Thursday, July 29, 2010
Today was Thursday and that means Catawba Farmer's Market. Got up early to begin the baking. The mill was giving me trouble. Last year I was making cornbread mix, milling the corn after I finished all the bread flour milling. I never had any trouble with the motor or the stones getting gummed up.
This year I have not found a source of non-GMO corn to mill and don't want to compromise. Consequently we have had no cornbread mix for months. And the mill has been giving me trouble since the hot humid weather set in.
I try to coarsely grind the wheat after I am done to clean the stones. Even so, the mechanism has been straining and pulling and constantly throwing the breaker. This morning I called the manufacturer and they confirmed what I had deduced, that the humidity is causing the wheat to hold more moisture and that it is clogging the mill. That using corn would clean the stones. I need to use at least 5 or 10 lbs to grind off the residue. That putting the 50 lb bags of wheat and spelt in the freezer prior to milling would reduce some of the moisture.
That was great information, but I received it about an hour too late. The motor burned out due to the extra stress. I continued to work on the flour I had already milled and made an extra large batch of granola. At least 12 quarts or so. Kathryn washed more big bowls than she has probably seen in her lifetime. Rebecca came over for a visit and ended up drying. The boys came up from the creek out of breath.
They held something in their arms. I thought it was a dead chicken.
"A hawk! A red-tailed hawk!" they cried. They found the hawk lying dead in the stream next to a dead snake. Next to the hawk was a wounded screech owl. They got the tarp from the tent (where they are camping out for the week) and carefully, very carefully, moved the wounded fowl to a stump to dry off. After running up to share this news with us, and running back down, the owl disappeared. Apparently it recovered quickly once its feathers dried.
Did the hawk hunt the snake? Did the owl try to fight the hawk for the snake?
We may never know.
But it certainly livened up the morning!
Dutch Valley orders were picked up. I asked my friends to pray for our mill to be fixed. Bread was baked. More dishes washed. Cow share holders came by to pick up milk. Once of them deals in motors and took apart the mill and is going to work on ordering me a new one at cost. Should be back in business next week.
But now I have an enforced rest. Will spend some time tomorrow doing stacks of paperwork. At least that is my plan.
But the first order of business is to sleep in past 6am. And to make sure and enjoy a couple of cups of coffee with Kathryn. And share a late breakfast after milking.
We had a couple of thunderstorms this evening during market, but they passed very quickly. It is hot and sticky. We hope for more rain.
Crickets and other loud night noises are a pleasant serenade. I think I would be much cooler if I were to sleep outside. But I don't think I want to offer myself up as a sacrifice to the mighty mosquito. Maybe I better find a mosquito net for the month of August, which is nigh upon us.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
After taking care of town chores with Kathryn and Nora (that involved a delightful lunch), we began the task of preparing the plums.
After a quick foray into web-land, I found a satisfactory method of preparing brandied plums. Here's what I found:
1 quart plums, pierced at the stem end with a fork
2 cups sugar
brandy to cover it all up
We placed the plums in a gallon jar, poured in the right amount of sugar and then added the brandy. You could use vodka, but I really don't like vodka at all. The online recipe suggested twirling the jar around occasionally to stir up the sugar. I am imagining Christmas gifts and visions of sugar plums, I mean brandied plums, and happy chats in front of the fireplace with snow on the ground.
After completing that task, the kids pulled homemade pizza crusts out of the freezer to make their supper and Kathryn and I began to cook down the plums to make the jam. For that I need no internet. I have the wonderful old-fashioned cookbook written back in the 20's or 30's.
Here's the basics:
pit the plums.
per cup of fruit, add 2/3 cup of sugar
Bring to a boil and boil and stir and stir and boil until the jam sheets on the spoon. Use the highest heat you have. DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM THIS PROJECT. Not even for a few seconds. I keep a little saucer by the pot, and as the jam thickens, I spoon a few drops to see if it thickens.
It is easier to make jam in little batches, say, 4 cups of fruit at a time. 8 cups of fruit works, but takes a lot longer to thicken up.
After the jam is nice and thick, pour into sterilized jars, place on lids or pour layers of paraffin wax to seal.
Damson plums are amazing. Ripe on the tree, the blue fruits are a work of art. Placed in the galvanized bucket, with an occasional leaf for contrast, it looked like a work of art in Provence.
Don't try to eat these plums off the tree. Sour. Sour doesn't even begin to express the taste. But once they begin to cook down, a perfume fills the air. Perfume that makes me think of the essence of the perfect tea party, buttered toast and a pretty pot full of ruby goodness to go with the most lovely of china tea cups, billowing white curtains and frilly dresses, bouquets of roses and a friend.
I don't really wear frilly dresses and have no white curtains, but that is the smell for me.
The purpley blue fruit transforms into a crimson puree, then, as the sugar and fruit begin to boil, become a ruby bubbling mass, like Dorothy's red slippers.
Kathryn and I sweated and stirred, then stirred and sweated. We talked about work. About friends. About sad things and funny. About God in the middle of it all. We tasted and stirred and checked for the moment when the jam jammed.
I planned to go to bed at 8pm, but the jam didn't jam until 9. All of a sudden the syrup coagulated, the stirring stopped and we poured the ruby gold into sterilized jars, sealed them, put on labels and imagined the joy that treasure would bring us during the winter months. I was too tired to finish, so put some of the pitted puree into the freezer to finish another time, when another friend could come over to chat and stir and sweat with me.
I hope you can find someone with a damson tree. Or maybe you should plant one yourself. What a treasure. If not damson, please try to make some jam at some point in your life. You might become a better person. At least the people who get to share toast with you will definitely think so.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Jason arrived shortly thereafter and opened up the box of shearing equipment.
I was so happy that he took the initiative to read the instructions.
We gathered up supplies, mason jars of cool water, put on our work boots and moved out to the barn. Took deep breaths. Said our positive affirmations: You can do this. We can do this. God, please help us do this and not hurt anyone too badly.
Grabbed a sheep and set her on her bottom just like in the Youtube videos.
I oiled the clippers, plugged them in and wondered where in the world to begin on a wiggling creature, cradled in Jason's arms, covered in the most abundant of wool.
It was nervewracking. But somehow or another, before you know it, the wool was off of two ewes with minimal damage, a nick here or there, but nothing too bad. The expensive clippers glided over the skin just like a hot knife over butter and the wool slid off the animals beautifully. Some other friends arrived as we were in the middle of the third ewe and I got performance anxiety and cut the dickens out of her. Made me swear and get very annoyed, but somehow managed to shake it off and focus on the task instead of the worry about others watching me do what I had no idea how to do.
We worked out an assembly line, with some of us on shearing duty and the others on hoof trimming duty. We found our group cohesiveness and chatted and grunted and occasionally received a few good kicks.
It was a wonderful thing to realize that we could shear our own sheep. Very hard work, but I actually enjoyed it, knowing that with some practice I would eventually figure out my technique and style.
I wanted to work through and get all of the sheep done before we went in for lunch, but started to run out of steam. At 12:45 my hands and arms did not want to obey me and I was afraid that in my exhaustion I would hurt one of the sheep. I turned over the clippers to Jason and headed in to the house to prepare lunch for our hungry crew.
With a fridge full of garden produce from our friends and our backyard I decided that lamb curry was in order. I sauteed a couple of pounds of our lamb stew meat, took it out and then sauteed onions, carrots, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, and zucchini all together in the big wok with some curry powder. Once the veggies started to simmer, I threw the meat back in the pot, topped with salt and a lid and we made more coffee. Sliced bread and cucumbers. Talked about sustainable living and community with our very interesting friends who happened to come over to help with the sheep.
Our gang sat down to a delicious meal, ate, grew very tired, drank coffee and headed back out to the barn on a deliciously not hot day.
At this point the clipper ceased to work the way it had been working and I thought it was because I was exhausted.
I was exhausted, but after further investigation, we determined that the clippers weren't working the way they had been.
We gutted it out through the last three sheep, taking turns, a couple of us, trying to figure it out. The blades were sharp. We worked on the tension. Made sure to keep adding oil.
Still didn't find the sweet spot.
We decided that it would be more efficient for us to stop and wait on the last three sheep until we figured out how to keep the clippers working the way they were supposed to.
Cleaned up the barn. Gathered up the goods. Returned to the house to set out on the front lawn with cold water, cold beer and some cold wine. And cheese and smoked trout.
We shared stories, played with baby Samuel, laughed at Coco as she investigated our party, and relaxed for a few minutes, completely worn out by the hard physical labor and thoroughly satisfied with our community effort. Nora climbed up the plum tree to pick a few plums. Maggie hung out in the hammock with her pal Mary and Patrick and Max shot bows and arrows and walked out to the woods and the rest of us sat.
I wish I could say we were done, but I felt it was wise to know our limitations. It is empowering to learn a new skill. Or at least to be in the process of learning. Not only how to shear, but how to maintain the equipment.
We are thoroughly moisturized by all the lanolin. The greasy wool was rich with it. Our muscles are thoroughly worked over.
I love our farm so very much. Even the hard parts, like having to do hard and scary things like sheep shearing. Everything is so much bigger than us, we have to be involved with other people in our community and I feel enriched. So, thanks, Jason and Rachel and Kathryn and Max and Mary and Jonathan and Carl and Jenna and Raymond (and of course my own children, but that goes without saying.)
And now, these weary muscles are ready to fall into bed. I certainly hope I will be able to move to get out of bed in the morning. I wonder if the others are going to be as sore as me when they wake up tomorrow???
Monday, July 26, 2010
There are so many things I need to write but there has been little space for writing. Lots of guests, events and more. Tomorrow morning we will attempt to shear our sheep ourselves. Maybe I can fill you in once that is done.
Meanwhile, enjoy the somewhat cooler temperatures. Here's a tip for those of you who are sweating out the summer with us: a wet bandana or dish towel to wrap around your neck at night makes a nearly 90 degree bedroom feel a lot more comfortable.
And stay tuned: more grief stories, stories about our little farm church and its first baptism out at our friends' creek, and pressure washing the rest of the barn. Haymaking. A barn full of hay. And friend visits. And a little more grief thrown in for good measure. And a very strange moon phenomena that took place on Saturday evening. Please, someone, help me understand! It descended over the ridge at a little before 9pm then sometime around 10pm it began to rise over that very same ridge. I had witnesses. What was that about???
But now, off to Youtube to revisit the basics of sheep shearing...
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Market went well. We had great sales and for that I am very thankful. I wondered if someone prayed for our customers to get out to buy bread! The air was sultry. The sweat rolled. A summer shower rolled in, dumped rain for a few minutes then rolled on, leaving us in a tropical greenhouse. Yeay for rain. Great for our fields. Despite the dog days weather plenty of customers came out. What great folks who go out of their way to support us.
Speaking of fields, when I got home this evening, I saw that our neighbor had finished baling the upper hay field. We got close to 35 big round bales up there. Not prize-winning hay, but adequate. It even had some green left in it. He cut the bottom field as I washed bakery dishes to get ready for tomorrow's baking. Hopefully the rain will hold off for 24 hours and we can rake it and bale it tomorrow afternoon. I will try to finish baking early so I can help.
Farmer's market was enjoyable. Exhausting to expend so much social energy, but nice. We all enjoy eating each other's food. I enjoyed Penelope's quinoa tabouli. Yum. Also I succumbed to temptation and bartered some pizza crusts for a couple of veggie chimichangas from Tamales and More. Others enjoyed my bread and Jimbo's smoked trout. Like one big potluck! I was also happy to bring home some of Jonathan's eggplant and more sunburst squash. I think I will stuff them for our company due to arrive next Monday.
Now it is time for sticky people to go to bed. Tomorrow is another day.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
After working on the sheep, Patrick and I moved round bales of hay from the field into the barn. I was thankful to have a tractor for that job. The bales must weigh half a ton. They are nicely tucked in the dry barn, waiting to fill their role in the cold, dark days of winter.
The girls took care of laundry because they didn't feel like going outdoors in the humid heat. Thomas shoveled out a sidewalk by the basement door for me. I swept out the basement and gave it a bleach bath. We weed-eated, we cleaned out a feed closet.
Lots of little tasks that added up to a lot of hard work. A few people dropped in to pick up their milk shares.
At some point, I was going through the junk that Patrick pulled out of the feed closet off our back door. There was a big trash can filled up with shoes that Philip had stashed at some point when he was cleaning up. Out of sight, out of mind. I found missing Sunday shoes for little girls, now two sizes too small. Snow boots from three years ago. Ice skates. Leaky rubber boots. Ratty tennis shoes. Sandals for little girls. More work boots.
I felt a moment of aggravation, wondering why Philip would clean up by stashing. Then I came across his work shoes. Purchased a few years ago from Goodwill. Kind of ratty when he bought them, but he wore them all the time. I picked them up to throw in the contractor trash bag and started to weep.
Out of the clear blue sky. I wasn't even sad. I felt happy to get some tasks taken care of.
Cried and cried and cried and cried. Sobbed and stroked the old worn out shoes. Missed him.
We decided to save the shoes.
Not in the house or in the old trash can in the storage closet, but tucked out in the tractor shed in the tool area. Looking at those shoes makes me think of how hard working Philip was. How he loved to be frugal and to serve us. How good he was to us.
The kids didn't freak out to see me weep. They were matter of fact and compassionate. And even though they didn't cry, they were happy that I didn't throw away Philip's old shoes.
I did throw away all the leaky rubber boots and the too small sunday shoes, the snow shoes and the ratty tennis shoes. It feels great to see a cleaned out feed closet with dog food in the big old trash can instead of mismatched shoes. How bizarre that seeing a pair of shoes would make me weep.
By the way, the evening is cooler, but not cool. Feels like the end of July. Boy am I thankful to live in our moderate valley. Could be worse. The moon is waxing, larger than half. There was a rainbow around it this evening and I saw it hanging over the ridge to the south, behind the house. We had a couple of sprinkles today but no major rain.
Must go to bed. Bakery operates tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I never chose to homeschool to protect my children from the evils of the world. Or to isolate them from people who have different world views. We regularly have people seated around our table who hold different religious views, different political views and different ideological views. Heck, even Philip and I disagreed about many things in politics and religion, so homeschooling couldn't protect the kids from our differences.
I didn't choose to homeschool because I wanted to protect my children from the theory of evolution. I believe that God created the world, but I have no earthly idea how long those 6 days took in our real time. Sorry, but I don't really care if we are in a young earth or an old earth, or if my Creator happened to be behind a really big bang.
I didn't choose to homeschool to isolate them from their worldly peers who play with electronics and watch tv and wear bikinis. We don't have a tv, but they love to watch tv when they visit their friends and playing on the computer is a favorite pasttime, even though we choose to do other things besides that on our farm.
We have gay friends and Baptist friends and conservative friends and liberal friends and farmers and computer techie friends and young and old friends, friends who love Jesus and others who don't.
The reason I love to homeschool is that I have always loved living a complete life, a life that involves a lot of reading around the table, sharing fairy tales and history and science and really great literature. Weeping together over the sad parts, laughing until we cried in the funny parts. I loved being a part of the moment when a certain math problem finally made sense. To the mother and the child, all at the same time. I loved the intimacy that came all of us, toddler to teenager, studying the same history topic all at the same time, then going on an adventure to the actual site to see where it all took place.
I remember the year, when Thomas was 9, that he struggled to read the Cat in the Hat and progressed, in a matter of months, to reading The Hobbit. He now has stacks of books around his chair in his room, everything from World War II history to Russian novels, spy thrillers, sci-fi and graphic novels.
During our homeschool we have brainstormed farm vision. We have researched cool and amazing facts about ancient Persian history. We have turned science into practical biology, with Dr. friend outlining the complete inner workings of the chickens and hog we butchered together.
Sex education takes place on a regular basis when it is breeding season. Nora works on phonics decoding everytime she puts a label on our bread for market. The kids work on social skills as they interact with customers at the farmer's market, with interns on the farm and with other friends whose lives interface with ours.
Rose got an amazing education in economics when she decided on her own to sell fresh mint tea at the market. Maggie worked on home economics, learning to sew and market shopping bags. Patrick could be a statesman, the education he has gotten running the Botetourt farmer's market all on his own. Thomas has had a season of working the bakery with me for a year, last year getting up regularly at 4:30 to help with the milling and washing up.
All this and more.
At times it is frustrating to spend so many hours with one's family. Hard to motivate them and boss them and manage them.
But it has been the biggest joy in my life.
Middle of July is typically when Philip and I would begin to evaluate our homeschool plan, praying that God would show us what was the right direction for the coming fall semester. We love homeschooling, but felt like it was best to decide year by year what was best for our children.
Last year I considered public school because of my increased work load. Philip wasn't feeling as well and I thought it would be hard for me to manage. But with prayer and consideration, we decided to continue on our regular course.
I am glad we did because we had some terrific, even if hard, family time. The kids had a lot of dad time.
Now I am working more hours and have decided that it is the right time to enlist the help of our wonderful neighbors who are teaching in the public school. At least for this season of our life as we adjust and figure out how to manage without Philip.
We are all nervous about this very huge change in our life. I am terribly grieved.
But I remind the kids that some things about us are probably not going to change. We will always enjoy reading together. We will still farm together, but it will have to be before school and after. They will still go to farmer's market with me. We may not be the model public school family because farming will be the extra curricular and I don't plan on driving kids to every activity under the sun.
Now it is time to fill out paperwork and registration stuff. Look at student supply lists and get physicals. Who knows? We have considered so very many options, I can't imagine, but maybe another option will present itself that is even better than the public school.
For now we attempt to adjust.
Philip's death means a lot of changes on the farm. I feel like the surrender of our homeschool is another death. Death of a vision of our ideal world.
But isn't real life a continuing death and rebirth, a regeneration, just like the seasons? Some years our goats produce many many babies. Some not. Some years the garden produces tomatoes, sometimes it is the butternut squash and cucumbers that flourish. We might miss the tomatoes in the cucumber year, but we learn to appreciate the variety and the newness of the seasons, whatever they bring.
Surrender greatly hurts my pride. I have to admit it. I have no idea what our future holds and that hurts too, and makes me nervous. The kids are nervous about the thought of a new school but kind of excited about the challenge. I think they will do great. Our homeschool has trained them to be adaptable and flexible and that should serve them well in this new chapter, no matter how long it lasts.
Monday, July 19, 2010
After breakfast and chores we all worked in the garden for some time this morning. Thomas dug up more potatoes and Patrick picked beets and onions and carrots. Rose requested Mrs. Geiger's recipe for pickled beets so I better ask her. We noticed that the damson plums are almost ripe so I looked up my plum jam recipe. Also noticed a recipe for Damson plum liquer. Rachel and I think that we should give that a try for the holidays!
As we worked in the garden I noticed the smell of the corn tassels. So sweet. Bees were buzzing happily, taking care to pollinate the corn and store up some nectar. I had forgotten about the sweet perfume of the corn.
I took care of town chores this afternoon and a visit to a friend's home. Several decisions weighed heavily on my mind so I went out to the cemetery to think. I have found that the cemetery is a great place to be still and cry out for wisdom. I think I have some answers, and while I am not thrilled about them, I have a peace that they are for the best. I missed being able to work out these things with Philip. Am thankful for friends who are willing to listen as I work them out.
This evening I didn't feel like milking, but went out anyway. The air is cool outdoors and the moon, almost half full, was hanging over the southwest part of the ridge. It was funny to see a hen hop up into a little decorative peach tree, leaving her little hatchling on the ground. She hopped and fluttered, trying to fly up like her mama, but just couldn't reach that lower branch. The mama clucked and clucked. In a minute I will check and see how they resolved their situation.
When I drove in this evening I noticed that the rest of the upper hay field has been mown. Let's cross fingers that it dries and that we can rake it and bale it tomorrow.
The sheep mamas are baaing to the lambies to stop their playing and head to the barn. Time to call it a day. So much more grass to munch tomorrow. They must take a rest. And so must I.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
All of a sudden, the sky darkened behind our tents and a streak of lightening flashed.
It may have been a quarter to noon, but we all scrambled to put up our goods and take down our tents and tables before the storm hit.
Customers and vendors all worked together side by side, carrying goods to the vehicles and loading up the market gear. The wind blew away the heat and humidity and the drops of rain seemed to sprinkle us with a newfound energy.
It was kind of fun and exciting to work together to beat the storm.
The rain didn't stick around for long, but it did help to drop the temperatures about ten degrees which made for a much more pleasant afternoon nap!
After tending to some animals and having a brief stroll around the farm, I went to the garden to pick some potatoes and some rosemary. Sauteed a delicious trout filet from Big Pine Trout Farm that I dredged in a little spelt flour. Threw in some minced garlic and rosemary and when the trout was almost done, I added some vinegar to carmelize everything. A very fresh potato on the side was just perfect.
The kids are at a baseball game with friends and I am home for a brief spell of quiet. The kitchen is clean and the floor is swept. Sounds like time to take a book to the front porch. The laundry will have to wait.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Since the kids were home today I made the executive decision to bake a few less loaves and supervise them in some household chores. The first chore was hunting down the cows who escaped from our field, shoved through a fence and were over a couple of little ridges on our neighbor's 100 acres of woods.
Since they worked hard and hiked far I wanted to make sure they had a good lunch, so the boys fried up bacon on the side and then cooked up chopped eggplant, onions, garlic, zucchini and mushrooms in the skillet. A bunch of basil and some sea salt made a perfect veggie lunch.
I have noticed that the last couple of weeks we are eating way more vegetables. And they are all grown by us or by our friends.
Tonight I was too tired to cook but wanted to eat anyway. Thankfully the chinese takeout is too far to deliver so I was forced to make our own stirfry for supper and it took less time than it would have taken to drive to the restaurant. Jonathan, a farmer friend at the Catawba market traded me some of his cabbage the other day. I stir fried it with some of our onions, peppers and carrots and the Thomas's garlic. Added soy sauce and some organic miso paste.
Patrick is milking Coco to give me a break since I washed his dishes. As soon as he is done we will take our vegetables out to the cool evening air and enjoy our supper. Plain fare, and fast food, but delicious. If I had ginger root on hand it would be even better. Nevermind. The sweet cabbage and carrots will be delicious. The kids will have fresh bread.
Tired of bread.
See you at the market tomorrow! I am certain we will all find some terrific gourmet treats to enjoy for good health.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I had missed them during the dry days.
Sheep are happy to graze in the cool evening. I sat on the porch for an hour this evening watching them work over the upper field.
Farmer's market and baking went well today. It was slow so we had plenty of time to visit with other farmers. The five o'clock wake up time is working pretty well. I notice that I am not nearly as exhausted as I was two weeks ago.
Better go to sleep. But I think I may have to enjoy the coolness of the evening for a few more minutes. The waxing crescent moon is descending in the west. So pretty.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I borrowed it to take care of some barn cleanup.
First of all I worked over the new milking stanchion area.
It was a zen-like exercise, washing down the little bits of grain, the spilled milk, the grime that settles in. We wash the area with a garden hose and sweep but that cannot compare to the power of Larry's power washer.
We had worked on manure removal in the barn earlier in the day and I was so excited about the borrowed tool that I moved it into the barn to clean the old milking area and the concrete lane in the middle of the barn.
I washed down the cobwebs, the bits of hay, the old dry manure, the dust.
I got covered in splashed on manure, head to toe. Thanked God for such a strong immune system and wondered if there were a way to develop a program to help other people develop a healthy immune system by having them come clean our barn. I wouldn't charge them too terribly much.
Working on the scrub down made me feel happy. I love our barn. I love loving on our barn. But as my helpers disappeared and the day grew short, I started to get very frustrated. At first I thought it was about the kids who would rather do other things than help me on the barn.
And that was a part of it.
But I also felt frustrated because I feel thwarted at times because I want to be a farmer and tend my sheep and weed my garden and clean my barn, but things like taxes and accounting and the bakery take up a large portion of my time.
Don't get me wrong. I am unbelievably thankful that I have been given the opportunity to be an entrepeneur. Our business is successful so far and has provided a decent income. Decent enough income to be able to stay on the farm. The bakery fits our family mission. It works hand in hand with the farm as a complimentary function.
I guess I felt the same frustration felt by many other countless farmers who also have to work another job to pay the bills. There are only so many hours in the day, even for those of us who are happy to work really long ones. I want more time to work on my farm.
I also felt frustrated because I remembered that as a family we would all seven of us work very hard, usually quarterly, to do a big, thorough barn clean up. Two grownups plus the kids were able to make a big dent in the duties.
With Philip gone I feel frustrated to have to be the bad guy all the time. The mean mom boss having to always tell someone to do something.
We are still learning our new roles and it is a bit complicated. Trying to figure out if the system needs to be revised.
I think it does, but that would require some extra time to sit down and work out duties and division of labor.
During our Bible study time tonight I asked the gals to pray for me to be a wise and kind manager. Way more patient than I am. I didn't even bother to ask them to pray for me to be nice. I hope God will work that out in the long run.
Tomorrow I will awake and bake, hopefully. The farm maintenance will have to wait for a time. But tonight I will dream of scrubbed clean barns. And the beams that drew me to this farm on the very first visit with the realtor, hand hewn logs, old, very old, cut by some tough old fellows, shaped with their tools, hauled with their horses and put into place by some very amazing old farmers. It is an embarassment that I am trying to work this farm in the footsteps of those wise men. I know nothing.
But I aspire, in these faltering steps, to live a life I think we were born to live. And I laugh, thinking about how such a modern convenience like that commercial power washer could bring me such simple and pure joy!
The kids wanted to use it to wash things down, but I claim seniority. Can't wait to knock down a few more spider webs.
By the way, I sure am thankful for a shower and clean water.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Oh, delighted ducks!
The rain came down, again and again and the flash floods filled our pond.
Everything is green and clean and fresh. I can almost hear the weeds growing. Coco is happy. I love to hear her munch, munch, munch the grass that is green now instead of brown and crunchy.
What a gift is the rain. Nothing like a drought to make one appreciative. Nora and Rose are especially appreciative as they stomp the temporary creek in our front yard that flowed down from the Jefferson National Forest, across the road. I think I will sit out on the front porch and watch them.
By the way, while Thomas and I went to his Asperger's group meeting, Maggie and Nora stayed home and Maggie made her first batch of apricot jam from our friends' fruit off their tree down the road. I am so proud of her. Homemade apricot jam is our family favorite to spread on our signature freshly milled spelt pound cake birthday cake. Yum.
I better head to the front porch and enjoy the stillness. Hope you can do the same.
Cool temperatures are lovely. Grass looks green. Thank God for rain.
Monday, July 12, 2010
I began my morning as per usual, coffee in the french press, plenty of Coco's cream and the green chair by the west window in the dining room with the Book of Common Prayer and my old tattered Bible.
This morning's Psalm was Psalm 25. Feeling overwhelmed and alone I read David's words with tears, lifting up my soul, trusting in my Creator, asking him to let me not be humiliated or be put to shame. As I thought of the list of unfinished things I asked God to show me the right way and to lead me and teach me.
In verse 15 David cries out to his creator, "Turn to me and have pity on me, for I am left alone and in misery. The sorrows of my heart have increased; bring me out of my troubles."
It felt right and good to read and cry and ask to be lifted up out of my own misery.
I then remembered the lectionary from yesterday, taken from Deuteronomy 30, a blessing offered to the followers of God to have prosperity in their land, their fields, their flocks. Prayed for God to bring prosperity to our farm, and our neighbors' farms and friends' farms. None of us care much for money, but we do wish for fertile fields and good soil and bounteous gardens and rich milk and meat and eggs. Enough to live a decent and simple life.
The rainy grey day felt good for tears.
And then I got my room cleaned and a couple of floors swept then sat down to work on accounting and retail sales tax and doctor bills. It wasn't pleasant work, and believe you me, I would rather shovel manure or dig weeds all day long instead of making business phone calls and dealing with numbers. But the rain was good motivation for business, especially since our dear Rachel Banks drove little girls to Vacation Bible School and helped Thomas deal with the dead ewe. I took my scribbled priority list to my office/bedroom and hibernated with piano sonatas on Pandora radio.
This afternoon we said goodbye to dear Rachel and then I had to cry again because she is such a dear girl and we love her so much. But the girls remind me that we don't need to be too sad because Rachel always comes back. So we look forward to her next sweet visit and thank God for her being such a blessing to our family.
To celebrate finishing up a stack of paperwork I made what I wanted to eat for supper. Curried vegetables and venison.
Some friends gave us some eggplant, cauliflower and peppers. I cut up one of our onions and sauteed it in a bit of oil. Added the peppers and eggplant, two or three of the asian kind, halved and sliced. Sauteed the veggies for a few minutes then added some Pensey's Balti seasoning and some Sweet Curry powder. Threw in three or four minced cloves of garlic. Half of a chopped up cauliflower. Two or three tomatoes from the garden, chopped up into chunks. Once the tomatoes started to cook down into juice, I threw in some of Quigg's venison, precooked and chopped up. Added Redmond's Real salt and covered everything for a few minutes. As everything cooked it smelled so good, but seemed to be missing something. I dug around in the pantry and found just the right thing: a can of coconut milk. We opened it up and added it to the mixture and let everything cook down into a silky, spicy stew.
Perfect for eating on the deck in the cool evening air.
Nora took a pass, but everyone else loved our supper. I was especially glad that Rose didn't care for her eggplant as she gave all hers to me. Yum. Summertime vegetables make for very delicious curry. We didn't even make rice since I had no energy for one more pot.
Eating our dinners during the summertime is such a special thing for me. Every bite of food has a connection to our friends. Pastor Quigg, the mighty deer hunter, Paul with Thistle Dew, our farmer's market neighbor, Raymond, our master gardener friend, Jonathan, our other market pal, and especially Julie, our supplier of exotic spices!
Dinnertime seems like the perfect ending to a Psalm. David began many of his poems with lament and agony, but ended with gratitude and grace. Kind of like my Monday.
By the way, the pond is not full, but much of the cracked mud is covered right now and I am grateful. Songbirds in the woods seem grateful this evening as well. So do the sheep, who are cool and fresh and happy to graze.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
We got home late in the afternoon and Nora and I took a walk to inspect the beginnings of the hay harvest. 15 round bales and more to come. But unfortunately we found a ewe breathing her last breaths as we walked round the corner of the barn. She was the girl who delivered the twins in early summer.
She hadn't been looking too great in the heat. She isn't one of the young ones, so she must have been vulnerable to the severities of the winter and summer. I was deciding that I should try to find a way to end her misery as we walked up to the hay field and was relieved to see that she had quickly slipped away (died) in the time it took us to walk 25 acres and back down. I don't think there was a thing we could have done to save her, but I felt pretty low, anyway. Felt like a failure as a shepherd since I was not able to keep her alive. She was looking a bit rugged this season, but had been out grazing with the flock as normal. Unfortunately Fridays and Saturdays are so busy for me that I didn't notice her at all. I wondered if I had noticed her could I have done something to save her.
Made me think of Philip being sick in the middle of February. I wanted to take him to the doctor on Valentine's Day. He didn't want to go. I wondered if I had insisted, would he be alive? Probably. And over the weekend I have been thinking about that a lot. I think that he would still be in serious pain and in suffering, but alive and we don't know for how long, and he didn't want to spend his last days and years in and out of hospitals.
It is hard to avoid second guessing in life.
I think that I may have made some mistakes in managing the care of this ewe who just died, but there isn't anything I can do about it now, at least for her. I need to shear all the sheep and haven't been able to find a shearer who will come. I guess today makes me realize that I may need to find some equipment and learn how to do it ourselves so we can inspect all the sheep, take care of their maintenance and make it easier for them to endure the heat wave.
The orphan lambs are crying tonight. The flock has surrounded them, but they miss their mama.
Thomas and Patrick loaded the carcass up in the back of the truck and I will take it to be disposed tomorrow. No cremations due to burn ban.
On another note, I got to practice spearing big rolls of hay and moving them around the field. We still have more work to do, but will wait until the end of the week. Maybe we will get some rain early on this week. I am thankful to see plenty of green leafy grass in the field. More than I had imagined. What a relief. I am so thankful to know we are able to harvest winter food for the animals. May it be nutritious for them. Hopefully we will be able to harvest some food for the human animals for winter this week as well. More potatoes, beets, green beans and onions.
Life on the farm is full of ups and downs. It is hard. I wish I were better at this life and knew all the right things to do. As I sat down, a bit discouraged, I was reminded that there is a pretty steep learning curve on the farm and all this hard stuff is training me. We may need to make some mistakes for a few years before we figure out what works for this farm in our little valley. Animals get old and weak and die. It isn't always fun.
But our life gives us moments of joy and meaning. Like the moment I heard delight in Maggie's voice today as she looked out the window and noticed the huge bunch of guinea keats following their mamas out in the field. And the chance to see Rose cook up ground venison and spaghetti sauce for supper since I had to work on the tractor. Not even 10 years old and she was able to help me out. And the feeling of the cool evening air on my skin as I watched the sky turn pink and dark blue and watched the fireflies come out while I plugged away in the upper field.
We have some very good moments in our life.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
It was nice and fresh, not too hot. We left the market with a cooler full of goodies: nectarines, explosively ripe, three heads of cauliflower, a bag of eggplant, some more baby beets, and corn on the cob.
I got home late this afternoon and was happy when a not too far down the road neighbor came over to check out our hayfield. On Thursday he bought a loaf of bread from me and we chatted about haymaking. I told of my dilemma and he suggested we take a look. After taking a look he offered to help cut and bale on the halves.
What an answer to prayer. I had been praying about haymaking for weeks. Actually months. Had given up. I know the hay is not the most excellent of hay, but what we need is adequate hay. And if we bale it now, there is quite a bit of green leaf undergrowth that will make adequate hay.
Sometimes it is hard for a former perfectionist to make do with adequate, but farming has been a wonderful therapy for me. I want to make great hay. I read books about making great hay. But life gets in the way and I find that a great deal of life is about letting go of a few expectations so you get some adequate hay in the barn.
The neighbor started cutting this afternoon and will continue tomorrow. This is an occasion where working on Sunday is a good thing as we have some warm weather that should allow the hay to dry quickly. I will take the kids to big church and help with Maggie's 13th birthday party then hope to get home in the afternoon to help rake hay.
Have I ever mentioned that making hay is one of my favorite things?
Of course I would prefer to cut it with a team of a dozen with scythes and rakes and enjoy the machinery of our bodies working sans dependence on oil, diesel, etc, but for now I will be thrilled to turn on the tractor and harvest our organic grass mechanically so we will have food for the animals this winter.
My dad will be so glad. He called to tell me the other day that he was concerned that I was mowing down all our hay and wished we could get it baled. Yeay for neighbors.
By the way, Patrick got home today from Boy Scout Camp. Whew. I am so relieved to have everyone home under the same roof for awhile. He learned to be a mountain man and had a great week, but I think he is happy to be home. I hope he stays that way as I have to get him to help figure out a chicken containment system for our terribly large flock of chickens who have figured out how to find our garden. Egg mobile?
Speaking of chickens, I wondered to Rachel if our hen setting on a clutch of eggs in the barn had any news for us this weekend. She went out to check and the proud mama hatched out a dozen adorable little babies. Another hen came to me earlier this week with her cute little newborn. Chickens everywhere!
PS For dinner we enjoyed corn on the cob, curried cauliflower, sauteed zucchini and sauteed round steak from Moose. After dinner Rose put on funny glasses, stood on a chair and told jokes. We laughed so hard. She was a bit annoyed because occasionally we laughed at the wrong time, but I could see that the girl has a future in comedy and performance. If you ever need a laugh, get Rose to tell you jokes. Some of them are pretty funny. I love to hear her laugh.
Nora made me laugh pretty hard hearing her practice telling knock knock jokes. But then I grew tired and had to retire. Perhaps I will dream of silly knock knock jokes tonight. The girls remembered how Philip would tell them funny jokes and do the silly belly dance for them, one time making Maggie laugh so hard she threw up at the dinner table. Not too many dads can have that claim to fame!
Now all is quiet except for the summer evening noises of whirring bugs and settling down animals. It is still, with the inside noises of a couple of fans blowing. Dark sky with a few faint stars, moist air and cool. The fireflies are out, but not in the droves of late May and June. Even the frogs seem subdued right at the moment.
Maybe I will read for a few moments, or sit outside on the deck and feel still. Hmm. Decisions, decisions. Good night.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Thunderstorms hit last night as I drove home from the Catawba farmer's market. I felt hopeful that the rain would fill up the pond, but it didn't. We got lots of lightning and thunder but very little rain.
It was enough rain to fill up our little valley with misty fog early this morning.
I made the executive decision to change my baking hours this week. Starting at 3am means for a very wonderful early start and a very exhausted baker. I never could figure out how to go to sleep early enough. As of this week, the baker's hours have moved to 5am. I figured if I could work from 5am to 8pm I would be able to get everything done plus get a decent night's sleep.
The baking and wrapping got finished up at 8:30 tonight. I didn't do quite as much as I might have wished, but even so, have six dozen loaves of bread, a dozen spelt pound cakes and almost 50 pizza crusts. I start with milling the grain into flour, then make big batches of dough. After several rounds of rising and punching down, each loaf is hand-kneaded into its proper shape. Pizza crusts are rolled out and everything gets popped into the very hot and wonderful convection oven.
Lots of coffee is consumed and even more water on days like today. I put up curtains on the doorways into the rest of the house to keep from heating everything up. It worked well. The rest of the house stayed around 78-82 degrees. The bakery hovered in the 90 degree range.
As I baked, Rachel drove the little girls up to Stuart's Draft to purchase our non-GMO animal feed. Maggie washed laundry and swept up and Thomas dug up some potatoes, moved chicken house detritus out to the garden and cleaned his room.
We got a nice afternoon shower, but the pond still wasn't even halfway filled. As I finished up the bread wrapping to go milk the cow another rain started to fall. I am giving it a few minutes to stop, then shall join Coco for our evening chat.
I will fall into bed tired, but not as exhausted as I have been in weeks past. It did help having Rachel come home and volunteer to wash up a big pile of dirty dishes, God bless her! I hope that she is rewarded greatly for all her service to me.
I never thought that sleeping in until 5am would feel like a break to me!!! Well, the rain has paused, so off I go to milk the dear cow. Good night!
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
It is hard to imagine the man hours given to me toward fixing the tractor. Will at Blue Ridge Diesel has taken a machine that probably deserved to be hauled to the dump and turned it back into a good tool. Larry has tweaked this and that and did who knows what to the bush hog to make it work. I don't even know who all has worked toward helping us have a tool that is terribly necessary on the farm. Even our dear 4th of July friends worked to move very heavy cabinetry out of the tractor shed before our party so we could store the tractor out of the elements.
This evening I came in, finished cooking the supper that the girls began and then headed out to check on Larry and the tractor. I made the mistake (?) of hopping on and taking a loop around the field to make sure I remembered all the right things to do with all the gadgets and levers and gears and clutches.
It was such satifying work that I sort of got addicted and went round and round the bottom field, bush hogging down the high grasses.
For a moment I felt sad that we weren't able to make hay this go around. Then I realized that more importantly was the work we are trying to do to improve the soil of our fields and figured that one way or another we would find hay for this winter. Getting the grass and weeds cut down now is important for soil health. We will spread manure on the fields later on and hope for rains to fall to give us a good harvest next year.
The smell of the cut field was sweet. I kept going round as the fireflies turned on and the dusk fell. When it grew too dark I parked the tractor and headed in, satisfied to have accomplished at least a fraction of our mowing chores in the nice cool of the evening.
Thankful for all the hands that are helping me accomplish my tasks, step by step.
May the Lord repay each and every one of those generous friends a thousandfold. Even dear Rachel Banks who helped finish other chores, washed the dishes and said goodnight to the girls.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
I guess I didn't quite realize how close we were or how many family activities we shared.
Now that every two weeks or so goes by and we hit another milepost in our grief, I realize I took a lot for granted.
Our family has always celebrated 4th of July with friends. When we moved here we invited our first farm helpers to bring their young friends out and we grilled burgers, made icecream and shot off fireworks. Each year the crowd would be oddly similar, with church friends, old farm interns, homeschoolers, fellow farmers, milk and bread customers, neighbors and random strangers who would inevitably show up.
The bounty from the potluck would always weigh down the table. Children and big kids would run and scream on the yard, chasing and catching, carrying and tumbling. Meaningful conversations would take place on the deck, on the front porch, on walks in the pastures, under the willow tree. Dog would hide in the bathtub and as the sun set, the fireworks would be gathered up and Philip and others would manage to set them off.
The diversity of the crowd, the mellow air, the joyful spirit, the giant American flag all created the perfect image of our country. Philip would be silly, pretending to auction off the many cars and minivans lined up by the barn. He would then create an elaborately choreographed dance with sparklers, each year more outrageous than the last. We would clap and laugh until the tears rolled and he ate up every drop of the audience's appreciation.
After his performance the little children and the young adults would then line up to grab their lit sparklers and like the fireflies, or rather, like a troupe of electrified fairies, they would leap and fly around the front yard, way too late for the little ones and the older ones, but fly they would, anyway.
This 4th of July I didn't invite friends. I let them call and just the right ones showed up. Even so, the cars lined the driveway, we used stacks and stacks of plates were filled and refilled with a weighted down table filled with the most amazing of locally grown gourmet treats. A Texas BBQ brisket from our farm along with one of our legs of lamb, roasted with rosemary and garlic and dijon. The BBQ was for me to have a taste of home comfort food. Of course we made our traditional salt potatoes, thanks to Dawn for the recipe. There was couscous with veggies, pasta salad, red pepper salad, homemade goat cheese, the most amazing stuffed sunburst squash, thanks to our farmer's market neighbor's recipe, roasted summer veggies, and who knows what else.
Then we ate homemade icecream and cake and apple crisp.
As we gave thanks for the blessing of our gathering and the food, I remembered Philip.
No one minded.
We remembered how lively Philip made our gatherings. How his absence is felt deeply. The kids and I gave thanks to our friends who have blessed us with their help, their money, their food, their stuff, most of all their love and prayers.
As we ate, we were able to share stories and laugh and enjoy one another. Then Serge engaged the potato cannon and oversaw the fireworks display. Thomas and James did most of the lighting and we ooohed and aaahed. When it came time for Philip to do his dance, I cried. And was happy to watch the little ones and the big ones flit like fairies across the front lawn as I enjoyed the company of former young interns, now real adults, some of them married and even with a baby. Friends cuddled here and there, mamas nursing babies, daddies telling stories, toddlers running in circles, adolescents growing by the minute, all twirling around in our new life, oh so similar, yet everchanging and evolving.
Can you believe that with all those people, all those plates, I didn't even wash a single dish? Those kids (are they still kids? I guess so. That makes me kind of old, doesn't it?) washed every single dish, gathered up every beer bottle, firework paper, sparkler wire and other detritus that seems to appear when you have a gathering of 40 or more people. Some of them camped in tents and we all shared coffee in the morning.
Today I picked some cherry tomatoes, more beets, onions, green beans, a couple of eggplants and our first big tomatoes. The potatoes are ready to be dug so I will start that project tomorrow, maybe. We all enjoyed eating apricots that Rachel and Rose gleaned off our neighbors' tree down the road.
I noticed that our young pear tree is loaded with lovely pears this year and so is the damson plum. They won't be ripe for a month or so.
This morning after milking the goats, Rachel and Maggie moved the goat herd and all the cattle, minus Priscilla, Tenderloin and Coco into a training lot. We are training them to respect electrical fencing so hopefully in a week or so we can begin managed intensive grazing up on the upper fields. After they did that, Maggie assisted me in giving a shot of high powered dewormer to Tarkheena, one of our Jacob ewes. She has been looking rather peaked the last week or so and I noticed that the backs of her eyes were white, a sign of anemia and parasite overload. We lost one of the older ewes last week, and I think that parasites were the culprit. The very wet early summer was terrible for parasites. Not to mention the the flooded barn.
Thankfully the good aspect of the drought and heat is that it cuts down on parasites, who especially like to live in moist warm places. Our efforts on the barn have appeared to be successful for the moment and that makes me feel a bit more on top of the problem. Now I have to watch the flock very carefully to see if any other of the sheep show signs of distress. I see Tarkheena out grazing this evening, so that is a good sign.
Rachel Thomas and I were chatting on the phone this evening about the loss of one of their doelings. We wondered that many of the books we read about sustainable farming and homesteading don't spend much time talking about losing animals to illnesses or accidents. We lost a duck the other day to bully ducks. A chicken got caught in the new electric mesh fence and was strangled. I had to deal with the dead poultry myself (I cremated them) and had to ask for help from friends to take care of the very large dead ewe, as the ground is too hard to dig a big hole since we are so dry.
Before Philip died things like a dead ewe or moldy cherries on the tree bothered me a lot. After Philip died, those things seemed so trivial, I found it much easier last week to shrug my shoulders and say, "C'est la vie." Or rather "C'est la morte."
Don't get me wrong. Not that I am rejoicing that we lost that ewe. It made me sad for her little lamb to stand by her dead body and cry. But now the lamb hangs with the rest of the flock and adjusts.
And even though we aim for all organic, I asked Jason to run to Tractor Supply to buy the Ivermectin to dose the weak looking animals to give them a chance to live. And we work all the harder to get the pasture rotation and fencing up and running.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Thursday, July 1, 2010
The best thing about today is the cool front. It was 50 degrees this morning on the farm. Brisk. No humidity. Even this afternoon was tolerable after such a horrible heat wave. I came home from the market and took care of the chickens and baby chicks and turkeys. Gathered eggs. Moved the cow. Cooked myself some of Jonathan's red fingerling potatoes with garlic, a jalapeno, cumin and a big bunch of his cilantro. Sat on the front porch all by myself to enjoy them. It was pleasant, but a bit lonely, so I prayed. Called my sister. Had a good heart to heart. Grateful to speak to a grownup.
Baking went pretty well today, despite little farm glitches. The bull and a steer and the two little heifers managed to get into the bottom hay field. The bull and steer went all the way down the field and through the woods to the electric fence separating them from the neighbor's cows. I had to pause my baking to walk the forty acres, cross through the marsh in ankle deep water (oh, why, oh why didn't I wear my work boots instead of my beautiful new red shoes?) to herd the naughty boys back to our fields.
I think the walk did me good. Maybe. The shoes are well made, so I hope they survived. The best part of the walk was the patch of wineberries with a hand full of ripe jewels, ready for me to harvest as I trudged through the briars to get those galoots.
Tomorrow is another baking day, so I had better get to bed. Thankful for the respite in the weather. Thankful for our amazing customers who make the effort to buy from us and help support a local farm. Thankful for grace and peace in the middle of the loneliness. Thankful for a job. And very thankful for a comfortable bed with blankets and a very comfortable pillow and clean water and plenty of food. Praying for the widows in India and Haiti who are lonely and need a clean place to sleep and clean water and a job. Thankful for Nora who helps me to remember to pray for them.