Depending on where you live in the Midwest Messenger coverage area, you are either in week two or week three of mandated social distancing. To say the world as we know it has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly an understatement.

But down on the farm, where social distancing is not really that hard and in some instances is almost the norm, preparations for spring work are well underway. In fact, if Mother Nature would cooperate and send us about three weeks of dry weather, we would be hard at it in the field.

We now have all three tractors serviced and ready to roll, including one tractor that is sporting all new treads. Not our first choice, but when they took it in for routine maintenance, the cracks in all tires and one really low tire were telltale signs that it was, “pay me now or pay me later.”

Daughter No. 2 came home a week ago since she had gone as far as she could with her master’s studies until online classes begin later this week. Since no field work was in our immediate future, we turned to the basement renovation work that has been going on all winter.

We bit the bullet late last fall and contracted to have an interior drainage system installed in order to help deal with our constant high water table, and hopefully keep the basement dry this summer and for many more summers to come.

The installation came the last week in February and left two weeks before COVID-19 hit Nebraska. This was just enough time to acquire the supplies needed to install interior stud walls away from the moisture barriers for the whole basement and get the paneling for the office. Don went to work with gusto, and soon the stud walls and paneling were up.

After researching flooring options, we opted to go the economy route. Instead of buying tile or carpet, we will prime and paint the basement floors with an epoxy paint to give it a nice finish. We had just finished painting the office floor when Cicely arrived to help paint the office ceiling.

Next came the mopboard, ceiling and window trim, and once those were up it was time to bring the furniture back. Cicely helped her dad put our modular desk system back together, recalling she had helped put it together when we first bought it when she was in grade school.

As our resident minimalist and organizer extraordinaire, she made sure that as each desk box came back in the office it was thoroughly examined. Nothing — I mean nothing — went back in that wasn’t totally necessary.

With the basic unit complete, they turned to erecting the stud walls in the north bedroom. This is where our amateur carpenter hit his first major snag. While working in the kitchen the next morning, I heard some not-so-nice words coming from the basement and hurried downstairs to find small puddles in one corner of the bedroom.

For luck, I had insisted that the drywall for that room be placed on plastic tarp to keep it off the terrible mess on the floor caused by the drainage work and dust from the electric saw. It had saved those sheets from soaking up the water seeping further into the room.

Having just spent upwards of five digits to install the drainage system, we were obviously dismayed to have water. Upon closer examination, the water was coming from the corner by the hot water heater. We were then concerned our 17-year-old friend was on its last legs.

Finally a drip from above led us to discover the root of the problem. In the process of putting up the stud wall, a nail nicked the sewer pipe coming from our main bathroom upstairs. Yuck!

Not only that, but when cutting into the ceiling to access the pipe, we discovered why my father-in-law’s cousins had been upset with the plumbers when building the house 50 years ago. Said plumbers had cut into the floor support to make room for the sewer and water pipes to the bathroom, narrowing them to the point that Hubby had barely missed an electric wire with the nailer and had only a narrow place to nail the remaining support board to.

Fortunately, 48 hours and multiple coats of a special plumbing sealant later, the pipe was sealed off and that disaster averted. The floor and stud was cleaned and disinfected, and the remaining stud was up. Three people using our smaller bathroom for two days was a challenge, but in the scope of things was a minor upset.

Now if we can just figure out how to repair the gaping hole in the bedroom ceiling.

Freelance journalist Barb Bierman Batie grew up near Battle Creek, Nebraska, and now farms row crops with her Platte Valley Farmer, Don Batie, northeast of Lexington. She has written for local, state, regional and international publications and joined the Midwest Messenger crew in 2010. She can be reached at

Barb is a freelance journalist who grew up near Battle Creek, Nebraska, and now farms row crops with her Platte Valley Farmer, Don Batie, northeast of Lexington. She can be reached at