Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It is officially summer.

Kathryn and Max and Mary arrived this afternoon.

All is well.

She and I ran into town to Lowes to pick up house stuff, then to Krogers for the necessary rations. Kids built dams and played in the creek and threw mud.

We prepared a couple of Farmer Dayna's delicious chickens and made a big salad and while dinner cooked we walked three laps around the hay field. Patrick and Max worked on the creek sculpture. Fred ran and leaped in the field and splashed in the creek. Nora swung on the rope swing. Rose played with the fellows. Maggie and Mary told secrets on the bridge (well, I don't really know what they were talking about, but that sounds more poetic.) We all ate dinner together on the deck. Thomas washed the dishes. Kathryn and I sat out on the front porch with our glasses of wine to talk about important things like God and literature and family and imperfection and waited for the whipporwills while I rocked Nora and the rest of the kids set up their tents and pallets outside. The whipporwills never came, but we had a wonderful moment of peace and joy.

Isn't it wonderful how across the street neighbors from all those years ago in New Jersey are still some of our dearest friends? The children used to be toddlers. Now they are teenagers, getting ready to acquire their learner's permits. We have weathered many storms. Now we celebrate this last of summers on the farm and wonder about the new Texas adventures that await us.

All is well when Kathryn and the kids and Fred are here. I am glad.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Very Favorite Thing

Tonight we had the biggest thunderstorm I have seen in ages.

The ominous blue sky turned to black, the wind whipped the trees on the ridge. The willow tossed her hair in anger and the hot sticky afternoon metamorphosed into electrical evening.

Crack. Boom. Flash.


We opened the doors, rushed from the back deck to the front porch, all of a sudden little differences set aside as we looked on, astonished at lightening that seemed to strike all around us.

Hail was thrown down from heaven, like little candies and trinkets thrown in a parade. The children ran out and grabbed it and aimed for me and each other. They ran around shouting "Hail!" and I laughed and asked them to quit cussing.

We ate our dinner on the deck, getting pelted occasionally with the rain. The kids begged to take our dinner inside, but I refused, forcing us to enjoy the meteorological excitement.

The storm subsided about the time I picked up tonight's chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird. It was so good, we had to read just one more. Now the peepers peep, the tree frogs whir, the bullfrog sends out his invitation and it is time to go to bed.

I don't know what I like more than an extended early summer thunderstorm.

What a nice treat.

Well, maybe a nice summer thunderstorm and dinner with all my children, sitting around the table, reading a good book together.

I think that is my very favorite thing in all the whole world.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some Days Are Harder Than Others, But We Will Get Through Them Together

I didn't know how we would manage today, being Father's Day.

When we move to Texas, it will be a bit easier, maybe, because we will go celebrate it with my dad.

But now, it still feels wobbly for us, as we don't quite know what to do with ourselves and all the emotions. Even almost a year and a half past the day of Philip's death.

So today we slept in, with plans of going in the church late. It is kind of hard to think about going to church and seeing all the other kids and dads celebrating, but we were going to go anyway. But then we drove out the driveway and found Diamond, Rose's kitty, dead by the side of the road.

So we turned around. Patrick retrieved her body. Thomas and he set to work, digging a hole underneath the willow tree. The girls got a baby doll blanket to wrap her in.

We wept greatly.

Nora and Maggie picked flowers for the grave. We said a prayer together. We buried Rose's little kitty. We wept greatly, as those of you who have ever grieved before know, little griefs can get all tangled up with bigger griefs.

Diamond was a beautiful barn cat. Rose wanted to bring Diamond with us to Texas. I suggested that if she could domesticate her kitty to house living, I would be happy for Diamond to join us. Diamond was glossy black with a white diamond on her forehead.

As the children took turns gently tossing dirt and rose petals onto the stilled form, I asked them to share their favorite memories. Patrick remembered when Diamond caught and killed a rabbit larger than herself and consumed it ravenously. Rose remembered when she saw Diamond leaf from a fence post and catch a bird in midair. I thanked God for all the mice and moles she caught, protecting our animals' feed supply.

It was completely unexpected.

Strange, but that impromptu funeral gave us a safe place to express our grief over Father's Day, here at home, all together. I prayed that God would especially comfort Rose in the loss of her pet, and her dream of taking Diamond with us to Texas. And that God would comfort each of us, as we learn to navigate things like moves and another Father's Day without a daddy in our home.

I prayed that God would let the kids know how loved they are today, and how He can be their loving father, even though it really isn't the same as having a flesh and blood daddy who can read to you and play with you and teach you and take you places and give you a great big hug.

Then Rose decorated the grave with flowers and Patrick hoisted a big stone for the marker. And we climbed into the Suburban and all the kids went to see a movie and Rose and I went out to lunch and had Thai food.

I will miss seeing glossy Diamond hunt up on the hill behind the stream. And seeing the girls bathe her, and put silly collars on her attempting to train her like in "My Fair Lady."

I Love My Dad

I do love my dad so much. He taught us really important lessons, like "If you run out of money, it doesn't matter, just go make some more." And "If you want to see if a goat can get through a fence, just throw a bucket of water on it. If the water can get through, so can the goat."

He taught me how to sharpen a knife. Even though I'm still not very good at it. And he taught me how to butcher. He taught me that even in hard times, if we all work together, we'll get through. He and mom taught me that standing around the piano singing with friends was one of my favorite things. He taught me that watering the garden in the cool of the evening is good therapy, no matter what all the gardening books say about watering in the morning.

Daddy taught me how to make Tacos Chihuahua. He taught me how to milk goats. He taught me that raising a majority of our own food was a very satisfying thing.

Daddy is generous with hugs. Generous with homegrown stories. Especially "Flunky the Monkey and Tarzan the Hairy-Legged Apeman."

Lots of other things too.

I am thankful for you, Daddy. So glad you are my dad. Glad we are going to be moving to Texas to be near you, so you can teach my kids other kinds of things, like fishing and hunting and how to hunt deer and make the best fried fish and pico de gallo in the world. I look forward to singing a special with you in church and sharing a few Sunday dinners with you and Mom and the kids and having the kids mow and weed eat for you every once in awhile.

Love you so much, Daddy. Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

All In a Day's Work

We are working daily towards marketing our farm. Cleaning. Packing. Organizing. Carrying stuff to Goodwill. Craigslisting items and animals that need to move on.

In the middle of it all, Patrick brought in a basket of peaches. While hanging out clothes on the line, I picked a bunch of rhubarb. In between weed-eating, I picked some yellow squash. We are right in the early stages of good summertime eating.

Today we had several calls on goats, thank the Lord! A nice couple of gentlemen came over to purchase a couple of "weedeaters" this afternoon. They wanted females, but ours were already spoken for. I recommended they get a couple of the bucklings and castrate them. They thought that was a great idea, if I performed the operation.

Since I didn't have ANYTHING else to do, and since I really wanted Maggie to sell those goats, I ran to the house to get the elastrator and scalpel. Kids caught kids. One of them (the buckling)was small enough to band. The other was not. Nora ran out of the house, reminding me that it was 4:25 and time to head to Pinkerton's to pick up my car from the shop. Patrick and Maggie held the little fellow and in a matter of seconds, the procedure was fait accompli. Only teeny drops of blood were shed. Goats were loaded and after a quick scrub we headed to town.

As supper cooked, another couple of folks came over to pick up a goat. They are down the road neighbors and already purchased Angel and her baby. They wanted to buy Portia from Maggie.

Portia was our first real animal on the farm. We learned so much with her. We watched her give birth. We drank her milk and made pounds and pounds of cheese and yogurt from her creamy gift. Maggie and Rose learned to milk on her. We learned much about society and pecking order, watching her become the empress of our goat herd.

I couldn't watch her go.

I stayed inside, took care of our dinner and cried.

What a gift that she and her sweet Little Daylight doeling are going to such a wonderful home. It definitely sweetens the pot.

PS We enjoyed a marvelous dinner on the deck in the cool of the evening. Roasted eggplant, sweet potatoes, sauteed yellow squash and a roasted Mike Guzo hen. Pineapple for dessert. Laughter. Just the six of us. Yesterday we scarfed down lasagna from Laura, and it was so good. But tonight, I was thankful to cook a meal. And to hear at least part of the kids quite happy to devour eggplant and squash!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Evening

Earlier this evening Rose and I went down the bottom field to fetch Coco, Ribeye and Mary. We enjoyed seeing the wild daylilies and hovering dragon flies. The dragon flies are glossy black with almost glow in the dark cobalt blue accents. The sound of gurgling brook was music to our ears. We laughed as Coco, Ribeye and Mary kicked up their heels and frolicked back to the barn. They ran along the bank of the stream, crushing wild mint beneath their hooves, perfuming our path back home.

Rose and I talked about how thankful we are for our time here on the farm. We wondered what sights and sounds and smells await us in Southwest Texas. What an adventure we have ahead of us!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Crack, Boom

Crack, boom, the thunderstorm rolls into the valley, giving brief, urgent warning that fat raindrops are headed our way.

Which is a very nice thing for our fields and garden.

Blackie runs to the bathroom to hide in the tub.

I run to the front porch to catch the show.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Whipporwills Sing My Favorite Song.

After pondering the Psalms and my cup of coffee on the front porch I put Rose and her friend Anita in charge of making pancakes for breakfast and I took care of some tasks on the computer. I decided I just couldn't work inside all day long so I got Patrick to open up gates and I headed out to the lower field to bush hog.

In my pajamas, since I forgot to get around to getting dressed. And they were much cooler than regular clothes, anyway.

I thought I might take the tractor around the field a time or two, then get back to the house to work on the inside.

But I got sucked in.

There is nothing like the satisfaction of cutting a big field of grass. Whisk, whisk, whisk, the thigh high grasses fall down in symmetry.

The noise of the diesel drowned out most other noises, so I was left alone with my thoughts. Clouds of dragon flies and damsel flies darted around the creek bank. Birds darted hither and yonder in the ever widening path of exposed seeds and bugs. I saw several varieties of butterflies enjoying their mid-morning snack. Wild day lilies decorate the verdant steam.

These fields are filled with so many memories.

I remember the time we cut part of the field with the bush hog, then raked up hay like russian peasants, just for the experience. It was wonderful. So peaceful and quiet, as we worked in unison, all the family lined up with rakes in the cool evening air, Nora and Rose laughing and playing in the creek. That hay was the best quality of hay we ever harvested, but oh, how hard to figure out how to get it up into the loft!

I remember many times we were loading bales of hay with friends, working by moonlight, trying to beat the rain. The mingled smell of sweat and clover and fescue, the taste of dust and salt.

I suppose some of you must get exasperated with my sentimental dribble, but here I am, a sentimental dribble!

I was having a great time, mowing that field when all of a sudden I was gripped with sobs. Sad that I probably won't be mowing that field ever again. It wasn't a desperate sad. I am getting quite excited about the big move and our new life. But the grief and the loss of all of this life, here, our friends, our dreams and visions, is a very real thing, so I try to allow myself the freedom to sob for a minute or two if necessary.

Then Patrick came out to the pasture wondering if I would like to trade places with him, taking over his job of painting the deck.


I smirked indulgently to myself, enjoying my seniority on the tractor, knowing that Patrick would get his turn soon enough, as we have MANY more acres to be mowed.

I guess I should have let him have his turn because a few minutes later, dear friend Lynne and her mom (visiting from Florida) drove up the driveway. I sheepishly greeted them, sweaty off the tractor, still clad in pajamas at noon! But they didn't mind, since I gave them fresh cherries and goat cheese and green tea.

The rest of the day I spent indoors packing up boxes of photos. Talk about sentimental... I was glad to be able to smile at many of the memories, camping out with Philip during our dating years. Our wedding and honeymoon, newborn babies, time in Japan, trips to many other states and countries. So much. I threw out the 50 pounds of negatives we will never ever need. The envelopes which encased so many memories. I thought I might place those photos in albums, but I didn't. I stuck them in liquor boxes, taped them up and didn't cry once. But I sort of wanted to. Taping up many other chapters of our life as I worked on wrapping up the current one.

The kids enjoyed their summer day. They played volleyball, they played in the garden hose, they played games and ate watermelon and baked cookies and folded clothes and carried boxes and washed dishes and gathered eggs and played in the barn and chased goats. It was terribly hot, but they found ways to manage. And Patrick got his turn on the tractor and finished up that bottom field. It smells so sweet!

I didn't have it in me to cook a real meal, so I took one of Mike Guzo's freedom ranger chickens (a special breed of chicken) and seasoned it up, put it in a 475 degree oven and pulled it out when golden brown. We got out paper plates, carrots, fresh red pepper and ranch dressing, and ate our dinner standing up around the kitchen.

Oh, how I wish everyone of my readers had a chance to eat a real, home grown, free-range, happy chicken. There is not much in life more satisfying, when you are hungry, anyway.


I am sitting outside on my front porch, listening to the peepers and other evening sounds. The first whipporwill is singing down the road! Crickets are chirping, the tree frogs are twirring. Evening birds are calling. A car in the distance heads home. Ribeye munches grass and occasionally snorts. Ducks waddle up, continuing their quacky conversation. Nora turns the pages of her book as she reads in the dying light, sitting near me on the porch. Portia calls to her kids, time for bed. Guineas settle down. Ewe baas.

And the whipporwill calls out. And I feel loved.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


These days I am spending more time readying the house and farm for sale instead of farming.
Mary is doing most of the cow milking (that would be Coco's baby.) The goat babies are doing most of the goat milking. I milk Coco once or twice a week to get enough milk for our family to drink.

Back in the day, I would make cheese weekly. It is one of my favorite things to do. But these days we are mostly buying from the store or from other farmers. A lot of life is about letting go, and so I have been letting go of things that used to work for us and now do not.

At times I allow myself to grieve those things. On the good days I remind myself that life is all about seasons and constant change and evolution and growth and I tell myself it is good to take a break. Cheese making was one of those things I had to let go. I just couldn't keep up with the different tasks of dairying on top of other daily chores.

But today we finally managed to fit in a class for some friends who had been trying to get together for some time. I pulled out the recipes that fellow farmer and blogger from Brambleberry Farm had collaborated on a few years ago. Got out the ingredients and pure white goat's milk and creamy ivory cow's milk, pulled out the thermometers and sterilized the stainless steel pans.

We milled wheat to make flour for the homemade pizza crusts. We added the rennet and watched liquid milk turn into curd. It truly is magical. We compared the mozzarella made with Coco's raw, full cream milk to the mozz made from pasteurized milk from the store. We heated whey. We minced garlic and thyme and zested lemons for the chevre. Bea picked cherries from the tree and we pitted them and added them to the fromage blanc to make a sweet dessert cheese good for tarts. Everyone got to take a turn rolling out the pizza dough.

The house was filled with sounds of laughter as a group of individuals found their place on the farm. Outdoors was hot and humid, but we enjoyed the a/c and the magic of different personalities working together to create something. Herbs from the garden. Onions and peppers. A smidgen of capers and who knows what else turned into platters of crispy pizza, and plates of olives and goat cheese and crackers. We gave thanks for the magic of cheese making, for Coco and Portia, LauraLee and the other goat whose name I have forgotten. Those wonderful dairy animals give us such amazing milk.

Tonight I sit on the front porch in the hazy humid evening air. The sheep are enjoying the newly bushhogged west field (thanks, Patrick!). Meat chickens and goats graze in the middle little field. Dishes are washed. Big kids play on their Ipods and Nora and Rose play ball on the front lawn in between moments of severe sisterly negotiation. Rose asked me how I could type while not looking. Who wants to look at a keyboard when I can watch sheep and kids and goats and chickens and smoky blue hills?

The sun is down but it is still light outside. I smell sweet mown grass. Evening birds sing their goodnight song. Blackie reclines on the porch, keeping an ever vigilant eye open for predators. A very subtle breeze carries the echo of the snort of grazing cattle across the road. I think I heard one burp! The ducks waddle up from the pond and the new lambs frisk and frolic one last time before bedtime.

It has been a long day. The last day of school for the kids. A year completed. Not only did they survive, but the kids thrived. I guess we could have gone out to celebrate but we were too tired. It is nice to be still and quiet. Perhaps tomorrow we will go to town to buy an ice cream and rejoice. Lots of awards. So many it would take paragraphs to list them! Math, science, history and reading. Each child with his or her unique strengths. I am proud of their independent spirits and ability to self-start and be motivated to study, read, learn and do their homework. I think that they each made the most out of the lot they were dealt this year and I am very proud of them.

So now the swallows are coming in to the eaves of the house and the barn to go to bed. I can almost feel the dew fall upon me. A ewe cries out for her lamb. Ducks are mumbling about something in the front yard. I keep hoping to hear a whipporwill, but not yet. The little May lamb tries to confront a February lamb. The giant February lamb put the little fellow in his place, firmly, but gently.

All common things, but transformed into something magical. Milk, rennet, friends, school, kids, farm animals, green grass, blue mountains, loud peepers.

I hope you would pause in the middle of your hustle and bustle and impossibly busy schedule to be still and look and listen and smell and feel and taste. It is a pretty magical world in which we live. And one that beckons us to join in the creativity.

Good night.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Morning

Silvery silken mist rolled into our valley this morning.

Cool, damp air compelled me to wrap up in a fuzzy throw for my morning ritual on the front porch. If I were a birder, I would be able to identify and name the dozens of songs in my ear. Since I am not, I chose to enjoy them as a symphony orchestra.

When I read this morning's Psalms, I felt a bit distracted. Psalm 97 and 99 were part of the morning's reading. I scurried through them, then rather petulantly told the Lord that those particular psalms by David were alright. They were good, speaking of the heavens and the earth and God's glory and justice and all that good stuff. But what I really wanted was something that spoke to me. That let me know God was thinking about me. Right now. On my front porch. In my exhausted state.

I felt a little bit like a brat, being so demanding. But deep down, I sensed God giving me a hug. An understanding one. Not a "Would you please think of someone else besides yourself this morning," one.

I went ahead and read the evening's Psalm since I knew I wouldn't get to it later.

Psalm 94.

Many times in the past I have asked God to remind me he loves me. I know that sounds rather presumptuous, but I do it anyway. Most every time something comes along, right in my language, that makes me feel loved. But I figured that the God of the Universe is certainly not bound to my childish requests, so I began to read the Psalm almost apathetically.

Then I got to verse 11. "The LORD knows our human thoughts, how like a puff of wind they are."

I laughed. Yep. He's joking with me.

Then v. 14 came along. "For the LORD will not abandon his people, nor will he forsake his own."

No matter how tired or overwhelmed, he will not abandon me in mid-project. I felt like he was sitting down beside me, letting me know he knows it is hard to be a single mom, working on trying to sell the farm, to take care of the kids, to make lots of hard decisions.

Then v. 17 and 18 came along. "If the LORD had not come to my help, I should soon have dwelt in the land of silence. As often as I said, "My foot has slipped," your love, O LORD, upheld me."

I thought about the last year and a half. How well taken care of we have been. I remembered the countless times I cried out in pain and he lifted me up. I thought about the moments of joy and hope and life that have been born out of God's wonderful love for us, and then thought about how my petulant little request was so speedily answered in the reading of this Psalm

THEN, I got to verse 19. "When many cares fill my mind, your consolations cheer my soul." Here's the NIV version: "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul." And the Living Bible paraphrase: "When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer."

Right exactly where I am. Today. On my front porch, on my farm, in Virginia. Those verses were all about me. And I did feel renewed hope and cheer. Verse 22 summed it up for me, and I was thankful for David writing it down all those years ago, maybe on his front porch? In his kingdom? In Jerusalem? "But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my trust."

Now to work. Coco is waiting for me. I need to go milk so we will have milk for tomorrow's coffee and for the cheesemaking class. Many tasks wait for my attentions, and I feel better getting to them, after such a sweet start to the day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Life's a Bowl of Cherries

Early this morning I sat outside on the front porch with the Daily Office and the ubiquitous coffee. The bird song made for a lovely chorus to accompany my worship here at home. I received the sermon preached to me in a little devotional given me by my dear friend, Dixie. Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. This morning the little paragraph was challenging me to look toward God for perfection, and not myself.

What a relief, when I thought about the ideals I set for myself in parenting and farming and home preparation. Part of me wanted to be frantic about my to-do list. The painting! The packing! The scrubbing!

Then I looked out and saw the cherry tree, brilliant jewels hanging ripe, ready to be consumed.

I have no time to pick cherries.

After drinking my coffee and saying my prayers, I knew we needed to pause and pick some cherries.

It was an act of worship and trust.

I drove the suburban underneath the ancient tree and Christine and I climbed up, buckets in hand. We made certain to eat as many as possible, then plunked handfuls of the precious commodity into our stainless steel buckets, cool breeze blowing in our hair, carrying to our ears the occasional bleat of a lamb looking for her mama.

At some point, I began to weep. I knew this was probably the last cherry picking we would experience on this farm.

I felt such grief and loss. Most of the time Philip didn't help us pick cherries, but he got out there occasionally. Mostly it would be me and my gal pals and all the kids, scrambling about, cherry-stained lips, knees and fingers and toes. He sure did enjoy the cherry tarts and the cherry brandy and the cherry pies.

Isn't it interesting that picking cherries would stir such sensory feelings of grief?

After gathering three gallons or so, we got back to more "responsible" work. I put on my crying music (Eva Cassidy) and cried a little and smiled a little, and we got much done.

I hope to make a giant jar of cherry brandy to take down to Texas for winter enjoyment. (Using last year's damson plum brandy recipe, see post sometime late July, 2010.) And we plan to pit the rest and put them in the freezer for future cherry almond tarts, our very favorite, better than any other dessert in the whole wide world. If I forget, someone out there, remind me to post that recipe. It really is the best thing we have ever tasted. Unless you happen to have some wineberries and then we would have to concur that wineberry almond tart is the best dessert in the whole world.

Life on this precious farm has been so good for me. We did put in many hours of long and productive labor. But in the middle of it all we found cherries! And even the tears were sweet.

Tomorrow Christine has to return to Texas. Argh. I miss her already. But how thankful I am for her help. And for the shining trim. And clean bathroom. And all the other tasks that would otherwise have never gotten accomplished. We are a great team. Too bad Terri couldn't make it. Boy, Mom and Daddy, you sure did train us up to work hard together!

Speaking of work hard together, later I will have to write about the brilliant job the kids have done on painting the deck. They are amazing. More on them later. But now, to bed. To dream of painting and other fun things. Like cherry tart.

I hope you find your sweet cherry tree in the middle of life's circumstances.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


It is hard to believe how hot it has been when the evenings are so fresh and cool. On evenings like tonight I think we will eat outside forevermore.

We did enjoy eating our dinner on the deck this evening. Stir-fried chinese cabbage with mushrooms, onions, garlic, miso paste and soy sauce. Oh, and bacon.

The biggest treat was having Christine here from Austin. Baby sister come to lend a hand as we continue working on preparing the farm to sell and preparing our stuff to move.

She oohed and aahed as the frog symphony orchestra tuned up to perform our dinner music.

She exclaimed in delight at the fireflies that decorated our ridge and driveway and willow tree.

She swept out Rachel's cabin and we put fresh sheets on the bed.

I am so thankful to have sisters. Miss them both. Glad to have one of them here for a long weekend.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Heat Wave

We are in the middle of a heat wave. Shimmering haze rises and threatens to choke the life out of unsuspecting humans. Animals know what to do in this weather. They find a shady spot and lie down.