On a near-monthly basis this year I’ve talked about how we’re JUST ABOUT READY to start our attic renovation project! Just a few weeks! Almost there! Nearly happening!
Well, this time it’s for real. At least, the “please start work now” deposit has been paid, the contract has been signed, the stuff we ordered from the plumbing supply company is in, and we’ve for reals cleared out the linen closet and 95% of the attic. (We need to make a few trips to the storage facility to make it to 100% of the attic.)
The project is a big one. We’re totally gutting and putting plumbing into the third floor. We’re replacing all the windows on that floor. We’re making a walk in closet, a bedroom and a nice bathroom. Then on the second floor, we’re putting in a laundry room where once there was a weird deep linen closet. It’s going to be messy, disruptive, expensive and – hopefully – transformative. And it’s really happening!!
My plum tree has been on my mind a lot lately – as I wrote about last week. The kills of the last two winters have made my hypersensitive to this time of year. It’s a time of great hope and anticipation, and great fear. Will one of the first heralds of the spring be a white-decked lady, a debutante of the back yard effulgent in lacy buds? Or will the last jealous grasps of winter shear off her bloom yet again, like some jealous Disney villain? And just how cold does March need to be to kill summer’s hope?
I thought we might have escaped this year, but then the overnight forecast showed itself unkindly. I fretted in the days leading up to this weekend, wondering if my tree would make it. I found this very useful chart, upon which I anchored my fears. The temps were supposed to get down to 10 degrees. I have no idea what my backyard microclimate is. I’m not really sure what the budding stages are, but I am decided that bud swell seemed like the closest option. Even so, that looked to me like a significant killing frost – taking out maybe 50% of my buds? If only I could get the temps up for a little bit?
Adam and I swapped links on smudge pots and fans. I definitively ruled out renting a helicopter as a solution. (That’s actually a thing.) I am still not super sure I understand how fans raise temperatures, even though I read several articles on it. It also wasn’t clear to me how many degrees swing you could get using some of these techniques – and I needed quite a few degrees. But I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing and watch my plums die AGAIN! They deserve a chance!
My husband loves me dearly. He’s so patient with my insanity. After careful thinking, I decided our propane heater was too dangerous to leave running unattended – even out in the backyard in the snow. But we have this electric oil-filled space heater, see. It’s gentle heat – so no chance of fire. I’m not sure if it was enough heat, or if it could possibly make a difference. Still, under the waning light, we set up the space heater under the tree, hoping the cement wall would reflect the heat and help it stay warm.
Adam cooked up the idea to use insulation on the other side of the heater to further guide the warmth tree-ward. So he chopped up some staves, staple-gunned them to the insulation, and pounded them into the frozen soil. All without wearing a sweater, of course. We New Englanders basically give up on winter garments as a regular thing about this time of year, due to being sick of wearing them.
I have no idea if it worked. The buds all look the same, of course. The forecast shows the end of the killing frost (or at least it’s five degrees warmer tonight). The forecast looks quite chilly. The highs don’t break out of the 40s for the rest of the month. (By comparison, it got up to 70 in February.) But if April comes and goes and the green leaves break out and there were no blossoms – we’ll know that winter won despite our best efforts.
Many of you are familiar with my age-long quest to make Damson Plum Jam. It’s been six years now that I’ve had a plum tree in my yard, waiting for that magic year when the winter wouldn’t destroy the entire region’s stone fruit crop (it has the last two winters in a row), when my tree was mature enough, when those stupid cut-worms were off-timing so that I could FINALLY get some plums off my tree.
Friends, I have terrible news.
I’ve been keeping an eagle-eyed watch on my plum tree this year, largely due to the complete kills from the last two years. When the end of February hit and the weather was so warm, my plum tree started getting ideas about it possibly being spring. This is what’s killed my harvest the last two years. So I checked on bud progression every day, willing it to take it slow and not try to grow up too fast. (Parenting and plums have more in common than you think.) And I noticed this weird black stuff. I didn’t think too much of it. Trees have galls and weird things all the time. Surely this was just a weird thing. I poked at it. It seemed very hard, and it didn’t crack off. I resolved to look up what it was “later”.
Later arrived Sunday, in my survey of the state of blooms as we batten down for our third Nor’Easter in like 10 days. (Starting Tuesday. UGH.) I finally Googled “plum black knot” and the results curdled the pit of my stomach. It was like eating prunes, only I don’t have any prunes because I don’t have any plums and also I kind of like prunes.
Black knot is a fungal disease that strikes fear in the hearts of owners of plum trees. It doesn’t matter if they are edible plums or the decorative, landscaping variety, the trees could be fatally affected.
It seems so unfair! This tree has yet to bear a single plum! I don’t even know what a damson tastes like! I’ve been nurturing it for 7 years now. And now this! A number of sources were like “Yeah, if your tree has this you should probably just get rid of it.” Noooo!!!
With the thaw coming any day now, and the return of the warmer weather likely to happen SOMETIME in the next two weeks (please please please) Adam and I went out to deal with it immediately. If we were going to do this, completely and early was our best strategy. Maybe we can stop the spread to the other branches? There were six galls, but only six. I was still in my church dress. We ravaged the limbs of the quiescent tree with ruthless branch clippers. Limb after limb, studded with incipient buds, was severed and dropped onto the snowbanks below. We lost the second largest stem of the tree. This isn’t a great time to prune, either, since right now the tree is susceptible to more infections from these scars we inflicted. It feels like a long shot. Did we buy the tree time to at least have a few plums first? Is is a lost cause? Am I forever condemned to go damson plum jamless?
On Friday night at 6 pm, I stumbled in the door after a long week at work. There was no pie starter. There was no dinner plan. The house was unclean. Not a single pie had been made. I wrote a list of what needed to be done in the next 18 hours and stared it it with dismay.
By 7:30 my parents had taken the kids out to dinner, my husband was a dervish of cleaning efficiency and I had both the lard and butter pie starter cooling in the freezer. And when 1:59 pm hit on Saturday, I was ready. I’d made six pies: lemon meringue, blueberry, pecan, two chicken pot pies & a moussaka. Some people (Adam) quibbled about whether moussaka is really a pie. But, it’s my party and I’ll pie if I want to. The house was clean and all things party-ready. These are the miracles of Piemas and beloved helpful relatives.
I think I say this after every one of my fake holidays, but this was a particularly fine Piemas. There were many (many!) pies, but I think we actually ate more of them than usual. I wonder how many kilacalories were consumed in my house on Saturday? Lots. Lots and lots. There were vegan pies. There were meat-rich pies. There were pies of impeccable character and origin, such as apple pies. There were pies that showed that my friends are geniuses. Evil geniuses. Somehow five large pizzas were also demolished.
The conversation was also a particularly fine vintage. There were all sorts of connections made across slices – people with shared interests, people with shared professions, people who only see each other every four months at our parties, people who had never met before. We talked about backing up log trucks. My parents told embarrassing stories about me. There were board games a-plenty. The conversation ended on a particularly liberal arts note with an animated discourse on the nature of evil and whether virtue can be taught.
It was a little unfair of the universe to make this the daylight savings weekend, though. Of all the mornings to lose an hour of sleep before church, this was a rough one.
There are few things I feel as fortunate in as in the people who populate my life. I feel like I’m surrounded by a richness of amazing folks. The people in my life are funny, kind, thoughtful, intelligent, caring, RSVP consistently to parties, and are phenomenal cooks. (They also have passionate and divergent ideas about Oxford commas, which made me edit that sentence no fewer than 4 times.) In the still of the night after the last merry-maker has gone home, I often fall asleep feeling like I’ve won the lottery in the greatest wealth of all – friendship.
To all who celebrated with me this weekend – thank you. To all who could not be there – you were missed. To all who wished they could be there – I wish so too. May you all find as much joy and merriment in your lives as a sequence of made-up holidays supported by enthusiastic friends has brought to mine.
Valediction to a Cutting Board
by Adam Flynn
A cutting board, alone it sat
Abandoned on my cold, cold porch.
A brown cenotaph, long and flat
Lurking yet with quiet reproach.
Oh why then was it not retrieved?
What weighty judgement was laid o’er
That gave no option for reprieve
And left it lying by my door?
Or worse, a more ignoble fate –
Was Lethe’s cup instead to blame?
Did feast, and drink, and hours late
Rob sweet Mnemosyne of her name?
So may your heart of stone be moved
And claim this prize if yours it be.
For certainly it may be proved,
It really don’t belong to me!
I’ve been hiking with Grey since he was born. Pretty literally. Here’s a picture of us together in the Fells about 6 days after he was born. (For the record, too soon. I overextended myself pretty significantly on that hike.)
I remember walking with him in the woods and imagining that day, someday, when his feet wouldn’t drag behind mine and I wouldn’t have to slow down. I knew that it was likely that in a twinkling, he’d go from being behind me to being ahead of me – fleet feet dancing lightly up trails that made me feel the gravity of my years. Many’s the hike I’ve dragged my children on when I told myself this impossible story – that some day they would be stronger, faster and more enduring than me.
Grey has had this phenomenal weekend. Saturday was supposed to be dedicated to cleaning out the attic. It’s amazing what sort of neat stuff you do when you’re procrastinating, isn’t it? Instead, we played a video game together as a family (Ultimate Chicken Horse – I was the hapless sheep and terrible at it). Then Adam and I found the *perfect* countertop, which happens to require us to find a brand new flooring tile because it works with the backsplash and beadboard beautifully, but doesn’t go at all with the flooring. This is something of a miracle, because neither Adam nor I have been able to stand a single one of each other’s selections until we got this one, and we both really like this one.
After we got back, we decided to go for a hike. Thane really didn’t want to go, but we dragged him anyway. Grey was happy to come, and wore the really neat wool nurse’s cloak that his great grandmother (or great aunt – something like that – Laureen can you tell the story in the comments?) wore when people wore woolen cloaks with brass buttons. He was awesome on the hike, and the only thing he complained about was his brother’s complaining.
The he came home and finished Raymond Chandler’s novel “The Lady in the Lake” which he clearly enjoyed very much. “Man,” he said, “All the characters seem to really dislike the private eye. Pretty much every single one of them has called him a bad name!” Adam replied, “Dick is the slang term for a Private Investigator. It doesn’t mean jerk.” “Oooooh that makes a lot more sense.” We finished the night up watching some Star Trek Deep Space 9.
Today, he cheerfully went to church and cheerfully participated in a lovely service. Then after we got home, he was struck by a brilliant idea. He wanted to go geocaching. And for once, his brilliant idea was brilliant. Honestly, I’ve wanted to do geocaching for years! It’s exactly the kind of thing I always hoped my kids would get into. Grey watched a Youtube video on the fundamentals of geocaching. He proposed a token to leave behind (a sticker of our family crest). He identified the best app, which he asked me to download. He found the nearby caches, and pointed out two that were in easy striking distance. And then he very politely asked me if I would go geocaching with him (since I’m the one with a smart phone). The weather was fairish today, and he’d also been talking about how much he really wanted to go ride a bike, so I suggested that we ride our bikes to the Fells (it’s less than a mile) and proceed on foot from there.
I’ve been wanting to bike to the Fells for YEARS. If this was my childhood, that’s what would’ve happened all the time. It’s so nearby, and so amazing that it’s within easy biking distance. And it is – less than 10 minutes each way. That’s nearly what it would take to drive it, and way faster than walking it.
Once in the Fells, I followed his lead in finding the caches. His joy and satisfaction and enthusiasm on finding his first ever cache just radiated from him. He was extremely diligent in logging the visit in the logbook, and putting the cache back just as he found it. The whole time he was just projecting happiness.
His appetite whetted, he begged for just one more. Now I had serious attic-cleaning duties to attend to. But when my child begs me to hike longer, um, it’s possible I don’t have as much willpower as it would take to be like “No, I need to go clean up the curtains I bought 10 years ago and never got around to hanging.” So we headed further into the Fells, finding ourselves on a trail I swear I’ve never seen before and as previously mentioned I’ve been hiking there for over a decade. The second cache we found ourselves at the base of an 80 foot cliff with the sinking realization that the cache was at the top of said cliff. I put my foot down on scaling the cliff (How old I have gotten! But I’ve seen first responders try to get into the Fells and I don’t want to do that again.) So we took the long way around.
And then it happened. He was twenty feet up the trail from me, with wings on his feet and light in his eyes, bouncing up rocky slopes like a gazelle. He called back over his shoulder “Can we pick up the pace? Like a light jog or something?” And I realized that my “someday” was in fact “today”. Today was the day when he was faster than me – when he would fly up trails and leave me to admire him from behind. Today was that day I’d dreamed about so many years.
We didn’t find the second cache, despite much hunting and searching at the top of the hill. It must be lost. But we did find a third cache. With the winds on Friday, one needs to be careful in the forests. Many trees are down today that were standing on Thursday. The third cache was in the shadow of the most astonishing widow-maker I’ve ever seen. There’s a dead tree resting on a dead tree, lodged in what I sincerely hope is a living tree. It gave me the chance to tell him about his great-great grandfather who died from the unhappy fall of such a widow-maker.
To cap off the weekend of being perfect, after dinner he went into the kitchen and made us a chocolate cake from scratch. It’s delicious – moist, light and airy. It’s some of the best chocolate cake I had. Then he posed for a picture, mimicing the exact picture from last year which I have on our calendar for this month. And then we watched some M*A*S*H episodes to honor the memory of David Ogden Spiers.
Parenting is hard work. So many nights checking homework, insisting on chores and fighting to make sure everyone does what needs to be done. So many days getting the call from the nurse that you kid needs to be picked up. There are a thousand and one hard things about being a parent. But then every so often you have an amazing weekend with your kid and you realize that wow. You really like your child. This was that moment for me.
So when last I graced these pages with my erudition, I complained about the interminability of winter. Little did you know that I had a cunning plan for freeing myself from winter’s vile clutches! Indeed, in the strange New England tradition known as February break, we hied ourselves down to Mexico, where a cold day is when it dips below 70.
We’ve been to Cozumel five times, by my count, and to the Intercontinental three times. We went first for the high quality (included in room price) child care, and stayed for the fantastic reefs and unbeatable rooms. We pretty much stayed put this time, venturing out of the resort only twice – once by boat and once by taxi on the tiny island.
It was superbly relaxing. We snorkeled between once and three times a day. We read for hours. The hotel pool was warmed to the world’s most perfect temperature. The spa was fantastic. The poolside food service excellent. The four restaurants enough to keep us from getting totally sick of the menu.
The only real downside was the night where I decided (in long pants and a long shirt!) to sit on our “front porch” and read until late. I woke up the next morning with 83 mosquito bites. The skeeters weren’t out at all during the day, but they were stealthy predators by night. For the record, I read through about 30% of the catalog of M.C.A Horgath during my stay, which I highly recommend as beach resort reading. She’s rather prolific. I hadn’t realized I’d read such a small percent!
The snorkeling was awesome, and since we my Valentine’s gift was a new underwater camera (which was fantastic, by the way!) we have a lot to remember it by. We saw moray eels, lobster, sea turtles, eagle rays, starfish, parrot fish, anemones, barracuda and all manner of fantastic underwater beasties!
We returned to cold rain and gray days, but with warm memories to sustain us. Now, to survive Monday….