Monday, June 30, 2008

The Last Day of June

The butterfly bushes are now blooming. Essence of honey greets my nose as I walk past them to the barn. Such a lovely bush and such a lovely smell. I think the bees must be drunk with so many pollen and nectar options! The sunflowers in the lower vegetable garden are blooming, but the ones in the yard are not. They grow taller and taller. Just like Thomas! Maggie's zinnias are blooming. The cosmos are tentatively trying out theirnew petals, as are the echinacea. The rose bushes by the driveway are beginning to look as if all their effort to be beautiful is wearing them out. They may need to take a break, there are plenty of other flowers to take over the job of gilding our farm. I am amazed at the hydrangeas. Llilies and clematis welcome us to the backdoor.

Yesterday evening I went out to check on some of the animals and to enjoy the fresh air. We have a peach tree behind the milking parlor. It is loaded with peaches. Every day or two they blush and glow a little more. We try one. Still too hard. But yesterday I saw one lying on the ground. So red, so perfect, I had to pick it up to give a try. With the first bite, juicy peachness dribbled down my chin. The first ripe peach! What a gift.

Most of the peaches are not yet ripe, but they will be soon. Peach jam, peach pie, peach cobbler, peach icecream, frozen peaches served with blenheim's ginger ale(not for the faint-hearted). What impeccable timing. We are fully satisfied in the cherry department. We have one big black jewel raspberry plant. It is a lot of work to pick those berries. There aren't very many of them, but they taste good. It is hard not to compare them to the wineberries that grow in the woods. The domesticated black ones are just a shadow of the wineberries. Those we will fight brambles, bugs and branches to reach. They ripen in late July. About the point we have reached peach saturation.

I need to eat breakfast. All this talk of fruit has made me hungry. Yogurt with peaches? Raspberries? I must send the girls out to pick a fresh bouquet to brighten our table.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Silver Lining

Well, I thought I would mention some interesting follow-up to yesterday's debacle. Minutes after signing off on my blog, the phone rang. It was my dad. In such a sweet voice, just resonating with "hug," he asked me how life was going in the land of milk and honey. Deep in my heart, I knew it was a little heavenly message sent my way. He and mom were just calling to check in. It didn't change any of my circumstances. Nevertheless, knowing that my heavenly father could use my earthly father to give me a hug via phone touched my soul. I felt compassion. And love. And that is sweeter than honey, honey from the comb.

I hope that we will often be surprised by a rainbow of compassion and grace in the middle of our stormy circumstances. Those are the moments that draw me to my God. And cause me to worship.

Thanks, Daddy, for the timely phone call. I love you! (Of course, you too, Mom!)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Partly cloudy, chance of thunderstorms.

Sometimes life on the farm is like a rustic european painting: soft mountain hues, gentle breeze whispering , table set with cheese and wine.

This afternoon is not one of those days.

We had another livestock escape problem yesterday. I delegated the chase to other members of the famiy. It was not done in the way I would have done it. Thankfully cattle are back this afternoon, but I will honestly admit I am perturbed at others not embracing the urgent sense of responsibility I wish they would.

Thunderstorms have been rolling through the last couple of days. That is how I feel. One kid sighed just a little too dramatically when asked to help unload the farmer's market supplies. The gates through which the cattle escaped were still not wired shut (cattle can figure out how to open some gates). Then I went out to the freezer on the deck where we keep produce, bread and some of our meat. Apparently the door had not been shut for hours. Over half the meat was completely thawed out. A duck, 3 chickens, a big roast, livers(well, not too sad about the livers). Many quarts of cherries we painstakingly picked, pitted and put up. Many bags of peas that took me hours to shell. Six or eight dozen pita bread I made up just for our famiy to have on hand. Hamburger buns. Homemade. Several jars of milk put up so if we were ever in need we would have some. I don't know what else. I am crying as I write this. I cussed. I threw things. I threw a big temper tantrum because I felt every minute of hard labor and waiting that went into the making of all those foods. I had plans for them. I was so angry at the loss. It doesn't even matter how, or why or who. That doesn't matter at all. Just that it is gone and wasted.

So, I will cook the meat tonight and we will eat it this week. I am tired and was planning on working in the garden, not cooking a lot of food, since I just finished cooking I don't know how many hours yesterday and this morning. We will refreeze the peas and cherries. There will be a loss of quality and taste, but we still have food. The chickens get the pig liver and the pigs get the chicken liver. The chickens and the pigs get a whole lot of bread. The pigs and chickens will drink the milk. I realize it is not a total loss, and for that I am grateful.

Food has become significantly more valuable to me now that it costs so much effort to bring it to table. We do have three freezers and try to keep things balanced out so that in situations like today, we won't lose everything. We have an energy efficient light bulb plugged into the same outlet as the downstairs freezers, so if the power down there goes off we have a warning. We have much more food growing outside. We will not go hungry.

But it still makes me cry to lose food and have to throw so much work out to the pigs.

And to have to cook a bunch of food when I am tired.

"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

"But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children--" Psalm 103:13-17

I think I am going to ask for a big hug from my Father God. I could use one about now.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quack! Quack! Quack!

Today the baby ducks went to live out in the pasture. We have been worried that the old-timers would harrass the little quackers.

As I milked Coco this morning, Patrick moved our 16 new pekin ducklings. They quacked and squeaked and squealed as he carried them lovingly in his arms. We have to brood ducklings and chicks in a warm room in the barn for the first 3 weeks or so of their life. They need a temperature of around 90 degrees and plenty of fresh water and food. And clean bedding. They are VERY messy. And very fragile. But by the time they are almost a month old they can handle the great outdoors, as long as there is a good fence.

Patrick laughed and laughed as the big 3 month old ducks ran away from the ducklings. And the new ducklings found their place in line behind their new reluctant mentors. Green grass, an acre of it, a nice big trough full of water to dabble in, and fresh air and sunshine make a terrific new home. No harrasment, unless you ask the big ducks out there. "Why the heck are those little quackers following us everywhere we go? Just when we got rid of those stinky chickens and have the field all to ourselves, they put those brats in here. What's a duck gotta do to get some peace and quiet?"

Little do they know that in another few days around 70 baby chicks will join them. Hope they work out a good community system. I have been discovering that people are an awful lot like chickens. Or is it that chickens are a lot like people? Sometimes everyone needs to squawk a little bit while they get settled in and find their place. Once that "wa" gets established everyone quiets right down, feathered or non...

BTW, we had the most yummy supper: roasted chickens, turnips simmered in milk, with goat cheese and sage, sauteed broccoli, GREEN BEANS with onions, stir-fried with homegrown bacon grease, and turnip greens and onions cooked with pork fat and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. We are so grateful for the abundance from the garden. And so mindful of the families across the world who are hungry right now. May God show us what we can do to do our part. If everyone thought about it and did their one small thing, maybe some family would not go hungry tonight. I think we will look up some of the organizations that help families by providing chickens, or goats, or gardening supplies and training.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


This household is pretty low-tech. We use a french press coffee pot because the only maintenance involved is a dishwasher, occasionally. We did fork over some money a couple of years ago for a cast iron cherry pitter. It is about 8 or 10 inches long and makes cherry pitting a not too terribly arduous chore. We also have a heavy duty apple peeler slicer corer machine. Both of these low tech tools clamp onto the edge of the table and work with someone spinning a handle. Our friends, the Thomas family, gave us a big box of June apples. Thomas wants to make a pie, so he has great incentive to work the apple tool. All of us have been taking turns pitting cherries. We will make apple pie and apple sauce. We have made cherry jam and pie and tart and are now putting cherries up in the freezer for future pies. I would like to make around 20 more pints of jam.

The girls shelled peas and pitted cherries last night as I read Mrs Piggle Wiggle to them. Then they retired and Patrick and I continued to shell peas. Wish we had a tool that made shelling peas a little bit faster. Oh well, just makes us appreciate them all the more. Patrick and I have been getting in some great conversation time lately. Not just quality, but quantity as well. Shelling peas and picking garden are great times to chat. So are cherry picking afternoons.

Some day the kids may no longer want to talk with me. I hope that won't be the case, but you never know. It seems like this farm is providing some pretty great low-tech conversation tools. I hope that they will remember. I hope that I will remember.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I Love Our Friends.

Yesterday some of our best friends from New Jersey arrived for their summertime visit. The children had been counting the days til their arrival. They immediately went off to explore and play and Kathryn and I went off to see new animals and then pick garden. What fun we had as we sipped our wine and picked peas and broccoli. Then we went in and threw the duck in the oven to roast and ate fresh goat cheese with herbs spread on baby potatoes. We couldn't wait, it was so good. Then we had another appetizer of the first baby zucchini sauteed and then spread with the cheese. It was so good. Then Kathryn made the butter from the cream and we put out the bread and the duck and the broccoli and the peas and the potatoes and we all sat outside way too late for dinner and enjoyed ourselves and the cool evening, ever so grateful for friends and gardens and farms and summer.

This morning Patrick made biscuits to go with the butter Kathryn made and the fresh cherry jam that Maggie made. This afternoon I worked in the garden and then we tie-dyed. It is our summer tradition with the Woolleys. We get out all our white t-shirts and white napkins and anything else white and cotton and wrap with rubber bands and dye away. It is so much work, and worth it. Just like our life, it involves great adventure and mystery. We start out with a plan, an idea, and get to work. But you never really know how it is going to turn out until you wait, rinse, wash and unveil the mystery of the unwrapped fabric. We are always surprised, not always thrilled, but generally somewhat content with our creations. Then we have a wearable memory that brings joy for the next several months as we remember fireflies and bonfires and funny colored hands since we forget to put on gloves. Each year we seem to get a bit more adventurous as we try new designs. I even dyed my favorite old bleached out nightgown. Wonder how it is going to turn out? Who will be the king/queen of the tye-die? So far, Thomas has been the winner in years past. Will let you know.

By the way, the pizza we picked up from Papa John's this evening tasted almost as good as the gourmet supper last night. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven...Ecclesiastes 3:1

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Life is a great big bowl of cherries, but you have to get out there and pick them!

Yesterday we had an impromptu cherry picking festival. Several friends and their children serendipitously dropped by and before you know it, ladders were propped, pickup truck was driven under branches and agile boys and girls climbed up, all with baskets and bags. We ate and ate, and even so baskets and bags filled up with black red orbs of summertime delight. We moms made more coffee, Thomas made brownies, we pitted cherries, then went back out for more.

Suppertime came all too soon, so we threw together a salad, with cherries of course, a frittata and some of Kirsten's kholrabi. I had never eaten kholrabi before. I like it.

I hope more friends will drop by and climb up in tree to pick cherries. We have friends and cherries. Who could be more lucky?

Taste and see that the LORD is good....

Monday, June 16, 2008

Great Therapy!

Some people use Roundup on noxious weeds. Sometimes I wonder why I don't! Weeds are amazing. As we pulled weeds this afternoon, the kids delved into some wonderful philosophical discussions. Why do flowers and vegetable plants typically die if you cut them off at the ground, but weeds seem to thrive? What would our world look like if all our garden plants just grew out there in the pasture, without any intervention on our part, and all we had to do was go out there and pick them? Why does dock and thistle and nettle need so little effort to spread everywhere?

We made some great progress in the weed department and it was wonderful working together. We also picked and shelled almost 5 lbs of peas, and a bag of sugar snap peas and a nice bunch of lettuce. Green beans are 2 inches long. We are so excited. Cherries are black. Zucchini is almost ready to pick. Someone thought my rhubarb plant was dock, and whacked it down, so I gathered rhubarb and will cook it tonight.

It keeps threatening to rain, so I went out and collected the laundry. Was frustrated with something, and found myself with shovel, whacking more dock. As the whacks grew a bit more violent, I realized I was working out something. I surrendered to the shovel and within minutes had a huge section of the humongous weed eliminated. And felt much better. Endorphins released, I brought in the laundry, started another load, and felt like I had surrendered another one. Maybe one could postulate that organic gardening is good stress management. Just give it a try next time you are tempted to open your big mouth! ( I tell myself, hoping that myself will listen!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Full Circle Farm, or Happy Father's Day

My dad is John A. Rowe. He was born in Oklahoma on July 27, 1938. He grew up farming with his seven siblings, aunt, a cousin and maybe another family member thrown in for good measure. It was not an easy life. He tells of how my grandmother would can at least one hundred jars of food per family member to have enough to make it through the year, And she would make a hundred biscuits from scratch every morning while the kids did chores, then they would come in and have warm milk from the cow with their hot breakfast. My dad milked. He also made the pie crusts for the family. Not to mention all the other chores he must have had.

Growing up on a farm in Oklahoma in the 30s and 40s meant the kids had to learn how to do just about everything. They picked cotton, sold milk and cream, raised peanuts, raised pretty much everything they ate. After highschool, Daddy went to college for a little while, but ended up joining the airforce and then later on, became a firefighter. Daddy loves to help people and is great in an emergency. He was a great firefighter. I have fond memories of going with Mom and my sister to the station and feeling so proud of my dad in his starched uniform and hat.

When I was around 4 or 5, Daddy moved us out of Oklahoma City and out to the country, outside of Prague, Oklahoma. We loved those hundred acres. He and mom started reading books on homesteading. They read Foxfire books. They bought cattle and goats and horses. They plowed and hayed and gardened. They made cheese and bread. Not too long after we moved out to the country, Daddy was diagnosed with a degenerative heart disease. Doctors told him he would probably not live more than ten or thirteen years. (guess they were wrong-he is about to turn 70!)

We children did not know how hard things were at the time. Daddy had to retire from the fire department at the age of 36. Thank goodness for that move out to the country. He had many hives of bees and collected honey to sell in town. I can smell that honey on a warm summer day, and just about taste the honeycomb we would chew like gum. That honey bought lots of groceries for a family of five.

Daddy wanted to learn how to butcher meat, so he got a drawing of a side of beef, with all the cuts, and started learning how to cut up meat. He would go in town and work at the locker plant and became a master butcher. Later on, he acquired processing equipment, and would butcher over 200 deer a year for other people. That was how he paid the property taxes. And bought Christmas presents.

Mom and Dad wanted to have lots of children. Their first born son died. There were several miscarriages. But they were happy with the three of us girls. Daddy just took us along as if we were sons. When he went out to cut wood, we went to load and stack. When he went to build fence, we went to hand him staples and tools. When he had to pick rocks in the fields, there we were. He would pay us a dime for a bushel of weeds.

Daddy sings. For many years he was the song leader in our little country Baptist church. I love to sing with my dad. We would often sing specials together at church, and mom would often play the piano late into the night as we would sing hymn after hymn.

Daddy is a story-teller. We would ask him to read a book to us at night, and he would tell us he couldn't read. (of course he can...) But he could tell stories. Our favorite series of stories was the one about Flunky the Monkey and Tarzan the Hairy-legged ApeMan. I don't know how many stories he told us, but we sure begged for more. Now my children beg for more, and he seems to always have a story, even when he is tired out.

My dad taught me a lot of things. I think we always had the saying that Daddy can fix it, cause Daddy can do just anything, and we truly had reason to believe it. He didn't have money to pay other people to fix things, so he learned to weld, to mechanic, to do plumbing, to build barns, to pour concrete, to fix toasters and waffle irons, to make frames for my mom's paintings, to call coyotes, to make guns, you name it. And he always made time to help other people who couldn't do it for themselves. He was always inviting someone over to eat. My mom is a great cook, but Daddy LOVES to cook. Noone can match his fried fish. Or his barbecue brisket, or his pico de gallo and tacos chihuahua. I am making myself hungry just thinking about it.

Daddy and I are a lot alike, though it has taken me many years to be able to admit it willingly. Through the years we have butted heads. It is hard for two very strong-willed opinionated people to always get along placidly. At some point I was able to forgive Daddy for being human. Think that happened about the time I realized that I was human, too. I don't know what I would do without him. When I have goat questions, you can guess who I call first. Same with garden, bees, pigs, cows, milking, haying, chickens etc. He is getting much better at teaching me how to do things, like sharpen knives. Or maybe I am getting better at learning. When I couldn't figure out how to teach one of our new goats how to be milked, he came and helped. We don't always agree on every method, but I am so happy that we are finding many happy mediums. I wouldn't be living on this farm if it weren't for my dad. I wouldn't keep getting up when I am tired if it weren't for my dad. I wouldn't get out there and weed the garden if it weren't for my dad. I wouldn't try things I probably shouldn't be able to do if it weren't for my dad. Somehow in the middle of our butting heads he gave me the self-confidence to try. To try to raise a family, to try to farm, to do hard things. I am grateful.

He also gave me the example of a husband who loved and adored his wife. He still loves and adores my mom, and I guess that that must have seriously influenced me, because I have a husband who is just as wonderful to me as Daddy is to Mom. And just as my dad was involved in my life, Philip is involved in our children's life. I could never ask for a better husband or father to our children. I pray that the circle will continue rolling along and that someday our children will have a similar, albeit different flavored story.

I love you, Daddy, and am grateful for your influence on my life. There is plenty more I could say, so many stories. But I have to get to bed so I can get up and milk in the morning! Happy Father's Day

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Peas and Pigs

What a relief. It is a cool morning.

Last night we had a great thunderstorm. It seemed to be building for days. I got out to pick the garden by 7 something to avoid the heat. Shelled peas in the dark sort of cool house in the heat of the afternoon. It was weird to shell peas all by myself. Usually the kids all help me. A team of 5 or 6 makes quick work of peas that need shelling, corn that needs shucking or beans that need snapping. A rare afternoon. I was alone. With plenty of other tasks calling my name. And a huge basket of peas waiting.

So I sat down and proceeded to shell peas. I thought I would make the time pass by watching a cheese-making dvd. I couldn't get it to work. So I sat and shelled peas. It was almost torturous, having to be still for so long. Then I decided to switch gears. Instead of torture, I tried to consider it an act of meditation. And productive meditation at that. The pile of sugary little green balls of delight grew and grew. The pile of empty shells grew and grew, making a gourmet treat for our goats. I remembered years gone by growing peas, harvesting a cups worth that would divide into 2 tablespoons of fresh peas per person. All those years of wishing we could harvest enough peas for everyone to enjoy. And now, thanks be to God who makes all things grow and makes gardeners plant bigger gardens, we have enough to eat AND put in the freezer.

It was kind of fun shelling peas all by myself. But to tell you the truth, I believe that shelling peas and shucking corn and snapping beans were all designed to be done in community. On a picnic table outside in the shade.

Speaking of thunderstorms, about the time I finished up with the peas I got a phone call from a neighbor. "Are those your pigs over here in our pasture?"

Well, Barbie and Barbie2 found a way to get through the fence to go avisiting. I hiked over to get them. They came to me when I called, and I walked them to our pasture. Apparently they were not ready to come home yet. When our friends brought Patrick home, they mentioned that the pigs were out on the road by our neighbor's house. The sky was darkening and the wind was picking up. I had showered and changed into my cute skirt and shirt, to be ready for Tuesday night ladies Bible study. Patrick got a bucket of grain and off we go for Pig Roundup take 2. I got Barbie to follow me and we head down the road to our house. Patrick herded little pig through the field. A few drops of rain sprinkled our face then the heavens opened. I have never been in such a hard rain, leading a pig down the road, in my cute outfit and fancy sandals. "Here, pig, pig. Come on, Pig, Pig." Then the wind hit and lightning and thunder cracked and boomed through the little valley. "Oh please, God, don't let Patrick get hit by lightning. And BTW, the kids really need me, so please don't let me get killed either!"

By this time, the pig and I are running down the road as fast as we can and she headed straight for the barn. I headed straight for the house and Patrick and I watched the rest of the storm from the front porch. Thanked God for the rain and lightening-so good for the garden. Changed out of our drenched clothes, and welcomed the ladies to our Bible study. The gals told me that there were several trees down on the road out here. Scary.

What an adventure our life is. I hope the pigs do not feel the need for any more adventure. Ever. But if they do, could they please schedule their outing when I am not on my way to church, or when people are on their way over here. Some consideration, please...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

June? Feels like August.

It is soooo hot. Sticky. Miserable. Hard to move hot. I wish I had an air mattress. I would sleep outside tonight.

As we finished up the dishes last night, Maggie grabbed me.

"Come outside, Mom! They're back!"

We went out to the deck and pulled up a chair. Fireflies flickered all along the trees on the ridge and around the creek. We quietly chatted and enjoyed the miracle of fireflies. I heard a voice inside calling for mom. Grinned at Maggie and told her that as I was off duty, we would play like we heard nothing. Philip covered for me.

I am grateful for summer; hot, sticky, full of sparkling magical fairy dust fireflies. And Maggie to remind me to stop and enjoy them.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Happy Holly Days

We said good-bye to our friend, Holly, today. It was a lot of fun having her stay with us for a week. She washed mountains of clothes. She helped bake bread and wash dishes. She braided girls' hair and read stories. She helped in the kitchen with many yummy meals.

Thursday we made the first chevre of the year. Chopped up loads of dill, green onion and garlic. Made a big fat ball of creamy deliciousness. We had worked in the garden for several hours that afternoon planting okra, more green beans, corn, eggplant, more peppers and I don't remember what else. We were so hungry that within a few minutes at least 8 ounces of that cheese was gone! It was so good. Then I took the rest of it and put it under the skin of a couple of our pastured poultry and roasted it. We picked the first baby turnips. I have a confession to make. I have never liked turnip greens. I have memories of green slime out of a can. Metallic yucky green slime. Sooo, typically, those organic turnip greens go straight to the pigs or chickens or compost. Well, Holly assured me that fresh turnip greens are nothing resembling my memory. I stretched myself and trusted my protege's words of wisdom. I sauteed bacon and onion. Added garlic. Threw in those turnip greens. Added a chopped up store bought tomato. Put a lid on it and waited. The baby turnips went into a little pan with milk and butter. We chopped up potatoes and fried them up in a cast iron skillet swimming in duck fat. Set the table. Poured milk for kids, wine for grownups. Lit the candles.

OK, I LOVE turnip greens! I will eat them, Holly, yes I will!

And by the way, everything else was yummy, too. Isn't God good to give us so many wonderful things to eat!

BTW, I was so excited about our wonderful cheese making that on baking day I decided to make some more so we would have good snacks the rest of the weekend. It was so easy and effortless and all that. So, in the middle of baking day, I warmed up milk, was too impatient, didn't really wait for the temperature to be just right. It was about 15 degrees too hot. Made it anyway. How could I go wrong with something so easy and effortless? Well, we made cheese, but it was sort of hard and squeaky. Not terrible. Not great. I will eat it with salad or put it on a sandwich or something. Note to self: baking day is for baking. Stick to baking. Easier to concentrate. Cheese making must move to another day.

Tomorrow is garden picking day after school. More turnips, greens, peas, more broccoli. Lettuces and spinach still looking good, especially after a little shower this evening. We will miss Holly as we plan our meals. What a blessing to have good friends who like to come to the farm.