Sunday, May 31, 2009

Are You My Mother?

Two of the ducklings hatched out this week.

Our friend, Laura, took one of the ducklings to her school to share with her little students. Laura and the little ducky became fast friends in their two days together. When she returned it to its mommy the little duck quacked and squeaked and chased after Laura, trying to follow her!

I am sure it didn't take too long for the duck to remember his or her true identity. This morning we saw mama duck taking her little ones out for a stroll to the pond. I sure hope they survive the turtles. The other ducks are still sitting on their eggs.

Perhaps in a day or two the other ducklings will hatch out of their shells. We can hear them cheeping even before they hatch! What a miracle.

Many Days of Rain Make for Tall Weeds.

It rained a lot last week. Days and days. Even last night a thunderstorm rolled through.

Our dog is a barometer. We always know a thunderstorm is on its way when Blackie slinks in, makes his way to the bathroom and hides in the bathtub. Blackie hates lightening. He hates gun shots. He also hates fireworks, but that is another story for another blog post.

We have a funny story about Blackie. You see, Blackie loves Mason, the dog two doors down. He also loves Lisa, Mason's human. One late spring day, Lisa was puttering about in her house. She went into the bathroom and heard heavy breathing. Her pulse quickened. She just knew she had discovered an intruder and was wondering what to do when she then heard the thump, thump, thump of a tail. Blackie's tail. He had entered the house via Mason's doggy door and made his way to her bathtub to wait out the thunderstorm. Behind her shower curtain.

Thank goodness she didn't have a heart attack! Or shoot first and ask questions later!

Poor Blackie.

He has spent more than a few days trembling in the bathtub recently.

I, on the other hand, absolutely love thunderstorms. The horribly heavy prestorm air makes everyone on edge. But then comes the breeze. You hear it first. Actually, you see the rain in the west, grey sheets on the hills down the valley. THEN you hear the breeze in the neighbor's trees. Leaves tremble, just like Blackie, anticipating the coming storm. The feel of the air changes. The sticky skin cools. Even as a shadow falls over the sky, heavy spirits lift. A honey smell of rain permeates the air and a muffled boom rolls through the vally. The sprinkles splatter and splash on clucking chickens, docile sheep and dashing goats (running to the barn-they hate to get wet.) Someone rushes to get the clothes off the line. I stand on the deck as long as I can, breathing the charged air in in hungry gulps.

Crack! Boom! We count the seconds to determine how distant is the storm. Unplug the computer. Listen to the sheets of rain pounding our farm. Wonder if the power if going to go out. Seldom does.

We are grateful for the rain. It has come often this spring.

We haven't been able to finish making hay. Tractor troubles came at a bad time. Josh and Laura came over and Josh gave Philip some tips. I think the tractor works now. Unfortunately, the fields are soaked. We must wait til things dry out. The hay is past its prime. Must be cut anyway. Maybe we will get a second cutting this year.

This past week we did other things besides weed the garden. We did weed a little bit, but had to tend to other things instead. Argggh. They are totally out of control. At least they seem out of control. We haven't mulched yet. We are waiting for plants to grow a bit so we can put down a heavy layer of newspaper and straw mulch. We got a lot done this afternoon and will work more tomorrow. The bottom of the garden is still way too wet to plant tomatoes and peppers and okra. Sometimes a task seems so monumental one wants to give up. Why bother? Do I have what it takes? It is too hard!

I doubt King Solomon weeded many gardens. Sometimes I wish I had a few of his hired workers to help me tend my gardens! Nevertheless, he had some great words of wisdom that give me pause.

"Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.

This too is a grievous evil:

As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?
All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.

Than I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot.
Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them,
to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift of God.

He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart."
Ecclesiastes 5:15-20

When I am tired and overwhelmed I want to complain. I want someone to pat me on the back and commiserate. I want to go read a book and pretend like the weeds will all go away on their own. But what I really want is to follow Solomon's prescription. This is my lot. We are so blessed to have work that is healthy and sane and productive. I think that this week I am going to pray that our household would accept our lot and be happy in our work. I will pray that we will find satisfaction and joy in our toilsome labor of pulling weeds. I will pray that we will eat and drink and glorify God in the imperfect way we run the farm.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making Hay the Russian Peasant Way

Anna Karenina is one of my favorite novels. Actually, Tolstoy is one of my favorite novelists. I can read his books over and over again. Throughout Anna Karenina is the story of Levin, one of the main characters, and the tension between him and the old way of agriculture and modernization. Funny how pertinent and contemporary his struggle seemed to me.

He tries to get the peasants to use the expensive machinery he purchases to make their work more efficient. The machinery breaks down. Or the peasants cause it to break down. Why use this noisy machine when they can work as a village and get the job done more beautifully?

One of the chapters describes Levin's day making hay with the villagers. It is a lovely piece of literature. I can taste the sweat, feel the muscles tire, smell the grass, see the golden sun move across the sky. Levin "gets it" as he finds the rhythm of the scythe.

We aren't Russian. Neither do we own vast estates nor have we an army of serfs. But we do have fields of hay and animals that seem to get hungry come winter. The tractor we bought with the farm sputters and spurts and with a lot of attention will do most of what we want it to do. But haymaking equipment is expensive. Haymakers are busy. A look at the farmer's almanac last week indicated that Thursday and Friday were good days for making hay. Apparently all the farmer's in the area read their almanac because tractors purred (growled) all across the vally as grass was cut and efficiently rolled into bales.

As per usual, I found myself online, researching alternate ways of making hay. Quite a few old timers used their brush hog to cut the hay then raked it up by hand, loading onto wagons for storage in the barn. Hmmmm. We have a brush hog. I had always heard that the brush hog would ruin the hay. Well. We don't have a bunch of sharpened scythes tucked in the tool shed so Philip got the tractor hooked up to the brush hog and showed me how to drive it.

By the middle of the week I was a frustrated irritated mom. Seemed like I was having to nag and bark to get anybody to do anything. More than anything I was a tired farmer, mother, teacher, gardener. Weary with the sound of my nagging voice. Tired of my critical attitude. Wishing I was a nice person. Wishing that weeds pulled themselves, supper fixed itself and laundry jumped into the washer, out onto the line and right into our drawers, ready to wear. Seemed like every 8 hours or so I was having to apologize to Philip or the kids for being rude, or disrespectful or bad-mouthed.

I haven't driven a tractor since I was eleven years old or so. Philip would have been glad to mow, but frankly, I wanted to have the satisfaction of seeing something done on a larger scale than the regular household activities. So he showed me fast gear, slow gear, brake and clutch, first, second and third, and off I went. First Patrick gathered up guinea eggs from a nest he found in the middle of the hay field and took them to the barn to go under a broody hen. Bump, bump, bump. Whizz, whizz, whizz. Grinding of gears. Loosening of joints. Tractor went round and round the field.

As I drove and mowed, I prayed. "Lord, I am so exasperated with myself. I don't want to be so fussy with everyone. Why can't I be more nice?" Bump, bump, bump. Whizz, whizz, whizz. Grinding of gears. Turn another corner. Still small voice speaks to me, loudly enough to get through tractor noise. "Don't worry about it. You are still learning. So is everyone else. It's a process. I love you. You're doing a great job. You are tired."

As the tractor made its way round the field I could see areas that were thick and lush. The areas we threw manure last spring. It was amazing the difference. "You see?" asked the still small voice. "Look, if you want better production, you have to put something back into the soil. You can't take and take and take without eventually suffering for it. You need a break."

A day before Philip had suggested that I take Maggie and go visit a friend for a day or two. I told him there was no way I could be gone right now. Too much to do. I gave it a second thought.

When the sun hit the edge of the horizon the tractor died. I could not resurrect it. Walking back to the house I inhaled sweet smell of freshly mown hay. Listened to the gurgling creek. Headed to bed.

Next morning was baking day. Thomas and I got up at 4am to start the days' work. Late afternoon the kids took their rakes out to the field to start the gathering. After 7pm I finished inside and headed out to join them. We lined up. We raked the hay into mounds. We talked about how much fun it is to work together as a family. Nora bounded in front and behind, begging the others to play in the stream. The stars came out. The lightening bugs came out. We found our rhythm. We swung and tossed, walked forward. Swing. Toss. Walk. It was hard to find a stopping place. We wondered if we could find a few friends who would want to join us for the fun next week. The work was invigorating. By the time we reached the end of the field it was pretty dark. Time to bring it in.

We all got up early to go to the markets. Afterwards, Maggie and I went to visit some friends. They feasted us with sashimi and dumplings and waffles and artichokes and steaks. Maggie swam. I read. We didn't milk or pull weeds or make hay. Back at the ranch, Philip and Patrick and Thomas raked some more and loaded up the trailer with our mounds and figured some way to get that loose hay up into the loft of the barn, fragrant and green.

The rains came. The tractor is still dead in the middle of the field. But we have hope. A friend is coming by today to take a look at the tractor. Some other friends would like to join us for raking when the sun comes out and dries the hay. I think we will get some beverages, some fried chicken or beans and rice and make a party out of it. Use our bodies as machines. Make some hay when the sun goes back to shining. Grateful that life is ebb and flow. Rhythm. Wonder if Levin would come lend a hand? If he could come over and bring a few of his peasant friends to show us how to do it we might make even more "progress."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Random Review

A great deal of schoolwork has taken place on the deck, sprawled on pillows, soaking up sunshine as we read about the renaissance. Due to chilly nights, our house stays cool during the morning. Not cool enough for a fire. ("Yes it is!" says Rose) But not exactly cozy.

The garden is growing. We had a lovely salad for supper last night alongside some homemade pizza. Food options are definitely improving. The freezer is empty of chicken but not for long. We plan on butchering in a week and a half. Nora is happy about that. She loves chicken. The freezer is pretty much empty of pork as well. I just called in an appointment for our two hogs to be butchered in three weeks. Patrick will be happy about that. He loves pork chops.

Ducks are still sitting on eggs. We are still waiting on ducklings. A watched duck nest never hatches. Or something like that. One of the hens is going broody so we will move her out to the barn to hopefully hatch out some chicks.

It is lunch time. Time for sun therapy and stories. I guess we will move out to the garden afterwards for character building 101. "Do not give up when the going gets rough."

Or guided meditation. "Think about the circle of life. Lowly weed thrown onto compost becomes rich fertile soil."

Or physical education. "Bend, pull, throw. Come on, sweat a little! Make those muscles work for you!"

PS The snowball bush is no longer in bloom. The irises are near their end. The rose bush by the road is covered in buds. Poker plant is sending up its red hot poker blooms. Baby plums and peaches are about the size of my thumb. Time to thin.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Woods are Full of Treasure

After we finished our huge Sunday dinner, washed the dishes and said farewell to the big folks who went to youth group, Nora asked if we could go on a walk through the woods. Just the two of us.

For a moment I wavered. Walk with Nora. Read a few extra chapters of War and Peace.

Nora and I walked along the hay field next to the stream. The waters gurgled, full of little minnows. The tall damp grass scratched Nora's legs. Nora stopped and pointed out the gorgeous flowering tree. It was a tulip poplar. How did I not know that poplars have such beautiful blossoms? The pale yellow cup with orange stripe was striking. Faintly scented. Amazing. We were so surprised.

Nora and I carefully crossed the stream and scrambled up the bank to make our way through five or 10 acres of woods. The ground was littered here and there with poplar blossoms scattered by earlier storm. The trillium was no longer in bloom. Only an occasional late-blooming violet. The ferns are now big and proud. The green leafy woods look so different compared to a walk I took two weeks ago.

I found an empty snail shell. Nora clasped her bouquet of tulip poplar blossoms and violets. We held hands when we could.

Baby hen of the woods mushrooms caught my eye. Must go back for those guys when they are bigger. We saw a few oyster mushrooms and some other unidentifiable varieties. I picked a few to carry back home to see if we could figure out their names.

We picked our way over fallen trees and piles of leaves and squeezed through the barbed wire to head back to the house. The sounds of home called us back.

Grunting pigs snorting alongside the cattle.

Guineas crying "Come quick! Come quick!"

Rooster crowing out his challenge to invisible foes.

The dogs bounded through the leaves with us down the hill to cross the bridge. We deposited our treasures on the table, dug out the mushroom book, did a little research (not enough research for me to safely eat the mushrooms), then Nora went on to play dolls and I got out War and Peace and read about life and death and love and marriage.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Don't Listen to the Fox, the Barn is a safe place for you!

Two of the Rouen mama ducks are sitting on eggs in a corner of the barn. It is a very dark corner. One would never know there are ducks and eggs in that corner except for the hissing sound that comes if you venture a little too near. Sounds like a snake. The Rouen are very lovely, brown with a blue mark on their side. They are perfectly camoflauged. I think they have been on their nest for a couple of weeks. Maybe more.

The Pekins are sitting on a nest in the corner of the chicken house in the field. They just started sitting on their eggs.

So far they look much more responsible than Jemima Puddleduck. Jemima was invited by a wily fox to move her eggs into his den. These gals don't look like they would pay attention to any fox. Even the dogs stay away from that menacing hiss.

Safely tucked, nice and warm, baby little duckies are growing.

Can't wait to see them once they crack their way into the world!

PS Jemima Puddleduck is a story written by Beatrix Potter, one of my favorite authors/illustrators. If you haven't read it, I think you should. Then come on out and we will show you some more responsible mothers. But don't get too close!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Do Not Grow Weary

Today we picked up our big Dutch Valley order. As soon as I finished milking, the early morning call from the truck driver came. Once a month I order over 500 lbs of grain, sunflower seeds, rice, flaxseed, different baking supplies and other sundry items from a distributor. Thomas and I take the old pickup and meet the truck at the general store down the road in Catawba since our driveway can't handle a huge semi truck and trailer.

We organized our goods in the "store" room, which is our breakfast room. While eating lunch we read our history lesson. I learned about Leonardo da Vinci.

Since the sun was shining today we worked in the garden this afternoon. What a surprise! Underneath all the weeds we found lettuce! And onions! Even the green beans and corn have sprouted.

Rose and I weeded side by side for awhile. She bemoaned the fact that getting all the weeds out takes a lot of effort.

I agreed.

I remembered the scripture in Galatians that reminds us to not grow weary in doing good for in due season we will reap a good harvest if we do not give up. Rose and I discussed the wonderful harvest we would have all summer long. And the harvest we would not have if we did not weed the garden. After a good long spell Rose remembered she better go practice the piano. Maggie took her place. For a while.

They did a great job helping me. But for some reason, I am the one who likes to stay in the garden pulling weeds. I hear the sound of the pond overflowing the dam. I hear the guineas in the distance calling each other. I hear a baby goat crying because he got left behind in the tall grass. Ducks quack as they search for grubs and other goodies on the pond's edge. A ewe baa's. The cows munch. A tedious task becomes a meditation. Meditation with a promise.

Salad. Onions. Green beans. Roasted beets.

Many people crossed our threshhold this afternoon and the weeding was paused. Friends picked up their Dutch Valley order. Kids ate buttered bread. People picked up milk from Coco. Piano lessons were taught.

Unfortunately we had to postpone our Tuesday night Bible study. I love meeting with the ladies. We are about to embark on a study of Esther, a terrific gal back in the days of Xerxes. But when I realized we had the evening off I got hungry.

Pulled out lamb chops from the freezer and thawed them in a pan of water while I weeded another couple of rows in the garden.


What a gift to have the most delicious lamb raised right here on this farm. I hope that every one I know will go find a farmer with lamb and beg, buy or barter some lamb loin chops and try this recipe. It will be a good reward for all your hard work.

Lemon Caper Lamb Chops.

Sprinke lamb loin chops with Cavenders Greek Seasoning. Or if you don't have that, marinate lamb with oregano, garlic and olive oil. Sear in cast iron skillet, preheated and generously drizzled with olive oil. DON'T OVERCOOK. When lamb is brown on one side, turn over and cook til just medium rare.

Place lamb on platter. Add more olive oil or butter to skillet. Juice a lemon into pan. Toss in several cloves of garlic, sliced thinly. Toss in a tablespoon or 2 of capers. Add a little more lemon if you need it. Cook til garlic is tender. Won't take long.

In the meantime, make some steamed broccoli, or saute that broccoli with garlic and olive oil and plenty of sea salt. Boil some water or broth for couscous.

Pour the lemon caper sauce over lamb and enjoy with broccoli and couscous. A glass of dry red wine will work nicely. You could make a big salad with feta and olives and red peppers. You could heat up some bread. You could make the couscous fancy with pine nuts and parsley. Or you could just scarf down those chops and broccoli and give thanks to God for giving us so many wonderful things! Like the promise that our hard work is not for naught.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Now I am weary, but I think that my full stomach will help me sleep very well.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Philip!

I am so happy that Philip was born! He is the best husband. He loves me. He appreciates me. He is much nicer than me. He loves our children. He encourages me to be fully me. He is compassionate. He is kind. He is quirky and funny and silly. He is generous. He loves God. He works hard.

I hope you have a great year, Philip. I love you.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

I love my mom. She taught me some amazing lessons in life.

She taught me that sometimes life is hard and you have to cry and pray. Then you better get up and go do the chores.

She taught me that mothers who love their children occasionally need a break. She periodically took off, by herself, to art workshops or on trips to visit family so she could be a better mom. So many times she has told me that it is not selfish or bad to need to be alone for a day or two.

She taught me to appreciate beauty by taking me to art museums and by creating beautiful art work. You can see some of her work at and I loved going to art shows with her.

She taught me to appreciate music by giving me many opportunities to hear her play the piano. Sometimes she would play for what seemed like hours. Beautiful classical pieces that rang out in our country farm house. She worked so hard on the farm, cooking, ironing, working in the garden. But she made time to paint and play the piano.

She taught me that fresh bread out of the oven not only smells good but tastes really good! Not only that, she surrendered her kitchen to me and gave me the freedom to try out recipes and cook anything I wanted.

She taught me that reading is a great way to have adventures. She took me to the library so I could check out my weekly stack of 10 books!

She taught me that working together as a family is good. She also taught me that working alongside her husband was good and that it is good to be friends with your spouse, even if you occasionally get mad at him!

She taught me that mothers are for cheering on kids. She taught me that God created me for a purpose. She taught me to have the confidence to know that I can do it, whatever it is, even if it isn't perfect.

She taught me that when life hurts and the body hurts and it seems impossible to go on, you can do it, and tears are okay.

I am thankful for my mom. She is the best cheerleader. I wish she lived down the road instead of Texas. I miss our annual roadtrips. But thanks to email and phone calls and visits now and then, it isn't so far away.

So many other things. But the kids need me and we are going to have a piece of Maggie made chocolate cake to celebrate Philip's 51st birthday.

But for now, Mom, know that I am thankful for you. So glad you are my mom. Miss you and can't wait to see you this summer!

And I should mention that there are a couple of other ladies who have greatly influenced my life, Kathy Hamburger and Judy Arnold. Both were in my life for different seasons. I wish I could give them a big hug, too. But I guess a phone call will have to suffice. Even if some people gripe about Mother's Day being created by the greeting card companies, I like having a day to remember special people. (and it doesn't hurt my feelings to receive beautifully hand-made cards and bouquets from my own children on this special day either!)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Thunderstorm

"The wind begun to rock the grass
with threatening tunes and low,
He flung a menace at the earth,
A menace at the sky.

The leaves unhooked themselves from trees
And started all abroad;
The dust did scoop itself like hands
And throw away the road.

The wagons quickened on the streets,
The thunder hurried slow;
The lightening showed a yellow beak,
And then a livid claw.

The birds put up the bars to nests,
The cattle fled to barns;
There came one drop of giant rain,
And then, as if the hands

That held the dams had parted hold,
The waters wrecked the sky,
But overlooked my father's house,
Just quartering a tree.

Emily Dickinson

Yesterday was a difficult day for me on the farm. Thomas and I started the baking early, as usual for Friday mornings. I mechanically measured out flour and milk and honey and yeast, stirring and proofing, kneading and shaping. All the while I wondered. Waiting for the results on the final day of searching for John and Judy's son Craig Arnold. Knowing that good news would come out early. Bad news would come, hesitatingly, regretfully, sorrowfully.

Funny how a heavy heart is bad for productivity. Hope tried to surface. But every trip to the computer screen sucked out a little more of that hope. Thomas waited for me to kick into our normal high gear. I slogged through the morning drinking too much coffee.

We made our 45 pizza crusts. We started a few baguettes. We proofed dough for 20 loaves of Milk and Honey bread. The cow was milked. The goats were milked. I paused a few more times seeking confirmation on the computer.

The email box had a letter from John and Judy. Brief. To the point. Craig's trail had been picked up. It ended at the edge of a very steep cliff. Below the cliff was a deep and dangerous valley. Too dangerous to continue the search. Apparently Craig was lost, it was dark, he had sustained a leg injury, slipped and fell to his death.

41 years old. Father to Robin. Brother of Chris, loved by Rebecca, eldest son of John and Judy. Not to mention friend to many, professor, poet.

We had all hoped and prayed for a miracle.

As I read their letter and wept, the girls came in the house and told me that Maggie needed help in the barn. Lucy, one of our first time mama ewes had gone into labor. There was trouble. Two little black hooves were sticking out, nothing more. Her contractions had stopped. She had probably been in labor a good many hours. I reached inside to determine the positioning of the baby. Breech. Too far into the birth canal to easily rotate. Besides, the little legs and hooves were dirty and I didn't want to risk any more contamination than what was neccesary.

Maggie help Lucy. I pulled. And pulled. We finally were able to deliver the baby, legs and tail first. He was dead. More than likely died hours before. We waited. I washed up and did another internal examination to make sure there was not another dead lamb inside her. This started up contractions again and she was able to deliver the afterbirth. We took care of the dead lamb and left Lucy alone to recover.

I returned to the house, changed clothes, washed up and got back to baking.

The air was heavy. The sky sullen. I wept a little for my friends, tried to become efficient, didn't succeed. Drank more coffee. Went through motions. Decided that I needed a little margin and called friends to man the market for me.

The storm finally hit around 7 or 8 last night. Maggie came in from feeding baby goats and told me that lightening was striking everywhere. The thunder boomed. Blackie our dog came trembling into the bathroom to hide in the bathtub. Rain came crashing down.

Seemed like the perfect ending to a difficult day. All through the night the thunder came rolling through the valley. I prayed for the grieving ones to know the hope that exists when all hope is lost. That God would show Robin and Chris and Rebecca and John and Judy that he loves them. Even when nothing makes sense.

This morning the thunder continued to rumble, but further in the distance. Gradually the midnight blue clouds were swept away and the farm sparkled in crayon box colors. Fifteen shades of green popped against sky blue sky. Brick red barn with silver roof opened up the door to pink pigs and brown and white goats and black and white sheep. Raw Umber and Raw Sienna cows munched grass green grass littered with lemon yellow buttercups. Mahogany chickens delighted in red worms.

I drank a few more cups of coffee and read the paper listening to stream, feeling warm breeze dry the earth. The milk was strained and chilling. Babies were fed. Lucy was fine. I walked through the sodden garden and noticed that more lettuce has come up. Some beans have sprouted. The weeds are coming in nicely. Must hoe rows as soon as it dries out a little. Dear friends are selling my bread for me so I can be still for a moment and pray for the Arnolds. Later Philip and I will celebrate his 51st birthday. But now, be still.

I hope that we would all learn to take time to be still. Certain griefs merit a moment of silence.

PS The snowball bush is blooming and the irises have started to bloom. A friend from town brought me a huge bouquet of irises from her garden in Vinton and they are perfuming the dining room. She came over yesterday afternoon and gave me a big hug right when I needed one. So glad for friends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Misty mists

Misty mist fills our little valley this afternoon.

I have to sit down and take a quick break after some barn spring cleaning. It wasn't too bad. Maybe we are becoming more efficient? Stalls have to be cleaned out at least weekly. More often if it is raining and everyone stays inside. The concrete area where we milk has to be swept out daily. The milking stanchion scrubbed. Periodically we do a little deep cleaning that involves digging out certain stalls, cleaning interior of barn, sweeping out a few cobwebs and scraping chicken poop. I mean high-end organic fertilizer. Everyone grabs a rake, a shovel or a pitchfork. Even Nora likes to help. Usually Patrick loads the wheelbarrow and Thomas carts it to the big pile which will be moved to garden by Philip and the tractor when he gets home from work. We will then put it in the compost pile, or go ahead and spread it onto rows that won't be used for a few months. The manure has to age and decompose. Can't put it fresh on the tender veggies.

I have been thinking about whitewashing the area where we milk. Maggie and I were discussing the possibilities of fixing up the old milking parlor so we could use it for our dairy animals. Right now it is being used as a receptacle for all the old beehives. So many ideas. So little time.

Yesterday two of the cattle, Priscilla and Moose, Boaz the ram and the two nameless pigs made their way through the hay pasture, into the woods and off of our property. Thankfully the neighbor called and apprised me of the situation. It wasn't really the kind of call I want to receive, especially as supper was about to come off the stove. But better than having to hunt over a hundred acres of someone else's woods in the dark.

Our friend Rachel and her kids donned their shoes with us and we hiked through the valley. The rain had let up and the creek babbled along merrily. The misty clouds rolled like cream over the mountains in the Jefferson National Forest. I grumped and gruffed for a few minutes, trying to get the old attitude back into check. Hard to stay grumpy very long, looking at wildflowers and herbs all over the place. The air was cool. The sweater was warm. We won't talk about the wet feet. We saw wineberry bushes in bloom. Wild violets. Yellow flowers, I don't know their name, wild geraniums, horsetail.

We had no troubles getting the errant wanderers headed back to the welcoming red barn. Even the pigs trotted happily, grunting and snuffling. We picked our way back over the stream, through the marsh, harvesting this herb and that, wishing for a basket. The dogwoods made lovely bouquets along the edge of the stream. The Rouen ducks splashed and glided along the overgrown watercress. Nora and Boone sprinted to the house, planning their last few minutes of playtime before supper. The two tired mothers agreed that having to tend those wandering animals was a gift. It forced us to go outside and enjoy the evening.

The ever peeping frogs gave us a welcome as we reached the warm house with cozy fire. Big pot of beans, rice and carne guisada were perfectly done. Big salad from Amy's garden didn't take long to toss. Wet feet dried out rather quickly in front of maybe the last fire in the fireplace.

Now we take a long lunch break. Misty mists have given way to thundering rainstorm. Guess we will tend to some more ephemeral tasks. Like laundry.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Leaves are Green

The leaves came back on Friday.

Everything looks different with leafed out trees. So lush and green.

Last week we were able to plant many rows of vegetables and flowers. The rain is a gift. Watering everything in so we don't have to!

It is hard for me to think about much else besides our friends and their son Craig. I have prayed for them while milking, while baking, while driving, while walking the fences. We are still waiting for more news.

We debuted our products in an additional farmer's market on Saturday. I baked several extra dozens of loaves of bread and we loaded up two vehicles. Printed out extra signage, found another cash box and receipt book and made big pans of chocolate filled brioche to celebrate. Philip took Patrick, saw horses and an old barn door to set up at our usual spot at Ikenberry's Orchard. I took some other kids with me and we set up at a new market in Grandin neighborhood in Roanoke. Business was hopping. We are really blessed that so many people are interested in supporting local farmers and local industry. We sold out of most of our breads by 11am. So grateful to have another venue, even if our workload has increased significantly. There's just something rather fulfilling about having enough money to pay the bills! Farmer's market is a great way to meet new people and get some socializing in, as well.

After the market, Thomas and I headed up to Maryland to the Sheep and Fiber Festival to deliver our fleeces. I had no idea so many people were interested in sheep and fibers! We got many ideas and were very inspired. We dropped off 10 fleeces which weighed 44.75 lbs. I was hoping for 50 lbs because it would have put us in a different pricing category. Maybe I cleaned those fleeces a bit too diligently. It was very hard deciding what product to make out of our wool. I thought rovings would be good, if we wanted to spin, but we are not ready to tackle that project yet. Yarn is very expensive to make. 3oz skeins would cost us $7.50 each to make. Yikes! We settled on the heavy-duty hiking socks. The thin wool socks were less expensive to process, but didn't seem as practical. The hiking socks will cost aproximately $17 to make, not counting shearing, driving, buying the sheep or eating a lamb gyro at the Festival. I have never paid that much for a bag of socks at WalMart before, so it does seem a bit crazy. Nevertheless, they will be a very unique product. Locally grown socks. Who would have thunk it? Perfect for environmentally conscious hikers. I hope that each year we can add a new cool product made from the fruit of the farm.

Today I am tired. The driving was great for brainstorming and planning and listening to a book on cd. But now I am zapped. Took a long power nap. Walked the fields to check on animals. Tried unsuccessfully to fix a kid's broken leg. Don't know what to do. Tried to make a splint, but it didn't work. Seems like both back legs are broken. Maybe they are not broken. Maybe torn ligament? Dislocated? Stepped on by a cow? Maybe we will get some plaster of paris and try a cast. Otherwise the little fellow seems okay. Maybe our doctor friend will give me some pointers. I hope he will make it.

By the way, the pear tree has lots of little pears. Both cherries are loaded. The potatoes are all up and need a big load of mulch. We will be eating our own salad with green onions soon. I am feeling desperate for fresh veggies. I guess before we turn around three times we will be up to our ears in green beans and corn. Can't wait.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Craig Arnold Is Missing

Craig Arnold is the son of my dear friends, John and Judy Arnold. They were mentors for me during college days at Mary Hardin Baylor in central Texas. Still some of the people most dear to my heart.

Their son Craig is a poet. He is also a professor. Not long ago he went to Japan to follow the path of the poet, Basho, and study the volcanoes. On Sunday afternoon he went to explore a volcano on an island 7 hours south of Tokyo. Never returned to the inn.

Today is the 4th day of searching. Please pray that he will be found. Pray for him and his son, Robin, and his fiancee and parents and brother.