Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Home

So Coco and Mary are now with the Gildays. Even as I sobbed, I was thankful, seeing the glee on the faces of two little children who have loved Coco for a very long time.

Little Chelsea hugged my sweaty self and told me that they would take good care of Coco for me.

Bea came over and brought me lunch and packed boxes of dishes. Rebecca came over and helped me pick some potatoes. It was so hot. I am glad to see most of the harvest put down in the basement. Maybe not a years' worth, but enough to enjoy many meals plus more to plant.

After the Gilday's took Coco and Mary home, they called and asked about lambs. So they returned and the kids each picked out a little ram lamb and a little ewe lamb and David and caught them and loaded them up. Maureen brought over some red wine and I paused to sit and eat cheese and share a glass. We shared stories and I can say that I am very happy and beyond satisfied, knowing where Coco and Mary are tonight.

I am inside in the cool this evening, avoiding the humidity and mosquitoes. Thunder threatened but but rain never reached the farm. Cabinets are empty. Pots and pans and dishes and spices and glasses and jars are packed. Clothes are in piles on the floor. I guess I should be packing, but I think I will go to bed and try again tomorrow.

PS When I checked the Alpine forecast and saw that once again the temperatures there are lower than here, it made me chuckle. We may be going to Texas, but at least the mountains and arid air will feel wonderful after this period of heat and humidity. Nonetheless, I am trying to soak up every bit of green while we have it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

So, as I just posted, my heart hurts for some really good reasons.

Another good reason my heart is hurting, in a good way, is that I was just realizing that we will be able to share birthdays with my parents, starting next week, with Rose, my dad and Nora, all in a matter of a very short time, God willing. And not only that, but we will also hope to be able to celebrate my Mom's birthday with her, before you know it.

I don't think I realized how very homesick I have been. It struck me when the electrician from Texas called about going to check out our new place. "I'm fixin' to head over to the house," he drawled, and my heart warmed as I heard my mother tongue.

But this afternoon I got another phone call that has just about broken my heart.

One of our milk share folks is purchasing Coco and Mary and they will be picking the girls up tomorrow afternoon.

There is nothing that pleases me more than knowing Coco will be going to this sweet, dear family. Their two children have sat and watched me squat and milk Coco for a couple of years. They haven't ever owned a cow before, but they are reading all the books and articles and have built fencing and a shelter and are willing to do the hard work of learning to milk a cow because they love her milk so much.

There are many people who would have been happy to purchase Coco, but there is a deep joy knowing she is going to this sweet family. It brings to mind my first days and months with Coco, getting to know her, being so afraid of this monster big animal, when all I had ever milked in my life was a tiny little goat.

I remember cold winter days, squatting in the barn, nervous as could be, terrified she would kick me, wondering if I would ever get the hang of it, singing every Spanish love song I remembered from back in the day, and countless choruses of "I've Been Working on the Railroad." I could have hobbled her or tied her up, but was desperate to develop a mutual understanding and respect.

Little by little we got to know each other and she patiently let me know when I got it right and when I got things all wrong. Well. Sometimes. And sometimes she instructed me with a kick in the knee and a knocked over bucket of milk.

Coco taught me that she didn't like being milked in a stanchion, no matter how nicely built by friends. She preferred a bucket of grain, by the backdoor or out in the grass. So I adjusted.

I learned a lot about relationships with Coco as we shared the seasons, the bitter 8 degree days of winter when I buried my nose in her hay-scented flank and steam rose from the bucket. The early days of spring as we watched the willows awaken and little lambs leap in celery green fields. We counted baby chicks and watched fireflies and peepers serenaded us in summertime, and I had to be careful as her fly-swatter tail switched back and forth.

Fall was especially sweet as we noticed the different arc of the setting and rising sun over hayfields, causing the changing colors on the ridge to glow like polished gold and bronze.

Because of Coco I learned about the path of the moon during different seasons. Before milking I had no need to be outside at the same time every morning and every evening. I noticed the smell of the wind was different when storms came in from the Arctic and when they came in from the Atlantic.

Because of Coco I learned greater endurance and responsibility than I had ever known in my life. Milking Coco forced me to be still and listen. Milking Coco forced me to get up when I thought I might stay in bed for the rest of my life.

Coco provided income for our family. She provided the best milk, butter, cream, cheese, and yogurt I have ever enjoyed in my whole life. She provided a commodity we were able to share when we had little else to give. She provided beautiful babies, future mamas and a steer who provided us with almost two years worth of meat for our family.

I have been trying to ignore Coco for the last few weeks. Sure, I speak to her, and say hello and occasionally toss her a carrot or a cabbage.

But I haven't been milking, and that is partially because I have been directing my energies into preparing the farm to sell.

But I think it is primarily because I have been trying to wean myself from her.

I sit here on the deck, listening to the cicadas and the crickets and type in the dusk as the blue haze rolls into our valley. Tears cloud my eyes and sobs rack my shoulders as I look over and see Coco sweetly lick her daughter Mary and nuzzle Ribeye, her pal, tail swishing elegantly. Brownie tries to comfort me, but how can I be comforted when I will have to say goodbye to my dear friend tomorrow?

Never will I forget Coco. Her beautiful face, her dear frame, her spunky spirit. I am a better person because of her. I am a healthier person because of her, and not just because of the nutritious elexir she gave us. My children are healthier because of her. She has given so many people the gift of herself, it is truly amazing.

I love her and will miss her greatly.

Dear Coco,
Thank you for sharing yourself with me. Thank you for letting me milk you. Thank you for teaching me to sit still. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of witnessing magic, seeing your milk and cream metamorphosis into butter and cups of coffee and yogurt with vanilla and maple syrup mozzarella, ice cream and hot chocolate and thousands of loaves of milk and honey bread.

Did you ever realize how many peoples' lives you touched, dear Coco? You gave little children confidence as they squatted beside me and learned how to squeeze out streams of milk. You gave us pleasure, just by watching you live out your "cowness".

Never have I witnessed anything more beautiful or grace-filled than when I have seen you frolic with freedom and joy in a fresh spring-green pasture after the long winter. Your udder has warmed my hands. You have been my personal fitness program. You have taught me how to make up after we have had our squabbles.

It pains me greatly to have to say goodbye, but you know that when Philip died, we had to adjust, and sending you to live with our friends is one of the biggest for me. I trust that as we grow to appreciate our new home and surroundings and new friends you will learn to love your new home and new friends.

Please be a kind teacher and be gentle on your new owners, as they have a very good heart and already love you dearly. Be quick to forgive them as they make their own sets of mistakes.

I love you, Coco. I hope that somehow, in your bovine way, you will fondly remember me and our times together. Hopefully our paths will cross again sometime, and if not on this earth, then in some spectacular pasture in heaven someday.

Your human friend forever,

There Certainly Are a Lot of Good People in the World.

My heart is hurting right now for so many reasons, it is hard to bear.

Some of the reasons are so sweet, I feel unworthy, thinking of the generosity of others. If I even attempted to recount the ways people have served us, I would never be able to finish. But recently, Nancy brought over a meal that fed us for two days, and she even brought fruit and cookies which blessed my children and even more myself, as we have been working so hard to prepare for our move.

I can't even begin to list all the things Larry has done to help me get our house ready to put on the market. And Tim and his dad have been my handymen, taking what seemed to me an overwhelmingly long punch list, turning it into a done list. Door knobs that were loose, linoleum patchwork that impressed us all, well, why bother even trying to list their good deeds either. The men from our church who spent several hours a few Saturdays ago tackling projects, the men from a church I don't even know who helped with other lists. Other friends have helped patch and paint and scrub and haul trash. This morning Jason's dad was out mowing by 7:30 and Serge and James shortly after, and what would have taken me over a day was finished before 11am.

It is hard on my pride to receive their help. But the task set before me is larger than one person and miraculously, we have seen teamwork come into place again and again. When I couldn't manage one more trip into town, Stewart came through with all the right ingredients I was missing. When my printer acted like it was posessed, she took care of the troubleshooting. Other friends shared garden veggies and meals and entertainment and rides.

How does one person receive such abundant grace, generosity and love?

I am so humbled and overwhelmed by it all that I don't quite know how to take it all in, except to weep and say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear Lord for blessing us with so many relationships." I pray that somehow they will each find the generous hand of God extended to them through the generosity of others, and sooner rather than later.

Yes, there are many troubles in the world and they are big troubles and painful troubles. There are mean people and wicked people and downright horrid things happening in the world. But I just want to pause for a moment and think of all the people who have decided to intentionally do their part to make the world a better place. Even in the middle of my grief and loss and fears of the new, you bring me hope and joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding. I am so proud of you. And eternally grateful.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Only Make Spelt Chocolate Baby Brioche for People I REALLY Love!

Grains were milled. Floors were swept. Recipes taken from brain and put onto computer. Dough was started and sage was picked.

Our last bread baking class on the farm happened today. There were nine or ten of us around the table, stirring, watching gluten develop, kneading and forming loaves. "No, not that way, this way, gently."

I could barely get started, I got so emotional. Thankfully, working dough is a good rote exercise for me, and somehow I got kicked into teaching mode.

Yesterday the girls picked lovely flowers, Queen Anne's Lace, wild sweet pea, Blackeyed Susans. They decorated the kitchen window and made me feel at rest.

We discussed the benefits of freshly milled grains. Talked about spelt. The difference between tender breads made with milk, fat and eggs compared to chewy loaves made with yeast, wheat and water.

We probably added a little more chocolate than the recipe called for to the chocolate brioche, just because. We ate the bread in hunks right as it came out of the oven, even though you really ought to let it sit for a half hour to finish cooking. We laughed and hugged and shared stories, and then sat out on the deck in the late afternoon and ate way more bread than necesssary with a little glass of wine.

Someone said that as we broke open a loaf of hot bread and passed around bites it was a bit like taking communion in church.

I think that the essence that is shared by these folks who come out for cooking classes is indeed very much like that most deeply spiritual of rituals, communion. Is it any wonder that Christ chose bread and wine to represent himself and help us to remember?

As I contemplate all these folks, such dear ones to me, some friends from church, some friends from market, some previously strangers to me, but drawn in by love of food, all of it is so sweet to me. Some people talk about how they try to keep their faith separate and private, but to me, it is all so intertwined, I can't even begin to figure out how I could do that.

Breaking bread with those folks, Christians, non-christians, farmers, non farmers, mothers, dads, single folks, kids, sharing our lives together along with our stories gives me great joy and makes me thank God for the gift of food and the ability to create wonderful things.

I hate writing all this down, because I think it must sound kind of silly. Oh well. I guess if you hadn't figured out what a sentimental silly I am by now, you haven't been reading this blog for very long.

It is hard to believe that this chapter of our lives is drawing to an end so quickly. It hurts to think that after pouring out so much of ourselves into this farm and valley, and having so much of the valley poured into us, that we will move. Thankfully past experiences have proven to me that bonds forged over a hot stove last long term, and somehow manage to stretch over many states, right Holly? Or Lee? Remember all those early days of learning to bake freshly milled grains together back in Ft Worth?

So in a few days we will load up the bakery and other less important belongings and head to Texas where hopefully there will be other sweet folks who will share in the communion of our bread around the table. And I guess that opening ourselves up to love opens us up to pain of separation.

I feel so lucky that we have been blessed with such dear relationships. And I have been blessed with a livelihood that gives me such satisfaction. I love my job.

PS We are still in the middle of a nice cool spell. Heavy clouds hang overhead and at 8pm it is still bright outside. I am on the deck. Chicago is blaring inside and the evening birds are singing along. Crickets, too. Peepers, not so much. I just saw a goldfinch fly from the cherry tree to the willow. Coco, Mary and Ribeye are grazing up by the road. The sheep must be behind the barn. The air is still, not a breeze. I could almost use a sweater. Now I see two goldfinches, diving and swooping, playing in the branches of the tart cherry tree.

PPS Even in the middle of all my sentimentality, I sure do miss you, Mom and Daddy. I would be very homesick if I didn't know I was going to see you in a week. And that makes ALL of it worth the while.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Fireflies are Almost Done With Their Dance

After days of sultry heat, we were thrilled to awaken to chilly weather.

This evening the air feels moist and cool and makes me think I will need a blanket in bed tonight. The sunset was beautiful this evening and Maggie and I enjoyed a walk together up the driveway to place the real estate sign. We both had to pause in the middle of the walk up the lawn when the fragrance from some sweet flower snuck up on us.

Milkweed? They are in full bloom. Such a sweet weed. I wonder if they are to blame for the snuffly noses?

After we placed the sign, I felt a bit strange. We have been listed for a little bit, but it was hard for me to place the sign. Makes it ever so real.

So we soak up Virginia and our sweet life here on the farm, knowing that big adventures await for us to the west. And I try to grab every moment I can to smell the flowers, feel the breeze, and watch the few remaining fireflies as they dance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Time is Flying

High 90's on the farm today.

I weedeated this morning. Now I think I truly understand what people meant when I was a kid and they said we were growing like ragweed.

Thomas dug up some more potatoes for me and I am very thankful to see the pile growing. They will make quite a few meals for us in Texas hopefully.

I think if everyone grew potatoes we would live in world peace.

It is such a miracle, really.

You cut up a potato, stick it in the ground. Cover it up with lots of hay mulch, and before you know it, little teeny piece of potato grew into a big pot of mashed.

Of all the things we have grown in the garden, potatoes give me more pleasure than any of them.

The other day I had to celebrate something and grated up the very first ones and fried them extra crispy for me and Rachel.

It was a true celebration.

Made me feel good.

Tonight we didn't eat potatoes. But I certainly felt good after the feast we enjoyed. I had to look over some business and was too distracted to cook. Maggie roasted a chicken, sauteed green beans and baked eggplant for our dinner. It was divine. She and Thomas and I ate with our fingers out on the deck and talked about the hard parts of leaving our wonderful farm and the wonderful parts of moving into a sweet small town, ringed by our favorite mountains. We talked about all the work that has gone into making this house our home and how our family is suited for fixing up older homes and making them special.

After dinner, we all washed up, I said goodnights to the little girls and enjoyed the cool of the western breeze on the deck. The moon is waxing and almost full. Shrouded by clouds. Fireflies are almost gone. Here we are in mid-July. I think the damson plums are ripe. Maybe the kids will pick some tomorrow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Be Still and Know

Please, someone, don't let me go so many days in between blog posts.

I have so many thoughts and sights and sounds and smells built up, I feel like exploding and consequently don't know where to begin.

So, instead of trying to catch up on all the momentous "lasts" that are pounding us each and every day, I will tell you that this evening there is a haze across our valley. It is hot, in the mid-80's (don't mock me, Mom, it really did feel hot!). I have my window open in my upstairs bedroom, but downstairs, the a/c is on and I can hear it hum. Mr. Bill, the white duck is waddling through the west pasture, all by himself. Usually he is marching around the farm with the trio of Rouen ducks. I wonder why he is all by his lonesome? He is quacking softly.

The whirr of summer insects is the background noise to the conversation of various songbirds. Mr. Bill walks back toward the pond and quacks.

Where are those other ducks? Ribeye, the steer, and Coco and Mary munch on grass. A lamb baas for his mama. The faint sound of kid noise wafts in and I wonder if the two-legged ones are playing in the barn?

The willow tree by the pond doesn't look like a young sylvan teenager this evening. She is still. Sober. Green, but not the green of April.

Mr. Bill walks by the red bottom gate again, muttering. Heading west, up the duck path.

Where are those other ducks?

Okay, so I walked out to the deck with computer and saw the ducks, slowly trailing behind old Mr. Bill. He finally convinced them to move. They wander along, grazing the nice green grass. Directly in front of me is a 3/4 full moon, sliding along the ridge, heading to the west.

Makes me think that it is incomprehensible that in a couple of weeks we, too, will be sliding to the west.

How is that possible?

The little girls are playing in the creek with Enat and Emily and Yabsera, visiting from Waxhaw, NC. Rose and Emily, so tall this summer, have been friends since they were babies in strollers. Before Julie even dreamed of trips to Ethiopia. Before we even held Nora in our arms. Allen and Thomas are playing computer games in the dining room. Maggie chats with a friend on the phone and Patrick is at Boy Scout camp.

Julie is reading a book. I sit and type and watch the swallows dip and soar. And rejoice in the lovely blue of the graceful little birds and wonder at the way all creation gives praise to its Creator, simply by being itself.

What a concept. Makes me think of this morning's Psalms from the Daily Office, which I would share with you, if I cared to get up from my sweet little table out here on the deck. But I guess I will stay put and hope you open up the Psalms yourself occasionally. Even if you are not a believer, there are some amazing pieces of poetry in the book of Psalms that let you know that David spent some time sitting still outside, appreciating the world that surrounded him.

Kids return to the house, Rose has a tiny bowl of wineberries which she picked in our woods. We have only a few of the bushes on our property. There were quite a few along the road, but the other day the County used some of our tax money to send along a truck to spray them and all the wildflowers with poisons. Which is another blog post, I guess. Enough said about that. Children were glad to take their handful of berries from the organic woods inside to devour as an evening snack. Dogs came out here to sit near me on the deck and to pant, exhausted by their run by the creek.

I should be weedeating or mowing, but am happy to watch the moon and the swallows, feeling the moist evening air fall on my skin, as little girl piano music acccompanies crickets and tree frogs and the sound of kids and spoons and cereal bowls. ( They tell me that the sweet tart taste of the wineberries with Crispix is like a dream it is so good.)

Sundays are a good time to be still. I have a feeling that the weedeating and mowing will be waiting for us bright and early in the morning.

PS We have a contract on a house in Texas. A place to move. They will let us rent until we sell the farm, which we hope will happen before the contract runs out Jan. 31st. We have some friends coming to caretake the farm and they will have their own stories to share. I am so grateful things are lining up. Now, all we need is some way for the person who is dying to buy this farm to find out about it and come up with enough money! The days are running together just like the stripes of the tigers chasing their tails as they fought over little Sambo's birthday clothes. It is tempting to work around the clock. But I strive to remember that while there is a time for work, there is also a time to pause. Am glad, because if not, I wouldn't be sitting on my deck right now, looking at our dear little red-winged blackbird, sitting on the post by the edge of the pond.

PPS It is still hazy, but no longer hot. The cool of evening is upon us and the moon has slid along the ridge to the right of me. Sun is down and the perfume of our pansies makes it a very sweet place to sit.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

This Is It

We swept the house. Ran many loads of beach laundry. Prepared the leg of lamb and the chicken and picked the squash to roast and infused the mint and simmered the custards for the many homemade icecreams. Ground almonds for the wineberry tart. Kneaded the dough for bread. Mowed the grass and picked the wildflowers.

Friends drove up and the thunderstorm rolled in, chasing us off the deck and onto the living room furniture where we sprawled and I shared where we are on our journey to sell the farm and buy a new home in Texas and good friends listened. Skies cleared, more piles of food arrived. A dear one brought fennel from her garden and green beans. I didn't plant beans this year and had never eaten fennel, so was thoroughly delighted.

Another friend brought her decadent broccoli salad. And wine. The clan (McDermotts, not the Klan) brought brats and asparagus and dip and chips. And beer. Some other friends brought guacamole with herbs and tomatoes from their urban garden. Rachel brought hot dogs (hurray for the kids!). Others brought KFC and Rice Crispie treats (Double hurray for the kids!) Another brought homemade mac and cheese (tarragon is the secret) and a couple of varieties of homemade icecream. There was watermelon. And canteloupe. And bean dip. And cucumber salad. And pound cake. And coleslaw. And homemade bread.

What a lucky pot.

We stretched out over the deck and the porch and the lawn and ate and ate and ate. Myriads of conversations were had. Toddlers toddled. Soccer game took place on the lawn with little kids and teenagers and girlfriends and dads.

At one point I wanted to run away to my room and cry because I was overwhelmed with so many intense emotions.

Six years ago a bunch of interns from our church came out to help us when Philip was in the hospital in a coma. Afterwards, we invited them all out to the farm for a cookout to say thank you and to help them celebrate our Independence. That was when we met Sean. Which is the beginning of a very long and precious story, which you will already partly know if you have followed this blog from the beginning.

Back then the kids were all elementary age and younger. Nora was just two years old. Sean was a mere 19 years old.

This year Thomas is 18, Patrick is 15 and a half, Nora is seven, Sean is a sweet married young man, expecting his first baby before too long. I got to bless that sweet baby as I put my hands on Julie's belly.

Looking out on our dear friends, gathered about the tables, enjoying the bounty of early summertime food, part of it produced on our farm and friends' farms, mixed in with fun town food, church friends, farm friends, a variety of philosophies and political leanings, all savoring the sounds of the evening and the feel of the cool breeze on our skin, I thought, "This is it."

Relationships cultivated over the last several years, bonded together, literally and figuratively, with blood, sweat and tears.

This is it.

These lives, all mashed together with flavors and senses, explosions and sparkly dances, a little moonshine and bullfrogs.

This is it.

And the wonder that a couple of years ago Philip was in the middle of it all and now he isn't and now we are leaving and as I pushed back my red bandana and hugged a little neck, I realized, this is it. The end of a wonderful run of 4th of July celebrations.

We are saying goodbye to a chapter. A beautiful, amazing and horribly wonderful chapter that we would have never experienced had we never had to say goodbye to our dearest New Jersey friends back in 2005.

The kids asked me if we could fire off fireworks in Alpine.

I told them that this year there is a burn ban and that it was dangerous to light any sort of fires, but who knows what awaits us in 2012?

Today I wondered if it was healthy to have so many family traditions, since they are all having to be turned upside down after Philip's death and we try so hard to figure out our new family ways.

But deep inside, I love our many traditions, and am very thankful to remember Philip's sparkler ballet, and ever-increasingly outrageous antics each 4th of July. The joy he took in setting off the most amazing of firework displays. The way he would improvise a megaphone and play like he was auctioning off peoples' vehicles lining our driveway like a used car lot. I love that he loved the way I like to prepare a feast for our friends and he supported the stress and chaos that came with inviting everybody we knew and all their friends and friends' friends to join in the fun.

We miss him a lot.

And the thought of leaving all these dear ones here in Virginia hurts pretty much more than anything I ever dreamed I would ever feel.

But in the background of all the chaos, is a little note of excitement, hanging in the air like the fragrance I smelled as I went out to mow this evening. A new life, a new, updated version of all our family traditions as we evolve and shift. With Mom and Daddy near enough to be a part of things. In our favorite part of the state of Texas. With the smell of creosote and sage brush and the distant howl of a coyote, and who knows what kind of new flavors that will greet us.

Know anyone who wants to buy a beautiful farm here in the lovely Catawba valley?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

We Dropped Off the Face of the Earth, Almost

After we processed sixty-nine chickens, said farewell to the Woolleys and went about madly on the farm, trying to get the wash done and the shopping finished and the gear loaded up, we piled into the truck, dogs included, and headed to our second favorite national park: Cape Lookout National Seashore.

It seemed foolish and crazy to dash to the beach when we have so very much to do. And yet we were exhausted, emotionally done in, and needed a rest. So we gathered our bedding and pots and pans and food and icechests and sunscreen and drove through the night to take the ferry to Portsmouth Island and Long Point cabins. Rustic fishing cabins with bunkbeds, a sink and stove and shower and not much else.

What else does one need if you have a cooler full of farm food, the sound behind you and the roaring surf of the Atlantic Ocean in front of you?

Will try to post soon. Wish to write about our last chicken processing day, the Woolley visit, the beach, the sunrises and sunsets and the sand that sparkled in the starry night. But now we are home and washing bedding and getting ready for our 6th Fourth of July party and preparing for the Open House this weekend, and thinking about what to pack and take to Texas and what can stay here.

More later.
PS Our favorite National Park is Big Bend National Park. Funny, but the two have much in common...