Vintage print of Santa carrying bag of toys

Curing Holiday Anxiety: Six Steps to Keep Your Christmas Out of the Crapper

Let’s face it. The holidays, from start to finish, are about surviving. Leave the birth of the Savior out of the discussion for now. After all, Jesus isn’t counting the number of His birthdays that have passed.

These six steps might be just what you need to keep your anxiety under control.

Step One: Focus on Relatives Leaving

The uncle who shoots turkey shrapnel by talking with his mouth full is not moving in. He will leave. You will no longer see the cranberry relish embedded in his mustache.

The cousin who has no understanding of personal space whose breath smells like roadkill is going to pull the door shut behind him.

You dearly love your grandmother but dread that moment during dinner you know is coming because you can feel the gag reflex beginning to squeeze your trachea, when she talks about her bowel movements. Grandma will fall asleep immediately after dinner and not speak again until she says “Goodbye,” and closes the door, taking her bowels with her.

You have an aunt who refuses to leave the kitchen and insists you have not added enough corn starch to the broth, so you take her advice to shut her up resulting in gravy served in cubes. Eventually, she will thank you for a lovely dinner and disappear.

When slumbering Grandpa emits a cloud of broccoli-stuffing-egg-gravy gas, remember, he will leave with your grandma.

You will finally close the door on your relatives for another year.

Step Two: Don’t Ask the Religious Relative to Say Grace

“Lord! We thank Thee that Thou dost knoweth our frame, that we are weak and lowly. Thou knowest our sins, and they are many. Lord!! We pray that Thou wouldst help Ronnie to stop his many fornications. Lord!! We asketh of Thee that Thou wouldst tell Lydia, she doth wear skirts far too short.

And finally, Lord!! We ask Thou wouldst move upon foreign fields where missionaries doth workest themselves into a lather. They preacheth Thy Holy Word! Lord!! We ask Thee that Thou wouldst bless this Thy food that Thou hast prepared through the hands of Thy servants Julia, Annabeth, Francine, Jerousha, and little Bobbette. And all God’s people said, Amen!”

As soon as he’s done, the fancy language is gone. Ask someone else to say grace.

Step Three: Be Ready for Comments About the Pie Crust

Pie crusts cause more fights at Christmas that anything else. They’re too thick, too thin, the fluted edges are not fluted right, when you take it out of the oven, the design cut into the top of the pie now looks like a phallus.

“What is that on the top of the pie?” Grandpa asks.

“It’s the Goodyear Blimp, Dad. I know you love football,” you answer.

Step Four: Stay Away from Fruitcake

Fruitcake is an ancient prank. It’s not meant to be consumed by people. In 1742, Mildred Humterhoft, of the Humterhoft clan, took all the moldy dried fruit from the bin, mixed it up in a little bit of flower and water, set it by the fire, and let it bake into a brick. The fruitbrick was intended to keep the door open on warm days.

When Mertell Humterhoft came home from the hunt, he saw the fruitbrick and immediately thought of his friend, Eicken Bintzenfrom. Mertell wrapped the fruitbrick in paper, took it to Eicken’s front door, and left it. The Bintzenfrom family ate the fruitbrick.

Now you know the legend of the fruitcake. It was originally a fruitbrick.

Step Five: Keep Everyone Busy

Do not allow guests to sit around and talk. Aunt Grielda is going to bring up something that was said at a Christmas dinner in 1957. Cousin Clem is going to remember it differently. Grandma Hershin is going to stand up, stomp her foot, say something totally unrelated, and steam off to the kitchen.

Play games. Make paper Christmas chains. Give a knitting demonstration. Teach everyone how to sing Silent Night in German. Don’t allow post-dinner talking.

Step Six: Act Tired

Inviting everyone to your house for Christmas is exhausting. Not the actual event, just the invitation is exhausting. Your mind and body immediately sense the potential for conflict trauma and kick into self-preservation mode. It takes a toll on you as the day approaches.

Make comments like, “Oh, wow, is it only four o’clock?” Or “Is anyone else as tired as I am?” Remember, however, you risk having Uncle Herschel start into a rant about processed turkey.

It’s your house. When you’re ready for everyone to go home, it’s time for them to go.

There you have it! Six Steps to Keep Your Christmas Out of the Crapper.

Joy to the World!

A police car just beyond tracks, men working.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 32: Quintin O’Dillmotte for Sheriff

It finally happened. Quintin O’Dillmotte has lost his marbles. The wheels fell off. The cows went to pasture. The dog left home. The last chicken’s been plucked.

While Sheriff Pete Terkinberry works feverishly to solve the greatest mystery to ever grip the good folks of Maple Valley, Quintin O’Dillmotte, of O’Dillmotte Funeral Home, “Where we lay you down easy,” has announced he’s running for sheriff.

Three things about Quintin’s decision have people talking. Pete’s term as Sheriff of Terkot County does not end for another twenty-two months. Launching a campaign now is ridiculous.

O’Dilmotte’s choice for a campaign slogan is slanderous. “With Sheriff O’Dillmotte, have no fear! No one else will disappear!”

What really has neighbors wondering if Quintin has completely left home is his choice of a campaign handout. But, on the other hand, it’s Quintin O’Dillmotte. Some folks aren’t surprised at all.

Most people trying to get elected hand out things like pencils, shirts, or bags with their name on it. Last Saturday, Quintin was standing in the middle of Maple Valley passing out little coffins with his name printed on the outside and the campaign slogan on the inside. They must have cost him a fortune!

Sheriff Pete’s phone has been ringing off the hook. Marty Kue, news anchor of WREK-TV, called on Sunday, of all days.

“Is it true that Quintin O’Dillmotte has launched a campaign to take your place?” Kue asked.

“I don’t have any comment right now,” the sheriff answered.

“Is it true Quintin O’Dillmotte believes you’re not doing everything you can to find Sylvia Meisner?”

“I don’t have any comment right now,” Pete said.

“Why don’t you come on WREK live with me and defend yourself against these charges?” Marty Kue asked.

“What charges! What are you talking about? This conversation is over!” the sheriff hollered and slammed the phone down.

Quintin’s announcement is doing exactly what he hoped. It’s brilliant, at least to him. Everyone is talking about the little caskets. Kids are begging their parents for them.

Sheriff Pete received an important phone call last week. Dr. Ham Gerlein, the medical examiner from Colmash County, formally identified the bones found at the site of the watermain break.

“Pete, I can tell you with ninety-nine percent certainty, the bones do not belong to Ert Kreisel, or Sylvia Meisner,” Gerlein said.

“Who do they belong to?” Pete asked.

“A man named, Traver Flirsden. He was the contractor responsible for the watermain installation,” the doctor said.

“That makes no sense. How did his body end up there?” Pete asked.

“That’s for the Sheriff of Terkot County to figure out, Pete. I have no idea,” Ham said.

“Swell. Just what I need. Another disappearance with no answers. Thanks, Doc,” Pete said.

The sheriff hasn’t decided whether to respond to Quintin. He doesn’t want to do anything folks might interpret as concern about his future as sheriff. To Pete Terkinberry, the craziness Quintin O’Dillmotte is calling a campaign is just another item on the long list of Quintinistics.

Sheriff Terkinberry is more concerned about his friend, Mayor Alvin Thrashborn. The sheriff was called by Agent Vernald Bersker, and told the FBI is going to question Thrashborn about his relationship with Sylvia Meisner.

Pete immediately called his friend and told him about the conversation and asked what the agent was talking about.

“How should I know? I didn’t have any relationship with Sylvia,” the mayor said.

“Al, listen, the FBI doesn’t send agents out to ask questions unless they have a pretty good reason,” Pete said.

“Why did they call you?” Thrashborn asked.

“Remember when those two agents showed up after Sylvia disappeared? I chewed them pretty good for starting an investigation in Maple Valley without talking to me first. Maybe that’s it,” the sheriff said.

“I guess I’ll just wait and see what they ask me,” the mayor said.

Sheriff Pete Terkinberry couldn’t shake the feeling his lifelong friend was hiding something.

A Talented Singer and Dancer Named Betty Curry

Betty Curry was a resident of a local adult foster care home. She began attending our church after a family member encouraged her to visit. Betty felt right at home and called each week to let me know she would see me on Sunday.

It was very obvious Betty enjoyed the services. She sang enthusiastically and seemed thrilled just to be in church. She often stood and said, “Oh, I would just like everyone to know how I love being here. I love the joy and the love I feel from you all.” She glowed with excitement, especially during the music.

One afternoon, I received a call and was told Betty Curry had passed away. When I met with the family, it became clear why Betty was so vibrant in her love of music and people.

When Betty was young, she was a singer. She had the lead role in the musical, “Mikado,” when she was in high school. Her love of music continued long after leaving school.

Betty became a professional singer and was invited to audition with Guy Lombardo and Ted Weams. Other people in the music business recognized Betty as a gifted singer and dancer.

Just as Betty’s career seemed to be headed for the stars, she fell in love, married, and soon had her first child. She decided her family was more important than a music career, so she gave it all up. I wonder how many times the opposite happens, and people give up their families to take a shot at stardom only to find they should have stayed home.

Even though Betty wasn’t standing on stages in front of huge crowds anymore, she never stopped singing. She sang at home and neighbors often told her they loved to hear her sing.

This dear little lady who faithfully attended services each week still had stars in her eyes many years later. Though her body grew weak, her love of music never did.

If heaven has a choir, I think Betty Curry is front and center singing her heart out, just like she did at church.

I wonder how many people I’ve been around who have incredible stories I never heard. Mary and I performed a concert at a church in Brighton, Michigan, many years ago. I learned later that a man playing clarinet with us actually played with The Temptations. I wanted to go back and talk to him!

Everyone has a story. It may not include having a name everyone would recognize, or anyone but family for that matter, but that doesn’t make the story any less valuable.

A Heart of Thanksgiving

Thirty-five years ago I was writing a lot of music, most of it not worth the manuscript paper I wrote it on. Every once in a while, however, I wrote a song that had some meaning. A Heart of Thanksgiving is one of those.

As I sat down to write this post, I had an epiphany not caused by indigestion. A Heart of Thanksgiving has only been performed one time, to my knowledge, and that was with a church choir I directed. But before I wrote it, the music didn’t exist. This song, however lowly it may be, unknown and unheard, is in the universe of music because I put it there. Wow!

The same is true with the books I’ve written only one or two people have read. They didn’t exist until I put my thoughts on paper. There was no scandal in Maple Valley until I stirred it up. In fact, Maple Valley didn’t exist until I built it. No one ever heard of Sheriff Pete Terkinberry until I birthed him into the blogosphere.

Creating is an incredible responsibility. I am taking space in the world of words and saying, “Hey! I want a spot for this!” and I have the nerve to write it, print it, and post it.

I’m going to admit something that plagues me. I am addicted to views, likes, and comments. I hate to let that out, but it’s true. When a post goes public I can’t wait to look at my stats page. Ugh. This is dreadful.

I faced this with writing music, and I finally quit. The reason? No responses. No one was paying attention. In the last thirty-five years, I’ve written about four songs. The fact, however, is that every one of the songs I wrote did not exist in the history of the world, until I wrote them. If no one ever heard them but me, I heard the music in my head and I wrote it down. That’s remarkable.

Writing blog posts is no different. The internet says there are over 600 million blogs. My word! What nerve I have to add to that number!

Why clog bookstores with more fodder? Why add to the congested interweb? Why let blog stats scratch at my brain? Because if I don’t write, my stories, songs, and blogs will never live. Living doesn’t depend on what others think. It’s just doing. Living.

That’s writing.

So, here it is, A Heart of Thanksgiving.

With a heart of thanksgiving, we come to the living,
Merciful, wonderful God.
Before you our singing, is hopefully bringing,
The fragrance of wonder and praise.

A sacrifice of praise,
Our hands we freely raise.
We long to be near you Savior so dear,
And stay with you throughout our days.

With a heart of thanksgiving, we come to the living,
Merciful, wonderful God.
Before you our singing, is hopefully bringing,
The fragrance of wonder and praise.

A sacrifice we bring,
Our hearts begin to sing.
To you our dear Lord, in Heaven adored,
To your holy presence we cling.

With a heart of thanksgiving, we come to the living,
Merciful, wonderful God.
Before you our singing, is hopefully bringing,
The fragrance of wonder and praise.

Praise you Lord
Praise you Lord

With a heart of thanksgiving, we come to the living,
Merciful, wonderful God.
Before you our singing, is hopefully bringing,
The fragrance of wonder and praise.

All those years ago, I wrote everything by hand, as I guess most people did. Now, I have essential tremors so bad it’s hard for me to even hold a pencil. I taught myself to write with my opposite hand, but now that one doesn’t work either.

Luckily, I can still find the keyboard and type. I can still play the piano, but I don’t play in public any more, except on very rare occasions.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving where you live, I hope it was wonderful.

Whatever your beliefs or traditions may be, I hope this time of year is delightful to you and yours.

Red lantern with Christmas bow, red berry tree, joy sign

Cottage Outfitters is Beautifully Decorated for Christmas

We always love going to Cottage Outfitters in Caseville, Michigan. Cottage Outfitters is on the main street passing through the small lakeside community of Caseville.

One might think Cottage Outfitters would slow down when the weather turns cold. Not so! Jonathan Bibby has been very busy, getting the store ready for the Holiday Season. And, once again, Jonathan has done an absolutely amazing job preparing for this wonderful time of year.

I think there might be a syndrome that causes people to be affected by colors. If that’s true, then I have it. We’ll call it “Christmas Colors-itis. However, it’s not a disorder, because the symptoms are delight and excitement. I love standing in a store surrounded by all the colors of Christmas. Red, green, white, silver, gold, black, and any other color one might display during the holidays. Cottage Outfitters has an abundance of all of them!

Who doesn’t love candles? If Mary loses me in a Christmas store, she knows I’m probably sniffing candles.

“We have lots of candles,” she says, picking one up, herself.
“Yeah, I know, but this one smells like it needs a home,” I answer. We buy it.

Jonathan Bibby has included several varieties of candles for this year’s Christmas Season. If you’re looking for that perfect candle for your home, Cottage Outfitters has it.

Every kitchen needs several decorative hand towels. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger display of Christmas towels than this one at Cottage Outfitters. The vintage print of Santa Clause is a favorite.

I love hot chocolate! The red and green tins of hot chocolate will look great in your kitchen. It would probably be best to buy two or three, because the hot chocolate won’t last long.

Of course, we are proud to be a part of Cottage Outfitters with our Up North Flannels. They are located in the cabin section at the top of the stairs in Cottage Outfitters. We have a wide variety of plaid flannels that will keep you warm during the frosty winter months ahead.

What could be better for your Christmas Holiday table than a red and black, or white and black checked cloth? Jonathan has several from which to choose.

We are very proud of our daughter, artist Rebecca Baksa. The waterfront scene is a print of one of her paintings. She took a photo of this harbor while she and her husband were on a trip to Maine. She’s incredibly talented. Wouldn’t the print look amazing in your family room above your fireplace?

Cottage Outfitters is a wonderful place to visit. If you’re having trouble getting into the “holiday spirit,” or you’re feeling down for some reason, I promise you, walking through Cottage Outfitters can help.

When you go to Cottage Outfitters, make sure you give yourself enough time to move slowly. Take time to enjoy every part of the store. You’ll find that it’s magic. Just like Christmas!

From our family to you and yours, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

People standing in the street, talking.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 31: Tongues are Wagging, Again

It really is amazing how great a firestorm a few bones can create. The good folks in Maple Valley are falling into old routines that have not been put aside in honor of Thanksgiving Day.

Maple Valleyans are thankful for many things, please don’t misunderstand. They’re thankful for the Ya’ll Sit Cafe where they can ask Hannah Cloverton to fix their pancakes with any number of add-ins, like mushrooms, peppermint candies, sticky gums, dried head cheese crumbles, or cookie bits. Elmita Verkelmor brings crushed laxative pills for flapjack sprinkles.

Neighbors are thankful for tourists to whom they sell certified Maple Valley originals, like photos of Quintin O’Dillmotte in front of his funeral parlor. Ver and Vee Burthrap are thankful they sold several pans of homemade binzelphrast for holiday dinners. Binzelphrast was created by the Burthrap twins. It looks revolting but tastes lovely.

The bones discovered under the watermain in Newtown have been officially designated, “Unidentified.” Sylvia Meisner has been eliminated. Eliminated as in, the bones are not hers. But, many in Maple Valley are not convinced. Some believe Sheriff Pete Terkinberry is purposely hiding the truth. They are convinced Sylvia has been found, and they will not be told otherwise.

Sheriff Pete is keeping information to himself because he is still working to identify the remains. He uncovered a file about another disappearance, forty-five years ago. Ert Kreisel left for work on a Tuesday morning and was never seen again. He never arrived at Leitwald’s Machine Shop where he was employed. His wife, Wahline, didn’t report him missing for six days, which caused suspicion.

“I thought he might have gone hunting or fishing,” Wahline Kreisel told police.

“For six days? And you didn’t know about it?” they asked.

“We have a cabin up in the hills near Maple Valley River,” she answered.

Pete read the file and couldn’t believe the investigation ended without a single answer. He thinks maybe the bones belong to Ert Kreisel. Wahline Kreisel should be questioned again, but that will be difficult. She’s dead. She died eight years after Ert disappeared. Her own death was a mystery as well.

Maple Valley Mayor Alvin Thrashborn plans to make his annual Thanksgiving Day speech on the steps of Maple Valley Church. Alvin will speak about his love of Maple Valley and how he desires to remain in office until his last days on this side of glory.

Music will be provided by Cranson Plikerway who has recently learned to play the four-string dulcimer. He accompanies himself while he sings tunes he has written about Maple Valley.

It’s been another memorable Thanksgiving in Maple Valley.

I’m Thankful for These

Running water. We turn on the faucet, there it is. The pressure might not be great, maybe it’s warm instead of hot. It might smell of sulphur or chlorine.

Air. Sometimes it stinks. Depending on the time of year and the place we live, there are bugs. There may be fog, or smoke, but it is air.

Birds. I love birds. The type doesn’t matter. They are fascinating, always looking for something to eat. Their singing is beautiful, and they have perfect pitch.

I am not thankful for mosquitoes, except as food for birds, bats, fish, and other bugs. However, the fact I find it hard to be thankful for bats makes it difficult to be thankful for their food.

Laughter. I love laughing until tears roll and my stomach hurts, especially when I’m not supposed to be laughing. One time in a university class, I was tired after a long day of student teaching. A classmate said something funny and we started laughing. The more we tried to stop, the harder we laughed. It was glorious!

“I can tell who teaches middle school students because they’re starting to act like them,” the professor said.

That didn’t help. I was literally crying before I was finally able to calm down.

The best laughter happens at church. There is a verse that says something about a merry heart being like medicine. Church is one of those places where we don’t usually laugh, which makes it even better. It’s like forbidden fruit that tastes wonderful.

I’m thankful for coffee. I’m also thankful for tea, believe it or not. We have a cup of peppermint tea every night, usually with ice cream.

I have an odd question for you. Have you ever noticed that eating a “Peppermint Pattie” while drinking coffee tastes like cigarette ashes smell? No kidding! If you don’t believe me, try it.

Part of thankfulness for coffee is being thankful for the places we drink it. Places like Battle Alley Coffee Shop in Holly, Michigan, are amazing. It’s really a good thing Holly is an hour away from where we live. I would be at Battle Alley Coffee Shop every day. A good coffee shop makes the coffee taste even better.

I’m thankful for bandaids. I almost always injure myself in some minor way while I’m working on a project. “If dad’s bleeding, it’s gonna be great,” is the joke at our house.

Trains. I have loved trains my whole life. I’m partial to steam locomotives. Watching a steam engine is like a concerto for the eyes. The moving parts all work together perfectly like a great symphony orchestra in a thundering crescendo, bellowing smoke and steam from the depths.

Puppies. I should just say animals, especially young ones. We’ve had more experience with puppies and kittens than we have, say, baby skunks, or raccoons, or squirrels. I did have a calf sleeping on my lap one time. I sat down in a park with a bag full of peanuts in my hand and a squirrel climbed right up on my knee and helped himself. I loved it.

Well, that’s eight, and eight is a good number of things to be thankful for.

I would also say Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs, but that would be nine.

It’s Polar Express Season!

I have to admit, I was disappointed to learn that #1225 at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, is still undergoing some important maintenance. That means the Polar Express train that runs from Owosso to Ashley, Michigan, through the Christmas Season will be pulled by diesel rather than steam. But it’s still a train!

Last year, I went to the Steam Railroading Institute to take photographs and videos of the #1225. What a thrill it was to stand just a few feet away while the massive locomotive was preparing to roll out of the station.

We have ridden the Polar Express a couple of times, and I’m looking forward to taking the trip again. But, I will wait until the Pere Marquette #1225 is back in operation.

I love trains of all kinds, and I enjoy watching them as often as I can, but seeing and listening to this huge steam engine chug away from the station never gets old. I could do this every day.

I can imagine how thrilling it must be to sit in the engineer’s seat at the throttle of this incredible locomotive. During special events at the Steam Railroading Institute, they have offered opportunities to sit at the controls of the #1225 for a short roll. For a steep price, of course, but it all goes to keep the beautiful engine running.

Polar Express fans and train lovers can check out the Steam Railroading Institute at for information about the institute and the Pere Marquette #1225.

All aboard!

How to Become an Influencer for the 21st Century

Everyone has influence of one kind or another. Some people have influence of several kinds. Influencers are people to whom others pay attention either for what they say, or for what they do, and also, unfortunately, for what they own.

The secrets of being an influencer become more deeply hidden with each day that passes. However, you have come to the right place to uncover them.

Rather than selling the secrets to you in a series to which you must subscribe, give me your credit card, and promise to love, honor, and obey, I am going to give you the secrets to becoming an influencer totally free.

Just to make sure you read that last sentence carefully, here it is again. I am going to give you, right here, right now, THE secrets to becoming an influencer for the 21st century.

There is one more thing you must understand. Once you choose to follow these simple, powerful, life-changing steps, you are GUARANTEED to become an influencer.

Take a slow deep breath, and read carefully. Here we go.

First, sit down in front of your computer which is always on, and open your favorite browser.

Next, close your favorite browser.

Then, turn your computer off.

Relax. Allow the sound of your computer shutting down to sink in.

Secret #1: When someone says, “Thank you,” say “You’re welcome.” Do not, ever again, say, “No problem.” When you respond, “No problem,” you are insinuating whatever you did for them actually was a problem but you’re choosing to disregard it for now. Them: “Thank you.” You: “You’re welcome.”

Secret #2: Always open the door for the person approaching the door behind you. Always.

Secret #3: Look people in the eye when they’re talking to you. Stop what you’re doing, look and listen. When you speak to them, look them in the eye.

Secret #4: Choose to strike “Whatever,” as in, “What-everrrr,” from your vocabulary.

Secret #5: Gentlemen, open the car door for the ladies. Always.

Secret #6: If you really want to jump into the influencer fast lane, learn to say, “Yes, Sir,” and “Yes, Ma’am,” when answering someone with whom you are not in a friend-level relationship.

Secret #7: Learn to shake hands firmly. Don’t shake fingers. Shake hands, palm to palm, fingers wrapped. Don’t look at your hand, look the person you’re greeting in the face.

Secret #8: When you greet someone new, say, “Nice to meet you,” or, “How do you do?” Strike “Tsup” and “Hey.”

Secret #9: Be willing to admit it when you’re wrong.

Secret #10: Learn to say, “I’m sorry.”

That’s it. These are the ten secrets guaranteed to make you an influencer.

Influencers are not made of views and likes, follows or shares. Millions of views can disappear in an instant if some other “influencer” decides you’re done influencing. Digital influence collapses in an instant like a house made of cards.

Real influence is person to person, not clicks.

Flying to a New Life in Australia

Mary and Dale, son and daughter

This is tough. We have never had a child in the military, so I’m sure this doesn’t compare to that kind of heartache. But it hurts.

Yesterday, we took our son, Jesse, and daughter-in-law, Nikki, to the airport for the first leg of their move to Australia. They were headed to Chicago, then on to Los Angeles, then to Australia. Their final destination is about three hours from Brisbane, Queensland.

We hugged each other several times, and finally let them go. We’re excited for them, but aching at the same time.

We first met Nikki, a resident of Australia, in 2008 when she visited Jesse and he brought her home to Michigan. Jesse met Nikki, who is a talented guitarist, singer and songwriter, online while searching for music. Jesse found her videos, sent her a note to say he enjoyed her music, and that was it. In the fall of 2009, we traveled to Australia for their wedding.

They have been dreaming and planning to move to Australia for several years. They finally set a date, sold most of their belongings in Nashville, Tennessee, shipped what they could to Oz, and brought what they had to keep with them. They have been living with our daughter and her family for the last two months.

We did a lot of fun things together while they were here. Jesse grew up going to the Detroit Model Railroad Club in Holly, Michigan, every year. His most recent visit to the club was several years ago, so he wanted to include a trip to see it one more time. We took Nikki to the Whitehorse Inn, in Metamora, Michigan, just last week. I finished off a beautiful time together by knocking a full glass of icewater onto my lap.

I said something about celebrating Thanksgiving early, since they would be gone. I also hinted about giving presents to me, but no one picked up on it. We enjoyed a lovely dinner, prepared by Jesse and Nikki. In fact, our daughter said they prepared most of the evening meals while they were here. They will be missed!

Of course, every trip anywhere had to include Starbucks.

Nikki is also an incredible artist. She drew and created these little houses as an Advent Calendar for our daughter and her family. I should have had her build all the houses I made for my model railroad.

Yesterday was our final trip together when we took them to the airport. We didn’t stop for coffee in town, thinking we would be able to get a cappuccino at Bishop International. Didn’t happen. All of the snack shops outside the secure area are gone!

Gas truck, airplane, gate, tarmac

After we hugged them one last time, they boarded the plane. We continued texting and waving until the jet turned away from the gate and headed for the runway.

For a time, they will be staying with Nikki’s mom and dad. They will be so thrilled to have them home. Her folks are wonderful people, and we hope to see them again someday.

We blessed them on their way. Dreaming is a wonderful thing and we want to be an unshakeable source of encouragement to everything all our kids choose to do.

We love you, Jesse and Nikki! G’day mates!

(In case you’re wondering, driving on the correct side of the road from the correct side of the car is really not difficult. If I can do it, anyone can.)