Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More of the Same Economy

Rose is sick with a fever and was up through the night last night.

Thomas is still recuperating for his surgery last week.

After a big day yesterday of packing up books and winter clothes and doing loads and loads of laundry, I woke up tired and weepy.

Larry came over this afternoon to help finish up the deck construction. What a woman is my dearest friend Lynne who doesn't hold it against her husband to be over here working on my chore list instead of her own...

Mike showed up again.!.

They grabbed Patrick and before you know it, the deck project was completed. At least until we get it pressure washed and painted. Thomas was well enough to haul household trash and Goodwill bags out for me, then he began a pot of mashed potatoes. Extra big pot of mashed potatoes. I pulled out thawed out pork chops from the fridge for our supper. I figured that the kids have been working so hard, I wanted to fix them a nice meal, and we were blessed by a gift of the chops from the Depret-G's the other day. I grabbed a jar of green beans from the basement, a gift from another farmer friend that we canned last summer.

I turned around, and there was the Wilborne family, here to finish up a chore in the upstairs bathroom. Giant hugs were shared and a chicken was pulled out of the fridge. A chicken gifted to us by Mike on Saturday. A Freedom-ranger, raised and processed by him and some other friends.

Before you know it, the trim was up in the hallway, the bathroom shower was finished and we were all eating a delicious meal out on the deck in the cool evening air.

This morning I felt so empty, it seemed I had absolutely nothing to give, not to my family, to my friends, to God or to myself.

I prayed with a couple of friends for some encouragement and light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes it feels like that crucial moment in natural childbirth called transition. The pain of labor is so hard, I remember feeling like I couldn't endure another moment. The midwife told me that no matter how I felt like couldn't do it, the truth was that I was doing it, and there was a baby being born, and sure enough, the pain was productive and about the time I realized I couldn't go on, there was a baby in my arms.

This evening, as I looked at the beautiful new deck railing and the lovely new ceiling and trim and the working shower, I felt encouraged. And then, as the food was ready to set out on the table, I realized I had something to give. Ironically, it was something that was given to me!

Pork chops from Stewart, raised by another farmer in the area. Chicken raised and processed by Mike, an amazingly generous gift, if you have ever raised a chick into a several pound bird and put it into kitchen-ready state! Potatoes cooked by Thomas. Green beans seeded and grown and picked by another farmer friend last summer. Cool air, replacing the stagnant, oppressive heat of the afternoon.

Just for a moment, I think I caught a glimpse of something rather magical. Something out of nothing. A miracle? Tired friends, tired kids, tired me, all sitting around the table, way later than dinner time. But it was good.

And I am grateful.

God's Economy

Saturday we had a workday.

As I look around the farm, all I see are things that have been neglected the last couple of years. When I began to make the bakery a full-time job, certain things had to be set aside. Even before Philip died. When Philip died, even more things had to be set aside. The chicken fencing that worked well for a couple of seasons ceased to work.

With eyes fixed on the goal of taking care of kids and working to provide sufficient income for our family, I turned my eyes away from non-working chicken fence.

Same with goat fencing.

And big garden.

And weed maintenance.

And house maintenance.

Don't get me wrong. We have had countless people help with endless tasks. But a farm and an old farmhouse require constant maintenance and I have been very frustrated by my inability to take care of it all.

At times I berate myself for not managing things more efficiently. Then I ask myself which thing should I give up to get those tasks done? Reading to the children? Sitting down to an occasional family dinner? Having a few moments in the morning and the evening to be still and listen?

So Saturday morning, Larry and the Lee's came over and we set our mind to the task. The kids and I gathered trash and accumulated junk from all over the farm. Old tires that we inherited with the farm. Blown about bits of this and that. Detritus that maybe at some point in time had a purpose, but no longer serves. We loaded it all up and Patrick and Larry took it to the dump. Paul tackled alcatraz. I mean the old fence that was long ago set up to be temporary and kind of became permanently ugly. It never really served its purpose of keeping the chickens kept in their yard. Well, maybe it did for a few weeks. But like many other things in life, we had to let it go, to tend to other more pressing matters, and the weeds grew around it, the wire tangled up, and whew, it looked terrible.

By twelve-thirty, trash was hauled, fence was down and we sat ourselves down to sandwiches and cold drinks.

By one, the next crew arrived, the Depret-G's, Kari, the other Patrick and former milk customer Mike and his friend.

We put Larry and Paul's monster weedeaters to good use. Kari painted the intern cabin and the living room ceiling. Not only did Maggie D. contribute a homemade from scratch chocolate cake, she joined our Maggie and Rose and Nora in painting cabin door and fence and lots of other little tasks. Rose and Serge and Larry took down the old, not to code part of the deck. With Patrick on tractor, the young men loaded up the metal fencing to the metal pile and the wood stuff to the giant bonfire. We mulched. Larry did some work on the driveway and cleared off part of the old manure pile with the skid steer (my new favorite tool!, wish I had one!!!) Mike and Rick moved some manure, and helped with repurposing boards into a new life as deck pickets.

It was a long hard day. We sat down to eat homemade beans, pico de gallo and tacos chihuahua (thanks to the Depret-G's for the happy pork!) very late that evening, cool air embracing our sweet chat on the deck.

At times I felt embarrassed to have people helping us with tasks that show how behind I am. It is humiliating at times to need help. But not a soul made me feel judged or condemned.

They made me feel loved. At least it appeared that they were having a good time getting to work together alongside our family, readying our farm for another owner.

Have you ever noticed how occasionally life makes you feel like a total failure when you can't meet your own expectations? There is so much more to be done.

And yet, in surrendering my pride, receiving the gift of friendship, love and generous help from friends, there is satisfaction and joy, which somehow compensates for all the unfinished, impossible, larger than life goals I set for myself in the past few years.

It was a very good day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day of Rest

Tomorrow I will have to tell you about yesterday.

But now, I will tell you about today. After so much work the last few days, we needed an adventure. After church, the truck headed south towards Floyd. Rhododendrons decorated the side of the winding mountain roads. We landed at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a feast. Afterwards we strolled down the street, looking for a cup of coffee. My cell phone rang. It was Lynne!

We opted to head back for the truck and enjoy coffee at Chez Florin.

What a treat. Tired, lazy people lounged around in the screened in porch on their part of Bent Mountain, listening to Spott the hound bay after some kind of critters down by the stream. We visited our former chickens, now living in what they probably think is paradise: the world's most beautiful chicken coop, designed by Larry.

There is not much I like better than hanging with my friends on a Sunday afternoon, shoes off, sprawled with kids hanging on one side of me or the other.

At some point, the afternoon disappeared and turned into early evening and they invited us in to dine at Tai Pei. Kids and I followed Florins over the mountain and back into town. We rolled down the windows and cranked up the radio. The children didn't even cringe when I sang aloud to 80's music. Heady perfume of honeysuckle thickly scented our drive.

After supper we drove home, up and over our mountain, with the windows still down. The moist green air was so filled with honeysuckle I could almost drink it. So sweet. When we turned onto our road, we met with freshly mown hay fields. The cut grass was like men's cologne. Fireflies floated in the thick, fragrant evening air and I thought about how lucky we are to get to experience all these sensations.

Now I hear hundreds of frogs, singing in the night. Cool still air is like a shawl, with only a slight breeze stirring. How can such a quiet evening be so musical? There are two bullfrogs, one on the east side of the pond, the other a bit up the creek. The females are not far off. I can hear their twang, like a rubber band strung across a cardboard shoe box. Peepers echo all around me. There are some kind of twirring frogs, and a chirruping one. Several other notes I cannot identify. Fireflies light up the ridge in a magical display, like something out of a fairy story. The smell of honeysuckle occasionally drifts over to me, like a gift. Black velvet sky is not as dark as the ridge, with a scattering of stars. No thunder tonight. No lightening at the moment. Just thick and heady late May evening, redolent with life. Kids in bed reading, thankful to have a day off tomorrow. Blackie and Brownie are at my feet, wondering what I am doing, sitting out here on the deck with the computer.

So tomorrow I will have to tell you about yesterday. But as for now, I think I will enjoy today. I hope you get a chance to enjoy your today, today. Good night!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


They are coming!

After working on some chores, the girls and I headed out to check on Mama Duck. She was hissing in a different tone this evening.

Sure enough, we heard faint sounds of "Peep! Peep! Peep!"

One little duckling was hatched out. It looked nearly dead, but I think it was just traumatized from the exertion of getting out of the shell. Another duckling had beak sticking out of the shell, peeping like mad. Yet another was tap, tap, tapping on its shell, making it rock back and forth. Just like real human babies, they look a lot better some time after the birthing process.

We wanted to stick around and watch the whole show. Maggie ran to the house and grabbed Patrick to join us. But after several minutes of absolutely no change, we got tired and headed back to our chores. Mama Duck was thankful for our boredom.

Due to the extreme amounts of rain, the bottom part of our big garden has been flooded for some time. Since I haven't planted much, the weeds have taken over. I was about to send Patrick for the weedeater when the light bulb went off in my head.

We have living weedeaters!

All of a sudden, I saw the value of those goats. Maggie herded them over to the garden, and she, Rose, Patrick and I fenced in our garlic and onions. Nobody touched the potatoes so we put on some more hay mulch and left them alone.

I wish you could have seen the herd attack the yellow dock! They were amazing!

As I watched, I wondered how long it would take for the crew to clean up the plot.

Then I heard the baaa of one of the lambs.

I grabbed Patrick and we went to herd the flock over to the garden, with the help of a couple of friends who dropped by (thanks, Mike and Lex!).

So now we are wagering on how many days it takes for those guys to weed the garden. Isn't organic living wonderful? ( just so they don't figure out how to knock down our fence and eat up all that beautiful garlic and the onions!)

Late May in Virginia is a lovely time. All is sweet and moist and green and lush. I think if you stuck a lamp post into the soil it would grow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


The air is fresh this evening.

My to-do list is very long, but an old friend came in from out of state, so after pushing very hard this morning, we took a picnic up the Andy Lane trail down the road. What a gift to stride through woods, alongside rushing creeks, wildflowers and greenery everywhere.

We caught up, prayed together, ate our Subway sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, and inhaled and exhaled.

It was good.

We were sprinkled upon, but not poured upon.

Some Bhutanese guys were waiting at the top of the driveway for me, looking to buy a goat (they didn't, the babies were two months too small.) We walked out to see animals, and in limited English, had a great chat.

The kids got home and my internal list was screaming to work inside.

The outdoors won.

Fresh air, nice and cool, gentle breeze, compelled every single one of our family to head outside to work on chores. We mowed, planted, mulched, took care of animals, weed-eated.

I heated up leftover pizza for the kids and now they are playing ball on the front lawn. I am due to milk Coco in a few minutes.

The air is so fresh I think I might not be able to stand it. When outside I see the cherries on the tree, beginning to blush. The peaches are like 10 year olds, not quite there yet, but growing so very much every day, you know you will turn around and they will be ready to fulfill their destiny (A lawyer, I wonder, as I think of one particular 10 yr old girl I know? A pie, as I survey our little tree on the backside of the milking parlor?) The weeds. Well. Do we have to talk about the weeds?

I was wondering, as I weed eated (or would that be weed-ate?) if I wished I were like a weed. They are so hardy. They require very little to survive. Even in the harshest conditions they thrive. A few even produce pretty little blossoms.

But as I whacked, and later yanked a few by hand, I decided that I didn't really want to be like a weed. They don't have many friends. I would like to have more people like me, sad to say!!!

Well, the voices outdoors are happy, kids, guineas, peepers, hens. I had better go now, and start readying kids for bath before they turn into howling coyotes!

PS mama duck is still sitting behind the old antique window, leaning against the tractor shed. I guess this is rather morbid thinking, but the thought did cross my mind as I squatted and milked this morning, and saw the male ducks but not the mama, that it sure has been a long time since I had a nice meal of duck. One of my favorite foods. I wonder if we can raise the ducklings up quickly enough to make a meal or two???

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Sultry afternoon made me feel lazy. Hot and sticky, I laid around and read a novel. Nora and I hung out in the peaceful quiet.

As the kids returned home in the evening, I watched a thundercloud form on the top of our ridge. It boiled up like a pot of oatmeal, ready to spill over.

And sure enough, as the dark descended, lightening began to flash. I had to run out to the deck to watch. Lightening bugs flickered all through the woods. Soft thunder boomed in the distance and then a subtle breeze kicked up. All of a sudden the sticky sultry was gone and electric energy pulsed through the valley. Lightening and thunder rolled and bounced from every side and raindrops chased me to the front porch.

Have I ever mentioned that lightening storms are one of my favorite things?

Wind transformed from gentle breeze to slamming freight train. Raindrops grew into a downpour, slashing my window panes.

Lightening continues to decorate the farm, but the wind in the trees is louder than the thunder. I had better disconnect the computer and settle in for the evening. But I just had to mention how lovely our ridge is at the beginning of a storm. And how electrifying storms are a gift. Nora and I said a prayer for the hikers up above us on the Appalachian trail, hoping that they are safely tucked in a nice shelter during this storm. May they be granted safety and rest and a dry place to place their heads this stormy night.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Satisfaction-or Maybe Rod Stewart Should Hang Out On Our Farm Someday...

Today we went to the farmer's market. I got up predawn to make up some of our cornbread, pancake and brownie mixes so that customers could taste and see that freshly milled whole grain mixes really are a wonderful thing.

As per normal, we scurried and hurried and gathered and rushed, heading out the door. Patrick milked as I showered. Thomas loaded. Maggie baked her freshly milled whole wheat chocolate chip cookies and Nora and Rose followed instructions.

We were on the road by 7 am.

We sold breads and granola and lamb, along with Maggie's cookies. Maggie gave Nora part of the proceeds to pay her for services rendered. The rest of her money she used to buy some very stylish aviator sunglasses at the Urban Gyspy.

Going to market requires hours of preparation, but there is something quite satisfying we receive in the social arena.

Kids walk around town and hang with friends. Thomas walks to the library. Patrick tends another market and has his own set of pals. We chat and sell, educate and barter. Then we head to the bank, very grateful to have money we can use to pay bills.

Sometimes I get home so tired I collapse in bed. Today I swept the downstairs and washed up the morning dishes. Answered a couple of phone calls while the kids enjoyed their library finds. A market farmer bartered me some organic herbs for bread. In the bundle was a nice bunch of thyme.

I discovered that a package of lamb chops had gotten thawed out. Not enough for the whole family. I gave the kids smoked trout (from Big Pine) and our freshly milled whole wheat peasant bread. With a side of Aah Organics quinoa banana bread. I pulled out the remaining three parsnips from Patchwork Farm from the veggie bin of my fridge. And a big ziploc bag of Randy Deel's shiitake mushrooms. Hmm.

What to go with that bottle of Malbec from Kimberly Eakin's Wine Gourmet? (Cheap, but good) The thyme inspired me to go french. After cooking for HOW many hours the last three days, you might assume that I would be happy to go to bed with a slice of bread. But all those friendly ingredients called out my name and as the kids enjoyed their movie, I enjoyed bruising the thyme between my fingers and rubbing it onto the lamb chops. Then smeared them with dijon mustard and garlic. I cut the parsnips into sticks and drizzled them with olive oil and placed them in a baking dish headed toward a 400 degree oven. I know that shiitake mushrooms aren't exactly french fare, but I had no chanterelles so they were a wonderful substitute. Sliced, they went into another baking dish, were laced with more bruised thyme leaves, some garlic, plenty of sea salt and olive oil and they joined the parsnips.
I heated a skillet, added more olive oil and seared the chops until brown and crusty, rare in the middle. Then deglazed the pan with red wine, added more mustard and thyme leaves and cooked down quickly. Poured the sauce over everything, poured myself a glass of wine and went to the deck.

Two books accompanied me. Dante's Divine Comedy, because I bought it at the library for 10 cents and I wanted to become smarter. And Tender to the Bone by Ruth Reichl because I had a feeling I would enjoy it.

Ribeye munched grass on his side of the fence. The male rouen ducks had a swim on the pond. Which poured over the dam and gurgled. Brownie and Blackie placed themselves a respectful distance from the table, anticipating their treat. A perfect picture of hope? Or faith in the goodness of their mistress?

I ate with my fingers, savoring the earthy flavor of thyme and garlic. The meaty mushrooms. Sweet roots and succulent lamb. After 10 pages of introduction to Dante, I headed over to Reichl and got sucked in.

Evening is bright here in early May. Peepers sing and all smells of cropped clover. Bright and green, not the musky smell of September and toasted fescue.

I was quite pleased with my solitary meal on the deck, serenaded by early summer on the farm. All the food on my plate connected to some sweet person in my life, the sweet young mama of Hazel who grew the parsnips that are now only a memory. Randy, the amazing farmer over in Fincastle who not only grows shiitakes, but also many many other delicious veggies and even makes sorghum molasses and alfalfa hay. The thyme from the slim tall farmer woman with a delightful accent who has no idea she inspired my meal, and lamb that used to frolic and cavort and eat our grass. Bread baked from flour milled on my mill which was built by some really cool fellows down at Meadow Mills in Wilkesboro, NC.

Cool moist air wrapped around my shoulders and the dark chased me indoors. Now the kids head to their beds, well-tired, with books to read. And I will read more recipes and stories by Ruth, savoring the flavors of my life.


PS The other day I discovered the nesting/brooding spot of our mama rouen duck. She is settled under an old antique window, resting against the wall of the old milking parlor. Her nest is warm and dry. 10 eggs? I wonder when the little things will hatch?

PPS The kids noticed the first fireflies a few days ago. I exclaimed with joy when one lit up in front of my face last night.

PPPS I can distinguish at least 4 varieties of frogs singing outside my window. Wonder if there are more?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Night and the Farm Smells Like a Bakery

PS I just have to mention that I love Eva Cassidy's music. As I baked today her album came up on the ITunes rotation. Almost a year ago I posted a blog about a little tiff between me and Coco and the new milking stanchion. The song Time is a Healer always makes me think about that late spring day and Coco making me so mad!

I had to smile as I remembered that day with Coco, and isn't it funny that even painful moments and memories can bring to mind a smile. (Actually the tiff with Coco wasn't nearly as painful as my bucket of grief, but that is another story.)

PPS Thank you Patrick for milking so I can have cream in my coffee tomorrow morning.

Change of Pace

Welcome back, sunshine! We missed you. Of course we are grateful for all the rain, but it is nice to have a change of pace.

And I am busy with the bakery and projects readying the farm to be put on the market. More blogging soon!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Showers of Blessing

The rain is raining all around
It falls on fields and streams.

It rains on the umbrellas here
And on the ships at sea.

RL Stevenson

(At least I think that is how it goes!)

The rain came for a visit and decided to hang around for awhile.

We have had thunder booms and torrential downpour all night and most of the day. The sun peaks out for a few minutes, and then the storm swirls back around.

Larry and a friend were here this afternoon to help me put sheetrock up to repair the hallway ceiling. The coffee flowed and the work happened and kids busily went to find this tool or that. At some point I looked out the front to see if so and so were on his way back to the house when I noticed one of the ewes standing out in the pouring rain, right outside the barn door. Next to her was a little dark lump.

This was the adorable Jacob ewe, one year old, with the sweetest set of horns and cute little personality.

I had never named her because I knew we had to sell her. But every time I would see her I had to smile. Since I was in the middle of helping with the ceiling project, I sent Maggie out to the barn to investigate. Sure enough! The sweet young thing had just delivered a precious little ram lamb. Maggie picked up the fellow and mama followed into the barn, to join Sissy and her little fellows in the nursery.

As I pondered that sweet little ewe with the precious swirly horns, I decided I had to name her.


The only name that came to mind that brought me images of cuteness and precious delightfulness.

I suppose I will post a picture of her on Facebook as soon as I get around to it, for those of you who wish I put pictures on the blog. Sorry. Not going to do it. But Facebook is out there and you are welcome to check it out!

Annabelle. What a fun surprise on a terribly rainy day. It certainly is a good thing that most of the time sheep, cows, goats and other mammals know what to do when it is birthing time and rarely need our intervention.

Anyone out there want to buy the most adorable little mother on the farm?

PS Patrick gathered up a dozen of the hens who went with Larry over our mountain and then up and over theirs (Bent Mtn). Larry has built the most fabulous of hen resorts on their property and these girls have no idea the upgrade they are about to experience. Well, actually, they are probably getting settled in and are wondering if they died and went to hen heaven. I hope they lay many delicious free-range eggs over there on Bent Mountain and that many omelets are enjoyed. Wonder if I can figure out a way to send a few sheep and goats that way??? I just know Larry could figure out a way to fence in goats. But could he convince Lynne and Emma to milk them? Hmmm.

Monday, May 16, 2011

More Favorite Things, or Continuing to Count My Blessings

Roasted parsnips.

From Patchwork Farm in Copper Hill, Va. Some of our farmer's market friends raise the most delicious parsnips and carrots I have ever tasted.

I peeled them and cut them into wedges, tossed with olive oil and put them in a hot oven. When they were almost brown around the edges, I tossed in some fresh asparagus from another farmer's market friend. A sprinkling of sea salt and a few more minutes and they were so good I had to control myself to keep from eating the whole lot, right off the pan.

PLEASE, find some sweet parsnips from a local farmer and roast them with olive oil and sea salt. I like chocolate well enough, but not as much as those roasted parsnips. Weird, huh???

We also ate some organic broccoli, sauteed in a huge fry pan with olive oil, garlic and just enough water to hasten along the cooking.

And a nice fresh salad, picked by Maggie minutes before we ate it.

The kids ate some of Big Pine's smoked trout and baguette leftover from the market. I just ate some more parsnips. And broccoli.

Isn't it wonderful to be eating truly fresh food again? And such a gift to know most of the hands who helped get that food from the earth and to our table.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Speaking of fresh food, I had better go milk. Coco tells me it is time!

Another of My Favorite Things

I love sitting on the front porch with my coffee in the early morning hours. Sometimes it is still chilly enough for a little blanket. I take out my Bible, Book of Common Prayer and journal. These past few mornings have been lovely. Moist and drizzly. The fog hugs the mountains like a shawl. The farm wakes up and I hear song of cackling hens, waking rooster, snuffling dogs and George, the turkey. These days there are more birds than I can count. This morning I swear I heard a mockingbird calling just like a baby goat! I know it was a bird and not a kid because of the location. "Maaa! Maaa!" Made me remember a mockingbird who learned how to copy the sound of our house alarm going off in our historical home in Fort Worth. Seemed like that system was forever being set off by kids, cats or winds jostling old doors and windows. That bird would go off and I would leap, wondering what set off the alarm this time, and could I get it turned off before the police officer arrived!

Those are amazing birds. I could be mistaken. All those songs are coming from here there and everywhere. Swallows dip and swoop over the damp morning lawn and I wonder how many pounds of bugs have they consumed over the last couple of weeks? Reading David's poetry in the Psalms is especially sweet when served with hot coffee and lovely May morning on my front porch.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Grass is Greener

So everybody knows how hard it is to fence in goats. At least anyone who has raised goats for very long.

I remember as a girl coming home from somewhere, every once in awhile, and all of my mom's rose bushes would have been consumed by our little herd of escapee goats. Once, if I remember correctly, one of the goats climbed up on my uncle's soft top convertible. Oops. Those soft tops are not great for climbing and little hoofs.

For the last few weeks we have been having serious goat fencing issues. I was wondering why we are having so many troubles this spring. I guess as the troubles would come up last spring, the kids were here at home and we could work on fixing fence as need would arise. This year, the kids are in school. We work on trying to patch one spot and then two days later the goats find another one. They are master magicians. For some reason, they prefer the neighbor's building site, next to the open road much more than the 35 legal acres they have available to them.

Sometimes we will put them in a new field, they will seem perfectly content, and then as soon as we drive away from the property, I guess they whisper to each other,"Come on, girls, they're gone. Let's go eat that really green grass up on the neighbor's hill and the kids can play on the big pile of dirt next to their foundation hole!"

The goats are for sale, but not all of them have gone yet. It is hard to sell them, as they are not just milk goats, but they are Maggie's pets. She loves each one and hopes to sell them to sweet homes instead of to the butcher market. Especially as they are useful and valuable dairy animals.

For anybody out there who has been wanting to get goats, I should say that they are a wonderful animal. We have loved them dearly. They are valuable producers of milk and meat and out of all of our animals, they are probably the fastest to return a profit. If you don't count the chasing and the fixing and the hole searching.

A few days ago I was in tears, leading them back to the barn, thinking about how sad I was and how different everything was since Philip died. I thought about how grief clouded over a lot of our motivation, and that made me sad, too. But then I looked over the hills and as I paused to let the mamas chomp on the absolutely beyond amazingly wonderful greener grass right on our property line, I was appreciative of the fresh air, the exercise and wondered how in the world was I going to keep in shape if we move off the farm!

(Guess I might go back to hiking???)

This afternoon the kids fixed one of the fences in a little field and the goats seem to be happy and contained for the moment. At least until I have to go somewhere tomorrow, and then you can guess the conversation they will be having...

Faith, Hope and Love

You know, it is a problem when I go too many days between blog postings. Images and smells, essences and spiritual insights turn into a maelstrom and I don't know where to begin.

We started back up with Farmer's Markets this week. Thursday I baked for Catawba market, and Friday for Ikenberry's and Grandin. Frankly, it was pretty tough, but the muscle memory knew what to do and somehow or another, the bread got baked and it was wonderful to get back to our friends. Stunning, really. Stunning to see how appreciated we are and how our loyal customers are more than just customers. This local food movement is a huge thing. I hate to use the overused word spiritual, but that was how it felt, as we greeted one another, shared hugs, stories, and I recounted to many the steps that led to my decision to move back to Texas. Simple, really. My parents are alive. I want to share our life with them.

You know, as I sold bread and lamb and chatted with old friends and made some new, it felt right and good explaining to folks the benefits of freshly milled grains. The difference in grass-finished meats. And as sad as I was to think of saying our goodbyes, there was also a confidence that our story is not finished. I told someone that when I went down to Texas to look at properties, I discovered that there was no one in the area milling grains and making the types of breads I do. Who knows how long it will take to get things up and running? But I have hope that the amazing, no, stunning, community that is developing here is available for us all over the world. I felt hopeful that as we move to a completely different climate and culture, we would find our niche in this lovely, organic thing called neighborhood, that extends beyond the few blocks of a zoned community.

Yeah, yeah, sounds sappy, maybe. But if you don't believe me, just come on out to one of our markets and check out the vibe. It isn't just me being sentimental. It really is there. If you haven't seen it or felt it, just give it a shot. Wherever you live, make the effort to head out to a little farmer's market and start up a conversation with someone. You might be surprised. You might just make a friend. Or two or three or more.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10th

Lightening streaks the dark velvet sky. Rain falls softly. The wind must be playing elsewhere this evening for all is still. Peepers sing. One teenager talks on the phone. Another studies her history homework. Three other kids are tucked into their rooms reading. My windows are open and the smell of May is gently carried in on a breath of breeze.

We celebrated Philip's birthday today. I felt miserable for a good bit of the day. But as we ate our cheeseburgers (Philip's favorite treat food) and the storm rolled toward Salem over the mountains, we began to laugh and remember. We ran around the cemetery, relishing the electric energy of the storm. The raindrops chased us to the suburban and then we drove around Philip's alma mater, Roanoke College. We told the stories he would tell us of his college antics and we imagined his skinny young college self, hanging out with dear Lynne and other friends. We marveled that if he hadn't been born, none of us would be hanging out in the suburban tonight. And if he hadn't come to Roanoke College and met Lynne and Larry, we would never know our many friends here, and would have never lived on our farm.

Everyone was pooped when we got home. But we did several silly little trivial things that only Philip would have done, in honor of him. And we asked God to tell him happy birthday for us and to let him know how happy we are that he was born. And the kids wondered if there were birthday cake in heaven and we all decided that we had no idea, but if there were, it would be good.

I don't feel so bad this evening. Tired, coming down with a cold, or allergies or something. Stopped up ears. But the heart that was bleeding earlier today feels comforted at the moment.

I may have to tuck myself in with a book, too. The sound of peepers and rain are great background music. At least the sound that I can hear through my dulled, stopped up ears.


I almost forgot! Right when we were driving out to the cemetery this evening, Maggie jumped in the suburban from doing her chores. She told me that one of the ewes had two new lambs with her! New, but dry and nursing. What a sneaky little thing! A couple of days ago I thought she looked pregnant, but it was so late, I thought I must have been imagining things. So she is tucked into the upper part of the barn. Two new little jacob lambs. What a treat.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cool, Still Air of Evening Equals Calm for the moment


Mondays always start slowly for me. I don't know why it is hard for me to jump up running on Mondays, but it is.

I drank coffee, made the little girls a bite of breakfast, drank some more coffee, let the big kids make their own breakfast, took care of a couple of phone calls and business emails, milked Coco, made a big jar of green tea and then headed to West Virginia to pick up the lamb chops, leg of lamb and lamb stew meat. Well. At least that was my plan until I had to encourage the goats to come back to our property and then work on a gate. Then I headed over the mountain to West Virginia.

Working on the farm is satisfying when I get to bring back a delicious harvest. I made a delivery of part of the lamb, then headed on home to put the rest in our freezer. The weed eater grabbed me. Then the pile of hay by the potato patch lured me in. I mulched potatoes, weeded the garlic and mowed down several rows of weeds.

The cool of the evening felt great on my skin and the hard work made my muscles feel useful. I threw a package of frozen chopped up rooster in a pot with some water and whole wheat macaroni. Rose added some salsa and cheese when the macaroni was cooked so at least we had a fairly easy fast food option for supper. Beats Hamburger Helper! I wanted salad with it, but the salad needs at least one more week to grow. Thomas worked on whacking down some brush in the gulch and Patrick moved many more loads of manure and hay from the barnyard to the garden. Nora and Rose gathered eggs and Maggie washed clothes and gathered goats.

Everything is green and lush. Especially the weeds! Seeing all the new life springing forth made me think of one of my many favorite Andrew Peterson songs, Invisible God. The trees on the mountain road to Lewisburg are fully leafed out and the mountain laurel decorates the side of the road. Up high the dogwood still blooms and all of it points me to the lovely, wonderful creator of that art.

"I give you praise, Oh great, invisible God.
For the moon in the space of a dark night,
for the smile on a face in the sunlight,
I give you praise oh great, invisible God.


And oh, I long to see your face, invisible, invisible God.
All the works that you have made are clearly seen and plain as day
So mighty, and tender
O Lord let me remember, that I see you everywhere,
invisible God


Your power eternal, your nature divine
All creation tells the tale that love is real and so alive
I feel you, I hear you,
Great God, unseen I see you in the long cold death that the winter brings
and the sweet resurrection

You will have to look up the song and hear the whole thing if you are interested. It is lovely, as per the norm for Mr. Peterson. Something in his lyrics and music touches me deeply, and makes me thankful that he captures so much of what I feel in his songs.

Life. Somehow the bigness and wonder of it all makes me thankful. Even for the weeds! At least for today. But I say that with a chuckle, knowing that in a few weeks I probably won't be nearly so enthused about warmth and weeds and mowing and weed eating!!!

PS Our Laying Mash Ingredient List, FYI

It appears that our layers ration has no fish meal, but our broiler ration does. Must be due to the fact that the meat birds require a higher protein ration than the layers.

Anyway, today's random trivia:

Corn (non-gmo), Roasted soybeans, Oats, calcium carbonate, dehydrated alfalfa, dicalcium phosphate, dehydrated seaweed meal, salt, sodium selenite, vitamins a, d3, and E supplements, DL Methionine, Wheat Midds, Choline chloride and Citrate, Manadione sodium Bi-dulfite complex, d-Pantothenic Acid, Niacin, Riboflavin, Pyrodoxine, Thiamin, Vitamin B12, Biotin, Folic Acid, Polysaccharide Complexes of Iron, Manganese, Zinc, Copper and Cobalt, Yeast Culture, Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Bacillus Lichenformis, Bacillus Subtilus, Lactobacillus Lactic, streptococcus Faecium, Protease Enzyme (dried Aspergillus Oryzae Fermentation Extract.

BTW, I love to go pick up feed on soybean roasting day. It smells soooo very good. I asked the fellows once if they ever snacked on those roasting soybeans. They assured me that they did and that they tasted delicious.

We Love Visitors

The beautiful canadian geese are bathing in our pond this morning. Seems like they always pop over in early May. They are graceful. Elegant. Daisy and Lily, our white geese, are squawking. I don't know if it is in pleasure or protest of the visit.

The rouen ducks keep to their side of the pond. I am happy to see mama duck getting a long drink and a bath. She has been missing for a couple of weeks, so that must mean ducklings are on the way.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I Love My Mom.

Our dear friends, Julie and Brian, adopted two kids from Ethiopia last winter. What with work and colds and school responsibilities, etc, etc, we still had yet to meet Enat and Yabsera. After non-stop work on the farm I decided we were due to head down to the Charlotte, NC area so we could get to see our friends and meet the rest of their family.

Leaving the farm is a task. Trying to make sure all animals are contained, with sufficient food and water seems like no big deal, but for us, it always is! We headed out late, drove onto their property late, and were blessed with the greeting of heady honeysuckle as we got out of the Suburban. Their frogs made a completely different song than our peepers. I breathed in the warm, moist southern air, so happy to have created the margin to be with our friends.

Julie and I stayed up way too late, catching up, sharing stories. I felt a bit irresponsible, not selling at our own farmer's market yet, but it was good to be able to go shopping at Julie's farmer's market. We bought beets and turnips and swiss chard and broccoli. And some goat's milk soap. For supper we cooked up some of our lamb from the farm, brushed with a homemade teriyaki sauce, roasted the roots and sauteed the chard with sesame seeds, sesame oil and rice vinegar. Kids swam in the pool, played Xbox or Connex, or whatever you call those games, watched movies, ate pizza and other fun foods. We laid around and read books, visited, and basically just hung out for a day and a half. It seemed like we had always known Enat and Yabsera, which is logical since we have been praying for them almost every day for months and months.

We were spoiled rotten, especially as Brian bought Julie and me boxes of lovely chocolate covered strawberries and bananas, and gigantic mochas from Starbucks, not to mention the cognac!

It felt great to be with friends and feel their warmth and love. Holidays are still hard. Grief still hurts as we are STILL trying to find our new normal as we STILL are trying to figure out how to live without Philip. He was so sweet to me, blessing me for being the mom. The kids are a bit discombobulated, trying to know what to do without him. They are doing a terrific job. We are all a bit rough around the edges sometimes, but these kids love me, and I feel blessed. They pamper me. They make me so happy to be a mom, even when our grief and hormones and fears and exhaustion and hunger all collide.

Makes me think of my own mom, and how she modeled for me love. She and Daddy both shared their affections with us physically, with hugs and hairstroking. I think of how she would get up early to read the Bible, drink her tea and journal, praying for us girls, seeking guidance. She would let us make messes in the kitchen. She modeled for us the example of independent womanhood, pursuing a career in art, spending time traveling to take photos and to go work in her studio. She sought education, going to art workshops. Listening to tapes and videos. She modeled to me the example of a woman who knew when to take a breather, when she would leave us home with Daddy and go visit her family or friends. She also gave the example of a woman who knew how to work hard, going the extra mile when necessary and it had to be done.

When I am ready to pull out my hair because my extroverted introvert self has reached her limits, Mom tells me to give myself permission to be still and find a quiet spot. I am so glad my mom expressed her many emotions so we girls could learn to do the same. Even the slammed cabinet doors and "fiddlesticks!" helped us to learn that it was okay to feel. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Sometimes a little ugly around the edges, but always with love as the undercurrent.

I needed to get away from the farm and from work for a couple of days. It is hard to do it, when tasks are looming. When I think of how much needs to be done. But my dear mom encourages me to take care of myself and the kids, and sometimes that means a break. Especially during hard patches, like holidays. Philip's birthday is coming up on Tuesday and we are all feeling raw. Thanks, Mom, for your example. For your love and prayers. For your encouragement to stop when it is time to stop. I miss you so much, and wish we were there with you today, and wish that card I bought for you last week were in the mail already! But I guess that is why we are going to all this trouble of selling the farm and moving to Texas. I love you and Daddy and am really looking forward to spending sweet holidays with you guys, sitting around the table, drinking iced tea and passing around the Sunday dinner.

Funny, but I really do think all that is related to our sweet visit with the Webb's this weekend. And now, home. With our peepers. And escapee goats. And dear Coco. And a waxing crescent moon, hanging on the horizon. And wonderful memories and a fast, fast trip that will last a long time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Speaking of Chickens, or You Are What You Eat

The other day I was speaking to Larry about farm projects when he told me that he thought he had gotten sick from eating farm eggs from another farmer. I suggested that it was unlikely that he had contracted salmonella, since it is rare for free-range chicken eggs to get it. Dear friend, Lynne, says these eggs are some of the most delicious eggs ever. We wondered what caused the uncomfortable reaction. They are from a terrific local farm, known for their good eggs.

A couple of days later, Larry told me that next time he tried to eat eggs, his throat got itchy and he started having allergic reactions.

"Pause!" I exclaimed. "Let me guess!"

Fish meal. Larry is deathly allergic to fish. Guess what is one of the ingredients in many of the healthier chicken foods? Fish meal. Mostly organic. A terrific source of protein, for chickens are omnivores, after all.

Fish meal.

But what person selling eggs at the farmer's market would think to list his or her chicken feed ingredients on the label on the egg carton? Besides, who cares what the chicken eats, right? Same with the cow and her milk or the hog and the sausage.

I was horrified to think what might happen to Larry if he ate a few more of those eggs. Or anyone else who had severe fish allergies. In a few days, Larry and Lynne are coming over to pick up a dozen of our chickens to raise their own omelets and you can bet that they will be reading the chicken feed label before they buy any old bag.

I don't think it is wrong to feed chickens fish meal. It is great for boosting omega-3 fatty acids. But I went out right away to check our feed bag, and sure enough, it has fish meal as the primary source of protein. You can bet that I will be asking our customers in the future if they have fish allergies before selling them our eggs. I will make a new label or print one out that tells exactly what is in our feed, since I am pretty proud of those healthy ingredients, anyway, but just because they are healthy doesn't mean they aren't potential allergens for someone out there.

Made me wonder if all these folks who are now allergic to milk or to eggs or other things might not be allergic to the actual eggs or whatever, but to the particular feeds the animals are consuming. If that were the case, different types of specialty feeds could be developed that would allow folks like Larry to eat those delicious and healthy foods that might otherwise be off limits. Hmm. Anyone know of any cool research going on dealing with these issues? Sounds like a great project for someone at Virginia Tech!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Springtime Means Meat Chickens

Night air is cloudy and calm. Peeper song is almost eclipsed by guinea screeches as they settle in to bed. I do declare that those guineas are louder than my own children when they try to settle in. But at least they have been busy knocking out the tick population. What a marvelous form of organic pest control!

Today we had a pleasantly cool day. Not bitter, but pleasant. These are the days of wiffle ball, soccer and bicycle races up and down the driveway. I guess I am not a very good mom. Instead of telling the kids to hit their homework the moment they get off the bus, I tell them to hit the big outdoors. The air has been too delicious to waste.

We drove over to the Thomas's this afternoon to pick up half of our meat chicks. They and the Depret-Guillaume's did the dirty work of brooding the chicks for the first 3 weeks of their lives. What great pals! I couldn't resist the annual urge to raise a bunch of delicious free-range poultry for the freezer. So here we go for one last batch. The chicks are no longer cute little yellow balls of fluff. They are kind of ugly, in an uncomfortable sort of adolescent way. But in a couple of months they will be just right to transform into future Sunday dinners. Seems harsh, but it is real. Will keep you posted. Hope they survive their transition out to the little field.

For some reason it seems logical to continue raising food for our family, even as we transition. The thought of roasting a delicious chicken from our farm in our new house and new life brings me joy. Makes me think that it might just make the transition a little easier. Definitely more tasty and nutritious.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gardening Always Makes Me Feel Better

After writing my sad post earlier today I prayed for guidance.

What to do today? The list was too long, so I took a nap. I know that sounds counter-intuitive. Even lazy. But I was so tired, weary, I decided to listen to my body, trusting that I really am a hard-working person, no matter what the little voice inside my head shouted.

Chance of thunderstorms was 75% for the day. But somehow the storms held off. I grabbed Nora from school, we ran into town to Target to get a phone to replace the one that got broken in our deconstruction project. And a few other odds and ends. Ran into my dear one (what a gift, Lynne!) and shared smiles, hugs and even a couple of tears. I asked Nora if there were anything else we should do before heading into town.

"Flowers, Mom. We should buy some flowers," she suggested.

I thought about it and headed straight to Lowe's. I know. It would be better to go to our local nursery, but that was miles away and Lowe's was 1/2 a mile away and handy. So we compromised, knowing time was limited. I bought some geraniums and more salvia, since some I planted last year had started to come back and I wanted some more pretty color. We toured through the garden zone and vegetables started leaping into the cart. I know. We should probably have planted them by seeds, but for some reason, my energies are otherwise directed and I was happy to compromise even more.

The rains didn't come, so I headed out to the garden. A smile came to my face as one by one kids joined me out in the yard. Patrick brought composted soil out to the beds with the tractor. Then waste hay for mulch. We didn't get everything planted, but we got a nice start.

It was the perfect medicine. The sky grew dark. The wind picked up. Rose put a couple of frozen chicken pies into the oven while we continued. (Thanks, Pie Lady!) The air was too delicious to go in and do homework. Old cardboard and newspaper from the recycling box went out and onto the garden beds, piled high with old hay, Ruth Stout style. (Please check out any of her books or old magazine articles, she is my hero!) All of a sudden I felt better. I wondered if one of my girlfriends was praying for me and the kids?

I finished up the milking as the rain drops began to fall. Breeze blew in positive energy and kids were happy to wash up and sit around the table, gobbling down Lisa's Cheezy Chickn and Cordon Bleu pies with a plain salad on the side. I pulled out our book, To Kill a Mockingbird. Patrick brushed my hair and rubbed my back and Rose rubbed my feet and gave me a pedicure. Thomas listened and laughed. Nora cuddled with me. Maggie drew a picture. Thunder rolled and Blackie ran to his post in the bathtub. Rain came to soak in the new plantings and I felt grateful. Didn't even pay attention to the baskets of laundry sitting on the edge of the dining room. Maybe we will finish them tomorrow. Especially if the rain keeps on coming down.

Post Holiday Blues

Folks are tired on the farm, post Spring Break. We tackled multiple projects, had dear friend Holly and our cousin Ned come for farm visits. We put them to work. Other friends came over and helped with barn clean out, bathroom fix, doorknob fix and various other odds and ends.

I have lots I wish I could share, but no energy to do it. I think I tried to pretend that Holly and I would have many more visits here on the farm, when I know deep down that this past weekend might very well be our last. Of course I know we will see each other in Texas and Asheville. We have chopped too many vegetables together and composed too many meals, not to mention all the heart to hearts, stories, poems and tears to not keep this friendship going.

But our time on the farm together has been unique and special. It hurts too much to think about. As she finishes up her first year at Culinary school, I am so proud I want to burst.

Same goes with Ned, different flavor. Ned was Philip's second cousin and godson. He is my age and we share love of story and music and movies. He and his mother, Judith are our family. Being with him without Philip is painful. And wonderful. He jumped in and helped play with kids, moderating sibling fights, played wiffle ball on the front lawn, helped shovel manure, fix fence, wash dishes and tear out a ceiling. While Holly and I watched Julia Child with the little girls it was great to hear him and Thomas laugh and wash dishes. We remembered Philip and cried. We remembered Philip and laughed.

So Spring Break on the farm was good. We went to eat Chinese food at CL Asia in Daleville one night. Saw a movie in town another night. Leonardo's Pizza in Fincastle provided a treat another evening. Blue Collar Joe's for extravagance on Saturday morning.

Everyone worked hard and can see the fruit of their labor. Maybe I will think about goodbyes on another day. And maybe I will get some energy back soon to return to blogging, instead of falling into bed, done for the day.