Archive for the ‘Moving to the Farm’ Category

This coming Saturday, the first of December, I will have been retired from the Navy for a year.  A year, for heaven’s sake.

I’m amazed that an entire year has passed already.  Not that it flew by, not at all.  Most of it dragged on like a bad cold I couldn’t shake, testing my patience, challenging my well-laid plans, and taxing me both physically and mentally to my limits.

What a year it’s been.  Full of major changes, some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, more adventure than I ever could have imagined, and lots of unexpected twists and turns that have kept me busy figuring out how to do stuff I’ve never done before.

In addition to packing up 30 years of accumulated possessions, traveling cross-country with two dogs, setting up rudimentary housekeeping at the farm, and acquiring an entire cow herd, the heat and chiggers and physical exhaustion nearly kicked my butt.  And I’m still living amongst stacks of boxes, still looking for things I know I packed but haven’t found yet, and wishing I could wave a magic wand and have all the settling in stuff done now, please.  My heart aches for orderliness, balance, and efficiency.  My life doesn’t have much of any of those in it right now.

But I’m getting there, dammit.  At a bear’s pace, it seems:  lumbering, measured, deliberate.  Not speedy.  Not magic.  At times not seemingly making any progress at all, just meandering.  But the truth is, I continue to whittle down the daily lists of things that need done to care for livestock, pay the bills, keep the larder full and food on the table, prepare for winter.  I am getting my feet under me.  And I am rewarded with a small but growing level of orderliness, balance, and efficiency where just a few months ago, there was none.

Getting back to this blog, this narrative of my small farm journey,  is one of those deliberate, necessary steps toward where I need to be.  Yesterday I finally updated the Flickr pictures on the right of the page, replacing the shots of winter snow and ice from a visit two years ago, with photos taken the past few months.  Since late October I’ve been back to keeping a daily journal, and I’ve reserved time each day to write posts, taking my camera with me more often to capture the magic that happens every day here, magic and beauty I’ve lately been too overwhelmed to see or appreciate.

It’s the year mark.  Five months here at the farm.  Time to shake off the negativity, push through the brambles of doubt and lost confidence, and lumber into the sunny clearing ahead.  One bear paw in front of the other, I’m getting back on track.


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I started this blog post a long time ago, when Skeet and Bandit and I arrived at the farm back in the beginning of July, and I had high hopes of settling into a routine that included regular updates.  It has been a lot like heading downhill on a black diamond ski run as a beginner since then, to be quite honest.

How could I have thought it would be otherwise?

At this point in the story telling, with the long, hot drive from California to Kentucky just a faded memory, 4 months and two seasons under our belts, cows up on the pastures eating hay and winter knocking at the door, I don’t think it’s possible to catch up on the details.  I’m not sure I can even write a decent synopsis of the events that have packed my days since arriving here on the 3rd of July.  No, I just need to get started back to posting, which will be a huge achievement in itself.

I’ll try to explain as I go.  It’ll be skippy for awhile, I’m sure, but eventually this narrative should smooth out, the missing pieces will get filled in, and it’ll start sounding more like the story of a woman starting up a small farm, instead of just dreaming about doing it.

Bear with me, please.  The adventure has just begun…

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This post is long overdue.  I started a draft many weeks ago titled “Countdown to Kentucky,” but gave up on finishing it when I had to throw my countdown calendar out the window and resign myself to being here in suburbia much longer than I’d planned, when it became apparent the final projects were progressing more s-l-o-w-l-y than originally allowed for.  As usual, I underestimated the time and energy needed for several of the most complex, labor-intensive portions.  How does anyone know how long a certain job will take from start to finish?  All we can do is throw a dart on the wall and aim for it, which is what I did.  So I aimed too low.

I’m still counting down, but the target is softer now, made squishy with humility.  First it shifted four weeks to the right of my first departure date, and now another week or two is inevitable, if I want to get everything done.  And I do.  Though I would dearly love to be at the Farm already instead of here.

Truth is, aiming at leaving early (my original date was May 16th) has helped me accomplish an enormous amount of work in a ridiculously short period of time, much more than if I’d had a more “realistic” departure timeline.  I call this working better under pressure.  Scare yourself into thinking you only have a week to build a spaceship, and you will probably get at least the launch pad poured by Friday, all by yourself, which would be a monumental achievement by any measure.  This pretty well describes what I’ve been up to since March 26th, after my household goods were all packed in the trailer and taken away, leaving me free to concentrate on the landscaping projects.

My “Daily Notes and To-Do Lists” notebook charts the course of these final efforts, and it is truly amazing to look back through the days/weeks/months and see what I’ve gotten done.  It makes the list of work remaining look really, really small, which is such a good thing.

The moving trailer was picked up on Monday, March 26th; on March 28th two pallets of block and a yard of gravel for the last terrace wall were delivered, and I spent the day moving more than a half-ton of concrete by hand from the driveway to the edge of the backyard.  The Final Landscaping Projects phase had begun in earnest.

I’ve kept a rigorous schedule since then, fueled by my passion to get everything done and focused on the mid-May departure date.  My day – every day of the week – begins at 5 am with coffee-making and a shower, then out the door walking the dogs by 6:30, then back home to breakfast for the three of us.  I’m lacing on workboots and grabbing my gloves by 8 am, just as though I were working on my old landscape crew.  I knock off around 6:30 pm to take the dogs for their second walk of the day, then it’s shower and eat something and check email and update status on Facebook and finally drag myself to bed.  Blog posts take too long for me to write at this pace.  A simple sentence or two and a progress photo on my facebook page has been about all I can manage.  But it has paid off:  I am down to the last of it now, and the things completed outnumber the things left to do by a long shot.

I’m still not done yet, though.  As far along on the list of things as I am, I’m still here; the dogs and I are still here in San Diego, walking the chaparral canyons for exercise instead of hiking up the farm road or running through the lush pastures of the farm; making improvements to this little suburban home instead of setting up our livestock operation in Kentucky.  I dare not even plan the final trip, having already forfeited a non-refundable ticket for what I thought would be Bear’s return flight after helping me drive out there and unload, purchased when the best guess I could come up with was it would all be done by mid-May.

Ah, well.  This is life, this is but a small glitch in the Big Project, this is nothing, really, in the Big Scheme of Things.

In truth, it is a test of my strength, and fortitude, and determination.  I planned to do these renovation projects on the house and yard before I left and it is important to me to finish them and leave this little place in good condition when I go.  So I am in limbo here; working joyfully on hugely satisfying projects I’ve had to postpone for years and finally have the time to do, but aching to be gone, to be planted on the Farm, rising every morning with an even longer list of projects to throw myself into.

This strange and frustrating moment where I am stuck between my two lives will end soon.  I’ll survive project limbo, and one fine day I’ll pack the dogs up into the little Toyota pickup with the last of my earthly possessions in a Uhaul trailer behind, and drive east.  Probably through tears, a little sad to leave it all behind.

So don’t let the lack of blog posts make you think I’ve given up on the Big Project:  it’s just a trying time, and every minute’s precious, and I’m keeping an abnormal work schedule to get through to the end of it all here so I can finally make the move.

Back to work I go…

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The last winter storm of the season blew rain through San Diego County today, making for a very wet, very windy St. Patrick’s Day.  I’ll have to don green and raise a Guinness with friends at the local pub another year, as I’ve only 4 days left to finish packing before the moving truck is here to be loaded, and still have a ways to go.  The end of this labor is very near.

So it’s St. Packing Day for me, and I’ll wait to celebrate until the last box is nestled inside the big trailer and the doors are closed and locked, ready for the storage yard.  A 28-foot trailer will be delivered out at the curb on Wednesday and picked up the following Monday, giving us five days to cram all the belongings I’ve collected over the years into what I hope will be enough space.  Never having moved by commercial truck before, and being an official stuff-monger, I’m a little worried that it won’t all fit.  I guess we’ll see.

Anything that doesn’t fit will have to go with me in the little U-haul trailer I plan to pull behind my Toyota pickup when I finally drive out to the Farm.  That will hold things like my tools and home office stuff, hazmat items that can’t be shipped commercially, things I’ll need right away, things I’ll need here at the house to finish up the landscaping projects – these things will go directly with me to Kentucky.  There should be room for odds and ends.

I started packing bit-by-bit over a year ago in anticipation of this move.  Needing to make room in the hallways to paint and replace baseboards, I rented a little storage space last Spring and started moving books and boxes into it a few at a time.  I boxed up half my fabric stash to make room in a spare bedroom closet for Bear’s model train stuff, and then stored all my hanging clothes to make room in my closet for dresser drawer modules, enabling the rearrangement of the master bedroom into a Bear Cave.

Since the 2nd of March I have been packing full-time; emptying cabinets, dragging boxes out of attics, wrapping things and fitting them into the right size boxes, over and over again.  My thumb tips are cracked and sore from handling all the paper and cardboard, and the dogs spook at the ripping noise the tape rolls make as boxes are assembled and taped up.  The flurry of activity has them on edge.  We’re deep into it, I tell them.  This is how we get to the Farm.

Some days I rue the packrat in me.  Conventional wisdom advocates thinning out stored belongings before a move, donating or throwing away items that can be purchased at your new location.  Well, I don’t want to have to buy a lot of stuff, ever again.  So I grit my teeth and lovingly, carefully, wrap each cider bottle and canning jar in bubble wrap and then a sheet of newspaper, nestle all sorts of useful objects together in boxes and label them for the future, knowing they’ll stay stacked on tall shelves out in the shop building until a need for them arises.

It’s a fine line between having too much stuff, and skillfully conserving resources on hand.  I supposed it is good to have to move it all every twenty years or so, just to force yourself to take an inventory and dispose of what no longer has any value.  I have donated a dozen boxes  of clothing and miscellany to Goodwill, given away California gardening books, and thrown out some things that just disintegrated with age.  But most of what I am packing (and will have to unpack on the other end) is useful, and cherished, and will save me from expending limited funds at some point, so I consider it worth the effort.

Bear will have more than a bed and a TV left, in case you’re wondering.  Mostly I am taking the excess, the dust catchers, and leaving a clean, streamlined, efficient and liveable space.  Just right, in my opinion, for a busy bachelor not much good at keeping things tidy.  And all sorts of room to stack his own collected stuff, which will be another bridge to cross when it’s time for him to join me in Kentucky.

But for now, I pack, and pack, and pack.

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The arrival of March is a welcome transition for me:  my renovation labors at the condo are officially done.

Although there is much work left there to do, I told Bear I could only work through February, since my household goods packup is scheduled for the third week in March and I have many more boxes to pack, many more cupboards to empty, plus the garage and the two attics as well.  As with everything I’ve turned my hand to these days, the process is taking much longer than I ever would have imagined, and I cannot afford to run myself short now that the moving truck is actually scheduled.  And, I think five months of labor at a project I didn’t need or ask for is quite enough.

Luckily, we’ve been able to enlist the help of our retired neighbor, Les, who enjoys having a painting project away from the house to do and can use some extra cash, so the work will go on.  Though it isn’t finished by a long shot, I’m sorry to say, and Bear will need to start investing weekend time or it’ll be summer before the place is rentable.

I worked up a project list last night of what still needs to be done, and it’s a pretty long list.  The kitchen painting, cupboard repair and upgrades haven’t even been started, the decks are still filthy and full of items destined for the landfill; the laundry room still needs cleaned out and painted, and there’s still a lot of trim work to do.  All the interior doors need sanded and painted and rehung.  Ceiling fans need to be purchased and installed.  The downstairs half-bath needs painted.  Window treatments need to be decided on and installation arranged.  And that’s just the big stuff – there’s a hundred little things too.  I could have worked another two months over there but I have other stuff to do now.

This past week I really put a press on and got all the downstairs baseboards installed and painted, and a goodly amount of the downstairs trim sanded and painted as well.  We had pulled the old baseboards off before painting the walls, as they were terribly beat up and really needed to be replaced.  I taught myself how to install baseboards last Spring on the hallways here at our own house, and was pleased to find the skills had not perished.  With the aid of Les’ trusty miter saw, it only took me two days to cut, nail up, and paint both livingroom, dining room, and one wall in the kitchen.

I think they came out real nice.

The difficult part was all the work on my knees, and the getting up and down over and over again to make adjustment cuts.  (Rule #1 cutting baseboard:  cut less off than you measure for and make kerf-wide cuts until the joint is perfect.  You can always shave a little more off but you can’t put wood back on.)  You see those fifty-dollar knee pads?  I had to buy those last year after my baseboard install project caused my knees to have sharp, shooting pains any time I knelt down.  With the knee pads that pain isn’t a problem, but the old hips and lower back complained mightily, as did my wrists and hands.  I  am glad to be done.

Now I must shift gears and finish the packing up of all the stuff that will go with me to Kentucky, in order to empty out the house and yard and simplify upkeep for the Bachelor Bear, who will stay on for a time at his job here in San Diego.  Moving truck arrives out front on Wednesday the 21st; they will be back to pick it up and take it to the storage lot the following Monday.  Five days to get it loaded – sounds like plenty of time, and it will be, if I have everything boxed and staged and ready to go. 

Ready, set, pack!

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It sounds daft, I know, to wish a winter would go by more slowly.  Most folks wish for the exact opposite, fervently hoping February and March will pick up speed and rip by like a sheet of plywood caught in a gale-force wind, bringing warm planting weather behind it.  Hunkered down waiting for spring, the cold dark months usually crawl by with excruciating slowness.  Not this year, not for me.  This winter is the flying sheet of plywood, and I’d give anything to find the kill switch on the wind machine.

Much has been done, but much remains.  Since the rummage sale, I’ve made two trips to Jackson, MS to attend Grazier’s courses given by the Stockman GrassFarmer staff, stopped in Dallas for a weekend to visit my brother and his family, participated in an Appleseed rifle shoot, and made enormous progress on the condo renovation project.  I’ve continued to pack, finishing several rooms and have at long last scheduled my household goods move, putting that target on the calendar, finally.  The point of no return is now behind me, and as the gale continues to howl around me I’m struggling to stay focused and not fumble.

Good shooters learn a lot of techniques that have a great deal of applicability to everyday life.  One of them is how to make a quick, effective magazine change.  Many timed courses of fire require a magazine change, and it’s a good skill to have.  That rifle’s not going to do even the best shooter any good if she’s spent her bullets and can’t get a full mag back in before the charging bear is upon her.  Any exigent scenario would apply, not saying I’m a bear-killer or anything.  But in the heat of a moment as critical as reloading to shoot the charging bear closing in from 30 feet away, the very simple process of dropping an empty magazine, picking up a full one, inserting it into the rifle and charging the chamber for a shot, will become enormously complex, and easily gooned up with unintended fumble factor.  That’s why a mag change is considered an essential element of marksmanship skill, and is part of every test.

The phrase they teach to help us learn it is, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

Think about it.  The main reason for fumbling is hurrying.  And who wouldn’t be hurrying to shove in fresh rounds to kill a charging bear?  But panicked hurrying is the enemy of calm, dexterous movement, and you need dexterity to effect a rapid mag change.  Slowing down, although counterintuitive when you are counting teeth in the angry bear’s mouth, will get that magazine in faster, because it eliminates the inevitable fumble factor.  Hard to do in the face of danger, so we memorize the mantra, and practice, practice, practice.

I am fighting the fumble factor in my life right now.  Finishing my projects here in California and getting myself moved to the Farm before summer, is my mag change.  Bullet on target will be me and the dogs in the little Toyota truck, pulling into the driveway of the farmhouse.   The complexity of the tasks here, the enormity of work remaining to be done, is the charging bear.  There are days when I look around in complete despair, thinking how impossible a task I have in front of me – so much stuff to pack, so much work to be done, and that bear is RIGHT THERE in front of me!

Those thoughts don’t help, they only make me lose focus and motivation and I find myself circling around not really getting anything accomplished, and feeling sorry for myself to boot.  I even start thinking I will NEVER get to the farm, that I’m going to be stuck here in suburbia forever!  Of course that’s just nonsense, but it has the same effect on my ability to get things done in a day, as hurrying and fumbling to change out my rifle’s magazine.

I can’t let the fear and panic I feel prevent me from getting the fresh mag in, and getting the shot off.  I refuse to let that happen.  So I will say, and learn, and practice:  slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

And I will shoot that charging bear before she gets to me.

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