Gran's Apple Butter Blog

December 19, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Stronger Shoulders (7XII)

Chapter 7 – Stronger Shoulders

Like everyone else, Gran had made some tough decisions along her journey, ones she’d just as soon have avoided. Eventually, each fork in the road we ignore reappears, no matter how many times we think we snuck past it undetected. Gran noticed that whenever she took the easy road, the one that seemed to lead downhill, before long she’d find herself right back at that same fork, or at least one that looked suspiciously like it.

She could keep going ‘round in circles – that was her favorite option for a while. After all, we get to pick our trail. We can drive uphill or down, on steep, rocky terrain or a smooth, dirt-packed road. But when we keep choosing the same leg at that fork, we grow tired of the slant of the hillside, and the ruts in the road grow deeper until just making it around that circle becomes an unbelievable struggle. When Gran reached the point she could no longer bear the idea of the same old road, she’d chosen the unknown.

Yes, that path led uphill. It also went through some long, dark tunnels that were almost more than she could bear. All the stale air in those tunnels must have messed up her odometer, Gran said, or at least her depth perception, ‘cause somehow she felt like each mile in that darkness took her much further than it measured in the light of day. That more than made up for the few times she’d thrown ‘er in reverse, ‘cause in her bones she could feel it – with each turn of those wheels, she was nearing home.

Now and then as Gran ascended this new road, she’d come around a corner to find the most beautiful view spread across the valley below. A chance to breathe and soak in the splendor: Just what she needed after that long, steep grade. She’d pull over and stretch her legs, maybe peel an orange or a chocolate or just relax for a bit.

Sometimes she’d sneak in a little hike, just for the fun of it. Over time she noticed her body was responding to all this exercise, legs and lungs growing strong, back and shoulders widening for the pack she always carried. She realized she could carry more, walk further, faster, climb steeper grades than ever before, without even getting winded. That’s how she knew she was growing.

She thought her mind had grown the most. She’d gotten a little wiser along the way. She’d learned to pack her bag well, leaving everything but necessities behind. The further she traveled, the less she needed. That toothbrush handle, why, that’s an extra three ounces… forget that!

She’d also learned how valuable the rules of the hiking road were: “If you can’t pack it out, don’t pack it in!” She’d learned to quit asking others to carry her pack for her, and to stop saying yes when others asked her to carry theirs. In the end this only exhausted her and weakened them, until she’d realized it was best to focus on her own journey, her own pack.

At first when others had asked Gran to carry their bags, eagerly eyeing her broad shoulders, she’d complied, feeling a little flattered. Even after she stopped that, she’d tried sharing what she’d learned on all those trails, but that never seemed to work well either, so she finally gave it up. She felt a little sad about that, but she knew it was highest good.

What she didn’t know, what I could see from a distance, was that several hikers were watching her, how she packed her bag, trimming weight here and there, heaviest stuff in the bottom for balance, light things on top, water bottle handy, and a rain cover over the outside. They were watching how she picked her trail, how she sighted her line of travel. And they began to do the same thing, at least when no one was looking. 

Gran just kept doing her thing, following her own path. When she had the chance for an overnighter, she’d build a fire, pitching her tent when rain threatened, gazing at the stars when it didn’t. In the morning she’d break camp quickly and methodically, minding her own business, unaware that eyes were following her movements, hands rolling and zipping to mirror her own.

Somewhere down the path she’d look up and smile, surprised to see a familiar face. She’d nod respectfully, then turn back to her trail as this new friend passed, moving quickly along his way, just like it was meant to be.

Every now and then Gran would strike out into virgin wilderness, to test new ideas, new equipment. It didn’t always go well, she was the first to admit. But again, as always: stronger shoulders, stronger back, stronger legs… and so it went.

Starting next week – Chapter 8: You Have Reached Your Destination!
© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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December 13, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Home Stretch (7XI)

Chapter 7 – Home Stretch

So, where were we? Oh yes, coming into the home stretch. At this point we tend to punch the gas a wee bit, eager to pull in and put ‘er in park.

But there’s one home stretch we tend to dawdle on. Our final trip to that Big Rocking Chair in the Sky sparks mixed emotions, ‘cause this going home means saying “see ya later” to all the homes we’ve had here – the ones we shared with friends and family, the ones that held our hopes and dreams. No matter how much we want to go, it can be hard to say goodbye.

This can be hard on everyone involved – not just the one who’s leaving, who at least has a new adventure to look forward to. For the ones left behind, it can feel hard ‘cause they’re still in the old adventure, and one of their favorite players just left the team. Sometimes that makes it hard to keep going, to finish the race.

It can be hard ‘cause this represents change. Gran said she’d never gotten very good at enjoying that. The thing with change – we don’t know what that means. And we’ve been socialized – oh boy, have we: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. But is that true? I gotta say, in my life, sometimes what I found around that corner was a whole lot better.

We fight this change so hard we hold on much longer than is good for us. Sometimes because we don’t want to go for ourselves, sometimes because we don’t want to go for the ones we’ll leave behind. We know they’ll be sad and probably have to deal with some darkness until they figure out how to move on with their lives. We want them to move on ‘cause we love them – we may even tell them that. But we also know that most likely they’re going to forget this for a while. Sometimes a long while. And Gran said that was ok. It’s only human.

So we’ll hang around, dragging things out when we know it’s better to rip that bandage off all at once. Sure, it hurts like crazy. But Gran said at least then somehow the pain can seem a bit more bearable. She didn’t say how though. She didn’t always answer my questions, just like she didn’t always answer anybody’s questions. And for the same reason – she knew I’d have to figure out this one on my own.

This can feel especially hard when the person saying goodbye is young. When this happened, Gran would remind me of the saying about good people dying young. She suspected that might not be too far off, ‘cause when we’ve done our work the best we can, we’ll want to go home and take a rest – all this learning wears us out. So when someone makes this trip earlier than we’d like, Gran figured that meant this was just a fast learner – ready to move on, lessons complete. That didn’t make the goodbye much easier, but somehow the idea felt soothing, like a sip of peppermint tea on a hot summer day.

Sometimes we fear this journey so much we get stuck along the way. Halfway home, we can go no further, ‘cause that extension cord we’re hanging on to isn’t long enough. Or maybe someone roped the trailer hitch as we flew past, and there we are, dangling between here and there, lost in the darkness. There’s only one thing to do then, Gran said, and that is to lovingly and gently let go of anything we’re holding on to here, and to do what we can to help those left behind unhitch their end of that rope as well. They may not even be aware they’re holding on, but we’ll know it.

This applies to deaths of other things too – like the end of a relationship or a job, anything that means a lot to us. We go through this process consciously when we give up one thing to make space for another. Sometimes we know we’re doing this. Other times, Gran said, all we know is that something is going away, something has been lost, and we’re just hanging on for dear life.  

That’s when we have to be patient with ourselves and keep plugging away, following our path, even when it leads away from roads that have been a big part of our lives for a long time. Gran said it was very important to ask for guidance in these moments, to pray that highest good be served, and then to listen and watch for the stars that will lead you home. That’s when you learn to see in the dark, when you close your eyes and hold out your hand, trusting that Someone is there to take it, and then, follow your heart.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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November 10, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Asking for Directions (7/VIII)

Chapter 7 – Asking for Directions

Getting lost can happen to the best of us. When this happens, we don’t need to be afraid to ask for directions, but we’ll want to be discerning about whose we follow, especially if it arrives unsolicited. When that nice man in a strange city eagerly directs us into an empty parking space directly below a No Parking sign, we may want to keep going.

Some strangers know about going home. They’re worth listening to, although they usually don’t talk much. Sometimes those who speak the least are really those who know the most, Gran said. You can recognize them by the twinkle in their eye. If you’re afraid you’ve gotten off your path, sit down next to one of these twinkly-eyed journeyers. Sit and be for a bit. Soak up those sparkles, like the smell of laundry fresh from home, where Mom has that special fabric softener you can’t find at your store.

Other strangers think they know, and down deep they really do, but their sunglasses may be a little smudged on the surface. Maybe they aren’t really sure, ‘cause they don’t remember enough about their own road. If they can’t find their way, how can they remember yours?

When well-meaning strangers share their directions, you’ll want to consider if what they’ve told you feels right. Again, just like that shortcut, check it against your heart. Does that ping come back with a wide open feeling of love? Or does it feel more like someone just stomped on your foot? If that’s the case, Gran said, it’s probably a good idea to let that advice just fly on by.

What if that person is lost and doesn’t know it? Strangers get lost too, you know. In fact, if this person is lost, maybe you can help him get back on his own path with a few words spoken in love. It never hurts to try, so long as we keep our egos in check. At the same time, you’ll want to pass on Gran’s caution to check whatever directions you share against his own heart. The road you walk may not be his, and it’s best we never forget that.

Sometimes when you’re lost, you may feel drawn to a specific person. This may be someone you can connect with, when others can’t hear you or seem to have any idea what you’re talking about. If you’re feeling this way and a stranger catches your attention, seek her out. She may be a friend sent to help you see the lights of home burning as clearly as you once saw them.

Are her eyes twinkling? Take a good look. That may not be a street light – it may be those home fires shining right on through to you. You’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em, Gran said.

Just remember to keep checking your heart as the road twists and turns, always make your own decisions, and you’ll be just fine.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 25, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Checkers (7/VI)

Chapter 7 – Checkers

Frequently our journeys involve an overnight stop or two. Maybe a tire blows out and has to be special ordered from Wesleyville. Maybe we run out of resources and have to rustle some up before we move on. Gran said this was all part of the trip, although she suggested we avoid hotel-motels with extra large ice chests and lonely male clerks. She never explained that one.

She did explain that our homes-along-the-road reflect who and where we are, just like our starting points and the home we’re headed for. This is easier to see when we’re out and about, ‘cause it’s hard to whitewash walls when you’re on the move, in which case we tend to either ignore the grime or focus on it a little too much. During times of transition, Gran said, people’s homes often reflect a similar split.

This happens because we don’t feel at home when we’re in between. The house or hotel or roadside park we land in reflects this with a general state of disrepair. The place itself is on edge, like the people living in it. Others may create a perfect bubble, with all the right elements in all the right places, clean and quiet, a living, breathing museum. And that may be all it is: An empty bubble, a shell of a home.

Our houses reflect more than we probably want them to. Gran said she’d seen this after bridges had been burned beyond repair and the end result was the big D word – Divorce. Divorce feels just like death, Gran knew, and it can leave us in emotional shambles.  

We may feel like life cheated us, robbed us of a dream. We may feel hurt, guilty, bewildered, furious, sad. We may feel like we didn’t get to say a real goodbye. Maybe we feel things might have turned out differently if we’d had a chance for one last do-over, or if our playing partner would have tried just a little harder, cared just a little more. We may feel angry that this person didn’t want a do-over. We may feel all these things at once, or we may just feel numb. We may even suspect that we may have had more to do with this than we’d like to admit – and we may not be ready to examine this possibility any more closely just yet. Working and learning through those emotions takes time, Gran said, and it takes courage. After all, it’s easier to hold on than it is to let go.

The thing is, whether we were living in a bubble or a grease-pit, it’s hard to wake up someone who’s pretending to be asleep, and it’s hard to notice signs that our egos are determined to ignore. The fairytale ends abruptly and everyone feels cheated, just like when someone gets frustrated while losing at checkers and “accidentally” knocks over the board.

Life can feel pretty crazy as we’re trying to pick up all the pieces while keeping one hand on the wheel and an eye on the road. There’s also the big job of figuring out where our new path leads, ‘cause changes this big tend to have quite an effect on our trajectory.

About that game board: Gran said it really doesn’t serve us to play holier-than-thou, to pretend it was an accident, or to play the victim. Nor does it serve us to pretend we didn’t see the frustration building in our checker-playing partner. These situations can help us realize how desperately we’ve been blocking out things we didn’t want to see, and can help us take a good look at our plays-well-with-others skill set.

If you can’t play nicely, Gran said, you shouldn’t play at all. But then, we already knew that, didn’t we?

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 11, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Along the Way (7/IV)

Chapter 7 – Along the Way 

Along these roads we encounter all the same situations and scenery we meet up with on any other journey, whether it’s to Yellowstone Park or Wichita Falls, Texas. We have the same traffic laws to follow as well, like wearing our seat belts, following the speed limit, and how to merge in rush hour, something Gran said had taken her a long time to perfect.

We’ll want to be careful of those long straight-aways out where the sky is big and the land is large. Sure, we can make great time there – sit back and crank up that cruise control. But sometimes we get a little careless about watching the road, especially if it feels like familiar territory. We think nothing has changed, this is old hat, so we just sit back and fly on by.

This is never safe when you’re driving, Gran said. Even if nothing has changed, when we relax that much we have a tendency to drop into a light snooze, something even those wide roads can’t forgive. We may wake up to find ourselves sideways in a ditch or up to our hubcaps in quicksand. Neither was something Gran particularly recommended. Keep your eyes on the road, she said, and you already know where to keep your hands.

There are fun parts to these trips as well. Like all the road games you can play and the junk food you don’t keep at home. Gran’s personal favorite was stopping for coffee and the day’s blue plate special. She’d made more friends over grimy little diner mugs than she could count on both hands and feet.

And what about all the new scenery? You could stop and have your picture taken at each border crossing: Welcome to Oklahoma. There’s also the world’s biggest ball of string and that two-headed calf you’ve been reading about for the last three-hundred miles, and don’t forget the over-the-road burger joint, highlight of every trip.

Even in this day and age, sometimes you’ll find yourself at a toll gate. The lines here can get pretty long, so you better be prepared to take a break. You’re entering a whole other place, after all, so it makes sense there’d be some kind of pomp and circumstance. Don’t try to race around the crowd – take your turn, count your nickels, and be patient. When the light turns green, you’ll know it’s time.

Less fun in these travels are the backseat drivers who occasionally show up. You’ll know you’ve got one when you realize your knuckles are turning white around the steering wheel. At that point Gran said we’ll want to count to two or three thousand, nice and slow, remembering everything we learned in our sandbox days, and then pull over at a safe spot for a conversation. We can talk about boundaries and how things are, following the don’t-make-me-pull-over guideline.

Other times we’ll come to a place where we have to make a decision – a T in the road or a construction zone with diverging lanes, where each traveler must choose a path. It can be hard to make these decisions, and even harder to accept those made by others. If all goes well, we’ll find some way to proceed in peace. Perhaps we’ll realize we’re in the perfect spot to work on our patience, communication skills, and backbone building. If a truce can’t be reached, however, we may need to pull into the next car lot so Mr. Backseat Driver can get his own steering wheel. Other drivers may look at us funny, Gran said, but only we know what’s going on inside that car.

Of course, if we discover that we’re the ones trying to commandeer someone else’s car, we’ll want to give that some consideration as well.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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September 27, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Finding Your Way (7/II)

Filed under: Along the Road,Book Series,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Life Journeys,Listening,maps,On the road,Road Signs — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 12:53 pm

Chapter 7 – Finding Your Way

Once we’re in that driver’s seat, when it comes to navigating we have several options. We can start out with our map from the planning stage, we can do like Gran and flip a quarter, or we can rely on our memory of the road, asking for directions when need be and watching for signs along the way.

The thing about maps – whether they’re in print or on some high-tech gadget, most of us know they can be pretty outdated. If you know someone using a particular map, take a peek at their journey, Gran said. If they arrived where they were headed, great! That was a good map, at least for their road. But if they seem to be going in circles, we might want to think twice about following their directions. We’ll also want to check their destination – even good directions won’t help if we aren’t going the same place.

Map or no map, we want to pay attention to road signs, in case anything has changed along the route. Road signs take all shapes and sizes, from those dreams that come bubbling up to whether things around us are working well or if we feel like we’re spinning our wheels. Some signs come in the form of things people say or a line that stands out in a book, or even that little hummingbird of happiness that crosses our path at just the right moment.

The secret to finding your way, Gran said, is to watch for familiar landmarks – buildings, mountains, maybe even a star or two. This is especially important if you live in one of those new fangled settlements where everything looks alike. Gran had lived in one of those, out where the sun shines hotter than most places, and she said it could be awfully confusing.

If you can’t find a landmark, you can always follow your heart. When something feels right, when it rings true, follow it. I know this sounds like something that little guy with the glowing finger would say, but it’s true. You have a homing device inside – inside your heart. It’s your very own built-in navigation system, just like bats and submarines, and it doesn’t even need batteries or a suction cup for the windshield.

You see, when you’re on your way home, your heart sends out little pings into the distance, searching for its way, even when you don’t realize it’s doing it. Sometimes those pings bounce back and say Turn Left or Turn Right or STOP! Other times that little ping will come back with a richness and a glow you recognize. There’s no questioning it, not even for a second, because that ping says This Way Home, and you know to follow it. You just know. Isn’t that cool?

It’s like driving along when you see that great big red barn in the distance, roof caved in from age and too many tornados. You know, because you’ve taken this road before, that when you get to that barn you’ll curve by on the right side, starting up the long hill headed due west, and on the left will be the baseball camp (closed now for the winter) and on the right will be the little row of cottages with their Christmas lights shining. You’ll know exactly how to get home from here, you’ll almost feel like you’re already there, ‘cause you’re on the home stretch. 

It’s like following a trail of bread crumbs we didn’t even know we left behind.

Three things to keep in mind: First, like Gran said before, if you keep switching maps, your trip may take a lot longer. You’ll get so far – maybe to the last corner, almost in sight of the house – then you’ll turn and head off in the opposite direction, ‘cause your new map says “Go Directly To Ventnor Avenue.” Well, if you’re already at Park Place, and you only need snake eyes to win, which map do you follow then?

Second: Like a modern-day GPS, if you miss a turn your heart will recalculate the next best route. That’s a pretty comforting thought, one that’s kept me company on many a dark road when my brake lights were out and only one headlight was working. And even better than GPS, hearts don’t get thrown off by cloud cover or tunnels, and you never have to wait for a satellite.

Third: We can always follow someone else down the highway, but Gran didn’t recommend it. In general, she thought each of us would want to navigate for ourselves. After all, if that driver is like her and prefers to take the scenic route, there’s a good chance we’ll get home more quickly if we head off on our own.

And of course, always pay attention and go with your gut. Don’t worry, if you start heading the wrong direction, your heart will let you know about it pretty darn quick. That is, it will if you’re listening, which is why we have two ears and one mouth.

And if listening is an issue, Gran said, we could always just tape our mouths shut for a while, although she suggested we refrain from offering to do that for anyone else. Gran had quite a sense of humor.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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September 20, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Along the Road/Ready to Go? (7/I)

Filed under: Along the Road,Book Series,Dreams,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Letting go,On the road — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 11:41 am

Chapter 7 ~ Along the Road

Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. ~ Miriam Beard

Here we are, all packed up and ready to go. We’ve stowed our map and checked the weather, picked our companions, and repacked our bags so many times we can list their contents by heart. Don’t forget one last bathroom run after all that coffee. Now the moment of truth has arrived. Everybody in? Seatbelts fastened? Sunglasses clean? OK, let’s roll, Willie Nelson on the radio, everybody singin’ along. Road trips are more fun when you sing, you know.

But wait: Did you just hit the GPS home button? Better make sure it’s got the right address. I had a friend who forgot to update hers after she moved. She wound up halfway to China before she realized she was on the wrong road. Later she told me she hadn’t really forgotten to do this, she just hadn’t been ready to let go of that old home yet, to tell herself “I don’t live there anymore.”

These things take time, Gran said. We’re the only ones who know when we’re ready to move on, and it doesn’t do anybody any good to rush things. One thing to remember: Using a really long extension cord is not the same thing as letting go.

Another thing Gran cautioned me about: Sometimes we don’t realize someone else is driving our car. We think we’re in control and we’re doing just fine, head hanging out the window with wind in our hair, when BAM! We get sideswiped or sidelined and all of a sudden we’re headed the wrong way or maybe we’re not even moving at all. We glare over at the driver until, if we’re awake, it hits us: Why weren’t we behind that wheel? When someone else is driving, Gran said, you never know where you’ll wind up.

Sometimes this is another person, maybe a designated driver we picked in a necessary moment. Other times we sit looking at our own hands on the steering wheel, wondering how we got there. We had the right map, plenty of fuel, only a few miles left, and the last we remember we were starting to sing. Then everything went blank, and here we are.

That’s a good sign we’ve still got some of those voices in our heads – the ones that don’t want us to get home too soon, for reasons they aren’t sharing.[i] In that case, Gran said, we better pull over at the next rest stop and do some digging, or we won’t get far on this one.

[i] Sometimes our dreams may be our first clue about this. If you find yourself cruising along in dreamland, try to see who’s in the driver’s seat. If it’s not you, better find out why


© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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June 14, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Traveling Companions (6/I)

Chapter 6 ~ Sharing Our Journey: Traveling Companions
from Going Home, by Mary Batson

     We share our journeys with a wide variety of traveling companions and the occasional hitchhiker – the people in our lives. Some travel with us for the long haul, some we only walk beside for a short time. Others come with the road we choose, whether we like it or not. We may even see a hobo or two out there, but they tend to stick to themselves. That’s just fine, Gran said – we’ve all got a little lonesome cowboy in us.

     When it comes to these companions, one can never be too careful, whatever the destination. Those we journey with can make or break our trip – good or bad, or often times a little bit of both. Sometimes these people can help speed the trip along, help us stay awake on the long straight stretches, even take a turn at the wheel. Other times, they may keep us awake for different reasons, from a gnawing irritation that so-and-so has not yet offered to share the fuel kitty to slightly larger issues, like respecting our personal boundaries.   

     This isn’t to say we shouldn’t share our journeys, which can be a very good thing. But the point is, keep your eyes and ears open, choose carefully, and when in doubt, go with your gut.

     We learn from everyone we’re around, Gran said. Some people encourage us, support us, show us their way, and set a shining example. These are the companions we want to seek out and keep around. This is also the type of companion we want to be. Then there are those in our lives who help by providing us with opportunities to grow – steep grades to climb up and slippery ones to slide down. Either way, we learn, and we can be thankful for these lessons.

     But if you voluntarily agree to travel with one of the latter companions, better make sure you’ve got an emergency bag in the trunk, new tires, and snap-on snow chains. Four-wheel drive isn’t a bad idea either. After all, it’s not where you go, or whom you go with, so much as how you go – and how prepared you are for what you encounter along the way. And if you let someone else navigate, better make sure they can read your map first, and agree on the destination, or you may be in for a big surprise.

     Regardless of who’s in the car, sooner or later you’ll realize you have to steer alone. After all, this is your journey. You can’t drive very well with four or six or twelve hands shifting gears, but one set works just perfect. And eventually we’ll all come to that final split in the road where we have to walk alone. This will be much easier if we’ve been practicing for it along the way.

     Before we move on, let’s look a little more closely at relationships. What’s really happening between those lines?

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010. All rights reserved.
NOW AVAILABLE: Going Home, The E-Book & Going Home: The Tour LIVE – 2 CD set – Mikey and Gran’s story put to music!

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