Friday, December 30, 2011

Still in the Middle of Christmas Holidays, yeah

warning: extra long entry, trying to stuff several posts into one, since I have been too busy living to write. you might want to skip this one and wait til the next brief entries. Except for you, Mom, I know you and Daddy never mind the long, extra wordy stuff! thank goodness for parents!

I sit in our library, Nora plays with her little stuffed animals. Thomas is listening the Lady Gaga's 'Let's Dance." The dogs are sprawled, the sun has set and it is hard to believe that yesterday we were in our favorite national park, Big Bend, camping out.

Christmas was wonderful, so happy that Mom and Dad could come and be with us. There were lots of church activities. Walks in the snow. A nice afternoon bike ride with Raymond. Plenty of cooking and dishwashing. Only intermittent feelings of pain and grief and loss.

After a huge breakfast made by my Daddy, we gathered up tools and he and Raymond and I butchered a deer. Isn't it funny the things that make one feel at home? It seemed just right to be standing around the stainless steel table, sharpening up knives, cutting ruby red meat off the bone, cubing some up, dreaming of curries and guisado. Making steaks, dreaming of chicken fry and grill and port wine reduction. Grinding up more for spaghetti and tacos and shepherd pie. Some of which we enjoyed that afternoon with Christmas dinner mashed potato and pea leftovers.

I think my love language is working together with dear ones, doing something productive. It could be hay-making, yard cleaning, ditch-digging, meat-cutting or meal producing.

Mom and dad had some grandkid time and I headed to the park a day early so I could get up and take a hike, all by myself! Can you believe that we live only an hour and a half away from my very favorite place in most all the world and find my self so busy I can't get there? So my gift to myself was carving out the opportunity.

The parking lot was full.

The overflow was full.

I waited. Ten minutes later a spot opened up and I grabbed it, ready to head up the Lost Mine Trail.

Can you believe I had to wait for a parking place at one of the most remote National Parks in the country?

The day was pleasant. 60 something degrees. Clear. Sunny. I passed groups of hikers, families from India, China, Japan, France, Mexico, South America, several regions of the US and several regions of Texas. So many languages in one little area. As I wished for solitude and was tempted to pout, something grabbed my attention and made me grateful that many other people were searching for the same thing as me. Beauty. Peace. Grandeur. All away from electronics, stores, crazy consumerism. We were all able to enjoy the gift of the outdoors thanks to somebody who decided to make Big Bend a national park. In my heart I blessed those other hikers, the soloists, the cute couples, the families of children and parents and grandparents, the friends.

The hike is just under 5 miles. The climb is around 1000 ft, ending at 6800ft. The trail winds through mountain vegetation and trees, with perfume of pines offering incense to visitors. Pinon pine, alligator juniper, Texas Madrone, along with who knows how many other unique varieties of trees and vegetation decorate the way. The northside of boulders are scattered with colored lichens. Dollar bill green, mustard orange, chartreuse and rust. I feel certain I know where Jason Pollock got his inspiration.

Snow remained in little clumps here and there in the shade. Birds called.

My thoughts bounced, here and there. My muscles rejoiced. They knew what to do. At one point I came upon another hiker, tripod planted right in the middle of the trail, blocking the way.

My flesh wanted to grimace. To snarkily ask him to please scooch over so the rest of us could get by. In the same breath, I felt the spirit of Christmas come over me, and happily went around him, stepping in the mud, feeling rich in the ability to magnanimously give the gift of grace.

The voices of other hikers back down the trail wafted toward me. They wondered where the trail got its name. I imagined the answer I would give them if we were sitting around a campfire, cozy in for the night. As my muscles stretched and my heart pounded, the story wrote itself, as I dreamed of Spanish explorers and the hunt for gold, and Indians who knew that the true treasure lay right within our reach, if we would only get off the beaten trek and make time for beauty.

The destination on this hike is an unparalleled vista, set at the top of huge boulders, overlooking several canyons, desert land, a silvery trace of the Rio Grande and the far beyond mountains of Mexico. For me, the destination is a perch against a warm rock, back cradled. Eyes closed. Sun kissing my face and arms and birds calling and breeze caressing my hair.

My destination involves meditation. Prayer. Writing in my journal, thinking about pros and cons, business, spirit, parenting. A few minutes asking God to cuddle me up and let me know how much I am loved.


I found my little niche in the rock. Settled in. Then the party of 8 settled in above me. Which didn't worry me too much, since most people hike up and back out quickly, and don't sit down for long. But these visitors did. And they were loud. So I ate my lunch. Drank my green tea.

And laughed that after all the effort to make sure everyone was taken care of so I could grab some solitude, it was ironic that there was no solitude to be found! I considered hiking to another spot off trail, but since those folks would surely not be there for long, I picked up my book by Elie Wiesel and read. Night isn't exactly pleasant reading, but in my humble opinion, it is definitely necessary reading. So I read.

The sun kissed my forehead, the crows entertained me and the party of 8 left to be replaced by a party of 6. Who set up their picnic, whose children laughed and played rowdily. And I was proud of them all for getting away from the electronics, but wondered if I might ever find myself alone! So I decided to write down my story about Spanish explorers and the lost mine trail in my journal. And continued to marvel at the crackly sound of crow's wings as they soar through the air, and the funny sound of their call and answer.

Party of six moved on, then a sweet couple set up their picnic. Just a few feet above my perch.

It did get a little humorous. I think there is a message in it for me. Something about finding my peace in the middle of the chaos.

Finally, the hikers headed back down the trail and I was left all alone. Somewhat worried that my family might be getting a bit put out that I was away for so long, but trying to remember that I gave everyone good warning that I needed a large chunk of time, and that it was like the flight attendant giving out instructions about the adult putting on the oxygen mask first, and how I was going to be a much better mother for this long chunk of time, sitting out on a rock, sort of all by myself.

I finally spent some time working on lists. Not the to-do kind, but the heart inventory kind. And prayed. And didn't solve not even one problem. But I did feel greatly loved by God. And satisfied. And the trip down the mountain fed me.

We had some family time, watching the sunset from a hill down near Boquillas. Maggie and Patrick ran. We saw a cute coot (little duck) on a pond off the Rio Grande. Raymond grilled fajitas and I made freshly milled whole wheat tortillas and Daddy made his world famous specialty, pico de gallo. My long hike meant I missed out hiking into Boquillas canyon with Mom and the rest of the gang, but nonetheless I was so proud of her. 14 years ago she was told she would never walk again after a horrible auto accident. Not only does she walk, but she HIKES! I know it causes her great pain, but she does it anyway, and then goes home and paints about it.

We camped out on the floor that night, then next day, the kids and I gathered up the stuff and decided to primitive camp in an area we had never explored before. In a national park the size of Big Bend there is always a new unexplored area to find! We drove up the Old Ore Rd. I can't say everyone in the family was thrilled with the idea. After one day unplugged, they were not exactly happy campers. No movies. No texting. No FB or soft beds. Something in my gut told me that I needed to perservere, despite the complaining.

We said farewell to Mamaw and Papaw and bumped and bounced along the 4x4 road that traversed desert, slid through ravines and up rocky inclines. The girls wondered if I could speed it up above 10 mph, but no.

An hour and a half later, we left crowded wilderness to find the complete and utterly abandoned. We parked. We took inventory. Hmm. Rocks. Cactus. Lechugilla. Creosote. Great big hills. One tiny bird.

The group decided to camp underneath the stars. We pulled out sleeping bags and mats and everyone found a spot, and wonder of all wonders, the fighting and complaining ceased. The rough edges somehow smoothed, as we were thrust into such a rough-edged landscape. Rose and Nora grabbed their dollies and proceeded to climb up the farthest nearby little mountain. Thomas hiked down Telephone Canyon trail. Patrick ran the trail. Maggie found her own spot to hike. I prepared supper and then climbed a little hill. Then a slightly larger hill.

By seven we had eaten our dinner, cleaned up the dishes, then climbed into our sleeping bags, cold in the dark. Crescent moon, waxing, sitting like a bowl, slowly edged her way across the sky. We were in a bowl, surrounded by giant hills, in the shadow of mountains, tucked near the canyon. The silence was overwhelming. Not even cry of coyote or call of bird disturbed the quiet. Patrick pointed out the stars of Orion's belt and we all watched as he (orion) climbed up to the sky. Patrick then told us where to look for Taurus and a bunch of other constellations we had never noticed before. And I felt proud that these kids were willing to sleep out, under the stars, in the far away land. Nobody seemed upset about being unplugged.

As the night grew darker and the cold got colder, I realized I should have brought more sleeping bags for doubling up. I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. If children would die from cold exposure, and how that would make me feel as a mother. Then I wondered if I might die from cold exposure and how that would make the kids feel.

I wiggled toes and wondered what it would be like to go through the night without any sleep. Then I wondered how amazing it was that being cold totally eclipsed feelings of pain that I usually feel in my neck and back when sleeping out away from my bed.

Then I heard Maggie exclaim over seeing another shooting star. I removed the sleeping bag from my face, put my glasses back on and went back to watching the show. A giant shooting star. Apparently flung from Orion's bow, arching across the sky. And then another. And another.

I never got warm enough, and have to say that in my whole life have I never felt more cold. The temperatures were supposed to be in the mid 40's that night, but actually dropped down to the low 30's. Perhaps camping in the open air without warm enough sleeping bags is a bad idea. But once the water was boiled next morning and the sun rose over the hills and the coffee hit my belly, I knew that somehow we needed the camping trip more than any of us realized.

We hiked some more, and my runners, Patrick and Maggie, hit the trails, and covered six miles without stop, and Rose and Nora and I climbed up very high and could see very far, and threw rocks and yelled.

I wish we could have camped another night, but duty called. So did my warm bed. People are back to electronics. Rose wonders if I am trying to catch up for three months, since I am taking such a long time on this blog. Now she and Nora play Battleship and Maggie hangs out with her friend and Thomas plays with his Ipod and Patrick hangs out with Thai. I can't even see the moon.

Nevertheless, I will never forget her, crossing the sky, she and her lovely chorus of stars, more stars than I have ever seen in my life, more beautiful than any movie, telling me stories that have been told for thousands and thousands of years. Definitely worth the lack of sleep and cold.

BTW, noone died of cold exposure. Hard to believe, but true. And nothing is better for snarly teenagers (and their mothers) than a good campout. What a gift.

PS there are so many other stories I wish I could share, like a visit from a girlfriend and her husband, and our memories of working together over twenty years ago, as waitresses in Big Bend National Park. Our hikes and polyster blue uniform dresses and hairnets and making the Century plant Christmas tree and making lots of music around campfires in our spare time. And sharing Christmas with new church family, and the irony of a white Christmas in Texas! And the absolute highlight of my whole holiday so far: singing around the piano with Daddy and Mom and Raymond for an hour and a half on Christmas night. All the good Christmas songs and a few more and a couple of hymns thrown in for good measure. I don't know what I could like more. What a great gift. Music ringing throughout our new home. Thank you, Mom and Daddy, for giving me so many wonderful gifts, art, music, good food, lots of love.
I sure do love you.

Friday, December 23, 2011

rosemary focaccia

I promised Stewart I would post my favorite bread recipe, and realize I forgot. As I watch the sleet come down and the grey roll from the mountains into our neighborhood, I think lots of people would enjoy eating something warm and savory with family and friends. So, with no further ado:

Rosemary Focaccia

3 tsp yeast
2 c. warm water
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 c coconut oil
1 tsp salt
5-6 c freshly milled whole wheat (a hard white wheat yields the most tender focaccia) or spelt
and for the topping, minced garlic, fresh rosemary, olive oil and salt

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and add the oils, salt and 3 cups of the flour. Beat the batter with a dough hook for 10 minutes. If you are making this by hand, use a very sturdy, large spoon and beat for at least 15 minutes. You are developing the gluten in the dough, which will make a nice, fluffy bread. After you notice the dough is getting stretchy and stringy, add the rest of the flour, bit by bit, kneading it in until it is smooth and bouncy. Don't add too much flour, or the bread will be heavy and dense.

Now it is time to throw another load of laundry in, or check your email or walk the dog while the dough rises a couple of times. When it has doubled, punch it down, and let it rise again. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and divide your dough in two or three pieces. I roll it out into a rectangle and place it on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Generously cover the dough with the garlic and olive oil, then sprinkle with chopped up fresh rosemary and the sea salt. Let the focaccia rise one time more, then bake for 25 or 30 minutes, until the dough is golden and your house will smell SO good, you might just have to stand around your kitchen and eat the first loaf as it comes out of the oven.


Thursday, December 22, 2011


Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat.

I remember driving to Grandma and Grandpa's for Christmas and singing the round with my sisters. We especially liked the "doodle oodle oo, boom boom boom" part, back in the day. I guess most of you have no idea what I am talking about...

Singing in the car whilst driving somewhere for holidays is a part of my childhood experience. I thought about that while the kids and I drove to the big city for a last minute holiday extravaganza this week. I hurried to finish up deliveries of bread on Tuesday afternoon so we could drive up to Odessa to meet our friend. We went to the mall. We ate at restaurants. We ice-skated. We slept, all piled in, at a hotel.

Sounds like fun, right?

Well, the honest to goodness truth is, that occasionally we had moments of brilliance. Kids laughing. Songs being sung. Oohs and aahs over pretty Christmas light displays. And interspersed through it all were moments of pain, tears, fussiness and complaining.

After a not too brilliant moment of me trying to remember how to ice skate, I felt pain wash over me and couldn't stop crying. I retreated to a corner, as merry christmas music washed over the place, tucked up my ice skates, and tried to discreetly weep.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to weep discreetly?

For a moment I tried to get my bearings, wondering why the wave of pain. We were celebrating Patrick's 16th birthday and the luxury of a day in the big city with my dear friend. Why the tears?

All of a sudden I remembered that on that day I would have been celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary if Philip hadn't died.

And all of a sudden, the insecure feeling I had on the ice, wobbling around, trying to find my balance, while ankles quaked and body tensed, seemed way too much like the way I feel in real life.

I cried a few tears, felt embarrassed, and my dear one gave me a hug and understanding. The kids gentled themselves toward me and interestingly enough, a brief moment of vulnerability on my part opened them up to compassion. We got through the moment, and managed to get through the day, and even though we were all severely over-stimulated by the mall and noise and lights and horrible exhibits of consumerism, at some point, I think when we were eating supper together at Rosa's, and Patrick was playing with the little robot creature the other kids gave him for his birthday, I had the feeling that everything was going to be okay, no matter what.

Holidays are a bit rough for those of us who have been dealt loss at some point of life or another.

Is there anyone out there who hasn't experienced some loss or another at some point in life?

So we muddle through.

This morning I didn't really want to get up and work, but thanks be to God, had enough something in me to get up, make coffee and grind the wheat and spelt. It helped to have some orders waiting. Different people dropped in to pick up bread and I was glad to have a purpose. I told Rachel on the phone that I felt worn out, discombobulated, and in pain. I don't know what to do with myself, now that Philip is gone, friends are in Virginia and New Jersey and we are too far away.

Wonder of wonder, another anniversary passed, some bread got baked and the children survived. I remembered that two years ago we were in Texas, in Big Bend National Park, camping out on Patrick's 14th birthday. Philip was in Va, in a blizzard. We didn't know we had so little time left, but a dream told me to be aware.

There is an Andrew Peterson song i like that says something about falling down isn't graceful, but it is full of grace.

I believe that grace filled up my day today, as i hurt, but endeavored to fill up bread orders anyway.

We are definitely finding our way, on this path laid out before us. We didn't exactly choose this path, but here we are, anyway. And in the middle, God is good. I missed my friends so badly today and felt quite alone. Taking a risk, I asked a new gal friend if she would like to hang out with us tonight after work. Her daughter is friends with one of my dear ones. Kids played and ran around and made homemade pizzas and hot chocolate. New friend and I ate dinner the two of us and shared stories. We all sang "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel" around the advent candles and believe it or not, in the middle of the pain I felt the presence of God.

Life is a mixed up bag. I want to be grateful for the beautiful moments that are given me in the middle of it all. Kids telling me thank you. Nora and Rose looking up recipes. Seeing Maggie and Rose gracefully glide across ice. Nora, conspiring, visions of sugar plums dancing in her head. Big boys helping me carry. Tender hearts planted in their wonderful masculine chests. A dear one, great big hands tenderly telling me that I am loved, even when tearful and fearful.

Christmas is a wonderful time for me. Even since it became painful. The meaning of Emmanuel, God is with us, means more to me than ever before. Oh how grateful I don't have to get it all right, all perfect, all finished before I can enjoy and appreciate Emmanuel.

Well, better get to bed. Christmas is coming. The goose is getting fat. Please put a penny in the old man's hat. If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do. If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I Love Sunday

I love to go to church.

When we miss, I miss our dear ones there.

HOWEVER, I discovered a few years ago that occasionally I need to stay home on a Sunday. Sometimes the world says "Hurry! Hurry! Go! Go!" and I forget what it means to be still and worship.

This morning was a morning to be still.

I leisurely got out of bed after 8:30am this morning. Made my coffee. Sat down with my Bible, Book of Common Prayer and devotional book. Had a longer than usual coversation with my Creator. Listened to Maggie play the piano. Made my bed for the first time in days. Cleared off my desk. Sat down at the piano and played through at least 6 or 7 Advent hymns and sang with Maggie.

I feel more refreshed than I have in I don't know when, and am so thankful that there are many ways I can worship God, and even though communal worship is important to me, I revel in the freedom to stay home on those rare occasions like today. Even the children seem more energized today than they have been. What a gift.

BTW, the skies are cloudy, and gusts of wind threaten to tear the house down every once in awhile. The air is not cold. For the moment. But it certainly looks like December outside and is beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the inside.

Now is time to change clothes and head to the kitchen. Friends from ages ago are driving into the area this evening and will stay overnight with us. She and I worked together at Big Bend National Park as waitresses twenty something years ago. 'Twill be fun to catch up over dinner tonight. Roasted Chicken with brown butter sage sauce. Roasted vegetables. Sweet potatoes. I had better get busy.

Friday, December 16, 2011


The kids and I are working through the book Holes by Louis Sachar.

It is set somewhere in West Texas.

Reading out loud to the kids is one of my favorite things in the whole wide world. Especially when even the big kids keep begging me to read another chapter. And another one. And another one. I think it will be fun to watch the movie once we finish the book and talk about how much better the book is. Can you believe that the kids have read that book several times on their own and they still beg me to keep reading chapter after chapter?

I wish more people in the world would read books aloud with their loved ones. There are six of us. Thomas, the 18 yr old, Patrick, almost 16, Maggie is 14, Rose is 11, and Nora is 8 years old. Then you have the 45 yr old mama. A good book can draw us all together more than just about anything else.

Trying to Figure it out

Last night I went to a Chamber of Commerce mixer which took place at the new business of an aquaintance and bread customer of mine.

It was rather hard to leave the kids for the evening, but they seemed to be fine as I put on go to town clothes and some lipstick.

I don't get out much, but feel it is important to spend a little time each month getting to know some folks in my community, not to mention have some grown up time.

I hopped on the bicycle and rode up the hill, around the corner and down the side of the college campus in the brisk, dark evening.

Folks mingled. Tables were laden with ceviche, carnitas, tamales, pico de gallo. Yeah. I am definitely back in Texas!

I visited with a woman I had previously met at church. She was lamenting the fact that being a writer, she hadn't been exercising her craft, but was bogged down in trivia.

I told her I thought that part of the reason I felt a bit exhausted and frustrated was that with the start up of my business here in Alpine, with trying to run a household as a single mom and manage two properties in two states, I was always needing to use a certain part of the brain, leaving little time for my creative energies to be expressed. I haven't been able to figure out where to fit in writing and hiking and outdoors in our new life. Too much work on figuring stuff out, like ordering ingredients and making labels and marketing and what not.

Not necessarily bogged down in trivia, because the things that occupy me are definitely not trivial. Nevertheless, I am still trying to figure out how to exercise the writing part of my brain that thrives with creative energy.

I knew that the farm was a great venue and tried hard not to take it for granted. All that built in outdoor, meditation time, thanks to Coco and milking. And chasing errant animals. And having to fix fence. How in the world am I going to figure out how to get all my creative needs met, here in our little town?

Well, riding my bike back home in the dark, I listened to the whiz of the tires and felt the brisk wind smack my cheeks. I thought about the variety of people with whom I spoke. So many different stories and journeys, all thrown together in one Chamber of Commerce mixer! Spicy, sweet, pungent, all mixed up like that nice pico, ready to enhance our tacos.

I wanted to run away. To sit on the top of my favorite mountain. To feel the sun on my face and to journal and pray. But today I couldn't do that. Responsibility called. I prayed that God would meet me in the middle of it, as I felt frustration mount.

And can you believe it? I believe I was met. There was opportunity to hand out a few hugs today. There was opportunity to pray with some friends. There was a moment of tender transparency between mother and daughter. I guess I am tired and don't even feel like searching for the words. There are things I want to write, but I am always running out of steam by the end of the day.

As that woman and I chatted at the gathering last night, I suggested that I would pray for her to find her spot to write, if she would pray for me. I prefer to write when inspiration is flowing, full of energy. But maybe I had better write, even when dull and not terribly inspired so I will be in place when those wonderful moments happen to unfold.

Sorry readers, for subjecting you to random wandering thoughts. I guess if I were a better blogger, I would edit all this stuff out. But here I am anyway. Trying to figure out what my life is about here in our new world, off farm. I do believe we are in the middle of our land of Milk and Honey, here in Alpine, but I am not sure what that means. I can't even begin to describe the giant skies and the wide opens and the way the shadows of the clouds decorate the low hills. As I drove and looked in awe and wonder yesterday, I tried to come up with words and it was beyond me. I am having to come up with a new vocabulary and it is a bit tiring. Maybe you should come back in a few months after I have it all figured out (ha ha.)

Friday Night

I was outside this morning before daylight, taking some of the kids to school. Rose had a project that was too unwieldy for a bicycle ride. A big sun hat fashioned out of old newspapers and cut up organic sucanat bags, designed by Rose for her Environmental Science class's Trashion Show. It was pretty cute, and I would like it even if I weren't her mother.

The sky was still dark at 7:30am and I asked Patrick to accompany Nora as she rode her bike to the Elementary school.

It was clear to me that we were nearing Winter Solstice. Coming up in less than a week. The shortest day of the year. Patrick's birthday.

Frankly, the dark felt a bit depressing, but my insides reminded me to take heart. Sunlight will return to us in short order.

I am thankful that my bakery is a nicely sized sunroom, what used to be Mrs. Turner's art studio. Even though I don't get outside most of the day, at least I can watch the mountains in the distance and the yard in the near. The best thing I saw outside all day long was Nora, swinging on the swing with her school friend Jocelyn. She was delighted to have a friend come over for a visit. What an answer to prayer for a little girl making her new way here in Texas.

Customers came and customers went.

I think I used to be a little grateful, back before the farm and the bakery. But somehow I think that grief and work and transitions have done something to make me more grateful than I have ever been in my life. When someone walks in the door, with a smile on the face, happy to smell bakery magic, ready to engage in a chat, I feel like I have a role in this life. I realize that those folks could have skipped dropping by the bakery. It takes extra effort to go out of their way to come over here instead of pick up a loaf of bread or a bag of granola at the grocery store. I truly believe that the grain I mill and the bread I bake is nutritious, but sometimes I doubt, or question, or wonder. When those folks come by and spend their hard earned money on my craft, I feel so grateful to be able to own this business. Rough around the edges, but grateful. Hmm. I wonder what transpired to make me so much more thankful than I used to be?

Thomas washed up bakery dishes for me so he could earn $5 to go to the movies. Sherlock Holmes 2 is playing tonight and I really want to see that movie. But not tonight! I am thankful for Thomas cleaning up, and for Patrick cooking up green beans to go with our chicken, and thankful the kids can have some fun on the first night of their Christmas vacation.

PS I miss the outdoors. But am too tired to go sit out there in the cold. I think the moon must be waning, but haven't even taken a look.

Compare and Contrast

A few weeks ago the weather turned cold.

On the farm when the weather turned cold, we went out to the woodpile, carried in armloads, trailing dust and bark and other detritus, gathered newspaper and debated the different methods of lighting a fire in the woodstove.

Here in Alpine, I have an old Lennox gas furnace tucked in the bathroom closet. With a pilot light.

I have never lit a pilot light on a gas furnace before, but I figured it couldn't be that hard. Just like on the farm, I turned to Google to help me solve my daily challenges, like butchering chickens, shearing sheep, castrating bulls and pilot light ignition.

There are more videos than you can imagine on YouTube, demonstrating the fine art of lighting a furnace pilot. Step by step, long pieces of wadded up newspaper, matches, tucked in some basement, in who knows which state of the union. I watched. I attempted. I watched again.

For some reason, castrating a bull left me less fearful than dealing with matches and natural gas.

I went to the kitchen, found the phone book, called the gas company and within a couple of hours, a very kind man came to the house and lit the pilot light for free! He told me that Mrs. Turner, the lady who is selling me this house, was his elementary school teacher, and how he loved her. And within minutes, our house was warm.

I miss a lot of things about Virginia and the farm. But I can't say that I miss heating our home with firewood right at the minute! What a contrast to go over to the wall and turn the thermostat.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Evening

This morning I saw the world through rose colored glasses as I rode bicycles to school with Nora. The heavy clouds tried to smother the sky, but as the sun pushed up, the entire town was bathed in pink.

Nora's favorite color.

I haven't ridden bikes in ages, and even though I had too much to do, when Nora asked, I had to say yes.

Today is Tuesday, so I baked bread. And granola. And cookies and focaccia.

Customers came and I was grateful, even if a bit late. When six pm rolled around I saw the sun heading toward the horizon and felt like I might just die if I didn't go outside for a little bit.

So Rose and Nora took care of the bakery and I grabbed a sweater, jumped on the bicycle again, and was bathed in gold. Gold washed over me and the golf course, the homes and the streets, and the sun hurried, and hurried and I tried to slow down as I rode. I can't say that the stress exactly rolled off my shoulders, but as I raced toward the west, trying to catch up with him, he laughed, ran ahead, and then painted the sky red and orange and purple, then dipped behind a mountain, knowing that I would never be able to catch him for good. And I decided that it was a very good thing to be outside for twenty minutes, even if it meant pushing my work much farther into the night.

The kids were on their own for supper tonight. Some ate leftover homemade tamales from Mari. Others ate ramen noodles. I grabbed a glass of wine and paused my work to go into the library to read a few chapters of HOLES to the kids. We had a very hard time finding a stopping place. After reading two or three chapters longer than I planned, we folded down the page, said our prayers, and kids went off to study for finals or to play, and I returned to the bakery to bag granola.

A blog friend put up a quote by Anne Frank on his blog the other day. "I can shake off everything if I write. My sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."

I think I might survive the holidays if I can open up the door to myself to sit down and write. And maybe pause to be bathed in pink and gold every once in awhile. I hope everyone out there takes the time to go out and feel during this lovely Advent season.

PS I really do have so many more stories to share!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More stories to come

All is well, but quite busy. So for now, I must let you know that the leaves on the oak tree in the front yard are lovely, I had to bring a few little branches into the house for decoration. The dark green is turning russet red. Magic.

The smell of a Depret-Guillaume rooster out of the freezer, simmering in a large pot for tomorrow's soup is drawing studious children out of their rooms for a snitch of chicken.

The evening is cool, but not quite cold enough for the down comforter brought out of it's spot in the shed.

For the moment, calm reigns in my heart and I am thankful.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tomorrow is my Birthday! 11/11/11 Am I lucky or what?

So much for family togetherness tonight.

I worked on some major house projects today then headed out to the yard. I thought about boiling up a couple of roosters from the farm, turning them into homemade chicken Kamut noodle soup for the kids.

But the kids didn't feel nearly as enthusiastic about our outdoor chores as me.

It took me a bit longer than I planned, but my soul definitely needed to be outside raking leaves and putting them on top of our compost and future garden beds. One child, who will remain unnamed, came out to help for 2 minutes. This child asked why we have to cart the leaves over to the compost and the future site instead of just bag them up "like all those other normal people."


My answer was brief, believe it or not. We are a different normal than those other normal people. And we need dirt. And leaves and compost layered on hard, desert soil equal rich black dirt, eventually. And I take joy in gathering leaves and putting them onto our garden.

So said child went back into the house and I pouted, but raked anyway. And ran out of time to make supper, and so ordered Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza for the kids' dinner.

Life is full of contradictions, isn't it? Another child, one who is probably most like me, came out and helped gather. And another one came out and picked up dog poop. And another one took out piles of trash and old boxes. They all took care of their tasks, normal or not!

Tomorrow is my birthday.

Eight years ago or so I had an epiphany.

Seemed like every year I would sabotage my birthday. Nobody could do enough to satisfy me.

I hate to admit it, because admitting frailties is a scary thing and I hate to be judged. Or to be thought self-centered and silly. But it is true.

That pivotal year I decided to ask God to help me know what I wanted for my birthday.

Isn't that silly?

I asked, and then when random silly ideas came into my head, I told Philip and the kids. Who loved me and were more than eager to please me, and had been trying all along, but with no direction from me. I had carried this silly notion that people who love me should read my mind.

That was one of the best birthdays ever. And from then on, instead of being depressed and morose, I actually had fun! And I gave my family room to bless me, which they had wanted to do all along.

Some years, all I wanted was a hike with the fam. I think I posted about that a three or four years ago on this blog. Another year I wanted a KitKat clock. And dinner in a restaurant. And a visit with the family to the family cemetery in Boonton, NJ. One year, Philip, Ned, Kathryn and Peter met up with me in NYC and we ate at my favorite restaurant, La Bonne Soup, Kathryn and I went to the Frick Museum and saw beautiful things, and then we went to a Blues bar and stayed out way too late.

Another year, on the farm, Philip and the kids bought Strawberry Shortcake decorations, strung streamers, hung balloons, made a cake, invited friends, and Philip bought me lipstick (still one of my favorite colors). Not too long ago they decorated with Hello Kitty, and even sent me an invitation, and went wild with fun decorations, and Philip even took an old newspaper article from the Wall St. Journal, about influential women, and cut out and glued my picture all over it, and hung it on the wall.

I came across that newspaper the other day as I was cleaning out the secret drawer in the buffet.

It made me sob.

And remember how much better it was to have birthdays after I started to pray to God to help me know what I want.

Tomorrow I plan on baking, so early in the week, I prayed to know what would be the best to help me feel a bit celebrated, and to rejoice that I got to be born and be alive this year, surrounded by friends and family.

Since I love to hike so much, and since I am within sight of my favorite national park, I decided to wrap up my tasks early yesterday, and drive to Big Bend National Park, meet up with my dear friend, have a lunch of curried pumpkin soup, then take a hike up into a beautiful canyon. I sat on a hill, above a big pour of slick rock, with sun on my face and thanked God for my life and asked him to satisfy me and help me to be grateful.

Even though life is so very good, and I am right where I want to be, sometimes the pain is rather intense, and all I can say is that it hurts. Especially around holiday times or birthdays, when so many memories come in an avalanche.

So today I took care of a sick Nora and worked on helping girls organize their tiny bedroom, shared by three girls. Emptied out boxes, found winter clothes. Put stuff away. Washed piles of laundry. Raked and carted and ordered pizza. Felt a bit of self pity because I had wanted to go to the Highland Home and Garden party this evening, with a bunch of other like-minded ladies in the community, but I was dirty, grumpy, and too busy working on my home and garden to go...

Deep in my heart I knew that going would be a good gift to myself.

But for a few minutes I took a bit of sick joy in enjoying the self-pity as I threw another load of laundry in the washer.

Then the phone rang.

One of my new friends called. I was so surprised to hear her voice. She was wondering why I wasn't at the gathering, and suggested I come anyway.

So I did.

Because you know something I wanted for my birthday? To go for a quick bike ride in the evening, under the brilliant, full moon. And to be in a BEYOND beautiful setting in a round the corner new neighbor friend's home, with amazing food, and wine, and music and a fire, with other gals who are real, and funny and made me happy and relaxed and okay to be myself.

What a gift.

And when I got home, the kids were so thankful for the things I had done for them, they made me feel loved.

I don't feel the slightest bit alone. Or pitiful.

Actually, I feel happy to be alive, and grateful to my mom that she went to all the trouble to birth me, and to her and Daddy for all they did to bring me up, loving me, telling me stories, teaching me things, showing me that they have rich lives as well, always coming to the rescue when the car would blow out, back in college days, cheering me on through thick or thin. They gave me opportunities to see that I live in an amazing and beautiful world, full of art and music and books and a great big outdoors. They willingly allowed me to travel far, perhaps they were afraid, but they didn't show it to me. They let me buy lots of Scholastic book fair books. They let me go get a job. They let me go on mission trips to Mexico. They blessed me every single major decision I made. And prayed to cover over all the weak spots.

And somehow, Mom, through all those times I saw you pray, it must have stricken me deeply, and as silly as it seems, praying to be satisfied and content on my birthday has helped me in so many ways, all through the year.

How thankful I am to have been born that day, 45 years ago tomorrow, November 11, 1966, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to my parents, John and Fran Rowe. And even more thankful, beyond words, that my life includes Thomas, and Patrick, and Maggie, and Rose and Nora. And the old friends. And the new. I hope someday my children will remember to be thankful that they were born, and to ask God to remind them what it is that they most deeply want, and I hope that they will be content and satisfied in their life.

But now, I had better say goodnight and evening prayer and get myself to bed. The bakery awaits. I think I will make my favorite cake tomorrow sometime in the middle. Remind me to share the recipe.

PS I told the kids that what I wanted for my birthday, besides a clean house and a picked up yard, was a pair of slippers. We have tile floors which are pretty cold in the fall and winter. Can't wait to see what they pick out!!! I think that next year I will ask for a replacement KitKat clock...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

Nora and I shared a sunset bike ride yesterday evening. The air was balmy as we cruised around the golf course. The sun dipped below the horizon in the west and the moon rose over the hills to the east. She is getting plump, quite pleased with herself as she makes her rounds.

The goat meat curry was nicely cooked down by the time we got home, and the house smelled rich. Leftover pita bread was drizzled with olive oil and toasted in the oven. Can you believe five children consumed a dozen and a half spelt pita? The last dozen was smeared with honey and made for decent dessert as I read our chapters of Holes, by Louis Sachar.

Science project was spread all over the dining room floor, other various homework notebooks were piled here and there around the meal, but at least we were all together, at the table, at the same time. I had no idea how much effort it would take to make dinner together with all my children happen. But it is effort worth the while.

A cold front is blowing in. Maybe tonight we will huddle around warm goat meat guisado for supper. I never thought we would be eating goat meat on purpose. When we raised goats ourselves, they were for dairy purposes and were our friends and pets. For some reason, eating meat that was raised and butchered by someone else, doesn't offend my senses nearly as much as it did back on the farm. Especially when the freezer is nearly empty of our own farm raised meat. So thankful for real meat raised and butchered by friends!

Here is my very basic recipe for curry. You can use goat meat or lamb or beef or chicken or pork or venison or tofu, or skip the protein all together. It is still quite tasty! Especially if you have some wonderful farmer's market veggies!

Curry Recipe

Saute onion until tender. Add celery and saute until translucent. Now add the cubed meat and saute at a fairly high temperature until the meat is browned on most sides. Toss in sliced carrots, garlic, peppers, okra, eggplant, whatever vegetables you happen to have on hand, some chopped fresh tomatoes or a can of crushed. Give the veggies and the meat a stir, add a generous bit of curry powder. I like to use Penzey's Garam Masala and Sweet Curry powder, at least a couple of big spoons of each, in my gigantic skillet, but you should go by your own taste. After sauteeing the spices for a half a minute or so, add water or broth to cover everything, and a generous pinch of salt.

Turn the temperature down, start some brown basmati rice on the side, and go for a bike ride with someone smaller than yourself. In about the time the rice is done, your curry should be thick and the meat tender. This is when I add a big bunch of chopped cilantro and some cream or coconut milk if we want to be very decadent. Yum. A great way to get big kids to come to the table.

PS fresh ginger makes this dish if you have some tucked in the bottom drawer of your fridge. Add it when you add the garlic. If not, it is still quite tasty!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday, What a Day

The morning was brisk, it seemed as if the wind woke up on the wrong side of the bed. She yanked on the branches, tugging and pulling, scattering leaves as she made her way around our yard, pounding the carport with pecans.

Patrick got up and it seemed like old times as we divvied the market goodies. "Hmm. Think we can sell this many loaves of Milk and Honey bread at the Alpine market? I wonder how many I should take to Terlingua?" We grabbed the extra table, the extra tablecloths and cutting board and knife and receipt book and I deposited Patrick and half the goods at our usual spot. It was barely daylight when we headed down the street around 8:15. After unloading his things, I pointed the car south, heading toward Terlingua ghost town.

Terlingua used to be a mining town back in the day. It was rich in cinnabar, from which mercury is extracted. In the late 1800's the village grew to a population of around 2000, serving several mines in the district. The desert is boiling hot in the summer, and mild in the winter. The area is remote, on the road to Big Bend National Park. There is no dirt. Just dry powdery white dust as hard as pavement, dotted with ocotillo, creosote and scrubby mesquite and cat claw, with many varieties of cactus thrown in for free. Interesting draws and canyons make one curious to take a hike, just remember to take your water and watch out for snakes and vinegaroons. And wear a hat. The Chisos mountains in the distance are a brilliant backdrop in what is some of my favorite country in the world.

Can you imagine a farmer's market in such a spot? Almost 80 miles due south on Highway 118, over some mountains, across some desert flats, through a pass, and then turn right and go up and over a few dark rust colored hills, turn onto the dirt road, past the old time cemetery, and there, tucked in between the cactus, is nestled a community garden and almost a dozen vendors.

Today's venture was a bit of an experiment, because I am rather partial to community living and farmer's markets and local economy (have you noticed?). I know it is crazy to drive so far, but this does happen to be one of my favorite drives in the world, and as I listened to Motown and drank my coffee, it almost felt like a vacation, watching the ribbons of cottonwoods, glowing golden under the pink and gray sky, weighted down by heavy piles of clouds.

For a moment I wondered if all those hours of baking yesterday were going to be for nothing. I mean, really, just how many loaves of bread can one ghost town of 200 something people, spread over 40 miles or so, buy? Would I even be able to recoup the gas money? If not, at least I would get to spend the morning meeting some new friends, hanging out in one of the state's totally hip spots...

Well, Shannon and Zoey greeted me with hugs and genuine delight and I was was delighted to see the huge garden they have been working on for the last three years. is their website. These folks are all about everything we have been trying to do in our own life for the last several years; help the community develop viable ways to use resources available to them to grow their own food and create an economy with their local infrastructure.

The garden is lovely, even in the middle of the desert in a horrible drought, and the vibe of the farmer's market was a joy. I couldn't believe how many locals came out to buy bread and peppers and milk and cheese and other goodies. Tourists who happened to be in the ghost town for the big Chili cook off came out to sample and walk away with Pumpkin Kamut muffins and Spelt Apple Challah and Seedy crackers.

Along with some great chat, I sold as much at that little ghost town market as I did back at our Catawba market. Crazy. Good. And got a significant dose of Vitamin D.

Patrick was a wonderful partner here in Alpine and I was thankful he was able to represent the bakery for me and that the other kids managed in town while I worked on the experiment.

I won't drive down to Terlingua every week because that distance isn't practical for our family. But once or twice a month is a good economy. Especially if next time we can continue the short drive on to our favorite national park for a nice hike!

Running the bakery is hard. Sometimes so hard I think it is going to do me in. Yesterday I woke up and got to work at 3am. Put the head on the pillow at midnight. It is hard to run the family as a single mom. The lines between work and home get really blurry when work is at home and vice versa. But farmer's market day is a good reminder why I am doing this. I am filled to overflowing with gratitude to all the folks who make the effort (and in regions like Alpine and especially Terlingua, it is a HUGE effort!) to go out of their way to spend their hard earned money on my bakery goods. The truth is, no matter where you live, it is a big effort to get out to buy locally produced foods and products. It is well worth it, but it is expensive and inconvenient. I am humbled and thankful to imagine that my freshly milled whole grain breads and other things are contributing to the good health of other people and they are contributing to the good health of our local economy. And so far, (Please, God, let it continue!) we are able to pay all our bills.

Well, the wind is calm, the sky is tinted pink and I get an extra hour of sleep tomorrow morning!!! Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

So Thankful to Have Lights on My Bike Now

The night is dark.

The air is cool.

I just biked back from our church after our First Friday event. Each first Friday we host a musical event, followed by a wine and cheese and other goody reception. Our little town of Alpine is small, under 7,000, but we have a very diverse and talented population. This evening we had the Big Bend Chamber Music Consort provide pieces by Bach, Hayden, Copeland and others. Flute, Clarinet, grand piano, soprano. Our little church was comfortably filled with neighbors from all over town. Some St. James church goers. Some other church goers. Some non-church goers.

We all were nourished by the lovely music. And then we enjoyed treats in the Parish Hall, getting to know one another.

I still have granola to bag and challah to bake and bread to wrap.

But I was terribly hungry this week and was praying to God to satisfy me.

After having my soul fed by the lovely performance, framed by peaked roof and stained glass, and after a couple of meaningful conversations and some helpful advice, I feel a bit more equipped to handle the rest of my hard-working weekend.

I think I will put on Beethoven to accompany the rest of the evening. Spelt Apple Challah, here I come.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sweet Stuff

Why, oh why do I let several days go by in between blog posts?

Real life happens, I guess, and I hate to stop it to sit down and type.

This evening I have a stomach ache, so I helped Nora and Rose with hair and makeup, and Thomas went out with them to trick or treat. What a treat it is for me that we live in town and Thomas, our 18 yr old on the autism spectrum, is not ashamed to put on a mask and walk around with his little sisters. Getting candy might have something to do with it. But I think he would be happy to go out, even if he weren't hoping for the loot.

Earlier today I made a drive to Ozona to meet Mom and Daddy for lunch and for honey. Being particular about my ingredients not only costs me a lot of money, but a lot of time and effort, too. Much of the honey one buys from the store comes from multiple sources from different countries, from bees fed sugar, corn syrup and who knows what else.

A few miles from my parents is a family-owned company, Fains. It was started by Mr. Fains back in 1926. The story is a fascinating one. Mr. Fains was farming, and had 10 hives on the side. One year, the honey made almost double the money compared to the farm. This entrepeneur realized that beekeeping could be a business much more lucrative than any other option, so he set to collecting swarms, increase his business exponentially, and began a business that is still thriving, now owned by a grandson. The Fains Honey company started out in Central Texas, not far from my hometown, then moved down to the Rio Grande Valley. Use of pesticides and herbicides destroyed the honey bee environment, so after due diligence and plenty of research, Mr. Fain moved his business up to Llano area, where they are now located. Even though the region is arid, there are plenty of native plants that bloom with any little rain, especially something called Bee Bush. It has a teeny white blossom and you can smell the fragrance from far away. Sweet, like candy. Makes for wonderful honey bee food, along with many other varieties of wildflowers.

They sell their honey raw, and I am very thankful to get an amazing ingredient to be used in our milk and honey bread and granola. It gives me joy to support a family-run business. And it was a pretty nice excuse to share lunch with my parents and get to see some of my mom's new paintings she was delivering to the Fredericksburg Art Gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas for a big art show coming up next week.

I'm so proud of you, Mom! And thanks, to both you and Daddy for the fun lunch and for supporting MY business by helping with a speedy delivery so I can bake bread tomorrow!

PS If you like beautiful art work, check out and look up Fran Rowe. She has some AMAZING pieces and there are some other wonderful artists there as well. xoxo

Friday, October 28, 2011

Another Friday Night

Nora and I dropped Patrick and Maggie off at the last football game of the season. Rose was there already with her girlfriends. Thomas walked to the theater to watch a movie.

As Nora and I drove home, the sun dipped below the horizon, washing everything with dusk. I caught a glimpse of the waxing moon, catching up with the sun. It was a glorious sight for me, knowing that she is growing fat again, though still in her crescent form.

The bread was waiting for me, so I turned on the music and started to tear paper to wrap things up. Nanci Griffith gave me a hug I truly needed. What a friend is her music to me.

More work is calling my name, but I though someone out there might need a hug from Nanci as well, so I leave you with the lyrics of one of my favorite songs of all time:

Trouble in these Fields

Baby I know that we've got trouble in the fields

When bankers swarm like locust out there turning away our yield

The trains roll by our silos, silver in the rain.

They leave our pockets full of nothing but our dreams and the golden grain.

Have you seen the folks in line downtown at the station?

They're buying their ticket out and talking the great depression.

Our parents had their hard times fifty years ago,

When they stood out in these empty fields in dust as deep as snow.


And all this trouble in these fields, if this rain will fall these wounds can heal.

They'll never take our native soil.

But if we sell that new John Deere and then we'll work these crops with sweat and tears,

You'll be the mule, I'll be the plow,

Come harvest time we'll work it out, there's still a lot of love,

Right here in these troubled fields.

There's a book up on my shelf about those dust bowl days and there's a little bit of me and a little bit of you in the photos on every page.

Our children live in the city and they rest upon our shoulders,

they never want the rain to fall or the weather to get colder.


You'll be the mule, I'll be the plow, Come harvest time we'll work it out, there's still a lot of love, right here in these troubled fields.

Nanci Griffith, Dustbowl Symphony

I hope you will take a listen and I hope that her song will give you a hug as well. Now Nora and I will get back to the bakery. She is going to put labels on for me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Winter Blew in for a Little Visit

I went to sleep last night with the windows wide open. In the middle of the night a cold wind blew in, carrying the smell of burning firewood and desert and wintertime.

Instead of closing the window, I pulled up the blanket, happy for the change.

We never rose above the 40's today, the sky was rather dark and I felt like cuddling up with a good book and a cup of tea. The truth is, I felt a bit tired, morose and wanted to shove all responsibilities in the garbage. Instead, I worked on mountains of laundry and mountains of paperwork that I had been shoving to the side. Made some phone calls. Dug through files. Drank more coffee and then hot tea. Never made it to the book.

That's okay. I did pause midday to have lunch with a new friend. A bowl of Jalapeno Cilantro cream soup at the Reata. With chunks of avocado and tomato. Quintessential Texas comfort food for a brisk day. And a nice chat that allowed me to feel like I could be real. Be myself.

This afternoon I paused the work again to help kids gather odds and ends for the Halloween costumes. Tomorrow is dress up day at school. I think they are ready. Even Thomas is catching the excitement. He will wear a cool Asian mask that our dear friend Donna gave us years back. Now what in the world will I dress up to be for the Farmer's market on Saturday? I guess I will have all baking day tomorrow to figure it out.

The windows are closed this evening, but I have an urge to go grab a couple more blankets and open them up so I can smell the smell of winter. And hear the dried pecan leaves skitter across the yard.

Ahhh. I do so love changing seasons.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seedy Crackers

This morning as the girls and I rode bicycles to school the dark sky began to lighten and the tiny little sliver of the almost new moon glowed in the east. I find great comfort in the regularity of the moon.

It would be easier to drive the girls to school in the morning, but I am trying to stay in the habit of bike riding. We have to rush and rush, but being outside, seeing the moon, feeling the different temperatures from day to day centers me. The kind crossing guard gets us over to the elementary school. I kiss Nora, then Rose and I make the nearly two mile bike hike around the corner, down the street, over the train tracks and a little way further to the middle school. It surprises me that so few kids bike to school. We watch the sky change from black to grey to pink and peach. The school bus lights flash and shine like Christmas. Rose occasionally deigns to give me a kiss, but always says goodbye, I love you, even when we have shared cross words earlier in the morning.

This morning I whizzed the two miles back home, poured another cup of coffee, made myself an omelet, then got to work on the many bowls of bread and pizza dough waiting for me in the bakery.

Lately I have been making lots of crackers, having fun with Kamut and spelt. I thought i would share with you the recipe for my most popular experiment so far. Crackers are a pain to make in bulk, but not that difficult. Considering all the unhealthy ingredients found in store bought crackers, it is worth the while to experiment. Doesn't everyone like a little something crunchy and tasty to enjoy with goat cheese? Or tuna fish? Or chicken salad? Or plain old snacking in the afternoon?

I hope you will give them a try sometime. Be patient with yourself. The rolling out gets easier with some practice. And be CAREFUL not to burn too many. I burned one tray today because I walked away from the oven must a few minutes too long...

3/4c freshly milled spelt flour (I use organic, from Montana)
1/2 c freshly milled kamut flour (Ditto)
1/3 c sesame seeds
1/3 c sunflower seeds
1/3 c flax seeds
1 1/2 tsp salt (I use Redmond's Real Salt)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder (I use aluminum-free)
3 TBSP coconut oil (I use organic, from a source in Mexico)
1/2 c-3/4 c water
Mix all the dry ingredients. Add oil. I use an amazing organic, non-hydrogenated coconut oil. When it is completely incorporated with the dry ingredients, add the water, but bit by bit, because you may or may not need all of it. Stir it in until the dough forms a ball. Let the dough rest 15 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Divide dough into 8 pcs.
I use a french rolling pin (thank you Stewart) and roll each piece out as thinly as possible. To make these crackers it is best to get the dough even thinner than pie crust. But do the best you can. I aim for a rectagular shape, but if you aim for something akin to Brazil or Texas, that will be fine, too. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into squares or whatever shape you wish. Place on cookie sheet and bake until lightly browned around the edges. You have to be SOOO careful, because these crackers are not nearly as good burned as they are lightly browned.

After your crackers are done, let them cool, then store them in a giant glass pickle jar, the gallon size, or in a ziploc bag. They should stay fresh for a week or two, but I doubt they will stick around that long. Some of you may not have a grain mill or access to cool grains. Try to find a friend with a mill if you can and work out a trade. The freshly milled grain is so much more nutritious and delicious. But if not, experiment with whatever cool kinds of flour you can find from the grocery store. Isn't it amazing the options out there? I am thinking these crackers would be great with quinoa. Or rye. Or add a little millet.

If there is one series of lessons I wish I could teach folks when helping them learn cooking skills, it would be to have fun, learn the basics, then don't be scared to go improv every once in awhile.

If you learn to make a good cracker, you will be very popular at the next wine and cheese party. Really.

Well, I had better hit the sack. The dark morning and dark moon won't be waiting for us for long. I will be glad when the time changes back even if the evenings are darker.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Good Magic, or My Farmer's Market Finds

It was a lovely day at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. Lots of visits with neighbors and visitors. I was astonished at how many travelers popped in to our market. We aren't even on the beaten path.

Astonished, but I guess it isn't that surprising when you think about all the good things going on in one big parking lot. Pumpkins and tomatoes and eggplants and peppers and onions and sweet potatoes and green beans. Swiss chard, herbs, zucchini, spaghetti squash, patty pan squash, seedlings, flowers. Apples and pears. Cool jewelry, hot coffee and tea, parathas, samosas, scones, homemade donuts, homemade pickles and mustards and relish, salsa and jam. Chili rellenos, big pots of beans and bbq. Milk and cream and seven different kinds of cheeses. Fresh butter. Homemade soaps. Who knows how many varieties of baked goods (including my freshly milled good stuff!)? A solar power oven display, a guy from the Lion's club. Dogs and children and young artists and happy hikers and local musicians and teachers and folks who work for Homeland Security. Builders and librarians, ministers and Tai Chi instructors. Senior citizen tour groups passing by.

All thrown together on a brilliant October Saturday morning, making for a lovely picture of community and local economy. I wish everyone had a chance to check out their farmer's market. Some people tell me they don't go because they don't have the money, that goods at the farmer's market are priced too expensively. And yes, many things could be purchased at Wal Mart for significantly less. But can we afford the bargain? The cost that comes from not knowing our neighbors? The cost to our health that comes from eating cheap, nutritionally deficient, overly processed foods? The cost to our environment when we pay people to raise meat and vegetables and fruits irresponsibly?

I realize that for many of us on a tight budget, the extra few dollars a week make a huge difference. But as I have witnessed the joy that comes in developing an economy of bartering, it makes me realize that there are options out there for cash-strapped folks who are willing to be a little creative. On many occasions I have suggested to folks that they can pay what they can afford for my bread. Or barter something that they have. I have heard lots of other vendors suggest the same thing.

Have you wished you could afford to eat more healthy foods, but don't see a way it can be done? Trust me, I know what it means to be a penny-pincher, wondering if there is enough left in the bank to pay the water bill and the house and the electricity and the insurance, along with a pair of shoes for a growing kid and a prescription for a sick kid, all at the same time. And for those of you who don't work at a farmer's market, the idea of trying to fit one more thing into a busy Saturday morning might be more than you can imagine.

But as I wax poetically over the joys of our cool world of real food and neighborhood community and producers who make stuff with their own hands, I hope you won't feel like that is something just for me and my kind. There IS a way to experience that kind of food and community, but you might have to start out with some baby steps. And use your imagination and make a little extra effort. I promise that it will pay off. In more ways than you can imagine.

PS By the time the bakery and the kitchen were cleaned, the floors swept and mopped, the laundry folded, the trays and pans washed and dried, I was pretty exhausted and in need of a real meal. A chicken was sprinkled with loads of fresh rosemary from the yard, a squeeze of a couple of lemons, some chopped garlic, salt and olive oil and shoved in the very hot oven. I took a red onion, sliced, place it in a layer on a pyrex, topped with sliced zucchini, garlic, eggplant, fresh tomatoes, more onion, fresh thyme and basil, bell pepper, another layer of tomatoes, drizzled olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then placed that pan in the oven with the chicken. A loaf of Italian Peasant bread was sliced, brushed with olive oil, and placed on a tray to go into the oven as well. It didn't take any work at all to throw it together, then we lit candles and the tiki torches and sat out in the balmy starry evening air, European style (almost 9pm!) and enjoyed good food, great conversation, and a fitting end to Farmer's Market day, grateful for the dozen hands or more who contributed to our dinner.

It probably would have been just as delicious if we had made our dinner with all store bought veggies, but there is a unique kind of magic that comes with knowing who helped grow your food. Very good magic.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Nights Aren't Really a Party for Me, but that's OK

Whew. Another day almost done. Well, the dirty pots and pans and trays are waiting for me, but at least the bread and goodies are wrapped and ready for tomorrow.

The sun has set, the stars are beginning to pop out and the evening is still and quiet. I just had to come outside for a few minutes and feel the air since I have been working indoors since four this morning.

As tiring as my job is, I enjoy the routine and the rote order of the day. I don't really have to think when I get out of bed. I hop up, put on water for my coffee, grind some beans, put on some milk to warm, then start the mill to grinding. I have an order to the day, starting with the Hard White Wheat products, the Milk and Honey bread, the Pizza Crust dough, the Italian Peasant Bread. Then, as those doughs are rising, and I have my second cup of coffee, I pull out the Spelt berries and begin to mill them. Spelt Milk and Honey bread, Spelt and Wheat Seedy Loaf, Spelt Almond Raisin Rye, all the ingredients perform amazing alchemy in the kneading bowls. After the Spelt Challah is placed in the bowl to rise, I move on to the Kamut berries, milling them, meanwhile making the honey/sucanat mixture for the gigantic bowl of granola, using 24 cups of organic oats, eight cups of organic raisins and eight cups of almonds. Plus lots of cinnamon. Today I made Kamut Applesauce Cake and Kamut Oatmeal Cookies and Spelt and Kamut Seedy Crackers.

Sometimes the phone rings, sometimes someone pops in for a chat, but mostly I am hyperfocused on my tasks, ITunes Library cranking out a bizarre soundtrack for my day.

I love music. Many varieties. Some days I start with Andrew Peterson and continue with an inspirational playlist. Sometimes I have to have my favorite women artists, like Eva Cassidy, Sheryl Crow,EmmyLou, Cindi Lauper, Mindy Smith and Nanci Griffith. Occasionally the 80's overwhelms the mix, with Chicago, Journey, Peter Gabriel and the like.

I even like to belt out the Folk Songs arranged by Beethoven and performed by the New York Philharmonic.

This evening, as I finished wrapping up the last loaves of Spelt Milk and Honey, Twila Paris came up on the list with her collection of hymns. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, went to seminary and served as a missionary off and on. Now I go to St James, an Episcopal church. We don't sing the same hymns, but I like the liturgy and the hymnology. Even so, there is something about the songs of my childhood that feel like balm to a tired soul. The old songs from the good old days, that actually were pretty tough old days for the hymn writers and the church of that day.

"When the Roll is Called up Yonder" came on and I mindlessly sang along for a few minutes, creasing the paper, tearing the masking tape, placing the labels. Then came the stanza, "Let us labor for the Master from the dawn til setting sun, Let us talk of all his wondrous love and care,Then when all of life is over and our work on earth is done, when the roll is called up yonder I'll be there."

So many sense memories washed over me as I sang, I had to rewind and start the song over again. I could feel the seats in the old church in Naruna, Texas, and could hear my Dad's voice as we sang in the little bitty country church, windows wide open, live oaks in the cemetery, maybe just maybe some of "Aunt" Ruth Vann's fried apple pies to go with dinner on the grounds.

And I thought of the work of my hands, and how it isn't done. Not for now, at any rate. And then I thought of how tired Philip was his last few weeks of life. I thought of how hard he would work during the day, putting on a good face, but at night, when all was still and everyone else was in bed asleep, he would tell me he was praying for the Lord to return because he didn't think he could endure much longer.

He was so tired.

He hurt so badly.

His heart had been wearing out since he was a little baby with rheumatic fever and we had been to doctor after doctor trying to get that poor thing out of atrial fibrillation and into regular rhythm. And through it all he fixed the cars and shoveled the snow, cut the firewood and restored our farmhouse and someone else's farmhouse and helped with the farm and loved on me and the kids and did who knows what all to help other people who crossed his path.

All those things crossed my mind as I mindlessly wrapped up the bread and sang along.

And I was so grateful that Philip's work on earth is done and that his worn out heart can rest now.

Then the song changed and moved on to Van Morrison and I finished loading up the tubs with the farmer's market stuff and came outside to see the dark sky and feel the air for a moment before finishing up the pots and pans.

Grief is weird. It sneaks up on you at the strangest moments.

I miss Philip so much, yet it seems like maybe it was a hundred years ago or so he walked the earth with us. Even though it is hard figuring out how to live life without him, I would never, never, not in a million years wish him to leave his rest and come back to suffering, pain and exhaustion.

I'm glad that hymn came up on the playlist and gave me such depth of sense memory. Even though it feels a little raw, it isn't as raw as it was a year or more ago. Makes me thankful for a job that gives me time to think as my hands work. I feel better for having felt the loss tonight and the bittersweet memories. Isn't that strange?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Quest?

Stir-fried vegetables and leftover roast made for a delicious supper. With some roasted sweet potatoes on the side. Almost everything grown by new farmer's market friends.

Kids were running in different directions, so I took my plate out to the backyard with a book. Nora helped herself to applesauce and went to the swing. Rose popped out eventually, with a nice big bowl of carrots and cucumbers and some newly purchased Organic Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.

"Is this dressing gone bad?" she asked. "What is wrong with it?"

I don't buy Ranch dressing very often, but the kids love it so when I saw the Organic version on the shelf last week, I thought it would be a nice treat.

I told Rose that the only thing wrong with the dressing was that it wasn't filled with toxic chemicals. She and Nora asked if I would please purchase them some toxic chemicals to put on their organic carrots and cucumbers.

Hmmm. Maybe we will have to try a homemade version...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Moving On

Well, the sheep are gone. Not from here, but from the farm.

I have had them offered on Craigslist. Sold a few ram lambs to be butchered by an African guy, some Bhutanese and some Bosnian fellows. A couple of people offered to buy the whole lot to butcher them all, but I had been holding out.

It is hard the think about slaughtering heritage breed sheep who are valuable ewes with many more lamb-bearing years ahead of them. Seems like a poor economy.

So when the gal emailed me last week, telling me she and her son want to get the Jacobs registered and raise them, I was delighted. Ophelia will get to live on a new farm with her dear ewe friends and the wethers. So she, Freda, Esther, Amos and Andy and Easter Bunny, Sissy, Willow, and the remaining lambs from the spring crop went to live in West Virginia.

You know how I cried every time we had to sell off another farm animal? This time I didn't cry. I am merely grateful to have them gone to a good new home. Now Ribeye, the steer, is the only one left, besides a handful of chickens and a few baby chicks who hatched out early this fall.

And Malt O Meal, the barn cat who still patrols the farm for rodents.

Today I don't miss the farm.

I am sitting outside in the backyard watching the blackening trees stir in the cool evening breeze. The air smells brisk, like November. I don't see the crowds of Monarch butterflies today, but we did a week ago. I wonder if they have made it down to Mexico yet. Before you know it the temperatures will rise and we will be sweating again, even if it becomes November. We are in Texas, you know. But this cool spell is refreshing to my senses. I want to drink it up! Must find time to take a hike this weekend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


This morning the sky was gray and dark as we made our way to the schools by bicycle. I was full of coffee and warm from milling and mixing and kneading dough, but by the time we were halfway down the street by the golf course my hands were shivering and my cheeks were numb.

Tuesdays are a light baking day and perhaps a bit more pleasant than Fridays, giving me room for some experimentation. I have been making delicious grownup crackers ever since the organic Kamut came in. The big kids were pretty impressed, but Nora was not. So today as I milled I was thinking about Nora. Nora has a bit of a sweet tooth.


What to bake? I decided that Kamut graham crackers and Kamut peanut butter cookies were in order. After getting the regular goods well on their way, milk and honey bread, spelt milk and honey bread, the pizza crusts, the granola, the italian peasant bread and the spelt almond raisin rye, I got to work on the treats.

Kids get home a bit before 4. Customers come shortly after. It is fun setting out little bits of this and that for the kids to enjoy as an afterschool snack and for the customers to enjoy as samples. One of my new friends and customers took a bite of the graham crackers. Her review was the best compliment! She told me that after tasting the freshly milled Kamut version, the store bought variety were just plain boring!

It is a joy having customers come by the bakery in our home. People slow down, catch up a little, eat a slice of homemade pizza or a bite of spelt brownies and kiss babies and share stories. I have learned so much about our area already by conversations had in the bakery while wrapping up someone's bread. Local economy is spell-binding, on many levels. What a grateful heart I have for all those customers. I thank God for them.

After the bakery closed, Rose and I hopped on our bikes and rode over to the middle school for a Community Garden open house. Rose is in 6th grade and one of her elective classes is Environmental Science. She has an amazing, young, energetic and forward thinking teacher who apparently has a rather amazing support network. He and several volunteers from the community have started an organic garden outside the school. They are using recycled materials to build up the area.

Of course you can imagine it did my soul good to see that lovely garden. Rose tells me that they are outside working on it most every day.

What delighted me even more was seeing the paper-crete project. The school is collecting all recyclable paper, the children shred it by hand, add water to make it into pulp, then fill a 5 gallon bucket 3/5 full, mix in one coffee can mortar, three coffee cans water, stir thoroughly, then pour into forms to make blocks which they will use to build a tool shed for their garden.

Ten years ago or so, it was legal to cross the border in Big Bend National Park and we would often go across the Rio Grande with the kids on our camping trips to eat tacos in a little village. There we would see folks making adobe bricks for their building projects. I loved the organic ingenuity. Using material at hand, dirt, manure, straw, water from the river, they came up with building material that would last for many many years. No Lowes withing driving distance, and even if there were, no one would have the money anyway.

Well, there is no Lowe's in our town, but there is a lumberyard. The school teachers could probably go and buy some cinderblocks. But can you imagine the lessons the kids are learning as they gather up the teachers' waste paper and turn it into real, solid, long lasting blocks that will build a structure? They are using their hands and hoes and a donated wheelbarrow and wooden forms built by the highschool industrial arts kids.

I guess it doesn't take much to delight me. Simple pleasures and all that.

I was impressed. So happy to see that our school here in Alpine is willing to educate our children on many levels. Happy to see volunteers working with my daughter, people from our town who don't even have children in the school, working together because they know they are being a part of making our world a better place. One tomato plant and one paper-crete block at a time.

Somehow I think the lesson here is way deeper than I can even begin to cover tonight, but I am tired and hope to put my head down on my pillow in a few minutes.

As Rose and I rode our bikes back home, the temperature dipped even lower and we felt like we could smell the Arctic Ocean. The sun fell and we were shivering by the time we reached our warm house. The roast and the stir-fried green beans tasted like a feast. Everyone ate more bread and cookies. We finished A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle last night and haven't started a new read aloud book yet. Everyone retired with their books or Ipods or phones and we are all enjoying blankets. I think that the temperature is supposed to drop down to the 30's tonight. Can you believe it?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sacred Space

Some days I get up at 3 in the morning and work for 18 hours or more before I sit down.

Other mornings I get up at6:30, get the kids off to school and work steadily through a more reasonable 8 hour pace.

Today I woke up at 5:15, got up, made pancakes (4-grain, freshly milled organic, with real maple syrup from Michigan, thank you Raymond) got the kids to school and went back to bed and slept for a couple of hours. Well. 3 hours plus.

Part of me wanted to berate myself. But the other part rolled over and closed her eyes after she reminded the other part how hard we work on a regular basis.

At some point I got up, gathered my things, took care of some business, spoke to some customers who came to the door, then loaded up the rest of my paperwork because I decided I couldn't be in the house for another 15 minutes.

Here is a true confession.

I hate to do it because I don't want to ruin my reputation.

OK, here goes.

I drove over to Sonic to get a cheeseburger because I felt kind of depressed and needed some comfort. And yes, I asked for the whole wheat bun, but who knows how much whole wheat is actually in that whole wheat bun, and why bother when you are getting a fast food cheeseburger anyway, but there you have it.

I don't know why, but it has been a pretty hard few days for me. I have felt sad and tired and maybe all the work of still adjusting to new town and new business and new single-parenting and all that is still catching up with me. So I grabbed my burger and diet Dr. Pepper (don't you love the oxymoron) and asked God to please tell me what I needed to do to feel better.

Thursdays are kind of my day off, since I work so hard over the weekend. I try to get a plan for what I need to bake, come up with an ingredient list, return a few emails and rest.

For some reason Fort Davis kept coming to mind, so I pointed the car that direction, stopped in the Stone Village store to grab a couple of items I needed plus a cup of locally roasted Big Bend Roaster coffee then went back toward Alpine. Around halfway between the two mountain towns is a little roadside picnic area. I remember parking at those little tables over 20 years ago to enjoy some solitude and beauty.

Cup of coffee in hand, devotional book, journal and scratch paper, I sat down at the solid concrete table and benches.

At first I couldn't hear a thing but the voice in my head, rattling, rattling.

Then the skitter of a leaf caught my attention.

I paused to breathe in. Breathe out.

A truck and trailer rolled by.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

I opened up my little devotional book which reminded me to be still in God's presence. Sarah Young, author of Jesus Calling, and now my invisible friend, suggested that "the more hassled you feel, the more you need this sacred space of communion."

So I was still for a moment, breathing in, when all of a sudden my attention was caught by the lovely cottonwoods surrounding my little private retreat center, I mean, the public picnic spot by the side of the road. I have always loved cottonwoods. In southwest Texas, if you want to know where some water is located, just span the horizons for some cottonwoods. Their bright green leaves were turning sunshine yellow, around the tops of the trees, and occasionally one would be flung loose, floating toward the ground, skittering across the pavement.


Funny that I didn't notice the leaves turning until I took the time to breathe in and out a few times.

After a few moments of peace and still, I prayed and threw out my concerns to God, while listening to the whirr of a cricket across the road, the bawl of a cow a few miles down at Calamity Creek Ranch, the scratch of a few leaves being blown in the parking area and the whisper of the cottonwood leaves, sounding like the Holy Spirit.

Then I got to work and put pencil to paper, taking care of business.

Shortly after, the coffee was gone, the list was done and it was time to head back home. I ran to the store to pick up ingredients I needed for tomorrow, then helped Rose work on her science experiment. She is comparing and contrasting freshly milled organic spelt and whole white wheat to store bought organic spelt and whole white wheat, using the same recipes and techniques. We will see if one or the other rises higher, has better crumb and see how they result in blind taste tests (thank goodness we have plenty of taste testers in this house.)

Then it was time to meet up the some new friends at a Home and Garden meeting at the Saddle Club in town.

I feel so much better after getting my tank filled up, at least for the moment. Tomorrow will come early and will go long. But I am thankful to have a job that contributes to the health and well being of my family and neighbors. And thankful to have a job that allows for time to breathe in and out and notice the change in the leaves. And thankful my kids are big enough to fend for themselves a couple of hours so I can meet some other gals and get to know my neighbors.

Monday, October 10, 2011


The sky is the color of a peach on the western horizon, but in the east it is grey, like silk. The blackened silhouette of the trees makes everything look like Halloween, according to Rose, who is sitting beside me. The moon is almost full and slowly makes her way up the eastern sky.

This morning Accuweather told me that the temperature in Alpine was 42 degrees. My truck thermometer registered 46. It was pretty chilly, but warmed up to the 70's which made for perfect outdoor dining this evening.

Last week the mill seemed to be dragging, so my friend and I took it apart this afternoon to clean it and put it back together. Well, mostly my friend did all the work, but I did unscrew a couple of screws and loosened a couple of bolts. I am always amazed and grateful to people who are mechanically minded and willing to share their skills and time with me!

It should be up and running just beautifully in the morning. Won't it be nice to bake in a cool house!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'm Rich!

Rich in grains, that is.
My ship came in, well the shipment arrived around noon on an Old Dominion truck that pulled up next to my carport.

He called just as we were finishing up Bible study and I hopped on my bike and raced back home.

Fifty bags of grain is a lot of weight lifting. The driver asked me by phone if I had a forklift to pick up the pallet. I tried not to laugh too hard.

My friend drove over and between the her, the driver and myself, we knocked the job out pretty quickly. I pulled some bread out of the freezer to tip the driver for his help.

I do feel rich as I look at all that organic grain, ready to mill into tons of loaves of bread. Well, at least a ton and a half of bread, give or take. Please God, let there be plenty of customers.

Now to find a source of local honey...

PS, it is nice and breezy today and quite warm. The sun is shining, but in a distinctly October way. My mom and I always notice that the sun has a different look in October. Fall. Welcome! It will be really fun to bake when you bring us some chilly weather!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Feelings, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Feelings (Don't be scared of Barry Manilow, people)

I don't write everything I feel or think on this blog. So many moments pass by that don't make the cut. Not an intentional cut, but life is full and time to sit and type requires discipline and I don't always have it in me. Who wants to read that many words anyway?

My work is not quite done for the day but I need to sit and take a rest. Maggie and Patrick are at cross country practice. Thomas sits at the dining room table working on his homework. Rose is reading a book. Nora is working on bike tricks. I have some of my favorite music playing in the bakery (Andrew Peterson) and the cool of evening is blowing in on a gentle breeze.

So this evening I think I will blog about how I am really feeling while I sit outside in the backyard and watch the sun go down. The work won't take me long to finish up when I go back inside.

The sunflowers next to the western fence are leaning to the side, loaded with blossoms. The gorgeous vine climbing up the wall next to the car port is covered with salmon pink blossoms, providing a drunken fest for a bunch of honey bees. The waxing moon is halfway thru her journey today, and slightly over half full, sitting almost on top of one of the neighbor's pecan trees. A train whistle blows as it cruises through town and butterflies hover around the leaves of one of the pecan trees in our yard.

Sometimes I am afraid to write about our grief journey because I think that readers might pity me. Or think that I am a mess. Or maybe it will make them uncomfortable or maybe someone will think I am unhappy.

Grief is such a raw thing.

Even though we are learning and adapting all the time, it comes up when least expected.

For example, last night I accompanied Patrick to his induction ceremony into the National Honor Society. As I walked by myself into the auditorium, I felt gripped with heaviness. As I sat down, I froze my face, hoping that no one would come up to me. As I waited, alone, sobs threatened to rack my body but I dared not let a tear escape, and I sat there stunned to think that Philip was gone, and that my son would walk across that stage and his dad would not be here in the flesh to shake his hand and joke with him and tell his funny stories about growing up to be the opposite of the National Honor Society member in his highschool experience.

It hurt very badly. I felt extremely alone.

Of course, as I watched the children light their candles and receive their collars, pride and joy welled up in my heart and I thought about how proud Philip must be of his son. Of his children.

And when the kids stood in a line in front and the parents lept up to take their flash photos, I couldn't help but grin, thinking of the story Philip would tell us every Christmas about the time he was an angel in the Catholic school Christmas play. He poked his head through the heavy velvet curtains on the stage, catching a glimpse of the audience of proud parents who were snapping flash photos. Being the class clown and consumate impersonator, he wheeled around, leaping up in the air, pretending to be a parent, trigger happy with his invisible camera. The drama only lasted a mere second or two until it came to a screeching halt when one of the nuns whacked him on the head with a ruler. He was so indignant that the nun had the audacity to whack a 7 yr old angel right on his halo! I wondered if Patrick remembered that story.

Living here in Alpine feels like I have come home. I have a dear old friend who is involved in our life, an old friend from over twenty years ago, who now brings me great joy. It has been great fun reminiscing, remembering all the good old days, and realizing that now, as two grownups, we still have lots in common, and it is like a miracle that we have come full circle.

But what is weird is that even the joy and the fun of a friendship with another guy sometimes triggers grief and makes me long for the ease that comes with an 18 yr marriage and almost 20 year friendship.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that learning something new hurts at times. Grief isn't something we just "get over." As Martha, our grief support counselor would often say, "You don't get over the loss of a loved one, you get through it, and learn to adapt." (I hope I didn't misquote her too very much!)

I have never felt sustained pain before in my life, before Philip's death, that is. I felt little bits of pain and sorrow. When a church friend died. When my friends' daughter died. It was intense pain. And it lasted for a long time. But it wasn't so sustained.

That is why I mention the sweet relationship with my old new guy friend. We share some of the sweetest moments I have enjoyed in a long time. And the joy of a sunset or a sunrise always gave me pleasure in the past, but now that I have felt true pain and grief, those things are almost more beautiful than I can stand. The other evening my friend took me to the symphony and we heard Beethoven for the first half and then Holst's The Planets for the second half. The beauty of some of that musical creation was so intense, I nearly wept with joy and it was a truly spiritual experience. The love of God washed over me, (especially during "Jupiter") and I thanked God for the ability to feel and to hear and to be. Even the blood-stirring, pounding notes of "Mars" made me feel stronger and able to defeat the difficulties that threaten to overwhelm me.

I have other friends who have lost loved ones and they tell me that these mixed up, painful grief feelings are pretty normal. I guess the symphony was a pretty good metaphor for me. All those instruments. Over six or seven french horns, who knows how many violins, all the trumpets and many different instruments, including the harps and the tympani and bass drums all working together to make something absolutely astonishing. I think that the occasional throbbing of grief pain is a note that blended in with all the other beautiful parts of my life creates music that is lovely and real.

I wish we could go back two years and have Philip back being the dad of our house. I wish the kids could have their dad patting them on the back as they do their new things and achieve success. But he is gone. And who knows if they would even be running in cross country or riding bikes to the library or making new friends if he were here. We are in a new world, on so many levels, and even though it pains me at times, I hope to embrace it fully, and to show that kids that even if the tears fall, we are going to live our life.

BTW, have I mentioned how thankful I am to live in the same state as my parents? Daddy was grandpa babysitter for part of last week and took kids to school events, and watched runners cross the finish line. He made them donuts, NOT the freshly milled whole wheat variety (aren't the kids lucky to have a grandpa!) and even took the girls to McDonalds (they are still talking about it!).

I am a very lucky* woman. And you know how I know it? Thomas came out and grinned at me and when I asked him if he could please go in and wash my bread baking pots and pans so I could finish blogging, he went right in, and I can even now hear the clanging in the kitchen.

Lucky=blessed with great favor!

PS the sun has set. The clouds are threatening to fill the sky. The moon is lightly veiled and now sits near the top of one of our pecan trees instead of the neighbor's. The butterflies must have settled in for their evening and I guess I had better go finish my work so I can settle in as well. Tomorrow after bicycling the girls to school I will bicycle up the hill behind our house to the University where I will attend a symposium on economics and small businesses. They offer a free lunch. Yeay for me.

Seasons are changing, the earth is tilting

So these days I am not milking a cow in the morning.

This morning I bicycled with the girls to their schools. Nora's elementary school is just a few minutes' ride, but Rose's middle school is around two miles from our house. When school started in late August, the sky was bright and clear when we departed our house. We wore shorts and I huffed up the hills, not having ridden a bicycle for the better part of 18 years.

Now the sky is dark black velvet when we cruise away from our driveway. School buses in the distance flash and gleam red and gold. By the time we get to the end of the street and the crossing guard sees us across, pink streaks light up the sky. I kiss Nora goodbye and by the time Rose and I make our way over the train tracks, the world is washed with pink. Most mornings we are enjoying our sweaters.

I am not huffing quite so much.