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Picture by JW

I had the most wonderful day Saturday.  A bunch of us from our Catholic young adult group went over to Indiana for a day of winter fun at the arboretum where Fitz, one of the guys in our group, works.  Actually, when I say he works there, that might be a little weak.  It seems that the place was founded by Fitz’s great-grandfather.  It started as his family home and grounds, and then grew as he bought adjacent parcels of land, hoping to preserve some of the remnants of old growth forest that still remained.  After his death it became the Hayes Arboretum, which has continued to grow to 466 acres of forest, wetland, trails, and gardens.  It also includes Fitz’s great-grandfather’s house, a marvel of Arts & Crafts glory, with big stone fireplaces, tall casement windows, and a library that made me drool.  Apparently there are also fountains (invisible under the snow) and gardens as well, but we didn’t see much of those this trip.

What we did see was the beautiful woods and snow, first on a four wheel tour around the Arboretum (only one truck got stuck in the snow, but Fitz got it out), and then when Fitz took us out to the hill beyond the big house and we started the winter sports portion of the day.  We had sleds, and snowboards, and one guy brought his skis.  We tried taking an inner tube down, but the snow wasn’t quite slippery enough for it, so Fitz tied them onto the back of his truck instead and towed us around the property.  It was awesome.  I think I giggled with delight the entire time.  Grace and I had a small snowball fight, and then when she and The Secretary General started building a jump ramp for the sleds, I decided to build a snowman instead.  The snow packed so beautifully that after a while I just had to roll the snowman segment down the hill, and it took over packing itself on its own, rolling up layers like a cinnamon roll.  We had to get four people to lift the middle segment.  It was beautiful.

After that I was tired, and both my gloves and fingerless mitts were soaked through.  A couple of the other girls felt the same, so we headed into the house to get warm.  Fitz had a spread waiting for us, including a big pot of venison chili.  It was the perfect thing after an afternoon outdoors.  Little by little the rest of the group filtered in, and after everyone had warmed up and eaten, we got ready for Mass.  I had thought of bringing a second set of clothes, so I used the time to explore that lovely library a little more.  It was the most eclectic bunch of books, everything from popular literature of the turn of the century to estate planning to differential calculus.  On one shelf I found a book titled Rupert of Hentzau.  I instantly grabbed it, and realized that it was the sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda, one of the best adventure novels of all time.  I read it years ago, but recently I started listening to it as an audio book, and remembered how much I loved it.  On our recent trip to DC, I introduced Grace to it, and she loved it too.  I had heard there was a sequel, but this was the first time I had actually seen a copy.  It was very exciting.

After Mass we all headed off to a pizza place for dinner, and then came back to Fitz’s place to roast marshmallows.  While a few of the guys were getting the fire started, the rest of us congregated on the deep sofas in the drawing room in front of one of the huge fireplaces, and played Jenga.  When the tower finally tumbled down (I think we were up to 33 or 34 layers) we headed outside, where there was a roaring fire waiting for us.  It was the perfect end to a really wonderful day.  And then, just to make everything even more awesome, Fitz let me borrow the book.  I didn’t even ask him.  I was telling him about my find, and he suggested that I borrow it.  I was so startled that I had to think about it for a while.  In the end my greedy desire for more books trumped my historian’s horror at taking anything away from a particular collection.  I’ve been reading it in bits and pieces since then, and even though it has such a sad ending (seriously, I teared up) I’m thrilled to be reading it.  Plus, you gotta love those turn of the century novels – they’re a little like opera: totally unafraid of bringing the drama to the nth degree.  So wonderful.

Of course, joy and sorrow are never very far apart.  Sunday afternoon, when I was enjoying a gloriously lazy day nursing my aching muscles from the day before (I always think being sore on Monday is a sign of a really good weekend) and not bothering to change out of my pjs, I got a call from Bounce.  He told me that a mutual friend had died very suddenly the day before.  The most he knew was that she had suddenly gone into seizures (something she’d never suffered from before), been taken to the ER, and died.

I was not close to her, but I liked her and wished her well.  The last time I had talked to her was at Bounce’s wedding reception, where she asked me for advice on plants that would grow well in her rather shady apartment.  She told me then that she read this blog from time to time, which was a lovely compliment.  And then, after Jacob’s death, she wrote me the sweetest note consoling me, and urging me and my siblings to get our own hearts checked out.  At the time, we had several people suggesting the same thing in rather tactless and irritating ways, but her urging was loving and sweet, and touched me very much.  She got married less than a year ago to the love of her life, which makes this sudden ending all the more heartbreaking.  I hope all of you will join me in keeping her husband, family, and friends in your prayers.