The Second Cup

second cup e1347456289475 225x300 The Second CupThis is not an unusual tale – I’m sure it bears an uncanny resemblance to what happens in countless households every morning.  But this morning I was hit by a wave of nostalgia – someday I might want to remember the details of this daily orchestra, preserve that nugget of our lives we often take for granted and may someday miss when it is gone – the morning madness before the second cup.

Tim and Elsa are always up first, rising with the sun as if there’s a window shade pull-cord attached to their consciousness.  I’m not so quick – My ears open before my eyes and I hear them in the kitchen, bustling about with inexplicable exuberance, cracking eggs, making crepes and chatting about the upcoming events of the day. I finally swing my legs over the edge of the bed when I can smell coffee, and slowly enter the land of the living.  Gabbie and I are a matched pair of morning grogginess but she usually beats me down the stairs.  Dressed it’s now 6:40 and we have 20 minutes left to make the school bus dash.    I drink my first cup, eat some granola and listen to the girls talk about school and friends.  We are picking up speed now, like an inevitable freight train, and Elsa watches the clock like a hawk, gaining more anxious with each passing minute.  Bread is sliced, PB&J spread, apples, carrots and cheese packed, milk bottles filled.  The questions start flying “Have you finished and packed your homework? Did you brush your hair?  Where are your sneakers and your jacket?”  Elsa replies to each with military precision and launches out the door as soon as possible with a quick peck on the cheek.  Gabbie lives on another plane – between such questions as “Is space really black or is it dark blue?” we try to help her get her shoes tied and not forget her lunch box.  Suddenly she snaps to and also flies out the door, one arm out of the sleeve of her sweatshirt, the other gripping a piece of toast, just making it to the end of the drive as the bus pulls to a stop, 7:05.

Tim and I take a breath.  The next stopwatch in our heads begins, 25 minutes until the crew arrives to start the workday.  We go over project details, materials that need to be picked up, print out plant lists and directions, answer important phone calls and emails. Tim heads out to load trucks and I head out to the barn to do chores.  Feed alfalfa pellets to the bunnies, gather fresh kale and lettuce for them, fill water bottles, clean pens, spread fresh shavings.  Weigh 11 lbs. of grain for pigs, try not to get too covered in mud as they nudge buckets impatiently.  Move sheep fence so that the ewes have fresh pasture to graze, check their autofill water tub.  Open the door of the mobile hen “eggmobile”, inspect hens as they march out down their ramp, fill their hopper with grain, and collect any early eggs.  All the while making a mental list of the more serious repairs and projects that will have to wait until the weekend.  Then I go to the landscape yard, help the crew make sense of a plant list, lend a hand as they load up, and they’re off.  Circle back to the farmhouse, water the containers on the patio, check new seedlings in the coldframe, prop open the greenhouse door.  Feed a scoop of kibble to our barn cat and take Scarlet the dog for a walk up the field.   Morning checklist done.

Normally at this point I’m in a rush to get changed, pour my second cup into a travel mug, pack a snack, collect the day’s schedule and files, answer a random call, then hop in the car to drive north to Burlington to meet clients and lay out designs for the crew until 2:30, then make the school bus dash back south.  My office days are slower paced but I’m lucky to cram in 4-5 hours of landscape design and estimating before the big yellow bus rumbles down the road.  After doling out the after-school snack we hop in the car and run to town to deliver eggs to The Laundry (fabulous French bakery in town), collect compost for the pigs, or ferry the girls to various lessons, then back to the farm for afternoon chores, answer emails and calls, harvest vegetables and make dinner, help with homework, review the business day with Tim, eat dinner, put the girls to bed, close in the chickens, take Scarlet for one last walk, then collapse in bed.

But not today.  I’m staying put.  I’m breathing.  I’m sitting in the morning quiet on the patio, soaking up the sun, writing, and drinking my second cup, because in an hour the chaos will resume, the impulse to accomplish something, create order, and meet the needs of others will take over.  For now the garden waves its leaves at me slowly, dreamily, sparkling in warm autumn colors.  I imagine that someday when kids are grown and the business is handed down I might live all my days in this peace, frozen in amber, and for all its glory I will still miss the sounds and motion of the freight train.


Raising Naturalists

 Raising NaturalistsAt about 4 p.m. yesterday I kicked the kids outside.  They had eaten their snack and done their chores after school and were starting to climb the walls so it was time for them to, as Gabbie puts it, “get their ya-yas out”.  Almost every day they spend an hour outside, more on the weekends, and I believe this unstructured play-time outdoors is critical for their development.  I catch a snippet of their conversation as they head out and it usually starts with something like “now pretend you’re the lion and I’m the princess” and I watch them through the window as they head up the stream with willow branch swords in hand.

There has been lots of talk lately about the importance of getting children outside, and I am happy to see more outdoor and place-based education popping up in curriculum all over New England.  Locally we are incredibly fortunate to have many nature education programs for children – two of note are Four Winds Nature Institute, which trains adult volunteers to share their love of nature with children in the classroom, and Shelburne Farms which is a true champion for outdoor and agricultural education.  At Shelburne Farms there’s a program for every age group, from pre-school right up to post-college residencies, and even one day on the farm can inspire a life-long love.  I especially admire the Teen Naturalist program – it’s a tough age to engage, but such a critical one.

I have written at length in the past about the work of Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods, and co-founder of the Children and Nature Network.  Yet I still find it sad that we need a “Let’s G.O. (Get Outside) Month” or Nature Clubs for Families, but obviously we do.

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Staying Young in the Garden

 Staying Young in the Garden

You know when a garden has the kind of energy that draws people in – like a giant rare earth magnet covered in flowers – It has all the right people, doing exciting innovative things, with respect and great style, and you just want to be there to be part of it.  The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (CMBG) is without a doubt the “it” place in New England for garden lovers, but it’s more than your typical stuffy horticultural destination.  Instead they have created what I would call the ‘Fountain of Youth Garden Experience’ – a place that is simultaneously organic, fun, engaging and technically advanced.  Like an anti-aging botanical body wrap with fresh air and without the claustrophobic spa room and new-age music.  Continue reading