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Slippery Slope?

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Saturday afternoon, we will clean out the goat shed. Since I only keep a couple of goats, I use the “bedding pack” method of stall maintenance. That means that I clean out the stall twice a year—spring and fall—and in between let the hay and manure accumulate. The mixture composts nicely and keeps the animals warm, and goats waste enough hay, even the very best hay, that there is always a layer of clean, dry stuff for them to walk and lie on.

In my early thirties, during spring break at the college where I taught, I used to clean out the goat shed by myself, shoveling out the layers of bedding and carting them in the wheelbarrow to the garden. One bright spring day I counted 72 wheelbarrow loads. Cleaning out the goat shed used to make me happy. I found it infinitely preferable to grading exams.

Now, in our Vermont homestead, the goat shed is farther from the garden, the ground is muddier, and I am no longer in my thirties. The cleaning of the goat shed has become a conjugal enterprise: my husband hooks up a garden cart to the riding mower, parks it in front of the shed, and I shovel forkfuls of bedding into it. He drives off, dumps it, and I fill the cart again. It takes about two hours, and the work is hard. Near the bottom, the bedding is wet and compacted, and it\’s a real effort to lift forkful after forkful of the stuff.

Now that the non-stop rains have eased, I want to get the shed cleaned out before the serious cold sets in and the old bedding freezes to the floor of the stall.

However, the combination of new puppy, new goat kids, and obstreperous milker has sapped my strength. So I have hired a young man to do the shoveling while my husband does the carting. I don\’t know what I\’ll do meanwhile—keep the goats from jumping on the tractor? Sit in the house and sew?

I need to save my energies for taming Blossom and training Bisou; the young man needs a job. So what\’s wrong with this scenario? What is wrong is that I feel that things are slipping out of my hands. Today it\’s help with mucking out; tomorrow—who knows? I have always believed that I should only keep what animals I can take care of (mostly) by myself. Yet recently I\’ve found myself asking more and more often for help.

For example, Wolfie is feeling neglected because of the puppy, and badly needs exercise. One way to take care of this is to throw balls for him, but the milking struggles with Blossom have aggravated a shoulder injury (from lugging water buckets) that makes my entire left arm hurt. So I have to ask my husband to do the ball throwing for me.

The temperature is going down to the 20s tonight, and my big rosemary bush is sitting outside in its big pot. I tried to lift it but my arm rebelled. I\’ll have to ask for help with that, and with the two pots of scented geraniums as well.

I don\’t like this. I\’ve always been a proponent of the “use it or lose it” philosophy, and now here I am, not even mucking out my own goat shed. I feel more and more like Marie Antoinette in her Petit Trianon, milking cows into Sevres porcelain bowls and letting the peasants do the real work.

Where, exactly, is the balance between masochism and self-indulgence? Will somebody please tell me that?

10 Responses

  1. you're looking at it skewed. look at is as allocation of resources–your energy being your resources. there are certain things you want to do. there are other things that need to be done. do you want to use your resources (energy) to get them done, or other resources (money) to get them done?feeling compelled to do it all yourself seems a bit type A of you. maybe it's time to ratchet down to type B.i've been thinking about this because of a conversation i had last night with a friend, who is facing the same conundrum (though without the goats). she accused me of suggesting that she \”lower her standards.\” but i don't really see it that way. alter standards, maybe. not lower…

  2. Laurie speaks the truth so slow down and enjoy the life you have made. The young man does need the work and you have the resources to hire him and so it's a reciprocal relationship. If you get too tired, you won't be able to do the things you enjoy and write on your blog and your writings make my day 🙂

  3. i was barely lucid but i'm glad i was able to communicate. my dear friend, who i had dinner with on wednesday, asked me how i had so much time to read. i said, \”i read all sunday, usually.\” to which she said, \”sunday! you read on sunday? do you know what I do on sunday?\”and she started ticking off: yard work. housework. they have 80 windows in their house, and she must wash them all before it's too cold. i don't even know what else she does on sundays because i admit i interrupted her.but how sad to see that the house she loves runs her, instead of her running the's all a matter of priorities: where do you put your time? you energy? washing windows? or reading? mucking out the goats? or training your puppy?my energy, i'm ashamed and pleased to say, does not go to washing windows. but would anybody really notice if it did?

  4. mrb, you're right, it is a reciprocal relationship with the young man. In our tiny community, every time you pay the vet or buy some potatoes from a friend, you feel you're affecting the local economy.Laurie, what is your friend doing in a house with 80 windows? Ah, priorities. They should have courses in high school on how to set them.

  5. I love the word obstreperous. Just sayin'.And for some, of course, masochism IS self-indulgence.[This comment would have appeared yesterday, but your blog still refuses to talk to my laptop. So odd.]

  6. Get thee to a physical therapist!Just half an hour ago my PT (who is working wonders on that tricky hip of mine) was showing me shoulder exercises. You don't have to give up lifting heavy pots or throwing balls!! Really. Two weeks ago I was bemoaning how I'm TOO YOUNG to feel like a 90-year old, I'm so creaky and achey, whenever I move it hurts somewhere on my body so I'd better just not move at all. Today, I feel ready to play soccer and dance again and tomorrow I'm starting racquetball. SO worth the hassle of getting myself to the appointments!

  7. Alison, that PT of yours sounds like a wonder. Have you ever played racquetball before?Glad to say I healed myself by taking one Percocet for two nights…and the pain seems to have disappeared for good.

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