Iowa Caucus yields host of winners

Des Moines, Iowa, caucus goers stand to be counted. Action of great interest to media. Photo courtesy of Robin Fortney

Iowa caucus goers stand to be counted. Action of great interest to media. Photo courtesy of Robin Fortney

I woke this morning with a profound sense of peace. In spite of blizzard force winds raging overnight, it was remarkably quiet. Political ads no longer filled the airwaves. Campaign text messages no longer flooded my phone. Local coffee shops are devoid of TV cameras and candidates. Can it be true? Are the caucuses really over? Is it safe to go back in the water?

The Iowa Caucuses – a rather quirky political event – begin the process of selecting the next president of the United States. This year was particularly exciting with spirited competition in both parties. 

You can read ad infinitum about the caucus results, who won and who lost and what happens next, elsewhere. As I participated in the caucus, I saw winners of a different ilk.

Winners

Celebrity Spotters. During caucus season, if you don’t add to your life list of personalities seen up close and personal, you made an effort not to. I stopped for coffee one morning and ran into Chris Christie. Another day, I set up my computer at a coffee shop to write and was completely distracted by a CBS TV crew filming Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett interviewing average Iowans. A friend planned to see all of the candidates this season. Her only requirement was that they come to her part of Des Moines. She tagged more than 75%.

Iowa Tourism.Caucus tourism” is a real thing. People from all over the country and all over the world come to Iowa in the dead of winter to see democracy in action. And to participate. Tourist volunteers from across the country arrive individually and in small and large groups to knock on doors and staff phone banks for candidates. Some visit just to enjoy the rallies and soak in the energy.

The Candidates – Iowa’s grassroots approach forces candidates to leave behind the soundbite, look voters in the eye, and explain their positions. Hillary Clinton is stronger because Bernie Sanders forced her to engage at a level she may not have otherwise. Ted Cruz held events and talked with voters in every Iowa county while Donald Trump opted for large events where he controlled questions and blocked media. Look who won.

Both Parties, New voters, Future voters. Caucus participation was record breaking this year in part because candidates brought messages and style that attracted voters young and old who didn’t think the establishment spoke for them. Nothing but good in all those new, enthusiastic voices. May they stay engaged. Caucusing is a family affair and many families bring their children who grow up seeing their parents involved in democratic action.

The Rest of the U.S. – Already the field is tightening up as non-viable candidates drop out. Believe me, after watching political ads ad nauseam for months, I know you want to thank us for taking one for the team.

And losers?

Every caucus, the inevitable Why Iowa? question surfaces. The complaint is that Iowa doesn’t represent the country so it doesn’t deserve the honor. I  suggest Iowa does represent the country in the best possible ways.

  • Intelligent people who take the time to learn about the issues and engage the candidates.
  • Engaged people who can gather with neighbors, stand in public representing vastly different candidates and views, and go on being good friends and neighbors at the end of the night.

I am prejudiced, but I gauge the Iowa Caucuses a success. In any case, we happily pass the baton to New Hampshire while we enjoy peace and quiet for a couple of months knowing it won’t last. Soon after the November election, we’ll start seeing people again, potential candidates testing the water for the next go round.

Did you caucus in Iowa or watch the event from afar? What did you think?

Top 10 Reasons To Love the Iowa State Fair

Our state fair is a great fair, acclaimed in book, movies, and song. As a 4-H member I yearned to go. Alas, that desire was unfulfilled. Now that I live within four miles of the main gate, though, I never miss the annual extravaganza.

With a nod to David Letterman and the Late Show, and before August slips away, I must share my Top 10 Reasons to Love The Iowa State Fair.

Drumroll please …

Iowa State Fair Goat

Keeping an eye on passers by.

10. Inquisitive goats. And pigs and horses and cows. I love livestock.

9. Joining a queue for no reason other than the possibility of free stuff. Our line led to Mixify – an initiative to help educate teens about the importance of balancing calorie intake with activity. I explained how I keep moving and walked away with a t-shirt and a frisbee.

8. Cattle Judging. Watching little kids manhandle a 1,000 pound steer around the arena is a hoot. “Just don’t let go,” is the advice one kid gave the new Drake University President Marty Martin before the celebrity steer show. Good, simple advice; I like that.

Iowa State Fair Giant Pumpkin

The winner weighed in at 1,235 pounds.

7. Giant things – Random things – Butter things – pumpkins, tomatoes, bull, boar – a hot wheels race on the grand concourse – the butter cow, joined this year by a tribute to Monopoly. It’s all good.

6. Food on a Stick – The Ultimate Bacon Brisket Bomb, a bacon-wrapped, ground brisket/jalapeno/cheese-filled concoction earned the public’s favorite new food-on-a-stick award, so of course we tried it. The smoked brisket mac n cheese is better. IMHO.

5. Quilts – The needlework is amazing. My friend Sheryl entered five projects and took ribbons on four. My sister-in-law Anita won a blue ribbon. These are talented folks.

4. Ice Cream. When one massive scoop costs $4 and a second massive scoop costs only $1 more, you can imagine what we chose. Even though that’s more ice cream than I eat in a normal week. And I eat ice cream every day.

Iowa State Fair - Chia Cow

Just the thing for a dairy farmer’s daughter.

3. Peanut Brittle Judging. My first experience at food judging provided 17 entries –  enough to appreciate the range of Iowa candy maker creativity – and satisfy a sweet tooth.

2. A Chia Cow. I want one.

1. I avoided every single presidential candidate. Given the number of candidates and the fact that every one of them wants to see the butter cow and flip a pork chop and hold forth from a hay bale, that’s no small feat.

There you have it my friends – The Iowa State Fair. I can’t wait for next year.

What are your favorite things to do at the fair?

Jackasses & Monkeys – Inner demons of writing

I’m in Iowa City this week, sequestered at a bed & breakfast, doing a deep dive into writing my next novel. I write, I think, I walk, I write some more. All the while, I struggle with monkey brain. Monkey brain is the form my inner editor takes as it hoots and scratches and leaps around, yammering that the writing is No Good. Uninspired. Not Interesting.

I fight monkey brain all the time. Mostly by putting my head down, setting fingers on the keyboard, and reminding myself that it’s okay to just write. For today, just write one thing.

Today I received some unexpected help from author Kimberly Brock. For her, it’s not monkey brain. For her  the inner editors are jackasses. She wrote an inspired post on the topic of jackasses, posted on Writers In The Storm, and I share it for your enjoyment.

The Jackass in My Head: Barnyard Lessons From a Rustic Writer’s Retreat

by Kimberly Brock

A few weeks ago I was heading to Cashiers, North Carolina for what was heralded as the answer to my recent writer’s weariness. I’d been driving for several hours, twisting up winding roads where the earth falls away into deep gullies and the air grows thin and the mountain walls weep.

I was dizzy with anticipation, and probably the higher altitude. For months, I’d been waiting and worrying about this retreat. I’d been invited to attend as a speaker, and I’d become convinced I was secretly meant to be the comic relief. The other authors on the panel were big names with long, illustrious careers. I had no idea how I’d gotten so lucky to be included amongst them, but I was already sweating through my new jacket.

photo credit: Donkeys via photopin (license)

Upon arrival, I dumped my luggage in a pile in my room and texted the event coordinator to let her know I’d found the joint, mostly so I couldn’t back out of the whole thing and hit the road with some sort of excuse – got kidnapped, bubonic plague.

I’d been battling my inner running dialogue all day, the one that reminds me of all my shortcomings, all the bad decisions, the bad grammar, the bad breath.

Some writers call this voice the Inner Editor. I call it my Inner Jackass. In my mind’s eye, this voice looks a lot like the Hee Haw logo, sporting goofy teeth, ready to take a bite out of me any chance he gets.

Read on for the rest of Kimberly’s essay.

* * *

Now I’m going back to my novel, encouraged to know I’m not alone with my monkey brain. We all have the inner editor – whether it takes the form of a jackass or a monkey. And sometimes they’re useful.

If you battle an inner demon on your writing, please share. And then go write something to put that jackass in its place.

I Grew Up Country – New initiative encourages storytelling

On Monday, March 9, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day” – in Iowa and wherever food is produced.

Governor Branstad lent his support to "I Grew Up Country"

Governor Branstad lent his support to “I Grew Up Country”

Haven’t heard of “I Grew Up Country”? Let alone a day to celebrate it? Not surprising. The day and the concept are brand new, the brainchild of fellow author Shirley Hershey Showalter and myself.

Last fall, Shirley and I shared the podium for a reading from our memoirs at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City.  Afterwards, over a latte, we discussed the fact that every time we shared our own stories about growing up on farms in the 1950s, people were eager to step up and tell us their stories.

Prairie Lights Bookstore - where "I Grew Up Country" began.

Prairie Lights Bookstore – where “I Grew Up Country” began.

Readers of my memoir Growing Up Country told me the stories made them think of their own growing up years; they also told me reading these simple stories made their own lives and their memories more important somehow. Shirley heard from people who read her memoir Blush and remembered butchering day, baling hay, milking cows, swimming in farm ponds, and downing food from tables loaded with fresh produce, meats, and homemade desserts.

We agreed we needed a place for all these people to find each other, to share their stories, to take pride in their collective appreciation for the country way of life.

The seed of an idea began to germinate. Over the weeks it took root, and this month, Shirley and I are kicking off “I Grew Up Country,” an initiative to encourage, collect, and celebrate stories of growing up country.

Here’s how we’re spreading the news:

We’d like to hear from you.

Our collaborator Millie had a great idea. She encourages any one who grew up country, to tell us how you’d complete the sentence:

“I know I Grew Up Country because …”

She even suggested a few answers, which brought smiles of recognition from Shirley and me. Here’s Millie’s contribution to start us off.

“You know you grew up country: If you bring home more stuff from the dump than you went with … Or you know you grew up country if you can sew on a button or hem a skirt … Or, You know you grew up country if you have ever stood barefoot in a garden eating a sun-ripened tomato — the juice dripping down your arm and off your elbow.”

Leave a message here and click on over to Facebook to meet other country folks and share your stories there. And, please, spread this news to anyone you know who grew up country.

Growing Up Country now an audiobook

Changes in the publishing industry have made life easier for indie authors with every evolution helping us reach more readers. As I launch the audiobook version of my memoir this month, it’s been fun to go back and look at the journey of my first indie publishing venture from the beginning.

Growing Up Country Audiobook Cover

Growing Up Country – Audiobook Cover

In 2008, I published Growing Up Country – Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl in paperback. To my surprise, printing after printing sold, and the paperback version continues to find reader interest eight years later.

In 2010 – after digital books were more than a gleam in someone’s eye – I jumped on the ebook bandwagon and converted Growing Up Country to an ebook format. New marketing opportunities abound.

Now I’m pleased to announced that Growing Up Country is available as an Audible audiobook.

While I know many readers enjoy audiobooks on a regular basis, I’m most pleased about this new format because it makes these stories available to people who have low vision, as my mother did.

The conversion to audio was far easier than I expected. I chose Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to do production. If you haven’t checked into ACX, I recommend it. There are two key questions you’ll have to answer as you get started:

  1. Do you want to pay for production or do a revenue share with the talent? Cautious soul that I am, I chose to share revenue so I didn’t have to go out of pocket. I will make less on each sale, but it’s a new revenue stream for me, so I’m okay with that. Of course, I hope my narrator makes a ton on this one.
  2. Who will narrate? To find a narrator, you put a sample of your book up on ACX. Interested narrators do a sample read. You can choose one of them or if you don’t like any who apply, you can put the request up again. I found a narrator who was just right on the first try. You can also find a narrator independently of ACX and upload the finished piece through ACX, but staying within the system is much easier and can be less expensive, even free, as it was for me.

Once you choose a narrator, the two of you agree on a production schedule. My book took about two months, start to finish.

While production is turnkey, the author is responsible for making certain the final product is perfect. I listened to each chapter, following along in the book, noting any errors using the time code. I told the producer who fixed the errors and sent me a corrected file to review. Easy.

When you and the narrator are finished, the project goes through ACX review. That can take a couple of weeks. Once ACX approves, they set the price and post the Audible version on Amazon. They also send codes for free copies you can use in marketing.

Back in 2007, I had no expectations of what would happen with this memoir – other than that my mother would read it. So, it’s been fun to see my stories reach new readers as each new format opens the door to more folks.

Speaking of reaching more folks, on to marketing. This is where you, dear readers, come in.

  • Do you know someone who enjoys listening to memoirs, stories of family and childhood, Iowa, history? Please tell them Growing Up Country is not available as an audiobook.
  • Do you know anyone who would be interested in listening to Growing Up Country and doing a review? I have a limited number of audiobooks to give away for just this purpose. If you do, please let me know.

Finally, if you’re an author who’s looking at an audiobook conversion, what questions do you have? I’m always happy to share whatever I’ve learned.

‘You got game, white girl’ – Home Sweet Hardwood

Mo’ne Davis pitches like a girl. A thirteen-year-old girl who throws a 70 mph fastball. The star of The Little League World Series may not even realize sports wasn’t always an option for girls like her.

Preston High School didn’t offer girls basketball in the 1960s. Or baseball. Or softball. The rumored reason was that a girl had died during a basketball game. That death proved to those who decided such things that girls weren’t constitutionally suited to strenuous physical activity. As a result, basketball for girls in anything more competitive than gym class was banned at my high school.

I wanted to play basketball. I practiced dribbling, doing layups, running no more than the two steps allowed in the six-on-six-girl, half-court version of the game played at Iowa schools. Actually playing a game competitively would remain a dream for me.

What I didn’t know in the 1960s, as I dutifully took my place on the sidelines as a cheerleader, was that the nation was on the verge of changing the game for all women with Title IX legislation, requiring that schools offer equal playing opportunities to women and men. Other women were not going quietly to the sidelines. Other women were fighting for the right to play. And winning.

Home Sweet HardwoodOne of those women, Pat McKinzie, had basketball in her blood. Her grandfather was nationally recognized college coach Ralph McKinzie “Coach Mac”; her father Jim Mckinzie was a championship team-leading high school coach. As soon as Pat could walk – probably even before – they were teaching her the game that became her passion.

McKinzie’s memoir Home Sweet Hardwood details her relentless pursuit to fulfill that passion. In high school when she had to give up hardwood time to boys who couldn’t beat her when she challenged them one-on-one. In college where she was the first woman to play in Illinois with a scholarship under Title IX. After college when she continued to push to play on professional teams in the U.S. and Europe.

“Before recruiters and TV highlights, women played ball, not to impress college scouts or become media darlings, but for our own entertainment. The only glory we needed was the game itself,” McKinzie says. When she played in the zone, men who played the game could not help but appreciate her skill and passion. She recalls a night when a player slapped her hand in front of his “brothers,” and said, “Give me five, white girl! Can’t jump, but you got game.”

Home Sweet Hardwood covers McKinzie’s entire sports career as she broke ground and broke barriers for herself and the girls who came after her. Girls like Mo’ne.

The story of how McKinzie continued to push to play, in the face of discrimination, broken bones, and a nearly life-ending auto accident is a story of heart and inspiration. Raised by people who believed and practiced gender and racial equity, McKinzie lived those qualities throughout her career and no matter where in the world she lived.

McKinzie’s writing style is as fast-paced, precise and fluid as she herself was when she took the ball down court and pulled up for a jump shot. The result is perfection: nothing but net.

If you played sports or wanted to, this book is worth reading. If you have a daughter or granddaughter who is playing sports, this book would make a great gift. It’s important for all of us to remember when we’re standing on the shoulders of women like McKinzie who had the passion to clear the path for the rest of us.

The big questions: Memoir or fiction? Is the Past ever Past?

Life is full of so many questions. What’s for dinner? White wine or red? Is it time to turn on the furnace?

The writing life is no different. Three events coming up in the next several days let me join other authors in discussing some of the big questions writers face. I expect those discussions to both fun and challenging. Equally fun is that you can join in on some of those discussions even if you’re not in Iowa.

The Big Decision – Memoir or Fiction? – On Thursday, October 15, at 6:00 p.m. CDT, my long-time writing buddy author Mary Gottschalk and I are the featured guests in a free teleseminar hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers. If you’re interested in exploring The Big Decision with us, there’s still time to sign up. Click here.

Celebrate Writing PosterCelebrate Writing at MPL On Saturday, October 18, at the Marion Public Library in Marion, Iowa, I’ll join other fiction writers in a panel discussion on “The Art of Fiction.” Other panels will explore the Perks & Perils of Self-Publishing, Writing Memoirs, and Selling Your Book: Marketing. After lunch, Mary and I will reprise the Fiction or Memoir discussion in a small group workshop. If you’re in the area, seats are still available for the morning panels and a noontime Lunch with the Authors. The afternoon workshop is already wait-listed. For event details, click here.

Live from Prairie LightsIs the Past Ever Past? – On Sunday, October 19, from 2-3 p.m., I’ll be in Iowa City for a book talk and reading at Iowa’s iconic indie bookstore – Prairie Lights. Reading at Prairie Lights is an honor in itself, but this event is even more special because I’ll be joined by author Shirley Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets A Glittering World. Shirley and I have more than a little in common even though we grew up 1,000 miles apart. Just one tidbit: we’re both dairy farmers’ daughters who grew up to be authors. We’ve only met online, so it will be great fun to meet in person and share the podium.

Since our three books are all set in the past, Shirley recalled William Faulkner’s quote “The Past Isn’t Dead. It isn’t Even Past,” which we adapted for our talk title. If you’re in the area, join us. If you can’t be there in person but you’d still like to hear what we talk about, you can tune in as Prairie Lights streams readings live.

These events offer a unique ability for in person or live interaction over the airwaves. I hope you’ll join in for one or more.

Since I’m still preparing for these presentations, I’d appreciate your thoughts. What do you consider the major factors in whether to to write about a topic as memoir or fiction? What comes into play for you in considering fiction “art”? How do you react to Faulkner’s quote? Is the past dead? If not, why not? How can it be that the past isn’t even past?

Leap of Faith – New from Michele Shriver

Iowa author presents a story of healing and second chances.

I’m pleased to share the platform today with Michele Shriver, an Iowa author I met through social media.  Michele caught the writing bug in sixth grade when she threatened to write a whole book after the class received the assignment to write the first chapter. She didn’t finish that book, but the desire to create stories stuck with her, and she’s written several books since. LEAP OF FAITH is her latest.

In her day job, she’s a juvenile county attorney, a position she says never ceases to provide material for her books.

Here’s the scoop on LEAP OF FAITH.

Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith Single mother Tracey Hiatt prides herself on having a close relationship with her daughter- the kind of relationship she’s always wanted, but never had, with her own mother. When her mother suffers a debilitating illness and faces a lengthy recovery, family takes on a whole new meaning for Tracey as she finds herself pulled back to her ex, Steve Eldridge. There’s only one problem: he’s involved with someone else. Steve is drawn back into Tracey’s family drama and after her mother awakens from a coma believing he and Tracey are married, the two are forced to confront some fundamental questions about their relationship. Can they put past hurts behind them and take a leap of faith into a new future together?

Available now:

The Art of War – The Art of Loving

Movies, reading & walking across Iowa uncover surprising connections.

Art and history, love and war intersect as I continue my virtual trek across Iowa.

There can’t be many who haven’t heard about the movie Monuments Men, George Clooney’s film about the men who set out to save art during WWII. Here in Iowa, we’re getting special insight because the real Monuments Man, the man on whom the movie is based – George Leslie Stout – was born and grew up in Winterset, Iowa, and later graduated from the University of Iowa.

I’ve looked ahead as I continue my walk across Iowa, looking for just the right point to cross Interstate 80. (As though that would be really hard in my virtual world.) Nonetheless, when I realized I could pass through Winterset before heading north to cross the Interstate barrier, I thought why not? 

Now that The Bridges of Madison County (a book and a movie) has been made into a Broadway musical, and received some critical acclaim, I better see the bridges again before the tourists take over!

140px-34th_'Red_Bull'_Infantry_Division_SSI.svgAs I head toward Winterset, I’m enjoying other military history as I walk along the Red Bull Highway. The 34th Infantry Division of the Army National Guard, made up of military primarily from Iowa and Minnesota, served in World War I, World War II, Iraq and Afghanistan. The insignia of the division is a Red Bull designed by Iowa artist Marvin Cone.

As I look back on the titles that have passed through my hands this month, the overriding question is, What does it mean to love? Appropriate, don’t you think, since this is February, the month of love?

Setting the stage is a non-fiction work, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. A psychologist, Fromm explores love and loving in 120 pages packed with explorations of love in all its forms – parents for children, brotherly love, erotic love, self-love and love of God.

Fromm proposes that true love holds four elements in common: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. The other books I read – both fiction and non-fiction – show how difficult it is to find true love,

Fiction

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – This seriously disturbing novel explores the idea that “Marriage can be a real killer.” In alternating chapters, we come to know the husband in real time and the wife through her diary entries. Did he kill her or was she kidnapped and murdered? The tension in this novel is palpable and all of us can only pray we do not encounter a love like theirs.
  • safe keeping sisselSafe Keeping by Barbara Taylor Sissel –  “My son is a murderer,” begins this family drama. Emily tries to say these words about the son who has given their family so much heartache. But she doesn’t believe it. Her mother love could never believe it. They just have to prove it. Sissel draws characters with depth and a plot with complexity. She is a master at dropping clues that inform and confound. Her cliff-hanger chapter endings compel you to keep reading. (I was fortunate to receive an advance review copy. The novel is due out in late March.)

Non Fiction

  • Twelves Years a Slave by Soloman Northrup – I have yet to see the movie and I grabbed  the e-book when it I saw it in a promotion. This first-person account of a free black man who is kidnapped and thrown into slavery causes one to despair of man’s inability to love his fellow man.

Late-breaking news (literally): I end this post abruptly because winter has taken its toll. I slipped on the ice and broke my wrist. As a result, I am reduced to typing with one finger, so my blog will be on hiatus for a few weeks. When I return, I trust spring will be here. In the meantime, happy reading and safe walking!

Trying to “Slumber in the Slammer”

A night in jail offers a change of venue to explore issues of control.

I’ve slept on floors that were softer than the mattress in my cell. The pillow was hard enough to knock someone out in a pillow fight. Standing on tiptoe, I could look out the window to see the sky – and the razor wire fence. As long as I held my hands just so, the cuffs were only moderately uncomfortable. These were some of my observations during a night in jail.

Razor Wire, Iowa Women's Correctional InstitutionA strong sense of place is important to my writing, and I need to be able to visualize the places I write about. I don’t have plans to include a prison in any of my stories, but you never know. So when the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women built new facilities and opened the doors for the community  to get a taste of prison life before they move women offenders in, I signed up for “Slumber in the Slammer.”

Lately I’ve been considering the issue of control: how much do I need, what would it mean to lose it, how do people cope. What better place to explore those questions than in prison.

The warden and her staff crammed as much of the prison experience into an overnight stay as they could. When I checked in on Saturday night along with close to 100 others, I could only bring clothes for sleeping and a change for the next day. No cell phones. No cameras. We were issued a hygiene kit, including toothbrush, toothpaste and soap. We ate prison food, stood inside our cells for head counts, took personality assessments, wore restraints, tried to pass GED tests.

As much as our brand new cell block reminded me of a dormitory, the reality of life there is quite different. Offenders have little control of their lives in prison. They eat when someone says its time. They sleep when someone says lights out. They go outside when it’s their turn. If they’ve earned the privilege. They can buy a limited number of items in the commissary, but the officers determine whether they can keep the stash or not.

A panel of women who’d been incarcerated for 2 to 15 years told us about their lives inside. Until they move into the new facility, four women are housed in each 8’x10′ cell because a facility built to house 450 women now holds more than 600. They use toilets in the cell, in full view of each other, and they shower with no privacy. It is no wonder that constipation is a problem for many.

Lack of privacy was the hardest aspect of prison life for one woman to adapt to. For another it was the separation from her two-year-old child, now being raised by the child’s grandmother. The new prison allows for individual showers and toilet stalls. The new visiting area includes play areas and toys for visiting children.

In this highly restricted environment, offenders look for areas they can control. Prison staff demonstrated ingenious recipes developed by offenders and made from items they buy in the commissary. “Convict Cheesecake” includes graham crackers, cream cookies, dried lemonade mix, a salted nut roll and water. Packets of instant oatmeal, peanut butter, and half a Snickers bar become “No Bake Cookies.”

Throughout the stay, I gauged my own reactions. I chaffed at the regimentation, at others who were too loud, at the lights that brightened my cell throughout the night. I did not get comfortable on the plank they called a mattress. I was annoyed there was no fresh fruit and no sweetener for coffee. A hundred times I wanted my phone and my camera. These are picky, I know, but I am used to being able to control these small elements of my environment. And in the morning, I could walk out.