What's New

Dec
21
2011

 

           What can I say about this holiday season? Everyone I know has less money this year. Some have none. I fall somewhere between those two. Less money means less spending. For our family, there is no spending frenzy this year. And guess what I’ve discovered: that’s a good thing. Without even planning to do so, we’ve spent more time with each other, just loving and supporting, babysitting the kids, laughing together, cooking homemade dinners.

            In our family, Rick and I are the hub of the wheel, and holiday time usually means making sure we’ve covered every wish list, every stocking stuffer, every cute thing that reminds us of one of the children or grandchildren or friends or family members. It embarrasses me how much we buy for each other here in America, like we owe it to each other or need to prove our love by the quantity and quality of gifts. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally, I fall for it every time, hook, line, and sinker. We already have so much stuff we regularly host garage sales to get rid of it, and then we start the process over: buying, using, selling, buying . . . buying . . . buying . . . . When will we learn?

            Our grandson was nestled on my lap watching a movie with our family. I was so content just to hold him. He’s almost seven, so my holding days are numbered. While we watched, he would occasionally touch my face with his hand, absentmindedly, as if to make sure it was really me. After a long time he got up and said, “Mimi, I need my grandpa,” and trotted over to sit on Rick’s lap. It makes my heart sing to know that down where it counts, what we really need is each other.

            If we could have one wish to make anything come true, including one more day with those who have already passed on, I doubt whether we would use it on material things. What wouldn’t I give to have one more day with my daddy? So, this year, I am not going to focus on what I don’t have, what I can’t afford to buy. I’m going to revel in those special moments with family and friends, and maybe make some more friends. I’m going to thank God every moment I can for his blessings.

            Just thinking about it makes my heart sing.

Dec
21
2011
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Dear Martha,

Today, our caravan stopped by a swamp. We weren’t expecting anything special, but one by one all the wagons ahead of us stopped, so we did, too. Captain Walsh came riding by on his horse, Highlander. We were a little surprised because he usually sends Travis with all of the messages.

Captain Walsh called out, “I’m inviting all children who are old enough to behave to join me out here. I want to show you a real Florida swamp. You must have on shoes or boots. Some of you adults may want to join us. That is, if you can behave.”

That tickled Mama. She said, “Go do it!” I grabbed my sketchbook and took off flying.

Captain Walsh led us to the edge of a low, muddy river. Strange wooden points jutted up out of the water. I sketched them quickly, so I could ask about them later. Some of the trees that lined the shore were full and leafy, and moss hung from their branches. Other trees looked like dead skeletons. There were birds in the sky, birds floating on the water, and birds sitting in the branches of dead trees. Fish jumped right out of the water and splashed back in again.

Captain Walsh said, “I’ve led wagon trains down this way since just after The War Between the States. I’ve learned a thing or two from Indians, naturalists, settlers, and original pioneers, known as ‘Florida Crackers,’ who have grown up on the land. I’d like to teach you a few things about the swamps you’ll be seeing all along our journey.”

Right away he cautioned us. “Always stay back from the edge of the water, children. See who’s taking a nap in the morning sun?” I looked, but I couldn’t make out what he was talking about. Captain Walsh said, “Right there. See those long, scaly animals?” He waited for us to focus. “Those are reptiles. American alligators.”

Alligators! I’d heard about them. I’d had nightmares about them. Now, I was seeing them with my own eyes. They were absolutely still. They didn’t move a muscle or even blink their eyes. I thought they might be dead. Captain Walsh said, “These are the little fellows. Their big brothers are about five times this big.” I was astonished! The “little fellows” were about as long as I am tall. Can you imagine how big their big brothers must be? I sketched as fast as I could while Captain Walsh answered questions.

Miss Essie Mae Pitts asked, “Are they always this still?”

Captain Walsh said, “When they’re sunning themselves, they remain perfectly still. But don’t let that fool you. Alligators can run faster than a full-grown man. In short bursts, they can run as fast as a horse.”

Immediately, everyone backed up. We snickered, embarrassed.

“Florida swamps are interesting, to be sure, but danger is always lurking. Look there, in the fork of this tree.” He pointed nearby. Once again, I had to search for what he wanted us to see. Then, I saw it! A snake was coiled right where several branches joined the trunk of the tree. I shivered. I hadn’t seen it because the snake’s skin was the exact same color of the tree bark.

Captain Walsh pointed to a high tree across the water. “See that big bird over yonder?”

Minnie Good asked, “Is that an eagle?”

Captain Walsh said, “Looks like it, but it’s an osprey. Ospreys always make their nests near water because they’re fish eaters. Many’s the time I’ve seen an osprey swoop down from high above, dip deep into the water with his talons, and come up with a fish.”

Florida is amazing! There is nature everywhere. But there is danger, too.

Love,

Teddy

Dec
20
2011
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Dear Martha,

Our jerky is ready. I should say our DELICIOUS jerky is ready. I should say our SCRUMPTIOUS jerky is ready. I wish you could taste some right now.

The sun has been shining hot for two days straight, and the strips of meat have turned very dark. That means they’ve dried out properly. I helped Mama take them down and store them between layers of cheesecloth. Mmmm! I could eat every one.

I said, “May I have three pieces for Travis Lark?”

Mama said, “Travis Lark? What on earth for?”

I told her about the slingshot contest and winning my marbles back and his cat’s eye shooter.

Mama said, “Are you sweet on him?”

I practically screamed, “MAMA! Of course not. He’s just my friend.”

Mama said, “Well, alright then. You’re just being neighborly.”

We had school again today. Miss Melman said, “I hope your interviews are going well. I’m going to give you a few more days to work on them. Don’t forget to include some pictures in your sketchbooks.” I’m glad she gave us more time. I haven’t had much time to do my drawings. Life is so busy on a wagon train. Where does all the time go?

We settled in for Miss Melman to read several more chapters of Tom Sawyer. This time we were quiet and listened to every word. Tom Sawyer is such a good book. Miss Melman was just getting to the part about Tom and Becky Thatcher being sweet on each other. She liked him, but she pushed him off a bridge into the water.

I thought about Travis Lark. He’s a boy, and he’s my friend, but he’s not my boyfriend. I don’t know why Mama had to say that. I only wanted to give him the jerky because he was such a good sport about losing his marbles and his shooter. He would love our jerky.

I looked around for Travis, but to my surprise, he wasn’t there. I was wondering where in the world he could be when he rode up on Dixie, all huffy and out of breath.

He said, “Sorry I’m late, Miss Melman. A constable rode up a few minutes ago with his deputy and asked Captain Walsh if we had seen a Dr. Xavier Zoren, selling his Elixir of Life. He said Dr. Zoren swindled his townspeople out of their money. He had sold them bogus medicine. The constable’s wife gave the stuff to her pet kitty—and the cat got drunk.”

We burst out laughing. Miss Melman said, “Oh dear! I had my suspicions about Dr. Zoren. I studied my maps and the globe, and I’m afraid the country of Rambonia simply doesn’t exist.”

I said, “It doesn’t?”

Miss Melman said, “No, and I’ve never heard of the Rendini people, either. I think Dr. Zoren is a swindler, and I don’t think we’re the first group of people to fall for his scheme.”

Hallie said, “But why would he lie to us?”

Miss Melman looked thoughtful. “It’s sad to think about it, but there are dishonest people in this world. Instead of doing an honest day’s work, they would rather trick people out of their hard-earned money. In my book, that’s just not right.”

I remembered folks handing their dollars over, dollars that had been earned with hard work.

I felt sick with shame. I’d been so wrong about Pap.

Love,

Teddy

Dec
19
2011

 

 

Just when I get all the glitter vacuumed up from last year’s decorations, it’s time to put out this year’s decorations, and for me, the sparklier, the better. If something has glitter or sequins on it, I want two of them. Three. I’m a sucker for shine. A pushover for glitz. When I was a kid, glitter was made out of metal. Mothers warned, “Don’t get that stuff in your eye, or you’ll go blind.” Glitter was pretty scarce in those days. When it turned up, it was a wonder. In kindergarten, I was a clock in the Christmas show at school. My daddy provided a cardboard box for the costume and painted it for me. The art teacher glued on a clock face, complete with Roman numerals. The older kids in the special ed class added glitter, carefully glued to each numeral. Wearing it, I was in my glory. Glitter for all to see. A star was born.

Today glitter is made from plastic, and though it won’t blind you, it has the cling factor. Try to embellish a craft project with glitter, and it sticks to any and all surfaces, including your underwear. Don’t ask me how it gets in underwear. Doctors are still looking into that. I’ve found glitter clinging to the inside of my freezer, the pages of my high-school yearbook, the dog’s water bowl, and the top of a casserole I baked for my neighbor. Future civilizations will have to interpret these clinging sparkles because, like cockroaches, you can never really get rid of excess glitter. Some glitter is finer than dust, which leads me to think that maybe we might breath it in. Check your tissue the next time you sneeze. You’ll see.

Today’s glitter is not your father’s Oldsmobile. Now we have designer glitter: ovals and orbs, twists and twizzles, spirals and spangles. There is Glitter by Martha Stewart. She went to prison on trumped-up charges, but the girl makes a mean glitter. Seriously. Martha Stewart glitter is beyond gorgeous. But my obsession with glitter isn’t just about using it and displaying it on crafty objects and seasonal decorations: it’s owning it. I can never own enough glitter. One bottle of turquoise glitter dust leads to silver, gold, and peach. My obsession leans toward being a glitterholic. I consider my bottles of glitter part of my personal assets. I’m too thrifty (read: cheap) to buy it at the craft store for full price, so when I find it for a cut-rate price at T. J. Maxx, or at a garage sale, it’s cause for celebration. I’m officially part of the glitterati.

Now that I’m all decorated, it’s time to enjoy. Later, I’ll ride herd on the loose glitter that sparkles from my carpets, bedding, counters, shower tiles, bathtub, and dining room. Yesterday, I found a stray sparkle on the butter dish. The day before, the dog had some on her nose. Glitter: can’t decorate without it, can’t get rid of it. At least it won’t make us go blind.

Dec
19
2011
LISTEN
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Dear Martha,

Two good things happened today.

First of all, Travis challenged me to a slingshot contest. I said, “What are we playing for?” He said if he won, I’d have to give him some of our venison jerky. I said, “How many pieces?” and he said three. I said, “What if I win?”

He said, “There’s no way you’ll win.”

I said, “What if I do?”

He looked at Jasper Lowe with a you-and-I-both-know-I-can-beat-Teddy-Bodain look.

He said, “You won’t. But if you do, I’ll give you all your marbles back.”

I said, “And your cat’s eye shooter?”

He said, “And my cat’s eye shooter.”

I trounced him good! Jasper Lowe was our officiator. He said I won fair and square. Travis gave me back all of my marbles, including his cat’s eye shooter, in a marble sack. He said, “If I hadn’t taught you so much about shooting a slingshot, you wouldn’t have won.” But he was a good sport about it, all in all.

Jasper said, “Travis, maybe you need a spoonful of Dr. Zoren’s Elixir of Life.”

The second good thing that happened was my interview with Mrs. Carter. She is such a nice person. I asked her about her tinctures and liniments. I wanted to know how she had learned to use them to heal folks.

She said, “I’m not a doctor or anything like that. My mama just taught me which plants are good for different ailments. That’s the way we did in the old days when we couldn’t get to a doctor.

“Mama taught me to rub a rhubarb leaf or a slice of lemon on a hornet sting. That will take the pain away every time. She taught me that evening primrose is good for arthritis. Feverfew can cure a headache. Ginger aids in poor digestion.” As she talked, she showed me each plant or herb. Some were dry, some were growing in pots, and some she had crushed to a powder.

She said, “Garlic is good for fatigue. You can eat it whole, fresh, or roasted over a fire. Mama taught me how to gather golden seal, bayberry, butternut bark, chamomile, and mayapple. Things like that. They’re all found in nature. I make tonics and tinctures to take by mouth and liniments to rub on the body.”

I said, “Like Dr. Zoren’s Elixir of Life.”

She gave me a look. “You didn’t buy a bottle of that, did you?”

I shook my head. “No. Pap thinks it was hogwash.”

Mrs. Carter said, “Then your pap has got a good head on his shoulders. Maybelle Terwilleger showed me her bottle, and I gave it a taste. It wasn’t anything but cheap corn whiskey and red sugar syrup. That man isn’t a doctor, let me tell you. He just swindled folks out of their money.”

I said, “But what about the dog? Didn’t you see how thin he was? After he drank one spoonful of that elixir, he was well.”

Mrs. Carter said, “Honey, I don’t know exactly how he did it, but that hornswoggler pulled a fast one. His assistant was in on it, somehow.”

I said, “But I was standing right next to the cage, Mrs. Carter. I saw it with my own eyes.”

Mrs. Carter said, “Like Mr. P.T. Barnum says, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute.’”

That got me wondering. If it was true what Pap and Mrs. Carter were saying, we’d all been had.

Love,

Teddy

Dec
16
2011

 

     

      Dana Scippo, fourth-grade teacher from Littleton Elementary in North Ft. Myers, FL, was trying to explain the meaning of the word miscellaneous to her students. One boy piped in, "I have a book that explains it, Mrs. Scippo. I'll bring it in." The next day he brought in Debra Frasier's book, Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, and Dana read it aloud. Ta-da! From this, a beloved idea was born! Her students decided to put on a Vocabulary Parade for the entire school.

            Soon, word spread and the entire fourth grade got involved. Students selected a sizzling, juicy vocabulary word they thought would be fun to explain by wearing a costume that illustrated the meaning in a thoughtful, creative way. Oh, what fun! The next thing they knew, the entire school was abuzz with excitement. Abuzz. Yes, I used that word. I'll use it again: abuzz.

 

     

            The parade around the school and presentations on stage to a live assembly was so successful they are planning to do it again this year, using idioms, as well. Dana writes, "We are a Title I school and find that outside-the-box, creative lessons work best with our kids. We try to make it fun and engaging with the hopes of creating happiness and a love of learning."

Oh, girl, you have done us proud! This is terrific teaching if I ever saw it.

 

      

Dec
16
2011
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Dear Martha,

Today, the wagons ahead of us slowed and stopped, but we had no idea why. Travis Lark came galloping by, telling us that there was a peddler who wanted to show his wares. Captain Walsh said we could stop for a few minutes in case anyone wanted to make a purchase.

The man was dressed in fancy clothes, including a vest and top hat. His wagon was bright red and yellow, and it opened up on the side, like a little stage. We wondered, what in the world is this?

He said, “Folks, Dr. Xavier Zoren at your service. It is my pleasure to present to you an amazement, a wonder, a staggering demonstration that has confounded commoners and gentry alike.”

We gathered around.

Dr. Zoren continued. “My assistant, the lovely Flavia, will help me.”

A woman wearing a strange costume came from the side, pushing a large cage to the center of the tiny stage. The cage was covered with a green velvet cloth. She flipped the cloth back for us to see what was inside. A pitiful looking dog sat looking at us. He was so thin his ribs showed.

Dr. Zoren said in a loud voice, “Notice this unhealthy mongrel. Not one of you would want him in this condition.” He paused. “Fortunately, I have a regenerative syrup, a life-giving liquid, a restorative recipe, which will dramatically improve this animal’s condition, right before your very eyes.”

He held up a glass bottle containing a red liquid.

“Dr. Zoren’s Elixir of Life. This highly sought-out formula comes from the Rendini People of eastern Rambonia. Its medicinal powers are astounding.”

He poured some syrup in a big spoon and stuck it through the bars of the cage. The dog lapped it up hungrily. “See?” Dr. Zoren said. “This dog is eager to get well. He is weak, let me tell you. Even the sun hurts his sore eyes.”

His assistant, Flavia, flipped the green cloth back over the front of the cage, so the dog was hidden.

Dr. Zoren said, “My miracle cure, Elixir of Life, only takes a short while to work on small animals. It takes a few days on humans, but it will have the same healing effect on any one of you. It’s been known to cure rheumatism, arthritis, ringworm, sleeplessness, gout, headache, teething babies, and general malaise. It works on colic, dyspepsia, fungus, and—the swooning vapors.”

He snapped his fingers.

Flavia whipped the cover back, so we could see. The dog was fat and healthy! He held his head high, and his eyes were bright! We crowded forward. The dog was a beauty. He barked and wagged his tail.

Everyone gasped, including me. Folks started digging into their pockets to buy bottles of the syrup.

Dr. Zoren said, “They’re going like hotcakes, ladies and gents. Get yours while the getting’s good.” While he sold his elixir, Flavia pushed the cage off the stage, back into the wagon.

I took one last look at the beautiful dog, wishing he was mine.

A few minutes later, Dr. Zoren and his assistant were gone.

On our way back to the wagon, I said, “Pap, have you ever seen anything like that?”

He said, “I’ve seen a trickster in a monkey suit before.”

That made me mad. I said, “Didn’t you see how he healed the sick dog? Made him like new?”

Pap said, “Theodosia, some people will try any trick in the book to cheat you out of your money.”

Why does Pap have to be such a fuddy-duddy? Seeing is believing. Why can’t he believe?

Love,

Teddy

Dec
15
2011
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Dear Martha,

We had school again today. Leave it to Miss Melman to come up with something fun.

She said, “This wagon train feels like one big family, doesn’t it?” We all agreed.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said. “We’re like a traveling town. We don’t have banks or libraries or stores or even a doctor. But we’ve got each other. Many people on this train have useful talents and abilities. I’ve written some names on slips of paper. I’d like each of you to draw a name.” She put the slips of paper in her straw hat and passed it around.

I drew Mrs. Carter’s name. Miss Melman said, “I’m going to ask you to interview the person whose name you drew. Find out their special gifts. Learn from them. When we meet together another time, we’ll teach each other what we’ve learned.”

I was so excited. I love stuff like that. Miss Melman said, “Take your sketchbooks with you. Record what you can. Make drawings. You can use your pictures when we share.”

I’m going to interview Mrs. Carter tomorrow. I’ve never interviewed anyone before, but I’m always asking questions, so I think it will be fun. Besides, Mrs. Carter is nice and is always helping folks.

Miss Melman read more of Tom Sawyer. He reminds me of Travis Lark, always funning around and into foolishment. He is an orphan, but he lives with his Aunt Polly, not in an orphanage, which is good because I’ve heard you would not want to have to live in an orphanage. Sometimes, the people who run the orphanage are mean and cruel. Remember the orphanage in Oliver Twist, when Miss Pedigrew read it to us?

Anyway, Tom’s cousin, Sid, is younger, and he is spoiled and mean. He tattles on Tom and always runs to tell Aunt Polly when Tom sneaks out of their bedroom window or skips school. Then, Tom gets in trouble with Aunt Polly, even though she loves him and wants him to turn out good.

I am waiting for Tom to play some sort of trick on Sid so that Sid gets into trouble, not Tom. Tom is smart, and I bet he’s going to think of something clever to play on Sid.

Today, while Miss Melman read aloud, she had a special treat, a peppermint stick, for each of us. I love peppermint sticks! We sucked on them and twisted them back and forth in our mouths so that after a while they had a sharp point. I saw Travis stick Jasper in the back of the neck with his point! See? I told you he is a lot like Tom Sawyer.

Jasper stuck Travis back, and soon we were all sticking each other with our candy points while Miss Melman kept reading away.

We thought she didn’t see us, but she said, “That’s all for today. Tomorrow’s chapter is called, ‘Tom and Huck stick each other with peppermint candy points.’”

We looked embarrassed. Miss Melman said, “I know you’re not paying attention to the story if you are busy poking each other with candy points.”

We felt bad. Miss Melman had bought the candy for us as a special treat. We had repaid her by cutting up while she was reading.

I have to stop writing now. Mama made a little pot of salty water. She wants me to brush it on each of the jerky strips while they are still hanging up. If she’s not looking, I might eat one.

Love,

Teddy

Dec
14
2011

 

          

            One of my great joys is having two-day workshops in my home for teachers and other adults who have a burning desire to become children’s book authors. As a child addicted to reading all kinds of fiction, the authors of the books I read were mysterious, intriguing individuals so far beyond my reach that I could never hope to see one, much less meet one. Yet, the more I read, the more I knew that one day I wanted to create terrific stories and other worlds for kids to lose themselves in (I know the previous sentence ends with a preposition, but I’m an author for Heaven’s sake. I can twist and manipulate words as I choose).

            I wrote as a child, I wrote as a teen, and I wrote as an adult. I dreamed about writing books for children, but I had no idea how to go about it. I still had not met a real, live author to guide me along the way, so I made every embarrassing mistake along my quest to becoming a published author. I was as green as a pickle. Somehow, because of some budding talent and a huge will and a dogged determination not to be turned away, I got into the vast and curious world of writing for children. Along the way I earned a master’s of fine arts in writing for children from Vermont College. I met and learned from scores of authors, many of them legendary in the field of children’s books.

            I am still on my journey, learning more each year of my life, but I enjoy helping others join the party. It is thrilling to sit at my dining-room table and answer questions from would-be children’s authors. Teachers make terrific writers. After all, they spend hours upon hours with children, answer their questions, and listen to their fantasies. They know what colorful and obscure topics kids are interested in or curious about. I love to listen to story plots and nonfiction topics and discuss which ones might make the best children’s books with the eager future authors who come to the workshops with all the same fears and insecurities I once had (I still probably have some). A writing workshop revs me up and gets my creative juices flowing.

One writer who came to my workshop 15 years ago has published 25 plus nonfiction books. One writer from two years ago is now working with an agent from Los Angeles to turn her children’s series into television or movie property. Another writer last year published a beautiful picture book about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the effect it might have on animals. What could be more wonderful than creating something children will enjoy and treasure?

            Sometimes we have as many as 22 at the workshops in my home; sometimes we have as few as four. Several weekends ago was just such a workshop: four eager beavers who wanted to learn as much as they could about story arcs, memorable characters, current topics that would be of interest, publishing trends, and so forth. We moved from the dining-room table to the living room. One activity on descriptive writing had us blowing bubbles in the front yard. The eight hours each day melted as quickly as butter left in the sun as we encouraged and enthused, analyzed and considered, created and developed every idea we could think of and then some.

            Now, it is up to my fledgling writers to go home and do the long, intricate, solitary work it takes to write and develop a manuscript so that it is ready to be presented to an editor. We need good books for children. We need teachers and other loving adults who want to spin the stories that will transport kids to wondrous, imaginative worlds.

            I wish them well. I wish them every success. I wish them magic. 

Dec
14
2011
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Dear Martha,

Today, we are all tired. We had such a good time with the folks from the other wagon train. None of us got enough sleep last night. I couldn’t stop thinking about the dance, the feast, and the Kentucky kids we played with. I wish we could all travel together, but they are headed in a different direction.

Pap drove the wagon, and Dylan played with Lucy in Miss Emily’s wagon.

Mama said, “Let’s do something special. I know just the thing.”

You’ll never guess what it was. She taught me how to make jerky! I’ve eaten jerky before, but I had no idea how to make it.

First, she scraped off every bit of fat from a big chunk of venison Pap brought home. “Fat goes rancid quickly,” she said. “If you make it right, jerky will last for months.”

When the meat was scraped clean, which didn’t take long since deer meat doesn’t have much fat, we sliced it into long, thin strips. Then, we rubbed salt and pepper all over the strips. I covered the meat on both sides.

“Don’t skimp,” Mama said. “Salt adds lots of flavor.”

Now, it might sound strange, but next, we threaded a length of cotton thread in the end of each strip of meat, using a needle. We tied the two ends of the thread to make a loop. After every strip of meat had a loop, Mama stretched a cord on the outside of the wagon from the back to the front. We hung all of the little loops on it and let the venison strips hang free. When we finished, there they were, all in neat rows on either side of the wagon.

“Don’t we have to hang the strips over a smoky fire?” I asked.

“We’re not staying in one place long enough. We’re going to make this Florida sunshine work for us,” Mama said. “The heat from the sun will pull out all the moisture. In two days time, we’ll have jerky.”

I said, “Won’t it draw flies?”

Mama said, “Not with all the rocking this wagon does. Flies will want to land, but with all the bouncing around, they won’t be able to.”

We didn’t know Pap was listening. He called, “So if the wagon jerks it around, should we call it ‘jerking jerky’?”

We laughed. Mama said, “We should call it jumping, jerking jerky.”

I remembered the spelling bee. I said, “We should call it jumping, jostling, jerking jerky.”

That tickled Pap. He said, “You win.”

Mama showed me a fold of white cloth. She said, “At night, we’ll cover the strips with cheesecloth to keep the bugs off. It will also keep off the morning dew. Tomorrow, we’ll salt the strips one more time.”

Mama is so smart. I hope I turn out like her.

So there we were, rolling along on our way to our new homestead, making the sun work for us to dry out our venison jerky.

It was a good day.

Love,

Teddy