RSS Feed

The Stick Farm

Posted on


In that photo, past the snowflakes (!!), you might just be able to see some sticks protruding from the ground.  This is our little orchard — soon to be a much bigger orchard!

Husband decided to place a big order this spring, for fruit trees and berry bushes.  We had been adding just a few a year, but he’s impatient for plums and cherries and blackberries and raspberries and peaches.  He decided to splurge this spring and buy a whole bunch of trees and bushes.  When he called the seed company to make the order, he told them that he was going to be out of the country and to please wait until a particular date to ship the plants.

And then he was off to the northern part of Canada.  I held down the fort, keeping fed the dogs, the cat, the chickens, and the rabbits.  One day when I got home from school, I saw a package at the front door.  Since we never use the front door (always going in the back), I forgot about it.  And the next day, I saw it there again and figured I should retrieve it.  Assuming it was probably tools or something that Husband had ordered for his business, I was in no hurry.

Except it wasn’t tools.  It was trees.

And Husband wouldn’t be back for almost a week.  And I had no time to plant trees. Their fate was to languish by the back door until he returned.

So I carted the box to the back porch and hoped for the best.

When Husband returned home, he contacted the seed company and explained what happened.  To make up for it, they agreed to send the whole shipment again, free of charge, and we could keep the original shipment, too.

So, we planted about 10 bushes and 8 trees.

And then when the second shipment of bushes came, we planted those, too.  The second shipment of trees hasn’t arrived yet.

It looks like we are growing sticks out there.  But someday, we hope, we’ll be growing lots and lots of fruit.


Miss Mayor

Posted on

A Bernadette Smart Adventure



In March, the sunshine kisses the frozen ground and begins to soften the ice into mud.  The days lengthen, the time shifts, and the sun sets later.  Bernadette Smart, Mayor of Animal Town, pulls on her jacket and ties back her hair.  It’s time for canvassing her constituents.

She swings her leg over her bicycle and pedals hard to the south.  Her first visit is to the wild ducks and geese who live on the river.  Some of her council members feel that the wild animals aren’t worth her time.  They never vote anyway, so why bother with them?  But Bernadette has a heart for those citizens of her town.  And how better to make them responsible, voting citizens than to show them that their Mayor cares for them?  At the park, she dismounts her bike and stands it responsibly against a tree.  Her shoes become muddy as she treads carefully down to the bank.  She reaches into her pockets and pulls out bread scraps.  Her friends hear her and come running – er, waddling – to see her. They tell her the news (the nests being built, the migraters coming back) and their complaints (erosion on the bank just past the subdivision, the old tires in the river.)  She nods and commiserates, promising to look into the issues.

Her next stop is at the Field of the Seven Horses.  They come trotting toward her, and she carefully distributes one sugar cube to each animal.  Callie – a tan mare with bleach blonde hair, as if she’s a native Californian – nuzzles her and requests a nose rub.  These are carefree horses with few complaints.  They’re well fed and not worked hard.  In fact, Callie would like to have more to do, and Mayor Smart promises to look into a riding program she can get the mare involved in.  Old Blackburn, a wizened black gelding with gray around his muzzle, grumbles that he’s heard the horses are going to have to share their pasture with goats soon.  Goats! he snorts.  Bernadette tries to convince him that the company would be good for him, but Blackburn will not listen.  She pats his flank, assuring him that he’s complained about that rumor for the last two years and nothing has come of it.  He snorts again and saunters in the other direction.  With one more nose rub for Callie, Bernadette takes her leave.

Just a little bit north and around a bend is a small goat farm, and Bernadette loves visiting, even though she’d never tell Blackburn.  The goats, though impossible to talk to, run around, climbing onto concrete blocks, bounding in and out of old tires, and balancing on seesaws.  They are fun-loving and mischievous.  She’s had to speak sternly to them more than once about property lines and staying inside their boundaries.  They’ve been doing better lately, and no one has called to complain in the last month or two, so she leaves off scolding them today.  After watching them for a while and acknowledging their friendly baas, she moves on.

Her last visit for the day is with the barn cats just across the street from her home.  There’s a new litter of kittens, and the Mayor checks in to be sure Minnie, the young mother, has everything she needs.  She reminds Minnie to keep her children out of trouble – there have been fights among neighborhood cats, and that’s no good for Animal Town.  Keeping the peace is an important part of Mayor Smart’s job.

Finally, Bernadette returns home, parks her bike in the shed, and goes inside to make notes about her visits.  She is confident it will be a productive spring in Animal Town.

A Season of Waiting


A February sunrise at our place.

It isn’t quite spring, but perhaps the coldest weather is over.  Still, it’s too early to plant herbs or tomatoes or peppers or squashes.  It’s too early to plant berry bushes or fruit trees.  The seed catalogs have come in the mail, and they tempt me with their colors and their promises of fresh, juicy flavors.  The trees are still bare and the grass is still brown, but the birds have started chirping more, knowing that the days are getting longer, and there is just a little time before spring breaks out.

The busiest season of ice carving is coming to an end.  After two months of extensive travel, late nights of barely sleeping, and carving so much his hands swell, Husband sees the light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s nice to have the income.  But it will be nice for him to be able to relax, as well.  And after some rest, the work on the house will resume – the milling, the shaping, the fitting together of beams.  But this week, there will be the catching up on sleep, the organization of paperwork that was neglected during the crazy months, and the preparation for a different kind of work.

One of the busiest seasons of teaching is ahead.  We’ll do state testing this week, and then we’ll have just one more week until spring break.  Then March, April, and May will be filled with students’ research projects, field trips, another round of testing, choosing materials for next year, and all the other craziness that accompanies the end of school. I try to work ahead and get things ready, knowing that no matter what I do, I’m never truly prepared when the cyclone hits.  For now, for just a little longer, I enjoy the calm before the storm.

For now, we wait.

Dr. Smart’s Antarctic Expedition


The temperature hovers around forty below.  Dr. Bernadette Smart is American and automatically thinks in Fahrenheit, but she knows that at this temperature, it doesn’t matter.  First, forty below is the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius.  And second, either way, it’s just really darn cold.

Not that she was unprepared.  She knew that when traveling to the southernmost continent in the world  to study the effect of amounts of sunlight on researchers, she’d experience a climate unlike any she’d ever encountered.  Right now, in January, for example, it is daylight all the time.  There is no sunrise or sunset.  No dawn or dusk.  Just noon, all day long.  

Even for Bernadette, who loves natural light, this seems almost excessive.  She knows that six months from now, when it will be night all the time, her mood will be very different.

But for the moment, she revels in the sunlight glinting off the ice.  She has volunteered to go with her trusty canine companion, Martha Washington, to meet the mail plane.  The path is clearly marked to the landing strip and the weather is forecasted to be clear and calm, so she has no fears.  Besides, despite the cold, she needed desperately to get out of the research facility and into the fresh air.

The spikes on the bottom of her boots crunch in the ice as the dog bounds beside her.  She is bundled up so that nothing is exposed but her eyes, which scan the horizon for animals and birds.

Finally, she spies the mail station up ahead.  The plane is just taking off again, she sees, and she opens the door to the shelter where the mail for her facility will have been left.  She steps in, gathers the items, and takes a deep breath to prepare herself for the long walk back.

She looks through the deliveries, hoping for a care package from home.  She misses her mom’s cookies.

A car zooms by, bringing her mind back to where she really is, in Whitetail, Indiana.  She waves at the neighbor who is shoveling his driveway and says, “C’mon, Martha Washington.  Let’s take the mail back to the house and see if Mom has those cookies out of the oven yet.”


A To-do List


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

Detta and the Famous Hollywood Client


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.


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.


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.


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.