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Author Archives: Karen Koch

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.

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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.

An Exciting Novel Update

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Word Count: 23,338.

The first draft of my novel, A Rainbow Above You, is finished!

Now I must embark upon the arduous journey of revision, revision, revision.  But for now, I’m going to bask in the joy that the first draft is DONE!

Screen time, writing time

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I spend much of my work time looking at a computer screen — writing lessons, updating grades, and reading student work submitted online.

Then, for the course I’m taking, I read online articles or type reflective summaries for the books I must read.  I contribute to online discussion boards.

I think this is one reason why it’s so hard to write in my free time.  It’s not that the ideas aren’t there.  I keep a running list of topics for blog posts.  And Bernadette, the main character in my novel, is always in the back of my mind somewhere.  But when I have time to think about writing, some days I just don’t want to haul out the laptop one more time.  I’d rather read a book — one with real pages!  Or play my ukulele.

And yet, I write much more fluidly on a computer than I do by hand.  I can type faster than I can write longhand, and it’s both easier to read and easier to edit, especially when it comes to the novel because so much is already written.  So I’m often torn.

Plus, there are no deadlines.  I have time frames for getting my lessons planned and the kids’ grades updated.  I have due dates for my coursework.  But there is no deadline for blog posts or for my novel.  And that’s kind of nice because I don’t have to feel stressed about it.  But it kind of stinks because sometimes I think I’d be more motivated if I had a deadline.

My neighbor is considering starting up a monthly community newsletter.  She mentioned that maybe she could have me write a short piece of fiction for each issue.  That made me panic just a little, but then I thought it might be good for me.  We’ll see if it happens.

In the meantime, if it’s a long time between blog posts, or if you’re wondering how the novel is coming, just know that the words are in my brain.  Sometimes my fingers itch to get them out.  But my eyes need a break from the screen.