Tag Archives: children

Oh, Shuttlecock!

My husband and I have a badminton net in our backyard currently, which is terrific, except that it required two master’s degrees, a fair amount of duct tape and an afternoon of misery to set it up. Confession: We probably could have used a marriage counselor or two, but none were available at the time. Truth be told, the net that is now up is a new one we purchased because we gave up on the possibility of ever successfully assembling the old one—last year’s model, dredged from the depths of our pitifully disordered garage.

Naturally, we didn’t accept defeat immediately upon learning that things weren’t going well. No one ever said we were gifted. Instead, we soldiered on, struggling in the heat for what seemed like an eternity, wrestling with a tangled mass of string and a net that was evidently too heavy for our flimsy poles. Never mind our pathetic arsenal of metal stakes—the ones that warped irreparably as we attempted to hammer them into the impenetrable ground. But because the gods were smiling ever so slightly, no one smashed a finger. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

After a time, it became apparent that we would fail in our quest to set up the wretched net. I’m not sure if it was our collective realization that the plastic poles would continue to bow and eventually snap no matter how hard we tried to prevent that from happening or if it was the way the net kept sliding to the ground despite our best efforts to tie the aforementioned string into knots at the top of each post. Hence, our ill-conceived need for duct tape. Note to self: It’s always a bad sign when, in desperation, one resorts to using duct tape. When all was said and done, perhaps we acknowledged that our labors would ultimately fail when we discovered the ends of the segmented poles were damaged beyond repair after having hit them several dozen times with a 5-pound mallet. Again, I can’t emphasize the degree of idiocy that was on display that day. In a word, it was epic.

As our hope began to fade and our bodies literally baked in the sun on that fateful afternoon, I began to wonder just how many neighbors were witnessing our exercise in futility as it unfolded there in the lawn in all its glory. It had to be comical to watch, much like a circus governed by Murphy’s Law—only there was a lot less skill and far more cursing. I’m quite sure a number of people chuckled at our profound stupidity as we darted back and forth between the poles like fools, eventually throwing the mangled stakes and jumble of string to the ground in disgust.

I never remember my dad having such issues, although it’s likely he did given that he wasn’t especially mechanical and often relied on a hammer to fix just about everything. As a kid I suppose I didn’t worry much about how the badminton net would be set up—only that it would be set up. Magically, it seemed, the net would appear in the lawn each summer. And it didn’t matter to me that it might have been crooked or drooping in the middle, although I can’t reliably recall that bit of detail. I only remember being immersed in the game for hours on end, whacking at shuttlecocks with my brother as night fell, fireflies blinking all around us, the cool grass beneath our bare feet. It was our summertime ritual.

Every kid needs a summertime ritual like that—even if it requires parents to lose their collective minds in the process. Looking back, I can fully appreciate the sacrifice my parents must have made, as well as my husband’s since he not only toiled in the yard, but also spent an entire afternoon in search of a reasonably priced replacement for our misfit-of-a-badminton-set. Seventeen phone calls, four stores and one meltdown later, he succeeded.

But it was so worth it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably playing badminton. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, Ode to Embarrassment, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

A Tree is Nice

We have a half-dead tree in our yard. Make that FIVE half-dead trees. A pine, an ash and three fruit-bearing ones, although they haven’t produced much of anything in a very long while. Hence, the time has come to take them down, which by almost anyone’s standards makes perfect sense. It’ll be safer, since the risk of toppling over during a windstorm will be reduced to zero. We’ll also likely get some ample firewood out of the deal and we’ll free up a sizeable portion of the lawn for Frisbee in the process.

Everything about the felling of said trees is good. Except that it isn’t. The sad part of it is that there are memories attached to the trees in question—especially the peach tree, whose blossoms burst forth each spring in a glorious explosion of pink. Likewise, in winter its snow-covered boughs make me want to fetch the camera to freeze the moment in time. I just know I’ll look out my window weeks from now and lament that we ever made the decision to cut it down and dig up its roots, erasing from my mind the notion that it ever existed.

For more than 20 years we’ve been harvesting peaches from that tree. My husband was the designated proper-upper of craggy branches, assigned with the task of placing boards beneath its heavy limbs, laden with bushels of ripened fruit. Together we picked them, sampled them and then hauled bucket after bucket into the garage—a staging area for figuring out what to do with them next. Fruit flies be damned.

I wish I could claim that I baked an impressive number of pies with what we reaped over the years, but that would be a lie. Many of my neighbors, however, probably did, as we were inclined to give away scads of the fuzzy fruit each September, knowing we’d never consume all that we had gathered.

Likewise, I’m sure I’ll recollect a time when I watched my twin toddlers from the very same window, perched upon their dad’s lap as he circled the peach, the apple and the pear tree with the riding lawn mower. Round and round they would go, ducking beneath the limbs, smiling in the sun. One year they even built a teepee of sorts by leaning leafy branches we had trimmed from other trees against it. For days on end that summer, it was the most wonderful fortress in all the land, providing a haven of shade and camouflage for all who were so fortunate to crawl inside.

The aforementioned peach tree was one of their first climbing trees, too, its mossy branches low to the ground, inviting gangly children to develop and hone their scaling skills. I remember hoisting them up, assuring them it was perfectly safe and that it would be worth the effort because of the view it afforded them. After they had mastered the peach tree, it was on to taller and more daring venues, like the maple in the back yard, and the massive oak out front.

It’s possible I’ll miss the dear trees we plan to chop down, as well as any others we might lose in the years to come, because they remind me so much of my childhood—a time during which I practically lived in the woods behind my house, building a plethora of forts and climbing to the tops of trees all summer long, carving my initials there as a way of marking territory and perhaps time. I often wonder if my carvings remain, or even if the trees are still standing straight and tall. Far above the ground, swaying in the breeze was one of my favorite places to be, enveloped by a canopy of verdant leaves, summer after delicious summer. From my lofty perch, time was suspended, after all, and all was right with the world.

I can only hope that my progenies have had enough time in their special trees to make memories that will last.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the fact that our peach tree will soon be history. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Growing Pains, Mushy Stuff

Apron Strings

www.melindawentzel.comI am a mediocre cook at best, perhaps an unlikely one as well, since I never was much for the kitchen—even as a kid. I have a handful of recipes in my repertoire that I feel comfortable with, most of which have been handed down through family over a number of years. Mastery came only as a result of determined effort and decades of repetition—certainly not from talent or inclination. That said, I almost never stray from the recipe, sticking to the formula that has worked for me time and again. There’s always the chance I’ll burn or undercook something, so I suppose that’s all the adventure I need.

Occasionally, I’ll branch out and try new things that I’ve seen on the Food Network, but only if I can pronounce the ingredients and find them easily in the grocery store. I’m not one to traipse around looking for something completely obscure that Giada went on and on about. That’s just not me. The degree of difficulty matters, too. Chances are if a third grader couldn’t prepare it, blindfolded with a whisk tied behind his or her back, I’m not likely to tackle it anytime soon.

I realize this isn’t the sort of example I ought to be setting for my daughters—always playing it safe, unwilling to step outside my comfort zone in order to reap the benefits that sometimes come with taking risks. As adults I’m hopeful they’ll be more adventuresome than I, delving into cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes they find online, crafting their own from scratch.

I’m sure if I had sons I’d feel the same way.

Nevertheless, I don’t pretend to know what my children will glean from me as it relates to culinary skills. Lord knows I’ve tried to lure them into the kitchen, because, of course, I’d feel like a complete failure if I didn’t at least teach them something. I’ll admit it was easier when they were small. We’d pull the heavy mixing bowls out of the cupboard, shove wooden chairs up against the counter and sort through the drawer for favorite aprons—the ones that practically swallowed them so many years ago, two tiny sets of feet peeking out at the bottom. Together we’d bake cookies, scooping mounds of flour, cracking eggs in a less-than-efficient manner and eating chocolate chips straight from the bag. Not surprisingly, my kids were greatly invested in anything that involved making a terrible mess and/or eating sweet stuff.

Over time, I coaxed them into learning how to make some of their favorite dishes, banking on the idea that they’d be inspired by the outcome. For the most part, this has worked, evidenced by the fact that they feel comfortable enough to make their own dinner once in a while and no one has burned down the house as of yet. No small feat.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether they fall in love with the kitchen and all that it entails. I won’t be disappointed if they fail to fully embrace it, nor will I be displeased if they do. I just want them to continue to enjoy spending time with me there—even if I have to bribe them with Ghirardelli chocolate chips or having free rein to make an enormous mess of my kitchen, something that’s still very popular.

What’s more, years from now I hope I’ll see that I’ve managed to impart at least two things to my daughters, neither of which has anything to do with properly sautéing vegetables or peeling a hard-boiled egg without destroying it. I want them to recognize the importance of making a meal for someone who really needs to feel pampered or just plain loved—to know that comfort food is a godsend when someone is grieving or recovering or stressing about life in general.

I also want them to remember how special it made them feel to have someone bake them a birthday cake, slathered with their favorite icing and/or sprinkles. If they can in turn bake someone happy on their special day, that would indeed make me smile.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Meat & Potatoes

“M” is for Motherhood

dandelion_canvas_gallery_wrap_canvas-r4f47808710544c519e1462fbeb5dbfdc_z3geq_8byvr_324While it’s true the term “motherhood” is a simple collection of ten letters, specifically arranged for ease of pronunciation, it is suggestive of so much more. In sum, I regard it as a wholly intangible, behemoth-like affair that effectively upended all that I thought I knew about life as a decidedly callow twenty-something. Needless to say, the experience continues to shape and mold me, schooling me day and night in the curious ways and means of children, wowing me with the inherent remarkableness of the aforementioned creatures and rendering me forever changed as an individual. As it should be, I suppose. That said, here’s how I spell motherhood.

M Motherhood is a messy beast-of-a-thing—with its suffocating mass of sippy cups and sidewalk chalk, Legos and lunch boxes, bicycles and Band-Aids. Never mind the ubiquitous nature of stuffed animals and the profusion of refrigerator-worthy masterpieces that inhabit our homes, marking time as our progenies progress along the winding path of childhood. And let us not forget all the lovely shades of gray with which we must contend: the tangled complexities of teens, the relentless questioning of toddlers and the soft underbelly of the headstrong child—the one we try desperately to govern without stifling. Indeed, motherhood is a messy business.

O Motherhood is overwhelming to be sure—a seemingly insufferable, plate’s-too-full collection of moments that, when taken together or viewed within the prism of the unattainable ideal, beat us into submission, the thrum of parental failure ringing in our ears. That said, there’s nothing quite like comparing oneself to the façade of perfection—holding our harried selves up against those who appear to be getting it right, the moms who keep all the plates spinning as if flawless extensions of themselves.

T Motherhood is timeless—an eternal post to which we are assigned, willing or not. From the moment our writhing infants, ruddy-faced and wrinkled, are placed upon our chests, motherhood begins in earnest. And although our parent/child relationships shift and season over time, they remain inextricably woven within the fabric of our lives. Not even death can end the appointed role, as a mother’s counsel is sought long after she has been eulogized.

H Motherhood is a humbling experience. Ask anyone who has ever faced the stinging truth as it relates to intolerance and hypocrisy—delivered by a six-year-old, no less, soundly putting those who ought to know better in their respective places. So often kids eclipse our academic abilities, too, reminding us how important it is to embrace change. Never mind that every fiber of our being screams in protest. Moreover, becoming a parent means a humbling loss of identity to some extent, punctuating the uncertain nature of our so-called significance in certain circles. We are simply So-and-So’s mom now—maker of sandwiches, applier of sunscreen, gracious recipient of dandelions. But somehow the title feels right, as does finding a pretty vase for the dandelions.www.melindawentzel.com

E Motherhood is edifying in that literally every day we learn something new—most of which is harvested from conversations at the dinner table or at bedtime, from diaries that beckon unremittingly or from tiny notes we discover wadded up in someone’s pants pocket. We spend a lot of time watching, too, realizing that our mothers were right all along. Children will, indeed, cut their own hair, shove peas up their noses and breach late night curfews to test both boundaries and our resolve. Arguably, the lessons of motherhood never truly end.

R Motherhood is real. Good, bad or indifferent, it is palpable, inimitable and exceedingly enlivening. It is the stuff from which memories are made and so much purpose is derived.

H Motherhood delivers nothing less than a heady rush—an intoxicating dose of awe wrapped in the sheer rapture of having had a hand in creating life, not to mention having been called upon to shape one or more future citizens of this world. Mothers are, without question, difference-makers.

O Motherhood makes us swell with omnipotence now and again—a grand and glorious surge of I’M THE MOM, THAT’S WHY sort of sway that leaves us feeling all-powerful, if only fleetingly. But nothing makes us puff up more than hearing censure as priceless as, “Dad, did you get Mom’s permission to do that? She’s the Rule Captain, you know.”

O With motherhood comes obsession. And spiraling panic. And unfounded fear. And, of course, debilitating worry over that which will probably never occur anyway. In sum, we fret about bumps and bruises, unexplained rashes and fevers that strike in the dead of night…about report cards and recklessness, friends we cannot hope to choose and fast cars that will whisper to our charges, inevitably luring them within, despite our best efforts to forbid such foolishness.

D Motherhood is delicious—a profoundly gratifying slice of life we would do well to savor. Never mind its patented swirl of disorder and wealth of doubts, fears and impossible demands. Indeed, motherhood threatens to swallow us whole, while at the same time allowing us to drink in its goodness, gulp by gulp.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (reflecting on the many facets of motherhood). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, In the Trenches of Parentville, Mushy Stuff

The Cardboard Box: A Primal Refuge

www.melindawentzel.comSome days I just want to crawl inside a cardboard box fort and hide from the rest of the world—like I did when I was nine or ten. Prince and David Bowie are dead. Harper Lee and Alan Rickman, too. Also disturbing, at least on some level: Donald Trump is running for president and McDonald’s chocolate chip frappés are officially extinct. These are desperate times and they call for desperate measures—like curling up in the fetal position within the comfort and safety of a cardboard-walled fortress, effectively separated and insulated from the madness outside that might otherwise devour us. At least that’s what I feel compelled to do when times get tough—revisit the glorious cocoon of my youth.

Back then, the only thing that came close to the impressive nature of a fort crafted from a discarded cardboard box was a fort whose roof was built with an embarrassment of blankets—a sprawling haven that encompassed an entire room, incorporating clothespins, stacks of books, heavy ashtrays and every available piece of furniture that would further the effort—that of making it somehow more expansive, inspired largely by a Manifest Destiny of sorts. But I digress.

I remember the birth of many a cardboard refuge as if it were yesterday. Once in a great while, there would be a sizeable purchase in our household, like a new refrigerator, washer or dryer. Naturally, this produced as a side benefit a most enormous box—a gift from the gods to my brother and me. Somehow said box made its way down the narrow staircase and into the middle of our basement rec room. Like maniacal hunters we circled the beast—scrutinizing every inch of its carcass, celebrating our good fortune and anticipating the ritualistic carving that would soon take place.

This, of course, meant that our mother would allow us to use steak knives to transform the aforementioned box into a masterpiece, making us drunk with joy while effectively violating one of the prime tenets of parenthood—the one involving sharp objects and underdeveloped motor skills. Inherently she understood that using a table knife was decidedly futile, and that scissors were pretty much worthless as a tool for such an undertaking. So we’d hack and saw through the cardboard with glee, inch-by-inch, completely unsupervised—the ever-present element of danger adding exponentially to our collective delight.

Not surprisingly, we were fatigued by the enormity of the task yet thrilled to be making progress toward our shared vision. Never mind that blisters formed on our fingers, cardboard dust particles filled the air and jagged scraps littered the floor. It was a small price to pay in the name of creating something larger than ourselves. There in the musty cellar, whiling away the hours, we carved windows of every shape and size, escape hatches and skylights galore, doors that would actually swing open and shut and at least one rectangular slot for assorted mail and other important deliveries—like Mister Salty pretzel sticks and wads of Monopoly money. Also essential, a pathetic-looking doorbell we sketched with a big, fat Magic Marker.

Adding to the nest-like quality of our creation, we sometimes hauled blankets and pillows inside or fashioned curtains out of dishcloths we swiped from the kitchen. Likewise, a slew of books and LOOK Magazines would find their way to the interior, dropping to the floor one by one, having been shoved through the mail slot in rapid succession.

Indeed, our fort was a beautiful thing and there was as much joy in constructing it as there was in playing with it—especially when pets were coaxed within. Much like the mountain of dirt in our backyard—the one that occupied my brother and me for the better part of our summers, inundated with more plastic Army men and Matchbox cars than we could reliably count—our cardboard box forts were semi-permanent fixtures that would live in our memories forever.

Looking back, I can’t imagine surviving childhood without either.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, tempted to resurrect the cardboard box fort of my youth. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, In the Trenches of Parentville

The Lingo of Parenthood: A Curious Addendum

IMG_0306I’m convinced there aren’t enough terms in the English language to adequately reflect upon my harried life as a parent. More specifically, there ought to be words that, when cobbled together, help us to more effectively define the indefinable and/or express the mélange of exasperation, angst and joy we sometimes feel throughout the course of a typical day. To that end, I’ve developed a handful of new terms to expand upon the current vernacular.

CELL PHONE CIRCUS: The crazed barrage of texting/phoning that takes place in order to arrange for a friend or relative to pick up one’s child/children after school or an activity in the event you can’t possibly do it. Of course, you don’t realize you can’t do it until it’s almost time to pick up the aforementioned waifs, at which point you become panic-stricken, not to mention mortified by your failure to anticipate such a circumstance. Out of sheer desperation, you then phone or text eleventy-seven different people, highlighting your stupidity, spelling out the logistics involved with the proposed pick up and promising a pony to anyone who says “yes.” With any luck, someone will come to your rescue and haul your brood home.

PARKING LOT PURGATORY: The indeterminate wedge of time (i.e. roughly a century) during which parents sit in their cars in the parking lot at school, at the soccer field, etc. in anticipation of the emergence of one’s child at the conclusion of the event in question. Naturally this happens because the scheduled end time isn’t remotely related to the actual end time. Invariably, we are the last to know. To add insult to injury, our kid clearly has a knack for being dead last. Every. Single. Time.

FESTIVAL OF MOODS: The kaleidoscope of emotions our progenies (especially of the teen and tween variety) demonstrate, ranging from the pinnacle of euphoria to beyond the point of surly. Over time, we have come to expect the unexpected, yet we never quite know which disposition will be featured at any given moment—which makes dealing with it even more thrilling (not so much). The only thing we can be sure of is its highly changeable nature. And drama. Lots of drama. Like so many things that fall under the umbrella of parenthood, it goes with the territory.

DREAD-MONGER: A parent who is routinely plagued by an overwhelming sense of irrational fear as it relates to an unfounded belief that something horrible has happened to one’s child. The trigger could be the text you receive informing you that he or she might have incurred a concussion. Of course, your child assures you there is no reason to be alarmed—unless you find certain statements disturbing such as: I’m a little confused and nauseous because a huge shelf fell on my head and “…IT FELT LIKE MY BRAIN BOUNCED.” It could also be the itchy rash that mysteriously shows up three weeks into a course of antibiotics—the rash your child cleverly documents with a series of photographs, texting them to you in succession from school to make you INSANE with worry to brighten your day. Making matters worse, you Google the symptoms and brace for impending doom. It’s what you do.

EMBARRASSMENT BY ASSOCIATION: The act of offending one’s offspring simply by being alive. More specifically, when your kids reach that magical age we all know and love, they become completely mortified by your presence—to include the way you walk, talk and breathe. Heaven help you if you happen to sing in front of their friends, set foot in their classroom or step within 400 yards of their school bus.

NEW AND IMPROVED WALK OF SHAME: The familiar excursion you make from your car to the school office, delivering yet another item your child forgot—something vital to his or her existence. Like so many times before, you hang your head as you place said item on the counter, vowing that it will be the last time you behave like a helicopter parent. Probably.

RANDOM HUG FEST: Spontaneous displays of affection in the form of hugs, given freely by one’s child/children for no apparent reason whatsoever. The impulsivity and genuineness of such an expression of warmth, if nothing else, reminds us that we are loved despite our innumerable flaws. Savor each and every one of them.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Join me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Trust Me; The FBI Wouldn’t Want my iPhone

www.melindawentzel.comI have an iPhone, similar to the one that caused the hullabaloo in the news cycle in recent weeks. As you might recall, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the issue of privacy and national security as it relates to the San Bernardino shooters. In sum, the FBI wants to extract data from a particular iPhone owned by one of the gunmen, Syed Farook, in hopes of obtaining more information about the December attack in California.

Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about the matter since I can clearly see the benefit of unlocking the device in order to learn more about the crime’s particulars, yet I can also envision the potential negative of such an encroachment, setting an unwelcome precedent that may affect law-abiding citizens. As is the case with so many conundrums, knowing what is right is far more difficult than doing what is right.

One thing I know for sure, however, is that the FBI wouldn’t want my iPhone under any circumstances. Trust me. If, in fact, the government were to confiscate it, I’m certain they’d be disturbed by a number of things that would likely cause them to chuck it in the nearest river. First and foremost, they would be horrified by the egregiously unimaginative set of numbers I’ve assigned to its passcode—much like the predictable nature of those I use to guard practically everything in my life.

What’s more, they would be appalled to learn how many times my kids text from school to tell me they forgot

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something of vital importance, how often I ignore the directional advice of Google Maps and wind up perfectly lost, or the amount of time my husband and I discuss dog poop. Yes, dog poop. (It’s a long story and you probably wouldn’t be interested). At any rate, officials would also discover the unhealthy obsession with which I text in complete sentences, almost always using proper grammar, capitalization and punctuation—to a fault. My teens, of course, have come to expect such dysfunction in our family, but even still they roll their eyes at me. “Who does that?” they’ll ask with more than a little disdain.

Furthermore, I have serious issues with misspelled words and inadvertent omissions within my messages. Needless to say, it kills me to send them out into the world like that—broken and/or woefully incomplete. That said, I am positively fixated upon retyping them until they’re right. It’s a sickness, I know. By the same token, using abbreviations for common words or phrases would imply that I’m beyond lazy, and I’m simply not ready to admit anything of the sort to the government or to anyone else. Also, relying upon Siri to translate my speech into text while I’m driving is just IMG_0476asking for trouble. Quite frankly, she never gets it right, and then I have to pull the car over, delete her drivel and retype the stupid message—the one that could have been delivered long ago had I simply taken the time to hunt and peck on my tiny keyboard.

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In a related matter, I’m convinced that AutoCorrect is demonic and revels in its ability to thwart my repeated attempts to curse. After dealing with Siri’s ineptitude, it’s no wonder I feel compelled to use colorful language. So, of course, I persevere despite being hampered by the evils of spell-check gone awry. If nothing else, the FBI would be inspired by my determined efforts. Probably.

By contrast, it’s likely they would be largely uninspired by the cache of photos stored within my phone—the ones that feature food on a plate, unabashed selfies with my dogs and a PROFUSION of odd pictures and videos that my kids have taken upon hacking my phone. Because, of course, they think it’s funny to zoom in on chin rolls and nose hairs.

In sum, I think it’s safe to say that my iPhone won’t be seized by government officials anytime soon.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Join me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Normal is Relative, Techno Tripe