A New Plan of Attack

July 31, 2017

After a grueling four-day stretch of board meetings and parent visiting days, DH left today at 3:15 AM for two weeks of vacation. He had hoped to climb in Peru but a few weeks ago his best friend and climbing partner injured his hand. Instead they will hike the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. With frequent flyer air tickets, this vacation will cost us about $59. Best of all, they will be out of connectivity in the mountains and DH will not be instantly reachable by email from work. I have urged him to look at his phone only once a day.

Meanwhile I am looking at my lists and trying to determine what I can realistically accomplish in his sixteen-day absence.

The Summer To-Do List I wrote in late spring seems laughable now.  At that time I believed we would be moving into a finished house in the last week of June, have a family party in our new home with Jon and Amanda over the 4th of July, and have the rest of the summer to work on projects. Now I am realizing that we are likely to be living with workmen in our spaces until Labor Day, when my teaching year resumes, and my unpacking and organizing will take just as long, if not longer.

This is discouraging — as I look around at dozens of stacked boxes that can’t yet be put away, due to lack of cabinets or closets or finished floor or trim — but I can’t let it spoil the joy. And there is so much joy.

This past weekend was a stretch of blue and gold days, our first real days of summer weather, and I spent happy hours mowing and weedwhacking. (Only 534 hours to go before I catch up.) Yesterday morning after chores, before it got too hot, I took the dogs for a hike on the Olympic ski trails next door. As we walked through the sun-dappled leafy forest I knew I was one of the luckiest women alive.

So I am making a new list, hoping I can work hard every day, keep my balance, and remember how amazingly blessed I am to be living this life.



July 30, 2017

“Of course I knew,” I said to myself on Friday while weedwhacking when I found the bloody flight feather.

I stooped and picked it up. Although I had searched, I’d previously come upon no trace of my gander Andy, no evidence of a killing site, no pile of feathers. Here was the first and solitary proof of his end: a new feather, still half-furled in its casing as it grew in after the moult — bitten off and bloody. It was twenty feet from the house.

I had known Andy had to be dead, the minute I’d discovered he was missing. However some tiny last flicker of magical thinking now sighed and subsided.

A few days ago I threw a tarp over an old shelter that was crushed out of shape by an early snowfall, and began keeping the geese in a circle of sheep netting. They can get out if they try, but they don’t. The electronet should keep them safe from stealth raids in daylight. I bring them in at night as always.

It has hurt my heart to see the change in my goose Kay. With Andy gone, she was initially unnerved and terrified. Since then, she has stepped into his role. She clacks her beak and hisses, leading the goslings and putting herself between them and any perceived danger.

Now the babies graze heedlessly while Kay stands watch, scanning the horizon. In the past, Andy marched around as protector, occasionally standing on tiptoe to flap his wings, while Kay herself grazed like a heedless child.

I’m so sorry, Kay. I miss him, too.

I dropped the bloody feather on the manure pile. I have many of Andy’s feathers. Every year I have collected them at moulting time so my 7th graders can write with quill pens. There is no need to keep the evidence of his death.

Still, finding it made me sad. I knew, but now I know know.

Full of Fill!

July 28, 2017

It continued by fits and starts, and the builders and I would all decide it must surely be over, only to have the scenario start up again a few days later: trucks rumbling up and down the driveway, carrying in and dumping loads of dirt. However it now appears that the fill-train has finally stopped.

It’s hard to explain how much fill I have.

There is a long double row of two dozen loads along the road to the pond. Someday, when I can afford a bulldozer and operator, I will be able to bring up the grade and start to make that wasteland useful. Another load was dropped in the back field near a bumpy swale where Allen buried rocks and stumps long ago. Someday perhaps I will be able to mow that gullied corner!

About ten loads were dumped by the house.

When I hire an excavating crew to re-sculpt the land around the basement, this fill will help bring up the grade of the front lawn.

I could never have afforded to buy so much fill. I am rich in dirt!

I am so lucky and so very grateful. Thank you, Alison!

A Quick Trip to Connecticut

July 27, 2017

Yesterday I did barn chores early and headed down to Connecticut to my brother’s house. My goal was to pick up an antebellum bookcase originally from the home of our great-great-great grandparents, George and Mary Minge. I imagine the bookcase dates somewhere from the 1830s-1850s. Our mother inherited it when our grandmother died, and it was in our parents’ house; my brother inherited it when our mother died.

However, the glass-fronted bookcase is 8 feet tall and 9 feet wide, and my brother had no place to put it. It has been in storage in his attic for thirteen years. When designing the interior of my house I wrote to ask if he would be willing to let the bookcase come to me. He kindly agreed, and yesterday I drove down in the truck to get it.

Thinking of its enormous size, I had stopped at the local U-haul office and rented a dozen moving blankets. I prayed we’d be able to fit the giant bookcase in the truck. DH was thrilled and spoke excitedly about shelving books before his board meeting starts today.

I’d chosen yesterday for the trip because it was due to be the single day this week without rain. The drive was long but mostly easy. I did have an exciting last half hour relying on Google directions that had me venturing down narrow paved tracks in dark forests and unmarked roads all over the county — “proceed 392 feet, turn right” — but I eventually emerged, blinking in the light, at the charming home of my brother and his wife.

After a happy exchange of greetings and hugs, we all turned to the garage, where the bookcase was waiting.

The door rolled up. Oh, my. The bookcase is disassembled and in approximately thirty pieces. DH would not be shelving books that night.

I had known it was disassembled but had pictured three or four sections. I asked my brother if he remembered how all these Jenga pieces fit together. “I don’t really recall,” he said apologetically. Had he been the one to take the bookcase apart thirteen years ago? “I don’t recall.” This made me smile. Obviously my brother and I share the same steel-trap memory. (His wife reminded me quizzically that I’d made the exact same mistake with the Google driving directions on my last visit. Really? I don’t recall!)

Luckily my brother and I also share a knack for problem-solving. He is coming to the mountains next week and if I haven’t figured it out by then, we will tackle the bookcase puzzle together.

It was wonderful to see them both. We wrapped all the pieces in blankets. (There was no issue of room in the truck!) My sister-in-law is a storied cook and fed me a delicious chicken salad. My brother brewed a strong cup of coffee to power me down the road. And then I was off again.

Twelve hours after setting out, I was home.

Cold Rain

July 25, 2017

Today is a second dark day of cold rain. Clouds wrap the mountains and fog hangs low. I wear a wool hat and sweater under my foul weather gear as I move the dripping sheep fence.

Yesterday the landscape reflected my mood: bleak. I was sad and defeated and tired to the marrow. I pushed myself through errands in town.  To their indignation, I kept the geese and chickens in the barn all day. I didn’t have the energy to weedwhack in the rain or to risk any more losses.

DH got up at 4 AM yesterday to go to New York City for a meeting. The light in the bathroom doesn’t yet work so resourcefully he showered and shaved by headlamp. He arrived home at 10:30 PM. He is tired, too. This coming weekend is the quarterly meeting of his board of trustees.

The happiness is knowing that despite setbacks and discouragement, we are in our new home and it is slowly coming together.

Goodbye, Andy White

July 23, 2017

My gander, Andy White, disappeared yesterday. I can only assume he was snatched by a coyote in broad daylight. I am very, very sad.

This was Andy’s seventh summer on the farm. I spend so much of my time alone that these animals who are “lifers,” whom I care for twice a day through snow and rain for years on end, become features in my emotional landscape. Andy himself was such a character — so funny, foolish, proud, and ornery — that he was especially aggravating and endearing. I saved his life when he was stepped on by a cow. He still pinched me if I got too close to his babies.

Four days ago a coyote chased my rooster Monty through the high weeds in the barn paddock at 10:30 in the morning. I was moving sheep nearby and heard the squawks. Looking up, I saw the coyote and yelled. The coyote lifted its yellow head to stare at me. I yelled again and it melted through the fence into the brush. (The electric fence is shorted by weeds.) The rooster foolishly proceeded into the small woods behind the paddock and I heard squawking again. Clearly the coyote had nipped around into the woods to resume the hunt. “Hey!” I yelled, running. Monty emerged, flapping, from the woods, with the coyote right behind him. Only my presence stopped the coyote as Monty sped past. “Get out of here!” I roared at the coyote, who stood and stared for a moment before once more melting away.

So I have known that last summer’s bold coyote is back. I have been working on weedwhacking fences to restore the charge. But I’ve been working on so many things.

Yesterday DH and Lucy left early for a race and I’d planned to get a lot of work accomplished while they were gone. However I was exhausted from no sleep after 1 AM. My mind was sluggish. Moreover when I walked the dogs before breakfast I was stung by a wasp on the inside of my right wrist. My forearm swelled painfully. I began to weedwhack anyway, but when I refilled the weedwhacker I didn’t tighten the head properly, it flew apart at high speed, and the spring was lost. This was discouraging and almost convinced me to give up for the day. Still, I moved on doggedly to mowing, and brush-hogged half of the knee-high weeds in the barn paddock before I had to quit to make supper.

It was at this point that I shut up the geese for the evening and realized Andy was gone.

I could not believe it. I had worried for my chickens but not for the geese. It was bright daylight. I had been in and out of the barnyard all day long! Automatically I checked the cow stalls, the lamb stall, under the truck, and under the horse trailer, even though I knew that Andy would never leave his family voluntarily. When he had babies (even full-grown, as these are now), his vigilance was unceasing. He would run toward any perceived danger, neck snaking low and outstretched, hissing, to protect his young.

I’m 100% sure that’s exactly what he was doing when the coyote killed him.

I hate this. It is especially heartbreaking when my negligence (the weed-shorted fences) is a cause of the loss. Last evening my eyes kept filling with tears. In the night I woke up and thought groggily, “What terrible thing has happened?” Then I remembered. It can’t be true, said my mind. Maybe he’s hurt and hiding. Maybe he’ll show up tomorrow. I know this is magical thinking. When my barn cat Freddie was killed by coyotes I looked for him to reappear for six months.

I always want all of my loved ones to live forever.


July 23, 2017

I have a lot to catch up on, but during the night, for the second time in a week, our new fire alarm system kicked off. The previous time the sirens went off at 3 AM, with the disembodied voice screaming, “Fire! Fire!” Last night it was at 1:00 AM. Not only are we thrown out of bed in terror, but I can never get back to sleep. Today my brain feels wooden.

The system had earlier been activated at 9:30 yesterday evening when my tenants cooked spaghetti in a steaming pot on their stove. They arrived at my door while I was in my pajamas.

So far this has happened five times.

I am not a violent person but I’m ready to take a sledgehammer to these fire alarms.

Better Now

July 21, 2017

The appraiser did not show up for his scheduled appointment at 2 PM. I kept working feverishly on boxes.

He called at 3:15. “How’s the house? Are your contractors finished?”

To my shock, he had forgotten the appointment, forgotten our circumstances, forgotten the careful timeline worked out with the bank, forgotten the plan for a preliminary report and a later check, forgotten everything. When I politely reminded him, he said that he would drive out within the hour and hung up.

On his arrival he was brusque to the point of rudeness. Everything about the house was a problem. Nick was tiling in the bathroom but came out to listen. As the appraiser complained about the unusual circumstances and the job ahead of him, we widened our eyes at each other in silence.

Nick went back to tiling and I trotted after the appraiser upstairs and down as he used a laser measure on each room and made notes. As we proceeded he bragged that he only worked for a few local banks as the others weren’t worth his time. When, as he was leaving, I asked him what he thought of the house, he told me his professional opinion would be delivered to the bank in a week. A person of his credentials could never venture a guess.

He drove off. The appraisal visit was over.

Though I learned nothing conclusive, I am relieved, immediately feeling as if life will be much easier now without this doom hanging over me. However I know better than to say anything. A few days ago I reassured Lucy, “Things will get better after the appraisal is done.”

She had given me a satirical look. “Mom!”


“Things will get better after I finish my reports,” she quoted me. “Things will get better once we finish moving out of the lake house. Things will get better after I’ve cleaned up from the flood —”

Come to think of it, Damon mocks this habit of mine, too. “It will be easier next week,” he’ll mimic in a falsetto. “It will be easier next year.”

What can I say? I’m obviously a cock-eyed optimist!



July 20, 2017

The appraiser comes this afternoon.

We’ve made progress.

We have cabinet pulls (and a taped luan temporary countertop).

We have second-floor stairs and stair rails (the latter increase my security far more than I would ever have guessed). The blue tape is there to protect the stairs until they can be finished.

The kids’ bathtub is tiled with simple white subway tiles and has a curved rod, as suggested by DH’s aunt, Elaine. Lucy chose the shower curtain, which has bright orange flowers on a white background. Together she and I decided on the thin tile “racing stripe” . . .

… to pick up the black in the old-fashioned black and white hex-tile floor. This bathroom’s toilet has been installed (we’re not stumbling down open stairs in the middle of the night with a headlamp any more, Deo gratias). All the vanities with sinks should be delivered soon.

I cut end braces from the scrap pile, painted them, and then cut and put together pantry shelves. It was very satisfying to this parsimonious part-Scot to be able to reuse office shelving materials I’d purchased in 1999. I haven’t yet put everything away, but now there is a place.

Siding has been almost completed on the west end of the house, and should be completed on the north face today. The big back south side has not been started. (The grey is primer paint on the boards. The house will be white.)

There has been other progress with interior painting and trim. All three bedrooms now have closet doors (not yet any doorknobs) and closet shelves.

However there still remains so much work to be done. Many floors are still covered with paper, cardboard, and tape. Half the light switches do not work. Jon and Amanda’s room is a workshop.

Our moving boxes are still stacked everywhere.

Between stints of mowing and weedwhacking, yesterday I met with two different excavation men to discuss grading around the house to direct water away from the basement. None of this can be started until the siding is up and the scaffolding can be moved. Thus the unfinished house sits in a sea of boulder piles, dirt piles, stacked siding, and materials. The porch is crowded with scaffolding, saws, and more materials.

I am very anxious. My anxiety does not seem to be shared by any of the builders, all of whom are very kind, friendly, and talented but rarely put in an eight-hour day. I hear about other projects they are working on and try not to react.

I wonder what will be the result of the appraiser’s visit.



July 19, 2017

In the midst of everything else cramming the days, I have lucked into an enormous amount of clean fill. It’s basic thin Adirondack subsoil — dirt and rocks — but for years I have longed for fill to smooth out various gullies on the farm and create more usable land.

While excavating contractors are always looking for dumping spots, the farm’s location seven miles from town has meant it is too far to be an easy option. However in the last month, less than a mile down the highway, neighbors of my friends Alison and Tom had terraced their hillside and generated a giant pile. Alison kindly lobbied for me and yesterday the truckloads began to arrive.

Under normal circumstances this excitement would be the focus of my day. At this hectic time I can barely look up from my chores as I rush to get ready for the appraiser tomorrow.

However I did notice yesterday that the first truck had driven in but never left. I stopped mowing and drove out to see what might be wrong.

I had directed the men to drop their loads just below the bottom of the south pasture. There is a lot of room (it’s the former pond site and a long stretch of barren sloping ground), it has an easy turn-around, and Damon has dropped loads there before. What I didn’t consider is all the rain we’ve had this spring and summer. The truck had backed in and sunk up to its hubcaps.

I found my chain and pulled out the first truck. The next truck came in and heedlessly (and bizarrely) backed into the exact same spot and was instantly similarly stuck.

He was pulled out with my chain by the first truck.

My hope is that today’s deliveries are less fraught. I got the impression there would be a couple of dozen trips. “We’ve got a lot of material!” one driver exclaimed.

Dirt and rocks — such a great gift! Thank you, Alison! I’m very excited.