SUMMER

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Art by Kazo Oga

Delicate glass wind chimes tinkling softly while old women fan themselves, engawa doors rolled wide open.

The cicada raise their song in tune with summer’s heat. A curl of smoke keeps mosquitoes at bay.

We look forward to ice-cold watermelon for dessert.

 

(this is a seasonal note-regular posts below)

When it isn’t something you feel comfortable with…riding a bike.

I got an email response from a good friend I met through blogging. She wrote a post about biking to work on which I left a comment. That started a whole email discussion about why I don’t ride a bike around these parts.

After reading my email she responded by saying…”you should totally blog about this, it’s fascinating”.

I have to warn you-a part of this post may seem a bit discriminatory. I assure you that is not my intention. I’m a writer. I write it like I see it. If writers tried to be politically correct about everything then they wouldn’t write honestly.

So, a little about why I don’t ride a bike around these parts…..

We have mirrors in some places like- the bigger roads. Big round convex mirrors that help folks see what’s coming around the corner.
However, we live in the countryside- lots of tiny side roads that can barely fit even one car. Those have no mirrors and those are the roads people come shooting out of at speeds far beyond what someone with commonsense would consider safe.
Sometimes they stop. Sometimes they don’t.
Many times they come to a screeching halt so if you happened to be passing in front of them, or almost in front, you’d suffer from shock thinking you were about to be hit. You might suffer cuts and abrasions because you jumped out of the way or flew off your bike not knowing if they were going to stop.
As a matter of fact you can’t even really be sure a driver will stop at a stop sign.
It’s a tricky game around here.
 From what I have observed first-hand the general “rule ” for red lights seems to be- you have 10 seconds after it turns red to go thru it.  Not legal but it’s normal for people to race right thru the red after it has already turned red.
I have no idea where the cops are.
Like I said- I wish it was safer here. I wish that motorists would have common sense and not be so selfish, thinking of only themselves, and not the safety of the general community around them.
We live on a road that is a “2-way” but– only one car can fit on at a time. It’s a narrow little lane actually.
The oddest thing- people can’t seem to ” back up” very well here so they race up or down it because, again, the rule is whoever is more than halfway down or up doesn’t have to back up.
My husband was coming up one day and another driver had just entered the road so she had to back up. She literally tried for 10 minutes and could not back her car up straight enough to avoid falling down the hill. It was only a few feet that she had to back up. There she went…slowly back, cranking her wheel all the way to the right and causing her tires to veer dangerously close to the drop-off that would have sent her plummeting into Mrs. K’s house. We could see her inside the car, faced contorted, feverishly trying to get her car to do what she wanted.
When we saw that she was crying….my husband got out of our car and backed her car up.
This is actually a normal thing because I can see it right out my kitchen window. Drivers that can’t even back up a car. Women drivers, they seem to have the issues with driving. Why? I don’t know. But this is what I see.
When I’m walking on our narrow little lane and I see a car come roaring towards me  I literally jump in the bushes because there is literally only about a foot of space between me and a car. Less if it’s a truck.
And, they are flying….as I said, no one wants to have to back-up.
I used to yell at people to slow down but no one cares about some crazy foreign lady screaming at them.
In the hot months women wear huge floppy hats with brims that come down to their shoulders and hang dangerously low over their eyes obscuring vision. They don’t take them off when they drive. My husband said that he can not believe that this is allowed- driving with clothing that obscures vision. You read about accidents in the local paper where people have been hurt because of things like this.
When I see these floppy-hat clad women barreling down the road-I get out of the way.
The bottom of our road has been missing the mirror for over a year- typhoon blew it off. We found out it isn’t the government’s obligation to put it back. Some of the mirrors are purchased by neighborhood community groups.
Here is how it works- neighborhoods are divided up into sections / groups. Each group elects a leader. The members of each group pay a ” nenkaihi” or a group fee / membership fee that is collected twice a year- over $100 for us.
 This is not a government activity it is part of the old ” tribal” ways and still practiced in the small country towns.
What each group does with their money is up to them. One thing our group did was put a mirror at the top of our road but the bottom is governed by a different group. Hence no mirror. One group does not tell the other group what to do with their money.
All that to say- mirrors on tiny roads are not a priority here.
The roads that I would be on most of the time are narrow. So narrow that there is no shoulder. Some of the roads go alongside the river. There is no guardrail to keep anyone from plunging down the over 100 foot embankment. I can’t even imagine trying to stay on the road while a huge dump-truck roars past me.
Vehicles generally do not slow down for bikers or pedestrians. Not around here. My husband does-thankfully.
So, taking into consideration that I haven’t been on a bike since I was a child and the fact that there are so many dangers I’d face I think that I’d rather walk or take public transportation.
Too bad because I really wanted to get a bike when we moved here. I’m not saying that riding a bike isn’t safe in Japan. I know many that live here and bike and do just fine.
What I am saying is that in our area it isn’t the wisest choice. I know a few people that have been hit while riding a bike in Japan and…I don’t really know that many people. A few weeks ago a 40 year old man in our neighborhood was hit and killed.
Interestingly I read several articles about bike accidents and fatalities in Japan before I wrote this article. I had to laugh because the articles were so biased towards the cyclists. I read through the comments and agreed with most of them. The problem is not all about “reckless cyclists” it is a failure to provide a safe environment for people riding bikes.
A comment left by bloneintokyo on one of the articles:
“58 percent of the 790 respondents said they cannot abide by the traffic rules while cycling because of bad traffic conditions.”
If they are talking about the difficulty of riding in the road, then this is true. There are spots where it is positively dangerous for cyclists to be in the road because there’s too much traffic and just no space for cyclists to ride alongside. I nearly get sideswiped about every week, and It can be really scary. In those cases I can’t really blame cyclists for wanting to be on the sidewalks at least some of the time. Police should be taking this particular violation on a case by case basis, at least until there is better infrastructure for cyclists.”
Anyhow-
I guess this summer  I’ll be spending a lot of time at home. My MRI showed torn but not severed ligaments. There is also a chip in the bone. Thankfully I won’t need surgery. The doc fit me with a nifty knee brace that I have to wear for two months and along with rest and ice, I should heal up by the beginning of October.
I did want to spend more time on my writing……

When hiking goes wrong…

For a while now I’ve been trying to find a hiking group to join. Japan is full of hiking trails. If there is a hill or a mountain you can bet that there is some sort of trail on it. 

From past experience most all the trails that I have been on in Japan are steep. With the exception of Hiraodai- a karst plateau- just about every trail leading up a mountain goes seemingly straight up and straight down. 

I joined a group hike today. A friend who lives at the foot of a mountain that is full of trails – invited me to join her group.  We all met in the parking lot of the local convenience store at eight AM. It took a good hour or so to reach the base of a small mountain where we were supposed to meet the leader of the group and a few other members. 

We waited. Thirty minutes. No leader. 

After an hour contact with the leader was made. I never found out why they were late but it was decided that the four of us that were waiting would just start up the mountain. 
The trail began a slow ascent, wide at first and then narrowing into a steep, rocky and root-filled path. We went slow and despite that it was 90 degrees, it was an enjoyable trek. 

About half-way up the terrain changed a bit and the trail opened up into a small meadow teeming with butterflies! We dropped our packs and took a few minutes to enjoy the beauty, eat a snack, hydrate and chat a bit. 

Through the meadow, across a stream and we were back on a steep incline. The trail had an awesome balance of trail variation and our slow pace made it a fun hike up. 

We reached the summit in about two and a half hours. Great view at the top! 

At the summit we met the leader and other group members and ate our bento lunches. 

I was having a great time …..

Until… 

The leader decided to take a short-cut on the way down. 

The very beginning of the short-cut was pretty. We tromped along a grassy path flanked by tall pines. Just lovely until we turned a bend and I saw with trepidation that the trail from then on was basically a near vertical drop. One of the steeper descents I’ve had to make. 

This one was booby-trapped. The extreme vertical slope was filled with damp mossy rocks that were covered with a layer of  damp and decaying leaves. All of that was piled atop slick mud. 

We’ve had a lot of rain recently. 

I surveyed the trail and thought – I’m sure we will turn around and descend the same trail that we used coming up. 

But we just kept going…. down. 

Two minutes of descent told me this was a knee buster. 

It was so steep and slippery that it was all I could do to keep myself from falling. At one point the lot of us had to grab the overhanging branches and inch our way down so that we wouldn’t slide down the mountain in one big mess. 

I was not enjoying it at all. It was slick and dangerous. 

My point was proven as  my hiking boot connected with a slick rock. I tried to avoid falling but the severe vertical slope, my pack- which had shifted as my body began to twist in slow motion as my feet went airborne, and the fact that there was no place to ground my hiking stick proved to be too much. 

At the instant that I heard the loud POP I hoped with all my might that it had been a stick, snapped by my crashing body. 

But there was no stick. 

The moment you realize that you just blew out your knee half-way down an excruciatingly steep mountain is a defining moment. 

I was thankful that I had the foresight to pack pain meds because ” you never know”. 

Yep. 

I don’t really remember the rest of the descent but I do remember taking constant deep breaths and repeating ” you can do this”. 

Why the leader decided to have us descend that steep and dangerous trail is something I will never know because I won’t be hiking with them again. Had we gone down the way we came up we would have been just fine. It would have been an enjoyable day for all. 

My knee? 

It’s bad. Really bad. The hospital is closed today and tomorrow. The emergency room is for real emergencies and it’s expensive so- I’ll have to wait. 

I was so happy that I found left over pain killers from my oral surgery. 

Lesson learned I guess. 

Still there…

The Old Lady With The Crooked Back (original post click)

The other night we happened to pass by the rusty and leaning tin and wood building where  the old lady with the crooked back lives.

It was dark as we drove slowly by. The light that filtered from the dusty second floor window illuminated a few cracked flower pots below. The tomato plants told me that she was still there.

In my mind’s eye I saw her sitting alone at an old wooden zataku that was covered with a yellowed but clean plastic lace table cloth. None of the threadbare zabuton matched. Neither did the fabric edging on the eight sagging tatami mats in the little room where she sat surrounded by old mismatched furniture. Several old calendars were tacked randomly on the walls. None displayed the correct date however the photos decorated drab plaster walls.

A small scroll hung in the tiny tokunoma that was next to the butsudan. On the butsudan were several faded black and white photographs of ancestors long gone and neatly arranged on the little black plastic stand was an old bowl bell, a  small wood striker shiny with years of use, a lighter and a few joss sticks.

The incense bowl was set between two small brass vases each holding small white and yellow carnations.

There was no breeze that blew in through the rusty screen on the one window that was open. The smell of grilled saba, grated daikon and incense hung thick- seemingly held in place by the high humidity.

The old lady wiped her brow, took a sip of the can of beer she saved for such a hot summer evening and changed the channel on the TV.

The whir of  a greasy, dust laden fan could barely be heard above the blare of the old television that was standing amid a sea of extension cords. Cords that ran snake-like across the tatami and gave life to the hot-water pot, rice cooker and various other dusty little appliances.

Koro had squeezed himself between the old rusty screen and the tiny window ledge. His tail twitching … watching as we passed by on the narrow little road below.

 

Alone but not lonely. On being a part-time hermit.

Something I’ve mulled over for a while now was to write more candidly and openly about life here. So far I’ve only been brave enough to give tid-bits. A glimpse here and there of life here. I guess I always hesitate because I didn’t want it to seem like I was looking for advice or help.

I’m definitely not.

I have several reasons for wanting to blog more candidly  and all of them have to do with the writing craft. I’ll just leave it at that.

On with the post….

Confession: I live the life of a part-time hermit.  I actually thought of starting a blog entitled “The Accidental Hermit” but I’ve never really been successful at starting another blog. I always end up back here.

I didn’t plan on living semi-secluded it just sort of happened upon moving here. Have I tried to broaden my “horizons”? Yes.  Am I unsociable ? Not in the least. Do I enjoy part-time hermitude ? I do now. I actually think it fits me perfectly as I consider myself rather eccentric. My husband agrees.

I’ve come to accept the way things are and I’m content now.

I wonder about how many other foreigners find themselves “accidental” hermits in Japan. I doubt that I am alone. It’s just…Japan. It’s an awesome country, really. I love living here. I can completely understand how they have managed to isolate themselves from “outsiders” for so long. In general, and this opinion is only based upon MY personal experience as a middle-aged foreign female with no children living in Japan– I’d say that most indigenous in these parts do not exhibit the willingness to get to know others who are different (as in foreign). They don’t even carry on casual conversations with each other.

They aren’t unfriendly, actually. But it doesn’t seem like genuine friendliness it’s more like curiosity about a stranger in their midst. Taking the time to cultivate a real friendship seems to be rare. In six years I have found two that have actually gone beyond the curiosity stage. But not very far beyond.

I mused about this fact as I was standing in line at gate 14c in Atlanta waiting for my flight to Nashville. We were a small group of passengers waiting for “zone 2” to board. We didn’t know one-another but in that good ole’ American way we struck up a conversation standing there in line. It just really hit me–that never happens in Japan. Strangers do not just strike up conversations with each-other. My husband and I have talked about this fact many times.

Becoming a part-time hermit in Japan wasn’t really that difficult. Since it’s such a big part of my life I thought-why not start blogging about it? Might be interesting for some to read about.

More from the PT Hermitage later.

PT= part-time

 

 

Sunday’s musings…

The Garden:

I finally got around to adding a few more stakes to the tomatoes. They have absolutely gone bonkers. I harvest a little bowlful everyday.

The tomatoes on the plate are what’s leftover from what we already ate today. You would think we would get sick of eating them but we don’t. We are thankful to have so many because we love them.

I picked a couple of cucumbers the other day and today I hunted around on the vine and saw a few babies. Too much rain and lack of sun haven’t been so good for gardens. I’ve had to pick the tomatoes before they got too ripe because all the water causes them to split open. Then the ants come and have a feast on them.

I go out there and check the patch in-between showers and downpours. Yes, it is still raining.

The weirdest thing….my super tall sunflower is growing two more flower heads from the stem.

Is that normal? I have no idea. The one on the left is still a bud but the one on the right has petals already. I wonder if the flowers will mature.

While I was looking at that oddity I saw that the semi are finally emerging. Semi are cicadas and they emerge from the ground as the temperatures rise. This year they are late. I don’t blame them. Who wants to crawl around in all this rain. Anyhow, I saw several empty semi shells clinging to the leaves on my sunflower and tree.

As I have said many times-Japan has a whole host of strange, exotic and dangerous bugs. I’m not really a fan of bugs. I don’t mind them if they stay OUTSIDE where they belong. Kids in Japan think it’s fun to have a large betel as a pet. No thank you. Ever.

Interesting article on semi

Things that make me go…hummmm….

We had to run to our local grocery store. Since it was so close to lunch-time we decided to grab a bento to go. Most of the grocery stores and convenience stores carry pre-cooked meals that are pretty much equal to “home cooking”. Not fast-food- junk food at all.

My favorite at this little store is what I call “obosan bento”. Obosan is a nick-name for Japanese priests. The “obosan” bento is vegetarian consisting of; lotus root, pumpkin, tofu, seaweed salad, taro, rolled egg (egg is vegetarian for me),yokan and carrots.

Just tiny bits of each make up a small bento tray. I usually have a rice-ball and tea together with the bento.

Anyhow-while we were choosing our bento I saw this:

Not an unusual site but this just bugs both of us. Food sitting out uncovered.

I would never buy any of this food. I don’t eat hot-dogs and such anyhow but I mean we never buy any food that is just sitting out on trays uncovered. You find this sort of thing often. Bakeries display their breads and pastries like this. AEON Mall has a large bakery with all sorts of nice looking bread products and pastries but we never, ever buy any of it. Do you know how many times I’ve seen people sneeze or cough on uncovered products? How many times I’ve seen long hair, shirt sleeves, little kids fingers-come in contact with uncovered food? Many times.

Our local TRIAL store has cooked pizza, fried pork cutlet, hamburgers..etc- and all of it is just sitting out uncovered.

My husband was the first to say anything about this practice.. I noticed it but I hadn’t really thought about it like he had. Just makes me wonder about sanitation laws.

Our future tiny home:

I know many of you have been thinking…”I hope she’ll post pictures of what will be their new house” …

The other day we had to stop by the folks and I had my ipad with me. I took a few quick shots so that I could have a few pictures to study while I think.  Actually while we both think. Both of us have been chatting here and there about the changes we would like to make. Are you ready? Before I post these let me just say a few things:

-the folks are in their 80’s

-they are both very ill

-there is really zero storage space in this house

-I think they have stopped caring about what it looks like

Okay-here is the first photo. It is the living room.

As you can see there is nothing to see out the window. FIL hung a bamboo shade up and attached some plastic flowers from Daiso. Behind the bamboo shade is actually the neighbor’s house wall. That’s what the bamboo curtain is attached to. The distance from the window to the neighbor’s home is about…what…two feet?

I am giving them a fire extinguisher for Christmas.

This is pretty much the whole room. There isn’t much more to it. The sofa that is seen on the right side isn’t very long. It sits two and a half people.

Around the left corner of the TV-not pictured here – are the rolling doors to the bedroom that will become an extension of the living room and house my books, sewing machine..etc.

In the next photo below, you can’t see it but, the sofa is right up against the stereo system cabinet …thing. Through the rolling doors mid photo is the genkan or front entrance. Actually, it’s quite a large genkan. Wasted space really. There is a door on the right of the photo-that’s the “kitchen” door. A kitchenette really.

From the cabinets to the opposite side counter in the kitchen it is only about 3 feet wide. More I guess if the space was completely empty of the cabinets. length-wise I’d say it is about 8 feet? Maybe?

The photo below is basically a picture of the “dining” side of the kitchen. You can kind of see part of the kitchen cabinets at the back.

The folks sit at that flimsy little table and eat.

We have been looking around on Pinterest for ideas. There are some great Japanese sites that we have found that match our taste. Besides matching our taste the photos show Japanese homes that are similar to ours which helps. I’ve kind of scratched looking at US homes because they are so different.

Here are a couple of ideas that we want to incorporate into our kitchen / dining area. We like wood and natural products. I had the idea of building a bench against the counter wall with a table to match. We can use the bench not only for seating but for storage too.

A couple of photos from my saved collection on Pinterest.

In this photo they built a counter up against the kitchen “wall” but my husband said he wants to eat facing me so this wouldn’t work. However we do love the shelving built over the kitchen counter. We love the wood too and there is a window in the little cooking area…something we are definitely going to install.

The photo below has a similar set up but with a table. I’m honestly not sure if there is enough space for a table. Yes, it is that small. We love all the wood.

The only window in the entire living / dining / kitchen area at the moment is the window that faces no-where. Hubby plans on ripping out the kitchen cabinets (sort of a pre-fab unit), cutting a window in the wall and rebuilding cabinets around the window. I was thankful to hear that. We have a lot of ideas and we just happen to have a few carpenters in the family.

I’ll share more about the tiny-house remodeling project as time goes on.

That’s it for my Sunday musings. Starting to get back into the routine here but it seems that routine is now changing. I can sense that we have already sort of shifted our thinking to our future home. This morning as I was staking the tomatoes we talked about how next year our tomatoes will be in pots….and that it will be easier for me in the long run.

Yes, indeed it will be. There will be things I shall miss about living here but there will be many things I look forward to living in a newer insulated home.

Not seeing my breath inside in the winter is one of them.

Ha.

Japan’s Emergency Alert System

The rains, they just don’t stop.

Japan floods: 11 missing, 500,000 to evacuate after days of torrential rain in Fukuoka and Oita

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Kumamoto on the left and Asakura on the right.

The JMA (Japan Meteorological Agency) says that this is historical…”Biblical proportions” if you will…and as I sit and write this it is still raining. We aren’t done yet.

And…typhoon season has just arrived.

As of now there are 11 people dead. I read another report that said 20. Who’s right? I don’t know. Only the dead and their families know that answer.

Yesterday we went to the in-laws home to see how things were. I am just ever so continually thankful. The house is located very near the river which had crested. The water from the sewer overflow came up to the genkan but not in the house. My brother-in-law had placed a barrier along the driveway entrance and it helped I guess.

The JMA emergency alert system went off twice on my phone this morning. Japan has a wonderful emergency alert system that I am sure must save lives.

It is a standard part of every mobile phone-I think please someone correct me if I am wrong.

I took a few shots from my phone this morning so you can see what it looks like.



I can’t really read the Japanese well so what I do is I scan the alert message with my google translate app on my ipad. It takes me a minute or so to read it but at least I get the message.


This gives everyone that has a mobile phone the chance to get to safety. Even if you don’t have a mobile phone someone around you does!

The weather report for as far into the future as my weather app goes says…rain. The damage is unbelievable already. I can not even fathom what more rain will do. There has been so much devastation and death already.

Crops in this part have been severely damaged / destroyed. We just finished planting rice, summer vegetables and fruits.

As I type the rain just keeps falling….at the moment pounding harder, coming down in buckets.

My husband is researching how and where we can volunteer to help. Help do anything. Help those in need. I don’t know what we can do but we will find out. I can’t just sit here and say “praise God we are safe”. To me being thankful equals action -we need to get out there and do something to help those who have been devastated by this.

I know that we aren’t alone here in Japan with our disaster. In every corner of the globe it seems that is all there is…disaster in every form.

I am most thankful for the inner peace that I have. Peace during the “storm”. No matter what kind of storm may be raging.

Update: my husband called a government agency regarding volunteerism- they said it’s too dangerous yet to allow volunteers in however they are setting up a system whereby we can donate money and later on relief items. I’ll keep you posted on what we will do. 

Thankful for…..

Everything. I’m just thankful for everything. Having seen many different things on my trip last month and now being back “home” I sense that I am much more content than I was before I left.

Much of it has to do with my personal spiritual life and studies…which I won’t go into here. ( I heard several of you breathing a sigh of relief..lol)

Yesterday was the American Independence Day and I celebrated my freedom with a few Japanese lady friends. We ate watermelon, cornbread (because I brought a mix with me) and I taught them “flag facts” and a bit of history about the day.

I was really surprised that they were so interested and had a great time. I gave them little gifts of American Flag parade “wavers” bundled up with some Japanese hanabi or basically sparklers.

It poured rain the whole day. It poured even harder today! We had such a loud peal of thunder over the house I thought the windows would crack. There are warnings around the nation for flash floods and landslides…I heard people were evacuated.

I always wonder how many people have bug-out bags or some sort of emergency kit? Which reminds me, I need to get into our bug out bag and see if I need to change out the clothing. We have a fairly good sized bug out bag that I stock with various items including our passports and important documents. I also include at least two changes of clothing for each of us and I update them according to season. Don’t want summer clothing in there for a winter emergency and vice-versa.

I looked outside during one downpour and I saw a dragonfly desperately clinging to a bare branch. I grabbed my camera and took this amazing photo of it. The branches were shaking from the rain so it isn’t perfectly focused….but still it’s an awesome photo. Reminds me of a fairy-like creature.

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My garden has positively exploded. The tomato vines have covered the little side windows in the engawa.

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Today I opened the window and plucked off a few tomatoes. Funny. At least I didn’t have to go out into the rain.

A little girl that comes to my house for English was shocked by the size of my sunflower. This was actually planted by the birds! I’m going to save the seeds and plant them in pots. I’ll have pots of giant sunflowers at our new home!

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Speaking of our new home I’m actually getting excited even though the actual move is a ways off. Pinterest has been a huge help in gathering ideas for the interior. I already know what style I want to decorate it in and I’ve got several boards loaded with pictures to help me. Someone asked me how far the home is from here-it’s actually not far. It takes me about 30 minutes by trolley to get there.

I’m usually there Monday’s and Thursday’s for a community class that I teach at the community center.

On Monday the library at the center had their Tanabata decorations up.

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They also had some artwork drawn by the local elementary school kids “We are the World -Only One Frower”…..hummm…yes, “R” and “L” are tough to understand here.

I was in the garden again the other day and noticed this awesome bug lollying around on my ajisai bush. The myriad of insects here always fascinates me. This one was really awesome although he flew off the second I took his photo.

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I learned early-on to never touch any of them. We have quite a few that will leave you with a nasty sting. They look harmless enough though. I have learned not to “bug” any of the bugs.

This week also had me back into the routine of cooking hubby’s breakfast and bento. He was a bit forlorn when I was gone. Today he hugged me and said how thankful he was that I was home.

Ha.

I know he loves me for more than just my cooking though.  🙂

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Hodge-podge post but it’s real life around here.