Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The fox and the hound

We have a new puppy. She is a yorkie-shih tzu mix which means she is three pounds of puppy breath and sweetness and light. The children love her. I mean REALLY love her, as in I am afraid at any moment my littlest one might actually love her to DEATH. I have found my girls playing tug of war with her, each claiming it was their turn to hold her. The "Wrath of Mommy" came out over that, so now they just whine and cry over her and tattle on each other for holding her too much and generally make me wonder "Why on God's Green Earth did we decide to get another dog, because heaven knows I DO NOT NEED ANOTHER CHILD!"

Then she comes up and licks my face and breathes her sweet puppy breath on me, and I snatch her up and carry her out of the room just to make sure she is safe, not because she is my favorite at the moment. *cough*

My son doesn't fight over her. Instead, he announces at dinner, "I don't mean to offend anybody, but I just want you to know that I am the puppy's favorite" and he is serious as a heart attack which makes me cough to cover my laugh and turn my head so as not to hurt his feelings, because as we all know I am obviously her favorite.

The kids have been asking for a dog for about a year. Our last dog had to be put to sleep about two years ago, and I wasn't ready for another one until now. As soon as my mother heard, she promptly got us a puppy and brought her to us. Then she insisted on us naming her right away as she is want to do. I took three days to name my first child after he was born, so I like a little time to think about these things, but my mother and my children weren't having any part of it.

They were throwing names at me left and right, and Daisy was one of them. I didn't think it fit her, because it reminds me of a cow and she is all of three pounds. Then Maggie came up and we liked it and even used it for a few hours, but then I thought of my new friend named Maggie and knew that could become awkward. Our last dog was named Briley and I have a friend with a daughter named Briley, and it always felt weird yelling at my dog when her daughter was over and Lord knows I can't have a dog I can't yell at.

So due to the circumstances, Maggie had to go. My mother brought Daisy back up which made me think of Maisy which I really like. I had wanted to name our new puppy something all literary and cool, but with the girls calling out names like Princess and Ariel, and my son insisting that he was going to call her Maggie no matter what, and my mother throwing out Kaisy in addition to Maisy (what?), and my husband giving me the gimlet eye which said, "We aren't naming her anything weird," I was at a complete loss for anything literary. Then I remembered one of my favorite authors has a daughter named Maisy, and I decided that made the name literary enough. So, Maisy it was. (And yes, I do know that both Maggie and Daisy would have both paid homage to great literary characters, but they just didn't work for me.)

Now Maisy has settled into that warm and fuzzy place in all of our hearts, and she only goes off to far corners of the house to poop on rare occasions and doesn't chew on too many barbie legs or human shoes, so she is fitting in nicely. And she has even started sleeping through the night, except for last night when she pawed my forehead and chewed my hair all night, and I thought I would have to banish her to her crate for ever and ever, amen, but we are going to assume that was just an off night for her due to a crazy schedule.

Actually, not that this has anything to do with my ultimate point, because I do have one of those, but having a tiny puppy is really like having an infant again, which is why it took me two years to get another dog. When you have an actual infant, people expect you to go through the day with slits for eyes and don't expect you to be able to hold an intelligent conversation. When you have a puppy, you are expected to get out of your pajamas before 2 o'clock in the afternoon and also go on with your life as if nothing is wrong, despite the fact that you are only getting about five hours of sleep a night. I'm pretty sure we need to form a grassroots organization to correct this societal misconception. Getting up in the middle of the night with a baby causes the same sleep depravity whether or not the baby is an actual human infant. 'Nuf said.

So, the other morning Mr. Engineer took Maisy out around 5 am to do her business. She ran towards the woods in our backyard to do her first business, then she came back and ran up the hill just in front of the woods to do her other business. Right about then my husband saw a red fox on the other side of the small strip of woods between our house and our neighbor's, and he was pretty sure the fox wasn't there to play. Being the brave and loyal Eagle Scout that he is, Mr. Engineer charged up the hill towards the fox right about the time the hair on Maisy's neck stood up and she realized that she might become someone else's breakfast and took off high tailing it for the house.

The fox knew the jig was up and took off for other small innocent creatures, while Maisy came in the house and immediately threw up on Mr. Engineer's foot. Personally, I think that last part shows why I am her favorite. She ran from danger and just the thought of it was more than her intestines could handle, so she got the shakes and threw up. I know exactly how she feels.

I was very impressed with my husband for having even seen the fox. My eyes would have been slit open just enough to see if she was actually pottying, and she would have been carried off to the the fox's den before I could have screamed (which is probably what I would have done had I seen said fox stalking our sweet puppy.)

Mr. Engineer assures me I would have done the same thing. I appreciate his belief in me, and it is a sound belief where his ACTUAL children that I birthed are concerned. Had any of the three of them been on the hill in danger of a fox, I would have charged the hill and done what I had to do to save them. I would have charged the hill had it been a coyote, which are said to roam this area, and would have choked it with my bare hands had it been necessary.

But for the dog? I'm really not so sure. If it had been a coyote, I might have screamed, turned tail to run, and sent up a prayer for sweet Maisey. A fox, I would have screamed and probably scared it off. But a chipmunk? Well, I'm pretty sure I could have taken a chipmunk. Heck, I'm pretty sure Maisy could go toe-to-toe with a chipmunk. And if you're wondering what the heck a chipmunk has to do with anything, well you should head over and take a gander at Five Full Plates... (That's for you, Gray.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary...

Today was one of those beautiful spring days that you dream about after you've been snowed in for five days with your children and you've made enough hot chocolate to float the Spanish Armada. The high was in the low 70s with a slight breeze to keep the sun from feeling hot. The cherry trees and Bradford pears are in bloom and the sky was the perfect shade of blue. It couldn't have been prettier. I think I could live this day for 3/4ths of the year, and I'd be happy. Assuming of course the pollen miraculously went away while the flowers were still in bloom. The other days could be one month of temps hot enough to swim, one and half months of glorious fall foliage and half of month for winter where it could snow for one week and keep us snowed in for four days. Um, that would be if I was in charge of the weather, but alas I am not...

Anyway, as I said, today was perfection. It wast the perfect day for selling lemonade with the Girl Scouts at our little town's annual Spring festival. It was the perfect day to walk home from the festival -- even though there are no sidewalks and we were 'afeared' for our lives while crossing the bridge. But most of all, it was the perfect day for gardening.

I don't think I've ever mentioned my relationship with gardening here at The Creek. I came to flower gardening a little late in life compared to some and a little early compared to others. Although I grew up in the South, I did not have a magnolia and gardenia mother. Gardening was not about growing flowers -- it was about growing food. And that was my Daddy's job. The son of a farmer, the man had a penchant for throwing seeds in the ground, tending them and then enjoying the literal fruits of his labor. You need some half-runner and silver queen (that's green beans and the best white corn you've ever tasted for the uninitiated)? My Daddy was your man. When I was a child he kept a garden that put all other gardens to shame. You would have thought we were feeding a small Amish community with the garden we had in our backyard, but that's how Daddy liked it.

*I am using the past tense here, because nowadays my Daddy does not put out a garden, because it might interfere with his retirement and his golf game, never mind that we're in a recession and his poor grandchildren could use some free organic vegetables that had been grown with his tender loving care. Okay, I don't know why I'm going on like this. It's not like either of my parents even knows what a blog is, much less reads it. But maybe one of my cousins will pass along the message.*

One of my earliest memories is digging in the garden in the potato patch. I think I was about three or four years old. It may not be a memory, so much as it is an actual picture I have of my 3-year-old dirt-covered self sitting in the dirt digging up spuds. Another fond memory I have is of my mother cooking dinner and asking me to go get the potatoes. And she didn't mean out of the pantry. She meant out of the ground. So, I would dutifully run down our backyard to the very bottom of our garden, grab a potato plant with my hand and pull. Then I'd go hose them off and take them inside to Mom. My favorite were new potatoes, the ones that were small and round and perfect. We also grew black-eyed peas, okra, tomatoes, corn, strawberries, squash, green beans and few melons every now and again. And by "we" I really mean, my Daddy. Of course my brother and I did string up a few beans, hoe a few weeds and water a few rows, but the real work was all Daddy.

Now come pickin' time, it was a whole other ballgame. I have picked, strung, and snapped green beans until I thought my fingers would bleed and I have hulled bowl after merciless bowl of black-eyed peas. A year or two ago we were at our friends' house and while they were fixing dinner, the husband grabbed the corn and started shucking it over the kitchen sink. He laughed and said I'd probably never shucked corn. I let him know real quick that I'd shucked corn for dinner just about every summer night of my childhood. And there were even some nights were the only thing we'd eat would be corn. Mmmm, I can just taste that Silver Queen now.

My point (I do usually get around to those sooner or later, don't I?) is that I grew up thinking vegetable gardens were necessary, and flower gardens were not. Flowers are pretty to look at and all, but they've never put food on the table, now have they?

Fast forward to my blissful mid-twenties or "the BC years" as I like to call them, Before Children, and I got bit by the flower garden bug. As soon as we moved into our little cracker box of a first house in a shady historic area of town, I just had to plant flowers. The most beautiful blue hydrangea bush you have ever seen grew right beside the front porch stairs. One look at that baby and I knew flowers were what I wanted, what my little house and my soul needed. I immersed myself in gardening like any good, er obsessive, student would.

I read everything there was to read about gardening in the shade. You see, we had dappled shade, light shade and deep shade to work with, so I scrounged up every shade plant known to grow in the Mid-South region. The Southern Living Gardening book became my flower bible. I knew every plant by its common name, as well as its Latin name. Even my mother-in-law, a flower gardener from way back, was impressed with my knowledge. She added to my collections and gave me much needed advice. Mr. Engineer and I planted with abandon. We went mostly for perennials, but threw in some annuals for color as well. We had heated debates over the size and shape of flower beds. He wanted 90 degree angles; I wanted meandering curves. We compromised with precise curves at exact intervals. Life was good. Life in our backyard and by the front porch was beautiful. Then something more beautiful than any flower I'd ever known came along, my first baby.

And then I gave up gardening. My husband tended what we'd already established and my mother-in-law continued to bring transplanted flowers from her garden and take transplants from my garden, but I would just point and make suggestions while blissfully holding my sweet baby boy. Fast-forward almost two years and we moved to a new town that was just perfect, except our house was in full sun. Not just sun, but blazing sun, Tennessee in August and not a piece of shade to be found except in the wood line behind our house sun. When Springtime rolled around and we were ready to plant, I had a 2 1/2 year old and was ready to pop with our next child, and I didn't know Jack Sprat about gardening in the sun.

All those years I had coveted a plot of ground to put some showy full-sun flowers in were coming back to haunt me. And with a brain so pregnant that all it could think about was, "I'm pregnant. How am I going to take care of two babies? I'm really huge. Is that ice cream mint chocolate chip, yummy. I'm so swollen. How many more weeks can I do this!?!" planting flowers was the least of my worries. Fast forward seven more years and another child to boot, and you can probably guess that I'm still not versed in growing flowers in the sun.

Yes, we've added a couple of perennial beds and changed some things in the front bed, but we still aren't the experts we once were. Oh, Mr. Engineer would probably beg to differ, and he'd be right. I'm not the expert I used to be, and that's okay with me, sort of. I still love watching things grow, I just don't love planning it and executing it and taking care of it as much as I used to. Maybe I'm just too busy growing and "training up" other, more important things.

So nowadays when I say "we" were gardening today, what I really mean is I was pointing at places where Mr. Engineer could put the daylillies he had just divided, and he was digging holes. We also planned an oak leaf hydrangea garden in the back where Mr. Engineer could plant the offshoots he'd just dug up from the side bed. There was no major planning session, no Round-Upping of the soil and waiting a couple weeks, just him asking, "Where you want me to put 'em? How about here and here?" And me saying, "That's good, and maybe one over here?"

We've come a long way from our master-planning days. Will the hydrangea transplants make it in the rocky soil among the weed? Who knows? And who really cares? They were free, they were there, and we had the time so we planted them. Will Mr. Engineer dig out the weeds and mulch it when he gets a chance? You can bet on it. Will we turn that rocky ugly part of our yard into a beautiful garden like we've talked about for the last seven years? I don't know, but we did take a babystep in that direction today.

So yes, "we" did garden today, and for now I really like the way "we" did it. It left me free to run in the house and check on the eggs I was boiling to make tuna salad for lunch, and to answer my 3-year-old's questions and to wander back out and point some more. My nails aren't traumatized like they were 10 years ago, and I only miss playing in the dirt a little. But every now and then I do have to rip a dandelion out of the flower beds. It's an old habit that's hard to break. And I'm sure Mr. Engineer is grateful, right? He can't do it all around here, now can he?