Thursday, June 29, 2017

Gate bliss

Our new farm gate was completed this week, though the opener had a glitch and is being replaced. I love this gate so much I am happy to open and close it manually until the opener is working! From the inside, looking out.

Outside, looking in. My first chore today is to trim back the sycamore on the right side to expose the upper edge of the post. Our contractor and gate virtuoso beveled the edges and they are gorgeous!

 The gate is perfectly hung. You can push it open with one finger and it stops when you stop pushing. I am in love with it. We'll let the wood season until August and then the posts will get several coats of dark tung oil and the gate itself will be painted soft white to match the porch and I'll go over that with several coats of light tung oil to finish it off.

My reward for doing that work? A new mailbox and finally, the farm sign I've been trying to get made since we moved in 12 years ago. I finally found a way to do what I want, and we'll see how it turns out. Stay tuned.

This is a sample of what the entire perimeter fencing will look like come September. This little area is the only piece of our farm that wasn't secure so I'm very happy that now it is. No horses from down the lane galloping up to our barnyard fence, no worries if someone gets out of the grass paddock or barnyard and heads down the driveway.

When we do the fencing in September we will also be dog-proofing the new gate. I'm so happy to have this long-time farm dream come to fruition.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Me and Rosie Roomba

This is the spring and summer of home/farm improvement and also a time when we're trying to make our work easier and the chores not quite so time-consuming. I've been going through some of our daily routines, looking for ways to lessen the load.

With cats and Corgis and humans going in and out all day and half the night, tracking in dirt and debris, shedding hair and dropping crumbs, the most basic of the household tasks is keeping the floors clean. Thankfully we have hardwoods and tile only so that certainly helps, but the sheer amount of stuff that ends up underfoot is staggering. We take our boots and shoes off in the laundry room, and that helps too, and we have LL Bean mats at all the entrances, which helps with cat and Corgi paw patrol. But if anyone said "you can only do one chore" it would have to be vacuuming.

I don't mind vacuuming that much, to be honest. It's a rewarding chore, one where you see the results as you go, cat hair dust bunny, whoosh! Dirt and debris, gone! There's something metaphorically satisfying about sucking up all the dirt and having clean space again. Let me take a moment to praise our Dyson Animal. This is the purple vacuum cleaner we invested in years ago. It has had two motor replacements and a number of parts made new by dear husband. At this point the carpet beater part no longer works and we use the wand, which will suck in an entire curtain if you happen to get too close. This is by far the best vacuum cleaner I've ever had and at some point we need to go ahead and get a new one.

The part of vacuuming I don't enjoy is the time it takes to go through the entire house, inch by inch, and the worst part of all is lugging the very hefty Dyson through the gate on the stairs and up to the second floor, then back down again when I'm done. Periodically I've considered getting a second one for the second floor, but the expense was such I never have, and the issue of where to store it up there was also problematic. There's just no good space to put it.

Since we remove boots and shoes, and since the second floor is off limits to Corgis, the floors are much easier to keep clean, but there are still cat hair dust bunnies and flecks of litter box pine flakes that get tracked about. A side bar to say that plush microfiber mats under the litter boxes have made a HUGE difference in this issue! Why didn't I do that years ago? But back to the vacuuming.

Actually, back to my childhood. I'm not really a cartoon person; I don't enjoy the medium much but there was one cartoon I loved when I was little. The Jetsons. There was something about the world of space travel and robots and convenience that I loved, a glimpse of the future. And today, as much as I eschew things like ATVs and kitchen gadgets that do one task and use up valuable storage space, I love some of the technology we have access to. This iPad I'm typing on, my Kindle, the iPhone. I use these things daily and love them, for the most part. Our Bluetooth printer is like a thing of magic to me. So it's no surprise that I've been eyeing the Roomba for a long time now.

Early reviews said it wasn't a match for pet hair, and since we have so many pets, I determined we would be sticking with the Dyson Animal. But recent upgrades have made certain models work better  for those of us with cats and dogs, and since our upstairs is much less problematic in that respect I decided to spring for the Roomba. It arrived in a fancy box and sat there for several weeks awaiting being opened and set up. On Friday night, when I realized I was going to have to haul the Dyson up the stairs to vacuum, dear husband opened the Roomba and set it up for me.

And off it went. I sat on the wicker loveseat in the loft and watched it, then followed as it went from room to room, not always in the route I felt was best, but I enjoyed seeing it do its thing. Skeptical but charmed, I sat on the bed in the guest room while it went underneath, doing a far better job than I do with the Dyson's wand. Other than the fact that it seemed to sometimes get obsessed with certain corners and tight spaces, it made its way through the labyrinth of our upstairs and cleaned every bit of debris there was to get. I let it go until the battery ran down and then docked it for recharging.

The instruction manual says it works best if used regularly, so I emptied the bin on Saturday night  (which held cat hair, litter debris, a screw, and a piece of unchewed gum!) and set it on its way again. This time I cleaned the litter boxes and changed the cat water bowl while the Roomba worked, enjoying the company and the help. It wasn't long before I was talking to the machine in passing, and thinking of it as "her." When she obsessed about an area she'd already cleaned thoroughly I stopped her and picked her up. "Let's go in another room now," I said affectionately.

I finished my chores before she did and used the extra time to read a story in Paris Review. What a treat! I'm smitten. Meet Rosie.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Weekend and a writing update

For the writers who visit, I thought I'd do a little update on what's happening here on that front. I joined a writing group in May and have had one 26-page chunk of my current novel critiqued. I'm trying to do a final overall edit before querying agents with it in the fall. This is the novel previously (and maybe still) titled The Girl Who Was Never Not Broken, a tale of Ava Lee Jessup's journey to find her mama, and how she finds her daddy instead.

I also have several short pieces of work out on submission:

Airplanes, an essay about motherhood and time travel, is out.

Clairette, a long short story that looks at Claire Caviness before she meets Finn Weston (the story pre-dates the novel claire-obscure), is also out. This long story was too short to be a novella so I cut the word count enough to get it more marketable as a short story.

Skellars, another of my "twilight zone" tales, is out.

I'm in the midst of a final edit of an essay called When The Thing That Is Stuck In Your Throat Is Your Heart, which has been simmering for nearly two years now and finally erupted when I read a recent call for submissions.

Sometimes the work hovers that way, waiting for a place to aim.

I have two novels already in first draft awaiting my attention in the fall. I'm not yet sure which I'll work on, but I like having a choice!

I'd love some writerly company here - if you're working on something, sending something out, thinking about starting a writing project - announce it here! We're all in this writing game together.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Noisy end to a busy week

Monday it was the doctor about the poison ivy.

Tuesday it was daughter's calculus 2 exam. (Admittedly I didn't have to do anything but wait in a coffee shop while she did the calculus!)

Wednesday it was dental cleaning.

Thursday it was eye doctor.

All of those days we had contractors and surveyors and UPS deliveries and commotion.

Today I am blissfully in my pajamas at 10:25 a.m., doing nothing, nowhere to be, surrounded by cats sleeping and Corgis guarding and horses and pony and donkey in their barn with fans and hay. The gate installation is on hold until Monday, no one is on the farm but us.

The neighbors are apparently cutting down trees with chainsaws but even that is okay - because I am HOME.

Planning to dig in and savor it today and all through the weekend!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Prednisone and productivity

I was told I "might like" Prednisone, and also that it might give me a surge of energy initially. Day one I felt a little fuzzy around the edges, more so yesterday, but last night I went into overdrive and knocked out my entire list of writing tasks in one big burst of work. Stayed up late, slept in this morning, and had a fantastic dream that our contractor accidentally knocked down the back yard fence, but put in a new one for us, built a new barn with gorgeous apartment upstairs, and wiped out my development woes by installing the ocean in our back forty so I never had to worry about it again. He did say that it would add a little to our cost, but when I opened the invoice the total final charge was $4200. I think for a new fence, barn, and the ocean, that is pretty reasonable!

We'll see how day three goes!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tale of a plastic carrot bag

A couple of weeks ago either Keil Bay or Cody snuck into the barn aisle while the pony was getting a bath and emptied one plastic bag of baby carrots, ate them, trampled the empty bag, and then apparently did the same with the other bag of baby carrots. But that bag has never been found.

There was a mild panic with thoughts of impending colic, twisted bowel, vet school hospital surgery, and a big fat bill at the end. And the awful bubble of thought: what if the worst happened?

There was nothing coming out of noses so we ruled out the option that the bag was lodged in the esophagus. We searched high and low for the bag. We monitored manure and urine. We watched them eat and drink. All was normal.

A call to our vet calmed us down. She said the shape of the bag was unlikely to cause issues. If it went through the esophagus it likely went through the stomach, she said. And if it gets to the gut it will come out the other end.

She told me: do not obsess or lose sleep. As long as they look normal, treat them normally. You may never find the bag so don't stress trying to look for it every day. Just assume all is well until you see otherwise. You probably won't see otherwise!

So here we are. Two happy horses, no sign of the bag. I'm assuming all is well!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Poison ivy and prednisone

In a moment of sheer insanity I took my hand clippers last weekend and attacked a patch of poison ivy that was growing at the corner of our house. The ivy was growing at eye level and while I was careful not to touch it, I was whacking away at it with the clippers and suspect I released the oils which then wafted onto my face. Thankfully I wear glasses! But both sides of my face, my neck, several areas along my arms, and and an area on my abdomen are all raspy and itchy now. As the bumps got closer and closer to my left eye I caved in and made an appointment with my doctor.

She recommended Prednisone for 10 days and I gratefully accepted. I was up in the wee hours of the night scratching and trying not to scratch, and with the heat and regular barn chores in my day figured it was best to kick back at this now and not try to suffer through it.

About 3 hours after the first dose I am not nearly as itchy and feeling a little woozy. I'll take it. Thanks to dear daughter and sweet husband for doing the chores for me while this passes.


I read an article that describes a much safer way of dealing with poison ivy without using chemicals. You can find it HERE.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ducks and horses

The ducks from down the lane have been visiting us twice daily for a week or so now, and this morning I watched a drama unfold as they encountered the horses in the front field. There was galloping, and mock-spooking, circling and alerting, and the ducks made their way from the bottom of the front field up the hill, around the house to the garage area, down the driveway, back through the front field, and then finally back to the driveway where they took to the neighborhood lane to head home. If you look closely above you can see them. The horses had a grand work-out and I had a grand time watching the show.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Literary Mama, what they're looking for

I was thrilled late last week to get an email from the online journal Literary Mama telling me they had included my essay published last December in a blog post they recently wrote illustrating what they're looking for in submissions. They were a pleasure to work with and I was proud to have my essay published; now I'm proud to be included with the selected group of work they chose to highlight what they want and what got published. I invite you to follow this link and then follow their links to essays, stories, poems, and more that have to do in some way with motherhood.

Good reading here!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 32

This is what I woke up to this morning - our neighbor's ducks doing bug duty in the front field. I am charmed by this little flock, who make the trek from their pond two farms down to visit our field each morning. I wish I could hire them to march through the barn aisle a few times a day!

While doing morning chores I also encountered a box turtle walking along the dirt paddock. He acted like he knew exactly where he was going, so I left him to it. The barn gutters are being installed today, so the horses and donkeys are having to live "rough" in the front field, something they are not at all accustomed to at this time of year, and I assure you, there was drama. Husband and I brushed out ears, put on fly masks and fly spray, cleaned and filled the water trough, and gave lots of hay in the shady areas of the pasture. There was galloping and bucking and pacing and lots of bossing around by all of them. It's 2:14 as I type this and they are still bunching up at the gate, clamoring to come in!

I offered them all a cold hosing and the horses and pony accepted, all grumpy but willing to line up for their turns. Thankfully today has been overcast so while it's warm, it's not nearly as hot as it would be if the sun were blazing. I don't know yet how long the gutters and downspouts will take so they may be roughing it again tomorrow.

In other farm chore news, we recently got a Newer Spreader. I used it today for the first time and wow - it really does the job! I'm very happy with it.


Our efforts to purchase a small parcel of land behind our back line have failed. I was told by the realtor that developers from a neighboring town have the entire 103 acres under contract with plans to build 50 homes back there. Thankfully the power cut and county setback regulations will keep things at a reasonable distance but I'm sad that the hundred-acre wood is going to be a subdivision. The other side of this coin is that our property value will increase, but my hope is that the whole plan to develop crashes and burns.

Our plans to re-do the perimeter fencing are proceeding, but now we'll also add another fence to the actual back property line. There's another little plan I'm hatching as well but I'll save that story for another day to tell.

We've been having lovely salads with the lettuces from the garden this month. The last of the strawberries were eaten and now we're waiting for tomatoes and cucumbers and blueberries to come in.

Baloo is doing beautifully - he's a sweet pup and very high energy. Bear is still happy to have a playmate and I'm thrilled to have two dogs who get along well and keep one another company when I'm busy with other things!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Front porch bliss

Finally! Light is hung, porch is done. Enjoying the bliss and moving on to other projects. Just in time for summer nights! 

Friday, June 09, 2017

my new favorite company - Barn Light Electric

We recently ordered a new light fixture for our front porch, my reward for a lot of work done painting and weather-proofing the screens we had built last spring. It arrived yesterday. I am struck by the quality of the fixture, which was made to our specifications selected during the online ordering process. I was also impressed with the packing - no plastic, nothing but paper and cardboard, and yet it was secure and completely intact upon arrival. This company clearly cares about making and delivering a quality product!

I'll post a photo once we hang it this weekend, but meanwhile, if you need lights for the home, farm, or barn, I highly recommend Barn Light Electric .

I'm already looking at replacing our garage entrance light and the two on our back deck. As well as the barn. You pick your style, color, size, wiring, etc. I am beyond impressed.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Next big project - resurfacing stalls with Stable Grid

I'm posting this partly to psych myself up for this next BIG project. It's likely we will get to it in early fall but the prep work starts now.

We've been here on November Hill for 12 years and when we arrived the stalls were in super shape. All but one had stall mats and keeping them clean was easy with Keil Bay and the pony as our only occupants!

Then Cody came, and then Salina, and then the donkeys, and 6 equines put a lot more wear and tear on stall flooring, especially when 3 of them weigh 1200+ pounds. Then Salina needed "a soft place to fall" so to speak and we re-did her stall with a very thick layer of peat moss and extra fine pine shavings mixed in. All the horses ended up liking that stall best so I did two more stalls that way, removing the mats (which were starting to shift and create urine spots between the cracks) in the process.

We've done minor touch ups on the stall floor as needed through the years but this year it's become clear - it's time to get down to the base and resurface the floors.


I decided if we're going to do it, we're going to do it in a way that will hopefully make life easier in the long run. And honestly, I am hoping that this is it for us and resurfacing stalls! The stall mats are great in a lot of ways but getting them in and out when you need to do a deep cleaning OR to repair something underneath is a huge pain (in the back, usually).

I have done some research and decided that we're going to take out the dividing walls (ours are removable), clear everything down to the base, make any repairs to walls, etc., level the entire floor, put in a layer of gravel, install Stable Grids, and then put stone dust on top of that. We'll bed deep with extra fine pine shavings as we do now.

We're also going to need to replace the wooden "doorjambs" in the front and back doors of each stall. These keep the horses from tracking shavings out of the stalls. Keil's stall is missing his and oh dear, it is a constant chore this time of year sweeping the shavings back in where he tracks them out. (Bear in mind that our stall doors are mostly open so the equines go in and out all day long)

The prep for doing this starts with the arena, oddly enough. The arena needs topping off, and the "dirt" paddock needs additional screenings added at the end directly behind the barn. Over time, the surfaces out there have eroded away and everything needs to be topped off again so the drainage does what it's supposed to do when it rains.

So this is the order of business:
Arena topped off
Dirt paddock built up at the barn end
Shelter mats removed, floor leveled and resurfaced with Stable Grids
Three back stalls cleared, re-leveled, and resurfaced with Stable Grids

Then we'll do the barn aisle and the two stalls on this side of the barn, and the new shelter.

I think if we start now the timing will be just about right - with the horses in the barn during the summer days it's just not the right time of year to resurface stalls. Fall will work well, I think, if I can stay on schedule and Get It Done.

Thankfully we have a quarry 15 minutes away and a local man with a smallish dump truck who is very reliable and very affordable. I just hope he will be willing to do the stall part of this job!

Any advice or BTDTs welcome.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 31

Busy week here. One day was spent trying to figure out what was going on with Cody, who had a kicking, biting episode with what seemed to be his fly sheet, but even when I took it off he seemed agitated and a bit wild for the rest of the day. There was no evidence of anything on his body, but in general he's sensitive to bug bites and to pain in general. If something stung or bit him I think he associated it with the fly sheet and somehow just got wound up and it took the day for him to really settle down again.

There was a bit of drama in the feed room when the resident black snake went into a mouse hole and the mice ran out the other end and onto my muck boots. They ended up escaping but I am glad to have some help out there dealing with them!

Baloo went to get his nails dremeled at the local pet supply store, where once a month they have someone come in to do this service. We were in a long line of dogs who all seemed pretty calm about the whole thing and then came Baloo. Oh my, the shrieking and struggling! I felt terrible for him but the moment she was done he stopped and was totally fine so I think/hope it gets easier for him. We elected not to have Bear done as I felt like he would just be too much to handle and I didn't want to start something we couldn't finish! We don't have too much trouble clipping his nails at home but I had hoped the dremel would be easier. Will do this with Baloo again in July and see if it is indeed a bit easier - it would be so nice if they could go every month and get this done. They each got to go pick out a new toy and we ended on a good note.

I've mowed the last of the buttercups, the plantain, and today worked on hand-trimming back the trumpet vine in the butterfly bushes and getting used to the little chainsaw. It's great for thick branches and small trees but not so great with anything smaller. But husband helped and we got a small area near the barnyard gate finished and I'll be moving on to do small sections each day until... well, probably forever!

The light for the front porch isn't here yet but I'm looking forward to getting that up when it does.

It's been nice being busy here on the farm - with down time during the heat of the day inside and evenings working on writing and submitting. The pace seems slower now and I feel like I'm getting my rhythm back.

Summer solstice approaching!