November 10th, 2016

Rose-coloured Reviews This Lousy Week

So, I usually watch and report on the Giller Prize broadcast and here we are again at that time of year. I didn’t do a live-blog, taking notes in the moment this year, because I had had a brief choking incident about half an hour before and spent the show lying in Mark’s lap. I did pay pretty good attention to it though, and had a bunch of cheerful, gently snarky things to say about it that I was saving for this space, but then Tuesday happened with all of its apocalyptic strangeness, and it no longer seemed worthwhile to comment on weird musical segways or lovely evening gowns.

Nor, however, am I able to comment on the election, except to say that I am unsurprisingly unhappy and that we  terrified our cats by getting up repeatedly in the night to check returns, never a good sign. Kerry wrote a great post about getting to the work of reacting to this change in global politics, and I really hope to do that very soon.

In the meantime, though, I feel like telling you about my evening last night. Even before the choking and the election, I am having by any standards a pretty terrible autumn, and last night was the first time in a while where I just had a peaceful productive evening and didn’t have anything to freak out or waste time being miserable about. It was great. Here’s what I did:

I had a doctor’s appointment downtown so I got to leave work early, and then the buses actually ran on-time for once so I was able to use my buffer time to run an errand and then read John Metcalf’s book in the waiting room. And then the doctor was running late as the doctors in this office ALWAYS do, but instead of meekly accepting it I said I needed a realistic time when they’d see me. I’m disappointed in the universe that what it took to win this argument was “My husband is picking me up and I need to tell him what time” but as I have been kept waiting up to two hours in this office before, any victory is helpful. And they actually did give me a time that was approximately correct and I was able to meet Mark and walk home with him. And it was a cold but bright evening and all the downtown people were heading home and it was nice to be one of them for once (I work in the burbs).

When we got home I fed the cats and caught up on the work emails I missed while Mark put in the laundry and checked his own emails. Then I got started on a batch of cookies and the sun went down and Mark put the clothes in the drier and made dinner. Dinner was fish-sticks because I have decided that we can have convenience foods once a week because life is exhausting. I haven’t had fish-sticks since I was a child and they weren’t truly good, but they were filled with nostalgia and that was nice. I put hoisin sauce on them though.

And I finished the cookies and did the dishes and Mark brought the laundry up and we chatted and folded it while the cats ran around being nuts, as is their wont. And then we were finally done all the chores and ate a few cookies. Then Mark read for a bit in the living room and I got to work on my essay on Russell Smith that I have been trying to finish forever. I finally had an evening of work that didn’t feel like a failure–I actually felt a little proud of what I wrote.

And then I felt tired and went to bed–an incredible luxury, to just go to bed when you’re tired–and I actually slept well, also rare lately.

Such a nice, normal, useful evening. I am grateful

August 25th, 2016

The Last Hip Show

I very rarely comment on current events on social media (or in person, actually). It’s not that I don’t care, but that I care in exactly the manner everyone else does, and have very few original insights that anyone needs to hear about. I am as worried about Trump, ISIS, and zika as most of my friends, and I too would like Canada to win lots of Olympic medals and for the heatwave to abate a bit. Me personally reporting this thoughts on Facebook would help no one. I’m definitely not shy–if I had a thought I hoped no one else had had, or even a joke, I would share it. But mainly I don’t. I have better luck having original insights about my own life, as fewer people have had the chance to think about it–that’s why most of my social media presence is so me-specific.

I also have missed a number of cultural phenomena that people like to discuss–I never saw Breaking Bad and now I’m missing Stranger Things, I have promised myself I won’t get Pokemon Go until my book is done, and I don’t eat beef so all those impressive hamburgers are lost on me. When Prince and David Bowie died (to cite recent examples), I was sorry as I am when anyone walks offstage before their time, but their music didn’t mean much to me personally. I’d be hard pressed to think of more than one or two songs by either. So I kept my mouth shut.

The Tragically Hip thing is different because I genuinely care about the band in a personal way–not a huge fan, but I know their songs off by heart and they mean stuff to me in my life other than just what the words say. I know, that is an extremely childish way of expressing it, but I do think a lot of us feel that way–unique feelings, felt in exactly the same way.

So I watched the whole show on television with a few friends and it was a lovely experience–sad but hopeful, inspiring and interesting, and full of music I like. It was a lovely experience that a third of the country had, apparently. And that kind of solidarity, solidity, was kind of great–I read all the tweets and statuses with a little joyful me-too in my heart. It was nice to be a part of this feeling for once, even for a sad reason, even when I had nothing new to say. Sometimes it’s great to just cheer along with the crowd and not worry about what anyone thinks of my individual voice.

June 8th, 2016

Me and the radio

I grew up listening to the radio all. the. time. By the time I was nine or ten I was fighting my dad aggressively for “my stations” every time we were in the car. My parents gave me a small portable stereo (it goes to show how old I am that the term for that stereo has now passed out of social acceptability, as really it should have) around that time, and later a bigger better one that lasted me through university. I had it on most of the time I was in my room and though I was not in other ways a riotous kid, I was constantly being told to turn it down. I did own tapes and cds, but I was very very fond of the radio. I was not–and am not–wild about “dj patter” but there were particular shows I liked and would try to tune in for every week. Call-in shows about sex, music documentary shows, I would listen to from start to finish, often the listening being my sole occupation. I may be alone in my generation as a person who would sit quietly doing nothing else other than listening to the radio (well, not quite alone–there were a few shows I know my brother liked too).

When I moved to Montreal with my un-PC stereo, I eventually found another set of stations to listen to, though honestly I never found them as good as the range that was available in the Hamilton/Toronto corridor. I listened to them throughout school and when I moved back to Ontario I switched back to the old ones. But my constant listening fell away gradually as I entered adulthood, even though my parents bought me yet another stereo when I moved to TO, a very good one (note: my father is very passionate both about music and sound quality). Somewhere along the line I lost the ability to listen to music while writing or reading, something that was integral to my younger self–these days I can listen to songs with lyrics only when I’m doing something relatively easy or mindless. Do other people find that a problem in their middle years too?

Of course, the other thing I stopped doing was spending really any time in cars, which used to be prime radio-listening time for me. For years I battled my dad for radio control on the way to band practice, and then later I commuted alone and had total control–or other times, almost as good, I would travel with my brother, whose musical tastes have always aligned very closely with mine. I don’t love driving, but I do love radio, so it balanced out. When you’re from a rural area, almost any drive is a long one, and I listened to a lot of music en route to…everything. But from 2002 to 2011–the first decade of my alleged adulthood–I was almost never in cars for any length of time, and still more rarely alone. I remember being given the occasional ride somewhere in someone’s car and actually saying “whee!” as we went around a sharp bend, the sensation of being in a small vehicle (i.e.., not a bus) was so unusual for me.

When Mark and I moved in together, I got access to his car, and some responsibility for it. Since I’m the only one who can easily drive to work (he works downtown, where really no one should drive) I try to do it once a week or so, not only out of the goodness of my heart to keep the car in driving condition but also because it’s easier if I have to say, carry a cake, or visit someone far away, or be out late, or… Car ownership is insidious–I hate driving but it makes my life so much easier that I do it rather often. So after almost a decade away, there I was with the FM radio dial at my finger tips.

One shock was that so little had changed. My favourite station in my teens was 102.1 The Edge, for all my grunge and alternative favourites–which the station is still playing. In 2011 when I came back to radio whole hog, the situation was particularly alarming, a kind of all-nostalgia format that seemed almost to verge on an oldies station. Horror! There was a revamp a couple years ago, in response to Indie88.1 probably, where the Edge got more current and it’s a lot more fun to listen to now, that Indie88 is actually my new favourite. They play enough current stuff that I feel like I’m in the know, music-wise, and then just when I’m experiencing novelty fatigue–blam, “Blister in the Sun.

Which is all a very long way of saying, I love listening to the radio, and I’m pleased to have it back in my life after such a long absence…though I still haven’t really been able to get into the habit of listening anywhere but the car. I guess we need cars for something.

As you might be able to tell from the above rambling, I’m gearing up to write something bigger (and fictional) about radio-listening, but I can’t do it right now because I’m still in edit-land with the current project. So I just fantasize about the new thing, and ramble here–thanks for reading.

February 3rd, 2016

Name games

I have very strong feelings about names, but they are hard to quickly and easily define to people. It’s not that I don’t have rules, it’s just that those rules are not often comprehensible to others. Also, what does it matter? It matters that I am writing a novel with a lot of names in it, so how much sense the names make could potentially drive a reader nuts.

You get a name at birth and that is always your name–unless you change your name, but that strikes me as incredibly mind-boggling. I mean do it if that’s your jam, I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to change your name, I just don’t understand how anyone copes with, for a certain number of years being one name, and then later another.

This bafflement on my part is in turn baffling to others who know me well, because for the first 27 years of my life I went by “Becky” and then switched over to “Rebecca” after that. To me it makes sense because my name was actually always Rebecca, Becky just being a nickname for Rebecca. It was just that no one called me that–parents, other family, high-school, university friends, teachers, everyone called me Becky but I knew myself to be Becky or Rebecca interchangably and I did not find it a major switch to start introducing myself formally as Rebecca. I felt I was old enough to carry the three syllables, and I wanted less dissonance between my written and spoken worlds (I have almost always written under Rebecca). Many people could. not. deal with this change, and that also makes sense to me–see below–so I stopped asking family and friends who had known me prior to age 27 to call me Rebecca. So now all those folks know me as Becky, and everyone I’ve met since–grad-school friends, work friends, people in the writing community, and notably my husband and everyone he’s introduced me to–call me Rebecca. This makes perfect sense to me, no confusion at all, the way you wouldn’t be confused if someone pointed at a piece of furniture you call the couch and said, “Want to sit on the sofa?” Rebecca and Becky are synonyms, synonyms for me.

I am extremely respectful about given names and nicknames, and I am always careful to call someone exactly what they introduce themselves as. I would never presume the privilege of using a nickname, even though I love nicknames, unless I were invited to do so. This also causes some confusion, as the various Jennifers I work with are all occasionally referred to as Jen. I never did that, because I wasn’t invited to–I wouldn’t be happy if someone went rogue and called me, say, Bek–and they all thought it was weird. The Jennifers actually got together and asked me to start using Jen, which is also weird but I feel more comfortable doing so now. Basically, I guess I think, one’s name is one’s own–nicknames are at the owner’s discretion.

Although if you ask me to call you by a nickname, or ask me to GIVE you a nickname, I will be very happy to oblige. Something that makes me happy is that way back in the 90s, my friend Karen complained that she didn’t like any of the nicknames available to Karens, and I thought for a while and suggested “(W)ren”–the second half of her name, and also she is small and birdlike. She still uses it! I got the same complaint from an old workmate named Taylor and suggested Lori, which she liked but I don’t know if she still uses.

So, I’m down with nicknames. HOWEVER, it blows my mind when someone changes their name to a completely other thing that has no relationship to the original name. How I see these two categories of change as so different I have no idea, but there you have it! Seriously, when people change their names at marriage (the reason most of those I know who have changed it did so) it takes me YEARS to get it straight. There are people who have been married over a decade that I refer to occasionally by their maiden names (is sexist terminology? I feel like yes.) I mean no disrespect, I’m onboard with the idea of the name-change, it’s just that I can’t process it properly.

One of the great things about being a writer of fiction is that I have access to and control over tonnes of names–which is good, because my husband would never let me have enough cats to use all the names I like. I don’t have a science to how I name characters, though if you read a bunch of my work you can notice certain preference areas. I once got a baby name book with the idea that I would read through it and find new kinds of names for my characters but that did not pan out at all. Usually I just think about a character until a good name pops into my head and that’s that. I almost never change a character’s name once I’ve decided on it, which is why in my last book there’s a not-so-great fellow with the same name as my husband. Sorry, Mark-the-husband, Mark-the-character showed up first and I just couldn’t unname him.

And while I’m listing my naming oddities, I should mention that I can’t use generic terms of endearment–my husband and I call each other by the names on our birth certificates. I can’t explain this anymore than I can the rest of it–maybe it has something to do with how if anyone can be “baby” or “sweetie” than perhaps no one is? And this rule does not extend to the cats, to whom I regularly refer as “sugar plums.”

I also do weird things with nicknames in fiction–many’s the editor who has come back to me with a “correction” that a character is flipflopping between or among names. In truth, it’s that someone could be referred to by different nicknames by different people, but that’s a pretty hollow truth if no one understands and just thinks the story is sloppy. So I wind up changing it–in my forthcoming book, Julianna is almost exclusively called that, and I took out most of the use of Juli and Jules. This is sad to me, but it is important not to baffle the reader with my personal quirks.

Similarly, my editor pointed out that two characters have very similar names and readers might get confused–could one change? My instinct was “absolutely not.” It’s one thing to use a nickname or not and it’s another to give someone a name he never had before!!! Despite the fact that it’s an easy change to a minor character, I am a fragile point with the manuscript and I honestly didn’t think I could look at it with the wrong name in there.

I was being, as you’ve no doubt been thinking, an asshole, so instead of stating the above, I said I was going to leave the old (right!) name in place until the last minute before I hand off the manuscript–then I’ll do a global search-and-replace with a new, yet-to-be-determined name, and send off the ms without looking at it again. Which is clearly a batshit thing to do, but shouldn’t inconvenience anyone but possibly me, which is fine.

Next time you think an artistic type person is being eccentric just for the sake of it, please rest assure, I’m annoyed by me as anyone else. But I’ve had this quirk all my life and at the end of an exhausting edit is just not the time to rehabilitate it. So on we go–

Love,
Rebecca (Becky)

January 15th, 2016

A complete list of everything that went wrong for me on Thursday

  1. Did not discover hot water wasn’t working until after gym workout.
  2. Had to take awkward sponge bath; cats watched, looking horrified.
  3. Developed migraine.
  4. Dispiriting work meeting.
  5. Found all colleagues dispirited by work meeting, all in different ways. Upside: we can’t all be doomed. Downside: no one available for cheering-up role.
  6. Migraine worsened.
  7. Myriad other small work problems.
  8. Decided to go home early to cope with migraine; when boarding bus, driver closed door on me. Like, I wasn’t trying to squeak in in a hurry; I was standing in line and he saw me, but his hand just jumped or something and the door whacked me in the face. He nodded wryly but did not actually apologize.
  9. Upon arrival home found that not only had hot water not been reactivated but heat now not working either. But it’s all scheduled to be back by 7:30, per mysterious voice over PA system.
  10. Yes, my building as a PA system. It is like living in a high school.
  11. Spend part of evening sitting on kitchen chair in front of stove, despite migraine and wanting to lie down, because bedroom is too cold.
  12. Eventually feel better and make dinner, but are unable to wash dinner dishes because hot water did not return as scheduled.
  13. By about 8pm, sitting on couch under duvet trying to edit novel.
  14. Voice returns to PA but is garbled, and we can’t understand what it is saying.
  15. My hope the PA is that it is saying the heat/hotwater is back, but as I go to check, power blacks out.
  16. Mark runs down then up 10 flights of stairs to investigate electricity issue. Mark has a chest cold and this was not, in retrospect, a good idea.
  17. RR finds a trickle of warm water and does dishes by flashlight.
  18. Heat is still not on, apartment is freezing, it is too dark to do anything but go to bed and hope Friday will be better than Thursday. So we go to bed at 9pm.

December 27th, 2015

For 2016

I hope everyone had a very merry everything this holiday season, and continues to do so. Mine has been and hopefully will continue being wonderful, but I’m not sure a recap of the nice things I’ve been doing, seeing, and eating would be that interesting. Instead, I’m in the mood to look forward to 2016. 2015 was a pleasant year in many ways, and certainly nothing really bad happened to me personally, but I found it to be a challenging 365 days in large and small ways. So I’m anxious to get on to the new one, which, like an unwritten book, has not had anything go wrong in it yet. Here are some things I resolve to do to keep making 2016 a good year even once it has gotten started.

  1. Finish novel–really finish, not like the other times I’ve resolved this when it was “finish a draft” or “finish submission draft.” This time it is “finish and submit to copyedit” finish–world without end finish. Not included in 2016 goals only because it’ll be happening in January 2017 is “publish novel.”
  2. Clean out spice cupboard. Find a way to store spices that is not a giant mess for first time in life. Cannot be that hard.
  3. Wear every piece of jewellery I own at least once, out in public. This is an adapted version of KonMari, I guess. I got a new jewellery box for Christmas and in transferring everything over from the old one, found I had a tonne of stuff I never wear and indeed have forgotten about. I’m inclined to keep it all because most of it was gifts, but if I find I can’t even get through a single public appearance with the item due to physical discomfort or embarrassment at the item’s inappropriateness for my look, I think I’ll have an easier time parting with it.
  4. No eating after dinner is over.
  5. Stop being so fussed about what people I might never see again think of me. Focus on being a better friend to people who are genuine friends.
  6. Start new novel. Have clearer structure and better plan than first novel from the get-go, so this one does not turn into another six-year ordeal.
  7. Experiment with only one social outing per week for month of January. See if it makes me more productive and happier, or insane.
  8. Use migraine tracker properly, or else find better migraine tracker.
  9. Complete marathon critical essay and edit into something publishable. Essay is currently less than a third finished, 10 000 words long, and largely about my personal issues.
  10. Train cat to ring bell on command.

November 27th, 2015

The ethnic issue (rant)

This is the definition of “ethnic” per the nigh-on-infalliable Canadian Oxford dictionary:
“(of a population group) sharing a distinctive cultural and historical tradition, often associated with race, nationality, or religion. 2. relating to race or culture (ethnic group; ethnic origins). 3. (of clothes, music, etc.) characteristic of or influenced by the traditions of a particular people or culture, esp. a minority within another culture or one regarded as exotic.”

These definitions aren’t as clear-cut as perhaps I would like them to be, but I do think they prove my point, often ranted about but perhaps never in this space, that EVERYONE HAS AN ETHNICITY! White Canadians, in my experience, tend to dwell on the “exotic” aspect mentioned in the third definition, and assume that “ethnic people” are the ones who aren’t white, or speak some language other than English, or perhaps wear something that isn’t sold at the Gap.

I get that many people’s families have been in Canada so long they no longer identify with the cultural tradition they came from, and that they are not religious–but that doesn’t mean that they are the water and only non-white people and recent immigrants are the fish. Other than First Nations and Inuit, we are all descendants of immigrants and Canadian culture is itself an actual thing too. Saying one has no cultural affiliation as a Canadian doesn’t really make sense in a global context–like saying one has no accent. As soon as you leave the place where you are part of the dominant culture, it becomes clear that you have both.

It strikes me as offensive when a white person looks at an advertisement featuring only other white people and says, “It’s too bad they didn’t include any ethnic people.” !!!!! Obviously, that sort of comment comes from a political correct place–the speaker is trying to be inclusive, but it also comes from a place of privilege, where the speaker considers his or her place in society so dominant and assured that it has no point of origin–it just is.

We all get to decide who we are and what culture we want to identify with, but it is very very weird to say some people have a culture and some people do not. And even if people get where you are coming from and aren’t offended from a cultural perspective, I guarantee that if an editor hears you, s/he will be a seething over the improper use of language.

July 19th, 2015

Best job

When I was about five or six, I had maybe the best job of my life. My parents and I were getting out of our car, which was parked at the one intersection in my little hometown. I think we were going to the video store. A woman was walking along the sidewalk, a rarity in rural areas because so few places are walkable that everyone just drives everywhere. She wore a long black wool coat and from one of the hip pockets you could see the head of a small grey kitten peeping out. If you’ve met me, or really any small child, you’ll know that I was enthralled. The woman came over to me there on the sidewalk and told me she had to go into the bank, but you can’t take a kitten into a bank. Could I hold the kitten for her until she came out?

COULD I??? Of course I could. I would not get a kitten of my own until my seventh birthday, but I was quite confident I could handle the squirmy little fuzzball. So she handed it over and off she went. I think this scenario involved one of my parents having to forego the video store so that I could be supervised whilst I supervised the kitten. I can’t remember too much about the actual kitten interaction other than it was really soft and I was so happy.

The woman came out of the bank fairly quickly and apparently not realizing this was the best thing that ever happened to me (or, I know now, of course realizing exactly and being as delighted as I was) paid me fifty cents for watching the kitten. And took the little fellow back and off she went. I come from a very small town, where people often know each other, but not always because it’s near a bigger city and people come and go. I had no idea who that woman was and neither did my folks. As far as I know we never saw her again.

This happy little memory just popped into my head and, because I have a blog I can share it with you and so I have.

July 11th, 2015

Things I miss about being single

One month from today I will have been married to Mark for three years, and on that date I’ll probably post something about how much I love being married to Mark, and Mark in general. And I do–it’s almost unbearably cliche to say it, but he is actually the best thing that every happened to me. I’ll try to make an interesting list of reasons why that is the case, but of course there are some things I miss about my pre-Mark life so, one month ahead of that post, here’s this one:

–dumping my clean laundry on the couch and picking items to wear from it day by day until it reaches a manageable level to fold and put away
–always knowing how much cereal is left in the box
–being able to schedule events easily–if someone asked me if I wanted to see a movie on Saturday, I would think for a minute if I had any plans, then agree. It’s harder to remember plans someone else made and harder still to guess what they might be hoping for or planning but not yet mentioned. Plus, hooking up with someone romantically effectively doubles your social circle, because you get his too. I quite like all of Mark’s peeps, but there’s simply a lot more people to see now.
–sleeping like a starfish
–stirfried eggs, which Mark does not believe is a food, but I used to eat several times a week.
–singing myself to sleep, which I used to do when I had insomnia, but I figure is rude if there’s someone else in the bed.
–that wildly over-optimistic excitement of walking into a party or event and wondering if tonight I would meet “the guy”
–the way my friends’ boyfriends would be almost paternally nice to me as a way of making points with their girlfriends. Like fixing stuff around my place and driving me to stuff. I knew it was sad because I was the loser single friend, but it was still kind of adorable.
–no one knew how many popsicles I ate
–going to gym, then to bed without showering

July 9th, 2015

Songs that have been stuck in my head

I decided to keep a diary of all the songs that have been stuck in my head, because they are so varied and random. And they don’t seem to come from anywhere, it’s not like “Oh, I heard that on the radio at the dentist’s office.” Some of these I hadn’t heard in years until one day they began playing inside my head and wouldn’t stop. Most of them are terrible. What does this say about me?

Anyway, tracking them has taught me a thing or two about the whole “stuck in my head” thing–I tend to only hear my internal music when I’m doing something that does not require my full attention, like cooking or showering. If I’m working or reading, no aural landscape. Interesting?

Well, here’s the diary, starting with the very surprising song that triggered the project. If I can recall having heard the song recently or can think of another reason it’s in my head, I have put a * beside it–all the starless entries are inexplicable!

Tuesday June 23

–evening: “Nookie” by Limp Bizkit

–later evening: “Izzo” by Jay-Z

–going to bed: “Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer” by Elton John

Wednesday June 24

–morning, in the shower: “Poor Cow” by Elton John*

Thursday June 25

–3am, awake for no reason: “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira

–getting ready for work: “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

–immediately after that: “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage

Somehow I don’t have any songs in my head on the weekend???

Monday June 29

–in the elevator leaving for work, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

Thursday July 2

–in the elevator leaving for work (seems to be a popular time for songs to invade my brain), “Let’s Talk about Sex” by Salt N Pepa

Tuesday July 7

–getting off the bus at work “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet

(Are you noticing there are fewer and fewer of these? I’m not forgetting to post them, the phenomenon is just diminishing. I wonder if this is like lucid dreaming, where the more you try to recall and control it, the less it happens…?)

–getting ready for bed, “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet

Wednesday July 8

–morning, getting dressed, “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet (I’m trying not to take this as a message from my brain–it’s just a really catchy song!)

–around 11:30pm, trying to fall asleep, “Rossland Square” (this song is noteable as being the first on the list that is in my current listening list, though honestly I can’t think of the last time I heard it outside my own skull)

Thursday July 9

–late afternoon, heading down the subway stairs after work, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John (Geez, that guy is on here a lot.)

–evening, microwave frozen mango for a snack “You’re the One That I Want” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John

All right, I’m going to end this hear because this exercise has been humiliating and proves no matter how much good music I try to shove into my brain, something in more core has lousy lousy taste. I want to think that truly complex interesting music is difficult to just play on a mental loop without thinking, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe I am truly just a 90s mallrat in denial.

If you’re tempted into doing one of these mental-music diaries, I’d love to see it!

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