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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.

I saw a small turtle crossing the road this morning. A good omen! With a slight gasp, then a prayer that it would make it across the pavement before another vehicle came along, I decided not to stop. It was 7:15. Don’t have time. Don’t want to be late.

I had a date with Ron, my schoolhouse guy, to pick out the portable classroom that will be my home for the foreseeable future. It’s not every day that I pick out a home to be delivered to my new piece of property, and not every morning that this night owl is on the road so early! And, for goodness sakes, how often do I go look at a bunch of portable classrooms that have been put out to pasture—literally?

I had some hours on the road ahead of me. But it took only a few seconds to come to my senses and reverse my decision on the turtle. How could I not rescue my own good omen? I made a quick u-turn, parked on the narrow shoulder of the road, ran along the highway, carefully lifted the turtle, and deposited it in the grass. Then I was on my way.

Excitement fueled my drive. As did some anxiety. With a check for $4,000 in my pocket and a contract I’d drawn up to be signed, I wanted very much for this business deal to go smoothly. Would I find a building I’d be pleased with? Would Ron ask me to pay out more funds because he’s having to pay his mover to haul this building a greater distance than we had originally planned on—with gas prices soaring? Would he be coming to my homesite when the two halves of the building are delivered (which I preferred) or would he wait until the next day to come out and complete his part of the work?

Four hours later I meet up with him and his father, who work together in this enterprise to rescue and rehabilitate portable classrooms that are no longer used by the schools. Here they are, all these metal buildings, clumped together in a former cow pasture, like wallflowers at a dance, waiting for someone like me to come along and pick one of them out of the crowd.

Ron and his father assure me that the one pictured above is structurally sound. A beauty, it is not. The front of this building is grayer and more forlorn than some of the others.

“Is that just mildew?” I ask Ron’s father.

“Oh, you just get you some Chlorox and spray it on there, and wash it down. It comes right off,” he assures me as he waves his hand upward at the side of the building.

Have faith. Have faith, I tell myself. You can do this and you can work wonders with paint.

With a little help from Ron’s father, I boost myself up through the doorway of the building, get my feet on the floor, and step inside. The floor feels sound and I see no bumps. The ceiling’s in pretty good shape, as are the walls. The inside’s much prettier than the outside, but then, that is the way of wallflowers, isn’t it?

“I want the carpet taken out. I don’t like carpet,” I tell Ron and his father.

“What are you gonna put down on the floor?” Ron’s father asks.

“I’m going to paint it,” I explain, making no effort to describe my half-baked vision of an artistic floor, something cute, something funky.

“Well, now, there’s glue underneath that carpet. You’ll have to get the glue up,” Ron’s father says.

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” I say. And Ron assures me that the glue will be all dried up and all I’ll have to do is scrape it up.

“But, if it’s not dried up?” I ask.

“Oh, you just get some acetone and it’ll take it off.” I quiver inwardly at the thought. Acetone is highly toxic.

“Whatever you do,” Ron’s father says, “if you’re not gonna cover it back up with carpet, you ought to rent yourself a sander and sand the whole thing.”

Oh, boy. I’m wanting to make quick work of this remodeling project. A floor sander? I’ll think on that later.

Even with these problems presenting themselves, I can feel myself starting to fall for this little wallflower. In addition to its dull exterior, it does not have the configuration of doors and windows I had anticipated; and, most importantly, it does not have a bathroom, which will mean more expense to me. Ron assures me, though, “You’re making the best choice if you focus on getting one that’s sound like this one.”

I know he’s right. And, I’m ready to make a commitment to this diamond in the rough. We’ve already looked at several others. “I’ll take it,” I say.

“You’re sure?” Ron says. We can keep looking, if you want to.” He’s told me more than once he wants for me to be pleased with my building.

“I’m sure,” I say, and the three of us convene under the branches of a tall oak tree, using the tailgate of their truck as our desk. The contract is signed. There are no conflicts or disputes. I hand over the check. Ron smiles. We’re both relieved and shake hands.

On the drive home I remember the excitement I felt two days ago when I got the call from Danielle at the county planning department telling me my paper work had been processed. Yesterday I went into the office and wrote a check for $826 for permits, only to find that the my schoolhouse home cannot be delivered until I have been cleared for a septic tank. That will be another $400 permit fee, which I will pay on Monday, another few days of waiting, and another trip to the building department to get my final permit for the installation of the building.

Meanwhile, I’ve made my choice, and am glad to be heading home. Off and on the rains come as I drive and I flick my windshield wipers on and then off again, several times over the course of a few hours. The wildflowers (pictured at the beginning of this post) along the sides of the interstate are beautiful. How could I not have noticed them on my way down? And, the skies are lovely to watch. The scattered showers, one long lightening streak, and a few heavy downpours, make for some interesting sky gazing and beautiful cloud formations.

Worries wiggle around the edges of my elation. Because the doors and windows of the portable are not configured in the same way as those depicted in the plans I’ve already submitted for approval, will I be tangled in more red tape? How much more expense will I encounter beyond what I’ve already anticipated? Ah, well, I’ll celebrate the steps taken thus far and trust that the rest will work itself out.

I’m relieved to be almost home. I come through one more shower. I look across the field into the blue sky and see one of the longest rainbows I’ve ever seen!

I grab my camera for one more shot through the rain-spattered window and think, surely, Dorothy, my occasional alter ego, couldn’t have had a better day in Kansas or in Oz than the one I’ve had today. “Somewhere, over the rainbow…”

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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?

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