Introducing the Four-Acre Wood and “Shipwreck”

Ah, where to begin? 2020 was an eventful year for all of us, (that alone might win the Captain Obvious prize for the classic understatement.) For Susan and I, it meant; selling our beloved 1890 house of 27 years, moving in with Susan’s 84-year-old mother for 6 months until we figured out that she was more independent than we thought, and discovering that we all needed our own space, then searching for a house of our own a month before I retired. The hunt began. While Susan’s mother was doing okay on her own, she’s not going to get any younger and we didn’t want to move too far away. In a real estate market gone crazy with bidding wars, we came across a house that had been on the market for 3 years. The previous owner had an inflated idea of its worth, and so it sat, and sat, and sat until he gradually dropped the price, year after year until we came along, and after a few offers later the house was ours.

The last two homes we owned were built-in 1890. We are old house people, it’s in our blood (and under our fingernails and probably in our lungs) but there aren’t many historic homes in Jefferson County, Missouri, but this house checked off a few boxes. Though only 20 years old, the plans were from North Carolina architect William Poole whose designs are rooted in tradition and southern heritage. The brickwork came from salvaged 100+ year old home demolitions in St. Louis. The full-width front porch mirrored our last two houses, pulled on some heartstrings, and was a major selling point.

Anyone who has purchased a house knows that acquiring homeowners insurance is part of the deal. We submitted bids to several different companies. The little subdivision we are in (a whopping nine houses) is called “Shipwatch,” based on the fact that most houses including ours have views of the Mississippi River. I may have mumbled, or the insurance agent on the other end misunderstood me, but the quote came back with a price to insure “Shipwreck” and the name stuck.

So welcome to Shipwreck!

Shipwreck sits on four acres which is about 3.5 acres more than we wanted, fortunately, most of it is wooded, hence the name for this blog, The Four-Acre Wood, (with a nod to Winnie the Pooh).

As mentioned in the “About Us” page … we invite you to join us on this journey, this chapter turning of; retirement, remodeling, resale shops, cooking, gardening, decorating, family, fashion, dogs (see I didn’t forget about Mimsy), and life musings … not because we have any great wisdom or expertise in any of those areas, but because life is best shared. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us that we are not designed to live in solitude.

Tim, Susan, and Mimsy

The Joy of an Incoming Storm (and lack of control)

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Obviously, We don’t mean a tornado or damaging storm, but those sudden spring shifts in the weather, where a cold front moves in, and minute by minute the skyscape changes until the swirling dramatic clouds are replaced by a wall of solid grey, the rain descends as the wind whips the trees back and forth and they sway as if hearing the beats of distant samba drums. Here at the Four-Acre Wood, the back deck and the view of the valley below us provide a great perspective for that drama.

To be honest our favorite vista for incoming storms has been Sanibel Island and the view across the Gulf of Mexico. Unobstructed by trees, the demarcation of the approaching cold front is visible miles away. Suddenly you feel the temperature drop 10 or 15 degrees and at the same time, the wind picks up … gathering sand from the beach and blasting any exposed skin. Seconds later the rain arrives at a horizontal angle, pelting and stinging. The wind roars in your ears as you laugh, running for shelter, never feeling more alive.

Is part of that exhilaration an acknowledgment of a lack of control on our part?

We, humans, want to be in control. Intellectually we know that storms will be a part of our life, both in nature and emotionally, yet we plan, devise, plot, and worry endlessly …borrowing trouble from a future that has not yet occurred.

How much better if we could surrender control over things that we have no influence on and just say a simple prayer … “Lord, I’d love a life of ease, with no problems and no worries, but that’s not what you promised.  What you promised is that you would never leave us or forsake us … not through loss of job, divorce, financial hardships, or cancer. You play the long game, not through the pop-up storms of our life as painful as they may be, but through the eternal.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Vespers and Birthdays at the Four-Acre Wood

We are one day short from the middle of May. Okay, technically (since May has 31 days) a day and a half for all you sticklers to details. Let’s not quibble, it’s the middle of May. Winter has relinquished its hold on the northern hemisphere (at least in the midwest). Everything is green and growing, our weeds have never looked healthier. 

Today we celebrated the birthday of our youngest daughter (since we are being technical, one of two). It was a simple and relaxed meal. The convenience items were the store-bought birthday cake and the potato salad. The burgers, baked beans, and deviled eggs were homemade. Our two daughters and three grandchildren were in attendance, and no one complained, especially when it came time for cake and ice cream. It was a time to count your blessings.

Twilight descends on the Four-Acre Wood. The air softens, and the edges of the tree leaves begin to blur just slightly. The village of Kimmswick, so visible during the winter has now disappeared from view.

Vespers, a time of evening prayer, a time of reflection. The world’s problems and ours do not stop at twilight, but it is a time to set them aside. Our work is done, the day is done, and tomorrow holds the same promises that we held today.

Poppy

 

The Sparrow’s Nest

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A sparrow selected our front door wreath last spring as a prime spot to build her nest. In her mind I’m sure the location made sense, it was sheltered from rain and inclement weather. That it was a high-traffic area was beyond her understanding. Every entrance and exit from the front door set the nest in motion causing her to fly away. Understanding the situation we took to entering and exiting through the breezeway door or the garage until the fledglings had literally, “flown the nest.”

Fast forward to 2022 and a newly designed spring wreath is hung on the front door, and yes, Mrs. Sparrow came back.  The wreath was removed before she could take out any building permits for a new nest. Several days later we noticed the front porch was strewn with twigs and bits of evergreen. There is a reason the term, “bird-brain” exists.  She chose the next closest spot to build her nest, the blades of the ceiling fan on the front porch.  Day after day she worked on her nest until the next stiff breeze caught the blades of the fan, spinning them and sending her nest architecture onto the floor of the porch.

“Can you build something in the corner of the porch, away from the door where she can build her nest in peace,” Susan asked?


Every day we are bombarded with news of war, violence, refugees, famine, and cruelty beyond imaging. Closer to home we watch as friends and family deal with issues that leave us feeling just as impotent as the events on the other side of the globe. Our world spins like the blades of the ceiling fan, scattering our feeble constructs and there seems very little that is in our control. Some days the best we can do is to offer a smile to a stranger, a kind word when a sharp word is our first thought, and build a little ledge for a sparrow’s nest.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.  Psalm 84:3

Ledge

Weeds Give Me Hope!

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Here at the Four-Acre Wood we are ready for spring. Every season has its charm and beauty, yes even winter, though at times it’s a stretch to find that. The robins have been back for weeks now. Where do they go during winter? We could “Google” that to find the answer, but the mystery is more charming than an explanation. A little magic trumps a computer generated response every time.

The valley behind us spills into the Village of Kimmswick, then on to the Mississippi River. The trees lift their branches heavenward, still bare, but in supplication, knowing that new growth will come.

Our once carefully manicured and mulched flower beds offer the first hints of new growth and fresh green. No, not hybrid hydrangeas or hostas, but weeds.

Steinbeck wrote in Cannery Row, “.”Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth.”

We could add to that list, weeds.

Steinbeck’s observation is spot on. God did not give the gift of survival to the exotic and rare, the Siberian Tiger or Peacock, but to the lowly, the common … weeds … and me.

I’m slowly checking off things I won’t accomplish in my life time; brokering peace in the Mid-East, finding a cure for cancer, or balancing my checkbook. But I’m okay being a weed, so long as I’m a weed in God’s plan.

Our Father who art in nature.

(But God, we’ve got to talk about mosquitoes and poison ivy)

Inside and Outside

At The Four-Acre Wood tonight, there is the inside, then there is the outside. The outside … well it’s been 24 hours of sleet and freezing rain, nasty stuff, even Mimsy with her four-leg drive has slipped and fallen (me, let’s not talk about it … the video would have gone viral). Far from The Four-Acre Wood the world news seems even more dismal. It’s a time for perspective and faith. 

Inside we are blessed to have our oldest daughter, and youngest granddaughter with us while her husband is on the other side of the world on miltary duty. We have heat, we are safe, and we have have enough produce for a nice salad. We take none of these things for granted. 

Outside the trees lift up their bare arms, covered in a coat of ice, waiting for spring. Waiting. Spring will come as it always does. Bare limbs will become green once more. It’s ordained, it’s God’s design. 

Inside we finish watching “The Major and the Minor” a classic Ginger Rodgers movie. We dance with baby Adeline (not as smooth as Ginger) but dance we do. 

Outside we place the future in God’s hands and go along for the ride.

Poppy, SuSu, Erica, and Adeline

A Late Valentine’s Day Musing

I’m a guy. To say I’m a clueless guy would be redundant. Valentine’s Day is winding down at The Four-Acre Wood. The only roses present are the Don Juan climbing roses outside, trying to weather the winter. At this point we are all trying to survive the frigid temperatures. Soup is always in order in February. A quick pantry inventory directed me try potato soup: Yukon Gold potatoes, celery, sweet onion, white queso, bacon, etc. and we were in business 

Decades ago, I married my high school sweetheart and never looked back. Ups and downs, of course. Bumbling … to this day. But never regrets. 

Embers burn a long time, they may not be flashy, but the heat is still there, in our case, decade after decade. It’s been a tough few weeks for my high school sweetheart dealing with elder parent issues. I can make a decent soup, solving other problems, not so much.

Note to self; next year make soup but buy some fresh roses too.

The Official News Source for The Four-Acre Wood

Leader

In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s been years since I’ve watched any prime-time network news broadcasts. That doesn’t make me superior to anyone and hopefully doesn’t make me inferior. I grew up with Walter Cronkite. He gave us the nightly news without biased commentary or inuendo. He left it up to us to interpret the local, national and world events without an implied agenda. It was a nod to the intellectual abilities of those receiving the news.

I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “Fake News.” I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes both literally and figuratively. But it wasn’t long before I realized the landscape of reporting had changed and not for the better. Traditionally newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts made their revenue from advertising. Those media channels are dying, leaving the internet as their primary source of revenue. Clicks are now the source of income and survival. And in order to get clicks they must be out there first and be a little more sensational than their competition. Fact checking be damned. Headlines not factual reporting but teasing click-bait. Why would you say, “It’s Snowing Over Missouri,” when you can say, “Weather Experts Warn of Life-Threatening Conditions Across the Midwest?”

Enter The Leader.

The Leader is the weekly newspaper in our little corner of the world and fits perfectly with our new life on The Four-Acre Wood.  CNN, Foxnews, MSNBC, etc. provide an endless stream of drama, teasing and biased reporting that has no relevance to me other than an attempt to get me spooled up about an issue that I cannot possibly change and may not even be accurate or true.

In contrast, the lead story of the latest edition of The Leader is about a third grader from our local school district receiving an award from the Rock Community Fire Protection District. Next to that is an article about the city council debating changes to the floodway building codes. Since we are a community of flawed humans there are also these stories; “Couple allegedly steals from, damages rental home, “and SUV stolen from outside rec center.” But next is the gripping story, “Jefferson College Fieldhouse getting new gym floor.”

None of that is “Fake News.”

You might say, “You’re just sticking you head in the sand.”

You might be right, but in the meantime, it’s going to get into the single digits tonight. I’ve got to go and refill the bird feeder; they are counting on us. It’s a little act that I can affect.

Of Dreaming Dogs and Laughing Children

Happy Tate on beach 2

Anyone who has been owned by a dog has experienced this … fast asleep they chirp several times, back legs jerk, sometimes giving out a soft bark, a few more chirps, then become quiet again. We don’t know what they are dreaming about but imagine it’s something like this … “Someone left the gate open and there’s a rabbit on the other side … run, chase, run run run.” … or “After years of waiting underneath the dining room table, someone finally dropped a piece of roast beef on the floor.

The biggest trauma our dogs have faced is being left alone for a few hours, so we’re going to bet their dreams are happy ones.

Our first grandchild lived with us the first four years of his life. It didn’t happen often, but occasionally we would hear him laugh out loud in his sleep. It’s one of those rare moments when you believe all is right with the world. But it’s not just sleeping children that trigger that emotion. Our middle granddaughter can laugh and giggle while tormenting her older brother (the one who laughed in his sleep, probably because he didn’t know at the time, he would have a little sister to aggravate him). Our youngest granddaughter, nine months old, laughs, sometimes I believe she makes herself laugh just for the pure joy of it.

Retired now, we try to walk every day. Our route takes us out of The Four-Acre Wood and onto Waters Lane, a charming and infuriating one lane road. Charming because it’s a one lane country road, infuriating because while driving and meeting someone coming the other way, someone will have to back up or pull off the road. Then our walk takes us around the Windsor School complex, the first leg loops around the buildings for the youngest children.  If we time it right, the kids will be out on the playground; running, screaming, turning cartwheels, throwing a ball to someone, throwing a ball at someone, looking for the highest object to jump from in an attempt to break something, but the pervasive sound is laughter. We can’t speak for the teachers on playground duty, but it makes us smile, enjoying the pure joy, the exuberance, the innocence of being a child at play.

We made the mistake of visiting a “news” site the other day and read of career politicians attempting to draft legislation in bills long enough to make “War and Peace” look like a comic book (and cost a lot more than the first edition of “Superman”). A tome that no one will read or understand before voting on it, in an attempt to solve all of humanities problems, both real and imagined.

We have a simple two-part counter proposal.

Part one: Devote ourselves to creating a world where our pets have happy dreams and our children laugh in their sleep instead of crying out in terror.

Part two: Live your life like someone left the gate open.

Happy New Year, Tim, Susan and Mimsy


And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:16)

Too Many Christmas Movies (not enough time)

It can’t be because we are getting older, but the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems to compress itself, becoming shorter and shorter. Here at The Four-Acre Wood. it forces us to choose our time wisely; which decorations to put up, which cookies to bake, which Christmas movies to watch, and maybe toughest of all, which of those to exclude … these are all very important decisions in any household.

Our movie watching is largely dictated by the audience, if the grandkids are over the list narrows to some of the newer options: Elf, Home Alone, and A Christmas Story. If it’s just Tim, Susan, and Mimsy we take a step back in time to the classics: Christmas in Connecticut, Holiday Inn, White Christmas, and A Night to Remember. Given enough time a few more may make the rotation. (FYI, Mimsy is not that picky as long as her people are around)

What are your favorites? What’s on your must-watch list?

The Soul of the Home

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If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the dining room must be the soul. This is where the oldest and most sacred of human traditions occur; the breaking of bread with family and friends. This was the first room redone after purchasing the four-acre wood. As Susan said, “It has good bones,” generous windows, proportions, and a large bay window. We added a ceiling medallion, an antique chandelier, fresh paint, chair rail molding, grass-cloth, and new old furniture.

Then comes “The most wonderful time of the Year,” and it’s transformed once again.

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DR_East use

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To all of our friends and family spread across this wonderful country at this special season, while we may not be able to gather physically in this dining room, we can break bread separately, but yet together in the knowledge that the King of Kings was born and dwells with us all.

Tim, Susan and Mimsy