Friday, May 31, 2013

on the deacon's bench, at home and away

At my parents' camp in Northern Maine, they have a deacon's bench along one wall.  It fills up with various items during the year, things thrown there on one's way between the beach and the woods and the boat and the kitchen.  In the fall, items that are usually outside get placed upon it to protect them from the winter weather.  Each spring I clear it off, dust it, and begin to fill it again with items we have brought with us.  But I start to do this in my mind even before we arrive.  As I move through the winter, things that I would like to have time to do with the children, or for myself, get logged into a mental catalogue for the deacon's bench.

Mostly we fill it with books - books upon books - often from the library here in Portland.  We arrive for our longer visits with selections that we have carefully collected, science fiction and fantasy for Nicholas, poetry and nature for Julia, and picture books about animals for Elliott.  There are usually five or more audiobooks that the kids can listen to together on rainy days, or in the early mornings so that Jonathan and I can sleep in a bit.  I also have nonfiction children's books that are relevant to time spent in the Maine woods, books about stars, books about lakes and rivers, books about the woods, books about ecology.  Add a few more devoted to some crafting projects, some fiction for myself, and usually some education books for Jonathan.  This all adds up to several wheel barrows full of LL Bean bags stuffed with library treasure.   The camp deacon's bench is my holder of all of my hopes for how our children will spend their time during the summer, time spent thinking and dreaming and experiencing while we are there.

When we moved into our home in Portland, we found we had a space, long and narrow, that was just begging for a deacon's bench of our own.  A few searches on craigslist later and I had found the perfect budget friendly version for here.  Jonathan drove down into southern Maine and returned with the bench, and relayed its story to me.  I love that it came with a story of its own.  It is from the town hall in South Berwick, and it then spent some time in the nearby A.M.E. church.  It was given to the seller's family as a way of recognizing her father's years of service on the town council.   The family was downsizing for retirement.   We feel lucky to hold the bench and its story here now.

It is, given its budget friendly price tag, in need of some care and repair.  We have all the spindles but they are not necessarily attached to the bench right now.  It has been stripped of what looks like white paint, but it probably needs to be stained or painted (sorry, Antiques Roadshow).  We hope to repair it and make it sturdy enough to be able to actually use it, to pull it up to the table for extra seating when we have guests for dinner.

I treat this bench here as I do the bench at camp.  It holds projects that are hoped for or already in process.  Until a few days ago, it held the frames and foundation for our honeybee hives.  A cleanout of the dining area this past weekend, when the seedlings moved toward their garden destination, has left the bench clean and dusted.  I have even vacuumed beneath it.

It is currently empty.  And ready to be filled.

Summer is our time to slow down and reconnect.  And, in our family, this is often done through books.  It was from the camp bench that one summer Nicholas discovered graphic novels.  Books he could read that were actually interesting to him in content - despite his reluctance to read during the school year.  It was from the camp bench that we discovered that Julia, unbeknownst to us, had secretly taught herself to read independently.  And it is from the camp bench that I hope Elliott will decide this summer that, despite his reluctance and resistance, there is something magical and empowering and fun about being able to read the words on a page himself, and not just the pictures.

I think in some ways I try to address any worries, concerns, or frustrations I have had during the school year by finding the right book to place on the bench for each of them, there for them to reach for at some moment during the summer that is the perfect moment, and sit down and read, and have a moment of reflection and change.  Not just in terms of their actual reading ability, because really, that is the least important thing to me.  It is through books that the kids, with enough emotional distance from the characters themselves, have been able to glean kernels, nuggets of truth, self reflection, and eye popping realizations about themselves, their friendships, or their place in the world.

We usually have an all family audio book running at all times, played on the weekends here or in the car as we drive.  But in the summer, we can sometimes be found sitting all together on the floor, with paper, clay, fabric, or embroidery in hand while we all listen together to a book that is working for all of us, from beginning to end, in one sitting.  One year we began the summer with the three books from the Penderwick series, the third book having been recently released.  I had chosen this series because there is something about that family and how it cares for each other, cares about each other, and bumbles through misadventure after misunderstanding that was just what I was wishing for us as a family that year.

One summer we listened to the Little House series, from beginning to end, while we sat on the floor and I taught the kids how to make friendship bracelets.  During breaks in the listening, the kids could be found up in the playroom building elaborate space alien stations out of legos, an incongruity that was fascinating and somehow working for them, and for me.

And last summer we plowed through the Septimus Heap series, book after book, until one morning in northern Maine they all said that they had had enough and needed to take a bit of a break from the series, despite their love for was just so very long.  The decision to let something go, to choose against something, or to walk away?  Also very empowering.  And, with a bit of distance, we eagerly returned to the series a few months later.

So, bench cleared off and cleaned, the kids ending school this next week, Jonathan a few weeks behind in terms of being home with us for the summer months, my mind has gone to just how we are going to fill the benches.  The bench here at home, and the bench away in Northern Maine.  And the bags that will travel with us all summer long.

One plan is to fulfill a promise to Nicholas that after several years of telling him we were going to wait to read the Hunger Games, he and I would do so together this summer.  But he knows that he has to do something for me in exchange.  I have told him that first we are going to read the Giver Quartet:  The Giver, Gathering Blue, and The Messenger and her newest and final book in the quartet, Son.  Why?  Because I think Lois Lowry is one of the most gifted writers for children out there.  And I love what she says about her series here as compared to the the Hunger Games.

For Julia, I hope to have book frenzy after book frenzy, to continue to help her connect with books, to push her reading skills further, and to have more time to discuss with her what she is reading, and to really hear from her what she thinks about what she has read.  That mind of hers...

And for Elliott, who understands the world visually and reads books mostly for their pictures, I hope to show him how the words can tell him interesting information as well (though I think he is just as likely to show me that, in fact, in the best children's books, the stories are actually better told through the pictures).

I think I am going to start here.

I just searched for almost all of these books on our public library website and found the ones that are available, ordered others from other libraries through the interlibrary loan system, and am going to have to either pine away for the ones that are not in the Maine public library system until they are, or find another way to get them in my mitts.  Because they look so good.

As we move through the summer, I will add other titles to the bench, because the magic of our summer is that we do not really know where it will take us, what will happen, what unexpected occurence will throw us into a frenetic book-centered learn everything we can about it while lying on our bellies on the floor while we map out on a huge piece of paper our study of...something.  Something that works for three very differently aged children with very different interests and very different sensibilities.  But we always seem to find that magic place.

And from that, from the whirlwind of information and story and reading and passion and fun and yes, squabbling, will emerge a shared language between us.  A shared language of the story of our summer. Making meaning and conspiratorial references to characters from books and happenings for ourselves.  Of misadventures and successes.  Of activities and jokes and memories that somehow all originated from some seed buried in what we read together.

This summer, as our children get older, I realize more than ever that it is not just what I choose that will end up on the bench.  Our children are plunking things down on it as well.  And we need to follow the paths that these deposits lead us towards.  Because in many ways, those paths are the most meaningful, the most fun, and the most necessary.

And it all starts with what we place on the bench.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

mice in glass houses shouldn't...come back

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Walt Whitman

This weekend, a glorious three day weekend, is usually set aside for putting as much of the garden in as we possibly can.  In past years we have toiled and dug and composted and planted away over Memorial Day weekend.  The farms and garden centers shame us for even considering that we might put things in earlier.  Some years the frost bites and proves that the more knowledgeable are right.

So we wait for Memorial Day and then rush out to the garden like a break in the dam of our need to put things in the ground.

And that was our plan for this year as well.  But, a week of rain and raw temperatures made that seem less than attractive this year.  So instead, we turned our thoughts, for the first two days of three anyway, inside.

Because inside was due for a bit of a major cleaning.  A recent playdate with a friend who has pet allergies resulted in a full on allergy attack.  Oh dear.

The seedlings were now hardening off on the porch, which made it possible to reclaim the dining area from the temporary seedlings tables in front of the window.  Overzealous soil preparations and splashy helpful waterers left a mess when the tables were folded and stowed away.

The vacuum was due for a workout.

And, well, how should I say this...In the kitchen, we were dealing with some, um, noisy silverware drawers.  Each evening around dusk, these silverware drawers were coming to life with scratching, jiggling, and clanging.  Battie was concerned.  And keeping vigil.

And, there was a good deal of debris left behind, letting us know that we had some mice in our midst.

Ew.  Please don't judge me too harshly.  I am as disgusted by this as you are.  Believe me.

Have I mentioned that Elliott is a protector of all things creature-ish?  There is no way that a snap mouse trap was going to be acceptable to him.  One trip to the hardware store later and Elliott and Jonathan returned home with this.  The wording on the box cracks me up.  I mean really, what more could you ask for?  All those things??  And it works??

After the kids went to bed, we fired three of these magic boxes up.  Fifteen minutes later?  Three mice.  We emptied them into the woods and reset them, returned to our movie, and pressed play.  Twenty minutes later?  Three more mice.  This went on and on.  In the end, during the course of our feature length movie, we had resettled 15 mice who had an indoor tendency to the great out of doors.  We are thinking of it as introducing them to the joys of the urban wild.  A fresh air kids experience if you will.

Let's all say it together now.  Fifteen mice?  Ew.

It was pouring rain outside, and after the first three mice were released, the mice we found in the traps looked suspiciously...wet.

See?  Wet.  Get this mouse a slicker.  Because for some reason the crazy humans kept putting him outside and he kept getting wet during his run back inside.

I think we were losing the battle.  With the mice and with our children.

As the water rose in the basement due to all the rain this week, Elliott had become concerned about the mouse population down there and had built this raft.  For a mouse to ride upon, should flooding in the basement become a problem.  I mean really, we would not want to be bad hosts.

As the extent of our rodent situation became clear that evening, we began eliciting advice from family members.  One text message suggested we should spray paint them to see if the same mice were returning.  A kitchen tag and release project.  After all, Elliott is already a bird banding expert.  But clearly the idea of pointing a spray can into the mouse box and pushing down on the button would not have followed the humane dictates of the Mice Cube box, but the suggestion did make us both giggle a bit.

The next iteration of that advice came from my mother who suggested that we slather paint on the bottom of the Mice Cube to discolor their dainty feet...a footprinting system to monitor mouse recidivism.  My mother, the public school teacher, is a genius when it comes to keeping track of delinquents.

We discussed driving the mice somewhere before releasing them, but that was beyond what either of us were willing to do.  So we kept at it.  And eventually just went to bed.

In the morning there were, of course, three mice in the traps again, and Elliott and Julia took them outside and released them.  Julia tried to be brave but in the end shrieked and ran, believing that they had run straight at her.  Elliott, alone now, found a place where he thought they would live a happy life and spread some seeds and possible bedding out for them.  I think they waited until he left and then made a beeline back for the house.

It was still raining and raw outside, so I did what my instincts told me to do.  It was either time for us to move...or to take control of the in-house rodent population.  I went to the closet and took out the chemicals as Julia calls it.  The cleaners that are only used in emergency situations, like particularly scary bathroom cleansings and pet related digestion struggles.  I lugged out my non-earth friendly loot, grabbed a bag of steel wool, and set to work.

I emptied every cabinet and ran the contents through the dishwasher.  I scrubbed the cabinets inside and out.  I wiped down every surface.  I even braved the basement.  And not just the basement, but the really scary room around the corner in the basement, where I am pretty sure the Blair Witch Project was filmed.  Because, of course, that was the room under the kitchen.  So I risked rodents nibbling my fingertips and stuffed every hole I could find with steel wool.

Around lunch time I was in a full sweat.  But I was pretty sure there would be no rodents interrupting our movie that night.

Our spring cleaning frenzy was interrupted by a long-promised trip to the movie theater to see the newly released movie Epic.  We rarely take the kids to the movie theater but the rain and the promises made months ago after seeing a preview for the movie conspired together, and so we were committed.

In Epic there is a struggle in the forest between creatures devoted to life and creatures devoted to creeping rot.  In a healthy forest, these forces are in balance with each other, one depending upon the other.  But when the balance is tipped, the dark forces try to overcome and take control.

There is a scene during which a human (termed stomper in the movie for their large and slower motioned movements) girl becomes a part of the forest world, and becomes small, shrinking to sprite-size.  Thus shrunk, she encounters an eensy teensy adorable little mouse.

Who then turns out to be a terrifying, angry beast.

But in that transformation, something clicked for me.

It is all about perspective, and not our grown up perspective, but that of our children.  If we can protect their child-ness, their ability to move quickly and fluidly between rodent, otherworldly, and human, it seems this awareness is the start of something great.  That they can love their pet for her fear of mice, but forgive her when she goes cat-ish and tries to mouth one.  That they can want a cozy home for their house mouse, but be afraid that it will turn on them and go all mouse-ish despite its adorableness.  This fear/disgust/respect/love.  It is powerful.  And I will continue to guard their time and minds to be allowed to make these connections.  And build rafts in case of floods.

(And I will also continue to guard the silverware drawer with Battie.)

Jonathan and I stomp along behind the kids, following their lead, seeing cute and adorable creatures but also stinky and rather icky pests.  And we learn to accept this dichotomy.  I am not sure what Battie sees, but I am fairly sure she is scared out of her fuzzy bathing suit.

Thanks to the see-through cube, we are getting more of a view of these creatures than we would otherwise.  Mice in glass houses...

This afternoon, I heard some more scratching.

I got up to empty the boxes.  Again.

But I found them a nice spot in the woodpile and said see you soon.

Then I walked back into the house.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

emerging after the rain

It has been raining here for several days.  My weather app last night informed me of the risk of flooding and this morning revealed a very muddy and high river.  But nothing as dramatic as the morning last summer when I found the lower section of the dock about to break away in the swift current.  I actually lassoed it and tied it to a tree that day.  And felt very proud of myself.

But during all of the rain of the past few days, some plants have lost their flowers and slipped away and a whole new cast of characters has quietly stolen in while we were staying dry inside.

Honeysuckle, cornflowers, violets, and phlox are now in bloom.

And in the garden?  Such surprises.  Potatoes, mini salads, herbs, onions, strawberry flowers and rhubarb.

There is much to put in tomorrow.  And much to take out, since the weeds have benefitted from the days of rain even more than the intentional plantings.

Tomorrow's weather prediction is for sun and warmer temperatures.  We plan to spend the day in the garden.  The seedlings are already waiting on the porch, having hardened off there for a few days.

Just before dinner we all headed down to the river.  We saw our first glimpse of blue in a few days.  And...

The beaver was out, collecting sticks and swimming them across the river to the opposite bank.  Our first sighting this year.

Friday, May 24, 2013

lilac hedge

We live just off a relatively busy street.  And our house is quite close to where cars zip by.  For convenience, it was likely placed close to the original walking and cart path that would have existed when our home was built, and our front door now opens to a few steps, a narrow band of grass, and then the curb.

On either side of the front door, a relatively wild, untamed, and scraggly lilac hedge separates the narrow (I am talking like three feet deep here) front lawn -- just wide enough to require some kind of mowing but too narrow to take a quick whack at it with a rider mower -- from the rest of the yard.

Given the hedge's deciduous nature, it undergoes a transition across the span of seasons.   In the summer, when the leaves are in, the entire yard behind it is very private. The sounds and sights of our urban-ness are all but eliminated by the leaves and blooms of the hedge. It is only the occasional noisy car or siren that reminds us of where we are. In the fall, slowly, we lose our privacy, just as the weather is beginning to turn cooler and the kids go back to school, and we are spending less and less time in the garden. In the winter, the interconnected lilac branches hold up snow and the high snow banks offer more depth and more sound reduction.

And then.  Mud season.  Oh mud season.  It is not our hedge's most flattering time.

Our chickens root about in the leaves left from...ahem...the previous fall, finding bugs and worms, all in close proximity to cars whizzing past, unaware of the fowl play going on nearby.  

But, now, just a few weeks later.  Our hedge?  It is magnificent.  

The lilacs are in bloom.  

My mother's day lilac, a gift from my parents last year.  It is different...smaller blossoms and leaves.  

The invasive bittersweet that we are trying to contain, where we have missed it or it is stubbornly pushing back like a zombie's hand coming up from the grave, is coming into leaf.  And for now I don't mind the bittersweet or the other weeds that are out there, hiding amongst the lilacs.  Because now, when you turn off the street and into the driveway, it is almost like walking through a doorway.  It is our air lock slamming shut behind you with a hiss as the suction reestablishes.  

Now I can garden wearing whatever I want, and not worry if my shirt is staying over the top of my pants as I lean over.  The dogs won't bark at as many passing pedestrians.  I don't have to feel as self conscious of the omnipresent unstacked woodpile or the abandoned heap of extracted bittersweet from weeks ago.  The kids can play outside in their pajamas and I can take the compost to the bins in my pink polka dotted pajama pants.

I can smell the lilacs every time I open the door, but they have been especially strong these past few days with the rain and moisture in the air.  

Summer is coming.  School is ending.  A clothesline is being installed.  I am going to climb over the woodpile and the heap of winter skis and snowshoes in the barn and find the badminton net.  

Our hedge is back in business.  The blossoms will only last a few days more, but the green lushness of the leaves will give us a bit of separation, a bit of containment, as we shift from sports and school and lessons to the garden and swimming and bare feet.  I am turning my energy, my mind, away from the outside world, from the needing to blend and move fast.  Toward here.  Toward us, moving slowly and quietly.  Having time to reconnect and just be.  To spill out of the house and into the backyard.  And for that to be enough.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Two of our children are writing letters in school, of the correspondence variety.  Elliott has been coming home each afternoon and wanting to hurriedly write a letter to a family member and send it off, before the mail carrier arrives.  I am trying to keep up and to have an ample supply of stamps on hand.  We started with the usual suspects, one of whom was my father, who rewarded him with a three page tome mailed back to him.  Family friends.  And then, he started wanting to write to people that really I should have written to/emailed/phoned myself long ago.  So it is with a bit of chagrin that I gamely put his handwritten notes with a sweet picture drawn on the envelope into the mail box, raise the flag, and think about what the reaction will be when the letters reach the person on the other end...

At the same time, Julia is learning to write thank you notes, her teachers using the motivation provided by a series of guest visitors and expert presenters, as their class completes their Safety and First Aid unit.  I giggle inwardly about this unit, because it is the theme that the 3rd graders complete while their classmates, the 2nd graders, get their worlds rocked by the Genetics and Reproduction unit.  Without the seed studies, the "fresh" babies brought in to visit, and let's face it, everybody's favorite, the life-sized lamaze pictures of a baby growing inside a woman's body, Safety and First Aid is either a carefully chosen breather for the teachers or the laying of the groundwork to be able to discuss Safety and Reproduction in a few years.

But it is probably just that they want the kids to know how to put on bandaids, right?

So Julia has written thank you's to the police officers who showed her the city's emergency call center, the school nurse who taught them how to bandage each other, and the YMCA employee who tipped her out of a boat in the middle of the pool.  She draws beautiful pictures on the front of her cards and then arduously and somewhat tippily writes her thank you note, with three main points to cursive.  It is a big job.

Inspired by Julia and Elliott's correspondence work, at dinner tonight, looking about at the three faces of our children, I was inspired to follow suit.

Here we go.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

chive life



I found the life cycle of a chive outside.  

In the garden.  

Can we take a picture?

Friday, May 17, 2013

ants in one's pants

It all started with Elliott's request that we go outside after lunch to pick flowers.  I mean, is there a better question for a mommy to hear from her littlest boy?  Yes, there have been some winter afternoons when all I wanted to do was curl up under a blanket with Elliott and read some books, and unfortunately on those days what Elliott wished for was a much more exciting mom, more energetic.  And less cold.  Those days were not the days that I think I should use to judge whether it was a good idea that Elliott was a half day kindergarten child, a choice we had made despite its different-ness from the other children in his class.

But this afternoon was one that I was feeling more confident about our home-ness.  We went outside and explored the Spring that had sprung in our backyard.  We collected flowers of all varieties. Elliott, especially because of late he frequently moves about in an unusual sort of low gorilla lope/frog hop/chipmunk scuttle, what we call being creature-ish, found more than I did.  Finding secret flowers as he called them, rows of blossoms hidden on the underside of leaves.  That made me squeeze his smallness and his love of animals and the outside world.

We were not discriminating.  We picked weeds alongside wild meadow alongside carefully placed flowers.

He asked if he could climb a weeping cherry tree and cut some of its blossoms.  And crouched there for a bit watching the birds flitting about.

We went over into the graveyard and collected tufts of small wildflowers that were beginning to fill in blankets over the graves.  I don't think anyone minded.

We returned to places where we had seen flowers a few days before and were disappointed to see the blossoms were now gone, but were gently reminded of how quickly things can change.  And we were grateful that we had sat for a long time amongst them when we could.  Though I did not say it aloud, I thought about the fleeting blossoms as a metaphor for these quiet, spontaneous, and wonderful afternoons we have been enjoying together for years, he and I.  And how these are the last few weeks of this time we will have together, before the school year ends and our just the two of us times together will become more raucous with all of us being home, and how in the fall he will enter the world of full days at school.

The sun was out.  And it was warm.  The air smelled of the sweet fragances of spring...with, perhaps, a bit of chicken coop aroma wafting past.

If there had been a soundtrack piped in through hidden speakers in the trees, it would have been something instrumental, folksy, and happy.

For one last flower collection, I suggested we cut some branches from the blossoming crab apple tree next to the overgrown blackberry patch.

That is when things began to go wrong.

Over near the tree, Elliott remembered a clearing in the middle of the blackberry patch that he and Julia had found a few days ago.

Can you come in?

Looking down at my ill chosen tights for blackberry patch exploration while remembering that I wanted to say yes and extend the afternoon's perfection, I said sure.  We crawled in, well, I still had hopes for my tights so I kind of squat waddled.  It wasn't pretty.  And my hair was being pulled away from my head by the thorns we were dodging.  But, I was smiling, only slightly forcedly.

Because here was another area that the kids had found that I had never appreciated.  That's what time with Elliott gives me.  It reminds me of the benefits of being small and nimble and the different views his very child-ness gives me.

I turned and saw bird-sized bumble bees foraging in the apple blossoms.  They were seriously huge.  So, it may be that I did in fact have my back turned to Elliott while I tried to capture these bird/bees on my iphone.

But the next thing I heard was a mounting, low moan.   I turned quickly, causing a blur in my bumblebee picture and slicing my neck on a blackberry thorn, to see he had crawled up on the large root system of a fallen tree.  He was crouched there, and had probably up to that point been being all creature-ish, finding a place that felt right to cozy up into a nest.

He was looking at his pants.  And screaming now.  And I saw that his pants had become entirely covered in large black and red bodied ants.  In some areas, so many ants frantically circled that I could not see the very familiar navy blue of the only pair of pants he currently is willing to wear.  Due to their elastic waist band for speedy removal during quick bathroom visits at school (who wants to miss anything) and their fuzzy softness (he is a lover of all things soft and fuzzy) but not too thick for the current temperatures perfectness.

So these pants, with their holes in the knees, were swarming in what I now believe were carpenter ants.  I think I echoed his scream back at him.  I pulled him off the stump and saw that there was clearly a very large nest of ants...considered for about two seconds trying to turn this into a moment of natural world wonderment...and then glanced at my boots, and saw ants crawling up them toward my legs...thank goodness for my tights.

I plopped him down and did the only thing I could think of.  Without explaining what I was doing, I started yanking at those blessedly fastener free elastic waisted stretchy pants.  And took his underwear along for the ride.

At which point, Elliott seemed to develop an instantaneous and unexpected need for modesty.  He started yelling no! clawed at my hands, and yanked those oh so compliant and supple pants back up.  We struggled with each other for a bit, neither of us really in our right minds, and somewhere in there I began also lose the battle of saving my tights.  They were pulverized by thorns during this beautiful moment of mother and son love in our blackberry patch.  The taller-than-us bramble was inhibiting our natural flight desire so we were slowly inching our way out.

Somewhere in there I managed to get Elliott out of his pants and wrapped my fleece around his waist.  I threw the pants out of the bramble once I realized that by holding them the ants were now crawling up my hands and arm and were starting to...gulp...attach themselves to me.  I think I probably added to just how disturbing this all was to Elliott by then swiping, wiping, grimacing, swatting and turning in circles.  Who knows what I might have said.

We did make it out of the bramble alive and we ran into the open, and commenced to pull ourselves together.

Once Elliott was securely re-clothed in his second choice of lower half apparel, fleece pajama bottoms, I tried my best to lessen the emotional scarring.  We collected some of the ants from his abandoned pants in a Ball jar and looked up pictures of ants, trying to identify our specimens.

Elliott drew some pictures in which the ants were much cuter than they had been in ye olde blackberry patch, staring us down and trying to eat us alive.  Everything seems better when they are given smiley faces and googley eyes.  I talked about how they were helping that old stump turn back into earth, to enrich the soils that our backyard thrives upon.  He went along with me.  But he was still white around his wide blue eyes.

Daddy called and I asked Elliott if he wanted to tell him about what had just happened, smiling at him maniacally, trying to spin it into a terrific adventure.

He said he did, but then leaned over to me and whispered...

When I tell people, can we leave out the part about taking off my pants?

* Please know, I now have Elliott's permission to tell this story,
nudity and all, given what happened later that evening.  More to come.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

bee yard

This is the behind the garden shed  part of our yard.  Well, it was the behind the garden shed part of our yard.

I am not sure what this area was before we got here, but it clearly included a grove of trees at some point.  There are lumpy areas of, you guessed it, tiger lilies.  And if you part the lily fronds, you find large stumps.  Many a chipmunk has hidden from one of our dogs in these stumps and I have often found our determined Labradors digging in the area, clearly on the hunt for something that just made a narrow escape.  Or sometimes didn't.  

More recently, it had become a rounded planned-for garden, outlined by placing the large stones I found hiding in the fancy flower garden that is now our vegetable garden.  I had planned to clean it up a bit and add some more plants but I had not gotten to it last summer.  And then, in the fall, it became the garden of stored tomato cages, placed there, well, because you could not see them from the house.  

It is also the place where I spent one summer afternoon grumbling to myself while tacking a garden fence to the bottom of the shed and then skirting the fence out over the ground for a few feet, to keep out a certain infamous garden thief -- one whose story I will someday tell -- who I investigated, obsessed over, and eventually relocated.  I hammered several of my fingers that afternoon, but did also successfully trap the the garden.  Oops.

We decided that, given the wildlife issues here, this fencing skirt must stay since otherwise there is a direct path under the garden shed for small or squishable creatures to walk right into the vegetable garden and sample from the organic buffet.  We also decided that this location was right for our coming bees, but was unfortunately in the area that our dogs are able to get to within their Invisible Fence.  So we knew we needed to fence it.  These dogs of ours are Labradors, and we have been quite unsuccessful at controlling their enthusiastic love of eating just about anything, and we did not think that Millie, in particular, was going to let anything come between her and a dripping and delicious piece of honey comb that curiously buzzed at her.  Not even stingers.

So, on Mother's Day, we moved the rounded wall of stones back and put up a workable fence, not perfect, not going to last forever, but what we could do with the supplies we had and could get done in a day.  We cleared the area of the weeds, stumps, and my friend the tiger lily, leveled it, and put in cement blocks as stands for under our hive boxes, and all five of us triumphantly carried the bee boxes down the hill from where they were stored on the screen porch.  

You see what I am dealing with here.  Millie clearly knows something is up and is letting us know that this is her domain.

Look at me.  I am napping here.  This is my hood.

While Jonathan ran out for takeout dinner, because though we did actually finish a job we estimated would take a day in one day, dinner Chez Werner was not going to happen.  While he was out at our go-to take out place, Elevation Burger, I threw in some of the plants that we already had growing the yard, ones I had learned from Gretchen Voight were bee beneficial.  And then I sprinkled dutch white clover seed over all the remaining soil.  Gretchen tells me I can walk on the thyme and clover.  I am worried about killing it, but honestly, the idea of coming out here with my snips and grooming this area once the hive is up and running is a bit worrisome to me.  So we will try it.

So far I have thyme, sage, oregano, and clover in there.  I will supplement with bee balm and more from Snell Family Farm when I next make it out to Buxton.

But for now, we are pretty proud of ourselves.  And a little bit sore.

It was, I have to say, the perfect way to spend Mother's Day for me.  All together, at home, getting something on our need to do soon list off of it, all powered by the excitement of this new adventure we are undertaking.  And sprinkle in some natural organic ways we are learning about how to make these newbees even more comfortable?  Even better.