Snowed under? Take a hike!

On the day this piece is posted, there’ll be ten teaching days until the winter break. I won’t count today, because that’ll mean eleven days, and I just can’t handle the truth. Definitely snowed under at work, and it’s been like that for a while, so last weekend we needed to go and find some snow. The real stuff.

Chocolate advice

Meteorologists have forecast a cold and snowy winter for our little corner of Canada, and that prediction has warmed an old PlaidCamper’s heart. Contrarian! A real winter? Yes please! I felt shortchanged by last winter when there were too many Chinook winds and too few flakes. Snow flakes.

As we set off for the mountains last week I was feeling flaky, maybe slightly anxious with my high hopes for some real snow – the bright blue skies and a warm westerly wind didn’t add up to winter. Still, it was the weekend, we’d made our plans, and I’ve tremendous faith in weather forecasters. Also, if I only step on the white tiles (not the blue ones) along the hallway from my classroom to the exit, then the snow will fly. Scientifically speaking, this only works on a Friday afternoon, and I must be wearing my favourite toque…

Put on your favourite toque

The science behind the white tile approach to meteorology is very hard to explain, and I struggle to understand it – it is enough to know that it works every time (except for the times it doesn’t) – and it worked once more last weekend. The deeper we traveled into the mountains, the lower the temperature dropped. By the time we arrived near Louise, reasonably heavy snow was falling, and it continued to snow well into the next day. Yup, it had to be the white tiles.

Fresh

We opted to take a hike, taking delight in leaving fresh tracks across the first snow, all along Baker Creek and down to the Bow River. The snow wasn’t deep, but it was enough to change the landscape and create something new. What a relief to be out in the snow, tramping back and forth along the river bank, and recharging instead of feeling snowed under. Snowed under? No, no, we were under the snow! Winter is almost upon us, a season to embrace, and it’s almost always a perfect time to take a hike. Feels good.

Along the Bow

I’ll keep this short, and, like the snow last week, not at all deep. Thanks for reading, avoid the blue tiles, and have a wonderful weekend! 

Beautiful Baker Creek
Unexpected!

Looking forward, looking back…

For many involved in education, this time of year is about beginnings; a new school year and all the excitement and promise that goes with having a new set of students. Fall is fast approaching, and summer is fading. It’s all about planning for the fresh academic year, being ready with spruced up lessons and wonderful ideas to activate learning. Something like that, anyway.

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Fresh

The other day, I found myself sitting at my desk, in my empty classroom (the students were due to arrive in another couple of days), making a few final adjustments to some “start the year” type activities. Jotted down some hoary old bits and pieces to share with the new arrivals, along the lines of making a good first impression (but give your teacher, Mr PC, some slack – he is happy to see you, but he smiles on the inside…), make a good second impression if the first one didn’t go so well, and it’ll all be fine as the year progresses. The steady drip, drip, drip of encouragement. So, very much in looking forward mode. Yet, I’m not quite ready to let go of summer…

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Drip, drip, drip

Don’t tell the principal, but I ended up using a few minutes of that planning time to make a note or two about our summer adventures. We had a splendid summer, fortunate to be able to visit the UK, and spend time with family and friends – this was an absolute highlight. Still, banging on about close friends and family that other people don’t know isn’t necessarily a recipe for an enthralling blog post. So I’ll spare you those details and, over the next couple of posts, share one or two other highlights instead. Not that these will necessarily be enthralling, but I’ll do my best (as I like to say to students) and these are what came to mind, what I scribbled down in the quiet of the classroom:

dscf3068Let’s start with sitting outside the Tofino Botanical Gardens Darwin Cafe, taking shelter from a heavier period of rain, and drinking an excellent cup of coffee whilst leafing through old editions of The New Yorker magazine. Really, PlaidCamper? Yes, really! It’s not always all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers, you know! Who am I kidding? If you’ve read even only one or two of the posts here, you’re already very aware that it’s rarely all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers. I imagine high octane all action adventure must be exhausting. It certainly seems it. Hence the coffee, gentle rain, beautiful plants, and magazines.

dscf2759I must admit, I’d never read a copy of The New Yorker before picking one at random from the pile. Talk about a lucky dip! This particular edition had a new short story by Ian McEwan, and I’ve always enjoyed his novels. The short story, My Purple Scented Novel, was an absolute gem. In his tale of rivalry, professional jealousy, and betrayal between two writers, McEwan constructs a devious, gripping, and (suspend your disbelief) plausible account of a relationship that twists and turns from the first to the last paragraph. I loved it, and loved it again when I reread it prior to writing this post.

The Tofino Botanical Gardens, a cup of great coffee, and an enjoyable short story. All these elements combined on that damp Tuesday afternoon to produce a happy summer highlight. I think back to that, and I smile (on the inside…)

dscf2755I can’t transport you to Tofino, and I can’t share a cup of coffee with you, although I’d love to, but I can give you the link to McEwan’s story:

My Purple Scented Novel

 

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Boats, floating

If nothing else, this was a great excuse to look back at some West Coast photographs from the summer! If this didn’t float your boat, be warned, because I’ll write about some other highlights in the next post or two.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to leave a comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

Balance

After the woes of last week, I thought it might be appropriate to redress the balance, and get back on an even (and optimistic) keel.

We took a group of students out to a provincial park, with the stated curriculum goals being connected to learning more about Alberta’s trees and forests. No problem, and straightforward enough! Identify a tree, record a leaf shape, and recognize an animal or two. But there’s the curriculum, and then there’s the hidden curriculum. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s the hidden curriculum that I find more interesting, and where a demonstration of deeper learning and real connection often occurs.

DSCN6792We hugged trees – we really did, and who cares if anyone’s watching? – and smelt and touched the bark, and the leaves, and the needles. We got a bit sticky with pine resin. We took stock of all the signs and traces of interdependence between plants, insects, birds and mammals for one single tree. We decided one single tree is a thing of beauty and wonder. Well, that begged the question, if one tree is a natural miracle, how about two trees? A stand of trees? An entire forest? All the trees on the planet? Heady thoughts, and the students were smiling about it.

DSCN6814The children loved being in the woods. They were excited to be there, (and to be out of a regular classroom) and were able to enthuse and enjoy without climbing where they shouldn’t, without breaking branches, without disturbing habitat, or dropping any trash. For a large group of rising thirteen year olds, they were also pretty quiet! Quiet enough to see and not startle a mule deer feeding only a few metres away…I don’t have a picture, but it was beautiful –  both the deer, and student reaction!

IMG_20160611_182513My day was made when two boys, unbidden, took it upon themselves to pick up all the pieces of a broken styrofoam cup they found strewn in the undergrowth. They told me they were concerned for the health and habitat of a squirrel they’d observed nearby. Now, we should all pick up litter, ours or not, that’s kind of a given, but after the appalling behaviour we witnessed last week, these boys raised my spirits. They are two young gentlemen who sometimes find themselves challenged with making good decisions, but they didn’t hesitate to do the right thing when they saw an environment in need. Real character and global citizenship at the micro level. Thank you, boys!

DSCN6769(It makes me wonder, what excuse did our fellow campers from last week have to be so callous towards the environment? Presumably they were educated? To be clear, they weren’t just out of high school or college, not that that excuses anything. They were “grown ups” in their late twenties and early thirties. Hmm…but let’s not go there again, PlaidCamper, it’s not good for your health!)

DSCF2559Keeping it brief this week, and as I said at the top, the real reason for writing this little piece is to restore the balance and get back to being optimistic. I think we have reasons to be cheerful when we see younger generations show they care about the planet. Here’s hoping they don’t lose that compassion and consideration as they “grow up”…

Thanks for reading, feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!

Fractionally further out (on the edge)

Something of an odd title, but bear with me, it might make sense. The last week or two has definitely seen a change in the weather, moving from surefire winter to a more uncertain season. There is still plenty of snow on the ground, at least out in the mountains, but everything has warmed up, and I don’t like it! But let’s try to be glass half full…

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Loves winter

I know, here he goes again, loves winter, blah, blah, blah… It feels wrong to be this warm, with temperatures above freezing and even up into the mid-teens centigrade, with chinook after chinook blowing through. Mid March, alright, but to be this warm from the beginning of February? It’s not all chinooks, but honestly, what a meteorological maelstrom. El Nino and climate change, warm winters and extreme weather, doom mongers and deniers. We’ve just had the warmest year on record, so let’s get fracking. No! Let’s not.

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It should be cold

We have to show a fraction more sense. It should be cold(er) in winter! Global warming isn’t a leftist anti-oil and big business fabrication, but a common concern for all thoughtful (and thoughtless) human beings. Non-renewable resources are dwindling, and they will run out. We have to shift to renewable sources, and put our mental energy, education, and training into facing this reality. I understand the concerns about employment. Jobs won’t have to disappear, but different ones will need to replace current ones. New energy requires engineers, technicians, scientists, maintenance, infrastructure, retail and associated skills. This is an opportunity! Blocking clean air initiatives is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s fracking silly, and we can do better. Goodness, I am irritable this week.

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Precarious

A classroom, many, many years into the future:

“Excuse me, teacher? Are you sure this information is correct? It says that our ancestors continued to pollute the air, water, and ground, even when they had an opportunity to do things differently. Really? And they did it for profit?! They prioritized money over the health of the planet? Huh? But weren’t they educated? Couldn’t they see what was happening? Who was Willow?”

We’ll be long gone, and of course, I’m simply being fanciful…

Maybe I should step outside, calm down. Our last little snowshoe adventure saw us along the river once more, and the river was fractionally higher, with ice shelves collapsing into the water. Don’t get too close to the edge, and a precarious situation… Lovely to look at, but in February? Too soon! I tottered along (as mentioned last week, was still feeling under the weather, hence the tottering) and realized we were past the midpoint of winter, over halfway and racing towards spring. To be honest, I wasn’t racing, or even tottering, not in snowshoes, but isn’t tottering a great word? I do look forward to spring, but please, not yet.

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This is not Willow

So, Groundhog Day came and went, with the sad news that Winnipeg Willow died a day before having the chance to pronounce an end to (or continuation of) winter. Was this natural causes, or a shadowy groundhog grassy knoll conspiracy to suppress the truth? Who would want to silence poor Willow? The naysayers, or the doom mongers?

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Under grey skies

All these thoughts – too strong a word? – were swirling around as we enjoyed the snow, the streams, and the relative silence under grey skies. Oh, my mental maelstrom. Suppose the planet keeps on heating up? What of winter then? How thin is the ice? Hmm. Enjoy winter while you can, and if a snowstorm hits, embrace it because, who knows, suppose you don’t experience another? What an awful thought…

DSCF1907Fortunately, and on a more positive note, we did encounter the American Dipper once again. Knowing that they only frequent unpolluted rivers and streams made everything seem a little less precarious.

I think I’d best keep this brief, and aim to top up my optimism glass. Here’s hoping winter hangs on a little longer around here, and I’ll seek to enjoy it – it’s what Willow would have wanted. For all my doom and gloom, there’s usually a way to fractionally brighten the spirits:

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Glass (more than) half full! A fine fractional IPA from Lagunitas – recommended.

As always, thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Chopping, stacking, and drying

Reading a book about firewood whilst sitting by a wood stove is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two. Especially when you are feeling sorry for yourself (I was) because some lovely student was overly generous with their germs. Fortunately for Mrs PlaidCamper, I suffered in stoic silence. Not true, I was simply engaged in the book she gave me, and it has certainly confirmed my almost outdoorsman status. Still so much to learn!

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A good read
If you can get hold of a copy, you might like to read “Norwegian Wood – chopping, stacking, and drying wood the Scandinavian way” by Lars Mytting. I know, sounds a bit nerdy, yet this slim volume is quite wonderful, and strangely heartfelt, given the title. The approach is sometimes scientific, sometimes mathematical, but the overall effect is lyrical and philosophical. Apparently, the book has been a bit of a hit, striking a chord – a cord? – with a wide audience. Could it be that some are crying out for a simpler life? Maybe. It kept me quiet for a while.

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Keeping warm
To the book. Until relatively recently, almost all humans have warmed themselves with fire, and the primary fuel was wood. This necessitated a set of skills and knowledge fundamentally attached to being outdoors. In many places, the need for these skills has diminished in the last 60 years, with the development of other heating and energy sources. Perhaps more of us need to rediscover the skills and possibilities of wood for a fuel. Mytting’s book explores our changing relationship with firewood through pictures, poetry, history, and anecdotes that delight and engage. (If you don’t have a tear in your eye after finishing old Ottar’s story – his woodpile tale bookends it all – I’d be amazed, and you’d be cold…)

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Woodpile tales
Mytting details how wood grown for heating can be one part of a national energy plan. It isn’t a magic bullet, but he is persuasive on how burning wood is comparatively environmentally friendly. Modern stoves are very efficient, and there are regions where wood growth supply can outstrip demand. It can’t work everywhere, but the ideas are intriguing. Large (or small) scale tree farms seem preferable to large scale power stations, nuclear plants, hydroelectric projects, and all the associated infrastructure required to deliver the energy. It’s not romantic or beautiful like an old growth forest, but it is clean. And no, I’m not advocating mass logging/deforestation to heat our homes.

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Wood stove detail
The book isn’t all about national energy policy and planning, although the ideas presented are thought-provoking. Much of the book is more personal in nature. There’s an amusing foreword detailing the various types of wood chopper. Are you the stoic type? The neurotic hoarder? The poet? The standard bungler? How about desperado, melancholic or psychopath? If you’ve ever had to chop wood then you know there’s a little of each in all of us. Or if you’re me, quite a bit of the bungler.

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Dry
When we lived in the western Perigord, the downstairs of our house was heated by two wood burning stoves, one in the kitchen, and one in the living room. In winter, we’d live in the kitchen most of the day, let the stove burn low, and then dash to the front room for the evening. Those stoves were efficient! If only I’d been as efficient. 

The first autumn/winter, I enjoyed stacking the delivered firewood and chain sawing and chopping through the colder months. Manly work! Wielding dangerous equipment with purpose, skill, and aplomb. Or so I thought in my happier moments. The truth was, the novelty wore off by the end of each winter, and the enthusiasm didn’t really return with the next wood delivery the following September. I quite enjoyed the sense of purpose and productivity, but sometimes it seemed endless.

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To be wielded with purpose (and care)
Having a ton of logs dropped onto your front yard on a sweltering September day isn’t too bad. Not when your Dad and brother are visiting, and likely to help shift and stack it. Except they suddenly developed all manner of ailments and a pressing need to prop up the local bar…hmm. I know, firewood is great. It warms you three times – chopping, stacking and burning. My planning (and help) was all wrong!

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Where did the helpers go?
Having read Mytting, I know now that I should have received the delivery in spring, and then split and stacked the wood to get it dry over the summer – in artfully and scientifically arranged woodpiles (you’ll admire the many photographs of woodpiles Mytting has included. No, really, you will!) I honestly hadn’t given much thought to storing the wood. I was pleased enough to have arranged to get any at all given my terrible schoolboy French. Still, once you have it, all firewood burns the same, doesn’t it? Wrong again, PlaidCamper. See Mytting. I was the bungler, making mistakes that would get a seasoned Scandinavian feller hot under the collar. Although I have to say my homemade sawhorse was a thing of beauty – or perhaps splendid utility over beauty, but I promise you, it worked. Mind you, I never took a photograph (or patented the “design”…)

On to the hardware. If you read it, and you don’t already have them, you’ll be off looking at chain saws and axes (even if you don’t need one, or is that just me?) Axes! The names in the book are poetry: Oyo, Hultafors, Gransfors, Wetterlings, Fiskars and Vipukirves.

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A little cabin…
“Norwegian Wood” made me miss my wood chopping days. It would have been wonderful to have had some of the knowledge and skills back then. Still, as an almost outdoorsman who generally prefers to look forward, I now feel better prepared than ever, and maybe one day in the future I’ll be back in regular wood chopping action, heating a little cabin and getting it all done the Scandinavian way!

I’ll finish with a quote about the smell of a woodpile Mytting recites from Hans Borli’s “With Axe and Lyre”:

“It is as though life itself passes by, barefoot, with dew in its hair…When the veil finally starts to fall, the scent of fresh wood is among the things that will linger longest…”

Thanks for reading! Are you a chopper of wood? If so, what type are you? Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Peace like a river…

…on the Bow. Changed the words a bit, but the tune still fits, at least in my head each time I use the Peace Bridge to cross the Bow River. Sing along if you’d like.

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From the bluff

We’ve been in the city the past week or so, heading back to work and getting knee-deep into report card season. If you teach, that’s a season. Our outdoor time since the turn of the year has mostly been along the banks or up on the bluffs of the Bow here in Calgary, upstream and downstream.

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Fine and bright, if a little cool?

The weather has been mostly fine and bright, if a little cool for some. My brother visited for a few days, just before these photographs were taken, leaving balmy DC (+22C) for chilly Calgary and Louise (-25C), and it’s probably best if I don’t repeat what he said. No idea what he was on about, because after all, it’s a dry cold…

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“Look, we’re only sitting ‘cos it’s a dry cold I tell ya!”

The banks of the Bow provide quite delightful views, so much so that even though you are in the heart of a large city, it doesn’t feel too urban. On a sunny day, even the towers of oil and gas central can look attractive.

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Not unattractive on a sunny day

Our little neighbourhood of Sunnyside – love that name – borders the Bow, and there are a number of bridges to choose from within walking distance. My personal favourite is the bright red Peace Bridge.

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The Peace Bridge!

At school, when we are studying city infrastructure, or on Downtown field trips, the students say I’d like the Peace Bridge less if I’d been here to pay for the construction. According to some of their parents, the bridge was/is a costly eyesore. My response is to endear myself to parents by asking the students to list the Peace Bridge benefits, then draw, photograph and make up alternate (polite) names for the bridge. Amongst others, they’ve suggested Snake Bridge, Stampede Bridge, Dino Bridge, Spine Bridge, Tube Bridge, and, yup, you guessed it, Red Bridge.

I like Peace Bridge as a name – pretty hard to argue with that (unless you don’t like peace, the design, or paying for it, but “Tax Burden Like a River” doesn’t quite fit the tune or make sense…)

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A+ for colour and bold design

Anyway, here was a little something about our urban outdoors. Now, it being report card season, I’ll stop this and get back to awarding high marks and positive comments to any student claiming to like the Peace Bridge.

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Our urban outdoors, looking across the Bow to Fort Calgary

Thanks for taking the time to read. Perhaps you have a favourite song to sing when crossing favourite rivers on favourite bridges? Perhaps that is a strange thing to ask? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

I got, peace like a river…

A week in the life of old PlaidCamper (and how I’m feeling my age)

Don’t panic, this isn’t turning into FaceBook or anything – but do find something else to do if you read the title and thought “No, he wouldn’t!” because yes, I would.

Not a strong narrative thread, simply how the past week went and why I’m so tired – in a good way.

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Aiming high – top of the world

Thursday evening and Friday morning: parent/student/teacher interviews! Time well spent, and often invaluable for students and parents, but listening to myself speak for eight hours on educational matters is hard – did I really mean to say that? Was I too honest? What was I saying at the start of this sentence? Are they asleep?

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To the mountains!

Once the Friday interviews wrapped up, it was into the car and out to the mountains for some snowshoeing and snowboarding. A cosy cabin in Field, about twenty minutes from the ski hill, meant an easy early start Saturday for the best of the first turns. Except that only happens if I remember to set the alarm. Old and tired without an alarm means an unexpected lie in. Oh well, must have needed it, and we took a short woodland hike instead through pretty woods above the cabin. Lots of creaking; I think it was the trees.

Sunday, alarm set, and a good early start to Louise! The lift lineups were nonexistent all day, and conditions were pretty pleasant on the slopes given poor snowfall the previous few days and strangely warm weather. Grey and overcast, with the mountains looming and slightly menacing without strong sunlight, but striking anyway. We searched for patches of blue, and found one at the top of the world. It didn’t last, but we weren’t blue with so much mountain to play in.

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A patch of blue

Back to Calgary Sunday night, and packing hurriedly for two days in Kananaskis country with a group of students. An outdoor challenge camp designed to develop collaborative skills and boost esteem, as well as encourage a love for the mountain environment. And if they have a laugh or two at their teacher failing to keep pace, then all the better…for them at least. Hiking, climbing, clambering, and singing (not me, not the last one, that would be cruel…)

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Try and keep up…

Tuesday evening, hand over the camp students to a colleague, and back to the city and hurriedly unpack and find clean(ish) clothing for three days of learning to ski/snowboard with grade 5/6 students at Canada Olympic Park. So you’ve had hardly any sleep the previous couple days – those bunks at camp aren’t luxurious or quite full size – but you said you really wanted to go to Kananaskis and be part of the learn to ski program, so stop your whining old boy.

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I can help here

Have you ever tried to “assist” with teaching snowboarding to forty enthusiastic children? You will laugh, you might cry, you will be nimble and in fear for your life, and you will discover you aren’t as young as you once were. When your most gullible student asks “are you sure you’re 29 years old, Mr. Plaidcamper?”, the game is almost up.

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Kananaskis! Not much snow, or sun, but we can learn out here…

What a week! I complained (to myself), I laughed (a lot), I pulled new muscles (still have some), I wobbled (in many different ways), and I had a blast. To observe how students love to be outside, love to be challenged, and often don’t even have a (formal?) sense that they’re in a learning environment when it is outdoors, is wonderful. The perseverance and problem solving skills they develop are transferable to other life settings, sometimes explicitly, but often implicitly, and they’ll have an enormous reserve to draw on when faced with necessary adversity later in their learning. It was an exhausting week, (and I couldn’t do it every week), but tired as I am, I suspect it keeps me young at heart. Why, I feel 29(ish)!

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A small reward at the end of the week – this evening!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.