Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Our Christmas Angel

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Monday, December 22, 2008

A Very Merry Christmas

From Our Family To Yours

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Stewardship Of The Season

I have always maintained that the most powerful benefit of raising children on a farm is the opportunity to teach responsibility, and that lesson has particular significance during the holidays.

My childhood memories of Christmas are some of the most potent memories of my life. Trudging through the snow to select the most perfect Christmas tree in the mountains was just one of many family traditions. The silence of the hillside was broken by the crunching of the snow beneath our feet and, eventually, the screeches and laughter resulting from the snowball fights. Somehow, we always managed to find the perfect tree, and that night we would decorate it together while Brenda Lee sang out from the record player.

I remember huge feasts, extended family members gathering to celebrate, and the butterflies in my stomach as I awaited Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve.

I remember school Christmas programs when faithful parents and grandparents were tortured by the squeaks and squawks emitted from the horns of fifth and sixth grade students playing ironic selections like “Silent Night.” Santa made his appearance and doled out bags of peanuts, fruit, and candy to youngsters who were taught all their lives to avoid strangers but were now thrust onto the lap of a stranger with profuse amounts of facial hair and a gaudy red suit.

One of the particular highlights of the season was making gifts for family members. These treasures, fashioned by my utterly inartistic hands, included a glass bottle covered with macaroni and spray painted gold and a host of items like bookmarks and ashtrays that mercifully found a place in the back of my parents’ closet.

I recall the thrill of having a whole week off from school. I heard that some families went on trips during this time to visit friends and family. In our family, such trips were not possible because of the livestock that needed extra care during this cold time of year. I never recall any bitterness as a result of our “boring” Christmas vacations, though.

Actually, I believe that the lack of weeklong vacations and other amenities of those without livestock resulted in my satisfaction in my life today. City friends often ask me if I feel isolated, bored, lonely, or even bitter living out here with no easy access to the comforts they enjoy. I can honestly tell them that I do not feel that way. I am remarkably content, especially when it comes to celebrating Christmas.

Perhaps my favorite Christmas memory is going with my dad at first light on Christmas morning. As he backed the pickup up to the haystack, he would grin and say, “I think we’ll throw a couple extra bales on this morning. It’s Christmas, after all.”

That simple gesture of extending gifts to even the lowliest creatures on Christmas Day made quite an impact in my young mind, and it taught me that even on Christmas Day, good stewardship is of utmost importance.

The purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of the Savior, who was born among livestock.

If my kids ever ask me why we don’t vacation over their Christmas break, I will be quick to explain the many reasons why the best place to celebrate the season is right here on the farm.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Memories

Christmas makes me all nostalgic.

It makes me remember the holidays of my childhood.

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Holidays filled with terrycloth shirts, drawstring pants, argyle sweater vests, terrible home perms, and Garfield.

Makes me all teary just thinking about it.

Or maybe it makes me all teary because that was a really, really bad home perm.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On The Bright Side

I'm trying to think positively tonight.

If I'm sick now, I should feel better by Christmas.

At least I was wise enough to forgo the glass ornaments this year so nothing was broken when the Christmas tree fell down tonight. . . twice.

Eleven degrees below zero is much warmer than twenty-eight degrees below zero.

Having a sore throat keeps me from eating so many sugar cookies.

My kids can always make me smile. (Matthew: "Mom, my stomach hurts. I think I have an affection.")

Nothing is cuter than a three-year-old making a snow angel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

As Promised

The Sad Tale Of The Penguin
Who Couldn't Even See The Audience
Because His Mask Slipped Down
And His Nose Was Poking Out Of The Eye Hole

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Once upon a time, the penguins were called upon to save Christmas. It was a rather distressing task because it required certain boy penguins to hold the hands of certain girl penguins.

In public.

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But the penguins took their task seriously.

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Because, obviously, someone needed their assistance.

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Solving the problem required singing, dancing, and kazoo playing.

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The Emporer Penguin saved the day, and all was well in the land of the penguins.

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All was well, that is, except for the Penguin Who Couldn't Even See The Audience Because His Mask Slipped Down And His Nose Was Poking Out Of The Eye Hole.

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He was in the dark all night.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Riveting

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The local production of "How The Penguins Saved Christmas" had the audience on the edge of their seats tonight.

It was a riveting performance starring many, many penguins. Three of them live in my house. It seems fairly appropriate that penguins would live here where the climate is apparently similar to that of the North South Pole.
Tomorrow I'll share the sad tale of "The Penguin Who Couldn't Even See The Audience Because His Mask Slipped Down And His Nose Was Poking Out Of The Eye Hole."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sugar Cookies Are Bittersweet

I must admit that I'm not a big fan of sugar cookies.

I'm more of a fudge kind of girl. My philosophy is that if you're going to go to the work of making something, it might as well be chocolate.

But at Christmas, there must be sugar cookies that are mixed and chilled and rolled and cut and baked and cooled and frosted. And that process must include the children because back when I had two kids, I started a tradition, and now it is expected that we will go through the process every December.

So I dutifully mix up the dough, hold my breath as a child cracks an egg, and try not to think of all the tasks left undone as I allow the cookie making process to overtake an entire day.

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I mediate arguments about who gets the tree cutter first and whether or not there will be brown frosting because brown actually isn't a Christmas color.

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I go against my better judgment and allow the three-year-old to yield a baggie filled with frosting and try not to notice that a good portion of the frosting is bypassing the cookies and is instead being squeezed directly into her mouth.

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I reassure the particular child that taking his time and being careful is a good trait, and it doesn't matter if his sisters are making more cookies as long as he is having fun doing it his way.

I try not to be sad when I realize that my firstborn is now too cool to make sugar cookies with the "kids" and is instead hanging out with his dad. Making sugar cookies this year is bittersweet.

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They are works of art, though. And they go well with good, strong coffee.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful

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Today is a perfect example of why I tend to favor traditional roles for men and women.

When the temperature is 26 degrees below zero with a windchill dipping near minus 50, I don't have to go outside. I can stay inside and make sugar cookies with the kids and listening to Bing Crosby while my husband is outside taking care of the livestock.

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I can nudge my camera lens out the door for a split second to capture the crispness of 26 degrees below zero, but I don't have to suffer the frozen nostrils and chest pain of taking a full breath of frigid air. I can make a hearty lunch so he can warm his belly when he comes in, but since I stocked up on groceries before the storm hit, I have no reason to leave this house until the weather improves.

Of course, if he were to need some help thawing frozen livestock waterers or getting the chores done, I wouldn't complain about going out there. But so far, he's handling the duties just fine on his own.

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Maybe I'll reward his hard work with a batch of fudge.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Traditions

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is helping the kids make a birthday cake for Jesus. We eat it for dessert after dinner on Christmas Eve just before the kids open their presents.

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The reason I started the tradition with the kids was to occupy them as they waited impatiently for the events of the evening. I remember Christmas Eve as the longest day of the year during my own childhood. My kids undoubtedly feel the same way, and the baking project gives them an outlet for their restlessness.

Listening to them sing "Happy Birthday" made me realize that the birthday cake tradition pulls the focus of Christmas Eve back to where it should be: on Christ. And it does so on a kid's level. Even the toddler understands that this is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I think this is a tradition that the kids will continue with their own children someday. What's one of your favorite Christmas traditions?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Letter To Santa

Dear Santa,

I just wanted to drop you a note this year and let you know how much I appreciated that “Abs of Steel” workout video you dropped in my stocking last year. Since the kids shoved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the VCR, I haven’t really had the opportunity to use the video, but I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

I’m pretty sure you consulted my husband before you did your shopping last year, so I thought I would write a few hints about what I could really use this year and save you the hassle of consulting with him.

First of all, you can just avoid the whole fitness aisle altogether when you’re doing your shopping. It’s not that I am trying to be unhealthy. It’s just that I am running after the toddler so much these days that I rarely have time to exercise. Just the other day, when I was packing tubs of hand-me-down clothes up and down the steps to the house, I was thinking that I should make more of an effort to work out. But then I had to run after some cows that had gotten into the yard, and by the time I had finished the vacuuming the house and kneading the bread dough, I was just too tired to exercise.

What I could really use is a grocery delivery service. I have heard that there are refrigerators that have computers built into their doors. When you run out of a product, you can just enter it into the computer, and it alerts a store to deliver the product to your door. I’m pretty sure that this service doesn’t exist in the nether regions of Fergus County, so instead you could just hire a box boy for me to unload all my groceries while I’m schlepping kids into the house and feeding them dinner.

Probably my most pressing need is a very long bench with enough storage space underneath for 113 shoes. I have arrived at that figure using very simple math. There are six people in this house, each with two feet. Each person requires a pair of church shoes, a pair of sneakers, a pair of boots, a pair of play shoes, a pair of gym shoes, a pair of mud boots, and a pair of snow boots. That means there is a minimum of 84 shoes required at any one time.

Since six of the feet in this house belong to girls, you must add a few extra pairs of shoes to match the brown outfits, the black outfits, and the white outfits. Add a few more for the shoes that are outgrown but not yet discarded. Subtract three shoes due to a new puppy, school-aged children who leave shoes on the bus or at school, and a toddler with a shoe fetish who is usually wearing her brother’s snow boot and her sister’s slipper through the house and sometimes stashes a shoe in the toy box.

Quite simply, the answer to how many shoes need storing in this house is 113. Currently the shoes are stacked in the closet, piled in two baskets, and strewn throughout the porch. Just last week I fished three shoes out of the utility sink. I really, really need some shoe storage.
Another gift I would truly appreciate is a small care package with simple items to pamper myself. I would enjoy a nice-smelling lotion, a nail file, a new lip balm, and an industrial-sized bottle of pain reliever.

On a practical note, I could use a new broom to replace the one that was tattered during the kids’ last make-believe rodeo. The old nag just isn’t the same anymore.

Next on my list is a cleaning product that really does what it claims to do. For example, Oxi-Clean claims to remove any stain, but when my husband coated his manure-covered overalls in grease and brought them in for me to wash, they came out a strange shade of greenish-black. My Mr. Clean Magic Eraser cleaner claimed to, well, be magic. I thought it was living up to its claims until I tried to use it to erase my toddler at 3 a.m., but it didn’t work. Maybe I’ll have better luck using the Goo Gone on the peanut-butter smeared VCR.

I would hate to think of only myself this Christmas, so I was wondering if you could bring a few things for my friends. One of them would like a mind-reading device to use when her husband leaves the house without telling her where he is going. Another would like some kind of vacuum for her husband and children to walk through before entering the house. It would suck out dirt, dust, chaff, pet rocks, and the occasional frog in the pocket.

With all sincerity, I would like nothing more than good health for my family and friends this year.

And since he was so helpful last year, could you drop a new watch in my husband’s stocking? I think his must be broken; he never seems to make it in for meals on time. If it’s not too much trouble, I think he really wants one of those “man groomers” that I saw advertised, too. I think he’s beginning to worry about his appearance now that he’s middle-aged.

Thanks, Santa. And Merry Christmas to you, too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle is actually a rectangle, and it's in my house.

I have always known that the couch is the culprit in most of the cases of missing items in the house. It eats remotes, socks, and library books on a regular basis.

But I was unaware that it had a secret compartment wherein it can hide a decade's worth of children's paraphernalia that we had given up for lost.

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The baby was blamed for the demise of most of these items. We just figured that she had flushed them, eaten them, or thrown them in the trash.

It turns out that they were just swallowed by the couch.

I realized that the couch was harboring a collection of some sort when I tipped it onto its back and it sounded as if I had hit the jackpot in Vegas. I had to cut a slit in the bottom of the couch to fish the stuff out. Among the treasures were a Barbie doll leg, several Leapster cartridges, some magnets, assorted Mr. Potato Head accessories, a marble, a Lego man, many game pieces, a flashlight, a guitar pick, an unopened birthday card, and three petrified Teddy Grahams.

The kids acted like it was Christmas morning.

I was rather morose. I thought I would at least find a quarter in there.

Monday, December 8, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is Some Scour Guard

The time of year is upon us when people divide into two camps: those who love to shop and those who criticize the commercialism of Christmas in order to get out of shopping.

I have, on occasion, considered the possibility that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas amidst the glitzy fuchsia garland and screeching salespeople that mark the beginning of the holiday season. That possibility grew more real in my mind this year as I tried to complete my Christmas shopping, which has become more of a challenge in recent years.

It didn’t take many forays into the shopping mall with four kids to convince me that mail order is the way to go. Besides, shopping by mail gives me the luxury of looking over catalogs and wondering who actually buys this stuff. I have found items that range from truly amazing to just plain stupid.

In one catalog, I found a $75 CD player shaped like a Volkswagen Beetle with speakers in its wheels. Another catalog sported gold earrings shaped like antlers and a phone that could easily double as a duck decoy.

Other options included a contraption on wheels that holds up to 24 fishing rods. I'm not sure who owns 24 fishing rods, but I'm pretty sure he's single.

For those snackers on your list, $29.99 will buy you a S’mores maker complete with ceramic ramekins to hold the marshmallows. I’m not sure what a ramekin is, but I had trouble envisioning our family gathered ‘round the gas burner holding our ramekins and singing campfire songs.

In the same catalog, I found that I could send my loved one a $40 carrot cake or a $200 robotic vacuum cleaner. Quite a selection.

Another intriguing option was to send two pounds of meatballs for a mere $19.99. I guess next year we should bypass the cattle buyers and just butcher our steers, grind them up, roll them into little balls, and ship ‘em on dry ice.

For those who really “have it all,” catalogs offer gifts like an Elvis ornament, a pair of battery-heated socks (which would make a great gift for a future groom), or a “Smart Mug” which plugs into your 12-volt and keeps your coffee at a constant 160 degrees.

A great option for the farmer in your life is the alarm clock that projects on the wall not only the time, but also the current outdoor temperature. No need to get out of bed and walk to the window to see the thermometer; now you need not even roll over.

For the pet-lover, the personalized pet bandana is definitely the way to go. Of course, you could splurge and purchase the “Bow Lingual” device that claims to translate your dog’s every sound into words. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think I want to know what my dog is saying about me. (By the way, this device apparently has no problem with purebred language, but it may not be able to decipher those lower-class mixed breed barks.)

If a person was still stumped for a gift, another consideration may be the ever-popular funnel that allows you to save the last tiny bit of ketchup from the old bottle and transfer it over to the new container. You can also buy a musical jukebox alarm clock with dancing lights, a Santa shower curtain, or pink flamingos for the yard.

Buying for that special guy is no longer a problem. Now available is a cab enclosure for an ATV that looks like a pop-up tent riding around on your four-wheeler. Those with bathroom decorating dilemmas can choose the acrylic toilet seat with fishing lures or bullets inside.

I must admit that my favorite holiday flyer came from Big R. I can just see the adoring look on my husband’s face when he opens up that package containing the grease gun and the scour guard.

After looking through all the catalogs, it is certainly easy to think that there is something wrong with a society in which we have so many material possessions that we have to buy each other useless or frivolous items to celebrate the birth of Christ.

However, I then consider the first gifts given to Jesus. Here was a child whose parents did not even have clothing for a baby, and what did the Wiseman apparently bring Him? Frankincense, gold, and myrrh. These are not exactly practical items.

So what made them the perfect Christmas gifts?

The intent behind Christmas gift giving goes beyond finding a practical gift or spending enough money that the recipient will be impressed. The intent is to give of oneself to another. For some people, that means buying a Volkswagen CD player. For others, it’s a grease gun.

I think I'll stop short of purchasing the scour guard, though.

Some things are just inappropriate under the Christmas tree.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Simpler Christmas

Most moms I encounter these days have the same frazzled look about them. They are trying to balance pre-holiday baking, shopping, and cleaning. They're helping kids memorize lines for programs and trying to figure out how to turn a pair of brown sweats into a reindeer costume. They are signed up to contribute to five bake sales this week and three gift exchanges next week.

But, most importantly, they are expected to be cheerful.

'Tis the season.

So when we were driving through the pasture awhile back, this sight caught my eye.

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I wondered what Christmas was like in this home.

I imagine it was a simple affair.

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I'm pretty sure it didn't require late nights of online shopping or tiresome mornings of trying to get the kids to sit still for the yearly Christmas photo.

I'm a little jealous of the way Christmas was at this house.

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On the other hand, I really like my indoor plumbing.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Our Cynical Christmas Letter

The first week of December has arrived, and people all over the country are engaging in the yearly traditions of Christmas shopping, program watching, cookie baking, and gift wrapping.

I’m engaging in the yearly tradition of trying to write and mail my Christmas letter before my sister finishes hers.

Usually we finish at the same time, at around 1 a.m. some night about a week and a half before Christmas. We mail the letters out the next day and then realize that we have used identical stationery and have written nearly the same letter with the exception of our kids’ names.

Every year, I’m tempted to do something to set my letter apart from all the others that friends and family receive throughout the season. I have considered writing it in the form of a newspaper, sending it at Valentine’s Day instead of Christmas, and creating a crossword puzzle instead of writing in paragraph form. Last year, I made our 10-year-old son write the letter in his very unique point of view.

This year, I have constructed an outline of facets of our life that would probably not be considered the usual fare of a traditional Christmas letter. Instead of writing about the kids’ accomplishments and the idyllic life on the farm, I am considering writing about some of life’s realities.

I think the finished product would probably read something like this:

Dear Friends and Family,

Christmas greetings to you all! We would like to greet you each personally, but it’s much easier to lump you all into the same one-line salutation and send you a form letter. Please don’t take that personally.

We have had an average year here on the farm. The wheat was plagued with early drought, cutworms, and stemfly, but the harvest was still pretty good. It would have been even better if we had looked into that crystal ball that indicated that grain prices would soon plummet because if we had, we would have sold a lot more grain in September. It’s too bad that we are trained in aircraft mechanics and English; it sure would be nice to have a marketing expert in the family.

The grasshoppers were hard on the emerging winter wheat this fall; apparently they had quite a taste for that wheat that was boosted by the application of the outrageously priced fertilizer that we bought when prices were at their peak.

Shane has been busy rebuilding the barn walls that are rotting. He realized that it was in need of some repair when a crazed cow crashed into the corner after he got her in during calving.

Between the wild cows, the ugly cows, and the old cows, we had plenty of culls to sell this year. Our calves weighed up nicely except for the puny steer and the heifer calf that looked like an overgrown rat.

I have been neglecting my housework on a regular basis as I chase the kids and do odd jobs to supplement the farm income. The laundry was so out of control last week that the kids were scavenging in the laundry baskets in the morning to find clean socks to wear to school. The dust on the end table sure makes a nice spot for the little ones to practice writing their names, though.

The kids are doing fine. We were relieved to break Matthew’s habit of saying “damn it” when something went wrong just in time for him to begin Kindergarten this fall. Riley has discovered that fine art of earning grades just high enough to satisfy his parents and just low enough to not require much academic exertion on his part.

Anna is on the brink of discovering that her parents are uncool and not very intelligent. Emma Lou is a fine example of how three older children will wear down their parents so much that the youngest child will be undisciplined, unkempt, and undressed at inopportune moments. Her recent accomplishments include cleaning the toilet with her brother’s toothbrush, jumping off the back of the couch, and locking me out of the car when I walked over to get the mail from the mailbox.

Luckily, she has not figured out how to escape from the middle of an empty round bale feeder, so we don’t have to hire a babysitter when we work cows.

Through the course of the past year, we have each had two bouts of the stomach flu, at least 10 varieties of the common cold, a few rashes, several ear infections, an allergic reaction to antibiotics, a few bouts of eczema, a broken arm, and an infestation of fleas.

The dog killed two dozen chickens, someone ran over Anna’s cat, and the new puppy chewed up the door trim at the front entrance of our house.

Shane and I had the opportunity to go to Wisconsin and to Washington, D.C., this year. Since we have rarely traveled farther than three hours from home, this was quite a treat for us. I looked forward to the trips for months, so you can imagine my disappointment when I was sick for our trip to Madison. That was nothing compared to the cold I had when we visited the nation’s capital for the first time in our lives. I will never forget the momentous occasion of visiting with the Secretary of Agriculture for an hour while my nose ran so incessantly that I ran out of Kleenex and had to dig out the crumpled tissues from the bottom of my purse.

We celebrated 13 years of marriage in May, and we marked the occasion by ending the three-month fight over where to place the coffee pot on the kitchen counter. We’re still figuring out the topic of our next dispute. We’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Merry Christmas with love from the Slivka family!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cowboy Or Farmer?

If cowboys ride their horses off into the sunset,

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does that mean that farmers drive their tractors off into the sunrise?

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Actually, this is just how our kids get to the school bus stop on a frigid December morning.

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The cows needed fed, so the tractor had to be started. In this weather, we don't start a vehicle unless it's absolutely necessary. So the two kids who are well enough to go to school loaded up and putted up the driveway with their daddy.

Why didn't I get a better picture of them, you ask?

Because I was standing in the house. In my flannel jammies. Shivering. And trying to keep the camera still as I poked the lens through the crack in the door.

Alas, tomorrow I will not be so lucky as to hide in the house while I shoo the little ones out the door. My farmer cowboy husband informs me that the heifer calves must be vaccinated tomorrow morning when the forecast predicts a balmy 6 degrees.

Definitely a morning for hot coffee and flannel lined jeans.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Down and Out

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We've been a bit under the weather around here.

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This is what the stomach flu looks like at our house.

When there's one of me and four of them, it's just easier to congregate in one room with lots of towels, blankets, and buckets.

The only one around here who is more ready than I am to be over the stomach flu is my poor washing machine. I shudder to think of what has been through its hoses this week.

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Most of us are now recovering.

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Recovering is always easier with a little help from a friend.

 
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