Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Real World

The Jefferson National Forest gleamed like burnished copper this morning. The rose-tinted gray clouds moved across the sky from the west to the east like travelers bundled up for a trek across the snowy tundra.

It was the wind that woke me up this morning. I appreciate her. It was lovely to see those not too terribly early morning sights. I know what she really wanted me to see was even more lovely than the clouds and the glow. It was the sight of three children, green capes fluttering in the wind, bows and arrows slung on backs, walking through the bottom field. At least at first glance it might appear that they were three children walking through the field. I will tell you a secret. They were not mere children. Those gentle people are royalty. King Max, King Patrick and Queen Rose appeared to be venturing off to survey their kingdom, the kingdom of Narwithia.

The Woolleys are here for a visit. They were our friends before we ever knew them because they lived across the street from Philip's dad in New Jersey. They cared for Poppa by having him over for dinner, by giving him little cards and drawings specially crafted by toddler Max. When Max was still a little fellow and Poppa was beginning to ail, Max would deliver a bottle of water to Poppa every day of the record hot summer. That fall we moved to New Jersey to better care for Philip's dad. Maggie was five years old. Patrick was six. Max was six and Mary was four. (How can it be that they are all so tall now?!?) It was only natural that these children would love each other. Oh the Playmobil adventures had in the basement across the street. Oh the elaborate burial ceremonies and funereal marches for poor hamsters. Oh the Christmas carols and halloween costumes, the dolls, the walks to school, the adventures in the backyards creating real worlds via fairy houses.

It was a very sad day when we made the decision to move to the farm. For many months Philip and I discussed the repurcussions of moving the children away from their very best friends. We almost didn't come because we felt it would be too traumatic to separate those pals. One day we knew it would be in the best long term interest for us to come to the farm and we trusted that God would take care of all those broken hearts.

Max and Mary come for visits to the farm much more often than we ever dreamed possible. What a wonderful thing because Max and Patrick and Rose have been working on expanding their kingdom over the last three, now going on four years. They have a lovely kingdom, though I have never seen it with my own eyes. I have seen drawings. Max is an accomplished artist and gave King Patrick and Queen Rose drawings of Narwithia, the castle, the cathedral, the region around and beyond. It is a beautiful place. The Kings and the Queen appear to be just rulers, they have drawn up a constitution and all sorts of royal documents that of course I have never seen because I am not a ruler of their country and one must be careful about letting all sorts of royal secrets be known to too many people. There are occasional moments of turmoil that threaten to erupt into a full scale war, typically involving boundaries and sisters. Typically resolved with minimal diplomatic help from the mothers.

Woolley visits are eagerly anticipated for weeks. We all cry when they have to leave. Even so, I like to think that all the children have been able to experience a much larger world via these two or three times a year visits. Their world is a big world. Not necessarily visible to our naked eye, but definitely clear to see with the soul.

Thanks Wind, for waking me up! And thank you, dear Lord, for these wonderful children. I love them all so very much. They are the best and most wonderful gift.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


We had some friends come over for supper this evening. Rachel and Jason and their 3 children live on a little farm outside of Fincastle. They have goats and chickens and a heifer. They homeschool. They don't freak out if they have to step over chicken poop to get in the backdoor because the chickens got out, again. They raised 4 free-range turkeys this fall and GAVE us one for our Christmas gift. Can you believe that? It was a 29lb tom turkey. It barely fit in our oven Christmas day. That turkey was every bit as moist and delicious as our Thanksgiving turkey, but it tasted even better because we knew how much work went into raising the birds, not to mention plucking them! That turkey was one of the sweetest gifts we have ever been given.

They brought over some of their homemade dandelion wine. I mixed up some of our pepper jelly with Coco's fromage blanc. We reheated leftover mashed potatoes, dressing and turkey and fried up some steaks to round everything out. The holidays are a great time to make a point of hanging out with friends.

It is a blessed thing to share lives with one another. We are grateful for all the friends who make our life more meaningful. Some far away, some down the road a piece.

I am about to milk Coco. The temperatures are dropping so I guess I will have to put on a jacket. It was almost 70 degrees today. The sunrise was amazing. A golden glaze covered the entire farm. It seemed magical. I opened the window and drank in warm, springtime breezes. Within minutes the gold had vanished but the warm breeze didn't. If felt weird to be comfortable in barefeet. The temperatures inside the house were around 62 degrees! Usually we wake up to 50 or so. Our weatherman friend tells us that it is about to get cold. We will not complain. The kids want to ice skate on the pond. I am not sad to have to milk in the balmy mornings and evenings. Better get out there and get to it!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and Ransom Captive Israel

It is Christmas Eve. 50 degrees outside feels like a heat wave after a few days of waking up to 8 degrees. I have been inside all day piddling around, helping girls make candy and brownies. We stayed up rather late last night, thanks to our dear friends, Laura and Josh. They took out all the children for pizza and driving around to see lights. We celebrated our anniversary here at home. A wonderful 4 course candlelit meal, christmas tree and music. Very romantic. We decided that we enjoyed celebrating our anniversary here in our own home just as much or more than going out. It was a real gift from Laura and Josh who blessed all of us with that evening out with the kids.

All that said, being inside all day put me in a bit of a funk. Thinking of the troubles of the world makes me sad. I need to wrap Christmas gifts, but the wildness of the wind blew open the door and invited me to go be blown around for a few minutes. Patrick, Maggie and Rose were out practicing archery on the front lawn. They happily set their weapons down when I suggested a run to the top of the hill. They took my words literally as they ran charging up behind the barn. I walked quickly, telling them that I am too old to run up a hill. The goats and sheep looked at us. The ducks quacked at us. The coal gray clouds were pushed through the sky by an impatient breeze. From the top of the hill we surveyed our "estate." The air smelled fresh. Our sweaters felt warm. The black woods looked like they were sprinkled with cinnamon. McAfee's Knob glowered blackly over it all and didn't really do much to lift me out of my funk. So many people we know are hurting right now. All is not well in their life. Broken hearts, broken bodies, broken spirits. Not to mention all the people I do not know who are hurting in the world due to injustice, poverty, wickedness, intolerance.

Historically, advent was a season of repentance. All the colors, lights and screaming advertisements try to drown out that still small voice asking me to stop, be still and remember. Hurry! Hurry! I think that a good funk is a good reminder that there are legitimate reasons for grieving the sorrow of others. For asking Emmanuel to be present in those difficult circumstances.

In a minute I will finish up the cinnamon roll dough and have nice pans of deliciousness ready for our Christmas morning and the Christmas morning of some other friends of ours. We will roast the duck and turnips. We will light the candles and read the scriptures foretelling the coming of Christ. I will stay up too late wrapping presents, drinking wine with Philip. We will laugh and enjoy our moments with family. But I hope to pause with everyone for a few minutes and sing some advent songs and pray for our deliverer to be Deliverer for the hurting people in our world.

Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness mourning 'neath their sorrows' load.
Speak to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.

Hark the voice of one the crieth in the desert far and near,
calling us to repentance since the kingdom now is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way;
let the valleys rise to meet him and the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked, make the rougher places plain;
let your hearts be true and humble, as befits his holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord now o'er earth is shed abroad;
and all flesh shall see the token that the word is never broken.

Words: Johann G. Olearius (1611-1684)
Music: Psalm 42, Claude Goudimel (1514-1572)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy 17th Anniversary!!!

Patrick was a terrific anniversary gift for our 4th anniversary. Nevertheless, having a birthday to celebrate and an anniversary all right before Christmas can get a little complicated! We are going to officially celebrate as soon as we can get a babysitter!

Right now the wind is blowing away all the nice warm weather we enjoyed the last few days. The sky is brilliantly clear and I will enjoy looking at the stars as I go to milk Coco. Rose and Nora have almost finished decorating the Christmas tree. Philip and the big kids should be returning home shortly from the youth group Christmas parties at church. Patrick made a funny gag gift for their gift exchange: cartridges in a bare tree. Very cute.

Soooo, you will have to wait to hear the Hillery love story. The short version is: I am glad that Philip pursued me. I can't imagine anyone else I would rather be married to. He loves me, takes care of me, appreciates me, allows me to be me. He prays for me, with me, is the best dad to our children. I can't wait to see the big pile of rewards he is going to receive when he gets to heaven. Philip is my friend. He makes me laugh. He likes my cooking. He thinks I am beautiful. He is generous, is a cheerful giver, he even learned how to milk Coco so he could give me a break on those evenings when he sees how tired I am. He gives me space when I need it. I wish I was half as good a wife as he is a husband. He works so very hard, is humble and kind. I am glad he did not give up when things were very hard in our marriage.

Happy Anniversary Philip. Thank you for being such a good husband. I love you.

Patrick John Hillery, Second-born son, now 13 year old young man.

On December 21, 1995 we saw Patrick for the first time. We felt his presence long before that mild winter day in Austin, Texas. I guess it must have been time for the cherry blossom festivals in Tokuyama, Japan when we received the good news from the kind Japanese doctor. We hoped for a brother or sister for Thomas and couldn't wait to tell our family that shortly after our return to the states (after a 2 year term) we would have another baby. Our Japanese lady friends were so very protective of little baby. Even on the hottest days of summer the ladies would ask me to make sure and stay warm so the little baby in my tummy wouldn't get cold! As the baby kicked and rolled in utero, Thomas and Philip and I would laugh and talk to the mystery child. I drank lots and lots of green tea during my pregnancy with Patrick. Also ate loads of fish, tofu and seaweed. Patrick hates fish. So that exposure to all things Japanese doesn't seem to have much influence on his life, at least at this point.

What a happy early Christmas gift! Patrick was delivered by C-section, and in a day or so, we were happily tucked into our home with big brother Thomas and dad, waiting for all the relatives to celebrate an especially special Christmas. Philip and I can remember how Thomas would come running to us, shouting, "Check him! Check him, Mommy!" whenever Patrick made the slightest little squeak in their shared bedroom. I would tuck Patrick in the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder and off the three of us would go, hiking around our little world at Buchanan Dam, Texas. Patrick's first summer was the first time Philip and I made a big garden. He would play in his playpen while Thomas and I dug and planted, then harvested the most wonderful vegetables we had ever eaten.

In no time at all we were moving to our our home in Fort Worth, Texas. I remember the spring day our gray kitty came to live with us. Patrick was around 2 years old and his favorite song those days was the little Sunday School song about Zaccheus, the wee little man in the sycamore tree. The kitty ran up the tree and Patrick dubbed it "Zaccheus, because kitty go up tree." Well, a few months later "Zaccheus" gave birth to a litter of kittens, but to this day and forevermore, she is called Zaccheus, because she liked to climb trees.

Patrick and Thomas spent hours and hours playing in our backyard. Their favorite game was playing army man. They especially liked to make mud holes and paint themselves with mud. They would dig for gold and create many adventures with their neighbor friends. I will never forget some of the fun the boys had with their GI Joes. We would go on many campouts. Especially to Glen Rose State Park, Fort Davis State Park and Big Bend National Park. Patrick and Thomas would hunt for snakes and spiders and rocks and inevitably found many of them. When Patrick was only 7 years old and Thomas almost 10 they hiked the South Rim Trail with me in Big Bend. I guess I didn't really know that they were probably too young for a 14 mile hike. I didn't know that you probably need special hiking boots for such a long hike. Good think I didn't know any better. We had the most excellent time. Those boys were tough.

Patrick has always enjoyed the outdoors. He is an avid reader and has studied many good books on wilderness survival. I am quite convinced that he is perfectly capable of taking care of himself in the wild. I am convinced that this child/young man is also perfectly capable of taking care of himself in the not so wild as well. He has always done well academically. The only time he doesn't do as well as he could is when he spends a little too much time thinking about how to be outside. He thrived in public school in New Jersey and just as well in our homeschool world. Patrick seems to always have some friends around.

I am proud of Patrick for so many things. He learned how to raise chickens and has successfully brooded hundreds of chicks into layers and broilers. He learned how to butcher poultry. He learned how to milk goats and the cow and is my main man when I need back up in the dairy. He is well-learned in history. Knows more ancient, medieval and civil war/ WWII history than the average kid in college. He knows how to research things which interest him. Patrick enjoys a good book, loves beautiful things, can make some awesome pancakes and can make a terrific fire. He has very strong hands and can give a tired mom and incredible shoulder rub. What impresses me most of all about my precious second-born, now 13 year old son, is how he blesses so many kids younger than himself. Seems like Patrick has always had a little following of little fellows a few years younger than himself. There are some little fellows in our world, especially one little 5 year old named Boone, who worship the ground he walks on. They look up to him and try to emulate his every move. I know that there are times when there are other more interesting things to do, but so often he finds the time and energy to pull out his Playmobil toys and stage battle scenes. Or he will get Boone and they will find wonderful stick weapons and run through the woods on great adventures. Patrick blesses the little people in his life. He has empathy for the underdog. He makes me proud and honored to be his mom.

Sometimes he makes me frustrated and exasperated to be his mom. We both agree that in some areas we are way too alike and those wonderful traits that help us accomplish certain tasks in life also make us tend toward being rather stubborn and opinionated. Even on the most difficult of days, I try to count it all joy. Our moments of irritation are short-lived and usually easily resolved. My biggest problem with this child is that occasionally he gets a bit too engrossed in a book and tends to hide-out so he can read all afternoon. Some problem.

I love to see Patrick grow up. I believe that he could be anything he sets his mind to be. Right now he wants to have a farm when he grows up. If so, I know he will have a beautiful one. I could see him being a lawyer, helping out the underdog or a professor, engaging his students, helping them to love learning. Maybe a legislator, making it legal to sell raw milk! Maybe he will want to go overseas and help people in Third World countries learn about sustainable agriculture. Who knows? God does and has a plan and a purpose for Patrick's life. I am more than blessed by being able to be a part of it.

I love you, Patrick. Thanks for being such a great son and great young man. Even if you weren't my son, I would love to spend time with you. There are many more things I could write about you. Guess we will have to save them for some future birthdays. May the Lord bless you and equip you to be everything you were created to be. Happy 13th Birthday!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Wild Ducks Have Returned

When I awoke this morning the sun was barely up. One of my morning rituals is looking out our bedroom window for a few minutes, surveying the pond, the chicken yard, the garden, the ridge. This morning felt like early March. Moist from all the rain yesterday. Pond is nearing the full mark, dark green and still. The woods are gray and quiet with a brown blanket of leaves warming their feet. All 20-something guineas lined up at the pond to check out the visitors. We have pekin ducks and rouen (a french variety). They are beautiful. They live in another field right now. I wondered how our rouen males could have escaped to get out to the pond, but it wasn't our ducks gliding on the water. A mallard drake and two females were gliding and preening on the pond. Funny, I had forgotten all about them. We always mark the calendar when we sight them for the first time of a season. We always miss their departure. They returned to the farm in spring on March 28 this year. They stuck around for a good long bit. Where did they go? New York? The Catskills? The Adirondacks? Maybe all the way to Canada? Now where are they going? Will they head to the lake near my parent's home in central Texas? Maybe they will get to Austin and quack at my nephew, Jake.

I am happy to see our duck friends. We feel terribly honored that they choose to drop in on a regular basis through the years. They remind me of our people friends who stop in on their travels north and south. We are already looking forward to the visits coming up this season. Better start making cookies.

By the way, we processed our meat chickens yesterday. Our friends, Serge and James came with a big mean rooster. They set up a tarp in case of rain. It did. Donna, Marty and Savannah brought their meat chickens. We wanted to start the processing(killing) by 8:30am. We got rolling by 9 or 9:30. All 73 birds were in the coolers by 2:30, despite the glitches. I tried to not be envious of our other chicken killing friends who have much nicer set ups than ours. They work much more quickly than this family. We are pretty rustic. Our scalding pot is a big pot on a propane burner. The plucking machine is homemade and seems to need a little upgrade. Even so, we still have many pounds of free-range, pastured poultry ready to go in the freezer. Thank the Lord for our wonderful crew of friends. Killing chickens is hard work, but sharing the labor with friends lightens our load. We thought we might harvest one or two of our extra meat ducks. Decided to quit while we were ahead. Maybe some of our holiday visitors will want to share that experience with us.

Things on the farm seem to be winding down a little bit. The goats are hopefully with kid, so Maggie is no longer milking. The pigs are in the freezer. The meat chickens are processed. We still have to make 30lbs of pork fat into lard and 25lbs of venison into sausage. Coco still gives plenty of milk, so the cheese and butter making continue. I hope things will wind down enough to have a couple of dinner parties so we can enjoy the abundant harvest. Guess we need to get a christmas tree as well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday nights

The final loaves of swedish rye are finishing up in the oven. The house smells heavenly. For months I have tried to get rye berries to mill and bake. They finally arrived. The regular milk and honey bread is finished. Pancake mix, cornbread mix and brownie mix milled, bagged and waiting for labels. I found a rye cracker recipe to try. We are happy with it. Now we have some homemade healthy crackers to enjoy with our goat cheese. Hope our customers will like them as much as we do.

The moon is full tonight but I haven't seen it. Haven't stepped outside once. On baking days Patrick milks Coco in the morning. Philip will milk her tonight because I am beat. I miss the outside. I look outside a lot on baking days. The sunrise was lovely. The pond is dark green. Not full, but definitely looking better than before the rain.

Priscilla is back home. I was happy to see her as I looked out the window. She is Rose's heifer. Priscilla went to the Stump's farm next door to visit with their angus bull. We hope she will have a baby end of next summer.

I am too tired to think straight. The bread is almost ready to come out of the oven. I hope it blesses and nourishes the people who eat it. Am thankful we have bread. And beds. And woodstoves. And men who cut the wood and split it, and boys and girls who light the fires. Seems like a long time ago I was thankful for Friday night dances and being young and able to stay up very late at night. 10pm seems awfully late these days! Good night!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Warm Front?

When I went out to milk I put on Philip's big green parka. It has been so cold I know I must be prepared. What a surprise to be met by warm moist air. The temperature is around 42-45 degrees. Warmer than it was 6 hours ago. Maybe it will rain. I hope so. The children will be very sad. The pond was frozen enough to walk on yesterday. Not anymore.

The deer hanging on the deck should be fine overnight. Will have to butcher it tomorrow. Weather dictates much of the flow of life on the farm. I remember the ritual of the weather report on the tv every morning and evening of my childhood. The weatherman seemed like a family friend. He let us know if we needed to cover up our plants, hang out the laundry or not, or travel with extra blankets.

We don't have a tv to watch the weather. We do hit the weather forecast in the daily paper, the Roanoke Times. We love to read our friend, Kevin Myatt's weather columns in the same paper. Supposedly we are going to have a nice warm day tomorrow, but this warm spell won't stick around for too long. Just long enough to force me to go into butcher mode.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The moon is growing larger....

The moon was hanging like a spotlight over me as I milked outside the backdoor tonight. The last two nights it has been waxing with a lovely rainbow around it. There are more clouds than stars. It is cold. 23degrees and dropping. The other night as I milked the wind was blowing. At times I felt like I would be knocked over. One particular gust was so fresh and biting I immediately was transported to Marblehead, Mass. in winter time, walking to Fort Sewell in two feet of snow, with the bitter salty wind smacking the ocean right in my face. How could I think of the ocean tucked here in the shadow of the mountains? I don't know, but it was a powerful sense memory. I reveled in the wildness of the evening, face tucked into Coco's warm flank.

These days Coco smells like a barn full of hay. I love to smell her warm side as I milk. I give her big kisses on the side of the tummy and tell her thank you for all the milk and cream. She is a good cow. Some days I grow weary of milking. Sometimes it is done in pajamas. Sometimes in fancy dress and coat, like the other night when we got home late from a Scrooge performance at the Roanoke Civic Center. Once I drag my self out there, I never regret it.

We said good bye to our friend Rachel on Friday morning. She returned to St. Louis to spend the holidays with her family. We have grown to love her like a family member. Not only did she help with important farm chores, like trimming goat hooves, mulching garden beds, shoveling manure, she also washed dishes, loved on children and truly integrated with our crazy gang. We can't wait til her road delivers her to our door again.

The past few days have been way too overloaded for this extroverted introvert. Farmer's market, cheese workshop, dinner party, church, farmer mtg, piano recital. AAAARGH. All fun. All wonderful. All too much for one quick weekend. I am wishing that the world would stop for a couple of days and let me catch up. After a few tears this morning, we all decided to stop our world for a day and do home economics in homeschool. Everyone concentrated on cleaning their zones. Thomas learned how to scrub our huge stove. Patrick was amazed at the varieties of books in our family library as he cleaned and dusted the living room. Rose and Nora had fun looking at pretty things and pretty pictures as they dusted the dining room. Maggie and her sisters folded clothes. We put on Christmas music and all worked together. Putting things into order helped us all feel a lot more centered. We even managed to sit down at the table, light the advent candles and sing O Come O Come Emmanuel before the boys headed to Boy Scouts. AHHHHHHH.

PS We are studying the middle ages in history and literature. During advent we like to pull out the hymnal and sing advent hymns. There are so many lovely ones that never get sung in church anymore. We found one with words written in the 4th century, around the time the Roman Empire was divided. The music was written in the 12th century, which is what we are studying right now, the time of Saladin, Richard the Lionhearted, the Crusades. Here are the words. Maybe you will want to find a hymnal and sing it.

Redeemer of the nations, come;
reveal yourself in virgin birth,
the birth which ages all adore,
a wondrous birth, befitting God.

From human will you do not spring,
but from the Spirit of our God;
O Word of God, come; take our flesh
and grow as child in Mary's womb.

You came forth from the eternal God,
and you returned to that same source.
You suffered death and harrowed hell,
and reigned once more from God's high throne.

With God the Father you are one,
and one with us in human flesh.
Oh fill our weak and dying frame
with godly strength which never fails.

Your cradle shines with glory's light;
its splendor pierces all our gloom.
Our faith reflects those rediant beams.;
no night shall overcome it now.

All praise, O unbegotten God,
all praise to you, eternal Word,
all praise, life-giving Spirit, praise,
all glory to our God Triune.

Words: Ambrose of Milan(340-397)
Music: Veni Redemptor gentium, plainsong, Mode 1 Einsiedeln MS, 12th cent.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Pigs Are Gone.

Yesterday I drove the last two pigs to the butcher.

I was a little sad to say farewell. We will miss watching them play. We will miss seeing them all snuggled up together in the barn.

Not too sad. We enjoy eating pork. Especially healthy pastured pork. We enjoy knowing that the delicious breakfast sausage and pork chops and stew are on the table because we worked hard to raise that meat. It is a joy selling quality meat to our customers. Selling that meat helps make our farm self-sustaining, whatever that catch phrase means, anyway.

Back in the day when we purchased our pork loin on sale at Stop and Shop or Costco or Sam's I didn't have any thoughts about a living animal being attached to that meat. Now I do.

We try to not get terribly attached to our meat animals. We definitely don't cuddle them and name them cute names. We save that for the dairy animals we get to keep. Even so, we feed them, see them grow up and sometimes get a little attached anyway.

In a few days I will get a phone call from the processor(butcher). We will drive to pick up packages of beautiful healthy pork sausage, pork chops, bacon, roasts and fat for lard. We will happily eat this meat and sell the rest. As we do we will occasionally remember how much we enjoyed raising the pigs, how they frolicked in the fields, how good it is to be a part of the cycle of life. We will be grateful.

Next spring we will get some more piggies. Rose wishes we would keep them as pets. We won't. Sorry Rose (gotta get that sausage somewhere).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quote by Philip Hillery: "Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday."

Thanksgiving in the Hillery home means lots of traditions. Many have to do with food. (I guess by now you had that figured out.) This year we tried to raise our own turkey but something else ate them before we could. Oh well. We purchased a fresh free-range, non-GMO, pastured turkey from Sunrise Farm in Stuart's Draft. It was the best turkey I have ever eaten. Honestly! Moist, flavorful, delicious. No brine, no preservatives, no basting. I stuffed it with my friend Kirsten's fresh sage(since someone weed-eated my bush). Rubbed it with butter. Yummm.

Nora and Rose helped make the dressing. We milled the corn and made cornbread. Crumbled the pan of cornbread with a loaf of our milk and honey bread and added lots of onions, celery, home-grown butter and broth, more of Kirsten's sage. Lots and lots of eggs.

Maggie made pumpkin pecan pies. Rose made pumpkin pies. Thomas made apple pies. Patrick made our family recipe of cranberry salad with fresh cranberrys, black cherry jello, marshmallows and lots of pecans (hush you health food nuts out there! It is a holiday! Jello and marshmallows once or twice a year aren't going to kill anyone!) I milled wheat and made it into whole wheat and honey crescent rolls.

Our friend Regina made her family-recipe sweet potato casserole and their delicious cranberry jello mold. She also brought wonderful green beans.

I am afraid to calculate how many pounds of butter we used in the making of our feast!

Another Thanksgiving tradition has to do with friends around our table. Thanksgiving is a holiday we like to share with friends. Sometimes they are old friends and family. Sometimes new friends who have no other place to go. Seems like every year is a different crowd. This year we had old friends from New Jersey and old friend from Texas join our table. Every bed was full. A couple of people got the floor. We ate popcorn late at night while board games were played. We ate late breakfasts in shifts while chores got done. NJ friends had to move on to other places. North Carolina friends joined the festivities.

One of the reasons Philip likes Thanksgiving more than all the other holidays is because of the emphasis on family and friends and gratitude, not consumerism. Decoration is easy. Beautiful winter squash. Indian corn. Brown leaves. Turkeys crafted by little girls. The food is familiar. Bountiful leftovers ensure easy meals for a day or two.

We started what I hope is a new tradition. On Thanksgiving Day, Philip, Joel and the big kids went for a hike to McAfee's Knob while Regina, Nora and Rose and I cooked. They came back tired and hungry! Grateful for dinner! On Black Friday we ate pie for breakfast and instead of heading to the mall we headed to Andy Lane Trail with a picnic which we enjoyed on the banks of a beautiful stream before we headed up to Tinker Cliffs. After another small feast that evening we enjoyed MUSIC! John played the piano. Samuel played the violin. Charla played the dulcimer and piano and guitar. Rose and Maggie played duets on the piano. We all sang and ate more pie. On Saturday afternoon, friends gone, we processed the two deer that we had been given. Wonderful venison in the freezer to accompany the grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chicken and duck.

I am thankful to have a special time set aside to feast with friends and family. We are so thankful for the bounty in our world.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good." Psalm 34 We have tasted and we have seen!

Thank you God for warm house, loving family and friends, plenty of food to eat and share with others, firewood, hot water, toilets, grace and mercy and compassion and forgiveness. Thank you for beauty and poetry and music. For newspapers that help us know how to pray for other hurting people like those in Mumbai. For books and animals and waterfalls and gardens. For programs like Heifer and Compassion that help us help others. For the people you place in our life to teach us important lessons. Even the hard ones. Thank you for bringing us this far. Thank you for loving the entire world. Thank you for loving me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Venison, the ultimate organic grass-fed red meat. Or Brotherly love.

Does anyone really like Mondays? It is hard for us to get rolling with the schedule. Even more so when it is so cold and grey outside.

Yesterday morning was no exception.

We all enjoy reading the paper with breakfast. Philip, Thomas, Patrick and I read the whole thing, plus parts of the Wall St Journal. The rest of the kids read the Extra section, the comics, and the classifieds, just in case. (just in case someone might be giving away a free horse and Dad might be completely changing his mind about having horses.)

We occasionally have to mediate disputes over who gets which section first. After having to aggressively drag kids out of bed I was not in the mood to deal with newspaper disputes, but sure enough a fight broke out. We won't name names, but while those fellows went out to do their chores, I quickly read the newspaper then disposed of it to prevent further complications.

Of course every family has fusses and fights. All part of the growing up process. I grew up with two sisters and we did our share of bickering. Now we are all very close and love each other dearly. I have seen some siblings who never did get over their feuds and sadly carry bitterness through childhood and the rest of their life. After the newspaper brawl I decided to pray. I asked for an opportunity for the boys to work together on some project that would engage them and draw them closer together.

Rachel went to Stuarts Draft to pick up feed for the animals and enroute dropped off girls to play with friends. The boys got to their math and I got to some laundry. A knock at the door surprised me. It was a gentleman who has property behind us. He brought us a deer he had shot that morning. The lesson plan abruptly shifted into biology and life skills as the boys went out and watched our neighbor eviscerate the deer. After sharing a cup of coffee, our cold hunter friends departed and Patrick and Thomas got to work figuring out where to hang the deer. We were anticipating guests for dinner so I really didn't have time to oversee the deer operation. I recalled a parenting column by John Rosemond. He suggested the parental over-involvement was doing more harm than good for our children. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to test his theory.

Patrick and Thomas have seen their grandpa skin a deer. They have watched us as we process meat. Both are Boy Scouts and have had knife training and handling experience. Patrick has a video on deer processing and loves reading survival books. I told Patrick to call his grandpa for some advice and then went back to my own chore list. After a brief long distance consultation with an expert Patrick sharpened the skinning knife. Then he and his brother went out to get a stick to use as a gambrel, got a rope for tying it up, and decided to work on the deck, out of the rain, near a water source.

I peeked at them a time or two, but left them completely on their own. It was a job that required four hands. They worked together for the rest of the afternoon. Absolutely no brawling. I am so proud of them.

Patrick asked if he could soak the deer hide in the upstairs bathtub. The one I had just finished scrubbing.

Oh well. ( he promised he would clean it out afterward. He wants to tan the hide)

If you come for a visit, please don't use the upstairs bathroom. Maybe I should have asked how long this process takes. Maybe I better mention to Patrick that the hide absolutely must be gone before Thanksgiving guests arrive.

Sometimes God answers prayers in mysterious ways!

Friday, November 21, 2008


The temperatures have been hovering in the low 40s by day, low 20s by night. The pond has a skim of ice on top. When snowflakes fell this morning, the wind blew them and a few stray leaves over the surface of the pond. It was lovely. The willow trees grew old this week. Once beautiful manes of green, they are now wispy gray strands shivering in the breeze.

Everytime the hill has a powder sugar dusting the children rush to get warm clothes on, grab sleds and head to the steep ridge on the other side of the creek. The girls make sure and get dollies dressed in warm garb, and they too enjoy the thrilling ride, gliding on crumpled leaves, grass and a wish that there were more snow, but let's sieze the moment. I think they are afraid there will be no snow this winter. They don't want to waste one single flake.

I love to bake bread. I love my job of milling wheat and baking wholesome food for people. It is a satisfying work for my hands. (Are you anticipating the big but yet?) On days when there are hills to slide down and hot chocolate to make and stories to be read in front of the fireplace with red-nosed children, I find it a difficult task. Right now the table is loaded down with nicely wrapped loaves of milk and honey bread and pizza crusts, and pumpkin pecan pound cakes, brownie mixes, pancake mixes and freshly rolled oats. The dough for cinnamon rolls is rising for the morning. The sorghum is waiting to be stirred into gingerbread in a few short hours. All those good things will feed us and many other people seeking to support local industry and to eat healthily. The money we earn will buy nice food for our animals. BUT, as I sit here, tired, unwinding so I can quickly go to sleep and get right back up again, I have a niggling feeling that I missed something because I was so busy.

I am so grateful to have a team working with me when so busy. Rachel and the boys drove to W. Va to pick up our pork from the processor. I will be able to sell wonderful sausage and pork chops tomorrow, thanks to them. Rachel and Maggie worked on trimming goat hooves for me while I baked. Patrick started the butter making process and made several quarts of cream into butter. Rachel and Maggie took over and finished the project. Rachel and I marveled at the wonder of milk. Out of a cow's body comes this liquid magical substance that makes butter, buttermilk and drinking milk, just like that. How? It is truly a wondrous thing. Rose and Maggie played the piano and made beautiful music. Nora made her bed. Patrick milked Coco for me both morning and night. Philip cut pieces of butcher paper for me to wrap bread and Thomas cut masking tape to make it easier for me. Everyone brought in loads and loads of wood to keep our house warm on such a cold day. We fussed a little. Fought a little. Said our sorries and hugged a little. I laughed listening to Philip and the kids laugh while watching The Pink Panther on dvd.

Thank you God for a warm house. Please show us all how to share the warmth to those who are cold.

PS Anita Firebaugh wrote about the Fuel Assistance Program run by the Botetourt Social Services in her blog, and in the Fincastle Herald. There must be programs like this one in most regions. The program helps out people who are in a jam because of circumstances that make it hard to pay the heat bills, like being laid off, sick, whatever. Sounds like a pretty good way to help out a neighbor if you ask me... There are many places, like the Rescue Mission that need winter coats. Got a few tucked away taking up place in a closet??? We do. We need to share.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


It snowed last night. We woke up to a white farm. The dogs yipped with glee as they ran outside. The kids yipped with glee as they spent 45 minutes rounding up the right clothing to do chores then play outside. Like so many other fleeting pleasures, the snow did not stick around for long.

Our friend Rachel is back to stay with us for awhile. We are so happy to see her face again. Philip has been working on what was originally a small milk processing room. It used to be our trash barn. He has insulated it, painted it, and put in a wood floor. This afternoon he found a teeny little woodstove at a consignment shop and worked on getting it installed. We hope the little room will be a cozy place for Rachel to hang out when a noisy family of seven gets a little too noisy!

Tonight Nora accompanied Rachel to put up the goats. It was very dark and windy when they returned to the house. Nora commented that she couldn't see the moon at all. It was so dark it couldn't be a full moon. She told Rachel that the moon must be at someone else's house tonight. I hope they are enjoying it!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Dinner or Taste and see that the LORD is good(psalm 34)

Growing up in a church-going household living on a farm meant Sunday dinner. Dinner on Sunday, any day, for that matter if you live in rural America, does not mean the meal you eat after dark. It means the meal you eat after breakfast, the one that has meat, potatoes, at least a couple of vegetables, bread and iced tea. For my family, it meant smelling the roast beef the minute you stepped out of the car and walked up to the door. It meant pulling out the fancy plates that had the brown turkey on them, and filling up the glasses with ice for the iced tea. It meant sitting around the table for hours on Sunday afternoon, and more often than not, with several guests.

These days, with kids' youth group activities on early Sunday evening, and the price of gasoline, we don't all come home every single Sunday for Sunday dinner. I kinda wish we did. At least once a month or so, I have to get my fix. In faith, I put two chickens in the oven to roast, stuffed with lemons, garlic and thyme. Peeled and cubed butternut squash and roasted them with garlic and thyme, cream and chevre. We thawed out some of summer's green beans. I picked a big bunch of arugula and sauteed it with garlic, onions, tomatoes and sea salt. A pan of rice instead of mashed potatoes because I want to make sure and have enough for Thanksgiving and Christmas. A couple of loaves of fresh bread. Plenty of iced tea. Extra friends who like spontaneous Sunday dinner invites. And....gingerbread. With whipped cream on top. It was just what I wanted. Maggie and I made a huge pan. It smelled so good. I found an old-fashioned recipe and doubled it. I think the next time we make it I might add a bit more ginger and some lemon zest. Even if we don't change a thing, we will definitely make it again. I think that the freshly milled wheat added a nice nutty taste.

We sat around the table for hours, covering many topics of conversation, even hitting politics, ever so delicately, since there were several different opinions sitting around. Is it any wonder that heaven is going to involve a huge feast? The ultimate Sunday dinner.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Psalm 23

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is It Saturday Night Already?

I woke up this morning to an otherworldly warm. It was balmy and misty. Decided to set up on Ikenberry's porch in case of rain. Good thing I did. The rain came pouring down. Going to the farmer's market is my social hour. Thanks to Jonathan at Star City Coffee, we have plenty of good beans and big carafes of hot coffee. Thanks to Coco we have plenty of heavy cream. What more could you ask for on a Saturday morning? Friends, coffee, a chat with neighbors and plenty of brownie and bread and butter samples.

The wind blew in a cold front. Philip and the kids were home cleaning out the barn and splitting wood and I was enjoying my alone time way too much, so I went for a drive down some country roads. The sky was incredible. Steel blue cotton batting banks of clouds whizzed along as I drove. The sun peeked out, causing the golden trees to glow in the middle of the gray forests. Most of the leaves have fallen, but there were a few holdouts. I laughed as I saw the brown leaves scurrying across the road. They were running like crazy. I wonder where they thought they were going? Someplace warm, I hope.

I got home as the sun dipped low. Rose and Nora and friend Anita were running in the hay meadow as fast as they could run. Brownie and Blackie ran right alongside them. There was a big pile of freshly split wood courtesy of Thomas. Philip, Maggie and Patrick were finishing the barn floor wash down.

There won't be much cooking happening around here tonight. The oven wants a break. So does the cook. BUT, I bought some locally grown and processed sorghum from a man who lives not too far from here. When I tasted it, I went straight back to my grandma's house in Oklahoma. I remember the time we made taffy from sorghum molasses. It was so much fun. We ate and ate. And got very sick. Great opportunity to learn about knowing your limits. With those quart jars of sorghum sitting on the pantry shelf I am thinking about homemade gingerbread with whipped cream on top. Maybe not tonight. But soon. Very soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Quintessential Fall

One of my favorite signs of fall: pumpkin curry soup. We had little to no success with pumpkins in the garden this year so I purchased some from the local health food coop. This afternoon we "gutted" them by scooping out the seeds. I quartered the pumpkins, put them flesh-side down on cookie sheets and roasted them til they were soft. We scraped out the roasted pumpkin, ran it through the blender and put most of the puree into jars to pressure can. The kids made pumpkin pecan cookies with last year's remaining jar. What puree didn't fit into the canner went into the soup pot. Here are two YUMMY recipes:

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Cream: 2 cups succanat(or brown sugar)
1 cup butter
2 eggs

Add to mixture:
2 cups pumpkin puree
3 cups freshly milled flour(or a mixture of unbleached flour and wheat germ)
2tsp.baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp. allspice
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp nutmeg
1cup pecans

Bake375 degrees for 15 min or til firm. Have plenty of cold milk or hot coffee handy. Watch them magically disappear!

Curried Pumpkin Soup

Saute chopped up onions and garlic with butter. When onions are tender, add several teaspoons of a good curry powder, and or some cumin. Put cubed pumpkin or canned pumpkin in pot, cover pumpkin with chicken broth or water and simmer. Use a hand held blender or standard blender and CAREFULLY puree. Salt and pepper to taste. Add enough cream, or half and half. yogurt or sour cream to make the soup nice and silky. Sometimes I add an apple with the pumpkin, or even some apple jelly to give a little more flavor. If you want to get really fancy, toast some pecans in a pan with butter and salt. Sprinkle on top of soup. If you want to get even fancier, skip the curry powder, make the soup with sage and fry up fresh sage leaves in butter, and sprinkle those and some pecans and crumbled chevre on top.

Don't forget to toast your pumpkin seeds in the oven! Wash the stringy stuff off them, put on a cookie sheet with plenty of olive oil and sea salt and toast in a hot oven til crispy. I don't know for how long. Just pay attention!

PS It has rained today. I have been happy to see puddles. The pond looks much better. The chickens are a bit scraggly as they scratch in the mud, but I think they like the worms. Philip, Thomas and Maggie took Victor, the daddy goat home today. They did some chores over at his house to barter for his services. We are glad he got to visit and hope to meet the fruit of his labors come March and April. Priscilla, the heifer, is at the farm next door, visiting a bull. She will come home soon. We have missed her playful self. Hopefully next summer she will be a mama cow. The dogs are sleeping in the house these days because it is hunting season. We don't want them to anger the hunting neighbors by barking and scaring off the deer. Will have to report on the rest of the animals later. Better check on that canner full of jars of pumpkin.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today is my birthday!

This morning the family showered me with pretty little cards and gifts and then Philip and the children took me on a hike. Just what I wanted! We made fairy houses in the little mouse house that lies in the base of a tree trunk on the Appalachian Trail headed to Dragon's Tooth. We remembered our family hikes along that trail when Rose was only a year old or so, and Maggie was not even 5. We would look down at the valley and dream and wish that we could live on a farm down there.

We slid in the leaves, oohed and ahhed at the colors. Patrick dug up a little sassafrass root for all of us to taste. I got to have an extended lunch with a friend over a Japanese Bento box. A nice cup of coffee. Early supper with Philip and the kids. I didn't cook a single meal. When we got home in time for the ladies to come over for Bible study, I was so surprised to see balloons and red and pink ribbons and all sorts of decorations the children used to make a festive party. Maggie made a 2 layer cake from scratch. It was delicious. Pound cake with strawberries and icing and lots and lots of candles, and of course the kind that don't blow out!

I am grateful for this family. They make me feel loved.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Night

Things are kinda quiet on the farm. Well, sort of. The dogs are outside and barking like crazy at shadows in the light of the brightening moon. Kids and Philip are out on special mission, getting ready for mom's birthday! For some reason, I was inspired to clean out the freezer of our fridge this morning. Procrastinating some other chore, I'm sure. The pigs were happy to receive a big bunch of goodies from Thomas, stuff unrecognizable any longer. I found some old chicken feet and bones and was inspired to make a huge pot of chicken stock.

Am enjoying the evening, pressure canning quarts of stock, doing laundry, reading a book in between, listening to a best of Emmylou Harris album downloaded from ITunes for an early birthday present to myself. Eating a grass-fed roundsteak fried up in butter with some of my birthday curry powder from Julie. In front of a nice fire. Ahhh. Here's to multi-tasking!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Cold Front?

I just went upstairs and opened the bedroom window to take my final look outdoors. When I was outside milking, around 7 or 8 it was humid, cloudy and cool. Very dark. Now, at 9pm, the moon is crystal clear. Amazing, really. Must be nearly three quarters full. Cotton puff clouds are scooting along in a brisk breeze, heading east. The moon has a ring around it, filled with an otherworldly sparkly blue. The farm is bright in the moonlight. The air is cold November campout air. Crisp. Like the gala apple I ate at Ikenberry's today. I wish I could cuddle in blankets outside and look at the clouds as they hurry off to wherever they are going. Alas, I will not.

Nothing too exciting...

It was supposed to rain this morning. It didn't, and I was glad and sad. It is much nicer setting up at the farmer's market on a sunny day.

There aren't many of us at the market these days. Gardens are done. Produce is not in abundance. Freshly milled whole wheat products, on the other hand, are still in season.

We have our little farmer's market set up on the property of Ikenberry's Orchard. Just outside of Daleville, on the road to Fincastle, we are on a little knoll with a beautiful view of some neighboring farms and fields and colorful mountains in the distance. The girls and I enjoyed seeing some nice fat deer strolling through the pastures across the highway. They must be quite content deer with all the apples they have to munch. I wish some of them would stroll through our pastures sometime during deer season!

Market day is a long day for little girls. They always try to take colors and papers and books and that lasts for a good long bit. After 5 hours or so of listening to mom talk about freshly milled wheat and the advantages of pasture-raised meats and dairy, little girls are antsy and ready to go. This week we read in the paper about a new business that opened up in Daleville called Blue Collar Joe's. They are a family-owned doughnut/coffee shop. I have been telling the girls we would go check them out soon. Figured that after 2pm they would be closed, but might as well drive by anyway. WELL, happy day for Rose and Nora! They were open. We had the best doughnuts I believe I have ever had in my life. I used to eat a lot of doughnuts, back in the day when I could eat all the high carb processed foods I wanted without gaining weight. Then I started studying nutrition, the benefits of whole grains, and got older. All that to say, we don't eat a lot of doughuts anymore. But of course we, as a family, want to support local industry and welcome new businesses to the area. Our children are especially eager to welcome places like Blue Collar Joe's to our part of the region. Their shop is adorable, the couple who owns it are hard working and friendly, and best of all, they have an amazing variety of treats, plenty of coffee and smiles. I thought the german-chocolate was the best. The kids liked the Botetourt Bog(chocolate with chocolate frosting and oreos crumbled on top). Nora says her favorite was the vanilla with white frosting and sprinkles, but she wishes she could taste them all.

Ahhhh, freedom. The freedom to enjoy whole foods, organic veggies and fruits, dairy and meat, bread milled and baked with our own hands. The freedom to eat an occasional treat like a doughnut from Blue Collar Joe's.

Well, the cow is milked. The sky is cloudy. Stars and moon are hidden. It is a bit chilly, but not cold. The moon has been coming out in the daytime. It should be getting full in the next few days. Bread rises pretty nicely when the moon is large. Philip, the children and I have been having some very weird dreams. Wonder if it is the moon? I hope it will rain soon. Our pond is drying up and the creek bed is very dry. Someone left the waterhose on to water the pigs and ran the water out. It will take all night to build up pressure again. Guess we will take baths in the morning. The kids are not too upset about that. We have had a few rains here and there, but are still in a drought. Hope it will end soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Yesterday afternoon was most magical. As the sun tipped toward the west, a pink glow washed over the hay meadow, the hills, the barn and the autumn trees on the ridge. I wish I could describe it. One of my favorite paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art captures the essence of that glow. It is a small painting. I can see it in my mind's eye, but can't remember the title or artist. I knew that I had received a gift from God, being outside, right at the moment the glow fell over our little valley.
The sky was an enchanting shade of blue, a blue only seen in early November, on a magical afternoon, streaked with salmon brushstrokes.

Nothing really spectacular happened yesterday. Normal Monday. That moment outside satisfied my soul. I felt refreshed.

I noticed today it really looks like November outside. A breeze knocked off a few more leaves from the trees. The ridge is now orange and russet and gray. The sky has been gray all day. At some point I went for a stroll through the garden, trying to find the secret egg hiding place of our rogue chickens. A playful gust scattered golden willow leaves. I had to walk underneath the tree and pretend I was in a giant globe with golden willow leaves instead of snow! Ok, silly, I know, but fun.

It was a brilliant drive back from the polling place at a local elementary school. I was glad to go vote. I thanked God for a ballot with both a black man and a woman listed. At some point the votes will be counted, the controversies over, a candidate will make ready to take on huge responsibilities. And winter will come. Then spring. Summer will follow and before you know it, a gray sky will contrast with golden leaves and hopefully we can say we have paid attention the the things that really matter.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Moon

For the last couple of evenings I have noticed the moon in the late afternoon. I suppose I will look in the paper tomorrow morning to find out what time the moon is rising and setting. It is growing. Still a crescent, tipping down. The skies have been very clear at night and still. It would be great for star watching if I could manage to stay up that late. I am amazed at how people ever figured out that the earth spins and the moon revolves and the planets are set in order. If I think about it for a very long time my head hurts.

I have been trying to pay attention to the moon phase. I wonder about the many naturalists who observed things for days and days and nights and nights. The ones who noticed that on months when the moon was tipping and had a ring about it there was rain to follow in so many days. And when the moon was shaped like a bowl and lying horizontally, the rain never fell.

I can't understand it. But I still like to look and wonder.

It is very important to observe things that are beyond our capacity to understand. The ocean. The stars. The moon and sun. A river. A beautiful painting. The fingers of a little baby.

Makes me feel small. There is more to life than me.

Thank goodness!

"When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" Psalm 8:3&4

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Foster Mother

Ophelia has been here for a week. She and Boaz hit it off immediately. They stroll through the fields, side by side, nibbling grass, nuzzling. Before she came to live with us, Boaz would hang around the cattle and the lambs would hang with the goats. Now they all cruise the pastures together. A sweet family. I love to look at her in the early morning light. She is elegant and holds her head with great poise.

Thank you, Julie, for such a grand gift to our farm!

Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home. Please.

Ladybug,ladybug, fly away home.
Your house is on fire and your children alone.

Mid to late October means the ladybug invasion has returned. Every time the temperature warms up the ladybugs swarm.

I used to think ladybugs were symbols of goodluck. Such cute little things. They eat aphids, for goodness' sake. They are red with black dots. People like to special order little packets of them to put out in the garden for organic pest control.

That was then. This is now. As I type there are 15 ladybugs congregating around the light fixture in my hallway office. There are probably 250 in our dining room. I haven't yet ventured upstairs to our bedroom, but for some reason (related to temperature, I feel certain) those bugs congregate in the hundreds and thousands in our south-facing room. They swarm and crawl, covering many inches of the area around our windows. They get in my hair. They drop in my shirt. They tickle the back of my neck and arms. YUCKKKKKKKKKK!

Never would I have been able to comprehend a person's hatred of the venerable ladybug. Til now. You might notice that the ladybugs congregating in your house are not red and black, but come in several shades of orange. This is a variety of bug imported from Asia called "harmonia axyridis." Unlike our red ladybugs, these guys do not burrow down in leafy mulch out of doors to overwinter. They want warmth and they want it now. Indoors. They will make their way into your house via attics, doors, cracks, whatever. They emit a very pungent(stinky) odor. Especially if they get squished.

A vacuum cleaner or broom is about the best way to get rid of these unwelcome visitors. Sometimes I brush them out the window. Sometimes I just look at them. Funny thing, I usually see some cute little child dressed up as a ladybug for Halloween. Not last night. Maybe I'm not the only one with ladybug issues.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I have a wonderful friend named Julie. We have been friends since we met in church in NJ, and are still friends, even though she lives in Charlotte and we live here. Her children are like cousins to our children. They have known each other for most of their whole lives.

Julie came bearing gifts for the farm and the farmer yesterday! For the farmer, a basket of incredible spices from Penzeys. At least 6 or 7 different types of curry powders, seasoning for sate, special paprika, unusual cinnamon. My nose is still in shock from sniffing so many pungent powders. Julie helped me cut up lots of ripe tomatoes to make two different curries and a special marinara. I wish I could imbed a smell chip into this blog like some people attach videos and photos!

For the farm, a lovely Jacob ewe. I named her Ophelia. I don't know why. She looks like Ophelia to me. What a gift. She is beautiful, with the most incredible wool. She is due a shearing immediately. I can't wait to introduce Boaz to his new bride. I think they will make amazing babies! And amazing yarn.

Some people suggest I add photos to this blog.


Not going to happen. You will have to use your imagination, and imagine a lovely ewe, lavender spotted wool, black nose, dark eyes, a little timid, two strong black horns curving toward her back. Cute little stick legs, like a sheep on Wallace and Gromit. Or just come by for a visit!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Weekend Without the Farmers Market

Since early spring I have milled nearly a ton of grains and baked them into loaves of bread, pizza crusts, pound cakes and more. I decided to take a week off. What a good decision.

We got our tax rebate in the mail the other day and with a portion of that money, Philip bought tickets to a Derek Trucks concert and took me out on a date. We even had Thai food in a restaurant! It is not a normal Friday night for the children to see mom and dad getting on fancy clothes, leaving them to their homemade pizza and an old movie. Maybe not normal, but plenty of fun for all. I love to hear live music. What a rare treat to know that the kids were old enough to babysit themselves, that the farm would not fall apart, and that someone else was going to cook my dinner and even wash the dishes! Toward the end of the concert I realized maybe I should have had a cup of coffee with my meal. What an old fuddy duddy I am turning out to be! I tried really hard to not be too obvious with my yawning during the standing ovation!

The weekend got even better as we all relaxed Saturday morning, did farm chores in pajamas, listened to car talk, read books, and basically hung out until noontime when the housecleaning chores began. We had all forgotten what it was like to have everyone home on a Saturday. The rainy morning turned into a lovely fall afternoon. I organized green tomatoes and ripening tomatoes on the deck. Sorted through hastily picked peppers. Salted the feta cheese, strained the chevre. Decided to know my limits and wait on making mozzarella. Made many cups of warm milk and honey for the kids. CLEANED AND ORGANIZED MY DESK! At least it is clean and organized for my standards, and for those of you who know me personally, you can actually see the surface of the desk, may not last for long, but at least I can enjoy it today.

Nights are dark during this period of the moon. I miss the moon. The wind is picking up occasionally. It blows the yellow leaves around like happy birthday party confetti, leaving them scattered across the ridge and the surface of the pond, detritus from some party we missed. On more gentle mornings and evenings I can hear the music of the wind playing across the tops of the trees on the ridge, just like a brisk mountain stream, then feel it pour down the hill and into our yard, surprising me like a splash of cool water. Much nicer than the ferocious wind that will try to blow us, our house, our barns and trees over, like the big bad wolf.

This is the season for pulling things together. Winter is coming. That wind is going to blow all the leaves off the trees and leave us cold. Now is the time for splitting wood, cleaning out barn, making home cozy. Next week we'll be back to baking, farmer's market, and mozzarella. And will be much happier to do it after a change of pace this week...

"The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised." Pslam 23:1-3

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thank God for Thursday

We have had a rough week this week. I know sometimes blog life on the farm can be rather poetic and picturesque. Then there are weeks like this week.

Noone wants to get up before 8am in the morning this week. Chores have been getting done around 9 or 10 in the morning. Some people in our household have been eating breakfast and reading the paper at 10 in the morning. School has commenced at 11:30 more mornings than not. One day we started school at 1 in the afternoon. Some lessons have been interrupted multiple times with exasperated teacher smacking books on the table because of bickering students. "Quit looking at me!" "He took my pencil!" "They're being too loud! I can't concentrate! Make them be quiet!" Someone let Victor in the field with the dairy goats we wanted to breed with another type of goat. Parents of the house begin to bicker. Grrr.

I think we are all a bit tired and burned out. Sorrys were said many times this week. Many times we prayed for God to intervene and help us to have faith, to act sweetly, to behave in a gentle and kind manner, just to turn around and bite someone's head off! I gave a big family pep talk to the kids last night and they all (even Thomas) were up by 8 this morning. Out to do chores right away. Schoolwork done with minimal bickering by children and absolutely no yelling by teacher. We began our new read aloud novel after lunch in front of the fireplace: THE SAMURAI'S TALE by Erik Christian Haugaard. We are studying medieval times, feudal systems in England and Japan. Since we didn't have anyone coming over or anywhere to go I read a couple of extra chapters. Three little sisters spent the afternoon playing together. Thomas and Philip worked on a building project. Patrick helped me with a cleaning project. I cleaned light fixtures then made 4 pounds of butter. Discovered a glitch in the computer that had hidden all my itunes library was no longer glitching and all my music was back where I could access it! Yeay! Happy day! I could listen to Nanci Griffith's Dustbowl Symphony while working in the kitchen.

Thomas and Philip finished up their outdoors work and came in to help me with supper. Philip chopped up homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers and added them to homemade feta cheese for an out of this world greek salad. I sliced up some sweet potatoes grown in our friend's garden and made oven fries. Cooked up the last batch of this years' fresh green beans. Thomas danced with me to Ella Fitzgerald while the steaks cooked. He and I cooked up an unbelievable sauce for the steak. Maybe we should call it Ella's sauce! After taking out the steaks from the heavy iron skillet we added a bit of horseradish sauce, some Coleman's mustard powder, thyme, chopped garlic, lots of freshly cracked black pepper, a spoon of bacon grease and some heavy cream. It cooked down into an absolutely scrumptious, silky sauce. I hope we can remember how to do it next time! We heated up a loaf of bread, pulled out the butter and big glasses of milk, lit the candles and put on the Van Morrison. Everyone told silly stories, the girls made Philip do silly big belly dance, fire crackled, and yucky miserable week seemed to fade far away.

I now listen to Waterdeep sing You are So Good to Me and am so thankful as I write out the thoughts of the day. God is so good to us. Sometimes this mother wonders at the amount of grace poured out over her proclivities, weaknesses and just plain old stubborn pride. I don't deserve it, but the grace flows anyway. Right about the time we think we all want to quit, run away and slam the door, grace pours in, the light shines, music plays, banquet appears, family laughs, hope reigns.

Tomorrow is another day. Philip promises to make pancakes for breakfast. Everyone is slightly recharged. We have plans to head to Tinker Cliffs sometime in the next couple of days. Everyone is friends again. Thank you God for Thursday night family dinner night. There is something about preparing a meal together and sitting down to eat that helps make things right. I hope that everyone out there will stop the craziness, put on some music, light some candles and make dinner together. Make sure someone will do a silly big belly dance, or at least make weird funny faces. And say a prayer! You never know. It just might help.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Frost is on the pumpkins, or at least it would be if we had any pumpkins this year.

Saturday night was our first big frost. It was 28 degrees when I checked Sunday morning. It got even colder last night. I covered up a couple of peppers and tomatoes with a blanket. Somehow I didn't have it in me to thoroughly protect all the plants, like the green beans and the majority of the tomatoes. Summer gardening is officially over. I was too pooped to think about picking green beans when I finished up with work on Saturday evening. Too bad. The dragon tongues were loaded. I was able to rescue a few that remained unscathed by the frost. Enough for lunch. The pigs are enjoying the rest of the mushy frozen beans and plants.

It is time for cold weather to hit here in the Blue Ridge. Hard for this Texas gal to be ready for it!

One picture of grace: our figs, planted on the south side of the chicken house are still covered with almost mature fruit. Only the tips of the outer leaves were damaged. We will enjoy a few more luscious figs if the days warm up a little. What a treat.

This weather makes the children and I start talking about stews. And pots of beans with cornbread. And spicy eggplant parmigian. I start to drink way too much coffee to stay warm. Better switch to tea. And consider making time for a field trip to McAfee's Knob to work off some calories!

Coming soon, my top 10 list of favorite garden plants I will definitely plant again next year.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


It is a delicious morning today. The thermometer reads 55 degrees but it feels warmer. There is a balmy breeze. The moon is setting toward the west and has a scattering of shreds of gray silk over her face. The trees continue to surprise me with their beauty. The humidtiy and warmth make me think some stormy cool weather is on its way.

Victor has been kissing Nita and Thistle through the fence. We have them in a separate field because we intend to breed them to a dairy buck. The make-out session must have been a little intense in the light of the moon last night because the first thing I noticed in the sunrise this morning was Victor, head stuck in the fence! I went out and helped fanagle his horns back through the wire. All well. Glad to have to run out extra early by myself and enjoy such a delicious morning. Such beauty brought to mind Psalm 8 "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Okay-the moon is REALLY full tonight!

Victor is sleeping in Coco's room in the barn for his visit. I have been milking Coco on a concrete area in the yard by our back door. She is such a good girl. It has been nice being outside for milking time. Tonight I watched the full moon rise as I milked. I couldn't believe how quickly it moved up the night sky. There was no circle of light surrounding the moon this evening.

It was a very hot day today! We had temperatures in the 80s. The children caught a few guinea keats. They gathered hickory nuts. They took grapes off stems so I could make jelly. They played with our friends, Sofie, Boone and Meck. The girls had piano lessons, thanks to our wonderful teacher, Ashley, who comes to our house once a week. My friend Rachel and I skinned tomatoes and mushed grapes and talked about important things and occasionally told kids to go back outside and work out their own disputes, as long as there was no blood.

I was in a bad mood today. Politics. Paperwork. People. Didn't see the margin for having friends come over but had them come anyway. I am glad they did. We mudddled through, together. We were designed to live our life together with other people. Even when the laundry doesn't get finished when we want, or when our moods aren't sweet.

Thank you God for full moons and full lives, full of friends and goodness, despite the fact our world is in a mess. May we all work together to make it better.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Full Moonday! or, When the moon is full and bright, dogs bark loudly through the night...

The moon is so bright and full tonight. There is a cloudy ring around it. Wish my Grandpa Rowe was still around so he could remind me what that means. Guess I better ask Daddy next time we speak. I know what it means around here. Our dogs and the neighboring dogs go into full protection mode on bright moon nights. Never fear, our defenders are here to scare away mean coyotes, bear, and other frightening predators like deer and raccoon.

Today was laundry day for me. Such a pretty day. I wanted to be outside pulling weeds but the mounds of clothes would not let me. They growled at me from many rooms. We separated, folded, set summer things aside, small things aside. Put away, put in piles to give away. We are not done yet but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Should I have the boys bring the winter things down from the attic? Maybe tomorrow.

Fall is making her presence known in our neck of the woods. The trees are so lovely. Yesterday we walked around the garden with some friends who were here for a visit. The silken strands of spider webs floated along lazily. They glistened in the late afternoon sun. It made me think of the magical string spun by the sweet grandmother for the little girl in George Macdonald's THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLINS.

Another sign of fall is that it is time to breed goats. We have a guest this week. His name is Victor and he arrived to the farm yesterday, courtesy of his owners, Don and Donna. He is a hunk of a goat, full-bred bohr and all the girls(goats, that is) are hearts and tails aflutter! They go wild with his masculine scent. We of the human species think he stinks, but what do we know? Our hope is that his visit will result in baby goats come mid-March. Baby goats! Goats require aprox. 5 months for gestation. We like to breed them so that at least most of the most bitter weather has passed. Nothing like sitting out in the 18 degree barn waiting for babies to be born! We love love love baby goats and are so happy to have Victor over for a time.

The last couple of mornings have been nippy. 38 degrees or so. The milk has been steaming in the bucket as I bring it into the house. The days warm up to 80 degrees. My favorite time of year. Sweaters in morning give way to t-shirts in afternoon. For some reason this weather makes me crave pecans and chocolate and big glasses of milk. Instinct to put on a layer of insulation? Hmmm....

The dogs are yipping and howling as I type. Such good protectors. I hope they will scare off all those bad guys by around 10pm so we can all get a good night's sleep!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mother-Daughter Time

Maggie asks if I have written in my blog. I tell her no, but what does she think I should cover?

Here are some things Maggie thinks are of note:

We had our friends from Mass. here for a few days. They have four children and we have know them since the Patrick and their oldest were little babies. We have gone through a few pregnancies, labors and deliveries together. We both have moved a few times. We have camped together, laughed together, cried together, fought together. They are as close/closer than family. On this visit Nora and their corresponding 5 year old became friends for the first time. What a treat! Rose and Maggie and the bigger girl friends performed a brilliant play. I was impressed by the acting of each of the girls, the costumes and the giggles. Patrick was the hero for the 8 year old little fellow. I left a big pan of steaming cinnamon rolls and a bigger pile of dirty dishes for our guests and went to the farmer's market to sell our goodies. I came back to a big pile of clean dishes this afternoon. We will be friends forever.

Maggie reminds me that this afternoon, after our Mass. friends departed, some church friends arrived. This Sunday's topic in youth group in the passage in John 10 that describes the good shepherd. They came out and interviewed the children and videoed the sheep. It was fun. Of course, the sheep were very cooperative when we gathered them up before our friends arrived. We called them. They came. When the video rolled the sheep ran. Oh well...

As we chatted with our friends and prepared to say goodbye the phone rang. Some of our other friends, the 8 mile down the road friends, called. They were back in town from a week at the beach. The store bought milk made tummies ache. Did we have any extra? (we give them milk, they give us stuff we need) So I quickly said goodbye to other guests, grabbed the milking bowl and met up with Coco in the barn. Friends arrived right as I finished. Strained milk, made brief small talk, said good-bye. Thomas greeted us in the kitchen with a sheepish grin. (or should I say wolvish?) Dirty bowl was on counter, pan of brownies in oven. He decided to make supper...

I supplemented supper of brownies with some pizza crusts I did not sell. Drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, cooked til crispy. We ate pizza crackers and brownies for supper standing up in kitchen. Washed down with cold Coco's milk. Not bad. Glass of red wine for the mother and we are good. Dishes done, counters wiped, everyone tired. 8 oclock felt like 10:30. Even the kids felt like it was late. We talked a bit about goat herd management. Victor is coming for a visit tomorrow. Who do we want to keep? Who do we want to breed with a bohr for meat. Who do we want to breed for dairy? Who needs to go.

I was going to skip writing in the blog tonight, but I am glad for Maggie's suggestion. Especially since she has been massaging my head and playing with my hair the entire time. And giving good tips for writing ideas.


Thursday, October 9, 2008


Yesterday we bought 30lbs of cabernet franc grapes from a local vineyard. After school we turned a gal. of cream into butter, a big pile of black-eyed peas into a nice bowl of yumminess and around 10lbs of grapes into 3 jars of juice. It takes quite a bit of effort to make enough juice for these kids to quaff in about 15 minutes. I think I will ration the juice. It may be time to pull out those cute little tiny glasses that hold about 4 oz. We will make some more juice tomorrow and hopefully many jars of grape jelly.

Some dear long-term friends from Mass and their 4 kids will be arriving shortly. It will be fun to have them on the farm for a couple of days. Supper is almost ready. Thomas got a big pan of potatoes from the basement, washed them, boiled them and is now mashing them with some of that fresh butter. I picked some green beans, and they are nicely sauteed in olive oil with sea salt and garlic. They are a variety called dragon's tongue. Such a cool green bean! They grow flat, like a romano, but are a marbled chartreuse and purple bean, about 4-5 inches long. Unfortunately these turn a yellow-green when cooked. But they taste great! We are going to slice up some cucumbers and tomatoes that are still coming out of the garden, and cook up some grass-fed beef. I even pulled out a spaghetti squash from the basement and that will be baked with butter and salt and pepper. For dessert I picked some big fat purple figs and we will have them with almonds, homemade chevre and a drizzle of honey.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Taste and see that the Lord is good!

The kids just beckoned me away from the computer for a few minutes to enjoy the sunset. The perfect appetizer. Hot pink, purple orange, yellow and lilac with fall trees glowing. Even the grass looks more beautiful. Young girls playing tag on the lawn, giggling are dessert enough for me.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Yesterday evening I could see the crescent moon out the barn door while I milked. It was hanging over the pond, just over the roof of our screened-in deck. Tonight she had moved a little bit to the east and I couldn't see her at all while I milked. She is a bit more plump. A bit of a haze around her when I went out to the barn, but as I returned to the house the haze was all gone. I was quite sad the last week or so I couldn't see her. It was so dark. So empty.

The other evening we read a fairy tale by George Macdonald called Little Daylight. It is the story of a precious little baby born to a king and queen, named Little Daylight because she was bright as the sun. Everyone was invited to the christening of the liitle princess, and everyone came. Good fairies offered their special gifts to the baby, but unfortunately, as in real life, there had to be a wicked fairy. She gifted Little Daylight with the gift of "little daylight", giving her the gift of sleeping all day long,whether she like or not, and decreed that every night she would wax and wane with the moon. Of course, as in every good story, a redemptive fairy came along behind the wicked one, and her gift stated that the curse would be undone when a prince came and kissed the princess without knowing it. You will have to borrow the book to see for yourself. It is a cute little story and I think of it as I enjoy the moon.

George Macdonald was a rather unorthodox Scottish pastor who lived 1824-1905. His fairie stories and fantasies were source of inspiration for Tolkien, CS Lewis, Madeline L'Engle and many others. Some of his passages are a little wordy and very "Victorian." Some are absolutely and unforgettably inspired. The fairie stories, like the Light Princess and The Giant's Heart are so contemporary and humorous I have a hard time believing they were written over a hundred years ago. Other books, like Lilith and Phantastes are out of this world with a Salvador Dali-like surrealism. We especially love The Princess and The Goblin.

I have been milking Coco since the end of December. Almost 10 months. Every evening I want to groan as I look at the clock and have to head out to the barn. Til I get outside and look around. And listen. The moon and stars are becoming my friends. I have great prayer time milking Coco. When I feel stressed, I try to think of all the scriptures that apply to my circumstances, or my family's circumstances, or the plight of the poor and hungry, hurting and needy. Lately I have taken to speaking those scriptures aloud. Coco doesn't seem to care, one way or the other. But she certainly gives great creamy milk. What a gal. I forgot to tell her that one of our cow share people emailed her a blessing on Sunday since it was the feast of St Francis. Hope I remember to tell her in the morning.

It is a blessing having to go out and milk every morning and night. I never used to miss the moon when she was dark and hidden, back in the days before milking. But if I don't make an awful lot of mozzarella cheese and butter tomorrow, our fridge is going to be BEYOND overflow! Wonder if I can get the kids to drink one more glass of milk before they go to bed.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

C'est la Vie

This morning I sent Philip and part of the kids to the farmer's market and I stayed home and fried up some potatoes and drank too much coffee and milked Coco in my pajamas. It was fun.

Then Philip, boys and little girls went on a hike and I joined Maggie at the farmer's market for a couple of hours. That was fun, too. Sat morning has become a fun time to catch up with our farmer friends and customers. Social hour.

Our afternoon plans didn't go as planned, so Maggie and I ran into town to the bank and over to Goodwill, hunting for tennis shoes. We found a pretty silver plated wire bread basket, seven almost, not quite matching brown stoneware bowls we decided would be perfect for french onion soup this winter, with melted gruyere all over the sides, a faux crystal bowl with a silver rim perfect for fruit salad or mashed potatoes, or something fancy, a little cut glass plate for olives and carrots or figs and chevre or something fancy, a stainless steel wire colander for straining cheese or vegetables, an 8 cup big glass measuring cup/mixing bowl for making brownies or something fancy like, I don't know, maybe creme brulee. We did not find any tennis shoes. But it was pretty fun having such a spending spree on nonessentials for under $15!

We girls hung out and cuddled in the afternoon and I had my hair done by three different stylists.

Philip and Thomas are moving the pigs to another section of the garden. I picked a mess of okra, cucumbers, bell peppers, green beans and at least 25 lbs of tomatoes. Still need to pick blackeyed peas and another 25 lbs of tomatoes to go. Too dark now. Have to wait til tomorrow afternoon.

We had bad news this morning. Some predator attacked and killed the baby turkeys. The good news, we thought that the mama guinea sitting on her eggs must had lost them. She had 20 or 30 eggs, then disappeared. This morning she returned home, with over 20 little keats! What a happy surprise. The cycle of life... I guess we will try try again with the turkeys next year. I guess we don't really like turkey all that much anyway. Maybe we will have to support one of our other farmer friends if we decide we can't live without one for Thanksgiving... How long does it take for a guinea fowl to be large enough to eat???

I should mention that the other evening on the first of October we were greeted by our blustery friend, the wind. We hadn't seen or heard from her for a few months. When she returns this way in the fall she slams the door of the valley wide open and knocks down a few branches on her way through. Loud, a little obnoxious, with a bit of a temper. But I kinda like it when she comes back to join us. It's about time. Of course by winter's end we may be ready to say farewell. Nevertheless, there is something awesome and powerful about that wind and the warning sound like a steam engine coming through the trees on the ridge. It is nice and still tonight, but I have no doubts that she will make her presence known to us on a regular basis now that fall is with us.

On the same note, the weather now is CHILLY. Cold at night and in the morning. Was 38 degrees this morning. But near 70 this afternoon. Perfect weather for corduroys and jean jackets and sweatshirts and socks and a fire in the fireplace. We need a bonfire with some friends and apples and marshmallows on sticks to make it just right.

Better go milk Coco. Will have to see where the moon is tonight. I saw her come back as a tiny crescent last night. She has been missing for a few days and I have missed her. It has been dark, dark, dark, and the stars have been clear and bright.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Stewing tomatoes, or stewing in my own juices, or processing on a fall day

It is chilly today. Perfect for the first day of October.

The sky has been a deep shade of periwinkle off and on and the leaves on the willow tree are silvery as they wave to me. I am working on hard red frozen tomatoes. A gift from my garden queen sister, Terri. Bags and bags of frozen orbs. She cleaned out last year's tomato harvest from the freezer to make room for their beef. I was the lucky recipient!

Part of the tomatoes are bubbling in a canning pot on the stove. I will boil them down, take out the skins and cores, then can them. Or make marinara sauce and tomato basil soup if I get really energetic. It is easier to have jars on the shelves of the basement to make room for beef, pork, chicken and duck in the freezers.

Working in the kitchen alone for a little bit gives me pondering time. Sometimes that is a good time, sometimes I wonder...

Earlier this morning I was sharing with an old friend that a mutual friend from ages and a couple of states ago found out her son, similar in age to our son, was recently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. When I told Thomas about his old pal's diagnosis, we thought it was kind of cool that someone else we know was wired in a particularly special and unique way; that it was neat to know someone who could relate to certain struggles and also certain joys. Thomas was helping clean up the kitchen with my friend as we chatted and I was absolutely mortified when she responded to that news with "Oh how horrible! Poor poor "friend"." Of course she had no desire to hurt Thomas or me. And PLEASE know that I am all too well aware at how easily my foot flies into my mouth on a regular basis.

I guess I hated having Thomas hear that our friend thinks that having a child with aspergers is a curse. That she would think it a horrible thing for our friend and her family to have to endure such a diagnosis. Of course all was smoothed over and conversation moved along. But I have been in a bit of a funk nonetheless.

I love Thomas. Sometimes I wish life were easier for him, easier for him to navigate social issues, sensory overload, difficulty in verbal expressions. But he and I know of all sorts of people who had difficulty navigating social issues, had terrific problems in expressing themselves in socially acceptable ways, and couldn't handle certain overstimulating environments. These people were responsible for making amazing contributions to the world through inventions, technological advancements, etc.

Thomas was upset and a bit confused by our friend's comment. He is very very perceptive. One of his areas of giftedness. Sometimes we forget about aspergers and just get annoyed at certain behaviours that are AS(asper.syndrome) symptoms. He is who he is. I annoy people all the time, and don't have a label to justify it! If Thomas were "cured" and we no longer had to think about aspergers, would it make our life so much better? Would it be less "horrible"? Would our teenager all of a sudden miraculously get out of bed at 7:30 without our haranguing? Would he run and jump to get his math books out and eagerly work on his writing homework?

Thomas has an incredibly wry sense of humor. He makes me laugh. He lets me hug him. He has an amazing ability to focus on a task for hours, whether it is splitting firewood or peeling apples. He reads books like something crazy! He must read 8 or more novels a week, plus another I don't know how many historical or reference type books. He retains information like a sponge, if he finds it interesting! He wishes he had a pal, but it is hard for him since most of his peers don't know how to meet Thomas where he is, and he doesn't know how to meet them where they are. Sometimes that feels horrible.

Living with autism is a challenge. What in the world is NOT a challenge in life? Living with autism has helped each member of our family be a better person. We are learning that some people labeled "weird" by society may be wired a particular way and that wiring enables them to do certain things that other neurotypical folks could never hyperfocus enough to accomplish.

Thomas, our friends' son, and our many other friends who are on some spectrum or other are "fearfully and wonderfully made." Their limitations, bumping up against our limitations, make for real life. Flavor. Salt.

Fall weather makes me think of a stew. Lots of ingredients. Not really expensive ones. Humble, tough cuts of beef or pork or chicken. Some old potatoes, an onion or two. Maybe some gnarly carrots. Garlic. A slow heat and lots and lots of time makes for a comforting bowl of melded flavors that feels like home. Family. Autism has been a great seasoning/tenderizing agent in our family "pot". I bet it has been in the life of our other friends who live with autism. I reject the word HORRIBLE as an adjective to describe our life with special needs. There are many many adjectives I could use to write about our experiences with special needs. That would be another article.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cheep cheep cheep

I got a call this morning that our last batch of baby broiler chicks had arrived at the Fincastle post office. Cheep cheep, the noise is rather deafening for such tiny little creatures. They are tiny and yellow and fluffy right now. They are not nearly the novelty they were a couple of years ago.

We were able to put the chicks out on the deck for the afternoon. It was nice and warm today. They are back in the breakfast room under a heat lamp right now. Heat lamps are a new little chicks best friend. When nature is more involved in a chick's life, the mother hen is the source of heat. She keeps those little babies tucked under her warm wings, hidden from predators and cold breezes. When we have to take care of them, we have to keep an eye on the temperature, make sure it is 90 plus degrees, give them water, vitamins, special food, grit, plenty of clean surface to sleep on, room so they won't smother each other in a corner.

Besides getting the chicks situated and picking a little garden, I didn't have energy to do much else. Took a nap. Cooked supper. Washed some dishes. Am about to go milk the cow. As I take charge of mothering those birds, I think of the scripture in Psalm 91, verse 4, "He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler." I am tired and glad I have a faithful God who will keep me safe and warm under his wings. Sometimes on days like today, I am tempted to keep going, keep doing, so much to do. But then I think of the words of Jesus in Matthew23:37b: "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"

How easy it is to be like a sleepy rebellious child protesting a time of rest. I think that after some milking time, I am going to go tuck myself into the refuge of my fluffy feather blankets.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What? September is almost over? Already?

It has been raining here for a couple of days. Rachel and Maggie planted some things out in the garden and we are happy to see them get watered in. The grass is so green. The sky in late September has a different hue than early September. The wind is still gentle here in our little valley. The cooler temperatures let me know that brazen wind will be making her way to our neck of the woods before too long.

Weekends on the farm are crazy busy here. I bake on Friday to get ready for the farmer's market. Usually I get up in the darkest of dark on Friday morning to grind the wheat and begin the breadmaking. Yesterday I decided to get up in the not quite so dark of morning to have breakfast, do chores, spend a little time on schoolwork with the children and mostly wash piles of laundry. And help a couple of little girls clean their bedroom. And scrub my VERY DIRTY stove that had been rather fully employed with canning and cheesemaking and other cooking chores. Since I typically like being up at night I thought it might be novel to try to rearrange the baking to evening hours. I began to mill the wheat berries into flour about 5pm.

I don't think I am such a late-night person anymore.

By 11:30 I was very sleepy. But with significant amount of loaves remaining to be baked. I soldiered on and went to bed way past my bedtime and got up way too early, but had over 2 dozen pizza crusts, over 2 1/2 dozen loaves of bread, brownie mix, pancake mix to show for my efforts. A small offering compared to some other weekends, but enough.

Going to the farmer's market to sell our farm goods has been great for our family. We have the opportunity to educate people about healthy foods and fun recipes. We meet new friends as we get to know our customers. We develop relationships and sense of community as we hang out with fellow farmers. We receive encouragement as many people return to buy our products and let us know how much they enjoy their farm fresh food.

This afternoon Thomas and Philip stayed home and cleaned up the kitchen from our baking frenzy. Then they moved the pigs to another section of the garden. Then they went to finish putting a roof on the new chicken house out in the pasture. The rest of the gang and I ate many yummy sandwiches with our bread and our fellow farmer's bacon and tomatoes and mayo, then joined our band of Botetourt Family Farmers. We brainstormed, ate cake, drank coffee, brainstormed some more then went home. I was very happy to live in the Blue Ridge mountains as we drove the windy road home this fine fall afternoon.

Clouds like to tuck themselves into the nooks and crannies of the mountains on misty days like today. Goldenrod glows against the blue-green of the ridge. Ducks splash in puddles, stream babbles. Rose decides it is cool enough to build a fire in the dining room fireplace. Boys take their book and find a corner for reading. Nora oversees Rose. I sit down, read blogs I like, write a little, take a break. Look out the window at the fog rolling in. Listen to crackling fire. In a few minutes I will go milk Coco. Check out the dark sky. Moon is not visible these days. I noticed that the bread didn't rise quite as nicely as days when the moon is bright. But that is okay. It still tastes good. Dark fall days are great for early tucking-in evenings. Maybe we better have milk and bread and butter for supper in front of the fireplace. Seems like a good evening to start a new read aloud book with the kids.