ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



Here comes the fair!

Westmoreland Fair Banner

The end of the summer is here, and the Westmoreland County Fair has arrived right on schedule!

Westmoreland County FairLast year, we visited the fair for the first time shortly after we moved. It was a whole bunch of fun, and we immediately started planning to get more involved this year. At the time, I thought that maybe I should make some marmalade (partly because there was so little competition).

Fast forward a few months… Frequent readers may remember that I worked on pink grapefruit marmalade back in December. Also, the girls got involved in 4-H, and started working on sewing, baking, gardening, and art projects. And Ordinary Spouse came out of fair-entry-retirement*, and decided to work on a few sewing and baking projects.

* Here is a major side note… Ordinary Spouse was a professional fair entrant as a child. Check out her ribbons from back then…

All of OS's fair ribbons!

I’m guessing that other 4-H members saw that she was entered in the same category and immediately ran up the white flag in surrender.

Ok… the major side note is done. 🙂

All of our work reached its culmination yesterday. We woke up early to put the finishing touches on a total of seventeen fair entries:

  • Ordinary Spouse – a dress, a loaf of bread, and cinnamon rolls
  • Oldest Daughter – a blouse/culottes outfit (2 entries), a watercolor painting, and blackberry jam
  • Middle Daughter – flower arrangements (3 entries), a multimedia painting, cornbread, and stuffed animals
  • Youngest Daughter – a flower arrangement, a painted wooden fish, and pumpkin muffins
  • o(m) – pink grapefruit marmalade

Some scenes from the day…

Starting work on fair entries at 7 a.m. Get the coffee brewing!
Reading the rules
Oldest Daughter looks over the rules before putting finishing touches on her work
Kitchen counter
The kitchen is ready for baking
Get the dough rising!
Prepping the cinnamon rolls
Making cinnamon rolls. Note how they even get weighed.
Finished cinnamon rolls
Finished cinnamon rolls
Making pumkin muffins
Youngest Daughter making pumpkin muffins
Arranging flowers
Middle Daughter arranging flowers
Messy counter
By the end of the day, the kitchen was a mess

And here are the finished entries!

We had a four-hour window to drop things off yesterday afternoon…

Dropping off fair entries
The lines to submit fair entries

The judging happens this morning (I think), and we’ll go back to see how we did tonight when the fair officially opens. (Ordinary Spouse noted that there was only one other marmalade entered in my category, so maybe I have some hope!)

In the meantime, here are some things we can look forward to…

The midway
The midway – home of motion sickness
Fried food
Fried food heaven… or is it hell?

Stay tuned for more fair reporting!


Matters of conscience: The Civilian Public Service story

Mennonites have always resisted serving within the military. Willingness to wield the “sword” is inconsistent with a life of discipleship to the Prince of Peace. During World War II, Mennonites and other conscientious objectors in the United States were able to serve their country in a civilian role, rather than in a military one:

Civilian Public Service (CPS) was a program developed at the onset of WWII which provided those whose conscience forbade them to kill, the opportunity to do work of national importance under civilian direction rather than go to war. Nearly 12,000 men made this choice, and many women voluntarily joined the cause. They fought forest fires, worked in mental institutions, planted trees, did dairy testing and served as subjects for medical experiments in more than 150 camps scattered throughout the United States.

Mennonite Central Committee has just launched a website, The Civilian Public Service Story, to pass along the stories of these men and women. Among the names in the database are those of two brothers from southwestern Pennsylvania – one a “laborer” and the other a “dairy farm hand”. The laborer was my grandfather. According to the site, he served first in Virginia, doing land conservation work. I was unaware of this part of his life.

Later in the war, he was transferred to do work in a mental hospital in Rhode Island. My grandmother also worked at the hospital. My mother was born in Providence shortly after the war came to an end. The information on this CPS unit even includes a mention of the vocal quartet in which my grandfather sang.

These people are part of my cloud of witnesses…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12.1,2

Geocache Puzzle #2 – Killer Sudoku

(This is the second in a series of puzzles that I’ve created for geocaches. You don’t need to like geocaching to appreciate them. You just need to enjoy number logic.)

This cache associated with this puzzle was hidden about halfway along my commute route. Alas, it was “muggled” frequently, and I had to archive it. (In geocaching parlance, a ‘muggle’ is a non-geocacher. If a geocache has been muggled, it was removed by the non-geocacher.)

The puzzle is called a “killer sudoku“. All standard sudoku rules apply. In addition:

  • Each distinct colored region is a “cage”. The sum of the numbers in a particular cage must equal the number printed in that cage.
  • No number may be repeated within a cage.
  • Note that cages may extend across more than one 3×3 square. For example, there is a four cell cage, colored yellow with a sum of thirteen, that starts in the upper left and continues in the upper center 3×3.


(Click on the image for a larger version.)

Geocache puzzle #1 – Kakuro

(Don’t worry! You don’t have to be a geocacher to enjoy this puzzle! You just need to like kakuro.)

My little ‘About Me’ summary mentions that I’m a geocacher. (If you’re unfamiliar with geocaching, you can probably get your questions answered at If you are familiar with geocaching and want to find me, I go by ‘GCalum‘.) Unfortunately, I’ve been much less of a geocacher in the last year than I’d like – time and priorities, you know. But I still get out when I can.

One thing that I’ve enjoyed when hiding my own caches is to create puzzles for other cachers to solve. Unfortunately, if something happens to the cache*, then I have to “archive” it and the effort that I put into the puzzle is lost. So hooray for the blog! I have a new audience who might enjoy my little puzzles.

* The cache container associated with this particular puzzle was a Lock & Lock. An animal ate through it. 😦

The puzzle below is called a kakuro. As originally intended, the cells shaded blue and red would have provided part of the coordinates to a cache hidden in a forest preserve near where I work. But since I’ve removed the cache, they now just provide coordinates to a nice spot in the woods. (Spoiler warning: a partial solution is given on the cache page. However, you have to be logged in to see it.)

So – I hope you enjoy this puzzle. I’ll be posting a variety of them in the coming days.

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

Five for Friday… favorite birds

When I was young, my grandparents would take my sister and I birdwatching near their house. It’s hard for young children to be sufficiently quiet to make those trips worthwhile, but in my memory, we somehow managed. (I’m equally convinced that my memory is wrong.) Nevertheless, those were formative times that I remember fondly.

In honor of those trips, I present today’s “Five” – my favorite birds. These are my favorites mostly for sentimental reasons (as opposed to coloring, songs, behavior, etc.). The first four, especially, are influenced by the excursions with my grandparents.

1) Eastern bluebird – We saw these in houses placed at the edges of Amish and Mennonite farm fields in southwestern Pennsylvania.

2) Indigo bunting – I have one very specific, happy memory of a bunting near Fallingwater. Yesterday, I saw two for the first time this year.

3) Baltimore oriole – My grandparents had neighbors whose tree hosted an oriole nest.

4) Carolina wren – A different neighbor had a wren that built its nest in her greenhouse.

5) Great blue heron – for some reason, when I see herons, I’m reminded of the Holy Spirit.

(Image credits: bluebird, bunting, oriole, wren, heron.  Hey, you photographers!  What’s with birds facing to the right?)

Dances with coyotes

I haven’t really blogged about geocaching before.  Today seems like a good opportunity to begin.

Geocaching is a bit like a high-tech treasure hunt.  One person hides something (called the ‘cache’) and uses a handheld GPS receiver to record the coordinates (the latitude and longitude for the location).  Often, the location is in a forest, park, or other natural area.  At a minimum, the cache contains a logbook, but it may also contain small toys, trinkets, or other items suitable for trading

The person then publishes the coordinates for the cache on a geocaching website (such as  Other people are then free to go searching for the cache.  When they find it, they sign the log, perhaps trade some items (always trading even or up!), and then relate their story on the website.

I learned about caching through my father-in-law and his brother-in-law (Ordinary Spouse’s uncle).  The combination of technology and nature fascinated me.  When my birthday rolled around three years ago, my ordinary family bought me a GPSr.

So what does this have to do with coyotes?  Well, today I was out in a local forest preserve looking for some geocaches, when I realized that there was a coyote about 100 feet in front of me on the path.  It was keeping a safe distance from me, but not making any real effort to get away.  I didn’t have any real safety concerns, since I’ve encounter coyotes before.  However, because the forest preserve was rather empty (of humans), I decided to find a walking stick for some extra safety.

I backtracked a bit, keeping my eye on the coyote, and realized that it was now following me.  Hmm – that concerned me a little bit more.  So I found my walking stick and took a few paces toward the coyote once again.  And again, it kept its distance.

We happened to be near a junction of three trails, and the coyote chose the trail which it hadn’t originally been on.  Since I wanted to use the other trail, I kept going.  When I turned around and looked back, I saw the coyote go past, walking in the direction toward where I’d started.  It was then that I realized that we had both simply wanted to go around each other.  The whole back-and-forth looked a bit like a vehicle doing a three-point turn.  And it was just a bit exhilarating to be in such close proximity.

So, if you ever find yourself wondering if you’d like to take up geocaching as a hobby, maybe my little dance with a coyote will convince you.

(One way or another!)

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