Looking for an operator

August 31, 2010

I have been looking for someone to run the excavator for me. Well, sort of looking.

Last spring I paid to rent the excavator for a month. We only used it two weeks. Our original plan had been that we would use the remaining time in the fall, when the last of the back acres would be stumped and last bits of rough ground cleared.

Fall is here. My old friend’s health is poor and he can’t come back. I know this, but it’s been hard for me to accept. Somehow in the back of my mind I keep hoping for a different outcome. My DH knows exactly how I feel, but he is also practical and not given to magical thinking.

“He’s not coming back. You need to move on and hire someone new.”

A deep sigh from me.

For the past couple of weeks the school has been excavating all around our apartment. The sound of the excavator has been so familiar. The grind of the bucket on rock. The pulsing alarm when the machine is traveling. The silly horn. (All heavy machines have high-pitched horns that sound like Fisher-Price toys. Perhaps because only something so light and ridiculous would grab your attention on a noisy construction site.) But I know that high beep! from so many jobs. It means: Wake up, dopey! Or: I’m done; your turn to shovel!

Once Jon and I were sitting in our car in the school driveway, waiting for the excavator to finish digging and get out of our way. Having watched a number of men at the controls over the years, and having then worked with someone gifted, I have developed a bit of a connoisseur’s eye.

“He’s not very good,” I said, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel.

“He’s young,” Jon observed patiently.

I know I need to find someone. My friend’s son, who has a lot of his father’s talent, is not available. I asked Fred, who operated a bulldozer for me this spring, if he could operate an excavator.

“I can get by running the machine,”” he replied, “but I am no Allen, by no means.”

I’m sure.

DH broached the subject at a party with someone we know.  This man has worked many large machines. He is a nice guy. I should have been pleased. Instead I was slightly grouchy with DH afterward.

I know change is going to happen. I also know change can be positive.  But in my present mood I am not looking forward to it.

First fire down

August 30, 2010

Yesterday I got the big brush pile burned. I moved sheep at Betty’s, mucked the barn, brought in the animals for breakfast, milked, fed the pigs, and then called the fire department to alert them at 9:30 AM. The air seemed still.

Of course, the minute I set the match I felt a breeze and — whoosh! the fire was 15 feet high. There is always a moment with me, with fires, when my belly clutches. It feels exactly as if I have loosed a dangerous animal. Will I be able to control it?

But after half an hour the brush had burned down to a steady low blaze. I fed it all day with sticks I gathered on the knoll. To find the sticks I spent hours weedwhacking. Weedwhacking became the real task of the day.

DH is having a party at the cabin this afternoon. Last week he had said, “Sel, there are all these plants growing all around —”

The “plants” are poplar and black cherry saplings, raspberries, and briar. On my land, these are the Four Horsemen of forest reclamation. I always remember the lines in Gone with the Wind:

The image of whispering trees is perfect.

Our surrounding forest isn’t sinister to me (perhaps because I’ve walked those woods so often, or perhaps because there is no Spanish moss in the Adirondacks). But it is relentless. It will steal back cleared land in the blink of an eye. In only one summer some of the saplings were breast high and thicker than my thumb.

Knocking back young trees is an age-old farm task. In The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of Pa, who in the 1870s “grubbed so many sprouts from his clearing in the Big Woods, every summer.”

I imagine Pa used a hoe. I use a Stihl FS 36. This weedwhacker is eleven years old but still snarls at its job reliably. For these “sprouts” I have fitted it with plastic blades rather than string. If the saplings get any larger I will have to rent a brush cutter with a steel saw blade.

“You really love weedwhacking, don’t you?” O.B. said to me last week. No, but it has to be done and I’m good at it. That is, if one can said to be good at anything that really just requires persistence and slog. More than half of my land is much too rough for a lawnmower. Instead I will walk over each acre with the weedwhacker, scything down the brush.

I often think longingly of a tractor and brush hog, but then I remember Pa with his hoe and I hush the internal whining.

Still, it is slow work. My arms and shoulders soon grow tired. Yesterday in the 83° heat, sweat was running down my face, gluing my shirt to my back, and dampening my Carhartts. Every twenty minutes I stopped the machine, picked up sticks, and fed the fire. By the end of the day, when I put out the embers, I’d only cleared and cleaned the half acre immediately around the cabin. I was dirty, sunburned, smeared with soot, and flecked with leaf clippings. I stank of sweat, smoke, and gasoline exhaust.

About ten more acres and probably a dozen small fires to go. Onward!

A little too tired

August 29, 2010

I picked up a permit to torch my burn pile yesterday. This is a enormous pile of brush and sticks heaped out near the cabin. The pile is unsightly and I don’t want it to get bigger. (My stumped back acres are carpeted with thousands of broken sticks waiting for me to rake them.) The permit is good until December and I’d rather burn twenty small fires than several scary whoppers.

I filled the 425-gallon water tank that sits on my old truck and drove it out. The rusty axles groaned under the weight.

I weedwhacked the tall grass and weeds around the pile.

As a light breeze whiffled past my ears, I stuffed empty paper grain bags under the edges of the brush on the windy side. (If you light it on the windy side, the wind will fan the flames and push the fire through the rest of the pile.)

But in the end I didn’t light it. It’s been so dry. I was too tired. I didn’t have any courage left. I wished my old friend were there on the excavator — just knowing he was on the property and could deal with an emergency made me feel safe. I knew the chance the fire would get away from me was small, but I didn’t have the stomach for even that much risk. Usually I can push myself through anxiety but this time I gave in.

Maybe today.

Plumbing starts!

August 28, 2010

O.B. had made steady progress while I was at the funeral and yesterday we finished all the framing, blocking, and furring out of the upstairs walls. Matt the plumber arrived after lunch.

Matt is a big, friendly young man with a little-boy smile. You would never guess that in real life he is a prison guard. He shaves his head “so there’s nothing to grab.” He works the night shift, gets home in time to make breakfast for his five children, takes on plumbing work for extra income, and averages three and a half hours of sleep a day. He’s been doing this for eight years.

“Gosh,” I exclaimed. “I’ve been getting four hours a night these past few weeks and I’m a wreck. How do you do it?”

“I don’t sit down. If I forget and sit down, sometimes I fall asleep in the chair. And maybe once a month I sleep a whole day away.”

O.B. and Matt are friends who have worked together on many jobs. The teasing between them started immediately. In deference to my presence, Matt wore his shirt untucked.  Apparently his Carhartts are usually sliding down his bottom.

“I don’t have a waist. Neither does my younger son. We always tell him, ‘Crack’s illegal! Pull up your pants!'” He laughed to himself. “Crack’s illegal!”

I like Matt a lot. In previous visits he has explained all the plumbing decisions to me patiently. The layout provided by the kit company would not work at all for plumbing in a cold climate, so Matt is having to be creative. “But as O.B. always says, Don’t stress it. We’ll figure it out.”

Yesterday Matt cut holes in the floor for pipes and installed the shower. There were a few dicey minutes when it appeared the unit would not fit in its pre-framed nook under the eave.

O.B. and Matt did not get excited. I have seen this with Allen and Damon, too. Problems arise, I panic, and the men are perfectly calm. Allen might whistle a little under his breath. I always find this composure very reassuring. And indeed, in ten minutes O.B. and Matt had solved the difficulty and the shower was in place.

“Don’t stress it, dear,” said O.B.

Tony the electrician arrived in late afternoon. He too has a “real” job, with the municipal power company, so he will work for me evenings and weekends. Unless O.B.’s baby (now overdue) finally appears, all three men will be on the job today.

I’m too overtired to react with much more than a smile, but it certainly is heartening to see progress.


August 27, 2010

I meant to add: Funeral Blues is the name of an elegiac poem written by W. H. Auden in 1936. Here are the words. The poem is probably best known today from its reading in the 1994 movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral.  John Hannah’s performance as the young gay man mourning the death of his partner won a BAFTA. Here is the film clip.

I love this poem. I will always remember the boy I taught who was so dyslexic he could barely read, who at my suggestion learned and read aloud Funeral Blues to the student body years ago.  He didn’t pick up on the gay thread, just the theme of sorrow and shock:

“Stop all the clocks —”

Doesn’t that one line capture how each of us feels when a loved one dies?

Funeral Blues

August 27, 2010

I spent the day yesterday driving to my friend Carole’s memorial mass. The big church was packed. The service was beautiful. I laughed and wept.

Carole was my secretary when I was in my early thirties. She was blonde and plump and short and full of zest. Her smile lit up a room. Her heart seemed boundless. She was only about ten years older than I but she mothered me. She was a professional secretary and took me in hand like a challenging project. She tidied my desk, cleaned out my files, and had a habit of writing “F.U.!” across the top of my papers.

“Carole!” I said, aghast.

She looked at my face and burst out laughing. “It stands for Follow Up!”

My son was five years old and often played in the corner of the office. Instead of treating him as a bother, Carole greeted him as a joy. She was the best Christian I ever knew. To her, God wasn’t about piety and austerity, God was about love and action. She was always reaching out to comfort friends and strangers. The homeless man who panhandled on Main Street had Thanksgiving dinner at Carole and Bob’s.

Carole only worked for me for a year before DH and I moved away. When we returned six years later, she and her husband had moved to a new parish an hour away, where Bob was deacon. We lost touch. Still, she was one of those signpost people in life, someone who changed me and helped me grow up. She remained vivid in my heart. I loved her.

This was the third memorial service I’ve attended in the past month. Franny, Sue, Carole. My long black skirt and heels seem to stand at attention in the closet. I hold the hymnals in the different churches, try to sing the unfamiliar songs (I was raised that you always try to sing), and wonder how I suddenly got so old that everyone from my youth is dying. And I notice that we who survive are looking a little beaten up. Yesterday I met a woman whom I hadn’t seen in two decades. She’d been young, brilliant, tough, and intimidating. Now her hair was white and she had a hearing aid.

I said something to her about being unnerved by all the deaths. She agreed: “It’s like that game the kids used to play in the gym — dodge ball. It starts out with the room full, but one by one, people get hit by these random throws and, bingo, they are out of the game.”


*    *    *

I have been struggling with sadness this summer. Extremely emotional, trying to stay afloat. It has puzzled me, because there really isn’t anything “wrong.”

I think a lot of it is menopause, which hasn’t truly made its appearance but I hear offstage like an approaching train ready to rush down on me.

I think some of it is insomnia. I’ve had too many white nights. In the past week alone I don’t think I’ve slept more than four hours a night. Not sleeping plays havoc with your state of mind, I know. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used in torture.

But I think the main problem is loneliness. Since I got laid off I don’t have enough people in my life. I’ve always been a loner, accustomed to tackling things on my own. But these days with DH so often on the road, Jon leaving the nest, and Lucy on the cusp of becoming a teen, my home ranks are thinning. Thus the losses of this summer, even just the losses of people who worked for me, have felt like blows.

I know I need to make some changes in my life.

*    *    *

I did barn chores very early before leaving for Carole’s service. The sky was dark and wet. I was moving sheep fence at the farm when I felt a presence.

I looked up. A yearling whitetail buck was standing in the pasture ten feet away, staring at me. I looked at his slender antlers and slim teenaged flanks.

I know all about the problem of deer overpopulation. In the past I’ve let a friend hunt our back acres. This year he never responded to my inquiry. O.B. has asked if he and his brother can hunt there.

The yearling and I stared at each other for a long time, unmoving.

“Go on, sweetie,” I said finally. He started. I watched as he walked gracefully through the grass, stepped over Allen’s rocks, and melted into the woods.

There will be no hunting this year. I’ve had enough death.

Raising the walls

August 25, 2010

O.B. and I have been framing the upstairs apartment walls. Actually, O.B. is the one who has carefully snapped the layout on the floor and has been nailing up the framing. I have stood at the saw and cut the pieces as he’s called out dimensions, and I’ve nailed up more blocking for sheetrock.

I enjoy the work. O.B. is very quiet. Often we work for quite a while in silence. I can tell he has a sense of humor; he just doesn’t know me well enough yet to really tease me when I’m stupid.

Still, when yesterday I suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, now I understand —” and reeled off the reason for some issue with the wall frame, he looked at me quizzically and said, “I’m glad to know you’re following!” His obviously studied patience made me laugh and I pretended to beat him up, crying, “Yes, faint but pursuing!”

Though he’s only four years younger, he seems like a kid to me. Probably because he’s such a young parent. Still, he’s a nice man and I like him. He’s very patient with explanations, and always checks to make sure I’ve grasped the task. (“You all right, dear?”)

I’m learning a lot.

A hard day

August 24, 2010

Yesterday I drove seven lambs and my two aged ewes to the slaughterhouse. The date was more than a month earlier than I’d wanted but the only date I could get. Slaughterhouses in the fall are booked solid in January.

Such days are always tough but this was tougher than most. Due to various things going on in my life I’d been unable to sleep the night before, and after four hours of restless dozing I got up bleary-eyed and fuzzy-brained to face the task.

I had twelve lambs and had decided to keep five weanling ewes to add to the flock. I had spent hours going over my records. Though most of my choices were based on rational criteria, two were purely emotional. Lamb eartag 01 had lost all fear of me when I gave her supplementary feedings back in February, and she still ran to me to have her head scratched. Friendliness goes a long way with me. 01 would stay.

Then there was 05. This was one of Mary’s twin daughters. Mary was not a great mother. Essentially, she would rather go shopping. She cleaned up the lambs and then had little interest. When they cried she often didn’t answer (half the other ewes did). I always had to supplement her lambs the first few days out of the jug, until they were old and fast enough to nurse on the fly before she got impatient and kicked them off. In the past she obligingly threw twin ram lambs, which went to slaughter. This year she had twin ewes. Bad mothering can be heritable. I knew I shouldn’t really keep one of these girls.

However, 05 caught my eye with her sheer grit and determination to thrive. Though her twin sister meekly accepted short rations, 05 pursued their mother endlessly. When Mary refused to be cornered, 05 branched out. While the other ewes were busy feeding, 05 would dart in, kneel behind them, and steal a few sucks. Eventually Azalea, who had a bulging bag of milk and could have been a dairy sheep, tolerated this snacking with barely a shrug. By August, 05 was half again as large as her sister 04. Surely such creative problem-solving should remain in the gene pool. 05 would stay.

That left 04, rather scrawny, and all the castrated boys. On my farm, as in most agriculture, females have a definite edge in terms of long-term survival. (When I tag my lambs, ram lambs are tagged in the left ear, ewe lambs in the right, because girls have all the rights.)

It also left my two nine-year-old ewes, Mary and Clover. Both of them had looked so skeletal after lambing that I’d paid the vet to test them for Johnes, a contagious wasting disease (the results were negative). There was no question in my mind about the fate of Mary. Though she’d always been my tamest ewe, practically knocking me over in her enthusiasm for a treat, her capricious mothering was a serious strike against her — and this year her bag had dried off before her lambs were a month old. Clover, on the other hand, raised her twins perfectly. She was still feeding her lambs when I separated the flock. From a business perspective, Clover had done her job: raised two lambs successfully. But even on as much lush grass as she could eat at Betty’s, she was still painfully bony. I didn’t think I could bear watching her try to do it again. Last winter she’d shed half her fleece with rain rot, and looked like a moulting lion.

I remember the day Clover lambed. Kiwi lambed first, a ram lamb, and half an hour later, Clover went into labor. To my disappointment, she too delivered a single ram. I dried off the lambs, set them to nursing, and then went home to clean up and have lunch. When I returned an hour later, Clover was washing a late arrival — a ewe twin, who would be eartag 08. “What a good girl you are,” I’d told Clover.

All summer I was torn about keeping Clover another winter. I rooted for her to gain weight. She didn’t. In the end I decided to keep her daughter, 08, and ship Clover, to invest in young life rather than old. But my heart was heavy. I kept half-hoping for a reprieve from that hard decision.

Instead I was groggy with exhaustion and doing barn chores at 6 AM in a mental fog. I had stopped on my way to the farm to pick up the borrowed trailer. This summer I have grown reasonably competent at hitching and unhitching, but still it was a relief to successfully get it to the barn. Then I merely had to back it up and maneuver it into position at the barn door.

My friend Alison always says that I am lucky to have a city-raised husband, because it has forced me to learn so many practical skills. I know this is true. Still, I desperately wished for my friend Allen to suddenly appear or my friend Mike to take the wheel, or even teenaged Luke to stand behind me and yell directions. But Allen was out of touch, Mike away on vacation, and Luke in Maine. I was on my own.

I did it. Though it took a lot of time, I got the trailer to the door, propped open the trailer gate, and built a temporary chute. Hooray! Except I was too tired and tense to be thrilled.

I brought in the cows and horses, fed them, milked Katika, and walked a pail of milk out to the pigs. Now it was time to do a last sorting and the loading of the sheep. I had asked Lucy if she could help me, but at the thought of the final destination she shrank. Since Jon has become a vegan activist, he obviously was not an option. DH was in New Hampshire. Again, it was up to me.

Clover and Mary knew me so well they immediately pressed to the door of the sheep stall and I let them out into the enclosed aisle. Then, working from my list of eartag numbers, I caught the seven lambs, one by one, with my crook. Each one panicked briefly as I held it by a leg at the door, worked the latch, and squirted them out into the aisle. “I’m sorry, baby,” I kept repeating. “You’re OK, you’re OK.” The anxious baaing was tremendous.

Ioan, my ram, was outraged. It is the instinct of roosters, rams, and bulls to protect their flocks and herds, and I never hold it against them. In fact I usually go to quite a bit of trouble to do any sorting or doctoring with the male safely out of the picture, so they won’t feel duty-bound to attack me. But in this case, I had no other place to put Ioan. Lingering weakness in his hindquarters makes him slightly wobbly, but even wobbly, 200 lbs packs quite a punch. When he reared up to ram me, I cracked him across the nose with the crook. As he stepped back to think it over, I slipped out of the stall and latched it.

Using a spare gate I crowded the departing ewes and lambs close to the big barn door. Once they were bunched I threw the door open. The sheep bounded out almost as one and leaped straight up into the trailer. I swung the trailer door closed. It was all done — simultaneously a huge relief and a sadness. I could hear Clover and Mary calling. But there was no time to mope. It was 7:30 AM and I had to get on the road. The slaughterhouse was two hours away and the sheep had to be there before 10:00.

My destination was a small town in the northern foothills of the Adirondacks. I had printed out driving directions, just as I had the last time I made the trip, when Allen and I trailered my bull Georgie in December. Allen had tossed the papers aside and directed me on back roads from memory. Now when I reached a major turn-off I remembered taking last year, my foot hovered over the brake. Then I realized that without him to lead me through the maze of unmarked roads, I’d become hopelessly lost. I followed the highways listed on the Google map.

The slaughterhouse is unobtrusive and easy to miss. Exactly as I did last year, I overshot it by half a mile and had to turn around in the narrow road. Last year it had been snowing and I had been terrified at the thought of backing the trailer into oncoming traffic in the blowing snow. I had looked over at Allen in the passenger seat, waiting for him to offer to take over. He seemed unconcerned. I even think he was humming. “You’re fine,” he said. “You can do it.” I’d barely kept myself from whimpering — but I’d backed the trailer. This year I said to myself, You’re fine. You can do it, and backed it almost without hesitation. (It’s true a small car that I hadn’t seen veered around me, its horn blaring, but nobody’s perfect.)

At the slaughterhouse I backed the trailer to the unloading area. The young man in the chute was not organized and asked me to help walk my animals up to the holding pen. My heart hurt. I’m sorry, Mary. I’m sorry, Clover. Though it was an excellent facility, it was still a grim, depressing place. My sheep were frightened in their strange surroundings. I’m sorry, I’m sorry…

All I could think was how strange it was, the different pulls of conscience. My son wants to avoid all death, so he is a vegan. I am resigned to the reality of death but want to avoid all fear, so I wonder if I have to learn to slaughter my animals myself so they’re never frightened by leaving the farm. I was too tired to think about it long.

I snapped on the radio for the return drive. I only listen to the radio when I need to sing to stay awake. I sang myself all the way home.

I drove down to the farm, raked out the trailer, hosed it down, and drove it back to the school lot. I backed it carefully into its slot. I unhitched it.

My brain felt dull. I was exhausted on every level.

I hate slaughterhouse days.

lamb city! March 1, 2010

Sorting the sheep

August 21, 2010

It’s 36° this morning. Fall is fast approaching and the hormonal clocks of my sheep are starting to tick. Even the castrated ram lambs are butting heads and sniffing hopefully at the flanks of the ewes.

In an ideal world I’d have a handling system. These systems are a combination of steel panels, gates, and chutes that allow one person to calmly catch, sort, and medicate sheep without undue stress or alarm — to animals or handler. Sadly, the smallest of these Cadillacs of the sheep world start at about $2500. Far out of my reach.

The other night I woke up at 2 AM in a panic, suddenly realizing that my vague plan to borrow the school horse trailer for catching and sorting my sheep would not work because there was no way to get the trailer into Betty’s stone-walled pasture. Oh my goodness. How would I even remove my sheep at the end of the summer? As so often happens, I was too anxious to go back to sleep and too exhausted to think clearly.

The next day while weedwhacking a plan came to me. It might work. However as I would only be able to borrow the horse trailer for three hours, there was no margin for error. I knew I had to figure everything out to the last detail. (I had promised Mike, the school farm manager, that I would return the trailer by noon. He shook his head. “Why are you smirking?” I demanded. Mike grinned. “I’m just amused by your boundless optimism.”)

Two days ago I ran the sheep three-quarters of the way down Betty’s field to a new temporary paddock, to put them within striking distance of the only opening to the pasture.

Then I convinced Luke that even though there would be no construction, he wanted to work for a half-day yesterday on the farm. I told him it would be difficult. Luke loves a challlenge.

He and I took a couple of old gates and borrowed 16-foot pig panels down to a neighbor’s field alongside Betty’s field. Luke was a bit embarrassed to be driving around with something that looked “like the tail of a scorpion” curling up from the back of the truck.

It took us twenty minutes to pound fence posts and tie the gates and pig panels to them. The idea was to make a chute that led directly into the open trailer.

Since the pig panels were short, I tied a scrap of old climbing rope along the top to make a taller “visual.” I also borrowed a couple of poles from the neighbor’s riding jumps to keep any frightened lambs from ducking under the trailer.

Meanwhile Luke was “sewing” shut an opening in the brush with baling twine. I knew we would only have one good chance at running the sheep into the chute. “It’s worth taking the extra few minutes now rather than wish we had later,” I said.

Here is Luke’s handiwork:

The hope was that this would look like fencing and the sheep would rush right by it, following me carrying grain. Then we’d swing the big gate closed to trap them in the chute… and then we’d inveigle them into the trailer with grain and swing that door closed.

I was very nervous when we went for the sheep — we would be forced to run the flock across a busy driveway and I was praying, “Please no cars!” — but everything went just like clockwork. Only my ewe Blackberry was suspicious and evaded the trap. Blackberry is a pure Clun Forest and has those innate wild smarts. Her sister Azalea was even wilder and smarter and would never have allowed herself to get anywhere close to our chute. But Azalea is gone and Blackberry’s anxiety at being separated from the flock eventually lured her in and she jumped onto the trailer with the other nineteen sheep. It all took less than five minutes.

“We are the champions!” I screamed as the bolt was thrown home. I hugged Luke in excitement. In another five minutes we had the sheep down the road at my barn and unloaded into the sheep stall, where they crowded both hay racks for more grain.

Luke wrote down eartags and I wormed all the ewes I knew I was definitely carrying over the winter: Blackberry, Blossom, Mango, Lily, Bean, and Smoky. Then I used my crook to grab each one and pull it out into the barn aisle with Luke. We loaded those girls back on the trailer, and trucked them back to Betty’s field. Ioan the ram was left at my farm. Their babies, big teenagers now, were henceforth weaned.

The lambs wailed for several hours but I noticed that the ewes, after calling desultorily for twenty minutes or so, put their heads down and grazed happily.

Green grass, no babies, no men! This is the life! Club Med for ewes!

Waiting to move forward

August 20, 2010

Yesterday the bowed big sliding door and racked back mudroom door were fixed. A huge relief.

However we are now at a standstill until the plumber does his thing, the electrician arrives, and we have a final kitchen and bathroom layout from the lumberyard, showing where the fixtures go, so we can frame the upstairs interior walls. The lumberyard offers this design service free, but it certainly does increase my sense of obligation to buy my cabinets and plumbing units from them (no doubt this is intentional).

original plan; click to enlarge

I’d had a plan from the makers of the kit but it had the bathtub/shower laid in front of the bathroom window, and other infelicities that I hadn’t noticed until the time came to consider putting them in.

I have enjoyed learning from O.B. the carpenter, Mark the plumber, Chris the kitchen designer — and no doubt, eventually Tony the electrician. Each of them in his separate sphere has what I think of as “a proofreader’s eye.” They may not be able to spell well but they can glance at a floor plan or a wall and instantly see the problems. It has distressed me that there have been so many problems — how will we keep pipes from freezing in an unheated garage? and have I even mentioned that the concrete garage floor has developed spider cracks? — but it certainly is reassuring to have a bunch of problem-solvers on my team.

Chris has promised the revised plan by this afternoon. Tony the electrician may show up tonight and work this weekend (he has a full-time job in real life). Mark the plumber has been out of town with family and we hope will check in soon. With luck we can go full-throttle ahead next week.

Of course, O.B.’s baby is due any minute. I love babies and it’s selfish of me but I pray we can get a few days’ progress before the tiny arrival.