Author Archives: toesinthedirt

About toesinthedirt

Teaching, writing, growing.

Typical day, teacher working and learning from home

Typical day, teacher working and learning from home

I get up anywhere from 5:30 to 7:30, depending on when I got to bed and if I needed extra sleep. AT 5:30 there’d be time for a walk, run or bike and shower, if medium, a leisurely breakfast and morning reading, if late, then coffee and a bowl of breakfast at my computer. In any case, no half hour commute, no extra hour or two of unpaid class prep to fit in. And there is grace and flexibilty about starting time and work hours.

Feed dog and cat. Drink my latte as I gaze at the morning light, instead of sipping it reheated at my desk in the classroom. Breakfast is the same–I never did rush that, never will.

I can address dishes and counter messes with more thoroughness than before, and there are more of them. I have additional housemates, with two daughters and their boyfriends temporarily moved in—one couple in a camper out front, the other in what was becoming my sewing room. Their job prospects have dwindled or dried up. House sharing issues remain, but we are getting into a better routine and sharing responsibilities. As I remind the young people periodically, am not the housekeeper, not  the breadwinner except my youngest. If I choose to cover the others’ expenses it will shield them from reality and not be helpful in the long run. If they are genuinely doing their best and not able to make ends meet, we will talk. We regularly have conversations about what is owed and what is given. If anyone eats from the garden, they should weed or water in return.

If there’s time before work I check on my seedlings (there are more than ever due to extra time at home), harvest and weed a little, checked out by the local hummingbirds, scan for growth.  next tasks to tackle after work, jobs to assign to my kids. Grass is getting long and rain is on the way. Dog turds need to be scooped and buried. But that’s afternoon work, for the kids.

I login on work laptop around 8. I’ve brought my adjustable sit-stand desk converter home, hooked up to a large monitor so I can easily switch to view my home PC when the work is done. Check email, web-based chat and call appointments for the day, make a mental to do list.

Since I am, by law, not emergency remote teaching as I would be now at a regular school, but rather supporting homeschooling families on hold from on campus classes, there are no lessons to create, no assigning, printing, grading. No tweaking seating arrangements, no creating activity groups or props, no booking laptops, tech or lab setup. While teachers in the regular system struggle to prioritize learning targets for the last months of school, upskill in new tech, record video lessons, and upload or deliver materials, my load is actually lighter now. I produce a weekly newsletter with suggested resources for biology and math, check in with each student by , and with the rest of my time, collect resources, get familiar with new technologies for likely new models of teaching, work on next year’s physics units, and build up resources for teaching science to all ages and no math, which is the plan for next year.

It’s still quiet in the house, the young people sleeping in, even my normally early bird youngest. Except to see one daughter sleepily carry her little dog out to the back yard, I see little of the five of them until after ten, sometimes later. I might record another chapter of Wild Season by Allan Eckert for posting on my teacher website. Though my students’ classes used to begin at 8:30, now I assume calls should not start until 10 am unless prearranged. I search out new resources, update paperwork–who have I contacted, who’s got back to me, notes, respond to emails, Until I feel a need to move.

This is tomato start month, so there are plants to repot, set in the sun, and water. A few runts to cull, orders to arrange, deliveries to plan, updates to post, requests for pots to send out. Other plant to start and care for as well for my own garden and a few friends. More people than ever are growing gardens and interested, though it’s in ones or twos for tomatoes. I will be planting at least a dozen for my own use fresh, dried, canned and frozen, and for a roadside veggie stand. Cutting expenses and building savings in case my job goes away. Cost for tomatoes not including labor, about $80. Income $100-$200, food savings more than that, environmental footprint reduction, unknown but significant.

Late morning to afternoon I run online chats with individual students & mom (it’s always mom) or a group. I’ve learned to turn off the option for students to change their names or post messages, and bring a few sharing prompts. I ask students hanging out muted without video coverage to make their presence known. I encourage students to address questions to one another, add to what others are saying, indicate with a hand signal they wish to speak. The science meeting this week was good—several students shared what they were reading and learning so I built on those. one was reading a scientific article in her area of interest, poultry nutrition, and another shared what he’d learned about a sleep study conducted by Russian scientists. Several weighed in on the ethics of using human subjects for such studies, and considered the tendency of scientists to try things because they could, and the need to have ethics and values be part of the process.

The day flies by. I pout in a last few phone calls to students who have not made contact yet, and my work day is done. There’s still plenty of daylight. Time to connect with the kids, coordinate chores, organize the garage or shed , spend an hour or two gardening, or jump on my bike for a training ride. The triathlon, the first ever I’ve signed up for, is cancelled, but training is still on.

Like many others I have been able to catch up on projects at home. After needing one for years, I finally built a roadside stand table and will be able to attach accessories next week to discourage deer grazing and secure payments. As I sawed and drilled, I had to marvel at the new mental bandwidth that allowed me to clearly see how it should be done, while before, not only was I lacking time  and energy during the school year, but also mental focus for creativity and problem solving at home. After a week or so of recovery in June, it would slowly return for summer work, but I had forgotten that my mind was capable of figuring out most things, even where I lack experience as in woodworking. As the routine at the computer gets more streamlined, my plan is to include in my work day some work on science teaching props such as tools for exploring magnetism, electricity, and wave properties, teaching games, demo, lab, and activity kits. Also filming demos, gardening activities, and happenings in nature.

Throughout the rest of yy day I am reflecting on how this phase of life will affect educational outcomes, study habits, attitudes toward learning, home, family, self. So many variables have been tweaked. I have predictions to make, and want to look up others’ writing on these topics as well as create my own. We are always learning.


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Posted by on May 2, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Fine young folks around home, and projects

My twenty-one-year-old daughter landed a job via her boyfriend as a ski lift operator at Copper Mountain this year.  All was going well, and she was enjoying the chance to improve as a skier, when an infection of suspected Covid-19 hit about twenty in staff quarters, including my daughter’s roommate. This was about the same time as things were heating up here in Washington State, with our ski hills and otehr tourist faciliities shutting down preventatively, schools readying to do the same, and social distancing being encouraged. Copper Mountain closed and was keeping everyone quarantined, with pay and meal delivery. But testing revealed it was the flu after all, so my daughter and her boyfriend (I’ll call him Corey, not his real name) were able to catch a flight home.

They, and we, are fine–no flu, and it’s nice having them around. For one thing, since I have a secure state job, I’m able to have my daughter pitch in with stuff around the house for her room and board, and also hire Corey and his best friend, call him Jack, to do some outdoor building projects I’ve had in mind for years. The guys happen to be studying engineering and skilled with tools, as well as to love working as a team. I basically told them what I wanted done–the roof and floor of my tool shed replaced, showed them where the tools and scrap lumber was, and away they went. Pretty soon I realized the potential there and the project became a tool shed to chicken house conversion, with a three-bay rat-resistant compost system to follow. I might even have them remove the unused garage style door on back of the house after that, and replace it with a regular wall and window.

They are hard workers, and weren’t really doing it for the pay, my daughter told me–they just love to work together on stuff like that, she said. Of course, I will pay them, the market now being flooded with unemployed people of all ages. My other daughter and her boyfriend have also been added to my casual labor pool, doing the landscaping and spring cleanup when they have the time.

Outdoor projects, at least, are still feasible in the current shut down. I have used materials lying around, and can have others delivered if needed or track them down in the community. We’re keeping our pool of people contacts low, and I’ll be clarifying with the young people that we need to keep it that way and not hang out with others right now, to keep infection risk low. None of us is high risk, but we all have older friends and relations.

The evening after the shed project commenced, as we were sitting around trying to figure out next steps, we got to talking about this and that. Corey and Jack turned out to have a real breadth of knowledge and interests. They showed themselves to be intelligent, well read, thoughtful, and very interesting to talk with–just about every idea I brought up, they had read/thought about; they knew works of literature and philosophy, could talk politics, religion, history, and science; in the course of the evening we all got some leads from one another for further learning.

This evening I shared with Corey the compost bins plans, as well as a book I brought home from my school (getting some things before they disinfect and lock up completely for a month or two) called The Toilet Papers on how to build human waste composting systems. That’s something I’ve wanted to try too (see this post, as well as this and this), and Corey was interested as an engineer and builder as well as on principle, so maybe it could happen sooner rather than later after all (possibly through a permit process). Which would integrate well with another idea that occurred to me as I was discussing with a friend the latest toilet paper shortages: to challenge my at-home students to create homemade toilet paper from some kind of fiber they have at home, preferably one that occurs in the local ecosystem.


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The answer is: snore, yawn, lie, or say bless you.

Why do people…

Recently I dreamed up a group game (not yet piloted), where you come up with an opening phrase together, then each person makes a prediction, or several, of the suggested completions will be offered by the search engine to which it’s offered. Without checking first, my predictions for this one, in these times, are:

  • “…get Coronavirus?”
  • “…fail to observe social distancing in public?”
  • “…think serious inconveniences experienced by them during the pandemic are signs of government incompetence?”

Okay, this last one is not likely, but it’s what I’m wondering. As I peruse narratives in the news and the social media posts of my family and friends, I observe a pattern of thinking that these things we hear happening to other people (and how unfortunate, but inevitable at the population scale, we dispassionately observe), will not and ought not happen to me personally. We can comfortably swap homie images, post humorous pandemic memes and count our blessings as we bide our time.

If we are hit by a negative consequence, by God were not going to calmly accept it, acknowledging that it’s merely unfortunate, but equally inevitable at the population scale; nothing personal. No, by god, it must be someone’s fault. The government not taking quick enough action, or taking action too quickly, thus curbing my personal freedoms, seemingly being the favorite. Or, if blame cannot be assigned, then there’s a call to battle of some kind at least, starting with telling and retelling, and trying to follow the spidery threads of cause and effect, reaching out for solutions that might not be available.

Religious folks have the recourse of thinking that finding themselves in the negative subset of the odds is actually a message from the gods to wake up, count their blessings, not take their divine help for granted, repent and be healed, or acknowledge the power of karma and tighten up the ethical framework. The sects that consider themselves the chosen righteous will be content to consider these events part of an attack by the prince of darkness, a spiritual battle in the heavenly domains, to be overcome by prayer and fasting.

It’s all just human nature, the expressions of adaptive coping mechanisms that have evolved in the human collective psyche and therefore culture.

An attitude of accepting one’s fate is another way of responding. Modern Western culture calls this “victim mentality” and rejects it as dysfunctional, but because it is common and even prevalent in some cultures, it too must have adaptive value, says evolutionary theory. It can even be empowering in a different way, as it can lead to a ceasing of pointless (and/or dangerous) struggle and regaining of personal and social peace as well as a rationing of energies for more important things.

When my own life is more closely impacted (and odds are it will be), I will resort to my own ingrained (DNA plus nurture) ways of thinking and acting. In the past this has included all of the above, and I can see precursors of the same as I mentally extrapolate likely unfortunate scenarios of my future life. I also notice a reluctance to think of these scenarios at all, except as a stimulus to get ready. But one never can really get ready for a beloved elder to get sick and die, for someone we know or ourselves to get so sick it’s hard to breathe and we struggle to keep the house stocked with necessities or ask for help when one is infected. To picture a severe reduction in personal freedom, a descent into poverty and dependence of my children and friends, even myself, a future of limited opportunity in the ways we have had before, of the collapse of industries, housing values, retirement investments, power and resource grabs by wealthy one percenters or foreign entities enabled by the recession, these are not what my mind wants to dwell on, except as I may be able to mitigate the future vulnerability of those I love by taking action now.

For now I am comfortably  detached. My adult children are all around home, including the one who was in another state, two are still able to work, one is supported by Social Security child’s benefits, and I am a state employee and so far assured of a steady income despite the closure of my work place. This puts me in a position to offer some day labor and/or housing to my kids and/or their friends who are recently out of work until special emergency unemployment insurance provisions take effect. My regular necessary contacts are few, my elderly relatives are relatively self sufficient and/or well cared for by others. I live mortgage-free, can leave my retirement investments in their place in the hopes of recovery. I have a spacious yard and places to enjoy the outdoors safe from contamination. I am checking my privilege, and this is only part. I do have to urge the young adults in my life to follow social distancing protocol with any contacts who have other contacts, as the adaptive behavior among the young tens toward remaining as adventurous and free of restraint as possible.

The attitude I want to choose is still hope, mindful use of intelligence and compassionate instincts, of expectation and participation in a new flowering of resilience and creativity that will enable us to look back and say, “All in all, we rocked that time, that pandemic thing. And we can do it again when the next thing comes.” As far as I can say THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY TO THINK AND BE, I can say it about that. It’s right to be hopeful, whether it’s by complaining, sounding the alarm, accepting, battling, joking, grieving, keeping busy, waiting it out, plodding along, ignoring, creating, strategizing, sheltering, plunging in or running away. It takes all kinds to make a world in this already short, potentially beautiful life we live as individual souls and in community.




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Spam report

According to the algorithms behind daily email I receive, I am vulnerable to marketing for the following:

  • security doorbells
  • erection medications
  • women’s erotic zone tips
  • prostate support
  • drones
  • blood pressure monitors
  • diabetes cures
  • weight loss products
  • internet and WiFi boosters
  • vehicle trackers
  • connections to hot, sexy babes
  • tinnitus cures
  • (naturally) Coronovirus protection

To a lesser extent I get emails advertising:

  • nail fungus treatments
  • jobs in tech
  • specialized pillows
  • snoring products

Apparently the deluge into one of my email addresses, which I have not experienced in the prior decades of owning it, is connected to taking over my late husband’s email accounts in the same domain. The junk mail started suddenly last year, thirty or so emails daily, all clearly junk, and from randomly varying email addresses.

Fortunately I am relatively impervious to the temptations presented by these appeals to a target they believe is a heterosexual male and in his late fifties. Even if I am starting to wonder about the hissing in my ears when it’s quiet.

In contrast, my Instagram account is presenting ads that are more to my taste: shoes that cure bunions, natural fiber cat caves, comfortable, cute clothing, trays for growing microgreens, dog scratch proofing, reusable bags that keep vegetables fresh. Still, I try not to feast my eyes too long on any colorful, gyrating image, lest in doing so I give myself away. If truly interested in a product I do online research from a different device (clearing cookies regularly). The bunion shoes, alas, are reported to be ineffective.

I get that companies need to advertise, and use tech to target likely consumers. I also like the idea of supporting folks who produce equality, useful products, but only if I really need them or think they will  truly enhance my life or enable me to contribute greater things to my community. But even something that initially excites my interest, unfortunately for the sellers, rarely remains in my mind at that height, as I take my sweet time to gather information and weigh pros and cons, meanwhile getting distracted by the more important or urgent matters of daily living. Even what may appear to others to be an impulse purchase, such as the GoPro Hero 8 video camera I ordered yesterday, or the $20K crawl space encapsulation system installation I scheduled for May, is usually the result of months or years-long internal reflection, culminating in sudden action once I am sure. On my mind, not yet forgotten, are the possibility of a shorty wetsuit, a kayak (I already bought two paddles second hand), a pair of pear or plum trees, a mountain bike (mine died a few years ago), and a used camper van. The last is a long shot, but fun to contemplate. I may instead hire a few young adults to build me a yurt in the back yard, for a make work project and a place for my adult children to hang out between rental homes.

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Posted by on March 18, 2020 in Economics, Places & Experiences


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Life is short, and the second law of thermodynamics still applies.

Life is short, and the second law of thermodynamics still applies.

I feel oddly content being semi-confined to my home by necessity, to do my part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The house is bright with sunlight. Not only am I out of my windowless classroom, I get an extra three days off to spend hours outside in the garden or out on the trails, doing errands when I feel like it. We will be back to working on Thursday, in some form, from home, but I’ll have regained the additional hour of my previous commute, and most likely not feel I need to start an hour and a half early and stay late as I did when classes were in session.

Local confirmed cases of coronavirus remain at three, deaths zero. I have traveled several times to our state’s ground zero to spend time with my boyfriend, yes, and he has visited me. But we had relatively little contact with potentially contaminated areas, I habitually maintain sanitary practices at school; he had been working from home for several months already, his contacts mainly with fellow skiers.

I had plenty of food and other basic supplies before all this started–dried, refrigerated, frozen, and even growing in the garden (kale, onions, chard, herbs). My supply includes several bins of non-perishables from the supply of the recently deceased sister of an acquaintance. She had kept a large emergency supply untouched as she slowly died, apparently of malnutrition.

I just bought early salad seedlings and planted my own flats of seeds. Already I see tiny leaves and stems rising up out of the soil; the rhubarb is unfurling outside and soon there will be asparagus coming up. The currant and haskap bushes are about to flower, and I pulled enough dandelions today to make dandelion root coffee.

Our infrastructure is largely unaffected, with phone and internet communication, online entertainment, information and shopping, power and transportation, other than confined public transport options, as available as ever. It could be months before things return to normal, but I expect to remain healthy, or recover relatively quickly if I do become infected. The return of my daughter from a ski resort in Colorado where she was working presents some risk, but she says a few tests have indicated that the illnesses in her residence seem to be the flu. Our local efforts will continue in any case to protect vulnerable folks from dying earlier that they would otherwise.

One thing that has struck me is that the economic slowdown has brought greenhouse gas emissions way down. Economic recession drives social anxiety and creates human hardship, but is a relief to the biosphere. Maybe this will contribute to a broader conversation about the unsustainability of economic growth, as David Suzuki and others have been warning. I don’t thing that’s an oversimplification, either. Though some argue that there are ways to decouple economic growth and carbon emissions. But even if the economy grows greener, until it becomes more like the economy of natural ecosystems, human society will still be exceeding the biosphere’s constraints. And it makes sense that living systems will sometimes reverse imbalances with large scale adjustments that could include great loss of human life, whether as part of a cycle, or an extinction event or punctuation and dramatic shift in the trajectories of human evolutionary.

This particular pandemic doesn’t seem like that large an event, but it alerts my mind to possible future events, and makes me wonder how all our various global perturbations of Earth’s systems will accumulate and return to bite us. Rather than a Gaia hypothesis or balance of nature-style restoration to equilibrium, with humans ensured a restored Eden-like role, seems more like a combination of this new theory of how life follows the second law of thermodynamics and chaos theory, where slightly different initial conditions and later events can lead to wildly variable results, even if they are deterministic according to the laws of physics.

And so my advice is that, no matter what happens, we be our best selves, and keep on hoping, dreaming, loving, and growing. Life was already short, so let’s try to be at peace with the fact that death is on the way for all of us, one way or another. I expect we will discover, or remember, great powers of resilience and creativity as we deal with the economic fallout of this, and I hope that our social safety net weavers will successfully combat the economic forces that tend to concentrate resources in the hands of the few who are in a position to channel them there during difficult times.


Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Culture & Society, Economics, science


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Review of Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach

Got my number of drafts down under forty, by trashing and/or revising and posting. Mostly trashing. Again I am not taking the discipline of writing daily seriously enough, I acknowledge for reasons I do not fins acceptable.

Last night I made myself watch a movie, so that I could get out of the going to bed too early & getting up too early routine. I clicked on one that looked like a pleasant enough story, but turned out to be badly acted and corny. While searching for another I saw the auto-play trailer of another that started with the the same distracted-by-circumstances-while driving-and-swerving-to-avoid-a-honking-semi-ending-up-in-the ditch opening scene. The woman in the first film got a forehead bruise, the man in the second got more seriously banged up, so apparently that’s psychologically equivalent, scars and limps being, apparently, too alarming or less attractive in the weaker sex. What I then happened upon turned out to be the subject of this post, though I didn’t start intending to write a review.

I found “Marriage Story,” which I selected on the strength of the two lead actors, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver (saw him in Paterson, story of a poet bus driver and his wife), and the opening writing. It’s a sad, deep story that starts and ends with expressions of affection and honor for each other, but also starts and ends with a breakup that neither rally wants. The split is over what I think is a common problem—the inability to nurture the individuality of both partners while they are in an intimate partnership, even where there is love and good intentions. What could bring an even higher and more fulfilling level of that individuality instead results in one, often a woman, discovering that they have never grown into her full personality and gifts, and yet feeling guilty in their efforts to make changes, especially when the spouse cannot or will not make the necessary sacrifices, is completely blind to this opportunity to love more deeply and maturely.

The writer explored this de-selfing for love theme in a nuanced way, with no cheap allocation of fault or trite conclusion. Even the lawyers, engaged reluctantly but seemingly by necessity, do not appear to be the villains. Though their fees cost the couple their young son’s college savings, put the mother/mother-in-law (who loves both spouses) in debt and eats away at the husband’s theater grant and the wife’s new acting pilot salary, only seem to be doing their jobs so that the financial and psychological pain that must, apparently, result, is equally shared. Which it is in the end.

But the wife and husband, though bereft of each other and left with the complexities of shared custody of their young son, are left with the beginnings of something perhaps worth all the pain: she has a career that celebrates and nurtures her talent in her own right, and he with a chastening, a recognition of an aspect of his personality—the film didn’t portray is in a black-and-white manner as a flaw—that blocked his and his wife’s happiness and allow him to grow in a whole new way. And here I am seeing it that way, having experienced something similar in my own child rearing years and after. It could be seen as a chastening of the wife, as she has chosen to pursue her own goals rather than sacrifice them for the preservation of the marriage and family.



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Moving toward creativity, one snow day at a time

That was an entire garlic clove I just ate, and it could have been too much, but it’s baked down to a musky, comforting zing. A sip of cool water, a bite of cheesy crust, and I keep on typing, going back to correct thumb-fingered type-o’s every third word. The zing is still there on the left side of my tongue. And the slight headache I had when I woke up, too warm from piling on blankets to get through the subfreezing nights that came after the snow fell. The temperature rose last night and soon there would be dripping and slush for ice and muffled silence.

School will be on again tomorrow, I am sure. One day before a long weekend and following three snow cancellations, it will be an adjustment. Fortunately, Fridays are building cool stuff for fun and learning, this time from spaghetti and marshmallows, so nothing too heady and theoretical to deal with.

The bay was bluegreen, with rich, barely translucent waves rolling slantwise toward the shore and splashing up the concrete steps down to the tiny cove by the trail. I took a short video to post online. A king tide, a passerby told me. Snow, a shrubby windswept pine, wild rose bush tipped with dried rosehips, and the marvelous bluegreen sea, which changes color depending on the angle at which I gaze out over it. Marvelous.

Mt usual coffee shop is close. Yes, the cost benefit would not balance on a day like this, when passersby need all wheel drive or yak trax to make it there. I am disappointed, as I am a summer, snow day, and weekend regular now. Only one of the baristas greets me with friendly recognition that is more than professional customer service, but that is enough. I’m the type of person who prefers to have preserve a degree of anonymity, though never invisibility.

When I return today, I’ll tackle the next layer of my creative pile. Yesterday I washed all the fabric scraps and sections, musty from long storage, and they are looking hopeful in their fresh, folded stacks. Then I fixed three pairs of jeans, hemmed a pair of dress pants, restored the elastic waistband on a pair of sweats, resized a pillowcase and mended a glove.

More clearing away for creativity. Ideas are floating around my head, but I still need to warm up with more mundane, tactile tasks, so today it will be finishing my daughter’s equestrian-themed quilt. A gift I started eight years ago and which now has bittersweet associations, as her riding came to a halt over financial and logistical burnout on my part and a desire to have a less focused and goal-oriented lifestyle on hers. The elimination of this activity from the budget has been a relief, but the extra free time has had its negative repercussions–my daughter is no longer the blue ribbon 4-H leader and mentor but is muddling through a rather messy stage of individuation that involves vocally asserting her desire to have nothing to do with a mom who never did anything for her ever, as well as becoming know to law enforcement. If I give her the quilt these days, it could end up anywhere.

After that, I have an idea for a few fun gifts for my sweetheart–useful things with some character, and something from our story so far together that will bring a smile. I’m also exploring the possibility of making a lot of strong cotton grocery totes, some plain and some with words and/or images, for gifts and possible to add to my stock to sell one day . A Bernie for President one, perhaps, and maybe one with a half-baked Trump quote. Another with a favorite poem.

For a break from sitting at the sewing machine, I might pick up some rolls of insulation and install them under the floor in the crawl space, or maybe figure out how to set up my garage space as a shop creative space now that my daughter has moved out. I have a kind of idea that if I set it up nice, I can invite her over to do some woodworking of her own. She always was handy with the tools, and creative.


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