Truth in Advertising

April 22, 2017

After decades in school housing, we own very little furniture aside from bookcases. We soon will own a house. Thus this spring I have been buying furniture from yard sales and, especially, from Craigslist.

My funds are limited. I have lucked out and paid very little for some great finds. (Last month Lucy and I picked up a king mattress, box spring, and Ralph Lauren bedding for Jon and Amanda’s room from a very wealthy, kind, and eccentric older lady who was moving out of a vacation home. She opened her palatial front door and exclaimed, “Well! You two are certainly mother and daughter! Two ectomorphs!” She then proceeded to give us an hour-long tour of the house, and later, to have the bed and bedding delivered to me at the farm. “Enjoy it, dear!”)

All this searching for deals means that I have been spending a lot of time scanning Craigslist ads. I have grown reasonably adept at reading between the lines. “Drawers slightly stiff” means you can’t use any part of the dresser without a fight. “Could use refinishing” means splinters and patchy veneer.

Thus I was amused and delighted to come upon the following ad for a sectional sofa (someday I’d love to have a sectional in the basement for watching television).


Pet friendly, baby friendly sectional…can easily be vacuumed and shampooed. I want something smaller for our living room, paid $900 a year ago. It does have some seam tears because the dogs sit up top. Can be sewn or covered with a blanket. Two of the cushions zippers broke, but you can’t see that because it’s tucked in the couch.

Along with the photo of her four dogs lounging a la Go, Dog. Go! (one of my favorite books as a child), the author kindly offered several photos of her $900, one-year-old sofa’s torn seams and broken zippers. The entire ad was so very honest (dare I ask what stains or smells made the sofa “baby-friendly?) that I found it charming.

Nevertheless, unaccountably I decided to pass.


That Moment You Know You’ve Been Following Media Too Closely

March 20, 2017

Last night I was waked up by a chorus of howling and yipping that sounded as if it were right under my window. I struggled up on my elbow and checked my watch: 2:10 AM.

Coyotes, my brain said. I wonder what they are howling about?

FAKE NEWS! replied my brain.

Part of me was reassured by this answer — Oh, OK — at the same time that another asked foggily, No, what?

I was still smiling as I fell back asleep.

*   *   *  

Today Lucy and I head to Vermont for a long day of appointments. I am packing Kleenex. What a tenacious virus this has been! Tomorrow school starts again.

Geek Week

March 14, 2017

DH is headed to China. Lucy is back in college. Jon and Amanda are leading their lives in Connecticut. For a week I am all alone. (Except for the two dogs, the barn cat, the cow, the heifer, the bull, the eleven sheep and ten lambs, the two geese, the six hens, and the rooster.)

It is my school vacation. Usually at this time of year I’m juggling lambing and calving while attempting some out-sized farm building project. However, this year the calves are due in June. Lambing has unexpectedly ground to a halt. I am sick with a vicious sinus cold that won’t quit. And now, for the next two days, they are predicting a blizzard carrying over a foot of snow.

I have decided that all of this adds up to God telling me to rein in my Puritan work impulse for a little while and have some self-indulgent fun.

For me, one of the things I enjoy most is historical detective work. I simply adore following research trails. Today, with the internet, I can reach into library and museum collections across the country, Canada, and England. How fabulous to be discussing 18th century shoes with a cordwainer (shoemaker) at Colonial Williamsburg! How exciting to get emails from the British National Archives in “Kew, Richmond, Surrey”! What fun to search Revolutionary War newspapers, now digitized, and to have so many 18th and 19th century books scanned by Google and available free for download!

At this point, however, I actually have done most of the research needed for the story I’ve been plotting. (There are a few holes left: I’ll keep them like Easter eggs to reward myself during the tough patches.) My next task is to organize this information and analyze it. I have to take notes on all the books, diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, and maps, and then massage the information into a useful, coherent whole. This will take a lot of time. The work is less thrilling than the research but also satisfying as my notebook becomes filled with material.

My story is set in the area of western Connecticut in which I grew up. Many people forget that the American Revolution was a civil war (also, in New England, a religious war, but that’s another kettle of fish). Unlike the later Civil War, the American Revolution had no geographic lines, no North vs. South. The Revolution pitted not only neighbors but families against each other. It is heartbreaking to read the hand-written battle reports and realize that the dead and wounded of the enemy could be so often identified by first name because the protagonists grew up in the same town or were, in fact, kin.

Many of the supporting characters in my story will be fictionalized versions of real people. Above is part of a chart I began over the weekend to keep track of just a few of the complicated relationships in this corner of a small village in Connecticut. Now I have laid out on the dining room table the first stack of files and books I hope to annotate in the upcoming days. I am trying to be disciplined: to make all my notes on Revolutionary New York City; then all my notes on Fairfield County; then all my notes on the timing of a colonial farm year; then everything on ladies’ clothing, and so on.

The snow is falling, the dogs are snoring, I am brewing a cup of tea and can’t wait to dive in.

Yesterday I wrote to an unmet research friend in Canada (with whom for the past year I’ve been sharing discoveries from the British War Office papers) to tell him of this unexpected time alone, with no outside responsibilities except the animals.

Mike immediately wrote back, “Enjoy your Geek Week!”

And We Wait…

March 9, 2017

My lambing jugs are empty. Again, it’s been almost a week of checking night and day. Again, when I lean over the gate my heavily pregnant ewes (this time Petunia, Magnolia, and Larch) just look up at me, munching hay in unconcern. No lambs.

Naturally not! It’s been unseasonably warm in the forties for several days. They are obviously waiting for the temperatures to drop below zero again tonight. What is a birth experience if it’s not death-defying?

The ewe lambs Belle and Trefoil, and behind them, the ram Royal, are bored with the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the five ewes who have lambed and their ten bouncing babies are happy in the big stall.

I woke up two days ago with a bad cold and uncontrollable coughing. I’ve been petrified that I would give the virus to DH (who left this morning at 2:30 AM for a two-week business trip to China) or to Lucy (who is racing all week). Other than that, I am not too worried. Though my brain feels slow and thick, and I’m sleepy with antihistamines, I have plenty of mindless tasks on my list.




March 1, 2017

For the third day in a row, today I got up at 4 AM to write reports. I helped set breakfast tables at school at 7:30 AM, finished my reports and advisor letters by noon, and as of now I’m on spring break.

I’m tired but I am thrilled. This afternoon I will write my Vacation To-Do List. This is always a favorite time, when the two weeks stretch empty before me and any yeoman job seems possible. Maybe I will refinish the stairs to the apartment! Build garden shed doors! Insulate the attic! Move all our boxed possessions to the new house basement! Plot a novel!

Reality will set in soon enough, but for now I feel light and yeasty and full of cheer and hope.

Power Out

February 26, 2017

The electricity went out yesterday afternoon. We had a massive thaw, temperatures rose to almost 60° F, then plunged again, with lashing rain and high winds. The power flickered at 3 PM, came back on for a few minutes, and then failed completely. By 5, when I drove down to close up the barn for the night, the rain was turning to wet snow — so thick and heavy that by the time I finished chores my truck wipers could barely move it.

Last night DH took this photo of me in my pajamas reading and making notes at the kitchen table by candlelight.


“What are you reading about?” he inquired. “Smallpox?”

For the past year I’ve been collecting out-of-print books on 18th century subjects — Epidemics in Colonial America, The New York Merchant on the Eve of the Revolution, Guns on the Early Frontiers — for a writing project. While my family has kindly purchased these old books for me for Christmas and birthdays, my reading choices are seen as fairly eccentric.

“Actually, the response to the Stamp Act of 1765 in Manhattan.”

He laughed. “A page-turner, no doubt.”

The power was off for nineteen hours. Our visit to the past had its fun aspects — reading side by side, heaped with blankets and surrounded by dogs, pulling on wool hats and wool socks as the house grew colder — but we were happy to return to the 21st century by lunchtime.


February 25, 2017

DH snapped these photos of me as I was dressing for barn chores this morning before breakfast. It was my usual winter outfit, slightly modified for warmer weather. Layers of ratty t-shirts. A big old sweatshirt pulled from the school lost-and-found at the end of last year. My rotting coveralls, due for the trash at the close of the season. The hay stuck to my wool hat was (for DH) the crowning touch.

“Oh my God, you’re the definition of a hayseed!”



E.B. White said of his beloved wife, Katharine, a passionate gardener who wore tweed suits and Ferragamo pumps to tend her flower borders, “She never dressed down for her gardens.”

DH can say equally truthfully that I never dress up for my barn.