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Prime Time: Sometimes a great time requires a nudge

My morning was planned -- at least in my head. Not obligated to be anywhere until 11 a.m., I had decided to allow myself to stay in bed until 7:30. Then I'd rise, do my morning workout, take care of a few household chores, take the dog for a morning walk, check my messages, read the paper and make a few phone calls before heading in to town.

It wasn't a plan etched in stone, but a rough outline for my first day in several days that allowed me to set my own morning schedule.

At least that's what I thought.

After throwing a load of laundry in the washer and watering the plants on the porch, I went to the kitchen for a light breakfast. Instead of a quiet, empty kitchen, I found my husband busy at work, making tomato juice. He stood at the stove, his back to me, plopping tomatoes into boiling water to scald their skins, then removing the skins and placing the bare tomatoes into a large bowl.

He turned toward me as he heard me enter the room and said, "Hey, could you grab the juicer out of the pantry?"

Oh, no, I thought. I'm going to get sucked into this project and my morning plan will be shot.

"Sure," I said, getting the juicer - the Home Shopping Network juicer that had arrived at our home a few months earlier, had been used a few times to make some pretty good fruit and vegetable juices, but had sat unused in the pantry for the past several weeks.

"Could you set it up?"

"Sure," I said, studying the pieces and trying to remember how they fit together.

"Could you put these skinned tomatoes through the juicer?"

Dang, he's doing it again. How does he manage this? It's not the first time he's started a project and then managed to enlist my involvement when I've already made plans for something else.

I wasn't the one who planted 32 tomato plants this spring, I thought, although I did manage to get involved in the canning of several jars of stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and regular canned tomatoes. I had been the one to suggest casually that we make tomato juice, but I hadn't meant today.

I slipped the warm, freshly-skinned tomatoes into the juicer and watched the machine reduce the spongy spheres into rich red juice and channel the pulpy core and seeds into another receptacle.

"This is actually kind of neat," I heard myself saying. "The juice looks good."

Before long, enough juice to fill 10 quart jars had poured out of the juicer. The 5-gallon plastic bucket that had been filled with ripe tomatoes from the garden was empty, and I was up to my elbows in soapy water, cleaning up the bowls, pans and juicer. I found myself humming, pleased with the morning's work and the fruits of our labors, now rich and red in the warm quart jars on the kitchen counter.

For more than 33 years, this man has hooked me into various tasks that I doubt I'd do if he weren't the innovator, but that I seldom regret once I've jumped into them. I must admit that I haven't always jumped in, and when I haven't, he's gone ahead without complaint to finish the task singlehandedly.

It's not just tasks he's roped me into: sometimes it's recreation. He'll load up his bike on a Sunday morning in October and say, "Want to bike the Pike Bay trail?" Or he'll wax up his skis (and mine, in case I care to join him) on a cold winter's day and say, "I'm heading out to Three Island. Want to come?"

As I wiped the countertop clear of tomato spatters and stray seeds, I thought back over the years. How many times had he nudged me to get out on a day when I'd have rather sat curled up with a good book? But how many of those days had I followed along to enjoy a beautiful winter's day on skis or a spectacular fall day, biking through the woods on a leaf-strewn trail?

Try as I might, I couldn't remember any times when I'd regretting going along --- except maybe that one sultry summer day when we were hiking in the woods and he led me through a "shortcut" that left us wading through healthy stands of poison ivy and surrounded with clouds of hungry mosquitoes.

But hey, that was only one time.

I'd like to think that I've been the innovator a few times, edging him off the couch when the Vikings are losing to take a walk through the woods with the dog; but when I add it all up, I'd have to say the score is definitely in his favor.

In 33 years, he's nudged me to get out when it would have been easier to stay in; he's started tasks that he'll complete himself or with me if I choose to join in. And what has been the result? Memorable days of fresh air, unforgettable scenery, good exercise, shelves filled with freshly canned vegetables and tomatoes -- and 33 years worth of memories of doing things together.