada relationships on her blog post Sharing the Tough Stuff

It takes a lot of self-awareness and acceptance to disclose when my body isn’t working well. Usually, I’m still trying to get a handle on what it is and whether it’s significant or not. I’m still trying to analyze and monitor the changes.  I often am not yet ready to share, because I’m hoping things might improve and there might not be anything to share.  This means those close to me experience the consequences of my changing health before I even realize I’m stressed and irritable.

My confidants have excellent skills for showing curiosity and support while not pressuring me.  Sometimes unknowingly, they help me manage my feelings, my fears and my frustrations.  They hear me, believe me, don’t compete with me, and share themselves with me. I see their grace when I deflect or shut down an inquiry.  These are the people to keep close, because they’re willing and able to help me.  When I see them hesitate or gently back off, it’s my signal that I should share what’s bothering me.

Yet, I still hold back.  While it’s silly to think saying things out loud will make them worse, it’s exactly how I feel.  If I share that my legs hurt more and my coordination is worse, it means my fears of becoming disabled are warranted.  It means I’m becoming disabled.

I’m seeing disability with MS can be a slow, gradual and very invisible transition.  It appears to me that I will be greatly affected by my disease before anyone sees me with a mobility aid.

I’m going through this life with MS, and the people close to me are going through this life with MS with me. Some made my life harder, and I’m fortunate to no longer rely on them.  Others have proven to be healthy and respectful, and they are my cherished relationships.  They check in, they ask how I’m doing, and they back off when they see I’m not up for saying more.  It’s not until I open up and share the invisible changes I’m experiencing that they can really go through this with me in a way that helps me cope.

Having a body slowly and progressively deteriorate is an isolating feeling.  It takes effort to explain and not complain.  I get sick of living with MS, and I get sick of being tired of it. I want to be low maintenance and easygoing, but this disease is one that requires constant coddling and accommodations for my body’s needs. It takes a lot of time and effort to do the physical tasks that are needed to manage my MS symptoms, and it takes tremendous effort to challenge the negative thoughts that come from having a chronic illness.

I haven’t found the secret to skipping the irritable phase.  I’ll notice I’m grouchy, and I try to override the temptation to lash out. Sometimes I do well. I keep my mouth shut and go for a walk or do yoga.  Sometimes I reveal my bad mood in my tone or curt responses. It’s moments like these when I don’t feel like I’m being as nice as I’d like that I hope to avoid or get through quickly.  Often the best I can do is give myself a timeout and tell those around me that it’s not them.  My goal is to be able to feel pain without lashing out and seek connection to help get me through the feelings of uncertainty and frustration.

Once when I was going through an especially difficult time, a friend wrote in the sympathy card, “We’re hurting with you.”  It hit the right nerve, and tears along with a sob came quickly.  I was feeling very alone, and having someone succinctly address it allowed for a cathartic feeling of connection.  I know the antidote to feeling powerless and alone is sharing with those close to me. It doesn’t fix my problems, but it lightens the emotional load I’m carrying.

If I can be truthful and forthcoming with the people who have my back, and if I can be a source of support for their challenges, I think we’ll all fare well.  The best relationships can handle the tough stuff.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

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