2016 at a Glance

Last year, I resolved to document our fun summer adventures, which I was able to capture. here. This year, and hopefully for subsequent years, the plan is to do a full year in review, which may be a bit more of a whirlwind, but should be that much more interesting! It is always so much fun to look back, so I hope to keep this up as an annual tradition. 2016 was a year full of excitement, outdoor adventures, close friends, cherished traditions, new experiences, fun surprises and deep belly laughs. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Santa Fe neighborhood tour

The Santa Fe Arts District was one of the first neighborhoods we got to know in Denver, long before we even considered it as a place that we’d put down roots. We’d travel down from Boulder after work, for the “First Friday Art Walk,” during which the various art galleries along Santa Fe open their doors and the normally-quiet street comes alive with street performers, food trucks, live music and pop-up shops. Fast forward a few years, and when we made the move down to Denver, the neighborhood was an easy choice, with its close proximity to Downtown, relative affordability, and artistic vibe. We thought we’d stay in our rental for a couple years before moving to a different neighborhood when it came to buy, but instead fell in love with a house only a block away, and the rest is history.

When we first moved to this neighborhood, coming from quiet Boulder, we were aware of a certain grittiness, characteristic of many older neighborhoods close to a city center. It wasn’t exactly the “bad part of town”, but we knew it was far from a gated community as well. However, we fell in love with this ‘hood, and that love remains as the community grows and changes. While some of the housing is undergoing a revamp, and the real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years (as they have all over Denver), I wouldn’t quite use that dirty word “gentrification” to characterize the change. After all, the culture that makes the neighborhood unique seems to only be getting stronger, and we have yet to be permeated with a bunch of hipster spots or chain restaurants. Local coffee shops and cheap Mexican restaurants still prevail, and the art continues to be the central binding presence throughout.

Anthony took these photos last fall of some of the various murals, old buildings, and galleries throughout the neighborhood, and we wanted to share them with you. If you ever get a chance to visit during the First Friday of any month, we’d love to give you a taste of the energy and artistic vibes that inspire us.

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Santa Fe theater, which hosted the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in its heyday, now waiting for it's revival.

Santa Fe theater, which hosted the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in its heyday, now waiting for it’s revival.

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Olive likes this one.

Olive likes this one.

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This sidewalk is packed on First Fridays

This sidewalk is packed on First Fridays

 

 

Garden growth… and overgrowth

Seeing the first flowers pop up and buds on the trees are some sure signs that spring has come. While I’m not fooling myself into thinking that Colorado has hung up its winter hat for the year (we will inevitably have another snowy day or two), it’s getting me excited for another season of warm sunshine, hammock lounging, backyard game playing, al fresco dinners, and tending my little plot of land in the backyard.

After several years of missteps and straight-up failures, I finally felt like I’d hit my stride last year, and ended up with about 20 bunches of leafy greens, 14 harvests of lemon cucumbers, 15 baskets of pickling cucumbers, 8 rounds of tomatoes, 5 yellow squash, 9 rounds of beans, 3 okra harvests, and a whopping 59 zucchinis.

But who’s counting?

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I meant to do a roundup of “things I learned” last year after my most successful yield yet, but I apparently spent my fall getting a little wrapped up in planning our Australia trip and it all fell by the wayside. So now, as I sort my seed packets for this year, I’m trying to remember the lessons I learned from last year’s experience.

Lesson 1 – Water consistently

In the past, the most consistent killer of my little garden veggies was that famous Colorado sun. I’d have to get up before the sun every day to water my plants, being ever so careful to lift the plants off the ground and water only at the roots, while still sometimes spraying a leaf that would inevitably become fried by the sun that same day. No matter how often I was doing it, I couldn’t get the schedule just right, and my plants would wilt and die away. Especially after leaving for a weekend trip, we’d return home and find our crops withering away.

Last year, I decided to take my hydrating to the next level and installed a drip system, on a timer, that I think made all the difference in the survival of my garden goods. By having a consistent, two-a-day drip, right at the roots, my plants got all the h20 they needed, even if I chose to sleep in. In return, I got a thriving, green plot that grew with minimal watering effort.

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Lesson 2- LESS ZUCCHINI!

As you can see from above, my zucchini crop went wild. Having never had any success growing zukes before, I had no idea how many were going to grow on each plant, and how big the plants themselves would be. For that reason, I thought it was a good idea to plant 12 zucchini plants in the front third of the garden. Needless to say, this is way too many. I started pulling the extra plants at the beginning of the summer, but still had more than I could handle. It was hard pulling a thriving plant from the ground, but knowing that the extra veggies were becoming more of a problem than a low yield, I knew it was the right thing to do, and by the end of the summer I only had 2, but was still left with my zucchini than I knew what to do with.

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I brought the excess to work, distributed them to neighbors, shared them at social gatherings, and froze a ton, but I still could hardly keep up with the zucchini yield. We ate zucchini at nearly every meal — I felt like a version of “Bubba” from Forrest Gump, but instead of shrimp I was extolling the virtues of zucchini stir fry… zucchini au gratin… zucchini noodles… zucchini boats… zucchini muffins… You get the idea. We got a little burned out, as you can imagine, and I even freezed so much that we are still enjoying the zucchini today, 6 months later.

I had to pick at least 4-5 every day or they would grow to radioactive proportions. While it was fun comparing the size of the zucchinis to my cat, this year I think I’ll stick to a reasonable-sized zucchini crop and will try to start the year with just one plant or two.

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Lesson 3 – Less is more

Zucchinis aside, I learned that I need to a better job of thinning out my garden as a whole, early on. This is a problem I never had before, but when the garden starts growing out of control, it can be very difficult to keep up on. In addition to the awkwardly-large zucchinis, I also got some disproportionate pickling cucumbers that had stayed on the vine for two long, and became too seedy to become delicious dills.

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The crowding of too many plants also became a problem with my tomatoes. I actually have no idea how many tomato plants I had in a small space, and they turned into one giant shrub by about mid-summer. I trimmed them back, but at that point they had become so intertwined that it was too late, and I had to just see what would happen. To my dismay, despite the mass amount of tomato leafage, I really didn’t yield too many tomatoes off of them, and my hopes of jars and jars of homemade tomato sauce and salsa were dashed. However, at the end of the season, I pulled the mess of tomato plants and found hundreds of rotting tomatoes underneath the roughage. My tomato plants had, indeed, been producing in excess, but I just couldn’t find them among the overgrowth. Next year, I’m determined to keep each individual plot much more manageable, and will thin things out early on.

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Lesson 4 – Weed early and often

This one, I suppose would be something any gardener would tell you as it seems like a Gardening 101 lesson. But, it’s one I learned this year the hard way. I’d see little weeds pop up early, and instead of nipping them right away, I would debate whether they were my plants or invaders, and leave them in place to “wait and see.” Of course, anyone who has dealt with weeds knows what happened — the weeds grew much faster than the veggies and took over before I knew it. There was also a “pretty” weed that had tiny little leaves and wove little vines around the edges of the garden fencing and popped up between the brick edging. Anthony and I both thought they looked kind of pretty, so I used it as a good excuse to leave the weeds in place. However, within a matter of just a couple weeks these adorable little vines crisscrossed their way across the entire garden, and I had to take on a major excavation project to unwrap them from my seedlings. This year, the viney weed will not trick me with her pretty little face!

Lesson 5 – Plant garlic in the fall

The year before last, I had read about planting garlic cloves in the fall before the first frost, and yielding plump bulbs of garlic in mid-summer the next year. I gave it a shot in 2013 and was thrilled to pull up plump heads of garlic in June of last year. The homegrown garlic became the perfect addition to the dozens of jars of cucumbers I was able to pickle, along with dill grown in the plot as well.

However, I didn’t heed this lesson last fall as I was still basking in the glow of my gardening successes (as well as the aforementioned Aussie trip planning), and totally forgot to shove some garlic cloves into the ground. This year, my pickles will not have the honor of being fully homegrown, but you can bet I will not miss the timing for garlic-planting next year!

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Holding up a braid of freshly-pulled garlic bulbs. Also note that “pretty weed” decorating the edging…

 

Lesson 6 – Double your efforts

Chalk this one up to a Pinterest tip that worked out perfectly for me. Knowing that our garden area gets pummeled with sun all day every day, I’ve always had difficulty growing lettuce and spinach, which thrive on a little cooler shade. Bring in the cucumbers! These climbing little creatures soak up that sun, and cover the area with leafy shade, so I harnessed that power and trained them to go up and over the lettuce and spinach section. The trellis was held up by a couple of bamboo sticks that were the perfect structures for the climbing beans.

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This year, I hope to make the trellis a little bit bigger, to make a better use of the space, but I’ll definitely be employing a similar tactic.

Lesson 7 – Grow things you like to eat

Clearly, this should be a no-brainer, but for whatever reason, had to be something I learned on my own. In addition to the plethora of zucchini plants in the first plot, I also included a couple of yellow squash plants. Turns out, neither Anthony or I like yellow squash at all. We’d blend it in to the stir fries and veggie dishes, and they were fine, but we weren’t getting excited to eat them. Instead of continuing to scour the internet for a recipe with enough cheese to make a yellow squash more palatable, I finally just decided to give up on them and pulled the plants before the height of gardening season.

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I’m sure there will be many more lessons to be learned this summer, but hopefully I can enjoy the same fruits of my labor once again. Looking forward to building meals from my backyard, and enjoying some fresh produce in these summer months to come!

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Australia Part Four: St. Kilda

Knowing that we would be in for two weeks of nonstop adventures, we had deliberately planned for a low-key last few days in Oz, and St. Kilda, a popular beach suburb close to downtown Melbourne was the perfect place to decompress and soak in the last few days of vacation.

We left Apollo Bay after a lazy morning, strolling around the town and grabbing breakfast, and then hit the road to head back into Melbourne. Once we got into St. Kilda, we had some time to kill before our next Air BnB would be ready, so we stopped at a little joint around the corner for some appetizers and drinks. When we checked into our place for the next few days, we were treated to a cute little art-filled studio in the heart of the neighborhood, walking distance from everything we planned on doing for the next few days.

St. Kilda

St. Kilda

After settling in, we went to a local Mexican joint recommended by our hosts for margaritas, and then continued down the main drag until we stumbled upon a Thai restaurant that beckoned us in with its affordable (and, as it turned out, delicious!) noodle dishes. After dinner, we took a little walk down to the pier to check out the evening windsurfers.

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The next morning, we awoke to our second rainy morning of the trip (we know these are excellent odds). We said our goodbyes to Jules and returned the rental car to the CBD, just as the drizzles began to subside. We hopped on a couple of bikes again and made our way back to the previously closed South Melbourne Market. We wandered around the many booths, grabbing a few souvenirs and finally found ourselves in the extensive fresh food market. We grabbed some dimsum and dumplings as we discussed cooking a dinner in the studio that night, and what we would choose out of the many offerings on site. We eventually settled on some lamb kabobs, giant prawns, asparagus, and entirely too many cheeses for two people.

The dinner was simple to throw together in the simple kitchen, and we used some of our hosts’ provided olive oil and spices for flavoring, paired with some of the wine picked up earlier in the trip. After so many days in a row of eating out, which we hardly ever do at home, it was quite fun and rewarding to cook a meal together with local ingredients on foreign soil, and we were so glad to have given it a try.

Prawns the size of your head!

Prawns the size of your head!

Soooo many cheeses. This was only a small fraction of them.

Soooo many cheeses. This was only a small fraction of them.

Prawns, lamp kabobs, asparagus... and wine.

Prawns, lamp kabobs, asparagus… and wine.

After dinner, we set out to catch a glimpse of one of St. Kilda’s most endearing attraction – the fairy penguins. Now, I know what you’re saying: “But Erin, you hate birds. You’re terrified of birds. You think birds are flying demons.” Yes, reader. Yes, this is all true. However, penguins — FAIRY PENGUINS — are quite different. These little guys have webbed (non-talon-like) feet, the tiniest beaks ever, and their wings do not provide looming flight. So, with all of the fear-factors removed, penguins get the unique honor of being the only bird I would consider as a friend. So, when I heard that there was a small colony of penguins that lived at the St. Kilda pier, there was no way we were going to miss it.

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Peekaboo — I see you!

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This little guy was just standing behind us, grinning away, while we all looked the other way for penguins. It’s hard not to giggle about turning around and seeing this face staring back at you.

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These little guys were literally just a couple feet from us.

 

 

After a while of ogling the babies that were waiting ashore for their returning parents, we decided that we didn’t need to wait another hour in the wind for the sun to set and the rest of the colony to arrive. Also, knowing my night vision (or lack thereof), I figured I wouldn’t be able to see them after dark anyway. So instead, we headed out of the crowds and back down the pier.

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We are not the only tourists  in search of a few little penguins

We are not the only tourists in search of a few little penguins

We decided to pop into a local icon, the Esplanade Hotel, or “the Espy.” We were able to catch a few unsigned local artists — many of which were very good — in the setting of an old, and untouched venue, where the pitchers of beer were cheap and cold. This ended up being one of our latest nights out, as we kept saying to each other — “let’s watch just one more act.”

The "Espy" during the day

The “Espy” during the day

Not the greatest shot but you get the idea of how our night looked

Not the greatest shot but you get the idea of how our night looked

The next morning, the last of full day of our trip, we set out to catch the last glimpses of the city, of course, from the seats of the Melbourne bikes. After a delicious breakfast at Il Fornaio, the restaurant across the street, we grabbed our bikes from the nearby station. We were headed back to the South Melbourne area, to a local yarn shop that had been recommended to me by another vendor I’d met at the Market. I was able to get some local merino wool yarn (I tell myself it came from all of those sheep we had passed during our drives), and a kind lady helped me choose a knitting pattern for a scarf that I could make with the yarn. Having picked up what I consider to be one of the most fun souvenirs (call me an old lady, if you will…), we headed back to the bike path and rode our way far down the city’s edge. We made it all the way to a little suburb called Brighton, with gorgeous houses looming over the water’s edge.

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After the bike ride, Anthony retreated back to the studio for a nap, while I couldn’t resist the urge to take my nap on the sunny beach. After wandering around the neighborhood on my own for awhile, and grabbing some more sushi rolls, I settled into the sand for an hour or so of sunshine.

Kinda creepy... Apparently modeled after Coney Island and erected by the same businessmen.

Kinda creepy… Apparently modeled after Coney Island and erected by the same American businessmen.

We ended our last day with happy hour together, followed by seafood at a highly-recommended restaurant called Clay Pots. With only a limited amount of seafood listed on their boards, based on the local catches, we knew we needed to be there early to get the tastiest pick. We got a couple seats in their beautiful garden area, and enjoyed a dinner of garlic chili prawns (the sauce was the stuff of dreams… I still haven’t been able to enjoy a piece of bread not sopped with the buttery goodness), blue crab, mussels and veggies.

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Clay Pots restaurant

Clay Pots restaurant

The next morning, we headed to the airport and said our goodbyes to Australia. Of course we enjoyed the trip immensely, but after a couple weeks abroad, it’s amazing how excited you are to see your home, your bed, and most importantly your pets! We were lucky to have some great friends watching Gizmo and Olive, and sending us occasional emails to let us know how well they were doing. But all the same, getting home after the 30+ hours of travel from door to door, and snuggling with our fur-babies, helped ease the pain of the end of vacation.

So that concludes our dream trip across the world! It’s difficult to sum it all up in just words and pictures, because the feelings and fun we had during the trip cannot be described. We always return from foreign travel with a different perspective and slightly larger worldview, and this trip was no different. However, it did all feel strangely American, with a few distinct differences. For that reason, it never felt like we were that far from home, and yet we were nearly as far away from it as physically possible. Regardless, as usual, we returned home with our travel bug not eliminated, but only fed and hungry for more. Needless to say, we are already dreaming of our next trip.

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Thoughts on 30

“Age ain’t nothin’ but a number” and “It’s better than the alternative.” Two excellent sentiments said profoundly by Aaliyah and my Grandmother, respectively. Two wise women, who have been my inspiration for taking on the milestone birthday that is the 3-0, which I ran headlong into about a month ago.

Anthony turned 30 last year, and while everyone asked him if he was “depressed” or felt differently, he laughed it off in the carefree way that makes him so great. He truly wasn’t fazed by leaving his 20’s, and I can’t say I was surprised.

I think people were a little more worried about me, and I noticed people broached the subject notably more carefully as we entered my birthday month. As a woman, I think there’s a heavier emphasis on the “glory days” of living life as a 20-something. And I’ll be honest — my 20’s were definitely a pretty prime decade. I whooped it up in college, I lived in 4 different states and some of my dream locales, lived on my own for awhile, got married, traveled both in the US and internationally, bought a house, started a furry family, made many new friends and got new family members, accomplished some really big goals in my career, and have generally expanded my horizons and learned a lot about myself and place in the world. Nope, my 20’s were not half bad.

However, with all of this recollecting on the past decade, I’m not ready to throw in the towel and officially declare myself an old lady just because of the date on the calendar. I’m fairly certain that I’ve got a challenge on my hands. Why not strive to make the next 10 years even more memorable than the last? Who said we have to stop growing, stop learning, stop experiencing, and stop having fun when we’ve reached a specified age?

Aside from my ever-slowing metabolism (which, let’s be real here, has never been great), the hints of some fine lines creeping up on my face, and the tendency to be hurting a little more after either a long run or a night with a bottle of wine, I don’t feel like I’m going to be slowing down at all any time soon. I’m just as excited — if not more — to see the world, set and reach more goals, try new experiences and learn more about life. Armed with a bottle of aspirin and the knowledge that those lines appearing around my eyes and mouth are only from years and years of laughter and smiles, I’m ready take on whatever 30 (and beyond) has got to throw at me.

With that, I leave you with a few photos from the birthday party Anthony threw for me in the backyard. He ran with the perfect theme — flowers, kittens, twinkly lights and bright summery colors. I had the most wonderful day with some of our closest friends, celebrating that fact that there was no where else I’d rather be at this point in my life. Wish the photos could do it better justice, but we had a gorgeous day!

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First annual Halloween Party

One summer evening as I shared an al fresco dinner with my “roommates” (Anthony and Teddy, who lives in our guest house) on our backyard patio, we remarked on the inherent spookiness of our old Victorian. The perfect setting for a Halloween party would be our 100 year-old house, we summed up, and with Halloween being a mutual favorite holiday, it was quickly decided that we’d have to start a yearly tradition. Many friends were invited, and my wheels started spinning.

Now that we’re moving quickly into the Christmas season, I thought I’d reverse and share a few of the highlights from our DIY Halloween party. This year, I really only got any decent photos of the decor, but the company was excellent as well. There was a choreographed Mortal Combat performance (courtesy of a ninja’d Teddy and his friend Lun), many creative costumes from our friends, a cozy bonfire, laughs and memories made. Next year, hopefully I will be able to capture more of that on camera. But for now, here are some of my favorite shots from the setup.

First, I got a few pictures before night fell. Good thing – because I have a lot of difficulty getting a good photo out of low light!

Because we always thought the garden looked a little like a graveyard anyway, we put some headstones (some relating to inside jokes that our party guests would get), lights and cobwebs in the former veggie patch

Because we always thought the garden looked a little like a graveyard anyway, we put some headstones (some relating to inside jokes that our party guests would get), lights and cobwebs in the former veggie patch

More banners

Hand stenciled burlap banners

Hand stenciled burlap banners

Hand stenciled burlap banners

I painted a piece of leftover wood from another project with Chalkboard paint and hung it above the "bar" for a drink menu

I painted a piece of leftover wood from another project with Chalkboard paint and hung it above the “bar” for a drink menu

Then, after night fell, I did my best to get some of the same shots after dark.

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The "graveyard" at night

The “graveyard” at night

All the Twinkly Lights!

All the Twinkly Lights!

Olive (dressed as Anthony -- in one of his tshirts) is hesitant to enter the spooky world of our backyard

Olive (dressed as Anthony — in one of his tshirts) is hesitant to enter the spooky world of our backyard

My pumpkin greeted party guests at the gate

My pumpkin greeted party guests at the gate

Decorated candles I got for a dollar a piece at the grocery

Decorated candles I got for a dollar a piece at the grocery

Of course I had to design my own wine labels, and then I affixed them to emptied wine bottles filled with homemade concoctions

Of course I had to design my own wine labels, and then I affixed them to emptied wine bottles filled with homemade concoctions

the bar

the bar

And last but not least, the food was inside. Luckily we were able to spend time both inside and out because it hadn’t quite gotten bitter cold just yet. Plus, many of our guests planned accordingly and wore warm costumes. It’s a good thing, because I don’t think the 50+ people that showed up would have even been able to breathe if we had all squeezed into our little house! Talk about a fire hazard! But, those who did venture in were treated with an assortment of, well, treats!

we set up a game table in the office, and it ended up looking like a spooky seance!

we set up a game table in the office, and it ended up looking like a spooky seance!

Candy corn jello shots, peanut butter fudge cupcakes and "cobweb" florentines, a recipe from Martha Stewart magazine that was the hit of the party.

Candy corn jello shots, peanut butter fudge cupcakes and “cobweb” florentines, a recipe from Martha Stewart magazine that was the hit of the party.

Fun napkins I found for a steal at TJ Maxx

Fun napkins I found for a steal at TJ Maxx

"Witches Brew" chili cheese dip in a breadbowl with pretzel rods

“Witches Brew” chili cheese dip in a breadbowl with pretzel rods

the spread

the spread

I had so much fun planning and setting up this party, and can’t wait to do it again next year!

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What a difference some rain makes

In answer to many concerned inquiries from both near and far: Our home fared just fine through the record-breaking rain we’ve received on the front range in the last couple weeks.

Returning home after a trip to the Midwest during the tail-end of the monsoon, we nervously expected leaks in our basement and crawlspace, damaged carpets in our guest house, or at the very least, muddy puddles in the backyard. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find none of the above. The rocky areas that Anthony spent so much time grading to be more level with the sidewalks seemed to have soaked up the rainfall precisely as intended, and both houses appeared to be dry and damage-free. In fact, our yard fared so well that our formerly patchy lawn area is now covered in green grass, and my waning garden has virtually exploded in new growth. Prior to the rainfall, our dry, hot weather had all but fried many of my plants, but after the several days of rain, the plants greened up and I started to see veggies on plants that I had previously given up for lost. I may get more harvest than I expected, after all.

Of course, our beloved town of Boulder, where we lived for our first few years in Colorado, did not make it out so well, and many communities surrounding the city of Denver are dealing with some catastrophic situations that I can’t even imagine. We are counting our blessings inside our safe, dry house, and are thankful for the bounty and new life that were brought our way.

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Pretty green for late September