Sunday, February 28, 2010

Post Script

I know this blog is a farm blog, but first and foremost it is a story of our days in our land of milk and honey. I am not intending the posts to be all inclusive as a thank you forum, for then I wouldn't be able to be free to throw out my thoughts as I process. I guess it is kind of scary to be transparent, but writing helps me keep moving and I appreciate so many of you for walking with me.

Never did I imagine that this forum would connect me to so many dear friends. You are so precious to me. Thank you for sharing our hurt and our laughter. Your prayers are helping to bear our burden and I am experiencing a peace that passes understanding right now.

I know I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude to this beloved community, our home. Home.

But I do hope you have an inkling that we are deeply, deeply thankful to all of you. You are precious to us.

And even in the middle of the horrible season, we are home and that is a relief.

Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me

There was no moment of waking up with even a dream of normalcy for me today. No sweet second of restful sleep. Just miserable tossing and turning.

It felt right to make coffee and work on kitchen cleanup. Made bottle for Dot and fed her hungry self. Milked Coco in snow flurries. Dot woke up ready to drink her breakfast. Listened to a couple of my favorite songs on iTunes and groaned.

Ate a teeny muffin. Ate a piece of bacon. Switched from coffee to herbal tea. Listened to Andrew Peterson and cleaned my office. Knelt in the middle of the hallway and raised my hands up to praise God with my chest crushing in. Pretended that nobody was around and mourned as I threw out old junk mail and broken things that Philip won't be fixing.

He fixed everything.

Our new dishwasher broke, so he found an old dishwasher to use for parts to fix the new one. It worked for awhile and then played out. So he put the old dishwasher he acquired for parts in to use and found parts to fix it. He fixed our Suburban, our toilets, our chimneys, our faucets. Some people might wonder why people on farms sometimes have old junk around. He used the old junk for parts so he didn't have to buy a bunch of expensive new stuff.

It was a lifestyle choice.

He figured he could fix the old phone that quit working, so we pulled it aside and he got another used one at the Habitat Store in the meantime. As I threw the broken phone in the garbage I felt such deep pain I couldn't breathe.

As the wave of pain crashed upon me I had a fleeting thought of how similar natural childbirth is to the grief I feel. Except the pain of childbirth was boom, boom, boom, so intense for a few minutes, I did think for a bit that I couldn't go on indefinitely. As we neared the end, I kneeled by the bed, stretched my back and released the pain with guttural cries that were scary and fierce. Previous births I didn't feel safe enough to let out that release. It is embarrassing and humiliating to let others see the raw parts. But for some reason, that last home birth was amazing. The deep core groans and utterances didn't take away the pain, but they made me able to pour it out.

When the waves crash upon me I have been trying to release the pain. It doesn't make it go away, but I am bearing it. I am thankful to have had enough space to be able to do that. I think this process is going to take a lot longer than childbirth.

It hurts.

How can he be gone?

Cynthia came and cut more hair and fixed me up. More dear friends arrived. More wood arrived.

We shared stories, ate a piece of cheese, drank more herbal tea instead of the coffee and headed to the church.

The viewing was this afternoon.

Many people greeted us. I was so proud of my handsome young men and young ladies, bearing themselves with dignity and grace.

I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and generosity. We are cared for.

Grilled cheese sandwich made with someone else's amazing spelt bread nourished me. Cousin Judith's dear hands comforted me. Kids are exhausted. So am I.

I guess it really is real that Philip is gone. But as we drove home from the church I wanted to tell him so many funny stories. As we said goodbye to people tonight I caught myself turning to find his face behind me, to head upstairs and compare notes.

A friend, Vasil, suggested that I start to write Philip letters. I don't know if I can do that yet, but maybe I will talk to him in bed tonight. I think that is very good advice. Tomorrow I have to head to the cemetery early to pick out a site. So many things to do. A whirlwind. Could we hit the pause button?

BTW, we asked a friend to take care of Dot. She wasn't doing well by early afternoon. Needed to put her in someone else's hands. At some point I told the little thing that I think I am feeling just like her. Weak. Needy. I don't know if she will live. I am doubtful. But I think we will make it. We have a very good shepherd taking care of us. He has many many hands and feet and they bless me. But for now, I am going to let my good Shepherd tuck me in and trust that he will lead me beside the still waters and get me through this valley of death.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Going to Sleep

We did chores. It felt good to throw hay, especially since Josh was watering the animals and feeding the pigs and picking up the empty feed bags that the pigs got ahold of and tore all over the place.

Laura made bacon and scrambled eggs and coffee. We slowly moved through the motions. Dot, the little lamb looked fine and so did the little new baby goat.

We went through stacks and stacks of photos, pulling out moments and memories of Philip to try to help people have some little clue what kind of man he was to us. I couldn't find some of our stashes of photos and felt hopeless thinking how important it was to me to show people how many places he visited, how many good deeds he did, how kind he was to the downtrodden, how he made us laugh and carried our stuff and fixed broken things.

Phone calls. Hugs. Loads and loads of firewood gifts.




A friend came and gave haircuts. Other friends took the kids to get dress clothes. Other friends washed dishes and clothes and picked up trash. We cleaned my room. Swept behind the bed and the chair and the desk. Dusted. Terri and Julie and Rachel and I don't even know who all worked nonstop. So much kindness and love and care. From so many quarters.

Regina arrived. My parents and other sister and nephew arrived. So did Charla. So did Holly. Christine went with her son to see the new babies. Dot was unresponsive.

Christine came in for advice and Daddy went to investigate. No milk from the mother.

They brought the little weak thing in to the fireplace and I commanded her to live. She was so weak she couldn't suck and the milk and karo syrup went down the wrong tube and she began to drown. I held her upside down by the feet and the mucus and milk drained out and she began to breathe again. I felt weak and dizzy and sick to my stomach and told everybody they had to take over because I could not bear to see her die. I told God he had to either let her die immediately or let her live because I couldn't bear to suffer one more loss right now.

It was time to go to the funeral home for the family viewing.

Our first time to see Philip after the hospital. The first time for the kids, period.

We watched the video montage of all the pictures and laughed and remembered and cried. The kids and I went in to see Philip with Quigg, our priest. We groaned. We sobbed. We wept and looked at a body that sort of looked like Philip. His nails looked right. They were the nails of a very hard working guy and I recognized them. The hair by his forehead looked right. The funeral home guys did a great job, but they couldn't mask the fact that Philip no longer resides in that shell.

We clung to one another and then sobbed even more with my family.

"How can this be?"

"I can't believe this."

We go home, the lamb is alive.

Julie bought a baby bottle and some colostrum powder and sat with a responsive little Dot on her lap. She, Holly and Charla got peed on. Mom took over, she fed her more and Dot lifted her head, turned around and smiled at my mom. We laughed and laughed. I said thank God. So did everyone else. Then Dot drank a few more sips and snuggled in for a nap.

Kids went to sleep. I somehow managed to eat a few bites of soup, some pita chips and a taste of hummus, even though I didn't feel like it. All the food I love in the house and it looks like dirt to me.

Dot drank some more, got hungry and drank some more and in mid-suck she closed her eyes and feel sound asleep, like a toddler with his hand in the plate of spaghetti o's. She is asleep in a laundry basket by the fireplace and Uncle Mike and Daddy are going to take turns feeding her during the night shifts.

How can Philip be gone?

I can't believe this.

Waking Up

I dreamed this morning that we were in a big house and Julie's kids and mine were popping up out of bed here and there and Philip's happy voice cried out from another room, "It's time to wake up!". I woke up feeling normal then remembered he was gone.

I felt a heavy weight crush my chest and screamed without making a single sound.

I raised my hands up out of the bed and moaned in silence.

Thistle had a little doeling last night and Julie got to see it, newborn and wet. She is healthy and looks just like her daddy, Willy.

I am going to have a cup of coffee and go milk Coco.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Farm Continues Whether We Breathe or Not

Lucy had a female lamb this afternoon. Nora found her as she and Julie walked to the mailbox.

Many many hands took care of things I could not. The lamb is healthy and nursing. She brought a smile to children and some adults who needed a smile today.

I miss Philip. How can I endure life without his laughter and joy?

Yesterday morning he prepared me a breakfast of steak and fried eggs and hot coffee with heavy cream and brought it up to me as I tended morning emails. He went to work and then came home and cut firewood with the boys.


We will have the viewing on Sunday, 3-5pm at Church of the Holy Spirit, Roanoke, VA.

Funeral for Philip will be held on Monday at Church of the Holy Spirit as 3pm. Burial afterward and reception at our home afterward. You are welcome.

We are thankful for the outpouring of love, firewood, animal feed, people feed and more love.

"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights."

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Rejoicing with wailing and weeping and ashes.

Pain, Deeper than I ever imagined

I am reeling in shock and bewilderment.

My husband of 18 years passed away in our home tonight of acute heart failure. I will probably need to write about this quite a bit in the future, but for now, I desperately need your prayers for myself, and especially our five children.

I believe that the hand of the Lord is powerful.

I say that sobbing, barely able to breathe.

Crushing pain.

Please pray for our children. Thomas, 17, Patrick, 14, Maggie, 12, Rose, 9 and Nora, 6.

Thank you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Just thought I should mention that Monday we made the first cheese of the season. Mozzarella, several pounds, a nice bowl of ricotta, plus a couple of pounds of butter. Not to mention the gallons of whey. We made pizza for supper that evening and the kids were thrilled to be back in the cheese season. Yesterday we mixed the ricotta with garlic, lemon juice and thyme and spread that on pizza crusts for a snack to take to Grower's Academy. We gave some of the whey to the pigs, who loved it. We put some in the fridge for baking. I used some of the whey for the liquid in our curry this evening.

We are thankful for Priscilla and Coco and all that glorious milk. Now, if I can figure out how to make some brie, aged gouda, a nice gruyere, we will be in heaven! I can't wait to get out Grandpa Ted's cheese press. But will have to wait until baby season has come to a halt.


Home Education

Nita, our Nubian-Saanen, had a buckling on Monday. Thankfully he is healthy and strong. Looks like Willy, his Alpine daddy. The same afternoon I sent Maggie out to the barn during a brief lunch break from home school just to check on things. Cornflower's baby had escaped from her stall and when Maggie rescued the little booger she noticed Freda, one of the Jacob ewes, delivering a baby out in the snow. We picked up the shivering little lamb and maneuvered Freda into a dry, hay-filled stall out of the elements. After a rub down the baby seemed to be fine and we left them to bond and returned to our schoolwork. Once the lessons were done Maggie went back out to the barn for another check up.

Tearfully she returned to the house and shared the news that Freda had delivered a stillborn little lamb. Her other baby seemed alright. Next morning we discovered that the little survivor had gotten chilled and appeared to be suffering from hypothermia or something. We brought her into the house, fed her warm milk and put her in front of the fireplace. She was stiff and unresponsive, but still breathing. We tried dosing her with a little coffee and molasses, and old farmer's trick to jump start the weak ones. I called and left a message with the vet, wondering if we had a selenium deficiency, wishing to get a prescription for a supplement. Shortly after lunch the little lamb died in a little girl's arms in front of the fireplace. Several hours later I heard from the receptionist from the vet's office. To give a prescription for the selenium/vitamin E injection, he would have to come to the farm, charge us for the visit, plus the $50 travel fee, plus the prescription. Nearly $150 for a prescription for a vitamin/mineral supplement that is standard procedure for many farmers during lambing season in a region that is selenium deficient.

I was so frustrated.

What a crazy world.

Well, I made a phone call to a farmer friend of mine who had some selenium supplement she would sell me. Too late for the little lambs that didn't make it so far, but at least we have something for the ones to come.

And I did some more research on lambing troubles and learned that when a lamb gets hypothermic, they have so little body fat that when you warm them up, you have to give them a dose of glucose, otherwise their body will burn up all the resources they do have, and essentially will starve to death. Milk and sugar or molasses aren't good enough.

Ironically, an old high school acquaintance emailed me the advice of giving the weak lambs a strong hit of karo syrup. Very cheap source of glucose.

So we have a very sad Freda who is still grieving her babies, but we have learned quite a bit more about flock management. I hate being vulnerable and weak and ignorant and am feeling that way quite a bit lately.

Something else that came to mind in regards to sheep, I recalled an article by Wendell Berry about sheep breeds. This article described a culture that developed over 60 different sheep breeds in England, such a small geographical location. Farmers selected and bred sheep that would thrive and survive in their unique geographical little spot on the GPS. A little valley on the south side of a rocky mountain would have different minerals, parasites, brix index of the grass and hay, etc, compared to a little hilltop on the north side of the same mountain.

As I dealt with my frustration about the financial restrictions that make it impossible for a very small family farmer to call out the vet for every little problem, I considered the ewes and their lambs that have had the very same diet, have lived for the last year on the very same farm, eating and drinking the same thing as their sister ewes who have lost their babies and are strong and resilient, needing absolutely no interference from me, other than some loving words, fresh water, hay and a warm dry spot. They didn't need to be told to go in the warm dry barn. As we observe the flock this year, we will be able to distinguish which ewes are more suitable for this teeny little pocket along Little Catawba Creek Valley. Big farmers with big sheep herds will continue to buy their medicines and special supplements and specialty feeds and their standardized sheep will produce volumes of meat. The same sheep that are being produced all over the country. Because of our limitations, we hope to be able to develop a little flock of sheep that is uniquely suited to living with us on this little farm. It might take many more mistakes on our part and a few years before we reach that goal, but at least I felt a bit encouraged thinking that this is a process and success cannot be measured in one brief season.

No lambs or kids born today. We studied direct objects, wrote stories and sentences, covered some biology, worked on adding mixed fractions, read about King Charles I, Cromwell and Charles II. Marveled that intolerance can come in many flavors. The girls painted artwork and the boys kept a little fire going. There were snow flurries, but we were thankful that we missed out on a deep snow this time.

The growing moon peeked through cloudy skies as I milked Coco this evening. Melting snow gurgled and splashed in the flooded stream. More earth and mud showing today. I am thankful.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winter Reading and a new favorite book, or All's Well that Ends Well, occasionally

I really must avoid letting more than a few days go by without blogging because when I finally get around to writing I find an avalanche of stories and thoughts and pictures flood my keyboard and leave me thinking of one thing or another that I meant to write, some deep thoughts, some very clever anecdotes, some terribly wise advice.

Right now I am remembering that I want to reread Voltaire's Candide and share some thoughts about it with you. I found that book on the shelf last month and thought that if I read it, maybe I would become much smarter and erudite and intelligent, since I had some vague inkling that Voltaire was some smart French guy who wrote smart stuff.

Well, what a surprise!

I had no idea that I would be in for one of the most entertaining reads I have had all winter long. I laughed out loud, moaned in understanding, and pondered that the author could pen such a story in a mere three days. He covered love, romance, loyalty, optimism, corruption in government and church, happiness, war, death and treachery, adventure and world travel all in one very readable novelette. I enjoy satire and thoroughly appreciated that book.

I don't think I am much smarter, and probably not any more erudite than I have ever been, but for some reason, Candide touched me greatly. As he tried to find his way, his bumpy, messy, rather round about way, he brought me humor and deep satisfaction. There is even a chapter on Candide and his entourage trying to find redemption through sustainable agriculture. They almost find it. (redemption thru agriculture, that is.) Almost. I must read it again and share with you memorable lines. As soon as we get past this next round of lambs and kids. But in the meantime I will dream of Eldorado and wish to be swept away to that land of no troubles. And try to remember that I would probably be no more or less happy there than I am right here...

And then I will share with you my thoughts on spirituality, redemption and the Lord of the Rings, which I am reading now. By the way, I have more memory of the movie than the book, and am surprised by how much more satisfying is the book, even though the movie is the one of the best examples of any literature translated onto the screen.

Whew. Since the kids are home and helped with the evening chores, I actually had time to write this evening. I am feeling better already.

Glimmer of Hope

The days are notably longer.

The sun is rising earlier and after a very very long period of cold we are getting a break. The temperatures rose to the high 40's today. I bet it reached 50 degrees in town. It feels balmy. We let the fire die out. Since Philip was very sick early last week he was unable to go cut wood so we have been rationing the wood that some firewood fairies dropped off. It is a real break to feel warmth in my bones.

The sheep made their way out of the barn yesterday for the first time in days. The animals are happy to feel the sunshine as well. We still have plenty of snow, but I see sign of earth. Streams of melting snow flow here and there. I think that spring is near, even if it doesn't look like it. I have a feeling we will be hearing from the peepers in a couple of weeks.

Garden season will not begin when I wish it would. The garden is still covered in many inches of snow. I had planned to put in the first planting of peas on Valentine's Day. The best laid plans... The gentleman who gave us a lecture last week on organic gardening methods at the Grower's Academy reminded us that every winter we experience heavy snowfalls may lead to later season, but very productive harvest. So we hope for the harvest and dream of the planting season and watch the snow melt.

February Means Baby Lambs and Goats

Last Tuesday morning as I milked Priscilla, Philip cried out with news of the first baby lambs born this season. Sissy, a cotswold-jacob cross ewe is a lovely thing, rusty brown coat with curly wool, a mark of a backwards C on her nose. She is inquisitive and fairly friendly. She had two babies, a female with Jacob markings. I called her Prima, for obvious reasons. The male lamb is almost all black, with a funny white toupee marking on his head. I don't know what we will name him. He was almost twice as big as the little female. Both were up and nursing and nicely dried off by the time I finished the milking. Sissy was fine. We tucked the little family into a nicely cleaned stall (I was thankful that I took care of that job the day before), gave the momma a little grain and a bunch of hay and clean water.

Wednesday morning Esther, the oldest grandma Jacob ewe delivered a singleton. We placed her and the lamb in a nice clean stall. The baby was floppy and weak. Couldn't nurse. I headed to DC with Nora and left Philip to care for the little thing. He gave it warm milk and sugar with a syringe. It died later that afternoon.

Yesterday morning Annie, another Jacob ewe, delivered twin males. One was huge and very healthy. Nursed immediately. The other one never even made a noise. It died. We don't know if it was stillborn, or if it died shortly after. The one that lived is as large as the other almost one week old lambs. Maybe the delivery took too long. I don't know.

This morning, sometime between morning chores and after church Cornflower, Maggie's nubian-bohr cross delivered two little bucklings. The snow is melting and left a big puddle in a part of the barn. One of the babies drowned in the puddle. At least we found it dead in the mud when we went out to take care of afternoon chores. We weren't even expecting goat babies for another week or so. We placed Cornflower and her living baby in a clean stall with fresh water and plenty of hay. The little fellow is nursing and looks perfectly healthy.

Some years we don't lose any babies. Typically we lose one or two. Taking care of three little lifeless forms is kind of depressing. Makes me feel serious. Makes me question my judgement. Makes me wonder if I had been here on Wednesday instead of driving to DC could I have nursed the little lamb back to life? If I had been vigilant with Annie and had been present when she delivered, could I have assisted and helped the baby survive? If I had been out to shovel out the flood this morning would Cornflower's other baby still be alive?

Reality on the farm means a very healthy dose of life and death. My head tells me that I cannot live out at the barn every single minute. There has to be some kind of survival of the fittest. We do our part to take care of the animals, provide them a clean, dry place to hang out in the winter, but sometimes we can't prevent or foresee every single problem.

My heart, on the other hand, tells me that I could have done something more. I told my heart that it is understandable to feel a bit grieved, but blame won't bring any babies back. So we will do our best, dust off, pick ourselves up and be prepared for the rest of the baby season. No one promised that we would get to be the one family farm that doesn't have to experience loss or death.

I suppose that if you are wishing to have your own farm someday, be prepared for some heartbreak and loss.

I suppose that if you are wishing to live your own life someday, be prepared for some heartbreak and loss.

(I did mention a couple of posts ago that maybe some of you would be better of waiting until April to rejoin my blog world. I really am okay, and not clinically depressed or anything. At the moment. But am feeling sobered by life circumstances and might not be terribly cheery.)

Fairy Godmothers

We have a dear friend who is our fairy godmother. She and her kids invited Thomas, Patrick, Maggie and Rose to accompany them on a family vacation to Washington DC last week. For a full week! All expenses paid!

I wondered how I would manage with most of my farm help gone for so long.

Well, I managed, thanks to Philip, we did just fine, and Nora and I had some very precious days to spend together. But, wow. I certainly realized how much those kids contribute to our daily life. I thought I would have days to write, to catch up on movies and books.

Not so!

Nonetheless, it was such a joy for me to know that the kids were having the opportunity of a lifetime! They visited at least two museums a day, wrote in journals, played games and shared memories. Took hundreds of pictures. I drove up with Nora on Wednesday to accompany the gang on a visit to the National Geographic Museum to look at the Terracotta Warrior Exhibit. Then we were treated by Julie to a sushi feast to celebrate Thomas's 17th birthday. Last year during our world history studies we read about the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who unified China, began the Great Wall, and did many other amazing feats. Never did we dream last year that we would be able to actually see some of the warriors that were a part of an enormous funerary collection.

The kids have worked hard this winter, taking care of farm animals, hauling firewood in sleds, shoveling, keeping the fires burning. They have been cold. I am thankful that they were able to be spoiled a little bit by our friends, to enjoy central heating for a few days, and to enjoy many meals made with food that they didn't have to butcher and process, weed and can.

As they readjust to life back at home on the farm, we are enjoying hearing about butterflies and aquariums, flight simulators and art. Chinatown and sledders on the mall. Lincoln's memorial. Restaurant meals. Dim sum.

Thank you, dear Julie. But now I am glad to have everyone back home. Not just for their helping hands, but because I missed their faces.

Hibernation is for the Bears or Pressed Down but not Crushed

I have been trying to get to writing this post for the last two weeks.

I enjoy winter and snow and fires and hot chocolate, but at some point the winter blues catch up with me and make me irritable, weepy and occasionally downright mean. After a few days of crying, fussing and acting like a bear I certainly did wish I could hibernate. Hide in my room and not come out for a couple of months, oh, about the time the grass comes in nice and thick and the smell of spring flowers perfume the air.

Alas, my reality does not allow for total hibernation.

I did send out requests for prayer. Winter is a very lean season for us, as farm sales slow down to a near halt. Unfortunately the animal feed needs increase substantially long before market season begins. Philip is one of the many many people we know who has been suffering from job loss this winter. Add some health issues, broken down vehicles, firewood shortage and one of the harshest winters in years and you have one pressed down mama bear. I mean farmer.

When I feel pressed down I don't feel like writing. Every one has their own set of worries and troubles and the last thing they need is to hear me whine and complain. We have so much for which I am grateful. Plenty of food. Wonderful blankets and comfortable beds. Mason jars and hot water that make for wonderful bed warmers. Not to mention the hot showers. Every time I have a hot shower I say thank you to God. Every time we sit down to the table I say thank you. When the wash goes from the washer to the dryer I say thank you.

But even so, the worries are there. The bills. The health issues. The needs of the kids and the farm. The broken stuff.

I would like to bury my head under a pillow and disappear for a season.

But the morning comes and the cows have to be milked.

When the kids were little, I would force myself to move during moments of weakness because I knew they couldn't feed themselves. Now they can make their own omelets or pot of oatmeal. They need me, but not desperately.

The cows, however, need me.

During the very darkest days a couple of weeks ago, it felt like torture to force myself into the cold to squat down and milk. But once out there, hands warmed by steaming udder, face nuzzled up to warm flank, I breathed in and out, in and out, knowing that eventually all would be well. Occasionally the milking was accompanied by tears, but Coco didn't seem to mind. She even helped me get myself out of the house by bellowing for me a couple of mornings, to let me know how important my role was.

Maybe some people would scoff at my weak spots, deride me for succumbing to my self pity and angst. Tell me to pull myself up by the boot straps, dust off and get back to work.

Thankfully the cows and my other friends don't.

They remind me that the cold hard days are hard. That a few tears and sorrow and grief won't kill me. That feeling weak doesn't mean I am a failure. Just tired.

Then morning comes along, the sun comes up, the kettle whistles, the bowls get sterilized and once again, the discipline of milking gets me moving.

I am thankful for that discipline. Don't always enjoy it, but it helps to keep me from drowning in despondency.

Also thankful for encouraging friends, gifts, sweet notes and for God who gives me faith and reminds me that it is okay to be a little weak every once in awhile. Lent is the season to remember that we are but dust. That we are needy. That dark days are a part of the real life. And that sometimes what we need is a recipe for Tear Drop Tea.

Here you have it:

Acknowledge that life hurts.

Feel sorrow for the hungry and hurting people in the world.

Realize that you cannot fix everyone's problems, not even all your own.

Lift up your arms and your eyes to heaven and cry out.

Make sure and do follow this recipe in a quiet, lonely spot, or maybe you need to find a friend who knows how to weep when you weep.

Rest assured that God is collecting all your tears and placing them in a bottle, according to Psalm 56. Verse 8 is especially precious to me:

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?

So anyway, feeling a bit blah these days. Maybe you should come back and read posts come April when winter is a distant memory. I will try to not get too bleak, but want to keep it real. If I never report on the teary days, some future farmer might get the crazy idea that all is rosy and happy and be terribly disappointed when life happens.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nivea's Snow Day Soup

Nivea Snow, thank you for your inspiration!

Last week we made the most wonderful snow day soup and I have to share our recipe.

Here it is:

Saute an onion and a couple of stalks of celery in olive oil. When the onion is almost transparent, add a pound or two of stew beef, grass-fed, of course. Brown over high heat. When the beef is browned, add a cup or so of barley, a couple of sliced carrots, a half pound of mushrooms (I used a half pound of local shiitakes and a half pound of portabellas since we had some in the fridge), a tsp of thyme, a bay leaf, a 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of peppercorns (I really like pepper, you might prefer adding only 4 or 5 peppercorns), sea salt, 3 or 4 cloves of sliced up garlic, and almost a gallon of water.

Bring everything to a boil, then skim off the foam if you wish. Turn down the heat and simmer your soup while you go shovel snow, or read a book or wash clothes. Sometimes I like to make our soups on the woodstove. Just keep an eye on the pot if your stove is very hot. This soup can be simmered for an hour or two or three. The longer it simmers, the more concentrated the flavor. Add more water if it gets too thick. I prefer it fairly cooked down so the beef is meltingly tender and the barley very creamy. When it smells so good you can't wait any more, taste for salt then add a bunch of chopped up kale or chard or spinach. Let the greens cook until tender, then slice some bread, set out some cheese and have the most wonderful peasant feast.

I am so glad we tried those flavors. I think if you added a splash of sherry or vermouth at some point you would be very pleased, but we were out, so I didn't.

Blue Skies Smiling at Me

Yesterday afternoon the snow stopped falling. I really don't know how many inches fell. Seemed like 15 or more. Kind of hard to tell as some if it drifted and most of it was compressed in the middle by a thick layer of ice. When the sun came out the sky was the most incredible blue. Violet-tinged cobalt faded into crystal clear cerulean. After days and days of white and gray the effect was rather shocking.

I enjoyed spending part of my day working in the barn. Barn maintenance has become a bit challenging as we apparently have a burst pipe somewhere. The water has been seeping into a couple of areas where animals bed down, soaking into the pine shaving and old hay deep litter. As Philip and the kids worked on other areas of the farm, I attempted to discover a way to drain the lagoon. First, a truck load of soaking straw and mud slurry had to be pitched out of the barn. Then I dug a little trench, trying to get the muck water out. I thanked the Lord that the temperatures were warm enough to work up a sweat, allowing me to shed my coat, but cold enough to keep the mess from smelling terribly bad.

I wish I could say that I was completely successful in my efforts. Well, much mess was removed from the barn and the lagoon is draining slowly, but I guess we need to spend a few hours out there tomorrow to totally clean it out. The clock was working against me and I had to shower and head to another friend's farm that afternoon. It was probably a good thing to have a time limit. Sometimes it is easy to get obsessively engrossed in farm chores. I can get very hyper-focused, which is a helpful tool at times, but can also lead to body injury.

Working in a flooded, manure and straw lagoon isn't terribly fun. But it felt good to tackle a problem, knowing that it was a part of my job of taking care of our animals. We all had some nice chat time, the sheep and the cows and the goats and the pigs and I. And the chickens and the ducks and the geese. The work took all my physical strength and that was helpful to keep my mind off of worrying problems that I can't control or fix.

Friday, February 5, 2010

As Pure as the Driven Snow

The most recent snowstorm hit last night. We woke up to another winter wonderland. Powdery white, steadily falling, we head out to the barn to do our chores. Patrick and I milked Priscilla and Coco as Carmelita and Dulce cried. They now have to sleep separately from their moms so we can share the morning milk. Then they go back with their mom's and drink all day long.

We noticed that the goats are being very bossy to those calves, butting them and putting them into their place in the barn hierarchy. Funny how they don't behave that way when Priscilla and Coco are around.

After taking care of the milk, Thomas and I grabbed snow shovels and enthusiastically hit the driveway. At least we were fairly optimistic as we started the monumental task.

Two hours later the driveway was cleared.

I didn't feel nearly so enthusiastic or optimistic.

Is there any exercise that works so thoroughly as snow shoveling?

After a cup of tea in front of the fireplace I gathered enough resources to begin my baking day. The children played many rounds of monopoly and I took care of paperwork for Philip. My body was begging for calories so I pondered what recipe would satisfy.

Focaccia, of course!

There is nothing that satisfies like fresh, homemade focaccia. Especially focaccia made with honey and freshly milled whole wheat. The children and Philip felt loved as they came in from hauling firewood to the smell of herbs and garlic and yeasty bread.

Here is our favorite recipe. If you don't have your own grain mill, come over and I will be more than happy to mill you your own flour, especially for this recipe!


2 tsp. yeast
2 c. warm water
2 TBSP honey
4 TBSP olive oil
1/2 c. oil I use coconut oil
1 tsp salt
+/-5 c. freshly milled flour

garlic, olive oil, herbs, salt, dried tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, cheese, whatever you want to place on top

Mix together the yeast, water, honey, olive oil, oil, salt and 3 cups of flour. Beat with a dough hook for at least 5 or 10 minutes. Add the rest of the flour quarter cup at a time, kneading well with the dough hook. When the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, continue to knead for around 5 minutes. Let the dough rise until double, punch down and let it rise again. Then divide the dough into 2 parts, grease 2 large cookie sheets and spread the dough out so that it looks like very nice, thick pizza crust. Cover with a towel, let the dough rise 30 min. then spread olive oil, sprinkle garlic and salt and top with whatever goodies you happen to have on hand. Fresh tomatoes are great in summertime, but we don't have any these days. We used dried tomatoes, soaked in olive oil, mushrooms and dried herbs. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes. The focaccia should be nicely golden.

The problem in our family is that this recipe is typically consumed by the 7 of us in a matter of minutes. But I don't dare make more. We might just eat it.

Boy, do I ever feel better. All those wonderful, healthy carbs make me want to go shovel snow again tomorrow so we can eat like this every day!

BTW, the snow tapered off at dusk. The pond was black and oily, the trees were heavy and tired. Ducks were happy that the temperatures were still around 28 degrees. Perfect for a noisy dip. Rose and Nora attempted body sledding. I think they had a great time. I think I will pass.

Thanks to Philip and Thomas and Patrick and Maggie we have a roaring fire made with standing dead locust they harvested. Locust is such a wonderful wood for heating. It puts out more btu's than just about anything. Time to go sit in front of it and watch Lord of The Rings.