The book that took 10 years to write.

After my world travels and romantic adventures - with nothing - and following clues to the mystery, being in Rome (above) was just an unreal memory, I was exhausted and ready to just stop. I set out to find a new home where I could write my book. A psychic had told me of a 'Place in the Sun' where I would write this book I didn't even know I was going to write.

Yes, there was my 'Place in the Sun', a small furnished apartment built into a hillside overlooking the Southern Ocean and the entrance to a river. I settled in and started writing 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost' on my Amstrad word processor.

An Amstrad PC-1512.
An Amstrad PC-1512. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My initial enthusiasm was soon crashed to the ground.

Well, actually, my Amstrad crashed and I was flat broke. What's more the company was losing the race for an operating system to Microsoft and service back-up was disappearing. I was stuck with a head full of experiences plus Florence's files of her mystery.

For the next 10 years I was kindly given old cast-offs by sympathetic people who had purchased new models - with Windows. In that time I went through 4 different operating systems - Locoscript, Apple Mac and Windows '98. Finally a kind friend took pity on me and contributed the money for Windows 7.

Each being on their last legs, they soon died in turn and each time I was left with only back-up files which were of no use in the next computer with a different operating system and, luckily, a print-out of my manuscript, hundreds of pages long, which needed to be retyped each time into the new system.

With each retype I would use the opportunity to follow up even the slightest lead or clue to the mystery, or to add any more details from my memory, often reaching down to my deepest emotions in order to share with the reader my feelings as well as the facts.

It's a miracle that I ever completed the book - even in 10 years - with no money or a decent PC. 


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012. My strange new world of water sprites & painted mushrooms

Under different circumstances this might have been the perfect life that everyone dreams of, living in The Three Bears' Cottage, with its garden pond and nature sprites, its painted mushrooms and other garden figures, living in idyllic bliss in the hills. Wasn't this the dream I had always dreamed?

But no. In spite of the magical and peaceful setting on two acres this next six months turned out to be the darkest, most unhappy time of my life.

There was my health. I was suffering from fatigue, depression, grief, burn-out, stress, exhaustion, muscular pain throughout my body, maybe a nervous breakdown, not to mention a dose of mid-life crisis.

There were my emotions. I was angry. Angry with myself for not extracating myself earlier from the Rat Race. I was sad to think my life had crashed landed. Before this happened I was just beginning to make contact with my 2 daughters after seven years. I was full of remorse and self-recrimination. I had made such a mess of everything.

I had failed in my job and my business. I had found myself struggling to survive in a world that became more and more alien to me, in which my soul was not at ease. And I had lost everything.

What had I left to live for?

There were times when I thought I might lose my very life in despair. All I could do was to let go of everything as if nothing mattered. Nothing. I'd hit rock bottom and I had nothing left to lose but to surrender to my fate. Even my identity had disappeared and I no longer knew who I was. It's a strange feeling, to be reduced to nothing.

So for six months I lived the life of a hermit with almost no contact with people, only leaving the house for my 2 kilometre walk (in each direction) to the shops once a week, often in drenching rain or scorching heat.

What a joy it was, though, to return home to find Blackie waiting for me on the porch. In spite of my financial situation I always seemed to find the extra money to buy him fresh kidneys.

Blackie, as you may have guessed, was the resident cat, living most of his life on whatever he could catch in the wild. But suddenly he was living a life of luxury. Which is more than I can say for myself. I lived on a diet basically of corn flakes, milk, bread and jam, tins of baked beans and a huge pot of soup I'd make once a week from the leftover vegetables.

(Photo: The Three Bears' Cottage, Daylesford, Australia)

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

011. The Three Bears' Cottage

Those three sad lonely months passed slowly. Eventually the time came for me to vacate the small holiday flat to make way for the holiday season in the hills. I ran an ad in the local paper asking if anyone had a furnished room to rent. I had no replies. It was all I could afford and I had no furniture. This was the second time in three months I had been acutely aware of being homeless. And broke.
What was I going to do?
Just as I was preparing my evening meal three days before the first holiday booking, when I had to be gone, I opened the door to a woman who was beamin from ear to ear. It was Barbara my landlady.
"I've found you a place to live," she burst out.
"You're kidding!"
"No. I don't believe this but I just had a call from my brother in Melbourne. He owns what used to be our family home on the other side of town, where we all grew up. It's been our family home for over 50 years but a few years ago Barry bought the cottage from the family and renovated it as his holiday house.
"He and his family are going overseas for six months and are keen to rent it out to someone reliable they knew would take care of it, keep the house clean, cut the grass, that sort of thing. On your behalf I convinced him to reduce considerably the figure he had in mind asking for rent since you are the ideal person he is looking for and short of money. He's happy to trust you to pay the rent directly into his bank account when you get paid. There's no security bond and the phone and electricity can stay in his name. So you'll have no up-front costs to pay. You can move in tomorrow. Well, are you interested?"
"Of course I'm interested," I gasped, not believing what I was hearing.
"I'll take you across in the morning to look at the place if you like."
"Okay. Great. Nine o'clock?"
On the road to Jubilee Lake, just past Italian Hill and the remaining slag heaps left after the extensive gold mining activities there by the Swiss and the Norther Italians from the 1850s, the property occupied about two acres. At first I saw th white painted timber fence running along a very wide street frontage. Surely this can't be the place, I thought as we approached.
There was an orchard with apple and pear trees in neat rows. Beyond the orchard was a cluster of trees including some large old pines. Snuggled in among the trees was a cottage right out of childrens' fairy tales - white painted walls, a steep red roof and an attic, surrounded by massive rhododendrons, azaleas, and a rose garden. There was a vast green lawn - a ride-on mower was provided - with giant painted mushrooms, gnomes and a fish pond.
I learned later that the locals referred to the house as The Three Bears' Cottage.
But alas. I found no Goldilocks asleep upstairs in the attic.
(Photo: The Three Bears' Cottage)

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

010. Choosing whether to live or die

Okay. I had to learn a new set of rules for living on $A25 ($US18) a week from my meager government welfare payment after allowing for the small rental on the holiday flat in Hepburn Springs. At the supermarket I would apply my first rule of survival - nothing over $2. My second rule became - once around the aisles for what I wanted then around again to put back what I could do without. It was the only way.
Rules 3 to 13 were - no daily newspapers or magazines, no eating out, no takeaway meals, no alcohol, no new clothes, no spending sprees, no impulse buys, nothing on credit, no long- distance phone calls, no trips to anywhere including Melbourne to visit my family, the toughest rule of all. I communicated with my mother and my 2 daughters by mail. I was already saving money by being a non-smoker and a vegetarian.
The grim alternative was to run out of money which I often did.
In which case I could buy nothing until the fortnightly welfare payment appeared in my bank account. It's not a good feeling to have no money. I had no savings, no lump sum payout, no superannuation, no investment portfolio, no life assurance, no hidden Swiss bank accounts and no valuables stashed away. And no rich relatives.
But then, as Erica Jong wrote:
"Only at the bottom can you decide whether to live or die."
I had decided to live. How, I wasn't exactly sure right then.
One thing was for sure. I was not going to think of myself as a 'victim.' Nor did I intend living in squalor or slitting my wrists.
One day followed the next, with nothing to look forward to, with no goals, or ambition, no money to buy anything but basic food, nothing to provide me with an interest in life. In the world I had left behind my name would have been mud. I was a failure, a financial disaster. My thoughts were full of remorse and regret.
I had no idea how I would get myself out of this hole I was in. There was no way back. And, it seemed, no way forward. My situation seemed hopeless. I wondered what would become of me.
Photo: Hepburn Springs

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

009. My New York premonition

I discovered another form of self-healing at the Book Barn. Perched on the edge of Lake Daylesford this delightful well-stocked used book shop was owned by another refugee from the city. Kerry had been in the retail book business in Sydney and his wife had been a television producer. Their Book Barn on the shore of this picturesque lake was a delight to visit as a destination for my regular walks.

With my self-imposed limit of $2 I purchased an old volume of O Henry short stories, its pages browning with age and originally priced, pre-decimal, at ten shillings and six pence. I'd learned another essential rule of survival, to treat myself once in a while to a $2 luxury. Life isn't worth living without an occasional small reward.

In this case my luxury purchase was a precious old copy of The Voice of the City, a marvellous collection of stories about life as lived in Manhattan early last century (the book carries no publication date). O Henry, a nom de plume, died in 1910 still looking for material for his short stories.

Every night after my evening meal I would read one story and contemplate its message. Each night I'd go to sleep mulling over his profound, often amusing, observations on human nature, irony, fate and fortune.

In the story Squaring the Circle I was moved by the idea that "[w]hen we begin to move in straight lines and turn sharp corners our natures begin to change." In The Shocks of Doom I fully identified with Vallance who "fell grandly as Lucifer to the lowest pit, joining the tattered ghosts in the little park. Sitting there, he leaned far back on the hard bench and laughed ... up to the lowest tree branches. The sudden severing of all his life's ties had brought him a free, thrilling, almost joyous elation. He felt precisely the sensation of the aeronaut when he cuts loose his parachute and lets his balloon drift away."

I could not possibly have imagined that, before long, I would be reflecting on those words from a little park in Manhattan myself.

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

008. How spa therapy saved my life

For three sad and lonely months the Springs Park became my second home. As the days became colder I found within the park a source of great comfort: the Spa Complex.

Located within the park itself, right on the bank of Spring Creek, the original Bath House was designed in the mid-1800s by a Swiss Architect for the gold miners drawn to the area during the Gold Rush.
The new modern complex had only recently been rebuilt and was attracting visitors up from Melbourne for the weekend, and overseas tourists, to take the therapeutic mineral water baths and perhaps enjoy a relaxing body massage afterwards.
Here I learned my first essential rule of survival: nothing over two dollars.
Several times a week at around four in the afternoon I'd stroll down the track to the Spa Complex and, for just two dollars on my new pension card, enjoy a pleasant hour or more in the public pool of heated mineral water having my aching body pummelled by the spa jets.
For the first time I began to realise what bad shape I was in physically.
And so, with the onset of winter in the hills, I found that my regular self-healing ritual became a rejuvenating self-warming ritual as well.
Usually I'd find myself amidst a hardy band of spa enthusiasts, swearing by the therapeutic properties of the waters, all of us sitting in a row on the step beneath the bubbling water in front of the jets at one end of the pool.
This became my new social event of the day.
Invariably I would enter into conversation with whoever happened to be sitting beside me in the pool. Sometimes it was a local, other times a traveller from Europe where they seem to know all about these things.
Then with wrinkled fingertips I'd climb the hill back to my little flat through the damp descending mist of late afternoon, ready for my simple evening meal which I'd cook on the portable benchtop electric stove in the corner.
At this point I had no idea where this was leading or where I'd go when my flat was needed for holidaymakers over the fast approaching long weekend. What would happen to me then I had no idea.
Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

007. Mineral springs can be amusing

As autumn slowly passed I'd spend most days in the park reflecting on my shattered past. But there were occasional episodes to brighten my days.

Like the Sulphur Spring that smelled and tasted like rotten eggs.

Here's my amusing little story.

There were four springs in the park each with a predominant mineral. I'd bottle my own mineral water here from the hand pump at the far end of the park where the water was the sweetest
As I recall its predominant mineral was magnesium. It was all free for the taking and I could afford that.

Beneath the earth the water becomes naturally carbonated giving it a pleasant natural gas, not at all like the artificial bubbles added to the water found in bottles on the supermarket shelves - even though it was from this area that the big brands pumped some of their commercial supplies.

The spring nearest the road, where the cars and busloads of school children would park, was the Sulphur Spring.

Everyone would automatically rush in great haste and anticipation for the nearest pump.

As they scrambled to fill their cups with water I would watch with great amusement as the predictable cries from the children would echo across the park:

"Yuk! Foul! Gross! Aaaah!"

After which I would helpfully direct them to the other pumps which were somewhat more palatable.

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

006. Waking to a new world and a new life

Next morning I sat myself down on the seat in front of the flats. The mountain air was crisp and damp. I felt numbed by the thought that this morning I had woken to another world, a new life, a different me. The world was still the same. Only I had changed.

Shrouded in mist the narrow main street descended from the higher ground at Daylesford, twin town of Hepburn Springs, down to the valley of Spring Creek and the park.

I was unable to see the end of the road in either direction for the mist. Only the occasional car whooshed by since the road really didn’t go anywhere in particular except to the bottom of the hill. It was another metaphor for my life. Suddenly I was going nowhere in particular – except downhill.

Today I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. I had nowhere to call home and I was alone. Except for the precious $500 (about $US 375) in my pocket I was flat broke.

To my right I could just make out the shape of the Old Macaroni Factory, built by the Swiss-Italian immigrants during the Gold Rush days and, opposite that, the Savoia Hotel. To my left a few doors away were the general store and the post office.

Opposite, a derelict dance hall built in the thirties with its soda fountain still intact, Tom’s Pottery Gallery, the Health Well Bookshop, the Cosy Corner Café and, at the end, the Springs Hotel with its Spanish Mission façade, standing sentinel over the valley like an exotic jungle outpost in a Tarzan movie.

Below was the Springs Park (photo) where I came to spend much of my time in the empty weeks ahead, a place where I could become a part of nature and ponder my predicament.

Across the road from my flat a track led down the side of the hill, across the footbridge spanning the deep valley of Spring Creek and then to the park. Here old oaks, elms and golden ash mingled with tall eucalypts on well-kept green lawns in the valley. Carpets of coloured leaves mirrored my moods.

The sadness of autumn spoke to me of the natural process of death and rebirth. I seemed to belong here.

"You have come here to find what you already have." [Buddhist aphorism]

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at
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005. Dreams and wishes

As I drove into the small hamlet of Glenlyon, with its avenue of magnificent old oaks lining the road through the town, my car seemed to stop of its own accord outside what used to be "our cottage" beside the general store (photo below). How I desperately wanted to drive in through the rusty old gate, unpack the car and settle in for the rest of my life.

General Store, Glenlyon, Victoria, Australia
General Store, Glenlyon, Victoria, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the darkness I imagined I could see the girls playing in the open ground beside the house and hear their squeals of delight.

I could just make out the old deserted bluestone church on the hill where we'd walk the dog and where they would create "fairy gardens" beneath their favourite pine trees.

And I imagined them happily riding their bikes along the back road (photo) behind our cottage as they loved to do in the wide open spaces without traffic.

Have you ever noticed how your dreams and wishes never seem to work out the way you imagine? Are they really inner messages we often get wrong, glimpses of a destiny or plan written into our life's journey, a vague inner knowing we respond to unconsciously, a dream we dreamed before we were born? Then we wake up and forget the dream.

English: Hepburn Shops
English: Hepburn Shops (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With a heavy heart I drove on to Hepburn Springs where Barbara and Geoff had offered me one of their small one-room holiday flats for a short time until the next holiday season at a very cheap rate. After that I had no idea where I would live or how I could survive.

(In the photo at right that's my flat beside the last shop in the group.)

I collected the key and drove on to the flat, hastily unpacked the car and collapsed into bed. The long, long day was finally over and I was exhausted.

What hadn't fully dawned on me yet was that tomorrow would be the beginning of the rest of my life.

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." [WORDSWORTH]

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

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004. The dreams we often get wrong

Darkness descended. Patches of fog brushed past me as I climbed higher into the hills. Is this how it feels when you die, I wondered? First the sense of loss, of leaving everything familiar behind, without any choice? Letting go of everything you own? Leaving your loved ones behind?

Then a journey through the darkness and the fog. The uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar. Feeling totally alone.

To be honest, where I was heading wasn't entirely unfamiliar. At one time, when I was riding the crest of a wave of success, we'd bought a country cottage (above, right) on an acre of land complete with a spring-fed well as our weekend escape.

I'd call for my two daughters, load up the car, and head off away from the madness to my country paradise.

I had a crazy dream to live there with my family, write a string of bestselling books, paint some masterpieces and grow some vegies and fruit and attempt to become self-sufficient - I even planted fifty young fruit and nut trees of all kinds - and live in peace for the rest of my life.

How crazy was I?

Was this night, this journey I was making alone, the real dream? Did my old life have to be shattered before this dream - whatever form it might take - could begin to take shape?

"Everywhere, no matter what the sphere of interest (whether religious, political, or personal), the really creative acts are represented as those deriving from some sort of dying to the world." [JOSEPH CAMPBELL]

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

003. The night I travelled back in time

Bankrupt. It's something that only happens to other people. But in the last houror so, I'd become one. Both new identity and sentence. I felt very different.

The sun was setting as I strolled to my car.

There is was parked at the kerb like every other car. Except for one noticeable difference. Mine was the family sedan loaded to the roof with all my worldly belongings. But for pots and pans hanging out the windows it could well have been a gypsy caravan.

As I drove out of the city, with barely enough room for me to squeeze into the driver's seat, that's exactly how I felt. Like a gypsy.

As the suburban houses in rows gave way to thoroughbreds grazing on flat almost treeless plains, I was leaving everything familiar. Ahead of me lay the unknown. In my mind there was no tomorrow. And my past I was leaving behind me.

As I choked back the lump in my throat I realised I was literally homeless and unemployed.

Soon the flat grazing land gave way to gentle rolling hills with eucalypt forest broken occasionally by cleared land and small farms.

Ahead of me the sky was brilliant red as if beckoning me into the hills of the Great Dividing Range. The air became cooler and the trees of the bush taller and more majestic as they met in a canopy across the road in front of me.

I felt as if I had died and that was my life I had just departed.

As I imagine happens when we die, my whole life was passing before me as I drove along the quiet back roads of some of nature's most picturesque works of art.

The last few years seemed, in that moment, like a lifetime.

There was my freelance advertising business of over ten years. There was my second marriage. I was leaving behind my family, my two daughters from my earlier marriage and a brand new grand-daughter.

Selling up everything I owned, including my new two bedroom apartment in a leafy suburb by the bay, wasn't enough to save me. And so, now, I had no choice but to accept my fate.

I had failed.

I felt broken and defeated.

"If we procrastinate in ending something with which we are truly finished, life has a way of ending it for us." CAROL ADRIENNE
Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at

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002. My new home in the Australian bush

Sheltered under tall eucalypts and towering pines my home was a friend's old caravan lazing outside the gate of their home in a small country town in the Australian bush. It's condition was a metaphor for how things had worked out for me. The water pump was broken. The gas stove didn't fire. The roof leaked and was covered by a huge blue tarpaulin. The tyres were both flat. Its usefulness had surely passed.

The scents of nature - pine mixed with eucalypt and, on cooler days, the smoke of wood fires - drifted through on the gentle autumn breezes as if there were no walls. The birds were my neighbours, squawking galahs, screeching white cockatoos, cawing black crows, gossipping magpies, chirping rosellas and the occasional laughing kookaburra.

See where this picture was taken. [?]
See where this picture was taken. [?] (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I could hear the endless rushing of water from the creek which had cut a deep gully in the valley where my caravan was precariously parked. It was here in Doctor's Gully some 150 years ago that Swiss-Italian migrants to the Australian Gold Rush had first struck gold. Not so for me though.

I'd stand on the footbridge outside my door and be mesmerised by the small waterfall and wonder how in hell I got here. As for the familiar world I knew, well, I had no choice but to leave it all behind me. I found myself in another world, a stranger, where I didn't seem to belong. Or so I thought.

I was still haunted by the memory of a year ago standing, stunned, on a city street in Melbourne in the fading autumn light.
Looking across Hobsons Bay towards the Melbour...
Looking across Hobsons Bay towards the Melbourne central business district (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following a three hour grilling on the ninth floor of the building behind me, me and my freelance business of ten years had just been declared bankrupt. My personal documents, passport, business files, banking records and cheque books, credit cards, pretty much everything that stood for who I was, and who I might have been, I'd just surrendered to the Official Receiver.

In that moment I had ceased to exist. I had been stripped of my identity and I was nobody. It was an emptiness I could never forget.

I just stood there, in shock, watching people rushing off to their homes and families at the end of their day. I really thought, in that moment, my life was over.

"The adventure may begin as a mere blunder ... " [JOSEPH CAMPBELL]

Today Neil Smith is an author and blogger working from home in a quiet fishing village across the bay from Melbourne, Australia. He has authored 3 non-fiction books including 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'. Visit his book website at and his 'Work From Home' blog at
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001. My ten year adventure with nothing begins

 This is me on the Italian Riviera.

I came to Italy with nothing and lived for four months like an Italian movie star. How come? Well, this is my story. How my moderately successful life as a freelance copywriter crash landed and left me homeless, jobless, partnerless and penniless. I lost everything.
English: A 4x4 segment panorama of the Coliseu...
English: A 4x4 segment panorama of the Coliseum at dusk. Taken by myself with a Canon 5D and 50mm f/1.8 lens at f/5.6 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet during those ten 'hungry years' I've had more adventures and learned more about life than I ever did back in the days when I was a self-employed advertising creative genius(?), was married, with two beautiful daughters, owned a Victorian terrace house in a trendy Melbourne suburb plus a country cottage on an acre of land.

The adventure took me to New York, England and the best of Italy - Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence, Sienna, 8 days in the delightful seaside resort of Santa Marinella, Sanremo and the Italian Riviera. At the other extreme I lived for five of those years in a friend's leaky old caravan parked by the roadside in a small country town in the Aussie bush with everything I owned (and no car) crammed inside. That was an adventure in itself.

When one has nothing there is the chance for small miracles to appear, people, events, unexpected happenings that money can't influence or buy. Joseph Campbell wrote of the 'call to adventure' common to mythologies around the world. This was not so much a call as a shove!

But this was much more than an adventure. It was a whole learning experience, a cathartic moment that completely turned my life around, or rather, upside down until my world was really the right way up when until then it had been upside down. 

Instead of everything going wrong and being dogged by failure - in every aspect of my life including the relationship side - things went right. More than right, downright miraculous. This adventure was one of those miracles, a magic carpet ride that swept me up from my life of nothing to this ongoing journey that took me across the world, then home so that my life has never been the same since. 

Right side up.

The excerpts which begin in my next blog can be read as a continuous narrative. For the full story and much more including a true 200 year-old mystery read my 233 page book - available in soft cover edition.
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