Thursday, December 31, 2009

Once In a Blue Moon

2009 draws to a close.

We enjoyed a fabulous feast with Kathryn and kids tonight. Whole trout, roasted with garlic and olive oil, boiled salted potatoes, sauteed green beans. A beurre blanc citron (lemon butter sauce) fromo Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Champagne for the grownups, club soda for the rest of the gang.

Sitting around the festive table, candles aglow, we covered at least part of the highlights of 2009. Special hikes, journeys to far away places like Texas and India and New York, fun visits with friends, gifts received and given. What a huge year. We had some wonderful and horrible moments.

We acknowledged gratitude that this year the farm generated a decent amount of food and income for our family. Tomorrow we will enjoy New Year foods and dream dreams of the days to come.

After clearing our plates we all ran outside, hoping for a glimpse of the moon.

She shone bright like a beacon, swathed in sheer flowing gray clouds. We laughed in delight as we noticed our moon shadows. Even the trees in the woods cast long, stark shadows.

Patrick and Max ran with delight down the field, whooping as they explored their territory, lit up by magic.

We wondered if the blue moon, blue not due to color, but due to the rare occurence, portended good news. We hoped so.

Dogs barked on the other side of the ridge. Our animals slept on in the barn, not caring one bit that the old year was passing and the new was sliding in, just like the shimmery grey clouds sliding over the face of the dear, sweet moon.

We hugged and said our good nights and happy new years. Children play board games and mind the fire. They don't worry about sleep deprivation and grumpy mornings. They are energized by the blue moon and play happily. I think about them, smile, and prepare to go to bed.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 5th Day of Christmas

The moon is almost full tonight. The snow glows.

The wind blew in last night. Blew so hard it knocked off a very large branch from the Bradford pear on the driveway. Julie and the boys cut it up into firewood. So thankful for all the teamwork. The other children played in the snow. Still plenty for sledding on the north hill.

We said goodbye to Julie and kids and hello to King Max and his mother and sister.

After sharing of stories the fireplace and woodstove are fully stoked and we are full of split pea soup and toast. Time to tuck in.

The temperatures are falling and already down in the low 20s. Somebody better get up and feed the fire now that Julie is not on duty, otherwise we are going to wake up very, very cold. Thomas and Patrick split a nice bunch of firewood so we should be good. I love a nice cozy house. Not much is worse than a freezing cold one.

The holidays continue. How blessed we are to enjoy the company of so many dear friends, both in Texas, Tennessee and Arkansas and here at home.

Coco and Priscilla are tucked in the barn tonight, in a special stall, just in case. One of these days they are going to surprise us with babies. We don't want them to be out in the cold at that time. I certainly am thankful for a barn full of hay at this point. Thanks to our friends who helped us this summer. All that sweat equity is making a lot of herbivores very happy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Back in the Saddle, Metaphorically Speaking

Now I feel like we are officially home.

We cleaned out the barn this afternoon.

We have house guests, dear friends, Julie and kids from Charlotte, NC. House guests or no, the barn is dirty, missing us for over 2 weeks. I couldn't deal with it and make Christmas dinner, so put it off til today. After over a week of 2 feet of snow, a mysterious flood and many cold animals hanging out in the barn, we had quite a chore.

I have discovered that Thomas is kind of like a diesel engine. 16 years old, he would prefer to read fourteen epic novels, play 24 hours of Monopoly and study 20 semesters of World War II history than to shovel out the barn. The first 20 minutes or so I direct, he moves slowly. Finally, divine inspiration falls. As Julie and I move soaked and sodden straw and manure, standing in water that has flooded the entire middle section of the barn (remember, Ingrid?), Thomas carefully and meticulously moved his shovel.

Very carefully.

The other kids did their part, some better than others, but I have rather high expectations for a strong, young man.

Our dear friend picked up the pitchfork to start loading the trailer. So did Thomas.

He continued to work carefully.

Loading manure into a trailer is not careful work. It is hard, use all your muscles, get that job done so we can go back into the warm house work.

I threw down the gauntlet.

As I manned the other pitchfork, I suggested to Thomas that whomever finished with the biggest pile of manure/water-logged straw on the trailer had to buy the loser a big, yummy, fancy chocolate bar. Make mine very dark, studded with nuts and orange peel.

He grinned, hitched up his pants, adjusted his handsome glasses and nice new winter hat, monogrammed by his Aunt Janet and picked up that pitchfork.

The motor started, we both got to work, bantering, laughing, occasionally splatting each other with sludge.

Julie, dear friend, continued to move that manure to us, occasionally assisted by other kids, mostly by herself.

What kind of friend comes for a Christmas visit, brings mountains of presents and food and then SHOVELS MANURE???!!!???

What seemed like an absolutely daunting, impossible task, a flooded barn, 2 weeks of manure and straw, turned into a challenge, an enemy to be conquered.

The mountain became a molehill. Teamwork once again proved to be the ticket to a job well done.

I think we tied.

Thomas thinks his pile is bigger.


Guess I will get Philip to be the judge. Maybe we all need a chocolate bar. Make mine extra dark, nuts and orange peel.

I love my family and friends. But I guess they will love me better if I get my shower and make some supper. Pastured pork chops, spaghetti squash and butternut squash from the garden, green beans from my sister's garden (thanks, Tata!).

Right now some ibuprofen and a glass of red wine. I need something to help these aching muscles after trying to compete with a 16 year old!

By the way, it is great to be home. The sheep are so woolly! They are warm in their winter coats. Philip said that they looked like moving snow mountains after the blizzard! Several of the goats are looking nice and pregnant, especially Nita. She should be due in February. The goats are so fuzzy! Piggies like to bury themselves in the hay and straw. Silly things. Ducks enjoyed bathing in the melted snow today. So cold! Geese, chickens and guineas looked on. I wish they would start laying more eggs. Maybe in a couple of months or so.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Eating Locally-summary

Eating locally is better for the economy. Better for small communities. Better for families. Better for the country.

Eating locally helped us to connect with people and appreciate their jobs. We prayed a blessing for each of the families who owned the restaurants that served us.

Eating locally is more expensive if you do not carry your own food with you. Even so, it isn't really more expensive than most fast food establishments.

Eating locally takes a lot more time. We added many hours to the two-week trip looking for businesses that were family owned. Keep in mind we were in some pretty remote places, but the most difficult places to eat locally were the towns situated along the interstate. The little podunk towns actually had pretty thriving local economies. But they had to be quite far from the interstate.

Eating locally can be more healthy than eating corporate food, but not necessarily so. Healthy ingredients are more expensive. Our challenge wasn't to eat all locally sourced ingredients, but to do so when possible. The challenge was to support local economy. Local doesn't equal healthy or organic or grass-fed. But it did keep us from eating a lot of junk food. We ate more picnics and boiled eggs are certainly more healthy than the dollar menu items at the corporate fast food chains.

I have many more thoughts on eating locally and traveling and Wendell Barry and Christmas, but I think I have spewed forth enough for the moment! Tired! Must go to bed. But at least I can sleep now that I have some of those posts off my chest!


Must mention that after we said farewell to Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Janet it was lunchtime.

I needed something fast for the drive but wanted to stay local. Found the HiDHo, a burger/icecream joint that was around when I was a little girl. We got our meal and headed down the road. Can't say that the food was great. Well, it was abysmal, actually. But we were happy to support an institution that has been around for decades without corporate backing. We probably should have had the milkshakes. That is their specialty!

As we left Rogers area and headed to Ft Smith and I40 the rain began to fall. It got worse and worse and by the time the dark fell upon us, the traffic was thick and the roads slick and miserable. I kept reminding myself and the kids that we counted the cost and knew it would be a difficult drive home.

At some point we stopped in a little town for coffee. All we could see were Starbucks, McDonald's the usual. I said to the kids that we didn't have time to drive all over town for local coffee. The kids were divided. Just stop at Starbucks. NO! Don't quit yet!

I decided to drive 2 blocks and see what we could find.

A coffee shack! Small, family owned. I got coffee, we chatted, and I was happy Patrick encouraged me to not give up so easily.

As we drove on and on, I felt a niggly feeling telling me we needed to get off the road and pause for an hour to eat and let traffic calm down. I was having to drive 45 miles an hour on the interstate, it was dangerous and messy. Couldn't find a grocers. It was dark and businesses were closing. We found a little Chinese restaurant. The buffet was definitely over our budget. What to do? I asked if we could order off the menu and the young girl assured me we could. Egg drop soup, rice, egg foo yound and some chicken dish was half the price of the buffet. We were served sweetly, we ate all we needed without being tempted to overindulge in the all-you-can-eat buffet. After getting back on the road, we passed several accidents and wondered if our meal spared us?

At this point in our journey we knew that we had to keep driving if we wanted to get home by Christmas Eve night.

Drive we did. With an occasional nap.

We listened to more Chronicles of Narnia. Didn't even bother us that it was the second time around!

BUT at 5am I broke down and bought a cup of McDonald's coffee at a gas stop.


But needy and needing to stay awake to get home.

Too many hours to go. Long distance driving for that many miles is not healthy. I don't recommend it on a regular basis. However we continued to remind ourselves why we were having to push so hard and sang some more Christmas songs.

Thankfully we reached my sister's home in Kingston in the early morning hours, ate some breakfast, washed faces, brushed teeth and left for the last leg of the trip with the gift of a ham, green beans from her garden and many other goodies.

The main worry for the children had nothing to do with food, eating locally or budgets. Their main concern was the snow. And would there be any left on the farm.

Happy day! The white blanket covered everything and we were so pleased to see the hills, the mountains and Philip. After unloading, returning rental van and getting back home, we had a nice supper of locally popped corn, the kids decorated the tree and we frantically wrapped gifts, regaled with stories from Philip of the huge snow the week before. Must have gotten over 2 feet of snow.


Cold and wet, rainy or not, we are glad to be home. No baby calves yet. All the animals seem fine and the dogs and cats especially glad to see the kids. I am glad to see Philip and I think he is very glad to see us!

I did give fair warning about the volcano of erupting accumulated posts!

After a huge breakfast of overly processed refined foods at the $40 Name Your Own Price Hampton Inn in Springdale we drove the the Retirement Home apartment where my grandparents now live in Rogers, Arkansas.

I haven't seen my grandparents for a couple of years and was a bit surprised to see how they have aged. I wanted to cry. Guess I did cry a bit, but tried to be discreet. My grandpa is a retired minister and even upon retirement spent many years sending out an email Bible study. Parkinsons and other old folks issues has made it hard for him to type and to even pray out loud.

My aunt directed the kids, Grandma and Grandpa and me up to the library where we sat and visited. We told them about the farm and asked them about their young days of milking and making butter. Grandma told us that her grandma was the one who milked the cow and made the butter. She sold it to neighbors. (Guess it was legal back then when people weren't so "protected" by the govt.) Grandpa said his mom did the milking but as he remembered taking a turn with the churn, it was amazing to see his arm and hand immediately take up the proper positioning. I think he had many turns with the churn! We told him we use the blender and it takes 5 minutes to make but many more to squeeze out the water. He told us it took a very long time to churn the butter and even longer to squeeze out the water. He said everyone liked his mom's butter the best in all the area because hers stayed sweeter for a long time since she was so meticulous. He also remembered being a seven year old and riding horses with his friends, jumping over wagon ruts. He went to court my grandma on horseback. They washed clothes with a scrub board and he could remember the blisters on raw knuckles and the harsh homemade lye soap.

We loved hearing the stories and I felt so privileged for the kids to be able to relate to so many things! Thank God for moving us to the farm.

We took pictures then moved to the little chapel down the hall where the girls played their piano pieces and Aunt Janet played Christmas carols out of the hymnal for us to sing. Teary farewells were said.

No regrets.

Wise decision.

Even though horrible weather accompanied us all the way out of Arkansas, we rejoiced to know that we got to share some very special moments with my grandparents, the GREAT grandparents of the kids. Married for over 74 years. Remembered the ice box and the 50lb chunks of ice delivered several times a week, remembered the day when all eating was local eating. Fast food was the burger shack situated along the highway. Nobody drove 70 miles an hour. People travelled at night to avoid the sun.

We said I Love You many times. We said goodbye.

I grieved as we drove for several hours.

Eating locally on a budget is easier at the beginning of a two week trip with a full ice chest from home.

In Fort Worth we had to make a decision. Go to Arkansas and see my 98 year old Grandparents and visit with them, adding more time to the trip, meaning we would get home late Christmas Eve, or skip Arkansas and have time to prepare for Christmas.

We deliberated, counted the cost, figured that it would be costly, both in travel money and time.

Earlier that morning I was praying, seeking wisdom. Went to the Proverbs. The chapter of the day included the verse, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."

It flashed at me like a neon sign.

I knew we needed to go see my grandparents so my children would learn to value the elderly. So they could hear stories and see old precious faces and hug necks and play the piano and sing songs and give joy. If we didn't they might learn the lesson that decorating the house and wrapping presents is more important that family.

So we set our faces to the north and joined the masses of cars heading out of the city and drove toward Arkansas.

Tired of the van, stories finished, we sang Christmas song after Christmas song, scanned the radio stations, bickered, ate oranges, bickered, ate Aunt Jo's christmas cookies (YUM), and silently watched the flat lands turn into the Ozarks.

We tried to figure out how in the world we were going to eat locally as the money drained into the gas tank. We found a Braum's, a regional icecreamery/burger joint. Instead of the prepared foods, we went to the grocery section, bought a loaf of discounted bread, lunch meat and cheese and made sandwiches in the car as we drove. No romantic picnic grounds, just plain sandwiches and the road.

Sort of local.

Dr. Pepper

Our travels took us through many worldly cities! Athens, Palestine, London, Marathon and even Dublin!

Dublin is the home of the world famous Dr. Pepper.

We don't typically drink soda. High fructose corn syrup is our enemy.

However, it seemed only right to pop into the Dr. Pepper factory and museum to buy the kids a locally-owned and produced soda pop!

8 oz little glass bottles house a soda with an amazingly short ingredient list, for a soda pop. that is. If you grew up where I grew up you would call it a Coke. Even if it were Dr. Pepper. The Dublin-made Dr. Pepper is made with Imperial cane sugar, grown in Texas.

Dr Pepper isn't exactly healthy, but it made for a very fun treat. The kids agreed that it was the best Coke they had ever consumed!

When we reached Ft Worth, I continued the locally grown junk food theme. We bought Mrs. Baird's fried pies at a gas station. We knew the Bairds from our church days in Ft Worth. The grandmother, Mrs. Ninnie Baird, started baking bread to sell in her woodstove oven in 1911. Her children delivered the breads and pies on foot. Little by little her business grew and now Mrs. Bairds is a huge company. Philip reminded me that the family sold the company in the 90's, so when we bought those fried pies, it wasn't really locally owned by the family anymore. Oh well. When we got the Mrs. Bairds fried pies, I told the kids about how Mr and Mrs. Baird gave Philip and me valuable marriage counseling via a program at our church, and how much they blessed us and prayed for us, and how they gave more than they received. It felt local!

And it was food with a story. Which is very valuable.

In Fort Worth we drove around and saw our old homes. Shared memories. Wondered why the owners of our old home cut down the wonderful mulberry that gave the kids so much delight. Maybe they didn't appreciate the messy fruit that delighted little children and many little birds.

Cheap Fast Food Costs Too Much

Monday morning, the 21st, we celebrated Patrick's 14th birthday. How could that cute little fella turn into a young man so quickly? I remember when we hiked the South Rim, Patrick and Thomas and I, when Patrick was 7 years old and Thomas, not quite 10. What was I thinking? We will never forget that hike, and the biggest cheeseburgers we ever ate afterward!

As I packed up camp the kids and their grandpa took one more 5 mile hike. I had the idea we would leave the park by 10 am or so, but couldn't resist the opportunity for the kids to spend a bit more time with their cousin and grandparents and aunt.

Mom made us egg salad sandwiches with the rest of the smoked trout for lunch and we filled up our water bottles and mason jars and tearfully said goodbye. One is not allowed to take anything out of the national park, so as soon as we hit the outer boundary of the park, Thomas and I picked some creosote to take home so I could smell it any time I wanted.

Eating and drinking locally is fun, but a bit challenging. I wanted a cup of coffee in Fort Stockton. Could have gotten one at the gas station, but felt that was cheating. We looked and looked for a diner. Finally we found a Mexican cafe, locally owned taqueria with a drive-up window. I bought a huge cup of coffee and felt happy to support their business and keep the $3 dollars in Fort Stockton instead of the Exxon corporation.

Our "Eat Local While Traveling" challenge made me consider so many things. For one, sustainability really does require diversity. The only way to sell only coffee, if you are a local business, is to sell it out of a shack or a little trailer. Most little towns cannot sustain a coffee-only shop. Starbucks can survive in a busy community but it is awfully hard for a locally owned business to make it. Possible, but hard. We saw very few "coffee shops" on our trip. Many Starbucks. Few coffee shops. Had to buy coffee at diners, taquerias, Mom and Pop restaurants. Rent is too expensive for most people to sell only coffee. I love Starbucks coffee, but felt so much happier drinking coffee that supported families and local communities.

As we drove through Central Texas we covered much territory. Lots and lots of little towns. Not too many places to grab a quick cheap bite of locally owned food. I didn't know what we were going to do. Most little towns close up by 8pm. At 8:45 I was praying about where to eat. Wanted something that would feed the family for under $20. We reached Ballinger. White and blue neon sign flashed. Best Fried Chicken.


We considered the drive-up window and decided that in honor of Patrick's birthday we would walk in. The chicken place was nicely painted, meticulously cleaned and it was obvious that the crew of young people were doing their best to get closed up and home right on time. I hated to order, but did it anyway. Box of fried chicken, box of fried okra and another box of french fries. Under $20. Plenty for everyone, plus leftovers that covered lunch the next day. I was so happy to give our business to a nice local business. We drove past many McDonalds and were sorely tempted to make it fast and cheap.

I think it costs too much to eat cheap.

We listened to the last of our Chronicles of Narnia cds. We enjoyed little Texas towns and county seats and courthouses. We sang Christmas songs and the girls played many games of Concentration.

Texas is a very big state. Especially when driving through from bottom to top!

Hiking is another of my favorite things. (OK, I guess I have a lot of favorite things)

Maybe sausage and pancakes for breakfast might just possibly be better than bacon and eggs while camping out. At least homegrown sausage and homemade 4-grain pancake mix is a wonderful thing to enjoy on a freezing cold morning in the mountainous desert air. Coffee with cream from a local Texan dairy, Promised Land, was great. French press is the only way to go on camping trips.

The agenda for Day 3 of our camping trip was a hike to the South Rim. An aprox. 14 mile hike up and back. The day before I mentioned that we might want to pack and be ready to leave early as it is such a strenuous hike. No one seemed terribly interested in preparations. Consequently we got off to a very late start, but at least we were sufficiently fed! And with backpacks filled with boiled eggs, smoked trout, grilled chicken, nuts and lots of water a small propane cooker and tea bags, we were sufficiently stocked for the trek.

We took the trail that headed for the Pinnacles, some amazing rock formations. Several miles of switchbacks, valleys, various varieties of oaks and pine trees warmed us up. Frost dusted the shady spots on the trail but sun was shining and sweaters and gloves were quickly shed. The warm sun toasted the pine needles and the perfume seemed to energize us.

Due to the late start I was a trail warden. No, too early for lunch. Keep moving! Not quite yet!

Even so, we paused to take many pictures along the way, especially when we reached Boot Canyon. There is a huge rock formation that looks like an upside down boot. Once we reached Boot Spring we picnicked. "Local" food tasted like food for the gods as we stretched our sore muscles. Over three miles of uphill hiking made me feel like I was not 20 anymore! Burn, baby burn. Goodbye fried pies!

Alligator juniper, weeping juniper, Texas madrone, Arizona Cypress, Chisos red oak, oh why didn't I remember our tree book?

As we hiked up the 2000-3000 foot incline we marveled at the change in flora and fauna. The meadows filled with feather grass made me want to sprawl out for a nap. I remembered past hikes and naps in the sun, cushioned by the grassy pillows! The deer especially enjoy those nice meadows.

We reached the South Rim and couldn't believe how far we could see! Miles and miles of desert, on into Mexico. Wow.

Food stores depleted, water stores running low, we made our way down the mountains. Over 8 miles back to trailhead.

8 miles.

Tired feet and legs moved across the ridge. Worried mom looked at the sky. Dark comes quickly in the mountains. With dusk comes animal activity. I suggested we pick up the pace a little bit.

Endorphins are a wonderful thing. At the beginning of our hike my legs could barely move. They burned. They complained. They told me that I haven't been using them very often over the past couple of months.

After the 6 miles up the mountain they were nicely warmed up and as we jogged down they sang with joy.

You have to understand. I absolutely hate to run. Hate to jog. Hate it. I do not enjoy exercise one bit.

But hiking is different. The smells of the air, the view of the mountains and valleys make me feel exhilarated.

As we jogged down the smooth stretches of path I felt alive! I felt strong and healthy and free. I felt like flying. Even as I laughed at myself and my silliness, I thanked God for giving us muscles that worked for us. For the lungs that breathed, for the air to breathe, for strong back and feet (even if they really did hurt at that point).

The sun set. The sliver of crescent moon rose. The lights of the campground flickered. Christine, the tired 5 kids and I sang Christmas carols loudly. I am sure that every wild animal within a 5 mile radius ran far away after 12 verses of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Victorious, we reached the campground, tired, but not too tired to cook up a delicious meal in honor of Patrick's 14th birthday.

Grilled Porkchops
Sauteed turnips from my dad's garden and Christine's garden at work
Collard greens from Christine's work garden, sauteed in bacon and olive oil, braised with balsamic vinegar and garlic
Green beans from Daddy's garden

And stars. More stars. Millions and millions of stars. And laughter.

PS Thank you, Natural Gardener of Austin for the treat of the greens and turnips. We LOVE eating locally!

Is There Anything Better than Bacon and Eggs for Breakfast while Camping?

Next morning we woke up to very brisk, very cold air and very deflated air mattress. At least Nora was a warm heating pad as she slept on top of me!

Bacon and eggs are our traditional first campout breakfast. Next to creosote, it is my favorite smell.

The Chisos Mountains are the mountains that form the Basin, the area we prefer for camping in Big Bend National Park. Peaks are over 6000 ft, the campground is over 5000 ft. From the basin, one can view the desert floor through the "Window" an opening in the mountains. Javelina, deer, skunk and even mountain lions and black bears roam the area, not to mention a horde of other little critters, insects, snakes and many many birds.

There are so many things I could write about Big Bend, but I guess I should recommend that you should go visit the place yourself sometime. I have been visiting the park for over 30 years. My mom has painted the Big Bend since I was a young teenager and even as an adult we would take the kids camping there every time we got the chance.

So we ate our breakfast, cleaned up camp then drove down the mountain to Boquillas Canyon. A short hike to the mouth of the canyon leads one past metates, holes made by native americans who ground their maize and mezquite beans into flour. They are found in the limestone near the Rio Grande. I asked Thomas if he wanted us to grind our grain that way, but both of us decided we are perfectly happy with our stone burr mill! The cold Rio Grande flowed into the mouth of the huge canyon, walls looming over us. The kids did their favorite thing, that is, climb up an enormous sand dune. Enormous. Humongous. Gigantic. Then fling themselves down, roll down, run down and get completely covered in sand.

It really is fun. But I decided against the flinging myself down the sand dune since we had several days to go until we met up with a shower. Maybe I should have. Talk about a wonderful exfoliation experience.

Anyway, after we had all the sand we could stand, we hiked back to the van, drove the 45 minutes back to the campsite and started making our late lunch, early dinner: lentil stew with homemade flatbread (thanks, Dad, for the use of the cast iron griddle!). Mom, Dad, my sister Christine and her son Jake arrived and set up camp with us. Yeay! They even brought Christmas decorations!

Another night of stars. I even saw a shooting one. Cold red wine in a jelly jar, long underwear and a visit with my sister sitting at the picnic table was a very good thing.

(a leaky air mattress is not, but c'est la vie!)

Fried Apricot Pie, or My Favorite Things.

So, after an amazing fish fry, eating bass and drum my dad and his friends caught, we finished packing up gear to leave for Big Bend National Park.

Four am we drove away from Sunrise Beach and at five am we passed through London, Texas. I always wanted to stop in London. There was a teeny little cafe-fish bait shop with the lights on so I stopped to replenish the caffeine supply. Clean, utilitarian, the coffee was cheap and definitely fresh at that hour.

The rest of the drive we ate oranges, homemade candy, cookies and boiled eggs.

I love the drive from central Texas to the Big Bend. Hill country spotted here and there with wooden windmills, stock tanks and rolling countryside gives way to flat open plains, plateaus and lines of white soldiers, the high tech windmills supplying a significant amount of energy to the state. Limestone and caliche color everything white. Acrid smell of what used to be known as black gold assaults the nose. Oil wells dot the landscape.

Before you know it, the live oaks are gone, replaced by creosote, a scrubby little brushy bush that in springtime is covered in tiny delicate yellow flowers. I think it is one of my favorite plants. Seems to be able to survive anywhere. I read once that a creosote bush can live thousands of years! It provides shade for desert-living animals. Must not be very palatable or it would not be so prolific in the desert. What I find most attractive about creosote (larrea tridentata) is the smell. After a rain, the smell of the creosote permeates the air. In fact, whenever I make a trip to Big Bend, about the time we hit Marathon I open up all the windows and breathe in deeply. Ahhh. Dry air perfumed with my favorite smell of all time.

So we pulled into Marathon around 11 am and again I reckon I better get myself a cup of coffee since we left the ground coffee with mom and dad and wouldn't have any for some time. Shirley's Burnt Biscuit was right on the main drag. Well, there really is only one street in the town, a few dirt roads. I was going to run in, grab a cup of coffee and drive on, but it seemed wrong to be so fast in such a slow little town. We piled out of the van, made our way into the shop where a nice cowboy. tall and lanky, stood behind the counter.

After seeing the homemade fried apricot and cherry pies, the food budget went out the window. You have to understand. Fried pies are one of those things that I always enjoyed every Sunday dinner on the grounds, when Aunt Ruth Vann (no, not our aunt, but yes, everyone's aunt at our little church out in the country)brought a big platter of apple ones. When we lived on the farm we had an apricot tree and mom would make us fried pies too. Crispy little packets, crusty crust, sprinkled with just a bit of white cane sugar. Hot, steaming packets of pure love. Making fried pies is a lot of work. Those pies you see wrapped in plastic at country stores are not even a shadow of a true fried pie.

So we bought fried pies and coffee. A couple of scrambled egg burritos. We sat down at the tables and enjoyed every morsel. We walked through the antique store attached and enjoyed seeing so many prettys for tea parties. We remembered to hold our hands behind our backs to make sure we didn't break anything. We chatted with the nice cowboy ( yes, that is the part of the state where REAL cowboys live, he just happened to be helping out his sister and brother-in-law who own the place). The nice fellow gave us a bag of homemade cookies to eat on the drive.

That was a great fried apricot pie!

Very satisfied we journeyed south to the park, set up camp at our absolutely favorite campsite in the Basin, number 60. The kids explored, finding mountain lion tracks while I napped. We then made venison guisado, a Mexican stew. I chopped up garlic and onion, seared the venison(which we brought frozen from the farm) in the pot with oil, then cooked up the onion and garlic with cumin, threw in a can of chopped tomatoes, some chile pepper and water then let it cook down on the propane camp stove for 45 minutes. While it simmered I made up some homemade tortillas(from whole wheat flour we milled at Mom's. The wind picked up, it got very chilly and we got very tired. After gobbling down our stew we readied for bed. At 7pm.

The stars at night are truly big and bright deep in the heart of Texas. Big Bend is known for excellent stargazing. Fort Davis, north of the park, is the home of the McDonald Observatory. Clear desert skies, little to no light pollution all contribute to a wonderful sight. I had forgotten. I was stunned with the beauty. But too tired and cold to observe for very long. Tucked into the tent, Crime and Punishment intrigued me for no more than 5 minutes. Sleep came quickly!

A Volcano

The latter half of our journey to Texas was made sans internet connection.

Hence no blogging.

I have so many unwritten posts in my head I want to explode. Even though I feel a bit silly being a blogger, it is a helpful tool for me to process mountains of thoughts, insights, images and ponderings.

I don't know where to begin. I think I will try to remember bits and pieces and beg for patience as memories and moments erupt.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


A visit home is not complete unless Daddy invites his fishing buddies and their wives over to enjoy a fish fry with us.

So glad! I can smell the tradition. Fried potatoes, homemade pico de gallo, earthy fish and garlic aroma fill the house.

Noone fries fish like my Dad. Noone makes pico de gallo like my dad either.

I think I have gained at least 5 pounds on this trip so far, trying to catch up on all the missed traditions! We have almost finished packing the camping gear and plan to head to Big Bend National Park for some hiking to work off all that tradition!

I should mention that it is so nice to enjoy to rusty colors of the Spanish Oak, the deep, dark green of the live oaks, the flaxen colored grasses, the silver green prickly pear and delicate gold of the mesquite trees. We had rain this morning but it cleared off quickly to reveal fluffy white clouds and clear blue sky. I am hoping that the weather report is off and that the temperatures will be much warmer on our campout than predicted.

BTW, those of you who pray, PLEASE say a prayer for peace as we tackle another long drive tomorrow. Happy thoughts for happy kids and mom! (And safety, too, of course!)

I heard the call, "Soup's on!" calls my dad. Better run enjoy some tradition. THANKS, DAD!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Need More Time

Yesterday we went to San Antonio with Mom. We made a quick stop in Fredericksburg to the gallery that carries her work. It was amazing to see so many new paintings. I am so proud of my mom.

We got to downtown San Antone at dusk. The riverwalk was adorned with thousands of glittering jewels. The kids (and the grownups) oohed and aahed as we strolled along the path. Dinner was Mom's treat: Casa Rio. A restaurant right on the riverside that has been run by the same family since 1946. I had crispy flautas. We ate many crispy chips with salsa and queso. We shivered a little bit, but even so, alfresco in San Antonio in December is not the same as al fresco in Virginia! I guess that restaurant has been our family tradition since I was able to walk! The kids especially enjoyed watching the ducks come up from the river to beg at the little tables.

Today Mom and I left Daddy and the kids picking pecans. The harvest isn't great this year, but they did their best! We met my sister in Austin for lunch at the Magnolia Cafe, quintessential local Austin diner! I enjoyed the blackened catfish and pecan salad. Yumm! In a few minutes, my sister, her boyfriend and I will enjoy some Catawba Valley grass-fed beef.

The days are flying. Too hard trying to fit in 3 years worth of visit in one day. But we are doing our darnedest!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


We made it home to mom and dad's last night. A couple of hours later than I wished.

I had mentioned to Mom yesterday morning that our ambition of countryside driving would be greatly tempered by 7pm. Actually, when we hit Waco at 5pm instead of 3pm I wondered if I had made a great mistake.

Travel-weary kids picked and poked and took great offense. Road bleary mom wondered if she should discipline or ignore or simply turn up the radio and sing loudly.

After filling up the gas tank I looked at the clock still registering Virginia time. Too long for little tummies to wait for supper. What to do? We had been eating oranges and apples. Dad was cooking supper. Didn't want to spend much money or spoil appetites.

Across the parking lot was a drive-up chicken shack. Bush's Chicken.




We drove up and several red t-shirt clad kids ran up to car windows to take orders. Menu was stenciled on cinder block wall.


I had left my bank card somewhere. Ooops. Had aproximately $6 to my name after buying gasoline.

There on the menu was a box of fried gizzards for just the right amount. With gravy.

I have a confession.

Fried chicken is one of my favorite foods. Not KFC or Bojangles, but small eatery fried chicken. Really any kind of fried food is a favorite, but fried chicken especially. And I think it might have been at least 25 years or more since I last bought fried chicken gizzards. One of my highschool jobs was working at a local fried chicken eatery.

Maybe some of you think gizzards are gross. That is how I feel about chicken liver.

But when that young fellow brought our white box of crispy, semi-tought, golden battered morsels of memory out to the car, we all began to drool. I think he might have felt sorry for me, counting out the change, with all those ravenous kids in the van, because he gave us way more gizzards than ordered.

What a fun way to eat locally!

We scarfed that snack down and made our way south. Ooohed and aahed over the many christmas light displays. Fought a little. Laughed a lot. Finally drove in to Mom and Dad's driveway, where BBQ pork sandwiches and pickles were waiting. Noone's appetite was spoiled in the least.

This morning the girls and Mom have been making the traditional breakfast of sopaipillas. Mom is the sopaipilla queen. The sopaipilla is a fried Mexican bread that puffs up to make an opening for honey. Nothing like what you get at Mexican-american restaurants. We will then go to Fredericksburg to the gallery where her art work is displayed, then on the San Antonio to Remember the Alamo and walk the Riverwalk.

I think I better figure out a way to take a very long walk somewhere on this trip. Too much food. Too little farm work!

FYI, for folks who think that eating locally is just too costly while being on a budget, I plan on sharing what our food costs were so you can see that with a little tweaking, it is actually cheaper than fast food.

So far, we have avoided all beverage costs by refilling half gallon mason jars with water.

I bought one cup of coffee on the whole trip at a locally owned diner: $1.50.

Mexican dinner for 6- $40.00 plus a $6 tip.

Chicken snack-$6.56.

That's it, for over 1300 miles.

Not bad. Everything else came out of the cupboard. Gotta run. Food's on the table!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Texas, Our Texas

We are enjoying the warm, 62 degree sunshine at an East Texas rest stop with wifi. How weird is that?

After a lunch of pbj, more egg salad, homemade pickles and non-local but purchased in our local coop feta cheese and olives, Ikenberry apples and Thomas and Rachel Thomas's chocolate cake, the kids stretch, read, run and bicker a little. Not too much. They are too happpy to feel Texas air. A few hours to go. I think we will take the countryside route to Mom and Dad's instead of I35. May take us a little longer, but I can show the kids my old hometown and I can feast my eyes on liveoaks and mesquite trees and brushy hill country, small towns and county seats.

So thankful for the gift that is making it possible for us to enjoy this journey.

To Narnia and the North! I mean, To Central Texas and the hill country!

Journeying West, or Where is that rest stop?

We left Kingston, anticipating a pleasant journey listening to The Magician's Nephew and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I figured on stopping at a nice rest stop for a picnic lunch. We drove and drove and found no rest stop. We decided to have an adventure and investigate a little town somewhere west of Nashville. There was a sign advertising a Railroad Museum. We headed downtown. Downtown was aprox. 12 minutes for the busy shopping zone near the highway.

The children and I discussed the cost of shopping and eating locally, how the extra 12 minutes would allow us to use the bathroom and buy a cup of coffee from a local shop that would benefit the people in the town much more than a cheap cup of McDonald's coffee.

Well, we got to the cute little downtown and every little shop was closed. We couldn't find a single place open. We discussed how the chain restaurants near the highway were so convenient it made it very hard for people to drive 12 minutes to buy their coffee downtown, so the shops were closed until weekdays. We discussed how badly everyone needed to use the bathroom and why couldn't we at least find a rest stop open for potty break and picnic? We decided to go into Walgreens out of desperation. Then we went to the Goodwill, Patrick purchased a bowl for us for mixing up the egg salad and we ate our egg salad, smoked trout sandwiches and oranges (thank you, Tata) in the parking lot. Everyone ate Maggie's homemade cookies for dessert.

Not quite the fun picnic I had invisioned. Shortly after getting onto the freeway we passed a rest stop!

For dinner we decided to use a gift of cash to buy supper at a family-owned restaurant along the way. Everyone got hungry at Forrest City, Arkansas. Near the exit was a plethora of chain restaurants. Lowes, Target, Best Buy, you know the sight. The children and I discussed how that same arrangement could be seen in any region of the United States. Texas, Virginia, New Jersey, Oregon, Montana, Florida, Massachusetts. Wouldn't it be better to drive an extra 12 minutes and check out a new town, see a different culture?

We drove and drove and couldn't find a single open restaurant. A few BBQ joints, closed. The town looked very poor. It wasn't always poor. There were plenty of buildings. Dying businesses. Plenty of people driving around, but something about the area made me sad. We drove by an incredible library. We drove around for 20 minutes. The gas gauge was getting really low. We wondered when the town started to change. When Wal Mart and McDonald's opened?

Well, we came upon Moctezuma Grill. An open sign flashed onto an empty parking lot. We went in.

A nice fellow named Filemon brought us chips and salsa. Fresh, medium spicy, we dug in. Filemon kept everyone's glass of water filled, chatted with the children, calling them each by name, speaking to them in Spanish, reminded them to be careful with hot plates, asked them about the farm.

The food wasn't organic. Probably not grown very locally. But it was the best we could do. Family-owned and operated. At least our dollars weren't going to a corporation. We were so content with our meal we wanted to curl up and purr! And then, when we thought we couldn't even look at another bite of food, Filemon brought us a huge platter of fried ice cream with pineapples, whipped cream and a cherry on top. The children somehow managed to eat the whole thing. They wondered why in the world he would give them a dessert they had never eaten before, for free?!? I said it was probably because he had never seen so many kids in one family eat at the restaurant and behave so nicely! Who knows?

But we discussed how corporate restaurants didn't offer the service or the generosity that family businesses could. Bellies full, content that our $$$'s helped support a family, we got back on the road, not that much later than we would have been if we had gone to Cracker Barrel. Actually about the same amount of money spent or less than if we had stopped at Cracker Barrel. Not that we don't like CB, it is my favorite travel restaurant! The servers are sweet at CB, the bathrooms are clean. But the point of our challenge is to support local establishments and the local economy. Dinner was a great lesson for all of us. Now I am about to make the leftover tortillas and beans into burritos for our lunch on the road. We are almost to Grandma and Grandpa's!

Today we will listen to The Horse and His Boy and whatever is next in The Chronicles of Narnia series. Thank you, CS Lewis for enriching our lives.

Better hit the road. But the kids are enjoying TV so much I hate to rush them off! Vacation time! Thanks, Philip, for working so hard so we can vacation. We miss you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our Challenge

The children and I haven't made a cross-country trek for several years.

Things were different then.

Fast food drive-thru is a very inexpensive way to feed a bunch of kids on a trip. Not to mention the speed factor.

On this trip the kids and I decided to eat locally the entire drive.

That seems so basic! Everybody used to eat that way. But as I boiled eggs yesterday, itching to get out the door, and popped popcorn, and filled mason jars with water, and fetched a cutting board, and scooped mayo and loaded homemade bread and smoked trout (Thanks, Jimbo!), I wondered if it would be a whole lot easier to buy off the dollar menu.

But earlier the kids and I discussed the impact of our food choices. How it would be better for the economy to spend our food dollars in one local restaurant along the way and eat home-grown food the rest of the way. We spoke about how healthy we would feel, feeding our engines with good food instead of junk. And as I loaded up mayo and seedy loaf and trout and locally grown apples and homemade brownies and cake and cookies, I wondered about how our meals along the way would taste so good! And would take more time, insuring we stop and picnic, stretching our legs, looking at regional scenery.

So far, so good. We also made sure to agree to enjoy food prepared or bought for us by friends and family, local or not. Don't want to be legalistic snobs if family wants to buy pizza for us. The kids were pretty darn pleased to see the boxes of pizza Uncle Mike bought to share with us. I was pleased to see that it was from a local pizzeria and not a chain. But we would have been just as happy to eat it if it were from Pizza Hut! Now we are going to eat some nice hot breakfast. Will let you know how our challenge goes as we travel the next 12 days.

One audio book down, several to go. Today, The Chronicles of Narnia.

On The Road

Now blogging from the road! We are in my sister's house in Tennessee. The rain is pouring and we are not on the road since 3am this morning like I had planned.

That's OK. We enjoyed catching up with cousin and sister and brother-in-law until late into the night. Not only is it wonderful to see my sister and her family, it certainly feels nice to be in a warm house. So warm! And Thomas didn't have to split any wood and we didn't have to deal with carrying in loads of wood to enjoy this warmth.

The last few days on the farm were especially brisk. Morning temps were in the low teens. Brrr. The pond began to freeze around the perimeter. When I woke up yesterday morning the moon was a thin crescent, hanging above the south ridge. She was facing west and hanging upright. According to Grandpa, that would indicate rain if I remember right. When the crescent moon is lying horizontal like a bowl the rain won't fall.

One of the things on my get ready to go to Texas list was look at the calendar. I wanted to remind myself what was the exact date Duncan the Piedmontese bull came to visit the farm. March 21. Wanted to make sure we weren't expecting babies before Christmas. According to the Cattle Today website's gestation table, we could expect a calf on December 29th. The website suggested that younger cows could deliver up to 10 days earlier and older cows could deliver 10 days later. I wonder what Coco and Priscilla think about that? At any rate, I seems like Philip will probably not have to worry about cattle midwifery until we get home. If asked, he would probably say "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies!"

Speaking about Philip, it was a sad thing having to leave him alone, waving in the driveway. During the Passover Seder this is a point in which the family members are instructed to dip their finger into the glass of wine to remove drops of wine. As we do that, we remember that we cannot enjoy the full measure of our cup of joy as long as we remember those who are suffering or who have suffered. I was thinking of how much more we would enjoy the trip if Philip were joining us. The children and I considered how their dad would have to get up early to go to work, have to tend the chores, build his own fire in a very cold house, make his own meals and buy feed for the animals. We tried to make things a little bit easier for him, but we understand that he is giving us a great gift by taking care of things on the farm and going to work everyday. We are grateful.

I have a feeling a few friends will be popping over to check on him and make sure he is well-fed. Perhaps he will enjoy the peace and quiet? We are already missing Philip, but I have a feeling that Christmas will be especially sweet!

Breakfast is almost ready. We will hit the road in a short bit. So happy to head back to the motherland!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Seems like I can't stop the world long enough to share all the grand thoughts rolling around in my head after that lecture by Wendell Berry. Thoughts about simple solutions that cost more than we can afford, like ethanol. Thoughts about complex solutions that cost more than we can afford NOT to pay. Solutions that will require a whole bunch of us catching the vision and inspiring the younger generation because it is going to take a few generations working awfully hard before we see long term change.

I am thinking about how hard this year has been for us and how comforting it was to hear that we are doing the right thing.

I am thinking about our farmer friends, all working with different talents and gifts and skill sets, step by step healing our little plots of land and our bodies and our spirits. Isn't it amazing that what is good for the forests and our farms and our animals is good for our bodies and minds and spirits and even stretches out to help improve the globe?

I am thinking that going back to go forward is harder than it looks in an essay. We are so challenged by the world to live the other life. The consumer life. Wendell Berry does not give the false illusion that if we merely follow a prescribed formula all will be well. Au contraire. It is easier said than done to "not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). But after chatting with friends before and after lecture, sharing their delicious soups made from locally raised turkey and chicken, along with locally made bread, in a cozy little cottage, the boys and I felt like we were living a noble life. A life that is honorable.

We have our work cut out for us. But little changes we make can make a difference. Letting our pastures grow perennials instead of annual grains will help the ecosystem in numerous ways. Laying down manure instead of chemical fertilizers will help the subsoil grow, will encourage insect life, stronger root systems and bit by bit we will grow precious topsoil. Wow.

As we depend more heavily on our customers we grow more appreciative of a local economy and make the effort to buy from friends and neighbors, keeping a bigger proportion of our dollars in the county. One of the things Mr. Berry mentioned was that as farmers moved away from draft horses and toward tractors, they moved to monoculture farming, exporting most of their produce, grains, or whatever out of town and even out of state. With all that exporting, they also ended up exporting their top soil and their sons. Way too costly. He seemed to suggest that we need to first feed our family, our neighbors and our community, then export. That way the economy can support more jobs, feed more people and strengthen infrastructure.

One of Mr. Berry's books is called The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture. It greatly moved and inspired me. At the lecture I picked up a new book, Bringing It to the Table. It is a collection of essays and stories. One can smell the sweat, hear the sound of water splashing by the back door as the men shuffle in to the table. One can see the mounds of biscuits and corn and green beans with steam rising and taste the fruit of the land. Pure. Real. Nourishing.

Just like Mr. Berry's writing.

I was simply going to check into this blog to mention that we got a gully washer. Flash floods poured off the Jefferson National Forest. Pastures, stream and pond are overflowing. Gallons of water race down the valley. I hope they are leaving plenty of nice amendments to the hay field and not washing too many away. The sun came out for a short bit this afternoon. Not long enough to dry all the laundry. We are using the woodstove and fireplace to serve instead. Please give us a warning if you plan on dropping by so I can gather up all the socks and underwear!

Also wanted to mention that we received a marvelous gift last week. The children and I are going to be able to make a trip to Texas to visit my family. We leave this weekend after market. When I realized we could go I cried out loud. The children all acknowledge that it is a miracle. They are ecstatic. We will miss Philip but are so grateful he is willing to work so hard at work then come home and do our chores for us to give us this opportunity. We have an open window. The cows are due to calve end of month or January. Sheep and goats aren't due until February and March. We are going to leap through that open window and head to Grandma and Grandpa's house. A couple of people have told me they were praying for us after reading my sappy pre-Thanksgiving homesick post. Thank you so much. This is the season to be refreshed and restored.

So you got a weather report and a whole lot more. Believe me, there are so many things to talk about in regards to complex solutions to big-time problems and the role of agriculture. We have so much to learn. I hope we will all rise to the occasion. But in order for me to rise in the morning I better hit the sack. Guess I am very far removed from Mr. Berry's world. He doesn't write by artificial light and doesn't even use a typewriter, let alone a computer or a BLOG! Oh well. the sound of the wind is going to lull me to sleep anyway.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Drizzle at 6am turned into big flat fluffy snowflakes by 7. The farm is bright white. Driving to the farmer's market this morning was a bit tricky but by 1 this afternoon the roads were clear. Children are sledding. I anticipate their return to the house very shortly. They skipped their grilled cheese sandwiches in order to head to the slopes. It is a very heavy, wet snow. They should be soaked through and chilled to the bone within minutes.

I have so much to write about! Thursday Thomas, Patrick and I attended a lecture at UVA. We heard Wendell Berry speak. However, the laundry is waiting. Must get some chores done. But maybe later I can share some of his nuggets. We drove home in the dark, dark night inspired and affirmed. What a treat.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sure Enough

Sure enough, that lunar halo was an accurate predictor. I have seen rings around the moon before, but last night's rainbow was the largest I have ever witnessed. Rain has been falling all day. Steady, cold, relentless, huddle in front of the fire kind of rain. Stay in the barn and eat hay kind of rain. Except for the ducks and the sheep. They didn't seem to mind at all.

I certainly am glad for the firewood harvesting we did the other day. Looks like we will be enjoying the woodstove for a few days.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


There is a gigantic rainbow ring around the full moon tonight.

The farmer's almanac calls this a lunar halo. It is caused by the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light through ice particles. The rainbow is red on the inside of the ring and blue on the outside. According the the almanac a halo foretells stormy winter weather.

I guess we shall see.

But right now I better get the non-sleeping kids to take a peek. It is too pretty not to share.


Living has preempted writing.

Actually, I did some writing over the weekend. The unplugged type.

After an amazing Thanksgiving dinner shared with friends we enjoyed a couple of days with some out of state visiting friends who helped with firewood harvest. We shared meals around candle light and blazing fire. Our family then participated in our first Tacky Tractor Parade with friends over in Bent Mtn. What fun!

The dear Bent Mtn friends have a little cabin tucked up on the side of the mountain, far removed from electricity, running water, phones and computers. Philip gave me the gift of taking care of the kids and the farm and left me, a bag of old journals, paperwork, Bible, novel, notebook, wool socks and picnic basket of provisions to enjoy a silent retreat cozied up to a blazing woodstove.

I had a bit of an agenda. Behind in paperwork and taxes, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to add and subtract, multiply and divide without a big pile of other priorities staring at me. What better place to work than that amazing little jewel up in the woods.

Magnificent trees, tall and straight, surrounded my retreat. Piles of leaves carpeted my walk to outhouse and woodpile. I think I heard a deer once, but other than Spot, the hound dog, I had few animal visitors.

The kettle maintained a constant simmer, perfect for many cups of tea and the most delicious lentil stew I have ever made (if I do say so myself!). I will have to remember to give you the recipe at the end of this post so you can try it.

It was a great retreat. Many odds and ends were taken care of, business tended. Productive. But perhaps the most productive time was spent in quiet reflection. I read some journals from 1997 and 1998. Remembered some very painful periods. Wished I could go back and tell myself it was going to be alright. Smiled as I scanned the yearly garden maps, the wish lists I wrote out each winter as I surveyed the seed catalogs, remembered holiday feasts shared with friends as I perused the scratchy notes scribbling out menus and recipes and ingredient lists. Pain, grief, turmoil, illnesses and accidents and meals and gardens and children learning to read and walk, camping and marveling at nature. I reread the prayers cried out in anguish and despair and the prayers of delight and joy.

I don't know how I managed to write all those years with babies and toddlers. I can't even imagine how I was brave enough to write things I would never wish to share with anyone! Didn't I know that anyone could have picked up those books and have a window that opened up into the scariest most intimate parts of my soul?

What in the world does all this have to do with farming?

I think that taking the time to process and write and journal the good, the bad and the ugly helped make me a stronger person. I believe it was a part of a journey that led to healing and growth. Taking some time to revisit that journey reminded me that we have come along way, baby. Those hard times prepared us for this life. God was there.

It was pretty special to read in one of the journals a conversation I had with my dear friend, the very friend who owns the cabin on the mountain. I wrote that I wanted to be sure and pray for her and her husband. I smiled. Full Circle. Never did I imagine at the time that I would be reading my words sitting on the floor of her cozy little refuge. That we would all be living this life that we are living. Here in Virginia!

Along with moments of introspection, I reviewed farm vision, worked on an updated farm inventory and made lists of tasks I hope to accomplish this winter. With over a dozen ewes hopefully expecting to lamb come February and March, building some new stalls in the upper barn is in order. With two cows expecting to deliver babies this winter, i need to come up with an efficient way to milk those girls in a sanitary place in the barn. I have a feeling that Priscilla is not going to come up to the back door to let me milk her.

The silence ended all too soon. I didn't get to solve all the problems in the world. I didn't even get to solve all the problems on our farm! But Philip and the kids managed without me and I came back home refreshed and ready to get back to work. Driving home on Monday morning, misty grey and damp, the gentle hills gave me a great big hug. Driving through our little valley, my heart ached with gratefulness. Home. More than any other time in my adult life I feel an incredible sense of home. How can I explain? Some of the angst I felt back in those journals was pointing to a need for home. Some of the angst was necessary to put us on the right road to reach our home. Even as I miss my mom and dad, sisters and other relatives right now, the longing is definitely tempered by the sense of home we experience here on the farm. When I opened up the gate at the top of our driveway, the sheep paused in their grazing to give me a stoic nod. Home.

Well, dogs and coyotes are at it again. The moon is very bright. My eyes tell me it is time to head to bed.

But first, my recipe for you. The perfect camp stew, or top of the wood stove stew.

Lentil Chard Stew

Red or green lentils
generous amount of fresh or dried garlic
powdered cumin
curry powder
a few peppercorns
a pinch of mustard seed
a pinch of celery seed
a pinch of coriander
a pinch of cinnamon
plenty of salt

Put the lentils and the other ingredients in a mason jar if you are headed to your own weekend retreat. Once you get the fire rolling, place the lentils and spices in a pot and cover with water. Plenty of water.

Give the stew an occasional stir and watch to make sure your water doesn't boil away. If it does, add more water. The lentils will get nice and mushy. The smell will make you intensely hungry. Don't rush the stew. Slow cooking makes for a very creamy stew.

Once the lentils are creamy, add some chopped chard. Or kale. Or spinach.

I think the earthiness of the chard goes so nicely with the curry flavors. Cook until the chard is tender. Maybe 20 or 30 more minutes. Salt to taste. Make some toast by putting your bread on a cast iron skillet or directly on your wood stove. Enjoy all by yourself or share with a friend. Either way, I think you will love it!