December 2, 2017
Sitting in Laurel Fork, hot coffee in hand, the smell of the muffins I just made wafting through the air and a fire in the gas fireplace. To see me right now, one would think it has been an ideal week as I sit warm and comfortable enjoying so many luxuries. Truth is, the week has been less than ideal, but isn’t that life? I recently coined the phrase “recovering idealist” because one of the things I have finally learned as I age is that so many of us (myself especially) cling to idealism and it keeps us from relaxing and really appreciating life. So, as I sit here and contemplate this past week (only now getting a chance to write down some of my thoughts and memories in my journal) I realize things were not perfect, did not go exactly as planned, and did not unfold exactly as I might have chosen, but each day provided opportunities to grow, build relationships, love and be loved. Looking at things through that lens, I suppose it was pretty “ideal”. In fact, thinking of things that way, I suppose the most difficult circumstances are probably the most ideal circumstances for growth. I am thankful though for these moments with coffee in hand and warm fires that allow me to have a few moments to reflect.
We returned to Staunton early Monday morning this past week and I kept the girls having had only about three hours of solid sleep (although I took some fitful catnaps in the car as Mike drove back after midnight which put us in Staunton at 3 am). The day went well with Rory taking a good nap and Analia being fairly content. Rory has been standing and taking baby steps for a month or more but having just turned 8 months of age on the 22nd, she has graduated to walking everywhere and with great skill. I remember Alissa starting to walk between 7 and 8 months of age and her style was to take off at almost a run and get as far as she could get before falling. Rory takes deliberate, contemplated steps and almost never falls. When she does go down, she goes down with skill and precision and almost never gets hurt. Alissa and I wondered if the way a child approaches walking is an indication as to how they will approach life. If that is the case, I would say Rory will do just fine. One thing I have never had to worry too much about with either of my children or with Analia is them putting objects in their mouth that should not go there. Not the case with Rory. She is going to explore the taste and texture of everything small she can find to pop into her mouth. Perhaps part of the problem is that having a four-year-old sister means a lot of little things get dropped or left on the floor for Rory to explore. At any rate, it’s a constant worry that she will get something in her mouth she shouldn’t have and choke. I was sitting on the floor reading to Analia and watching Rory out of the corner of my eye when I saw her put into her mouth what I assumed was a small piece of plastic or paper. She never cooperates when one tries to remove an object from her mouth and this time was no exception. She promptly clamped her mouth down tight and moved the object towards the back of her tongue. I reached in and finally got my finger behind it and managed to get it out. Boy was she angry and my heart stopped when I opened my hand to expose a jagged piece of glass about the size of a dime! I could not determine what it was or where it had come from, but I am thankful that it did not cut her and that she did not swallow it. I joke often that taking care of “the triplets” (the twins and Analia who is 11 weeks younger) for four years was a piece of cake compared to Rory. Monday evening, I made supper for everyone, cleaned up the kitchen, got grandma’s nightly call in and then fell in bed.
Tuesday was a day to run errands and while I always think I am going to have so much time to do things I want to do around the house, it seems I never do. I got the watering trough cleaned out for the mini horses, the dogs all replenished with food and water, and fed the Jersey heifers. Mike brought three beef heifers from down the road where his mom lives and where we have kept our beef cattle for years. (We rented that 150 acre farm until this past year when we subleased it to Mike’s nephew, but we still keep our beef cattle there, make some hay, and grow our garden there.) Two of the heifers are Hereford and the other is a black baldie. (Angus and Hereford cross). They are absolutely gorgeous animals and all three will be calving soon. We intend on bringing these three beauties with us to Laurel Fork when we move the Jersey girls next summer. I love having them there at the house where I can see them and I am excited for the babies to be born. They are in a different lot than the Jerseys right now. The other thing I did Tuesday was go through a mountain of books I have been collecting and pick out 25 a piece for each of the grandkids. I have been buying gently used books from auctions and thrift stores and libraries all year in anticipation of advent. Every year since the grandkids were born, I give them each a book a day for the first 25 days of December. They open the wrapped book each night to count down the days until Christmas. It has become an Advent tradition for our family. The children receive a lot of material gifts from other family members throughout the holidays but we put a good portion of what we would give them into the books. I believe that we, along with their parents who are all wonderful about encouraging reading, are instilling in them the joy of reading and the quest for learning. Twenty-five books per child and four grandchildren means 100 books! Tuesday evening, I kept the girls while Alissa went to class. Both girls were struggling some. Analia is having a hard time recently and I think a lot of it is the busy schedules of the adults and all of us running in and out so much. Her caregivers are constant and on schedule, but she has three different babysitters that alternate, plus her dad and then of course myself to care for them while Alissa is working and going to school. I am glad Alissa has this opportunity and I think it is important, or I would not make the sacrifice to drive six hours round trip every week to take care of the girls. However, I will be thankful when she finishes her last semester and they can settle down into more of a manageable routine. When Alissa got home from class around 8:30pm, Mike and I threw our things in the rented car (our car is still at the shop from the encounter with the deer last week) and headed for Laurel Fork. We had to be there first thing Wednesday morning as contractors were coming to work at the house.
We were up and ready to go when the crew got here early Wednesday morning to replace our archaic, oil furnace with a new propane furnace that will tie right into our hot water baseboard heating system in this 1930’s Cape Cod style farmhouse. Mike really likes the owner of the company and had felt very confident with about him but began having doubts about the whole process when the workers showed up. They immediately went to work tearing out the old furnace but once they got it out (and our best source of heat was no longer in service), then they stalled. They seemed to be at a loss with exactly how to put the new furnace in and poured over the instruction manual. Then, they took inventory and realized they didn’t have all the pipe and other fittings they needed to make the installation. That’s all well and good, but it would have been nice if they had done that BEFORE ripping out the other furnace. So, after half a day, they left and said they wouldn’t be back until the day after because they had to get the parts. That left us with one little propane fireplace and some electric heaters to keep the house warm with temps going down to freezing or below at night. Fortunately, it was not any colder. During the day, the temps were pleasant enough with highs in the upper fifties. We were able to keep the main areas of the house around 65 degrees in the evenings until going to bed. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving the heater or the gas fireplace burning while we were sleeping, so we just put extra blankets on the bed and snuggled real close! It wasn’t too bad with the temp only going down to about 55 degrees in the house. It could have been so much worse!
During the day, Mike worked on the barn. I am just so incredibly proud of all the work he is doing there. It’s going to be so nice. I have dreamed of a real barn for my Jerseys for a long time. I was blessed to have multiple, three sided, run-in sheds for them in Staunton and one, small stable. I had a small area to store just a few square bales of hay there and we had converted an old box trailer into a space for milking. There was enough room for a stanchion, some storage for the grain, and a place for me to sit with the milking machine. The biggest draw back to that arrangement was that metal box trailer was like an oven in the summer and a freezer in the winter. If it was 90 degrees outside, then it was 115 in that trailer in the summer. This barn will provide six stanchions for milking, four large stalls for the Jersey girls when they calve, a whole loft to store hay and a huge, enclosed, lounging and feeding area to the back for those times when the weather is too bad for them to stay in the pasture. Mike is making the inside just as nice as the outside as he works on the barn. It’s not just the joy of seeing the barn take shape but also the pleasure of seeing Mike get so much enjoyment out of his project. When we had to cut the contractors out (because we were paying them by the hour and our budget for the barn was being spent up fast), it ended up being a blessing. The work will take longer, but I think it is therapeutic and healing for both of us.
I spent a lot of time wrapping those 100 books for the kids. I thought I would get through it fairly fast, but it seemed like the task that would never end. Mike thinks I am crazy to wrap so many books, but part of the joy for the kids is opening the books each night in anticipation of Christmas. Grandma’s don’t mind spending a little extra time to make their grandchildren happy and it’s such a simple thing. It’s well worth my time. There wasn’t much use to try to clean house with so many workers in and out this week. I did put clean sheets on the beds that had been used by company and I washed and hung clothes on the line. Cooking a good breakfast and a good supper is always a priority for me. Occasionally I assisted Mike at the barn. He built some barn doors that work on rollers and needed assistance getting those up. We also had to get the door he made for the loft attached. I joked that we didn’t follow OSHA approved methods but we got it done. He parked the truck in front of the barn, using some boards under the tire to make it level, and then crawled on top of the cab with the door while I went to the barn loft and stood in the opening to center and balance the door while he attached the hardware. It went fairly smoothly, but it did cross my mind how easy it would be for Mike to slip and fall off the cab of the truck, or for me to get the door to close to the edge and drop it causing damage to the truck, the door, or injuring Mike. Fortunately, all went well and having the doors on the front gave the barn more of a finished look. Mike also made a huge, ten-foot-wide, sliding barn door out of lumber that will attach to the side of the shed. We have no idea how much the door weighs, (being made out of rough cut, unseasoned lumber). We will have to bring our loader or tractor down to Laurel Fork to move and lift the door before we can install it. (We have needed the tractors in Staunton and haven’t moved one down yet and our nephew has been using the loader at his place as he builds commercial chicken houses from the ground up and tries to get them operational in the near future.) However, we wanted to set it up so that the rain or snow would not just stand on the door until we can get it installed. It was far too big and heavy for us to pick up and move, so we worked out a system of lifting it a bit and moving the sawhorses underneath it, a few feet at a time, until we got it close enough to the barn that we could lean it against the wall. My mind always goes to what could happen if something goes wrong and I thought of a hundred ways we could be injured while doing this, but my husband having had to take risks his entire life as a farmer, just forges ahead. and we got it done without injury and without damaging the door.
Friday was supposed to be the day when all the contractors worked together and finalized a lot of projects but that didn’t happen. The furnace men came back but still didn’t have all the parts. The propane company came to hook up the lines and install a 500-gallon propane tank, but they only sent one man to do the job of three and it wasn’t possible for him to finish. The Generac man was supposed to come and finalize the installation of the whole house generator, but without the propane lines in place, he couldn’t finish his job. So, everyone left here on Friday with none of the jobs completed and us without heat except for the gas logs and electric heaters. (Mike is reluctant to put a wood stove in the house because he says he has cut wood for 50 years and doesn’t want to cut wood anymore, but a project for my near future is a woodstove installed in the house so we don’t have this problem again.) We are fortunate that all of this happened this week when the temps are warmer instead of next week when the temps are supposed to drop considerably. Mike won’t be able to return to Staunton with me this weekend as he will have to be here to keep the house warm and let the contractors back in to work on Monday. I told him that the up side is I will get two more days of work out of him on the barn this coming week. Neither of us want to be apart though, even for just a couple of days.
December 3, 2017
I’m sure it must have been some kind of record for Mike because we arrived at our house in Laurel Fork on Tuesday night and he didn’t leave the place until Saturday morning. I had offered to go to an evening auction with him but we are attending auctions less and less here recently. We have built up enough inventory for now in the antique booths that we don’t have to go to auctions and we are both more content to just stay at home mostly. I’m the one who doesn’t care if I go leave the property for days a time but Mike has always been such a “people person”. I was thinking about it and realized that as a child, he went “down the road” from the house his dad had built for his family, to the dairy at his grandparent’s house (and where his mother lives now). He helped with the chores there as a kid and eventually his responsibilities came to include milking the cows and eventually taking over the dairy. At the farm, he was sure to see people on a regular basis whether it was the milk truck coming in to get the milk, a veterinarian coming to do something with the cattle, neighbors stopping in to borrow a tool, farm hands coming in to help with the crops or to milk the cows, and so forth. Being on the farm definitely was not an isolating experience for Mike and loving to socialize as he does, it’s a good thing. Or perhaps, because he worked routine, hard jobs on the farm for all of his life, that in itself might be the reason he enjoys the interaction with other people. At any rate, after three full days of staying home here in Laurel Fork, I knew Mike needed to get out and about on Saturday. He wanted to go to auction at our favorite spot and I needed to get a few things at Walmart. I seriously try to avoid that place and manage to only go about once every four months or longer but it was time I had to go. The estate auction was not the kind of things, for the most part, that we buy for the antique booths and bids went pretty high. We walked away with minimal and we left early, but it was fun to see some of the regulars and get out for a bit. We somehow made it through the crowd at Walmart and got most of what we needed but when I realized I had not got a loaf of bread, I did not make my way back to the bread department as I was almost to the check out and didn’t want to fight the crowds to get back across the store again. Mostly people were kind and courteous but we did encounter one lady that was extremely hateful and made a scene. I was glad to get out of the Walmart crowd. I do have to say that the sales associates at the Galax Walmart are by far some of the friendliest and most helpful that I have ever encountered. We then had to make a trip to Lowes to get some stain for the barn. We just got 10 gallons because we want to try it first before we invest in more. While we were there, I looked at their Christmas trees. I plan on getting a live, cut tree from one of the local tree farms, but I wanted to see what their prices were on potted trees with root balls. They had nothing that I would have bought but it gave me an idea of what kind of price and size I would get for the price. I am hoping to get two trees this year and put the cut tree indoors and the one with the root ball outside as a tree to decorate for the birds. That’s going to be a project for the grandkids and I next week when they are all here with us. If I can’t find the size of tree I want that we can eventually replant, then I will have to come up with a different plan. We didn’t get back to the house until right at dark. As we were driving west on Highway 58, the moon was bright in the sky, just one day away from being a full moon. It was gorgeous. It was the type of moon that begs you to take a picture but I have learned that my pictures of the moon don’t begin to reflect its true beauty and I was content to just look at it and savor it in my memory instead. Once home, I put together three pounds of our grass finished burger for meatballs. We are having a meal after church today and I thought I would take a dish of meatballs to church and then take one back to Staunton with me for a quick meal for the family there. I just got the meat prepared and will shape the meatballs and stick them in the oven in a bit, once I am through writing, so that we can have them hot and fresh for the meal at church today. I will probably also take a dish of our corn that we grew and I cut off the cob and froze. It’s so good. I didn’t use to like frozen corn and would only eat it fresh but have learned not to cook it when I thaw it out. The corn has been blanched for three minutes before I cut it off the cob and when I thaw it out, I simply warm it and season it with a little salt and butter in a skillet. I don’t add water or cook it and the flavor is there, sweet and fresh tasting.
December 4, 2017
I arrived in Staunton before dark. Mike joked with me before I left and asked if I could find my way back to Staunton. He knows that I typically don’t pay much attention when I am in the passenger’s seat and I have not made that trip solo. The trip was uneventful, thank God. The traffic was not an issue at all until I got about 20 miles from Staunton and then it got thick. I hated to leave Mike in Laurel Fork and he really didn’t want me to leave, but I did not want to leave Alissa with no babysitter for Monday and Tuesday. She has enough stress on her right now trying to get papers written for her Master’s classes and wrapping up the classes she is teaching at Blue Ridge Community College. I just really feel the little ones need the stability of knowing I am going to be there as well. It looks like last week’s opportunities will transfer to this week and we will get the chance to see how we react to disappointment and life events that don’t follow our plan. One of the beautiful, Hereford heifers calves at some point over the weekend and Alissa called me when I was about 45 minutes from Staunton to tell me that the calf was on the ground but was not moving and appeared dead. Alissa had Rory with her and I didn’t want to take a chance on the cow being aggressive towards her, although I doubted that she would be as she has a very calm temperament. I questioned Alissa thoroughly until I was satisfied that going in would not help matters but Alissa was sure the calf was dead and in fact, the buzzard were already there. Alissa was very upset but there’s nothing to be done after the fact. I hated to call Mike and tell him, as he takes such stock in his Herefords and was looking forward to a calf from this particular cow. Gabino works 12 hour days over the weekend and Mike didn’t want me to have to try to get the calf out of the field and dispose of it, so he called his nephew who was only a few minutes away at the other farm, and had him come and pick up the calf. It was thoughtful of both of them to not leave it for me to deal with when I arrived home. When I got home, I checked on all the animals, checked the fire in the outdoor boiler (the only source of heat for the Staunton home and one of the reasons why it was so important to get Alissa and Gab moved into our residence here before the cold of winter set in. They have to keep the fires going so the house doesn’t freeze up). Analia had gone with one of her sitters, a high school girl, and her family to ice skate in Charlottesville. They texted Alissa to tell her that Analia had fallen pretty hard and hit the back of her head but got up (after a good cry) and wanted to go back out to skate again. When Analia got home, she was exhausted but seemed fine. Alissa woke me up around midnight and said that Analia was vomiting and wanted to know if I thought she had a concussion and needed to go to the hospital. I hate making those kinds of calls. It’s hard enough with your kids but even harder with your grandkids. I looked her over, checked her eyes, talked to her and she seemed ok other than vomiting. With a nasty stomach virus going around and knowing that the kids had been indirectly exposed to it through contact with another family that has it, I really thought it was the virus making her sick. I am really hoping the rest of the family escapes the upset stomach routine. We have a big weekend planned and I will have to call it off if we all are contagious. So, guess we will take it one step at a time and see what unfolds this week. In a few minutes Rory and Analia will be up and our Monday will begin.