Second Floor Delivery!

December 31, 2016

Yesterday was a big day.

The second floor deck was lifted into place — “Coffee shot!” yelled Nick as he threw back the last of his coffee —


before guiding the decking to a safe landing spot.


Meanwhile Northern Design delivered the wall panels for the second floor.


Nick was in a cheerful mood. His father-in-law had told me Nick had a capacity for singing and humor, but I’d never seen it. He has always been careful to be serious, reserved, and business-like. Yesterday, however, his smile flashed. Snow was blowing in our faces. “We’re singing in the snow, just singing in the snow —” Nick sang, and teased his father at the controls of the boom truck with ridiculous hand signals. “If we can’t have fun, what can we have?” he asked me, laughing.

I think Nick is justifiably proud of the excellent work they are doing. “Everything’s going great so far!” he exclaimed. I have been so anxious for so long, that it has occurred to me only belatedly that Nick, too, has probably worried. Both of us are relieved to see the walls going up.


The men kept a torpedo heater on the heights with them all day, its roaring flame directly pointed at the glue gun, to ensure their glue would not freeze. They also carried up a snow shovel, to clean the joists. By the end of the day, the entire deck was glued and nailed down.

Over this New Year’s holiday weekend we’re due for more days of snow and then freezing rain, so it may be a while before the work starts again.

First Floor Framed

December 30, 2016


This has been a challenging week for my house builders. Snow, rain, ice, more snow — but most of all, the high winds that accompanied the yo-yoing temperatures. Nick and Mike tried tacking up a tarp across the west side of the frame but it billowed and snapped and finally blew down. Fourteen-foot 2x10s were torn from Jerry’s hands and sent spinning. However, they patiently persevered.


Once all the second-floor joists were up, the rest of the interior wall frames could be erected.

I walked through one evening after the builders left, on my way home from visiting Damon in the hospital, before doing barn chores. It was so exciting to step into the little rooms, to run my glove over the future wall of the stairwell, to peek into the future pantry.


I continue to worry that I made mistakes with the design, that I didn’t foresee something obvious. However, mostly I marvel that after all these years it appears increasingly certain that we will indeed have our own house. My feet want to do a little tap dance on the snowy tarps.


Yesterday it was again snowing and blowing. (The worst of the wind was stopped by OSB tacked up over the future west windows.) Nick, Mike, and Jerry toiled on regardless.


By the end of the day the blocking was finished. The first-floor rough framing is done!


A Tough Day

December 29, 2016


My friend Damon is losing his right lower leg to amputation this morning. It’s a sad day. Last week he had finally agreed to a course of treatments in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber for non-healing wounds. We toured the facility and he tried out the chamber, lying down on the gurney and being rolled inside. I figured he was all set.

However, that very evening he developed a high fever and chills. His wife drove him to the emergency room, where he was immediately admitted. He spent Christmas in the hospital. This time the wound would not respond to IV antibiotics. His leg ballooned.

Damon has been unable to work, and in and out of the hospital, for two years. He’s had multiple operations to remove toes on both feet, a picc line, and most recently a wound vac. Nothing has worked for long.

He is a brave man but he is tired of fighting.

Damon knows I am not squeamish, and yesterday when I visited the hospital again he asked the nurse to change the bandages so I could see the wound. (Due to the angle, he cannot see it up close.) I think he wanted me to grasp exactly how bad it was, so I would not second-guess his decision to let it go.

The foot looked like rotten meat. The gaping wound — the original injury was caused by stepping on a thumbtack — extended from his toes almost to his ankle and at its worst was nearly three inches deep. I took a photo with my phone to show him. Damon looked at it expressionlessly. Diabetes is a terrible, terrible disease.

I will be thinking of him all day today.

A Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2016


Our family had a lovely Christmas weekend. Amanda and Jon arrived Thursday afternoon. Here they are Friday morning after walking Teddy (their dog) and Toby (Lucy’s dog) around the lake.

That afternoon we decorated the tree. Jon, at 6’4″, is always conscripted to hang the star at the top.


I miss having all my CDs of Christmas carols (packed in storage with all the rest of our belongings) but Lucy found Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole on Spotify.

Gradually the tree came together. Jon likes to put an ornament he made in nursery school front and center. It is a very sad-looking orange dough pumpkin, mysteriously splashed with green paint, hanging on frayed yarn. “So artistic!” He also turned the ornament made by a student at Christmas 1986, which says “Jon” on one side, and “Lucy” on the other (our two choices for baby names when I was pregnant the first time), so that “Jon” was facing out.


“I’ll put ‘Lucy’ facing out next year,” I said.

“She’ll forget!” Jon teased his sister.

Amanda’s favorite ornament is a tiny framed picture of Jon holding Lucy in the hospital on the day Lucy was born.


The tree was smaller this year but still pretty.


img_0989On Saturday, I had planned to drive us all down to the valley for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, but it was snowing, my organizational energy was flagging, and instead I baked homemade pizzas and we stayed in.

Our family has always had early Christmas mornings. DH and I will never forget the year Jon was six and too excited to sleep — we had finished opening presents long before dawn.  Now, though we remain early risers, we shoot for starting no earlier than 6 AM. This bright-eyed morning tradition is a big concession for Amanda, whose family exchanged presents closer to noon.

Lucy’s present to Amanda was a hand-knitted Christmas stocking, to match her own (made in the ’90s) and mine (made in the ’50s). Lucy taught herself how to turn the heel from Youtube videos. I, who have zero crafty skills, was very impressed.

We all put on our new pajamas from Santa: Amanda, Jon, me, and Lucy. Since DH doesn’t wear pajamas, Santa sensibly skipped him.


Most of our gifts ran to used books. We are suckers for books costing a penny plus $3.99 shipping.


Jon also gave Amanda a log carrier for their fireplace.


After presents, while I roasted the turkey, mixed dough for whole wheat buttermilk rolls, and set the table, the kids played their annual Trivial Pursuit board game. This year the theme was Star Wars.


While I feel pretty good knowing the names of the robots R2-D2 and C-3PO, the kids are all Star Wars devotees. DH, walking through the room, threw in an answer or two…


… but Jon appeared to me to be the Jedi Master of intergalactic trivia.


That evening we had a wonderful holiday dinner with our friends Mike, Tom and Alison, and two of their three children, Emily and Stephen. Tom carved the turkey as usual. There were candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, peas, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes with gravy, and whole wheat buttermilk rolls. DH helped me serve the pecan pie and ice cream.


Though I was missing most of my cooking and serving supplies in storage (I don’t advise roasting a 23-pound turkey on a cookie sheet) it was nevertheless a happy feast.


Before leaving on Monday, Amanda, Jon, and Lucy went for a ski around the lake. DH arranged them in a “podium shot” before they set out. (I believe Jon is indicating that he is number one, not his sister who skis for her college racing team.)



On the far side of the lake I caught them again beneath Balanced Rocks, the shoulder of Pitchoff Mountain, which my children have hiked since they were small. It’s a classic short hike. Maybe Jon will take Amanda up next summer.


This will be our second and last Christmas in this house. Though I cannot wait for a home of my own, watching the kids laughing and joking on the lake filled me with nostalgia already.


Family times are good times.



Inching Forward With Framing

December 24, 2016


It snowed most of the day Thursday. Jerry was not in — his old car at 240k miles did not pass inspection — and so at lunchtime I pitched in to help with a few of Jerry’s gophering jobs, mostly shoveling snow off the deck. (Mike said, “Jer, your cigarette is missing!”) Nick and Mike worked on interior framing as big feathery snowflakes fell.

Here is the hall doorway into the kitchen and dining room. I remember sitting at my desk last summer, asking the architect to move the window east eighteen inches to line up with the doorway for a long view. So exciting to see it coming to life!


And, as always, there was measuring and remeasuring. Nick and his father are very, very careful.


Yesterday was a beautiful blue day. I drove Damon to the hospital for tests. He has diabetes and has struggled with a non-healing wound in his foot for over a year. Twice they have operated.  He has had IV antibiotics and a wound vac. Still the foot has not healed. They (and I) have urged him to try the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, but he is claustrophobic and in the past refused to consider it. Yesterday I took him for a test run. My job was to pat his shoulder. I think he will do fine.

When I returned to the farm, I found all the second floor joists were up in the east end of the house.


Just as I arrived, the boom truck dropped into place the big beam that will carry the floor joists in the west end.


This beam will also subtly define the dining room area from the living room.

The forecast has changed to days of frozen mix and freezing rain through next Tuesday, so the last hour of work was spent stretching and stapling tarps over every inch of the subflooring, and covering the waiting joist lumber. Quiet Jerry cracked a rare joke to me. He jerked his thumb at the tarped kitchen: “Got your floor in!”


Lucy is home, Jon and Amanda have arrived, there are presents to wrap, a turkey to thaw, bread and pies to bake!

The house project is on hold until next week. Merry Christmas!


Goose Bars

December 23, 2016


By last night at chores I had the goose bars cut and screwed in under all the stall doors in the barn. This is satisfying. This task has been on my list for a year.

Of course it’s a case of barring the gate after the horse has bolted after the goose has been trampled, but still I am pleased. I have no faith that my gander Andy has learned anything from his near-death experience — in fact, I assume that he will feel duty-bound to seek revenge in the exact same manner. The goose bars should stymie this suicidal intention.

I also like thinking about goose bars because the phrase reminds me of the Goose Bar Ranch, the fictional setting for Mary O’Hara’s Flicka trilogy (My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming). I first read these horse stories as a child and I’ve reread them every few years since then. By now they are old friends.

I don’t think O’Hara ever explained the “Goose Bar” name in her novels, but since she and her husband in real life also raised horses and Guernsey cows, I’ve decided she must have known her share of foolish ganders.

A Great Leap Forward

December 22, 2016

It was -11° F when I got up at 4:30 Monday morning. I figured the men would not come in to work. It didn’t crack zero until 9 AM (their usual start time). However, they were there, bundled up and grinning good morning, their breath smoking in the air.

Most of Monday was spent with measuring tapes and chalk lines, snapping guidelines on the deck for the future walls. Watching men intently pulling tapes and strings while sitting on their haunches in the deep cold was not gripping and I spent most of the day at my desk, closing out my school obligations and working on finances.

However, when I returned at the end of the day for chores I found the south wall of the first floor had been erected!


My heart pounded. The men had come to a convenient stopping place and left early, so I was alone. I tiptoed to each window frame — the kitchen, the hallway, and the dining room — and looked out. So exciting!

And so terrifying. I was suddenly filled with anxiety that I had made mistakes, that the layout I’d sweated over alone for months was, in fact, stupid. I’m not an architect or a home designer. I have learned over the years that I have zero spatial sense. Maybe it would be terrible.

When I got home I told Lucy that I was having an attack of cold feet. Like her father, Lucy is outwardly imperturbable. She looked at me as if I were crazy. “It will be fine.”

The big thing was: it was happening. My house was going up! I couldn’t get over it.


Tuesday was the big day. The weather was cold and blue — but with no wind, it felt balmy.

Nick, Mike, and Jerry drilled a hole in each panel, fitted it with a giant screw-eye bolt, and used the Bobcat to lift it with a chain…


…and carry it around to the end of the house, where they nailed it in.


By lunchtime the west wall was up.


After lunch it was time for the north wall. The boom truck hasn’t wanted to start in the severe cold, but the men warmed it with a torpedo heater and it finally coughed into life. Again each panel was lifted…


… while Jerry guided it around obstacles with a rope leash.


Mike at the boom controls swung it into place…


… and let it down in position.


While the boom held it upright and Jerry steadied it…


… Nick nailed it in.


They proceeded down the wall in this manner. Once the panels were in place, Mike was in charge of final nailing…


… but before the nail gun fired, Nick made sure everything was tight and aligned to the sixteenth of an inch.


“He’s a cabinetmaker!” Mike told me, pretending to roll his eyes, but I knew he was as proud as I was impressed.

Before the last exterior wall panel went up, we carried in all the interior wall frames, including this last one that required the excavator to lift.


Then the last exterior wall was nailed in. Now the only way into the house was through the front door frame.


I took the photo below yesterday morning while walking Stash in the south pasture before chores.


I know this 28′ x 36′ house will be the same height and only 4 feet wider and 6 feet longer than the garage. I know it looks enormous because of the attached garage and the falling slope of the land. However, it does look enormous. To DH, who persists in the comforting illusion that he would be happy in a pup tent, it will look like the Hearst castle.

I think to myself that it’s probably a good thing that he may not go down to the farm and see it until the frame is finished.

Yesterday was forecasted to be another sunny day. Instead it was dark with a strong wind. I jumped to help Jerry secure flapping tarps over a load of lumber and in a rare utterance, he asked plaintively, cigarette glued to his lip, “Is it ever not windy here?”

After Tuesday’s great leap forward, Wednesday was another “invisible progress day,” lots of measuring with laser levels. However, by the end of the day all the rim joists for the second floor were up.


Again, the men came to a good stopping point and left early. I walked through after barn chores as dusk was falling.

The northwest corner of the living room. Doorway to the screen porch on the left, front doorway on the right.


Northeast corner. Front door and study.


East side. Study on the left, half bath and laundry in the middle, kitchen on the right.


Dining room (with stacked, waiting interior walls).


I can’t wait!


Happy Days for Gander Andy

December 21, 2016


Yesterday marked four weeks from the day I splinted the broken thigh of my Pilgrim gander, Andy. He first got to his feet, very briefly, a week after the injury, but he put no weight on the bad leg. He held it off to the side like someone holding a crumpled Kleenex.

However most of the time he lay without moving. I checked the taped leg regularly for circulation. It seemed warm enough but entirely limp. I wondered if I should take off the splint and make a better one. (Naturally, too late, I’d ordered the proper supplies for my medical cabinet.) I decided the bone must have started to knit in the current position and I would only increase his pain by fussing with it.

Andy was definitely in pain. He refused to eat. I tempted him with everything I could think of. Cracked corn and scratch. Hulled sunflower seeds. Shredded lettuce. Not a nibble.

Thus for weeks I force-fed him with a tube down his throat to his stomach twice a day (three times on weekends).


Each day I made a slurry of raw egg, soaked pellets, and baby vitamins. This thick mixture was difficult to force through the small nozzle of the giant catheter tube — which had to be held in my teeth while my knees pinned his wings to his body and my hands pried his beak open — and frequently both Andy and I were splattered.

I was sick, coughing, exhausted, and running around dealing with broken-down vehicles and house problems. I wondered if I had done the right thing trying to save him. Was I prolonging pointless suffering? I broke out the ice and changed his water every day, but he did not touch his food. Still, as days went by, I thought he might be getting stronger. He seemed to object more strenuously to the tube-feeding, biting my fingers.

At last, on day nineteen, he ate! I leaned against the lambing stall, smiling. “Hey, buddy! Good job!”


After that his progress was rapid. After weeks of hardly shifting position, he now regularly stood up and tried to hop around the little enclosure, holding his wings out for balance.

Yesterday morning, at four weeks, I cut off the cast and bandages and let Andy rejoin his harem in the sheep stall for the day. There was great honking, flapping, and rejoicing.


In the photo above, the leg in front is the bad one. He can stand on it squarely. I am thrilled.

He does limp, which gives him a rolling gait, and he is easily tired. However, tired is better than dead.

After his long, dull month in Intensive Care, Andy spent most of yesterday visiting water buckets and happily preening.


I have a lot of rescue failures; I just don’t tend to write about them. I am very pleased and grateful that one of the rare successes was this old fool gander of whom I am so fond.

Building the House Foundation

December 20, 2016

At last my desk is somewhat clear and I can catch up my family on the building of our house! This will be a long, picture-heavy post, covering two months of work. Future posts will be more succinct and far easier to load, I promise.

Just three days after Jon and Amanda’s wedding, on October 18, the concrete foundation forms — insulated forms called Fox Blocks — were delivered to the farm, along with a small excavator.


Seeing the transit laser tripod the builders left in place reminded me nostalgically of Allen.


Here is Allen taking down the transit laser level in April, 2009, after we had sighted for the foundation of the garage. I rented a transit for several of our projects. Allen always did the readings while I carried the measuring stick in various trenches.

It made me sad that he was not here, that so many years had slipped by. He and I thought in 2009 that we’d put up the house in 2010. Damon enjoys needling me that Allen once sighed to him, “I’ll be dead before she gets that house built.” I try to remind myself that many aspects of my life have been out of my control. Still, starting again without him felt bittersweet. I took a last photograph of the half-dug cellar hole Allen had begun in 2009 and never got to finish, now grown up in weeds.


Then I told myself: Onward! 

I’d been a little alarmed to see that Nick, the builder, and his father, Mike, had brought only the small Bobcat excavator, smaller even than Damon’s small excavator. To me, accustomed to big machines, it looked like a Tinker Toy. My eyes slid from the little Bobcat to the the giant boulders littering the property. Allen had pried a mammoth rock larger than the big CAT cab from the cellar hole in 2009. But maybe it would be OK. Maybe Allen had removed all the big ones. I had hired these men to do the job and I must simply keep quiet. (The very hardest thing for me.)

It was going to be strange not being part of the team down in the dirt and merely checking in after school. I told myself: get over it.

At the end of the first day, the men confessed they’d run into a problem.


There was a big boulder, too big for the Bobcat. In fact the bucket of the Bobcat had broken on it. They had decided to rent the CAT 312 for a couple of days.


I agreed that this sounded like a good plan.

When the old CAT was delivered the next morning, I smiled at its scarred sides with affection. How many times had it been to the farm?

With Mike at the controls, rocks and soil were removed from the basement hole. Mike is a talented and careful operator, but slow. It drove Damon crazy. “What the hell’s he pokin’ around for?” he snorted. I hushed him. I am not paying for the job by the hour, and I knew Damon was sad that he could not run the machine himself.


In two days the main excavation was done and the CAT was sent back. The finish work on the foundation would be dug with the repaired Bobcat.


Unfortunately, it was at this time that a monster boulder was found. There was consternation. Mention was made of trying to use Mike’s small excavator plus Damon’s small excavator, which is parked at the farm for the winter.


First they tried drilling into the rock and using Bentanomit, a chemical that is mixed into a slurry and poured into the drilled holes. As it dries, it expands, theoretically cracking the rock. The Bentanomit was sluggish in the cold. Hairline cracks appeared, but in three days the rock did not break.


I knew this boulder was “not my problem.” Nick, the young builder, had given me a price for the job. In this neighborhood large boulders were to be expected. However time was slipping by. It was becoming colder.


I told Nick that I would pay the extra money for the CAT 312 to return for a day.


The CAT pried the boulder out, easily breaking it into giant chunks scored by the Bentonamit cracking agent.


Now we could move ahead. Here is Jerry, Nick’s uncle, supervising crushed stone being dropped in the trench under the future footer beneath the basement door.


The footers were poured.


It grew colder.img_1921

Damon came out from time to time with a cane to inspect the work. He has been in and out of the hospital for over a year and he misses being part of a crew.


The basement floor was filled with sand and tamped.


At the end of every work day, to protect it from the weather, tarps were stretched over it.


Now they started building the forms for the walls. Fox Blocks are like giant styrofoam Legos, and stack together neatly.


In this, as in everything, the builders were meticulous. The form walls rose slowly.


Nick was still finishing up other jobs during these early days, so Mike was often working alone, with Jerry as his helper.

It grew colder.


At last the forms were ready.


I was able to get someone to cover my lunch table at school and I raced down to the farm to see the walls poured. My phone had been cold in my pocket and unfortunately the photos are misty.


The first concrete truck arrived right on time.


Mike made last minute adjustments on the Fox Block walls.


Nick signaled the concrete truck as it backed to the forms. Stuck in the waistband of Nick’s jeans was a child’s sand shovel — a tool for scooping and smoothing errant concrete.


Here the men guide the trough to the wall.


It was tricky to get the truck close enough around the dirt piles and crevasses.


But eventually it was accomplished.


With a whoosh! the concrete mix slowly filled the forms.


I had to go back to work before the second truck arrived. When I returned after my classes, the men were completing concrete reinforcing pads down the middle of the basement, which would underlay the finished concrete floor, supporting the center posts.



At this point there was a long week of cold weather, too cold to pour the floor slab. I was chewing my hands. At last we had a break — 36 hours above freezing. The floor was poured while I was at work.


Nick and Mike floated it smooth and then covered it with a layer of tarps.


I donated bales of mulch hay to spread, and they covered the hay with another layer of tarps. The job was finished just under the wire. The following night we had a foot of snow.


Luckily the basement floor was snug under its blankets of hay and tarps.


The first load of materials from the house company was delivered.


As always, just the stacks of lumber tagged with my name gave me a thrill.


Nick and Mike set up a carpentry shop in the open basement.


Mike brought his boom truck (retired from the local electrical company) to the site.


With small stones Mike built a short retaining wall on the south side of the house…


… and the Fox Blocks were sheathed in water shield before he backfilled around the foundation and the wood-framed walls began to rise.


I was sick with a cold and racking cough and it was at this point that I learned that the retaining walls around the basement door were not included in the package. Mike and I had some tense moments. Nick stepped in and offered to pay for his mistake in communication. In the end I told Nick I would again cover the cost of the machine. The CAT returned.


That evening I was eager to see the walls, which I expected to look like those shown on the plan.


Instead I found Mike had built a big wall on a cut-away down the future front lawn. (This photo was taken the next morning.)



I was sick. I had not slept in a week. I was frantically worried about money. I looked at the wall my scant dollars had purchased and wanted to scream. I struggled for calm.

“It doesn’t look like the wall in the plan?” I asked carefully.

Mike was dismissive. “This is much better.”

Many, many pieces of my life are out of my control these days. Due to our school housing, I am regularly surprised by workmen in our spaces, overnight guests, or parties to host. I constantly grind my teeth in my effort to appear polite and reasonable. The wall felt like a last straw. How dare someone change my house plan without even speaking to me? I wanted to sob with rage but I had no energy — and there was no point. It was a pretty wall. I dashed my tears away in the dark and thanked Mike for his hard work.


Jerry and Mike dug and poured the Sonotube footers for the wrap-around porch. Jerry is very quiet. You never see him without a cigarette dangling from his mouth.



The first floor joists slowly went up.


Here they are using the boom truck to lift a section of the big middle beam into place.


The house delivery was scheduled for last Tuesday. On Monday night I raced down to the farm, expecting to see the deck laid on the joists. They were still nailing up blocking.


“Are you still expecting the delivery tomorrow?” I asked tentatively. Nick said yes. I had arranged to take Tuesday off from work. I wondered if they were going to get up very early to lay down the deck, but I didn’t want to seem pushy.


Later that night, I heard from the building company. On a phone call to them, Nick had explained they were not ready. The wall panels still had to be delivered because it was too late to change the date; the truck was loaded. However, now the building company representatives would come up Thursday. I canceled my day off and laboriously switched all my coverage so I could take Thursday off and watch the panels go up.

Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day in the 20°s. On Tuesday and Wednesday the deck was laid.


Thursday morning, however, it was spitting snow and too windy to work. The windchill was -17°.


I canceled my day off again and went in to cover my classes.

On Friday the windchill was -35° F. The wall panels would wait.


Luckily, now I am on vacation and for the next two weeks I can watch the house’s progress at my leisure.



Twelve Hours of Thaw

December 19, 2016

I had a written plan for yesterday, a quiet day at home finishing up my last reports, doing loads of laundry, and wrapping Christmas presents on the dining room table. Instead I woke up to discover that the temperature had climbed from below zero to 45° F overnight. Everything was melting and dripping in the thaw. Here was a last opportunity to accomplish a few chores left undone before the grip of winter cold.

However the window for action was already closing. By 8:00 AM the temperature had dropped back into the thirties and the wind was beginning to pick up. It was due to be -10° by nightfall, and everything melted now would be sealed in ice. Forget reports, laundry, and wrapping!

First I shoveled a path to the farm apartment. Jon and Amanda are coming up Thursday or Friday for Christmas and I didn’t want them to need crampons to cross a twenty-foot-long, two-foot-high ice bank to the front door.

Next I shoveled snow out of the basement of the future house. I know I haven’t told you about that project, and I will. However, for now you can picture a full basement with floor joists and plywood flooring set on top. It had snowed before the plywood was laid and so the basement was full of snow. I knew that snow would thaw and refreeze to be a skating rink. I shoveled it out by the wheelbarrow-load, removing about three-quarters.

The wind, carrying tiny ice pellets, rose steadily as I worked. The builders had nailed a 28 x 48′ tarp over the plywood flooring above and the tarp snapped ominously. I texted to the builders. No response. Finally all the nails tore free and the tarp blew off, scattering the boards laid on top. I could hear the roar of the sliding lumber from below.

I climbed out of the basement and onto the now icy platform. The tarp was held only by one corner. It snaked in the wind, streaming east like a tangled giant flag. With all my strength I tried to pull it back, into the wind. As wind billowed out the blue plastic, I was almost lifted airborne. My boots slid on the ice toward the edge of the platform. OK, not a great plan! I dropped the tarp, texted again to the builders, and moved on to the next chore.

Back in 2009, Allen and I had built my run-in shelter using panels from a torn-down pole garage. The panels are now at least forty years old, and possibly older. They are worn and fragile. The design was never intended for cows to lean comfortably against. Now several of them had sprung away from the posts.


Moreover, they were held out in the sprung position by chips I’d used as bedding for the run-in. With the ground frozen, I’d thought I’d have to live with the problem through the winter. However, yesterday was my chance.

I spent over an hour with my pick-axe, chopping out the half-melted chips and dirt down the length of the run-in. The cows watched with interest.


(Next summer I will cut off the rotted bottoms of these panels where the chips have rested, and replace them with a treated 2 x 10 nailer in each bay. It would be nice to think about replacing the shabby panels entirely, but while they’re not beautiful, they’re functional — and that’s all I need.) Once the bedding was out of the way, I was able to shove the panels back in place and secure them with Timberloks.

After changing out of my sweaty clothes, I crept into town over the icy roads to deal with my truck. Last week the garage that towed the truck had called me. A man read out a long list of everything that was wrong with the vehicle, which did not include the locking up of the wheel (they did not know why that was happening). I might even need a new front axle.

I said, joking, in a kind of disbelief, “It sounds as if you think I should just scrap it and buy a new truck!”

The voice replied colorlessly, “We do not make recommendations.”

I haven’t finished paying for this truck and cannot scrap it. Damon picked up the truck for me and took it to a private mechanic who fixed a few things. I spent ninety minutes after work one day driving to the dealership and buying a “right rear shackle mount brace” which had rusted through. (Of course the brace was marked price: $129 and I was charged $254. I reminded myself sternly that local businesses have to survive, but wished for my tranquillity of mind that they’d had the foresight to remove the tag.) Between them, Damon and the private mechanic figured out that the issue with the wheel locking up was due to the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), which was, in fact, locking. To diagnose the exact cause, however, the truck must go to a garage with a computer. It has an appointment for Tuesday. So far, the meter is at $800 before dealing with the faulty brake system. Sigh.

My next chore was dealing with the faulty water hydrants at the barn. I’d used a propane torch to thaw the outside one on Saturday (I’d had no choice — I’d emptied the trough by the bucketful to water the animals the night before). Now the pipes were thawed and I needed to tinker with their settings to try to keep them from freezing in the future. I worked on each one for half an hour, with no luck. I believe both need to be taken apart completely and have new rubbers installed on the underground plungers. In the meantime, I wrapped each one in a heat tape.

While working in the snow, I had listened to the tarp billowing and snapping on the basement up the hillside. Now I had an idea.

Walking around the basement, I threw all the lumber back up on the east end of the platform. Then I climbed up on the platform again and began slowly pushing the 2x10s along the tarp toward the west end. Sliding on my knees, I tugged the tarp low, not allowing the wind to get underneath and pull it away. Within forty-five minutes, I had the tarp secured again across the entire floor. As all the grommets had been torn out, I used scraps of lumber and 16-penny nails to tack it to the frame.

I did barn chores and drove home. Lucy had texted and would need a pick-up from her ski race. I put potatoes in for dinner, fed the dogs, and set out again. It was snowing and windy. The roads were terrible.

Ninety minutes later, we were home. I cooked sausages, made a salad, and we ate dinner. I fell asleep holding my book in my lap.

This morning it is -15° and the old timbers of this house are thudding in the cold. DH left at 4:30 AM for business meeting in New York City.

Again, I’m planning a quiet day at home finishing up my last reports, doing loads of laundry, and wrapping Christmas presents on the dining room table. We’ll see.