Lulu Turns 12!

October 31, 2009

photo(31)Yesterday was Lucy’s birthday. It’s been such a mad week (month!) of rush, rush, rush, I wasn’t sure I could pull it together. We have no stores in less than an hour’s drive so everything had to be mail-ordered, always a nail-biting experience. However all her presents arrived except her new riding pants, which appear from computer tracking to be meandering around New England.

I got up early to decorate the kitchen with streamers, drove Jon to his 7 AM carpool, hurriedly shopped at the grocery store for dinner and birthday cake, and then stood in line at the plumbing store, which also happens to be the headquarters of the local Big Buck contest. The man behind the counter was wearing a T-shirt that said


why should I bother to speak to you?

I was as tall as or taller than the half-dozen men standing there in camouflage gear. In my Carhartts and boots, with my hair under a baseball cap, I am often mistaken for a man: my own sort of camouflage. They paid me no attention. I love listening to men under such circumstances. “Only got one shot at the big bastard —” I was almost sorry to get my sewer pipe and leave.

Except that I was late for milking and late to meet Allen. Allen is never late. “Where you been?” he always asks. I tell him whatever I’m juggling. He shakes his head. “You’re a busy bee.” I raced to milk, turned the animals out, then drove home to strain the milk and put away groceries.

In our last days with the excavator, Allen and I were struggling to finish the septic system. Meanwhile an electrical crew had been scheduled to come Thursday to lay the buried power, telephone, and cable lines from the transformer to the garage and future house. Allen had carefully dug all the trenches, everything was ready, but — the electricians were a no show. I called Thursday afternoon and the head of the company (who had been out at the property making plans only three days before) seemed barely to remember the project. “What are we doing again?” I tried to contain my panic. He promised to send his crew at 8:30 Friday morning. Now it was 9:30 Friday, Allen and I were having our coffee, and no one had arrived. “Better call,” Allen advised.

I telephoned. The head of the company sounded harassed. “My crews are all busy finishing up other jobs.” “But the excavator is leaving!” “OK, OK, I’ll come out and do it myself,” he said, slightly grumpy. I thanked him politely. Allen’s comments in my ear were unprintable.

Allen and I drove ourselves hard all day and by 4 PM the big house projects were finished. (I will devote another post to the sewer, power, and water work of the past week.) We were both tired. I did barn chores and hid the other shovel so that Allen could not help me shovel the heavy mud packing the excavator tracks. Twenty minutes later, the tracks were clean. I gave Allen a hug, and headed home to cook dinner for Lucy’s birthday.

STA_0265Lucy’s “big” family present was a student microscope. This made me smile. Lucy did not request a microscope, but DH thought she should have one. I kept remembering my mother saying, the year Lucy turned six and I bought her a sleepy, aged pony, “Whose childhood dream are you making come true?” DH was as thrilled with the microscope as Lucy was and the two of them sat for hours last night and today, looking at everything under the lens. Lucy is a very generous child.

Happy birthday, dear Lulu Bird!


Home Stretch

October 28, 2009

We are in the home stretch of our month with the excavator. Only a few more days. Allen and I have been juggling half a dozen different projects, struggling to get everything done before the clock runs out. I was so tired last night I fell asleep in my chair after supper. I don’t know how Allen keeps going. It’s a little daunting to be worked into the ground by a man a quarter-century older, with a heart condition!

Yesterday Ben came with his dump truck to help Allen with earth-moving, while I fixed the barn paddock fencing and re-set the gate that had been wobbling like a loose tooth. Today the well company returns to run the water pipes from the well to the garage and house. Tomorrow the electrician will bring a crew to put in the underground power lines. Meanwhile Allen and I have been putting in the septic system. In between, Allen has been clearing the back pasture and repairing the road, and both of us have been sweating to dig out the corner of the concrete foundation where I neglected to insist on holes for water, power, and sewer.

A lot of balls in the air. I’m sure in all the scatter and rush I’m making more mistakes. I try not to worry too much.

Last night when I got home and took off my baseball cap, a shower of dirt and a rock fell out of my hair. Today it is raining, and it will be mud.

I’ll Never Be an Operator

October 27, 2009


This photo makes me laugh. That’s me in the excavator. It’s all a fake. It’s really a picture representing two bullheaded people.

Allen is determined that I can learn to run the excavator.

I am determined that I’ll try no such thing.

Allen has a hard time understanding why I resist such a “simple” task. He forgets, in the moment, how hopeless I am with machinery. He forgets that no matter how many reminders he gives me, I always spin out of the driveway. He forgets that I regularly neglected to remove the tin can off my tractor exhaust (thus accidentally shooting it 25 feet in the air). He forgets that I can’t reverse anything on a hitch or back with mirrors. Even unlocking the excavator gas cap for refueling is sometimes a challenge for me. No, no. To Allen it is all easy. A no-brainer. So why not?

Finally yesterday during our lunch break Allen got me to climb up into the seat. But you can see I’m doing everything but sit on my hands.


Working with the guys, I have heard many, many stories of fatal and near-fatal accidents. The friend who was beheaded when loading a feller-buncher onto a trailer — and a co-worker mistakenly closed the cutting pincer. Allen’s uncle Forrest Peck, who tipped over a tractor onto himself. “Squashed him,” Allen recalls.

Long ago I had asked Allen why he’d taught his son Damon to operate heavy equipment but not his daughters.

“Didn’t teach him nothing. He teached hisself. Only thing I ever did was cover up the picture, wall of the cab. Can’t be readin’ directions. Got to do it by feel, got to know it.” Allen moved his hands on invisible controls to show me how automatic the moves were. “Got to stop and look at directions, somebody’s gonna get killed.”

I am of course one of the most obsessive readers Allen knows, someone who always looks at directions. Many women now run big machines — but not this girl. “Typing,” I remind him. “That’s my skill, Allen. Typing.

Nevertheless, he keeps hoping. He stood on the tracks yesterday, leaning into the cab to point out the various pedals, levers, and joy sticks.

“You ain’t dumb. You can do it.”

Nope. Never.

But it’s dear to me that he thinks I can.

Seeing the Sibs

October 26, 2009

It was a wonderful trip to Connecticut. The cows were surprised to have me throw open the barn doors at 4 AM. It was raining and dark — I put out hay by the high beams of my truck, stumbling around in the mud. Returning home, I woke Lucy after my shower and we hit the road at 5:30. Less than six hours later, we were there.

I loved being with my brother and sisters. We sibs are all so different and yet all basically tolerant of each other’s differences. Perhaps that is the greatest testament to our parents. We laughed and chattered for hours, telling stories of our lives.

Here we are, only missing our brother H, and of course Mom and Dad. Essie, in the middle, was the rock of our youth. Whenever I see her my heart swells full to bursting. She looms so large in my imagination and memory it is funny to realize how small she really is, compared to us giant “children.”


Speaking of size — though we are all three 5’10” tall, I felt like a linebacker next to my sisters, who when I hugged them were like birds in my arms. I said something to Lucy later and she said, “Well, they are dainty, Mom. You are … big.” I laughed. The story of my life.

My brother’s wife, Margaret, is not only a fabulous cook but an endlessly thoughtful person. To crown a delicious meal she arranged for a birthday cake to celebrate the week’s two birthdays: my niece Susanna turning 26, today, and Lucy turning 12 on Friday.


Lucy and I left at 4 PM and drove in at home just before 10 PM. I tucked her into a bed on our floor (a house guest was sleeping in her room) and drove down to do barn chores at the farm. Again the cows were surprised but agreeable.

A long, tiring, but wonderful day.

On the road again

October 25, 2009

I’m having my coffee before walking the dogs and then doing barn chores at 4 AM. After milking, I’ll shower, wake Lucy, and we’ll be on the road at 5. My little sister is back east for the first time in the five years since my mother died. Four of us sibs are getting together at my big brother’s house in Connecticut for lunch.

DH is at a college reunion. Jon is overwhelmed with mid-terms and can’t go. So it’s just Lucy and me.

It will be a long day on the road. Probably about eleven hours of driving. My animals won’t be fed until I’m once again in coveralls at the barn at 10 PM. However I’ll be very happy to have seen everyone. My brothers and sisters are my closest connections back to childhood and our parents, whom I miss every day.

On another note, my little black hen is sitting on an enormous pile of eggs. Tomorrow I must remember to lift her and mark the eggs with a pencil, as I believe the other girls are still laying in that nest and her stash is growing larger and larger. Once they are marked I can remove the fresh eggs each afternoon. I hope she is successful mother. I love having a hen with chicks.

Witching for the Septic

October 22, 2009

I arrived at 7:45 AM for milking to find the excavator silent and no sign of Allen. Finally I heard the chink, chink of a shovel and realized Allen was underground, smoothing the bottom of a new 7′ deep, 6′ wide, 12′ long hole. Oh! I guess we are starting the septic system today.

“Allen! What are you doing, shoveling? That’s my job!” I jumped down into the hole.

“You wasn’t here,” he said mildly.

All day long I run after Allen and take heavy lumber, rakes, or shovels out of his hands. He simply does not make any concession to having had two quadruple-bypass heart operations or having 80% blocked carotid arteries. I tell him he’s bullheaded. He says he can do it and to stop worrying. “A man’s got to work.” If I really yammer at him he adds, “Everybody got to die sometime.”

“Don’t use that D word! Besides —” I say fiercely, in his own vernacular, “it ain’t gonna happen working for me!”

He just smiles. “You’re a good girl.”

I am much happier when we’re in our usual positions — he’s safe up in the excavator and I’m the flunky down in the trench or hole.


One of the many drawbacks of doing this house-building project the way I have — in bits and pieces, by fits and starts, as I’ve had money — is that there has been no master plan clearly showing how the services (water, power, sewer) enter and exit the house. This has been a major problem to correct, and has left Allen trying to dig a septic system in a cramped area already criss-crossed by buried water and power lines. Even more problematic, the terrain has been entirely altered by earth-moving. There are no landmarks left to remind us where things are.

STA_0273“Got to find them power lines,” Allen said. I assumed he meant digging for them carefully with the excavator. But instead he brought out two brass rods. They looked like pieces of an old coat hanger.

It turns out that Allen is a witch.

Now, I am a skeptic. Allen has told me about seeing ghosts and I just listen. Mentally I put divining for electric lines in the same category. But I don’t mock anyone’s beliefs.

I watched him hold the rods and pace over the dirt. The rods turned in his hands. “There’s the line,” he said, digging in his heel to mark the ground.

Inwardly I shrugged.

STB_0274“Now you try it,” he said.

“No, Allen, I’m sure I don’t have any witching talent. The only thing I can do is spell.”

“Here, try it.”

I felt very foolish, but held the rods and paced the ground obediently. The rods turned in my hands! Not smoothly the way they had for Allen, but they definitely pulled and turned.

This made no sense to me. Allen couldn’t explain it, but that didn’t worry him at all.

It probably will not surprise you to learn that the rods indicated the power lines were nowhere near where I remembered them to be — and the rods were correct.

Airport run

October 21, 2009

Yesterday afternoon I drove to Albany to pick up a student flying in from California. As I get older, the long drives are more tiring. After six hours I felt as knotted as an old string.

Still, I enjoyed listening to the child on the drive back, and drawing him out. He is in 8th grade. Very verbal. Lots of declarative sentences. A lordly air of kindly condescension toward his peers.

There is something about smart, precocious, arrogant, socially clueless children that is so familiar to me! It is always a bittersweet nostalgia.


October 20, 2009

STA_0252When you don’t know Allen, this is what he looks like. Very serious. Professional. Almost grim.

When you do know him, he is so goofy and funny, giggling like a little boy, that this dignified gentleman seems like a dream.

As I have to drive Jon’s carpool in the morning, I don’t get to the farm with my milk pail until 7:45 AM. Allen is always already hard at work in the excavator, stumping the back pasture. I drive out in my truck to meet him and make our work plans for the day.

Yesterday I found that Allen had evidently grown bored with the endless rocks, and on top of a giant rock shelf, stacked a rock snowman to greet me.

I grinned. “Good morning, Allen!”

After barn chores I went home to strain the milk and make calls about the septic system. When I came back for coffee break at 9:30, to go over the septic notes, I found Allen had dressed the snowman in his hat and coat. “He looked cold!” he explained solemnly, and then burst out laughing.

We laugh a lot. It’s great light relief when I’m worried about scheduling workmen, wangling permits, or paying bills.


Flashback to logging

October 19, 2009


I just got back the logging photos from the disposable camera Sandy kindly provided. I’m glad to have them. When I blow these up and look at them closely, I am instantly pitchforked back into those cold, wet, muddy, dark days! (These photos were taken at 9 in the morning.)


I also like looking at the sky. So often when I’m working outside I find I have stopped what I’m doing to watch the cloud patterns. Sometimes you can see the weather coming for miles.


Other times the sky is low and dripping, and you’re just aware of cold and mud.

Big Sky

October 18, 2009


A view of the snowy mountains. Someday this will be the view from our living room window.

I severely underestimated the amount of time various jobs would take yesterday. Allen and I never got to the run-in shelter at all. Snapping insulators on the pasture posts took hours. The plastic in the cold did not want to bend around the frozen metal posts. By the time I finished my fingers were bleeding from a dozen small nicks. My hands were so numb I didn’t feel a thing.

STA_0265Meanwhile Allen was dealing with the frozen excavator. Trying to spare him exertion, the night before I had shoveled all the mud out of the tracks. Well, almost all the mud. I had missed a spot near one roller. By morning it was so solidly frozen Allen had to chisel it free to allow the excavator to move. He told me later that he’d said to himself, “Gonna have to fire that girl.”

STA_0266While I worked on fencing, Allen continued cleaning up the logging site. Our one accomplishment from the big list came after lunch, when we moved the toolshed over to the cabin — the first step in its transformation into a sauna for DH. (I always catch myself saying we did all these things. Of course, Allen moved the toolshed. I stood watching.)

-26Allen’s wife had invited me to his family birthday party for supper. The house was bursting with dozens of people, all relatives, from Allen down to his eight-month-old great-granddaughter. His sister-in-law took this photo of Allen and me. Allen said, “Never had a woman boss before. But it’s OK!”

Today I am taking the day off so I can catch up on cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking ahead for the week, and paying bills. I’m not even going to church. Just hunkering down at home and getting organized.

I can’t say I am looking forward to scrubbing bathtubs or changing beds, but I know I will feel calmer and more in control at the end of the day if all those things are done.