Monthly Archives: September 2008

Hiding from the Children

At what point did I start hiding from my kids? You spend a good chunk of your adolescence running around behind parents’ backs, sneaking and stumbling around hoping they don’t notice that you aren’t sober.  I went to boarding school so the sneaking around bit was amplified by it being teachers I was hiding from. Breaking curfew, crawling down the balcony to break into the boy’s dorms and hiding the stash of vodka were all part of the thrill of being 16. Then you grow up and get to have fun without hiding. Still a party but without the risk and thrill of being caught.  ‘Till you have kids. At first they are too young and unsuspicious. They think we are saints and when we are out of earshot we are simply still being parents, planning the next birthday party or surprise.  I remember lying in bed when I was around 7 or 8 and and hearing Roberta Flack playing really loud barely masking the sounds of my parents and their friends laughing.  I wondered what they were doing. How could they be having so much fun without me?

 

Then at a certain point the kids grow wise and suspicious.   We have a Very Important Rule in our house. No one can disturb Mommy and Daddy’s saturday nap. Ever. Unless someone is bleeding. And now we have another rule. If adults are in the sun room ( my “sin room”) at night, children cannot come in.  

My 11 year old always tells me “I know what you are doing, Mama.” 

“What?” I say, trying not to look nervous.

“You are smoking!”

“Yes.” I sigh. “But it is a really bad thing and you shouldn’t know about it or see me doing it”

“But why Mama? It’s okay. You’re allowed to have a cigarette sometimes. I don’t mind”.

So now I am getting permission from my daughter. 

Yesterday I was busted. She came into a room while a friend and I were leaning out of a window, cigarettes in hand. “Urggggg.” I exhaled.

I am running around behind their backs, sneaking cigarettes.  I am only a social smoker, never alone, never in day light and never without drink in hand. I want them to know that smoking is Really Bad.  But I also want them to know that by hiding it I am being a hypocrite, doing it but passing the message on that is is not a good idea. It is all just a silly game.  

The eldest was standing in the room while my friend and I, moments after being busted, were in the kitchen discussing how to mix the best Mohito. Once we realized it was too strong, since my husband hadn’t realized that he had picked up 70% proof rum at the store, we decided to split the mix into two jugs. Then, of course, we had to squeeze more limes, melt more sugar. The whole process was taking a long time. The eldest, at the very least will be a pro mohito maker at her parties. But what I am teaching them? Where is the good example? Is this a case of do as I say and not do as I do? 

Like many evenings and weekends here in Trinidad they are seeing a lot of drinking.  They don’t see any one drunk or foolish but they do see us having an excellent time. I worry that I am condoning drinking and smoking. But why should I be a saint, all sensible and pure and no fun just so that my kids will grow up untainted by the sight of their mom laughing up a storm, cocktail glass in hand. 

 

 

Now that their bedtime gets later and later they just seem to be around all the time. This is almost always a good thing. Sometimes, though, it is just sweet to be a grown and not a sensible one.

It’s not like this is some episode of Weeds. Aren’t I just a grown up bon vivant?  What to do?


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Filed under Family Stuff, I have two girls, Might be funny

39 things

Since I will be turning 40 in 6 months I think it is time to prepare for the despair, the bucket of tears, the leap off the cliff, with a list that I believe defines me.

 

1. I am 1/4 Czech 

2. I am obsessed with scrabble

3. I detest video games

4. When I was 12 I was obsessed with Napoleon

5. I went to boarding school for 5 years

6. My first album was Elton John’s Greatest Hits

7. I lost my virginity with a boy whom I had loved since I was 6

8.I always count on my fingers

9.I failed Math at school, miserably

10.My friends describe me as bossy but say that they don’t mind

11.I have cried watching TV ads

12.My daughters are named after characters in books

13.I had two cesareans so I feel like a virgin

14.I always have painted toenails

15.I have lived in South Africa, England, Hong Kong, Japan, New York, France, Canada and Trinidad 

16.I love sleeping with my dog

17.I worship jewelry and shoes

18.The first time I got drunk it was on Martini Cinzano. I was 14

19.I met my husband on a beach in Eygpt

20.Sushi and Toblerone anytime, anywhere

21.I love my friends as much as my family, sometimes more

22.I believe that birthdays are an excuse for absolute decadence

23.The only disadvantage to having children is that I can’t see as many movies

24.I hate exercise

25.I love the country but I’m not sure I can handle living there

26.I have never potted a plant

27.My worst phobia is worms

28.I am a sucker for a good hotel

29.Italy and India are my favorite countries

30.My soul is best when it is looking at water

31.I hate cats and birds

32.Art is my passion

33.I am a photographer and have been since I was 8

34.I have been in therapy. Many times

35.I don’t want to be 40 but I want to live ‘till 100

36.I want Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to be played at my funeral

37.I am terrified of death

38.I have no tolerance for pain

39.I have one sister and two fathers

 

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Who let the kids in?

I suppose the time has come to write a bit about teaching.

Teaching in Trinidad I have a sense that my students are way more innocent than back in Montreal. By innocent I mean both in terms of picking up on innuendo and in a more practical, or should I say horizontal sense.

Last week while teaching Shakespeare, I mentioned one academic theory, that Macbeth may be impotent. 95% did not know what impotent meant and once they found out squirmed in their seats in embarrassment. These kids are 15-16 years old. Meanwhile on Facebook I noticed that some of my ex pupils in Montreal were having a wall discussion about fellating a donkey. Obviously some kind of inside joke, but one that proves my point.  The kids I teach may be worldly and well travelled but they are also cocooned into a small and safe expat world. They spend all their time with like minded friends who share a similar existence and in my particular school many of the families are conservative, Republican, Texan, Catholic or Venezuelan. The latter tend to be the most “open”.

The teachers, on the other hand, are generally open minded, well travelled folks who live a life outside the box. Perhaps this is all just a gross generalization. However despite the overtly sexualized nature of Carnival and the lustful Whining Dance, teenagers here seem to be less sexually active at a young age.  Of course there is still the march of rampant hormones that can wreak havoc through school corridors and those moments in the middle of the class when the boys get glazed eyes and switch off. One of the things I love the most about teaching high school is the fact that they are on the cusp of adult hood and as obsessed as they are about leaping in, they are simultaneously terrified.

I have the best job in the world because I am not dealing with numbers and graphs, with test tubes or lab reports, but with literature and writing. So much is revealed through the study of books. So much comes out in their writing. It is an outlet but at the same time a safe place to discuss many issues that they are dying to talk about.  When we discuss Macbeth and why he is so weak before his wife, they all collectively despair at how “whipped” he is. They have little patience for characters that whine and don’t act.  Holden Caulfield, while a hero to some, was an annoyance to the majority. They live in a world of action not words. They are an impatient bunch and often very conservative in their thinking.  Like many adolescents they are very anti-gay and yet I have a rare few who openly discuss how sexuality deserves freedom of thought and action, like anything else. No one dares to step forward and “come out”. No one dares to rock the boat so as to be too different to their peers. 

My husband sometimes questions if I am too outspoken and biased in my classes. I have a picture of Obama on my wall because it was given to me. I would put one up of McCain if a student requested it, but I am not hiding where my allegiances lie.  I try to encourage a climate of open minded and tolerant thought but I the only thing I impose is the requirement to listen. I tread very carefully over questions of religion but I ask them to question themselves when they see an image, read a book or hear a song that jolts them out of their comfort zone. 

They must like me because moments ago I was offered a crepe made in French class. A young man with sticky fingers who had crept out of Spanish to eat a crepe came begging me to help find him an excuse to get him back in.  This is the same person who shows me his diaries and talks books with me.  Another student always had lunch in my room, probably more comfortable in my space than in the jungle of the cafeteria. He is the same student who is writing a book in his spare time and comes to show me the installments.  I hear their love stories, their despair when two girls like the same boy; I hear their anger when some injustice occurs in the school or at home.  One of my kids confided in me when her parents made her break up with a boy they thought unsuitable. Many show me their college application essays to edit before they apply. I have amazing singers, actors, dancers, writers and one star viola player. One boy has a music studio in his bedroom and shares his rap creations with me. Homeroom is a veritable nightclub with music blaring until I just can’t take it anymore!

  I love these kids. I can’t help it. I just do.

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Filed under Miss Teacher, Teenagers, Trinidad & Tobago

Lying in bed with books…

Since arriving in Trinidad I have been eating books. I have always been an avid reader but I often went through dry patches when I would not pick up a book for a while. Maybe as long as a month or two. Now I finish one book at 4pm and pick up another at 9pm as I climb into bed. It has been quite the literary journey. So here in a nut shell is my attempt to put down and remember every thing I’ve read in the past 14 months.  

 

Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards : Read this one month before we arrived. I was sitting on a sofa in Lac Manitou in the rain.  Light weight, perfect material for the Lifetime network movie of the week that it became.  Disappointing ending.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: Also read this just before arriving. On a Muskoka chair in Eastman, sipping Mohitos and reading passages aloud to Alexandra. I know this book divided the women of the world into those who loved it and those who hated it  but I loved it. Once we realize that, yes, she is self-obsessed, living a year that no mere mortal mother could dream of, then it is a book that is at once inspiring and beautifully written. If this were written by a lessor writer it would be sappy pulp.

 

A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini: Read this one In Tobago days after arriving here. A great epic story that gripped me to the end and that I actually preferred to The Kite Runner.  He is no Rohinton Mistry but still, a good tale.

 

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda: I read this one before our furniture even arrived! Here I was in an empty house in Trinidad reading about three people in an apartment in Paris. Loved it. Very evocative and memorable. 

 

Blink and the Tipping Point by Macolm Gladwell: I am putting these together as I read them as if they were one book. I read them on the beach, on my sofa and in bed. Highly readable and informative non fiction books that make us think about how marketers target us to use their products and become part of giant sweeping trends.

 

The Purple Cow by Seth Gordon: Like Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating commentator on how we interact with the products we live with.  All three of these books helped me in my Media and English course that I had never taught before.

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatji: I read this in the first weeks of being here, I had no friends, no TV and no internet and I was looking for a book that would transport me. I am a huge Ondaatji fan but I don’t believe this was one of his best. I kept wanting the first half of the book to connect with the second.  Felt somewhat like a gimmick, albeit a beautifully written one. This is a writer who could make the phone book poetic.

 

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: I had been putting this book off for 10 years. I never wanted to read it but knew that I should and it finally fell of the book shelf and into my hands.  What an extraordinary read. Painful and beautiful.  He writes about war like few do.  The only other “war” book I liked as much was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Actually I preferred that since I loved the characters more.

 

Charlotte Gray: So once I loved Birdsong and I had previously enjoyed Girl and the Lion D’or I thought I would try a third. Truth be told this is the only book on the list that I never finished. Life is too short to read books that you hate.  I was reading this on the beach in Grenada and after reaching the half way point I put it down, went into the hotel library and picked up Bill Bryson’s The Thunderbolt Kid.  Ahhhh…what a relief. I kept the book, loved the telling descriptions of life in 1950’s America, found young Bill totally endearing and felt like I had left school and gone on vacation.

Engleby: a fourth Faulks book and totally different from the others. I thought I would give him another chance after Charlotte Gray. This book was weird, wonderful and confusing. A mystery told by Engleby himself and like him or not, this is a book that stays with you.  Faulks doesn’t necessarily write likable characters but he can write a page turner.

 

Restless by William Boyd: A great spy, mystery tale. My second Boyd, this confirmed for me that he is a great story teller. I read this everyday after school and it transported me from the hot tropics to the English country side. 

 

David Golder by Irene Nemirovsky  :  I had enjoyed Suite Francaise and wanted to try another. In fact scenes from Suite Francaise have stayed with me despite the fact that it felt unedited and unfinished. David Golder was read by my husband before me and he had liked the brutal and honest description of this heartless and lonely wealthy banker and his eventual demise.  The book is short and cutting. A great character study. She was an astute observer of human character. I recall reading this in two days, late at night, in bed.

 

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry: Such sweet memories. I loved this book.  So much so that I regret that it was borrowed from the school library and I don’t own it. Might need to purchase it for my collection. Loved it. Loved it. Transported me to India, into the living room of one family and their day to day existence. Without a doubt one of the best writers alive today.  Read this one day and night. Not sure if I fed my family or even spoke to them over the 3 days it took to read.

 

A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler: borrowed from the library and I honestly  don’t remember it. Not a good sign.

 

Unburnable by Marie-elena John : This book was the first of many books leant to me by Daniel’s mother, one of students. A group of women here are in a book club one morning a month and since I can never go she had her son drop books on my desk, I am forever grateful to her for introducing me to this strange and wonderful book. Not necessarily an easy read but it certainly led me to Dominica, a caribbean island I had never heard of. This tiny island is the setting for this book and in turn the history of the Carib peoples through the journey of one woman searching for her roots. Excellent.

 

 

The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan: Our librarian at school seems to have the largest expendable budget in the building. Thank God. Because of her our school certainly has the best library in Trinidad. From light to educational, the great author to the not so sublime we have our picks of anything our heart desires. At this point, half way through term 1 and in the middle of a grading frenzy I desired something light but well written. Preferably funny. This book was the ticket. Loved the daughters, more American than Indian and the mothers more Indian than American. A lovely story.

 

Killing me softly by Nicci French: Lent to me by a fellow teacher at the school for the “naughty” bits. Dark,miserable, obsessive tale of the dangers of lust. Awful book. Hated it. Couldn’t put it down and then was so happy it was over.

An Unaccustomed Earth by Jumpa Lahiri: Like Rohinton Mistry Lahiri is one of my all time favorite writers. I simply love everything she writes. This was my third book by her after The Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake and I was the first person to take it out of the library, on the day it arrived.  Loved every story and didn’t want it to end. Ever. Can’t wait for her next book. She writes about the Indian diaspora with poetic insight.

Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: Wasn’t sure I would like this one. My mother “lent” it to me ( I never give back to ones I like!) and i was intrigued having read many of his other works.  This was a Booker book but the subject matter put me off. It is about a group of children cloned and raised to be medical donors. This is always implied, never moralized or spelt out and it told with heartbreaking realism. A frightening look at what the future may have in store. Highly readable and enjoyable and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

 

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver; I read this months after it was a book club choice for my wonderful book club in Montreal. I knew it would be a hard read and having started it once and put it down (on holiday in Egypt) I thought the time was right. It is a story told as letters from a mother to her husband about their son who committed a high school shooting. An amazing story that raises some questions you might not want to ask but should. It is hard to use the word “enjoy” in relation to this book” but I was certainly amazed and propelled to read on. 

 

A Short History of Tractor’s In Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka: Well this one came highly recommended so I bought it in Border’s in New York,  but I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Not particularly funny, interesting or likable characters and not a particularly good story. Truthfully couldn’t really care less. Sorry.

 

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger:  Again this was leant to me by the mom of my student and I thank her heartedly. Wasn’t convinced by the somewhat supernatural nature of the story but ended up loving it. Read it in London, a wonderful and thankful reprieve from a family Christmas.  I hid in the spare room and read to my heart’s content.  An unlikely choice for me but it is written with heart and it’s strangely realistic despite being a love story about a man who time travels and the consequences this has for the love of his life.

A Handbook to Luck and Monkey Hunting by Christina Garcia: I am putting these two together since I read them one after the other and loved them equally.  Garcia is a writer I like and admire and thankfully our trusty librarian has stocked all her books. She is Cuban and writes about both Cuba and the Cubans who have emigrated. Monkey Hunting is about Chinese Cubans and a Handbook to Luck is about a young Cuban American and his magician father. Her first book, Dreaming in Cuban, I studied at University and with some ambition decided to teach to my grade 12 Media Class. Suffice to say her brand of magic realism did not go down too well with my class of super realistic and imagination challenged 17 year olds. They did not love Ms Garcia as much as I.

 

On Chesil Beach by Ian Mcewan: I bought this one for myself in London despite being in hardback. There are very few writers who have this honour but that is how much I love Mr. Mcewan. With this book I have now read all his books except one, Black Dogs and I will get to it soon.  This is a small book with a big idea.  How one night and one decision based on a a repressed childhood and decade can have repercussions that last a lifetime. Not my favorite Ian Mcewan, that honour goes to Atonement but anything by him is a tonic.

 

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: Again thanks to my trusty book club mom for this one. I recommended it to my old book club and they all enjoyed it. Impossible not to like this little book about a man’s life in the circus. One of the best descriptions of a elderly man’s mind I have ever read. I enjoyed this at the end of term 1 just before leaving for London and it was a sweet read. Strangely or perhaps not, it seems everyone who read this also read The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Glass Castle.

East of Eden by Steinbeck: Well here is the big one.  I read this at the start of term 2 and did no work, cooking and barely any talking for close to a week. I owned this book for a year before reading it, waiting, I suppose for the “right” time.  This book is a giant tome that wrapped itself around me and has never let go. It is now in my top 5 off all time. Read it. It is a masterpiece.

 

Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: My dear friend Jane mailed this to me from Denver sensing that not only would I enjoy it but that I somehow needed it. She was right. It is a lovely book about a time in China when feet were bound and female friends were invaluable in the lonely life of a young girl. Placed me with a gently thud into China where I nestled for a good few days. Ummm…

 

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve : Okay so everyone needs an in between author, like a rebound boyfriend in between the serious ones. Anita is my girl.  She is what I call good fluff, light. readable and distracting.  She writes a good story that is pretty weightless but guiltless, somewhat like a yummy chocolate bar.  This one is about Maine, a place that I adore, and the romance that buds between between a girl and two brothers.  I think I read it between East of Eden and Continental Drift.

 

 

Continental Drift by Russell Banks: I knew nothing about this prolific American writer other than that the Sweet Hereafter and Affliction were two movies based on his novels.   This book was given to me by my good friend Robert and after reading it I passed it on to Francois so that he could read it in bed beside me and prolong the pleasure a little longer. I am supposed to pass it on but I won’t. This one needs to stay in my collection. There are scenes from this book that have stayed with me in the same way that movies do. It is a highly visual, readable book with compelling characters. Can’t wait to pick up another Russell Banks. But will it be as good?

The Space Between Us by Thrifty Umriger: I am a real sucker for books set in India and this one is bittersweet. A good story, a sad tale, a lovely read.

 

Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger: I read this one for the third time as I was teaching it to grade 9. Each time I read it I see something different and I love it more. Plus the kids in my class contribute to the experience. Some loved it as much as me, others found Holden a whiny, ineffectual and annoying character. Either way this book continues to be relevant and I will always teach it.

 

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: I bought this is New York because it had won the Booker and was supposed to be SO good. Well. The writing is beautiful. Some passages are so gorgeous that I even copied them down but the story is not good enough for all the lovely words. Proof here that a good book needs a good story. Period.

 

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb: Another book I bought at Borders that came highly recommended. This book introduced me to Ethiopia in a way I never knew about. It didn’t dig deep and stay in me, perhaps a fault in the writing and the character development but nevertheless some great subject matter here and a gentle read.

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon: This is the second book from the writer of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a highly enjoyable read.  This book is another treat about families and their dysfunctions.  Light but well written. Enjoyed by both people in my bed.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: Read this one in Erika’s bed in Montreal. Summer.  Very readable and slightly shocking story about the craziest family I have ever encountered. Can it really all be true? Shakes up our ideas about what is normal or should be.

 

Love Falls by Esther Freud: Bought in Montreal and read as soon as we got back to Trinidad. I like this writer but have on occasion been disappointed by her. This one is okay. A little of the fluff side but a lovely dip into the country side near Sienna, Italy.

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud:  It’s hard to write about this one. Liked it very much while I was reading it but the glory has worn off a wee bit. A good read about a group of New Yorkers who are listless and entitled. 

 

 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult: People have been telling me to read this book for ages but frankly I was a bit of a snob so I never bothered. Then one day in the library when there were no Anita Shreves left I picked it up. Far better than I expected and the writing was not half bad. The story was painfully sad and at times unbelievable but I think I have found a new Anita.

 

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth: A present from my dear friends Pat and Adam. When you read Philip Roth you remember what real writing really is. This is an eye opening excellent book.  I thoroughly enjoyed every page.

 

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson: I was intrigued. I love Bill’s writing but was there anything he could add to the mountain of words already written on the great bard? Well, my hat goes off to My Bryson because with no pretension and with a great amount of wit he has condensed all that has been written about Shakespeare into one little uncomplicated book. This is easy to read and so informative and yet my head never hurt once. And I even laughed.

 

The Birth House by Ami Mckay: Loved this one. Took me all the way to 1930’s Nova Scotia and a small community of women who relied on a  midwife for all their births and ailments. A really lovely read that reminded me of the importance of a sisterhood of women.

 

 Whew.  That is it for now.  I am in the middle if another book but we’ll just call that one the start of a new list.  Do you detect a pattern in the books I love the most? Immigrants, travel, characters who yearn and search for more, India, places undiscovered.  All these books become my friends and rest softly in a place within me.

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All Creatures Great and Small.

Trinidad is not only about the people, the liming, the good food and the music. Trinidad is also home to a host of others. The Creatures. Of course these creatures need a place to live-Trinidad is a huge jungle where merely a fraction is taken over by humans.In fact, many times a year it is the humans who must machete away the encroaching forest. Were they not to do so the roads would be swept under a blanket of green.  In this land of plenty; cars, maxi taxis, rum shops, school children and pothongs (stray dogs) all share the land.  Some creatures are happy to crawl around underfoot, sight unseen; others prefer to come inside and listen to me freak out. In our garden we have the largest snails and the smallest yet noisiest frogs. We have enormous toads and a million geckos trying to creep up walls. In our friend’s garden beside the pool he has electric green giant iguanas. He wakes up to see frogs struggling in the pool and stray cats sniffing beneath the trees. If we walk into the Bamboo Cathedral which is an enormous stretch of forest beneath a canopy of bamboo we hear but rarely glimpse the wild cry of the Howler Monkeys.  

Some creatures we have seen at home:

My first night in our new house I spotted small black and white droppings on the floor.  Of course I immediately assumed we had a mouse or, horror, perhaps a rat problem.  Minutes later as I entered my new bathroom I saw the quick flash of brown scuttle behind the toilet. Cockroach.  There was some screaming, definitely some shaking.  Once I had calmed down and had reached the point of reconsidering the whole move to Trinidad thing I realized that measures needed to be taken. The next day I purchased moth balls that I dropped in every drain. Cockroach problem gone. Until the one that flew through the window a flew months later. As for the droppings…some research led to the thankful conclusion that they were in fact the little gifts of geckos. 

We have a had a million millipedes, both slow moving and curled up spiral dead. One night a bat flew into our bedroom, quickly reconsidered and flew back out. But nothing has quite got to me like the teeny tiny ants that appear out of nowhere the minute a crumb is left unswept. This has turned me into a crumb nazi. My husband and kids have taken to rolling their eyes when I glimpse the movement on the counter and begin my sentence with “WHO LEFT A CRUMB…”

A recent weekend at a beach house found us babysitting some 2 week old abandoned puppies. My daughter, bottle of milk in hand, gave me the “how can we go home without them” look.  She spent two days nursing them back to life and becoming very attached. Between feedings we skipped over Portuguese Man ‘O Wars on the beach and hunted for crabs.  Luckily before we left we found a caretaker willing to adopt the puppies but I knew the chance to save a puppy would come again.

Meanwhile our own dog, love of my life, sweet Zola continues to sleep on our bed, never noticing the wildlife in her midst.

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Filed under I love dogs, Travel, Trinidad & Tobago