Meet the Neighbours…

Yes, I spelled it the English way, just because I never get to anymore and now I’ve got my own little world where I can spell however I want.

Anyway, last post, I referenced burning some cracked gnomes.

Now you’ll have to go back and read it if you don’t know what I’m talking about because a sentence like that really can’t be left alone..

Anyway, if you do remember me mentioning that, grab yourself a cuppa something and settle in for a good story.

View from our house.

We built our home in 2003 and moved in very early in the year, around February of 2004. Apparently Americans throw up houses all the time with little hurrah, but having lived for years in old English homes that were destined never to fall down, this was a bit hard to get my head around.

We drew out what we wanted on a napkin one day sitting together eating lunch, around the end of Scott’s medical residency. (Be amazed by the fact we could eat lunch together, that is a wondrous thing during residency 😆) Then we took our napkin blueprint to an architect that actually knew what he was doing. He tried to give us an entrance foyer with a high ceiling, but we already had three daughters and requested he fill in that empty spot with a bathroom.

Which we’ve never regretted.

Well, now we needed some land to build our house on. And someone to build the house, since, although I know Scott would have been happy to stack up logs, he was unlikely to have the time once he started work.

Here’s our land.

This is from a photo album we made when we were building. Not the greatest photo, but fun to see my 2003 writing on there.

It was this lane, however, that sold Yours Truly.

This lane is in between two groups of timber (woods or forest for my English friends) and in the summer it makes a dark, leafy tunnel. It was hilly and wind-y and curvy, not a trifecta one often sees in Central Illinois.

“It looks like England!” I told Scott. With that a wild turkey ran across the road.

“If there’s a deer around the next corner, I’ll bid higher” he said….

There’s been a lot of deer since. This one’s a baby. Taken sometime around July or August that year.

The rest is history. We went to a nerve-wracking auction at the courthouse, (I was highly pregnant with Frankie at the time so everything wracked my nerves…). We somehow bought the land and we had this very fun “Oklahoma Land Rush” moment where Scott got to hammer in stakes at the corners of the property. I know, it was 2004, not 1889, but it completely satisfied all the romantic history-nerd corners of my mind.

So here we are. A local contractor, Bryce Hagar did our construction and it was all we had hoped for. We love our home. And after this story, you’ll understand why I’m grateful for it!

But please check out Bryce’s page, he does amazing work!


Like I said, we moved in February 2004.

It was a busy time with our two babies, our elementary school daughter, Cerys, and Scott’s new job. Little did I know at that point I’d soon be marching out to the newly constructed veggie garden, where Scott was busy digging in garden plants on his day off with our two littlest daughters (who were trying to dig them up again) to announce that it looked like number four was in the works.

Crazy days. We made it.

Anyway, it was during this time I got to “meet the neighbors/neighbours”.

After moving all of our possessions into our new home, there were a lot of empty boxes. And I was desperate to be rid of them.

Now, out where we are, you can pay for trash pick-up, or you can burn your trash. Which is perfectly legal, before you get your knickers in a twist.

I can send you to a boring link to look up the regulations in our county, but generally speaking, as long as you are a mile outside of a town (we are WAY further than that) and you only burn a proscribed list of household trash, you can light up your matches and listen to milk jugs sizzle. Do it sometime, great fun. As long as you’re a mile out.

At that time we burned our trash in old oil barrels, that looked a bit like these but much rustier.

Most of the time they were big enough.

It was a warm, windy February day. Pretty unusual. I had just gotten back from the grocery store with the three girls.

Addie, 3 and Frankie, 1 1/2, had fallen asleep, and Cerys was playing upstairs.

Perfect time to burn boxes.

Ok, ok. They weren’t cracked gnomes. It was a segue.

It was a bit windy, like I said. A burning flap of a box, sailed out of the oil can in a complete blaze of glory to beat all Jon Bon Jovi and started eating up dry winter grass in the yard in a fascinatingly, mesmerizingly quick manner. I grabbed a cushion from the dog kennel, soaked it with water and started thwapping away to put out the trail of flames.

No problem, I thought.

45 minutes later, I’m still whacking the now ten-ton cushion, chasing flames, and I hear Cerys yell out of her upstairs bedroom window:

“Mama! You look like Ma Ingalls!!!”

We had been reading the Little House books at bedtime…

I told my brave 8 year-old to call 911, thinking that Scott might never forgive me if I burned his lovely woods. Heck, I might never forgive me. I loved my woods. These were the English woods, for heavens sake.

Another long 45 mins later, my soot-blackened, puffing face turned to see something that resembled a fire truck from the Curious George stories, coming up the driveway, with a single water tank on its back.

“Over here?” the fireman yelled at me, pointing WAY over to the North East.

I’d been looking at the same trail of flames for the last hour and I yell back, pointing to the ground in front of me:

“No! ( silly fireman) Right here!! Right here!”

Turns out the field next door was on fire. I hadn’t even noticed, so busy was I with my relatively tiny fire. The other fireman helped me put my own inferno out with a shovel, while he and his partner called in much-needed neighboring fire departments.

I began to meet my own neighbors, who started pulling up the driveway out of curiosity and a kind desire to help. At one point, completely exhausted, sporting two lungs full of smoke, and slightly hysterical, I said to my new best-friend neighbor, Kevin, who I’d only just met:

“How much have I burned?”

I love Americans. They just never panic. He gave a slow farmers look-around, scratched his chin and said very calmly,

“Oh, I think you might be up to about 120 acres…”

Eventually the neighboring farmers plowed a dirt ring around the fire and put it out. Nothing but a large amount of corn stubble, and quite a bit of yard was burned. If you’re going to have an out-of-control burn in Illinois, do it in February. Otherwise it could get expensive.

I called Scott later, starting the conversation in this way:

“We’re all FINE. But I burned a bit of grass….”

All my neighbors were delightful, and very glad to meet me, they said. By the time Scott got home from his church meeting in our nearest town that night, he’d heard the term “your pyromaniac wife” a couple of times from the jesting locals.

All in good fun.

Praise God. I could have made a lot of enemies that day if the Big Guy hadn’t been looking out.

That evening, I was supposed to go to dinner with some doctors wives. It was a first meeting and I was a bit nervous. After the smoke finally subsided, I showered, welcomed my mother-in-law gratefully as the babysitter, and headed off to a rather nice restaurant to introduce myself.

I tried telling my story to these very lovely elegant ladies, who must have wondered where on earth Scott had managed to dig his wife up from. They looked astounded.

No wonder.

When I went to the ladies room later, I noticed in the corner of my eyes, big black soot lumps. Despite the shower, evidence was still collecting.

I suppose remnants of our stories always are though, aren’t they?

Scott built me this lovely brick burn pit, shortly after.

It’s nice and tall and can defeat even my pyromania tendencies.

And that, my friends, is how I met my neighbors/neighbours.