September 30, 2017

This was a busy week with late nights of work, afternoon appointments, and not enough sleep. However, the great news is that DH and I signed a foot-high stack of papers and WE HAVE A MORTGAGE!

The house is not quite finished, and, realistically, will probably not be until next spring. Our contractor, Nick, has had to move on to other jobs and for the past couple of weeks has come back for a few hours every other day or two to build the front mudroom porch while his girlfriend Amy paints the lower half of the outside of the house. I am hoping that before he quits for the winter, Nick can get at least one coat of the exterior paint on the entire house, finish our shower, finish the stairs, and finish the kitchen cabinets. The final coat, the last interior painting and trim, the fireplace, the mudroom floor, the chimney, the back porch, etc. can happen later. Currently I’m very happy at last to have closets.

Meanwhile, to be done with jumping through hoops for the bank is an enormous relief. I found it hard not to be annoyed by an unexpected $400 charge from the lawyers for drafting a single page reassuring the bank that I would be responsible for maintaining the dirt driveway. (“He had to do a lot of research!”) I had the nagging sense that some of my tougher friends would have objected to this last-minute surprise. However, I was so exhausted by the long, impossibly fraught process that I simply initialed it and moved on.

The lawyer informed us that the mortgage payments would be deducted automatically from our bank account starting next month and ending… in 2047.

DH would be 95 and I a sprightly 88. I’ll cross my fingers.

Auld Lang Syne

September 24, 2017

Yesterday was a hot, sunny, sweaty, tiring, wonderful day. Allen’s son Damon operated a bulldozer for me for five hours.

Since losing part of his foot and then his lower right leg, Damon has not been able to hold a job. Sometimes he has not been able to get out of bed. Yesterday he was in constant pain; he was quickly exhausted; but he was determined to work off his end of a trade we’d made last year for beef. Though I repeatedly asked if he wanted to quit, he refused. So we had our day.

Remember all the fill I was blessed with this summer?

Damon came to spread it.

The area below the south field, north of the pond, has been a wasteland for years. Back in 2005, Allen and Damon had excavated an enormous pond site, using the gravel to build the driveway and then underlay the barn and garage. However the giant pond — having a gravel base — did not hold water. Thus in later years Allen and I had decided to fill it with the stumps (illegal to burn) and boulders from clearing the back field, digging a smaller pond off to the side. The original site was covered with a skim of dirt but was far too rough to mow. More than an acre had grown up as a useless jungle of briars and weeds over broken logs. Now Damon was going to spread the summer fill.

“You’re creating new land!” I shouted happily over the roar of the bulldozer.

Damon made a face. “They brung you nothin’ but rocks!”

There were two or three… thousand. The job seemed enormous and the bulldozer very small.

After watching him get started, I had to spend an hour moving the sheep. From the east end of the property I could hear the warning beep! of the bulldozer as it was backing. The sound filled me with happiness. I was wearing my baseball cap and lightweight blue summer Dickies. If I closed my eyes I could imagine it was ten years ago, Allen and Damon were working at the bottom of the farm, we’d soon have lunch when they would joke and tease, and Allen’s eyes would twinkle at me over his thermos cup of coffee.

It wasn’t ten years ago and Allen is gone, but the echoes were still happy. Even Damon’s needling felt heartwarming.

When I came back, I brought him a diet soda and a sandwich. He had already accomplished a tremendous amount.

He had dropped the blade as close to the pasture fenceline as he dared.


I ran to get my weedwhacker while he went back to work.

From a short level stretch, the ground still slopes steadily down to a hole. Damon says that to level it completely we could use almost as much fill all over again.

But as he back-bladed the new clean surface, I wanted to tap dance.

Damon also spread a load of fill the men had dropped in the back field, near the remains of a gully where he himself had trucked loads of fill four or five years ago. While there he also pushed some boulders into a pile. My goal, as always, is to make the entire farm mow-able.

I’d been feeling rather stuck and discouraged but this giant burst of progress has filled me with joy.


Calling for a Second Wind

September 20, 2017

I need a second wind.

I have been feeling overwhelmed and without motivation. I’m tired physically and mentally. I yearn for a break from pushing and lists. I haven’t taken a day off in six months. However there is still so much work to be done on the house, so much unpacking and organizing, painting and building (I must start paneling the mudroom!) and fall farm chores loom. There are still shabby boxes stacked in every room. The truck has to be inspected and bills clamor to be paid. All of this in addition to teaching classes every day and getting paperwork organized for the mortgage closing next week.

Yes, after constant setbacks and alarms, threats of steep fines from the bank, and many lengthy meetings and phone calls, I’ve won! We are going to close on our mortgage! The appraiser came back ten days ago and not only approved the work but asked Nick if he would be available to build a house for him.

I love our new home and I can see how wonderful it is going to be. I just need to put my head down and gut out these next few weeks.

To get past the “no motivation” factor, I find myself writing tiny lists, task by task, for before and after my school day. “I can do this for fifteen minutes,” I tell myself firmly.

And I can. Incremental action will get it done. Onward.

A Dash to the Northeast Kingdom

September 18, 2017

Yesterday I did my chores early and set off with truck and trailer for the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. (“Kingdom” is an odd word to find enshrined in Yankee Vermont, but the stretch of state by the Canadian border certainly is beautiful. On the drive I also passed through “Eden.” The taciturn Vermonter must be a creature of myth.)

I was on my way to buy a heifer.

For a while now I’ve known I was going to move from dairy cattle to beef.  I do not need more than a couple of gallons of milk per week and my time has become more limited. My dear Jersey cow, Moxie, had a rough summer — I must write about it soon — and while I pulled her through, for seven straight weeks (while simultaneously coping with our move), I spent many daily hours sweating to save her udder. Moxie is eight years old. It’s been clear that even with the best care I won’t have many more years with her.  Thus I have been watching ads on Craigslist and debating the various merits of Herefords, Linebacks, Anguses, and Galloways.

In the end I was convinced to go with an Angus by a great deal on a bred heifer — and also by the fact that this little girl greatly resembles my beloved first cow, Katika, shrunk in the dryer.  Angus cattle are from Aberdeen, so I am mulling Scottish names. Here she is in the trailer, coming home with me on the ferry.

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, over the sea to… Plattsburgh.

The heifer stepped off the trailer into my barn with no fuss. Moxie was greatly excited, the calves bucked and frolicked, and I kept them all in the barn overnight to talk between stalls and settle down.

I let them out early this morning and they are cropping grass peaceably. I will get the chain collar off her neck tonight.

A new chapter begins… and another of the big chores on my list is successfully crossed off.


September 13, 2017

This morning I when I walked the dogs by starlight at 5:15 AM, coyotes were yipping deep in the woods to the south. They were joined by a soloist, extremely loud, who appeared to be howling from the trees right beyond my sheep fence, a hundred yards away. My heart jumped. My dogs cocked their heads but were silent.

A neighbor on the other side of the woods captured this morning’s chorus — sans soloist — on her iPhone forty-five minutes later (above).

Nick’s girlfriend Amy drove into the farm yesterday. The bold yellow coyote was standing in the driveway in the sunshine. He stared at her, unafraid.  Finally she honked her horn and he slipped back into the woods.

This situation is wearing on my nerves.


September 12, 2017

Yesterday morning I was back to feeling 90% and had to move the sheep early before leaving for Vermont. It was a beautiful blue day, a colder version of that morning sixteen years ago.

Though the lawn near the house was wet, there was heavy frost at the bottom of the field. As I gathered the frozen fence my gloveless hands quickly went numb. My old boots leak, so soon my feet, too, were aching lumps. Well, this is miserable, I thought as I trudged in increasingly wet jeans through the frosted grass.

Just then a crow and a broadwinged hawk flew overhead in a tangled barrel roll. It wasn’t clear who was harassing whom, as both were screeching as they winged past through the pale blue sky.

To me it was if God tapped me on the shoulder. Pay attention to all this beauty around you! The world is alive and full of wonder!

I can’t ever forget how lucky I am.


September 11, 2017

Yesterday cleared to our first bright morning in ten days of dreary clouds and rain. I had a two-column to-do list. Unfortunately I woke up sick.

I staggered out to walk the dogs a bit before six. Then I read an email from Lucy, broke out in a cold sweat, and was so lightheaded I had to lie down on the dining room floor for fifteen minutes to recover. My hair was wet and my nightgown soaked. Then I got up and read an email from Jon, and ditto. I had felt peculiar the previous night — like a dog sensing an approaching storm — and had slept in Jon and Amanda’s room just in case. It turned out to be an intestinal flu.

I tend to feel outraged when I am sick. What? I don’t have time for this! Especially for something so debilitating, with chills making my head swim and my hands shake. I often think I really wouldn’t mind a sick day — if I could lie in my comfy sheets in bed, be lazy, and read. In other words, not be too sick. But I am realizing that I never have these delicious, cozy sick days because if I’m only slightly sick, I get out of bed and work.

Even yesterday afternoon, though still weak and trembly and somewhat nauseous, I got up and worked in the basement unpacking boxes and then switched to carpentry, reinforcing my grandmother’s bookcase. My pace was slow and my brain was foggy, except for the one thought: I have to push on. The list, the list!

Today I’m at 90% and on the road to Vermont for a medical appointment. Tomorrow our boarding school students return.

Still Unpacking

September 9, 2017

I have been packing, carrying, unpacking, and breaking down moving boxes for three months now and I am still surrounded by stacks of cardboard cartons. Some of the boxes (see above) have been in storage for a long time.

I make a little progress every day but it’s hard not to be discouraged by the leaning towers of mess that remain and all the work that needs to happen before I can unpack them. I have to panel the mudroom! Reinforce the antique bookcase! Paint the metal shelves! Put up hooks in the closets and bathrooms!

The appraiser returns Monday. I’m in regular contact with the bank. We have to close on the mortgage in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile I need to sell my last seven lambs, muck deep bedding out of two large sheep stalls, spread manure, fix the water hydrants, and get the farm ready for winter. The gardens are overgrown with waist-high weeds. There is work to be done in the rental apartment.

I’ve been in school meetings for a fortnight. I have a medical appointment in Vermont on Monday.  My students return Tuesday. (My teaching files are not unpacked.)

Today is another raw, grey, dripping morning. I know how very lucky I am — not in Houston! not in Florida! not in Montana! not in Mexico! — but as flights of crying Canada geese go over the house in the cold rain, heading south for the winter, I struggle not to feel tired and anxious.

Goodbye, Crabapple

September 4, 2017

Back in 2010 I bought and planted in front of the apartment an eight-foot crabapple tree. It was a Brandywine crab, which pleased me because of the echo in my mind of the Revolutionary War battle. (Small things make me happy.)

Today the tree is thick-trunked and much larger.

It is also dying.

My teenage helper called me one day this summer while I was in the checkout line at Home Depot in Vermont. He told me he was at the farm and asked if I had any work for him. While busy signing papers for toilets, I told him he could mow the back yard. On his own initiative, he decided to add weedwhacking. He carefully weedwhacked around my Brandywine crab, removing not just the grass, but the bark 10″ high entirely around the circumference.

Girdling trunks was a colonial method for killing trees to clear land, and it is still effective.

It is a struggle sometimes to appear kind and patient.

Seeding the Yard

September 3, 2017

Yesterday was a busy day of moving animals. I took down, moved, and re-erected the hard-fenced goose enclosure, then set up a temporary enclosure and moved the sheep from the north pasture to the peninsula, then moved all the shelters and netting fences to the bottom of the south pasture, and finally moved the sheep to the south pasture.

In between these chores I finished setting up the apartment — including scrubbing out the oven — for our new tenant. (For the first time we will have a year-round renter. He is a nice boy and I’m pleased to have found him. The rent should help us with taxes on the farm.)

All of this is to say that I did not start work on safeguarding the new grading from the coming rain until almost time for evening chores.

In a perfect world I would have seeded the dirt with fresh grass seed, raked it in, then covered the whole with a thin layer of hay or straw.

My world is nearly perfect, but not quite.

On September 1st we’d had a killing frost. I was skeptical about grass seed germinating at all in this season. I didn’t want to invest in very expensive seed just to waste it. Instead, I used grass seed on hand from last summer, overlaid with winter rye seed about five years old. I certainly don’t expect great things, but as I filled the seeding bag I whispered to the seeds encouragingly, “Here’s your chance for life!”

I had no time to rake it in. It took me almost an hour just to spread the seed, and DH’s schedule required an early dinner. I raked twenty feet with a nervous eye on my watch and then told myself: the seed is probably too old. It will probably be washed away in the rain anyway. But I felt guilty as I went indoors to fry pork chops.

At 8 PM I was spreading hay in the dark. My hay is second-cut and very soft. It wanted to fall in clumps rather than shaking out in the desired thin cover. I shook it harder in frustration. Clump. Clump. Clump. By 9:15 I had spread eight bales. Due to the clumping there were still bare spots, despite my efforts to shake out every pile in the dark.

The rain started at 3:30 AM.

This morning the front, side, and back yards are dotted with clumps.

Perhaps if things dry out tomorrow I can work on it some more. However the seed is suspect and my list is long.

This may be yet another case of “she hath done what she could.”