Thursday, December 30, 2010
As per the norm, Kathryn and I spend too much time drinking too much coffee, covering the gamut of work and life, spirituality, office politics, marriage and kids.
Kids work, eat and play.
Coco still had mastitis this morning. Clumpy, stringy stuff instead of creamy milk. Patrick massaged and milked this morning. I planned on giving her an antibiotic this evening, worried that if left untreated, mastitis could lead to illness, complete loss of milk supply, worse case scenario, loss of a quarter, best case scenario.
As we aim for "beyond organic" status, antibiotics are not a part of our regular regime, but we recognize that at times, antibiotics can save our children's life as well as our animals. There is a particular antibiotic that can be injected into the cow's teat that will combat the bacteria that causes mastitis. We do not use it unless necessary, but as you well know, Coco is a terribly valuable asset on this farm and I hope to keep her healthy. Knowing that she would not easily submit to me injecting some paste up into the orifice of her mammary gland, I called Rachel to ask Jason to please come and assist.
Especially since two of my children have strep throat and are on antibiotics themselves.
I got home, Tim and his dad were here fixing the upstairs bathtub which has been out of commision since last February.
They joined me and Jason out in the barn and I began to milk Coco in her stall, emptying out the infected quarter. The gentlemen stood by, ready to tie Coco up and hold her while I administered the medicine.
The stringy, mucousy milk had cleared up. No fever in the udder.
I made the executive decision to NOT administer the antibiotic since it seemed like massage and milking were clearing things up. Little baby frolicked in the stall, healthy as could be. Coco tolerated me as I applied hot wet washclothes and massaged. Tim, his dad and Jason hung out in the stall, on call, but thankfully not needed.
I felt grateful to take care of chores with help. Not alone.
We said our goodbyes then Kathryn and I drank wine, chopped veggies, made a stir fry, then enjoyed our dinner with the pile of kids. We gathered around the tree, exchanged gifts and all enjoyed peace as I read a couple of chapters of At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald. We prayed for dear ones, for sick ones, for sad and hurting ones.
Is there a better gift than the company of old friends?
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Poor Coco. She was so good. She knew I was trying to help her. Her leg twitched, and she wanted to kick me, but she didn't.
Serge was fixing a broken doorknob on the back door when Patrick came in to tell me she wouldn't let him do the milking. I went out in "go to town" clothes, boots, black tights, skirt and sweater, to do the milking. I think the boys found that humorous. Sure am glad she didn't kick me OR the bucket.
Colostrum is tucked in the freezer, for future baby needs. Guess we will continue to work on that quarter and hope to avoid mastitis. Made me remember my experience of nursing first born baby and how at times my toes curled in pain, as mama and baby tried to figure out the system (those were the days before lactation consultants.) Maybe the understanding tone in my voice was the reason she let me work on her instead of Patrick?
Hope she doesn't kick me tomorrow...
PS I suppose I won't have to have a fierce argument with the Wind tonight. All is calm and the house is so much warmer. For the moment, anyway!
Monday, December 27, 2010
Harsh, relentless, seemingly never-ending. House-shattering, bone-chilling wind.
Remember how I said the wind was an annoying friend, but one I don't mind every once in awhile?
I have changed my mind.
Maybe by this evening I will change my mind back, but I don't think so. I am a bit tired of her endless assault all through the day and night. I hope she will go away and stay away. At least for a time.
On a more positive note, Coco and her baby are doing well. Little one is frisky. She has the most lovely eyes. Her coat is a bit darker than a pecan praline. She remains unnamed. It was good to spend some time out in the barn with them. Throwing hay, breaking up ice, filling up water, putting out more shavings on the floor of the stall. The seasons are turning and we are entering the baby time on the farm. Good motivation to get up and moving on days I would rather not.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Late morning I noticed that she broke out of the barn and headed out to pasture with the rest of the herd. I didn't rush out to get her because I had laundry to deal with and presents to wrap and dishes to wash and woodstove to load. I figured the kids could check on her after school when they hayed.
Patrick rushed in, very excited.
"Coco broke out of the stall because she wanted to have her baby out in the pasture!"
"What?" Things didn't compute for me right away.
"I need you to come help me get them to the barn, we have a BABY!"
We trudged out and I was thankful that the temperatures were in the high twenties instead of the teens with wind. Of course she was at the very far corner of the property. And had no intentions of letting anyone get near her baby.
Coco is an excellent mother. Protective. Careful.
We feared for our bodies there for a minute, but figured a way for Patrick to get the "little" thing slung over his shoulders for the dark hike to the barn. Mama and baby are tucked in. Coco is tucking into some grain. Baby has been attempting to nurse and is lively. A sweet, fawn-colored little girl.
After some of the hard things we have experienced over the past year, I feel almost afraid to get excited about this sweet little thing, afraid something could go wrong, which is a real possibility. I think I will choose to be delighted about the beginning of the season of new life on the farm. How appropriate for the day after winter solstice. I think I will take it as a good sign.
Light and life, born into darkness. Isn't that what Christmas is all about?
And glory, hallelujah, we can now hopefully anticipate the season of MILK. And cream. And butter.
PS Patrick and I enjoyed hanging out in the barn watching new baby and mama get acquainted with each other. We laughed nervously as Coco looked like she was going to run us into the ground if we got anywhere near little one. We both reminisced about last year's births and how Carmelita got chilled and couldn't nurse. Philip took care of her singlehandedly. He figured out a way to milk fierce Coco and get the baby fed and warmed and made her live. In the middle of the night. One of the cold nights with wind in and temperatures in the teens.
I was so proud of him.
I still don't know how he did it, but that act was one of the things that impressed me more than just about anything, the way he took care of Coco and Carmelita. He was so happy. I am glad I have that good memory.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Because of a day back in December, the twenty first, 1991, when a young guy named Philip vowed to be faithful to an even younger gal named Ginger, a teeny little baby was born on another December 21, 1995. Patrick John. Second born son.
I cried when I went to the cemetery today. Cried when I told Philip how thankful I was that he married me 19 years ago today. How thankful I am that I married him.
I wouldn't be me if it weren't for him.
With Philip I went to Europe and saw Paris and Vienna and Salzburg and Venice and Rome and Mont St. Michel, among other places. With Philip I learned to eat sushi and spend two years of my life learning Japanese.
With Philip I learned to love the show "Combat."
With Philip I learned to love Van Morrison.
With Philip I learned that marriage was hard and commitment and loyalty took work and miraculous grace of God.
With Philip I learned to laugh. To cry. To fight. To weep.
I learned to love to cook fancy food for Philip. To enjoy long, candlelit dinner parties filled with funny stories. I learned to love New York.
Philip told me I was beautiful. He loved me. He believed in me and supported me and encouraged me to write, to cook, to bake, to lead ladies' bible studies, to pray, to farm, to teach, to pretty much do whatever I had bubbling up inside me to do.
He knew I needed a certain quotient of quiet time and took care of the kids so I could find it.
I wouldn't be me if it weren't for him.
How bizarre it is that he is not here.
I miss him.
I thank God that we managed to marry, that we managed to survive the hard years, that we managed to find good years, even in the difficult.
Tonight we shared a feast with Rachel, Jason, their kids and mine. We celebrated Patrick's 15th birthday, and we remembered my 19th anniversary. We ate our mashed potatoes (Jason is the king of mashed potatoes), broccoli and venison steak and passed around pictures of our honeymoon to Europe, nineteen years ago. Did they really make glasses that big? They covered half my face! Were we really so young and innocent? We had no idea.
We raised a glass and toasted the Providence that brought us together. Me and Philip. Thomas and Patrick and Maggie and Rose and Nora.
And Rachel and Jason and the many other lives that intersect ours and the farm that wouldn't if it weren't for that fateful day nineteen years ago.
And through the tears I thank God.
Monday, December 20, 2010
The full moon rises over the farm, casting her brilliant light over the snowy fields. Casting her shadow at the foot of the willow trees.
In the wee hours of the morning the earth will cast her shadow over the moon for a total eclipse. I hope I sleep through that event. It is the winter solstice and that means that the short dark days are going to become longer and brighter.
What a relief.
I am looking forward to brighter days.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
We got home, put the leftover split pea and barley soup on the stove to reheat and I began to feel a bit lonely.
The house is cozy and yet feels empty to me. How can that be with one mom, five kids, two dogs and a couple of cats? I put on some Emmylou Harris and grabbed a girl to dance with me. Rose and Nora danced through several selections with me. I even managed to get Patrick to work on his Texas two step. We then put on Willie Nelson's Stardust cd. Perfect songs to dance to with your children when you feel lonely.
Can't say that my feelings of loneliness are gone. But I feel grateful to have these kids who humor me. And grateful for leftover soup and a warm house with nice music. And grateful for customers and friends and seasons, even the hard ones.
PS 32 degrees felt balmy today. Snow is melting. Will more be on its way? We shall see.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Kids are thrilled with the days off of school and have played in the snow. They had been enjoying ice skating on the pond, but now it is covered in snow so they are coming up with new things to do. I was proud of Patrick who got out the tractor, figured out how to attach the blade and cleared the driveway. Way easier than the way we did it last year, working together with shovels. Still thankful to Blue Ridge Diesel and the other folks who made it possible to get the tractor running. But there was one very very brief moment when I considered getting out there with the shovel for old times sake. Then I got back to work on inside chores, thankful for Patrick.
Time off from the bakery means tending to chores I have neglected for many months. Whoa. Unbelievable dirt, piled up papers, spiderwebs. I love organization, but have had to put it rather low on the priority list. Getting ready to decorate is good motivation to love on my house.
Organizing is occasionally painful work when in the middle of a grief year. I found a birthday card Philip bought me last year and forgot to give me. A couple of old love notes from dating years. Bittersweet.
This evening we are attempting to decorate for Christmas. It isn't as bad as I thought it would be. The kids trimmed the tree. We strung lights on the inside of the house. Rearranged the mantel. Listened to Christmas music and laughed, fussed and compromised. Mindy Smith's holiday album is my favorite accompaniment to the activities. Along with Andrew Peterson.
The snow probably won't stick around for too long, but we wouldn't mind if another storm dropped a foot or so more so we would be forced to stay home, cuddled together in the house. Seeing the kids play board games, laugh and come in from the cold outdoors with red cheeks makes me wish to hold them close for a long time.
But then again, they only have three more days of school left next week! I might be more than ready to wave them off next Monday so I can wrap presents in peace!
Well, I hope you are all having a nice moment in the middle of the hectic bustle. And for my comrades in grief, may we each find comfort and joy in the midst of our journey. I better go make some granola and make sure the kids keep the woodstove loaded.
PS Coco's udder is looking a bit more swollen. I wonder if we will have a baby within the next month? We are going to have to pull milk out of the freezer and as good as that is, it isn't anything like the fresh stuff!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It was HUGE! The moon is waxing, and is larger than half. The sky is bright and clear and because the moon is directly overhead, the stars are rather dim.
Growing up I always heard that a ring around the moon was a warning that bad weather was on its way. I also heard that the number of stars had something to do with the number of days of bad weather. I counted three stars, but that was only because they were the brightest. Many more must have been invisible to my eye due to the amount of light reflecting off the moon. According to one website I investigated, the moon halo is caused by ice crystals in high cirrus clouds that typically precede a warm front bringing in stormy weather.
Maybe the old grandfathers didn't have google to look up weather trivia, but they did have lots of time spent outdoors taking care of farm animals, bringing in firewood, and all that time was spent in observation. I think the old grandfathers were wonderful naturalists and I hope we will model our lives after them, remembering to take time to take note of amazing things like gigantic humongous rings around moons.
The weatherman predicts stormy snow this week. Guess we shall see if he and the grandfathers are correct.
Meanwhile, I had better go feed the baby. I mean throw some more logs on the woodstove.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
My, how accustomed we are to turning on a faucet to enjoy water. The cold variety, the warm variety, it is all good.
When in a jam, I am thankful to have a corps of friends to call for advice. Larry suggested we try turning on all the faucets and pumps outside and in the barn.
He and Cam drove on over in the bitter cold and braved the elements, and with Patrick and Thomas learning as they went along, they reattached the spring water to the system. Before you know it, we could once again turn on faucets and expect to see something in return.
What a gift to have friends who are willing to drop everything to make sure we have water.
And not just us. With the hard blowing wind and cold temps, troughs freeze up and animals can get very dehydrated.
Well, we are in the teens outside and the wind still howls. We are hoping she can pause, at least for a few hours tonight to have a respite from the biting cold. I am going to continue the fireside vigil on the couch bed. Much easier to feed the fire through the night when it only takes three steps. I think I have just about decided to have the propane furnace repaired so we can have a source of backup heat.
You can bet I will be praying for those folks out there who do not have friends to help fix their water or provide them with firewood. May God provide for them in clever and creative ways. And may each of us be willing to be used as a source of help when those serendipitous opportunities arise, just like Larry and Cam did for our family today.
Monday, December 13, 2010
The roar of the wind sounds like a pounding surf.
Sometimes it sounds like a freight train, careening toward my bedroom window.
This wind does not feel like a tender friend. She shakes the house and brings arctic air for the hostess gift. She slams doors and stomps her feet. You might think I find her annoying, and I do. But deep down, I find her presence comforting. Just so long as she doesn't overstay her visit.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Serge, James and Patrick brought the saw horses, the counter top and the plucker up to the concrete area by the back door. Jason hooked up the hose and organized the children in rooster round up. I don't know exactly how many kids were on rooster round up, but by the end of the afternoon we were minus 28 (birds, not kids) on the farm and that is a very good thing. Patrick and James did the dispatching. Serge, Jason and I scalded, plucked and eviscerated. Maggie and Rachel cooked snacks and venison stew for supper (thanks to venison from the Nunnallys.) Rose (sick with a cold) kept the fires going. Thomas split firewood and gathered up trash.
I believe I read somewhere that the temperatures were supposed to read high forties in our valley, but they didn't make it above the thirties.
Nevermind, we decided that even with frozen toes, it is better to process poultry in cold weather compared to burning sun, humidity and flies.
Farm work requires teamwork and all that teamwork does amazing things for friendships.
You have to keep your sense of humor when you make a wrong move and everyone sees murky yellow pasty fluids splatter all over your face.
"Ew. It's in your hair," grimaced one of the guys.
Jokes are shared, stories are shared.
Butchering chickens is not one of my favorite farm chores. I most certainly do not want to raise chickens as the cornerstone of our farm enterprise. Even so, butchering chickens with our friends is a pretty amazing part of our community life. Even with the temperamental whizbang plucker, the variable weather and the blood and guts.
There is something pretty magical about seeing the seven and nine year olds racing around with the thirteen and almost fifteen year old, doing something that is so vital to our family life. All working together to harvest food that will provide months of soups and curries for our family and our friends. They know that the future pot of soup required constant care and watch as they brooded the chicks we got from the post office and from our own chickens offsprings and from other friend's handmedowns. Those chicks that started out as teeny little fluff balls grew and required food and grass and space to run around. These guys had acres to explore!
Today's work was just the final punctuation of a long haul in animal care. Well, I guess the day each bird gets transformed into a delicious meal will actually be the final punctuation. The feathers and offal will be transformed into fertile soil. The blood that was shed will feed the cherry tree. The gizzards and other organs will be enjoyed occasionally by our dogs and cats.
As we lit the Advent candles at supper and Thomas read the scripture from Mark, I was thankful. Perhaps this afternoon was a perfect illustration of Emmanuel. God with us. With us in the lowly tasks, in the form of dear friends who love us.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I am trying to let the woodstove die out long enough to shovel out ashes before we start it up again for the night. All those ashes will be scattered across garden beds and the trees will continue to give to us, now in the form of nutrients for our soil.
Maggie is baking spelt brownies for the choir concert tonight. Rose is working on her piano lesson and it gives me pleasure to hear Christmas tunes float up the staircase. Nora and Patrick are chattering, Thomas is reading the Roanoke Times. The washer is washing, the dryer is drying, we are about to run outside to feed and water the animals and bring in the evening's ration of firewood.
Kinda feels normal. For the moment. Of course that isn't mentioning that I had to pick up a sick kid from school earlier today. And we lost Cornflower, one of Maggie's goats who bloated. She loved to get out of the fence and explore. Did she find and eat a toxic plant? The goats have all been dewormed and have been eating hay and browse...And we have to hurry and get chores done so we can take Rose to her concert this evening.
Of course, an occasional sick kid, animal losses, and running to school activities are a part of our normal life, so I will enjoy the 5 minutes of peace. Better run grab those ashes.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Grief has been walking alongside our family for almost ten months now, if you don't count the couple of months before Philip died when I was worried sick about him dying. That would make me at one year.
I grieved before in my life. Grieved the loss of friends. Of family members. Of friendships. Grieved the hardships suffered by other people in far away countries.
With the onset of the holiday season it seems like grief has decided that walking alongside is not nearly intimate enough. There are moments when it feels like grief is wrapping itself around my shoulders like a shawl. A necessary shawl that I need to wear right now, but not necessarily very playful or fashionable.
For example, Sunday morning church we sang the hymn "What Child is This." I began to cry with no real understanding. All of a sudden I remembered that was one of Philip's favorite Christmas hymns. My body knew the grief before my mind did. It wasn't fun to be crying once again in church.
I didn't feel like talking to anyone at church. Someone slipped me a gift for our family, tucked in an envelope. I opened it up in the truck as we prepared to leave for lunch and wept. The kindness and generosity of others is so overwhelming. Occasionally pain is overwhelming.
We had a serendipitous reunion with some of my and Philip's old seminary friends at lunch. They were passing through on I-81 and bothered to call. What a gift to reminisce with old friends. Friends who knew us in early marriage days, pre-diapers. We prayed for their baby as she dealt with a life threatening illness. I can still remember the shock as we heard the news. We shared holidays when it was too far to travel. Our kids shared birthday parties and tea parties and army men and legos. They even have a cat, Henry, who is our cat, Zacheus's child from years and years ago.
Now the kids are tall. We hadn't seen them for eight years or so. They wept with me by phone when they got the news about Philip. For some reason it was a true comfort to share the day with them on Sunday and weep together in person, even as we laughed. It was so comforting to have other friends be willing to join me and get all wrapped up in that painful black shawl of grief for a brief moment. Maybe Atlanta isn't that far away after all.
The girls had their piano recital the other evening. It was so lovely to hear them play. And made me sad to think that Philip wasn't sitting there beside me, humming along to the songs we would both have memorized, due to the girls' diligent practice. Looking at their tall backs and long hair, young ladies, made me miss him all the more, not being able to share the joys of parenting with him. It didn't help much when our amazing piano teacher concluded the program with a beautiful rendition of "It's Christmas Time Again" by Vince Guaraldi, one of our favorite songs of the season.
Life isn't all depressing or black. But it does seem like the waves of grief come a bit more frequently now that the work season has slowed down. The kids are sad. I had to make an executive decision to pause farmer's marketing for a few weeks to have enough energy to manage the farm, deal with grief, work on business paperwork, Christmas stuff and most importantly to have enough reserve to be available for the children who are missing their daddy very much right now and don't quite know what to do with the myriad of emotions that can bombard one all at the same time.
That decision gave me great relief, but also feelings of guilt. Trying to get over it, knowing that there is plenty of work to be done around here to keep me from getting lazy.
And the kids and I have started a new book this week. At the Back of the North Wind, by George McDonald. Perfect book to read as we listen to the howling wind sweeping through our valley. The weather forecast predicts warmer temperatures by weekend. Instead of farmer's market, I am hoping we will be able to butcher 40 or more roosters and old hens.
At some point we will decorate a christmas tree. Right now it is all we can do to occasionally light the advent candles at dinner. I keep reminding myself that all the professionals and non-professionals who have written about suffering and grief suggest that the only way to heal from grief is to grieve. You would think that at this point it wouldn't hurt quite so badly, but frankly, at moments, it is every bit as bad as it was a few months ago. Or at least that is my perception at the moment.
Thankfully the sweet moments continue to temper the sad ones. Unbelievably generous gifts from friends. Hugs and shared tears. Holiday flavors and meals with the kids. Yesterday my sweetest moment of the day was when Nora saw me prepare brussel sprouts to go with our supper. She said they were the cutest little vegetable she had ever seen. We cut them in half, sauteed them in a little coconut oil, added some cream and cheese at the end to make a sauce. I portioned out a few for her then added some curry powder for the rest of us. That along with pork loin roast, homemade sweet potato fries, baked in the oven, made for a feast. A dinner together with my children, even with the fussiness, even with the store bought meat and vegetables, was a sweet moment for me.
PS the next sweetest moment of my day yesterday was the moment I saw what I believe was Coco's little baby, kicking his or her mama in the flank. When will that little baby get here? End of January? Some new babies will mean lots of extra work, but lots of extra life as well.
In lieu of blog posting I have been feeding the woodstove.
Ah. The woodstove. Such a romantic thing, the woodstove.
Soups bubbling away on top, children playing board games, basking in the warmth.
When temperatures dip down to the teens (we were at 10 degrees one night), and only rise to mid 20's in the daytime, it isn't quite so romantic. More a matter of life and death. The boys cart in many apple boxes of wood for me. Five typically get us through the evening and the first load up of morning. We take turns sleeping in the living room to do the three refills at 11:30, 1:45 and 3am. The wind howls and the coyotes yip. The mom gets kind of sleepy. She truly loves heating with the woodstove, but the record lows this early in the winter season are trying.
All that said, it is rather nice to get back to woodstove soups. This week's special was split pea barley soup with turkey. I made a huge batch so we could freeze half for later. You might want to make a smaller pot. Here is the basic idea:
Saute a chopped onion, two stalks of celery, two or three carrots in a little bit of olive oil. Add 3/4 gallon of the wonderful stock you made from your leftover turkey bones. Or some broth you buy at Krogers. Or plain water. Throw in two or three cloves of smashed garlic. Add one cup of rinsed split peas and one cup of pearled barley. Add one generous teaspoon of dried thyme. Salt and pepper to taste. Place pot of soup makings on top of your woodstove (or kitchen stove if you have other ways of heating your house.) I let this concoction cook for two or three hours or more. If your soup looks too thick, add more water or broth. Simple, but so yummy on blustery days. If you had a leftover ham bone, throw that in the pot and add some chopped up ham. Be sure and give a stir occasionally to keep everything from burning on the bottom once it gets thick.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
What a beautiful sight.
This morning, some gentlemen from our church came over to help me with household and farm tasks. They rewired a living room light, put washers in leaky faucets, put a barn door back on track, and helped the boys and me stack a lot of our firewood on the front porch and under the roof by the back door. It was only sputtering at us (the snow, that is) so the weather was perfect for a nice hard job made more simple with the addition of many hands.
What would we do if it were not for our dear community?
I am thankful for them.