Back on Track

November 30, 2017

Early yesterday morning I turned out the cows, mucked the stalls, and then moved the sheep into Moxie’s stall for worming. Moxie’s stall has enough tight angles to make it easier for me to crowd the sheep to the wall to get the medicine down their throats. Still, easier does not mean easy, and I was smeared with manure by the time the job was done. After turning the sheep out and jumping in the shower I was off to teach.

After work I cut back all the perennials in the apartment garden (only three months late! — I was shaking snow off the dead fronds) and replaced the path’s solar lights for my tenant.

Next Damon arrived to work on the tractor. It has a flat tire. The tire is old, probably original to the machine (thirty years). The rubber is severely weather-checked. Damon had brought two air tanks but we could hear the air leaking out almost as fast as he pumped it in. Still, he was able to fatten the tire just enough to spend twenty minutes pushing back my manure pile. Cleaning the deep bedding out of just one of the two sheep stalls had caused the pile to creep ominously toward the barn. It smoked and steamed in the cold as Damon stacked it hurriedly before the big back tire went flat again.

Because I use waste hay for bedding, my manure pile has the potential to be prime fertilizer for my fields. Maybe someday I’ll be able to create a covered space so the nutrients can be best conserved. For now, I am happy to look out of the hayloft and see the tons of heavy wet material pushed into a reasonably tidy heap.

It also felt great last night to be able to cross three things off my list.

This morning, farmers from Maine are arriving at 7:30 AM to buy four of my teenaged ewe lambs to add to their flock. I’m writing a bill of sale before I prep for my classes and then will head down the hill to turn out the cows, muck the barn, and sort out the lambs into another stall before I turn out the sheep. Once the farmers are gone, I will change quickly and drive to work.

A busy day. I’m back on track.


November 29, 2017

Last night DH was out working until 9 PM. Apart from barn chores, running into town to pick up meds, and walking the dogs, I had about four free hours. In my life of hurry, this is unbelievable bounty. There are projects and pressing chores everywhere I turn. I could have gotten so much done.

For some reason, however, I did nothing. I have a million tricks to stay disciplined and keep myself on task. I tried none of them. I just turned on the stove and read in front of the fire with the dogs at my feet. Except for a few minutes before falling asleep, I rarely have time to read for pleasure these days. It was cozy.

Today, however, as I look at the list of all the projects waiting to be tackled, messes to be dealt with, and term reports to be written, I am rueful. I have reader’s remorse.

Working on My Office

November 28, 2017

Between other projects I’m slowly trying to set up my office. I spend my work life with books and paper and if I don’t have a system I soon become buried in disheveled stacks. Last June I swept all my scattered files into boxes; half a dozen are still waiting to be unpacked.

I designed this office to suit me. It’s 8′ x 12′. I have four short filing cabinets and one tall one, five floor-to-ceiling bookcases (they were our living room bookcases for many years), and a big birch door desk and swivel chair. I have a window that looks out on the front porch and north field (— and thankfully, no longer a 6×6 porch post). I know I will love this cozy space, and when I get it finished I will share some photos.

Meanwhile in my spare time I am trying to start a major writing project.  Plotting is difficult for me.  As with higher math, my brain can do the work but resists the discipline. To help me find the arc of the story, I want to move around index cards on a wall. Thus I was searching for a big bulletin board. When I looked in the obvious places I discovered that cork bulletin boards are both expensive and almost always poorly reviewed.

I picked up a $25 piece of homasote and cut it to fit my space.

Homasote is an excellent product but it grey and rough and not very attractive. I have an inexpensive roll of burlap. I wrapped the homasote in burlap and stapled it tightly.

Balancing the 4′ x 5′ board on stacks of books, I maneuvered it into position and drilled it into the studs.

Voilà. It’s not perfect but it’s clean and neat and functional, all I require. Soon I will probably cut and wrap the remaining piece to continue the bulletin board around the corner. And someday I will find another scrap of door to continue the desk over the last cabinets to the wall. (Right now I’m using a piece of last summer’s temporary kitchen counter top.)

Little by little.

Back to School

November 27, 2017

It is snowing this morning. We have two or three inches of fresh powder. When I walked the dogs in the dark in my coat, boots, and bathrobe, there were coyote tracks down the center of the driveway leading to the barn. That rascal! However, the animals are safe behind the big doors. I could hear Ambrose trying out his reedy teenaged crow inside.

Vacation is over. I worked as hard as I could but only accomplished 20 of the 78 items on my list. Still, the storage unit is cleaned out, the lawn tractors, horse trailer, and sheep fences are all put away. The upstairs window screens have been taken down, dried of ice, and carried to the attic. Yesterday I worked for another few hours on the mudroom paneling (cutting boards on the porch in blowing snow at a windchill of 3°F was slow work). Last night by dinner time I had finished mucking deep bedding out of the main sheep stall.

Everything else will have to roll over to a new list. It’s time to turn my thoughts to the robber barons in 8th grade and Sir Walter Raleigh and John Smith in 7th.

In the meantime DH and I continue to enjoy our propane stove. He is currently reading the paper on his iPad in a rocking chair in front of the fire. I made many mistakes designing and purchasing for this house, but the stove is a solid success. After years of heating with wood, push-button flames and instant coziness seem a stunning luxury. DH has many little jokes. “We need some more kindling.” “I guess I’ll close the damper now.” “Do we have any matches?” “I suppose it’s time to bank the coals.” They all make me happy.

I’m sure someday the miracle will feel old, but not for a while.


Starting to Panel

November 26, 2017

Yesterday after a last sad trip to the dump with ruined items from our storage, I was finally able to start paneling the mudroom with tongue and groove pine.

Though it’s true that I’ve been fiendishly busy with other projects, it’s also true that I’ve had a bit of avoidance going on. I am always nervous using new skills. Power tools are like math to me. I can memorize and know math for a test. Then it vanishes completely from my mind. The same is true for power tools.

I own a giant 65-gallon air compressor; Damon traded it to me years ago in lieu of some money he owed me. The compressor comes up to my breastbone. It’s much bigger than I need, very heavy and unwieldy. Looking at its dusty dials I had zero memory of how it worked and a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the summer when I thought I was going to be paneling the mudroom at any moment, I’d bought an inexpensive, no-name-brand finish nailer. I didn’t know how that worked either.

In the latter case, I could draw on memories of my father. Whenever we worked on projects, unlike all the male stereotypes, Dad always patiently unfolded and read directions. With Dad mentally at my side, I sat down, read the directions, and loaded the nail gun.

There were no directions for the compressor. I called Damon. He was on the road and the connection was bad. He has used compressors since he was a child. He couldn’t remember exactly how this particular one worked but if I had any trouble he could stop by on his way home.

I turned on the compressor. It roared to noisy life and I watched in alarm as the pressure rose to 125 psi. (The small gun required +/- 100 psi.) I turned off the compressor hurriedly and called Damon again. He told me to check the regulator.

“Which of the two dials is the regulator?” I asked.

“The regulator is the regulator! It regulates the pressure!”

“Okay,” I said, staring hopelessly at the compressor, understanding the words but, as usual, nothing about the machinery. “I’ll try again.”

I went to turn back on the compressor. Nothing happened. Click. Click.

I called Damon again. “Now it won’t even turn on.”

He could not hear me through the crackling on the connection. I hung up, defeated. No paneling today.

Then I had a brainwave. I hate this giant compressor, I thought. I’ll buy a little one! And it will come with directions!

All my builders have had small Porter-Cable compressors (called ‘pancake’ compressors because they are squat to the ground). They must be good. And they were on sale at the farm store, Tractor Supply. $99 but it will last the rest of my life and be worth it to never have to deal with this monster again!

I drove to Tractor Supply and located a clerk. “Can you tell me where to find your pancake compressors?”

His brows knit. “We don’t sell anything to do with pancakes!”

When the confusion cleared, it turned out the store didn’t have a single small compressor in stock.

Oh, well. I am sadly accustomed to changed plans due to malfunctioning equipment. Back at home, I was onto my next chore when the door opened and Damon limped in. “What’cha done now?” He worked on the compressor for five minutes, explaining the controls and dials in his usual impatient growl. Of course the compressor worked perfectly. “I knew you’d fucked it up!” he said, laughing, as he went out the door. Damon has rough language but he is a true friend.

I started paneling in the northwest corner of the room, between the woodstove and the wall. I figured this area would not only use up a lot of short pieces but be an excellent place to practice with the nail gun, as there will be a chopping block in front of it to hide any mistakes.

Sure enough, I made a few, but after I got the hang of the gun the work went quickly.

I cut holes for the outlet boxes with my jigsaw…

… and didn’t worry that some of the boards were slightly short because I knew they would be overlapped by panel boards from the north wall.

Of course, speaking of those north wall boards — given my lack of spatial awareness, it didn’t occur to me until I was nearly finished with the section that the nailer on that wall was not plumb, and thus I should have paneled the north wall first. Now, though it might be said that at the bottom of the course I had just enough nailer left over to catch the ends of the north wall boards…

… at the top, because the nailer is not straight, my west wall boards were nearly flush.

I stopped to make dinner. Today I will rip a 2×4 to add another nailer. Next time I’ll know to scout the nailing surfaces and plan ahead.

Of course, if I have to panel anything a few years from now, I’ll have forgotten again.

Working Steadily

November 25, 2017

Pushing through chores for eight or nine hours a day, I’ve been slowly whittling down my “Vacation To-Do List.” I am getting things done. The storage unit is now empty. Three-quarters of the deep bedding in the sheep stall has been pried up and carried out. The horse trailer is under cover for the winter, as are the lawn tractors. The summer water troughs and temporary fencing are neatly stored.

The problem is that most of the work is invisible. You don’t drive into the farm and tell yourself, “Great job getting the lawnmowers put away!” Or, “Fabulous twenty hours sorting moldy books!”

Every job also takes a long time. Yesterday I spent ninety minutes rolling and tying all my sheep nets. Years ago I had invented a rack for my old truck so I could drive around the fields and roll the fences as I picked them up. That truck finally went for scrap metal. This year I’d dug the fences out of the snow and they’d landed in a spiky snarl inside the barn doorway. Yesterday I took apart the fence rack, screwed it into the barn door, and painstakingly untangled each fence. To do so, I hooked one end of each net on the rack and then laid out it for its 154-foot length, walking it all the way into the pasture. Then I walked its length again, straightening and untangling. Then back again, carefully picking up each post. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. I was reminded of the Boston rope walk in 1770. Imagine doing such tedious work all day long, every day. I’d be ready to provoke the Boston Massacre, too.

Students return to school tomorrow.  Vacation is nearly over. Today I’m going to spend two hours finishing the deep bedding. Then two hours cleaning and organizing the house. Then an hour driving to the dump with a last heavy load of ruined items, and grocery shopping.

After that I’m going to try to start paneling the mudroom. All the work I’ve done has been necessary and I’m happy to have it finished, but I’m yearning to make some visible progress.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 23, 2017

Our neighbor Sue took this picture of dawn coming up on the mountains this morning. DH and I are alone this Thanksgiving, as Lucy is in Canada with her college ski team and Jon and Amanda are in Connecticut.

This has been and continues to be a year with a lot of stress for DH on the work front, and considerable sweat for me on the home front. However, we and all our loved ones are healthy, and, despite its being unfinished, we are in our new home on the farm! I am very grateful.

Thank you, God!

Back in the Saddle

November 22, 2017

After losing a day to a vicious but short-lived intestinal flu, yesterday I was able to work all day long, slowly and steadily. It was very satisfying. Above is my white hen, Yuki (I have no idea of her breed; she was a rescue) investigating the floor of the quarter of the sheep stall I had mucked deep bedding out of.

This bedding should have been mucked out at the beginning of last summer — i.e. when I was busy moving house. Now it is 14 inches thick, wet, dense, and stinking. I use a pick-axe and a pitchfork, and gradually peel off hat, jacket, and fleeces as I sweat. The load is so heavy I can barely keep the wheelbarrow upright to roll it out of the barn.  It is slow work. To finish the entire stall will take 8-9 hours. I’m tackling it in two-hour chunks.

It’s a terrible job but I am relieved to have started. I lack confidence in many areas but I do have faith that once started on deep bedding in a stall, I will finish. (The lamb stall and the sheep addition are also on my list for this vacation — another 12+ hours of work. Given everything else I’m trying to get done, those two may have to wait for Christmas break.) Once this stall is finished, I will worm the sheep and trim their hooves.

Yesterday I also paid bills, spent a first hour unpacking my office, dug the compressor out of the garage, found our winter boots, went grocery shopping, picked up my repaired horse trailer from Mike, put the trailer away for the winter in my neighbor’s barn, got one of my recalcitrant mowers started, and moved 4×8 sheets of sheetrock off the porch out of the weather.

Somehow the day was so heartening that I suddenly realized: I can do it. Yes, there is awful mess everywhere I look but the overwhelming snarl is becoming thinner. I will eventually prevail.

“I’m really happy,” I told DH when I came inside to wash up and fix supper. “I only wish I had two hundred hours to get everything done.”

We Made It!

November 20, 2017

I hadn’t slept after midnight and by yesterday afternoon was so tired I went to bed right after supper. However, we made it through. DH and I are on vacation.

I seem to be coming down with something but I am resolutely trying to ignore it. After so much anticipation, I cannot be sick this week.

It is 15° F, lightly snowing, and windy today with a windchill of 3°. DH and I had our coffee and tea sitting by a fire in the living room stove. After years of heating with wood stoves, I had been troubled by the “fakery” of propane. However, to be able to push a button and immediately settle down with a mug next to dancing flames with no fuss or mess seems miraculous.

“I know it’s fake,” I said, sipping my coffee. “But I think we’ll really enjoy it when we’re old.”

“I am old,” said DH comfortably. “I already enjoy it.”

  *   *  *

Postscript. It turns out DH is not on vacation. However, his hours will be shorter, he will have time for exercise each day, and we can have dinner together every night. That almost feels like vacation.

Let’s Be Reasonable

November 19, 2017

Rushing through the days, I’ve been daydreaming about my upcoming vacation. A week off! What an opportunity to get things done! Naturally, I’ve been making a mental list.

Be reasonable, I cautioned myself. Make a small list, maybe six things that I can actually finish. Panel the mudroom. Build the sheep paddock. Clean up everything for winter. Muck the deep bedding out of the sheep stall. Plus one or two others.

Of course, when I actually wrote the list, there were 78 chores on it. Thus I decided I would make the “must-do” items bold and red. There were 18 of those. Clearly it’s not my nature to be reasonable.

Yesterday’s parent day was grueling, after a long and grueling week. Today will be easier and will be done by 2 PM.

I am ready for the finish line.