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In the Quiet Morning

I had to say goodbye to Lillian last night. She’d been wobbly for several months, but she’d rally, we’d breathe a sigh of relief, and she’d get some extra treats and snuggles.

This dog was the QUEEN of shade.

She took a turn for the worse this week, and despite our vet’s best efforts, she declined rapidly. The vet recommended an ultrasound, which nobody in Tucumcari has the equipment to perform, so I loaded her into the car last night and drove her to the emergency clinic in Amarillo to find out what was going on and whether it was fixable.

Even relaxing with Riggy, she couldn’t resist letting me know she was judging me.

Lillian — who has never been known to complain in the car unless someone was eating something interesting and refused to share –cried all the way from Vega to Amarillo. My pack tends to calm down when I play Joan Baez in the car, so I turned on my iPod, and it shuffled up “In the Quiet Morning,” the song Baez wrote in the wake of Janis Joplin’s death. The lyrics say, in part:

In the quiet morning
There was much despair
And in the hours that followed
No one could repair
That poor girl
Tossed by the tides of misfortune
Barely here to tell her tale
Rode in on a sea of disaster…

You’d have to know Lillian’s habits and likely backstory to appreciate how thoroughly that describes her.

By the time we got to Amarillo, Lillian was flushed, struggling to breathe, and could barely hold her head up. The folks at the emergency clinic couldn’t offer much hope. And Lil looked about like Scout had a couple of weeks before we put her down.

I failed Scout by waiting several weeks longer than I should have, stubbornly waiting for a miracle that never happened. I’ve never quite forgiven myself for that.

I thought about Lillian. I thought about the lyrics to that Joan Baez song. And I thought a lot about Scout and what she would do if I ever let another dog suffer even one minute longer than necessary.

What Scout would do is bite the snot out of me, and I would deserve it, because she taught me better than that. She was 15 pounds of sheer badassery, and nearly a decade after she left us, she still occasionally glances down from the Rainbow Bridge and growls at me to get my sh*t together. So I did. It hurt, but it was time.

In Lil’s world, either you were offering her a piece of bacon, or you were a peasant, and she had no time for your nonsense.

Lillian, my shady little stinker, I hope you’ve found your peace. I love you and miss you terribly already.

When you see Scout, buy her a beer, because she’s the reason Mommy got her sh*t together this time.

Emily

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Classroom reveal, Part 2

I forgot to do this earlier, but here’s the updated classroom reveal, featuring my tissue-paper truffula forest and IKEA leaf canopy, along with a few flourishes I’m pretty sure weren’t there when I did the first reveal.

A few details:

The inflatable chair lasted about two weeks before it developed a leak. Disappointing, but I didn’t expect much for $5.

I can HIGHLY recommend the mermaid pillows, which have a soothing effect on kids and adults alike.

When we read <em>Beowulf</em>, my seniors thought it would be hilarious to have a plushie of Grendel’s arm hanging above our door like the entrance to Heorot, so of course I made them one.

The truffula trees were time-consuming but very easy; I’ll post a tutorial later if anybody wants one.

The bulletin board on the desk is made from old ceiling tiles.

The big leaf is a baby-bed canopy I picked up for $15 at IKEA. The balloon lamp is another IKEA find — $6, IIRC.

The lights on the “Pride and Joy” board are battery-powered fairy lights that came with little clothespins attached. I use them to display student work, school pictures, etc.

The shoe organizer is a cellphone parking lot. I stuck a power strip to the underside of the chalk tray next to it and plugged in chargers with extra-long cords to give kids an incentive to surrender their devices without a fuss.

The file pockets hold copies of the week’s Common Core objectives. I’ll share how I use them in a future post.

Not pictured: my beloved wax warmer, which makes my room smell like a cinnamon roll, thanks to dollar-store wax melts.

I wanted my room to feel like the children’s section at Barnes and Noble. It ended up being better. Elementary kids come in and hang out after school just because they like it. Colleagues wander in occasionally when they’re tense and need to unwind. Meetings are less stressful when I host them. I suspect part of the magic is that it allows people a safe space to be childLIKE, so they don’t feel the need to be childISH.

Emily

New baby

I took three dogs out for a test-drive today at the local animal shelter. The first was a beautiful German shepherd who acted a complete fool on the leash, despite the shelter volunteer putting a pinch collar on him to get him to pay attention. Nope.

The second was a smaller, female German shepherd-Lab mix who behaved better on the leash and was definitely in the running for a bit.

Three litters of puppies were roaming around — some sleek Doberman mixes, some pretty little Australian shepherd mixes that I’d been eyeing on the shelter’s website, and some pit bull mixes that could have passed for coonhounds if the insurance adjuster asked. (Don’t think I didn’t think about it. Y’all know how I feel about pibbles.)

One of the Aussie mutts knocked the rest of the pack out of the way to get to me, so I looped the leash through its own handle to create a makeshift training collar and took her for a walk, followed by one of her littermates and an overenthusiastic Dobie.

pup1
If I didn’t know for fact that her mother is a purebred Australian shepherd, I’d swear I was looking at a Belgian Malinois pup. Just look at that red coat and black muzzle!

Despite the distractions created by the other pups, she paid attention to my voice, responded quickly to leash corrections, and seemed content to follow me along without needing much direction. When I found out she was about 12 weeks old, that pretty much sealed the deal; years ago, Scout’s trainer told us years that 12 weeks is the ideal age to start obedience training. Bonus that she reminds me of that trainer’s late Belgian Malinois, who was an awesome dog.

pup3
Lillian really wishes these damn kids would get off her lawn.

Riggy seems to like the new kid just fine. Lillian is less impressed, but the only thing that has ever impressed Lillian is bacon. Either you are feeding her a piece of bacon, or you are a peasant worthy of the utmost contempt. There are no other roles in life. (Rather Elizabethan worldview, as I think about it.)

pup4
My oldest friend saw this picture on Instagram and told me Lillian says a lot of bad words with her eyes. This is an accurate assessment, I think.

We haven’t named the new pup yet, but I’m leaning toward Ramona (after the beloved Beverly Cleary character, of course), because she is a lovable pest.

Emily

 

Classroom Reveal, Part I

Sorry I’ve been so quiet all spring and summer. I’ve been busy — state testing, prom, honor society induction, professional development, graduation, finals, ducks (shoutout to our ag teacher for taking the noisy, destructive little SOBs off my hands), travel, side hustles, curriculum writing, and last but certainly not least, painting an elaborate mural on all four walls of my classroom.

I finally wrapped up the mural on Monday. It was a long process that began last spring, when I wandered into my superintendent’s office and asked how much trouble I’d be in if I painted literary characters all over the walls of my classroom. She basically gave me carte blanche and waited to see what would happen next. About 103 hours of actual work later, this was what I came up with:

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I still have a truffula forest made out of pool noodles and tissue paper to mount on a particle-board stand, a couple of giant IKEA leaves to install near my desk, and a few more strings of fairy lights to hang on not-quite-finished bulletin boards, but I’ll post all that when I do an official classroom reveal in August.

My goal with this project is to remind my kids of how they felt about reading when they were little — back when they were exploring the Hundred Acre Wood and having wild rumpuses and sneaking through Hogwarts under an Invisibility Cloak instead of being assigned a million pages of stuff they didn’t really care about. I want to recapture some of that joy and maybe get them excited about reading again. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

P.S.: In case you’re interested, here’s an update showing the finished room.

Duck update

I haven’t really moved in until I have a fire ring full of compost in the backyard. The five-gallon buckets are the latest in my epic quest for an acceptable duck-pond filtration system.

Plan A: Adopt four ducklings, free-range them in the backyard, and give them an $8 kiddie pool to play in and a $60 doghouse to sleep in, because it’s cheaper than investing $300 in the prefabbed chicken coop that I want but Ron says we can’t afford.

Plan B (four weeks later): Get tired of draining the kiddie pool with a bucket every two days. Build pond and biofilter — with hose bibb attached to the top to make water changes fast and easy — out of a $60 stock tank and another $60 worth of gravel, plumbing parts, and other materials. Feel terribly clever.

Plan C (12 hours later): Discover that biofilters made from five-gallon buckets float, even when filled with water. Cuss. Add sand, gravel, and various other media to try to get submersible filter to stay submerged.

Plan D (12 hours later): Discover that five-gallon buckets full of waterlogged sand and gravel also float, because to hell with the laws of physics, that’s why. Cuss. Jury-rig $4 system for anchoring filter in place.

Plan E (12 hours later): Discover design flaw in anchoring system that keeps pump from functioning in new filter. Cuss. Spend another $30 on parts to build an external biofilter.

Plan F (5 days later): Discover that ducks generate way more particulate matter than a simple biofilter can handle, thus choking down the pump approximately 37 times a day. Cuss. Rummage through shed, find small plastic tub and some bungee cords, and construct mechanical filter to protect the pump.

Plan G (3 days later): Discover that pump is way too powerful to get away with using half-inch fittings for the entire project. Cuss. Blow another $70 on parts and materials to construct a finer mechanical filter, a clarifier, and a filter with outlets of increasing size. Damage filter while building it. Cuss. Repair it with duct tape and caulk, because hell with it. Watch in amusement as duct tape and white-trash engineering one-up all previous efforts and filter works better than all previous attempts, ostensibly because of better engineering, but probably because duct tape fixes everything.

Plan H (Somewhere in the middle of all that): Discover, on first warm day, that duck poop attracts a veritable plague of flies. Research problem. Determine that deep-bedding method will control flies while generating good compost starter. Make plans to invest $250 in enough fencing to confine the ducks to a comfortable corner of the yard with their pond, their house, and their favorite tree.

I’m so glad we didn’t waste $300 on a prefabbed chicken coop we could have assembled in one afternoon….

Emily

Duck yeah!

I can’t believe I got away with this.

They already smell weird, and I’m pretty sure they are going to annoy me beyond belief, but don’t act like these aren’t the cutest little things you’ve ever seen.

I hired some help for the garden.
Complaining already. It’s gonna be a long four weeks.

Walter is a bit more curious than I’d like, but I can lock him out of my office easily enough to keep them safe when I can’t supervise.

“Mom! Mom, what is that? Is something alive in that crate? Can I make it dead?”

We’ll see how this goes. The good thing about ducks is that they grow faster than chickens, so they should be big enough to kick out into the backyard in a month or less.

Emily

Broody.

My late buff Orpington hen, Pushy Galore, was one of the funniest animals I have ever owned.

As I do every year at about this time, I’ve gone broody.

I need chickens.

Actually, what I *really* need is quail, but they aren’t available locally. Failing that, I’d like a duckling. Or two. Or six. Whatever. Ron is balking, but I’ve seen a couple of people in town raising them as backyard pets, and they appear to be thriving. Sure, their wading pool will probably add a coupla bucks a month to the water bill, but that’s still cheaper than buying eggs at the grocery store. Plus if I ever adopt that Border collie I’ve been thinking about since January, it will have something to herd, so it won’t get bored and spend all day annoying me. And if we end up hating them? Duck is DELICIOUS. I’m not seeing a down side here.

Anyway, one way or the other, it is that magical time of year when a Rubbermaid tub full of shavings and a screen are supposed to appear in my office, and a heat lamp is supposed to hang over them, warming a flock of stinky-yet-adorable balls of fuzz.

My favorite chicken breed, as anybody who’s spent much time on this blog knows, is the buff Orpington. Orps are good layers with great personalities — curious as cats and almost as friendly as dogs. They get along well with other chickens, they’re decent foragers, and they’re entertaining enough that I could probably cancel my Britbox subscription if I had a flock. WIN.

Tractor Supply — the only local source for chicks that I’m aware of at the moment — does not carry buff Orpingtons. Or any other variety of Orpingtons, for that matter. They do, however, have a few barred Rocks, and if I’m completely honest with myself, I’ll admit that Rocks are probably a better choice for our yard than Orpingtons, because they’re much more aggressive foragers, and I’m told this neighborhood is lousy with scorpions in the summer. A flock of feisty barred Rock hens would happily knock down the scorpion population for me.

I think I’ll head out to the shed to take a quick inventory of my chick-rearing equipment, and then I’ll cruise down 66 to Tractor Supply and see what kind of feathered friends I can rustle up.

Emily