A Letter to My Sons: 25 Things I Want My College-Aged Sons To Know

Dear sons,

I remember many years ago when you were both very young, when your grandmother (my mother-in-law) said to me:  “Enjoy your children while you can, they’ll be grown and gone from home before you know it.”  I remember I smiled when she said that.  I may have even laughed.  Little did I know how true her statement was.  Little did I know how fast the time really would fly.

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Now I’ve been an empty nester for a few years now and you both  are winding down your college years.  I can hardly believe that my oldest is in his last semester of grad school, and my youngest is winding down undergraduate.  I often think back and wonder if I taught you both everything I was supposed to have taught you.  It seems when it came time for you to go off to college, I just wanted to scream, “WAIT!  I’m not done here yet!” But I had to let you go and boys, let me tell you, it was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  I still worry that there were things I missed out on teaching you.  Yes, believe it or not, moms DO worry about these things.  And yes, we do lay in bed at night and toss and turn, worrying if we’ve done our job sufficiently.   After all, I’m your mother and it was my and your father’s job to prepare you for college and not only for college, but for life.  Most of the time I feel I did my best but I still sometimes have an overwhelming feeling that I didn’t quite “finish my job.”  Maybe this is a common feeling among mothers.  I often wonder.

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I know I messed up a lot.  There were days I lost my patience and I yelled and screamed. And I’m really sorry for that.  There are things I wish I could go back and do all over.  But it doesn’t work that way.  I know I wasn’t perfect…. but no mother is.

Here are 25 things I hope and pray you will have learned and have etched into your very being before leaving college that will help you when you enter the “real world.”

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  1. Practice the Golden Rule– Treat others as you would like to be treated.  I hope you put kindness at the center of everything you do.  Do things for others and help others without expecting one darn thing in return.  Do it out of the kindness of your heart.  Always show love and kindness to everyone you meet.
  2. Don’t gossip. If you want to know why, pick up a bible and see what it has to say about the subject.  And yes, we’re all human and we sin and we will struggle with this.  I fight this one daily.  And I will keep fighting it.  I hope you do too.
  3. Don’t ever be afraid to say Yes Ma’am and No Ma’am and Yes Sir and No Sir.   You were raised in the south and you were taught it’s a sign of respect.  It has nothing to do with age or sarcasm.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s rude or not appropriate.  And you’re never too old to be polite to people.
  4. Don’t forget to call your mother every now and then.  She misses you and loves you. She always will.  And while you’re at it, let her know you’ve at least received her occasional emails.
  5. Never post a picture or a statement on Facebook or anywhere else on the Internet without asking yourself these five questions.  Would I be comfortable with my mother and father seeing this?  Would I be comfortable with my employer seeing this?  Would I be comfortable with my professors seeing this?  How would I feel if my priest saw this?  What would God think about this?   It can’t be any simpler than this:  Be careful what you put in writing or post on the Internet.  You can never take it back.
  6. When you make a mistake, forgive yourself, learn from it, and then move on.  Don’t berate yourself or keep kicking yourself.  Let it go.  But always learn from it.  I know, I struggle with this one daily.
  7. Be mindful of your health and take care of your body.  It’s the only one you have.  You’ll be thankful you did when you’re my age.  That extra weight that’s creeping up on you from all those college pizzas and fast food restaurants?  It all adds up.  It’s easier to get that weight off now than when you’re in your 40s and 50s.  Trust your mother on this one!  Vitamin supplements aren’t a substitute for healthy eating.  And though you may not feel like eating breakfast, always eat something.  It’s food for your brain and improves concentration.  ALWAYS have something for breakfast on days you have a test or exam!!  Don’t depend on power bars and energy drinks.  And ditch the caffeine pills.  Don’t make the mistake I did and rely on them for all-night studying for comprehensive finals.  I learned the hard way in college, that caffeine pills can be very dangerous and detrimental.  DON’T use them!
  8. Brush your teeth twice daily and floss daily.  Yeah, I can see you both rolling your eyes over this one.  It indeed may sound silly and even a little embarrassing for your mother to be telling you this when you’re in your twenties, but those signs you see in the dentist office that say, You don’t need to brush (or floss) ALL your teeth…. only the ones you want to keep…  There’s really something to be said for those!  They’re there for a reason!!!!  You only have one set of teeth, so take care of them!  And that goes for wearing those retainers we spent good money for.  This is one that when you get to be my age, you will wish you listened more to your mother.
  9. When you’re staying at a friend’s home, always, always, always thank your host.  Always thank the cook for meals too.  Clean up after yourself when staying at someone’s house.  This includes making your bed, putting away your dishes, not throwing your wet towels on the floor, etc.  It’s called being polite and I’ll repeat myself– you never outgrow the need to be polite to people.    
  10. Read every day.   Chances are, since you’re in college, you will probably be doing this.  But do read something everyday…. Even if it’s just required reading in a textbook for a class you’re taking, a small section of the newspaper, a short devotional, or a bible verse.
  11. Exercise every day.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Bike to classes instead of driving when the opportunity exists.  Go to the fitness center.  Go for a walk.  If you can get your heart rate up and keep it up for 15-20 minutes every day, it will benefit both your cholesterol levels and your blood pressure.  This is an area I’m trying to improve upon too.
  12. Do your part in keeping your dorm suite clean.  That means washing dishes, emptying the garbage, cleaning out the refrigerator, scrubbing sinks, tubs, and toilets, sweeping, mopping, picking up your tiny room and washing sheets.   And yes, you really SHOULD change those bed sheets once a week (I know I wasn’t always a good model of this while you were living at home but I’m trying to do better myself).   It shouldn’t always be your roommates’ job to clean the bathroom  or the kitchen.  And likewise, it shouldn’t always be you who should have to always do it either.  Do your share of the dirty work.   Yeah, I know….  it’s no fun.  But it has to be done.  It all requires discipline (see #24 below).  There are no maids in college, and mom isn’t there to do it for you.  If you’re noticing bad smells in the kitchen or you’re seeing bugs, it’s way past time to clean!  And if you find that you’re doing the majority of the work, sit down with those roommates and have that much-needed and necessary talk.
  13. Minimize time spent on electronic equipment.  This includes texting, talking on the phone, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest,  etc.  Trust me, it’s a proven fact, it will steal your time and adversely affect your grades.
  14. NEVER text and drive.  It kills.  Period. No mother should EVER have to receive that unfathomable news that her child was killed or killed someone else over a stupid text message.  And while we’re on the subject, speed kills.  Bottom line: drive the speed limit and concentrate on driving when you’re behind the wheel.  My mother used to always tell me that every driver needed one little fender bender and one speeding ticket to make them realize that they aren’t God’s gift to all drivers.  I think she was right about that.
  15. Eat more fruits and vegetables.  Drink more water and less soft drinks (or better yet, no soft drinks). Eat more whole grains.  Sounds so simple, but it’s so much better for you and worth it.  Yes, I’m working on this one too.
  16. Always write thank you notes and be prompt with them.  It’s just plain and simply rude not to do so.
  17. Hygiene is important.  Pay attention to it.  Shower, wash your hair, shave, wear deodorant, and wear clean clothes.  Girls like all that.  Yeah, sometimes you just won’t feel like washing your hair because it’s easier to just throw on a hat or cap.  I will repeat myself.  Hygiene is important.
  18. Nothing is more important than family.  You may not believe that now, but the older you get, the more you’ll learn that it’s true.  You are brothers who were always so close.  I hope one day you will see how important you are to each other and how special the love between two brothers really is.  Never let anything or anyone come between that love.  And if something or someone does, I hope that you would do all in your power to correct it.
  19. Learn to forgive.  That goes for others as well as yourself.  
  20. Don’t think you’re ever too old to learn.  Never take your education for granted.  It’s a necessity. (And I’m not necessarily talking about college degrees here).   As long as we are alive, we should all continue to learn.  If you ever think you know it all, think again.
  21. Never underestimate the power of prayer.  Go to God when you have concerns.  Talk to him about your hopes and dreams, your plans for the future.  Ask him for guidance and protection.  Know that His plans for your life are far more glorious than any plans you may have for your  life.  Pray without ceasing.  Turn everything over to God in prayer and know that nothing’s too small.  He ALWAYS wants to hear from you. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this until well after I had finished college and I have deep regrets over that.
  22. Just because everybody is doing something, doesn’t mean that it’s right.  Be more eager to please God than to please your friends.  There will be temptations in life…. that’s a given.  Even Jesus was tempted.  Study God’s word and then live by it.  Live in obedience to Him.  Never feel tempted to do something just because all your friends are doing it or it’s the “in” thing to do.  If your conscience tells you not to, listen to it.
  23. Whether you succeed or fail in college is based on your effort and your decisions.  It’s all up to you.  You need to learn to accept personal responsibility.  If you choose to wait until the night before a paper is due to start on that paper, you’ve waited too long.  If you wait until the night before a huge exam to start studying, and  you don’t do well on that exam or fail it, you have no one to blame but yourself.
  24. If you learn nothing else in college, learn self-discipline.   Know when to turn off the television, the video games, and when to get off the phone, and Facebook and get your work done.  Good study habits require self-discipline.  When that alarm goes off at 7 am for that 8 am class, you may just feel like turning it off and rolling over and going back to sleep.  It’s self-discipline that makes you get up and get to that class.  It’s self-discipline that makes you continue to study when you’re tired and bored and don’t feel like studying.  It’s self-discipline that gets you to class on time, and it’s self-discipline that allows you to know it’s time to study and not play.  It’s self-discipline that makes you know you need more than 2-3 hours of sleep a night.  A tired brain means you won’t be able to think coherently or recall things well.  It’s self-discipline that allows you to get homework done 3 days before it’s due, not an hour before.  Go to class.  Professors have absolutely no interest or desire in helping you if you haven’t been coming to class all semester.   You don’t deserve any favors. And yes, it’s self-discipline that makes you choose the broccoli over the greasy french fries and the water over the Coca Cola.  A major reason that smart kids flunk out of college or drop out is that they don’t have the self-discipline to manage their time. Believe it or not, bad eating habits, not getting enough sleep, poor study skills, and procrastination are all reasons for failing grades and even flunking out of college. Bottom line:  It’s discipline that gets the dorm cleaned, the studying done, gets the bills paid, gets you to class on time, and gets the sheets changed on the bed.  It’s your responsibility and yours only.
  25. College isn’t about dating or relationships, or finding love.  It’s about getting an education and having better job opportunities.  God will send the right girl along when the time is right.  His time.  If you’re dating and your grades have gone from As to Cs and you can’t find the time to study, then maybe it isn’t the right time for you to be dating and dating should be postponed until after college.

I love you both with all my heart.  Never forget that.

Love, Mom ♥

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A Year of Pet Loss Grief

One year ago today I had to euthanize my geriatric cat that I had for almost  20 years.  A cat I had acquired when he was 8 weeks old and who I loved like a son.  This year of grief has been much harder than I ever imagined.

Red Celosia

I’ve lost a lot of people and pets in my life.  I’ve grieved and mourned each and every one of them, but this year of grieving has been without a doubt the hardest.  And I’m not sure I understand why that is.

One year later, I have two new kittens.  I love them, they comfort me, and I feel blessed to have them, but they are not Bigfoot.  One of the kittens has a lot of Bigfoot’s same mannerisms.  This makes me smile, but it also sometimes brings tears and makes me long for the cat who’s no longer here.

Nugget and Dakota

I’m a big reader of grief books.  I’ve read a lot of books written by Elisabeth Kubler- Ross and I love Alan Wolfelt’s books on grieving (he has a whole series and even one on pet loss grief that is excellent).  I also have a book I try to read daily called Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief.

I found myself dreading this one year anniversary of Bigfoot’s death.  I fully expected to be sad, and I have been.  What I wasn’t expecting, was to wake up angry today.  I won’t pretend I haven’t felt anger at his death during this past year.  I have.  Bigfoot’s death aroused an anger in me that hasn’t always been easy to vent.  Losing him made me feel angry and today that anger resurfaced.  If I’ve learned anything from grief books, I’ve learned that there is no order to grief.  I’ve learned grief can’t be forced into a desired time frame.  It just doesn’t work that way.  I’ve learned that grief comes in waves.  Some of those waves are little and others feel like tsunamis.  I’ve learned that there are “griefbursts.”  I’ve had plenty of these griefbursts over the past year.  Alan Wolfelt, PH.D., in his book Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas, has this to say about griefbursts:

  • Sometimes heightened periods of sadness overwhelm us when we’re in grief.
  • These times can seem to come out of nowhere and can be frightening and painful.
  • Even long after the death, something as simple as a sound, a smell or a phrase can bring on a “grief burst.”
  • Allow yourself to experience griefbursts without shame or self-judgment, no matter where and when they occur.

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I’ve cried a lot over Bigfoot’s death.   And here one year later, I’m still crying.  I think crying is important and helps one in the healing process.  It’s cleansing and therapeutic. But recently, when I realized that the one year anniversary of Bigfoot’s death was coming up, and I was still crying almost every single day, I decided I needed help through this grieving process.  I thought maybe talking about my feelings with a trained professional who can listen and offer support might help.  I’ve only had two appointments with this counselor, so I’m not very far into the therapy process yet, but I think it may be helpful. The counselor seems very nice, professional, and compassionate.

There can be so many emotions one goes through after losing something or someone they love.  Of course there’s sadness.  But there is also guilt (which is quite common when someone has to make the difficult decision to euthanize a beloved pet), anger, numbness, fear, and confusion.  I’ve felt them all.  It is both normal and healthy to have these feelings.  I remember in the days right after my mother died, if you were to ask me to describe how I felt in one word, that word would have been “lost.”  My mother died of cancer and for 2 years there were so many doctor visits, hospital visits, chemo treatments, CT scans, and specialists to see.  In the last few months of her life, she was in a hospital hospice setting for 3 weeks, a nursing home for a week, and then a hospice residence for 2 months.  When she died, all those visits came to an abrupt halt and I didn’t know what to do with myself.  It was a strange feeling.   I felt like I needed to be somewhere but there was nowhere to go.  There were no more tests, no more chemo treatments, no specialists to see, no hospice to visit.  I at times just felt like I was wandering aimlessly through a thick fog in slow motion.

When you lose someone you love, whether it be a human or an animal, sometimes you get hurtful advice from others.  Over this past year, I’ve received all kinds of advice from people.  I’ve been told that I needed to “Get on with my life.”  I’ve been told “I lost my cat because God needed an angel in heaven.”  I’ve been told to “get another cat, that it would help me get over Bigfoot.”  I know these people meant well but sometimes their words stung a bit.

Bigfoot

I have learned I still have grieving to do but I know I will get through it.  I know I am blessed with others who love me.  I know I will eventually learn to love these kittens just as I loved Bigfoot.  I know I have much to be thankful for in this life.  I also know that some days will be easier than others.  On the harder days I just need to remember to breathe in and breathe out.   I realize I won’t “be cured” from my grief but that I will learn to live with it and become reconciled to it.  I truly believe that some good will come out of this experience and I will grow from it.  It will take more time.

Bigfoot's memorial stone

Bigfoot's grave

Gail ♥

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Michelle’s Weekly Pet Challenge

Dakota and Nugget enjoy watching birds, butterflies, and bugs flying outside the window  and love sunning themselves on their favorite chair.

Dakota and Nugget

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Gail ♥

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A Post I Vowed I’d Never Write

I was just informed by WordPress a few days ago that it was my 4th anniversary of blogging.  When I started this blog four years ago, there was one topic I vowed to never talk write about.  That topic was depression.  Because there’s this stigma associated with depression and I know it too well.

I remember my first struggles with depression came when I was in my second year of college.  But I didn’t know it was depression.  I thought I had a bad case of homesickness.   And I was homesick, but it became much more than that.  I kept it all inside though.  Even after my visit to a physician and my “official diagnosis,” I kept it to myself for a long time.

I remember when my father died in 1994, my world became so dark with grief that there were times I didn’t think I would survive.  This was a scary feeling for me.  Especially scary because I was a new mom, having just had my second son.  I felt like I was in a deep, dark hole and hard as I tried, I couldn’t emerge.  In my mind, I truly felt I was going to be in that dark hole forever and that there was no way out.   All I wanted to do was sleep, to turn off my brain and all thought processes.  I felt worthless, shameful, and hopeless.  There wasn’t much I liked about myself.  I didn’t understand those dark thoughts either because after all, I was happily married to a wonderful man, had a precious, beautiful four-year old son, and a bouncing adorable little bald-headed baby boy, a nice home, a job, etc.  So why was I so unhappy?  I just didn’t get it.  I remember FINALLY getting the nerve to discuss these feelings with my mother.  I had decided at this point to seek therapy (I knew I was in a scary place and believe me, I wanted help).  I. WANTED. HELP.  My mother was horrified.  Her reaction after I told her of my decision and my desire to see a therapist was: “Where did I go wrong with you to make you feel you need therapy? ”  This only made my self-deprecating thoughts worse.  To my mother, going for therapy was “airing your dirty laundry.”  I’m pretty sure that’s how she was brought up to view therapy.  She was dead set against it.

But I went anyway.  The first thing I remember the therapist doing after our initial introductions, was to thank me for coming in.  You see, she explained that coming for therapy took a lot of courage.  And though, I hadn’t exactly thought of it in those terms, she was right.   It did take a lot of courage, just as pushing the publish button on this post is going to take an extreme amount of courage.  Another thing I learned about therapy, is that it is very hard work.   Hard work, but necessary.

When I heard the news about the suicide of Robin Williams, there were just no words.  I felt so very sad for this man who I didn’t even know personally and to be honest, was never really a big fan of.   I became angry when I started reading that people were on social media sites spouting off cruel and insensitive things such as: “people who commit suicide are cowards,” or “people who commit suicide are so selfish.”  We’re all entitled to our own opinions and I happen to not agree with either of these statements.  I’ve learned people can be so mean and cruel and say things to others on social media that they would NEVER say to their face.  And that right there my friends is EXACTLY why I don’t “do” social media.  It’s why I deleted my Facebook account two years ago and why I’m pretty sure I’ll never get back on it.  I saw that cruelty come out in people more than once.  And I’d see these same people –the people spewing hatred on Facebook– on bended knee in church the following Sunday and it literally made me sick.

Depression is a medical illness.  Let me repeat that.  DEPRESSION IS A MEDICAL ILLNESS.  Like diabetes, or cancer, or cardiovascular disease,  it’s a real disease.  People who are depressed do not choose to feel that way.  Depression is a mood disorder with biological, psychological and interpersonal components.  Because depression is an illness that causes emotional and behavioral changes, it is often regarded as a character weakness or a personality flaw.  This stigma is a major barrier to patients seeking treatment for depression.   What a shame, since most cases of depression can be successfully treated.

Clinical depression  is more than just a feeling of sadness.  Everyone periodically experiences pain, grief, and sadness at one time or another.  That’s part of being human. When depression rules your life, there is a certain level of indescribable pain and misery that stays with you at all times.  Depression drains you of your energy, robs you of the pleasures of life, disrupts your sleep, appetite, concentration, and interferes significantly with an individual’s ability to function and enjoy everyday life.  It causes feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.  Depressed people look in the mirror and never like what they see looking back.  They notice only the negative and the imperfections. Nothing in life seems worthwhile.  Finding the energy to get out of bed in the morning is literally a major challenge.  Yet, many people who suffer from depression find the strength to do just that.  They muster up the energy to get out of bed, trudge to work, put on that happy face, and succeed in hiding their illness day after day.   And then there are those that can no longer do that and choose to end their life.  We never know the demons others are dealing with.  We never know what others are feeling or what they are going through.  Therefore, it’s not right of us to judge.

All too often, people with depression are told to “snap out of it,” to “pull themselves together, “to go out and exercise,” to quit feeling sorry for themselves,” to “find a hobby that will make them happy,” or my personal favorite, “to find God.” Let me make it clear that I’m a Christian, but I don’t think being a Christian offers immunity from clinical depression anymore than it would offer immunity from kidney stones or heart attacks or cancer.  Depression can not be walked, wished or willed away anymore than diabetes or cancer can be.   I do believe that having a strong Christian faith and prayer can help one deal with the illness of depression a little better.

Depressed people are not crazy people.  They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, pastors, artists, musicians, comedians, parents, children,  grandparents, and presidents, just to name a few.  Just look at Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, Diana, Princess of Wales, Dick Clark, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Buzz Aldrin as a few examples.  Depression knows no boundaries.  It affects both sexes and people of all races, ages and religions.

Major depression costs our nation billions of dollars every year in medical treatments, lost productivity in the workplace, and social services.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.  Therefore depression greatly affects our nation and every single person in it.  It takes a horrendous toll on its victims and their families and friends.  IT KILLS.  Too often, untreated or inadequately treated depression ends in suicide.

It is so important to understand that if you have depression, you have a health problem that requires professional treatment.  Treatment is multimodal and individualized.  What works for one person, may not work for another.  Treatment for depression is a little more complicated than just popping a daily Prozac.

It is my hope that we can stop hiding behind this widely misunderstood illness.  It’s time to bring it out in the open and start talking about it.  Families and friends of depressed people are an extremely important part of the support system, but they often don’t know where to start in bringing help to the person suffering.  Help that person get a proper diagnosis by a professional so that a treatment plan can be instituted.  Offer that person emotional support.  Sometimes that emotional support can be as simple as a hug.  It is important that the depressed person know that someone is there for them, to listen to them, to tell them that they are not alone and that they will get through it.  When I was in the black hole of depression after my father’s death, the most comforting thing for me at the therapist’s office was getting that hug at the end of our session and hearing her say, “We will get you through this.”  I can’t tell you how much hope those six little words gave to me!   Sometimes, we have to take steps to help people recognize when it’s time to seek professional help, and above all, to convey to them that this illness can be treated. Sure, it can be difficult to be around depressed people.  They can be very negative and frustrating to be around.    They’re sad.  They’re depressed after all.  And they know it and this often keeps them from wanting to talk to anybody about how they’re feeling.  When I’m in that black hole of depression, I sometimes do not want to talk to my therapist, or my priest, or my best friend, or anyone, for fear of coming across as a Debbie Downer.  No one wants to be known as a negative person, and when I’m in that black hole of depression, I’m filled with negativity.

It’s time we stop hiding behind the stigma of depression.  It’s time we start giving support and encouragement, and above all, it’s time to educate the world on the devastating facts of depression.  One person dying from depression is one person too many.

Gail ♥

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Michelle’s Weekly Pet Challenge

Dakota thinks laying on top of mommy’s clean clothes in the laundry basket is the funnest thing ever!

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petchallenge

Gail ♥

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Monday’s Question

Question:  It’s back to school time (hard to believe huh)?  Where did the summer go?   What did you like most about going back to school when you were a kid?

My Answer:  I always loved shopping for school supplies.  There was something fun about getting all “new things” like new crayons, new pencils, a new notebook, new school clothes, etc.  Back when I was in elementary school, we used to cover our old notebooks in sticky contact paper.  It was always fun to go to the local five and dime store to pick out your new contact paper!  That’s a memory I’ll never forget.  I can’t imagine kids of today doing that but it was a big fad back in the 60s.   I also LOVED to get colored notebook paper which was popular in the 60s and 70s.  Not a lot of teachers liked it or allowed it though.

Back to school

Gail ♥

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Michelle’s Weekly Pet Challenge

Nugget loves to play in boxes!

Nugget

 

 

petchallenge

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