Slip Sliding Away

I’m not clumsy. It’s just the floor hates me, the tables and chairs are bullies and the walls get in the way. ~ unknown author but it could have been me

Three months ago, on a dark and stormy night, much like this one, I took an embarrassing tumble – more of a slipping sliding landing on my seat stumble, down my RV steps. I was pretty sure this fall was a little more complicated than the last or 20 or so I’d taken. Usually I fall over and bounce right back up like a Bozo the Clown punching bag.

Maybe my problem is that I still cling to the imagine of an entire P.E. history of A+’s and I haven’t come to terms with my past mid-life clumsiness. Truth is, I tip over a lot. In this instance, however, the steps were wet, I was in a hurry so the guys at the gate wouldn’t have to wait, I went down and I didn’t bounce back.

My not so subtle landing on the last step (there are only 4) shook the RV like an explosion (always a possibility in our business). Heidi woke up, got dressed and was out the door in about 57 seconds. I’m pretty far past stoic when it comes to pain but this time I just sat there. It’s hard to describe. It felt like someone had just rammed a fiery poker through my knee.

I wrote about this back when it happened. I fell the first week of February which was fortuitous, if a fall can be fortuitous, since 10 days later we had a week off between the stacking of our old rig and our Company Man calling us to follow him at his new rig.

During the week off I did all the things you do with a bum knee. I sat – a lot – with my leg elevated and wrapped in ice.

I tried Ibuprofen and Aleve and Aspercreme.

When it was time to get back to work, Heidi bought every kind of knee brace Walmart carries. I have 1 that I can wear under my black pants which are loose and 1 that I wear over my jeans which aren’t and 1 that I sleep in so the other 2 can air out.

After 3 months of being afraid to exercise or move really, our rig came back to the area where my PA is located. I went in this week and it took her about 2 minutes to determine that I have a torn meniscus – a common injury of athletes and old people.

My PA referred me to an Orthopedic surgeon who would do an MRI and then would prescribe surgery or PT. Self employment has it’s benefits but medical insurance isn’t one of them.

For some reason, the diagnosis discouraged me. I don’t know why? After 3 months of quite a lot of pain, what was I hoping she would say? I already knew it hurt – a lot – so why I thought a torn meniscus was bad news, I’m not sure.

Here’s what happened that night. The gate was quiet at my TSL.  I watched 3 old episodes of Glee and 2 of Jeopardy. Pathetic, I know. It’s was during the “Think music” that I got over myself and started thinking.

I made the uncharacteristic decision to be ‘pro-active’ – a word I’ve never even used in a sentence, let alone applied. I Googled torn meniscus, read about 20 articles and looked at 5 or 6 sites with rehab exercises. I picked the WebMD exercises because they have a good reputation and pictures. I need pictures. I get confused without pictures.

I wrote every  exercise out in detail. Then I got the great idea of putting the computer on the floor (so I could study the pictures) and I plopped myself down beside it. The first exercise was called a Quad set. The exercise required a towel under the ‘injured leg’. I started to get up to get a towel and found out that, well, no, getting up wasn’t really an option.

I know me. I was pretty sure that once I managed to get up, I wouldn’t get back down again so I scooted over to the chair and grabbed the yarn, needles and all – stuck the yarn under my leg, prayed for no traffic and began my rehab.

During those 30 minutes, the bell didn’t ring even once. I eventually rolled myself over to the sofa and dragged myself up. I felt entirely better. My leg hurt maybe just a little worse but my attitude changed completely.

I was very impressed with myself. When Heidi got up I shared my new rehab plan with her. Ever the practical one, she thought probably it would be better to carry out this choreography while she’s up and can get the gate. True.

Yesterday was rehab day two!

Walkin’ In High Cotton

We’re walkn’ in high cotton, which is actually pretty short, but its high cotton all the same. Now this is a surprise to me because I didn’t know (before moving south) that cotton was grown in Texas.

Guess which state in the nation grows the most cotton?

Texas, whose 3-year average production was over 6.2 million bales of cotton for the years 2006 through 2008, is the leading cotton-producing state. ~ National Cotton Council of America

So yes, there’s more than a little cotton down here and I expect we were bound to end up sittin’ in the middle of it sometime. And so we have!

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I blame my lack of knowledge regarding Texas and cotton on Mr Brokaw, CCR and Alabama. Mr. Brokaw was my high school History and Geography teacher. He was also the assistant football coach. We mostly learned about the history of football.

A bale of cotton weighs about 500 pounds. ~ NCCA

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If I’m going to be totally forthcoming, much of my particular view of geography and history comes from the fact that most of the ‘facts’ I remember are lyrics spinning in my weirdly wired jukebox brain. I can’t think about cotton (the look … the feel… the fabric of our lives) without a jingle or a song playing in my head.

I was influenced a lot by those around me – there was a lot of singing that went on in the cotton fields. ~ Willie Nelson

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And I can’t look out the window without thinking about cotton so my brain’s a’ hummin’. Sometimes it’s Creedance Clearwater Revival singing about the Cotton Fields of Louisiana.

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One bale of cotton can make 1,217 men’s T-shirts or 313,600 $100 bills. ~ NCCA

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But most of the time the tune that’s playing as the current soundtrack to my life is Alabama singing High Cotton. It’s a look back at the good life in Alabama and not really about cotton, apart from the high reference, but I like it the best anyway.

And I love this video. It’s one of those click on the button to fill the screen and sit back and be grateful videos.You don’t have to be  a fan of country music to enjoy it!

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We are so walkin’ in High Cotton!

  • We have a job
  • We like the job
  • We really like the guys we work with
  • We haven’t seen a rattlesnake or a tarantula in almost a year
  • We’ve been mouse free for months
  • We have a real pea gravel pad 3 times the size of our RV
  • We almost made it to August before temps settled in the 100+ range

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  • It’s been weeks since I’ve had giant bugs nesting in my hair or t-shirt
  • It’s been months since I’ve thrown water on a donkey
  • Fallen on any cow
  • Run into a tree with the RV
  • I haven’t left the RV for 7 weeks
  • SO, I haven’t gotten lost in 7 weeks

Hard to beat all that! High Cotton, for sure! 😀

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The immature flower bud on a cotton plant is called a square. ~ University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture

Go figure. They look round, kind of like walnuts, to me. But then again, I’m the one who didn’t know there were cotton crops in Texas so who am I to say. 😀

Do What You Like – Like What You Do

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The pictures on the front of the Life is Good t-shirts vary but their trademark philosophy is always same: Do what you like. Like what you do. Optimism can take you anywhere.

As I mentioned in my last post, there are actually quite a variety of jobs you could be assigned as gate guards. Some you might like better than others. These are the most common ones:

  • Jobs where you live right on the site and work safety, wear flame retardant clothing. and keep track of where everyone is at all times. I don’t see myself ever doing that but I’m guessing some folks like it.

OK, this is one of our guys, but can you imagine an already hot-flashing 55-year-old woman suiting up in 100+ degree temps? Me, either! I’m pretty sure I’d become the safety issue on the rig! 😉

  • Jobs where you work just FRAC (tons of traffic) and follow a FRAC crew. This involves moving every 6-10 days. The gate guards I’ve talked to that do this, love it. I have no idea why? We have way too much HUAD for that one!

  • Jobs where you start with the drilling rig and stay on site through FRAC and completion.

  • Jobs where you stay at a production site (we have friends who did this for over a year). They had all their meals catered and locked the gate at 10 each night and opened at 6 every morning while making the same pay we all make on a 24 hour gate. I wouldn’t hold my breath hoping to get one of these.

  • Jobs with multiple active holes where you make a little extra for each drilling hole if someone is living at each site.

  • Jobs with unfortunate placement. We worked a gate by the highway where the traffic for 6 sites stopped by us on their way to: our rig, or the FRAC (which had their own gg), or the construction of our second pad, or the production plant, or the pipe line, or the 2nd well (which also had their own gg )… It wasn’t a big deal, but it was really busy. We were sort of like the traffic cops in the middle of the street and blow whistles and point a lot. 😀

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I’m sure there are other industry related gate guard jobs, but the majority work in one of these areas, or like Heidi and I, follow a drilling rig. With the 2 brief exceptions noted in my last post, following a rig is all that we’ve done and we like it quite a lot. The kind of experience you have following a rig depends on a lot of things – chemistry mostly. Sometimes you click and sometimes you clash. We’ve been very fortunate to always click.
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We loved our year with our previous gig, and we’ll never forget those guys! It was quite an introduction to gate guarding! It’s hard to forget people who bring you tarantulas in a crock pot or rattlesnakes slithering around in their truck bed or the snare wild hogs right outside your window at night! We were so sad for us and happy for them when the rig got called back to their home state of Louisiana.
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There are many, many nice people to work for and with in this business and, I’m told, some that aren’t as nice. This isn’t a glamor job (clearly) 😉 and attitudes toward gate guards vary. The Texas Railroad Commission requires gate guards, so to some companies the position is just a necessary evil and to others, it’s a part of their team that they value.
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We’ve been fortunate to make the team for the second time. We’ve struck gold with this company and drilling rig. We’ve enjoyed every day (well almost every day ;)) of the 5 months we’ve been with them. We’ll be taking a few weeks off in a few weeks with the repeated assurance that when we return, they expect us back because we’re “family” now.
That’s really nice. You can see from the photo below, we practically live on the pad.
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You certainly can find something wrong with any job. This one is hot and dusty. It’s a long way from home no matter where you live, even if you live in Texas!
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The pay, before taxes, comes to $5.21 an hour. The only thing that makes this job financially viable is that we work 24 hrs a day(no napping on the job since we always try to be out the door in under 10 seconds). That, of course, means we work every weekend and every holiday. As year-rounders following a rig, we work 100 or 200 or 300 days straight. It helps to take a couple of weeks off about every 6-8 months.
What it comes down to mostly is your outlook. It’s like the Life is Good shirts. Do what you like. Like what you do. We focus on what we like about what we do. Like right now, it’s 2 in the morning and I can do my job well and still blog (when the internet is favorable) and watch the pre-recorded Olympics in between trucks. There’s virtually no stress or conflicts to resolve since no one cares what we think because we don’t know anything about whatever the problem is!
As for the last part of the Life is Good philosophy: Optimism can take you anywhere, be careful with that one. I’ve always been pretty optimistic and look where that took me! 😉
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Somewhere Near Nowhere

I’m watching the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics while I write this (recorded earlier) and while I work the gate at 3 a.m. I’m not sure why I’m watching the Parade of Nations? Maybe just because it’s a nice reminder of the humanity behind the politics.
Plus, how else would I have known that the owner of a Malaysian gold mine has offered a Gold Bar worth $600,000 specifically to any Malaysian athlete who wins a gold medal in Badminton? For that matter, how would I have known Badminton was an Olympic sport?

This post is part 1 of 2 about what you might expect if you decide to head for Texas Tea/ Black Gold country. Reading my blog, or even the majority of blogs about gate guarding, you may be under the impression that it’s a job where you guard the gate for a drilling company.

Sometimes.

Our first 3 1/2 weeks on the job we were on a hunting ranch in Tilden, guarding water we never saw, working for a Company Man we never met. We opened and shut the gate after each truck, or stream of trucks. It was one big, heavy gate!

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From there we joined FO and Lantern 16 (drilling rig). We followed them (by invitation, we weren’t stalkers :D) for 11 months. The roughnecks (which are now called employees) were a wild bunch and certainly made that first year interesting! They were good to us and we decided then that we really liked following a rig. We’d hoped to follow them right into retirement, but they stacked in November.

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We subbed for some folks on a drilling rig for a couple of months over the holidays last winter.

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A typical gate for us

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When the gate guards came back, we joined the Winter Texans. I’ve mentioned before that Texas, unlike every other southern state in the nation, does not have Snow Birds. Texas brands everything so down here it’s Winter Texans.  After a week or so of waiting, we spent 1 long week 500 miles straight south of  Nowhere, Oklahoma which wasn’t near Anywhere in Texas.

I can understand why the group, Cross Canadian Ragweed, sang about Nowhere in Texas because I’ve been there.

Why don’t you roll with me baby down to Nowhere, Texas
I got nothin but time
Jump in the cab of my 70 Chevy
Leave Oklahoma far behind
My good friend told me once Texas is big enough
That a man could get lost
Roll down that window
Open that glove box
Give that road map a toss

A woman could get lost in Texas, too. I know. I do it all the time. 😀

Texas is also big enough that you may not have a tower for your satellite TV or your internet or even your cell phone, which was the case for us Somewhere that felt like a long way from Nowhere. This gate was kept shut and padlocked at night, even though we had traffic. It was kind of eerie going out at 2 a.m. and fumbling with the combination while blinded by headlights.

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2 days into the job, for the first and only time ever, we called our mgr and asked for a replacement. We stayed 5 days until he found someone. I took a bit of flak here for that decision. It goes back two posts. We each have to do what makes us comfortable and we weren’t comfortable being that isolated.

Since I’d ripped off a part of  the side of the brand new RV the second week we had it as I cut too close to a tiny palm tree, we left a week early for our appointment in the Houston repair shop (Bob Jones RV – really great folks to work with if you need someone in Houston).

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On the way to the Texas Bayou to wait for our repair appointment, we picked up a stone that shattered the back window. Heidi got really creative at Home Depot!

My son, who lives in New Jersey, had a February conference in Houston so we’d scheduled the repairs to coincide with his trip.

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After the visit, which was grand, and the repairs, which took 10 days – there was a whole lot of repainting involved –  we headed back to wait for a gate. It was a long wait. By now, we knew what we wanted so we waited.

Heidi and I will never strike oil, but we do seem to have struck gold with an oil company for the second time. Before I get into that, I’d like to share a little more about some other options you may have if you hit highways and they carry you south to the unique world of Texas Tea and Black Gold. But not tonight since this already too long. I’ll close this with Dave Barry’s ever wise words:

Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic. ~ Dave Barry

What is THE RIGHT RV?

I grew up camping. I was born in Elkhart, Indiana and lived in Middlebury until I was 11. If you’re familiar with camping back in the 50’s and 60’s, that was the Camper Capitol of the World.

I’ve camped in a sleeping bag/tent-less, in a pup tent and in a big family tent –  but most of my camping has been off the ground in something.

My Dad’s the one w/o the cowboy hat. Can’t remember him ever wearing one.

The green and yellow Cox fold down was our main summer get away for years and years. Those were the days of big hair and big curlers – even in Indiana. Except for me, my Dad cut mine as you could probably have guessed.

1965 – me, my Cousin, my Sis, Mom, my Aunt & Uncle. I don’t know why the Cox is set up. Surely they didn’t fly from CA to be relegated to the backyard?

A few years later, my folks bought a little 19 foot Phoenix Travel Trailer.

1968 – new trailer, old Chevy

I’ve gotten so many emails asking what THE RIGHT RV is for Full-Timing and for Gate Guarding. This isn’t a topic I probably would have ever addressed but I’m glad you’ve asked because this is one area where I’m strongly opinionated.

Here’s my advice: Buy what you want. 😀

Really folks, telling someone what kind of RV to get is like telling them whether to buy a Cape Cod or a Tudor or Condo – or rent an apartment!  How presumptuous to think we know what’s right for someone else. Doesn’t that just floor you?

We’re not talking about camping anymore. For some, an RV is their home at least half of the year. For many of us, it’s our only home. So I’m completely baffled when people write to me and say that a blogger has told them never buy (all of these have been mentioned): *New, *Used, * 5th wheel, *Motorhome, *Trailer, *White Paint, *Special Paint. *Too Big, *Too Small…

A fool and his advice are easily parted. (OK, that’s not exactly how the saying goes but I think it’s just as true.)

The right RV is the one that you’re comfortable with in all aspects: budget, pulling/towing, amenities etc… I received an email from someone who said a gate guarding blogger wrote: Only an idiot would buy a new RV and bring it to Texas.

Down here they’d say: He’s all broth and no beans.

For me, that would have been the end of that. I’m not likely to seek advice or even just have many conversations (or blog visits) with someone who shares his opinion by insulting others. But it bothered the person who wrote to me quite a lot, so I’ll address it.

As they say in the South: Well, slap my head and call me silly! because I’ve done that twice (bought a new one and brought it to Texas).

Well, technically, only once. Heidi bought a new 2007 32 ft Motorhome in the spring of 2008 (better price because it was last year’s model). Eventually, Henry and I hopped aboard and we headed for Oregon and ended up in Texas.

Last fall, for a variety of reasons, we decided to switch to a 5th wheel and bought a new 2012, 40 foot Brookstone. There she goes again, bless her heart. I’ve been told that, in Texas, you can get away with all insults by adding bless her heart at the end. 😉

If you’re truly in a quandary between a Class A and a 5th Wheel, I’ve written about it a couple of times: Full Timing It in an RV, What Would You Buy which includes a reader’s poll and some really interesting comments. And The Winner Is…which lists some of the pros and cons that other RVers were kind enough to share and more of their comments.

But in the end, there’s no right RV. Get what you like. Get what works for you.

We’re in the middle of a move – 16 miles down the road. By middle, I mean we were suppose to move yesterday morning at 8 and found out yesterday morning at 6:30 that we’re moving tomorrow morning at 9 as far as we know this morning at 4. 😉

Flexibility is key in this job! I’ll write about that in my next post.

Back When I Knew Everything: A Cautionary Tale About Advice

Hey folks!

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I’m going digress from my normal story-telling mode in an attempt to answer some of the questions that I’ve been getting via email re: gate guarding. On RV forums and in a smattering of blogs, you read the words Always and Never quite a lot. Always and Never are two absolutes that beg for contradiction.

The one thing people are the most liberal with, is their advice. ~Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Here’s my advice:

  • 1. If you want to get a feel for the job, read a variety of blogs
  • 2. Don’t pay too much attention to advice  😉

Some people are natural advice givers. You won’t have to travel to very many gates in your reading before you see that many of the most highly opinionated folks contradict each other in the way to do almost every aspect of the job. That’s perfectly fine. They’re just sharing their opinions and they have different ones.

When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway. ~ Erma Bombeck

Most of us, although I’m sure there are exceptions, would advise you not to drink the potable water, unfiltered from the tap. That may be about it for universal gate guarding truths. No matter how firmly or strongly stated, we’re just sharing our opinions. As in most of life, the majority of things that come up each day are a matter of taste, opinion, conviction, constitution and circumstance.

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There is no Holy Grail for gate guarding. No one person speaks for all. You may find that you learn as much from someone who’s been gate guarding  for 3 months as you do someone who’s been doing it for 3 years.

I think the thing about being a gate guard is so that it’s so out of the norm for most of us. We’ve  generally had altogether different kinds of careers and have lived in altogether different kinds of environments.

Then, one morning, you find yourself standing at a gate – or just in the middle of the road – with an orange vest and a clip board and usually very little to no instruction.

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We turn to each other for tips and that helps. Just keep in mind that we’re all  just sharing what works for us. It may or may not work for you.

Know when to tune out, if you listen to too much advice you may wind up making other peoples mistakes. ~ Ann Landers

It reminds me of the Montgomery Gentry song, Back When I Knew Everything

Back when the world was flat
And Mom and Daddy didn’t have a clue
That was back
Back when a pitcher of beer
And a couple shots made me bulletproof
Back when “God” was a name I used in vain
To get a point across when I got ticked off
Lord, I’m learning so much more than
Back when I knew it all

When we started in December of 2010, I didn’t know anything about gate guarding or the industry or Texas.

Now I know a few things. 😀

I’ll write a some posts in the days ahead about what I’ve learned and how we handle certain situations. Take what works for you and toss the rest.

I found out credit cards don’t mean you’re rich
And beer and gasoline don’t mix
Yeah, and step side trucks can’t jump a ditch
And those “big house” rooms sure are small
I’ve learned that love is a woman that’ll settle you down
A Sunday sermon can turn life around
And I can’t believe answers I’ve found
Since back when I knew it all

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If you have something specific that you’ve been wondering about that you’d like me to address, feel free to write to me @ branson.debbie@ gmail.com and I’ll gladly share my opinion. I’m hoping other gate guards will hop aboard and share their experiences.

The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all. ~ Harry S Truman

The Frog Whisperer

It’s been raining – quite a lot –  but that doesn’t really explain it.

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There was that brief time, back in May, when we were parked right next to a swamp. There, it would have been less surprising. But here, south of Kenedy and a very long way from any water, well, it’s just odd.

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Since the rains started a few days ago, stepping outside at night is like stepping into the 2nd of the 9 plagues. As far as I know, they didn’t have  Tumblebugs Egypt and ours have washed away, but the activity on the green carpet and surrounding area continues.

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We’ve switched from insects to amphibians.

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I like frogs. I try not to step on them on my way to the gate. As soon as I start down the steps, they freeze. I guess they think if they don’t move, I won’t see them.

You can keep your willpower, Frog. I am going home to bake a cake. (The Toad)      ~ Arnold Lobel

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Blah, said Toad. ~ Arnold Lobel

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The cynics among you may think that they’ve come to eat the bugs the lights beckon at night.

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Time’s fun when you’re havin’ flies! ! Kermit

But I have another theory and I’m pretty sure it’s valid. To test it, I cornered a frog. He told me the first part of the story.

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When I sit at the table and turn on the computer, Henry likes to take the window seat. I thought he just liked watching the men and the cows and the trucks and the rig.

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It took some persuasion, but I finally got one of them to come clean.

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This last little guy led me straight to the source.

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I came inside where I found The Frog Whisperer feigning sleep. He’d tried to cover his tracks, but as you can see, he was in a hurry and didn’t do a very thorough job of it.

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Come back and wake me up…..half past May! (the Toad)            ~ Arnold Lobel

Really, I think he’s just being modest about his gift. He’s Henry VIII. He’s too shy be a Cesar, but he does know how to whisper. I’m convinced.

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