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.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fall is Upon Us

The mornings are cool. No, make that downright chilly! Yesterday after our homeschool coop classes we went to a friend's house to pick and process apples. Thomas is the premier apple peeler/slicer/corer. Patrick and Maggie took turns helping at the apple cider station. The rest of us helped make apple pie filling, applesauce and other good stuff. We drank lots of cider. Ate plenty of popcorn. Came home with a couple of big buckets of apples and will repeat the previously mentioned steps this afternoon. Of course we had to make apple cider doughnuts for breakfast.

Rain is hopefully coming this evening, so Rachel and Maggie are working on planting some things in the garden. Thomas is splitting wood and Patrick is cleaning out the chicken coop. After breaking up one argument too many, history lesson became physical fitness/home economics/chain gang. I can get them back into history as we move back to apple processing.

The little girls will shell blackeyed peas for me and I will try to can a few jars of tomatoes before the apples take over the kitchen. The black cherry-jalapeno sauce is such a hit I hope to make a few more jars of it. Philip and I had some with our grass-fed brisket the other day. YUM.

The figs are ripe. What joy! The tree is loaded. I hope we will have some fresh ones with fromage blanc and honey for a treat this afternoon. Or for lunch. Or something. Just so long as we eventually find a recipe for homemade fig newtons for Philip, my promise.

My very favorite time of year. All we need is a fire in the fireplace and life will be complete!

Thanks be to God for harvest time. And friends and family to share it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

All in a Day's Work

We all slept in til almost 8 oclock this morning! The mist filled the valley. It was cozy and dark and comfy in bed. Breakfast was quick, morning chores done, Bible stories read.

Coco stomped her foot as I milked and debris got into the bucket. Pigs got the milk this morning. They were quite happy with that arrangement. I was pretty happy myself as I didn't know where I was going to put that milk. As I went out to check on the pigs and watch them slurp up their morning milkshake, the garden beckoned.

Tomatoes are still producing beautifully. Chickens are quite happy about that, especially when their free-range takes them out to the garden. Thankfully they didn't find all the ripe ones hidden under the weeds. Plenty for a few more jars of marinara sauce. There are still a few cucumbers producing. Okra is hanging in there. The star of the garden right now would be the black-eyed peas. I love those things!

I don't love chickens eating my tomatoes.

The afternoon chore of moving the house chickens to the barnyard became a morning chore. Agriculture 101 preempted mathematics. I guess math can be done just as well at 2:30 in the afternoon as 10:00am. Patrick, Maggie, our new friend and intern Rachel gathered up chickens and trimmed a couple of flight feathers on one wing, then put them out to the broiler pasture. Plenty of green grass for the birds and a new setting. Each year about this time we like to take all the birds out of their yard by the house to give the yard a few months rest, to break the parasite cycle, allow more green stuff to grow, etc.

One of the lambs seems to not thrive like the other three. We administered a Vit. Bcomplex injection and Rachel and Maggie got to observe how to give an intramuscular shot. We prayed over Rabadash and hope he will perk up. We administered dewormer medicine to him last week. Some sheep are more parasite resistant than others. The other lambs look just fine. Rabadash was not too thrilled about the shot, but happy to have some loving attention.

The afternoon chore for the men of the house involved helping a friend load hay. We girls moved into a dairy-laden kitchen. Even though we drink almost a gallon of milk a day, the milk accumulates in our fridge! We were out of cheese. I am trying not to buy any with all this milk in the house, so today was the day for mozzarella. I read about Ricki Carroll in a recent issue of Mother Earth magazine. Later read more in Barbara Kingsolver's ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE. Went online to for cultures, recipes and incredible instruction in cheesemaking. Ricki Carroll is truly the cheese queen. She has taken cheesemaking and translated it into language that makes chevre and mozzarella, fromage blanc and neufchatel accessible to the average queso connoisseur. Chevre is a cheese we make several times a week. Unbelievably simple, and relatively fool-proof. I tried the "real" mozz recipe a few times, which involves ph strips and many hours of production. Too much work for our diverse farm life. The cheese queen offers a 30 minute mozzarella recipe that truly does produce a lovely ball of creamy white mozz, ready to eat with salt, basil and tomatoes. We usually eat a half a pound plain with salt as we work, just to make sure we like it. Today I experimented with whole milk, full of cream, and skimmed milk. The full fat milk made a very soft cheese, perfect for slicing and eating fresh. The skimmed made a harder ball, better for grating and melting. Either way, we have 5 gallons less milk in the fridge, and 5 pounds of cheese, plus 3 pounds of butter to show for our efforts.

I hope I can soon learn a few other types of cheesemaking. Nora, the 5 year old, is quite displeased with the progress. She wants cheddar. I wonder if Ricki makes housecalls?

After milking tonight we only have 3 and a half gallons of milk in the fridge. I had hoped to make ricotta out of the whey from today's project, but I think it is reasonable to say that I have had enough work in the kitchen today. The pigs will be very happy tomorrow morning.

BTW, the garden beds are slowly being reclaimed by Rachel. We may have to dub her the weed queen. What a blessing to have her with us for awhile.

Monday, September 15, 2008

You Say Tomato, I Say Cream of Tomato Basil Soup, Marinara Sauce, Salsa Picante, Stewed Tomatoes...

When you have 70 pounds or so of ripe tomatoes in the house, you don't plant garden. You don't make cheese. You get out the pressure canner and the water bath canner and big pots of hot water and big bowls of cold water and get to work.

I did get the milk skimmed after breakfast, before canning. Over 5 quarts of cream later, I began to pressure can 14 quarts of milk. This kills the bacteria and makes the jars of milk shelf stable. At some point we will have to go a couple of months or more without milk as we wait for babies to arrive. These nice jars of milk will be great for cooking, putting in coffee and drinking if we just absolutely have to have a glass of milk. While the canner bubbled and hissed and jiggled I began the process of processing tomatoes. The tomatoes have to be dipped in a bath of boiling water then into the cold water to make the skins peel off effortlessly. I skin them and core them by hand then decide what to cook.

We absolutely adore La Madeleine's recipe for Tomato Basil Soup. La Mad's is a cute little French bistro chain in Texas we used to frequent. In our early married years we would go and order a cup of french roast and eat the free bread and jam they put out. Great cheap date. The real splurge was a bowl of soup. Here is the recipe:

4 cups pureed tomatoes
1/2 c. butter
1 c. heavy cream or half n half, depending on how generous your cow is
2 c tomato juice (or if you are using fresh juicy tomatoes, just make that 6 c. pureed tomatoes
2 c. chicken broth
1 TBSP fresh chopped basil, or more if you really love basil

Bring the tomatoes, juice and broth to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the basil and cream and butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy with some of our freshly ground whole wheat baguette or milk and honey bread with a nice piece of cheese. Or quadruple the recipe and freeze for winter time and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Another recipe we use to make many many jars of salsa is the fake Pace Picante recipe:

56 oz pureed fresh tomatoes
medium onion
2 jalapenos minced
1/4 c. vinegar
1 tsp salt or more if you are a salt fiend like our family
a few minced garlic cloves

Bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Put into jars and refrigerate when cool or water bath to make shelf stable.

I also made many jars of pepper jelly, marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce and stewed tomatoes. The final jars of boiling as I type. A few weeks ago I looked at the basement shelves with horror. We were empty! Last year our garden was much earlier. Never fear. Harvest time is here. The shelves are filling up with preserves, canned fruits, all sorts of goodies.

While I chopped, peeled, stirred and ladled, the children worked on schoolwork, practiced latin, wrote a paper on sea wasps and colored pictures, moved turkeys and ducks out to a new home and Philip and Thomas went to get a huge load of firewood. We didn't eat very much. Will do that later. Didn't get much laundry done. Tomorrow? But there are many more tomatoes ripe in the garden... I'm thinking bbq sauce, ketchup, more marinara....

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Prov. 19:21

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Day of Rest

I woke up at 6:45 this morning, put on the kettle, ground my locally roasted, free-trade organic coffee beans from Star City Coffee, and went out on the deck to watch the fog roll in. At first, the sunrise was pink and beautiful. Then came the mist. It crept through hay meadow, smokily filling up the lane by the stream. The kettle whistled, the coffee pressed, the cream poured, I moved to the front porch to spend a few minutes in contemplative prayer. Sometimes I forget to sit and be still.

After getting the rest of the family up and at em, Maggie and I head to the barn to milk cow and goats and minister to little lambs. Coco gave me almost 3 gallons last night, and almost 2 1/2 this morning. Have you ever had 5 gallons of milk in your fridge? We have around 12 right now... Philip and the kids headed to Sunday School and I stayed behind to strain milk and wash up a few dishes.

The drive to church, alone, was wonderful. I have had the best "Sunday School" times in the car recently! This morning the scripture in John15 came to mind and I spent some time meditating on John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." I thought of the importance of having a good root system. Of pruning. Wondered if there were things in my life that needed to be pruned because they were diverting energy from good fruit. I thought about fertilizer, and how "manure" is necessary to provide food for growth. I want to remember to be grateful for "manure" when I get dumped on! It will help me grow! I thought about the concept of my being a branch, not the vine. As a branch, I have a very important role, but am not alone. I must be dependent on the Vine. The Vine is my source of nourishment, my foundation, my framework. What great love I felt for Jesus, giving us so many beautiful lessons.

In church there was a need for someone to help with the babies. I never never never help in the nursery. I have a lot of kid interaction ALL WEEK LONG. But for some reason I wanted to go love on babies. It was so much fun playing with twin fellows who really liked me. I know they liked me because they squeaked and cooed and smiled the most incredible smiles at me. And they liked my singing. It blessed me richly. I had prayed for those little fellows for months before they were born, but had never spent time with them post-utero.

We had a great lunch at our favorite place to eat in Salem: Shanghai. It is a family-run Chinese restaurant. Of course we like the fact that we can all eat a fabulous buffet with veggies, meat, dessert and hot tea for less than McDonald's. And we like to support fellow farmers! They grow organic veggies in the alley way behind the restaurant. How do you like that?

I met up with a friend from church for a cup of coffee and a nice long chat, then Nora and I headed home. She and I took a nice walk down by the stream. The array of wildflowers was cacophonous! What an incredible bouquet graces our kitchen as a result. Of course the goldenrod stands out as the glamorous, long-legged movie star. Everyone can see her from yards and yards away. Yellow Coneflower is a pretty fair competitor. But it takes a walk to see the true beauties. Wild mint shoots up her fluffy purple pompons. "I may be little, but look at me! Pretty and useful, too!" Banks of jewel-weed look like orange polka-dots from a few yards away, not even visible from the kitchen window. But walking alongside the stream with Nora they beckon us quietly. I teeter on the bank, reaching for a closer look. Orange, tiger spots, like an orchid. Hanging like jewels in the cool shade. A weed? I don't think so. Lobelia calls out for my attention. How had I missed out on her? Her glow-in the dark purple blossoms are incredible.

Nora and I made our way back to the house, flower arrangement in arms. We place our beauties in a big vase and water, grab the baskets and head out to the garden. 25 lbs of tomatoes later, a nice mess of okra, peppers galore, some cucumbers we head to the house to boil some eggs to eat with homemade pickles for supper. The swiss chard, black-eyed peas, the rest of the tomatoes, the green beans will have to wait til tomorrow. By that time there will be more okra. More jalapenos. More tomatoes. More cucumbers. Hopefully by that time we will be planting broccoli seedlings, cabbage seedlings, turnips, lettuce and spinach. In the middle of the okra, the sun set. One moment the sky was blue, the next it was a canvas of hot pink, orange and gold. A few minutes later it was gone. I am so glad we were outside.

After our little rustic Sunday supper, Nora and I headed to the barn to milk Coco. Of course the three barn kitties were waiting for their share of the bounty. The giant moon rose over the ridge. It is almost completely full. Maybe it is full? It was surrounded with a brilliant glowing aura. A spotlight. Before having to go out in the evenings to milk the cow, I never in my life noticed that the moon came up in a different spot every night. I guess I thought it came up the same just like the sun. Maybe I learned differently in school but it didn't stick. How did I miss that? When it is full it comes up on the eastern part of our east to west running ridge, close to the border of our property. Just the other day it was over our neighbor's house to the west. How much has our culture missed by being inside watching television every night? One learns that the earth spins round and round, but if you are not outdoors observing at some point, you might never grasp the concept.

We brought in the huge stainless steel bowl of milk, strained it, labeled it (C. pm 9/14) and tried to find room in the fridge. Tomorrow we will make cheese? Butter? Philip and the bigger kids got home from youth activities at church. Toast was made. Butter was spread. More boiled eggs eaten. Milk chugged. A few more evening chores taken care of by Dad and Maggie. Everyone heads upstairs. I stay at the computer for a few moments to be still. To look up names of wildflowers in the Golden Guide Wildflowers book and write for a much longer time than planned.

Tomorrow will be filled with its own adventures. I am glad for a day to be still. To meditate. To take a walk and see amazing things. I hope my friends will take a few minutes to enjoy the little miracles all around their own unique worlds!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Grass-Fed Beef, medium rare

Patrick and I went to pick up our beef from the butcher yesterday. We go to a slaughter-house in Lewisburg, WV. It has been difficult finding a butcher nearby who will process meats with USDA certification. We are happy to have found a great family-run place.

When we moved to the farm I began research on beef, pork and poultry raising. We have been interested in organic farming and healthy-living for a long time, but I still purchased meat from Sam's or Costco or wherever I could find the biggest bargain for our hungry omnivorous family. A book came across my path that changed all that. Pasture-Fed Perfect, by Jo Robinson lays out the argument for forage-raised meat. I had no real idea the path that the average grocery store meat took from"farm" to store shelf. Such a little, easy to read book, showed hard data and research that indicates that meat raised on pasture, eating grass the way its body was designed to eat, ends up being more nutrient-dense, with more of the good cholestrol, less bad cholestrol than meat raised in pens, being stuffed with grain. Cattle were never meant to eat so much corn.

We purchased our first steers two springs ago. My dad raised beef cattle during my childhood, but I never paid much attention. Just stayed far away from the pasture with the big old bull, and had nightmares of "Old Sam" chasing me through fields. I did eat a lot of meat growing up. Took it for granted. Red meat has always been one of my favorite things. I hoped to raise for ourselves and others good quality beef. Our steers have been on grass, or with hay, their whole life, but the last 5 weeks we opted to give white-face steer a small bucket of non-gmo, non-medicated locally grown grain. Just enough to gentle him down. Not so much to give him a tummy ache. It is helpful to have a 1000lb steer willing to follow you around wherever you want him to go, because pushing is out of the question. We gave him and our other livestock access to minerals, salt and rather poor pasture. Could be worse pasture, but it takes a few years to develop great grass using the organic method, so we have to work with what we have. We chose to castrate at a later age than is standard practice so we would not have to give hormone injections. (Hormones are standard practice, by the way, even on the average small farm.)

Eighteen months is a very long time to wait for a home-grown steak. It called for a celebration. Our friends, the Thomas family, came over and we grilled the fatted, but not too fatted calf. First thing I noticed was the yellow tinge in the fat. What a difference. Just like our butter is golden yellow, the yolks of our eggs are orangey yellow, this fat was yellow as well.

Here are some things I have learned about grass-fed beef:
*Grass-fed beef has 2-6 times the Omega-3 fatty acids as grainfed beef.
*GF beef has twice the beta-carotene as grainfed beef.
*GF beef has 4 times the Vit. E of grainfed beef.
*GF beef is over 50%lower in saturated fat.

You can read more info yourself on Jo Robinson's Eatwild website. Her book will change the way you think about meat, eggs and milk.

So, eating healthy foods is pretty important to me. I want our children to grow up having access to real food. But what about taste?

It was delicious! We consumed several pounds of grilled steak, okra sauteed in butter, big mounds of golden mashed potatoes, everything harvested right here on the farm. What a gift. Certainly not a bargain-bin special. No way we can compete with Sam's club prices. But what a treat. I am thankful to have the opportunity to raise food for our family and for others who have other callings off the farm. I am pretty tired right now, and significantly overwhelmed by gallons of milk, cheesemaking, harvesting, canning, chicken killing, bread making, feed buying, fall garden planting, laundry, homeschool, etc., etc. Nevertheless, each month it seems apparent that farming and raising our food is indeed a noble calling. I am working to find my balance. Not getting it all done. But eating really well in the meantime. Trying to pause occasionally and listen, be still and be grateful.

Better get back to the pears. And plums. And apples. And tomatoes. And peppers. As I do I will savor the memory of that steak last night and look forward to supper. Grass-fed burgers with homemade cheese, anyone?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Honora Kathleen Hillery, turning 5

Nora was born on September 2, 2003, in my parents' spare bedroom in the beautiful lake community, Sunrise Beach, TX. It might well be the biggest event that ever took place in that little town! A midwife came to assist, my sister Christine caught the sweet little thing, as Philip and the big kids were enroute to the first day of school in NJ. My parents' church friends came out and prayed for days for a safe delivery. The newspaper came out after the fact and took pictures and wrote story.

It was a happy day when we got to meet Nora, but we all wished she would have come a couple of days earlier! I remember trying all the old wives tales that would supposedly bring on labor. Walked miles. Ate more jalapenos than you can count. Didn't bring on labor, but brought on the most horrid case of acid reflux I have ever experienced in my life. Sure enough, when the time was right, she made her entry. It was hard work, but not impossibly difficult. What a cutie-pie.

Five years ago seems like another world. We lived in a cute, northern NJ suburban town, in a cute little house, walked the kids a mile or so to public school and back, gardened in the little yard. When Nora was born, I had never canned a vegetable or made jam or killed a chicken (or any other animal for that matter), milked a cow or made cheese. I had used cloth diapers for 4 other kids, but didn't with her.

I remember walking past the bike store with Nora in a baby sling, toddler Rose in the flimsy stroller. We test drove the fancy over $500 double stroller. I wanted that stroller. We walked miles every week and that stroller was a dream. It had big wheels, perfect for walking, jogging, handling the ups and downs for racing with the kids. No way was I going to fork over $500 for a stroller so I decided to "let my requests be known to God." I try to take the big things and the small to my creator, and decided that we could afford around a hundred dollars. I called all the consignment stores and they assured me that they never had such a stroller for that price. I kept on walking with the little stroller and the sling and the backache, and every once in a while offered up a little prayer. One day I was in town with my mom who was visiting. Some little nudge made me decide to run over to the little shop by the train station. Right in front was the stroller of my dreams! For a hundred dollars!

Nora and I spent many hours of her baby life walking with that stroller. We would walk with Rose cuddled next to her, accompanying kids to the elementary school. We would go to the bagel shop, to the church, to the park, round the block. Later on we would drop Rose off at the little community preschool for a couple of hours. We would walk, sing and pray. Nora would sit in the stroller and gurgle and coo as I worked in the little garden in our yard, planting herbs and berries and peppers and tomatoes.

Nora spent the rest of her little baby years attached to my hip. She would nurse and cuddle on my lap during the Tuesday night ladies prayer time at our house. She would be passed around the room and cuddled by all the other ladies at our women's retreats. Thomas and Patrick, Maggie and Rose would get great joy out of making her laugh! And trying to translate her little baby noises into modern standard English.

Nora turned 2 when we moved to the farm. She really doesn't remember walks in the stroller. She hasn't cared to nurse for several years now, but she does like to cuddle on my lap. She can speak English really well, when she chooses. Nora is a little reserved, but warms up and becomes a very loyal friend. Even when she was a very little thing she liked playing with the doll house and the little toys. She makes up beautiful songs when she is all by herself. I think she will be a gifted singer. She has also been quite melodic as she plays on the piano. No lessons yet, but she will in time. She is creative and imaginative. Loves to color and draw. Her sisters taught her how to write her name and how to count this past year. She is still a bit young for kindergarten, but I think she is so clever, there is no telling what she will be learning this year.

Nora has a grateful heart. Last night we cuddled and read a story book given to her by her friends, Sophie, Boone and Meck. We talked about what fun we had at her party yesterday afternoon. Three other homeschooling friends and their families came. We ate homemade cake and icecream. We tasted several kinds of homemade pickles and salsas. The kids ran round and round, playing non-organized games while the parents chatted. Her only request was a pinata (Nora does have a sweet tooth!) The children took turns hitting it till Maggie burst it open. They ran to collect the candy and all made sure that the shy little ones got their share, too. Then off to run and play some more.

Nora told me how happy she is with our family. She loves her friends, her Dad, her Mom, her biggest brother Thomas, her big brother Patrick, her biggest sister Maggie, her big sister and roomie Rose. She told me she thinks our family is great. That was a real gift to me. I cannot imagine our life without Nora. She was a bit of a surprise. I remember being uncertain about telling Philip's mom the big news when we found out a new baby was in the picture. I guess I feared she would disapprove. On the contrary, she gave me a big smile and a blessing, saying that we were just the people she would choose to have another baby. How excited she was, and so was Philip's dad. Two months after we found out I was pregnant, they died. Nora was a wonderful gift to us. Unexpected, but ever so welcomed. We are so happy she is in our family.

Honora, named after Philip's Irish great-grandmother who came to America. Kathleen after my second mother, my mom's best friend, and now my dear friend as well. Nice long hair, happy smile, getting tall, loves to drink cow's milk and eat lots of homemade toast and jam. Happy Birthday, Nora. You are now 5. Your Jersey Mama always used to say that year 5 was the very sweetest of years. I hope that this is a very sweet year for you. We are so very glad you were born.