Happy Geese

August 30, 2018

I currently have few brain cells to rub together, but I share this photo of my geese, John Adams, Abigail, and Grandma Kay. Each to his own bath, refilled fresh daily. With a step to make it easier to get in.

Yep, I indulge my animals.

Still, in their minds it barely makes up for the indignity of being fenced close to the barn to keep them safe from the coyote.

Summer is Over

August 29, 2018

Today I report for meetings to start my new school year. Given DH’s impending retirement, it may be my last year at this school I’ve been part of for thirty-five years. Though the uncertainty is wearing I try not to focus on it. I do, however, read the slate of jobs delivered to my email every day. Since we live in a tourist town, there are lots of openings for line cooks, hotel housekeepers, and laundry managers. I am willing to turn my hand to anything but none of the prospects feel as fun as teaching U.S. history to 45 twelve to fourteen year olds. Ah, well.

Yesterday I was in Burlington for a cardiology appointment. Driving down Route 2 with traffic lights, cars jammed, and trucks dieseling, I realized again how very lucky I am to spend so much of my life on my farm where crickets jump away from my boots as I walk through the grass of the pasture. Burlington is a tiny, very manageable city and I still felt oppressed. However, I had a happy lunch with a friend and a positive stress test with the cardiologist.

Summer is over. I accomplished maybe a quarter of the items on my summer list. However, in my world such things simply carry over. Particularly tough chores have been known to sit on my list for several years before I can cross them off. On the ferry, I made notes for a new iteration: the Fall 2018 To-Do List.

I’ll start on it after work today.

Marching through the Week

August 28, 2018

Yesterday I drove Lucy to college and carried her things into her new dorm. Her room is worn but decent and slightly larger than usual, so required no sleight of hand with furniture to make things fit. That was lucky because I was so tired that I forgot the bag of tools that I usually bring to engineer a workable situation.

It turned out that the slaughterhouse is closed on Mondays so I will need to make another four-hour trip later this week to pick up the meat. Today I have to go to Vermont for a cardiology appointment. Tomorrow meetings start for my school year.

Last night another hot and humid front blew in. At 1 AM doors were slamming, the gas grill skittered across the deck, metal stovepipe stored on the front porch for months rolled around, rattling ominously. Half asleep, barefoot in pajamas, I made my way downstairs, unhooked the hammock and used it to tie the grill to the balusters, and dropped a blanket over the stovepipe. It was an hour or two before I got back to sleep again. As I lay in bed, my mind raced.

A lot going on this week — many chores to accomplish as the time gets shorter. The need to make another long drive for the meat is a blow. Someone is coming after work tomorrow to buy a ram; but before I can bring the sheep in to sort out the ram lambs, I have to take down the anti-coyote fencing in front of the barn. Yesterday I was scribbling a list on the back of a receipt at the gas station. Today I will make a clearer list while on the ferry.

I can get most of it done if I don’t panic and just keep marching through week.

Toiling On

August 27, 2018

Note to self: when you’re feeling a little melancholy, dealing with stacks of bursting boxes and bags of your unsorted past will not cheer you. On the other hand, it has to be done.

Yesterday when my mind whimpered, But I’m tired! I told it: Shut up, mind.

I mucked the barn, brought the cows in, filled the goose water, moved the sheep fencing, filled the sheep water, took trash to the local recycling, spread manure, and then worked for hours in the garage and basement. For a mental break I drove into town and did the grocery shopping before barn chores and cooking dinner.

It’s hard to see much improvement when you glance into either the garage or the basement, both of which look as higgledy-piggledy as ever, but there is now a plan. I will eventually get it all sorted and dealt with.

It appears we’ve never thrown anything away, much less held a yard sale. No one needs fifty plastic containers and their lids… or half a set of Great Aunt Edith’s china… or horse show ribbons from when I was sixteen… or every art project the children have ever made. I have Jon’s tetherball from age twelve. His boogie board. His ski boots. A pair of runner sleds. Lucy has even kept all her spiral notebooks from school — every single year.

I’ve decided my goal is to finish the basement by Christmas and the garage by next June. I foresee many trips to the dump in my future.

Today I drive Lucy to college and then drive to pick up beef for customers.

One Down

August 25, 2018

Got the basement sheetrocking done yesterday — or at least as much as I need to finish for now. There is still three sheets’ worth of wall that is inaccessible behind stacked materials. However, the plumber can now return at any time. A great relief to cross off that big chore.

Today I have to take everything out of the garage and restack it. Both bays of the garage, and 1/4 of the basement, are stacked with stuff that I never had a chance to sort when I moved us after 16 years. It was such a time of stress, I just threw everything into boxes and trucked it. I’m going to try to pull things out, weed a bit (just the obvious… books ruined by flooded storage), and consolidate. The real weeding will come later.

My dream is to get everything in the garage into one bay, but even that won’t happen today. Many of the items are too big for me to move alone (freezer, wood cookstove, giant desk) but I’ll do my best. I have to plug in the freezer in order to pick up beef on Monday.

DH has been working long days at an alumni reunion. I go over in the evenings for cocktails and dinner. So many people in their thirties and forties whom we remember as children! This is DH’s last reunion as head. A lot of nostalgia.

Melancholy creeps in to tug at my elbow but I keep busy with my list.

Looking Ahead

August 24, 2018

It is dark at 5 AM now. Most of our song birds have left. The fields are turning brown. The summer is nearly over. Meanwhile with DH’s looming retirement next June, there is a lot of looking back. I am feeling nostalgic… and old. It is also becoming clear that my job will likely end when his does. I know endings make way for new beginnings, but as I look ahead I am uncertain and a bit wobbly. I applied for a part-time job this week (to supplement my teaching this year) and did not get it.

How lucky I am to have so much physical, tiring work to keep my hands busy and brain occupied!

While I was away in Connecticut the cows indeed turned up their noses at the poor hay I had bought with such struggle, and went through the fences in search of grass. Lucy was a resourceful cattle wrangler and kept them contained in the south field until I returned. On Monday I enticed them back to the barn, and then weedwhacked the blackberries that had shorted the barn paddock fence. Halfway through the job, the shaft of the weedwhacker snapped. “This weedwhacker is not meant for blackberries,” said the man at the Stihl dealership as he replaced the shaft. To get the cows out on the back field again I have about five more hours of weedwhacking ahead —mostly raspberries. I’m crossing my fingers.

The sheep must be moved every day.

I have to finish sheetrocking the basement for the plumber; I’ve put up nailers on the concrete wall but each sheet of drywall must be cut to fit and coaxed into place.

I have to finish repairs for my tenant.

I have to clean out one bay of our garage and set up a freezer.

I have to arrange a hay delivery.

Monday I drive Lucy to college and pick up beef at the slaughterhouse.

Tuesday I go to Vermont for a cardiology appointment.

Wednesday I start my school year.

I haven’t had time to mow for a fortnight, and not only is the place shaggy with weeds but I miss the peaceful hours. Maybe in another week. This one is already full.

Ready, set, go!

Lung Surgery for Our Baby

August 21, 2018

Last Wednesday I was not able to leave the north country until almost 6 PM, and didn’t reach Connecticut until 10. Nevertheless, Jon, Amanda, Ami, and Judy (Amanda’s mother) were all still awake. Amanda had organized and packed everything for the hospital stay like a field marshal, and now they were attempting to keep Ami awake and feed her solids until the last moment she could have anything by mouth. Amanda set an alarm for a final nursing at 3 AM.

We rose early Thursday morning, drove to the city, and had checked into the children’s hospital by 7. Judy would mind the fort and the animals at home.

Jon and Amanda were called into the pre-op with Ami, and I settled into the family waiting room to wait. After an hour, they joined me. It was a long, long day. The surgery began at 8:30 AM and was finished slightly after 1 PM. Ami was on the operating table under general anesthesia for almost five hours. She would be in recovery for another two.

It turned out that the non-malignant mass was inside the lower lobe of the lung, not outside, and had numerous large feeder veins. The doctor had had no choice but to remove the entire lobe, and it was difficult, delicate work to close off all the feeders.

Amanda and Jon were finally allowed in to see Ami. She looked like a limp rag doll.

It was nearly 4 PM when we were allowed to go to a private room. The nurse pushed Ami in the rolling crib, Jon and Amanda brought bags and stroller, and I pulled the giant suitcase. As we made our way to the 8th floor, the crib bumped over joints in the flooring and in and out of the elevator. Ami opened her eyes in confusion. She was “on planet Morphine,” Amanda joked, but even then Ami did not cry. Her lips wobbled as if she were trying to smile but was too tired and bewildered.

At last she was in her own room. The surgeon had warned Jon and Amanda it might be a four-day stay. They would stay with her, sleeping in a chair and on a cot beside her. I would drive back and forth to the city to deliver meals cooked by Judy.

Amanda changed Ami into her own clothes (homemade hospital gowns with shoulder snaps) with her own blanket and stuffed toys. The first night she mostly slept off the morphine.

Nursing was difficult and painful for Ami, with the chest tube and so many other wires and monitors, but Amanda managed it. It took both parents to lift Ami out of the crib and keep everything safely untangled.

When awake, at first Ami was so groggy she just wanted to watch Sesame Street. Jon held the screen.

However, by morning when I arrived with coffee, Ami was already looking more like her normal self…

… despite all the wires and tubes.

She had yogurt for breakfast…

… and opened her mouth like an eager baby bird for some mashed black beans.

I would bring Judy to the hospital in the evenings. Judy broke her back this spring and is not yet back to full strength. Ami gave the typical Ami beam of delight when she saw her.

Now Ami was alert enough to be distracted by the television on the wall. The only thing that soothed her was the movie Zootopia. The film played on a loop almost 24/7.

Jon and Amanda may never be able to see it again without a shudder.

Gradually as the days passed Ami was weaned off machines and monitors and IVs, one by one. The most painful, the chest tube, was finally removed Saturday afternoon. Daddy was happy to be able to hold his baby girl again.

All Saturday as we waited for this crucial milestone, I had been working at the house. Judy and I had bought Jon a used basketball hoop early in the summer and I had brought a bag of tools to Connecticut to put it together. The directions said assembly required two people but I had dismissed that. I stood on a ladder all day, sweating in the humidity, then being drenched in a downpour. Judy went out for a couple of hours and returned to exclaim, “Are you still on that ladder?”

When Jon called in the late afternoon to say they were being discharged, I changed into dry clothes and drove into Hartford to pick them up. After things settled down again, I got Jon to help me with the last two steps (lifting the backboard into place does require two people) and we tightened the last bolts just before dark.

I’m not sure why I fixated on the basketball hoop at such a stressful time. Perhaps it was just that it was something tangible I could accomplish when everything else was out of my control.

Ami is home. The scary surgery is now safely in our rear-view mirror. Hooray! Though more complicated than we hoped, it was a complete success. The incisions are healing and she will be checked in a month. The remaining upper lobe of the lung should expand to fill the space in her chest and she is expected to have perfectly normal breathing capacity. We could not ask for more.

Though tense and frightening, this time was also in many ways a blessing. I was able to watch Jon and Amanda as a strong team and as devoted, indefatigable parents. Judy and I had dinners out each night after leaving the hospital and enjoyed long conversations. And I got to know my granddaughter, Ami, who even in these less than ideal circumstances proved to be one of the sunniest babies I’ve ever encountered.

Thank you, God!