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Those People

Maybe we were just moving too fast before the pandemic and before the shelter-in-place orders went into effect to notice what was going on. Maybe we weren’t here as much before we began sheltering in place and were less attentive to the state of the kitchen counters. Maybe we were entertaining guests before the pandemic, so the size of the mess didn’t strike us as unusual. Or maybe the perpetrators became more cavalier about their behavior as more and more time passed and we didn’t catch them at their dirty work.

In any case, we could no longer avoid the truth that far more dishes and cups and silverware were being used every day in our house than Marcia and I could possibly generate on our own.

We first became aware of the scope of the problem a couple weeks into sheltering-in-place when it dawned on us that washing the dishes after supper had gone from being a pleasant fifteen-minute affair to a grueling forty-five-minute marathon.

“Where did all these dishes come from?” I asked Marcia. “We had toast and tea for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and veggies and rice with one of your stellar salads for supper. Yet the kitchen looks like Julia Child and Guy Fieri just had a five-course cook-off in here.”

“Does seem like lots more dishes than usual,” Marcia opined. “Maybe we should start doing the dishes after breakfast, too.”

So we tried that, and at first it seemed to help a little, but then there came a night when virtually all our plates and bowls and mugs and glasses and pots and pans were stacked on the counters and stove top, all in desperate need of washing.

“This is hard to fathom,” I suggested, as I took a break after scrubbing the third frying pan of the session. “Almost as hard to fathom as life returning to what we used to call normal one day.”

“I know for a fact,” said Marcia, perusing the mountain of dishes yet to be washed and rinsed and dried and put away, “that I used almost none of these dishes today.”

“And I know a similar fact about my usage,” I replied. “Which can only mean one thing.”

“Other people,” said Marcia, her eyes narrowing, “must be coming in here and using dishes when we’re not looking.”

“When we’re in our studies or on walks or working outside,” I said, nodding in agreement.

“Let’s start doing the dishes after lunch, too,” Marcia suggested. “That should give us more data from which to determine the who and how and what and when of the situation.”

And so we instituted after-lunch dishwashing to go with after-breakfast dishwashing and after-supper dishwashing, yet the plague of dirty dishes continued.

We came to think of our nemeses as Those People. We even wrote a song about them that begins, Those people they get a thrill, using dishes willy-nil. We assumed they were people. Dogs and cats and skunks and deer can’t open refrigerators, take out pumpkin pie, cut pieces and place those pieces on dishes, fetch forks, pour cups of coffee, and so forth. Those are the kinds of things people do. Right? Right.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Don’t be silly, Todd. Obviously you and Marcia were generating all those dirty dishes and you just hadn’t been aware you were doing so much generating because the getting and eating of food is a largely unconscious act.

We thought that, too, and decided to do an experiment to prove conclusively whether or not we were Those People. We vowed to each use one bowl and one plate and one fork and one spoon for an entire day, and to rigorously not allow ourselves to use anything else, except, of course, the things we cooked with. If we were the only people generating dirty dishes, then by day’s end there should be, at most, two bowls, two plates, two forks, and two spoons to wash, and a pan or two.

And for a couple days that proved to be the case, but then the extra dishes began to proliferate again: and we knew it had to be Those People.

It was shortly after our experiment in Spartan dish usage came to an end that we began hearing the clanking and clinking sounds in the kitchen, and one afternoon, responding to a particularly loud outburst of clinking and clanking, I dashed into the kitchen and found a woman and a man sitting at our kitchen counter eating scrambled eggs and drinking coffee, another man making an elaborate sandwich, a boy eating a bowl of granola, and a girl eating chips and salsa and guacamole.

They were all startled by my sudden and unexpected arrival in the kitchen.

But before I could ask, “Who are you and what are you doing in our house?” the man making a sandwich said, “You may not be aware of this, but you’re almost out of mustard.”

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Vito’s Birthday Surprise

an adventure starring Vito, Jeremy, and Doofus

There are three best friends named Jeremy, Doofus, and Vito. They live in the same neighborhood. Doofus likes building interesting wooden structures and eating pizza. Jeremy likes playing Frisbee and singing. Vito has a big workshop and likes building machines and engines. They all love hunting for treasure.

One day Jeremy comes over to Doofus’s house and says, “Hey Doofus. Guess what happens five days from now?”

Doofus thinks for a moment. “The sun comes up. We ride bikes. I take a bath. We have pizza?”

“I mean something special,” says Jeremy. “Something about Vito.”

“We go on a treasure hunt?” asks Doofus. “And then go get pizza?”

“Maybe,” says Jeremy, “but that’s not the special thing.”

“Tell me,” says Doofus, frowning. “My head hurts from guessing.”

“It will be Vito’s birthday,” says Jeremy. “Let’s make him something really special.”

“Like a giant pizza?” says Doofus.

“Better than that,” says Jeremy. “A super duper treasure-hunting machine.”

“Oh but Vito is the best machine builder in the world,” says Doofus. “He’s the smartest, strongest, fastest, and cutest. How could we ever make a machine as good as the machines he already has?”

“Well, I don’t know,” says Jeremy, “but I think it would be fun to try.”

So they get lots of wood and bolts and nuts and build a structure as big as a giant house and they put forty-seven wheels on it. Now they make twenty-four engines with levers and gears and wires and batteries and attach them all over the inside of the structure.

“Wow,” says Doofus, admiring their work. “Let’s have a pizza break.”

After a lunch of delicious mushroom and cheese pizza, they get back to work.

They add five digging arms, a big saw arm, a telescope, wings, propellers, and a control panel with seventy-nine buttons and forty-three dials and nine screens.

Now they take the machine for a test run and fly down to the beach where they dig a giant pile of sand and using the special sculpting arm they create the biggest and strongest sand castle ever made that no waves can ever knock over.

In the sand castle they make bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and a gigantic playroom with swings and a slide. They like the sand castle so much they decide to live there. They build a second sand castle where they keep the machine.

Now everything is ready. On Vito’s birthday they go to his house and tell him they have a surprise for him if he will agree to be blindfolded so he won’t know where he’s going.

“Sure. No problem,” says Vito, letting them blindfold him. He’s so smart he guesses they are taking him to the beach. When they get to the beach, they remove his blindfold and shout, “Happy Birthday!”

And even though Vito could easily build a bigger and better sand castle and a much bigger and better machine, he really likes the ones Jeremy and Doofus made for him. Now they go into the sand castle and there are lots of people waiting to shout SURPRISE!

Now everybody sings Happy Birthday to Vito and they have a huge birthday pizza followed by ice cream and chocolate cake. On the cake are five lit candles. Vito makes a wish and blows out all the candles with one breath.

“What was your wish?” asks Doofus.

“I wished everybody in the world could be happy,” says Vito.

“Yay!” says Jeremy. “That’s the best wish of all.”

The End

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Diego Kelly Gets A Glimpse

Think of this as a fable or a fairy tale, but whatever you do, don’t think this could possibly be true.

Diego Kelly is sixty-four. He has an older sister Luisa and a younger brother Juan. Their mother Maria was a hairdresser, their father Jerome a forklift operator. Diego and his siblings were born in Gilroy, California and called Gilroy home until their parents divorced when Luisa was twenty-five, Diego twenty-three, and Juan twenty. After the divorce, their mother moved to Fort Bragg, California while their father stayed in Gilroy.

Diego learned to play the guitar when he was six. From then on, until four months ago, writing songs was the central focus of his life. He dropped out of college after two years and moved to Los Angeles where he pursued a music career until he was thirty-three and discovered that several of his songs had been recorded by other recording artists claiming to have written his songs. Four of those stolen songs became huge hits, and when Diego’s many attempts to prove he’d been ripped off came to naught, he had a nervous breakdown.

Thereafter he lived with his mother in Fort Bragg until she died when Diego was forty-seven. She left him her little house and that’s where he lives today with his brown mutt Zero, his orange tabby Twyla, and his black tabby Magdalena. He makes his minimal living as a counterperson in a coffee house and until four months ago he had never in his life stopped playing his guitar and writing songs.

Important things to know about Diego are that he is kind and generous and friendly and fully recovered from his nervous breakdown, though he still sometimes feels mighty sad about having his songs and a successful career as a musician stolen from him.

So…

On a cold October evening after a long day behind the coffee house counter, Diego is in the kitchen of his commodious little house making quesadillas and guacamole and drinking a beer when someone knocks on his front door. Thinking the knocker must be Stella, a lovely woman he’s been courting for six months now without much success, Diego calls, “Come in” and the door opens admitting a most unusual person who is not Stella.

We will use the pronoun she when referring to the unusual person, though she is not obviously male or female. She is tall and strikingly beautiful, entirely bald, the dome of her skull perfectly round, her sparkling blue eyes enormous. She is wearing a gray tunic giving no hint of breasts, and black jeans giving little hint of hips, yet her facial features and the graceful way she moves makes Diego think she is a woman.

“Hello,” says Diego, hoping his visitor isn’t crazy. “May I help you?”

“Diego Kelly?” says the unusual person, her voice deep and giving no hint of gender.

“Yes?” says Diego, using the gentle tone of voice he uses when dealing with unhinged customers he occasionally encounters in the coffee house. “Who are you?”

The unusual person blinks three times and says, “Zah.”

At which moment Diego’s dog Zero enters from the backyard through his dog door, looks at Zah, and quite uncharacteristically does not bark or growl.

Zah smiles at Zero and says, “Dog.”

“You got that right,” says Diego, smiling curiously at his unusual visitor. “Here’s the situation, Zah. I’m in the middle of making supper and expecting a friend to arrive any minute, so…”

“No one will arrive,” says Zah, gazing intently at Diego. “Your time is suspended.”

“Okay,” says Diego, now convinced his visitor is a bit off kilter. “What can I do for you, Zah?”

She gestures to Diego’s sofa. “Join me on your cushion and I will explain.”

Diego takes a moment to assess Zah, and feeling no threat from her says, “Would you care for a beer?”

Zah blinks three times. “No thank you. Join me on your cushion and I will explain.”

Diego carries his beer to the sofa and sits down.

Zah crosses the room and sits next to Diego.

Diego waits for Zah to speak.

“You have not played your guitar in four of your moon cycles,” says Zah, gazing at the fire crackling in Diego’s fireplace. “You were writing a new song and stopped playing.”

Diego freezes. No one in the world knows he stopped playing the guitar four months ago, and no one in the world knows he stopped writing a new song.

“How do you know that?” he asks with a tremble in his voice.

“All is known,” says Zah, nodding. “Every sound is heard. Why did you stop writing your song?”

“Well…” says Diego, remembering the precise moment he put down his guitar and gave up on that oh so beautiful song. “I didn’t see the point in writing yet another song no one will hear. Or another song only a few people will hear because I force them to listen to me. I’m done with that. I’ve written hundreds of good songs. All for nothing. Why write another?”

“Your new song will be a vital thread,” says Zah, her voice full of urgency. “Your one hundred and sixty-seven songs are each vital threads. You are heard throughout the universe. Please resume writing your songs.”

Diego laughs. “Oh I get it now. I’m dreaming. A lucid dream. I love these. Excuse me while I make love with Stella and she won’t care I’m a pauper.”

Zah blinks three times. “You are not dreaming. Your song is a vital thread. Please resume writing your song. I will give you…” She blinks three more times. “What do you want, Diego Kelly? Tell me what you want and I will give it to you and you will resume writing your song.”

Diego places a hand on his heart and says sincerely, “All I ever wanted was for people to hear my music and… love me.”

“Your music is heard throughout the universe,” says Zah, nodding. “Your music provides vital threads in the Zantar Dimension, the Gorzoi Complex, the Zintaphor Range, and the Rezmigal Vortex. Without your vital threads the Borzon Cascade cannot…” She blinks. “Function.”

“Oh gimme a break,” says Diego, hot with anger. “I’m heard throughout the universe but not here on earth?” He glares at Zah. “I don’t know who you are or how you knew I gave up on that song, but I’m done writing songs nobody hears. Now get out of my house.”

Zah rises. “I will go now. You cannot be replaced, but if you will not resume writing your songs we will find other ways to continue. Know this, Diego Kelly. Universe created you to write songs to be vital threads. That is why you are here now in your body. Goodbye.”

And Zah disappears.

“Wow,” says Diego, getting up from his sofa and returning to the kitchen. “Doesn’t get much weirder than that.”

Now Stella arrives and gives Diego an unexpectedly long and loving hug followed by a tender kiss.

“To what do I owe…” begins Diego.

“You’re just the greatest,” says Stella, kissing him again. “Why I didn’t kiss you four months ago, I’ll never know.”

fin

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Ongoing News

These three beautiful does are sisters. Seen from our north-facing living room window, their mother is partially visible far left center, obscured by the deck railing. The four of them come to visit us every day and are not terribly afraid of us if we keep our distance.

We don’t feed the deer, though I occasionally throw an apple core out there for them. The resident ravens know of these occasional apple cores and frequently get to them before the deer come around again. Our neighbor Defer does feed the neighborhood deer, which explains why many of them make his yard their base of operations.

Every year, save for one of the eight since we’ve lived here, the mother of these three does has given birth to twin fawns. One of these three young does gave birth last year for the first time. We have yet to see any fawns this year, but the time is fast approaching when fawns emerge from their nests to follow their mothers about.

 As reported in a previous news report, I am splitting rounds of bull pine and stacking them to dry. This is a view of the stack from the west.

And this is a picture of the second track of pine that will soon be as high or higher than the stack to the left. I stack firewood this way to create lots of air space around the pieces to hasten the seasoning process. We want that wood ready to burn when we move it into the woodshed six months hence in October.

This is the most recent jigsaw puzzle Marcia put together. I helped a little, and by a little I mean I placed three or four pieces where they needed to go. Marcia very much enjoyed assembling this jigsaw puzzle and I found it delightful to walk by and see our precious world coming together.

This is Vito the day before he turned five feeling happy about getting to preview his birthday cupcake, photo courtesy of Vito’s mom Clare. Vito is my story pal. We talk on the phone every day since I can’t visit with him in-person due to the dang virus. The phone visits started out with me telling him versions of stories we invented together before the pandemic and those stories have evolved in all sorts of surprising ways since the daily phone sessions began.

These stories all involve three boys who are best friends: Vito, Jeremy, and Doofus. Vito is quick to point out that the Vito in our stories is not him, but another boy who just happens to also have the name Vito. And purely by chance, I’m sure, the Vito in these stories is possessed of intelligence, strength, and magical powers second to none.

This is a picture of Vito’s dad Nick. For Vito’s birthday, Nick arranged a Zoom gathering. Vito’s aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfather and friends came together on a dozen computer screens in California and Philadelphia and England to wish Vito a happy fifth birthday. We watched Vito open presents and eat a birthday cupcake. We also watched each other watching Vito.

I took a picture or two of the screen during the Zoom party. I found the experience both sweet and strange. This new way of gathering holds little appeal for me, though I did enjoy seeing all those people focusing their loving attention on Vito.

Later on Vito’s birthday, Nick and Clare drove Vito over to get his birthday presents from us, those presents being two of the Vito-Doofus-Jeremy adventures printed out in large type for his folks to read to Vito and for Vito to read when he is a little older. They brought birthday cupcakes and a jigsaw puzzle of England for Marcia.

Vito was sequestered in the car and Marcia and I were wearing masks at the start of the visit, but eventually Vito negotiated his release and got out and ran around and climbed on things while we kept our masks on and maintained the required distances between us all. A fun visit, minus hugs at the end.

Vito and his mother and father are moving to Switzerland in a few months to live there for many years. They are eager to make the move, but enjoying their last few months here in Mendocino. We are hoping to have a few more in-person visits, however brief, before they depart.

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More Big News

This is our three-year-old White Winter Permain apple tree. A few years ago I wrote a blog article entitled Of Apples and Accordions in which I mentioned the White Winter Permain by quoting from the esteemed volume Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory.

“Permain, White Winter (Winter Permain)—Oldest known English Apple; dates back to 1200 A.D. Medium to nearly large, round to oval, light greenish fruit turning pale yellow with numerous dots. Fine-grained, crisp, tender, juicy flesh. Pleasantly rich aromatic flavor. Fine quality all-purpose apple. Excellent keeper.”

Our friend Susan Waterfall was intrigued by this description and bought two yearling specimens of the old apple tree and gave one to me. I planted the little beauty in the center of our orchard, and this year for the first time the tree has set some lovely blossoms. Whether her root system is developed enough to support the bearing of fruit remains to be seen, but we are hopeful of getting a little apple or two from her by summer’s end.

In other big news, my friend Max inquired about how I learned to play the piano. Rather than write a lengthy history involving the sadistic piano teacher who scared me away from the piano when I was seven, my reunion with the piano as a teenager, and my decades of teaching myself how to play without knowing how to read music, I wrote the following.

I taught myself to play by finding repeatable patterns of notes and chords I play with my left hand that I like the sound of. When I find a pattern I like, I keep playing the pattern of notes and chords until I get good at sustaining a steady rhythm with that pattern (often very simple), and then I try out notes and chords to play with the pattern using my right hand until I find combos of sounds (pattern and accompaniments) I like and then I play the combos until I can play them without thinking too much so I can then improvise with them or just repeat them and sing to them or tap my feet and imagine a drummer playing with me. As I continue to practice these “tunes” my mind seems to enjoy changing things up and variations emerge. Something like that.

 Love’s Body

Next up we have this amazing purple vine flower. The vine in question has been growing near the doorway of our woodshed for who knows how long, decades probably, but I never saw the vine’s flowers until today because every year since we’ve lived here, prior to this year, I would by now have weed whacked the tall grass in the yard and cut down the fledgling vine before I might have distinguished it from the surrounding grasses.

However, we had so little rain this past winter, the grass has not grown very high, and because I have tons of other yard work to occupy me, I have yet to do any weed whacking so far this year. Several morals to this tale occur to me.

From neglect may bloom astonishing beauty.

The late bird catches the gorgeous blossom.

Given time, hidden beauty sometimes stops hiding.

Nature knows what she’s doing if we allow her to do what she knows.

Finally in today’s big news, I have been repeating lately, “How can people be so stupid and shortsighted?” when I read about the truly insane and murderous things various states and countries are doing in response to the dang virus, specifically the loosening of restrictions and mitigation protocols when all known research tells us this is a very bad idea and will result in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

For some days I suffered from the delusion that this kind of willful disregard for all that is good and decent and right is proof of new and greater levels of ignorance and stupidity. But then Marcia reminded me of why I quit the Santa Cruz commune I was a member of in the early 1970s, and I realized that high-level ignorance and stupidity is nothing new.

To be brief, I lived in a twelve-person commune for two years and created for that collective an enormous vegetable and herb garden that produced a large portion of the vegetables we consumed. In those simpler times, I made my minimal living as a gardener and musician and intended to live in that commune for many more years until…

Two of our members moved out, thus creating two openings for new members. We had a large number of applicants. Two of those aspiring to join us were a brilliant charming creative woman and an equally brilliant and creative and charming man. They were not a couple and did not know each other. They were, in my estimation, the most ideal members we could ever have. Yet when it came to the final vote, my fellow communards selected two dimwits with nothing to recommend them except they were no threat to the fragile egos of the majority of those in the commune.

Yes, all the men in the commune voted for the brilliant creative woman, and all the women voted against her. And all the women voted for the brilliant creative man, and all the men, save for me, voted against him. I was stupefied and depressed by what I felt was the emotional idiocy of my housemates, and so resigned my place in the commune and took my dreams of utopia elsewhere.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe those dimwits blossomed into human marvels, and maybe it is a fine thing that thousands of people will die so a bunch of cranky impatient deeply ignorant people can get haircuts and go to pubs and tanning salons and spread the dang virus hither and yon. Who am I to say?

And that’s our big news for today.

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Big News

I might have called this News, but thought the addition of Big would attract more readers.

These are some of the foodstuffs we recently purchased from our wonderful food co-op Corners of the Mouth. We scrubbed all these goodies with soapy water and then rinsed them as a precaution against the dang virus. We recently learned that hot water does not kill the dang virus. The soapsuds do the killing.

We have heard that many people do not wash their groceries. Are we overdoing our precautionary measures? Having seen people fondling avocados and bananas and cans of beans and then not buying them, I feel better about washing the food and canned goods and milk cartons rather than not.

This is the biggest and most prolific of the apple trees in our little orchard. She also produces our biggest apples. I’m not certain what kind of apples they are. Reddish green, greenish red. Sweet and juicy. Possibly a McIntosh variant. The number of blossoms promise plentiful fruit, but we have had some big blooming years that were not big fruit years. Fingers crossed.

The red flowers around the tree expand their range in the orchard every year. Passersby often stop to take pictures of them. Something about that red.

I woke a couple days ago with the idea to create tracks of split wood on which I’ll stack the wood from the rounds of pine I’m splitting. In the past I would make consecutive stacks, but making tracks like this for the base seems like something neato to try. A variation on a theme.

That’s my big news for today.

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Life Goes On

Summer days and nights in Mendocino can be as cold or colder than winter days and nights here, so we heat our house year-round with a highly efficient woodstove. We buy tan oak firewood from Frank’s Firewood in Boonville and harvest soft wood from our acre and a half of forest. All the trees we’ve had cut down on our property in the eight years we’ve been here were trees posing a threat to our house or our neighbors’ houses or the road that parallels the west side of our property and leads to the six other houses down the lane.

Bull pines are often the kind of tree we need to bring down. They tend to grow fast and tall, develop some sort of internal rot, die, and eventually break apart or fall over. A few years ago we had an enormous 170-feet-tall dead bull pine felled, much to the relief of several neighbors who were feeling threatened by the tree. That behemoth and one lesser pine have provided wood for our stove for three years and counting.

A few days ago our neighbor Defer, who is eighty, came over and felled a 130-foot bull pine that was soon to die and eventually topple over and block the aforementioned road. Defer has been a professional tree feller for fifty-nine years and only stopped felling big trees for a local lumber company a year ago.

We considered waiting for the pandemic to end before asking Defer to fell the bull pine, but because we’ll need the wood long before the pandemic ends, we decided to go ahead with the felling.

Defer’s intention was to fell the tree so it landed a hundred feet from our house, but the tree defied Defer’s expertise and scared the bejesus out of me as I watched the giant come down just twenty feet from where I was standing on the north porch of our house.

When the big tree crashed down on the earth, I was jarred out of an emotional freeze I’ve been in since the pandemic took hold and we began our sheltering in place. The weather and temperature and seasons and tides and deer and mosquitoes and apple blossoms and honeybees and bull pines care not a whit about the dang virus. Life goes on.

Defer bucked up the pine into sixteen-inch lengths and I will now slowly but surely split those rounds and stack the wood near the woodshed to hasten the drying so we’ll have a good supply of seasoned soft wood for the coming winter.

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Essentials

One of the largest trees in our garden is a blossoming cherry, a tree that blooms for a few weeks every year but does not bear fruit. For our first couple of years here I was tempted to replace the blossoming cherry with a tree that produced things we could eat. However, over the next few years, I came to love those spring days when our blossoming cherry is the star of our little neck of the planet, and to love those days in the fall when her large leaves turn golden yellow and light our way into winter.

As we enter our second month of sheltering-in-place in response to the pandemic, I’ve been musing about which activities and businesses and occupations and things our government considers essential, and which activities and businesses and occupations and things our government considers non-essential.

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Easter 2020

yellow farmhouse

can something be

too yellow?

young potato plant

buried half

sprouts and erupts

japanese maple

branches laden with

unfurling butterfly wings

new leaves

tender promise

of summer shade

young apple

is she strong enough

to bear fruit?

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Haiku Breakfast

potato chunks atop

grated zucchini —

a promising start

three eggs with

a dollop of salsa —

mix well

skillet grows hot

squash and taters

sizzle

egg and salsa meet

zuke and spud —

a fortunate collision

time and heat

and thoughtful stirring —

breakfast is ready!