July 7, 2019

I have been working hard the last few weeks, with no down-time. I had thought that maybe while the family was away I would have some quieter, slower-paced days, and had looked forward to it with yearning, but the list rapidly multiplied. I’m trying to ride the log jam and not panic.

I spent yesterday fencing in the back field between downpours and thunderstorms. The cows have eaten all the available grass in the fenced sections and I had to get them onto new ground. (My plan is to mow the weeds left behind them but there has been no time. The field is 85% inedible matter, mostly goldenrod, that must be knocked down before it goes to seed. Perhaps next weekend.)

In the heat and humidity the black flies and deer flies swarmed so badly I could barely breathe without inhaling them. Time for the bug shirt! This item looks so ridiculous that I had to try to take a selfie with my camera.


However, being draped in bug netting was effective and I was able to work peacefully for hours, soaked to the skin from the intermittent rain and from walking through the thigh-high wet weeds — but not losing my mind to the whine of biting flies.

Despite the time pressure I appreciated the beauty. Small birds flitted through the weeds, and hopped up to watch me from the top of posts I had just erected. Once I heard a downpour approaching, a loud rushing sound like wind in the trees, blowing in from the north for minutes before it actually drenched me.

By 7:30 PM the skies had cleared and I had half the fence up.

I got it finished and the cows turned out just as the sun set around 9 PM.

I walked and fed the dogs at 9:15, peeled off my wet jeans, kicked off my squelching boots, and sat down to my supper at 9:30.

Now it is morning and I’m heading to chores. Our fabulous friend Gary arrives at 8 AM.


July 1, 2019

It was raining hard yesterday morning. I hadn’t slept; I felt old and blue. Therefore I decided to drive to the big city to do a round of errands. I might as well accomplish something. I know from experience that I am almost always calmed by action.

As it happened, half my errands were not productive. Items were out of stock and a prize I’d found on Craigslist would not work for me. Nevertheless, driving home at the end of the day with a new pressure washer on sale (for the inevitable house-painting project) plus enormous packages of toilet paper and paper towels, I was indeed calmer. The rain had stopped. Onward!

Every night I move the temporary fence down the back field to give the cows access to new grass. (I should be mowing behind them, to knock down the weeds before they go to seed, but I haven’t yet had time to start this.) Usually as I drag the fence to its new position, black flies are swarming me, singing in my ears and biting my neck, face, and hands. No matter how hot it is, I wear a sweatshirt with the hood up.

Last night as I was moving fence through the wet grass and weeds, fog rolled in. It was cool and damp and very pretty.

There were no bugs. Watching the fog creep over the field as the birds flew home at dusk, my heart lifted with joy. I know this is irrational. (“Yes, doctor, earlier I had been rather depressed but then a fog appeared!”)

I turned out the cows. I’m aware I haven’t told you yet about Flora’s 2019 calving. I’ll try to soon. That’s her little heifer calf beside her.

As I cooked dinner I tried to explain to Lucy my happiness over the fog. She took this photo from the living room with her zoom lens.

Happy cows, happy me.


June 17, 2019


I took these photos while walking the dogs in the cool of 6 AM. Today the sun is shining, the skies are blue, I slept seven hours for the first time in a week, and my mood is much brighter. Yes, things are shabby and shaggy and need repair, mowing, painting, or building — but today I can simply tell myself, “I’ll write it down!” and keep moving.

Now the barn is mucked and the cows have been brought into the dark to escape the flies, a load of laundry is in the washer, I’m going to drive to town to fill gas cans and buy groceries, I’ll move the sheep to fresh grass and mow off the weeds they’ve left behind, and then I’ll look at my list.

In answer to Allen’s perennial question, I’m “done whinin’.”




Cow Weather

June 16, 2019

Many days over the past week have been cool and rainy, often with wind. The dark skies have been gloomy, reflecting my mood as I seek estimates for the remaining work on the house.

My builder, Nick, broke his contract and never completed the work he was paid for in June 2017.  When he left in the fall of 2017, he promised to return in May, 2018. In May he wrote angrily that he “had to make money” and would return in August. In August he returned for a few days, had me order $800 worth of brick for the chimney, and then never came back. He wrote in October that he would re-pay the money he owed (in reality, less than half the real total). He made a first payment but then… silence. Finally in January 2019 I sent him a registered letter, asking him politely to send the promised payments so we could end his contract on a reasonable note. He responded with an emailed bill to me for $7500, claiming we should pay for all the time he “wasted” having to work around us (because he missed his finish date by many months, a responsibility he has never acknowledged). He sent a post-script: “Non-payment of invoice after 30 days will result in 5% interest charge for unpaid balance.”

I was shocked at a deep, deep level. This dishonesty came on the heels of multiple other blows falling last winter until it seemed there was not an honorable person left in the world. I fell sick with bronchitis and didn’t shake it for eight weeks. My friend Tom died, another disorienting shock. There was a beautiful goodbye party for my husband’s retirement. It felt like everything was ending.

A few weeks ago I finally consulted a lawyer. She told me that I could take Nick to court, and I would win. “But all you would win would be a judgment, a piece of paper saying he cheated you and owes you money. You already know that.” It wasn’t fair, she agreed, but she advised me to move on.

I have been trying. A first job is to make a list of all the unfinished work. My distress is so great, I have told myself I will make the punch list room by room, only trying to write out details for one room a day. I hired a plumber to install the long-promised hose spigots in the basement. This week I have had a team here to measure the exterior for a painting estimate. Yesterday I toured an interior painter. (It is likely that I will have to do the latter myself.) I am calling to find someone to install the cookstove insulated pipe through the chimney stack. I have made inquiries to masons for the chimney brickwork. I am looking for a roofer to fix the leaking porch flashing. I have investigated how to build porch stairs and will build them. I am going to research the screen porch materials Nick left in a heap last August and I will build that, too.

It’s all manageable, and I will manage. But it has been gloomy as the various contractors shake their heads and talk about big dollars. I have not been sleeping. Tired and blue, it’s been hard to stay motivated.

The dark skies have not been helping my mood but it has been a happy time for the cows. Cold and drizzle! Wind and rain! No bugs — how nice!

I am trying to think like a cow.

She’s Here!

June 9, 2019

I wrote most of this post December 16, 2018. I’m not sure what else happened that day, but then life rolled over me. Now I can finish it.

When I walked back to the barn yesterday morning after posting here, I discovered the calf had just been born. Wonderful Moxie, choosing our single warm (15°) day! (You can see my black wool hat resting on the rail behind Moxie’s head. I had taken it off when I broke a sweat as I toweled the calf, dipped her navel, and tried to get her to nurse.)

The calf is a heifer. Though 3/4 Jersey and 1/4 milking shorthorn, she is red like her father. As she is a Christmas calf, and red, I called her Holly Berry, Holly for short. (I posted her picture on Facebook and got many congratulations on the “clever” name. I finally realized people thought I was playing on the name Halle Berry. It had not occurred to me. I am far more knowledgeable about Ilex than about modern actresses.)

Once dry, Holly needed some milk. I have started many a calf nursing. Newborn calves are as clueless as any babies — the only difference is that they are bigger. I have been bashed in the face more times than I can count by a confused calf throwing up his head in protest. So I was sweating, squirting milk on my fingers to make them enticing, letting Holly suck on my fingers as I drew her toward the teat… but nothing. Moxie’s udder has dropped so low that Holly did not recognize the teat below knee level as a potential food source.

I ate a quick breakfast and returned to the barn with a calf bottle. I milked Moxie into it and fed Holly a pint. In the photo I’m holding the bottle between my knees to give her neck the proper angle so the milk drops in the correct one of four stomachs.

(Notice the spikes on my boots. DH bought us mini-crampons for the driveway late last winter, after both of us had wiped out in bad falls. I keep mine on my barn boots for the entire winter and feel much safer.)

While I fed Holly, Moxie munched doggedly on the afterbirth. I let her have a bit but then took the rest and put it on the compost pile.

I tried last year’s trick of using a girth and stirrup leather as a sling around Moxie’s midsection to hoist her udder higher. This year it had zero effect. it was like trying to hoist a boulder. Milking her would not work, either. Moxie’s rear teats are very short. With edema they become like buttons on a hot beach ball.

Since I couldn’t lift her udder, I decided to build a platform to lift Moxie herself. Luckily I had a couple of extra 6x6s left over from the house. I dug them out of the snow and brought them to the barn. I also collected all the cut-off ends that I had lying around (one always finds a use for a chunk of 6×6), and an old piece of plywood from the garage.

Back in 2009, Allen had helped me trim a rubber mat to cover the dirt floor in front of the stanchion. I peeled it back, talking to him in my mind.

6x6s are too thick for most saws so I used my Sawz-all.

I laid out all the 6x6s and leftover chunks.

The dirt floor had a slope but I did not worry about it. I scraped the frozen ground outside for a bit of dirt to build up the worst spots, and then called it good. Next I laid out my scrap of 5/8″ plywood and cut it to width. I measured nothing. I screwed the plywood to all the 6x6s.

Next I took the cut off piece and cut a small panel to fit around the post at the doorway. I realized at this point that my platform was not square, but — “custom cutting will take care of it,” I told myself.

Huffing and blowing, I rolled the very heavy, awkward stall mat back on top of the platform. The cuts Allen and I had made in 2009 still fit around the post. Using a jigsaw, I cut off the extra foot of width.

I threw some bedding hay on top, to make it look less unusual. Using a long line, I coaxed a suspicious Moxie toward the grain in the stanchion. After her head was in the catch, I leaned my back against her hindquarters and pushed. “Over, Mox. Over and up!”

She obligingly stepped up. Holly staggered over. Mama’s udder was now seven inches higher. This is more like it! Holly latched on. Success!

I love when problem-solving leads to a happy ending.

My only worries now were milk fever and ketosis. I checked Moxie carefully through the night for three days. She was fine; when I rolled open the barn door and snapped on the lights, she would lift her big dark eyes to look at me calmly. Yay!

(Oh) Dear Moxie

December 15, 2018

I had planned to put Moxie down this fall. She is nearly ten years old. Her udder suspension is almost completely gone; in 2017 I had to sling up a pulley system to lift her bag high enough for calves to nurse her back teats. She has had milk fever and ketosis, twice, and the likelihood of another traumatic, exhausting birthing seemed high. The decision to put her down made perfect sense. Unfortunately the fall with all its builder stress got away from me, and when I looked up I realized Moxie was pregnant.

Although I’d assumed that my teenaged bull Red had probably bred her before he was shipped in July, it became apparent that in fact he bred her much earlier. I know there are tough people out there who could put down a heavily pregnant cow, but I am not one of them. Sometimes I wish I were, but I am not. Thus my old friend Moxie is due any day now.

Any minute, in fact. I have been checking her through the night for the last three nights, at 8 PM, 10 PM, 2 AM, and 6 AM. I taught my daily classes in a slightly altered state.

The first two nights were particularly nerve-racking because I could not find the IV set I will need if she falls into a coma from milk fever.

I last had it at the time of her last calving — July 1, 2017, moving day, when I moved us into the farm, which unbeknownst to me would be a construction zone (and briefly a flood zone) for the next five months. Clearly in all the stress I had stashed the IV set in an open box. Though I now ransacked the remaining 50 boxes in the garage and basement, I could not find it. I tried to purchase an IV set locally. None. Finally I ordered a set from two different places.

In the meantime I nervously laid out a fistful of 20 cc syringes and 16 gauge needles on the cookstove, ready to hand. It would certainly be unpleasant to deliver 500 ccs of calcium gluconate in 20 cc doses — twenty-five needle sticks per bottle! — but it would save her life and I was ready to do it if needed.

(Apparently there is a new supplement, X-Zelit, which can be fed to cows to prevent milk fever. I had written to the inventor in Canada to see if I could buy some. He told me there was a dealer two hours away, and I was ready to hop in my car. Unfortunately he also told me it was too late. To work, the cow has to have the supplement for two weeks before calving.)

So, no easy answer and I’ll just have to deal with whatever happens. The IV sets both arrived. I have set up one, and will keep the other in reserve in my medicine cabinet. I’ve got a stack of clean towels. I’ve got four bottles of calcium gluconate. I’ve got strong iodine for the navel.  I’ve got molasses for her water. I’ve got propylene glycol for ketosis, and will pick up some corn syrup just in case.

The only thing I don’t have is energy, but I always find that.

Wish us luck.

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!