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Category Archives: nature

Cover Reveal: Light

I’m excited to share the beautiful front cover of my new book ‘Light’ published by HarperCollins for Collins Primary:

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It’s a science school book for children age 10. I’ve been working on colour proofs the last couple of weeks – that’s when the manuscript you’ve written comes back with all the photos and diagrams on it. All the text is laid out beautifully around the pictures and you make any last changes to text or diagrams.

The book includes shadows, reflection, prisms and discoveries by famous scientists like Einstien, Newton and Galileo. It covers the speed of light, lightning, light years, eclipses, bioluminescence and light in the future (inventions to bend light and make us invisible and laser stitches!).

I was expecting the cover to be the Northern Lights – but I was super excited to see the trees. I love that it captures the beauty of science, that’s what the book is about – light is amazing! Everything we see we can only see because of light. Everything in the world depends on the speed of light. I’ve also got a thing for woods and light, this is my bedroom wall:

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The book will be published in September. You can pre-order it online now.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Education, nature, Science, Writing

 

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Mining Memories with Primary Two

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What would it be like to be a canary called CoCo working down the Kinneil Pit? Or a pit cat? Or a pit pony? Or an 11-year-old boy on his first day down the mine? Five and six-year olds from Bo’ness Primary School imagined they were the animals and children down the mine. They wrote these amazing stories:

I’ve been working with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative to create digital stories about mining with primary school children. I’m writing a series of blogs to share their mining memories. This first post is stories by Primary Two at Bo’ness Public Primary School. I’ll tell you a bit more about the project:

Digital Stories

Digital stories are short audio sound tracks (less than 3 minuets) with still images over the top. They’re personal stories in the story makers own voice. I previously worked on three digital story projects with Britain from Above, The Govan Reminiscence Group and with Historic Scotland’s Trinity House. You can read about that project here.

This was unusual because it was creating digital stories but imagining the perspective instead of it being a storymaker telling their true story. It was also working with primary two children (age five and six) instead of adults. And we imagined we were animals!

Primary Two

The project started with storytelling workshops in class – we chatted about what makes a good story and using our imagination and memories to come up with lots of ideas. I told them an animal story and set them a brief to create their own short stories from the perspective of a pit animal. At first the pit ponies were wearing sparkley tutus and loved dancing but we talked about how great their use of imagination was and what a good idea it was to think about things like clothes and feelings – what would a pit pony wear to go down the pit? How might they feel going down the mine? They got back to work and learned one of the most important lessons about writing – it’s all about rewriting!

The class went on a visit to the National Mining Museum Scotland and had a talk about the roles of animals and children in the Mine from the Maria Ford, Chairperson of the Friends of Kinneil Trust.

They had budgies in the classroom so we talked about how the budgies might feel and what it would be like to be a canary. Then the children worked with their class teacher Mrs McNab to create beautiful books:

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And amazing canaries in cages:

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And 3D pit ponies with coal carts: Photo 11-03-2016, 12 55 52

And fields for the pit ponies to play in:

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I’d popped back in to see how they were getting on half way through the project and was amazed by their new and improved stories and all the beautiful artwork.I came back again at the end of the project to photograph their artwork and to record the children reading their stories.

After that I edited the audio soundtrack and images together to create the YouTube stories shared above. We screened them along with stories from other classes at the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness. It was so good to see the children’s amazing stories being celebrated in style on the big screen in a cinema!

This post is part of a series sharing the work from the Mining Memories Project. The next post in this series will be sharing primary five and primary six digital stories about the miners strike from the perspective of pick axes, bits of coal and even Margaret Thatcher!

 
 

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Why Plants are Like People

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I’ve planted a tiny garden on the balcony. I love helping plants to grow. I can’t wait to plant sweet peas and sit out on summer evenings with friends and a beer. On clear nights you can see the stars from the balcony and in the day it’s a beautiful sun trap. I drink tea out there and the cat loves it.

I neglected the balcony garden over winter, but a few weeks ago I got all the indoor and outdoor plants together and started work:

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While I was working I kept thinking about people and how we’re like plants. We should be growing but sometimes we need to change something to help us grow better.

Repotting

The lavender and the heather were too big for their pots so they’d stopped growing. Sometimes we need repotting. We need a new challenge, something that seems too big for us. It might be scary to say yes but we can’t grow until we do. It might be a new project at work, a new job or a new creative challenge. Maybe it’s having a child, starting a new relationship or learning a new skill. Sometimes we just need that bigger pot to get us started.

Relocating

The peace lily was almost dead. It didn’t have enough light in the hall. I’d tried it in a windowsill and that was too much light. I couldn’t seem to get it right and it seemed to be doomed. I was round at a friend’s and spotted a thriving peace lily in the bathroom by a frosted glass window. Maybe frosted glass was the perfect lighting for peace? I moved my peace lily into the bathroom as soon as I got home. Each time I washed my hands I sprinkled a little water onto the dying plant and within a day the leaves had started to stand up straight and now it’s thriving.

Sometimes we need to be in a different environment. Maybe it’s time to change job or move house? I was chatting to a friend about a job that had gradually changed to become nothing like the job she first applied for. She dreads Mondays. I told her a story: When a frog jumps into boiling water it jumps straight out because it’s too hot. But if a frog jumps into cold water and you gradually turn up the heat then it doesn’t jump out. It dies. We both laughed at the slightly awkward ending and its implications. You don’t always notice how bad something is becoming or how it’s affecting you until it’s too late. Perhaps it’s time to jump!

Pruning

Some of the plants need the dead bits removing before they will grow. Take off dead lavender heads or the old primrose flowers and many more flowers sprout up. My chives were half dead and half green so I cut all of it back so the plant could grow new healthy shoots without all the dead bits getting in the way.

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Sometimes there are old habits or old relationships which were life giving once, but now they’re sucking the life away from us and we need to let them go. Maybe we’re doing too much and need to cut something out to really thrive. It’s hard to do but we won’t grow properly until we do.

Separating

I was given a plant arrangement in a basket but I decided it was time to separate the three plants so they could stand in their own pots. It’s great to be doing things with support but we still need to stand in our own pot with our own clear boundaries. If it’s unclear where you end and someone else begins you might start to loose yourself or rely on someone else in an unhealthy way. We all need each other, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to ask for help but when we expect others to meet our needs when they don’t want to or can’t, well that’s when problems arise. We can simply ask and we can say no to others if we need to. Another important boundary is to be able to say if something someone is saying or doing bothers us. That’s healthy and safe and it’s what makes relationships grow stronger if it’s done without blame and with love.

Weeds

Weeds are like controlling people. They gradually take over and suffocate who you are. Everyone is controlling at times, we react out of insecurity or we want to help others so we step in when we don’t need to. If you’re aware of it and concerned you might be doing it you’re most likely unintentionally controlling – that’s okay – you’ll apologise if it happens, you’re aware of your weaknesses and if someone lets you know you’re being controlling, you’ll take responsibility and change your behavior as a result. Good friends or partners let each other know if something they’re doing bothers them.

Unfortunately though – there’s a pattern of controlling behavior that continues over time like a weed choking a plant. This is an emotionally abusive relationship, if you’re in this by the very nature of it, you won’t be aware you’re in it. You’ll be feeling more and more anxious and less like you as your sense of self is being chipped away.

Here are a few things to look out for:

Abusive people continually tell you what to do. It’s fine to make suggestions from time to time but they start with “I think” or “I suggest”. If you’re continually hearing “You really should” or “You need to” then they’re trying to undermine you and make their voice the dominant voice in your life.

You probably apologise often and them.. never!

They try to change your memories of events to paint you in a bad light with statements like “All your friends thought XXX”. The best thing to do is to go to the people concerned and ask them what they thought. They’ll reassure you it’s not true – don’t let someone redefine history.

Abusive people do not legitimise others feelings – it’s part of something physiologists call ‘crazy making behaviour‘. Continually dismissing someones legitimate feelings causes the person to feel frustrated and rejected to a point where they’re feeling so insecure, hurt and misunderstood they start to act and feel crazy. The abuser then points this out as an overreaction and explains how they always have to put up with this crazy friend / partner. At this point the partner / friend usually folds or apologises and the abuse continues.

Abusive people blame you for their feelings instead of expressing them in a healthy way. So for example instead of saying “I feel X” or “When you say or do this I feel like X” they will say “You are making me… ” or “You have ruined my evening / lunch / weekend.” This is emotional blackmail – it causes you feel bad and stops you daring to raise an issue or express a point of view different to theirs. You have every right to express how you feel, just don’t blame another person for your feelings.

There’s a common misconception that if someone was being abusive towards you, you’d just leave or cut off from the relationship. The problem is the abuser will be incredibly kind and charming at times, inconsistent praise is also a ‘crazy making behaviour‘ and something like this takes place over weeks, months and even years to a point where your sense of self is so eroded that you’re less able to see things objectively or defend yourself. You’ll think there’s something wrong with you, not them. You’ll also be looking to the abusive person for validation so you’ll think you need them.

If any of this seems familiar, I’ve posted a couple of checklists below to help. If you answer yes to most or all of the things on the lists please speak to someone you trust or get help from an organisation like Living Without Abuse.

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I was thinking about how plants need light and water even after they’ve been pruned or re-potted so what does that look like for people?

For me it’s doing things I’m good at, being outside and being encouraged by others – that’s like water. And spending time with people who love me, challenge me and let me be myself, that’s like light.

What brings you life?

 

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in Environment, nature, storytelling

 

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Let There Be Light

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I can’t wait for spring…

New life pushing up out of the cold dark earth. It gives me hope that however cold and dark it seems – things will change. Things always change. There’s always hope.

We were made to change. But sometimes we just want it to hurry up, we want to see the shoots in our lives. But change takes time and there’s always more going on beneath the surface, more than we can see from the outside.

I made a Christmas tree out of sticks. To save money, mostly, but also because I wanted to create something beautiful. Something out of nothing. But that’s not really true is it? I didn’t make it out of nothing. I used old broken sticks, an idea and decorations and light.

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I’m working on a picture book just now and it got me thinking, books are a bit like that. You create something out of nothing, you create characters and a story:

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But that’s not really true either is it? You use old broken ideas and things you’ve experienced and help from others. When a story finally comes there’s been a process going on beneath the surface for a good long time before you got to that point.

Light

I’ve got some good news. I’ve got a book coming out in September 2016 and it’s called ‘Light’. It’s a science book for ten year olds and it’s published by HarperCollins. The final text got signed off just before Christmas and it’s with designers and illustrators just now. I’m looking forward to seeing the colour proofs soon, alongside my words.

I studied Geophysics and then Science Communication – I love physics. Some say it’s the most complicated science but I just think it’s just the most poorly explained. It’s not that complicated and it’s incredibly beautiful. Sir Isaac Newton, the great scientist who discovered many of the fundamental principles we now know about the nature of light said:

It is the perfection of God’s works that they are all done with the greatest simplicity.

He also said:

I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

That’s what I love about physics. There are simple rules hidden beneath the surface and you can explain them and put your faith in them. You drop an apple and it falls. Gravity is reliably present and consistent. Unlike people, we change. But that’s what we were made to do and that’s why we need to ask questions. Which kind of brings me back to science. And the Light book. And spring. So I guess what I wanted to say is:

May your year ahead be filled with hope, light, change and questions. Happy New Year!

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Oscar would also like to wish you a new year, this is his philosophical, paws crossed, thinking-about-the-year-ahead pose.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2016 in Education, nature, Science, Writing

 

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The Grouse and the Mouse: Reviews

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The Grouse and the Mouse was recently reviewed in the Herald as part of a Christmas books special ‘Best Picture Books’ by Vicky Allan. It was super exciting to see it in there, just before Christmas and with the likes of Mog an Elmer:

And, if you like your creatures resolutely Scottish, there is always The Grouse And The Mouse, by Emily Dodd & Kirsteen Harris-Jones (Picture Kelpies, £5.99) which follows Bagpipe the puffed up and pompous grouse and Squeaker the wood mouse, as they find out just who really is the most magnificent animal in Scotland.

I also discovered a lovely review on the Scottish Natural Heritage Nature Bookshelf blog:

Youngsters will enjoy reading, or having read to them, the story of The Grouse and the Mouse. Emily Dodd’s last title ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ proved very popular and the tale of Bagpipe the Black Grouse is destined to be equally well received. There are starring roles for Red Squirrels, the Scottish scenery and a Highland cow in a book that is illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones.

Lastly, a parent posted the following review on the books section of my blog. This feedback is what makes it all worth while:

My 2.5 year old daughter has fallen deeply in love with The Grouse and the Mouse – she has never got through the bathtime routine at the lightening speed she is now, knowing that she will have it read to her (usually repeatedly). So thank you Emily, please write another book of enchanting Scottish creatures soon!

You can read and listen to the first reviews that came in for the Grouse and the Mouse here. If you enjoyed reading it, I would totally love it if you reviewed it on Amazon!

Image Credit: Chris Scott

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2015 in Education, nature, Science, Writing

 

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Book Week Scotland 2015

BookWeekScotland2015

I loved Book Week Scotland 2015! It was a busy week – I traveled 560 miles, met 440 children, inspired 65 multi-feathered multicoloured pine cone capercaillie creations, visited five local authorities and performed eight events about three books. Here are the highlights:

Number 35

The Scottish Book Trust announced a list of the 50 most influential novelists on twitter in advance of Book Week Scotland and to my surprise, I was at number 35! Was really good to see many children’s authors on the list.

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Leith Library: Edinburgh

The first events I did were with the lovely St Mary’s Primary School at my local (and favourite) library, Leith Library.

I added a Poo or False quiz to the ‘Grouse and Mouse‘ interactive story event so this was a chance to test it out. I may have slightly overdone the number of samples for this first session and have since added many more science links (e.g. when trying to count black grouse you may instead look for these droppings!)

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Leith Library was home for nine months when I worked as the Scottish Book Trust / Creative Scotland Reader in Residence. It was lovely to be back and to see the familiar faces of staff – thanks everyone for having me!

Find Leith Library on Facebook here.

Read-a-Licious Book Festival, Peebles

It was lovely to be at Read-a-Licous Book Festival for a second year with two new book events. I did a Grouse and the Mouse with 120 very excited nursery to P2 pupils:

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Image Credit: Read-a-Licious Book Festival. Find the Eastgate Theatre on Facebook here.

Followed by my first Volcanoes and Non Fiction writing show with 60 Primary 4 and 5!

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Carrbridge Primary School in the Cairngorms

I took the Can’t-Dance-Cameron interactive story event to Carrbridge for a whole school assembly and then we made capercaillies out of pine cones with the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage:

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I met a child who had a female capercaillie visit his house! I still haven’t seen one myself yet.

Carrbridge is a caperaillie conservation area so engaging the local school by sharing about these amazing birds was a real privilege. Plus now every child in Carrbridge can dance like a capercaillie.

Sinclairtown Library and Newburgh Library, Fife

I had the most lovely welcome from staff and children in Fife!

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I saw 120 children over two events. One girl called Emily (not me – it was a child!) knew all about owl pellets – she proudly shared her expert knowledge during the now improved, poo or false quiz. I was very impressed with the overall enthusiasm for wildlife in Fife. We also sold around 80 books that day so I hope many children and parents are enjoying wildlife themed bedtime stories!

Day Off

Friday was amazing – a lie in, then afternoon tea at Mimi’s and in the evening it was ‘The Lady in the Van’. I’m still recovering from a bad back so was really tired after lots of driving and events. This day made all the difference.

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The Language Hub, Glasgow

Saturday was my final event, a trip to The Language Hub for a family Grouse and Mouse event. It’s a lovely wee venue in Glasgow:

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Image Credit: The Language Hub, find them on twitter here and Facebook here.

I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who helped organise events and to the children and grownups who came to celebrate reading with me for Book Week Scotland!

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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August

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August was a little bit overwhelming. It included nine lots of airbnb guests staying in my old flat, three Edinburgh International Book Festival events, two events at the Green Man festival in Wales, one event in the Cairngorms, a visit from my sister, niece and nephew and three writing deadlines.

I’d launched a book and moved house at the end of July so I didn’t start August in the most relaxed place either. I’d also borrowed money and had a large amount on a credit card and had friends who were going through difficult situations. So I was feeling overwhelmed but then I had a mini revelation at a conference.

Firstly I felt like I should make a list of all the good things that had happened in August. I used to write things I was thankful for in a book at night – a gratitude diary. But I’d somehow got out of that habit a few months back. I’d stopped remembering to be grateful.

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So I made that list.

And then the speaker was talking about his three-year old daughter. They were in a lift and more and more people were getting in and it was hot and the people were smelly and the wee kid said “pick me up Daddy, it doesn’t look good down here”.

And so the Dad picked up his daughter. And the situation hadn’t changed, they were still squashed into a lift but the child had a different view and that changed everything. So I looked back at the list and realised I’d lost perspective – I’d been too crowded by circumstances and I’d stopped noticing the good things.

So I thought I’d share a few of the good things here in pictures:

A Visit from Family

I had three days off just doing nice things like making this mermaid:

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Unbound at Edinburgh International Book Festival

On the subject of mermaids, a group of Illicit Ink writers each took a fairy tale and rewrote it with a twist. This is the Wee Mermanny:

Illicit Ink: Happily Never After

Chris Scott took some amazing pictures of this event. I’d rewritten sleeping beauty but with cryogenic freezing:

Illicit Ink: Happily Never After

Green Man Festival

Wales, camping! I did a Cameron kids event in a tent and then some science spoken word for a soggy Sunday afternoon huddle.

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Edinburgh International Book Festival Children’s Events

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I enjoyed meeting families at ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably‘ and doing a schools event for Gala day to promote ‘The Grouse and the Mouse‘.

Loch Garten and the Giant Black Grouse

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One of my favourite things had to be taking Can’t-Dance-Cameron to the Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Cairngorms. This was the place that first inspired me to write a story about a dancing capercaillie.

There was a wee girl at the event called Islay. It’s always children who remind me of the important things in life. She was four with curly red hair. She’d been to see me do Can’t-Dance-Cameron at Dundee Literary Festival last October. Now she’d brought her older cousins and her younger cousins and several families. I soon realised she was the most excited and enthusiastic audience member I’d ever had. When we got to learning the dance moves she triumphantly shouted her catchphrase “I know that!”.

So I got Islay up to the front to help show everyone how to dance like a capercaillie. She was so happy dancing there and when the music stopped I asked the audience to give her a round of applause. The entire Osprey Centre started clapping. All the adults who had been busy at the telescopes during the session had stopped to watch her and now they were clapping so hard . Islay smiled back at everyone. It was really wonderful.

The thing is, going off to the cairngorms by myself was a little daunting. Whenever I do events I feel well… alone. It’s a bit weird. I think it’s maybe because my greatest fear was and probably still is standing up in front of people. I did an MSc in communicating science ten years ago to try to conquer that fear, to learn the skills I needed to stand up in front of people. But it’s not like those feelings ever go away. I get nervous. If I’m on the stage I’m being me so it feels kind of vulnerable. If I’m sharing something I’ve written that’s also me, so it’s double me in front of people and it often makes me feel sick! But when I’m in front of kids I’m so I’m busy making sure they’re having a good time that there’s not really time to think about me. And Islay was having the time of her life so I guess I realised it was all totally worth it

The staff at the Osprey Centre were so welcoming and excited too (not quite as excited as Islay, but still pretty up there). They wrote about the event on their blog here. One of the rangers, Nimrod dressed as Bagpipe the black grouse from The Grouse and the Mouse. He learnt all the Cameron the caercaillie dance moves and came out after we finished the story to join us for one last dance. Unfortunately – the arrival of a giant bird caused three of the children to cry! So he danced at the back instead. He was very complimentary about the session:

“What you’re doing for conservation is astounding!”

Again I was reminded it is all worth it!

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After the event I went for a two-hour walk in the forest and it was so beautiful! And I didn’t feel alone even though it was just me. I felt happy.

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And that night I had curry with the rangers, the Education Officer Jen cooked up a feast. Nimrod arrived and said he couldn’t believe that I was there with them and it was just really lovely to eat and find out more about wildlife.

And Now?

One of the writing deadlines I had during that busy August was a synopsis for a non-fiction science book. I heard last week it’s been signed off. So now I’m writing and that’s a new book on the way. I finally put the forest up in my office / room:

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I guess it’s a reminder to stop, and reflect and breathe. And to know it will all be okay. Sometimes we just need a new perspective.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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