Logan Next Door

The house next door to us has been sold several times in the twenty-six years we’ve lived in ours. It’s a two-bedroom, split-level house, oddly laid out and not ideal for a growing family. They’ve all been growing families and this is why, I think, no one has stayed for too many years. Unless of course, it’s us… ?

NAH!

We’ve been lucky to have great neighbors all along. But once any of them realized that they needed room for more than one child, they’d look for a bigger place to live. Tears were shed on both sides of the fence each time a family moved on, but we’ve always been fortunate to find friendship with the next family to come along. And all along, there have been little ones next door to keep us entertained.

When the last neighbors left, we were very sad to see them go and we particularly missed little Ethan. He called me “Tee” and always wanted to “drive” my car. (I let him sit behind the wheel one day and play driving. From that day on, when I’d pull into the drive way, Ethan would come running, clasp his little hands together and look at me hopefully. “Drive Tee cah?” he’d ask. I could never resist.)

The new neighbors moved in not long after Ethan’s family left. The new neighbors had a baby, Logan. Fall came and winter passed, and as usually happens during the colder months, our interaction with the neighbors was minimal. When spring came, Logan had grown considerably and was learning to walk. But oh, was he a shy little boy. He wanted nothing to do with any of us.

Another winter came and went and Logan grew some more. By this spring, he was still shy, but much more curious about us. And he could run and throw balls and put landscaping rocks in my water fountain, just like Ethan used to do. He really likes Mark, because Mark is goofy. Little kids like goofy people. Whenever Mark comes home, if Logan is out in his yard, Mark will call out to him in a big, exaggerated soprano voice. “Hiiiiiiiiii LOGAN!” Logan loves that!

If Logan is out back on his family’s deck, and we are out on ours, he will call across to us. He says, “Hi,” but it sounds more like, “Heeee! Heeee!”

When Jake drives up in his big truck, Logan points and exclaims, “Dehr Jake!”

And he’s very coy with Kacey, always calling out for her attention and then playing shy and tucking his chin when she responds.

Last week, Mark came home from work in the mid-afternoon. It was one of those days when no one had been home at our house all day, and poor Lucy was starved for attention. Mark could hear Lucy barking as he stepped out of his truck. He called out a quick hello to Logan as he played in his front yard, but then went inside to calm Lucy and spend some time with her. Logan was so offended that Mark hadn’t come to see him that he began to wail and cry to his mom, “Mahk! Mahk!”

Mark could hear Logan crying and had to go outside and pay some attention to him too before he’d quit crying.

Now Logan calls me Tee, just like Ethan used to do. Last Friday, we were all sitting around in the driveway. Logan was playing with a tennis ball. He threw it down the driveway a few times just to watch his dad have to run after it and keep it from rolling all the way down the street. This made Logan giggle uncontrollably! Finally Logan’s dad told him if he threw the ball down the driveway again, he would take it away. So Logan decided he’d prefer to keep his ball and would play catch with someone instead of annoying his dad.

Mark asked Logan to throw him the ball, but Logan looked at him and said, “No. I pway Tee.” And he whipped that ball straight at my forehead as I sat in a lawn chair. He’s got a good arm! Good thing I had quick reflexes!

I love the summer months when all the neighbors are outside and we stop frequently to socialize. Logan has grown so comfortable with us that he now considers our yard an extension of his. When my windows are open, I often hear the whine of his motorized tractor as he drives circles around our pine tree.

Farmer Logan

Farmer Logan

Now he races me – me on foot, him behind the wheel. Somehow he always wins! And he loves to pretend he’s going to run over my bare toes and he gets this devilish little grin when he cuts it a little close and I jump out of his way.

I’m hoping Logan’s family stays for a good long while. Logan’s dad has an eighteen year-old from a previous marriage and I suspect there might not be any younger siblings for Logan. We sure do enjoy having him around and would love the chance to see him grow up.

Three-Day Weekend!

I don’t know where time goes sometimes. The week got away from me – and yet somehow, seemed like it was endless. Not sure how that works, but I was glad when the workday came to a close on Friday. And I’m really looking forward to the long weekend and a chance to unwind and refresh my perspective.

There was a lot going on this week. On Monday, Mark and I had a lawn care meeting with Mr. Lawn. Mr. Lawn is actually George Dege, the owner of Dege’s Garden Center. Dege’s has been in business for as long as I can remember. My parents bought their garden supplies there when I was a kid. Mr. Lawn’s father probably owned the place back then. And actually, people in this area have been buying their lawn and garden supplies from Dege’s for a hundred years!

Mark and I were at Dege’s picking up some plants for our vegetable garden last Saturday, when an older gentleman appeared and I heard Mark say, “Hi George!” In all the years this garden center has been around, I’d never actually met George until that day. What I thought would be a quick hello turned into an in-depth chat about lawn care. As I listened to the conversation, I couldn’t help but notice all of the history in the store and think about how things just aren’t done this way anymore. Dege’s has a row of old theater seats on one side where customers can stop and sit, or wait their turn for a meeting with Mr. Lawn in his office. The seed business part of the store has a real old-fashioned feel to it, with drawers full of seeds that remind me somehow of the old library card catalogs. Dege’s employees know their stuff and will stop what they’re doing, on the spot, to answer customer questions. And they always know the right answer, or how to find it. You just don’t get this kind of attention in those big chain stores that have taken over almost every type of retail business. It’s impressive to see how a small business like this one has managed to persevere and continue to provide such personal and friendly service to its customers. Sadly, Dege’s will be closing their doors at the end of this season.

After chatting for much too long in the middle of the garden center on a busy Saturday, George invited us into his office to talk. And I never would have thought that hearing about the science of lawn care could be interesting, but George has a way of intermingling the facts with great story-telling. We finally scheduled a formal meeting for Monday. When we came back again, I had a notebook to take notes and we got an actual plan in place to make our yard look great while making the most of our natural resources. I am so glad we had that chance encounter with George Dege last weekend. I have a new appreciation for grass and plants and will approach the yard this summer with more interest than ever before.

On Wednesday, I had a wake to attend. We said goodbye to Doris, who was like a second mother to my siblings and me. Doris and Jerry lived in the house next door to ours while I was growing up. And Doris lived there until her dying day.

Doris was the one who welcomed us with open arms when my mom’s hands got too full with us four kids and all of the responsibilities of a young wife and mother. I can remember running next door and knocking on the back door of Doris and Jerry’s house. Doris’ house was always open to us and there always seemed to be a Hershey bar, fresh-baked cake or cookies, or homemade chocolate malts waiting for us. I remember sitting in Doris’ living room while she listened to every word we had to tell her. Sometimes her teenage boys would play their records for us and we were always fascinated by how COOL they were.

This is exactly how I will always remember Doris.

My brother, Jim, me on Doris' lap, and sister, Cori

My brother, Jim, me on Doris’ lap, and sister, Cori

Doris’ husband, Jerry passed away last year at the age of 87. I saw Doris at Jerry’s wake and she was in bad shape at that time. Parkinson’s Disease had taken such a toll on her. She wanted to be the same age as Jerry when she left this earth and her wish came true. Doris passed away just a few days before her 88th birthday. And while it was sad to say goodbye, I will always be grateful for the way she loved us. Even though we had no family ties, she was family.

The remainder of the week was a bit closer to normal. The work week had its share of challenges, mostly self-imposed. After I got over my frustrations, I recognized that certain mistakes, while annoying, provided valuable learning experiences. From now on, I will try to remember that failure has a purpose.

I’ve appreciated spring this week. The weather is steadily climbing to my happy place and I’ve made the most of it. This time of year motivates me. I’ve spent as much time outside as I can get, made an attempt at running again, and have made some real progress in helping the family eat healthy. (Don’t tell Mark and Jake. They don’t know I’m cooking healthy!) After struggling forever to balance working full-time with our domestic needs, I’m finally learning that a small amount of meal planning and shopping makes the burden of cooking so much lighter. It’s actually even been fun to cook and we’ve discovered some foods that we really enjoy. (Mark keeps telling me, “You can make this again!” )

Tonight we’re going to my coworker’s wedding reception. I’m looking forward to a chance to have fun and unwind with a bunch of coworkers I really enjoy. As for the rest of the weekend, it remains largely unplanned. And I like it that way!

In which my husband nearly got his asphalt kicked

We had our first snow of the season overnight, a very manageable kind of snowfall. Pretty. Didn’t affect morning traffic at all.

First Snow 20131106And it had pretty much melted by the end of the work day.

First Snow after 20131106I attended a city council meeting with Mark tonight. He’s been to a few of these over the years. I was a City Council Meeting virgin until tonight. It was … fun? Maybe “fun” is a little much, but it was certainly interesting and definitely entertaining. I thought Mark was going to get beat up!

We’re getting new streets next year. And it’s going to cost the neighborhood residents some money. Understandably, people are going to have concerns. I expected that. But there was this guy. He kept demanding to know why his street hadn’t been replaced or paved in the past ten years. He was very confrontational and I felt bad for the City Engineer who was running the meeting. He patiently explained how such decisions are made. The guy just wasn’t satisfied with the answer. Throughout the couple of hours we were there, the guy kept interrupting to ask the same question. It was annoying and uncomfortable. Around the fifth time he interrupted the presentation to ask why his street hadn’t been addressed in the past, someone finally yelled from the back, “Let it go. It’s getting fixed now!”

The guy went on to say that his street currently looked like it had suffered a barrage of bombing. “It looks like a war zone,” he complained. I am familiar with this man and I know where he lives. I knew he was grossly exaggerating the condition of his street. I also know he has the most unkempt yard and home on his block. I try not to judge. I don’t know what people’s’ financial situations are. But he does have a couple of really nice motorcycles, so I have to wonder how much of a hardship it would be to mow his lawn or trim the tree that’s spilling  all over the place. Tonight I couldn’t help but picture his run down property and find it ironic that he demanded better of the city. But I didn’t say anything. That’s just not me.

His complaints continued in spite of the explanations that were given by the City Engineer. Since the guy couldn’t get the explanation he wanted, he seemed hell-bent on continuing to express his frustration ad-nauseum. He had just finished complaining about how after the last big storm, the street’s condition grew even worse, and the city didn’t do anything about it. Suddenly, from beside me, I heard someone ask, “Did you call the city?”

That someone was my husband! I felt all eyes in the room turn in our direction, but I was watching the guy. He turned a skeptical eye to Mark. “I get sick of calling people,” he sneered. “YOU ever try calling the city?”

“Yep,” said Mark. “They’ve always been responsive and reasonable.”

The guy dismissed Mark with a scowl and a wave of the City Council meeting notice he clenched in his hand. I elbowed Mark and gave him an approving smile. Normally I would be far from encouraging of such behavior. Normally, I would probably be embarrassed. But I was proud of my husband. The guy was a bully and was using the meeting as a means to force everyone else in the room to endure his childish behavior. He was preventing the City Engineer from getting through his presentation and letting anyone else ask legitimate questions.

The evening moved on and we heard from a couple of experts about asphalt recipes, curb replacements and street lights. Periodically the guy would interject some sarcastic remark. And then he let loose again, stating that parks and pedestrian paths should never be maintained unless every street in the city was perfect. The City Engineer, clearly tired of doing battle and trying to answer to issues that were outside of his authority, simply replied, “You’re entitled to your opinion.”

Someone from the back added, “And we’ve heard it all night long. Enough already.” A murmur arose from the small crowd of attendees. Obviously, there was a shared sentiment in the room. Everyone had heard enough from the guy. Another active participant who had contributed many valuable questions and comments throughout the evening, cooled things down. He said he just wanted to commend the city for keeping our taxes low and ensuring our community was kept in good repair. There was a round of applause. I looked over to see the guy had slouched down in his chair and was scowling. He didn’t want to hear anything positive.

And there the meeting ended. I hustled out the door with Mark, a little worried that the guy would try to follow us out and beat up my husband. Not to worry, he apparently planned to hang around afterward and give more grief to the City Engineer.

Had I known these things could be so exciting, I might have attended one long ago! And in all seriousness, I actually learned a lot. Being informed is empowering. I’ll probably go to one again.

Livin’ the dream!

 

 

Dog Whisperer

The houses on either side of ours have each sold several times over. And we’ve been lucky to have had several nice, friendly, couples living next to us over the years. The current neighbors are nice enough, both families. The ones to the east have been there for a few years now. The ones to the west have been there for half a year or so. But we just haven’t formed real friendships with any of them the way we did with the previous neighbors.

Mark does a little better with all of them than I do. He spends a lot of time outside. (Personally, I think it’s his way of avoiding the inside chores.) And Mark is not one to just quietly go about his business if he sees the neighbors out and about. He will yell over the fence, just to say hello, or ask about whatever yard project appears to be happening. He gets them talking. Me? I haven’t fared as well. The first time west-neighbor Susie came out while I was outside, Mark hollered over to her to introduce me. I was mucking around with some flowers and I stood to go meet her as I was saying hello. She said hi quickly and turned and walked away. Weird?  The neighbors all still feel a little bit foreign to me at times.

Lucy feels the same, I think. Whenever the east-neighbors come out in their yard, the fur stands up on her back and she barks and howls at them. It’s embarrassing, to be perfectly honest. Those poor people can’t work in their garden, mow the lawn or enjoy a bonfire if I happen to let my dog out at the same time. Of course, the minute I hear Lucy start up, I run outside and haul her furry little butt back inside. I’m sure she doesn’t understand, but I can’t have her howling at them all the time. (And oddly, she doesn’t do this to the west neighbors. Only the east-neighbors.)

I’ve contemplated getting a bark collar for Lucy. I’ve complained to Mark. “They’re not dog people.”

(I know this to be true. We ran into them at Petco one time. They were buying cat things.)

“If they were dog people, they would talk to her,” I said. “If they would just say something to her, maybe go up to the fence and show her they are not a threat, she wouldn’t be scared of them. I wish they would just speak to her.”

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “If they’re not dog people, they’re not dog people.”

And so every time Lucy is in the back yard, and every time I hear, “Wuff Wuff Wuff Wuff…Rowr Rowr Rowr Rowr,” I know it’s a pretty good bet that the east-neighbors are outside. Just this evening, I had that very suspicion. I went running outside and sure enough, east-neighbor man and his elderly dad were out in the back yard. East-neighbor man just smiled and waved at me, ignored Lucy and continued walking to his garden at the end of the yard. But east-neighbor man’s dad was coming toward the fence and stopped just on the other side of where Lucy was and where I was headed. As I approached, I heard him speaking very gently to Lucy. He told her what a good girl she was to protect her home that way, but that she needn’t worry as he had no intention of harming her or her family.

I apologized and grabbed Lucy’s collar, telling her “No,” and trying to soothe her. At the same time, east-neighbor man’s dad continued to talk to her and to me. He told me about his Golden Lab who is thirteen years old and suffering with cancer. He told me how she still wants to walk and the way she loves car rides. Lucy continued to bark and howl some, but she was sounding less intimidating. East-neighbor man’s dad told me how he was taking his dog for a ride the other day when he saw another dog wandering along a busy street, looking uncertain what to do. He said he stopped and the wandering dog looked at him as if to say, “What is this? There are so many cars, I don’t know what to do!”

East-neighbor man’s dad said he couldn’t allow the dog to continue wandering on such a busy street so he opened his car door and let the dog in. He checked the dog tags and contacted the owner and delivered the wandering dog home to safety. And all the while he talked, he continued to interrupt himself to look at Lucy and soothe her with gentle words until she finally sat and cocked her head at him and contemplated whether or not he was okay. And clearly, she decided he was.

When Lucy was all settled, east-neighbor man’s dad said to me, “Well, I think I’ll go help my son now,” and he ambled off to walk back to the house with him. And Lucy watched them both go and she made not a sound!

I could have hugged that man. So sweet. So patient. So gentle. And something bigger than that. So generous! He didn’t have to give my dog the time of day. He could have been annoyed at the incessant barking and howling. Had I been in his shoes, I would have been. But he wasn’t. Instead he gave Lucy and me a bit of his time and a bit of himself until everything was alright. He left me speechless.

The House Where No One Stays

I had a dream last night that someone was hitting golf balls at our house. I kept hearing the thumping sounds and when I looked out the window I could see colored golf balls bouncing off the siding and the roof of the garage. I went outside to see three young boys in the yard next door, practicing their golf swings. I asked them to please stop hitting golf balls at my house. I was afraid they’d break windows. But they just laughed and kept golfing. Their mother came outside and said in a not-very-authoritative voice, “Now, boys…”

I think I know why I had this dream. My friend from down the other end of the neighborhood was walking by earlier this week and stopped to talk. She told us about her crazy next-door neighbor who calls the city to report those who leave their trash barrels out on non-trash days. He calls my friend constantly to complain to her that her dog is barking, even when her dog is in the house and not barking. We live in a neighborhood full of dogs! Dogs bark! What does he expect?

I think I had the dream, not just because my friend told me about her cranky neighbor, but because we are getting new neighbors and I am nervous.

No one stays in the house next to us. It’s a nice enough house with pretty decent yard. But it’s a starter house. It’s not that big and it only has two bedrooms. The kitchen is really small and narrow. You know how everyone likes to hang out in the kitchen when you have company. It’s not fun having a small kitchen.

We’ve been really lucky. We’ve had great neighbors in the house next door. First there was Dan and Julie. Julie left and eventually Dan remarried another Julie. They were great. We became good friends. They started having kids. Their little boy, John was Kacey’s age. Then Julie got pregnant and they decided they needed a bigger house. They didn’t move that far away and we promised to stay in touch. We did for a while, but then our lives got busy and went in different directions and… well, you know.

After Dan and Julie left, Dean and Ellen moved in. They were great and we became good friends! Ellen got pregnant and soon Baby Caitlin joined the family. A few years later, Abby came along. Our kids were always running next door to help Dean with yard work or bake zucchini bread with Ellen. When Caitlin and Abby grew up enough to run between the yards, they would come ring the door bell to ask if Kacey would come out to play with them. Kacey was “too old” for the girls, but she was always willing to make chalk drawings in the driveway with them and eventually she became their favorite babysitter.

A house just three blocks away went up for sale. Dean and Ellen looked at it on a whim and the next thing you know, they were moving out of the house next door. We promised we’d still get together for impromptu summer suppers on the deck but… well, you know. At least we still wave when the other drives by.

After Dean and Ellen left, Kevin and Kelsey moved in. We were getting old. Kevin and Kelsey weren’t too many years older than our oldest child. But they were great and we became good friends. A couple of years after they moved in, Kelsey got pregnant and soon Ethan joined the family. We always seemed to catch up with Kevin and Kelsey as we were all returning home from work for the day. It was always fun to coo and smile at Baby Ethan. He grew up over the winter last year and this spring he was running and talking. On any given day, I could look out my family room window and see Ethan in his toddler crouch in front of my water fountain, washing the landscaping rocks. Lately he’d taken to peeking in the lower level windows to see if I was around and willing to come out so he could “drive” my car or play “dunk” in the driveway with the basketball.

And recently, Kevin and Kelsey decided they needed a bigger house. They put theirs on the market, but didn’t have much luck. We were secretly happy. We didn’t want them to go. For a while it looked like they might just settle in for a while longer, but then an offer came on the house and they accepted. The closing was coming quick and they would be out of the house by the end of May. We were bummed. No more chatting with Kelsey in the front yard after work. No more laughing and chasing Ethan. No more watching Kevin lift Ethan up to the basketball net so he could dunk the ball. No more watching Ethan grow up next door to us.

The closing was today. Kevin, Kelsey and Ethan are officially moved out. We’ve promised to stay in touch…

The new neighbors arrived tonight. They didn’t stay long and all I really saw was their car in the driveway. I don’t know if we’ll be lucky enough to get good neighbors yet again, but I’m hoping. I didn’t see any little boys with golf clubs, so that’s a good sign anyway.

Ethan

It was a beautiful day outside today. So I’m not sure why I spent it closed up in the house, cleaning the lower level and doing laundry. It’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow. I should have saved the chores for the rainy day.

Lucy is shedding buckets lately. I’d just finished vacuuming her fur from the furniture in the family room when I noticed movement outside the window which sits at ground level. Ethan was toddling around in the landscaping rocks in front of the house. Mark had put the water fountain out again last week. Ethan loves the water fountain. Almost every day last summer when I’d arrive home from work, Ethan and his mom would be out playing in their yard next door and Ethan would come and crouch in front of the fountain, picking up rocks, dropping them in and pulling them back out again. His fondness for the water fountain didn’t diminish over the winter. But he was disappointed today to see that the water isn’t running in it yet. (It’s supposed to snow on Monday. We’ll wait until the chance of freezing is over.)

I pulled up the blinds in the family room and watched Ethan pick rocks up in his tiny hands. He’d study them for a moment before lifting his hand up high and letting them drop with a thud back to the garden. It took him a moment to notice me looking at him from the other side of the window, but when he did, his eyebrows raised in delight and I could hear him squeal, “CAH!” (CAR!)

See, last week we were enjoying one of those after work warm day visits with Ethan and his parents. Ethan’s mom said he spent many days over the winter, looking out their front window. He’d see Bob across the street and he’d point. His mom would say, “That’s Bob.” Ethan learned to say Bob. He’d see Mark and he’d point. His mom would say, “That’s Mark.” Ethan learned to say “Muck.” He’d see me and point. His mom would say, “That’s Terri.” Ethan learned to say, “Tee!”

While we visited in the front yard, Ethan showed me all the words he’d learned to say since last fall. We played basketball. Ethan wanted Mark to put the ball through the net. Mark stood below and tossed the ball in several times. Ethan pointed and said, “Dunk!”

Ethan loves vehicles. He stood in our driveway and pointed first to Mark’s side of the garage. “Muck truck,” Ethan said.

“Yes, that’s Mark’s truck,” his mom agreed.

Then Ethan pointed to the blue vehicle. “Tee cah,” Ethan said.

“Yes, that’s Terri’s car,” his mom said.

Ethan wandered between the two vehicles and pulled on the door handle of my car. Of course, he was too small and didn’t have the strength to open a car door. I helped him open it and together, we stared inside. Ethan turned and looked up at me standing behind him and then looked back into the car.

“You wanna go in,” I asked?

He turned to look at me again and nodded. Ethan is all boy. He climbed all by himself until he was in my passenger seat. He stared at the steering wheel and then turned to me again with a silent question written all over his face.

“You wanna drive,” I asked?

A smile spread across Ethan’s face and he nodded again, then climbed across to the driver’s seat. So Ethan drove (he had to stand up on the seat to see over the wheel) and I was the passenger. I talked to him while he drove and he pointed at the speedometer and told me, “clock.” He pushed buttons on the radio and tried to beep the horn, but couldn’t get it to make noise. He turned to look over his shoulder and make sure Mommy and Daddy were still out in the driveway waiting for him. There they were, talking with Mark while Ethan drove and I rode. I asked, “Do you want to go see Mommy and Daddy now?”

“No,” Ethan said, still driving somewhere far away and exciting.

Eventually, Ethan’s mom said he had to go eat dinner and our road trip in the garage came to a stop.

When Ethan saw me today, he remembered we drove and wanted to do it again. But before I could even get outside, his attention was drawn elsewhere and he ran between his yard and ours while his mom and I talked.

She told me they got an offer on the house. It’s been on the market for a few months. They got an offer today and they accepted it. They have to be out in six weeks.

I’m sad. I’m going to miss my neighbors. They are great neighbors. And I am sure going to miss my little driving buddy.