Tag Archives: Neighbors

Staying Put

We are no longer the only pothole fillers on the road.  Travis the Dump Truck Driver, a new neighbor, used a machine with a heavy blade last weekend, even before the annual road scraping takes place, and fixed the potholes.

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And then this weekend, the Road Manager and his daughter Susan topped off a few smaller ones further up the road with gravel that Travis delivered.

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I watch Susan, backlit by the low winter sun.  It’s shining directly in our eyes and casting gigantic shadows behind us on the road.  I’m relieved, even elated.  It registers on my face as tears.

So much has changed here this year.  I started wearing glasses and I changed my last name.  Ruby our Golden Retriever is dead, 58 Cornish meat birds were eaten by weasels, and we lost 4 layers to raccoons.

Beloved neighbors have moved away, even though they still visit.  We see Momma Goose on the road, she who has flown to a new destination —

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— migrated — and is just picking up her mail.  She hops out of her truck.

“Let me hold that pup!” she says and scoops Arly into her loving arms.  She misses us, and we miss her.  We hug, she promises to stop by soon, and we say good-bye.  Each small change has some ripple effect on anyone nearby.  But we’re not moving.  How do you change in place? I wonder.  Apparently just by staying put. Fifteen-pound Arly yanks me across the road.

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Our daughter was married in August, and she and our son-in-law and their puppy Roger arrive on Saturday evening and stay the night. There is a fire in the woodstove, we eat leftovers, and the canine cousins, Arly and Roger, chase each other around the couch, wrestling and growling.

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Roger got into some poop earlier in the holiday weekend, so our son-in-law bathed him in the only thing available, Old Spice body wash. IMG_NEW

I hug Roger and breathe in deeply.  Arly wriggles at my feet.

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I think I’ll take a break from writing this blog for a few weeks.  Raise this pup.  More in the new year.  Love, Christi

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Batman and Arly

Batman, age 5, has just been scratched on the chin by Arly the puppy and is near tears and speaks only in his tiniest voice.

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He clings to his mom next to the new deck, even though Arly ran off into the yard.  He and Hansel, age 9, chew their peach fruit leathers as they listen to their sister Gretel, age 7, tell us about her very loose tooth.  Our old neighbors moved six months ago, but happily they still visit.  This time to meet Arly.  They’ve all grown.

“It’s been so long since I lost a tooth,” I say.  “Does it hurt?”

“No.”  Gretel smiles and shows her upper gum with all the tiny baby teeth now widely spread.  The front right is gone, and the left is barely hanging on.

“My father used to tie a string around my loose teeth and yank,” I say, shivering even though the low midday November sun covers the entire new deck.  “Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”

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“Oh oh oh,” says Gretel.  “The Castaway!”

Hansel’s big brown eyes light up.  “Oh, yeah!”

“I get to tell it!” says Gretel.

Hansel agrees, but paces the deck.  Even Batman is riveted and hopes desperately that Gretel can tell it right.  I watch as she mentally backs away to get the big picture.

She starts with the point.  “He had a real bad toothache and had to knock it out with a rock and an ice skate from a Fed Ex box!”

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Hansel is pleased with her delivery, but he knows the story.  It’s a movie, apparently.

“A Fed Ex box?” I say, as lost as the castaway, but reveling in their sheer joy of sharing stories.

Batman says, still in his tiny, puppy-scratched voice, “He’s a Fed Ex Delivery Man.”

Gretel stares at her little brother then continues.  “His plane crashed in the ocean and he went to this island and lived all by himself — ”

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” — EXCEPT for,” Hansel says, and Gretel tells him that isn’t the main story here, but lets him tell about the Castaway’s sole friend anyway — a salvaged volleyball named Wilson.

At this point Arly runs by with a rotting cornstalk in his mouth.

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He likes to pull the silk out of the undeveloped ears which I planted too late so they are composting in the garden.

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Arly’s grown an inch since yesterday, I think.  Batman eyes him suspiciously.

I turn to Hansel and Gretel and say, “Last year, you stood out in the corn patch and told us a corny joke.”  This is ancient history to them, but it is their history and it is such a fine joke, they are already laughing.  Batman was there but doesn’t remember.

“I get to tell it!” says Hansel.

Gretel agrees, but has to cover her mouth to keep from butting in.

“Why shouldn’t you tell secrets in a corn field?” says Hansel.  Batman stops chewing, baffled.  “Because the corn has ears!”

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Everyone laughs, and Arly the beagle puppy prances up to the deck with the cornstalk.  We all remark on his cuteness.  His white fur and black spots and waving tail.  Batman stands tall, a twinkle in his eye, and says the punchline softly, “I like his ears.”

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A Plum Date

It’s early morning and the days are getting shorter fast, yet I sit and stare.  I feel weary and weak.

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What difference does another jar of jam really make?  I am too wimpy to take anything else on, I think.  Still, I ask the Bearded One, quietly.  “Do you want to go pick Lou’s plums with me?”

I know the Bearded One is racing to get the next round of deck staining finished, and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but he says he’s up for it.  “A plum date,” he says.  “Got to work on the plumming.”

My blood perks up a bit.  I get up from the couch.

“Do you want a picking jug?” I ask.

“NO,” he says, then immediately, “YES.”

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This is his usual pattern of which I rarely witness such a blatant display, and he knows it, and we both smile.  Not an actual laugh or anything, but I feel light at the top of the rabbit hole I’ve fallen into this weekend.

I lash the milk jug to my waist with the ribbon looped through the handle and pull on my boots.  I fetch a couple of 5-gallon buckets and the apple picker pole from the barn.

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The goats watch me and follow me down the hill, hoping for a plum.  Which I pick from our tree and give to each of them through the fence.  Their fleece is thickening up fast.  I consider starting to brush them now, to avoid the dreadlocks.  Nah.

LaLa takes the entire plum into his mouth and works it, chewing and shifting the skin and sweet pulp around in his mouth for a full minute or two.  Then, behold, he spits the pit through the fence a full five feet, like a watermelon seed.  A hilarious direct hit to my sour mood.

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This morning is cloudy, but it’s supposed to be sunny this afternoon.  We walk the road north to Lou’s place and make note of the potholes we’ll need to fill soon.

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I adjust the 10-foot long picker pole I’m carrying.  Lou’s is the one thing on this road that hasn’t changed, I think.  He’s 86-years-old and getting frail, but he’s still here.  Momma Goose moved out.  Hansel and Gretel and Batman started their homeschooling elsewhere this week.  Ruby is dead, His Majesty has gone back to college, and all 235 wedding jams are gone.

The Bearded One whistles as we walk up Lou’s driveway, but we can hear his TV and he said for us to just come on over and pick the whole orchard anytime.  “It’s either you or the deer!” he said.  He lives alone. We met his extended family this summer, when they were up from California.  We have their phone numbers now, and Lou knows to call us if he has an emergency.

We’ll leave him one of the jugs full of the best plums, apples and pears and a couple of pints of jam — Rhuberry and Peach.  He couldn’t decide when I asked him which he wanted.  “Surprise me,” he said.

Lou’s yard is full of plant experiments, old trucks, mowers and various project leftovers.  His little orchard circle behind the house is overgrown with weeds, the mason bee canisters moldy and quiet.

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Ripe fruit — dark purple plums, red and yellow apples, golden pears — hang from every tree limb.

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“These plums are gorgeous!”  I reach up with the pole picker and pry the high ones off into the pronged basket.  The Bearded One picks the apples and pears.

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Sap droplets ooze from the tops of the juicy plums, and I pick two and three at a time, dropping them into my milk jug, filling it a dozen times.

As we leave with two full buckets, Lou hears us and opens the front door.  He smiles and waves a plastic bag and calls out, “WAIT!”

We stop and the Bearded One jogs over and retrieves the bag, and points out our gift on the porch.  Lou smiles big and hollers, “Thank you!” to me.

I see that the plastic bag is full of jam jars, all carefully cleaned.  There are the metal bands and plastic tops I gave him to use instead of the metal lids.  Everything washed and ready for another use.  “You’re welcome!” I call back.  “Thank YOU!”

The date is over.  I’ve got jam to make, I think, and rush home.

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Love, Lover, Glover — What’s in a Name?

Garfield crouches on the finished part of the new deck where he can see into the living room.  He watches me on the couch as I practice my four lines for our daughter’s wedding.

“Rumi was a much beloved 13th century Persian poet,” I say.  “Here are his words from 700 years ago.”  Lines one and two flawlessly delivered.

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The cat gives me an eye squeeze.  He’s all about love these days, with his dog pal Ruby dead two weeks now.  I look out past the cat at the sweet pea teepee which is going to seed.

Its deep purple blossoms, the same color as my party skirt, catch my attention.

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I blank on the third line, which is the actual quote.  Dangit.

*   *   *

My long purple hippie skirt sways as I walk our dirt road a quarter mile to a neighbor’s backyard party.  It rained the end of last week, so the dust is minimized. My feet stay nicely pebble-free in my sandals.  The Bearded One wears his Hawaiian shirt and clean picnic baseball cap.  He takes my hand.

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In my other hand I carry a gift bag for a 22-year-old headed to Marine boot camp in North Carolina tomorrow.  She can’t take anything with her except white underwear and a sports bra, so the jam and book (Transitions by William Bridges) are really for her parents.  Everyone on our road is in transition, it seems, so I ordered an extra book when I bought Momma Goose her copy.

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“I’m going to introduce myself today as Christi Glover,” I say to the Bearded One Glover, my husband since 1997, and smile big.  I made the decision to change my name this week, but no one but close family knows yet.

I kept Killien not only because the kids were young and we wanted them to have the same last name as their mom, but also for my children’s book writing career.  Now the kids are grown and getting married, and what I’m creating is different, so I’m marking it all with the third name of my life.  I was born Christi Marie Overturf, changed to Christi Overturf Killien in 1980, and now until the end, I think, I’m Christi Marie Glover.  I love the “lover” in the name.  It feels right.

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I’m nervous.  And excited.  And a bit giddy.  This feels like such a huge deal.  The Bearded One squeezes my hand again and again as we walk.  He kisses my palm.

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We stay at the party for an hour.  There are just a few people I don’t know, but I don’t get to use my new last name at all.  In fact, even though I’m still glowing, to the rest of humanity I can see that it’s really no big deal.  Which, I decide, is another good thing.

*   *   *

Now I remember the quote part.  I get up from the couch and clear my throat.  The cat listens intently.

“Let yourself be silently drawn,

by the strange pull

of what you really love.

It will not lead you astray.”

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Goldilocks and the Three Goats

The stroller has a duo-cab, thick rubber all-terrain 10-inch diameter double wheels, and a cup holder.  Our new neighbor pushes it and its two precious children through the cedar arches of our front gate and down to the cabbage patch.  The little 3-year-old girl has crystal blue eyes and a glittery barrette in her curly blonde hair and I think of her as Goldilocks.

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Goldilocks sits directly under her mother with a view of her new 4-week-old brother and sucks her pacifier.  She doesn’t get to see much except Baby, who sucks his own pacifier.  I’ve heard her outside playing, so I know she has a voice.

The Bearded One and the dad linger at the new deck construction,

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and the mom and I stand next to the stroller by the onions gone to seed and the cabbages

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and talk about childbirth, the stress of moving, and eating healthier.  I can’t keep my eyes off of the glorious Goldilocks, and she never takes her eyes off of her brother.

Then, quick as lightning, Baby loses his pacifier and Goldie crams it back into his mouth.  He winces.  “Gently!” says the mom.

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I bend down and chop a big green cabbage at the ground so there’s a long stem left.  I snap off the outer leaves and, “Voila!” I say, “A cabbage balloon!”  Goldie watches quietly.  She is not impressed.  Or the pacifier is really really good.   So I lop off the stem, the mom thanks me and tucks the whole thing into a lower back compartment in the SUV stroller and we head up to the goats.

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The men follow us up the hill, and I hear the Bearded One telling about how weasels got all of our Cornish Rock meat birds four weeks ago.  The new neighbors have chickens, too, they say.

“Would you like to pet a chicken?” I ask Goldilocks.  She casts her sea blue eyes upon me and sucks, uninterested.

“She’s been around chickens all her life,” the dad explains.

Still, I go and fetch Leah, our Rhode Island Red and one of our best acts.  She is such a beautiful red color and always up for a petting.  “Ta-da!” I say, as Leah dutifully crouches down to be picked up, and I pet her like a cat.  The dad is smitten, but not Goldie.  She turns her head away and studies the inside of the stroller before resting her eyes back on Baby.

The goats are scared to death of strangers and hightailed it across the upper pasture when we first crested the hill.

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Now Pearl stands atop Goat Mountain, a four-foot high cement hill the Bearded One made.

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The neighbor mom is charmed by the goats, and, behold, Goldie has noticed the goats and is interested!

“They are wild animals,” the mom says to Goldilocks, as she peers around the high padded side of the stroller.  All three goats stare back at her.

“Let’s see if we can get one to come over to the fence, though,” I say, and Goldie looks me in the eye — Hop to it.

In the barn we keep a jar of almonds, the most delicious treat to our goats.

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I fetch it and shake it and all goats freeze.  I walk back outside the fence, stand next to the stroller and shake the jar again.  I open the jar and all three tremble with desire.

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Sage is the biggest and the leader only because Pearl hasn’t had a baby.  Mama goats are supreme, but in our herd it’s Sage, then Pearl a close second, then LaLa comes in last.  Sage ventures straight over but stops halfway.  Pearl steps off of Goat Mountain, and then stops.  LaLa moves laterally, behind a group of cedars, and then zooms in ahead of Sage.

Goldie watches as I hold a nut through the wires.

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LaLa’s soft lips quiver around one nut and then another, and then, glory be, Goldilocks cracks a huge “just right” smile out the sides of her pacifier.  Her eyes crinkle and I hear a wee little giggle.

“Oh, LaLa!” I say, “You have such big lips!”  He nibbles as many more as he can before Sage arrives and plows in for his due share.

It’s getting dark, we say our good-byes, and the new neighbors are almost to the easement, when I decide to give it one more try.  “Good-Bye, Goldilocks!” I sing out.

“Bye!”  I see a flash of blonde hair as she looks back over the side of the distant stroller.

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A Popcorn Ceiling

For five years we’ve seen and heard them almost daily.  Hansel is now 9, Gretel is 7, and Batman, who wasn’t yet born when they moved in, just turned 5.  They have a fort on the property line, gather the eggs for us some days, and love Ruby and Garfield.  We’ve had many good-byes this week.  We’ve exchanged gifts and made many promises to visit, but the fact remains — they’re moving and after today, I won’t hear them playing anymore.

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So I transplant young cabbages, being very careful with the delicate roots, listen to distant moving van sounds, and think on the farmlet.  The change.  A part of the farmlet is leaving.  Can life here ever be as rich?

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It’s late afternoon when Gretel and Batman come over to return one last egg carton, and have one last jump on the trampoline.  “I’ll come back when I’m nine!” says Gretel to the Bearded One and me.  “And I’m TEN!”  Batman pounces on the number and smiles wide as he jumps with his sister.

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“Noooo, I will always be older than you,” says Gretel.

“You can come back when you’re 100,” says the Bearded One to Batman.

“A HUNDRED!” Batman shouts with glee.

“If we live that long,” Gretel says.

“You’ll be 103,” says the Bearded One, but Gretel is wicked smart.  “102!” she says.

“Oh, yeah,” says the Bearded One, as she bounces high above his head.

Time and space operate differently for the very young.  They transplant easier.  I am more traumatized by this move than either of these children.  The parents have promised to bring the kids by occasionally, for eggs and trampoline time.  Still, it’s their regular presence I’m already missing — the pleasant, entertaining kid sounds coming through the woods.  They’re like grandkids.

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“We better get home,” says Gretel, and just like that Batman obeys and the two children scramble to the stump stairs the Bearded One made for them.  It’s time to say good-bye.

The Bearded One asks Gretel about the new house.  They call it the Harbor House.  Has she been there?  What does she think of it?

At first she appears at a loss, and I’m not sure if she’s been there or not.  What does she actually know about the new house?

The answer eludes her for the time it takes Batman to say good-bye to Ruby the dog.  “Bye bye Woobie,” he says, and I’m so charmed and moved that all I can do is examine my dirty fingernails.

Gretel has thought of something.  “The new house,” she says while looking distinctly baffled, “has a popcorn ceiling.”

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What strange new world is this?

They race down the driveway and are gone.  Less than an hour later, their last car leaves and we wave to the entire family from the deck.

And then it’s quiet.  Their home is empty and is suddenly just a house.  I can feel the hole.

“What makes a house a home?” I ask the Bearded One, who stands at the kitchen sink eating a muffin.

“It’s the ‘OME’,” he says, with his best British accent, then pauses for dramatic effect as he paraphrases the answer — “Oh…ME.”

“Yes,” I smile all the way to my roots, “You.”

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Something in the Woods

Ruby is doing that growling thing again.  It’s not her normal grumble at all.  She’s all frizzed up as she stands on the deck with an aggressive posture.  She lifts her nose to sniff the air with a purpose.  Something is in the woods.  Something new.

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All ten hens are screaming bloody murder at once.  They usually freeze and go silent.  This is different.

The goats are in the same alert place.  All three run in wild circles and stop on some cue to stare in the same direction for long seconds.  Pearl, the head goat, leaps up onto our concrete goat mountain and stamps her foot repeatedly.  Wait a second — has anyone seen the cat?  Where is Garfield?

MamaRed, an oversized and rusty-colored coyote we spot occasionally on the road, is always suspect, because she’s always around.  We worked on coyote-proofing the fencing for years because of the coyotes.  The cougar that killed a goat about a mile from here is heavy on our mind.  That’s been a couple of weeks ago.  We don’t really worry about the bears.

But it makes us wonder about Hansel, Gretel and Batman.  They’re out in the woods.

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The kids are 9, 7 and 5-years-old, they have a fort in the forest between our neighboring houses and they like to spy on us.  We see their bright red shirts darting from bush to bush, and hear them giggling as they watch our 22-year-old son build a new back deck.  They know they are welcome on our trails.

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“They’re just now getting into the woods and we’re moving,” their mom told me this week, when I told her about the mysterious noises around here and how Sage the goat had actually growled.  Then I stopped in my tracks.  “Moving?”

“At the end of the month.  To save money.  It’s not our first choice, believe me.”

I am stricken.  We love these kids.

The next day, Hansel and Gretel appear at our front door to return an egg carton.  They are here saying goodbye, or at least one of many goodbyes, and I get them all to myself since the Bearded One and His Majesty have gone to Home Depot for lumber and cement.

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I give the kids another dozen eggs and a jar of jam.  Then we walk around to the deck building site and I show them where the former deck stairs gouged the 150-year-old cedar tree next to the house.  Gretel bends down and runs her hand gently along the scar.  She says they don’t know anyone in their new neighborhood.  Hansel says he goes to work on the new rental house with his dad, and Gretel says, ah, excuse me, she goes to the new house and works, too.

“Tell her what happened last night,” Gretel says excitedly.

“OH, BOY,” Hansel says and rolls his big brown eyes.  He tells how the whole family went to Godfather’s Pizza for dinner, and there was an old lady, maybe 70 years old, who had fallen on the floor with blood on her face!  They had come to her aid and called 911.

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Gretel nods enthusiastically.  Then she tells me that before that they went to a ton of garage sales and got a 1000-piece Lego set.  Hansel even knows the price.  Ten dollars.  A very very very good deal.

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Finally we talk about the fort and the woods.  They’ve heard the coyotes, and seen the deer and the owls.  But have I seen the bees???  “I’ve been stung at the fort TWICE,” Gretel says grimly, lisping between her missing teeth.  “Want to see?”

She means see the fort, she says, and I squeee with happiness.  I have just been invited to see their inner sanctum.  The fort!

“I’ll follow you,” I say, and Gretel heads for the gate.  Hansel brought his bike, so he’ll ride around and meet us at the fort.

Gretel carries the eggs and jam and leads the way across our backyard, past the potato garden, and I open the gate for her.  She marches ahead of me up our trail, chatting away but I can’t really understand her.

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Finally we turn off onto the fort trail and I see it.  A huge old stump.

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Their sanctuary, complete with its own bee colony.  Gretel turns and smiles big, showing it off, but then they start to swarm.

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Something in the woods, indeed.  Bees.

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Doink

Batman rushes over to my kitchen counter with his two older homeschooled siblings, Hansel and Gretel, but his 5-year-old heart is not into looking at the grossness of the kefir grain globs, or even smelling the luscious cream cheese I made from it (He will melt later, though, when I give him some fresh kefir bread).  He twitches and dances in place, his mind outside on the trampoline, on the joy of jumping.

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“This is Science,” says their mom happily.  They are here for a total of just twenty minutes — a blissful break from their routine — and then the piano teacher, a high school senior who comes to their house and charges $5 a lesson, will arrive at 3:30.

After about five minutes, I pronounce the kefir lesson officially over and the kids bolt for the door as if they were going to Disneyland itself.  Their mom and I slowly follow them out and stand together on the deck in the sun, and I try to take in the scene through their eyes.

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The chickens and all three goats are down in the lower pasture enjoying the piles of flick weed we’ve thrown over the fence for them.  I’m brushing out Sage’s fleece in great gobs now, and saving it in a bag, but you couldn’t tell it from how fluffy he still is.

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A mourning dove coos in the forest.  At first I think it’s an owl, but the sound is softer and less punctuated.  The Bearded One hears it now, too, from where he sits watching the kids jump.

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All three kids jump at the same time, a first for Batman.  He’s always just been too small.  He is elated.  Empowered.  He whoops and hollers.  He just got the training wheels off his bike two weeks ago.

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“MOM!”  Hansel sees us standing on the deck and runs over.  “You have GOT to come with us!  PLEASE!”  He’s headed toward the hoophouse.

The thermometer on the hoophouse reads an incredible 80F degrees on this 50F degree day.  The kids want to escort their teacher into a humid jungle she will never forget.  The heat will bake you! they say.  You can’t breathe!

Any sunshine at all magnifies the heat through the plastic.  I just watered this morning, so the humidity is intense.  Water drips like after a rainstorm.

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“PLEASE!” the students beg, but their mom says she has to stay up on the deck and watch for the piano person.

The kids are entering the hoophouse now.  Hansel and Gretel run the length of it, but Batman stops at the door and dramatically clutches a hand to his mouth, indicating that the sheer intensity of the heat has fried his lungs.  He backs out, then steps back and waits a second to cool off.  He can’t wait to be overwhelmed again.

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And then the young piano teacher drives by on her way up to their house.

Hansel’s lesson is first, but Gretel wants to go with him.  The two siblings race across the yard to the back gate and the secret forest trail to their house.

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Batman instantly realizes that all the trampoline competition has just run off.  This has never happened before.  He swings into action.  “Can I jump ALONE?” he asks.

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“Yes,” his mother says, “for a couple of minutes,” but he hears no time restraint.  He beelines for the trampoline and sings out, “Doink,” on each of the seven log steps.

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And then he begins to jump.  Higher and higher.  He stops and skips around the perimeter, feels his weight in his legs.  He shouts Hee-Haw and shakes his booty and yells for us to watch this and watch this.  Finally he lays down flat on his back in the middle of the trampoline universe, looks up into the cedars, and sings out again, “I can do it.  I can do it.”

His mother smiles and wonders out loud if there is actual piano playing going on over at her house.  “Time to go!” she says and takes her kefir grains and the jar of cream cheese and her littlest student home through the front gate as he says he wants to stay for ten hours.

A good day at school.

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Time to Come In

It’s 7:45pm and very dusky and the Bearded One went for a walk an hour ago, seems like.  We work later and later these spring days, but he’s usually in by now.

Our dinner, fish and rice, is out of the oven and I just put a kefir cheesecake in fifteen minutes ago.  The house is beginning to smell sweet and custardy. I fed Ruby a couple of hours ago.  She hardly goes on the evening walk with him anymore, staying put and pretending to sleep.  She’s 12.

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I’m not a worrier, really.  The Bearded One is very careful.  He has survived in the Alaska bush.  We have safety protocols for our toothbrushes.  He can imagine the most outlandish possible catastrophes as only an experienced lawyer can.  So I’m not really worried, more just curious what has delayed him.

I step out onto the deck.  It takes a minute for my newly-bifocaled eyes to adjust to the dark as well as to the distance in the backyard.  It’s extra dark because of the new moon this week.  Venus is out, and I can’t read the temperature in the hoophouse any more.  I whistle.  Our standard “Where are you?” whistle.

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It is immediately returned, and I turn to locate the Bearded One clear in the back corner of the yard by the apple tree.  His hands have been in his pockets, and he’s been looking up, studying, but now he steps back and waves.

“Comin’!” he shouts, shoves his hands back into his pockets and starts the trek in.  Past all the tender young vulnerable baby plants in the gardens.

Past the new no-dig potato garden — layers of newspaper, compost, minerals and straw — we put together late last week, and I’m hoping is free of last year’s scab.

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Past the onion and garlic garden I planted just this afternoon, all just watered.  The ink is barely dry on the stakes identifying their date of birth.

When I was planting the little round onion sets, the Bearded One worked on the lower pasture goat toy, and we both listened from our side of the forest to the sheer intensity of the distant neighbor children — 5 years, 7 years, or 9 years of concentrated life — and their visiting friends whoop and scream.  An indignant 5-year-old voice, clearly reporting to an adult, rang out, “HE TRIED TO CUT OFF MY HEAD!”  The Bearded One and I looked at each other and both laughed.  We lost our heads years ago.

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Now the Bearded One opens the hoophouse, which is full of inch-tall, cool weather seedlings — radishes, broccoli, turnips, cabbage, kale and fava beans.  Every day and evening he patrols for slugs.  This morning he removed one trailblazing slug on the inside, halfway up the plastic.  I lined the beds with Diatomaceous Earth, the fossil flour that theoretically they can’t cross without dying later on.

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There’s a dark truth to spring, I think.  Young things everywhere are in jeopardy.  We try to protect them, but slugs get in.  And so do chickens.

The sweet pea teepee is still surrounded by a chicken wire fence initially installed to keep a temporary backyard chicken out of the slender, infant peas.  We adopted the young Amerucana Sweet Tart and for a month, while she healed from a dog wound, she roosted at one end of the hoophouse and had the run of the backyard.  It was quite idyllic.

Until she got through the hoophouse partition — I left it ajar — and scratched around in the seed beds, wiping out a section of turnips and broccoli.

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That night we put her up in the coop with the nine other hens and she has integrated beautifully.

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Now the sweet pea teepee chicken wire keeps Garfield out.

The Bearded One closes the hoophouse door and crosses the small lawn, which needs mowing again, but it rained all weekend.  It’s full-fledged dark when I open the deck gate and meet him.

“The apple tree,” I say, and smile.

“Every branch is in a different stage,” he says, serious and enchanted as a toddler.  “Some just barely budding, others goin’ gangbusters, leafin’ out.”

“Yep.”  I hug him, and hustle him safely inside.

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Kefir Madness

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The kitchen window is wide open, it’s a sunny spring afternoon, and I can hear the neighbor kids coming up the road for the mail.  I look through the top part of my new progressive (no line) bifocals, then over the top of the frames just to check if I can see better the old way.  Nope.  The glasses are better.  Gretel is in the lead, Batman is on his tiny bike, and there’s Hansel calmly walking and talking with their mom in the far distance.

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I look back down at the countertop.  The eyeglasses are brand new, and every time I shift my focus, it takes a second or two for my eyes and my brain to catch up.  My current project is kefir (pronounced in these parts as KEE-fur, regardless of how it’s pronounced elsewhere…), given to me last week by another neighbor who says it is full of natural probiotics and is way healthy and inexpensive.  I’m learning how to live with it, too, separating the grains from the cultured milk before I strain the milk for cheese and sourdough bread starter —

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— and as I wait, I remember that I have two dozen eggs for these very neighbors.  I can hear Batman shrieking.  I must hurry.

I pivot and open the refrigerator door.

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All is a blurr until I focus in on the eggs in their recycled egg boxes.  I grab them and then open the laundry room door, adjust focus big time, snatch a plastic bag from the hanging bag of bags, then turn and wait a second for my eyes to catch up once again.

Gretel screams with laughter.  I hear the Bearded One’s deep voice and I am reassured.  There is not so much hurry.  The kids will definitely stop to play with him.

I head to the back door and can see the freezer clearly.  Boxes of seed potatoes sprout in the sun, and I can even read the names, True Blue and German Butterball.

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The back steps are tricky, kind of like a ski slope.  I pause, peer through the top of my lenses, and call out, “I’ve got eggs!”

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Gretel greets me at the end of the driveway.  I can see her jagged, new bottom front teeth as she smiles and accepts the bag.  Hansel appears and I notice the smoothness of his almost 9-year-old cheeks.  His eyes are brown, Gretel’s are blue.  From six feet away, the world looks perfect.

The Bearded One watches Batman who has dutifully stopped at the road, as he is supposed to.

I hand Gretel the eggs and offer to give them all some kefir bread.  If they like it, I have extra grains if she’d like her own starter.

“We’re making butter in science!” says Hansel, and starts skipping around now, and stepping all over the moss the Bearded One has just transplanted on the edge of the rockery.

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“Look out,” Hansel’s mom says to him.  “Don’t step all over the moss.”

I don’t even notice, I’m so struck by the wonderful coincidence of their homeschooling curriculum.  This is the cutting edge of education, I think happily, and actually forget about my glasses.

Batman streaks by on his bike, and my eyes adjust.  His head is so big, his bike so little.  The helmet is the size of a sink.

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“Kefir is a fungi,” I say, “which is its own kingdom.  They are neither animals nor plants.”

“We saw a show on what all’s in the food we eat,” our neighbor says and laughs.  “You don’t want to know.  Hair clippings.  Rat droppings. There are tons of bugs in rice!”

The Bearded One says, “Mmm.  Good bugs.”

“Ewwwww!”  Hansel acts like he’s sick, dances around and steps on the moss again.

Our neighbor rolls her eyes — she wears contacts she told me — says she would love to try some bread, and then rounds up her brood and heads home.

Back inside, I slice the bread and make chicken sandwiches for lunch.  The Bearded One sets the table and we eat and talk.  I enjoy the clarity of my vision fully as he ooooos and ahhhhhs over the bread, which is a very mild sourdough.  He reminds me that he can’t stand real sourdough, but says this stuff is great.

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Then he belches theatrically.  A loud guttural burp.  And then there is another one, and another.  On and on.  He fairly glows with pride.

I am transfixed by the spectacle.  I am bug-eyed behind my lenses.

When he is finally quiet, he dabs his lips daintily with his napkin and his blue eyes laugh at me as he calmly explains,”Probiotics. Yum.”

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