Just because things aren’t the same doesn’t mean they can’t be good.

I pulled the red and white notice off the door of my Heights house with a sigh.  We would be fined within days if the lawn continued un-mowed, if the landscaping wasn’t trimmed back.  Jeremiah and I (mostly Jeremiah) had been in a slow war with the code enforcement officer in the Heights most of the time that we lived there.  Our fence was the first infraction–built on a corner lot and requiring signatures of all the neighbors and a hearing at city hall to build–but from then on the inspector took every opportunity to cite us, and Jeremiah took every opportunity to provoke him.  We learned after the fence incident that bribes were the usual way of dealing with his red and white citations, and it seemed that forcing the issue with the city had been something of an embarrassment to him when all the council members immediately approved our “beautiful fence.”

But this time?  Honestly, I could see his point.

I was at the Heights house to meet with our carpet installer for a quote.  Getting that house on the market, so that I can stop carrying bills for two homes and re-appropriate some of my capital from the Heights into the farm, has been a long, slow, goal.  Earlier this year, I hired my contractor to put on a new roof and finish the drywall in our new addition; just a month or so ago I bought all new light fixtures and paint. But it’s not quite there yet.

Oh – and I would love to make the lawn someone else’s problem.

Since we moved across the river, the lawn at the Heights has alternately been the problem of my dad, my former brother-in-law (who I still totally consider family…actually, I’m keeping all of Jeremiah’s family), and Jeremiah (occasionally…when he’s in town).  This time?  My dad offered to help me pick up the slack, once again, and that’s how we found ourselves taming back the jungle that was my former house’s lawn just before dusk.

I drove over to meet him with a weed whacker, hedge trimmers, and a potato fork in my truck, ready to whack, trim, or dig as necessary.  When I pulled up, he was nearly finished mowing the yard.

My Heights house sits on a lot and a half in one of the nicer working class neighborhoods across the river.  It was built nearly a hundred years ago, when houses were smaller and ceilings were taller.  Nothing is perfectly square, the floors are, at best, levelish, and nearly every corner of the not quite 800 square feet (from one of our foundation walls to two staircases) made a valiant attempt to fall in on us while we lived there.

And it was completely perfect, and I couldn’t have loved it more.

It’s five minutes from anything you could possibly need.  Sidewalks make it pedestrian (and pup) friendly; the posh boutique restaurants and shops uptown are a relatively easy walk if you’re in the mood.  Our favorite pizza place was just up the block.  Starbucks was just around the corner.

It’s the sort of neighborhood where neighbors know each other’s names and say hello.  When my Amelia was a puppy, she made a habit of slipping the fence, running across the street to our favorite neighbors’ house, and waiting on the porch until Wade saw her, gave her pets, and walked her back home.  It was a ritual for both of them for a few weeks, nearly every morning, until we figured out where she was escaping.  He never complained once.

Thwarting Amelia's escap
(This, by the way, is how we had to fix the issue.)

There’s a lot that I miss about that place.

I miss the front porch with its steps that I lined with flowers. The landscaping that we scrapped together from free splits, plant sales, and the occasional splurge.

Our house last summer

I miss the sidewalks.  I miss the neighborhood cats who used to come visit while we sat on the porch and drank wine in the evening under twinkle lights.  I miss the people who would wave hello as I sat on the same porch drinking coffee and grading English papers.

I miss the utterly ingenious squirrels.

squirrel
Gotta admit this guy worked for whatever he got.

Mostly though, I miss the feeling of “knowing” what direction my life was heading.    I miss the security I felt there with my cozy little house and almost blissfully happy marriage.  I was sure of myself when I lived there in a way that I haven’t been able to reclaim since.

Nostalgia rolled over me as I pulled climbing weeds from the stems of the hydrangea plants that I worked for years to establish.  They bloomed this year without my noticing; I only rarely drive by.  The gardens that we had tended so exactly for years were overgrown and wild, a reminder that nature will reclaim whatever it feels it is due, even in town, even with a Starbucks just around the corner.

I bit back tears once or twice, not for the house exactly, but for the losses that my mind had folded into those walls, and that yard, and those pretty little hydrangeas.

When Dad and I finished up, we sat on the porch for a bit.  The evening was cool, and the front porch was still perfect.  One of the neighborhood cats, Bennie by his tag, sat with us and enjoyed pets.

“Things were good here…” I said to my dad, or maybe to myself, or maybe to no one in particular.

He nodded.

“Before the shit hit the fan,” he replied.

Yes, I thought.  Before all of the shit hit all of the fans.

Once upon a time, in what feels like another life, I used to teach English 101 to Freshman at the local four year college.  I had two additional goals for my students beyond what was specifically in the 101 instructor handbook: first, that they actually understand the rules for commas by the time they leave my class, and second, that they have a basic grasp of logic and logical fallacies.  I won’t turn this post into a lesson on commas–suffice it to say there really are only four comma rules, and they aren’t that hard–but I was reminded of my logical fallacy lessons as I sat on the steps.

There is a fallacy called “the golden age fallacy” or “romanticizing the past.” (Since I’m not a professor anymore I’m just going to link this to Wikipedia for the gist.)  Culturally, it’s prevalent as a bias for bygone times: “the good old days” when “men were men and women were women” (whatever the hell that really means) while ignoring ALL of the negative aspects of those decades or eras.  It’s easy to see in politics on a grand scale, but the truth is, we tend to do it in our own lives as well.

Memories are remarkably unreliable, mostly because they were never designed for perfect playback as much as they were designed to help us adapt and survive.  The memories that we keep for some time tend to be remembered as mostly positive or negative, while our current situations can be seen with more objectivity: the positive and negative weighed against each other.  (Also, we tend to remember our best days, and our worst, but the “mostly ok” days that make up most of our lives slip through our mental lockers like water through a sieve.)  Most of us have times in our lives that we remember with proverbial “rose-tinted glasses.”  For me, my time in that little house comes across almost glowing.

Ah, but here’s the rub: if you’re willing to really think about those times, it becomes clear fairly quickly that things weren’t perfect and idyllic.  That may make for a better story or a good memory, but it’s seldom the way our lives are actually lived.

I don’t miss the city noises, or the headlights that would shine through my bedroom window as people drove down the street in the middle of the night.  I don’t miss the code enforcement guy monitoring my lawn, or the overzealous animal control in the county. I really don’t miss the fact that most of town used the weeks from the middle of June through the end of July as an excuse to set off fireworks at all hours.

I miss some of my neighbors, but I couldn’t wait to leave a few of them behind me.

I miss the convenience of being right in town, but I wouldn’t trade my farm lane for all the tea in China (or, you know, something I would realistically have more use and desire for than all of the Chinese tea…)

I would give almost anything to move my front porch across the river and park it squarely in front of this big, old ranch house, but there are limits to what you can actually take with you when you leave a place.  So, instead of the porch, I’ll take the memories of the summer nights, and the twinkle lights, and the wine.  I’ll hope that the next owners love the little house as much as we did, that their good memories will outweigh the bad, and that love will live there for a long time to come.  Maybe I’ll even hope that their memories there show through rose-tinted glasses.

Mine do.

I’m mostly ok with it.

I walked around the little gardens and made a mental note of the clean-up yet to be done.  Hopefully, those flower boxes that Jeremiah so painstakingly built for me will belong to someone else before long, but in the meantime, I believe I can afford to give them just a little more time and attention.

Before leaving, I chose a handful of overgrown plants to split and replant in my butterfly garden in front of the ranch house.  We dug them up without much ceremony and loaded them into my truck alongside the tools I brought.

It was nearly dark by the time I made it home and began digging holes in the soft earth of my butterfly garden, the clayish soil mingling with llama manure compost, clinging to my hands and sticking underneath my fingernails.  I listened to the nighttime things wake up around me. The owls.  The crickets.  The toads.

No cars.

No headlights.

No sign of the city except for the tiny bit of light pollution that glows from the west.

Things will never be the same as they were during those years in my little house.  I may never quite reclaim those same feelings of security, but that loss made space for other good things that I couldn’t have imagined then.

I sunk the roots of my plants into the space I made them, and I watered them almost to flooded, knowing that the next day would be hot, and that they would need a lot of care to establish themselves.  They didn’t have the space they really needed in the little garden boxes, but in the butterfly garden, if they could make it past the trauma of the move to establish their roots, they would have plenty of room to grow.

 

 

 

 

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Llamas and Gardens and Chickens (Oh My!)

Northstar.  (Jeremiah calls him Marvin)
Northstar. (Jeremiah calls him Marvin)

See this face?  This cute, adorable little llama?

Don’t let him fool you.  This is a guilty face.  This is the face of a culprit.  (Admittedly, a very cute culprit…)

Gabby and I had just finished up evening chores, and I decided, probably against my own better judgment, to check on my garden.  (You see, no one was weeding it while we were gone in Orlando, so, while I’ve made a valiant effort to beat back the weeds from the veggies, there are unplanted sections with weeds that are waist high.)  I think I was about halfway out when I realized something was amiss.

To get to my garden, you have to walk through several pastures.  (It actually used to be a pasture itself, but has since been converted.)  At first, I just thought that llamas were in the pasture next to my garden.  Turns out, they were actually making a pasture out of my garden.  I tried to run.  Several awkward, clomping strides later, I remembered that one does not run in welllies (rubber boots?  I started wearing such footwear while working at an internationally staffed sleep-away camp, and everyone used the British term…In America, I think we just call them rubber boots…).  So I stopped running and starting power walking (or something), and I briefly thought about stopping to take pictures–because I’m a blogger, I guess–but then I decided my squash and cucumbers and everything else were more important than photographic evidence.

So Gabby and I chased the llamas out of the garden.  (The llamas were not happy.)  Then I took pictures.

This is a llama footprint
This is a llama footprint
Evidence!  (This is a llama footprint and what was a very nice onion.)
Evidence! (This is a llama footprint and what was a very nice onion.)

They ate several onions.  (I can’t imagine why…)  Knocked over a tomato cage.  Generally ran a muck.

…Actually, they didn’t do too much damage.  In fact, if I let them back in, I think they’d mostly eat the weeds…

Once we were done chasing llamas out, we set about to beat back some more weeds and look over the plants.

Everything, including the weeds, seems to be doing quite well.

Look at all those blooms!
Look at all those blooms!

Nearly every vining plant I have is riddled with blooms.  We should be rolling in cucumbers, zucchini, spaghetti squash, watermelon, acorn squash, pumpkin…and the other stuff I can’t really remember.  (Don’t blame me!  All the rain has washed off most of the garden markers.  Either way, lots of food.)

The tomatillos are loaded!  I cannot wait!

2014-07-01 20.10.03
Admittedly, you can’t really tell from this photo, but we have four tomatillo plants, and they will be pretty prolific.

More tomatoes than I can imagine what to do with.

2014-07-01 20.10.222014-07-01 20.10.12

We found this cuteness in the raspberry thicket.  I imagine there may have been an unhappy bird around when we took this photo.  Other than the picture, we left it completely undisturbed.

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Oh, and my chickens are laying!  They’ve been living in a stall since their coop isn’t done.

The coop, in progress.  My ridiculously talented carpenter/husband has the redesign in progress.  Cluckingham Palace (I WILL have a sign made up) will probably be nicer than our house with shade via a chickeny pergola, insulated walls, lighting inside and out, and a washable surface in and out.
The coop, in progress. My ridiculously talented carpenter/husband has the redesign in progress. Cluckingham Palace (I WILL have a sign made up) will probably be nicer than our house with shade via a chickeny pergola, insulated walls, lighting inside and out, and a washable surface in and out.

Can anyone tell me what kind of chickens I have?  I’m completely clueless.

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I know, not great photos.  You will see more once they move into the palace, but that won’t be for a week or so.

This one is my favorite...
This one is my favorite…

Anyone know what this is?  She (possibly he?) is my favorite.  Hatched this Spring, I cannot tell if it’s a roo or a hen.  (Please be a hen.  Please be a hen.  Please be a hen…)

 

 

 

What a difference 6 weeks can make…

If I’m being completely honest, I have no idea when we will actually manage to move out to the farm 100%.  I do know that Jeremiah said “two weeks” about a week ago, but then he spent nearly a week at his conference, and four days out of the next seven are chock full of shoeing.  I also know that there is still no water to the guest house, and the bathroom isn’t finished even if there were.  I’m beginning to have suspicions that we will finish things up just in time for Katie to move in and for us to start this all over again with the big house.  But who knows for sure.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the four years that Jeremiah and I have been together?  Don’t bet against him.  Not ever.  Somehow he almost always manages to accomplish more in a day than most can do in seven.  He may surprise me yet.

Jeremiah and Minnett.  Jeremiah and I had only just started dating; this is just after I explained that if he wanted me to pick between him and the llama, I was going to choose the llama.
Jeremiah and Minnett at the Ranch. Jeremiah and I had only just started dating; this is just after I explained that if he wanted me to pick between him and the llama, I was going to choose the llama.

In the meantime, I’ve been alternately stressed about moving and excited about this new chapter for us.  (By the way, I packed one box while my guy was gone.  One.  Box.)  I specifically remember a day when I was younger (probably 15), wandering up the drive to the llama barn and thinking that I would really like to own a place just like that one day.  Of course, I mostly dismissed the idea, unable to come up with a future where I’d be able to afford such an amazing place anytime before my retirement.  Now that’s it’s happening, I keep waiting for someone to pinch me awake.

Even so, if you’re no familiar with running a ranch or renovating a house (in our case two), you should know this: the work is infinite.  You can always find something that needs to be done or purchased, and the size of the “To-Do” list is longer than the “Done” list, no matter how many things you check off.  And, of course, this is on top of everything that needs to be done everyday.  (Clean water buckets, feed animals, clean stalls, sweep barn…sleep, eat, work, etc)

And, on top of both of these lists, you can add mine.  I have plans to add chickens to the menagerie (laying hens…in my world, broilers would invariably become useless pets…at least the laying variety will be useful pets).  I plan to have a big, giant vegetable garden.  I plan to add a strawberry patch.  (Side Note: There is LITERALLY nothing on the planet that tastes as good as a homegrown strawberry.  If you don’t have the privilege of growing some yourself, do yourself a favor and buy some from a local farmers’ market.  Trust me. Your taste buds will thank you.)  I have been getting super excited about composting.  I have no idea why.

I keep wondering what it would look like to flash forward about 6 weeks into the future.  By then, we should be living on the ranch.  I will be done teaching. (Huzzah!)  The chicks I plan to order at the end of this month should be in, still little fluffs living in the garage.  The garden will be tilled, possibly sown.  And my sweet, dear husband should be losing his mind over a whole new house full of renovations to start.

What a difference six weeks can make…