Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Prayer

The girls take delight in making fun of me. They pick random things and verbally compose silly blog posts. We laugh.

"Today. I went to school. I had a test. It was hard. I cried." "Today. I ate too much. My stomach hurt. I cried."

Occasionally after we share a sweet family moment they jokingly ask if that moment will make the blog. I remind them that these days it is random chance that offers up the time, the inspiration, the free computer space to sit down and post about a lovely moment. We have some pretty spectacular moments in our simple life, and were I to document each one, I would have no time to live for more of those moments!

And the kids would have no time to read all those lovely posts, anyway!

I suppose my hope is to get a smattering of random flashes, a little glimpse that might someday tweak their memory, in twenty five years or so down the road. My mom prints each post out, God Bless her, and sticks it somewhere in a drawer, after letting Daddy read the piece. The kids are the reason I started writing this blog anyway. I remember trying to get stories from my Grandpa Rowe, once I was old enough to care to sit still and listen. He had by that time suffered a stroke or two. Still read voraciously, and would love to show off his prosthesis, using it to kick the football outside after Thanksgiving dinner, but as far as speech, well, it was quite hard for him to communicate the many stories he held in his chest.

When we were living on the farm, I decided it might be a great way to "scrapbook." I have friends who are awesome scrapbookers. They make works of art out of the pictures of their life. I have boxes and boxes of photos that I occasionally stuff into albums, in no discernible order. I guess my style is to type up a rough draft, unedited vignette of some of our daily life as a sweet reminder of a few of our days.

Actually, I hope I don't just put in the sweet stuff. They need to know their mom is a real woman. That when the unsweet moments come along, they will find that hope sings more loudly than despair for our family, and sometimes the best music has threads of pain, joy, comfort, grief, love and silliness woven through the whole piece.

So, all this rambling means I finally realized the purpose of my blog! Ha! After seven years!

And why? Because the girls invited me to a dance concert last night. Even though they had homework. And household chores. And I had just come back home after an eleven hour trip to Odessa for a visit with the oncologist and a chest xray. Nothing wrong, just maintenance that has to be done every three months. Could they see how weary I was when I got home? How I was fighting a pity party, because I hate going to the doctor? Because I am so healthy, it seems unfair to be saddled with the expense of time and money to ensure I stay that way? How weary it is sometimes to do all the stuff that needs to be done as a widowed mom of five, running her own business, trying to stay afloat, who would rather write and read and work in her garden and cook delicious gourmet food instead of drive the desolate road to Odessa...

As I poured myself a glass of wine, went outside to check on the chickens and feel the fresh air, I heard scurrying of young ladies. I caught glimpses of them changing clothes. I heard very interesting musical selections. They invited me to sit down in our living room and then turned down the lights and turned up the music. And keep in mind, this is all three girls. Nobody bickering, arguing, well, not much anyway. The ballet began. Somehow they overlayed classical pieces onto pop music. After a few minutes of carefully choreographed flittering, fluttering, kicking and twirling, occasionally the lines between martial arts and ballet blurred beyond recognition, I stood up, suggesting it was time for me to take my walk around the loop. "But mom! You should dance with us! Dancing is better exercise than walking!" I fussed for a minute. I told them how the walk was also part of my meditation practice. I pray when I walk. I breathe and feel and still myself.


They begged and cajoled and I happily relented, joining them with twirls and kicks and leaps and bounds. The ballet evolved into pure pop and we bounced and shook and laughed. We revisited Gangnam Style and What Does the Fox Say. Boogied to Taylor and Shake it Off. Maggie even put on a Zumba youtube and we tried. Yes we tried. But I don't think I am genetically wired to shimmy. Never could. But I tried anyway! And we laughed and sweated and shared movement and joy for a half hour or more.

When they asked me if I were going to blog about our dance party, I just laughed it off. Then later wondered if what they were really asking was if I could chronicle that moment for them. Because it was rich. Rare. And it was a reminder that we love each other deeply, and that some things are more important than meditation. That silly dance party was a prayer.

In church we have been conversing about End of Life issues. From spiritual to practical. I gave a talk in our public library the other day about my travels in Japan, spending a good bit of time digging through boxes of photos and watching old videos that Philip made to send back home to family.

Digging intensely into our past left me feeling bereft, left me feeling sad. I was in pain for a few days. But it was rich, laughing with Philip and his silliness. Oh, how thankful I am to hear his voice laugh and to remember. Life is short. He made the most of it! Cancer doctor visits and driving on highways with busy oil field truck traffic remind me of my mortality. The girls gave me the most awesome lesson last night in how to prepare for the inevitable.

I will continue my practice of walking in the evenings, to feel the air and to pray in the still, dark evening. But I hope that when the moment to dance with my children collides into my schedule, I will pause and LIVE.

As I hope someday they will read these words, and remember, and choose to occasionally make a fool out of themselves in front of their friends, their children, their loved ones.

I love those kids so much it hurts! Maybe Thanksgiving or Christmas we can have another dance party. What would it take to get Patrick and Thomas to join in? Mom? Dad?

Thursday, October 23, 2014


The mountains, glazed with a powdered sugar, thick white layer of clouds, pouring over the sides.

The zinnias, growing wildly outside my bakery window, an extravagant, gaudy buffet spread for honeybees, bumblebees, flies, traveling fritallaries and sulfurs, the color of antique linen, left too long in a drawer.

A jar of green tea, almost thick with tea bags, made for me by Thomas who takes things quite literally as I asked him to please make the tea extra strong today.

Maggie, home from school for lunch, wishes to make a batch of cookies for the bakery, something with quinoa, something fallish and better than basic. I would say her quinoa oatmeal cookies with guiradelli chocolate chips, pecans, flaxseeds and whole cranberries should definitely fill the bill.

A bunch of chickens, covering the backyard, enjoying their freedom to be themselves.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

God Bless Those Hens, or It's a Mixed Bag Over Here

Is a nice way to say that when I let them out to graze on grass today, they figured out how to stomp the mesh down so they could consume the tender leaves of the previously mentioned radishes, lettuces, chard, spinach, etc, etc.

Oh Patrick, where art thou? My partner in chicken husbandry? Oh well. At least the bakery receipts have been entered, sales totaled, expenses listed, quarterly taxes dealt with. And another big stack of receipts are separated for entry into Quickbooks for the rent house. Bills are paid. There is enough money for our needs. For today. And about the garden, well, I do have some more seeds. But if all else fails, we have a thriving barter system here in Alpine. Maybe someone else will have greens to trade for EGGS!

Truth be told, I would like to figure out a more intentional way to grow feed for our chickens. That doesn't preclude our kitchen garden.

Why is it that accounting is so depressing, but it does kind of make me feel like a grown up and a real business owner? Perhaps if I dealt with it more frequently than quarterly it would be less intimidating? Oh well, I yam who I yam. And learning everyday. Please, God, help me find time to take a Quickbooks class!!! And as I found myself not capable of figuring how to enter basic sales in spreadsheet format, I found myself praying that God would please, please, please make me smarter than I am...

In the meantime, Thomas came over to hang out. He was kind enough to take our very last homegrown chicken, season it up, and put it in the oven to roast with a spaghetti squash. Girls are out running for cross country practice. I think they will be pleased to smell something good when they get home!

Monday, October 6, 2014

I Love our Region, or Taking my Vitamins...

Last Friday night our church, St. James Episcopal, offered yet another wonderful concert in the Fall Series. Beverly Escuder, a soprano, and Carol Wallace, pianist, offered up a range of pieces, from Mozart to Rickie Gordon and others.

Wow. Beverly's voice was rich, nuanced. Her performance was delightful. From romantic French, to whimsical, hilarious contemporary American, we laughed and delighted in her delivery. In the past, I was a bit skeptical about "screeching" sopranos. There was no screech. There was depth, joy and in combination with Carol's stellar piano offering, we were offered a nice feast.

Last month Julian Mock offered his classical guitar performance to us, with many pieces he had written himself. And then told us all about an amazing family history of music.

A week ago I went over to Marfa to listen to Monica de la Torre, a poet who is spending time in our area as a part of the Lannan Foundation. She read several of her pieces, both in English and Spanish. I don't know if you know, but Spanish and English literature were my majors at good ole UMHB. I loved translating poetry from Spanish to English, and grew to respect the challenges that come to the translator! What a treat to have someone of her caliber here to share with us.

It did feel kind of awkward to go somewhere where I didn't know anyone. I almost wished I had stayed home, as I got a little shy and nervous. But then, as she began to speak, I knew I made the right choice. She made me chuckle. She made me wince. She made me remember how vital poetry is to our everyday life. Which I guess I never forgot, but anyway...

Work keeps me terribly busy. I hate to even use that "B" word, because it sounds frenetic. Frantic. Not peace-filled.

But the truth is, this is a season of being pulled in many directions. I am trying to find a good balance in the bakery, at present, working about 35 or more hours a week. Readying a rent house and managing it occupy a few hours a week. I am Bishop's Warden of our church, which isn't a really big deal, but it does require a bit of time each week. I help my oldest son, Thomas, who is on the autism spectrum, with organizing. He works for me three days a week, which means I have supervisory role now. Patrick is off, but the three girls are here, and with concerts and cross country meets and this and that, not to mention household management, we sometimes feel as if we are turning in circles. I have health care follow ups and this and that which require long drives to see doctors.

In the busyness, it is tempting to eliminate the frivolous. Things like concerts and poetry readings. Camp outs, like the one the girls and I are planning with some of our gal friends for the long weekend coming up. The only long weekend of the fall until Thanksgiving. There is so much to do, it would be easy to cancel.

And yet.

Just as we need healthy food, plenty of sleep, we also need to be stirred by beauty. By the arts. By the big outdoors, much bigger than our silly little things and crammed schedules.

So right now I am postponing some of the painting projects I have left unfinished. Am not getting all the laundry done, but we are staying in clean clothes. The car is not washed.

And I am fairly peace-filled at the moment. Thankful for the diverse, delightful opportunities we have to revel in goodness. Oh, yeah, I didn't even mention the opportunity we had last week to view a reproduction of the St. John's Bible. Which I will write about on another occasion, because now I must switch out the wash, go through the mail, organize receipts and work on quarterly sales tax for the bakery. Because I plan to enjoy Sushi Night with some girlfriends this evening while Nora goes to karate!

As I do those tasks I will ponder the scripture "whatever is good, whatever is lovely, whatever is.......think about those things."

Fall Garden

October in the Chihuahuan high desert means monsoon season is over. The lush green grass and weeds that sprang up after all our rain are starting to go crispy. Nights are cool, daytimes still hot. The sky is dark until almost 8 oclock and sunsets around 8 pm. Humidity is low and the skies are clear.

The fig tree is still loaded with little green figs, but with the shortened daylight hours, they don't seem to have it in them to ripen up. That's okay. We have certainly enjoyed our share! A couple of weeks ago I was so distracted I couldn't focus on boring indoor tasks, so I spent several hours in the garden, tearing out the old, planting in the new. Covering everything with mesh, hoping to keep the scratchy hens out. Now there are beet, chard, kale, spinach, lettuce, radish and carrot babies growing. Plus arugula and cilantro that volunteered and I replanted.

For many years I dreamed of a fall garden, but with the busy schedule of back to school, I couldn't get beyond the dream.

Last year, September, my life was put on hold, and someone helped me get the garden in. Since I couldn't do much else, I went out and watched the garden grow. It proved to be an incredibly helpful therapy.

And a quite amazing producer.

Fall and winter is the best growing season here in our desert world. The cold weather crops don't mind a bit of a nip here and there. The temperatures are not so grueling. We ate several months worth of meals off of that garden. Which inspired me to roll up the shirtsleeves and get out there and do it this year, even if I didn't really have the time.

Gardening is so magical. There is nothing out there that offers such a picture of the divine spark. No better image of my life's journey.

When I went out, I wanted to be a bit depressed. The chickens had scratched up a lot of the remaining summer veggies. The sunflowers and zinnias and decided to join forces and take over the world. It was a beautiful coup, to be sure, but invasive to say the least. Do you know how hard it is to take down 8 to 10 feet sunflower trees?

Yank, shovel, shove, push, pull, stomp, drag. All of a sudden the garden looked a bit more like a garden and I had bouquets for every room of the house. And I didn't even completely eradicate the flower troops. Just left them with a few more boundaries than before.

I grabbed the seed packets and dug in. Hauled buckets of collected rainwater. Wondered if history would repeat itself, would the tiny little seeds, like grains of sand, actually burst forth into life, or would they not? Sure enough! Five days later, little tiny leaves of green shot forth from the soil.

The mesh is sort of working. The chickens have gotten a bit of the garden around the edges, but things are still growing. I wish I had planted a month earlier, but I didn't. So better a bit late, than not at all.

Seeing something grow makes me happy. Providing for my family gives me joy.

Speaking of joy, our baby chicks are now two weeks old! Did I mention baby chicks? Our hens, all ten of them, are doing well. We get enough eggs for ourselves and the bakery, now Patrick is gone! But the poultry we raised for meat is pretty much history. Delicious history.

Raising our own poultry for meat was pretty easy, here in our big backyard. I ordered thirty more baby broilers from Ideal Hatchery. Eight for a friend and her family and twenty two for us. We put them in the greenhouse, feed them awesome food and watch them grow.

I have chicken reality TV right outside my kitchen window.

There is really nothing more entertaining to me than chicken TV. They bob, they bounce, they run in circles. They play and play until they get sleepy, then they fall over in a dead sleep, just like a two year old toddler! They scream when hungry, chatter quietly when content.

Perhaps it seems inhumane to take joy out of these little critters who will become food for my family in another couple of months. I sometimes feel the need to remind myself why I do this. As we have not determined to be vegetarians, chicken is probably going to be on our menu at least once or twice a week. Knowing how the average chicken is raised on factory farms, I am thankful, deeply thankful, that our poultry are raised humanely. The little things have the opportunity to live out their lives as chickens: able to scratch, peck, hop, flutter wings, eat bugs and grass. They eat a diet that is diverse and healthy. When it is time to harvest the meat, it is done respectfully, with appreciation. Humanely.

And to tell you the truth, the chickens are not nearly as cute at that point as they are when tiny.

A tiny garden, poultry, freshly milled flour; these things feed us. And feed me in many more ways than just nutrition. When Patrick gets home for holiday from UT Austin, perhaps he will help me build a rabbit hutch. And help me make a fence that will protect the garden even more effectively from the free-ranging little monsters. I mean chickens.