Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2018

Jon, Amanda, and our granddaughter Ami have been here for the holiday. This photo cracks me up. At eleven months, Ami rarely scowls, but she had just waked up from a nap and was not excited by the photo op. Nor by that day’s below zero temperatures.

It had snowed on and off Wednesday with high winds while we all were traveling. (I had to go to Vermont for the dentist and the kids were driving up from Connecticut.)

However on Thanksgiving day itself, dawning at 2° F, the clouds slowly began to clear. I got up early to have coffee and start baking pecan pies at 6 AM. Soon the whole wheat buttermilk rolls were rising. The pies came out of the oven and as the rolls baked, the sweet potatoes were boiled and mashed. Next the turkey went in to start roasting while I chopped onions and celery for the stuffing. Most of these items had vegan twins so I was watching the clock and my list, crossing my fingers that I could shepherd it all in and out of the single oven to be ready at the same time. It worked! I tossed a big salad — putting the romaine aside for the chickens! — and at 2 PM we all sat down to a casual, fun feast.

Lucy was at a college ski camp in Canada, so it was Jon, Amanda, Ami, DH, me, and our friend Mike around the table. Despite missing Lucy, I felt very happy.  Our first family Thanksgiving at the farm!

Friday was clear and 12° below zero. All the views were lovely (including this one, shot by DH from our bedroom window). The sun has put in an appearance so rarely this fall that one could hardly quibble that the temperature was a bit nippy for November.

The star of the holiday, however, was Ami. We all doted on her for three days straight. So fun to wake up in the chill of the morning to a baby.

Our dogs were fascinated by her noises. Maybe she was a giant squeaky toy! To keep her safe from their boisterous enthusiasm we set up her portable playpen in the living room.

Grandpa and Ami.


Ami was willing to come to me for short periods. Here she’s inspecting my watch.

Currently she tests most items for edibility.

Though Amanda brought a number of freezable teething toys, Ami was most fascinated by a giant ripe pear.

She worked at it with dedication on and off all that day.

Here’s Jon reading Ami a bedtime story. (The E. H. Shepard Winnie the Pooh print on the wall behind them hung in Jon’s — and then Lucy’s — childhood bedroom. It was later water-damaged in storage but I can’t find another copy, so for now I accept the wrinkles.)

This morning Jon took this video of me cackling and Ami squeaking — shared laughter.

The only unhappy moment in this wonderful visit was saying goodbye. Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Tough Day

November 11, 2018

I wrote this entry ten days ago, but then a tsunami of work for my job swept over me before I could post it.

On Friday I had a parent conference after school so I was late getting to barn chores. With snow in the forecast I was determined to finish removing the final load of bedding from the inner sheep stall, dump it in the back field, and return Larry’s trailer before it was snowed in at my farm for the winter.

At last! Bare floor! Last year I had covered the sheep stall with rubber mats in an effort to make mucking easier. I’m not sure anything makes prying out the heavy, foot-deep bedding easier, but it is satisfying to see the rubber again.

Since the mats trap urine, I cover them with a thick layer of shavings.

Because shavings are problematic for fleeces, I then cover the shavings with mulch hay.

This rich mix of hay, manure, and urine is hard to remove but a tonic for my fields.

Yesterday morning Larry arrived at 7:30 to pick up his trailer. I showed him the pile of gravel on top of my septic tank. “You need to get that moved right away!” he exclaimed. I agreed glumly. He tried the key of my tractor. “Dead!” He scolded me for not having built a garage for it. “Just sittin’ here rustin’ and losin’ value.”

I could feel tears behind my eyes but I nodded and thanked him for the use of his trailer.

After Larry left I called Damon, who did not answer. As I fed the cows I’d had a brainwave. I was trying to remember the last name of Leon, an older gentleman who worked for me briefly years ago when Allen was sick. Maybe if I could get the tractor started, Leon could move the gravel off the septic tank. I called Mike, who was planning to help me drain all my mowers for the season. Mike couldn’t remember Leon’s last name either.

I told Mike about the septic problem and the non-starting tractor. Mike is a small engine man, not a heavy equipment operator, but he’s a friend. “Sis, I’ll do whatever I can.” We agreed to meet at 11. I drove to town for groceries, eating a sandwich for breakfast as I drove. I stopped at the carpet store. A man had been supposed to come to measure our stairs for an estimate on installing a carpet runner, and naturally had never showed. (At this point I am surprised when anyone does arrive.) I made a new appointment, picked up groceries, and brought them home.

Mike came and together we addressed the tractor. It would turn over but would not catch. “She’s tryin’,” Mike observed, mystified, “but she’s not gettin’ fuel!” I looked at the innards of the engine and had no idea what could be wrong.

We abandoned the tractor and moved on to draining all the mowers. Mike left and I called Damon again. Still no answer. I left him a message about the fuel line mystery.

It seemed there was nothing to do but begin moving the gravel with a shovel. Earlier, on hearing of the gravel crisis, my wonderful friends Alison and Tom had volunteered to help, but I had been sure that Mike and I could start the tractor so I had thanked them and declined.

First I had to cover the basement window. The last thing I wanted to do was accidentally break the glass. I found a heavy scrap of 3/4″ plywood at the barn and, fighting a high wind, screwed it in. It immediately blew off. I caught it and screwed it in again all the way around.

Next there was the problem of the stairs. In 2017 the builder had installed a set of temporary porch stairs, cut down from interior construction stairs, to meet code for our inspection. The plan had been that he would build permanent stairs later. (That job has moved to my list.) But now the temporary stairs were not only in my way for moving gravel, but partially buried under the stone.

Even when I unscrewed all the supports, the stairs would not budge. I trudged through the rising wind to get my sledgehammer from the garden shed. After a dozen crashing swings at the stairs, the old sledgehammer broke in half — and still the stairs were stuck. By this time I was so discouraged, I simply picked up the heavy head of the sledgehammer in my gloves and used it like a primitive stone tool. After ten minutes of bashing and pulling and digging, at last the stairs were out of the way.

I was cold and wet and the wind was starting to howl. I went inside for dry boots and gloves. Damon called. No fuel to the tractor? “Did Mike push the fuckin’ throttle forward?” “Oh, dear,” I said, defeated. Could he come out?

No, his back was hurting, the weather was terrible. “Can’t use it anyway. Pushin’ it off, your tractor would be on the tank same time as the stone.”

“Oh, right, OK.” My voice was starting to tremble. “Thanks anyway.”

I hung up and went back to my shovel. Looking at the stone, it occurred to me belatedly that the giant pile completely blocked the expensive drainage I’d paid to have sculpted in 2017. If I did not move it, the basement would flood again.

I rarely cry when I’m alone but I do find my breath coming in strange tearless sobs. I began shoveling. The whipping wind blew stinging snow in my face and flattened my coveralls against my legs. My bad elbow protested with every heavy load. I could not use my bad leg to force the shovel into the pile, so I tried to perfect a skimming technique over the surface of the stones.

In a couple of hours I had the area under the window covered with a scant two inches of stone.

It needed another inch. The other 9/10 of the 20-ton pile had been meant for other projects around the farm. I had planned to have it dumped where Damon could reach it next summer to repair the driveway, line our culvert entries and exits, build up wet spots in the barn paddock, etc. Not sitting on my septic tank, breaking my septic system, blocking my drainage, and flooding my basement!

My nose was running in the cold and I was still shoveling hopelessly when Damon’s truck drove in through the wind and snow. He drove down past the barn and up around the house. He rolled down his window and nodded at the stone.

“Right on the fuckin’ tank! I’m surprised he didn’t fall in, backin’ over it!”

It was such a relief to see his gruff, unshaven face, to know someone smart was going to help me problem-solve, that now the tears came to my eyes. I put down my shovel. “Damon, thank you so much for coming out! I’ve been pretty close to losing it.”

“I noticed.”

“It’s blocking my drainage! The basement will flood again!”

He nodded again. “Yup. Fuckin’ stupid bastard.”

We discussed what to do. It would require an excavator to shift the stone. Damon no longer owned a trailer so we could not use his machine. He had a friend I might be able to hire. But really the excavation company should do it. They had caused the problem. I should call and be tough.

With that settled, “Let’s go start the tractor.” At the barn, Damon limped over to the tractor and pulled himself up. He shifted levers, turned the key, and the tractor coughed to life. He flashed me a sardonic smile. So much for Larry and Mike!

He drove off in the dark. I did barn chores, exhausted and aching in every joint.

I called the excavation company. No answer. I felt defeated, but Alison told me firmly, “Call him again.” This time the owner answered. He was at a hockey game. “What do you expect me to do?” It was almost a whine.

I told him that he needed to bring an excavator and move the stone. Though it wouldn’t be ideal for my purposes, he could park the excavator next to the pile and simply pivot the bucket to drop it on the other side, making a new pile uphill, off the tank. He said he would meet me at 2 PM on Monday to take a look at the problem.

Now I still had to deal with our well issue. After canceling twice, the well man had been supposed to come Friday but had emailed Friday morning to cancel again, saying he would “probably” be at our house Monday. The temperature was due to drop to 15° F. Unless I did something, the faulty switch would freeze again and we would be without water. Meanwhile, as we had talked in the blowing snow near the giant gravel pile, Damon had asked me about the pressure tank the man planned to install in our basement. “Does he know you got three separate water lines? I don’t think that’s gonna work.” What? Really?!? Another insurmountable problem? I felt near hysteria, except that I was too tired to cry. I begged Damon to speak to the well man and explain our underground pipes.

I came inside and called the well company. As it was Saturday night I could only leave messages. I trudged out again in the dark to wrap the well head in a heat tape, covered by a giant trash can. I buried the bottom of the can in snow to keep it from blowing away. I found scraps of boards to cover the lead cord that ran across my tenant’s walk so he wouldn’t trip over it.

By the time I was cooking dinner, I was in a slightly altered state. Though I was physically tired, my real exhaustion was mental. My ability to think seemed entirely gone. The well man called and agreed to talk to Damon. He called back half an hour later to assure me that everything would be fine and he’d be at our house Monday morning.

If the two contractors keep their word and show up, it appears that with the help of my friends, I may have found a solution to both overwhelming house problems. If they show up. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Last night I woke at 1:15 with another episode of atrial fibrillation. Too much anxiety, too little sleep. I’m fine now, just tired, but the school week ahead, ending with parent weekend, promises to be long.

NB: Made it to the finish line. I’ll update soon.

A Bit Overwhelmed

November 10, 2018

The painting above is of me searching for an honest workman.

The well company I hired to fix our well problem has given me changing stories about costs, rattling my confidence, and has not yet returned to do the work, currently priced at $1500 (from $800) and originally scheduled for last Monday, then Tuesday, then Friday. “Probably next Monday or Tuesday,” the man now writes. It is due to be 15°F tonight and tomorrow night, so undoubtedly the faulty pump switch (replaced this summer) will freeze again. I’m going into town today to buy a heat tape to wrap around the well casing. I hate to spend $35 but on the other hand I would happily pay $35 not to be without water for three days.

There is an outdoor outlet not far from the well, into which I could plug a line to the heat tape, but there is no power to that outlet. Of course not! The electrician said he would come back to do it in September. I will run multiple cords to the front of the garage.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 2017 I had hired an excavation contractor to do the grading around the house (something actually in my builder’s contract, but as we were already incurring fines from the bank for delaying the mortgage inspection, and as I was reshaping the front lawn, I covered the entire cost without comment). Before the excavation contractor left, he promised to return with a load of stone. You guessed it: he never returned. This fall I emailed his wife to ask if I could get that stone. She wrote that it would be delivered ten days ago, on Thursday or Friday. On both days I waited, fruitlessly.

When DH and I reached our hotel this Wednesday, I found two emails from the contractor’s wife. The first said that she was sorry for the delay, but it would be delivered this Thursday or Friday. Half an hour later, the second email said, actually, it would be delivered at 3 o’clock that day. That is, it had been delivered while I was away. I was beside myself, but with iron self-control I wrote to her politely, expressing my concern. She was airy in her response. She was sure it was fine.

I was equally sure it was not. I did not sleep that night, worrying.

Sure enough, the driver had driven the 20-ton load across our leach field. Thankfully, only 1/4 of the field. Still, the ruts are significant. (My gloves are there for scale.) Allen always told me never to allow anyone to drive on this section of lawn and I have been vigilant for ten years. It never occurred to me that anyone might come while I was not at home.

Then the driver dropped the heavy load directly on top of our septic tank.

This stone delivery is a huge new problem that I need to solve immediately. It is blowing snow and we are due to have winds of 50 mph this afternoon. My tractor is dead and Damon doesn’t feel well. I have shoveled at least 60 tons of gravel in my day, but I was younger then — and so was my bad elbow.

I am trying to stay calm, and think.


November 7, 2018

Look at our baby girl! I can’t wait for their visit in two weeks.

Things here have been hectic. No water in the house (after all my exultation, it turns out the summer repair of the well was deeply inadequate). Flat tires on the truck and the car. A thousand chores to get the farm ready for winter… Jump-starting all the frozen mowers and putting them away. Hay deliveries. Hundreds of wheelbarrows of deep bedding pushed out of the barn. Digging in a temporary walkway of leftover flagstones to keep our shoes out of the mud. Evening movies to show for my students. I have been working long hours outdoors in wind and rain and trying not to flinch as I hear the balls dropping anyway.

My bad knee and elbow are throbbing.

DH and I are going out of town this afternoon to an educator’s conference. We used to attend this conference together when our children were small. This will be our last hurrah; once he retires it is unlikely we will be staying in fancy hotels. So although it makes no sense to go away in this busy time, I’m scrambling to cover my classes and the farm for one day to go with him. I’m teaching double periods today so my students don’t fall behind tomorrow.

When we get back in 24 hours the well company will be here to install a new pressure tank and I can brainstorm how I, with my fear of heights, will climb an extension ladder to fix the faulty roof valley flashing that our builder had promised to repair. Though I’ve purchased the necessary materials, even if I screw up my nerve I’m not sure it will be able to happen as we are due to have snowstorms starting Friday.

As I always remind myself: sufficient unto the day are the worries thereof. I’ll think about it tomorrow!

In the meantime, the photo of our dear Ami makes me happy.

One Down, One to Go

November 4, 2018

Yesterday was cold and rainy, turning to snow by early afternoon (when I took these photos). By evening the wind was high.

I find it a little tough to stay disciplined when the landscape is so morose for weeks at a time. However, after three more hours of sweat I have finally finished mucking the deep bedding out of the inside sheep stall, wobbling with each heavy load up the icy planks into the dump trailer.

We shall see how far I can get with the big stall in the addition.

Between my bad elbow (and elbow braces), bad knee (and knee brace) and the swiftly freezing weather, I am not sanguine.

And I can’t even let myself think about all the other chores on the list.

Let It Go

November 3, 2018

It’s been a tough week. I wrote my builder a quick note of inquiry last Saturday when I discovered that he had come to the house while I was at work and removed all his scaffolding and ladders. These have sat here since last November, when he left promising to return in May to finish the work he had been paid for the previous June. In May he wrote an angry email and promised to return in August. At the end of August he returned briefly and promised to finish the rest of the work. At that time he told me to order $800 worth of brick. The brick is stacked on our porch.

He never came back.

We had house guests over the weekend, friends and teenagers in town for the memorial of my former student who died. The memorial was beautiful … and draining. We returned home exhausted.

At this low ebb, after more than a month of silence, I found an email from the builder. In the next six weeks, he would send me a couple of checks, covering what he considered the remaining work. (He appended a short list.) But he would not return.

He wrote, “I consider this a fair and honest resolution/closure to our contract,” and (bizarrely) reassured me, “I’m not upset.”

I was shocked.

As he left for a three-day business trip DH said patiently, “Just write, I look forward to receiving your checks.”

Even hot-tempered Damon growled over the phone, “Just write OK — or you won’t get fuckin’ nothin’.”

But I couldn’t get over my sense of betrayal. The list he provided, even without all the promised work already removed, still left out a number of items. I thought the real dollar amount was quite a bit more. I wrote him a short, polite note, stating that I was sorry he would not return and listing those items.

The next morning I received a long email, attacking me as self-centered, grasping, and ungrateful. How dare I bring up those items, when he had lost so much money on my job due to having to work around us? (Because he didn’t meet his finish date, a point he has consistently failed to note.) The personal viciousness of the email made me feel sick. After trashing my character, the email closed piously, “I will pray for you.”

I have never been able to cope with anger directed at me. What a fool I had been to reply! DH was gone and I felt shaky for days. I told myself to move on but I had to flog myself into putting one foot after another, walking the dogs, doing barn chores, teaching my classes. I did not sleep.

One afternoon I was mucking the barn when a confused yellow-shafted flicker flew in and then tried to hide by stuffing himself in a crevice behind a beam. I gently pulled him down. I “knew” the bird was a message from my late mother, who taught me about flickers so many years ago.

I carried the bird carefully outside — and then I let it go.

Today I’ll start moving the brick off the porch.