Painting the Staircase

October 31, 2017

Nick, our contractor, stopped full-time work at the end of August. He is now on to other jobs, but he and his partner, Amy, drop in for the odd hour here and there. Nick is tiling our shower. Yesterday Amy started painting the balusters on the stairs.

The balusters and yellow pine risers will be Simply White (the white of all the trim in the house) and the treads, newel post, and banisters will be stained English Chestnut. I looked at a lot of stains and none of them seemed to be right. Red Oak was too light; Mahogany too dark, Walnut almost black. I suspect the English Chestnut may be darker than I really wish for but my brain has decision fatigue.

Nick, Amy, and I planned the work for DH’s week of fundraising on the west coast. He leaves today. Starting tomorrow, while the stairs are being sanded, painted, stained, and varnished, I will take the dogs to the vet during the day and they and I will camp in the basement at night. With luck the stairs will be done by Friday evening.

I have had many thoughts about expenses and our finish date of June 30, but they are pointless and I shoo them away. We will be fine. The work will be done. That’s the important thing. Also, I haven’t been sleeping for the past couple of weeks and last night I finally got a good night’s rest. Everything looks brighter.

For all the hassles, we love our new home. I am so lucky.

Lucy is 20!

October 30, 2017

My baby is a sophomore in college and twenty years old today.

I tend to think of her as a bit younger. Maybe 5, as in the photo above snapped by DH with his Palm Pilot in 2003, showing us that she’s lost her first tooth. Or 7, snuggling in my lap on Christmas morning.

I miss my cuddly girl, but I’m very, very proud of the smart, kind, strong, dedicated, and extremely fast young woman she’s become.

Happy birthday, Lulubird!

Putting in Fence Posts

October 28, 2017

At the beginning of October, Damon and I began putting up fence posts for a sheep pen behind the barn.

I had bought all the materials at this time last year, but before we could start the project Damon had landed in the hospital for the first of many operations that culminated in him losing his leg just after Christmas. Depressed and in constant pain, he told me for many months that I would have to find someone else to do the job. “I’ll wait until you’re ready,” I always replied.

Now was the time. He was still in great discomfort but he was determined to work off some money he owed me.

My long-time dream has been to have a small hard-fenced area in which my lambs can safely go outside in late winter/early spring when snow has shorted the electric fences. A separate area alongside the main barn paddock would also be helpful at calving time, as a heavily pregnant cow could be within close sight of the rest of the herd but not disturbed by teenaged bulls. Finally, now that my land is stalked by a rogue coyote in broad daylight, a hard-fenced pen would keep my chickens and geese safe from harm.

As the wire panels are sixteen feet long, we spaced the treated posts on sixteen-foot centers. Naturally, this being my farm, as Damon dug each four-foot-deep hole we encountered plenty of big rocks.

Straddling giant holes with a roaring bucket at my shoulder is so deeply familiar; it always makes me happy. At one point a post slipped out of my hands and conked me on the head. “Goddamn it!” I yelled. I rarely swear. Damon said primly, “I am not accustomed to hearing such language!” His own speech is unprintable. We both laughed.

Some were boulders too big to move, so our line of 4x4s had to meander a bit.

The back line of posts was particularly wonky.

After three hours of work on the first afternoon, Damon was tired, in pain, and ready to be driven home. However he looked at the back line in disgust. “We’ll fix it tomorrow.” After I finished teaching the next day I picked him up in town and we buckled down again. The first thing he did was dig out the worst post. We reset it. The back line still isn’t straight, but it doesn’t wander quite so badly.

Then we continued around the other half of the future enclosure. Of course we found more rocks, most of which Damon buried.

We left one for the lambs to frolic on.

At last we were done. Here is Damon’s smile of satisfaction.

Yes, Damon’s smile can look a lot like a scowl. I was afraid of him for years before I realized that beneath the scowl and terrible language is a kind and generous person, almost as sweet as his father, Allen.

Early the next morning before work I spent an hour hurrying to re-set the electric fence around the posts so the cattle could be turned out.

And there the project has sat, stalled, for a month. I came down with a bad cold which developed into two weeks of bronchitis.

Damon called occasionally. “Got them panels up yet?”

“Damon, I’m very sick!”

A laugh. “I know, I’m just givin’ you shit.”

I am feeling pressed by the number of big projects I’m juggling (sheep pen, paneling the mudroom, building doors for the garden shed and sheep addition, planting replacement trees), most of which are time sensitive, not to mention continuing to unpack the house, moving the heavy piles of extra building supplies out of the reach of plows, plus the long list of work to button up the farm before winter. Deep bedding mucked out of both sheep stalls. Temporary fencing gathered and tied and stored. Summer water troughs collected. Shelters put away. Mowers parked under cover. Water heaters wired and taped. Hay deliveries stacked in the barn.

We are due for a week of rain, turning to snow by the end of the week. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

The answer, I know from experience, is to keep on doggedly forging ahead. Infinitesimal progress is still progress. I always remember Allen’s advice: “Don’t look up!”

My goal for the sheep pen is two panels a day.

Wind and Rain and Halloween

October 26, 2017

On Monday night rain started to sprinkle as I walked the dogs before bedtime. The wind began to build. Throughout the night I woke up to hear it whining in the unlatched house windows (still being painted). By morning the rain was a downpour and the wind a steady howl. Loose sheets of metal roofing cartwheeled across the driveway. Buckets flew and the wheelbarrow skidded away.

At chores I filled the hayracks and said to the sheep, “Sorry, kids, no going outside today.” The soaked cows were happy to come in to dry stalls and hay. The barn was shuddering in the wind and I had to work hard to close and latch the gate against the pull.

Our prevailing winds come from the west (“Old Mother Westwind,” I always think to myself, from a childhood reading Thornton Burgess) but this was a powerful east wind. I recall the old saying:  When the wind is in the east, ’tis neither good for man nor beast. Nor classroom teaching — at school I had to raise my voice to be heard over the wind slamming the big windows. By lunchtime the wind was blowing at 50 m.p.h.

After work I surveyed the damage. My first and oldest sheep shelter had been reduced to kindling. I’d known this was its last summer, as the untreated cross-bars had rotted. But now it was official.

The other two shelters had been blown down the field and almost through the pasture fence. A small fray in an old tarp had shredded in the wind until most of tarp was gone.

The last shelter was bedraggled but fine.

Still, one storm and a host of new chores for the to-do list.

*   *   * 

While I’ve loved living in my dream house, there has been one consistent problem: the fire alarm system. We’ve probably been jolted awake in the middle of the night by a mechanical woman’s voice screaming “Fire! Fire! Fire!” 20 times since July 1. The electrician has repeatedly inspected the system and it has been repeatedly declared fixed. Not long ago we had a second episode within a week and I’d had enough, writing to the electrician, “This is 19 times too many.” Dan came last weekend bearing a new unit to replace the alarm on the hall ceiling outside our bedroom. It was more expensive, he explained, but the good thing about it was its ten-year battery. We shouldn’t have to think about it for a decade. Great!

Yesterday at 2:15 AM — three days after installation — the fire alarm began chirping piercingly every twenty seconds: low battery. I got out of bed drearily. I considered finding a ladder to remove the alarm from the ceiling but I was groggy and afraid I might set off the screams of “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Perhaps DH could sleep through the chirping. I gathered the dogs and went to the basement. I couldn’t return to sleep but at least I could read where the drone of the dehumidifier drowned out the beeeeeeep! beeeeeeep! of the fire alarm.

When dawn finally arrived, my eyes were gritty and my head light. Barn chores took me two hours before work as I hauled the two surviving shelters out of the fence and re-set all the temporary netting, mucked the barn, watered the geese, turned the sheep out, and brought the cows in. I skipped a shower and for breakfast ate a piece of bread on my drive to school. Teaching four classes was a challenge. By the time I got home again and walked the dogs I felt like a zombie.

DH had to go to a Halloween party at school (the school always celebrates holidays on the Wednesday before the actual date) and I’d promised to make him a costume. I’d had an idea and had assembled my sewing kit. However now I had no time and no brain cells.

Luckily I had a stapler, safety pins, and duct tape. I got to work. In my exhaustion I made a slight error — thinking: DH’s head is much smaller than mine, I’d somehow made the cardboard hat only big enough for the head of Toby, our Cairn terrier — but after a few minutes of panic that was soon remedied.

He went to dinner as The Cat in the Hat. Here he is in the school kitchen thanking the staff before the meal. We didn’t get his black balaclava on or his whiskers painted. I never even had time to make him a tail.

“Tell them you’re a Manx,” I advised.

But my day was done and I could head to a hot bath.

Anniversary Shower

October 21, 2017

Boy! It’s been hectic! In the midst of the non-stop schedule, however, DH and I were able to drive to Vermont last Sunday for a beautiful anniversary luncheon thrown by Amanda’s mother, Judy, at the Trapp Family Lodge, where Jon and Amanda were married exactly one year ago.

The meal was festive. Judy made a delicious squash soup and served crusty bread. There was cider and champagne, and everyone had a slice of saved wedding cake. It was great to see everyone from the wedding and to reconnect with our great old friends, Jean and Jerry, whom we’ve loved and admired for over thirty years.

Since Jon and Amanda’s firstborn is due at Christmas, we celebrated the anniversary with a baby shower.

This child is destined to be very stylish, like Amanda.

Jon seemed a bit incredulous as he unwrapped some of the tiny items.

They also received almost all the classic children’s books — the baby will be well-dressed and well-read!

In my practical vein, we gave them a car seat. (The giant box had barely fit in our car and DH had helped me repair the slightly squashed wrapping paper in the parking lot before it was carried in.)

Too soon, we had to leave for the long drive home. Before departing we took a few family pictures:  DH, Amanda, Jon, Judy, and me…

… and: Jean, DH, Amanda, Jon, Judy, me, and Jerry. Jerry was head of the school where Jon and Amanda met at age 6.

A bright and happy day — thank you, Judy! — and I did my best to keep my germs from everyone. A week later, my cough is finally almost gone.


October 11, 2017

Fall apples and sheep.

Even sick, coughing and sneezing, rushing against a too long To-Do list, I am so grateful to be living on my farm at last. My heart lifts.

As it did last night. I was at school until 9:15 PM, showing my 8th grade history students an edited version of the film Twelve Years A Slave.

I show big-screen movies at night a dozen times a year, baking loaves of chocolate chip bread and spreading pillows on the carpeted floor of my classroom. It’s a lot of extra work every few weeks — baking, moving all the desks and chairs, showing the 2-3 hour film with pauses for explanations, then cleaning and restoring the room for another half hour — but I love to see the children make emotional connections to the material we’ve learned in class.

Last night as the students filed out after the film, they stepped over a piece of paper on the hall floor outside the doorway. I leaned down to pick it up.

I smiled. It clearly had been placed there by a ninth grader leaving his evening study hall. A 9th grader who was one of my heedless 8th grade history kids last year.

I love my job.

Who cares about coughing and to-do lists?  I am so lucky.

Radio Silence

October 8, 2017

I apologize for the dearth of posts. A lot is going on and some progress is being made on the house and on the farm, but mostly I am aware of the horrible cold that has my head stuffed and my nose raw as I go through the days coughing and sneezing. And not sleeping.

More anon.