It’s Evening. . .

21 02 2018

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Of a foggy foggy day, filled with grey skies so low and looming that one could easily slip away in them, vanish like the ferry as it skims to and fro. The fog has finally cleared and the reflection of the lights on the water seems oddly bright. Even the ferry lights seem shinier than usual, against the fog-calmed sea.

Brain-Fog-Clouds-in-Xray-headI’ve been feeling foggy, myself. Lots going on, various family and non-family tragedies and worries, enough to keep my brain spinning unproductively in the mist. Toss in another school shooting, more horribleness about the fascist-leaning land to the south, and the fog deepens. A good friend of mine writes satire and humour about the Trump government – I’ve told him I can’t read it anymore. I used to keep track of the lies and foolishness through twitter and news sites; I can’t anymore.

Of course, this is what the “they” want. Numbness vs. outrage, passive acceptance. Our own Canadian government clothes platitudes in tight pants and expects us to not see their real plans. Meanwhile, the oligarchs plan and plot and gradually little bits of our life and our planet are teased away from us.

powerpuff-girls-key-art-smallBack when I was younger and full of piss and vinegar, I used to take this on (that’s me on the right, a rare thing). I wrote letters, went to protests, was active in party politics. I’d love to do that again, but I realize I can’t – my brain doesn’t hold onto facts anymore (if it ever could) and my arguments slide away into inappropriate confessions and parries and thrusts with blunt weapons. I embarrass myself. It’s truly awful. As I get older I keep my mouth closed more and more…or regret speaking more and more!

So I pull the fog blanket over me and go play with my art, wander around my ‘hood, filled as it is with comfortable people who smile and greet me, distract myself with movies from more innocent times, drink a glass of wine.

I need to pass the torch on images-6to others whose brains can formulate arguments and make sense. They need to keep their noses to the grindstone, their foot on the pedal, to blow away the fog of fatigue. I can’t anymore.

 

 

But maybe that’s okay. The kids know much more than I ever did.

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Jumping from here to there, or why I am still Anne of Green Gables in my heart

22 10 2017

anne-of-green-gablesSometimes I wish I hadn’t read Anne of Green Gables. Not that I necessarily believe in her character, but I seem to be as restless as she is. My kids think it’s because I’m unhappy. I’m not unhappy. Clinically depressed, yes, but not unhappy! With good medication, I can laugh and create and live and sing and play my ukulele and loll in the sun and read and write and laugh and be silly.

People wonder why I move a lot, why my dating life is so … interesting, why I overcommit and then have to back out.  Why I try new things or toss myself into books, or travel when I can barely afford it. They, again, think that I am unhappy. I’m not. I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘unhappy’ – mad, sad, bored, I’ve been all of these, but I haven’t been unhappy, not ever. My approach for years has been if I don’t like something, I work to change it, whether in myself or in my neighbourhood. And why not? Even if sometimes it doesn’t work out, I can always try, can’t I?

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more… though I know that IS the noblest ambition… but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

(Not sure how that blends with my dating life, but you can’t win them all…)

Like Anne, I refuse to settle. For much of my life, I had to accept things as they were allowed to me – everything from love to places to live, to time to read, to food. I was granted lots before I married, I was loved and spoiled, and people thought highly of me. I confess I got used to that, a bit.

Then I got married, and I learned to distrust words. And to write them. It’s easier to write fiction when you live it, I think.

Be that as it may, since I left, I have tried to do the things I feel are right for me and those around me. I volunteer where I can, I try to be creative, I try to help out.

But that doesn’t mean I need to put up with things that I don’t like. Heck, I’ve got MS, and arthritis, and depression – that’s enough to accept. I have a son who refuses to speak to me. That’s more than enough.

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So for the rest of my life, I change what I can and make the best of the rest.

Since I moved to paradise (aka Nova Scotia), things haven’t always been easy. I’ve been lonely at times, I’ve missed friends and family, but I know it’s where I’ve been meant to be. The sea, the air, the climate – they all make me feel whole. I’ve found a home here with a great community, good friends, meaningful volunteer work and craft.

But I’ve always wanted to be able to see the sea from where I live. If I dangle out of my current Juliet balcony, I can spot the sea to my left, but where I am moving this time I can see it out of my windows, I can sit on my balcony and sniff the salty air. Grow flowers and plants, step outside and see people. Because of my MS, some days I can’t get out of my apartment. A pleasant place is very important to me.

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I’ve found I love living downtown, walking to everything, sampling the stimulating environment that is downtown Dartmouth. Not so keen on inhaling diesel fumes every day or living just above an intersection.

So I am taking my not-unhappy self across the street to a new place. My Anne heart tells me you don’t have to be unhappy to want to upgrade or make a change. Life is an endless buffet of options. And don’t think I am ungrateful for the chance to make changes – I am, profoundly. I hope I won’t feel the need to move again, though every time I do, I hone myself into more of what I am. I feel like I am carving away the outer layers I’ve put on over the years, gradually getting closer to who I am, what I am.

“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.” Anne of Green Gables

anne-green-gables-1920-770x470But hey, as I toss things from my old self, moving gets easier and easier! I may pick up and go to someplace else that calls to me at some point, and why not? I only have so many fit years left – maybe I’ll feel a need to move to Paris for a year, or Scotland, or Portland, NH. Who knows?

I’m excited. Weary from doing too much, but thrilled by what lies ahead.

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” Anne of Green Gables

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On geese, and horrible people, and fear for the future

9 08 2017

B3aAGO4CIAABRHL.jpg-largeI’m not ordinarily an anxious person. Life flows by and stuff happens and it bothers me, but I don’t usually have the sense of creeping dread that envelops me now.

It seems like human beings are losing their compass if indeed we ever had one.  Of course, there is the madness south of our Canadian border. The opening of a Pandora’s box of latent racism and sexism and general horribleness that is likely to get us into a war sooner than later. (question: is it okay to leave most of the government seats empty and run it like a dictatorship? Why hasn’t anyone stopped this?)

And, with the example of a badly out of control, ignorant and nasty president, suddenly the rest of the planet thinks they can let their ghouls out. It’s horrifying to see all the gains by women and people of colour and GLBTQ+ folks being eroded day by day.  And although there is resistance, it doesn’t seem to matter!

sullivans-pond-geeseHere where I live, the gangs are back. There are regular knifings and random attacks. That’s bad enough, but some jerk used his car to deliberately squash the geese who live peaceably in our local pond. Everyone loves the geese. We all pause and let them cross the road. It’s a big event when they come out of their winter home and waddle to the pond.

How does one explain to a kid about this jerk’s actions? Or the president’s actions? Or the needless shunning of one group of people by another?

How can we explain it to ourselves? How can we be rendered so powerless so quickly? Or was it an illusion of power all along?

I’m kind of a Pollyanna type. I like to see the good in everyone. It’s becoming harder and harder to spot it amongst the daily insults that I see being visited on people every day.

I could cry about the driver and the geese. What made him/her do that? (though I am sure it was a man, somehow). And yet, that’s a small thing compared to the risk of war that will kill many more living things. Or the current wars that are already laying countries waste. Or the horrific treatment of refugees who have fled from starvation. Or the incredible death and destruction we are causing in our oceans and on land through selfishness and greed.

Honestly, I am not an end times gal. But what is going on now makes me almost wish it were the end times. It’s getting too heartbreaking to watch.





Fireworks

5 08 2017

I’m feeling a little misty-eyed lately over my ratbag children. It’s the season of fireworks and where I’m living we’ve already had four nights of them, and another one tonight. It’s Natal Day weekend in Nova Scotia, an event celebrated with even more enthusiasm than Canada Day. This surprised me the first year I was here, but I’m getting used to it, dropping my central Canada snobbery.

But tonight I wandered across the street to the harbour, and was immediately swamped with kids all waving those hugely expensive light wand things (these ones use hearing aid batteries so will cause even more damage and expense as time goes on, but they were WAY COOL. Especially when rapidly swung around.) And it brought me back to all the times we’d driven to see fireworks with our kids, all the different places we’d seen fireworks at together, and well, it made me a bit nostalgic….

 

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This girl is nowhere near cold enough

The fireworks in Ottawa, in winter, on Spark Street. Freezing cold, as Ottawa is. The display for children was held in the dark evening so the little ones could a. get to bed early and b. not be run over in the later melee. Some of the fireworks didn’t explode immediately, and the kids, as one wave, raced towards the snow hill where they were placed. The parents, shouting “NOOOOOOOOOOO(N)” leaped after the kids and fortunately, no one was exploded. I nearly lost my sight though as little knee biters were all waving sparklers at the fullest extent of their arms…my eye height…

 

Then there were the fireworks when we lived in Kansas, on the Leavenworth Army Base.12502224-12502224 Those fireworks went on and on and on and ON. It was astonishing. HOURS passed. In between, there were bands and flag parades and a whole bunch of patriotic stuff we simply don’t do up here. I remember trying to make things sound exciting for the kids, who were actually bored at the lengthy display.

 

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Photo credit: Matthew Guy

The next year we were in Annapolis Royal, a tiny but very serious town (has a huge entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia, bigger than Toronto’s). We raced down to see the fireworks that had been funded through cans on store counters, a quarter at a time. They were over in five minutes if that – we almost missed them. I was expecting a holler of protest from the kids – they were still little and had seen the equivalent of the Canadian Armed Forces budget blown up the year before, but there wasn’t anything. My middle son, a thoughtful bloke, said, “It’s actually better this way, mommy – this way you can appreciate every single one!” The other two agreed. I think it helped that we had fallen in love with our new town.

 

But at every fireworks display, except the Annapolis Royal one, there was the dragging the kids early so we’d get good seats, the long traffic laden drive home, the calls for expensive light things. My ex and I used to argue about them – I thought we may as well get them, to make it more of an occasion; he ground his teeth at the expense.

It gladdened my heart to see how easy it was for most people to get down to the harbour to watch them here. It reinforced my feelings that living in the Maritimes is the equivalent of living in heaven, even including the fog as it rolled in, Clouds for angels to sit on…

I’ve been feeling a bit mawkish over the kids lately, too, as I am writing/editing/beating to death a young adult novel that has kids in their pre-teens in it. So I’ve been casting back for memories, language, relative surliness.

It WAS a surly time, filled with negotiations that rivaled the G-20 over even the desire to go for a walk. Sometimes the argument wasn’t worth it and I gave up and threw my hands in the air wildly. But most of the time, at that age, the kids were still up for an adventure.

It didn’t have to be a big adventure, either. It could be a simple walk down an old train track, or as complicated as a train drive to Montreal. They didn’t all like the same things. Or the same things as me. We all whined at times. But I was blessed to have curious children, and I am grateful, and I know that they will be alright.

Why? Because I sat through all those fireworks displays with them, and they found something different about each one and enjoyed them all.

It made me wish they were all here with me tonight, though we’d probably have watched the show from a patio, with beers in our hands. The two youngest would have spent the time arguing over some point in philosophy. They would both be right. And I’d, as always, be listening, my heart bursting with delight as the fireworks burst overhead.





On being ravished, or why the Iceland Writers Retreat is simply perfect

11 04 2017

IMG_1475And now for the other side of the story, and why it is so likely that I will be going to the IWR again.

It’s hard to encapsulate this event. To say it was life-changing sounds trite and overblown, but it was so for me. When I went, it was with a mind set of failure, wondering why I had spent so much money (again) on the writing I never seem to get done properly.  It was, I thought to myself, the final kick at the can, the Y in the road. If I couldn’t tolerate the conference with my MS brain, then I knew all was lost and crafts would have me forever (not that that is a bad thing, precisely, but…).

And then I entered the vortex that is the IWR.

IMG_1443It is set perfectly in Iceland, an island. A place sufficiently different to make the visitor feel vaguely alien, set apart, unreachable by real life. Nature like the surface of the moon, isolating us together. A place where both other human beings and that nature are reachable and attractive, in the way that magnets are attractive. You are inevitably drawn to the poetry here – the visual, musical, otherworldly poetry.

It rains here. Rain is so much better for writing than any other weather. Mists swirled.

And Eliza Reid and Erica Green have pulled together those trailing mists and created magic.

The Iceland Writers Retreat is a big conference these days. On the last day, I saw people I hadn’t seen all week. Yet, it feels intimate, safe, friendly, warm, and oh so supportive. The group of fellow writers, from the professionals to the new, were to a person kind and willing to share.

Usually, at a conference, you will meet the designated asshole, the one 130902_a17742_g2048-600who dominates everything, who is filled with nothing but complaints. I didn’t meet that person. (unless it was me – gasp!)

The classes were small, with an overwhelmingly spectacular faculty: Meg WolitzerClaudia Casper, Chris Cleave, Esi Edugyan, Carsten Jansen, Bret Anthony Johnston, David Lebovitz, Paula McLean, Nadifa Mohamed, Paul Murray, Madeleine Thien, Hallgrimur Helgason, Viborg Davidosdottir, and many more Icelandic writers I didn’t have the pleasure to meet. They were so approachable they likely needed a long space in utter silence after they left.

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Paula with mini-Bob

 

I am presently in love (in an acceptable way) with David L. as he offered me such reassurance and good cheer I feel ready to write on for months purely on that. Of course, some of my time will have to be spent on reading his lovely cookbooks. Bret was a no- nonsense writer and dropped pearls of wisdom threw rocks of wisdom, each veined with marble, each ready for use. Meg gave us our Wonder Woman bracelets of fiction writing. Claudia spoke wisdom about the publishing world and promoted Canadian writers, gods bless her. Paula gave us the idea of mapping out our character’s world, and using that to highlight what was important to them, and to us. All of them shared books they loved, useful books, ideas and stories. Suffice to say my reading list has grown another five feet tall!

IMG_1456All were hilarious and excellent teachers. Writing well does not necessarily equal teaching well, but however the two E.’s selected this group, the faaculty were masters of both. I never felt tired, or feared dozing, in their classes. All of us were deeply involved in every one. That is truly rare, especially in jet-lagged, well-fed folks. And we were very very well-fed. Yum. If I could have an Icelandic breakfast every morning, I could take over the world. But I digress…

I learned so much, from them and from other writers – like my fellow Dorothy from Australia, who spoke to me of how to work the trauma in my YA book and my cookbook class who told me to write the damn MS book and pull in the royalties.

I am smiling thinking of it all. Even our tour guide, the charming Sigurlin Bjarney Gisladottir, aka Bjarney, was a writer, a multiply published poet. Who can also cook eggs in a hot spring.

We were taken to meet the President of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, a charming man who coincidently has translated several books by Stephen King! I pressed two felted mice on him for his daughters. I fear he thought them an unacceptable gift, but it was all I had to say humble thanks for the warmth and kindness of his country’s welcome.

IMG_1415We went to the home of Halldor Laxness, the Nobel Prize-winning author of Independent People. I’d read that book, and to see where he wrote it was beyond compare – to say nothing of his beautiful home itself, with its view of the mountains and its geothermal swimming pool, steaming gently in the frosty air. He walked every day, a pattern highly recommended by many of the other authors for jogging your brain into submission.

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In the Laxness dining room

 

I’m taking that idea on. We have fog here as well…in all senses of the word.

I missed much of the fun of the retreat, as I ran out of energy early in the day and skipped the evening events. Instead, I had time for in-depth discussions with fellow writers, many of whom I hope will remain friends.

We were discussing dating at the lunch table one day and in my usual inappropriate way, I told my tablemates that I simply wanted to be ravished. The literary definition of ravish is: (ignoring the more violent ancient definition…)

fill (someone) with intense delight; enrapture.
“ravished by a sunny afternoon, she had agreed without even thinking”
synonyms: enrapture, enchant, delight, charm, entrance, enthrall, captivate

“you will be ravished by this wine”

 

I have been ravished by the Iceland Writers Retreat. I remain enraptured.

I will go again. And possibly again.

 

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The Laxness walking forest…

 





Iceland, oh Iceland

10 04 2017

Creator of dreams, breaker of hearts, manufacturer of myths…

I was prepared to love Iceland. I’d planned for it, I’d dreamed of it, I’d read all the myths and the writer Halldor Laxness. I’d read mysteries great and small. Okay, I admit it, I’d wallowed.

It’s hard for any location to live up to those expectations.

 

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Horses graze, unafraid of rock falls, earthquakes, or wind

The natural beauty of Iceland is awe-engendering, partially because it is apparent that everywhere there is a risk for it all to vanish in a volcanic explosion or earthquake as the earth under it builds and creates. Iceland is splitting apart on global tectonic plates. It is the youngest land in the world. It literally feels rough and threatening, and the mountains, raw and uncovered by vegetation, loom. Water springs from the middle of mountains; steam rises from fields and outcroppings. It’s difficult to feel far from the gates of hell or the centre of the earth as the seams are rebuilt and unpicked.

 

Horses, sheep, and cattle graze, unconcerned. I loved the horses. They have an untamed look about them, thick manes and legs, a tendency to quarrel with each other, and an eye that brooks no nonsense. They feel like the gods of the land, suited to the landscape, rough and somewhat testy. (TESTY, not tasty, though I hear they are)

Their only predators? A smallish fox, the occasional eagle, and humans. Oh, and boiling hot lava.

Reykjavik itself is not immediately charming. The buildings are squat and concrete, with few embroideries to soften their edges. Public art is stolid and solid. Siding is corrugated steel, as are roofs. The big Lutheran church is a touchpoint, towering over the city. But unlike cathedrals in other European cities, it feels heavy. Comparing it to Notre Dame is like comparing lace to lead.

There are bright zones: a tiny triangular downtown garden, filled with flowering trees (my favourite hanging pussywillow tree filled me with delight). Graffiti is tucked here and there down the streets – beautiful paintings that lift the heart as you wander the streets. Crazy cartoon characters, portraits, and bright tags break up the grey. A small music store on a side street had windows filled with colourful ukuleles.

Fig16It makes sense for Reykjavik to be solid. Perched on the mid-Atlantic ridge, anything less would have been vibrated off by now. The lovely woman in the Nordsk shop was wrestling with her internet and explained the buildings were built of solid concrete because of the earthquakes…

I loved the Icelanders. Like many of us who live in harsh climates, their faces are adjusted for hardship. Life is serious, most of the time. But when they smile or laugh, it is with their whole face, not pretended, not partial. Rather like the weather in Iceland, once the sun comes out.

Unfortunately, they are overwhelmed by tourists. And they are not yet good at tourism. Floods of tourists flow through the airport in an undisciplined melee, both in and out. We arrived at our hotel to find that they were unprepared for the onslaught of the usual 6:30 AM flight. Two desk staff struggled with the crowd. The computer system went down. The restaurant shut – because breakfast was over – there was no allowance for the flights, though they are completely predictable. Flights come in in the morning; there is an hour trip to the hotel; the conference was booked months ago and they knew approximately 100 people would be arriving. Perhaps some flexibility would have been an idea. The side snack kiosk had few choices and you could only pay for them at the overwhelmed registration desk. Again, poor planning. It is unwise to travel without food here if you have diabetes.

 

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People checking in…or out…

The restaurant remained inflexible throughout my stay. Sunday brunch was booked up by locals, so none of the hotel guests could have anything to eat while waiting for their tours. There was not time to get into town to find a place to eat. Those in the lobby were left with a choice of three shrimp salad sandwiches, or the tasty skyr. Which they’d have to push through the crowds at the registration desk (again) to purchase. Ordering more sandwiches was beyond the desk staff, who were wrestling with people checking out from the conference.

 

I stayed at the Hotel Natura Rejykavik and would not do so again, despite their admittedly huge delicious buffet breakfast. When I go to Iceland again, I’ll be staying at an inn or bed and breakfast.

My first impression was, and continues to be, that Iceland is unprepared for the amount of tourism they have taken on. Details are messed up, timings are inflexible, crowds mill about areas that aren’t designed for crowds.

I felt annoyance being beamed my way from many places -though again, when we had the time to talk to one another, people were warm and friendly. They were simply completely overwhelmed.

I think it needs to catch its collective breath. Maybe take a month or two off?

 

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view of the lava fields enroute to the airport

 





FREAKING OUT

24 03 2017

Well, that has to be said in all caps. no?

I am scurrying about mentally. What the Buddhists say about “monkey mind” – well, I’m waaaaay past that. I am German Tanzmaus scurrying…

We saw these guys in a pet store in Germany and they actually never stop. I figure I have about three of these in my mind at the moment.

  1. Iceland!!! I haven’t been overseas since my firstborn was 18 months old. 28 years ago! (Well, except Havana, but that’s on this side of the ocean, seems familiar somehow, and besides I had my kids with me). I’m travelling alone. I am so sick of travelling alone. I’ve gone to Newfoundland and across Canada alone and I know I can do it, but I find my anxiety grows as the spaces between travel widen. Plus I’ll be meeting 175 new people; I will be meeting wowza authors; I will be fighting my MS every step of the way. I have to say that in general I like travelling alone cos it forces me to talk to people, but I am becoming severely in need of a bosom buddy. Project one for when I come back. Seek bosom buddy.
  2. Writing: got a few books out for editing, got one back and have to work on that but my tanzmaus mind isn’t ready to focus yet. The one I’m working on I would like to get published by a real publisher ® as I think it’s important blah blah blah, so that means it has to be good and preferably I’ll have another book in the wings so a publisher will take a chance with me. My MS book is evolving into a website, so I can keep info updated, but for that I need a Pseudonym (the things I do for my one son! I don’t imagine the other two would be embarrassed about me writing about sex). Trying a few on. Got to get on that – I already have lots of material and such but again, the Tanzmice dance.
  3. My health – it’s always an interesting thing, inhabiting my second-rate body. I’ve never asked it to do anything for me that it hasn’t let me down on, except recovery from my bilateral knee replacement. Had to have C-sections, got MS, been chubby forever despite trying to change. After my surgery I exercised mightily. Then my body got better. It felt good, strong. Same when I was swimming three times a week. But then the MS came back, and I tore my rotator cuff, I started with the hip spasms, blah blah blah. I’m beginning to think that I might need to get into a gym routine, but the one close to me is closing. So now I am off sugar officially (lest I lose my sight) – (eventually being idle and overweight does things to your pancreas) which means no more of my beloved chocolate. Tanzmaus mind. What does this mean for my single malt? And will I be able to manage five hectic days and two transatlantic flights in this untrustworthy body?

So the three dance about mixed with little aggravations like losing my keys and bits of important papers and forgetting things. In behind there is the thought of craft fairs coming up and the need to make more of my felties to partially pay for my excessive overspending going to Iceland. Or eat. Hahahaha. But then, YOLO, right? And with my crapped out system, I gotta grab it now. Although, as my son has told me, I’ve used this as an excuse for overspending on trips for the last few years.

(PS: dear son – if you had a vision of being trapped in your body unable to move in your admittedly distant future as I do, you’d be out of the door like a shot and devvil take the expense)(Lord save me)

I’ve been knitting socks like a maniac  – if I’m knitting a lot you know I am anxious. If I can relax I will be felting. Or reading. Or enjoying something. (Where IS that bosom buddy when I need him?)

Must go dance and try to find those damn keys. And/or race to the library where Neil Gaiman’s Norse Gods awaits me.

PS: Dancing Mice are fascinating – I felt sorry for them when I saw them – turns out they are bred to run endlessly. Apparently they are deaf, too, some mess up in their vestibulary system.

Happier rodents here:

 








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