Hiking-Off the Main Trail

Hiking with Baxter

I have been on my own for the past few days while hubby is away. It was so beautiful today that I couldn’t pass up taking my boys, Baxter, Cassius, and Zekie for a hike. Unfortunately, the girls had to stay home. I cannot handle that many leashes in the woods. It was 73 degrees and sunny, our first spring-like day for the season. And so, we hit the trail. We went to one of our regular areas, but we also ventured onto some of the side trails that we hadn’t been on before. The day was so beautiful that I wanted to go for a long hike to take advantage of it.

Baxter and Zekie being photo bombed by Cassius’ back end!

The first side trail we took involved fording a small stream. I was wearing my waterproof hiking boots and there were rocks in the shallow stream bed, so it wasn’t too bad. We made our way to the end of a little peninsula and found the area to be well used. I even found this chair that someone had left behind, upturned to keep the seat clean. I covered it with a plastic bag since it was damp from a morning rain and sat in it while I ate my lunch. Unfortunately for me, (fortunate for Zekie), I dropped half of my piece of leftover frozen pizza while leaning forward to get a picture of some geese. See below. I couldn’t really blame Zekie, I did drop the pizza on the ground. Since Zekie had a snack, I felt the need to give the other two dog biscuits. I put the chair back as I had found it before we left, so the next hiker can enjoy it too.

Canada geese enjoying the water.

After stopping for lunch and enjoying the water view for a while, it was time to get back to hiking. We headed back toward the main trail. I was going to get a picture of the stream we crossed, but going up the bank, I slipped and got distracted trying to keep track of all the leashes and forgot. Oh, well. This was an area where I picked up some handy walking stick-type branches to help me keep my balance along the way.

West Branch Reservoir

I did get the above photo from the opposite side of the peninsula where we stopped for lunch. Things are still pretty grey looking in the woods but once the trees fill out, you lose the view of the water.

A beautiful Baxter smile!

It didn’t bother Baxter any. He had a wonderful time. He found some nice soft moss to lay on while I ate my lunch. Would you guess Baxter is 13 years old? We don’t know exactly when his birthday is but it’s around now. He showed up as a pup, so we can’t be far off on our estimate.

Back side of WBSP Reservoir

We hiked on the main trail for a bit until we came to an old homestead driveway. The houses aren’t there anymore. They were lost to make way for the reservoir and park. Some foundations and driveways still exist though. We walked back an old driveway and followed a “trail”, more of a deer path with young trees and brush to wander through. It was a bit of a challenge with three leashes to keep track of, but we made it. We passed some old fence posts, remnants of a couple outbuildings, old tires, a couple picnic tables, and an old doghouse. Or maybe a really small chicken coop. We ended up in a clearing under a bunch of pines that ran alongside the water. The photo above is the view we saw. We will definitely be going back to this spot to see the view as things green up.

Cassius enjoying the view.

The dogs enjoyed the view too. You can tell by the big smile on Cassius’ face. Of course, Zekie had to walk on the ice near the shore. Baxter tried it and was surprised when he fell through the ice because he weighs more. Don’t worry, he was only about six inches from shore, and they were all leashed. I have no doubt that Zekie would be the dog to run out onto the ice and fall through. That boy loves water in all forms. In the summer, he drags me to every puddle so he can walk through them and drags me to every stream so he can jump in. Now he walks on every patch of ice and snow that he can find even though the roads and trails are clear.

Cassius is watching the water.

As we headed back to the woods in the direction of the main trail, we found some lush, green beds of moss. There were so beautiful, I had to get a picture. As we navigated our way back out of the area, it became apparent that many people had been there before us. People really should pack out all their waste rather than leaving their stew cans, Gatorade and water bottles, and snack wrappers out in the woods.

Zekie says “This is fun, mom”!

The dogs and I both had a wonderful afternoon. We only went 2.86 miles, but it took us two hours. I guess, fording streams, climbing muddy hills, and wandering through brush does slow you down. I have to say, all the things you notice along the way are well worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Books Read in February 2022 and Why I Didn’t Read One, or Maintaining Peace

One of the books from my home library.

My reading list is rather scant again this month. I expect next month’s list to be longer as I will be on my own for the next few days and intend to do lots of reading. The first thing on my list? A trip to the library! Hope I don’t hurt myself getting all those books and magazines to the car. My daughter is coming over on Saturday and we are going to look at books and magazines and have pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes. The Kent Free Library always has lots of fun specialty magazines. So, below is last month’s list, slim as it may be.

  1. My Love Affair with the State of Maine-Scotty Mackenzie with Ruth Goode: (Non/fiction) Scotty and her friend Dorothy vacation in Maine. They end up buying a store and becoming part of the community. A dream shared by many of us. A nice snapshot of 1950’s coastal Maine. This one is a keeper from my home library.
  2. A Rant of Ravens-Christine Goff: Rachel Stanhope goes to her aunt’s ranch for a long visit. The ranch is also a bird sanctuary. Aunt Miriam is scheduled for a trip to the Middle East, but a murder throws a monkey wrench in the plans. Aunt Miriam soon disappears, and it is up to Rachel to figure it out and set things right.
  3. RFD Vermont-Marguerite Hurrey Wolf: (Non-fiction) The author shares insights about her daily life in Vermont and her writing is magical. The style is reminiscent of Gladys Taber. I picked this little gem up at a library book sale. I will be keeping it to read again.
  4. The Nightingale-Kristen Hannah: A good book that I could not finish right now. I will pick it up again later.

Magazines-Country Living (2), Yankee Magazine, Smithsonian, Real Simple (2), Best Friends

You might wonder why I could not finish reading The Nightingale if it is a good book. I made it 180 pages before I stopped. It is a long book, over 500 pages. The reason I stopped reading it, is because of the war in Ukraine. There are so many parallels. The Nightingale takes place during World War II when France surrenders and the Nazi occupation occurs. Shortly after the book opens, one of the main characters flees Paris to join her sister in the French countryside. She is one of many escaping the city. She becomes hungry and battered and bruised.

When I watched the news, I saw many being interviewed as they fled from the Ukraine, looking for safety. I saw the bombed-out buildings and the bodies and the hungry, hiding underground. I see the Russian troops moving forward under direction from a dictator, moving towards occupation.

A similar thing to what was happening as I read the book, was unfolding before my eyes on my television screen. It became too much. The book and the reality were too similar. It made me feel surrounded by war. And so, I returned the book to the shelf for another day.

One of the reasons I read, is for down time. It has a meditative quality for me. I may be too sensitive on this, but hey, we all need to do what is necessary for our wellbeing. I moved on to the book about Vermont. It did the trick, and I perceived my life to have balance once again. And so, in these trying times…

Peace be with you, my friends.

Today Is for Living

I recently read a magazine article suggesting that we learn about our family’s history and everyday experiences by asking our parents, grandparents, and other relatives about these things. I suppose this is a good idea in theory, but the concept is so foreign to me that I only comprehend it in a somewhat fictional sense.

My father died when I was nine years old after a lengthy illness. My mother was incapacitated for the last 30 years of her life. My stepfather died a month shy of his 51st birthday. My last grandparent died 40 years ago. My grandmothers were gone by the time I was a few years old. Granted, I am 59 years old now, but hearing stories from my parents or grandparents has not been an option for decades.

I do have some knowledge of family history. My parents used to tell me stories about long passed relatives as we would plant geraniums on grave sites when I was a young child. I even occasionally had a face to go with them. We had a giant box of old photographs, some going back to the 1800’s. There were even a handful of tin types. They really weren’t much different to me than some of the books I would check out of the library though. I could relate better to Laura Ingalls from Little House in the Big Woods than I could to the stern looking folks whose images were recorded in those black and white photographs.

If you have family around to talk to about these things, go for it. You never know how long you will have that opportunity. And I’m sure it will be an informative and bonding experience.

If that ship has sailed for you, as it has for me, there are many other rewarding relationships in life. Don’t forget about siblings and children. And the love we have for friends can sometimes be equally dear. None of us is a lone ship adrift. We form relationships as we go through life. And as we acknowledge those relationships, let’s make them matter.

It’s not only about the histories that we have. The legacies that we leave are equally important. I hope that during my time on this planet, I am able to make people feel special and loved. I want people to feel worthwhile and know that they are important after they spend time with me. I think it is important to make a difference in the world and in people’s lives. To leave the world, a better place than we found it. History is important, but today is for living. Live well. And peace be with you.

Three Season Hiking, and one of them is NOT summer!

Baxter, resting after a walk.

How did Baxter get so sleepy? Winter hiking!

We hike more in the winter months than we do during the summer. The reasons are many. In the summertime, it is just too hot. For the dogs, and for me. Not only is the air temperature too hot, surfaces can be dangerous for the dogs’ paws.

And then there are the bugs. Mosquitos, gnats, and the dreaded biting flies. Not only are mosquitoes pesky, but they can also carry diseases like West Nile Virus or heartworms. The gnats are mostly an annoyance. But who wants gnats flying in their eyes or mouth? For biting flies, we may encounter enormous horse flies, deer flies, or three corner flies. Their bites are painful, and I appear to be allergic to them and swell up in unattractive and itchy, painful ways.

Because of these deterrents, we do most of our hiking in the fall, winter, and spring. There may be a few days we skip when it is dangerously icy, but when it is just cold, we bundle up and go.

We take all five of our dogs with us. Until last fall when we lost little Nikki to old age, we had six dogs, but Nikki hadn’t been able to join us for the last couple of years. Miss Nikki Pouncer Pants: A Tribute We have been hiking with five dogs for some time. About the time Nikki began staying home, we added Claire to our pack, so we still hike with five dogs. Don’t worry, any time the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, we put coats on our two shorthaired dogs. Hiking gives the dogs exercise and mental stimulation, so they are better behaved in general. I guess it does the same for us.

Our hiking route options had become more limited lately due to multiple heavy snows which later turned to ice. Most of our normal haunts developed unsafe footing. That’s why we were excited when we discovered some new options. Most of our hiking is done at West Branch State Park (Ohio) in the winter which is near our home. The park has areas that receive less use in the winter, and we found that some of the dedicated park roads are a good option for walking. They are plowed, but not salted. The road surface is good for walking most of the time and melts off quickly when there is sun or milder temperatures.

West Branch Reservoir

Above is the view from one of our walks. The reservoir is iced over, and you can see tracks from cross country skiers along with footsteps. This is a popular place for ice fishing. Sometimes you see people fishing from a chair and others put up portable ice shanties and make an afternoon of it. Visible in the distance is the marina.

West Branch Dam

Here is another view from one of our recent walks at West Branch State Park. This is the view from the back side of the dam. You can see the gatehouse on the far shore. We do sometimes walk on the dam access road that is off in the distance. We tend to avoid it in colder weather because the winds are so strong and cold coming off the water.

We have logged 50.54 miles in the past 30 days and 615 in the last year. I am rather proud of this because we do it with five dogs, and that includes very few miles between the months of June through August. We still get plenty of summer exercise. We spend many hours gardening, in both our vegetable and flower gardens and maintaining our various fruit crops. The dogs spend lots of time in our fenced pasture. They have fun sniffing things, playing frisbee, and barking at items of interest.

If you have any fun winter activities, feel free to share them.

Books I Read in January 2022

  1. Love at First Bark-Debbie Burns


Mia and her son are adjusting to their new lives after her husband dies. She has to deal with the fact that he was unfaithful, and her son now has a half-brother. Her husband’s friend, who is also her son’s godfather, has always been there for them, and it turns out he still is. In fact, he has been in love with Mia from the beginning. Mia volunteers at the local animal shelter and they are all caught up in helping out when a dozen border collies are dumped at a local park. Romance and dogs, of course I enjoyed this one.

2. A Season for Second Chances-Jenny Bayliss

The Nook is a home and one-time business on the English shore. It doesn’t take long before Annie fits in with everyone except the homeowner’s nephew. Annie opens up a coffee shop and adds café services. Soon, she can’t imagine ever leaving. Loved this book! I love British humor. Where else do you hear such great lines as “I wanted to slap her in the face with a wet cod.”?

3. Piglet-Melissa Shapiro, DVM

This book is actually about a tiny blind deaf pink puppy and not a baby pig. Piglet is a doxie-chihuahua mix of double dapple heritage. This double dapple genetics often results in birth defects. This also happens in other breeds when two merles are bred. Dr. Shapiro takes Piglet in to foster him. You can imagine how that goes. The family adopts him. He got his name because he was pink just like a baby pig when he arrived. This story tells the tale of dealing with a blind and deaf puppy and teaching him how to communicate with his world.

Magazines: Country Living (3), Best Friends (2)

If you are wondering how I read multiple issues of the same magazine in one month, it is because I have a backlog of issues to catch up on. I fell behind while working and am trying to catch up. Yes, I have an issue with throwing away publications without having read them first. Don’t judge me!

Winter Storm Prep

4 dogs
(Claire, Cassius, Zekie, and Baxter)
This photo reminds me of the meme that says, “I have never wanted to belong to a gang as much as this one”. Lucky me, I do belong to this one!

We have been preparing for and waiting for winter storm Landon to hit as has most of the eastern half of our country. Living in the countryside in a house that is 192 years old poses its own challenges. My husband did most of the outdoor prep. This involves shoveling snow off the roof and removing ice. Clearing piles of snow away from paths and driveway, so there will be room for more snow. And hauling more wood to the house to feed the woodburning stove.

Two dogs
Zekie and Baxter waiting for the frisbee.

We knew that our daily walks were not likely to happen for a day or two, so we made sure to get the dogs some exercise as well. They went out to the fenced pasture and put in some frisbee and ball time. They made a few laps around the paths my husband made for them with the snowblower for good measure.

Greyhound
Cassius plays with his ball.

Cassius (and sometimes Baxter) wear a coat when we go for walks. For pasture time they aren’t out long enough to need them, plus they are running around like fools. Not to mention Baxter is prone to pulling coats off of other dogs when left on his own. He seems to get a chuckle out of us calling out “Baxter, now he’s naked”. I imagine the neighbors must get a laugh out of this too.

Sheltie
Claire enjoys the snow.

Claire never catches the frisbee. Not because she can’t, but she doesn’t seem to want to. She enjoys running after it and barking with the other dogs. She even reaches the frisbee first, many a time. She just doesn’t like to pick it up. She still gets in plenty of exercise, and we have other dogs to bring the frisbee back, so we don’t mind.

Sheltie
Shelby staying indoors.

Shelby goes on walks with us, but when I asked her if she wanted to go out to the pasture, she declined, giving me a look that said, “Surely you jest”. Shelby will be 12 years old in a couple of weeks. Since last summer she has decided that hanging out with “dogs” in the pasture is beneath her. She prefers to stay inside and guard the house. I don’t know how she explains the fact that Baxter will be 13 in the spring, and he is out there catching frisbees. We do restrict how long he plays and use lower tosses these days. If we stopped playing altogether it would break his heart.

wheat bread
Bread fresh from the oven!

I did some indoor storm prep too. The weather forecasters were calling for ice storms, so I made some foods to have on hand that could be eaten cold in case we lost power. Homemade pizza and some homemade bread for sandwiches. I also made sure all our electronic devices were charged up and that we had candles ready.

The storm began last night and the potential ice that was predicted appears to have missed us. We are getting snow, but so far it is only about four inches. Continued snow is predicted through tomorrow morning, so who knows how much will come down in total.

cat and dog
Jasper and Cassius.

After all that play, the dogs are tired out. Jasper kitten and Cassius sleep in what reminds me of a yin-yang symbol. Raising kittens from a young age does have its benefits. Jasper is a well-adjusted kitten. He does not mind any of the dogs coming up to him and sniffing him or barking or running near him. He does not mind the vacuum cleaner. He does not even move for it. He naps on one or the other of us every evening. He usually splits up his time so we both get to enjoy his company. He’s an equal opportunity napper. The Animal Protective League called yesterday. They put Jasper on the intake waiting list back in September to bring him into the shelter so they could find him a new home. They finally had room for him, and it was his turn. I told them “Thank you, but he is mine.” I shared a laugh with the shelter worker and then assured her that Jasper is now neutered.

Stay warm and safe my friends!

Hiking on a Cold Winter’s Day

The reservoir is frozen!

A couple days ago we hiked the trail at the West Branch State Park Dam. We usually save this walk for warmer weather since it is always windy. However, we are having trouble finding places to walk. Most of our usual haunts are snow covered or too icy. Some, we can’t access because the parking lots aren’t plowed and there is no place to park. So, when we saw that the parking lot at the Dam was cleared, we decided to give it a try.

Stand of pines along the trail.

It turned out to be a very nice hike. The sun was shining and a park vehicle finished plowing the path as we were getting started. This is normally a well used spot, but we didn’t encounter many other walkers either since it was so cold. Always a plus when walking a reactive dog like Zekie.

Gatehouse at West Branch Dam

The path here is paved. It’s actually an access road for the dam’s gatehouse. Workers need access to open and close the gates that release or hold back water from downstream. The reservoir was built to help with flood control. It is a large enough body of water that I enjoy this three mile walk to be able to listen to the sound of the waves. That did not happen this time because the water is frozen over. We did see people ice fishing with their colorful tents dotting the ice.

Snowy view while walking.

It is also a good place to see birds. There are often gulls, hawks, swallows, turkey vultures, and sometimes blue herons in the shallows. On the other side of the reservoir, I have seen an occasional bald eagle.

I would highly recommend this walk. It is easy, level terrain that is even handicapped accessible. You may want to wait for a warmer day though!

Green Lentils Three Ways!

Lentil burger

Hey, all! Hope you are surviving this snowy, cold snap that is hitting across so much of the country. We got about 14 inches of snow at the beginning of the week, and last night’s low was -6 degrees. We are in northeast Ohio, so this is not that unusual for us. I watch the weather on television and see many of you in other parts of the country are getting slammed with similar weather that is not the norm for your areas. Take care out there!

Today, it’s time for another recipe and cooking post. This one features green lentils. I never used to be a fan of lentils. Since I discovered various types of lentils besides the standard brown ones, and I am learning better ways to cook them, I have a new appreciation. So, here is a recipe I invented to incorporate some healthy lentils into our diets.

Chopped garlic, onion, and red pepper.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/4 of a red pepper
  • handful of baby carrots, finely diced
  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (any flavor, fire roasted is especially good)
  • 2 cups any flavor of broth (or water with a bouillon cube)
  • 1 cup green lentils

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a 12 inch skillet. Add garlic, onion, red pepper, and carrots.
  2. Sauté all until tender. Covering with a lid helps keep the veggies from burning before they are ready. Stir occasionally.
  3. Remove lid when veggies are tender. Add black pepper, garlic and onion powders, basil, and thyme. Sauté 1-2 minutes more.
  4. Add broth, or water and bouillon, and bring to boil while stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the lentils and canned tomatoes. Simmer, covered until lentils are tender. Approximately 30 minutes. You may need to add more liquid as the lentils cook. Water is fine for this.
  6. Voila! Dinner is served.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Serve on rice. Basmati is a good choice, but any rice will work.
  • Melt cheese on top for the last 5 minutes of cooking.
  • Stir in a little barbeque sauce or soy sauce for added flavor.

This made more than I anticipated, so after having it for a couple meals, I made the rest into veggie patties.

To do this:

  • Put leftover lentil mixture into a food processor or chopper and run until smooth. Pulse at first and then run for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Add an egg, a bit of Parmesan cheese, and about 1/2 cup of Italian breadcrumbs. Process long enough to mix.
  • Form mixture into patties and fry in enough oil to coat pan.
  • You can melt the cheese of your choice on top.
  • Serve.

And after this, I still had a large lentil patty left, so I crumbled it up and used it as a topping for homemade pizza!

This recipe made a few meals for two people. And it lived on as incarnations in more meal ideas as well. The recipe was frugal and tasty. I’d count it as a winner. Let me know what you think. Don’t forget to follow my blog. I intend to include at least one recipe per month as part of my country living lifestyle page.

Quarry Trail Hike: Thoughts Along the Trail

Quarry at West Branch State Park

We did a new hike yesterday! We went on the Quarry Trail at West Branch State Park (Ohio). We tried to go on this hike once before but ended up on some other trail and never saw the quarry. I hesitate to say we got lost because in my book, not knowing exactly where you are and being lost are too different things. If you can find the car, you are not really lost. And sometimes, not ending up where you expected to be can turn into a really fun time.

Rock wall that crosses the Quarry Trail.

But yesterday we saw the quarry. It was not nearly as big or impressive as I anticipated, but it was still a great hike. The whole area is scattered with beautiful stones and even at this time of year many of them are covered with velvety green moss. There is a wonderful old stone fence that cuts through the middle of this trail. It was so well made that it is still very sturdy. A couple rocks were moved where the trail crosses so you can pass through. This is also a mountain bike trail so be warned. The footing is challenging in places from the rock surfaces. I recommend a stiff-soled hiking boot. If you wear tennis shoes, your feet will not thank you.

Rock outcropping on the back half of the trail.

In addition to all the smaller rocks, there are also some massive rocks still visible in the hillside. The coppery green color you see above is due to moss and lichens that grow in the area. This photo was taken from the trail below the rock. Later in the hike we crossed at the top of the rock and got the view from that side too. The trail does crisscross back and forth because it is intended for mountain bikes too. That also explains why so many rocks are actually in the trail. This is apparently desirable to mountain bikers. They like to ride over things.

Hubby with Cassius and Baxter ahead on the trail.

My husband usually takes the lead with our largest two dogs, Cassius and Baxter. I follow with the other three dogs, Shelby, Zekie, and Claire. Not many trails are wide enough for us all to walk side by side. In fact, there are often times when I have Zekie and Claire in front of me and Shelby follows behind. We lost our 14 year old dog Nikki this past fall (Miss Nikki Pouncer Pants: A Tribute), so now all the dogs are with us when we hike. I miss being able to tell other hikers that we encounter along the way that we have one more dog at home.

We have fared better than much of the country with the winter weather we have had so far. Knock on wood! We have had very little snow and mild temperatures thus far. Nearly perfect for hiking. We actually take our break from hiking in the summer months when it is hot. The warm temperatures are too hard on the dog and me too. My husband is fine with heat, but I tend to whine and complain. I am not a hot weather type of girl.

Power alley for the gas pipeline that crosses the trails.

The view above is not part of the Quarry Trail. It is a path that the utility company maintains, and it happens to cut through the park trail on several loops. We have used this on both our trips to the Quarry Trail, however. It is a direct route back to the parking lot if you become disoriented or are tired. This is the view taken from the top. It is a long, steep climb, but you know exactly where you will come out when you take this path.

I know that we will soon be on this trail again. It was fun to look at all the different rock formations. And my mind tends to wander when I am hiking. Each time that long, stacked rock wall crosses my path, or should I say I cross its path, I think of the farmers trying to make a living and grow food out on the Western Reserve of Ohio in earlier times. How long and how much time and sweat it must have taken to lay a wall so massive. Trying each rock to see which was the best fit. Putting one down and picking up another. They were true craftsman to assemble something that is still in place. Most of this area of the park was once farms. You often come across flowers that are not natural. You know they framed a homestead at some point in time. Occasionally, we come across old foundations from basements, or sometimes a circle of stones that was once the base of a silo. I find that many aspects of hiking these areas hold different types of magic for me. Sometimes, it is the beauty of nature. Other times, it is the history that lies buried if you care to look.

We were on this particular hike for 2.2 miles. It seemed more like four. Don’t get me wrong, I will gladly do it again soon. Just don’t underestimate the extra effort a rough trail can add.

The Famine of Togetherness

One of my nieces getting her groove on!

The Covid pandemic has changed me in ways I never thought possible. So far, I have remained healthy and disease-free. I have gone to great lengths to make sure this is the case. I am vaccinated, boosted, and hubby and I have spent a lot of time in isolation.

One of the biggest blessings of 2020 was being able to spend time with family again after the vaccines became available. I will never look at spending time with family in the same way. I always enjoyed it and looked forward to those times. Now, these gatherings bring me great joy. It is like a miracle every time one of my nieces’ crawls into my lap or we run around the house doing goofy activities. Hugging brothers, daughters, and other extended family is a treat. I feel like I am the survivor of a Great Depression. It was the Great Depression of solitude.

I know I am not the only person to feel this way. We watched a newsclip this morning showing people reuniting after being separated from loved ones for months and others for more than a year. The ones that reunited where one party was surprised are priceless. Watching so much joy literally brought goosebumps up on my arms.

Silly times with my other niece.

Early 2020 was the famine of togetherness, the drought of connectedness, the desert of social gatherings, but also taught us the importance of camaraderie and community.

Let us not soon forget this lesson. Time together is what makes our lives whole. Relationships with others help to fulfill us. Even encounters with strangers can be a precious thing. It is our chance to make a difference for someone else. Make it a good one. So, as we get back to a new normal, remember the great gift that the people in our lives are.

If we become annoyed or impatient with that person in front of us in the check-out line don’t take that for granted. We are in a store, in a check-out line, not reduced to using curbside pickup to avoid contact with others. (Although what a blessing curbside pickup was when we needed it. Thank you, workers!)

And we are all adjusting to a new normal. So, remember to be kind. Always.