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Category Archives: summer

Dr. B. Smart and the Invasive Vine

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green leaf trees

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“The wild grapevine is taking over the woods again,” Bernadette hears Papa say to Mama.  “I need to go pull it down before it gets too big and strangles out the trees.”

“Yes,” Mama replies, “I’d noticed that it was getting unruly the last time I was out there.  Why don’t you take Bernadette and Martha Washington with you? Martha can chase squirrels while Bernadette helps you pull.”

“Excellent idea,” Papa answers.

Bernadette bounds into the kitchen.  “Sir!” she cries. “I just received notice that you have need for a pair of fearless jungle explorers to help you eradicate a dangerously invasive vine from the rainforest!”

“Why, yes,” the wizened botanist replies.  “Do you know of any such explorers brave enough to come to my aid?”

“Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Dr. Bernadette Smart, Jungle Explorer Extraordinaire.  I have much experience with these terrible plants, and my companion Martha Washington will accompany us.  She is a skilled hunter and will protect us from the jungle beasts.”

“Dr. Smart, I am pleased to accept your offer,” the botanist says as he bows to her.  “Are you and your companion prepared to depart immediately?”

“Most certainly!” replies Dr. Smart.  She whistles to Martha Washington, who is at her side in a moment.  Once Dr. Smart explains the gravity of the task, Washington sets her face toward the rainforest ready to plunge into the challenge.

Clothed in long sleeves and long pants to protect their skin from foliage such as the dreaded poisonicus ivycus, and hats to ward off blood-sucking insects like tickus grossicus, Dr. Smart and the old botanist enter the jungle.  Even the edge of the forest holds danger, as large raspberricus thornicus bushes grab at their sleeves.  “We must be careful,” Dr. Smart advises.  “The jungle is not a friendly place to the unwise intruder.”

“Agreed,” says the old botanist.  “Shall I precede you down the path?”

“Perhaps Washington ought to go first, to be sure no beasts lie in wait,” Dr. Smart suggests.

“Ah, your wisdom exceeds your years, Dr. Smart.  Washington? Go on!”

Mighty hunter Martha Washington trots ahead of them, sniffing her surroundings.  Soon she leaves the path. “I do believe she has caught the scent of the fierce squirrelicus brownicus,” Dr. Smart surmises.  “She will run it off while we attend to the task before us.”

Dr. Bernadette Smart and the old botanist turn their attention to the treacherous vines just ahead of them.  “Ah, yes. Their encroachment on the surrounding foliage certainly could spell death for the forest,” she nods, squinting her hazel eyes at the vines and tucking her brown hair more securely into her cap.  The humidity has begun to frizz her hair and she is grateful the hat will keep it out of her way while she works.

The old botanist hands Dr. Smart a pair of gloves, and they set to work.  Sometimes they each take hold of separate vines, and sometimes they must pull together when the organism has wound itself tightly around its tree victim.  With great satisfaction, the two pull until the tendrils let go. The botanist cuts the vines with his strong-jawed clippers, making sure the ends of the vines will not re-root into the ground.  As they work, the devoted Washington checks frequently on their safety running off again to frighten away any number of jungle beasts.

Sweat trickles down Dr. Smart’s back.  The vines scratch at her cheeks, but still she pulls while the botanist yanks and cuts and piles.  The whine of enormous mosquitoes (mosquitocus giganticus) fills her ears.

“Dr. Smart, I do believe our task is complete,” the botanist finally declares.  “If you will help me drag the vines out so we can burn them, we can call it a day.”

The promise of the end in sight bolsters Dr. Smart’s energy.  She grabs hold of as many vines as she can, and, whistling again to Washington, begins the trek out of the jungle.  The rainforest becomes less dense, and sunlight peeks through leaves. Finally, she can see the clearing ahead, and she feels more spring in her step.

With the help of the old botanist, Dr. Smart piles the vines into a tower, which the man sets afire.  Washington throws herself on the grass, wiggling and scratching – whether from mosquito bites or the delight of the hunt, Dr. Smart cannot tell.  Washington has some strange ways.

The old botanist takes off his hat and wipes his brow with his forearm.  “I thank you heartily, Dr. Smart,” he says. “The task was less daunting with you and Washington at my side.”

“My pleasure,” replies Dr. Smart.  “The only thing that could make our accomplishment sweeter would be –”

“Bernadette! Danny!  Want some lemonade?” Mama’s voice sings from the back porch.

“Lemonade!” Bernadette grins.  She and Martha Washington race to the house, with Papa loping along behind.



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Life tends toward chaos, and nowhere is that more evident to me than life on a little farm.  Weeds take over the driveway.  Grapevines grow through the woods and try to choke out the trees.  Poison ivy climbs the fences.  Mulberry trees and black walnut trees sprout up everywhere.  Tree branches hang low.  And of course, the grass grows.

Summer is when I work to beat back entropy.

Last week I discovered that grape vines were not just in our woods (something we knew when we moved here), but actually growing on the corner of the house.  I pulled them off, cut back the walnut trees that had sprouted up amidst them, and tidied that area.

When I walked over to the neighbor’s house to let out her dog (she’s got a new job that requires her to be gone for long hours), I noticed that the side of our barn had weeds and grapevines, plus an overgrown maple tree that needed trimming.  So while Boomer (the neighbor’s dog) watched, I took care of all that.

Poison ivy is sprouting up on fences and trees and around Husband’s wood shop.  I took a bottle of Round Up to all that I found.

A few days ago, I noticed that our 80-year-old neighbor, as he mowed his back field, struggled a bit to mow around a mulberry tree whose branches were sagging all the way to the ground.  I called over and asked his wife if it would be okay for me to cut it back for him, and she said that would be just fine.  So I wiggled through the woods and over the fence with my nippers and cut down some sizable branches.

Then I made my way back into our woods where I knew the grapevines were going crazy.  I cut a bunch of them off and hauled out what I had energy for.  Vines are still hanging from the treetops, but they’ll die since they aren’t connected to the ground anymore.  Someday I’ll get back in there, yank them down, and pull them to the fire pit as well.  I wish I knew a way to kill the things.  They are so darn resilient.



There’s a big pile of stuff to burn now, and as soon as it all dries out, I’ll light it up and take delight in watching it burn.  It brings a little order back to the place.

Until it all grows back.

The Summer of the Mouse

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

The Progress of the First-Year Garden

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Today, I put up two quarts of squash and two quarts of beans.

The corn has little bitty ears on it.

There are tiny cucumbers and teeny watermelons and itty bitty cantaloupes. Even a couple of decent sized pumpkins that we didn’t plant. (The pumpkins we did plant aren’t doing as well.)

But next year, we’ll mark things better. ‘Cause this year, we didn’t mark them and we keep saying to each other, “Do you think this is kohlrabi? Is this kale? Did the beets not come up at all?” And we’ll need to be diligent about weeding next year, too. It’s sometimes hard to find the beans growing in the midst of all the grass.

Still, considering it’s a first-year garden, four quarts of vegetables (plus all those we’ve already eaten) isn’t too bad for the first of August. (Not to mention the seven quarts of black raspberries I put up earlier this summer.)

But next year, I hope it will be better.

Garden Harvest, July 20

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We dug a lot of potatoes, but not as many as Husband had expected.  We think maybe it was too wet this year.  And when we dug them up, we found that quite a few of them had already rotted.  I accused Husband of planting mashed potatoes in the hopes of harvesting mashed potatoes.  Instead, they were just mushy, stinky potatoes.  Still, we got a lot of good ones.


We’ve had a few tomatoes over the last month or so, but not a ton.  The little yellow sunsugars have been coming at the rate of a couple a week for a while.  This is the first red one we’ve gotten, but it was small.  Still, it was enough to add to our lunch today which was…

rabbit tacosRABBIT TACOS!

That is a new one.  We’ve never had rabbit tacos before.  They were darn good.

Anyhoo, back to the garden.


We got a couple of squash, too.  There are a lot more yellow squash growing out there.  The zucchini are not growing as fast, it seems (this one being an exception.)  And we had a volunteer squash plant come up and it’s been terribly exciting to try to figure out what kind it is.  We think maybe acorn.  I was hoping for butternut, but I’m okay with acorn.  Or whatever it is.

Oh, and we got a handful of green beans today, too, after I took the photos.

One of the cherry trees is not looking good; its leaves turned yellow.  So that’s sad.  And I accidentally mowed down a blueberry bush, and that’s sad, too.  And the pumpkins don’t seem to be doing much.

But the corn looks okay.  Maybe we’ll have ears in August.

And it is, after all, just a first year garden, planted in newly tilled sod.  Even Pa Ingalls said a first year garden in tough sod can’t be expected to do much.  At least we’ll have enough food to get us through the winter and it’s very unlikely we’ll have to live on potatoes and brown bread and convince Almanzo Wilder to give us a milk pail full of his seed wheat so we can live until the train comes through in the spring!  (Can you tell I’m reading The Long Winter right now?)

And this fall, Husband will till up the ground again, plus maybe a bit more for next year.  And next summer’s garden will be even better.