Laundry Cabinets

August 20, 2017

Dear Dad:

I thought of you yesterday all afternoon as I put up cabinets above the washer and dryer in my new pantry. It’s funny how you’ve been gone for almost thirty years and yet you’re still such a comforting companion.

Lucy and I bought the cabinets at Home Depot last week when we went to the city to the dentist. You don’t know Lucy. She was born nearly eight years after you died. The dentist came in to my cubicle smiling after examining her and exclaimed, “Your daughter is delightful!” You would think so, too.

The cabinets are cheap white melamine. I just needed something to hold all the clutter, and though they aren’t well-made (no plywood anywhere; shot together with staples), they look like our kitchen cabinets. I returned some extra bathroom floor tile and the credit almost paid for them. My space was five feet wide so I bought two 30″.

The first thing I did yesterday was to find the wall studs and write the measurements down on my yellow pad. I got the yellow pad habit from you, Dad — I go through a case every year.

Next I removed the cabinet doors. As the screws skittered around the top of the washing machine, I heard your voice in my ear: “I find I like to have a little bowl.” Feeling happy, I put the screws in a little bowl.

At this point I think you would have enlisted Mom’s help. However, no one was here and I’ve worked alone for many years. With enough thought, I can usually figure out a strategy.

I lifted the cabinet into place on top of heavy book boxes and 4×4 scraps.

I sank eight 3″ screws to attach it to the wall. Then I did the same for the second cabinet.

This one was a tight squeeze with only 1/4″ play in the space. I had to stand on top of the dryer in the end. It was also a challenge to lift it absolutely level with the first. I did a bit of creative shimming. A weedwhacker blade in my pocket turned out to be just the right thickness.

At last they were up.

Before I quit for the day, I installed an old under-the-cabinet light over the washer. Our electrician is a good man but has tended to simply make decisions for me without consulting. A few I’ve had him undo, but usually I’ve discovered them too late. When I questioned that there was no outlet above the washer and dryer he asked defensively, “Why would you need an outlet?” “For an under-the-cabinet light.” “Why would you want an under-the-cabinet light?” “To check clothing for stains.” He clearly thought I was crazy. Crazy or not, I’ll buy a flat-back extension cord and a cord cover and make this work.

Today I’ll find the extra kitchen cabinet pulls and add them. I’ll also check Craigslist for a five-foot slab of countertop. Since both washer and dryer are front loaders, eventually I want to cover the top and make a smooth surface to keep stray socks from diving behind and between them.

It was a satisfying afternoon, and as I have so many times, I reflected how very lucky I was to have a father who taught me I could figure out most household problems.

Thanks, Dad. I love you.



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.

Pressing On

June 28, 2017

Yesterday young Nick and I cut and hung sheetrock in the corner of the basement. I have never worked with sheetrock before and made sure to read about it online before starting work in front of the smiling pros.

The job was difficult primarily because the space is so packed with boxes and furniture that it was hard to find room to tilt each piece to stand it upright. Then we had to shuffle with each piece (just short of 8 feet high) through the narrow aisle without catching it against the 8-foot ceiling or the floor.

Moreover, after we had our first three sheets up, contractor Nick (working nearby on plumbing) glanced over and realized he should not have told me to place the top furring strip so far down the wall, because it was too low to be a brace for a future dropped ceiling. He jumped in to help us fix this problem with more furring strips. We had only proceeded by another sheet when he similarly realized we needed some bracing behind the long vertical seams, to help keep the drywall from bowing. Again young Nick and I unscrewed, removed, braced, and rehung the sheetrock.

Two more sheets to cut and hang today to finish the corner. I’m not sure young Nick will be with me. It will be a challenge to stand up and carry the sheets on my own, but I imagine I will figure it out.

Then it is on to moving all the boxes out of the way, moving all the bookcases into place, and unloading books onto the shelves. It actually would be a fun assignment if the time pressure didn’t feel so crushing.

And if I didn’t have the potential disaster of Moxie’s impending calving in the back of my mind.

Opposites Attract

November 26, 2016

On the surface, DH and I have very little in common. He is an athlete and mountaineer; I play no sports and am afraid of heights. He is invariably calm and steady; I am quick to anger or tears. He is reserved, even aloof; I pull the world into my lap for a hug. What we have in common is that we are both decent people who read a lot and have the same sense of humor. Over thirty-odd years, like most married couples, we have come to depend on each other for the skills we lack. Usually, these skills are abstract: DH supports my patience and control; I lend him warmth. However, sometimes the skills are concrete.

On Friday DH asked for my help changing some bindings on a pair of old skis. Now, DH grew up in apartments as the son of a man with zero hands-on skills, and has close to zero himself. Though he is by nature an imperturbable person, on this one subject DH can be a little touchy. He knows that competence with tools is considered a feature of masculinity. (A couple of years ago, he learned the concept of a “Honey Do” list, and was charmed by the phrase. In our family, any such lists are for me.)

dewrdc970k-2rDH was working in the basement, and planned to use my DeWalt screw gun. I wasn’t exactly sure what help he needed, but I followed him downstairs.

He was standing at the table holding the DeWalt, looking worried. “How do you work it?” he asked. When I started to smile, he said defensively, “I’ve never used one of these.”

I showed him how to snap the forward and reverse gears, and handed the gun back to him. DH took it gingerly. He removed his glasses so he could see better for the operation. Picking up a screw, he attempted to balance it on the upturned point of the Phillips head bit. Seeing him bent over as if in prayer, his nose two inches from the wobbling screw, I unfortunately began to giggle.

DH straightened up immediately and handed me the screw gun. We put his new bindings on together.

*   *   *   *

Yesterday morning, Stash was so wired before barn chores, he took off at a gallop. I was terrified he would run onto the highway. Clearly he was not getting enough exercise. I asked DH to set me up with an old pair of cross-country skis. I would take Stash for a few circuits of the back pasture to tire him out.

DH is an expert skier. I have not skied for many years. I skied with both our children as toddlers, but by seven years old, they had each surpassed me. I have no particular aptitude for or interest in skiing. I always say, “I learned to walk at a very young age,” and stick to walking. However, trudging through deep snow is no fun and very, very slow. Stash needed something speedier. Thus the request for skis.

DH throws nothing sports-related away, so we have cross-country skis dating back to the 1970s. He found an old pair with three-pin bindings, and a pair of inexpensive poles that came up to my ears. “These are a little tall for you,” he acknowledged, “but at your level of skiing, they will really be walking sticks.”

I laughed. It’s good to be known. I piled the skis, poles, and Stash into my truck and drove to the farm.

Out by the cabin, I tried to put on the skis. Oh dear. The bindings would not close over the tip of the boot. I knew DH would surely be disgusted if I drove home and said I could not put on a simple pair of skis. I sweated and puffed, leaning all my weight on the ski pole pressing the binding, until I thought the pole might snap. After twenty minutes of struggle, I finally succeeded in attaching both feet to the skis.

Stash was in heaven, bouncing through the snow as I glided (laboriously, thrashing) behind him.


By the second circuit of the field, Stash was sufficiently winded that he took the easy way and ran along the trail I’d broken. I realized that one reason I have never skied with dogs is that before my pasture was cleared, there was no place to do so. Dogs are not allowed on ski trails. Real skiers are made cross by paw prints ruining the tracks. However, I am not a real skier and I was not cross.


After three trips, I was damp with sweat and ready to quit. (Stash could have continued for another hour.) I skied back to the truck, and Stash hopped up on the seat. Then I addressed the Problem of the Skis.

I was able to pop the latches easily. However, the boots would not come out of either binding. Stash jumped down to see what I was doing. My skis slid in all directions as I attempted to lure him back into the truck. Finally I got him back in and leaned against the door, the slipping skis barely under control and my brain going 100 mph. This entire skiing experience had been quite pleasant, except for the problem of taking on and off the skis. Obviously, I should just untie my boots and step out of them. I could leave the boots permanently attached to the skis! Of course, this might be a little unusual, but then I am a well-known eccentric. Sure, that would work!

I drove home. Later, DH asked me about my ski. I told him how much fun I’d had with Stash, the slight problem with the boots and bindings, and my elegant solution.

DH has a poker face but I could see an expression of something like concern creep into his eyes. He asked to see the skis and the boots. I brought them into the kitchen. He laid a ski on the table and tried to insert the boot. It was very difficult. He tried to close the binding; DH has a climber’s very strong hands and he had to use all his weight to snap it.

My boots do not fit these bindings.

I felt vindicated. I wasn’t an idiot! In my relief I poured out the story of spending twenty minutes trying to get the skis on, including my contortions with the bending pole, and then trying to get them off, my feet sliding out from under me, the dog leaping between my legs, my decision to leave the boots on the skis — DH’s brow furrowed and furrowed as he listened until suddenly he burst into guffaws. I was startled and then I started to laugh also. We both laughed until we cried.

A little later I heard DH dictating a text to our daughter, Lucy, who is also an expert skier. “So you know Mom hasn’t skied in 15 years, and today she had a little trouble with her bindings. So she decided she would leave her boots permanently mounted on her skis!” 

  *    *   *   *

Luckily, DH has another set of bindings that will fit these boots … and I have a DeWalt and know how to use it.


A Quiet Day

November 25, 2016


Yesterday was a darkly beautiful day. It snowed off and on. Although I felt wistful not to have my family around me, I knew that this year, a day of no pressure was what this part-time farmer needed. I slept until 5:30, the latest I’ve stayed in bed in months. With no deadlines, it was a relaxed day of puttering through my list. I baked a pie. I peeled sweet potatoes. I washed and seasoned the turkey.

DH celebrated his rare day off with a Thanksgiving sauna. (The sauna was once my toolshed. I insulated and paneled it and Allen helped me install a little woodstove.) Here is DH scrubbing off in the snow.


While the turkey roasted, I walked the dogs in the back field. The snow has collapsed and compressed but is still over the tops of my boots. I may hunt up an old pair of cross-country skis today, to give Stash a better workout. He bounds through the deep snow with joy, and a tired poodle is a happy poodle.


Little Toby is game …

but challenged by the deeper drifts. Whenever he looked too miserable, I picked him up to carry him.

The snowstorm has closed the door on many fall chores I had hoped to accomplish during this week of vacation. I won’t be cutting and installing the rafters for the run-in shed in the south pasture. The horse trailer will not be put away in my neighbor’s barn. The treated 4×4 fence posts and wire panels I bought (with dollars from the sale of beef) for a sheep paddock, a project repeatedly put on hold due to Damon’s tricky health, will now wait for spring.


It is easy to be frustrated when I look around at everything I did not accomplish this summer. I did not transplant any balsams. I didn’t paint the barn addition. I didn’t sell my heifer or four of my goslings. I didn’t build the missing doors on the sheep stall or the garden shed. I spent many sweaty hours on my future flower garden, but then turned my back to get Lucy off to college and start my own school year, and it got away from me again.


In my mind’s ear, I hear the prayer of contrition from my earliest childhood:

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.

Luckily I know I did do a few positive things. I drew up plans for our house. I taught Lucy to drive. I fenced the back field. I kept the sheep home to improve our own land. I sold my entire crop of lambs to buyers eager for my flock’s good genetics. All seventeen open acres were grazed and mowed.

Moreover, I am basically healthy and, God willing, there’s always next year.

Fencing with a Story Stick

June 30, 2016


I was pulled into paperwork and carpooling yesterday. After getting the sheep onto fresh grass, the barn mucked, the cattle in, and the water troughs refilled, I ended up having only a couple of hours to work on the back field. However, I did finish putting up all the insulators.

When I am fencing, I use something I call a “story stick.” Historically, builders put up houses and barns (and pyramids) without access to rulers and measuring tapes. They realized that what mattered wasn’t exact dimension but uniformity. Therefore they would cut and peel a tall, thin sapling and carve notches in it to mark the length of rafters, the height of walls, the width of doorways, etc. Everything would be measured and cut according to the marks. These carved poles, idiosyncratic to each project, were known as “story poles,” and even into the 1930s could be found in the attics of old New England farmhouses.

When I’m fencing, I mark a scrap of wood (sadly for romance, with an indelible pen rather than a knife) with the height of all the insulators for each post. This is my story stick. I’ve had story sticks for each pasture — the height and number of the insulators depending on the animals I was hoping to enclose at the time. The back field will only have cattle, and so will only need three electric lines around the perimeter. Cattle typically do not jump fences like horses, nor get down on their knees and wriggle under like sheep. They are generally easy to confine.

E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, wrote in 1939:

A friend of mine has an electric fence around a piece of his land, and he keeps two cows there. I asked him one day how he liked his fence and whether it cost much to operate. ‘Doesn’t cost a damn thing,’ he replied. ‘As soon as the battery ran down I unhooked it and never put it back. That piece of fence wire is as dead as a piece of string, but the cows don’t go within ten feet of it. They learned their lesson the first few days.

Apparently this state of affairs is general throughout the United States. Thousands of cows are living in fear of a strand of wire that no longer has the power to confine them. Freedom is theirs for the asking. Rise up, cows! Take your liberty while despots snore. And rise up too, all people in bondage everywhere! The wire is dead, the trick is exhausted. Come on out!

What was true then of cattle is still true. They rarely test fences. However, my farm borders a busy 55 mph highway with a hill and a winding blind turn. I have had a young bullock take down a gate and lead a heifer into traffic. I was lucky: no one was killed. But I always try to keep my pastures “bull-tight” for safety.

While I was fencing I measured the old posts against my story stick. Allen and I sank these treated 6x6s several years ago. Each year I’ve found them lifted six to eight inches by frost over the winter.


In the past, every spring Allen would patiently push them down again with the excavator bucket. Now he is gone. I tried standing on the tailgate of my truck and smacking one of the frost-heaved posts with a sledgehammer. It did not move. Yesterday, I adjusted all the old insulators to the new reality. Then I drove around the field and put in all the missing ones.

The hundreds of steel T-posts have snap-on plastic insulators. Between us, Kyle and I put most of these up last summer. This year, my main job has been to drill in the insulators for the wooden posts. These are heavy-duty, one-piece affairs. Premier calls them “TuffRings.”


It is embarrassing to realize that I put these up for years, patiently pre-drilling the posts and winding in the insulators laboriously by hand, before discovering that Premier sells a simple metal driver that drills them in with one motion.


The driver costs less than $5. It saves hours. (“You ain’t really dumb,” I can hear Allen saying encouragingly in my mind.)

Yesterday I made my way around the field with my drill, my bucket of insulators, and my story stick, drilling in the insulators as deer flies swarmed my head. Today I hope to get the lines up.


June 26, 2016


The first day’s progress on the back field was slow. Of course, all my progress is slow, but this day seemed to be particularly poky. I’m not sure what happened, other than my usual underestimation of time required and overestimation of what I could accomplish.

I moved the sheep pen. I mucked the barn and called the cattle in (the biting flies are so bad in the heat, they were waiting, stamping, at the gate). I took the dogs for a 45-minute hike on the wilderness trails to get that chore out of the way. And then, eating breakfast, I made a short list of nine things I thought I could get done before lunch.

IMG_0594I accomplished 1.5. Hanging the gates took far too long. Just taking down the gate Kyle had hung improperly required twenty minutes in the hot sun, while fat deer flies swarmed my head. (I recently read an article on deer flies, which explained that only females give the painful bloody bites, and that you can tell females from males because the eyes of females are set widely apart while those of males are close together. I was staring intently at the flies landing on my shoulders only to realize that I couldn’t see any eyes and I didn’t want deer flies of either sex on me.)

I got the first, new gate [above] up without too much difficulty, though even that took longer than anticipated because it required all my strength to screw and unscrew the old gate pins. The second, old gate was a bear. Looking at the post Kyle had drilled [left], I found five holes. I didn’t want to drill any more and further weaken the post, so I had to move the hardware on the gate. The tight metal cuffs took forever to bang off. Several times I banged my hands instead of the cuffs. I realized at 1:30 PM that I was so dehydrated my brain was not operating properly. Shortly afterward I brushed the electric fence and that jolted me into breaking for lunch and a drink.

Half an hour later, restored by a peanut butter sandwich and two quarts of cold water, I finally got the second, difficult gate re-hung. Then I began working down the list, towing things out of the field.


  • Re-drill the post and hang the gate that Kyle hung too low to open
  • rake up and dispose of all small bits of metal at the burn pile site (old nails and screws from Mike’s scrap lumber, that cattle will eat out of fatal curiosity)
  • hang the back gate
  • drill insulators into all wooden posts
  • hang the fence lines
  • install a new top line all the way around the field
  • install fencing behind and in front of the cabin field
  • make six rope gates
  • bury wire in conduit under gates 1, 2, 3, 4
  • cut the large fallen poplar off the back fence (I’m afraid of chainsaws; big task with a handsaw)
  • put air in the flat water wagon tire and fill the water wagon
  • move out a water trough; fill
  • remove the Pig Palace (cattle will chew on it)
  • remove the “tea cart” trailer (subject of a future post; cattle will chew on it)
  • remove the fence post trailer (cattle will chew on it)
  • remove the extra sheep shelter frames (cattle will crush them)
  • remove the antique spring-tooth harrow (cattle might hurt themselves)
  • weedwhack the entire fenceline to keep weeds from shorting the fence
  • hang the new fence charger
  • wire the new fence charger

Simple work, but I didn’t even finish all of that. At 4:00 I had to drive to Tractor Supply for (believe it or not) tractor supplies, as Damon has taken my John Deere home for a tune-up. I had to shop for groceries and get gas. I had to plan dinner.

By the time the groceries were unloaded and Stash and I were watering the sheep at evening chores, I was shot. I sat on the truck tailgate in my sweaty, dirty clothes, barely able to form a thought.


It seemed a little unbelievable that I’d worked all day and accomplished so little. However, today is a new day and I’m writing the day’s list. I remind myself that it’s all progress.