Category Archives: Uncategorized

Smooth Sailing

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Days like this are great if you want to photograph masts reflecting in glassy water, but not so good for doing anything remotely like sailing…

Having just returned from a day on the water it seems like a good time to do a bit of an update on the sailing front. Despite the fact we don’t have a boat (yet), I have marked November 1st as the date we will head for Europe (Greece? Montenegro? Croatia? Italy) for a sailing trip. We still haven’t pinned down destination or duration of the trip, but one way or the other I am bound and determined to be aboard a boat of some sort, for a while, heading somewhere.

While the details of the trip are still somewhat fuzzy, what is absolutely clear is that there is no time to be lost between now and then when it comes to getting myself prepared to take the helm and cast off the lines. Given that one now needs to have an ICC (International Certificate of Competence) in order to sail in most European waters, I signed up for a five-day sailing course through Sea to Sky Sailing. My original dates were to be at the end of March on one of the company’s boats, but then Dani and Toryn decided they would hire a Sea to Sky instructor to come over here to the island to teach them on their boat, Easy Rider. Because they had an extra berth, they invited me to join them, which makes a lot of sense given that a) we’re practicing on a boat we will sail on in the future and b) we’ll be sailing together in the future so it makes sense we’ll all be learning the same way to do things.

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Katabatic winds? My study notes are serving two purposes. First, they are supposed to be helping me retain info needed for the ICC written test (my aging brain no longer holds onto details the way it used to). Second, in keeping with one of my 2017 resolutions, I’m trying to add more visual elements to my notes and journals. This has been an interesting process for someone who has never tried to draw anything. If I feel brave, I might post more sketchy efforts here at some point.

On the down side, the dates of the new training session are March 11-15, which has thrown me into a bit of a panic. Before then, I need to have completed the theory part of the course and get my VHF license plus get in a bit of sailing practice. My studies are well under way, but the clock is ticking now and I’m starting to have dreams eerily like those that tortured me throughout high school and university. In those dreams I show up for an exam and find I have studied for the wrong course or I try to get into the examination room and the doors are locked, or I’ve missed the exam date by a week or I open the exam booklet and discover I can’t read the language written on the page.

On the practical side, though I’ve sailed on and off for decades, my experiences have always been as crew. It’s quite a different thing altogether to be in charge of the boat. So, for the past several weekends, we (Dani, Toryn and I) have been trying to get out on the water before we are thrown into the deep end (not literally, I hope). Our first expedition was a bit hairy as the winds kicked up and we were all very rusty (fouled the jib quite handily and rattled ourselves quite thoroughly). Sailing brother, Sascha, popped over from Vancouver the next weekend and put us through our paces in very light airs in a fun expedition to Sidney Spit, a picturesque spot within spitting distance of Sidney.

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Up goes the mainsail…

That trip went pretty smoothly and included practicing picking up a mooring ball. At the end of it, we felt a bit more confident that we had not actually forgotten everything we had ever known about sailing. After enjoying a tasty barbecue in the cockpit, we also remembered how much fun it is to sail somewhere and then share a meal!

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Today we took Easy Rider out again, looking forward to sailing in light winds so we could do a bit more tacking practice. Sadly, the forecast 5 knots of wind wound up being 0-1 knots. Flat calm. It was easy enough to hoist the sails, but from that point on we bobbed around in the millpond with two gigantic limp hankies decorating the boat. What forward movement we actually managed to accomplish was more the result of the current pushing us than any impact from the non-existent wind. The fact there was not a single sailboat (other than us) out there should have been a hint that perhaps today was not a good day for sailing.

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We may not have buried the rail today, but it was mighty pleasant lounging around on the foredeck as we puttered back toward the marina.

Undeterred, we floated around for a couple of hours before dropping the sails and motoring back to the dock. While uneventful sailing trips are generally a good thing, today’s journey to nowhere gives mellow a whole new meaning.

Wildlife count: 2 seals swimming, 2 seals perched on rocks, 2 dolphins and a bunch of sea birds. Note to self: Take a bird identification book to the boat.

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B is for Bouldering, Broken, Barbara, Brace and Best

Bouldering: the art of hauling oneself onto large rocks – imagine hunks of stone the size of a school bus or a garage – using only fingers and toes (and heels, if you know how to do a heel hook)

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Bouldering indoors: the art of simulating hauling oneself onto large rocks inside a climbing gym using moulded plastic holds bolted to the walls – using only fingers and toes (and heels, if you know how to do a heel hook)

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Bouldering indoors badly: the dark art of hauling oneself up a wall using fake holds, leaping for the last hold up under the roof/overhang/tunnel entrance of the climbing gym (10′ off the ground), missing, and falling sideways, then crashing onto the ground

Aftermath of bad bouldering: If one lands on the heel of one’s hand (nothing to do with heel hooking), the full force of one’s body slamming onto your arm results in a double-dislocated elbow as both bones in the forearm shoot past their usual home in the elbow joint. This is not a pleasant feeling. As a matter of fact, this is an experience far worse than childbirth. A pain that borders on… I can’t even come up with a comparison as I had always been led to believe that childbirth (no stroll in the pleasure park) was about as bad as it gets. Trust me on this one. Blowing your elbow apart beats birthing a big baby by a billion miles (how’s that for using up my letter b’s?)

Fact: If the ER doctor gives you too much Propofol and not quite enough Ketamine (or the other way around – what do I know? I was supposed to be unconscious…) prior to jarring said wayward bones back into position, then one is lucid enough to believe one is dead and to remember much of what happens next quite clearly. And, really – I don’t think I was so far off in my conclusion that I had passed over to the other side. I even told the doctor that he should be careful not to kill me because wasn’t it Propofol that finished off Michael Jackson? Some rather spectacular hallucinations further supported my ‘I guess I’m shuffling off this mortal coil’ theory. When the room fills with white light and you have the sensation you are climbing out of your body and up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite – free of ropes, free of any obligation to return, climbing like a ballet dancer, crawling upwards toward oblivion, quite aware that this (climbing into the light with a grace even more graceful than Alex Honnold** demonstrates on his best days) could mean only one thing – I was dying – or already dead. I had the brief sensation of my back pressing flat against the emergency room ceiling and then heard the sound of someone screaming somewhere at the end of a very long corridor. I later learned that the screamer was me as the doctor snapped everything back into place. The noise was loud enough that anyone who was ambulatory fled the waiting room of the emergency department.

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Which brings me to Barbara, climbing partner, good friend, and there with me at the gym when I took my spectacular fall. Fortunately, Barabara’s name starts with a B so I can talk about her here. Also fortunately, in her day job she is an ER nurse, so she remained cool, calm, and collected while she scraped me off the mat at the gym and cajoled me into the back of our mutual friend’s car (thanks, Larissa – you were a trooper). Even Barbara, though, couldn’t handle the cries of desperate agony emanating from yours truly and raced away to take refuge out of earshot.

All this happened not quite a year ago – late on a Friday night. I strapped my useless arm to my body and started climbing again on Monday using the other arm (I blogged about that here …) and then started on a course of physiotherapy and quite a bit of whining and complaining. Eventually, I was fitted for a skookum custom brace, which I still have to wear every time I climb (or make bread or move a box or carry groceries). Things do not look good in terms of avoiding surgery, but the brace has proven to be fantastic in terms of keeping me functional for the foreseeable future. Slowly but surely my muscles have been rebuilding in the damaged arm so I’m mostly able to climb whatever I want to climb (yes, yes – as long as I’m not leading). The nerve damage that temporarily had my left thumb forgetting how to exert pressure on anything is more or less healed (that took about eight months) so now I can’t blame my fumbling clipping of the climbing rope into the draws on anything other than total lack of coordination.

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Tying the climbing rope to my harness with one hand (my non-dominant hand no less!!) on that first night back at the gym was incredibly awkward. This isn’t a great photo, but you can see the bulgy padding (an oven glove) protecting the injured elbow, which was stuffed into a sling and then covered with a tight T-shirt so there was no risk of getting hung up on the sling or bumping the arm in case of a fall.

As it turns out, having a serious injury in an arm was about the best thing that could have happened to me when it comes to improving my technique. Because I’m pretty strong and don’t weigh much, I’m blessed with a strength-to-weight ratio that is really helpful when it comes to climbing. The temptation is to haul yourself up through tough spots, which can work ok but isn’t efficient or particularly effective. Technique begins with the feet – it’s way easier to lift your body weight using the big muscles of your legs than it is to do a series of chin-ups all the way to the top of the cliff. Placing your feet well, finding your balance, trusting that the rubbery souls of your climbing shoes are not going to slip off that ludicrously tiny pimple of a hold makes it sooooooo much easier to keep going than using brute force. Even if a wall is steep, if it doesn’t have any bulging holds on it to grab onto and pull, if there are lips and cracks and bumps big enough to wedge your toes onto it’s amazing what you can climb even when the wall looks blank.

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Sometimes there just isn’t much to grab hold of. Note the awesome red brace holding my arm together. It would also work well as a face-smashing device should I ever get mugged. Bam! 

Blank. Bam! Good words to end on, given this is B for Boy oh Boy No More Bouldering for Me Day.

**Yes, I know Alex was the poster boy on A is for Ace Climbers Day – what can I say, I have a bit of a crush…

 

Blogging A to Z – Angst, Anne, and Alex Honnold

OK, I know I’m starting this a couple of days late, but the plan is to make these quick posts, each with a photo and all climbing related (and I say that with a half-hearted apology to all the people who are sick and tired of my current obsession…).

First, up – ANGST – of which there is a lot when I try to lead climb. Here’s me leading a crack climb (I like cracks, that’s why I chose it) at Sunshine Slabs yesterday.

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Usually, crack climbs are protected with traditional gear you plug into the crack and then clip your rope to that secure (you hope it’s secure) nut or cam. Leading using gear adds a whole new level of OMG to the effort… In this case, though, there are permanent bolts on the face just to the left of the climb. This, I’m pretty sure, is part of the reason why this particular route has a grade of only 5.6 – which is to say, not very hard. Did that stop me from developing a terrible case of Elvis leg partway up? Or reduce the likelihood of a panic attack right near the top when the anchor bolts were within spitting distance? Nope. Even though the bolts were plentiful and I was never going to be more than a body length above the last safe place where I had fastened the rope, despite the fact the climbing was pretty easy and in a style I usually enjoy (when someone else throws the rope up for me), I still had about 47 heart attacks between the ground and the top. This whole leading thing messes with my head in ways I never would have thought possible.

Fortunately, I have a brilliantly supportive team of fellow climbers who say kind things like, “That corner was terrible. Not a fun climb at all.” Anne, speaker of those reassuring words, is always positive about my efforts, even when my efforts… let’s see, how to say this delicately… when my efforts suck. This is hugely important, though, because without my crew of encouraging people willing to stand there forever and cheer me on while I claw and scrape and quiver my way up the easiest of climbs on those days when I grit my teeth and decide to give leading another try — well – I wouldn’t be making much progress. So, thanks Anne – you get the big shout-out because today is Letter A day, but I could say equally nice things about so many kind climbers who have given me advice and encouragement and hugs when things were looking less than sunny.

Alex Honnold makes the cut because, well, he’s ALEX HONNOLD. I have never had the pleasure of meeting him, but even though Alex does insane things like climb massive vertical walls of granite without a rope I have the feeling that if he saw me struggling away on my version of Heaven (a tricky climb he does rope-free in Yosemite) he would be kind and offer some advice because, despite all that he has accomplished, I like to think he is a climber first and wouldn’t laugh at me. At least, not to my face.

Just watching his videos makes my heart race. And, no – don’t worry. I have no aspirations in the free soloing direction at all… But wow, you have to hand it to Alex – pretty incredible. Watching him boldly climb where no human should go without backup inspires me to try to get out there and try, try again… Because what’s holding me back is not actually a lack of climbing ability (I’m leading stuff that’s much easier than what I can climb with a top rope), but some complex fear psychology that is utterly paralyzing. What happens when I overcome that and actually make it to the top of something that has me quaking in my climbing shoes is a feeling of exhilaration and triumph that is nothing short of intoxicating.

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Anne is one of my heroes because she is willing to lead even though she doesn’t like doing it much better than I do! But she does it anyway (though maybe that’s because if she doesn’t lead and we go out together, we won’t get to climb much). Her willingness to keep trying (and her huge improvements every time she does pick up the sharp end of the rope) is as much an inspiration as watching Alex do his thing… Black Diamond take note – sponsor this woman. She represents all the rest of us sport climbers who are not pros, who don’t climb 5.14, who feel nauseous when we think about leading and who spend a lot of money on climbing stuff… 

 

 

Powerful Climber Rocks! (and, yes – she’s a girl…)

Ashima Shiraishi is, objectively, amazing. Just a few days ago, the 14 year old climber from New York became the youngest person ever to send a V15 boulder problem. If you’re not a climber, you might not have a good sense at just how remarkable an achievement V15 is, but it’s the kind of grade […]

via Ashima sends V15 (Guest Post) — Fit Is a Feminist Issue

Dividers, Cabbages, Ravens and Bears

I’m living several parallel lives at the moment. In one life, I am climbing as often as possible, making the transition from ice back to rock as the seasons change. At the climbing gym I’m pushing myself to climb harder stuff so I’m good and ready for whatever the summer season might bring. Down at the playground at the end of the block we are doing some practice crevasse rescue sessions, which involve copious quantities of

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Crevasse rescue practice down at the local playground… 

convoluted knots.

Later this spring there is talk of a trip to the Bugaboos where, I hope, I won’t have to self arrest or haul an injured climber out of danger using my newfound knowledge of Garda hitches and how best to use a pulley strategically placed on a climbing rope to allow little me to haul an incapacitated climber to safety.

In another stream of my current existence, I am writing up a storm, working on several projects that range from a picture book for very young children to a memoir about the nature of personality and my mother’s demise as the result of Pick’s Disease (a bizarre early onset dementia), a handbook for young activists, and a couple of other non-fiction titles for kids. Those worlds (writing/climbing) overlap in a novel for reluctant teen readers about three teens who find themselves in trouble when a day in the mountains goes sideways (coming out next year with Orca Book Publishers).

IMG_1440There’s another life, as well -the one that involves sailing. Preparations are already underway for our trip next year – and that strand of my existence will likely get quite a lot of airplay here over the coming months. Already I am plotting practice courses (using dividers and a chart plotter – on paper charts, just like the old days) and testing recipes that will sustain us on long crossings (Lynn Pardey’s Cabbage Salad from her great book The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew was on last night’s menu – it gets a pass…)

Back on the climbing side, we are planning a trip to Skaha at the beginning of May, a propos as we met there at the beginning of May last year. The most memorable moment for me from that trip was standing (in a complete panic) at the base of a climb called The Raven and the Bear. I don’t think I ever blogged about what happened, so in the interest of bringing everyone up to date, here goes.

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Last year, after I returned from my glorious sailing trip to the BVI (seriously, I can’t remember a more sustained stretch of fun, fun, fun than during those 6 weeks on the water with my family… except for the heaving, puking crossing-from-hell between Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands and Saba in the Dutch West Indies… but that will have to be the subject of a different blog post…). Anyway, I had to rush back to embark on two back-to-back book tours that took me all over the province of British Columbia, visiting schools and libraries and bookstores, speaking about my books, presenting at the Red Cedar Gala in Vancouver (I was lucky enough to have a book nominated for a Red Cedar Award), and leading writing workshops in various communities along the way. The itinerary was intense – I was on the road for a bit more than three weeks and my only real day off was the day after my birthday, on May 3. Knowing there was a good rock climbing area near Penticton, I had packed my harness and rock shoes and driven there on the afternoon of my birthday after a presentation in another town.

I hiked up to the bluffs and introduced myself to half a dozen parties of climbers who were hauling each other up and down the area cliffs. In each case I asked if they might be willing to let me climb with them the next day, my precious day off. And, one after the other, the groups rebuffed my advances. They were evenly paired already and couldn’t accommodate an extra person. They were from out of town (half of Alberta seemed to be climbing there!) and weren’t going to be around the next day. A couple of groups were participating in climbing courses. One guide, when I asked if he knew of anyone local I could hire the next day suggested I return six weeks hence to join his next outing. I explained I had the next day available and that was it.  He said that was too bad and that every available guide in town was working for him, so I was completely out of luck. To say I was disheartened is an understatement! All those climbers and all that lovely rock and it really looked like I wasn’t going to be able to find anyone to take pity on me and let me join them. I later learned that this kind of strange, forward behaviour is just not done – it’s pretty much unheard of for someone to walk up to you at a cliff and ask to join the fun. Fortunately, I had no idea or things might have turned out quite differently…

So anyway, there I was feeling well and truly rejected, heading back to the parking lot thinking I would have to go on a hike all by my lonely self the next day when I came across a group of three climbers. I was about to walk past them because, you know, even a writer can handle only so many rejections in a single day, but then the guy at the bottom of the cliff (who was belaying his friend) called out, “Hey! How’s your day going?” His huge smile and friendly greeting made me think I should have one more try and when I explained I was looking for someone to climb with the next day he said, “Come climb with us!”

Which is how I found myself in the parking lot at 9 am the next morning, nervous and excited and not having any idea what I was getting myself into. When Fabio asked me about my climbing experience I said I was climbing grades 5.8 and 5.9 in the gym and had not been rock climbing since I was ten. He mis-heard me and thought I hadn’t been climbing outside for ten years – and, apparently, he found gym route grades to be irrelevant because he said the plan was to warm up on a route graded 10a. Which, even if you know nothing about climbing grades, is clearly harder than anything I’d ever tackled. As for basically having no rock climbing experience, well… I suppose things could have gone very sideways. Here’s what was going on in my head as I stood at the bottom of what appeared to me to be a monstrous cliff…

“Oh. My. God. What am I doing here? What do you think you’re doing here? You wanted to go rock climbing – there’s a rock. Now shut up and watch how the others are climbing it.”

Fabio led the way, climbing to the top of a route known as The Raven and the Bear. In the guidebook it says the climb is “hugely entertaining.” Maybe for people who know how to climb. Maybe for people who are not scared of heights. Maybe for people who are climbing with friends and aren’t feeling a bit of pressure to not look like a complete fool… Maybe for people who aren’t absolutely petrified.

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Raven and the Bear – just follow the rope… 

The plus side of being third in line to climb is I had a chance to observe and try to quickly learn what I was supposed to do. The down side of being third in line was I had a long time to develop a pretty healthy state of panic before setting off. Such a state of panic, in fact, that I was convinced I was going to spring a leak and that I would go down in climbing history as “that woman who peed on her belayer…”

The internal conversation continued: “You have nothing to prove! Walk away! Walk away! But these people seem really nice! That guy Fabio seems really nice… and Fabio is up there at the top of the cliff and if you ever want to see him again you pretty well need to climb up…”

So, I started to climb. Legs quivering, heart thumping, mouth dry, convinced I was going to die, up I went. My technique was terrible. At some point Fabio called down, “How’s it going down there?” and I answered, “I’m finding this hugely entertaining!” Which I was, in a horror movie kind of way. I more or less willed myself all the way up to the top, finishing the climb by dragging myself up and over the top edge. This unstylish arrival was greeted with big grins and a hearty, “Well done! Nice belly flop!” Not that I cared. I was exhilarated to have made it all the way up. I couldn’t stop smiling.

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Fabio belaying fro the top of The Raven and the Bear – our first climb together – Skaha Lake in the background

That climb marked the first of hundreds of climbs over the past year, many of which I’ve done with Fabio.  Some have been short and easy, others long and hard. There have been epic multi-pitches on big mountains, short, technical conundrums at various climbing gyms, frozen waterfalls, giant boulders, steep overhangs, granite, sandstone, limestone, basalt – climbs in Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, BC, and Alberta… The more I do, the more I want to do – and the thought of sailing next year from one climbing destination to another seems like some kind of extraordinary bliss of the type that only happens in wild fantasies!

When I think how close I came to walking right past that last group of climbers at Skaha I shudder. I have no idea what might have happened if I had not tackled The Raven and the Bear. If I had continued to the car park I wouldn’t be sitting beside Fabio right now, taking breaks from writing this blog to chat about whether we should go sailing in Oman or how much leashes will cost for ice tools (I’m worried about dropping a tool on an ice climb and finding myself well and truly stranded – though, not in Oman, obviously). I look back on that day and my ludicrous decision to jump in and try something waaaaaaaay out of my comfort zone and can’t help but grin and shake my head. Having hauled my quivering self up that climb and into a new relationship and a whole new life of climbing and adventure I feel like my limits suddenly expanded another notch. In that moment of belly flopping over the edge I landed in a parallel dimension I hadn’t even suspected existed. Uncharted waters. Untested recipes. Unclimbed mountains. Uncrossed oceans. Exciting times, indeed…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winch Handles vs Ice Tools

When I quit farming, I suddenly found myself with a lot more time to write and enjoy some of my other passions. I also realized I had extricated myself from a farm time vortex and needed to think about how to make the most of my remaining functional years here on the planet before I got too ancient and could no longer drag myself out of the nursing home…

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About a year ago, I was lucky enough be be asked to be a crew member for my brother’s sailing trip in the Caribbean – after six weeks or so on the boat I returned home and all I could think about was when I could get back on the water… 

Sailing was something I’d done a bit of years earlier, as was climbing… I picked up that hobby/sport again at the beginning of 2015 after a break of a couple of decades and haven’t looked back! I’ve documented a few climbs here, here, and here. Early on in this reinfection with the climbing bug I met this guy:

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I have actually lost count of how many things we’ve climbed since we met about a year ago… and, we are still climbing. Which has brought up the interesting question of – what next? How are we going to combine these two very different ideas of fun? Rock vs water… ocean crossings vs mountain summits… Or, is there a way to combine the two?

It turns out that there are some amazing climbing destinations accessible from the water… Kalymnos in Greece comes to mind… Thailand is another popular destination… There’s also climbing in Puerto Rico and Mexico and… well, all over the place, when you start thinking about it. You can even sail right in to Squamish…

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On Virgin Gorda we brought our dinghy in to the tender mooring area and then swam ashore to do some bouldering… Yes. This is my idea of heaven on earth. 

Sometimes the climbs start in the water (I had an awful lot of fun playing in the boulder zone of Virgin Gorda last year) and sometimes one might need to do a bit of a bus trip to get to the base of the mountain, but it turns out that sailing to various climbing destinations might just be an ultra cool way to go about this…

Consider this blog post to be a planted seed. We are a year away from actually getting on a boat (at this point we are thinking Turkey/Greece/Italy might be a good place to start), but I have already started brushing up on my boaty skills with a navigation course put on by the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron. I was a member years ago (and, in fact, took an earlier version of this course way back in the last century) and hope that plotting dead reckoning points and solving distance/speed/time equations will help keep me occupied while we get ourselves organized to pack our belay devices and head for the high seas…

 

 

 

When it Rains…

Busy doesn’t even begin to describe what’s on the writing to-do list these days! As sometimes happens, two manuscripts have landed back on my desk for editing at the same time &#…

Source: When it Rains…