Choices, Choices

April 30, 2017

I am suffering from Decision Fatigue. There are so many choices in building and outfitting a house, and thus so many decisions. I am starting to feel overwhelmed.

I have always made all our family’s domestic decisions. DH is an easygoing person with very little interest. Over the years I have chosen the cars, the clothes, the furniture, the cups and saucers, the food on the table. He is agreeable about it all. But now I am looking at decisions with big price tickets and potentially big ramifications. I find myself gripped with the anxiety that I am going to make a bad mistake.

I was horrified to discover the cost of kitchen cabinets. I looked at gorgeous hardwood doors from one company’s line after another, sunk in gloom. After weeks of dithering and worry, it belatedly occurred to me that I do not care about kitchen cabinet doors and that my goal should be function above all. (I hold onto something my brother-in-law told me long ago in this process: “You just need a house.”) Were the boxes and shelves well-made and sturdy? If so, fine. In the end I chose cabinets built entirely of 3/4″ plywood, with white MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) doors. My hope is that these doors will work for our family. If someone with deeper pockets buys this house in the future, they can replace the doors with fancy ones.

Similarly, I’m going to have either IKEA butcher block or Formica countertops, both inexpensive options. You can replace them, I silently tell my future home buyers. I just need a house.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg in the number of decisions I am facing. Dishwasher, refrigerator, stove, washer, dryer. I have to research them all. Meanwhile, Nick wants to know what paint colors I am using for the interior, and will I have accent walls?

Colors? I am paralyzed by this sort of thing. I only know one interior color: white. I have never had or known an accent wall. Lucy and Amanda have been holding my hand and leading me through the process with the Benjamin Moore line. Lucy would like a pale yellow kitchen (shade still to be decided) and a cottage bedroom in Spring Mint. Amanda found a warm cream called Navajo White for the rest of the house. All the trim and doors will be bright white, easily washed.

Now, onto the light fixtures and bathrooms!

Shopping for used furniture on Craigslist seems so much easier. The only questions are: How far away? Can we afford it? And: will it fit in the car or truck?

*    *   *

This has been a week of tight schedules and many meetings. Next week will be worse with two late nights and a weekend school trip. I have weekly lists, daily lists, weekend lists, and seasonal lists. I have lists of furniture still needed. I have lists of house decisions still to be made. I have my teaching notes and overdue student reports to write. My brain is whirring all the time. On Friday, rushing to a financial meeting after work, I was distressed to realize that I’d totally forgotten a scheduled walk-through before work with representatives from the house company (to confirm door swings). The appointment just fell out of my brain. Similarly in recent days both Nick and the financial people have asked me simple questions in response to which I have found myself staring blankly. The information was there but the circuits were overloaded. Push, push, push!

Though it is hard to take the time, it is also a relief to walk the dogs for their daily exercise. Yesterday was our first hike after snow season on the Olympic ski trails behind the farm. Ruffed grouse + happy dogs = mental peace.

Spring Break Progress

April 28, 2017

My builder, Nick, took a week off to go south with his two little girls for spring break. During that week, his father, Mike, and his uncle Jerry worked outside on the porch deck. Jerry is the less-skilled but helpful go-fer for the two carpenters — essentially the me of the team.

The timing of Nick’s vacation was perfect. Nick and Mike had carefully established the outer frame with a laser level. Now Mike and Jerry built some temporary homemade scaffolding — Mike is small —

and they hung all the deck joists.

Meanwhile the sheetrock taping team arrived every day to tape and mud the interior. First the downstairs…

and then the upstairs. This is Jon and Amanda’s bedroom.

The heaters roared night and day to help the joint compound dry. I would walk through late after work and try not to think about the expensive heat escaping through the thin sheets of insulation covering the unfinished front and mudroom doorways. In my ear I could hear my father’s voice, telling me to let the worry go: It’s the cost of doing business.

Next came sanding — drifts of white dust everywhere! — and then priming. The ceilings have been painted white, and all the walls are primed and ready to be painted. The dining room and kitchen…

… Lucy’s room with the doorway to the attic…

… and our bedroom.

The sheetrock team has finished and gone. The girls and I are trying to settle on wall colors this weekend, so the builders (I assume Jerry) can begin painting between other tasks.

Outside, the porch deck is almost finished. Picture me as Gene Kelly, tap-dancing with joy on this deck.

The porch is my big extravagance on this house. I could have eliminated it and saved money. However, not only will the roofline around its waist establish the farmhouse look and soften the fortress-like lines of the house, a wrap-around porch has been a feature of my home dream since my earliest twenties. Other people dream of fancy kitchens. I have dreamed of a wrap-around porch.

I always imagined my children playing and riding tricycles under a porch roof in the rain. That didn’t happen. Someday, maybe it will be my grandchildren.

Yesterday evening when I walked through, I saw that the protective plastic had been removed from some of the downstairs windows. Instantly — once again! — my eyes filled with tears.

I have stared at that view for years, sitting in trucks with Allen, eating lunch on the job in snow or rain with the windshield wipers slapping, or toiling alone, sweating and bug-bitten. After all the hours and years, I almost can’t believe it: my house is nearly here.

I am so lucky.



Scraping the Barn Paddock

April 24, 2017

Last Sunday Damon came out to the farm to scrape the barn paddock. This year’s hay was so weedy that the cattle wasted a great deal. There was a mat of hay 4-6″ deep across a big swath of the paddock. My hope was to scrape it into a pile, which I could then slowly spread as mulch on the fields where it would be useful.

Damon has had a very challenging last two years. His health broke. He lost his job due to frequent hospitalizations. He lost his father, the pillar of his life. And then last Christmas he lost his good right leg. Though he has been amazingly quick to learn to use the prosthetic, it chafes and aches. He is a brave and determined man but behind his courageous front he has understandably struggled with depression.

I had first asked him to work on Saturday, a grey and gloomy day. He declined. However when Sunday dawned bright and blue, Damon called to say he would be out.

I was thrilled. Just under the mat of hay was a layer of ice. Our window for scraping the hay from this hard surface was rapidly disappearing but we would catch it just in time.

While Damon scraped, I drove back to the lake house to start the old farm truck and put air in its tires. In the garage for the winter, the tires had ebbed until the truck was practically resting on their rims. Since I was using a tiny pump, re-inflating the tires took 45 minutes. By the time I returned, Damon had finished scraping the paddock and was doing a pass down the driveway to smooth out the spring ruts.

My thought had been that we could put the waste hay into the old truck and drive it out of the paddock. I hadn’t realized quite how much waste hay there would be.

Moreover, the old truck had assumed a rather alarming posture over the winter.

Damon would later look underneath and diagnose that the frame had rusted through and broken off on both sides. Gulp. I had just driven it a mile down the highway.

For now, however, he queried, “What is it you want to do?”

“Well, I was thinking we’d put the dirty hay in the truck and drive it out of the paddock, but now I see it won’t fit —”

His mouth twisted. No. Obviously. But he asked simply, “If we put the shit in the truck, how you gonna get it outta there?”

“Well, I was thinking that I could put an old piece of OSB in the bed, and attach a chain, and then out in the back field, drive out from under it.”

His father Allen had told me stories of driving out from under loads as a young trucker.

“Ain’t gonna work,” Damon said. But he watched as I lifted the old sheet of OSB into the bed. He brought his little excavator over to do the loading.

It was a beautiful day, a day of warm spring firsts: first flies. First tree swallows returning to the farm and twittering in excitement as they inspected the nest boxes. First flock of turkey vultures circling overhead. I kept watching Damon, praying it was lifting his mood to be outside in the sunshine on his beloved machinery. His face was set.

Maybe he’s just concentrating, I hoped.

We loaded the truck. I cut a hole in the OSB. Damon got in my truck and followed me out to the back field. I attached the chain.

Then Damon gunned the good truck in reverse. The chain snapped taut, the heavily-weighted OSB started to slide, and then — it reached the edge of the tailgate and cracked in half under the weight of the load. Damon kept backing and the broken OSB and hay hit the ground. It sat there in an enormous lump of flakeboard shards and dirty hay. Clearly, this had indeed been a flawed plan.

I ran to Damon, laughing, and hugged him through the open truck window. It was all so familiar. My “brilliant” idea, father or son frowning but agreeably following directions, and the predictable foolish result. It seemed like old times. Even Damon had a small wintry smile.

We left the rest of the waste hay stacked in the barn paddock. I’ll have to deal with it another day. When I let them out again, the cattle were interested to inspect their new landscape feature.



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.