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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: 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.

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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.


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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.

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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?

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(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…)

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“A building this size would make a perfect home for me,” I’ve thought many times as I’ve stood inside portable school classrooms. I’m referring to those industrial, squatty buildings, like the one pictured above, used by schools that find themselves with too many children to fit into existing structures.

Over the past several years it’s been part of my work to observe kids in their classrooms and consult with teachers, so, from time to time, I’ve found myself inside one of these “portables,” my attention skipping merrily past my work assignment to my personal agenda. “I wonder whether these things are ever available for sale,” I’d muse as I scanned the walls, the ceiling, the floor space. “It’d be so much fun to fix one up.”

There is simply no accounting for taste or sources of inspiration!

Imagine my delight, then, when I happened upon an ad for used, portable classrooms on Craig’s List and a link to this website: This was in November of last year, after I’d made an offer on my new property. The next day I packed some food for me and water and biscuits for Dobie and we were off to see the wizard—a phrase (from The Wizard of Oz) I used when my kids were little to signify the beginning of an adventure. In this case, the wizard was Ron, the “schoolhouse guy,” and his place of business and model building were three hours away.

I got lost and didn’t arrive until after dark. The model building—unfurnished, unadorned—had electricity. But, the ones parked on his property a few miles down the road were not hooked up, so he got a ladder and we crawled into a couple of them using my flashlight to check out the interiors. “Some of the buildings are in better shape than others,” he said. “I make sure that any wood that is bad is replaced. I warranty the roof and the heating and air conditioning unit for a year.”

Ron has an easy manner, a nice smile, a slight gap between his two front teeth. I was inclined to trust him.

It looked like I’d found the solution for putting a cheap, but reasonably sound, roof over my head. And, hey, how much greener can you get than using something that’s already been built? 840 square feet of open space save for a bathroom with a sink and toilet. All this for $8,500—including the move and installation! A little paint on the inside and outside, a little ingenuity and creative touch, and I’m in! Right?

Well, not exactly. Not yet. Little did I know, while following this yellow brick road, how tangled my slippers would get in all the red tape under foot.

We’re talking bureaucracy here. I’ve been getting to know some of the fine folks at the planning, zoning, and building departments in the county as I stumble through the maze of paperwork, regulations, and requirements for permits.

It turns out there is no distinct category for what I am trying to do. The portable and I fall between the bureaucratic cracks. Conversations with Mr. Bullock, the building inspector, and Danielle, the kindly assistant in the planning department, initially served to confound me rather than clarify the situation. Gradually, I’ve begun to unravel the red tape.

The portable classroom is referred to as a modular building. It is not a mobile home, even though it is moved like one (in two pieces), and set up like one (on concrete block piers). Obviously, it’s not a site-built home. But, paper-work-wise, it is  treated as such. And this has some significant ramifications for me, as I must decide whether or not to take on all of the responsibility as the owner/contractor or find a licensed contractor who will step in—for a fee.

The next several days hold the key. I will call some contractors to explore that angle. And, I’ve been furnished by Ron, the schoolhouse guy, with the phone numbers of two women in other parts of Florida who have bought these buildings and had them installed by him and his crew. I’ll contact them to see whether they were pleased with the job.

In the meantime, the land, this Pixie Plantation, sits and patiently waits for me to sort out the problems. The millet grass, particularly lush right where the proposed building site is, grew so tall I needed to mow it last week. Four garden stakes tied with yellow surveyor’s tape mark the corners where the portable will stand.

I am like Dorothy, who, after her fling in Oz, just wanted to go back home to Kansas. I’m closing my eyes, clicking the soles of my little red clogs, and saying, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like a portable, schoolhouse home!”

What about you? Have you ever lived in something unconventional—for financial, artistic, or other reasons? Would you ever consider it?

“Ellen,” Kevin said, “what kind of a day have you had so far?” He leaned against the side of my truck as we stood in an open area near my freshly cleared home site.

“Ummm, okay”, I said as I pulled off my sports shoes and put on some sturdier footgear. “I’m having a pretty good day.” It was just after 2:30. I’d rolled up a few minutes earlier, a little late for my meeting with him, the man I call my “well guy.”

“I just may be fixing to make your day a whole lot better,” he said. “I found the old well.”

“Really?” I’d been unable to find anything near the old, tumble-down house that resembled a well. While I knew there had been one at one time, I had no idea what it might look like, but, most importantly, I’d assumed that it would no longer be usable. It wouldn’t have pulled water from the earth for three or four decades. And, besides, the new home site I’d just cleared of trees and brush was up the hill a bit from the former homesite. Since water doesn’t run uphill without some coaxing, I’d assumed that the old well, wherever it was, would have no relevance to my current plans.

“It’s right over here.” Kevin pointed to a mass of tangled metal and old pressure-treated posts, trees buckled and curled on top of the heap. He and I made our way in that direction, pushing aside the prickly vines and scrubby growth. I hadn’t gone near this scary web of debris on my many forays onto the land. In my mind, what looked like an old shed that had been destroyed by weather and time was just one more mess I’d have to tackle, and I was in no hurry to do it.

Well, just goes to show how misguided I can be.

We stood now looking beneath the twisted metal and trees at a concrete slab, cracked with the weight of the caved in roof and timbers. Sure enough, there was the small metal fixture embedded in the slab, and the well tank, standing at an angle on the broken base.

Kevin said, “If there’s still water in the well and we don’t have to drill, it’s gonna save you about $4,500.”

“And the water can make it up the hill to the home site?”

“No problem,” he said.

I was thrilled.

“You’ll probably have to buy a new pump, but, if it does work, that’d save you even more.”

I was giddy with the thought of subtracting $4,500 from the tally of projected expenditures to get myself “outfitted” on this ten-acre parcel, this homestead/home and garden/miniature farm/sanctuary—whatever it might prove to be. When the financial shoestring you’re working with is skinny and short and someone grafts a few inches onto the length, it’s cause for jubilation.

Hugged by the woods, staring at possibility, I stood, a virtual fountain of well-being!

Kevin then explained that his crew would return the following week, cut through the growth that was in the way, bring a generator, and determine whether I had a still-functional well.

After he left I went to check on the millet seed I’d planted a week before on the freshly cleared land. We’d had rain, and halleluiah, the seed had taken off. While it had clumped together because the rain had been a heavy one, there were many places where little green tufts were rising up. Lift-off, I kept thinking. We’ve had lift-off!

I walked back down to the well site, determined to tackle the job of removing the debris that had looked so frightful and daunting before. Suddenly the mess was but a minor obstacle.

New green growth. A well that might have water. And hope in my heart. Well, well, well.

And you? Is there anything you have discovered lately—some little or big piece of wealth or source of joy—that you previously believed was only a mess or something to be endured?


“What’s that in your eye? Oh…it’s a sparkle.” (Chinese fortune cookie)

It’s not everyday that I sit under a canopy of trees, feet propped on a table, dipping a plastic fork into a steaming container of Chinese carryout food, and savor the sound of a large machine eating through the woods just above me.

A week past my birthday, when I’d first met Donnie and his brother, Stuart, on my ten-acre parcel of land, I am now as eager and excited as a new bride. This is the day of THE CLEARING, the day when Donnie has brought the John Deere giant with the huge scooper on the front to push down and scrape up small trees, big trees, and all manner of vines to make way for a home and garden site for me.

In these parts we call ones such as I, environmentalists who bleed over the loss of trees and the despoiling of natural grounds for the sake of a new road or big box store, “tree-huggers”. So, even as I chow down on my chicken and vegetables and delight in the vision of all the projects I will enjoy in this little piece of heaven, I am aware that I am at one with the developers. I am disturbing birds and squirrels and plants in order to make way for myself and my dreams.

We are saving what trees we can in order to clear about an acre and a half of heavily wooded ground. I am having Donnie leave two huge piles of sacrificed vegetation alone so that they can either decompose on their own, be used for mulch (if I can find someone who can come in with a giant chipper and chew the stuff up) or be burned at a later date, when there won’t be so much damage to surrounding trees. I am doing what I can to minimize the destruction. But there is no getting around that there is destruction.

After my lunch, I am trekking up the trail I had carved through the brush with my battered, but still running, lawnmower two weeks ago, and survey the scene that Donnie and I have created. Where once I couldn’t see through the woods to the huge live oak tree, there now is space, a gentle slope, and a few remaining trees. This is the view I’d longed for. As my eyes take in the scene, I am distracted by movement on the ground about ten feet from me. Oh, dear, is it a tiny bird that’s been injured? I remember the cardinal I rescued last week (see my report on this at and wonder whether I’ll be taking in another compromised bird for rehabilitation. The critter in front of me hops a few more times, barely lifting itself above the vegetation at the edge of the newly disturbed soil.

It is a toad. Are you okay? I ask as I stoop to see more clearly. The toad, covered head to toe, including hooded eyes, in dry dirt, answers me by hopping again. I pick my friend up and move him or her past the edge of the development zone, under the fallen leaves where there will be no further disturbance. I say a prayer that the little reptile’s relatives made it through what for them would have been an earthquake, an earth-cracking storm of mammoth proportions.

Standing on the edge of ground that is not disturbed, and the ground that has met with Donnie’s mammoth machine, tires as wide as the dawn, I have a moment of shame and regret that I did not, last night, say a prayer asking that the creatures whose homes I have disturbed could have been given some warning, some celestial memo, about the impending change to the woods.

But, I confess this to you: I did not linger over this guilt. I promised to be more conscious in the future, and I took responsibility for the tire tracks and uprooted wooden towers of green beauty. The coolness of the day, the promise of the sun, and the gladness I felt at this moment, this coming together of my dream and my determination, still had me singing inside.

Donnie rides that bulldozer like he’s on a bicycle, careening with astounding precision through the branches of trees, pushing and pulling with the scooper and then with a giant claw-like thing he calls a rake, and I am amazed that he can maneuver these dinosaur jaws with the dexterity of a woman with tweezers on her brow. I watch as he digs around the roots of that pine tree, some regret registering in my chest at this loss, and am, at the same time, amazed at what man and machine can do. He pushes, then, against, the trunk of the tree, and pushes and pushes again, finally toppling the tree, which falls across the blue sky.

It’s a day to dream, a day to feel the magnificence of those things wrought by Mother Earth and the stunning force of Man and Machine. It is the sparkle of my own dream, my own eye, that binds the two together. When I finished my feast of Chinese food and cracked open the fortune cookie, I found, printed on the tiny slip, the quote offered above.

Sparkle, indeed.

Please also see my writing and photos at and at At elderwoman you will see my work and that of three other wonderful women.

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