Gionastics

Part of the Gionastics competitive team display their skills for the April issue cover of our Tots-Tweens Magazine.

Part of the Gionastics competitive team display their skills for the April issue cover of our Tots-Tweens Magazine.

When walking into the pre-beginners class at Gionastics, observers are often in awe of the order and attention displayed by the participants, some of them as young as three-years old.  As a gym that practices safety first, parent volunteer Denise Friedman explains that they offer programs for all ages and ability levels. “We go from pre-beginners, which are toddlers, all the way up until teenagers, which are intermediate and advanced [students].”

A few of the competitive team participants lead the pre-beginners class in warm-ups.

A few of the competitive team participants lead the pre-beginners class in warm-ups.

With this year marking the gym’s 20th anniversary, Coach Giovanni “Gio” Gallardo has much to celebrate.  For the first time in Gionastics’ history, a female athlete, 12-year old Makayla Schaelchlin, has advanced to the regional competition that will be held in a few weeks in Little Rock, Arkansas.  “This is huge,” elaborated Friedman, “[because] we have only had a couple of state champions, but never all-around champions.  It takes a lot of work and dedication.”

Dedication is certainly something the competitive team is familiar with.  Among others, the team is currently comprised of Schaelchlin, a Level 7 competitor, Malorie Friedman, Madison Brock, and Tatiana Mercado, all Level 5 competitors.  When asked what their favorite part of gymnastics has been this year, they all excitedly joked, “Traveling to New York [for the Manhattan Classic] and throwing snowballs at Coach Gio!”

“I love Coach Gio,” remarked Mercado, “he’s an amazing coach and he is very strict.”

Competitive team members Tatiana Mercado, Madison Brock, Malorie Friedman and Makayla Schlaechlin lead the pre-beginners class in exercises.

Competitive team members Tatiana Mercado, Madison Brock, Malorie Friedman and Makayla Schlaechlin lead the pre-beginners class in exercises.

“I think we make a strong team [because] we all work together and we try our best,” shared Malorie Friedman, a Gionastics member since she was three-years old.

Gionastics offers a variety of courses.  Outside of gymnastics classes, they also teach power tumbling, which caters to cheerleaders and students interested in perfecting their cheer skills.  Summer camps include dance, indoor activities and gymnastics.  Saturdays are open gym from 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., for a $6.00 charge.  Special prices are offered for cheer teams from BISD schools.

Friedman added, “He runs a very disciplined program.  The kids learn quickly.  We’ve got about ten up and coming gymnasts that are going to join our new team, and in the past three months we have seen tremendous growth.  Their parents are very satisfied with how the program is moving along.”

Classes and Coach Gio Gallardo sing, "Happy Birthday" to one of the participants.

Classes and Coach Gio Gallardo sing, “Happy Birthday” to one of the participants.

She continued, “One of the reasons I love the gym is that he has passion for what he does.  Money is tight here where we live, and he [basically] charges nothing to [give] the classes.”

“My goal is to eventually have a competitor at the collegiate level,” concluded Coach Gio.  He also has plans of one day passing the gym on to one of his daughters, Micaila Gallardo.  Looking around the gym, it is evident that he has no plans of slowing down any time soon.

For all interested parties, the first class is free.  For more information on Gionastics, please visit their website or their Facebook page.

The other side of the gym, where students practice on equipment while being supervised.

The other side of the gym, where students practice on equipment while being supervised.

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Ritzy Resale Shop and Lunch Veranda

My children closely inspect the outside of the Ritzy Resale Shop.

My children closely inspect the outside of the Ritzy Resale Shop.

I love when my children surprise me for the better.  I also enjoy finding hidden, local gems.  It was not in my original plan to write a story this week on the Ritzy Resale Shop and Lunch Veranda in Brownsville, but I am so thankful I had the privilege of visiting.

It had been years since I had last made its acquaintance, when my mother-in-law treated me to a lovely birthday brunch.  Curious to know if it was still there, I decided to treat my children to a small lunch.

This was the dining room my son chose.  He and his sister enjoyed looking around at the different items and parts of the shop.

This was the dining room my son chose. He and his sister enjoyed looking around at the different items and parts of the shop.

As soon as I walked in, my initial thought was, “What was I thinking?”  An antique store, consignment shop and lunch veranda in one, it holds many of my favorite things.  With my four-year old on one side of me, and my 22-month old on the other, I glanced around at fragile items that stood at their eye level.  “Please be careful and don’t touch anything,” I gently reminded them.

We were warmly greeted by one of the co-owners, Amy Garces, and told to choose a room to dine in.  My children were happy to pick one.

Cindy Gulley poses with a couple of nutcrackers.

Cindy Gulley poses with a couple of nutcrackers.

A couple vacationing on South Padre Island from Illinois perused the room.  Jerry and Cindy Gulley were on their way to the zoo when they googled resale shops and found Ritzy Resale.  “It was on our way, so we thought we’d stop and check it out.  It’s definitely a different shop.  I like the way they’ve got their rooms laid out for dining,” remarked Jerry.

Cindy was on a mission to find a nutcracker for her son, who collects them.  She picked a good time to visit, as all of Ritzy’s Christmas items are currently 75% off.

My favorite part of the visit, outside of eating my delicious meal, was talking with Amy and her co-owner and mother, Diana Masso.  Ritzy Resale has been in existence for five years, with loyal, committed customers and newbies that did not know they existed until stumbling across them.

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Diana Masso, one of the co-owners of the Ritzy Resale Shop.

Located at 814 Boca Chica Blvd, the warm shop was originally a home built by the Barnard family.  With larger rooms, windows and hardwood floors, it has all the charms to make a person feel nostalgic.  “People tell us [coming here] is like walking into [their] aunt’s house or grandma’s house,” added Masso.

A lifelong lover of antiques, cooking and baking, Masso wanted to find a way to combine them all.  “I was turning 50, and decided if I don’t do it now [open a shop], I’m not gonna do it.  I decided to go out on a limb,”  remembered Masso.

The littles play with safe, unbreakable beads.  It was good to talk antique shop and tea time etiquette with them.

The littles play with safe, unbreakable beads. It was good to talk antique shop and tea time etiquette with them.

While I was having a conversation with Amy and Diana, my children found some safe beads I agreed they could look at.  Every now and then, they would each chime in, “Look at this, mama!” like it was the coolest thing they had ever seen.

With a variety of menu items, Ritzy Resale offers everything from Mediterranean foods to sweets.  “We try and cook healthy.  We have a different special everyday,” added Masso.  As I sat there enjoying my lunch and the company of my children, I couldn’t help but envision future mother-daughter tea dates and celebrations.  “This is a good mom retreat place,” said Masso.  I couldn’t agree more.

I highly recommend their famous chicken salad and house salad.  This was my delicious lunch.

I highly recommend their famous chicken salad and house salad. This was my delicious lunch.

For more information on the Ritzy Resale Shop and Lunch Veranda, please visit their Facebook page.  If you decide to check it out, take me with you.

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Sea Turtle Inc.

South Padre Island, Texas, is an area rich in marine life.  Only a twenty-minute drive north of Brownsville, Texas, it is an ideal vacationing spot and tourist attraction here on the border of Mexico.  One popular destination on the beach for families is Sea Turtle Inc., a non-profit, rehabilitative home for endangered turtles.

Rescued sea turtles are kept in tanks until they are well enough to be released back into the sea.

Rescued sea turtles are kept in tanks until they are well enough to be released back into the sea.

Sea Turtle Inc. was established in 1977 by Ila Loetcher, a Pella, Iowa native.  She and her Brownsville born husband would walk the beaches looking for nesting turtles.  Present day Assistant Curator of Sea Turtle Inc., Kat Lillie, added, “People started bringing turtles to her house and that’s how Sea Turtle Inc. was born.”

The main goal of Sea Turtle Inc. is to educate the community on how to care for the turtles and the ocean in general.  Lillie continued, “A lot of these turtles have come here because of human impact:  entanglement injuries, eating trash, boat propellers.  One of the biggest parts of our mission is educational:  teaching kids and adults why turtles are endangered, what happens to them in the ocean and how we can help them.”

Visitors enjoy observing, Merry Christmas, a particularly social sea turtle.

Visitors enjoy observing Merry Christmas, a particularly social sea turtle.

Hatchling releases that happen between mid-June and mid-August are particularly popular among locals.  There are usually 5-10 per year, and people can follow Sea Turtle Inc.’s Facebook page to receive updates an hour before each release.  Through Facebook, interested parties can also access their website and watch all the releases through a live stream if unable to attend in person.

Summer camps are currently offered yearly to 10 children.  A new location with more space is underway that will lend itself to more participants.  The program is five Mondays, and begins the second Monday in June.  It is tailored for children between the ages of 7 and 12.  Registration for members opens in March, and general registration begins in April.  There are different levels of membership, and members receive 10% off in the gift shop and a newsletter, among other perks.

Volunteers give bilingual presentations throughout the week on Sea Turtle Inc. and its efforts.

Volunteers give bilingual presentations throughout the week on Sea Turtle Inc. and its efforts.

Funding for the non-profit comes completely from donations, proceeds from the gift shop and private grants.  While Sea Turtle Inc. does not charge admission, a donation of $4 for adults and $2 for children is strongly encouraged.  Lillie concluded, “Every dollar helps:  it’s how we feed the turtles, pay the electric bill, [and] take care of the filtration.”

Lillie also encourages visitors to South Padre Island and Boca Chica Beach to look for sea turtles and pick up trash.  If any turtles are found alive or dead, people can call their office number: (956) 761-4511.

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Gladys Porter Zoo

A gorilla sits and enjoys eating his afternoon snack.

A gorilla sits and enjoys eating his afternoon snack.

Gladys Porter Zoo has been a Brownsville staple for more than 40 years.  Facilities Director, Jerry Stones, has been a part of the city’s favorite family spot since its beginning.  Originally from Nebraska, he started working at the zoo in October of 1970.  A newbie then to wildlife, he found himself in a cage with gorillas for the very first time.  That was all it took for him to fall in love.

“I’ve bottle raised many of the gorillas.  I have literally taken them home with me and allowed them to sleep with me in bed,” said Stones.  The oldest gorilla presently in captivity is 59 years old.  “It would not have survived that long had it stayed in the wild,” he added.

A father and son explore a section of the petting zoo.

A father and son explore a section of the petting zoo.

An educational hub for families, the Small World Petting Zoo provides hands-on learning for children and parents alike.  Illuminating the senses, visitors can pet goats, camels, chickens, sheep and cows.  Stones hopes it inspires children to make connections and take care of animals the world over.  “It has a way of teaching them respect.  They then teach their parents about it,” he confided.

Future plans for the Gladys Porter Zoo include rebuilding the Children’s Zoo, adding a new Jaguar exhibit and creating a nocturnal walk-thru area.  Zoo members also have an eventual new entrance and exit just for them to look forward to.  The zoo appreciates all the support they receive from the community.  Annual Zoofari party funds go directly towards funding the zoo and keeping it running.  During these parties, the zoo also tries to get sponsorships from different companies.

Children enjoy exploring the playground when not observing the animals.

Children enjoy exploring the playground when not observing the animals.

Zoo members are at the core of the local support.  Mother of three, Debra Bustinza, had the following to say about why she and her children visit bimonthly:  “I love that it’s a safe environment for them to run and play.  They love the playground, especially in the summer.  It’s really good to have a membership here.  We come every other weekend.”

Mr. Stones has a challenge for anyone that might consider remembering the zoo in their will.  “If someone remembers us in their will, we could name the Children’s Zoo after their family,” he smiled.

Visitors are encouraged to feed the giraffes a couple of days during the week at lunch time for a small fee.

Visitors are encouraged to feed the giraffes a couple of days during the week at lunch time for a small fee.

For information on how to become a volunteer at the zoo, please call (956) 546-WILD.  For all other inquiries please visit their website or their Facebook page.

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McAllen Public Library

The McAllen Public Library is located at 4001 N. 23rd St.

The McAllen Public Library is located at 4001 N. 23rd St.

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Small tables and chairs adorn part of the children’s section.

McAllen, Texas, has the reputation of being the most modern and progressive city in the Rio Grande Valley.  Now, it also boasts the title of having the largest single-floor public library in the United States.

Originally a Wal-Mart, the library has many features that make it unique.  Outside of the popular adult and children’s sections, it also has an area specifically for teens.  “We have a teen department that caters to kids between 13 and 18, and there is all kinds of stuff that draws them in, [like our] Teen Theater,” said Bobby Guevara, Reference Assistant.

The McAllen Public Library is the perfect place for any book lover to visit.  It features an expansive collection of literature.

This library is the perfect place for any book lover to visit. It features an expansive collection of literature.

The children’s section is colorful and has a computer lab and story room designed with little ones in mind.  The library also hosts a regular story time for toddlers.

Guevara continued, “We have [members] from all over the US.  Our Winter Texans have their library cards when they come here.”  Interested residents can start the process online and then come in with a valid ID and proof of address.  When they become members, they also have access to an online catalog and eBooks.

The non-fiction section of the library.

The non-fiction section of the library.

The McAllen Library also has a cafe, a bookstore run by volunteers, meeting rooms that can be rented out, a state of the art computer lab, and an auditorium that seats over 100 people.  Visitors are allowed to enjoy drinks in the library as long as they are covered.  In addition to the main location, there are also two branch libraries.  Interested parties can schedule tours.

With areas that cater specifically to children, teens and adults, the library is a popular family destination.  To find out more about the McAllen Public Library, please visit their website or their Facebook page.

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Sharkey’s Hair It Is

Sharkey's Hair It Is specializes in parties for little girls.

Sharkey’s Hair It Is specializes in parties for little girls.

The main floor of Sharkey's.

The main floor of Sharkey’s.

Walking into Sharkey’s Hair It Is is a visually stimulating experience.  With Hollywood lights lining the stylists’ mirrors, bold colors on the walls, a couple of televisions playing popular shows with options to play the Xbox, and pop culture music—both old and new—playing on the speaker, your attention is captured.

Originally based  in Connecticut as “Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids”, Sharkey’s Hair It Is was created to cater to the whole family.  With locations mostly in the East Coast US, and as far away as Ireland and Egypt , it is the first of its kind to show up in South Texas.  Owner of the local franchise, Marcos Saldivar, says, “My vision is to have one in each city here in South Texas.  We’re all about customer service.  When you come in, we treat you like you’re walking into somebody’s house.  We offer water and want people to feel comfortable.”

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This pink room is a popular party venue for little girls.

When asked what the secret of their three years of success has been, manager Mary Valdez commented, “We have good customer service for the kids.  A lot of parents tell us their children are requesting to come and get their hair cut here.  We treat the whole family.  They leave very happy.”  The aforementioned Xboxes, she notes, are there for whoever wants to play them, whether it be a child or an adult.

A popular venue among little girls, Sharkey’s offers two different birthday party packages.  One is for 12 girls for two hours at $375, and includes a hairstyle, make-up and nails.  They also get to dress up and play planned games in between.  Sharkey’s provides drinks and pizza, and parents have the option of bringing a cake.  The smaller package is for 6 girls for an hour and a half and includes all the same perks for $275.

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Two examples of the cars children can choose to sit in while getting their hair done.

Party Coordinator and stylist Karie Recio noted, “[Parents] like the space because they don’t have to do everything.  We have enough people to take care of the kids; it’s adapted for them, especially little girls.  They enjoy dressing up and being with the ladies.”

Haircuts for adults are $18, and $15 for children.  All haircuts come with a shampoo, and girls can get their nails done for no extra charge.  Children receive a balloon and a lollipop when they are done, and have the choice of sitting in a special car of their choice while being treated.

With great customer service and clientele, it looks like Sharkey’s Hair It Is is here to stay.

For more information on Sharkey’s, please visit their website or Facebook page.

Local Sharkey's manager, Mary Valdez, is very helpful and committed to her clients.

Local Sharkey’s manager, Mary Valdez, is very helpful and committed to her clients.

 

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Holiday Village Brownsville

The Holiday Village is sure to get visitors in the Christmas spirit.

The Holiday Village is sure to get visitors in the Christmas spirit.

With a crisp, wet breeze in the air, and Josh Groban singing, “O Holy Night,” on the loudspeaker, the Holiday Village in Brownsville is excitedly ushering in the Christmas season.

The, "Find Fritter the Elf," Challenge.

The, “Find Fritter the Elf,” Challenge.

Nestled in between the Camille Playhouse and The Children’s Museum of Brownsville, the village is lined with cottages sporting various themes and adorned with lights.

New cottages are added each year, and the events schedule is full of local elementary school, dance studio and middle school choir performances.  Admission is free.  Every Friday and Saturday evening, children are invited to visit with and take pictures with Santa Claus in the photo booth at no cost.

The Home Sweet Home Cottage, sponsored by Parra Furniture (2014).

The Home Sweet Home Cottage, sponsored by Parra Furniture (2014).

Most recently, the village added a “Find Fritter the Elf,” adventure, with Fritter hiding in a different house each evening. Participants are encouraged to find Fritter, take a picture in front of the host cottage, and post the photo on the Holiday Village Facebook page.  They are then entered into a drawing to win prizes from Krispy Kreme.

“I like taking my grandchildren because they add a new display every year.  It’s like a parade of lights, and the miniature homes spark their imaginations,” says Brownsville native Rosie Hatley.  “It’s nice to take a stroll with your family and enjoy the scenery and entertainment,” added Hatley.

The village is also a fun place to visit during the day, as it sits in Dean Porter Park and in close proximity to the Gladys Porter Zoo.  Holiday Village Hours are Sunday –Thursday, from 8:00 am–10:00 pm, and Friday and Saturday, from 8:00 am–11:00 pm.  For more information, please visit their website or their Facebook page.

A schedule of December's musical performances is on display at the Holiday Village.

A schedule of December’s musical performances is on display at the Holiday Village.

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Resaca de la Palma State Park

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Resaca de la Palma State Park is home to more than 500 different kinds of plant species.

Home to more than 500 different plant species, Resaca de la Palma State Park is a hidden South Texas treasure.  Located in Olmito at 1000 New Carmen Avenue, it is the only subtropical forest found in the United States.  “The resaca is what sustains the plants and wildlife,” shared Pablo De Yturbe, the park’s superintendent.

The 8 miles of trails are good for walking, biking and hiking.

The 8 miles of trails are good for walking, biking and hiking.

Part of the nine birding centers in South Texas, and one our three local state parks, it is a secure family destination.  Amenities include bicycle and binocular rentals, and a tram that circles the park every hour.  Observation decks are located in different parts of the trails, and a paved, 3-mile road traverses the nature reserve.  There are a number of routes within the park that are good for walking, biking and hiking. In total, visitors have an 8-mile trail system to explore.

“We also have programs that introduce children to nature,” added De Yturbe, “and there are programs for children of all ages.  We can create [these] groups all year, and need at least 15 [participants].  The cost is $2 per child.”
Astronomy in the Park
On the last Friday of every month, Resaca de la Palma hosts a 2-hour night hike.  With flashlights in hand, children and adults alike are invited to observe all the creatures that come out at night.  This month’s theme is, “A Night of Astronomy.”

Currently, an observatory that was moved from UTRGV is being constructed on sight.

Park hours are Wednesday–Sunday, 8 am–5 pm.  Entrance fee for adults is $4, and children under 12 are free.  Guests can pay at the visitor’s center.  If the visitor center is closed, you can still pay at the entrance gate.

For more information, please visit their Facebook page.

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Krispy Kreme Brownsville

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is located at 1144 E. FM 802 (Ruben Torres Blvd) in Brownsville.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is located at 1144 E. FM 802 (Ruben Torres Blvd) in Brownsville.

Valley residents can rest assured that there are now two Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in the RGV, with the most recent addition in Brownsville.  With the red “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign lit up nightly, the new franchise is booming with doughnut lovers. Varieties of the sweet treats include Chocolate Iced Custard Filled, Glazed Lemon Filled, Glazed Blueberry Cake, Sugar and Zebra.  There is one for everyone in the family.

Brownsville Family Night begins next Wednesday, November 18th.

Brownsville Family Night begins next Wednesday, November 18th.

Starting next Wednesday, November 18th, the Brownsville Krispy Kreme will host their first of many free Family Nights from 6–8 pm.  Participants enjoy doughnut decorating, crafts and games.  Texas Marketing Director, Tim Sabo, says, “Kids love it, parents love it.  Kids can do a craft, play a game like lotería and they get to dip a doughnut in chocolate and put sprinkles on it.”

Visitors can also book a Behind-the-Scenes Tour for $1 per person.  Participants each receive a hat, sprinkled doughnut and beverage.  To reward academic achievement, Krispy Kreme encourages students to bring in their report cards and gives them a free glazed doughnut for each “A” received.  Sabo adds, “Krispy Kreme is all about joy; that is part of our mission statement.  Not only are these joyful occasions, they are also a way for us to connect with locals.  It’s a way for us to say thank you.”

Doughnuts are made fresh daily.

Doughnuts are made fresh daily.

Tomorrow, on Veteran’s Day, men and women who have served will be given a doughnut and coffee.  To stay abreast will local happenings, please visit their Facebook page.

Giana Gallardo Hesterberg is passionate about many things, including being a wife, mother, teacher, speaker, blogger, gardener and friend. You can follow some of her adventures on her blog storiesbytheseashore.blogspot.com

 

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The Brownsville Museum of Fine Art

The Brownsville Museum of Fine Art is a gateway of opportunities.  Rounding out the Mitte Cultural District and located next door to Gladys Porter Zoo, it is an ideal place to visit for residents and tourists alike.  “A lot of people don’t know we’re here in the Mitte Cultural District,” remarked Brianda Manrique, BMFA Administrative Assistant and IT Coordinator.

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Mr. Lieck instructs two of his art students.

The museum features pieces done by different local and international artists in its permanent collection, and also offers art classes, community events and poetry talks.  Throughout the year, the museum hosts a number of exhibits and educational tours, with the most recent and successful one being King Tut.  Art teacher and director, Karl Lieck, observed, “Many of the students in Brownsville [that visit] have never been to a museum.  In turn, they bring their parents.”

“We are trying to promote art here in our community,” added Manrique.  During the month of October, the museum’s goal was to create the largest a de los muertos altar in the history of south Texas.  Día de los muertos is celebrated on November 2nd, and is a day to remember the lives of loved ones who have passed on.  “We live on the border and have lots of Mexican people,” shared Manrique, “and for us, the altar is to honor and remember our loved ones.”  Altars typically include pictures, decorations like flowers and skulls, and food.  Visitors to the museum this last month, received two sugar skulls to decorate, one to leave at the large altar, and the other to take home.

An example of an altar.  This one was made for Selena Quintanilla, a Tejano legend.

An example of an altar. This one was made for Selena Quintanilla, a Tejano legend.

In the summer months of June – August, the museum offers 10-week art and music classes.  The music classes include instruction in violin, guitar and piano.  The hours are  Monday–Friday, 10–4, with the camp providing supplies and lunch for the children.  Since the Brownsville Farmers’ Market is held right outside the museum year round on Saturdays, entrance to the museum on Saturday mornings from 9–12 is free.

They are open later than usual on Wednesdays (until 8) and offer 50% off the regular entrance price on those days.  To commemorate día de los muertos, the museum will have free admission on November 1st and 2nd.  To learn more about BMFA, please visit their Facebook page or website.

Giana Gallardo Hesterberg is passionate about many things, including being a wife, mother, teacher, speaker, blogger, gardener and friend. You can follow some of her adventures on her blog storiesbytheseashore.blogspot.com

 

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