The Mini Camino You’ve Been Waiting For!

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I know I talk a lot about the Camino de Santiago on my blog. I’m a bit obsessive about a few things and the Camino is one of them. As obsessions go, it’s not really a bad one, though, is it? It’s a beautiful walk filled with inspiration, hard work, beautiful people, and time to reflect on the life you’ve led and the one you’ll walk into at the end of your journey to the Cathedral.

My friend–fellow writer and Camino expert Sue Kenney–guides small pilgrim groups on short pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. She does this twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Sue is now accepting pilgrims into her Fall Group.

100 Kilometres/6 Day Walk

2017 FALL RETREAT

DATES: October 20-28, 2017. 8 Days/7 Nights.

This is an exceptional primer to those who have always wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago in its entirety, or for beginners who just want a taste of that elusive Camino energy they’ve been hearing about. It is said that once you hear about the Camino it begins to call to you…and the call doesn’t go silent until you feed it. Have you heard the call from the Camino? Maybe this Fall 2017 getaway is the best way to heed that call for now. 6 days, 100km…a walk in the park–one of the most beautiful parks in the world. With a beautiful person who will inspire your every step with her insatiably contagious joie de vivre. Now is the time to walk with Sue Kenney (Camino Sue) to that magical Cathedral at the end of the yellow arrows!

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A Mile Marker along the sacred route to the Cathedral on The Way of St. James.

What are you doing this October? Let Sue Kenney guide you on a spiritual journey along the last 100km of the Camino. She is having a discount at the moment if you book before July 1st.

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Sue’s Book from her FIRST Camino journey. Click cover to visit book on Amazon.

CANADA’S BIRTHDAY SPECIAL Book by July 1ST, 2017 with a $1000.00 deposit for 20% OFF THE FEES.

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Perhaps my favourite picture from the thousands I took on my own Camino journey back in May, 2014. This is Sue Kenney at her glorious best, thanking the universe for being there. And doing it in her signature barefooted way.

Visit Sue’s site for full details on the upcoming OCTOBER RETREAT. You’ve been thinking about the Camino for some time now, haven’t you? It’s time to do something about that desire you’ve been holding onto. The Camino is calling!

FROM SUE’S SITE:

The group will meet in Samos, Spain on October 20, 2017 and we will arrive in Santiago on October 27, 2017.

We begin our pilgrimage in the city of the famous 13 Century Samos monastery.

We will walk on average 18 kilometers a day through beautiful landscapes, undulating terrain and we will spend most of our time walking in the mountains and forests. At each stop, the accommodation is booked for you and in private pilgrim albergues, rural pensions or hotels.

On the last day, we will all walk into Santiago (Optional) as a group and go to the Pilgrims Office to receive our Compostela. On the following day, you are invited to attend the Pilgrims Mass and possibly see the Botafumeiro swing. (huge  incense holder)

The Camino has the power to transform lives. Is it calling you? For a FREE half hour phone call to find out more about the Camino or to receive a Registration Package, contact Sue at the number below. (GO DIRECTLY TO SUE’S SITE TO VIEW THE PHONE NUMBER)

SUE KENNEY – WALK THE CAMINO – PILGRIMAGE RETREATS

My One-Hour Short Story – When You Know, You Know

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‘Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to continue. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago.’

So begins the short story that fully and completely consumed me for one hour back on March 20th when I first noticed the quickly approaching deadline for the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County‘s Word by Word Short Fiction Contest. I had mulled it over in my mind that I wanted to enter the contest, but never actually got around to writing anything for it.

The Camino de Santiago had been at the top of my mind for some time. The anniversary of my walk to Santiago de Compostela was quickly approaching (May, 2014), and I was fondly remembering the journey and watching the movie The Way (Starring Martin Sheen with cameos from the director, and his son, Emilio Estevez). I was reliving my Camino and it was looking for a creative way out.

You know when you just KNOW? The story consumed me like a fire. I may have tweeted something about a 63 year-old woman possessing my body to the #5amwritersclub crew. It was true. Helen had entered me and proceeded to furiously tell her Camino story to me. I love it when creativity of that magnitude takes hold and doesn’t let go until the end.

What I just KNEW was that I had a winner on my hands. I don’t say that to brag or to suggest that my writing is great, or even good. I say it because sometimes when you write, the honesty’s too much–oops, musical interlude. Sometimes when you write, you just know that you’re writing something honest and from the heart and meaningful.

When the hour was done and I had a short story in front of me–something to submit to the contest–I sat still for a minute. I needed a rest, I needed for that powerful 63 year-old woman to leave my suddenly exhausted body. I needed recoup time for the creativity exorcism of her departure.

And then, after she left my body, I read the story. AS MYSELF. And, you know when BRIAN, the geek from The Breakfast Club, looks over his essay and knows for certain that he has said exactly what it is he wanted to say? For me, it might be the pivotal moment of the entire movie. He reads over his work, and then he gives himself a little WAY-TO-GO tap on the arm. “YOU DID IT!”

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That’s how I felt when I read HELEN FINDS HER WAY TO AFTER, the short story I wrote for the contest.

And then I submitted it. And then, in the beginning, I fully believed it would somehow make the shortlist for the contest. I felt so great about it. Helen’s story was honest and true and difficult and wonderful. Her ‘saviour’ was a simple man who had become a little bit cosmic while spending far too much time on the Camino as a way of escaping the pain of the death of his spouse. He gently talked Helen through her last few miles to the cathedral when she thought she might not be able to walk another step. It resonated with me. I felt it might resonate with others.

As the weeks passed, of course, I convinced myself that there was no way in hell the story would make the shortlist. It meant something to me only because the Camino means so much to me. But something in the back of my mind wouldn’t let me give up on this story. The fire with which it was delivered kept burning brightly. It kept saying, “You got this. YOU DID IT!”

Come what may, I would be proud of the story. Not because of its words, but because of the way I had connected to my creative side while I wrote them. Only once in a blue moon that kind of ferocity takes over while you’re writing. You don’t recognize it while you’re IN IT, because you become not a writer but the act of writing itself. It’s when you finish that you realize magic took place. Because it’s when you finish that you come back into your body with a soft landing and realize the other you had taken over. The one that has no connections to the work-a-day life you live. The one that is connected only with creativity. You tapped into the flow so fully and completely, that you left yourself behind.

 

Some pictures from my own Camino journey ~ the most inspiring journey I’ve ever been on!

And then the shortlist was announced. I read it over two, three times. Because something told me my name would be on it. Not for my sake, but for Helen’s sake. Something told me she would make it past the finish line and carry me on her back.

Alas, my name was not on the list. And neither was Helen’s. The story that consumed me for an hour and caused me to leave myself behind had only, after all, meant something to me (and maybe to Helen, who now felt like an actual living breathing woman).

I deflated back to the ground and told myself, “See. Of course it wasn’t good enough. You have to get over this Camino obsession.”

And then another contest deadline came into my radar and I thought, ‘maybe if I just rewrite this story, or write a different Camino story, it will win the next contest. Or the next.’

So I sat down and began to write another Camino story.

And then I received an email.

Dear Kevin, 

Congratulations on making the shortlist in the Writers Community of Simcoe County’s Word by Word contest. It was a very competitive competition this year and we are thrilled to be able to offer you a place in our final five stories.

This was one of those times when I secretly thought that the universe had somehow gotten something wrong. As much as I am a total pessimist when it comes to my writing, I honestly and sincerely thought Helen should have made the list. And then that email came. It was a magical second life in the contest. I had made the shortlist because one of the original Top 5 was disqualified (it had been published elsewhere as the result of another contest).

I thought, ‘okay, I’ll take it.’ But surely that was as far as it was going to go, right? I was honoured to know now that it had made #6 in the competition. It meant that Helen actually did touch people. I could take that #6 and be happy.

Yesterday, it was announced that the contest’s final round judge, Carly Watters (Senior Agent for PS Literary), chose my short story as the 3rd Place Winner from the Top 5 stories.

You know when you just KNOW?

I am beyond thrilled with this win. Not because I won a prize. Not because it’s proof that I’m doing something right. Not because it’s a celebration of my writing. It’s for none of these things. I’m thrilled because that day back in March when Helen came into my life and furiously told her story I wanted so badly for her to be rewarded for her efforts. Sometimes creativity hits you like a truck and your job is to just keep up with it…just allow it to run its course. Helen was real for that hour…because I allowed her to be. She won this honour, not me. This win was all Helen’s doing. Thank you, Writers’ Community of Simcoe County, for giving me a reason to explore the Camino and creativity in the same breath. Thank you, Carly Watters, for seeing something in my story worthy of Top 3 placement. Thank you, Helen, for visiting me on that day when I had no inspiration and a quickly approaching deadline. And thank you, my Camino, for breathing life into Helen and allowing me to get out of the way and tell her story.

I am filled with gratitude.

Helen’s full story IS NOW AVAILABLE TO BE READ ONLINE on the WCSC website: HERE’S THE LINK TO THE CONTEST’S WINNING STORY PAGE.

 

 

#FridayReads MY NOVELS…

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I thought I would feature my books for Friday Reads, in case you’re searching for something to read this Father’s Day Weekend. Here’s what they are about:

THE REASONS: With a mostly absent father, one sister deceased and the other on the verge of invisibility, and a certifiably insane mother, Tobias Reason is forced to grow up fast. When his older sister Deja’s tragic death causes his mother to fall deeper into insanity, Tobias attempts to be a surrogate parent to his younger sister, Annabel. But broken mother Maggie takes up a lot of his time, causing Annabel to fall even further into the background of their chaotic existence. When Maggie flippantly hands her mother’s house over to Tobias, he sees an opportunity to learn how and why his family has become so shattered. His world begins to collapse from the weight of the secrets he un-buries, and he focuses in on a stranger from his parents’ past… a possible Ground Zero to Maggie’s fall into insanity. If Tobias can somehow eliminate the past, he can make his family whole again.

SEBASTIAN’S POET: Sebastian Nelson is a boy in search of a family. Abandoned by his mother, Sebastian is left with a broken father who doesn’t even seem present when he does show up. Forced to be the main caregiver of his younger brother, Renee, and lost in a sea of indifference, Sebastian only wants to experience the love a real, stable family could afford him. One morning he discovers the famous folksinger, Teal Landen, asleep on the sofa. Teal’s nurturing nature brings an immediate sense of security into Sebastian’s tumultuous life. But a dark secret looms between Teal and Sebastian’s father of a hidden past. Sebastian is driven to discover their secret, but also he’s aware of how tenuous their hold on Teal really is. He doesn’t want to lose the feeling of home Teal’s presence has brought him. If Sebastian pushes too hard, he could lose Teal forever. He could be destined to raise his younger brother alone, while witnessing the total decline of his emotionally devastated father. If Sebastian is abandoned by the only healthy influence in his otherwise shaky existence, he will also be forever in the dark about the secret that will reveal so much about his fractured family.

SUMMER ON FIRE: Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell–the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.

BURN BABY BURN BABY: Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago.Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley-the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby.The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars.If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions.Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted.Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN: Carter Colby is the most unpopular teen at Jefferson High. This would be easier to deal with if his identical twin brother, Marcus, weren’t the hottest, most popular boy in school.When Marcus is killed in a motorcycle accident, Carter discovers the one thing more painful than trying to compete with Mr. Wonderful: wearing his dead brother’s face. He felt invisible before the accident, but with Marcus dead, everybody turns away from him in mourning. How can he blame them? He can’t bear to look in the mirror.When Carter begins to see Marcus’ ghost, Mr. Wonderful’s quest to save the world and spread happiness may not be over after all, even in death. Marcus knows that Justin Dewar, the boy who drove the truck that crashed into his motorbike, is struggling with the guilt of taking a life. Melanie, Marcus’ mourning girlfriend, was also hit hard by the tragedy. Marcus wants to make things right before it’s too late.With Marcus’ help, Carter experiences love and friendship for the first time in his life. But is Mr. Wonderful’s helping hand enough for Carter, Melanie, and Justin – three kids fully broken by the tragedy – to save one another?

All are available at AMAZON, or at INDIGO CHAPTERS/KOBO, and some are available at BARNES & NOBLE. Or, wherever books are sold. Three of these novels won the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON‘s BEST NOVEL AWARD and one, Burn Baby Burn Baby, was listed on the LIBRARY SERVICES FOR YOUTH IN CUSTODY’s 2016 IN THE MARGINS BOOK AWARDS LIST.

The Summer of Jenny (and Greg and Jesse and Angie) Throwback Thursday, with Novel Excerpt

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Remember those lazy summers of our youth when school was over and we had the world at our leisure, to twirl on our finger and do with how we saw fit? I do. And my favourite times? Not the parties, or the late nights walking dimly lit streets and being out after the lights came on and feeling infinite, or lying in the grass as the dew dropped in and the stars filled the bowl above us, or catching fireflies in jars to fashion our own magical lanterns, or dancing in abandoned band-shells to the music of our own young hearts. Don’t get me wrong…all those things were splendid and magical. But none of them included spending time with my Nana.

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Nana (with my grandfather, whom I never met)

I just wanted to board a train, or get in the car, or board a plane, and get myself to New Brunswick. One summer in particular stands out for me as the Golden Time of my Youth in New Brunswick. The Summer of Jenny. Cue the angels singing…

My Nana and I would work our days around that one golden hour in the afternoon when we would sit in front of the TV and watch the goings on of JENNY and GREG and JESSE and ANGIE on ALL MY CHILDREN. I no longer recall most of the storyline of that summer, but I know my Nana and I lived and died by it. I remember jetskis, for some reason…the excitement of the story…but that’s about it. We loved that show together like I haven’t loved a show since (with the possible exception of that one year my mother and I obsessively watched Caged Women together. Screeching derail here—I just discovered that CAGED WOMEN was actually called PRISONER everywhere else…and CAGED WOMEN only in Canada. My Mom and I loved crusty old Lizzie).

Yes, I used to love spending weeks at a time with my grandmother when I was a kid. I like to think we had a special bond. We would just poke around the house doing not much, and it was always enough. She made the simplest foods magnificent, we fed laundry through the ringer-washer and hung it out to dry, we worked on the garden, we sat idle, whatever. And at 1:00pm, we religiously watched that show. Jesse and Jenny felt like family, like vital parts of our day. We’d yell at the TV, sigh, laugh, feel their frustration and joys. Time stopped. And then, when it was over, we would critique it.

On grocery days, we would have to go into town early. We’d need to be back by 1:00pm, come what may. I think my Nana would have swam across the Miramichi River to get back in time. Grocery days were more magical when there were no uncles around to take us to town. We’d go by taxi…something I never did back home in Toronto. A taxi seemed like a conveyance no less magical than the Tardis or the Millennium Falcon. I loved the feeling of being chauffeured to town. It felt somewhat magically Dickensian to me. And I was always able to pick what I wanted. Back home that would be junk, junk, junk. But in New Brunswick, it was peanut butter and normal white bread. Nana almost never had peanut butter…or only had the old scraped almost clean jar from the previous year, hiding somewhere in the back of her fridge. Nanas always did things differently, didn’t they? Peanut butter in the fridge?! That was a special kind of crazy nobody else on the planet would get away with. But at Nana’s, I allowed it.

Usually right before All My Children came on, we listened to music. I would always ensure Olivia Newton John’s LET ME BE THERE was played. Nana either loved that song emphatically, or the Nana in my head loved it so much that I forced the Nana in real-life to endure it over and over again. She loved hearing my cousin Christine sing it. SO, that is what I always played for her. I judged her joy by how much her feet tapped…and they tapped a storm during that song. Her feet can’t be wrong, right?

It’s THROWBACK THURSDAY, so today I am thinking of my Nana and of the SUMMER OF JENNY. And Jesse.

I often try to capture pieces of the feelings I had in that house in my writing. I considered the immense bedroom over the kitchen as MINE. You had to step down a couple steps into it, and it had wardrobes like the ones in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe…instead of closets. And it was so big! With the stovepipe running up through it. And, man, did those floors creak!

It’s nice to reflect on the past, sometimes. It makes you heartsick for it, but it also brings it back. I loved that summer. I’ll never forget it. My Nana was everything. I miss her every day. I miss Jenny and Greg and Jesse and Angie. 🙂

The last novel I completed has a scene in it where my main character makes a meal with his grandmother. It’s skewed away from who we were, of course, but there is US in the scene too. Here’s the scene. It’s from the novel I wrote for the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. It actually went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL in the marathon.

Chapter 2 from I WILL TELL THE NIGHT…

Honey, get me those two Vidalia onions over there,” MyImogene said. “The two beside the sink. We’ll cut those up and have ourselves a good cry over the cast iron pan, shall we?”

Finn scrambled from the rocking chair on the other side of the kitchen. He had already given up on trying to pin Oscar’s tail under one of the rockers. He had to give up on his theory that cats were stupid enough, or gullible enough, to fall for that trick. He grabbed up the onions and brought them to the woodstove where his grandmother was preparing their afternoon dinner.

What’s a Vidalia?” Finn asked.

If these were peaches, sweet boy, they’d be Georgia peaches,” MyImogene said. She was always one to get to the point of a thing by taking a more circuitous route to it. She was well on her way to telling the boy the answer he would need to know, but she would not take him there too quickly. MyImogene was all about the roundabout.

How can an onion be a Georgia Peach, MyImogene?”

Oh, it’s not, my boy. Landsakes, no. That’d be a horrible peach to bite, now, wouldn’t it?”

Without thinking too much on it, Finn decided to try again. “What’s a Vidalia?”

Well, hon, you know the red part of a match? The part that makes a fire?”

Yeah,” he said, finally putting the onions he was holding into his grandmother’s waiting hands. She quickly began to skin them with an intense anger that would put any animal hider to shame. “Sulfur, Daddy said.”

Right,” MyImogene said. “We’re halfway there, my smart boy. How’d an eight year-old get to be so smart? I swear, I was eighty before I knew that one.”

You ain’t eighty now, MyImogene.”

Boy, ain’t ain’t no word. Not yet. We haven’t devolved to that level of grammar deconstruction as of yet. With any luck, I’ll be dead and buried before that happens.”

The cast iron pan was now over the open flame of the old woodstove, and a mound of butter the size of Topeka fried down to a river as MyImogene slowly dropped her Vidalia pieces into the mix. The onions sizzled to life as they hit the skittering butter in the bottom of the pan.

What’s a Vidalia, MyImogene?” The boy was persistent in his constant pursuit of knowledge.

Sulfur, my dear boy, is a chemical element of atomic number sixteen. It’s combustible. Do you know what that means?”

It explodes or catches fire?”

That’s near enough to the truth of the matter. Well, sulfur is found in the earth. In the dirt. In the soil. It’s from the land, Finn. And when there’s very little sulfur in the ground, in places such as Vidalia, Georgia, well that Earth does its best to make the sweetest most delectable onions found on the planet.”

Vidalia? It’s a place?”

Yes sir, young man. Vidalia, Georgia. In the deep south of the United States of America, the country found on the bum side of Canada. They are famous for some nasty and ugly things down there in the Deep South, Finn. Things we’ll talk about, perhaps, at some other time. But they are most famous in Georgia for the glorious Georgia peach and the divine Vidalia onion.”

The onions were browned to a golden perfection when MyImogene plopped them out of the pan and put the pan back on the fire.

Now, get me those potatoes from the kitchen table.” She made a motion with her hand to direct the boy. “Not the bag, the peeled and parboiled ones there on the cutting board. Careful now. They’ll be a bit on the warm side.”

Finn brought the cutting board over, attempting to balance the peeled potatoes upon it as he stepped clumsily to avoid Oscar. He only lost one.

Damn you.”

Finn Barker. Don’t you dare damn my cat.”

Sorry, MyImogene. He made me drop a potato.”

You know all these things we’re eating here today come from the ground, now, don’t you, Finn?”

Finn seemed to look around at the meal preparation piles before answering his grandmother. He wanted all the facts to be accurate before agreeing. “Yes, MyImogene.”

Well, set the board down here and I’ll start slicing these taters into the new batch of butter while you go back and rescue the jumper. It came from the dirt, so the dirt on me floor won’t hurt it but a bit.”

He set the board down beside his grandmother as his wheels turned to decipher the meaning of her instructions. Then he went back and rescued the fallen potato from the floor. Oscar was now nowhere in sight, most likely scared out of the room by the fallen potato.

We’ll just tamp that one down on my apron for good measure.” Before his eyes, the last potato was swiped across the apron and sliced into the pan. As the butter purred the potato slices into golden brown likenesses of themselves, MyImogene dumped the fried Vidalia’s in on top of them. “You ready for a good old potato and onion fry-up dinner, my boy?”

Can I have a molasses and old cheese sandwich on my side, MyImogene?”

My boy, you can have whatever your good ole heart desires as your side. You’re at your Imogene’s house today. None of that processed cheese slices and ketchup your lazy old mama serves up for lunch.”

She said lunch like it was a dirty word and her disdain for it knew no bounds. It was the word that snuck into the English vocabulary when the guards were busy keeping ain’t out. His old and stubborn MyImogene would die calling the middle meal dinner, all the lunchers of the world be damned.

Soon enough, the potatoes and the onions were cooked to perfection. MyImogene took the pan from the flame, set it on the cutting board that Finn had brought over with the potatoes and proceeded to bury the steaming dish in a thin layer of cracked black pepper.

This, my boy, is the perfect dinner for a lazy summer afternoon. Even better on a rainy lazy summer afternoon, but we won’t do ourselves a little rain-dance just yet. Today’s sun is much appreciated. No need to scare it away. I’ll just get us a couple plates and whip you up that sandwich, shall I?”

Without being prompted, Finn picked up the cutting board and brought it back to the table. It was surprisingly heavy with the cast iron pan on board, but he was a strong enough person for the job.

Once MyImogene returned to the table, molasses and old cheese sandwich in hand, the two dug in to what would always and forever be Finn’s favourite meal on Earth. No interruptions from his brothers, sister, mother, father, or even old Oscar, who was off somewhere in a huff fearing falling objects and little boys with deceitful plans to trap his flicking tail.

 

I remember you, Nana. I remember you well.