Monday, January 27, 2014

Bigger Gifts

After months, a couple of rough years filled with unspeakable trials, our precious farm sold.

It strikes me as kind of funny how something that took so long could actually come about and be finished so quickly.

I guess I had just about given up all hope that the farm would sell last fall. And then, all of a sudden, we received an email from a couple who wished to take a look. Arangements were made, and ironically we had at least six other folks express interest right about the same time.

This couple was in the process of selling their farm, hoping to move their five children, dairy cows, pigs and chickens to a farm in our area. For the first time in a long time, someone actually was able to see the true value of our property, the actual measure of a place that had barns and water and fields and woods and many bedrooms and an attic and a basement. They saw all the things that Philip and I saw when we found the place, eager to try our hand at a more self-sustainable lifestyle. Before you know it, an offer was on the table, a reasonable one, and within weeks, the deal was done, they were moved in, and we were no longer tied to two places at one time.

Trying to live in one state, caring for one's own passle of kids, business and property, and health issues, while managing a vacant or rented out farm in another is not a very desirable place to be. In fact, when I look back over the past year, it is no wonder I feel as if I have been beaten by a baseball bat. A very big baseball bat, wielded by very mean people who would like to see me crushed and bleeding.

I don't think I have ever had such an intensely difficult year in my life. It ranks right up there with the winter Philip died, except maybe a bit worse, since at that time we didn't have real mean people trying to hurt us at the same time we had other difficulties going on.

So you can imagine it is an understatement to say that selling the farm to our new friends was a great gift beyond measure. A terrific relief. And one filled with many sweet bonuses. The whole deal was covered with the fingerprints of God. Or course I think about how hard it was to go through winter on the farm, and all the problems that come up, and how I worry, thinking about someone jumping in to that scenario. But then I remember how delighted we were, regardless of the cold, the little and not so little problems that would arise, because we were right where we were supposed to be. We had no business trying to run a farm, and we made so many mistakes. But had we waited until just the right moment, when we knew everything, and were well-prepared to run a farm, we would never have done it. My children wouldn't know the joy of raising their own fruits and vegetables and meats. They wouldn't know what it is like to eat fresh warm mozzarella made from a big pot of warm milk we harvested from our dear friend, Coco. They wouldn't know the true costs of real food, knowing that occasionally animals get sick and die, or sometimes fencing fails and you have to search for animals, that it really bites having to milk cows when it is 8 degrees outside, and whether you are sick or well, the chores MUST be done.

I am blessed beyond words to know that the new owners have the same vision we had. But even better. They already have years of experience on us. And good health for both the grownups in the family. When I look back on the years we were on the farm, it is easier to see how Philip's health began to decline pretty much right after we moved in. We never really got to get up to full speed. But, oh, the treasure of memories. The many lessons learned.

All that to say, it sure is hard having the final nail tapped in the coffin of our farm dreams.

Is it not interesting that as soon as the farm sold, Rose began asking for a milk cow to live in the backyard? And if not a cow, how about two goats? And the other children began asking if we could have some laying hens in a little chicken tractor in the backyard? And I began craving fresh, REAL chicken, fed good food and butchered by us, nice and fat, for our Sunday dinner table.

I know we cannot reproduce the lifestyle we had on the farm. But we are still trying to sort out our identity. So much of that identity was enmeshed and tied to our land. All the seasons, the good and the bad, happy and mad, everything tied to the soil, the weather, the mountains, the times of birthing and death.

This year's garden has been a good way to remember the part of our identity that will always be a part of our lives. Whether in a sixth floor apt in Japan, a seminary house in Fort Worth, a suburban home in Northern New Jersey, or a rocky backyard in southwest Texas, growing our own food is integral to who we are. Maybe we won't grow quite as much as we did on the farm, but, hey, we have eaten many meals this winter from our little fall garden! And are still eating greens twice a week, in the form of stirfry, salad or stew, and we are fighting over the turnips that we eat once a week. Oh, they are good! Can you believe we really do fight over the last bite of the turnips, every single time I prepare them? If you haven't had fresh turnips, sweetened by the cold of winter, braised in butter with a little garlic and salt, or mashed into creamy lusciousness, graced with a spoonful of cream and a splash of vermouth with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, then you simply can't know what I am talking about. The arugula has been growing like crazy, the swiss chard is not too happy about my neglect, as it keeps getting frozen back by the cold snaps, but she is hanging in there. The pac choi and spinach are doing fine, as are the bitter greens. We get an occasional treat of broccoli. Before you know it the time to plant for spring will be here. So yes, farm or small yard in town, looks like the garden is a part of our family DNA. And btw, our compost is so rich, we should have no trouble with continuing to build the soil in this pile of rocks.

In a few minutes I will be placing an order for 25 baby chicks. Fifteen for meat and ten for eggs. There are several other folks in town who raise their own flock, so I guess we shall see if we still have it in us. As for the cow or the goats, well, I suggested that Rose pray awfully hard about that one, because I can't imagine bringing a large dairy animal into our equation. We don't have grass in Alpine!

Well, there you have it: a bit of an update on the goings on in our world. I appreciate you blog readers more than I let you know. Everytime you comment or send me an email, I feel blessed by our friendship. The winters seem to get kind of bleak and dark for me, but everytime I think I can't get up, somehow there is another little gift that keeps me going. I thank God for the richness of our life. So I am desperately trying to move forward into the new year, taking baby steps in faith that I won't always feel beaten up by a baseball bat. The other day I went out to a beautiful garden in nearby Marathon, the Gage Gardens. It was lovely to sit in the sun, to read and write and be still. I cooked a delicious meal the other night, with pan-seared venison, harvested by my dad,topped with a port wine and fig sauce, along with those previously mentioned mashed turnips, and a delicious melange of greens from the garden, braised in a bit of broth and served with sunflower seeds and raisins. I took the time to cry in front of the children, and to tell them that the root of all those grumpy, angry episodes is a surge of grief as this time of year makes me miss their dad so very much. I sat by the side of the Rio Grande and read a book while the children played in the river, splashing and laughing. Yes, you really can swim in the river here in our part of the world in the middle of January! At least if you are a kid and don't mind the cold water!

And in the middle of it all, I am working on a kitchen remodel for our home here in Alpine. After two and a half years of dealing with a fridge that freezes our veggies and an electric stovetop that only works on high, I am happy to move forward and make this lovely kitchen even more our own.

Step by step, moving forward. I pray that you are also finding ways to find peace and comfort in your winter. Time to be still and time to move. Time for mourning things and people lost and time for rejoicing with the ones who remain.

Thankful for the little things...

"Mom! Mom! Go outside and look! Everything is pink!"

I was glad Maggie grabbed my attention this morning as she prepared to head off to school. I rushed out the front door and stood, washed in dusky rose pink. The clouds were a bright, Easter dress pink. The mountains were lavender, washed in cotton candy pink. The skies and buildings all seemed as if they had been brushed over in a special watercolor pink, soft, with just a tinge of gold, baby blue clouds, tucked here and there for good measure.

Within a couple of minutes, the moment was gone, the skies now a leaden gray, with just a touch of morning sunrise peaking out from under the blanket.

I am glad Maggie was so kind as to give me that gift.