Bloom and grow

After almost a year of country living, Studley and i are kept rather busy with maintenance, updates, and various projects to make the new place our own. The current heatwave here in the midwestern U. S. of A. coupled with a home that does not have air conditioning, has us moving a bit more slowly at the moment. We can only work outdoors in the early morning before becoming completely soaked in our own sweat.

The work to be done isn’t just outside. The “bones” of the house are good, but the decor is in dire need of an update. There is a seemingly endless collection of wallpaper that must go. i got a start on it earlier this summer, taking down two walls of green floral Victorian-style print in the master bedroom. Got the walls cleaned, patched, and painted and then it got too hot to keep running the steaming machine.

The prior homeowner swore to us that the place stayed cool enough without air conditioning. Lack of ductwork (or an attic or crawlspace for ductwork) left few options for such a system – which i suspect is one of the reasons the prior homeowner was so stubborn about the issue. We decided last year to tough it out and see just how hot it would get. After the first heatwave in July we said “fuck. this. shit.” and found a contractor to install a mini-split system. We also bought a portable unit for the bedroom, as it didn’t get below 80 F some nights!

Electric work for the new system is done, and now we wait for the equipment to arrive via slooooow boat from Asia. Hopeful that we’ll be fixed up soon, i’m using the hot weather lockdown to clean up my office, organize photos, and excavate the electronic desktop… Which includes this here abandoned blogspace. Only neglected for 4 months this time, i am overdue for an update.

For most of May and June, we were working outside. Studley organizing the barn woodshop – also hauling, stacking, and cracking firewood for the winter. i pulled a lot of weeds and played an endless game of “what the hell is that plant?” using various apps. Learning to divide iris, and fighting a battle with unwanted thistle and garlic mustard.

We were lucky to have a chance to visit with Studley’s children in early June. The shared graduate school graduation for his son and daughter-in-law got us all together for a long weekend. His daughter flew in from Alaska. It had been quite awhile since we’d all been together.

In July we took advantage of a momentary break in travel restrictions, making a run to Turkey to visit The Girl and her family. It had been over 18 months since i’d seen them (over two years for Studley). With The Girl’s summer teaching break as a target, we started the gauntlet to get there while managing risk as much as possible. It was fairly challenging to make it happen, but we did it. One challenge – finding someone reliable to mow the lawn while we hit the road again – we’d trained up a new pet sitter earlier in the year. Time with The Girl, her husband, and this little nugget was worth it.

Along the same lines, i was tweaking to spend time with the two mini-sprogs out west, so a second trip was planned. We are just back from a short visit with The Boy and his clan. A bit less challenging logistically to get there and back, we enjoyed some low key time just being together. Much more relaxed than traditional holiday visits, we had time to just play.

i have struggled a bit with distance. Studley and i both raised children who are living lives of deliberate choices – which in all four cases have them living thousands of miles away from us. i have worried that the three grandnuggets won’t know us. Afraid that we will only be characters that exist in video chats on parental phones. These two trips have quenched those fears a bit. Much like the gardens at the homestead, the relationships with the littles are blooming.

Late in life, i’ve grown to appreciate the joys of gardening.

April Showers

It was a pragmatic matter growing up. There were six of us in a small three bedroom ranch house with one bathroom. We took our showers at night because the bathroom was a critical choke point in the morning, with four kids getting ready for school while trying to get in and out of the bathroom before Dad went in with the newspaper.

From the time i left home for college, that shifted. i took a morning shower. Some days, an early afternoon shower, depending on the start time of my first class, or the degree of hangover i carried on any given day. Not just for cleaning up, it was often necessary to get my eyes opened.

Thirty six years of working in a laboratory or office environment had me starting my day with a shower. As ingrained a habit as any, it took a slight hit at the start of the pandemic when personal hygiene was… well… less critical due to the complete lack of socialization.

Since moving to Stonerbrooke in September, i spend hours each day outside. i became a bit of a recliner potato over the cold months, but as soon as there were two or three warm sunny hours each day, i moved outside. Digging in dirt. When i started, there were garden gloves, but now they only come out when there are thorns or thistles. i added a solid nail brush by the kitchen sink to help scrub my crusty hands when i come in for a water break, but i am now doing dirty labor on a daily basis. For the first time in my life.

Yesterday, i spent several hours with a weed whacker, and then with a cordless sander working on a bridge that needs a new coat of paint. It has been raining a bit, so i was a muck-encrusted mess by dinner time. i took a necessary shower while the brussels sprouts were roasting for dinner.

Getting your hands dirty. Getting your body covered in grime. Getting chunks of unknown crud in your hair. Getting to sleep more easily because your body is just tired.

And unlike a career in research, later senior management – where the single most tangible product from a hard day at the office was often just a powerpoint deck – i can see the positive results of my effort.

A blooming legacy

We make a point of wandering the property every day. Two and a half acres. As the weather warms, we are delighted with new discoveries.

We didn’t just buy a house. We bought a homestead. Jay and Nancy lived here for 52 years. The original house was tiny – maybe 1,000 square feet, three bedrooms, one bathroom. They raised three children in that small house. It wasn’t until after their children moved out that they decided to do a major renovation on the house – adding a massive family room, and an upstairs master suite, with library.

When Nancy developed dementia, Jay did the best he could to care for her, but she was placed in a memory care facility in 2019. He wanted to be with her, and made the decision to sell, and move to a small apartment to be close by.

She was a gardener. As we met our new neighbors, we heard tales of Nancy’s devotion, and generosity. “We only recognized her from behind – she was always digging!” Every property on the street is decorated with hostas, iris, and peonies that she shared as she divided plants.

Nancy died in November. We’ve stayed in touch with Jay – sometimes delivering mail, always taking him cookies, or an occasional hot meal. During a visit to his apartment in January he seemed a little more awkward than usual.

“I have a strange question. I’ve got Nancy’s ashes back. I was wondering if I could take her to the gardens. I don’t know what else to do with her…”

When he called a couple weeks ago, it was one of the first warm days. The winter aconite and snow drops were putting on a dazzling show along the back tree line. “Today is the day. I’ll be over sometime after two. You probably won’t even know I’ve been there…”

We took that to mean he wanted privacy, so we retreated inside the house for the afternoon. We saw his truck across the street later that afternoon, he was likely visiting a neighbor, so we know he’d been by.

With each new discovery, we are just overwhelmed by the beauty. Tiny tulips (species tulips) and the most adorable jonquil (we’ve been calling them ‘dwarf-odills’). Scrawny bushes have burst into bright yellow blooms. Carpets of hyacinth, dotted with clusters of daffodils and narcissus. A friend has described this process – “the property is introducing itself to you.”

And we say “Thank you, Nancy”. Every day.