Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

All great stories start with “What if?”Author Angela Correll

After the rush of the holidays, winter is a time to slow down, to get still, to sit by a fire in a quiet place where we can listen to longings and hear our hearts speak. For many of us, this requires getting away. We need a respite to reflect, recharge, reset. And if there’s been a stirring in our souls, if we’re seeking something different, a place to consider new possibilities. A place to ask, “What if?”

In mid-December, I drove into a town that had inspired the book I was reading. It looked like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie and the community described sounded Hallmark-close and friendly, too. I couldn’t wait to meet the author who has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I did. After the weekend I drove out of town feeling rested and inspired to take on whatever the new year brings. 

Please listen to this conversation I had with Best-selling Author Correll in this special edition of Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams.

In a new year when we try to focus on the positive, she inspires us to see problems as possibilities, to create something for our souls and others, to remember what matters most, and to embrace our roots and spread our wings. 

We met  in Stanford, Kentucky where she lives on a farm with her husband, Jess. The novels of her May Hollow trilogy –  Grounded, Guarded, and Granted– are based largely on life in this small town with a big heart. She and Jess are the creators of the Wilderness Road Hospitality Group that has built a stronger sense of community here. In Part 1 of the interview she explains how they went from milking goats to saving and renovating historic homes. How they built two restaurants, an Inn, and are building another. Angela talks about the importance of close community not only in Kentucky but in a Tuscan village, Montefollonico, where she and Jess have a home and are renovating rentals for retreats and vacations.

Like Annie and Jake in her trilogy, Angela and Jess have quite the love story. Their travel experiences are the stuff of fairytales, and they enjoy the best of all worlds with homes in Kentucky and Tuscany.  What I love most is that while she was still a single woman who lived in Lexington with good friends and  a job that provided amazing travel experiences, she felt a pull toward another life. She wanted to live on a farm. She knew that nature feeds her  soul. She says she knew God was turning her in a new direction, but had no idea how she’d get there. God fulfilled the desires of her heart in ways she didn’t expect.

Lisa, our mutual friend who is also a writer and Italophile, introduced us by email because she though we had a lot in common. Angela and I both went to The University of Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and lived on farms. Our grandfathers were farmers. We grew up in small Kentucky towns. For her, it was Danville. For me, Hopkinsville. She strives to write about the “good, true, and beautiful” for a mainstream audience. No matter how much we love travel and exploring other countries, we recognize our native language — SouthernSpeak.

Angela’s books have been adapted to the stage for sold-out performances at the Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater. Their themes — navigating family, romantic love, purpose and passion, our need for community— are universal. Like Thornton Wilder’s classic, Our Town or Jan Karon’s Mitford series, her books are timeless.

We’re not super easy to get to. We’re an hour south of Lexington’s small airport but we think that’s part of the charm. When you come you’re going to pull away from everything. You can let your blood pressure drop, be fully present, and receive peace. –Angela Correll

I finished Grounded while I was on her stomping ground. Spending time with her characters felt like Old Home Week (a southern church tradition of my childhood that meant dinner on the ground or potluck in the fellowship hall). I recognized some of Annie’s grandmother in both of mine – one that fried country ham, then simmered it in water to make it tender every Christmas morning. Another who watched Billy Graham specials and tucked me in under quilts.  I recognized generational struggles over the need for dishwashers, cable, and the internet. Over expressions like “You can’t expect a man to buy the cow if he is getting the milk for free.”

Her grandmother’s farmhouse with its creaking floors took me back to the homes in the country of 3 great-aunts. They, too, gathered eggs from ornery hens and didn’t lock their doors. Stripping tobacco, guns and gardens, Blue Willow China, Bluegills and the Farmers’ Almanac. “Widow Women,” “young folk,” “up North,” “down South”… all reminders of my childhood. The comfort food sent me back to Nashville on a mission to make break green beans, cook them with new potatoes, fry up some crappie, bake a chess pie, and chase it all with sweet tea. 

Her reference to Genuine Risk, the 1980 Derby winner the year I married, took me back to Lexington when I lived on a horse farm. So did this description of Wildcat Mania.

The restaurant walls were covered with black and white pictures of local celebrities. Featured prominently were the University of Kentucky basketball and football coaches, and some of the players, both past and present. Even Hollywood stars like Ashley Judd, George Clooney and Johnny Depp were proudly featured Kentuckians. The fare was fine Angus steak, grass-finished and locally grown, served in an atmosphere of dark paneled walls and white table linens.

A romantic, I cried and was satisfied at the end of her first book, but I appreciate that the story didn’t stop there. She wrote a trilogy as if to ask, “What if … a fairytale ending of boy gets girl isn’t the end of the story? Aren’t relationships more complicated?”

Career struggles, abandonment issues, financial troubles, gossips, family secrets, depression… it’s all here. But there’s something about this place that is so familiar and comforting that I listen to the Audible versions as bedtime stories. Maybe because I spent a weekend in the world of the novel where people care for each other, stop and talk on the street, remembered my name. Maybe because in a world of troubles and negativity, I need to stay grateful and focused on the positive this year.

The Stanford Inn includes the cottages but in the works are additional lodging spaces including more hotel rooms (larger than the current Inn rooms) on Main Street. 

If you need to finish an artistic project– book, painting, documentary–on your own or want the direction/support of a group, listen to Part 2 of the interview where Angela discusses her writing journey and options for retreats and creative community in Stanford and Italy.

Part 2 of Podcast Interview with Angela Correll on Writing and Writing Retreats

May Hollow Trilogy by Angela Correll in her Soaps and Such Store, Main Street, Stanford, Kentucky
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Amy at Esther’s Wellhouse gave me a great massage. See her in video. She drives an hour from Lexington to work because she loves it here.
I grew up on Rutland’s Barbecue in Hopkinsville, KY. My dad brought it home from work. I’ve been partial to Western Kentucky Barbecue but this at the Bluebird Restaurant was AMAZING.
Sara, House Manager of Bluebird, who made me feel at home every time I dropped in.
Savannah was my sweet server at Bluebird. She lives in Pulaski County but drives to Stanford. Since the renovations of the Wilderness Road Group, the town has changed. She said there wasn’t much here when she was a kid, but now “everything is in Stanford.”
Sarah with Hot Cider at Kentucky Soaps and Such
The store was full of people of all ages gift shopping and catching up.
Many books by Kentucky authors (and many selections from Italy)
The weekend lives on… loved my coffee cup from this collection and the soaps at Kentucky Soaps and Such
I wrapped these soaps from Kentucky Soaps and Such and used them as decorations/gifts on my Christmas table. Inside each, I placed a question the recipient asked the other family members and answered. We all learned new things about each other.

Thank you Angela and Wilderness Road for incredible hospitality. As always, opinions on this blog are my own.

Hometown Hopkinsville, Kentucky: Eclipseville (and beyond) is Ready

Since returning to the US this summer after living three years abroad (in fact, on this day, August 19,  I landed in Morocco), I’ve bounced between my home of almost thirty years, Nashville, and Hopkinsville, the place I was born now called “Eclipseville.”  I spoke with vendors yesterday just after they set up, sat down, and waited for the Summer Salute Festival at Founders Square to get going.  On Main Street and beyond,  energy and excitement revved and this weekend is taking off full throttle.

The talk of the town all summer, the Epic Solar Eclipse is the biggest event that’s happened in Hopkinsville in my lifetime–probably ever.  The guys at Food Lion and The Wood Shed spoke of doing business with  strangers who’ve come to town.

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Drive-through meat and 3 and the best pies in town

Downtown as the first band played, southern rock ladies line-danced, couples jitter bugged Happy Days style, while children on the sidelines slurped blue snow cones.   By the time I headed back to Mom’s with groceries, cars with headlights on–telltale signs of guests arriving–streamed into town.  A Nashville friend messaged that her family will set up camp five minutes away.  Cousins are meeting at their family farm, and my kids are coming in as reunions happen all over the county.  NASA and national media will watch from a farm in Cerulean, miles down the road from Hopkinsville, at  the point of greatest eclipse.

2017 has been a challenging year for me personally and globally.  I know I’m not alone. Despite all the country–the world–is facing right now, people still long to celebrate life–to look up in awe rather than around in fear and confusion or down in dread.  As a community–residents and travelers– looked up last night at the fireworks, we look forward to looking up on Monday.  With so much we can’t control, the time feels right for heavenly bodies to move.   To experience celestial power at work by a Creator who loves and sees all.  We’re ready.

Highlights of Summer Salute Festival Founders Square (For more info and updates go  here.)

Saturday, August 19: Fort Campbell Band 12:30, WSM Road Show Winners 6:30, Tracy Lawrence 8:00

Sunday, August 20:  Church Service 10 am, Train Rides 10 am, Carnival Rides 10 am, Gospel Music 11:30, The Classic Rock Experience 7-10 PM

August 21 Public Viewing Areas: DeBow Park, Tie Breaker Park, Ruff Park, Trail of Tears Park, Western Kentucky State Fairgrounds, Pardue Lane

Also August 21 Hopkinsville Community College will display science activities including a satellite balloon will be launched.  Also fans of Edgar Cayce, the most documented psychic of the 20th century who many consider the father of holistic medicine, will gather for a seminar and watch at his birthplace Beverly Academy.  Go here for details.

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I grabbed some BBQ and enjoyed catching up with John Banks (seated in front) who graduated from Christian County High School a year ahead of me.

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Stop by to see Debbie and Ginny at Top This! They’ll fix you up!

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Gorgeous pottery locally made and shipped worldwide at Pawley Studios. http://www.PawleyStudios.com

 

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Unique piece by Jamaican Barbed Wire Artist and Motivational Speaker, Sean Wallace http://www.windowsofopportunity.com He also designed glasses below.

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Plenty of bling for fans of UK, my alma mater

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And to cool off, stop by Griffin’s Studio–my favorite discovery, located across from the courthouse and Alhambra Theater, top of Main.  Unique artwork, classes, and owner Griffin Moore, is a lady of southern smarts, art, and charm.

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Farewell Brunch at The Selman

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Leaving Marrakech was like leaving Oz– a technicolor, over-the-rainbow dream that brought together traveling companions from faraway places who became lifelong friends. Like me, Kate from Australia, Jasna from Canada, and Synovve from Norway discovered within us unexpected courage, wisdom, and heart.  I learned so much from these three Baby Boomer single ladies about reinvention, growth, and joy.  They are still in Marrakesh, and I miss them madly. Though I considered a hot air balloon ride as our final outing together which would have been more in keeping with L. Frank Baum’s classic, Kate suggested The Selman Sunday Brunch (my favourite meal out) which was truly the perfect choice to the end of an era.

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Photo by fellow blogger, Kate

I had forgotten how much I love horses.  In another life in the early 80s I lived as a newlywed on a Kentucky thoroughbred farm where I saw foals born, mares bred, yearlings sold, and champions raced at  Keeneland.  Later we moved to Tennessee Walking Horse country where our children were born.  Last Friday I smiled at the symmetry of watching my daughter say goodbye with love to Nashville from a horse drawn carriage  as we saw downtown Music City with the wonder of tourists.  In August we move, two single Southern girls, to the Dominican Republic.

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At the Selman, a family owned and operated luxury property in the top tier of Marrakesh with La Mamounia (also designed by Jacques Garcia) and Royal Mansour, Sunday brunch guests can enjoy the “Horse Ballet.”  Mr. Abdeslam Bennani Smires’s private collection of twelve horses, some international champions, graze as guests feed on the best brunch–actually, the best food in terms of quality and quantity I had in all of Morocco.  He says of his showplace:

“I wanted to create a unique hotel project that offered the traveler a strong portrayal of our culture.  The horse, profoundly linked to our history, seemed to me to perfectly encapsulate the spirit.  I’ve had the chance to visit the most beautiful stables in the world.  And each time, it was an incredible experience.  I wanted to be able to offer people the chance to gain access to and share in this otherwise closed equestrian world, to which access is normally only afforded by the invitation of horse owners.  I want the guest to be able to enjoy the experience in all its glory.  Through doing so, the guest experiences a sense of sharing which is a principle so dear to the Moroccan people.” 

Though “thoroughbred” refers to any purebred horse, the Kentucky racehorse is an English breed developed in the 18th and 19th centuries derived from Arabian ancestors. Arabian horses originated in ancient Persia on the Arabian peninsula more than 4,500 years ago. Via trade and war dispatching the animals worldwide,  the Arabian’s genetic code is found in almost every modern breed of riding horse. Developed by desert nomads who often kept them in tents forming a natural bond with humans, Arabians are intelligent, strong, fast, and eager to please owners. They are subject to more health issues than other breeds and, like Kentucky thoroughbreds, considered hot-blooded, making them more sensitive, spirited and high strung and thus recommended for those with advanced equine experience.

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The afternoon was relaxing.  As horses made a grand entrance from the stables to Sting’s Desert Rose and performed, we feasted on an amazing buffet and enjoyed live Spanish music.  After lunch, guests are welcome to wander the gorgeous property or enjoy a Sunday nap by the enormous pool and tranquil fountains.

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Check out Kate’s Facebook link above where she shares photos and musings on life in Marrakesh.

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Incredible salads (loved the roasted eggplant) and octopus

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The seafood was fresh and delicious.

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Lobster and steak grilled to order

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We all agreed the best chocolate mouse was the best we’d had anywhere.

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In those Lexington, Kentucky years we purchased our first artwork–an equine print.  At the Selman, suites are decorated with equine artwork throughout the hotel.   Friday while touring the Omni Nashville I photographed the Johnny Cash Suite where the statement piece is a wall-sized portrait of a horse’s face.  Art represents life.  Including mine.

I was sad leaving Marrakesh.  On the ride home, I saw  Nicole Kidman in the film, Queen of the Desert, the true story of  Gertrude Belle.  Though it was set in the Middle East I recognized scene-by-scene shots done in Marrakesh.  In a paddock, she talks to a man with an Arabian steed.  It was filmed, of course, at The Selman.

 Desert Rose by Sting

 I dream of rain, I dream of gardens in the desert sand
 I wake in pain
 I dream of love as time runs through my hand
 I dream of fire
 These dreams are tied to a horse that will never tire
And in the flames
 Her shadows play in the shape of a man’s desire
 This desert rose
 Each of her veils, a secret promise
 This desert flower
 No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this
 And as she turns
 This way she moves in the logic of all my dreams
 This fire burns
 I realise that nothing’s as it seems…

Kentucky Backroads… Presidents, Poets, and Camels, Oh My!

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“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors…Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”-–A Hat Full of Sky, Sir Terry Pratchett

Since my first day home this summer, my senses went on high alert as they do when I’m traveling/living abroad.  With intense appreciation I smelled, heard, saw, and tasted southern culture foreign to Morocco.  I love my wings that landed me in Africa but also my roots where my life journey began as a girl in Kentucky and continued as a mom in Tennessee.   I’ve learned happiness is a blend of the familiar and the exotic–each strangely blurring depending on where I’m doing life at the moment.  In Kentucky where my mother still lives, I drove along country roads to feast on green cornfields, blue sky, and red tin-roofed barns–sights as satisfying after being away as the green cacti, blue tile and red regal riads I see and savor in Marrakesh.  This is the land of my father’s people.

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My Great Uncle Sonny’s farm and grandmother’s childhood home

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Though a gate kept me from seeing my Aunt Jane’s house at the end of the lane, I remember the cow trough in front of the red-roofed barn my cousins and I swam in one summer and the dinner bells we loved to ring. Once when our Volkswagen Bug slid off the road in snow, my grandmother lifted the back end and set us on our way again.

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I grew up hearing “back door friends are best.” So are backroads and the Southern stories and tall tales that go with them.   I traveled from Mom’s in Hopkinsville, Kentucky to Nashville, Tennessee four times in five weeks.  On one of those trips, just as I cruised the farms on my dad’s side in Christian County, I took the “back way” to Nashville through Todd County to see again where my mom’s parents were born.  I drove through Fairview, birthplace of my grandfather and a famous Kentuckian.  Across the street from where Granddaddy was born and my Uncle Henry had a store and home is what I grew up calling the “Jeff” Davis Monument.    When I was a kid family reunions were spent in park shelters on the grounds.  It was the tallest building I’d ever seen and steeped in family history.   My Dad’s cousin, Lela Catherine, dressed like a belle of the ball in Gone with the Wind in the Miss Confederacy pageant held there.  The 350-foot obelisk replicating the Washington Monument was completed in 1924, and my Uncle Jay ran the elevator to the top after my Uncle Karl’s brother put the cap on it.

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Uncle Henry’s homeplace

Debates over racial relations  in the US due to incidents that have happened over the last year have fueled chronic concerns around the Confederate flag and sites like the birthplace of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. Some see modern symbols of sedition or oppression; others see history.

Born in Kentucky, Davis grew up on cotton plantations in Louisiana and Mississippi. Some consider the plantation owner  a racist traitor, others a rebel -with- a- cause for defending the right of states to secede from the union (something he argued as foundational to democracy but others considered a coup). Service in the Mexican- American War led to his becoming senator where he proposed the Gadsden Purchase. Made Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, he argued in Boston for states’ rights to secede from the Union in principle but against it in practice :  “My friends, my brethren, my countrymen…I feel an ardent desire for the success of States’ Rights Democracy…alone I rely for the preservation of the Constitution, to perpetuate the Union and to fulfill the purpose which it was ordained to establish and secure.” When the decision was made to form the Confederacy, he was elected its leader.

I realized the irony I didn’t understand as a little girl who on a road trip to see The Stephen Foster Story  visited the birthplace of another famous Kentuckian just 100 miles away. His name was Abraham Lincoln.  And I discovered a connection between Jefferson Davis and Africa where I now live.  Davis proposed and pushed through the US Camel Corps, importing camels from Tunisia and Egypt to carry military supplies across the US Southwest.

Down the road in Guthrie, Kentucky, I showed my son again the birthplace of Robert Penn Warren, the first US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize Winner for his novel, All the King’s Men.  While at Vanderbilt University he was one of the Fugitives, literary writers and scholars who founded New Criticism, the main mode of textual analysis in English in the early 20th century, and the Southern Agrarians who wrote a collection of essays published in 1930 called I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition. He later denounced the work’s stereotypes and oversimplifications that romanticized the “old South” as well as his own prejudices.  He argued for racial integration in his essay, “Divided South Searches Its Soul,” and his books, Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South and “Who Speaks for the Negro?, a collections of interviews with civil rights leaders including Malcolm X and Martin Luther, King. While studying in Rome he and Ralph Ellison became close friends and were interviewed in Paris on America’s civil rights movement.   The core messages of I’ll Take My Stand–valuing nature, growing our own food, supporting local, living a simpler lifestyle–are embraced by many today, such as the Mennonites who now farm much of the lands of this native son.  Robert Penn Warren also cowrote my college literature text, An Approach to Literature and has been a part of my life as have other Southern authors. 

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Closer to home, in Guthrie is the train station near the old Tasty Freeze below where my mom went to meet my grandfather when he came home from being stationed in Virginia for two years during WWII. He left when she was four, came home on leave twice, and returned for good when she was six and her baby brother  (my Uncle Preston) who he hadn’t met yet was six months old.  I have a new appreciation for servicemen who are separated from their families after being away from mine the last year.  How hard it must have been for my grandparents and my mom who remembers missing her father terribly.

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Back in Nashville, my children and I set out on another backroad–Tennessee’s Highway 100. We’d travel near the Natchez Trace, a historic trail  I hope to drive next time home that ends in Tupelo, Mississippi.  But this time we were on a food odyssey just southwest of Nashville…. (to be continued)

Southern Girl Gone Home for the Summer

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At my school in Morocco there were a couple of other US southerners on staff, but apparently my accent was the most pronounced. Locals thought I was from Texas, and my students imitated the way I say Wifi with a long i. (It’s pronounced with a short i there.) The chorus of a popular song in Morocco I first heard sung by one of my seniors, Ismail, asks, “Why, Why, Why…” Since I was on a mission from Day 1 to get working Wifi on campus, even students not in my classes sang what morphed into the “Ms. McCain version”: “Why, Why, Why…why is there no Wyyyy Fyyyyy?”  (We have it now.) One of my ninth graders begged me to bring back my cowgirl boots this fall.  They’re packed.

This blog is about what we all crave– adventure, beauty, and relationship.  It’s about appreciating other cultures and embracing our own. Twenty -five flights since leaving Nashville almost a year ago, this “Southern Girl Gone Global” is happy to be home for a spell. I’m so thankful for what I’ve experienced in Morocco and nine other countries visited in 2015 (more blog posts on these destinations to come), and I am also excited to share my summer vacation in Kentucky and Tennessee with readers. Consider this an invitation to those traveling to the US to check out all Nashville and the surrounding area has to offer.   We’ll tour some of my favorite neighborhoods for those wanting not only must-see tourist attractions but also tips on where to do life like a local.

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Some say language is home. True. But the heart of the home is definitely the kitchen. Expats in Marrakesh heading to native soil for the summer began in late spring talking about what they’d eat first when they landed. Top of my list was Mexican food, grilled meat, and barbecue. One night I literally dreamed of bacon.  So for this lake lover, arriving for July 4th weekend when focus on family, friends, and food is at fireworks proportion was a very good thing.  Lunch from a cooler on the boat…potato salad, baked beans, my sister’s blackberry cobbler, and Red Stripe.  Dinner at Barkley Lodge‘s seafood buffet where I ate my weight in frog legs and catfish. Dinner the next night at the marina for burgers and live music.  And on the way back to Nashville, a family reunion at the home of my cousins, Brock and Laura, where we ate Rutland’s Bar-B-Q (my dad worked for the Rutlands when I was a child).

Independence Days are celebrated in over 170 countries, and I observed Morocco’s last year as a new resident as well as Colombia’s, Chile’s, France’s, and Mexico’s as Nashville’s Latin Dancing Examiner.  I’ve celebrated my US holiday in diverse ways,  but it was so good this year to return to where the 4th was spent when I was a child in Kentucky.  I love food and family. I love summer. Always have.  Always will.  Because for someone who has been in school since she was five, summer vacation means freedom.

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