A Little Progress

November 13, 2017

Yesterday I worked for four hours to weedwhack the barn paddock fence to raise the charge so the sheep would be safely contained. Here they are, outside again at last.

It took me so long because my plastic weedwhacker blades, normally perfect for heavy raspberries and blackberries, were brittle in the cold and repeatedly snapped off after touching anything heavier than grass.

The cattle were fascinated by the sideshow. I had to shoo off Flora, my Angus, who followed at my heels bucking and corkscrewing in excitement. Though I did not believe she would hurt me, turning my back on eight hundred pounds of explosive energy felt a bit chancy.

Here is Red, my Shorthorn/Jersey bullock, investigating the weedwhacker when I stopped to replace broken blades.

Here is Flora. Her attention is invariably transfixed by food. The weedwhacker and I were indeed interesting but the hay much more so.

(See the chain on her neck? She is so shy I haven’t been able to get it off. This winter when I’m not so busy I will make it a priority to tame her and remove it.)

Finally … finally … I had the entire fence clear and a charge of 4000 volts. This should be enough. A perfect charge is 6000 but to get that I’d need to replace the worn lines. I will, eventually, but not on this day. This day I wanted to get the sheep out of the barn.

See Red eyeing them? Out of the frame, my Jersey steer Ikey was doing the same. Moments later they both ran at the sheep, bucking.

An electric fence is not a hard stop. It only works if the fear of a shock is greater than the desire to get out. Chased by the calves, the sheep stampeded through — putting their heads under the bottom line and heaving — letting the shock roll over their backs insulated by 3 inches of wool. I gathered them back in the barn and tightened the fence.

Once, twice. On the third try, the sheep stayed in. I don’t have a lot of faith in their containment, however, so I will turn them out early this morning and see how it goes. If they are chased through the fence before I leave for work, I’ll have to bring them back into the barn for the day and make a new plan.

Maybe the most reliable bit of progress made yesterday was the eye bolt I drilled through the gate. After about five years of propping the gate open against the wind for the animals to come into the barn, a few years ago it occurred to me to install a hook and eye to hold it. Unfortunately the gate (built for me by my friend Greg in 2004) is semi-rotten. It still functions perfectly but the screw eyes kept pulling out of the weak wood. I had bought a four-inch bolt six months ago but as so often happens in my life, it had been rattling around the truck ever since.

Yesterday I drilled it in. The gate is ready for the wind!

At least for the moment. I don’t need to tell you that next the hook will be ripped out of the post.


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.

Today is the Day

July 6, 2017

Today I will finish getting us out of the lake house. I know. I can’t believe it either. We’re still not out.

I am heading over at 5:30 AM to work. I have worked sixteen-hour days for a long time now. I think I have about four hours of packing and schlepping left. The office, the attic, the basement. My prayer is to get it done by 10 AM, when I believe the tour of the place is planned.

Yesterday I worked steadily all day but unexpectedly my teenaged helper Nick did not arrive until noon. I had to leave at 2 PM. However in those two hours he, Lucy, and I managed to move items from the garage to reach the desirable pieces, carry my mother’s heavy secretary upstairs to our room, and carry our chest freezer out of the lake house basement. Having the latter two big jobs done is a huge weight off my mind. The only really heavy item left is DH’s old TV. I imagine I can get it down the stairs one step at a time.

In the midst of everything I received a call from the bank. I was grimy and sweaty and standing in the lake house woodshed at the time. The appraiser wanted to come out to appraise the new house for our mortgage.

I squeaked in fright.

“The house isn’t quite finished?” he asked.

Hmm. No siding. No finished porches, no side porches built at all. No finished bathrooms. No counters. No cabinet pulls. No closets. No finished interior stairs. Only half the interior lights, doors, and doorknobs. No tiled floors. No exterior painting.

I didn’t know what to say, so I told him I would call him back.

When I spoke to him, my builder was not troubled. Nick is a sunny optimist by nature. “The only things left are the little cosmetic stuff, and the siding. That shouldn’t count for an appraisal.”


He looked disconcerted. “Oh, well, that will only take a few days.”

I called my mortgage officer. He too was initially unworried. “Nick tells me that there’s just a short punchlist left.”

Apologetically I recited the list.

“Oh, wow. Hmmm. That’s quite a bit different. Let me talk to my underwriter, who is my superior, and I’ll call you back.”

I unloaded the most recent haul of boxes and drove to a farm an hour away to pick up my new foster bull calf. He’s a Milking Shorthorn cross, copper red with a pink nose. He’s also very tall. At two days old he could barely fit in the dog crate. At the moment, unoriginally, I’m calling him Big Red.

The bank called back on my way home. The appraisal has to be delayed two weeks. I am supposed to “light a fire under” my builder and get all the rest of the work done by then. It’s going to be very tight to meet our closing date of August 13. If we don’t meet it, there will be a stiff financial penalty. Stay calm, I told myself.

I unloaded Red at the barn, raced into town to pick up the dogs before the vet closed, and then came back to guide Red through his first nursing on Moxie.

After two days of bottles, Red was slow to catch on. Patiently I milked a teat in a stream over his muzzle and lips. He bucked and reared to get away but I held him tightly. For ten minutes we struggled. I would stuff the teat into his mouth and he’d let it lie there, the milk drooling out. At long last the penny dropped. Milk! It comes from here! It’s a milk bar! His tail lashed with delight. He was so excited that between ecstatic suckles he kept dropping the teat and then searching for it all over the rest of her body in a frenzy of sucking. Is it her elbow? No. Is it her brisket? No. I’d haul him back to the proper position and he’d suckle some more, quivering with joy.

I had been too busy to drive to the city to get a shower curtain rod. (Perhaps tomorrow.) Once the barn shut for the night, Lucy and I drove to the lake house for a last wash before a late supper. Now I’m heading back to pack some more.

I Like Ike

July 4, 2017

Meet Ike, Moxie’s new bull calf, Eisenhower, who called the shots on my moving D-Day. He’s healthy and frisky and very cute.

Meanwhile Moxie is so engorged with milk and edema she can barely walk. Her back teats are tiny nubs on a huge, hot medicine ball.

I can milk out the front teats without an issue but I struggle twice a day to get milk out of the back ones. Even my thumb and forefinger can’t get a grip to strip-milk, only producing a tiny dribble. Another bull calf would have no problem, but though I’ve called around I can’t find one. The dairy I regularly bought from in years past has gone out of the milk business.

I have to empty those back teats or Moxie will get sick.

I also have to finish emptying the lake house, put up shelves, find linens, and on and on… the push continues.

Still, this morning a family of ravens was outside our window. They were screaming with delight so I looked out to see what had them enthralled. They were attempting to peel protective plastic (glittering with morning dew) off the roofing pieces stacked in the driveway.

Like a raven, I get tremendous pleasure from the small things.

Still Not Out

July 3, 2017

I’m mostly out of the lake house. One more room to go, plus the attic, the basement, the woodshed, and the garage. I made my last trip at 9:30 last night and didn’t have energy left to unload the truck.

I am tired and trying not to be overwhelmed.

Nothing in the new house is set up to receive our things. No closets, no shelves. Therefore we have piles of boxes, food, clean laundry, framed paintings, and dress clothes everywhere. Not to mention boxes and boxes of books and stuff, in amongst leaning piles of construction debris, tools, and materials. Even the porch is jammed with saws, the staircases waiting to be installed, and builders’ trash waiting to go to the dump. I had anticipated the problem and asked last week if at least the closets could be finished and if the debris and no-longer needed construction items could be moved out. However, I’m not sure the reality of we are moving in had really dawned on anyone — and it didn’t happen.

Nick did come out yesterday after church, in response to my text, to install exterior door knobs so I didn’t have to pile things in front of the doors to keep the dogs inside.

Meanwhile I packed our personal dishes and linens two years ago when I moved us out of the school in nine days while teaching and driving Lucy to visit colleges. I have no memory of where anything is, except that it must be in the stacks and stacks in the basement or garage. So currently we have no dishes, sheets, or blankets.

All of these mysteries would be delightful to solve if I only had time. I’m itching to build pantry and closet shelves, open boxes, and gradually get us organized. However, I have more days of moving out of the lake house to finish. The boy Nick whom I’d hired to help today — I can’t carry filing cabinets down flights of stairs or wrangle a chest freezer out of the basement on my own — again texted that he could not come. DH and Lucy will be off to work, and the builders arrive here at 7:30 this morning. I have to control my panicky sense of having zero control.

Oh, well. I know everything will work out in the end. I also know how lucky I am. I just have to keep marching. I can hear Allen’s voice in my ear. “Done whinin’?”


This morning I will try to find my tools and set up our bed to get our mattress off the floor. If that can happen, I can put all the clean laundry on top of it. I will take a broomstick and create a temporary hanging rod suspended from the basement ceiling joists. I will stack everything currently piled on the kitchen counters in the future pantry, just to have it out of the way. I will take Lucy’s bags out of the mudroom and shove them in the attic, ditto. I will roll back all the rugs so the men do not walk on them with muddy work boots. I will drive the dogs to the vet for the day so they will not end up on the highway.

Then I will mow lanes and move the sheep, try to make poor Moxie (painfully engorged but — thank you, God! — happily not comatose with milk fever) comfortable, and push on with emptying and cleaning the lake house.

Tomorrow I will post something upbeat, with photos. Today I have to buckle in and motor on.




June 30, 2017

We are due to move tomorrow. We’ll see. It will be opening day for our school’s summer camp, so both DH and Lucy (who has a job in the camp office) have to work. Not perfect planning on our parts.  I think I will have the help of young Nick plus possibly another teenager.

No calf. Poor Moxie’s bag is so engorged I’m wondering if I will be able to get a bucket under it.

Yesterday morning I put up the last two sheets of sheetrock. With great difficulty young Nick and I pulled our big old white melamine TV cabinet up the stairs out of the basement of this house (it has been a storage unit for DH’s climbing gear for the past two years), carried it to the farm, and cut it down to fit in the corner of the farm basement. By quitting time at 5 PM we had all the bookcases in place around it.

After a quick supper I went back to the farm and worked on the basement until 9:30 PM. All the structure is now in place. There are still hours of unpacking and shifting of boxes to do down there, but I can see that my plan will work if I can get it done.

I just need time. And energy. I’m very tired. Too anxious to sleep.

Still, as worried and exhausted as I am, this move feels very different from the last one. When I walked out of the basement late last night, lightning was flashing across the distant horizon, and fireflies winked in the dark over the pasture. I’m moving into my farm! And my farm has fireflies!

It is tremendously exciting.

Rain has drummed on the roof all night. I’m going to walk and feed the dogs, pack a few more boxes, and head down to the farm to get back to work.  Yesterday morning I found the men had left me a message scrawled across the basement wall on the final sheet of insulation.

I was grinning as I fitted the last sheet of sheetrock to cover it up.


June 29, 2017

Still no calf. Moxie’s udder is so swollen it resembles a rubber glove inflated to the breaking point. Yesterday at morning chores I anxiously ran my hands over the hot, giant teats and discovered that she is freshening with bad mastitis in one quarter. The milk is clotted like cheese curds. My sense of doom is increasing.

That feeling is not allayed by a walk-through of the house. Though progress is being made in every room, it’s still far from ready.

It has also dawned on me that we will be moving with two dogs into a work space where men leave all the doors open all day long. Another problem to solve.

For now I am thinking we (Lucy, DH, I, and the dogs) will sleep upstairs but, for the next week or two, spend any other time hanging out in the basement. Yes — that big chilly space stacked with boxes and furniture. It sounds crazy but the basement doors can be closed and then we will be removed from the rest of the house and the ongoing work. (Except for the day they replace the stairs.) To make the basement a comfortable spot will require considerable effort, but I have a plan.

The boy Nick texted early yesterday that he could not come, but that was fine. I often find it restful to work alone.

I spent the morning cutting more sheetrock and putting it up. At one point I had struggled to carry an upright sheet through the maze of mess and finally got it safely against the far wall when I turned to find the electrician staring at me.

“You work so hard,” he said, his eyes concerned. “I feel sorry for you.”

I smiled. “I like to work.”

It’s true. If it weren’t for the time pressure, I would be having great fun.

With the pressure, it is indeed a little stressful. To cheer myself up I have been wearing Allen’s old baseball hat. He gave it to me years ago at the end of one of our long working days. It looks foolish on me but that’s OK.

Though clearly I was a strange woman and without most practical skills, it was my impression Allen respected my sheer determination. I always recall him saying to his son-in-law, back in 2009, “You’re gonna be workin’ with girlie, here. Try an’ keep up!”

His belief in me is a happy thing to remember.

* * *

After lunch Lucy and I drove to the city an hour away to get more bathroom tile (believe it or not, a box fell out of the second floor window and smashed, and now we were short). Lucy went along to pick out her bathroom shower curtain. I would also take the opportunity to buy mastitis meds for Moxie. The last thing I wanted to do was interrupt my day for an unexpected four-hour trip, but it could not be helped. In order for us to have one working shower by Sunday morning, Nick needed to finish tiling the children’s bathtub.

We bought the tile, we bought the shower curtain. Naturally, Tractor Supply was sold out of mastitis meds. We found some in another store in the other direction and had them held for me; I will be driving to pick them up this morning.

When we got home I discovered that the toilets and kitchen sink had been delivered at school. The stack of giant boxes was chin high. Toiling slowly, I partially unpacked some of them in order to fit them in the truck to carry them to the farm. One toilet was in shards. Though I do wonder how toilet companies stay in business, I have no more emotion in the toilet department. I asked Nick to unpack the others carefully in case they, too, have to be returned.

Today: Moxie, mortgage calls and paperwork, finishing the basement.