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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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Beatrice 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! Beatrice also has a cat. His name is Mr. Wiggles. Next month, I’ll share a story about Beatrice 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.

Just a little patience…

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No one has ever accused me of being too patient.

Never in my life has anyone said, “You know, Karen, I think you might be the most patient person in the world.”

So the fact that, after two and half years of living in a double-wide trailer, there is still no visible evidence that we’re building a house.

Meanwhile, more shingles blow off the roof with every wind storm and I swear the floors are getting more uneven every month.

Still, there are definite benefits of taking it slowly.  We’ve been thinking a lot more about making the house off-grid, or at least using as much alternative energy as possible.  Solar, wind, wood, and propane would be our main sources of energy.  But that means researching types of solar panels (did you know there were different types?), different types of wind turbines, and even wood cookstoves.  We also need to think about what electricity-hogging appliances we’re willing to do without.  I have already learned that it would be a lot easier for me to give up the dishwasher than the microwave.  (Without a microwave, I’d have to plan ahead a lot better for thawing meat for dinner or for reheating leftovers for lunch.)  I’m totally cool with hanging our laundry on the line when it’s warm and sunny, but what about months like January and February?  Or those weeks when the perfect line-drying weather comes on Tuesday or Thursday when I’m working, and on the weekends the deluge comes?

It’s a different mindset for sure, but one we’re entertaining.

In the meantime, I just have to be a little more patient.  And hope the shingles stay on the roof.

School’s Out!

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The weather’s hot, the grass is growing, and teachers around the city are beginning to relax.

Yesterday was my last day of school for the year.  Hooray!  I have approximately 10 weeks to sleep late, go to the bathroom any time I want/need (without waiting for passing periods), eat when I’m hungry (rather than only at 12 noon), and do those things I’ve been putting off.

So maybe you’ll see more blog posts from me.  Things have been happening on the homestead — animals born, others butchered, progress on the house-building, fruit ripening.  But I also have a lot to do this summer.  I agreed to develop an orientation program for new teachers at our school, and I need to write curriculum for the second year of my two-year honors class.  There are home chores — cleaning the chicken coop and the rabbit barn, putting a cover on the pool and taking down the fence, reorganizing the guest room closet.  I picked the first strawberries today, and there will be raspberries and blackberries ripening soon.  There are little green cherries and little green peaches on our trees.  Then the rest of the garden will start to be ready to harvest.

I want to write, knit, and draw up plans for a tree house / writing studio.

There is a lot of stuff to cram into 10 weeks.

I hope to make the most of the time.

Deadline

Last week, I got up and found that the house was pretty chilly. When I checked the thermostat, it read 60 degrees. I was sure that I hadn’t set it lower than 62, but I checked anyway. Nope, it was set at 63, just as I had thought. Concerned, I bumped the temperature up to 65. Nothing happened. I turned the thermostat off, then back on again. The furnace kicked on, called for heat, and then promptly shut off. I tried again and got the same results.

Well, crud.

I left a note for Husband who was still asleep when I left for work (and I piled more blankets on top of him since it was 59 degrees in the house by the time I departed), and he called the repairman. The igniter was cracked, and that was about a $350 fix. The repairman mentioned that the motor is really loud, and that at some point we should consider replacing it as well. Husband asked, “Will it last five more years?” Probably, he was told.

So, the furnace has about five years left in it. The septic tank has about five years left. The windows get condensation on them in the spring and fall, and that turns to ice when the weather gets really cold. There’s mold under the house, and on the last really windy day, several shingles came off the roof.

This house is falling apart.

And we knew that when we bought it, but becomes more and more obvious as time passes. The circumstances give us a big push to get started.

We’ve got a deadline.

Form, Function, and Finances

Our mowers, our snowblower, and our tiller live under a tarp.  There is no room under roof to house them.  The big barn is consumed by Husband’s business, and the small barn contains the rabbits, the extra freezer, and our manual tools.

As Husband develops a plan to build our house, he has many tools in mind.  But when even the equipment we have must remain outdoors all winter, where are we to store additional items?

A barn!  A barn!  My kingdom for a barn!

Okay, I don’t have a kingdom.  And if I did, I doubt I’d give it up for a barn.

Anyway.

The rabbit barn floods in the spring, when the snow melts and the rains fall.  The plan then, is to build a larger barn on higher ground, and take down the rabbit barn.  (We wouldn’t mind keeping it, but building codes dictate a maximum of two outbuildings.)

I love the look of a barn with a gambrel roof.  It is what the rabbit barn has, and I find it a pleasing design.  It seems that’s what a barn ought to look like.  So, I said I wanted something like this:

image from keystonebarns.com

But Husband found that gambrel roof barns cost about 30 percent more than barns with regular roofs.  And the cost was a lot higher than I expected, having never built a barn before.  I considered lowering my expectations and getting a barn without the classic gambrel roof.  Something like this:

image from barntoolbox.com

But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that if we spent money on a barn, it would be just that much longer before we were able to make our house a reality.

Because this is too tiny to live in:

house modelAn agreement was made.  For now, we’ll get a temporary shelter for the equipment.  Something like this:

(Except without the car, of course.)

And for the new tools and for work space while husband labors on the house we’ll also get something like this:

It’s not as pretty, but it’s much more economical, and that will allow us to get started on the house sooner.

Someday, we’ll build a pretty barn.  But today, finances win.