December 30, 2012


Work has stalled on the addition. Between snowfall from the sky and snow-slide from the roof above, the drifts inside the frame are knee-deep.

In my wobbly recovery from flu, I have not had energy to contemplate next steps. Just mucking the barn stalls every morning and dragging the heavy muck bucket half a dozen times through the snow to the manure pile has felt like work enough.

IMG_1953Flossie, my barn cat, has been lonely since we lost her brother Freddie to a coyote in August. Flossie used to be “the shy one.” Now, confined to the barn by deep snow, every morning she sits on each stall wall to supervise my cleaning. Every night she swarms up the wall alongside the frost-free hydrant to rub her blunt head under my chin as I fill the water buckets. I can feel her purr rumbling against my throat.

I have talked to the woman who owns the dairy farm where Freddie and Flossie were born. She tells me there is a line of cats there who are so friendly they seem a little brain-damaged. The current matriarch is known as “Obnoxious,” for this obsessive warmth. She is always eager, underfoot, in the way. Freddie was like this. I had to be careful he didn’t try to jump up happily to investigate while I was running my Skilsaw. I had to spit his waving tail out of my mouth when I was kneeling to work on fencing close to the ground.

I did not find this cheerful warmth obnoxious. I found it utterly endearing.

“You like a cat who acts like a dog,” observed David, my vet.

I may try to get one of Flossie’s cousins to keep us company at the barn.



A Strenuous Holiday Season

December 28, 2012


This holiday has been tough, with first DH, then Lucy, and then me falling sick with flu and a high fever that clung for days. As we’ve coughed and staggered we have had to make and remake our plans to visit son Jon in Boston for Christmas. Yesterday we had a storm that dumped 18″ of snow. My skiers were delighted by the prospect of fresh powder — we got more snow yesterday than in all of last winter — but we were forced to put off our trip once again.

Now I am the only one still coughing and though very tired, I am on the mend. We hope to make a lightning trip to Boston some time in the coming week.


Sick as a Dog

December 24, 2012

I have had flu and a high fever for the last three days. I am miserable. Last night I woke up at midnight shaking with chills and sat in a chair for two hours wrapped in blankets until I warmed up. When I do barn chores morning and evening I take breaks to sit in the truck whenever I feel lightheaded.

In one sense I do not mind. This is life. Pa Ingalls did his chores no matter how rotten he was feeling. However it is hard to have this bug at Christmas time, when I am the family’s Christmas engineer.

We were going to drive to Boston yesterday to see Jon. I am far too sick. It was terrible to have disappoint everyone.

DH and Lucy, who are recovering from the same flu, are trying to help. Lucy made dinner two nights and DH bought frozen pizza for last night. The two of them took charge and we finally got our tree decorated yesterday. (I had bought the tree ten days ago, just as they fell sick, and it had sat on our porch, waiting.) But tonight is Christmas Eve and even if we skip church — we will have to skip church — there is still a list of things to be done for the holiday.

I love Christmas and have planned for it for weeks. I hate having it wrecked by flu. Between bouts of coughing I just want to cry.

I know this is very silly, considering all the struggles and sadness in the world. It must be the fever.

Wind Storm

December 22, 2012

Yesterday I had a high fever and outside the wind was howling and lashing the trees. My fever gave me the strange feeling that I was moving underwater, unable to think.

I stumbled through morning chores and was driving out of the farm, ready to go back to bed, when I came upon a large dead spruce that had fallen across the driveway, blocking it entirely.

I stared at the tree stupidly. What to do? I own a chainsaw but I’m afraid of it even when my brain is firing on all cylinders.

I decided I needed to use my heavy chain to pull the tree out of the way. I turned the truck around and backed to the tree. Then I began rummaging in the truck for my chain.

I could not find it. I was ready to whimper. I didn’t have energy for this! I was sure I had left the chain in the truck for winter emergencies.

I drove slowly back to the farm garage to look for my chain.

DH was there. He saw me staggering around the garage and wondered what I was doing. I explained about the big fallen tree. It didn’t occur to me to ask him for help because in our family it is generally accepted that Dad is a brilliant man with zero practical skills around the house.

However he is a mountaineer.

“If you can’t find your chain, how about we use these slings?” DH held up half a dozen small loops of climbing webbing.

I looked at them blearily and couldn’t imagine how they would work.

“A girth hitch,” DH said. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“OK,” I said finally, giving up on my chain, and we drove back out to the tree. I switched the hitch on the truck and DH fooled with all his pieces of webbing as I sat in a feverish daze.

“Go ahead,” he said. I gunned the truck in four wheel drive. The big tree creaked and splintered and then began following the truck down the driveway. I was amazed.

I towed the tree all the way to the cabin, where I can burn it next summer. When I untied DH’s webbing and brought it back to the truck, I saw that my chain had been sitting on the passenger seat all along.

High fevers are no fun but it was comforting to have DH come to my rescue.

No More Bird-Dogging

December 21, 2012

Yesterday was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. It started out cold, but by mid-morning the sun had warmed the surface of the ground and my gravel pile was soft again. We could have finished the shoveling. Unfortunately Donald was a no-show. Our 10 AM meeting time came and went. No Donald. The other boy I had talked to about work did not arrive or phone either.

Something has switched off in my brain. In the past I would have been making calls, rousting sleepy boys out of bed, reminding forgetful workers of their commitments. But no more. I just don’t have the energy.

The carpenter, the electrician… if they can’t get back to me, I am now letting it go and looking elsewhere.

My hay man of recent years, Rick, promised to bring me hay the week of December 2. Every day I fed out my dwindling reserves and watched for his truck. No show.

At a local auction I ran into my former hay man, Joe, who is in his seventies now and retired. Joe mentioned he had a little unsold hay and promised to bring me a load. As always, Joe showed up early on the appointed day. We had all the hay stacked in the loft before the hour Joe had been scheduled to arrive. I figured this hay would be my insurance, my back-up.

I contacted Rick again December 9. He promised “for sure” to come that week. No show. No communication.

Rick’s hay is better than Joe’s. The bales are bigger and heavier so it is also proportionately cheaper. However Joe’s hay has one clear advantage: it is in my barn.

I am done with bird-dogging and chivvying and nipping at heels to get people to live up to their promises. I think I will get another load from Joe on the first clear day after the holiday.

In the meantime, I am collapsing with flu and fever, which may be a factor in my new, tougher mood.


December 20, 2012


I had been nailing earlier this week when my attention focused on the grading around the barn addition. Back in 2011, Allen had dug gravel from the pond and I had hired D on his excavator to spread it around all the concrete piers, but we hadn’t had enough to finish the job.

Now as I looked at my lower girts I’d suddenly thought in alarm, “Even if I can get this addition built, how will I keep the animals inside it?” Not only could a coyote enter under the boards, the gaps were so large a sheep might even roll out.

Thus my hurried purchase of twenty tons of gravel.


We had a fresh inch of snow yesterday morning. When I let everyone out at morning chores, the calves entertained themselves in the cold by running and bucking and scattering the sheep.


For my first hour of shoveling I decided to concentrate on building up a low berm around the outside of the addition. The ground was very uneven and slippery with ice.


Donald arrived at ten. He is twenty years old, a nice boy and a hard worker.


He is also not over-awed by authority. We talked as we worked and he was reminiscing about high school.

“In high school I was basically a bookworm and a nerd,” I confessed.

“I could have told you that,” he said.

We quickly set up a system of ramps on my berm. Donald filled the wheelbarrow and pushed each heavy load up the ramps to dump it inside the frame.


Then I shoveled the gravel to plug the gaps. It was a slow process.


It snowed on and off all day. Donald stayed for four hours. I shoveled for a total of seven hours before I quit at dusk to muck the barn, bring the animals in for the night, and cook dinner.


We were only able to move about half of the crusher run — approximately ten tons. But if the pile is too frozen to work this morning, that will be good enough.

*  *  *  *  *

DH and Lucy have both been miserable with flu for the past week, with streaming noses, coughing, and persistent fevers over 102°. I rarely get sick — I tell myself no germ can withstand the power of cow manure! — but last night as my tired muscles unknotted in a hot bath, I realized I was beginning to cough.

Gravel Delivery

December 19, 2012


Yesterday afternoon I got a delivery of twenty tons of crusher run — the local name for road mix gravel. I just squeaked the delivery under the wire. Tomorrow the gravel pit closes for the season. Most of the heavy haulers have already washed their tandem trucks and put them away for winter. I got the name of a local man still working and with lots of telephoning was able to put the delivery together at the last minute.

It could only happen because we have been in a muddy thaw.


Normally at this time of year, gravel would be deep under ice.

However last night it snowed, and starting tonight the evening temperatures are due to fall back into the teens. This is good news for the frustrated skiers in the family but increases the pressure on me.


All of this gravel must be moved today or it will become a topographical feature for the winter. It must all be shoveled and dumped inside and down the length of the barn addition, leveling the ground along all thirty-two feet.

I have my fingers crossed that Donald and Stephen will each be able to help me shovel for a few hours.

Otherwise by tonight I am going to be whipped.