Bobcat tales

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Eight letters of gratitude

 The holidays have ended with all their festivities, gift exchanges, baked goods and other ways of saying “I am thinking of you.” For better or for worse, the new year has come with its time for resolutions. One resolution everyone should make is to write eight letters to family and friends.

Just eight letters. Not a hundred or even twenty, just eight to each aunt, uncle, grandparent, parent, friend or loved one who opened their wallet to buy a gift or slip out a bill whispering “go buy yourself something.”

“Eight letters in 10 seconds? Impossible. It would take me at least 10 minutes to write just one.”

No, really. All it takes is 10 seconds to key into your computer, cell phone or tablet a simple note saying, “thank you.” That’s eight letters. A small investment of your time so the giver knows the item arrived in the mail, you opened it and appreciated the thought.

That bit of time would have meant a lot to my friend who moved to a new, more distant home that kept her from visiting family as often. She talked, wrote and thought of them often. When a new baby arrived, her circumstances kept her from going to see the child. Instead she thoughtfully prepared a gift and smiled as she slipped it into the mail. She just knew they would cherish her gift and waited for their response.

She waited for a phone call of excitement, “It came today and we love it!”

She waited for an email with a note “we used it for…”

She waited for a brief text message, “TY for the …”

She waited for a little ‘Thank You’ card in the mail.

She waited in vain. Nothing ever came. Maybe the parents received so much that they didn’t feel the blessing of the gift enough to acknowledge it.

A couple years later another baby arrived. She sent a card “welcoming the new baby.” She did not include her usual gift for newborns.

“I will wait and see if they notice” she said.

They didn’t.

Sometimes it takes a season of less to realize the blessing of the simplest of gifts.

Years ago the Christmas package for a college freshman included laundry detergent, coins for the laundromat and toothpaste. Basic necessities. A practical gift. The college student stared at the gift in silence, mumbled, “thank you” and grumbled later about the gift. It was not a fun gift or even an article of clothing. It was just stuff from the grocery store and a stack of coins. The detergent sat unnoticed until the credit card bill arrived for the Christmas gifts purchased and given. Then the list for the semester’s textbooks arrived with their high price.

Panic set in. Pleas for a bit extra were met with “how much do you absolutely need?”

After much discussion the reality hit. Nothing was needed if the luxuries of eating out, going to the movies and new clothes were deleted. The cafeteria provided nourishment. The part time job paid for bills, and the former ‘not quite good enough’ Christmas gift suddenly became a great treasure. There would be enough laundry detergent and quarters for the laundromat as well as toothpaste for the teeth.

Suddenly a thankful spirit for that practical gift rose up in eight letters, “thank you, I really needed that.”

Out of great need, the attitude of thanksgiving grew into eight letters.

Always we can say, “For these our many blessings, we thank you, Lord.” and then write ‘thank you’ for any gift given at any time.

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Resolved to try that?! recipe

This year I resolved to try recipes from cookbooks I find at yard sales.

Last summer, I chuckled when I read the title, “The Non-Chew Cookbook.” I bought the cookbook for that oxymoron of a title. Then I read the foreword and quit laughing. The inability to chew presents a serious nutritional problem for folks with facial deformities. They need food that is not “a burden to chew or swallow,” which means a liquid or soft food diet or easily digested foods. That cookbook aims to expand diets beyond the puddings and drinks my uncle had after he broke his jaw, and the doctor wired it shut.

During that time, after a holiday feast, his pastor rhetorically asked, “Did any of you leave the table hungry?”

My uncle raised his hand, grinned and silently nodded his head, “Yes.”

Uncle would have enjoyed the cookbook’s soups and slushies. I think I might try a Spaghetti Casserole. Everything solid in that and every other recipe is “finely chopped” whether it is a seafood casserole or ham with sweet potatoes.

I smile at the memories when I pick up “Best Recipes: from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars.” One of the first recipes I tried came from Quaker Oats: Oatmeal cookies. They tasted exactly like the cookies Grandma made us. When we visited, she took a small log of cookie dough out of her refrigerator, peeled off a wrapping of waxed paper, sliced off thick disks and plopped them on her cookie sheet. Pure ambrosia to me, the Cookie Monster’s best friend.

Recently I found “Living off the Land: Arkansas Style” from the 4-H Shooting Sports Club in Howard County. I saw familiar fish and duck dishes. I had heard of Roasted Coon from a woman I interviewed years ago. I had never even thought about Roasted Bear. That recipe reads like Beef Burgundy. My sister introduced me to chili with bear meat. No one has ever offered me armadillo barbecued or smothered in vegetables and gravy. Maybe because the only dead armadillo around here are roadkill.

The cookbook includes diagrams for skinning any critter. Details from this 25 year old book for cleaning and preparing a turtle for soup would not please PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), so I won’t repeat the instructions. Having processed beef and poultry with my family, I already know the basic techniques.

Popular dishes have shifted through the years. Shortly after someone figured out how to ship bananas to keep them fresh, chefs began experimenting with the fruit. Ham stuffed with bananas made its debut and faded. I have no plans to try that recipe.

Olive Garden never offers the variety in pastas that Heinz 57 did in the 1930s. Nutritious meals for children included noodles with prunes, spinach, liver or tongue. Try tempting your favorite four-year-old with that in place of today’s ubiquitous mac-n-cheese.

Barbara Swell, the author of “Mama’s in the Kitchen,” collected recipes by the decades from 1900-1950. She said, “it was difficult to find recipes from the 1920s that people would actually prepare today.” Then she found a cookbook by Dorothy Malone and declared, “just about every (recipe) in this book was worth making. The only thing you will have to go out and get is a varied selection of liquors.” Rum enhanced the Raisin and Nut Stuffed Apples, the Brandied Bananas and the Cantaloupe that Left You Smiling.

No time to make those. I will be too busy testing recipes from “The Cake Doctor.” From what I have read so far, I won’t be needing any rum.

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The saga of the bunk bed

Forty years ago in a modest two-story house in Indiana, we switched to bunk beds to give our growing family of five boys room to play and sleep. My handy man used 2″x4” beams and sheets of plywood to build two sets of bunks for the boys. Each set had drawers on the bottom. He stained them dark, slapped on a coat of varnish and screwed in the drawer handles. I found sport themed comforters and declared the project done.

Our five boys slept on those bunks until the last boy left the house more than twenty years ago; by that time we had moved the bed and boys to a ranch house in Arkansas. One bunk left first for parts unknown. The other bunk bed stayed until the last boy went to college and we no longer needed it.

The granddaughters in Indiana need that bed,” we said. Their parents agreed. They were only too happy to accept the bunks if we hauled it from Arkansas up to Indiana.

Let’s get them some pretty matching sheets and pillowcases,” I said before we delivered it. Back home, we began converting the bedroom into a hobby room.

How’s the bed sleeping?” we sometimes asked the folks in Indiana.

Fine, just fine,” the parents of three girls said.

That’s what they said it until they no longer needed bunks. And then they responded, “do you want the bed back?”

My husband definitely did not. He is always the one stuck with packing and unpacking the thing into the van.

It did look rather tired after more than two decades of use. “We could paint it and use it now that we have the other granddaughters visiting so often,” I said studying it.

He groaned, packed it up and hauled that bed back to southern Arkansas.

Paint wood?! No way!” my husband insisted on stain. I chose maroon. It looked like paint to me.

The granddaughters took turns sleeping on the top bunk or the futon. I found some over sized, brightly colored towels to use as spreads. It looked like a girls’ room. My brother visited, slept on the room and laughed as he said, “I turned out the light and there were stars on the ceiling.” I had forgotten the day the girls sat on the top bunk and put fluorescent stickers up there.

About the time the granddaughters moved far away, my daughter’s oldest child and only son, needed a bigger bed. We moved the bed to her house in central Arkansas. She painted it blue and piled on the pillows. He stored clothes and a bushel of Legos in the drawers.

This fall that grandson shot up to eye level with his father and asked. “Do I have to sleep on a bunk bed?”

No, we can use my grandmother’s old sleigh bed. We just need to get a mattress and to cut some slats to hold it,” my daughter said.

He helped his dad cut the slats. She covered it with a gray comforter and asked us, “Do you want the bunk back at your house?” She posted pictures on Facebook of her son’s bedroom, “the bunks are going back to my parents.”

My husband sighed and loaded those bunks into the van.

What are you going to do with the beds?” our Indiana granddaughter texted. She has two very young sons. We took the hint and answered, “Repair some minor damage, haul them back to Indiana, leave them with great-grandsons, and hope we never have to haul them anywhere again.”

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After the fire at South Arkansas Community College

I huffed a bit after climbing the steep stairs to the third floor of the newly re-dedicated Thomas Administration Building at South Arkansas Community College. I had skipped the elevator in order to see everything in the new interior.

The little lady who joined me on the top floor walked into a room once filled with student desks and chalk boards. She shook her head, “It looks so different from when I took journalism in this room in high school.” The journalism classroom now serves as the board meeting room. It’s been decades since the chalk boards disappeared from the classroom. Now a very large, new flat screen television provides information via Power Point or televised programs.

A few years ago, I sat in that same room as a journalist covering board meetings. It used to be smaller. To do my job I squeezed around the table, found a chair along the wall and balanced a reporter’s notebook on my knees as I scribbled notes. The new chairs look a lot more comfortable.

A fire 19 months ago sent fire fighters to the roof of the administration building. They poured a pond of water over entire building. It soaked everything and flowed to the basement. The entire building had to be redone: ceilings, walls, floors, furnishings.

Outside the room hung the photographic history. Before flooding everything the firefighters offered to save what they could before drenching the fire. “They carried those pictures out with one under each arm,” College president Dr. Barbara Jones recalled at the re-dedication of the refurbished building

In the hall, I looked around the perimeter of the hall. “No more exposed conduits for electrical wiring.” I said. The guide/staff member agreed. In the 1980s and 1990s electricians could barely keep ahead of the electrical demands during the explosion in computer technology.

The new clean look contrasts with what I saw as a non-traditional student. Then, the make-do wiring in the old facility could not be ignored. At the time students and community affectionately called SouthArk “the Twig” because it was a branch of the college in Magnolia. Back then, my math class with Mr. Culbreth met in a longer existing building. A year or two after graduation, I sat in my car across the street and watched the wrecking crew knock down the last wall of that oddly wired old building.

No more exposed conduits. And, no more antique tin tiles on the ceiling. I couldn’t tell the difference when I looked up at them.

“We took tile from the old ceiling and had a mold made to replicate the replacement ceiling,” the staff member explained.

“The one thing we heard over and over again as the crew worked was, ‘this old building has good bones.’” Dr. Barbara Jones said. She detailed the layers of brick and thick beams of pine that created the building decades ago. “We left some brick exposed so you can see them.”

Well, that explained the plain wall of ancient bricks behind the flat screen in a smaller conference room. I like the look of those ‘good bones.’ Mostly though, I saw newly painted gray walls, new ceilings and shiny new floors. “The pine floors warped. They had to go. They put in oak,” the staff member said.

I left the building through the east door, stepped down the steps and turned left toward the old gym with its age darkened bricks, the peeling veneer on the old doors and flecked paint. It underscored the truth about any facility: the task of upkeep never ends. One building done; another awaits its turn.

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Locked Out!

A locked door welcomed four grandchildren to our house. I stared at the very locked up house. No Grandpa came to greet us.

Grandpa is gone.” I said. I picked up the phone and called him.

No answer. I could only leave a message to a person who never checks messages, “I left my keys with my car at their home. We are locked out.”

We had to wait for him to return. Four kids had no intention of quietly waiting after a three hour drive. Our newest teenager disappeared round the back of the house. A few minutes later, he waved down to me from the roof of our ranch house. His sister quickly joined him while I tried to think of something we could do while we waited.

Come on down and let’s go to Junction City to the Pop-Up sale at ‘A Beautiful Mess.’” I said.

What’s that?”

A gathering of crafts, food vendors and small businesses.”

“A Beautiful Mess” turned out to be a restored two-story house in Junction City. Years ago I saw the house from the street and daydreamed about repairing the mansion. In recent years, Jill and Kendall Wilson quit daydreaming, bought it and began the restoration. It is now open for events such as the Pop-up Sale.

That day the house welcomed 50 small businesses to offer their wares. We circled the lawn checking out the booths of items for sale and the food trucks off to the side. Then we ventured inside. It is not yet an elegantly finished house. Old pictures and old books lined the shelves beside the securely repaired steps. The finished floors and large windows with no curtains on that sunny day made a cheerful setting. We climbed the stairs and explored the rooms and shops upstairs and enjoyed the view. I called home. No one answered. Still no one there to open the door. Time to get lunch for grandchildren. I handed each the same amount of cash. “Here’s what you can spend on food.”

It takes a long time for four children to choose exactly what they want when it is their money. We motioned three or four other customers to go ahead of us as they studied the menu and debated back and forth.

I know what I want! And I don’t want to share with you,” one insisted.

So you go order while they make up their minds,” I said.

We motioned more people to move ahead until everyone had placed an order and sat down. Once they had food in hand they offered, “Do you want a bite? Let me have a bite.” They munched and sipped happily. Even the four-year-old said, “You can have the rest of these,” as she held out a small bag once filled with sweets. A few crumbs remained.

So generous,” her big sister laughed.

Another sister looked at the money she had left and the food she did not have. “I want to order more, but I already ordered food once. It would bother them.”

It’s okay. You can order more food if you want. They are here to make money.” She decided to brave being a repeat customer and returned with a big smile and food.

By the time we finished we only spilled one glass of water and sprinkled a few crumbs around on top of the table

I called home again.

Hello?” Grandpa answered.

You’re home! Go unlock the door. We can’t get in. I left the garage remote with my car.”

This time when we arrived, Grandpa opened the door to welcome his visiting grandchildren.

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Beat Bob the one man volleyball team

t all started last spring: my husband’s excitement and interest in bringing the One Man Volleyball team of Bob Holmes to Union County. Holmes visits communities, plays volleyball with students in various schools and then talks with the students about bullying and suicide. Hubby thought Union County needed him to visit.

Hubby researched the One Man Team extensively. I have heard it all: that Bob has made the Guinness Book of World Records for having played the most athletic games of any one person in the world. Well, I would think so. When he visits Strong, Smackover and Parkers Chapel Schools Monday, he will play three games at each school. That’s nine games during the day. In the evening he will play another three games at El Dorado High School against their girl’s volleyball team and community groups such as the sheriffs, the police or fire departments. Twelve games in one day with one man playing against teams of 6 or 8.

Multiply that with Holmes having traveled around the country for thirty-five years and yes, he has easily played more than 20,000 games. That’s hard. As the only player on the team there is no substitute if he needs a break.

Of course, hubby has made sure I have seen a few videos about Bob Holmes. You, too, can see him on Youtube or at his website beatbob.com. In one game it appears he is playing 15 people, and they still can’t get it over the net to score enough points to beat Bob.

I heard that he also loses sometimes. In fact he has lost fewer than 500 games. Hmm, that means he has lost less than .03% of the games played. He plays every game with lots of on court chatter and energy.

Bob does not just play, he also speaks to the audience. From the volleyball court, Holmes finishes his visit at each school talking about bullying and suicide prevention. He does not just want to entertain, he wants to reach kids where they are hurting and show them another option, another way. That’s exactly what he will do when he plays Monday night at 7 p.m. in the El Dorado High School gym. Entrance is free and the game is fun according to what I have seen on Youtube.

All the chatter at my house began last spring when hubby remembered a magazine article about Holmes. He searched the Internet and found Beatbob.com.

Last summer hubby talked with area schools – seeking to find schools interested in having Bob Holmes visit their campuses. Some simply could not fit Holmes into the schedule this year. Others

heard that he plays as a vehicle to present a message about bullying and suicide and schedules him and immediately welcomed a visit. One community had all too recently encountered the pain of teen suicide. Bob addresses that difficult topic in a way that reaches high school students.

So I heard everything and envied the kids being able to see and hear this Guinness World Book Record setter. Then I learned I could see him play at the El Dorado High School Wildcat gym. So I am looking forward to watching him play the girls’ team and two different groups of first responders. Sounds like a challenge: play and win all 12 games in one day?! Sounds nigh onto impossible. If he does lose, he can afford to be a good loser – he knows he will win more than 99 out of the next 100 games he plays. I hope to see you there.

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30 days of Thanksgiving

 am so far behind in this month’s posting of a daily item for which I am thankful that today I will catch up and finish all at once. With that in mind, I am thankful for …

  1. My handy husband fixes before replacing anything and enjoys the whole process (well, he enjoys it until it just does not work like he thinks it should.)
  2. Power tools make things easier for my handyman.
  3. Said husband also has begun to join me in my “thrifting” hobby
  4. Our six adult children have their health and strength.
  5. God gave the jobs and energy to provide the daily bread needed for our families.
  6. All eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren are healthy.
  7. Family and friends are able to call, text, and message us to keep in contact.
  8. We have so many old and new friends.
  9. We have more than enough to do.
  10. There are plenty of ideas and options to avoid boredom without television.
  11. We possess more than enough food to struggle with being overweight, enough cars that we have a back-up, enough funds to pay the bills, enough energy to get up and enjoy life.
  12. The invention of the manual typewriter spurred subsequent technology with keyboards.
  13. Retirement has given me time to participate in all the activities I could not do when working.
  14. Champagnolle Landing and the exercise equipment and classes keep me flexible and moving.
  15. The used car dealer on College Avenue picked out just the right car for us twice in the last couple years
  16. The El Dorado News-Times welcomes my writing and the writings of other local authors, including letters to the editor.
  17. My friend persisted in saying “Let’s have a sewing group at our church.” We organized one. She and others sewed up a storm for Operation Christmas Child making little bags to hold the toothbrush, comb, washcloth and soap; as well as a rack of dresses and shorts to help fill over 200 boxes.
  18. The Sewing for the Master group at College Avenue Church of Christ provides delightful fellowship and a stash of fabrics in their sewing rooms.
  19. The estate sales and yard sales provide decoration for my house and quilts; I love to find finished cross stitch pieces.
  20. Affordable gas prices allow us to visit our far-flung family, and God gives us the energy to go as often as we do.
  21. A special kindergarten teacher knew exactly the structure and discipline that one high-energy, great-grandson needed when other teachers gave up on him.
  22. Glasses allow me to add reading to my list of many things to do.
  23. We have access to so many books at the Barton Library, the South Arkansas Community College library, the church library and books discarded from other folks’ libraries that I find at yard sales.
  24. A guy comes from a national franchise to control the bugs at my house. I really do not like those nasty, creepy things.
  25. Christian teachers and support staff work in public schools and pray or all the students.
  26. Water and electricity flow from the utility systems.
  27. Potluck meals at church provide a wonderful variety of food.
  28. Digital cameras and means to publish pictures already in scrapbooks are such a time saver!
  29. Well-stocked grocery stores, department stores, general stores and their friendly staff bless us weekly.
  30. Insulation keeps the house warm as the winter descends.

For these our many blessings and so much more, we thank you, God.

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Not the best culinary experience

In 2018 the ethnic restaurant pleased the palate. “That was so good. I am telling my daughter she needs to check it out when she comes here for business next week,” one said.

In 2019, we left the same restaurant shaking our heads, “It all was so bland. It took a long time for the order to come. I don’t want to come back again.” This when we were the only customers that evening. I doubt it will be there in 2020.

Once before I had anticipated the demise of an eatery. It happened while traveling out of town. Our family custom when traveling takes us away from national franchises to try off the beaten path restaurants – new places. We have discovered some now favorite places on the route to visiting family.

And then, there are the unforgettable culinary disasters. The worst happened several years ago on our way home. Tired of hours in the car on an open road, I squirmed impatiently, ready for a break. As my husband turned toward his favorite hamburger joint. I said, “Let’s try something different. Enough already with that monotonously repetitive menu everywhere we stop.”

He veered off the highway and aimed the car up the hill to the town’s center. Saturday afternoon and the town square looked dead. Very dead.

“See anything?” he asked.

“Closed clothing shop. Closed courthouse. A couple trucks parked around the town square of darkened windows. Oh wait! There is a restaurant on the corner with the lights on.”

We parked right beside the restaurant’s door.

Inside we had our choice of all the tables in the room. We had arrived during that slow time between lunch and supper. Fine with me. I needed time away from road noise and the din of chatter.

The proprietor, manager and owner all showed up in one smiling little lady. “This is pancake day. All the pancakes you want for a couple dollars,” she smiled proudly. “We have served a lot of pancakes today,” she testified as did the sticky tables, the sticky chairs and (was it my imagination?) the sticky floor. She seemed oblivious to the stickiness.

“What can I get you?”

“Pancakes,” my husband smiled breathing deeply the aroma of syrup and pancakes.

“Vegetable soup if you have it” I said.

“Great! My cook prepared it today.” She toddled off to the kitchen.

The plate of pancakes and a pitcher of syrup appeared. A lukewarm bowl of vegetable soup was placed proudly before me. The owner took her own bowl of soup and sat across the room at another table with a look of sheer bliss. She eagerly spooned the soup.

I did not. It looked like all the leftovers and bottom of the pan of burnt vegetables from the last couple days. It appeared to have a thin layer of grease.

I took a couple of bites and placed my spoon across the bowl. I wasn’t that hungry. The little lady obviously was. She spooned her soup and smiled. She had had a good day with lots of customers.

My husband looked at me. I was not eating. “The peas are burnt,” I explained. “I will make vegetable soup when I get home.”

The next time we drove by the little town along the river, our curiosity pointed the car off the road and up the hill. We drove around the silent town square to the restaurant on the corner. It sported a firm “Closed” sign. Not even cheap pancakes can not sustain an eatery. Not when plenty of other places offer perfect vegetable soup and clean chairs even on Pancake Day.

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Apple Pie!

Grabbing six year-old Henry around the waist, Nate lifted his son Henry up into the branches of the apple tree to pick an out-of-reach apple.

“I got it, Dad. I got it,” the first grader announced, holding the apple as he slid down his father.

None of the grandchildren grabbed an apple to eat. I did. I bit into one remembering the year we picked several bushes of apples to take home. The aroma of fresh apples permeated the house. They smelled delicious and that first bite of an orchard fresh apple tasted so wonderful that I kept eating apples until my stomach ached.

After picking a couple more apples Henry urged, “Let’s go to the playground.”

The ‘You-pick’ orchard’s astronomically high price for simply entering the orchard also included access to a free playground for the children. Once they finished helping their parents they knew John Deere pedal tractors and tricycles awaited them.

Henry raced his older sister and brother. We watched and snapped pictures.

Little brother wanted a lift to the tree and a ride around the block. Big sister wanted to make a pie. She had talked about it all weekend.

Others helped peel and slice apples. Not just any apples. According to the orchard manager “The Enterprise is a late ripening apple that comes from the McIntosh, the Rome and the yellow Delicious. They hold their shape well when baked, a bit tart but they mellow in storage.”

He brought up the texture and taste because I mentioned the Northern Spy apple of my childhood. It took a visit from my cousin for me to realize ‘why’ apple pie always disappointed me as an adult. Cousin Suzie brought a half a bushel of Northern Spies. I made an apple crisp, took one bite and I smiled. I had finally found the perfect apple for baking. Firm, a bit tart and yet sweet.

“Try the Enterprise and see how it compares,” he urged.

Sophie tried. With a pile of apple slices ready, she pulled out an industrial looking mixer to make the crust. She patted and rolled out the dough and started to lift it to the pie plate.

“It helps if you sort of fold it over the rolling pin,” I showed her what I meant.

The sticky dough flopped into the pan. She pressed it up the sides and slid it into the oven to partially bake. The dough slumped down into the pie plate before we rescued it and patted it up the sides. While it baked Sophie measured spices, flour, sugar and a touch of butter. We took out the partially cooked bottom crust, added the prepared fruit and a much less sticky top crust. It baked forever before the fruit bubbled, announcing its readiness. Firm apples take longer to bake. Bedtime came before the pie bubbled enough to declare it “done” but still hot.

Left in the oven all night, the ambient heat continued to do its magic. We went to bed with the delightful smell of cinnamon and apples.

I guess it worked its magic on Sophie and Henry’s mom and dad because we had apple pie for breakfast. Nothing like dessert for breakfast especially if you ask their brother Sam. His sweet tooth is legendary. He grinned from ear to ear and relished the treat.

So did I. It tasted great. Not exactly a Northern Spy but close enough that I came home and made apple crisp from our Enterprise apples. I did not care that we had only the two of us to eat it. I didn’t want to share it anyway.

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