I have a little mental game I play when I'm doing a certain unpleasant physical task, which is shoveling dense, partially frozen snow and ice chunks from the bottom of the driveway. I pretend that I'm opening it up so that the Prize Patrol can make it up to the house.

I wouldn't be caught in an egg-splattered robe and hair curlers like some of the previous winners. No, the driveway would be cleared and I'd be dressed and ready to pose with my new-millionaire giant check.

Spring can be a temptress, and no more so than on the day I made an offer on the hopelessly dilapidated farm. On that day, a woodcock lingered alongside the driveway, and I chose to view that as a sign. Because of the woodcock, and because of the beautiful woods, I overlooked significant failings in the old farmhouse, such as the lack of electricity upstairs and the funhouse-like tilt to the floors.

In the ensuing years, I hadn't seen a woodcock in that area again and had begun to realize that I might forever be working on the house. It seemed that something was always breaking, sagging, shorting, leaking or failing to start.

And now, I faced another wintry mix to end another year of trials and troubles. Grimly, I stretched the kink in my back and hoisted yet another miniscule shovel of wet, heavy snow from the end of the driveway. But I've found that mindless work lends itself well to thinking, and for me the end of a year has always been a time for reflection.

Yes, the little farm was a lot of work in all seasons. Winter toil was a seemingly endless blur of keeping the driveway open and the woodstove filled. This would be followed by the brief reward of ice melt that precluded the axle-swallowing spring mud. The inappropriately-named lazy days of summer would be filled with mowing and laying in a supply of firewood.

And then fall. My thoughts flowed freely, punctuated by the scrape and splat of the snow shoveling work. It was fall when the farm fell into its true role, a place for friends to gather. We trained our hunting dogs on the farm; we hunted for turkey and deer. We stood around in the kitchen, picking on each other, sipping coffee or hot chocolate.

I thought of the faces of the dog training group, the people (Bill, Adam and Amy, T.J. and Lindsay, Jerry, Chuck, Mike, Ken and Jim) and their dogs (Scout, Blaze, Jem, Haley, Harper, Colby, Wyatt, Maya, Nelli, Tippy, Hannah, Dora, Shamus and Finn.

Moments went through my mind like a highlights' reel, especially, the last pheasant retrieve by Bill's beloved, aged field trial dog Scout, a German shorthaired pointer who could no longer hear and barely see. She pointed the pheasant and on loyal tottering legs, retrieved it to Bill's hand. Bill promises to scatter some of her ashes here, when he's ready.

I'd finished the chore. As I looked up at the farm house, with its myriad of problems, my money pit, I realized I didn't need to wait for the Prize Patrol.

In fact, I was already rich.