Thursday, May 23, 2019

In Praise of Dandelions

When they were little, my children would pick dandelions by the armful. They’d load them onto the backs of their tricycles, weave them into gold-and-green crowns, and bring me bouquets – grasped in small hands and presented with proud grins. It didn’t matter much that those clutches of dandelions soon wilted, even when placed into cups of water – there were always more yellow blooms where they’d come from.

Some people hate dandelions to the point of waging (hapless) war against them. This is something I’ve never understood. Dandelions are hardy and sunny. They’re among the first blooms to pop up each spring, when nature’s palette is quite bland, and will propagate well into summer, after other (less resilient) blooms have arrived to fill the landscape with color. Whether it’s a single dandelion smiling upward along the front porch or an entire field of them reaching for the sun, they seem happy flowers.

Plus, when they’re done blooming, those sunny disks transform into wonderful, orbicular seed puffs. I don’t care how old you are, blowing into those puffs to watch them disperse seems irresistible. Unless, I suppose, you’re one of the people at war with dandelions.

For a few summers during my Colorado tenure, I worked mowing lawns for a friend’s company. Mostly, we took care of vacation homes – giant houses used for only a few weeks of the year and kept pristine for all the other weeks. There was one house, on “The Bench” overlooking town, whose owners rarely (if ever) visited during summer. But they insisted every dandelion hiding in their lawn be plucked or poisoned.

I couldn’t understand the painstaking search-and-destroy missions we conducted every week. The people were never there to SEE the dandelions. And the thing about dandelions in lawns is that when you mow the grass, the flowers get lopped off, and everything is just green; you wouldn’t know the dandelions were even there unless you really looked.

Of course, I don’t welcome dandelions in the garden and pull them up using the special dandelion-digging tool that reaches deep into the ground to – hopefully – extract the entire root, lest it re-sprout. But I leave the rest of them alone.

I don’t eat the dandelions – root, leaf, or flower – like some folks do. Nor do I use them medicinally or ferment the blossoms into wine. I just like how they look – bright, happy, undeterred by the mixed feelings they instill in humans.

Especially this year, when spring has been slow to settle in, and sunshine frustratingly fleeting, I’m glad to see the dandelions and their golden happiness spreading through the greening fields. If I close my eyes and turn my face toward the spring sunshine, I can picture my children, when they were very small, handing me bouquets of what some would disdainfully call weeds.

Those were some of the sweetest flowers I’ve ever received.  

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the May 24, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A New Bike

The white bike with the big wheels is my 10-year-old’s new favorite thing. After taking a spin on it the other day, I can understand why. This is a real bike, a big step up from the little mountain bike she’s left behind in the garage, and a million pedal strokes from the training wheels she outgrew years ago.

Little bike, little girl - not long ago
I still remember a couple of my own new bikes from when I was a kid. The first I got when I was around the age my daughter is now. It was a pink Huffy with a giant, puffy seat. I rode it around the driveway, downtown to meet my friend Liz, and through the neighborhood to deliver the afternoon edition along my paper route.

In high school I got my first mountain bike – a Bridgestone MB-6, sleek and dark red with weirdly knobby tires. This bike went with me to college in upstate New York, where I first dabbled in riding singletrack, discovered the joy of careening around corners and flying down hills through the trees, of coming home mud-spattered and tired and happy.

I carted that bike across the country to Colorado when I moved, and it soon became a “townie” fitted with chrome fenders, curved handlebars, and baskets for carrying groceries and whatever else I needed to haul around town. When I moved back East, I had to leave the Bridgestone behind. I hope someone, somewhere is still riding it.

Surely I had other bikes in between the Huffy and the Bridgestone (I have a vague recollection of a 10-speed somewhere in there), but these are the two I remember.

I’m guessing the new (to her) white Cannondale picked up at the bike swap last weekend is going to be one of those bikes for my daughter, that she’ll love this bike even after the shine wears off.

It was all she could talk about on the long drive home from her second soccer game of the day Saturday. My husband and older two children had gone early to the swap and picked it out of the lineup that morning, when Katy and I were on our way to the first soccer game. She couldn’t wait to see it and take it for a spin.

No matter that she’d run who-knows-how-many-miles in two hours of soccer, she popped out of the car as soon as we stopped, took a happy look at the bike, and – after a few quick adjustments – hopped on to do laps up and down the driveway and around the house.

Watching my youngest ride a bike that is bigger than mine, I couldn’t help remembering a few short years ago when I helped a smaller, similarly pony-tailed version of the same girl take her first wobbly driveway laps sans training wheels. Now I’ll be lucky to keep up.

Keeping up is, in large part, the main goal when you’re the littlest. We started taking family bike rides when the kids were little, my husband and I spinning along while the kids figured out how to balance and brake, lean into turns and shift gears, climb hills steadily and descend with confidence. The littlest kid has always had the littlest bike, and she’s always had to pedal that much harder to stay within reach of her brother and sister.

Now the littlest kid has the biggest wheels. She’s already spent hours on her new bike, riding up and down local roads, around the corner to see grandparents, and all over the yard. She’s figured out the gears and tested the brakes and learned how to make smooth, tight turns.

She can’t wait to ride her new bike to school. I’m looking forward to more family biking adventures on the trail – even if I’m now the one with the littlest bike. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the May 10, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

April at Home

While many of our friends and family members fled south – or west, or across the Atlantic – during the week of April school vacation, my family stuck it out at home. We’ve taken this week to regroup and shift from the mostly-cold time of year to the mostly-warm one.

Gradually, we’ve worked our way through the piles that have accumulated over the long winter, from ski gear to a cumbersome stack of to-file papers to various assorted stuff we just didn’t keep up with over ski season.

Ski bags have been emptied, their contents washed and stored away until we dig it all out in the fall to see what (if anything) still fits the kids. I’ve waxed the skis one more time and am rearranging the storage space to accommodate those and the bulky winter gear. Each April, I try to label all of this so we can pull out what we need – and determine what we’ll need to replace – easily come ski season. And each November, it’s still a scramble.

Outside, the ground is still drying. But we’ve picked up most of the branches and sticks the winter winds strewed about the yard. We’ve raked the thatch out of the grass around the house and scraped as much of the gravel (displaced by the plow) as we could back into the driveway.

Inspired by the spring blooms of crocus and daffodil, I’ve pulled weeds from the small garden bed by the front window. I’ve started to turn the soil in the vegetable gardens and have considered the timing for planting the first peas. And I’ve mostly ignored the large perennial bed out front which more closely resembles an aspiring jungle than a flower garden.

The vacation week hasn’t been all work. The kids have had plenty of laze around time – reading in the sunshine on the porch, lingering long into the mornings in their jammies, playing soccer in the driest patch of greening grass they could find. We’ve also started planning some fun summer adventures, looking forward to that season of hot sun and cool rivers, hiking and biking and exploring new places close to home.

There is still much that needs doing – there always seems to be. Spring brings with it new chores, shifting endeavors, and an array of different activities. But we’ve made progress in this week at home. It feels good to have tucked winter away tidily as we make way for the next season.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the April 26, 2019 issue of the Littleton Record.