Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A treehouse makes everything better

A treehouse changes everything. 
Byrd asked to stay in the treehouse on Monday night. Usually we don’t accept reservations on Mondays, but she seemed like she really needed some nurturing.
She had been taking care of her elderly mother, and when her mother died, Byrd felt deep grief. Taking time off from her job as an airport gate attendant, she had spent the last several days alone in her mother’s house, surrounded by her mother’s things. She hadn’t been out of the house or spoken with anyone in a week.
We thought it was time for her to come out of her shell.
Speaking of shells, when Byrd drove up, I pointed out the bright blue robin’s egg that somehow had been deposited on the path to the front door. Ants had eaten the yolk, but I hadn’t wanted to dispose of the egg, like a small gift by the steps. Byrd thought it was a good sign, since her real name is Robin. I thought so, too.
Before she settled into the treehouse for the night, we offered her a drink and some cheese and had a chat about her job, which she doesn’t like very much. She talked about her son—her only child—who is off at school, and how she feels very alone. We sympathized and told her that the acres of nature surrounding the treehouse might help her mood. I dearly hoped so, for her sake.
That night a cold front rolled in. The wind blew and rattled branches. Lightning struck close by, and thunder rumbled. Sometime after midnight I got up and looked out the window to see if Byrd was okay. The lights were out, so I assumed she was sleeping through the storm.
In the morning she came in for breakfast with a smile on her face.  The storm had awakened her, but she liked the sounds of branches rattling and wind whistling. Before daybreak she had turned on a light and read, snuggled in the cot below the sleeping loft. Then she got up, determined to climb the scary vertical ladder to the loft. On the second attempt, she made it and giggled at her success. She and the treehouse had made friends.
Over breakfast Byrd told us that she once skated with the Ice Follies, traveling all over the world. She had a long love affair with a rock ‘n’ roll drummer and met lots of musicians while she was touring with the Ice Follies. Her face brightened as she recalled those days when she wore a long hippie skirt and a Mexican shirt, her hair dangling in braids. She offered to give me ice skating lessons next winter when she returns to the treehouse. I need the lessons, but I was more delighted that Byrd had enjoyed herself enough for another visit.
That’s the way it is in a treehouse. Nature, even when she’s agitated, has a way of smoothing out our wrinkles. If you’re sad or lonely or just overwhelmed, a night in a treehouse can make everything better. 
Just ask Byrd.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day Russian Style

            A year ago Vlad and Brittany were given a weekend in the Treehouse as a wedding gift. Shortly after the wedding, Brittany was growing heavy with their first child, and her protruding belly prevented her from climbing a tricky ladder to sleep in a tree loft. So they waited a year, during which time little Galena came into their lives—and, on this Mother’s Day weekend, into ours.
            When he was nineteen, Vlad moved from Russia to Los Angeles with his parents. He met Brittany while he was studying for his PhD at M.I.T. Brittany, a pretty, seraphic blonde, was at Harvard Medical School at the time. Obviously things clicked. They dated for a year, and a week after Vlad moved into Brittany’s Cambridge condo, they were married.
            Russians are very close with their families, and Vlad’s mom Tatiana came from California to help with baby Galena. This past weekend, all four of them came to Fern Forest to honor the wedding gift. Tatiana and Galena stayed in the guest room in the main house, giving Brittany and Vlad some honeymoon time in the Treehouse.
            Vlad is a photo tech for Facebook, and Brittany is a hematologist-oncologist in Boston. She talked a little about her work while she swayed Galena in a salsa dance through the dining room or Galena knocked over wooden block towers we built on the floor. When the baby napped, the newlyweds retreated to the Treehouse, and we got to know Tatiana.
A young-looking and very fit grandma, Tatiana told us about raising two sons on the outskirts of Moscow more than thirty years ago. There were no disposable diapers and no washing machine, so Tatiana had to wash cloth diapers by hand and hang them on lines she had strung through the living room. Once the diapers were dry, she ironed them to kill any bacteria in the Russian water. She ironed the bed sheets, too. When her husband came home from work, he often helped with the never-ending ironing.
            Money was tight for the Russian family. Tatiana got bones from the butcher and ground them up to make bone-meal patties. Chickens were skinny and blue-skinned and came with feet still attached. Tatiana scrunched up her little body to illustrate how thin the birds were. Her sons must have sucked nutrients from the bones because Vlad is now a strapping six-feet-four.
            Childcare in Boston runs about $3,000 a month, so Tatiana takes care of Galena while the couple are at work. She speaks only Russian to her, hoping Galena will pick up the language. During their weekend with us, she prepared the baby’s formula and food. Brittany believes Galena needs iron in her diet and made mash of liver and squash, at which Galena turned her head away. She preferred Tatiana’s homemade cottage cheese and squished banana and opened her baby-bird mouth for the little spoon until the container was empty.
            “She likes sweets,” Tatiana said and fed her fruit from the breakfast table.
            On Saturday Brittany nestled Galena into a carrier, and Vlad strapped the carrier onto his back for a hike up Mount Philo. Tatiana came along with a satchel of food for the baby. She plans to stay another year in Boston, leaving her husband Leonid in Los Angeles, but they talk via Facetime every night. Leonid understands the importance of getting children off on the right foot.
            I hope some day Galena will realize what a lucky gal she is with a beautiful mom and a loving grandma to care for her. She’s named after Tatiana’s mother, who died several years ago at age 79. There’s no Mother’s Day in Russia, so on this Sunday we celebrated all three mothers.
After they loaded their Jeep with a bag of toys, bottles of formula, berries, bananas, and homemade cottage cheese, it was time to say good-bye.
“Do svidaniya,” I said, a Russian term I picked up somewhere that means “until we next meet.”
Tatiana shook her head. “We say ‘poka.’ It’s the family way of saying goodbye.” She took Galena’s arm and waved the baby’s little hand at us.
“Poka, poka, poka,” Tatiana said. Galena just smiled, showing us all three of her teeth.