Back to Work Again

November 27, 2016

The school students return today. I have a faculty meeting at 9 AM and a meeting with a parent after lunch. Though I will try to fit in a ski to exercise the dogs and various small chores, vacation is over.

Knowing this was coming, my brain has waked me at 4 AM for the last two days. Go, go, go!

Of course I haven’t accomplished as much as I thought I would this week. I haven’t even accomplished everything I wrote on my second, edited list, which I had hopefully titled, REALISTIC WEEKEND PLAN.

It’s not that I dislike my job. I love teaching history. It is a daily joy, the ideal job for me. This year I had a t-shirt printed for my 8th graders.

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The parts of the job that chafe are the administrative ones I’ve been asked to take on this year. I’m chairman of the department and must organize my peers with tact (a tough assignment for someone tactless by nature). I have new daily writing duties that commandeer 60-90 minutes every weekday morning. I was also requested to write a school blog. While I can do all these things, the result has been to feel as if I have no spare brain cells and that my part-time job has taken over my life.

I will get through it this year, and then reevaluate. In the meantime, this morning I’m taking a deep breath before I plunge back in.

*   *   *   *

My gander Andy is still drinking but not eating. I’ve been tube-feeding him 2-3 times a day since his accident. Tube-feeding an adult, biting goose is not easy. Picture me straddling him, 60 mL syringe clenched in my teeth like a mad pirate, and using my hands to thread a tube down his throat. I will know it is time to stop when he is strong enough to prevent me (or when I see him eat).

Yesterday Andy stood on one leg for the first time, and immediately began worrying at the splint. A goose’s beak is very strong. I hope he cannot get it off. As imperfect as it may be, the splint should be on for three weeks. I check the leg daily for circulation.

His foot remains limp. It is always hard to know if one is doing the right thing.

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*   *   *   *

The wild turkeys have grown bolder and bolder. Though they’ve been in the barnyard for weeks, scratching apart cow pies in search of undigested cracked corn, yesterday the flock braved the barn for the chicken feed! Eight turkeys flew out in a thundering rush when I arrived to muck stalls at mid-day, except this one hen which became confused and flew into the sheep stall with the geese before eventually making her way out the open door.

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Opposites Attract

November 26, 2016

On the surface, DH and I have very little in common. He is an athlete and mountaineer; I play no sports and am afraid of heights. He is invariably calm and steady; I am quick to anger or tears. He is reserved, even aloof; I pull the world into my lap for a hug. What we have in common is that we are both decent people who read a lot and have the same sense of humor. Over thirty-odd years, like most married couples, we have come to depend on each other for the skills we lack. Usually, these skills are abstract: DH supports my patience and control; I lend him warmth. However, sometimes the skills are concrete.

On Friday DH asked for my help changing some bindings on a pair of old skis. Now, DH grew up in apartments as the son of a man with zero hands-on skills, and has close to zero himself. Though he is by nature an imperturbable person, on this one subject DH can be a little touchy. He knows that competence with tools is considered a feature of masculinity. (A couple of years ago, he learned the concept of a “Honey Do” list, and was charmed by the phrase. In our family, any such lists are for me.)

dewrdc970k-2rDH was working in the basement, and planned to use my DeWalt screw gun. I wasn’t exactly sure what help he needed, but I followed him downstairs.

He was standing at the table holding the DeWalt, looking worried. “How do you work it?” he asked. When I started to smile, he said defensively, “I’ve never used one of these.”

I showed him how to snap the forward and reverse gears, and handed the gun back to him. DH took it gingerly. He removed his glasses so he could see better for the operation. Picking up a screw, he attempted to balance it on the upturned point of the Phillips head bit. Seeing him bent over as if in prayer, his nose two inches from the wobbling screw, I unfortunately began to giggle.

DH straightened up immediately and handed me the screw gun. We put his new bindings on together.

*   *   *   *

Yesterday morning, Stash was so wired before barn chores, he took off at a gallop. I was terrified he would run onto the highway. Clearly he was not getting enough exercise. I asked DH to set me up with an old pair of cross-country skis. I would take Stash for a few circuits of the back pasture to tire him out.

DH is an expert skier. I have not skied for many years. I skied with both our children as toddlers, but by seven years old, they had each surpassed me. I have no particular aptitude for or interest in skiing. I always say, “I learned to walk at a very young age,” and stick to walking. However, trudging through deep snow is no fun and very, very slow. Stash needed something speedier. Thus the request for skis.

DH throws nothing sports-related away, so we have cross-country skis dating back to the 1970s. He found an old pair with three-pin bindings, and a pair of inexpensive poles that came up to my ears. “These are a little tall for you,” he acknowledged, “but at your level of skiing, they will really be walking sticks.”

I laughed. It’s good to be known. I piled the skis, poles, and Stash into my truck and drove to the farm.

Out by the cabin, I tried to put on the skis. Oh dear. The bindings would not close over the tip of the boot. I knew DH would surely be disgusted if I drove home and said I could not put on a simple pair of skis. I sweated and puffed, leaning all my weight on the ski pole pressing the binding, until I thought the pole might snap. After twenty minutes of struggle, I finally succeeded in attaching both feet to the skis.

Stash was in heaven, bouncing through the snow as I glided (laboriously, thrashing) behind him.

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By the second circuit of the field, Stash was sufficiently winded that he took the easy way and ran along the trail I’d broken. I realized that one reason I have never skied with dogs is that before my pasture was cleared, there was no place to do so. Dogs are not allowed on ski trails. Real skiers are made cross by paw prints ruining the tracks. However, I am not a real skier and I was not cross.

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After three trips, I was damp with sweat and ready to quit. (Stash could have continued for another hour.) I skied back to the truck, and Stash hopped up on the seat. Then I addressed the Problem of the Skis.

I was able to pop the latches easily. However, the boots would not come out of either binding. Stash jumped down to see what I was doing. My skis slid in all directions as I attempted to lure him back into the truck. Finally I got him back in and leaned against the door, the slipping skis barely under control and my brain going 100 mph. This entire skiing experience had been quite pleasant, except for the problem of taking on and off the skis. Obviously, I should just untie my boots and step out of them. I could leave the boots permanently attached to the skis! Of course, this might be a little unusual, but then I am a well-known eccentric. Sure, that would work!

I drove home. Later, DH asked me about my ski. I told him how much fun I’d had with Stash, the slight problem with the boots and bindings, and my elegant solution.

DH has a poker face but I could see an expression of something like concern creep into his eyes. He asked to see the skis and the boots. I brought them into the kitchen. He laid a ski on the table and tried to insert the boot. It was very difficult. He tried to close the binding; DH has a climber’s very strong hands and he had to use all his weight to snap it.

My boots do not fit these bindings.

I felt vindicated. I wasn’t an idiot! In my relief I poured out the story of spending twenty minutes trying to get the skis on, including my contortions with the bending pole, and then trying to get them off, my feet sliding out from under me, the dog leaping between my legs, my decision to leave the boots on the skis — DH’s brow furrowed and furrowed as he listened until suddenly he burst into guffaws. I was startled and then I started to laugh also. We both laughed until we cried.

A little later I heard DH dictating a text to our daughter, Lucy, who is also an expert skier. “So you know Mom hasn’t skied in 15 years, and today she had a little trouble with her bindings. So she decided she would leave her boots permanently mounted on her skis!” 

  *    *   *   *

Luckily, DH has another set of bindings that will fit these boots … and I have a DeWalt and know how to use it.

 


A Quiet Day

November 25, 2016

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Yesterday was a darkly beautiful day. It snowed off and on. Although I felt wistful not to have my family around me, I knew that this year, a day of no pressure was what this part-time farmer needed. I slept until 5:30, the latest I’ve stayed in bed in months. With no deadlines, it was a relaxed day of puttering through my list. I baked a pie. I peeled sweet potatoes. I washed and seasoned the turkey.

DH celebrated his rare day off with a Thanksgiving sauna. (The sauna was once my toolshed. I insulated and paneled it and Allen helped me install a little woodstove.) Here is DH scrubbing off in the snow.

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While the turkey roasted, I walked the dogs in the back field. The snow has collapsed and compressed but is still over the tops of my boots. I may hunt up an old pair of cross-country skis today, to give Stash a better workout. He bounds through the deep snow with joy, and a tired poodle is a happy poodle.

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Little Toby is game …
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but challenged by the deeper drifts. Whenever he looked too miserable, I picked him up to carry him.

The snowstorm has closed the door on many fall chores I had hoped to accomplish during this week of vacation. I won’t be cutting and installing the rafters for the run-in shed in the south pasture. The horse trailer will not be put away in my neighbor’s barn. The treated 4×4 fence posts and wire panels I bought (with dollars from the sale of beef) for a sheep paddock, a project repeatedly put on hold due to Damon’s tricky health, will now wait for spring.

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It is easy to be frustrated when I look around at everything I did not accomplish this summer. I did not transplant any balsams. I didn’t paint the barn addition. I didn’t sell my heifer or four of my goslings. I didn’t build the missing doors on the sheep stall or the garden shed. I spent many sweaty hours on my future flower garden, but then turned my back to get Lucy off to college and start my own school year, and it got away from me again.

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In my mind’s ear, I hear the prayer of contrition from my earliest childhood:

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.

Luckily I know I did do a few positive things. I drew up plans for our house. I taught Lucy to drive. I fenced the back field. I kept the sheep home to improve our own land. I sold my entire crop of lambs to buyers eager for my flock’s good genetics. All seventeen open acres were grazed and mowed.

Moreover, I am basically healthy and, God willing, there’s always next year.


A Different Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016

This is the first year of my life when I have no Thanksgiving plans. My loved ones are scattered: Lucy in Canada with her college team and Jon and Amanda in Connecticut. Though I know I could have gathered a group around our table, and I know it would have been good to invite some older lonely friends, I was simply too tired to host the usual feast. I am going to roast a turkey, cook my mother’s sweet potatoes, and bake a pecan pie, but DH and I will have a quiet day, just the two of us and the dogs.

This has been a challenging year of work and worry, little sleep and a lot of stress, when sometimes it has been hard to remember to count my blessings. However those blessings are many. DH and I are together and we both have jobs. Jon married the love of his life in a beautiful celebration, officially bringing Amanda, another blessing, into our family. Lucy is happy at college. None of us have a deadly illness. Our house has been started and by next summer we should have our own home.

When the pace feels punishing, I’m anxious and can’t sleep, it is easy to lose sight of all these privileges.

Today I will listen to hymns as I work and will remember to be grateful.


Mrs. Milkmaid Builds Her Dream House

November 23, 2016

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Perhaps no project on my desk has required more hours of my time in the past year than the one I have not written about. I have signed contracts to build a house.

No, I am not building the house myself. I had always planned to, as I built the barn and the frame of the garage and mudroom, but while I was busy with family after 2009, the price of the kit doubled. I also have grown older and more tired. I have less boundless confidence. The years have taught me that I’m a lousy manager of people — somehow I allow too many to put in slapdash work or not show up, while I politely and uselessly wring my hands. Though I would have taken on the task again if the price of the kit had not jumped, the prospect gave me a cold knot of dread in my stomach. And the price did jump. So I began looking into house options.

During the summer of 2015 I set up meetings with builders. The routine seemed wearily familiar. Big promises. No shows. No communication. I was discouraged. If the need were not pressing (DH’s upcoming retirement, which will eliminate our housing) I might have given up.

Finally I settled on a panelized house from Northern Design. In a panelized house, the wall panels are prebuilt in a factory, out of the weather, and delivered on a boom truck. The shell of a house can go up amazingly quickly. Northern Design recommended a topnotch builder, Sam, who had fabulous references. We had several meetings last winter.

The house that I envisioned was 28′ x 36′, with three bedrooms. Yes, I’m aware of the irony of hankering for a home for thirty years and finally building my three-bedroom dream house when our two children are grown and gone. It makes me sad. However, the reality is that I need to build our home with an eye to eventual re-sale. An older friend of ours built a gorgeous one-bedroom home with fabulous stonework, views, and solar power — but after she entered assisted living last year, the house has sat on the market untouched.

Our future house looks enormous. Some of that is deceptive (the addition is only slightly larger than the garage), a function of it being set on a slope, attached to the garage and mudroom that’s already there, and surrounded by a wide wrap-around porch. My plan is to rent the garage apartment to help with taxes. The wrap-around porch is something I have always wanted. I know I could have eliminated it to save money. However, to me, a wrap-around porch says farmhouse and Anne of Green Gables, both deeply comforting thoughts.

After thirty years’ experience with Adirondack black flies, I asked for a screened room in the northwest corner.

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The southwest corner, facing the mountain view, is an unobstructed deck.

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See the walk-out basement door? That was a big thing for my dear friend, Allen, years ago when we put in the septic system together and sweated over this stretch of land: “You can have a walk-out door in this corner!” I had no particular yearning for a walk-out basement door, and the door has gone in and out of the plans as various builders have declared it possible or impossible. “Y’need a basement door so you don’t track cow shit through the whole house!” Damon insisted. Currently the door is back in. I know Allen is pleased.

The interior of the house is basic. Three bedrooms upstairs; kitchen, dining area, living room, and study downstairs. Sam, the builder, kept urging me to remove walls and open up the spaces. However even as he told me about his home with its beautiful open floor plan, he mentioned that he and his wife spent most of their time on different floors so their computer and television did not compete. I kept some walls.

The entire process of dreaming and planning was exciting, despite DH’s lack of interest. (He is a brilliant man, but not domestic. “Can’t we just live in the room over the garage?” he asked plaintively.) I pored over the drawings spread on the dining room table alone. Friends and family gave me ideas. I moved around silhouettes of furniture and appliances.

Then Sam’s bid came in. It was almost double what I’d budgeted. My heart pounded with fright.

The next six months were a tedious round of meetings and emails in which I tried to cut back the project to bring down the cost. I looked into doing the work in stages. I investigated having Sam put up the shell and me subcontract all the interior work. By last spring, we were getting closer in our numbers. I put a payment down with Northern for the shell.

At this stage a family crisis blew up, seemingly out of nowhere. Suddenly it looked as if perhaps we could not build a house at all, and would have to lose our hefty down payment. It was a grim time. I felt like an automaton, mechanically going through the motions of my days, my brain a blur. The draining uncertainty persisted all summer.

In August my friend Mike was retiring from the school at the age of 65. To help him figure out the best retirement budget, I took him to several meetings with a local financial planner. At the end of one of those meetings, I hung back and asked the planner, “May I come back for some advice myself?” I could and I did. The financial planner convinced me that, especially in a time of worry, the best thing to do would be to get a 30-year mortgage and own a finished home.

Deep breath. Okay!  It was nearly Labor Day. Sam, the builder, had told me a week earlier that he should be excavating the foundation by our anniversary, September 8. I asked Sam to give me a copy of the latest proposal to sign.

“I’m very excited to start!” I wrote happily.

No response. No response. No response.

Finally, an apologetic email.  Instead of starting our house, Sam had decided to retire.

What?! Northern Design was taken aback. I was in shock. I’d been on an emotional rollercoaster for months and now felt catapulted off the tracks. I began my school year in a daze.

Luckily, the financial planner is extremely calm by nature. It was all very simple. I’d find another builder. He scribbled a list of names on a sticky note. Obediently, I wrote emails. I made calls. I collected bids.

One name stood out. Nick is young (43 but appears much younger) and had less experience on big jobs, but was said to be a craftsman. He had energy and initiative, calling Northern to consult them about details of their package before bidding. Moreover he was described by his references as hardworking and invariably honest. “He’s a Boy Scout,” said one. I love Boy Scouts — I am a daughter of Clark Kent, and I married Dudley Do-Right. I hired Nick with a feeling of relief. As a friend commented, “All this drama and delay may have been a blessing in disguise.”

Excavation for the house foundation began the week after Jon and Amanda’s wedding. More to come!

 


Oh, Andy! Or: Trying to Treat a Goose with a Broken Leg

November 22, 2016

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My Pilgrim gander, Andy, has had a grievous accident. I am not sure he will survive it.

Yesterday it was so bitter and windy with blowing snow — we have 18″ of snow so far — I left all the animals indoors after breakfast. Normally in these cases I put a bale of hay in front of Moxie’s stall, to prevent Andy from going under the gate and harassing her. Yesterday, to my sorrow, I forgot.

Cut goose bars has been on my list for weeks, and was in fact on my list yesterday. The plank I’d planned to cut into goose-blocking bars for Moxie’s and Elsa’s gates was lying ready on the barn aisle floor. The Skilsaw, screws, and screw gun were in my truck. I simply hadn’t gotten to the job yet.

I was intent on driving some necessary T-posts before the ground froze. I had been wading through the deep snow in the stinging wind, pulling a guide line and stamping out a path, when it occurred to me to duck into the barn and pass out more hay if needed. The first thing I saw when my eyes adjusted to the gloom was my gander, Andy, sitting placidly in Moxie’s stall, while she ate hay beside him. Andy is never placid, and particularly would not be when his girls were fleeing honking down the aisle.

I knew immediately it was bad.

I also knew that whatever had happened, Andy had provoked it. I was quite sure he had slipped under Moxie’s gate and pinched at her udder, flapping and shrieking with delight when she couldn’t get away. The manure on his breast testified to her panicky kicks. I have seen this scenario dozens of times. Andy is an inveterate fool who loves to bully cows and horses and to feel powerful and victorious when they bolt in fright. How many times have I swooped to pin his wings against my chest and carry him away, lecturing him on the foolishness of a 14-pound goose taking on a half-ton horse or even a 700-pound cow? He has been stepped on by terrified large animals on a dozen occasions. Each time Andy has been bruised and limping but not seriously hurt.

Not this time. He could not move. His left leg hung useless.

My heart plummeted. He may be a fool, but Andy and I have greeted each other every morning for five and a half years. We know each other’s ways. We’re old pals.

I picked him up, wrapped him in a towel, and tied the towel with baling twine to keep him quiet in my truck. The twine, however, appeared to me to be unnecessary. Andy was completely docile with shock.

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I had planned to take him to the vet, but when I called from my truck, the doctor was out skiing and the receptionist advised me that they did not deal with birds, anyway. I drove home and while Andy waited in the warm, running truck, I googled “how to set goose broken leg.”

goose-skeletonThe news was not good. In such a big, heavy bird, surgery and surgical pins are recommended. Even if I could afford it, there is no avian vet in the North Country. Moreover, my cursory examination revealed that the big bone was broken in at least one place and maybe two. I have circled the broken bone on the photo of a goose skeleton, right (isn’t the internet wonderful? This is a goose from the U.K.).

At first I thought the bone was the femur, because it reached thigh-high, half buried in the feathers, but in a goose, I learned from inspecting diagrams, the femur is higher still, and shorter. This is Andy’s tibiotarsus. Still not good. While it’s not the femur, in a goose the tibiotarsus is in fact the long weight-bearing bone.

“He broke the bone that’s sort of like the femur,” I said to DH.

“The femur!” DH was once an EMT. He has taught anatomy and First Aid. “You have to put him down.”

“No,” I said stubbornly. “I have to try.”

I’m not an idiot and I’m not heartless. If Andy had been tormented by pain, I’d have ended his life immediately. However, while he was clearly in pain and shock, he was not in agony. I still thought there might be a chance, and when there is a chance, I cannot give up.

sam-finger-splint-12-pkg-40415825-1200_1200I waded with Andy in my arms through thigh-deep drifts to the farm apartment. All my animal medical supplies are in the garage. There I sat with Andy in my lap and fashioned a simple splint out of orange and blue SAMsplint — soft bendable metal covered with a material resembling moleskin, meant for broken fingers. Andy was strangely calm in my lap while I worked. Though he was not restrained in any way, he sat quietly.

I cut a small splint, trying to fit it to his leg. The thick feathers and down on his leg, belly, and side made any taping difficult. One site recommended “plucking errant feathers” but I wasn’t about to do that. I trimmed a few awkwardly with scissors and told myself I’d deal with it later. I got the splint on, padded with gauze, and secured everything with Vet Wrap. To keep the splinted leg stable, I tried binding it in position against his body with a Vet Wrap belly band.

Then I drove Andy back to the barn. I divided the goose stall in half with wire panels to keep him safe from curious beaks. (Though they often don’t intend any harm, “nibbled to death by ducks” is a real thing.)

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Andy’s daughters murmured and peered at him in worry while Kay, his wife, heartlessly turned her back and took a drink.

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When I left last night, Andy had taken a few sips of water and was already tugging at the Vet Wrap, trying to pull it off. He seemed a little brighter, but there was still that strange calm. I steeled myself to find him dead this morning.

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However, when I peered into the stall today, Andy lifted his head and hissed at me. Excellent!  He had successfully pulled off the belly band; his leg lay crooked in the hay, the foot crumpled and twisted. Oh, dear.

This afternoon I shoveled a path to the apartment and assembled my tools. Then I scooped up Andy and carried him to the garage. He definitely had more energy, whapping me a couple of times in the nose with his wings before settling down calmly in my lap once more. He nibbled gently at my jacket sleeve.

With clippers, I shaved off a lot of the down and feathers on the leg and on the breast surrounding the leg. Powdered down filled the air and covered the floor.

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By now there was a lot of swelling — so much that even without the feathers it was difficult to gauge the exact point of the break. I decided to use two splints, one long and one short, to support both sides of the bone. I padded the trimmed edges of the Samsplints with moleskin for softness, and fixed them in place with paper tape, “for sensitive skin,” before wrapping the whole once more in Vet Wrap.

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To keep Andy from removing the Vet Wrap, I wound electrical tape on top. (It’s hard to dream up a splint that’s simultaneously breathable and goose-proof.)

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Tonight I put Andy back in the stall. The prognosis is terrible for this kind of break, but I will keep trying as long as he’s not suffering. I have not seen him eat, and when he evacuated his stool was clear. This worries me. I can only watch and wait.

Oh, Andy! I’m so sorry this happened to you.

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Snow and More Snow

November 21, 2016

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It snowed all day yesterday and we got about ten inches of heavy, wet powder. Hooray for the land (we have been in a frightening drought) and for our small tourist town that depends on skier traffic to survive.

I worked outside in the weather in two-hour bursts. Though the temperature was only slightly below freezing, my clothes were soon soggy and in the wind it was not much fun. Luckily, the ground is not yet frozen and I could still drive T-posts. I set up a snow fence in the knoll field with numb fingers.

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This is my attempt to avoid the drifts that sweep off the knoll to bury the barn paddock fence in a normal winter. Here’s February, 2015:

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Breaking out the fence every day before work to keep a charge in the lines normally adds a sweaty and tedious half hour to my day.

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I am not sure the snow fence will solve the problem. The packaging says to set the fence 60 feet from the area to be protected. Online sources recommend double that. I compromised on 80 feet. We shall see.

The animals were not particularly happy to be out in the blowing snow. Here is my ewe Geranium giving me a “Really?” look shortly before I brought them all in early for the night at 3 PM.

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