A Secret Project

backyard ballad, family, friends, friendship

At the beginning of the summer, we decided to surprise our Dad and put on a big deck off the back of the house. It was HARD TO KEEP IT A SECRET, but we mostly managed (he kind of guessed…)

My cousin designed it and built it with Brother T, and it is DELIGHTFUL to sit outside on furniture gifted to us by our cousin Ashley. DELIGHTFUL.

I thought I’d just put a few pictures up of the whole shebang to commemorate it.

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Sister, sitting on the old “structure”

I am going to say “we” in this post, and that mostly refers to Trevor and Phil who did 98% of the work on this project. Claire and I did some of the hammering and impact-wrenched a few screws and occasionally stood on a board while they sawed it in half, but really it was Trevor and Phil. And Jackson, who is four, did more than either of us!

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The demolition begins. Also see baby garden in background.

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Old thing gone. Room for new thing.

First, we demolished the old porch. If we can call it a porch. It had been there for 25 years and was more than a little crooked. It seemed so much bigger when we were in our single-digits!

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Next, Trevor and Phil spent many hours digging holes that were four or five feet deep. That was some backbreaking labor (I gather…I mean…I mostly watched them and also brought cold bottles of water out and played with Phil’s adorable children, but it seemed backbreaking) and it took a while to get the holes deep with the manual post-hole-diggers. Then they mixed up bags of cement and poured them in. Those were going to be the supports for the deck and the holes had to be deep to protect from frost-heaves.

 

(“Alex, take a video of me working so I can send it to Katey.”)

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Jackson is the hardest worker I know.

We spent some time getting all these old bricks up off of a small patio. Jackson seriously did more than half of that, lugging the bricks back and forth, squealing at ant colonies and thoughtfully transferring earthworms to their new homes in the garden. I love this kid! He is such a good worker and every time I was like, “Want to go play instead?” he would shake his head and say, “Alex, we gotta keep working.”

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Phil was getting the big posts ready above, while Jackson stood by with his trusty “ear helmets” on.

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Uncle Mike and Trevor spent a few hours moving the garden hose from one side of the house to the other side of the house, and then they started framing it up.

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This is work, not play.

Then Phil and Trev started screwing the decking onto the frame, notching out the posts to go around the railing.

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Below we can see photographic proof that I was involved in sitting on boards while Trevor used power tools.

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Yes, I do stick my fingers in my ears like a toddler when there are loud noises around. Perhaps I should invest in a good pair of ear helmets.

Note the PASSAGE OF TIME in the background as the garden started to grow. Also note that at this point I thought my zucchinis would live and thrive and prosper. ALAS.

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And then…look at this beauty!

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YES COUNTRY LIVING MAGAZINE YOU CAN FEATURE US

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It wraps all the way around from the side door to the back doors and has become our second living room. We still have some finishing touches to complete…like finishing the hand railings on the stairs, but overall I am pretty impressed!

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We also need to stain/treat the wood, but we are already greatly enjoying the deck and are so grateful to Phil and to Trevor for all their hard work!!

(And Jackson, obviously.)

Swimming Hole!

family, friends, friendship, personal essay, small town life

I bring you a quick trip to a local swimming hole.

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Brother T and his then-fiancé–but NOW HIS WIFE– (we need a name…Sister K? Katey? KT? WEIGH IN, PEOPLE!)–Sister and I drove to the town hall, walked down a tunnel of illuminated greenness, climbed down a slope and ended up at a perfect swimming hole under the old railroad trestle.

IMG_2165 2 IMG_2175 2Despite my best efforts to convince people that if we just believe hard enough summer doesn’t have to end, I will here and now admit that some of the leaves are starting to shift from green to yellow, orange, and red. They are so magnificent here in this part of the world. I’m planning to take the camera out and document the changes, and maybe try my hand at painting some of those colors. There is something about the red-orange leaves against the bluest autumn sky that makes any painting seem insignificant.

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Anyway, summer is shifting to fall, whether I like it or not. And, actually, if summer would shift to the loveliest of autumn days, and then slowly fade to a holiday- and cheer-filled winter and then QUICKLY MOVE INTO SPRING AFTER ABOUT SEVEN DAYS OF PICTURESQUE SNOWFALL, I would be okay with all of that. It’s the knowledge that winter is long and cold and often dark and often dreary that makes me want to hold on to these long summer days as hard as I can. It’s not easy for me to just sit back and enjoy the change and enjoy the transition. THE PASSAGE OF TIME IS JUST NOT EASY FOR ME, PEOPLE!

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Well, that’s why I’m posting photos from this past summer, since I’ve been lax at updating on time. That’s okay though…it was better to just enjoy the moments and take pictures for later!

 

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The First Backyard Ballad

backyard ballad, Uncategorized

I think I’m going to start a new feature called “Backyard Ballad” in which I post a couple of snaps of whatever is happening around our yard.

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She really, actually enjoys mowing the lawn.

We have flowers and animals and get-togethers and campfires and hummingbirds and hammocks and I think this would be a nice way to look back and remember the little moments which make this place so special to us.

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A well-earned rest

I thought about calling it Back-yode, like an ODE to the backyard, but I talked myself out of it instantly and then I wrote this sentence.

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These few pics are from one of the two sunny days last week.

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We called these “spit bugs” when I was a kid. These little insects leave white, bubbly blobs on long grasses which look a lot like spit; ergo, spit bug. I just checked on Wikipedia and apparently, they are more well-known as “froghoppers”* and can jump “many times their height and length.”

Anyway, when we were really little we used to pick them up with our fingers and look for the tiny, little green bug inside them.

That is an activity that I have outgrown.

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And this is a pretty little catnip plant** which we planted after Brother T cleared the back part of the yard.

 

 

 

 

*of the superfamily Cercopoidea

**better known as nepeta cataria

THE RAINS THEY ARE A’COMING

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips, photography, Uncategorized

I broke out the real camera for this post, ya’ll. As will be evident in the increased quality, amateurish control of exposure settings, and as much bokeh as I can figure out how to get.

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If I remember to do it, I’ll try and take this same picture as the beans grow. I’ll also let you know if they prove to be “exceptionally tender and delicious”.

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These pictures are from Saturday, I think, and were followed by four days of thunderstorms and rain, so Sister and I were pretty anxious to get all the rest of the garden planted.

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Red Swiss chard

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Let’s be real…there was probably dirt on my face, too.

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Mmmmmmm can’t wait!

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Bush beans and zucchini

There are two questions now on my mind.

  1. MULCHING?
  2. How do I actually, you know, harvest plants?

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Look at that, you guys.

A TOMATO BLOSSOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I planted the pole beans along the Northern fence and hopefully they will climb right up the sides. Our neighbors are professional landscapers, and I told one of them that it’s intimidating to have pros watch you pick up a shovel and plant things, but she said veggie gardens are all about experimentation and to just go for it, so that’s what we’re doing! (She also brought over some Cosmos seedlings and says that they will get big and colorful and bloom all summer long. Can’t wait!)

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So, there we have it. Our hopeful veggie garden contains:

  • six varieties of tomatoes
  • Kennebec potatoes
  • yellow and red swiss chard
  • turnips
  • heirloom red carrots
  • romaine lettuce
  • butter crunch lettuce
  • kale
  • arugula
  • dill
  • cilantro
  • lemon verbena
  • sweet onions
  • red onions
  • chives
  • yellow squash
  • zucchini
  • purple eggplant
  • white eggplant
  • orange, green, and purple bell peppers
  • one jalapeño plant
  • and cucumbers

PHEW!

Wait, do you think I went overboard?

CULTURE SHOCK

culture shock, family, friends, personal essay, photography, small town life

Good morning! A short post to start the day, and then maybe like eight more posts because the internet has decided to upload pictures? We’ll see.

I thought I’d show you a few of the things that have inspired culture shock in the last two weeks since I’ve returned to America. There are always things…not the ones I expect…that throw me for a loop. Sister and I often discuss how we are back in our own country, but having spent so many years overseas, we don’t quite fit in. There are…apparently…many things that we should just know, but we don’t! Such is the life of a third-culture-kid.

America is BIG. The big-ness of it hits me in different ways. When it comes to driving somewhere, you have to drive FAR, and that doesn’t faze anyone. Any place within an hour’s drive in any direction is considered do-able and local. The hills and the meadows stretch on and on and on. This is the big-ness which I love. I like that it makes me feel like a small part of a huge thing, and I like that the roads are overgrown with wildflowers and more trees than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I like that our history is so upfront and personal, that America is still fairly wild, that there are far, far more birds that fly past my window than cars.

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This is a giant bear claw mark on my Aunt’s house, about a mile from our house. Bears are making a come back around here!

And then there is the big-ness that I don’t like.

Our area has a population of 5,402 spread out over a lot of land. Two miles up the road from us is the grocery store, which used to be a small-ish, manageable, slightly run-down place. Then they replaced it. With a fortress. It is the size of a small airport. For all I know, it is ALSO a small airport. It is open 24/7. There is just no reason that anyone around here needs to run to the local store at 3 AM and I have personally only been able to bring myself to go inside it a couple of times because it is just SO OVERWHELMING.

There is a big-ness in the book stores, the grocery stores, the construction stores, the clothing stores, the stuff stores, the more stores, the even-more stores that I can’t tolerate. Things are cheap. If you want cheap, there is cheap. Walmart is KING of the cheap, but this is what happened to me when I made the mistake of venturing into Walmart.

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Sister found me here, on the verge of a panic attack, hiding behind the cooler.

There are so many options. The options sprawl out in front of me and I–who am not good at making decisions–find myself paralyzed.

Here is how you buy a loofah in Europe: You go to the store and if they have a loofah, you buy it. If they don’t have a loofah, that is to be expected, and you will be fine.

Here is how you buy a loofah here in a small town in the middle of nowhere:

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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Yes, the following options are available:

  • textured
  • net
  • scrubbie dubbie
  • delicate
  • exfoliating
  • charcoal-infused
  • and men’s, which are not different from the other ones.
  • on a stick
  • on a different kind of stick
  • on a stick that is ergonomic
  • on a wooden stick with a sponge
  • on a wooden stick with a different kind of sponge

And Target. Oh my goodness, let’s not go THERE ever again. Behold what Target hath wrought:

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Poor Sister. All we wanted were chips!

And then there is tipping. Let’s save that one for another day. But America, just pay people a living wage! It would make everything so much easier!

 

The other day we met Aunt K thirty minutes away for dinner and WONDER WOMAN. (I loved Wonder Woman!) We went to a place called the Recovery Room, which made the following bold assertion:

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It says: EVERY GAME EVERY DAY.

While you’re eating.

Here is what that looks like, and pretend you’re not good with sensory overload:

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SCREENS EVERYWHERE. This was just from my seat at the restaurant. Some of the TVs had four different screens within the screen. Every sport imaginable! Lots of people talking at me! SO MANY DIFFERENT SCORES.

The menu did not have any vegetable untouched by cheese or meat, haha, and because of the decision-paralysis discussed above, this is how my ordering went down:

Waitress (SUPER PEPPY): Have you decided what you’ll be getting tonight?

Me (paralyzed from the menu, points to childhood favorite): The chicken strips?

Waitress: GREAT CHOICE. Okay, will you be having that with a special shake spice blend?

Me: …what?

Waitress: Will you be having that with a special shake spice blend? We could do ranch, or adobo, or habanero, or–

Me: No.

Waitress: And what dip will you be having?

Me: …I…thought it came with the honey mustard?

Waitress (positively chipper): IT SURE DOES, but you can get another dip, too! Ranch? BBQ? Sweet and sour? Or maybe–

Me: –HONEY MUSTARD IS FINE THANKS

Waitress: SURE THING. Okay, and would you like regular fries, onion rings, sweet potato fri–

Me: –JUST THE NORMAL THING. JUST THE THING THAT EVERYONE GETS. THE REGULAR ONE.

Waitress: SOUNDS GREAT. Okay, and to drink?

Me (going crazy): Iced tea.

Waitress: Regular, lemon, raspberry, sweetened or unsweetened?

Me (puts my head down and begins to sob uncontrollably).

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I think four chickens had to die for my meal.

In no particular order, a few other culture shock moments:

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The deer ate ALL THE FLOWERS. Ughhhh.

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There are yard sales everywhere.

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Finding the car battery and figuring it out made possible thanks to Uncle M.

I can hear Brother T and Sister in the other room cackling over Parks and Rec, I am drinking coffee with half-and-half, and later I plan to go and buy the best burrito I’ve ever had in my life. There are beautiful things here. It’s just better for everyone if I don’t go into a box store ever again.

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We are coming for you, Taste Box.

Fence Posts 

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth, small town life, Uncategorized

I’m falling behind on my garden progress posts. But this morning it is RAINING and due to rototill-ing (coming to a post near you shortly!), I can’t move my arms, so I will catch up on my garden progress.

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Pre-Posts. Back when we thought there were only 10-13 rocks in the garden.

One thing is for sure: we could not be putting a garden in without friends and family helping us out! They’ve given us tools, time, and expertise, and I am so grateful for that.

The post holes that Bill helped us dig just weren’t deep enough, so I was trying to figure out a solution to the post hole problem, and it was looking like it would cost $150 to get someone to drill holes for us. No sooner did Cousin P hear about that than he sent me a text saying he’d be here the next morning to help us dig. Did he want me to rent an auger to make it easier? No. Apparently, we hadn’t earned the auger yet. Ha.

Actually, I just checked, and what he really said was:

Me: Maybe renting the auger is the way to go

Cousin P: Part of learning to dig holes is you have to dig several successfully before you are allowed to use an auger. Or you are a city person.

Obviously, being a city person is not an option. That is yet another post for yet another day. City people. Gross.

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Does this look like a city person to you?

Cousin P and A and their kids pulled in around 10 and by 12 we had fence posts in the ground! Wow, it is hard to dig post holes!! I kept thinking they were the requisite 27 inches deep, only to find out that they were closer to 18. Also: rocks. But that is another story.

The kids were so helpful 🙂 J, who is 4, brought his shovel and went to work immediately. R, who is 2, carried rocks back and forth, got totally covered in mud, and then took up temporary residence in a post hole.

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I love these kids!!

We also played a fun game called, “Alex, find this worm a home.” This was brought about due to the necessity of not having all the worms manhandled and bleeding to death*, so I told the kids the worms were homesick and we had to let them go home. “Going home” involved me digging a hole and J stomping on the dirt to really, really make sure the worms got home.

There were a lot of homesick worms out there.

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Not a city person.

Following our adventure of digging holes, Uncle M stopped by and he and Sister discussed lawn mowing, which is Sister’s favorite thing to do. He had to take it home with him, and take apart the carburetor** and put it back together. Sister says we could have done that if we knew what a carburetor was.

 

How right she is.

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All she wants to do is go mow the lawn.

Then we got to stapling up the six foot, vinyl-coated, really-heavy, galvanized steel, deer-proof fencing. (Did you know that we have so many deer here in Upstate New York that I see deer EVERY SINGLE DAY. And did you know that they carry TICKS which carry LYME DISEASE and that I had Lyme Disease when I was in fourth grade and I don’t want to have it again, people.) I WILL NOT HAVE DEER IN MY GARDEN. I WILL NOT.***

Okay, then we went and had bagels.

*BAGEL BREAK*

And then Sister saw a dead mouse and freaked out. And then we picked up a couple garden tools. And then we went to the local hardware store and got stakes for the tomatoes. All of this was to put off the inevitable: ROTOTILLING. It is hard work, people.

Look at me. That is the face of someone who is covered in dirt, and who takes her pet rototiller everywhere.

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Just me, a lot of dirt, and my Mantis.

Did you know gardening is really dirty work???

So, I rototilled and Sister mowed the front lawn, and then I ate pizza.

 

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Fried eggplant, artichoke hearts, tomatoes. AMERICA, I LOVE YOU.

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Intensive scrubbing took place shortly after this photo was taken.

Cousin P: How is garden project going?

Me (boastfully): I got blisters so it was authentic work. I had work gloves on. I used to have soft city hands.

Sister (scornfully): Now you have soft city hands with blisters.

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Yes, there is dirt on my face.

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*apparently giant, bleeding worms are interesting to two-year-olds 😉

**it took me seven tries to spell carburetor correctly

***I WILL NOT

Breaking Ground

friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth

The ground has been broken and that makes me happy!

I didn’t know what to expect when it came to getting the grass off the ground and the garden full of dirt. Options included the back-breaking pick-axe and shovel (sounded hard), hiring someone to rototill (sounded expensive), or finding a plow (sounded impossible).

Uncle G told us it would be easiest to find someone with a plow, though I don’t think he thought we could actually do it. Sister looked at me–I looked at Sister–and we knew that we knew someone who would have the answer.

So Sister texted Bill to ask if he knew anyone with a plow and he–being Bill–ended up in our yard the very next evening with a giant backhoe and a friend named Tom. They also bought a manual post-hole digger and an auger.

Earlier that day…

Me: Sister, we need to find something to dig holes with for fence posts

Sister: Like what?

Me: I don’t know. Google it?

Sister (after Googling): …is it…an auger?

Both of us: What IS an auger, anyway?

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This was in the driveway when we pulled in

Knowing that Bill was coming meant that I had to CHOOSE A LOCATION.

Look, on the best of days I might be able to make a decision quickly. On all other days, I find decision-making tough. I start to think, and over-think, and over-think the over-thinking and before you know it, a lot of time has passed and I have thought of many an eventuality–all increasingly farfetched–and have paralyzed myself. I worry about disappointing people, I worry mostly about making the WRONG choice, or somehow making a decision that is less than perfect. I have operated for a long time on the assumption that there is always one right choice and everything else is a mistake or wrong. I am working on changing that perspective, but Rome wasn’t built in a day (neither is this garden). I am working on thinking that if I put the garden in the back right corner where there is a little too much morning shade or the back left corner or on the side of the house or not…I am learning that there might not be ONE right answer.

Anyway.

I asked everyone for their thoughts because I was panicking a little bit.

I asked Aunt W and Uncle M, I asked their neighbor who I’d never met before, I asked Aunt S and Uncle G, I talked to Sister, Mom, Dad, Brother 1 and Brother 2, I asked Cousin A and and I asked and I asked and finally I arrived at a decision, which was mainly because there was a giant backhoe in the driveway when I got home. Ha.

I think part of this process is learning to trust my own judgment. Maybe my own decision making is just fine.

I am pretty happy with where the ground was broken.

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Onward:

  • We staked out a 15×20 foot plot
  • Bill brought the backhoe around to the side of the house and operated it like he does it every day of his life
  • The backhoe peeled the sod back kind of like an ice cream scoop and soft ice cream. It was so effortless.
  • Bill broke the sod up, patted it down, tore it apart, and scattered it. If Bill operated one of those toy-cranes at an arcade, I bet he’d get every stuffed animal in the case.

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Meanwhile, I continue to adjust to people who have a sense of humor. After more than a year in the Netherlands, where sarcasm is wasted, there has been more than one interaction like this:

Me: It was good to meet you, Tom. Thanks so much for coming over!

Tom: Actually, my name is William.

Me (flustered): Wait, seriously? That’s awful. I’m so sorry. I thought your name was Tom. Oh man. What a disaster. Unbelievable. This is so awkward. And Claire just asked me what your name was and I told her it was Tom. Oh gosh. Oh dear. Here, you know what? Take my wallet. Actually, just take the house.

Bill: His name is Tom. He was just joking.

Me: Oh.

As Bill operated the backhoe with a truly inspiring amount of dexterity, Tom chatted with me and Sister about his wife and how she died, how he came to know the Lord, and lots of little fun facts.

Tom: The round stones are called Cobbles. Or Cobs, if you’re in the stone business.

Me (points to big rock): Oh. What’s that one called?

Tom (looks at me out of the corner of his eye): That’s called a rock.

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Finally, they brought around the auger and got to work. First they thought they would drill 14 holes, but the auger is tough, and then it was 12 holes, but the auger is really tough, so then it was 10 holes.

Holes which ended up needing some work, but that’s a post for another day.

Basically, this particular experience taught me to continue to ask for help and also that everything is easier when you have community and some friends who are willing to hop on their backhoe with another buddy and drive it a few miles up the road and park it in your lawn and break up the sod for you.

I have also learned what an auger is.

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Sister jumping for joy