The Best Life If You’re a Pig

Pigs don’t have many choices in life. They are at the mercy of their owners and keepers, and I’d guess many of them would wish for a trade if trades were possible.  I would also venture to say that the vast majority would do anything pigly possible to have the life that Tracy’s pigs have. Do these pigs look happy or what? Okay, maybe they just look curious. There’s something about those noses that’s hilarious and remarkable at the same time.

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I’m not sure pigs could have a better life than these. They have oak trees dropping acorns all through their spacious, wooded area and freedom to root around all day finding those acorns and whatever else pigs consider yummy among the fallen leaves of this time of year. They have a huge enclosure made with movable fencing so it is, yes, moved around, which is better for the land, better for the pigs, plus a change of scenery (maybe they notice!). Oh, hey, this spot has great dirt!

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Their summertime life along the tree line let them pick shade or sun, assuming pigs can pick. Compared to most pigs, this had to feel like they had the whole state of Virginia to roam around in.

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It’s pig paradise. Check out their big bathtub/pool, which is clean only until the moment one of them gets in it mainly on account of the adjacent mud hole for slopping around in.

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You can’t tell so much when they are muddy, but one of these pigs has a few spots and one is mostly plain. I noticed it when I drove by the other day and they had been moved to the woods near the road.

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The spotted one reminded me of Chester the Worldly Pig, a fictitious, determined, clever creature created by Bill Peet in 1965 and among my favorite children’s books. Chester resented his lot in life. “Of all things,” grumbled Chester, “why on earth did I have to be a pig?” Does his face look annoyed?

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“But before I end up as so much sausage and ham, I intend to try and amount to something.” But what? To solve his problem, he did what we all do (or should do) when we have a problem, he thought long and hard about it. He “turned this around and around in his head until one day it came to him: ‘I’ll be a star in the circus!’” Chester perfected his nose stand and waited for the circus train to go by and see him.

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His plan failed because the train passed by with its shades drawn, so he ran down the tracks until he came to the big top, jumped on a post, impressed them all and got himself a job.

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But as you might imagine it didn’t work out. Sometimes things don’t work out. First they put him in with the lions and terrified him, then they dressed him up like a baby so Roscoe the clown could wheel him around in a doll buggy.

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It was beyond humiliating, so he took off first chance he got. A bear thought he’d make a great lunch,

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but then so did a bunch of hobos. That’s Chester in the bag next to Red Beard.

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“I’m the one that caught this pig,” red beard roared above the noise of the train, “so I’m keepin’ him all to myself!”

“Oh, no, you don’t!” bellowed black beard. “It’s share and share alike! That’s the rule!”

“And rules is rules,” growled gray beard.

“I’m breakin’ the rules,” roared red, “so what can you do about it?”

Chester barely escaped with his life. He resigned himself to his fate, the “at the first barn lot he came to, he turned in the gate to give himself up, and the farmer greeted the stray pig with open arms.”

 “To the farmer’s delight, after a couple of years Chester ballooned into a huge blimp of a pig; and one morning the happy farmer said, “Today this little pig goes to market.”

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Now if you’re a child looking at this farmer, are you thinking What a nice farmer! or He got himself a lot of free pork! Or Poor pig! Is his face happy in a jovial kind of way or happy in a greedy way or happy in a didn’t-I-get-lucky way? That’s the thing about art, right? Even children’s art. Contrived as the representation is, you are still free to interpret it with your own experiences and biases weighing in. In fact, it’s practically impossible not to. From the beginning, Chester is painted as a survivor. And now we all know what the farmer is going to do.

Or we think we know.

It’s just like when you watch a movie the second or third time and you see things you didn’t see the first time. Once you know the outcome, you wonder how you missed the important clues. It was plain as day even in the first scene, but I missed it, and you probably missed it too.

On that very same morning a carnival van stopped at the farm, and out of the cab stepped a dignified white-whiskered man with a broad-brimmed hat and a fancy frock coat. He had stopped to buy fresh eggs, but when he saw the huge pig he forgot all about the eggs.

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“What will you take for your pig?” he asked. The farmer thought for a minute, then named his price, which was at least twice what he figured the pig was worth. And to the farmer’s surprise, the man didn’t so much as bat an eye; he counted out the money and the deal was closed.

After the pig was loaded aboard and the van drove away, the farmer had himself a good laugh. “So he thinks he’s bought the world’s biggest pig! Why I’ve seen at least a dozen bigger ones at the county fair.” But if the fellow had gone to school long enough to study geography, he’d have known that Chester was much more than just plain big.

Here’s author Bill Peet, who worked as a sketch artist at Disney Studio on such films as Pinocchio, Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty and authored of 35 books, plugging a good education. In the end, Chester’s grit – despite what we all know happens to pigs in this world – led to an ending where everyone wins. The farmer got a good price, the white-whiskered man got “The One and Only Worldly Pig” and Chester got the fame he hoped for.

“Now if you will please move in a little closer,” said the white-whiskered man [to the crowd in the carnival tent], “you will see the entire map of the world imprinted by nature on this remarkable creature’s enormous hide. On his left side, the continents of North and South America, including the land of Australia, which is down under, of course.”

The crowd gasped in amazement, while Chester oinked in surprise. He was as amazed as anyone.

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“But that’s only the half of it,” said the man, turning the pig around on his revolving platform. “On his right side we find Europe, Africa, and Asia, and for good measure, even that tiny island of Borneo. So you see, my friends, this amazing pig is truly one of nature’s wonders…”

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Last week as I passed Tracy’s property and saw her pigs in the woods – and one of them is spotted! – how could I not think of Chester and the good life that some pigs get? There’s a lot we can’t do anything about, but many people do what they do in highly admirable ways. Hats off to Tracy! What lucky pigs she has!

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New To Me and Unexpected

No matter how old we are, there is something new around every corner. This is especially true if you are traveling to places that are not so familiar. Delightful discoveries keep things so interesting. They make you see the world differently. They keep you young, reminding you that you have not arrived yet, that there is yet something to learn, to puzzle over, to marvel at, to be astonished about and even in some cases to cringe about (see below!). Let us never lose our sense of Are you kidding me?

In San Francisco, a bird looked dead on the street. I felt a moment of sadness. But as in Berkeley, where I questioned why the cooler-on-wheels was moving along the sidewalk on its own and Drew said nonchalantly Oh, that’s a robot delivering smoothies, I was equally taken aback by this bird on the street as we walked to the Embarcadero Ferry Building.bird from afar sleeping int he road.jpg

It sure looked dead to me. But no, Drew said, it’s just sleeping.

Sleeping? Whoever heard of a bird sleeping in a road? What kind of bird sleeps in a road? This kind apparently. Get a little closer. Is this bird sleeping?

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Doesn’t it know that a road is a bad place to sleep? Didn’t its mother teach it the basics? If you want a long life, stay in high places away from humans and large, fast-moving vehicles. Get close only when you see lots of grass and the humans are tossing food about. Well, I don’t see grass here and no humans are offering food, but something must have clued it in, maybe even the person who then walked close to it, because in the time it took for us to get past, that bird turned around, faced the sidewalk and got out of harm’s way.

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Smart bird? Or dumb bird got lucky?

Approaching the Embarcadero, we encountered a massive polar bear, part of the Salesforce descent upon the city this week. It isn’t every day you see a massive polar bear. There is something both majestic and adorable about polar bears, even when they are fake. You must agree, this is massive.

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It also leans toward adorable rather than majestic, as does the one in a fairly new book called There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins that I discovered at Marie’s house. It has joined my all-time-favorite-kids’-books list. I will show you the pages at the end.

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I am a huge fan of children’s books. The good ones are as good for adults as they are for kids. This one has it all: rhyme, cadence, delightful illustrations, originality, silliness, cleverness (the kind kids show you at the most unexpected times), hilarity and subtle yet powerful parallels to the “real” world, though you have to think about it a little to arrive at these.

It is impossible to be around children, as I am here now in Boise, without discovering something new in something old. Another book on my list, one that has been there for decades, is Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Unsurprisingly, someone thought to make it an audio book. That’s all well and good. What would never have occurred to me is using the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the background with bagpipes, and a narrator with an Irish accent! I never thought of that! Mike Mulligan. Irish. Go figure! Ellie loves listening to Mike Mulligan on the way to school. The music meshes with the story perfectly.

If you have a child in your life – your own or a neighbor having a birthday or a niece or nephew – get both of these books and the philharmonic audiobook to go along with Mike Mulligan. You cannot go wrong.

While on the adorable track, I must mention the three-year-olds at soccer practice, another reality of the world that somehow escaped me before now. I am sure I didn’t do any organized sport myself until I was at least nine or so, but these days they have soccer at three. They do in Boise anyway. Ellie loves it. All those cones are for foot control, by the way. You put your foot in the open end and lift it off the ground and hold it up. Who knew?

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This is the same child who loves to wear a paper skirt, by the way.

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Anyway, in case you didn’t know it, soccer for three-year-olds in Boise sometimes involves “making a pizza” on a parachute (after you walk around in circles for a bit to make you hungry enough to eat the pizza),

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the last part of which is kicking the “meatballs” on top of the pizza. What’s your guess? Will these children grow up to love soccer or some other active organized sport? I think so!

Not everything that is new is adorable. Not everything is even pleasant. Whether just contemplating it or actually taking a drink from it (I couldn’t!), this exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco challenges your grossness meter. According to the sign, the standard drinking fountain on the right and the one attached to this toilet (which has never been used as a toilet) are identical. Both clean, both usable, both dispensing fresh water. But who can bring themselves to drink out of the fountain attached to the toilet? “A Sip of Conflict,” they call it. I’ll say!

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I can hardly look at it without cringing, let alone take a drink! So enough of grossness, let’s head back to Boise for something else I did not expect.

Here is a very old tortoise. How do I know he’s old? I have no idea actually. Tortoises are always old, right? This one was at the downtown zoo, active as a sloth, dry as the sand he stands on. Ellie was fascinated with him.

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Why did I not expect a tortoise at the zoo? You expect giraffes, llamas, zebras. But a tortoise? Possibly I am overwhelmed with newness and adorableness all around me (save for above toilet, we can all agree) and I didn’t even have time to have expectations. I just know that this amazing animal took me by surprise.

Lastly (you knew there had to be food somewhere in here), we made a stop this morning at a French bakery in Boise called Janjou Pâtisserie. I know: French bakery in Boise, something else you would not expect. But what was even more unexpected, what was totally new to me, was a spiral croissant with olives and manchego cheese. Oh yum! I have never seen or had olives and cheese in a croissant before, let alone in a croissant of award-winning quality. Who thinks of this? Why didn’t I think of this?!

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I cannot describe this adequately. You will just have to imagine the soft/crisp, buttery/flavorful, done-to-absolute-perfection nature of this pastry. Drool if you have to. I won’t tell.

I would like credit for having restrained myself in this post with regard to the many awesome trees and other plants one finds while traveling. I know I covered the eucalyptus trees in Berkeley and the Boise rose garden recently, but Boise has more awesome flora, and it is with serious effort that I hold back the low-lying spikey things, the weird wisteria, the blob tree – I spare you this time!

But I have to show you the pages of the adorable polar bear and mouse book. Thank you, Ross Collins, for your marvelous book!

Take your time now. Read slowly, deliberately and out loud if you can. Get a good rhythm going. Look at how the illustrations coordinate with the text. Pretend you have a child on your lap… Better yet, pretend you are the child.

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Having Eyes, and Seeing Beauty

In downtown Boise (Idaho) is a lovely rose garden. I explored a small part of it today with my daughter and her two little darlings, and I learned something about myself: I’ve changed. There was a time when I would have said Those are pretty flowers, and left it at that. I did not “have time” for such things. I had other things to do. I had seen pretty flowers before.

No more. I could have spent all afternoon admiring the blooms. There were so many! They were every color imaginable. They were so perfect.

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Clearly someone (or probably a team) spends a lot of time tending them and does it very well. As we approached on this picture-perfect day, I realized this was no ordinary rose garden. There are over 2000 rose bushes in this special place named after Julia Davis, Boise’s “city mother.”

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You can’t rush through a rose garden because roses are such extraordinary flowers up close. In my case, however, you also can’t take too much time when you have a three-year-old with you and another who’s almost one because the zoo is right next to the rose garden, and that is the actual destination – and guess where they would rather go! Roses do not compete with giraffes when you are three, especially since they have a baby giraffe!

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But Marie graciously gave me some time to use my eyes and see the beauty of the roses. It’s impossible to decide which is the prettiest color. I have always loved the yellow ones.

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This one decided to be both pink and yellow.

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Coincidentally, one of the books I brought along to read on this trip is the engaging story of a little girl growing up in pre-WWII Japan (Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, a longstanding bestseller describing the early school days of a woman who went on to become one of Japan’s most popular television personalities).

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Beginning when she is about five – having been expelled from her previous school because her intense curiosity was disruptive to other students – Totto-chan attends an extraordinary school led by a schoolmaster who becomes a hero to her. This man listens carefully, allows for individual differences, advocates for the unsung, celebrates a fresh look on almost anything and creates an environment intent on giving every child the best way to grow, to learn, to shine. How ironic that I come to an extraordinary rose garden the very day after reading these words:

“Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.”

I did have eyes and I did see beauty, and for the beauty I saw I am very grateful. But I did not see only beautiful roses in the rose garden. In the middle of the path leading to the gazebo sits this fountain. I don’t like the blue water because it looks artificial to me, but I soon saw past that. Look carefully around the edge and you will see imbedded plaques.

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The etched words were mostly in memory of loved ones, such as this one.

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But this is the one that moved me nearly to tears:

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At first I thought maybe Linda’s Uncle Fred was one of the gardeners, and maybe he was. But it could also be that they strolled this garden together and it was all the better for having done it together. In the end, for these two people, together was best. And I thought: Would the zoo today have been as wonderful if I had not been able to listen to Ellie’s gasp when she saw the lion?

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Would I have enjoyed watching the anteater look for his own lunch in the dirt if we had not been together on benches next to him eating ours?

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Being together today, I stood next to my daughter holding her daughter who’s feeding the llama – most definitely a sight more beautiful than any rose – and the roses are very beautiful! I am so blessed to have eyes to see it all, to enjoy their sweet company, to spend this week together.

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“Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.”

Your Favorite Chair and a Flood of Light

Did you ever notice that you often sit in the same chair when you head to your living room? There are, say, three, maybe four chairs in there, and nine times out of ten you sit in the same one. Maybe ten times out of ten. How about when you go to visit a friend, neighbor or family member? Same thing, right? If given the choice (that is, if it’s an occasion to sit down and someone else didn’t get there before you), you find yourself in the same chair. I do.

For some reason, the right end of my couch is softer than the left. You sink in more, which is not necessarily a good thing unless you are settling in for a good long movie. I am not sure whether it came this way or whether this happened during the first year I had it, when we lived in Maine and spent hours, sometimes entire weekends during the cold and snowy winter, watching consecutive episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I put this on the list of things I will never know). Anyway, the other thing for me is that being right-handed, if I sit on the right side of my couch I have the arm to contend with. I almost always sit on the left.

This is my friend Lisa enjoying a moment with Coco on my couch. Coco does not seem to have a preference as to which end to snuggle down in, as long as it has a pillow. I aim to please, and she has her choice. Or a lap, which is sometimes better.

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I never really thought about this chair business until I read a book that my friend Stephen in Canada recommended. “If you are going to build anything, read A Pattern Language first.” The title confused me, but Stephen is a smart person so I ordered the book sight unseen. It’s written by Christopher Alexander, who, according to author Witold Rybczynski, is “an architectural theorist who has inspired smart-growth advocates, counterculture DIY-ers, and computer programmers.” http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/architecture/2009/12/do_you_see_a_pattern.html

Am I perhaps a counterculture DIY-er? Can’t say I ever defined myself like that, but the book makes a lot of sense to me. It includes – briefly and clearly – hundreds of ideas for designing spaces that are comfortable for people. It talks about light and privacy and community, about the height of the ceiling, the pitch of the roof, the gradience of intimate spaces, and which side of the street you would most likely prefer to live on because of its orientation to the sun. It’s a cross-cultural, cross-economic, brilliant classic. You pick and choose your way through it nonlinearly, ignore the parts that don’t and won’t apply, and marvel at Alexander’s ability to state the obvious about the house and neighborhood you live in and some reasons you like it or don’t but never put your finger on before.

Almost the last chapter is “Different Chairs.”

“People are different sizes. They sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike….

Obviously, the ‘average chair’ is good for some but not for everyone. Short and tall people are likely to be uncomfortable. And although situations are roughly uniform – in a restaurant everyone is eating and in an office everyone is working at a table – even so, there are important distinctions: people sitting for different lengths of time; people sitting back and musing; people sitting aggressively forward in a hot discussion; people sitting formally, waiting for a few minutes. If all the chairs are the same, these differences are repressed.

What is less obvious and perhaps most important of all, is this: we project our moods and personalities into the chairs we sit in. In one mood, a big fat chair is just right; in another mood, a rocking chair; for another, a stiff upright; and yet again, a stool or sofa. And of course, it isn’t only that we like to switch according to our mood; one of them is our favorite chair, the one that makes us the most secure and comfortable; and that again is different for each person. A setting that is full of chairs, all slightly different, immediately creates an atmosphere that supports rich experience; a setting that contains chairs that are all alike puts a subtle straight jacket on experience.

Therefore:

Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some new, with arms, without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.”

Working with what I have – old red couch and chair, two armed chairs gifted to me, one love seat from when Mom downsized – I have tried to make a space that gives options for people, and I do notice visitors gravitating to one chair or another. I prefer large dogs on the floor; this one, called Coconut, generally respects this rule. At least when I’m around.

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The chapters in Alexander’s book are that succinct and that practical. Naturally, there are many chapters about light: Wings of Light, Tapestry of Light and Dark, Indoor Sunlight, Light on Two Sides of Every Room, Window Place, Filtered Light, Windows Which Open Wide and Pools of Light. Yesterday we did some work to make Samuel’s room brighter and more comfortable. One thing at a time in an old house, and this weekend was his turn.

This is what it looked like before, the darkest room in the house. The single window might be original to the house, built in 1973. We’ve been slowly replacing them all. Moisture gets between the panes over time, clouding up the view, and this one, as you can see, requires a stick to hold it open!

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First the skytube: to bring light from above and to balance the light in the room. There is only one exterior wall, so we can’t have “light on two sides.” But light from above is a darn good substitute for one of the sides.

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Then we made a hole in the wall in to put in new windows. A big enough hole for two windows. They are not in yet; that comes later today. Those plus the sky tube will make a big difference!

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Light is, of course, not the only thing that makes our spaces comfortable. But wherever we spend a lot of time, we want to feel as good as we can feel. The environment of our created spaces plays into that more than we realize sometimes. It’s only one factor of course, but many, many things come together to make our lives wonderfully interesting, comfortable, safe, personalized and unboring. Comfort is one of them.

I don’t know who’s happiest about the new light in Samuel’s room, but I know it’s worth every bit of effort and frustration. See that wire hanging between the studs that had to be moved? By tomorrow that’s long forgotten. Light will flood this room and the peacefulness of the view will both sooth and inspire.

For seven years that room has been too dark. I am so grateful for the change!

 

The First Step is One of Many

It seems like there are all kinds of first steps taking place in my world. Some first steps are literal. My oldest granddaughter and my youngest son both had their orientation for school this week – Rise for kindergarten and Samuel for an intensive online course. Both of them took the first step into a new world that will stretch their minds, their skills and their futures.

Are these the ponytails of a kindergartener or what?

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Some first steps are a long time coming. Yesterday I put eight concrete cinder blocks in place in front of my house. This is when I was partway there, with four in place and four to go.

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See those large planter boxes off to the side? They need to move to make way for the “big dig” coming up soon – excavation work at the front foundation to fix an issue I’ve known about for seven years. By the time all eight blocks were in place, the sun had made shadows across the boxes so you can’t see them as well in the photo below. But they are still there. Soon they will be on the blocks. Here are all eight blocks in place, just waiting.

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Seven years! Ever since I moved into this house, I knew there was something funny about the outside wall as you go down the circular stairs toward the basement. It’s definitely bowed inward. No, I have not been watching too much of Stranger Things, the Netflix series Samuel has me hooked on. Okay, I take that back, I’ve been watching it every night all week. But I do not think a monster will be pushing through it any time soon! The earth though, surely, has been pushing against that outside wall for some time now, about 45 years actually. It’s time to fix it.

Some first steps are unexpected. I wonder if the silkies that laid these first eggs knew what was going to be happening when they sat down that day last week.

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First steps can be exciting. They take you back. Oh, this thing is really happening! Look at that! Even if you are a chicken, first steps mean that a thing that has previously been just a vague unknown is finally a reality.

First steps can be scary. The situations at school that Rise will face will mostly be fun and good, but some will take her into new territory socially, academically, emotionally. She’s ready for it, but we all know how other kids can be. She’ll have her moments. She’ll grow. She’ll get stronger. She’ll face the next day slightly less unsure. Then, hopefully, the next first step will be slightly less scary.

Most first steps are not as freestanding as we think. They might feel like a first step, but there are usually steps toward the first step. There are connecting steps, prior steps, prep work that came before. The first step toward actual walking is actual, confident standing up, the first step toward which was actual, confident sitting up. My grandson Nelson hardly needs a prop anymore and will very soon be off and running.

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My granddaughter Piper is two. She is not a kindergartener yet, but this week she played as if she was going to school with Rise.

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First steps often start with an idea or a hope. We build up to them. A few weeks ago on the way to Vermont I bought a book at the airport. It might have been the first time I ever bought a book at an airport. But I wanted something light and interesting, and found The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It got my attention on several points. Isn’t there a guernsey cow? What could that have to do with a literary society? And what could potato peels have to do with a pie?

I finished the book yesterday when I had had enough of digging holes, fetching cinder blocks and hauling them into place, leveling, squaring, backfilling, etc. and needed to sit on the couch for a bit. (Funny how your body tells you That’s enough! You are done for today!) It turns out that the Guernsey is indeed a breed of dairy cattle from the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy (the other major island of which is Jersey, thus Jersey cows are a real thing too – who knew!?). On Guernsey, which was occupied by the Germans during the second world war, was (fictitiously) a literary society. The shortage of food led to making pie crusts with potato peels.

The author notes at the end explain that the book was many years in the making, many years vague, unformed, unsubstantive. The book was in fact a collaboration between a woman and her niece, health issues necessitating the help the younger woman gave toward the finished product. For all of us, every project, every meal, every trip, every class contains many steps, many of which are steps toward the next thing, which can sometimes feel like the first thing.

I remember in my house in Vermont there was a shabby bathroom next to the family room. It was functional when we moved in, but partly unfinished (visible studs even), nowhere close to as nice as I wished it was. For one reason or other, it took five years to get around to redoing that bathroom. I cringed at the bathroom, wished its remodeling came sooner, but it didn’t. And because it didn’t, I had five years to think about it and play with ideas, rejecting some, holding onto others. There’s no doubt in my mind that that bathroom was better in the end because I had five years to think about it.

Reading the notes at the end of the book about Guernsey felt like a step for me toward writing one of the books that have been in my head for many years. I was inspired by the author having made an impulsive decision to visit Guernsey, bought a book at an airport (!) and then (unbeknownst even to her) developed the spark of an idea for her own book over the course of the next few decades. Impulse can be good, books can be good, and letting ideas brew for a time is definitely good.

Hank Browne, who wrote the Ruins in Virginia book I referred to yesterday, was an architect for 50+ years, working often on projects that involved some sort of historic preservation. It was an idea of his for a long time to draw attention to the crumbling ruins he saw here and there. At some point he decided It’s time to make this real. He has already sold hundreds of copies and is working on a book about ruins in Maryland. Hank is 86. My hat is off to him in a very big way!

What’s brewing for you? What new project do you have in mind? What recipe do you want to try for the first time? What trip do you want to take to a place you’ve never seen before except in photos? You know you’ve already taken some of the steps toward making that thing a reality. You’ve thought about it. Maybe you’ve even rejected it. But then you think about it again.

Rise and Samuel and even Piper took important steps this week in their journey of lifelong learning. Nelson is one step closer to walking on his own. The silkies are laying eggs! I took a concrete (using literal concrete) step yesterday toward my big dig project.

Sparks. Brewing. Steps forward. Movement forward. Doing the next thing. Thinking about what that will lead to. Time goes by. More sparks. More brewing. More time. Real steps. “First” steps. Next steps.

I wonder what steps today will bring.

 

Crackers Revisited

Late in the afternoon yesterday I went to visit my friend Hank Browne. First thing (after hello) I said was, “I have a little something for you. These are my homemade cheese crackers,” and I handed him a little baggie full. Never having had these crackers before, he said, “Now why would you make these when you could just buy a box?” I said, “You try them and then talk to me.”

This is the photo of Hank that we used on the end flap of the jacket of his book.* I love the fact that he is actually holding a bagel in this photo but we cropped it out.

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Sometime after I left him with my crackers, I texted him and said, “I need to know what you think of my crackers.” He said simply, “You are my cracker maker.” I think he liked them.

Last week my mom called me to ask for “the cracker recipe.” She did not have to tell me which cracker recipe because only one matters in my world at the moment. There’s a reason you stick with a recipe. It works and it’s wonderful! Imagine sharing /savoring/devouring some of your favorite cheese alongside homemade crackers – these homemade crackers.crazy 2 baked on rack.jpg

These crackers have texture, flavor and the possibility of crazy shapes if you are so inclined. They can take cheddar (Cabot if you please), parmesan, Monterey Jack or just about any hard or semi-hard cheese. I think asiago would be great. Jarlsberg even.

About two years ago I wrote about these same crackers, but at the time I thought it was enough to present the recipe and show what they looked like finished. See how much I’ve learned in two years? Lots of pictures are good! Here we go. Still, we will start with the recipe. It’s from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary cookbook. Back in the day I thought it was very cool that I got one of their first-run, limited-edition 3-ring binders.

All you need on this page is the list of ingredients, but feel free (later) to compare their instructions with mine. I don’t even look at the instructions any more. Oh, wait. Perhaps I had better check!

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That’s right. They wanted you to roll out the dough on a floured surface and then transfer the crackers one by one to the baking pan. I did that for a long time. Terribly time-consuming, and as you might have guessed, I have other things to do. So a few years ago I came up with a waxed paper method I will show you, and just yesterday (lucky you!) I realized an even better way to get the rolled-out dough to the pan. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before!

First, grate your cheese. Use the finest hole of the grater you have. This is mine that I got in IKEA years ago. I like it because 1. It has its own bowl that the cheese falls into and 2. it has a second top with bigger holes that I use at other times for other things. My sister Lynn has the same one and she loves hers too. But my mom never liked hers and gave it away. To each her own.

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Of course if you are using parmesan or romano cheese and it came already grated, you are good to go on that point. I chose cheddar this time because Cabot was on sale this past week and I bought four of the Seriously Sharp bricks, maybe five.

Also, I tripled the recipe because I know how these disappear. If I am going to go through this process and make something that doesn’t go bad in three days (not that they will last three days even tripled!), I might as well make enough to last a while and be able to give some away. You want to share this kind of love.

Put your cheese in a large bowl and mix in the cornmeal. I happened to have yellow cornmeal but you can get white also. The one I had in the house yesterday is also a somewhat coarser texture than I have had in the past, but it doesn’t matter unless you care about them being a finer texture in the end. They are good either way.

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Naturally your cheese is a little moist, so mixing the cornmeal into it first helps keep the cheese from clumping. We don’t want clumps.

Next add the flour. This additionally de-clumps.

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Add the rest of the dry ingredients (i.e. everything else except the eggs, oil and water). Mix in. I did not add the Dijon as suggested in the recipe, but I’m sure it’s good.

The recipe says to mix the eggs, oil and water together separately and then add it to the dry ingredients. You can do this if you want but it works just as well for me to break the eggs right in the bowl and then pour the oil and water in and stir it all up. Two things: 1. If you are worried about shells getting in your crackers (you don’t want shells), break the eggs in a separate small bowl and pour them in, and if you are going to do that, you might as well beat them up right then with the oil and water before adding to the big bowl. I did not worry about shells because my hens are making good strong shells. Your call. 2. I always use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO, as the pros call it).

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This mixture looks so yellow because of the yellow cornmeal as well as the very yellow yolks my hens are making. Yours might not look this yellow.

Here is what they dough looks like with all ingredients mixed together. You don’t want it gooky, but it should hold together. If your dough doesn’t hold together nicely or seems too dry, you can add a little water to it. But don’t make it gooky.

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Now the fun part.

I did the rolling out part three ways. You can choose which way seems best to you.

  1. Between two sheets of waxed paper
  2. On one sheet of waxed paper with flour on top of the dough
  3. Between a sheet of parchment paper and a piece of waxed paper

All of these methods allow you to transfer a full pan’s worth of crackers to the pan all at once. The two-sheets method is what I discovered a few years ago. It has the advantage of being less messy than the old floured-surface method but the bottom sheet can wrinkle a bit. I’ll show you.

Take about as much dough as comfortably fits in your hands mold it to a flat ball or oval and put it on the paper.

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Put the second sheet on top and smoosh it a bit.

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Now use your rolling pin to roll it out. See, no messy floured surface. If you are careful you can re-use the paper for the next ball of dough.

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Keep rolling until your dough is about 1/8-inch thick. Remove the top sheet and flip the whole thing onto your silicone-mat-lined baking sheet. If you don’t have a silicone mat, grease the pan.

The first time I did this, I cut the cracker shapes first, then flipped it. You should not cut on a silicone mat. In the end I found a better way, but this way first.

I removed the top sheet and cut the shapes I wanted. The tool I have is called a Raedle, which is basically a wheel with a zig-zag edge connected to a handle. The one that says Grand.. on it was my grandma’s. It has been used a lot over the years, thus the chipped off name. The other pictured here I found in an antiques shop near me called A&W and had to decide which of my children to give it to. I settled on Samuel because he made these crackers for me some years ago when I was writing my book. Batch after batch sustained me through that project and I’ll never forget his kind service to me. This one is a beauty. If you find one at an antique shop, buy it. If you don’t have one, a pizza cutter works fine.

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The dough sticks to the paper which makes the flip possible, but do you see how the paper can get a bit wrinkly? This happened as I continued to roll out the dough to the thinness I wanted. It does not affect the crackers, but maybe that bothers you.

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The bottom sheet may wrinkle less if, on top, you use flour instead of another sheet, but either way the wrinkling is not a big deal. Using waxed paper also means you have to be able to flip the paper on to the pan as I will show you. If you are shy of flipping, use the parchment. You can bake right on it. I’ll show you that later.

For now, this is the flipped waxed paper on the pan.

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Little by little I carefully peeled what is now the top paper away.

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There are always a few stragglers that don’t want to stay with their fellows. See that one at the top? Every crowd has a few renegades. Just put them where you want.

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Brush water on the dough before you salt the crackers. I couldn’t find my little brush so I dipped my hands in a little bowl of water and used my fingers to wet the dough – just enough to make the salt stick. Use coarse salt.

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And into a 400-degree oven they go. The original recipe says 375, but 400 works for me. You bake these until they are as dark as you like them. I love them a little darker but was in rather a hurry yesterday so these are not as dark as I would normally make them. Still good though!

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Transfer them to a rack to cool. Try one or two. Stop if you can. Oh yum.

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Now back to the other rolling-out methods. First, one sheet of waxed paper only. Put flour on top, rub your fingers over it to smooth out the flour a bit and then roll the dough out.

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You might need to keep adding a bit of flour until you get to full size and desired thinness.

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This method still requires you to flip the paper onto the pan. I found that cutting the cracker shapes before flipping made it trickier, and I know you should not cut on the silicone mat for fear of damaging it but I decided to take the chance. I flipped the uncut dough, removed the paper, then used the Raedle gently. It’s easier and I managed to not damage my mat, but then I remembered parchment paper. That’s the ticket!

Cut a piece of parchment paper that will fit your pan, roll out the dough either with waxed paper on top or with flour on top. This shows waxed paper on top.

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Then simply slide this paper onto your pan. No risky flipping. No pre-cutting of shapes. No worry about mat damage.

This is the parchment slid onto my pan, which you can’t see because I cut the paper too big.

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So I trimmed the paper.

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Brilliant. Cut shapes, brush with water, sprinkle salt, and into the oven it goes just like that. Regarding shapes, have at it – standard squares or rectangles, maybe diamonds as you see above, or a little more free form as below. It was fun to make the arc cuts, but in the end the crackers were pretty square anyway. You can use cookie cutters if you want too. Either cut them on your counter and move them (tedious but the most efficient use of the dough) or cut them on the parchment and just leave the in-between parts to eat on the side later.

You don’t have to separate the crackers after cutting but before baking. The baked crackers break apart easily.

I know it’s just as easy to buy a box. But the other night I took the last few of the last batch of these, the ones my mother made last week and gave me, to the airport when I picked up my son Samuel. He polished them off well before we got home, at which time he asked, “Do you have any more crackers?” I knew there were no more of the homemade ones and started showing him his choices, the boxes in the cabinet. He stopped me short. None other would do.

You try them and see if he’s not right.

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*Hank’s book is Vanishing History, Ruins in Virginia, published last year by my little publishing company, Paper Shoe Press. You can find it on amazon!

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Pink Hands

I love the story of the Little Red Hen. You know the one where the hardworking and foresightful Hen goes through the steps of growing wheat. She asks three other animals on the farm – the Cat, the Pig and the Duck in the version I remember – to help her plant a grain of wheat she found. She says, “Who will help me plant the seed?”

“Not I,” said the Cat. “Not I,” said the Pig. “Not I,” said the Duck.

So she does it herself. She continues to ask for help with harvesting, threshing, milling and baking, and the other animals continue to refuse to help. Finally the bread is ready to be eaten and they sure do want to help with that! Too bad! They didn’t want to help with the work, so they don’t get to enjoy the reward. The Hen shares the bread with her happy chicks.

Today was Harvest Day at Golden Hill. The beets and carrots have been doing what garden vegetables generally do if you leave them alone. (Anyone who has harvested a baseball-bat zucchini can relate!) I just didn’t get to it before now, can’t imagine why. But the beets had pushed themselves pretty much out of the ground and the carrot tops had dried up.

Here are the beets in their bed in May, in June and today:

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And the carrots in their bed in May, in June and today:

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See what I mean? I’m an amateur in the garden, but this I know: It’s time to harvest. And I had little girls happily helping me!

First we did the carrots because you have to pull harder. Little girls get tired, so let’s do the somewhat harder thing first and save the easier task for later. I loosened the soil and exposed those gorgeous orange tubers.

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Eppie didn’t want to get her hands dirty with pulling carrots, so Rise helped with this. Eppie put them in the box. Well, some of them. She found other interesting things to look at in the garden, including two worms. I wonder sometimes if some children never get to touch real worms…

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How fun it was for Rise to pull up some pretty big ones!

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Eppie was more impressed with one that was curled. And with the ants whose home we evidently disturbed. “Look, sister!”

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The ants were none too happy but they will figure it out.

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We got two boxes full of carrots, smoothed the dirt for the next planting, and said Wow! as we looked at our harvest. Rise said we should make carrot soup for dinner. We’ll see about that, but how wonderful that she is not only helping but also thinking about what to make with them.

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Onward to beets. So much easier. You don’t have to pull at all, but practically just lift them out of their nice bed,

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and twist off the green leafy part (that’s for the chickens).

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Beets are fun. Look what you get besides beets – pink hands!

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I like making little girls happy. I like making chickens happy. Look at the box of greens behind the box of beets! I know we could eat the greens too, but you have to draw the line somewhere. All those lovely beets make me so happy I can let the greens go.

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The chickens were soon very happy!

Well, each in their turn. The photo below shows the brahmas, cinnamon queens and Rhode Island Reds, which I have been lately calling Group A – will someone please help me come up with a name for this group?! They got theirs first – the beet greens and a few tomatoes that the garden turtle (remember him?) chewed off half of because they were lying on the ground because someone (I wonder who) didn’t get around to staking up the tomatoes very high either.

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See the silkies and black copper marans (Group B for Bantam?) looking through the dividing wire, longing for theirs. Hey, where’s ours? Patience, patience!

Ah! Good things come (usually) to those who wait. The chickens like the tomatoes better than the greens. But I guarantee that those greens won’t last long either.

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I think I never had a harvest of beets and carrots like this. Never so many. How blessed am I to share the experience with these lovely young ladies! Later in the week we might plant some more carrots and beets in these beds so that there will be a fall harvest. Something tells me I’ll have two good helpers!

 

 

The Mushrooms Have Disappeared!

No joke. They are gone!

Yesterday, just yesterday, I shared about the delicate mushrooms that seemed to have colonized the area of my garden near the water pump. They came from out of nowhere, as from outer space. Their lacey cups sat atop slender stalks no more than four inches high – dozens and dozens of these had appeared suddenly two days ago as if that particular square footage of mulch contained their favorite food or just the right conditions for growth. (Never mind the rest of the mulch in the garden complaining Hey! Something wrong with this hood?!)

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Today after dinner, Kaileena reported that they were GONE! Not pekid, not fallen, GONE!

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Gone, like a moment in time. Gone, like the countless moments we do not take a picture of. Gone. There is no way back to those moments. Most of the time, only our memory holds the record of them, and even that record can be sketchy as time goes by. Will I remember the many moments of today? My mom and Kaileena playing Dog-opoly and laughing because of whose turn it was to go not to jail but to the kennel! Kaileena finding the first egg (the first egg!), soft-shelled and slightly broken, and the excitement in her voice, “You have to come see!!” Mom doing her first mobile deposit. The blue-tailed skink trying to hide under the hand shovel in the onion bed and quickly ditching that plan and heading for a hole.

Gandalf comes to mind, Gandalf standing on the bridge shouting to the Balrog: “You shall not pass!” The image is strong and the analogy imperfect, but the finality is inescapable.

You shall not pass this way again.

The child is only two once, only six once, only ten once. When you pack up certain toys in a box or give away the size clothes that don’t fit any more, you know that chapter is over. Graduation can hit hard. Cross-country relocations even harder.

The lilies are finished, the beets are harvested, the lettuce is gone to seed. I bought a package of romaine today.

But there is a brighter way to see it, which we all know through experience if not verbatim: To everything there is a season. It’s been a long time since I read the first eight verses of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes.

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every event under heaven –

A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing; a time to search and a time to give up as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.

We could add

A time to play our hand and a time to fold; a time to joyfully greet and a time to tearfully say good-bye; a time to praise and a time to scold; a time to travel and a time to stay put; a time to feast and a time to diet; a time to spend freely and a time to pull the purse-strings tighter; a time to bring chicks home and a time to get rid of roosters; a time to use sheets to make a bed and a time to use sheets to make a barrier between the earth and the mulch; a time to take photos and a time to just enjoy the moment because

You shall not pass this way again.

The beautiful side of this reality is that there are so many wonderful moments. Yes, we have to leave yesterday behind, but in the new day, if we keep our eyes open, new flowers will bloom and be glorious, new friends will come into our picture and brighten our world, new chances will arise for forgiveness and reconciliation, new gifts will be given and received, wrapped or unwrapped. There will be new restaurants to try, new books to read, new recipes to make, new babies to hold, new pets to nuzzle, new places to explore, new songs to sing, new words of kindness to be sure and say, new ways to remind those we love how much we love them.

I’m not sure I’d be on this track right now if it weren’t for those otherworldly mushrooms that appeared mysteriously. I’m not sure I’d have seen the mushrooms if the sunflowers had not first caught my eye…

Looking Suspicious

This past weekend we were getting ready to pay long-overdue attention to the sign at the end of the driveway. The chicken coop took a good bit of time but is as done as can be until the siding is milled. The garden simply yields its bounty (cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and carrots mostly right now). It is not presently demanding anything of me. But the sign that should look something like this,

Golden Hill sign summer 2015

instead looked like this, and was calling my name. Calling loudly.

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I have been successfully ignoring it for weeks now but it’s pretty bad, I know. Pathetic. Quite unacceptable. How did I let it get this way? Two reasons:

  1. We each get 24 hours in a day. For my whole life I have felt that I could use more hours than that, I would like more, I would have no problem filling more. But I don’t get more. No one does. Lately, to name a few of the things that have occupied my hours: coop, bench, garden, stream bed, company…
  2. The deer frustrated me and I have resisted giving them another free meal. More than once we have put a lot of work into making the area around the sign look pretty with nice flowers carefully tended, and in one night the deer come along and chew it all up. As if we made them a feast on purpose. As if they can’t find enough to eat in the hundreds of acres of woods surrounding my property. As if I want to tend that area again.

But I can’t leave it looking so bad, deer or no deer, and there were these 19 concrete retaining wall blocks that a neighbor didn’t want sitting under the tarp behind the bench begging to be useful. And Kaileena was here, my 10-year-old great niece who says “okay” when I suggest anything at all and said “okay” when I suggested a project that would involve digging. “I like to dig,” she said, and I smiled. After my own heart she is!

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We had to take some before pictures, including the one above, because I will feel that much better when all is lovely again. This is where the suspicious part comes in.

“Come stand here with me,” I said. “You should be in the picture because you are helping.” I am holding an elephant ear bulb, in case you are wondering. It will make a gigantic plant that hopefully deer don’t like to eat.

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Kaileena stood with me for the picture. In case you can’t quite see the look on her face, it’s this:

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Is she looking suspiciously at me or what? She might be thinking: “What have I gotten myself into!?”

Perhaps it’s more like, “My sister is right. This lady is weird!”

(Context that I failed to mention previously: Kaileena’s 4-year-old sister Brea looked at me squarely one day last week out of the blue and said matter-of-factly, “You’re weird.” When I pressed her for a reason, as in, “Okay, that’s fair, I know I’m weird, but I’m just curious why you think I’m weird,” she could not elaborate. Darn. Just when I thought light was about to be shed…)

Exactly what is that look on Kaileena’s face?

Interpretation is a funny thing. One time in grad school we were talking about the pre-existing notions people have and how this affects the way we see the world. As an experiment, I brought Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon to the seminar that week and read it aloud. The pictures are incredible. This is the last page.

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I wondered how different people would interpret the story. For anyone unfamiliar with Owl Moon, I have copied Scholastic’s summary, which I found online just tonight:

A young girl and her father take a nighttime stroll near the farm where they live to look for owls. It is a beautiful night, a moonlit winter night. Bundled tightly against the cold, they trudge through the pristine snow, “whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl.” As they go, hidden in the ink-blue shadows, a fox, a raccoon, a field mouse and a deer watch them pass. A delicate tension builds as the father imitates the great horned owl’s call once without answer, then again. Finally, from out of the darkness “an echo came threading its way through the trees.”

Here I am thinking about interpretation and I discover that even though I have probably read this book more than a hundred times out loud to a child, I have NEVER noticed the fox, the raccoon, the field mouse or the deer watching them pass! Yet that bit is deemed important enough to be included in a hundred-word summary.

The summaries of my fellow grad students were equally interesting. The book is written in first person from the point of view of the child. The pictures are not clear whether that child is male or female, nor does the text make it clear, and I have never been quite sure. Some students’ summaries include mention of the boy who went owling with his father and some of the girl who went. Some interpreted stress on the part of the child, some excitement. Some thought the father was mean to bring her out in the cold.

We cannot help but bring our own lenses to any situation. When we are with people, even people we know well, we do our best to figure out what is really going on around us. Words alone tell us only a small part of what we need to know. We look for signs that are not words — stance, hand gestures, facial expression, tone of voice, softness, stiffness. Most of what underlies the words (and is the real story) — pleasure, displeasure, fear, joy, anger, hope, anxiety – — is presented to us through signs.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? I could describe the Owl Moon picture above, or the look on Kaileena’s face, all day long, yet you, in one glimpse, understand more than I could tell you in endless words.

Generally we are very good at reading the picture in front of us, whether it involves people or picture books. The written summaries of Owl Moon got the story mostly correct. In everyday life, if we pay attention, if we read the nonverbal clues, we can usually just tell when someone is nervous or upset or bored or tired or whatever. We have a sense that it’s time to leave, or something big is about to happen. We have a gut feeling that it’s better to stay away from this person, or better to stick close to another. We can’t necessarily explain this, we just know it.

But not always.  Sometimes we are wrong. Why is Kaileena looking at me that way?

Best to ask her, don’t you think? So I did.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe I was looking at the dog?”

The dog? What dog? There was no dog.

You mean maybe I asked her to stand for a photo and she got distracted by a dog? She wasn’t looking at me at all?

Sure enough, another look at the original photo reveals…. There was a dog!

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Well, good! At least she wasn’t thinking I am weird!

Just Keep Going

On Thursdays my mom and I read to a wonderful 100-year-old blind lady named Evelyn. Mom met Evelyn nearly half a year ago, and they started with a biography of Queen Victoria. I love this idea, so I asked if I could too. I read at 2pm and Mom at 3. A few weeks ago I mentioned Coco, the adorable black pug I am taking care of, and Evelyn wanted me to bring her. Today was an especially good day for that because Evelyn got bad news this week. Coco was perfect. She did what she does. She brought joy, comfort, warmth. Oh that fur. For the full hour that we read today, Coco lay wedged between us on the couch and Evelyn’s hands didn’t come off her once.

The tongue seems disproportional to the size of the rest of her, I know.

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Coco put her tongue (mostly) inside her mouth and I picked up where Mom left off last week and kept reading till Mom came and took over. Today’s chapter was rather heart-wrenching. Victoria was in the throes of despair when I handed off the book and took my leave.

Some days are monumental. You accomplish something big, learn something new and very useful, have a great influence on someone’s life, solve a mystery, explore a new and exciting place, have an important meeting, or experience a life-changing event. Or it dawns on you that if you put food in the chicken coop that the chickens don’t want to go into, they might want to go into it! (Thank you, Kim. I know this doesn’t really qualify as brilliant or monumental the way it seemed yesterday, but we are creatures of habit, we are. Never have I had to put food in a coop to entice the chickens to go in it — why should it have occurred to me before? One of these days I will try though. Perhaps I should drape tempting greens on the steps of the chicken ladder. Spaghetti? Maybe that would lure them up and do the trick?)

Today wasn’t a monumental day (nor did I care to entice the chickens – let them sleep on the ground!). Most days aren’t. Today, like most days, I just kept going with this and that. So did Evelyn, as she’s been doing for a hundred years. That’s a long time to just keep going! It struck me today that despite what happens, we keep on eating good food, sleeping as best we can, loving the people we love, figuring out what to do next and most of the time doing it, or trying to do it.

All around me, everyone and everything is doing the same. The lettuce keeps on making more of itself so there can be a salad every night. Oh, a new dressing to try: Mix a bit of yogurt (maybe two spoonsful) with some apple cider vinegar (about ¼ cup) in a jar (same as you would mix olive oil with vinegar). Add a bit of strawberry jam! The batch I made this year came out kind of soupy, so I just pour a tablespoon or so in there. You might need to mush it up a little bit. Shake the jar to mix it all up together. Salt and pepper to taste. Yum! (Those are the carrots right behind the lettuce in this bed, in case you’re wondering.)

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The cabbage keeps getting bigger too, this head bigger than a softball. Somehow I thought the cabbage plants were Brussels sprouts plants instead. I feel slightly disappointed about that. It seems I will have a good deal of cabbage to saute slowly with onions one of these days.

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Speaking of onions, they keep pushing harder to get out of the ground. I planted 300 “sets” (whatever that means) – 100 each of red, white and I don’t remember what the other one was. Yellow maybe. It seemed ridiculous at the time. Now I am thinking this might be a good number. If there are any left at the end of the summer, they will keep well.

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The tomatoes keep getting taller and have started getting red (yay!). I couldn’t find my favorite “sun gold” variety this year, so I don’t have any of those. But these will be excellent anyway and make the sun golds all the more special when I surely find them next year!

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The lemon grass keeps on getting fuller and taller. By the time the fall comes, this plant will occupy the entire raised bed. I am not exactly sure what to do with this other than admire it. The two other times it has grown in my garden, its entire purpose has been to make an incredibly big and ornamental show of itself, which is nice, but there has to be something else to do with it. Another day I will look into this.

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Everything just keeps going.

It was 90 degrees today, but shady where I myself kept going, rock after rock, on my stream bed. This morning I had 23 linear feet. I drove back from Evelyn’s and went very slowly down my road, stopping to pick up a few more set-aside stones from the last outing that were waiting patiently for their own special place in my long puzzle. I gathered some more rocks from around the house and softened the dirt bed before starting to set them in, then kept going to the main curve of the stream, banked those big anchor stones tight against the edge, and decided this was not far enough for one day, so gathered some more rocks and began again, adding 11 feet total today. There’s only 11 to go until I reach the woods and call it done! (I don’t care what happens to the water when it reaches the woods. Let it delta out all it wants.) After all this, I sure hope the water will choose to stay in its pretty channel during the next heavy rain.

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Needless to say, the chickens kept on being ridiculous! It’s hard for me to look at them sometimes and not think they are little aliens. For all I know, this one could have been looking back at me saying You think I’m funny looking?

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