I’m on a podcast!

Check out Colorado Review‘s most recent podcast episode! I sit down with Meghan Pipe and Stephanie G’Schwind to discuss the Fall issue of the magazine and other literary things we’re grateful for. Listen to me read some dope poems from the issue!

http://coloradoreview.colostate.edu/november-2017-podcast-fallwinter-2017-editors-chat/ 

Love to all.

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Hailstorms, Fireworks

The storms out West were stark and angry. The sagebrush and juniper desert of New Mexico and western Texas allowed me to see the expanse of skies darkening out into the afternoon. Though the inside of my car was a much lower temperature, I could still smell the coming rain—the metallic scent of wet minerals and sage.

On the westbound side of I-40 a tractor trailer had blown over so that its whole long body was spread diagonally across both lanes. I could see the backed-up traffic for miles—people getting out of their cars, holding their hands like visors over their eyes, walking their leashed dogs in the tall grass of the median. At the time I felt pity for them, all these suddenly immobile people, but I didn’t know the danger that lurked ahead.

Once over a steady incline, I saw the storm. Its proudly blackening, circular cumulonimbus puffs of water vapor and electricity mounting, building, eating up space.

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Rain began to fall in fat, disparate drops, leaving quarter-sized splats on my windshield. The pace of their pattering quickened. Then their splats grew harder, little bits of ice melting upon impact. My throat tightened as I saw the cloud above and ahead fill suddenly with dark dots—hail pummeling into my line of vision. The sound was a roar. Cars around me slid off the road, their hazard lights blinking like a human’s uncomprehending gaze. I followed suit with the lights but kept on, much more slowly.

At first the hail was infrequent enough that I could still hear my music and my quickening breath, but it soon became a deafening clash of ice golf balls against thick glass and thinner plastic, so loud I could feel my lips form the shapes of curses without actually hearing them pronounced at all.

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It’s strange how one’s ability to sense time passing devolves in moments like these—I couldn’t tell you if the storm lasted for ten or twenty minutes, or more. I passed a bridge under which the shoulder was filled with cars huddled like rabbits in the rain. This, the storm’s edge as it moved over the highway, was already so destructive—what would its middle be like? I didn’t want to stick around and find out.

After countless dents all over the body of my car, I was under clear skies again. My rear view mirror was a black rectangle in the spider-web-fractured blue of the windshield. To the north (my left) I could make out another wide thundercloud in the shape of a dinner plate hovering low in the sky, menacing.

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Lightning stayed inside the cloud, flashing it red. How many more thunderstorms lurked ahead? I drove to Amarillo holding the steering wheel the way a scared kid grips their mother’s hand while getting their first vaccination. My little brother’s pediatrician once told him he could punch him if the shot hurt. My kid brother, upon being vaccinated, promptly socked him in the arm. I still wish I had something to pummel after that day.

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West of Amarillo I-40 goes right by a feedlot full to the gills with cattle. From what must’ve been a half a mile away I saw it first—tall, fluorescent lights like streetlights and steam rising up from beneath their reach. Then I smelled the steam—that distinctive stench of warm, wet fur mixed with hay cud. Then I was next to them, their bodies still wet from drenching rains, their muddy hooves, their muffled shuffling, their matted black and white mottled fur. Then I passed them, left them behind—an island of glistening light in the nighttime darkness.

I’d forgotten it was almost the fourth of July, basically was since it was the Saturday just before. As I approached Amarillo from the dark western desert expanse, I spotted blooms of fireworks low in the sky, hanging in the air like slow lightning. I’d never really deeply considered the well-deployed physics of fireworks until now—to explode as they’re still rising, but just barely, then to catch in the air like a lump in your throat before falling—slowly, at first, then going out, blown out not by the movement of air but of it through air—before you get to see the colored sparks pick up speed. From this far the displays were all silent—something I’d also never experienced. I spotted several—maybe 4? —all going on at once, and wondered which were official and which were happening in open fields or neighborhood cul-de-sacs. I saw the displays as three-dimensional for the first time as I moved through them—I suppose that’s what was so surreal about it. Quiet, static fireworks, limited to their small patch of low sky.

When the repairman pulled out my weather-worn windshield last week, it completely shattered. I’m still picking out shards of glass no bigger than the ridges of my fingerprints from the passenger’s seat.

 

Christmas in North Carolina

Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday – smell of balsam and pine, clove and cinnamon; sharing food and drink with loved ones; watching a child’s face light up with joy upon opening a long-desired gift; huddling around either a lit Christmas tree or a crackling fire in the fireplace out of both reverence and a wish for warmth.

Log cabin Christmas

Log cabin Christmas

These things all have a special meaning for me now that I live across the country from my family. Coming back to visit is so special. I get to put Sam, my ten-year-old brother, to bed every night – sometimes via a game of Boggle, sometimes a game of soccer between two puppets ensues, and sometimes I start reading paragraphs of an educational book on cartography in a Liza Minnelli voice.

North Carolina was rainy, which was strange, as I hadn’t seen any rain in several months. In fact, just before I left Laramie, it snowed enough that, on the drive down to the Denver airport, the pines in Medicine Bow National Forest were covered in dustings of snow.

Frosty forest

Frosted forest

The wind hadn’t yet had its chance to strip them free of frost.

Landing in Raleigh, I could immediately detect the difference in temperature. My older sister Margaret picked me up and I requested we stop by CookOut, a North Carolina-based fast food chain with dank milkshakes.

On Christmas Eve, my mom made a delicious vinegar-y bratwurst and red cabbage stew while Sam and I attempted to assemble a gingerbread house. We learned icing is very sticky.

Even blinking Sam is adorable

Even blinking Sam is adorable

That night my uncle and grandparents came to town for Christmas festivities. Dark beer and bourbon-spiked egg nog were had while we caught up and opened presents. Because there are six of us Indermaur kids, to save us from the problem of needing to find gifts for each sibling, each year we are secretly assigned one sibling for whom to find a gift. Otherwise, Sam would probably give us each a pack of gum or something.

On the morning of Christmas Day, Sam appoints himself the sorter of presents under the tree and stocking deliveryman. We each have our stocking, full to the brim with candy and other small goodies, personally delivered to our beds.

After partaking in cinnamon rolls, coffee, and candy, we drove to Greensboro to meet up with the Indermaur side of the family. We had lunch at a delicious Thai restaurant (after all those sweets, savory curry was a welcome change) and went to Opa’s house afterwards for dessert, caroling, and presents.

Uncle Tom, Aunt Morgan, cousin Catalina and baby cousin Maxime couldn’t join us from their home in California, so we sang Christmas songs to them over Skype. We were all wearing the matching T-shirts Tom and Morgan gave us.

The Incredible Indermaurs!

The Incredible Indermaurs!

The next day we headed to what my mom has dubbed the “Creekside Cabin” in rural central North Carolina.

Ben fuels up on the way to the cabin

Ben fuels up on the way to the cabin

Mmm nothing like a fresh jar of pig foot

Mmm nothing like a fresh jar of pig hooves

The cabin is a restored tobacco barn plus a newer addition surrounded by some wooded acreage and fenced-in areas. We’re trying to convince our parents to get a pet donkey. Or some goats. Really, anything will do. Rabbits?

The cabin

Welcome to the cabin!

There is a tire swing, a little creek (true to its name) – perfect for crawfish hunting and splashing and panning for gold – random abandoned treasures (an old tent? mason jars?), and a neighbor with a donkey and llama farm.

Sam enjoys the tire swing

Sam enjoys the tire swing

Sam panning for gold

Sam panning for gold

The old chinking and pine walls in the main room are just lovely.

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Cabin living room

But of course, the best way to experience the cabin is to wander around the woods.

And the best way to wander is via piggyback

And the best way to wander is via piggyback atop your younger but taller sister

We spent the night at the cabin, wandered and played a little more, and made s’mores around Dad’s campfire before driving back to Raleigh through beautiful little Chapel Hill.

Will chomps down on his half-charred marshmallow

Will chomps down on his half-charred marshmallow

Libby, Will, and I saw the excellent movie “Wild,” based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, about a young woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo. IT’S SO GOOD AND YOU NEED TO SEE IT. NOW. YES, YOU. YES, NOW.

I wish I’d had more time to see all my friends in North Carolina, but I’m so glad I was able to catch up with my family and to warm up a little before returning to Wyoming just in time to experience several days of negative double-digit temperatures.

Happy New Year, readers, and may it be a beautiful one.

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Christmas Preparations

It’s been unseasonably warm for December here in Wyoming. We were almost afraid there wouldn’t be any snow to speak of in the mountains when the Snowy Range Ski Area opened.

Matt and I went up to the Snowies the weekend before last to get our Christmas tree, just like last year. We stopped by the ski lodge to pick up our passes, have my skis and Matt’s board waxed, and go up the lift and down the the slopes a couple times. The lodge has a little bar upstairs overlooking the slopes, and we had a draught beer from Sheep Mountain Brewery, basically a guy outside of Laramie who makes great beer in his oversized garage. I believe it was a red IPA – really delicious! The bearded man sitting next to us introduced himself as a foreign exchange student from Tasmania studying at the University of Wyoming. I drank a free additional pint of the red IPA because the bartender messed up a pour. You know, typical Laramie-area happenings.

A semi-frozen creek up in the Snowies

A semi-frozen creek up in the Snowies

I was pleased that I hadn’t completely forgotten how to ski and that neither of us fell while getting on or off the lift, which had proved more difficult than I had anticipated last year. It was warm enough that I hadn’t been dying to get off the lift by the time we reached the top of the mountain, and sunny too.

Sometimes, caught in a turn, the view obscured by pines, you forget that you’re not completely alone with the trees and the snow. You feel small and a part of something wide and deep and beautiful in the almost-silence of the wind and the sshhhh of your skis against the snow.

The road between Laramie and the ski area

The road between Laramie and the ski area

After skiing, we drove up the road a ways to find ourselves a tree. We walked by a family on snowshoes carrying their own tree on the snowed-in trail. If you stayed on the cross-country ski trail you didn’t need snowshoes, but we eventually had to wander off the trail to find our tree, as per Forest Service regulations. I believe the word “trudging” was invented to describe one’s slow, labored walk through over a foot of snow. If you’ve never had the good fortune of needing to trudge through so much snow that it’s a small miracle every time your boot reappears, whole – just imagine a small child so bored they’ve grown exasperated with the feeling, chin to the ceiling, eyes rolled up in their sockets, shoulders sagging, walking away from you. That, too, is a trudge.

Matt in the forest

Matt in the forest

To ease your sadness about severing forever a pine from its roots, the Forest Service informs you in their handy brochure, which accompanies the $10 permit for the tree cutting, that your act assists the growth of the surrounding trees, and thus the forest as a whole (I admit it would be better here if I quoted directly from the pamphlet but, after a ~30-second search through my recent mail, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably threw it out). Harvesting the tree, then, is like giving the grove a haircut. Mowing the lawn. Holding two or three kids back a grade. You know, science: not everyone wins and gets to become a magnificent Christmas tree – just the pretty ones.

Got it!

Got it!

We picked a more suitably-sized tree for both the inside of the car and our house this year, though its much skinnier trunk repeatedly rebelled at our positioning it in the Christmas tree stand. It remains crooked but only if you look at it from either the perspective of the gas fireplace or the dusty corner behind the couch which likes to collect tumbleweeds of dog fur. From the front door it looks very nice. We only broke one ornament wrestling with it and the stand.

Christmas is fast approaching! I’ve already watched “Elf” once, and listened to probably 50 hours of Christmas music, so I’m prepared. I’ve wrapped all the presents, created plenty of online wishlists at various outlets in anticipation of the receipt of gift cards, and made at least one Christmas-related dessert item, though I have yet to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which I have on DVD – yes, it’s that important. I’m looking forward to seeing my family in North Carolina, but I’d gladly skip over the whole shuttle-to-the-airport/plane-from-one-airport-to-the-next thing if I could. I think this is a sign you’re officially an adult, when the prospect of traveling via plane exhausts you and causes you to go out and buy crystallized ginger and anti-nausea pills instead of giving you boundless, exuberant joy.

Unless the drive looks like this. JOY!

Unless the drive looks like this. JOY!

But after all that sitting and wondering which ridiculously expensive dry sandwich or stale burger to order and weaseling your way into public bathroom stalls only to find there is no toilet paper – after all that mess comes FAMILY. And old friends, and presents, and free food, and all those wonderful, wonderful things. This is why I love Christmas.

Happy holidays and safe travels, everyone!

Gratitude

I’d like to live in the plane of gratitude, not just offer it up when I’m feeling warm and loved. In the way that some pray without ceasing, living and acting from a place of gratitude would have a profound effect on my frame of mind. Instead of shouting at Abe, my dog, for digging up the grass in the backyard and tracking in  mud all over the house, I’d consider my (justified!) anger alongside how much I love him, and how wonderful a presence he is in my home and my life.

My sweet puppy

My sweet, furry, messy puppy

Instead of banging kitchen utensils around in frustration with the half-burned granola I need for one week’s worth of breakfast, I might realize I have the money to buy new ingredients, and be grateful something (even if it is half-burned) will fill my belly each morning to fuel me for that day.

I find it’s often hardest to practice gratitude in the midst of a challenge. Emily, the owner of Blossom Yoga Studio in Laramie, taught a yoga class recently where she constantly encouraged us students to cultivate gratitude, and yet she was simultaneously guiding us into very challenging poses like arm balances.

From YogaJournal.com, this is firefly pose, which is a type of arm balance

From YogaJournal.com, this is firefly pose, which is a type of arm balance

I found myself immediately criticizing – my legs weren’t straight, my hips weren’t high enough off the ground…. There was so much for which I could be thankful, though – the strength of my arms, shoulders, and core; the flexibility of my hamstrings; my perseverance and power; my ability to breathe while I balance; even my having the time for this class, and the teacher, and the studio itself.

When we fall into pattern and familiarity, it’s easier for us to see what’s missing rather than what’s present, which is part of the reason the Holidays can be so hard for people. Families change; people grow up, move away, marry, divorce, and pass on.

Yet great and disruptive change gives us an amazing opportunity to take note of what it is we hold dear, that for which we’re thankful. And once we notice these things, we can turn them over in our minds until they become woven into the very fabric of our way of living, until they become a constant prayer.

I am thankful for the people in my life who love and care about me. I am thankful for the ever-changing seasons. I am thankful for my house and my home, this little town of Laramie in the wide open state of Wyoming. I am thankful for the snow-capped mountains that loom large over Laramie. I am thankful for nourishing food and libations. I am thankful, as always, for a good book (right now I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed). I am thankful for yoga, the yoga community, and for my healthy body.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Holi in SLC

In order to live in Laramie, sometimes you just have to get out of Laramie. That’s what my friend Amy and I did last weekend – five and a half hours of driving to Salt Lake City, another five and a half back.

The descent into Salt Lake is as gorgeous as it is dangerous with its winding, steep, unsuspecting interstate. On our way in we passed a suburban that was flipped on its side – yikes!

From the mountains you make your slithering way down to the valley of Salt Lake City, a bowl surrounded by snow-capped rocky peaks. We couldn’t believe how green everything was! (So much so that we spent like a half an hour just sitting on some grass in front of my friend Sara’s apartment before she got home.)

We first went to 9th & 9th, a cute area of downtown with shops and restaurants, and lots of tulips and lilac and other furiously blooming and good-smelling things. Amy had to finish a paper, so we found a coffee shop with Wifi. Amy, who is gluten-free, was ecstatic over her discovery of that coffee shop’s gluten-free doughnut.

Ladies & gentlemen, Amy's first doughnut in 3 years

Ladies & gentlemen, Amy’s first doughnut in 3 years

With Tallie and Sara’s input, we decided on a Cajun restaurant for dinner, which ended up being an excellent choice, even though I forgot my leftovers on the table. (Sorry, gumbo! You really were delicious!) They had an amazing beer selection and a darn good artichoke dip. Also I’m pretty sure you can never overdo paprika seasoning. Put that stuff on EVERYTHING!

The next morning we slept in on Kyle and Tallie’s marvelous air mattress and had a late breakfast at Whole Foods, where I acquired a box of blueberry muffins and some dried mango. Walking around the store, I exclaimed to Amy, “Look! None of the produce is wilted or sad or moldy!!!”

Since we were in a large city, obviously I searched Google Maps for some nearby thrift stores. We ended up at this amazing store called Home Away, which was packed to the brim with refinished antique furniture, little painted lanterns, amazing kitchenware, and old window panes-turned-picture frames. I’ve been searching for a nice but inexpensive end table to sit by our front door in the living room to collect items like keys, wallets, sunglasses, and mail. And I FOUND IT.

Ta-da! Planter from Walmart, tray from Mom

Ta-da! Planter from Walmart, plant from local flea market, tray from Mom

I’m probably more excited about this than I should be, but it’s really given the room some personality. Of course Matt’s first response was literally, “Aah! More knick-knacks!” His second response, if you’re wondering, was, “This thing needs a new coat of paint.” Anyhow, the whole store was very reasonably priced; I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the SLC area.

After our little shopping excursion, we leisurely made our way to Holi, which is a Hindu festival of colors celebrating the coming of spring. You’ve probably seen photos of it or heard about “color runs.” The tickets we bought for the event paid for our admission, a meal each (delicious Indian food!), and several bags of color – aka dyed and scented cornstarch.

The "before" picture

The “before” picture

Throughout the day there were free yoga classes, since the event was hosted by the Krishna Temple, and live music from kirtan bands, MC Yogi, and other groups. At one point a singer lept off the stage and indicated with body language (I don’t think he spoke much English) that I should grab the back of his shoulders. SUDDEN CONGO LINE.

Since the event was alcohol-free, many of the attendees appeared to be highschoolers eager to hold hands away from their parents’ watchful gazes. It was pretty adorable.

One of the performers

One of the performers

Andy Grammer performed a couple songs and reportedly filmed his music video for one of them there as well. I think I was the only person in the crowd to not recognize this man, or any of his songs, likely because I don’t listen to the radio. But hey, maybe I’ll be in a music video! As I screamed to Amy in the crowd, “OHMYGOD I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE ON MTV!”

I also ended up crowd-surfing at one point?

So many colors lalalaaa

So many colors & pretty background mountains

So that was fun. It took me a little while to find Amy afterwards.

We alternated between dancing and eating, two of life’s most marvelous experiences. The Krishna Temple makes a mean mango lemonade! We also wandered over to the yoga area and practiced our handstands. A very sweet new teacher, about our age, led us through a nice flow.

There are children in the tree behind me

There are children climbing the tree behind me

The Sanskrit name for the pose above is janu sirsasana (pronounced “jah-noo sheer-shah-sah-nah”), one of my favorites!

Amy getting some free love

Amy getting some free love

It took us a while to wash all the powder from our bodies, which had turned a kind of gross brown color instead of its cute original patches of neon pink and purple and yellow. I explained to Tallie that we had to wash the shower after showering. Amy’s hair still looks kind of green today.

After returning to our somewhat normal appearances, we spent too long in Trader Joe’s, basically the best place ever on the planet.  It is the happiest grocery store you will ever encounter. Though the closest one from us is in Boulder, CO, I have stocked up at Salt Lake City’s location the past few times I’ve visited. This means lots of coconut oil and gummy vitamins, obviously.

We made tacos for dinner at Kyle and Tallie’s while Kyle made some delicious margaritas, Sara brought over her adorable dog/jackrabbit Porter, and we stayed up talking (mostly about climbing) until way past everyone’s bedtimes.

Naturally the best way to end a weekend like this is with a 5.5-hour drive home through brown sagebrush prairie, relentless wind, and dazed truck drivers (the speed limit is 75, people!).  Up in Laramie, we’re still holding out for spring. My optimism lies in my sprouting zucchini and sunflowers – but don’t worry; they’re still in indoor trays. We’re supposed to get some snow on Thursday, but maybe the weekend will be nice. I think I got enough vitamin D last weekend, even through caked layers of cornstarch, to last me for a while, though.

Much love & adventure to all!

Christmas Season

If I could frame this post with a border resembling a pixelated holly garland, I totally would. It’s CHRISTMAS SEASON!

But first, it was Thanksgiving season. Since I work in the financial industry, I had to return to the office on Friday because the market was open. This prevented Matt and me from going down to Indian Creek, Utah for some long-weekend climbing with a few of our friends. Without any plans, I suddenly realized that, in order for me to feel like it’s actually Thanksgiving, there has to be lots of yummy food. That’s the best part of the holiday, or any holiday, really.

Preparing some root veggies for roasting

Preparing some root veggies for roasting (purple potatoes, carrots, fennel)

I also made a pie!

It's a masala-spiced pear pie

It’s a masala-spiced pear pie with a fancy crust

We had one of Matt’s fellow grad students over since his family is in Bangladesh, and he didn’t really know what Thanksgiving was. And no, I did not make a turkey! A roasted chicken was a better choice for us three.

Anyway, back to CHRISTMAS. Last weekend Matt and I went skiing/snowboarding and climbing, so we didn’t have a chance to pick up a Christmas tree. Here in Wyoming, most families get a $10 permit from the US Forest Service to cut down their own tree on federal land. There are several different varieties of pines and firs in the nearby mountain forests.

Some of the available trees

Some of the available trees

As you can see above, the roads weren’t in great condition up in the mountains. We got about 7 inches of snow in town this week, and the higher elevations got more. Despite Matt’s trying to concentrate on driving, I made him listen to my Christmas playlist the whole way there.

The Forest Service limits you to a tree no taller than 20 feet, with a diameter no larger than 6 inches. You also have to be at least 500 feet from any road and 200 feet from any trail when you cut down the tree, so there was a little bit of deep-snow-bushwhacking/adventuring on our part.

That’s when we stumbled upon this beauty:

The tree!

The tree!

Though she was covered in snow, we noted her nice shape and not-too-tall size. Matt took the newly-purchased saw out of his backpack and got to work. We were almost knee-deep in snow in places, and it was hard to tell if your next step would lead to solid ground or slippery fallen tree trunk.

I sawed through the second half of the little tree trunk and Matt hefted the tree over his shoulder. We followed our tracks in the snow back to the car.

Matt carrying the tree

Matt carrying the tree, back on the trail

It was amazing to us how quiet things were up on the snowy mountain. Without any wind, and with what I presume to be many creatures in hibernation, there was a peaceful stillness. Matt remarked it would be nice to just take a hike through the area one day. Most people seem to do so with cross-country skis.

The weather was almost perfect: slightly overcast, ~10 degrees, the aforementioned lack of wind.

After sawing off more of the top & bottom, we were able to fit the tree inside the car

After sawing off the top & bottom, we were able to fit the tree inside the car

We then made our way back through Centennial, a charming Wyoming mountain town with a population of 270. There are a few little stores and restaurants in town, and we stopped at the Beartree Tavern for some warm soup, chili, and garlic bread smeared with pesto.

Matt kindly pulled over for me on the way home so I could take some photos of this gorgeous frozen river scene. The ghostly orb in the upper right corner is the sun behind fog and cloud cover.

Wintry western scene just outside of Centennial, WY

Wintry western scene just outside of Centennial, WY

Finishing off the remaining hot chocolate I’d brought with me, we pulled into the driveway and began setting up our new Christmas tree! Somehow we managed to saw just the right amounts off both the top and bottom of the tree, such that it fit perfectly from floor to ceiling.

Decorating the tree! Actually, here Matt is anchoring the tree to a piece of furniture so it doesn't fall on the gas fireplace

Decorating! Actually, here Matt is anchoring the tree to a piece of furniture so it doesn’t fall on the gas fireplace

Though our tree doesn’t have the requisite fullness of the typical suburban grocery store parking lot tree, I think it’s pretty darn cute. I wonder how many years it took for our tree to grow to this size, how many winters it’s seen.

My favorite feature of the good old Tannenbaum, other than its softly lit night beauty, has to be its scent. It is, after all, the strongest sense linked to memory. Hand me a mug of hot cocoa (maybe with a splash of Goldschlaeger in it) and sit me in front of a toasty fireplace by a fresh Douglas fir, and that is Christmas past to me.

Happy holiday season from Abe & me!

Happy holiday season from Abe & me!