Entries to Win Afghan

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Look Where I Am!

I said that I was headed somewhere unusual, and I wasn't kidding. Do you recognize the skyline behind my little friend? Yes, it's Philadelphia! I am here with my best friend, Marie, and her sister-in-law, visiting her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.

We are all going to the Philadelphia Flower Show on Monday! I plan to overdose on beautiful green things and I'll show you some of my favorites. Until then we are entertaining two little girls and visiting. This morning we went to the playground. I really can't relate to what it must be like to grow up in a city. But the playground is just eight blocks from their row house on a very narrow street. The older girl (A, age 6) roller bladed there and the younger one (M, age 4) rode her scooter, mostly with one of us holding the bar to keep her moving along.

In the afternoon there was some quiet time with drawing and crafts, and then some of us went ice skating at an outdoor rink near the river. It was the last day of the season for the rink to be open. I hadn't done that for 30 years, and wasn't ever very good at it. But I surprised myself, and did all right. The girls are quite comfortable on skates, and even the little one doesn't need to have her hand held all the time.

Entertaining small children is not something I've had much practice with, also for the last many years. But by the end of the day I was teaching A how to crochet, and M was climbing in my lap. I know this is a very different kind of post from what you have been used to from me. But this is a very different kind of weekend. I am having a great time, with some of my dearest friends.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Pup and the Post Office

I wrote this essay the summer that Chips was a puppy, 1993. Hope you enjoy it!

The Pup and the Post Office

It’s summer now, and my work has taken me for a few weeks to a tiny midwestern town. I just returned from a walk to the Post Office to buy stamps. Chips, my mini golden retriever puppy, accompanied me as he usually does on walks. The Post Office was sized to fit the rest of the town. That made it not much larger than one of the postage stamps I went to purchase. Let’s just say that the atmosphere at the counter was close when there were only two people doing business. I expected a friendly small-town attitude.

I did look to see if there was a sign outside saying “No dogs allowed.” I’m not sure just what I had planned to do if there had been one. Tying Chips up outside was not an option since he can slip his harness as neat as you please. But there really wasn’t any sign. So we went in and I bought the stamps, while the puppy checked the carpet for items of interest. I remained at the counter to put the stamps on the letters I wanted to mail, since there weren’t a lot of other spaces one could use to accomplish such a task. Meanwhile a prim postmistress appeared and asked archly, “Do I hear a Dog? Only seeing-eye dogs are allowed because we don’t want to be liable if someone is bitten.”

I guess I must truly be getting ornery, because I never budged. That sort of reprimand would have sent me scurrying with apologies a few years ago. I didn’t even offer my standard comment that this dog might only lick someone to death. We just finished our business, and then left. I suppose I won’t be able to take him next time.

I don’t really think of myself as old, but this establishment was vastly different from the Post Office of my childhood days, which was about the same size. That facility was a storefront office in a block of buildings which must have looked ancient when they were built. It was dark and cool inside, and smelled like old varnish. There were no windows in the narrow room where the letter boxes were, except the two barred clerk’s windows, like the teller’s windows in an old-time bank. These were on the right as you walked in; to enter the room was like walking into a hallway. Along the back wall were rows of small, dark brass doors with an eagle on each one. The little pane of glass, through which you could check to see if you had mail, rode on the eagle’s back. Below the eagle’s claws was the dial combination lock.

The Postmaster’s name was John Kellogg, and he was usually to be found behind one of those sets of bars. The Post Office itself had two, or perhaps three, actual windows which showed on the alley. These were about three feet off the floor, and set in the back wall, behind the clerk’s windows. The building may have had few windows to add physical light, but in the afternoons when school dismissed it did have lots of happy boys and girls running cheerily in and out.

The windows had wide recessed sills. I suppose that was because they were surrounded by shelves for sorting mail. But we children never looked at the design reasons for the wide window sills, we knew that they were there for one primary reason: so that Anthony could take his naps. Anthony was a Scottish Terrier, owned by Mr. Kellogg. He was not one of the shrill miniature terriers popular now. Anthony was grand. He was as large as the Field Spaniel my family owned at the time, but proportioned differently, of course. He was black and square, as if someone had set a large black bar of soap on its side and roughly carved out a rectangular head, and pillars for legs set on the central rectangular body.

It was our delight when Mr. Kellogg would tell us that Anthony was feeling well enough to come out and let us pet him. Mr. Kellogg kept telling us that Anthony was really old, and that he didn’t like to play for very long. We thought that this must be all mixed up, because obviously Anthony was just a fine dog, and Mr. Kellogg was the one who was ancient! After all, he had hardly any hair (Mr. Kellogg, that is!). When we had petted Anthony, who regally accepted our affections, Mr. Kellogg would give us each a nickel. I guess I’ve never stopped to consider how Anthony got back up on his high perch or why Mr. Kellogg gave away what must have been thousands of nickels over the years. We all raced off to Mr. Wickes Drugstore to buy tiny Cherry Cokes with our newly acquired riches.

I’m sure that the government defines the building I visited today as an official office of the United States Postal Service, but all real Post Offices, in my opinion, should be cool and inviting, with a sleepy dog on a sunny window sill.

See yesterday's post: In Memory of Hoover Houdini Chips

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Memory of Hoover Houdini Chips


This is the 10th anniversary of the day that one of the two most special dogs in my life died. (Don't worry, I covered Maggie's ears) His name was Hoover Houdini Chips, usually just known as Chips. Who can say what makes one dog the perfect companion?

The other dog in the running is the dog that my parents owned when I was born. I am an only child and that dog was my constant companion for the next 10 years. I cannot possibly compare Butchy-Boy to Chips and say which was more special. Perhaps I'll write about Butchy some other time. But this is Chips' special day.

I think it has to be more than one aspect of a relationship that makes it so unbelievably perfect. In retrospect, he was a very naughty and difficult dog. He was a one-person pup... and I was the person. He would cry and drive everyone nuts if I tried to leave him anywhere. And he didn't mind very well, either.

Nevertheless, he came at the right time in my life. He had so much heart and enthusiasm for life-- he was ready to go on any adventure at the drop of a backpack. He was a beautiful dog. He was 40 pounds of rock-solid muscle. He was the most intelligent dog I've ever owned- he knew almost 100 words, and could figure things out that I thought were pretty amazing, and I've known a lot of dogs. He hiked more than 1200 miles of the North Country Trail with me. So now I'm crying... and this dog has been gone for 10 years. That's how special he was. He was only six, and he developed a fast acting liver cancer. He was gone almost before I knew what had happened.

For one week I am going to provide a link for people to read the chapter in my book North Country Cache, that tells about Chips' final week. It's more about Chips than hiking, but there was a last hike for him, so it made the book. The chapter is called A Golden Chip of Sunshine Note added 3/24/09- I've now removed the link, but you can read an essay about Chips at The Pup and the Post Office, and one sample chapter of my book at Books Leaving Footprints

Tomorrow, I will post a never before published essay about Chips as a puppy that isn't so sad. On Saturday, I'll be back with fresh and current things to share.

Thanks for sharing Chips with me!

See Dogs of My Life
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

5/5 Meme Ends Up in North Dakota

Yesterday the Everyday Adventurer took a tag from Karen & Gerard Zemek

Ratty (the Everyday Adventurer) passed it to anyone who wants to play, and I am going to do it. Here are the rules:

Open a document or file folder,
click on the fifth folder
and then the fifth photo.
Post the photo and describe it.
Then tag 5 other bloggers.

I'm like Ratty... I'm going to let anyone who would like to play pass it along. I'm not crazy about imposing games on others, probably because I don't like it much myself.

So, what you get is actually an animated file that I used on a post on my North Country Trail News blog on Feb 7 of this year. I had choices, whether to do 5/5 on my hard drive, or 5/5 on my external drive. I chose to use the hard drive, as the picture that came up on the external I had also used recently on this blog. (What are the chances that I wouldn't land on a different pic???)

The pictures in this animation were taken in 2002 in Valley City, North Dakota. The North Country Trail Association (and regular readers will know that I'm nuts about the NCT) had its annual conference there. This year we are headed back there again. The trail crosses seven states, and the conference rotates through the states. The city was so glad to have us there that the State University flashed this welcome to us on their sign for the days of the conference. Right after that conference, my best friend and hiking buddy, whose name is Marie, and I went hiking. You might as well file her name because she is going to come into the story quite regularly as we approach summer. That year we hiked the Eastern portion of the NCT in North Dakota.

North Dakota can be beautiful. In 2007 I finished all the NCT miles in that state, about 400 of them. But I'll be going to the conference!

And your last clue about Thursday's post? The subject of the post was not with me in North Dakota in 2007, or 2002, but was with me when I hiked the westernmost section of the NCT in North Dakota in 1995. That was only my second long hike on the NCT, and the trip on which I decided that I wanted to hike the whole trail.

I probably won't respond to comments tomorrow because I'll be traveling. Yes, I am having an adventure this weekend that I can tell you about soon. And it's not a hike! It works out well that I've promised a special post, because I will write it and schedule it since I'll be on the move tomorrow and may not be able to get on the internet.

North Country Trail Association
Memories of a North Dakota Hike

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Moth Memories

Today I was sorting through some older pictures to find some special ones for Thursday (and there's the clue for today). I came across these photos of two different moth species taken in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1997.

I've recently signed up as a member at this site about butterflies. It's not a professionally designed site, but one built by folks who love beautiful insects. If you go to the site I'm not sure how much you can see without a membership. It only costs $20 for a lifetime. They will set up a page for you with all the spottings in your home county (US or Canada only, I think). There are also some moths and beetles. So whenever I find pictures I know they would like for their database, and still know where and when I took them, I pass them along. I'll share them with you on the way.

The first two photos are the Cecropia Moth. You can see how big it is! They can be 6 inches across. The larvae (caterpillars) are green and bumpy with four red tubercles on their heads. Their favorite food is silver maple. So now I can say that I learned something new.

This next picture was taken the same summer, also in Ann Arbor, but is a saddleback caterpillar. The caterpillars are much more memorable than the moths which are two-toned brown and small. Don't touch these caterpillars, as the spines will cause a painful irritation. There is nothing for scale in the picture, but they are about 1 inch long. They eat apple, cherry, oak, asters, blueberry, rose and corn.

You might find either of these in the Eastern United States or Canada.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Is There a Puppy In There?

Just a funny picture of Maggie. She insists on sleeping under a blanket, which I still think is hilarious even though she's almost 10 years old.

The next clue about Thursday: It involves a number that also appears in this post.

See Getting To Know Maggie
See Happy Dog

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Likin' the Lichen I


I was really pressed for time trying to get some writing assignments (for actual money!) done on time when I wanted to make this post. So I put up the picture I wanted to use, and came back later to tell more about it. I hope some people enjoyed and pondered the brightly colored organism.

Now I'm back to tell a little more about it. Actually I don't know as much about it as I would like to. I did already use another crop of this photo in Winter Rainbows I, but the lichen was so pretty that I wanted to use it all by itself. I went by that tree to get another picture yesterday, but it was all covered with snow. So I looked at the first picture again, and it's so nice I'm just using it again.

Lichens are really a mystery. They are a symbiotic relationship of an algae and a fungus, not an organism in their own right. They take many strange and wonderful forms. They are the first things that you will find growing on rocks and trees since they have amazing abilities to break down these objects into soil.

I know very little about lichen identification. I can name a few common kinds, and then I'm done. But I always like to learn new things, so I'm going to take a stab at this. I believe the orange patch is Pincushion Orange Lichen Xanthoria polycarpa. The Latin is just a fancy way to say yellow with many wrists. Makes sense. Lots of the Latin names do, if you learn a few root words. I think that the gray cups around the lichen are a cup fungus. Now that's not too technical. There are a great number of fungi that grow in a cup shape, so they are called cup fungi!

Now I'll stop while I'm ahead, and just enjoy the picture. I really like this one!

Next clue about Thursday: It will be about an animal.

See Winter Rainbows I
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Crows Take a Hike

My mother was a great one for quoting silly little rhymes. One of her winter standards was:
The snow the snow, the beautiful snow
It freezes above and falls below.
The bluebird, the blackbird, the robin and crow
All stick their feet in the beautiful snow.
Today there were no birds at all venturing out to stick their feet in the snow. They were all sensibly hunkered down wherever they could find shelter from the wind and snow. The snow was from the east, which is very odd, and blowing. The skiing was great, but I wasn't stopping to take any pictures. But Maggie and I went out twice.

However, I've been working on a collection of pictures to show because on the days when the weather is nicer I've been amazed at the amount of walking around that the crows do. I mean, they aren't like turkeys that have a lot of trouble getting off the ground... And yet, they hike all over the field, walking for yards and yards of distance. I hadn't really noticed it before, but this past week when there has only been a dusting of snow (until today!), I could follow their walking tracks for 50-100 feet!

This set of 3 strips shows crow tracks in light snow, medium, and deep snow. You can see how much the conditions change how the tracks look. You get nice definition of the pads and claws in the light snow, and just broken holes in the deep snow.

I made the next picture big so you can see how this crow was just walking along in a straight line. You can see one of my boot prints too. The picture below that is just kind of funny. There are tracks going both directions, and some places the crow broke through the crust and in some places it didn't. If you look closely at the bottom of the picture, one foot is going one direction and one the other direction. I think that crow was hopping around for some reason. Maybe he was doing a dance!

P.S. February 26 will be a milestone day for me. I'm planning a special post for Thursday.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The White Cliffs of ...


Er... Hanson Road. Just another roadwalk day. No grilled cheese or fish. But I thought the snowbanks look very geologic, revealing eons of deposition and erosion. Er... months.

Not too creative today, but we had a good walk.

See Paper Bag with Fish
See Grilled Cheese on Snow

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Deer Buffet

Today we had sort of a mini-blizzard. Only a few inches of snow, but it was blowing so hard that it was truly miserable outside. I wasn't sure what I was going to share about today. Then... while I was eating dinner, a deer, a large doe, with a big yellow DNR tag in her ear wandered into our yard. Right behind her came several other deer. I'm talking really close to the house... 15 feet. The only way I could take pictures without spooking them was through the window and my cheapie camera insisted on focusing on the screen, so all the pictures are terrible. This is the best one.

They pawed in the snow and nibbled some dry weeds in the yard. You can see one of them here, munching on low branches of an apple tree. As the winter progresses and they have trouble finding enough food they will eat some trees up as high as they can reach. Before they were done, 10 deer came through. The doe with the tag was clearly the leader. You can find her in the picture. Just after this she moved and stood apart and watched me taking the pictures. Finally some movement I made spooked her and she raised her tail and led them all off at a lazy lope.

Just a few minutes later the sun was setting. You can see deer number 11 in this picture. We have TOO MANY DEER, but it's still cool to see them so close.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Winter Rainbow I

A number of years ago when I was teaching a Sunday School class the kids and I made up a devotional exercise called "Summer Rainbows." During the week they would look for something in nature with each color of the spectrum. They wrote down each find, and thought of something to thank God for that related to each item. It's a little harder in the winter, but I've found a set this week, and I'll share it with you.

The red is British soldiers lichen, so named because of the color is like the "redcoat" uniforms of the Revolutionary War period, and the little stalks all stand up straight like soldiers. These were growing on what's left of a bench back by the railroad tracks. They just always make me smile, and I'm really grateful for things that bring smiles.

Orange is the color of weeping willow branches in the winter. Weeping willows are associated historically and in legend with both joy and sorrow. I just like the way they look- so graceful. Their beauty is certainly not easy to ignore. I'm thankful for the peace their symmetry and gentle swaying inspires.

The lichen growing on this aspen tree is bright shades of yellow. I find it amazing that organisms that function to break down and decay dead wood can be so bright and cheerful. Think about what would happen if dead plants and animals did not break down and return to the soil. Thank you God, for a natural system that works so well.

The green moss was hiding under the snow and brown grasses, and its bright mounds were right there, a secret spot of color. It's a reminder that there are hidden spots of beauty everywhere, including in people who may not look beautiful at first glance. Remind me of that when I need it, Lord.

It was tempting to just take a picture of the blue sky, but that seemed too easy. Here are red elder buds. They are surprisingly large, and look very blue in the natural light. This is not the edible elderberry, but a relative. They are so large that they practically scream "there is new life coming!" I am very thankful for all the promises of life. If we didn't remember spring and summer, the winters would seem pretty bleak... even to me, the winter lover.

For purple I chose the leaves of a Heuchera in my garden, peeking through the snow. This plant was a gift from a friend this past summer. I'm thankful for Cindy and her kindness to me.

Thus ends the first rainbow devotional exercise that I've shared with you. Perhaps there will be more in the future.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Our Common Mustelid


Oh, OK, I'm talking about a skunk. But actually skunks are really quite fascinating. I've even known someone who had one as a pet back when there weren't so many restrictions on keeping wild animals. I didn't see one today, but I know where it went. Yes, we're doing tracks again.

I was planning on doing another post, and was taking the last picture I needed for it, when Maggie and I found the skunk tracks. I got really excited about that because one doesn't often see skunk tracks. In fact, I had to get out my books and do some research to be sure that this was really what I was looking at. Skunks hibernate, but they do sometimes come out after thaws. That fits with our recent weather.

The strips here are a long shot of one gait pattern a skunk may make, and then a closer shot of one set of footprints.

skunk gait pattern in snowskunk tracks in snow

This skunk walked all over the field out back, so I got quite a few pictures of various patterns. Maggie kept sniffing the tracks, more than she noses in most kinds, so I'm sure she could smell the musk. But unless they decide to spray their musk, skunks don't have much residual odor. I can almost always smell the fox when we see its recent tracks. I couldn't smell the skunk today at all.

I made the last picture really big, because this is the clincher that its a skunk. You can see the shapes of the pads on the feet, and they don't really look like any other animal that size that lives around here. I learned a lot today, and I hope you've enjoyed coming along for the adventure!

skunk tracks in snow

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Hen Pheasant

This is a sad story in one way, yet I am really happy to be able to show you these pictures.

The set-up and a digression: I live just a mile from a small town. When I can shop there I often walk to town. Today I had to get the remainder of my antibiotic prescription. Wal-mart didn't have enough pills Friday night, but I needed to get the partial fill because they wanted me to start the medicine right away. This prescription isn't one of the ones on their $4 generic list. (I learned that there are over 300 generic drugs that you can't get at those low prices.) So I switched it to the hometown store and Maggie and I walked in to pick it up. Here's a real eye-opener. 8 pills at Wal-Mart were $21.66, or $2.71 each. The remaining 22 pills at the hometown store were $30.21, which is $1.37 each- half the price. Very interesting!

Now back to the main story: Just as we entered town, Maggie started to poke around at the base of a street sign. Of course I figured she was just exploring where some other dog had staked out a claim. But as I tugged at her leash I noticed that there was something she was really sniffing at. I discovered a dead hen pheasant, just lying on the snow. Possibly it had been hit by a car and was able to run just out of the road before dying.

Pheasants have become so ordinary here in the northeast US that we have all but forgotten that they were introduced here in 1857 for hunting. The birds are actually native to Asia. They are a fairly large bird, this female is probably 18 inches from beak to the end of the tail. The cock pheasants are very beautiful. Perhaps I'll be able to get some pictures of one sometime. The beauty of the hens is more subtle, with muted colors and the repetition of the feather patterns. Even though they are not native, they are one of my favorite birds.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's All Josh's Fault


I had great plans for today. Our friend Josh was coming over after church, and we had decided to make waffles with fruit toppings. We have managed to adapt my traditional waffle recipe so that it's healthier for the Om's heart, and still tastes good. I was going to take a wonderful picture to show you of golden waffles piled high with strawberry glaze and whipped topping. The waffles were perfect, the glaze was thick and red. We forgot to put the white stuff on, but it was all so yummy that we didn't miss it. And I forgot all about taking a picture.

Then I was going to take a long walk with the dog and find some interesting natural item to share. But Josh started talking about how he wanted to learn how to operate a blog, so we played on the computers for a while until he had created his first post.

Guess what? Then it was already 5 o'clock! So, for today, I'll introduce you to our wild and crazy, artistic friend Josh. He loves to talk and debate. He doesn't have too much content yet, but you are invited to visit his new blog No Solutions. He's excited to be joining the blogosphere.

No outdoor adventure today? It's all Josh's fault!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Playtime at Big M


Today was the day for our monthly trail club hike. Every February we meet at Big M ski area. Everyone goes out skiing or snowshoeing on the trails at whatever level of skill they are comfortable with. Then we return to the wonderful warming shelter and feast on chili made by one of our members, and heated on the wood stove. Today there were nine of us. We weren't sure how the snow would be because of the recent rain. But there is still about a foot of base in the woods and last night the sky gently dropped a couple of inches of new snow on top to make the conditions pretty good.

A couple of other people brought dessert so we were definitely well-fed! There was also a Boy Scout troop camping there, and we enjoyed interacting with them. We suspect that they mostly just thought we were old, but we didn't care. We swapped stories of camping and hiking in such diverse places as Whitefish Bay, the Boundary Waters, Adirondacks and on our local trails. John showed off his new GPS toy, and we collectively made at least as much noise as the kids.

Soon a recreation club from Miami of Ohio University appeared. These older teens also probably thought we were old, but they too chatted with us. We were impressed that they had driven eight hours for a weekend of play in the north woods.

A great day! (Update on my hand and mouth. The redness and heat are all gone from the hand and arm. The finger is still a little sausage, but it's not quite so fat. The antibiotics are kickin' little germy butts, and I just need to be good and take all the pills, and all should be well. My mouth is better too. None of the teeth are screaming angry any more. I'm not up to chewing well yet, but I managed the chili and a brownie by being careful.)

See Polar Bears in Manistee for more about the Scouts
See Big M Ski Area
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Friday, February 13, 2009

Grateful for Modern Medicine


You can probably see the sausage finger quite easily. But if you look closely you can see that the back of my hand, and even part way up my arm is quite red.

Thus, an encounter with the medical profession. This all comes from that cat bite. Yes, indeed, kitty gave me a nasty infection in my lymph system. So I spent six hours at the clinic- they were very busy today. Finally got in to see the doctor. He agreed that it's a really nasty bite, but was a lot more concerned about the hot redness spreading up the arm.

Got a tetanus shot (He joked, "I suppose you haven't had one for about 1000 years." And he was right of course). Got a shot of rocephin, one of the few antibiotics that's effective against the bacteria in cat saliva. And got a prescription for augmentin, a heavy-duty penicillin relative. If it gets any worse tonight I'm supposed to head straight for the ER. So far it's not better, but it's also not worse. And I have to go back to the clinic tomorrow for a second shot of rocephin.

He said it was good that I came in as soon as I saw the redness, or he would have needed to send me to the ER for IV antibiotics.

So the quality in today is that as much as I hate having to have medical assistance, I'm very grateful that it works pretty well when I really do need something.

See Rainy
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Look at a Jack Pine


Again, it wasn't a day that offered an obvious note of wonder. But I guess I took a lesson from my post of a couple days ago about perception. Jack pine is probably my least favorite conifer. The trees are brittle and scraggly, and they are often short lived. I rarely give them a second look. We have a row of them along the back edge of our property, and I am happy to have them only because they are better than no trees.

But today, as I was turning up the hill on my morning walk I glanced up at this single jackpine and realized that is is actually quite handsome. See, I shouldn't fall into forming preconceptions, even about trees.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I'll be honest, I had a hard time thinking of much about today that gave it a sense of quality. It rained all day. That doesn't necessarily depress me, but the snow has pretty much disappeared. So it's just muddy and slushy... not great for walking, skiing, snowshoeing, or anything. My mouth hurts, I didn't get a lot done, and the cat bit me (she's old and cranky... sounds familiar).

I did learn that one of those funny combination words, plench, is real. It's a tool that combines features of pliers and a wrench, developed for astronauts.

But Maggie and I went out twice in the rain and looked for something interesting. I do like the raindrops clinging to the boxelder twig. So that's what I'll share today.