Monday, July 28, 2008

You Say Potato

We have been happily digging up potatoes. There really isn't much digging to be done. We pull off the old straw mulch, yank on the potato plant and lo and behold- the miracle of big, smooth, golden potatoes, waiting to be cuddled up into shirt tails with a few other perfect specimens and carried into the kitchen for a gentle bath. Braised potatoes with garlic and rosemary are nice. Mashed with dill. Sauteed with onions and fresh green beans. I guess we could think about potato salad, baked potatoes with butter and salt and pepper, hashbrowns, potatoes with onions, peppers and sausage. We rarely eat potatoes here. I buy 20lbs a year or so. But when they come right out of the garden--look out! We plant more and more each year, thinking they will last for months.

They don't.

Maybe this year we will ration. Be reasonable in our potato consumption. I mean, don't we all want some lovely potato gratin with garlic, gruyere and cream for Thanksgiving? Some creamy potato soup on a cold winters night? We can always try for restraint.

Meanwhile, I better go get a few and put them on to boil for some mashed potatoes to go alongside our roast chicken and fresh green beans. Wonder if I can get anyone to skim the cream to make some butter before supper?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rose Aileen Hillery: Fairy Warrior Princess(or is that queen?)

July 24, 2000. Would it be a girl or a boy? Thomas wanted a new baby brother. Patrick and Maggie were still too little to care. Philip and I had no idea. One of my friends said for sure it must be a boy, because of the way I was carrying. Another one predicted that my early morning sickness was a certain indicator that we would have a girl. An acquaintance at church thought that my cravings for spicy foods pointed to boy. On a hot Sunday night, July 23rd, Philip and the kids headed to church activities. I decided to stay home. I was tired and felt like I was coming down with something. Braxton-Hicks were really picking up. I called my mom and wondered if maybe THIS was the night.

Philip and were pretty excited about the delivery of the baby because we were hoping for a homebirth. So instead of getting worried about when to head to the hospital, I found a book. Everyone went to bed. I felt pangs, but no real pain. After calling the midwife, I brewed a cup of chamomile tea and cuddled up with the book UNDERSTOOD BETSY. It was one of the books in our homeschool literature program that year. Around 2 in the morning real labor commenced. But it was so relaxed, it was hard to believe it was real labor. I would get off the bed, kneel down, breathe slowly, count, then hop back in bed to read another chapter. About the time I finished the book, 6 in the morning, I called the midwife to come over, and also Elizabeth, one of my closest friends. I started to get things done, like change the sheets, take a shower. By that time, we were in full on labor. I would kneel and breathe and count and Maggie and Patrick would pat me on the head to try to make me feel better. Before too long, it became very intense work and the kids went to eat breakfast with Elizabeth while I labored.

All of a sudden I felt a great deal of panic. When such horrible pain came about with the hospital births, I had hours to go before delivery. Well, this time I was not strapped in a bed. As I shared with the midwife my fears she assured me that there was a baby coming and coming soon! Sure enough, in less than 10 minutes, by the side of our bed, a baby was born into the world of Philip and Ginger and Thomas and Patrick and Maggie Hillery. A teeny precious little girl. With the most beautiful lips we had ever seen. And the teeniest little fingers and toes. Tears were shed. Baby was cuddled. Midwife made a big herbal bath for mommy and child then all the family and grandma and grandpa and anyone else who wanted to be involved crowded into our bedroom for a celebration breakfast. Scrambled eggs and bacon and coffee and fruit and champagne. What a party! And what a contrast to hospital births!

Rose looked like a little rosebud. We were so thrilled with a little girl. Zaccheus, our kitty, was so thrilled with the idea of homebirth that the very next day she kept jumping in bed with Rose and me trying to have her kittens. We finally got her to stay in a box next to the bed to have her babies. It was the maternity ward.

Teeny little Rose grew into toddler little Rose. Was she a girl or a fairy? Wispy downy hair and big eyes, she seemed to be a wise old woman captive in a little body. She didn't really start talking in baby talk. It was straight to full paragraphs. We moved from Ft Worth, Texas to Madison, NJ when she was around 2. Her Jersey Poppa would hold her on his lap and peer into her face with tears in his eyes and say"She is such a beautiful girl." We would laugh and laugh and say "You must think so because she looks just like you when you were that age!" And she did- we have the baby pictures to prove it!

When Philip's dad grew very ill he had to go into a nursing home. We would go and visit him every couple of days or so. Rose, the 2 1/2 year old, became the "childrens minister" at the center. We would sit and visit with Poppa and she would make the rounds, hugging and loving on the other patients. I will never forget how she blessed those many people. It was a great lesson for me. God can use us, no matter how small we might be.

Rose has always loved to cook with me. Even when she had to sit on the counter to stir the pancakes, she would be involved. I remember how upset she was when Holly started coming over to take cooking lessons with me. She would push Holly out of the way so noone would take her place. It took a little effort, but we finally figured out how to compromise! Now she and Holly are fast friends.

Rose has a very intelligent sense of humor. She also has a great capacity for fighting. Once, after a very frustrating day(or month, or year) of fighting with her siblings and me, a took her up to bed and we kneeled down to say our prayers. In my desperation, I cried out to God, asking for help and understanding. Why does Rose have such a need to fight? After a moment of silence, I asked Rose what she thought about that. She said that Jesus told her that He made her to want to fight because there were many important things she would have to fight about someday, and this was just practice. Well, what do you say to that? I then thanked God for making Rose to be a fighting warrior princess and asked him to please help her not to practice quite so much with her siblings.

Rose has a wonderful sweet voice. She loves to sing. She even used to sing in her crib. She now sings with the kids at church and has sung in our church service on several occasions over the past year. She exhibits poise and confidence. Sings with meaning. It blesses me. Makes me cry. I love to see my children do what they were created to do. She also plays the piano.

I think Rose may be a writer someday. We went on a birthday date to IHOP this morning. I told her I thought she was a terrific writer and would she like to do that as an adult. She said she didn't think so. She would rather be a dancer, or singer. We talked about her 7th year, and all the things she learned to do over the past 12 months. She began to read big books and her favorites were the LITTLE HOUSE books. She learned beginning multiplication. She learned to write real letters. She learned to milk a cow. She lost front teeth. She sang in front of people in church. Lots of other stuff, too. I asked her what her favorite book was that we read aloud together for school this year. I wonder if it is any surprise that UNDERSTOOD BETSY was her all-time favorite book??? Hmmmm.

I am so very glad that Rose Aileen Hillery was born. Named for Philip's grandmother. Rose Petal, our very own Wild Irish Rose, the song that my dad sings to her everytime he sees her or speaks to her on the phone. Rose, the green bean queen, the younger sister to some, big sister to one, clever, prickly, tender hearted sweet one. I love her. I like her her company. She makes me laugh. Straightforward, honest, even when it hurts. Brave, gentle. Noble of heart. Happy 8th birthday, Rosie. What a happy day for our family when you were born, Monday, July 24th, 2000. May this year, 2008, be a good one for you. Love you so much.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Sometime last Friday night our ewe, Ruth, died. Maggie found her when she went out to milk on Saturday morning. We were preparing to head to the farmer's market, so I asked the girls if we could just put our tears in a box and be sad later, since we had many loaves of bread ready to sell. Sleeves rolled up, we headed to Ikenberry's. Philip and the boys stayed home to bury her.

We got Ruth and Naomi a year and a half ago. Ruth was the curious friendly one. Maggie spent weeks making friends with Ruth, giving her alfalfa pellets, til she finally learned to come and eat out of our hand. Those sheep were inseperable. If one wandered over to another field, the other would cry and cry, rushing to find her friend, hence the biblical names. "Where you go, I will go." Naomi was such a skittish thing, but what a good mother. Both of them were.

Raising livestock is a cruel endeavor if you choose to make friends with your animals. Accidents happen, predators come, sickness strikes, and just like us mortal humans, there is no guarantee that any of us will live a long life. Of course, we know that certain animals are being raised for the purpose of eating. But we enjoy the relationship we have with our animals whose purpose is giving milk or eggs or babies. It is heartwarming to call your sheep or goat or dog or cow by name and have them come trotting up to give you a nuzzle. Losing one of those animals hurts. It hurts to lose a valuable animal, a producer of income on the farm. It also hurts to know that Ruth will never come and give us a nudge, asking if we have some treat. We won't get to see her sweetly mother her precious little lambs.

I guess that shoving all those tears aside gave me a terrible headache that day, so after coming home from market, I shed them, took some ibuprofen, and went to bed.

From that point forward, Naomi never stepped foot willingly out of the barn. Or had another bite of grass. Or fed her babies. She looked perfectly healthy, no diarrea, no anemic eyes(which is what happens if there is a parasite overload). No bloating, no injury. She just looked terribly sad. I know, I know, some of you are going to be shaking your heads at me, yes, she is an animal, but herd animals really do grieve. Maggie would try to run her out of the barn to get some grass and sunshine. She wouldn't go. We made hay and water available. She wouldn't eat or drink. She never baah'd or cried. Ignored her babies. Ignored Boaz. This morning when I went out to milk I found her dead.

I had too many chores to do today to feel too sad. I called Philip and asked him to come home from Boy Scout camp and hour and a half away to dig a deep hole. I just didn't have it in me. I am so glad he came. She was buried, with no ceremony, no marker, no prayers. She was a farm animal, not one of our children. Nevertheless, it has made me sad. So now I have time to sit and cry for a minute.

Death on the farm is a great opportunity for all of us to get to practice grieving on a small scale. To learn that some things are worth shedding a tear. That loss hurts. That we sometimes need to stop and allow ourselves a moment to be sad. I will miss Ruth and Naomi.

".....a time to weep..." Ecclesiastes 3:4a

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Don't forget to eat as many berries as you can while you pick them!

We hope to be picking berries this week. Many of our friends are a week or so ahead of us in the berry department, if the offerings at this weekend's farmers market are any indication. In honor of all this berry picking, I must share one of my favorite poems by Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet:


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney

Best-Laid Plans...

Well, so much for the cardioversion on Friday. The nurse practitioner called as we were preparing to walk out the door. Philip's blood was too thin for them to do the procedures. So instead of driving to UVA Medical Center and hanging out in the waiting room for several hours reading books, we stayed home. I baked bread for the farmer's market. Not such a bad day. We will have to reschedule his hospital visit for another day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pork Chops!

I forgot to mention the other day that we are now in the pork.

Monday I drove to West Virginia to pick up our meat from the butcher. We had the pork processed with USDA inspection so we can legally sell some of it. We fried up pork chops for supper that night. Sausage for breakfast the next day.

We LOVE to eat pork. We were really missing pork. I am grateful to get the chance to be hungry for certain foods. It makes me so much more appreciative.

We have been out of red meat for some time. Months. I want a big fat juicy ribeye, medium rare. Each morning I take a look at the steers and they look huge. I think I am ready to schedule an appointment with the butcher for one of those big guys. Would it be too much to think of having chicken and duck and pork and beef in the freezer? Would we be too spoiled? I know we would be GRATEFUL. What a generous creator, giving us so many wonderful things to eat on the farm.

BTW, the peach jam turned out to be peach syrup. I quit cooking it about 10 degrees too soon. Jam has to reach aproximately 220 degrees F. At 210 degrees I gave up. Oh well. It is really yummy syrup. Maybe I should give in and use powdered pectin next time to ensure the gel.

Tomorrow Philip and I head to UVA for a scheduled cardioversion. He is in atrial fibrillation and we hope that the cardioversion will convert him into normal heart rhythm. I will take a couple of books and wait and read while he has his procedure. Kids will all hang out with friends. Let's hope that all the animals cooperate and don't decide to take another Friday excursion!!! Keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Peaches and Cream

The peaches are ripening. Thomas and I went out to pick a big tub today. They are beautiful. Thomas diligently picked up the blemished ones to give to Barbie 2. I sliced up a big 3 gallon bowlful and added succanat. They will be made into jam this evening or tomorrow. We are eating the other ones and I am deciding on whether to make frozen peaches or peach and pepper jelly, or peach pie.

Thomas cored and sliced many more pounds of our friends' June apples. I think he and I are going to can apple pie filling. The jars are in the dishwasher being sterilized. The laundry still sits in baskets waiting. Maggie is picking broccoli and cleaning goat stalls. Philip and Patrick are fixing fence for the meat chickens. Nora is playing. Rose is visiting with a friend in town. I am going to ask Maggie and Nora to skim cream and make butter. We have chevre making and yogurt making. Goat business being conducted by email.

I don't have anything against laundry, personally. I enjoy folding it and putting it away. It is a nice zen-like task. You just can't eat it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Perils of Drinking Raw Milk

On Saturday, a couple of weeks ago(June 21, I believe), our local paper, The Roanoke Times, ran an article in the health section. You can find this same article at: This piece highlights the trend of drinking raw milk, and the concern regarding food-borne illnesses. "Raw milk should not be consumed by anyone for any reason. It is an inherently dangerous product," said John Sheehan, the head of the FDA dairy office. The article mentions that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention listed 1000 cases of illness allegedly connected to drinking raw milk that took place between 1998 and 2005. There were 2 deaths supposedly connected to drinking raw milk during that time period.

It was a pretty scary article. I think that if I had not done a lot of research on raw milk over the last couple of years, I might have gone right out to buy me a pasteurizing machine. How in the world have we managed to escape death living such a risk-laden life? But-since I had done a lot of research in this area, and know that there are quite a few others out there who have also done their homework-I assumed that over the next few days the paper would be overrun with letters to the editor and op-ed pieces highlighting the inconsistencies and errors of aforementioned journalistic effort.

I was wrong.

I thought about writing a letter myself, but wasn't sure I wanted the "free" advertising our farm would get regarding raw milk and our dairy animal share program. Surely someone out there would want to shed some light on the biased report.

I guess not.

Well, you ought to do the research yourself if you want to engage in such inherently dangerous behavior as drinking an icy cold glass of raw milk straight from the cow/goat. It is out there. But for those of you who might just like a few little tidbits, here goes:

In several of the cases of E coli outbreaks supposedly related to consumption of raw milk, the milk was tested to have no strain of E coli. At all. They even tested the manure of the cows. No E coli. That information was not included in the June article on dangers of raw milk.

In 1985, between 150,000-200,000 people were affected by salmonella typhirium. It was traced to a Chicago dairy plant. Pasteurized milk.

In April, 2000, pasteurized milk from a Pennsylvania dairy plant was responsible for 38 culture-confirmed cases of salmonella typhirium.

Deli meats have been proven to be 10.8 times more dangerous (due to documented cases of food borne illness) than raw milk.

Non-reheated hot dogs are 9.2 times more dangerous than raw milk.

That would mean that these deli meats and hot dogs offer 515 times a greater risk to your health that drinking a glass of raw milk or eating some raw milk chevre on a cracker.

Why in the world is the FDA not cracking down on hot dogs and deli meat makers? Is there legislation out there banning the sale of deli meat? Hot dogs? Nope. Selling raw milk is prohibited in 22 states, Virginia being one of them. Maryland made an emergency ban on cow-share agreements last fall because of this kind of propaganda. Raw milk certified dairies in Pennsylvania have been shut down because of false positive bacteria testing. Consumers who wish to drink raw milk have very little options in many states because farmers fear liability.

The FDA confirmed the between the years of 1996 and 2005 there were 8000 E coli infections related to fresh produce, 6,500 related to eggs, 3,000 related to processed foods, and 1,500 related to sprouts. I still have yet to see a ban on any of these foods. Raw milk is connected to 0.4% of all 199,263 documented cases of food borne illness.

Here is another thought. Pesticides have sickened many people over the last few years. So have herbicides. We still have the choice to be responsible consumers and decide if we want to take the risk and use them anyway. How much legislation is necessary for us to live safely, and without illness?

I believe we should have the option to buy milk if we so desire. It is the responsibility of the consumer to know the farmer, check out farming practices, take a look at the barn and decide if he or she wants to buy that milk. On farm direct sales of eggs, processed chicken and produce are legal in the state of Virginia. Similar protocol should be established for small farmers offering raw dairy products. There are many states with great legislation in place protecting small farmer and consumer alike. The fact is, many people consume raw milk all across the country and world, and manage to survive. One study showed that farmers and their families who consumed raw milk had less problems with allergies and asthma than the farmers who drank only pasteurized milk. We can buy cigarettes. We can buy sevin dust.

If our paper, or CNN, or anyone else is going to put out information regarding the perils of drinking raw milk, I want that information to be balanced and accurate. Yeah, I know. What an idea, what a concept. Maybe I should write an article about the perils of reading certain reports in the newspaper without doing your own research...But I have to get to bed soon. Have to get up and milk in the morning. Better get the kids to come down and have their final glass of poison, oops, I mean milk. Goodnight!


Last night we had a nice dinner out on the deck. At 9pm. It was a great vegetarian feast. Mashed potatoes. Green beans. Broccoli. Bread. AND the first really big mess of summer squash. We have been getting a zucchini here, or one yellow squash there. But last night I had a basketful to bring in to the kitchen. There are many fabulous ways to prepare squash. Raw in a salad or on a pizza. Stuffed italian style. Fried up with cornmeal batter. Stir-fried. Ratatouille. But the first big mess of squash calls out for simple preparation designed to showcase the very essence of yellow squash. Heat a large iron skillet. Add a nice lump of butter. When it is nice and sizzly, toss in squash, sliced into thin sun-like rounds, maybe throw in one zucchini for color contrast. A pinch of sea salt and nothing more. No basil. No onions. Save those for the next time. The smell of butter and carmelizing squash fills the air. Fingers get burned as the cook decides that delayed gratification is for the birds. Squash. Sweet, buttery, just barely salty, tender little discs of summery sunshine. Welcome to July!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mary Margaret Hillery

Born early in the morning on a hot July 2nd, 1997, in Fort Worth, Texas, was Maggie, our first daughter. What a treat to see pink and flowers and delicate little fingers. Her bright eyes charmed us right off the bat. What to do with a teeny little baby girl! We were used to boys and dirt and trains and cars. Maggie. Mary, after my mother, Mary Frances Conner and grandmother, Mary, and Margaret, after Philip's mom, Margaret Virginia Foley. Neighbors and family were so pleased to see a sweet little girl enter the predominantly rough and tumble boy crowd.

Maggie has alway been very artistic, just like her namesakes. She loves beautiful things. She has quite a knack in the design department, and sketches cute whimsical drawings. She has a year of piano lessons under her belt, and surprises me with how quickly she has learned. No one has to ask her to practice. I don't know if she could walk past a piano and not sit down to play. My mom and grandmother are amazing pianists. I guess the gene skipped me and went straight to Maggie! She also got the sewing gene. She will sit down at the sewing machine for hours making eco-friendly shopping bags to sell at the farmer's market to make money for summer camp.

This girl is also great in mathematics. I remember when she was not quite three, we would be driving somewhere and she would do addition problems with the birds on the powerlines. She still whizzes through her math problems. She has probably nearly passed her parents in the maths dept. already.

Each child on our farm has a particular niche, and goats are Maggie's specialty. Maggie helps me trim hooves, milk, deliver babies, nurse sick animals, clean stalls, you name it. I have been astounded by her intuition with the animals. She has a big job with a lot of responsibility. It isn't always fun. She does it anyway.

I love Maggie. Her sensitive sweet spirit blesses me. And blesses many others in her path. I have full confidence that this soft-spoken young lady will accomplish many great and important things in life. Maybe not in the spotlight. But I feel certain that the things she accomplishes in life will last. I am proud of her. I like her. I enjoy her company.

And I am glad that she requested homemade lemon curd pound cake for her birthday cake yesterday. What good taste! I think maybe everyone should make homemade lemon curd at least once a month. And make three layer pound cake with it and have little girls decorate it with flowers at least two or three birthdays a year.

I love to see you grow, Maggie, even though sometimes I wish I could rush back and hold my sweet teeny little baby Maggie again. Where did you go? Now when I hold you, your arms and legs are so long, you don't fit on my lap anymore. I miss your little baby self, but I love your growing into a preteenager self, and truly look forward to getting to know your teenage self and your off and gone adult woman self. May you continue to grow in wisdom, and in stature, and in favor with God and mankind. Happy 11th birthday. Love, your mom.