Category Archives: writing

O Jailed Town of Bethlehem

I’m sitting in an apartment in the Nachalat Binyamin area of Tel Aviv; about ten minutes from the Mediterranean Sea and next door to the Shuk Ha’Carmel market. Every day I venture out on my own to an area that pulls on me. That may not seem like a big deal except I’m directionally dysfunctional so it’s a great challenge for me to wander off on my own. Sometimes I feel as if I have to go faster and see more. There’s so much to see in this world and I want to see it all. I started traveling decades ago and haven’t slowed down. As I get older I want to see more not less because every inhale is a gift and I’m acutely aware of the gift of my breath.

Israel; a country bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. I feel very safe. Fear doesn’t enter into my vocabulary whether traveling or at home. Actually the sight of soldiers carrying weapons has the opposite effect on me. It quells the fear that instinctively rises inside of me so that I can continue on my adventure feeling both protected and secure.

I seem to be concentrating on The West Bank area of Israel namely Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho. Bethlehem is not heavily traveled so I am pulled there. Not only is it of the burial place of matriarch Rachel but it’s also the birthplace of Jesus. It’s often ripe with strife which attracts me as well. My relatives with Israeli passports cannot visit there as Israeli civilians are not allowed access. Later they told me they were worried about me when I was traveling there for the day.

Bethlehem is a Palestinian city that is about five miles from Jerusalem. It took quite a bit to cross in to get in.  First the line where I showed my passport and went through xrays not too different from an airport. They have built a wall that consists of fences over miles (including electrified fencing), buffer zones, deep six foot trenches, barbed wires, electric sensors, thermal imaging, video cameras, sniper towers, razor wire, unmanned aerial vehicle; a 26-32 foot high wall. Keeping certain people out. From the center of Bethlehem, you can see the path that prevents certain people from entering. This wall, which serves to isolate and annex the religious areas,  reminds me of the prejudice against the Jews during WW2. This wall isn’t really a fence or a wall, it’s meant to be a separation barrier. The obvious historical parallel is the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall was 96 miles long. This wall will be 403 miles when complete and does nothing but violate human rights.  I’ve read that the Israeli authorities say it is meant to block the passage of terrorists including weapons, and explosives.

Initially I thought “this is barbaric.” Upon researching I found that 900 people died from suicide attacks since Sept 2000. The wall was started in the Spring of 2002 and there has been a sharp decline in violent attacks. The threat of violence is all too real. My friend and writing teacher and her Israeli-born husband agreed not to ride on any buses with their daughters on their recent visit. Speaking to my hair dresser, an Israeli who moved to the U.S., I began to see it from a native’s perspective. There are less senseless violent acts like blowing up buses since the wall has been erected. So there is no easy answer. There is no right or wrong. There is no logic. But a city sealed off from the rest of the world just doesn’t sit right with me. I begin to feel sad about this realization and fact of life in Israel. Even this quote from the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the issue of the wall constructed by Israel feels as if I’m not alone in this thinking.
“Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defense or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall.” – International Court of Justice

Bethlehem has severe unemployment; around 65%. Hence a lot of fighting between husband and wife because the man at home is never a good scenario. Back in 1999, 2000 there would be 5,000 tourists a day. Now it’s dozens. “Keep with people” my uncle told me before I left which of course, I didn’t. I like to go off on my own to explore people with my camera.

I was on a mission to visit The Church of Nativity as I lean towards places of worship.  From the moment I had to bend down to enter through the “Door of Humility”; I was humbled. There are legends surrounding the door. Some say that the door was installed by the Muslims during their rule to remind Christians that they were guests in the country and must bow to their hosts.I love that; bowing.We’re not a bowing culture. The act of humbling oneself  to the soul of another person. A most gracious way of honoring God in another person. An alternative explanation is that the height of the door was designed to prevent nonbelievers from entering the church on horseback. Yet another version holds that it was to protect the Christians from their hostile neighbors.  Just to see the Corinthian columns alone was worth all the angst the wall originally brought up for me; pillars of orange, yellow and brown reaching fifty feet toward heaven; an elaborate illumination of lamps throughout.

The Grotto of the Nativity is an underground cave where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed silver star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. Yet there was a heaviness in my heart. I couldn’t help but think about the wall separating people. A wall surely can’t be the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The sweet little city where the Bible says Jesus was born is surrounded by a 3-story concrete wall topped with razor wire.

I noticed two women with a child that caught my eye so I followed them to an area I had already seen just so I could watch them. Even though we were from two worlds, we were interested in the Church of Nativity. The sadness I felt from Bethlehem being annexed eased into acceptance of what is. As I watched them I was struck with how much we are all the same; wanting to explore our world. They too went through what I went through to view this glorious site. We have an innate desire to see and understand the beauty all around us. As Yogi Bhajan shared with us in the sutras of the Aquarian Age: Recognize The Other Person Is You.

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The Possibility of Everything

Hope Edelman, best selling author of five books including the New York Times Motherless Daughters read from The Possibility of Everything at Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica. Not expecting to see me there, she greeted me with a warm, open-armed “Hannah” with so much enthusiasm she’s hard to ignore.

Hope’s engrossing, magical memoir takes us on the journey of a pragmatic woman who goes from conventional, traditional beliefs to someone willing to spend a week in Central America to delve into what can’t always be seen by the human eye. She’s a woman open to exploration, discovery, and not staying in the box of what our western culture prescribes. It’s an expressive, beautifully written story where, her marriage strained by a husband working sixteen hours a day launching a dot-com company, we see an honest, observant woman searching for answers. Her passages of reflection helped me to understand a mother driven to do anything to help her daughter.

Edelman’s daughter Maya is having violent outbursts that are being caused by her imaginary friend Dodo. Many mothers would be quick to put their child on medication for temper tantrums. That Edelman was willing to go to another country, be open to another culture to find an unorthodox remedy, which she does, brought tears to my eyes. As someone who has always traveled trying to find questions about who I am, Hope’s story deeply resonated. For anyone who’s tried to find answers about who they are by going outside the box, this book is buried treasure as she goes deeper. She’s self aware, not blaming, probing and questioning everything while sharing her insights on marriage, motherhood and faith. Her book makes you feel as if you are her friend.

She describes her cushy life with a lovely home and a nanny but “Despite the unbridled affluence of the late 1990s, or perhaps because of it, people were deeply dissatisfied. They’d begun the decade as devotees at the altar of secular materialism, only to discover that the tasks of acquiring and the responsibilities of having were a hollow substitute for authentic experience, and they were left feeling unmoored. They had everything they could possibly need and in many cases more, yet they were nonetheless ravaged by ennui. They were clinically depressed”. Hope’s story was more than the story of the adventure of seeking a cure for their daughter. It is the story of a well educated woman that “had it all” but is unfulfilled because she no longer takes part in the modern belief of materialism and the duties of being a good wife.  This is her deep spiritual journey and as we go along on Edelman’s ride we are able to see ourselves, if we’re willing to do so. She shares her private thoughts outloud, which takes a courageous person. Her honesty about her inner conflict, instead of hiding her true self, is what makes this book such a revelatory journey. A vivid description of her feelings was present throughout.

“I still have no idea how it’s possible to believe in the potential of something while simultaneously refusing it the right to exist, but it is.” This is Hope. Not defining people or places with a box. Everything is not.

Hope has written numerous memoirs about being a motherless daughter. Early mother loss left her emotionally crippled and in a continuous state of healing. The loss has made Edelman a mother who will go to any length to be the best mother she can.

Edelman’s honest, self deprecating sense of humor had me laughing out loud in Motherless Daughters and it’s here as well. She doesn’t have to try to be funny. She just is. Where she describes her attempt to figure out what is going on with Maya and says “That’s weird. There’s no entry for imaginary friends”. I can see Edelman down on the carpet, flipping through books to find the answer and I laugh at her candor.

Hope’s ability to not judge is a breath of fresh air. At a three-day writing workshop with Hope earlier this year, I shared with her my deepest secrets and she didn’t bat an eye. I thanked her for not judging me later. Her reply? “Judgment? Pleh. You should see some of the stories that have come my way. I stopped judging anyone long ago.” I wasn’t ready to go deep to write an authentic piece but because of Hope’s accessibility and caring, I now feel free to do so. I feel guided with her as my writing instructor.  She didn’t blink at my request to “Please print out my pages on paper and use a red pen to address all issues”. Early mother loss sometimes produces quirkiness which Hope understands all too well. Falling off buildings was easy compared to being honest about my past. Hope’s accepting me for who I am has taught me not to be scared to write it down.

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Katie Arnoldi’s Point Dume

I went to hear Katie Arnoldi read from her newly published novel, Point DumePoint Dume has themes ranging from the death of the surf culture, human trafficking, the Mexican drug cartel, illegal pot farms on public lands, environmental devastation and obsessive love.  Katie held the audience captive as she read from a paperback copy of her novel with her black eyeglasses,unusual necklace with some type of large stone, big smile and long blonde hair. She looks like the quintessential California girl.

Katie grew up surfing in Malibu Beach, later studied art history and was a Southern California bodybuilder before publishing her first novel, Chemical Pink, a story of how far people can take obsession. Obsession seems to be a key word when describing Katie’s novels. Katie was fascinated with bodybuilders who dedicated themselves to the sport. In Chemical Pink, she describes with precise detail how the lead character’s voice lowers, dealing with the hirsutism which would become unmanageable, even the clitoris growing penis-like hard. The effects of the steroids are irreversible even when the bodybuilders stop.

Her next novel The Wentworths gives us a story of grotesquely warped power and wealth. Too much wealth creates this overprivileged Southern California family. From the narcissistic, abusive mother to the sexually deviant son to the son who analyzes what’s wrong with the rest of his family. The sister seems to be the only one devoid of problems except her daughter is depressed and her son can’t stop stealing.

You can read more about Point Dume on her website. Her book tour began last night with this Book Soup sponsored evening complete with tequila, chips and red and green salsa. I’ve read Katie loves red wine which she had a a few choices of as well.  I can’t drink straight tequila but that’s another story.

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Hope Edelman’s Creative Non Fiction Workshop

I spent the weekend in Hope Edelman’s Creative Non Fiction Memoir workshop. I met Hope in Guatemala at Joyce Maynard’s Write on the Lake Workshop. I immediately was drawn to Hope because of her openness and honesty.  G-d threw us together as we spent the first night in Guatemala bunking on Lake Atitlan.

Hope chose the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica, an Art Deco style built in 1933 with a $2 million facelift to restore it. She provided a fresh fruit platter each morning with pineapple, strawberries, blueberries along with bagels and cream cheese and an assortment of mini muffins. She gifted each of us with a copy of Monica Holloway’s Driving with Dead People and planned a yummy Italian dinner to end the weekend on Sunday night. Not only did she graciously donate one spot in the course but she even made sure parking was included the entire weekend at the hotel.

Hope teaches in a clear, concise way how to first identify your storyline. The Set-Up, the Inciting Incident, Development and Complications, Dramatic High Point and The Resolution.  Once the storyline is developed, she puts everything together in eight parts of how to write in a way that made sense. Everyone has a story. Hope can teach you how to write yours. She kept to her schedule effortlessly (or so it seemed which shows how much work she puts into her teaching) and her attention to details made the workshop memorable.

Monica Holloway, author of the critically acclaimed Driving With Dead People and Cowboy & Wills was one of Hope’s writing students not long ago. Hope arranged for Monica as a guest speaker. Dead People paints a picture with surprises of what happens when you stuff down your past. I was laughing out loud line after line. Cowboy and Wills shares the story of a puppy that saved her autisic son. Haven’t read it yet.

If you are fortunate enough to have a writing workshop with Hope Edelman nearby, I highly recommend her. I’ve had fears about writing my story for years. With Hope’s infinite patience, caring and teaching, I am no longer scared to tell my truth.

Colin Finlay-Palm Springs Photo Festival

I just returned from the Palm Springs Photo Festival. Sam and I left on Tuesday afternoon after enjoying one of my favorite meals, huevos rancheros. We ate at Coffee 101 on Franklin. Five hours later I thought I had food poisoning.

We sat in on a lecture of four different collectors of photography and then went to have sushi for dinner. We thought we were going to a restaurant in Palm Springs; Midori, but ended up going to Cathedral City. It was worth the drive as the fish was deliciously fresh.

I taught Sam a set of Kundalini Yoga this morning followed by a breakfast of granola, vanilla yogurt, raisin bagel with butter and jam and green tea. One of my greatest passions and joys is to share the technology of Kundalini Yoga, which as helped me immensely. Sam looked like she was in bliss.

I love spending time with Sam. She’s present and not all up in her head. She’s always game for something new and fun. Her incredible passion for photography is contagious. She was excited like a little kid about her photography equipment and what to bring. She packed it all barely remembering to bring anything to wear on the trip. She brought her Hasselblad, her Canon 5D and was shooting photos on her i-phone with a new app she discovered that makes effects like a traditional film camera. I can count on her being able to figure out how to get anywhere. Since I’m directionally dysfunctional, it’s soothing when someone knows where they’re going.

The first lecture we saw was Storytelling with the Canon 5-D Mark II and 7D. Vincent LaForet  has blended motion and still cameras for photographers.This is a particular interest of Sam’s. I”m more interested in the written word, which will be the highlight of the festival for me.

We walked to the Palm Springs Art Museum to see Linda Connor’s exhibition. Linda is an American photographer who has twenty-five years experience photographing places like Egypt, India, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka. She shoots with an 8 x 10 film camera like Sally Mann so that warmth, depth and richness is right there.

I always like to travel with a nice bottle of wine. I brought a 2006 California  Cabernet from Brookdale Vineyards. We sat at the hotel bar and ordered humus, olives, carrots, celery and a spinach salad.

The pinnacle of the show was Colin Finlay. Colin has been awarded the Picture of the Year International honor six times. He was the reason I wanted to attend the show. I love the expression of the written word in addition to photography. Colin has a powerful depth to his photos and his writing. We invited Colin to join us for a glass of wine at the hotel where Sam and I asked questions and heard his insights on his work and philosophies.  “When I take my last breath on this earth, I want to know that I’ve made a difference to the lives of others”.  This is the man we were blessed to have spent time with. Check out his work:

Here’s a photo I took of Sam and one she took of me with her cool new app. Yes, I love Michael Jackson.

Motherless Daughters

I started reading Hope Edelman’s Motherless Daughters. I began crying at the passage, “I want my mother. I want my mother. I want my mother now“. Okay, you may be thinking, “This Hannah broad is whiny and wimpy.” Truth is it took decades for me to be able to admit to feeling and crying. So there.

I was already feeling thoughts about my mother today as I was editing more photos I took of her. After seeing Hope, I went to the aging home where my mother lives to bring her tacos and the package of candy I did manage to bring from Guatemala. My sister pulled up at the exact moment I did, which was ironic because that has never happened there. Esther brought a protein shake and I had two steak tacos with guacamole, cheese and hot salsa for our mom.

I started to feed her outside at the table where the aides relieve stress by smoking. When it became too cold, I put my black sweater that Joyce gifted me in Guatemala, on my mother. We gave up and went inside because of the cold.

She was upset when my sister and I began to get ready to go. Her only regular visitors are my sister and I and when we get ready to leave, her energy changes.  She knows it’s back to her room with the two older women who have been there forever it seems. One of them used to sound like a choo choo train every 30 seconds. She has stopped that noise for now. The other one lets out a blood curdling scream now and then that I still shudder from when I hear it.

I realize today as I was editing my photos that looking at my mother through the safety of my camera lens is one step closer from where I used to be. In the past, I couldn’t see her at all. At least now after graduate school and my work with my healer, I visit my mom even though I am usually camera in hand.

Editing my photos tore me up today. But as Hope says, you cannot avoid pain as I did in the past.  “They know how much pain they can tolerate at any given moment, and when they reach their limit, they simply shut it off and do something else.”-Hope Edelman.  I did learn that from the work I did with my healer. Hope gave me a beautiful gift with Motherless Daughters.

I signed up for her writing workshop after seeing her yesterday. I always look for signs to see if I should do something. Her humble presence was my sign. Maybe it was the one egg on her plate with the toast and butter? “It keeps me for hours” she said. “Very mothering and nurturing” I thought to myself.  I’m looking forward to telling my story on paper and I think she will be the perfect teacher for me.

Left:My mother in Guatemala. A picture that my aunt just sent to my sister. I had never seen it before. The first time I saw it my eyes welled with tears.

Grief is not a passage but an ongoing journey“.- Hope Edelman -Motherless Daughters

More “Hope”

I believe in synchronicity (origin of word by Jung) and fate. It’s all part of facing me and my mom.In Guatemala, I shared on my blog that I roomed with Hope Edelman the first night we arrived because the vibe in her room was a bit off.

Watching my mother being abused from ages 9-14 molded part of who I am.Seeing her in intensive care at UCLA with brain damage forever changed me. Meeting someone in graduate school who held my hand as we went to visit my mom helped bring about more change. Finally being able to go visit my mother after decades was another piece of the puzzle. It’s hard to believe now how long it took for me to accept where my mother was and is. My spiritual curriculum if you will.

Meeting Hope Edelman in Guatemala was a gift from G-d.Even though I am a voracious reader somehow her book Motherless Daughters slipped by me. Hope has gifted me with a copy this morning as she ate her single hard boiled egg with a piece of toast and butter and I had a green tea latte with a raisin scone in Topanga Canyon. The cafe is so sweet. Sure beats cookie cutter Starbucks.

I had ordered Motherless Daughters as soon as I returned from Guatemala. I’m going to gift it to my sister and keep the inscribed copy Hope gave me.

I’ve been struggling with a story for years. Trying,in my clumsy way, of getting it down on paper.  But it doesn’t make sense or read well. Hope is doing a creative non fiction writing workshop in Los Angeles April 30- May 2 at the historic Georgian Hotel. Besides being a New York Times best selling author, Hope is authentic, humble, accessible, quirky, non judgmental and kind. Check it out. I’m looking forward.

Hope Edelman, Francesco Sedita, Ann Hood

Hope at Joyce Maynard’s home in Lake Atitlan.

Awoken by an earthquake

I left Antigua in the late afternoon, arriving in Guatemala City starving. My cousin Esther had homemade matzoh ball soup prepared. Not only does she add noodles but also potatoes, carrots and onion.  She had run out of frijoles negros so she phoned neighbors to find some. Her maid Moda made sure there were plaintains because she remembered from last year that I love them.  We caught up in her white tiled kitchen with a cup of hot tea.

I was born and raised in Calfornia so I’m used to earthquakes. I was jolted out of sleep by a 5.6 magnitude tremblor my first morning in Guatemala City around 5 AM.

“Esther” I called out and wandered into her room in the dark. Her son and Moda were all in her becroom. We sat on the king sized bed for a bit and spoke about the shaking.Esther said it’s called a temblor, which is not quite a full earthquake.

I walked back to my bedroom to sleep. After a shower, in the middle of blow drying my hair, another smaller one hit.

Today Esther and I went to the grocery store. I bought candy treats for my mother that she will remember from her childhood and a comal to make tortillas from scratch. I also bought a six pack of frijoles negros. I’m using a second piece of luggage I keep stuffed in my large luggage to bring home all the food items.

Moda taught me how to make the tortillas. I watched her add water to the dry corn mix.Then she did something with her hands to roll it into a small ball.A handful of dough makes a good size tortilla. She used plastic in between the tortilla maker so the dough doesn’t stick. Then she cooked the dough for about one minute on each side. If someone tried to explain what she showed me I could not have understood. I’m visual, I need to be shown.

Esther made a typical Guatemalan egg dish for our dinner. She chopped tomatoes and onions, cooked in oil. She added a tiny piece of a fiery hot pepper. She cooked two eggs for each of us then added the tomato onion mixture on top. I had hot corn tortillas with butter that I just learned to cook.

At the airport a man confiscated the candy treats I bought for my mother. He set it aside as if he was going to eat it as soon as I boarded. I explained to a supervisor and attendant that I wanted to bring home Guatemalan candy to my mother, who hadn’t been home in fifty three years. I asked a flight attendant if there was anything she could do. She said my candies resembled the material sometimes used for bombs, that nothing could be done to retreive the candy. I was visibly upset.

An attendant mid flight asked me if if was the one whose candy was confiscated. She asked if she could give me some Guatemalan cookies for my mother. I thanked her. She returned with a bag of a dozen small packages of cookies. I was moved by her caring enough to go out of her way for my mother.

Being awoken by barking dogs and the walk by the lake every morning seems so long ago. I’ll miss the exchange of “Buenos Dias” with each person I passed. I’ll be careful about using metaphors and cliches in my writing.I felt so blessed eating those breakfasts of frijoles negros, scrambled eggs, homemade bread, yogurt, granola and all the local fruits at Joyce’s every morning.

Todavia estoy enamorado de la belleza del pais, la calidez de la gente, la cultura, la comida, la lengua. I’m still in love with the beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, the culture, the food, the language.

Antigua otra vez

We left Joyce’s home this morning after the last breakfast. 45 minutes on the boat and then the  van drive back to Antigua.Here is her home up on the hill in San Marcos. I recommend her workshop to anyone who wants to write but has fears or has started and stopped.

I’m not in the habit of telling drivers especially when I’m abroad, how to drive. Our driver was about two inches behind a car in front of us. I told him to back off. Not 5oo feet later there were two accidents in the road. One looked like a rear end. Someone else was in a body bag.

In Antigua at a boutique hotel, Casa Encantada. Only 10 rooms.  I love heavy, wooden doors with iron which is at the entrance. Once you are allowed in, there is a garden courtyard. My room has a wrought iron bed, fluffy white sheets.There were little white candles throughout when I came back from dinner.  Check out the courtyard.

Nice walking through the streets of Antigua tonight completely alone.Came upon a procession of men in purple robes singing Ave Maria. I’m attaching two photos of what they carried.

La Cetedral de La Antigua Guatemala at night, & day.

The small purse I carry when I travel had a small hole in it where my change is falling out. I entered a shop and asked a woman sitting on the ground  if she could mend it. She seemed happy about the tip I gave her. Here she is w/my purse.

I’m so tired i can’t keep my eyes open but I’m happy I’m in Antigua and I was able to chat with my niece tonight.

Last day on Lake Atitlan.

I started corresponding with writer Joyce Maynard over a year ago. I wanted to bring a group to Guatemala for a Kundalini Yoga retreat and she has a home here where she lives part of the year. Joyce was so accessible, answering all my questions. I tried to meet her at Lake Atitlan in 2009 but the lake was choppy, it was late in the day so I didn’t cross.

What struck me about Joyce was her humanity, her compassion for the condition of the lake and the children of Guatemala. I knew I would someday take her writing workshop on the lake.

I have finished a week workshop with Joyce and three faculty. I had the gift of Joyce’s thirty-eight years of writing and her passionate teaching. Hope Edelman published author of five books speciality is the effect of early mother loss. Hope added to the mix with her lovely smile. Author Ann Hood, whose essay on losing her daughter has forever touched me. Francesco Sedita was a student at Joyce’s workshop last year. He is the author of Little Miss Popularity and creative director at Penguin Book; children’s division. They’re all fun too!

Hope, Francesco, Ann

I sat in a circle of 26 women that came in from all over the U.S. At the top level of Joyce’s house, she has an area that is covered with palm fronds where she taught us about writing memoir and fiction. There are friendships made here that will last a lifetime.

As I left my hotel this morning one of the locals working at the hotel says “cuedese” “Take care of yourself “. I walked the dirt path to Joyce’s house one last day. I am greeted by each person that passes with “Buenos Dias”. There are three little children splashing and bathing by the lake with their father watching.

I can hear the birds singing.  Dogs barking in the background. Women pass in their clothing that is specific to this region. Breakfast is scrambled eggs with mushrooms and cheese, black beans, local white cheese, yogurt, granola, homemade brown tortillas, a platter of strawberries, pineapple, mango, orange, watermelon, a local berry. This morning I smell bread baking, hot mango mini muffins and there are three different homemade jellies. I drink orange juice I saw being squeezed this morning in Joyce’s kitchen.  I look at what Aldous Huxley called the most beautiful lake in the world.

I was enjoying each moment even when I was locked into my bathroom and my toilet handle broke and wouldn’t flush. Then there are always the complainers. You know, the Negative Nellies. Joyce kept saying “You don’t realize you are having fun” and as I get on the boat to head across the lake back to Antigua, I realize she was right.

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