A Bit Overwhelmed

November 10, 2018

The painting above is of me searching for an honest workman.

The well company I hired to fix our well problem has given me changing stories about costs, rattling my confidence, and has not yet returned to do the work, currently priced at $1500 (from $800) and originally scheduled for last Monday, then Tuesday, then Friday. “Probably next Monday or Tuesday,” the man now writes. It is due to be 15°F tonight and tomorrow night, so undoubtedly the faulty pump switch (replaced this summer) will freeze again. I’m going into town today to buy a heat tape to wrap around the well casing. I hate to spend $35 but on the other hand I would happily pay $35 not to be without water for three days.

There is an outdoor outlet not far from the well, into which I could plug a line to the heat tape, but there is no power to that outlet. Of course not! The electrician said he would come back to do it in September. I will run multiple cords to the front of the garage.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 2017 I had hired an excavation contractor to do the grading around the house (something actually in my builder’s contract, but as we were already incurring fines from the bank for delaying the mortgage inspection, and as I was reshaping the front lawn, I covered the entire cost without comment). Before the excavation contractor left, he promised to return with a load of stone. You guessed it: he never returned. This fall I emailed his wife to ask if I could get that stone. She wrote that it would be delivered ten days ago, on Thursday or Friday. On both days I waited, fruitlessly.

When DH and I reached our hotel this Wednesday, I found two emails from the contractor’s wife. The first said that she was sorry for the delay, but it would be delivered this Thursday or Friday. Half an hour later, the second email said, actually, it would be delivered at 3 o’clock that day. That is, it had been delivered while I was away. I was beside myself, but with iron self-control I wrote to her politely, expressing my concern. She was airy in her response. She was sure it was fine.

I was equally sure it was not. I did not sleep that night, worrying.

Sure enough, the driver had driven the 20-ton load across our leach field. Thankfully, only 1/4 of the field. Still, the ruts are significant. (My gloves are there for scale.) Allen always told me never to allow anyone to drive on this section of lawn and I have been vigilant for ten years. It never occurred to me that anyone might come while I was not at home.

Then the driver dropped the heavy load directly on top of our septic tank.

This stone delivery is a huge new problem that I need to solve immediately. It is blowing snow and we are due to have winds of 50 mph this afternoon. My tractor is dead and Damon doesn’t feel well. I have shoveled at least 60 tons of gravel in my day, but I was younger then — and so was my bad elbow.

I am trying to stay calm, and think.



November 7, 2018

Look at our baby girl! I can’t wait for their visit in two weeks.

Things here have been hectic. No water in the house (after all my exultation, it turns out the summer repair of the well was deeply inadequate). Flat tires on the truck and the car. A thousand chores to get the farm ready for winter… Jump-starting all the frozen mowers and putting them away. Hay deliveries. Hundreds of wheelbarrows of deep bedding pushed out of the barn. Digging in a temporary walkway of leftover flagstones to keep our shoes out of the mud. Evening movies to show for my students. I have been working long hours outdoors in wind and rain and trying not to flinch as I hear the balls dropping anyway.

My bad knee and elbow are throbbing.

DH and I are going out of town this afternoon to an educator’s conference. We used to attend this conference together when our children were small. This will be our last hurrah; once he retires it is unlikely we will be staying in fancy hotels. So although it makes no sense to go away in this busy time, I’m scrambling to cover my classes and the farm for one day to go with him. I’m teaching double periods today so my students don’t fall behind tomorrow.

When we get back in 24 hours the well company will be here to install a new pressure tank and I can brainstorm how I, with my fear of heights, will climb an extension ladder to fix the faulty roof valley flashing that our builder had promised to repair. Though I’ve purchased the necessary materials, even if I screw up my nerve I’m not sure it will be able to happen as we are due to have snowstorms starting Friday.

As I always remind myself: sufficient unto the day are the worries thereof. I’ll think about it tomorrow!

In the meantime, the photo of our dear Ami makes me happy.

One Down, One to Go

November 4, 2018

Yesterday was cold and rainy, turning to snow by early afternoon (when I took these photos). By evening the wind was high.

I find it a little tough to stay disciplined when the landscape is so morose for weeks at a time. However, after three more hours of sweat I have finally finished mucking the deep bedding out of the inside sheep stall, wobbling with each heavy load up the icy planks into the dump trailer.

We shall see how far I can get with the big stall in the addition.

Between my bad elbow (and elbow braces), bad knee (and knee brace) and the swiftly freezing weather, I am not sanguine.

And I can’t even let myself think about all the other chores on the list.

Let It Go

November 3, 2018

It’s been a tough week. I wrote my builder a quick note of inquiry last Saturday when I discovered that he had come to the house while I was at work and removed all his scaffolding and ladders. These have sat here since last November, when he left promising to return in May to finish the work he had been paid for the previous June. In May he wrote an angry email and promised to return in August. At the end of August he returned briefly and promised to finish the rest of the work. At that time he told me to order $800 worth of brick. The brick is stacked on our porch.

He never came back.

We had house guests over the weekend, friends and teenagers in town for the memorial of my former student who died. The memorial was beautiful … and draining. We returned home exhausted.

At this low ebb, after more than a month of silence, I found an email from the builder. In the next six weeks, he would send me a couple of checks, covering what he considered the remaining work. (He appended a short list.) But he would not return.

He wrote, “I consider this a fair and honest resolution/closure to our contract,” and (bizarrely) reassured me, “I’m not upset.”

I was shocked.

As he left for a three-day business trip DH said patiently, “Just write, I look forward to receiving your checks.”

Even hot-tempered Damon growled over the phone, “Just write OK — or you won’t get fuckin’ nothin’.”

But I couldn’t get over my sense of betrayal. The list he provided, even without all the promised work already removed, still left out a number of items. I thought the real dollar amount was quite a bit more. I wrote him a short, polite note, stating that I was sorry he would not return and listing those items.

The next morning I received a long email, attacking me as self-centered, grasping, and ungrateful. How dare I bring up those items, when he had lost so much money on my job due to having to work around us? (Because he didn’t meet his finish date, a point he has consistently failed to note.) The personal viciousness of the email made me feel sick. After trashing my character, the email closed piously, “I will pray for you.”

I have never been able to cope with anger directed at me. What a fool I had been to reply! DH was gone and I felt shaky for days. I told myself to move on but I had to flog myself into putting one foot after another, walking the dogs, doing barn chores, teaching my classes. I did not sleep.

One afternoon I was mucking the barn when a confused yellow-shafted flicker flew in and then tried to hide by stuffing himself in a crevice behind a beam. I gently pulled him down. I “knew” the bird was a message from my late mother, who taught me about flickers so many years ago.

I carried the bird carefully outside — and then I let it go.

Today I’ll start moving the brick off the porch.


Dressed in Rags

October 28, 2018

I crack myself up sometimes. A few days ago I took this murky photo of myself in the mudroom mirror. (The photo is murky because the Lifeproof cover on my old phone is so scratched all photos appear as if taken underwater.) I’m not really a “selfie” person and don’t know how to take them, but DH was away and I wanted to show how cold it has been this week. Over my shirt and pants I am wearing a sweatshirt, a fleece neck warmer, quilted coveralls, a watch cap, and my hooded barn jacket.

This barn jacket is about eight years old and has seen better days.

Just last week I stopped by the school office briefly while wearing it (it was not during my teaching time and I’d dashed over between chores). The school secretary, my friend, said dryly, “Maybe time for a new coat?” I’d replied, “This jacket is just for the barn. I think I can get another winter out of it.”

Back in 2002, when I first started doing barn chores twice a day, I was absurdly proud of wearing out clothes. I had been a child of the suburbs. I outgrew clothes, I didn’t wear them out as a result of physical toil. The first pair of work boots I went through I could hardly bear to part with. They were a symbol to me of my discipline and sweat. I had to store them in the garage for six months until they lost their magic totem status and I could see them as the trash they were, and throw them away.

I think this may be a common phenomenon. At farming conferences, I have noticed that some presenters are clean and tidy, and others are in worn and even ripped clothes. It’s my observation that the latter are almost invariably people like me, former children of the suburbs who sport their fraying work clothes as badges of honor. Conversely my dear friend Allen, who grew up in the early 1940s in poverty, wore Dickies on the job but for public display put on a dress shirt with a bolero tie.

In any event, after taking the selfie I stooped and put on my work boots (they were Allen’s; I wear them and think of him and all the jobs we did together while his feet were in them; sadly, between us, we’ve nearly worn them out… one sole is rotting off). Then I zipped up my jacket, put on my mittens, and went to chores.

An hour later when I returned from chores — hurrying, as usual, to change and get to my classes on time — I could not get my barn jacket off. The zipper was stuck. I looked in the mirror — was anything caught in it? Nope. Often you can force a zipper. I yanked at my lapels with both hands. Nope. The zipper didn’t budge. Of course I had zipped it almost to my throat. I removed my glasses and every other obstruction and carefully wiggled out of the jacket, pulling it off over my head, the zipper scraping my face. Despite being harassed and late, I couldn’t help laughing a little that only a short time earlier I’d been posing before the same mirror. That’ll teach me to try to take a selfie!

After work I examined the zipper more closely. I tried for ten minutes to free it. No luck.

OK, I give up. Time for a new barn jacket.

I Need to Get Over It

October 27, 2018

It is snowing. According to weather reports, we may get 5-8″ of snow. I have been outside for four hours in the cold, rushing to get sheep netting taken down and rolled, covers cut off summer shelters, water troughs put away. House guests are on their way, arriving in a few hours. I have to tidy the messy house and make beds.

However through the blowing flakes I just noticed that my builder has been here in the last few days while I was at work. He has taken his ladder off the roof, and removed all his scaffolding.

I have not heard from him in over a month. When I wrote to him three weeks ago to say the chimney brick had arrived, he did not respond.

It’s hard to explain how betrayed I feel. He was here! He was on my roof! When he hasn’t bothered to communicate with me!

DH is a patient person but he is puzzled by my reaction. “Isn’t it clear he’s not going to do the work? Why do you keep believing that he will redeem himself?”

Just the other day I found and reread the email from a year ago when the builder told me he would return to finish the work in May.

I believe in redemption. But this bitter feeling of betrayal has dripped poison in my heart for six months and I have to let it go.

Cold and Grey and Stinky

October 25, 2018

The weather is cold and damp and grey. Not inspiring. I have been trying to force myself to take advantage of every available moment to tackle the job of mucking deep bedding out of the sheep stalls. It is slow going. I did use some lumber my builder had left outdoors for a year to make a temporary ramp into the back of the dump trailer Larry lent to me.

I have the boards balanced on assorted junk around the barn, including old tires.

Not elegant but hey, it works. I have loaded the trailer twice and dumped it, between showers of rain and snow. Here I am after work yesterday (before rushing off for a funeral) in the back pasture.

No, the back field did not get mowed in August. Yes, that is discouraging.

I pull the trailer through the snowy weeds to a likely spot that could use a little nourishment…

And then I dump the heavy load of mulch hay and manure in a heap.

The first time I tried this maneuver, last weekend, the box rose and the trailer tongue popped entirely off the hitch, lunging forward and scaring me considerably. Thankfully I was not hurt. I hadn’t realized the trailer required a 2 5/8″ ball hitch; I had used a 2″ ball.

I thought of calling Mike. I thought of calling Damon. Instead I waited for my heart to stop racing and then figured out how to solve it myself. I lowered the box, unfastened everything, found and installed my 2 5/8″ hitch, and backed into position to reattach the trailer. I won’t make that mistake again.

In the meantime I have to pump up the truck tires with every trip — and pump up my willpower to pull on my smelly coveralls, swing the pickaxe, fork the stinking deep bedding into the wheelbarrow, and push the heavy loads out of the barn and up the ramp.

With my busy schedule and the depressing weather, it feels as if the willpower part might be the toughest.