April 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm (Parenthood, School, Transportation) ()

I’ve come to grips lately with the fact I’m not cut out to be a blogger.  I’m not dedicated to writing daily (or even monthly), I haven’t bothered to cover a certain niche, and I’m not good at making bunches of friends, really, internet or otherwise.  So anyway, this is actually a complete aside to this post, but this blog will continue as a place to write, when I feel like writing.  Maybe a few real-life friends and family members will read it.  Maybe the occasional stranger.  That’s who currently reads, just now I won’t try to think it ever might be more.

On a related note, I’m not particularly well-suited to stay-at-home-motherhood either.  It’s a damn hard job.  I won’t even pretend that I have anything eloquent to say on the subject.  Some people are great at it, happy.  I am okay at some of it, happy when faced with some of it.  I hold high, probably unattainable standards for motherhood and taking care of a household, and I didn’t hit them.  Not even close, ever.  I’m hoping my next boss is a little easier to please.

I also won’t pretend that our reasons for my working aren’t mostly financial.  All the other stuff is just what I’ve been reflecting on in light of this reality.

People keep asking me about my new job.  I shrug.  It’s the same job I left almost two years ago.  Not literally, but basically.  I know I’m good at it, something I didn’t always know about stay-at-home-motherhood.  I used to enjoy (parts of) it.  I don’t care about talking about the job, though, because I don’t (yet) care about the job.  They want to pay me, they’re located close to my home, they’re willing for me to start every day after I drop the boys off at school, I know old co-workers there- ok, sign me up.

I’m still a mother first.  The last three weeks since I’ve accepted the job, all I’ve worried about, planned for, is where my four wonderful kiddos will be each and every minute of my workday.  I haven’t spent any time thinking up all the new ideas I can bring to my new job.  I won’t bore you with the details of why the childcare worked out how it did; let’s just say- it’s complicated.  Four children, how could it not be?  I was assured by my new boss, I can start at 9am.  I don’t think they’d had a candidate before that was so worried about start time (hopefully not the first strike against me).  A lot of childcare starts at 6 or 7am.  But 9am for me means only paying for daycare for two kids, not four.  My boys can be dropped off straight to school.

So at 8am every day, I will drive in a figure eight.  First dropping Willa (10 months) at an in-home daycare, then fifteen minutes down to drop Greta (3 years) at a daycare/preschool, then another fifteen minutes to the boys’ (7 years) school, and ten more minutes to work, a mile from my house.  My husband will drive the same figure eight at 3pm.  I even drove it for practice (to time it).

I am SO worried about them, people.  What if Willa won’t drink her bottles (she won’t now, though she did a month ago), what if Greta starts throwing the tantrums she throws with me at her new school, what if she repeatedly pees her pants, what if Mark has a nervous breakdown under the pressure of all those pick-ups and making dinner with four hungry grouches?  It feels sometimes like the needs of our family are being met like a house of cards. 

I’m hoping they will flourish.  I’m hoping Greta makes some leaps in independence, that Willa continues to be the happy bug she is, that the girls learn to let their dad meet certain needs, that the boys’ lives are pretty much unchanged, that Mark and I’s relationship doesn’t collapse under the stress.  But, oh, the scenarios for something getting out of whack.

I emailed HR at my new company yesterday  to get confirmation I’m starting Monday at 9am.  And she replied.  “Please arrive at 8:30am.”  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK.  aka Fuck Me!

I know she has NO idea what a difference that half hour makes.  And I can probably make it work.  But I wanted to scream yesterday.   When you have four kids, finding childcare for just a half hour can involve endless juggling.  And I feel like all I’ve done for weeks is set up the juggle.  I wanted to take the next three days and enjoy my days with my children.  Say good-bye to the (part-time co-op) preschool we’ve loved. 

Now this person tosses in an extra ball.  And I maybe could question it.  After all, I was told I could start at 9am.  But I don’t want to set myself up to be THAT employee.  aka Not A Team Player.  Especially when this company seems to pride itself on people who work hard (aka long).  It’s probably not great to start out with “excuses” about my FOUR children.

So I will call the school today, and see what options are for their before-school care I was hoping to avoid.  And probably spend $40 plus a $100 registration fee- $140! for ONE half hour of care.  (I’m not even joking- it’s a daily flat fee, x 2.)  GRRRRRR.  (I knew I’d probably have to do it sometime, for meetings or such.  Just NOT THE FIRST DAY.)

This 8:30am issue symbolizes where my heart is.  With my kids, worrying about their schedules and activities and homework and swimming lessons and whether their emotional and physical needs are met.  I am not ready to let any of that go to anyone else and concentrate on contributing to a company I hold no vested interest in yet.  All this time, I’ve been worrying about how my kids will do with this transition.  Who I probably should have been worrying about is me.


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U.S. Schools: Race to Nowhere?

February 3, 2011 at 7:01 pm (School, Uncategorized) (, )

A friend urged me to go see the documentary, Race to Nowhere, which was screened at a local school last week.  From their press materials:

Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

On the one hand, I want to love this film.  The issues highlighted absolutely need to be addressed. 

I did find a few flaws in it hard to get past.  To get them over with, I’ll start with them.  I wish they hadn’t been quite so anecdotal.  The movie takes a few stories and attempts to apply them across all of the U.S.  There are studies mentioned to back up some of what the interviewees are saying, but I’m not sure most high schoolers are really as stressed about school as the movie portrays.  No mention is made about the problems of kids on the opposite side of the spectrum- kids who blow off school without realizing the effect on their future, kids in inner city schools, kids with drug and alcohol problems, kids whose parents haven’t encouraged them to go to college.  Obviously one couldn’t address all the problems in our nation’s education system with one movie, but they certainly tried to convince the viewer that overworked kids are the biggest thing wrong  in education today.  I feel pretty damn old saying this, but at one point I felt I was listening to a parade of teenagers say with a whine: “I have too much hooooomework.”  [I SWORE as a teenager I’d never lump an age group together, and I’m still committed not to do that.  But I did find myself saying “Damn kids” the other day when a couple were rude to me.  Brought home how easy it is to stereotype.]

The film was not all one-sided rhetoric by any means, though.  The point that we need to change the way we teach should be well-taken by anybody with influence on curriculum and teaching methods in our schools (teachers, administators, parents).  We spend too much time “teaching to the test” and asking children to memorize a string of facts.  This was true even when I was going to school in the 80s/90s, and it’s only gotten worse with the No Child Left Behind era.  As one person interviewed said, we teach a mile wide and an inch deep.

One lawyer reported that college-educated new hires to his firm need increasing direction in their work.  “How many paragraphs should this brief be?  How many sources should I use?”  On and on, they need their work to be exactly prescribed.  As it was in school, we infer.  It was also pointed out that kids spend a lot of time being coached, whether it’s in baseball or gymnastics or at school (teachers).  Kids have less time to be bored and figure the world out for themselves.  We are creating adults that continue to need continuous coaching.

Another telling stat came from a U of Cal administrator who said that even though the average GPA of incoming students is close to a 4.0, half of them need remediation in math or English.  THAT boggles my mind (though what exactly “remediation” entails wasn’t explained).  Can this really be true?  That it’s possible to learn how to get in to college, but not actually how to learn at college?  Why aren’t these one and the same? 

If the U.S. expects to continue its success as a nation, we NEED to have free thinkers, innovators, and generally people who love learning and continue to do so on their own their entire lives.  Sometimes the rigor of school has my kids down on learning, and it alternately makes me mad and sad.  Real quotes:  “I hate learning!”  “I hate school!”  I hate science!”  Say the boys who use their own microscope, daily spend recess looking for crystals in the playground dirt, and come home and spend hours doing “chemexstrie” in the bathroom wearing safety googles.  Clearly they hate science!  They would just rather learn on their terms, and we encourage it whenever possible.  They complain the subjects in school aren’t what they want to learn, but I tell them sometimes the jobs they have to do when they grow up aren’t favorites either.

A number of students cited crazy- 6, 7, 8- hours of homework a night in high school.  What adult would go to a full time job and then do six hours of work at home?  (Probably some, but nobody I know.)  My first graders have what I’d consider an allowable amount.  10-30 minutes of math (depending on how “on task” they stay) per weeknight, ~30 minutes of spelling per week.  In addition they are supposed to read aloud to us 15 minutes per day, 7 days a week.  I’m not necessarily opposed to the work they’re doing (though I’m curious, and have “The Case Against Homework” checked out from the library), and I find the assignments aren’t bad.  They’re worksheets, but they could be worse.  Spelling is boring but I don’t suppose there are tons of interesting way to do what is essentially memorization, and I side firmly with “you need to learn to spell”, as opposed to “why can’t I just use spellcheck?”. 

I do wonder if homework makes sense for kids that aren’t old enough to truly be responsible for it themselves.  With my boys in first grade, I feel ultimately responsible for its completion.  Since I wrote that post, I’ve oscillated between checking every problem and not checking it at all.  For the most part, they’re better at checking it.  And their reading has improved (yay!!), so I don’t have to sit and explain each set of instructions.  I do still resent my part in the homework though.  On weeknights, I feel a giant weight on my shoulders until it’s completed and in the backpacks.  Will it go quickly?  Will there be a fight?  They feel none of this stress.   Once it’s done, and we settle into bed and read aloud, that’s the “work” I enjoy and look forward to.

The movie backs up its case for no homework citing a study that there is close to zero change in test scores whether homework is assigned or not in elementary school.  In middle school, homework increases achievement up to an hour of work and then maxes out; in high school two hours.  I don’t know any high schoolers who have less than two hours of homework.  I have to say, I’m a bit skeptical.  My science background kicks in- what was the study size?  Has it been reviewed?  Because one can make just about any point with some data and Excel.  In an (very) informal FB poll I took last week, high schoolers in AP classes around here have four hours, close to what I remember back in the nineties.  It didn’t scar me for life but I do think I was pretty burnt out on school when I graduated.  I hit college and spent my freshman year blowing off classes and loving the connections I was making with people who finally “got” me.  Thankfully I recovered (and kept the friends!).

This is the point in this discussion in which I feel that I’ll need to write a book to fully explain my thoughts on this movie.  It speaks to how hard it is to cover a topic like the U.S. educational topic in one movie or book, let alone one blog post.  Perhaps I should cut the movie some slack!  I will say it made me think, and that was ultimately its goal.  So, I’ll end with a few questions:  Have you seen this movie?  Are your school-age kids overtaxed by school?  Have you ever advocated for less homework or have you generally felt their homework useful?

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A Camping Alphabet Post

September 19, 2010 at 4:48 pm (AJ, Family, GOJ, MJ, PJ, School, WJ)

I’m the volunteer “librarian” in Auden and Parker’s class.  Last week’s theme was alphabet books, which inspired this post on this weekend’s camping trip with Auden and Parker’s school.

A is for Auden, my favorite babysitter for Willa.  He’ll willingly sit next to her while I do things like go to the restroom or fetch water.

B is for Bailey’s, what I’m drinking in my coffee this morning to recover.

C is for coffee.  Which I needed Saturday morning and did not ever get.

D is for downpour, of the long-lasting kind.

E is for eagle, an animal our family is constantly on the lookout for.  It’s actually pretty amazing how often we can spy a bald eagle around here.  Me, I forget to look up, but the generally boys have less to pull their eyes downward.  Exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

F is for fort, that the boys and friends had ever so much fun making.  Bonus for mom is the exhaustion that carrying huge driftwood logs all day entails.

G is for Greta, a girl of her own mind.  You know how you see moms walking away from their children, saying, “OK, I’m going now,” and the kid eventually runs to catch up?  This does not work with Miss G.  I can get out-of-sight a hundred feet away, peek to look back, and Greta is still squatting to look at rocks, completely unconcerned for her safety.

H is for Heather has a Headache.  When the sun appeared at noon, we were beachcombing with no sunglasses or hats.  Within an hour, I had a headache from squinting.  Within another hour, I had a really bad headache and was dragging four children back to the campsite so I could puke in the bushes in peace.  I certainly have experience with the combo of camping and throwing up, but it’s supposed to also involve whiskey and a rocking good night beforehand.

I is for insane, my mental state when I agreed Mark should go down to the Husky-Nebraska game from the camping spot.  Had I calculated between tail-gating, driving, traffic, and the game itself I’d be left alone for EIGHT hours with four kids of widely varying interests and walking speeds, I would not have said “Oh sure, honey, you’ve wanted to go to a game forever.”  Or more realistically, as he really has wanted to go forever, we would not have gone camping.

J is for just barely, the way I held it together.

K is for Krispy Treats, our contribution to Saturday night’s potluck.  (Parker’s contribution- I couldn’t think of K.)

L is for living room, where we had our cosy fire on Saturday night.

M is for Mark, who was a sight for sore eyes when he returned from the game.  How grateful I was at that moment that I am not a single mom.  Sometimes I love my husband because he’s my Man, sometimes I love him because he’s Help. Picture “Oh, Help” as asked for by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

N is for new friends.  All the craziness was worth watching my boys develop friendships with kids they will know for years to come.  And I met some very nice parents, also, although I had to get past my anxiety that they were all wondering what in the world I was doing there with four children by myself and beholden to their help.

O is for Oreo.  What is a mother to do to contain her four children while she vomits?  Give them Oreos in the tent!  Crumbs be damned!

P is for Parker.  Parker, who loves life to its fullest, then crumples and still needs his Mama’s fullest attention.

Q is for quit, which is what we did Saturday evening.  I have never made the decision to come home a day early from camping, but in this case- best decision EVER.

R is for Ranger Dave.  A very nice guy invited to give an instructional beach walk.  What happened instead, however, was a sit-quietly-at-a-picnic-table-listen-to-me-ramble.  My children were not amused.  School on a Saturday?  Too much to ask.

S is for Survivor Games, which Parker played with fifty other kids from his school.

T is for tent.  Thank goodness for rain flies.

U is for Urine.  Middle-of-the-night urine in sleeping bags, daytime urine puddling in shoes.  Urine, urine, urine.  Greta did not once use the actual campground bathrooms the entire time we were there, if that’s any indication of the clothing changes we had.  Though I’ve considered her potty trained since last January, I finally put her in a pull-up around the time I started throwing up.

V is for van.  A mini van is to be celebrated when packing up camp in the dark rain can be done by throwing it all in the back without rolling a camp pad or stuffing a bag.

W is for Willa, my sweet sweet easy baby.  Oh my goodness how I love this little (big!) bundle of fleece in my lap!

X is for the pedestrian X-Ray, which we did not need to examine the fish spines we found on the beach.

Y is for yurt, which we were not staying in, unlike many of the families.  But now we know how to spell it!

Z is for the zealous love that I feel for this camping family of mine.

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ten things

June 17, 2010 at 9:06 pm (AJ, Family, MJ, PJ, School) (, )

Inspired by SouleMama, ten things that are bringing me great joy right now:

— Being almost done growing my last baby.  I can’t wait to meet you, Baby, and find out if you really are Willa Apple.

—  Two special boys with one half hour of kindergarten left!

—  The promise of a summer home with my four(!) children, with no other obligations other than exploring our world and each other.  Whatever comes next in our lives, this is unlikely to happen again- I’m going to have to contribute to our family’s bottom line somehow somewhere, sooner than later.

— Turkey sandwiches- I cashed in Mark’s “Thanksgiving bonus”, a $30 Butterball gift certificate, for preparation of postpartum meals.  The last few times I’ve purchased a turkey I’ve gone with a more natural, non-salt-injected variety, but Butterball, you really do make a flavorful meat.  The below pic shows my bounty, ready for freezing.  Looks like we are yogurt fiends, which we are, but not that bad.  Only four of the yogurt containers contain actual yogurt.

— The thought of all the peanut butter cookies I’m going to eat this afternoon to celebrate the last day of school.  I wanted to head outside the house for our Kindergarten Celebration, but Greta is couch bound with a stomach virus, so this will do for now.

— My Grandpa John, who has been in poor health lately, but is feeling better and turns 86 this weekend.  His life has shaped my life in countless ways.
Me and Grandpa John

Greta and her Great-Grandpa John
Greta and her Greta-Grandpa John.  You’ll notice the pant leg tucked into his sock.  He’d just gotten off HIS BIKE, which he was riding with my boys.  And my grandma said his coat is the last of a family set she sewed FORTY years ago.  I may try to make things last, but I’m never going to top this couple!

— Effecient laundry appliances- As much as I might complain about the volume of puked on bedding I’ve lugged up and down the stairs in the last four days, I’m pretty sure I’d be complaining more if I had to lug it down to the creek bed, scrub it by hand, lug it back, and hang it to dry.  Although I’m sure the squatting would be great prep for birth.

— Our backyard

— Last but not least: my husband, who despite his fear of all things sharp and medical, is tomorrow giving our family the best ironic Father’s Day present ever.

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A woman, a plan, a canal, Panamowa*

January 5, 2010 at 6:59 pm (Parenthood, School) ()

Yesterday was back to our regular routine. Or so I thought.  Mark was back to work.  I was “back to work”.  Auden and Parker got ready for school.

After ten minutes of waiting in the rain at the bus stop, we had not seen any of the usual buses going down the highway towards their routes.  Certainly not their bus.  It dawned on me-  I bet there’s no school today.  I called the school.  No answer.  Not a good sign.  Back at home, I figured out it was a teacher workday.

I had thought I was pretty prepared for our first Monday in the new year.  I got up earlier than I used to (NY resolution #1), and was dressed before the kids woke up.  Growing up, my mom was dressed every day the first time I saw her, even on Christmas.  My kids can say nothing of the sort.

In early December, I started a part-time gig taking care of a 8 month old, three days a week.  I shall call him Mr. C.  Yesterday Mr. C was back after a week holiday.  Having him around is a good chance for me to practice having four kids.  It’s teaching me to plan ahead.  Think things through.  Bring what we need.  I used to think I was a quick learner, but I seem to need to learn this lesson over and over again. I did  prepare for Monday, in that I cleaned up all the teeny choking hazard toys, set up his bed, and had breakfast ready early.

But we were still rushing to get out the door to the bus stop.  I’d remembered to have the boys locate their folders and backpacks the night before, but not their coats.  Which Mark had kept packed in a duffel bag in the garage from taking them fossil digging the day before.  Is this where you would think to looks for boys’ coats?  No?  How strange.  So after searching the house for the coats, and being reminded “Snack Mom!”, which hadn’t occurred to me at all, we were now late.  This meant I decided to carry Mr. C. on my hip to the bus stop instead of grabbing a stroller or carrier.

Mr. C. is no lightweight.  I don’t actually know what he weighs, but he is a solid baby.  One needs two hands to support his weight very long.  Greta usually runs ahead with her brothers, but she was being extreeeeemely pokey.  I couldn’t hold her hand for long  to encourage her to walk faster.  Auden was way ahead of us, and Parker was in the middle of us.  I tried walking ahead of Greta, to get her to catch up, but it was not happening.  Walking, all of us ten feet or so apart, is not safe with young kids!  Did I mention parts of the walk have no sidewalk? 

I corralled everybody back together, tried again.  Explain to Greta- the boys are going to miss the bus if she doesn’t walk faster.  Explain to the boys- they need to slow down.  I can’t make sure four different stages of people are safe from cars. But soon we were back to the same position, all apart.  AAAAACK!  Finally I carried a crying Greta, along with Mr. C., and nearly broke my arms off.  I used to carry both twins like that, but I am SO out of shape these days, and three months pregnant.  I don’t know what could’ve remedied the situation, but I do know what could’ve prevented it- having Mr. C. in a stroller so I could’ve managed the kids without getting so irritated- why were my requests were falling on deaf ears?  My “plan” of no stroller worked if all went swimmingly, but with four kids together, what are the chances of that?

After the bus debacle, I had two extra kids at home I hadn’t planned on.  We decided on heading to the library after Mr. C. had his morning nap.  But instead of prepping for the outing during his nap, I did the dishes.  Which meant, after he woke up, that I still needed to locate our overdue library books from any of the various stacks in every room, comb Greta’s hair, etc., etc.  And for whatever reason, Mr. C. did not want to do anything but get carried around while I did this.  I rushed around for at least 15 minutes with him either on my hip or crying, crawling after me.  My lesson here- get prepared for the next thing first.

Things improved after that.  The library outing was a fine diversion with no calamities.

Also on success side, we made an awesome dinner.  Oh, how I wish now I managed to get out the camera.  It was SO GREEN!  One of the splurgiest Christmas gifts I got was a pasta attachment for our KitchenAid from Mark.  I’ve had two different pasta makers before, but this one makes the most impressive shapes.  Macaroni!  Fusilli!  Yesterday, during Greta and Mr. C’s nap, Parker and I made spinach noodles.   I managed to cram a whole POUND of fresh spinach into roughly two pounds of pasta.  They were delish, and I was quite proud of the nutritional factor, especially for my two that insist on eating the noodles plain.  Plain in our house means liberally sprinkled with parmesan cheese.  The rest of us had leftover also extremely yummy marinara sauce with ling cod and shrimp.  [Should I be eating this during pregnancy?  I’m not sure.  The cod was caught by my personal fisherman Uncle Gordon in Alaska, which made me not think maybe as hard about it as I should’ve.  But feel free to enlighten me if Alaskan cod = very bad mercury levels.]  The combo in the sauce might not seem appetizing, but works somehow.

*I’ve always loved this palindrome.

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Targeting homemade

November 1, 2009 at 4:59 pm (Daily Criteria, School) (, , )

I’ve been trying not to get all riled up by one of the Northshore School District policies.   I’ve already decided that it’s not worth my time to fight the beast about it, but I still lay awake thinking about it one night last week.  So my final therapeutic measure is to blog about it.

The district won’t allow any homemade foods to be brought it for sharing.  On birthdays and special occasions, we are invited to bring in store-bought items.

On the one hand, this policy is more lenient then some schools with a school-wide nut-free policy.  I don’t have to worry about foods I send with my kids on a daily basis.  But at least a nut-free policy serves to protect kids from something that can harm, if the school has one of those kids with the misfortune of a life-threatening nut allergy.

A store-bought only policy for “treat days” doesn’t serve to protect anybody.  The bad-fat-laden, preservative-filled cupcakes that are the store-bought norm are not safe for plenty of kids with allergies.  They won’t get to eat them anyway.  Yes, its safety for those kids can be confirmed by a label.  I’d argue, though, that those foods are not really “safe” for anybody to eat. 

Homemade goods can be labeled also.  Yes, you’d have to trust the parents’ ability to label completely, and minimize crossover contamination.  If a child is really really allergic to many foods, he could choose (or be instructed) not to eat questionable items, or even all homemade.  He probably isn’t getting to eat a lot of the store-bought stuff either and is already used to needing alternate snacks.

I want to be clear- I know having a life-threatening allergy sucks, and I in no way want to make it harder.  I’ve happily dealt with bringing daily snacks to other schools that required no nuts, and I’ve made plenty of homemade foods for people who can’t eat nuts, or eggs, or dairy, or even wheat.  I just don’t understand why being allergic means you’d go more towards store-bought.  In fact, I know if one of my kids was allergy-prone, I’d be baking even more, to enable them to still eat many favorite foods safely.

Making homemade foods (and other non-food items) is truly part of our family’s core values.

 Homemade means to us:

  • More nutritious- and I don’t just mean our treats lack the “bad stuff”.  In a birthday treat, I typically still use at least partially whole grains, and utilize some “add-ins” that add extra nutrition.  And I promise, I do it so the kids don’t notice.
  • Quality time spent together making food
  • That the food maker cares about you
  • Cheaper- almost always, and often significantly
  • More individualized- last year for their birthday, the boys got a spider and a saber tooth tiger cake.  Their favorite animals.

        Happy Birthday P!  Happy Birthday A!

This post might read like it, but I’m really not a Nazi about not eating store-bought treats.  Writing this a day post-Halloween, I really have no room to talk about an abstinence-only policy.  We eat store-bought junk food plenty.  I just think this policy is non-sensical, and teaches kids a sad message.  That store-bought is better- a special treat for birthdays, when in reality it’s not even close to better.

So I told my husband I’d send in apples for the boys’ birthday.  He looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  I won’t, really.  I’m not going to ostracize them as the dudes with the crazy mama.  I’ll buy something sugary.  And I might even eat one.  I thought of something funny, though.  Technically, if we had the apple orchard I long for, and I dared to buck the sugar-trend and brought in our apples, they’d be homemade.  Uh-oh.

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