Small Moment of Joy

December 29, 2010

Every once in a while I am overtaken by a surge of pure contentment. Such was the other night.

It was 4:45 PM, dark and cold, snow was falling, I was struggling to muck a pile of frozen manure out of the barn aisle, haul it outside, and dump it, before racing home to start dinner and get on with my pressing list… when I looked back at the barn and saw the light spilling from the windows and open door. As the snow sifted down I stood there, gazing.

No single photo can show the bright pine shavings bedding the stalls, the clean water in the filled buckets, the horse, cows, and sheep all munching hay, the barn kittens curled up in their cozy fleece nest. But I knew all were there.

And I did it, I thought. I made this happen.

Sometimes the responsibility feels heavy and lonely. But other times, like that night, happiness just grabs me by the throat.

A Busy Christmas

December 27, 2010

The holiday season often seems like an endurance event around here. Too many commitments, not enough time. Adding the pressure of the bank appraisal on Christmas Eve almost put me over the top. Last night I fixed supper and promptly fell asleep in my chair.

After all my frantic scurrying to prepare for it, the appraisal took less than ten minutes. The day was gloomy and 0° F. A taciturn man in a heavy coat and hat walked around the apartment with a clipboard, scribbling notes. He seemed underwhelmed. I told him about the items we were missing, particularly the back-ordered countertops.

“Just formica, right?” he said dismissively.

“Uh — yes.” But it’s very pretty formica!

I told him we had a great view when the weather cooperated. He glanced out the window. The mountains had vanished in clouds.


I mentioned Allen’s beautiful stone walls, currently buried under snow.

“Imported stone?”

“Er, no. Granite boulders.”

His mouth turned down. I sensed the implied sniff. He made notes and said, “I’m on vacation the moment I get in my car. You’ll probably hear something in ten days.”

Then he was gone.

The holiday itself was lovely. We went to the family service at church on Christmas Eve and then to our friends’ annual supper party, a warm gathering of neighbors. Jon came home with us for the night.

Lucy was so excited she woke early on Christmas day, and at 5 AM took this photo of me in my coveralls over my pajamas. I had just realized our 23-lb turkey was too big for my roasting pan, and was preparing to hike through the snow over to school to borrow one that was industrial-sized.

We enjoyed our usual exchange of gifts, mostly used books — though Lucy got her first pair of new cross-country skis since Grandma bought her the toddler version, Jon received a toaster oven as his apartment has only a cooktop, and I got a compost thermometer! Santa also brought our family a new cordless phone. The old one was ten years old and becoming crotchety. We make many jokes about DH and his complete lack of domestic skills but when we realized he couldn’t dial the phone we knew Santa had to step in.

Then while DH took Lucy out to test-drive the new skis and Jon curled up with his new books, I began cooking up a storm.

Our traditional feast was a bit more complicated this year because I wanted to make a second, vegan version of most of the entrées for Jon. I do not believe in veganism but if you’re not going to indulge your beloved child at Christmas, when do you?

By 2 PM, everything was ready just as our guests — our friends Mike, and Tom and Alison and their twin boys, old pals of Jon — came in the door.

DH carved the turkey.

Lucy had set the table and lit the candles. She was also the staff photographer.

We had roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, mint peas, boiled onions, and homemade dinner rolls, served with sparkling cider. Jon had vegan versions of all of it — minus the turkey and gravy, of course.

For dessert I had baked two pecan pies and made French Vanilla ice cream. Jon had more of the banana bread I’d baked for breakfast.

I’m not sure what idea I’m trying to get across to Alison in this photo.

For an hour we ate and talked and laughed and re-filled our plates. (There was a moment of unexpected excitement when the candles burned down and the decorative paper collars Lucy had made for the Advent candlesticks — Love, Peace, Joy, Hope — burst into flames.)

After dinner we had a rousing session of Word on the Street, a board game Tom and Alison brought. We played adults vs. kids. The kids won, which might have had something to do with all the men on our team being unable to restrain themselves from providing helpful suggestions to the opposition.

The party finally broke up when I had to leave for evening barn chores. Below, left, is the annual picture of Mike and “Sis.” Mike is small and huggable and fits under my arm.

Jon, right, is also huggable but he does not fit under my arm any more.










However I am here to report that he is just as ticklish as ever!

Merry Christmas to all!


December 24, 2010

Life in the last two weeks has felt like a train rushing down the tracks. Possibly with me tied to them.

Work on the garage apartment project was desultory throughout hunting season and then in December stopped entirely for ten days. During this period O.B. would not answer his phone or return calls. I was beside myself. Had he quit? What was going on? (I realized later he had taken another job.) At the same time the loan department at the bank was suddenly — and completely unexpectedly — pessimistic. My stress level soared. I could not sleep. Had I led my family into financial disaster?

At the end of last week the bank relented. I was also finally able to reach O.B. and let him know the bank appraiser was coming today at 10 AM.

The appraisal is hugely important. It means the difference between O.B. being paid and not being paid. Like the prospect of a hanging, this has concentrated his mind wonderfully.

All this week the apartment has been a hive of activity. Painters, plumber, electrician, cabinet salesman. From the barn I’ve heard saws screaming and nail guns firing as O.B. has attacked the final punch list. For the first time in months he has arrived at 8 AM rather than 10 AM.

Meanwhile I’ve been in constant communication with the bank, cooking for the Fossils, hauling wood, decorating the house, preparing the family’s Christmas, thawing frozen water pipes, driving Lucy to Vermont for an orthodontic appointment, organizing a New Year’s Eve party, shopping for Christmas dinner, wrapping presents, buying cabinet pulls and door knobs, ordering newel posts and garage doors, and trying not to react to mistakes in the apartment project caused by the last-minute rush.

My lists go with me everywhere. Loading and unloading the dishwasher. Folding laundry. Cooking dinner. Checking my watch.

I just have to get through this last big day of work, shake hands with the appraiser, e-mail the bank the final tally of unfinished tasks, bring the animals in early, and then DH, Lucy, and I can head to the five o’clock family service for Christmas Eve.

I’m holding onto the calming image of the congregation singing “Silent Night” by candlelight.

Wheel of the Calendar

December 22, 2010

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice. Yay! Though the worst twelve weeks of winter are still ahead, we are officially over the hump and cruising toward springtime. Every day from here out will get a little longer and a little brighter. Hooray!

DH took this sunset photo from the porch of the cabin last weekend. It shows the moon rising over the shoulder of Pitchoff Mountain. You can see the dark bulk of the barn — where all the animals are snug in their stalls, munching hay — and the Tyvek-papered garage and ell. I squint and try to imagine the whole farmhouse there, finished, with friendly lights burning.

I can almost see the pantry shelves, the wood cookstove in the ell, the red-checked tablecloth, the dogs snoozing on the kitchen floor.

Yesterday on our drive to Burlington Lucy and I started plotting the large perennial garden that someday will be out the (not-yet-existent) back door. I remember gesturing to Allen at a churned-up field of mud and boulders, saying, “And this will all be a garden!” He snorted. “Rock garden, you mean.” But he smiled tolerantly, and pulled all the boulders.

It’s the dreams that keep me going, especially in the cold and dark of winter. Dreams — plus faith that even in the gloom, spring is on its way.

A quick (and blurry!) glimpse

December 21, 2010

Jon came by for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon to help decorate the Christmas tree. Both dogs, the cat, and Lucy jumped all over him, beside themselves with joy.

Of course, Bing Crosby was singing on the stereo. My parents played this same album throughout my childhood — surely my little sister and I were the only small girls happily bellowing “Mele kaliki maka!” in our suburban Connecticut town? — and DH and I have had it, too, since Jon was a baby.

During the years when we had to travel at Christmas, I always packed the cassette along with Jonny’s Fisher-Price tape recorder, so we would never be without. Now I only have to hear der Bingle moan “I-I-I-I-‘m dreeeeeeeeeaming of a whi-i-i-i-i-te Christmas” and I’m instantly connected to decades of family holidays.

What nostalgia! If I close my eyes, maybe Dad is fixing orange juice in the kitchen. Or Jon in breathless excitement is coming to wake me, wearing his footie pajamas.

Beautiful Morning!

December 20, 2010

I have been feeling anxious and low in recent weeks. Insomnia has left me worn out. So yesterday’s sunrise alpenglow on the snowy mountains at barn chores was a lovely trumpet blast of cheer.

Then on to church, early, for caroling. Somehow God finagled it so I found myself boxed between the former choir director and the church secretary, both of whom have gorgeous soprano voices.

I am not a good singer. I am a loud singer. As with most skilled endeavors, my enthusiasm trumps my ability. In my rough contralto I roar away, plugging the melody.

However so steady am I on the melody that talented singers nearby invariably soar off into harmonies. I cannot overstate the joy this gives me. My scalp lifts and tears come to my eyes. I’m constantly breaking off to hiss to these startled but patient people, “That is sooo beautiful!” Yesterday I simply felt wrapped in happiness.

The Christmas pageant was held during the service. Lots of adorable four-, five-, and six-year-olds in angels’ wings and shepherds’ cloaks. The idea was that each child would bring a treasure from home to present to the Christ child, symbolizing the gifts of the Three Kings and the concept that everyone has something to offer.

One after another, little voices quavered, “Baby Jesus, I’m giving you my stuffed bunny,” or “I’m bringing you my favorite necklace.” Each gift was laid carefully in the cradle. Then a tiny girl stepped forward and announced in an enormous voice that rolled to the back of the church, “Baby Jesus, I don’t have a present, but — I can teach you to ski!


The Fossils are Here

December 19, 2010

Four of DH’s climbing friends are up for a long weekend of ice climbing. The oldest among them have been climbing together for more than thirty years. They call themselves the Fossils. They are out every day struggling up frozen waterfalls with ice axes, ropes, and crampons, and at night they sleep at the cabin. My only task is to keep them fed.

Yesterday morning Lucy and I served them home-grown bacon, milk, fresh fruit, and pancakes. Lucy is our family’s expert pancake flipper. In fact I left her cooking while I went out to milk.

Last night Lucy was at a friend’s house so I was manning the pizza production line by myself. (On family pizza nights it is her job to dress each pie.) But it went like a charm. I’d made three pounds of mozzarella on Friday and yesterday I’d kneaded up a big batch of dough and refrigerated it in six pizza-sized portions. All I had to do at supper time was roll out each pie, sauce it, sprinkle the cheeses, and slide it onto the hot pizza stone in the oven. Ten minutes later, voilà. Pizza time, dudes!

For dessert we had homemade Ben and Jerry’s Heath Bar Crunch ice cream, made with our cream, milk, and eggs.

This morning I’m grilling our home-grown sausage and after barn chores I will make a batch of waffles before I leave for church. The boys can reheat them as they straggle in. It is -7F this morning so they will need some fuel in their bellies.

I think I will start a big pot of beef stew for supper, and some crusty bread.