Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Well, about the only good thing I can say about today is that we had a delicious supper.

Actually, I could say a few other good things about the day, here and there, but since I felt tired and burned out and missed my mama, there's not much else to say.

I didn't want to cook, but we live too far away to order pizza or take out Chinese.

Thank goodness.

The menu plan was stirfry. We had GFGP's cabbage, some of our onions, carrots and sliced pastured pork, a bunch of garlic, and even bigger bunch of shiitake mushrooms from Randy, soy sauce and a splash of toasted sesame oil.

All sauteed in the wok until the cabbage was tender and the musky mushrooms were just right.

I love that stuff.

The boys joined me out on the deck. The 90 degrees dropped quickly to a lovely 60 degree something. The girls ate their supper while watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

There is something amazing about the combination of earthy mushrooms, lean pork, sweet cabbage and carrots and pungent onions and garlic. I can't say I feel great or anything, but it did lift the depression a few degrees. Rose passed on the mushrooms (good for the rest of us) and Nora had pbj on spelt milk and honey bread, but for the rest of us, cabbage mushroom stirfry is comfort food. I hope you will try it someday. Can't guarantee to completely heal depression or the blues, but I do believe that eating real food grown by real people you know does make you feel better.

The boys and I decided that as long as we have a package of pork from our farm, some onions and carrots, cabbage, garlic and mushrooms, long with a jug of soy sauce, we are truly rich.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The End of the Day.

We said goodbye to Duncan, the piedmontese bull this afternoon.

I had come to feel affection for the gentle giant, the great galoot. Not a mean bone in the body, but so big, all he had to do was casually push his shoulder against fences, gates and big round bales of hay, and like the Israelites after the parting of the red sea, he would effortlessly pass through.

Have I mentioned how important boundaries are in relationships? Both the humankind and animal kind?

The herd will miss Duncan. But as much as we enjoyed his protective presence, he grew to think that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence and didn't respect the limitations set upon him. Maybe someday I will be a really great fence builder/maintainer, and then we can have him come back for another extended stay. But for now, hasta la vista, big boy.

Can you believe it was 98 degrees in town today? But it was a dry heat, as we like to say in Texas. The humidity wasn't nearly as bad. I wish I could have been working in the garden or cleaning out the barn, but had to work on IEP for Thomas and dentist visits for the girls and grocery store for all of us. All necessary parts of my work. Very thankful for all the teachers and administrators who are tending to my children's education. We pray for them every morning as we hurriedly try to get it all pulled together.

After reading to the girls, milking Coco and straining the milk and getting the dishwasher loaded and helping Patrick with some science questions for his homework, I poured myself a half a glass of wine and went out to the deck for a few minutes. The moon was not yet up and the stars were so bright. The brightest I have seen them in days. Weeks.

Evening is peaceful. I should be asleep, but I am appreciating the freedom to have a few minutes of peace, all by myself. Nora's deep breathing harmonizes so sweetly with the crickets and frogs and other evening creatures. For a few minutes I can forget about the long list of things I haven't finished yet. Can forget about the weedeating and the gardening and the barn cleaning and the canning. The worries about the kids and their adjustment. The odds and ends in the house that I have been neglecting for weeks.

Right now I can listen to Nora breathe and crickets chirp and frogs sing. I can almost hear the stars pulsing in the heavens. And will try to be still for a few minutes. Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Sabbath Was Made for Man

We slept late, took care of the animals, got ready for church, and headed to town. After the service we decided to take a vacation.

The truck headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so off we went. All crowded together, we talked about all the places we wished to go visit.

"How about we go to Mamaw and Papaw's house in Texas for lunch?"

"I wanna go to France!" piped up Rose.

"No, let's go to Ireland!" "Scotland!" "Russia!"

We dreamed of a 3 week long vacation to somewhere exotic. No, make that a month. Didn't even spend a minute worrying about what we would do with the farm animals.

Before you know it, the truck found its way to Peaks of Otter and then to a Mexican Restaurant somewhere in Bedford, I think.

We haven't been to a Mexican restaurant in ages. It truly did feel like a vacation, even if only a three hour one.

The six of us laughed and ate and hopped into the vehicle to head back to town. This afternoon we met others at Westminster Presbyterian to share dinner and a slideshow with other families whose kids went to Camp Braveheart over the summer. The camp is led by Martha Furman and sponsored by Gentle Shepherd Hospice. The kids climbed rock walls, did rope courses, went canoeing and rafting and also spent time talking about their loved ones who died, shared about their grief and journaled, did artwork and hiked.

I was deeply moved to see the pictures of the kids. The grief group is a very safe place for them to be able to feel and it is powerful. We ended the evening there by tying a piece of paper with our loved one's name on it to a balloon. Then we all went out and released the balloons. Seeing them fly up, higher and higher made Maggie and me very sad. Seeing the children each grieve in their unique way made me sad because I hate to see them go on without their father. He was such a good dad. He played with them. Loved them. Read to them. Disciplined them.

Got back home and sure enough, Duncan had pushed the gate open again. I changed clothes and took an evening hike. As we drove home, we opened the windows once we hit our valley. Patrick and I decided that the smell of tall fescue in the evening after a hot day is one of our definitive "home" smells. I wish I could embed it into this blog post. Taking my hike through the bottom field gave me more time to enjoy that most earthy and lovely end of summer smells. Rich and almost sweet. The middle field hasn't been mowed and the fescue makes the hill look like a watercolor painting with a wash of light gray purple. Different than lavender or lilac. More warm. Soft. Rich.

The herd was down at the bottom of the field, happily grazing. They obediently headed to the barn. Duncan and Ribeye played and frolicked, kicking up their heels in the cool of the evening. I separated Coco with minimal effort. I noticed that Dulce (or is that Carmelita?) has grown and her halter needs to be removed. Just the other day it was so big and loose on her.

Time for another chapter of The Princess and the Goblins. Then to sleep and sweet dreams to get ready for week 2 of the school year. Isn't it funny how a simple little road trip has made us all feel a bit more refreshed? Maybe we will dream of France and Italy and Ireland and Japan and Texas. And Russia. No passports needed.

PS This weekend my grandparents honored their 73rd anniversary. What an amazing story. Mom went to visit them and heard stories of their courtship, their marriage and early life. Grandpa would ride his horse to the bottom of the hill, tie it up in the barn and go to visit. Most of their dates involved going to church where he would preach and she would play the piano. If they were really lucky and he had enough extra money saved up, they would borrow his father's car after church and go to the pharmacy to buy a nickel coke. They spent most of their married life in the home that Grandma's grandfather built, in Rogers, Arkansas. She played the organ and piano at home and at church for decades. He preached for even more decades, and until just a year ago or so wrote online Bible studies for many people. Parkinson's and other ailments have sent him to the bed. His end is near and he is looking forward to it. So is hers. They are ready, but were happy to spend some time with my mom and her sister this weekend.

I am sorry I don't get to see them more often. Am thankful for the heritage they have given me. I love them and hope that my children will get to marry and live and love for many many decades to follow in their footprints.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Manure makes for great sermon illustrations.

We had a great market day today. Sell out at both Ikenberry's and Grandin. Came home with a watermelon from GFGP, eggplant and yellow squash from Thistle Dew, and SHITTAKES from Randy Deel.

Got home to a very dirty house that has been neglected for days. We promptly set to work trying to set things straight to be ready for our first Saturday evening eucharist, led by our priest friend, with the blessing of Quigg. Checked messages and was disappointed to hear that while we were at market this morning, Duncan the bull had pushed through a gate and went for a journey down the valley and onto our neighbors' property. He has been making a habit of pushing through a particular gate to get to that one field that is apparently much more delicious than all the other acres of grass that are available to him.

I came home grateful to have had an amazing couple of weeks at market, thankful to be making enough money to pay bills and set some aside for hard winter months. Amazed that so many people are coming to buy our bread.

I also came home tired after work pretty much non-stop for several days, bone tired. With more work waiting on me as I directed the kids to join me in the basic chores since they have to go to school now during our former Monday cleanup day. Not to mention some very serious grief and life altering adjustments in our house.

Hearing the message from our neighbor made me wonder why I am attempting to farm. Since I can't seem to keep our animals on our side of the fence, why do I bother?

Isn't it funny how being tired makes everything hurt worse? In a matter of seconds, I was questioning my judgement, my calling, my abilities, my farming, my parenting, and pretty much everything about myself.

I want to work on fencing, but have to work extra hours in the bakery to pay bills. I want to work on fencing, but have to get kids enrolled in school. Getting the kids in school means less manpower and the other chores take more time. Grieving Philip means my brain doesn't always work as efficiently as I want it to.

The rest of us continued our housekeeping and Patrick went to move the animals out of the bottom field, put the knocked over gate back onto its hinges properly and chained it closed. I called the neighbor and apologized and tried to take responsibility for my wandering animals, and then called our friends who own the bull and asked them to come get him so he won't knock over any more gates.

Decided that I probably won't get it all right for a very long time, at least another 40 or 50 years or so of mistakes ahead of me. Pledged to myself to find a couple of hours or so next week to strategize and come up with an action plan that will hopefully involve recruiting some helpers to finish the fence building we have begun, but not finished.

Then got to the wonderful task of throwing some things together for our potluck that would take place after church. Rachel brought a Blue Ridge Poultry Coop chicken which she placed in a pan with garlic and onions to roast. She also brought some of their delicious goat cheese. Paul, at Thistle Dew, gave me some eggplant and yellow squash. Raymond gave me a watermelon and some baby chioggia beets. Randy Deel gave me some shitake mushrooms. We cut up the eggplant, squash, beets, an onion, garlic and mushrooms, drizzled them with olive oil and roasted them in the oven with the chicken. We warmed up the pizza crusts with olive oil to go with the goat cheese and some of Big Pine Trout's smoked trout.

Part of the rest of the crew set up the altar and chairs outside.

I usually like to help set up church. Was too busy cooking to interfere. The sun was still out and hot, so they found the most logical, shady spot. Up on the top of the driveway. Right where Coco likes to poop. And the chickens scratch out the pies into crusty areas of prime fertilizer.

I was mortified.

Church? By the manure?

Well, the table was set, the chairs brought round, each with its own sweet Book of Common Prayer and Bible. Jason and the kids were not about to rearrange furniture simply because of my mortification.

We spread the cloth, arranged the flowers and candles and the cross, brought out the elements and I surrendered.

I wondered, as we covered the readings on hospitality, if it were not especially meaningful to have church take place in the middle of the manure. Reading the scriptures, sharing the consecrated bread and wine in the middle of the manure.

The chickens squawked. The dogs kept passing through. The geese honked and the sheep baaed in the distance. I saw manure.

And then grace.

There was no moment of grandeur, no shocking new revelation. Just sweet scripture, opened up by our friend, and the passing of the peace. And wiggly little ones. And chuckling baby. And the mystery of the body and the blood.

And all of a sudden, the manure seemed right and good, in a very surreal way.

And I felt a lot better about my calling to farm imperfectly.

We set out the food and ate on the deck. The roast chicken was heavenly. I had to control myself to keep from eating all the crispy skin as I cut it up into bite size chunks. The roasted vegetables were so tender and creamy and crispy and good I had thirds. The lightly salted goat cheese and the pizza crust flatbread could have been served in the finest of NYC restaurants. The trout was gone before I could blink. Watermelon heralded the end of summer and we visited, talked church talk and enjoyed the cool, despite the mosquitoes.

Real life is full of a little manure here and there, and I was so thankful for the visual reminder this afternoon. Maybe today's life lesson for me was to surrender to imperfection. To give myself and others grace when we are tired, to remember that even on happy days, occasionally the metaphorical bull will push through the gate and torment the neighbors, but that doesn't mean that I should give up my whole calling! A little manure does wonder for fertility, and so does a good rest.

Good night!

Friday, August 27, 2010


Kids did great their first week of school.

However, I did notice that they were milque toast by the time they got home. They found their quiet places and I worked.

The baking took a very long time and I was still wrapping bread late into the evening. Needed some music, so I put on Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Nora and Rose noticed me tapping my foot as I printed out labels and finished up the bread wrapping. They decided we needed to dance, so we paused for a 3 minute break and jammed with Van. Made me smile and remember our before and after dinner dances with Philip. I could feel him swing me around and cuddle up to the slow ones.

Coco mooed at me through the screen door as I desperately tried to finish. I couldn't ask Patrick to do a backup milking as he was fast asleep. I gathered the milk bucket and a rag, headed out and got a bag of feed. I imagined Philip walking up the driveway with me, and told him thank you for learning how to milk Coco. I was so proud of him. Not too many husbands out there would learn how to milk a cow. He did it so I could go to India for two weeks.

As I squatted to milk, the black clouds parted and the waning moon peeked through. Bright and happy in the east. To the right of the moon, quite a bit over, hung a very bright star, right over the ridge. No other stars were visible. I wonder if it was a planet?

As much as I appreciate it when Patrick milks for me on baking nights, there is something kind of special about being outside, later than usual, feeling the cool air, instead of the hot bakery oven.

Well, the moon rises, but I descend. Hopefully straight into sweet dreams. Farmer's market tomorrow, bright and early. I hope we can get up and get chores done quickly enough to get there on time for a change.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thursday Evening

I am glad to have spent so much time being sad yesterday because today allowed no time at all for tears.

I didn't feel sad today. Got up at 4:30, took a gander at the great big moon, made coffee and got to work.

The kids did well getting up and ready. I threw eggs at them (well, made some very fast omelets, no cheese, and said "Eat! Eat! You need the protein for energy!"

Coco let me milk her with no problems. We enjoyed the cool morning.

In fact, the weather today on the farm was delightful. I wish I had been out powerwashing the barn. Or weeding the garden. But working in the bakery wasn't terrible. It felt like the beginnings of fall. I hardly sweat at all.

As soon as the girls got off the bus, we loaded up to head to farmer's market in Catawba. I thought the gals might want to stick around the house for some peace and quiet, but guess what? They wanted to stick around their mother. And I was happy to have some nice hugs.

There was a hint of thunderstorm in the air, but alas, it never arrived.

When we returned from market I was disappointed to see that the good fairies never made it to our house. Dirty pots and pans and flour everywhere. But before I could get to them, I had to tend to the stack of neverending papers that needed to be signed and returned to the schools.

Made me feel like some dignitary. Or general. Nodding to the orderlies, bringing in their stacks of important documents, waiting patiently and respectfully for my signature, a signature that will influence world events, a signature that will help bring about world peace, or environmental change or, or, or.

Well, I guess I had forgotten how many signed papers 5 children can require during the first week of school.

Please tell me this will end once we are past the first week of school?

So then I got to the pots and pans and Patrick milked Coco for me, and Thomas took out the scraps and unloaded the dishwasher and Nora watered Coco and Maggie unloaded the market goods from the car and Rose worked on making lunches for her and Nora for school tomorrow and I felt very tired.

Glad for the bakery. Glad for our many kind friends who support our farm through purchasing our breads and mixes and pizza crusts. Glad to have made it through the day feeling strong and courageous instead of lounging in a puddle in the middle of the dining room floor. Rote chores are good therapy.

Well, the night sounds are comforting. The air is fresh and cool. Crickets chirp and tell me it is time to wrap this up and go read to Nora and Rose. I forgot to mention that we are reading one of my favorites: a book by George McDonald called The Princess and the Goblins. It is the story of a very brave princess named Irene. I hope to tell you more about it at a later point.

Speaking of books, I wrote a brief review of Charlotte's Webb and The Remains of the Day the other morning. Must remember to share with you. All about devotion and sacrifice.

But now, to the real stuff. Reading with precious ones before we go to sweet deep sleep.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Life is a Labyrinth.

We all woke up way too early.

It rained all night long.

The kids were ready, had eaten their eggs, drunk their coffee and even read the paper and still had a long time to brush teeth and wait for the bus. I wonder if that will ever happen again?

I felt a little teary seeing them off, but proceeded to do laundry and take care of housekeeping chores. Spent some time working on the computer, taking care of numbers.

Mid-morning a song touched my heart. It opened the door to buckets of grief. I sobbed and sobbed as pain flowed. I grieved Philip. I grieved not homeschooling. I grieved knowing someone else would teach Nora how to read. I grieved thinking about our history and literature lessons around the dining room table in front of the fireplace, text books in hand, white board full of amazing information and at least three kids learning while braiding my hair into hundreds of braids.

Really, I guess the biggest thing I grieved was the death to our normal.

No more normal. We are having to come up with a new normal and it is hard.

After sitting on the floor, rocking and crying for awhile, I got up and put on the tevas to go down the field to separate Coco from the herd. The calves milked her for me this morning.

I thought the walk would do me good. Once the drizzles stopped the weather turned beautiful. Fresh and cool.

I walked down the hayfield where she and the gang placidly grazed.

For a moment she appeared to cooperate.

Then she detoured and took me on a labyrinthine journey through a forest of 7ft tall stick weed. The weed is becoming beautiful, with sunshiny yellow flowers crowning the tall stalks.

Criss cross, she moved along the side of the creek, heading at least in the right general direction. About the time we got to the home end of the field, she darted, made a U-turn and ran to rejoin the herd.

For such a big gal, she can move very briskly.

I followed, definitely out of control of the situation. She led me through the mud, through the marsh and up into the woods. I tried to head her off, gently and slowly, but no dice.

Finally I managed to turn her around and the rest of the herd joined us as we traipsde through the woods. The walk isn't terrible, if you don't mention that I slid through mud in the stream, got wet and dirty and the feet were covered in muck. Why, oh why did I not put on the work boots?

Once again we reached the gate, made our way through it this time, and as we meandered I trie desperately to appreciate the lovely wildflowers. And the amazing diversity in wild mushrooms, unfortunately poisonous, for the most part.

Once again Coco took advantage of my limited resources and bolted for the barnyard. And through another open gate leading to another field.

Once again I followed.

After a very long walk with Coco, into another field, across the stream again, by now, stomping through the water, so at least the manure got rinsed off my toes, we headed up the steep ridge and I wondered why I am doing this. She took off across the stream and I gave up.

I realize that there are going to be many moments when I miss the kids on the farm.

Little by little I will figure out new strategies and methods. But today I decided to wait and let the kids team up to separate her for me this afternoon and we will manage without milk this evening.

You would think that all that exercise would make me feel happy and productive.

It didn't.

But at least it was good for my health.

And according to the Kubler-Ross book, On Grief and Grieving, the crying was good for my health, too.

She writes about how acknowledging pain is part of the healing process. Feeling the pain made me realize I had no resources to even chat with my friends today. Needed to save everything for the kids this afternoon.

They came home happy, full of information, all of them eager to share their story of the day. It was funny that the very first things Nora and Rose mentioned was that school was very loud. They are tired. But they made it through just fine. We all sat around the table, I signed papers, listened to them tell me about their teachers and friends and we all ate icecream that Jason brought over for us yesterday.

Well, Rose is making homemade whole wheat cookies for tomorrow's snacks. Everyone else is preparing to take care of evening chores. We will try hard to go to bed early so I can get up and work and they can make the bus. I wonder if icecream counts as supper?

PS Guess what I found in the garden as I embarked on my fruitless adventure to get Coco?

Give up?

Bursting out of the ground was a HUGE sweet potato! So big and perfect and absolutely lovely, I couldn't believe that we grew it ourselves! Well, actually, I didn't do much to grow the thing, just raised the beds and planted, but I still felt quite proud to pick it anyway. We won't harvest them yet, but since it practically jumped into my hand, I had no choice with this first treat.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Life is a Race


Got up, milked the cow. Went to the Middle School for the final paperwork and the tour. Practiced locker combination opening. Met with teachers.

Rushed home, dropped one child off at a friend's house, picked up other children, went to Elementary School to drop off health forms. Went to Highschool to pick up schedules, meet with teachers, have our first IEP meeting for Thomas, practice combination lock openings, run through schedule and classes, pay fees, then raced home to drop off the boys, switch out vehicles, drove to the General Store to load the 1850 lbs of grains and other goods for our ingredient order, went back home, got in the car and raced back to town to pick up the remaining school supplies, then divvied it all up, trimmed bangs, signed papers, kisses kids and got into my nightgown.

Right when I sat down to type I realized I forgot to milk Coco! She is going to be so mad.

So I guess I will go out and milk her now and enjoy the quiet and stillness of the evening. Glad to be near the end of a marathon day.

In the middle of the running, I realized there was no time for sadness. I think I will actually be glad to wave goodbye to the kids in the morning. Then I will breathe a sigh of relief. After meeting with many teachers, I am convinced the kids are going to be joining up with some excellent educators and wonderful neighbors.

The gray skies and gentle rain made me feel like we were in the middle of fall. Perfect back to school weather.

But now, back to Coco.

Better run.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays

I had enough in me to milk the cow today. To mix up some pancake batter for the kids for breakfast. To make some school related phone calls and to fill out yet more papers for school.

We are nervous about the beginning of school. Happy and excited but nervous. Today was open house for the elementary kids. We went to meet Nora and Rose's teachers. They seem great. I truly believe that we are making the right decision for the kids' education right now, but it surprises me how grieved I am to send them off.

I took the kids to see a matinee early this afternoon since it became apparent I had absolutely nothing left to give anyone. We went to see the new Nanny McPhee movie. Loved the first one. The second one isn't nearly as great. Maybe it was my mood. Too tired and sad.

I realized I was in trouble when I began to weep through the previews. Was thankful for the dark because I sobbed through most of the movie.

Everything hurt me.

I do miss Philip a lot. But grief is weird. At times I feel like I am still recuperating from an operation that took off a leg and an arm. It just hurts. I find I especially hurt when we have to do new things, like fill out papers and have to write in "deceased" where I would have previously filled in Philip's name. Even if Philip were still alive, I probably would have put the kids into public school this year due to the busy bakery schedule. But having him gone makes it even harder.

Sometimes I get a lot of very positive feedback from people who think that if I bake a lot of bread and milk a cow I must be very strong. But if they saw me, on days like today, where I wish I could stay in bed because I can't talk, can't cook, can't even walk out to the barn, they might think differently.

I hope the kids find something to eat. I put on some pasta to boil. Warmed up leftover chili from 7 days ago for my supper. Didn't even want to eat, but did so, anyway. I hope Patrick will milk for me tonight because I want to take an ibuprofen and wash my face and go to bed. It is so pretty outside, looking out my window. Things are cooling off and the sky has a definite hue. A cast to the sky that makes me think we are much closer to fall than we were a week ago. But I am not eager to go sit out there.

I hope I can survive this big shift in our family dynamic. You would think I would be reading with the girls right now, since I am already missing them, but I don't have it in me.

Please don't worry too much about me over here. Thankfully, in the morning I will have to get up and milk Coco, get dressed and go to the schools for yet MORE paperwork, buy the remaining school supplies and then figure out what the kids are going to do for lunch on their first day of school. But I have this feeling that it is important for someone out there to know that it is very normal for grief to ebb and flow and occasionally pound like a big nor'easter, sending wave after wave of pain onto the shore.

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

Sunday Night Dinner on the Deck

Lamb Chops, covered in chopped garlic and cracked pepper, cooked quickly in olive oil.

Baby eggplant, picked right out of the garden, cut in half and roasted with olive oil.

Green beans, picked right from the garden, sauteed with our onions until almost crispy.

Peppers, picked right from our garden, caramelized in balsamic vinegar.

Heirloom tomato pie, brought by friend who also brought delicious cookies for dessert.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday Evening

We had a great market day. Sell out at both markets. Lots of people mentioned the article that Beth wrote. It was rather overwhelming, all the kind words and recognition. Made me sad to think that all of the kindness wouldn't be necessary if Philip were still here. Last night the kids watched Cheaper by the Dozen with our guests. Nora came up to bed crying because the dad dies in that story. We cuddled up and I gave her a kiss and told her I miss him too and prayed for her to be comforted and she fell right to sleep.

So anyway, we were thankful for all the support from people who heard our story. I was thinking that maybe one good thing out of many things that have come out of our tragedy is that many people are seeing that their little act of buying a loaf of local bread baked by a local gal can truly make a difference. It makes a difference for us. It means I can pay our bills, stay on the farm, sit on the front porch in the evening and watch two little girls play wiffle ball and drink heavy cream in my coffee.

Speaking of wiffle ball, it was fun watching Rose and Nora play by themselves after playing with the whole Schmitter crew. Rose pitched, Nora hit. When she hit, she ran to base, and if she made it safe, left her ghost player on the base and ran back to home plate to be up to bat again. When she hit the ball again, her ghost player made it to third and she would run to second, if she didn't get out. I think at least one of her ghost players made it to home. Rose's team got up to bat right as it got dark, and a skirmish on the field sent everyone into bedtime. I hope we have enough beds for all those extra players.

We miss Lynn Moore and the Schmitters already. What a gift to have dear friends come for a visit. I wish I had more to give them. They gave me so much. Brought food, tents, made dinners, took kids out on fun excursions, washed dishes, washed laundry, and blessed us richly. I am thrilled that our life and business makes it possible for us to have others come and experience a little taste of the bounty of farm living. It is humbling to think that hearing roosters crow and making butter can impact a life.

I wasn't going to make supper for myself this evening. The kids ate leftover ziti. But then I saw that bag of veggies Patrick received in a barter deal with Randy Deel at Botetourt Family Farmer's Market.

One bag had october beans. I didn't grow up with october beans. Must be a regional thing. I don't really know what to do with those beans. But as cool as it was outside and as hot as it was in the house, I decided to take the bag out to the rocking chair on the front porch and began to shell. Little by little the little pile grew into a mound in my bowl. A mound of art. Pink and white beans, like a still life. The colors were lovely. But the most lovely thing was that Rose found me and before you know it, she got addicted to shelling out those beans with me in the cool evening. One of my favorite things, shelling beans or peas on the front porch in the cool of the early evening. Took them in and braised them with olive oil, lots of garlic, chopped rosemary and kosher salt. While they cooked:

Okra. Lots of tender tiny okra.

One of my very very favorite vegetables.

Rose and I decided that we had to have some, sliced and sauteed with garlic in some olive oil, just until tender, sprinkled with kosher salt. It cooked before the beans finished, so we split it between the two of us and gobbled it up before you know what happened. We talked about how we like little okra boiled, slimy and yummy with butter and salt, but sauteed in olive oil with salt is just about the most perfect food ever. A couple of kids passed through the kitchen and watched Rose and I scarf down our treat, and I suggested if they cut up the rest of the bag of okra I would cook it up for them, but they just drooled and passed on by.

I think we forgot to give thanks, standing up in the kitchen, scarfing down our okra and october beans, but I do give thanks now for Randy growing okra! Ours is just getting ripe, but we don't have enough that survived for our okra loving family. A glass of red wine on the porch with my beans (noone else wanted them) and a phone call with my baby sister was a nice treat. As I tasted the new flaver of the beans, I wondered if I stewed them with some lamb shanks, more garlic, extra rosemary and some vermouth, they might be even better. Will have to look up some recipes. I have no idea how folks around here cook october beans. Must ask neighbors!

Well, another week passed on. We are about six months past the time of Philip's death. Hard to believe. Winter ended, spring came, summer is drawing to an end.

The girls just came in and made me read this post out loud to them, to make sure I didn't write anything bad about them. Rose suggested I keep writing until I am old and then we will have a story of our life. I don't think I want to think that far ahead when I am this tired. For now, time to shut it down and say goodnights and take a look at the rising moon. Not full yet, but getting there.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Mill

Okay, okay, I will write about other things tomorrow, but please let me say that I am so happy to have the mill running the way it used to, back in the good ole days! What a relief.

I did run the a/c all night to suck humidity out of the air. I think that helped. It certainly felt great. Baked over 110 loaves of bread and over 50 pizza crusts. Made several spelt brownie mixes and 4-grain pancake mixes. Worked too many hours, but was happy to have Lynn Moore's company. She washed dishes and washed clothes and washed bathrooms for me. What a friend. Mark and Karen took all the kids to Roaring Run and Craig's Creek for a hike, picnic and swim.

Thought I should mention that even though I am irritated with our free-range chickens, it is fun to watch them at milking time. They come around for a free snack when Coco is sloppy with her grain. The chicks are full feathered out miniature versions of the mamas and papas. The different colored feathers are lovely. One of the chickens has black feathers with an irridescent blue and turquoise sheen. Reminds me of some of the amazing artwork I have seen by Tiffany at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Today's farm snippets: Sunflowers. They are riotous these days. I think they are the most happy flower. Moon is waxing and rising over the ridge as I type this evening. Will be full before you know it. Sun is rising later and going to bed earlier. Why can't I be like the sun? Bull frog is having a conversation with his wife. Nice and calm. Enjoying their full pond.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Mill

Even with all the help from all my friends replacing motors, taking the machine apart and putting it back together, the last couple of weeks I saw no significant improvement in the working of the stone burr mill.

Every minute of milling required constant care to adjust and try to find the right spot to mill according to my standards, but not burn up the motor.

After 3 minutes of milling this early morning, the mill seized up and insisted it would not grind one more ounce of wheat. Ever. Until it were seen to by a professional.

I waited until 8am and then called the manufacturer, a company that originated and still operates out of Wilkesboro, NC. Meadow Mills. A kind sounding gentleman assured me that they could work on the mill today, especially when I told him how urgent it was that I have it back to working by tomorrow morning, 4am, give or take.

I quickly finished the milking, orchestrated a milk drop off and then Lynn, Thomas and Nora headed to NC. That is, after Thomas, Mark and I nearly gave ourselves hernias loading the monstrosity into the back of the Vibe. The rain poured.

We drove to the back of the nondescript building. I was directed to back up into an area filled with lots of machinery and activity. No frantic activity. Just calm, steady production.

Two kind men carried the mill to a table, took a look and instantly told me what was wrong. A couple of parts had gone bad and were affecting the operation of the whole machine. I asked them if they could tell me what I had been doing wrong so I would not make the same mistake over again. They assured me that these things happen over the course of a hard years work, and that this kind of care is part of maintenance. They even assured me that I could probably learn how to take care of opening up the machine to take care of cleaning the stones and what not.

I never in my life thought a normal human could open up a big old machine, move parts around and put it back together. I have girl friends and guy friends who can do that kind of thing, but not me. That kind of work is kind of like sewing to me. Best left to the professionals.

But after watching them carefully show me the steps, I thought that maybe someday I could open up a machine and put it back together. Not tomorrow, but maybe someday.

They explained to me that humidity causes the flour to absorb lots of moisture which will cause build up on the stones. They pressure washed them and sanitized them.

They showed me a shaft that had scarring that prevented the belt from easily turning.

They discovered that the eccentric was broken.

Did you know that there was such a mechanical part as an eccentric? We enjoyed discussing the definition of an eccentric, irregular, irratic, off the norm. This part makes the arm of the machine shake at an irregular rate to shake down the grain from the hopper to the stones. We decided that we all like being eccentric. I wondered if there were some sermon illustration in that definition.

The gentlemen found that the motor was indeed burned out, due to the regular overworking of the machine. Within minutes they had it replaced with a new one, with a thermal overload. They gave me instructions on how to make sure it kept from getting overheated. They suggested I run an a/c to drop the humidity during the summer months. They redressed the stone, making a nice sharp surface instead of the smooth one.

I thought about another sermon illustration, about going to the maker of the mill to fix not only the symptom (a burned out motor) but the underlying causes (the broken parts deep within the machine.)

We wrote a check for much less than I anticipated, loaded the machine, said our thanks and headed for home. A VERY long day. Almost 7 hours of driving in traffic and rain. A lost day of business at the Catawba market. But with a tool that will now work like it is supposed to, thanks to this wonderful small company that makes a very high quality tool. Their service was terrific. I wish I had gone months ago, but today was the day.

Hopefully tomorrow will be a great day to prove how much better the mill is operating.

We drove into the driveway after 7pm, the kids were playing wiffle ball on the front lawn. Chickens and guineas roamed everywhere on the green grass. The sun came out and the clouds looked like the sort that come after a storm, not before. Patrick milked for me and I prepare for a new day. Thankful we only have 24 hours per day. With several of those hours dedicated to sleep.

Will keep you posted on the mill. Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Apples, Glorious Apples

I enjoyed my extra early morning this morning. At least the part after I got up and ran the barn cat off the deck after listening to her yowl for 2 hours. Why didn't I just get up at 4:30 and run her off then?

So the coffee was extra good and so were the Psalms.

So were the piles of pancakes we finally all got around to eating at 10am this morning.

After taking care of computer work for a couple of hours I reached my limits of niceness. A sassy mouth from a very clever boy (related to me, in fact, very similar to his mother in many ways) turned my tiredness into grouchiness. Being the executive director of the farm, I made the executive decision to leave him and other whiners (I mean, tired children of mine who slept in the tents in the rain, with Coco trying to wake them up and cats screaming) to hang out with our guests (who did absolutely NO whining whatsoever) and clean out the barn.

Thomas, Nora and I loaded up my favorite toy, I mean Larry's pressure washer into the back of the truck, along with some old wooden apple boxes he had given us, and headed down to Bent Mountain. Thunder rumbled and the rain fell, but we didn't care.

I was so irritable, whiny and grumpy myself I figured that it was best for everyone for me to take an afternoon and leave the farm.

We got to the Florin house, enjoyed hot tea and waited a few minutes for the rain to pause then drove over to an old apple orchard. On top of one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen in Virginia. Panoramic view of surrounding valleys, mountains, fields and farms. With a lovely orchard sprinkled on top like powdered sugar.

We hopped out and began to pick, Lynne, Larry, Thomas, Nora and I. The boxes began to fill with blushing green and yellow apples. Of course we had to try one from each tree. To make certain they were ripe.

Some were crispy and tart. Juicy. Perfect for apple pie.

Some were rosy and huge. Glossy and sweet. Spicy.

Pure decadence.

We decided we better bring the rest of the work crew next time. Especially the tree climbers. And maybe a couple of ladders. And some of those poles with little baskets on the end. And sacks for lugging.

And we dreamed of applesauce and apple pie filling and oatmeal with apples and apple cider and hard cider. And my mood completely sweetened. At least for an hour or two. And we were able to cart home 7 bushels of amazing fruit. And we got to see some fat deer. And then dreamed of venison.

Then we got home to a huge meal prepared by Karen and Lynn. Chili with meat and beans and a cast iron skillet of cornbread. Glasses of milk. Peach crisp for dessert. I wasn't going to eat dessert, but didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. It was delicious. Kids played wiffle ball on the front lawn for hours. Mark got everyone engaged. Even Thomas.

Time to call it a day. Cow is milked. Crickets are chirping. Frogs are peeping and the chickens are settling in for the night. Tomorrow is another day.

PS We are still thankful for the rain, even though it has been rather steady the last few days.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Rain is Raining

The rain is raining all around,
it falls on fields and streams.
It rains on the umbrellas here
and on the ships at sea.
RL Stevenson

I can't believe it can be raining so long and so hard and it still be frighteningly hot in our house.

Dear friend guests from NJ have arrived. Karen and Mark and their three kids and Lynn. Mark and the kids are terribly bold. They have set up their tents between the tractor shed and milking parlor. They have rigged tarps. They have a plan. Lynn, Karen and I will happily sleep in our hot, but dry bedrooms.

Right after the tents were set up, we picked a bushel or more of the remaining corn, shucked it on the front porch and I cooked it. We ladies cut most of it off the cob for freezing. The rest of the corn we consumed right on the cob, along with green beans and venison/beef burgers. And plenty of fresh cold milk.

Kids had fun gathering eggs, moving chickens around and watching Patrick milk the cow while we ladies finished the corn project and washed up the kitchen.

It is a joy having our friends come for a visit. They don't mind the rain, the not quite finished chores, the heat. They come because they love us and they love the farm and we love them back.

None of us are complaining about the rain because we need it so badly.

But it is rather humorous that the first really long spell of rain just so happens to fall on the first day of their camp out on the farm visit.

What brave people they are!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy Frogs

The day started off hot and stuffy.

We moved through it like slow molasses. Breakfast, laundry, milking, paperwork, school paperwork, emails, laundry, phone calls, more paperwork, room cleanup, more paperwork.

The children were quiet and kept to themselves, tending their laundry, their household chores, then retreating to their rooms to read in peace. I didn't have the heart to send them out to the garden in such oppressive weather.

Shortly after lunchtime, the skies darkened and we were hit by another blast of a thunderstorm.

I think afternoon thunderstorms are truly one of my favorite things. The rain poured and poured, the wind blew and all of a sudden the oppressive air lifted, even if temporarily. The girls and I ran to the bank and library and enjoyed driving in the drizzle. For a moment I forgot about summer and imagined the cool of fall, the changing leaves, and it felt like a mini vacation.

Unfortunately the heat is back, but the frogs don't mind. Now that their habitat is filled back up to the rim, they are offering up an evening serenade. Aaaahhh.

The waxing crescent moon is trying desperately to peek beyond the veil of heavy clouds over the southwest. I went outside long enough to say hello to her. It is still hot and sticky, but a necessary shower, (thanks to Coco, who whacked me in the face with her manure tail) makes everything more bearable.

PS Summer meals are terrific. Here's what we had for dinner:
Sauteed green beans and onions, from Randy Deel's garden (ours are almost ripe, but there aren't many of them)
Roasted eggplant from Paul with Thistle Dew farm,with olive oil and sea salt
Sliced yellow squash from the Lee's around the other side of the ridge. I sauteed it with garlic and chopped red peppers (from Raymond), then added some goat cheese made by Rachel and Jason, a little of Coco's cream, splash of vermouth and some fresh basil, cooked it down until nice and creamy
Grass-finished beef (courtesy Coco), cooked in olive oil with some sea salt and plenty of black pepper, medium rare
Sliced cucumbers from the Thomas family and cantaloupe from Thistle Dew.

We gave thanks for all the very many hands who helped provide such a scrumptious feast. Yeay for summertime. All that heat is good for making great veggies.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Showers of Blessing

Today was home church.

We thought about setting up outside underneath the willow tree, but menacing black clouds slowly marched toward us across the Jefferson National Forest. The heat and humidity were oppressive. It felt like a sauna outside.

Church around the dining room table worked just fine.

Before church we hovered around the table, perusing an article written about our farm by Beth Macy. Rachel and Jason bought a copy of the Roanoke Times on their way to the farm. We were a bit stunned. We knew the story would be in the paper, but I assumed it would fall in the Virginia section, not the FRONT PAGE! I was so embarrassed.

Maggie was disappointed that all the pictures of Fred and Tabby's wedding didn't make the spread. Patrick was glad that one of his quotes made the story. I cried when Rachel handed me the paper and I saw Widow in the headline and she and Jason gave me a big hug and missed Philip with me. Then we laughed because we all knew how proud he must be to see our pictures in the paper, if he ever has a chance to get a sneak peek from heaven.

Then it was time to put away the paper, grab that last bit of coffee and begin our service.

We sang our hymns. We read the readings. Then we began the joyful work of tackling the scriptures.

We usually start with the Psalm and then try to find the thru-line with the other readings. Some of them were a bit confusing, but there was nothing confusing about the passage in Hebrews. We camped out in Hebrews 12, first 14 verses. It was a powerful passage, encouraging followers of God to run the race with perserverance. We had a great time dissecting the verses, grabbing the dictionary every once in awhile to help flesh out words like perserverance and righteousness. Talked about the difference between discipline, getting in trouble and discipline, training to develop strong bodies, spirits and minds.

We shared the bread and the wine then rushed out to the garden to pick a tub full of corn to take down the road for Sunday dinner. Right as we began to shuck the corn, the black clouds ran down the mountain, stirred up a breeze, and exploded over the valley. It rained and rained, but never mind! Tim just moved the grill under a roof outside and dinner happened anyway.

Have I ever mentioned that spending Sunday afternoons with friends around dinner is one of my favorite things? Thank you, Mom and Dad for teaching us the value of Sunday dinner. Slow and relaxed, late enough to cover both dinner and supper. Plenty of time for kids to play and grownups to visit. Perfect way to make certain that a big tub of corn is put to good use. A cup of coffee, probably a bit later than is good for me seemed like the perfect way to end the day. Looking at Tim and Linda's dating and early marriage years back in the late 70's and 80's was a delightful bonus. We laughed and laughed at the hair styles and the shiny shirt. Tim's, not Linda's! We wondered why all those great photos are stuffed in an album instead of framed on the wall.

The clouds moved on, the sun returned and with it a steam bath.

But, thanks be to God from whom all blessings flow, the afternoon storm almost filled our pond to the brim! WOW!

The little showers along have been greening up the pastures, but haven't done a thing for the drying up pond. Today's gully washer definitely made a difference. Yeay for end of summer thunderstorms.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Today feels like August in the Adirondacks. Moist. Cool. Quiet and still.

The market was pleasant. Nice and steady. Plenty of customers happy to brave the drizzles and get out on a cooler than normal morning. Slow enough to get in some nice visits. Farmer's Market is social hour.

Instead of taking a nap, I elected to have lunch with a couple of girlfriends in town. We talked about happy stuff, sad stuff, bewildering stuff and crazy stuff. There is nothing like good girl-talk. I meant to come home to rest and clean house while the kids joined our church friends to see a live production of My Fair Lady. The camaraderie was very relaxing.

Home is quiet with the kids out. The willow trees are absolutely motionless. Moisture hangs in the air and the animals graze solemnly. Even the guineas and geese and roosters are quiet for the moment.

Never fear. Everyone will be back home in a few minutes to help with chores, straighten things up and get ready for bed. Noise will reign.

But for now, peace. Quiet, calm, cool.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Night Drama (Almost rated R)

I should be wrapping bread and pizza crusts right now but decided to take a short break.

Covered in flour. Hot and sweaty. But there are over 80 loaves of bread baked and almost 50 pizza crusts. Several pounds of freshly milled whole wheat, spelt and rye flours for customers who like to bake their own breads. I decided to skip making pancake and brownie mixes this week. Forget the chocolate brioche. I am hot, tired and uninspired.

We had to take a break at some point and chase Duncan, the bull away from heifers who had gone into heat. They are too young to be bred, at 10 months old, but they don't realize that. We moved Dulce and Carmelita into a small field for birth control. For one, we want them to be bred by a bull that is not their father. For two, we wish for them to reach 15-18 months old so they will be large enough to bear calves with minimal trouble.

They are lovely heifers and should make great mamas, but not quite yet!

In the urgent moment, Coco escaped from her field and went straight to the calves who promptly drank all the evenings milk. So, the good news is that I get a break tonight. The bad news is, well, I can't think of any bad news. We have plenty of milk for our customers from this morning and last night's milk.

This morning a friend from grief group came by. He and his posse helped the boys with some fence mending. We are hoping to repair the fence adjacent to the bottom hay field so we can graze the middle pastures. I was grateful for their work while I baked. The boys took care of a lot of mowing later on in the morning. This afternoon the kids read books and relaxed in the heat and the girls played in the garden hose. It brought back memories of my childhood and sisters and hot summers with a garden hose. We invented so many games to go along with hot summer, three girls and a garden hose.

The kids are having baked potatoes for supper. I grabbed a quick bite of Jimbo's smoked trout, Rachel and Jason's dill chevre and some pickled peppers and veggies. The trays of bread are waiting. But at least the kitchen, bakery and floor is clean. I even got the piles of dirty tubs and mixing bowls clean. Hopefully the cool breeze will pick up for the final push. Hopefully our customers will remember to get out in the morning to buy their daily bread. We are thankful for them. So very thankful to have a job here on the farm. Thankful to be able to see when the cows need some interference and to be able to pause and care for them right in the middle of the business.

By the way, the moon is waxing, but I haven't seen it. Forgot to check rising and setting times. The stars are beautiful. I tried to see the showers last night, but didn't. Watched the distant lightening over the National Forest instead. Very nice.

Alright, back to work, everybody. Want to get a shower and have a break before the morrow comes!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


August. Hot, steamy days. Thunderstorms rolling through.

The thunder is rolling, echoing, promising. The willow tree waves in anticipation. At a little past 8 it is almost dark. Flashes of lightening decorate the ridge. I think I will have to go sit on the porch and watch.

By the way, the moon is hiding these recent evenings. But the big dipper is not. I have enjoyed catching a glimpse of that most lovely and recognizable of constellations, hanging towards the north.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Random Chat

Had coffee early. Mattie's Mountain Mud. Usually we barter with Star City Coffee, which we love and adore. Local roasters out of Salem. Mattie is out of New Castle down the road, and both roaster do free trade organic specially roasted coffees. I felt almost like a traitor drinking a different coffee since our paths crossed Mattie's before they crossed Star City's.

After sitting down to a delicious cup of amazing coffee, enhanced, of course, by Coco's heavy cream, I decided that I was one terribly lucky girl to have the opportunity to drink the absolutely best coffees in the region roasted by people I consider really cool friends who like to enjoy our breads, pizza crusts and meat and other farm products.

After milking and doing some laundry and working in the garden for a bit, it was time to take the girls in to school to take their assessment tests. They were a bit nervous, but not I. Sure enough they did a fine job and are ready to go into first grade and fifth grade. We are excited about their new adventure. Dropped off more papers to the highschool and middle school. Whew. I can't wait to be done with paperwork.

I should mention that Serge and James brought over a new chicken tractor they built. It is a beautiful work of art. I am so excited to imagine that eventually our chickens will be free-range but with boundaries. Aren't there books written about boundaries and relationships? I don't foresee how my relationship with those chickens is going to last if we don't get a few boundaries established. I noticed as I picked garden today that we would have had boxes of tomatoes if the chickens hadn't found them.

Darn chickens.

And I noticed an interesting conundrum. The chickens have an uncanny ability of scratching up all my flowers, but manage to leave all weeds intact. Wow. Amazing.

So thanks to Serge and James for building the prototype off of Jason's plans from the tractor he built over 16 years ago.

BTW, a chicken tractor is not a mechanized vehicle used for plowing fields. It is a portable coop, designed to be moved daily to allow chickens fresh, clean grass for grazing, within certain safe parameters. The tractor gives the chickens the opportunity to eat delicious bugs and green stuff but keeps them safe from predators and women farmers who get tired of losing tomatoes and flowers. And it makes egg hunting a little less dramatic that Easter. We want Easter egg hunting once a year, not everyday.

This evening Tim came back with the mill. We are still trying to figure out if the motor is back 100%. Maybe we need a larger motor to handle the load? I am so thankful for our friends who give of their time, a most precious resource, to help us with our troubles. Really, it is very hard to receive so much help. I wonder how I can ever repay all that time and energy. Then we pray. Pray for God to repay Tim and the countless other friends back. In time, money, resources, rest and joy. What a blessing is our community.

Speaking of community, it was ladies' Bible study night. We didn't spend much time on Bible study, as it seemed more important to catch up on each others' lives and pray for each other. I don't know what I would do without the support of that group of women. So strong, each one of them. I read somewhere the other day that someone thought that prayer to some deity contributed to anxiety and that we were fools for even thinking that it was worth the while.

I would never even begin to want to try to convince anyone else to believe what I do. Seems like that would not be worth the while. But the peace that comes to replace the anxieties during our prayer time is amazing and wonderful. Each woman who comes has a different strength and personality and something to offer the others in our group. I love those gals and am so thankful that they are willing to come enter our crazy farm life, with dirty dishes and eating kids and typically a few piles of laundry shoved in the hallway. They don't even mind chasing the cow out of the garden when the gate gets left open. Although I have to mention that Coco does mind getting chased out.

Well, for your information, August is here. Hot days, very hot. Mid 90's but the evenings are cool enough. We did turn on the air conditioner for a few hours this afternoon and I was thankful. Before you know it we will be sliding into fall, my favorite. But in the meantime, we enjoy all the bounty this summer heat brings us, like corn on the cob and tomatoes and peppers and green beans and zucchini.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chocolate Brioche

In the middle of milling and baking Friday I went into the dining room for a quick snack and 5 minute break for lunch. Sat down and looked at a picture of me and Philip. Pain welled up from my gut and spilled out in the form of many tears.

I missed him so very much.

Sometimes his pictures don't hurt. Sometimes they do.

On Friday, it hurt.

I cried for a moment, thinking no one was looking, then noticed that Nora saw me. Gave her a hug and told her I was missing her dad. And as we hugged, all of a sudden I knew I needed to make some chocolate brioche for the market.

Brioche is a french-inspired bread made with lots of eggs and milk. Very tender crust. Last year I frequently made little baby brioches out of freshly milled whole wheat or spelt flour, farm eggs, Coco's milk, honey from up the road, and wrapped the silken dough around organic dark chocolate. The rolls look nice in appearance, rather unassuming, with their egg yolk and cream glaze. Nice, but not that special.

UNTIL that first bite. Tender roll embraces molten chocolate.

Definitely special.

So, it was so weird that as I wiped the tears from my eyes I was inspired to make the brioche.

The kids often request it and so do customers, but making these little gourmet breakfast treats require preparing the dough the night before then getting up before 4:30am to knead and form the rolls and bake them before we leave. They require extra love and joy, and frankly I haven't had it in me.

I stirred up the batter and marveled at the orange color our farm eggs imparted to the dough. The milk and honey and the freshly milled wheat smelled heavenly. Next morning I hopped up and without even thinking about it, began the ritual of forming the rolls as my water heated for the french press full of coffee. The satiny dough felt like therapy to my fingers as the lumps became smooth packages of surprise.

The children woke up and Nora ran downstairs asking if it were true that I was making brioche. She could smell the distinctive aroma from her upstairs bedroom. I assured her it was true and she ran for her sample.

We quickly loaded up the baked goods and milk, grabbed our cashboxes and signs and headed out the door. One of the baby brioche fell out of the pan and I decided it was a sign.

As I brought the roll to my mouth, I wondered why in the world I felt inspired to bake those treats again, right in the middle of a very sad grief moment.

Then I took a bite.

The rich whole wheat roll, with only the essence of honey, tender and good, bursting with the fullness of the dark chocolate tasted like a kiss and a hug. It tasted like commitment and joy and love and forever and warm embraces to me. It felt like a message from Philip and God to me that I was still loved.

All that in a silly roll? What can I say? You might try it and it might taste like sandpaper to you. But to me it was rich and full of goodness and meaning. It made me think of our marriage. Not always sweet like a doughnut or a candy bar. But rich. Like dark chocolate and tender dough and just a touch of real honey, not the fake corn syrupy stuff.

It made me cry just a little, but in a good way.

The kids asked me if I would make the brioche every week now and I said probably not. I like to bake special things when specially inspired. But I am happy for the inspiration. If you want a great recipe, I will give you mine and you can make your own chocolate brioche. Just maybe if you brew up a very strong pot of good coffee, add some of Coco's heavy cream and sit down with one of those rolls fresh out of the oven, you will feel very loved.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Saturday night with the kids.

Fresh whole trout from Jimbo at Big Pine Trout last night. Roasted with garlic and peppers and onions in olive oil. Along with some fingerling potatoes from Ojai Farm. And fresh corn on the cob that we picked yesterday evening. Nora ate freshly milled whole wheat baguette. The kids had to shuck the corn, but we didn't even have to gut the fish! And all the food so very fresh. Real food really is better, folks.

Instead of writing about the continued trials of the mill, and Tim and Amber Wilborne spending their entire Saturday taking the machine apart, pulling out a pound of putrid old flour that had accumulated in and around the stone, and putting the thing together, as a blessing to me, and instead of writing about chocolate brioche, and instead of writing about the two loads of seasoned and split white oak that Katie's husband's coworkers gave me and Katie's husband brought over, I decided to read two chapters of Charlotte's Web to the girls on the deck after supper.

Reading great books aloud to the children is one of my very favorite things.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thursday Evening

I was grateful to be able to mill and bake today. The feed corn helped to clean the mill a bit. Not perfectly, but better than before.

We had several drop-in customers. One was a friend from our homeschool coop. As her children hunted eggs with the kids and played down by the creek she encouraged me and I made bread and rolled out pizza crusts. Her words of blessing toward me and the kids and our new public school adventure were just in time.

The day was hot and thunderstormy. We staked our tents at the farmer's market this afternoon, but when gale force winds and rain arrived, we still had to hold on for dear life. Signs were flying everywhere. A few tents were blown over and destroyed. Tables were dumped. Goods were drenched. Everyone worked together to make the best out of a challenging situation.

The wind and rain stopped. Drenched vendors rearranged and all of a sudden the sun returned, the skies cleared and those of us who could went back to business. I was so thankful that we managed to sell most of our breads and pizzas.

Sean and Julie dropped by. What a surprise! Their visit made the end of the market a real treat. It is hard to believe that this sweet newlywed couple, young and happy and on vacation down the road would want to spend time chatting with the former "farm boss!" I love them so much and am grateful for the amazing friendships that have come about, all interestingly linked to the farm.

After supper and dishes, (ugh, all the bakery dishes) Nora and Rose and I went out to the front porch to read our chapter in the dusk. It was the chapter in Charlotte's Web about crickets singing the song of the end of summer. Our crickets sang along with the story and as the sun set considerably earlier than last week I knew the song was true.

I must hit the sack and get ready for another bakery day tomorrow, but I have to mention that one of the sweetest sights I saw all day was Coco, standing at the fence in the front, lovingly kissing Duncan the bull through the wire. Cows are so tender toward one another. Even the calves like to give each other a gentle lick on the side of the face as a greeting or gentle gesture. Duncan gave her a kiss and they stood quietly, facing each other for a very long time. It made us smile.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


This morning I asked Thomas to do a feed inventory after I milked Coco.
Sure enough, one bag of non-GMO dairy cattle food left. The laundry was washed, way too hot to work in the garden, seemed like a perfect day to run errands. We loaded up the paperwork, dropped some off at a couple of schools, ran to the NEW Goodwill in Daleville (Yeay! We love Goodwill.) Didn't find the loaf pans I was hunting for the bakery, but both Thomas and I found a couple of "new" books and I found a cute outfit.

Then off to Stuart's Draft for a feed run. I enjoyed singing with the pop radio, Nora napped and Thomas and Rose read books. We were thanking God for the a/c as the temperatures crept up to 96 degrees. I usually try to do most of the shopping at Goodwill, but hadn't had any recent luck in finding the right size loaf pans so we made a stop in K Mart and found 12 the right size! I bought them all. Along with some lipstick. (So I am vain. A girl has to have a little fun!)

We ate some short ribs we left cooking all day long and tried to work through some farm management stuff. I wrote out a list and asked the boys to make sure the feed got off loaded and placed in the right places. Then the sky darkened, a cloud descended on our valley, and an awakening electricity replaced the sluggish calm. We ran out to the truck. The boys began to unload but we realized we were too late. They cleared a path and I parked in the milking area. Thankful to have a spot out of the rain!

The girls and I grabbed Charlotte's Web, intent on reading in our favorite spot, the cozy chairs on the front porch.

"Boom! Crash! Splash!"

The storm descended with a fury, twisting the willows in a furious dance. The rain chased us off the chairs and into the door frame. We couldn't bear to enter the house, it was so fresh and alive outside and so hot and sticky inside. We watched the flashes, counted the seconds, thrilled in the shower, and merrily watched the stream form as the happy water rushed from the National Forests, the road and our barn roof toward the stream.

As the wind shifted, the rain quit hitting us in the face and I commenced the reading.

Tonight we read one of my favorite chapters in Charlotte's Web.

"Dr. Dorian"

Fern's mother, Mrs. Arable, is quite concerned with Fern's behavior. She wonders why Fern shows no interest in her own friends and would prefer to pass her free time in the barn cellar, making up stories about the animals. Especially her bottle fed pig, Wilbur.

Dr. Dorian doesn't seem a bit perplexed by Fern's behavior. In one very brief visit he calms Mrs. Arable's fears and covers some pretty amazing territory in regards to miracles, faith and developmental psychology.

I especially like his thoughts on Charlotte's web:

"Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don't you regard that as a miracle?"

"I suppose so," said Mrs. Arable. "I never looked at it that way before. Still, I don't understand how those words got into the web. I don't understand it, and I don't like what I can't understand."

"None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing. "I'm a doctor. Doctors are supposed to understand everything. But I don't understand everything, and I don't let it worry me."

We ended the chapter. The storm passed. The evening is cooler for the moment.

Patrick is going to milk for me so I can go to sleep and get ready for an early morning of baking, thanks to Tim and the new motor. I think I will start extra early since tomorrow is supposed to get extra hot.

August. Summer is nearing her end, but not without a flash of steamy personality and a few scorching glances. Yesterday evening Rose and I walked the driveway to say goodbye to our visitor. As we walked back to the house in the dusk, we remembered the days of shoveling and shoveling snow in the driveway.

Was that a hundred years ago?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday Already?

It is a good thing I worked so many hours in the garden yesterday. It was pleasant and fresh.

Not today.

Rose and I left the house bright and early today to belatedly celebrate her 10th birthday. We breakfasted at our favorite birthday breakfast locale: Thelma's Chicken and Waffles in Roanoke.

Fried chicken and waffles and fried potatoes all in one meal. With coffee.

Wow. I have many favorite foods. Fried chicken is one of my very all-time favorites and I have to say it is hard to find a good piece of fried chicken anywhere these days. Unless you stop in at Thelma's.

Rose and I both got the Fried chicken tenders and belgian waffles and side of fried potatoes. We talked about the mileposts of her 9th year. She had been reading for a few years, but this year she became a book worm. Her piano playing skills have improved significantly. She can milk a goat all by herself. She learned how to make an omelet. She got to take on a week of dishes duty this past year (not a real highlight for her, but definitely happy news for the older siblings.)

We were a bit teary as we talked about the most horrible thing that happened in her 9th year. We laughed at some of Philip's antics and missed him.

It was a good date.

After we got home we worked on house chores for a bit then headed out to the garden. I was worried about consuming so many simple carbs in one meal until I began to sweat continuously for two hours. Working in the garden is a much more pleasant task in cool, low humidity. Oh well, I still was satisfied to have my fingers in the dirt.

This afternoon Tim came over and replaced my burned out motor with a new one. Suggested we take all other appliances off that electrical outlet. Suggested we put on a thermal overload. Suggested we perhaps upgrade to a stronger motor at some point.

A friend came over and we all traipsed out to see Patrick's bridge and let me enjoy the wildflowers. They are so pretty. Jewel weed, cardinal flower, Queen Anne's lace, flowering mint, so many others, made a beautiful bouquet for our dinner table, courtesy Patrick.

For dinner we had one of our favorites: pork and cabbage stirfry.

Onions from our garden, garlic, Jonathan's cabbage, our carrots, our pork, olive oil, sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds. So tender and sweet. Perfect with a side of Japanese cucumbers. We slice the cucumbers and dress them with a mixture of 2 TBSP vinegar mixed with 2 TBSP organic sugar. Top with sesame seeds. Yum. We were fighting over them.

Tonight we had the weird yearly phenomenon of these annoying little flying insects. Once a year they pop up out of nowhere, bigger than fruitflies, smaller than houseflies. I wanted to sit outside, but they crawl on your arms, on your face, in your eyes and ears. Ick. Thankfully they don't stick around for long.

Anyone know what those crazy creatures are?

August. I hope a thunderstorm is in the forecast. I believe tonight I will be sleeping with a nice wet bandana to keep cool. Too many bugs to sleep outside. Where is that mosquito netting when we need it?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Garden

Oh, the poetry that is written in a crisp ear of Silver Queen corn.

Today I got up, started the laundry, milked Coco, drank my coffee and enjoyed the morning's readings. Got the kids moving then went out to tend the garden.

The morning wasn't cold like the weekend, but drizzly and cool. Soft and gray. Perfect for garden weeding.

I felt like the garden was mildly reproaching, like a neglected lover. The last couple of weeks have been filled with livestock chores and the garden has been an afterthought, a quick run grab something for supper and pull a couple of weeds while running back to the kitchen.

I said my "I'm sorry's" and got down to business. Started with the green bean rows. Worked around the okra. Got Thomas to bring me some more hay for mulching. Deep mulch only works to prevent weeds if you make sure and pull the errant ones and smother the other ones. Tackled the tomato rows. Oh, my, goodness. We staked a few, didn't the rest. I think the tomatoes are aliens from another country, working to take over the country, unstaked garden by unstaked garden.

Pulled mounds and mounds of weeds around the corn. Threw down more mulch. Opened up one ear, wondering. Would tonight be the night? The night of the first corn?

Yeah, I know. We have eaten corn already this year. But it was market corn. Definitely better than supermarket corn. But I guess we are spoiled.

There is nothing, no, nothing, like corn picked from your own garden, shucked by little girls and dropped into boiling water right then and there. And of course smeared lightly with Coco's butter and sprinkled heavily with real salt.

Crispy. Crunchy. Juice squirting. Face smearing goodness. Packaged in lovely green wrappers, tucked here and there on dark green stalks of promise. What used to be a dried up kernel, tucked into dark soil by young persons hands, what managed to survive hungry goats and cow, flood and drought, sun and weeds, brought us a gourmet seasonal gift. No sugar could be more satisfying than the sweet of that Silver Queen.

I ate 4 ears. So did Rose. I think Patrick ate 5. It went well with a little side of green beans and venison and leftover mashed potatoes.

I didn't finish the work in the garden. But she is feeling a bit better about our relationship. And so am I.

Have I mentioned that working in the garden is one of my favorite things? Dirty and sore, I better grab a shower. Then I will dream of alien cherry tomato takeovers. And the Silver Queen.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


This afternoon Nora, Rose, Brownie and Blackie and I walked up to the far pasture to bring back Coco so we could separate her for milking. The middle pastures are too steep for mowing for hay. The grass is tall. The cows are happy to graze up there. It was a nice hike. Cool. Damp. Feels like my very favorite season of the year, fall. I know we have plenty more dog days to come. But the earth is turning and we are nearing the end of the summer season. The end is in sight.

Thank God for the seasons.

I took another nap early this afternoon. Why am I so tired? I have hardly worked the last two days. It was a sweet nap. Zaccheus, our cat, climbed up for a cuddle. Since Philip died she rarely comes to our bed. She was a comfort to me this afternoon.

I had emails to write and laundry to wash, but it seemed good to rest.

After my nap and our hike the girls and I sat out on the front porch to read our evening chapters. We are reading Charlotte's Web, one of my favorites. I sat in the rocker with Nora in my lap, Rose was in the ratty old blue wicker chair. Coco munched on grass in the front yard. The mama hen and her babies followed along, snagging their supper, cackling and cheeping. The guinea tribe hunted bugs up along the driveway and their babies peeped and screeched, doing an amazing job of keeping up with the grownups. Sheep made their way into the barn, goats maaed to one another.

Even though I feel pretty lonely without Philip this weekend, I wondered at how content I am here on the farm. Crickets chirp. Rocker creaks. Girls giggle at the part in the story when Fern's brother tries to get Charlotte with a stick, trips, tumbles and falls on Wilbur's trough, breaking the rotten goose egg. They have smelled rotten eggs before. They can imagine the fumes.

As overwhelmed as I get with farm responsibilities and parenting responsibilities, and as sad as I get about Philip's death, it is odd that I can feel that life is good. What a paradox.


A cool front came in on Saturday. Can you believe it? After days in the dripping 90's we were only 58 degrees this morning. It felt like October. I wanted to pull on a sweatshirt, but didn't. I did wear a cardigan to church.

I also told the kids that summer is not over and please don't pack away your summer clothes. August is upon us and that means plenty more hot.

Nevertheless, the cooler temperatures are a welcome relief. A gift. It drizzled off and on all yesterday. Not enough to add to the pond or to make the stream run, but enough to green up the grass.

Strange thing about grief, when I have a lighter work load I feel the grief so much more strongly. It was great not having to bake on Friday. I filled out forms for school, washed dishes, cooked meals and ran to the DMV to turn in some license plates. After waiting in line for quite a long time I felt a bit disconnected and alone. The car drove to the cemetery and I found myself sitting down in the shade by Philip's grave. A surge of grief washed over me and I wept. A lot.

I didn't even know I was so sad. I told Philip I missed holding his hand. I missed feeling his strong arm tucked around me. I missed our wrap up the week or the end of the day chats late at night. I missed being his loved one.

After a good cry I headed for home and fixed a nice end of visit meal for our guests. It was so nice not having to market over the weekend. It gave me margin to enjoy our company. Kathryn and I shared red wine and chopped veggies. I roasted some chicken wings, teriyaki style with green beans for the non-red meat contingent. I made an improv almost ratatouille, sauteeing some onions from the garden, garlic from the Thomas's garden, tomatoes and peppers from our garden, a couple of runt eggplants out of our garden and thyme. Cooked up pork chops and steaks for the big meat eaters. Thomas boiled up a bunch of potatoes from our garden to make mashed. He wanted to add lots of garlic and onions, but I requested the simple version of butter and cream for the younger set. Sliced cucumbers from the garden and a little salad made with our cherry and golden tomatoes tossed with our goat cheese made for a feast. We lit candles and gave thanks for many things.

Next day, instead of hurrying off the market, I got up early and drank coffee alone and read the Bible. Then milked the cow and sold the remainder of our bee hives to a gal. Was thankful to make some money on a weekend when the mill was down. Some friends worked on electrical stuff. Kathryn and Thomas delivered milk. Then we walked down the field to see Patrick and Max's project.

They had built the most beautiful bridge over the creek. I was so impressed I cried. A few years ago Philip cut down a tree to cross the stream and cut off the rounded side so the kids could easily scamper across. Max and Patrick carried out lumber in the back of the truck and added on to make a very impressive bridge. Maybe someday I will figure out how to put in a photo because it was so lovely. They also began building a hall, A-frame style, up on the ridge.

I don't very often go walking in the woods. It was good to walk in the cool, early afternoon, marveling at the handiwork of those clever boys, sliding around the damp leaves, grabbing onto saplings to keep from falling down the hill, smelling earth and enjoying ferns and moss and bark.

After a late lunch with our dear friends, we said our goodbyes. Teary. Anticipating the next visit. I wearily fell into bed for a nap. Soft rain cushioning the afternoon. What a good weekend for a motor to burn out.