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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.

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What with beauty being in the eye of the beholder, I shall say—and not blush—that this wee hunk of metal and electrical wiring looked as pretty as a picture when I beheld it some days ago.

There it was, protruding from the old concrete slab in the ground where the well has been for over sixty years. When I’d first met my “well guy,” Kevin, out here on my new property, a week before, he’d let me know that if there were still water in the old well it wouldn’t be necessary to drill a new one. I floated on iridescent wings of hope for some days.

And then he called.

“Ellen, you’ve got water,” he said. Were his eyes shining? Mine were. In my world of miniature finance, working with a shoestring that would barely keep a sneaker on a fairy, Kevin’s news meant a pot of gold for me. The fact that the old well, not used in decades, still had water in it meant that I could go ahead and move to phase two (which I will describe momentarily) of my project on this parcel of land.

After admiring the cute little pipe, I glanced at the rest, at what lay around it. Oh, my. Since I’d last been here, the tank had been toppled, the old pump extracted and tossed out. Yards and yards of old wire had been strewn on the ground. But that pot of gold, already shining at the end of my rainbow of plans for this property kept me from getting disgruntled or discouraged, even when I saw the additional mess that Kevin’s crew had left. Alas, on top of the rusty metal roofing material that I’d managed to pry from old timbers and throw into a pile, the guys had tossed a heap of freshly cut saplings that had been in their way. They hadn’t been neat about their work, but then, they weren’t darning a sock or knitting a cap.

I took up my loping shears and small hand saw and began snipping and carving my way through the stuff. The pile of metal roofing will eventually be taken to a metal salvage facility—although, I confess, given my proclivity to recycle, to make something shining and new out of the old, I do keep wondering…Is there a way for me to reuse this mangled old metal?

Speaking of reusing old stuff: Phase Two of this project involves finding a building in which I can live. Short of purchasing a tent, my tiny budget will not allow for new housing. Not even a new mobile home. For years I have wanted to find an old church—one of those small country churches—and convert it to a home. Not only have I not seen a church for sale—cheap, needs to be moved—but I can’t afford to move one right now.

So, since I’m one church and many shoestrings short of that dream, I’ve come up with an alternative. Strike up the band—in fact, strike up a school marching band—with tubas and drums and marjorettes…I will be buying a used, portable schoolroom in which to live.

A schoolroom, you say? Why would anyone want to live in a schoolroom? To those with lifted brow and doubting eyes, I say this: It’s cheap. It’s sturdy (better than a mobile home). And, I can afford it.

Is it possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Is it possible to make a utilitarian, boxy building look like a home? Is it possible that this woman has lost her mind?

I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, at the freshly cleared home site, the millet seed, given the help of another rain, is doing its thing and I’ve managed to sow the rest of the twenty-five-pound bag. If you squint your eyes, make your vision just a bit fuzzy, it looks like the beginnings of a small, green field, a beautiful pixie’s plantation.

What about you? Do you like to use old things? Do you recyle? What have you made out of something discarded? What would you do with a pile of old metal roofing?

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“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?

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