December 9, 2018

The past month was a challenge. It seemed as if it was non-stop work, punctuated by exhausting alarums: 20 tons of gravel dumped on the septic tank! house water pump fails! pump is replaced and we have iron-red water for a week! excavator to fix the gravel problem breaks down! barn water trough fails! electric in the barn fails!  Constant emergency problem-solving… all while skies were gloomy, snow was falling steadily, my teaching schedule was pressured with evening activities, and I was not sleeping due to the time change.

However yesterday afternoon I finished my fall term reports and today I have surfaced into calm. I still have plenty of work to do but the heart-thumping sense of scrambling to outrun an avalanche has passed.

Among other chores, today I will spend a couple of hours drilling holes and running wires to set up our old stereo system in the living room. It’s not really the season of joy without Christmas music! Hallelujah!

(I’ve always wished to be surrounded by a singing flash mob, but sadly never have. Clearly I don’t shop enough.)


Dressed in Rags

October 28, 2018

I crack myself up sometimes. A few days ago I took this murky photo of myself in the mudroom mirror. (The photo is murky because the Lifeproof cover on my old phone is so scratched all photos appear as if taken underwater.) I’m not really a “selfie” person and don’t know how to take them, but DH was away and I wanted to show how cold it has been this week. Over my shirt and pants I am wearing a sweatshirt, a fleece neck warmer, quilted coveralls, a watch cap, and my hooded barn jacket.

This barn jacket is about eight years old and has seen better days.

Just last week I stopped by the school office briefly while wearing it (it was not during my teaching time and I’d dashed over between chores). The school secretary, my friend, said dryly, “Maybe time for a new coat?” I’d replied, “This jacket is just for the barn. I think I can get another winter out of it.”

Back in 2002, when I first started doing barn chores twice a day, I was absurdly proud of wearing out clothes. I had been a child of the suburbs. I outgrew clothes, I didn’t wear them out as a result of physical toil. The first pair of work boots I went through I could hardly bear to part with. They were a symbol to me of my discipline and sweat. I had to store them in the garage for six months until they lost their magic totem status and I could see them as the trash they were, and throw them away.

I think this may be a common phenomenon. At farming conferences, I have noticed that some presenters are clean and tidy, and others are in worn and even ripped clothes. It’s my observation that the latter are almost invariably people like me, former children of the suburbs who sport their fraying work clothes as badges of honor. Conversely my dear friend Allen, who grew up in the early 1940s in poverty, wore Dickies on the job but for public display put on a dress shirt with a bolero tie.

In any event, after taking the selfie I stooped and put on my work boots (they were Allen’s; I wear them and think of him and all the jobs we did together while his feet were in them; sadly, between us, we’ve nearly worn them out… one sole is rotting off). Then I zipped up my jacket, put on my mittens, and went to chores.

An hour later when I returned from chores — hurrying, as usual, to change and get to my classes on time — I could not get my barn jacket off. The zipper was stuck. I looked in the mirror — was anything caught in it? Nope. Often you can force a zipper. I yanked at my lapels with both hands. Nope. The zipper didn’t budge. Of course I had zipped it almost to my throat. I removed my glasses and every other obstruction and carefully wiggled out of the jacket, pulling it off over my head, the zipper scraping my face. Despite being harassed and late, I couldn’t help laughing a little that only a short time earlier I’d been posing before the same mirror. That’ll teach me to try to take a selfie!

After work I examined the zipper more closely. I tried for ten minutes to free it. No luck.

OK, I give up. Time for a new barn jacket.

I Need to Get Over It

October 27, 2018

It is snowing. According to weather reports, we may get 5-8″ of snow. I have been outside for four hours in the cold, rushing to get sheep netting taken down and rolled, covers cut off summer shelters, water troughs put away. House guests are on their way, arriving in a few hours. I have to tidy the messy house and make beds.

However through the blowing flakes I just noticed that my builder has been here in the last few days while I was at work. He has taken his ladder off the roof, and removed all his scaffolding.

I have not heard from him in over a month. When I wrote to him three weeks ago to say the chimney brick had arrived, he did not respond.

It’s hard to explain how betrayed I feel. He was here! He was on my roof! When he hasn’t bothered to communicate with me!

DH is a patient person but he is puzzled by my reaction. “Isn’t it clear he’s not going to do the work? Why do you keep believing that he will redeem himself?”

Just the other day I found and reread the email from a year ago when the builder told me he would return to finish the work in May.

I believe in redemption. But this bitter feeling of betrayal has dripped poison in my heart for six months and I have to let it go.

Cold and Grey and Stinky

October 25, 2018

The weather is cold and damp and grey. Not inspiring. I have been trying to force myself to take advantage of every available moment to tackle the job of mucking deep bedding out of the sheep stalls. It is slow going. I did use some lumber my builder had left outdoors for a year to make a temporary ramp into the back of the dump trailer Larry lent to me.

I have the boards balanced on assorted junk around the barn, including old tires.

Not elegant but hey, it works. I have loaded the trailer twice and dumped it, between showers of rain and snow. Here I am after work yesterday (before rushing off for a funeral) in the back pasture.

No, the back field did not get mowed in August. Yes, that is discouraging.

I pull the trailer through the snowy weeds to a likely spot that could use a little nourishment…

And then I dump the heavy load of mulch hay and manure in a heap.

The first time I tried this maneuver, last weekend, the box rose and the trailer tongue popped entirely off the hitch, lunging forward and scaring me considerably. Thankfully I was not hurt. I hadn’t realized the trailer required a 2 5/8″ ball hitch; I had used a 2″ ball.

I thought of calling Mike. I thought of calling Damon. Instead I waited for my heart to stop racing and then figured out how to solve it myself. I lowered the box, unfastened everything, found and installed my 2 5/8″ hitch, and backed into position to reattach the trailer. I won’t make that mistake again.

In the meantime I have to pump up the truck tires with every trip — and pump up my willpower to pull on my smelly coveralls, swing the pickaxe, fork the stinking deep bedding into the wheelbarrow, and push the heavy loads out of the barn and up the ramp.

With my busy schedule and the depressing weather, it feels as if the willpower part might be the toughest.

A New Job

October 24, 2018

I have taken on a new job at school, teaching an extra class. I resisted, but I was asked to do so by an old friend with a combination of pleading and flattery — “No one could do it as well as you!”

I resisted because my schedule was perfect as it was: a comfortable level of stress, predictable days, time to refine and improve my already existing classes. Why would I take on an extra 1:1 reading tutorial which would need me to acquire an entirely new skillset? Well — I like the child, I want to be a team player (and perhaps improve my chances for a job after DH leaves), I like a challenge, and — I can almost never say no.

The result is that I am spending a couple of hours every day reading and researching how best to help this boy. I was already juggling a daunting list of school work and farm chores. Now managing my time feels almost impossible. Every minute is spoken for.

Meanwhile the weather forecast is for snow almost every day this week, the farm is nowhere near ready for winter (fencing, mowers, and shelters scattered everywhere) I’m still selling sheep, DH and I have two memorial services to attend, he is on the road two other days, we each are showing evening movies to students on two different nights, and we have houseguests arriving for the weekend.

It’s all fine, the new work is rewarding, but I’m moving so quickly my hair is practically on fire.



October 18, 2018

It snowed last night, about an inch. This morning the windchill is 10° F. My opportunity to work outside is almost gone. Next week is due to have highs in the 30s. All my sheep fencing, shelters, and lawn mowers are dusted with snow and must be put away. I have to pound in the driveway markers before the ground freezes for the winter.

It is hard for me to accept that I got so little done on the land this summer. Practically nothing, in fact, except moving the sheep every day and mowing after them. Almost zero on the gardens or on the fencing. The back field is not mowed and is knee-high in dead weeds. The deep bedding has not been mucked from the sheep stalls. I never built the new barn doors.

I keep thinking: How did this happen? I want to wail, But I never took a single day off!

OK. I try to remember the accomplishments. I did finish paneling the mudroom and building the lockers with Tom. I did put up a brick wall. I did work with Damon to fix the driveway. I did put up sheetrock in the basement. I did pick hundreds of rocks in the backyard. I did get the well pump repaired. Damon, Larry, and I did dig up and replace the faulty frost-free hydrant in the barn paddock. I did get the cookstove in from the garage and have it fixed. I did take the bull and steer to slaughter and then pick up and deliver all the meat to customers. I did sell half a dozen lambs and geese. I did replace the railings on the apartment deck. I did repair Mama’s fan. I did go to Connecticut for my granddaughter’s surgery. I did put up doors on the garden shed. I did attend multiple doctor appointments. I did unpack dozens of boxes.

Nevertheless, looking at my long list remaining, it’s hard to escape the sinking feeling that I got nothing done.


October 14, 2018

I’m feeling hammered by time (not enough), chores (too many), and the weather (getting steadily colder). Yesterday as I worked outside all day it repeatedly snowed on me. Thankfully, nothing is sticking yet. This morning it is 33°.

My friend Larry in town kindly lent me his dump trailer so I can muck deep bedding out of the two sheep stalls (one 12×18, the other 10×32, both 18″ deep in soiled hay that has hardened to near adobe) and drop it in the back field. This is a huge help. The bedding is too heavy and thick for my little spreader until it after has rotted for a year. The only problem is that my ramp, built for my little spreader, is too steep. Yesterday I struggled with my bad knee and bad elbow to force 200-lb loads up the steep angle. By the end of the day I was so tired I was trembling, and the last load twisted away from me to dump on the ground. Today I will try to devise a ramp for the back.

I wouldn’t mind the challenge but my eye is on the clock.

I still have 32 reports to write today and meanwhile this afternoon the temperature is due to rise above 50°. I loathe painting and am not good at it, but I have to paint the front porch. Of course I have no paint brush so I will need to run into the hardware store… a wasted hour.

Go, go, go!