Sheep Out for Spring

April 23, 2017

Though yesterday was a grey chilly day, I was able to get the sheep out on pasture. Once lambing starts in February, my sheep are indoors for the duration of the winter. I don’t have fencing for lambs that will work in snow. (With money from lamb sales, last fall I had bought galvanized panels and treated posts, and Damon brought his excavator to the farm, but his health crashed and we never got to that project.) Someday.

Moving young lambs is always tricky. The ewes and yearlings know the routine and immediately rush to follow me (and the grain can). The lambs dither in the barn doorway, bleating in fright. Because they are not worried, the ewes do not bother to answer their crying babies. The noise is piercing. Often, as yesterday, I end up having to carry out the last few lambs one by one. I am always puffing and sweaty by the end of this exercise.

The grass is only beginning to flush green. I will be feeding hay for at least a couple of weeks, and the sheep will come in at night. But my hope is that by getting the sheep out early, I will avoid any problems in transitioning to the summer feeding regime of being on pasture 24/7.

Given that it was a grey day — only a couple of hours later, fog would be scudding low over the ground — I didn’t bother to put the covers on the sheep shelters yet.

One of the girls took the opportunity to give herself a neck rub.

My ram, Royal, was very interested in the ewes who had been separated since shearing time. He pursued them, sniffing eagerly and licking his lips.


Though I had hopes that at least one of my three ewes who did not give birth this year was pregnant, just late, that does not appear to be the case.  I see no udder development at all.

I’ve been staring at sheep bottoms for a month. Though I could be wrong, I now think these girls are just fat.

This is a disappointment and the loss of their six lambs a discouraging financial hit. For the last two years I have sold all my lambs as breeding stock to other farms, usually in large groups as starter flocks.

However, I can’t change the facts. Onward! 

Truth in Advertising

April 22, 2017

After decades in school housing, we own very little furniture aside from bookcases. We soon will own a house. Thus this spring I have been buying furniture from yard sales and, especially, from Craigslist.

My funds are limited. I have lucked out and paid very little for some great finds. (Last month Lucy and I picked up a king mattress, box spring, and Ralph Lauren bedding for Jon and Amanda’s room from a very wealthy, kind, and eccentric older lady who was moving out of a vacation home. She opened her palatial front door and exclaimed, “Well! You two are certainly mother and daughter! Two ectomorphs!” She then proceeded to give us an hour-long tour of the house, and later, to have the bed and bedding delivered to me at the farm. “Enjoy it, dear!”)

All this searching for deals means that I have been spending a lot of time scanning Craigslist ads. I have grown reasonably adept at reading between the lines. “Drawers slightly stiff” means you can’t use any part of the dresser without a fight. “Could use refinishing” means splinters and patchy veneer.

Thus I was amused and delighted to come upon the following ad for a sectional sofa (someday I’d love to have a sectional in the basement for watching television).


Pet friendly, baby friendly sectional…can easily be vacuumed and shampooed. I want something smaller for our living room, paid $900 a year ago. It does have some seam tears because the dogs sit up top. Can be sewn or covered with a blanket. Two of the cushions zippers broke, but you can’t see that because it’s tucked in the couch.

Along with the photo of her four dogs lounging a la Go, Dog. Go! (one of my favorite books as a child), the author kindly offered several photos of her $900, one-year-old sofa’s torn seams and broken zippers. The entire ad was so very honest (dare I ask what stains or smells made the sofa “baby-friendly?) that I found it charming.

Nevertheless, unaccountably I decided to pass.


The Waiting Land

April 21, 2017

The past week has felt pressured and rushed, each day jammed with too many tasks. (Volunteering last summer to do a friend’s taxes was perhaps not my wisest move, especially as all his circumstances had changed and he had lost much of the attendant paperwork. Thankfully, however, I was able to help straighten out the various accounts and I submitted his taxes just under the wire.) With Lucy at college and Jon and Amanda in Connecticut, DH and I had a quiet Easter, just the two of us saying grace over a much smaller feast.

We’ve had grey days of cold rain and bright days of spring sunshine. I’ve tried to drive the dogs to the farm for a walk every afternoon after work. They have enjoyed the mud and puddles.

This is always a tantalizing time of year for me at the farm. The snow and ice retreat more every day, revealing the waiting land. It is brown and bare. Every chore ahead is evident. Pull that rock. Straighten that post. Fix that fence. Cut those briars. Weed that garden bed.

What is different this year is that I can now imagine that a day may come when I do not have a mountain of other chores which prevent me from starting this work. Someday, I will able to address spring tasks in the springtime because I won’t be planning, packing, moving, dreaming, scheming, and worrying. This uphill fourteen-year push will be over. We will be in our own home! As always, I find it hard to express how exciting I find this thought.

For now, I am hiking the fields with the dogs and making notes of all the things to add to the To-Do list.


Author, Author!

April 14, 2017

My son Jon had his first book published yesterday. It is a biography of Ronnie Lee, the founder of the Animal Liberation Front, a direct-action group that works for animal rights.

Jon and I have some different ideas about politics and animals, but I am very, very proud of his persistence and discipline as a writer — and equally proud of his kind heart.

Congratulations to Grandma’s little “Yam-Head”!

Starting the Porch!

April 12, 2017

The house is sheetrocked and waiting for the “tapers” (typing this word I think of church candles, but in fact it refers to the crew who will arrive, starting tomorrow, to tape the drywall).

In the meantime, Nick, his father Mike, and his uncle Jerry have begun work on the wrap-around porch. The porch deck (before its roof goes on) will serve as their staging area to put up the house’s siding and metal roofing. It will be good for them to have a level spot in the sea of sloping mud and rocks.

The builders’ careful work last November has paid off now. Though they’ve checked and re-checked with a laser level, the poured concrete Sonotubes are perfectly aligned.

After only two days, most of the floor joists of the front section are in.

If you knew how often tears come to my eyes, you would not believe it.

Learning to Assert Myself

April 11, 2017

Yesterday after work I had a meeting with Nick, my wonderful builder. My insides were jelly. I had almost decided not to say anything, but then I broached the subject in an email and I was committed.

One of the few splurges I am choosing in this house is a tiled shower rather than a pre-formed acrylic one. DH loves the shower here in this lake house and I had decided this would be my gift to him.

Last week Nick had framed the shower stall with a bench as I requested, and covered it with special sheetrock. I had looked at the bench.

“It seems very narrow?” I ventured.

The bench is 11″ deep. I have since seen on the Home Depot site that this is a fairly regular depth. I thought to myself that sitting on a slippery 11″ shelf would not be ideal for us as aged people. The shower seat in this house is 15″ deep.

“You only need it to rest your foot on when you are shaving your legs,” Nick explained.

Hmm. I was not thinking of a need for shaving my legs in this shower but of a need for a safety grab bar. I worried that using this bench might be akin to doing wall-sit exercises. However the bench was built and I didn’t want to upset Nick or require him to tear anything apart. So I let it go.

Then this weekend I noticed the entire shower was framed, sheetrocked, and mudding had begun. The walls and ceiling were all flush with the room. This was not what I wanted. I wanted the shower to be set off rather like a doorway, with a dropped header and small 7″ walls on each side, to contain the water. This small framing detail has meant no wet floors in the lake house.

My immediate reaction on seeing the disappointing shower was to say to myself, Well, it’s done, and I’ll have to live with it. I thought about this disappointment all day as I carried heavy packing boxes. I strove for resignation. I’ll get over it eventually.

But that night when I was emailing Nick about something else, I found myself typing: I need to talk to you about the shower. We agreed I would meet him yesterday after my teaching day.

As I got out of my car at the farm, my heart pounded. Standing next to Nick in the future bathroom, I was apologetic as I explained the shower design I had hoped for. Nick was stoical. His face did not change as I outlined alterations that would mean tearing out his hard work.

“I can do that,” he said calmly.

When I got back in my car I was wilting with relief. It is absurdly difficult for me to insist on matters larger than punctuation.

  *   *   *  

After walking the dogs, I then drove an hour to the nearby city to look at kitchen cabinets. The simple cabinets I chose last September went up in price almost $1800 in January.

The house-building process seems designed to keep me in a stew of anxiety.

Grunt Labor

April 10, 2017

Yesterday was a clear, sunny day in the 40°s. Though there is still snow in the woods, the snow in the fields ebbed away. The warm spring weather after a grey week of spitting snow and freezing rain was a tonic. Having dragged myself through Saturday with the remains of a sick headache and nausea, for Sunday I had a long list.

I had planned to go to church but Rick, my hay man, emailed that he would be at the farm with an early morning hay delivery. I had written to Rick this winter to express my unhappiness with this year’s hay, loaded with inedible weeds. Every day I have had to clean the hay racks of tough stalks. The ground of the barn paddock is littered with stalks. While I have saved on mulch hay for bedding, mulch hay is half the price of feed hay. I should not be using feed hay for bedding. I have also worried about the weed load being introduced to my farm.

Rick got out of his truck in the bright morning sun.

“How ya doin’, Cry Ass!”

Rick is Rick. Still, he brought better hay.

But after stacking hay bales, the main job for the day was emptying the mudroom. The biggest problem there was the two giant steel shelves. These shelves were cast-offs from the school maintenance garage seven years ago. Luke and I had snagged them to hold DH’s climbing gear.

The shelves are seven feet tall, 18″ deep, and probably weigh 200 pounds apiece. I had hoped to have help moving them, but Lucy went back to school early last weekend and this weekend there was no one available.

Whenever I have to move something too big for me, I think of my older brother, who was a mover for many years and taught me a few tricks of the trade. Always try to slide something rather than lift it. Though the shelves are multi-colored from years of paint (I will be repainting them next summer) and scratches were not a real concern, I did not think I could slide them. Too heavy.

But I did have this wheeled trash can dolly. Maybe I could roll them?

I removed the stacked boxes from each case and took out all the individual steel shelves to lighten the load. Then I tipped each shelf on its side on the dolly.

The dolly has a rounded top so the load was extremely tippy as I pulled each shelf through the kitchen and dining room. I was terrified a heavy shelf would slide off and damage the new sheetrock. I moved very, very slowly to the head of the cellar stairs. At that point, I lifted each off the dolly, pivoted it in a ten-point turn, and pulled it halfway into the stairwell.

Then I nipped around and got in front of the shelf on the stairs. I pulled it gently until it tipped to rest against my back. Bracing the heavy weight with my thighs, I walked down the stairs slowly (and puffing with effort) step by step until I was safe at the bottom.

Whenever I successfully accomplish something difficult (with Allen, with Luke, or recently with Lucy), it is my habit to shriek, “We are the champions of the world!” Yesterday I smiled to myself and thought, I am a champion.

After ten minutes to “walk” the heavy shelf into place, I began loading it with its previous boxes.

Then I went back for the next one. By the end of the day, both shelves were down and loaded, with more boxes in front of them.

Another quadrant of the basement has all the books, the filing cabinets, and various boxes and bags. I had zero time to evaluate anything when I emptied our school apartment. That will happen this summer and I imagine a great deal will go to Goodwill or the dump.

It was fun to revisit the past (a plastic dinosaur with JON on the bottom of its foot) and read the box tops as I carried things to the basement: in Lucy’s handwriting: FRAGILE! Lucy’s rock collection. Ah yes, those fragile rocks.

The mudroom is almost empty, except for Lucy’s childhood dollhouse (too fragile for manhandling) and a lot of miscellanous farm equipment. I will deal with all that tomorrow after work.

It was a long day of grunt work listening to hymns. Very satisfying to make visible progress.