The Moffat Tunnel

November 13th, 2019 — 4:22pm

There was one moment in my total of, let’s see, ten full days of train-riding that I felt nervous, and that was in the six-mile long Moffat Tunnel in the Colorado Rockies.

We had had some engine trouble in Nebraska, so we borrowed a Union Pacific engine in Denver and chugged along on our merry way. Ok, fine. But then, midway through the Moffat Tunnel, under I don’t know how many thousands of feet of rock in the middle of a goddam mountain, the train slowed… and stopped. For several minutes. There was an announcement telling us not to worry and I didn’t panic but I did have a few uncomfortable moments of wondering how exactly they’d get us out of the tunnel if the engine had died. I knew they’d get us out… but it was the HOW that worried me! Ughhhhhhh tunnels. But then we started back up and everything was fine. *whew*

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Amtrak tips

November 13th, 2019 — 9:02am

Here is a bunch of stuff I have learned on my Amtrak travels. Traveling by train is the only way to travel — if you’re not in any particular hurry and have a few bucks to spare :) No hectic airport, no need to hurry-up-and-wait, no strip-search, no x-rays, no narrow uncomfortable seat in a claustrophobic tin can, no aircraft engine whine, no thin dry air.

These tips should really help you if, like me, you have some disabilities; I have PAH, a heart/lung condition that makes it difficult for me to breathe, so I travel with a small electric oxygen concentrator. I need help getting from place to place if there’s much walking involved.

Two top tips:

1) BE FLEXIBLE: One of my trains ran three hours late; one ran four hours late; one leg of the journey was impassable due to flooded tracks so they put us on a tour bus for a couple hours. (Syracuse to Albany). I was lucky that I had multi-hour layovers in Chicago so I never missed a connection, but it could happen. Amtrak will make sure you get where you’re going eventually, though. :)

2) TEMPERATURE WARNING: trains can vary wildly between freezing cold and boiling hot, so bring enough layers so that you can strip down or bundle up!

My Amtrak history so far: I traveled coach class on the Coast Starlight from Oakland to Portland overnight, and took a sleeper home (roomette). I traveled coach from San Jose to Santa Barbara (Coast Starlight) and then Santa Barbara to San Diego (Pacific Surfliner) and back again. My recent Big Trip was on the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago (two nights in a roomette), then the Lakeshore Limited from Chicago to Rhinecliff NY (one night in a roomette) and back again.

Coach Class:

Coach class is absolutely fine if you aren’t traveling overnight. The seats in coach are wide and comfy. There are two seats on either side of the aisle, and one electrical outlet per seat. There’s no armrest between seats so if you have no seatmate you can curl up or spread out, and the seats are wide enough that even with a seatmate you won’t be squished up against each other. Seats recline, and there’s a ton of leg room. There are plenty of toilets (downstairs, in double-decker trains). You can leave your seat any time and walk through the train. You can explore the observation car, the dining car, the cafe car, the lounge.

There are overhead compartments for small carry-ons, and you can also keep a bigger bag at your feet. Every car has a large luggage rack (downstairs) for any carry-ons that you don’t need at your actual seat. In theory there is a size restriction for carry-ons but I saw people with BIG bags.

Food/drink is bring your own (no restrictions!) or buy it from cafe car or dining car (on long-distance trains). If you’re on a train with a dining car, do try it out! Fresh-cooked food, real chairs and tables, a menu, expensive but tasty food. There are several options for each meal, including always a vegetarian/vegan option. I love the Entree Salad, which has good lettuce, onion, dried cranberries, nuts, grapes, and your choice of dressing. It’s filling as-is but you can also have them add grilled chicken. The Angus Burger, Salmon, and Steak were also delicious meals. Remember to tip your server.

Now, if you’re young and have no sleeping issues, you can sleep in coach class. The seats don’t recline flat but they recline a lot. The whole train has Quiet Hours between 10pm and 7am.

If you have any special needs, coach can be tricky because there isn’t a dedicated attendant to help you wrangle your gear or take care of you.


If you’re traveling overnight and are older, disabled, have sleep issues, and/or need the best quality sleep you can get, book yourself a roomette! This is a tiny room, a bit wider than a wide seat, with two seats facing each other in front of a big window. There’s a sliding door and curtains for privacy from the corridor. The two seats can recline or pull out flat to make one bed and there’s a bunk that folds down above the seats so that two slender friendly people can travel together in one roomette. If you’re traveling alone, your roomette is just for you — no stranger to share with.

Book your tickets with Amtrak over the phone. Their ticket agents are really nice. Make sure you let them know any special needs that you have — I let them know about my oxygen machine, that I need assistance in stations, and that I needed my sleeping car attendant to being me my meals. More about that further down.

Your roomette will have ONE ELECTRICAL OUTLET. One. So if you need to plug in more than one thing, and especially if you’re traveling with a friend, bring a splitter! Roomettes have rudimentary temperature controls, but I found them always to be a choice between cold and very cold OR hot and very hot. Pack your layers! In one much-too-hot room I got washcloths from the shower room, dampened them, and stuffed them into the uncloseable heating vents.

People traveling in sleeping cars are considered First Class Passengers so you will have much more help than the commoners in Coach. Your sleeping car attendant will look after you on your journey and will make sure you have Red Cap assistance at stations if you need it — just ask. Sleeping car people get first dibs for dining car reservations. The sleeping car in a Superliner (double-decker) has toilets and a shower downstairs, and a toilet upstairs. Your attendant will make your bed for you with sheets and blankets and pillows and will fold it all away again in the morning.

Meals are included in your sleeping car ticket which is a HUGE HELP, I mean that’s like $75 a day you’re not spending if you want three hearty meals. (you still need to tip your server, so bring cash)

On my first trip I discovered that I have trouble walking through several train cars to get to the dining car, especially at higher elevations, so when I booked my tickets to NY I asked if my attendant could bring my meals to my room. No problem at all! Johnny (eastbound) and Tony (westbound) brought me all my meals with a smile.

You must tip your sleeping car attendant! The Internet suggests $5 per night per traveler as a minimum. I tipped $20 per day, because I needed extra help and I figured Johnny and Tony deserved the tips I wasn’t giving a waiter.

Chicago’s Union Station is huge and confusing. If you’re in a sleeper, though, they make it easy for you. A Red Cap will take you to the First Class Metropolitan Lounge on a cart. There you can lounge on a sofa, have some coffee, take a shower, or stow your luggage if you have a long layover and want to go exploring. I listened to podcasts and knitted and the time flew. When it’s time to catch your next train, the loudspeaker will tell you where to stand so a Red Cap and cart can take you to your platform. Easy, and almost no walking for me!

There are several different types of trains depending on route. The longest routes have the nicest trains, the best seats, real dining cars, showers, etc. The Coast Starlight and the California Zephyr were super-nice double-decker Superliners.

The Pacific Surfliner is a shorter-distance train, so no sleeper, no dining car, SLIGHTLY less cushy seats (still super comfy). Double-decker, so if you have trouble with stairs be sure to book over the phone and ask for a downstairs seat, which are reserved for the elderly and disabled.

The Lakeshore Limited (Viewliner type) is an overnight train so it has sleepers but no proper dining car with a chef — meals are pleasant but microwaved. It’s a single-decker train. And, oddly, there is a toilet and sink in each roomette. I don’t know if there are showers.

I might think of more to add to this post later, but I will now take questions from the class. :)

Question from Susan: Is there wifi 100% of the time?

NO. There is wifi 0% of the time! (The Surfliner offered onboard wifi but it was a crummy unsecured network… no thanks.) The long distance trains offered no wifi, and there were hours on end without even any cell service! It was delightful how much of the route was through the middle of nowhere, scenery-wise, but yeah, that means no cell service. Take your knitting and download your audiobooks ahead of time!

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I’m home!

November 11th, 2019 — 7:20am

I’m home from my big adventure. The homeward journey was uneventful and pleasant. Tony, my sleeping car attendant, took good care of me, I ate well, I slept well, I watched America roll by. Wonderful. I’m sorting and uploading photos now so I should have a good big Photo Post one day soon, and I’m also planning a big post of tips for traveling by Amtrak!

Now I’ll fill you in on the wonderfulness of my stay in New York.

Not only did I get to spend a day with my cousin Jon, but my dear Aunt Susan and Uncle Jack invited my sister Kathy (who lives in Kentucky) and my brother Ken (who lives in NYC) to come visit me too!

Jon went home Sunday morning, and then Kathy arrived on Sunday night (after a bit of a kerfluffle over an expired drivers’ license at the rent-a-car place led to a very long Uber ride) I hadn’t seen her in years, maybe not since Dad died in 2005. We sat in cozy companionship and knitted socks and talked about our bizarre childhoods — and then Monday afternoon Ken arrived on the bus from NYC! I hadn’t seen him since 2005 either. It was the most amazing treat to get to sit quietly with the two of them and catch up and just be together. They have always been the best elder siblings in the whole wide world (8 and 10 years older than me). Kathy left on Tuesday morning and Ken left Tuesday evening, and then I started my return journey on Wednesday afternoon.

In the evenings when Jack and Susan were home, we ate the wonderful dinners that Jack cooked and watched Jeopardy with Susan (it’s her martini). I introduced everyone to Only Connect, a super-nerdy, fiendishly difficult BBC quiz show which we Americans can watch on youtube thanks to youtube user Wheelsongenius who uploads every episode after it airs! I don’t know why the BBC lets her do this but I’m so grateful.

Things I want to remember: Susan’s stories: the couch, the rotting piano, Jon’s birth. Susan and friend having a cello and clarinet rehearsal on Sunday morning. Jack being his wonderful calm, creative, interesting self. Enthusing about Bach with Jon. Sheep may Safely Graze — worst earworm ever. The salmon that Jack cooked perfectly. “That’s not tea, it’s lasagna” (Kathy) The trickling toilet, which I helpfully reminded everyone to jiggle by removing the top of the tank, which then crashed to the tile floor and broke into smithereens. Sleeping on the world’s most comfortable mattress (Serta Perfect Sleeper) in Chloe’s old room. The minor flood caused by a very enthusiastic humidifier. Hating and loving people on Survivor with Susan and doing The Puz with her! Remembering childhood freedom-filled summers with Jon playing in the dirt, the croquet-ball track, the algae-filled swimming pool, Archie comics, our audiotape of made-up commercials (Jon! If you really still have it please digitize it!) The gratifying compliment that my siblings and I are easy, low-impact, non-demanding houseguests :)

Special thanks to my dear mom for making this dream vacation possible for me <3 <3 <3

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On the way home

November 8th, 2019 — 8:33am

Oh lordy I had a wonderful time in New York. On Sunday Jon went home and then in the evening my sister Kathy arrived from KY and then on Monday my brother Ken rode the bus up from NYC! So we siblings spent a couple of quiet days together, knitting and talking and not-talking. It was so peaceful and comfy and perfect.

Wednesday evening Jack took me to the train station and I started my return journey, on the Lakeshore Limited #49 overnight train to Chicago, arriving Thursday morning, where I spent a few pleasant hours in the 1st class Metropolitan Lounge, and then my California Zephyr #5 left in the afternoon.

This morning (Friday) I woke up in Nebraska, and now we’re in Colorado and I can see The Rockies coming up!

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A great day

November 2nd, 2019 — 8:18pm

I had the best day. Lots of time just hanging out with Susan and Jack, some alone time while they ran errands, crossword puzzles, Susan’s stories (The Couch!). Best of all my favorite boy cousin, Jon, rode the bus three hours from The City just to visit me!! He’s three years older than me. We spent five summers together as kids, running wild on a mountain with almost no adult supervision, playing in the dirt, swimming, being hooligans. We haven’t seen each other in years, 25? 30? but it was like no time had passed.

We chatted a bit and sat quietly for a bit. Susan and I worked on the NY Times puzzle and Jack made us the most delicious dinner of perfect salmon, baked potatoes, and roasted veggies.

I’m in heaven.

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New York, I am in you!

November 2nd, 2019 — 5:30am

Thursday evening we got to Chicago three hours late, but there was still plenty of time to catch my connecting train. Chicago Union Station is immense and confusing, but I got through it ok, with help :)

Got on the Lakeshore Limited at 9:30pm and asked my attendant to make my bed right away, and went to sleep. The Lakeshore Limited is a single-decker train (Viewliner), and the roomettes are a bit different than the ones on the double-decker California Zephyr (Superliner). Two main differences: there are plenty of temperature controls in the Viewliner roomette, both for warm and cold air, so you can get the temperature just right. Also, and this is so odd, there is a little toilet and sink right in each roomette. They fold away nicely, and it’s convenient not to need to leave your roomette at all… but it takes some getting used to!

Northern New York was hit by a huge rainstorm the night before we got there and a section of track between Syracuse and Albany was was impassable, so at Syracuse they put us all on busses (we first-class people got a really nice comfy tour bus), and a couple hours later we got back on a train at Albany. It was a bit hectic, but not too bad. I knew they’d make sure I got where I was going.

Arrived in Rhinecliff around 6 and my Uncle Jack was there to pick me up! Now I’m in a beautiful little house in the middle of the woods, just chilling with Jack and Susan. More later…

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Iowa and Illinois

October 31st, 2019 — 12:28pm

I slept long and well last night as we traveled through the eastern half of Colorado and all of Nebraska. I woke up this morning in beautiful snowy Iowa! Sorry no pics here yet — I’ll sort that out when I get to Willow and have stable internet and not so much to look at out the windows. If you follow me on instagram you can see all the low-res instas I have grammed during my journey! I’m karashallenberg there.

I took a break from looking out my window in order to type this because my window is covered in gobs of snow and the air is white! It is already serious winter in the midwest and it’s only Halloween. Is that normal or did winter start early and fierce this year?

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Utah and Colorado

October 30th, 2019 — 9:57am

After a good, though over-warm, night of sleep I woke up just outside of Helper, Utah, to such beauty scenery! Bits of snow on the ground and rocky slopes unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Utah changed a lot as we traveled through, so every glance out the window showed me something new! I took a million pics and videos, none of which do justice to reality. I hope to add them to this post when I have real internet…

Now we’ve just crossed into Colorado and things changed again! We’ve been following a river through a beautifully striated canyon. I saw some snowy peaks in the distance — the Rockies, maybe? Now, as we approach Grand Junction, there are farms and ranches, with rolling hills and black buttes beyond them.

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Amtrak trip to New York!

October 29th, 2019 — 2:33pm

I’m typing this on my phone from my roomette on board the California Zephyr! We started at Emeryville CA this morning (Tuesday) (we left two hours late, but I had my knitting so it was cool).

We’ve gone through Sacramento and are now climbing climbing climbing up into the mountains! I’ll fill in this post with some pics and vids when I get a chance to upload them — no wifi and cell service is spotty to nonexistent.

I’ll be on this train for two nights, and will arrive in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, then I’ll catch the Lakeshore Limited and arrive on Friday in NEW YORK to visit Susan and Jack for a few days! Rumor has it that a few other very dear family members might join us there, too :)

I am having a splendid time!

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Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown

October 27th, 2019 — 7:27pm

Finished! You can download all chapters from the Maud Hart Lovelace page:

or you might want to subscribe to these books as podcasts with the following RSS links: (typo in podcast feed is fixed so Chapter 2 should appear if you re-subscribe)

That’s my preferred method of audiobook-listening because a) it’s so easy and b) most podcast apps will automatically set a bookmark when you stop listening so you’ll never lose your place. Most podcast apps will also allow you to skip forward and backward by reasonable amounts (unlike music players) and set a sleep timer.

I prefer Bookmobile by Freshmowed. It’s extraordinarily full-featured and therefore has a steep learning curve, but once you figure it out, WOW, it’ll do everything but braid your hair.

Overcast is another good option. You can even use Apple’s built-in “Podcasts” app in a pinch. (Android users — what’s your favorite podcast app that works well for audiobooks?)

Whichever app you use, you’ll copy the url that ends with .xml for the book you want. Then find the place in your podcast app where you can “subscribe with url” or “subscribe with RSS” and paste that link in. Tell your app to download all chapters and *never delete them* (if you’re using Apple’s “Podcasts” app there’s a setting for this in the “settings” app on your phone). Make sure they’ll play in the right order. If they’re mixed up, you may be able to order them manually or make a playlist, depending on your app — but they’ll probably be fine if you tick either “oldest to newest” or “newest to oldest” (again, this depends on your app).

Let me know if you need screenshots of this process in one of the three apps I mentioned.

Happy listening! :) Shall I continue on with Betsy and Tacy? In the next book, Heaven to Betsy, the girls are 14 and about to enter highschool!

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A fun new side effect!

October 27th, 2019 — 10:37am

“Rash” is one of the side effects of Remodulin that I hadn’t experienced until recently. Over the last couple months, since I increased my Remodulin dose, the skin on my face has been reacting more and more. It started with just a little red rash near my mouth, then spread further and further. I was able to control it for a while with my powerful steroid ointment (that I’m not supposed to use on my face) but that stopped working and now my face is blotchy and red and covered with zitty little bumps. UGH. :(

This is really bumming me out. My skin has always been one of my best features — that and my wonderful thick wavy red-gold hair — and my skin was clear even when I was a teenager.

At least the Remodulin isn’t ruining my hair. I’m 50 now and there’s only a tiny bit of gray at the front so it should stay pretty for a good long time, with luck! :)

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Betsy-Tacy update!

October 25th, 2019 — 5:38pm

I get a lot of lovely messages from listeners who gently encourage me to continue with Betsy-Tacy — so guess what! I have jumped back in to Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. I’d forgotten how much I already had completed — seven chapters — and I’ve just recorded another two. Only five more to go! I’m going to try to get it all finished before my next big train trip (I’m going all the way to New York next week), but in case I don’t quite get to it you can listen to what’s already finished by visiting

Enjoy! And check back soon for the final five chapters :)

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Helen Cresswell

October 23rd, 2019 — 7:40pm

All five of my Bagthorpe novels by Helen Cresswell have podcast feeds now!

Copy and paste these RSS links into your podcast app:

Ordinary Jack 

Absolute Zero (the funniest one! omg! )

Bagthorpes Unlimited

Bagthorpes Vs. the World

Bagthorpes Abroad

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Miss Sturkopf und das Einhorn

October 22nd, 2019 — 1:55pm

Miss Stubborn and the Unicorn

Miss Stubborn, who is the stubbornest creature in the world, doubts her friends when they tell her they’ve seen a unicorn. She doesn’t believe in unicorns! There’s no such thing as unicorns! And when she meets the unicorn herself? She still doesn’t believe in unicorns! Stubborn till her last breath :)

Quick vocabulary list for ya:

stur – stubborn
Wetterbericht – weather forecast
goss es – it poured
schüttete es – it showered
Regenschirm – umbrella
Quasselstrippe – chatterbox
Du errätst niemals – you’ll never guess
ungewöhnliches – unusual
irre – crazy
Einhorn – unicorn
Unsinn – nonsense
Aua – owie, boo-boo
ganz aus dem Haüschen sein – to be all excited
verkünden – to declare
stolz – proud
glauben – to believe
Sonnenschein – sunshine
Widerrede – back chat
kitzeln – to tickle
Vielfraß – glutton
Wirrkopf – scatterbrain
Einrad – unicycle
unübersehbar – conspicuous, unmissable
Pracht – glory, splendour
Pferd – horse
Überraschung – surprise
Atemzug – breath of air

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Susan Cooper

October 22nd, 2019 — 9:37am

All three of my Susan Cooper novels have their own podcast feeds now:

Copy and paste those links into the podcast app of your choice and enjoy these beautiful books!

I’m working down the list on Kayray Reads to You, so Helen Cresswell is next :)

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a new book for you!

October 21st, 2019 — 6:58pm

Click the Kayray Reads to You link at the top of this page, then scroll down to P.L. Travers :)

Or if you’re in a hurry and want it RIGHT NOW, copy and paste this RSS link into your favorite podcast app:


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October 19th, 2019 — 6:38pm

I’ve finally finished reorganizing Kayray Reads to You!

Everything is ordered alphabetically by author, with picture books having their own page.

Next step: every book gets its own podcast feed for easy downloading. Maybe I should have one podcast feed just for the picture books?

Also, I MUST finish recording “Betsy and Tacy go Downtown” and a few books about a certain British nanny which I’ve started reading to Em…

Kick my butt if I don’t get those finished and posted soon. No matter how rough I feel I should be able to knock out a chapter a day of those dear wonderful books, especially since I don’t edit my recordings… it’s getting started that takes the effort.

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new podcast feeds

October 17th, 2019 — 7:14pm

OMG two posts in one day

I realized that Time has Marched On — and that it’s easier now for most people to subscribe to a podcast than to download files and sync them to phones or whatever, so I am embarking on the large project of making podcast feeds for all of my “Kayray Reads to You” books.

(all librivox books already have podcast feeds — click the green RSS button on the catalog page, copy, and paste into your podcast app)

Tolkien was first, of course. You can find the feeds by clicking “Kayray Reads To You” (above) and then the link to the page of Tolkien books. I’ll put ’em here, too:

Normal-clicking these links will probably not do anything useful: you need to right click (or control-click, or press-and-hold), copy, and then paste into your podcast app. Most podcast apps have a place for you to paste in an RSS link — that’s where to put these.

I don’t really feel like testing to make sure all of the files are properly named and will download correctly, so if you find an error please let me know :)

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Oct 17

October 17th, 2019 — 3:34pm

Remember when I used to write a few lines here every day? That was cool huh. Maybe I’ll try that again.

Still depressed, though one evening it lifted and stayed better till the next morning. I actually felt it lift, like the heavy thing just floated away for a while. The oddest feeling.

Knitting, eating chocolate, and binging Nurse Jackie

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October 2019 update

October 15th, 2019 — 11:41am

Oops. Time passed.

Yeah I’m still alive! Sorry if you were worried.

Things have been basically ok. I’m in a bit of a depression right now but I know I’ll come out of it someday.

Um.. what’s been happening… I had another great Amtrak journey at the end of September to visit my dear cousin in San Diego, had a great time just chilling and knitting and watching Queer Eye with her and her husband and cats :)

Reading Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch which is SO GOOD and you should read it.

I finally got an IHSS worker! (In Home Support Services). Her name is Malynda and she’s great. She cleans my bathroom and changes my sheets and runs errands and does laundry etc. She even drove me to San Francisco for a doctor appointment! She does all the stuff that’s getting harder and harder for me to do on my own. She’s smart and reliable and she likes her job. It was a GIANT PAIN IN THE BUTT to wade through all the county bureaucracy and get approved but it was worth it in the end.

I’ve been playing a lot of Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch. Love it. I’m not paying much attention to the main quest line — mostly just exploring, looking for Shrines and Towers and Korok seeds. I like running around and riding my horses in the big open world! The Switch controllers have bad stick-drift so I just sent them in for repair. Hope they come back soon. Also played Untitled Goose Game which was everything I was hoping for. HONK!

My little friend Tobi (age 3.5) in Austria sent me this picture book for my birthday. Leo doesn’t want to eat his nice carrot soup and Mama starts to lose her patience, but Hops the Grasshopper tells Leo he should be glad that he has such a nice Mama to make him good food, and Leo learns an important lesson :) (Sorry for the few little mispronunciations)

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