Please don’t interrupt my aloha.

It happens every time. Our bodies are technically back in California but I can’t quite leave Hawaii behind. It’s not jet lag. It’s the sense that I had a glimpse of Paradise (because I just know heaven will be a 5-star hotel in someplace very much like Hawaii!) and I just want to stay and stay!

Hey, you say, I happen to know you’ve been to Hawaii more times than you can count.

We went when the kids were young:

We went when the grandkids were little:

And when the littlest grandkid was really little!

And we go whenever we can. But there is never enough Hawaii for us. On this trip, the CE even saw the light and said “We have to come back every year!”

What is it about Hawaii? It’s everything. The air, the flowers, the trade wind breeze…every moment is infused with beauty.

And when we are there, no matter what else is going on, we are happy.

Please don’t ask the hard questions, like “Well, what do you actually do there?

I could tell you there are many things to do. Snorkeling tours, helicopter tours, jaunts around the islands, etc. etc. etc. Of course, we don’t do any of them. What do we do when we’re there?

A lot of not very much. But we have so much fun doing it!

I can still vividly remember my first moments in Hawaii, which were spent, like this trip, on the island of Kauai.

Okay, forty-one years have done me no favors…

but Kauai is as beautiful as ever!

And yes, I’m already planning our next trip…

Aloha, Kauai…we hope to return soon!

No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but that one, no other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me the balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud wrack; I can feel the spirit of its wild land solitudes, I can hear the splash of its brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.”

– Mark Twain
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Walk with me: the hula cat and the haoles.

Dateline: Poipu, where everything is perfection.

We’ve been here more times than I can count but we’ve never had a room with this view before:

So here we are, a million miles from everyday life. But at least one thing remains exactly the same: our morning walk. We’re lucky to see the ocean every morning on our walk at home, but not like this!

Oh, what a walk this is! We go two miles every morning and part of the fun is that much of the path goes through a residential area

so we get to meet the locals:

Almost like home, right?

We’ve also made friends with the pair of corgis that rule the neighborhood. Don’t tell Lily that we’re cheating on her!

And, speaking of cheating on our pets, on our first morning walk this visit we came to a place on the path that sparked a memory.

“Just past here is where we saw the cat!” I reminded the CE.

Each morning on our visit three years ago we were graced with a a greeting from a black and white kitty that seemed to wait for us to show up and say aloha. All he needed was a lei and some sway to be the perfect hula kitty.

Would he, could he, be waiting for us again?

We paused on the path, searching for him. No sign of a cat. We peered in the bushes. We dallied, hoping against hope. But no, no kitty. Well, it’s been three years plus a pandemic, we said. A lot of things could change.

Next morning we set out on walk number two.

Rolling waves, check.

Rooster and family, check.

Corgis, check.

We told ourselves not to hope for the cat, but we couldn’t help but slow on the path and look around. Sadly, neither hide nor hair of him.

But just as we turned to head back, I glanced to the side, and there, resting in a perfect meat loaf pose, he was! And, as if he had spent the last three years waiting just for us, these silly old haoles, he hula’d right over to hop into the CE’s lap:

Most people come to Hawaii to spend a vacation that’s as different from home as possible. Somehow we end up making ours as much the same as at home, where it’s all about the animals: chickens, dogs and a cat.

Ah what simple creatures of habit we are. Guess I’d better order a mai tai or two to mix things up a bit!

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To points south. And west.

Things were too calm. Time to hit the road. Headed south. Time to meet the new grandpup!

This is Bunny. Can you believe him? I want three!

And speaking of grands, somehow just since Christmas, the grandsons turned into grand men! Yikes!

Onward to DTLA to see this truly grand one:

And then an epic experience at Disney Hall where Daniel treated us to an LA Philharmonic presentation of Thomas Adès’ Dante Project. His “Inferno” was absolutely amazing. Thank you, Daniel!❤️

Caught a few hours sleep and then off to the airport. Last few days have been a whirlwind, or, as they say in Kauai, makani wili. Aloha, everyone!

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Getting our buzz on.

It wasn’t long after the initial pandemic lockdowns that I stepped outside and found a man and a woman in what appeared to be hazmat suits thrashing around the olive trees in front of our house. My first thought was that Dr. Fauci had found out about that time I didn’t wear a mask and was sending in the quarantine squad, Shanghai-style. Hey, nothing surprises me anymore…

But actually, it was a sting. As in ouch, a sting! No sooner had I called out a query to the bulkily clad figures than YOW! I was stung! It turned out they were volunteers called by a neighbor whose bees had absconded (that’s actual apiary terminology) from their hive and were swarming in our olive trees. Apparently, humans were not the only ones to get the “work remotely” memo. These bees did NOT want to go back to their office!

I nursed the sting on my neck for a few days and then forgot about the bees. We’ve always seen them here and there, even during the so-called “bee apocalypse” when there was great concern that the very existence of honeybees was imperiled. According to RealClearScience as reported on the popular web site LiveScience, all the buzz about disappearing bees was in general, overblown. Bees do face real threats including pesticides and loss of habitat but they are not facing extinction.

At least not in my yard.

Not too long after I bumbled into that first bee encounter, I heard a steady thrum coming from somewhere near our orchard. Whether it was the same swarm of bees that were eyeing our olive trees or not, I don’t know, but bees from somewhere had found refuge in an apparent hollow in the trunk of the big pepper tree that stands by our garden gate.

Day after day we heard them – these were busy bees! Our gopher control guy showed up one day and expressed concern. “You need to have those bees removed”, he warned us. “When fall comes, they’ll become aggressive and you’ll have a real problem.”

I guess we were too busy thinking about the real problems we already had, because we didn’t bother to do anything about the bees. Truthfully, we liked having bees as guests. It made us feel like we were living in a little eco-paradise, our own fractional Hundred Acre Wood where Pooh or some other brave soul could stick a paw in that pepper tree hollow and come out with a handful of honey.

The bees did their thing and we did ours. Fall came and went without any bee aggression. And the buzz died down. We guessed, with some regret, that the bees had moved on.

Ah, we of little faith! I was today years old when I learned that while bees don’t actually hibernate, they do cluster in their hives over the winter months to keep warm. Those bees never left – they were just waiting for spring. And now, our buzz is back!

When the light is just right it looks as if sunbeams are spilling out from the tree trunk as the bees emerge to carry out their daily work. And they don’t have far to go. The other day I found that one had discovered our apple blossoms just on the other side of the wall – see it there on the lower left?

And this morning one was working a nearby hedge – lower right of the photo:

Lately it seems the world is crashing around us a thousand different ways every day, but a little “vitamin bee” sets things right for me. I don’t know why they chose us – according to a thread on Quora, bees seek “a large cavity with plenty of room for the colony to expand, impervious to rainfall…sunlight in the early morning to warm things up and shade the rest of the day to keep things from getting too warm.” Well, that pepper tree trunk does face northeast, now that I think of it! Maybe they came to us because we had the “dream house” they were looking for. Or maybe they came just bee-cause… 🙂

“His labor is a chant,

His idleness a tune;

Oh, for a bee’s experience

Of clovers and of noon!”

– Emily Dickinson
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Trying to just let grow…

Is there anything more utterly absorbing, endlessly fascinating and maddeningly annoying?

And no, I am not talking about my husband here (although hmmm I suppose I could be…)

I am talking about my fledgling garden, the one that went nowhere last year and probably headed nowhere this year but I just can’t stop myself from trying. I think it’s moments like today when I found this tiniest seedling just beginning to sprout:

At some point, if all goes well (and yes, that’s a big IF!) it will grow into a head of Little Gem lettuce and I will be inordinately proud of it.

For a long time, I just assumed gardening was one of the many things off limits to me given my endless list of physical limitations. Can’t lift anything. Can’t get down and dig in the dirt. Can’t even begin to think about shoveling. But it’s amazing how creatively we all began to think amidst the house arrest of the past few years. Workarounds! Maybe there are workarounds!

And of course there are:

1) Table top and container gardening.

2) Grow the easiest things imaginable.

3) Have an extremely helpful husband.

Check, check and check (thank you, Dear). It’s only April and things are starting to grow! It helps to plant some things that are basically invasive weeds, chief among them being mint. We tore vast amounts of volunteer mint out of the tabletop garden and still, it finds a way. Oh well, it’s lovely in lemonade and cocktails.

What might be even easier than mint is dill:

And radishes!

Yes, I have a lot to learn – plant deeper I guess, so they get bigger, but I challenge you to find a happier moment than standing in the garden on a sunny afternoon and biting into a crisp, just-harvested radish.

Or a blueberry…

Lots to learn here, too – I was thrilled to learn that blueberry bushes love pots but I need to work on the soil. I’ll be reading up on it this weekend in Greg Alder’s Yard Posts, which are a nice resource for the southern California gardener.

The one thing I managed to grow last year was snap peas, so I’ve re-embarked on that journey

along with an attempt at their floral cousin, sweet peas. We’ll see how that goes…the sweet peas seem to be taking their sweet time.

And the easiest flower of all? Sunflowers!

My first row met with tragedy shortly after sprouting. Bunnies or snails, I’m not sure which, but I found a workaround that has so far thwarted those wascally wabbits. Look at these sweet mesh cloches I found from Gardener’s Supply:

Lest you should think I have any idea whatsoever of what I’m doing (never mind the fact that I now throw around terms like fish emulsion in everyday conversation) I humbly submit to you my track record with tomatoes. Last year I scored a big, fat zero unless you count the puny, mushy-tasting one that somehow survived on one of my withered vines. No idea what I did wrong (maybe overwatering?) but it was especially hard to take while my next-door neighbor was dropping off scores of tomatoes from her garden. “We have so many we just can’t keep up with them!” Well, I had no choice but to try again. Maybe my neighbor will stop by and talk to them for me.

A homesteader I follow on Instagram made a comment recently that jumped out at me. She said something to the effect of “don’t feel like you need to know everything when you start out at the beginning of gardening.” And that is so true. The trial and error, yes maybe especially the error, is part of the fun. Well, depending on how the tomatoes turn out this year I may feel differently, but for now – I’m just going to let it all grow…

Oh, and of course it’s all easier if you have the cutest garden assistant:

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A Word from the Birds: The 3 Most Common Questions We Get About Chickens.

This blog was born way back in 2009 to record our foray into flock-keeping. Back then you were actually considered kind of cool if you had chickens and especially if you had a blog. Now, people just think we’re farmers and, of course, everyone has a blog.

But I did notice recently that Polloplayer, which began as a way to show grandkids then on the East coast photos of our baby chicks, today has more than 500 followers. Thank you so much to all who take the time to faithfully follow and especially to those who post encouraging comments. So fun to see those!

And since we did begin as a chicken blog, every now and then it seems wise to return to our roots in chickendom:

It’s spring and the ladies are laying again. Here’s Willa on the nest:

Which reminds me of the #1 question I get as a flock-keeper: How do you get eggs if you don’t have a rooster?

I would have asked the same question fourteen years ago and I hear it over and over. The answer: hens lay eggs with or without a rooster. The only difference is that with a rooster, the eggs will be fertilized and can result in baby chicks. Hens living spinster lives without rooster produce infertile eggs.

#2: The second topic that always seems to surprise people is the answer to What do chickens eat?

Most people seem to think they are vegetarians, a belief that is encouraged by egg brand marketers:

It’s a big selling point for eggs these days, but the truth is that “vegetarian fed” chickens are not the happiest chickens. Yes, our hens have a staple diet of layer crumble, which is indeed vegetarian with corn, soybean and wheat as the top three ingredients.

And they do enjoy a nice salad course (too bad about those succulents we planted)::

But you know what they really like to eat?

Worms. And bugs.

It rained here a week ago and the hens have had a field day feasting on every manner of creepy crawly creature that emerged from the ground after a good soaking. Here are the girls busily digging holes in search of worms and grubs:

So when you ask, “what do chickens eat?” the answer is “pretty much everything!” Be mindful not to give them avocado or green potato skins, which are toxic to them, but other than a brief list of other no-no’s, almost any kitchen scrap is gobbled down. Even, and including, scrambled eggs and cooked chicken.

And #3: The third question I hear when someone learns that we have a flock of hens is “But aren’t chickens dirty?”

The answer to that one is “only if the humans allow them to be dirty“. I’ve seen a few sorry barnyards with soiled, bedraggled hens. But it’s not the norm and shouldn’t be! Keeping the coop and the birds clean is key to keeping them healthy. It’s as simple as disposing of their waste on a regular basis and as complicated as the very occasional bath if a hen’s fluffy butt ends up being matted with soil or waste. Hens want to be clean and that’s why you’ll see them create their own dust baths to free their feathers of dirt or unwanted mites or parasites. Here’s Bella having a dirt bath:

I often watch the hens as they go about their daily routine and think how much easier life would be for them if only they had hands! There are so many things they can’t do for themselves, having to manage it all with just their beaks and their strange and sturdy little dinosaur feet. But God decided to give them wings instead of arms – maybe that just means they are angels:-)

Again, thanks to all the Polloplayer followers from everyone in the flock!

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Just faux enough away for us.

When does a groove become a rut?

Maybe it’s when you discuss unironically that the morning walk commenced three minutes late and now we would all be off schedule for the entire day. “All” meaning the two elderlies and the three pets because in this household they have equal votes. Meaning we’re outnumbered. Meaning that yes, we’re basically out of our minds. Time to re-calibrate.

So out came the suitcases and off to the airport we went. Nothing too ambitious, mind you. There’s a nice little direct flight now from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas so basically just an hour from paradise to sin city. What could be easier?

Except that it was raining that day; something that has occurred in our drought-plagued town only twice in the last nine months. And when we finally arrived at our hotel, hours late, we learned that we’d out-maneuvered ourselves trying to set a room upgrade and we had no reservation at all!

Thankfully, this is exactly the kind of challenge the CE embraces. And after a few minutes of earnest conversation with the reservation clerk, we somehow had the keys to a suite. A newly remodeled one, at that!

Just like everything else in Las Vegas, the hotel rooms are out-sized and over the top:

And the entire place is unreal. As in faux. A brief walk down the Las Vegas Strip will take you to Venice, Lake Bellagio and Paris as seen through the eyes of what must have been a Disney imagineer. It’s all too much or all too little for some travelers but faux what it’s worth – we love it!

We settled in for our usual first night dinner at Sinatra, the Wynn hotel’s signature Italian restaurant. I somehow calculated that our three-hour flight delay entitled me to a piece of their terrific olive bread before dinner:

And the CE insisted that we have the chocolate dessert with a hat tip to Frank Sinatra’s fedora. Like I said, everything in Vegas is faux:

And so we eased into our Vegas routine. We’ve been there twice during COVID when things were very quiet and we were mummified in our masks. This time – wow – Vegas was hopping! Conventioneers all over the place and hardly a mask in sight. The CE played poker, and I searched out a 25 cent slot machine- not an easy find anymore!

As usual, I played the whole week with a hundred dollar bill and came home with an extra $20. I don’t spend money on gambling because I prefer to squander it across the street at the Fashion Show Mall. And after all that hard work, the CE and I meet up for the loveliest dinners – you can find a lot to criticize about Las Vegas but the restaurants are amazing!

There was pâté at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon:

Then an evening at Mizumi

where we sat in front of the waterfall and I sipped a “Hanami”, translated as “celebration of flower viewing”:

and then enjoyed a spicy salmon/shrimp tempura roll:

Lunch at Cipriani where I failed to take a photo of the Pappardelle Genovese because it looked like buttered noodles – but after the first bite I realized some real sorcery had gone into the reduction of veal and vegetables that resulted in one of the most divine plates of pasta I’ve ever had. I did take a photo of the vanilla meringue cake. Hey, it came with the prix fixe, I had no choice!

For our last evening, as always, we walked down the Strip to Mon Ami Gabi for steak frites. We time it that way so we can carry half the steak home to Lily as a peace offering for our absence.

I’m not entirely sure she deserved the treat, as she was a bit of a handful – grateful thanks to Christi for dealing with all that. Still, can’t imagine anything better to come home to…

And now we’re back on schedule with the morning walk, happy slaves to our furry masters after a few days off. It was whole lot of fun – faux real!

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Failure to launch?

Among the many things that no longer seem possible is the idea of packing a suitcase.

We returned from San Francisco last month certain we had our travel chops back and we were determined to plan another jaunt right away to keep the momentum going.

Momentum? Turns out that’s something other people have.

I went to an actual party earlier this week. A party with lots of people (these days that means more than two) and lots of conversation (these days that means complete sentences) and by the time I came home I was a wreck. “There’s something wrong with me” I told the CE (who is always unfortunately more than happy to agree with that statement although not necessarily for the same reason it was expressed).

“No, seriously,” I said. “Something is wrong.” What is wrong is that other people might think I’m a little nuts to equate two hours at a party with a climb up Mt. Everest.

Cue The Wall Street Journal, just in the nick of time, with an article this week by reporter Alex Janin entitled “There’s Still a Limit to How Much In-Person Socializing Many Can Handle”. The old me would have summed up this collection of “I just can’t” as a bunch of whiny losers. The new me read it over three times and cried out “These are my people!”

People who need to rest up an entire day after a social encounter. Yep. People who describe convivial interactions as being “almost like jet lag where you’re just so bone-tired.”

And now I’m supposed to pack a suitcase? Could anything be more daunting?

I spend hours studying maps and itineraries for the big Return to Travel I’ve been planning since we got knocked down in 2020. We’ll go here and there and there…yeah, maybe in our next life. I supposed part of the problem is age. Part of it angst. Part is inertia. And part of the problem is, um, fur…

Odysseus had his sirens and we have ours:

“You wouldn’t really leave me, would you?”

“I promise to just lay here and stare at you if you promise not to go.”

“Take one step toward the door and I’m gonna mess you up.”

Way back in 2017 B.C. (Before Covid) Victorinix, the purveyor of Swiss Army knives and a range of travel products, conducted a survey that was widely reported for its surprising findings. According to The New York Post, “an amazing eleven percent of survey respondents have never traveled outside of the state where they were born.” Thirteen percent had never flown in an airplane. More than thirty percent of those polled reported that they “don’t own or can’t actually remember buying travel luggage”. This was BEFORE Covid – can you imagine what the responses would be today?

B.C. the CE was begging me to slow down our travel schedule of a trip every six to eight weeks. These days a trip every six months might be ambitious. And that’s presuming we make it past the sentries:

Okay. I gotta go pack because otherwise I am dangerously close to joining the 1 in 10 poll respondents who said they “have no interest in going anywhere”…

“I get the urge for going

but I never seem to go”

-Joni Mitchell
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So I guess we’re all coming out of our shells.

Remember when all we did was hide in our houses and keep track of our mask inventory? Those days (fingers crossed) seem to be in the rear view mirror. Now we’re out and about and back to real life – stuck in traffic and not being able to find parking spaces. Well, that assumes, of course, that you can afford gas for your car…

We had a little traffic jam on our street last weekend. The CE was coming back from the beach with Lily and had to slam on the brakes to avoid smashing this little guy to smithereens:

On the long list of things we know absolutely nothing about, turtles might be in the top ten. What to do? Since I thought it might be someone’s pet, I posted on the NextDoor app. Unlike ourselves, everyone on social media turns out to be an expert.

“It’s a pond turtle. Needs to be in water ASAP.”

“It’s a desert tortoise. If you put it in water it will die.”

Oh dear? What to do? The CE fashioned an enclosure for our visitor from an old dog pen and set out some vegetables and meal worms and a tray of water. Then we went inside to ponder our next move.

Little did we know that the turtle was likewise pondering a next move. When we came back outside, he or she had vanished! Harry or Harriet Houdini as we will fondly remember it, had managed to squeeze through the tiniest gap in the cage. So there we were, literally beating the bushes. Our found turtle had almost instantly become a lost turtle! “He couldn’t go far,” said the CE, peering through the bushes near where he had set up the pen.

Enter Lily the wonder dog.

I noticed her standing at attention wayyyyy across the yard. And sure enough, she had tracked the turtle for us. This turtle is going to win any tortoise vs. hare race it enters, because in a few minutes it managed to cover several hundred feet.

We snatched up the turtle again and as we did, it stuck it’s head out of its shell far enough that we could see the red marks above its eyes. A red-eared slider, we decided. A pond turtle. While we waited for someone to claim it, we needed to give it access to water. The CE hefted a stack of heavy stones into our fountain to create a shelf:

No sooner had the turtle happily eased into the water than someone posted “Don’t put it in a fountain! The chlorine and chemicals will kill it!”

Ooph. We needed Plan B. Maybe, just maybe, we should take it back to the place it was found and set it on the other side of the fence? By now we’d alerted other neighbors to the drama and this Plan B was roundly rejected. “No, no you can’t do that! What if it goes back into the road? It will be killed!” said one neighbor eyeing me as if I already had turtle blood on my hands.

And that is how Plan B ended up being B for bath tub. Complete with fluffy palace guards:

B is also for befouling the bathtub. It wasn’t pretty. Something had to be done.

That’s when I remembered that we have an acquaintance in our neighborhood who just happens to have a very fine duck pond. Hmmmm. Would he consider welcoming a new addition? The CE got in touch with him and the answer was yes! The hand-off occurred the next morning and the turtle was clearly pleased with its new digs:

This neighbor, familiar with the ways of turtles, explained to us that it’s not uncommon for them to migrate in the spring, especially females that may be looking for a place to lay eggs. For whatever reason, this turtle decided it was time to be on the move. I’ve decided that Mr. or Ms. turtle is my new spirit animal – it seems like it’s time to come out of our two-year-long hibernation and figure out what “normal life” looks like. Some days I’m not sure I can remember how to do it, but I know I have to try. As the saying goes about the turtle “you don’t make any progress unless you stick your neck out”. Time to come out of our shells!

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Because what we need right now is a new plague, right?

Ah, spring. Especially this spring. Daylight hours edge deliciously ever longer, and the wisteria and the calla lilies are in joyful bloom.

The air is filled with the perfume of orange blossoms, our little swarm of honeybees have returned, and the hens have come out of their winter trance and begun laying again. Even Ginger, who is going on eight years old!

Best of all, mask mandates, vaccine mandates and Dr. Fauci have absolutely vanished from the stage as if none of it every happened. Poof!

So all is well, in fact, better than ever.

But beware the ides of March, at least if you’re a chicken.

Because a new avian flu has winged its way in on the Atlantic flyway, and it’s a doozie. I usually shrug off news about avian flu since it generally only impacts large-scale poultry operations. But there are two things about H5N1 that ruffle my feathers:

1) it is being found in backyard flocks, and

2) it is being spread by migratory waterfowl.

Since I have a beloved backyard flock

and our neighborhood is a hangout for waterfowl,

I’m paying close attention to this one. Backyard Poultry Magazine has sounded the alarm on Bird Flu 2022

and according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) at least thirteen commercial flocks have been impacted by the virus since February in twenty different states. 2.7 million birds have been destroyed as a result. The virus has been found in backyard flocks in Maine and New York as well as in the UK. To date, it seems to have moved westward as far as Iowa and Utah.

A recent Healthline article states that “current evidence suggests H5N1 to be low risk to people” and that there are currently no human cases of it in the United States. There is, however, a vaccine which “as per the CDC…is being stockpiled for pandemic preparedness by the United States government.”

In other words, here we go again? Hopefully not. In the meantime, flock keeper bio-security protocol is especially important.

If the pair of mallards that annually tries to take over our swimming pool shows up they will not be receiving a warm welcome this year. Hand washing and parking the chicken shoes at the door is a given, as is, of course, keeping a clean coop.

In the meantime, it’s still a spectacularly lovely spring and our little flock is blissfully unaware. Fingers crossed that it stays that way…

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