Carry On

May 14, 2017

I felt gut-punched yesterday, sunk in gloom. It is hard for me to bear accidents that result in the death of any creatures in my care.

I imagine I have cared for a thousand animals over the years — a thousand little beating hearts and bright pairs of eyes. The photo above shows chick brooder boxes in the corner of our kitchen in 2003.

Animals die. I’m always sad, but when it’s my fault I never forget it. The baby rabbits, when I was eighteen and didn’t know any better than to allow them to nurse as much as they wanted from a bottle, that died of bloat. The baby skunks of the same era that became wet in an overnight rain and died of hypothermia. More recently a newborn calf, Jif, who because I didn’t double-lock a gate, jiggled the single latch loose and wandered into Moxie’s stall where he was rammed, incurring internal injuries. In the same week Cider’s first lamb, tiny and perfect…

… died of simple starvation. I knew Cider was an inexperienced mother, I thought she was not being attentive enough. However I was exhausted by a relentless virus that had swept through my four calves, triggering potentially deadly scouring that had me driving to the barn around the clock to feed each calf bottles of warm electrolytes, and to wash and coat their bottoms with Vaseline to protect them from the vicious diarrhea that burned their hides. I was so tired. I told myself Cider would manage. She did not. The lamb died. My dear Allen died that day, too. Jif died the next day.

It’s easier to focus on the lives I save. Here’s one of the calves a week later, finally back on his feet after the terrible scouring. Within a month all the hair grew in again and you’d never know I’d had to fight through so many sleepless nights to keep him alive.

I never forget the lives I lose through ignorance or accident. I never shake it off. I know I will feel low for days. But farming (and life) means you have to carry on.

Sick at Heart

May 13, 2017

I had been amused (how tired am I, I wondered, when I can’t count?) to realize that my goose Kay had hatched not eight goslings but ten. Seven boys and three girls. I had kept them indoors for a week to let them find their bearings before turning them outside.

Last night I moved them from the lamb stall to the big sheep stall, the first step toward the great outdoors. The ten babies were so cute, crowding around their food dish. I thought of taking a photo but it was too dark in the barn.

This morning I was horrified to discover four goslings were dead. I had put the shallow food and water dishes out for the babies and in a far corner I’d tied a one-gallon water pail for the adult geese. Somehow four goslings had jumped into this small pail and drowned.

I have had babies drown before. Newly-feathered chicks and turkey poults in their early hopping flights flutter up and land in a horse’s five-gallon water bucket and can’t get out. But these downy babies … in a small one-gallon pail … goslings, that can swim… and four of them. I tried to picture the scenario and could not. The only thing I knew for sure was that Andy, my gander, would have been shrieking and beside himself at the sound of their frightened peeping. This morning as I pulled up the pail of dead goslings he leapt at my face.

I buried the goslings (2 boys, 2 girls) in the manure pile. It is hard to forgive myself when I make a mistake like this. I am heartsick.


May 13, 2017

My eyes popped open at 3:15 this morning. I tried to go back to sleep but my brain immediately began to race with lists. So much to do at work, on the farm, for the family, for the house. I am trying to keep my eyes on the prize and not panic.

After interviews at four different banks, renegotiating with two, and then a meeting with a financial advisor, I have decided on the bank to which I will apply for a mortgage. I emailed this mortgage officer Thursday evening, hoping to get one more concession before I committed. He finally replied last night. I won the concession but the officer informed me he was departing for a 10-day vacation. Oh my. Interest rates have already crept up since I began this process. I have to schedule a 60-day rate lock around the date Nick will have the house ready for appraisal (end of June). DH has long planned to use frequent flyer miles to go hiking in South America for his 65th birthday; he may be out of the country at what may now be the time of closing.

The whole thing is beginning to remind me of those math puzzles Dad used to pose at the dining room table: “If a train leaves Chicago…” I feel the same sense of futile stupidity. I will never figure this out.

Meanwhile I signed up for a 0% credit card to purchase appliances (we have never owned new appliances). I always put DH’s name first on everything because he is the primary breadwinner. There was a typo in the new card and I asked DH to call to grant permission for the company to speak to me. He could not pass the security questions. (This has always been a problem. He’s brilliant but unfamiliar with these conventions. Citibank once asked him for his mother’s maiden name. “Joan!” he replied confidently.) However after a bit of coaching we got the new card ironed out and I hope to have it in hand in time for Memorial Day sales. Until then I am reading Consumer Reports appliance reviews, juggling payments, and every day checking to make sure our bills are covered.

I picked up Lucy from college Wednesday night. Her bags are stacked in this house’s entryway. Does it make sense for her to unpack when we are moving in a month? Probably not. But the sprawling bags and boxes add to my sense of life mushrooming out of control.

At school I am coming down the home stretch with my classes. My 8th graders start Vietnam next Tuesday and my 7th graders will soon study Hamilton and Burr.  The 7th grade class is a week behind — my fault, not properly adapting to a schedule change — and I need to come up with a fix. Two more weeks to wrap up every idea and then my written reports will be due.

I have rented the garage apartment to a pair of college students for the summer. I have to get them the lease this weekend, clean the apartment, set up the air conditioner, and do some minor painting and repairs. They arrive in 16 days.

It takes me an hour every day to move the sheep to fresh grass.

I need to fix fence and transition the cattle from hay to grass. I need to get the mowers out of storage. I need to ferry the truck to its appointment on Tuesday. I need to take Lucy driving regularly before her driver’s test. I need to order bathroom fixtures. I need to figure out countertops. I need to buy bathroom tile. I need to address our complete lack of living room furniture. Friends are coming to stay next weekend and the following evening I am hosting the 8th grade class party. The next weekend we will have school trustees as houseguests.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The metal roofing has started.

It is supposed to rain most of the next two weeks. I try not to be anxious about the ability to put up siding and roofing under these conditions. Instead I am concentrating on gratitude that we are not in a drought.

Thank you, God, for my many blessings.

A Disappointing Design

May 12, 2017

Yesterday I discovered an unfortunate wrinkle in the house plan. The porch posts are centered on the house’s front windows. Thus the “views” from both the living room and the office are of a 2×6 post. If I had known enough to ask for a computer visual, I would have caught it, and asked for either the windows or the posts to be moved, but I did not know.

I’m very disappointed. To me this shouts “punk design,” a favorite phrase of the pilot Charles Lindbergh for basic errors in design that defeat usefulness. Having a window’s view blocked by a post seems punk indeed. I feel like a fool. Though I am not the one who drew the plans, I okayed them. The buck stops here.

There is nothing that can be done about the problem now. I let the house company designer know about the issue in a polite email, in hopes I could save some other homeowner a similar sad discovery. In return I received an email requesting approval of door swings for my final bill. Really?

I have to let it go. Instead I am trying to focus on design choices that I initiated and insisted on that make me happy. Here is the view from our bedroom. Breathe in, breathe out.

The Porch Has Been Started!

May 10, 2017

Despite the mixed sleet and rain that fell all day, the farm house made another leap forward yesterday. When I drove in after work I found the porch roof is going up!

I got out of my car and walked the porch deck in wonderment, filled with emotion. I have dreamed of this porch for years and years.

I realized long ago that there will never be anyone who will share my excitement over this land and this house to the degree I feel it. Allen came closest, with the land. We struggled together though snowstorms and rain and wind to clear every inch.  We constantly plotted and schemed to squeeze the last nickel to get things done. “Y’know what we need —” he once said in the early days, and then caught himself in embarrassment at saying “we.” (It wasn’t his land.)

I had hugged him. I loved being part of a “we.”

With the house, however, I’m on my own. My parents would be happy for me, but Dad has been gone nearly thirty years and Mom thirteen. DH is pleased that I am happy, but his interest is zero. My children — I hope they will learn to love it. I hope we will have years of happy memories. But they are grown, with their own dreams, and can’t really imagine my lifetime of dreaming and yearning for this home.

As I walked on the deck, my heart bursting, I wondered who it was I wished I could share it with. Finally I realized it was my younger self.

Hang on, I want to tell her. Some day it will all come true.

My eyes regularly fill with tears of amazement and joy.

Springtime in the Adirondacks

May 9, 2017

Spring in the High Peaks is always tricky, and often disappointing. Yesterday, May 8, we woke up to a thin blanket of fresh snow. There were snow showers and sleeting through the day, and at supper time it began snowing hard.

This morning we have another inch of new snow on the ground. The rest of the week is due to be cold and rainy.

The dark skies and chill winds are not uplifting. However I’m so grateful not to be worrying about drought this year, I am thanking God.

 *  *  *

On Sunday afternoon I fell prey to a strange, violent and painful stomach reaction and I’ve been sick and weak ever since. At the worst of it, all I could think was: how could I have been complaining while healthy? I need to remember gratitude all the time.

A Friend in Need…

May 7, 2017

… is a friend, indeed. Damon called yesterday and I moaned my frustration over the truck, stuck in the driveway and spinning ruts in the gravel due to the locked wheel. You know someone is a true friend when his immediate response is: “I’ll put my leg on.”

It won’t surprise you to learn that in five minutes Damon had the truck unlocked and moving. “What did you do?” “Oh, played with it.”

If I can get an appointment for the truck tomorrow at the dealership, he is going to drive it the half hour there while I follow in my car. Damon is unafraid of wheels locking up at high speed or much else mechanical. Last year when he fixed one set of brakes on the old farm truck, I quavered (after almost taking out a fence post) that the old truck took quite a while to stop. He snorted. “You just need to know how to drive!”

 *   *   * 

Paint update: I went to the hardware store yesterday for more paint samples. The local salesman was unfriendly, just short of rude. He could not make up any of my samples because he was sold out of the base for all of them.  Really, God? I was so tired and discouraged (Damon hadn’t yet been out and solved the truck problem), I was ready to give up, go home, and lie down with a towel over my head. However I forced myself to drive another twenty minutes to the next town.

There I discovered my first gift of the day: an older salesman so kind, so excited about the possibilities of paint, so eager to hear every challenge I was facing, that he turned my mood around. “Everyone feels anxious about paint colors! But really, what’s the worst that can happen? You make a mistake? You paint over it!” He compared the problem to his teaching himself to cook after a lifetime of buying packaged foods. “I got a set of cast iron pans! At first I was so worried about measuring everything exactly! And then one day I realized — make a mistake, throw it away, and start over!” He told me about his hobby writing. “I set my story in Seattle — I’ve never been to Seattle! Google Earth is my friend! After work I look up all the places my heroine will go! I’ve even designed her house layout on my designing program! It keeps my brain cells working!” By the time the last of my sample cans had been shaken, I was ready to invite the salesman out for coffee.

After trying more swatches, I think I’ve decided I will paint most of the house Linen White. It is a lot like Navajo White, but slightly brighter and less muddy. The soft color (more Jersey cream than linen to my eye) may look pale yellow or even peach in different lights (and I suppose in a cold blue north light it may even look green!) but I’ve given up on this issue. I realize that I am currently living in a house that is full of lima-bean green and gold, two of my least favorite colors, and — it has been fine. It’s actually pretty. I also realize that house paint colors are not, as they have been feeling, the equivalent of my 7th grade Latin exam when I forgot to study. It seems unlikely that anyone will walk in my home, glance at my walls, and say, “What a stupid failure you are!”

As for the white trim throughout, I haven’t quite decided, but I am reassured after watching a three-minute Youtube video of a home designer explaining which white trim was best for which situation. (DH asked in mystification, “You’re watching a video on white trim?”)

The designer was standing in front of a dark backdrop holding up pieces of what appeared to my eye to be standard white card stock. She said earnestly, “As you can see, White Dove has a grey undertone, while the undertone of Decorator’s White is blue.”

To me, it was a comedy routine. All of the cards looked exactly the same.

So I am less fearful. Onward!