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Overnighting near Omaha

Donna here, standing in for Mike. He woke up feeling pretty good this morning, but the good feeling didn’t last. He’s resting again.

We’ve been parked at Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa these last two nights. It’s a nice, clean casino and hotel with several restaurants. The casino itself is housed on a real riverboat.

Ameristar Casino, Council Bluffs, Iowa

As it turns out, there’s a bike path that goes right by here. Lucky me! On the first day, I walked the path about 2 miles to the pedestrian bridge that goes over the Missouri into Omaha. The border between Iowa and Nebraska is in the middle of the river.

Then yesterday, I went out for bike ride that took me north along the river on the Iowa side to the Lewis & Clark Monument – quite a climb but worth it for the views.

View from Lewis & Clark Monument

There’s a fence at the monument lookout that is covered with padlocks. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that some had been engraved with names. I posted a photo to Facebook and my friends told me that people do this all over the world as a symbol of their love. Apparently there’s a movie called Love Locks. Have you seen it?

Love locks on the fence

I enjoyed the downhill ride from the monument to the pedestrian bridge and crossed over into Nebraska for some Omaha sightseeing.

My destination was Old Market, Omaha’s most historic area. I had to get off my bike when I arrived as the streets are cobblestone, making for bumpy ride. I locked up my bike and walked around for about 45 minutes, exploring the many shops and restaurants.

Old Market Passageway

Then I wandered into Upstream Brewing for a Boom! Chocolaka milk stout. If I had wanted, I could have had it served over vanilla ice cream as a milk stout float. Yes, really.

Boom! Chocolaka milk stout

I snapped this photo on the way back over the bridge from Omaha to Council Bluffs.

My bike in two states at the same time!

We’re going to try to snag a site today at Walnut Creek Recreation Area in Papillion which is just southwest of Omaha. I chose this park for its easy access to miles of bike paths and to Prairie Lane Park where the locals play pickleball. It’s a first-come, first-serve park so hopefully, we’ll get lucky since it’s Monday.

Speaking of cycling, I had a blast doing the ride across Iowa. I was afraid I hadn’t trained enough. I mean, how do you train to ride 60 miles a day except to ride 60 miles a day? I got in about 650 miles over the 7 weeks leading up to the ride. It was enough. My legs were tired by the end of every day but felt just fine each morning.

Call me crazy, but I just signed up to ride a century (100 miles) in Longmont, CO on August 26. It’s a benefit ride to raise money for scholarships that go to high-achieving students from low-income families. If you feel so inclined to support me (I committed to raising $250 by August 13), click here. Thank you!

When we get to Walnut Creek, Mike will unload the Spyder and I’ll go get some groceries. I have not been grocery shopping in 18 days and our cupboards are bare!





Tour de Hives

Donna had an interesting day yesterday. This is her story – and she’s sticking to it. 

I pledged to ride 250 miles on my bike this month in the Great Cycle Challenge to raise money for children’s cancer research. So I was excited to learn that Pedalpalooza was in full swing here in Portland. This is an annual event with three weeks of bike fun and nearly 300 rides on the calendar. Portland is a very bikeable city with well-marked bike lanes, routes and trails, making bicycles a popular mode of personal transport.

On Friday, I checked the Pedalpalooza calendar and lo and behold discovered that there were five Naked Rides on the schedule for Saturday. These rides were all part of The World Naked Bike Ride, a worldwide event that highlights the vulnerability of cyclists on our streets and highways and dependence on pollution-based transport. Dress code is “bare as you dare.”

Anyway, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I opted instead for the Tour de Hives ride on Sunday, a guided tour of area backyard apiaries and fundraiser for Portland Urban Beekeepers. (Bee suits not required, but nakedness not encouraged.) The ride started about 8-9 miles south of our temporary home at the Columbia River RV Park. It turned out to be an excellent ride with a wide bike lane all the way down Vancouver Avenue through shady residential neighborhoods to the Eastside Esplanade.

Esplanade bridge

Eastbank Esplanade bridge

I was one of many runners, walkers and cyclists enjoying a beautiful, sunny day on the Willamette River. I was surprised to see a houseboat on the river. I think I’d like to live on a houseboat someday – just not this one.

River life

River life

Had I wished, I could have crossed over the Hawthorne Bridge to downtown Portland. Instead I headed east to Bee Thinking for the start of the Tour de Hives ride. Bee Thinking sells bee hives, beekeeping gear and “all things bees.” You may have seen their line of products featured on Shark Tank last year.

About 10 riders showed up for the tour and we got started about 1:30. Our first stop was a tree just around the corner in the beautiful Ladd Circle neighborhood. There are a number of old maple and elm trees here, many with cavities large enough to accommodate a colony of feral honey bees. One of the property owners came out to see what we were looking at – he had no idea that the tree just 50 yards from his front door was the home of neighbors he’d never met!

We rode a short distance to the first of several homes with backyard bee hives. It was interesting to discover that urban beekeepers tend to keep hens and roosters as well.


Urban farmyard

All of the lovely backyards we visited were planted with flowers that attract honey bees including California poppies, borage and milkweed.

One beekeeper's garden

One beekeeper’s garden

Beekeepers encourage planting flowers

Beekeepers encourage planting bee flowers

The bees were busy doing their thing.

Top bar hive

Top bar hive

One beekeeper explained how worker bees, which make up 98% of the colony, take on various roles over the course of their lifetimes. These roles include cleaning house, feeding the brood, caring for the queen, comb building, ventilation (they use their wings to circulate air),  honey conversion and packing, guarding the colony and collecting nectar.

Apartments available

Apartments available

Though bees were flying around the hives, we were able to walk freely through the backyards without getting stung. Honey bees don’t sting unless they have to because once they do, they die. That said, bees defending their hives might sting. In the presence of bees, you should not wave your hands or attempt to brush them off – this is a sure way to trigger a stinging reflex. Instead, you should step calmly away from the hive or the swarm. Most of the time, the bees will fly away without incident. Oh, and I learned that you should never blow on a honey bee as CO2 can trigger aggressive behavior. Good to know.

Almost forgot to mention: one beekeeper we met is also an author. She wrote a novel with beekeeping references called Juliet’s Nurse.

Written by a beekeeper

Written by a beekeeper

Our final stop was Zenger Farm, an urban farm practicing organic and sustainable agriculture. Zenger is the home of the bee hives for Portland Urban Beekeepers.

Some interesting facts that impact us all:

Honey bees and other pollinating insects provide humankind with more than just honey; 35% of all the foods we eat rely on pollination, which is how plants reproduce and survive. In the past few years, there has been a worldwide increase in the deaths of entire colonies of bees, which is reason for concern. Pesticide use, mites, and disease are all contributing factors. 

After three and a half hours of the bee tour, I was done in. It was hot and I still had a 14-mile ride home. I texted Mike to give him my ETA. I had to fight a strong headwind on the way back. Mike had pizza waiting for me. I needed that. Total distance: 31.3 miles. I’m not sure if I’ll hit my goal of 250 miles for the month, but I’m giving it my best shot!


*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!



Everyday Life

Donna here. Mike’s watching Sunday football, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some some insights into our everyday life and specifically how we manage chores and other everyday activities.

When we first hit the road, I was struck by how much longer it took to do things like preparing meals and washing dishes. It still takes longer, but I don’t think about it much anymore. It just is what it is.

There’s one chore that’s a lot easier and that’s cleaning. I can clean our new home in under 20 minutes. It used to take me a full two hours to clean our last home.

Almost daily in the beginning, I would bang a leg or elbow making the bed or blow-drying my hair. It still happens from time to time. In fact, I have a sizeable bruise on my thigh right now from bumping into the corner of the bed a few days ago. Come to think of it, though, I’ve always been a bit klutzy.

I do laundry almost every day. As I started a load of laundry this morning, I was grateful for the fact that we have a washer/dryer on board. I would not be a happy camper if I had to schedule time to do laundry, lug it to and from the park laundry facility, and hope that I didn’t have to wait for a washer and/or dryer to free up. Then again, if we had to do that, it would probably be Mike doing the laundry (since he’s retired) and I’d get out of that chore.

We have a Splendide 2000 washer/dryer that washes and dries clothes in the same machine. Apparently, this type of washer/dryer is popular in Europe because of its space-saving design.  I like that I can set the load to dry as soon as it finishes washing. Or I can just wash or just dry. The only downside to this set-up is that I can’t start a new load of wash until the previous load is dry, which is why I usually only do one load a day.

Some people complain that the clothes come out wrinkled in this type of combo machine, but I have no complaints. Then again, I’ve noticed that the clothes dry faster and come out better in dry versus humid climates and it’s quite dry here in San Diego. I did mix up some wrinkle releaser that I use as needed on heavier clothes like jeans. (You can make your own by filling a 16-ounce spray bottle with 2 cups of hot water, add one tablespoon of fabric softener, and shake to mix.)

My kitchen is way smaller than I’m used to, but I still cook pretty much the same way I’ve always done. The biggest challenge is keeping up with dirty dishes as I am preparing food. Sometimes I’ll have something like a dirty mixing bowl in my hand and realize that I have nowhere to set it down. I’m planning to write some RV recipe books that will take the challenge of cooking in a small space into consideration.

I just finished writing a book that will be published next year in October 2014. The working title, which could change, is The One-Minute Organizer’s Guide to a Cleaner, Happier Home. It was originally due to my publisher in late July, but I asked for an extension in June when I realized that there was no way I could write that book AND clean out our home in Michigan in preparation for leaving. That was a full-time job in itself!

I thought I might be able to write on the road as we made our way to Seattle and then down to San Diego. That was wishful thinking. For one thing, I couldn’t bear to miss out on the beautiful scenery along the way. But the real problem was that I just couldn’t get myself organized. Yes, me. Anyway, once we got to San Diego and could settle in, I was able to be more productive. Sort of.

When you’re a writer who has always had a nice desk with a desktop computer, ergonomic keyboard, comfortable chair and room to spread out, it’s a challenge to be productive at the kitchen table. The bench seat just isn’t that comfortable after awhile and the table is too high for typing on the keyboard. I tried working outdoors with my laptop on a TV tray and me sitting on a camp chair. I tried sitting on the sofa with the TV tray in front of me. But the kitchen table seems to be the best choice for now. Should we decide to upgrade our coach at some point, a work area with desk and chair is definitely at the top of my wish list.

While RV living does it have its challenges (there’s that word again), it’s not like they’re insurmountable or even that big a deal really. I share them with you because we promised to share the good, the bad, and the ugly realities of our lifestyle.

During the 8 weeks we traveled across country, I would tell myself, “This is your home.” But it felt like we were on vacation. Then, just a few days after we arrived in San Diego, I was washing dishes and I thought, “This is my home.” And I realized how happy I am that we chose this lifestyle. Remind me to tell you someday how that all came about.


Back to Business

Donna here. I’m really happy to be in San Diego. It took eight weeks to get here and I enjoyed every mile of the way. What a beautiful country we live in! And San Diego is one of America’s most beautiful cities. I’m really enjoying the sunshine. And I’m loving that we both have family and friends here.

Last night, we joined my youngest sister, Sheila Connor, and her friend, Dr. Jeff Sandler, for an amazing dinner. Sheila whipped up Grilled Salmon with Orzo, Feta and Red Wine Vinaigrette. I have the recipe if you want it. For an appetizer, she made heirloom tomatoes with buratta which is a super creamy mozzarella. Yum.

Sheila is also a good cook!

My sister loves cooking, too!

Our plan is to stay in San Diego for a few months, which feels odd because we’ve been on the go ever since we left Michigan and that’s become the norm. So far, this full-time RVing thing has felt like a very long vacation. But now it’s time for me to get back to work.

I have a book manuscript due to my publisher by the end of the month. I worked on it some while we were on the road, but didn’t make much progress. Fortunately, I had a pretty good head start on it before heading out.

The working title of my book is The One-Minute Organizer’s Guide to a Cleaner, Happier Home. Scheduled for publication in October 2014, it will include my favorite organizing and cleaning tips, which brings me to the gist of this post. I want to share a few tips for RVers.

We purchased a Dyson DC44 Animal rechargeable vacuum cleaner for our motorhome and I highly recommend it. It’s portable, easy to store and runs up to 20 minutes on a charge, so we can use it even when we don’t have an electrical hook-up. And it works great, especially for cleaning in tight spaces like around the toilet and under the driver and passenger seats. It’s not cheap though. We paid $300 for it on sale, but the regular price is more like $350.

Vinegar is my go-to cleaner. To clean the toilet, let out the water and then pour in 2 cups of vinegar and let it sit for at least five minutes. Then brush and flush. To clean countertops, mix equal parts of water and vinegar in a spray bottle, then spray and wipe with a microfiber cloth or paper towel. To remove stains from Corian countertops and sinks, just rub with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponge. It really does work like magic!

To clean a spill on your carpet, blot the excess with a clean, white towel. Then pour a little hydrogen peroxide on it and continue blotting until the stain is gone (or almost gone). Cover the area with a clean, white cloth and step on it to blot up as much moisture as you can. Then set something heavy like a skillet on top of the cloth and leave it overnight. I spilled red wine on our upholstered dinette bench the other night and following these directions, I got it out with no trouble at all.

One of the benefits of living in a small space is that it’s so much quicker to clean. I can clean my entire home now in less than 15 minutes. The trick to keeping it clean is to clean often. I wipe countertops daily, clean spills immediately, and vacuum three times a week. And I am always amazed how much dirt that little vacuum cleaner picks up! If you have pets, you’ll want to vacuum more often.

I promised in an earlier post that I would show you how I re-purposed clear plastic shoe boxes as storage containers. In the front of our coach, on each side, we have long, narrow, horizontal bins. I used three shoeboxes to organize and store various household items such as batteries, envelopes and stamps, tape, scissors, stapler, etc.

Front overhead storage

Front overhead storage

I used more shoeboxes in the bathroom in our medicine cabinet (the one on the center shelf in the photo below is labeled “First Aid”) and under the sink.

Center bathroom cabinet

Center bathroom cabinet

In the bedroom, I store all of my undergarments and socks in two fabric bins I bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I use a Clever Container hanging jewelry organizer to store all of my earrings, pendants, and bracelets. And my necklaces are hung on the inside of the closet wall using 3M Command Adhesive hooks. I originally hung them on the back side of a cabinet door, but they banged around as we drove down the road – and every time I opened the door – so I moved them.

Jewelery storage

Jewelry storage (hanging organizer is pulled out so you can see it better)

Fabric storage bins

Fabric storage bins for undergarments

Also in the closet, we each have a tiered pants hanger. There is a bar that holds each pair in place that lifts up for easy removal and hanging. I like it. I also like the slim, grippy hangers I bought to replace all the plastic hangers I was using before. They do a great job of keeping clothes in place. And they don’t take up as much space.

Tiered pants hanger

Tiered pants hanger

What are some of your favorite cleaning and organizing tips for your RV or motorhome (or small house or apartment)?




Organizing and Eating Well

Donna here. Long before we left our “sticks-and-bricks” home, I ponied up to the challenge of organizing our motorhome for full-time living. We have about 300 square feet of living space in our coach – about the size of large hotel room or small hotel suite.

My first priority as chief cook was to organize our food storage. We have a pull-out pantry which is great, except that the low sides of the pantry baskets only allowed room to store a single layer of cans, leaving a lot of wasted space. So I got the idea to place two plastic magazine racks in one of the baskets which tripled the canned storage space on that “shelf.” In the organizing profession, we call that “re-purposing.” I was planning to get rid of the magazine racks, but instead put them to good use.

Pull out pantry

Pull-out pantry

On the floor under the pantry, I have a small Clever Container folding cube where I store things like extra bottles of sparkling water. I also claimed the two cupboards over the kitchen table for food storage, plus a small storage area under the clock and the back half of a drawer under one of the kitchen bench seats where I store sugar, flour and other baking supplies (because I rarely use those items). I store spices on a two-tiered carousel in our one large kitchen cabinet that has two doors for access.

Overhead cabinet

Overhead cabinet

Cabinet below clock

Cabinet below clock

Kitchen cabinet

Kitchen cabinet

Visitors are often surprised to see that we have a fairly good size refrigerator/freezer. Still, it’s smaller than the average home refrigerator/freezer and lacks the compartmentalized storage of a larger unit. On my next trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond, I may buy one or two Fridge Bins to help organize the shelves. I did buy a pack of reusable GreenBags. I’m glad I did because I love fresh veggies, fruit and herbs and our refrigerator has just two tiny crispers. I had a few peaches go bad (I prefer not to refrigerate them) and wish I had thought to put them in a GreenBag in the fruit basket (yes, you can use them for countertop storage also).

When we first hit the road, I had the freezer packed with meat. Now I’m using more of the freezer space for frozen fruits and vegetables. I prefer fresh, but frozen fruits and veggies are still highly nutritious and sometimes, our only option.

At this point in our journey, shopping for groceries is catch-as-catch-can. If I have an opportunity to shop, I do because I don’t know when I’ll have an opportunity again. If we overnight at a Walmart Supercenter, then I can wheel a cart of groceries back to the motorhome. But if we’re camped at an RV park, then we’re limited to what we can carry on our scooter. Where we are now in Salem, SD, the nearest decent grocery store is 30 miles away in Madison. I’m looking forward to being within easy walking, cycling or scooting distance of Trader Joe’s when we get to San Diego!

I love grocery shopping actually; it’s my preferred form of retail therapy. I do have to be more careful now though not to overbuy, because we have limited storage space. This morning, I planned our meals for the upcoming week which includes a couple of nights of dry camping where we probably won’t be able to run the generator. That means we can’t reheat leftovers in the microwave. And because we don’t level the coach or put the slides out, it’s a bit cramped for cooking. So one night, I’ll thaw some shrimp for shrimp cocktail and serve it with a salad plus leftover chilled cucumber soup that I made this morning for tonight’s dinner.  (If you want the recipe, leave a message below with your email address and I will be happy to send it to you. I scanned all of my favorite recipes.)

For meal planning purposes – and to reduce spoilage – I made a list of what’s in the freezer as well as a list of the fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs in the refrigerator and posted these lists on the inside of the pantry door. I also keep a running grocery list in a Post-It Pocket that I mounted to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door. So when I have a chance to shop, I know exactly what I need and can get in and out of the store pretty fast and we can be on our way.

In the process of moving, I decided to let go of things like my Pampered Chef mandoline (which I never got the hang of using), but was not leaving without my Keurig Platinum Brewing System, Vitamix, Cuisinart Food Processor, and crockpot – all of which I use frequently. I used the Vitamix today to make the chilled cucumber soup. Tomorrow, I’ll make hummus in my Cuisinart. And on Friday this week (after sightseeing at Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument) I plan to try out a new crockpot recipe for Balsamic Chicken.

For dinner tonight, we’re having Blackened Tilapia with Cumin and Cayenne and a generous helping of sauteed spinach. We’ll start with the cucumber soup and end with a fresh peach for dessert. I haven’t been exercising as much as I usually do and snacking more than I should, so I’ve been fasting on leek soup (from the French Women Don’t Get Fat cookbook) since yesterday morning and I’m really looking forward to dinner!

Kitchen counter and refrigerator

Stay tuned for more small-space organizing tips. I can’t wait to show you how I re-purposed a set of clear plastic shoe boxes!










Selling Everything

Donna here. Mike told me this morning that he wasn’t planning to write a post today, so I figured this would be a good time for me to make an appearance on the blog. As a cleaning and organizing expert, I’ll chime in from time to time on those subjects as well as general RV lifestyle topics such as cooking (it’s all about the food for me).

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you what it was like selling our home and everything in it in preparation to hit the road as full-time RVers. We made the decision to do this in late March and for the next four months, selling everything became my second job. I assured Mike that I would make it all disappear. As the author of How to Declutter and Make Money Now, I knew what I needed to do. But I didn’t realize how much work it would be, especially at the end.

I started by photographing some of the larger, pricier items and listing them on Craigslist. This resulted in the quick sale of our living room furniture, guest bed, gas grill, wicker patio furniture, lawn tractor, and other items. I also created a photo album called Moving Sale on my Facebook page and invited my friends to take a look. One of the items – a genuine black bear skin rug – sold to a friend in California who was willing to pay for the cost of shipping. Our washer and dryer also sold through Facebook to a friend’s son who was willing to wait on picking it up until the weekend before we left. Suh-weet. I sold books and a few other items on Amazon. Between Craigslist and Amazon and sales to friends, we made about $14,000.




We took our motorcycles to a local BMW dealer to sell on consignment. When we first talked about becoming fulltime RVers, Mike said he was going to sell his bike and I burst into tears. He said, “You don’t have to sell yours!” We both had touring bikes and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we didn’t need bikes that big for our new lifestyle and we hadn’t ridden much in the last few years and probably wouldn’t ride much as fulltime RVers. It was time to sell them and get a scooter that would be big enough to carry both of us, but not too big for me to ride on my own. The funny thing is that way back when I told everyone I wanted to get a motorcycle, I didn’t realize that what I really wanted was a scooter! But we did have a lot of fun on our bikes over the years and I’ll always have those memories.

“What about your clothes?” my friends asked. I sold a lot of clothes at my favorite consignment shop. I ended up going through my closet about six times and every time, I was able to let go of more and more, especially once I decided against keeping any items that required ironing (so I could ditch the iron). And shoes? According to a survey by The Container Store, the average woman has 40 pairs of shoes. I am no longer average. My everyday shoes (mostly sandals) fit neatly in a 10x10x10-inch bin. I packed all of our dress shoes in a larger bin that we store in the basement of the coach. Rearrange as I might, I just couldn’t close the lid. So I decided to eliminate one last pair of pumps. Problem solved.

The next phase of our downsizing plan was to have an estate sale. I considered prepping and running the sale myself, but then decided to hire an estate sale company and I’m so glad I did. If you ever want to do this, be sure to book your sale well in advance. The first two companies I called had no availability prior to our departure date. But we found a company that did a great job for us. The gals from Kane’s Estate Sales spent three days at our house, pricing and setting up for the sale. They did a great job with marketing. And they had four people on site every day of the three-day sale. We could not have done what they did with everything else we had going on and we were happy to pay them their 35% commission. Our share was just over $7,200.

By the way, I kept a spreadsheet on what we sold, to whom, how, and for how much. Page two of that spreadsheet itemizes what we bought – everything from bedding, kitchen and bath items and organizing products to our new Kymco Downtown 300i scooter and a 10-foot cargo trailer that we use to haul it.

The final phase of our move from real estate to wheel estate was the hardest — what to do with everything that was left. I listed a couple of desks and a bookcase and some other items on Craigslist at rock bottom prices and they sold pretty quickly. I gave away some glass art and an antique side chair to a couple of friends who had admired those items. It felt good knowing that my stuff was going to good homes where it would be loved and appreciated. Mike gave two high-end guitar amps that he had built plus a 212 speaker cabinet to his friend Gerhard. We donated a whole bunch of stuff to two charities — an animal rescue organization and an organization that helps abused children. They came and picked it all up and gave us a tax receipt that we will use to offset our 2013 income taxes.

At that point, there was still quite a bit of stuff left, including just plain junk. I put it all in the garage and posted to that I was giving away “Leftovers from Our Estate Sale” to anyone who would come and take it all. The first person to respond said they had a 19-foot trailer and would be happy to come and collect everything for a church yard sale to benefit their youth organization. I chose to believe them and we got our garage cleaned out for free.

And then the only stuff that was left was the stuff we had yet to pack into the basement of the RV and our trailer. Amazingly, it all fit. Barely. The crazy thing is that I am quite sure that we will downsize again down the road.

We have yet to miss anything (though we are still searching for Mike’s cordless power drill and charger). Are we bound to miss something eventually? Probably. Meanwhile, we have everything we want and need to live and work on the road — laptops and smartphones (and a Verizon JetPack for WiFi), printer/copier, my digital piano, Mike’s guitars and amps, hundreds of books on my Kindle reader, our bicycles, my hoola hoops, Vitamix, and other wouldn’t-want-to-live-without things.

We knew what we wanted to do – live the RV lifestyle. We knew what we had to do to get here – sell everything. We did it and now here we are enjoying a beautiful summer day at a campground in Wisconsin, getting ready to head to Minneapolis tomorrow morning – right after the pancake breakfast.

Closing the door to our sticks and bricks home

Closing the door to our sticks and bricks home

Opening the door to our new life

Opening the door to our new life