All because of a book

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For those longtime readers of my rambling columns, you will perhaps recall all of the joy surrounding the book Craig and Fred five years ago. We coordinated a hugely successful Community Read based around this incredible book. The book has the power to bring readers of all ages together to discuss the story found within its pages. Author Craig Grossi, his infamous canine friend Fred, his then girlfriend (now wife) Nora Parkington, and her dog Ruby visited and gave presentations at the Hillsboro High School, Cashton High School, and the Tomah VA. Craig’s tale of the ‘stubborn positivity’ he learned from Fred resonated with everyone – and continues to spread.
Since that meeting all those years ago, Craig and I have kept in touch. The Young Adult version of Craig’s book has become a staple in the sixth grade curriculum and Craig does his best to coordinate a meeting in real life or virtually with the students. This past fall, he and Nora and the dogs joined us at the farm for a few days. We packed the days full of farm fun: from riding a four-wheeler through the mud in 40 degree weather to canning apple pie filling, feeding calves to milking cows. Through it all, they were treated like members of the family. When they left the farm they left me with an open invitation to come and visit them in Maine.
I have never actually taken a vacation (because giving birth or having surgery to get out of chores does not count). I haven’t necessarily had the desire to before now, I suppose. I also was quite sure I didn’t need to board an airplane. Then one day I looked in the mirror and realized I wasn’t getting any younger and there were places and people I needed to see in this life. When my dear friend Molly announced her due date with baby number four, I promised her I would come and help out afterwards. I knew that this would force me to get on an airplane and head to Bliss, New York. Our mutual friend Laura was all in for the adventure, even with my many jovial warnings about the likelihood of me being an uneasy flying companion. It made perfect sense to attempt to fit in a trip to Maine as well since we were already planning on heading east.
Plane tickets were purchased. That made all the thinking about it become very real, very fast. I was going to get on multiple planes and be gone for six whole days. I was going to leave my family, my cows, my comfort zone. I cooked up multiple pans of food. Two double batches of cookies went to the freezer (in case of emergency, you know), cake went to the fridge, and I even pre-cooked meals for Lucy so she would have plenty to sustain her after nursing those voracious puppies of hers. Then began the list making: cows to move, cows to dry, after school chores to do, food ready to eat. Cora loved her list. She felt like such a big kid having to check off her daily jobs. Not surprisingly, her favorite job was snuggling the puppies.
Laura and I had uneventful flights to Buffalo, New York. I learned that the motion sickness that bothers me in a vehicle on the ground is not quite as prevalent in the air. Most importantly, I can read on an airplane. On Easter Sunday afternoon in sunny New York an ecstatic Molly and a slumbering six-week old Abigail picked us up. We spent the next few days burping and bouncing a baby, curling up with her other three young ones and reading wonderful picture books, playing ‘popcorn’ on the trampoline, and exploring nearby Letchworth State Park. Before this trip, I had only seen waterfalls of the magnitude of those at Letchworth in the pages of National Geographic – these were breathtaking and beautiful. I took over Molly’s kitchen and make a few meals for all of us, and now can put faces to names when she talks about the important people in their lives. It was relaxing and wonderful to spend time with Molly and her entire family on their turf.
From New York we flew into Boston, the only flight that made my stomach a bit queasy due to the windy weather adding some serious turbulence. Nora grabbed us up and maneuvered her way through the tunnels and cramped streets of Boston to find a parking spot so we could wander the historical streets before our journey up to Maine. Aside from being a bit breezy, the weather was spring-like and the streets were packed with locals and visitors alike soaking up the sun. It was a good thing Laura and Nora had experience in such a setting, because I could have floated around for hours admiring the old architecture and reading every historical plaque. All of it was incredible to this farm girl who had only visited such places in the pages of a book.
We made it up to Craig and Nora’s house in Maine that evening and gobbled up some delicious pizza. They were hesitant to feed us their cheese, in case it disappointed our spoiled dairy palates. It hit the spot. Fred and Ruby accepted us as house guests by the next morning, no longer so watchful of our every move. We visited an oyster farmer, then, in true farm to table fashion, devoured his oysters the next day as we sat on the beach by the ocean. Oysters grilled to perfection and doused with butter, garlic, and parsley. With the dogs in tow, we wandered the streets of oceanside towns and once again I marveled at all the history. Every path we took from their house seemed to take us past early cemeteries, with rock fences marking them off between the tall trees. So many of the houses looked as though they would love to tell the stories of past inhabitants.
We were gone from Wisconsin for six days, two hours and 59 minutes according to the airport parking meter. It was a trip of firsts for me in so many ways. From the food I tried, the sights I experienced, to the five separate plane rides to get there and back. The animals and children all survived and I think were glad to see me come home, throw on my apron/overalls, and get back to my routine of reality. To think, most of this trip wouldn’t have been possible without the connection a book made years ago.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos, and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.

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