Sunday, October 30, 2016


I really miss driving through Franconia Notch and stopping to look up in awe at the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain. The Old Man always seemed kind of regal to me, like a king perched high on his rock throne, overseeing his kingdom below.

Unfortunately, he also reminded me of one of the (many) bad dates I’ve had.

This particular date, from my bad-date archives, took place on a sunny Sunday in autumn, during the height of leaf-peeping season. I was a junior in high school at the time, and one of my friends (and I now use the term loosely) fixed me up on a blind date with a guy named Don, who invited me to go for a drive to the White Mountains.

Don didn’t have a car, so we double-dated with his friend Sam, who had a VW Beetle, and Sam’s girlfriend, Irene. When they arrived to pick me up, I instantly was disappointed. It wasn’t that Don was a bad-looking guy, he just wasn’t …well, very neat or clean in appearance. His hair was long and matted, and he was wearing a stained, wrinkled shirt and too-short black pants that displayed his white socks – which weren’t very white.

Riding in the back seat of a VW Beetle, with my knees under my chin all the way to the White Mountains, wasn’t exactly comfortable. And the fact that the traffic was backed up for about 20 miles, didn’t help ease my discomfort. I figured that by the time I finally got out of the car, I wouldn’t be able to walk because my legs would be numb from the thighs down, from lack of circulation.

 “I’m hungry,” Don whined after we’d sat in traffic for about an hour.

So Sam pulled into the next restaurant we came to. The four of us ordered burgers, fries and milkshakes, filled our growling stomachs, and then got ready to hit the road again.

“Here’s my half of the bill,” Sam said, handing the bill and some money to Don. “Now let’s get going. We’re already way behind schedule.”

Don reached into his pocket and his face suddenly paled. “I left my wallet at home!”

I frantically searched through my handbag. “I have two dollars,” I said, immediately picturing myself having to spend the rest of the afternoon washing dishes at the restaurant.

Sam rolled his eyes and sighed. “Don’t worry, guys, I’ve got it.” He cast Don a glance that told me it might not have been the first time his buddy had “forgotten” his wallet.

After sitting in traffic for another 45 minutes, Sam finally reached his boiling point. “Hang on,” he said, pulling out of the line of traffic and onto the side of the road. “We’re going to take a shortcut.”

We rode along the side of the road all the rest of the way to the mountains.

“I hope a cop doesn’t catch us,” I said, sliding lower in my seat to hide from all of the cursing, hand-gesturing people in the line of cars as we passed them on the right.

“Don’t worry,” Sam said. “Unless the cop is on a motorcycle or in a VW himself, he won’t be able to fit over here to chase us.”

When we finally reached our destination, I got out of the car, inhaled the fresh mountain air (which I desperately needed by then) and gazed up at the great stone profile of the Old Man. At that moment, I knew that all of the torture had been worth it.

“Ready to go hiking?” Sam asked.

I just stared at him.

“This mountain right here behind us,” he said, pointing over his shoulder. “If we climb the trail, we can get an even better view of the Old Man.”

I glanced down at my dainty T-strap shoes and then up at the mountain, which looked as if it had been the victim of hundreds of rock slides, and frowned.

“Sounds like fun!” Don said. He grabbed my hand and began to yank me up the trail. My leather-soled shoes were so slippery on the rocks, if I hadn’t been hanging onto him, I’d have ended up flat on my face and spitting out teeth.

After about 15 minutes, Sam, who was ahead of us, stopped walking, pulled Irene into his arms, and gave her a passionate kiss. Don stared at the two of them for a few seconds, then turned toward me and moved a step closer.

“Try it and die,” I said.

Don was not pleased. In fact, he stopped holding my hand after that and stomped up the trail to walk ahead of Sam and Irene.

I struggled to keep up with them, but not only was I not used to climbing mountains, my shoes continued to plot against me.

Finally, after what seemed like 20 years, the trio stopped walking. “Look at the view,” Sam called out. “Isn’t it great?” He, with Irene leaning back against him, his arms around her waist, stood staring at the Old Man.

Breathless, with my lungs feeling as if they’d been filled with concrete, I reached the group. When I turned to look at the view, my feet slipped out from under me and I landed flat on my rear on a bunch of small, pointy rocks and slid downhill about 10 feet.

As I sat there, groaning in several octaves, it was Sam who came to my rescue and helped me to my feet. Don still was too angry with me. In fact, his expression all but told me he was wishing I’d have slid over the edge of a 100-foot cliff.

When I arrived home that night, my mother thought I had been in an accident. My hair was a mess, my face was dirty, my jeans were torn, and one of the straps on my shoes was broken.

After that, I vowed never again to accept a blind date, no matter how wonderful the guy sounded. But a few years later, I broke that vow just one more time.

And that was how I met my husband.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016


Because there have been quite a few break-ins in my neighborhood lately, I was pleased to find, as I was flipping through all 950 of my TV channels the other night, a talk show that featured an expert on home protection.

“Being a former burglar myself,” he said, “I know a lot about how the criminal mind works. And now I am putting my experience to good use to help homeowners like you protect their property.”

“If you can’t afford an expensive security system,” he began, “I have a few tips that might work just as well.”

First of all, he explained that mind games often work to confuse a burglar.

“Hang signs on your property,” he advised. “And the more absurd, the better, such as, ‘Caution, Pet Rattlesnake Still on the Loose’ or ‘Home of Former Military Sniper.’ Most burglars are so nervous when they are about to break into a house, they don’t have time to stand there and figure out what’s true and what isn’t anyway.”

His words made me remember when my family’s summer camp kept getting broken into during the off-season. My dad finally put up a sign that said, “This Property Patrolled by Local Police.” Some jokester wrote on the bottom of it, “That’s OK, my sister is dating all of them”…and then robbed the place.

The expert on TV then said he never would rob a house with a gravel driveway because gravel makes too much noise underfoot. Therefore, he suggested it might be a good idea for homeowners to put down a layer of gravel on their driveways.

The thought of burying my recently paved driveway with gravel and then trying to snow-blow it in the winter, sending it propelling through my windows made me think it might not be such a hot idea. Besides that, how many burglars walk directly up the driveway when they are about to rob a house anyway?

The expert also suggested hiding valuables in unlikely places.

“The bedroom usually is the first place where burglars look,” he said. “So you’re better off hiding things in uncommon places like the kitchen. If you have a frozen turkey in your freezer, for example, put your jewelry in a plastic bag and stuff it into the bird’s hollow cavity.”

I couldn’t help but giggle as I imagined forgetting the jewelry was in there, roasting the turkey for Thanksgiving, and then having one of the guests end up with a diamond ring in his giblets.

“And, from my experience, even though a house was dark and there appeared to be no one at home,” the expert continued, “I always checked the garage to see if there was a car inside. If I saw a car, I’d go somewhere else.”

So he recommended that homeowners either buy a spare car to keep in the garage at all times, or to cover the garage windows with shades so burglars can’t see inside.

I figured the shades would be a lot cheaper than buying a spare car. Or even better, to just hang one of the aforementioned mind-game signs on the garage door: “This Space Reserved for Rambo’s Car, Which is Out Being Repaired After Getting Wrecked in a Police Chase.”

“The messages you leave on your voice-mail message or on social media also can attract burglars,” the expert said. “Posting a notice that says something like, ‘Fred and I are so excited!  Tomorrow, we’re leaving on a 10-day cruise to Tahiti!’ is as good as sending out a written invitation for burglars to come rob your place!”

"If you still have an answering machine," he said, "it's better to leave a message on it like, 'I can't come to the phone right now because I'm busy cleaning my gun.'"

He explained that the one thing that really scares off burglars, even more than a security system, is a dog…and the bigger the better.

“But if you don’t want to go through all the trouble of keeping a dog,” he said, “just make your place look as if you have a big dog. It works just as well.”

He suggested buying a huge dog-dish and setting it out on the front porch.

“And hang up a Beware of Dog sign,” he added. “Or go to your local butcher’s and get a couple large dog bones to put on your front lawn. Believe me, if I saw any of that at a house I was thinking about robbing, I’d change my mind fast!”

The thought of tossing gigantic butcher’s bones on my lawn made me worry I might attract a lot worse than burglars…like something really big, with fangs…and a huge appetite.

After watching the show, I realized I’d already been doing something that probably had deterred burglars and I hadn’t even realized it. For one thing, I have a Rottweiler. I also have a plaque on my door that says, “A House is Not a Home Without a Rottie.”

And, at the request of my insurance agent (who was wary about insuring a home that has a Rottweiler), I posted a sign at the edge of my driveway that says, “Warning! Security Dog!” which actually caused the town’s tax assessor to send me a note telling me to call him because he hadn’t dared to approach my property.

I think I just might adopt a couple more Rottweilers.



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Sunday, October 16, 2016


For about three days last week, I smelled something strange in my house. It was an odor I hadn’t smelled before, and it was like a cross between something moldy and something that had curled up and died somewhere. The strange thing was I couldn’t really tell where it was coming from.

Visions of something like a dead mouse wedged behind the stove or underneath the refrigerator sent me sniffing in those areas, but I honestly couldn’t detect anything. Of course, the fact that my sinuses had been clogged up for most of that day didn’t help – or maybe it did, because the plugged sinuses at least provided me with some temporary relief from the mega-stink.

My dogs were no help. I figured that they, because they usually were attracted to stinky things, would lead me to the source of the odor, but they probably were enjoying it too much – kind of like the canine version of Chanel No. 5 – to think anything was wrong.

Finally, on the third night of the mysterious odor, I decided to take some chicken out of the freezer so I could make soup the next day. I opened the freezer door, which is at the top of my refrigerator, and my face nearly melted from the odor that jumped out and smacked it.

The freezer was completely warm…and so was all of the food in it. The mystery was solved.

Panicking, I opened the bottom part of the refrigerator. I had been using things from that section all week and none of them had been warm – or at least I hadn’t remembered them being warm - which didn’t make sense because I recalled once being told that the cold air from the freezer was what cooled the bottom part of the fridge. That’s when I noticed that the thermometer I kept on the shelf in the fridge was reading nearly 50 degrees.

“I’m going to die!” I clasped my chest and said to the dogs. “I think I’ve been eating bad food without even realizing it!”

The dogs just sat there staring at me as if to say, “What’s all the fuss about? We’ve knocked over a few trash cans in our time and have eaten out of those, and then washed it down with a drink from the toilet, and we’re fine.”

When I bought my fridge seven years ago, it was the first one I’d ever owned that had a self-defrosting freezer. Up until then, I had spent 35 years hacking icebergs out of the old freezers or attacking them with a hair dryer. It was a task I always saved for a really hot summer day. It also was a task that incited me to spew a bunch of four-letter words I rarely used.

But last week, I found myself wishing I still had one of those old freezers – one that built up so much ice inside, it looked as if the hull of the Titanic might pop out at any moment. The problem with self-defrosting freezers is if they lose power, they don’t have anything to keep them cool – no thick layers of ice or frost inside. So the food in them spoils much faster.

I ran around like a madwoman, checking circuit breakers, moving the fridge and unplugging it, then plugging it into a different socket. Nothing helped. The refrigerator just sat there, getting hotter…and stinkier. Finally, even though it was late, I called my cousin, who’s somewhat of an appliance expert.

“I can’t afford a new refrigerator!” I cried when he answered. “Even the cheapest models are $600, and they’re so basic, they’re not much better than the picnic coolers you bring to the beach!”

“So what’s wrong with your fridge?” he calmly asked me.

“It’s warm, really warm.”

“How old is it?”

“Seven years.”

“When was the last time you cleaned the condenser coils?”

“The what?”

He groaned. “You’ve never cleaned the condenser coils in seven years?”

“Um, what do they look like?” I asked, picturing a bunch of bedsprings.

“They’re either on the back of the fridge or behind a snap-out grid at the bottom on the front,” he said. “Why don’t you go check and see if you can find them while I stay on the phone, okay?”


I decided to check the bottom front first because I wasn’t in the mood to drag the refrigerator out from the wall again so I could look behind it. I found a plastic grid-like panel and snapped it off.  I gasped.

“What’s the matter?” my cousin (I’d put him on speaker phone) shouted.

“I can’t see any coils under there,” I told him. I was lying on my stomach on the floor, a flashlight in my hand.

“What do you see?”

“About 10 pounds of dog fur!”

Again, he groaned. “I’m surprised it took this long for your fridge to die.”

“Then it’s a lost cause?” I asked, mentally calculating which bank in the area would be the easiest to rob.

“No, not necessarily,” he said in tone that wasn’t even remotely convincing. “Try cleaning out all of the fur and dust and see what happens when you give the coils some breathing space again. Oh – and be sure to unplug everything first, before you do anything!”

It took me 20 minutes to get rid of all of the solidly packed fur and finally see the coils under there. I could have stuffed a bed pillow with all of the fur I vacuumed up. I then held my breath and plugged in the refrigerator.

When I heard it kick on and start running, I nearly danced a jig. I immediately called my cousin back and shouted, “It’s running!”

“Don’t celebrate yet,” he said. “Wait a few minutes to see if it starts getting cold.”

To my relief, the fridge did get cold. I figured it was nothing short of a miracle. All I had to do after that was find some way to de-stink it.

“Thanks SO much!” I said to my cousin. “You’re a life saver!”

“Well, because you have dogs, I’d recommend that you clean the coils at least three times a year,” he said.

“Three times a year?” I repeated, frowning. I had hoped it was something I wouldn’t have to suffer through again for at least another two or three years. The thought of having to move the fridge to unplug it and then stretching out on my stomach on the floor and cleaning out dog fur didn’t exactly appeal to me. 

I’m thinking maybe it would be easier to just shave the dogs.

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Sunday, October 9, 2016


This is the time of year when all of the Halloween haunted houses start popping up. One of the most heavily advertised is called Spooky World, Nightmare New England, which is located in Litchfield, New Hampshire.

The advertisements for Spooky World are more than enough to entice any horror buff.  They feature zombies, ghouls, fiendish clowns, a haunted hayride and acres of woods that conceal terrifying creatures, all of which will, at some point, leap out at unsuspecting visitors to test how strong their bladders are.

All I can say is Spooky World has come a long way in the past 20-plus years.

Back in the early ‘90s, I happened to come across a brochure for a new haunted attraction called Spooky World, described as America’s number-one horror theme park, located in Berlin, Massachusetts.

The brochure described such chilling attractions as 20 authentic Hollywood horror stage-sets, super-charged special effects, a cast of 60 live performers, an enter-if-you-dare haunted house and a horror-movie museum. Wide-eyed, I studied every word of the brochure. Perhaps it was because I was born on Halloween, but I’d always felt a sort of kinship to things that went bump in the night. So I suddenly had a burning desire to go to this new Spooky World place.

My husband, however, wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea. For one thing, it was about 80 miles from our house, and I wanted to go on a weeknight to avoid the crowds. And secondly, my husband wasn’t a big fan of haunted houses.

So I was forced to bring out the ammunition I’d been saving…the one thing I knew would make him change his mind and be even more eager to visit Spooky World than I was.

“Linda Blair is going to be there signing autographs and meeting fans on Monday night,” I told him.

His eyes grew as wide as saucers. “Linda Blair! Seriously? You wouldn’t be lying to me, would you, just to get me to take you there?”

“I swear it’s true,” I said, crossing my heart with my index finger. “I know what a huge Linda Blair fan you are, and I figured you wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to actually meet her.”

For years, my husband had been suffering from a bona-fide movie-star crush on Linda Blair. He‘d rented all of her movies...twice. He’d then watched reruns of those same movies on TV.  I figured he’d probably crawl on his knees over broken glass just to meet her. Fortunately, I was right.

So on a very cold Monday night that October, my husband rushed home from work and we headed off on the hour-and-a-half journey to Berlin, Massachusetts.

“I’m starving,” he said when were halfway there. “I didn’t have time to eat anything.”

“I had a sandwich at about 4:30,” I said. “But I’m sure they’ll have a snack bar where you can grab a burger or something.” I paused before adding, “Guess what? I bought a disposable camera, especially so I can snap a couple photos of Linda Blair for you!”

There weren’t any cell phones with cameras in them back then, and I didn’t want to lug my expensive 35mm camera with me, especially if zombies were going to attack me while I was carrying it. So I’d bought a cheap, small, disposable camera, hoping it would suffice.

After what seemed like the world’s longest car ride, we turned onto Spooky World’s dark, bumpy, road. There, we had to sit and wait in a line of backed-up traffic for over 20 minutes. Finally, a large barn-like structure surrounded by endless acres of farmland in the middle of nowhere came into view. We had arrived.

Eager to begin our night of thrills and chills (and Linda Blair), we parked the car and hurried toward the entrance. An employee greeted us and told us there were about 4,000 people ahead of us in line. We laughed, thinking he was joking. After all, it was a Monday night, not a weekend night. Unfortunately, the guy was telling the truth.

“If we hadn’t traveled so far to see this place, I’d leave right now,” I muttered to my husband.

He clearly was aghast. “And miss seeing Linda Blair? Never!  I will wait in line all night if I have to!”

Nearly two hours later, we finally had our tickets ($12.50 each) in hand. “Thank goodness,” my husband said, groaning. “My back and legs couldn’t have stood another minute of this.”

“My legs were really starting to ache,” I said, “but about an hour ago, they went completely numb from the cold, so I can’t feel them any more.”

Another employee then told us, “Your adventure will begin with the haunted hayride, which boards passengers right behind this building.” He nodded in the general direction of where we were supposed to go.

We walked to the back of the building and stopped dead. There, stretched out as far as the eye could see, was a sea of people standing in a line that made the lines at Disney World look only two inches long. I honestly thought my husband was going to cry.

Fools that we were, we waited in line for another two hours. By then, my husband’s stomach was growling so loudly, people were turning to stare at him. When we finally boarded the hay wagon, it was 10:45. I was so relieved just to be sitting, I nearly knelt down and kissed the hay bales. There wasn’t a bone in my body that didn’t ache, and my nose had turned into an ice cube with nostrils.

I figured that after all of the waiting in line we’d done, our reward would be a horror show to beat all horror shows. Once again, I’d figured wrong. The attractions basically consisted of what looked like teenagers running around dressed in department-store Halloween costumes. And the so-called “professional” movie sets were nothing more than badly spray-painted plywood. If my lips hadn’t been frozen together by then, I would have demanded a refund.

“Well,” my husband said, when we climbed out of the hay wagon and headed toward the next attraction, “if it weren’t for getting to meet Linda Blair tonight, I’d be really upset right now. I wonder where she is and when we’ll get to see her?” He craned his neck to scan our surroundings.

I glanced at my watch and sucked in my breath. It was 11:15. According to the brochure, Linda was scheduled to be at the park only until 11. I had no idea how I was going to break the news to my husband, but I was pretty sure his response would include the words “divorce lawyer.”

We toured the haunted house, which basically was a bunch of mannequins with light-up eyes, then moved to the horror museum, which was the last attraction. By then, it was 11:30 and definitely time to go home, especially since my husband had to get up for work in about six hours. But first, I knew the time had come for me to gather the courage to deliver the bad – no, make that devastating – news about Linda Blair. I felt my stomach turning into a giant knot. 

I opened my mouth to utter the words that were guaranteed to crush my poor husband’s heart, when I was interrupted by one of the employees making an announcement.

“Linda Blair was scheduled to be here only until 11:00,” he said, “but she has been kind enough to remain here until everyone who wants to meet her has had the opportunity to do so. She’s right over there at the autograph table,”

Never in my life had I so desperately wanted to give a big hug to a celebrity.

There were only about 20 people waiting to meet and greet Linda, and we were inside where it was warm, so I didn’t mind having to once again wait in line. My husband stood behind me, his eyes fixed on the table ahead, where, to his dismay, people were blocking his view of the object of his desire.

Finally, when there were only three people ahead of us, Linda came clearly into view. I honestly thought my husband was going to need CPR.  She was dressed all in black and next to her on the table was a stack of cans of pea soup, which she was autographing (for those of you who have never seen her terrifying movie, “The Exorcist,” one of the most classic scenes involves her projectile vomiting what looks like green pea soup all over her bedroom and on anyone within range).

I noticed that no one was taking photos, so I suspected cameras weren’t allowed. Still, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying because the worst they probably could do was either throw me out or confiscate my cheap little camera, neither of which disturbed me.  So I discreetly took my camera out of my purse and aimed it in the general direction of the table. Then I quickly snapped a shot and stuffed the camera back into my purse.

At that precise moment, the people in front of us left, and I found myself face to face with Linda Blair.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said glancing at my purse and then up at me.

I felt my cheeks flush in embarrassment. I was all set to surrender my camera to her when she smiled at me and added, “What I mean is you shouldn’t have taken candid shots of me! At least let me pose for a photo so I’ll look half-decent!”

Once again, I thought my husband was going to faint. I grabbed my camera and snapped a couple more shots of Linda, which she graciously posed for. I was on the verge of asking her if my husband could pose with her, but then decided not to press my luck. Also, I was pretty sure if Linda actually got close enough to touch him, the paramedics would have to be called.

During the entire ride home that night, my husband had a smile on his face that rivaled the Cheshire Cat’s. And every Halloween, right up until the day he died, he mentioned how great our visit to Spooky World had been. Apparently, he had completely erased all memories of our nearly frostbitten limbs, gnawing hunger, and the endless hours we’d spent waiting in line for a second-rate horror show.

Now, over 20 years later, the new Spooky World has all of the fancy, frightening, high-tech effects the original one lacked.

  But it still won't ever be as thrilling as the night my husband finally met Linda Blair.


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Sunday, October 2, 2016



One of my friends recently mentioned that during the cold-weather months, her husband’s favorite hobby is making jigsaw puzzles…and the more pieces the better.

She made me recall a time, back before my computer became my main hobby, when I thought jigsaw puzzles might be a fun hobby my husband and I could share. So I splurged on several large, scenic puzzles.

Unfortunately, despite my initial enthusiasm, all too soon I discovered I was terrible at making puzzles. It would take me about a week to assemble just one corner of the puzzle’s border. My husband, on the other hand, could slap an entire puzzle together in about an hour. Whenever I sat struggling to make one of the puzzles, he would walk by the table, stop about three feet away and say, “See that green piece on your left over there? It will fit into that piece you’re holding.” And usually he was right.

One windy and rainy night, my husband and I began working together on a 10-milion-piece puzzle. He obviously was enjoying himself because he hummed a merry tune as he quickly pieced together an entire section…while I sat there pounding two pieces with my fist, trying to force them to fit together. That’s when we suddenly had a power failure.

“Hallelujah!” I silently cheered, figuring I had been spared from a long evening of sitting and staring blankly at puzzle pieces.

“I’ll get the oil lamp,” my husband said.

If I thought trying to make a puzzle in good light was impossible, trying to make it by the light of an old oil-lamp was about as easy as doing it blindfolded. I couldn’t tell the difference between an animal’s head and a rock.

“Find all of the pieces with straight edges and put them in this pile over here,” my husband instructed. “Then we’ll make the border.”

I was feeling my way through the puzzle pieces when our neighbor dropped by to see how we were coping with the power failure.

“Whatcha doing?” he asked, leaning over the table to get a closer look at our panoramic view-in-progress of the Swiss Alps. He reached out to point to a puzzle piece he thought might fit somewhere. When he did, his elbow accidentally knocked over the oil lamp.

To this day, I still don’t know why our kitchen didn’t go up in flames. But even though the kitchen was spared, the puzzle didn’t fare quite as well. It ended up with lamp oil all over it. The Swiss Alps looked as if the Exxon Valdez had crashed into them.

My husband lost interest in puzzles soon after that, so I decided to try a new hobby I’d read about in a magazine…eggshell mosaics. The instructions said to buy eggs with pure white shells, dye them different solid colors, then break them into small pieces and glue them together on a thin board to form a picture.

But did I begin my new hobby with a simple project like making an eggshell smiley face? Heck no. I decided to make a farmhouse with a pond, trees and mountains surrounding it…all out of tiny eggshell pieces.

So I bought eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. My husband and I ate omelets, scrambled eggs, deviled eggs, egg salad and angel-food cakes so often (because I didn’t want to waste any of the eggs’ innards), we nearly grew feathers and clucked. But slowly, my mosaic began to take shape. In fact, fitting pieces of eggshells together turned out to be less challenging for me than making jigsaw puzzles.

And two months later, when I finally finished my masterpiece, I was so proud of it, I entered it in the Deerfield Fair’s craft exhibit and actually won a blue ribbon.

And my cholesterol was over 300.

Now that I think about it, maybe the computer isn’t such a bad hobby after all.

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