Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Every dog has his or her day!

I love our life.  I love the farm, the family, the work.  BUT, I also love a break.  Seeing many biblical precedents for taking off periodically to recharge, this wife, mother, teacher, baker, gardener and milker of cows went online to Priceline and got a last minute cheap ticket to Texas to see my mother!   Called her up on Wed, said, please pick me up tomorrow and lets pack the camping gear and go to Big Bend.  So, my wonderful mother cancelled everything else on her calendar, picked me up at the airport in Austin, and off we went to Big Bend National Park for a long weekend camping trip.  

Philip agreed to man the farm and the fam for a few days.  What a guy!!!  I think he must love me or something!  He and Rose milked Coco.  The bucket was kicked over a couple of times, but the world didn't come to an end.  The girls called me on my cell phone as Mom and I drove through Fort Stockton and Marathon in West Texas to ask how to make butter.  They were very successful.  Kids prepared meals, did chores and took care of each other.  

I got to spend some time with my mom.  It was great.  We remembered all the other trips to Big Bend, 25 years of visiting our favorite park in the US.  So many memories.  Eight years ago my mom was still using a walker after a head on collision with drunk driver ten years ago.  I was pregnant with Rose.  Mom, a professional artist, had not been painting for some time, due to head injuries, chronic pain, what not.  I kidnapped her and we headed to the Big Bend, a national park on the border of Texas and Mexico, 100 miles from the nearest little town.  We cried together as she "hiked" her first hike, post accident, post being told she would never walk again.  It is one of the most painful and beautiful memories of my life.  

Mom and I have escaped down to the park, now, every year or so.  The kids and Philip have learned to love the desert, the mountains, the stars and the borks(Patrick's name many years ago for the javelinas-they look like wild boars and pigs).  
So, when the winter drones on and my Texas bones crave sun, I am ever so grateful for the opportunity to head southwest.  What a good trip.  Mom and I drove around and took pictures and saw sunsets.  Ate yummy food.  One of my favorite pastimes is cooking camp food.  For you foodies out there, here are a few examples!  Roasted butternut squash with red pepper, onions, and garlic.  Roasted okra with peppers, onions, cilantro, cumin garlic and butter.  Oh, that was sooooo good.  And the piece de resistance, the venison medallions stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped with bacon and grilled.  New favorite, right there.  And of course, all meals eaten in the shadow of the mountains, either under stars or beautiful sunrise.  

Wish you could smell the smell of creosote and pine needles.  One afternoon I hiked to Laguna Meadows and found a soft grassy spot to read a book and take a nap.  Next day hiked to Lost Mine Trail, prayed and wrote.  Felt silly, healthy and strong to run down at least half of the  3 1/2 miles down the mountain.  

The flight to Texas and back offered great reading opportunity.  THE UNSETTLING OF AMERICA by Wendell Barry is a must read for you farmers out there, or you people who live, breathe and eat food.  Written in the 70's.  Very prophetic.  Very relevant.  Very hopeful, in that so many people in our little circle and many other parts of the world are taking note and adjusting our lives accordingly.  Read THE KITE RUNNER and SANCTUARY by Wm Faulkner.  Had an all day layover in Chicago O'hare and wrote drafts for reviews for both of those of those books.  Guess that will have to be another blog! 

So what does all this have to do with the farm?  Lovely goats ready to start kidding season, garden ready to be planted, hog ready to be butchered, chicks and duckies ready to be brooded, mom much more ready for spring.  I hope that whoever you are, reading my thoughts, will make sure and take time to take a walk, be still, see beautiful things and pray. 

 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  Jesus, Matthew 11:28

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I thought it was March winds...

I have to write about a fun milk and honey moment.  

Sunday we had our farmer group meeting at our house, potluck.  I love potlucks.  So much fun sharing food with friends.  The crazy wind had the power going off and on all afternoon.  After guests went home, Philip and the big kids took off to church and guitar lessons, and my sister and her husband went to town for a movie, Rose and Nora and I were left all alone.  The electricity quit right as everyone drove out the driveway.  The winds wailed.  The dark crept in.  We pulled out lots and lots of candles and lit up the dining room and living room.  Ate homemade pita bread and applesauce.  Discussed options.  Decided to take turns playing piano by candlelight.  Fire crackled.  Candles flickered.  Girls and mom cuddle around big old piano making music.  We decided it would be nice if the electricity would go out for a few hours at least once a week.

 Thank God for the wood stove and candles.  We pray for all the people whose lives have been so disrupted by weather the last couple of weeks..  And for all the men and women working so hard to fight fires, repair power lines, take care of sick people.  

The almost no till garden

We are in the season of wild, weird windy weather.  After the ice storm we had a couple of 70 degree days.  After the catastrophe of last Tuesday, I decided that the best way to deal with a 70 degree day is to go outside and work all day.  It was wonderful.  Just what the doctor ordered.  

Toward the end of January, early Feb., for most of my adult life, I am drawn to an old, beat up hardcover green book:  HOW TO GROW VEGETABLE AND FRUIT BY THE ORGANIC METHOD, by JI Rodale.  For weeks I sketch out plans, make lists and otherwise prepare for the garden year.  Some years the garden was set out in cute little window boxes on our sixth floor apt balcony in Tokuyama, Japan.  Other years, in cute backyards and side yards in suburban neighborhoods in New Jersey and Fort Worth.  All looking forward to the farm.  So I have a few weeks under the belt this year studying my garden bible.  One method I wanted to try for years was the heavy mulch method of gardening.  When we moved to the farm we had terrible soil, but lots of old hay in the barn.  Thank goodness the child labor laws don't apply on the farm!  Thomas, Patrick, Maggie, and any other willing friend carried hundreds of wheel barrow loads of old hay, manure, chicken litter and any other "organic"matter we could find to dump on our garden beds.  After a few months we started to see our first worms.  Year two we found the soil much more amenable to planting.  

We expanded our garden quite a bit last year, to plant corn and squash.  Instead of a plow, we rented a rototiller.  It felt like tilling up concrete sidewalk.  Terrible.  Not a worm.  we planted anyway, and continued the heavy mulching.  Loads and loads of hay.  I like to think of it as not just soil building, but character building!  We harvested lots and lots of corn!  And butternut squash, and blackeyed peas.  

Sooooo, i decided to pull out the mantis mini rototiller and see how bad the tilling of the garden was going to be this year.  Especially since we expanded the site exponentially.  I had wanted to cover the whole area with hay and manure, but farm life doesn't always stop to let you catch up.  What a surprise!  The former garden spot that used to be like concrete is now black, loamy earth.  Full of worms.  Hallelujah.  That was my present for the day.  

We have decided to only till the rows, leave the space in between for walking, and figure out how to mulch the rows, just like last year.  It is time to plant peas and lettuce.  In another month we hope to plant broccoli, spinach, onions and potatoes and whatever else is on the master list.  Working on the garden....One of my favorite things.  The 70 degree days gave way to 70 mile per hour winds, rain, sleet and cold.  Perfect for cuddling up with my big green book.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


OK, Life on the farm has its moments, like all the times people tell me they are going to do their chores, or they did their chores, just like last night I was informed that of course Coco would be separated from Moose late at night so I would be able to get milk this morning.  Imagine my (lack of ) delight to get up extra early and find that Coco had no milk because her son drank it all before I got out there!  And then, it was time to make butter, and since my blender is broken, I attempted to use the Bosch Universal mixing bowl again.  Unsuccessful, again.  I don't know why, but with the blender we had no trouble at all getting the butter to come, but the mixing bowl just made a big, super emulsified mess.  Again. And when I tried to order another part for the blender, every place was out.  And then, feeling great that at least I had 9 loaves of bread rising by 8:30 in the morning, despite no milk or butter, I made an extra big batch of tortillas.  Out of the grain in the bucket that said Hard White Organic Wheat.  That was really Soft Organic Wheat.  That makes great cookies and cake, but not tortillas.  So I just growled and told everybody to eat hard tortillas and then proceeded to make some pretty good biscuits and pie crust out of the the rest of the huge bowl of tortilla dough.  

I was so frustrated by the list of all the things that seemed to be going wrong.  Some things my own darn fault, some, things that others neglected to do.  The kids got the picture pretty quickly, after I told them how much I depended on everyone to do his or her job, how it affected lots of other people(like my milk customers for the day).  Then I sent them out to clean barn and split fire wood.  The world did not crash even though the tortilla orders went unfilled.  We are not going to die for lack of butter.  We'll buy a new cheapo blender and keep trying to make it work.  

A friend to me how she always wished to handle the challenging days with grace, but easier said than done.  I started the day with such good intentions.  Great Bible study time alone in the wee hours.  As soon as the frustrations came my way, I sure did get grumpy.  But there were moments of grace, like seeing ALL the children playing a game of baseball on the front lawn with an old limb of a tree and a ball.  Not organized by a bunch of grownups, but initiated all own their own(do you think they were trying to stay out of grumpy mom's way or what?)  That was sweet.  Not to mention the terrific sunset that accompanied me as I measured out new garden beds.  And when Rose came in to the house crying because the other kids didn't play baseball the way she wanted, and said that she was having a really bad day, I made her laugh as I took out the big ponytail of at least 40 braids that the kids made in my very straight hair the other day and she saw curls where there never are curls.  Then I left everybody to play more baseball with dad in the dark and met a friend in town for a night-time chat.  

Come to think of it, we did have a grace-filled day.  Not perfect, but real.  Our little bumps in the road are annoying, but part of the process.  Our life is probably always going to be full of broken machines, imperfect people, health issues, and occasionally grumpy moms.  Thank you God for GRACE, baseball, sunsets and curls.

Friday, February 1, 2008

"The Barnyard gate is beautiful, Mom!"

Rose joined me in the barn this morning.  She wants to learn how to milk a cow, so I milked on one side of Coco and Rose on the other.  She did well.  I hope to work myself out of a job before too too long.  But that would mean I would miss out on the early morning peace and quiet, the sight of the valley, swirling with mist, the trees, bushes and barnyard gates crystallized in the freezing rain.