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A To-do List

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Split and stack the firewood

Make sure there’s enough kindling

Put the bicycle away, out of the weather

Pull out the warmer bedding

.           the heavy blankets

.            the down comforter

.           maybe even the flannel sheets

Drape afghans on the backs of chairs,

.           ready for evenings of reading, cuddled up

Stock up on cozy teas and hot chocolate

Assess the condition of the insulated boots

.          the long underwear

.          the hats, gloves, and snow pants

Shut the big window on the chicken coop

.          but make sure they have enough light

Give the rabbits more straw, to help them stay warmer

Put some soup on to simmer

And enjoy the winter

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Detta and the Famous Hollywood Client

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Surrounded by all the important implements an elite Hollywood hairstylist needs, Bernadette (known to her customers as Detta) welcomes her newest client.  “Good morning, dahling!” she gushes.  Famous Hollywood actresses like it when you gush to them.  The customer circles the chair before taking her seat.  She says nothing in reply to Detta, but that is all right.  This stylist has learned that sometimes her clients don’t like to talk, so Detta has learned to fill the silence.

“Oh, what lovely locks you have, Mrs. Washington,” she sighs.  “And such thick hair.  Yes, I can see that it would feel heavy and hot this time of year.  I’ll give you a darling short style for the summer.”

Detta sets to work, brushing, trimming, shaping.  Thick curls fall to the floor, and Mrs. Washington looks happier each moment, though she still never speaks a word.

“Quite a summer for movies, isn’t it?” Detta asks politely.  Hollywood actresses like it when you talk about their trade.  “Although there are far too many sequels for my taste.  Oh, that’s not to say they won’t be wonderful.  I just like to see new ideas in the theaters.

“Now that action movie – Reckless, I think it’s called – looks quite exciting, but I think they should have chosen you for the lead, my dear, instead of What’s-Her-Name.  You are so much more athletic and stunning.”  Detta spies a hint of a smile on Mrs. Washington’s face.  Hollywood stars like to be flattered.

Detta’s skill is tested on this client, however, and make no mistake.  So much hair, some of it tightly curled and some of it wiry – well, it is just good that this hairdresser has years of specialized training and knows how to make the moppiest hair look perfectly coiffed.

A few more snips, and another brushing, and the hair is done.  “Shall we move on to the manicure?” Detta asks sweetly.

She wields the tools with precision, trimming Mrs. Washington’s nails to the perfect length and buffing them to a shine.  Mrs. Washington does not like polish, so Detta’s task is short.

“Well, dahling, are you satisfied with your new look?” the stylist asks as she steps back from her client.  Mrs. Washington stands and smiles.  Then she shakes her entire body and bounds away from the salon.

“Thanks for trimming the dog, Bernadette,” Mama calls from the kitchen.  “I know Martha Washington will feel better without all that fur for the summer.  Did you trim her nails, too?”

“Yes, Mama!” Bernadette answers, sweeping up the dog hair and nail clippings.  As she scoops it all into the trash can, she feels the satisfaction of knowing that she, Detta Smart, stylist to the stars, has another happy client.

The Last Walk

I had an inkling it would be the last.  But it wasn’t for the reason I thought it would be.

One sunny Sunday, the Husband and I decided to take Gryffon and Gracie for a walk at the nearby state park.  I was hesitant to take the dogs.  Gryffon is twelve years old and his hips are bad.  He just doesn’t get around all that well anymore, and he can’t do the walking he used to.  On the other hand, Gracie has always been so energetic that she pulls my arm out of its socket every time I try to walk her on a leash.  It’s a tug-of-war – Gracie’s pulling us, and we’re pulling Gryffon.

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Still, Husband was insistent so I agreed.  The dogs were delighted to go for a car ride, and they wiggled with excitement when we put the leashes on them.  I took the girl and Husband took the boy.

And as always happens, Gracie drove me crazy by yanking me along.

We switched dogs.  Husband is better able to keep Gracie in check.  It wasn’t too long, though, before I said, “I don’t think Gryffon’s going to make it much further.  He’s tired.”  And indeed, he was dragging along behind, tripping over roots he couldn’t quite see with his cloudy eyes, and almost audibly asking to lie down for a bit.  I said, “This might be the last walk we can take with him.”

But it wasn’t Gryffon we needed to worry about.

We finally made it to the car, and Husband lifted each dog into the back.

That was odd.  Gryffon hasn’t been able to jump into the car for years, but Gracie has always been spry enough to hop right in.  This time, she seemed wary.

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That was the beginning.

Monday evening, I sat in my chair catching up on some schoolwork.  Grading papers, planning lessons.  All that stuff I try to leave at school but never can.  And Gracie was wandering around the house.

Wandering, but not her usual energetic habit of eating used tissues out of the trash baskets, noisily drinking water until her beard drips, and nosing into whatever interests her at the time.  No, this time it seemed an aimless wandering, as if she were lost in this house we’ve lived in for three years.

Then Tuesday came.  Around ten in the morning, Husband let the dogs out for their usual romp around the yard.  Gracie didn’t come back with Gryffon, but that’s not so strange.  When two hours passed and she still hadn’t returned, Husband began to worry.  He drove around the neighborhood, talked to the neighbors, called the animal shelters.

It turns out, she had wandered away – something she has never done in all of her eleven years – and was picked up a half mile from here and taken to the shelter.

When husband retrieved her, he knew right away something was wrong.

She was completely blind.

Forty dollars later, after a vet visit where we learned that she is blind (thanks, that was so helpful), we faced a lot of questions.  What happened to her?  How did this occur so quickly?  What can be done?  The vet gave us a referral to take her to a canine ophthalmologist for a $150 consult where they would either give her ointment or remove one swollen eye – “to ease her discomfort” even though she doesn’t seem uncomfortable to us.  Just lost.

No one can restore her vision.  Probably no one can tell us why she lost her sight so instantaneously.

But now, we adjust to life with Blind Gracie, and we love her all the more.

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Bernadette Smart, the main character of the novel I’m writing, also has a dog.  Her name is Martha Washington, and she’s a big furry thing.  Next month, come back for a story about Bernadette and her pup.

Lady Bernadette and the Devoted Suitor

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The Lady Bernadette sits on the verandah, fanning herself and sipping lemonade.  It is a warm day, and her suitor has come to call. Lady Bernadette has yet to decide about Mr. W.  His black hair and bright eyes are charming to be certain.  And flirtatious!  My, my.  With what boldness he seeks affection!

Mr. W. has been enjoying the morning in Lady Bernadette’s company (her mother is chaperoning from just inside the house, so there is no impropriety.)  Movement in the grasses catches his eye.

He has brought his hunting gear with him, as he has planned to go for a hunt today after calling upon Lady Bernadette.  Her beauty kept him transfixed longer than he anticipated, so his start is delayed.  The lady sees his eyes flit to the quarry in the field.

“Please,” Lady Bernadette intones.  “Go on with your hunt.  I will not be offended in the least.”  He gives her a questioning look, as if to be sure she means what she says.  “Oh, sir.  I am not one of those English noblewomen who plays games with her suitors.  If you wish to hunt, by all means, track your prey!  Fret not about my feelings, for I assure you I do not wish to keep you when you desire to go.  You have, after all, left me in no doubt of your attachment to me, if I may be so bold as to mention it.”

Mr. W. bows to her; then he bounds off the verandah and begins stalking the animal.  Lady Bernadette, having not the keen eye of a hunter, can not see what he is tracking; she can see only the intensity with which he tracks it.

Soon, Mr. W. is so deep in the tall grasses of the meadow that Lady Bernadette can no longer see him at all, though she observes his movements by the way the vegetation bends and sways as he pushes it aside.

The lady adjusts her sunhat and takes another sip of lemonade.  She knows she is fortunate to have such a devoted suitor as Mr. W.  She does not even mind his preoccupation with hunting.  “Every gentleman should have a hobby to keep him occupied,” she says to herself.  “Noblemen who are bored are simply unbearable.”  She enjoys his company, adores his affection, is enamored by his good looks.  “Still,” she wonders.  “Do I love him?”

A quick, sharp movement in the grass catches her eye.  She watches as a brief tussle ensues.  Lady Bernadette watches as Mr. W. emerges from the meadow with his catch and trots directly toward her.

Obviously terribly pleased with himself, Mr. W. deposits his game at the lady’s feet just as her mother exits the house onto the verandah.

“Ah, Mr. Wiggles brings you the spoils once again,” Mama observes.

The young gentleman has eyes only for Lady Bernadette, but the lady looks at her mother over his head as he sits at her feet.  “Yes.  He seems to believe he must earn my affection with such gifts.”

The older woman smiles.  “Shall I dispose of it?”

“If you don’t mind,” Lady Bernadette replies.  “I would be ever so grateful.”

Bernadette scoops up the cat to give him the appreciation he seeks, keeping his head turned so he doesn’t see Mama pick up the dead mouse by its tail and hurl it back into the meadow.

Mr. Wiggles purrs with satisfaction.

The Summer of the Mouse

This cat is the nicest, cuddliest, sweetest cat ever.

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But this summer, she’s been slacking off.

This summer, we have caught fourteen mice in our trap under the kitchen sink. Fourteen! What happened to our fierce hunter? Is this the same cat, who, just six months after we got her, joyfully deposited a dead mouse at my feet on Christmas morning? Is this the same cat who spent the following six months killing mice out in the field and bringing them to the back porch to win approval?

Perhaps we should cut back on her allotment of kibble. Maybe she’s gotten spoiled by evenings on my lap, head rubs, and belly scratches.

After all, just the other day when I was singing her a song, she actually put her paw on my mouth with a look that said, “Hush. Just be a pretty face.”

Perhaps she is spoiled rotten.

But just when I think she has turned from mighty hunter to worthless lap-cat, she kills another mouse, as if to prove to me that she’s worth it.

And the purring and cuddles are pretty nice, too.

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Bernadette Smart is the main character in the middle grade novel I’m writing. She has a vivid imagination that takes her on all sorts of adventures! Bernadette also has a cat. His name is Mr. Wiggles. Next month, I’ll share a story about Bernadette and Mr. Wiggles.

What Summer is About

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On Sunday, I saw one of my students at the grocery store. We said hello to each other and I asked if she was having a good summer. She said she was, but lamented that it was going too fast and that it seemed to be nearly over already. I assured her that we had five weeks left – I had counted – and she has plenty of time to relax.

Of course, I have to remind myself of that as well. I don’t feel as stressed out as I did last summer, when I was trying to develop an entire new teacher induction program from scratch, but I’ve still been plenty busy, and certainly not ready to go back to the classroom yet.

Husband and I vacationed in Prince Edward Island at the end of May and beginning of June. It was a lot of driving – two days of driving there and two days back, plus quite a bit of time in the car as we explored the island. Husband drove every last mile of it, which made us both happy. He loves to drive; I prefer to gaze out the windows until the hum of the motor and the movement of the car lullaby me to sleep. (And then I wake up with a sore back and a stiff neck.) We listened to seven audiobooks on the trip. While we were there, we went sailing (sort of – the wind died so we were really just out on an engine-powered boat that has the ability to sail). We kayaked out into the ocean (with a guide) till we found a sand bar where we dug for clams, and then kayaked back and assisted our guide in making (and eating!) clam chowder. We visited Green Gables (walking through the Haunted Wood and Lover’s Lane), toured an alpaca farm, walked along several beaches, and ate a lot of seafood. Lobster, clams, haddock, crab, mussels, and oysters.

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PEI is beautiful. Every single part of it is picturesque, and most of it is rural. I think Husband would like to live there. He’d have to live there without me, though, because one lady told us that last year, there was still snow on the ground at the beginning of June. No, thank you. Indiana might get miserably hot and humid, but at least our winter doesn’t last eight months. Of course, that’s one thing Husband would like about it.

Coming home made me happy. Everything is green here in the summer, and when the thunderstorms aren’t rolling through, the sun shines mightily.

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In June, Husband did some sand sculpting, and I picked raspberries and visited with friends I haven’t seen in ages. He worked on installing I-beams in the big carport we’d had put up in the spring, as part of setting up his wood shop to work on the timber frame house he is building.

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I went to a workshop on Project-Based Learning and started the second course in my Master’s program in Curriculum and Educational Technology. As July began, he drew designs for ice sculptures and house plans while he watched movies, and I listened to teacher podcasts while I washed the dishes or made dinner. We put up 13 bales of hay from our field, and then it rained three and a half inches in about two hours, and the hay – which we’d put in the barn but not in the hay loft – got wet because the barn floods. (Lesson learned.) He’s been playing soccer. I’ve been running and biking… and going to yoga, which seems a very middle-aged-woman-thing to do, but hey, I’m a middle-aged woman and I’m trying to embrace that. Besides, yoga helps keeps me flexible since I never remember to stretch after I run.

My book has languished. I’ve been waiting for feedback from a few of my students who promised to read my manuscript and let me know what they thought. And just like adults, when kids don’t have deadlines, sometimes they take a long time to get things done. It’s not such a bad thing, though. Most of my creative energies have gone into developing PBL unit plans, drafting emails to our new teachers and organizing their orientation, responding to online discussions for my class, and coming up with ways to redesign my classroom, both physically and culturally. Sometimes I play the ukulele. Sometimes I knit… and on days like today, I rip out twenty rows of knitting because I made a huge mistake waaaaay back there.

Summer, I’ve decided, isn’t about being lazy. It’s about giving my mind a rest by doing other things, by stretching it in new ways.

The best day for it

If I had to get locked out of the house in February, this was the right day for it to happen. The sunshine makes the unseasonably warm 58 degrees feel just perfect. The birds are chirping happily, and just beyond the pasture where seven horses graze, the corn stubble simmers in the afternoon light. A perfectly blue sky is a canopy above me.

I admit, I am awfully hungry, and my back aches a bit from sitting in this wooden lawn swing for the last two hours. But all things considered, being locked out of the house hasn’t been nearly as bad as it could have been.

Still, we should have another key made so we can hide it outside.