Finally Some More Progress

November 30, 2013

My college student helper, Luke, has been home for the holiday and has worked at the farm three days this week. He is such a smart and reliable worker that on Monday I could give him a long list and go to work myself, knowing that while I was teaching in the classroom, he was slowly but steadily pushing us forward.

Monday it was bitterly cold and windy. Luke spent the day mostly indoors, organizing.

Tuesday it was still only a few degrees about zero. Nevertheless Luke set the four treated 4×4 door posts for the addition, using a pick-axe to break through the frozen ground.


Wednesday was a frantic work-day for me, and in the midst of all the rush and worry there was a forecast of 6-10″ of snow. Luke took the day off and my only farm contribution was to care for the animals and stack all the detritus around the barn under the roof of the addition so the driveway would be clear for plowing.

As it turned out, the storm blew west of us, Deo gratias, and family and friends all arrived safely.

Thursday was the holiday.

Yesterday Luke and I could finally work together again. The last time we’d done so was back in October.

In September, in my few spare moments after starting my new job, I’d finished nailing down the roof plywood Luke and I had cut and tacked in place in August. (Here are D and his granddaughter, kibbitzing on the roof while I hammered hundreds of six-penny nails.)


In October, when Luke came home for Columbus Day weekend, he and I had rolled out the Ice and Water shield…


… and then put up the metal roof.


Naturally, we ran out of time, so half the roof was merely tacked.

This meant that the day before Halloween, when it was 33° and a windstorm was brewing, I’d had to finish the job alone. I had bundled up in winter coveralls, fleeces, winter jacket, hat, and boots, only to find that the metal was so slippery in the cold that I was in real danger of sliding off. There was no purchase at all. I could barely stand up. Even kneeling I began to slide down the slope.

I am deathly afraid of heights, but I could not risk the metal lifting and being bent and wrecked in the wind. So in the end I had peeled off my socks and driven the roofing screws in all my winter gear and bare feet, so I could maintain a grip on the steel. After ninety minutes my feet were numb blocks but the job was finished and the roof safe.

A few days later, in a repeat performance, I’d installed the flashing. The drip-edge and trim would have to wait.

Two weeks ago, my friends Allen and D trucked gravel up from the pond and raised the floor.

Last week D helped me shovel out the last gravel pile out to fill holes in the main barn, hours before the big freeze.

Now, yesterday, Luke and I were finally working together again. It was 8° below zero at daybreak so we had agreed on a late start at 9:30. (After a number of years working outside I have learned that when it’s too cold, little gets accomplished anyway so you might as well wait.)

First we cut and toe-nailed the knee braces on the addition’s long wall.


Then we measured and marked for the windows. Because the addition is so low, the windows on this side of the barn will be horizontal rather than vertical. I will pick the units up in New Hampshire when I drive to get Lucy for Christmas vacation.

Luke began cutting notches in our middle girts…


while I began driving the 500 nails in all the nailing plates for our knee braces. Even using a palm nailer (thank you, Gary, for introducing me to this handy little tool!) nailing plates are a tedious job.

Chiseling the notches smooth also took some time…


and concentration.


I was hosting a family dinner party so we quit at three. While I mucked the barn and fed the animals for the evening, Luke finished driving the nails in the last brace.


Leaving the farm at the end of the day, I was heartened. The doorways are cut. After so much delay and sweat and anxiety, finally the addition is beginning to look like a real building.


This morning when I got up at 4 AM it was -15° F. Luke and I will work today and he goes back to college tomorrow.

Fingers crossed for another jump forward!

A Happy Thanksgiving!

November 29, 2013

Hochshartners - NCS Thanksgiving 2013 - 1

We had a very happy Thanksgiving. Though the holiday is one of the biggest work events of the school year (it is a two-day parent event, so there are usually several hundred people at the feast), this year our family had extra cause to celebrate.

The day before, Jon announced his engagement to a wonderful girl, Amanda; and Amanda and her mother Judy joined us for the holiday. Here we all are before the crowds poured into the dining room.

Jon and Amanda attended school together in Virginia as small children and after seventeen years connected again this summer through Facebook.

Here they are in kindergarten. The class is setting out on “the Oregon Trail.” Jon is the fearless leader, adjusting his map in his belt. Amanda is the cutie in the pinafore and bonnet, keeping her eye on him.


Now, though a wedding is in the unspecified future, they have decided to tackle life’s trail together.


We couldn’t be more pleased and happy.

Storm Moving In

November 26, 2013


It was chilly at chores yesterday morning. My computer said -2°F but a neighbor recorded -8°F. The cows had long white frosted whiskers from their breathing. Winter is definitely here.

A storm is on its way. Originally forecast as snow, today is thirty degrees warmer and now there is a possibility of rain, slush, and sleet. Though my skiers would be overjoyed by snow, I pray it holds off until next week so all the holiday travelers, including ours, will be safe.

Luke came yesterday. At 7:30 AM I presented him with a long list on yellow legal-size paper. When I returned at 3:30 after teaching, he seemed mystified. “I worked all day long and it seems as if I got nothing visible done,” he said apologetically.

I started to laugh. I was almost relieved to have someone else experience my frustration. “That is how all my days go.”

However all the sheep fencing is rolled and tied and put away, the lumber in the garage has been re-stacked, the mudroom is organized, the lawn mowers are stored for the winter. It is so soothing to me to have some basic order restored after the hectic chaos of this fall.

Today while I am teaching, Luke will swing a pick-axe to try to break the frozen ground to set our four door posts.

The three-page list still waits, but in this pressured time I am learning to celebrate the smallest progress.

She’s Home!

November 25, 2013

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DH and Lucy went for their first ski together of the season yesterday. It was cold (a high of 10° F and fiercely windy) and the snow was thin but they were both happy. It is wonderful to have one of my chicks back under our roof.

Luke and I decided to wait a day to work. You would think I would have accomplished a lot of my home chores yesterday with the sudden gift of time, but I was so tired I seem to have wasted the day in a torpor, moving and thinking painfully slowly. Now I’ve had six hours of sleep and wish I had the day back.

It is -2° F today. I will be setting Luke up with jobs to do while I am teaching. (He is a terrific worker and very reliable on his own.) I think most of the tasks this morning will have to be indoors.

A storm of ice and snow is on its way for the holiday. I am trying to prepare myself for the possibility that we may not be able to get the siding on the addition next Friday and Saturday as I had planned. Even being able to dig post holes in the iron ground for the four door posts seems unlikely.

Meanwhile at school we are preparing for the big parent event of the year — as usual, there will be 300 people at the Thanksgiving feast — and I’m trying to get organized to teach four model classes in front of the crowd Wednesday afternoon. My son Jon and his girlfriend Amanda and her mother Judy arrive Wednesday morning, just as the storm is due.

It’s all good (so many blessings when I stop to count!) but it’s all busy and the storm is a worrying wild card.

I have to remind myself that the weather, at least, is out of my control.


November 24, 2013

The drive to pick up Lucy at school turned into a twelve-hour epic due to snowstorms. Cars spun off the roads in all directions and at many points we were creeping along at 10 mph in a white-out. I am very grateful we arrived home safely at 12:30 AM.

My dear friend Alison had kindly brought the animals in out of the storm so I didn’t have to drive down to the farm to do chores on our return.

This morning it is 5° F and we are due for more snow and 50 mph winds.

My college-student helper Luke wrote to me two weeks ago, offering to work while he was home on vacation. My list is long, but I also got fewer than four hours of sleep. I am, in the English phrase, knackered. (I love the etymology of this slang: a knacker is someone who picks up dead animals on farms for rendering, so if you are knackered, you are so exhausted you are fit only to become soup bones, soap, or fertilizer.) This describes me pretty well.

I emailed Luke this morning to say that it would be fine with me to cancel today, but also fine with me to work. I don’t even have enough energy to make a decision.

We shall see what he wants to do.

Made It Through Another Week!

November 23, 2013

I survived another tough week. Scheduled hour by hour, and so strung up in anxiety I could not sleep, but I staggered through.

Yesterday promptly after my last class I had an appointment with a school maintenance man to hang a 4’x8′ sheet of homasote in my classroom for an extra bulletin board. The sheet was flimsy and due to its weight and dimensions, awkward to handle, especially six feet off the ground on ladders.

“This is a hard job,” the young man commented as we puffed and pushed to screw the homasote into the concrete wall.

I agreed politely, but in my mind I was thinking, “Hard job? Come down to my farm if you want to see some hard jobs!”

The minute we finished, I raced to the farm. Darkness was already falling at 3:45 PM, and I had to shovel the giant gravel pile out of the addition before night, as the weather was due to drop close to zero and remain below freezing for the foreseeable future. If I didn’t get the pile moved it would be a geological feature inside the addition for the entire winter.

At 4 AM, planning my day, I had been overwhelmed at the prospect of this task, especially since the pile already had a three-inch-thick frozen crust that would need to be broken open with a pick-axe. Getting it done seemed impossible but I had no choice but to try. In an email to DH in New York City, I told him I could feel tears of worry and exhaustion prickling inside my nose.

As I hurriedly prepped my classes over breakfast, my friend D called to let me know he would be hunting that afternoon in the back field. I told him that was fine, and that the minute I finished with the maintenance man I would be at the barn, shoveling.

“You’re gonna put yourself in the fuckin’ looney bin,” he observed.

I explained about the imminent weather change.

“You should’a shoveled that shit before now.”

“I know,” I said humbly, “but I’ve been really busy.”

A sigh of exasperation. “I’ll come out an’ help you when I get off work.”

“Oh, you’re so nice, thanks so much, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. You go hunting.”

“I’ll be there.” Click!

By the time I got to the farm D had already been working for twenty minutes and despite the freezing temperatures had his jacket off and sweat rolling down his face. In another hour and a half the whole pile was moved, aside from the large chunks of frozen crust. D shoveled gravel and filled the wheelbarrow; I wheeled it up the ramp into the barn, dumped it, and smoothed it.

Unfortunately the wheelbarrow loads were heavier than I am and very soon my arms were trembling so much I could not push the load up the ramp. I turned around and dragged it up over the edge into the barn.

“Gettin’ tired, old lady?” D said gruffly, but without further comment, on each successive trip he climbed out of the addition to pull the nose of the wheelbarrow up the ramp as I pushed. By the thirtieth load I was so exhausted, and the heavy wheelbarrow was wobbling so much, he was guiding it in front of me all the way down the length of the barn aisle. This is a side of the notoriously hot-tempered, profane D that not everyone sees: as gentle and kind as his father Allen.

At last we were done. It was pitch dark and sleeting. The animals were bawling to come in for the night.

“Thank you so much. I could never have done all this without you,” I said, leaning tiredly against a stall wall. “I have a check in the car.”

“I ain’t takin’ your money,” he snarled, and left.

Such a good, kind friend.

Today it is snowing and I drive to New Hampshire to pick up Lucy at school. Nine hours round-trip, and we won’t be back until almost 11 PM, but what a reward to have my girl home.

One more tough week to go and I’ll have a day off, with nothing horribly daunting hanging over me (from a childhood of Roadrunner cartoons I often picture worrisome events as anvils falling from the sky).

I can’t wait.

You Know Your Perspective is Skewed…

November 20, 2013

…when driving four hours to have an infected tooth pulled feels like a blessed day off.

I have an old root canal in a molar that has cracked and become infected, and despite various antibiotics since August, the infection persists. Thus the tooth must come out.

Though I have a lot to do before I can leave town this morning, the prospect of a long drive when I cannot be doing anything else seems soothing. The relief of travel! Like being in a cocoon. No problem-solving. No lists. Nothing more is expected at this moment.

Even the inevitable pain, gauze, and bloody drool fade into insignificance.


Still Pushing

November 19, 2013


Snowing this morning. Last night it was dark, windy, and sleeting after work when I finally had an hour to get all my fencing down and out of Betty’s field for the winter. My gloves and coveralls were soaked and frozen. Before rushing to evening chores, I unloaded and left the netting tumbled on the grass at the farm, to be rolled and tied today. Now it is frozen and icy. I will have to bundle it into the garage to melt the snow off this morning so I can tie it up this afternoon.

I did get the snow stakes into the ground alongside the driveway last night in the dark.

The great news is that Luke, the college student who has worked for me on and off since he was 15, wrote to say that he is coming home for the holiday and can work for a day or two next week. Thank you, God!

*    *    *

Later.  Fence netting is thawed but I did not get it rolled and tied this afternoon. I had to stay after school to do some work in my classroom for half an hour and by the time I got home and walked the dog, it was almost dark. It felt cold and dreary. There was a mean wind, carrying snow.

At the farm I mucked the barn and only did the usual chores. I noted to myself that the pile of sand I’d meant to shovel and move this past week is still unmoved, and is now frozen solid. Sigh.

Tough Weekend

November 18, 2013

I’m not sure why this weekend felt so hard and discouraging. I had been so optimistic when it stretched before me, and felt so beaten as it drew to a close.

I had so many hopes for accomplishment. I had my lists and plans. But I got very little done that is visible.

I did repair my barn paddock fence. I removed and replaced two entire lines, along with numerous worn insulators plus the ground wire to the charger. By the end of the day Saturday those lines had a satisfying 6-8000 volts. I know that is crucially important but the paddock looks no different and so many other tasks had to go undone.

The 18-year-old who had promised to work, helping me with some two-man lifting and other projects, canceled at the last minute. I managed the lifting of items into the hayloft on my own but it took three times the amount of time it would have otherwise. The other projects were not touched.

A hay delivery came unexpectedly and I stacked the bales.

The weather turned windy and rainy Sunday and though I was outside all day, laboring in the mud, I seemed to make no progress.

Allen stopped by. We had planned to start siding the barn addition but I was not ready for him. I still have to install knee braces and frame the windows and doors. Maybe this week after work? Instead we re-stacked the siding under the roof of the addition, out of the weather. The wind was so strong it threatened to whirl little Allen, carrying long pieces of siding, around like a propeller.

This morning the wind is even higher. It rained all night and now a cold front is moving back in. Today before work I have to set my snow stakes along the driveway before the ground refreezes. This afternoon after work I have to finish cleaning up my fencing and shelters in Betty’s field.

The list, the list, the list. I am not sleeping.


November 15, 2013

My heifer Dorrie and the unweaned calves were out and prancing through the snow near the cabin when I got to the farm yesterday afternoon. Arrrgh!

I had (cross my fingers) figured out what was shorting the barn electrical system. After replacing almost every piece of lead cord, I happened to notice that the heat tape on the water hydrant had popped free of the top of its tape and six inches was hanging loose. On inspection I found toothmarks puncturing the casing, exposing the copper wire to the elements.

Dorrie! She is sixteen months old and the mouthiest calf I’ve ever raised. Clearly, somehow she managed to lean over the trough, suck the end of the tape into her mouth, and teeth on it. Of course I am grateful that she didn’t electrocute herself, chewing on an electric wire. However I’m also aggravated by the destruction of a $40 tape … as well as dumbfounded that Dorrie could be the daughter of my perfect cow, Katika. I try to remember Katika’s heifer days. Surely she must have had moments of naughtiness. But I don’t recall a single one.

Meanwhile, ever since I removed the heat tape Wednesday night, the electrical system has not failed. The calves were out yesterday due to a different problem. For some reason, though the energizer on the wall is pulsing, there is no charge in the fence. Zero. The electric lines are dead strings and the calves are simply pushing through them.

This morning I plan to do chores in the dark so that the minute the sun is up I can be poring over the fence, inch by inch, to find the problem. The only other option is to keep all the livestock in the barn today. I can’t have calves on the highway.

Just when I think I might be gaining on my list, the list gets longer.

*     *     *

For the past two days Lucy’s little dog Toby has had a mysterious digestive ailment which has required multiple trips outside on a leash in the middle of the night. Last night I was just crawling back under the covers after one of these trips when he returned to my bedside, whining piteously, making it clear that his misery was so terrible that only having my company in Lucy’s bed (Lucy is away at school) would soothe him. I staggered into Lucy’s room and he spent the rest of the night curled in the small of my back, sleeping much more soundly than I did.