Caught in the Good Sense, Caught in the Bad

I didn’t think my iron had a flashing light. You know, the kind that is meant to warn you it’s still on and you haven’t used it for a while and it’s about to automatically shut off. Anyway I was sure I had unplugged it. But as I got into bed last night, I saw the unmistakably repeating on-off-on-off of a small light in the far corner of my room.

Normally the iron lives in my closet in its own place. Telling this story forces me to admit that I didn’t put it away when I was finished with it yesterday. (I wasn’t feeling well, truth be told, and spent a good deal of the afternoon on the couch, blah, blah, blah…) Anyone who’s been here knows I am far from an OCD housekeeper, but I do like things in their place, and I do – 99% of the time – put the iron away. At the very least, I unplug it. You’ll have to take my word on that. Yes, it was still out (wet noodle!), but no way did I leave it plugged in.

What was the light then? I live in the woods and it’s pretty dark outside at night unless there’s a bright moon. No one sees well in the dark, and I see even less well on account of having no glasses on or contacts in at bedtime. But I can see a flashing light, even if it’s very small. My laptop flashes, visible only when the rest of the room is very dark. It’s so incessant and annoying that I will usually put a pillow over it if it’s in my room at night. But my laptop was not in my room last night.

An airplane, I fleetingly thought. Airplanes have small flashing lights, right? But they are not stationary. An airplane would be 1. Much higher in the sky and 2. Moving. Airplane idea quickly dismissed.

I was tired. It was after midnight and I needed to get some sleep. I closed my eyes and tried to forget about the light. But I saw it inside my head. And I saw it when I opened my eyes again to check if it was still there. On. Off. On. Off.

A silent cry for help? A tiny UFO?

I know: A fairy trying to get my attention! Yoo-hoo! Over here! (This is apparently what happens when you are not feeling well and end up on the couch a good part of the day watching a show that’s set in 18th century Scotland! Outlander, do you see what you are doing to me?!)

Finally I couldn’t stand it any more and got out of bed to investigate. I followed the weak but steady flashing light and my heart dropped when I got to it. Some might say it’s ridiculous to feel emotion at seeing a firefly caught in a spider web, still alive, still trying, but I confess – I felt emotion! I wanted to put the poor, struggling thing out of its misery. Alas, this was not in my power. The web was outside and I was inside. I would need a tall ladder and more energy than I had in me at that hour. I had to let it go. A silent cry for help indeed!

My phone camera has a time delay. It doesn’t take the photo the very moment you tap the white dot, so I knew my chances of catching the momentary light of the poor, trapped firefly were super slim. But somehow this worked! I caught it! You can see the light. I caught it on film, we used to say (when film was a thing) – the good sense of caught. The spider caught it in the bad sense.

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Funny how this happened the very day the men came to take down the truncated red oak. It stands about 40 feet up, stripped of all limbs, and has that gaping, splintery wound down its lower half on the side that faces the woods. The climber put on his cleats and used ropes to shimmy up the trunk, intending to buzz-buzz it piece by piece in log length from the top, and lower them one by one to the ground.

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The gaping wound we knew about, but it was not the only weakness. Higher up, he found holes filled with tree fluff, an indication of rot and disease. And the lean was not insignificant. The 140-pound climber with his gear was enough weight to cause considerable swaying. He made the decision that this work was too dangerous and came down.

Is the tree safe enough for now? I asked him. “For at least a year, maybe up to five,” he said. “Without branches, in its present state, it can’t catch wind and likely won’t fall on its own.”

It’s pathetic. Poor tree.

“But it will sprout branches,” he told me. “It wants to save itself and knows it needs the nourishment it gets from having leaves. It will do what it can to maintain its necessary internal circulation. Over time though, the new branches might form a kind of sail. By then the fungus that’s growing on the backside will have weakened it more. Between the sail that could take it down and the fungus that could eat it up, it’s going to die.”

Wouldn’t it be better to put it out of its misery? I asked.

“Yes, that would be better than a slow death.”

Taking the red oak the rest of the way down will require a bucket truck again, he said. This time, I knew, it would be on my nickel, a bigger nickel than the climber would have cost. I’ll have to think about this.

Twice yesterday I wanted to put a living thing out of its misery. Twice it was not within my power. Twice I was reminded that some things we can do, and some things we…just…can’t.

A Mighty Oak Meets the Earth

Imagine being a very big tree, a mighty red oak. You have been standing in your same spot on a Virginia hillside for a very long time, say, at least a hundred years. You are part of a forest, not a national park or anything so grand, just a peaceful forest not terribly far from the Blue Ridge Mountains. You grew strong over the years, pushed your way ever higher toward the sun.

Ah, the sun, the seasons. Bask. Bask.

When you were about 50, some humans came to the site to build a house, but you survived this possible demise because of being just far enough away from the spot they decided was best. They put a utility pole fairly near you, but its inanimate state was uninteresting, and you said Paugh, who cares about that?

When you were about 90 and towering proudly among your adjacent tree-fellows, another risk came along, another building project, a cottage this time, but your majestic canopy and the glorious shade it provided these new humans saved you. You said to the young beech trying to grow right next to you, I’m feeling a mite weak in the joints, little fella, but don’t get any ideas about taking this spot. I’ve been here a long time. No offense, but it’s mine.

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Wind. It comes, it blows.

The sound of a tree-fellow nearby crashing to the ground during a storm always adds to the drama of the day, always causes you to ponder your own strength and good fortune. You tell yourself that if you were not meant to become the mightiest grandfather in this neck of the woods, you would have fallen already. Some tree has to become the giant among giants – it might as well be you. Then one spring day that blasting wind comes again, and in one super painful stroke, your hugest north-pointing limb lets go at the joint, its weight bringing it instantly to the forest floor below and leaving a massive, open, splintery wound on your side.

Crap.

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The humans come and inspect. They bring other humans to come and inspect. They all shake their heads and use words like risky, problem and electrocution. Electrocution? They point to that inanimate pole that’s closer than it used to be… or, oh, maybe you’re just bigger than you used to be. No! you want to say to them. Don’t worry! I am still strong! I can stand another fifty years! You are a little like Mike Mulligan, who used to say about Mary Anne (his steam shovel) that “she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week.” In this classic children’s book, Mike’s assertion is always followed by “but he had never been quite sure that this was true.”

You are not quite sure that you will not fall one day and hit the cable coming off that pole. You cannot be sure. The humans cannot be sure. As they walk away, you want to believe it will all be okay. You settle into your new life, feeling somewhat off balance, slightly less steady, especially when the wind kicks up, now that you have no huge branch on the north side counterweighting all the other branches. Weeks go by. The humans seem to have lost interest. What a relief.

Then one day some big vehicles arrive. They stare and say, “See how it leans?” They curiously turn their attention to a perfectly nice (younger, smaller) oak that stands between you and the biggest vehicle.

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Odd.

You watch. A man sits in the bucket attached to the vehicle, starts at the top, lops off branch after branch, then sections off the main part of the trunk one piece at a time, letting each one crash. Huh. They cut that poor little fellow down to earth-level for no seemingly good reason. Then they move the truck in closer.

Oh.

It’s your turn. They start on the side closest to that damn pole. They work carefully to make sure nothing falls near the cable. The 75’ reach of the bucket is barely high enough to get them to the best position. But they manage. Bit by bit, they buzz their tool and drop your limbs. Parts of you that only ever knew sky meet the earth.

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Then they move on to the side that hangs over the little cottage. Yeah, you knew that lowest one was perhaps your weakest limb. Maybe they had reason to worry about that one. It didn’t take much for it to break. They were careful on that side, using a rope around it to make sure that when it swung down, it would avoid the cottage roof and land where they wanted.

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This is it, you realize. You reached, you grew, you survived. You gave beauty to the forest, shade to the humans, home sites and abundant food to forest creatures for many years. Now you will give warmth by way of firewood. Lots of yourself is already on the ground, the danger of hitting the pole now a thing of the past, but they left some for the next guy to come and fell.

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“Sad,” you hear the lady of the house saying. “Reminds me of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein,” she says, “a book that’s been called ‘a touching interpretation of the gift of giving.’ Maybe that’s what this tree did. It gave. For many years it gave. As with all of us, its days were numbered – even if none of us ever know the number! But chapters do close….”

Since Micah’s death, there have been two more people that I knew for years, two more I talked with, played with, greatly admired, two more who gave to those around them, who added depth, joy, love, fun and substantial contributions to the circle they walked in, two more whose chapters have closed. To the families of C. Wayne Callaway and Ken Brown, I offer my deepest condolences.

Humdinger and Armageddon: Words of the Day

“It’s not very often I would use that word,” the forestry consultant said. “But that’s a humdinger.” A few weeks ago a very large branch fell from a red oak that stands next to my cottage. I can’t get my arms around the branch – the branch is that big. It fell straight back into the woods, thank God. But the now-damaged, now-without-its-counterweight red oak has another big branch positioned over the cottage and another pointing toward the utility pole that stands 40 feet or so from the tree.

The cottage of course I worry about. But the power line that’s attached to the utility pole – well, anyone knows you don’t want a massive tree falling on the power line.  The power company doesn’t want a massive tree falling on the power line.

The red arrow shows where the counterweight branch was. You can see the lean.

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Now all the weight is toward the driveway. This red oak easily tops 100 feet. Other trees stand in that area also, smaller trees (not small, just smaller) between the big, damaged tree and the utility pole. This is a humdinger because it’s complicated.

Could be nothing to worry about. Could be that red oak stands another fifty years.

Could be a disastrous domino effect. Could be a strong wind takes out the power line and demolishes six other trees and whatever else is in its path because the spread, the wingspan, of the upper branches of the red oak would simply grab ‘n go – grab everything between it and the ground and go strongly, heavily (we’re talking tons of weight here with momentum and gravity helping) in the natural direction of all that weight.

Just to the left of the trunk you can see the utility pole. See it looking miniscule there. It’s not miniscule, it’s a real utility pole, and it’s not that far away even though it looks far away. The tree is so tall, its fall would reach that far. For those of you familiar with my property, even though the tree is behind the cottage, its fall would easily flatten the chicken coops.

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We don’t know. I don’t know. The power company doesn’t yet know. Take the chance and leave it alone? Or play better safe than sorry and find a way to take it down? To complicate matters further, the underground septic tank for the cottage sits right where the bucket truck would have to position itself, and a bucket truck is too heavy to stand there. I don’t know where else they can put it though. And unless they use the big bucket truck with the longest-reaching boom, how else would they reach those upper branches?

My idyllic spot in the Virginia woods – private yet close to town, scenic, peaceful, enjoyed time and again by so many people, including my many Airbnb guests – has its challenges, its downsides, its uh-oh-what-do-we-do-now moments. In this way it’s a mirror, a parallel to the world we all live in every day. We have some elements of beauty, some moments of peace, some examples of systems functioning perfectly. We have a sun that shines, food that tastes wonderful, a bed to sleep in. Most of the time we have well more than we actually need.

And then a windstorm comes and a big branch falls and we worry. Or we encounter something super icky or ugly and we shudder. Or someone loses his temper and says hurtful words, or someone has her own set of struggles and walks away without helping us with ours. Or they take way too long to bring our food or fix the broken pipe or return our call. Or someone we love dearly breathes his or her last.

It’s a recurring theme around here lately. Maybe it’s just the recurring theme of human life that somehow strikes me anew every day: With the good comes the bad. With the bad comes the good. As much as we humanly can, may we keep our eyes fixed on the good – on the person trying hard (even if we don’t see it), on the sweet smiles revealing a good heart (even if that heart is hurting too), on the glorious colors of nature around us, on the wondrous good fortune of living where we can go about our business without worrying about shellfire exploding and without having to pee into helmets or step over corpses or sleep in cold mud.

Okay, maybe I have been listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast a lot lately. His “Blueprint for Armageddon” series about the First World War is so excellently done, starting with the suggestion that maybe the most important person of the 20th century is someone whose name hardly anyone remembers: Gavrilo Princip, the man who fired the shot that killed the Archduke and his wife in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, thereby setting in motion the whole war machine as well as decades of repercussions. 

Carlin’s emphasis on the human factor within the extraordinary conflict is both as graphic as spoken words can be and as spot-on accurate as any historical overview I’ve heard or read in a long time. His use of first-person sources is first-rate, as is his ability to paint a picture that doesn’t include actual pictures (in my mind as I listen I see battle scenes and broken vehicles and sickening trenches so clearly!). Hats off to him for researching, organizing and weaving together so many compelling stories about what was supposed to have been the final battle, the War to End All Wars. If you can listen while driving or cooking or walking or whatever, you might find it as captivating as I do.

In my unboring path recently, I’ve gained a fresh perspective on one funny word – humdinger – because of a recent strong wind, and one age-old word – Armageddon – because of a most fabulous history lesson. I wonder what words will pop up next…

Fraud Follow-Up

Last week I wrote about the scam I experienced with my cottage. A guy wrote, posing as a traveler. He asked to pay directly through his company and I went along. It didn’t smell right when he didn’t confirm an arrival time with me, nor send the check he said he would. When he said the check was going to be for more than the rental amount and he needed me to remit the $2500 balance so that he and his son Nathan could buy the tickets for their flights (the day of their supposed arrival!), I was done.

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I told him I wasn’t doing that. Clearly the scammers have other people to prey on and turned their attention elsewhere because I didn’t hear from him again after that…

…until six days later when he said the check had been sent.

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I did not respond and was out of town, but sure enough something arrived. Sandy stopped at my mailbox that day, saw the card that said something was waiting at the post office for pick-up, and went to retrieve it. When the postal clerk went to get it from the back, she returned saying she could not hand it over because it had been flagged as possible fraud and would need to be sent to the postmaster.

The very kind postmaster called me today and confirmed that every bit of this piece of mail was fraudulent: the check itself, the return address, even the printed-out postage sticker itself. “Looks like a home computer job,” he said. “We see this all the time, but not so much in regard to rentals.”

Of course I feel stupid and wish I could say I was smart enough to see through it earlier. I should have taken the time to carefully consider what was happening. There are reasons I didn’t.

1. When the weird texts were happening, I was in a hurry, I didn’t feel good and I had an appointment so was trying to rush out the door.

2. I did not want to judge him for poor English (“this tickets money”) because there are lots of reasons for imperfect English.

3. The cottage is my livelihood – I want and need the business.

4. I stand more often in the benefit-of-the-doubt, innocent-until-proven-guilty camp. I want to believe people are good. Most of them are. But not all.

I still feel stupid. Four and a half years I’ve been renting my cottage. Four and a half years of wonderful guests and wonderful experiences. Now this. All I can say is Be on the lookout – scammers are out there looking for money any way they can get it.

A Cottage Scam

I have a beautiful cottage on my property that I rent out to travelers. This work is perfect for me. I’ve always loved having guests, preparing the space nicely for them, making them feel welcome and at home. The cottage is separate from my house but close enough that I can be there to greet people when they come, give them a personalized introduction to the property and assist with any needs while they are there – ice cubes, a spice they would like for the dinner they’re making but forgot to bring, a brief conversation about what’s so special in this area. For four and a half years guests have come mostly through Airbnb, sometimes privately. Overall it’s been a fabulous experience and I have met some of the most wonderful people.

The cottage sits a mile off the interstate and is – like my house – in the big woods. It’s secluded, quiet and private, with chickens to watch for amusement, a garden to stroll through and a private trail to the beaver pond, and it’s only ten minutes to town, close to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and wonderful local wineries and breweries. In fall, winter and early springtime you can the mountains off in the distance; in summertime you can’t.

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Sunsets can be pretty awesome too.

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Inside there’s a woodstove and an amazing wall of windows…

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…coffered ceilings and a neat kitchen.

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Upstairs a cozy sleeping area.

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Recently I was approached about a private arrangement. The man said he was traveling with his son, asked for certain dates and needed to make payment “by sending you a company check or certified check.” I texted him back and he responded by thanking me and saying he would send me tracking information for the payment. Maybe I shouldn’t, probably I shouldn’t, but so far I trusted.

Whether we think about it or not, we trust all the time. And we trust a lot of people we don’t know. We trust the food we eat in restaurants to have been prepared by cooks who care about quality and cleanliness. We trust the airplane pilot to get us from Point A to Point B without crashing. We trust the auto mechanic not to charge us for something that’s wrong (that he supposedly fixed) when it isn’t.

There’s a fine line in the world of trust. I want to believe the best in everyone – benefit of the doubt, all that. Most people are good and honest. But some people mean us harm. Some want our money.

A few weeks ahead of time, I asked about arrival time. He said there was “a mix-up in the payment sent to you.” Hmmm. He continued, “I was supposed to receive two separate payment one for you and one for my travel agent, but unfortunately the whole sum of these two payments was issued on one check in your name and sent to you.”

This had a whiff of bad (feel free to chide me right here) but I would not be opposed to receiving a check, waiting for it to clear, then sending back the part that is not for me. Mistakes happen. “Thanks,” he said with a smiley face. “I’ll get back to you with the tracking info.”

The day before the expected arrival, I had no check, no tracking information and (no surprise) no good feeling. When I inquired, he said, “I feel very bad about the situation. My vacation planner didn’t put the check out on time. It will deliver to your address later today.” And then (and this really didn’t smell right), “Can we sort out the payment issue first? You can have the dates blocked for me. I’ll bare [sic] the loss for two days until the check clears your bank. And I’ll reschedule my arrival for [two days later]. Sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks for understanding.”

By this point I was confused and in a hurry but strongly suspecting a scam and highly intrigued as to how he would continue with this. The next bit clinched it: “But there’s a problem. He’s supposed to use the extra $2500 included in the check to book our flights so we can take off. But the check is already on its way and would arrive tonight. But if you can help me quickly remit the sum of $2500 to him right now, I’ll be very happy. Then when the check clears, you have the full amount including the rental fee. I’ll be very glad if you can do this. I’ll be very grateful.”

Ah, now I’m supposed to send money before I receive the check. Sure. And I’m not supposed to wonder how they could, at this point, not have tickets for their flights. So we can take off?!

“There’s no way we could come without this tickets money. And that’s why I’m suggesting you remit the funds to him. Then have yourself reimburse[d] when the check clears the bank. My son is already disappointed and I feel very bad right now.” [two sad faces]

This tickets money? Seriously?

These last few texts all took place within a very short period of time while I was madly trying to get out the door to an appointment. I told him plainly I was not going to write a check for $2500 and got going. Needless to say, no response came, no check, no tracking info, no guests. I lost business but gained understanding of yet another way scammers try to fool ordinary, trusting people. They must sit together, scheme together: Which business can we target next?… Individuals who rent out their homes! Sure, why not?!

They got me on the hook, but they didn’t reel me in. And I’m a smarter fish now.

Sliding Snow

As we left to go see Aquaman on Saturday, it was beginning to snow lightly. When we came out of the theater, there was a dusting on the ground and we were glad we had chosen the 3:45 p.m. showing instead of the 7:10. Sunday morning at not quite dawn (you can see the dusk-to-dawn, timed heat lamps still glowing red inside the coops), this scene greeted me.

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I didn’t think the chickens would be eager to put their feet in the cold, white stuff, so I took my time getting out there to open the door for the hens in the new coop. They did not rush out when I raised the door, practically tumbling over one another as usual. They didn’t even peek out. I opened the brooding box doors and found Whitey in her usual spot and Spot still in lala land. Hey, that’s cold air – d’ya mind?!

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I noticed the icicles forming and threw some feed inside for these Unwilling Chickens. If they chose to stay inside for a while, scratching around in the straw to find the grain would give them something to do.

The other group had come through the opening at the top of their little ramp and down into the covered area, but that’s as far as these Reluctant Chickens went. For once they were not clamoring at the door where I stood taking their photo. In order to do that, they would have to step into the cold fluff. For once they did not seem to be begging for food so much as Could you get rid of that foreign material??

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An hour or so later I found these Underneath Chickens that had managed to get as far as the area under their coop. This is not better! How do we get back up and inside??

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Not a fun day for any of them, but I was oddly unsympathetic. They have a heat lamp inside at night! (Not every chicken can boast the same.) They’ll live. Chickens have survived cold before.

What got my attention a little later in the day was the snow sliding off the metal porch roof of the cottage. Look how it’s heavier in the middle and drooping into a fan shape. How cool is that?!

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What I found Monday, after the temperature had risen slightly above freezing and the snow had melted some, was just as interesting. The weight of the snow had come slowly down the two front valleys of the cottage roof, buckling into waves.

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But the best part was the icicles tilting toward the front door.

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It hadn’t been all that windy, so I guessed that the weight of the descending snow had caused this effect. At first I wished I’d had a slow-motion camera going on it all day because surely those icicles were hanging straight down before they veered sideways. Then I thought I should have not only individual shots of the icicles on either side, but the same shot as above with the fan-shaped swath in the middle, only without the fan-shaped swath in the middle because it had already fallen to the porch by the time I took the icicle photos. I went back out not twenty minutes later to try to get this shot – boots, coat, scarf, the whole business – and the icicles on the right had already crashed down to their natural end. So much for that. Only the icicles on the left remained. How quickly things can change!

This made me think about two things:

The moments we capture and the moments we don’t. Our phones make incessant photography and videography possible but let us not get too lazy and make the camera do all the work. Some things we should capture, yes, especially for those who cannot be there. I love seeing a video of my two-year-old granddaughter Piper (in Seattle) telling her very obedient dog to roll over (and Zadie does it!). But no matter what we capture, no matter what we have a glimpse of – there’s always more to the scene, always more that we should/could imagine. Let’s not forget 1. There’s a fuller picture than the glimpses we get, and 2. The best images, the most powerful images – our memories — live almost exclusively in our minds and our hearts, and that’s where they belong. Some of them, to be sure, live only in our imaginations. Let us continually build up that bank, filling it with sweet and wonderful images that sustain us when it’s dark outside, when certain days of wonder are behind us, when the screen is blank.

The expected way and the sideway. Ordinary icicles go straight down on account of this thing called gravity. Not many seemingly have a mind of their own and veer in any non-downward direction — Nah, who wants to go straight down?! Let’s give ‘em something to marvel at! I keep thinking about the extraordinary things people do that they don’t have to, such as Lincoln and Julia building their pentagonal, straw bale insulated house in Vermont. Various well-meaning people said to them, essentially: You have two small children. You live in a cold place. Build something simple – four straight walls, four straight corners, roof, windows, door, water, power, heat – that you can live in temporarily while you then play with funky designs and materials. But Lincoln and Julia chose the unexpected way, the sideway, the harder way. They chose to make their own unique house from the get-go (unconventional yurt in the meantime notwithstanding!), thereby writing their own unique story. The sideway is not always the best option, granted, and we have to think it through and sometimes take our chances, but oh the dividends! Lincoln and Julia not only give us something to marvel at, they also are making lots of deposits in their memory bank!

Tuesday morning the mango peels I threw on the ground inside the chickens’ run on Monday are still there. None ventured into the snow to get them. I opened the door, out they came, still unsure … and they all stood on the platform. Now what? Huh? Now what are we supposed to do?

The others had made their way to the door and begged as usual. Food, remember?? Starving here! (As if!)

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But the icicles! Those on the left had not yet fallen off, but had inched ever slightly downward. Against the backdrop of dawn over the mountains, I felt like I was in a fairy land.

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And the blanket of snow that had formed on the side roof of the cottage, the blanket that yesterday looked like this…

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…now had shifted down and curved inward.

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Nature made a show for me. I’m so glad I was here to see it!

My Wood Stove Reminded Me of Bats in a Cave

Something bad almost happened this past weekend. It didn’t, but it might have. Perhaps an unseen mechanism, a force I cannot put my finger on, came into play, like the one that keeps thousands of bats from bumping into each other in a pitch-black cave. Perhaps the confluence of circumstances simply sum-totaled into not-a-disaster, so instead of the standard butterfly effect, where small, seemingly insignificant things having a surprising effect on a complex system, small, seemingly insignificant things actually saved the day. Perhaps divine intervention, the hand of God, moved the pieces on the playing board.

I’m going with the hand of God, but the bats always intrigued me. My children had a wonderful book called Animals Do the Strangest Things.* It includes the lion who “lets his noble wife do most of the work,” the platypus that may be “left over from a long, long time ago” and the “dear, long-nosed, gentle giant [elephant] one of man’s best friends in the animal world.” In the very short chapter on bats, we read about the squeaking sound bats make and how it “bounces right back” when it hits anything in its way (including other bats), so that he “knows there is something there” and can avoid bumping into it.

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The bats not bumping into each other in the cave always make me think of how many collisions/accidents/mishaps don’t happen, how many we somehow avoid, how much more pain, loss and heartache there could be, but isn’t.

Cottage guests here this past weekend came in separate cars and parked them in the driveway circle in such a way as to block my car and prevent other cars from getting close to my house. I understand. It had been late when they arrived the night before, and they probably didn’t even see that it was a circle. Were I a visitor, I would have parked where they did too. But Lynn and Billy, my sister and her husband, were going to pick up Mom and Jerry on their way here for a visit, and they would need to get close to the house – the less walking across my driveway stones, especially in bad weather, the better.

I needed to go ask my guests to move their cars. You can’t do this too early in the morning on a Saturday. You don’t want to disturb guests. But it was getting on toward 11:00 and I expected Lynn and Billy soon. I did what I had to do. I knocked on the cottage door. One of the lovely women staying here for a girls’ getaway weekend opened the door in a friendly way, invited me in and was completely understanding when I explained my request. She couldn’t have been nicer. I had hardly finished asking when I noticed some of the others gathering their keys to go move cars. All good so far.

That’s when I glanced over at the wood stove. I was actually quite pleased to see live coals through the glass, and remarked happily, “Oh, look, you were able to keep the fire going.” I said this because when one of the women had checked in the day before, she had seemed skeptical about the wood stove and her/their abilities in regard to it. In fact, she had said, “There’s no way we can screw that up, right?” She was by herself at that point, having arrived ahead of her friends.

I had explained its simple operation, in particular the lever that adjusts the amount of air allowed into the inner space. The more air, the hotter it burns, I explained. To the right is more air,

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to the left is less.

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With a bit more instruction and caution, the same instruction and caution I give all my guests during wood stove season, I had left her to it. I tell people what to do, not what not to do. Namely, I have not made a habit of telling them how get a lot of air into the stove and therefore create a super-hot fire. I don’t want anyone making super-hot fires. I don’t want to plant ideas about super-hot fires.

When I glanced over, all I saw was the glow of hot, live coals in the bed of the stove through the blackened glass. I surmised that someone in the group was familiar with wood stoves and had overseen the loading and tending. Many of my guests love the wood stove. For some it’s the highlight of their stay. “I spent hours in front of the fire. It’s so relaxing,” one of them wrote recently. Controlled fire is good, warm, comforting. And clearly, on this cold Saturday morning, it was low and could use more wood.

“While I’m here,” I said after some of them went out to move cars, “how about if I load the stove up again for you?” I saw that the inside supply of wood was also low and I could load that up too.

“That would be great,” she said.

I got an armful of wood from the outside pile, brought it in and filled the stove. I went out again for more, and again for more – filling both the stove and the inside hopper. This took five minutes at most. When I came in with the last armful, I saw a blazing – and I mean blazing – fire going in the stove. The only way for it to get going that well that fast is if the lower ash box door is open, such as in this photo.

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The ash box is useful and necessary, but not for guests. As wood burns, it creates ash that falls through the slits in the bottom of the stove and into a removable box. Every few days, if wood is continually burned in the stove, you need to empty the ashes or they will build up and block the air flow. The door, which has a very tight seal, opens with the wood-handled lever you see in the photo (wood because otherwise it’s too hot to touch). You open it, pull out the ash box, empty it in the garden where the ash helps the next generation of plants, put it back in and close the door up tight. The guest should never have to worry about this bit of maintenance. I had not said anything about opening the ash box door.

You can’t even see this door unless you get down on the floor. You have to know it’s there, and you have to have some experience to know that besides being an ash-collection system, opening it even ever so slightly (and leaving it that way) will result in more air – too much air – getting into the stove and causing the fire to burn very hot. Untended and left open, very quickly there could be a fire in the stovepipe. Or worse.

Thank God they left too many cars in the circle. Thank God I had a reason to go over there and came in when I did. Thank God I glanced over at the stove. They were shortly going to leave to go out wine-tasting at some of the local vineyards and then out to dinner. I closed the door up tight, explained why it needs to be left that way and carried on.

Bad things happen sometimes, it’s true. Sometimes it’s beyond bad – it’s horrible, tragic, devastating. Sometimes it veers into the unthinkable. We all can bring to mind examples of how bad bad can be. On Sunday night we watched another: Loving Pablo, a film about Pablo Escobar’s reign of horror in Columbia in the 1980s. My fire-that-didn’t-happen, even if it had happened, doesn’t even compare. No question though, stress happened and fear of what might have happened happened. Rethinking how to explain the wood stove operation happened. But bad fire did not happen. Thank God.

But tell me what you think: Should I tell my guests about the ash box? Should I tell them what it’s for, what it does and to leave it alone? Should I take the chance that people will do things because you tell them not to, or trust that they will leave alone what you tell them to leave alone, or take the chance that they will not see or open the ash box door (or worse, leave it ajar)? I know there are no guarantees in this world, that accidents happen. We all know you can take every precaution, and accidents will still sometimes happen. No matter what you do, bad things will still sometimes happen. But I do not want to live in fear or be straight-jacketed by it. Humans have been responsibly tending fires for untold numbers of years, and I do not want to get in the way of my guests doing the same and gaining warmth and pleasure from it. The question is: How to present the information.

 

* Animals Do the Strangest Things by Leonora and Arthur Hornblow, illustrations by Michael K. Frith, Scholastic Step-Up Books, Random House, New York, 1964

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.