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all but the cats write here ... to remember, to share, to mumble, to shout ... follow along by RSS or email if you like.

Filtering by Category: photos galore

The Boyds

fynn

After Aran and Lexie's wedding, the Boyds said we could park at their house.  When we got there, we parked in the cul-de-sac and got unhitched. We went inside and met Bordeax the dog, and talked. 

Two or three days later, Stan offered to take us water skiing. So we went.  

We had to pull the boat out of storage so we took off the tarp and towed it to the launch. We launched and Lois was there but she had some appointment so she could only be there for part of the time. So we went on the Delta.  At first it was slow because there was a lot of parked boats. 

When we got out of the slow zone we went for awhile.  Then Stan showed us how to ski and did a test run. 

Douglas went next, he got up for about one second. 

After Douglas went, we took Lois back and dropped her off.  Then we went back out. I went next but the skis didn't fit so I kneeboarded.  I lasted for about a minute. 

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I think Mom went next. I don't think she could get up so she kneeboarded.  My dad got up for about 3 minutes ...

... then I went again on the kneeboard.  I was able to stay up for about 5 minutes, until there was some sort of waterfall and it made waves and I was getting pulled into it. 

We went around a bit and looked at some houses, and started to go back. When we got back we went and towed the boat back and put the tarp back on and went back to their house.  

The next day we went to Aran and Lexie's.  When we got there we talked awhile until me and Douglas went to the park across the street. After we came back we went to sleep on the floor.  The next morning we got up.  Aran went to work and we all walked to the park.  Me and Douglas played awhile while the grownups talked.  When we got to the apartment it was time to go. 

We got back to Stan's house.  He offered to take us flying that day.  We went to the airport and Stan drove us there.  We had to wait for the plane.  Stan checked the plane. 

Everything was good.  So we waited for the runway to be clear and Stan put it into full throttle and we took off. 

We flew for awhile until we got out of range of the airport and Stan said I could fly the plane and showed me how the controls worked. 

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After that we flew over the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Not long after that we started heading back. Stan did a partial dive but we couldn't do the death drop of zero gravity because my mom got sick.  

The next morning we left. 

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Westward Ho! / The Wedding Weekend

bethany

Saturday August 27 ... The Pre-Party

The bliss of Saturday morning's hot shower cannot be underestimated. Boondocking doesn't generally allow for showering, mostly because we don't travel with enough water in the tanks for it as every gallon adds almost 8 lbs to our total weight. So despite the fact that we were in a drought-stricken state, I allowed myself to stand there as long as I wanted, and it was a delight.

A quick morning trip to the thrift store (I was having serious doubts about the wisdom of platform heels) netted Michael a new tie, and I settled into the feeling that wobbly or not, I'd be wearing the shoes I already had. I've never been a heel-lover, and teetering just isn't my thing.

We took off for Golden Gate Park, where the pre-party was to be held … and as we approached the Golden Gate bridge it finally hit me that we were about to see Aran and Lexie for the first time in several years! The grin started spreading :). A last minute change in parking plans got us a lovely free street spot right in the park, and we walked over to the meadow and dove in for bear hugs.

 Lexie and Aran, summer of 2008

Lexie and Aran, summer of 2008

We met Aran and Lexie back in 2008, when Michael moved to MASS MoCA for 6 months to help install a huge retrospective of Sol LeWitt's work. The boys and I stayed in the city, but went up for two months in the summer, and got to know a lot of the crew Michael had been telling me about … including these two lovelies. We stayed in as close touch as we could, but once they moved to CA, it got a bit harder to get together. This was the first time we'd seen them in at least 4 years.

 Lexie and her Mom

Lexie and her Mom

As at any wedding … it's a relief when you know more than just the bride and groom, and we happily found a few familiar faces, as well as some lovely new ones. There were some lawn games, a food truck that came just for the occasion, and lots of fun and conversation. A great way to set the stage for the next day, taking some of the awkwardness out of meeting so many people for the first time. Maybe that's just me?

I have a lot less tolerance for new social situations than I used to, meaning I find big groups harder to deal with as I get older. My claustrophobia in packed crowds is far worse than it used to be … I could never do the Taste of Chicago on July 4th again, at least as it used to be done, with millions packed along the shore and no place to go. Makes me shiver to remember it! But I also find that I have to do a bit more mental prep for going into new situations than I used to. I don't like it, but it's where I'm at. I think a lot of the redefining of my identity in the last 10 years has added some new insecurities, but taken away a lot of others. It's different terrain now.

We helped clean up and then made our exit, comparing Golden Gate Park to Central Park as we made our way back to the truck. It was delightfully wild, and much less manicured than most of Central Park … a very welcome change.

We made our way back home over the procession of bridges that had gotten us there, gawked at San Quentin in the deepening gloom, and called it a day.

The Wedding / Sunday August 28

We went, we watched, we talked, we loved, we hugged, we took lots of crazy photo booth shots, we devoured, we listened, we met cool people, we toasted, we laughed, we danced, we dragged ourselves home, we slept.

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I'll let the photos tell the wedding story here, but add in that getting to be almost 6' tall for a day was really really fun. I'd do it again in a heartbeat! I didn't take my camera for once … it just felt like too much, so all these pics are from Michael's phone.

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lots more pics here

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12

one more wrap-up post to come tomorrow ...

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Westward Ho! / Day 8 ... Utah ... Wow!

bethany

Monday, August 22

 Matilda in hiding ...

Matilda in hiding ...

Up early, atlas consulted, and decision reached – we'd cut southwest across Utah, and try to hit three national parks in two days; Canyon Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. A brief stop at the Utah Welcome Center modified that slightly, as the very friendly and knowledgeable fellow behind the counter warned me that there were height restrictions between Bryce and Zion that would be too low for us … we're around 12.5' high with our air conditioner. Glad to find out in advance!

We cut off of I70 onto 39 South, and the fun started. The terrain changed constantly … and suddenly. You'd go up over a rise and come out into a whole new planet.

Much of it felt like Mars, for the redness and the nearly inexplicable formations, but it was as delightful as it was disorienting. Cloudy, a bit of rain, and nicely cool.

We hit Canyon Reef first … which was really nice as you drive through the canyons and rocks, rather than peering at them from an overlook. It felt personal and accessible.

 Navajo Dome, Capitol Reef NP

Navajo Dome, Capitol Reef NP

We stopped at many pullouts, listened to a ranger talk about the petroglyphs left by the Fremont Indian culture, picked free apples in orchards left by a former Mormon outpost called Fruita, and then took off towards Bryce in the late and rainy afternoon, heading south on Rt 12.

The Rand McNally Atlas has no elevation markings on the state pages, other than the occasional peak height. It's my main form of navigation, as Google is often not available, and I prefer paper in my hands and the “big picture” anyway. So my assumption that the upcoming Dixie National Forest was rather flat was a somewhat misguided one.

We climbed up over the 9600' peak of Boulder Mountain while passing through, and saw a number of boondockers and some cattle dotting the rolling meadows at the top. So tempted to join them (despite the cold!), but we went on, though not without leaving our windows down so we could continue to enjoy the divine smell of wet sagebrush … yum!

One overlook near the top, half lit with the last of the sun, had a view of Mt Ellen's 11,500' peak, and the “biggest” vista I can ever remember seeing. Layers upon layers of buttes and trees and mountains and colors and light. Utterly magical. According to the placard there, we were looking at the last bit of the lower 48 states to get mapped, which happened sometime in the 1850s.

Then down the mountain in the gathering gloom, including a couple spots of 14% grade, heading into the large empty-looking blob on my map labeled as the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. About which I knew exactly nothing. So why we were shocked to come down off the mountain and find ourselves on a wet, winding, very narrow road between two deep canyons, I'm not too sure. It was par for the course.

It was visual overload for all of us, but insanely wild and empty and beautiful, though increasingly hard to see. We wound, swooped, curved, teetered (or so it seemed) through the trackless wild, seeing only a couple other vehicles. The only sign of habitation in the next hour was a coffee shop(!) perched out on a promontory over a canyon, but it sadly had closed at 4pm. I don't think we would have fit in their parking lot anyhow.

We climbed our way slowly up and out of the canyons, headed for the next dot on the map that implied people and services, labeled Escalante. The last overlook offered the story of mule trains delivering mail there, in winter at least, as recently as 1942. It wasn't hard to imagine at all.

 The road we'd just traveled ...

The road we'd just traveled ...

Matilda purred her way into town (that filter wash made a big difference!) and we found a pricey-but-we'll-take-it RV park that had a laundromat, WiFi, and a paved pull-through … perfect! My journal entry for the day ends with “exhausted and exhilarated”, and that pretty much sums it up. It was an astoundingly full day of strange and beautiful sights, and the fact that it was all surprising made it even more enjoyable.  Lack of research meant that the expectations were pretty low, and we gobbled up the beauty we stumbled across without having any regrets over things we missed. 

see Flickr for lots more pics for Utah! and Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase Escalante

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7

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Mainly Maine

bethany

 Matilda + rig, as seen thru the periscope at the Naval Submarine Force Museum in Groton CT

Matilda + rig, as seen thru the periscope at the Naval Submarine Force Museum in Groton CT

Speeding east from Michigan, which I last blogged about, we made two quick and lovely stops in PA with friends and neighbors, spent a month at a family-style campground in CT while Michael did a Sol LeWitt job at Yale, and then wandered up into Vermont for a week of family downtime.  We badly needed it after spending 4 weeks cozied up to mostly cliquish neighbors who were "seasonals" and all knew each other, and whose kitchen sinks and flickering TVs we could easily see.  We're slowly learning how to choose campgrounds, and going with the smaller family-run ones that have few seasonal spots seems to be the way to go. 

We reluctantly packed up our VT hideaway, which was the nicest campground to date, and started towards friends and work in Bangor Maine on the back roads.  We've come to realize that small towns aren't as scary as we thought in a 55' long rig, that Matilda really can pull us over the mountains (Eastern ones at least), and that there are ways of finding places to park that open up more meal possibilities.  I've come to hate the travel plazas on the highway, aside from the fact that parking is easy.  The food just sucks, and it didn't help that at the last one we stopped at, I came into the dining area after Michael and the boys were already seated and eating on the far side of the room, and Michael chose to holler at the top of his lungs "BETHANY! WE'RE OVER HERE!" and then smirk as every single eye in the place watched me waltz/slink across the room to where they sat.  Yup.

So we took two days on the back roads to get from SW Vermont to Bangor, including truly boondocking for the first time at a trailhead parking lot right on the NH/ME border.  We finally got a second battery hooked up, and now have enough power for a night or two.  After poking around roadside stands, playing on the banks of the Kennebec River, and watching Fynn for signs of concussion as he landed hard after falling 8 feet out of a pine tree (thank God for Arnica!) ... we arrived at the Drown's place on a Saturday afternoon, their open arms a very welcome sight.  

We know Tim and Karen from waaay back, before they were married, and though we hadn't seen each other for about a dozen years, it was like nothing had changed.  We immediately felt right at home.  It's really a funny thing though, this staying in people's driveways business.  We're guests, but we don't sleep in the house.  We're working on projects a lot of the time, so we tend to stay a bit longer than the typical guest anyhow and are in/out of the house constantly, while our hosts are going about their work and usual commitments.  It doesn't take too many days for the "company face", if there is one, to fade.  We seem to become a part of the landscape, learning how much socializing is desired, and when to stay in the camper and do our own stuff.  The balance is different at every stop.  

It takes a certain vulnerability to let us in, trust that we'll all get along, work out the best boundaries for each family, and leave before we start to get too tiresome.  It's been a huge learning curve but it's getting a bit easier I think to read the signs.  We're finding that we can't really commit in advance to arrival dates, as it puts way too big of a crimp in the feeling that we need to stay as long as it takes to be done, whatever Done is.  Whether it's finishing a project, a conversation, an outing, or simply the feeling crystalizing that it's time to Go.  It's a product of being wayfarers, but something that I didn't really understand before we started out.  

I'm struggling to find the words to describe it, but this life feels a lot like boating to me.  Nothing is ever fixed, there's always a bit of a rocking motion even if you're anchored, and progress is hard to see but there's no doubt that we're moving towards something.  I'm finding my sea legs, perhaps?  I'm seeing though that the more at home I feel somewhere, the more I get a bit antsy/wistful and feel like I need to move on before I lose my nerve.  I'm a homebody.  Yes, the camper itself is completely and entirely home, and I love it.  It's just big enough, cozy enough, and nicely portable ... and I always have my own bed!  But there is a goal at the end of all this, which involves community of some sort, and when I find a particularly delicious bit of fellowship somewhere, or a super homey home, it makes me a bit hungry to have more consistent access to things like that.  To build our own stuff, not just things for other people.

That time is coming, but it can't come until this trip is done.  And when that will be is just as vague as how long we're staying at our current stop.  (We're in Shadyside MD, by the way, in case you're wondering).  We'll know it's over when it feels like time to stop, and I trust God to make it clear to both of us.  In the meantime, we're learning more than I ever thought possible, in both heart-knowledge and building/fixing/creating skills.  People keep letting us do all kinds of fun projects, trusting us to get it done even when we don't have a portfolio that shows any real experience in that particular arena.  It kinda surprises me every time, but it's a lovely trust to have.  

Have I mentioned lately how much we truly love working together?  It's keeps getting sweeter, and just plain feels really really good when we get to.   I don't know if it has anything to do with people trusting us to get stuff done, but there's something about combining our skills and thought processes that gives us a joint confidence that's almost started to erode our ability to work separately.  Feels like a somewhat dangerous comment, but it's true.  When you get in the habit of trading responsibilities back and forth, trusting the other person to fill in your gaps, it becomes a lot more like swing dancing, and a lot less like YMCA.  The possibilities increase, as do the risks.  I wouldn't have it any other way.    

So ... back to Tim and Karen's driveway, where we ended up parked for 2 weeks.  They're both teachers now, having made a career switch nearly a decade ago when Tim was diagnosed with MS.  They have a big rambling old house that's full of charm and character and love.  Their 5th (and last) child left for college right before we arrived, but the house isn't empty as they have 3 high school exchange students living with them, two from China and one from Vietnam.  The dinner table was lively and lingering, the flow of the house harmonious, and we all completely relaxed.  

We painted a couple of rooms, landscaped, roofed, organized, porch fixed, went to church, walked Fritz, and went sight seeing.  Acadia National Park wasn't too far away, so we visited Sand Beach, Schoodic point, and Bar Harbor (once frustratingly as Google doesn't know how to get to Sand Beach), and once deliberately so we could go whale watching.  We stuffed ourselves with lobster, played ping pong, saw sperm whales, climbed rocks, played with dead jellyfish, watched piles of Star Wars, made new friends, ate real chinese food, and were loved on in countless visible and invisible ways.  

We seriously toyed with the idea of heading to NS/NFLD from Maine, but weather and finances dictated a turn south, so after we reluctantly left Tim and Karen waving in their driveway, we wandered southwest to Turner where we'd booked a week at Martin's Creek Campground for down time.  It jumped into the "best campground so far" slot on the first morning (after parking in the dark, never fun!) when Fynn and the cats and I skidded down the bank behind our site and perched on a fallen tree that spanned the creek ... only to have a great blue heron land 10' away on the end of the branch we were sitting on, stare at an utterly oblivious Edmund for a minute or two, and then launch himself off again in search of a more likely breakfast!  It was truly idyllic ... Michael managed to get a painting done, we found a local cider brewery (yum!), watched a mink plonk it's way up and down the creek bank while we were out canoeing, and soaked up sun and solitude.  It felt like we'd finished the unwinding we started in VT, and was truly healthy for us all.

Next up was Mike and Ruth Anne's place, in Brunswick Maine.  Ruth Anne and I are birds of a feather for sure, and though we'd only met in person the week before (when she came up to our campground for an afternoon) it was a delight to spend a whole week together, catching up on thoughts and experiences and life ... it felt like picking up right we we left off, even though most of our communicating had been via the web and phone up until then.  We share a past in that we both grew up in the same church group, and that gave us a tremendous amount in common.  Adding to the delight was the fact that our husbands spoke the same language, and got along famously.  

While we didn't do too much to their rental house other than a bit of winterizing, we did do a lot of hiking ... and Ruth Anne is a champion hiker!  Their son Bradley was only 7 months old, but no stranger to taking a 5 mile tromp through woods or salt marshes or over boulders, strapped to his mama.  While there was a wee bit of initial grumbling by my two boys, they were soon won over by the views, the trees, the remote beaches, and the rocks to run over or build with, depending on the size.  Fynn especially caught the bug, and asked to go again and again.  It made me wonder why we don't voluntarily hike, but we never really have, at least as a family.  Ruth Anne's enthusiasm kindled a real spark though, and the exercise was great for us all.  Maine really wormed it's way into our hearts. 

It came time to move on however, and we pulled out of our (front yard this time!) spot and got back on the road.  Temps had dropped yet again, and we were really feeling the pressure to get further south. We were heading to Massachusetts and family and friends in the vicinity of Boston next, but wanted a night to ourselves in between.  I'd reserved a spot at a nearly-deserted campground that was open for a couple more weeks, and just before we got there Matilda started making funny noises.  Increasingly funny noises.  We hit a rest area, pried her hood open, and started poking around.  Dressed up more than usual from going to church with Ruth Anne that morning, and both too short to see much in the engine without climbing half into it, we provided some amusement to the truckers we were parked next to.  Eventually suspecting the vacuum pump, we called a mechanic friend for confirmation (thanks Tim!) and limped on to the campground and a late supper.

Our one night turned into I think four, as we found a very taciturn man in a local shop who agreed to put it in, but said the part was over $400 and would take 3 days to get there.  After Amazon Prime came to the rescue with a $90 part, he agreed to put it in.  I'm not sure more than 50 words were exchanged in the entire process, including bringing the part for inspection, dropping the truck off, and picking it up.  Ayuh.  

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Michael suggested a hike on the day we were waiting for the part to show up, and plotted a 2.5 mile course to a local beach.  (We didn't dare drive the truck any more than absolutely necessary.)  I packed apples and nuts and some water in a backpack, and we took off.  The sun was intermittent, and once we got off the main highway the roads were pretty.  Michael ducked off the road into an unmarked side path to go pee at one point, and came back with "You guys better come take a look at this!"

"This" was the stuff of fairy tales.  Mossy carpet for a path, ferns, dappled sunlight, and leprechauns lurking in the trees.  We took it, despite not knowing where it ended up or how much it would add to the hike.  We wound through a forest of huge old trees, a salt marsh, an apple orchard gone wild, and ended up on a crashing rock-lined beach, the same one we'd intended to get to via the road.  We left before we wanted to, as the snacks were running out, the path home was long, and the sun was setting and temps dropping.  We stopped long enough to fill the backpack with wild apples, got entirely fed up with eating said apples, and managed to get home just before dark.  An awesome day.  

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The next day we had to pick up the truck, but it also happened to be our 15th anniversary.  We left the boys in the camper for a couple hours while we wandered through a huge old/rare book store that was in a converted home and super well organized, and then sat at the counter at a local restaurant for a cup of excellent chowdah.  Short but perfect.  

This trip is so full of delight and growth and pain and humor and connection and overwhelm that I have no real way to describe it.  There's a faint rhythm to it, but no real marking of days.  There are needs, there are jobs, there are realizations, there are breakdowns.  Pain seen, but not fixed.  Hearts hurting, bandaids shared.  Conversations that rip me open, others that pour in the oil and wine.   Days of physical labor and exhaustion that feel like the best workout ever, and I can't wait to wake up and do it again.  It feels like I'm truly living in a way I never have, choosing every morning what Can We Do today, and then reaching for it, together.  Sometimes actually getting it, often not.  There IS joy in the journey.  I'll take it, messy bits and all.  

Onward. 

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My name is Edmund

douglas

My name is Edmund. I am a 4-year-old tuxedo cat. Me, my sister, and 4 tall-ones live in a small moving-home. But I didn't always live in a moving-home. A lot of feedings ago we lived at a home by a big water with lots of tall greens with moving prey to eat! It was nice to live there. I even fell in the water two times! Then the tall-ones got the moving-home and we had to go in it for a long time and it rattled around. After a long time the bumping stopped. A couple feedings later we got to go outside and it was a whole different place, and a big hill with trees on it, and even lots of small prey to chase and eat!

There were two other cats there too but one of them didn't like to play with us. We sometimes got to eat bits of the tall-ones food after they were done eating.

A little bit before we got back in the moving-home and went somewhere else the second cat disappeared in a sleeping box. We always had to stay inside after our darktime food because of the coyotes.

Then we appeared at a place that had only one home and was full of trees and had a big water next to it!

We got to run around as much as we wanted and play in the greens. The next place was a small home that had three dogs in it!

While we were there the tall-ones dug a big pit full of water that we couldn't go into. That place had lots of bushes to hide in and small trees to climb! Sometimes the dogs chased us, but they had to stop at the edge of the home-grass. The homes next to that one also had dogs that could only go in a circle around a stick. I liked to sit at the edge of the string and watch them!

Very soon before we left the tall-ones made a platform out of dead trees, with more dead trees sticking out of it.

Then we went to a place that had no trees! Just homes that we couldn't go into. We got to go outside a lot there, but the tall-ones were gone a lot of the time. Sometimes I caught mice and other prey. And then for four feedings there were lots of lights and very loud noises, that were so loud my sister hid! But she came back when the noises stopped. In the grass behind the house there was something that was always making it rain. There weren't any other cats there that we could play with, just birds and prey.

Then there was a similar place, but it had a lot more grass. We were allowed out there, and there were also some dogs, and another cat. I even caught a piece of long-eared prey, but when I wasn't looking it disappeared. I think the tall-ones took it.

Then we went back into the moving-home, and when we got out we were at a place that had lots of other moving-homes. There were lots of other cats and dogs there but they were all inside or on strings held by other tall-ones! We couldn't go out very much, and after a while the tall-ones put us on the same strings and didn't let us outside without them holding the strings. Neither of us liked it at all and Sparrow even got out of it and hid several times! Once when I was in the moving-home I could hear flying-prey in the see-through room!

After a while, the tall-ones started letting us out a little after light-time and at dark time without the strings on. Some of the other tall-ones there had a cat in a tiny home of its own! There was a big open green close to our moving-home that had huge things that were like the deer at the river-home, but we weren't allowed in the place they were in. We also weren't allowed in the other moving-homes.

Then we left and went to somewhere that we weren't allowed out at all, and had lots of noises, and other moving-homes that looked different. Then we went to a place like the one with lots of other moving-homes, but it had a lake and we were allowed to go out without a string! We got to follow the tall ones on walks. Sometimes we went really far from home, and I didn't know where we were. I liked that place a lot! One time the tall-ones tried to get me on a big water-float, but I didn't want to.

Also, we went back to the river home for a little bit, but we weren't allowed in our old home. That was very confusing. 

I'm really happy that we got the moving-home and started living in it and moving around, and I enjoy exploring new places!

The End

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happy. humbling. holland.

bethany

When we finally pulled away from Addison, my heart was in tatters but it was time to go.  We left Mom waving in the yard, and thru a haze of tears I started looking up possible campsites for the night, as we’d not made any reservations anywhere.  By the time we hit the quarry on I94, I got someone to pick up the phone at a campground near the Indiana Dunes, and felt the knot in my stomach begin to settle.  We had a destination.

This wandering thing has put an interesting twist on my routine-loving heart.  I like order, simplicity, and thinking ahead so I can plan the most efficient way to get it done … leaving me more time to relax.  I grew on up travel of all sorts, from visiting the backcountry of Peru and Bolivia by bus and open truck, to road tripping across the US curled up on a home-rigged platform in the back of my folk’s 4-cylinder minivan, tents and camping gear stowed underneath me.  Any trip that was not designated as a sight-seeing one was executed in the most direct manner possible.  Stops were as short and infrequent as we could manage, and when we were young they were bypassed entirely if it was just one of us kids needing to pee, we had a can for that in the back.  Spending time at the destination was the goal, not meandering our way there.  We always knew who and what was waiting at the other end.

This trip has very little of that going on, though we sometimes know who and what are at the next stop.  That’s good for my detail-loving side, as it lets me plan enough to get the necessary stuff out of the way whenever there’s a chance.  Phone calls, laundry, blogging, photo processing, grocery shopping, schooling, camper organizing (Fynn keeps collecting things, and we can’t seem to turn down books … ), and trying to plot a somewhat logical course that keeps us from spending a bajillion bucks on gas.  I like things planned.

So that knot in my heart when we left Addison wasn’t just saying goodbye to my folks for I-don’t-know-how-long, it was also the unease over finding a place to spend the night that wasn’t a truck stop or a rest area, which don’t generally lead to restful sleep.  I’m slowly learning to roll with it a little better though, and as we just got a 2nd battery hooked up to the camper we have more ability to spend a night or two not hooked up to anything, which really increases our options.  It widens the “what’s next” pool hugely, and that helps me a lot.

So back to heading towards the Dunes … we found our site, settled in, and took a deep breath.  Just the 4 of us again, wheee!  We took a day to go to the beach, and after finding it crowded and hot we climbed up some dunes and the boys played The Game (something Douglas invented while we were in Chicago, involving found-object-fortress-building and warfare, medieval style) while I vegged in the shade and watched people and waves, two of my favorite past times.  One more night and I was almost starting to relax … but it was time to go.  We were working against the deadline of Michael starting a Sol LeWitt installation job in New Haven CT on August 3rd, something we committed to back when we were still in TN.  So we wanted to fit in some work that logically fell in between Chicago and CT.  A lot of ground, and only 10 days available between the two. 

Our next stop was at Gary and Peggy Nielsen’s, who call Holland Michigan home, and Peggy just happens to be the sister of John Kaiser, whose cupola we had just built.  She’d contacted me several months before with a lovely email, and the mention of a couple projects that they’d like to have done if we had the time.  So we pulled into their gloriously double-wide driveway on Saturday evening, and did a quick setup before being taken out for a yummy dinner.  Their kids are all grown and the grandkids are multiplying rapidly (Mark! Abby! xoxo), so they fill their “free” time with work in Moldova with university students via Intervarsity and their own organization called Second Fiddle Ministries.  They don’t exactly act retired, and seem to be masters of giving people wings and hope.

The two projects offered were some calligraphy on the dining room wall, and a fountain/waterfall feature in the middle of one of Peggy’s lovely gardens.  We opted to start with the waterfall, and were given some guidelines as to how it should sound, an idea of the desired height, and some images of styles that they were drawn to.  We did some measuring, some thinking, and a bit of sketching.  Then we just kind of dove in … it seems hard to do anything else when you’re working with stone. 

A trip to Home Depot netted us a small pond liner that we buried to ground level to act as our water source, and it also had three built in stands for water plants, which we thought worked well as a sturdy base to build on.  In order to bury it, we had to remove a few plants.  A very few actually, as Peggy’s hosta plants were the most humongous ones I’ve ever seen, and I think I measured the one we took out at 5’ in diameter.  It was remarkably easy digging, given that they live just a couple miles from the shore of lake Michigan, so the soil there is still very sandy.  We hoped to leave the other plants around the structure, so kept what we removed to a bare minimum, and did our best not to trample too much getting in and out.

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Next, we drove most of the way over to Grand Rapids in Matilda, on a very hot day, to visit the closest stoneyard we could find.  Given that it was an hour away, we thought we better get everything we needed in one trip, and knew we needed to keep it economical.  We’d brought the pond liner along for size, and basically started building up a possible fountain structure right in the middle of the stone piles, in order to know what to buy.  The boys found the only shade on the property, invented a few games, got hot and bothered, and started raiding the water cooler in the office.  We kept hauling and building and rearranging and weighing our piles, sweating buckets in the sun.  After something like 3 hours, we threw in a few more stones for good measure, tallied up our scribbled sheet of weights and stone types, and trudged into the office.

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The man who’d helped us at first was as shy as they come, and had long ago stopped offering help, seeing that we were going to be awhile.  His brother in the office was a bit chattier, and gladly accepted our tally sheet in lieu of weighing anything themselves, and so we scooted back to Gary and Peggy’s as fast as possible, knowing we were supposed to be ready to be taken out on a boat in Lake Michigan after dinner that night by one of their neighbors, named Doug. 

We decimated Peggy’s taco bar, grabbed suits and life jackets for the boys (who’d been promised a swim) and headed for the marina.  Parking Matilda in the private hangar there for members was a bit of a hoot, she was certainly the oldest matron in the place, as well as the only one with a backend full of 900+ pounds of rock.  There were still a good 2 hours till sunset, and the plan was to tour Holland’s Lake Macatawa a bit, and then head out into Lake Michigan to catch the last rays of the day.

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We saw all kinds of fancy homes, and then headed out towards the sun.  Felt a familiar pang when watching all the folks on the end of the piers, as they watched us heading out … guilty pleasure at being the one On the boat this time, rather than watching from shore.  Guilty as I’d envied the boat dwellers more times than I could remember, but still enjoying it to the hilt.  The boys jumped in after awhile, got nicely chilled, and were wrapped in multiple towels when they climbed back in after a bit of swimming.  First though, Douglas was sent out maybe 50 yards from the boat to retrieve something we saw floating there, as I thought it might be a good choice for our Michigan memento … we’ve started collecting some small natural object from every place we visit, with the intention of building it into our house when we get to that part of the plan.  After hauling in what turned out to be a little piece of broken mast/driftwood, we had a good laugh … stuck to it was a tiny “made in China” sticker!  It obviously had just adhered to it in the water somehow, but made it rather amusing nonetheless. 

We sucked in every last drop of the sun, doing nothing but watch its dive towards the horizon, reveling in the colors, the quiet, and the peace of lapping water and no other agenda but enjoying the beauty.  We all needed it I think.  A truly perfect evening.

The next morning we unloaded stones, set the boys to scrubbing and washing them, and started stacking.  Many configurations later, we felt like we had a good tower going, and started running the pump hose up the back side so we could test the waterflow.  It turned out to be way too strong, tending to splatter well beyond the perimeter of our little 3 foot pond.  We called it quits for the night, to “think on it”, and tore it down and started over the next morning.  Another day of building and playing got us to a better solution, which included drilling through one rock to make the flow come up underneath a capstone and be diffused a bit that way.  We chose the haphazard pile approach, wanting to make it produce a variety of sounds, be visible over the hostas and lilies in the summer, and look good for a full 220 degrees of viewing angle given its mid-garden placement.   

The next day we fiddled a lot with stones to hide the hose up the back, filled in some corners with marine foam just to make sure things weren’t going to shift around in a Michigan winter, and somewhere late in the process heard a little crack/click sound that we managed to write off as the basin doing a little settling.  Of course that’s all it was.  We put the finishing touches on the edging and blending into the surrounding plants, and had the big sound test, which gave Gary a sound close enough to what he wanted to declare it “Right on!”.  We went to bed tired, about 70% happy with what we’d accomplished, and planning to pull out by noon the next day ... Friday morning.  CT minus 3 days.  I wanted to be happier about it, but felt it wasn’t quite up to par.  Something was just a bit off. 

You probably saw this coming a mile away, but the next morning I checked out the fountain on my way into the house, and my heart sank to my toes.  The water level had dropped significantly overnight, and the fountain hadn’t even been running.  Aaaargh!  We broke the news to Gary and Peggy over breakfast, and said we’d stay to fix it.  Somehow.  They were incredibly gracious about it, and said we were welcome to come back some other time and work it over, but we really wanted to avoid having that big question mark hanging over our heads.  Having raised 6 kids, they are masters of knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, and when to run … they have patience, insight, steadiness, and humor in spades, as well as a quiet undercurrent of love that keeps them humming along side by side, each doing what they do best. 

Given that the pile was already adhered together, we couldn’t exactly lift 900 lbs to find and fix what we now knew must be a crack in the basin.  Sand doesn’t support things the same way dirt does, and we hadn’t accounted for that.  Praying and plotting netted us the plan to fill the basin up with concrete to the three little stands, on which we’d rested the biggest base stone.  We ran to Home Depot again, found an angel in the concrete aisle who knew the properties of every single one of the 20 types they had, told us which one to get (not the one we’d already lugged onto the cart) and explained how it wouldn’t completely solve our problem, but would help it significantly.

Back at the house we dismantled all the stones around the base, and just for kicks I lay down on my side and reached back under the base stone and traced where it met the plastic with my fingertips.  I couldn’t reach it all, but just as I came to the end of what I could touch, I found the very edge of a tiny crack.  Score!!  Having been told that concrete won’t really adhere to plastic, Michael grabbed the boys’ fimo collection, and I went to work sealing as much of the perimeter of that stone/base junction as I could, willing my claustrophobia to stay away.  Buried up to my shoulder under a pile of stone, with my face inches from it and my arm contorted crazily, I wasn’t terribly comfortable.  It worked much better to keep my eyes closed.  Funny, that’s true for a lot of things. 

Gary and Peggy packed for a weekend away with friends (planned long before), while we used contractor bags with the corners cut off as giant frosting tubes, squeezing mixed cement down into the three small openings we had into the pond area underneath our base stone.  It took all four of us, and the boys really pulled their weight.  A bit of a race against the clock. 

We filled up to the base stone, and then let it start to set while we cleaned up everything.  Once it was getting stiff, we scooped out a hollow in the back section where the pump was to rest, hoping to leave enough volume of water in the basin to keep up with the pump.  We knew it was going to be really close.  We waved Gary and Peggy off on their trip, and then put back all the surrounding stones, spread more pebbles, and took some final pictures in a lovely Friday night sunset, praying that it would be a workable fountain once the concrete cured.  We couldn’t stay around to find out.  Gary promised that he’d give us a full report once they got back home, and word is that it works well and sounds good, though the water flow is a wee bit lower than before.  A relief, though a bit of regret. 

We learn something every time, that’s for sure.  Not just about stone and construction and how to work together, but about human nature and people and hearts and lives and the brokenness and beauty that is in every single person we meet.  Some triumphantly flying, some humming, some limping, but all moving forward.  All loved.  All with something to teach us, show us, or shower on us.  Willing to let us in, trust us, and share whatever they have.  Gary and Peggy were no exception, and gave us far more than they likely realize.  Beautiful, humbling, and loved, they are … thanks you two, for everything!

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Chasing Waterfalls and Shedding Past Promises

michael

Tina wanted a shed.  This was important.  There were a lot of things to be put in a shed.  There used to be a shed in the back yard, when she and Ken moved in some 20 years ago, but it had rotted away. 

When we had supper at Chipotle with them almost 2 years ago, we told them our newly formed plan to travel the country with tools and help people out.  I believe they were the first ones we told.  They had looked at each other, “Oh!” Their eyebrows were up, “We have a shed,” Ken said.  “In the garage,” Tina said.  “That needs put together,” they said together, smiling big smiles.

“Yes,” we said, “That is the kind of project we would enjoy.”

“And …” Tina listed off about 5 other projects to be done.  “There’s also …” Ken listed another 5.

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We told them it might be awhile before we got our plan rolling, but they were definitely on our list of stops, never suspecting they’d be our second.

They told us about their store.  It was moving.  A few years before, Ken and Tina quit their jobs and started a scrapbooking store called Café Crop.  Business had been scant.  The location was not good and the landlord was not cooperative.  They were just about to sign on a new location but it would be stepping out on faith.  It’d take everything they had.  For us it was great to see them doing something together.  Something life-consuming.  That was right where Bethany and I wanted to be; eyes glowing, scared to death.  It was inspiring.

We pulled up to their driveway 2 years later.  The pouring rain had just stopped, and there they were; waving and smiling.  Ken guided me in, we unhitched, and spent the evening reminiscing on the back lawn.  Ken got out his wiffle-balls and gave the kids a golf lesson.  That night we slept in the camper.

Tina had emailed us a week before to say moving the business and getting it running had occupied most of their time and the shed was still a project waiting to happen.  We were gung-ho to start in the morning.  Monday.

There was a good thunderstorm right before dawn.  The rain had quit by the time breakfast was over.  Tina went to work at Café Crop.  We staked off an 8’ x 12’ footprint of the shed and began removing the ground cover and bushes.  It was muddy work.  It began to rain again.  We looked like mud-wrestlers.  It began to pour and we could hardly stand up.  The clay in the soil was very slick.  We decided to wait for the rain to stop.  “Can we open up the shed kit, while we wait?” Bethany asked.

“Well … that might be hard,” Ken said, “why don’t you come look at it.”  We followed him to the garage and stood dripping with amazement in the doorway.  “That’s a corner of it, right there.” He pointed towards the bottom of a vast heaping of boxes, tools and equipment.  “We’d have to move the stuff off it,” he lamented.

“But,” said Bethany, walking back and forth in the 4 foot path cleared to the fridge, peering on tiptoe into the garage, “there’s nowhere to put it!”

“If it stops raining, we can move it to the driveway.” Ken suggested.

“Hang on.”  Bethany was still pacing.  Then with great formality she turned to Ken and said “Ken, may I have permission to organize your garage?”

“Sure,” said Ken, “go to town!”

“OK.” Said Bethany “Here’s what we’re going to do.  Open the awning on the camper.  All the big tools, mowers and blowers and anything that goes in the shed goes in the driveway under the awning …”  And so it began.  8 hours of hefting, consolidating, stacking, and shifting all under Bethany’s command.  By the time Tina came home, there were swept paths to every part of the garage and the shed lay fully and circumnavigably exposed.  Later in the week when Tina was hounding Ken to take out the garbage, he said “Sheesh!  You’re almost as bad a slave-driver as Bethany!”

That evening, it began to rain in earnest.  It rained all night.  By morning, it was thinning.  “We’ve got a nice lake in the yard!” Tina said brightly, as she left for work.

We went outside to look.  Sure enough, right where the shed was to go, stood a three to four inch lake.  “Hmmm,” I said, “this appears to be the low spot in the yard.”

“That would explain why the last shed rotted away,” Ken mused.  We considered building it up with gravel, but decided the water would still sit on the clay under the gravel.  We discussed drainage this way and that way for half an hour, before Ken, arms akimbo, said “Wait a minute!  I have an idea!  Now, this might sound crazy, but 18 years ago I promised Tina a pond … “ Bethany and I exchanged worried glances.  “I actually promised it in writing,” Ken confided.  “What if we dug a pond lower than the foundation, and the water could drain into it.”

 “Well,” I said slowly, “That WOULD give us the dirt to raise the shed foundation.”  We began to talk about what a pond would involve.  Bethany and I got some garden hose and made a pond shape in the grass.

“I just had another idea.”  We looked up.  Ken’s arms were akimbo.  “What if we made a waterfall with a stream that fed into the pond!  It could start there behind the shed and flow around this way!”

“Um, Ken,” I said tentatively, “We’re only going to be here till Saturday.  I don’t think we can get a pond, a waterfall AND a shed done by then.”

“You’d have to agree, though, that a waterfall and stream would look REALLY nice, and if I’m going to make a pond for Tina I want to do it right.  Because, see, what I’m really imagining is sitting over here and HEARING the splashing of water.”  I looked at Bethany and could see in her eyes that she thought it was CRAZY but that she was also half convinced.  The opportunity to play with rocks was a strong lure.

“Well,” I said, “If you’re ok with doing the shed yourself, I’m game to make a waterfall.”

Ken called Tina and told her the plan to make a pond with a splashing waterfall.  She says “OK,” Ken announced.

Ken and I mapped out the pond and stream with electric dog fence flags (did I mention they have poodles?)  We began to dig, while Bethany took her Vorpal Blade and began hacking underbrush out of what Tina called the Back 40.  Douglas and Fynn pitched in hauling tarps of weeds and breaking clods of clay.  Funny thing about clay is, the more that sticks to your shoes, the more sticks to your shoes.  Eventually we were digging in platforms too heavy to lift.  I opted to dig barefoot at this point which was pure delight to the toes. 

We dug down two feet and threw the clay in the lake/foundation.  The boys squished it flat.  The hole dug, Ken and I went to Lowes to get a liner, a pump, some hose and a wee impulse-buy fountain. 

By the time the liner was in and the pond filled, we’d missed Tuesday night bingo at Chick-fil-a, a tradition of Ken and Tina’s.  Instead, we sat on the patio enjoying a jar of Knoxville strawberry hooch to the tinkling of the wee fountain.

We’ve known Ken and Tina since way back.  Back in the days we frequented the same bible camps; back before any of us were married.  Back when love and theosophy swam unblinking wide-eyed circles in our pools of innocence.  Tina grew up near Bethany and they got along like sisters.  I was fast friends with Tina’s brother.  My brother was good friends with Ken.  My sister was BFF with Bethany’s sister.  When Ken and Tina began dating, their names became synonymous with “Moon-eyed couple,” and after a year or two it was “Couple-who-won’t-quit.”  As a 14-year-old I was fascinated.  I would splay my angst-ridden soul before each of them late into the nights, hoping their experience might gain me some foothold on the ladder of love. 

And here I was again nearly 25 years later, fascinated by their love language.  Ken was pleased as punch that he was finally fulfilling his pond promise, and Tina would not give him the satisfaction of her appreciation until she had a shed. 

Wednesday, we laid gravel on the foundation clay, and rolled it flat with a concrete roller the neighbor kindly offered.  Bethany and Ken went to get rock, while I made the stream bed and the boys chased each other around the yard with sticks they were supposedly bagging.  The cats wandered the neighborhood making friends.  We unloaded rocks, tested the stream and Ken and I left to get sand hogs for building up breached walls.  It was looking like the pump was a little too strong for the job. 

Thursday we drained the pond and cleaned it.  Some rocks we put in had muddied the water.  By afternoon we were testing the waterfall.  It was TERRIBLE.  The pump was too strong, water was coming out everywhere.  So we talked drainage this way and that way.  I thought we needed more stone for the waterfall. 

“Wait a minute.”  Ken’s elbows were out.  “I just had an idea!”  Our eyes were wide.  “If I bought a diverter we could split the line and regulate the flow to make the waterfall the right pressure.”

“And the second hose would go … back into the pond?” I asked hopefully.

“Over a SECOND waterfall, right here!” He pointed triumphantly.  I was about to say look, we don’t even know if we can build ONE working waterfall when Bethany jumped on board.

“That COULD work,” she looked at my worry, “We only need one flat stone.  It would be a small stream,” she assured me.

We spent the rest of the day cleaning stones, making sand hogs, and perfecting the flow of everything but the waterfall.  That night Bethany said to me “Ken has work away from the house till noon, and we need him to get the rest of the stone.  Let’s open the shed kit and see if we can get the base laid in the morning.  It will feel a lot better if we at least have the shed started before we leave.”  I whole-heartedly agreed.

So by noon on Friday we had the floor laid and the kids got to hammer nails.  Whee!  Ken returned pleasantly surprised, and we went out for stone.  He hadn’t been able to find a diverter.  By 6:00 pm we had stacked and restacked the waterfall many times to no avail.  It was a sloppy mess.

Ken had to take a load of grilled chicken to Café Crop and we sat down to eat some of the same.  It was really good.  We looked at going back to the waterfall.  Bethany looked like the waterfall was about to come out of her eyes.  She was spent.  I was out of ideas.  We prayed.  “Hey God, we really would like to be in Chicago for Father’s day.  Give us an idea for this waterfall, like, right now.”

We crouched by the waterfall.  Bethany lifted a stone, languidly, and set it back down.  I realized this one was on me to see through.  And then it came to me.  “OK.”  I said.  “Here’s what we’re going to do.  We’ll cut a big piece of liner, lift up the whole inner stone stack and wrap it from underneath till the liner comes above the top cascade stone, and all water exits towards the stream.”

And that was it.  I’m sure any fountain builder would look at me and say “Duh!”  Not only did it work to contain the water, we no longer needed a diverter, the pressure was fine.  With renewed energy we set to finishing by dark, when Tina came home.

Ken was bristling with excitement to show Tina the finished pond and waterfall.  Tina was bristly.  She spent 10 minutes in the kitchen talking to Bethany about her day while Ken opened and closed the patio door, saying “Can you hear that?”  Eventually we all filed outside.  Tina made a beeline for the Back 40 and began questioning Bethany about everything she’d removed.  Ken was nearly beside himself with impatience.   After another 10 minutes she sauntered over to the pond where Ken was basking in the babbling sound of the waterfall.  “What do you think?!”  Ken asked proudly. 

“It’s nice,” Tina said minimally.

This was certainly not the effusion Ken was hoping for.  He climbed on to the shed base “AND,” he spread his arms wide, “we have a shed floor!”

“Yes, but no shed,” Tina pointed out. 

“But … “ Ken was reeling.  This was so anticlimactic, it was ludicrous.  “Just listen to the waterfall!” he pleaded.  Bethany tried to help by pointing out some of the features and how we had made them.  Tina engaged her coolly, but it was clear she had taken a stance and was not going to be budged.  Ken came and stood by me.  His mind was in full gear.  He still had one card up his sleeve, if he played it right.  “Does anyone in your family like pancakes?” he asked innocently.

“Oh my, Yes!” I exclaimed.  “Bethany can’t eat gluten, but the rest of us can’t say no.”

“Well, there’s a Fireman’s pancake breakfast tomorrow morning I’d like to take you guys to.  We’d have to leave at like 6:30, but it’s all you can eat and they let you climb in the fire trucks.”

“Do they have sausage?”   Bethany abandoned her and Tina’s pond-side chat. 

“Oh, yes!” Tina joined.  “Stacks of it!”

“Why don’t we invite Lisa and Shaun?”  Ken suggested idly to Tina.

Lisa helps at Café Crop and has been invaluable to Ken and Tina.  Her husband Shaun is a veteran handyman with a lot of tools.  He helped build out the new Café.  I was told earlier in the week that he had offered some time ago to help Ken build the shed but I didn’t make the connection until I met him over pancakes the next morning.

Our plan was to go to Café Crop around 11:00 am and see Tina in her element, which we hadn’t gotten to do all week.  We were hoping maybe to try a Family Drawing with her, and get on the road by 3:00 pm.  As far as work was concerned, we were done, finished.  Kaput.

“How many pancakes?”  The unsmiling senior lady asked the man in line ahead of me.

“Three.”  She robotically moved the tongs to the mountain of pancakes.

“How many pancakes?”  She asked his daughter in the same monotone.

“Two, please.”  The tongs went for two.

“How many pancakes?”  She asked me flatly.

“Twenty,” I said.  The tongs moved automatically, then stopped. 

She gave me a big grin.  I was still chuckling over this small victory when Shaun joined me walking back to the table.

“S-so when do you want to s-start on the shed?”  Shaun had a slight stutter and eyes glowing with enthusiasm.  “I’ve got a truck f-full of tools.  I’ve got a n-nail gun.  I can start right after we eat.”  I suddenly realized how Ken had orchestrated this.  I smiled.

“Ken DID tell you we were leaving today?” I asked, sitting down by Bethany.

“What?  N-no!  What time are you leaving?”

“3 o-clock.”  Bethany’s horror-stricken face said she realized what we were discussing. 

“Well, we could g-get the walls up by then.”

I looked at Bethany.  Don’t-you-dare lasers were shooting from her eyes.  “We’ve also promised Tina we’d come to Café Crop at 11:00.”  I glanced at Ken who was studiously eating his pancakes. 

“We b-better get s-started soon then!” Shaun said, grinning.  Shaun’s drive to work had been hinted at before but facing it head-on I had no resistance.  I gave Bethany a pleading look.  She too was crumbling under Shaun’s confidence and excitement. 

“We HAVE to leave at 11:00,” she conceded.

After the kids toured the trucks, we headed back to Ken’s.

MAN could Shaun work!  The walls flew together and were ready to be put up by 11:00.  Bethany called Tina and put off our arrival till 1:00.  By 12:30, we had the walls up and were ready to start the roof.  I said, “You boys are on your own” to Ken and Shaun, and we headed off to Café Crop.

“I see you got the walls up!” Tina had received a text from Ken. 

“Yeah!”  We were exhausted and happy.

Now I don’t know much about scrapbooking, but from what I could tell, this was scrapbooking heaven.  One half of the store was dedicated to merchandise.  Hundreds of patterned paper stacks, rubber stamps of every kind, assortments of stickers, fringes, tassels, ribbons, buttons, and best of all baskets of found objects like scrabble tiles, sea shells, and small toys.  (Fynn picked out what looked like an old clasp and immediately had built an entire medieval costume in his mind.)

The other half of the store was spacious work tables surrounded by comfy chairs, a third of which were filled by ladies working on projects and chit-chatting animatedly.  The atmosphere was very conducive to creativity.  There was a side counter laid out with muffins and lunch meats and snacks, which we gladly dug into before setting up for family drawing.  Had I any mental energy left from a week of hard work I would have designed a drawing that incorporated some of the cool stuff from the store, but I opted to repeat an older drawing, modified slightly for our time constraints.  We had a great time. 

As we left, Tina let her composure melt, hugging us with tears streaming.  “Thanks guys!  You got more done in a week than we could have in a year!”  And that felt SO GOOD! 

We drove back to where Ken and Shaun had the rafters half installed, hooked up the camper, hugged Ken goodbye, hugged Shaun goodbye, and headed for one night alone together at a campsite with direct sewer hookup.  The next day we’d be in Chicago, where at least 5 people had projects waiting. 

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