Sunday, December 15, 2013

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel

This evening I sit in my bakery, feeling guilty for wasting time at the computer. The strand of Christmas lights run around the entire room. The are mirrored and reflected in the many glass windows, and to tell you the truth, it feels kind of magical. I used to decorate in mostly white lights. They are so lovely. But these days, I am hungry for color.

Yesterday morning I felt a bit under the weather with a mild cold. Rose was down and out as well. So Maggie and Nora went with our church friends to the Nature Conservancy on the other side of Fort Davis to cut a tree. They searched and searched and Maggie found the most lovely tree. So tall it bends at the top of our vaulted library. Maggie and Raymond set it up in the stand. While they did that, I scrounged outside to gather greens and pine cones and beautiful red berries of some sort to decorate our bare bones Advent candles. Maggie strung the lights and then the rest of us joined in on hanging the ornaments with Elf playing in the background.

The kids have done a great job decorating trees the last few years. And, truth be told, the whole process has been more than painful for me the last several years.

But, you know something? As I got pulled into the decorating, the act became meditative. I quieted myself and delved into the search for the perfect spot for each ornament. So high, some on the edge, a few great big ones hanging into open gaps.

Our organic, locally grown wild tree is gorgeous, and offers a generous canvas for our decorations. Some ornaments I remembered getting for my first Christmas in my first apartment. I picked them up in cute little stores in Eureka Springs, Arkansas on a visit to my grandparents' home. A little goose with a blue ribbon tied round his neck. A cute little ceramic teddy bear. A reindeer made out of old fashioned clothespins. I can feel the Novemberry air, and smell wood smoke and remember Thanksgiving dinner at the home of my Arkansas grandparents, the pretty red glasses and fancy plates and aunt, and cousin, and sisters and parents and Mamaw and Papaw, all brought to mind by those sweet little ornaments.

Other ornaments were a bit more scraggly, and every bit as precious. Made by little peoples' hands, over the last almost 21 years. I don't know what happened to many of them. Who knows where the old snowflakes are? I guess they will have to make more. But each little ornament brought to mind a special time. I remembered our big old historical home in Fort Worth, and all the renovating, and the lovely mantel, and friends and family recreating the Nativity story in the living room, and the fancy dinner, and the glow through the french doors. A warm glow. The glow of greens brightly burning from the candle that caught them on fire! That was a pretty dramatic Christmas Eve moment, and one that taught me much about how to decorate mantels with candles and greenery, and gave a vivid example to the kids about why we never leave a candle lit in an unattended room!

I tucked the giant angel made by Patrick into one open space in the tree. I love the smiling toothy face! Memories of New Jersey and snow and Christmas carols and little boys who were so little and now so tall!

I have pretty handmade ornaments made by my mom with fimo clay, they look just like old fashioned candy, the kind they handed to us on Christmas Eve at our tiny little Baptist church in Paden, Oklahoma, along with an orange. And a handful of nuts. I can feel the bitter cold and remember driving around, with socks on our hands for gloves, all riding in the back of an old pickup truck, going to visit the "shut-ins" to sing them Christmas carols.

As we put on the great big plastic, shiny red and purple ornaments, the ones that don't get broken by the climbing, crazy cats, I remembered the fun trip into the big town last year with Rose. We had to go somewhere in mid January. Target had all Christmas items for sale at 75% off! We had so much fun, getting those silly, not necessary things on that trip. Along with cute kitty and doggy Christmas neck ties, which are adorning our animals even now.

I have ornaments made of popsicle sticks and glue and polaroid photos. Some of that plastic, colorful foamy stuff well loved by Sunday schools of most every denomination, framing digitally printed out photos of kids. Some remaining shiny glass balls not nearly as many these years, thanks to the cats.

Probably the same stuff the rest of you have decorating your trees. Ours isn't very organized. It doesn't really match. There is absolutely no theme at all.

But you know something? As I teetered on a wobbly chair, and stretched and searched and hung little pieces of memory, I realized that for the first time in a long time, a very long time, I was truly delighting in the experience of Christmas preparation. Christmas used to be my favorite season. The last few years it has been a raw, painful time filled with memories that made me bleed. I didn't bleed at all yesterday.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Back to Work

After a two month break I reopened the bakery yesterday. I was a little nervous, since it doesn't take much to tire me out. But oh, how wonderful, to be back in the saddle again. My grain shipment was delayed, so there was no bread on the menu. I have quinoa and plenty of oats, so I milled the quinoa into a very fine, earthy flavored flour, and made sweet stuff. Vegan quinoa and oatmeal cookies, quinoa banana nut muffins, quinoa oatmeal muffins, quinoa brownie mix and a bunch of our usual almond raisin granola.

Quinoa is not a grain, but a seed, related to swiss chard, beets and spinach. It originated in Central and South America and has been used in those cultures for thousands of years. I found a website that said Quinoa has been nominated the grain of the year. Cool, huh? It is considered a complete protein and is quite nutrient dense. Quinoa has no gluten, so it is not suitable for making yeast breads, but works well for cookies and quickbreads. It is quite costly, and because of the current gluten-free food fad (I'm certainly not talking about folks with celiac, but our culture does seem to flow from one food fad to another, and currently gluten-free is the one), the demand has taken a toll on supply. I have heard that folks who have used this as a foundational part of their diet have been having a hard time purchasing it because of the inflated prices.

Don't know what the answer to that problem is. I hope that as its popularity grows people will find the increase in demand will be good for local economies. And that we won't complain too greatly as the cost of this wonderful, nutritious food source increases, so that producers will be paid a fair wage.

I don't care to offer gluten-free products in my bakery since I mill all sorts of grain in my mill and don't want someone hurt from cross contamination. But it is fun to tinker around with alternative grains and seeds, creating nutrient dense snacks that are high in fiber and protein. Not to mention lots of vitamins.

Oh, by the way, it sure was great to see customers coming back to my door. Yes, I was pretty tired at the end of the day, but felt better than I have in quite some time. Thankful to be on the mend.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Hallow's Eve, Happy Halloween, Happy All Saint's Day?

The other night I had a dream. Philip, my late husband, was in it. I was delighted to see him. It was a joyful dream. So bizarrely vivid. Next day, yesterday, I was doing paperwork, listening to Pandora, the Eva Cassidy station. A song caught my attention, but I continued to work. As it continued, the lyrics stopped me cold in my tracks.

"My love is like a red, red rose," a song from her Somewhere album.

I had never heard that song before in my life. But I had heard the words often enough. The lyrics are words to a Robert Burns poem. Philip would often memorize poetry and quote it to me during our courtship, and for the duration or our marriage. Two poems in particular were often on his lips, one, Love's Philosophy, by Shelley, and the other, Red Red Rose by Burns. He would dramatically recite, a devilish grin on his Irish face, and he knew, and I knew, that he must have kissed the blarney stone at some point in his life, but he made me smile. And he won my heart.

I found the song on YouTube and listened to it a couple of times. I cried a little. But I felt happy, in a weird, sad, poignant way, as I sensed his hug from a far and distant land. I could hear him tell me he was proud of me. That he was proud of the kids. I could hear him tell me how grateful he was for Raymond, being a true love of my life, and the lives of our children. I truly sensed his wink and grin as Eva soulfully sang about returning again, "tho it were ten thousand miles." I could imagine his ironic laugh, telling me that where he is is a lot farther away than ten thousand miles, but it was worth it to say hi and remind me I am loved.

Oh my luve's like a red,red rose
that's newly sprung in June;
o my luve's like a melody
That's sweetly played in tune

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
so deep in luve am I
And I will luve thee still, my dear
till all the seas gang dry

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun
I will luve thee still, my dear
while the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
and fare thee well awhile
And I will come again mu luve
tho' it were ten thousand miles.

Robert Burns, 1794

How appropriate to have such a nice dream and memory right at Halloween, and right before All Sts Day, a time when we lovingly remember those who have gone on from this world to the next. I hope that in the middle of your fallish festivities, regardless of denomination, religion, or lack thereof, you would take some time to remember the special ones in your life who have died. It is a good thing to give space for those memories. Isn't it funny, the things that trigger memories? Have you ever been caught by surprise by a song or poem?

PS I sure hope my kids get some chocolate tonight somewhere and leaving it laying around...

PPS If you like, you might enjoy Eva Cassidy on YouTube. She is one of my favs. Be sure and listen to her sing Danny Boy for another wonderful treat.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The leaves on the apricot tree have supernaturally been transformed into bright yellow butterflies, fluttering down to the earth, lighting on the yard.

The sky is gray and when I went to pick some peppers from the garden I noticed the leaves on the fig tree are beginning to turn rusty around the edges. Fall is subtle here in Southwest Texas, quite unlike the crazy wild display we would get on the farm come October.

Subtle or no, it is my favorite season.

The other day I ran away from home for a couple of days of rest and recuperation. Those of you who know me well know that my favorite place to run away from home has been Big Bend National Park for about the last 30 years or so. Due to many unusual circumstances, it had been almost four months since I made my way down South.

Kids had good friends to care for them so I gathered my things and hopped in the car with my dear one. We drove into the sunset and relished the wide open space. I putzed, napped, baked a cake and read while R. went back to work. The next day we decided to take a short canoe ride down the Rio Grande. I felt like a true princess watching someone else do the hauling and rowing, since I was being so good to follow doctor's orders!

The river was down from flood stage. The banks had been scoured clean by all the rainwater. The river carried us along and I felt peace. Perfect peace. No traffic. No bills. No calls. No planning or inventory or orders or laundry or meals. Canyons, instead. Calm flowing water, gurgling along, occasionally the ripple of a little rapid or the sound of a canyon wren or crow. The sun toasted my arms and I was glad for a hat.

The riverbanks were a beautiful terra cotta, smooth as could be. When we made our way around a bend, I saw a cluster of bright yellow flowers and wondered how in the world could they have survived the flood when all the other growth had been washed away? We neared the bank, and all of a sudden the cluster of flowers rose up like magic, fluttering around us! Thousands of bright yellow butterflies, taking a rest on the cool, moist riverbank.

I felt so lucky! So blessed! We were part of a magical yellow butterfly globe! Seeing the apricot leaves this afternoon makes me remember that sweet moment on the river and just thinking about it takes my blood pressure down several notches!

Friday, October 18, 2013

More Gardening

One Sunday afternoon in August, post diagnosis, but before heading to Dallas, I moped around, thinking I should just surrender and go to bed. But first a quick walk in the backyard. I saw yet another new garden bed, built for me by Raymond earlier that weekend. It was so lovely. Inviting. A blank slate next to the other vibrant beds, filled to overflowing with flowers and veggies.

I paused. Gazed at the lovely new spot. Marveled at how much I felt loved, knowing that R. had gone to all that trouble without my even asking. My sad, worried thoughts got crowded out by gratitude. I thought about how much effort he had put into that enlarged garden area and then thought about the seed packets that were stashed in a box a few feet away in the shed.

Something in me stirred and I decided that instead of going to bed miserable and depressed, at four in the afternoon, maybe, just maybe, I could put in a few minutes effort and throw some seeds in to the freshly raked soil. I mean, really. If he had gone to such effort, surely I could muster up a little gumption.

So, within a half hour or forty five minutes or so, I had a couple of short rows of snow peas tucked in the ground. A few yellow squash. A couple rows of golden turnips. Lots of radishes and lettuce and arugula and cilantro.

I wiped the dirt of my fingers, stood up and felt whole. Picked a mess of green beans and jalapenos. Said a little blessing over the seeds, watered them in and hoped.

Fast forward a couple of months! We are now eating meals of turnip greens, arugula salads, lovely yellow squash, and eating snacks of fresh peas, right out there in the garden. And after we got back from the hospital, the green beans had played out. So had most of the tomatoes and cucumbers, so Raymond planted all sorts of new things in the original garden beds, under my instruction, sitting like a princess on the side of the beds! Broccoli, brussel sprouts, beets, spinach, chard, purple topped turnips, bok choy, lettuce, carrots. Everything came up! And they are growing beautifully in the temperate high desert, nice cool fall temperatures! We made a delicious soup out of chicken bones, all the usual ingredients, plus mushrooms, ginger, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and our fresh bok choy!!!

What a gift.

Friday, September 20, 2013


So, you might remember that earlier this year, in the late winter days, Raymond and the kids built garden beds for me.

Those gardens have been my therapy, my hope, the medicine that kept me going this year. I think that R. has hauled off over 100 5 gal buckets of rocks. Maybe close to 150. He and the kids (mostly R!) hauled countless wheelbarrow loads of dirt from an area where we sheet composted last year. I didn't really feel like planting, but after seeing all that effort, I couldn't let it go to waste.

Green beans, yellow and green squash, spaghetti squash, okra, cucumbers, green chilis, jalapenos, tomatoes, herbs, all placed in the soil in faith, with a great deal of hope, and more than anything, love, as I thanked God for Raymond, my partner who sees what I need and helps make it happen. Oh, yes, and a bunch of zinnias and marigolds to make things pretty.

Miraculously, things came to life. Patrick picked up a bale of alfalfa hay and I mulched three beds with several inches of the rich, green matter. Another bed I mulched with a thick layer of pine needles on top of cardboard, used as a weed suppressor.

A few weeks before the green beans were ready to bear, I had to go to Virginia for unpleasant business. A massive hail storm took out half our garden, and many other gardens in town. Not to mention half the fruit on our figs and all the apricots. My dear old dad saw the damage and replanted green beans without telling me! Wasn't I surprised to see the new crop coming up days after I returned home! What a dad, to know how much delight, not to mention food, I would receive from his efforts.

As I will explain shortly, it has been a rough year on many levels. Some things I can write about, some things I can't. It is hard to blog when I feel like I have to censor myself. You know the old saying, if you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all. So, let's just say that I have had an amazing opportunity to learn to bless people who are persecuting me, and to pray for those who are not kind to me. I have seen the legal system at work, and have determined that even when it works in my favor, and I am proven to be in the right, I still don't win. You know the scripture that talks about being pressed down, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair? Well, that has been the theme this year. I have had the opportunity to forgive like I have never experienced before. To second guess my every move, to be frustrated with myself for not being more discerning, not being more wise, for not knowing how to take care of certain situations. Blaming myself for using Rocket Lawyer rental lease documents, instead of paying a lawyer to draw up a good one. Blaming myself for being so naive that I thought I could trust a signed name and a handshake.

Well,I could go on and on about all the things that went wrong in my life this year. Crazy, really. If you want all the details, well, just use your imagination. But as circumstances worsened, I would say to myself, at least my children are healthy, and I am strong and can work! I have love of dear ones, a great relationship, many friends, a thriving business, great church, terrific teachers for my kids, opportunities to see my family, etc, etc.

And then, in the same breath, my little mustard seed of faith would squeak out to God that even if things got worse, and my kids got sick, or my business failed, or my health failed, I would still believe that we would be cared for. I would choose to not live in fear of the worse. I kept telling myself that I would be the woman in Proverbs 31:25. who was clothed in strength and dignity, who laughed at the times (no matter how troubled) that were to come.

And then would go work in the garden and cry. Or knead the bread and cry, trying quickly to wash away the tears before customers made it to the bakery. Begging God to help me to laugh.

We would pick the squash, the peppers, the green beans, and would eat them and give thanks. So many lovely things to enjoy as the flowers bloomed like crazy. Rachel and Jason and the kids stopped at our house on the way to their new home in New Mexico. Kathryn and Peter brought Max and Mary and we tromped all over the Big Bend, sharing the places they have heard about since our days in New Jersey. My customers kept coming and they blessed me again and again and again as I forced myself to get up and bake.

But all the time, the troubles in Virginia grew, and I felt my strength wane. I wondered if there were some health issues going on. In the winter I went to the doctor for a check up and expressed my concerns. We figured that it was probably just symptoms that happen to go along with a woman's journey into her late 40's. But just in case, he ordered several diagnostic tests. All normal. Which was a relief. But I still felt like I was running out of gas. Getting more and more sad.

At some point, I told the doctor I thought I had sunk into depression, and he assured me that with the circumstances I was undergoing, it would be more than reasonable to think that way. And then he ordered a blood test, and a sonogram and a biopsy of my uterus.

And lo and belold, he told me I was anemic! What a shock for this red meat eating, cast iron skillet cooking, vitamin taking woman. He gave me iron pills, and within a few days I could think more clearly than I had for months and felt a sense of humor returning! Okay, so maybe this is all in my mind, but it was shocking how quickly I felt better getting some iron in my system.

The sonogram looked normal. All that awaited me was a biopsy. You know it is going to be bad when your doctor tells you to be sure and take pain medicine before you get to the office because it is going to hurt. And then all the nurses tell you three times that it is going to hurt. Ugh. I hate pain. I hate needles. I pretty much don't like going to the doctor, but was proud of myself for being such a big girl, getting it done, no matter how painful or embarrassing.

One of my bffs here drove me to the office. I lay on the table, trying to maintain my posture of strength and dignity and sense of humor as the doctor did his part to figure out what was going on with my body. It is hard to maintain all those things when you hurt VERY BADLY in very delicate parts of your body. A few tears rolled down my cheek as the doctor said he was so sorry for the pain, but hang in there, almost done. He got a good sample, told me that more than likely all the symptoms that had been causing my anemia etc, were probably related to hormonal changes in my body, but this test would rule out cancer.

A few days later, I got up to work in the bakery. The bread was rising. I still felt pretty miserable, and just kept asking God if I were losing my mind. Seemed like my productivity had gone down by 50% or so. I was still working, but by rote, and was cutting out more and more activities each week. The phone rang around 8am. It was the doctor. His voice was sober. He told me that the biopsy results had come in and that it tested positive for uterine cancer.

My throat went dry. My hands trembled. He said he was so sorry. He told me he had already been consulting with doctors in Odessa and Dallas and that we would be referred up there the next week. He told me that we would have to schedule a full hysterectomy and that it would hopefully take care of the problem, and that more than likely the cancer was contained.

I cried.

I went back to work, in shock. I called a couple of friends and we cried. All of a sudden everything made sense. The weakness, the burning pain that wasn't normal. The anemia. In a weird way, I was relieved to know that I wasn't losing my mind. But terrified, since I had been asking about the weird symptoms for a year and a half. My grandmother had uterine cancer. So did a couple of other close relatives.

That afternoon, my doctor and his assistant popped in to the bakery to check on me. They gave me big hugs. Promised to pray. Told me that he was sending me to a doctor he would choose for his own mother or wife. Can you believe that? Then I sat the kids down and told them we were going to be going through an adventure together. They cried with me.

Then I told them that their great grandmother had the same cancer several decades ago, and she is still alive at 97 year old and we think she might never die! That made us laugh. We talked about cancer genes and heart genes and long life genes, and I reminded them of the many ways God has cared for us through hard times. We remembered that we do hard pretty well, especially with the amazing corps of friends that surround us, and hold us, and don't let us go.

My friends came in and cried with me and hugged me and assured me they were with us for the duration.

Raymond cried with me, held me and assured me he was with me for the duration.

The next Sunday morning I took my Bible and coffee out to the swing in the backyard and read and prayed and cried. I whined for a minute or two or ten, telling God that this was ridiculous, and how come we seem to have to have everything be so hard. As I started to go through the litany of complaints about the crazy hard stuff, the still small voice whispered to me quietly. So quietly I had to shut up and be still for a moment. Then all of a sudden a flood of pictures came to mind. A flood of times when we got to have things the easy way in the middle of the hard. The way I didn't have to be alone the night Philip died, but was surrounded by friends who could help. The way Laura R and dozens of others brought piles and piles of firewood. How people gave us money to pay for funeral, for bakery equipment, for fixing our vehicle. How many meals we received over the months from dear ones and total strangers. I thought of the way so many friends helped carry our load again and again and again.

I didn't have to move the kids to Texas by myself. I had my parents and Raymond who worked alongside our Virginia friends to get it done. I was able to find a home that was perfect for our family and the bakery. It was easy to find good foods here. It was easy to get our business started. All of a sudden, I found myself praising God, utterly grateful the way all of our hard things had been covered over with a giant cloud of grace. An ocean of grace. With mercy and provision, with love and kindness. We have been given so much more than we deserve. I tried to think of someone I know without troubles, and it quickly became apparent to me that we all have our share of troubles.

Yes, that is no real epiphany. I have known that for such a long time. But somehow the powerful flood of goodness and mercy and love and grace watered my soul and fed me with nourishing comfort. I was able to pick up my empty cup and my Bible and return to the house filled.

Now, don't get me wrong! I still was scared. My imagination would threaten to take over and every worse case scenario played out in my mind as I tried to joke and laugh with the kids, telling them I was going to offer to pay the surgeon $50 dollars extra if he would suck out some stomach fat while he was in there taking out the cancer.

Then I would go in my room and cry.

Well, the good news is, we were able to go to Dallas, to Baylor Medical Center. I had an amazing gyno-oncologist who did a stellar job. A total hysterectomy, an oophorectomy and salpingectomy. Whew. That is a mouthful, isn't it? And by the way, I forgot to ask about the liposuction. I have a feeling he wouldn't have taken that on for a mere $50. The best part, pathology showed that the cancerous tumor was completely contained, that they didn't find any cancer cells anywhere else in my body. I will have extensive follow-ups for the next five years, but other than healing from the surgery, there shouldn't be need for anymore treatment.

Once again, hard circumstance, but the easy version. And I am humbled to experience once again an outpouring of love and support. Folks here in the area, plus friends in Virginia have given to us financially. Enough to cover the two months of missed work in the bakery, since I am supposed to rest and heal and not life anything heavier than a gallon of milk. R and Mom and Dad were with me in the hospital. Larry and Lynne drove all the way to far West Texas to love on me and drive kids and be a presence and to deliver gifts of love. Holly came for the better part of a week to drive and cook and clean and love us, all the way from New Orleans. Friends here sacrifice to chaufffeur, babysit, bring meals, and more, more, more.

I stand amazed, perplexed, guilty. How to receive such love? Remind me to share with you the "miracle of the stale fortune cookie" sometime soon, and you will see how silly little things help. In the meantime, I continue to thank God for the many hearts and hands that help bear our burdens. I pray that each one, each gift equally valuable, whether the hand drawn picture crafted by my favorite customer Leif, attached to the gorgeous bouquet brought by his mama, or the enormous financial gifts, the fruits, the meals, the prayers, the hugs, I pray that each person would get back a gigantic return on their investment. I pray that everytime they have a hard time, they will experience the easy version, covered in love and grace. I pray that every time they need a meal and can't make one, that one would appear. That when they need a hug or an ear or a helping hand with their farm or their car of their house, or their kids, the help would appear.

We give thanks that I am cancer free. I rejoice that my children don't have to suffer with fear over my health. But please know that if we had been one of the multitude that got the bad news that we were too late, and that I was going to die sooner rather than later, I have complete confidence that my children would be cared for, carried and loved, and from heaven I would pray that they would be clothed with strength and dignity, able to laugh at the times to come.

Okay. I know I need to come back, edit, rewrite, cut out about half of this. Or turn it into three posts instead of one jumbled up pile of info. But here I am with a few minutes, I have missed you guys and really wanted to let you know what has been going on. I owe some of you letters, and hopefully you will get one soon. I thought I would get back from the hospital and then would be ready to sit down to write, write write. But I guess all the drugs in the hospital have left me a bit scatter-brained and unfocused. Am feeling better.

Have so much more to say. So Garden, part 2 coming in a day or two. Maybe as I feel stronger I will be able to use this time of pause to be able to put down some of the stories that have been swirling in my head the past few month.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Rest in Peace Seamus Heaney

This morning I read on my NY Times News Update that Seamus Heaney died today.

I didn't ever meet him. Never knew him or his kin. But I felt he was a friend the first time I opened up a book of his poetry and dove in.

Philip had purchased the volume long ago on a journey to Ireland. I loved that the paperback had a faded pricetag with pounds instead of dollars. It was a bit beat up, I would hold it and think of the miles it had traveled, and the moments of joy it gave Philip as he adventured. And me as I adventured, mothering and farming.

A few years ago I loaned that book to someone, to share the wealth, and then promptly forgot the who. I searched up and down the house for the slim, paperback volume, as on occasion I had deep need to read about digging potatoes and crashing waves and blackberries. I never did locate the book, but would find plenty of poetry websites online to help.

What is it about poetry? Why does someone else's words grab me by the heart, cause my breath to catch? How could he know how I felt about blackberries and things that don't last?

I will share a couple of my favorites with you. And by the way, I have missed you guys! I think I am about ready to get back to blogging, so be prepared!

But for the moment, let's remember Seamus. Slainte. Thank you for sharing your craft with us. Oh, how your words have moved me.


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for Picking.
Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.
Seamus Heaney


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it.
Seamus Heaney

Lovers on Aran

The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas
To posess Aran.
Or did Aran rush to throw wide arms of rock around a tide
That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?

Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.

Seamus Heaney April 13, 1939-August 30, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I mix the batter of steaming milk from Sally's cows, honey from Fain's, a family beekeeping operation not too far down the road from my parents, spelt flour milled by me this morning, grown by farmers under vast Montana skies, and a spoonful of yeast.

I smell grasses and wildflowers, the fragrance rich and heady filles my bakery.  Because I get to be a part of this alchemy twice a week, for years now, my faith is made certain, and I know that somehow that batter of honey and grain and milk from Sally's cows, formerly milk from my own cow, will be transformed into bouncy, pliable dough and rich loaves of bread to be used by my customers and my family for sandwiches, toast, snacks, comfort.

A couple of verses from the Bible popped into my mind as I imagined the bees hovering around weedy flowers tucked here and there, gathering pollen and nectar.  One out of Psalm 81, "You would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you."  Another out of Psalm 147, "He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat."

For a few moments, I forgot my troubles, my senses remembering my fortune, the gift of milk and honey, the finest of wheat (and spelt, granddaddy to wheat, cultivated over 5000 years ago!) and I had to stop and give thanks.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


At 2:55 this morning the wind slammed into the neighborhood.  She roared, loud and fearsome, like a mythical goddess.  The trees shuddered.  The house shook.

I tried to doze, but couldn't.  It was so strange.  There was a surreal current coursing through the streets, but not a pleasant kind of energy.  I must have fallen back to sleep occasionally because I had surreal dreams to accompany the wind.

At around 4:30 I thought she must have gone to Marathon or Midland or somewhere far from here because the silent stillness woke me up.  But never fear!  She was just hanging out around the corner.  In about five minutes the roar returned and didn't relent.  Not at all.

Now the wind has calmed, but a thick haze of dust shrouds the mountains.  My nose is clogged and my eyes are gritty.

The fresh green leaves on the trees are gently fluttering like butterflies.  I can't believe there is a single leaf left on those trees after the crazy wind.  Can you believe two years ago this week I was in Alpine looking at houses with a real estate agent?  And that the crazy wind turned a tossed cigarette into a wildfire that scorched hundreds of thousands of acres.

There is something comforting to me as I consider patterns of nature.  I am glad there is no wildfire right now.  The wind does not always live here.  As disturbing as she is to my nights' rest, there is something about her that draws me in.  That said, I certainly hope she bothers someone else tonight.

Can you believe that two years have passed since we made our way to Alpine from the farm?  Crazy.

I wonder if this wind is related to the one who woke me up in Virginia?  I just started reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's memoir, but perhaps I should revisit At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald.

PS Did you know that in the South of France they have a name for the wind:  The Mistral (which means "masterly").  But the Mistral is known for clearing the skies, and this wind has dirtied them considerably!

Friday, April 5, 2013

I love my customers. I really do.

Another thing for which I am thankful:  my wonderful customers.

They come out of their way to my bakery, some once a week, some twice a week, some when they can make it.  I am not exactly on the beaten path.  I don't have a sign out front.  They have to wend their way through the six or seven bikes in the carport.  My bakery is a big sunroom off our house that used to be Mrs. Turner's art studio.  Three walls of windows.  Two giant walk in closets, one for pots and pans, the other for ingredients, hundreds of pounds of chemical free grains, tubs of organic coconut oil, rolled oats, organic raisins, pounds of yeast, plenty of organic cinnamon and vanilla.

On a rare occasion I have everything out of the oven and bagged up by the time customers walk through the door.  But more often than not I am still taking cookies out of the oven, bagging up granola, or printing up labels.  A one woman operation is not always as fast as she wishes she were, even with the very long hours and skipped lunches and breakfasts, and cups of coffee instead of real food.

But these customers don't growl or grumble as they wait their turn in line.  They kindly visit as I pass out hot cookies, they introduce themselves, they catch up on smalltown news, compare rainfall and lightening strikes as I bag bread and take money and make change, answering questions about recipes and spelt and gluten.

Some of them read my ads.  Others come because of a friend's recommendation.  Who knows how these folks find out about the bakery?  But every Tuesday and Friday I end the day exhausted but grateful to these folks who enable me to live out my passion:  offering delicious, healthy alternatives to over processed foods.

Store bought food is much cheaper than my expensive spelt and coconut oil.  Store bought bread looks the same, week in, week out.  My bread varies, with moisture content, protein content and many more variables.

I am so thankful for these folks who go out of their way to support my tiny little business.  Just wanted to say so!  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Yesterday started out hot and sticky.  With an eery looking sky.  The wind blew away the hot and the sticky and brought with it cool and electric air.  And rain down south.  I had the opportunity to practice not envying when a couple of customers told me that it rained for an HOUR at their places.  I made myself be very thankful for them.  Which wasn't hard at all, because I truly was thankful for their rain.  The air smelled so fresh and alive.

Today I walked through the yard after getting the mail.  I picked some late blooming jonquils, a couple of clusters of violet-hued desert mountain laurel, and the very first yellow rose!  What a fragrant boquet enhances our messy kitchen.  Most everything feels better with a bouquet of freshly picked flowers on the table.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Writing a blog was a lot easier on the farm.

I began writing to chronicle some of our experiences so the children would have stories to remember.  I loved hearing my parents and grandparents tell stories throughout my growing up.  I have written most of my life.  I have boxes of journals.  Filled with lists, stories, cries, prayers, hurts, recipes, sermons, grocery lists, bad poetry, cuss words and fears.  I still journal.  Not as frequently as some years, but still fairly regularly.

I don't mind if the children read those journals at some point.  But somewhere along the way, I realized that I wrote in journals when I was confused, sad or angry.  It was a great way to get things out of my system.  A place to safely process junk.

After a year or two on the farm, reading other people's blogs, I saw the blog arena as a place to capture some of the lovelier moments.  The perfect venue to photograph with the written word a moment in time.  I have strived to keep it real.  To me, the most lovely things are not perfectly sanitized.  Sometimes the most beautiful things are painful, a bit messy, and occasionally confusing.  I want the kids to see that the good life is real and full.  And to see that God is in the middle of every bit of it.  Having the discipline of writing in the blog was helpful to me.  Better than only writing when miserable!  Although you may remind me that there have been seasons of misery, and I have asked you to walk along with me, and it has amazed me how much beauty and joy have been woven into the painful times.

Everyday on the farm there was something to catalog.  The first day we heard the peepers every year.  The blooming of the cherry tree.  The different seasons of the willow.  If I needed to know when a certain lamb was born, I could search it on the blog.  My almanac of sorts.

In our new life I enjoy the seasons.  Love to feel the way the air touches my skin on an early morning these days, moist and full of springtime and birdsong.  (and pollen!)  The desert never ceases to amaze me.  But the cares of the world, work, managing, all that stuff, seem to fill me up with boring things.  I don't know what part I want to capture for the kids anymore.

God is still in the middle of every bit of our life.

Bear with me as I ramble, because I am trying to figure out why I am still blogging.  Or why I don't feel like blogging anymore.  Ever since we moved here, I have been feeling a bit wobbly, not knowing what my blog's goal or objective is anymore.  I could make it a bakery blog, which would clearly define things, keeping it fairly simple.  I could continue to write about our grief journey, which is still very real.  But depressing for some people to be faced with deep pain.  Then there is single parenthood life, small town life, desert living, healthy living.

Perhaps this blog is suffering from a drought.  Maybe a gentle, metaphorical spring rain would nourish me.  Perhaps an electrical metaphorical thunderstorm would help inspire me.

In the meantime, the laundry and dishes are waiting.  The Saturday cleanup is not happening.  Easter dinner sides and rolls must be made.  Church needs dusting.  And here I sit, typing a bunch of nonsense into my computer!!!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Simple Pleasures or Abundant Living

Two days ago the trees were bare.  Yesterday green leaves appeared all over the neighborhood!  Redbuds seem quite proud of themselves.  Perhaps they think they are pretty spectacular.  Fact is, they are!  On Saturday the wisteria was covered in clusters of almost ready to explode blossoms.  When I got up and went out to the backyard Sunday morning, I noticed bare wisteria branches.  Nibbled bare, by deer, I presume.


Blackie and Brownie are now on nighttime patrol, since we have begun to plant our garden. We live kitty-cornered to the golf course, which supports a herd of 25-40 deer.

I think the dogs probably feel proud to be called back into service after leading a pretty cush evening life, sleeping on pillows on my bedroom floor.  If the deer thought the wisteria blossoms were tasty, who knows what they might think of the new garden!

A very long day in the bakery left me feeling pooped this evening.  I guess all the springtime springing made me feel creative.  Along with the other goodies, I made some freshly milled whole grain Mile High Biscuits.  Using the same Southern Living recipe I used to make back in college days, but now instead of white flour I use a combination of hard white wheat berries and spelt berries, milled.  And coconut oil instead of crisco.  And sucanat instead of sugar.  And raw milk instead of the other stuff.

They are still yummy!  Even better tasting, in my opinion.  Light.  Tender.  And especially good if you can grab some butter and apricot preserves when they come out of the oven.

I roll out the biscuit dough, cut the rounds with a half pint mason jar, and then freeze the raw biscuits, ready to put into a hot oven for a fast food breakfast that makes my children and customers smile.  I sold several batches and put the rest in the freezer for future deliciousness.

I also made spelt tortillas.  Another staple I used to make regularly in my college years once I moved out into my own apartment.  Except back in the day, it was white flour and crisco.  Coconut oil works beautifully in my tortilla recipe.  So does spelt.  The hard white wheat is a bit more family friendly, and very tasty.

After all the bread and cookies and biscuits and tortillas and brownie mixes and granola, kids trickled in from track practice.  This year Maggie and Patrick and Rose are all in track.  And Maggie and Patrick are mentoring the kids in Special Olympics.  I am proud of them for being so proud of their big brother Thomas last year when he ran in Special Olympics that they would share the love with other special kids in their school.  That said, they come home late and hungry and eat  a dozen cookies in a few seconds, and consume close to a dozen cold biscuits.  Then it is time to think about supper.  I was going to cook some chicken, but Maggie is going to a baseball game with friends and Patrick has homework and I have bakery dishes to do (so why I am writing in this blog???).  We nixed the chicken and sliced a loaf of spelt Milk and Honey bread, grabbed some mayo, sliced roast beef, sliced tomatoes, pickles, a sliced jalapeno, and piles of raw spinach from our farmer's market haul.  We declared that never was there a better sandwich crafted.

Patrick was not so fond of the jalapenos, so I ate his.  But Maggie and I liked the mild burn.

Hunger is a wonderful thing when you have good things at hand to help satisfy the pains.  We are so blessed with the abundance of delicious, nutritious options here in our home.  I realize that if I did  not have this bakery we would not be able to eat as well.  If we didn't have money and bread and cookies to barter for veggies and milk we would not eat as well.

I am grateful for the many hands that helped make our supper possible.  And I hurt for the many men and women and children who will go to bed hungry this evening.  Please God, show us and the other folks out there who are able how we can share this bounty wisely so we can all be nourished, satisfied, grateful at table, even when it is as simple as a sandwich.

PS Here is a very sketchy version of my Mile High Biscuits.  I bet if you googled it, you could get a much more detailed version from Southern Living.  These biscuits are slightly sweet.  Amazing with butter and jam. If you want to make sausage and gravy biscuits, I would nix the sucanat or decrease it by more than half.

Patrick usually makes these biscuits and does an amazing job.  But his junior year of highschool keeps him much busier than back in the old days on the farm.

Mile High Biscuits

3 cups freshly milled whole wheat flour, a bit more if you use spelt
1/4 c. sucanat
1 1/2 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (yes, it really does make a difference if you leave this out)
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. coconut oil (back when we raised our own pastured pork, on organic grass and chemical free grains we made our own lard.  It made the best biscuits.  I could not recommend store bought lard. Butter works, but makes a completely different texture.  Liquid oil doesn't work at all, at least if you are from my part of the country and expect a particular crumb.)
1 egg
1 1/4c milk

Mix dry ingredients.  Cut in coconut oil, rub it in to the flour.  Beat egg and milk  together and mix with dry ingredients.  knead dough briefly until it comes together.  Let it rest for a few minutes.  Roll the dough out on a floured surface to just under a half an inch or so.  I like these pretty thick (Mile High Biscuits, right?)  Cut into rounds.  Place on lightly greased baking sheet and bake in preheated 475 degree oven until golden brown.  OR double the recipe, bake half and place half the biscuits on freezer paper or a baking sheet, freeze then transfer the biscuits to a Ziploc bag.  You can take the frozen biscuits out of the freezer, place on baking sheet and place right in a hot oven.  They take a couple of minutes longer than if they were fresh.  Perfect for Sunday morning breakfast, or tea time!  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Apricots! or perhaps I should say I see glimmers of hope!

A couple of days ago Judy and I went out to survey the latest work on the garden.  We were delighted to see a few blossoms on the apricot tree.

Last year we delighted in the blossoms, but delighted even more in the fruit the tree bore last summer.  We made tarts and jam and I felt pleased since I had wished for an apricot tree for years.

So, the apricot tree is about to be in full bloom.  The algerita bush in the side yard is covered in tiny yellow flowers that will eventually make berries.  The oak tree is blooming with little catkins.  The fig trees are covered in teeny tiny baby figs.

A couple of weeks ago I was miserable, cold and feeling hopeless.  An acquaintance asked if I still felt enthusiastic about my bread baking.  I laughed a bit bitterly, saying that Pollyanna enthusiasm wasn't exactly the way I would describe my livelihood.  I do feel deep gratitude for my customers, and am 100% convinced that being able to transform wholesome, freshly milled grains into delicious breads and cookies is a great vocation and job.  I LOVE my job.  But it is hard, my ingredients are quite difficult to source, they are getting more and more expensive, and occasionally I wonder if it will be possible to continue to offer my products if I can no longer afford their ingredients.  The hours are long, the piles of dishes are gigantuan, and enthusiastic isn't really the way I would describe how I feel about my work.

But the gratitude sinks down into my bones, and while I am not exactly bubbling over with effervescent enthusiasm, I am thankful for this bakery, and the mill, and the smells of yeast and honey and the feel of bouncy dough being worked by my hands, the warmth of the blast of steam from my oven, toasting my face, the smile on a child's face as she pops a warm, nutritious cookie into her mouth.  The gratitude of a customer who discovers my bread doesn't make him sick.  I am thankful to be able to fill up my children and their friends with granola and dozens of cookies and lots of homemade pizza and cinnamon toast.

But wait a minute, I think I got off track!  So, feeling cold and miserable and hopeless, I told Raymond that I was going to give up on gardening.  It was too much, the soil was too rocky, I didn't have the time, energy or optimism to figure out how to garden in southwest Texas.  R. hasn't gardened much.  That siad,  I think he must love me an awful lot.  Because he brought a load of boards and stakes and wheelbarrow and shovels and got to work on the garden beds even though I protested halfheartedly.  He and Maggie and Patrick set about repurposing boards from a broken down picnic table into several raised beds.  The kids dug up beautiful soil from a year's worth of sheet composting for the lasagna garden that never quite happened last year, except for those volunteer pumpkins.  They found dirt that was chocolatey brown, and while not exactly teeming with worms, it did have a few!  Which is pretty amazing.  All of a sudden, I felt hope begin to show some teeny signs of growth in my heart.  Like the little bitty figs.

Seeing Raymond and the kids work on a project that was primarily for me, since I am the one who loves to garden, made me feel deeply loved.  Can you believe that they fixed up a screen to sort out the rocks from the dirt and then hauled of a couple of truckloads worth of rocks, to make room for soil we grew last year?  It is not a gigantic garden space.  Compared to the farm in Virginia, it is tiny.  Sufficiently big enough to grow quite a bit of food for this little spot.  Who knows if anything we plant will grow and survive and produce.  But I feel much more optimistic about gardening today than I did a couple of weeks ago.

I am hoping that the springtime, rebirthing optimism, will pour over into my bakery business, growing like yeast in a nice, warm bowl full of grain and milk and honey, giving me some new energy and creativity.  Perhaps some hope and optimism will enable me to be able to see new solutions to challenging situations.  Perhaps rote work will be transformed into enthusiastic vocation.  Or something like that.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


A few weeks ago a friend told me there would be a big dance down at the Stillwell Ranch.  On a Monday night.  Almost an hour and a half from our home in Alpine.

I immediately jumped at the idea! N. and her girls, and I and Rose and Nora rounded up picnic supplies, put on our jeans and boots and hopped in our vehicles after school.  The drive in itself was spectacular as we headed east, flanked on the north by the Glass Mountains, shining in the late afternoon sun.  Nora was a bit bored on our drive and decided to see how many creatures she could find in the huge banks of clouds.

We made it to the Stillwell Ranch before sunset.  Had a fabulous picnic supper, then we were drawn to the dance area by sound of music, guitars, classic country music, performed by a local guy, Craig Carter and the Spur of the Moment Band, a fellow whose music drew us out to the dance floor back twenty five years ago, when we were all young, carefree, and full of energy!

Christmas lights were strung on old adobe building and agave.  The Hallie Stillwell Museum wall was one border of the dance floor.  A big pile of boulders was another.  The starry, moonlit sky was most adequate for the ceiling.  Slightly cool temperature was welcome and we jumped out there to swing, polka, two-step and schottische.  I danced with Raymond and Mark and mostly Nora and Rose.  Which felt like the best gift I had received in a very long time.

I started this post a couple of weeks ago, and wanted to write to you all about Hallie Stillwell, an amazing pioneer woman, a strong woman, who came out to this remote land and survived and thrived, and has been written about in the NY Times, and many other publications.

But I got distracted.

So I suppose what I really want to write about is the gift of the dance.  Live music.  Fresh air.  Cowboy hats (not on any of us, but on many of the other dancers!), smiles, laughter as we would occasionally swing the wrong way and once I accidently bumped Rose on the face with my elbow and thank goodness didn't leave a black eye!

As many of you long-time blog friends know, this is not my favorite time of year.  Well, actually, a better thing to say is that this time of year is very painful for me.  Sometimes it feels so painful I think I can't go on, it hurts so badly.  Everything is a reminder to me of our deep loss, on Feb. 25th, three years ago, when Philip died.  It makes my body hurt, my heart hurt, and what I would prefer to do is go hide under my pillow for a few weeks.

But thankfully, the children and the bills and the mortgage all give me more than adequate reason to keep getting up, milling the grains, baking the breads.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my job.  I give thanks to God daily for my customers, for the mill, for the livelihood I make via the bakery.

But there are times when it is done by rote instead of happy, creative energy.  Done because I have to, not because I want to.  Which is okay, because that's life, right?

But when the opportunity came up awhile back, to go down to Stillwell for that dance, I jumped on it.  Not because I felt a light happy spirit, but because I was desperately hungry for good medicine.

You know what?

It was very good medicine.  The drive down, the big sky, the mountains that border the Rio Grande and Mexico all filled me up as with an elixir.  And dancing around the moonlit dancefloor with my dear man, and my dear children was about the best thing ever.  To familiar music that swung us around over twenty years ago.  I felt a lovely sense of full circle.  Of completeness.

On the drive, Nora mentioned Philip, and wondered what he would think of our life now.  I told her that I know in my heart that he would be so very proud of us, and glad for us, and thankful for R, who is so good to us.  Who brings delight and joy into our life.  When we met, Philip tried to learn the two-step, and did pretty well for a Jersey boy, but most of our dancing over the years took place in the dining room, after dinner, with lots of laughs and not so much at a real dance floor.

I still feel pretty sad, deep down inside.  Grief hurts more than you can imagine.  But the sun shines, we get up and bit by bit, we continue to live.  This weekend we have a dear dear friend visiting us from Virginia, and   several of us are hoping to take him to a southwest Texas dance tonight.  Same group, Craig Carter and the Spur of the Moment Band, this time here in Alpine, playing at the Civic Center.  For a good cause.  All the proceeds go to the Family Crisis Center.  This time I think I will try to get Maggie and Patrick to go with us. They need a safe place to be silly and learn and to see how important it is to learn how to dance.  Its a part of their heritage!  

It May be early February, but I Feel Springtime

Robin's egg blue sky,
peachy suppertime clouds turn into
pink cotton candy.

Written a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to post!

Sure is good to feel warm sun a'shinin'.

We have daffodils blooming!  I saw one yesterday.  Spring is in the air.  Birds are singing.  Crisp morning air grows warm.  A vicious wind blew cold air and dirt through our town the other day, but now the skies are blue and calm.

Track season has begun for the big kids.  Girl scout cookie sales are in full swing.  February is drawing to a close.

I was wondering why I hadn't been blogging, but then I calculated the different things going on, and realized I have had a free time deficit.  Getting all the accounting taken care of and mailed to the accountant, bakery business, plus a nice weekend down in Big Bend National Park with R., my mom, sister and Nora filled up the days.  We hiked along Long Mountain in the late afternoon, watching the Del Carmens glow pink and fuschia and blue.  We ate yummy farmer's market food.  We hiked the Basin Loop and had a picnic.  R and I hiked from Rio Grande Village to the Hot Springs, delighting in the canyon views, the desert plants, the warm sun.  Nora, Mom and Christine drove over there and we all met and watched Nora swim in the Rio Grande.

Any trip to the Big Bend is special to me, but this one was especially special.  My mom had an ankle replacement three months ago.  She was in a terrible auto accident 15 years ago and was told she would never walk again.  I remember the trip she and I made to the Big Bend one February 13 years ago or so.  We set out on a half mile hike.  She cried in pain and determination every step of the way.  I cried too. She did manage to surprise the doctors, and worked and worked to adjust to her physical circumstances and limitations.  And doing some of the hard work in the place where we had always gone to find our healing.  For decades!  Bit by bit my mom would hike a bit farther than she really should have.  She would need to get to a spot to take a picture for a painting.  To refresh her memory of the colors.

It finally became evident that it was time for an ankle replacement and the recuperation would be hard, but imagine my joy to be able to see my mom hike an over 2 mile hike, up in the mountains, all of us delighting in the delicate seed heads of different varieties of grasses, the smell of the sun on the pines, the little patches of blooming verbena, the glowing cactus.

I am very proud of you mom.  You are an inspiration to so many of us.  A picture of determination, as you make the effort to include beauty in your life, often at great cost.  I know it hurts a lot of the time, but you have been my inspiration, as there are many different kinds of pain and loss.  You have helped me remember that physical tests, that beauty in rugged nature, those things help us to get better.  Sharing those lovely hard moments with people who love us is a real gift.

Oh, and by the way, one of my mom's paintings, one of Santa Elena Canyon, has been selected to be a part of a terrific competition this spring, the Oil Painters of America.  I don't need anyone else to tell me what a fantastic artist my mom is!  But it is pretty wonderful when important, educated people happen to agree with us on something we have known for a very long time.

So, welcome spring time.  Another season, pretty subtle here in southwest Texas in the arid Chihuahuan high desert.  But full of delightful treats, like a surprise daffodil, or tall bluebonnets on the road to our favorite park.  Swelling buds and a new angle of the sun.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Verdict is In-Spelt Wins, by Popular Vote, but I Think Buckwheat is More Authentic

Patrick went to the Farmer's Market for me to pick up our two gallons of raw milk and big bag of produce from Mark and Deb.

I put the milk in the fridge and sorted through the produce, giving everything a quick rinse, hungry, trying to decide what to fix for our meal.

In the bag I found some cauliflour, parsnips, a bundle of carrots, bright and orange, some ruby red beets, a giant chioggia beet, green onions, two bunches of swiss chard, with colorful stems, a bundle of deep green spinach, a lovely head of tender lettuce, a pac choi, and seems like something else I am forgetting.

The root veggies were cut up and put on a cookie sheet with a sprinkle of salt and olive oil and went into the 500 degree oven until the beets were puffed, and the carrots and parsnips caramelized.  Don't tell anyone, but I put the cauliflour in also, and ate pretty much every single bite all by myself, because it was too delicious and I couldn't wait.

I sauteed the chard and garlic and green onions, set it aside.  Sauteed some mushrooms and a couple of pieces of bacon.  Also sauteed the spinach, all by itself, well, barely wilted the dark green deliciousness.

The buckwheat milled, put into the blender with eggs, milk, water and a bit of butter, I let it rest for a couple of hours, then made a giant stack of crepes.  FYI, the buckwheat had a completely different fragrance compared to the spelt.  Earthy.  Redolent of fields and grass.  Grey in color.  More tender a batter than spelt.  Held onto the pan in a completely different way.  Very fragile.  Maggie and i thought the buckwheat was the definite crepe of choice for savory, but I think the average palate in the American household would probably prefer the spelt, or a combination.

While Patrick and I made a mornay sauce, with spelt flour, butter, milk, bit of salt, pepper, nutmeg and then grated swiss cheese, Maggie made a lemon dijon vinigarette for the salad.

We assembled stacks of crepes, one with the spinach, one with the chard, onion and mushrooms.  A bit of sauce between layers of crepes and veggies, then more sauce on top, and then we popped them into the hot oven.

Patrick sliced apples paper thin and roasted them on a pan with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sucanat.  I made a homemade caramel sauce, then we made a stack of crepes with apples, cinnamon, spelt crepes and caramel sauce.  Patrick also toasted some pecans and made a stack with nutella and pecans.  The dessert crepes heated up while Raymond and Maggie set a pretty table in the sunshine in the backyard and I chopped the roasted veggies and threw them in the salad with the dressing.

A glass of wine for the grownups, a tablecloth, and we said a prayer of thanksgiving for the many hands that were a part of our meal.

Judy popped over and ate some of the leftovers and we basked in sunshine.  Coach came over and he and Raymond helped Maggie with her bike.  J. and I tried to work out a few problems of the world as we lingered at table with little girls.

I don't think we solved any big problems, but the bike tires are now in good shape.  I completely neglected paperwork and ignored the dust and the closet that needed some organization.

It was wonderful spending time on that delicious meal, made solely to delight in the great ingredients we had on hand.

PS The spelt crepe with apple and homemade caramel was perhaps the most delicious thing I have eaten in a very long time.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Spelt Crepes

I raced to get all the bread baked by a certain time.  Cookie dough made, spelt cupcakes made.  Before hitting the midday gigantic pile of doughy giant bowls, I pulled out the Julia Child Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, turned to the crepe recipe, grabbed the blender and the freshly milled spelt, some milk, some eggs, some melted butter and water, a pinch of salt.

I figured the batter could rest while I scrubbed pots and pans.

There wasn't time to mill buckwheat to try a side by side experiment.

After the dough bowls were washed and the many dozens of cookies baked, I pulled out the 9 inch stainless steel fry pan, turned on the pretty much defective electric stovetop, waited the several minutes for it to heat up, and then got to making crepes.

We have made crepes before, it really isn't terribly novel, but nevertheless, the kids and I were excited to see how spelt worked.

I swirled the VERY liquidy batter around in the lightly buttered skillet, watched the edges crisp, and then, trying hard to replicate Julia's two handed method, VERY gently grasped the edge of the crepe with my fingertips, flipped, and voila.  Within seconds we had a perfectly executed crepe.

I can't imagine why anyone would want a white flour crepe when the spelt one had such a rich flavor.

Maggie grabbed on, filled it with raw honey, rolled it up and pronounced it good.  The other girls had theirs with jam.  I sold a stack to a customer, and saved the rest for us, because I want to make myself a stack filled with greens I will procure from the farmer's market this morning.  Cooked in a white sauce.  Perhaps we will treat ourselves to some mushrooms.

If inclined, I will mill some buckwheat and try the same recipe with the buckwheat flour, since that is the traditional flour used in savory crepes in Brittany.  I can still remember the lunch we had twenty something years ago in Bretagne, a tiny little shop, twisty street little village, the rustic tables, cider, and hearty crepes with ham and cheese and delectable little mushrooms.

Will let you know how the buckwheat turns out.  I have a sneaking suspicion that a combination of spelt and buckwheat are going to prove my favorite.  I guess that the two flours together will make a great dual purpose crepe for this big family of mine, half of us with sweet tooth, wanting apples and nutella, the other half wanting salty, cheesy, bitter greens.

PS  I used the recipe for savory crepes.  The stainless steel pan worked perfectly.  I did not have to butter it between crepes.  I don't own a nonstick the right size for a crepe.  The omelet pan would probably have worked, but the 9 inch turned out lovely crepes that will serve well as an entree.  I placed the hot crepe on a rack for a few minutes to cool, then stacked them all up.  Swirling the batter properly wasn't as effortless as I imagined.  I did have a few weird shapes when I didn't swirl quickly as I should have.  There is a knack to the execution.  And I did pinch off the edge of the crepe occasionally, if I didn't pull the crepe over with both fingers with precision.  But as Julia suggests in her show, just flip that part onto the bottom, cover it up with something good and no one will know the difference!

I had better end this post, get to the market to procure my veggies and milk.  I am hungry.  Crepes for lunch?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chillin' with Julia

Yesterday evening I sat down with Nora to watch a couple of episodes of Julia Child and The French Chef. The kids got me the collection of her PBS shows a couple of Christmases ago.  What a gift!

I used to rent them from Netflix and we would lie in bed, watching Julia chop and stir and we would laugh uproariously.

With all the cooking shows available now, I think we take for granted people like Julia Child who premiered the whole idea.  Can you believe they recorded her shows in one straight shot!  No pauses.  No editing. As she was showing us how to make crepes last night, a bit of the batter fell onto the electric stovetop element and I believe it caught on fire!  The steady stream of smoke grew, but Julia just kept on talking, swirling her crepe pan.  For an instant, the camera caught a glimpse of the flame, then moved upward, keeping the element out of the viewer's eye.

It was something, watching her work, making good food accessible to the average gal or guy who enjoyed tinkering in the kitchen.  As she stuck her spatula into the bowl of the moving stand mixer, and the spatula was flung across the kitchen, she chuckled, but hardly slowed down!

Watching Julia Child, black and white, in her dated kitchen, makes me feel better.  I ALWAYS learn something new.  But one thing I wonder, how did she stay so skinny?

Nora and I watched Julia make crepes, with roasted apples, with orange butter, and of course the inimitable Crepes Suzette.  She poured cognac and orange liquer with abandon, and they flamed accordingly.  I think I have to start making crepes.  Spelt crepes.  Buckwheat crepes.  Perhaps tonight Nora and I can watch Alton Brown teach us the art of crepe making.  Think any customers would be interested in Taste and See crepes?

We also watched the croissant episode.

I have wanted to make croissant in the bakery for a very long time.  I read a great article in Cook's Illustrated last year, detailing some techniques that help make the perfect croissant.  Julia seemed to make it a lot easier than CI.  Perhaps she had access to better butter.  CI suggested that it is important to use a  high fat butter, like Plugra, to get the best results.  Julia said that the key was pounding the butter, to make it malleable and to make certain there weren't lumps.  As Nora and I watched her slam the dough onto the marble slab, repeatedly slamming it down, picking it up, slamming it down, to develop the gluten strands in the dough, and as we watched her beat the frozen butter with a wooden stick, Nora suggested that someone very angry invented this dish!  If that is the case, isn't it wonderful that something so amazing can come out of a temper tantrum in the kitchen!!!

When Julia took the platter of finished croissants into her staged dining room, sat down with the newspaper and her cafe au lait, I determined to perfect the spelt croissant.

I then put myself to bed with a book, and the first thing I read was a quote from The Sword and the Stone by T.H. White:  "The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn."  There is quite a bit more to the quote, but I especially loved that part, and was thankful for Julia Child and her producers and the people who believed in her mission, who made it possible for her to help me and many other people learn something in the kitchen!

I will let you know how things go.  Maybe it is time to add a thing or two to the bakery agenda.  Maybe I need to shake things up and be a bit more creative.  Good medicine?  It is either that, or I break out the credit card, ditch the kids and head to Paris for a few days.  Which is where you will find me, if I am suddenly AWOL. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Good Grief

For those of you who like happy little blogs and by accident wandered over here, perhaps you might want to quickly excuse yourself and find the way out!

While this blog is entitled "the land of milk and honey" I s'pose I should reiterate that in my experience, the Promised Land, the good place we live in, is occasionally a trail of tears.  A good world.  A beautiful world, but touched by sorrow and loss.

These days I am thinking about death a lot.  Kind of hard not to when our community has encountered so many tragic deaths over the last few weeks.  We had a funeral mass at our little church last week for a prominent lawyer who was killed in an auto accident.  He was a friend to many in our little town.  I also found out last week that another of my customers, Bevery, died.

She was such a vibrant personality!  Petite, but fiery like a pistol!  Always wore a big ole cowboy hat, as is wise in a land of powerful sun.  Along with the hat, bold and beautiful agate jewelry.  And I always saw her with a lovely wide skirt with pretty belt.  And boots.

She gardened vigorously.  Cared for her mother.  Studied health, nutrition, was full of information.  She would come in for milk and honey bread, and bring huge bags of garden goodies for trade.  We ate many wonderful meals last year from the work of her hands.  I don't know much else about Beverly, except that everyone seemed to know her.  That she was strong.  Full of opinions and laughter.

Her departure has made many people sad.

I will miss her intermittent popping in the bakery.  Hearing her tell of her gardening journey here in Alpine and down south.

I imagine there are many people out there who are still grieving the loss of their young friends who died in different auto accidents over the winter here in our little town.

I am tempted to avoid the painful topics.  Tempted because I know how uncomfortable it makes people to hear about pain.  About loss.  I mean, how many times have you heard someone in their loss for words stumble along and try to get people to be happy and think about how much better off the dead are?  Well, no kidding.  It is the person left behind who is now left to pick up the pieces and walk forward, despite the pain

It is frightening to look at pain face to face.  Would be easier to run away and play dead, numbing oneself to emotions that are not fun.  But the other day, as I felt loaded down by more emotions than seemed possible, many of them  not terribly  nice ones, I consciously decided to give myself permission to feel.  To be whole.  Complete.  Even if it were a little rough around the edges.  Okay.  A lot rough around the edges.

Most of us have experienced deep loss at some point or another.  If you haven't yet, you will, unfortunately, that is, if you ever let yourself love.

I am finding that it is important to take a little inventory of emotions periodically.  You might find that certain seasons have a profound affect on you.  The most important losses I experienced all took place in winter.  January and February.  My father-in-law and mother-in-law, with whom I was very close, both died days apart, in my presence, last of January, first week of February.  My late husband died end of February.

What you might notice is that your body will tell you about your loss before your mind.  There is something about the cold that used to invigorate me that over the last several years makes me feel sad.  Muscle memory of those days of deep  grief.  There are times I handle the loss memory better than others.

Trying to stuff the grief, telling myself that enough time has gone on, I should really get with the program, doesn't seem to do much but compound the pain, causing it to ooze out in most uncomfortable ways.  Calling it what it is, saying out loud to a friend that I feel sad diminishes the bad feelings.  In the middle of the sad, sharing memories and stories of the deceased love one also helps me to release some of the agony.  I was going to use the word "pain" again, thinking that "agony" was too harsh a word for the context, but could we please call it what it is?  That kind of pain IS agony.  

Another thing that has helped me tremendously is to share with the most safe friends some of the hardest things I have to deal with as a result of my loss.  Sometimes people want to focus only on the good stuff, which is great, but the truth is, loss hurts, on many different levels. There is a part of us that will cry out for acknowledgement, perhaps in some unhealthy ways, if we don't call it what it is.  For some reason, our culture calls this wallowing.  I have found it to be a wonderful way to acknowledge the truth.  The practice in the Bible is called lament.  After Philip's death I spent hours and hours in the Psalms.  What a relief!  Some of the best grief therapy.  I felt less alone as I read David's poetry, hearing the anguish as he cried out his heart to God.  I felt less crazy.  I didn't have to feel that my pain and anguish meant that my belief in the goodness of God was lessened.  In fact, the more I cry out to God when I hurt, the more I feel comfort and the more my beliefs are strengthened.

It makes me sad to think that some Christians are afraid of admitting how much they are hurt over a loss, because they are afraid it will indicate doubt in the goodness of God.

Just keep in mind that it is important to share your pain with a trusted friend.  One who will not try to "help" make you feel better by just thinking of the happy things.  Sometimes in the middle of a surge of grief, a listening ear is the best medicine.  It helps to be reminded that we are not crazy for feeling sad over loss.

If you like to write, writing is a terrific tool.  Some grief therapist suggest writing letters to your deceased loved one.  I haven't ever done this.  But I do have conversations with Philip sometimes.  I have also had chats with my in-laws and grandfather.  Sometimes I even give myself permission to say hard things, like how difficult it is to be a single parent, how I hate having to raise the kids without Philip, how I wish the kids had all four grandparents, how sad I am that they don't get to take drives and walks with their great grandparents. I wish they could hear stories from my paternal grandparents, see my grandpa at Thanksgiving show off his fake leg, as he kicked the football!

Experiencing deep grief makes some of us very sensitive to the loss of others.  This is not a weakness.  It is a gift to share compassion and understanding, as we grieve the loss of friends and even strangers.  The ability to sit and hear the pain of someone else, offering them acknowledgement is huge.  After Philip's death, the harsh words of reality from my young widowed friends were oddly comforting.  They told me that the pain was real.  That it lasted a long time.  That it would hurt for years, in some regards, forever, but that I would survive.  When they hugged me and told me that I would again feel joy, I believed them, because there was not one ounce of sugar-coated feel-good baloney in a single word they said.  They taught me that to say "I am sorry for your loss" is about the best thing you can say to someone when you don't know what to say.  If you have to say anything at all.

So, when the grief hits, what to do?

Call it what it is.  Admit, to yourself, and hopefully to a safe friend, that it is not crazy to hurt deeply over loss.

Remember the loved one.  Share some of their stories.  Share some sweet memories.  Maybe even share some hard memories.  It might help more than you think to share out loud the situation surrounding the death of your deceased loved one.  Were they sick for months?  Was it hard being a caretaker?  Did you have a fight with your son right before he died in a car accident?  Just remember to share these vulnerable moments with someone who is a trusted, safe friend, who will not rush in to try to fix things. We were so blessed to be in a place near a grief support group, sponsored by an area hospice group, with a licensed, professional therapist leading, offering tools and guidance.  And most of all a safe place to share stories as we all worked to find a new normal.  Check it out, if you can find a similar group.  Scary to walk through the door the first time, but oh, so healing.

Most important of all, be kind to yourself.  Exercise helps my body and mind function the way they were meant to function.  When I feel most miserable is when I drag myself to the door and go for a walk.  But there are times when it is okay to give yourself permission to take a nap.  Or sit down to read a book.  But pay attention.  If you are unable to get yourself up to go to work most of the time, and the rare nap becomes a continuous nap, it is possible that your deep loss is affecting the way your neuro-transmitters are working, and a visit to your family doctor could help give you some more effective medical tools.

Giving myself a chance to see a beautiful, or grandiose scene in nature helps me also. Seeing something way bigger than me or my problems helps put things into a better perspective.  If you are patient with yourself, you will probably discover things that help you feel nurtured and comforted.

I hope for us all, each of us who have moments of feeling like we should wail, feeling like we are burdened down with grief and loss, would be able to say like the poet, David,

"You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever."  Psalm 30:12,13

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday, trying to bring some exercise into the routine

Today I restarted my walk around the loop training regimen.  A little over two miles.  We live kitty corner to part of the golf course.  The route takes me out our carport, past the old hospital that is now a church, around the defunct nursing home, up the hill, with country club on one side and pretty homes nestled against the mountain on the other.  I had been walking and jogging most days until late fall, early winter when I got strep throat.  I thought the exercise would help me combat winter/holiday blues.  Well, let's just say we will have to try again next winter to see if it will work!

A giant buck stood in the breeze as I made my way up the hill.  His twelve points were pretty majestic.  He seemed very well fed, thanks to the green grass on the golf course.  Made me wish for a big venison steak.  Until I thought of all the toxins they probably put on that golf course!

A few minutes later I was well past the clump of deer and enjoyed the peaceful sound of wind blowing through grasses.  And then wind blowing through agave plants.

So calming.

For a second I wondered if I should be like the other walkers and joggers, tuned into their tunes, earbuds stuck in ears.

But only for a second.  That minute of hearing the brush of air through agave and grass was the best music I have heard all day.  Well, that and the sound of the crickets peeping their song in the tall grass by the bridge over the dry creek bed.

I think I will try to remember the sound of the grass and the crickets as I bake tomorrow.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Clifford Kocher-Rest in Peace

I don't remember the first time Cliff came into the bakery.  Was he on his bike?  Or with our friend Janie?

I do remember he liked the spelt milk and honey bread.  And more than that, the spelt pound cakes.  And spelt chocolate chip cookies.

As with most of my customers, we would strike up a conversation if there weren't too many other customers around keeping me busy.  I recognized his accent and discovered he was from New Jersey, like my late husband, Philip.  He spent his career working for Mars, the candy company.  We would share stories about how few people realize New Jersey is a beautiful state.  How sad it is to see it get overcrowded and too expensive for living.  How we both sure do love the big open mountains here in the Big Bend Region.

Before too long, there would be a dribble of customers coming in, letting me know that it was upon Cliff's recommendation.  He told everybody he knew to come buy my bread and cakes and cookies!  He was living a very simple life, in his early retirement.  Didn't have a car here.  Walked everywhere.  Or bicycled.  Volunteered at the food pantry in town.  Helped at the library.  Did this and that for a couple of churches.  Did landscaping for his church, all at his own expense.  And would bring his cash and buy as many cookies, pound cakes and bread as he could afford at the time.

Sometimes he would come in and tell me he was getting ready for his periodic hike around the Rio Grande, in the Big Bend Ranch State Park.  He would buy up the pound cake and chocolate chip cookies and tell me that would nourish him on his hike!

I really don't know much about Cliff.  I never saw him outside the bakery.  We never spoke for hours.  There were others in town who were his close friends.  Who shared holiday dinners and long hikes.  But when you see someone almost weekly, when you know they care deeply about the success of your business,  and ask about your children, you feel like you have a friendship.  It may seem crazy, but the sweet friendships I have with my customers is a very powerful thing, and makes it worth the effort to get up in the morning.

So when Janie came into the bakery early one Tuesday morning, when Holly was here, tears in her eyes, I knew something was wrong with Cliff.  She told me he was planning a New Year's hike, as per his usual.  He was a very experienced hiker.  Not new to the area.  He hadn't come back when he said he would.  His rental car was found abandoned.

We cried.  Knowing that a week out in the desert, especially with the cold and snow, meant that he was probably long gone from this world.  There was a search.

As I worked in the bakery, I spoke to Cliff in my head.  Told him how glad I was that he crossed my path.  Let him know how thankful I was for his dedication and support of my business, not to mention all the other little things and big things he did to serve a community that had not brought him up, or even been home to him for long.  At some point, I think I did a little stomping about, mad at God and circumstances, mad that no one knew where to search, that perhaps he was injured and in pain, suffering before his death.

A little voice, Cliff's voice, came to me, telling me that his last view was absolutely beautiful.  As most of you know, I have a pretty powerful imagination, so don't think I am losing my mind.  I don't know anything about the spirit of a human, even though I believe we each have something that makes us us.  Something that can't be seen under a microscope.  Something that goes away when we die.  I am okay with hearing someone's voice in my head and not questioning, as those voices never tell me to go jump off a bridge! or hurt anyone!

I heard his voice, could feel his smile, and my stomping mad calmed down, and peace came.  With it grief as I pondered his absence in our town.

Days later our mutual friend came and told me Cliff had been found.  Leaning back against a couple of rocks.  She said he looked as if he were alive, sitting down to enjoy the beautiful view.  He had fallen from a cliff, we had that big snow, you remember?  He had a broken leg.  I hope he did not suffer long.

There will be a memorial service for him today.  I don't think I will be able to make it.  But it was important for me to remember Cliff to you.  I am glad he came to Alpine to enjoy his retirement.  I think he made the most of his life.  He gave much to others.  He had a hearty appetite for Spelt Pound Cake and Spelt Chocolate chip cookies.  Many of his new friends here in Alpine and the area will miss him greatly.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Let There Be Light

Three days ago the days grew longer.

Yeah, yeah, you scientists out there will try to educate me, reminding me gently that the days are not growing longer, but the daylight hours are increasing, and have been since late December due to the way the earth spins around the sun on its axis.

But to that poetic part of my mind, or rather heart, the day was longer, the sun shone brighter and gave me some hope that everything just might be okay.  And it was so distinct, so different than all those other days over the past few weeks, I had to take note and write it down.

I don't get outside in the same way I used to on the farm.  There is no Coco to  milk.  No goats to check.  No ewes about to drop lambs.  No chickens asking to be let out.

However, my bakery is walled in by windows to the north, the west and the south.  I get amazing views of sunrise and sunset and the glide of the moon through the sky.

This morning the sun rose significantly later than this baker.  But when she did, she sent out banners and carpets of red and gold.  Even the far mountains to the west blushed pink and purple as they witnessed such a gaudy entrance.  The kids and I were sufficiently impressed as we left the rising dough and the paused mill to run to the school.  (Well, I hope you don't think we ran by our feet!  It was by car lest anyone get terribly impressed.)

Temperatures are causing me to dream of gardens instead of woodfires.  Not that I miss woodfires for the most part.  It is hard not to associate the woodstove with lots and lots of work.  But cold weather really does a number on me, emotionally, and as the sun comes out and the temperatures reach the seventies, I feel like raising my arms up to the sky in an act of worship.  Well, to tell you the truth, I think I did that the other day.

I have so many blog posts written in my head, about digging up buckets of rocks in my future garden plot, feeling hopeless and depressed and excited and hope-filled all at the same time.    I wish to tell you about seeing three of my kids run in the Big Bend Ultra 10k, and how great that was.  About Indian Head and petroglyphs and mortar holes and cell phones.    I wish to write about dreams and love and grief and parenting and farmer's markets and my customers. I kind of want to write about the many deaths that have come to our little community, via auto accidents, hiking accident, cancer.  Not to mention all the deaths  in our larger world community.  Each of those deaths leaving me reeling and trying to catch my breath.  But today, I must get back to the work that brings in some cash that helps to pay the bills.

And as I work, with the door open, the short sleeves on, I will be grateful for the light.  And pray that the Light will shine in all our dark places today.  Not just mine, but for those of you out there who are feeling a bit cold also, waiting on your springtime to arrive.