A resource blog for young women living with Arthritis


Sneaky ways to exercise with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Once you’re diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis, it’s likely that you will start doing physiotherapy sessions to keep you mobile. As a child I remember how I never looked forward to physiotherapy time. It was such a painful process! My joints were swollen and stiff and the last thing I wanted to do was move them. As an adult, I finally understand how important it is to exercise when we have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Since our joints are experiencing inflammation, we need to strengthen our muscles and bones so that they can help us out when our joints aren’t doing too well. Exercise is also important to reduce deformity and fusion in joints. Exercising when you’re flaring sure isn’t easy, so on those tough days I just do what I can. If I muster up the motivation to drag myself to the pool on these days, I have found find that swimming helps my joints to loosen up.

Each of us has been affected by (J)RA differently, so it would be best to go to a physiotherapist and ask for assistance in developing an exercise routine which will be tailored to our specific body. If our joints are damaged, certain exercises may be too stressful for them (and can cause further damage!). However, I have included some links to exercises you can try at the bottom of this post if you need some inspiration. If you are going to attempt classes, inform your instructor about your (J)RA and do what you can manage.

Now, apparently we’re supposed to be doing our exercises on a daily basis :shock:. But as you all know, when you have a lifetime of JRA, taking an hour or two to do physiotherapy doesn’t always happen every day. Not when young ladies have exams to study for, jobs to do, dates to go on or meals to cook (oh, and RA to manage too)! But we must at least try, right? The more we incorporate movement into our routines, the better for us.

Here are some ideas to keep mobile:

1. Exercise while watching television or listening to music. Try to do the exercises you have learned at physiotherapy while you’re watching your favourite television shows. Instead of lying on the couch, lie on the floor and do some stretches so you don’t get too stiff staying in one position.

2. Use your travel time! If you commute using the bus or subway (or have to take a 6-hour flight), use the time to do some wrist and finger exercises. Stretch from time to time to reduce stiffness.

pool3. Swimming and water exercises. Try to swim at the local pool when you get a free evening. If you’re in school, then make use of the pool there. Hey, you might meet some nice guys and girls while you’re there, which will probably motivate you to keep going. I have to say that swimming helps my stiffness a lot and is my favourite physical activity to do. Also, we don’t put a lot of pressure on our joints when we swim, so for me it’s less painful than doing regular floor exercises. In this article from HealthCentral.com, Christine Miller explores the benefits of swimming and doing water exercises with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

4. Have fun at the beach. If you’re near a beach, turn it into a family outing and get some exercise at the same time. Try doing sports (frisbee, running, football, cricket, volleyball etc.) or take a dip in the water to help loosen your joints. If you’re feeling low-energy that day, try sitting on the sand and building sand castles with your friends and loved ones – it’s a great way to get those wrists and finger joints moving.

5. Rub-a-dub-dub…exercise in the tub. Fill up the bathtub with warm water and do your exercises in there. Add bubble bath to make it more exciting and fun.

6. Dance like nobody’s watching! Turn on the music and do some dancing in the living room with your friends or family…or dog! 😉dance

7.  Work out with the kiddies. If you have kids, do the moves to the Hokey Pokey, If you’re happy and you know it and Head and shoulders with them. Even if you don’t have kids, you can still try this one – just be careful who sees you. 😉

8. Go out and dance! Dress up and go out dancing with your friends. There is no pressure here: you get to move at your own pace, have some fun with your friends and get some exercise – what’s better than that?

9. Boy-band dance moves, RA style. If you’re in my age-group then I have no doubt that you have already tried dancing to the Backstreet Boys’ Everybody music video or *NSYNC’s Bye Bye Bye ;). So turn up the music with your friends and show off those choreographed dance moves. 😉

10. Aerobics classes. I really enjoy doing aerobics and find it to be a good way to keep my body mobile. If you cannot do every single move, just do what you can.

11. Take a dance class. When I was younger I did modern dancing and it really helped me because there was a lot of stretching involved. But there are so many types of dance to choose from: ballroom, hip-hop, bhangra, jazz, latin etc. Take your pick!

12. Yoga. Yoga and stretching can be very beneficial for our stiff bodies, although I admit I cannot do every yoga position! Check out this WebMD video which shows some yoga poses you can try with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

13. Zumba classes. Zumba seems to be a huge craze right now. In college I tried Zumba classes and absolutely loved them! You’re pretty much dancing while exercising. It can be a bit intense, so be careful if your joints are very damaged. Do what you can and move at a pace that suits you.

14. Take a walk around your neighbourhood. If all these classes seem too high-energy for you, then a leisurely walk to your park may be just the thing you need to clear your head after a busy day.

15. Learn the dance moves from the Gangnam Style video. Talk about an intense work out!

If you have (J)RA, then I know you have had a few hundred people lecture you on doing exercises by now. But you know what? I’ve found that it genuinely helps me feel better to keep my body active. I know that on some days just walking is a huge task, so do whatever you can. I always think a little exercise a day is better than none at all. Move at your own pace – you know your body best. I’ve included some links to suggested RA exercises below in case you are feeling extra ambitious today. 😉

-Hand Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis
-Joint-friendly fitness routines (picture slide show)
-Rheumatoid Arthritis and exercise


Readers, what is your favourite way to keep mobile with Rheumatoid Arthritis?  Feel free to share your ideas in the comments so we can all learn together.


Happy exercising!

Ms. Rainbow

[Images by pixabay.com]


Loving yourself with (Juvenile) Rheumatoid Arthritis

girlAlthough (Juvenile) Rheumatoid Arthritis causes internal pain and damage, it can also affect our bodies physically, which can in turn affect how we feel about our bodies as young women.  Apart from causing us to limp and have to use braces, orthopaedic shoes, walking aids or wheelchairs, JRA can destroy joint tissue and affect the growth of our bones, especially when it affects young children whose bodies are still growing. Gaining muscle mass may be difficult when joints are painful and damaged. Scars remain where we’ve had replacements or joint surgery. In addition, medications can have side effects which are seen physically. Methotrexate is known to cause hair to fall out, while corticosteroids are infamous for causing rapid weight gain and a “moon face” and can lead to early osteoporosis in the long-term.

But you know what? JRA or no JRA, we deserve to be loved by ourselves. Do you agree?

JRA (and heavy usage of corticosteroids) has made me a super petite woman. My joints all look a bit wonky and creak-creak-creak like nobody’s business. Growing up, many people would make fun of my body, as I’m sure many of you reading this have experienced yourselves. It hurt and I cried many nights into my pillow over it, but you know what? I still liked my body. I liked my body because I knew for a fact that it was incredibly strong to withstand all that pain. My joints were sick and they were mine and I had to take care of them and love them, just as I took care of my Barbie dolls when their arms and legs broke off and I had to tape them back together. I knew my body was a little different, but it was okay. I was fighting bigger battles and I knew I had to stay focused and take care of myself. In learning to accept JRA into my life, I also learned to let go of other people’s negativity and my self-consciousness and to accept how it was affecting my body.

As I got older, my situation got better. I continued being myself and doing whatever I was passionate about. At college I joined clubs, I danced the nights away with friends and I enjoyed my classes. I was studying English at the time and I was always surprised when guys would lure me into discussions about Shakespeare, even if it was 3am and we were at a party. They respected my opinions, they liked my jokes and they liked me, tiny JRA body and all. They didn’t seem to notice my crooked joints and swollen fingers and super-creaky elbows. Even if they did, they never mentioned it – because in the big picture I realized those things didn’t matter.

I also realized that whether guys found me attractive or not wasn’t something I should worry about. Truly, the opinion which mattered the most was my own. If you love yourself you feel happy, comfortable and at peace and no one can take that away from you. If someone doesn’t find you attractive, so be it. If someone does find you attractive, it’s flattering but that shouldn’t be the validation you need to feel good about your body. Do you agree? Even if you think no one sees beauty in your body, I want you to see the beauty in your body. See the beauty in your body which has experienced hard times but is still trooping along.

You might think that the marks of (J)RA detract from your beauty, but you know what I see when I read through arthritis blogs? I see truly beautiful and strong women who are fighting for their dreams with the cards they’ve been dealt. Elizabeth of The Girl With Arthritis wrote this wonderful piece where she referred to all the physical marks of auto-immune arthritis as our “battle scars.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. When you have JRA you’re fighting a battle every day and sometimes the effects of that battle show on your body. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of – if anything, your battle scars show what your body has endured. They are beautiful. So wear them proudly and with your head held high.

I know that when we turn on the television and look at magazines we see image after image of perfectly toned women with sculpted arms and legs – and healthy joints. We hear our friends obsessing about how they’ll have the perfect body once they keep working out. For us, it may seem like we never had a shot at that “perfect” body because of JRA. But you know what? Your body is perfect just the way it is at this very moment – because it’s yours.

Let’s love ourselves ladies. Our bodies are going through a lot – let’s be kind to them and love them, exactly the way they are.

Love your hands, love your joints, love your face even when you’re taking corticosteroids, love your uneven bones, love your hair even when you can’t brush it and love your scars. Love your reliable wheelchair which takes you everywhere you want to go. Love your unique personality, love your strength, love your talents and love your quirks. Before you go seeking love from other persons, first learn to love yourself. You deserve to be loved by yourself. Don’t you think so?

Loving ourselves takes time and is a process. There are still days when I look at my bones and joints and realize how physically fragile they are. It scares me but I try to love them anyway – because they deserve to be loved. If you don’t love yourself already, I want you to start trying. Start learning to love every single thing which makes you who you are.

As women with (J)RA, I think the most important “I love you” we’ll ever say in life is the one we say to ourselves.

So even if it takes time, let’s make sure we learn to say it. 😉


Wishing you all the best, pretty ladies 🙂

Ms. Rainbow

[Image source: graphicsfairy.blogspot.com]

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Frustration and (Juvenile) Rheumatoid Arthritis/Facing our fears

When I started to show the symptoms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis as a child, my world changed. I went from being an active, jumping, climbing, running little monkey of a girl to one who couldn’t even walk. To get around my home I would sit on the ground and drag myself on my butt, using my heels to pull myself forward. In the shower, my mother would shampoo my hair because my hands were swollen and painful and I could no longer do an adequate job of it. I couldn’t dress myself and sometimes I couldn’t even feed myself. I struggled to fasten buttons on my shirt and to open taps and bottle caps. I constantly spilled drinks because my wrists simply could not grip the cups anymore. Just moving was a challenge because my joints had somehow painfully frozen. There were many months of bed rest and not walking as I took a year off from school to experiment with medications and physical therapy, while doctors tried to figure out how to best manage my condition.

hippoI remember vividly how frustrated I’d feel when I couldn’t do these basic tasks, like twisting the cap off a bottle. First I’d get angry at the drink for having been capped so tightly. Then I’d get angry at myself for not being able to do something as simple as open a drink. Rage and frustration would bubble inside me until I eventually exploded. I’d scream at the drink and eventually scream at myself. Then I’d collapse onto the floor in tears and feel like I was a failure, because I couldn’t do a simple task which every other person could do – a task which I was once able to do on my own. My body was failing me and I just could not understand it.

I felt ashamed of myself. I felt angry with myself. I felt sad for myself. I felt helpless. Those are quite a few intense emotions to be coming from a 7 year old, right?

Have any of you ever felt this way because you couldn’t do a physical task due to JRA?

I’m now 28 years old and a lot stronger and mentally equipped to handle my condition than I was at 7 years old. I guess that’s why I’ve started this site, so that one day when a young person with JRA googles her condition, she will be able to read some posts by someone who lived through what she’s currently living. And I hope that she won’t feel so frustrated or so alone – that she’ll realize she’ll be okay. You will be okay. 😉

It’s been 21 years since JRA entered my life. And you know what? I still get difficulty in twisting the cap off a bottle ;). But the way I feel when I can’t open the bottle has changed completely. When I can’t do a physical task, I don’t feel so frustrated anymore. I’m able to stay calm. I keep trying until I realize that I really physically can’t do it. If someone is nearby, I’ll ask for help. If no one is around to help me, I accept that I can’t open it and I move on. I don’t feel like a failure and I don’t feel helpless. I don’t even think about it anymore.

It’s a gradual process as we learn to accept our limitations with JRA. No one wants to be called weak, right? Especially not young Super Women who are thirsting to experience our beautiful world. I think time and experience really helps us here. As someone who strongly believes in going out and creating your dreams, I still hate having to use the word “can’t” in my vocabulary and I dislike having to ask for help. But I have had to humble myself and be honest about what my body can physically handle. Part of accepting JRA meant accepting my physical limitations. Part of this acceptance came from realizing my worth and talents in other areas and loving myself exactly the way I was. I soon realized that my inability to open a bottle cap did not impact on my ability to share my personality with the world, to do well in school, to make friends or to enjoy life. And I stopped feeling angry and ashamed and sad as I learned to love myself with JRA.

If you are newly-diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis, please know that the world is still yours and you still have so much to offer. It is natural to feel frustrated and to mourn the loss of what we were once able to do, so don’t beat yourself up if you feel this way now. It’s indeed scary and frustrating when our bodies start changing, when our joints start swelling and we start losing our mobility. Loss of control of our body is an enormous fear for any person. Who wouldn’t feel frustrated?

Hang in there friends. Things are going to get better – believe that. These tough periods make our backbones grow and bring out the strengths we never knew we had. Where our bodies start failing us physically, our minds start to become stronger mentally. You are going to get through this rough time.

I look back at my 7-year old self and I feel sad for that little girl. But at the same time, I wouldn’t change anything. All those emotions had to come out in order for me to find peace and acceptance with my physical limitations. It’s a process, but time really does help. If you are struggling, remember that even with JRA you are still the same person – with the same mind and the same heart. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the fact that you’re getting mentally stronger with every day that passes. Make sure you channel all that strength in a positive direction. 😉

If parents or loved ones of JRA fighters are reading this, please have patience while your children or friends sort out this process and learn to accept this disease and their physical limitations. Don’t make them feel bad if they ask for help. It is really difficult to ask for assistance and admit that you are struggling physically to do a task, especially when you’re a young person who was once active. It makes us feel vulnerable to let others know that we have difficulty doing basic physical tasks. Calling someone “weak” or “lazy” when she is giving it her all is discouraging, so please, please have some compassion and take a moment to walk in that person’s shoes.

Readers, feel free to share your stories or advice in the comments so that we can all learn together.

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones


Sending you all gentle hugs as we keep up the fight,

Ms. Rainbow

[Image by pixabay.com]


Did you know? Little boys get arthritis too

This article from WebMD states that women outnumber men by as much as three to one when it comes to being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. There may be fewer men than women being diagnosed with RA, but the fact is that there are men living with arthritis. And arthritis isn’t confined to adults, as we may know by now. There are little boys who are growing up with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis too. All around the world, little baby boys and toddlers and teens and grown men are living with auto-immune forms of arthritis.


I often find myself wondering how a guy manages when he has to live with (J)RA. As young ladies, we sometimes experience emotional pain as we may be teased for not quite fitting society’s image of the average healthy young woman our age. Among other matters we may worry about our appearance, fitting in with our peers, dating and the issues which can arise with intimacy and our physical limitations. As a young woman, I am sometimes refused assistance or given a dirty look when I ask for help, because I look youthful and healthy. So how are males in my situation treated? Most societies and cultures expect men to be strong and able-bodied. Men are often the protectors and the ones who do manual labour. How do young men with JRA cope?

I am not a guy but I imagine it cannot be easy.

If you’re a guy reading this, please know that we are all here for you. The challenges of living with (J)RA may differ somewhat for males and females – but we are all still fighting the same battle. Please keep pushing forward and being your amazing self. Don’t ever let this disease make you feel like you are less. Pay no attention to people who  put you down because you may struggle with physical activities – it’s likely they have no idea what it’s like to live with chronic pain or damaged joints. You have a strong body which endures daily pain and you have a fighting spirit. In my eyes, those qualities truly make a great man (and woman). Have confidence in yourself and never by shy to share your uniqueness with the world. If you ever feel alone with this disease, I encourage you to check out RheumatoidArthritisGuy.com, which chronicles the adventures of the amazing RA Guy :). Keep strong guys.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity.  It comes from an indomitable will.”

―    Mahatma Gandhi

Wishing all you guys and girls out there all the best,

Ms. Rainbow

[Image by pixabay.com]


Saluting Karen Baker

Today I want to highlight a beautiful story which I read on ArthritisToday.org. The article is titled Africa by wheelchair and is about Karen Baker’s safari experience in Africa. Click here to read it. Like you and me, Karen has Rheumatoid Arthritis which has affected her mobility and she often uses a cane and wheelchair to get around. Karen’s story really touched me and that’s why I want to share it with all of you today. There is nothing that inspires me more than seeing someone push forward and fight for their dreams even when the stars aren’t perfectly aligned. Sometimes you have to work to align those stars yourself, right? Karen, you are truly a brave woman and I admire your strength! 🙂

 How many of us will choose to leave the safety and comforts of a familiar life to explore another country if we are dependent on a wheelchair? How many of us will do it on our own?

Karen did it, because it was her dream to make that journey. She encountered many challenges along the way, but she didn’t run away from them. She held her head up high and worked through them. What a strong and amazing lady 🙂

When you have (J)RA, there is no shortcut or easy route out of the feelings of pain and sickness. We learn to just put on our game faces and go with it, even though we have no idea what’s going to happen and how things will turn out. We learn to live life with this disease piggybacking along.

Like Karen, I love travelling and learning about different cultures. As I get older I do worry about my mobility and my ability to travel independently. Karen, you have shown me that I have nothing to fear. Whatever happens, we can still find a way to do the things we love. It’s not going to be easy, but you have shown us that where there’s a will, there is indeed a way if you want something badly enough. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story with the world and all the best to you! 🙂

I want to leave you all with one of my favourite quotes by Walt Disney:

“All our dreams can come true, if  we have the courage to pursue them.”

Wishing everyone strength and courage as we keep fighting,

Ms. Rainbow

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Laughter, the best medicine

Growing up I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house, especially after I was diagnosed with JRA and had to spend a year away from school. My grandmother kept boxes of old Reader’s Digest magazines tucked away in her store room. I loved reading them, even though much of the content was too mature for my 7 years of life experience at that time. My favourite part was the “Laughter, the best medicine” section where readers would submit funny stories and jokes. I loved the way just a few simple sentences with a punch line could surprise me and make me laugh and smile. As an adult I still love comedy, from watching stand-up comedy, to movies to tv shows to just having my friends tell me about a funny incident they experienced that day. Who doesn’t love to laugh till they cry and are rolling around on the ground? 😀

smileLaughter has often been explored in relation to its potential to relieve pain. It has been suggested that laughing releases endorphins which can temporarily help ease pains. In this TIME magazine article by Maia Szalavitz, researchers found that “Viewing or participating in comedy led to higher pain tolerance…and there was a dose-related response to laughter: people who laughed more felt less pain later.”

So what does this mean for persons with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis who live with chronic pain? Should we try to spend our entire day laughing? That would be funny ;).

I found a very interesting article on laughter and RA by RAWarrior, which references this rheumatology study by the Department of Joint Disease and Rheumatism, Nippon Medical School, Tokyo, Japan. It was found that “mirthful laughter affects the levels of serum pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines differentially, depending on the RA disease activity” (Matsuzaki et al 2006). I don’t want to get too technical here, but it is interesting how laughter had varying effects on cytokine levels depending on whether individuals had “easy-to-control” RA or “difficult-to-control” RA. I would really love to see more studies like this repeated so we can examine whether we get the same results each time.

Stepping away from the scientific aspect of laughter, I think we can all agree that laughing makes us feel happier as it lightens our moods. It definitely distracts me temporarily from my pains (as well as the every-day stress which life brings). Whether laughter actually reduces disease activity or not, I cannot say, but I do know that I prefer to be laughing and in pain, rather than crying and in pain. When those night-time flares hit, get those Youtube videos ready on your laptop so you can brighten your mood.

I’ll leave you with 2 videos which I hope make you smile :). One is an advertisement by Evian and the other is a clip of dancing penguins from Happy Feet set to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. Enjoy!

– Ms. Rainbow

Article cited:
T. Matsuzaki et al., “Mirthful laughter differentially affects serum pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine levels depending on the level of disease activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.” Rheumatology 45 (2006):182-6.

[Image by pixabay.com]


How to keep (J)RA from taking over your life

RA Warrior has invited persons to blog about the topic “What do you do to keep the disease from taking over different parts of your life?”

To someone who does not have Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis, or to those who are newly diagnosed, the whole concept of living with chronic pain and illness might sound depressing. Indeed, there are times when we may feel sad that we have to stay inside on the couch, while everyone else is out living their lives. But time helps us work through our feelings and eventually we develop techniques to help us cope and push through the pain. And we learn to live life with pain, while actually having fun and enjoying ourselves. I have found that distraction is important when living with (J)RA. We have to find healthy and productive ways to distract ourselves from the pain.

I have a few ideas which I’d like to share which have helped me over the years:

1. Reading
As a child this was basically all I could do when I was stuck alone in that hospital bed, while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I lost myself in fairy-tales, travelling to other countries and fantasy worlds. I still love losing myself in a good book when I’m flaring and can’t do much physically.

2. Art/drawing/painting/crafts
I loved arts and crafts as a child, and as an adult I still doodle or paint from time to time. It can be very therapeutic to draw or paint. If you don’t know how to draw, remember that it’s never too late to enroll in art class 😉

3. Singing
It doesn’t matter what you sound like. Sing for yourself. Sing in the shower. Sing Backstreet Boys’ songs if that’s what you love. 😉 Enjoy yourself 🙂

4. Dancing
Like singing, it doesn’t matter how you look, once you’re having fun. Move whatever you can move and shake whatever you can shake, even if you’re stuck to the bed.

5. Swimming
Swimming is my favourite physical activity to do. Even though I’m often in pain when I reach the pool, I always feel refreshed, strong and energized afterwards.

6. Listening to music 
I’ve posted about this already, but music helps me a lot. If you’re in pain and lying in bed, keep some music nearby so you can distract yourself and you don’t feel alone. If you’re struggling to do your physical therapy, put on some upbeat music to keep you going.

7. Love
This might seem like a strange point, but giving love (not just in the romantic sense) and being loved are amazing feelings which can help us through our pains. Knowing we have the support of our parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, boyfriends, husbands, friends, teachers and co-workers helps to strengthen our wills to fight this condition. If you’re a parent of a child with JRA, love them as best as you can – this is the time they need you most. In addition, having someone to love, whether it’s a significant other, a child or a pet makes our lives more meaningful and shows us there’s more to life than RA.

8. Cuddling/hugs
When you’re lying in pain, just having someone hug you can be a great comfort. If you don’t have a significant other, then hug your doggy or cat. If you have little ones, hug them. Kids are often a great distraction from pain 🙂 If you’re a parent of a child with JRA, sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is hug them while they try to sort out the pain.

9. Going outside and enjoying life
(I’ve shared some thoughts on this topic already, click here to read). When I’m in pain, walking may be difficult, but I still try to go out and do what I can. I look at it like this: I could stay in bed or I could go outside and either way I’d still be in pain. I may as well be in pain while doing something I love right?

rockI try to do things which make me feel happy, such as travelling or hanging out with my friends or even just watching my favourite movies. Pain is often present, but when I’m happy and laughing and surrounded by people who love me, it’s bearable. Keep busy and don’t allow yourself to dwell on the pain. I know it’s hard, but we have to keep fighting for our happiness.

Feel free to share your ideas also, so we can all learn together. Also, check out RA Warrior’s article which includes links to many more posts on this topic.

Wishing you all the best and sending gentle hugs your way,

Ms. Rainbow

[Images by blueandpinkclouds.deviantart.com and  pixabay.com.]