Thursday, July 31, 2014

dark side of the moon

One day to go until fair, and I have spent entirely too much time pondering the mysteries of the volunteer universe, or more specifically, how can I make this work without my family imploding?

The reasoning goes something like this:

Kids, and especially your own kids, want to be in a great club.

Having a great club takes a lot of work and dedication.

The only ones usually willing to do such ungodly amounts of work are those with children in the club.

Children whose parents are leading the club often get the short end of the stick as a result.

Parent-leaders are stressed and overwhelmed and guilty about this conundrum.

Parent-leaders find themselves thinking, Am I really doing a darn thing for my kids as a result of all this? Or am I just making everyones' lives miserable for absolutely no reason at all?

This may sound familiar to most volunteers, or at least the vast majority that I know. I am in awe of the ones that manage to walk this tightrope year in and year out and not have their house come crashing down around their ears. It must require a mastery of line-drawing exercises that I have failed thus far to master, and this will be our ninth fair, so I don't know if I will ever get it.

If Terzo stays in until the end, it would mean eight more fairs. I am not sure I have it in me but I feel guilty (there it is again) for not hanging in there for him—although technically, he has been at nine fairs as well, even if he may have been too little to remember the first two or three. I tried very hard to put him first this year, to not let the minutiae overwhelm his first year of full membership in the club (4-H technically starts in fourth grade). He wanted to be in the costume contest, so I worked on a costume with him, instead of just making sure that the costume contest could take place for everyone else. It was his first year doing a record book, and we walked through it together, without anyone else around to distract or dismiss. He was the first one in the house who finished, a tremendous source of pride and accomplishment for him.

I already know I will miss times like this, working with the boys, even if getting them to sit down and do the work was an exercise in frustration. Which begs the question, why do I have to feel like I am the one that has to make them do it, and why am I the one who gets so frustrated? Which leads right back to the original issue of why this all has to be so miserable.

Those of you who are reading this and nodding your head in recognition, I have no idea how this ends. Right now, I just need to get through another fair.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

what, me worry?

Our truck has been idling little rough this week, which I noticed only because I have had to use it as my sole mode of transportation while our car is in the shop. Of course, I was the only one to notice the rough idle. I was also the only one to panic, because there is only one time during the entire year that the green truck HAS to work, and that is when it is towing the trailer to and from the county fairgrounds for fair.

Do you sense a theme this week? Fair dominates my every waking (and sleeping) thought (and nightmare).

In a bit of a sweat today, I called my friend and fellow 4-H leader, who also happens to be married to an awesome mechanic, who is also a really nice guy. He came over tonight to take a listen and set my mind at rest, and diagnosed a slight problem with the vacuum something-or-other. He reassured me that it will be fine for the all-important tow, but he will see to the problem in the near future.

I strongly suspect that he was just appeasing me so I will stop bugging his poor wife, but I'll take it.

Primo had come out to shoot the breeze with them, plus he had an ulterior motive. For a week now, he has been complaining about the awful whistling noise that his car has been making. It is apparently so awful that he agreed that he would not drive to and from his girlfriend's house 30 miles away, a fate worse than death, rather than risk the imminent breakdown of his car. My husband and I had listened to the car in the driveway, but had failed to hear the whistle.

Before the mechanic left, Primo asked if he could lend his ear to the problem. Because the whistle only happens while the car is in motion, he took the guy for a quick spin.

The problem reared its noisy head soon after they left the driveway.

"Hmm....," our mechanic friend said. "Is anything new? Your windows not working properly? Did the sound appear after the cracked windshield was fixed?"

No, no and no, Primo responded.

Then it dawned on him. The whistle started right after.... he put on the bike rack for a mountain biking expedition with his girlfriend last week.

It's a wonder the guy still talks to us.

Monday, July 28, 2014

whine whine groan moan

It's pre-fair week. I am nothing but a puddle of whiiiiinnnne.

I was feeling all in control for most of the day, like I had a prayer of holding it together.

The vet visit, required to take livestock to any sort of fair gathering, that I almost forgot to schedule? Done today, with minimal fuss thanks to my wonderful right-hand middle son, and all animals given the green light to take a little trip in four days.

Laundry? Three loads, including sheep coats (taken off the sheep on shearing day back in March) in preparation for the sheep beautification projects that need to be undertaken this week.

Three knitting projects, submitted in April, that appeared in my inbox on Sunday to be proofread by Wednesday? Finished in the quiet of this morning and turfed back to the editor.

Legal work? Another project, almost done and ready to be sent on its merry way.

Then I hit 4 pm and the wheels came off.

I found out I have to work for my husband all day Thursday, a.k.a. fair set-up day, a.k.a. the day everything gets done for fair, a.k.a. it remains to be seen what the name will be this year, possibly "the day mom had a nervous breakdown."

Then I received a text message from Primo: his wrist hurt. Followed by a message from my husband: he was sending Primo to get an X-ray because he may have broken his arm. Long story short: it isn't broken, though it is swollen because he crushed it under a ramp at his landscaping job.

I nearly finished the breaking job an hour later, however. Seems he wanted a certain dinner, just not the one I was fixing, so he stopped on his way home to pick up dinner for him and his girlfriend. Then brought it home to eat, with us, at the dinner table, with his girlfriend. Needless to say, he never did ask what he could get for the rest of us. I spend entirely too much time these days trying to figure out where exactly I went wrong in raising him, then I remind myself that he is an 18-year-old boy and try to hope that it will wear off at some point.

The box of blueberries, spilled as I was rushing home with dinner for everyone else in the family, just about sums up the evening. I do hope the birds got to enjoy the berries before cars ran them over.

Friday, July 25, 2014


It has been one of those weeks, which it always tends to be during the two or so weeks before fair. Not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg. Fair is a load of work, yes, but why does everything else tend to snowball during this time? I started a brief list yesterday, then got derailed before posting, so here it is with some status updates.

Terzo is sick. Finally better—he ran a fever for three days. But now we are dealing with poor Secondo being stung by wasps at his farm job yesterday. This is a "just woke up and the Benadryl has worn off" picture. The other picture would be much less swelling but him dozing in a chair from the effects of the Benadryl.

A lamb is sick. Also better. For now. But the gate to their pen is broken.

The rabbit is sick. We can't move him outside to get some fresh air, which he desperately needs, because the flies attack him and lay eggs on him as soon as he is out, as we discovered to his detriment last week. He must smell like death and decay. It is damp in the basement but it's that or flystrike. Poor old guy! I need to figure out some other housing arrangement asap.

My husband's little finger is broken. We think it happened when he was taking care of the sick lamb.

Sheep need to be moved. That is tomorrow morning's job.

I do both of my jobs at the mercy of remote computer systems, and neither of those systems is working at the moment. One has been out for over a week. Both problems were resolved late yesterday, right before I lost my freaking mind because I was so far behind and couldn't do a thing about it.

The laundry has reached epic heights and levels of smelliness. No change there. Ever.

Fair is next weekend. Also no change. But I did experience a brief glimmer of hope when I saw that the expiration date on the milk is August 3. My train of thought: "Fair will be over by the time this milk expires, so that point isn't too far away. I can cope with anything for the time that it will take for this milk to go bad."

And so on (and on and on and on) and so forth...

I did end up with a most restorative end to the week, teaching someone how to knit this afternoon. She wants to make a scarf for her daughter, who will also going be off to college this fall, in the colors of her daughter's chosen school. The easiest way I could think of was to cast on 300 or so stitches—the daughter wants a long scarf—and then she can just knit every row for a bit, then switch colors and do the same. The daughter is one of my favorite 4-Hers, so it was a pleasure to work with them both to figure out a solution to what they both wanted. It is nice to occasionally make things work.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

she's at it again

I came in from working on the barn and found this horrific sight.

Brand new curtains, because the cat had torn the old ones, in the toilet.

I didn't have to search too hard to figure out who the paw-petrator was. No other paw-sibilities existed.

I'll stop now. But I would also like to add that the drop of liquid was a result of me dragging the curtains out of the toilet.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

picking up steam

The entire family crew was on hand for today's barn assault, plus my ever-patient parents. 

This made all the difference in the world. We morphed into two work crews, both of which have more than a passing acquaintance at this point with the ins and outs of vinyl siding installation.*

One crew specialized in attaching the siding, while the other crew worked ahead to mount the J-channel at all critical points, sometimes using the truck bed as a ladder. Don't report us to OSHA.

As we have learned, and I will happily share with you in case you ever need to know, J-channel is the magical piece that holds the siding in place on the sides, top, and bottom of your building. We could write a manual at this point, which would maybe even be better than the manual than we have, written as it is in Comic Sans. No apologies for my font snobbery. 

We were lucky to have a detail that specialized in work crew rehydration.

Dusty was, as usual, resigned.

By the end of the day: one side of the barn, FINISHED!!! OK, so it is the shortest side height-wise, but it is the longest width-wise. The photo includes a bit of the unfinished side to show how great it looks. We were joking that we should have chosen a dramatically different color so the transformation would be a little more obvious to other people, but we know.

Even better than one side of the barn done, was the the fact that we made great progress on another side of the barn!

The door is the only bit left on the bottom to put siding on; it already has the PVC framing and a brand new window, with screens, in place. Best Christmas present ever, especially because it came with the labor and know-how to mount it in place. Thanks Mom and Dad!!!

None of us is looking forward to working on the part above this section, however, which extends up to a twenty-foot peak.

*Nina, you were correct. The siding is vinyl. Just the framing boards (the white in the pictures) are made of PVC. Thanks for the catch.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

the boys are back

Our final long trek this week, up to the northwestern corner of New Jersey to pick up our two boys from camp, plus two other 4-H boys.

The return trip was quite a pungent one. Partially because it had rained early in the week and the wet clothes marinated at the bottom of plastic laundry bags for the entire week. Partially because although they swear they took showers all week, they neither looked nor smelled like they had any encounters with running water or soap since the last time we had seen them.

The camp theme this week was pirates. All of the kids in our car declared it to have been "the best camp week ever."

This was Secondo's seventh year in a row at this camp, so I guess he is pretty qualified to make that judgment.

All four boys who rode in our car are in this picture. (Hint: Terzo is in the top left.) And yes, that boy (one of our car contingent) wore that boot the entire week of camp. The boot now needs to be burned.

As for the socks? Those of you who bet that Terzo wouldn't even sully four pairs: you win.

Friday, July 18, 2014

side of a barn

Work on the barn proceeds. The crew yesterday was composed solely of my dad and me; Primo had a date and the younger two are still at camp. I was a tad skeptical about our ability to get much done since I wasn't sure I could heft the nail gun and use it with any sort of accuracy.

Turns out: I can. The side of a barn is, as rumored, fairly easy to hit.

We made decent progress, too. I neglected to get a "before" picture, but our completed section ran from just before the window to, as you can see, almost to the end of it. It's looking very sharp so far!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

major accomplishments

Feeling a bit better because there has been progress around here. Bills are paid (and a credit card theft discovered in the process). Legal work is being done (though much more needs to get done). Barns are being sided (more on that tomorrow). No knitting, and as a matter of fact, a submission deadline missed, but I can live with that because I need to get on top of what I already have, not make more work for myself.

Best of all: lambs are being weaned.

I really do hate this process. HATE IT. Through the fine art of procrastination, I gave them every opportunity to do it on their own. They are four months old at this point! The ewes should have mostly taken care of it themselves. But our ewes are really devoted mothers, which is a double-edged sword. Their degree of attentiveness to their lambs makes a big difference in early lamb survival and growth, but weaning is a PITA as a result. County fair is less than three weeks away, however, and those udders need to be mostly gone and the lambs used to being on their own.

We have found it is least stressful for the lambs to pull the moms out and leave the lambs with the rest of the flock. The hollering began as soon as the moms were led away and has been sustained, at varying decibels, for the last 36 hours. They cannot see each other, but they can certainly hear each other.

The dialogue goes like this:

(bass voice from the ewe pasture): "BAAAAAAAAAA."

(answering chorus of two from the back pasture): "mmmmaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!"

Then a different bass voice from the ewe pasture.... answered by a different twin chorus from the back... and so on and so forth. So loud, that though we are enjoying unseasonably low humidity and temperatures, we couldn't leave our windows open last night because we wouldn't have been able to sleep in peace.

Don't feel too bad. The lambs are doing fine.

And the ewes are too, though they won't admit it because they are pretty mad at us at the moment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

well, there's that at least

Is it ever possible to sustain an extended period of mega-productivity? My experience tends toward more of a cyclical pattern. I can be super-productive for a few days at a stretch, then I tend to collapse. I need to find that middle ground, where I can have a decent level of getting-things-done-edness on a daily basis, without driving myself into wrack and ruin. I have been this way since college though, so maybe my body is too used to this pattern.

With the younger two boys away  for the week, I was all geared up for maximum productiveness. Lists as long as my arm abound, completely necessary because I am so far behind in everything these days. Yesterday was eaten up by the drop off and all kinds of traffic to and from camp. It also included a wonderful lunch with a dear friend, a drive-by past our former house, and a really lovely travel companion with plenty of thoughtful talk, so it wasn't all bad, but it was definitely all gone.

Today was going to be my day.

Except today I woke up with a monster headache that refused to relent. After staring in a stupor at my lists for the better part of two hours, I gave up and went back to bed. The headache was finally gone when I woke up, but then again, so was most of the day. I did manage to finish up the last four flats of blueberry freezing, in the nick of time, as there was already a little mold and deflated blueberries to sort through.

On days that not one blasted thing gets crossed of my to-do list, it is often a comfort to think of one thing that I did get done. Like the blueberries being done. Well, there's that at least, I find myself thinking. Something was accomplished.

Maybe the problem is failing to take the time to pause a little bit here and there on a daily basis instead of plowing on through. Tonight the rain is falling gently, a nice contrast to the torrential downpours of the last 24 hours, and the frogs are singing. Peaceful, restorative sounds. Well, there's that at least.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

camp supplies

One of those weekends... Lots done but definitely too much scheduled. The list included two minor league baseball games, working our tails off on the barn project, food for church coffee hour, a backyard wedding and barbeque (which featured some of the best food we have eaten in a while, our own recent event included) and tonight, the grand finale:

Packing two boys for summer camp.

Me, at Walmart buying supplies this morning: "Ok, here is bug repellent, little tubes of toothpaste, body wash, and new underwear for both of you. What else do you need?"

Secondo: "I don't need underwear!! I have plenty of underwear!! Put that back, I don't want it."

Terzo: "Nothing. There is absolutely nothing else that I need."

[insert work on the barn, backyard wedding, blueberry washing, and laundry here]

Me, 7 pm: "Are you all packed? Where are the rest of your socks? Four pairs isn't enough."

Terzo: "That's all I have! It's enough for a week though. Plus I told you that I was out of socks. Remember, when I was in school and it was time for the play, I told you I needed more socks?"

Me: [don't trust myself to say anything, head out for socks]

[insert more laundry, more blueberry washing, and cleaning the rabbit's basement pen here]

Me, 9 pm: "OK, that should be it apart from the new socks in the dryer. Do you have everything packed?"

Secondo: "Well, I can't find enough pairs of underwear..."

Super moon over left field

Friday, July 11, 2014

a little bit blue

It was past time for the blueberry run. Our frozen blueberry supply almost made it the whole year, but the freezer ran dry two weeks ago.

Problem was finding a block of time to do it. I was starting to worry the blueberries would be all gone before I found a pocket of time to get down there.

I needn't have worried. Plenty of berries to go around.

Blueberries as far as the eye could see. 

The twenty-two flats I picked up—only 9.5 for us—didn't made a dent in the supply.

But no boys with me today, for the first time ever. Girlfriend, work, promise of pool time, in that order, were more important. I didn't even have my trusty green truck to go with me. It was busy picking up siding for the barn, so I took my dad's little Ranger instead. The traditional twist from the White Dotte Dairy Bar didn't taste quite the same in everyone's absence.

Secondo did want to come with me, desperately, but he has so many demands on his time these days that we couldn't find a slot. He was the first one to polish off the ceremonial first pint, however, as soon as I picked him up from work.

Now to find the time to wash and freeze 9.5 flats of blueberries.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

barn cover-up

A familiar sight on so many farms: decrepit out-buildings. Paint peeling or completely washed off. Walls tilting, roof sagging, doors permanently ajar.

Case in point: our barn. Peeling paint, check. Rotting doors, check. Buckling sides, check.

The last time we painted it was about eight years ago, with the assistance of a generous family workcrew—a barn painting instead of barn raising. It has been past time for another paint job for about a year, but we been unable to find the time and will to get it done. My father, ever the invaluable problem solver, came up with a solution: wrap the whole thing in vertical vinyl siding instead. No need to paint ever again.

He measured, he ciphered, he found parts, he figured out methods, and on Tuesday we started the project, with a little demolition. Boys love a good demo task.

Even better than using a crowbar to take things apart is using a nail gun to put them back together.

The doors are almost done, complete with new sliding windows. Depending on the siding delivery timetable, we may be able to start putting it up as early as Saturday. Keep your fingers crossed for us, for safety for all and especially for my father's sanity in getting us through it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

party time

Graduation party done and dusted, thank the heavens. I am completely wrung out, and it was a very rough weekend, but we made it through and can put that check mark on the calendar.

One of the problems was that, for a variety of reasons which don't bear going into, entertaining has become an incredibly stressful enterprise for me. I am now more or less the equivalent of the anti-Martha Stewart, and if I were left to my own devices the guests probably would have been sitting on the grass drinking out of a garden hose.

God knew what he was doing when he gave me three sons. A wedding would no doubt put me in the loony bin.

Luckily my husband is much more gifted in this department and he handled pretty much all the arrangements and guest amenities. Everyone seemed to have a good time, including the guest of honor, so we were all grateful for my husband's attention to detail. Horseshoes and quoits, badminton and wiffle ball, ultimate frisbee and tetherball... every gaming inclination (except electronic, the house was off-limits) was covered.

If you didn't want to play games, or even if you did and needed some refreshment, plenty of food and drinks of all categories for you. I am not kidding when I say my husband hit it out of the park, with some help from a great catering team.

The weather was made to order. Absolutely spectacular after the storm passed through, and we all enjoyed light breezes and low humidity and temps in the low 80s. In NJ in July? Unheard of!

Unfortunately our septic system was not super-happy with having 80+ people descend upon it in one go, as it were, and we paid the price today. Literally.

Definitely not a welcome sight in our driveway this afternoon, though don't get me wrong, I was happy to see him. I much prefer the shot of the tent, however.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

bad habits

Our usual pattern when it comes to home maintenance is to wait until there's an emergency, then get everything done in record time. Emergencies generally come in two forms: hurricanes and entertaining. 

We are in pattern two at the moment, with Primo's graduation party scheduled for tomorrow. Those drapes that the kitten ripped up three months ago, and you could see the holes from the front door?


I told myself that I didn't want to replace them before she was done with her destructiveness, but in all honesty I just didn't want to have to go shopping for curtains.

Likewise the wreck of a front garden bed that I had to see, or more to the point avert my eyes and ignore, every time I got out of my car.

Two hours, seven new plants, a very helpful helper and ten bags of mulch later:


And then there's the fountain that has been out of commission for two years.

Dusty is resigned to our bad habits.

He just tries to stay out of the way while we whirl around him, at least until the next emergency hits.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

on the way to cape may

A trip all the way down to the very tippy tip of NJ today, to celebrate my mom's birthday in Cape May.

Is there any better way to spend your birthday than snuggling with a sweet grandbaby?

We thought Arthur was going to crash the party but he decided to hang out in NC for a while instead. The younger two boys got in some beach time (Primo was working), though they couldn't venture in too far due to dangerous rip currents created by the impending storm.

My mom and I even had a chance to check out the local yarn store, Fiber Arts Yarn Shop, which was less than a block from my brother's rental. What a great selection! They even have free knitting classes every day at 3 pm during the summer. I was looking for some special cotton yarn and they had just the ticket. 

It was a hike, but well worth the drive, for this reason most of all!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

the pilgrim returns

So happy to report that our boy is back safely.

He was thrilled to be out of that white van! They had a good time, despite the usual challenges of being with the same group of people for a ten-day stretch. The group made it all the way to the King's Landing Historical Settlement, the farthest north a pilgrimage group from our church has reached.

Being the kind and thoughtful boy that he is, he returned with a bag of gifts for his family, including the best import of them all:

Maynard's Wine Gums, how I love thee. He knows me well (and had a hint from my father that he needed to bring a bag back with him)!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

nap kitty

Turns out that being hunched over a rabbit for an hour or so removing maggots is good for two things:
  1. getting rid of all the maggots (we did an awesome job, if I do say so myself, not a maggot has dared to show its disgusting little self since); and 
  2. throwing my back out. 

The hoof trimming marathon on Saturday was a good training exercise, but the rabbit did me in. So the great majority of the past two days, far from being the action-packed productiveness I had planned, were spent flat on my back on a heating pad, zonked out on pain relievers, in between brief spurts of required productiveness.

The silver (orange?) lining has been Nap Kitty.

Nap Kitty doesn't sleep with anyone at night. Nap Kitty doesn't even sit on laps now that the weather has warmed. But Nap Kitty loves a good nap companion. If I head upstairs for any reason in the middle of the day, she appears out of thin air and scoots up the stairs ahead of me. Should my errand include a trip to my bedroom, I'll find her waiting expectantly on the bed. I must confess that I have succumbed to her suggestion more than once.

Nap Kitty must always be touching her fellow nap-ee. Apparently it is in the Nap Kitty contract.