Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. – William Arthur Ward
In my Home Time series of posts written about summer vacation during a pandemic, I introduced you to my husband, Dick, in this post and our little farm in this post. In the post about Dick (and his new love of reading) I wrote about his sudden open heart/bypass surgery in mid-September. Here we are ten weeks later and I am so happy to say he is doing exceedingly well in overcoming this setback! We are incredibly grateful to his skilled surgeon and medical team for the excellent care they provided him throughout his operation and subsequent recovery. I am also incredibly thankful to a a small circle of friends and family who pitched in to help us maintain our hobby farm during Dick’s convalescence. This post is about them.
In the post above about the farm, I introduced you to our pets – the alpacas, goats, and chickens, and to the many backyard birds who rely on our bird feeders. All of the animals rely on Dick for their basic needs of sustenance and shelter. The farm is fully his hobby, which I get to enjoy by taking photos and giving petting and feeding tours to the small children of our family and friends. As a kid who grew up in a development in suburban Framingham, I acknowledge farming as a spectator even when it’s right in my own back yard.
When Dick was admitted to the hospital, I took over the farm chores. He was in there for a full week waiting for test and catheterization results before he had his surgery. I would take mental notes while he described the details of his hobby farm chores, basically consisting of food, water, and stall cleaning. And then I’d report back the next day, sometimes only to learn I had misunderstood and shorted the poor alpacas a full cup of food or given the cracked corn to the doves instead of the chickens, for instance. I’m happy to report they all survived.
The feeding wasn’t too bad. In fact after spending the day looking at a laptop, it felt good to be outside, and socializing with the animals was always welcome. I could tell they knew something was up and wondered where Dick was. The other thing about feeding is as you do it methodically, you find shortcuts (like dragging the hose 40 feet closer to fill the 5 gallon buckets so I didn’t have to carry them quite so far) and considered other ways to improve upon the system. I also saw things I didn’t normally see before I took over the farm chores, like this hawk flying overhead:
Or this 4-leaf clover I chanced upon the day after Dick’s surgery. I couldn’t resist making it more magical with the Plotaverse app:
Or these volleyball sized mushrooms that I never knew grew near the compost pile in the pasture:
During that first week before his procedure, Dick also let me know we needed hay. We had just a few bales in the barn and they wouldn’t last long. And he expected we would also need grain and feed within a week or two. As with the farm operations, he detailed every element of purchase and storage once on the farm. This was coincidentally the second week of school for me and although it was a delayed start due to the pandemic, I was in meetings or PD classes every day until 2:30 at which point I would feed the animals and go right to the hospital half an hour away to visit with Dick, usually not getting home until late evening. I wasn’t sure how to manage all of this and I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
Dick’s open heart/bypass surgery was scheduled for Monday, September 14. I am the type of person who has to stay busy when there’s something big going on that I have no control over. I worked until 2:30 preparing for the first day with students to take place two days later. The district was fully remote then and expected to be until October 13. I had a lot to do to set up class materials and curriculum. I knew I couldn’t visit Dick on the day of his surgery, so I asked my friend Bernice to help me go get hay. I picked her up in Dick’s truck and we drove to the hay place. My instructions were to get 10 bales of “second cutting” because the animals didn’t like first cutting (more new knowledge). I had trouble backing the truck up hill to the open doors of the tractor trailer so I jumped out and asked the hay guy to do it. I watched as he hopped in the truck alongside a startled Bernice and deftly backed it into position. Ten bales later we drove cautiously back to the farm where it took an embarrassing amount of attempts to back in right outside the barn doors.
I forgot to mention Bernice had hurt her left shoulder the day before. The bales of hay were too big for either of us to carry alone anyway, so we each took a twine on either side and carried them in that way. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked!
Thank you Bernice!
The second day, with excellent news about Dick’s surgery, and knowing I would be at the hospital after work, I asked our son, Dylan, to pick up the grain and feed at the local Tractor Supply store for me. His girlfriend, Anna Theresa, joined him in the “night shift” adventure and after a full day of work they purchased the 50 lb. bags, delivered them to the barn, and dumped them into the storage bins.
Thank you Anna and Dylan!
Once the barn was restocked with hay and feed, it was business as usual in the barnyard for the time being. Dick came home on Monday, September 21. He had many restrictions on mobility and weight limits. He was sore on the inside and suffered the other indignations of recovery including strange sleep habits and lack of appetite. He carried a little pillow around for counter pressure when coughing or sneezing. Yet he was SO happy to be home!
Two days later he started coming outside while I fed the animals to get fresh air and sip his daily tofu/banana smoothie. If this were a cooking blog, I’d share the recipe here. It’s not, so it will suffice to say add a 2″ block of silken tofu, one banana, strawberries, milk, and a little ice cream to a blender and blend. It’s really tasty and contains lots of protein and potassium, which are excellent for healing.
By early October, Dick was able to help with the feeding, while I filled and carried the water. It was a joy to all of us to have him back!
Meanwhile, the grass kept growing. With pride, my husband, Dick, has tended the landscaping, mowing, pruning, and raking of this yard for 40 years. His particular specialty is pruning. He has a time table, developed over forty years as a small business landscaper, for when each tree or shrub should be pruned. Before his surgery he was on target to meet his timeline except for the red maple in the front yard. I had recruited a company to take care of the lawn and leaves while he recovered, and they agreed to tackle the red maple, too. The twin owners of Bartlett Brothers Landscaping are former art students and former members of the town Boy Scout troop through which my son earned his Eagle rank and with whom I worked as a merit badge counselor.
The young man in green in the photo below, Tyler, and his twin brother, Matt, own the landscaping business we hired to take care of the yard this fall. Tyler came out one day and trimmed the red maple, which is something Dick has been itching to do for weeks. I snuck this shot while the two of them were talking. Afterwards, Dick told me he was telling Tyler that he always prunes the maple by hand (Tyler used gas pruners). Tyler couldn’t believe it when Dick told him he would snake the ladder up through the middle of the tree and climb up and trim from the center with clippers.
Thank you Tyler!
Mid-October is the time of year when we New Englanders “batten down the hatches” for winter. What this means for us on our little farm is to trim all the perennials and pull the annuals, stock up on hay, rake the leaves, and shelter the animals by enclosing the chicken wire walls in storm windows. Dick and I were able to take care of the gardens ourselves.
Stocking up on hay means filling the barn with 60 bales of hay to last the winter. Dick knew his weight lifting restrictions wouldn’t allow him to do it. I knew from my recent experience with Bernice, that the bales were too big for me (and my allergies). Dick gave it some thought and decided our son, Keith, was well suited to the task. Keith readily agreed and came down from New Hampshire on a Saturday in late October to get it done.
They made three trips to the hay place (where I’m sure Dick had no trouble backing up the truck to the tractor trailer) and then back again, filling the barn with 60 bales of hay. Once at home, they had an audience:
Keith was a trooper, single-handedly carrying every bale from the truck to the barn, when he could have been climbing a mountain as he often spends his weekends doing.
Thank you, Keith!
Raking leaves is usually an autumn pastime for Dick. A few hours a day he would spend, rake in hand and a big trash barrel on his shoulder as he brought the leaves to the compost pile in the pasture. Our yard is ringed with trees and there are a lot of leaves.
The Bartlett Brothers pulled in on a mid-November Saturday and proved to be a collective force against nature with their crew of workers, 80% of whom are former students. Not only is their work ethic admirable, but watching them was a great way to spend an afternoon. So entertaining!
Thank you Bartlett Brothers!
We usually plan to have all the winterizing done by mid November, just before the first snow. Mother Nature had a little surprise for us this year, with snow before Halloween:
That snow was completely gone within a couple of days. But it was a clear sign that it was time to winterize the barn. Fortunately, our son, Dylan, had a Saturday off in mid November and came out to spend a few hours with Dick putting up the storm windows and boards.
Thank you Dylan!
I am truly amazed that during a year seemingly made more difficult at every turn thanks to the pandemic and a coronary incident, we preserved the annual timeline for winterizing our little farm – with room to spare because of the help of our family and friends.
On this day before Thanksgiving, I am pausing to count my blessings in a custom that dates back 400 years in Massachusetts to when the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth. Nearly a year later, the Plymouth Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with a festival. They celebrated survival, as well as the hopes of good fortune in the years ahead.
As we gather tomorrow at our own small yet bountiful Thanksgiving festival, we will celebrate surviving this challenging year and our hope for continued good health in the days to come. We will also celebrate our good fortune in having friends and family members who respond to our calls for help not only with ambition and skills, but with big smiles and cheer to share. We are thankful for all of them!