Saturday, August 29, 2009

Market Day, or the barter system is alive and well

Saturday morning I get up at 4:45, make some coffee, finish up baking brownie mix and pancake mix samples, milk the cow, finish loading up market stuff, get Maggie to milk goats, get everybody out the door to our respective markets by 7:30. Philip takes part of the gang to Daleville to Ikenberry's Orchard to set up. I go to Grandin Village Community Market in Roanoke, sending telepathic messages to the lights to please turn green, I really need the extra 4 minutes!

Market is a hopping time. We offer samples of our freshly milled whole grain breads and pizza crusts, brownie mix and pancakes. We educate people on the benefits of grinding your own grain, offer recipe ideas, chat and distribute milk to our herd shareholders. At packing up time we vendors cruise around and see what everyone has to barter. A couple of weeks ago the trout/berry guys came and offered blackberries for bread. Of course I said yes. Occasionally we barter bread or milk for veggies. Jon Smallwood of Star City Coffee always has delicious free-trade organic coffee beans for us and we give him milk, bread and meats. Today the Big Pine Trout Farm folks traded us 2 beautiful, fresh trout for milk and bread. Cole gave us tomatoes and peppers for a little loaf of spelt bread.

So much fun.

After a visit with a friend (that included a stop at Wine Gourmet for their Saturday afternoon wine and cheese tasting), I headed home. The garden was calling.

Green beans needed picking again. The tomatillos are going crazy. More spaghetti squash. Peppers are ripe. Tomatoes are getting ripe. The star performer in the garden right now is the yellow squash.

They are out of control.

We didn't even plant yellow squash.

These are volunteers from last year. Three plants came up in the side of the garden we didn't cultivate. They are growing along the fence, spreading over vast territory. I have to climb over weeds and a ditch to reach the plants. I had to get the wheelbarrow to haul all the pickings back to the house.

What do you do with almost a bushel of yellow squash?

Well, we have potluck tomorrow after church. Guess what I am preparing? I think I will saute the squash in butter along with some onions and garlic. Add some chopped up chiles from the garden. Place it in a casserole. Mix up some of Coco's cream and eggs and garlic. Beat in some chevre or fromage blanc. Pour over the squash and bake til bubbly and golden. Maybe put some butter on top.

At least that is my plan.

I am thinking that there must be some spiritual lesson connected to this harvest of yellow squash, something about life never turns out exactly the way you think it will and sometimes the most fruitful things are things that came by grace, not by our effort. Or maybe if you aren't careful, things you throw out, like old overgrown squash, may someday take root, spread wildly and fill the world with yellow squash, a vegetable that many people, especially kids, don't even like.

Yellow squash. Can't barter it because every other farmer, neighbor, friend and enemy has their own yellow squash plant producing wildly. I could use it as a new form of child discipline. Bad attitudes, sassy mouths will be fed a ration of yellow squash. Breakfast, lunch and supper. If the offense is terribly horrible it could be boiled squash, no salt.

The other day we made fritters with grated yellow squash, ethiopian lentil powder (called shurro) and beaten eggs. That was yummy.

I like yellow squash. Really.

But tonight the girls and I had trout. Fresh trout from Big Pine Trout Farm in New Castle, just down the road from us. Trout fried up in a pan with butter. New potatoes from the garden, boiled in salt water, coated with butter. Green beans from the garden, sauteed in butter.

Not a piece of squash anywhere in sight. We gave thanks for our meal, savoring the cool evening breeze out on the deck. We prayed for our farmer friends, especially the trout farmer family, asking God to give them prosperous bounty. We are so thankful to be able to enjoy the amazing food produced by these other new friends. Thankful for all the hard work they put into their craft.

I think that the barter system makes us much more appreciative of our community and our food.

Surely there is someone out there who wants some yellow squash. I have some GREAT recipes! Wanna barter?

Friday, August 28, 2009


Yesterday I had to drive to Stuart's Draft to pick up some non genetically modified, locally grown feed for our animals. They are all pastured but some of them require a supplement to go along with their grass and bugs. I was a bit disappointed to be gone during prime work hours. The garden was waiting.

Thankfully she didn't have to wait too long. The garden, that is.

Philip rented a tiller. Thomas came out to join us. We mowed down weeds, yanked up roots, and tossed broken down sunflower giants to the livestock. Philip tilled up a generous area for our fall garden. As the sun slipped beyond the horizon we wiped our stinky sweaty brows. Thomas volunteered to head inside to cook our supper. Philip and I continued until dark. Actually, Philip continued until after dark.

We went inside and were greeted by the smell of cooked beef, gravy and macaroni. Way to go, Thomas. Medium-rare, tender and absolutely delicious. I felt so happy and thankful to have family that will work together to get a job done. I don't think there is anything that pleases me more than having family work together on important projects, like garden, barn, farm animals. Now all we need is for Patrick to get home from his trip to NJ. He is the master seed planter. I am hoping for another round of beans, chard, lettuces, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and maybe even some brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts. Yum. Sauteed in bacon grease with red onion and peppers and garlic. Spinach. Creamed with cheddar cheese.

Oh yeah. The blog. I got hungry and carried away with garden dreams.

Meanwhile, the bread is baking. 65 or 70 pizza crusts await wrapping. 60 loaves of bread are cooling. 20 more to go, plus or minus. Pancake mixes and brownie mixes are ready to be labeled. Will I get to the pound cakes? The chocolate zucchini muffins?

Market day tomorrow. We are still in the marathon. But I had to pause to remember all the hard work that was accomplished yesterday evening.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


As I headed to bed I paused to look outside. A brilliant orange crescent moon hung over the valley to the west.

So orange it looked like a piece of that orange jelly candy we used to get in our bags of christmas candies back when I was a little girl.

What is it that makes the moon turn orange? One website says that it is particulate matter.

I guess they're probably right.

But I think I should look up fables and legends. There must be a more romantic explanation.

I hope everyone remembers to take a peek outside tonight. You don't want to miss out on the candy orange moon. The stars are a little bit fuzzy, it is very humid outdoors. But the cicadas and crickets are singing loudly. I think they like the moon, too.


Said goodbye to Julie and her kids today.

She is one of the biggest supporters of our farm and one of my dearest friends. It is hard to know how to thank her. She sees what we need and jumps in to help. Yesterday she was exhausted from a busy trip up north. She donned barn shoes, grabbed a broom and headed out with me to take care of Monday muck out. She always eats what I cook and acts like it is a gourmet meal, even when it isn't.

She gifts me with dinners out when I see her, she brings me boxes of figs from her tree, she showers us with the most delicious homemade strawberry jam known to mankind. She skims cream and makes butter for me, nobody in this house finds that task entertaining anymore. She has an amazing capacity to give.

I would love Julie even if she never swept the barn, made the butter or made me business cards ever again. I love her because she is my friend and we have shared many moments of life together, good moments and not so good. Our children are growing up like cousins. They used to be babies, now they are not.

We have prayed together, wept together, thanked God together. I thank God for Julie, and for the other friends God has brought into my life. Some for a short while, others, like Julie, walk alongside for years.

Don't know how to say thanks, Julie, for all you have done, so I will say thank you to God, and ask Him to pay you back.

We will see you before too long...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

End of Summer

The end of summer sounds are so pleasant to my ears.

Crickets. Cicadas. Bull frog. Even the breeze in the trees sounds distinct. I can no longer hear the water gurgling in the stream. But I do hear peeping guinea keets following their mothers. Peeping chicks following their mother hen. Mama ewes baaing at little lambs.

Speaking of little lambs, I had to "waste" a few minutes on the deck this afternoon laughing. The three musketeers were dashing across the field. They would run as hard as their little legs would take them, come to a screeching halt, leap straight up into the air then do it all again. One of the little guys is mostly black, the other two are white with black spots, perfect little Jacob rams. The mama ewes ignored them, munching on grass. Ignored them, that is, until they went just a little too far. Then a warning baa was issued. Babies returned to nuzzle the mamas and snag a milk snack. Then off to the races again. Very cute.

The days are growing shorter. The sky has a different look this month. Just a couple of days ago it seemed to change. I believe the dog days of summer are about over according to my friend Donna at Last night the moon was a very thin crescent, not like a bowl, but upright. My grandfather always said that if the crescent moon was tipping, expect days of rain, but if it was horizontal like a bowl, no rain would fall. Seems to be accurate.

After a nice nap this afternoon I headed to the garden. Here is what I picked:

yellow squash-lots of it
monster zucchini
spaghetti squash-lots and lots of it
green beans, dragon's tongue, provider and romano
a few straggler carrots
a couple of poor remaining cucumbers
some tomatoes-juliet
sweet basil
many many weeds.

I should have picked a bouquet. We have gorgeous zinnias, three varieties, cosmos, sunflowers, nicotania, four o'clocks, and a butterfly bush, and a straggler purple coneflower. How did Coco miss that one? She ate all the rest...

Instead of cooking all those delicious vegetables, Rose and I shared cheese and bread and figs. I had a glass of red wine. We splurged on teeny little pieces of aged gouda, a creamy soft blue cheese and a creamy young gouda since it was just the two of us this weekend. So good. I think I will try to make some cheeses tomorrow. Since my milk drinkers are gone I have a huge supply of milk in the fridge. Hmmm. That aged gouda is so good. Could we possibly wait more than 10 months for one cheese??? The romano we made in the spring only made it 4 months. It was so good we gobbled it up in a few days. Maybe feta?

Tonight I appreciate someone else's labor and craft. Donald Hall has a wonderful poem, an ode to cheeses. I should share it someday.

End of summer means we are getting ready to think about school. Too busy to start yet. But definitely thinking about it.

The weather this August is much cooler than last. I appreciate the changes of the season. Not quite fall, but there is a hint of it on our farm. Like in the pumpkins that are growing and growing, making us think about pie! Before you know it we will need a fire in the fireplace. Better start thinking about wood!

But now i am thinking about Maggie. She is on her way home with my dear friend Julie and her kids. Philip is on his way home with the other guys. I will be glad to see them. In the morning, that is. But for now, it is the end of my day and I am going to bed!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Do Believe In Fairies, I Do! I Do!

Rose and I were on our own this morning as we did our chores and prepared for farmer's market. Maggie is away with a friend. Philip, Thomas, Patrick and Nora were away as well. A few days ago I called our dear friend, Sean McDermott. Sean worked for us one summer a couple of years ago. We love him dearly. Knowing that he would say "No" if he had to, I asked if he would come and milk the goats for me this morning. Was afraid that it would be hard for me to milk Coco, do the other chores and milk the four goats AND get to market in time.

Not too many friends would agree to spend their Saturday morning home from college milking four cantankerous goats. Not too many friends could do it if they tried.

God bless Sean. He did agree to come.

I forewarned him. The house is going to be topsy turvy. The kitchen is going to be covered in flour. There will be cow milking dishes out and bread making stuff out and I will be totally embarrassed to have anyone come into my kitchen in such a state.

Farming has been great for me. It requires humility. I can't do it on my own without help. Sometimes I have to suck it up and ask, even knowing that the kitchen is a mess, the laundry isn't put away and the stoop is filthy dirty. I want people to come over when the floors are mopped, the dust is gone, weeds pulled, the furniture polished and the stove shiny clean. Fact is, farming makes it very hard for those things to ever get done all on the same day. If I wait to ask for help until it is all put together, I will wait until the day I die.

So, I warned Sean. Thankfully, he has spent many months hanging with us. He has seen glorious moments, less than spectacular moments and even some very traumatic moments. He helped save Maggie's life when she sustained a life-threatening injury. A few dirty dishes and a flour-strewn floor are not going to hurt Sean too much.

Rose and I did our chores, milked Coco, checked on the animals, made sure the sheep were fine. We headed out the door at 7:30, so very grateful that the goats would be just fine in Sean's care.

Market was brilliant. Even though the rain poured down our customers showed up and bought every single loaf of bread and pizza crust and pound cake. After market Rose and I had a date at a local restaurant called Local Roots. She had chicken and rice soup. I had pita with eggplant and portabella mushrooms. It was so delicious. Not only delicious, but even Rose could tell that the chicken was "real" chicken. This place uses ingredients sourced from over 60 area farms. Sounds like a Full Circle type of meal to me! We farm, sell our goods, go eat at a place using local stuff bought from other farms. Yumm.

Anyway, we run our errands, drop by another farm to pick up leftovers of bread from the other farmer's market. Chat with fellow farmer and head home. Tired, but satisfied. Mother daughter time alone is precious. Rose and I planned to clean up the kitchen, do our chores then cook a special supper for just the two of us.

I must share that when I was a little girl our family had a running joke about the "good fairies." On the occasions we would have to leave an unfinished task at home, like a pile of laundry or a few dishes in the sink, we would wonder amongst ourselves if the good fairies had been to our house to clean up our mess while we were gone. They never did. But we always knew that they would, someday, right when we needed it the most.

We got to the house and I had fleeting thoughts of good fairies. Rose checked on the sheep in the field. I checked on the barn animals. Then we unloaded the market supplies and went into the house.

The kitchen was clean! No speck of dirty dishes, flour, pots or pans anywhere! The floor was swept, the trash was emptied. The counters were spotless.

Good fairies.

I know Sean can't clean a kitchen that thoroughly AND milk the goats all by himself, so that PROVES there really are good fairies.

God bless them.

Thanks to the "good fairies," Rose and I were able to take care of evening milking, barn sweeping, egg gathering, muck-raking, broiler moving, turkey situating and then make a special supper.

She requested salmon.

We had sesame seed encrusted pan-seared salmon, green beans from our garden sauteed with onions and garlic, and some of the crispiest, sweetest, crunchiest corn on the cob I have had all year (courtesy of our farmer's market friends-Thistle Dew Farms). Rose asked if we could dine by candlelight. Of course I said yes. She remembered how much fun it is when the power goes out because then you have to eat by candlelight. We gobbled down our food and Rose discussed how eating corn on the cob is not very lady-like. We thought that if we had the president over for supper maybe we shouldn't serve corn on the cob. Then we changed our minds and thought that if President Obama came over for supper we should definitely serve him corn on the cob because it would break the ice since you can't help but be happy with people if you are eating such yummy corn on the cob together. Then we remembered that we had decided to pray for President Obama and his family everyday since he has to make so many important decisions regarding health care and insurance and other important stuff. So we paused for a minute and prayed for the president and his family. Then we finished up our meal and cleared our places, thoroughly satisfied.

I guess I am afraid that if other people see the real me, the one that is a terrible housekeeper with disorganized drawers and stacks of stuff everywhere, maybe they will think that I am dumb, bad, or even worse: inadequate. The truth is that vulnerability opens the door to all sorts of beautiful things.

Like being served by good fairies.

That sweet act of service blessed me. Blessed my daughter. Even blessed the President of the United States!

So thank you, dear, dear Sean, for milking the goats for us this morning. That act of service enabled me to get to market with smiling face.

And thank you, dear, dear fairies (I ALWAYS knew you were out there!), for cleaning up my mess while I worked at the market and ate lunch in a restaurant. You enabled me to be eat a candlelit dinner with my daughter and discuss important stuff with her.

And thank you, God, for putting so many wonderful friends in our life. I am grateful.

Tired, but grateful.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health and Well-being

Health and well-being of the farm requires vigilant care.

So many potential problems. Scours, pinkeye, parasites, hoof rot, mastitis. Broken bones, birthing problems, predators.

That's not even considering the problems potentially affecting our garden and hay fields.

Fly strike is a problem for sheep and other animals in the hot days of summer. Flies lay eggs in warm, moist areas, larvae hatch and eat the flesh of the sheep. It can lead to death if not watched and treated quickly.

The only way to see if your sheep has it is to examine those warm, moist areas.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, most of our sheep would rather die than be touched by me. I speak sweetly to them. I offer them a pat and a bite of non-genetically modified, chemical-free grain to try to win them over.

To no avail.

They see me coming and roll their eyes wildly and stampede from one side of the barn to the other. Patrick and I corner them and then I lunge, throwing all of my weight, grabbing a handful of wool, trying to hold on. Dust flies. Sometimes I go for a ride (sure am glad I raked out the barn first). Finally sheep submit. We lift up docked tail, check for larvae, spray alcohol, just in case.

All clean.

Not a sheep had fly strike.

Thank goodness. Have to say that I did not relish the idea of cleaning out sheep bottoms.

Just to insure that everyone stayed healthy, we gave the sheep some grain heavily laced with diatomaceous earth. Even let the goats and the cattle have some of the stuff. DE is theoretically an organic dewormer that takes care of parasites. The animals couldn't care less about the organic dewormer. They were thrilled to have an unusual treat of grain since they are grass-fed.

After our chore the sheep headed out to graze with the little lambies. They did not look me in the eye. But I think I heard them murmuring to themselves about the indignities they have to suffer at my hands.

Oh well, I care about them and want to do my part to keep them healthy and alive.

Yesterday evening Philip and I were invited to the home of some new friends. We gave instructions to the kids and headed into town. What a delightful evening!

We toured Ken's in-town garden and I was so impressed. Lovely. Absolutely beautiful. Dahlias and sunflowers towered. Eggplant galore. Tomatoes staked and producing wildly. Herbs of all sorts. He even had parsnips growing! I love parsnips and have always wanted to grow them, never have tried.

It always pleases me to see people use their space, whatever space they have, to produce something edible. You don't need to live on a farm to produce something to eat, even if it is simply a few herbs to add to your salad.

I should mention that Cynthia and I share a love of cooking. Boy, can she cook!

Lobster bisque with sherry, beautiful flower bouquet from their garden.

Crab cakes with remoulade sauce. Cucumber salad. Curly-cue carrots cooked in mint water. (All the veggies from their garden.)

Homemade pound cake with ice cream and locally grown blackberry and peach sauces.


We had such a good time. It felt like a vacation. We stayed too late, had to get up too early, but never mind. None the worse for wear. I told the goats all about it this morning, and said hello to the sheep. They weren't that interested.

But I hope to make carrots sometime using her method. Cut them into cute little curly-cues, or just julienne them as I think I will do. Boil them briefly in salted water with fresh mint leaves. Thats it. The mint gives such a unique flavor to the carrots.

I mentioned to our friends that I lost my sage plant. They divided theirs with me and I will now go and plant it. And will remember the flavors of such an enjoyable evening with new friends. It definitely contributed to my health and well-being.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Middle of August

Well, the milking without Maggie is going pretty well. Four goats and Coco in the morning. Three goats and Coco in the evening. Maybe all this exercise is preparing me for a future in arm wrestling. Sweet.

I should mention that the four o'clocks and the nicotania by the back door offer up a very fragrant way to milk. So sweet.

It has been hot and humid here with building clouds, wind and rain around 4:30 every afternoon. Rainy season. Just about the time our clothes are halfway dry the rain comes. This afternoon the sky turned dark and a blustery wind blew in. Delicious. I wanted to go stand outside on the front porch to feel every ion of energy but had to take a shower and get ready for Tuesday night Bible study. Hope I get another chance to do so later this week.

We ate the last chuck roast of the season for supper. Made a slightly weird sauce for braising, definitely not in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We called it Bouef de Jardin. Onions, garlic, tomatillos, tomatoes, peppers, salt, pepper, a little homemade grape jelly, soy sauce, cumin and mustard. Weird, but good. Mashed potatoes, courtesy of Patrick, yellow squash au gratin made with cream, butter, onions and chevre. The last corn from Rachel and Jason's garden and some peaches. We are trying to find as many different ways to cook yellow squash as possible since we are eating it everyday. Same with the tomatillos. Those are one crazy vegetable/fruit. Maybe we should make chutney with them? Green salsa?

The goat hooves need to be trimmed. I think some of the sheep have fly strike. Need someone to help me examine them. Relatively easy to treat, just need muscle power to tackle them and get them to be still. Baby lambs need tails docked. Do I castrate them or leave them intact? Decisions, decisions. Garden is in need of weeding, as usual. Time to plant onions, turnips, soon broccoli and brussel sprouts. Kendall, a friend of a friend, has expressed the desire to intern on the farm for a couple of weeks. Seems like as good a time as any. But is he sure he wants to spend so much time shoveling manure and weeding the garden? Guess we shall see!

Off to bed, read a couple of chapters, sleep, then back to the milking parlor.

Good night all!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays

My friend Julie came in Saturday night. She and her kids are heading to New Jersey for the week and left today with Maggie. Maggie is going to visit a friend.

What am I going to do without Maggie? Maggie is my goat girl.

Well, tonight I milked the goats. I milked Coco first, earlier than usual. She didn't know what to do when I called her up at 6:30. I usually milk around 8pm. After milking Coco, I strained her milk then headed to the barn to meet up with the goats. Yesterday we sold 7 of the doelings. They went to live on a farm two and a half hours from here. We were so happy to see them go as a family unit. The mothers are a bit sad today. They spent a great deal of time maaaing for their babies. They didn't seem terribly sad. I think a couple of the girls were relieved. "About time those kids went out on their own. What is wrong with this generation of kids? They think they can hang around with us all day long, drink our milk whenever they want. Climb on top of us when we are trying to take a nap. Frankly, I was ready to kick them out anyway. But I will kind of miss them. Weren't they cute?"

So I am already missing Maggie. I haven't milked goats in a long time. But it was kind of fun getting reacquainted with the girls. Portia was a well-behaved milker, as usual. Nita didn't even threaten to kick the bucket. Thistle, on the other hand, was a bit of a pill (hard to take). Never mind. Milk is in the fridge now and I am so happy that Maggie gets a little vacation. She deserves it. What a hard-working girl.

We just finished up supper and dishes, 9:30pm. It was a garden meal. Sauteed green beans with onions, sauteed okra with onions and garlic, spaghetti squash topped with ratatouille made with garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, lots of olive oil and sea salt and balsamic vinegar. We also ate the very last of the deer meat. I had been saving it for a special dinner party, planned on pan-searing it and topping it with a port reduction as the first course of a very fancy evening. Well, tonight was the special dinner party. Dirty and tired from barn clean out we were hungry for meat and that was the first thing that thawed out of the freezer. Pan-seared, salt and peppered, thrown on the plate with mounds of other vegetables, it was good. We discussed hunting and target practice and who was going to harvest more venison for the family. We decided we better start praying now for a successful deer season.

I have to go and strain the chevre (goat cheese) and then head to bed. But thought I should mention something fun. When I head to bed at night I like to spend a moment or two listening. Sometimes I go outside on the deck, sometimes I open the window and peer out and tune my ears to the evening.

Saturday night Julie and I sat at the table for a good long bit, caught up on chat then I went out to the deck. It was pitch black. Dreadfully late (at least 10:30!) The moon was small and had not risen yet. The clouds covered most of the stars. For some reason the ducks were babbling about something and for a few minutes all I could hear was a muffled quack, quack, quack. Then a strange sound reached my ears. It sounded like a machine. I couldn't figure out what kind of machine would be running at that late hour. Hmmm. The washer was not going. The dryer is broken.

Then my eyes adjusted to the dark. I saw many dark lumps situated around the fence line. Rip, tear, crunch, munch. Munch, munch, munch. Rip, tear, crunch, munch, munch, munch, munch.

It was a machine! A 92 legged, wool-covered machine. A grass-eating machine. The sheep were busy converting grass to meat and wool and milk. And fertilizer. What a funny sound. I wish everyone could stand outside in the dark sometime and hear the sound of contented sheep or cows munching on green grass.

Better get the rest of my chores done then head to bed. Maggie's chores await me in the morning. As I milk the goats I am going to be praying that her trip to New Jersey is restful and fun and restorative. She has worked very hard this summer. I am thankful for her hard work. And glad for her to get a break. Miss you already, Maggie, and not just because of having to do your chores. I miss your smile and your face and your nice hug at the end of the day.

Pass the Butter, Please

Saturday afternoon I ran home after farmer's market, deposited signs, tablecloths, empty jars and jumped back in the car to take Maggie and Rose to a birthday party. The party was at a friends' house near the Grandin Theater in Roanoke. Julie and Julia was showing at the theater. It was a matinee. I had to be in town for over 2 hours. Seemed like destiny.

Life on the farm makes me too tired to go see many movies. Not to mention the cost.

But Julia Child is one of my heroes so of course I had to go. Meryl Streep is another of my heroes so I really had to go.

I walked from the birthday party down to the theater. It brought back memories of urban life. People sitting on stoops, walking to the local food coop, strolling with babies and dogs. The different flower gardens were a feast for the eyes and nose. As Rachel and Wendy and I walked into the cool dark cave the previews began to roll. The 5 o'clock show was crowded. We headed to the front to get an unimpeded view.

The movie was brilliant. (In my humble opinion.)

I love to read cookbooks for fun. A couple of years ago Philip bought me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my birthday. I pull it out occasionally to read through chapters on sauces, soups and roasts. On a trip out of state we listened to Julia's memoir. Such a fascinating story.

The juxtaposition of Julia Child's life to Julie Powell's life was so entertaining. Child's turning point in life takes place as she moves into elegant French quarters, markets and restaurants. Powell's takes place as she moves into a dump of an apartment in Queens, working a difficult government job in a grey cubicle. To search for meaning in their life, they both turn to cooking. Competitive cooking. Child, in the Cordon Bleu school of cooking, a world for men, not women, and definitely not american women, and Powell, in a self-imposed challenge to cook through every one of the 500+ recipes in the Mastering the Art of French Cooking book. In a year. And blog about it.

The movie was about Julia Child and her life, but as the story progressed, I realized it was more a story about Julie Powell and how she found her voice. You see, Powell chronicled her story through a blog. She always wanted to be a writer so her husband suggested she use the blog as a means to write, even if it was never published.

I laughed so hard as we watched those scenes! Tears rolled down my face. Seeing the aspics flop, the lobsters trying to escape, the boeuf bourguignon burn touched my heart because they mirrored so many aspects of my farm journey. I laughed and cried because I felt the pain, the universal pain of attempting something hard, failing, wanting to give up, knowing I couldn't if I tried.

I know there are thousands, probably millions of bloggers out there. Sometimes I wonder why I bother since there are so many others doing the same thing. Watching this movie made me see that there is value in the many different voices. We each have something unique to say, in a unique flavor, that is going to speak another person's language.

Not everyone appreciated Julie Powell's blog. Not even Julia Child. But many people did. Her journey inspired many other readers to stick their neck out and try something hard. Her journey changed her life. And many others as well.

It probably seems silly, but watching that movie really validated me. Okay, so I don't have hundreds of followers. Maybe a dozen! I have never published a single word and maybe never will. But just like Julie Powell, I am a writer. Being published or not doesn't determine whether or not I am a writer. I have a voice that matters to someone, even if only my children and my mom and dad! Blogging gives me a chance to share that voice with those someones that do matter. It gives me a creative outlet. I hope that our farm stories of failures and fallings and try, try agains will encourage someone else to try, try again. I hope that someone will feel less alone in her journey as she or he shares ours. But just like Julie, I can't not write, whether read or not, it has to come out.


Please go see this movie, fellow bloggers, fellow foodies and fellow school of life journeymen. And don't forget the butter. Just add more butter. Whatever you do, please don't skimp on the butter.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Golden Glow

I am grateful to be forced to go out and milk Coco at night.

It gives me the opportunity to be still outside as the sun goes down. The sky changes from blue to pink to purple. As the evening draws near and the creamy white milk streams into the pail the farm is suddenly washed with a golden glaze. The crazy volunteer sunflowers glow in the garden against the green of the woods across the stream. Maggie's flower garden filled with zinnias and cosmos looks like a painting by the masters. Somehow even our rag tag yard looks magical and romantic cast in the light of the setting sun.

Kids fight. Dishes clang. Goats maa and guineas squawk. Steady stream of milk and soft brown Coco flank offer me a moment of meditation and peace. The golden glow washes over me as I think of my dear friend Becky and her daughter Brooke and Brooke's siblings. I hope that they find a moment of beauty in the middle of the very hard battle they are fighting right now. So many people have their battles. Life is hard. Beauty doesn't fix everything but for some reason it feels like a real big hug to me.

Be sure and go outside somewhere and look for some beauty. It is out there. I pray God will keep us mindful of the gift of beauty. May it be a brief respite for all of us in the middle of our battles.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's Saturday Night

My parents are here. They arrived Thursday afternoon. Marveled at the height of the children. Two years equals a lot of inches. We showed off baby lamb, baby turkey poults, baby chicks and baby guineas. We showed off the hay in the barn. We walked through the garden. We ate pork chops and mashed potatoes and zucchini and visited and caught up and reveled in grandparents' approval.

Friday morning Thomas and I got up to mill wheat and spelt. Mom helped make pizza crusts. Dad helped milk the goats. Mom washed dishes. Dad and the boys cleared out the basement and made potato racks. I baked. Mom washed more dishes. Dad and the kids dug potatoes. I baked. Mom washed more dishes. Philip brought home chinese food.

It is so good to have my parents here in our home.

I miss them. I wish they lived down the road. Or we lived down the road from them.

It is hard having them so many miles away. I want to share every week kind of things with them instead of every chance we get which seems to be every year of two. They have work. Travel for them involves trips to Arkansas to see 98 year old grandpa and grandma. We have work. We have a cow and goats to milk. We have 5 kids. We have a farm.

So we make the most of our opportunities.

They jump in and work. I ask them to sit down and take a break, please don't wear yourself out!

Saturday morning we all get up before dawn and make chocolate brioches and brownies and load up loaves of bread and milk the goats and feed the animals and head to market. Sell out of bread, head home, my parents tell me they are proud of me. It makes me very happy.

I guess I will go start some supper. Lamb chops, from our farm, of course. Fresh green beans. Some okra (from the market, not our garden). Daddy said we should fry some and boil some of the smallest, nice and tender with butter from Coco. Sky is heavy and overcast. We will sit on the deck and listen to summer noises and laugh and grow sleepy and get kids to bed.

They will go home sooner than I wish. We will miss them.

But now we revel in family. In kids who are taller than their grandma. In grandpas and grandmas who love us and bless us.

I think we better take them to Roaring Run for a picnic after church tomorrow. Otherwise Daddy might get inspired to do some more work. I'm tired. Let's wait til Monday.

PS This morning the moon was still almost full. It was veiled by steel grey gauze. Misty and mysterious. Geese glowed in the dark in the veiled glow of the moon.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

August Rains

It is raining again this morning.

The morning woke up dark and still. Even at 6:30 all was dark. Seems like inklings of fall. 60 degrees.

Weird. I know we still have a long way to go until we get to fall but there is something in the way the sun shines and air feels that tells me summer is drawing to an end. I hope she doesn't rear back her head and blast us with dragon's fire, just to spite us for the nice cool weather we have enjoyed.

The kids and I had a great time pulling weeds yesterday.

At least I had a great time pulling weeds and when they finally got into the rhythm they stopped complaining and I enjoyed it even more. We worked and worked and watched the sky darken. Purple blue clouds filled the valley. Echoes of thunder boomed their way to us from points yonder. We mulched pumpkins. We mulched cucumbers. We picked tomatillos. We hoped to plant onions and turnips and carrots. We didn't get that far. Sky turned grey green, the temperatures dropped. Weeping willow turned her leaves up to the sky, giving us a silvery warning.

All of a sudden the electricity in the air changed. Fussy children grew animated. Roosters crowed. Dogs ran into the house to hide. Boom! Crack! Blow! We ran into the house, not to hide, but to watch the storm from the safety of our screened in deck.

Late summer thunderstorms are one of my favorite things. Streaking lightening, sheets of rain make me feel small. In a good way. After the past years of drought we are rejoicing in green pastures and full pond.

Well, the rain also makes for amazing weeds. But they aren't really that hard to pull out of the ground. And even with all the complaining, I get the sense that the kids really do enjoy working and talking together out in the garden. But I bet they'll never admit it! Maybe today we will get the green beans mulched. After we muck out the barn.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Saying Hello

The turkeys arrived yesterday. A box of peeping little fuzz balls. Very lively fuzz balls. They are so vigorous! We hope to successfully raise Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for ourselves and a few other people.

We will brood these guys for a few weeks then put them out on pasture. Our most recent batch of broiler chicks are ready to go on pasture. We will move them out of their cozy room in the barn and move the turkeys in to that room. In the meantime, they are in the bathroom. You never know what creature you will find in our bathroom. Ailing lamb, orphan goat, dog scared of thunder, all types of baby poultry. For some reason our friends come to visit anyway. Maybe they like to add a little suspense to their otherwise normal life where barn animals and bathrooms never come into contact.

But for now, turkey poults.

We also got to say hello to another new arrival.

I called Philip as I drove home from a friends' house. They needed some homemade bread and garden soup. I chatted with Philip, checking to make sure kids were in bed. Thankfully Thomas made spaghetti for the other kids for supper with some garden veggie spaghetti sauce. He fed them while Philip finished working in the garden. (I am so blessed to have a family that works together so I can go pray with a friend when I need to). Thomas loves onions and garlic and when I departed I saw him chopping lots of onions and garlic and carrots from the garden. Really good smells were coming from the pot. I bet they did just fine.

Anyway, I was so surprised when Philip told me he found a newborn baby lamb in the barn last evening! Esther, our registered Jacob ewe, gave birth to a perfectly spotted little ram lamb!

On Monday several girls in the flock were talking to me when I went out to the barn that morning. They rarely gather around to speak with me. I told them I appreciated the heads up and that we would be looking out for babies. Sure enough, the fall lambing season has begun.

I went straight to the barn when I got home. The air was dark, cool and deliciously moist. Eyes blinked when I turned on the lights in the barn. Coco looked at me questioningly. The goats stirred. Chickens gently clucked and hopped down from the roost. I went into the upper level of the barn to investigate. In a stall was Esther and her sweet, teeny little baby. Nice and clean. She was nuzzling baby, talking to him, using the sweet language mothers speak only to sweet little newborn babies. Murmur, purr-purr, whisper as she nuzzles him toward the source of his nourishment.

I left them alone and said hello to the other girls and guys in the flock. A couple of the Cotswold-Jacob crosses stuck their noses out at me, asking for a scratch. How unusual! The sheep are a rather skittish group. Not exactly warm and friendly. I scratched noses for a good long time. "When are you girls going to have your babies? Must be tired carrying around those kicking things. Here, you deserve a nice scratch. Maybe tomorrow will be your lucky day!"

We were quiet. The flock settled back down. I took another look at Esther. She had passed her afterbirth. Good. All well.

Saying goodnight to the goats and cows, I asked Priscilla is she was going to calve pretty soon herself. She just grunted, stretched and chewed her cud. Moon was hidden behind clouds. But moon is full. We will enjoy a bright evening tonight if the clouds don't keep her covered up. Nice and bright for more arrivals. I hope they are healthy ones.

By the way, it is still raining today. Thankful for rising water tables. Thankful that damp soil is easier weed-pulling soil. We hope to get some turnips and onions planted today. Good day according to the farmer's almanac to plant below-ground bearing vegetables.

PS Please pray for my friend Becky and her daughter Brooke. Brooke's body is fighting a rare and vicious cancer. Thank you so much.

Saying Goodbye

We said goodbye to Ingrid on Monday night.

I had a meeting that evening so Patrick made dinner in my stead. He boiled a couple of the roosters and made his homemade biscuits to top chicken pot pit. Thomas made some VERY garlicky mashed potatoes to go on the side. Maggie made brownies. When I returned from my meeting I was happy to see everyone still enjoying themselves and was able to visit with Ingrid's parents.

It is sad to say goodbye.

We get very attached to the people who stay with us.

I told Mr. and Mrs. Pierce that we like our interns to stay a part of our life, even if they never come pull another weed. Working alongside another person is such a great opportunity for everyone to learn something, not just the intern. We are humbled at having a volunteer do our dirty work. We are humbled at having someone else take interest in our lifestyle.

Ingrid will now get ready to get back to her real job, teaching. Her students are blessed. She dreams of applying some of what she learned right away, planting a fall garden. She would like to acquire some chickens, just a handful, and eventually have a couple or three goats to milk. She can do it!

I would like to send her a blessing:

May your weeds always pull up thoroughly by the roots, may your goats stand sweetly while you milk, and may the manure that comes your way enrich the soil of your life so that you bear much fruit!

Thank you Ingrid. You have blessed us richly. I hope we will get to share many more meals with you through all the different seasons. I hope your hard-earned calluses and muscles serve you will this fall!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cool Mornings

It is around 54 degrees this morning. Misty and damp. Should warm up to mid 80s with a couple of rainy days this week.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this year's cooler temperatures. We still have a lot of August ahead of us so I will try to be prepared for the heat. I imagine that about the time we need to can tomatoes and green beans the heat will turn on. In the meantime, I am enjoying the cool evenings and mornings.

Life in the Blue Ridge Mountains... I hope it stays this way for my parent's visit from sun-baked Texas!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August Equals Exhausted

I am completely exhausted.

Believe it or not, I love hard work. Was made to work hard. Feel exhilarated by hard work.

Usually that works out great for me. Eventually the batteries need to be recharged, however, and for me that means an afternoon or two alone, not having to direct or organize or instruct. This past week allowed for no such breaks. By the time 8pm rolled around last night, I was weepy, mad and exhausted.

Exchanged harsh words with my hard-working husband. Went upstairs to my room and cried on the phone with a good friend. Sobbed. Quit my job.

Quit farming.

Quit baking.

Quit gardening.

Quit cooking.

Quit washing clothes.

Quit milking the cow.

Tried to read a chapter of Solzhenitsyn's AUGUST 1914. Realized that what I really needed was a good night's sleep, so turned off the light.

Cried a few more tears because I hate to be out of steam.

Didn't go downstairs for my coffee or to even milk Coco til everyone was out of the house at church.

Why do I share this with the world? Does anyone out there really want to hear the dirty details of life on the farm?

Well, I think they need to. A few people interested in sustainable agriculture might read a blog or two here or there, an article or flowery book here or there and think that organic farming is all about the romantic table in the candlelight, platters of abundant feast spread before healthy tan faces with healthy callused hands.

Farming is all about feasts and health and great hard work. It is also about working harder and longer than you want to sometimes. It is sweat, tears, occasional blood shed. It is knowing when to stop, but not being able to just yet.

Farming is great for teaching limits, exposing vulnerabilities, and for learning forgiveness, mercy and grace.

So, tears shed, face washed, I said farewell to Rachel and brothers when they came to the house to get their dog, Melody. I should mention that at one point, I sat on the floor to cry and all three Black labs came to comfort me. Melody even tried to give me her stuffed rabbit.

I guess I share this because I hope that someone out there might need to hear a word about grace. About human frailty and pride. About wanting to be more than is humanly possible.

I left the house before the rest of the gang got home from church. Need to go to the bank and make deposits. Driving up and down the mountain I cried out to the Lord.

"I am hungry!" was all I could squeak out. Hungry for food, for silence, for mercy and rest.

The car drove itself to Thong's Thai Too in South Roanoke. I have only come here a couple of times before, but the owner is sweet and the food is terrific. A friend gave me a financial gift and I had thought to use it on something really practical.

This meal seems really practical to me. It is late, so things are quiet here. I can type between courses courtesy of the free wi-fi.

My rest started when the owner served my my appetizer of fried calamari with the sweet-spicy sauce. He took my napkin and opened it up for me. Such a simple gesture, but it made me feel cared for and served. The calamari was delicious.

The drunken noodles with seafood are so yummy. Exotic flavors make me forget long hours and bills, dirty clothes and weeds. At least for a moment. I rarely eat dessert, but I think today I will have the sticky rice with mango. A two-hour vacation.

I share this because I hope that other hard-working folks will know when it is okay to cry. That occasionally you have to quit your job and rehire yourself the next day.

I LOVE farming.

I LOVE baking.

I LOVE milking and cooking and mothering.

I LOVE family and friends.

And I know that a season of rest is coming. Eventually. But in the meantime, it is very important to remember to take an occasional 2 hour vacation to maintain sustainability. Because we are just entering harvest season.

The rain continues to fall daily. The weeds are taking over the garden again. The rest of the potatoes need to be harvested and the green beans will be ready to can very soon. We have made several batches of blackberry jam with berries we foraged. More to be picked. Then the wild currants will be ready. By that time the tomatoes will be ready and that is another story altogether.

So, here is my obligatory whining session. Thanks for listening! Please don't give up when the going gets tough. Cry out to God. Cry with a friend if you need. Take a two hour vacation and let someone else serve you for at least a moment. Share war stories with another farmer who is probably going through the same stuff, maybe different flavor.

Feasting WILL come. I just know it in my bones. In fact, I think I will feast right now on this delicious sticky rice with mango.

Thank you God for Thong's Thai!