Thursday, December 30, 2010
As per the norm, Kathryn and I spend too much time drinking too much coffee, covering the gamut of work and life, spirituality, office politics, marriage and kids.
Kids work, eat and play.
Coco still had mastitis this morning. Clumpy, stringy stuff instead of creamy milk. Patrick massaged and milked this morning. I planned on giving her an antibiotic this evening, worried that if left untreated, mastitis could lead to illness, complete loss of milk supply, worse case scenario, loss of a quarter, best case scenario.
As we aim for "beyond organic" status, antibiotics are not a part of our regular regime, but we recognize that at times, antibiotics can save our children's life as well as our animals. There is a particular antibiotic that can be injected into the cow's teat that will combat the bacteria that causes mastitis. We do not use it unless necessary, but as you well know, Coco is a terribly valuable asset on this farm and I hope to keep her healthy. Knowing that she would not easily submit to me injecting some paste up into the orifice of her mammary gland, I called Rachel to ask Jason to please come and assist.
Especially since two of my children have strep throat and are on antibiotics themselves.
I got home, Tim and his dad were here fixing the upstairs bathtub which has been out of commision since last February.
They joined me and Jason out in the barn and I began to milk Coco in her stall, emptying out the infected quarter. The gentlemen stood by, ready to tie Coco up and hold her while I administered the medicine.
The stringy, mucousy milk had cleared up. No fever in the udder.
I made the executive decision to NOT administer the antibiotic since it seemed like massage and milking were clearing things up. Little baby frolicked in the stall, healthy as could be. Coco tolerated me as I applied hot wet washclothes and massaged. Tim, his dad and Jason hung out in the stall, on call, but thankfully not needed.
I felt grateful to take care of chores with help. Not alone.
We said our goodbyes then Kathryn and I drank wine, chopped veggies, made a stir fry, then enjoyed our dinner with the pile of kids. We gathered around the tree, exchanged gifts and all enjoyed peace as I read a couple of chapters of At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald. We prayed for dear ones, for sick ones, for sad and hurting ones.
Is there a better gift than the company of old friends?
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Poor Coco. She was so good. She knew I was trying to help her. Her leg twitched, and she wanted to kick me, but she didn't.
Serge was fixing a broken doorknob on the back door when Patrick came in to tell me she wouldn't let him do the milking. I went out in "go to town" clothes, boots, black tights, skirt and sweater, to do the milking. I think the boys found that humorous. Sure am glad she didn't kick me OR the bucket.
Colostrum is tucked in the freezer, for future baby needs. Guess we will continue to work on that quarter and hope to avoid mastitis. Made me remember my experience of nursing first born baby and how at times my toes curled in pain, as mama and baby tried to figure out the system (those were the days before lactation consultants.) Maybe the understanding tone in my voice was the reason she let me work on her instead of Patrick?
Hope she doesn't kick me tomorrow...
PS I suppose I won't have to have a fierce argument with the Wind tonight. All is calm and the house is so much warmer. For the moment, anyway!
Monday, December 27, 2010
Harsh, relentless, seemingly never-ending. House-shattering, bone-chilling wind.
Remember how I said the wind was an annoying friend, but one I don't mind every once in awhile?
I have changed my mind.
Maybe by this evening I will change my mind back, but I don't think so. I am a bit tired of her endless assault all through the day and night. I hope she will go away and stay away. At least for a time.
On a more positive note, Coco and her baby are doing well. Little one is frisky. She has the most lovely eyes. Her coat is a bit darker than a pecan praline. She remains unnamed. It was good to spend some time out in the barn with them. Throwing hay, breaking up ice, filling up water, putting out more shavings on the floor of the stall. The seasons are turning and we are entering the baby time on the farm. Good motivation to get up and moving on days I would rather not.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Late morning I noticed that she broke out of the barn and headed out to pasture with the rest of the herd. I didn't rush out to get her because I had laundry to deal with and presents to wrap and dishes to wash and woodstove to load. I figured the kids could check on her after school when they hayed.
Patrick rushed in, very excited.
"Coco broke out of the stall because she wanted to have her baby out in the pasture!"
"What?" Things didn't compute for me right away.
"I need you to come help me get them to the barn, we have a BABY!"
We trudged out and I was thankful that the temperatures were in the high twenties instead of the teens with wind. Of course she was at the very far corner of the property. And had no intentions of letting anyone get near her baby.
Coco is an excellent mother. Protective. Careful.
We feared for our bodies there for a minute, but figured a way for Patrick to get the "little" thing slung over his shoulders for the dark hike to the barn. Mama and baby are tucked in. Coco is tucking into some grain. Baby has been attempting to nurse and is lively. A sweet, fawn-colored little girl.
After some of the hard things we have experienced over the past year, I feel almost afraid to get excited about this sweet little thing, afraid something could go wrong, which is a real possibility. I think I will choose to be delighted about the beginning of the season of new life on the farm. How appropriate for the day after winter solstice. I think I will take it as a good sign.
Light and life, born into darkness. Isn't that what Christmas is all about?
And glory, hallelujah, we can now hopefully anticipate the season of MILK. And cream. And butter.
PS Patrick and I enjoyed hanging out in the barn watching new baby and mama get acquainted with each other. We laughed nervously as Coco looked like she was going to run us into the ground if we got anywhere near little one. We both reminisced about last year's births and how Carmelita got chilled and couldn't nurse. Philip took care of her singlehandedly. He figured out a way to milk fierce Coco and get the baby fed and warmed and made her live. In the middle of the night. One of the cold nights with wind in and temperatures in the teens.
I was so proud of him.
I still don't know how he did it, but that act was one of the things that impressed me more than just about anything, the way he took care of Coco and Carmelita. He was so happy. I am glad I have that good memory.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Because of a day back in December, the twenty first, 1991, when a young guy named Philip vowed to be faithful to an even younger gal named Ginger, a teeny little baby was born on another December 21, 1995. Patrick John. Second born son.
I cried when I went to the cemetery today. Cried when I told Philip how thankful I was that he married me 19 years ago today. How thankful I am that I married him.
I wouldn't be me if it weren't for him.
With Philip I went to Europe and saw Paris and Vienna and Salzburg and Venice and Rome and Mont St. Michel, among other places. With Philip I learned to eat sushi and spend two years of my life learning Japanese.
With Philip I learned to love the show "Combat."
With Philip I learned to love Van Morrison.
With Philip I learned that marriage was hard and commitment and loyalty took work and miraculous grace of God.
With Philip I learned to laugh. To cry. To fight. To weep.
I learned to love to cook fancy food for Philip. To enjoy long, candlelit dinner parties filled with funny stories. I learned to love New York.
Philip told me I was beautiful. He loved me. He believed in me and supported me and encouraged me to write, to cook, to bake, to lead ladies' bible studies, to pray, to farm, to teach, to pretty much do whatever I had bubbling up inside me to do.
He knew I needed a certain quotient of quiet time and took care of the kids so I could find it.
I wouldn't be me if it weren't for him.
How bizarre it is that he is not here.
I miss him.
I thank God that we managed to marry, that we managed to survive the hard years, that we managed to find good years, even in the difficult.
Tonight we shared a feast with Rachel, Jason, their kids and mine. We celebrated Patrick's 15th birthday, and we remembered my 19th anniversary. We ate our mashed potatoes (Jason is the king of mashed potatoes), broccoli and venison steak and passed around pictures of our honeymoon to Europe, nineteen years ago. Did they really make glasses that big? They covered half my face! Were we really so young and innocent? We had no idea.
We raised a glass and toasted the Providence that brought us together. Me and Philip. Thomas and Patrick and Maggie and Rose and Nora.
And Rachel and Jason and the many other lives that intersect ours and the farm that wouldn't if it weren't for that fateful day nineteen years ago.
And through the tears I thank God.
Monday, December 20, 2010
The full moon rises over the farm, casting her brilliant light over the snowy fields. Casting her shadow at the foot of the willow trees.
In the wee hours of the morning the earth will cast her shadow over the moon for a total eclipse. I hope I sleep through that event. It is the winter solstice and that means that the short dark days are going to become longer and brighter.
What a relief.
I am looking forward to brighter days.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
We got home, put the leftover split pea and barley soup on the stove to reheat and I began to feel a bit lonely.
The house is cozy and yet feels empty to me. How can that be with one mom, five kids, two dogs and a couple of cats? I put on some Emmylou Harris and grabbed a girl to dance with me. Rose and Nora danced through several selections with me. I even managed to get Patrick to work on his Texas two step. We then put on Willie Nelson's Stardust cd. Perfect songs to dance to with your children when you feel lonely.
Can't say that my feelings of loneliness are gone. But I feel grateful to have these kids who humor me. And grateful for leftover soup and a warm house with nice music. And grateful for customers and friends and seasons, even the hard ones.
PS 32 degrees felt balmy today. Snow is melting. Will more be on its way? We shall see.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Kids are thrilled with the days off of school and have played in the snow. They had been enjoying ice skating on the pond, but now it is covered in snow so they are coming up with new things to do. I was proud of Patrick who got out the tractor, figured out how to attach the blade and cleared the driveway. Way easier than the way we did it last year, working together with shovels. Still thankful to Blue Ridge Diesel and the other folks who made it possible to get the tractor running. But there was one very very brief moment when I considered getting out there with the shovel for old times sake. Then I got back to work on inside chores, thankful for Patrick.
Time off from the bakery means tending to chores I have neglected for many months. Whoa. Unbelievable dirt, piled up papers, spiderwebs. I love organization, but have had to put it rather low on the priority list. Getting ready to decorate is good motivation to love on my house.
Organizing is occasionally painful work when in the middle of a grief year. I found a birthday card Philip bought me last year and forgot to give me. A couple of old love notes from dating years. Bittersweet.
This evening we are attempting to decorate for Christmas. It isn't as bad as I thought it would be. The kids trimmed the tree. We strung lights on the inside of the house. Rearranged the mantel. Listened to Christmas music and laughed, fussed and compromised. Mindy Smith's holiday album is my favorite accompaniment to the activities. Along with Andrew Peterson.
The snow probably won't stick around for too long, but we wouldn't mind if another storm dropped a foot or so more so we would be forced to stay home, cuddled together in the house. Seeing the kids play board games, laugh and come in from the cold outdoors with red cheeks makes me wish to hold them close for a long time.
But then again, they only have three more days of school left next week! I might be more than ready to wave them off next Monday so I can wrap presents in peace!
Well, I hope you are all having a nice moment in the middle of the hectic bustle. And for my comrades in grief, may we each find comfort and joy in the midst of our journey. I better go make some granola and make sure the kids keep the woodstove loaded.
PS Coco's udder is looking a bit more swollen. I wonder if we will have a baby within the next month? We are going to have to pull milk out of the freezer and as good as that is, it isn't anything like the fresh stuff!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It was HUGE! The moon is waxing, and is larger than half. The sky is bright and clear and because the moon is directly overhead, the stars are rather dim.
Growing up I always heard that a ring around the moon was a warning that bad weather was on its way. I also heard that the number of stars had something to do with the number of days of bad weather. I counted three stars, but that was only because they were the brightest. Many more must have been invisible to my eye due to the amount of light reflecting off the moon. According to one website I investigated, the moon halo is caused by ice crystals in high cirrus clouds that typically precede a warm front bringing in stormy weather.
Maybe the old grandfathers didn't have google to look up weather trivia, but they did have lots of time spent outdoors taking care of farm animals, bringing in firewood, and all that time was spent in observation. I think the old grandfathers were wonderful naturalists and I hope we will model our lives after them, remembering to take time to take note of amazing things like gigantic humongous rings around moons.
The weatherman predicts stormy snow this week. Guess we shall see if he and the grandfathers are correct.
Meanwhile, I had better go feed the baby. I mean throw some more logs on the woodstove.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
My, how accustomed we are to turning on a faucet to enjoy water. The cold variety, the warm variety, it is all good.
When in a jam, I am thankful to have a corps of friends to call for advice. Larry suggested we try turning on all the faucets and pumps outside and in the barn.
He and Cam drove on over in the bitter cold and braved the elements, and with Patrick and Thomas learning as they went along, they reattached the spring water to the system. Before you know it, we could once again turn on faucets and expect to see something in return.
What a gift to have friends who are willing to drop everything to make sure we have water.
And not just us. With the hard blowing wind and cold temps, troughs freeze up and animals can get very dehydrated.
Well, we are in the teens outside and the wind still howls. We are hoping she can pause, at least for a few hours tonight to have a respite from the biting cold. I am going to continue the fireside vigil on the couch bed. Much easier to feed the fire through the night when it only takes three steps. I think I have just about decided to have the propane furnace repaired so we can have a source of backup heat.
You can bet I will be praying for those folks out there who do not have friends to help fix their water or provide them with firewood. May God provide for them in clever and creative ways. And may each of us be willing to be used as a source of help when those serendipitous opportunities arise, just like Larry and Cam did for our family today.
Monday, December 13, 2010
The roar of the wind sounds like a pounding surf.
Sometimes it sounds like a freight train, careening toward my bedroom window.
This wind does not feel like a tender friend. She shakes the house and brings arctic air for the hostess gift. She slams doors and stomps her feet. You might think I find her annoying, and I do. But deep down, I find her presence comforting. Just so long as she doesn't overstay her visit.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Serge, James and Patrick brought the saw horses, the counter top and the plucker up to the concrete area by the back door. Jason hooked up the hose and organized the children in rooster round up. I don't know exactly how many kids were on rooster round up, but by the end of the afternoon we were minus 28 (birds, not kids) on the farm and that is a very good thing. Patrick and James did the dispatching. Serge, Jason and I scalded, plucked and eviscerated. Maggie and Rachel cooked snacks and venison stew for supper (thanks to venison from the Nunnallys.) Rose (sick with a cold) kept the fires going. Thomas split firewood and gathered up trash.
I believe I read somewhere that the temperatures were supposed to read high forties in our valley, but they didn't make it above the thirties.
Nevermind, we decided that even with frozen toes, it is better to process poultry in cold weather compared to burning sun, humidity and flies.
Farm work requires teamwork and all that teamwork does amazing things for friendships.
You have to keep your sense of humor when you make a wrong move and everyone sees murky yellow pasty fluids splatter all over your face.
"Ew. It's in your hair," grimaced one of the guys.
Jokes are shared, stories are shared.
Butchering chickens is not one of my favorite farm chores. I most certainly do not want to raise chickens as the cornerstone of our farm enterprise. Even so, butchering chickens with our friends is a pretty amazing part of our community life. Even with the temperamental whizbang plucker, the variable weather and the blood and guts.
There is something pretty magical about seeing the seven and nine year olds racing around with the thirteen and almost fifteen year old, doing something that is so vital to our family life. All working together to harvest food that will provide months of soups and curries for our family and our friends. They know that the future pot of soup required constant care and watch as they brooded the chicks we got from the post office and from our own chickens offsprings and from other friend's handmedowns. Those chicks that started out as teeny little fluff balls grew and required food and grass and space to run around. These guys had acres to explore!
Today's work was just the final punctuation of a long haul in animal care. Well, I guess the day each bird gets transformed into a delicious meal will actually be the final punctuation. The feathers and offal will be transformed into fertile soil. The blood that was shed will feed the cherry tree. The gizzards and other organs will be enjoyed occasionally by our dogs and cats.
As we lit the Advent candles at supper and Thomas read the scripture from Mark, I was thankful. Perhaps this afternoon was a perfect illustration of Emmanuel. God with us. With us in the lowly tasks, in the form of dear friends who love us.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I am trying to let the woodstove die out long enough to shovel out ashes before we start it up again for the night. All those ashes will be scattered across garden beds and the trees will continue to give to us, now in the form of nutrients for our soil.
Maggie is baking spelt brownies for the choir concert tonight. Rose is working on her piano lesson and it gives me pleasure to hear Christmas tunes float up the staircase. Nora and Patrick are chattering, Thomas is reading the Roanoke Times. The washer is washing, the dryer is drying, we are about to run outside to feed and water the animals and bring in the evening's ration of firewood.
Kinda feels normal. For the moment. Of course that isn't mentioning that I had to pick up a sick kid from school earlier today. And we lost Cornflower, one of Maggie's goats who bloated. She loved to get out of the fence and explore. Did she find and eat a toxic plant? The goats have all been dewormed and have been eating hay and browse...And we have to hurry and get chores done so we can take Rose to her concert this evening.
Of course, an occasional sick kid, animal losses, and running to school activities are a part of our normal life, so I will enjoy the 5 minutes of peace. Better run grab those ashes.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Grief has been walking alongside our family for almost ten months now, if you don't count the couple of months before Philip died when I was worried sick about him dying. That would make me at one year.
I grieved before in my life. Grieved the loss of friends. Of family members. Of friendships. Grieved the hardships suffered by other people in far away countries.
With the onset of the holiday season it seems like grief has decided that walking alongside is not nearly intimate enough. There are moments when it feels like grief is wrapping itself around my shoulders like a shawl. A necessary shawl that I need to wear right now, but not necessarily very playful or fashionable.
For example, Sunday morning church we sang the hymn "What Child is This." I began to cry with no real understanding. All of a sudden I remembered that was one of Philip's favorite Christmas hymns. My body knew the grief before my mind did. It wasn't fun to be crying once again in church.
I didn't feel like talking to anyone at church. Someone slipped me a gift for our family, tucked in an envelope. I opened it up in the truck as we prepared to leave for lunch and wept. The kindness and generosity of others is so overwhelming. Occasionally pain is overwhelming.
We had a serendipitous reunion with some of my and Philip's old seminary friends at lunch. They were passing through on I-81 and bothered to call. What a gift to reminisce with old friends. Friends who knew us in early marriage days, pre-diapers. We prayed for their baby as she dealt with a life threatening illness. I can still remember the shock as we heard the news. We shared holidays when it was too far to travel. Our kids shared birthday parties and tea parties and army men and legos. They even have a cat, Henry, who is our cat, Zacheus's child from years and years ago.
Now the kids are tall. We hadn't seen them for eight years or so. They wept with me by phone when they got the news about Philip. For some reason it was a true comfort to share the day with them on Sunday and weep together in person, even as we laughed. It was so comforting to have other friends be willing to join me and get all wrapped up in that painful black shawl of grief for a brief moment. Maybe Atlanta isn't that far away after all.
The girls had their piano recital the other evening. It was so lovely to hear them play. And made me sad to think that Philip wasn't sitting there beside me, humming along to the songs we would both have memorized, due to the girls' diligent practice. Looking at their tall backs and long hair, young ladies, made me miss him all the more, not being able to share the joys of parenting with him. It didn't help much when our amazing piano teacher concluded the program with a beautiful rendition of "It's Christmas Time Again" by Vince Guaraldi, one of our favorite songs of the season.
Life isn't all depressing or black. But it does seem like the waves of grief come a bit more frequently now that the work season has slowed down. The kids are sad. I had to make an executive decision to pause farmer's marketing for a few weeks to have enough energy to manage the farm, deal with grief, work on business paperwork, Christmas stuff and most importantly to have enough reserve to be available for the children who are missing their daddy very much right now and don't quite know what to do with the myriad of emotions that can bombard one all at the same time.
That decision gave me great relief, but also feelings of guilt. Trying to get over it, knowing that there is plenty of work to be done around here to keep me from getting lazy.
And the kids and I have started a new book this week. At the Back of the North Wind, by George McDonald. Perfect book to read as we listen to the howling wind sweeping through our valley. The weather forecast predicts warmer temperatures by weekend. Instead of farmer's market, I am hoping we will be able to butcher 40 or more roosters and old hens.
At some point we will decorate a christmas tree. Right now it is all we can do to occasionally light the advent candles at dinner. I keep reminding myself that all the professionals and non-professionals who have written about suffering and grief suggest that the only way to heal from grief is to grieve. You would think that at this point it wouldn't hurt quite so badly, but frankly, at moments, it is every bit as bad as it was a few months ago. Or at least that is my perception at the moment.
Thankfully the sweet moments continue to temper the sad ones. Unbelievably generous gifts from friends. Hugs and shared tears. Holiday flavors and meals with the kids. Yesterday my sweetest moment of the day was when Nora saw me prepare brussel sprouts to go with our supper. She said they were the cutest little vegetable she had ever seen. We cut them in half, sauteed them in a little coconut oil, added some cream and cheese at the end to make a sauce. I portioned out a few for her then added some curry powder for the rest of us. That along with pork loin roast, homemade sweet potato fries, baked in the oven, made for a feast. A dinner together with my children, even with the fussiness, even with the store bought meat and vegetables, was a sweet moment for me.
PS the next sweetest moment of my day yesterday was the moment I saw what I believe was Coco's little baby, kicking his or her mama in the flank. When will that little baby get here? End of January? Some new babies will mean lots of extra work, but lots of extra life as well.
In lieu of blog posting I have been feeding the woodstove.
Ah. The woodstove. Such a romantic thing, the woodstove.
Soups bubbling away on top, children playing board games, basking in the warmth.
When temperatures dip down to the teens (we were at 10 degrees one night), and only rise to mid 20's in the daytime, it isn't quite so romantic. More a matter of life and death. The boys cart in many apple boxes of wood for me. Five typically get us through the evening and the first load up of morning. We take turns sleeping in the living room to do the three refills at 11:30, 1:45 and 3am. The wind howls and the coyotes yip. The mom gets kind of sleepy. She truly loves heating with the woodstove, but the record lows this early in the winter season are trying.
All that said, it is rather nice to get back to woodstove soups. This week's special was split pea barley soup with turkey. I made a huge batch so we could freeze half for later. You might want to make a smaller pot. Here is the basic idea:
Saute a chopped onion, two stalks of celery, two or three carrots in a little bit of olive oil. Add 3/4 gallon of the wonderful stock you made from your leftover turkey bones. Or some broth you buy at Krogers. Or plain water. Throw in two or three cloves of smashed garlic. Add one cup of rinsed split peas and one cup of pearled barley. Add one generous teaspoon of dried thyme. Salt and pepper to taste. Place pot of soup makings on top of your woodstove (or kitchen stove if you have other ways of heating your house.) I let this concoction cook for two or three hours or more. If your soup looks too thick, add more water or broth. Simple, but so yummy on blustery days. If you had a leftover ham bone, throw that in the pot and add some chopped up ham. Be sure and give a stir occasionally to keep everything from burning on the bottom once it gets thick.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
What a beautiful sight.
This morning, some gentlemen from our church came over to help me with household and farm tasks. They rewired a living room light, put washers in leaky faucets, put a barn door back on track, and helped the boys and me stack a lot of our firewood on the front porch and under the roof by the back door. It was only sputtering at us (the snow, that is) so the weather was perfect for a nice hard job made more simple with the addition of many hands.
What would we do if it were not for our dear community?
I am thankful for them.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Coming home from Wednesday farmer's market in the dark has at least one advantage. I get to enjoy the starry sky while opening the gate. I wonder why the sky is so particularly clear this evening? Has some weather system pushed out the particulate matter that sometimes obscures the constellations?
Another short sleeved day. Nice.
PS I am so very grateful for our customers. Many have made their way to the new venue. It is a bit hard to find. Off the beaten path. Yet they go to the trouble to buy their bread and lamb from us. And their veggies and chicken and beef from other small farmers. They know we depend on them, and it humbles me. Coming to this farm has meant many good things to me. Seeing our community expand through the local farmer's market has been one of the best things that could have happened to our family. I am thankful for the new market and all the people who make it happen. So many lives intersecting. What a beautiful thing.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Seventy five degrees today. Short sleeved weather is a treat after several days of non-stop woodstove action. I had an order for six dozen loaves of Milk and Honey bread so the day began even earlier than usual.
Not too fun to wake up before three am, but the benefit was seeing the glorious sky sparkling with diamonds. The stars were so bright and clear.
The wind howled throughout the night, and I guess she is responsible for blowing in this lovely weather.
Thank you, Wind. Seems as if you have calmed down. I wonder if you will be back again this evening, moving the warm weather somewhere else? You guys can stick around for a couple of days. Really.
PS I forgot to mention a terrific gift we received the other day from our friends, the Guzo's. FIVE free range, healthy, happy plucked and ready for the oven chickens.
YUM. They were so beautiful, I had to cook one the next day for my supper. Have you ever had chicken that has never been frozen? It is soooo good. Tender and luscious. I cut the bird down the breast, heated up an enameled cast iron skillet, put in some coconut oil (works better with high temps) then placed the whole chicken, smashed flat, skin side down, onto the very hot pan. While the skin began to sear, I smashed some garlic and scrubbed a bunch of parsnips. When the skin was brown, I flipped the chicken over, meat side down, and put the parsnips and garlic and plenty of sea salt under and around the bird. Cooked it another few minutes at high heat (all this time with a lid on, since it is very messy otherwise.) I turned the oven onto 450 degrees, then placed the whole pan in, now with no lid. In minutes, the chicken was done to perfection, juicy. Parsnips were caramelized, creamy flesh, sweet, with a nice crusty skin.
I can't tell you how good that dinner tasted to me at the time. Nora and I ate our meal, watching Heidi, as the other kids were out. We gave thanks for our dear friends, the Guzos. What a blessing to enjoy food raised by our friends.
PPS I ate the whole bunch of parsnips, all by myself. Thank goodness Nora didn't like them. What a treat. I am roasting some more for our dinner this evening. Seasonal eating is the way to go...
PPPS Just so you don't get any grand ideas or anything, I should confess that as much as I love real food, organic living, seasonal menus, etc, I love my fried chicken and french fries as much as the next junk food junkie. I can't help it. So REAL FOOD most of the time, to leave room for some junk food occasionally.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
This morning we slept in. Then we enjoyed a nice breakfast of waffles. And the newspaper. And plenty of coffee.
What a nice thing to have a break from the farmer's market. Our first family at home breakfast on a Saturday for months. The boys took care of some farm chores. The girls played and practiced the piano. I washed clothes and made my bed. And filled out some papers and filed some papers.
We went into town to run an errand and greet a friend. Came home and enjoyed a visit by some friends who dropped in. Nora and I took a walk up to the upper fields to check on the sheep and the cows and to get some fresh air. The setting sun lit the ridge on fire. It looked like burnished bronze. Nora and I were happy to get warmed up by the nice woodstove.
Hamburger patties, organic grass-fed, of course, seasoned with some soy sauce and carmelized onions, went deliciously with sauteed cabbage and red peppers and onions and garlic. Liberally dosed with toasted sesame oil. The girls played Uno while I read from an anthology of poetry. I had forgotten how I loved Shelley.
Sad and lonely feelings, worries about the unfinished tasks, all quite heavy and burdensome, seem almost bearable, in such a homey setting. For a moment I forgot that today has enough troubles of its own as I worried about the mountains of worries that loom in my future. We are so exhausted from the year, I sometimes wonder if I can keep moving. But then the girls practice the piano, I taste delicious dinner, I see the ridge light up, I feel a sweet daughter play with my hair and a son massage my neck, and I know we will be able to keep moving. Step by step. Day by day.
PS I thank God for the many friends who have supplied us with firewood. Our house is cozy and warm. May they have their gifts returned to them a thousand times.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Yesterday when I breathed in the evening air, it was like a big gulp from a mason jar of green apple hard cider. Bright. Cold. Tart and brisk.
This evening it is different. Still cold. More depth. A little spicier. Wind like cinnamon.
I can now see through the silvery woods. Carpeted with what looks like the brown and gold shag carpet we must have had at some point in my history. Didn't everyone live in a house at some point in their life with brown and gold shag carpeting? Some designer had a good idea, probably looking out her window at the woods at the lovely carpet, and tried to translate it into synthetic fibers and flooring materials. I think I will stick to the hard wood floors and use my imagination as I look out at that gorgeous, yet ephemeral carpeting on my ridge.
I meant to look at some weather website to see the origin of our wind. Sometimes it smells like Marblehead, Massachussetts. Sometimes it smells like the south. Weird that wind can have a smell, but the other day a friend was mentioning to me the snow up in the midwest that would occasionally be covered in red Oklahoma dust. The wind makes me amazed to live on such a very big globe.
The sky was grey today, promising snow flurries. I wonder if those promises will come true? The kids have extra energy this evening and are using it to corral chickens to move them into winter housing. They are also moving the steer into the small goat field. We intend to gentle him down and give him a spot with less competition before he becomes our grass fed beef. Goats found a way out of their field this afternoon and Maggie got them resituated.
Today is my first Friday in ages to not bake for farmer's market. Yesterday was the first Thursday. Seasons change and so do markets. Wednesday was busy, and I am happy about the new venue. It is indoors, so we don't have to worry about the weather. There are so many wonderful veggies still available. I hope people won't forget about us. I shared some leftover breads with other vendors who shared some of their leftover veggies with us. Spinach and red peppers, which I sauteed this morning and threw in an omelet (please don't think me selfish to use our meager supply of eggs!). Wow. That spinach was rich and decadent. Yesterday for lunch I roasted sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, beets, onions, parsnips, garlic and yellow squash, all with plenty of salt and olive oil. Decadent. And every bit of it from our farm, or from our friends' farms. Except for the olive oil. Don't you wish we had some friends in the mediterranen with a nice olive orchard? Last night we had homemade pizza, freshly milled whole grain, of course, salad from market friends, sweet and tender greens with flakes of Jimbo's smoked trout, red pepper and carrots, topped with sesame vinegarette. I ate the leftover carrots today with ranch.
They were the best carrots I have ever eaten in my life.
We have grown delicious carrots. Buy great organic ones when we don't grow them. But these were out of this world. Sweet. Crunchy crispy.
Perfect. From Patchwork Farm. Orange and Yellow.
I am terribly spoiled now. I will have to find out what variety they planted and their technique. And in the meantime, I sure do hope they continue to enjoy eating our bread, because that is one barter deal I hope to pursue... And I hope that you local people will make your way out to West End on Wednesdays to try some of Patchwork's amazing carrots, parsnips and red peppers. Great stuff.
Well, I hear kids coming in from the dark cold. Boys split me some firewood and the woodstove is blazing. I think the kids will eat popcorn and watch a movie. A book is calling me. And so is the rocking chair in the living room by the woodstove. I'll miss market in the morning, but not too much. Plenty of things to work on, but my spirit is crying out for rest. Think I will listen. To that and to the wind.
Welcome to November.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Since the other goats show no sign of distress we are curious as to what happened. Why did she not go drink? We wonder if she ate a poisonous weed? Sometimes you just don't know.
Otherwise, all animals seem healthy at the moment. I hope they stay that way. We will miss seeing Thistle on the farm.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Amazing how much things can change in one month. Even in one day.
Today the trees on the ridge are silvery gray. Silvery gray with a hint of brown and gold. Most of the leaves have been blown away by the wind. It was oddly comforting to hear the wind these last few evenings. Comforting in that it seems like the right time of year to hear the howling wind make her entrance. She is still tonight, but never fear, she'll be back.
This evening I made meatballs for supper. Mixed a pound of grass-fed beef and a pound of the remaining pork sausage with a couple of our precious eggs, garlic, onions and a little oatmeal. Italian seasonings and salt. Fried them up in the cast iron skillet. While they cooked I made up a quick tomato sauce out of the very last tomatoes from the garden. And olive oil. And onions. And garlic. And oregano. So very simple, yet so delicious. After the meatballs were almost done, I placed them in the tomato sauce to simmer. Sliced a loaf of baguette (thankfully we had a couple leftover from market), brushed with olive oil and toasted. Warmed up a jar of home canned green beans.
End of season meals are poignant for me. I feel sad about the end of the tomato era, even though we will enjoy the canned variety throughout winter. For now, it is done. The act of cutting up the vibrant reds and yellows is an act of worship, celebrating summer sun and compost and sweat and weed pulling.
Maybe foods don't speak so vividly to others out there in the world, but they do to me.
So I enjoyed the meatballs and the green beans. And remembered summer days, and was thankful to have a nice fire in the woodstove so that our house is toasty. Not too long ago we were so very hot, we could barely move without dripping sweat.
Now November is here and we give thanks for chilly nights and sunny days. And for friends who have generously given firewood.
On another note, we are worried about Thistle, our Nubian-Saanen goat. Maggie found her isolated from the herd this afternoon. She was dehydrated. Wouldn't go drink or eat. We aren't sure why.
Her eyes were nice and brown, so we knew she wasn't anemic from parasite overload. Coat was shiny. We aren't sure what is the problem. The other goats in the herd seemed fine.
Maggie took her into a stall. Had to place her on a sled because she couldn't walk. She gave her baking soda and water. Later gave her some karo syrup and nutridrench. When animals are dehydrated, they have to have the electrolytes balanced, and need a big glucose boost to overcome the ketosis. Maggie took charge, with the little girls' help, as I finished making our supper. I went out and took a look.
I don't know if she will make it through the night or not.
But at least we tried to do our best. Maggie cried. I did too, a little, and we said a prayer to ask for guidance. That was when I remembered the karo syrup. We l0ve Thistle. We hope she will make it. We are so grateful for the many gallons of milk she has given us, and for the sweet babies.
But after so much real tragedy and loss, we are trying to keep our perspective. Will keep you posted.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Is there anything better than a fried, crispy homegrown potato?
We need some comfort food because we have been having a pretty hard grief week. All the literature, the grief counselor, our friends who have walked this journey before us, have told us that each season brings new waves of pain. Funny the things that trigger the pain.
For me, cleaning out the old homeschool curriculums was about more than I could take. Wow. I had no idea it would stir up so many things. I found old card Philip had written to me. Thought about how he would never write me another birthday or anniversary card. Found old stories and nature journal entries written by the kids over the years. Thought about how our life has changed and we won't be doing nature journals like we used to. Set up the bakery ingredient shelves. Worked on business strategy. Got tired. Thought about how I don't have another grownup in the picture to help share the financial burdens of the family anymore.
So many different things to grieve.
I didn't want to write about it in the middle of the hard stuff because it was too painful. But now that I am a couple of days out, it is a little easier, and I decided that for those other grievers out there (or future grievers, as we all have to grieve at some point or another), I would share a bit about grieving on the farm this week.
I cried pretty darn hard. There were days that I wailed. Sobbed. Moaned and groaned and threw up my hands to God. There were moments all I could do was say "Jesus." It hurt.
I was a bit taken aback and surprised that we had such a raw week of pain. The kids felt it too. We all occasionally felt mean, cranky, out of sorts, and mostly miserable. Because I had gone through most of my pain while here at the house alone, when I saw it surface in the kids, somehow it was recognizable. There were moments when I would take a child in the lap, hold her and let her weep, because she was so sad. All I did was rock and cry and say I miss him too.
Other moments I scolded and fussed.
It was hard.
One child told me he was cleaning his room and found an old birthday card that Dad had written him. It made him depressed and pain-filled for days.
The season has changed and we are experiencing a new era without Philip. The leaves are blowing away, the wind has returned, the cold is here and Philip isn't. All is new. We are having to figure out how to navigate life in our world in a new way.
It is hard.
The bread still has to be baked. The bills still have to be paid. Ingredients have to be ordered. Chickens have to be fed. Buses have be be caught. Homework done. Meals have to be made.
We walk onward. We read stories. We live. But it is occasionally very hard. Especially when six living people have to bump into each other's grief on a daily basis.
I thank God for our dear friends who do not grow tired of us. Who contine to lovingly support us and to listen and to help and to bear with. One might think that at this point we would be healed. We are doing well. We are surviving and thriving and working and healing. But not yet healed.
You know the awakeness I mentioned the other day? Another level of grief anesthesia has worn off and with that a new level of pain. I am feeling MUCH better today, but that feeling better has come after buckets and HOURS of tears.
Feeling is hard work.
I don't even know why I am sharing all this stuff, except for the fact that there are grieving people who read this blog who see all the stuff we do on the farm and might mistakenly get the idea that there is a way to get through grief without ending up a puddle on the floor wailing occasionally. We thank God for the capacity to keep moving, but I must acknowledge that we are sometimes moving while weeping and wailing. And sometimes we aren't moving, but are sitting in a puddle in the middle of the floor.
All that said, there are moments of extreme joy these days. And pleasure. And gratitude. We do smile. And enjoy amazing miracles. Like hashbrowns made from our potatoes. From potatoes grown on the farm during a time when we really shouldn't have had the wherewithal to even plant potatoes. But miraculously we did. And somehow got them harvested. And cooked.
The main reason I wanted to post tonight is to mention the amazing sight out my window this evening. Just as the sun set, I looked out to the east and saw the most beautiful gift. A pink wash spread over the ridge, the fields, the garden. It reminded me of one of my favorite paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I can't tell you the artist or the name of the painting, but it is a small one. Tiny, compared to the huge masterpieces. It is harvest time, and I bet you a dollar it was painted in late October. The fields and the harvested hay are green and brown and golden and orange and a pink wash spreads over everything.
And for a moment this evening, I felt an intimate connection with that artist, long dead, and felt washed in beauty. And felt that even after all the tears and pain of my own grief, and my dear precious children, there is joy. And life. And goodness.
But now, I better go finish those hashbrowns. And enjoy a movie with the kids. Goodnight.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
It has been so warm the last couple of days. Nora has spent time every afternoon riding her bike up and down the driveway. I went out to pick a few more ripe tomatoes. A gentle breeze is blowing and things are still damp from the morning rain. The ridge looks like November. Mostly golden, heavy on the brown with a dash of cayenne here and there. The fields are still green. Cattle, sheep and goats are grazing happily.
All the beautiful colors outside have inspired my supper menu: Bright green broccoli, sauteed in olive oil with garlic and salt. Deep orange sweet potatoes, sliced and roasted in the oven with, yes, you guessed it: olive oil, salt and more garlic. I think I will give the kids some grass-fed hamburger meat, made into little bitty steaks and I will have the last lamb chops, to make room for the lamb to come. Of course that will be prepared with some rosemary and garlic. The arugula is so vibrant and healthy looking out in the garden, I think I will go pick some of that to saute with some, yes, more olive oil and garlic. A couple of red and yellow tomatoes sliced on the side, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and we are set.
Bon Apetit! And everything locally grown. Yum.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Philip and Daddy turned a lot of those boards into a stock rack for the pickup truck to haul animals here and there. Then Philip took another big stack of them and made me a huge bookshelf that spanned the wall of our breakfast room/school room. He wanted to sand them down, I asked him to leave them rough, and just paint them. I wanted to remember that these shelves came off our property.
I remember the days I spent organizing our school materials. American History. Advanced American History. Elementary World History. Middle school World History. Intro to Biology. Intro to Physics. Nature studies. Biographies. All the math curriculums we tried: Making Math Meaningful. MathUSee. Saxon, several years of that. Teaching Textbooks, 4th grade, 6th grade, PreAlgebra. Art books. Music stuff. Supplies for science experiments, some of which we got to. And then the literature. Oh, the literature.
As the years went by the books got a little disordered. I found that the kids tended to pull books off the shelf out of order, because they would find something interesting and read it in their spare time. This year a few people have given me advice to clear it out, now that we are not homeschooling, to make better use of the space for the bakery.
I couldn't do it until this week.
So Sunday night I began the task of sorting, clearing out, setting aside. I decided that even though I could probably sell a lot of stuff, it would take too much labor and time, and will end up sharing some with a couple of friends and take the rest to Goodwill tomorrow. Hopefully someone will find a great deal that will help their homeschool and Goodwill can use the money to give someone a job.
I am keeping the good stuff. Literature that is. And nature guides. And the good history and biographies. After getting rid of twaddle (that is what Charlotte Mason, educator from the 1800's called worthless books) there was more room on the several bookshelves in the front hallway. Especially when I removed the old game boxes that were missing pieces, and the old Mother Earth and Gourmet magazines that I will probably never miss. And the extra sets of encyclopedias.
Why am I writing about clearing out homeschool books on this farm blog? Well. I guess a reminder to myself that this is a blog about our life here in our promised land. A land that involves a farm. And a bunch of kids. And a bakery. And former homeschooling mom and wife and mother of five who is now not a wife, or a homeschooling mom, but still mother of five who needs the bakery to run more efficiently, especially as the market season slows down and I wish to incorporate cooking classes here on the farm.
So I feel really teary right now. Grieving the many losses that have led to such drastic changes in our life. And happy. Thankful to see the wonderful shelves filled with packages of yeast and grain and Real Salt and spices and cheese making supplies.
The boys carried out boxes and boxes and laundry baskets and laundry baskets filled with books out to the car. I will distribute them tomorrow to get them off the property. I feel like I did a good job of keeping the good stuff and getting rid of things we no longer need. I hope to never ever need to see a Saxon math book again in my life.
Somehow all this production makes me feel like I have reached a new level of awakeness. But it is stretching me and it hurts. Little girls are unhappy to see halfway used up coloring books go. They are afraid when they see the cleared out shelves that the good books are all gone. But I reminded them to look in the umpteen other bookshelves in the house to see that the good stuff is still here. We will always be a book family with too many books.
Now the bakery is looking like a bakery.
And I am tired. And grieving loss. And change. Some days I wish we could rewind and go back to being what used to be normal. Shelves of disorderly homeschool books, chores, spelling lessons and history and working out ways to learn math, all of us. A smaller garden and a smaller bakery and all seven of us here. And kids with a dad who loves them and their mom.
Nobody ever promised that living in the land of milk and honey wouldn't have its share of tears and grief and hard work.
PS Don't worry too much. By tomorrow I am going to feel so good having those shelves organized and excess clutter removed. But it does kinda hurt tonight.
Patrick commented on how grateful he was that our sheep have wool. You see, the sheep are part wild, since they are raised on pasture, instead of in the barn with a bucket of grain. They don't just follow us like the dogs. But a few years ago we had a lot more trouble getting them to cooperate, and it is nice to see that some experience, along with developing some confidence and muscle bulk, has made lamb loadup relatively painless.
We dove in, grabbed a fistful of wool with confidence and gently but firmly moved each fellow through the barn door and up into the bed of the truck. No need for a trailer for such a small load.
Then we showered up, kids got on the bus and I headed to West Virginia to our butcher. Somewhat sad to say goodbye to the trio of January rams I like to call the Three Musketeers. They have played together, hung out, bullied, chased the girls and consumed their fair share of nice green grass. If one is raising sheep for meat, one can't get terribly sentimental about taking lambs to the butcher. That is the destiny for most of the male sheep. We have a handful of wethered males and keep them for wool, but our farm can't sustain any more without overgrazing.
So instead of thinking about the destiny of most ram lambs, I drank my coffee and enjoyed the most amazing drive through the mountains. Maybe it is because I am from Texas and long drives are a part of your destiny if you want to get from point A to point B. Maybe because I am around people a LOT and a nice long drive means solitude for me. Who knows, but taking a drive, especially on a fall day, seemed like a pretty nice gift for this girl. And no guilt for driving all the way to West Virginia on a Monday when there was laundry to be done and floors to be swept when the drive was work related. I had to take those lambs! People are waiting on that delicious, healthy meat. And I need to sell that meat to pay bills over the winter.
So, I put in a Fernando Ortega compilation of hymns and cranked up the volume. Growing up in a little Southern Baptist church out in the country, with a piano playing mom and music leader dad, meant lots of hymn singing for me. We would sing around the piano with our friends, Keith and Kathy Hamburger for hours in the evenings when they would come over for supper. We would sing as we drove around. We sang in the church out at Naruna, over a hundred years old, surrounded by live oaks and graves and farms, deer munching acorns and the big old windows open, my dad adjuring the congregation to sing out like they meant it.
So maybe you think hymns are boring and can't imagine why anyone would want to listen to them cranked up loud while driving through scenic countryside in the Allegheny Highland, but to me, they sound like home. Especially if they are arranged by Fernando Ortega and he sings in just the right key for me to join in with a tenor or alto part.
The leaves in the mountains were just barely past their peak. Reds and browns and golds fluttered and whirled. Heavy grey clouds and misty rain caused the color to be even brighter and more spectacular.
As I drove the words to the hymn "How Firm a Foundation" spoke to me like never before. We have felt like we were going through the deep waters, way before Philip died. We have felt like we were being pushed along in a river of woe. I thought about that as I drove past the James River and saw it tumbling over the rocks and boulders. In our fiery trials, we have been provided exceedingly abundant grace. And when I felt my soul shaken by hell, I knew, deep down in my inmost parts, that I was not forsaken. My God has given me aid, has walked by my side, has carried me, never abandoned me.
I sang and worshiped God. I thanked him for his grace and provision for me. Each hymn pouring out my heart, lifting it up as a small thank you note.
Trees and river and rocky escarpments the most amazing of sanctuary and my truck a great pew.
The drive home took a secular turn and I had fun belting out contemporary pop songs. Believe it or not, I think that was an act of worship as well. The whole package deal. Hymns, clouds, sunshine, colorful leaves, seasonal changes, harvest time of produce and meat, solitude, peace, even the coming home to be with the kids and hurry hurry to get everyone where they needed to go for the evening.
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below,
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen."
Sunday, October 24, 2010
This evening some friends came over to help me reattach the camper top to the truck. Tomorrow I plan to load up three lambs and take them to the butcher.
I thought I might pen up the fellows this evening, but after a quick walk about, decided that morning with the help of the kids before they take off for school would be a better economy.
Even so, the walk out to the fields was a gift to me.
What is better perfume than the smell of grass, with a note of sheep's wool, leaf mold and moist, late October air? The leaves are so beautiful, green rapidly replaced by browns and golden with a little dab of red here and there. While the sun was up, I was happy to be out in short sleeves.
Even the heifers could feel the fall energy as they and the rest of the herd walked up the field to the barn. They frolicked and cavorted, kicking up their heels. They gave each other kisses, then returned to their work of munching grass.
I stretched out my arms to embrace it all and spent a few minutes loving on my farm. I wanted to drink it all in.
How could a person have such a deep and grand affection for a little spot on the huge globe? Marigolds glowed, the chickens contentedly clucked and dogs wandered about by my feet. Blue sky turned dark, I moved back inside as the cool, moist air fell onto the evening.
Sentimentality set aside, I began to tackle the job of going through old homeschool literature, setting aside a give away pile, determining the keepers. Sneezed old book dust. Listened to Nora read. Felt energized to do necessary tasks, thanks to a few minutes of peaceful restoration.
I wish everyone could realize how valuable it is to spend even a few minutes outside, looking at the marvelous world that surrounds them. Sky, trees, plants. Just breathing the air for a few minutes, noticing the seasonal smells helps to center me and give me enough ummph to keep on moving.
Now, it is time to read some more of our book. Tomorrow let's hope the lamb loading goes smoothly. The drive to West Virgina should be amazingly beautiful. Perhaps I better make sure to schedule five extra minutes to sit at the top of the mountain on the drive home to breathe.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
We oohed and aahed as we marveled at the rainbow that surrounded it.
After getting home, I had to take my glass of wine and sit on the deck to watch it continue to ascend in the east. There are a few clouds, but not too many and it shines like a spotlight. The coyotes howl a mile or so up the woods. The neighborhood dogs take turns barking back.
Now I sit in my bedroom and look out the window, getting a crick in my neck. If I had any sense at all, I would bundle up and take a walk and bathe in moonbeams.
Instead, I will bundle up under the covers and read a library book by lamplight. Hopefully to dream of wonderful things. Like moonbeams.
The moon makes me think of the great great grandmother's silvery globe in The Princess and the Goblins. A comforting guide, shining the light on the safe path home.
I am glad to be all safely home, kids asleep or reading their books. All quiet on the homefront. For the moment. Sweet dreams!
Chickens and ducks ate quite a few sweet potatoes, but it appears that they left us a few. Which is wonderful, since I have grown to adore roasted sweet potatoes and olive oil.
Before heading out to the garden, I had a wonderful chat on the phone with my former Spanish and French professor from college. Isn't it amazing how true friendships can last for decades? Since it was so sunny and warm, I took the call out on the deck. And watched the asian ladybugs swarm around the house. Rose went out with a jar to collect them. Maybe she should start a business selling them, except I would hate to be a part of an industry dealing in invasive bugs.
Those bugs are crazy. Look back to November 1st,2008,in the blog to find a very funny story in the comments by Ross about his ladybug experiences!
After mentioning Indian Summer the other night in the blog, I did a little research. Looks like a true indian summer occurs after the first frost. I suppose today would qualify. 70 degrees outside, warm sun, slight breeze. Couldn't get much prettier.
And speaking of pretty, when we drove onto the farm this afternoon, I said to the children that our firewood pile looked much larger than it did early this morning. I guess a firewood fairy came while we were out. Wow. And there were three different people who came up to me to give me a gift today at the farmer's market.
Isn't it strange how humbling it is to receive? It is hard. I can't pay everyone back for all they have done for us. I feel like we don't deserve the help and others are in more need. What to do?
Say thanks? It is so inadequate.
I am grateful for the many gifts we receive every single day. The gift of the warmth. The gift of the seasons and colors. The gift of our garden and our food. Our friends. The labor of others. Firewood. Money. Broccoli. Fish. Hugs. Phone calls. Running water.
I know this is rambling, but I felt the need to record a few little things before moving on in our day.
Friday, October 22, 2010
She was perfect. Brilliant. Crimson. Tucked down, part way on the giant bush by the road. I couldn't help myself and reached out to pluck the pretty flower. Sprawled on the ground was a blue chicory and a tiny little patch of what looked like miniature daisies.
I gathered up my little impromptu bouquet and enjoyed it all the way to the farmer's market. Afraid to miss the moment, because any minute now we will have a hard freeze and all the flowers will be gone. I marveled at the perfection of that little rosebud. But when I got to market, I forgot to put it in some water and by the time I got home last night, the little bouquet was wilted and looking far less than perfect.
I stuck the little flowers in water anyway, and put them on the windowsill and as I work this morning, I see them and think about the fleeting perfection of that rosebud.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The wind blew throughout the farmer's market this afternoon. It was nice and warm until the sun dipped below the horizon, then temperatures dropped about 20 degrees (at least it felt like that.)
As we packed up our wares, a full moon became visible toward the east. I know that the newspaper says that tomorrow is the full moon, but I don't believe it. What a gorgeous sight.
I wish you could have seen the golden evening light wash over the gold and orange trees, all lit up by the full moon, larger than life. As I drove in to the driveway, the sheep munched on the little field by the road, the house loomed large and comforting, and all was bright and alive.
Made me think of the lyrics to my favorite song by Andrew Peterson, The Magic Hour. Remind me to post those lyrics someday, or find them yourself on YouTube and listen.
Now the moon is a large spotlight, rising high. The evening is clear and cool, but the house is still warm. We enjoyed our supper around the table and another couple of chapters of Where the Red Fern Grows. Mashed potatoes and roast chicken were every bit as good tonight as they were last night. Another jar of home canned green beans hit the spot. Along with several slices of Milk and Honey bread, carrots and fresh lettuce from another vendor. Now Thomas washes up the dishes, little ones try to go to sleep and tomorrow is another day.
I wonder if we will dream about pups and little boys and Ozark river bottoms? Or full moons and bread and the wind?
Sun is shining and not a cloud in the sky.
I am grieving the change of the seasons today as I feel a bit chilled to the bone. Coco is now dried up and I am using store-bought cream in my coffee.
Isn't it weird that I could be so tired of going out and milking for ten months or so, but that when it is all over, I miss it?
Milking Coco is my quiet reflection time. A lovely practice in meditation as the breeze blows, the milk streams into the foamy bucket. I watch the chickens and goats in the distance. The leaves on the cherry tree and willow tree offer a different story almost every day. Each month I see the moon in a different location, the fields a different color, the garden in a different state.
Squatting down by Coco's flank, sometimes in a jacket, sometimes in pajamas, sometimes in shorts and tank top, I feel her warmth and the switch of her tail and feel connected to something big and old and good. I feel connected to my dad, to my grandparents and the many others in past generations whose strong hands brought forth cream and milk and cheese and butter from the dear animal who magically transformed grass into white gold.
Milking Coco this year offered a seriously difficult form of grief therapy as it forced me to get up and move when I didn't know if I could even walk, let alone wash up the milk bucket, go outside, grab grain and force my hands to work mechanically. Coco munched her grain as the milk streamed. And as my tears streamed down my face. I felt tiny little bits of healing wash over me as each week progressed, the seasons changed and the grass greened and the trees flowered and the garden grew, all while squatting by Coco's flank.
Coco is now pregnant (we presume) and needs a couple of months off to put all her resources into the new baby. Before you know it, winter will be here, baby will be born, and another cycle of milking will begin.
There will be plenty of opportunities to go outside and watch my world. But rarely is there another activity that forces me to squat down, be still for 15 or 20 minutes to simply watch and listen and feel.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I can never decide which is my favorite part of my favorite season.
I think each moment is my favorite part. Right now, the riot of colors contrast so beautifully with the remaining green of fields. Seems like we typically get our hard freeze by now. Must be about to strike, anyday now. Then the fields will get with the program and set aside the green outfit for a more suitable wheaten color. Cows, goats and sheep are eating grass with a vengeance, they must know the green is soon to be gone.
The sound of rain is sort of bittersweet. It is the perfect accompaniment to the remainder of my pile of paperwork. The house is still and quiet. I am almost tempted to open up every window, try to get the temperature down a bit and light a fire in the fireplace. Almost, but not quite. We have plenty of fireplace days ahead of us. Guess I better get to the retail sales taxes, the winter budget, and farm plans for the next season.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Meanwhile, the bread bakes, the breezy clouds fly by, and fall leaves flutter and fly like butterflies. More later!
Sunday, October 10, 2010
I took a vacation day today and stayed home from church. Woke up early. Went back to sleep. Luxuriated in laziness. Made coffee. Spent a very long time reading the Bible. Cleaned my room while the girls made waffles. Organized a few things. Filed papers. Washed laundry. Ate tuna fish on the deck with Nora.
Amazing how great it feels to spend the entire day at home. I feel refreshed and relaxed. Yesterday we had a great day at market, and when I got home, Jason's dad was out working on my garden. I joined him for a while, finding rows underneath the weeds. The soil looked great. Not much feels better to me than soaking up the sun, working out in the garden. God bless Jason's dad for investing in us!
Then we drove to Bent Mtn to a party out on our friends' property. Bbq, all the good stuff to drink, panoramic views of the Blue Ridge, a bonfire, plenty of friends, old and new and the most amazing sunset I have witnessed in a while. Sometimes it is hard to make the effort to drive somewhere far, but am I ever glad we did. I believe God made us to spend moments together with our community, and also moments alone, with our thoughts.
What a lucky girl am I, to get a decent dose of everything I needed this weekend. And with enough time this evening to dive into a good book. Monday doesn't look nearly as daunting when we carve out some margin in our weekend. Maybe tomorrow we will put our NEW PRESSURE WASHER to use! You know how I feel about pressure washers. Look out barn, here we come!
Friday, October 8, 2010
By late morning, the sun was up and the chill was gone. By midday, the temperatures were up to 70 something and I felt like pouting.
Of course, by now you know I love to bake bread. Milling grain into flour and mixing it up with Coco's milk and honey is alchemy. I love witnessing magic as the natural glutens develop and gloppy dough becomes satiny loaves.
However, there are days like today when the sun is shining and I feel distracted and wish more than anything that I could be out working in the garden, pulling weeds, finding rows, mulching and preparing for the winter so we can be ready to plant in the springtime. Hence the pout.
At some point I ran up to the mailbox to get the newspaper and took it out to the garden and sat in the middle of the weeds to read. Yanked some monster lamb's quarter. Found some ripe tomatoes (however in the world did the chickens miss those three?). Shed an almost bitter tear and went back into the bakery to resume my work.
So I guess the point of this post is that sometimes farmers have to go to work to be able to pay the bills to be able to stay on the farm. And sometimes the things you really want to do have to wait. I will get to the garden, soon. Won't get it all done, but I think that the pouty feeling was a good indicator that I better find some time to work outside. Winter days are coming and I need to take in some Vitamin D!
Supper is almost finished, the bread is wrapped and the kids are playing together outside. Patrick is desperate for someone to practice lacrosse with so I saw him teaching Rose how to hold the stick. Nora is setting out some mums to make things look nice and fallish. Thomas is taking a nap and Maggie is working on something. The evening sky glows pink and blue like a baby blanket.
For some reason, this time of fall makes me feel steeped in melancholy. The colors and the feel of the air touch my spirit like a winsome violin piece. Guess I better run downstairs, milk Coco and enjoy the piercing music of the dusk and appreciate the ability to feel. Melancholy, grateful, pouty, tired, sad, happy, expectant, at least not mad for the moment!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I enjoyed my omelet breakfast this morning. With shorter days and longer dark, the egg supply has diminished to next to nothing. I know we could set out lights and extend the egg season somewhat, but for some reason we never do. The bright early sunshine mornings filled with never ending omelets are screaching to a halt as we struggle to get up in the dark. Now we enter oatmeal season. And watch dark clouds sweep along and give thanks for socks and sweaters.
Monday, October 4, 2010
The bakery season has been a long one. Many long hours make for one tired woman.
This morning I ran into town to take care of some business. Was planning to rush home and get back to work, but somehow my car got pulled into the McAfee's Knob trailhead parking lot, as if by a magnet.
I used to hike a lot. These days the only hiking I get is when the animals escape to the wrong field. Which is alright. We live in the shadow of the Appalachian Trail and hiking around our property is a joy. But did I mention those long bakery hours?
A perfectionist enjoys long hard hikes, minimum 5 miles, up to 12 or 14, to feel like she is really accomplishing anything. I decided that it would be good therapy to take a nice hour, hour and a half hike, with no real destination in mind, to enjoy the beginning of fall. Didn't have any good shoes with me or water or snacks, but a stroll appealed to me greatly.
Blood pressure dropped, even as heart rate accelerated. The smell of earth and moss and leaves was the sweetest of perfumes. Fluttering falling leaves made me feel as if I were in the middle of a snow globe, but with autumn leaves instead of snow. Much better! The trail was quiet, as I headed toward Dragon's Tooth. Knew I couldn't reach that point, but the point for me was to be outside, to be quiet and to listen.
For a time I only listened to my heart beat. Tried to take in the colors of the mosses and lichen. Some so soft and green, like a leprechaun's faded velvet coat, a bit worn around the edges, but fine and dandy. Other mosses were emerald and glowing, inviting like a fancy wing back chair set in front of a fire, with a little table beside, upon which rested a nice old pipe. The lichens were curled and frayed, grey and worn, like pages of a book scattered in a rain storm. Mountains in the distance were soft and blue and comforting to me.
At some point along the trail I reached the giant boulders. A place where we used to bring the kids when we would travel between Texas and New Jersey. We would pause the trip, spend a couple of hours hiking, let the kids crawl over the boulders and stretch from the endless miles. We would look into the valley and dream and wish we could live here.
After we moved to the farm, we would take the kids and hike and marvel that our dreams came true.
Last time I hiked with Philip and the kids along that spot was my birthday a couple of years ago. I told Philip that a nice hike with the family was what I wanted for my birthday (which falls in fall). He took the morning off of work and we all meandered along, crawled over the boulders, sat in the autumn sunshine and reveled in family time, crisp air, colorful leaves all brown, red and gold.
What a surprise. As I reached those boulders, I was racked with sobs. Out of nowhere, grief welled up as a fountain. No more will we hike together as we did back then.
I allowed myself the space for sobs. Wept and embraced the loss. Sat for a few extra minutes, then headed back down the trail.
It may sound weird, but oddly enough, I didn't stay sad. A bit bittersweet, but more poignant than sad. I deeply miss Philip and our family times together. But we will still hike as a family. Probably not as often as I would like, but it is part of who we are. I am thankful to have had a few moments to be still and feel today. But now, back to work! I hope you readers will take the time and go outside to feel today. Sometimes that involves some pain, but trust me, I think it is a good thing.
I have been happily distracted from the computer by kids and friends. I have found that since the kids are gone to school all day long I want to enjoy more time with them in the evenings. We have been sharing reading time with the whole family. Reading books out loud around the table with the kids is one of the most favorite things in my life. Currently we are in the middle of George MacDonald's Princess and the Goblins. Irene is a wonderful princess and one can see, over and over, why CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Madeline L'Engle were influenced by MacDonald's writings.
So I can truly say that things are going well on the farm. Just busily distracted.
Yesterday we had home church. It was a lovely day. Began briskly. For the first time in the season I noticed steam rising off Coco's milk as it streamed into the bowl. Trees are dusted with color. All seems vibrant and alive. One last hurrah before the frosts come and freeze away all memory of summer.
We set up our church under the willow tree. Sun was shining. Maggie picked a beautiful bouquet of deep purple parilla, dark orange marigolds, and pink and white cosmos. I especially enjoyed the different readings from the Lectionary. Psalm 37:3 is a verse I would like to claim as a theme for my life:
"Put your trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on its riches."
I think about what it means to dwell in the land and feed on its riches. Our lunch seemed to me to be the perfect illustration for that verse. After milking and pouring myself a cup of coffee, I went upstairs to prepare for the sermon and the service. Kids were fussing around a little. I wasn't sure what we would eat for Sunday dinner. I felt tired from the bakery marathon. Empty. Wondered what in the world I had to offer.
Feeling a bit frayed around the edges, well, more than frayed, more like a moth eaten wool blanket, full of holes, I lifted up hands to heaven, and asked God to take me, as I am, and let his light shine through me. All of a sudden, I felt a renewed energy, and the scriptures came to light.
An old rooster, thrust into the freezer, became a huge pot of "stone soup."
Perfect for a blustery afternoon. (see end of post for recipe)
Bible verses that previously fell flat all of a sudden gave me inspiration and hope. We read from Habakkuk, a 7th century BCE levitical choir member and minor prophet who reminded me that we can pour out our complaints to the Lord who listens with a tender ear. His poetry moved me. Second Timothy was also a tender passage, a sweet letter from Paul to his son in Christ, reminding the young man that it is not because he works hard and does everything perfectly, but because of God's purpose for his life and grace that is poured out that he can fulfill his calling. Jesus' words in Luke were the cherry on top of the icecream for me. The disciples were asking Jesus to give them more faith. He told them that if they had faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, it would be more than enough to accomplish the most major of tasks. We passed around mustard seeds and marveled. Asked God to help us use the bit of faith we already have.
Instead of sweating and getting a sunburn like last church service under the willow, we shivered in our sweaters, wishing for one more sweater. But it was worth it, to see our glorious valley, lovely in its richness, decorated with goats and cows and sheep, polka dotted with roaming chickens and ducks and geese.
Thomas made a big fire in the fireplace and we dined in the coziness. No feast could have been more satisfying than our big pot of soup with bread on the side. Followed by dessert, gifted to us by one of our farmer's market friends. (Thanks, Thistle Dew Farm!!! The pound cake and lemon roll were enjoyed by everybody! We licked the platter clean.) We were truly thankful to dwell in our land and enjoy its riches.
Here is how we made our stone soup (and if you do not know the tale, I hope you would look it up, it is an old story about ingenuity of a couple of travelers and how they used their craftiness to make a delicious supper of which the sum was infinitely better than the parts.)
Old rooster in the pot, covered with water
Several onions from the garden
Several cloves of garlic
Several carrots from the garden, peeled and chunked
a head of cabbage from some of our market friends, chopped up and added the last half hour of cooking
a couple of peppers from Rachel and Jason
a couple of bay leaves
generous pinch of sea salt
a cup or so of wild rice scavenged from Rachel's cabinets
the remains of a bottle of Pace picante sauce
a generous amount of cumin and chili powder (are my Texas roots showing?)
We let the pot simmer for several hours, pulled out the carcass and picked off the meat, chopped it up and threw it back in. By the time the table was set and the bread was sliced, a very thick soup, very nearly a stew, was ready to eat and we delighted ourselves in it.
Every pot of stone soup is different, depending on what ingredients you have at hand. It would have been great with parsnips and green beans and potatoes. Could have been fantastic with butternut squash and rosemary and little white beans. With a dollop of pesto, a can of tomatoes and some kale and beans it would have morphed into a nice italian peasant soup.
I hope you will make yourself a pot. Soon. And share with friends. Such a wonderful picture of enjoying the riches of the land in which we have been placed. A little bit of this and that, all thrown together, simmered and stirred. Mmmmm.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Had a headache, didn't feel great. Went back to sleep for a bit after the kids got off to school, then hopped up at 9:30 and worked on home chores and paperwork. It is hard to know when to stop and when to go. All of us have been fighting back to school germs.
After a very productive day, kids got home. It was nice being with them instead of being at market. Patrick and I discovered that Carmelita had outgrown her halter. We cornered her and I was able to remove it. I was so very sad to see that it had rubbed her little nose raw since she had grown so big. It made me cry to think that I had neglected her. So many farm chores, so little time. So I guess instead of being mad at myself for neglecting Carmelita, I should be thankful for being home from market today to take care of her.
But for the moment I was mad at myself and had to go to the garden and rip out old towering sunflower stalks and toss them over the fence to work out my frustration.
Then we ate our supper with the Thomas' clan. Beef curry with tomatoes, eggplant, carrots and onions and lots of green beans. Said our goodbyes, washed up the dishes and then I took a friend's advice and got the big kids to join the little girls for our story time together.
All troubles were long forgotten as we sat around the dining room table and listened to George MacDonald's story of The Princess and the Goblins. Oh, the great theology that is covered in children's literature. Then we prayed the Lord's Prayer together, remembered to pray for our many friends and family, and now to bed with us all. School projects laid aside for the time being. Farm projects laid aside for the time being. Bakery laid to rest for a few short hours.
The wind blows, warmly tonight. Moon rises way past my bedtime. And I can be thankful for the margin given us to share stories and dinner and good things together with family. And friends. And for Rose who told me to be sure and write in the blog, even when I was telling her it was too late and I should go to bed.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
A drizzle fell off and on and chilled me to the bones, so I broke down and lit a little fire in the fireplace. It was so pleasant to take care of some of my paperwork with a cup of coffee and a fire in the fireplace. Thankfully the rain stopped when it was time for customers to pick up their bags of wheat and other goodies. It is drizzling again and I almost feel like a wimp for having a fire when the temperature is at 57 degrees.
Makes me think of my Great Aunt Dee-Dee. She loved to play the piano. She loved fudge. She loved her many nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. And she loved a fire in the fireplace.
So perhaps after a nice shower, I will take my book and sit in front of the fire and celebrate fall. And warmth. And the luxury of a fireplace in the dining room. If the forecast is correct, we have several cool, damp days ahead of us.
PS Tonight it was apple butter and spelt milk and honey bread for supper. But yesterday I sauteed some of Aah Organics ultra lean grass-fed organic ground beef with onions, garlic, some cumin, a pinch of cinnamon, sea salt and a big bunch of kale. It was so delicious. The only thing that could have made it any better would have been a handful of raisins and some pine nuts. Even so, the spices with the kale and beef were quite yummy. It is fun to cook with unusual flavors.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The gentle rain fell all night long Sunday night. It fell all day yesterday. Into the night.
But this morning the rain has stopped. The crow of the roosters echoes down our little valley. Looks like the sun is going to come up on a fairly clear day.
The pond is not full, but it certainly looks better than it did a few days ago. The green of the grass and trees is brilliant. I want to enjoy it thoroughly because I know that it is fleeting and we won't see it for a very long time, once the first frosts hit.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Contrasted against rainy grey sky, the yellow turning leaves are brilliant. Marigolds and zinnias in the garden glow like neon.
I love sunny days, but there is something about a long gentle rain that makes a Texas girl's heart tender. Maybe because it is such a rare thing in the Lone Star State.
Long gentle rains have been a rare thing around here these days and that makes today feel great. Makes me happy to fold clothes and putter in the kitchen. Even makes filing paperwork almost sort of enjoyable, in a surreal sort of way.
All seems subdued and calm. The sound of steady rain makes me feel serene. The pond is far from full. Even after a whole day of precipitation. But I can see rivulets forming and have hope that after a couple more days like today, we will see it nice and full.
BTW, not too long ago we couldn't make it through a church service without weeping. I noticed today that we smiled together as a family. Laughed. Enjoyed our cuddles, but not in a desperate, pain-filled way, but in a more normal, we love to cuddle with each other in church sort of way. I didn't feel like I stuck out as a sore thumb all through the service or as we took communion. Before, I felt my aloneness, my being without Philip, as a glaring spotlight. But today, not so. I felt happy.
It is good to feel happy.
Not that I don't miss Philip. We ran by the cemetery after lunch and told him we missed him. We wished he were here. We shed a couple of tears, but then before we left the cemetery to head home the kids were chattering and joking. It is hard to believe he is gone, but I rejoice that we can feel joy again. And happiness. And hope.