Stolen Fire Pit

We don’t see a lot of other people these days, at least in person. But we did find a workaround to help. My son had a friend over not too long ago, sort of. They hung out at the end of our long driveway, a good distance apart, but enough to have a long conversation. That worked well to get in some real face time. We have no close neighbors so it was just the two of them.

Not long after that we had their whole family over. The second time they came over we hauled our metal fire pit to the end of the driveway and put that between us. They were on the road side and we were on the house side and it was enough to have a shared experience. After they left we snuffed the fire and pulled the pit off to the side and went back to the house.

My daughter tried this with friends as well. We had three or four fires this way. Then my daughter had a plan to do it one more time. We grabbed some wood and matches and water to put the fire out at the end and headed down the driveway. But we got there and the fire pit seemed, well, missing. Hadn’t we left it right there? We had. It was gone.

There was a pile of cold wood coals. The fire pit was gone, as was the grate that we had set off to the side. Someone had come to our house, dumped the ashes, grabbed the pit with its grate, and taken it for themselves. We were a bit dumbfounded. Who would do that? Especially right now? I mean, I know people steal stuff, but to take it while we are home? During the day? That’s bold.

Missing the fire pit isn’t too much of a problem. It is just a thing, albeit one that brought a lot of joy. My daughter and friends had a fire right on the gravel of the driveway that night. In fact, we have a second metal fire pit. Years ago my wife and I both bought one to give to each other for Christmas. Hers was better so we have had been using that one. I pulled out the second one from the basement and, after way too much assembly, we have another one to use, although we have yet to christen it.

The problem is that someone stole this object that made a big difference during these days of isolation. It was a symbol of how we might come together even when we can’t come together like we would at another time. It allowed for real sharing, not virtual sharing–light across distance. Plus it was a gift, and we had shared many fires with many other people over the years. For someone to just take that? That ain’t right.

Luckily we do have a back-up. I guess we won’t be leaving it at the end of the driveway, however. And I hope that the one that disappeared ends up causing some joy for others, even if it is a soured joy. I hope the sourness wears off, and true enjoyment can be had from our old fire pit. That theft has put a ding in a lonely time for us, so I hope it can take a ding out of someone else’s.

Wild Leeks Soup

It is the season of wild leeks. That season is short. In the woods, green covers the forest floor. The bright new leaves pierce the dried maple and beech leaves that fell in the fall. When the sun shines through the bare branches, you can smell them.

My son and I popped into the woods late in the afternoon. We each had a trowel. We dug up some leeks. Drive the trowel straight down, pull it back to loosen the soil and shake out some leeks. They are sort of similar to leeks you might buy in a market, but much smaller, smaller than typical scallions. And they are softer, more fragile. We made a small pile, enough to hold in one hand. Bright green on one end, covered in dark dirt on the other.

I washed them in the sink. I collected quite the pile of soil in the trap, mixed with a few dried leaves and grass stems. I had a clean bunch in the end, ready to be made into soup. I cubed several potatoes and sliced the leeks, tossed them with butter and olive oil, and sauteed. I added some water, some stock, some salt and pepper, and cooked it all into a soup.

I also made dinner rolls. I hear yeast is getting hard to come by. We always have a lot on hand anyway, so we are good to go for now. Dinner rolls are like the lazy bread–make some dough and knead it and let balls of the stuff rise in a pan. Then bake it and… fresh rolls, easy and quick. Soup and bread–pretty standard dinner around here.

Oddly, by the time the soup had reduced and gotten thick, it turned a bit green. I mean, the leeks were green but I have never had them turn other stuff green. And this new green was much darker–not the bright green of the fresh leeks. So it had a bit of an off color, but it was dang tasty. Those cut leeks smelled strong before they cooked down so I admit was a little nervous that I had put in too many leeks, but my fears ended up being unfounded.

Our wild leek window is small so I need to dig up some more before they fade away. Omelets? Quiche? Pizza topping? I’ve got lots of options. Especially if I want some green food.

Pancakes for Dinner

I have been cooking dinner pretty much every night these days, what with being home all the time. I don’t have a drive home after working later than I should and then a day’s worth of fatigue to dissuade me. Instead I close my laptop and head to the kitchen.

I used to make pancakes fairly frequently. Saturday morning I would whip up some batter and fire up the griddle and, once everyone was up for the day, I would cook up some pancakes. Maple syrup and berries and bananas and nuts and whatever we had that seemed appropriate to top of them off–that was the extra prep work. But now that our kids are older, they sleep in. Pancakes for breakfast? More like pancakes for lunch.

Since that morning rise time is unpredictable (could be 9:00, could be noon) and since it is rare that everyone gets up at the same time, I just don’t make pancakes anymore. It isn’t as enjoyable to eat them alone and the batter doesn’t last for hours. It is a breakfast that just doesn’t make sense these days.

But we do eat dinner together. And I have been wanting pancakes. So we had a marriage of convenience last night. And that relationship was one to savor while it lasted. I made yeasted batter and while it rose I sliced strawberries and washed the few blueberries we had left and cut a banana into discs. I heated some maple syrup, as well as the griddle and off we went.

We enjoyed dinner. I mean, pancakes are great, especially these yeasted pancakes. I did not make them with buttermilk, which really makes them excite the taste buds, but one has what one has. Dinner together–that works. We pretty much never have breakfast together so this was a bit of a throwback.

I did polish off a half gallon of maple syrup and cracked open the next one–our last one I am afraid. We never got down the road to the sugar shack to get more this spring. I am sure they still have some as their season was cut a bit short. I need to give them a call and set a time to stop on over to get more. Everyone wins with that deal. And it means we can have pancakes for dinner another night. I am sure we will have the chance. We will be stuck at home at least a month more yet.

Saturday Bagels

In the past I have gone with the overnight rise. Make the dough, shape the bagels, let them rise in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning? Boil and bake. Bagels for breakfast. I went the standard route yesterday, however. I made the dough in the morning, let it rise, then shaped the bagels. One more rise, then boil and bake.

I tried something new with this batch. I have made plain bagels and I have made cinnamon raisin bagels. This time I used some whole wheat flour along with all-purpose flour where I have used just bread flour in the past. Flour is in short supply these days, what with all the quarantine baking happening, so I added whole wheat flour to increase the gluten content. And I also added toppings.

I have to admit I had a bit of a fear of toppings in the past. Wouldn’t they burn in the oven? Or fall off? But this time I added Everything topping (King Arthur makes a quality mix) to some, and grated parmesan to others. And I left a couple plain as well.

They were not ready for breakfast, but they were just right for a hot afternoon snack. We had no cream cheese (also out of stock these days) but hot bagels are great any time, if you ask me. And the toppings worked like a charm. So good. Will definitely do that again.

I have said it before, but bagels are easy to make. Letting them rise overnight makes them easy, no doubt, but when you have the time, letting them rise on the counter is just as simple. I am pretty sure my family enjoyed them. My wife almost burned her fingers and her mouth she was so eager to eat one. So quarantine bagels? Doing that again.

School at Home

Way back a lifetime ago, meaning a few weeks ago, Vermont’s governor gave a Friday press conference saying schools would not be closed. There was not a need right then, but the situation could change and the administration would continue to assess what needed to be done to address the coronavirus’s spread. The following Monday he gave another press conference closing schools until April 6th. A week later, on March 26th, the governor ordered schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

School is not out, mind you. Students and staff are not going to school but they are trying to keep the business of school moving forward. At first the idea was just to “maintain learning,” to make sure students didn’t forget everything by the time school started back up again. Now, however, the idea is to keep teaching, and learning, and generally doing school.

This, of course, has not been a simple task. At my son’s high school every student gets a Chromebook, so they all have a device to connect with others. My son logs in and connects with his advisory at least once per week. They check in, using Google Hangouts, give each other advice and share stories and maybe even get some ideas about how to generally do school. They vent a little and they reassure each other. At other times he gets online for actual “classes.” This does not look like a typical in-person class but might include a lesson or review or help with an assignment that was posted to their online classroom page.

My daughter had been away at school, far from Vermont. She came home early for her March break. Once that break ended she stayed home. Her school is closed as well. They are trying to hold more formal classes online. Sometimes those classes are 90 minutes. That is a long time to focus when meeting on Zoom, especially for challenging high school subjects.

Yesterday my daughter was in her room, online for pre-calculus class. In the middle of it she texted “lots of algebra” and the above photo. Pre-calculus is not an easy class. It requires paying attention and, for most students, asking questions. That is all upside down in this online classroom, especially for a teacher who does not have a lot of experience teaching online and had little time to prepare for that shift. That photo exemplifies the challenge.

Students everywhere are making it work as best they can, but many are just not logging on, and many simply can’t. We are lucky. Our kids are responsible, for the most part, and we have reliable internet access in a safe home. Not only do we have plenty to eat, but I am cooking more than ever now that I am not commuting to and from work. This is a game changer for education on all levels. School will never be the same, and no one knows yet what that means.

My children are not going back to school this year. Will they be in school in the fall? If so, what will that look like? What will this mean for graduation requirements, or for college admissions? Or for the future of higher education? Students ask “When will things get back to normal?” but, sadly for them, they won’t.

We will get through this, of course, and we will all be changed, and good things will come from this very bad time. As the head of my daughter’s school said in an online town meeting, “This stinks.” Unlike the virtual whiteboard in pre-calculus class, everyone with any connection to education understands that.

Peepers and Moonrise

The sun sets and the moon rises. Tonight it rises, full, directly over Camel’s Hump, the moon so bright it shows the snow on the mountain’s summit. Peepers sing from the pools. Wood Frogs too.

Three Woodcocks call out before each of them ascends and dances in the just-light sky, circling until they drop back to the field. A Snipe whistles past. A Song Sparrow offers one last song for the day.

In the pink moonlight, the brown of the dead grass can’t be seen. The dirt left by the snow isn’t visible. The limb from the ash that fell this winter–it looks sculpted.

The cooling air smells of spring, of mud and maple buds. Over the hill a wood fire sends its smoke our way. Even the smoke smells of spring, stretching its heat as if to last until the fall.

The Barred Owl calls again. It has called all day. It cannot get enough of its bold pronouncements, calling in the light, at dusk, in the dark. Does it rest in spring?

I will settle in early tonight, my sleep restless lately, with worry and fear. Owl, put me to sleep. I will leave the window open a bit to hear you. And to let in the pink moon.

Colt’s Foot and Wild Leeks

There have been a few crocuses popping up but I’m not sure they count. The first flowers of spring are really Colt’s Foot. They pop out of the leaf litter on the roadside, yellow stars among last year’s crumpled leaves.

In the woods now, wild leeks emerge. There is a place nearby where I can see down and down into the trees as they slope downward to the west. This time of year it is clear of undergrowth. The floor of the forest grows green with wild leeks as they pierce the matted vegetation. Like crocuses they come from waking bulbs.

I will find my way into the woods behind our house, bend down and dig. I will pull some wild leeks from the soil and turn them into soup. I will bake bread and serve them with the soup. We will taste spring in our house.

Today, as the sun rose, the river smelled like more than melted snow. It smelled like earth and rain and new grass. I stood where the river flows under the road. Colt’s Foot bloomed at my feet. A Meadowlark sang, then zipped across the road until it disappeared into the willows.

Are we more attuned to spring this year? Do we notice more now that we have all slowed down? We are afraid, some of us, of what might come. Some of us are afraid of what has come. Spring, however, also comes. The yellow flowers bloom. The green leaves push up from bulbs.

I imagine the Phoebe, broadcasting from the roof of the falling barn, sings about such things. Perhaps, however, I give the Phoebe too much credit. I find beauty in the life that has been hidden, while the Phoebe simply finds insects and carries leaf stems to build its nest. It sings of that.

It is not wrong for me to be afraid. It is not wrong to admire life seeping back all around me. The Snipe, circling ghost-like over the meadow at dusk, reminds me that I can be both, reminds me that the turning of the world is worth my attention, whether I am afraid or not.

Fall Poem in Spring

Fall Poem in Spring

The heron stands
on the ice, waiting.
Frogs bury
themselves in mud.
Beneath the heron:
fish, swimming.
That spear of a bill
is ready but at
the ice’s edge,
nothing appears.
Used to stillness,
the heron keeps
waiting. Until
one day hunger
drives it south,
its wings silent
in the fall air.

Today, suddenly
spring happens.
And there is the heron
perched on a snag
by the swollen river.
I do not know
how far it has traveled.
How can it move
so little? From where
does it draw its patience?
The heron forgets
the ice, forgets
its hunger. It only
waits, waits
for its next meal
that surely will arrive
any moment now.

Pile of Games

It has been a while since we have all been home together. And it has been even longer since we have all been home together for this long. We all get along well, two adults and two teenagers, so mostly things are copacetic. We help each other when needed and stay out of each other’s way at other times. We watch movies together and eat dinner together and play games together.

LIFE has been a favorite for a while. As you can see from the photo above we have several versions of it. We have a more classic version–the 50th anniversary edition which has updated graphics from the one from the 1960s. We have the electronic banking version–everyone has a “credit card” that uses a card reader to keep track of the dollars.

Then we have the Despicable Me version–branded to match the movies with minions instead of cars for pawns. That one is designed for younger children so it is a quick game. And then we have a more modern version with pets. In this last one everyone has car or a dog in their car and there are cards with specific pet themes (“You’ve won a pet beauty contest! Collect $50,000!) Seems a lot for that but I’ll take it.

The Escape Room games are fun. They are challenging and rewarding, but I can’t deny I find them a bit stressful. The clock literally ticks, with dramatic music that gets faster as the clock runs down. It is pretty great to solve those, of course. Better than winning a pet beauty contest for sure.

Recently we got the retro version of Pay Day. We have not actually played that yet but we seem to have plenty of time to get to it. And we have a whole bunch of other games as well, just not pulled out of the closet yet. So we have plenty to keep us busy. I keep hearing about people doing jigsaw puzzles. We tend to do those when we are away from home, on vacation somewhere, so it seems wrong to do them now, when we are home quarantined.

We are making the best of our situation. We connect with friends as we can. My wife and I encountered several neighbors yesterday when we were out for a late day walk. We chatted with them from opposite sides of the road. For friends who are farther away we use Face Time and Zoom and Facebook video calls and Google Hangouts. We also play video games. And we play board games. We do our best to keep things interesting. And we stay home safe.

Bird on a Wire

We used to have a road trip scavenger hunt. The idea was to check off items one might see out a car window. Stop sign, fuel truck, school, cows, that kind of thing. Whenever we played this game there was inevitably one item we could not find–a bird on a wire.

It was weird. It is not hard to see a bird on a wire most of the time. Even in winter there are birds and they are sometimes to be found on wires. But when we had that scavenger hunt in hand, and this happened many times, we could not find one. It became a joke in our family. We would be out walking in a new place, with no scavenger hunt list to check, and one of us would point and shout “Hey there’s a bird on a wire!”

I have not played that travel game in years but I still think of it, of those road trips, whenever I see a bird on a wire. I though of it today. After a day of way to much inside time, of too much computer work, of too little physical activity, I went outside with a pair of binoculars as the sun was setting. I didn’t have the binoculars to look at the setting sun. That would have been stupid. I had them to look at birds, were I to spot any. I did spot some. And one of them was on a wire.

Actually two of them were on a wire. Two bluebirds, singing their song that sounds like they are just too lazy to sing as boldly as anything like a Robin, flew onto and off of that wire. Blue birds against a blue sky with the low bright light of the closing of day in early spring–good stuff that. It was a beautiful sight and it was good to get outside and to move around a bunch and to listen and to look for our avian neighbors. And those birds, perched on that wire, reminded me of some good trips with my family.

I still think of that game when I see a bird on a wire while I am driving. I am not driving much these days. There is a chance I will do some driving tomorrow but that is still not a definite plan. I am staying home, along with the rest of the crew, most of the time. You know, stay home and stay safe. I mean, if I want to see a bird on a wire, apparently I can do that by walking down the road. No driving required.