Monday, April 27, 2009

A Weekend Apart

On Friday night, the Lutzes loaded up the big green passenger van and headed for the shore (or "down the shore" as they say in these parts) for their first full family overnight. (Ronan tried to stowaway but was quickly recovered.) Everyone was excited: the Lutzes were looking forward to being alone in their new shore house (Erika and Hilary cheered that 'just the Lutzes!' were going), and we were looking forward to being alone in this house. We were so excited, we bought real bacon to have for breakfast on Saturday (the Lutzes don't eat pork).

Saturday morning we were up and out so fast we forgot to cook the bacon. We headed to Washington's Crossing, a state park where, well, you can probably figure it out. The sheep shearing festival was on, and the kids watched an old-timey man shear a sheep with sheep-shearing scissors (as opposed to mechanically); the sheep sat quite still and the pelt came off in one large blanket. Then we saw how the wool was washed and combed, dyed, spun, and woven. There were colonial hearth cooking demonstrations, and the kids played with colonial toys.

Then we drove a few miles to Yardley, where I wanted to check out a water ice place for an article I'm writing. We had lunch in a local diner, then we ate the best water ice in Philadelphia. (Seriously. Go there.)

While walking back to the car, we all talked about what a nice day we had, capped off with some very tasty water ice. Declan informed us, out of the blue, that he wanted to move to our own house, one right next door to the Lutzes. Matty and I eyed each other nervously but neither of us knew what to say. Declan didn't seem to have anything else to add, so we let the matter drop.

By Sunday, however, the Lutzes were back and I don't think Declan ever wanted to leave. After he got home from an early birthday party and Erika returned from Hebrew school, the two were inseparable, playing in Erika's room for most of the day.

As much as our arrangement works for us, I think this weekend reminded all of us how important it is to take some family alone time as well. Not only do we all appreciate the time alone, but we appreciate each other all the more when we return.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Digging a Hole, Part 2

I regretfully report a recent death in our family: Grover, one of our three cats, was hit by a car and died earlier this month.

Honestly, I was surprised he had ventured down to the road. We live on a hill, with a driveway 1/4 mile long separating us from the street. We're surrounded by woods and fields with all the mice, voles, birds, rabbits, and chipmunks a superlative hunter like Grover could ask for. I never thought we would lose a pet this way.

The kids, as you might imagine, had varying responses to this tragedy. Erika was devastated. The others thought it was a blast decorating the simple coffin Andy made out of wood from Home Depot. I couldn't help but find a morbid sort of amusement in the way Gretchen danced around all evening exclaiming, "I want to put Grover in the box! I want to put Grover in the box NOW!"

It's not that surprising, really. Not only are most of the kids in the house way too young to have any understanding of death, but death has become completely run-of-the mill to them. We're all used to stepping over the decapitated rodents our cats routinely leave on the doormat. Even the preschoolers understand that one animal's gruesome end is another animal's gift to his beloved owners. I often wonder whether this comfort with death will make them less fearful of it as they grow older. I have vivid memories of lying awake in the dark when I was about 12 years old, feeling the crushing silence of the night and trying to imagine what it was like to be dead. Frankly, I'm still terrified.

Still, our wildly ranging attitudes toward death didn't prevent us from orchestrating a very moving funeral for Grover. Andy and Matty took turns digging a large hole, and once the coffin was placed inside we all threw in handfuls of dirt, which is Jewish tradition. Then we took turns telling our favorite stories about Grover. I reminded the kids that Andy and I got Grover before any of them were born. Our friends' son found him as a kitten mangled in their fence ten years ago, and I, pregnant with my first baby and raging with maternal hormones, couldn't say no when they asked us to take him in. I used to joke that Grover was the most expensive free cat in history, since it cost us about a thousand dollars in vet bills to fix his injuries. Although the vet offered to amputate Grover's broken leg, and promised us the cat would adjust, we couldn't do it, and so we ponied up the money for the surgery, and the pins in his leg, and the cast. He was so pathetic, this tiny kitten with this enormous white cast on his leg. When it came off, he was completely healed, and grew into one big, tough tomcat - but not so tough he didn't enjoy a good snuggle.

Grover, we will miss you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Digging a Hole, Part 1

You'd think in a household with two chefs and more than a dozen eaters, a garden would be a no-brainer. So why did it take us so long to start one?

There were attempts in the past; a plan by Andy's friend Ed many years ago that never quite took root (pun intended), a donation of heirloom tomatoes from our friend Lauren that simply never grew, a row of raspberry bushes that produce occasional fruit, and an on-again, off-again plot of tomato plants that once bore fruitfully but then, suddenly, did not.

Last year, beaten down by failure, nothing at all was planted and only a handful of raspberries were harvested.

But this year is going to be different. It has to be, if the amount of time Matty has been spending researching different types of gooseberry trees is any indication. Matty has grand plans for the land, from a row of cherry trees alongside the new patio to hundreds of strawberry plants growing through the ancient stone wall.

It was all my idea, actually.

"Let's plant a garden," I said, innocently enough. I envisioned a few rows of tomatoes and cucumbers, maybe a small selection of herbs. It made sense from a practical standpoint, and it seemed like the kids were old enough to get involved and help out and learn about where food actually comes from. (We're holding off on slaughtering a cow, for now. Maybe next year.)

Well, that's all Matty needed apparently. He's been busy every night on the computer since, finding the best variety of blueberry and ordering obscure currant trees. At our first seder last week, he spent a disproportionate amount of time discussing the benefits of mushroom soil with our friend Michael.

We'll see what actually comes of all this planning. As of now we have a half-dozen blueberry and blackberry bushes planted, a few herbs, and even two grape vines. The first truckload of that magical soil arrived this weekend. Let's hope we have something to harvest this summer.