Category Archives: Caribbean

Sorry, temporarily closed due to Chikungunya Brain …

As my friend, Betty Jane Hegerat has said previously, this is the virus that just keeps on giving … and giving, and giving, it seems. I don’t know if it’s because the weather suddenly turned hot again over the past couple of days, but I had begun to notice that same pain in my shoulder again, which was where the virus began for me in Aug. 2014, and that I was tired, generally achy and headachachy, yet was a total insomniac last night. Then today, I’m scattered (hence the “Chikungunya Brain” in the title) and my eyes are sore and tired.

And it’s not just me! I’ve spoken with 3 others who also had the virus in 2014 who say they’ve noticed symptoms returning lately. Never as bad as when we first had it, but still not pleasant to experience any of this again. Dennis was the one who suggested the return of hot weather may have triggered the symptoms to start up again. He could be right.

While I’m dealing with Chikungunya Brain, I’ll be stepping away from the computer a bit – which may, in fact, be a good thing. I’ve started sorting and packing for my trip back to Canada in April, so I certainly have enough to do otherwise with my time and concentration.

And for those of you who are reading this and saying, “Chikun-what??” here’s a link to the first blog post I wrote about this nasty virus, Chikungunya – you cannot begin to imagine. You’ll find links to the other 11 blog posts I wrote about ChikV here. I had queued up a 13th post with the title, Chikungunya and Zika, they just keep on ticking … way back in early Feb. of this year, but never got around to actually posting that. So here’s the article about Zika that was going to be about.

Finally, I’m sorry to report that I STILL have people finding my blog by using search terms like, “pain and numbness in hands from Chikungunya” and “how long will pain from Chikungunya last?” I find this particularly sad as there’s really no cure for this virus and, as I and my friends are discovering, ChikV will continue to keep on giving, and ticking, and will likely come back to wreak havoc with my shoulder, my muscles, my eyes and my brain for a very long time to come. Urgh!!

One Woman’s Island – Fan mail and reviews!

And definitely not from some flounder!

But this is what I can call a message I really like!

Not all readers like to write reviews and post them online, and I get that! So I will never ask anyone to review my books or post their thoughts if they don’t wish to do so.

However, I do know many readers, especially friends, like to tell me their thoughts and impressions about my books after they’ve read something I’ve written. They quite often write to me privately in an email, or they tell me in person when I meet up with them. So I then ask if I may post their comments to my blog, and will do so anonymously, if that’s what they wish.

Here are comments from two friends who had previously read Island in the Clouds and have now told me what they think of One Woman’s Island

Friend #1 (received by email):
I loved reading One Woman’s Island. I enjoyed it so much that at one point, I wished the story wouldn’t end! I appreciated that Marianne was such a strong character. She believed in her values and did not cave in when she encountered opposing views. Keep writing, Sue. I look forward to your next book. Violet

Friend #2 (From a conversation):
I enjoyed the development of the characters, particularly Tex, who I had no sympathy with initially, but came to like him. Mariana reflects the views of a lot of people who come to the island, who are invasive and intrusive, and get it all wrong. She irritated the hell out of me and at times I wanted to slap her! I really enjoyed the change in speed between life on Bequia and the slow pace of the tranquil garden in several scenes. There should be a place like that on this island where people can sit in private and not be overheard, enjoying a coffee or tea completely out of sight. (smt: Well, there is my own verandah at The View. Although I do quite like my imagined garden in the novel.) I actually felt that what you’ve done is left enough strings untied that what I want most is to read the next book.

Friend #1 has visited us on Bequia, but I have known her since 1979, shortly after we moved to Calgary. We have been friends ever since. She is an artist and has always encouraged my writing.

Friend #2 owns a house on Bequia and has been coming to the island for many years. She’s supported my books wholeheartedly and keeps print copies in her house for rental guests to read. (And if you’re thinking of coming to Bequia, I do recommend you check out this friend’s house – send me an email for details.)

Both women are avid readers, so I am particularly flattered by their comments.

As well, I received a wonderful review of my book from author and friend, Timothy Phillips. (The link will take you to his promotion on my blog.) He did post to both Amazon and Facebook, but I just had to share with you here what he has said:

I was fortunate to read Susan Toy’s first book, Island in the Clouds. This is set on the Caribbean island of Bequia and murders will take place – guaranteed. We don’t have to wait long – a body turns up floating in the swimming pool almost on page one. It’s an exciting read all the way through.

Toy’s second book is also set in Bequia, which is where she resides for half the year. She knows the island intimately and she knows the people, both the ex-pat community and locals and has weaved this backdrop effectively into her story. We will have to wait a third of the way into her book before we have full proof of skullduggery and mischief. Yet, right from the beginning, we have ominous warning of some malevolent presence of things to come through the almost incoherent rambling conversation of three children. So, we’re prepared to wait. It reminds me of the witches’ scene in Act One, Scene One of Macbeth.

We all, especially if we live in the cold North, have images in our mind of paradise on earth – a warm sunny climate, pristine beaches, plentiful exotic fruits, smiling locals speaking in a patois that has a lilting and colourful charm – easy to be enchanted here, nice place to visit. Might even consider moving here if suddenly there was upheaval in one’s life.

That happens to the protagonist, Mariana who has come to Bequia with her two cats for an extended visit to mend from a marriage that ended. She’s naive but well-intentioned – perhaps she’s enervated by sunshine and dazzled by vibrant blue skies. She wants to contribute meaningfully and yet her perception of life on the island through seemingly rose-tinted spectacles is far different from reality.

The tension in Toy’s story builds magnificently, the main characters are intriguing colourful individuals and she develops them masterfully. There are few that will predict the outcome of the story and we are left guessing right to the end.

Toy is an interested foodie and has obviously experimented with local dishes. At the end of some chapters, she has included the recipes for these. It gives one a chance to take a breath and reminds me of the opportunity to stretch, get a snack or an ice cream at Intermission. One needs that.

Loved it.

And I loved your review, Tim! Thank you so much for reading and telling everyone! I especially like the reference you made to Macbeth – Nice!

If anyone else has read and enjoyed any of my books, but is kind of shy about putting their comments out there, your secret identity is safe with me! Just send me an email, susanmtoy (at) gmail.com, tell me what you think, and give me permission to post either with your name or without. As I said in a blog post I wrote earlier this year, A small request of all my readers …

Thank you, to all readers, from the bottom of my heart!

Guest post: Felicity Harley on Why I refer to my SF novel as Science AND Fiction

Felicity Harley has been previously promoted on my other blog, Reading Recommendations, and was also a guest on this blog, writing about book clubs. I recently assisted Felicity by beta-reading and polish-editing this latest novel of hers and was struck by the fact that she told me she was referring to it as “Science AND Fiction” rather than the better-known genre of Science Fiction, so I asked her to explain why.

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I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. My favorite writers are Herbert, Asimov, Bradbury and Orwell. I tend to like science fiction writers who explore what happens to human beings within the context of societies like ours which divorce us from our essential humanity. That’s why I like Farenheit 451, 1984 and The End of Eternity.

I think Herbert was quite prescient when he wrote Dune, because he imagined a planet and human beings living there who had to exist without water. In fact, he was one of the first authors to popularize the importance of preserving our planet’s ecology. In my mind as well, all these authors in one way or another, examine the relationships between religion, politics and power, and also between bureaucracy and government.

Because of my own fascination with these themes, and because I’m also a student of social science by training, I set out to write a quartet of novels placing a group of humans in a futuristic society that had failed to stop runaway climate change. I was fascinated by Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, and both she and her book served as inspirations to me.

Before reading Naomi Klein however, I had written what is now the fourth book in the quartet, My Quantum Life. This book was based on Michael Talbot’s book, The Holographic Universe. I have always been fascinated by the spiritual aspects of quantum physics, and Talbot’s book put the science of it all into perspective. It was very readable for a neophyte like myself, and it clicked.

The Burning Years is the first book in my four book series titled Until This Last and has just been published by Double Dragon Press. It explores a lot of hard science around space travel, bionics, and what is causing climate change. Besides Klein, my mentor for this book was Dr. Rachel Armstrong. On my site for the book you’ll find out all about her. She is a remarkable woman and a brilliant scientist. Dr. Rachel Chen, who in my novel is captain of the world ship Persephone, is based on how I imagine Armstrong to be. In my book, Persephone is a human ark; this actually exists, and is being conceived of right now by Rachel Armstrong and a team of scientists. It’s built around the idea of a renewable chemical technology called protocells. In the future, protocells could replace plastics and also animal products and will be essential in the preservation of our planet.

My ark explores Mars and Europa then sets sail for Alpha Centauri. The Australian scientist Wallace Thornhill was very helpful to me as I wrote these sections. He introduced me to an electrical universe and warm nuclear fusion technology, and I learned more from him on this subject than I ever thought I was capable. He would send me wonderful emails that took me several days to decode. His final words to me were, “Don’t worry about the science, leave that to scientists, use your writing as a springboard for your imagination.”

Besides hard science however, The Burning Years explores lots of ways we could live on a burnt out planet in the future, and it has two re-engineered transhuman beings who do just that. Introducing them as characters allowed me to explore the whole field of Artificial Intelligence and how two super humans, a male and female, might think and act. Again the social scientist at play. How would their biology, psychology and past influence them. How would their male and female genetics and gender-biases, play a part?

The arc of the plot is set against a U.S. government of plutocrats that has fled underground, who have saved themselves and a few others, the brightest and the best. Of course there are insurgents, and one of them is a female scientist who is heavily involved in geo-engineering the weather. The book takes place about sixty years in the future, just around the time when we may experience dramatic effects from climate change.

I deliberately did not want to write a dystopian book, but one that was full of hope based on our finer instincts as a species, our desire to return to smaller communities, and our current and future knowledge of technology. I am not good with violence, unlike George R.R. Martin who very skillfully explores all those dark sides of humanity and creates fabulous villains. My villains tend to be more grey and struggle internally with a lot of philosophical and moral dilemmas. My women are very strong, just like Martin’s, and my main female character, Inanna. would definitely be friends with Daeneyrs Targaryen.

Now I just have to figure out how to get people to take climate change seriously. I plan to use the book as a tool to get readers involved. The Burning Years is being published as an eBook by Double Dragon Publishing in April 2017. I chose Deron Douglas as my publisher because he loved the book on first read, and I just couldn’t take a chance waiting for other big-name SF publishers to give me an answer.

Please check out my site to buy the book and I would appreciate it if you review it on Amazon for me. And, while on my site, see how you can become involved with 350.org or any other organizations working to stop elements of man-made climate change, so as to keep our planet safe and livable in the future.

Felicity’s new novel has recently been promoted on Reading Recommendations. She is also a fellow-Bequian!

Kind words from Philmouse … and a giveaway!

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Blogger, Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge, has been a great support to me and of my writing since we first “met” through another blog. (I think we began by discussing the problems surrounding the virus Chikungunya that I had contracted, and the conversation continued to cover eradicating mosquitoes, travel in the Caribbean, and my first novel.) Philmouse, as I now call this blogger, wrote an extremely complimentary review of Island in the Clouds, and was kind enough to read an advance copy of my new novel, One Woman’s Island, and provide me with an excellent review.

So excellent, in fact, that I pulled a blurb-worthy extract from that and am using it now in my advertising and promotion materials for both novels published so far in the Bequia Perspectives series.

Philmouse also recently posted to her blog and wrote about both books in an extremely flattering way. (Link below.)

Instead of just reblogging this post on my own blog, I thought it fitting to give you this little bit of background, above, and offer a giveaway of the eBook version of my new novel to celebrate Philmouse’s kind words!

We’ve decided to make you work a bit before you may enter. The winner’s name will be drawn from all correct replies we receive here on this blog. In order to enter, answer the following 2-part question correctly (Both parts must be correct!)

What is Philmouse’s actual first name and which city does he/she live close to?

The astute will read the clues I’ve placed in this blog post and should be able to discover the correct answers in at least one of the attached files. Good luck!

Here’s the beginning of Philmouse’s post:

Wind in her hair. Departing wishes

Chilling north wind whips her hair. She stands for it. Faces it head on. Can’t rip the genetic memories out of her.

Those dreams took root generations ago – in the warm Caribbean trade winds far far away. As an immigrant, she has done her best to “grow where you are planted”, but suburban life leaves her cold and longing. Her paradise lost.

“Do humans ever feel this?” she wonders. “Probably not.”

And again she tossed her fronds high – reaching for all the stories the wind was bringing from home.

Continue reading here …

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Blood in the Water – with special mention of Bequia!

Tim Baker is a thriller/suspense writer, originally from Rhode Island, who now makes his home in Flagler Beach, Florida, where his series of nine novels is set. Tim is also a DJ on local Flagler Beach radio station, Surf 97.3, that we can pick up online here on Bequia – or anywhere else we happen to be in the world.

14606493_10201994903831284_6754833612505791100_n Tim was one of the first authors I promoted on my blog Reading Recommendations. And I’ve been reading and promoting his novels ever since. As he has done for me. (More importantly, he’s kicked my butt to keep me writing and publishing and I thanked him for that “encouragement” on the Acknowledgements page in my latest novel.)

Tim also shouts me out on his radio programs, mentioning that Dennis and I are listening from Bequia, and playing our favourite music.

I’ve had the great pleasure to beta-read several of Tim’s novels before they were published, and sometimes he even listens to my advice! I read Blood in the Water early last summer and offered my suggestions. Tim ePublished the book in September then printed copies shortly after that. I’ve been in the habit of ordering all print copies from Tim directly, so he signs them to me, and these books are now shelved between Jane Austen and Nick Bantock on the top shelf of my Wall of Words in the Bequia house. Tim offered to mail this new book to me on Bequia, since I’d already left Canada when it became available. I told him it likely would take forever to arrive/or never arrive at all, but I was surprised when the parcel was here within three weeks. Possibly a new record in mail delivery to this little corner of the Caribbean?

Anyway, once we did receive the book, Dennis claimed it to read next, since I had already read the book in beta format. Imagine my surprise when Dennis finished reading yesterday and said, “It was pretty neat that Tim mentioned Bequia in this book.”

Whaaa??? I said. Where was that?

He flipped through the end of the book and pointed to this exchange on p. 183:

“So what will you do now?” Val asked.

“There’s an island in the Grenadines called Bequia. I’m thinking of opening a dive shop there.”

“Sounds like a nice retirement plan,” Val said.

(Reprinted here with permission of the author!)

When I contacted Tim to tell him of our discovery, he said he’d added that after I had read the book as a little surprise. Not only was I surprised, but I was also quite chuffed with this new connection between Tim and me and the books we write.

Not that Tim’s characters haven’t already visited Bequia … In my contribution to Path of a Bullet, an anthology of short stories by Tim and writer-pals that he published in 2014, a few of Tim’s recurring characters, including Ike, visit the island of Bequia. Bequia Blues was written to bring Tim’s characters together in the setting where my novels take place. It was a lot of fun to write!

So … Did Dennis enjoy the book? Here’s his review:

“That was great!”

(He is an engineer, after all, and a man of few words, some of the time. Tim appreciated the comment when I told him.)

As for me, I thought this was the best novel of everything Tim has written – and I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve read. But that was my conclusion long before our discovery of the mention in it of Bequia! Thanks, Tim! Now it’s the BEST BOOK EVER!!!

Well, maybe I exaggerate, but I do highly recommend this, as well as all of Tim’s books. Oh, and you can’t go wrong listening to Tim’s radio programs while you read, either …

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Mayaro Virus … as if Chikungunya and Zika weren’t enough!

Thanks to Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge for informing me of the existence of this new mosquito-borne virus recently discovered in Haiti. Mayaro is “closely related to the chikungunya virus” as we discover in this article posted in the MiamiHerald on Sept. 15, 2016: A new mosquito-borne illness has been detected in Haiti.

As most of my readers know, I contracted, and suffered from, the Chikungunya virus in July, 2014. Two years later and I realize I haven’t noticed any further symptoms of late (knock on wood!) but I do know of others who continue to have problems. And, in the meantime, Zika has also swept through the Caribbean. Now there’s another virus to be concerned about, just as I head back to Bequia for the winter. Hoo boy!

I’ve posted a number of articles previously to this blog (scroll down that page for the complete series) about both Chikungunya and Zika and will now be adding this new post to that list. Far from these viruses having run their course, I’ve found a number of readers have been making their way to my blog looking for information and clicked on these articles I’ve written after searching with phrases such as “unable to stand up properly due to chikunguniya” and “no hunger after chikungunya” and “numbness of arm chikangunya or dengue” – and that’s just in the past couple of days!! Over the two years since I began writing about Chikungunya, this topic has been among the most popular of anything I’ve posted. Obviously people are still suffering, and are still having trouble finding answers and treatment.

So I post this new information now, not to be alarmist, but so that people will become better informed as to what’s happening out there. As always, the best cure for any of these viruses is preventing mosquito bites in the first place. So if you are heading to a tropical destination be sure to use repellents and clean up any standing water where mosquitoes love to breed.

Perhaps in the long term, the experts will discover a means of ridding us of these viruses altogether. Let’s hope it happens sooner, and before another virus mutates and develops.

One Woman’s Island – and more comments from advance readers!

About the Bequia Perspectives series of novels …

Whether intentional or not, there seems to be a huge character quietly looming across your book series: Bequia, the island herself. Each book, even though different, reveals more and more about her as a character and a force. Quite cool.
~ Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge, blogger

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I am close to finishing preparation of the One Woman’s Island manuscript … Just waiting for a couple of recipes to come in. In the meantime, I have received more praise from advance readers I wish to share with you. This is in addition to earlier blogposts both here and here!

Susan Toy’s new novel, One Woman’s Island is: lively; startling; creepy; funny; shocking; sad; insightful – and engaging from start to finish.

~ Ann Ireland, prize-winning author of novels, A Certain Mr. Takahashi, The Instructor, Exile and The Blue Guitar

I enjoyed your book. While at first I was expecting a murder mystery with interesting characters searching for clues like the last one I read, this one was a book of interesting character development with a side dish of murders. The title definitely fits for several reasons – which you realize as you read/finish.

Joan and Solfrid were delightfully fully developed quickly even though they were not the important characters. Tex and Mariana unfolded much more slowly by design. (She did finally find that one to sit down and talk books with – much to her surprise – and so late). That mysterious story opening finally explained – after you had almost forgotten about it. Clever construction.

This with it’s theme/messages should appear perfectly timed with today’s society. In fact was having a discussion this week with a blogger about well meaning people blundering in and trying to “fix” something without having a clue about the reality of a place or situation. I kept thinking, “She needs to read Susan’s book.” Susan states it so clearly.

Between the recipes, assorted characters, and the universal timeless message, the book should be a winner for book clubs. I will certainly recommend it to a couple once it’s out.

I love your writing style and humor and really appreciate you sending me a copy to read.

Whether intentional or not, there seems to be a huge character quietly looming across your book series: Bequia, the island herself. Each book, even though different, reveals more and more about her as a character and a force. Quite cool.

~ Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge, blogger

Andrea’s Journey on South Branch Scribbler!

Thanks so much to Allan Hudson who is featuring my writing, yet again, on his blog, South Branch Scribbler!

I’m very pleased to release the short story, Andrea’s Journey, into the wild of the internet. While I wrote the story many, many years ago, this is the first time it’s had a public showing. It has gone through a long dormant period and a number of revisions, as well as a complete rewriting and editing. I hope you enjoy this final version.

thXXREGYQ1 You may read Allan’s blog and Andrea’s Journey in its entirety here.

I have been a guest on Allan’s blog 5 times now! Allan has also now posted 4 of my short stories that might not otherwise have been read, had he not given me the platform of his blog. So thanks for all you do for other writers, Allan!

Here are the links to my previous SBS visits:
Interview
50 Ways to Lose Your Liver
Another Day in Paradise
Family Jewels

Allan Hudson has also been featured on my promotion blog, Reading Recommendations, and has always been very supportive of his fellow writers! I encourage you to visit Allan’s blog and read his writing, as well!

… better than winning a contest!!

While contest judges may not have considered my novel worthy enough to make their shortlist, I’ve just received far-better validation from a friend who offered to read and write an advance review I can now use in pre-publication promotion.

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And what validation and praise it is, coming from an author who also intimately knows Bequia!

Thanks to Felicity Harley who I promoted previously on Reading Recommendations, and who sent me congratulations on Reading Recommendations‘ anniversary, and wrote a guest post about her two book clubs, and wrote a fabulous review on Amazon of Island in the Clouds … which is how we first “met” online, and since then in person this year while we were both on Bequia.

Here’s what Felicity has to say about One Woman’s Island:

Among its other virtues, One Woman’s Island beautifully captures the spirit of being on the island of Bequia. I also enjoyed the fact that the author’s ear for the local dialogue is faultless.

Besides its lush and exotic setting however, throughout its pages, the book accurately and with pathos reflects the end of an unsatisfactory marriage for narrator Mariana, who is constantly searching for something meaningful to take its place.

There are a slew of interesting characters in the book as well, including a talking parrot and the visitor from hell.

As Mariana tries to sort out her own life, she takes a young girl, Verity, and her two children under her wing, and is criticized about her “plan” in no uncertain terms by Al, one of the die-hard ex-pats who live there:

“I’m so sick and tired of you do-goodnik, butt-in-ski foreigners who come here with your socialist attitudes thinking life should be a bed of roses for everyone in the world. It’s not. What you don’t understand about Bequia is while it doesn’t have an organized social safety net like what you’re used to in pinko Canada, the people here do generally look after their own—maybe not to the level of your satisfaction, but there haven’t been any cases of people starving to death from neglect on this island lately, so far as I know. Am I right, Doc?”

Besides having interesting and believable characters, there is also a fast-moving plot that keeps the reader engaged, including several murders taking place over the course of the winter months Mariana is staying on Bequia.

Perhaps the heart and soul of the book is summed up at the end by Mariana and Tex, a fast-talking, larger-than-life guy with a heart of gold, and one of my favorite characters:

“When I came here last October, I thought Bequia was going to be paradise, Tex,” I said quietly.

“Here’s how I see it: any place you are can be paradise. It’s all in your mind; it’s whatever you want it to be.”

With its complex characters, fast-moving plot, authentic setting and underlying seriousness of questions so skillfully raised, One Woman’s Island is a book that should garner a wide readership, one far larger than those who are already familiar with Bequia.

But for those of us like myself who are familiar with the setting, we’ll enjoy the island the author presents in her book as one we’ve come to know and love, despite its all-too-human complexities.

I’d better get cracking and prepare that MS for ePublication! And I now have my “quotable quote” with that second-last paragraph. It’s perfect for advertising copy!!

Thanks, Felicity! I just can’t thank you enough!

Guest Post: Rick Bergh on How Our Children’s Books Ended Up in Haiti

Rick Bergh has been featured previously on Reading Recommendations, first in March 2016 and again in April. He’s back now to tell us how it is that his children’s books are now being read by Haitian children!

Rick and Erica Bergh

Rick and Erica Bergh

How Our Children’s Books Ended Up in Haiti

I love how life surprises us when we least expect it.

My wife, Erica, and I had completed two of our children’s books and brought them to our annual Boxing Day gathering – a wonderful family tradition on my mother’s side, which I have not missed in 56 years.

My cousin, Mark, purchased a few copies of these books (after all, you expect your family to buy your books, right?).

Little did I know those children’s books would find their way to an orphanage in Haiti! All the way from Calgary, Alberta!

Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s no big deal …” But it was for me. Let me explain.

Over ten years ago, my daughter, Keeara, went to volunteer at the very same orphanage – she was an 18-year-old girl trying to figure out her next step in life. Her time in Haiti coincided with her mom’s struggle with cancer. So the whole family was in transition and wondering what the future would hold.

Pam, her mom, said “Keeara, go and volunteer at this orphanage.” She did and it changed her life forever. She became an elementary school teacher as a result.

Fast forward 11 years and my cousin’s daughter, Emily, is now volunteering at the same orphanage. We did not make the connection until I asked Emily what orphanage she was going to and it was the exact same one where Keeara had worked.

IMG_6067WOW! So, now Emily is reading these stories to the children – the same stories that I made up and told to my children, including Keeara. Our next book due to be published soon is actually about Keeara (Stretchy Cheese Pizza) and her son, Connor.

And now Emily was reading these same stories I told our children when they lay in bed asking me to tell them a story. Fascinating that it was not long ago when an 18-year-old-Keeara was reading books to these special children in Haiti. And now, they will soon be reading stories about her and her son, Connor.

We are sending copies over for the children in Haiti to read as soon as the new book is published in June. The stories come full circle!

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