Chicken Time-Out

It isn’t every day you get mad at a chicken. But today, on this cold Thanksgiving morning (32F), while other people are already basting the birds in their ovens, I was trying to discipline one in my coop. I had to – again! – put Goldyneck in time-out. Do chickens learn? Will she cease and desist her bullying if she gets a taste of her own medicine?

Probably not. Like people, chickens are who they are, and some of them are nastier, pushier, more aggressive. Some are meek and go about their own business and don’t randomly peck other chickens on the back! I have never been able to tolerate a bully.

This is the culprit.

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She’s very pretty. The chicks we got in March included this one, a mix – part silkie, part black copper maran – and no other chicken I have has visible traits of both. You see the bad hair day going on – though not as bad as the silkies – on top of her head. And of course the shiny black feathers of the maran, though hers are fluffier than the other marans.

Goldyneck does not pick on the other marans. They are bigger than she is, being pure maran (her silkie half means she is smaller). The other day I caught her pecking at a silkie. In particular she was pecking at One-Eye, the silkie we almost lost to an eye infection when she was just a few weeks old. Bullying is bad enough, but bullying the weakest among her group was too much for me. I’ll show her a thing or two about bullying.

I banished her. I did not go so far as to relocate her to the woods – I’d have to be really mad for that. But I put her into the other coop I call the Sewing Circle because they almost all have distinctive feathers circling their necks. Here she would have to mix with the brahmas, Rhode Island reds, cinnamon queens and the lone old gray auracana – all of which are bigger than the marans. I wondered what would happen.

Sure enough, a few hours later I came out to bring some scraps to them, and all the Sewing Girls came toward the door, eager to see what I might bring. Goldyneck was right there with them, but the space there is tight. She is smaller and was closest to the door, closest to me, and within seconds not one, not two, but three of her coop-mates gave her a peck on the back – a very clear signal. Move, sister! Move to the back of the line! You do not rate the front of the line! Back she went!

Later, when all had put themselves to bed after dark, I went to check on them. Another form of you-do-not-rate was in effect – shunning! Here she is, farthest back, apart from the rest. Hanging her head no less!!

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I let her spend the night in this purgatory and in the morning decided she could rejoin the Bridge Club, her own group so named because most of them are bantams (smaller breeds of chickens). B for Bantam. B for Bridge Club. (Sewing Circles and Bridge Clubs are both groups of ladies, and we must differentiate. We must help our brains with tricks!)

I was hopeful, as I am ever hopeful, with most things, though a friend did say Chickens Don’t Learn. A full day went by. I was busy and did not spend much time in close observation. I was busy enjoying my cottage guests who were enjoying my chickens. How it thrills me when people – especially young people – hold them, watch them, have fun. The silkies are especially docile and love to be picked up. Okay, maybe loved is too strong a word. They graciously tolerate it. Most of the time.

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Then this morning, immediately upon letting the Bridge Club out of their house/palace, didn’t Goldyneck immediately start pecking on a silkie! It got my dander up, so I moved her again. She was clearly confused. In this image, she is perhaps appealing to the marans on the other side of the barrier fence in her own chicken way.

Hey, how come I’m over here and y’all are over there? Wait, this isn’t right. I’m all alone!

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Not for long. Surely having heard the hullabaloo, the Sewing Circle then woke up.

Oh, no, here they come. Help!

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It wasn’t long before they started showing her whose space this is. First a red, then a brahma. The pecking happens really fast – definitely a peck-and-run technique – so these images, blurred as they are, will have to suffice in showing what I mean. Better move!

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Goldyneck tried to get out of the way, but she stuck close to the fence that divides her from the chickens she would love to be with/dominate. The reds are after me! Do something! Then she turned around and a brahma gave her that proverbial taste of her own medicine. Gotcha!

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Generally I am a tender-hearted person, and I am aware that this action of mine may forever affect your impression of me. The good and the bad will be weighed, and then someone will say Yes, but remember that time she left that poor chicken in with the big girls! But let it be understood that I also removed the offending chicken from those she was bullying! And then I walked away. I did. We will see what happens….

Yummy Cookies Baked When You Need Them

I have hosted Airbnb guests at my charming cottage for more than four years. Among other gifts, I leave them something home-baked, usually cookies. If I remember right, last year I had guests 161 nights. That’s a lot of cookies. Imagine if – each time – I got out the butter and sugar? Creamed them in a bowl? Added eggs, vanilla, flour, etc. and mixed it all up and spooned the dough onto baking sheets and baked the cookies? No way would I have time for this.

You learn a lot if you keep your eyes open. Depending on where you are, you learn a lot about certain things. I spent eleven years working in a luxury resort, and a good bit of that time in and out of the kitchens there. Professional chefs have remarkable skills, including knowing how to manage feeding a lot of people at different times and making it all (seem so) fresh. One thing I learned from the pastry chefs but should have learned from Ben and Jerry: Cookie dough freezes well.

We all knew this. Ben & Jerry made chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream famous.

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If you have tasted this frozen decadence, you will remember how the cookie dough part freezes hard but not too hard. Hard enough to be frozen, but soft enough to bite into. (Oh yum! If only they would make this with a chocolate base!)

Now think about it: If you can bite into frozen cookie dough, you surely can put a knife through it. And there we have the solution to my needing fresh cookies very often – homemade slice and bake! I mix up a batch of dough, portion it out, freeze it in little logs, then slice and bake as needed for incoming guests. Voila! Everyone has fresh baked homemade cookies! (I once heard a speaker say that the secret to success is Preparation, Preparation, Preparation. This applies to cookies too!)

The log-freezing method is great for guests, but also for those who enjoy their cookies fresh, soft and chewy, right out of the oven — like you! Realistically, you can eat only so many this way, and the rest go in a tin and, well, they aren’t as good in a few days. By freezing the dough in smaller amounts, you can spread out the joy of fresh-baked without getting out the ingredients and going through the whole process every time.

Think co-workers, neighbors at the holidays — or make them for random, unexpected gifts. Prepare ahead and bake only as many as you need for each person or occasion. Fresh every time! (So-and-so invited us to dinner, honey… What?? … Oh, I could bring along some freshly baked cookies! Watch this — super quick!)

I know that chocolate chip cookies are an all-time favorite, but I have preferred to make oatmeal cookies with mini chocolate chips in them. Somewhere in my brain there is better justification for cookies that have whole grain in them. Often I also put dried cranberries or golden raisins in them, but this time I didn’t because … I forgot.

The recipe I use has been in my cookbook forever. Here is the list of ingredients:

Oatmeal (Chocolate Chip) Cookies

3 sticks (1 ½ cups) butter, soft (use the defrost setting on your microwave if you want)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

½ cup water

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

6 cups oats

(For the cookies I make for my guests, I also add a teaspoon of cinnamon, 2 cups of mini chocolate chips and often a few handfuls of dried fruit.) BTW, other cookie doughs work well with the log method, including shortbread cookies.

First cream the butter and sugars with a strong wooden spoon. This mixture will pull away from the sides of the bowl.

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Adding the eggs, water and vanilla changes it quite a bit. Now it looks almost grainy. Notice I changed to a whisk to be sure it all got mixed in thoroughly.

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Once you stir in the flour, salt and baking soda, the consistency changes to almost velvety smoothness. Look how beautiful! (And back to the wooden spoon!)

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Now add the oats. How’s this for action photography!?

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I put my oats tin in this photo too because (like the allspice tin I showed in Colonial Pumpkin Pie) it is another one that has been around for a long time and is among my favorites.

Once you have the oats in the bowl, add the mini chips too.

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Stir it all up till it looks like this.

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Now clear your biggest surface (for me this is my table) and lay out as many pieces of waxed paper as you want. I give my guests 8-10 cookies on a plate (under a glass dome) and have found that a log about 6 inches long yields that many cookies. That means 16 pieces of waxed paper and between ½ and 2/3 cup of dough on each one.

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I don’t measure the dough – I just divvy it up into approximately equal size blobs. It doesn’t matter if it’s exact. In my case it only matters that they are about the same amount, and this is the amount that makes 8-10 cookies. You can make your logs however long you want, some longer than others if you want. Just remember you need longer paper for longer logs!

To make the logs, I hold the paper underneath, cradling the dough and using the paper to help form the log.

Use your fingers from underneath to mush the dough into the log shape. I make mine about 1 ½ inches in diameter, but you can do what you like. Once you are happy with your log, wrap it up snug in the paper.

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Do the same with all your blobs until you have a neat pile of wrapped logs.

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My very dark table is making them look suspended in mid-air, don’t you think? Okay, maybe not a prizewinning photo, but still cool.

Put these wrapped logs in a plastic freezer bag and freeze them. When you are ready to bake some, take out a log and cut it into the slices about 1/2 -inch thick.

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Place cut-side-down on your baking sheet and bake at 375F until they look not quite done. In my oven this was 13 minutes today. If you take them out when they look just a little bit uncooked, just ever-so-slightly brown at the edges, they will be chewier. I love them that way. If that sounds good to you, try it!

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Building Skills for Building Stuff

For four years now I have been hosting Airbnb guests at the cottage that Bradley and Beth built on my property.

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As a kid Bradley always loved to build things in the shop – I remember when he was a teenager and I prayed he would be careful with dangerous power equipment. He was, and he taught himself many aspects of carpentry that he later incorporated into the cottage, such as the coffered ceilings, cherry tongue-and-groove floors, all the custom-made windows,

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and the beautiful railings in the loft.

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During the building process, he and Beth worked tirelessly at full-time jobs and the work on the cottage.

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I worked too, but mainly many hours at my job at the hotel. I paid the bills, made food and talked through material and design decisions with them.

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Here and there I contributed actual labor, but as anyone in their 50s knows, there is a big difference energy-wise in what you can do in your 50s compared to what you can do in your 20s. I marveled at their energy! I wanted to help! But plain and simple I was too tired, emotionally and physically, by the end of the day. It was their amazing project.

During a few of the cottage-building years, my son Lincoln and his wife Julia lived nearby. Lincoln worked at a woodworking shop in Richmond, honing the skills he himself had been developing. He and Bradley together built not only the original chicken coop, but also skillfully remade the base of my antique dining room table using solid mahogany – they designed and built graceful, perfect legs and gave new life to a family heirloom.

If I had been more present during those years, how much I could have learned from them both! I remember thinking this, remember admiring them, remember longing to work alongside, remember sitting exhausted in a chair…

Lincoln and Julia moved to Vermont in 2013 and Brad and Beth left for Seattle in August of 2014. The decision to try hosting through Airbnb, to “share” this gem of a cottage with others who might appreciate it, seemed reasonable. It took till early October 2014 to get everything ready, but from the get-go, literally within hours of posting the details of my cottage on their site, I had my first guests, and it has been great guns ever since. For two years I managed both the cottage and my job at the hotel (a bit of a juggling act). Then in a good-sized leap of faith in October 2016, hoping that I could get by with just the cottage, I resigned my position at the hotel.

Now I have time and energy for building things! Or unbuilding things, as the case may be. Sandy handed me the drill and up I went on the roof of the old chicken coop run to unscrew the metal panels in order to clean them and put them back on a rebuilt frame.

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Filling holes with concrete? I can do this.

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I can also dig out earth to make a level place for a deck to connect the old and new chicken coops.

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And build the coop deck’s framework with scrap 4x4s and 4x6s in rows to support the decking boards.

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I worked with my Uncle Ernie to make a bench for that deck, getting a little more comfortable with the chop saw. I still don’t like using the table saw.

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And once that all was finished (and huge thanks to Sandy for doing the lion’s share of the work) — oh, how beautiful it looks to me on this rainy November morning —

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we turned our attention to the house foundation

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and front porch project. I’m the grunt labor, I know this. Sandy is the energizer bunny, working for endless hours, bringing skill and ideas, and has way more confidence in my capabilities than I do. And Joe and Samuel have been invaluable in this getting so much of this work done so quickly.

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A few years ago, I assure you I did not envision myself nailing in joist hangers!

What happened? Yes, I now have more time, and yes, I am not so sapped of energy as in the past. But there is something else. Actually two somethings.

  1. I have always admired the things people accomplish when using their hands/bodies together with their brains, but in my world it was the men who were building and fixing things. My hat is off to all of them evermore, but while Bradley and Beth still lived here, my friend Peggy one time gave him some of the tools she didn’t need any more that she herself had used for years for woodworking and for fixing things! She is the first woman I knew who was not intimidated by machines or carpentry. I expect she has no idea how I marveled at her, how I admired that aspect of her great character. She also gave Bradley a SHOP sign that he proudly affixed to the shop door. I think of her every time I see it. Thank you, Peggy!

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2. I was always intrigued by the concept that you are never too old to learn something new. Back in the homeschooling days, I read a lot of John Holt’s work. I paraphrase here a story he told of someone who wanted to learn to play the violin but was 50 years old. “I’ll be 55 by the time I can play it decently,” the person said. “Yes,” he replied, “but in five years you’ll be 55 anyway, so wouldn’t it be better to have learned to play the violin during those years?”

In five years you’ll be 55 anyway.

That phrase stuck with me. I stretched it to not only:

I’m x-years old now. I want to learn [pick a skill]. In five years I’ll be x+5 years old anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to have learned that skill in those five years – even if not to the master level – than to get to x+5 years old and still be wishing I could do that thing?

But also to:

I’m x-years old now. I struggle with [pick a subject]. In five years I’ll be x+5 years old anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to find a way to make some strides in that area in those five years than to get to x+5 years old and still be struggling in the same way with that thing?

So here I am, cutting decking boards on a chop saw, knowing the difference between a rim joist and a sill plate and a ledger board, toenailing deck joists in place to hold them until it’s time to screw in the hangers. In a conversation with my son Lincoln the other day, he said, “It’s very cool to see you learning how accessible and simple all this building stuff is. Not just some magic that you have to ask some pro woodworker to do every time. Measure, mark, cut, secure, repeat!” I told him I have my limitations: I am not very strong and I am scared of some of the equipment. He said, “Well you should be scared of those tools! Every safe woodworker is.”

Today I am grateful for all the people I’ve known who have woodworking skills, all the encouragement I’ve received from people I love (in ways they are probably not aware of) and all the enthusiasm of friends and family who cheer on these projects. All of this has developed in me a greater interest in the craft and a hunger to learn more. One of these days I might do more than the grunt work, but if I don’t, that’s okay. I’m having fun and there’s a wonderful result!

Here we are now, with temporary steps on the side! For the first time in almost a month, we can go in and out through the front door 😊

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Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange

I know there are people in the world who would feel, as I do, a twinge of sadness the day after a storm splits the gigantic chrysanthemum.

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Or who wish they could wander out to the garden to pick fresh oregano and purple basil for the homemade pizza about to go into the oven (see the basil in the box behind the rosemary?). Or who would like to make applesauce together from freshly picked heirloom Virginia apples. I suspect there are people who have some time – a few weeks or a few months – to explore a corner of the world that is surely different in some ways than their own and who wonder about my corner of Virginia.

I’m thinking this is Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange.

There’s always something going on around here: planting, harvesting, building, cooking, baking, (eating!), trying, creating, discovering, resting, marveling, playing, listening, digging, watching, learning, discussing, fixing, pondering.

There are my various gardens with herbs, vegetables and perennials. I’ve moved the azaleas in between the crape myrtles in front of the fenced garden. Turns out, the neglected bush that just got dug up in the front corner of my house was actually two bushes. This photo shows them moved, with their fresh dirt around them, but not yet trimmed, staked or mulched. I did that later in the day, after taking the photo. I had to take the photo when I did, and you see why. I did not ask little Coco to park herself there to enjoy the sunshine…

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We have got to do something about the blackberries that are going crazy inside the garden, and the tomatoes could be pulled and winter crops planted. The asparagus bed is none too tidy, begs for attention. One of the rudbeckia got smashed somehow and needs a little love. The front yard is a mess from the recent Big Dig, but soon we’ll be pouring footings and building a nice front porch.

My two custom-built chicken coops provide palatial accommodations for 29 interesting (some bordering on ridiculous) chickens. They need new mulch or straw when they’ve scratched through what we put down before, but they give lots of amazing eggs to make good food with! My lone araucana isn’t laying her greenish eggs any more though – could there be a reason? This black copper maran had a face-off with Coco yesterday. Both have curiosity, but the chicken less so. She just wants to get back to scratching in the straw. A white silkie came toward us to investigate.

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When the sun rises on a day with too much cloud cover, and it can’t quite get its rays to stream through the giant trees in my back woods, there’s always an otherworldly feeling and sometimes a glorious mist that sparkles on the leaves or in the air.

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When the wind kicks up such that those trees can’t help but engage in a wild dance, it’s a sight. The not-so-manicured trails through the woods are a pleasant walk leading to the beaver pond with its lodge and dam. The beavers keep making their pond a little bigger. I don’t get down there often enough.

When a fox trots in a wide circle around the coops, wishing (you know it!) that there was a way to get to those fat and surely delicious chickens, it doesn’t know how its red fur shines in the sun. When guests stay at my gorgeous Airbnb cottage, they just might see a mother bear and two cubs walk through the yard. A few weeks ago, someone did.

Recently I was in Seattle and met several enthusiastic, capable au pairs. I got to thinking that some people who would like to come to Virginia for a little while (but don’t necessarily have a friend here already) might prefer a household without small children, and might prefer a country setting. They might enjoy getting to know the plants that grow in this climate, or the way we lay decking boards, or the vibe of downtown Charlottesville, fifteen minutes away. It’s a vibrant university town with great restaurants and shops, exhibits and lectures, sports and music events. The Presidential homes of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe are all within half an hour’s drive.

Over the years I’ve had short- and long-term visitors many times and would love to share my little piece of the world with some new friends. If you are thinking it’s a good time to do such a thing and have a little interest, you can let me know.

Falling to Ruin, or Not

The cottage on my property that Bradley and Beth built is a beauty. I am certain that the way its design elements come together visually strikes people as they look through their options on the Airbnb and VROB websites, and that they choose it because of how beautiful it is.

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A guest last week who is an architect by trade wrote in his review:

“The house is exceptional in its design. It is nestled among soaring trees with their lush green canopy of leaves, which are awesome to behold from within this all-glass pavilion. The layout is smart for the traveler who needs a few days of accommodation. The kitchen is compact but well equipped. The living space gives a group the chance to spread out. The bedroom is loft-like and from its vantage point, you feel as though you are in a tree house. If you’ve never been to Charlottesville, your first time ought to be spent in the heart of the city. However the second time and forever after, this is the place to be!”

(And he went on!)

The design is not only unique, but pretty much every aspect of the construction is custom-made. The windows, for example, all the trapezoidal and rectangular ones, are made with cherry wood. So is the side door that leads to the deck, also handmade by Bradley. I remember when its pieces were laid out on the basement floor. When it was first installed, it looked like this:

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I repeat, this is not a store-bought or catalog-ordered door. Bradley cut, routed and connected every piece. Seven years later, it still blows my mind when I look at the detail and the craftsmanship.

But built things do not last forever in their original condition. When Bradley was here in May, he said, “Mom, if you want those windows to last, you need to refinish them.” I want them to last. A marine grade polyurethane will not protect the wood forever, but it’s the best protection on the market for a few years, when I will do this job again. These are the second-floor windows as I was refinishing them this week (before the rain came!).

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When you take care of things, they stand a much better chance of being around, being useful, being still beautiful in years to come. Maybe in a hundred years, this cottage will still be standing tall and gorgeous. I hope so!

Such is not always the case. This past year I had the honor of publishing Hank Browne’s book, Vanishing History, Ruins in Virginia.* Hank, another architect by trade, has a passion for discovering and calling attention to ruined structures like bridges, railroad stations, mills and kilns. The ruins he featured are exceptional in their own way; all are well more than a hundred years old and showcase the workmanship of those who came before us as well as the creative and skillful use of materials. Nonetheless all are abandoned, neglected and in a sad state of disrepair.

The remains of the Wheelbarger-Rumsey Kiln once produced enormous quantities of limestone for use in mortar.

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Look at the shapes and colors of the stones that make up the front face of this structure. They were dug out of the earth, hauled to the site and carefully put in place. Together they look like a beautiful puzzle, with each stone placed in its perfect spot, but the work of choosing and fitting them together required a careful eye and lots of hard work.

Same for these stones of the Patowmack Canal. Why some stones are giant blocks and others are thin slabs is a mystery to me, but I do know that the rounded walls were to help the boats navigate into the opening without hitting sharp corners and damaging their hulls. The recesses in the wall on both sides indicate where the doors of the lock were once attached so that the water level could be adjusted up or down.

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The dilapidating train station at Pleasant Valley was built in 1874; its pleasing lines must have been a welcome sight for those who had come to the end of a long journey. But the hugs, smiles, first words, last words and tears that happened here are long since past. The damage to the right-hand side of the roof is not a good sign. When rain and other unwelcome elements finds their way into the interior, it’s the beginning of the end.

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You can surely think of some structures near you that are likewise falling apart. Not all of them can claim exceptional design or expert workmanship, but all were built with purpose and hard work. The people who hauled the lumber and hammered the nails were very likely tired at the end of the day!

It’s hard to look at photos like these and not think (at least a little) about the inevitability of time passing. We see here plainly – and in our own areas undoubtedly – what happens when people stop paying attention, when buildings are untended, neglected or abandoned, and nature is left to its own devices.

This makes me think about other things that need occasional attention or careful tending: not just buildings, but the people around us, the ones we walk alongside day by day. They have their own beauty despite their age, their own mysterious aspects, their vulnerable places too, where unwelcome elements can do incremental damage. Every time you see them or talk on the phone with them or send them a text, you have the chance to do good: to serve them in some way, to speak encouraging words or to tell them how much you appreciate them, to bring cheer.

You don’t have to, but you can. If you do, I’d say the chances of that relationship getting strong or staying strong – not crumbling or dilapidating or falling to ruin – are way better.

 

*https://www.amazon.com/Vanishing-History-Ruins-Virginia-Browne/dp/0999131001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535664727&sr=8-1&keywords=vanishing+history+ruins+of+virginia

Que Sera Sera

Last week after I finished reading to Evelyn – she just turned 101 and we are almost through a biography about Queen Victoria – I walked the hallway to get to the exit and passed what is a common area for the residents of this retirement community. I heard someone playing the piano and looked to my left. This is what I saw.

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The lady playing the piano was quite good. The tune was lively. The song was Que Sera Sera. If you are unfamiliar with it, check out Doris Day’s 1964 rendition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azxoVRTwlNg

The message of the song is summed up in the translation of the title: Whatever will be, will be. When you listen to the whole thing, you don’t get the idea of determination or active movement toward a particular goal. Quite the contrary. As to whether the future is bright or not – whether you will be rich and good looking and successful – it is seemingly out of your hands, which one might say is rather a passive approach. But is it?

Specifically in the lyrics a little girl asks her mother “What will I be? Will I be rich? Will I be pretty?” And her mother replies “Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” Later in life she asked her sweetheart: “What lies ahead? Will we have rainbows day after day?” He replies as the mother did. Later her own sons ask her: “What will I be? Will I be handsome? Will I be rich?” She then replies as her mother did.

“Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” To this I say Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…

…let us do what we can to make today and tomorrow better than it might otherwise be. I suspect this lady playing the piano would very much prefer to sit up straight. Yet she is not sitting there grumbling. She is playing a lively song for the entertainment of herself and others. I suspect Evelyn would rather not be blind. Nonetheless she can learn through books on tape and others reading to her. This week we learned together about the widowed Queen Victoria’s protector and friend (whatever else he may have been), John Brown. Fascinating stuff. Did you know that all documentation relating to this relationship was summarily burned? Hmmm…

Start with yourself. Start with the people who are in your circle today or every day. The other day I described two children who were here as Airbnb guests (for the blink of an eye it seemed) doing me a kind service without knowing it. How apropos to have just found this quote hanging on the wall in a public bathroom:

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Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…let us give thanks for what we do have. Do I have a high-paying job? No, but I have everything I need, and I am exceedingly grateful for good food to eat, a home to live in and the abiding love and care of incredible friends and family. Am I as physically strong as I used to be or as mechanically inclined as I wish I was? No, but I manage, and where I need help, there is help, and I am exceedingly grateful that when there have been serious issues like pipes freezing or bursting, I have not been here by myself. Can I be with my children and grandchildren and dearest friends as often as I want? No, but I cherish the moments with them and greatly look forward to next time.

Needs are different than wants. Do we have everything we need? Most of the time, yes. Do we have everything we want? If we did, what would there be to look forward to? What would there be to look back on and be grateful we had for a time? How would we get outside ourselves and be glad that someone else could enjoy that experience or that thing?

Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead… let us carefully and lovingly walk alongside others who are having a hard time. It’s true that some things are out of our control. In the past three weeks, tragedy has hit three families in my circle. Two young deaths and one very serious illness. The grief of these families is beyond words. Yet as each of them works through their pain and comes to grip with what they did not in their wildest nightmares anticipate, they are surrounded by, embraced by, uplifted and upheld by many who love them. The loving, caring people who come alongside during a tragic time are like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, as Mary Poppins so beautifully sang. They are the reminder – even if it cannot be fully appreciated at the time because of shock or stress – that they are not alone through their grief. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8VHc49ZdP4

Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…let us recognize the beauty of whatever world is around us. That beauty might be in the artistry of your favorite barista who makes you smile as he hands you a cappuccino.

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That beauty might be in the face of a child encountering a fuzzy chicken.

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It might be a precious moment with a dear friend you don’t see often.

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It might be a fabulous vista you get to see in real life rather than in a picture (with a dear friend you don’t see often).

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It might be a joyful moment of reunion between man and dog.

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Do I know what lies ahead? Sort of. The future’s not mine to see, but I am confident that no matter how many years or months or days I have left, it will continue to include amazing people who enrich my world as well as an amazing world in which to spend whatever time I can with these amazing people. It will include great measures of love, joy, forgiveness, hope, service to others and making a difference in whatever ways we all can. Could I ask for more? No.

 

P.S. She said yes

I did not ask for heavy rain this summer. I did not know that hidden places in the roof above my head had holes. I mean holes. The kind rain gets through. But I did know what I had to do when I saw and heard water dripping into my hallway and through my walls during a recent storm. I had to call a roofing guy, and I had to do it quickly.

Jorge is a busy man, and after I saw him and his team in action, I knew why. They do good work, and fast. In one day I had a new roof. I can rest easy during the next rainfall. But you can’t plan everything, and I could not be choosy about which day Jorge would come. Saturday, he told me, and every other weekend day after that was booked for a long time. I had to have them come Saturday.

The timing seemed really unfortunate. Guests come to Golden Hill, my airbnb cottage, for a lot of reasons. This weekend I was honored to host Luis and Joy. In his introductory email, Luis had told me, “I am looking for a quiet secluded place where I can ask my girlfriend to be my wife. The plan is to ask during a quiet walk with just the three of us in a secluded setting. Me, Joy and our pup Lily.”

Notice he used the words “quiet” and “secluded” twice each. Secluded I’ve got. The house and cottage are at the end of a 900’ driveway near the end of a mile-long country road. It’s the quiet I was worried about. I’ve never had to have my own roof replaced before, but anything outdoors involving a god bit of hammering is going to be loud.

It was a conundrum. Luis and Joy were coming, and he wanted quiet. But there was no getting around it: I had to have a new roof.

I spoke to them about it on Friday evening — it was only fair to warn them — and they told me not to worry. He is in the navy. She lives in Dubai. They have heard noise before. But he asked for quiet so I worried anyway. Jorge and his guys arrived as they had said they would at around 8am on Saturday. I tried to speak to them directly, but I don’t speak Spanish so I had to hope that my nonverbals would speak for me. I think I was clear, I think they understood. Still I fretted. Once the old shingles started landing (loudly) in the truck bed, I knew it was for real and got nervous. As the hammers really got going around 9am and some kind of (loud) machine was turned on, I agonized.

The noise of a new roof going on is worse inside the house. I went outside to transplant one tree and pull a thousand weeds, and it was not as bad. By then, Luis and Joy had gone out for the day and I breathed a bit. But when the tree was in and the weeds were out, it was time to bake. Yes, bake. Nothing says “apology” like something fresh and sweet out of the oven — or at least I hoped! I used my tried-and-true pound cake recipe, added lemon peel and poppy seed, and called it Lemon Poppy Seed Cake. They came back. I wrote a note, put the cake on a pretty plate, put the plate and the note under the clear glass topper on the pedestal cake stand, set it on the side porch and sent a text telling them to look on the side porch. Luis was so understanding. He texted back, “Aww thank you. Things happen and we make the best out of them.”

I felt a little better when I read that, then tremendously better when Jorge and team were packing up. At least the rest of the evening would be quiet, as well as the morning. I woke at 6am on Sunday morning to the sound of crickets and whatever else is out there making nature noises. It was cool and perfect for a walk. As I passed the garden on the way back, I decided to plant some fall seeds as well, and set about it. By then it was daylight.  Lily, the pup, saw me in the garden from her post by the door inside the cottage by about 7 — and barked. I can’t win, I thought! Now I’ve woken the dog!

Of course, I need not have worried so much. Luis came out to begin packing their car and we spoke for a bit. He assured me that Lily did not wake them up and the roofing noise did not bother them. “We were in our own world,” he said. It reminded me of when you see couples who are clearly in love, sitting at a table for two in a busy restaurant . All the commotion around them does not matter a bit. I guess we probably could have also had a back hoe digging or the chainsaw buzzing, and it would have been all the same to Luis and Joy. She said yes (see his note) — and what else matters in the world??

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So why do I worry so much? I know I want things to be perfect, or as close to perfect as I can make them. Surely this is a simple case of, as Luis puts it, “Things happen and we make the best out of them.” The worry comes because of the transition to the plural pronoun that you all undoubtedly noticed in the last few sentences. It’s all well and good that I am doing everything in my power to smooth over the potentially disturbing impact of the noise that these circumstances create and make things as close to perfect as I can make them– what really matters is that we make the best of them. What I cannot control is how, or how well, the next person deals. Luis is a gem. I don’t know if he saw my worries, my intentions, my wish that they had truly had the quiet he wanted. Most likely he simply has a good heart, and this makes him a fantastic son, brother, uncle, and friend and soon will make him a wonderful husband too.

“We make the best of things” depends on good hearts. Several weeks ago a similar situation took place with guests at the hotel. Things did not go well. Mainly, they did not like their room. We moved them into a better room (finagling room assignments we had for other guests at a time when we had a full house), and they still did not like it. We dealt with them as courteously and professionally as humanly possible, but nothing we did mattered. They threatened, they fussed, they twisted the story, and finally they left. No matter how hard we tried — no matter how good the heart behind the action —  the only conclusion we could draw was that some people just want to be miserable. They carry it with them, they inject it into their surroundings, they leave it in their wake. Piercing words, sour expressions, obstinate attitudes — these gave me pause. I needed some time to process the experience. Be honest now: Had I/we worked hard to offer the best possible solution? Had I/we shown empathy, remained calm, spoken kindly, practiced integrity? Being honest now: Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. You can do only your own part.

What a gigantic difference it makes if good hearts on both sides do what good hearts do.

A “recipe” for strawberry jam

In the early homeschooling days, someone gave me a bit of advice that can apply to just about anything we do. Take a few minutes, he said, and write down why you are doing it. Make a list of your reasons. Make sure you think it through and make a good solid list. One of these days you will be tearing your hair out and asking (seriously) What was I thinking??!! (i.e. What was I thinking when I thought this was a good idea!?) Post your list where you can see it (so that you know just where it is!) because on those days when you are tearing your hair out, you need to look at your list and let it do its good work. Let it remind you why you decided to do this, whatever it is. Chances are good that your list will bring you back to a good place.

It seemed like a good idea to me, so I made my list. Its title was something like: Why I choose to home school my children. One of the reasons had to do with joy. I very much wanted to keep the joy in learning. If I can find a way to keep it fun, I thought, keep them engaged in the process, keep them hungry to learn something new — then (the hope is) throughout their lives they will always be excited and happy to learn new things. I was homeschooling because I wanted to make sure that my kids became lifelong learners, and one way to do that was to keep it fun. I suspect that John Holt’s Learning All the Time played into this, but there were other factors. I just didn’t want my kids to ever be bored or uninterested or think they had nothing yet to learn in this life. There is always something to learn in this life. Too many people think learning is over when you finish school. Oh, how much they miss!

Therefore, when I meet someone who is hungry to learn something, to explore something, to be challenged by something, I am both impressed and happy. If that someone wants to learn something from me, I’m over the moon. This is one reason I love Millicent. She has thrilled my heart time and again by saying things like “Next time you make a quiche, can I come and make it with you? … Oh, please teach me how to make pizza — can I just do it with you next time?. … How do you do that? Can you teach me?” Millicent has a nursing degree and a law degree, plays the harp, sings like an angel, and makes me think deeply and laugh out loud in all of our conversations, and she is hungry to learn something new. These days Millicent is learning how to ride a horse. I am sure she is doing it with enthusiasm and joy, and I could not be happier for her.

Last week one of my airbnb cottage guests reminded me of Millicent’s spirit and her joy of learning. It was all about jam, strawberry jam. As the berries came ripe during the month of May, I began to see that there were many of them, more than last year. They were gorgeous and bountiful and delicious. Look how beautiful.

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I learned last year that these garden-grown berries, untouched by anything except sun and rain and the human hand to pick them, are not like the kind you buy in a store. If you have never picked a strawberry off a vine, it may be hard to imagine the very particular sound they make as they pop off the stem that holds them. To me it is downright musical. The flavor sends you to heaven then, far exceeding any berry on a plastic box. Their being untouched also means they do not last days and days. Freeze them or make jam within a day or they will not be the same.

The first batch looks like and feels like a treasure.

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A few days later there were enough to make jam. (The stuff laying on top is rhubarb, yet another taste marvel…)

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My good friend Sandy was game to help me, and together we made a batch, and a week or so later there were this many again, so we made another batch. There might be 15 jars or so total, I didn’t count. But it came out really good.

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At about the same time, my airbnb guests Sara and Scott (of grilled salami fame, two or three posts ago) had invited me to have dinner with them. During my visit with them, they gave me a good sized hunk of some amazing bread they had bought in town, and I took it back to my house later and had some with that lovely strawberry jam on it. Fresh jam on fresh bread — does it get better than this? So I brought them some in a little bowl so they could enjoy it with their own hunk in the morning for breakfast. After they left I found a note in the cottage that told me that had enjoyed it on cheesecake besides. Sara called it incredible. I smiled. That would have been enough for me. They completely endeared themselves to me.

A couple days after they left, I got the following note:

Hi Patricia – Scott and I enjoyed the last of your strawberry jam this morning.  We have been milking it – literally!  Anyhow, we are just getting strawberries in our neck of the woods and I plan on picking at the orchard nearby this coming week.  Would you share your jam recipe?  It was superb and just the perfect amount of sugar.  Hope all is well with you.  We sure do miss the Charlottesville Area.   

Kind regards,  Sara

Not only were they perfect guests who also invited me to dinner. Not only did they call my jam incredible. Now she wants to make her own! I was thrilled — and worried! I admit it, I am not a good recipe-follower, and here she is asking for a recipe! Having made jam in the past, I knew it is a bit involved, and I had no way to know if Sara had any idea what she was getting into. I had no idea if perhaps it was a fluke that mine came out the way it did, seeing as I was not overly precise about amounts and timing and technique. For example, I am not even really sure how much fruit I used. I just cut up what I had and eyeballed it. How could I possibly give her a recipe? I decided to just tell her what I had done as best as I could which doesn’t look like a recipe to me, but the following is what I told her.

You have to really want to make jam to follow the following.

Hi Sara,

I am so thrilled that you liked the jam that much!! We are really enjoying it too  🙂 As far as the recipe, it is going to sound like a crazy amount of sugar, but every recipe uses a lot. I read five or six recipes in my cookbooks and online (since it had been some years since I made jam) to get an idea of the proportions of fruit to sugar, then cut up the fruit (halved or quartered depending on the size of the berry), which (eyeballing the same amount of water in my pot right now) seems to have been about 3 quarts. I then added a 4lb bag of sugar and 4.7oz Ball Real Fruit pectin (1 container of it) and brought it to a hard boil. It develops foam, which you methodically skim off little by little with a long handled spoon. It continues to make more foam. Just continue skimming it off (a relaxing exercise actually, if you can look at it that way). All the recipes I read said it needs to get to 238 degrees F on your candy thermometer, but we boiled the first batch (not the batch you got, but the one we did the week before) for a long time, half an hour I think, and finally decided that my thermometer had to be faulty because it never got above 220. With your batch, I drew the line at 15 mins (the thermometer was still faulty apparently because it did no better), skimming all the time. Good enough, I said, let’s jar it. Before we jarred it, Sandy mashed it with a potato masher, which broke up the fruit a bit more.

In the meantime, you have a big pot going with boiling water (your canning pot), and you sterilize the jars this way. Have you canned before? If you are not familiar with this process and want to bypass it, I think you can freeze jam too. But the canning is easy, and every canning pot comes with instructions. You sterilize the jars, take them out of the water with tongs (carefully), put the hot jam into the hot jars, wipe the top rim of the glass where the lid will meet it, put the lid on, screw the screw cap on (not too tight) and lower them into the water carefully (again with the special tongs) and boil for 7 mins. Remove from the water and set on the counter; wait for the center each lid to pop down as they cool. This assures you of the seal.

Hopefully I have not in any way discouraged you.  I am delighted that anyone would want to make jam! But if you prefer, send me your address and I will simply mail you one of my jars 🙂

The poor young woman, I thought. She has to make sense of that! But if she had thrilled me by asking, she thrilled me more by her response to my “recipe.”

Thank you for this!  I have canned before (not jam- and it’s been a few years) but I am sure I can do this.  Looks like I will be digging out some of my jars this weekend.  And thanks for offering to mail some jam, but I will attempt this work of art.   It is a labor of love and one I can appreciate .  I will let you know how it turns out.
Kind regards,
Sara

Oh, may the joy we have in learning something new never be squashed!

A mermaid story

I’ve been an airbnb host for more than a year and a half. My little Golden Hill cottage is occupied every weekend with guests from here and there. It may not look like it, but the cottage is kind of like a mermaid. And I don’t mean just any mermaid.

You say the word mermaid and many people immediately think Disney. A few might recall The Secret of Roan Inish. Both of those mermaids are a far cry from one particular mermaid who made a great impression on me. Mine doesn’t have a long, sexy fish tail. She doesn’t entice men. But she is set apart from her fellow creatures — she is unusual, nice in her own way, comfortable being who she is. I’m guessing from the story that she’s about five or six years old.

My neighbor Marty gave me this story not long ago. He lives at the next farm. If you don’t turn left onto my driveway, you come straight to his house. There’s a sign at the end of my driveway that clearly says Golden Hill. See?

Golden Hill sign summer 2015

But people go past it sometimes when they are supposed to be coming here. Last week I discovered why. I was coming home from Richmond, and was unfamiliar with the part of the city I was in, so I had used my GPS to guide me out of the city. Once I was on the highway, it stopped talking to me, so I forgot about it. But it didn’t forget about me. As it started guiding me on the last stretch of the way, I decided to let it. I wanted to see what it would say so I would know what my guests experience. Correctly, at the beginning of my road, it told me to go another three-quarters of a mile, which of course I did. Then I saw my Golden Hill sign, but it did not tell me to turn left. Instead, when I turned left (because I know where I live), and went maybe 30 feet more, it said, “In 900 feet, turn around.”

No wonder my guests sometimes drive past my sign. They are listening to a device that is not telling them to turn. Of course they all find the cottage eventually. There isn’t too far to go. They get to Marty’s and figure it out. Once in awhile, he is outside when they drive up. They explain about being lost and what they are looking for. He points them in the right direction, and tells them in his very dry way, which let’s hope most of them see as humorous, “But you don’t want to go there. She’s weird.” He has done this at least twice. He says this to them because I have said to him (one too many times apparently) that I am weird. When they tell me what he said to them, they are laughing. It borders on a please-tell-us-he’s-not-serious kind of laugh. For what it’s worth, Marty is weird too, because who says that to people? But I can’t mind — he’s right.

Some people are weirder than others. For a long time, my measure of weird has been television. I think I’m weird (or weirder than most) because most people have at least one TV and I don’t. At various times I have had one (and even had one for about two years and didn’t know it, but that is another story). Mine shorted out, or something, maybe half a year ago, and stopped turning on. I didn’t replace it yet, though I expect someday I will. There are numerous other reasons why I have considered myself — and to Marty and others, proclaimed myself — to be weird. Examples are not necessary here. Just trust me on this.

Not every neighbor would give you a story to make a point. But Marty did. It spoke to me.

The Mermaid Story      

by Robert Fulghum

            One rainy Sunday afternoon I found myself in charge of 70 or so school age children.  We were in a gymnasium, and I knew that if I didn’t come up with an idea before long – pure chaos would ensue.  At that very moment I remembered a game – an old roll playing game called Wizards, Giants and Goblins.  So I got my charges to calm down (no easy feat, thank you very much), and I explained the rules of the game:

“Now,” I proclaimed, “if you wish to be a Giant, stand at the front of the room.  If you wish to be a Wizard, stand in the middle.  And those who wish to be Goblins stand toward the back.  All right,  let the play begin.”  I allowed the children several minutes to confer in huddled masses until the action resumed.

As I was standing there I felt I tug on my coat.  When I looked down, there was a little girl with blue, questioning eyes.       

  ” ‘Scuse me.”

  “Yes, what is it?”

  “Scuse me, but where do the mermaids stand?”

  “Mermaids? Mermaids?” I sputtered.  “There are no mermaids.”

  “Oh, yes there are.  For you see, I’m a mermaid, and I wish to know where to stand.”

  Now here was a little girl who knew exactly what she was – a mermaid, pure and simple and she wanted to know where to stand.  And, she wouldn’t be satisfied standing on the sidelines watching the others play.  She had her place, and she wanted to know where to stand.

But, where do the mermaids stand? – all those children we try to mold and form to fit into our boxes.

Sometimes, I have moments of inspiration.  I looked down at that child, and I held her hand -“Why the mermaid shall stand next to The King of the Sea.” (Yeah, King of the Fools would be more likely.)

  So, we stood together – the mermaid and the King of the Sea – as the Wizards, Giants and Goblins roiled by in grand procession.  It isn’t true, by the way, what they say about mermaids not existing.  I know they do for I’ve held one’s hand.

Now I may have a soft spot for little girls, but no way is this one weird. She’s just different, and knows it, and is happy with it. She doesn’t try to be something she’s not. No molds for her, no boxes, no convention. All she needs to know is where to stand. If Robert Fulghum’s story is nonfiction, then somewhere in the world there is a five-year-old who helped me know that where I was standing, apart from the rest in numerous ways, was really ok. And not only ok, but good. She gave me a new perspective on something that had nagged me for years. I still call myself weird sometimes, but now I mean it more in the sense of unconventional, which is probably the same thing but somehow more palatable. As never before, I am ok with being unconventional. The beaten track isn’t for everyone.

The cottage that Bradley built is one of a kind. Search the world over and you will not find another. You might find a cottage with a wood stove and a deck facing the mountains and a 12/12 pitched roof, but will it have custom cherry windows and coffered ceilings? You might find a cottage in the country where there are 15 chickens, but do six of them lay greenish eggs? You might find a cottage that has a big garden with deer fencing all around because of the many deer that live in the woods, but is one of those deer white?  The Charming Cottage at Golden Hill is set apart from all other cottages, from all other lodgings, just like that little girl who fancies herself a mermaid — it’s unusual, comfortable, nice in its own way. 

And I get to share it. I get to be part of a movement that celebrates uniqueness. We all have a general sense of what goes into a good, comfortable, safe night’s sleep, but I get to interpret that in my own unique way and be a host in my own unique way. Because Brad and Beth built this amazing little house, I get to be part of a wave that says: Take the road less traveled. I’d say they are part of the wave too.

Take a good look at the people around you, and you will see some similarities. We all eat, sleep, breathe, void, move, and wear clothes in public. Keep going with this list. What else do we have in common? You may be able to generate an extensive list, but I am hard pressed. We certainly don’t all eat the same things, like the same music, use the same vocabulary, prefer the same activities, travel to the same destinations. Not everyone cares for dogs or cats (or snakes or ferrets or turtles or fish or parakeets) in their homes, but some people would be lost without their pet. Some people look forward, some look back, some mainly live in today. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. And some like it hot.

My cottage is in the country. What do you see when you look out of those custom windows along  the back wall? This is what you see:

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Trees. You see trees and more trees. Some sky as well. A range of foothills in the wintertime when all those trees have lost their leaves (which you cannot see in the photo but is there, I promise). You will not see buildings. Ugh to all that nature, I am sure some say when they look at the listing. Not everyone likes green. Some really do prefer concrete (my brother-in-law Fred comes to mind). Also, there are steep stairs that lead to the main bed in the cottage. Some people don’t want stairs of any kind. I have a drip coffee maker and a french press. Maybe Keurig is your thing — or maybe you don’t even know what a french press or a Keurig is, and all you want is a cup of coffee, for crying out loud! Why do there have to be so many choices!??!

There have to be so many choices because we are all so different. We don’t get everything — in general or when we travel — but we make choices and align our have-to-have’s and wish-to-have’s to come as close to (what for us is) perfection as possible. We continually juggle reality with desire and try to get the weekend or the vacation just right. And what makes anything perfect for you is different than what makes it perfect for me. This is why I think airbnb is enjoying tremendous success, and why it is so cool to be a part of it. The options are practically unlimited — size, location, decoration, ambiance, amenities, price, etc. Bungalows, cottages, condos, yurts, mansions, apartments, etc. Take your pick.

I love that there are lots and lots of choices. My little cottage is not for everybody, and that’s ok. Like me, it’s unconventional in various ways. Like me, it doesn’t have to fit a mold. I am glad it doesn’t. I’m glad I don’t. Granted, not fitting a mold is a pain at times, and you are misunderstood at times, but overall (and I can hardly believe I’m saying this after struggling so long about it), unconventionality is an asset. The success of this cottage, I am convinced, is at least in part because there is nothing else like it. The little mermaid of this story tells me to celebrate my unconventionality and I can choose to make the most of it. And the success of Golden Hill shouts loud and clear: Don’t be afraid to be unusual, nice in your own way, comfortable being who you are. Pick your passion and run with it. Nobody else can do what you can do the way you can do it. 

A white deer and grilled salami

The gravel road I live on is about a mile long and my property is almost to the end. It’s a private road, privately maintained, and maxed out as far as the number of residences, which is under ten. Some parts of the road are narrow, so narrow that if someone else is driving toward you from the opposite direction, one of you has to move over up onto the grassy side areas, or back up if the side areas are too steep. This is not a lot of fun when it is late at night because of course there are no streetlights, but with so few vehicles on the road, it seldom happens. More constant an issue is the condition of the surface, which, being gravel, is irregular to say the least, and more so after all the rain we have had of late. Let’s just say you do not break any speed records on this road.

Being near the end of a gravel road and having to drive slowly has its advantages. For one thing, it allows me to both ease into and ease out of my day. I can’t tear out of here, nor can I zip back in. In much the same way as we are all given 24 hours in a day and no more and no less, I have been given the physical constraint of this road for the first or last mile of every trip I make, and am forced to accept its reality. As with the 24 hours, after a while you don’t really think about it. As my mother says, it is what it is!

Slowing down also means you see things you might not otherwise. About a year ago, on my way to work as I slowly drove down my road,  a patch of while caught my eye off to the left about 20 yards away. Sure enough, it was the white deer my neighbors had talked about.

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You are never really sure if people are pulling your leg or not when they tell you about rare animals they have seen in the wild. I know rare animals exist, and zoos get them sometimes. In the zoo in Nuernberg I saw a white crocodile many years ago, and I can believe that someone trapped it and gifted it to the zoo. But a white deer in my own neck of the woods?

There it was. I drive a Prius, very quiet in its electric (slow) mode. I came to a stop, let the window down and aimed my very handy phone camera at the magnificent creature. My vision is not superb, but I saw him more clearly than he appears in this photo. I assure you — that is a white deer!

A few days later when I was with some friends playing tennis, I showed off my photo. We all have stories to tell, and I had a new one. Look what I saw! Pat, one of the wonderful women I play with, asked me to send it to her, and when we played the following week, she handed me printouts she had had made of the deer photo in various sizes. That was so nice of her! I took one and put it in the notebook that sits on the coffee table in the cottage for my airbnb guests. Usually, since there are important things to cover during the intro when they first arrive, and I don’t want to keep people too long, I don’t mention it. Sometimes though, if they start talking about wildlife, or if they have children who seem like the  kind who would want to know, I tell them that if they get really lucky they will see the white deer as I once did, and I tell them about the photo in the book.

In my area there are a lot of hunters. A good bit of the land around me is posted No Trespassing / No Hunting, but even more is not. I was so glad to have seen the rare deer when I did because I thought there was a better chance that I, who do not buy lottery tickets, would win the lottery than that this trophy deer would live through hunting season. Nonetheless I told my guests about it sometimes. One can hope. And sometimes, I guess, they found the photo in the book and imagined that it must have been taken in these woods. Very occasionally, as I drive slowly past the spot where I saw her, I wonder whatever happened…

This winter I was not as active as I should have been, so recently I decided to walk more. Each day lately I have been walking on my road. To the end and back is not an overly impressive distance, but it’s something, and I don’t feel so much like a slug soon to turn into a whale if I don’t get moving. Tonight after work I walked. Bridget, my old dog, did not like the idea much, but she came along. I did not see the deer. I didn’t even think about it. Perhaps thinking about how long it has been since I saw it brings too sad an image of a mounted trophy head to my mind, and I prefer not to go to that sad place, so I effectively keep it pushed away most of the time.

I came home, collected eggs (nine today), and watered the newly planted cabbage, cuke, eggplant, basil, tomato and pepper plants, the not-yet-emerged carrots and onions, the thriving spinach, lettuce, beets and snow peas, and ate the first snow peas off the vine! On my way back to my house, my wonderful cottage guests, Sara and Scott, came out to say hello. We had very pleasant conversation about their dinner on the terrace overlooking the golf course at Keswick Hall last night (yes, they loved the parmesan truffle fries!), and about their day exploring Monticello and its walking paths. Then Scott said, “Oh, we have to tell you — we saw the white deer!!”

They saw the white deer? Yes! Coming back toward the cottage this very afternoon, there she was — running as only a deer can run, not posing as she did for me. They did not get a photo, but they had seen it in the notebook on the coffee table, and wondered. What a gift to them this creature gave! During their first airbnb experience, on a little getaway to celebrate their anniversary, they saw a white deer no less! The image of her extraordinary whiteness, of her graceful stride, of their incredible luck at having been in the right place at the right time to see her even for a few moments — this all will stay with them in a way no photo can. (Also think of the deer’s incredible luck at having evaded hunters for yet another year!)  I am delighted to have been a small part of their amazing experience. Once again, I get back more than I give.

And then some. “Please, have some dinner with us,” Sara graciously offered. They were grilling burgers and salami. Wait… grilling salami? I work at a five-star hotel where they do all sorts of things with food that I have never heard of. I’m half Italian and probably ate salami before I knew how to say it. But I had never had it grilled. You have to try this! It just might be my new favorite! Two slices at a time, Scott says (it’s a little thicker that way). In a cast iron pan works just as well, Sara adds. It was Sara’s idea to begin with, Scott admits. Sara smiles. They put it on their cheeseburgers all the time now. Brilliant, really brilliant.

I had a full day at work starting at 6am today. I took this photo of the fallen rose petals carpeting the walkway of the pergola by the horizon pool at about 615.

May 31 2016 pergola rose petals.jpg

I filled in for the restaurant manager and oversaw a busy breakfast. I worked with Susan and Ashley to edit the member event calendar. I began preparing the schedule for an important training event coming up. I answered mail, interacted with vendors, attended meetings, got home around 530. I thought it was a pretty full day. Then the walk, the eggs, the garden. I did not expect the white deer besides. I did not expect grilled salami! You never know what you are going to come home to. Thank you, Sara and Scott!