Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Green Pastures

I milked Coco this morning, visited with some farm visitors, then Julie and I skimmed cream and made butter and cheese. Kids did their chores then rotated the sheep out to fresh green pastures and played.

Some errands took me into town and I took advantage of the opportunity to go out to the cemetery. The first time since the funeral. I guess I didn't want to go out there in the cold and rain. Today the sun was shining and the temperature was 70 degrees. I sat by the grave on the side of a hill, overlooking Catawba Pass. The breeze was gentle and cool.

Milked Coco early this evening. I think I will go to sleep early.

Right now I hear the trill of peepers, the gobble of George, an occasional quack. To be so still, it certainly is loud. I love our farm sounds.

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
Psalm 23

FYI, the children tell me that one of the ducks is set up on a nest in the barn. Ducklings?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Physical Therapy

I am so glad we had our seder dinner last night. However, it left me missing Philip so acutely that by noon today I felt like I couldn't move. I swept and mopped the floors while the girls had their piano lessons then went to my room and lay down for an hour, weeping silently as the children and Sean played Robin Hood out in the woods and around the stream.

I never mop floors.

That was something Philip would do.

I feel like half of my body has been amputated and I am being put through a most rigorous physical therapy. I feel weak and groggy.

Someone asked a friend of mine if I were doing better, now that we are a month past his death.

Not really. But what is better? The pain is even deeper and more real than it was a month ago. He is still gone.

Vasile arrived, ready for us to prepare some biodynamic preparations for the fields, the Pfieffer Field Spray.

I wanted to be in bed. But I got up and stirred the vat of microscopic humus building stuff into the cold spring water.

Stirred until a vortex was created, then abruptly switched direction, causing a chaotic disturbance of the solution. Had to repeat this for at least 10-15 minutes per 15 gallons. All focus on the motion of my hand and arm in the water, watching the amazing transformation of splashes to a deep vortex, so smooth and even, then all came crashing down as I shifted the direction of the flow. Part of the purpose of this exercise was to thoroughly mix the solution.

I thought about the shift of direction our life has taken.

The sun felt healing. As Vasile marched off to spray the solution onto the fields, I started to putter around the gardens. Moved bricks around, yanked old weed stalks, picked up detritus. Two hours before I thought I would never want to walk outdoors again, let alone breathe.

After shifting gears, I felt like maybe someday I would want to plant a garden again. Maybe I would someday want to see something beautiful growing. Maybe I would someday be able to walk, even though I feel completely incapacitated right now.

I was glad for Vasile's visit. Different friends dropped by, Julie and kids arrived from NC. Thomas burned some weeds and brush for me to make char in a couple of garden beds.

As I forced myself to go outside and milk Coco, I thought about the healing process. How hard it is to be alone, without Philip, but how good it is to have things that force me to move. Physical therapy.

My milking view made me think of little girls and Easter dresses and boxes of home-dyed easter eggs. Baby blue sky tucked in with pale pink and lilac clouds. Celery colored willow fronds bounced against grass-green fields. Yellow daffodils glowed along the stream. The moon is full but wasn't out for me to see.

So thankful for the tasks of the day that force me to go out to enjoy. And to live.

I wish I didn't have to hurt so badly right now. I miss Philip. But the wind blows and the peepers peep and I will live.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Tonight we celebrated Passover with our annual seder dinner. I have posted previous years about the importance of the seder for our family.

This was the first year I ever celebrated Passover without Philip.

We made our matzah ball soup, with broth made by Thomas out of our chicken bones and onions and garlic and celery and carrots. We made charoseth, apples and almonds and raisins and wine with a generous dash of cinnamon and ginger. We set out the horseradish and boiled eggs and parsley.

We pulled out tablecloths and silver and candles and Maggie made beautiful flower arrangements with the daffodils, red buds and forsythia. We dug out the haggadahs and Elijah's cup and roasted a brisket and veggies. We added some other goodies brought by friends from church. Including a delicious blackberry cake.

As I looked for the bowls for the matzah ball soup, I grew more and more sad. Sean happened to be nearby and was willing to share a hug and some comfort.

Preparations made, I covered my head and lit the candles, right as the sun went down. We read through the passages, celebrating our deliverance out of slavery, the redemption of the Lord's right hand. We blessed the wine, the Creator of the fruit of the vine, the One who brought us here to this day.

Jason read as leader since we no longer have Philip to fill that role. He did a great job. The children's voices rang out with Baruch Etah Adonai, Eloheynu and they sang Dayenu with vigor. All of them dipped their parsley in the salt water, and tasted the tears and even tried the horseradish and tasted the bitterness of slavery along with the fruit of the charoseth that reminds us that even in times of adversity, the goodness of the Lord can bring sweetness.

We remembered Philip.

I didn't know if I could get through this evening.

But we did. Washing up with Rachel and Jason and Sean, the mounds and mounds of dirty dishes that can't go in the dishwasher, helped lighten things up for me.

The moon is incredibly full. The rain stopped this evening. It feels warmer than it did this morning. I hear that it is supposed to be beautiful for the rest of the week.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Palm Sunday.

It still hurts to go to church.

We loaded up into our nearly-dead Suburban and drove through the bitter rain to church. I was feeling glum, because the Suburban was the vehicle Philip drove, and it was the first time I had gotten in it, since I don't really trust the poor vehicle. Seeing his coffee cup and notes and stuff still there, as if he were going to be right back. loading up his tools to go to work made me feel stunned. Again.

As we headed up and over the mountain the kids must have been thinking about him too, because instead of fighting, they suggested they play the ABC game, but without the letters, the way Dad taught them.

I had never been with them when they played that game. They must have played with Philip on the way to Sunday School. They told me that he thought that the standard way of playing the ABC game was boring and lazy, that anyone could find a letter on a sign. His way required you to find things that begin with the letter in question, and they must be nouns. No adjectives or adverbs allowed. A-asphalt, B-barn, C-car, D-dead deer. We were tempted to cheat, but we remained firm, and made it to Z by the time we reached the church parking lot. Couldn't find a Z, but as we were late, we decided to call it quits.

I didn't know that Philip taught the kids a new ABC game.

Sure beats "blue punch buggy no punch back bug spray" fights.

I don't think I cried as much in church today.

But it was still hard.

We went to lunch together, just the six of us. We went to Shanghai, the little Chinese buffet in Salem. We have been going to that family owned restaurant for several years now, almost once a month. The last few months were slim, but if ever there was an extra bit of cash, we would go there. It is the most economical meal out for a family our size, with the little ones, it averages out to be under $5 a person, if we all drink water.

It is nice to go to a place where you know the owners, the waiters and the bus-guys. They never minded that we took up a lot of space and would often hang out around the table until three o'clock in the afternoon on a lazy Sunday. Philip would tell stories, we would laugh, then we would hug in the parking lot and talk for another 15 minutes before he would take the big kids to run an errand then head back to church and I would go home with the little girls.

Today's lunch was very sombre.

The food was good as always. Our waitress was new. The table felt very small and quiet, and we ate rather quickly and wanted to leave quickly.

It seems ever-increasingly real that Philip is gone and we miss him very much.

PS, the rain continues. There was a brief thunderstorm late this afternoon, and my ears welcomed the boom and crack. Blackie hid out in the bathtub as usual. I kind of wished the storm would have stuck around a little longer. I feel like a vicious thunderstorm. But it seems as if most of it has moved on and things are cool and quiet. The peepers are very loud.


Yesterday we had a work day on the farm. I don't even know how many different people came out to help fix broken windows in the barn, fix and paint a fence, work on some electrical issues, prepare to switch our water from spring box to the well (a more reliable source of clean water), unload firewood, start up lawn mowers, play with children. Someone even brought a load of gravel.

The kindness of our church and community is overwhelming. Dizzying.

Some folks came to pick up some scrap metal and the old K-car. 1987. Blue. Philip's dad bought it brand-new. He drove it 3/4 of a mile to downtown to pick up the paper and a cup of coffee and a doughnut (until the doctor told him to lay off the doughnuts). When he died in 2003, the car had 40,000 miles on the odometer.

Philip loved that car. It was basic. No frills. Anytime something went wrong, Philip would fix it. The car drove many more miles in its last seven years of life than in the sedentary suburban life it lived in Madison. Our friend Sean came out yesterday and as he saw the car head out the driveway on a trailer, he reminded me how many people drove that car since it came to the farm.

He needed a vehicle one summer so we lent him the blue bomber. Anytime someone was without a vehicle we would happily pass them the keys! So you had to be a bit brave and know that if the car died at a stop light, all you had to do was coast a little, pop the clutch and you would be right back in action. No cd player. But there was an AM radio. I think the heat even worked.

Driving the old K-car made me feel independent and strong and unattached to the things of the world. Especially knowing that my hard-working husband could fix most things that went wrong with it, with a visit or two to his dear friends at Advanced Auto and a few evenings out under the stars, with the dogs keeping him company.

The car died on the way home from our friends' farm one evening. Philip coasted it into the Dollar General parking lot and a few days later he and Thomas loaded it up on the trailer to bring it home. He never could get it going. He got too miserable and was too busy trying to keep us in firewood. The car was to be a warmer weather project.

Seeing that car head out the driveway made me burst into tears.

Philip is gone. He will no longer be keeping spare cars running to loan out to friends. Seeing that car leave was like seeing a part of Philip and his dad leave.

It made me ache.

We said farewell to the many helping friends, and Sean and Julie took the kids to see a movie. I sat numbly in front of the fire, eating some homemade pizza brought by other church friends, and read a Dan Brown book by candlelight. Couldn't even bear electricity.

It was cold and a steady rain fell for a very long time.

Friday, March 26, 2010


So today wasn't as hard as yesterday.

Milking went smoothly. I enjoyed the amazing contrasts in color as I squatted next to Coco's warm flank. Chartreuse willow glowed iridescently against the lilac/lavender glow of the woods and the emerald green hayfield. I love the way the trees begin to turn that lovely shade of lavender before they burst into bud.

At some point I had to laugh out loud as I watched the duck wars. The pekin males chase after the rouen males. They appear so serious in their conflict but the slap, slap, slap of their orange feet on the sidewalk doesn't do much for their dignity. I wondered why it is so important for the male species to need such a battle. About that time, the young rams began to ram each other up on the hillside, horns clashing.

Today's agenda involved a drive to West Virginia to pick up our pork and a goat from the butcher. I stopped in several stores to pick up banana boxes for carrying the frozen meat. The Wal Mart produce guy was wheeling out several banana boxes when I asked him if I could have a few. He informed me that now that some poisonous gas is used in the packing of bananas they are no longer allowed to give out the boxes. Hmmm. Remind me to never give my children non-organic bananas again. I finally found a place with some non-poisoned boxes.

The drive through the mountains did me good. I listened to Gram and Emmylou again and sang along. I especially enjoyed the "Love Hurts" song, even though I don't agree with every single lyric. You have to love a song with such tightly woven harmonies, and especially the ending wail. Keening for the pain that comes with love. I felt their pain. Also listened to a cd of Donald Hall reading some of his poetry.

Got home, made a goat meat drop off then watched our homeschool drama coop perform their first production as Full Circle Farm Players up in the barn loft. We parents whooped and clapped and thoroughly enjoyed the production, but after everyone left, Nora especially missed her daddy, so we sat in the red chair and remembered for a little bit.

The rain seems to be over and maybe tomorrow will be sunny and warm.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


A month ago tonight Philip died.

Today was a really hard day.

I think because it was one of the first days we had at least 8 hours all to ourselves and I had the chance to feel without disturbance.

Got up, milked, had to skim milk and wash bunches of jars by hand because our dishwasher isn't working, then made several quarts of cream into butter and made some panir and chevre so we wouldn't waste the extra milk we have on hand. Put buttermilk in the freezer. Marveled at the daffodil shade of yellow in today's butter compared to Monday's. Spilled a half gallon of goat's milk on the floor and cleaned it up.

Got mad.

Got mad at the stupid dishwasher making my life miserable.

Got mad at the children for not working as hard as me.

Got mad at myself for getting mad at the children.

Finally all the mad turned into what it really was to begin with: sad. I found an index card with a prayer written out in his hand. That made me cry.

Found a picture taken of him Valentine's Day weekend when he was having a terrible turn for the worse and his face and skin didn't look right and that made me cry.

After retreating to my room, I called Rachel and sobbed and sobbed, wondering that there were so many tears still left unshed.

The pain was so intense, I felt taken aback. I was just thinking yesterday that we were moving along in the old grieving process so well, maybe I wouldn't have to feel all that pain that others apparently feel.

Maybe we are moving along in the grieving process and feeling some intense pain is normal and real.


My eyes are still swollen. I took a hot epsom salts bath and sobbed. The ladies arrived for Bible study, the first one together since the night Philip died. I sobbed some more.

We read Psalm 77. Certain phrases comforted me. I was glad that David, God's friend, was allowed to moan and acknowledge pain. To question and wonder why.

I told the gals that someday in heaven I bet Philip will go up to each of them and say "Boy, you ladies sure were awesome that night! None of you are a bunch of ninnys! If ever there were a time to run screaming down the road, that night would have been a good night to do that, but you gals were brave and strong. Way to go!"

I am so proud to know those ladies. They really are strong and courageous. They let me be real and don't run away afraid when I don't act happy. They let me feel pain when I need to so I don't have to bottle it up.

I was so sad this afternoon I didn't relish the thought of having them come over. But as they came in, washed dirty dishes, served food and settled ruffled children feathers and wept with me, my pain eased. It didn't disappear, but it was miraculously distributed among seven instead of being all carried by me alone.

We shared our hugs, said goodbye, then I went out to milk Coco in the late night air. Humid and chilly but not cold. The moon is growing larger, but I couldn't see it at all for the clouds.

I miss Philip. I told Shannon I would rather live in a teeny little shack and having nothing at all and have him back.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The peepers are singing and the growing moon is high in the sky. I believe that the moon will be full early next week on Passover.

The stream is still noisy and the garden site quite flooded.

What a relief!

I am not ready to plant the garden and have a very good excuse since we can't even get out there yet.

The boys pulled down an old falling down fence for me and the girls spent some time with our dear friend Dawn. I went to Lowe's to pick up a few supplies for our work day coming up Saturday and visited with a friend. Picked up our car from Pinckerton Chevrolet. They gave me new tires and changed the oil and fixed lots of little broken things. It looks like a new vehicle!

On the way home I put in one of Philip's new cd's, a collection of Gram Parson's songs. I am more of an Emmylou Harris fan, but greatly appreciate Gram, especially since I have heard Philip sing a version of many of those songs our whole marriage. Only last month did I first hear "The Streets of Baltimore" by anyone other than Philip. He would sing that song every time someone would mention Baltimore, remembering his one and only college year spent there. We would laugh as he got to the part about the wife wanting to "walk the streets of Baltimore." Or if he was cleaning up the fireplace he would sing about "Sweeping the Ashes out in the morning." Not exactly great Christian living music, but it had soul and made us laugh as he would belt out the verses. Every single one of them.

Philip had a song for every circumstance in life. He listened to country music in northern NJ when country music wasn't cool. Or good. Country music in the 70's is pretty corny, but those lyrics were certainly memorable to Philip, and now to us after hearing them for 18 years. I thought it was a sign of God's sense of humor that I would grow up in Oklahoma and Texas in the country on a farm and Philip would grow up in a world far away, but still know the songs of my culture. That music was part of what drew Philip to desire to live on a farm someday.

As I listened to Gram wail on Still Feeling Blue, I smiled, thinking about how bizarrely pertinent those lyrics were to me, as Philip had to go, and I have never felt so low, and I can't help but wonder why he had to go. I KNOW he is happy now, doing up the celestial town, cause he sure knows how!

It felt good to smile and sing along to Philip's lyrics. I mean Gram's. Guess I will have to download Streets of Baltimore to my ITunes library. But I'm not sure about sweeping out the ashes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Yesterday we ran out of feed so I borrowed a friend's truck and drove up to Stewart's Draft to get a really big load of feed for the chickens and the milk goats and milk cows. Seemed like everything made me cry. Songs on the radio, the voice of a friend, even picking up the feed and signing a check that said Philip and Ginger Hillery at the top made me cry.

Today I woke up and didn't feel like crying. I milked Coco. Strained her three gallons of milk and tackled skimming several gallons more to make a whole bunch of butter. Then made some chevre. Then some mozzarella. Watched the electricians work hard, getting the "bakery" up to code, running new wire, putting in new panel box.

I even felt like listening to some of my favorite music and that didn't make me feel like crying.

Then I went upstairs and started making phone calls, dealing with creditors and insurance people and hospital bills. That made me cry.

It was really hard doing all that paperwork, but I did feel like I had fought a huge battle and made it through to the other side, slightly wounded, but definitely alive.

Making cheese and butter and creating things in the kitchen makes me feel alive in a sweet way. Conquering bills and slashing debt makes me feel alive but in a hard and not very sweet way.

Sometimes it is hard to reconcile all the different parts of a personality that are necessary to accomplish real living. Especially vulnerable single mother on a farm living. I feel quite stretched.

A friend came in and saw the transformation in our breakfast/school room now turned bakery and was delighted and excited. Her joy made me so happy, but I was sad I couldn't be so excited myself due to exhaustion and grief. I wonder if I am afraid that if I get too excited about the good things that are happening with our business it might appear that I am not sad enough about Philip's death? Hmmmm.

Some other friends came over to help create a task list for a team of volunteers. Another friend brought me a book and a hug. Another picked up and dropped off kids for home school coop, held at another friend's home since we are in construction mode here. Another friend continued the work of packing up some stuff out in the milking parlor.

Is it only Tuesday? Seems like we have been working for weeks.

It is still very soggy from the flood yesterday morning. A cold front hit this afternoon and with it gusty breezes and very cloudy skies, but not so cloudy I couldn't catch a glimpse of the moon as I milked Ms. Coco. Unlike last week, this week's moon is growing and is tipped on its side, a sign of rain. It was directly overhead at 7:30 or 8 whatever time I milked. Speaking of milk, the cream is surely turning a marvelous yellow color. I noticed that the butter this morning was several shades darker than last week. So are the eggs.


Thank you all so much for your kind emails, cards, hand-written notes, gifts and kind comments. For your prayers and thoughts that keep us from being alone. It is a great comfort knowing you share our burden and care for us and we are grateful. Wish I could give you a big hug from the farm. And some homemade bread and butter. Thank you.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Rains came last night.

Heavy. Flood the pond and stream kind of rain. Boiling brown down the mountains kind of rain.

This morning the blue skies are trying to peek out from behind the skirts of grey and white. Green fields and red barn seem scoured clean, like farm hands on a Friday night, fixin' to go to the dance.

I couldn't sleep well. Woke up to pounding rain every two hours.

Woke up sore and sad and wanting to be like Eouwen, rushing out to battle with a heavy sword and armor. All sorts of emotion want to be expelled with the adrenaline and exertion of a sword fight. Clang! Crash! Thrust!

Instead, I will fix breakfast, drink coffee, milk the cow, check the animals and tackle laundry, my room and a big monster pile of paperwork.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Here is part of today's reading:

"Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves."
Psalm 126:6-7

Today was our first home church service without Philip.

How can something be so beautiful and so painful all at the same time? Just seeing 14 of us sitting down to prepare for worship instead of 15 made me weep. We shared the scripture readings. We prayed our prayers. We sang the doxology, gave our offerings. walked through the different passages, sharing insights. We shared the Kenyan liturgy, which Philip had just recently introduced to us the Sunday before he died. We shared the bread and wine, blessed the babies and rejoiced in the resurrection. We discussed that right now is the sad season for us.

We miss Philip. It hurts. Greatly. I cry even now as I type. Even so, it was beautiful to explain to the children how grateful I am for our Anglican heritage, that many many many years ago someone ordered the scriptures to be divided up into daily and weekly readings. Someone whom we would never meet. But the hand that guides us daily directed that person or those people to place Psalm 126 in the proper order so we would read it today, knowing that we will be sowing our seeds very soon. With tears.

We take comfort in knowing that this season of mourning will not last forever.

We read in Isaiah 43 that God will make a way in the wilderness for us. He will do a new thing.

Then Josh and Jason put the trim back on the door frame that had been removed yesterday and Maggie made an apple crisp with delicious Ikenberry apples and Laura and Rachel washed and grated potatoes so we could make hashbrowns and omelets. We crowded around the noisy table and ate and the grownups drank the very last bit of Jason's homemade '08 cabernet franc, lifting our cups, thanking God for the body of Christ that surrounds us, good times and bad. Laura and Rachel allowed me express some of my grief in a very raw flavor. They didn't even judge me. They just let me hug them and cry. I expressed to them how hard it is having to be so needy, worried that people are going to get tired of helping us out. How hard it is to receive so much, how it is much nicer to be on the giving end, how it is hard for us to feel so many emotions and not know what to do with them (as we break up another sibling squabble.)

I guess what I am saying, as I throw my thoughts out there for the world to see, this is a hard season for us, but thanks to having true community around us, loving on us and holding us up, I have this faint, but calm assurance that eventually we will bring in the harvest with joy, with these same folks who mourn and cry with us now.

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.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday-The First Day of Spring

As I went out to milk, what do you think greeted my eyes?

Sheep, grazing contentedly, or was that defiantly, out in the hayfield.

"Foiled," I thought to myself, finished the milking, then hiked out to herd them back to the legal pastures. I found the hole they made in my poor patching job, reinforced it, the back to the house.

Rachel and Jason and kids in tow came out to help us with some jobs. Then many other friends dropped by to help unload the wonderful "new to us" bakery equipment into the house. After they scrubbed and cleaned and helped take door and frame apart to make room for the oversize monster.

What was especially nice was that several of the friends were unexpected drop-in friends who pitched in with mopping and moving stuff and rearranging stainless steel tables, and mill and other good stuff.

Rachel and I sat out on the deck to share lunch. As the sun warmed us, we talked about Philip. About how weird it is for me to consider myself a widow. About all the crazy thoughts that come to mind. About heaven. About grief. About grace.

We looked at some photos of the farmhouse. Before and afters. Philip worked so hard to make the house beautiful for me. He stripped brown latex paint off of the banister and the stairs. He gutted the kitchen to find the beautiful bones for me. He removed the paneling and the plaster off of the old brick chimney in the kitchen because he knew I would like it. He cut a hole in the wall of the kitchen one night and built a window where there was none so I would be able to look out and see the pond and the weeping willow. He scraped and painted and patched and rebuilt every single room. Except for the little upstairs bathroom which bothered him to no end, but I was worried about how poorly he felt and told him I couldn't stand another construction project because I was afraid it would be too much for him.

Working over the breakfast room/school room, turning it into a bakery was quite a big job today. We are not quite done. But it looks right and good. Looks like it is going to work. I think Philip would be so pleased to see how well everyone worked together.

So I milked Coco, strained the milk, we all grabbed supper together in the jumbled up dining room, and said goodbyes and see ya tomorrows since it is home church day. Kids are exhausted. While we old ones worked, the young ones stomped in the creek, looked for frog's eggs and rode bikes on the driveway. They are sunburned and dirty. We put the majority of the coats in the attic. We are confident that the first day of spring means the long hard winter is over, even if it turns cold for a day or two.

Friday, March 19, 2010


This morning Rachel, Rose, Nora and I patched holes in the fence.

We found several spots with ground rubbed bare and tufts of wool hanging round the edges. The warm sun and a purpose made me feel better.

What made me feel even better was the sight of a flock of woolly sheep nosing around their usual escape route, bewildered and perplexed.

"Foiled!" I cried out as I watched their failed attempt.

We let Tarkheena and her 2 lambs join the flock once we knew they were going to be staying close to the barn. She was quite pleased to enjoy some little sprigs of grass.

I also discovered a hen sitting on a clutch of eggs in a tucked away nest. Chicks?


Early this morning I dreamt that Philip and I found out he would die later that night.

He went to help me fix a problem we had with the sheep. He went into his office to take care of some paper work. I went to him and we held each other.

So many people came to our house, Keith and Kathy, Uncle Larry, different cousins and friends. They milled around the tiny house. I beckoned Philip and he joined me to sit on the little couch, putting his arm around me as Keith offered to read some scripture.

Then I woke up.

His warm embrace was so real.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday Night

A crescent moon is suspended like and empty bowl over the hills to the northeast. Temperatures are warm, it was up to 70 today and there should be no rain.

Stars are bright and the evening feels velvety. Moist. Alive.

I am tired and don't feel very alive right now. Just got home from a trip up to New Providence, NJ, to purchase a used commercial oven, a hobart mixer and stainless steel table. Equipment that will enable me to increase the volume of our bakery offerings and decrease the man (woman) hours needed to get it done.

Thomas, Maggie and I borrowed a friend's truck and trailer and drove up yesterday, met up with former church friends and neighbors who helped me deal with the monstrosity. Seems like every single day we are made aware of our need for the help of others, and the beautiful provision for that need through the loving generosity of friends.

I wanted to be excited about our purchase. I wanted to be thrilled with the opportunity to continue the dream and the vision Philip and I shared for so many years.

I felt sad and grieved. I wept in the arms of my NJ friends as we missed Philip.

I didn't even think about how hard it would be to drive up to our old town, the place where Philip grew up, where we buried his mom and dad, where we walked our kids to school and shared many holidays. The night before we drove up I couldn't sleep for thinking of the night of Philip's death and the CPR and the mouth to mouth that would not breathe life into a non-living body. As we drove up, we listened to a book on cd, A River Between Us, by Richard Peck about the lives of family in Southern Illinois during Civil War. Driving into Madison, the story described the young men dying in the camps and I had to turn it off. I could smell the death and see the death and felt nauseous.

I wanted to process going back home, without Philip, but I had to negotiate and maneuver and decide. After our dear friends got the heavy equipment loaded, we went back to our former neighbors' home and shared dinner together and sat around the table for a very long time, them listening to me talk about Philip. They let me cry.

I couldn't really sleep last night.

Everything is different now.

The drive home was uneventful. The load remained securely fastened, we finished the Civil War story, listened to Copeland's Appalachian Spring, then picked up a Mary Higgins Clark mystery at Cracker Barrel.

I wanted to be thrilled and excited about the new to me oven, but I felt tired and old. And sad.

Three weeks ago tonight everything changed.

Don't get me wrong. Every moment isn't sad. Sometimes we laugh, joke and feel happy.

But as I get very intentional about expanding our business and getting serious about making it work, it makes me wish Philip were here to fasten the straps on the load and to pull out his wrench and channel lock to undo the stove and put it all back together.

How grateful I am that there are others who are lending a hand.

Rachel Banks stayed home with the other kids and managed the farm for me so I could go.

She deserves a medal, my father-in-law and mother-in-law would have said if they were here to say it.

Unfortunately, we are having sheep and fence problems. Rachel and the kids have had to bring them back from the neighbor's property almost every day this week. We thought they had found the vulnerable spot and gated off that pasture, but alas the woollies have found another way to get to another weak field. So tomorrow we have to address the issue.

I guess they are so happy about the greening pastures they got distracted.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time to Go Home

I took Daddy to the airport to say goodbye as he returned home to Texas.

Had to be brief because goodbyes feel especially sad these days.

What a blessing to have had him here to help us through these difficult days.

I am grateful for my dad. He taught us how to work. He taught us how to persevere. He taught us that if we ever ran out of money, don't worry, just go make some more. He showed me how to be an entrepreneur. He taught me to love to sing. He taught me how to milk a goat and to make delicious tacos chihuahua. He taught me that the most expensive lessons in life are the ones best learned. He taught me hospitality and story-telling. I hope I haven't learned too many corny jokes, but my kids probably think I have.

It was good to have someone around who knew just what to do.

Sometimes I wish Mom and Dad lived a bit closer, but their home is in Texas and mine in Virginia. Thank goodness for airplanes.

Thank you, Mom and Daddy, for everything. Miss you already.


Rachel is doing a great job taking care of things for me when I have to run to town to deal with bank stuff and paper work and taxes and other yucky non farm things. She came right in the nick of time. I am glad the spring peepers are here in full force for her visit. We all sat around the table and enjoyed an amazing dinner of roast pork loin, green beans, salad, and mashed potatoes with chives and cheddar, all made by a dear friend at church. I was hoping that the little ones wouldn't like the mashed potatoes with all the good stuff, but unfortunately they did.

After we ate, I felt like reading to the kids. We hadn't been reading together since the afternoon of the day Philip died.

Last time we read it was that Thursday afternoon. Just picking up the book where we left off made me cry. I forced myself to read through the tears in front of the fire in the dining room. I then shared with Rachel about how I believe God led me to read with the kids that afternoon, all about Ben Franklin and then Amos Fortune Free Man. How we were having a hard day, but as we settled in, cold, huddled in front of the little fireplace, the words of history ministered to my worried soul.

The winter had been so hard, I had been worried about Philip's health, about the cold, the farm, our homeschool, all the usual worries. As we read about Ben Franklin, and his three years of education, and the trials in his life that propelled him toward his calling, I felt some of the worries of the world slip off my shoulders.

Then we read about the young boy king, Atmun, head of his tribe in a village in Africa, caught by slave traders in the 1700's. We wept about the atrocities of slavery together. The boy king would repeat the words "I am a king" to himself as he endured unspeakable difficulties. "I am a king" he would say, as he was thirsty and hungry. "I am a king" as he was put in the bowels of a miserable ship. "I am a king" he would say, being led to the slave auction.

As we read, something unusual was happening to me. I can't explain it, but something melted in my spirit. There, in front of the teeny little fire, built with the last of the firewood until Philip got home to fix the chainsaw and cut some more wood, I told the kids that at some point in our life, we might have to undergo significant hardship. Maybe not slavery, like Atmun. Maybe not the horror of the holocaust, but difficulty. I told them it was unfortunately a part of life, and that I hoped that we would all remember to raise our heads high in the middle of adversity and be able to say, like Atmun, that we are children of a king.

We read that Atmun was carried on the slave ship all the way to Massachussetts, and that when he reached the auction block, a Quaker just happened to walk up with money in his pocket. Even though he didn't believe in slavery, something in the boy's eyes drew him and he walked up to the trader and bought him. He wanted to make sure the boy had a safe place to live and to learn, with the plan of giving him his freedom.

Somehow, as we shared the story, the providence that led Atmun through the difficulties, right to the one place where he had a chance to live with a real identity, an opportunity to learn to read and write, my heart was broken. And then healed.

I told the children that even as we were going through some difficulties at the time, I trusted God to lead us to the one safe place, and there in front of the fire, weeping, I prayed out loud, deciding to trust God no matter what would happen to us, and praying that God would help us during our times of hardship to love each other even more. I told the kids that our family's strength was working together when the going got rough and I knew we would get through whatever might come our way.

Tears were streaming down my face. I can't explain it, but there was some kind of relinquishing going on in my inner parts.

Well, Philip got home from work, sent the kids off to take care of chores, I jumped up to sweep floors and put away school books and he went to cut firewood so we would be warm for the evening. The ladies came in for Bible study before he finished his tasks.

As I shared with Rachel the events of that evening, the events that changed our lives forever, we all wept and remembered. The fire blazed and we were full and warm, the evening cool, no longer harsh winter. I prayed again, this time, for God to comfort us as we miss Philip so very much. I prayed again, that during this time of adversity, we would work together as a family, our love for one another making us strong, even when we feel weak.

Rachel and kids went to take care of animals. I washed up dishes. Tired kids went to bed and I went out to the deck for a few seconds to feel the cold breeze and hear the peepers. They are so loud. I wish the breeze were warm, but it will be soon. I couldn't stay outside for long, but just hearing those guys made me feel embraced.

Thank you God for the angel song of peepers.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring Forward if you can

Church wasn't as hard today as last week, but it was still hard.

I miss Philip.

I tried to take a nap but the door bell rang and the phone rang, even though I didn't answer. At least my eyes were closed for a few minutes.

There are many friends I have been missing, but don't have the emotional reserve for a long conversation. Am drained.

I think there will be time for those conversations little by little.

Today was a little overcast and chilly. Even so, we marveled at the green fields as we drove to church.

Our dear friend, Rachel Banks got here this afternoon. She helped Daddy do chores and found Tarkheena in the upper part of the barn. With two wet little newborn lambs! They seemed healthy and happy when I went out to check. A little girl and a little boy, mostly black. We told her what a good girl she is. The babies had some spunk. Good sign.

Rose and Nora giggled around the table, rejoicing in the visit of our dear friend. Papaw told them all a story in front of the fireplace after we finished up our ham sandwiches and crackers and the first homemade chevre of the year ( I made it from our goat's milk yesterday.)

BTW, I love Benjamin Franklin and am greatly inspired by his story, but I think I would have to argue with him vociferously in regards to daylight savings time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Farmer's Almanac Forecasted Rain and Flooding for March '10

Rain has been falling, off and on yesterday and most of the night. The pond is flooded. The stream is flooded. The peepers are quiet for the moment, but the birds assured me that spring is truly on its way.

Last night Nora and I snuggled in bed. She looked at the pictures in Thomas's Tin Tin book. I put down Lord of the Rings and picked up one of Thomas's Clive Cussler books. Put it down and chatted with Nora.

I told her that at points during the day I missed Dad so much it hurt, but at other times I thought of him and laughed, remembering something silly. I asked her how it felt for her. She said she felt the same. She missed having two laps to cuddle in and now she and Rose had to share mine only.

I asked Nora what she thought Dad was doing in heaven right now.

She suggested that he was probably watching a movie. Cause that was what he like to do on Friday nights with the kids. Or, she wondered if he were eating supper? Or maybe washing up dishes before watching the movie?

I said that I had never been to heaven, so I don't know, but if he was watching a movie, I bet it was a very, very good one.

Nora returned to her book and I closed my eyes and prayed for God to give Philip a message. To let him know how much we love him and miss him, and how thankful we are for him. Then I thought I heard Philip's voice in my head (spirit? memory? who cares?) and he told me how beautiful I am to him. Just like he always did. He reminded me that we had everything we need for life and godliness, including being a single parent and a businesswoman to run this farm. I felt peace and comfort.

Went back to adventures with Russians and sunken subs and bad guys and good guys then quickly fell into sleep.

Today is another day. I hope Daddy is feeling better after a bout with the flu. I hope the rest of us don't catch it!

PS I don't miss the snow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Heavy Grey Skies and Warm Rain

The peepers are really waking up this evening after a nice long warm rain.

My favorite sound.

I guess I am going to have to sleep with the windows open this evening. I am getting accustomed to having the house be a pleasant 70 degrees.

Yesterday I tackled many out of the house tasks, meeting with different folks, speaking with a tax lady who will help me initiate the steps needed to make our business a real business. She suggested I spend some time playing around with the Quickbooks tutorial.

Play around?

I don't think it will feel like playing.

My brain is being stretched, but it makes me feel a bit less unstable to take steps to make our farm more efficient. I have been wishing to be more organized and accountable with our bread/meat/produce business and now it is time.

Several of our close friends believe that we have a viable plan toward self-sustainability. Philip and I dreamed this vision for several years. We worked together, step by step, because he believed that the bakery and our farm would be the way towards independence. We don't plan to get rich. We don't need vacations at Walt Disney World. What we hope for is to live a decent life. Simple. Real.

I know that I have memories of Philip and that his imprint is on every aspect of our farm life. But I grieve that we don't have his warm self and mischievous grin in real live person. It still feels like a crazy dream.

But this is real.

We chose to live a real life and that involves pain, sorrow, messiness and death.

And friends, community, joy and spring time peepers. And little calves and lambs and kids that dance with joy at the pleasure of spring. And children who learn to ride bikes. And girls who type letters on old typewriters. And friends who bring us food and hugs and flowers and helpful hands to serve our farm.


Today we had several folks come out to look at stuff that needs to be fixed. Electricity that needs to be rewired. Leaks in the barn that need to be addressed.

I can't even believe all the cards from friends, family, even blog friends. Never did I realize how valuable a card would be to me. Gifts and prayers and warm air.

This morning the sheep found their way out of our pasture again and into the neighbors field. Patrick and I had a nice long hike through the fields, working out our strategy to get those nervous nellies back home. We located the hole, maneuvered and drove the flock home. At first I was agitated that with all my other chores we had to add one more. But striding over field, stream and up and down hills made me feel alive.


I don't really know how one is supposed to grieve. It is quite confusing for me. Moments I ache so badly I want to sit down. Other moments feel almost normal, as if Philip were off to work or something. I wonder if I am bad for being able to function? Don't get me wrong. Things are definitely half speed. Or maybe ten percent speed. We are letting many things go. Caring for the bare minimum. School hasn't started up again. Too many people around. No garden plans or seeds ordered. But the laundry is washed. The cows and goats are milked, the other animals are fed and watered. At least for today.

And today I have had the opportunity to hear a full chorus of peepers. If we didn't experience winter we would never fully appreciate their return.

I wonder if there are places in heaven where one can go to listen to peepers and whipporwills?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


We finally butchered the meat chickens, a spare turkey and a handful of roosters. The sun was shining and we worked in short sleeves.

The sun felt curative.

As some of us processed chickens, Nora and Rose rode bikes up and down the driveway. A friend came over to look at the broken down tractor and had a tow truck come take it to his diesel shop in Salem.

After icing down poultry and eating some fabulous Papa John's pizza, Julie, the girls and I tackled Rose's room.

Rose's room used to be a hallway/linen closet. At some point it became evident that she needed a little space and privacy. I moved her bed in there, but there was no wiggle room at all. We tore out part of the closet wall, used screwdrivers and hammers and a mallet to whack and wham and yank and pull. Philip probably would have done the job a little differently but we took joy in sharing his ambitious adventurous remodeling spirit. Sheet rock dust flew and so did quarter round, screws and nails, but with some perseverance we were able make a good bit of progress.

We also moved around furniture in Nora's room and did some clothes sorting. A few bags of winter things ready to go to the attic tomorrow. Hopefully the dreadfully long winter is over. We kept a few things out for chilly days, but everything else is ready for a long spring and summer nap.

By evening I was tired, cranky and feeling the need for alone time. Didn't get it. But did get a great dinner courtesy of our dear friend. I was glad to see the children eating and chattering. Papaw sure did look tired after his hard day of work.

The children and I tried to remember many different things about Philip this evening. We remembered dancing in the kitchen this Valentine's Day eve. Rose remembered having Philip teach her about soldering. We remembered how he loved to eat cheeseburgers. And pasta. Plain. With butter and salt. And a little more butter. I asked Thomas what he remembered that his dad taught him. He said that there were too many things to list.

Rose asked if she could have Philip's dad's old Underwood typewriter in her room. She would go out to his office when he would work and type letters to her friends. All the other kids and I agreed that this was definitely something for Rose. I am glad that she will have that typewriter to cherish.

I don't know what to do with the house being so nice and warm. All the way up to 70 degrees in my room tonight.

Oh, by the way, Ophelia had her babies today, way up in the upper field. One little lamb had troubles in birthing and didn't make it, but the other little fellow is just fine. Patrick brought down the baby to put him and mama in a stall and Ophelia almost took his arm off, trying to keep him from stealing her baby. The other lambs were playing on the fallen down apple tree in the field outside the back of the barn. They would climb up and hop down, over and over. The little goat kiddies ran over to join them, it looked like so much fun. Playground on the farm.

So weird to have so many lovely things in the midst of such surreal emotions and exhaustion.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The First Peepers

We worked on digging through papers for several hours. I washed dishes and clothes. Daddy and the boys delivered a goat and two hogs to the butcher. The lambs ran away, so they gained a few more weeks to live on the farm. Julie took the girls to take care a errands for me in town. Later in the afternoon we chased errant sheep. Tried to find the escape route. Didn't. Worked outside without coats on. Watched Rose teach Nora how to ride a bike. Without training wheels. All by herself. We were quite proud of Nora as she even managed to make her way all the way up to the top of the steep driveway.

I found an envelope Philip had stashed with a lock of my hair from many many years ago. Some old photos. All sorts of sweet memories. Cried quite a few tears when I had a few minutes all to myself.

As the dark fell on the farm, Patrick drew my attention to a sound we hadn't heard in quite some time.

A lone peeper woke up from it's long winter nap. The air was moist and balmy, very fragrant. The peeper sounded a bit lonely, but I know that in a day or two, if it stays nice and warm, it will be joined by a chorus.

My favorite farm sound.

We enjoyed food prepared by other hands. We said thanks to folks delivering wood cut by other hands. We turned over paperwork to be organized by other hands.

A chorus of generous help, loving us, blessing us and helping us keep moving forward.


I woke up from a weird dream. Philip and I were at an airport in a different country. He had to hurry and catch a flight, would barely make it to get to the gate in time. He left me to run ahead and before I even expected it, the plane was backing away from the terminal to fly away. I couldn't believe Philip made it in time and started to walk around to the gate to see if he was still there, but couldn't find him. I did find a large grouping of our friends and they and many children were all piling around a group of picnic tables to eat, so I joined them.

I woke up and heard spring birds singing in the forsythia bush outside my window. A different breeze blew. Not the steam engine wind that howls and destroys trees and barns, but a gentle breeze. Even before 6:30 in the morning, the daylight greeted me instead of the dark of winter.

I feel sad. Heavy. Weary and in pain.

But I hope.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Today was a hard day.

Sunday was the sweetest day of the week for Philip and me. He would put his arm around me in church and we would hold hands when we prayed, and the kids would crawl all over us and we would walk together to take communion.

I loved worshiping together with him as we sang. I loved the shared silent laughs as we would poke fun at songs we didn't like or other silly little things. All it took was a glance and a raised eyebrow, and me trying my best to reverently reprimand him if he got a little too loud in church.

Occasionally we would fuss a little as we tried hard to get chores done on Sunday mornings and we would rush to try not to be too terribly late. Cross words might fly. Usually it would only take one song until one of us would grab the other's hand and whisper sorry to make up.

It was horrible to walk into church without Philip. I had to grip Nora and Rose's hand so tightly I was afraid it might hurt.

The scriptures were great, but I had to sing through my tears.

I thought I might stay home, but decided that no matter how long I waited, there would be pain.

There was.

I think there might be pain for a very long time.

My dad wanted to take us out to eat afterward. I couldn't go to our favorite Sunday afternoon Chinese buffet in Salem. Too many memories. I guess we will go another time. I think they will miss Philip there. He always spoke to the owner about his jazz collection. And to the servers about Chinese phrases. We would sit and eat and laugh and laugh for over two hours. Couldn't go. So we went to another restaurant and I ate.

My sister returned home this afternoon. Julie arrived. She helped Dad and me get chores done while kids spent some time in town with friends. I milked Priscilla. We fed goats and pigs and cows and chickens.

Freda died. Just like our other ewe a couple of years ago. The loss of her babies and her best friend Willow was more than she could handle. She just quit eating. She wouldn't get up. She was perfectly healthy after the babies were born. Ate and drank. Never got an infection or anything. But after the losses, she just wouldn't eat.

Daddy threw together a salad for us to share tonight. Greens and chicken and red pepper and tomato and cheese. I was satisfied. Not ready to feast yet. But definitely ready to continue to walk forward. Tomorrow we plan to deliver two lambs, two hogs and a goat to the butcher. Next day need to slaughter chickens and a turkey.

During the time of congregational prayer I praised God. He is my sustainer and my strength.

By the way, the sun was shining and the temperatures were up to 60 today. The snow on the ridge is shrinking. Stream running full.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Yesterday I milked the cow, called our banker, called our former family lawyer, discussed debt and taxes that are due and paperwork that needs to be filed. Took the car with the flat tire that has been out of balance into our church friends' auto shop. Ate lunch with my sister and cried a little. Went to the Farm Bureau to see what was due and what was covered and what do we need to do to get a LLC for the business part of the farm.

Paralyzed with exhaustion I drove to Bent Mtn to let a friend take care of me. We remembered Philip as we ate. We drank a very costly gift of port that we had intended to share together with Philip. It was rich and smooth, raisiny and full. Perfect for a cold night shared with memories, sadness and joy mingling sweetly. These friends knew Philip in their college days at Roanoke. I became acquainted with them when our 17 year olds were breast feeding babies eating Earth's Best baby food.

We pieced together funny stories, each of us from a slightly different angle. We cried. We spoke of other losses and eternity and the here and now and the grace and mercy of God. Of not enough time and of God's economy. Stayed up way later than we planned. I woke up way earlier than I planned and made coffee, reading through several scriptures that encouraged and comforted me. Of the many, here is one:

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
"Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak/
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing .
I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes before your eyes," says the LORD.

Zephaniah 3:16-20

I love the image of God being in my midst, the strong one for me now that Philip is gone. I have always treasured the image of God rejoicing over me with gladness and making me quiet, like an exhausted child cuddled in her mother's arms in front of the fireplace (like Nora, as she fell asleep tonight). That he would exult over me in delight and song. And as I mourn and feel a very bizarre sense of shame in the horrible term widow, I am told I will not suffer reproach. That my oppressors: fear, anxiety, loneliness and need will be dealt with.

I drove home from Bent Mtn this morning and had a three-way conversation with Philip and God. It was very interesting. Sort of weird. But lovely. I told God that I have heard many interpretations from scripture that differ regarding what happens to the soul after death. Sleep, go straight to heaven, spend time in a lobby-like world, waiting for the judgment day. I suggested that it probably wasn't worth me worrying about too much since I believe that my mind is not wired to completely grasp eternity. That if it were really important, I was going to depend on the Holy Spirit to clue me in, but if he didn't mind, could I throw out some things to him and Philip and if he couldn't really hear me right now, would God relay the message for me?

As the car made it's way through our precious valley, I told Philip how much I miss him and how much I love him. I sensed him tell me he knew, and that he loved me too, and that now he understands everything, and as I told him I was sorry for not being a better wife sometimes, and how I wish I had served him better. He and God and I had an amazing chat, and even if I don't know how all that meshes with my theology, I felt satisfied. I reached our gate, opened it up and smelled a sweet smell of spring breeze and earth and green. The sun was shining differently and it was evident that the first day of Spring is nearly upon us (March 20th). Jason and Tim were loading the mounds of garbage to take to the dump and were discussing a way to help the boys work out a good trash system. Our pastor came for a visit. So did many home school friends and other neighbors who cut up a load of firewood for us and stacked it up. Others brought food. Homemade cookies. A trailer to borrow. Kind words. Gentle smiles.

Children played in the fields and reveled in the warm sun. After being entirely overwhelmed by kindness, I escaped to the living room and wept in my sister's arms.

The chickens are laying again. Willow died. Her best pal, Freda, is mourning. She won't eat. Daddy drenched her. She doesn't appear to have any apparent physical malady. Just grief over her baby and her friend. We have tried to get her to join the flock but she won't budge. The other sheep are doing well. The baby lambs and kids are vigorous. We plan to dock tails next week.

My back hurts. My neck hurts. My face hurts. I told my pastor I wish I could have a nice argument with my husband so we could make up.

I wish we could go back to normal.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

One Week Overwhelming Grace

One week ago the emergency room doctor declared what we already knew.

Was that a hundred and one years ago?

Willow is still down. We (I mean my dad) have been doctoring her for pregnancy toxemia. I doubt she will live.

Daddy let the over two week old lambs and kids out to pasture with their mothers. They are all very happy.

I milked Coco this morning. Patrick milked Priscilla. He also helped Papa replace the broken slats in the hay racks. Priscilla is going into heat. I think I will let her get rebred to insure that we have milk next winter. And more beef, if it is a bull calf.

I spent over six hours working on business plan and details. Overwhelming. Walking the farm with a friend trying to make a list of urgent needs. I wept when I went in Philip's office out at the milking parlor and saw the prayer he would pray for us every morning when he would go out to exercise and read the Bible. Nora and Thomas spent the night and today playing at the Thomas's. Rose and Maggie played Monopoly, Scrabble, the piano and they fought. And played some more. Terri washed loads and loads of laundry and cleaned the basement. Rachel brought over a cake that she and Thomas made to celebrate Terri's birthday. Yesterday I couldn't sing to her, but tonight I was able. We ate leftovers of the wonderful food people gave us. I can taste food again. At least better that two days ago.

I thanked God for placing us in such a community surrounded by people who love us. The cards and letters and gifts are amazing. Overwhelming. The encouragement is like milk to a baby. "I know this is hard, but you can do this," reassures the friends who help me with difficult work that has to be done before market season starts. Which reminds me of a passage from Fellowship of the Rings I read the other night. Will have to share with you later, but am sleepy and must go to rest. Tomorrow is another day.

All By Myself

Yesterday I went to town for the first time all by myself.

The drive down the mountain was painful.

The day before I read a quote by CS Lewis. "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in."

It was surprising how well he described me.

I got a cell phone. Ours had been broken for a few months and I hadn't wanted to replace it. We wanted to live without cell phones. I decided it might be a helpful tool for dealing with kid arrangements these days and in the future when we are doing separate farmer's markets.

I went to the auto shop and told them about my car. Apparently the spinning of wheels on ice and snow has thrown it out of balance and the steering wheel shakes when I drive. One of the members of our church has volunteered to have my vehicles repaired.

I went to the church and talked to the administrator who is coordinating help for me and will come help me sort out paperwork next week.

I met with a friend who has complete confidence in our ability to make a decent living here on the farm and wants to help with tweaking things to increase income flow. That conversation made me feel almost alive for an hour. Encouraged and excited to hear someone lay out ideas that I had been dreaming for the last several years. Encouraged that if someone else thinks we can make our life work, then maybe I am not merely being overconfident or foolish to think that we are perfectly situated to earn enough money through the bounty on this farm. Maybe we don't have to think that our only option is to sell out, move into an apartment and work in some closed in space.

I have no intention of selling and moving. That conversation fanned the flames of my tiny spark of hope.

I felt guilty for feeling positive and hopeful.

That evening I went to bed completely paralyzed by exhaustion. Read a few of my favorite Donald Hall poems. Scanned through one that is not my favorite. It is called "Afterlife."

"It was true, what he thought,
although pitiless. If he could say
now, "Jane has leukemia,"
he would feel such contentment."

Written not long after his wife Jane died of leukemia. I thought of all the troubles that troubled me before Philip's death. His health issues.

I cried.


I think I need to throw out a warning to folks who stumble upon this blog, or who have been reading for some time because you are interested in farm living, that I am not going to be writing for you.

There many be times when things get a little raw. There may be times when things seem a little too normal and that might hurt, too.

The ramblings I journal here in this format are the things that pop up at the time of writing, but they are not complete. There are so many emotions and circumstances that I could never begin to capture them for another person.

However, it seems right for me to chronicle this very real most horrible season of my life. I have gotten into the habit of doing it by blog.

So this warning, please, there are so many other happy farm blogs out there. This blog will remain a farm blog. But it is MY farm, and I think you should be warned that life on the farm is very painful right now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Daddy, Julie and Terri have been keeping the house so warm.

The dark, bare melted spots of pasture are white this morning. As I walked the fields with Kathryn yesterday a heavy, wet, huge snowflake kind of snow fell on our faces and hair as I poured out my heart. I shared with her all the many, many ways that God had prepared us for this calamity, and the many ways I have witnessed the powerful hand of the Lord over the past few days.

I took a nap yesterday afternoon with Rose. I ate two sandwich halves, a few potato chips, a piece of chocolate, had several cups of peppermint tea, a little wine, only part of an early morning cup of coffee, plenty of water. The food didn't taste so horrible yesterday. Not great, but not horrible.

Baby, a Cotswold-Jacob ewe had a little ram lamb yesterday morning. I didn't milk, didn't look at babies, but let others care for me.

The wind is blowing the snow across the window as I type. The turkey is gobbling for breakfast. I think I will make some coffee.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Philip James Hillery, May 10, 1958-February 25, 2010

Dr. Fish's Evangelism 101, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I arrived to class 15 minutes early and there was one seat left. Front row, to the left of the class, next to a tall irish-looking guy in a blue sweater. He asked for a first date after New Testament Greek. He took me to Denny's. I was a broke seminary student eating lots of ramen noodles and beans, so the meal tasted fabulous. We sat at the table for over three hours, talking about life, travel, adventures and God.

Philip married me on December 21, 1991 at the age of 33 at James Avenue Baptist Church. By that time he had played Lacrosse at Madison High School in Madison, New Jersey. One year he was high scoring player on his team one year and loved the sport. He tried college in Baltimore and hated it, so spent a semester or two studying at the County College of Morris, doing construction work and landscaping then sought out Roanoke College.

One of his first memories at Roanoke College was an evening at the campus pub, the Cavern. They were drinking some beer and playing pool when a young woman came up to Philip, and in a very distinctive drawl asked, "Are you a Yankee?" For a split second he preened and thought, wow, how did she know I always wanted to be a New York Yankee?

At Roanoke College, Philip met Lynne Florin and many other dear friends, loving his new life in the South, getting his BA in Fine Arts.

Philip studied in Stella Adler Studio and School of Acting in New York City. He traveled across the midwest doing children's theater bringing crazy life to the story of Alexander Graham Bell. He acted in several plays in Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. He had the opportunity to housesit for Hurd Hatfield in his old Irish manor house outside County Cork for 9 month and acted in some theater there as well. At some point in all this period Philip went West with two of his buddies to work in the Oklahoma oil fields. You will have to speak to John Ritter and Bobby Smith to hear more about their adventures!

While in Connecticut, Philip decided to join the army. His father was a vet, part of the 5th Armored Division that liberated Luxembourg in WWII. Philip had traveled with his father to Luxembourg and Belgium a couple or three times to be honored. He was so proud of his dad and loved WWII history. The army wouldn't take him because of his bad heart due to a childhood fever, but at that time, when he was trying to join, a Gideon gave him a pocket New Testament. Growing up Catholic, Philip attended church, but upon receiving that Bible he realized he had never read one. After acting in several Shakespearean play he was properly prepared to grasp the King James Version and read the whole book.

This decision completely altered the course of his life.

An acting friend invited him to move to Hollywood. There Philip got hooked up with a B movie company and acted in many "hits" like The Deadly Reactor- where Philip played a sheriff of a small western town overrun by a biker gang after a nuclear bomb hit. His role is memorable! He also fell into his friend's catering job for this same film company. Just ask me for some very funny stories!

At this point he began to look for a church as he grew in his Christian life. Somehow he ended at Hollywood Presbyterian, pastored by Lloyd Ogilvie. That church experience was life changing for Philip. From that church he went out to several mission trips in Mexico, helping in orphanages. As he worked doing reconstruction on old houses he began to see that the film world was "vanity, vanity." He decided to further his education at Fuller Theological Seminary. However, Philip grew to hate traffic in California and jumped at the opportunity to help move his friend Logan Craft to Dallas, Texas. There Philip visited to beautiful campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and promptly transferred.

When Philip was 12 years old he walked out of St. Vincent's one Sunday morning and thought he heard God tell him to be a priest. He thought that was weird and said that even at that point he liked girls and couldn't become a priest if that meant not getting married!

So he moved to Fort Worth and there we met and he received a Masters of Divinity and was ordained to preach at our dear church, Southcliff Baptist Church.

Philip spent a summer on mission in Harlingen, Texas, through the Rio Grande River Ministry. After he graduated from seminary, we, and our sweet little baby Thomas went to Tokuyama, Japan for two years with the International Mission Board. Philip taught English Bible classes and preached and made many friends. He was especially loved by Mr. Takehara who visited us in Texas several times.

Philip served as a chaplain in Central Texas at Inks Lake State Park when Patrick was born. He also served as chaplain in the Tarrant County jails for several years during our days in Fort Worth, Texas. During all those days he did construction work on the side and restored every one of the homes we owned. He even served as assistant lacrosse coach at TCU for a period. In the evenings we would enjoy dinner parties with friends, being regaled with Philip's stories of his limo driving days in NYC, driving Mohammed Ali, Bette Midler and other interesting people. Also his stories of the time he spent working as a bartender in a sushi bar in Manhattan. And his adventures hiking in the Adirondacks. And the time he got locked in a subway tunnel in Paris one night. And the time he and his friends spent the night in a county jail. (was that the time he was driving a little too fast on his motorcycle???)

Maggie came along and Philip was so happy. When we married he said he wanted a big family because of his memories of neighborhood friends. As the chaos and the mess grew with the children I reminded him of that choice!

Philip memorized the entire Gospel of Mark and performed it in churches, parks and in jails. First time I saw him perform I was spellbound. He used all the techniques he learned at Stella Adler to make the scriptures come alive.

Philip ran for political office once when he disagreed with the voting practices of the incumbent who ran unopposed. I was so proud of him. As a result of that race, I believe, the incumbent changed her voting practices.

Philip moved his mother to Texas to take care of her. He moved us all the New Jersey to take care of his dad. He took up work in trading and investments after watching his dad spend years writing Abreast of the Market for the Wall St Journal.

When Rose came along he had even more children to use in his human statue performances. He played with the children, made up hundreds of "batman" stories and read thousands of books. Nora was a happy surprise and Philip was so thankful to have a full quiver of children. He taught them all to pray the Lord's Prayer. He took them hiking. He took them swimming and camping. He was willing to take care of them when I needed a break. Even a two week break last year to serve in India.

I remember when Philip came down to Roanoke for his 25th reunion. He and Thomas stayed with our dear friends, Lynne and Larry Florin. Just a week before, he had discussed how he never wanted to leave his father's home, which we were restoring. Lynne invited Philip to the Church of the Holy Spirit. When he told me he cried all the way through the service I was rather surprised! He would often snooze through a sermon, but never cry! I asked him about the sermon and he said there wasn't one, but that there was a video of Pastor Quigg Lawrence relating the time he got so lost hunting somewhere on Bent Mountain that they had to send out helicopters to find him.

"There is still a place where someone can get lost," he whispered in awe and wonderment after three years of living in northern New Jersey. He came home and told me that as much as he loved our neighbors, our church, Madison Baptist Church, and our home, he wanted us to sell and move to Roanoke, buy a farm, home school, become Anglican and join Church of the Holy Spirit. A couple of weeks later we had a realtor and a few short weeks later we had a contract on our farm.

For years Philip told us the story of one early summer afternoon in Madison. Around 18 years old he sat by a pond down the road from his suburban house, fishing with a friend.

"Some day I want to move to the South and have a farm," he told his friend.

There are many many more stories that would prove to you what a good man Philip was. So many. So many people he loved. So many places and adventures.

He was my friend. He was such a great husband. Never could there be a better human dad. He was human but he was good. Seeking God and loving us, working hard and laughing harder. He taught me the definition of true love, not the Hollywood version as he lived out John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Over and over again he lived out that verse as he served us. I am proud of the choices he made in his life.

We are thankful to have shared in his rich life.

Thank you, God.


Pall: n. heavy cloth draped over a coffin, something that covers or conceals; an overspreading element that produces and effect of gloom, v. to lose strength, to become pale.

Our priest explained to us that the pall which drapes the coffin for the funeral service has many functions and roles. One of them is to signify that no matter how rich a person or fancy the casket, all men and women are equal in the sight of God.

This morning I woke up way too early and lay in bed miserable. I finally went back to sleep for a short nap and woke up after dreaming we were in the hallway with Quigg, the children and I, and I found out the Philip was going to die is a few days. I was so shocked I wanted to sob and fall apart, but held it together because the children were there. I told them we needed to go to Dad and spend time with him and tell him everything we need to tell him, and find out from him all the important stuff.

Then I awoke and felt so horrible that we didn't get a chance to tell him all the important stuff. That we didn't get to say goodbye to his warm self, his hug, his kiss, his eyes.

Last night I missed having him kneel at the bed, hold my hand and pray for me. I told him how much I appreciated that. How I thank him.

Monday, March 1, 2010

In the Morning When I Rise

The wind is blowing this morning and it is cold and dark.

Friends told me that the sky was filled with clear cold stars last night and that it was beautiful. I didn't want to look.

I will want to look later.

The moon is brighter. Is it full?

Charla sent me a picture she had taken of Philip dealing with a deer carcass we butchered three years ago or so. It made me laugh out loud. Then cry.

Blackie, our dog, is lying on the floor at the foot of my bed snoring.

I remember coming back from our trip from Texas to see two bath mats laid out symmetrically at the foot of the bed for the dogs. Philip loved them. I think they kept him company during the lonely cold days. I smiled when I saw the mats on the floor because Philip always pretended he was so stern with them.

When I went to bed I whispered many things to Philip. And to God. When I woke up this morning and thought of some particularly sweet memory I told him thank you. Again.