Thursday, January 29, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I am about to go milk Coco. The teeny little backpack is packed. The list is pretty much checked off. I have never in my life traveled with so little stuff. We are going to be flying to Chennai tomorrow. Hours after we arrive we will take an 18 hour train journey to the state of Orissa where we will be getting to know some of the pastors and wives of the area. Many of these people have undergone severe persecution last year over the months of August through December. Homes of tens of thousands of christians were destroyed as well as schools and churches. At least 50 people were killed in the violence. Many more were raped, injured, maimed. We hope to encourage and help in whatever way we can. I am so happy to have the chance to make the acquaintance of some of the people we have been praying for for months.

This is a big trip for me. I have never been away from the family or the farm for 2 whole weeks. Last night I started to feel very weepy as I hugged little girls and big boys at bedtime. I already miss them and our farm.

Even so, I have a tingly feeling, eager to get off that airplane in a completely different world. New sounds, smells, tastes. A world where many many people do with much less. Less everything. Less food, less clothing, less privacy, less money, less clean bathrooms, less security, less freedom. Not to mention all the more: more people, more germs, more sickness, more poverty, more faith??? I wonder what lessons I will learn? I hope to let you know in a couple of weeks or so!

Farewell family. Farewell farm. Farewell Coco and cold night skies and squacking guineas and woolly sheep and cuddly cats and big fat mama goats and scratching chickens and barking dogs and grass-fed steers and pregnant Priscilla and quacking ducks and ice covered pond and warm fireplace and comfortable pillow and lamp and book to read at night. Farewell blog friends. I hope to bring back wonderful stories of India.

Monday, January 26, 2009

On Why I Love SW Virginia in the Wintertime (OK, so I can deal with the ladybugs in my bed for a day or two)

Last Friday I mentioned that it felt like March. What I forgot to mention was the return of the ladybugs. Anytime that therometer creeps up to 50 degrees or more, those pesky little ladies and gentlemen swarm the window frames and ceiling, especially on the north and west sides of the house. They fly through the air, liberated, it seems, from the drugged sleep of winter.

It was a brief liberation. Winter has those crawly critters back in her deathly grip. The cold returned on Sunday, the flakes are flurrying this morning. We haven't had a good snow yet. I haven't read the forecast, so who knows if this powdered sugar sprinkling will turn into a heavy duty frosting? Either way, it is nice to know that winter in SW Va is full of surpises. Enough cold to make you fully appreciate a nice spring day. Enough spring-like days to help a poor former Texas farm girl deal with the REALLY cold days.

PS Some of our regular visitors and dining guests will be happy to enjoy the much brighter light in the dining room. A light bulb went out in the dining room, forcing Philip to deal with the collection of dead ladybugs in the globe portion of the light fixture. Hundreds of ladybugs have been interred in the compost. We will not mourn them. We only hope that their brother and sister ladybugs would learn to adapt like our own native aphid eaters and make their homes in the leaves and grasses along the edge of the woods. This would greatly increase their life expectancy. Will they evolve? Alas, I doubt it, as long as those irritating insects can find a crack or a crevice into our farmhouse.

PPS Thank you, God, for snowflakes and ladybugs and the wonderfully different seasons you allow in my life. I want to embrace each one, enjoy it to the fullest, and not spend my days simply counting down til springtime.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Nights

If I didn't have a couple dozen loaves of bread and a stack of pizza crusts to wrap I would write in my blog about the temporal joys of life, like skating on the pond. Earlier today it was so funny watching Maggie skate on the pond, dragging Nora behind on the sled. As they rounded the corners they left a big wake. Water splashed as they made the most out of the remaining moments of the magical spell that allowed them to defy gravity and water. I had to pause my chores and go out on the deck to take a video. So many thoughts came to mind.

HOWEVER, the bread and crusts are waiting. The weekend is filled with events. Delivering bread, teaching a cheese workshop with my friend Donna, teaching an Indian food cooking class to raise funds for the big trip, not to mention all the daily stuff. I will ponder later. But I don't want to forget the sight of the girls gliding along, very much aware that the moment they were seizing was soon to be gone in a big splash.

PS It smells like March outside. So warm and moist. Even a few birds noticed the warmer temperatures. We will enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe my toes will finally thaw out.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Character Building

Milking a cow in 24 degree weather is much more pleasant than milking in 5 degrees or below. Just thought you might want to know that little piece of information!

Rose has been out on the frozen pond or creek every day, practicing her ice skating til she has bloody blisters on her ankles. I can't wait to see who adult Rose will be. She is so persistent. When she decides it is time to learn something, she goes out and works and works. I look out the window and see her cautiously moving across the ice, arms out for balance, teetering, tottering, falling down, getting back up, not a grimace or a groan. I am very proud of her perservering spirit. It will serve her well. I would be happy for the cold to last long enough for her to become proficient, to master some cool moves, or at least manage a race around the pond.

It makes me happy to see those brown ice skates get such a workout. We bought Maggie and Rose their Christmas skates at a little antique shop in Salem. Maggie's skates look pretty contemporary. Rose's are brown and tan. Serious leather. I wonder who wore them? When? Did they go out day after day, getting bloody blisters on their ankles, falling, getting back up? I wonder if they have fond memories of those cold days on the pond? I hope so.

Rose inspires me. I hope I will remember to keep on this week when I feel out of balance and fall down and want to quit. Maybe I had better take a picture of Rose in her new skates to remind myself.

BTW, Maggie and Patrick had to endure the pain and agony and loss of dignity a few years ago. You should seem them glide now!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Now it is REALLY cold!

Well, Kevin Myatt, our weatherman friend, was correct. The pond is surely frozen enough for ice skates. Too bad it is too cold to go and use them.

The temperature outside this morning was aproximately 5 degrees below zero. The temperature inside was aproximately 42 degrees above zero. It is a bit challenging to keep an old farmhouse warm when the temps drop below 20 degrees. I am so thankful that Thomas outgrew his fleece-lined jeans last year. They are quite cozy!

There are people who live in temperatures far more radical than our little cold snaps. They adapt and survive just fine. Guess I am happy to live right here. It won't be too long till spring is springing, frogs will be singing and all this arctic blast will be a faint memory. Til then, we will give thanks for the pile of firewood, the fireplace and woodstove. And fleece-lined jeans.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seed Catalogs

The cold dark days of winter are perfect for browsing through seed catalogs. Pages and pages of colorful drawings and photos of fresh vegetables and flowers are a wonderful source of distraction from other winter tasks, like carting water to the barn because the faucet out there is frozen.

I made our first seed order last week.

Oh, such self control!

Oh, such self restraint!

Only slightly over 30 different seeds were ordered with this order. Do you know how hard it is to make a reasonable seed order in economic times such as these?

Of course, now that I have reached an era of greater self-awareness, I don't even bother to order the 15 different varieties of tomato seeds and the 12 different peppers. It only took 15 or 20 years of gardening to realize that my giftedness does not include raising seedlings. After 6 weeks of tender-loving care, inevitably something else of much greater importance comes along and my poor little babies get neglected and die. There are many others who are gifted in this area. I will happily buy my tomato, pepper, broccoli and cabbage seedlings from these friends.

But direct-sow seeds are another matter. Not much gives me greater satisfaction than the whole garden journey. Winter dreams of sunny days and zinnias. Remembrances of corn shucking under the cherry tree. The taste of that first little handful of radishes tossed with the first little lettuces. The feeling of winter soft muscles waking up to the steady, rhythmic motion of shovel, hoe, rake. Hours of hissing and popping in the over-heated kitchen, pinging of jars, sweaty forehead, sore feet, smell of tomatoes, green beans, oversweet fruits.

Is it any wonder that the marketers have fine-tuned their strategies of luring us poor lost souls, cold, tired of the dark, tired of frozen, canned, store-bought vegetables with their siren call? De Bourbonne, crispy little pickling cucumbers, perfect for making into cornichons, to go with roast beef. Just the name makes me think of wearing pretty floral dresses on picnics by a stream. Chioggia beets. So mediterranean. So earthy. Roasted with garlic alongside our juicy, roasted chicken. Lolla Rossa lettuce, ruffled and pink, I can't help imagine the wooden salad bowl, filled to the rim, sitting on the cloth covered outdoor table, sprinkled with nuts and cheese, a drizzling of balsamic vinegar, cold glasses of dry rose, sunset.


We will frantically try to cover extra math lessons, extra history and literature, and in our spare moments I will pencil out garden maps. Ever growing plot, working out the rotation, trying very hard to avoid being seduced by yet one more green bean variety. Before you know it we will be outside in jackets, getting the seeds in the cold ground. Enjoying our wonderful role. Experiencing the miracle of life and rebirth. But now, back to reality. Come on kids! Let's knock out a few more lessons around the fireplace before school books are long forgotten in the business of garden.

And consider the cost/benefits of establishing a support group for seed junkies.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I am thinking a lot about India these days.

I have thought about India for many years now. When I read about Amy Carmicheal and Mother Teresa I became fascinated with a culture and land so far away from my world. When we lived in Japan we ate a lot of curry rice, but it was only a few years ago in New Jersey when I tasted real Indian food. At least indian food prepared by Indian people using american ingredients. Wow. I never imagined so many flavors. And cardamom. Wow.

All those flavors opened my mind to the possibility of knowing people very far away, with very different traditions, very different language, very different struggles than what my family might experience, and yet probably very similar, in that we are all humans.

Whenever we read about yet another crisis in India we pray for the families involved. I don't know why they are so important to me. For some reason my heart wants to know them more closely, to get a closer look at their world so I can pray with open eyes.

An opportunity opened up to go to India through our church this month. I plan to leave Jan. 30th and return Feb. 13th. This is a calmer period on the farm. No goat babies or lambs or chickies. No goats to be milked. Seeds are ordered but can wait til I get back to be planted. Philip, Maggie and Patrick will take turns milking Coco and the whole rest of the family will care for the feeding and watering of the other animals.

I will greatly miss the farm and the family for two weeks. Even so, I can hardly wait for the trip. Less than three weeks away. I hope to co-lead a cheese making workshop and maybe an Indian food class: panir, naan and vegetarian curry to raise some funds for the trip. I wonder how India will change me. My friends who have lived there or traveled there assure me it will.

Farm life will continue, but I will keep you posted about the big journey. Wonder if I could get my dad to come to Virginia on a mission trip? One that would involve cooking a few meals, telling a few stories, and general farm consulting??? Hmmmm...

BTW, the moon was full yesterday, but I couldn't see it at all, yesterday or today. Too many clouds. I felt greatly disappointed. It was brilliant on Friday night. So clear. Made me quite pleased to be outside milking, enjoying the crisp evening and the bright spotlight. All those clouds have brought us a nice amount of rain. The pond is full. The garden and field have puddles. We would not be terribly disappointed if those clouds brought us a nice amount of snow that would stick around for more than a couple of hours!!!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

There will be a 2 hour delayed opening of the Hillery Homeschool this morning.

A beautiful snow fell this morning. It was evident around 7:30 this morning that it would stick around. At least for a few minutes! There was no way I could keep the kids inside with all those fat flakes floating around. Cousin Jenna has been with us this week. She lives in the Knoxville area and sees very little snow. School can wait. Snow cannot.

By 10:30, the snow was pretty much gone. Hot chocolate in one hand, math books in the other, school got a nice late start.

No regrets.

I hope 2009 will be filled with moments of realizing we made the right choice.

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!" Psalm 34:8a

Taste snowflakes!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The wind shifted.

Around 3 this afternoon we were still at the dining room table working on our school work. The curtains were opened and we noticed very dark blue clouds blowing through the sky. It got dark outside and the wind began to pound the windows and doors.

The reason we were still working on schoolwork this afternoon was I let the children play outside for an extended lunch break. It was almost balmy. I am glad they had an early playtime. Noone wanted to go outside in the fearsome wind after 3pm this afternoon.

When winter comes knocking on the door, we take notice and pile the wood on the fire. She is so bold. I got a nice message from our church friend and local weatherman, Kevin Myatt. He told me that the girls should get their ice skates ready. Cold weather may be sticking around long enough to freeze the pond. I guess they will be happy. Not me. I don't much care for ice-skating. I'm from Texas. I think I will enjoy watching them via the kitchen window, cup of coffee in hand.

When you snuggle under warm quilts tonight, and when you get up and have your warm breakfast, let's remember to pray for those who are having a hard time staying warm. Now would be a good time to share extra coats and blankets. The heating assistance program is a good way to share as well. I feel certain that God will show each one of us the one little thing we could do to make a difference in someone's life...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year!

We have been so busy celebrating the new year that I have yet to slow down to contemplate the new year. To bring in the new year, friend Kathryn and I made homemade mozzarella and fried it into crispy melty balls. After passing those around to game playing children, we made homemade pizzas. The wine flowed, the sparkling apple cider flowed, the laughter flowed. We played around with the new camera, made lots of little bitty hamburgers, opened the champagne and were very relieved when midnight rolled around and we could fall into bed.

Next day the cook was way too sleepy to cook very early so we had our yearly tradition of homemade yeast doughnuts for lunch instead of breakfast. I have no idea when that tradition came into our home, but the kids can't remember when we didn't make doughnuts for the New Year. Kathryn read Lilies of the Field as we consumed mountains of fried sweetness around the fireplace. We took a nice walk around the farm then celebrated again as several more friends gathered around the table for pork roast and blackeyed peas and all sorts of other good feast foods. It was chaos and way too many people crowded around the table and jostled for space. Giant bonfire was lit. Stories were told. It was pure delight to be together with dear ones and laugh and laugh and laugh. Philip earned even more heavenly rewards for milking Coco that evening!

Our Woolley friends departed yesterday with tears all around. Holly came in to take their bed later in the evening. We were glad she didn't mind eating a bunch of leftovers. After a lesson in mozzarella making she headed down the road to Asheville and a final semester of college. My sister and her daughter come in for a quick visit from Knoxville this evening. We are happy to get to see them. Too bad they are coming at the end of the week. It was scrambled eggs and a glass of milk for supper. One can only feast so many days in a row.

The children are busy playing with a marble tower in the dining room. Thomas finished reading Crime and Punishment. Philip is still in the attic working on a wiring problem. He has spent many hours up there this week, God bless him! I should be making lists.

The new year for me usually means lists. I like to think of lists of goals for our homeschool, for the farm, for my business, for household maintenance, for my spiritual life. One of the children mentioned to me that we forgot to spend some time on New Year's Eve or day remembering the highlights of the year. We like to recall our family bests and worsts. We were so busy enjoying friends that we forgot to pause. Thank goodness that nobody made it a law to get it all done and finished by January 1st. I think I have decided that I want to get around to pausing and making a few VERY SHORT LISTS by January 10th.

By the way, the wind has calmed down, the day today was warm. At least 50 degrees. We actually sat outside on the deck for a chat and a cup of coffee when our friend Donna dropped by. The sun felt marvelous. It was weird to see the small goat herd. All but one of this year's babies have been sold. Just in time for the winter hay period. The moon is making her appearance again, finally. She is growing larger, day by day and night by night. The stars are bright. The house is not quite so cold. Of course that means that the pond is far from frozen and the Christmas ice skates are still waiting under the Christmas tree. Oh well. Winter is far from over, but we are rejoicing, nonetheless, in the days that are already noticeably lighter.

As the light returns I wish for all of us sufficient moments to pause and reflect, and to remember Proverbs 16:9: "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."

My main hope for 2009 is that I will be willing to roll with the flow as the Lord establishes my steps. And hope the same for you!