Chapter 4


Since I am soon to be giving up both cooking and sewing, my blog will probably just start bouncing back and forth between the continuing saga of my real world and the imaginary one in my mind.  But change is good, right?  At any rate, here’s chapter 4- a bit shorter and perhaps a little less dramatic than the last…

I haven’t written in a while because the days have been flying past and homework has begun in earnest. Each afternoon, I plug away at history essays and algebra assignments as quickly as possible, telling myself that as soon as I am done, I can pull out my own notebook and scribble what I want to write. But so far, I haven’t been able to get an inch ahead. So I am currently ignoring a sonnet I am supposed to be concocting for English class and going ahead with my story. I’m not sure why we have to write sonnets anyway, although sometimes I secretly think Mr. Templin dreams of discovering the next Shakespeare in our tiny little school.
School work busy-ness is of course compounded by the fact that we now have an after school job as well as homework.  Mom ended up getting more hours at the office, so she hasn’t been able to help us much at all. And poor dad- his car finally did die, just three days after he lost his job, so he hasn’t been able to go anywhere at all, except by bus. And getting to church and school by bus is such a lengthy ordeal that we told him not to worry about helping us, and just to focus on the wanted ads. But alas, no luck in that department yet.
Being down to one car means that we have to wait around at school until mom gets off of work anyway, so we have plenty of time to clean and do our homework.  Most afternoons, we choose a corner of the school and get our books out first while all the other students head home. The broken car has been an admirable excuse to give to anyone who asks why we are at school so late.
It’s been about a month now, and no one has yet guessed our secret. No one except Em, who is frequently after school late as well, waiting for her dad to finish work. But I’m not worried about her telling anyone. When she caught me hauling a big bag of trash out to the dumpster a few days ago, she just looked a little sad for a minute, as if wishing the world was not the way it was, and then gave me a hug, garbage bag and all. I almost cried.
At any rate, we study until we are sure that everyone has disappeared and then head to the cleaning closet for supplies. It’s not so bad really- mostly our job entails vacuuming and wiping down desks. The trash isn’t too awful either- mostly just paper. And the bathrooms- well, we have decided to tag team the bathrooms and alternate weekson bathroom detail. Britt and Sam did the first week, and Becca and I the second. I definitely got the short end of the stick in that deal, since Becca usually just stands in there, rag and spray bottle in hand, and talks. She does keep me entertained though.
Thankfully the school isn’t too big, so it only takes us a couple of hours to give everything a scrub. It’s really just a small building connected to the back of a much larger church- and thank heavens we are not in charge of cleaning the whole church. However, we do have to share a cleaning closet with the man who is. He is one of your typical, stooped, older gentleman janitors, soured a little (or a lot) by a severely under-appreciated job.We learned pretty quickly, that first week, not to mess up his closet. The second day of work, Becca left the window cleaner on the wrong shelf and had to endure a ten minute scolding on the subject.  So now she flees the scene whenever she hears the squeak of his mop bucket drawing nigh. Overall he leaves us pretty well alone, but I get the sense that he doesn’t think we are up for the job. To be fair, I get that sense too. But we are learning, and I’m sure we’ll get better at it someday.

My biggest frustration comes when I dwell on the fact that cleaning is the last thing I want to be getting better at! Between school work and piano and this old notebook, I feel like I would rather be doing anything but improving my relationship with a vacuum cleaner. By the way, in the long tradition of our bequeathing names upon unpleasant things, we have decided to call the vacuum Slurpy. It hasn’t endeared him to me yet. But I have learned several of his little quirks already, like the fact that he does not enjoy eating paper clips.  I am sure we are going to be good friends in the end.
Anyway…. who wants to read about cleaning, let alone write about it? Not I. I would rather write about Adam. But I told myself I am not going to write about Adam, because I don’t want this book to turn into some wishy-washy melodrama about how I am finally suffering through my first highschool crush- which I am not, of course.   (Pssst- Nat, you are lying to yourself)
At any rate, I am not going to admit that fact to anyone else- not to my sisters, not to my best friend, not to him, and definitely never to myself, because that always makes things worse. Especially since, after the big ol’ waterfall drama of last week, he has not made the slightest sign that we ever shared that strange afternoon at the school picnic- just an occasional smile in the hallway or at lunch time. I try not to take it personally and I shouldn’t since it seems as if he
never talks to anyone. (He did, however, kind of save my life, which you would think might single set me apart from the herd a bit)  But no, e always sits in the same, back-corner desk and he always eats his lunch alone. I get the sense that he isn’t shy- just a keen observer who would have plenty to talk about if he could just find the right person to talk to. I just keep hoping that that person will be me. I got a little taste of what goes on in his mind that day on the river and…..       but enough about that day. I’m beginning to think that I just dreamed the whole thing anyway.

And speaking of dreams, I dreamt the other night that I was a world famous concert pianist. All my many labors at the instrument had finally paid off, and I had finally achieved my goal of being the wonder of the musical world. My slow and clumsy fingers were a thing of the past, and that piece by Brahms I have been striving in vain to conquer for months? It was crushed beneath my pedaling feet. It was such a blissful dream that my awakening was doubly depressing. Not only did I have groggily to realize that it had all been a dream, but I also discovered that it was Becca I had been hearing in my sleep- playing my piece, as if it were nothing!
Sometimes she gets up early to practice, and it’s always a delight to wake up and hear just how much more gifted my baby sister is than me. (I wish sarcasm showed up better in print) Still, I am usually proud of her, and even managed a smile at her flying fingers, five minutes later, as I shuffled past her in my pajamas on my way to the kitchen.
But my vanity was dealt another blow when we got to school and I heard yet more enviable talent going forth on the choir room piano. Of course it had to be my best friend playing. Have I mentioned that she also excels at the instrument? Well, she does.  Behold, I am surrounded by superior abilities of every kind. I keep telling
myself that I should give up- that we can’t all expect to be prodigies. But I can’t quit somehow. I just keep hoping that my musical ship will come in someday.
But enough- this is turning into the whiniest chapter I have ever written or read. I’m getting sick of my own bellyaching, so thankfully Sam just came into the room with a mysterious object under her arm to distract me. I think a volume of Shakespeare will make an admirable cover up for my writing today.

Oh how thankful I am for sisters some days. Well most days. The fates very kindly dealt me a most excellent hand of sisterly companions to comfort me in the hard times, or simply to make me laugh. Just when I was feeling at my poutiest, (is that a word?) Sam plopped whatever she was carrying on the floor next to the bed and said,
“Hey, it’s my week for the sleepy hollow.”
I acknowledged this fact by explaining that I was just there temporarily, as it makes an excellent perch for writing- errr- doing homework.
But she wasn’t really listening. She was on her knees, busy making adjustments to the whatever-the-heck-it-was. After a moment’s indecision, I finally deduced that it must be some kind of a table. I then remembered how she had told my mother the night before that she wished she had a place to put her alarm clock and the little lamp that she uses for reading at night. But before mom could even say that new bedside tables were not really in the budget at the moment, I saw that look in her eye. She had then grabbed a flashlight and disappeared into the old shed out back.
I should have known then what was coming, but nothing ever quite prepares me for the outlandish contraptions she comes up with. For there before me was a bedside table of truly magnificent disproportions. It was hard to imagine anything crookeder since one of the four legs was missing the eight inches it needed to make it equal to the
other three.
I looked at the leg and I looked at her and she replied shortly, (though I had asked no questions)
“Shut up. I ran out of wood.”
Clearly she had some idea of how to fix the problem, so I sank a little lower in the hollow and watched the fun. She was soon humming a little tune, busily collecting random books from around the room, and I realized then what she was doing.  It was like the worlds largest stabilizing paper wedge, for after adding a book here and removing a book there, she eventually came up with a stack about eight inches high,ranging in size from smallest to largest, to compensate for the lacking wood. She tipped her head to one side, (because it was still fairly crooked) and observed the effect critically. Then, with an inexplicable sigh of satisfaction she said,
“There- I like it. It looks very…. artsy.”

“Is that what we’re calling it?” I replied with a snort, and got a book lobbed at my head in return. She then proceeded to place her noisy little alarm clock on top. To my surprise, the table held.

“Better try your lamp too,” I suggested warily. But she was already pulling it off the bookshelf.

“Where is the lampshade?” I asked, staring at the dusty, naked light bulb.

“Oh,” she replied with some hesitancy. “It’s drying out.”

“Why? What happened to it?”

“Oh, nothing- it’s just I was so tired of that dingy white colored shade that I decided to try and dye it.”                        (Insert moment of raised-eyebrow silence)

“What color?”

“Well, I thought that red would be nice.”

I did not think red would be nice, so I crossed my fingers against an affirmative answer and asked,

“Did it work?”

“Well, kind of.”

“Kind of?”

“Well, here’s what happened,” she started in a rush. “We didn’t have any actual dye, so you know how kool-aid always changes the color of your tongue? I knew we had some old cherry koolaid in the pantry, so I dumped the packet in a bucket of water and stirred it around and then just stuck the lamp shade in.”
I knew there was no point in interrupting until she had finished relating her tale, so I let her continue, without snide comment.

“Well, it kind of worked, but it only came out pinkish, and I wanted it really red. But we were out of koolaid, so I figured jello might work just as well.”

“And did it?” I even managed not to roll my eyes.

“No- it just got pinker, and kind of gelled a bit. So I had to dump that out and tried to think of something that always stains things really red, and I thought of tomato sauce!  Except all we had was tomato paste, so I had to go with that. But it worked! It turned really red after that. Well, maybe more of an orange-red, but I really like it. So now I’m just waiting for it to dry.”

I know that the above makes it sound like Sam is kind of a ditz, but she’s really one of the smartest people I know. And it’s not that she starts out deciding to make a table with only three and a half legs- it’s just that once she begins a project, she will do just about anything to see it through to the end. And whatever the end product is, she is insanely stubborn about using it.
To be fair, she comes by this trait naturally. I’m prone to a bit of it myself and my mother is definitely guilty, although long experience has taught her how to prepare in advance for and when to let go of a project she is contemplating. In fact, mom once got so frustrated with the smallness of our kitchen that she decided to build a back deck- all by herself, (dad isn’t exactly handy) so that we would have a place to spill out onto when we had guests. And she did it.

I distinctly remember her sawing away at a pile of 2x4s with our rusty old saw (dad’s un-handiness means we are a bit short on power tools) and then swinging a hammer like Rosie the Riveter. The finished product might not have been quite up to code, and the stairs were a little slip shod, but at least all the supports are the same length.  At any rate, it has stood the test of several years.

Mom is also the one who decided to tear down the moss-eaten old sheds that grandpa had put up many years ago so that we could have a larger yard to play in. Dad fought her hard on it, since anything that has to do with his father is sentimental to him, but she finally talked him into it, luring him with the promise of more space for the garden he always wanted to put in. She also agreed to leave one small shed out of the three for sentimental value, and as a place to keep our few tools and scraps of lumber.

But the other two sheds- my mighty mother attacked them herself with nothing but crow bar and sledge hammer. Britt also helped. We other girls sat by and watched the fun, wishing we had any upper body strength but Dad couldn’t watch. Within a few days those sheds were reduced to a heap of splinters.

Once it was all cleared away, dad revived and began marking out a space for his new garden while the rest of us rejoiced in the open feeling the yard now possessed. But I remember mom still standing there, sledge hammer in hand, wondering which walls she might be able to blow out of the house.  Poor mom, she will never be done with her mission to find more room.


Well, seeing as this chapter is just turning into a random account us and our little quirks, let me just add a little interlude from last night. We had returned home after a particularly long day and Britt ran upstairs to throw on her apron, since she was already late for her other job. Mom exhausted, and we were all hungry, but when we walked in, the living room was dark.

“Where’s dad?” Becca asked.   For answer, we all heard a sigh from the general direction of the couch.  Surprised, mom went to turn on the lamps, and there slumped on the couch and looking unusually woebegone, was dad.

He has been good about making dinner for us all since he lost his job, but the kitchen was dark too and we could all tell he had been sitting there for a long time, mostly evidenced by the fact that he had all of his old record boxes scattered around the room and had been probably been walking down memory lane, thinking of the good times, reveling in melancholy.

The needle on the turntable was bumping and scratching against the side of the machine, so I went to lift it up. Sure enough he had been playing Harry Chapin’s “The cat’s in the cradle,” – always a bad sign.

Mom silently went and sat down next to him, while the rest of us felt uneasy.  Then dad broke the silence with a huge sigh saying, “Well Ellen, I didn’t get the job.”

“Oh Dan,” she replied. “I’m so sorry. But it’s all right. We’ll keep looking.”

Sam, Becca and I stared at each other. We hadn’t been informed that dad had applied for a job at all. We immediately assumed we had been kept in the dark on purpose so that we wouldn’t get our hopes up, but I’m not sure walking in on dad looking like that spared us much in the long run. Britt then appeared dressed for work and in a hurry. Dad made a pretense of getting off the couch.
“I should probably just go with her,” he said morosely, “since they seem to be the only place in the city that’s hiring.” His threat was rather idle since he was wearing his shabby old robe and slippers. Britt looked confused, and in the momentary silence, I saw Becca longingly eyeing the piano. But mom headed off any musical outbursts with one of her “Honeys!”  Mom certainly has a way with that word, for Becca changed direction immediately and veered toward the kitchen instead.
“You go on to work,” Mom continued, nodding to Britt. Britt accordingly scooted out the front door and Sam and I, sensing that the folks needed a private word, decided our place was in the kitchen as well. There we found Becca with her head in the fridge, apparently cooling off.
“There’s nothing in here to eat,” she said a little waspishly. “And I’m hungry.”
I told her to move over and I would find something. But she was right. The fridge was astoundingly empty. It appeared that dad, who had been puttering around the house a lot lately, looking for odd jobs to do, had decided the fridge needed cleaning out. And he had done it with a vengeance. No more leftovers, no more onion halves or wilting celery stalks. Even the door shelves were void and bare. All the mustards, the salsas, and the salad dressings- even the resident, elderly condiments that had expired some thirteen years ago or more had been mercilessly evicted from their long home. We were left with half a bottle of ketchup, two gallons of milk and you guessed it- no butter.
I opened the freezer, praying that it had avoided the purge. Thankfully it had, but almost a month of a shrinking grocery budget meant that it hadn’t been stocked in a while. I picked up a spatula and started chipping away at the accumulated frost coating everything inside, trying to identify mysterious, saran-clad lumps.  Meanwhile, Sam and Becca had gone to the cupboards. They were digging pretty far back into the recesses, fishing out a can here and a box there.

After five minutes of hunting, we turned around to survey the kill. The cupboards had yielded one can of pinto beans and one of beets, a half empty box of macaroni that we immediately threw away because some kind of beetle had gotten into it, and lots of saltine crackers.
The freezer yield was little better- a bag of freezer burned green beans, some of last summer’s homegrown garden corn and three hamburger patties- no buns.
We stood and looked at the forlorn pile. I thought Becca might cry, but instead she got the giggles- little hysterical giggles that had half a sob in them.
“Well ladies,” I declared resolutely. “Let’s make some dinner.” I began opening cans and dumping them into sundry small pots and pans while Becca tried arranging the saltines artistically on a plate. She giggle-sobbed harder than ever.But Sam didn’t feel like settling for beets just yet, so she protested that there must be something else in the freezer. I hesitated dramatically for a moment and then told her there might be one last thing. I opened the door, reached down into the bottom shelf and pulled out a ridiculously long and heavy item, wrapped in several thicknesses of black garbage bag. I brandished it at her and told her to open wide.

She shrieked and laughingly dodged the mystery object. Well, there really isn’t any mystery about it. Even with all it’s wrappings, it would be evident to even the dullest observer that the thing was a very large fish. This fish had been a part of our freezer so long that the details of its origin were growing foggy. But I still remember the day that our old neighbor had brought it over, freshly caught from a river up north.
“I’m not sure what kind of a fish it is,” he had drawled to mom as he handed the enormous thing over, “And it’s slimy as snot. But there must be good eating on it.” He had then walked away, leaving mom looking helplessly after him. She had kept the thing, however, all these years, perhaps for just such an occasion as tonight.
Becca was laughing in earnest now as I continued to swing the fish in Sam’s direction. But it was so heavy that before long I dropped it. The resounding thud brought mom and dad to the door.

Dad’s face was looking slightly more cheerful- he was even smiling- but at sight of the pathetic dinner we were concocting, his smile began sliding back droop. He looked down at the floor with a sigh and suddenly saw the fish, whose frozen eye, now visible, was peeping mournfully back at him.

There was a moment’s silent contemplation and then- Oh Joy!- he laughed.

He laughed as we hadn’t seen him laugh in ages- laughed till the tears had to be wiped from his stubbly cheeks. Mom was laughing too- we were all laughing, holding onto the counter and our sides as the fish looked on.

Mom and dad came in to help cook.  But instead of sitting down to “dinner”, we sat around the rest of the evening, nibbling saltines with burger fragments on top and throwing pinto beans at each other until mom made us stop. Dad went back to his record boxes and pulled out some Stevie Wonder. He turned the volume up as high as it would go.
When Britt came back from her shift, she found us all having an impromptu dance party in the living room. Being the good sport that she is, she asked no questions, threw off her apron and joined right in. It had been so long that we had all let go like that, that mom let us stay up ‘til almost midnight. She had even found some popcorn in a tin on the shelf that we had missed in our search and popped it up for us to add to the festivities. When she finally told us to head
to bed, Dad looked sadly after us, some Steely Dan held hopefully in his hands. He always hates to see a good party die.
We trooped upstairs obediently enough, tired and trying to ignore the fact that we had all failed to finish the day’s homework assignments. But as we snuggled down for bed in our little room which was now lit by the rosy glow of Sam’s ‘new’ lamp shade, I told myself I didn’t care. Tonight had been a night for living- for seizing the moment, for making sure dad (and ourselves) knew that things were going to be all right. I said goodnight to my dear sisters. They answered in kind. But before I drifted off, I heard a sleepy voice from the top bunk saying,
“Does it smell like spaghetti in here to anyone else?”
Sam did not reply.


Desperate times……

Well folks, I’m not sure exactly how to go about writing this post.   I guess the best place to start is to refer back to this post that I wrote long ago, at the inception of this blog.
It’s simply the tale of a certain house that we own, and that we have been trying to get into for many years now.
We have attempted time and again to push forward and finish the project, but have been continually hampered by circumstances (time, money, logistics etc.) Each fresh attempt has ground to yet another halt. So many people have wanted to help, but it was so difficult to know how to let them, and if we should put more money into it, when every time we have, someone has broken in and robbed us.
And so we have tried to make the best of living in our tiny house in the Projects- still hoping, praying and, working towards that day when everything would line up just right for us to finally finish and move in.
And I am here today to tell you that we still have not reached that day.
But we have decided to move anyway.
Lord willing, in about six weeks, we will be moving onto our property and into a trailer, where we can be on the spot to make one last ditch attempt to finish our house.
Now I know that many people will think this is a crazy plan.
And guess what- it totally is.
But we have talked and prayed long about it, and we are at peace with the decision. I am actually excited at the prospect. Don’t get me wrong- I am well aware that it ain’t gonna be no picnic.
But I am excited because we will finally be out of our tiny house, and though we will be sleeping in a trailer, we will be spending our days in an enormous (though unfinished) house. My boys will be able to run free in a huge yard, instead of being confined to a yard that literally hems them in with barbed wire. We will be in a neighborhood that has parks and places to walk without fearing for our safety. Daddy will be close to work. (and mommy much closer to her sister : ) There are so many other reasons that we feel that, as insane as it might sound, this is the wisest thing we can do right now.
But most of all, I am excited because we are literally stepping out in faith, trusting that since God has allowed us to keep the house for so long, that he will help us to finish it. And even if nothing goes according to plan, and we lose the house in the end, there will finally be some closure to a burden that has long been weighing us down.

Of course, this has implications for everything that I have been building with my little business over the last couple of years. Climbing Vine will have to go on hiatus for a while, which is difficult for me, especially since it seems like, with just a little effort, I could add a successful cake-making side to the business. But reality has struck lately, as I try to juggle so many hats. My current house seems to shrink by the week, making running a business here more and more difficult, I might almost say impossible. But there is a craft room of prodigious size waiting for me in another location, if only we can get there.
And we are going to do our darndest.
So pray with us as we begin this endeavor. I will be continuing to blog if possible, and hope to keep regular updates of what is happening there. I also hope to keep writing if I have a second. But if you want a doll (or a cake) let me know. It might be your last chance for a while.
But don’t despair- I’ve noticed that climbing vines are hardy plants that transplant very well.

A breakfast fit for St. Valentine

All right, I know that title doesn’t make much sense, but it’s late and I’m tired.  Also, I wanted to get this posted earlier today, but ran out of time.  It’s a recipe that I pulled together from many different sources, all in a continuing quest to imitate one of my favorite breakfast foods- a very specific kind of granola called Love Crunch.  Perhaps you have seen it.  It only shows it’s face around this time of year and it looks like this-


Perhaps you have also seen the price tag for one tiny bag, making it definitely a one time a year treat.  Well, I challenged myself a while back to see if I couldn’t come up with my own version of the stuff to enjoy year round at a fraction of the cost.  And I must say, I have come pretty close.  If your interested, here’s what you need-



The sun is a little bright here, but I used two 6 0z. bags of almonds (one slivered and one sliced) about a cup of walnuts, and about half a bag of those fancy freeze dried strawberries.  I forgot to put the dark chocolate in this picture, but I used about four ounces of good quality dark chocolate (chocolate chips work fine).


Combine your oats (about ten cups) with all of your nuts.  I know this might seem a little pricey with all those nuts, but it makes so much more granola than those store bought boxes.

Now for the coating-


Now I’ve played around with amounts here a good deal.  Sometimes I use all honey and no sugar, but the honey tends to overwhelm the chocolate flavor.  So normally I do about half of each sweetener.  To make it easier to remember, I use half a cup of everything here-

Oil (I used a light flavored olive oil and it worked great)


Brown sugar

Cocoa powder


Also a splash of vanilla and a hefty pinch of salt

Just put everything into a medium sized saucepan-


Turn the stove to medium high, and let it all come to a boil, stirring frequently-


Once that is done, just pour it over your oats in the bowl-


And start stirring-


and keep on stirring until everything is evenly coated.



Since this is such a large batch (you can always halve it of course, if you aren’t feeding seven) I need to use two sheet pans to bake it.  I use these, with silpat mats for easier cleanup.  The silpat isn’t necessary, but parchment paper might be nice.


Now divvy up the goodies.


And into the oven it goes at around 325 degrees.  This does take a little while to bake- about an hour, and you will need to stir it around occasionally.  If you are using two sheet pans, be sure to let them trade places about half way through.


You will know it’s done when the nuts start smelling toasted and it starts turning a nice golden brown.  If you aren’t sure, just fish out a sample, let it cool and taste it.  It should be nice and crunchy.  Let the pans cool while you do this last step.


You don’t have to use freeze dried berries here, but I find they add such a nice strawberry flavor, and I am not a big fan of chewy things in my granola like raisins or cranberries.  But do whatever you like.  Granola is super flexible.  But you have to have the chocolate in here, or it wouldn’t be that different from other granolas.  (I used the special almond chocolate for and extra Valentine’s treat)  Just give all this a rough chop, unless you are using chocolate chips.  In that case, just the strawberries.


So here is the nicely baked granola, which is really quite delicious in itself-


But these last two ingredients really take it over the top, both in looks and taste.


Once it has fully cooled, store it in an airtight container.  I filled up two and a half of these.  Not bad!


It should keep good for several weeks if it lasts that long.  It sure doesn’t around here!

So enjoy and happy Valentine’s day!


Chapter 3


Well folks, the more I write, the more I find myself wandering off into the realm of fiction over fact, although parts of this chapter have more than a grain of truth in them.  And I’m enjoying it!  Also, my chapters are getting longer, (I have twelve so far) so in future, I might stop posting these as entries and just make a separate tab on my blog, for continuities sake, and to help me keep things straight.  Or this might be the last chapter.  The longer this thing gets, the more unruly it becomes and it seems to be demanding more brain power than I can give it right now.  If you have the patience to read it, let me know what you think……


Chapter 3

School started today. But I am home again now, sitting outside on my favorite rock. The mountain is peeping out at me from a rim of clouds and I have some extra time to write. I know I said I gave up writing in clandestine fashion, but today- well today just called for it. It really was such a strange day. Life-altering might be too strong a term, but I feel like a different person than the girl I was this morning. Details forthcoming. I want to do this story justice.
We felt more prepared for the dawning of a new school year than we had foreseen since apparently mom had a little money set aside for us to go shopping after all. It wasn’t much, and we found ourselves at the mall last week, trying to make the most of our meager sums. Britt had already received her first modest paycheck, so she combined it with what mom had offered and was able to cover most of her wardrobe bases. She seemed to be truly enjoying herself, going back and forth from dressing rooms to clothing racks, heaping her arms with garments and returning almost all of them.
Sam and I, who both rather detest shopping, milled aimlessly about for a while, examining droopy sleeves and heels of shoes with little interest. I then noticed Becca a few aisles down, apparently engrossed in something. I walked discreetly over and peeked down the aisle to see what she was doing. She had laid out sundry items on a bench- some new shoes, a pair of jeans, a cute sweater and shirt- and was muttering ‘eeny-meeny-miney-mo’ under her breath and jabbing at the items with closed eyes, as if she didn’t want to know which items hadn’t made the cut until she had to. Sam came up to investigate as well and then we looked at each other, unspoken agreement in our eyes. Before Becca could get past “My mother said…” Sam interrupted her with
“Hey Becca Bug.”
Becca Bug’s eyes flew open, anger plainly written on her face as she looked at us. Whether it stemmed from the use of her much-detested old nickname or the fact that we had discovered her chanting that foolish childhood rhyme, it was hard to say. Probably both.
“Sorry,” Sam continued hastily. “No offense, but we were wondering if you maybe were in need of a little assistance.” She looked at us both, confusion mixing with the anger.
“It’s your first year of high school,” I clarified. “You need at least one entire new outfit.” And we both fished out the crumpled bills mom had given us and held them out. Her look changed to one harder to read. She looked as if she were wrestling with herself, so I made things easier for her.
“Look. You know Sam and I could care less what we wear to school. And Aunt Lucy just sent us three whole bags of Anna’s old clothes, which we can share.  But there’s no way in heaven you would be able to fit into anything that ever belonged to Anna,” I reasoned.
This was true enough. Sam, our cousin Anna and I share long, lanky genes, which means we can also share long, lanky jeans. (no apologies- bad puns are an author’s privilege)
“So it’s only fair that since Nat and I have such a nice big hand-me-down wardrobe,” Sam went on, “you should have this,” and we wedged the money into the coveted shoes and fled, before she could protest.
Thus we arrived at our first day, less shabbily attired than we had foreseen, which did wonders for our morale, since there was an unpleasant task ahead of us. Before first period, the four of us sheepishly sneaked into the principal’s office to ask him how the whole janitorial thing was going to work. Mr. Templin looked surprised at the question and replied that seeing as school was only a half-day today, we could take the afternoon off.
He said it with a little smile pulling at the corner of his mouth, as if the idea of four girls tackling this job amused him. I had to nudge Becca in the ribs to prevent her saying something rude about the whole affair being his idea. (she later denied having any such plan, but I know her too well.) We simply tried to smile in return, but I’m not sure if we succeeded. At any rate, he said there wasn’t anyone around today to show us the way things are done, so it would have to wait until a better time.
This put all of us in a better mood at least, and we were able to enjoy all the various reunions and catching up that the first day of school usually entails. The school is really so small that this ritual doesn’t take long. I am part of a class of 22, and I think in total, the school falls just short of 100 students. Out of my small class, and probably because I am already so close with my sisters, I only have one other real friend whom I have already mentioned- Emily Templin.
Since I have known her forever, my introduction to high school was made quite easy. My social skills are abysmal, and I really dislike meeting new people.  So it helped immensely, having a best friend already built into my class. I thought at first that it might change our relationship, having her dad in charge of the school and all. I asked myself if she might run to daddy if I ever put a toe out of line. But one afternoon in English class, early in our freshman year, she passed me a note during class, right under her father’s nose! (Mr. Templin is also our English teacher since the staff at our school is stretched a little thin).
I knew then that I had nothing to worry about, and we’ve kept up our old friendship along with a lively, contraband, classroom correspondence ever since. She is one of the few people who knows about my love of writing, but she never asks to see it either, which I love about her. Some day, if ever I get it done, I will dedicate my first novel to her.
Our school isn’t very interesting as far as big school dynamics are concerned. We have no sports teams and very few extra curricular activities, which damages our chances of attracting male students. If you are in the market for high school romance, you should probably go shopping somewhere else. My class had three boys in it last year, and overall, the girls in the school outnumber the boys three to one. Although I should say, my sister Sam has made a few conquests in her short tenure here. Without even trying even. But that’s another one of those innate abilities I do not possess. Britt has never had a boyfriend either, but I think that’s mostly because all the boys are intimidated by her.
However, there are many things to love about our school if you can get past the lack of cheerleaders and a senior prom. (or anyone to go to prom with) Traditionally, the first day back entails a brief introduction to all the year’s upcoming classes, and then we all make our way to the church parking lot and load onto the bus (our entire school can fit into one bus and a few vans) for the annual picnic.
The Pacific Northwest has no shortage of scenic beauties, and every year they take us some place different- a stretch of rocky beach perhaps, or a forested park. Today, they took us for a longish drive up into the mountains, to a state park that featured a lovely river and spectacular water fall. We were lucky enough to get a sunny day for our trip as well, since the PNW has no shortage of rain of either. As the poor old bus grunted and shifted it’s way around the hairpin bends and up the steep hills, I found myself every few minutes, gripping the edge of the seat that I was sharing with Em. As much as I love the mountains around here, I am not a fan of heights. I prefer looking up at them, and not the other way around.
To distract myself from the heart-stopping view, I turned around in my seat to see how Becca was getting on, it being her first day of highschool and all. She was sitting a few rows back with a girl I had never seen, comfortably conversing and completely at her ease. She has little trouble getting to know new people. Sam was three rows behind her, and for once not reading a book. A few of her swains were trying to get her attention, but she was ignoring them beautifully, completely enraptured with the scenery. She has no problem with high places. Britt, the newly instated Student Body President, was up in front, busily talking with the teachers about plans for the new school year. It made me smile, seeing all of my sisters so happy and it made the whole impending ‘cleaning lady’ prospect seem more than worth it.
The rest of the bus was filled with mostly familiar faces- my junior classmates, superior looking seniors, and cocky sophomores giving the awkward freshmen a hard time. But there was one face that didn’t fit any of these categories. It was sitting alone only a few rows up, and it was a new face- one that I had only glimpsed briefly that morning, occupying the desk in the very back corner of my classroom. The face had looked as if it wanted to be left alone, and seeing as it belonged to a boy, I didn’t feel up to introducing myself. I’m not one of your flirtatious types. I had heard his name in the role call, and I remember it was Adam something or other- I’m terrible with last names. I nudged Em and asked her if she had heard anything about him. She is usually in the know on these sorts of things.
She told me her dad had mentioned him briefly as just having moved to the area from southern California, which intrigued me even further since my mother hails from the same corner of the country. Em then went on to inform me that his last name was Hale in such an audible whisper that he turned around and looked right at us. We both felt embarrassed, but there was nothing for it.
“Hi,” I said, my nervousness making me unusually bold. “I’m Natalie, and this is Em.” Em waved awkwardly.
“Well, it’s obvious you know my name,” he said in a flat tone of voice and with a deadpan face that was hard to interpret. Was he mad at us? Annoyed? I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I waited for him to make the next move. He left us hanging for a moment before finally cracking a smile and resigning himself to be conversable . I asked him where he was from (Em was right in thinking he was from California) and I held onto that common ground as long as I could, since I am no good at thinking up topics for conversation. We had enough material to last for a while as sunny CA has been the destination of almost every vacation our family has ever taken.
As we talked, discussing the various beauties of California coasts and mountains I couldn’t help noticing that he was rather better looking than most of the guys in the school. It was easy to miss at first since his hair was badly cut and he was wearing pretty shabby clothes- worn out blue jeans paired with a faded rugby shirt and shoes that made Britt’s old tennies look pretty spiffy by comparison. But as Britt had pointed out so often lately, we were just about the only ones at our school short of money, so it was refreshing to see someone else who shared our plight. Of course he might have been rich, and like Sam, could have cared less how he was dressed, but I wasn’t about to ask him.
After a while, he began staring at me more and more intently- so much so that I started feeling a little uncomfortable. He must have realized it because he suddenly said,
“Sorry, I don’t mean to stare, but it’s your eyes.”
I braced myself, unsure of what was coming next- a compliment or a criticism.
“Are they always that color?” he continued, “or do you wear colored contacts?”
I might have been imagining it, but his tone implied that he wondered why anyone in their right mind would have chosen contacts in that particular shade . I stared down at my lime green shirt in embarrassment, having forgotten that this top always made my eyes appear more than usually bizarre. Em, well aware of my insecurity in this area and apparently interpreting his tone in the same way, loyally interjected at this point.
“They aren’t contacts,” she said a little defensively, “She just has amazing eyes. They change colors all the time, depending on what she is wearing.”
“Then I bet you avoid wearing red,” he returned with the same deadpan face as before.I honestly couldn’t tell if he were joking or not, but I laughed anyway. Em was looking a little angry for my sake, and he soon looked as if he wanted to change the subject. Apparently nothing came to mind, so instead, he abruptly turned back around in his seat and resumed his solitude. I exchanged uncertain looks with Em. She shrugged.

“Well, he’s different anyway,” she whispered, as if that were the most that could be said for him.
I didn’t have long to feel offended by his oddities. We soon arrived at the park, and there was the usual noise and crowd of people in the aisles to contend with. I don’t like fighting crowds, so I let Em pass and waited. I gave an encouraging smile to Becca as she went by, closely followed by Sam and her loyal subjects who were jostling for position behind her. I saw one of them reach out and pull one of her ubiquitous curls, trying to get her attention. I grinned as her predictable, retaliatory kick met his shins, thereby quenching his jocularity and causing the whole group of young idiots to step back apace. Maybe someday they would learn.
Once the back of the bus had emptied, I reached down to grab my jacket from under the bench. When I stood up, there was Adam Hale, looking at me, smiling. He had an awfully nice smile, and it made him look like a different person.

“I’m sorry if I offended you before,” he said quietly. “I’m not very good at talking to new people, or girls for that matter.”
I told him I wasn’t offended, even though I was, a little, and assured him that I was rotten at making acquaintances as well. He smiled again.
“Are you coming?” he continued, and I suddenly realized that he was waiting for me. I grabbed my jacket and hurried past him down the aisle, wondering why on earth I was blushing. As a general rule, I avoid blushing- it makes me feel immature and vulnerable.
Things were better once I got outside. The air was clear and free of the smell of 75 teenagers and the diesel fumes of the bus. And the surroundings were enough to distract me from strange new boys with handsome smiles.

“After all,” I told myself, “I have made it through two years of high school without a single crush, and I don’t intend to break that record.”  So I didn’t look behind me to see if he was following, but hurried over to join Em and my two younger sisters who were sitting at a table in the covered picnic area close by the river.
We sat munching our sandwiches as Mr. Templin gave his usual first day of school speech. He then introduced my older sister, who stood up, waving nervously. The cheers from most of the students seemed to give her confidence, and she gave us all an inspiring presidential speech about what this year was going to bring. She did look nice in her new clothes, and I thought her prettier than ever in her nervous excitement.

Once lunch was over, we were free to explore and we walked down the rocky path to the sparkling river. Looking to the left, the water meandered along in a respectable stream between tidy wooded banks, looking much like any other river. But looking upstream, I saw about a hundred yards distant, the water emerging from was an immense green tunnel, except its walls were higher than any I had ever seen and there was no top- just a sliver of blue sky far above. It was, in fact, a narrow gorge, whose moss covered cliff walls diffused the sunshine until everything appeared emerald green- the water, the rocks, the light, the river itself.
Sudden shouts echoed off the rock walls as some of the students, led by their fearless president, splashed forward through the shallow water, towards the gorge. I was eager to explore as well, but turning around to take off my shoes, I noticed Becca back at the picnic grounds, looking lonely and uncertain. I went to see what the matter was.
I didn’t need to ask, once I saw her face. I had forgotten her fear of closed in spaces. Being the only one in the family who shares a similar phobia, I felt that I should stay behind with her, but to my relief, Sam came up behind and offered to stay.
“Are you sure?” I asked, being well aware that her love for nature was at least equal to mine.
“I’m sure,” she replied, a trifle grumpily. “I might explore later, but not until those boys get back and I can go without them. I’m sick of boys at the moment.” and she glared in the direction of the shouts fading in the distance. Em, who given the choice, always preferred to have a good chat with friends than explore the great outdoors, decided to stay behind as well, so that in a few minutes, I found myself barefooted, jeans rolled up to my knees, and heading into the green tunnel alone.
There was a mist over the river here, adding to the strange aura of the place. The water was shallow and cold, hardly above my ankles, with slippery stones underfoot. Moss laden trees grew horizontally out of the rocks before bending their course upwards to seek the far away sun. Thin sheets of moisture cascaded down the rock faces like waterfalls of dew, and the myriad drops falling in the rippling water were like music.

Whenever I am alone in a beautiful place like that, I can’t help but sing a little bit. When I am stressed I cook, but singing is for when my heart is full. I’ve always been self concious of my voice for as long as I can remember. It has fog horn qualities that always drew the notice of teachers, who would inevitably point me out to the whole class, asking me to take it down a notch or two. So the only time I really feel comfortable singing solo is around my family, or in a setting like this.
But this was definitely not the time for foghorns. It seemed like a place where fairies might be lurking, so I opened my mouth and just whispered a few words of the first song that came to mind . They floated quietly up to the crack of sky, bouncing off the craggy boulders and sounding like wind chimes. I stood still, breathless for a moment. I sang a little louder-
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears,
All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.
I grinned in delight. It was exactly like singing in a round with myself.   I went on, louder still-
This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas. His hand the wonders wrought.
I couldn’t believe how long that old hymn went echoing around me- long after I had ceased singing. But the wonder of the moment turned to embarrassment as I realized that the echoes could probably be heard by all the other students. So regretfully, I let the echoes die and moved on more silently.
I began to ask myself when I was going to run into the other students, when the sounds of a distant roaring began filling my ears. As I rounded the next corner, I saw what had happened to them. The sounds of their voices were completely quelled by a waterfall. But it wasn’t big at all, probably only twelve feet tall,- nothing like as big as Mr. Templin had been describing. But it was large enough to fill the little dell with thunder. I needn’t have worried about anyone hearing my little song.
I stood and watched the group for a while, having no desire to go nearer. The water was, of course, deeper near the base of the falls. Some of the bolder students were scrambling up the rocks behind the cascade, egging each other on to jump through it. This frightened me at first, until the first two or three bravehearted souls came bursting through and fell into the pool below. They came up laughing and spluttering, circling around in the slow eddy of the water until they felt hard ground again and clambered out. I watched a little while longer, and to my astonishment, I next saw Britt dive fully dressed through the falls while all the boys cheered. I bit my lip hard until she surfaced again.
When she did surface, she looked concerned, and I wondered if she had hurt herself. But the cause of her worry soon became apparent. The force of the water had pulled one of her hard earned shoes off, and it was floating a few feet in front of her. She struck out after it, but the eddy of the whirlpool kept it just out of reach. It went under the falls again. She soon followed suit, though she was paddling hard to keep away. The boys were all laughing now, watching the sport, but she soon caught up with her waterlogged shoe and made her way toward where I was standing. I looked at her half-worried, half-admiring.
“I never know how you dare to do the things you do,” I said as she came dripping out of the water. ” I just left Becca trembling back on shore with Sam, while I’ve been cautiously tiptoeing through the shallows. Meanwhile, you are fighting with waterfalls. What would mom say?”
“Mom doesn’t need to know,” she smiled at me, looking slightly apprehensive.
“I’m betting you don’t even have a dry anything to change into either. Well, you are not borrowing anything off of me. I intend to stay dry.”
“Don’t you worry about me,” she returned airily, “I’m not afraid of a little water.” And she headed back towards the falls for more.

I watched a few minutes longer, but preferred to continue my the quiet exploration of the maze further still. So I backtracked to where I remembered seeing another small fork of the river carving it’s way through an even smaller canyon and decided to follow it. I could touch the mossy walls on either side of me here, and though I tried singing again, the sound was muffled and the echoes died quickly. I thought the river would cut itself off completely, or else disappear under the ground, when to my amazement the narrow passageway suddenly opened up into a wide and rocky clearing.

As I looked around, I saw that it was almost perfectly round, no doubt carved by the ceaselessly swirling water. It didn’t look deep, but the current looked strong. The sunlight was less green here, and it was brighter, so that it took my eyes a moment to adjust to what I was seeing, and even longer to realize I wasn’t alone. The sudden “Hello again,’’ that came from my right made me gasp out loud. I found the echoes had returned in full measure and I had to hear my foolish little scream reverberate around the walls several times before it faded away. I also had time to realize that my companion was none other than the new boy from the bus.
He was sitting on a large boulder with his arms wrapped around his knees, just a few feet away.  And he was smiling his nice smile. I felt my stomach tighten and my face go red again, but I said “hello”, as calmly as I could. Then, to cover the awkward moment, I said stupidly, “I didn’t know anyone else was here,” as if my startled gasp hadn’t made that clear enough.
He stood up on his boulder, and said, “Do you want to explore?”
“Explore what?” I asked again, looking around. It was only then that I noticed that the thin green canyon continued on the other side of the wide pool.
“How would we get there” I asked, uncertain of the depth of the water. For answer, he merely took a small jump to the boulder nearest him and looked back at me. I stood for a moment, uncertain and shy, but suddenly feeling a new kind of recklessness, I followed him.
We moved from rock to rock, sometimes hopping, sometimes just taking large steps, but it wasn’t nearly as frightening as I had imagined. The rocks were flat and dry, and only a couple of them wobbled when we landed on them. I started to have fun. We didn’t talk at all, just moved forward towards that thin green crack in the rock face. He turned around just before he entered it. I nodded. We went forward.

I expected the current to be stronger here, with all the water from that pool suddenly bottled up into a narrow channel. But although it frothed and splashed more noisily, we found we didn’t need to hop rocks anymore and could simply wade again. He was the first one to break the pleasant silence.
“This place gives me the same sort of feeling as the giant Sequoia groves near Yosemite,” he said. “Have you ever been there? It’s a sort of reverent feeling, like being in a cathedral.  But I like it better.”
I replied that I had been to Sequoia once, although I had been only eight at the time.  I also remembered I had been distracted from the grandeur of the place by the fact that Becca had gotten violently carsick on the way up and was stopping behind every cedar tree to throw up.  I kept that fact to myself.

But I understood what he meant about the holy feeling. It’s always been hard for me to reveal my thoughts about divine things. I think I once gave my father a shock, talking about God and nature as if they were interchangeable, and he gave me a rather long lecture on the dangers of deism. My sisters and I were diligently raised to approach God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and though I have never harbored a doubt that I am a believer in Jesus, I have a very difficult time fitting him into my daily routine. In fact, I have a hard time knowing what a relationship with Jesus even looks like.

Em is always talking about asking Jesus for help with her math tests, or that he would give her a kinder heart towards less fortunate people.(as if she needed it), or even wishing that she felt closer to him than she sometimes does. But I never feel the same way, and I’m not sure I have ever felt what it means to be “close to him”.  But when I am out in nature- God the father, God the Creator doesn’t just speak to me- he fairly shouts his undeniable presence. And though I am usually too much overwhelmed to say much, I prefer to feel tiny and insignificant in the face of creation, than trying to ask Jesus to help me with all my petty day to day problems.

Perhaps I don’t seek his presence hard enough when I am home in my home and my comfortable routine, but it’s so much easier just to step out the door and be shown that he is real.  It just seems easier to me than getting down on my knees every morning like my mother.  It brought to mind the hymn again- “This is my Father’s world- he shines in all that’s fair.” I hummed the tune a little as I looked at Adam, who seemed lost in his own thoughts. I almost asked him if he ever liked to sing, but shyness got the better of me and I refrained.
“I’m really glad there are places like this here,” he continued after a while. “I was pretty miserable leaving California. All I had ever heard about Washington was that it rained here a lot.”
“You can’t have the green without the rain,” I murmured, more to myself than to him. It was the pep talk my mother always gave us when we were inclined to grumble after a third straight month of winter precipitation.

“And yes,” I continued more loudly. “There are lots of places like this here. Haven’t you seen the mountain yet?”
“No. Everyone keeps telling me it’s there, and of course I’ve seen pictures of it, but all I have seen are clouds. I’ve only been here a couple of weeks.”
I thought about asking him why he moved here, but thought it might not be polite, so we continued on without further conversation. The water had been growing deeper almost imperceptibly until I suddenly felt it sloshing over the rolled up cuffs of my jeans. I searched for a boulder and scrambled up it. The current suddenly seemed stronger as well. Adam waded a few feet further, but finally sought refuge on a flat rock.
“Do you want to turn back?” he asked. It was hard to see where the water was headed, as there were so many twists and turns in the tunnel, but I didn’t want to give up just yet. So I shook my head and jumped to next boulder. After a few minutes, I noticed the rocky cliff sides began to alter- their severe, vertical lines widened, yielding to gentler slopes. Then the rock face gave place to patches of earth, and trees were more abundant. The sunlight increased along with the strength of the river until I began to get nervous. But there still plenty of rocks to navigate and I didn’t want to be the one to quit.
Then, without warning, and as we rounded a sharp corner, the sound of the water changed. I looked ahead and felt my stomach drop. Not five feet in front of me, I saw that the water ended in one shining, curving green swell. The water was now rushing past us with astonishing speed, parting around one last boulder and spilling over the edge of a cascade whose height I could only guess at. The very distant roaring of it’s own whirlpool made it sound as if it were a mile long.

I staggered and crouched down on my boulder, the familiar height-induced vertigo making it unclear which way was up and which was down. I think Adam was only a few feet away, but I couldn’t even look up to see. I thought I would be sick, and then I was pretty sure I would die. But above all, I knew that I would never be able to move from that wretched rock.
And then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a calm voice, that seemed a million miles away asking me to stand up. I shook my head mutely.  There was no noise but the roaring water for another moment, and then “Natalie, I need you to stand up,”  The sound of my own name seemed to steady me a little and managed to lift my head and look toward the voice.

“All right,” he continued with a forced calmness. ” I need you to stand all the way up now, but do not look behind you.  Just move one foot at a time.”  We turned to face the way we had come and were both paralyzed for a moment. The river looked like a dangerous beast from this perspective, and I couldn’t understand how we hadn’t seen it on the way down. The water came rushing straight at us in wild leaps, and though our boulders were still there, they seemed completely out of reach now.
After a few moments contemplation, Adam told me to follow him, and I did it blindly, clutching onto the back of his shirt. He started carefully stepping to the right, getting his own footing sure before he reached out a hand to help me. The river wasn’t wide, and I could see what he was aiming for- the earthen bank just ten feet away. There was a place where it wasn’t as steep as the rest of the hill, and with extreme caution, we finally scrambled, breathless and grateful onto the slippery ground. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. We couldn’t go along the bank, since we knew it would be a sheer rock face just around that bend, and there was no way I was going back into that river. Our only option was to scramble up the steep hillside, covered with slick pine needles and hope for a way out up there. I gritted my teeth at the prospect and we started up.
But it wasn’t as difficult as it had looked at first, and there even seemed to be a little path, as if other adventurers had come this way before to take a peek at the falls. We pulled ourselves up using branches and protruding roots until we were a good deal above the river.
Then without thinking, I looked down. My mouth went dry with horror as I could now see just how high the waterfall was. I grabbed onto the roots in front of me and pressed my face into the dirt, waiting for the dizziness to subside again. As before, I felt the reassuring hand on my shoulder and knew I had to go on. I closed my eyes again and felt my way forward. Before long the slope began to level out and I opened them just a slit. In front of me, to my immense relief was a rustic board fence and Adam was on the other side, reaching out a hand to help pull me over.
I climbed the fence and we both slumped down to the ground, breathing hard and thanking God in fervent undertones. Neither of us knew what to do next, but we couldn’t stay there all day.  After another minute, we climbed shakily to our feet and brushed the dirt off of our damp pants. Then we looked at each other. It’s always a bit of an awkward moment, staring at a relative stranger with whom you have just shared a near death experience and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry. Before I could do either, he cleared his throat and said with a tremble in his voice,

“I’m really sorry. I…. That was really stupid of me.”

“You mean that was really stupid of us,” I replied and I started to laugh in a slightly hysterical tone.

“You’d have thought we would have seen that coming.” He seemed relieved at my response and started chuckling too. And there we both stood, laughing and laughing still harder until our sides hurt and we were gasping for breath. I knew it was simply a reaction to the strain, but it felt good. And it suddenly felt like we were no longer strangers- that we had unintentionally become friends in a hurry.
As we set off down the trail, I noticed a sign posted on the fence. It was written in bold black letters and read,

Do not cross this fence. The lower falls have claimed 14 lives to date.” We looked at each other again and our laughter faded.

Eventually we found the rest of the school. No one had missed us, and our wet and muddy clothes blended in so well with most of the other students that we didn’t have to deal with any awkward questions. The bus was being loaded, and with a shy smile at Adam, I went to find my sisters. We sat together on the way home. Becca and Sam turned around in their seat and resting their chins on their folded arms, we talked over the day.   Somehow Sam had managed to convince Becca to overcome her fears and explore a little bit of the canyon. They had even made it as far as the little waterfall, (I knew now how little it was) but the claustrophobic space of the little cove had been too much for her, and she had found it necessary to piggyback all the way to the picnic grounds on Britt’s back.   We even talked about a much larger and more spectacular waterfall that they had managed to see from a safe lookout point.

“And where were you all afternoon?” Sam asked me suddenly. I hadn’t said a word up to this point and now they were all staring at me.  I had meant to tell them all about my terrifying adventure, but I suddenly found I couldn’t do it. It had been too momentous an event to make public, and I found that I wanted to keep it to myself. Somehow I knew that Adam wouldn’t tell anyone either, and that made it our secret- just his and mine. I muttered something about having explored a different canyon. I told them I had been alone. And if I blushed at the lie, they didn’t seem to notice.


So now I have been sitting on this rock, writing until my hand is cramped, for over two hours and the light is almost gone. This day- this strange, confusing, terrifying and magical day is almost over. For the first time ever, I feel as if I am in a book and that today was an enormous plot twist in my life. Those hours in the enchanted green canyon are going to shape my life somehow, for better or for worse, I can feel it. But for now, real life is calling and the story book is fading. Mom is finishing dinner and it’s my night to set the table.


Well, if you have been a faithful reader of my blog, you might remember that last year the hubby and I had a contest to see who could make the best cake for our annual church fundraiser, which takes the form of a Valentine themed cake auction.  We had a lot of fun doing it, and you can read that other post here.  We had every intention of carrying on the tradition this year, but as the time drew near, the hubby simply ran out of time.  He has been more than a little busy lately, building other things besides cakes.

So I was kind of bummed.  But then my boys offered to make a cake instead, and I thought that might be just as fun!  So we flipped through books and internets and each found some inspiration and went on from there- one cake for the boys, and one for the girl.   I’m not going to post recipes here- it would just take too much time, but I did want to document the event with a (largish) photo dump.

Tonight at the auction, I had to reassure several people that the boys (mostly James) really did make the cake, with only the tiniest bits of help from me.  Here’s proof!


Not one bit of egg shell did he drop.


Men and power tools….


They chose a strawberry cake…



Being super helpful



Strawberry cake with lemon frosting that is.


Love this boy


Learning to frost



And then the final touches. (which made me cringe a bit- ohhh, so much sugar)


Very Proud.


Then it was mama’s turn.

Out of the way boys.


Then I forgot to take pictures for a few steps. I finished off the day with this.    (there be four layers underneath that there ganache)


And then had to tackle this…


But I wasn’t finished yet.

This morning was decoratin’ time, starting with baked raspberry meringue rosettes.


Dipped in chocolate ganache


And up into place.


Then to cover the gaps, I decided on raspberries.

But not just any old raspberries.


These were amazing- like little chocolate bombs of bliss.  I may have sneaked a few, or ten.


Then my own final touches.


I admit, this cake was a little bit over the top ridiculous, (all for a good cause of course) but I had so much fun making it, that I thought I would just throw this out there.  Would anyone out perhaps be interested in purchasing a cake from me, outside of an auction scenario? (now that sewing season has slowed down.)

I’m thinking fancy birthday/anniversary cakes, and of course it would have to be for local people.  But I do make a pretty good cake, if I do say so myself.

Let me know!  If there is enough interest, Climbing Vine might just be branching out!