… And Then Cancer Moves Up On My List Of Health Concerns (and why I’m ok with it)

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Two years ago I figured out that a severe gluten intolerance was the culprit of my ill health (as a side note, I’m still awaiting determination if it’s Celiac Disease). By strictly modifying my diet, my ill health improved drastically.

Just over a year ago I suffered a mental breakdown and began treatment for clinical depression. Again, huge results in my mental and physical health after I started on a low dose anti-depressant.

Now, Cancer is on the forefront of my list of health concerns that I need to keep an eye out for. Warning: This is a bit of a long story.

Remember the kids’ story “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day“? The particular day in question wasn’t quite as bad as that … but it was the start of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

I woke up the last Monday of March and it was just one of those days. It was one of those days where I just feel like all I want to do is sit down and cry and there was absolutely nothing that I could think of that had set it off. Once upon a time it was a regular occurrence. Now, it only happens from time to time. I’m not sure what exactly it is that spurs it on … it could be that my anti-depressants were taken too close together or too far apart. Perhaps it was related to my monthly cycle. Who knows what triggered it. I just knew that if I got up and carried on that it would likely pass at some point throughout the day and if not, my mood/state would be reset the following day after waking up after a long nights sleep.

Later on that day I had a message from my mom saying that my dad had went for an ultrasound and something had shown up. The next day, he returned for a CT scan and the results indicated that most likely one of the polyps in his stomach had turned cancerous.

This was not 100% entirely unexpected. My father has a condition called Attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (AFAP). If left untreated, growths (called polyps) can form in the colon and turn cancerous over time. A regular colonoscopy can check for these growths and if present, they can be removed at that time. My father had his first polyp show up at the age of 40. By the time that he had turned 50 the number had multiplied so rapidly that there were hundreds of polyps in his large intestine – too many to “burn off”. As a preventative measure, he had all but a few inches of his large intestine removed. The following year polyps began forming in his stomach. And similarly, they multiplied to the hundreds. At first there were talks about removing his entire stomach, connecting his esophagus to his small intestine, a process referred to as a gastrectomy . But it would be such a huge impact to his body considering that there was only a few inches left to his large intestine, and in his particular case they expected him to be on a liquid diet and probably have to use a feeding tube. They decided to monitor at 6 month intervals with the intent that they would be able to do the surgery the minute (figuratively, that is) that the polyps started to turn. He was due to go back in a few weeks for his 6 month “inspection” but over the Fall he wasn’t feeling well, having a lot of pain, and that past week he was starting to get nauseated, in addition to the other new symptoms that he was experiencing. That’s when they put him on the fast track for the ultrasound and CT scan.

I ended up calling in to work that Wednesday and said that I wouldn’t be in. I had a lot to process.

My first thoughts were just getting him through his surgery and treatments. Then I started to think about what was to come next. I thought about how his life would be affected by no longer having a stomach (I suspect I inherited my ‘foodie’ personality from him). And then it occurred to me that if I ever do get my restaurant idea off of the ground, that my dad would not be able to enjoy the food that is prepared there. And it made me sad. My dad has always been super proud of my accomplishments and I would hate for him not to experience it in its entirety.

And then my thoughts started to shift from my dad … to my eventual fate.

I, like my dad, am gene positive for AFAP. I’ve known that I’ve had the condition since I was little, due to genetic testing. Screening for polyps started for me while I was still in high school. My dad didn’t get his first polyp until he was 40. By age 50, he had the majority of his large intestine removed. I had my first polyp at age 26. The next year I had my first polyp in my stomach. So I worry, if it progresses at the same rate as my father, will I be looking at the removal of my large intestine by age 36? Or, like with his stomach, could the polyps in my stomach multiple so quickly that I have to deal with cancer and/or have my stomach removed before I hit 40? It was a lot to take in.

Then I started to wonder “What if I get cancer and/or have my stomach removed? What happens to my restaurant dream then??”

This blog has been a component of that dream and I’ve been having so much fun doing it. My blog and dream restaurant is my passion right now. It’s what drives me.

It’s funny. That Monday morning when I woke (before any light had been shed on the extent of the worsening of my dad’s health), I had read an interesting post on Offbeat Home, “I caught that dream that I was chasing. Now what?“. I could relate to the post because: 1) the writer deals with “Imposter Syndrome” and 2) I’ve also been wondering that exact same question. Despite waking up that morning feeling bad from the start, this post was just what I needed to make my bad day feel a little brighter. I felt encouraged that morning to continue after my dream.

Despite reading that post and feeling better about my bad day, after receiving the news of my father’s predicament, it fast-tracked my future-fears of battling cancer myself. In addition to that, I started to worry about what would happen if I had to have my stomach removed. Would I even want to continue to develop this blog and/or my restaurant dream if I were unable to partake in the pleasures of food? Or, if I did achieve my dream restaurant, would I come to resent it??

Then I started to wonder “What if I can no longer enjoy food? Will I become a social hermit?”

I thought about how we love to entertain and its always based on food. True to Newfoundlander form, we’ve always been known for our “kitchen parties”. For this reason, our new home is being designed with our kitchen as our focal point of the house. It’s where we will spend the majority of our time. What if I start to despise those kitchen parties because I would feel out of place because I can’t enjoy dining with my friends?

My not-so-final thought: “Should I give up on my dream?”

This was a lot to digest for one day. I felt lost and I felt like I should give up on my dream rather than face the possibility of my dreams eventually being crushed. I had an overwhelming feeling of “what’s even the point?“.

Then I received an email response to a previous request to do a guest post on my blog. They said that they wanted to do a post on Celiac Disease and Depression, and that they had found my blog by doing a Google search. I think it was what I needed to snap me back out of the funk that I had found myself in. I started this blog as a means to help others through sharing my experiences. By labelling my blog “Food Allergies Etcetera”, the etcetera portion has allowed me to delve into the topic of mental health. And I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who have read my posts related to mental illness because they could truly identify with what I had experienced, and they found that they now had someone else who knew what they were personally experiencing. So what, if at some point I may not be able to enjoy food and share in foodie experiences. Perhaps this blog will morph into something else that is useful to others … perhaps it will serve as a connection point for others with AFAP/FAP, or perhaps it will be a vessel to share my future story of cancer prevention and/or survival.

On the first Friday of April (funny how April just happens to be cancer awareness month), my dad received confirmation that, since his last 6 month inspection, he had cancer in his stomach. His GI surgeon advised that he would not be doing  the gastrectomy at this time and that chemo was the better treatment option. A referral was made to see an oncologist, to discuss chemo. Things have moved very fast and it’s already been just under three weeks since he started treatment and he is doing well with it. Other than being fatigued, he’s not felt sick, has no pain, has stopped losing weight, has regained his appetite and is able to enjoy food just as he always has. And best of all, he still has a full head of thick hair that any 58 year old would be envious of 😉. Hopefully this is an indication of the effectiveness of the treatment!

It’s been a month since that horrible, no good, very bad day … but since then, I’ve stumbled across this article about a young woman in her 20s who decided to have a gastrectomy, and it was quite positive. I also found the No Stomach For Cancer website which has a lot of valuable information, including this overview of a Gastrectomy (You’ll find a lot of useful info related to life during and after a gastrectomy. Just hover over “Gastric Cancer” at the top menu, then hover over “Life Without a Stomach” and you’ll find 4 subpages). In addition to this, I was connected with someone (who I’ll be meeting in the coming weeks) who also decided to have a gastrectomy because she knew that stomach cancer was imminent (due to genetic markers) and she claims that the surgery saved her life (in addition to many other of members of her family). I think she will be a huge resource should I ever decide to go that route in the future. As a result, I’m starting to feel that although having a future Gastrectomy would be life altering, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

My final thought: “You know what? … this situation isn’t as bad as it sounds”

I know the information that I’ve laid out in this post is a bit much to take in … and it sounds like a sad story. But I’m not letting it manifest that way for me. I know our family can beat this. I had a bit of an epiphany moment and its really helped me to deal with the whole situation:

Everyone has their expiry dates. If my eventual fate was to be hit by a bus and killed in a months time, I’d have no idea … And would go on living as if I had years to accomplish what I want to accomplish in life, only to be cut short of those accomplishments. Now I get to live as though I don’t have all the time in the world, it will motivate me to be healthier, appreciate life more and make the best of it.

I wouldn’t come out and be as cocky to say “bring it on!” to cancer … but if it happens to me I’ll be ready for it. I live a relatively healthy life, and am consciously aware of my physical and mental states. I’ve learned over the years that I need to listen to my mental and physical needs. If something seems to be wrong, I’ll immediately arrange to have it checked out. Perhaps in the years to come I’ll be pro-active and have a partial or full gastrectomy, if it looks like it will reduce my risk of developing cancer. I’m upbeat and positive and have an amazingly huge support network in my life, including a fantastic local-gone-national Non-Profit Organization called Young Adult Cancer Canada. I’ve been supporting this group since I’ve discovered it in 2009 and take comfort in knowing the fantastic support that they give to young adults dealing with cancer. I’m not in despair by the recent series of events … I am motivated and I am ready for whatever life has to dish out to me! 🙂

Have you, or someone close to you, had a gastrectomy, been affected by stomach/colorectal cancer, or are a cancer survivor? If so, care to share any advice?

Thanks for reading. As you may or may not have noticed, I recently took a short hiatus from blogging. I have a feeling that for the time being I might continue with this break or at least not blog as actively … although there is potential for some guest posts to pop up from time to time.

Also, positive thoughts are appreciated for our family at this time.

xo

Krista

Having suffered through depression, I’ve been guilty of more than one of these Cognitive Distortions.

Amanda, from Celiac and Allergy Adventures has done a great job of making the connection between Cognitive Distortions, Celiac Disease, Food Allergies and Eczema! Check out the whole article on her blog 🙂

How To Add More Passion Into Your Life, Today!

Hot off the press: How To Add More Passion Into Your Life, Today!.

This is a great blog post from Around & About with NLOWE. You may be wondering what this has to do with Food Allergies …. ? Well, nothing actually. Mental health and wellbeing is an important topic to me and I thought this was a great post on finding more passion in your life. For me personally, exploring my passion in life is one of the key factors that has allowed me to regain control of my emotions and thoughts … it’s helped me to become more mentally fit. And most importantly, happy.

I added the term et cetera to the title of my blog so that it wouldn’t just restrict me to food allergies and dietary restrictions, so that I could explore other topics and share my life experiences and what I’ve learned along the way. Sneaky, huh? If you want to understand a little better about what my hopes and goals are for this blog, you can find various posts under the “Origins” category which will help paint a better picture.

If you feel like your life has been lacking passion lately, check out the above blog post link 🙂

“Quack! Quack! Naturopath Attack!”

Good. Now that I have your attention, I’d like to talk about my experience with Naturopaths.

The title of this post might mislead you to think that I’m making fun of naturopaths. This is absolutely not the case – there is a story behind the title.

First of all, I enjoy the word Quack. Its on my Favourite Words List (yes, I have a list, and Quack just happens to be on it … along with squirrel (as in to “squirrel away” money), kerchief, marjoram, epiphany and shenanigans).

Secondly, the title is related to an email from my friend, Sharon.

In 2012, about a year after I visited a naturopath for the first time, Sharon was asking about the experience. She was very interested in the test that the naturopath performed and decided to get the contact details from me. She later made an appointment for herself and was extremely excited about her assessment. A few weeks went by and in the same afternoon as her appointment, she sent me an email.

Now, there are two thing that you need to know about Sharon:

  1. she can get excitably enthusiastic about things that interest her
  2. she has a love of rhyming.

So when her email came in describing her excitement of her naturopath experience and her results, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she had titled the email “Quack! Quack! Naturopath Attack!” (she said had she had more time, she would have come up with a better title).

Like myself, Sharon loved “the quack”. She had planned on asking her thoughts about a book that she had read called “Eat Right for Your Blood Type” but the naturopath actually brought it up before Sharon had a change to mention it. She also asked if she was tired when checking her adrenals and when Sharon mentioned feeling like she could have a nap in the middle of the day and just attributed it to hating her job, the naturopath went on a long (but positive) rant on how Sharon should quit her job and find something that she loved. Sharon left the appointment feeling incredibly inspired 🙂

So how did I decide that I should try out a naturopath? I told the story in my previous post “I started a what!?!“. During my initial visit, I was a little skeptical of the apparatus that she used. Perhaps it’s the engineer in me. But I think I’m a little more right-brained than the typical engineer and as a result, I was able to let that out of my mind and just go with the flow. And as I explained in my previous post, she hit the nail on the head with a lot of her results.

I went back to this naturopath several times, and even had my aunt and my guy try them out. My aunt followed her advice for a month or so, but found the restrictions a little hard due to living in a small town and found the remedies that she had to purchase to be expensive. My guy felt similarly about the cost of the remedies and just didn’t have the motivation to avoid all of the things that he had been instructed on. We all left the appointments with a list of all of the things to avoid. And it was a very long list of things. With no real indication of how much these foods affected us. Just a list instructing us to not eat this, this, … and this.

When I was on sick leave from work for depression the first two months of 2012 (see How Our Wedding Indirectly Inspired Food Allergies Etcetera post), I was seeing my psychologist once a week. During this time, I started talking about what I was passionate about and I started talking about my restaurant ideas for a restaurant that caters to people with food allergies and other dietary restrictions. My psychologist found this idea to be extremely interesting and shared with me that she would love if such a place were to open in St. John’s because she is vegetarian but also has extreme chemical sensitivities and can only eat organic foods. Knowing that I was keen on naturopaths, she recommended the naturopath that has treated her. She told me that I would LOVE her because of her emphasis on the foods that we eat to treat our ailments versus expensive remedies. She gave me her contact info but it was months before I actually made an appointment to see her.

I’d like to introduce to you Dr. Eddi Kenny, ND, PhD, RN. Dr. Eddi has over 25 years experience in the health care field and you can find out more about her background on her About Page on her company website Innergy – Center for Health & Stress Management. According to the Innergy website, Dr. Eddi covers:

  • nutritional guidance
  • meridian stress assessment
  • integrative lifestyle
  • whole body & mind balance
  • health management & lifestyle
  • stress management & techniques
  • preventative medicine, and
  • innovative approaches to energy

I think this list should be revised to include “life coach”. Dr. Eddi seems interested in helping you figure out what you need to do when you’ve lost that “spark”.  Not sure what I’m talking about? I’ll give you an example.

Immediately after my first session with Dr. Eddi I immediately thought of two people who would totally benefit from a session with Dr. Eddi. One of which was a work colleague …. lets just call her “Jocelyn”. Jocelyn used to have a lot of pep. But over the years her energy and spirit just seemed to have dissipated. Jocelyn was having a lot of issues and it sounded like they may have been diet related. I used this as a way to weasel in the idea of her making an appointment with Dr. Eddi. And she took the bait! It was some number of weeks before she was able to see Dr. Eddi but when Jocelyn returned to work the next day she seemed very enthusiastic about what Dr. Eddi had recommended. The biggest chance that Jocelyn made based on Dr. Eddi’s advice was to cut out chocolate and dairy as her testing indicated that Jocelyn did not react well to those two particular items. Within a few weeks of following Dr. Eddi’s advice, I noticed that the old “Jocelyn” was finally starting to emerge. Her energy was returning, she didn’t appear to be as negative in her thoughts, she was getting more easily excited. She was so happy about the positive results and there was a sudden influx of energy. On times it seemed like she was hyper, there were so many things bouncing around in her head. I really knew that the old Jocelyn was back when she came into my office and told me that she was taking drum lessons. And was loving it! It was great to finally see Jocelyn feeling happy again because the old Jocelyn had been away for far too long. Dr. Eddi was instrumental in helping Jocelyn find her spark again! 🙂

I also made an appointment recently for my guy to see Dr. Eddi for an assessment. He’s been complaining of digestive issues for months, has had very little energy, trouble sleeping, and just didn’t feel balanced in life. I wasn’t too sure about how he was going to find the session, but he actually came out of it very positively and was ready to do what Dr. Eddi suggested and actually has carried through with making those necessary changes. He’s starting out slow but so far has been able to stick to the first few changes that he made. He also felt like Dr. Eddi was coaching him more than directing him like he felt like with the previous naturopath.

The assessment that is performed is a Meridian Stress Assessment. It’s also known as a bio-energetic/electro dermal screening. Basically it uses acupressure points on the body and the results are inputted into a computer analysis in order to give a detailed evaluation of your body’s imbalances, according to Dr. Eddi’s webpage. I like that you can see the testing as it is happening, which was different from the session with the previous naturopath where it was all performed behind your back. At the end, Dr. Eddi prints out a report and goes through it in detail with you. It also gives you a visual to help you quickly see the areas in which your body is balanced, weakened or stressed, which I really liked because you get a feel for how much the items actually affect you. With the other naturopath, we were simply instructed to stay away without a real sense for how much it negatively affected us.

Partial view shown for an indication of the results generated from my Meridian Stress Assessment

Partial view shown for an indication of the results generated from my Meridian Stress Assessment

Above is a partial snapshot of each page of the report. The left hand of each page is cut off but I more or less included it to give an indication of the possible number of readings versus showing the particular items that were tested for me, personally. One thing that I noticed was that there were differences between what was reported on my report versus my guy’s report. This is because the analysis is catered to the individual based on her initial conversations with the patient. The first thing that the report displays is your base point readings. It’s basically an indication of how the various systems in your body (e.g. Endocrine system, nervous system, lungs, intestines, skin, pancreas, kidneys, joints, etc.) are functioning. The report then lists your “holds” readings. The categories tested will vary from person to person, but in my case it included various hormones, acids, minerals, food groups/categories,  vertebrae stresses, and fungual readings. Apparently right now I have an issue with yeast and acidity and she recommended that I do a cleanse to help clear it up. I’m actually starting Renew Life Cleanse Smart this week, which I recently picked up from Whole Health, so I’ll be interested in seeing how well the product worked when I return for a follow-up session.

The other thing that I really liked was instead of prescribing certain supplements or remedies, she just advised us how to eat better so that we could compensate in the areas that our body was weakened. For example, the results showed that my circulation was weakened so she advised me to eat more “warming” foods such as using cumin, curry, cayenne, cardamom, turmeric, etc. in our meals. She also advised me to incorporate more avocados, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, chia seeds and hemp hearts into my diet in order to boost up my Omega fatty acids. My iron was also low so she suggested foods to incorporate to boost my iron levels.

Dr. Eddi was also talked a lot with me about finding passion in my life and was thrilled when I told her of my recent meltdown and (well, it wasn’t necessarily the meltdown that she was thrilled about, but) how I had used that experience to become more in tune with what my mind and body need and that I’ve become more self-aware. She also enjoyed my ideas for my future restaurant that caters to people with food allergies and dietary restrictions. Like I said earlier, I feel like Dr. Eddi is not just a naturopath, but a life coach to boot!

The sessions can be quite expensive so check with your health insurance to see if naturopathic/homeopathic assessments are covered. If your insurance covers it, and you can afford it, I highly recommend setting up an appointment with Dr. Eddi …. especially if you’re feeling a bit lost, out of sorts, and not quite sure what else to do to get your life back on track. I’m more than positive that she’ll be able to get your health and stress back on track!!

Cheers to our physical & mental health!

Krista.

How Our Wedding Indirectly Inspired Food Allergies Etcetera

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In a nutshell:

Wedding. Depression. Medical Leave (for said Depression). A Restaurant Idea. A trip to Winners. An online Business Plan Course. A Blog.

So exactly how are all of these related, you may ask?

Up until we got engaged, I dreaded the thought of getting married – I would shutter at the thought of a traditional wedding. I like being unique and true to myself ….. a real roadblock when it comes to a traditional event. Once I realized that I was ready to get married, I decided that I would plan the wedding just the way that we wanted it: relaxed, fun, bright and colourful – and just as much about showing others a good time as having a good time ourselves.

I had so much fun planning our wedding. And the day turned out perfect! It truly was an awesome day, not only for us, but for everyone who attended. It was so awesome in fact, that OffbeatBride.com did a feature on our wedding story. Please read our story here so that you get a bit of the background story of how our wedding led to Food Allergies Etcetera. As you would have come to learn from the “What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?” section, it was after our wedding that I realized that I need to be more creative and be able to work on something that I’m truly passionate about. At the time I realized that my current job wasn’t igniting a passion in me like I had come to realize that I needed. For a while I felt quite lost…. To the point that I stooped into a deep depression. Realizing that I had a very comfortable life, a well paid job with security, and the fact that I wasn’t satisfied with it made me feel like I was being a spoiled brat who couldn’t be grateful for what was placed in front of me. And these negative, self-defeating thoughts (which were fueled by the depression) only caused me to sink even further into depression. It was a very nasty cycle. But a secretive one at that. There were few who I had let in on my dark little disease, until it got so bad that I had a severe enough mental breakdown to make me not mentally or physically fit enough to continue working (I’d had many mini-breakdowns almost annually for the past several years, but none were of this severity). My doctor had written me off on medical leave for a month. I hadn’t dreamed that I would have lasted for two full months.

While I was on sick leave my doctor had started me on a mild anti-depressant. I had no idea what I was in for in that first month. I knew there would be side-effects but didn’t realize that I would have zero energy during the day while unable to sleep at night. Sleeping was one of those things that I said that I did best. Now, all of a sudden I wasn’t even good at that anymore. But I was told that I would feel worse before I felt better while waiting for my body to adjust to the meds. In the beginning I could barely pull myself from the couch I felt so bad. I’d spend my days alternating between playing iPhone games, scanning through Facebook, and imagining a restaurant where I could go to eat that catered to people with food allergies so that I didn’t have to worry about getting sick. What a wonderful place that would be! If only it existed 😦

Once I hit the 1month mark, I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor. I figured she was going to suggest that I was well enough to return to work (I was starting to adjust to the medication, after all). To my surprise, she said that I was only just starting to adjust to my meds and that it’s not until week 7, 8 or even 9 before I could expect to feel the full effect of the medication. I walked in feeling a bit stressed about the idea of returning to work, but walked out more relaxed because I knew I still had more time to adjust to my medication, as well as focus on some self-awareness/self-help reading. One of the books that I read while I was off was “Be Your Own Life Coach” by Jeff Archer. I found this book to be very helpful.

One day when I was feeling a bit better I decided to take trip to the mall to do some errands. I decided to pop into Winners to check out (what I jokingly call) the “Freaky People” aisle (the one with all the Gluten-Free, natural/organic products). Once I was in the store and was on my way to my aisle, I happened to walk past the kitchenware section. My eye caught a glimpse of a “Happy Blue” metal stacked dessert stand and I thought “That would look fantastic in a restaurant ….. I should buy that”

…… I could swear that I heard a record needle fall off of it’s record at that exact moment. I didn’t have a restaurant!! What was I thiking?!?

It was like I had an epiphany. That idea that I was dreaming up in my head for that restaurant that I was dying for to open, the one that catered to people with food allergies – maybe this was my sign that I was meant to be that person to open it! And with that, I found my passion. My drive. I couldn’t stop talking about my idea. And people were starting to notice how excited about it I was. My hair stylist once commented to me, after going on and on about it for a half hour, that “I haven’t seen you this excited since you were planning your wedding. And your eyes light up the same way when you talk about it!” Her comment not only made me smile, it also made me feel warm and tingly on the inside …. Like a sign that this is the direction that I am supposed to move in. When I think of my future restaurant, I see a world of colour and happiness. And content. 🙂

So, knowing that I couldn’t just jump into the restaurant business, I decided to take my leave from work to complete an online course on writing a successful business plan. And also to learn what dietary restrictions local people have and the challenges that they are faced with when trying to eat out – ergo, the Food Allergies Etcetera blog. 🙂

At the end of the 2 month leave, I returned to work on an ease-back period. My responsibilities were altered after it was realized that it was the area of work that I was previously doing that was causing such a personality clash for me. I could do the line of work, but it was such a stretch for my personality and natural line of thought that it was draining the life out of me. I was so good at hiding what I was going through that no one at my place of work had the slightest idea of how much I was suffering, mentally. After my leave I was honest with them and they were able to modify my scope so that I was working on projects that came more naturally to me. As a result, I’m back to working full time and enjoying it, but I’m still working on my blog in my spare time. Eventually, I hope to develop my restaurant idea, find someone to manage it for me, and put my plan in motion. Until then, I’m going to continue blogging and help those around the city find places that give them delicious options, despite having dietary restrictions. And I’ll continue to dream up colourful ideas for my restaurant, “Etcetera”! 🙂

Copyright: Charla Maarschalk – Charla.ca