Interview with Storm Bennett-Clark!

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Look who it is, guys!

Well, you can’t see her, but trust me, she’s here, at least virtually.

Storm Bennett-Clark, who, as I mentioned before, will be running a personal blog to be launched on TUESDAY MARCH 11, has stopped in for a little visit and an interview. We’re loving this whole promotional aspect of her online presence. Can you tell?

All right. Here we go.

What will your blog be called?

Storm: Probably just “Storm’s Blog,” because I’m original like that, but the URL address will be something like ‘beaniehatsandtea.’ It depends on what’s available, but as soon as I find out, you’ll be the first to know!

What made you want to join us lovely people here in Blogland?

Storm: Hahaha, a lot of things. I really enjoy reading blogs and watching vlogs, which is something I only started doing recently. I enjoy the community aspects that can grow up around them, and the social interactions that people all over the world have with each other really fascinate me. And, as I hope to become a journalist someday in the not-so-far future, I thought it would be a good chance to hone my writing skills.

And your life is pretty fascinating.

Storm: Haha, yes, some people think so.

Are you going to incorporate your personal life in your blog?

Storm: Definitely. All 4 of my grandparents lived in the States in the 1960s, and were avid members of the social movement involving hippies. That’s how my parents met. Today, the Bennett-Clarks are what we like to call “eco-hippies” — this basically means we try to live as environmentally friendly as possible; instead of being commercial consumers we try to focus on other things, like family, literature, learning, arts, yoga, organic eating, and self-expression. We don’t think of ourselves as hipsters (hipsters never think of themselves as hipsters, anyway), and I’ll talk more about this in the blog.

What else can we expect from you?

Storm: I would say to expect nothing too unexpected. I like schedules and outlines, but being spontaneous is something I enjoy as well. I’m going to talk about things like my family (twin brother Mica, two younger sisters Sepia and Moonflower, best friend Hanna, awesome parents), my hobbies (reading, music, crafting, drinking tea, movies…eating), and opinions (feminism, hipsterism, conformity), and how I generally live my day to day life. 

Will you tell us a little about Pedro?

Storm: Ah, yes. Pedro. He’s an interesting little guy. He’s a wanted fugitive by the Global Garden Gnome  (GGGG), for reasons which will be explained on the blog. When Hanna was in England a few years ago for vacation, he crawled into her backpack and smuggled himself into Canada. She and Pedro didn’t exactly get along, so he came to live with me. Hanna calls him my souvenir, but he’s decided to be my “sidekick.”

I’m intrigued. Okay, just a few quick questions. Favourite band?

Storm: Bon Iver. Or Daughter.

Favourite food?

Storm: Peach yogurt.

Favourite colour?

Storm: Orange.

Favourite book?

Storm: I personally don’t think that’s a question. It’s unanswerable. I like Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, The Hobbit, The Inheritance Cycle, Little Women, The Picture of Dorian Gray…just to name a few of my very favourites.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Storm: I’m excited to finally join Blogland and hopefully start building relationships with readers and sharing my story! I know Pedro is, too. If anyone has any questions, they can leave them here for you to answer or stop by my Facebook or Twitter! See you all on Tuesday!

Reminder that the launch of Storm’s blog will be on Tuesday! She’s really looking for help promoting, so feel free to share the links or any of the little promo pics we made (see this post).

Copyright Storm Rose Bennett-Clark.

Copyright Storm Rose Bennett-Clark.

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10 (rather outrageous) New Year’s Resolutions

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Every year millions of people begin the New Year with a list of things they would like to accomplish. Lose a little weight. Go rock climbing. Write a book. We all know what it’s like to have a firm grip on your post-Christmas feasting resolution. And we all know what it’s like to lose interest or motivation by the time February or March rolls around.

Source: http://www.chfi.com/tag/fireworks/

fireworks!

On the doorstep between 2012 and 2013 (hey, we all survived the apocalypse!), on behalf of people everywhere, I’m going to take a moment to look at some rather outrageous resolutions we as a species stubbornly dream of (and some of them are just my dreams). Because I know I’ll likely never complete them, this year I’m making the list a little longer and a little more ridiculous. So sit back with some chocolate (and we all know how much I believe in the healing power of chocolate) and enjoy the post.

1. Read the entire Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin.

I was pleased to receive the first four books in the popular fantasy series for Christmas, and a little dismayed at the size of them. I’m a quick reader, but I like reading things quickly so I can move onto the next one. You can’t read these damn things quickly. You just can’t. I began Game of Thrones on Christmas Day, and only finished it yesterday. And once the holidays are over my reading speed will melt into something of a turtle pace. It very well might take all year to finish reading them. And Martin’s not even done writing the bloody things, is he?

Let’s look at the bright side, shall we? 1000 pages down, 4000 more to go!

2. Write a book, sell the rights, and watch it become another disturbing cinematic teen fettish.

Is there really anymore to say here? You all know it’s true. As likely as me suddenly having a stunning singing voice, perhaps, but true.

3. Become the godmother of Will and Kate’s baby.

I have no actual plan here. It’s just something I would like to happen.

4. Meet Prince Charming, fall in love, get married, and move to a historic castle in the Scottish highlands where I can write novels until I run out of ideas.

I even have the castle picked out. It comes complete with an antique library, stables, and secret passageways to other realms. There’s a particular wardrobe I would like to try, one full of old fur coats. It looks promising, in my opinion.

5. Install floor-to-ceiling bookshelves throughout the house and fill them with books.

Fantasy, historical, science fiction, poetry, classics, plays, biographies, original historic texts, signed special editions, the tea bags that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter on… Ahh, wouldn’t it be beautiful? With antique side tables stacked with my favourites, and centuries-old paintings of poets and historical figures on the walls, and overstuffed armchairs by the hearth, and a butler to bring me tea with honey while I’m in the midst of battling dragons and crying over the deaths of my friends. Yes, yes, I can see it now. So beautiful!

6. Enter a jalapeno-eating contest.

No, nevermind. I didn’t quite think that through. Becoming a fire-breathing dragon was never in my plans, only meeting one.

7. Finally discover if the fridge light is off when the door is closed.

Or maybe how they get the little people inside the TV. Either one. 😉

8. I’m gonna lose 15 pounds!

What do you mean I have to give up chocolate? I thought your commercial said I didn’t have to change my diet. No, no thank you. I’ll stick with my chocolate. At least it loves me for who I am and not what I look like — unlike some people, Weight-Loss-Company-Who-Lied-About-Not-Having-To-Change-My-Diet, I’m looking at you.

9. Sky-diving.

On second thought, I’d rather live to see 2014, thank you very much. There’s nothing wrong with sitting in planes to get to the UK rather than jumping out of them.

10. Blog more.

Yes, yes, that’s why it’s on my “rather outrageous list”, not my actual one.

 ~*~

Do you have any outrageous (or not) resolutions for 2013? All the best this New Year to you and yours! 🙂 

This is a pretty great idea. I might try it.

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.

Matthew Shardlake: a Lawyer You’ll Love

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I stumbled across C.J. Sansom’s Tudor mystery novels quite by accident. Books 2, 3, and 4 were sitting innocently on the shelf of the cottage I was staying at in Prince Edward Island last week — and suddenly I was whiling away my spare time reading (reading is what vacation is for, isn’t it?). Over the week I chomped my way through Dark Fire and most of Sovereign, both of which are 500+ pages.

I was delighted with the concept of the novels (I hadn’t heard of them before,

Book 4, Revelation

though the reason escapes me). Most of the historical fiction I’ve read — which frankly isn’t much to brag about. I generally try to avoid it unless it has a good rep — directly concerned one or more of Henry VIII’s wives. It was all glitz and glam, gorgeous dresses and unrequited love, and the occasional beheading of a queen.

Not the Shardlake novels, no sir. They take the romanticist’s idea of Tudor London, turn it on its head, and grind it into a pile of horse manure. They’re gritty, grimy, but in a delightful way. They take the reader down to the poorest of London’s beggars, the filth lining the streets, the monster Henry became in his older years…It’s disgusting, but extremely real and utterly believable. 

The real star is not the realism, however. It’s poor Matthew Shardlake, the hunchback lawyer of Lincoln Inn. While I haven’t read the first of the series, Dissolution, (on my to-read list) what I have read about Shardlake endears me to him. He’s not a young, pompous lover of adventure; he’s middle-aged, has suffered a life time of mockery, and only has a desperate wish to live a quiet life in court.

But C.J. Sansom has him chasing crazed serial killers, being tortured, facing rejection from the few women he dared to hope for, killing villains, and doing all he can to make his protagonist lose his faith, his physical well-being, and (seemingly) his mind. This might make Shardlake seem like a hard rock of a man, but he’s a gentle soul, unsure of himself, high in his morals, and rightly wary of the deadly politics of Henry VIII’s dangerous court.

And what’s a detective without his side kick? Enter Jack Barak. We first meet him in Book 2, Dark Fire, when his master Cromwell forces him to assist Shardlake in finding a rare weapon of mass destruction. The two clash at first, for Barak is rough and ill-mannered, but in such a way that he immediately became my favourite character. By the time they close the case, Cromwell has fallen from favour — headless — and Barak agrees to stay on as Shardlake’s clerk. Their rather strange friendship is perhaps the greatest theme over the novels.

For some reason or another, I pictured Barak as Madmartigan (Val Kilmer)

Jack Barak, is that you? (via amazon.com)

  from the 1988 movie Willow. Devilishly handsome and rough all over, but with a good heart, Jack Barak easily made up for slow pieces of the Dark Fire and Sovereign, and I felt fondly frustrated at his prideful refusal to patch up his problems with his spirited wife Tamasin in Revelation. Their love story in Sovereign was a subplot, but a golden one.

I’m of the opinion that these books aren’t for everyone. They deal quite heavily with the religious changes of the day (the power ping-ponging back and forth between conservatives and radicals) and have characters that might require background knowledge on to completely comprehend or appreciate. Little scenes are also thrown in, seemingly for my own pleasure, such as an episode in Sovereign where the Lady Rochford is demanding the keys for another exit for Queen Catherine Howard in case there would ever be a fire. This scene does play a larger role later, but if you don’t know your history this might seem like an annoying distraction from the person Shardlake is actually trying to find.

Aside from the limiting of target audience, there were a dreadful number of editing errors, mainly in Sovereign, that caught my attention. Missing periods, commas, quotation marks… This isn’t unusual, but there was a sentence where a British ‘pound’ sign was plopped in the middle of a word. Also, the author changed Archbishop Cranmer’s eye colour between books. Oops! Despite these errors, my interest in the plot was not hindered, though I’m sure others might find it infuriating and impossible to read.

If you’re a Tudor junkie, like me, then the other thing you’ll notice is the names. You know as well as I how common names were. Look at how many Thomases there were (Wyatt, Cranmer, Cromwell, Wolsey, Seymour…you get my point). In the Shardlake novels there is scarce a repeat name, aside from the ones the author couldn’t change (Cromwell, Cranmer, Seymour). Only one Joan, one Ellen, one Margaret, one Dorothy, one Abigail. I see what the author was trying to do, but for me it was a little obvious — especially as I doubt Tamasin is a Tudor name — and sucked a smidgen of the realism away.

Out of the three books I’ve read over the last two weeks, I don’t think I could choose a favourite. Dark Fire was gruesome with a sick-minded killer, which held intrigue for me, but was thick and slow in parts. Sovereign was lacking a sadistic flare, but Shardlake can only take so much, right? I enjoyed a slightly more domestic flavour as Barak meets the flighty and wilful Tamasin and Shardlake begins his friendship with the elderly Master Wrenne. Revelation was definitely eery, but it was only until page 486 that I began to panic because I had no idea who the killer was and what he might do next. All three books each had similar plots — a murderer on the loose, a client of Shardlake’s that had to do with a mental illness, and an order from a high-standing Tudor figure.

So you see how Shardlake has wormed his way into my heart. I think part of it is the fact that he’s not a good-looking twentysomething with a love interest. He’s a minority with an interest in law and an awful habit of becoming mixed with dangerous court politics (despite his pleas at the end of each novel to live a quiet life).

I need to get my hands on Book 1 and 5 (Dissolution and Heartstone) now…

Happy reading!

How Important are Fantasy Names?

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As I begin planning out my major revision for my fantasy-esque novel, I’m being forced to crack down on my characters, and their names. I blogged once before on naming characters, and it looks like I’m going to have to follow my own advice.

The issue I’m having is that my story takes place in a fantasy world (or rather, post-fantasy, since no one has seen or heard of anything magical for over 500 years). Do I give my characters fantasy names?

I would live here! (via Harper Collins Canada Facebook Page)

Right now I feel like I’m an even half-and-half. Half of them bear either unusual or made-up names (Ilex, Tamsin, and Pharecles), while the others have fairly common names (Tristan, Teddy, and Derrin).

Books like Lord of the Rings, Graceling, and Eragon consist mainly of ‘fantasy’ names (Frodo, Raffin, and Ajihad), but do they take away from the story? My mother, to whom I recommended the Eragon books, couldn’t get past the first chapter, and handed it back over with complaints that the complex pronunciation of character and place names took away from the story. I can see her point, but the flipside is that it authenticates this new, alien, and unknown world. You can’t create a novel about a dragon rider called Kevin (which was what Christopher Paolini originally called Eragon in his earliest drafts), no matter how great a name Kevin is.

I thought it’d be great to have your extremely educated and valued opinions on this matter. Which of the following applies to you when you’re reading a fantasy-esque novel?

A) Fantasy names authenticate the reading experience — the stranger the better!

B) I enjoy fantasy names as long as they are easy to pronounce.

C) It doesn’t matter — all that matters is that the characters are memorable.

D) Other. Please elaborate.

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Also remember that tonight the Queen will  be declaring the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games officially open! I’ll be watching events over the Games, with my pen poised, ready to snatch up any interesting athlete names!

The Dark Hole that IS the Internet and Other Battles

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I love the Internet. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I LOVE IT TOO MUCH. It distracts, it taunts, it teases, it wants us to love it. And we do. I can easily spend hours browsing through Tudor-related Facebook Pages, watching clips on YouTube (though I am a firm non-believer in funny cat videos), and reading what’s Freshly Pressed.

But Facebook has such lovely pictures!

So it’s a wonder that I got anything done yesterday. And really, it’s sad, because it’s not even that much.

After mulling it over and arguing with myself, I’ve decided to upgrade from editing my manuscript to re-writing a large portion of it. As in, almost the thing.

Yeah. I know. It’s easier said than done. But there are a lot of things that need explaining, characters that are not needed (farewell, my beloved Master Locksley), and characters I want more of (hellooo, Will and Tomlee), as well as a general plot with gaping, unexplained problems.

Hence, I’m re-writing. The first step I took was outlining what I originally had. You ask: but didn’t you outline it before you began writing? Why, I’m glad you asked. You see, I did outline it — at least, chapters 13 to 31. Then the unthinkable happened. It went though the washing machine. I tried to save it, but it was too late.

So I spent yesterday speed-reading my manuscript and copying down the main points in each chapter on pieces of furniture ordering paper from the ’80s. I’m not 100% sure what it was doing in the house, but it was a nice substitute for recipe cards.

Then I took a bed sheet, tacked it to the wall in the hallway, and pinned the pieces of paper to it. It took a surprising amount of time for my clumsy fingers. Idea stems from here.

It also made me feel like Peter Jackson (or any other movie director) using a story board. The location is rather inconvenient, however. I’ve been sitting in the hallway, staring at it, and have essentially become a physical road block for anyone in the house who needs to use the bathroom.

My story board: take 1.

I plan on plotting out my new version on more pieces of ancient paper and pinning them below the original. This way I can directly compare: decide what to keep and throw away, and what needs adding. I have a sneaking suspicion that the highlighters in my desk will be used like they’ve never been used over the next week or so.

That’s my goal. Finish the new outline in a week or so. Do you think that’s reasonable enough, with the constant black hole (aka Internet) squirreling away my time, plus the two fantastic books I’m reading (Revelation by C.J. Sansom and The Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell), plus the two remaining episodes of The Tudors, Season 3 that I need finishing? Okay, The Tudors can wait. I think.

Are you always battling with the Internet? How do you organize your thoughts? Any interesting books you’ve come across lately?

PS: a short story I wrote for a friend’s birthday can be read here.

The Delicious Horrors of Dorian Gray

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*WP has been formatting my blog oddly lately. Please excuse this.*

To him, as to many others, Dorian Gray was the type
of everything that is wonderful and fascinating in life.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) , the lone novel by Irish playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) is certainly wonderful and fascinating. Though I’ve never really read this horrific genre before, it’s a stunning introduction to the style and I wish that Wilde had written more novels in his time.

Heading into the world of Dorian Gray — Victorian London — I expected the same sort of lengthy, dreary narration as other classical novels of that era. I didn’t expect to finish it, just as I never finished Jane Eyre or became interested in the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

I did more than finish it. I devoured it in two sittings.

The characters are marvelous. Hardly have I read a book where the protagonist is not a dashing, romantic hero with good morals. And, that’s how teenage Dorian Gray starts out, but after he accidentally links his soul to a portrait his near-worshipping friend Basil Hallward paints of him, he takes advantage of his eternal youth and descends into a secret world of corruption. Now his portrait will age and take on the visible signs of sin and corruption of his soul, while Dorian remains young, wrinkle-free, and takes with him an aura of innocence that dispels any dark rumour his peers might have heard.

Dorian’s initial horror at this revelation quickly dissipates as he realized what sort of things he can do without tarnishing his physical appearance. Both women and men idolize him, but as years pass and Dorian’s secret, twisted life create unsettling rumours, old friends stay away and new friends come seeking for a taste of the young man with the unreal beauty. Eventually, after the main events of the novel occur, Dorian realizes the monster he’s become, but has little idea how to save his soul. Drugs are not a long-term solution, but I appreciate the turn he took to blot out the memory of his awful wrongdoings. I never expected opium to pop up in a Victorian horror novel! It added to the genuine remorse and disgust the readers feels for the boy who only wanted to retain his beauty.

Lord Henry Wotton, or Harry, is the amoral and rather ridiculous man who takes Dorian under his wing, influencing him for the worst. This is the only character I have a bone to pick with. His flamboyance and long-winded speeches are wearisome, but are charming enough that I can see how Dorian looks up to him. Harry is a man of many words, but the way he manipulates them to control others irks me. He’s an amazing character, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not a person I would wish to cross paths with.

Dorian’s own influence grows he ages — and his body remains a boy of seventeen. Those around him both fear and love him, but many of the people associated in his life take a turn for the worst, adding to the temptation and scandal surrounding the boy, and heightening the interest of the reader. What sort of things did Dorian do? How did such an innocent boy at the beginning of the novel turn into such a horrific figure a few chapters later? Surely Harry was a negative impact on his protegé, but I doubt that the older man had anything to do with the darker, more twisted hobbies of Dorian.

Wilde uses his experience in poetry to paint an eloquent image of romance and scandal. While hardly scandalous by today’s standards, I can imagine the hushed, shocked gasps of Victorian readers. The thought of the imagined reactions in Wilde’s time only intensified my interest in the story, and while he doesn’t go into great detail of the actions that marked Dorian Gray’s descent into corruption, the lack of information here adds to the intrigue. It gives the reader rein to conjure what they think Dorian did that destroyed his soul. The missing pieces give the illusion that his deeds were so awful that they couldn’t be put into words, let alone print.

Adding to the fact that there are several hints at homosexual encounters — at the very least, sex appeal  and attraction between the same gender — Wilde has certainly leapt out the bounds of his time and into ours. Gasp! In today’s views, it’s hardly shocking, but it makes me want to pat Wilde on the back for making such bold literary movements.

I honestly had no idea how it was going to end. The romanticist in me idealized that Dorian would amend his ways, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Remember that I rarely read such novels as this one.

This may not be the novel for you. It focuses on the vanity, physical beauty, and selfishness of Dorian Gray, a boy who is tied to his own youth. Some might perceive his childish notions with annoyance, but I can appreciate Dorian’s mistakes as a message to cherish more beautiful things than physical appearance.  

In 2009, Dorian Gray hit theatres, with the lovely Ben Barnes as the leading role (who cares that Dorian had blond hair, anyway?) and Colin Firth as Harry. I haven’t seen the film, rated R for high sexual content and violence, and can imagine the field day the writers and directors had in filling in the holes Oscar Wilde left for the readers’ imagination. I am also aware that the movie has a slightly different element to it, with the true love that the 21st-century movie-makers can’t seem to get enough.

The story of Dorian Gray is, simply put, stunning in a dark, twisted way. This ain’t no stuffy, dry, boring Victorian novel. The words are delicious, the story intriguing, and the characters horrific and lovely. I had to resist the urge to write down every mouth-watering quote I came across — and there were lots! I heartily recommend it, and luckily for us all, you can read it online!

Are there any books that surpassed your expectations recently?

The Ice Breaker

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With so many new followers stemming from Claire’s guest post, I thought it might be fitting to re-introduce myself!

My name is Libby, and I’m a Tudorphile and pleasure writer (write for my own enjoyment) living in Nova Scotia, Canada. Despite my extreme desire to tour England and other European countries, I love my little rural community and it’s hard to fathom someday leaving it.

I’ve been writing short stories and poetry for nearly as long as I can remember and am currently working on my first ‘serious’ novel. No, it’s not about the Tudors, but the Tudor era is a large influence on the culture in the world I’ve created — especially the art and music components! Lately I’ve been listening to ‘Greensleeves’ to help me visualize. Here and there I’ll be sharing bits of my writing and my writing process.

I first became interested in Anne Boleyn and her sixteenth-century fellows when I saw a commercial for the show ‘The Tudors’ in 2010. I had to know more about the women the commercial portrayed — how many wives did this guy have, anyway? I wondered. Turning to Google, I was introduced to the six women who were married to Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn immediately commanded my attention, and I practically ran to the library and borrowed every book they had on the Tudors. At first I thought my interest in Anne was a phase, like my short jaunt with the Salem Witch Trials or Irish hunter horses, but it’s been two years and my intrigue is not waning in the slightest. My other two special Tudor friends include Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder and Anne of Cleves. My friends and family often are infuriated with me because I generally talk of nothing else, but they are probably at least twice more educated about the sixteenth century than anyone you might ask on the street!

Not only am I a Tudorphile, but I love clothes. I’m not sure why, exactly, because it’s a fairly recent interest. Fashion is an art, a way of expressing yourself without words. It can make strangers catch a glimpse inside your head as you walk by. It can make people point and laugh, or complain and grumble. The grumblier the better, I say. Once I sported a polka-dotted flowy tank top with a plaid shirt with a half-dozen necklaces. One of them was a Christmas ornament in the shape of a bird attached to a string. And earrings! I LOVE earrings: feathers and bangles and beads, oh my! I do have short hair, which I adore, and strongly recommend it for any woman or girl who is fed up with the uncooperative knot that is long hair.

One of my recent interests is the story of Tristan and Iseult/Isolde. It’s among my top five love stories (others are Peter Pan and

Tristan and Isolde/Iseult as depicted by Herbert James Draper.

Wendy Darling, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and Shakespeare and his pen) and is just one of those tragic, yet adorable, things.  

Other interests of mine included the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and the cricket team the Allahakbarries. I enjoy classical, pop, folk, country, and Gaelic music, and respect any one with a remotely musical ability (because I have none!). When I’m not writing, I’m reading: history books and fantasy are the two genres I dwell the most in, but I’m always trying new things. I’m a Harry Potter and Hunger Games fan. Someday I would like to get a tattoo, though I’m not sure I’m brave enough!

I’m still a new blogger, so bear with me while I get grounded securely into Blogland. Thanks to those who are following me, and I hope you continue to do so!

So, that’s a little about me. Feel free to introduce yourself and break the ice, I want to get to know you!