Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Then Rachel told me that Priscilla had her baby! Priscilla went to live with Mr. Hill, next door to the Thomas's.
A couple of weeks ago David sent me a picture of Coco and Mary and the two sheep. I wanted to cry.
Their son was combing the wool of one of the lambs and their daughter was cuddled up next to Mary, the heifer, in their beautiful green pasture.
Such a sweet picture. How could I be sad, thinking of those animals being loved so dearly by our former milk customers???
Dave told me he hoped to get Coco bred soon.
I wondered if she might already be bred, and if so, when would that surprise baby arrive? Well, this evening I got a picture of the surprise baby! A beautiful little heifer, just like her big sisters, Mary and Carmelita. Duncan sure did a good job! And so did Coco.
I marvel when I remember back to that day I bought Coco and baby Priscilla, not knowing the slightest thing about cows. How we learned to milk. To make cheese and butter and yogurt. How so many people were able to drink such a wonderful harvest off the grass of our farm.
And now, several of those folks who enjoyed our milk have learned to take care of their own cows and are learning to milk and will begin to learn to make butter and cheese and yogurt and be educated about mastitis and good hay and pasture, turning their grass into good food.
Life is rich, isn't it?
PS I will be getting my 3 gallons of raw milk and pint of cream, butter and some buttermilk from my farmer Sally tomorrow. So thankful for her and her cows...
I do not know where to begin.
Maggie and James and Taylar arrived late last Thursday night.
Patrick and I met them, hugs were distributed and the immediate chattering made me realize that six months really isn't that long after all.
My children remembered who they were. And who they are and the eight of the kids played and hiked and leaped wildly off the broken down walls of the Hot Springs into the chilly waters of the Rio Grande.
OK, so it is a bit crazy having eight kids in one small house, but I hope you will believe me when I say that it was an orderly chaos, and not of the bad variety. We shared stories and made do and everyone was flexible and visitors helped wash lots of dishes.
I noticed that my children began to take pride in this region we have loved for their whole life as they shared their special places with our dear loved ones from Virginia. As we drove through the night from Midland to Alpine, I looked at the flatlands and smelled the natural gas, oil wells pumping away. The brushy creosote and lechugilla and cactus fill the fields with prickles. Entering the mountainous region, I think of the rolling Blue Ridge, the soft grasses and green trees and imagine that the kids must feel like they are on the moon. Or Mars. The Chihuahuan Desert is a long way from the Appalachian Trail, Toto.
Forty miles north of Alpine is a little rest stop, nestled in a hill, right where the flatland ends. Even though it was close to 1 o'clock in the morning, I pulled over, telling kids to pile out and look at the stars.
The stars at night are indeed big and bright, deep in the heart of Southwest Texas!
Voices, filled with delight, punctuated the clear, dry air, marvelling at the giant shooting stars who were welcoming the visitors to our dear new home.
Hearing Patrick and James argue over constellations warmed my heart deeply.
We packed in as much Texas as possible in one short visit. Walks around town. A movie in the Rangra theater. Drive to Big Bend National Park. Boquillas Canyon and the sand dune and rock skipping and the Hot Springs and swimming to Mexico and kite flying and Terlingua Ghost Town and Mexican food and very spicy salsa and an old broken down graveyard and Marfa lights and Fort Davis and Sul Ross Mountain.
It was painful saying goodbye.
But so very sweet.
We KNOW they are friends for life. And now they know what our cactus look like, and the jagged contour of our mountains, and the feel of the Rio Grande on a late January afternoon.
So we didn't butcher chickens or build bonfires. But many games of Uno and Monopoly and Marfa lights later, I think these kids know that miles do not mean the end of Real Friendship. I believe they know.
And I am so thankful.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Tomorrow three of our former homeschool friends will fly in to Texas from Virginia.
These kids have butchered chickens with us. They have marveled over brand new baby goats and lambs and turkeys and calves and guineas and ducks and chickens and pigs. They have mucked barn and built bigger bonfires than you can imagine. Shot guns and potato cannons. Swam in creeks.
A couple of weeks ago I was working in the bakery as usual. Knowing that eventually we would all need to eat, I pulled a rooster out of the freezer. The vacuum-sealed freezer bag was marked 7-09. It was carried in a big truck, in the freezer from Virginia last July 25th, 2011. I sat it out on the counter and returned to the bakery, the bread, the customers.
Before you know it, 6pm rolled around and said rooster still waited, partially frozen on the counter.
I think I might have let slip out a bad word. What to do? Kids can not live on bread alone, but that does happen a lot at our house...
Some little part of my brain reminded me that I have a pressure cooker.
You may not have been with me in the early blogging days, but if you were, you will remember that pre-farm I had never made jam, canned or any of those other domestic goddess duties. But my sister Terri had.
She would mentor me by telephone as my blood pressure rose, right alongside the pressure canner, just waiting for the moment I would blow the house to kingdom come.
I eventually canned hundreds of jars of goodies off our farm, along with chicken broth. But I never used the pressure cooker to cook regular food.
In a moment of desperation, inspiration rose up like a phoenix. Isn't that always the case?
As I do on a regular basis, I hit google. What in the world did I do before Google???
Rooster went into pot with a quart of water, a pinch of salt and a bunch of garlic cloves. I sealed the top, put it onto my ancient electric stovetop and waited for the steam to rise from the little thingymajig on top. When it did, I put the little pressure cap on and watched the pressure gauge. It stayed at 15 lbs pressure for 15 minutes. I prepared the rest of our dinner, helped with homework and probably poured myself a glass of wine.
Perhaps a bit cynical, but deep, deep down, hope was telling me that this just might work.
We have eaten a bunch of roosters over the last few years. And a whole lot more Cornish Cross Broilers. The broilers are succulent. Tender. Juicy. The roosters are stringy. Tough. Even after hours in a pot of water on the stovetop. They make good broth. Their meat is dark.
Well. After the pressure gauge dropped down to zero, I opened up the contraption, wondering if we were going to have chicken for supper or not. Grabbed a fork. Reached in to the steaming, garlicky pot. Drooling.
The most tender, succulent chicken I had tasted in ages. Juicy. Flavorful. TENDER. In fifteen minutes cooking time, probably thirty minutes total.
We shredded the meat, making some kind of green enchilada casserole, minus the tortillas. Maggie and I snacked away, and I couldn't help but exclaim over the miracle of the pressure cooker. We ate our supper that evening and I was amazed.
I looked on the blog and found a post written July 28, 2009, describing the day that rooster was harvested. It was a day that started out with Arlene and doughnuts and Ingrid and Sean and Serge and tarps for shade and ice and James and Patrick and the other kids chasing chickens and Stewart bringing us lunch and her and the other Maggie bagging the clean wholesome meat up in our kitchen with the Seal a Meal Serge bought her for Christmas the year before.
All of that. And here we are, in Alpine, Texas, eating that day, reveling in the pressure cooker given to us by the Geigers because I messed up the old one.
I don't know about you, but something about that meal made me feel so deeply, profoundly grateful, I can't even tell you. Made me know that even though we don't get to be a part of daily life with our dear ones, those ones who have shared EVERY aspect of life and death with us, they are with us. So very with us.
And now part of that contingent will be arriving by airplane late tomorrow night and we won't butcher a single chicken or light a bonfire or shovel manure. But maybe we will share a rooster. Cooked in the pressure cooker. And we will laugh and remember.
And I will thank God.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Yesterday morning felt brisk as we loaded up bread for the two farmer's markets. Patrick took care of things for me in Alpine, and Thomas, Rose, her friend and Nora loaded up to head south to Terlingua ghost town.
The sun warmed our faces as customers found their way to our spot in the desert. I was surprised at the number of Big Bend Ultra runners who discovered our little group and bought bread and granola and spelt chocolate chip cookies.
After market, the kids and I took picnic goodies (leftover bakery cookies and bread come in handy!) and traversed the bumpy Old Maverick Road to Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. I paused in the middle of the desert to make the kids get out and exclaim over Luna's Jacal, a long structure, only 4ft high or so, roofed with mud and ocotillo, that housed a family of 10 or 12, back in pre-park days. Mr. Luna lived to see his 90's and was a respected man in the region. I suggested that our house wasn't nearly so small in comparison.
We got back in the truck and bore down on the massive canyon. Fifteen hundred foot walls of stone rise up from the lazy Rio Grande. We spread our table cloth and I proceeded to slice bread and tomatoes. A greedy roadrunner displayed his antics for the children, hoping they would disobey their mother and toss bits of spelt pound cake and organic almond raisin granola.
After a nice meal we hiked to the river and skipped rocks and Nora exclaimed, "Look! There is one of Mamaw's paintings!" as she stood mesmerized, peering toward the awesome canyon, amazed to see Santa Elena in real life.
We climbed up and in, leaving sunshine for shadows, taking off shoes to enjoy the powdery sand, shouting our echoes to the Mexican side.
Some of our party decided to walk in the cold water. Not me. Brr. We looked at gigantic boulders and raccoon tracks and fissures and fossils. And spent some more time searching out the most amazing rock skipping specimens. 3 skips was my record. Must be out of practice. Definitely out of Rose and Raymond's league.
What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Next morning we drove to the East River Road in the park and cheered and hollered as Patrick came in, barely breaking a sweat, first place of all the 60 or 70 10k runners. Another fellow came in a minute or two later, then Patrick's best friend, one more guy, then, to our delight, along came my Maggie! 1st place in the woman's bracket! I have to admit that I was pretty teary.
The kids remind me that the serious competitors ran in the 25k and the 50k sections of the Big Bend Ultra. They think it is no big deal to run 10k. I remind them that they are running against folks who have been training for a long time, lots of adults, and that they came in first and I am PROUD! Of course I also reminded them that I would love them, even if they quit half way through. But being their mom, it is my job to be proud!
They have only been running since September 2011, but have been doing so under the direction of an amazing coach who lives to train these kids to love to run even more than to run to win. Their motto is "Run for your life." Can you imagine how cool it was for me to watch Maggie and Patrick compete in an amazing race in our favorite National Park, after all the years of their childhood spent vacationing out there?
I want to write inspiring posts about Nora and Rose and their dolls, perched atop a rocky mountain, gazing into the distance looking for their siblings. I want to wax poetically about the Hot Springs,seeing the kids and their comrades soaking tired muscles in the 105 degree mineral water, then leaping into the cold Rio Grande, sounds of joy echoing across Texas and Mexico.
So many colors I wish to describe and history and culture. But I am tired and have to get up extra early in the morning. So I throw out a few notes to help myself remember.
And to keep a few of you updated. At least briefly.
PS Sunny days of 65-75 degree weather haven't exactly hurt my feelings. This morning it felt eery to go to school in 57 degree weather. The wind came to shove things around, and you know what? I felt right at home and I suppose I should have gone outside to shout out hello and say thank you for coming all the way from the Catawba Valley to visit us. Her energy was electric. The roof and the doors on the greenhouse moaned and wished she would leave us alone. But I was kind of happy to hear her scurrying around, putting things "into order." Clearing a few more trees of leaves. If she is still around tomorrow, I will definitely give her a shout. Such wild memories of her slamming down our valley, blasting trees and barn and doors with a vengeance.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Yesterday's high 60's gave way to today's low 30's and big fat snowflakes.
We were hoping for a nice pile of snow and a day off from school, but the big storm bypassed us, gracing us with heavy leaden skies, cold temps and a few snowflakes that promptly melted.
The kids miss sledding and iceskating on the pond on the farm in Virginia, but I continue to remind them that we have probably had colder temperatures here in mountainous southwest Texas so far, and from what I have heard, the pond is far from freezing.
To be quite honest, I don't miss the snow and ice at all! And take a wild guess as to how I feel about not having to feed the woodstove in the middle of the night?
Sunday, January 8, 2012
The sun shone warmly on my face. My muscles were grateful as the bicycle made its way out of town and toward the mountains. I almost felt like I was back in the country as I greeted the little Mamas and the big Mama cows in the pasture and said hello to horses in pens.
I solved absolutely no problems, but perhaps the exercise and fresh air gave me extra strength and resolve to tackle the tasks of tomorrow.
The weather forecast predicts snow for tonight and in the morning. Hard to believe while riding a bicycle out in the country in 65 degree weather with blue sky shining all around.
But we are in Texas.
PS We had a lovely Epiphany service on Friday, with lessons and carols and of course a terrific reception afterwards. I was happy to be asked to sing an old Appalachian carol, I Wonder as I Wander. The scriptures were meaningful and I decided that it is awfully wonderful to take aside some time after all the feasts and activities and hustle and bustle to concentrate on the sacred. I am thankful to have had some amazing epiphanies during my prayer time as I worked on Friday. I am asking God to persuade me that he loves us all deeply. I know I am loved by God, but the epiphany was that sometimes, deep, deep down, there are occasionally moments when I am not certain. I hate to even write it out or say it out loud, because I truly do believe, with all my head. And most of my heart. And the revelation that there might be even a particle of me, deep down inside that feels unloved because of unfortunate circumstances makes me feel bad, and sad and afraid to be honest.
Oh well. I guess I hope that if I can be honest, that will open up the possibility that the light and truth will reach the hurting places. I believe that it isn't up to me to try to work harder to know that I am loved. I read scriptures. I pray. I think I know how much God loves me.
This morning one of the hymns spoke about being persuaded by God that he loves us.
It really was an epiphany.
I prayed and told my creator how thankful I am how much he loves me, but could he continue to persuade me and my children, to know in the deepest, deepest part of us that he loves us. I want that message woven through every fiber of my being. Not just the superficial churchy places. But all the way down.
And something about the magic of epiphany (forgive my use of the word, but it is magical, this incarnation and revelation) gives me cause to believe that the work is going on, even at this moment as I type.
Thank you God for bicycle rides and scripture and beautiful hymns and pain that draws me deeper in to you.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Can you believe I had another weepy day? Is it the brief cold spell? Grief? After holiday doldrums? I can't believe I am writing about it, because I really don't want people worrying about me. Things aren't so bad.
But I did hurt again. And missed Philip and wished we had an intact family, and wished there were a dad in the house and wished I weren't the only one around to boss around the kids.
So I cleaned house and then spent several hours working on spreadsheet of all Nov-Dec sales in the bakery and filled out quarterly sales tax forms and made two huge pots of turkey stock and cried over the phone with Rachel.
I dug out a package of frozen kamut noodles I had made a few weeks ago and turned turkey stock into turkey noodle soup. What I really wanted was a great big coconut pound cake, but the turkey soup tasted almost as good, and was much better for us.
At some point my weepiness overflowed onto the children as I bemoaned the VERY out of balance chore management. I cried. We fussed a little. I prayed, begging God to help me know how to better manage things. A few more tears were shed, then, just like the comeback kids, our favorite team, the New York Yankees, everyone grasped the concept that we have to work together, and that all the energy I use, repeating myself, telling kids to do this or to do that, or doing it all by myself, was wearing me out, and making me even more sad.
Rose suggested a chore chart. Everyone else agreed.
After table was cleared, dishes were washed, and floor swept, I noticed Rose grabbing pen and paper.
We spent almost an hour, thinking about the different tasks that were necessary to a smooth running household. She wrote down charts and lists and tacked everything up on the fridge. Even the occasional chores had their own chart.
I wished to write out chore charts for everyone, ever since we moved, but with paperwork, meals, laundry, bakery, stories, church, etc, that was one task I had been dreading and unable to accomplish.
Seeing Rose sprawled on the kitchen floor with marker and paper gave me a real boost. She and I brainstormed and I think we came up with a pretty conclusive list.
I know we are far from perfect and way too human. Kids' school schedules are demanding and so is my job. I imagine that even with the best written out chart we might stub our toes occasionally. But the new year seems like a great time for us all to implement some plans that will help us all work together more cohesively.
And that has helped my weepiness diminish significantly.
Please God, help us work together as a family, and to love each other deeply. For each of us to offer our special gifts to the rest of the gang. And thank you that Rose offered her amazing list making gift to us this evening. What a good boost.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
It seemed odd and not quite right to get up before dawn.
But we did anyway, and kids got to school and I got to work. I didn't feel like it, but baked a few loaves of bread and some pizza crusts and granola anyway.
I kind of hurt all over, missing my friends so much, but decided that it would probably be best to file paperwork and sort through receipts instead of go back to bed like I wanted to, remembering that someone somewhere said that the secret to success is doing things you don't feel like doing.
A few customers dropped in and I was reminded why I love my job so much. We didn't eat our turkey over the holiday, so I cooked it this evening and the children and I ate salad with chunks of turkey for supper and read another chapter of one of my favorite childhood books, The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler. I had forgotten what a formative book it was. Something about E L Konigsburg's writing speaks to me deeply. She captures the sense of awe and adventure and absolutely unstoppable and unfathomable sense of confidence of a pre-teenager. I just knew I would have to run away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art someday when I read that book as an 11 yr old.
And sure enough, I can't count how many times I have run away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But I have never slept in a bed there. And now that we are in Texas, it will be a lot harder to run away to get there. But rest assured. I plan on going back. And as we sit around the table, enjoying the shared experience of story, I certainly hope that a child of mine (hopefully all five of them) will someday feel a deep and mysterious longing to wander those grand halls and find themselves there. And maybe read aloud the story to their own children someday.
PS During evening prayers we remembered the many people we know in need. And took some time to say thanks for Mrs. Konigsburg. And I prayed that God would help each of my children, in their own unique way, be able to touch some people just like he used Mrs. Konigsburg to touch us.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
I went to church this morning by myself because the kids were still in bed.
As I got ready I prayed that God would provide for us this day.
Some neighbors and new friends happened to be in church and invited me and the kids to go out to their cabin and property south of town, on Calamity Creek. No one was terribly excited about leaving the house to traipse around the hills, looking for rocks, but they loaded up anyway.
We clambered and climbed, scrabbled and hiked, up hills, alongside creeks, over boulders, in and out of caves, up ravines. All of a sudden complaints turned into exclamations of joy and pride as we each found different treasures along the way. Mom, looks like the kids have inherited the rock hound gene from their grandmother. Two giant hawks perched on the top of Eagle Nest Mountain, then soared over us, giving quite a show. The cooler temperatures made sweaters feel great, but clear blue sky kissed our cheeks.
Liveoaks lined the creek banks. So did algerita bushes. And believe it or not, many of the same kinds of rocks we had on our farm in Central Texas. I felt so at home. Memories of countless other holidays, wandering the property with visiting family and friends, picking over rocks, filled my mind.
After a long hard traipse, we piled into the cabin and visited and ate and made friends. I can't suppose I can think of any better way we could have spent the afternoon.
I think when I go to sleep tonight I will dream of the many different colors extravagantly strewn across the rocks and boulders of Calamity Creek. And will be thankful for people willing to open up their lives and share with us this New Year's Day.
We never ran out of a conversation.
This year they were in New Jersey and we are in Texas. We wept as we wished each other Happy New Year by phone and felt very lonely for each other. I decided that the best thing for me would be to do something completely different and out of character.
The children hung out with new friends and I got dressed up to meet my friend to go to a dance. Back in the day, over twenty years ago when I lived here in the Big Bend, we would love to go to dances. Sometimes my girlfriends and I, after a super long shift of waiting tables, would hop in the car and drive an hour or more to a community dance. Locals from both sides of the border, ranchers, a handful of tourists, and lots of music and cold beer. Country western, cumbia, rock and roll, we would dance and dance then drive the long road home in the wee hours, ready to get back up at 5 or 6am to serve the hungry hikers. We were young and apparently didn't need much sleep those days.
Raymond and I drove up to the Volunteer Fire Dept/Community Center in our separate cars. The music pounded and I got nervous. Cowboys in their hats and their girlfriends stepped out for a smoke. Decorations were hung and a few couples were out on the floor. It had been so long since I was a part of that world, I didn't know what to do.
The country band stepped off the stage and the Mexican guys stepped on as we tentatively made our way to the edge of the dance floor. Noone else went out, so, just like swimmers at the edge of a cold pool on an overcast day, we stuck out our toes and dove in.
We laughed as we waltzed and danced the cumbia and the shuffle. Other couples joined us, and the accordion howled and the guitars strummed and thumped and mournful voices sang in Spanish of leaving and returning and old ranches and I felt so happy to be back to border culture.
Kisses and hugs were shared all across the dance floor as the old year ended and the new one began. We danced another set, then got into our separate vehicles, he headed south and I drove west. A giant bowl of moon grew bright and orange as it slid down behind a mountain and a long train paused on the tracks, waiting for its turn to go through the town. Dull constellations faintly glimmered as I made my way into Alpine, and kissed my children and headed to bed.
I still missed Kathryn and other friends, but I didn't feel the least bit sad.
Welcome 2012. We are happy to greet you and welcome the many new things you have to offer us this year.
And to you, blog readers and friends, may this new year be filled with growth, peace, love and joy, and many opportunities to enjoy new adventures.