Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hillside Folks Festival

I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood that had block parties and socialized, and, oddly enough, that never happened in California, not in Riverside nor in Murrieta. When we moved here late last fall, we met our immediate neighbors pretty quickly, but just didn't connect with anyone during the long cold months of winter and early spring.

Then in late spring, we got word that some neighbors were organizing a cleanup day, to help one woman who couldn't maintain her yard, to clean up some open space on the edge of our tiny, three-block neighborhood, and to haul off anyone's hazardous waste and brush. We participated in that, and got to know some really nice folks on the surrounding blocks.

Steve got notice last week through the neighborhood email ring that the "fourth annual Hillside Folks Festival" would be held at the house of a musician and guitar builder who lives on Hillside Drive, half a block from us. Steve had actually met this guy when he flew back to Colorado last fall to take one more look at our house before we put a bid on it. He'd been walking his dog on the canal and he'd assured Steve that he'd love the neighborhood and shouldn't hesitate to move, and he mention his folk music concert.

So we headed over to Ronnie and Elaine's house yesterday evening, bearing pasta salad and a new formulation of mosquito repellent (lemon eucalyptus oil works as well as DEET, for two hours at least, according to the Feds) and found the neatest little music festival in this family's backyard. Five or six different groups/individuals performed half-hour sets over the course of the evening, a long table of potluck food and drinks and really warm and open neighbors to get to know. We had a great time, the kids too, and we stayed until nearly full-dark, when the repellent was unable to deter the famished mosquitoes any longer. It was truly delightful, and just the right sized experience for the kids, not too loud, not too crowded, but some really fun music, which we even danced to a bit at the end, though i didn't have enough wine to really cut loose, I'm afraid, and it's awfully hard to dance gracefullly with a 3 1/2 foot-tall partner who wants to hold both your hands the entire time and be twirled to boot! Ah well, the neighbors seemed like an accepting crowd.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wow, the end of July already!

Well, I know why I didn't post in June -- I couldn't bring myself to hunt through photos of Maggie, our nearly 16-year-old dog. She did a quick, downward spiral the second week in June, and on Friday the 13th, we called the wonderful, house-call veterinarian out and had her put to sleep. It was as gentle a way to go as possible, after a long, hard and unpleasant week, but it was still difficult to say goodbye. I still don't feel like looking through photos, so, a memorial post will have to wait.

We did have a fun visit with my folks here the first week of June, celebrating Dad's birthday, then a trip to Pennsylvania for Steve's Grandma's 98th birthday the first week in July. Got to see fireflies again and Grandpa Jack and Jennifer, and play scrabble with Shirley, who, truly, seems about 20 years younger than she is. (Not many of us can say that!)

We came back to the heat of July, bought an above-ground pool 3 feet deep and 10 feet across, and have been inhabiting the spirit of summer -- lots of play and lazy days. The chickens are getting bigger, and are still delightful (will post updated photos of these teenagers soon), the kids are sprouting up themselves and getting into new interests as well.

After watching the weeds grow for a couple of weeks, Steve and I got into a frenzy of gardening this week, realizing that we were in serious danger of being completely overrun. The garden now looks tidy, and I'm avidly reading a book on permaculture and getting really excited about a radically different way to garden. In a nutshell and as I only sketchily understand it, permaculture in the home garden involves appreciating the interconnected relationships in nature, the way every element of every natural system serves multiple functions, and how the system is constantly working to rebalance itself and evolve into more mature ecosystems.

So, in practice, I'm realizing that we can make use of our shady front yard and enrich our tired soil by creating an understory of perennials, many edible, and spreading a thick, thick layer of mulch over the tired grass and cottonwood roots that is our front lawn at the moment. I'm thinking we can plant our back yard much more thickly with fruit trees and bushes (blueberries! With some acidification of the soil, of course) and maybe even a nut tree or two (to bear years from now, but patience is a necessary virtue with gardening, I know, even if I can't practice it. Yet.)

There's plenty more we could do, from creating a mini gray-water wetlands in the backyard to creating beneficial wildlife habitat around the edges of our backyard to encourage natural pest control of our raised beds, but I think I'll start by trying to apply the principles to our front yard in the fall, as that's the ideal time to start a thick layer of compost and mulch over beds that will nourish new plantings in the spring. And I'm delighted at the idea that I can get edible forest crops from our shady front yard!

Off to play a new board game, Settlers of Catan. Steve and Maddie are now hooked on Alhambra, bwaahhh haa haaah, so I can graduate to even more Euro games! (Actually, I'm thrilled to have someone to play with! I'd been playing Alhambra with a couple of imaginary friends just to get a feel for the game; once I was able to explain it in three paragraphs or less, Steve was on board with it, and then Maddie wanted to join in the fun. Woohoo! Can't wait til Harry's of age...)