Annual Slightly Strange List

  • Boots. I’m glad for boots. The only foot gear I really require is flip-flops or boots. I wear flip-flops when the weather is 50° or warmer and boots when it’s colder or wetter. So Simple.
  • Inside jokes. All my childhood, we siblings would snicker about things that other people didn’t get, and that was just fine. When I got married my husband and I explained each other’s family jokes to one another and crafted our own private line. Now I have a whole new range of inside jokes with my children. One of our favorites is making up new words for things. It’s surprising how often we come across “noddles” (small, sketchy-looking lumps).
  • The sky. I’m a skywatcher and I think I get it from my grandma who never writes a letter without mentioning the weather. Cerulean skies, puffy clouds, brilliant horizons, these all lift my heart. I call the children outside when the sun shines after a long gray spell, and we absorb sunshine on our shoulders. I think I would die in a cell without a window
  • Sheets. The pleasure of climbing into a bed with freshly line-dried sheets is difficult to describe. The only thing I want to buy in all this commercial craziness over the weekend is a superlative set of sheets on sale. That’s it. My needs are very simple. (I haven’t even scanned the sales yet to find them, but I will.)
  • Old things. When we were packing our clothes to go to Grandpa’s for Thanksgiving, I instructed the children not to pack anything ratty. One of my daughters objected, “But all my favorite clothes are ratty.” It’s true. The homely comforts are the best. My husband has been influencing me to appreciate the qualities of sturdily built objects from bygone centuries. He heartily objects to the wasteful, constantly-changing fashion world that is (Ikea 😳😳) home design. So now I like old things.
  • My hands. I never really liked my hands, but I have decided that that’s ridiculous. I am all grown up now and they’re not going to ever be the slender long-fingered hands with manicured nails that I so much admire. Every year I get more freckles on them, and they’re even starting to wrinkle, but they can do lots of things. I mean, they can soothe a sick child or swat an unruly goat or turn a lump of mud into a mug. So I’ve determined to be thankful.

I’ve been anti-social for an hour with my WordPress app, which I love, by the way, so I need to go rejoin the family. What about you? Do you have a list of slightly strange things that inspire you to be grateful?

Happy Thanksgiving!

You don’t get to quit

I am trying out the WordPress app on my phone and I discovered that it has a talk-to-text function. This might actually be a life-changer for my blogging since I’m often unable to access a computer at the time when I want to write down something quickly. Let’s see how it goes to add photos.

Well, that was easy!

So my sister and I were talking about the undeniable fact that parenting, with all its wonderful aspects, is utterly wearying. She is expecting her sixth baby any day and knows all about the adjustments to come with the beautiful little baby. She also knows how fleeting that squeaky newborn stage is and how quickly there will be a toddler making sure she doesn’t sit still too long. When we were discussing this she said something that I thought was profound, “When you feel sorry for yourself or depressed about how little time you have for yourself, the best thing to do is get up and do something for somebody else.”

This meshed with another conversation I had with a friend this week. She lost her husband in tragic circumstances a few months ago and is raising her family by herself. In the middle of her grief, she is refusing to pack her children off to school or daycare so she can indulge in “me time” even though many of her friends have counseled her to do that. Her focus is on serving her children and healing their sadness. She knows that God is with her in this daunting work that is in front of her. It is crushing and horrendous and He is with her and she will not sit down on the job.

I admire both my sister and my friend deeply for what they are modeling with their lives. In difficult circumstances we all tend to revert to a self-preserving, I-might-die-if- I-don’t-get-a-break, I-quit mentality. When I think of Jesus and now he never refused to give to another person from his resources, and I remember how he said, “When you have your hand on the plow, you don’t look back,” I feel the challenge. The field right there in front of you is your work. Get up and plow it. When I remember that He actually did die, I feel the puny weight of my measly problems.

I’ve done my share of private wishing for a live-in maid in my house. I’ve wasted time wondering what’s the point of beating back the chaos every day and is there even anything about cursive or geography or spelling that matters? I’ve fantasized about having a chef who will whip up nourishing meals for my children while I think about how to change the world. With this mindset, happiness is a slippery, unattainable thing and I know better than to indulge in it for long. In King James version, it’s time to “gird up the loins of your mind” when you’re in this place.

I suppose having a very practical personality might be helpful. I mean just get up and do something. I probably absorbed that advice with my mother’s milk, and I certainly heard it all my life as a child. Just get started with the glasses and the silver ware first. Just go comb your hair. Wash the windows so you can see outside. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.

Guess what?… it’s all true.

Newsflash: I am not here on this Earth to feel great about myself. In fact, the less I think about myself, the more likely I am to find the happiness I crave. Isn’t it weird how that works?

This is a principle of the kingdom of heaven that we get to model every day to our families and to the world around us. It’s deep and mysterious and very simple. Elisabeth Elliot would say, “Just do the next thing.” I am adding a little note to that, “You don’t get to quit.”

For your enjoyment I will include a recent essay my middle daughter wrote, but please do not mention that you read this on the blog. She is serenely unselfconscious and I’m confident that someday she will see the rich humor in her piece but probably not when she’s 10. You wouldn’t think that she spent an inordinate amount of time whining about her assignment by the matter of fact tone of her essay, but I’m afraid she did. She was supposed to write her own thoughts about a wise saying from years gone by.

“Benjamin Franklin once said ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I think this means that many people want things that they don’t want to work for. You could wish all day that you had a cat, but if you don’t get up and buy one you won’t get one. If you want water get off your padooka and get some. If you want to learn how to speak Spanish, get someone to teach you. SIMPLE. Basically if you want something you have to work for it.”

(A bit of clarification may be necessary. “Padooka” is code in our family for rear end.)

Making Progress

I determined that I would not live through another week without cleaning the ceiling fan in the kitchen, as well as the furry vents in the bathroom fan. Yesterday was their day of reckoning. Gregory was conscripted to climb up onto the counters and vacuum the dust that had accumulated above the bathroom cabinets, although he repeatedly assured me that it never bothers him. How generous to be so reassuring, but I was not to be deterred.

Someone told me once that if your kitchen and bathroom are reasonably clean, you can get away with a lot in the rest of the house. After working my way through the place, eliminating the cobwebs of the enterprising spiders that moved in with cold weather, those two rooms still need the most attention in places not open to public view. I did put up the proper shower curtain in my bathroom again. I can’t even remember why I switched out the blue striped fabric one for the coral one that I bought at a discount store this spring. I think the blue curtain needed to be washed and we had company coming, but then I never got around to putting up the one that actually coordinated with the towels and here we were in November and suddenly I realized that the color scheme was a little weird in the bathroom. Harmony is now restored. I am untrendy, but I do know a little about decor when I take the time to think about it.

I would like to give a little tip here for others who may find themselves frustrated by how hard it is to undo the dinky little clasps on some shower curtain rings… a small thing, but important in the housekeeperly realm of streamlining cleaning. Do not, I repeat, do NOT fall for those silly plastic rings that leave you sweating and fiddling while teetering with one foot on the edge of the bathtub and the other on the lid of the toilet, all the while groping for the next buttonhole on the shower curtain and trying to insert the plastic liner blindly on the backside. (Unless, of course, you want to live with grody showers.) They do make nifty metal ones that just hook on and that is where you want to spend your dollars. Look, you don’t even have to do the liner at the same time as the curtain. If you have glass shower doors, then I am sorry to have wasted your time. My sympathies with your own unique set of issues.

I have another tip for you. Get yourself a good hamper. You know those annoyingly flimsy hampers that do not hold up for more than a year? The ones that rhyme with tubber-laid? I have a whole row of them in the attic, storing stuff despite their cracked and broken condition because I hate to throw out such hunking blobs of plastic. After a brief try on the pretty fabric ones that collapse unless the children make a perfect basket every time they toss their dirty clothes, I finally did a thing that surprised myself and spent $75 on a hamper. Before you gasp too loudly, let me qualify: it’s a woven hamper made by an Amish family with significant health challenges that preclude the ordinary Amish livelihoods. Whatever they may not be able to do, they can weave a mean basket! It is capacious, with a sturdy wooden bottom and lid, and it is not like anything you can buy at TJMaxx or anywhere retail. I am just sorry I cannot link to their shop.

This week I indulged in my annual brief panic/depression about how I am going to make it through another cold, dark winter in confined spaces. Then I girded up my mind like a sensible German peasant and collected all the flip-flops and sandals to stow them in the attic in one of the reject hampers. While I was digging in the girls’ closet, I stumbled across a desiccated banana on top of a pile of clean pillowcases. Hmm. Nobody had any idea, but one more corner got cleaned. There is something to be said for the impetus of sheer necessity. I only wish I knew where the dead mouse stink is coming from. I like diffusers with essential oils, but there are limits to their odor-masking. Rita suggested we use cinnamon oil, and now the basement smells exactly like the entrance to JoAnn Fabrics when they get out their Christmas scented pinecones.

This week it got cold, so I took a clipper to the woods and collected long strands of bittersweet berries to make wreaths. They burst open after frost and are easy to spot once the bright orange berries pop out. I made two wreaths for the shed and one for the barn, using our own grapevines for a rounded base, then wiring the berries around it and tucking in some greenery.

The girls have started piano lessons, a long-time dream of theirs. It’s another run in the week, but we try to line up the errands. We take our recycling to a collection place on this route, pick up milk, get groceries and gas, maybe even a Walmart stop. This past Tuesday I had an unusually compact set of plans that included the library and brunch with a friend before the piano lesson. When I was standing on the porch of my friend’s house, I realized that I was there on the wrong day. “You were trying so hard to be efficient that you even mashed everything into one day in your mind,” Olivia said. And she was right.

We had some fuzzy snow flurries a few days ago, enough to make snow pants and ALL the other paraphernalia a necessity. For a few hours it transformed the muddy brown of November into something other-worldly. Addy grabbed one of my jackets, slipped into her rain boots and ran outside to dance through the swirling snow, the extra long sleeves flapping expressively as she twirled with the dog running circles around her. It reminded me of a quote by C. S. Lewis, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary sparkles are like this?” I put it up on my letter-board as a reminder to focus on the sparkles this winter instead of the icky. The children read it and said, “Huh?” But they don’t need so many reminders to notice sparkly things. (I was one “f” short of being able to use the entire quote. It is an annoyance that’s common to letterboards. )

A few of our children really like routines, knowing what’s coming, no surprises, definitely not happy with flying by the seat of the pants. For a few years, I didn’t try hard enough to meet those needs. It seemed too much effort to incorporate traditions into our daily life that they will be upset if we cannot keep. This November we took our cue from homeschooling cousins and started a tradition of having Tea and Poetry Tuesdays. It is really just early lunch on pretty dishes with tea in cups instead of mugs. I read whatever poetry strikes my fancy, and we all love it. It’s definitely more fun than our tradition of Thursday Basement Cleaning.

I have been diligently filling my pottery orders for Christmas. Gabe and I had to look at our fledgling business long and hard before we could name it, but it does now have a name and a logo.

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We live on Black Oak Ridge and the ceramics is my part while slöyd is more the guys’ department, as well as the needle-crafting small girls around here. Slöyd is a common idea in Sweden, the art of making things with your hands and simple tools. Wikipedia describes it thus: “Educational slöyd’s purpose was formative in that it was thought that the benefits of handicrafts in general education built the character of the child, encouraging moral behavior, greater intelligence, and industriousness.” That fits our philosophy of education exactly. Many of the things we encourage our children to try (the copious amounts of paper, fabric, wood, yarn, paints, the endless messes) cost us money, yet they are cheap when measured by the skills they pick up and the confidence they learn from figuring out how to make things for themselves.

Eventually we hope to have variety in our shop besides pottery. As of now, it’s my pots. Here’s the link to the Etsy shop if you are interested. I do not always have time to stock it and there are lots of pieces in my pottery shed that have not gotten posted on Etsy, including those beautiful spoons Gabriel carved.

The little girls have heard me joking about my “mid-life crisis pottery.” Tonight Addy informed me confidentially that she and Rita were going out to the barn “to have a mid-life crisis together.” I said, “WHAT?” and Rita rushed to explain that they were starting a new kind of play where they are vets for the animals. Apparently any new venture is classified as a “mid-life crisis” in their minds.

This week we have consumed a lot of food and have drunk a lot of milk. Our clothes keep getting dirty and torn and sometimes even lost, so we wash and mend and replace the gloves. The cars need to be topped up with gas and the pigs are always hungry. Gabriel has been picking up overtime to pay the bills. As soon as one wheel gets grease, another starts whining. But we “keep buggering on” (Churchhill) and we make a bit of progress. I don’t know any other way, do you?

Brave Girls of History: a Book List

First order of business: thank you for weighing in with your comments on my last post. How very cheering to hear from so many of you! I wasn’t sure if blogs were a thing of the past, especially rather lethargic blogs, but now I know there is a cloud of friends still out there. You all made my day!

After I posted a list of survival books for boys, I thought that I could have titled it “Survival Books for Anybody” because girls love learning these skills as well. My outdoor-lovers carry pocket knives and weave baskets out of grasses. They forage foods out of the woods and reference them with field guides. Rita loves to build a fire in the backyard to roast hotdogs, to stick potatoes in the coals, or to cook a bit of rice in a small kettle she bought at a yard sale. The girls pack their own version of survival kits, which usually include needles and thread, band-aids and chap-stick, some salt, and always a baggie of oatmeal. They eat oatmeal dry for snacking outside, and I have a suspicion that it is a result of reading lots of stories about brave girls in history and learning how important it is to have shelf-stable provisions.

Here are some of our favorite stories about girls who were survivors. The picture is the link that will take you to the Big A if you click on it.

On the tip-top of the list is the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Worth every penny just for the wonderful way they are written, these stories should be on every American family’s bookshelf for the historical significance. (all ages)

Elizabeth Yates is a solid author, one I trust for good content any time I see her name on a book cover. One of her wonderful stories for girls is Carolina’s Courage, a tale of a young girl who gives up her greatest treasure when her family settles in Indian Territory. (all ages)

Last winter we read Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is a fictional account of  a historical epidemic of fever in the city of Philadelphia. The main character is a girl from a fairly wealthy family who ends up having to perform menial tasks for the sake of her sick loved ones. As the fever rages across the city, it burns up her selfishness and teaches her what the most important things really are. (ages 8-14)

The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh, is a true frontier story from 1707. Young Sarah accompanies her father through the wilderness to keep house for him while he builds a cabin for his family. “Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble,” her mother says in her parting advice to her little daughter. (ages 6-12)

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry is a story we have enjoyed on Audible many times. During World War II, the Germans began rounding up the Jews in Denmark as they did in all their conquered territory. Anne-Marie is a small girl in a family that is helping Jews escape. There are some heavy themes in the book, but they are told from the artless viewpoint of a young child, so they are not as graphic as many of the stories from this time frame. (ages 6-12)

Calico Captive and The Witch of Blackbird Pond are both by Elizabeth George Speare . Both are stories of colonial New England and both contain a slightly spoiled young lady who learns through difficult circumstances that frilly clothes and pretty baubles are shallow comfort in the face of real need. (Probably written for ages 10 and up… We have these on audio, so the younger girls listen to them even though they would not be up to this reading level.)
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Island of the Blue Dolphins is the challenging tale of the survival of a young girl who found herself all alone on an island off the coast of California. She lived there alone for nearly 20 years. Scott O’Dell wrote her story as a work of fiction, since nobody ever really understood this woman’s language when she was rescued.

Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is a classic I have loved since childhood. This is another wonderful audiobook in our library. Betsy is a small girl who is beset by many fears due to her Aunt Francis’ careful tutelage that everything is scary. When her aunt becomes ill, Betsy is bustled away to a remote cousin’s farm in Vermont. The story is an amusing account of Betsy’s realization that she is actually quite brave.

Patricia St. John is another author I unequivocally endorse. She has written many beautiful books for children, all with themes of faith and redemption. In Rainbow Garden she describes a sad city girl who has to live with a foster family in the country. All the changes make her feel terribly lonely, but her misery slowly changes into joy as she tends a secret garden and discovers the love of God for all living things, including herself.

Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm,  by Kate Douglas Wiggin, is not exactly a survival story, but it is a fun read about a lively little girl who manages to live with a passel of dour elderly aunts.

 

Christian heroes biographies about Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, Darlene Diebler, Amy Carmichael, and many more. These are all role models of faith and great perseverance in hardships.

In reading these books, I have a goal to give my girls friends from other centuries, cultures, and customs who have faced similar circumstances in life and learned to be brave and work through them. It’s not just stories I am peddling to my children, and it’s definitely more than entertainment. These brave girls are their friends.

When you are afraid of taking the table scraps to the chickens after dark, it’s good to think of Betsy who faced down a dark night in a pit. When you feel like everybody around you is strange, you can remember Laura and Mary walking the gauntlet of eyes at a new school. When you face a crisis, the memory of plucky little Gladys praying her way into China will certainly help you to reach out for help from God.

Tell me of books I missed. We’re always on the lookout for more good friends around here.

 

Notes From an Untrendy Person

I seem to have been born with a bent to untrendiness. It’s somewhat about being clueless, and more about being stubbornly resistant to the things that are cool with the masses. But I am also forty now, which means I no longer spout meaningless opinions quite as readily as I used to, and hopefully am more open to the big idea.

However, I will part ways with caution and political correctness to spout some opinions. I have been getting one of those glossy magazines titled Flower for about a year and as I flip through it, looking at the showpieces that cannot possibly be actual homes as much as they are museums to designers, I see things that puzzle me. Every house seems to have these floral installations hanging from the chandelier. It confuses me. An amaryllis, upside down amidst some greenery and a few straggling vines. The glory of it is lost upon me. I have hung plenty of roses upside down to preserve their glory a little longer, but never straight from the florists as an installation. I puzzle, too, over brand-new mansions with antique farm implements polished on the walls beside electric fireplaces topped with scarred barn beam mantlepieces with preferably an animal skull adorning the room under a nature print of a dead rabbit beside a victorious fox. I find it all a bit alarming, like a city dweller has had an identity crisis and brought home Grandpa’s treasures instead of selling them at auction.

Then there are the houseplants. They are all good, and wonderful for the air of the home; it is simply fascinating to watch the trends from ficus to fern to fiddle leaf figs. If I had room, I would probably try them all. Except snake plant. I just can’t see it. My grandma always had them, and though she had a green thumb, her snake plant languished thinly with a few yellowing spears. In my Flower magazine I notice a lot of viney plants that straggle across everything from pianos to open shelving in kitchens, where you have to be careful not to disrupt it when you want to use the crockery. The thing is, the Amish ladies have been doing this for as long as I can remember, only they don’t have the open shelving. They use little hooks to hold up the vines on the wall, and I applaud their creativity. I used to say I dislike succulents because they are squishy, but wow! We have them on many of our windowsills for the winter and I really love them. I guess there is hope for a future snake plant.

On to coffee. I wouldn’t say it annoys me when people post pictures of fancy coffee on their Instagram stories. It doesn’t; they look wonderful and I want some too! It’s just the need to assure everyone that this happened! This coffee right here that is too beautiful to drink did, indeed, happen, and here is the proof that I have 5 extra dollars every day. Okay, sorry about that snark. I have a friend, a millennial who has insights into trends, who was laughing with me about this, and we decided to start a new thing: buying McDonald’s dollar coffee and posting pictures of it in all seriousness like it is the treat of the day. Honestly, I love their iced-French-vanilla-sugar-free. I took a picture of pumpkin spice that I brought home for my husband one day, but then I neglected to post it, so here’s the proof. Michelle, this is for you!

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(It wasn’t actually very good. Too sweet.)

Here’s another surprising thing from Flower: a super trendy jewel designer posted a picture of herself in a floral cotton dress with puffy sleeves. I would wear the dress myself, if I could get about a yard of extra fabric to fill in the neckline. On either side posed her adult daughters, one in calico and the other in a lavender gingham pinafore. My girls had almost the exact same pinafores when they were 1 and 3 years old. Isn’t it amazing? (If you wonder why I get this magazine… it was one of those $2 deals and I thought I was getting a gardening instructional. haha.)

I still can’t get into enneagrams. They make me feel dim-witted because I can’t remember what the letters are for. But that’s a personal problem. Last night I had a dream that was so vivid, I awoke from it feeling like I needed to make amends to the people who had been hurt by my actions. It took a few minutes of wakefulness to realize that I had not even done that awful thing that I was repenting of in the middle of the night. What letter is a dim-witted, apologetic person?

Here’s all I really am saying: go right ahead and buy that plant to beautify your house. Don’t mind me and I won’t mind you. Also, I do like some things. Wanna hear about them?

I do love emojis. I thought of a shruggy one right at the end of the last paragraph.

When it comes to household trends, it’s kind of a personality thing: I like cozy, easily maintained spaces. I tend to look for warm colors because white would have to be washed for ever more. I like things that work double duty, like a pretty hat box that doubles as storage for the card games. There is very little in our home that is strictly ornamental.  I readily admit that I am trendy-decorating challenged, and I feel humbled by the fact that there are pieces that have been hanging on our walls for 15 years. I do believe in rearranging the furniture. It truly sparks joy for me, and my girls light right up when I suggest that we figure out a new way to place the living room furnishings. The men in the house? Not so much. “But we just carried that heavy old thing downstairs last year!” I play this game with them every year when I deep-clean the places and shampoo the rugs and furniture. It’s really fun to make our small space work for us the best it can. That just naturally involves dragging things around.

On the clothing scene, I love polka dots. This was evident today when I wore my navy skirt with white polka dots, and my daughters ended up with teal/white dots, pink/white dots, and grey/white dots. Our bench at church was a merrily uncoordinated sight! There is another trend that I would like to encourage you to try if you are on the fence about it. I bought it at Wally the weekend my husband and I were going camping to celebrate our anniversary. In his words, “That is one impressive sweater!” meaning those below-the-knee chunky sweaters. My idea was that it would be great for running to the bath house in the middle of the night, etc. etc. I didn’t expect it to be so cozy. It’s literally like wearing a blanket, but much more acceptable in public than one of those snuggies from a few years ago.

I have a few pictures for you to prove that it really did happen: we did go camping all by ourselves, in a tent, for the first time in years. It was wonderful.

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We ate out. Every meal we ate out there. We stopped at Aldis on our way and bought easy stuff but yum!IMG_20191012_175123309

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The sweater adorns the folding sofa chair up there. It kept catching on the picnic table benches when I was cooking, but otherwise I wore it day and night.

And one more picture (below) taken on our actual anniversary. I get so tickled by the contrasts in this picture. My husband can pull off the millennial look very well, but we have agreed on no skinny jeans, ever. He doesn’t mind my conservative safeness, either, (no way Converse) so… match made in heaven.

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I know you want to know if I have bought a fanny pack yet. Nope. I still have one from the 90’s.

 

P. S. Small appeal here: please comment anything. I have been playing safe and not writing for various reasons. The Lord (ok, maybe it was people) prompted me to stop being afraid, so I plunged right off the cliff with a bunch of tongue-in-cheek to see if anyone is still out there.

 

Survival Books for Boys

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With one son camping with friends and another ready for a weekend course on Outdoor Emergency Care, I thought it would be appropriate to finish this post that I have been incubating for a while.

When we upgraded our book shelves, we categorized a lot better and I found a section of books that are specifically geared to survival. I didn’t even know this was a genre until I started buying books for my sons. They have been pretty absorbed with the idea, and it really escalated their interest when Gabe took them wilderness camping in the Adirondacks for a week. I would like to be with my husband/sons in the event of a disaster. Both of the boys have built primitive shelters in the woods with scrounged materials and have amassed impressive bug-out bags full of essential gear such as Lifestraws and flint strikers for building fires. Once Gabe bought a thousand foot roll of paracord for them and was astonished at how quickly they powered through the entire roll with their projects. I thought it was definitely worth the investment, since it kept them busy for days, seeing how many feet of cord they could weave into one survival bracelet. I will draw a merciful curtain on the pocket knife situation. I don’t pretend that our wild and free ideas of learning survival are for everyone, but if you’re interested in armchair learning, here are some book reviews from Greg.

Starting at the bottom of the pile up there, with Northeast Foraging, Greg says, “This is our best foraging guide because the author started foraging with her grandma and she gives good advice for how to prepare the food you find. Also, it is our region.”

  We have a Peterson’s Guide to Edible Plants as well, which is much more comprehensive, but not helpful when the plants don’t even grow in our area.

  Outdoor Life Ultimate Bushcraft  is Gregory’s favorite book on wilderness skills, “because it focuses on living in the wild. There are excellent illustrations and it is really interesting.” His other Outdoor Life Survival Manual includes natural disasters, wilderness skills, and urban dangers. Gregory hopes never to have to face urban dangers. He doesn’t even like driving through the city (no air! no space!)

The Boys’ Handy Book is a boy scout manual from the turn of the century -early 1900’s, that is- and has lots of illustrations of skills that are largely forgotten now. Gregory doesn’t like it for only one reason: some things are hard to source nowadays.

 My parent’s gave the Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook for a birthday, along with a cast-iron Dutch oven.  “It’s nice because the recipes are formulated for cooking over a campfire, so it makes it easier than trying to adapt a regular recipe.” Our favorite so far was a campfire cobbler. To be honest, though, most of the things they cook over fires are bannock type breads, or rice with seasonings, or maybe potatoes cooked in the coals.

Usborne has a few good sources that I found on Amazon: True Stories of Survival, Survival (written in typical Usborne style with short, readable paragraphs and lots of good illustrations… my personal favorite), and a comic-book styled one titled Improve Your Survival Skills.

A lot of this excitement about learning survival skills comes from reading storybooks. Top of the top for us is Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. It has all the elements of a toe curling gripper for boys: a raw greenhorn, alone in the wilderness with only a hatchet to help him after he survived the plane crash.

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The Cay is another classic tale of adventure at sea. Theodore Taylor has a gentle way of bringing huge topics such as racism and terrible loss into the story. My Side of the Mountain tells the story of a slightly bratty boy who discovers how wonderful his life really is when he takes off to try to live entirely off the land. 

Of course, all of the Ralph Moody books are great, especially for young teens. We have been accumulating them on audio, although I should caution that they contain some strong language.

I try to look ahead in faith for the next generation, but I feel in my gut that there are hard times ahead, possibly involving finding starchy roots to eat, or building fish traps for supplemental protein. But especially there will be trials of the soul. With this in mind, we have been buying more mature biographies and memoirs for our older children. Here are a few for older boys that tell a true story of survival, accompanied by many life lessons. All describe men who toiled through incredible hardships and came out stronger.

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Last, but not least, there is Evidence Not Seen, the story of very courageous woman who survived Japanese camps during World War II. It is our current read-aloud and I know I will need to edit some of the heaviest passages for the sake of the younger children, but I consider it on the same level as the books above.

That’s our list of favorite survival books, for your perusal. If you have any recommendations, we would love to hear them!

 

Sometimes the Beans Get too Fat

Would you like to know about the time the Lord gave me permission to not make pickles with my excess cucumber crop? It was in August and I felt that I really should not allow those cukes to go to waste. I looked at my shelves of jars in the basement and saw that I had about 10 pints of mushy bread-and-butter pickles from a previous harvest. They were no longer a blessing or a temptation to eat, so we didn’t eat them. I dumped them out for the chickens, washed the jars, and then I heard the voice of reason. “How many jars of pickles did you can last year? About 15? See, you’re not even really fond of pickles, so how does it make sense to cram a batch of them into an already hectic day so that you can dump half of them to the chickens in a few years? Maybe you could just throw the cucumbers to them now and buy a jar of pickles when you need it?”

A gardener tends to look at that sort of advice as from below, the lazy place, where people don’t manage very well. Having been raised with gardening my entire childhood, I value the lessons learned while pulling weeds and digging potatoes. Once we had enough green beans in the freezer for the year, my mom would sometimes let the last ones get fat so we could shell them and can them. It didn’t matter that none of us really enjoyed shell beans; we were not going to waste good food. I witnessed my aunts doing the same. When there was a glut of cantaloupe, one of them froze the excess in little chunks to eat as slush. It was actually a good idea, but I don’t need to tell you how small the window is for a bite of slushy cantaloupe versus a bite of disgusting slime. For a person from Amish culture, wasting something that could possibly be preserved, canned, frozen, dried, or fermented was unpardonable. I still find it really difficult to throw out food scraps unless they are going to compost or to feed an animal. And I do let the last green beans get fat, because I know our goats will love them.

I’m prioritizing hard this August, having added another layer of things to do with my pottery, which I like a lot better than canning pickles, by the way. I ask myself, “What does the Lord require of you?” and it is simply this: “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.” There are a lot of choices available in those generalized instructions, but “do all to the glory of God” probably summarizes them all.

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We are back to school and I love the routine and the quieter pace that is a necessity of providing an education for our children. We do our basic household chores in the morning, then go to our schoolroom and look at the schedule for the day, taking it from there. This year I am planning out only one week at a time, with Gregory making his own goals and keeping his own logbook. Alex has to do one course that is mandatory to get his credits for graduation. With Addy reading pretty well, I feel like I’ve hit on a little pocket of homeschool bliss that I have been working toward for years. Feel free to ask me how it’s going when we hit February.

A few weeks ago, Gabriel took time to build me a wonderful set of bookshelves for our schoolroom. It has been exactly the inspiration I needed to get excited about getting back to the books. I just filed our papers and slunk outside this spring when we finished our term. Things were not pretty, so I sorted, culled, and got thoroughly happy as I arranged our library.

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That, right there, is the heart of our homeschool. Once my children love to read, they are driven to learn and they don’t even have a clue it’s happening. I am planning a series of book recommendations this fall. It should be a lot easier with everything categorized. The left half is non-fiction, biographies, and classics. The right half is series, readers, and storybooks.

Aside from not canning pickles, we are have been working toward a massive shift of bedrooms in the house. There is one large room downstairs with a bathroom/laundry room next to it. The boys were down there for years and the girls were upstairs in two little bedrooms. This meant that Olivia had her own room and she wasn’t even a teen yet, and they did not think that was quite fair. On Saturday the boys talked the girls into switching so that they are all three downstairs in the big bedroom and the boys each have a small bedroom. I was painting the downstairs room while they were doing negotiations, and was a little surprised that it was going so smoothly. Suddenly I noticed a sad little face and when I asked what was wrong, she crumpled into tears because “I don’t want to be selfish but I did so love to be by myself.” It was a situation that reminded me of a Dutch phrase my mom used to say (“Es chatshtah gebt uch.”) that translates loosely into “The most mature person gives up.” In many ways and on many days, my middle child is the most mature of them all. We talked about decorating and making sure she gets her quiet time without interruptions. Today we picked a blush colored paint for an accent wall behind her bed, and her school desk is beside a window where the sun shines in. It is very pleasant, and the smaller girls are being held strictly accountable for their messes. We are three days in and so far, so good.

If you want to know what a house looks like when a passel of children are sorting treasures and clothes, moving all the furniture, some into the attic and some out of the attic, emptying out the entire closet full of games and puzzles… well… It looked like all the bedrooms vomited into the living room and down the stairs and literally everywhere. Meanwhile Gregory had a burning desire to make gobs and they were spread on the table, waiting for icing. I finished painting and came to a kitchen that was liberally sprinkled with chocolate crumbs and abandoned cookie sheets. Then I remembered that I hadn’t finished my kettle full of spaghetti sauce on Friday night, and I was chopping fresh herbs for that while the paint was drying. That was when my parents dropped in, so you can ask them and they will tell you that it was bad.

Having big strong boys makes this sort of enterprise much easier than you would suppose. At 3 o’clock they started moving the bookshelves, because yeah, every child has their favorites in their bedroom so every bedroom has a bookshelf. The two little girls use most of their shelves for things like rock collections and pinecones and Calico Critters. Olivia has books, coloring supplies, and knitting projects in baskets. Most of the games from the closet got stashed on Greg’s shelves for now because they had to go somewhere. His closet is the biggest, so he is also stuck with a section of girls’ dresses. Alex’s books are in three tall stacks right inside his door. Like I said, we are in progress here.

Every dresser, chest of drawers, nightstand, mirror, and lamp moved up or down. The air conditioner unit and the window fans moved.

The bed situation was easier. Greg inherited the bunkbeds because that is his room. Only one twin bed had to be moved downstairs, but that left Alex without a mattress because his full-sized one doesn’t fit into his tiny room. Our Goodwill sells decent quality new mattresses and I bargained with him that if he got the things squared away by 6 PM, we’d go pick up a twin bed. Unfortunately the power steering on the Suburban gave out just a few miles from home, and we had to abort the mission. By the time I tucked in the girls that night, fed the dog and put her into her kennel, and made sure there were nightlights in all the right places, I felt like I had juggled paint rollers, fragile feelings, and homeless objects for hours. We might as well have moved, it was that drastic. I am not the tucked-in “don’t have stuff you don’t need person” that I thought I was, but now I know exactly what else needs to be worked on. And that is after a massive clearing out this fall, with yard sales and all. I don’t know where all this stuff comes from! (Help me, Carol!)

Greg is currently sleeping in a lavender room. I wanted to paint it anyway, but all in good time. Alex has a mattress now and no longer sleeps on the floor. The girls are getting along much better than I expected and can’t wait for the blush accent wall. And I am tired.

Home-making. It can be really absorbing and exhausting, but there is plenty of scope for imagination here. I have always liked rearranging furniture, figuring out how to freshen the house without spending a lot of money. I don’t like decorating at all if it means I am trying to achieve a certain look. It must be that I am not visual enough. But I do know how to go for a certain feel. That probably isn’t really a cool thing but it’s how I roll.

Speaking of feeling, four people have told me recently that I should read up on the Enneagrams. I am starting to feel ‘way behind the times. One of them gave me specific recommendations for websites, but I forgot them. Give me a link in the comments if you have a good source. I am very interested.

For one last bit of random, I leave you with an herb bouquet because it’s Abundant August and I can. Have a lovely day!

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Cloudy With a Chance of Chicken Broth

 

There was once a lady who noticed that soon there would be sufficient produce from her gardening efforts to require some blanching and freezing of vegetables.

As was her custom, this was the season to defrost the deep-freezer, when it was at its most depleted state. As she was lifting out the frozen hunks of meat and the containers of last year’s sweet corn, she happened upon a lot of chicken carcasses. This jogged her memory from the previous fall, when the chicken processing folks had cut up her hens and left the backbones for her to cook however she wanted. At the time she had gone into flat denial about this need and shoved them all into the freezer for another time. Twenty chicken carcasses just waiting to be made into broth for the nurturing of her family, but they had been out of sight, out of mind. Now here they were again, front and center and taking up space that was needed for green beans. She stuffed them into her biggest stockpot to defrost in the refrigerator. When the last two wouldn’t fit, they went to the nourishment of the pigs who were a little surprised to find icy chicken in their trough.

A few days later the lady went to her spare refrigerator and saw that the chicken was thawed and ready to cook. Her husband had outfitted her with a propane cooker for the deck so she could do projects like this outside. Nobody wanted to live in a house with a constant aroma of simmering bones. After a suitable time, the chicken was cooked soft and she picked it off the bones. There was enough meat and broth to can seven quarts of chicken bits and she was happy about that, but she was not done. Those bones still contained a lot of goodness and she really wanted bone broth. She threw the bones into the enormous stockpot with hunks of celery, onions, garlic, and even a few withered carrots from the bottom of the crisper drawer in her refrigerator, covered the whole works with water and a splash of vinegar, and set it to simmer. It simmered all day outside and the surrounding vicinity smelled like Grandma’s chicken soup.

At last it was time to strain out all the bits and pour the broth into jars for canning. Again she filled seven quarts to can and kept the rest for cooking noodles for supper. Although it was a labor-intensive process, she felt good about not wasting a thing and about this stockpile of excessively healthful bone broth.

Not owning a pressure cooker, because she was scared of them, she set the jars to water bath on the cooker outside. It was going to take three hours and she was so glad that she wouldn’t be heating up the kitchen with her canning. She got them rolling along merrily, set the timer for 3 hours, and lost herself in an absorbing pottery project in her shed. A half hour before the timer beeped, there was a tremendous boom and an alert observer reported a mushroom cloud of glass mingled with fragrant chicken stock rising above the deck. The lady herself only saw the aftereffects as she picked through the rubble of broken glass and twisted canning rings. Fortunately the canner lid was constructed of shatter-proof glass that rained down in harmless fragments, but the jar shards are still being discovered in odd parts of the lawn to this day. The lady was astonished to discover oily smears of chicken broth rained across the entire width of her house, which, while not very wide, was still quite impressive. She castigated herself for not checking the water level in the canner and moderating the amount of heat. Mostly she mourned the healthful broth, but there was nothing for it except to sweep up the glass, and order a new canner lid. The very next week she bought a pressure canner at her grandma’s auction.

The noodles they had at supper were simply delicious.

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Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

Of Popsicles and Weeds

It’s glorious summertime, with the solstice past and the year waning. How is that for jerking around your feelings in the first line? The ebb and flow of life is mostly wonderful in June. With a house full of tweens and teens, someone is constantly checking the cupboards or the fridge. My oldest son goes to work and he and my husband both pack a lunch, although Gabe eats his at midnight and Alex has his at the regular time. I pack one lunch in the morning and one in the evening. When I don’t do it in a timely manner, Alex packs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some chips and calls it enough. Gabe grabs a granola bar and some cheese and calls that enough. I make a point of staying ahead of them so that there is lettuce on the sandwich and nourishment in the snacks.

Meanwhile the garden is not quite producing what the little girls like to pack in their daily picnics. I let them pack whatever they want, provided it’s marginally healthy. (That means no, not popsicles,) and every time I want to make a salad, I hold my breath that the veggies are still there in the crisper drawers. I buy prodigious quantities of Ranch dressing which they pour into personal containers for dipping.  (I also buy saltines; those cheap ones for 98 cents a box are the preferred variety. As long as they have salt, the kids are happy.) I am excited to see the first peppers setting tiny fruits and the cucumbers are starting to put out blooms. This past week the girls have been grazing off the pea patch. Finally I told them they have to stop or we will never have enough for a meal. There are still a few strawberries ripening. The patch is old, so the berries were all small. I was thinking about how long it takes to cap such little fruits when I heard Rita gushing about how cute they are and how much fun it is to cap them. I did not disrupt their fun.

Last year with all the rain, most of Gabe’s raspberries gave up in a despairing shower of yellowing leaves. There is still one row that is producing berries this year, so I was walking along, deep in thought while I looked for them in the tangle of canes and weeds. I kept hearing a hissing, but couldn’t place it until I nearly stepped on a duck that is sitting on a huge nest full of eggs. She was flattened out in her effort to keep them all warm, and she meant business! I tiptoed away quickly. The girls informed me that there are two other expectant mother ducks in the field. It looks like the slugs and bugs had better beware this summer.

On the poultry side of things, there are a bunch of baby guineas sprouting feathers and attitudes in the barn. They were only 3 days old when we observed them fighting over food and running dizzily hither and yon. “Showing their true colors already,” Gregory observed sagely.

We’ve had a brilliant social life recently. Last week there was either an event involving our family, or we had visitors here at our house every day except one. It was a blast! I literally went for one day at a time. Actually, make that one meal at a time. One morning recently I went down to the laundry room to sort the hampers. Both my sons’ towels and entire wardrobe from the previous day were on the floor of their bathroom (which doubles as our laundry room) and there was one shirt in the hamper. It belonged to Gregory’s friend who had spent the day here. When I texted his mother that little story, she replied that when my son was at her house, he alone brought his mug to the kitchen after it was empty. I feel that an identity crisis would be in order: if they only do what they are supposed to do when mother isn’t there to remind them, what is a mother for? (I jest. I hope you know that. Recently I witnessed some incredible thick-headedness when a friend made tongue-in-cheek comments that left her back-peddling for dear life. It made me nervous!)

A few days ago the boys and their cousins were swimming in the pond and wishing the cousins didn’t have to use precious time to take showers before continuing their journey. One of my children said, “You’re plenty clean! You were just swimming!” He replied, “I must take a shower. Dad’s orders. But I only need 30 seconds for that, so let’s play until the very last minute.” I was not terribly surprised to find his swimming trunks and other sundries on the bathroom floor after they left, but he was as clean as 30 seconds under a stream of water could make him.

So many times, with teaching children line upon line, precept upon precept, you take the victories as they come. They really do wash their dirty hands. You can easily see that by the dirt smears on the hand towel. We have a rule around here about popsicles. If you don’t dispose of the wooden stick or the wrapper or the plastic tube, as the case may be, you don’t get a popsicle the next time. I have discovered a flaw in the rule. Short of forensic science, it is pretty difficult to isolate the trash-offender, especially if there have been non-family members around also eating popsicles.  It’s as if no one ever deliberately says, “Now I will toss this in the lawn so I can do other things.” So the rule is kind of useless unless I personally observe the offense. I amended it to “go pick up any trash in the lawn. If it is big enough to get hold of with your thumb and finger, it counts as trash. And no, it doesn’t matter if it was or wasn’t you.”

Addy whined a little today, “Why do I have to do dishes?” and my wise answer was, “Because you live here.” I noticed recently that the very thing that annoys me is often an indication of a great blessing. The refrigerator is needing repairs. Well, glory be, I don’t have to go to the spring house to keep the milk cold, although running downstairs to the egg fridge every time we need milk is probably the modern equivalent. And who has an egg fridge, anyway? People with so many extra eggs they can eat them every day and sell them too.

I have a few bits of advice for those who like to stay alert to potential problems.

  1. Never have a yard sale on a rainy day, even if you have it under a roof. People simply don’t believe the signs.
  2. Don’t throw things away. It may be exactly what the person who does stop at your yard sale was looking for, and they will feel so very happy about that. Also, the lace on the old curtain might be precisely what your daughter needs for edging on her colonial dress that she made out of an old sheet. See concluding picture below. (pattern bought at a yard sale.)
  3. Do throw away ratty stuffed animals. Nobody wants them. Sorry, Velveteen Rabbit.
  4. Don’t wear flip-flops to the doctor’s office if you expect to wait an hour in the refrigerated tomb that is an exam room. You will be so chilled by the time you actually see the doc that she might mistake you for a corpse and order a post-mortem.
  5. Don’t worry too much about preserving yourself. It’s not natural. I quote from The Last Battle: “Susan’s whole idea was to get to the silliest time of her life as quickly as she could and then to stay there as long as she could.” (Speaking of her absorption with lipstick and invitations.)
  6. {Edit} Weeds. I just looked at my title and remembered that I was going to mention that this is the weather where “weeds go mental,” in the words of a British gardener. Here is what you do: you pull them out, compost them, use what is nasty and messy for the benefit of all.

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All the Feels

“Life experience is not distracting you from your appointed task of writing. It is, rather, the roundabout blessing of giving you something to say.” So says Douglas Wilson in his book Wordsmithy. 

Well. The one thing I know is that I am getting life experience every day. Weird as it may be, I turn airy phrases while I am frying sausage, or while I am pulling weeds in my perennial border. I can’t help myself. But the thing I can help… that thing called pulling out the laptop or the paper, that is the where I weakly procrastinate.

I have a whole range of feelings to explore just now. Get ready!

Things That Make Me HAPPY

  • May, which is to say lilacs, grape hyacinths, creamy tulips with purple fringes, crabapple blooms outside my window, and all of these also in my house, in vases I made for them when the blooms were apparently dead and frozen.
  • Bubble tea, which I tried for the first time in a Thai restaurant with my sister, only we ordered bubble coffee. I googled it and found it is essentially pearl tapioca suspended in liquid. Yesterday I made my own and served it in iced cream tea. The family was less enthusiastic, so I get to have it all to myself. I love that slurp of fat tapioca flying up the straw. And I love not paying four dollars for a drink that only costs twenty cents.
  • The end of school, which is upon us. I look back at the beginning of the year and of the obstacles we have overcome by daily doing the next thing, the next lesson, the next big concept. My first grader can read all the knock-knock jokes in her book now, and I wish I had left it at the book sale. All the others groan and reject her hopeful “Knock-knock.” It is up to me to shore up her sense of hilarity and provide “Who’s there?” dialog. Rita has mastered long division with its accompanying checking, that milestone of third grade. Olivia has learned to diagram compound sentences and do spelling without tears.  I now have a newly-hatched high schooler who  loves history and remembers everything he ever read. The other high schooler won a hundred dollar prize in an essay contest. Sometimes I live my triumphs vicariously through theirs. I will not claim to be undaunted by the challenges of home schooling. It’s ridiculously hard some days, but here we are and we have grown and learned. Here’s our final exams day, and we couldn’t sit at desks one more day.
  • My children playing with ducks and chickens and bunnies. Outside. Or pitching a tent to sleep in the backyard, or hanging Rita’s hammock in the tree for a reading spot. In fact, there were so many “differences of opinion” with the hammock usage that I just ordered the second one. One easily fits two people, but not three, so that there was always an odd girly out.

Things That Make Me Sad or Mad

  • Accidentally freezing my tote full of dahlia tubers that were supposed to be planted the entire length of my garden. There was a stack of egg cartons in the basement closet where I usually over-winter the dahlias, and I had no other place to put them, so I took the tubers to the attic. Obviously, it got much too cold. I have a friend who has some that I gave her a few years ago, and she is returning the favor by giving me some back. I am so happy about that, because I have never seen this particular color of dahlia anywhere else.
  • Dropping a heavy casserole dish out of an upper cupboard onto a stack of soup bowls on the counter. You can imagine the carnage. But now I can make more.
  • Innumerable ants invading my house. One crumb in the middle of the living room carpet appeared to be moving one day, and sure enough, there they were. They especially love the smorgasbord of my kitchen floor.
  • Pigs eating poultry that is doing nothing more offensive than pecking at grains the pigs would rather keep for themselves. It’s just piggish. But we sold Brutus and Petunia now and their offspring are still too young to indulge in such habits.
  • Listening to a beautiful, well-educated person trot out all the reasons immigrants should go back where they came from. I just have one thing to say about that: America is ruining America. Not the immigrants.

Things That Give Me Hope

  • A change from ER to ICU for my husband. We hope for less stress for a season, much as he loves trauma nursing.
  • A strong son with a steady job, learning the manly art of getting up early, putting in hours of hard work. I sometimes glimpse the man the boy will become. It’s a strange feeling. I gave birth to this tall person with the deep voice and all the opinions about trucks and other things I never even think about? Wow.
  • Looking back at mercies. Recently the girls and I talked about near-misses, those almost-accidents that convince us of angels and we know that we are surrounded, else how would any of us still be alive?
  • A future not on this earth. I read Leif Enger’s  Peace Like a River this past weekend when Gabriel was working. I cannot shake that story. I cried my way through the beautiful chapter that described the moments after the narrator’s death and I cried that he had to come back. Sorry for the spoiler, but it was the most profound chapter for me. Hope. It’s a beautiful thing.

Things That Make Me Laugh

  • Addy, “I have a question, Mama. When you die, can I have that book you are reading aloud right now? Only, I’m afraid the others will take it first.”
  • The book I am reading aloud, The Family Nobody Wanted , makes me laugh every time and I am venturing a guess that I have read it at least a dozen times. It pleases me when I share a book I have loved for years with my children and then they love it so much that I will need to put it into my will to avoid squabbles.
  • Six fat porkers racing out of their puddle to the edge of their pen whenever they see me coming because they think maybe there will be kitchen scraps. Even though I may only be walking past, they come. It’s the very definition of cupboard love.
  • Addy’s latest pet chicken was named Pole Tree, and she tried hard to teach it to fly off its perch on her shoulder. She claims she can pick out her chicken from the whole flock of reddish hens, all of which look exactly the same.
  • Gregory, being sent into the store for a gallon of milk at the end of the “dumbest day ever” for both of us in which everything broke/went wrong, came out grinning sheepishly. “What did you buy that wasn’t milk?” I asked, and he produced a very expensive bar of Swiss chocolate. “I thought it might help make the day better,” he said. He was right. We ate it all right there before we even got on the road again.

 

Well, there, in no particular order, you get the feels that I have been feeling. How is the spring going for you?