I stood in the near-dark a few nights ago, thrilled to be able to burn a small pile of limbs and dead wood, one of many piles waiting for attention on my property. I watched this one crackle and crumble in the face of the flames. I wielded my pitchfork with care, keeping the water hose close at hand.

There is something exciting about watching a fire at night. One good flame can spread its light for hundreds of feet all around. Nighttime’s a good time to burn, as the air is generally calmer than during the day. Still, I was careful, as it’s been dry here, to wet down everything in the vicinity of the fire, including the trunk and limbs of the nearby tree. I watched as the bits of black ash, some still twinkling with orange at the edges, floated to the ground; and I was grateful that I finally had water here, making it safer to burn.

Tonight I am inside my home-to-be, watching other debris fall, like sifted flour, to the floor. I am covered in dust, a fine white powder that makes the room hazy. The dust descends from the wall in front of me and covers my hands and arms, coats my hair. To protect my lungs, I’m wearing a protective mask.

I’m standing in my new bathroom, sanding the freshly “mudded” walls.

“Mud” is the white goop that is applied to new sheetrock to hide the seams and imperfections.

After it’s dried, it must be scraped or sanded in between applications.

It’s dirty work, and doesn’t offer the immediate gratification of a blazing fire. Tonight I am fretful, a weary madwoman. I am asking myself: Am I saving any money—really—by doing this work myself? Or am I just making one holy mess? My muscles are tight and my feet hurt.

It has been a few weeks since I celebrated in my last post the arrival of water and electricity to the Pixie Plantation (See my previous posts), the site of this madwoman’s efforts to create a home out of a classroom on ten acres of North Florida land. The walls of my bathroom were finally built, and I thought, surely, within a matter of a few days, I’d be able to paint those walls.


It turns out that the two nice guys, Ray and Russ, whom I hired to erect the walls around the tub and install the sheetrock, were also involved in another project and were not available to come back in the foreseeable future to finish what they’d begun. So, I said to myself: I’ve got to get this done! I’ve got to move on! I’ll have to find somebody else or do it myself!

Do-it-myself. Such an alluring concept. And yet, consider the acronym: DIM. Is this the bright thing to do?

When I calculate the amount of money I am spending in gasoline to make the 100-mile round trip to do this work, and the many days that have elapsed since the bathroom walls were built, I wonder about the wisdom of this do-it-yourself project. Because I am new at this, it’s taking me much longer than it would a professional. And I’ve had to buy some tools I didn’t already have. So, tonight I ask: Am I dim or am I just a little light flickering, flickering, determined to burst into something bright and beaming?

As I work tonight, I vacillate—from one minute to the next—between feeling defeated: I give up. I give in. (I crawl down the ladder.)

And then hope rises: I can do this. I can do this. (I crawl back up the ladder.) Putting sheetrock mud on walls is not rocket science, I tell myself. Dirty, yes. Tiring, yes. But not rocket science.

Once I realized that the nice guys, Ray and Russ, were not as available as I’d hoped, I got the name of someone else. Glenn arrived on my makeshift doorsteps the day after I called. Short, bearded, with big blue eyes, he looked a bit like an elderly elf, which is not a bad thing in a Pixie pad!

Glenn lives not too far from my new property and is willing to act as consultant/teacher/mentor, coming for one-hour tutorials. He and his helpers are also willing to do the work for me, when I need it. Thus far I’ve paid him for two visits to coach me on sanding sheetrock, putting tape in the corners to seal them, and also give me advice on preparation for laying tile on the floor.

On the first visit, he told me to get two sheetrock “knives” and a pan in which to put the mud.

He explained how to put the tape in the corners and said that doing that part of the work wasn’t hard but tedious. “Your arm will get tired holding that pan,” he said.

On the second visit, he seemed impressed. “You did real well in those corners. Everything’s coming along.” I think he was surprised. As we concluded that session and he stepped out of the building, he said, “Not many women—well, I know this is a stereotype—but, not many women would take on a project like this with such hard work.”

A small firestorm of thoughts crackled in my mind. Women? Strangers to hard work? I think not. But, I by-passed what might have been a mildly scorching feminist  rant and reached into my truck to get the money to pay Glenn. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” I said as I handed him the $35. “Something drives me to do all of this. I like doing the work and, for years, I’ve wanted to build my own house.”

I stand in this home-to-be tonight, fluorescent lights blazing, and put down the sheetrock sander. I pick up the pan full of mud and hold it in my left hand. In my right I hold the knife. With a couple of swipes of the knife I cover a small imperfection in the dried mud. Not bad, I think. It is getting easier.

For tonight, I’m still on this project. Tomorrow, or the next day or the next, I may call in Glenn and the troops. But, for now, I’m on it. There’s no stopping a woman and her dream. This dim light flickers. Maybe soon she’ll burst into flame.


Please also see my writing at http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com, http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com, and www.elderwomenmusings.com.



I drove home this evening into an amazing sky: a firey sunset with peach-colored clouds and a long, vertical plume. It was a gratifying afternoon. Dobie (my pooch) and I spent some hours on my “job site”—where I am converting a used portable classroom into a home. This afternoon I was focused on…mud, actually. Mud of two kinds: mud, meaning wet dirt, and mud meaning sheetrock “mud”, the stuff that is applied to “raw” sheetrock (or drywall) before it is painted. More on the latter in a minute.

As to the wet dirt: the operative word here, in reference to my painstaking progress on my project is…wet! As of last Friday, I now have water on my new place. An outside spigot never looked more beautiful than this one.

I turned on the faucet and, voila! This changes my world at the Pixie Plantation. I can finally wash this building and paint it and I can mix the powdered stuff I got at Lowe’s to install tile flooring. Perhaps most exciting of all, I can water my plants!

In order to have water, I needed electricity, since I’m relying on a well to keep me “watered” here. It was Friday two weeks ago, that my electrical guys were able to return to work for me. (See my prior posts for background.) Will, the electrician’s assistant, and his helper, Omar, installed outlets and ran electrical lines in my new place, primarily in the bathroom and kitchen.

It wasn’t until the following Friday that I arrived to find monster trucks and machines and five guys from the power company—all there to bring power to my building!

From a huge spool, they strung cable to the top of the power pole on my property.

Then they dug deep trenches and ran the cable to the power box near my house-to-be. Finally, they got their heads together—literally—and hooked everything up.

Last Saturday, a new contractor, Ray, and his son-in-law, Russ, showed up and began working on my bathroom, taking up where Kermit the contractor left off. (Kermit has been gently, but firmly, dismissed from the job site—at least for the time being.) They constructed walls around the tub area in the bathroom and hung sheetrock.

In the lower right hand side of the picture is a roll of insulation, which I installed in the bathroom walls.

Thursday this week Ray and Russ returned and Russ put “mud” on the seams of the sheetrock. Today, after I sanded most of the areas he had “mudded”, the exterior walls of the bathroom look like this.

You can see that the illumination in the building is the original: intense, white, buzzing fluorescent lights, under which many children toiled to take their tests. Eventually, I will do away with them. For now, they provide the building with a workshop ambiance—quite appropriate to the activity going on! Twenty-two fluorescent lights is a bit much, however, for one little home. But, that’s a problem I’ll solve later.

For now, I’m happy to have light.

And I am thrilled to have water. While Dobie romped this afternoon, I dug holes in the ground, planting some of the bedraggled daylilies, purple coneflower, and other items that have lived in pots at my house for the past three years. The ground is terribly dry and packed hard, so I am using post-hole diggers to make a hole, plopping the plants in the ground, and then making mud (halleluia!) by watering liberally with my hose.

In the next few days these plants and the others will be all cozy with mulch that should help them survive the winter and give them some nutrients, in addition to holding at bay all of the vines and growth I didn’t manage to pull up.

Tired from his romp this afternoon, Dobie is not quite sure what to make of the fact that he’s been allowed to run—sans leash—on the property the last few times he’s made the trip with me. As I write this, he is zonked out on his bed. Time for me to do the same. Tomorrow is likely to be another day in which I’ll sand some more on the sheetrock, apply more mud, dig more holes outside, put in more plants, and water them in.

For some of us, life doesn’t get any better than playing in the mud!


Please also see my writing at http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com, http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com, and www.elderwomenmusings.com.

Cast of Characters:

Randy, the electrician

Will, the electrician’s assistant

Wallace, the building inspector

Kermit, the unreliable contractor

Kevin, the well guy

Scottie, the well guy’s assistant

The wildflowers

The wildflowers put on a pretty show last week, but I was focused on other things.

On Monday, at the end of a busy and productive day, Will, my electrician’s assistant, and I stood in the kitchen as he identified, again, the places where new outlets and wiring were needed. This used, portable classroom is receiving a simple make-over, and long pieces of plastic-coated strands of metal and lots of gray electrical boxes are critical to making it my home. (Please see my previous posts for background.)

“You’ve got to have an outlet for every two feet of counter space,” Will (pictured above) had explained earlier in the day. “You’ve got to know exactly where your sink, counter, and appliances will be.”

So, I’d spent time with my measuring tape, imagined opening the refrigerator door (Boy, that’ll be a tight fit.), standing at the invisible sink washing dishes (Won’t it be nice when there’s a window right there?), and reaching into an imaginary pantry (Darn, it won’t be as big as I’d like, but it’ll have to do.). So, here Will and I were at quitting time on Monday, identifying all of the electrical components they’d add the next day.

Or, so I thought.

As the list of necessary and desired electrical elements grew beyond what my electrician, Randy, had originally cost-estimated for me, I explained to Will that I needed for Randy to let me know what additional charges would be involved.

And, then, I made the critical mistake.

I expressed anxiety about what Wallace, the building inspector, would say when he came to inspect the electrical work. The plans I’d submitted included a bathroom that was part of the original construction. As you can see, however, I picked out a classroom with no bathroom at all.

Kermit the contractor had worked on Saturday, and when he finished, the skeletons of my walls were standing.

But, Kermit failed to show up on Sunday to hang sheet rock, so the studs were still exposed, all but shouting “new construction”. I worried that the building inspector would fine me or, in general, make things difficult when he saw my project wasn’t going according to the plans I had submitted.

To Will I said, “I’m not sure what Wallace is going to hit me with.” But, I wasn’t going to slow down the project. It was time to get on with this show.

Will missed that part of the script.

Maybe he didn’t want me to get “hit”. Or, maybe it was a Mars and Venus thing. Warring planets, crossed stars, minds in alternate universes. What registered in Will’s brain was: “STOP. DO NOT PROCEED.”

And, that’s what he told his boss, Randy, after he left my property Monday evening.

Meanwhile, tired and exhilarated, I coasted home in my universe that evening, Venus as my guide.

Tuesday morning came. Bleary-eyed, but determined, I drove to my property. It was as if I’d walked into a darkened theatre, the curtain drawn. What had happened to the actors in my play? I tromped around my property and looked at long trenches…

…and white pipes tucked neatly into the ground.

By midday, I headed home, called Randy, got the story, and nearly cried. Could he come on Friday? No, he said, that wasn’t a good day. We left things hanging.

Next I called Kevin, the well guy. “Hey, Kevin, I thought Scottie was going to be back today to finish the work.”

“Ellen, he’s on his way. His mother’s been in the hospital and she might need more surgery. That’s where he’s been this morning. But, he’ll be there.”

Then I called Kermit. Told him I was angry (my words were a little more crass than that) when he didn’t show up on Sunday. And he said, “Aw, Sweetie, I didn’t mean to rile you. You shoulda called me.”

Biting my tongue, too close to lashing out, I told him I’d talk with him later.

Meanwhile, my dears, this building comes along slowly. Kermit will likely be fired. Randy and Kevin and their assistants, Will and Scottie, will come through for me.

And, always, despite the drama going on in my schoolhouse project, the weather is cool and the wildflowers are blooming, putting on their very best show.

Please also see my writing at http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com, http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com, and www.elderwomenmusings.com.

Early Tuesday morning I slid from bed and trudged into the kitchen. Taking care of a few things there, I was aware that my eyes felt strange, so I moved down the hall and peered into the bathroom mirror. My top eyelids had disappeared and in their place were small, white tufts of flesh. The lines of my face pointed inward and down. I looked like an angry bull.

I splashed cold water on the mess and moved on. For the fifth time in as many days, I made the one-hour drive to my new property. I arrived at 9:30, fatigued but hopeful, expecting to see the same bustle of activity that had been there yesterday.

Yesterday, there was the well guy digging trenches,

connecting white plastic pipes to bring water from the well to the house-to-be,

and then out to the garden areas I’d designated.

There were also the three electrical guys, working hard to make the right connections to bring me power to the building and power to the well.

So, here I am. No hustle and bustle, no guys with electrical wiring or gray conduit pipes, no one with white PVC pipes that will eventually bring water to my kitchen sink, bathroom tub and out back to the garden.

Why am I the only one here?

I decide to savor the quiet, enjoy the fresh morning air, the dew on the ground, and push aside doubts about what is going on. I sip on a drink, have a snack, look at the newspaper I’ve brought from home. On one of the uppermost sprigs of a cedar tree sits a mockingbird. Well, at least I can snap a few pictures on this gorgeous morning. So I run back to my truck and grab my camera. (See the photo at the top of this post.)

That done, my spirits begin to slip under the covers, where I’m wishing my body had stayed back home. What’s happened? I know the guys said they’d be back today.

When in doubt, mow, I always say. So, I put a little gas into the tank of my old mower, push the button for the choke, or the throttle, or whatever that thing is on the front of the mower, and I pull the crank. Okay, this is more like it. Progress. When you mow down the grass, or in this case weeds and wildflowers, you can see what you’ve done. You’ve made tracks and for a type-A type of girl, you can’t see too many tracks.

Finally, it’s midday. Time to give in, go home, where there’s other work to be done. Besides, my body’s aching; my heart is heavy. My two princes—my  electrician and well guy—have left me alone at the altar. It’s one thing for the guy who put in my septic tank not to come back to spread that last mound of dirt. And it’s another thing for Kermit the contractor not to show up on Sunday. (See my previous post.) But Randy and Kevin? What’s up with that?

On the way home, it is a disgruntled bull that gives me a lift, helps to turn my day around. You never know where a little light will shine. Please go here: http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/the-moo-and-the-growl/ for my bull story.

Once I drive several miles from my property I am able to get cell phone reception and call my two princes. It’s then I discover the reasons I was the only one to show up this morning.

More next time! I’ll be keeping you posted.

Please also see my writing at http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com and www.elderwomenmusings.com.

I am on the move! Granted, the movement is in fits and starts, not without some disappointments, but it is movement, nonetheless.

Two months ago I forged ahead and had a septic tank installed on my new piece of property (See my recent, prior posts for background.) The handsome man above and his able assistant arrived with all the requisite monster equipment and got to work, excavating a deep hole, digging a huge expanse of ground in four long furrows, and, later, had delivered, by another man, a septic tank large enough to be a bomb shelter.

These “modern” amenities (I really would have preferred a composting toilet—skip the septic tank—and let it go at that. But that would not have been an option in this situation.) cost a pretty penny for this financially challenged pixie on a mini-shoestring.

“I’ll take care of you,” Mr. S. assured me. “You’ll be happy with this.” He and his assistant dug this huge hole, measured it and leveled the bottom.

Then the right-angled, colossal concrete sculpture was delivered…

and was snuggly fit into its resting place to do its “dirty” work for years and years to come.

Last of all, Mr. S. and his sidekick lay these long plastic tubes in the ground and covered them up with dirt. This part of the system, for the septic-tank uninitiated (I’m happy to be your guide.) is the drain field—the part of the system that “catches” the overflow of fluid.

I was required to install a large tank because I hope at some point to have another building on the property. By my reckoning—just with the looks of that tank—I’d have to have forty houseguests, all taking showers, flushing the toilet, and brushing their teeth at the same time for that septic tank to be so challenged. But, whatever. Red tape is red tape. Regulations are regulations.

And, money is just money, right? For the privilege of having this big box in the ground and hundreds of feet of giant Lego pieces entombed under my trees, I wrote Mr. S. a check for $3,556. (“Ouch,” said the mini-shoestring.)

Mr. S., who, as you recall, assured me I would be happy, said, as we were wrapping up the day: “We get our business ‘cause we got a good reputation. We don’t do anything to damage that.” He thanked me sincerely as I wrote out the check. He assured me that he’d have the inspection done and cover everything up by the next day.

A few days later I went out to the property only to see a huge mound of dirt still standing next to the septic tank. (See the picture above, where the septic tank is in the ground and the mound is to the left.) Days went by. I called. “Oh, Miss Ellen, no problem. I leave it like that to let the tank settle after some rain comes in. Then, I come back and smooth it all over.”

I explained to him that I was finally going on to the next step and would be having electricity and water hooked up and I needed for him to finish his work so his earth-moving equipment wouldn’t break any water lines.

“I’ll be out of town next week, but after that I’ll come over and take care of it,” he said.

Right. Two more phone calls. No answer. This past Tuesday he answered his phone. “I’ll be there tomorrow or Thursday,” he assured me.

Today is Sunday. I arrived at the Pixie Plantation this morning to meet up with a contractor—we shall call him Kermit, for the time being—who  offered to work for me this weekend. After he’d done some work yesterday and was getting ready to leave, he said, “So, you gonna ‘play’ here tomorrow, too?” He smiled.

“Well, if you’re up to working again, I’ll be here,” I said. “What time do you think you’ll get here?”

“Oh, my honey gets up for work at 6:30 and I’ll be up and feeding the horses by 8:00…”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be here.”

I arrived at 10:30 this morning (after an hour’s drive from my current house). No Kermit.

And the big mound of red clay was still there, shining in the sun.

Disappointment was the word for today. But this madwoman-turned-pixie will persevere. Undaunted. Where there is a mound, I may choose to see an opportunity for exercise. I’ve shoveled stuff before. And, where Kermit is concerned, well, there are other frogs with hammers and saws out there for me to kiss.

Movement, as I said, comes in fits and starts. Tomorrow Kevin, my “well guy” (or his guys) will show up with my electrician, Randy. These are guys I can count on, real princes. I’ll keep you posted.


Please also see my writing at http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com, http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com, and http://www.elderwomenmusings.com.

I peered into the water yesterday and marveled at the ridged, curly edges of the unfurling leaves of the lily.

Early in July I received by mail four lily plants that arrived looking like this.

Two months later, and they are thriving.

In the midst of so much to do this summer, why on earth would I have wanted to start something new? On top which was the argument that I didn’t have a pond in which to plant a lily! When I discovered that all I needed was a small container to experiment with lily-growing, I went for it. An old galvanized tub and two ceramic pots, one of which is lined with black plastic, became my miniature ponds. These are simply rough drafts of bigger and better things to come!

This summer, as I’ve continued to work on my project—I’m converting a used, portable classroom into a home for myself on ten acres of land I bought in March of this year—I’ve enjoyed watching the lily plants grow, even though they’ve given me no blooms. But, a rough draft is a rough draft, just a shimmering outline of a dream being born. One day I will have lilies and blooms galore on a small pond or two on this Pixie Plantation. (See my most recent, previous posts if you care to read background.)

For now, my tiny ponds sit within the oval shape I’ve created with stones as an outline for a small pond to come.

To the right of this pond-to-be is the birdbath that I “planted” in the ground even before my schoolhouse was delivered. So, I am experimenting with shapes and lines of paths around the birdbath. What do you think?           

This summer I’ve patched holes in the walls of my house-to-be and applied three coats of primer paint on the interior walls. Nothing’s been done, yet, with the exterior, which still looks like the mildewed wallflower of a structure that it was when I first saw it in the spring. In front of the building is an old, tattered canopy—a temporary device—that gives me a little shade when I take a break, prop my feet on the table, and sip on a drink.

I’ve mowed down the weeds with my old push mower (no money yet for a riding mower) in the area closest to the building, and sweated through this record-setting hot Florida summer. Keeping me company in my toils is this lizard, or one of his or her clan.

They like to lounge on the concrete blocks that are currently serving as my steps (another rough draft) into the building. One day, a small deck will be there to welcome my guests—human and reptile!

Each day my rough drafts become more refined and my vision becomes clearer. Despite my impatience and frets over financial issues (Did that contractor really say that a bathroom will cost $10,000?), I know that, like those lily leaves, this dream of mine will unfurl, one tiny curl at a time.

Thanks for dreaming with me.

Please also see my writing at:  http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com, http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com, and www.elderwomenmusings.com.

I’m standing on a ladder, sweat glistening on my arms, dripping off my brow. It’s not until later that I find that the mercury has made a record-breaking climb today—over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I can’t imagine what the temperature is at ceiling level, where I am. Who needs a sweat lodge? Even the wasps are thirsty.

I’m a sucker for some do-over projects and I’m deep into this one: I am converting a used, portable classroom into a home. (See my two former posts for pictures.) I’ve been at it for the past couple of weeks, having had the building moved here to my new property about a month ago. The drought we’re having in North Florida and the intense heat have made the work of washing down the walls, patching holes, sanding, and caulking—in preparation for painting—an extraordinary challenge. In that I don’t have electricity hooked up yet, there is no way to cool the building or even move the air a bit. And, I have no water.

So, each trip to the new home site includes filling up several bottles of water for the wash and rinse buckets, the bird bath, and a little to keep alive a few tomato plants a friend gave me. I bring plenty of liquids to drink and reserve one bottle to periodically dump on top of my head. It’s a primitive, but very effective, means of air conditioning!

What’s keeping me going, aside from this cooling technique, is my vision of the homestead I’m creating and the pleasure I am taking in the critters who are already at home here. Yep, the critters. I’ve fallen in love with this lizard that I met up with several weeks ago when I startled him or her (let’s call her a “her”) and she scuttled under a brush pile. I’ve never seen another like this one. In the past month, I almost always see her on a tree next to the birdbath. While I’ve been known to romanticize a few things in my life, I’m just going to stick my neck out here and say: I think she’s getting to know me. Like, we’ve got a little thing going, if you know what I mean. She’s been very cooperative when I’ve photographed her on a couple of occasions.

This is the first photograph I took of her. She is on a stepping stone that I had propped against “her” tree. When I got too close, she hopped onto the tree and I was astounded at how well she was camouflaged.

Besides scaly critters, there are furred and feathered ones as well. I recently saw a fox—well, it was the blurry impression of a fox—as it ran away when it saw my dog and me. I was walking Dobie, who nearly pulled my arm off with the leash as he tried to give chase. I’m enjoying the birds, among them a red cockaded woodpecker that perched on a tree just outside my new home as I stood inside (sweating). And, a month or so ago, I gasped in awe as I saw a bird the likes of which I’d never seen before. It was flying low in the sky and its wingspan looked to be over two feet. Its colors were striking: black tail and black-edged wings contrasting with a white body. More recently, when I had my camera, I saw it again. It was much higher in the sky, so I was only able to get this blurry shot.

My bird book tells me it is a swallow-tailed kite, which is a bird of prey and rarely seen. It was so beautiful, not just in its coloring and shape, but in the way it glided on the air currents. Truly, it must have been the inspiration for the first kite!

Meanwhile, inside the classroom-soon-to-be-home, I am standing on my ladder, filling in the holes and tears left when the dry erase board was taken down.

And, oh, boy, what a mess was left when the bulletin board was removed from the wall!

Fortunately, every wall is not so marred.

But, what you cannot see are the holes, the tiny, tiny holes left everywhere by staples. The teachers that used this classroom dearly loved staples! I have removed three or four hundred, but who’s counting?. Despite the challenges, the heat and the sweat, I am still standing, and, yes, still smiling. Can’t wait to show you these walls once they’ve had their do-over. And what other critters might I encounter and fall in love with? I’ll keep you posted.

How about you? Have you ever undertaken a project like this? What do you suggest I might use to cover over some of the flaws in the building that I can’t fix with patching and paint?

Please also see my writing at http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com, http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com, and www.elderwomenmusings.com.

(NOTE: This post is a continuation of my prior post, “Delivery Day.”)

When Ron, the schoolhouse guy, takes his leave, I am relieved.

It is Rodney (pictured above) I’m counting on now. Once the building halves are “parked,” he and his crew of two, John and Kyle, move quickly. They begin making piers for the building, using plastic pads, concrete blocks and pieces of wood (in that order, from the ground up). Then they are using a piece of equipment (seen in the picture above) to assist in drilling into the ground an anchor that looks a bit like a ski pole, with a small, angled disc at the end. This anchor is twisted into the ground; then a strap is attached to it and to the bottom of the building.

It’s 6:00 in the evening. It is possible that these guys will be here until dark, in that they have started four hours later than we’d all planned. And, they have to be in Georgia tomorrow to do the same thing all over again!

Hot and tired, but still excited, I slide into the seat of my truck for a few minutes to catch my breath. The temperature is still high, and the sun glows above the trees. My dog, Dobie, is in the passenger seat. It’s been a long day for him. This dog was born in Florida, but he doesn’t tolerate the heat well. Earlier today, we sat in the truck under the shade of an oak tree in a blazing parking lot in town waiting to hear from the guys bringing the building halves. We were both sweating; he was panting; and I was hurting. I was nursing us both with ice cubes from a cup I’d gotten at Burger King a few minutes earlier.

I nursed Dobie by rubbing him down with the cubes to cool him. He sat very contentedly as I ran my “cooling” hand over his head and back. I nursed myself by holding the index and middle fingers on my left hand over an ice cube resting on the seat beside me. Between the ice cube and my index finger was a blister the size of Montana—in reality, only about the size of half a dime. But it burned like the dickens.

How did I get that blister? I’d taken Dobie for a walk earlier, before we’d settled in for the wait in the parking lot, and he’d spied a dog, pulled hard on the leash, which I grabbed hard; and the leash literally seared my hand when he pulled harder than I could hold.

So, here we are in the truck, again. My blister is better. But I’ve got no more ice with which to cool Dobie down. The best I can do is offer him a few dog biscuits and some water. Outside, in the muggy air, the guys are under the building, on top of the building, scuttling back and forth between the building and the trailer that has their supplies in it.

I grab a little snack as I rest in the truck, then get out, walk Dobie, and meander about as the guys bust their butts. This is not, my friends, a job for sissies. The guys are moving some heavy stuff, like the axles (seen in the photo below) on which the portable classroom rode. These are detached and set on the ground under the building when everything else is complete. (If it were ever moved again these axles could be used.) At one point, Kyle comes out from under the building, the skin on his hands and arms black with dirt. “My dad had a mobile home moving business,” he says. “I grew up around this stuff. We used to help my dad. It’s pretty much in my blood.” Indeed.

It’s dark when the guys leave. I give Dobie one last walk on the leash, see a solitary lightning bug flicker close to the ground; and we head home.

The next morning, the guys are here before me. Again, they hustle, never breaking stride. They finish setting up the second half of the building, then fully join the two halves underneath and on top.

I go inside the building now, relieved to see it has made its trip intact. It is one big rectangle, 840 square feet, with four windows, two doors, lots and lots of fluorescent lights, a bulletin board, and a dry erase board. I’ve had Rodney and his crew remove the carpet. So, on the floor I have lots and lots of old glue.

I wander back outside and watch as the guys finish up. Rodney fastens the last sheets of metal that cover the end seams. He and I go back inside for a final inspection. The windows all operate. From what my untrained eye can tell, everything looks okay. Rodney spots some water-damaged flooring and tells me how I can replace it. “Do you do carpentry?” I ask.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. I’ve been working since I was fifteen and I’ve done a lot of stuff. I quit school ‘cause my dad got a neck injury and couldn’t work. I started out doing home construction.” Rodney is twenty-four, he tells me, and now is his own boss setting up modular buildings like this one, and mobile homes.

“Would you be willing to come back and help me put up the walls for a bathroom?” I ask.

Rodney lives two hours from me. “Sure, Miss Ellen,” he says, “I’d be happy to.”

I sigh with relief! I have someone to help me.

It is noontime and the guys take their leave. Standing in front of me is my very own classroom. It’s been reclining in a cow pasture for heavens knows how long, and has traveled close to two hundred miles to arrive at my Pixie Plantation. It is gray with mildew; it’s metal siding is banged up and dented in numerous places; but, already I can see it with some paint, looking dapper and darling, graced by flowers, hugged by all manner of bushes, grasses, and small trees. It will be home for Dobie and me, as we share this place with the birds and the bugs, the fox and deer, the snakes, armadillos, and whatever other critters we’ve yet to encounter.

And, Rodney? This young guy didn’t come with a cape or mask, but he’s earned my admiration and gratitude. My hero. He did, indeed, save the day.

The gnats and the heat are intense. It’s 5:00 and the guys are nearly four hours late. They’ve had a flat tire and engine trouble. It is delivery day and I am waiting by the highway, listening for the trucks that are bringing my precious load: the two halves of my portable classroom, my minimalist home-to-be. I keep pacing, picking up pieces of trash on the grassy slope to keep busy. Standing still for more than a few seconds provokes an aerial assault from the little black beasts with their high-pitched squeals.

At 5:15 I hear the roar of engines and the whir of tires on pavement. I see both trucks round the bend. The open sides of the buildings are covered with white plastic and the sheets billow in and out, like giant lungs, as the trucks pull up to the edge of my property. I am excited, a bride whose groom has finally made it to the church.

The first driver makes several adjustments before he can negotiate the right turn through the growth at the front of the drive. Finally he’s able to maneuver his cargo and moves past the decorative flag I set up a few weeks ago. He inches along in the narrowest part of the drive, where the old trees lean toward each other and I hold my breath as he moves past the crepe myrtle tree. The building scrapes against the tall trunk, but doesn’t appear to be harmed, and nor does the tree. I smile at the driver when he clears this hurdle. He’s got a round face, black hair, and ruddy complexion. He doesn’t smile back.

In addition to the two drivers is Ron, the schoolhouse guy, who’s hopped out of the lead truck and is guiding both drivers, shouting directions, waving his arms like an airport technician on a runway. “Spin it to the left. Now straighten. All right, now come on. You’ve got it.”

And, then, there are Rodney and his two crew members, John and Kyle. They seem to be all over the place, darting here and there, as the procession lumbers up the drive. Rodney is the guy who will set up the building once the two halves are in place. He appears to be one of those young Southern men who is courteous, hardworking, eager to please. He had arrived earlier in the day and we met in a parking lot in town. He extended his hand out his truck window. “I’m Rodney,” he said with a smile. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Ellen.” I put my hand toward his—only our fingers touched—and I knew right then I was in good hands.

I am walking backwards up the hill, watching the action and listening to Ron, the schoolhouse guy, as he calls to the drivers. Ron is the one who’s been my contact from the beginning of this endeavor and has arranged for this event. I’d trusted him when I’d first met him. Now his voice is a little furry around the edges, like cheese that’s gone bad. We greet each other as the trucks make their way toward my home site. I look at his eyes and see they are droopy, his general demeanor one of someone who’d prefer to be slouched in an easy chair than conducting business, directing traffic. This is more than road weariness and sweating the day’s challenges. This is a guy who is stoned.

I’m irritated, but not as feverish as I’d been with the gnats. I’m not going to let Ron ruin this party. All I can do is hope he’s not too impaired to help these guys get my building into place. What else am I going to do? Tell them to turn around and go home? I’ve already paid him half of what I owe. Fortunately, now that both drivers are past the crepe myrtle, the old ligustrum and camellias, it should be an easy ride. For better or worse, this parade is moving up the hill.

Now I’m remembering the two women I talked to a few weeks ago. Ron had furnished me with their names and numbers when I’d asked him for references.

I called the first one on the list. “Hello, is this Linda?”


“I got your number from Ron N____. I wanted to know what your experience was like with his work. Were you pleased with what he did when he set up your building?”

“Uh, it was pretty good.”

I paused. Pretty good? Is that all she had to say? “Well, did you have any complaints? Were there any problems?”

“No, not really. It went pretty good.”

That was it. The second person I called gave me about the same account. Neither had a complaint, but neither gave him a rave—or even minimally detailed—review. I’d chalked it up to discomfort talking with a stranger about their personal business. Now, in the heat, the excitement, the worry of this moment, I have a different take on their brief reports.

The trucks turn to the right now into the middle of my ten-acre patch of ground where the land has been cleared. The driver of the second truck is the one who must place the front half of the building first. He’s got gray hair, a narrow face, and a cheek protruding with what I assume is chewing tobacco. Like the first driver, he has a serious manner about him. In twenty minutes, the first half of the building is placed. Rodney and his crew waste no time, and begin carrying concrete blocks from the bed of the trailer they’ve brought.

The second half of the building is placed behind the first within another ten minutes. They’re not lined up perfectly, and are placed about three feet apart.

Rodney explains that he’ll bring the two halves together later. Now Ron, who had told me that he would be doing the finish work on the inside of the building, informs me that he is leaving with the drivers. “You’re not going to do the work on the inside?” I ask.

“No, I need to get on the road and go back with the drivers. Rodney’ll take good care of you. Just don’t pay him till you’re pleased with the work.” Ron is grinning. My feelings are flying around me like gnats. One is anger; another is disappointment. The last is an anticipation of relief. I’d just as soon have Ron, the schoolhouse guy, be on his way.

I’ll have to trust that Rodney will save the day.

(To be continued…)

Please also see my writing at http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com, http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com, and http://www.elderwomenmusings.com.

Two weeks ago:

Still wading through the red tape required to establish a dwelling on my new property, I walk into the Health Department carrying my packet of papers. I am here to make an application for a septic tank. Once the paperwork is accepted and my soil is tested and it passes muster, the seas shall part and I will be granted a building permit. Then I am “legal” to move to my land the portable schoolroom I picked out some days ago. (See my prior post.)

Mike, the Environmental Administrator, comes out of his office and we sit in the lobby. He sifts through my stack of papers. Mike’s a big guy who sports a large, rectangular ring on his left hand. It is studded with gleaming, clear-white stones and stands out like a billboard in this small, bureaucratic setting. I watch his jewelry as he sifts through my papers. When he gets to the copy of my deed and legal description for the property, he pauses. Too long, he pauses. “This is not a good legal description,” he says. The description is decades old and is not written with the same precision and detail required today. Specifically, the exact dimensions at the southeast corner of the property are not provided. I hold my breath. I’m no longer fixed on his ring. What I wonder is: will I have to get a survey?

My mind is wrangling with that possibility. I didn’t have a survey done when I bought the property because I was avoiding the expense. This land acquisition and building project are not a big budget production, not a Disney movie. We’re talking low budget here, a student film. Not only would a survey cost at least a few thousand dollars, but procuring one at this point would delay the delivery and setting up of my building for another couple of weeks, at least.

Mike continues to study, then underlines a portion of the writing on the legal description. He gets up out of his chair, moves to another part of the lobby. I sit quietly, coaching myself to be calm. A person could drown in all this red tape! “You’ll have to get a survey,” he says, “or you can go to the property appraiser’s office and have them blow up the aerial view of the property and figure out the exact measurements of the boundary lines. And, someone over there needs to initial it.” He said it kindly, but what he meant was: “Don’t you be thinking you can do this yourself.”

I vacate his office with a sigh of relief tempered with disappointment that, instead of mowing and sweating and taking in the great outdoors this afternoon, I’ll be sitting in air-conditioned offices. Rikki, in the property appraiser’s office is friendly and helpful, as are the folks at the courthouse who copy a document that Rikki needs. Back to Rikki’s office while she meticulously completes the evidence that’s required to be sure that I won’t be putting a septic tank on someone else’s property. She puts her signature on the paper. Three hours later, I return to the Health Department, where I pay 400 dollars for a septic tank permit.

Two days later:

I am standing on my property with Mark, the young guy who works for “Big Ring Mike.” Mark is boring a deep hole into the ground to see how porous it is—whether it can adequately handle the moisture from a septic tank and drain field. I breathe another sigh of relief when he tells me my soil passes his “perc” (for percolation) test.

The next day Mark calls and says his report is ready. I pick up the prized paper and present it now to Danielle in the planning, zoning, and building department. I write a check for 168 dollars. So far, permits have cost me 1,400 dollars—more expense than I’d counted on for this adventure in setting up a minimalist dwelling on my small homestead. Finally, I am presented with a canary yellow sheet of paper, my very own building permit, that allows me, legally, to set up a modular building on my property.

We’re on the move! Within days I will be staring at a metal building, gray with mildew, but shining in my imagination!

Two days later:

In the meantime, anxious to hear from Ron, the schoolhouse guy, to confirm the delivery date for the building, I cart some things to the property. It’s hot today, but I’ve brought more bricks and stack them with the others. Though it seemed a little silly and very premature, I was also compelled to bring the birdbath. I struggle to get it from the bed of the truck, dig a little hole in the ground, and do my best to level it. I fill the shallow bowl with a couple of bottles of water brought from my house. (There’s no electricity and, therefore, no water yet on the property!) Then I step back and smile. It’s amazing—how one small touch can make a place feel like home.

One day later:

The confirmation call comes. The building will be delivered tomorrow. The little schoolhouse comes to the Pixie Plantation!

Please also see my writing at http://wrinkledintime.wordpress.com, at http://dancetheriver.wordpress.com, and at http://www.elderwomenmusings.com.

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