The Heat Breaks

July 7, 2018

After ten days of suffocating heat, in the wee hours of Friday morning a thunderstorm blew in and swept it all away with pounding rains. At least I’m told of the rain by Lucy. I heard nothing, asleep in the basement with the roar of the dehumidifier. I mowed yesterday wearing a hooded sweatshirt and was cold. Hooray! It will be hot again soon but with luck, minus the smothering humidity.

I wasn’t able to get as much work done this week as I’d hoped, but I did put up the flag. This flag was a thoughtful housewarming gift from Elaine and Ed last year when we moved in. However the house was in such calamitous condition at that time (as well as having no porch yet) that I could only fold it carefully away for another day. That day finally arrived.

It makes me so happy to look up and seeing the flag cheerfully waving. 

After all these years of dreaming, I have a (partly) white farmhouse with a flag! I am blessed. Thank you, Ed and Elaine!



Update on the Mudroom

June 21, 2018

Over the past eight months, between other chores and projects, I have been working on our mudroom. Slowly I got each wall paneled. (The work was slow because many of the boards were warped, the walls are not plumb, and the floor and ceiling are not level. It was, of course, a crazy idea to put straight lines on this room.)

Nevertheless, I persevered, wall by wall.

Last summer — when I actually started this mudroom project — my friend Tom and I had begun staining some of the boards “Ipswich Pine” before I thought better of it. I now decided to use those stained boards on a single wall. The other option was to buy new boards, and I couldn’t spare the cash. “It will be an accent wall,” I told myself hopefully. In mid-February Nick came in and over several days laid the floor. On seeing the terra cotta tile (bought on deep sale the year before) against the Ipswich Pine wall, I was extremely glad I had stopped staining the paneling. The effect was very orange.

In early April the paneling was basically done and I asked Tom if he would be willing to help me finish trimming the room. I knew I had to rip the last boards near the ceiling and I was nervous at the prospect of using my table saw, a creaking behemoth. I also had no idea how to trim the windows or door frames.

Tom kindly agreed to help, and suggested I should pick up some sawhorses for the job. I planned to go to the nearby city to the big box store, but we had a snowstorm. Instead I found a plan for a pair of quick and dirty stackable sawhorses and cut up the pieces on my chop saw.

When Tom arrived we screwed together the sawhorses in about five minutes.

Total cost, $25. I immediately loved those sawhorses.

Tom also oiled my old table saw and fitted it with a sharp new blade. “It’s a nice saw,” he said kindly. Tom is a very encouraging person. (And as you can see, we were working in a tight space with stacked clutter everywhere. He never complained.)

We started to trim the doors, beginning with the back door. This door had been poorly installed by Dean back in 2009 and the only way to keep it from blowing open was to keep it locked at all times. Not only was the frame slightly racked but the strike plate was in the wrong place. Naturally, Tom fixed it.

It took us the entire morning to trim that one problematic door. One morning the following weekend, we finished the other three. (Our work sessions were generally only a few hours. Tom typically works six days a week, so it was extremely generous on his part to give me so much of his free time, week after week.) The next time we met, we cut and put up simple ceiling moulding and baseboard all the way around the room. A couple of weekends after that, we started on the windows.

These windows had been a mess of insulation, house wrap, and cobwebs for nearly nine years.

I was happy to see it all disappear under fresh clean trim.

At one point this spring Tom and I drove over to the bed and breakfast lodge belonging to our friends Tony and Nancy, to inspect their mudroom lockers. Like us, Tony has a long experience with our school, and in renovating the lodge he had copied the student lockers, while upgrading them (not only are his lockers wider, for middle-aged bottoms, but the seat is higher, for middle-aged knees). For many years, I have coveted Tony’s lockers. Now Tom and I would copy his design.

May was so busy for both of us that we were only able to spare a single morning to frame the locker bench seat. Another month flew by with all its attendant chores. This past Friday I managed to get a friendly electrician to stop in and hook up the two outlets under the lockers before they became inaccessible under the finished bench.  And yesterday Tom and I got the lockers framed.

It’s important to understand that Tom is the brains of our work partnership. I am merely his assistant. He measures to the nearest millimeter and runs the saws. I steady and catch the boards and use the nail gun. Here is Tom, ripping slats for the bench seat (in the usual disaster of the garage).

Tom showed me how to use a router to round off all the edges. I held the boards.

I nailed down the slats and slowly the bench grew.

Now we had to cut the plywood for the locker walls. Tom’s Makita is a lot nicer than my Skilsaw, so he made the cuts.

Tom is a great person to work with. He is extremely talented, quiet, kind, and patient — and so determined that it is easy to forget that he is 75 years old.

We cut the locker sidewalls, notched them, and toenailed each one to the wall.

By the end of the day the frame was in place — and Tom had to head out to his real job.

It may be another week or two before Tom can come back, but I have a list of chores to finish before then anyway (sanding, wood-puttying, putting up the rear coat hooks).

This mudroom has been a long project, and the end is not yet, but it is deeply satisfying to see it begin to come together.

Thank you, Tom!


June 14, 2018

Recently I have been overwhelmed by a sense of my own stupidity. Two weeks ago my builder wrote me an angry email. He said he was too busy to meet to discuss the remaining work; he disparaged my husband; he said he had lost $15K on my job due to having to work around us after we moved in. He wrote that in a couple of days he would send a list of the work he was willing to complete.

I was so flabbergasted to be attacked when I thought I had been nobly patient and kind (we moved in on our contracted “finish date,” as we had no choice, and then lived, without complaint, in construction chaos for months) that I did not let myself respond. I figured I would be polite and professional when he sent his list. He sent nothing. After ten days I wrote him a short, kind email as a prompt. No response.

I tell myself he will complete some of the work he has been paid for, and the rest I will have to figure out. I find I am most upset by my misjudgment. Over the months the builder had come to feel like a friend. I lost sight of the reality that he was an employee. Now that he owes me labor and materials, I am apparently resented like an enemy. My heart has been sore and I have felt like a fool. A limping, tired, old fool.

Meanwhile I have realized that the farmer who sold me Flora played me for a sucker. Primed with the helpful information from Daisyhill, a reader, I googled bottle teats in Angus cattle. In my years of dairy experience I had never heard of bottle teats. It is indeed a heritable trait in beef cattle and a problem that farmers cull for. Clearly my farmer culled Flora after her first calf by selling her at full price to me.

The night I realized this I could not sleep. Of course I had inquired why he was selling. Just downsizing, he said; he had a herd of fifty. But looking back, all the clues were there. Out of this large herd of black Angus, only Flora wore a collar. I did not think to ask why. He told me she was tame and loved slices of bread. I did not ask how or why this particular heifer had learned to like bread. I simply thought, That’s sweet.

Once again, I was a fool. It is now obvious to me that Flora’s impossible bottle teats were a problem in her first calving, that the farmer enticed her into a squeeze chute with bread, got her milked out enough to allow the calf to nurse the bad teats, put a collar on her to mark her, and then put her up for sale after the calf was weaned and her udder dried off and shrunk back to normal.

The one-two punch of my unwisdom with the builder and the farmer were hard to bear.  I wailed to DH, “I feel too stupid to be allowed outside!’

I trudged through the days. I mowed and listened to hymns, trying not to hear the refrain in my head: Flora has this genetic flaw. Her cute little bull calf and all her offspring will carry this genetic flaw. My Jersey girl Moxie is old, arthritic, and fragile; the bull Red and steer Ikey have a slaughter date in July; now Flora and her bull calf… Essentially my entire herd should be culled. I was sunk in gloom.

I moved the sheep every day. I took care of Alison’s horses. I put up my chalkboard. And I tried to figure out how to get Flora into the barn. Since calving she had developed an unreasoning fear of coming inside. On June 10, five days after calving, I could see her front teats were in bad shape. The calf Riggins was nursing from the rear. He was hungry and butting her bag, not realizing that the swollen gourds in front were actually giant teats full of milk.

That day the biting flies were particularly fierce. Flora’s face was covered with them. I was determined to bring her inside with the other cattle. Carrying a pitchfork in case she charged me, I circled around and then, shaking the fork and yelling at her, I drove her step by step toward the barn door. I had a cold feeling in my stomach as she repeatedly turned to face me, protecting her calf, but I made myself yell louder. Step. Step. Suddenly, ten feet from the doorway, Flora remembered that she actually loves the barn and trotted in without a backward glance.

The bull calf Riggins had scampered off in a panic but Flora was so happy to be in the cool gloom she made no attempt to call him in.

The next morning was hot, the flies were biting, and all the cattle were eager to be let inside. Riggins trotted along behind his mother.

I was sure this was the happy start of a new routine. Unfortunately, after those crucial five days of his mother’s instruction that the barn was the lair of ogres, he reached the doorway and again bolted.

This time Flora was concerned. She walked outside again and mooed; she paced and bellowed; but Riggins paid no attention. Finally she came in alone. He was eight days old before I finally got him safely into the barn.

However I still haven’t been able to deal with Flora’s bottle teats. When her baby was not with her I tried to put my hands on her. Flora is terrified of touch and I always keep in mind that she’s about 900 pounds with a mind of her own. When I first brought her home, I had thought to have her in the smaller stall across the aisle. She attempted to jump the gate and instead just crashed through it. (Oh, you want to be in the stall next to Moxie instead? Fine.) So I have been careful not to crowd her to a point of panic.

I have been quiet and gentle and persistent. I managed to curry her back with my hands, which she nervously appeared to enjoy as I was rubbing out the remnants of her winter coat. By moving very slowly, rubbing constantly, I got my hands on the huge right teat. I have very large hands for a woman and to encircle the teat for milking required both. I even managed a few squirts before she jumped and moved away. I kept after her, slowly, slowly. Unfortunately when I touched the enormous, hot left teat, she kicked out at me and I roared reflexively, “No!” That scared her and we were done for the day.

I cannot get a halter on her. I cannot get her in the stanchion. I have no squeeze chute. With every passing hour, the swollen teats get worse. Riggins does not touch them.

Clearly, in the future I must train every heifer I own to go in the stanchion for a treat. However that won’t help Flora now.

I won’t give up on this problem, but I’m feeling overwhelmed by my many mistakes with no clear solutions.

A Little Humor

June 5, 2018

I may tell people that DH has zero domestic awareness, but it’s somewhat hard to give anyone outside the family a truly accurate picture. A few minutes ago, however, he was standing in the kitchen where we have lived for eleven months. He had his head tilted back to look at the ceiling, staring in puzzlement at the regularly spaced circles.

“What are these things?” he asked. “I just noticed them.”

I started to laugh, and moved over to the switch to flip them on.

Kitchen lights! How amazing!

Starting to Mow

June 4, 2018

I was so tired yesterday that thoughts were squeezing very slowly like drops of water through my brain. After trying fruitlessly to nap, I decided to mow. Mowing is something mindless and my mind was definitely gone.

The “grass” in the backyard is mostly weeds on lunar subsoil and rocks. In many places it still barely has a toehold.

However I can remember “the lawn” like this in 2011.

And in 2012 the blackberry brambles were taller than the mower and I could only mow a few feet before having to stop to pick up rocks, to clear a path forward.

On my farm, perspective is everything.

Fire Alarms

June 1, 2018

DH returned very late Wednesday night from a trip and then was so overtired he didn’t sleep well. Yesterday he worked all day and came home to take a quick nap before going back to work until 10 PM.

Unfortunately the fire alarms decided at that time to act up. There are a dozen alarms through the house, all connected. They all began going off. “Fire! Fire!” Whistling and blaring, they’d shriek for twenty seconds and then stop. You would think it was just a blip and then a minute later or ten minutes later they’d all start again.  I have lived with fire alarm systems for the last 35 years and have never encountered one so problematic.

DH’s exhaustion was such that he decided to walk down to the cabin for his nap. It was 95° in the closed cabin. He did not sleep, and when he returned for a quick supper he was haggard. I had been emailing the electrician (and the contractor who hired the electrician). The contractor replied angrily that he was busy and fire alarms were not his problem. The electrician finally returned my call and he asked if I had been cleaning the fire alarms regularly — taking them down and vacuuming them out — as recommended.

Cleaning the fire alarms?

In my frustration I began removing the fire alarms one by one. I would think I’d found the problem, and then: “Fire! Fire!” Finally there was a blessed silence of almost half an hour. At the dinner table DH was silent and grim. Five minutes after we sat down the alarms started again. DH was furious and spoke of going to a hotel. He left to return to work.

As a temporary fix I took down all the fire alarms, including the one in the rental apartment. Graduation is tomorrow, and the schedule is full bore until then. I have hundreds of pages of exams to grade and thirty-seven final reports to write. DH has to give several speeches. Tomorrow night I sleep at school to chaperone our foreign students who leave the following morning. I know this problem only seems overwhelming because we are tired and juggling too many things.

On Sunday I’ll research the fire alarms, vacuum them, and find a solution.


Spring Grass

May 30, 2018

The winters are long but spring makes it all seem worthwhile.

Cattle in the north pasture: the grass is not great but with the spring flush it is plentiful and they are happy. I let them out on it at dusk and then sat in a rocking chair on the unfinished front porch, rocking and watching the cattle and thinking, “My dreams have come true!”

There will always be problems but I know I am a very lucky woman.