NaNoWriMo 2015 is Half Over!

In 2014, I participated in NaNoWriMo, along with other writers throughout the country and the world.  I wrote a minimum of 1,667 words a day between November 1st and 30th.  When it was over, lo and behold, I’d completed a Shitty First Draft (SFD) of a new manuscript.  Which is a really big deal!

Yes, I spent time beforehand thinking through the plot and characters.  And yes, it’s taking me about a year of editing to finish the book.  But from where I sit (in my yoga pants and fuzzy slippers), one year isn’t all that shitty.

NaNoWriMo Logo Copied From Their Page on Facebook

NaNoWriMo Logo From Their Facebook Page

Consider this.  The SFD for my first novel took two and a half years (ouch!).  In my defense, I was learning.  I thought it would be easy because I’d penned hundreds of business documents over several decades.  Nope.  Writing words of fiction turned out to be far more difficult than relating words of factual truth.  When I started, I didn’t understand the craft.  In fact, I didn’t even realize there was writing craft.

So many of us dream about writing stories.  We live them.  We talk about them.  Cave women and men sat around the fire and grunted them.  According to an article in the Washington Post, some words in our language have survived for nearly 15,000 years (Cra-zy!).  Story telling seems to be passed down through our DNA.

But no.  As turns out, because of that whole craft thing, it’s easy – almost natural – to write crappy fiction at first.  My initial drafts were nothing less than cringe-worthy.  I was intrigued though and stayed the course in a certificate program at the UW.  A saint of an instructor taught us how to write commercial fiction, while she and the other students endured with my early prose.  Writing became a passion for me (and I improved a bit).  I also discovered a group of peeps who, five years later, are still friends.

NaNoWriMo Fuel - Traditional Snitter from Nielsen's Pastries in the Queen Anne are of Seattle.

NaNoWriMo Fuel – No this isn’t French toast.  It’s a yummy Snitter from Nielsen’s Pastries in Queen Anne, Seattle.  It tastes way better than it looks in my photo.

I know of lots of other activities that help develop “craft.”  Practice, for one.  Committing to and participating in NaNoWriMo is a great start.  I also joined the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) and have regularly attended their monthly workshops and conferences (as well as those organized by others groups, like the Surrey International Writers Conference).

I know these efforts are directly related to the improved quality of writing.  Also the speed.  In 2013, my second SFD took five months to write.  And as mentioned above, the third SFD took thirty days.  With more practice, I hope the timeframe for the edit and rewrite of an SFD will reduce to less than a year!

Like several other writers I know, I co-opted this year’s NaNoWriMo process.  Our daily goals are centered around the edit and rewrite of pages from a past work (for me, last November’s SFD with a kick-butt goal to finish by December 1st.)  The gist of what we’ll write is a little different from most NaNoWriMers, but we all share the same spirit.  Focus, consistency, and self-challenge enabling success.  These are useful writing values for any month of the year.

By the way, NaNoWriMo is almost half way complete.  Stop reading and get back to work!

Posted in Food, PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association), Reading and Writing Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Tale of Two Spices – Or Better Self-Esteem Thru Tuna Salad

Do you believe tarragon, pickle relish and tuna salad can make a difference in someone’s life?  They can, and they did for me.

From the Placerita Jr. High School Page.

From the Placerita Jr. High School Page.

At my ninth grade commencement from Placerita Junior High, I gave a speech that began with, “Veni, Vedi, Vici.” I then co-opted the phrase to mean, “We came, we saw, we conquered.”  I added the Latin because it sounded smart and back then, surviving junior high was the equivalent of conquering the world.

After the ceremony, my mom took me to a small cafe in “The Valley” for a special lunch. And being fourteen, I ordered something familiar, dependable. Tuna salad.  With four+ kids at home, we made the mixture quite a bit and we always followed the same recipe.

From Facebook, and the community, Tuna Salad is Gross

From the Facebook community, Tuna Salad is Gross,

– Canned tuna (with salt)
– Lots of mayo
– Lots of pickle relish, until the goop morphed into mayo-relish.
– Slather more mayo on squishy bread and then spread the tuna in a thin layer.

Imagine my shock when the sandwich I’d ordered for lunch was different!  Served in a croissant, the salad had no pickle relish and just enough mayo to coat the fish and the roll, all topped with tomato slices.  My tastebuds could actually pick out both the flavor of the tuna and the buttery, chewiness of the croissant.   Plus, I noticed an unfamiliar spice.

It got me thinking.  I’d always been a literal kid, did what I was asked, believed what I was told.  And tuna salad was made one way (see previous family recipe).  But if this staple of life could be altered, what else?  Realistically, my teen brain probably worried, “Holy Partridge Family!  We’ve been making this wrong all along.  Are we even less cool than I imagined?”

Looking back, it seems a little silly, but the gist of the realization set in.  I remember the moment, and the knowledge eventually helped me understand how things I’d assumed were set-in-stone might be open to change.

Note:  This is not the actual sandwich from long ago, just a recreation using sustainable tuna.

Note: This is not the actual sandwich from long ago, just a recreation using sustainable tuna.

That aha should have been enough for one lunch.  Or maybe not.  I also complained to my mom about never knowing the name of the mystery spice.  This was, after all, in the chef’s secret recipe.

And then she surprised me. Mom suggested I simply ask the waitress to ask the chef.  He might answer or he might not.  When the waitress reported the spice was tarragon, I learned that little ol’ me could speak up – outside of home and school – ask questions of adults and expect to have them answered.

Had this option been explained to me before, but I’d only clued in after this tuna experience cemented it into my brain?  Honestly, I don’t know.  I probably never will.

Okay, tarragon is technically the only spice in this story, but when I chose to include pickle relish as a spice, it gave me a better title for my blog post.  And that’s part of what I learned that day.  Not only could things be changed, but I could drive that change and maybe use it to my advantage.  And if that doesn’t give a kid going into tenth grade a little self-esteem, I ask you, what would?

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Animals Who Think They’re People (#6)

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How Did I Get Stuck in The Chocolate Mountains?

Are you hooked on the Candy Crush Saga?  Have you been swimming in the Lemonade Lake?

Hey, it's Chris!

Hey, look it’s Chris!

Recently, my friend Chris St. Clair completed her schooling to become a Nurse Practitioner (Congrats, Chris!).  She also made a rare trip to Seattle before starting a new job.  With an opportunity for free medical advice, I asked about an ache in my hands, which she suggested might be tendinitis.  And when I wondered how this happened to me, she pointed at my phone.

I’m now serious about learning how iPhone use causes repetitive stress injury.  One article in the Huffington Post calls the condition, “Text Claw,” which describes how my fingers sometimes feel.  I should have caught this earlier, because I’m usually cradling my phone.  I even read most of my books on the Kindle’s iPhone app.  But lately, I’d also started playing Candy Crush, a lot.

I’m currently between jobs, which can be good for an aspiring author.  It’s an option to write during the daylight hours of the week.  But last Friday, when I was supposed to be editing the Next Great Thriller, I was jolted by an alarm on my phone.  It was time to feed the parking meter outside – after two hours.  I hadn’t even opened my Mac.


Copied from the Candy Crush Saga page on Facebook

What the Fudge Islands?  I’d been playing Candy Crush the entire time, probably mouthing the word, “Tasty” as it flashed across the screen.

I know I can be a little obsessive at times.  There are days when I’m writing that I forget to eat (until later, of course).  But, why was I zoning out so hard to Candy Crush?  Why did I play until my hands hurt and little red jellies haunted me before sleep.  And why would I avoid something I love (writing) for the silly rush of a “Sugar Crush?”

There’s an article in The Guardian by Dana Smith (@smithdanag) titled, “This is what Candy Crush Saga does to your brain.”  It’s fascinating and I took away a couple key points:

First, I’m not alone in my obsession.  According to Smith, some half a billion players have downloaded the “free” app.  An estimated 93 million of us play it every day. (The latter number seems to vary, depending on the source.)  

Second, play is limited.  After loosing so many times, the player is put on a time out, which only leaves them wanting more.

Third, this game is designed to enslave.  Candy Crush is simple, winnable.  It attracts us with bright and pretty colors.  And as Smith notes, our brains release dopamine with each win, reinforcing gameplay and fueling a need to binge.  Apparently, because we primarily lose, the game becomes enticing, a similar concept that keeps slot machine gamblers in their seats.

It’s no wonder I’d become hooked.

Photo copied from the King page on Facebook

Photo copied from the King page on Facebook

As with slot machines, Candy Crush can nickel and dime the player.  Theoretically you can avoid paying, but the game often protects one or two jellies, preventing success.  As frustration builds, a process as smooth as carmel sells the player more “lives” or boosters to supposedly help win.

I didn’t buy too many color bombs while Crushing, but the cost of boosters adds up.  The company behind Candy Crush, King Digital Entertainment, reported “mobile gross bookings of $480 million in just the first quarter of 2014.”  Candy Crush Saga accounted for 67 percent of gross bookings for the first quarter of 2014.  That’s a lot of jam from those digital jellies.

There’s more in Smith’s article and I’m convinced enough to stop.  I’ve decided to look at Candy Crush as a “Threshold Guardian.” In the literary world, that’s an obstacle crafted to test a hero’s resolve to complete their task.  To make sure my own real life journey continued, I had to say goodbye to the adventure of the Chocolate Mountains and delete the app.

I realize the game is still lurking nearby, a keystroke away on the web.  But if I’m lucky, the memory will dissolve like sugar in my mouth.  Especially if I can avoid people who, like the game, keep shouting, “Sweet!”

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Sorrel Puree

Do you love easy sauces that taste wonderfully gourmet?

As of today, I’m a new fan of a Sorrel Puree, a quick and easy sauce for eggs and potatoes.  I found the recipe in Deborah Madison’s, “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” but she also mentions it on her website,  I’ve included the directions from that site in the post below.

“I pull away the stems by folding the leaves back and running the stems up the center. Then I drop them into a pan with a little butter and cook until the leaves dissolve into a purée. It’s not pretty, but it’s a great asset.”

How do I know the puree is tasty?  Since seeing the movie, “The Hundred Foot Journey,” I’ve been craving a great omelet.  Using a variation on Madison’s instructions, I made mine with lots of blanched parsley, dill, shallots and tarragon, filled with a little tomato and a shaving of sheep cheese.  Then I “basted” it with the sorrel puree.  Shhh…I might have first dribbled melted butter on top.  

This will sound arrogant, but my omelet turned out to be one of the best that that I’ve tried in a long time.  I think the wonderful, gourmet taste was due mostly to the sorrel puree and then the extra herbs inside.  Madison claims the sauce is ideal for both eggs and potatoes.  I’m looking forward to repeatedly verifying that claim.

By the way, I was fortunate to enjoy my favorite omelette at a restaurant on Mont. St. Michele in France – with a side of lobster and a creamy French sauce.  It was eons ago. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the details.  But the image of the restaurant in my head looks and feels a lot like La Mere Poulard.

Note:  If this posting seems a random based on my normal topics, I’d planned to post it in my upcoming blog, “Scrumptious in Seattle.”  The new blog isn’t ready, but I’m starting to launch the twitter account (ScrumptiousNsea).

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Why do writer’s conferences inspire us to write?

I recently attended the @PNWA 2014 Summer Writers Conference, and as soon as it completed, I went to Buckley’s in Queen Anne for a quiet moment and a blackened salmon sandwich. But I pushed my plate to the side and moved my laptop to center stage. After four days submerged in the world of writing, I felt compelled to write.  And this has happened before.  It got me thinking. Exactly how does the conference environment spark that kind of magic, probably not just for writers, but for any profession?

Over the long PNWA weekend, I repeatedly heard stories from newly enthused writers about plans to outline/start/rewrite/ or finish a story.  They promised to read more, learn more, query an agent or create a marketing plan. And like them, I couldn’t wait to get my fingers back to my keyboard.

But why?

Yes, the workshops were thought provoking and useful, often highlighting a way to solve an old problem with a new approach. It was wonderful to meet with agents, editors and writers.  And a simple, yet powerful quip from keynote speaker James Rollins might very well change my life (“Write every day, read every night”).

But technically, I could find much of this information in a book.  And I could make a few – though not all – of the connections online.  What was it about the immersive experience that morphed that long weekend into a catalyst for change?

I did some research and I have an idea.  It sounds simple, but I think that being at an extended conference inspires us to be writers. For a moment, we no longer identify ourselves as mothers or fathers, students or retirees, shop keepers or project managers – all who write in our spare time. We’re writers first.

In an article by Scott Barry Kaufman in the Harvard Business Review, Why Inspiration Matters, he posits, “Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations.” I think this is the crux of why we’re motivated by any kind of well run conference.  It becomes a kind of fuel to redefine ourselves based on who we aspire to be, as opposed to what we currently do.

Kaufman’s article is chocked full of benefits that either follow inspiration or perhaps enable us to be inspired, as well as a link to Elizabeth Gilbert’s related TED talk.   But the article goes on to say, “…inspiration involves approach motivation, in which the individual strives to…actualize a new idea or vision.” So, being inspired to see ourselves primarily as writers can motivate us to more fully act like writers.

And the trick is holding onto motivation after the conference fades. Kaufman says the magic is triggered by “exposure to inspiring managers, role models, and heroes.”   In other words, we can reclaim inspirational benefits by immersing ourselves in learning and networking situations similar to a conference, where the participants around us become mentors.  I think we see others being the people we want to be and we become inspired to believe that if they can do it, so can we.

What do you think?

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Is there really time to blog?

shutterstock_MouseI recently received a tweet from my friend @tarasheets, and it  linked to her blog posting about PNWA’s upcoming conference.  It reminded me that we’ll get to hang out with other writers, as well as agents and editors at the event in the third week of July.

It did, however point out a sobering fact.  I haven’t blogged since last year.  As Snagglepuss would say, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

I really do want to blog.  I know that as a writer it’s important to blog.  And I’m harboring a list of interesting and humorous topics sure to change peoples lives (uh huh) if I could just convince myself to blog.  I just don’t see how the act of blogging fits into the hours of the day.

As it is, I wrote this posting while sitting at a Seattle Center restaurant after dinner (I didn’t even cook) wondering how to slide back into the online saddle.  I was guessing I needed a clever and probably complex way to wedge the activity into my priorities.   It’s just that I still need to find time to:

  • Write
  • Work
  • Eat
  • Go wine tasting (I may prioritize this before eating)
  • Volunteer with PNWA
  • Pay bills – after they go to collections.  No, not really.  It’s just that it feels that way because I’d rather be writing.
  • Sleep, often after wine tasting
  • Wait, don’t I have a family somewhere in the US?

It’s a busy world.  Plus, not to be obvious, but Winter is coming.

Contrary to what many social media experts claim, writing a blog posting isn’t always a quick process.  At least, I don’t think so, not if you’re a “budding” writer.   Maybe it’s just me, but I agonize over the choice of every word.  I worry my ideas don’t seem good enough.   I edit and edit and then, edit some more.  And I’m convinced that I’m confusing my readers with an array of dizzying subjects (Hello readers, are you still there?).  I certainly confuse myself sometimes.

I envy the kid in Chef (@Chefthefim), a satisfying movie that’s guaranteed to make you smile and expect nothing less than amazing food for dinner.  Young Percy knew exactly what to post on Twitter.  Plus, he could upload videos faster than his Dad could smash a Cuban sandwich between the jaws of a press.  And Percy worked his social media magic all without looking at his phone.  I wanna do that!

Bottom line, I guess if you’re a character in a movie or a book, maybe there’s time to go online.

Of course, I did find time to write this posting sitting around after dinner for thirty minutes, or so.  It required some editing later on, and a second glass of wine might have been involved, but the solution wasn’t so complex.

Hmm…maybe it’s not as difficult as I’m making it?  :)

Posted in Musings, PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association), Uncategorized | 2 Comments

PNWA 2013 Writer’s Conference – What Did You Learn?

2013 PNWA Writers Conference

2013 PNWA Writers Conference

Bummer, it’s over.  The 2013 PNWA Writers Conference finished this last Sunday and I’m excited to use what I’ve learned!  I had a wonderful time and I’ve dedicated this posting to a trip report, from the perspective of both a writer and board trustee with PNWA.

The Seattle conference, held July 25th – July 28th, covered a wide selection of topics important for writers today. Workshops addressed the craft of writing, agent/editor relationships, marketing and social media, and the many ways to become published. In parallel, the schedule highlighted a set of nerve-wracking sessions called, “Power Pitch.” Organized like speed-dating, these ninety-minute pitch fests connected writers with agents and editors searching for new manuscripts to read and represent.

Pam Binder (PNWA President) and Sandy McCormack (PNWA Vice President) kick off announcement of literary contest winners

Sandy McCormack and Pam Binder (PNWA Vice President and President) kick off the literary contest awards on Saturday night

Several well-known authors stopped by to regale the attendees en masse. Keynote speaker Greg Bear was welcomed at the Thursday evening dessert reception.  Friday’s panel with Deb Caletti, Stella Cameron, Robert Dugoni, and Gerry Swallow offered encouragement and humor. On Saturday night, we celebrated the winners of PNWA’s Literary Contest, announced over dessert.  And on Sunday, Mary Bisbee-Beek wrapped up with a discussion on the differences between Marketing and Promotion.

Some new activities were introduced to the program this year.  PNWA hosted a free workshop for budding writers (ages 8-12) called, “Kid’s Day with Dr. Cuthbert Soup.” They also launched the 2014 PNWA Nancy Pearl Book Award, an annual literary contest.  The pilot program recognizes PNWA member’s Best Books published in 2013.

Margie Lawson, Tara Sheets, and me

Margie Lawson, Tara Sheets, and me
(Sorry for the blurry photo!)

I now have three conferences under my belt and this year was my favorite.  As a writer, I focused on the craft workshops, anything to help finish my WIP!   And I moderated three wonderful sessions, Introduction to Speculative Fiction by Danika Dinsmore and two of the many mind-bending sessions led by Margie Lawson on her EDITs system and deep editing techniques. (This list barely hints at the packed agenda.  See PNWA’s website for the full listing.)

Tara Sheets & Jean Miller

Tara Sheets & Jean Miller

The conference was also a terrific forum to speak informally with agents and editors and a way to connect your peeps.  I hung out with Tara Sheets, a 2013 finalist for the RWA Golden Heart Award (Thanks for the photos!).  I caught up with Richard Hacker, who recently signed a contract for his third book with Champagne Press. And had the opportunity to say hello to many writer friends, like Jean Miller, who I met in the Popular Fiction Certificate programs put on by the UW.

Tara Sheets and I, waiting for more caffeine.  And look, our outfits match.

Tara Sheets and I, waiting for more caffeine. And look, our outfits match.

And as a new writer, I send a big thanks to the conference organizers.  A special shout-out to Pam Binder, best-selling author and PNWA president, for her vision and tireless efforts.  And a call-out to the amazing PNWA staff, volunteers, and other board members who helped make the conference such great event.

My favorite learning from the conference?  For me, it was Margie Lawson’s workshop on how to write dialogue cues like a psychologist.  That, and her review of “power words” provided a focus for final edits on my current WIP.

What’s the favorite thing you learned?

Posted in PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association), Reading and Writing Events, Seattle Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Come On, Babs! Do You Want To Miss the Sky God?

Why do we yell and scream like maniacs, just to celebrate the new year?

I live about a block away from the Space Needle, where there’s a spectacular fireworks show on New Year’s Eve.  Last December, I decided to stay home and comfort my cat, Pandora.  It was a loud night.  Partiers grouped on the sidewalk outside, drank openly and hollered at the top of their lungs, all the while the show exploded overhead.

A couple guys seemed to freak out mid festivities.  They ran back and forth, down the center of my tiny street, flailing their arms along the way, and you would have thought the world was coming to an end.  But nope.  Not even in 2012.  But it got me thinking.  Why do human beings celebrate like this?  When did we start going a little crazy, just because tomorrow happens to be a new year?

So I checked out  

shutterstock_38809144According to one of the site’s stories,  Babylonians were the earliest on record to kick up their heels on New Year’s Eve, some 4,000 years ago. These party-hardy ancestors actually whooped it up twice a year in a festival called “Akitu,” celebrating renewal from the past and prosperity in the future.  Festivities coincided with both the spring equinox (the beginning of the lunar calendar) and the fall equinox (the time to harvest).

I can just imagine the typical Babylonian husband calling to his wife during the hoopla.  “Hey Babs.  Let’s run from hut-to-hut and scream joyous prayers at the sky.  Plus there’s a show over at the neighbors.  They’re reenacting Maruk’s victory over Tiamut, in costume.  I love it when that evil, sea goddess bitch gets tromped by the god of the sky.”

Fast forward several thousand years, in 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar had to solve a “syncing issue” between the Roman calendar and the actual orbit of the sun.  Apparently, part of the fix was to move New Year’s Day to the beginning of the month of Januarius, honoring Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, an interesting dude.

Janus is a deity with two faces who can simultaneously look into the past and out to the future.   His particular festivities included crazy parties, and “sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts, decorating their homes with laurel branches.”

Sounds a little like today?  Well, sort of.   Instead of sacrificing a goat to Janus, we destroy a few brain cells.

That said, I do think we see New Years Eve as a time to look with two faces, to be relieved we’ve survived the past year and to hope for our futures.  When we blow paper horns and scream at the top of our lungs, are we (like our ancestors) issuing a boisterous prayer to our gods for renewal and prosperity?  Maybe the simple act of railing at what lurks ahead provides an added strength to cope?

Celebrating in the street – or the center of an ancient village – must help, right?  And what better way to rock the ancient Babylonia’s sky god, Maruk, than the dazzling fireworks of today.  I’ll bet that even Babs would agree.

As a footnote, I was inspired to write this post by my friend Pam Binder.  She posted a wonderful summary of ancient Yule Tide celebrations (“Winter Solstice”), in her blog at

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NW Bookfest: Another Reason to Buy Books!

Yesterday, I attended Northwest Bookfest 2012 , a festival held this past weekend in Kirkland, WA.  Free to attendees, it celebrates the literary arts and provides a forum to connect readers, writers, publishers, editors and authors.  Attendees can participate in and host workshops, panels, and author readings.  Plus, you can buy more (signed) books than you can carry!

I staffed a booth at the festival with author Tara Sheets. Tara is amazing – it’s always a kick to hang with her and we’re doing complementary blog postings on the topic!  We were at Bookfest supporting the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA), a non-profit dedicated to helping “develop writing talent from pen to publication through education, accessibility to the publishing industry, and participation in an interactive, vital writer community.”  Tara and I followed Jim Harris and Brian Mercer who worked the booth on Saturday.

Throughout the day, we chatted with festival attendees, described the benefits of PNWA membership, and awarded newly-signed members one of the amazing Author Magazine mugs, rumored to improve writing skills with each use (I’m using Tara’s perfectly staged photo of the mug for this blog).  New members also received a PNWA tote bag and for the brave, an electric, lime-green tee shirt, size large.

It was great to be surrounded by others with a passion for reading (make that, obsession?).  I ran into a couple folks I knew from Vulcan Inc., Betty Mayfield and Christey Bahn.  Some of the other wonderful visitors included:  romance author Deb Schneider, also a tireless Bookfest volunteer, historical romance author Gerri Russell, who taught a workshop on indie publishing, YA steampunk author Ren Cummins, who in addition to writing other books, wrote a series for his daughter with a strong girl protagonist who also likes pretty dresses, historical fiction author Katherine Pym, pilot author Karlene Petitt, Karen Junker, the founder and executive director of Cascade Writers. Also Cynthia White, a development editor, and an author about government and politics, George Scott.  Plus lots that I missed.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who joined PNWA – member fees enable the organization to operate.  And a shout out to all the volunteers that made Northwest Bookfest possible. Well done!

Posted in Reading and Writing Events, Seattle Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments