What We Do With Obstinate Ketchup

Some people think it’s an abomination to put ketchup on meatloaf. We don’t. We draw the line at putting it on quiche, or mac and cheese, mind you, but meatloaf is fair game. Last night Mom made meatloaf and had invited me and Samuel to come. I have discussed Mom’s amazing meatloaf in another post and there was nothing disappointing about last night’s. In fact, as Mom’s meatloaf goes, this one was exceptional. But it was the ketchup that caught my attention.

Mom has this squeezable container that she keeps it in.

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It’s one of those that people got and used when ketchup still came in a glass bottle (and that was the only way you could buy it). If you had one of these red plastic squeezie things and made a habit of filling it and keeping it filled, you put it out on the table instead of the glass bottle because ketchup is obstinate about coming out of glass bottles. It was too often a maddening experience. You might remember: Either you banged madly on the bottom of the bottle with the flat of your hand and nothing came out, or you banged on the bottom madly and a gigantic blob came out. Only occasionally would the banging result in the right amount of ketchup. We must have the right amount of ketchup, c’mon.

In my family we have been putting ketchup on meatloaf for as long as I can remember. Last night, no surprise, there was that container on the table along with the wine glasses and cloth napkins. Samuel picked it up to decorate his slice(s) of meatloaf and remarked, “This is the best ketchup container.”

“Yes, I’ve had that one a long time,” Mom said.

“Oh, I remember,” Samuel said. “It’s the one I remember from when we came to your house when I was a kid.”

A quick glance at ketchup container images on google revealed a few interesting designs, but most are boring – straight-sided, cylindrical, vaguely transparent bottles with red screw-on lids that have a point. Probably there are not many super cool ones because it is assumed that hardly anyone needs them – ketchup now comes in squeezable containers, not glass bottles. I have one of the boring ones. I use it because I buy ketchup in large containers that yes, are squeezable, but I can barely get my hand around them, let alone get my hand around, turn it upside down and squeeze.

This is a mug shot of mine. I have no idea why I have one with a yellow top, which seems like it goes with mustard. I never thought about it. Mom’s is way cooler.

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It is also possible that some people prefer transferring from the manufacturer’s squeeze bottle to a squeeze bottle of their own, that they are willing to go through the trouble, that they prefer putting an unadorned squeeze bottle at their table rather than one with the word Ketchup in a bold font across the front right under the company name along with supplemental text, a bar code, a list of ingredients and other information manufacturers deem necessary to print on the label because they agree with Miss Manners that packaging at the table is unthinkable.

In her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, in a section headed “Reading at Table,” we see the following:

DEAR MISS MANNERS:
Would you please comment on the proper etiquette for reading at the dinner table? In particular, is it considered proper to prop a letter against the salt shaker or to lean the newspaper against a carton of cottage cheese, in order to free the hands for eating?
GENTLE READER:
Miss Manners was about to duck this question, on the grounds that it is never proper to eat at the dinner table if anyone else is present and that what you do when you eat alone is between you and your God, and not a matter of etiquette. Then she came to the cottage cheese container. No decent person would put a food package – including ketchup bottles, milk cartons or cereal boxes – on the table, even at home alone with the shades drawn.

Laughable, right? I did laugh out loud, though not so much at the concept but at the language. Miss Manners’ very words have their nose in the air 😊.

But think about it, maybe she is not so far off. Most nicer restaurants stick with only dishes, utensils, glasses and actual food on the table. One of our dinner standards when I worked at the hotel was: All condiments are presented in small ramekins or dishes with appropriate service piece; no portion packets are used except sweeteners. In other words, nothing in a package (including mini ketchup bottles) except the white sugar packets and pink, blue and yellow artificial sweetener packets was acceptable. This standard gets tricky when it comes to jam, honey and Tabasco sauce, trust me.

I think it is entirely up to you what you have/allow/tolerate on your table at home and I suspect you will not be judged for this. Fear not. However I do think Mom’s ketchup container would pass Miss Manners’ muster. Better still, Samuel remembered it from his childhood, and I remember it from mine. The same container all these years – there’s something to be said for that. It makes me wonder which of the things in my kitchen, on my table, in my house will be remembered. What do you hope will be remembered from yours?

The Best Life If You’re a Pig

Pigs don’t have many choices in life. They are at the mercy of their owners and keepers, and I’d guess many of them would wish for a trade if trades were possible.  I would also venture to say that the vast majority would do anything pigly possible to have the life that Tracy’s pigs have. Do these pigs look happy or what? Okay, maybe they just look curious. There’s something about those noses that’s hilarious and remarkable at the same time.

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I’m not sure pigs could have a better life than these. They have oak trees dropping acorns all through their spacious, wooded area and freedom to root around all day finding those acorns and whatever else pigs consider yummy among the fallen leaves of this time of year. They have a huge enclosure made with movable fencing so it is, yes, moved around, which is better for the land, better for the pigs, plus a change of scenery (maybe they notice!). Oh, hey, this spot has great dirt!

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Their summertime life along the tree line let them pick shade or sun, assuming pigs can pick. Compared to most pigs, this had to feel like they had the whole state of Virginia to roam around in.

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It’s pig paradise. Check out their big bathtub/pool, which is clean only until the moment one of them gets in it mainly on account of the adjacent mud hole for slopping around in.

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You can’t tell so much when they are muddy, but one of these pigs has a few spots and one is mostly plain. I noticed it when I drove by the other day and they had been moved to the woods near the road.

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The spotted one reminded me of Chester the Worldly Pig, a fictitious, determined, clever creature created by Bill Peet in 1965 and among my favorite children’s books. Chester resented his lot in life. “Of all things,” grumbled Chester, “why on earth did I have to be a pig?” Does his face look annoyed?

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“But before I end up as so much sausage and ham, I intend to try and amount to something.” But what? To solve his problem, he did what we all do (or should do) when we have a problem, he thought long and hard about it. He “turned this around and around in his head until one day it came to him: ‘I’ll be a star in the circus!’” Chester perfected his nose stand and waited for the circus train to go by and see him.

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His plan failed because the train passed by with its shades drawn, so he ran down the tracks until he came to the big top, jumped on a post, impressed them all and got himself a job.

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But as you might imagine it didn’t work out. Sometimes things don’t work out. First they put him in with the lions and terrified him, then they dressed him up like a baby so Roscoe the clown could wheel him around in a doll buggy.

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It was beyond humiliating, so he took off first chance he got. A bear thought he’d make a great lunch,

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but then so did a bunch of hobos. That’s Chester in the bag next to Red Beard.

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“I’m the one that caught this pig,” red beard roared above the noise of the train, “so I’m keepin’ him all to myself!”

“Oh, no, you don’t!” bellowed black beard. “It’s share and share alike! That’s the rule!”

“And rules is rules,” growled gray beard.

“I’m breakin’ the rules,” roared red, “so what can you do about it?”

Chester barely escaped with his life. He resigned himself to his fate, the “at the first barn lot he came to, he turned in the gate to give himself up, and the farmer greeted the stray pig with open arms.”

 “To the farmer’s delight, after a couple of years Chester ballooned into a huge blimp of a pig; and one morning the happy farmer said, “Today this little pig goes to market.”

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Now if you’re a child looking at this farmer, are you thinking What a nice farmer! or He got himself a lot of free pork! Or Poor pig! Is his face happy in a jovial kind of way or happy in a greedy way or happy in a didn’t-I-get-lucky way? That’s the thing about art, right? Even children’s art. Contrived as the representation is, you are still free to interpret it with your own experiences and biases weighing in. In fact, it’s practically impossible not to. From the beginning, Chester is painted as a survivor. And now we all know what the farmer is going to do.

Or we think we know.

It’s just like when you watch a movie the second or third time and you see things you didn’t see the first time. Once you know the outcome, you wonder how you missed the important clues. It was plain as day even in the first scene, but I missed it, and you probably missed it too.

On that very same morning a carnival van stopped at the farm, and out of the cab stepped a dignified white-whiskered man with a broad-brimmed hat and a fancy frock coat. He had stopped to buy fresh eggs, but when he saw the huge pig he forgot all about the eggs.

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“What will you take for your pig?” he asked. The farmer thought for a minute, then named his price, which was at least twice what he figured the pig was worth. And to the farmer’s surprise, the man didn’t so much as bat an eye; he counted out the money and the deal was closed.

After the pig was loaded aboard and the van drove away, the farmer had himself a good laugh. “So he thinks he’s bought the world’s biggest pig! Why I’ve seen at least a dozen bigger ones at the county fair.” But if the fellow had gone to school long enough to study geography, he’d have known that Chester was much more than just plain big.

Here’s author Bill Peet, who worked as a sketch artist at Disney Studio on such films as Pinocchio, Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty and authored of 35 books, plugging a good education. In the end, Chester’s grit – despite what we all know happens to pigs in this world – led to an ending where everyone wins. The farmer got a good price, the white-whiskered man got “The One and Only Worldly Pig” and Chester got the fame he hoped for.

“Now if you will please move in a little closer,” said the white-whiskered man [to the crowd in the carnival tent], “you will see the entire map of the world imprinted by nature on this remarkable creature’s enormous hide. On his left side, the continents of North and South America, including the land of Australia, which is down under, of course.”

The crowd gasped in amazement, while Chester oinked in surprise. He was as amazed as anyone.

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“But that’s only the half of it,” said the man, turning the pig around on his revolving platform. “On his right side we find Europe, Africa, and Asia, and for good measure, even that tiny island of Borneo. So you see, my friends, this amazing pig is truly one of nature’s wonders…”

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Last week as I passed Tracy’s property and saw her pigs in the woods – and one of them is spotted! – how could I not think of Chester and the good life that some pigs get? There’s a lot we can’t do anything about, but many people do what they do in highly admirable ways. Hats off to Tracy! What lucky pigs she has!

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Bored Chickens? Say It Isn’t So!

I asked Samuel to put an ax to a pumpkin yesterday. I did this because my Aunt Vivian gave me an idea. She suggested that my chickens might be bored. Bored??!! We can’t have that! Not in a place that proclaims unboringness to the world.

It had not occurred to me that chickens would be bored, could be bored, though I suppose on an unconscious level that’s possible? Vivian’s daughter Deb, my cousin, also keeps chickens, and apparently has had similar harassment problems among them. Let me assure you of what we all already knew: Chickens don’t learn. Despite her recent banishment because of harassing the silkies, yesterday morning I watched Goldyneck pull feathers out from Whitey’s tail! Just came along behind her for no apparent reason, right after I’d let them out for the day, and snatched and yanked at those fluffy feathers. I did not banish her this time, standing firm as I was (for the moment) in They will work it out. Whitey retreated to the under-coop space and Goldy minded her own business, for a while anyway.

Deb has mitigated the boredom-leading-to-harassment problem by putting a hay bale in the run, giving the chickens something to do. They’ll scratch at it and break it apart looking for something edible or at least interesting within. Okay, I’m on board. I’ll supplement They will work it out with Give them something to do. I had a bale available but remembered the pumpkins on the cottage deck.

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Yes, that thing to the left of the orange pumpkin is also a pumpkin. Some of you may recall my stating very clearly my preference for orange pumpkins back in October when I went to Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Thanks to Sandy’s thoughtfulness, I came home from that trip to a variety of pumpkins decorating the outdoor space at the cottage, including this unconventional, clearly-not-orange one. It’s an unboring pumpkin – I’ll give it that!

Nonetheless its day had come. After Thanksgiving you have to do something with the pumpkins and other fall adornments you picked up while creating the harvest image, if you have them, which I don’t. (Oh right, I did buy one of those tiny gourds for the little round table in the cottage. I am aware that gourds don’t have feelings, but I still feel bad just chucking it into the woods…)

It is unclear to me why I thought I couldn’t break up this pumpkin myself. The image of Samuel swinging an ax while chopping cords of firewood, the whack of the blade against the hunk of wood, the crack of the splintering fibers unable to resist the force from above, yes, that’s probably what did it. Pumpkins however, especially old pumpkins, are not like wood. It doesn’t take much to break them. Just dropping this one on the ground got things going big time.

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But what the heck. He agreed and it was fun to watch him with the ax. Notice he does not yet have an audience.

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The first whack practically did the job. Had I done this myself, assuming I could lift the ax high enough to come down where it needed to, assuming enough accuracy not to just land the blade in the straw, bemoaning my weak arms all the while, I might have managed a similar split, then flipped it, cut side up, and given the other one to the Sewing Circle – half a pumpkin for each group of chickens, as I did with the watermelon – and stopped there, called it a day.

But no. Whack away, son of mine! The birds began to be curious.

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By the time he was done breaking up half for the Bridge Club and half for the Sewing Circle, there were scattered pieces of pumpkin, a way better situation anyway so that you don’t have them all crowding around one mass of food and possibly competing and showing each other who’s bigger or pushier. This would clearly defeat the purpose of the pumpkin giving them something to do so that they annoy each other less.

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Boring is a slippery slope to me, always has been. I bristled against the word when my children were small. They seldom used bored to describe themselves to me or to complain perhaps because they tried it once or twice (for sympathy maybe, or for a kind of attention?) and when they said it, breathed the very word, I immediately replied with something like, “Here’s a broom. How about sweeping the floor?” They soon learned to occupy their time in engaging and rather more pleasurable ways.

Time is short. We don’t know what’s around the next bend. And the world is so rich, so full of interesting things to do and learn and see and taste and feel and laugh about and listen to and ask questions about and marvel at! How is boredom possible in such a world? We are limited only by our willingness – within our individual capacities of course – to think, to imagine, to stretch, to wonder, to engage, to love, to serve, to explore. And of course by our obstinacy, as in doggedly determining that Boredom will not reside here. Not even in my chicken coops!

Hmmm, what’s this!!??

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It’s a hunk of something that wasn’t here before, sister! Have at it! What a life, eh? Never a dull moment!! 

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The Chicken Conundrum: Part 2

I woke this morning to the sound of rain. It was still dark. I did not immediately remember the small rug I had hung out over the back-deck railing last night because it had gotten wet from the leaking (unbeknownst-to-me-turned-off) freezer – it is surely wetter now. I did not remember the itty-bitty splinters in my hands from when the front porch was wet (and a bit icy) yesterday morning and I had slipped and caught myself by reaching for the rough cedar siding of the house. Instead my mind flashed to the chickens – dry in their coops now, but not for long!

Bedraggled is the best word for them when they have been standing in the rain, seemingly oblivious to it, for even a short while. I can provide them a palatial coop, I can make sure they have space under it to escape nasty weather, but I cannot keep them from getting wet.

Do you see the beginning of what was already a bad hair day starting to get worse? This photo, taken on another wet day back when the leaves were still green, shows the clumps and points and spikes beginning. In the rain, the silkie’s crown of fluffy feathers gets clumpier and clumpier, pointier and pointier, spikier and spikier and ultimately flatter and flatter. Hey, that’s my crown you’re talking about!silkie9.18 (2) beginning of bad hair day.jpg

No offense, Missy, but there’s not a lot of brain in your fluffy head.

Then I opened my phone and saw Claudia’s thoughtful response to my recent Banishment-Harassment Conundrum post. Regarding what to do with Goldyneck, my black copper maran that unmercifully harasses the silkies in her coop, was banished therefrom and subsequently reunited with the smaller hens, Claudia wrote:

Great observation and great metaphor for social analysis. Analogies help us think, they unfold a truth and point out connecting and turning points. But at one point a chicken stays a chicken and a human being – convicted or not – is a human being with the ability to think, feel and change if that human being recognizes a need to change plus receives the needed support. That is the pedagogy and assumption in me. Chickens on the other hand follow their instincts. Goldyneck will be at the lowest level in her new society until someone newer and weaker than her joins. If you keep her at her new place much longer – guess what – I think she will be the new one again and start from the lowest position. Sociology. No logical thinking patterns in chickens, no rational thinking just instincts, NO empathy. That’s where the original analogy ends and where we need to look for a new one that helps us think further and put our findings into understanding. How about a heart: We as humans have the ability to feel and build emotions in various contexts. Chickens don’t have that part – they “feel” pain because of their neural system but they are missing the emotional heart.
Thank you for making us think!

To which I say:

On the contrary, my friend — you are the one making us think.

Any analogy we make (including the one I had made comparing chickens to humans) goes only so far. Always, always, let us remember that behind every statistic, behind every story, there are individuals who act in certain ways in part because they are genetically programmed that way (we breathe to get air into our bodies, we run from fire because we naturally self-preserve) and in part because it’s what we individually want (for dinner, say) or what we thought would be the best course of action (such as quitting a job or choosing a mate). The thinking part distinguishes us from our feathered friends.

Chickens lean heavily, almost exclusively, toward the actions that are genetically programmed (pick on the little guy to establish pecking order). The image of Goldyneck being excluded from the watermelon circle,

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watching the others play out the who-invited-you? scenario, kept coming back to me, indeed weighed on me. In sixth grade – I remember it as if it were yesterday, there we were in the elementary school gym – as I myself attempted to merely stand with a small group of girls (I was not trying to share the watermelon!), those were the words I heard: “Who invited you?”

Unlike Goldy, who in her chicken-ness is alone but probably clueless as to why, I, being human, felt the pain of that exclusion. It reached my emotional heart and lodged there and over time turned into an understanding of human pecking order, as real as chicken pecking order, and a bristling within myself whenever I see anything that resembles this kind of behavior practiced maliciously.

But as emotionally challenging as my own experience was back then, my ability to reflect/think/reason kicked in regarding Goldyneck. She is never going to learn. And as Claudia so beautifully pointed out, all her relocation will accomplish is simply a different pecking order. Within hours of posting the first conundrum blog I came to this same conclusion, and I put Goldyneck back where she had started, with her Bridge Club, among her silkie girlfriends.

They’ll work it out, I said to myself. In their primitive way, the silkies will find a way to hold their own — as by extension, all of us who are deemed “lesser” somehow will do with whatever emotional and social capacities we have (or don’t have) naturally within us or (let us hope) we have developed over time. There will always be those who are bigger, stronger, more powerful, more strategically placed — and more bent on asserting such. It has never been otherwise, and never will be. We all simply do the best we can with what we have wherever we are. Or at least we should be trying to do the best we can. Regarding How to think and How to feel – let us never imagine that we have arrived at the pinnacle of either, but always know we have a ways to go in improving both.

Upon approaching the coop this morning as daylight increased and rain slackened, I observed the Bridge Club – the smaller chickens just waiting to be let out, curious about me on the other side of the wire. Goldyneck was among them, waiting too, curious too, behaving as you would hope, minding her own business.

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I went around to the other side and opened the egg door. She was the first one out, loaded with energy, scuttling around on her two funny feet. Then didn’t she find a silkie to peck!! She comes up from behind and grabs hold of the feathers on the back of the silkie and pulls a bit. For no apparent reason! This poor thing, the one we call Spot, was the harassed one this time, but she managed to distance herself and find a place of peace under the coop. (Do note her dry head at this time — they had emerged just minutes ago from the coop.)

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The way of the world is not so nice sometimes, but she found her corner. We all find our corners. Goldyneck continued to traipse around the run, but for as long as I stayed out there refilling food and water, she didn’t bother any of her coop-mates again. Who knows what moves her to annoy the others? Who knows why she stops? There are some things you cannot know, some things to just leave alone (until she gets my dander up again!).

When I returned an hour later – after the rain had started up again, after the not-overly-bright birds had stood in it for a while, I saw the natural outcome of small brains + rainy weather. As Sandy so aptly remarked: Punk is alive and well 😊

Hey, that’s my crown you’re talking about!

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The Mistakes We Make

When we took off the front porch in early October, we had to go around to the back of the house to get in. No way in the front. Too big a step up. And even if you could step up, too much dirt on your shoes would come with you. To the back we went.

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Replacing the rotted rim joist under the front door and adding new ledger boards took some time, but that got done. Then the framing for the new front porch started.

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In early November, we had this much of the framing done. We cut and laid the boards, and even though they weren’t screwed down until the day before Thanksgiving, we could then at least go in and out of the front door and walk on the new porch. But you couldn’t get on and off it from ground level.

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The old three-step stairway seemed reasonable for a way up, even if it was temporary, so we mounted that too. We needed gravel to build up underneath the base of the unit. I put as much as was necessary, but no more. At that point it looked like this.

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Does it seem reasonable to you yet? Deck boards are down/walkable, stairs are secured to the rim, gravel leads to a sort of pathway that leads to the driveway. What’s missing? What would you like to have if, say, you had pains in your legs or a young child in your arms or you walked with a cane? How easy would it be to get up or down those three steps?

A railing, right. You need a railing. Did I think about a railing before screwing in the steps in that spot? I did not. I thought only about myself and Samuel (and Coco) getting back and forth to the cottage and the chicken coop and the driveway (and the yard/leaves). I did not think about company. But company we have. Company we like. I needed a railing.

“No big deal, Mom,” Bradley said when I called him about it. “Secure a short post to the stringer at the bottom and then attach a railing to the short post and your 6×6.” Not a big deal for him maybe. First of all, the steps are too far to the left for a railing to attach to them and to the 6×6. They couldn’t connect.

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So I moved the steps over. See, in the right hand photo they are way closer to the 6×6 at the front corner of the porch. I also added a lot of gravel to expand the graveled area to make it more solid for walking on. It feels better underfoot now.

I then found some small scrap pieces of wood to help build up the area to the right of the lowest step so that the front face of the short post would be flush with the front face of the 6×6. I put one piece in on my own, then waited for Joe, who kindly came over to help me put in the rest of the build-up pieces and the post and the railing.

The post needed two long bolts all the way through the built-up layering, and that required long drill bits, a socket wrench and enough comfort with the table saw to cut small pieces to fit (one of these days I might feel comfortable with that particular piece of equipment, but I don’t yet!). We had one of the drill bits but not the other, and it was very cold with a biting wind, so decided to resume work the next evening. Thank you, Joe! The next evening we layered the scrap pieces that brought the post out far enough and secured it in with the bolts, which you can see in this photo taken the next day.

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Now all that remained was the railing itself. By this time it was late and dark and cold and I was hungry. I just don’t function that well when I’m hungry, and this situation was no exception. I had found a 2×4 earlier that would work for the railing. We placed it where it seemed reasonable and marked it. Joe cut it on the table saw. We installed it quickly and came inside to waiting, hot chicken pot pie. Good work, yay (!) and I could rest knowing my railing was in place for when Mom and Jerry would come on Thanksgiving.

The next morning I proudly said to Samuel Come see the railing! He followed me out there and immediately said Isn’t it kind of low? Oh dear! It was low! It was where the red line is! What was I thinking!? (Fact is, I hadn’t been thinking much except It’s cold! I’m tired! Let’s be done with it!)

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Thankfully I found another board (the first one was now too short). It served as an even better railing, being rounded on the two upper edges, and I could easily remove the practically horizontal first board (how could I have thought that was a good place for it?!) and replace it with the one you see in a much better place. There are two holes in the 6×6 that I wish weren’t there, but the better railing is solid and good, and both Mom and Jerry loved it and were much more comfortable when they came yesterday compared to when there was no railing.

Mistakes remind us that we are human. When people point out mistakes to us, it’s not necessarily criticism. Sometimes other people see what we didn’t (or can’t or won’t). We mess up sometimes, whether because we are in a hurry or just not focusing as we should be. We do our best to fix it. We make it right. We move on. We (hopefully) learn something that helps us next time.

I still think these steps are temporary, but maybe they stay a long time. We’ll see. However long they stay, every time I see that railing (and the two holes I wish weren’t there!) I’ll remember the dark, cold night I was in a big hurry to get to my chicken pot pie! I’ll remember Samuel’s Isn’t it kind of low? And I’ll remember making it right!

 

 

The Chicken Banishment-Harassment Conundrum

Pecking order is a very real thing. What should I do with a bully chicken that has been unmercifully pecking the silkies recently? This is the question of the day. I gave the offender, Goldyneck, time-out by putting her in the coop with the big girls, and I know very well that her brain is miniscule and will not in any way connect her new location to her crime. I also know that the tables have turned and she is the one now subject to bullying, shunning and other downsides of her present banishment.

For example, I had a small watermelon in the fridge that sadly I had not been able to get to last week, and it was a bit soft. You don’t want soft watermelon, to say nothing of the vague strangeness of eating watermelon in November, which I could handle better if the fruit were not bordering on mushy. But the combination of too-soft plus nip-in-the-air put me over the edge and the watermelon went to the chickens.

Clearly Miss Goldyneck is being left out here. C’mon, girlfriends, let me have some!

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She circled around and tried to come at it from the other side.

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Forget it, sister. No one invited you. They are not making room for her, no way. Finally she gave up and walked away.

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Not only that. I went in later to give them some other food – fabulous picked chicken carcasses that my local deli manager ok’d me taking home. (I was at the deli and saw that they had pulled the meat off the rotisserie chickens for chicken salad. Those carcasses were just sitting there… I asked for them and they kindly gave them to me and my mother said, “You have no shame.” I said My chickens will love this stuff! They will pick every possible bit of what’s edible off these bones! It’s protein. They eat bugs!)

Anyway, I went in to give them a portion of these bones that I brought home and didn’t see Goldyneck. A slight moment of panic was followed by a glimpse of black feathers.

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No, she wasn’t dead, she was hiding under the coop. I scattered the carcass bones such that she could get to some of them without problem. There was enough to go around. (Thank you, my deli manager!) My poor offender got some, no doubt.

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You don’t know what it’s like for me! These monster chickens are always bothering me! Save me! (So I can go back to bothering the silkies!)

Are you feeling sorry for her yet? Part of me does, I admit. But I am torn. This is the same chicken who was harassing my silkies in the other coop. While saving the silkies from harassment, I am subjecting the harasser – who has no capacity to see reason – to the same. In protecting victims, I create a victim. The obvious parallels to our human prison systems do not escape me.

Chances are also good that in the silkies are now being harassed by the second most aggressive chicken in the Bridge Club, who is relieved that Goldyneck is gone so she can practice her own techniques. I might not have made anything better. I don’t know if this is true, but it could be, and I will continue to watch this drama unfold.

Last night I went to check on them after dark and found the shunning continuing. There she is, by herself, under the roosting ledge, alone in the world!shunned 2_LI (2).jpg

There are no easy answers to this situation, but your thoughts are appreciated. I don’t know what to do!

Chicken Time-Out

It isn’t every day you get mad at a chicken. But today, on this cold Thanksgiving morning (32F), while other people are already basting the birds in their ovens, I was trying to discipline one in my coop. I had to – again! – put Goldyneck in time-out. Do chickens learn? Will she cease and desist her bullying if she gets a taste of her own medicine?

Probably not. Like people, chickens are who they are, and some of them are nastier, pushier, more aggressive. Some are meek and go about their own business and don’t randomly peck other chickens on the back! I have never been able to tolerate a bully.

This is the culprit.

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She’s very pretty. The chicks we got in March included this one, a mix – part silkie, part black copper maran – and no other chicken I have has visible traits of both. You see the bad hair day going on – though not as bad as the silkies – on top of her head. And of course the shiny black feathers of the maran, though hers are fluffier than the other marans.

Goldyneck does not pick on the other marans. They are bigger than she is, being pure maran (her silkie half means she is smaller). The other day I caught her pecking at a silkie. In particular she was pecking at One-Eye, the silkie we almost lost to an eye infection when she was just a few weeks old. Bullying is bad enough, but bullying the weakest among her group was too much for me. I’ll show her a thing or two about bullying.

I banished her. I did not go so far as to relocate her to the woods – I’d have to be really mad for that. But I put her into the other coop I call the Sewing Circle because they almost all have distinctive feathers circling their necks. Here she would have to mix with the brahmas, Rhode Island reds, cinnamon queens and the lone old gray auracana – all of which are bigger than the marans. I wondered what would happen.

Sure enough, a few hours later I came out to bring some scraps to them, and all the Sewing Girls came toward the door, eager to see what I might bring. Goldyneck was right there with them, but the space there is tight. She is smaller and was closest to the door, closest to me, and within seconds not one, not two, but three of her coop-mates gave her a peck on the back – a very clear signal. Move, sister! Move to the back of the line! You do not rate the front of the line! Back she went!

Later, when all had put themselves to bed after dark, I went to check on them. Another form of you-do-not-rate was in effect – shunning! Here she is, farthest back, apart from the rest. Hanging her head no less!!

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I let her spend the night in this purgatory and in the morning decided she could rejoin the Bridge Club, her own group so named because most of them are bantams (smaller breeds of chickens). B for Bantam. B for Bridge Club. (Sewing Circles and Bridge Clubs are both groups of ladies, and we must differentiate. We must help our brains with tricks!)

I was hopeful, as I am ever hopeful, with most things, though a friend did say Chickens Don’t Learn. A full day went by. I was busy and did not spend much time in close observation. I was busy enjoying my cottage guests who were enjoying my chickens. How it thrills me when people – especially young people – hold them, watch them, have fun. The silkies are especially docile and love to be picked up. Okay, maybe loved is too strong a word. They graciously tolerate it. Most of the time.

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Then this morning, immediately upon letting the Bridge Club out of their house/palace, didn’t Goldyneck immediately start pecking on a silkie! It got my dander up, so I moved her again. She was clearly confused. In this image, she is perhaps appealing to the marans on the other side of the barrier fence in her own chicken way.

Hey, how come I’m over here and y’all are over there? Wait, this isn’t right. I’m all alone!

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Not for long. Surely having heard the hullabaloo, the Sewing Circle then woke up.

Oh, no, here they come. Help!

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It wasn’t long before they started showing her whose space this is. First a red, then a brahma. The pecking happens really fast – definitely a peck-and-run technique – so these images, blurred as they are, will have to suffice in showing what I mean. Better move!

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Goldyneck tried to get out of the way, but she stuck close to the fence that divides her from the chickens she would love to be with/dominate. The reds are after me! Do something! Then she turned around and a brahma gave her that proverbial taste of her own medicine. Gotcha!

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Generally I am a tender-hearted person, and I am aware that this action of mine may forever affect your impression of me. The good and the bad will be weighed, and then someone will say Yes, but remember that time she left that poor chicken in with the big girls! But let it be understood that I also removed the offending chicken from those she was bullying! And then I walked away. I did. We will see what happens….

Yummy Cookies Baked When You Need Them

I have hosted Airbnb guests at my charming cottage for more than four years. Among other gifts, I leave them something home-baked, usually cookies. If I remember right, last year I had guests 161 nights. That’s a lot of cookies. Imagine if – each time – I got out the butter and sugar? Creamed them in a bowl? Added eggs, vanilla, flour, etc. and mixed it all up and spooned the dough onto baking sheets and baked the cookies? No way would I have time for this.

You learn a lot if you keep your eyes open. Depending on where you are, you learn a lot about certain things. I spent eleven years working in a luxury resort, and a good bit of that time in and out of the kitchens there. Professional chefs have remarkable skills, including knowing how to manage feeding a lot of people at different times and making it all (seem so) fresh. One thing I learned from the pastry chefs but should have learned from Ben and Jerry: Cookie dough freezes well.

We all knew this. Ben & Jerry made chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream famous.

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If you have tasted this frozen decadence, you will remember how the cookie dough part freezes hard but not too hard. Hard enough to be frozen, but soft enough to bite into. (Oh yum! If only they would make this with a chocolate base!)

Now think about it: If you can bite into frozen cookie dough, you surely can put a knife through it. And there we have the solution to my needing fresh cookies very often – homemade slice and bake! I mix up a batch of dough, portion it out, freeze it in little logs, then slice and bake as needed for incoming guests. Voila! Everyone has fresh baked homemade cookies! (I once heard a speaker say that the secret to success is Preparation, Preparation, Preparation. This applies to cookies too!)

The log-freezing method is great for guests, but also for those who enjoy their cookies fresh, soft and chewy, right out of the oven — like you! Realistically, you can eat only so many this way, and the rest go in a tin and, well, they aren’t as good in a few days. By freezing the dough in smaller amounts, you can spread out the joy of fresh-baked without getting out the ingredients and going through the whole process every time.

Think co-workers, neighbors at the holidays — or make them for random, unexpected gifts. Prepare ahead and bake only as many as you need for each person or occasion. Fresh every time! (So-and-so invited us to dinner, honey… What?? … Oh, I could bring along some freshly baked cookies! Watch this — super quick!)

I know that chocolate chip cookies are an all-time favorite, but I have preferred to make oatmeal cookies with mini chocolate chips in them. Somewhere in my brain there is better justification for cookies that have whole grain in them. Often I also put dried cranberries or golden raisins in them, but this time I didn’t because … I forgot.

The recipe I use has been in my cookbook forever. Here is the list of ingredients:

Oatmeal (Chocolate Chip) Cookies

3 sticks (1 ½ cups) butter, soft (use the defrost setting on your microwave if you want)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

½ cup water

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

6 cups oats

(For the cookies I make for my guests, I also add a teaspoon of cinnamon, 2 cups of mini chocolate chips and often a few handfuls of dried fruit.) BTW, other cookie doughs work well with the log method, including shortbread cookies.

First cream the butter and sugars with a strong wooden spoon. This mixture will pull away from the sides of the bowl.

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Adding the eggs, water and vanilla changes it quite a bit. Now it looks almost grainy. Notice I changed to a whisk to be sure it all got mixed in thoroughly.

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Once you stir in the flour, salt and baking soda, the consistency changes to almost velvety smoothness. Look how beautiful! (And back to the wooden spoon!)

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Now add the oats. How’s this for action photography!?

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I put my oats tin in this photo too because (like the allspice tin I showed in Colonial Pumpkin Pie) it is another one that has been around for a long time and is among my favorites.

Once you have the oats in the bowl, add the mini chips too.

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Stir it all up till it looks like this.

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Now clear your biggest surface (for me this is my table) and lay out as many pieces of waxed paper as you want. I give my guests 8-10 cookies on a plate (under a glass dome) and have found that a log about 6 inches long yields that many cookies. That means 16 pieces of waxed paper and between ½ and 2/3 cup of dough on each one.

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I don’t measure the dough – I just divvy it up into approximately equal size blobs. It doesn’t matter if it’s exact. In my case it only matters that they are about the same amount, and this is the amount that makes 8-10 cookies. You can make your logs however long you want, some longer than others if you want. Just remember you need longer paper for longer logs!

To make the logs, I hold the paper underneath, cradling the dough and using the paper to help form the log.

Use your fingers from underneath to mush the dough into the log shape. I make mine about 1 ½ inches in diameter, but you can do what you like. Once you are happy with your log, wrap it up snug in the paper.

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Do the same with all your blobs until you have a neat pile of wrapped logs.

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My very dark table is making them look suspended in mid-air, don’t you think? Okay, maybe not a prizewinning photo, but still cool.

Put these wrapped logs in a plastic freezer bag and freeze them. When you are ready to bake some, take out a log and cut it into the slices about 1/2 -inch thick.

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Place cut-side-down on your baking sheet and bake at 375F until they look not quite done. In my oven this was 13 minutes today. If you take them out when they look just a little bit uncooked, just ever-so-slightly brown at the edges, they will be chewier. I love them that way. If that sounds good to you, try it!

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Colonial Pumpkin Pie

When it’s soon to be Thanksgiving, you almost can’t help but think of pumpkin pie. I’ve had my share over the years, some better than others. Let’s say there’s a scale of 1-10 with ten being the best. If you’ve only ever had mid-range, 5-6ish pies that lean more toward bland than flavorful, you might think: Pumpkin pie, so what? I’ll tell you what – you want to try this one!

It’s only natural that the tastes we grow up with become the ones we categorize as authentic and normal (and hopefully good!). Thus it is that my mom’s “Colonial Pumpkin Pie” tastes perfect to me. And once again I say: Thank you, Mom! If you have a recipe that you love from your mom or dad or grandma, by all means go ahead and use it. But if you don’t, this recipe might very quickly taste like home to you. (Why it’s called “Colonial” I never asked. Your guess is as good as mine. Did the colonists have all these spices? Maybe?)

One part of this process that’s fun for me is checking if it’s done. Many times recipes call for a toothpick inserted into the middle, and if it comes out clean, the pie or cake or bread is done. This one calls for a knife. A very sharp knife is not necessary, but don’t use a thick one either. Your regular knife that butters toast will be just fine. Notice there are two slits in this pie. First knife: Not clean!

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But I get ahead of myself.

As flippant as I can be about some recipes (little of this, little of that) I am pretty darn exact about this one. As I copied it long ago from Mom’s recipe book, this is it, spatters and all, and I don’t change a thing.

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P.S. I never omit the molasses. Why on earth would anyone do that?

I have made this pie with canned pumpkin most of the time. Be careful to get the can that is strictly pumpkin, not the one you can find sometimes that has spices already added to it. You want pumpkin pure and simple to start with. Pumpkin is bright orange. Bright orange is the authentic pumpkin color. But you may know me well enough by now to know that I am going to be unconventional sometimes. I am still going to follow the recipe, and all it says is 1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin. I had cooked down and pureed some homegrown pumpkins that had white flesh, and I wanted to use that, but look, in the bowl, it’s too white. See what I mean? It’s just not right.

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Some things have to be the way they are supposed to be. Or maybe just not so far afield. I decided the best remedy was to double the recipe. I added the same amount of canned (orange) pumpkin…

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…stirred it up…

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…and then doubled everything else. Hmmm, I wonder which is the dominant color?! Anyway I felt better and could carry on.

Another reason I like this recipe is that it calls for allspice, which is not, as the name implies, a bunch of (or all) spices mixed together, but rather a kind of pepper native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico and Central America. It is also called pimento, Jamaica pimento or myrtle pepper. Neither its origin nor its name is why I like using it though. I like my tin. Check this out. I’ve had this allspice tin for decades and who knows if I even bought it new (maybe it was my mother’s!). I can tell you that the front and the back are exactly the same as each other, and both sides are the same as each other except for the seam in the metal being part of one side.

No UPC, no warnings, no ingredients list, no metric weight, no zip code for Elmhurst, no trademark. I love all my tins, but this is one of my favorites. I have refilled it over the years but could never bear to part with it. Perhaps refilling is a very bad idea (sticking to the insides is some very old allspice!), but I haven’t died yet, so I will continue my system.

The rest of the ingredients, added but unstirred, all except for the milk, look like a funky continental United States map to me: The shiny molasses like rain in Seattle at the 10:00 position, the eggs like a storm tracking from Texas to the mid-Atlantic, the brown sugar like high desert from Arizona to North Dakota. (Some people see castles in the clouds. I see a storm tracking in the eggs – what can I say!?) And hey, why not see the whisk stuck in the middle as the teacher saying Now, children, do get along! Granted, the real U.S. is wider than it is high, and California, New England and the Great Lakes are more or less missing in this rendition, but Imagination Art is not required to be accurately representative.

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I digress! Apologies!

Whisk those ingredients together thoroughly, getting to a rich golden brown color.

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Then add the evaporated milk and whisk again. This is what it looks like when the milk is mostly stirred in but not all the way.

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Mix the milk in until it is thoroughly blended, then get ready to pour into a prepared pie crust (purchased or homemade, you know which mine is). You might recall that I doubled the recipe because of wanting to use the white pumpkin. Half of this amount – a very full quart – I poured into my crust. The other half I put in a quart container and froze. When I thaw it and pour it into another crust, it will be just as good.

Note well: The mixture will be very liquidy.

The most delicate part of this operation comes next, the part where you want to make sure there are no small children running about or random dog toys underfoot likely to trip you up. Moving the pie dish from the counter to the oven with this very soupy mixture in it requires a steady hand and no surprises. Trust me on this! I speak from experience. Goopy, soupy pumpkin pie mixture that has dripped down and worked its way into the crevices of your oven (you are not fast enough to catch it!) is a pain to clean up if you spill it. For a while, unwilling to risk the same big mess, I put the pie plate with its empty crust on the oven rack and then poured the mixture in! But this has its own challenges, including how to pour it within a confined space. In the end, I am just super careful with this part.

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For some reason pumpkin pie tastes best in the fall. Is it that I am (and maybe we all are) conditioned that way, having had it only at Thanksgiving for many years? Is it that the cinnamon/cloves/ginger/molasses combo – these stronger, winter flavors – inherently and mysteriously taste “right” when the weather is cooler? I don’t know. I don’t eat pumpkin pie only at Thanksgiving, but I do wait till there’s a nip in the air!

Six Siblings Celebrating

This past weekend I witnessed a remarkable thing in Kansas City. My college roommate and her five siblings have made a habit of gathering together to celebrate every time one of them turns 60, and it was Dina’s turn. They came from their homes in Kansas, New York, Arkansas and Kentucky and spent several days together talking, laughing, exploring the area, enjoying each other’s company. I was invited to join the party and marveled at this group, posing here in front of a Monet at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

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Kansas City is Dina’s backyard, so she chose the activities, restaurants and agenda. Our excursion at this highly impressive museum had something for everyone. The entrance hall alone gives you some idea of its grandeur.

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I did not expect the exquisite marble interior!

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Or the mummy of Ka-i-nefer.

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Or the mummy mask of Meret-it-es.

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Or works by Degas.

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Or Renoir.

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Or Hieronymus Bosch.

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Or parts of a medieval cloister.

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Or a giant shuttlecock! This one is 18 feet tall – way taller than it looks in this photo. I am standing on a tall ledge.

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But as absolutely remarkable as everything in the museum was (and I am showing only a fraction of what we saw), it didn’t hold a candle, in my estimation, to how remarkable these six siblings are, shown here after the birthday dinner at Cascone’s.

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And here with spouses against the nighttime Kansas City skyline.

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These wonderful people find a way to come together several times a year. They get along, overlook their differences, forgive each other their occasional bumbles, express interest in each other’s separate worlds and not only maintain familial ties, but also have fun and build new memories. The days together included meals of course (this was one breakfast – Dina the Birthday Girl is in pink),

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and time in the hotel’s hot tub, time for naps, time for a jigsaw puzzle, time for telling stories, time for touring special homes (Fred and Dina in front of this 25-room Victorian mansion called the Cray Museum in Atchinson, Kansas),

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and time for Dina’s birthday cake.

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I asked some of them how they manage it, how they are still smiling after the loss of both mother and father, how they navigate diverse political affiliations and life choices, how the physical distances between their homes mean almost nothing – indeed how this many very strong individuals can be so (overall) very agreeable when they get together. The answers were expressed differently, but boiled down to the same thing: mutual respect. No one tries to lord it over anyone else or tell anyone else what they should do or how to think.

I watched and saw numerous examples. They waited patiently while one or more (I won’t say who!) took longer getting through the museum exhibits, even if the rest were ready to get going. Later they all stood outside for a while around that fire pit (in the skyline photo above) even though it was kinda, sorta, yeah quite cold (!) out there – because some wanted to. I watched them give each other room to be individuals, to have different opinions and different preferences. I watched them consistently practice the I Cor. 13:4-5 kind of love that is patient and kind, that does not envy, does not boast, that is not proud, nor dishonoring of others, nor self-seeking, nor easily angered, that keeps no record of wrongs. “Consistently” is a key word here.

I watched Six Siblings Celebrating (try saying that six times fast!!).  When in the future, in another location, they come together again, I have no doubt it will be just as pleasant, enjoyable and meaningful an occasion as this one was. I hope they know what a beautiful group they are, what a wonderful model for their children and friends and others, and how honored and delighted I myself was to have been a part of their amazing circle for a few days.