I asked my Beloved’s help with a project and he came through beautifully. We’ve long had some sort of Little Tikes play structure in our yards since my eldest could toddle. There’s always been a few little cars or tractors too. But lately, I realized in a bittersweet sort of way that those structures weren’t be used anymore- and that when I sent them into the back yard to play, everyone sort of stood around and complained they were bored. There wasn’t a lot of room for kicking the soccer ball, and well, there wasn’t much “scope for the imagination” as our favorite red-headed Anne with an e calls it.
I wanted a more open-ended, natural play space that was a more appropriate size and scope for our elementary aged children. Perhaps more importantly, it couldn’t cost more than a few dollars. We cleared the entire back yard out, gave away our Little Tikes structures, raked and cleaned up, and then stood back to evaluate the space. I kept eyeing a structure my husband had built from pallets to store firewood. What if? (I should note here that we were lucky to have a lot of untreated pallets from James’ job.) He laughingly acquiesced but did ask where we were going to put the firewood now?
We pulled it out into the middle of the yard and removed its tarp cover. James had some leftover bamboo screening from another project that he cut to fit the ‘roof’, and we pulled a few more pallets around to make ‘porches’. What I like about this structure is that it is not just a house- it is a stage- it is a ship… and a couple more incarnations since the children began playing with it. We piled some leftover firewood into the more imaginary than real fire pit behind the ‘back porch’. We want to bring some stumps from a friends house to make some seating around the fire pit (and also to make some climbing and balancing possibilities).
Our square-foot garden on wheels is currently in the very back portion where the sunlight is best at the moment. It shifts around the yard over the growing season. While at the hardware store later that weekend, we found some flowers on clearance for $.50 or $1.00 and we tucked them into our old windowboxes (which we were going to get rid of), and so their little space even has a bit of beauty. Our grand total cost? $4.50, for the flowers. It came out so wonderfully, even more useful than I could have imagined. Our back yard is fun again, and the children spend as much time out there as they possibly can- even our seventh grader. I call that a win!
Our neighborhood is so unusual in this day and age of mini-mansions and planned communities and HOAs. It’s not that it wasn’t a planned community, because it is- it’s just nearly a hundred years old. I have to tell you, I think we lost something in translation between then and now, ’cause I’ll take my neighborhood any day of the week. Within our streets off the main road, children ride their bikes freely from their houses all the way to the school park and back. There are always people walking their pets. Adults on bicycles. Older adults working in their garden or sitting on their porches. And there are trees. Every street is tree-lined with mature oaks and walnuts and crepe mrytles and all sorts of things. Why do modern neighborhoods have no trees?Why does it all have to be clear cut and razed before building? The temperature literally drops about ten degrees when you turn in to the neighborhood in the summer between the trees and the fresh air blowing in off the river. If you can imagine the background pictures of the houses in Sound of Music- that’s the style of houses we have here. It is so, so lovely. I still pinch myself that we get to live here in a veritable Mayberry in the midst of what is a rather hard scrabble urban town.
And gardeners! Boy howdy, do we have some talented people in this neighborhood. Just about every house has something lovely growing at every season- a veritable feast of beauty. We try to get out and walk almost every morning, and lately I’ve been snapping a few pictures each day. Our neighbor at the corner has an especially lovely garden and things are always changing. It always feels a bit like peeking into the secret garden each day as we lean over the fence to examine the newest flowering thing. All of the children and I have learned more about plants and trees in the three years living here than we have since they were born!
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
– G.K. Chesterton
: For new growth
: The chance to begin anew
: the wind and rain, the sun and seed
: the simple pleasure of new (very comfortable) shoes
: to work with our hands
: lightning bugs in the field
: daddy and Eldest and littlest, learning
: for Sabbath and rest
: for family meals together
: for sweet first fruits
: homemade sourdough rolls, fresh from the Mennonites the next hill over
: flowers from my Beloved
: simple candle light
: the gift of ordinary
: for sweet little girl who, when asked for a funny face, gave me this
: deep green eyes that watch every move I make
: for pretty floral dresses and the princess that fills the folds
: For smart little boys in matching blue, “because he wears it, I will too”
: For bespectacled owly boy and his contagious laughter
: For the questions (how many!) from Eldest, to ponder and chew (and yes, giggle over too.)
: For the quiet of a weekend holding my family close
- Hope springs eternal, right? A certain beloved of mine has quite a love affair with strawberries (and blueberries, and blackberries). I've come to terms with this stealing of my affections. I've even come to the point that I will even encourage said love affair. Blueberries and blackberries are a bit beyond my ken, but strawberries? They seem easy enough. Of course, last year's bloomed beautifully and bright, began to fruit, and then one day, just withered. And I do mean withered. Like the story of Jonah's vine. Boom. Gone. Now that I know more, I think the tomato got a bit hoggy with the soil in the raised bed and sort of cut the poor gal off at the roots. So a new girl has been put in place- right now she's only sharing with sunflowers, clear on the other side of the box, and we're all crossing our fingers and shooing away the sweet little birdies whom we dearly love but who we do not want share such choice food with.
The spring "crops" are in, as the boys have taken to calling them. (They share daddy's desire to move to a farm some day and "have big John Deere tractors!" I think they are more enamored with the shiny green tractors (or the thought of them) than the actual food.) Lettuce, spinach, and carrots. The rest have to wait for the last hard frost, and then we will have peppers (red and green, "like stoplights, mommy!"), tomatoes, one (!) zucchini plant, cucumbers, squash, bush beans, and sweet corn. I want to plant sweet peas (the flower, not the vegetable) around our front stoop- I think they'd do well in the funky shade/sun mix there. Oh, and we can't get forget the sunflowers. The boys declare that no garden is complete without them, and there is one for each child, and baby Bean too. We planted dwarf ones last year, which only grew about three feet, which was nice for our short little toddlers. But like the sunflowers, the two older boys have shot up about a foot since then, and they want "big tall ones! Taller than daddy! I'm drinking a lot of milk, mommy, so that I can get taller than daddy and taller than the sunflowers!"
We plant our garden in raised beds, based on the square foot garden method. Our soil here is a harsh red clay that is really not useful for much of anything, especially since our home (built about four years ago) was built 'slash and burn' style- removing all of the topsoil and all of the trees and vegetation before grading and putting in the foundations. There's no soil to really work with or amend. It doesn't even grow grass very well. Oh wait, Lorelei says the clay makes good mud pies. She would be the expert on that. I've learned a lot between last year and this year about companion planting and other things, so we'll see. The next big thing is to learn how to can. Last year, I froze a bit here and there. (This was before we had a stand alone freezer, which my mom and dad blessed me with at Christmas, so I couldn't freeze much.) Which reminds me, I just found some blackberries from last summer as I was taking stock of my pantry and freezer. Just thinking about them is making my mouth water…I think some blackberry cobbler is in order. Guess his heart is going to get stolen a bit early this year.
I've received an email from a friend in which she states that I am causing her to tread near the sin of coveting, and well, I've decided to push her will power. I shouldn't really cause someone to fall. But tell me, can you resist this? Fresh, local, handpicked, red all the way through. Forgive me? (If it makes you feel any better, we've taken to laughingly calling them "crack" berries. They really are that good.)