Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Real World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 28, 2008


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy 17th Anniversary!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Wild Ducks Have Returned

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday nights

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Warm Front?

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2008

The moon is growing larger....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Pigs Are Gone.

Yesterday I drove the last two pigs to the butcher.

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

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

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

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

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

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