Friday, April 30, 2010


Today was the first full-fledged baking day post 2/25.

I was hoping to be getting to bed a little earlier. A lot earlier.

But the bread is wrapped the dishwasher (thank God and my dear friends and especially the one who came over and installed it this morning!) is running, the signs are printed and I think we are ready.

Some other friends came over for the concrete pour. They poured the new milking area. Thomas and Patrick learned all about finishing concrete. Another friend came over and helped me wrap bread and pizza crusts and wash pots and pans.

Tomorrow starts earlier than I wish. Another friend will meet me at Grandin to be back up in case I get too teary. Another friend will take Patrick to another food event where he will give samples of our breads and sell some.

Have you gotten the idea that today's theme is friendship?

It was warm today. The milking tonight would have almost been pleasant but for the persistent no-see-ums. Torturous. How can such a tiny thing inflict such irritation?

The most lovely sight for me today was Rose and Nora, working, all by themselves, no direction or supervision, in the garden. Their lovely little selves interacting together out in the garden brought me a moment of deep joy. A glimpse of Thomas shoveling concrete (or is that cement, I never can remember), and Patrick stretched out on a board over the pour, and Maggie walking tall and strong with a laundry basket did also.

I hope I don't forget anything tomorrow.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Making Do

Today was almost warm. The house never warmed up, but once the sun came up and burned off the frost, it was pleasant outdoors.

I was glad I got dressed right away this morning. Sometimes I enjoy the luxury of staying in my pajamas to drink my coffee and do the milking. This morning a delivery man arrived at the door before eight o'clock with a brand new dishwasher. Thank you, you people, you know who you are! Shortly after, a neighbor came to pick up some pork liver and milk.

I had to take the boys over to a friend's house for the afternoon to do some work and some play and made a dreaded trip. To Walmart.

Sometime ago I dropped Wal Mart and Sam's. My shopping habits changed and so did my philosophy. HOWEVER, it was convenient having a husband with slightly less serious convictions about said stores. Every once in awhile we would need one thing or another that would be seriously cheaper at those stores. Like labels and fly tape and toilet paper. Going into those stores makes me depressed and irritated. It was wonderful leaving those horrible tasks to Philip.

Well, the warm spring weather brought a generous supply of flies and I was driven in desperation to the big WM to seek out non-toxic ways to deal with the dread of flies. Fly tape, underwear, shampoo, chewing gum, cat food. A clerk smiled at me and offered her help. I didn't need any, but was grateful for the offer, because there have been worse Wal Mart experiences.

Not having Philip means so many things in my life. I have to change the light bulbs, or ask the kids to do it. I bought a big box of the energy efficient light bulbs and realized I got the wrong size. Oh well. I couldn't open a bottle. 9 weeks ago I would have asked him to do it for me. I don't have a man-voice to talk to at night. Just the kids. (actually, Thomas and Patrick surprise me at times, when I hear them in the other room, I think Philip is speaking, they are developing such deep voices.) I miss his perspective. I miss disagreeing with him. We had a great deal of fun, disagreeing with each other. From theology to politics to literature, we shared many varying views. Now that he is in heaven, I imagine he realizes I was right, right?

Cow share people picked up milk and offered hugs. I realized how grateful I am for my job. Grateful that Philip believed in me enough to buy this farm for our family. Jason and his dad came to finish laying the metal to prepare for the concrete pour in the morning to make our new milking area. The ladies arrived for Bible study where we prayed for each other and discussed the love of God for us that is like a father, delighting in his children. Not the father, stern and demanding, never satisfied. But the father who looks at his child and grins with delight. Who looks at his child, sees the weariness or the skinned knee, and takes that child up to comfort and love. I thought about how weary I am, and how imperfectly I am managing things these days. I was grateful to remember the Psalm that David wrote, acknowledging that God knows we are but dust.

By the way, it appears that last night's frost did no major damage. Will it be a good fruit year? We are hopeful. I have been waiting for Mom to come visit at cherry picking time for a very long time. Maybe this will be the year? (Hint, hint)

Off to bed. The alarm is set for dark thirty to launch the market season. Bakery is officially open.

Full Moon

The full moon slid down the sky into the west early this morning. It was so bright.

I had wanted to stay up and go outside to watch it last night, but alas, had not the wherewithal. It was pretty cloudy, anyway.

Was it the weight of the full moon that crushed my stomach yesterday? The day was so heavy.

I got up, made coffee, made to do lists, milked the cow, washed jars, phoned a friend, spoke to my mom and dad, dug up a mountain of plantain and dock. I even cooked a nice meal for the kids at lunch, trout with a dill cream sauce and asparagus. Read a couple more chapters of the Last Battle with the kids. Distributed Dutch Valley Coop grains.

But it was all hard. Every last bit of it, interspersed with moments of sitting, listening to piano sonatas, stone still.

A guest remarked about how strong I am, how it amazes her.

She didn't see me, afterward, lying down in my bed, crying out to God to "help me, help me, help me."

Today is a new day. The roosters are crowing. The sheep will be out to graze in another half hour. I will milk Coco. Not very strong. Weakly moving forward. Like a hospital patient, getting up out of bed, being cheered on by the nurses as I make the 20 steps down the hall to the nurses station.

Don't worry, it isn't that bad every single minute. But it occasionally feels pretty bad. I thank God for the farm and the kids to give me reason to keep getting up and moving around, even if it is slowly.

By the way, the lambs' tails are dropping off, one by one. They look a bit naked without their floppy tail. I found the geese hissing and snapping as they sit on their unfertilized eggs. I felt sad for them. Maybe we can find some fertilized geese eggs to swap in? The mama hen braved the wind and the cool to take her week old little chickies out for a stroll. They scratched and pecked and stayed close to mama for their first farm lesson. Garden is sprouting. Market season is upon us. Tomorrow is first serious baking day. I am nervous that I will flop. Nervous that I am too tired, sad, etc. But here we are.

Hoping for the same divine energy that causes moons to rise and fall and chicks to hatch to help me have enough. Enough to accomplish the little tasks set before me.

PS I was just going to skip writing because I am afraid that readers will get tired of reading about sad days. But since I am not paying anyone to read this blog, I decided I would keep it real. Even though it is humbling, and I don't want people to worry about me, and think they have to fix everything for me. I guess I wanted some other sad reader to know that when the grief is there, sometimes the occasional bad day turns into a bad week, and from what others tell me, it is a normal part of grieving.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Yesterday's wind blew in some cooler temperatures for today. Sweater weather. Early in the morning, the Dutch Valley guy called and I met him at the General Store to pick up the almost ton of human grains, wheat, spelt, rye and other good things to mill into breads and cookies.

Getting ready for market.

Lots going on, list making, drama class, piano lessons. Sort of looks like normal life.

Except I am weepy and cry at the drop of a hat. Don't feel like cooking. At all. Ever again.

The other day I was thinking about how I used to love to cook for Philip. He grew up eating lots of Dinty Moore beef stew out of a can when he wasn't heating up a frozen dinner. Growing up in a broken home with a dad who came home late in the evening on the train meant a lot a fending for himself at mealtime. It gave me joy to make him delicious healthy dinners. We loved lighting candles and eating dinner for hours. The kids might eat their three bites then run off and play, leaving us at the table to catch up. Philip loved everything I cooked for him. He appreciated me. I would hear other gal's stories of their picky, finicky, fussy husbands at table and rejoice in my lot.

I have to learn how to cook for our family without Philip. Some day I imagine I will rejoice in a perfectly pan-seared venison medallion with port and black cherry reduction. But not now.

The other day as I reheated the leftover macaroni from lunch for supper, Rose came up to the oven and reproached me. "When are you ever going to cook us a real supper again, Mom?"

I cried. Gave her a hug and promised that someday I would be ready to cook for them, but now I am barely getting by. I broke down and said yes to the friends who had been offering to bring a dinner. One of our church friends and her husband came out this evening with roast beef and mashed potatoes and salad and pie with ice cream. We sat at the table, the children chattered happily, and consumed the whole feast. We thanked God for our friends, for the food and prayed for our friends in India and Haiti who are trying to rebuild their lives and asked God to provide for them too, just as he is for us.

How to live without Philip? We miss his presence at our table so much. I am now sitting in his spot at the table, with Nora and Rose at either side. The table doesn't feel right.

Nora wondered at table what Dad would be eating in heaven tonight. Some of the kids suggested that he wouldn't eat yet, because it is not time for the BIG FEAST. The others thought he would be having cheeseburgers, since that was one of his favorite foods. I opted to listen and eat my own supper.


No normal on the farm these days. But life continues to be good. What a paradox.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Wind

Today I drove to Lewisburg, WV to pick up the lamb from the butcher. The three lambs turned into two ice chests of stew, ground meat, chops and legs, bone in and boneless. Two ice chests of future feasts for us, our friends and customers.

I was happy that a friend drove with me. A friend who knew Philip for even more years than I, since they went to Roanoke College together. We grieve the loss of our friend, Philip. She was patient to hear me share stories of our courtship that she never knew. We shed a few tears, but laughed even more laughs, and enjoyed the luxury of a lunch together in a cafe. We chose the even windier path home, going through Crows and Sweet Chilybeate and Paint Bank and Potts Mountain.

The children stayed home and tended household and school chores. Then they had the opportunity to go to a grief support group for kids in town (with pizza), leaving me to put up the lamb, to milk, to clean my room.

The wind has been gusty today. It blew a few rain drops to the farm, then blew them out again. As I milked, I watched the cherry tree sway. I thought the little green cherries would surely blow away, but they didn't. What a tight grip Mama Cherry tree has on her little ones. The air smelled electric, like lightening and thunder. It smelled like the wind I smelled while standing at Fort Sewell, at Marblehead, Massachussetts, drinking in the air by gulps as it blew in off the ocean. How can I drink that same air, here in our valley in Virginia? I wanted to open my mouth wide and drink it by the gallons.

I watched the trees on the ridge, hickory, poplar, I don't know what else. They danced to the wind, a stately, formal dance, welcoming spring. One tossed a green leaf, like a handkerchief. Not like the leaf confetti of fall. Most of the leaves stayed intact. The willows, on the other hand, were wild and free, like a toddler, like a wild child, hair flying everywhere, out of control. Which do I enjoy the more? The stately formal? The wild chaotic frenzy? Hmm. The frenzy is a bit frightening, but I want to run and hold hands with them all.

Amazing how quickly milking time can pass while watching the dance of the trees.

I didn't think about work, or about grief, or about bills or taxes or labels or Quickbooks. Or kids or school or the dirty clothes.

Just the dance of the wind that smells like it came from Marblehead to visit. A big and powerful wind that makes me want to drink it in by the gallons.

What a gift. A couple of hours of peace and quiet, wind, a chunk of chocolate and hazelnuts for supper, with a glass of red wine to round things out. (Thank you, Julie.) And the continued sound of the dance of the wind. With peepers to add to the background.

I love our farm.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I woke up this morning and milled some grain and baked some bread. 10 or 12 baguettes and 10 loaves of milk and honey bread. Milked Coco. Skimmed milk and made three quarts of cream into butter. Several sets of friends came over and did things like fix an electrical outlet, repair screens, work on the milking parlor, etc.

Am still working out the details of how long to bake the bread in the new oven. I feel afraid that I won't be able to handle full capacity baking. "One day at a time," I tell myself. I don't have to bake full capacity today. Today I was able to bake enough to practice and to have plenty to share and for the kids to eat all week. Nora had been asking for some baguette. She has eaten almost half a loaf, all by herself.

The rain is hovering. A slight mist is starting to fall. Seems like the grey skies make the spring green even more vibrant. A nice rain would water in the garden very nicely.

This morning I paused in the baking long enough to make myself an omelet. I listened to a couple of Andrew Peterson cds while working and eating. Many of his songs speak to me, but these days, one called Faith to be Strong is especially dear.

Here are the lyrics:

Give us faith to be strong,
Father, we are so weak
Our bodies are fragile and weary
As we stagger and stumble to walk where you lead
Give us faith to be strong.

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard.
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong.

Give us peace when we're torn
Mend us up when we break
This flesh can be wounded and shaking.
When there's much too much trouble for one heart to take
Give us peace when we're torn.

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong.

Give us hearts to find hope
Father, we cannot see
How the sorrow we feel can bring freedom.
And as hard as we try,
Lord, it's hard to believe
So, give us hearts to find hope.

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard.
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong.
Give us peace when we're torn
Give us faith, faith to be strong.

When people ask me how they can pray for me, I have been suggesting they pray for me to be strong. It is hard for a weak person to run a farm or raise a family, for that matter. It is so hard to ask for help. But in our time of weakness, we have experienced an incredible tapestry of friends and community rising up around us to help. Patient. Understanding. Not mad at me for being weak. It is amazing. I think I am almost getting an inkling of the concept that the power of Christ is manifested through our weakness. I think is has something to do with all these people, the church friends and the non-church friends, all working side by side to be our strength. I think Philip must be so pleased to see how well our friends are caring for us.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Trying to Live Hopefully

The cherry tree is covered with little green balls. They look like earrings.

We planted a couple of wide rows of green beans with last year's seed since this year's seed has mysteriously disappeared. I went for feed. Took care of some business. Milked cows. Washed jars. Made goat cheese.

I feel very inefficient. Couldn't summon the spark to bake. I hope to experiment with the bakery equipment some more tomorrow to be ready for the big farmer's market launch.

I am looking forward to the next swing of good days.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Two Months

Two months ago my mouth was dry. My whole body felt as dry as a desert. My hands were trembling and I knew.

Two months and one day ago, I was writing in my blog. Philip was reading to the kids. We were chatting about this and that and tired and getting ready to go to bed to be ready for another day. The snow covered the ground. The cold felt interminable. We slept with many blankets and made sure to load the woodstove one last time so the house wouldn't get down below 38 degrees in the morning.

Today we are not cold. The trees are full of leaves. The grass is growing in thickly. Not only is the snow gone, but so are the daffodils and the peach blossoms and the cherry blossoms. The radishes are growing. The first crop of lambs are monsters compared to their little newborn cousins. Their little tails are about to fall off. Dulce and Carmelita are ready to be weaned.

Well. I am ready for Dulce and Carmelita to be weaned. If you heard their plaintive cries to their mommas over the barnyard fence you would know they are not ready to be weaned.

Two months ago we had not yet heard one single peeper.

Today I milked and checked animals and garden and chatted with our cow share people and washed dishes and washed clothes and had kids do a math lesson and ran an errand and sat in the cemetery listening to Philip's Gram Parsons cd and thought about him for a few minutes. Today I ate supper and forced myself to look at pictures of Philip's smiling face on the bulletin boards that we have yet to take apart from the funeral and was in shock that he could still be gone.

I miss him.

After the Bible study ladies went home I returned a call to our neighbor from the other side of the ridge and down the road. He had a cow give birth to twins and she would only take one of them. He knew we were milking and wondered if we would want to take a calf and raise it. Could he bring it right over?

We have milk. We have little girls who love messing with baby animals.

I said yes.

Tonight we have a new little fellow moved into the stall next to the ewes with their little baby lambs. He is the color of dark chocolate, at least that is what he looked like in the dim light of the barn. Big and strong for a twin. He has a mama hen and seven little chicks to keep him company, as they live in the feed bucket hung on the wall of his stall. He drank a pint of milk and that was all he wanted, but I have a feeling that tomorrow morning he will decide that the bottle is significantly better than a mama who won't let him drink.

Life is a great mystery to me. Philip was here and now he is not. Winter was here and now it is not. The children were teeny and now they are not. The seeds were placed, like little specks of dirt, into the soil, and now they are sending up green shoots that will turn into food for our table.

Mystery. How can life and death be so intertwined and intermingled? How can life be sweet and miserable all at the same time? I don't know.

Why do I even try to write it all down when all I can capture is a crumb or two? I don't know.

I feel like a tottering toddler. Today's Psalm was Psalm 37. Verses 23 and 23 made me think of a toddler stumbling, but being held by his father's hand: "The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand."

I am counting on being held by the hand while we stumble along in the middle of this mystery.

Did I say I miss Philip? That I can't believe he is gone? That he was too alive? That we shared too many things for him to disappear? That even though I am not mad at God and I am glad that Philip no longer suffers pain, there is a huge gaping hole in our house right now?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The children and I were afforded the opportunity to escape to Cape Lookout National Seashore for a long weekend. We loaded up the pickup truck with ice chests full of farm food, blankets and pillows and stacks and stacks of books. The drive was long. Very long. We listened to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle on the way down and a difficult day turned out to be a rather pleasant day as we laughed together over the fabulous cures Mrs. Piggle Wiggle wrought on many a challenging child.

The day we prepared to leave I also baked in our new bakery for the first time.

It worked beautifully.

I still have to work out some kinks. The oven is fabulous. It bakes bread and pizza crusts in a fraction of the time. The stainless steel table makes an excellent work space for rolling out and shaping. The mixer mixes amazingly.

But I noticed that I am still not 100%. Trying to work was grueling. It felt hard. Like hiking 18 miles up and down steep and rocky terrain. By the time my girlfriend came to pick up her pizza crusts I was at my wits end. The kids found a ewe with a new little lamb, still damp with birth. I went out to gather the little girl up and place her and the momma in a safe place in the barn and found a safe place for me, out in the pasture to vent to my dear friend and her unsuspecting guest. Both ladies also lost their husbands. They let me rant and rail and cuss and cry for a little bit, and I knew they understood. It made me mad to be so weak and tired. To have to be a single parent.

The trip to the beach was a rather sudden opportunity. We needed some time to regroup as a family in a quiet place. Portsmouth Island was just the ticket. A ferry took us out three miles to a place with no stores, no internet, no phones or tvs. No refrigerators or sidewalks. Just rustic cabins with bunk beds and a little propane stove. Windows looking out to the sound on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The ferry guys lent the kids some clam rakes and showed them where to dig. They brought a bountiful harvest of delicious clams which made their way into a chowder. Yum.

I thought that listening to waves and feeling sand would heal me. That all the grief and sadness would wash away into the ocean.

Well, we had some amazing family time. I read out loud to the kids many chapters of The Last Battle, by CS Lewis. The kids played many games of UNO. They built sand castles and played freeze tag and hide and seek and we ate many delicious meals together.

I read some poetry by Pablo Neruda. A John Steinbeck novel. A biography about Abigail Adams. A collection of poetry by Wendell Berry. An amazing memoir by Ann Hood called Comfort. The Bible. The Book of Common Prayer.

At some point I realized I was doing everything I could to distract myself from thinking about Philip. Any thought of him was so painful, I just tried to do anything I could to avoid it.

So I looked at the ocean waves, that changed color from morning to evening. The morning would be so glassy, it was like a shiny chrome. The dolphins would swim out past the breakers and give us delight. The terns would skitter and scatter across the wet sand, hunting their breakfast. The bright midday sand would warm up like a heating pad, and I would sink in my toes, huddled in Rachel's mom's shawl, shivering. At times the beach would be as hard as concrete and then at others, our feet would bounce in the wet sand. In the evening, the ocean would turn a deep deep blue, the waves would roll in, and the sun would slide down, faster and faster, pink and orange into the sound. Sometimes the wind would beat us, blowing the sand against our skin like a sand blaster, and we would laugh to see it swept along, as if a giant street sweeper were at work.

No major healing took place.

I still miss Philip and am becoming aware that I have no earthly idea just how much I miss him. I feel a bit like a coward to ignore the pain for a little while.

But it was important to re knit our family ties this weekend, and helpful to work on our new family dynamic. The family of six instead of seven. Someone asked me if I had fun. Before I could stop myself, I told her, no, not really. I wished I could have simply said, yes, it was a great trip. Because it was. But it wasn't fun. Even though I did delight in watching the children delight in the waves and the sand.

Not fun, but good. Very rich. Every single bit of it. As the peepers serenade me this evening, I can almost hear the crashing waves and feel the hot sand on my toes. Maybe there was more healing that took place than I am aware. Other people's words were like a balm to my soul.

Work was waiting on me. Not very patiently, but definitely waiting. Coco was happy to see me, even when I gave her a severe talking to. She wouldn't let any one else milk her, so Dulce and Carmelita had to do the job. Another lamb was born on Sunday morning to Dahnabad. A little ram lamb to add to Sissy's little female born on Friday. When I went to check on the new lambs and their mothers, I spotted the broody hen sitting on a nest in an adjacent stall. What did I spy when I picked up the fluffy gal? Seven little day old baby chicks! She was hiding them under her fluffy wings. What a wondrous thing, baby chicks hatched out by their mama.

I am happy for the reminder. The reminder of Psalm 91:4. "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." God is to our family like that hen with her chicks. We are tucked under a wing and are being sheltered and cared for, even in our weak times. Especially in our weak times.

Can you believe we had friends who would come to the farm EVERY day to take care of our animals? Deal with cantankerous cows? Belligerent turkeys? (George almost got roasted by Jason and Dylan after a flogging, but somehow managed to survive!) They even swept the floors and made my bed and threw the last wet clothes in the washer into the dryer for me so we could get on the road. I am so very grateful. And glad to be home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


This Thursday was not as bad as previous Thursdays.

Maybe because there was a great deal of activity. Washing clothes, hanging them on the line, working some in the garden, getting the boys to plant more potatoes, onions, carrots, radishes, spinach and lettuce. Had to go to town and take care of business, paperwork, go to the library. Came home to a flurry of farm visitors, friends learning the ropes to help manage chores, farm customers, Bible study ladies.

We held our group meeting out on the front porch. The warm sun felt great on bare arms. As the sun went down, we shivered, but shared concerns, vulnerabilities, and prayed with one another, in awe at the way God designed us to be in relationship with one another.

I cried a bit as I ran errands alone. No wailing. But I do notice that I allow myself to feel a lot more deeply when alone. I miss Philip and his absence is so huge, it is surreal. I wish I could share parenting responsibilities with him and feel a bit afraid to manage the kids without his insight and help. I have been asking my men friends for their thoughts to balance out all the feminine energy. I grew up with two sisters. What to do with these young men in our home?

We eat meals together, but it feels more haphazard without Philip. He was the anchor at the table. I find we are going to have to come up with a new family dynamic that will come with time.

It was a beautiful sight to me as I drove away from the farm, two young men working together, down in the big garden. Brothers united in one vital job, sowing the seeds that will in turn yield our dinners.

Well, nothing spectacular to write. The sun shone today. It warmed our bones, dried the clothes, heated the soil and chased ladies outside to the front porch. Even more leaves unfurled, stretching themselves out after winter's cold grip. Lambs bounced, chickens laid eggs, cows and goats gave milk. I suppose all that is rather spectacular after all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Today was cold and gray.

50 degrees feels cold after days in the 90's. We even made a token fire in the fireplace to take the chill off.

I feel sluggish and sad. Maybe we will do some hard physical work tomorrow. Today was slow. Going through the motions. Milking the cows. Maggie milking the goats. Delivering milk. Cleaning out the fridge. Sweeping the sidewalk. Procrastinating on the garden.

Tired and sad.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

No Colorblindness in Heaven

As Thomas and I drove home from an appointment in town I marveled at the vibrant red buds.

It struck me that Philip would not have to suffer any longer from colorblindness. I wished I could hear him exclaim over the amazing palette of colors.

The hundreds of shades of greens are a symphony to my eyes. Pale celery collides with emerald which bounces off of chartreuse. The wildflowers are out in full force, trillium, trout lily, wild mustard.


Monday, April 12, 2010

When We All Work Together, Together, Together

Saturday morning our friends Ross and Wheeler and Emily came to the farm to help with some projects. The bull calves were past due their castration date, but Philip was not feeling well enough to help me take care of that last winter, so we waited for a good weekend according to the farmer's almanac. You can read other posts about our adventures with castrating bulls in previous years. Since we do not have chutes and squeezes and all sorts of other fancy farm equipment we use the best equipment around: our friends.

Same morning, Jason and Josh came out to work on repairing the footings of one side of the tractor shed. They jacked up the sagging wall, dug holes, mixed cement and used Thomas on their team to get the new milking area ready to pour a concrete slab.

Rebecca and Phil and Ingrid (remember Ingrid, our intern last year?) organized a gang of workers from their church. Their mission: begin the spring barn dig out. Maybe 20 some odd kids and young people and even some not so young people manned (womanned) the pitch forks and began to dig out the foot or more of barn bedding that would be used to fertilize our pastures.

Trent and Dawn and kids came over with their John Deere to help till the garden and also use the front loader to move mountains of manure.

The day was perfect. Sunny and mild, sweaters were shed and t-shirts were donned. Ross and Wheeler asked if I wanted them to build me a clothesline. I didn't even ask! How did they know I desperately needed a clothesline? Of course I said yes, and they went to the barn, found the post hole digger and immediately went to work. I drank another cup of coffee for boldness, swept the floors and cried because I missed Philip being here for our annual barn dig out. As you may have read in former years, the spring barn dig out is an amazing opportunity for family togetherness. We would fuss a little, trying to get people motivated to tackle a seemingly impossible task. We would plug in the radio, fight a little over music choices, then finally get to work over the course of two or three days until the job was done, manure spread and clean fresh stalls, sore, but stronger muscles, and a trip to Pop's for sandwiches and ice cream our reward for completing a very hard job.

I never thought I would cry about someone else working on our barn.

So tears dried, I donned the work boots, grabbed the iodine spray bottle and scalpel and joined to the team to round up the calves. We moved them into the barn, and used a gate and a fence as a squeeze. A couple of strong guys held the gate tight as another fellow chained it closed to a fence. Legs were tied. A bucket of grain was fetched, a treat to keep the "patients" distracted. Someone held the tail of the animal up over its back to keep it still. I reached up and proceeded to perform an operation that has given people more tender beef and better herd management for generations. It isn't a very delicate operation. I needed some help with the larger calf and Wheeler was obliged to help. As soon as we were done, the big guy was released into a clean pasture and immediately began to graze the luscious grass. As you can imagine, all barn dig out halted for the chance to witness this educational experience! I think it might have been more exciting than the average reality tv shows! In fact, I think that Wheeler and I could make a good team for a medical reality tv show, as he explained all the workings and proper names for the tubes and vessels and tissues and organs. I don't think anyone got too woozy, but then again, I was fairly tucked in and under rather large animals and didn't much pay attention.

For anyone out there who is hoping to work their own self-sustaining farm operation, it is vital you gather around you a team of friends and strong people, because you have to do some of your own vet work, especially that of castration. Some folks band little baby bull calves and that works, but then they often choose to implant hormones to replace those that were taken. We have read that if you let the calves get bigger, they develop enough natural hormone to grow nice and large and that makes sense to us. I did not grow up learning how to castrate animals, but I did see my dad do it on smaller animals and I read about it online and watched others castrate baby goats and learned how important it is to carefully pull so the cord is ripped instead of cut straight across, to prevent heavy bleeding, and that it is important to carefully pull to get enough of the cord.

So both calves were blood free and happily grazing the rest of the day and while I had so much help and the scalpels and iodine available, we took care of the bucklings and banded the lamb tails as well.


After lunch a couple of cow shareholders came out to the farm to make some purchases. I milled some corn and wheat for one customer and the work on the clothesline, the new milking area and the barn continued. The little kids even went around the farm and had a trash picking up contest to gather detritus left by the wind.

I believe only one manure throwing episode broke out. Seems like apart from watching the farm operations, the human manure spreader job was the hands down favorite of all the kids. They loaded the trailer, drove through the field, and distributed to straw and manure evenly with the help of pitchforks.

Maybe someday we will acquire a mechanical manure spreader. But I think I would be sad to take away from the kids one of their favorite jobs!

So the barn is not quite clean. We knew that it would probably take a couple of days of hard labor. But it is coming right along. And the clothesline is ready for me to go out and load up right now. Which I believe I will do, since the sun is bright and shining and we will soon need to load up some lambs into the back of our new pickup truck and deliver them to the butcher.

How can I say thanks to this amazing community around us?

All the people who give of their time, their resources, their love and labor? It is overwhelming, this generosity that has been extended to us in our time of need. Sometimes it is hard to receive because it is so humbling. But I open my arms and receive and say thank you, hoping that in their time of need they will receive a hundred fold, even a thousand fold what they have given me. I open my arms to receive and say to my children, "See how we are not alone!"

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard:
that went down the skirts of his garments;

As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion:
for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." Psalm 133


Last Friday Rachel and I went on an adventure. Laura watched Mec and Boone, Maggie and Rose played with their town friends and Nora, Sofie, Samuel and the two mommas drove to pick up a new truck for the farm. 2003 seems like a brand-new pickup for us around here.

Julie, her hubbie, and her parents are very familiar with our operation, and how Philip had been our on-site mechanic to keep old farm vehicles moving. They also are familiar with the fact that a self-sustaining farm cannot carry a load of vehicle debt. Our friends wanted to make sure I had a vehicle that could carry a ton of feed from Stewart's Draft and also carry tables and coolers and farm goodies to the farmer's market. And be able to carry a mom and 5 kids all at the same time.

So Rachel and kids and I drove down to Ferrum to pick up a beautiful truck that can do all that and has 4 wheel drive to boot. The lady who formerly owned used to have goats and Highland Scottish beef cattle and Clydesdales, but is moving from the farm to a new life. We are so thankful for this gift.

When I hopped up into the cab to take it for a test drive, it seemed too nice for us. Too beautiful and sporty and new. Rachel suggested it looked like it would last for a very long time, and that it was just right for the farm. Especially since we needed to use it right away on the drive home to load up another used freezer we purchased from another farmer so we could safely store our meats.

How does one say a sufficient thank you for such overwhelmingly generous gifts? So many gifts.

PS I was happy to see that the truck is very simply decked out. No electric anything. The windows are the kind that require one to roll them up by hand and so are the locks. Our old suburban electric windows and locks broke down years ago. Keeping it simple means things will hopefully continue to work for a very long time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


So Thursdays seem to be hard for me.

I woke up way to early and enjoyed cuddling up in the amazing shawl that Rachel's mom knit for me and drank coffee and read the day's readings from the Book of Common Prayer. The Psalms for the morning were Psalm 146 and 147. How lovely that one of the verses, verse 9 spoke so clearly to me, "The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow..." And Psalm 146 speaks eloquently about the earth, "He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call...He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat." One of the other scriptures out of Exodus even spoke of being brought into the land of milk and honey.

It was nice to be cuddled up in the early hours with my Bible and other books. I read through many scriptures that have spoken to me. I found the note I wrote in the cover of my Bible on May 8, 2005, before we even sold our house in New Jersey or looked at farms in Virginia. It mentioned a scripture in Joshua, a story that took place in Gilgal, and I learned that many scholars believe that Gilgal means circle. I came upon the scripture while leading a group of ladies in NJ in a Bible study. The story describes the time the Israelites were led by Joshua to cross miraculously over the river Jordan into the Promised Land. The priests were commanded to remove from the dry river bed (the miracle) 12 stones and to place them in a "circle." These stones were to be a reminder to the people that the Lord brought them into the Promised Land via the miraculous journey over dry stones instead of a flooded river. That day in May, only two weeks after Philip came back home from his 25th college reunion at Roanoke College, where he realized it was time for us to move to a farm, I knew that somehow, Gilgal was the name of our farm. Gilgal. Hmmm. I couldn't imagine the weird looks that people would give us, driving past our farm, wondering what the heck Gilgal meant. But then it came to me. Full Circle. When we made the decision to move here to our little valley, we felt like we were being given a free pass right to our Promised Land. This farm was a testimony of a miraculous journey for our family. Before we even knew the address.

Full Circle. I grew up on a little farm in Oklahoma then Central Texas. Philip dreamed of living on a farm when he was a teenager in suburban New Jersey. We both shared the vision of raising our family in the same place we raised our grass and our garden and our meat and our fertilizer and our bread and our milk and cheese.

On hard days, like Thursdays, it helps me to know that we are right where we are supposed to be. I can't figure out for the life of me why we don't get to have Philip here with us, in the flesh and blood, right now. I feel a bit confused when I look around for him and see him in pictures, and see his clothes and his notes and his stuff in the bathroom and know he is not coming back. My chest hurts and my throat constricts and I ache.

But the vision, the Circle, forces me to move. To go out and plant many pounds of potatoes with my sons. In the rain. I remember that Philip shared that task with Thomas last year and he enjoyed it so much. He was thrilled that the afternoon he and Thomas invested gave us the return of I don't know how many pounds of potatoes. Enough to feed our potato hungry family all the way to February. And plenty to share with lots of other people. And a few to sell. And a bushel basket full of seed potatoes ready for us to plant today so we can keep the circle rolling along.

I also planted some kale seedlings given to me by my friend Katrina. And some of her cilantro and italian parsley seedlings. And some of her calendula seedlings. And I found some baby lettuces growing from seeds left behind by last year's lettuce and transplanted them to the right spot. And transplanted some volunteer sunflowers.

An extra hot bath felt good as the rain poured outside. I was sad, but not sobbing disconsolately. The ladies arrived and we formed our little circle around the dining room table. Stories were shared. Scriptures were shared. We laughed and cried and prayed.

The rain seems to have stopped. Just enough to thoroughly water the garden. Oh, and I planted a second fig tree. It should be happy to get a nice drink and some lightening for extra spice.

PS the kids found some fiddlehead ferns, the first of the season. They are almost a bit too far along, due to the heat wave, but with the rain and the cool weather we are supposed to get, I am hopeful for a nice mess along with some mushrooms. I hope. Spring continues to explode all around us like a fireworks display that keeps getting better and better.


The red-winged black bird perched on the chicken yard fence and squared his shoulders, shaking out his glorious crimson epaulets. He then flew over to the willow tree by the pond, perching like a brooch, singing out "oak-a-lee, terr-ee, terr-ee."

I wonder how far he traveled to come back for the spring? Is he the same guy I see every year around this time?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grief Therapy

The pear tree is blooming. So is the plum. The trees seemed to leaf out miraculously over the course of a few hours. I wish I had been sitting in a chair by the stream to watch them unfurl.

Since I had no gasoline for the little Mantis tiller, I pulled out a pitchfork and loosened up the soil in several of the little garden beds. Planted some herbs and a few flowers. Patrick planted three big rows of onions, I hope it isn't too late. The girls and Thomas finished painting the board fence by the gate black. We had some visitors drop in. We washed as many loads of laundry as we could cram in to hang to dry on the deck. Our clothesline took a beating during the heavy snow. I think I better figure out a way to fix it. The breeze kept blowing things hither and yon.

Nora asked if the dryer was broken and Maggie and I explained that it is wise to use the energy we get from the sun to dry our clothes and save the dryer for rainy snowy days.

We finally ate our supper of Jimbo's trout, canned green beans and store bought potatoes after 8pm. It was delicious.

I am glad to have another grace-filled, productive good day.

Sunshine and green are good medicine. As is dirt. I was very happy to see lots and lots of earthworms and only a couple of grubs. The soil was the color of my favorite dark chocolate. What a difference tons of hay and barn manure can make over the course of 5 years. The soil next to the garden beds is orange and tan. The garden used to be filled with lots of grubs and no earthworms at all.

Am a bit nervous about having two good days in a row, but thankful.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

90 Degrees?

The day started reluctantly. Kids fussed. Mother fussed. Chores were done much later than I wished. We struggled and slogged. Then something changed.

The girls went out and started playing in the stream. They were there for hours. Swimming in the 8 to 12 inches of running water. Patrick planted a few broccoli and spent hours practicing archery. Thomas and I went to town for a meeting with a lady about Asperger stuff. Then we ran an errand and rewarded ourselves with a trip to Goodwill.

What a great date. I got a stack of clothes and some sandals. He got some shorts and a cool Hawaiian shirt and a bagful of novels and a couple of movies. I spent less than $25 on the clothes and shoes, he spent less than $5. We talked about how much Philip loved Goodwill. Philip worked as a job counselor for Goodwill for a season. He learned to fully appreciate the economy of giving our discards to Goodwill, then going to shop there ourselves. He was green before green was cool! Even on the years where he was making a significant amount of money in investments, he would buy his shoes and clothes there. He considered it an investment in the lives of the folks who worked there. And let's face it, he was a VERY frugal guy.

When we got home, Patrick had lasagna ready for us in the oven. The girls were bathed and we all took our very UN-green paper plates out to the front porch and sat to eat our dinner. It was very peaceful. The sun went down as Patrick shot a few more arrows and Thomas retrieved Coco and Priscilla from the pasture. The girls told me a funny story about how Rose won a dollar off of Patrick who challenged her to a battle of archery. And she won. The air felt delicious. As the kids wandered off, girls to set up their beds on the deck, I remembered how last spring Philip and I would sit out on the deck with the kids and they would all go do their thing and we would talk for hours, way too late. I miss him. I can't believe he is gone.

But I am glad for grace to enable us to continue loving our farm.

As we readied to go inside, Patrick and I both looked out, over the hills, and said to each other,"I am so glad to live here on our farm."

I didn't even have to remind Patrick to catch the couple of escapee hens. He cheerfully went to grab them on his own because he remembered how much they love broccoli.

Tomorrow we hope to plant some more garden. Late, but we are hopeful anyway. The heat can't last. I believe a cold front will hit this weekend. But right now the air is delicious.

Monday, April 5, 2010


So we made it through Easter.

This morning we rose early and Patrick and Thomas joined Larry and other friends who made a trench that connected the well water to the house. Something Philip had been wanting to do for years.

The spring box that supplies our house with water has given us sweet water for a long time, but during the summer months it occasionally goes dry. Our friends generously put in the lines and even set in some yard hydrants near the future new milking parlor and the garden side of the yard. We have a good, steady and hopefully secure source of water, with the spring box as a back up.

It was an all-day, long hard job, and it was hard for me to see other people giving of their day to work so hard for us. I am so thankful that they are willing to invest in our lives. I feel sorry that our little efforts to say thank you are so inadequate.

Well, spring continues to spring.

The second cherry tree is blooming and the pear and plum are beginning to bloom also.

The hot days are making me worried. What if a hard freeze hits? Will the fruit be ruined?

Only time will tell. No need to worry about tomorrow. Today has enough worries of its own.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I have too many words to share.

The peach tree is in bloom. So is the willow tree. And the Bradford pear on the driveway. And the cherry tree.

The daffodils are in full bloom.

The bees are buzzing busily.

The trees along the stream look like something out of a Monet painting, subtle and soft.

The sights and smells and even the touch of the spring air on my skin makes me remember Philip. Sense memories of our days of courtship in Ft. Worth, the walks holding hands, the joyous hikes, young, him reciting me poetry, me-laughing at his silliness.

Funny how I had forgotten some of those memories that had been tucked away for safe keeping.

Yesterday I spent some time cleaning my room and listened to a Casting Crown cd. Something in it touched my spirit and it made me feel deeply. Rachel called and listened to me cry on the phone. I was wishing to cry with someone, but was afraid my friends would be tired of hearing me say I miss Philip. When the phone rang, it was a relief. I don't want to weary anyone, but thankfully the inner circle seems to understand. Julie listened and let me cry and talk and remember and question and talk some more. I have several people who are willing to go the extra mile with me. Why am I afraid of running them off?

In the afternoon I had to run Vasile's equipment back to him. Got a great hug and chat with Olimpia. Purchased some flowers at Lowe's to bless my soul. And some high tensile wire to bless my neighbors. On the way home I put in a cd by Eva Cassidy. A New Jersey Bible study friend gave it to me as a farewell gift when we moved down here. I enjoyed the music, but had put it aside for some time. I had forgotten how much her soul-filled voice moved me. When the song "I Know You by Heart" came on, I began to weep. Never before had that song touched me. Memories of the seasons we shared washed over me. I saw his face and heard his laughter and remembered laughing together until we cried. Fighting, working, sharing every aspect of our journey, from the easy days of courtship to the days of child rearing and caring for ailing parents, and starting a church and losing jobs and learning how to milk a cow.

So much, too much for words.

I miss him. I want to feel his hand grab mine. I want to look at his laughing face, the real warm one, and see him fuss at the kids for fighting over Easter candy and have him sit at the table with us, telling us stories and making us laugh as he retells adventures of Ireland and Manhattan and Japan.

So we moved the pews under the willow tree and set up an altar with saw horses and a barn door and tablecloths and a beautiful orange and silver obi. We had reams of flowering branches in vases. The children made a lovely procession in their Easter frockery, carrying the cross from Ireland, made from peat, the candles and the bread and wine. We sang. We prayed. We read the readings. We looked up words in the dictionary, like righteousness and talked about what in the world that really meant. We talked about gates and what their purpose is and why were they beneficial and how Jesus was the gate to our righteousness. We talked about the role of women in Christianity and how cool it was that the women got the angel's news about Jesus first. And how Peter, the betrayer, rushed to the tomb after he heard from the gals and how in Acts he, the betrayer, was the one telling the people that Christ came for the nations, every single one of them, and we even spent a few minutes trying to name as many nations as we could. Then we all laughed out loud when Boone shouted out "Texas!" We shared the great feast and then we shared a great feast, setting up our lunch tables outside, eating the Thomas' family turkey and Josh's amazing potatoes and Laura's asparagus with lemon and Dawn's bean casserole and baked beans and potato salad and rolls and MORE. The children hid and hunted dyed eggs since I declared plastic candy-filled eggs against my religion, and then we handed them chocolate (thanks, Julie and Dorothy and Laura!).

It was good.

It was rich.

Then we sat around and visited for hours and the kids and Jason and Josh did target practice, and Rachel let me cry some more.

Rose and I pondered the challenge of celebrating new life today as we mourn Philip's death. We all look forward to heaven. But we miss him now something awful and prayed for God to continue to comfort us.

Sharing our Easter celebration and our meaningful church rituals together with friends was a great comfort to me.

We are blessed.

And not alone.

I am thankful.

And I have so many other stories to tell, like Julie's amazing contribution to the well-being of the farm and chickens, by helping catch and move all the scattered flocks to one new home, involving a chute, new nest boxes and a HUGE fence surrounded by electric mesh. And all the pounds of butter she made for me, and the dishes she washed and the treats she brought and the love.

And the new shade of green reflected in the pond. And the little shoots of baby garlics coming up that Patrick planted last fall.

But sleep awaits and a new day tomorrow.

May we all share in the hope of the resurrection and new life as it springs all around us, even in the middle of our darkest hour.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

80 degrees???

We skimmed more cream this morning and Julie made more butter. (Thank you, Julie!) Kids played awfully hard in the stream.

Sunburned little faces make me thankful for spring.

Julie and Patrick worked out a new system for the chickens, getting ready for the garden season. We totally embrace the idea of free-range poultry, but every good therapist will tell you that boundaries are necessary in relationships, I suggest that would also apply to birds. Especially when it comes to gardens.

Chickens are great bug scavengers, but unfortunately, they also love a great salad to go with those bugs, starting with the spinach and ending with the tomatoes.

We are finally making the move to electric chicken wire. Will keep you posted on the new system.

The sheep showed us the week spots in our fence and gate and we worked on that a little today as well.

I drove Thomas to VT to an interview for kids with Aspergers Syndrome. He will be participating in a skills group with other peers. He is looking forward to the groups.

The two of us came home to the sight of Jason and Larry, tired and sweaty, standing next to the tractor shed which had been excavated and graded to make a new milking stanchion area. What a gift. We will be able to milk the two cows and two goats at a time, instead of taking turns like we have been doing. It will be more efficient, nice and clean, and we are excited about the new milking shed.

By the time Coco was milked, the floors swept and the counters cleaned, I was one tired and grumpy mom/farmer. I think I would probably be tired and grumpy, even if Philip were here, but Thursdays are extra sad for me.

Thankfully Julie was here to let me vent and to give me a hug and have a wrap up the day chat.

The weather is amazing. I hope the garden is about dry enough to plant. Now that the chickens are in another field, we are ready to go.