5/5: no. 9

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“Mama, why do grownups talk so much about money, and things like … Contaxsternation? I mean, they should be talking about important things, like … like, FROZEN YOGURT.”

She refused to come down from the yew tree.

We’d brought a bag of books and snacks to the lush park with a rolling lawn canopied by massive lodge pole pines and an old apple orchard. One of the many irrigation ditches that cross the city runs alongside the southern edge, through wild weedy patches, under flowering shrubs trailing thin branches in the eddies. There are no swings or slides or ultra-safe climbing structures here, no brightly colored gyms with foam blanketing the ground to cushion unlikely falls. It’s a dog park, a run-under-the-trees park, a weave-a-crown-of-clover-and-be-empress-of-the-land park. It’s not wild, but it’s not contrived. It’s green, with hiding places and swallowtail butterflies and mysterious, weathered outbuildings caving in around the beams. The rusted axles of old tractors rest in a bank of dried and tangled grasses, gravestone markers of this property’s long-ago identity as a farm.

We’d compromised on blanket placement–half in the sun, half “dappled” shade. (Dappled is her favored and most savored word of the moment. I want to remember that.) Flip flops flung off her feet, and she sailed away.

“Come run with me, mama! It feels like flying!”

I sent her back and forth between our nestled spot and a huge, clambering, wild rose bush, thick with fat, yellow blooms. She gathered petals in her basket, returned to weave them into my hair. And then she spied it–a tree with a low V in the trunk, strong branches arranged in a ladder shape that only she could see. It took two minutes for her to be 10 feet off the ground, tucked in among the soft and spiky green, singing her mysteries and asking me not to listen.

When it was time to go, I did my gathering up and strolled to stand beneath her.

“I will stay here forever.” [arms crossed] “You know mama, I won’t one day live in a greenhouse on the beach in Mexico. That was a silly plan. I’ll live in a tree. I’ll never come down. You can send me snacks in a bucket on a rope. I won’t need money or things.”

It took 10 minutes of coaxing. I remembered Julia Butterfly Hill, living in her redwood for 738 days.

That night, over a $10 martini, I thought about what comforts and sustains us.

5/5: no. 8

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And I tell myself: this is why.

5/5: no. 7

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I am accumulating houseplants and pets. This makes me suspicious. This is a transformation, a direct contradiction of the bylaws of the committee of Me.

Across the windowsill above the sink, they’ve started to line up — the coleus she planted in preschool, barely kept alive for two years. A strawberry plant gifted from family. Lemon balm spontaneously added to the cart at Trader Joe’s two days ago, in a fit of nostalgia. A hen-and-chick pulled by the kid from a crumbling curb-side planting in San Francisco, toted home in her suitcase. Basil. Philodendron.

What is happening? My best guess: the experiment is working. When we yanked the pull string on the dervish of our Big Move, the objective was simplification. Slow down, trim away the crushing demands we’d built into our lives. Require less.

Make Space.

Space to breathe. Space to see. Space to pause. Space to find the horizon, to think, to stretch out our arms and welcome the new. Welcome the mess of life. Welcome each other in again.

When I’m very quiet, I can see that our life has loosened at the edges, widened its corners. There are tentative signs that we’ve got sustenance to spare. It’s possible that our cups are now more full than empty and we’re ready to share.

Maybe I can take care of a houseplant. And some chickens. Maybe I’ve found the space.

5/5 Creative Challenge: no. 6

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(I guess I like photos of ice cream.)

Somehow, today came out even. She sang “Three Little Birds” while we made our beds, after a long undercover snuggle-up. I made a list of dinners for the week. I drank my coffee warm and the egg yolks came out medium-soft and she ate everything on her plate. I did not take personally her thrashing protestations over going with me to the grocery store.

I did forget to make the sushi rice and nearly forgot ballet lessons and that blue laundry basket is still sitting by back door, full. Which brings to mind yesterday’s photo of the fox caught in his cottage under a laundry landslide … there is a lot of laundry. Laundry and ice cream.

I spent my earning hours wisely, clickety clicking my way through an assignment, efficient. Every now and then, I get a project that gladdens me. That surprises me in its organized and clear direction, its ease.

Just now, I can hear the pained tones of a Mary Poppins audiobook drifting from the treehouse windows. Across the counter, soft shine of Pyrex bowls, upside down and drying. A tiny pot of lemon balm in the window. (It used to grow like a weed in my childhood backyard, that and mint. I would pick them both in bunches and tie the stems with twine, hang them upside-down in my dusty playhouse to dry. Pretending to be an herbalist witch, mason jars filled with water from the hose, making murky teas.)

A stack of receipts and paper scraps tallies everything we owe to friends, a nasty little snowball of small, incidental, but personal IOUs. I am forgetful when it comes to three things: listening to voicemail, paying people back, thank you notes. Anything that involves phone calls or stamps. A lifelong wicked splinter in my personal integrity.

Turns out, she can blow a party noisemaker with her nose.

5/5 Creative Challenge: no. 5

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It’s very quiet. The house hums softly–refrigerator, cat purr, the spouse pacing through the house to check the chickens in the box in the laundry room, lock the front door, look for his phone. It’s dark and time for bed. I tucked her in with sticky, unbrushed hair but managed to wash the mud from her feet. Now she’s loose-limbed and warm to the touch, deep asleep.

All day the light shifted between sickly orange to clear and bright. Uneasiness, everywhere. It’s hotter than it should be and the fitful breezes smell like smoke. The city shut off the surface water supply, everyone is on well water for now. Six thousand acres burned. We’ll sleep with the windows closed.

5/5 Creative Challenge: no. 3

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And that was it. Closing ceremonies, tears, picnic surrounded by wildflower meadows, fish pond, a surprise gelato cart, picnic blankets pulled together under a shade tree, funny muddy kids, and our good, good people. Our new people. We love our people, and what a comfort to know we’ll return to them in September. Already, we’re plotting sleepovers and cocktail nights, meetups at the river, and more. God, I love summer.

The main thing is, I don’t have to pack a lunchbox for 79 days.
The main thing is, we can sleep as long as want, wake up to cat attacks, full sun, lawnmowers growling, the sprinklers already off for the day, grass still misted, warm breeze pushing in the curtains.
The main thing is, we did it–another year down, this one especially fretful, at first, until we found our place and our thriving and our new friends.
The main thing is, nothing but salad for dinner.
The main thing is, we have a sweet, gold Westfalia that needs to be washed, vacuumed out, started up, and stocked. (I remember once my brother inherited an ancient shell of a car that’d been stored in our grandparents’ pole barn, and when he started the engine, dozens of acorns blasted out of the tailpipe in a cloud of blue smoke — precious squirrel cache annihilated just like that.)
The main thing is, despite a niggling list of freelance assignments piling ever higher (thank you, thank you, friends and universe), she’s old enough to disappear inside chapter books while I earn.
The main thing is, hammock time.
The main thing is, school is out, summer is in, we have chickens in our laundry room, and the family is coming over to swing hammers and sling lemonade, Coop or Bust.

5/5 Creative Challenge: no. 2

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Mama, can you stay right in this aisle? she asks worriedly, knobby knees and legs dangling over the edge of the library chair. Of course, I reassure. She tucks her chin down and is swept away by Ellen Tebbits’ difficulties with woolen underwear. I scan the shelves and once again slide out The Mysteries of Edward Tulane, skim, nod yes.This will be our next out-loud book.

My favorite day is library day. We know the shelves so well, make a beeline for our favorite sections, and in minutes our cloth grocery bag is stuffed with pounds of books. At home, we heave the bag onto the dining table and feel rich. We snuggle under a blanket feet-to-feet, or wiggle into the hammock.

She’ll cry out with delight or surprise at a plot twist and recount it for me. I admire this. Unlike her, I turn into a growling beast at the slightest hint of libris interruptus and I will not break the sanctity of the storyspace by “telling you what it’s about.” She, on the other hand, wants to share like a gossip. I encourage this with murmurs and exclamations. Oh? … Mmmm … I think I remember that bit …

I hope fervently that she’ll always want to share remarkable events, surprises, slights, questions. So far, she does the same with playground news. Sometimes she comes home troubled. I don’t think I should tell you, mama … but I need to tell you …

So we talk about honesty, and being a good friend, and how sometimes someone will ask you to keep a secret in your heart like keeping a yucky, spoiled apple in your pocket. If a secret makes you feel bad, or worried, or scared, your trusted grownups will help you. We talk about Ralph S. Mouse’s confession of the wrecked motorcycle, and being forgiven. Patrick’s betrayal of the secret Indian and cupboard, and Omri’s wrath. What it must feel like to hide behind a curtain as the powerful Oz, when you’re only a humbug.

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We cleared out her cubby today, fuzzy slippers and spare mittens hauled home, the back corners swept clean of small treasure debris — stones, leaf skeletons, bits of colored beeswax, bottlecaps. She takes me to her desk, tells me she’ll miss it. In twenty-four hours this magical, trying, testing, thriving year will arrive at summer intermission. Strawberry lemonade, cooing doves, the sulphur of early fireworks, flipping our pillows to the cool side.

We walk underneath the maples. Oh, I love the way this kind of tree makes the light glow … We stop for $1 ice cream cones and she makes me eat most of hers. Too sweet. She likes the cone part best.