Monday, February 28, 2011

The Hills are Alive

Rained all day. Muddy, but lovely, since we are in drought conditions.

The peepers are singing full force! Actually I can distinguish between at least three different frog voices tonight. Funny, last night it was so sporadic. Now they are all fully awakened.

Between the peepers and the ducks and the geese and the chickens and guineas and bawling heifers and maahing kids and baaaing lambs and gobbling turkey, life on the farm is not so quiet these days. I think everything is waking up.


Even the wind adds a nice background note as it flows over the woods on the ridge.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Tonight, at 8:05pm, I opened the bedroom window, turned off the overhead light, grabbed the third Harry Potter book (Rose and I are reading our way through) and climbed into bed.

At 8:20pm my ears took notice.

A familiar sound. One not heard in months.


Not hundreds. Just a few.

The song is not constant. It is hesitant. As if they are gathering in the pit, tuning up their instruments for the big performance which has not yet begun, but will, any minute now.

I am so glad I went to bed with my window open this evening. Next to the whipporwill, the peepers sing my favorite song. Hope you can hear some soon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

There is More

I didn't feel so great this morning, kind of sad and gloomy, so I got up, made an omelet and a pot of coffee (Yeay for Coco!) and went back to bed to talk to a friend on the phone and then read for another hour.

Mid-morning someone drove into the driveway, so I got dressed and went out. It was warm enough to be out without a coat. I checked on sheep. No new lambs. Checked on goats. No new babies. The kids were so darned cute I had to cuddle them for a few minutes. Is there anything cuter than a baby goat?

Then a shovel grabbed my attention and I cleaned out some chicken manure. Not all of it that needs cleaned out, but at least one small zone. Placed it into the wheelbarrow to be ready to go to its destination out in the compost in the garden.

The sun was so warm, the sky so blue, my feet were drawn to the garden. While out there, I noticed that the garlic that Patrick planted a year and a half ago, that did nothing last year, was up. Over three inches tall!


I went in, had some coffee with Rachel, ate some leftovers, then got the shovel and returned to the garden. I dug out a couple of our little beds, pulled out the wire grass (at least part of it), and then made my way to the trellises. Dug out around them for the peas. Spread heavy hay mulch in a couple of other bigger beds, preparing for potatoes. Spread the biochar that Thomas made for me in another big bed.

Still felt kind of low and depressed, but not at a crippling point. I kept thinking that the work would make me happy, but it didn't. I didn't want to talk to anyone. See anyone's face. Even so, crumbling up chocolate colored soil does a soul good.

I noticed that my seemingly dead sage bush is showing signs of life. Little bitty sage leaves around the base.


I saw one tiny volunteer cilantro plant coming up.

New life.

Still feeling miserably low, I went in, grabbed a piece of the Russel Stover's Pecan Delight that the girls gave me for Valentine's Day. Ate it and asked my baby sister a gardening question by phone. Ate another one. I don't even eat candy!

Thought about how my sisters are such better gardeners than me. Went back out and planted a package of peas. Some beets. A mixture of lettuces. More cilantro. Spinach.

Not rows and rows. But enough for us. A start, anyway.

Thomas cleared out the debris I had tossed onto the deck, weeks ago, from the closet deconstruction project. Patrick and Maggie worked on some other chores. Laundry, clean rooms, hay feeding and watering. Nora took care of gathering eggs and feeding and watering the chickens. She found the first goose egg of the season! She rode her bike in the driveway for hours. Rose took care of her chores, then went out on the pond, to row on the raft. Then she looked at salamanders. Then she ran, barefoot, through the hay field. Then the girls took all their dolls out in the wagon so they could get fresh air.

I can't say I feel really happy right now. But satisfied. Tired. And satisfied. No matter how much I fussed at my children today, I sure do love them. And I sure do love our farm. Now I better go make some popcorn for supper. Do we have to eat?

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 25th, 2011

So many things I could write about tonight.

Many remembrances of Philip, who died last year, on this date. Silly memories, funny memories, passionately romantic ones, painful, working through the hard parts of life memories. We lived our life together to the fullest, traveling to far away places, restoring homes in nearer places, taking care of aging parents (his), having babies. Coming to the farm and starting our little farm church seemed so logical.

I could write about the amazing support network we have. Once again, I wrote a nice little essay the other day. It's about how grateful I am to our community, but I can't figure out how to cut and paste it over here to the blog and don't want to write it out again. Gotta get these smart kids to teach me. But if you have been reading this blog for any time at all, you have a clue. The relationships we have with our friends in this valley are powerful. Good. The tragedy we have experienced has helped us to be very aware of the amazing power of community.

But I suppose I will write that even as my body felt a heaviness today, I found some little reserve which enabled me to go out and milk. Perhaps it was related to addiction. I haven't been milking, and that means no heavy cream and that means no coffee for me. I have been drinking tea the past few days, and I like tea, but it doesn't compare to coffee with Coco's cream.

So, as I milked, I marveled at the warm temperatures, the opening leaves on the willow tree and the crazy looking sky. Bright blue, swirling clouds, dark gray moving back and forth. The breeze was playful.

An hour later, the wind was like a youngster, gone completely wild. Plowing over the pond, slamming into the house, tearing through the trees on the ridge in a fury. I wondered if, perhaps, the wind was anything like this when it came along to dry things up for Noah and his ark.

At first I thought the wind was a messenger of doom and gloom.

Then I thought about the possibility of the wind being a bringer of new things. The power of the wind to sweep rain storms into our valley, and then out again. The power of the wind to funnel warmer temperatures into our region.

Today I don't hate the wind. I find her comforting, in a frightening sort of way. She nearly blew us off the hillside as we gathered in the cemetery this afternoon. But she didn't.

And one more think I must mention, how it relates, I have no idea: We are getting plenty of eggs these days. Our eggs taste so much better than the supermarket eggs. Even though we have little grass, the chickens must be finding plenty because the yolks are deep orange. The children are happy to eat eggs again, now that we have our delicious ones available for breakfast.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pea Soup

The farm is blanketed in thick fog. Pea soup-like over the ridge. I guess that is what inspired our supper this evening. The smell of our split pea soup is wafting up the stairs and it makes me happy to have yet another chilly, rainy evening. Split pea soup tastes better on a cool, rainy night. I imagine I have shared our simple recipe, but in case you missed it, will add it to the bottom of this post.

I had to make a feed run to Sunrise Farm in Stuart's Draft today. For some serendipitous reason, feed seems to always run out on a day when I don't feel like doing anything around the farm. Driving to get our animals healthy food is a good way to listen to a book on tape and put my mind on pause.

Driving onto our property, the still small voice suggested I go take a look in the barn, nice shoes or no nice shoes. There was Maggie's own precious Angel (in my humble opinion, an angel goat with some serious devil's horns!) standing in the stall with a brand new little baby girl. She had just passed the afterbirth, and all was well. What a treat to see our little Angel be a mama goat. So now, Stella is the only goat waiting to have her baby. I guess Cliff, the daddy, did a pretty good job. We have a bunch of very cute little goat babies. I can't wait to see them frolic and play in the fields.

Speaking of fields, as I headed into the house, I noticed that the Master Artist had been at work. Apparently he was getting tired of that faded gold in the fields and decided to brush on a watercolor layer of green here and there. A treat.

And speaking of treat, I highly recommend you make some split pea soup on one of these rainy days we have in our neighborhood this week. I have made the vegetarian version many times, but these days we like our dear comfort food bacon.

Saute in a soup pan or dutch oven:

one chopped onion
3 or 4 slices chopped bacon
2 or 3 large stalks chopped celery
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 carrots, chopped
(you can also add a cubed potato or two if you wish)

When the vegetables begin to soften and brown, add
2 cups split peas
8 cups water or broth
one bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
salt to your taste

Let the soup simmer gently until nice and thick. Serve with hearty bread or cornbread (I think I will make cornbread muffins tonight.) A hunk of cheese and a glass of milk to go alongside and you will feel like a very rich person. Especially if a fire is in the fireplace and you have family tucked around your table. If no family is available, then please make sure and take a good book to table. We will probably have family and a book around the table. We are almost done with At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Babies

I just got back home last night from a trip to Northwest Arkansas.

My maternal grandfather, 99 and 3/4 years old, died last week. I wrote a note about him, but don't know how to cut and paste, so maybe later this week one of my kids can help me put it on the blog.

We had been praying for mercy for him. His last days were not comfortable. Dying can be a laborious task, much like some birth processes. We were sad to say goodbye, but so very relieved that his struggles were over. It was especially good to be with family and share memories.

Since goat babies were not due until March, I made flight arrangements, presuming most everyone would wait for me to get back home.

Something about 70 degree weather must tell goats and sheep that it is a perfect time to have babies, shepherdess or no shepherdess.

Today we are cold. I bundled up in sweatshirt, heavy coat and lined jeans to inspect the herd and flock.

Babies are everywhere!

Along with Portia's three living babies, we have Rosebud's two doelings and Clover's two bucklings. Our goat herd has doubled! We now wait for Angel and Stella to deliver. Sakura is too young to be a mother this year.

When I left, Willow had triplets (2 male 1 female) and Lucy had twins (2 M). Now Tarkheena has one female, Annie has one female, and Sissy has one ram lamb. Esther, Ophelia and Dahnabad are ladies in waiting. Perhaps their little ones will burst forth this weekend.

My gloved fingers were cold as I threw hay and made the rounds. But do not fear, all these babies are proof! Warmer days are heading our way.

I have more proof: the willow tree on the corner of the bottom hayfield was glowing with a chartreuse aura midday. The other ones off the driveway, the ones the kids like to climb, were a rosy hue.

Hopefully the fruit trees don't get too excited. Nights are still quite cold. We would hate to lose all the fruit crops like we did a few years ago. The weather forecast predicts rain and we are hopeful. A few days of soaking rain would do wonderful things for spring on the farm.

I am thankful to see all the life here on the farm, contrasted with memories of last year's death, and recent death. Living here in our land of milk and honey has been a most wondrous education. Dawn and nightfall, full moon and dark. Winter's dark days and fecundity of summer. Mourning and ashes, contrasted with delight and sweet joy.

My baby boy, Thomas, turned 18 last week.

Sometimes the fullness of our life, our friends, our family, the beauty of it all, mixed in with the messy and the painful and the occasionally nearly unbearable, is so sweet it hurts.

"Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Babies, of the goat and sheep variety

Today was a brilliant spring-like day. Clear blue skies, the color of my daddy's most faded overalls.

Maggie is sick with tonsillitis. I took her to the doctor yesterday morning to rule out strep throat. Last night Thomas and Patrick began to exhibit the same symptoms, so our family doctor prescribed them the same medicine. Wow. We are really getting our immune systems strengthened with all the exposure to germs in the public school system.

I ran to the pharmacy. To the grocery store. Bought items for Thomas's 18th birthday tomorrow. Running around town wears me out. I got home and counted goats.


Portia, the empress of our dairy herd, was missing.

I figured I would send the little girls out to take a look when they got home from school since I was so beat.

Took another look out the window and told myself to get my shoes on, it would do me good to have a walk around in this glorious sunshine.

I went out to the barn, and the sound of little bleating babies greeted my ears!

Good, smart Portia was in a stall in the middle section of the barn, proudly cleaning up her FOUR nursing babies! They looked like little toys, wagging their precious tails, nudging one or the other out of the way so they could each get a drink. Three little boys and one girl.

I was pretty happy I went out to check for myself. I went up to the loft to throw down hay for bedding and food, then took a bucket up to the pump to get her a drink. Lucy and her two little ram lambs were happy as could be. Willow (or was it Sissy, I always get those two mixed up) was making odd noises, and the other ewe was munching hay, contentedly.

I went closer in for an inspection, and sure enough, Willow had given birth to a little female. All black with a white topknot. It appeared that Willow was still in labor and had another baby to be born. Sheep, like most animals, prefer to be left alone during the throes of labor, so I went to get some alfalfa pellets, made sure they still had mineral, and stayed out of the way.

Portia had passed the afterbirth, she took a nice drink of water, and Nora and I got her some alfalfa pellets, too.

Willow continued to make noise, and when I went back to check it was apparent she was in distress. I hate to intervene, but as I watched her contort and cry, I decided I better scrub up and do an internal examination. Rose and I put her in a stall with fresh hay, I laid her on her side and reached in, hand up to the elbow. Front feet were positioned properly, but the head was very far down, and baby couldn't move into the birth canal. I prayed for help, reached the little feet and pulled until I could grab the head. Willow's contractions helped push things along, and all of a sudden we were able to get the baby far enough along to be born.

We were so suprised to see a HUGE ram lamb, over double the size of his firstborn sister. The same size or bigger than Lucy's week old ram lambs.

I placed the baby by Willow's face, she proceeded to lick and I rubbed the unresponsive baby, clearing out passages, praying for the little thing to move, to breathe, to do something. After a few very long seconds, the baby woke up, let out a weak bleat, and stirred.

Aaaah. Relief.

Hard labor that goes on a little too long can kill those babies. We lost several last year from that very thing.

Once the baby was moving and up, I went to get Willow some food and water. When I got back, guess what I saw?

A third ram lamb, almost as big as the second! Apparently the two were tangled up and she couldn't get them out.

What a relief. I was so glad some instinct urged me to go outside to check on the mamas.

As we took care of other chores, the babies stirred, stood up, and began to bleat. Between them in their stall, the four little baby goats, and Lucy's lambs, it sounds like a nursery in our barn.

Spring is coming. Hard to believe it isn't here, what with babies and sixty degree days and sunshine. Daffodils are going to be springing forth any minute now. Last year snow was covering everything. Lambs were springing forth, but I had to trudge through snow and ice to get to them.

I will take the sunshine, although we are in a drought and forest fires are popping up here and there. Please God, let's have some balance. Just enough sunshine and just enough rain. Besides, it isn't too early to think about hay fields.

Babies. What a welcome sight. And more to come. We will be praying for simple deliveries, just like Portia's.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And Thanks for Your Friendship, Too, Loyal Readers

Still no new baby lambs. I am surprised.

We have enjoyed a spell of warmer days, so I s'pose the girls are waiting for some ice and snow into which they can birth some more lambs(Murphy's Law.)

Yesterday we muddled through Valentine's Day.

Over thirteen years ago we started a family tradition. I guess with a house full of babies and toddlers it was easier to make a nice candlelit dinner happen at home instead of out. Philip's mom was staying with us for a few weeks. She had a broken arm and needed care.

I made a french bistro dinner at home, decorated the table with candles, tablecloth and chocolates and candy hearts. Cooked up some steaks, made pommes frites, and we had such a nice dinner, it became the standard menu every year after that.

More children came. Occasionally Philip's mom would be with us. Philip would buy or make me a nice card and give me roses. The children would cut out their construction paper hearts and pen their sentiments of love.

But every year, more or less the same, I would decorate the dining room and prepare our gourmet feast.

Some years I had more energy and would make homemade valentine's day cards for Philip and the kids, placing them and the token presents at each place setting. Some years it would be a store bought one. Every year had chocolates and steak and those amazing french fries.

You see, for years I had tried to perfect the homemade french fry. French fries are one of my favorite foods. Next to ribeye, done medium-rare, close to the rare side. Mine always came out slightly to very greasy, kind of limp. Not so nice.

Then I bought a cookbook that changed everything. The Everything Tastes Better In Belgium cookbook. It gave step-by-step instructions on how to make the perfect pomme fritte.

Simple, really. Sort of.

Technique is simple; process is time consuming and messy.

Perfect, since I shouldn't eat french fries very often.

Basically, one uses a good starchy potato. Most people recommend russets. I use potatoes we grow on the farm. Yukon gold has such a great flavor. You cut them into sticks. There is an art to cutting potatoes for fries, but I keep it simple, use a sharp knife, and don't pay much attention to those kinds of details. If you want to go to the trouble, rinse them and dry thoroughly. Heat up your deep fryer, or wok, or big cast iron skillet with oil (I use coconut oil) to about 325 degrees.

Fry the potatoes in small batches, but NOT until they are brown. Set them aside, draining on a rack or paper towels. You can do this stage of the process hours before your dinner.

When it is just about time to sit down at the table, heat up the oil, but this time to 375 degrees or so. Put the once-cooked potatoes back into the hot oil, and fry until just golden. Salt with sea salt. You will be amazed at how NON-greasy this potatoes are.

Yesterday I didn't have it in me to make our Valentine's Day dinner. I can't tell you how unbelievable hard it is to get through all these firsts. The wind had blown open the door to the freezer, letting a package of frozen okra thaw out. Along with some peaches and some whole trout I had forgotten about.

So I asked Maggie to go to the basement to get a pile of potatoes. Potatoes that Thomas planted and harvested last spring. From potatoes that he and Philip had planted and harvested the year before. I called a girlfriend who would cry with me and chatted with her while I cut them up. Thank you, dear Kathryn. And after five minutes or less of tears, we then were able to laugh and talk about all sorts of other things.

I roasted the trout with garlic and lemon. Fried up the okra with cornmeal, just like the kids like. Double fried the potatoes.

Placed a tablecloth on the table, pulled out the candles that Stewart and Jason's folks gave me for Christmas. Scattered about the little candy hearts and set out the token gifts. Everyone got little boxes of chocolates, like always. No cards. Used pretty dishes. Even though it was just for us.

It seemed right to be eating all foods raised by us, or our friends. I didn't have much of an appetite. We gave thanks for each other. We gave thanks for memories of Philip, who gave us so much love. So much love to me and each of our kids.

It hurt.

We gave thanks for our friends who love us so much and share their lives with us. The kids gave me chocolates and sweet notes and cards. We had beautiful roses given to us by one visiting friend. A lovely bouquet sent to us by a special friend. For dessert we had homemade sugar cookies, made by my mom, decorated by my dad, and shipped priority. Along side, we had a peach soup made by Maggie with the thawed out summer peaches from the farm.

Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith were the comforting accompaniment.

We got through.

And it was plenty good to eat trout instead of steak this year. We might do it again sometime. But Rose echoed my opinion that steak and frites are a pretty good tradition. One we might just want to keep.

Figuring out which family traditions we want to keep and which we can let go is a tricky thing. An evolving process which requires grace, flexibility and patience. And most of all: time.

In the meantime, we muddle through and I thank God for the sweet little moments that brighten things up. And for love.

Love didn't die last February 25th.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lambing Season Has Begun

Lucy was the first ewe to deliver this year. She is a precious dorset-jacob cross. And she and Tarkheena are two of the first lambs born on the farm.

Rose and her friend Anita went out to the barn to water and feed the chickens. I was up in my office (bedroom) working on an 8 hour accounting project. They burst into my room, breathless, with the animated expression of awe that only comes with news of fresh babies.

I grabbed my boots and a bag of alfalfa pellets and headed to the barn. There was our dear Lucy, very protective, and two little ram lambs, black with streaks of white on the forehead and rump. Two other ewes were nearby, maybe they were acting as midwives. I have a feeling they will be mothers before the weekend is out.

Babies. So precious.

Speaking of precious babies, we separated Mary from Coco for part of the day today to harvest our share of milk. Poor Mary. She was just across the fence from mama, being babysat by her big sister Priscilla and the big heifers. I am happy to have a nice supply of milk in the fridge and Mary is happy that I left some for her to enjoy for supper.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Snow Day, but just barely

A snow day for the kids meant that they got to feed the fire and fold the clothes while I worked on mounds of paperwork.

I think I dreamed of the garden last night. My body is hungry for exercise. I want to get out and plant cover crops and spread manure. But instead, I separated piles of receipts and bank statements and other tax stuff to begin getting ready to go to an accountant. Paid bills. Got a headache.

Why is it necessary to deal with paperwork? Are there any farmers out there who are naturally inclined to business organization? I would rather dig out the barn, weed the garden, butcher chickens and haul hay any day.

Nevertheless, I said thank you to God as I worked on all this boring stuff, grateful to have my own business that helps pay the bills so we can live on this farm. It seems like a miracle that we have been able to survive. A miracle and a testimony of the power of living in generous community.

And irony of ironies, before you know it, I will be dying for a day to sit inside and take care of paperwork, in order to take a break from the break-breaking agenda of springtime on the farm!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday is Family Sit Around the Table Night

Okay, I still remain optimistic deep down, but having temperatures drop back into the twenties means I better put on another layer. Brr.

Even so, this afternoon it wasn't too miserable to patch up a couple of chicken yard fences. Time will tell if I did the job correctly or not. Wish I were a better fence mender. My goal is to have free-range chickens, but within certain areas. It is a lovely thing to see chickens range over our yard, but not so lovely to have to wash chicken poop off our sidewalk and steps. Even less lovely to have chickens eat our garden, and since I remain optimistic that we will plant and enjoy a garden, fencing chickens is a timely priority.

Tonight we ate the very last package of grass-finished beef steak out of the freezer. Along with some organic broccoli, a very out-of-season, non local organic eggplant and some sweet potatoes that were raised by our farmer friend. For dessert, some Homestead Creamery double chocolate icecream. What was the occasion? I actually found enough energy to cook and have us sit down at table together.

Well, I hear kids coming in from evening chores. Time to sit in front of the fire and read another chapter from our book.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Faith or Spring is a Frisky Little Heifer Named Mary

This morning I drove to Wilkesboro, NC to have my stoneburr mill serviced to be ready for the spring bakery season. The guys at Meadows Mills are wonderful. They always remember my name. They are friendly. They work hard and manufacture a superior product. Now that we have had our tuneup, bakery will be in operation soon.

When I got home, Patrick and I tackled the project of moving some of the round bales of hay out to the garden. I hope to use it to heavily mulch our spring garden. The afternoon was lovely. High forties, sun coming out from under the clouds. It turned the ridge a brownish pink. Just like the new heifer, Mary. When I went out to the pasture to bring in Coco, Mary frisked and frolicked. It was so beautiful, with spring hanging in the air, I could understand why.

After some of the hay was moved out of the upper barn, I went out to the upper hay field with a bucket of alfalfa pellets. Tarkheena came up for a nibble, then she and the rest of the flock followed me into their new home for the next couple or three weeks. I feel so much better having the ewes put up and out of way of the howling coyotes before their babies come. The air was so clean, the sky so brilliant, the fields showing a promise of green. All my worries couldn't stand a chance. They fled somewhere down the road. The trees are tinged with pink and the ornamental pear has buds swelling. I told all the fruit trees that a hard freeze is coming, and probably a light snow, but they didn't listen. It is hard to listen to reason about pending cold weather when there is light at almost six o'clock pm! And this morning, there was light before 7am.

Optimism swells, just like those buds.

For the moment.

And we'll run with it, as long as we can!

Sunday, February 6, 2011


When Patrick was around two, we were living in and renovating a historical home in Fort Worth. At the time, his favorite song was the children's Sunday school song about Zaccheus, the wee little man who climbed up into the sycamore tree.

One spring afternoon, a cute little gray kitty hopped up onto our front porch, climbed through an open window, and decided to live with us. We looked for her owners, but couldn't find them. One afternoon, our "new" kitty was climbing up one of the trees in our backyard. Toddler Patrick pointed up and said, "That kitty Zaccheus, Zaccheus climb up de twee!"

Of course the name stuck. A few weeks later we realized Zaccheus was actually an unwed teenage mother, but by that time we couldn't imagine her going by any other name!

Living in an old 3600 sq ft old house, drafty, with a creepy basement, you can imagine the problems we had with mice. When Zaccheus came to live with us, Philip would open the door to the pantry and say, "Here, Kitty, Kitty!" She would delicately stroll over to the closet, then an incredible transformation would occur. Fur would fly, howls would emanate from her throat and it looked like something out of the Tasmanian devil cartoons. In less than a minute, the tornado would stop, and there she would be, pleased as punch, ready to lay the dead mouse at Philip's feet.

You can imagine that she became his new best friend! Finally, in a house that seemed to be falling down around our ears, we had an ally. One day she caught SEVEN mice out of that pantry. Didn't take long until she completely eradicated our rodent problem.

One morning I was talking to my mom on the phone. Zaccheus was napping in a sunny spot on the floor of our breakfast room. I was bemoaning that fact that some birds were snatching my green bean seedlings out of the garden, right as they sprouted out of the ground. I suggested that with a cat on the premises the birds ought to be afraid, but maybe I had never given Zaccheus a detailed enough job description.

Well, Mom and I changed topic of conversation and I forgot about the birds and the cat. Until a few minutes later I heard a "thwack, thwack, thwack!" sound coming from behind me in the breakfast room. I turned around to see feathers flying. And a cat batting around a fluttering bird.

"EEK!" I screamed and used a broom to hasten the kitty and feathers and bird out the backdoor. She brought the bird back in through an open window. I finally got kitty, bird and feathers swept outside and quickly shut the windows. Later I went out to survey my little urban garden. There, in the middle of the green bean patch was the decapitated bird. Next to the garden, Sphynx-like, Zaccheus lay on the grass, proud to know that green bean security guard was now part of her job description.

From that point I had no doubt that Zaccheus could hear and understand anything we said.

Zackie wasn't really a kid-friendly cat. She was known to be a little persnickety around over-zealous toddlers. She never hurt them, just gave a quick spank or almost a scratch, to let them know when they were being too rough. Didn't take long to train them. She never was a lap kitty. Which suited me just fine. With three little children, then four, then five, I didn't have time for affection-starved, needy pets. She would sleep at the foot of our bed and would tolerate a gentle petting on occasion and we would feel so honored.

But after some time I noticed a pattern. When one of the children would fall down, get hurt and cry, Zaccheus would run to the weeping one and climb up into his or her lap to offer comfort, as if to say, "Look here, sweety, just feel my soft fur and it will make everything feel so much better."

And it did.

Of course she was quick to remind the children that SHE was the one who would decide when they could love on her.

When I was pregnant with Rose, Zaccheus was pregnant with kittens. Rose's birth was a homebirth. The day after, Zaccheus did everything she could to try to have her kittens in the bed with me and baby Rose. I finally got her to settle down in a box next to my side of the bed, and we all were able to witness the miracle of kitty birth, sweet little babe in arms. Of course we knew the responsible thing was to get her spayed. And we did. But, oh, the joy of baby kittens! Weren't we happy in December, to see pictures of one of her babies, Henry, who lives with our friends in Atlanta!

When we moved to New Jersey, Zaccheus was thrilled. She helped even out the chipmunk and mole population, which thrilled the gardener neighbors.

The move to Virginia was an even greater adventure! Wow! The smells! The new mice! The rats!

I remember one night, Philip had been in the hospital repeatedly, trying different new procedures and surgeries hoping to correct the serious atrial fibrillation. Not too long before, he had acquired MRSA in his sternal column, after a simple procedure that was to repair a weakened mitral valve. He had to be in a medically-induced coma for two weeks and we thought he was going to die. After all the hospital trauma, I was weary. Weary, worried and nearly at the end of my rope. Lying in bed, Zaccheus at my feet, I started to pour out my heart to her. I told her that I know she wasn't a lap kitty, and that I appreciated that about her. In fact, I would never want her to change, but then I told her how sad I was and that if she wouldn't mind, it would comfort me greatly to have her jump up on my tummy and let me pet her.

I spoke to her in a normal voice. No gestures. I was flat on my back, weeping. As soon as I mentioned the jump up on my tummy part, she climbed right up and curled up on my tummy, purring. The first time in over ten years. I wept. And pet her velvety fur. And was comforted beyond belief.

I tell you these things because I hope you will understand why losing Zaccheus pains me more than any other pet we have ever lost. Sometimes people think that since we live on a farm and butcher animals that it makes us inured to grief over pets.

It doesn't.

Zaccheus came to lie under my bed two weeks ago. She is old and I knew she was preparing to die. I made her a bed on my bed and talked to her. Started to say goodbye. Pet her soft fur. Had the kids spend some time with her and say their goodbyes. Being in bed sick gave me more time to love on her than I would have ordinarily had to give. I explained to the children that we don't take dying animals to the vet to try to falsely extend their days. Since she wasn't suffering, I didn't see the need to euthanize her. So we gave her clean water, pet her, cleaned up after her and after days of seeing her go downhill, it made it much easier to say goodbye. We told her how much we have loved her, and we thanked her for all the sweetness she brought to our life.

She disappeared last night.

Seems most animals like to go off and find a dark and quiet place to die. I have searched the house, under beds, behind furniture, and can't find her. I wonder if she went outside? I feel certain she is gone. If she isn't, she will be, probably very soon.

We will miss Zaccheus so very very much. Being a busy mother of five, running a farm and my own business leaves me little room for pet sentimentality. I just don't have much patience, even though I enjoy seeing the kids have their sweet pets. But Zackie was different. I have never loved a pet like I love her. Her sweet memory will give me joy. I will never forget her. So thankful we got to enjoy her as a part of our family and life. I will miss her precious self.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Good Shepherd

Since I got sick, almost two weeks ago, I have been watching the sheep out my bedroom window, counting them as they passed by on their daily rounds. We have twenty sheep, plus Boaz, the Jacob ram.

Last Saturday I only counted seventeen.

Since lambing days are coming along any day now, I sent the kids out to search for the missing three.

They looked through the barn. They looked all over our twenty acres, and the twenty-five acres we lease.

No sheep.

Patrick loves the job of searching for missing animals. Sort of.
So do I, sort of.

There is something nice about being forced to go take a hike through the woods and over the hills and across the stream. All for a good purpose.

Since Patrick has a broken ankle and I have been in bed sick with the flu/bronchitis, Maggie went out to look.

No luck.

She went out looking every day, through Thursday.

You have to understand, sheep live in community. They never stray far from the others. It is part of their instinct. It keeps them alive, staying banded together. So for 3 sheep to go missing for that many days is very unusual. Maggie went over every part of our property and the adjacent property, searching high and low. She only counted 17. I looked out my window at the flock and only counted 17.

On Thursday, the coyotes were yipping, the dogs barking, and I felt horrible. The coughing was miserable, my body ached, the kids needed their mother and I was at my wit's end.

In exasperation, I cried out to the Lord for help with my children. And then I started to worry about the sheep. So I cried out to the Good Shepherd, and told him how I was too sick to be a good shepherd to my sheep and would he please intervene on their behalf, if they were still alive and hadn't yet been eaten by coyotes.

Then, mercifully, went to sleep, thankful that prayer is a wonderful way to shed stress.

Yesterday I felt a bit better and for the first time in days was well enough to walk out to the field to count sheep in person.


So then I loaded up the little girls, and we ran into town to take care of some necessary things.

When we returned to our driveway, we saw the sheep munching grass up on the upper fields. Nora, Rose and I quickly counted.


We pulled the car over, left it running and raced over the the fence to count again.

Twenty sheep, placidly grazing, content in the last rays of afternoon.

This afternoon I went out to throw hay and check water. All twenty were together, very thankful for the alfalfa pellets I gave them. No babies yet, but three of the ewes are starting to develop a little udder. Any day now.

I said thank you to my Good Shepherd. And then enjoyed a good hour of hanging out with those sheep, visiting with them, reminding them how good it is to stick together, sharing a bucket of healthy minerals with Thorvin Kelp.

And enjoyed the sun and the blustery wind that blew away the fog and howled through the trees on our ridge. And the strength that I trust will return to my body now that it is starting to feel a bit more healthy.

PS I am also thankful to my Good Shepherd for dear friends, and for the nice beef stew that fed our family so nicely the other night, brought over by Laura, and the turkey and mashed potatoes and asparagus from Linda. Those meals, and a friend to come wash dishes and to play with kids and for another friend to drive big kids where they needed to go were terrific boosts to this single mama.

PPS Portia, our queen milking goat, is SOOO huge, I will be surprised if she doesn't have four babies this year. She is due early March. The other does are looking pretty pregnant too, but not like Portia.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Six More Weeks of Winter?

"What is that blue stuff out there?" questioned one of the little girls this morning as they looked out the front door before they ran to the bus.

The thick fog blankets the farm this morning, and in the pre-dawn, it looks eerily blue. Rain fell for quite some time last night instead of ice and snow. The pond appears to be melting quickly. When I opened my bedroom window, it smelled wet and earthy, like spring. I can almost hear spring peepers!

Isn't it ironic that Texas is experiencing record lows this week! I wonder what the groundhog has to say about all that. All I know is that around this part of the country, it is premature to think that we are over winter.

Weeks to go.

But the little bird trilling outside my window, sitting in his spot on the forsythia bush sounds optimistic.

PS after a week and a half of the cold that wouldn't go away, that turned into a chest problem, I went to our family doctor who gave me medicine to defeat the infection and calm the cough so I can sleep. Last night was the best sleep I have had in a long time. Thank God for modern medicine and doctor friends.

PPS Patrick is moving around beautifully on crutches, and we head to the orthopedist today to get his distal fibula put into a cast. Besides feed and water, the farm is having to take care of itself for the time being. We have had lots of offers of help, but I have been too sick to even think of coordinating and overseeing. Lots of big things are being set aside, but thankfully the kids have been great about tending the little things.

PPPS Groundhog Day with Bill Murray is an awfully fun fable to watch on Groundhog Day. I may have to work that into my schedule for today...

PPPPS I just read online that Punxatawney Phil did NOT see his shadow and that he predicts an early spring! I hope he is correct!