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The Story of a Store: Laguna Beach Books &
the vibrant community it serves


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Once upon a time – before Amazon and Kindle, before Barnes & Noble or dot-com anything – independent bookstores thrived across America. They were the one place where toddlers, college students, the middle-aged, and elderly could all find something they loved. Many had creaky wooden floors and labyrinthine rooms packed tight with shelves. There might be a dog napping behind the counter. 

Whatever the décor, bibliophiles arrived. They loved losing themselves in the stacks. They loved the look and feel – the smell – of books. Strangers became familiars, letting each other in on their intimate reading lives. They shared favorite titles. They talked about authors like old friends. In short, people gathered together to swoon over literature and bond over books. For much of the 20th century, independent bookstores were the only game in town.

The Story LBB sign

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Laguna Beach’s very own independent bookstore, the only bookstore in town

The fall and rise of independent bookstores

But all that began to change. In 1994, Amazon opened their virtual doors. They sold only books for their first four years. Now, they’ve captured almost half the bookseller’s market (today, books account for less than 10 percent of Amazon’s total sales). Then they introduced the Kindle in 2007. Soon after, competitors began producing their own e-books. E-readers represent 55 percent of online book purchases. Audio books are a small but growing faction. 

Customers became consumers. Algorithms began replacing personal recommendations. And the big box stores – Barnes & Noble and Borders – started to drive what was left of independent bookstores out of business. Between 1995 and 2000, American Booksellers Association (ABA) reported that the number of independent bookstores in the United States plummeted 43 percent.

Then another funny thing began to happen. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, within the past 10 years, independent bookstores began to flourish. According to the ABA, the number of independent U.S. bookstores increased 35 percent from 2009 to 2015. Today the figures look even better. In 2018, there were 1,835 independent bookselling companies running 2,470 stores. 

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The LBB staff provides “shelf-talkers” to highlight their favorite picks

They became a natural gathering place for locals and tourists alike – book clubs and author events, book signings and readings, children’s story hours and political roundtables. Turns out, people craved the personal interactions and customized recommendations they were missing online and they turned to books, booksellers, and other book lovers to find it again.

In the beginning: Jane Hanauer’s novel idea

But let’s go back. Back to 2004, in the midst of all this retail chaos and e-reader frenzy. Back to when attention spans started to flounder and the appetite for literature began to wane. Laguna Beach’s Fahrenheit 451 had been closed for a decade. Latitude 33 bifurcated its business with a photography store. The old Pottery Shack came up for sale. Jane Hanauer and her husband, Joe, saw opportunity. 

The Story Jane

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Jane Hanauer

Laguna Beach Books didn’t open until 2006. Construction took an extra nine months beyond original expectations. “While the store was under construction,” says Lisa Childers, store manager and one of the original employees, “books kept arriving, but no one was there to receive them. I ran around town looking for our UPS man. He agreed to start bringing all the books up to my garage.” How many books were delivered to Childers’ garage? “Tons of them,” she says. “The whole store.” 

As Childers’ garage began to fill, Hanauer hired Robyn Caperton to help with receiving and, more importantly, buying. “We organized the books and started doing inventory on my dining room table,” Childers says. “Those were the formative years.”

When the recession hit a year later – along with the Kindle and Amazon’s discounted competition – Laguna Beach Books struggled, but they still weathered the financial storm. So what accounts for its continued success through difficult times and in a difficult marketplace?

Curating a customized experience for customers

As author John Green observes, “You cannot invent an algorithm that is as good at recommending books as a good bookseller.” This sets stores like Laguna Beach Books apart. An artful seller not only knows their products, they listen to their clients.

The Story Chris

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Chris Weaver curates the perfect reading experience for clients

“There’s a niche for the curated experience,” says Chris Weaver, a sales associate who has been with the store since nearly the beginning. “Books require a serendipity quotient. When you rely on algorithms, predictability creeps in. Algorithms build up a profile and you’re locked into a box. You miss the experience of not the book you came looking for, but the book next to it that you didn’t anticipate. There’s this whole other aspect of your personality or interest that starts to develop as a consequence of that. It can’t be captured by the algorithms.”

For readers interested in this phenomenon, Weaver (unsurprisingly) has a few book recommendations for you – Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil and The Efficiency Paradox by Edward Tenner. 

What calls on their “curated experience expertise” is the customer who knows what they like, but they don’t have a particular title in mind. The task is to intervene, find the book they want, and use it as a springboard to introduce them to books they haven’t considered. “It takes many years of expertise and instinct for things off the radar that you wouldn’t encounter otherwise,” says Weaver. “Fortunately for us, it’s hard to replicate that any other way. That’s the factor we bring in.”

Weaver’s secret is simple, though hardly easy. “I try to assimilate a sense of that person and what may interest them. There’s two ways to do that. One is to ask, ‘Who do you like? What have you read?’ The second is to ask, ‘What are you interested in?’ People’s general interests – their hobbies and passions – can be used to help point them in a new direction. Both of these strategies might produce very different outcomes.”

A synergistic staff

Bookselling is an art. Some say it’s a little like playing psychologist. Childers likens it to being a bartender. “People come in who’ve had really bad things happen – someone died, they’re going through a divorce – and they want a book,” Childers says. “They’re very open with us. We’re good at chatting and we have to understand what they need. Maybe they need something on point. But maybe they just need a light read to take their mind off things.” 

A good staff reflects the tastes and interests of their readers, and contains just enough diversity to serve a wide range. “The reading public tends to skew heavily female and a little older, though not exclusively so,” says Weaver. “To the extent our clientele is dominated by women, the market skews sharply toward mainstream fiction.”

The Story Danielle

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Danielle Bauer recommends one of the store’s bestselling titles, off the radar of most online stores

Men, Weaver says, lean towards nonfiction. If they read fiction, they tend to favor mystery, thriller, sci-fi and fantasy, and sometimes historical fiction. “I fall into that profile as well,” Weaver says. As the only man on the team and a part-time college professor, Weaver provides a critical resource to clients. “Not surprisingly, my reading interests diverge sharply from the rest of the staff. I read classics as a professor. Current events, history, philosophy, religion, and humanities in general.”

Two years ago, local high school student Haley Rovner joined part time. “Haley and I are the only ones who read young adult (YA), science fiction, and fantasy,” says Weaver. “Having Haley on staff helps immensely because she’s widely read in YA. That’s the niche we’re trying to nurture – our upcoming readers.” The death of the reader continues to be one of the biggest issues bookstores face. 

Creating community within a strong community

While tourists are important to business, Laguna Beach Books lives for local clientele. It also supports local authors. Some of Laguna’s notables include James Utt (Laguna Tales & Boomer Wails: A Memoir), Kaira Rouda (Best Day Ever, the forthcoming The Favorite Daughter, and several others), and Suzanne Redfearn (Hush Little Baby, No Ordinary Life, and the forthcoming In An Instant). “If books reflect the area in which the books are being sold, they sell better,” says Hanauer. 

The store also hosts monthly book clubs. They foster political discussions (recently holding an event for local and newly elected congressman Harley Rouda). And they organize frequent author events and books signings, both by local writers and nationally recognized bestsellers. Recent guests include Lisa See, T. Jefferson Parker, Elizabeth George, John Hart, Ruth Reichl, and Martha Hall Kelly, to name just a very few. Upcoming events will feature Megan Griswold and Dani Shapiro. 

And, because books are the great equalizer in any society, Laguna Beach Books is also the perfect place for some star sightings. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former FBI Director James Comey, actors Pierce Brosnan, Rob Lowe, Robert Englund, Rita Rudner, Melanie Griffith, Alan Rickman, and Benicio del Toro have all visited the store. Author Mitch Albom is also a regular. Comey even got a little choked up after reading the blurb Sheila Morshead wrote about his book A Higher Loyalty.

Learning by osmosis

It also helps that everyone on staff is passionate about their job. No one’s in it for the money, though they like to joke about it. Caperton says one of her favorite things is the endless learning. “I’ve worked in bookstores for 35 years,” says Caperton, “and I still learn something every day. It’s the most humbling job you can have. Every day I go to work and discover something new.”

Her recommendation for new booksellers? “I always tell new employees to dust the store. Dust everything,” she says. “It’s like osmosis. If you’re around the books, in proximity to them, you don’t know you know them, but you do.”

The Story other genres

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Browsing books beyond your usual genre opens you up to new possibilities

The three Cs of successful bookstores

Ryan Raffaelli, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School, made a long study of the independent bookstore phenomena in 2017 as part of his “technology reemergence” research. He concluded that three factors (coined the “3 Cs”) accounted for the resurgence of the independent bookstore: community, curation, and convening.

Spending time in the store, and talking to the staff, it’s easy to understand its success. Together, the many tales of Laguna Beach Books tell one of the most enduring love stories ever written – people’s love of books.

For more information, staff picks, LBB bestsellers, author events, and more, visit or call (949) 497-4779. 

LBB is located at 1200 S Coast Hwy.

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A Sense of History: Former Mayor Jane Egly looks back on a storied career & extraordinary marriage


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Imagine a time before Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Imagine a world that didn’t yet know the words “Watergate” or “Vietnam War.” Picture an era when John F. Kennedy still sat in the U.S. Senate. Now imagine a young girl, 14, who skipped enough school that her principal called her in to talk about her “sore throat problem.” Then imagine this: unlike other truant teens, Jane Egly was missing school to board a bus bound for D.C., sneak into the U.S. Capitol, stuff her belongings in the ladies’ room located beneath the rotunda, and spend long days attending Senate and committee hearings. 

Growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, Washington was Egly’s playground. Politicians were the east coast’s Hollywood stars. History was being made in Egly’s backyard. But, beyond that, she simply took an early and natural interest in politics, government, and civil rights. “I didn’t see it as politics. I saw it as history,” Egly says of her time spent in the U.S. Capitol. “These men were famous, and I was a groupie.”

That history laid the foundation for the rest of Egly’s life as lawyer, mayor, city councilwoman, law professor, and activist. She came of age at a time when women and minorities were scarcely seen in law schools. 

Jane Egly close up

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Former Mayor and City Councilwoman Jane Egly

This all set the stage for a storied career, advocating for women, children, and seniors; and being a good steward for Laguna’s open spaces and sparse water resources. And now, this coming year, advocating for Orange County’s homeless.

The early years: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Hoffa & the U.S. Senate

The teen years are a formative period under any circumstance. But for Egly, time spent in the presence of the United States’ most influential politicians became pivotal. “We were the only kids running around,” says Egly. “We’d go into the hearing room and sit right behind the senators. We were never asked to move. Never asked who we were or what we were doing there. The senators would introduce themselves to us.” 

Egly crossed paths with then Vice President Richard Nixon, as well as German aerospace engineer and space architect Wernher Von Braun. Von Braun was Germany’s “rocket man,” developing weapons for the Nazis before a covert move to the U.S. to work on our ballistic missile program. “I saw our next door neighbor whispering in Von Braun’s ear,” says Egly. “He acknowledged me with a ‘don’t-you-say-anything’ look. I never knew what it was about, except he was managing Von Braun.” 

An electric energy often surrounds people when they talk about their youth. Nostalgia mixes with fond memories of a forgotten time. But Egly’s memories feel even more charged, given our current political climate. Her eyes light up talking about those years, appreciating the uniqueness of her experience and the bygone era of citizen access to senators, scientists, CEOs, and union organizers. 

“I’d go to the Labor Racket Hearings. Bobby Kennedy was the questioner. My girlfriend and I were sitting in the audience. Next to us was this big guy, dark suit and tie, white shirt. He started to tell us who everyone was and what they were doing. And there, in front of us, was Jimmy Hoffa. The man said, ‘I’m going to introduce you.’ We met Jimmy Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy. A week later, I picked up Look Magazine and there was our fellow with numbers. He was an ex-con in the labor group. But he’d been as nice as he could be.”

Origin stories are sometimes difficult to pin down. What causes a teenager to be drawn to legislative procedure? “I started reading the paper toward the end of grade school,” she says. “Part of it was John Kennedy. But there wasn’t one magic event.” Were these the formative encounters that set the stage for Egly’s career? Would that career have happened anyway? There’s beauty to be found in the mystery. But the experiences certainly stuck with her.

School days

Egly grew up in an environment that valued education. Of the 700 graduates in her high school class, 500 went to college. “Most folks were in the government,” she says. “It was an upper middle class Jewish community.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Egly majored in history at the University of Maryland before transferring to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1962. Carolina didn’t accept women until their junior year. 

After graduating in 1964, Egly worked for the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. Soon after, she married her first husband (Paul), enrolled in law school, and started her family. She had two children (Paul Jr. and Annie) 17 months apart while still attending school.

She began law school at the University of North Carolina. It was the first year they admitted black students, and only six women were in her class. When her husband took a job in Detroit, Egly transferred to Wayne State. There were advantages to attending a less prestigious school, she says. Wayne State had many people of color. The diversity and egalitarian attitude struck her as progressive. As an added bonus, she says, the food scene in Detroit was far better than Chapel Hill.

The early years of feminism

This, it occurs to me, is 1960s feminism. Women were beginning to have it all, but they were also doing it all. 

Perhaps Egly wasn’t the first woman to enter law school (she graduated exactly a decade after Justice Ruth Ginsberg), but women were still a rarity in the field. If she wasn’t blazing the trail, she was certainly still sweeping the path. 

And, of course, a man’s career took priority over his wife’s. Egly followed her husband first to Detroit and then to California, all while studying for the State Bar and caring for two toddlers. She volunteered in classrooms and served as a school crossing guard. She spent time on soccer fields and baseball games, and plenty of hours in the sand watching her son surf, always putting the priority on her children ahead of anything else. And then she went to work – advocating for women and children, serving on the board of the Boys and Girls Club and as first president of the Capistrano Unified School District Foundation. 

“That’s the difference between the male attorney and the lady attorney,” she says. “They’d come late to court because they’d been on the golf course. I’d be screaming at my kids, so we’d arrive in time for carpool. Or I’d be sitting in a doctor’s office with a sick kid.” Egly practiced law for over 30 years in a variety of capacities, raising two children and stepdaughter Patti. Women, she observes, didn’t have time for an interior life of thoughtful contemplation like their male counterparts. 

Jane Egly with Sebastian

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Jane Egly at home with Sebastian

Egly is still deeply involved in Planned Parenthood, committed to ensuring low income and uninsured women have access to affordable healthcare. The underdogs, and the support of their rights, have been an enduring theme in Egly’s life and her long career.

A head for law and a heart for justice

Women weren’t Egly’s only concern. As a young lawyer, she witnessed the destructive effects the court system had on its youngest and most innocent participants – children. “I persuaded a family law judge to appoint me as the attorney for the child in a custody case,” Egly said in a 2008 Statement when running for City Council. “He continued appointing me and we began to get lots of attention. With the help of a State Assemblymember, this practice of appointing an attorney for the child became state law and is the practice followed in the court today.” Today she says this might be her proudest accomplishment.

Egly has served on the board of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles, delivering legal aid to those in need. She was also active on the board of the Laguna Greenbelt. And, in 2019, she’ll join the board of the Friendship Shelter as an advocate for the homeless.

Laguna Mayor and City Councilwoman 

Laguna’s politics have always been spiked with passion and fraught with controversy. Those are two elements that don’t scare Egly. In 2004, someone asked her to run for City Council. That’s all it took. “I think that’s my life,” she says. “Opportunities came up and I thought they might work out. I didn’t know, but thought I’d try.” 

Egly served from 2004 to 2012 and was the Mayor in 2008. “I loved being on the council. I loved being mayor,” she says. In 2016, she was elected to the Laguna Beach County Water District’s commission.

Her second husband, Judge Paul Egly, wasn’t initially excited about his wife’s run for office. But he quickly came around to support her. “You’ll have my vote,” he finally told her. “When I ran for council, he backed me up. He didn’t tell me what to do. He would always listen.”

Life with – and without – the Honorable Paul Egly

Much can be told about us based on the people we marry. A spouse reflects who we are, what we value, and what we need. They bolster our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses. Our marital complement can tell volumes. Paul and Jane Egly exemplify this truth.

Jane Egly and Paul

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Jane’s favorite painting of her with husband Paul

When I first met them earlier this year, I was struck by their relationship and the depth of respect and affection they held toward each other. After 34 years of marriage, Jane still seemed not only in love, but profoundly moved by her husband. Her pride in Judge Egly – and his many accomplishments – shined through the difficult heartache of watching him fade. When he passed last June, Jane knew it was the right time. “I miss him,” she says. “But he left a nice legacy.”

Jane had heard tales about Judge Paul Egly long before meeting him. When she came to California, she began practicing law in the firm Judge Egly started (although, by that time, he had already left that office for the bench). His reputation preceded him, already a legal legend in the industry. 

But when they finally did meet in person, she was initially unimpressed. “I walked into his office, and there was this old, fat man playing with his tie,” she recalls. “His shirt was open, and you could see his T-shirt. I’m thinking, ‘That’s Paul Egly?!’ I told a joke and he laughed. That was it. He had the best laugh.” The rest, as they say, is history, and there is a mountain of history between them.

Despite their 21-year age gap, Judge Egly promised to give Jane “ten good years.” Ultimately, they were married for 34. Her joke to him throughout their marriage: “When are those good years going to begin? Just let me know.” 

“I learned more about everything after I met him,” says Jane. “Look at me. I’m Miss-Gal-from-North-Carolina. I never thought I would have this…” she pauses, searching for the right word. “I want to say opportunity. Yes. It was an opportunity to know him and be married to him.”

Jane Egly’s life has been filled with opportunities. And she’s had the wisdom to seize them all, however outside her comfort zone or seemingly scary. It’s a lesson for us all. When life says, “Try this!” answer with, “Why not?”

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Jane Fulton: Contributing to Laguna’s safety net


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Jane Fulton has been practicing law since 1966. She did take a 10-year hiatus to become a professional painter, but the serenity and personal satisfaction of her art took a back seat when she decided five years ago to revisit her commitment to public service and open Seaside Legal Services, providing free legal services for those in need. 

“I was kind of at sea as to what to do,” recalls Fulton. “I told one of my friends what I wanted to do. She helped me get the money to start.”

No shortage of clients for Seaside Legal Services

Five years in and Fulton says she’s “inundated with clients.” Seaside Legal Services provides attorneys and other services in civil matters. When someone is facing a criminal matter, a public defender is provided. For civil cases, no such option exists. So for things like divorce, child custody, bankruptcy, and landlord-tenant disputes, people are on their own – unless they find Fulton, or if they are a north County resident, they can use Legal Aid in Santa Ana. 

“I had no idea Legal Aid was so overwhelmed,” says Fulton. “They don’t come to south Orange County at all, and that’s all we serve.”

Legal services are part of the community safety’s net

Fulton explains that Seaside is one of Laguna’s five nonprofits that make up the social safety net. The other four are Laguna Beach Community Clinic, Friendship Shelter, Laguna Food Pantry, and Laguna Beach Seniors. Seaside Legal is run on private funding coupled with grants and a stipend from the Senior Center. 

“Law really is part of the safety net,” explains Fulton. “But people don’t like lawyers, and I can’t trot out my clients (due to confidentiality rules) and say, ‘Look what I did for them!’” 

Barbara McMurray of McMurray Marketing Communications, who does work for Seaside Legal, says, “Jane has contributed greatly to people not becoming homeless. It’s all of a piece.” 

Fulton’s crusading inclinations are not new. “This has always been my first interest,” she says. By “this” she means using the law to help those in need. But even before she practiced law, Fulton worked to help people.

Jane Fulton close up

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Crusading is Fulton’s first interest

A career of service

 A Navy veteran prior to starting law school, Fulton was a social worker with the Sacramento County Welfare Department while she went to University of the Pacific-McGeorge School of Law at night. She was one of two women in her class. Anthony Kennedy, now Chief Justice Anthony Kennedy, was her constitutional law professor. 

“If you can’t learn constitutional law from him, you can’t learn it,” she says admiringly.

After her admission to the bar, Fulton worked as chief counsel for the California community college system. “I was 28 years old and wholly unqualified,” she says good-naturedly. “I went to all 99 junior colleges, at the time, and went to their board meetings. I was immediately struck that nobody ever talked about the students, the teachers or the curriculum. All I ever heard any of them talk about were their building funds and their salaries.” The wrong headedness of those meetings convinced Fulton to become a public defender in Los Angeles in the 1970s. She prepared and argued appellate briefs before the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. “That started my thirst for poverty law. I never got over that.” 

From Beverly Hills to Laguna

However, Fulton left the public defender’s office to set up her own practice. She says she was “happily” practicing law in Beverly Hills when a romance prompted her to move to Laguna in 1977. She set up her practice here in 1979. “I practiced family law and criminal law,” she says. “It’s amazing how those things go together.” In 2000, she decided to retire.

Coming out of retirement to right some perceived wrongs

Fulton had a plan for her retirement, and it did not include golf. She was determined to become an accomplished painter. She went to art school. She traveled. She painted. Then, in 2008, she says she witnessed something that disturbed her. “I saw some homeless people being mistreated,” she says. “I knew (City Council member) Jane Egly. I wrote her a long, outraged letter. She wrote me back. She said, ‘Boo hoo. Get involved.’” The next thing Fulton knew she was on the City’s task force to build the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL) for homeless individuals and, after that, Seaside Legal Services was born.

Jane Fulton with painting

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Painting subsidizes law firm

The way Seaside Legal works is that all potential clients fill out an intake sheet online. Fulton says the requirements to qualify are loose because everyone’s situation is different. Someone may make what seems like a decent salary, but if they have a child with extensive medical needs, they might qualify. “If there are people who need – not want – aid, I can figure it out. If they don’t qualify, I try to send them to a lawyer we know who will treat them well.” Local attorneys Tom Davis and Larry Nokes are two such colleagues whose praises Fulton sings.

Providing more than just legal services

Legal services are Fulton’s expertise, but she also provides some outreach counseling. Martha Hernandez, a counselor with the Senior Center, is someone Fulton works with a lot. “We’re involved in affordable housing. The one thing they all have in common is they’re house-challenged. This office represents the people who live in the affordable housing complex on Broadway. They were going to lose that in June,” according to Fulton.

A local developer lends a hand for affordable senior housing

However, there is hope. Fulton extolls the commitment of local developer Mo Honarkar. “He has been unfairly maligned,” says Fulton. Honarkar negotiated a 60-year lease for land in the canyon because HUD requires a 55-year lease for their properties. “He’s got plans to build low-income senior housing. We’re working very hard to accomplish that.”

Helping seniors is a lot of what she does, but by no means all

Fulton says more and more of her clients are seniors. She offers a regular legal clinic (everyone gets a half hour appointment) at the Susi Q. “My clinics are almost always full,” she says. “I ascertain if I can help them. If I can’t help, I refer them out.”

Jane Fulton with sign

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The three Janes listed – Seaside Legal, Fulton Fine Art, and Attorney

It’s not only seniors Fulton works with, of course. There are many – too many – people who need her services. That is why she would very much like to hire another attorney. “I work for a pittance,” she says, which is why hiring another lawyer will not be easy. “I need to be able to pay them at least enough, so they can pay their law school debts,” she says. Seaside Legal Services is a 501(c)3, which means if you work for them for 10 years, any law school debt you have remaining after those 10 years will be forgiven. “I’d like to get a younger lawyer to take my place,” she says. Lawyers with a California license who would like to volunteer their services would also be very welcome.

Her painting now helps subsidize her law firm

Seaside Legal Services is getting ready to send out their year-end ask. “We just need people in this community to please remember us,” she says. “It’s tax-deductible!” And should you need some art for your walls, Fulton’s office operates as a fine art gallery as well. “It helps subsidize what we do,” she says. Plus it keeps her painting. “Painting is my excuse to stand outside and enjoy the scenery.”

Committed to doing something meaningful

“I really needed to do something meaningful with my life,” says Fulton. Certainly that mission has been accomplished. And she is as committed as she has ever been. She is quick to say she isn’t doing it alone, heaping praise on the women who sit on her Board of Directors (yes, they are all women) and the Kling Family Foundation that supports her, as well as the accountants and lawyers that help her out when asked.

“Thanks to my age, they’re nice to me,” she says half-joking. It is abundantly clear to anyone who meets her it is not her seniority that draws people in, but rather her commitment to those in need. Plus it’s hard to say no to someone who has no qualms about asking, because she’s not asking for herself. “When people get our cards, don’t be cheap,” she says feistily. Or come in and buy a painting. “If you’re nice, I’ll let you make the check out to Seaside Legal Services,” she says mischievously. That would make the painting a donation. And that is what is called a win-win.

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Sue Kempf: Ready to get to work for Laguna


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

People move to Laguna Beach for all sorts of reasons. In Sue Kempf’s case, it started with traffic and volleyball. With her job in Irvine and her home in San Diego, the hour drive through traffic, back and forth each way, every day, was unsurprisingly taking a toll. It was during this time that Kempf also sat on the Board of the Women’s Professional Volleyball Association (WPVA). A former collegiate player from Indiana University, Kempf would stop and visit a friend who lived in Laguna when she had WPVA meetings. “I was tired of driving and I said ‘I’m moving to Laguna.’” In 1999 she did.

City committees lead the way to City Council

Kempf continued her work in systems and software engineering when, in 2010, the City launched the Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee. Kempf chaired the committee for three years. “It was just something I had an interest in,” she explains. “We’re a fire prone city, and we hadn’t really been doing anything like that.” Kempf’s interest in disaster preparedness was undoubtedly heightened by the Berkeley fires in 1991. “I was working in Berkeley during those fires. 25 people died in their cars. That got my attention,” she explains. The recent devastating fires in California have only helped highlight the committee’s important work.

Sue Kempf close up

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Sue Kempf, one of Laguna Beach City Council’s new members

From that committee, Kempf was asked to participate in the View Preservation Task Force, another City committee where passions can run high. “We visited a lot of people,” says Kempf. “It was a good experience and we put together an extremely good ordinance.” Little did she know that these experiences were the start of her political career.

A hard pass eventually becomes a yes

That became evident pretty quickly when Bob Whalen and Kelly Boyd invited her to breakfast. It was not a social call. They asked her if she would consider running for City Council. “I said, ‘Ooooh no,’” laughs Kempf. “Then more and more people started to ask me. I just decided to go with it.” She says she’s not a natural politician, but she threw her hat into the ring. “I was in it to win,” she says, spoken like the collegiate athlete she once was.

And win she did. When Kempf and I met, she’d known the results for several weeks. However, she said it took that long for her victory to sink in. “I was very tired. For three days, I didn’t go out of my house (after the election). You have a few days where you wait for the vote totals. This is the first week that it hit me that I won.”

It turns out campaigning is not all that fun

As for campaigning, it’s probably no surprise to learn that Kempf found it trying. “Self promotion is very difficult. You get pretty tired of talking about yourself,” she says. “It’s challenging.” Nevertheless, she managed to stay true to what she believes is a respectable – and effective – way to conduct a campaign. “Be yourself. Don’t engage in negative politics. Be prepared to defend your reasons. Don’t cast your fellow competitors in a bad light. Talk to as many people as you can, and be a good listener.”

Sue Kempf at Heisler

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Sue Kempf visits one of Laguna Beach’s true treasures, Heisler Park

With the victory clinched, I wondered if there were parts of the campaigning experience that were better than she’d thought they would be. “None of it was better than I thought,” she says wearily. “It was all worse. The last three weeks, it always seems to kind of devolve in every election. That happened here as well. I think, most unnecessarily.” 

A linear approach to work

Despite the bruising nature of the election, now that it is behind her, Kempf is excited to get to work. “I’m very linear about doing the work,” she explains. “What we want to work on and how we want to work on it is interesting to me. I have been successful in business, and I hope to be successful here as well.” And there are a lot of things to work on.

Open to changing the rules to encourage new business

However, identifying the issues is not the hard part, coming up with workable solutions is. Recognizing that, Kempf says she is open to making changes. “Our rules prevent us from getting new, interesting businesses. We’re going to have to change that,” she says. 

Sue Kempf sitting

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Sue Kempf taking a break at Heisler Park before she begins her first term on the City Council

The silent majority is alive and well

And while she didn’t really enjoy campaigning, she did find parts of it to be valuable. “You learn a lot about the community. There’s a large, silent majority that doesn’t come to the City Council meetings. But they’re paying attention. It was really good to talk to those people.”

Going forward as a new City Council member, Kemp says she’d like to continue hearing from as many people as possible. “I’m an objective and open-minded person. I’m also an open door kind of person. I hope we can have a Council that doesn’t listen to the same 10 people.”

The golf course will have to wait

Kempf retired from her software career in 2017. At the time she thought about just indulging in her favorite past time. “People said, ‘You can’t just play golf every day!’ and I thought, ‘Why can’t I?!’” she recounts laughing. But duty called, and now her full immersion on the fairways of El Niguel Country Club will have to wait for at least four more years.

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Sally’s Fund: A homegrown lifeline to seniors


“The bridge between isolation and community” is how Rachael Berger, Sally’s Fund managing director, describes the work her organization does for seniors in Laguna Beach. You’ve undoubtedly seen the cars with the Sally’s Fund logo driving around town. The group’s mission is to provide transportation and other essential services for Laguna Beach seniors to enhance the quality of their lives. Note the words “other essential services.” These words are what set Sally’s Fund apart from a transportation service like Uber or Lyft, and also what makes it a vital part of Laguna’s community fabric.

It only takes a few people to make a big difference

The group was founded in 1982 when several local community members realized how many seniors were being forced into institutional living because of a lack of transportation. Walter von Gremp, one of those founding members, was moved to take action after reading stories in the local paper detailing the struggle some of his neighbors had while trying to stay in their homes. 

Another key member of this new group was Liz Gapp. Gapp volunteered her time and her station wagon. However, it didn’t take long for the demand to exceed what she could do on her own. Realizing the need was even greater than initially thought, Walter von Gremp and his wife Ann provided “significant financial support” to the organization, which was able to hire some part-time employees as a result. This new, more formal organization became Sally’s Fund, named in honor of Walter von Gremp’s mother.

Sallys Fund von Gremps

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Ann and Walter von Gremp were instrumental in starting Sally’s Fund. Ann von Gremp is treasurer of the organization.

Amazingly, 36 years later, Liz Gapp is still a vital part of Sally’s Fund, as is Ann von Gremp. Sadly, Walter von Gremp’s health prevents him from being as active as he once was. Nevertheless, the group is as vibrant as ever.

A new hire helps modernize which helps outreach

A relatively recent reason for the group’s success is its new managing director Rachael Berger, who was hired in January of this year. Berger, who previously had a successful career with American Express, is a 27-year resident of Laguna and sought out this part-time position in order to be able to give back to the community. “I found out this is definitely not a part-time position,” she says good-naturedly. “They were still operating like they did 36 years ago – no dispatch!” she says in mock disbelief. So, one of the first things Berger did was put together a Google Docs scheduling system that expanded the group’s outreach from 37 people to 147 people. “It’s not rocket science,” she says modestly. “It’s just amazing how much of a need there is.”

More than just a transportation service

The premise is simple. If you are 55 years old or older, you can call Sally’s Fund and ask to arrange a ride within a 40-mile radius. Medical appointments take precedence, but drivers will take people to the store or even deliver food to their homes. 

The City of Laguna Beach, which covers roughly one third of Sally’s Fund’s expenses, was recently considering cutting that funding in favor of Uber or Lyft services.    

Berger explains, “Our drivers will sit in with a patient at a doctor’s appointment, so they can take good notes and talk to the Care Management Center. Uber or Lyft doesn’t do that.” 

The Care Management Center is run through the Susi Q where, according to their website, “care managers assess needs and create individualized action plans.” Sally’s Fund is also run out of the Susi Q, but it is a separate entity. However, Laguna Beach Seniors, the Care Management Team and Sally’s Fund all work symbiotically to help Laguna Beach seniors stay independent as long as possible.

Sallys Fund van

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Sally’s Fund van picks up seniors at the Susi Q

“Seventy-five percent of our people have no one else,” says Berger. “We are a bridge. We take people who can’t drive to see their loved ones. We will even take them to see different assisted living facilities. Additionally, we do home visitations. Some of our folks are so frail they’re home bound and need extra care. Liz (Gapp) will talk with them and find out their needs.”

Securing another vehicle is critical

According to Berger, Sally’s Fund is turning down two to three people a week because they are at maximum capacity. “We’re trying to secure another vehicle,” she says. The group’s Prius just died after 177,000 miles. And their Dodge Caravan is on its last legs with 144,000 miles. So, Berger is busily writing grant applications trying to secure funding. “I’ve got additional drivers who’d love the work if we got a new car,” she says.

Funded by donations

“We never ask for payment from our riders,” explains Berger. “We ask for a donation, if they can manage it. There are so many people in Laguna who don’t have access. They can’t walk the block or two to the bus stop and we’re an aging population.” The two thirds of the budget that the City doesn’t cover is made up by private donations, like the $25,000 local philanthropist Bill Gross recently donated. 

Ann von Gremp runs a tight ship

According to Berger, Sally’s Fund runs a tight ship. The group’s treasurer is Ann von Gremp. “She’s one tough cookie,” says Berger admiringly. “She’s a penny pincher.” Such thriftiness means the organization carries no debt while it provides over 6,000 one-way trips annually. But helping get their riders where they need to go is only part of the mission. “We help them navigate within their destination,” explains Berger.

Sallys Fund shopping trip

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Sally’s Fund van unloads at the Susi Q after a shopping trip to Trader Joe’s

And then there are the above and beyond things the group does because its people have developed relationships with their riders. Berger tells me she was able to secure a “new” (not really new, but a gently used) mattress for a rider who has cancer. “He was sleeping on springs,” she says ruefully. “I got the mattress for $50, and now I just need to find someone to help me get it to him. I encounter things like this every day. This is such an amazing place because you’re really making a difference.” 

Maintaining mobility is maintaining dignity

Berger has heard first hand, the countless times that seniors, once deprived of their mobility, feel they are robbed of their dignity. Sally’s Fund is a homegrown effort to prevent that loss of self-worth. For 36 years, the group has succeeded in helping seniors stay in their homes, as well as providing a connection to the outside world. And while they do a valiant job of trying to reach everyone, there are still seniors they simply can’t accommodate. So, seeing as this is the giving season, should you be looking to donate to a community-based group that is doing good work, remember Sally’s Fund. 

Donations can be sent to Sally’s Fund, PO Box 1626, LB, CA 92652 or made online at

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Mo Honarkar embodies the modern immigrant’s success story


Photographs by Mary Hurlbut

The self-made man is a distinctly American idea. Originally coined in 1832 by Senator Henry Clay, the phrase then referred to men in the manufacturing industry whose success stemmed from within – from “patient and diligent labor” – as opposed to external conditions. History dubbed Benjamin Franklin one of the first. Mohammad (Mo) Honarkar will undoubtedly not be the last. But he may be one of Laguna’s best examples. Now the president and CEO of 4G Ventures, which holds a diverse portfolio of real estate and businesses in Laguna Beach, Mo’s story began half a world, and more than half a century, away. Far from Laguna’s beaches, Mo grew up playing on rooftops in Iran. The United States was a distant dream.

Mo Honarkar grandson

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Mo Honarkar and grandson Truth

What the modern day self-made men (and women) have in common might be more than a determined work ethic. Beyond grit, success like Mo’s requires vision. An ability to look at something everyone else has seen countless times, and notice something new. Where others might imagine insurmountable problems, Mo sees solutions. He’s brought that vision to his hometown. 

Growing up Tehran

Mo was born and raised in Tehran. He shared an apartment with his parents and five siblings. Though he was one of the youngest children in the family, he was the first to come to America. Before that, though, Mo got a strong sense for the construction industry. 

“Somewhere in high school I started to work with my dad on a construction site,” he says. “They were building a hospital. I was like a superintendent, though I was very young. After I graduated, I worked with him on building some apartments.” Real estate was always something he enjoyed. “It’s part of my DNA,” he says. Mo’s mother owned a business teaching fashion design. From her, he gained his knowledge of business and retail. 

Even during Mo’s childhood and coming of age – in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s – Tehran was a thriving metropolis. Mo likens it to Los Angeles. “It was a very happening town,” he says. Maybe it was that early influence of a big city, but Mo is drawn to diversity. “I like mix,” he says. “Very old people, young people, they live together, they go to shows together. Age, race, everything is diverse. It’s good for a city to be diverse.” 

After working for a few years with his father, Mo decided to continue his education and fulfill his plan to study abroad. “I met with a school counselor in Tehran in 1978,” he says. “I applied for school at USIU (United States International University) in San Diego and got accepted to the international university.” 

From the Middle East to SoCal

Coming to southern California in the late 1970s may have felt like culture shock. “When I landed in San Diego, and I had a couple of high school friends here already. I said: This is what America looks like? It’s a village!

Mo started his studies at USIU and San Diego State. He transferred to UCI in the fall of 1980, studying applied physics and engineering. “I almost got lost in the orange fields,” he says. “Orange County was so small at the time. Not much here.”

As a foreign student, English was Mo’s second language. But math always came easy, as did art and design. “Even from an early age, every time I had an art class, I built some kind of structure. My professors said, ‘Someday, you’re going to be a builder.’ They were right.”

Mo worked his way through college, taking nearly any job he could find. He worked in the college cafeteria and became known as the “ice cream man.” He drove a school bus in the morning, before attending classes himself. “I got myself into college. I’m a self-motivated and self-build person.”

The Iranian Revolution happened just after Mo arrived in the US. For five years, he was prevented from returning home and his family couldn’t leave Iran. When he was able to return, he discovered the home he left was no longer there. “This is not the town I used to live in. It was completely destroyed. I decided to return to the US. Now I was here for good, not just to study. So my family decided to follow me. My parents came first, followed by my brothers and sisters. I was the pioneer.” Mo also met and married during his time in Tehran, and brought his wife to the US in 1984. 

Mo discovered Laguna Beach while attending UCI in 1980. “Discovering Laguna Beach at the time was feeling like I was back home,” he says. Laguna instantly felt like his new hometown, though he was more than two decades away from being able to afford to live here. Still, he spent every weekend and all his spare time in the town.

Building connections…wirelessly and beyond

Once Mo graduated from UCI, he used his degree to pursue a career in computers and programming. He worked for various computer companies as a software engineer. In Toshiba America’s R&D division, his job was to program – all day, every day – in a 9 x 12 foot cubicle. “I hated it,” he says. Mo is a people person. A solitary job in a lonely cubicle proved unbearable. He begged to be transferred to sales. The job simply didn’t exist at Toshiba at that time, so he asked to be laid off. “You just had a kid,” his boss reminded him. Despite the tricky timing, Mo wasn’t deterred. He left. 

While helping his mother operate a clothing boutique in Irvine, Mo noticed an AirTouch store next door. “I saw a line of people going in all the time,” he says. This was during the early days of wireless, when cell phones were still the size and shape of bricks. Mo grew interested and, in 1998, signed up to open stores for them.

Soon, Mo founded the company 4G Wireless, and remained in the wireless business for 18 years, managing 1,200 employees across five states. Carriers came and went, as did hundreds of stores and kiosks, but Mo’s enterprise endured. He fought with the City of Laguna Beach over opening a Verizon store in town, the only store of its kind in Laguna, and won. Over those years, between his experience in retail clothing and wireless, Mo opened and closed between 400 and 500 stores. “I learned a lot about real estate,” he says. 

He also learned a lot about Laguna. He raised his two daughters here – 

Hasty and Nikki – and recently welcomed his first grandchild, Truth. His family connections remain far more important than his business ones. Hasty confirmed this in our interview last year. She said the extended family stays tight. They see each other every week, either at The Royal Hawaiian or picnics in Heisler Park. “It always looks like a scene out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” said Hasty.

Mo Honarkar with daughters

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Mo with daughters Hasty and Nikki, and grandson Truth

Real estate adventures

In 2000, Mo bought the famed Heisler Building that housed the old Jolly Roger Restaurant and Laguna Beach Brewing Company. He designed and remodeled his own home in Mystic Hills in the early 2000s. And, eventually, he became the founder and CEO of 4G Ventures, which holds a diverse portfolio of real estate and businesses in Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, Irvine, Palm Springs, and beyond. The holdings include hotels, restaurants, event venues and community projects. So far, Mo and his team have revitalized Laguna’s historic Royal Hawaiian, as well as several properties in the Canyon including The Hive, Seven-Degrees, Kitchen on the Canyon, and Terra Restaurant on the Festival of Arts grounds. They’re also refreshing several of Laguna’s hotels and event spaces.

Mo Honarkar Cleo project

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4G Ventures scaled model for the Cleo hotel project

A shared love for Laguna

You have to ask yourself, Mo says, ‘What is Laguna?’ Everything is so completely different that it makes you wonder what defines the town. That, he says, is exactly the point – it’s not cookie cutter. That diversity of design is what makes it uniquely Laguna. “Every single unit is different,” he says. “You have modern, cottage, mid-century. When someone introduces a new building, don’t shut it down and say it isn’t ‘Laguna.’ Because that’s exactly what Laguna is – something completely different. That’s why we have character in this town.” Santa Barbara, Mo observes, has its own mission style. Newport Coast, everything looks like Tuscany. “But the character of Laguna requires every design to be different. That’s what we all love.” 

Growing up in a big city, Mo appreciates the mixture of businesses and restaurants available to locals and tourists alike. “I don’t see myself as a developer,” he says. “I see myself as a solutions provider. There’s so much character here. These buildings look old and tired. I don’t necessarily want to change them, but just fix them – redo the façade and make them look better. But I don’t want to force it. I want people here to want it too.”

Beyond the artists, designers and architects, Laguna draws people of passion. It’s not a town for the passive and uninterested. It’s a community that calls its citizens to action. While residents may not always agree, they do care. The occupants are as diverse, eccentric, quirky, quaint and unique as their homes. That character is not just what makes the town look different, but feel different. It’s a village of energy, with more than its share of self-made men and women, of which Mo is one of the leaders.

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Orin Neufeld: Master of Laguna’s batting cages


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Orin Neufeld describes himself as a “kid guy.” He also says he will do almost anything to avoid an office. So when the opportunity to buy the Laguna Beach Batting Cages literally walked into his dugout one afternoon, he jumped at the chance.

So this guy walks into a dugout…

“I’m very involved in Laguna Beach Little League,” recounts Neufeld who, despite being in Laguna for almost 25 years, still sounds very much like the New Yorker he once was. “I’m coaching my then seven-year-old son,” he continues, “and we’re in the middle of a game, and this guy walks into the dugout. My first thought is, ‘Dude, what are you doing? It’s the 4th inning!?’”

“The dude,” as it turns out, wanted information about the next Little League board meeting because he was interested in selling the batting cages located on Laguna Canyon Road. Neufeld says once he heard what the man wanted, he went from “take a hike” to “please come into my dugout.” A deal was reached and Neufeld has owned the batting cages for the past five years.

A job blending both of his passions

“I was pretty excited,” he remembers. “My passions are baseball and kids. I’ve always worked with kids.” When he was in New York, he ran a school for autistic children. Both his daughter, now a senior at LBHS, and his son, a seventh grader at TMS, played Laguna Beach Little League. His son, who seems to have inherited his dad’s passion for the game, is still at it. 

Orin Neufeld close up

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Orin Neufeld, owner of the Laguna Beach Batting Cages on Laguna Canyon Rd

Neufeld says his wife was very supportive of the purchase, even if it was a bit of a surprise. “We did a deal that was doable, and I did it,” explains Neufeld. “She was all for it.” Which is helpful, since it means Neufeld is away most evenings. The batting cages are open from 3 - 8 p.m. weekdays plus weekends (call for hours). His busy season coincides with the Little League season that runs February to June. “I have a lot of teams, Little League and club that come and use it,” he says.

Honing his fix it skills

As for any surprises about owning one’s own batting cages, Neufeld shrugs. “I used the cages, so I knew how they worked,” he says. However, he has had to brush up on his mechanical skills. “If anything surprises me, it’s the maintenance. It’s an outdoor facility, and there’s just stuff that needs to be fixed. And I wouldn’t say I was a Mr. Fix It kind of guy, but I’m getting better!” he says, laughing.

Orin Neufeld teaching

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Orin Neufeld gives Warren some pointers during a private lesson

When not maintaining the machines, Neufeld is giving private lessons. “For the most part, I teach kids 10 and under, but I have high school kids, too,” he says. “I start at the basics. I start at the ground up.” Neufeld says that since his playing days, he has seen the game get a lot more technical at a younger age. “I really notice it with my son,” he says. However, Neufeld’s son takes his lessons from someone else. “He’s done with me,” he laughs. “It’s the natural order of things.”

A little music on the side

While Neufeld managed to get both of his kids interested in baseball, at least for awhile, he was not as successful at getting them to take an interest in his other passion: music. A guitarist for the past 30 years, Neufeld plays in a local band “The Skeleton Crew” that covers Grateful Dead songs. He also teaches guitar lessons, just not to his kids. “Nope, “ he says with a shrug. “Neither kid plays.”

The Skeleton Crew pays tribute to The Grateful Dead

The Skeleton Crew is made up of Laguna locals, many of whom play in other bands as well. Lead singer Bob Campion, for example, plays in several local bands. “Bobby and I went down to the beach one night and just started playing Grateful Dead tunes. We both love the Grateful Dead. We did it a couple of times and said, ‘We should do this.’ And we did it.” 

“Actually, I’m not talented at all. I don’t know how to read music or anything,” he says, laughing. He must be able to fake it pretty well as the band has a standing gig at The Cliff (the second Friday of every month). Their next show is November 30. “It’s very difficult being an international rock legend,” he says, trying to maintain a straight face.

Orin Neufeld batting cages

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Jerry Rootlieb looks on while his grandson gets batting lessons from Neufeld

It may not be superstardom, but it is a lot of fun

I asked Neufeld if he ever had aspirations to be a pro baseball player or a rock star. “Of course,” he laughs. “What kid doesn’t?” The reality that he wasn’t going to achieve superstardom came relatively early. “I realized these two passions weren’t realistic in high school,” he says. But that’s not to say he isn’t living his dream. “I play guitar and teach kids baseball. I can’t complain. It really is fun.”

A baseball workout facility is more than enough

Neufeld has no plans to alter the fun. The batting cages are on Laguna Beach Unified School District property and to make any kind of big changes would be a massive bureaucratic undertaking. Besides, he likes it the way it is. “I wouldn’t mind doing more birthday parties,” he muses, but quickly adds, “We’re not Boomers.” 

“We are a baseball workout facility,” he says proudly. “It is what it is.” For kids in Laguna, San Clemente, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel looking to improve their baseball skills, it’s plenty.

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Suzanne Redfearn uses her architectural mind to build fictional worlds and a thriving literary community 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Every good novel includes a few essential ingredients: strong characters, a compelling plot, some unfulfilled desires, and lots of obstacles. Done well, there are also difficult questions that lie at its core – sometimes philosophical or spiritual, sometimes ethical or practical, but always universal. What is the nature of good versus evil? What happens when evil is disguised to seem good? Where is the line between helping our children and hurting them? Will we recognize it when it arrives? How far will we go to save them?

Suzanne Redfearn’s life reads like a great novel. She’s a strong, purposeful, and driven central character with an intense desire to create new worlds from nothing. And she’s had some obstacles to overcome along the way. More important, she’s curious about life’s big questions – the meaning of marriage, the dangers of celebrity, the delicate balance between risk and reward. Curiosity, more than anything, motivates Suzanne’s love of fiction. One can always tell the writers driven by a desire for fame, or book sales, or (God forbid) money. Suzanne is in it to discover. That makes all the difference.

Suzanne Redfearn closeup

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Suzanne Redfearn, architect, novelist, and Literary Laureate

Starting from scratch

At age 15, Suzanne’s life looked a lot like that blank page every novelist faces for the first time. She grew up on the east coast, and alludes to a less-than-perfect childhood (always a good foundation for any future novelist). She moved, on her own, to Santa Barbara, putting herself through college beginning at age 16, and eventually earning a marketing degree.

While working as a server at Corona del Mar’s former Oyster’s Restaurant, she met owner Cary Redfearn. What began in friendship grew into a marriage that’s lasted a quarter of a century…and counting. Cary encouraged Suzanne to pursue a career in architecture, and supported her through school. “I always wanted to be an architect,” Suzanne says. “But it felt crazy. Like being a writer, it didn’t feel like a real job. It just felt out of reach.” Proving again that nothing is out of reach for Suzanne, she graduated summa cum laude from California Polytechnic University. 

When Cary closed Oyster’s and purchased the Lumberyard Restaurant ten years ago, Suzanne’s architectural talent paid dividends. Her vision transformed the space, retaining its historic foundation while updating the interior to lend a more contemporary feel. Nearly a decade later, she would go on to design the beer cap sculpture in Slice Pizza across the street, which she and Cary opened last year. 

Along the way, Suzanne also owned a cookie company, worked as a graphic designer and copywriter, and invented Wonder Laces (“the better shoelace – healthier for your feet, more comfortable, [with] six times the knot strength of normal shoelaces”). She’s the mother of two grown children, an avid surfer, golfer, skier, and Angels’ fan. Curiosity, ambition and creative energy have led her in a lot of directions, every one of them fulfilling and fun, most of them solitary, and all of them good fodder for fiction.

There are three things in life, Suzanne tells me, that determine happiness and satisfaction: your spouse, your hometown, and your career. “I feel like I hit the Triple Crown,” she says. Suzanne discovered Laguna because of Cary, and her career aspirations – both as architect and novelist – flowed from there. “It all came down to that first good decision of finding the right person. Without that,” she says, “the rest just wouldn’t have happened.” 

The architecture of a novel

Architecture and writing have always struck me as intellectual sisters. Beyond vision and creativity, they both demand careful construction. “I wouldn’t be a novelist if I hadn’t been an architect,” Suzanne says. “Both require you to start with nothing. It’s overwhelming, and it’s long-term.” Much of Suzanne’s life has required faithful leaps, from her move to the west coast to settling into an uncertain career in architecture to the terrifying decision to undertake the novel. But one leap begets another. Each one builds confidence and establishes trust. 

Suzanne approaches books the ways she approaches buildings. “I walk into an empty space and know it only works one way. That’s its true self.” 

Terroir is an oenological term referring to the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced. It includes factors such as soil, topography, and climate. Suzanne says, “I allow the terroir – the essence of the site – to dictate what the building is going to be. You can’t come in with a preconceived idea. It won’t work.” That principle applies equally well in writing. “The story wants to be what it wants to be. You have to allow it to grow organically. The characters dictate what’s going to happen.”

Suzanne sees herself more as a conduit or channeler of stories, rather than their creator. “The story is there – the characters are on their journey. I just have to keep reeling it in. It knows what it wants to be, so when I finally find it – it’s natural.” That might mean writing 800 pages to end up with 400. Suzanne likens it to a maze, with a lot of dead-ends. But, ultimately, there’s only one obvious solution. 

“Drive time is when it comes together. When I’m not actually thinking about the story, that’s when I come up with the solutions,” she says. “The unexpected is always where the beauty lies in the story.”

The magical moment when life leaps to fiction

When Suzanne published her first novel, Hush Little Baby, in 2013, Cary wore a shirt to her launch party that said: “It wasn’t me.” Superficially, Suzanne’s protagonist looked a little familiar – Jillian Kane had a successful career as an architect, a gorgeous home, a doting husband, and two perfect kids. But Jillian’s marriage was privately dark, decidedly abusive, and obviously nothing like Suzanne and Cary. Still, those surface similarities gave Suzanne the ability to access Jillian’s character. After that, like every great book, all bets were off.

Suzanne Redfearn books

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Suzanne holding Hush Little Baby and the anthology at Laguna Beach Books

No Ordinary Life came out just three years later. It explores the price of fame and the risks embedded into the lives of child celebrities. It also returns to one of Suzanne’s favorite themes – the lengths mothers will go to protect their children. The idea came to her while waiting in line at the grocery store, scanning the tabloid headlines. Zac Efron, who is roughly the same age as Suzanne’s son, had just reentered rehab for the second time. It made her curious about the dark side of celebrity. This is the recurring motif in any novelist’s life: I saw this thing, and it got me wondering…

In An Instant, her third novel, is due out in early 2020. Suzanne scored a two-book deal with Lake Union Publishing. I won’t spoil the surprise here, but for fans of The Lovely Bones, you’re in for a future treat. 

The limitations of talent and the need for persistence

Successful writers will tell you that talent – while necessary – is less essential than perseverance. For every novel Suzanne has on bookshelves, she has two or three more in her drawer. Slow and steady is the necessary recipe for achievement. Novelists sometimes look like overnight success stories, but they often have a decade (or more) of quiet toiling in their past.

Persistence is something Suzanne knows about. She doesn’t miss a day of work. She arrives at Starbucks early in the morning for a two to three hour stretch, and shows up again mid-afternoon for another session. Writing, like any job, requires the author to show up. Lawyers, plumbers, veterinarians – none of these professions tolerate waiting around for bouts of inspiration or the arrival of the muse. Writing is no different. Novelists, of course, only get paid for the books that sell. Writing a dozen manuscripts that never make it to bookstores is a thankless task, which is why it requires the love of the journey, and a near disregard for the destination.

It’s all about living outside your comfort zone, taking on terrifying things, uncertain about their outcome.

Laguna’s Literary Laureate

Speaking of taking on terrifying things…earlier this year, Suzanne was appointed Laguna’s Literary Laureate (along with co-Laureate Lojo Simon). Suzanne was less interested in the title and recognition, and more excited to serve as a cheerleader for the arts. She’s created and facilitated several events allowing local writers opportunities to gather and be heard. And she’s become an ambassador for the written – and spoken – word. 

Take, for example, poet and spoken word artist Phil Kaye. Suzanne brought Phil to Laguna last month for a one-night performance at the Forum Theatre at FOA. She invited five high school poets to share their own work as an opening act. “These kids had been harboring this inside. There’s no venue for this. There’s no reason for them to do this,” she says. “It was poetry. It was art. I was blown away.” 

Like architecture or writing, Suzanne feels her position as Literary Laureate is another experience that’s telling her what it wants to be, and she’s merely acting as its conduit. “I feel like I’m just along for the ride,” she says. “I’m always thinking, Wow…so that happened! It’s a position that tells you what it needs.” 

Like all her prior endeavors, the job also requires faith. “It’s believing. No matter how bad or scary or overwhelming – you have faith you’re going to get there. I can’t tell you the knot in my stomach over these events. But I show up, put it out there, see what happens, and have faith that it’s going to find its way.” 

Suzanne also initiated the citywide poetry and prose contest, inspired by a photograph taken by Jeff Rovner in a Burmese monastery last year. “Another project that took on a life of its own,” she says. Forty-three writers contributed their works, which Suzanne turned into the book, Laguna Beach Anthology of Poetry and Short Fiction.

“A lot of credit goes to Third Street Writers and Jane Hanauer (owner of Laguna Beach Books),” she says. “The people who are already doing this around our community.” 

The builder who builds community

Suzanne loves the collaborative environment Laguna inspires. “It’s not so competitive here,” she tells me. “We’re all creative in our own ways, and we’re invested in building each other up.” 

Suzanne Redfearn Shoreline

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Suzanne and Tami Cahill, building community at Laguna’s Shoreline Project last weekend

A city that encourages the arts makes each of its members better. Even those who aren’t artists benefit from being surrounded by beauty, inspired by creativity, and supported by women like Suzanne. She’s spent her career building both structures and fictional worlds. But perhaps Suzanne’s greatest gift to Laguna is building community, which also requires perseverance and faith. And, just like architecture and fiction, the unexpected is always where the beauty lies.

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Sgt. Jim Cota: 24 years with LBPD and counting


Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Sgt. Jim Cota’s first job after graduating from the Golden West Police Academy was with the Laguna Beach Police Department (LBPD). When he graduated there weren’t many options due to Orange County’s bankruptcy. “There were only a handful of cities that were hiring. I chose Laguna Beach which turned out to be the right choice for me because I never left,” he says. Sgt. Cota has been with LBPD for 24 years.

And he’s not planning on leaving, at least not yet. Rising through the ranks from a police officer to a narcotics detective to a field training officer to corporal and, now, as a sergeant, Sgt. Cota’s ambitions have not abated. He is planning on being involved in LBPD’s promotional process next year. However, there’s not a lot of rope left to climb. All that stands in front of him is lieutenant, then captain and, finally chief. “I want to promote to lieutenant,” he says. “We have some openings in the next year.”

Sgt Cota close up

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Sgt. Jim Cota is a 24-year veteran of the Laguna Beach Police Department

A heavy load requires his full attention

While he may have his eye on the future, Sgt. Cota’s present requires his full attention. As a sergeant of the investigations division, he oversees six detectives, the department’s administration training officer, the property and evidence officer, the community officer, the school resource officer as well as the social media team. And, if that’s not enough, he’s also the department’s press information officer. He acts as the department’s spokesperson. “This is a real honor for me,” he says earnestly. “I get to highlight and showcase all the wonderful events and the great jobs all the officers do, as well as communicate with local media sources.”

Committed to a graduate degree from USC

Sgt. Cota is investing a lot of energy in the communications part of his job. “I’m currently enrolled in a graduate program at USC – fight on! – in communications. And, yes, I drank the juice,” he says with a laugh. “But really, I’m most proud of being accepted to such a prestigious school.” Cota was interested in USC’s program because of their focus on social media. “They’re teaching new ways to conduct research into the next generation. It’s a very intensive program. A degree of this magnitude goes hand in hand with my PIO (public information officer) duties for the police department.”

Choosing the Nike way of getting things done

With all of this going on, Cota says he practices the Nike “Just do it” philosophy. “My life may look difficult to most people. I have to balance work, school and family life.” Luckily, he says both home and the members of the department are very supportive of his efforts. He says he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be, doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. However, it was a dark event that set him on this path.

Sgt. Cota is not someone who grew up wanting to be a police officer. After graduating from high school he went into real estate. “I enjoyed it, but something was missing in my life,” he says. The turning point came when he watched the 1992 Los Angeles riots on TV.

The 1992 Los Angeles riots make an impact

 “I remember watching the early stages of the riots and questioning why the LAPD was not helping Reginald Denny. (Reginald Denny was the truck driver who was pulled from his truck and beaten at the corner of Florence and Normandy in south central Los Angeles.) I realized I could really do that and make a difference, as opposed to what I was doing (in real estate).” Cota went on some ride-alongs with a friend who worked for an LA agency, and he was hooked. “I fell in love with the job,” he says.

Sgt Cota talking

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Sgt. Jim Cota conducts an interview in the LBPD conference room

Laguna’s Main Beach protest provides a great learning opportunity

Luckily, Cota has never had to deal with anything close to the events in LA that motivated him to become a police officer. The biggest event he has worked in recent times was the Main Beach protest in 2017. Sgt. Cota credits Laguna Beach Police Chief Farinella with managing the event “perfectly.” “I learned a lot observing her decision making which helps me make swift decisions in the investigations unit.” He saw her decision making up close as the two worked together in the command post that day. “I observed her make timely and critical decisions that made that operation so successful,” he recalls.

A high regard for those he works with

 Sgt. Cota goes on at length about the high regard he has for Chief Farinella. He is also a big believer in community policing, which she demands. The idea is that the police should interact with the community beyond their traditional police work. Cota believes this helps foster community support. 

Community policing is key

“We take time to get out of our cars and talk to the kids, stop at a lemonade stand. You don’t see that in other cities. This is the philosophy that the Chief expects from the officers in this police department. Police officers who work here have to be willing to do more than just write tickets and arrest people.” 

Community policing is something that is taught in depth at the Golden West Police Academy and the LBPD embraced the concept before Chief Farinella came on board. However, she has taken it to another level. “She gets it. She gets this community’s needs. Her personality is exactly what the City needs, and it has responded well to her,” he says.

A true, blue Dodger fan

Sgt. Cota responded well to his new Chief before he even had a chance to  become such a fan of her job performance. When Chief Farinella first started, Sgt. Cota recalls there being the usual anxiety about new leadership coming in. What broke the ice for the two of them is when they discovered they shared a love for the Dodgers. “We’re the only two who are die-hards,” he says smiling.

Sgt Cota Dodgers wall

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Sgt. Cota isn’t shy about where his baseball loyalties lie

Cota is equally effusive about his investigations team. “They are absolutely incredible,” he gushes. “They’re like a second family to me. Each of them works so hard, night and day, for this organization.”

LBPD is a source of great pride for Sgt. Cota

To have such faith in one’s coworkers is extremely beneficial in a job such as Sgt. Cota’s, especially as things have changed quite a bit in his 24 years on the force. “Society has changed,” he muses. More specifically, Laguna has gotten a lot busier as the visiting population has soared. This means more service calls. And while this obviously presents problems, it also means more opportunities for engagement. “The police department does a terrific job of minimizing crime in this town,” he says emphatically.

The pride Sgt. Cota has in the Laguna Beach Police Department has certainly been earned. It’s also an important factor in why he finds the job so rewarding. “I am so grateful my life went in this direction,” he says. “This is the career I was made for.” After 24 years, with no signs of slowing down, it would seem so.

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Bonnie Harper proves there are far more abilities than disabilities when living with Down syndrome


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Mention the name Bonnie Harper, and watch people’s faces light up. Bonnie is known by many, both at the Glennwood House and beyond, as “the most popular girl in town.” She’s always on the move. With two paid jobs, several volunteer positions, an active athletic schedule, and a full social life, Bonnie is busy. She barely had time to catch up with me one Thursday afternoon, between laundry day and Girls’ Night Out. Squeezing our interview into an already hectic schedule, her eyes were on the clock. But that didn’t stop her from greeting me with enthusiasm. “I’m Bonnie,” she told me, shaking my hand. “I’m 30.” 

Bonnie Harper closeup

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Bonnie Harper, at home at Glennwood House, an independent living community 

for adults with physical or developmental disabilities

In those 30 years, Bonnie has built a full and rich life, integrating herself into several local communities and proving – to herself and everyone around her – that her many abilities exceed her challenges, and her wide variety of talents are far more important than her limitations.

Glennwood House becomes home

Bonnie is one of the original residents at Glennwood House, celebrating her fifth year there and loving it. When she returns to her mother’s place in Laguna Niguel on the weekends, she can’t wait to get back to Glennwood. She appreciates the freedom and independence, she loves her friendly neighbors and staff, and she adores the structure of a scheduled environment. “Bonnie’s alarm clock is set for 7:30 a.m.,” Rachel Landers, Associate Director of Glennwood House, tells me. “If we go in at 7:29, Bonnie will know it. She’s very by-the-book.” 

Bonnie is Glennwood’s “Calendar Girl.” She’s in charge of the front office calendar, writing the date and keeping track of the resident sign-in and sign-out sheets. She also maintains a detailed personal calendar of everyone’s birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events, making sure cards are sent out on time.

In addition to the supportive staff, the beautiful grounds, and the opportunity for independent living, there’s never a dull moment at Glennwood House. There are art classes, bowling nights, special conditioning training, as well as computer and reading classes. But Bonnie’s favorites might be movie and karaoke nights. She keeps her own extensive movie collection in her room, peppered with plenty of Disney. But Glee, Bonnie tells me, is her favorite. Her older brother, Forrest, got her Glee for Christmas – 

and it was the perfect gift. “Bonnie also knows every song from Mamma Mia,” Rachel says. “She can even act out the parts. She’s the karaoke queen.”

Bonnie Harper group

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Hanging out in the common room at Glennwood, where there’s never a dull moment

She’s also motivated to pitch in and help when she can. “Every day, Bonnie sweeps the dining hall,” says Rachel. “She consistently does that every night. We don’t ask her, but she’s always thinking of others.” That concern for others extends to Faith Manners, Chief Operating Officer at Glennwood. If Faith isn’t in her office, Bonnie will begin asking Rachel her whereabouts. “She’s very intuitive about who’s there and who isn’t,” says Rachel. “Sometimes I have to just say she’s at the bank.”

On the job and on the move

Through Integrated Resources Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to fully assimilating people with disabilities into the community and securing paid employment opportunities for them, Bonnie has worked the past six years at Panera Bread. Recently, she added another day of employment at Del Taco. “She dumps the trash, cleans the tables and trays, keeps the salsa and salt and pepper in the right places,” says her mother, Kay Harper. “They’re happy with her and she loves it.”

Bonnie Harper Del Taco

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Bonnie showing off her new Del Taco uniform

Bonnie’s former job coach, Ann Boscardin, worked with her for three years. They went out every day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, allowing Bonnie to work in both paid and volunteer positions. “She’s a very conscientious and good worker,” says Ann. “She remembers things.” 

The restaurant industry is perfect for Bonnie, who has a passion for food. “She loves different kinds of foods and likes to try different things. She’ll never order the same thing from the same restaurant,” says Ann. “She’s very interested in the textures and tastes. The only time she didn’t like something was when she put five or six jalapenos on it. I told her she still liked jalapenos, just not so many at once.” Bonnie loves her lunch at Panera at the end of her shift. “She’d try something new every time, planning for it throughout the week,” says Ann.

In addition to her paid employment, Bonnie volunteers at the Florence Sylvester Senior Center in Laguna Woods, serving lunch to the residents, sitting with them and chatting. She also donates time at the Family Assistance Ministry and Crossline Church in Laguna Hills, stuffing bulletins into envelopes. She’s active in the church community, participating in the Lighthouse Group, a weekly youth group meeting for young adults with special needs. Lighthouse provides physical, emotional, educational and spiritual support for this community.

Bonnie also returns to her alma mater, Dana Hills High School, to work at the textbook collection center, meeting current students and making new friends.

“If the focus is on what Bonnie can do, it’s amazing,” says Kay. “There are so many abilities.”

Take her out to the ballgame…and the pool

Speaking of what else Bonnie can do – she’s adept at a wide variety of sports. She’s an incredible swimmer. She loves kayaking, paddleboarding, and almost everything else involving water (including Caribbean cruises). “She very steady, even if not very fast,” says Ann. “She finishes her workouts and is very methodical.” 

But baseball is Bonnie’s first love. She’s been active with the Challenger League since she was five. The Little League Challenger Program, and Senior League Challenger Division, is an adaptive baseball program giving individuals with physical or developmental disabilities the opportunity to play on a league. “The kids aren’t competitive or mean to each other,” says Kay. “They’re just there to support each other. If somebody falls, everyone stops to pick them up.” 

Although Bonnie is a Dodgers fan, she’s been able to play at Angels Stadium with the professional players over the years. 

Ann adds, “She’s also the biggest goofball. Bonnie loves a great joke.” 

A heart for others

When Bonnie lost her father last year, her concern wasn’t for herself. “Do you miss your husband?” she sometimes asks her mom. Bonnie’s empathy, her protective nature and kind disposition have touched countless lives around her. 

“If I hadn’t had Bonnie,” says Kay, “I wouldn’t be the person I am. She’s taught me so much more than I was prepared for – patience and love, tolerance and the acceptance of others who are different. All that makes me a different person.”

Bonnie Harper room

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Bonnie in her meticulously clean room at Glennwood

Kay offers some generally great parenting advice. “Try not to overreact. It’s easy to overreact in parenting. You need to take it slower. Let time pass. Become more understanding and tolerant.” Kay says it’s better to set the example, rather than preach the lesson. Using phrases like, “That’s not how we do it in this family” or “I wouldn’t do it that way” gives children more autonomy and control. It makes them the agents of their decisions.

Glennwood gives its residents that autonomy and independence. It empowers them to make their own choices, and provides a safety net – and some consequences – 

if they choose unwisely. 

Facts and statistics about Down syndrome

Down syndrome results from the presence of an extra (or partial extra copy) of chromosome 21. It’s become more common in recent years, and the life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome is on the rise. As Ann told me, “If you’ve met one person with Down syndrome, you’ve only met one person with Down syndrome.” The only thing individuals have in common is an extra chromosome. Beyond that, individuals are as unique, distinctive and particular as anyone else.

Bonnie Harper desk

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Bonnie at her desk, showing off her many memories and memorabilia

In 2011, Brian Skotko, a Harvard-trained physician and researcher, published a groundbreaking survey “Self-perceptions from People with Down Syndrome.” The study reported: “Among those surveyed, nearly 99 percent of people with Down syndrome indicated that they were happy with their lives; 97 percent liked who they are; and 96 percent liked how they look. Nearly 99 percent of people with Down syndrome expressed love for their families, and 97 percent liked their brothers and sisters. While 86 percent of people with Down syndrome felt they could make friends easily, those with difficulties mostly had isolating living situations.” 

Even stereotypes that are positive and well intentioned can be hurtful. The assumption that all individuals with Down syndrome are happy, friendly, and loving is a generalization and, as with any generalization, fails to take each unique individual into account. It’s important to see people – and their personal qualities, talents, flaws and gifts – for the specific individuals they are.

Actor and Down syndrome advocate Chris Burke put it best: “Having Down syndrome is like being born normal. I am just like you and you are just like me. We are all born in different ways, that is the way I can describe it. I have a normal life.”

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