Friday, December 4, 2015

Thankful in all circumstances

Now that three kids are gone from the house it seems like holidays are becoming more and more precious. This Thanksgiving Thomas, Rose and Nora loaded up and we headed to Central Texas to spend the long weekend with my folks. My mom picked up Patrick and Maggie from their dorms. We all settled in to their house after dark. A quick supper was had and then we moved toward dishes clean up.

Wouldn't you know it? The kitchen sink water refused to drain. My parents did some preliminary work on unstopping the pipes and we all went to bed, figuring that by morning it would be resolved and we could then move on to Thanksgiving prep.

A couple of weeks ago I made a list in my journal of birthday wishes. One of them was for the kids and me to have a holiday season full of contentment, love, peace and joy. I didn't think about that wish very much afterward, just sent it off into prayer land and moved on.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving. My dad did all the typical things one does to try to unstop kitchen drains for a couple of hours. Then he and Patrick went down to the crawl space and tackled the pipes down there. My folks live near the lake on a rocky hillside. The water is full of minerals. Apparently the minerals had been building up on the inside of the pipes, like clogged arteries! They worked and worked, and the rest of us set aside our expectations.

It was drizzly and somewhat balmy. We took our coffee outside and visited on the covered deck. We ate spelt cinnamon rolls and quiche brought from the bakery. My sister and I took a couple of long walks and caught up. At some point I guess I saw the kitchen filled with dirty dishes from the day before and figured we better come up with a contingency plan for the day.

We grabbed big plastic tubs, began to heat water, and carried out dishes to the deck where they were washed in hot sudsy water. There was laughter. It was a novelty. It completely threw our holiday off balance and as a result, we relaxed, and just rolled with the flow. After the dishes were done, we brought out all the vegetables. Thomas chopped potatoes to make his famous mashed potatoes. Maggie convinced me to make a vegetable stock so our dressing could be made vegetarian. Patrick made his cranberry jello dish. Rose and Nora worked on bread and cornbread that Maggie made for the dressing. I made a giant tray of roasted root vegetables. Daddy put on the turkey. We eliminated several other traditional veggie dishes and the homemade potato rolls. The ersatz plumbers continued to labor on, Daddy, Patrick and my sister.

After the pleasant, atypical day, we sat around the table, thankful, full of yummy food, and content. we had one of the most unusual and pleasant family Thanksgivings we had enjoyed in a long time. I was happy to wash up the dishes and pots and pans out on the deck, dark and drizzly, sound of rain gently falling on the tin roof over head. About the time the dishes were nearly finished, the pipes began to drain again! Hurrah!

The next morning I felt a little frazzled from all the socializing and work. Some of the kids joined me on the deck for silent breathing meditation. Their first time to sit still and not do anything, just breathe, maybe ever. The combined spirit of peace and calm was a gift to me. Later, I walked in on Maggie and Patrick doing yoga in the dining room. They were so graceful and beautiful! They asked if I wished to join them, so I had to say yes. My first experience with yoga. It was really hard. They were great teachers. When I told them that it not only hurt, it was boring, they laughed at me, and asked me if I thought being still for fifteen minutes might be considered painful and boring!

We had a lovely time spent together with family. Not everyone could be there, and they were missed. We all agreed that the slightly uncomfortable circumstances through us off kilter enough that we were able to be present with each other in a way we hadn't before.

We were content. The house was filled with love, peace and joy. And fun stories, and laughter, and only teeny moments of snippiness that were quickly covered by grace.

I am so thankful for my family. I wonder what circumstances will lead to our joyful content Christmas???

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Job Security, or Queen of the Garden Hoe

Yesterday I drove up and over the mountain to one of my jobs. Blackie joined me as I hopped out of the pickup truck, grabbed gloves and went to work. I weed, mulch, and basically love on the vines growing at my friend's vineyard. The vineyard is located at a setting about one mile high in elevation. As I work, the birds sing in chorus, the breeze gently blows. Sometimes, not so gently! My muscles are happy to be doing what they were designed to be doing, the motion a meditation, as I work to be fully present in my here and now.

As I struggle to loosen the hard, West Texas soil to remove tenacious Johnson grass, woven tightly around the vines, I hope the soil in my heart will be soft and loose. I wonder what is strangling me? Do I need to create more margin in my life so I can access the peace, the nutrients, the moisture, without such competition from weedy distractions?

Most of the time the sun shines, the clouds make me marvel, the peace makes me thankful.

How lucky I am! I get to choose my work. I am thankful. Some people have to pay to make their bodies work the way they need them to function. They are stuck in an office, grey cubicles. Yes, they might make a bit more money, the insurance and retirement benefits might be more generous, but, oh, how glad I am of my work.

And now, off I go. Up and over the mountain. Blackie and maybe Brownie in tow. Sunscreen on, water bottles filled. A chunk of cheese and some work clothes that don't mind getting dirty. A sense of security, knowing that I am queen of my universe for at least a few minutes. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Columbus Day Weekend Back Country Camping Trip

A couple of things I wrote in my new journal yesterday morning before leaving our campsite:

"Don't Blink!"

Last night, sleepy, sandy,
we climbed into sleeping bags, eyes scanning the sky for constellations.
"There are too many stars! I can't see them!"

Two girls, teetering on the edge of adolescence complained. They had never seen a shooting star.

We searched the sky, afraid to blink.

And then...

A brilliant ball lit up the sky directly above Juniper Canyon.

So bright, the comet? meteor? star? slid down into the mountains.

I gestured in the dark. Words tangled in my mouth. We gasped. We jumped up. We couldn't believe our luck, the four seconds, five, seemed to stretch on for minutes.

9:36 pm, Sunday night, Robber's Roost campsite. Rose and Lauren, Nora and Katie and I.

I kind of expected to feel the earth shake after such an auspicious sign.

We went back to sleeping bags, afraid to close our eyes, afraid to miss another...


In the pale white light of the headlamp we saw a flicker by the base of the bear box.

Pale, translucent, quickly twitching, the scorpion struck terror and future nightmares into the heart of campers.

"Kill it!" they begged, wishing to eliminate the potential enemy; the threat to their peaceful sleep. Fearful it would make its way to our sleeping bags with its painful, searing sting.

"Leave it! Leave it!" I begged, and we watched it scurry over to a log and crawl in a crack.

Yes. I admit it. I put on a brave front, and went to bed fairly afraid that all the scorpion cousins would find their way into our bedding, carelessly thrown onto rocky ground in the desert.

I prayed that karma would come into play, and our camp guest would spread the word about the fearless warrior woman who bravely displayed courageous mercy.

We awoke the next morning. No sustained stings, bites or other such inflicted injuries during our trip.

note: bear box: a large, metal bin for storing food and other smelly good stuff, with a bear proof latch. There are small, black bear in Big Bend National Park, but we have never been so lucky to see one at our campsites.

guest: I realize that in the desert, we were the true guests, disturbing the scorpion's habitat, and as we were intruders, a sting would have been quite natural and reasonable on the part of the scorpion, especially if we bumped into it and caused it fright. But I am exercising poetic license, and with it, the option of telling the story from my point of view! :)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rainy Sunday

Grey blue mist falling
blurs my vision, chills my bones.
Coffee is the fix!

Sometime back I subscribed to a daily devotional put out by Father Richard Rohr, a quite progressive Franciscan monk, a mystic and teacher and writer. His teachings came at a perfect time for me. Each Saturday he offers a contemplative practice to help reinforce the week's teachings. Typically the practice involves being in nature, being still, then doing some type of artistic practice, once a mandala, this week a haiku.

So there you go, I offer you my practice! Silly, I know, but when we dabble in the arts, whether music, poetry, visual arts, we tap into a different part of our self, and that self needs to be expressed and welcomed. I think I am going to ask for a coloring book for my birthday! How many of us have taken on the belief that if we are not good enough to be professional, it is meaningless for us to practice? Today I wish to embrace my mediocrity! And try to have a sense of humor with myself.

It is misty here, interspersed with rain. The temperatures have dropped to chilly, the sounds of the neighborhood are somewhat muffled. I changed into a nice sweater and did indeed make afternoon coffee, even though I might live to regret it this evening. I feel a bit daring, and very much comforted by the coziness. Tabby the cat is curled up tightly on my bed. Brownie and Blackie snooze on the floor at the foot of my bed. The washer agitates, the breeze fills my opened windows with the heavenly scent of freshly washed creosote. I could be folding laundry, but the computer grabbed my attention and asked me to write for a little while.

The rain is coming at a most welcome time for us, though our friends on the East Coast are floating away in their extra measure right now. We have been very dry. I planted some fall and winter vegetables anyway, on faith, and have been watering with the garden hose to keep them going. The purple green beans continue to provide a meal's worth, at least three times a week. Chili de arbol have produced non-stop. Last night I made a chicken recipe I read about in the NY Times online cooking column a few weeks ago. Three Cup Chicken. With a few modifications. I had no scallions, but plenty of young leeks. So I halved them, cut them in one inch lengths, cut up the shriveled remains of ginger root, peeled twelve cloves of farmer's market garlic, and put them in the hot wok, with several tablespoons of toasted sesame oil and 6 or 8 of the red, super hot chilies. As they cooked over the high heat, a couple of the chilies popped right out of the pan! Isn't cooking an adventure? When the leek was tender, I tossed in three chicken breasts, cut up into chunks. When they were beginning to brown, I added a couple of tablespoons of sucanat, then half a cup of white wine, 1/4 c of soy sauce and a glug of rice vinegar. Then put a lid over the wok, sauteed our purple green beans with one of our home grown red onions, more garlic, and then 1/4 c of sesame seeds. By the time the rice was done, the green beans tender, I opened up the lid on the wok and stirred in two cups of our fresh basil. The smell was absolutely divine! And it tasted pretty good too. Spending time cooking a nice meal, taking a few extra steps, feels like a luxury to me. The Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong station on Pandora, a glass of wine, and quiet solitude in the kitchen feels like a vacation.

Don't be too terribly impressed! We had store bought fried chicken and mashed potatoes that we ate like savages, standing around the table for lunch today. And supper is fend for yourself. I believe I heard Rose make herself some MaltoMeal.

No more coffee for me. But I do look forward to snuggling under an extra blanket, with the cool, damp air coming in the window tonight. With a book in hand, just in case that earlier caffeine keeps me up.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Lunar Eclipse

Last night I arrived home, right as the full moon made her way up the sky.

Nora and Rose sat with me for awhile as we watched the darkness overtake the big fat moon. Her brightness was diminished, bit by bit. We wondered about the people of long ago who were so connected to the natural world, no Facebook to check, no phones to ring. No Youtube videos to distract.

We wondered if they were frightened to see the darkness eat up the moon. Did they think that something bad was going to happen? Gloom and doom seem to find their way to the front of our imaginations if we let them.

As the eclipse progressed, the light shone out, faintly, dimly, but surely showed itself. A breeze cooled the air and I went in for a sweater.

I said a prayer for the many who feel the darkness trying to smother them. I prayed for the light to shine through and give them hope. I made a wish that we would not lose heart when darkness came along, but would see it as a time of ending and beginning, of growth, of resurrection.

Some newspaper this morning said that 1982 was the last time there was a supermoon eclipse. Last night was truly lovely and seemed auspicious, a sign of good omen, instead of bad. I felt hopeful watching it, making my wishes.

New Normal

We are more than a month post-college kid drop off.

Patrick and Maggie are engaged in their new collegiate life, feeling the stress of papers due, the delight of new friends, the scramble to find good food away from Mom's table.

Rose and Nora and I are using less dishes, and bit by bit, I am learning to cook for fewer people. Thomas often pops in and cleans up the leftovers. He even cooks for us a day or two a week.

We had a bit of a family crisis this past week, and I waited, prayed, meditated until something in me let me know it was time to close up shop and drive to Austin. My kids are all fine. But a family member has been struggling with health issues. In a world where it is tricky to get help if you have been sick and unable to work and don't have insurance to pay for medications, necessary surgeries, treatment, etc.

Last Wednesday was the Autumn Equinox. I just love days that are set aside as reminders that we are tied to this earth and the moon and the stars. After a busy week, I put myself in the kitchen to start the big deep clean that comes before bakery work commences. The girls were gone to karate and cross country practice. I was drinking my iced green tea and thinking. Trying not to think. Trying to be still. Praying for direction and a sign, a calmness, a something that would let me know that going was going to be more helpful than staying.

A few months ago I was involved in too many aspects of leadership in my life. It became very stressful. And then life continued to happen. And a child graduated and another child went through some personal struggles and grief reared its painful head once again.

I was so desperate for Philip to be alive. I wanted him to help me with some difficult decisions. We used to talk about everything. I wanted him to say, I can hang out with the kids while you go take a three day silent retreat. I wanted to feel his hand wrap up my hand and see his eyes look into mine and know that no matter what, we are in this together and everything is going to be okay.

Then I went to Virginia and I sat by his grave and the reality of his dead body being stuck in a grave in Salem, Virginia really worked me over. A counselor recommended meditation. She knows I pray. She suggested that meditation and the act of being still would help my mind settle down. She told me that often we know exactly what to do, if we just sit still long enough to listen to ourselves and the wisdom that is already within us. That our prayers are often being answered, but we are too busy running around to hear those answers. Then we had an absolutely mind blowing EMDR session about the day Philip died. You see, a few months ago, I was riding my bike around town, taking care of errands. And then an ambulance went through town. Which happens rather regularly. But this time, it almost made me sit down in the middle of the street. My mouth got dry, I felt light headed, and all of a sudden, I might have been on my bike in Alpine, Texas, but in my mind I was in the car with Serge, our friend and family doctor, headed to the hospital, and the ambulance, holding my dear, dead husband's body, was sounding off, lights flashing, and everything that we knew was no longer.

It was really weird, this physiological response to the ambulance. I practiced some deep breathing. Raised my head and biked back home. And called my wonderful counselor who does amazing short term counseling and doesn't mind that I don't go see her but on a rare occasion, a couple times a year. She is able to give great direction and counsel when tough stuff comes up.

During that session, I was able to see that grief and pain are perfectly normal after the death of a loved one. Responding to ambulances the way I did that afternoon is a sign of trauma that can be healed. And it was, that afternoon.

I did take up the meditation advice, trying really hard to practice being still, feeling my breath go in, my breath go out. Stopping the constant stream of babbbling noise, making my prayers be more about listening, less about chattering.

It has been amazing how life altering this tiny little practice has been for me.

The other day, as I washed dishes and breathed in and breathed out, I felt Philip's arms come around me. It was weird. I could hear his voice telling me how proud he was of me, and how I am still the prettiest woman in the room, and how everything was going to be okay if I closed the bakery that week and headed to Austin to be with my family.

And that was that. Was it a ghost? Was it Philip? Well. I think I have an amazing imagination, and can imagine just what Philip would say if he were here. I imagine there is quite a bit more to this world than I can see or touch. Either way, I guess I can say I side with Iris DeMenthe regarding the mystery. I don't need to know why. But in being still, the answer revealed itself.

And the memory of Philip was gentle and loving and sweet and dear. I felt so loved. Wow. It gave me strength to make a long drive and be fully present.

The weekend was hard, and we are still hoping for progress. I wish no one ever had to suffer through health difficulties. I wish life didn't have to be so hard. But that said, I got to go make a home-cooked meal and sit around the table with my college kids and hear their laughter and see them grow. It was good. No politics in the world are pure enough or good enough or strong enough to make a system powerful enough to help every human on the planet. I pray that we could all do our little parts for one another and that just as the loaves and fishes became enough, our little puny efforts would be enough. And as we were present, all coming together for family, I felt our little efforts become a safety net.

Not sure what this all has to do with the price of tea in China.

But here I am.

I planted some seedlings in the garden this afternoon. I wrote some recipes for my food column. Tended the bathrooms. Hung laundry on the line. Biked to the bank. Saw some ambulances and was relieved that the sound did not send me into a scary place.

These days, I work for a fellow in a vineyard a couple days a week, weeding, running a hoe. And have two or three house cleaning gigs. The bakery is open a couple of days. I am back to reading to the kids in the evening, at least a few times a week. We are reading My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, a book that changed my life, some 38 years ago. Instead of being in leadership, I come home and pick green beans and tomatoes and peppers. And talk to the chickens. Cook a little. Read a lot. Trusting that the new normal is going to be okay...

ps you guys who leave me comments and emails are so encouraging. It is beyond me why any of you would continue to read! But I will endeavor to keep it real.

And perhaps we will be an encouragement for one another on our journey.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Changing of the Season

Whoa! I feel cold in the bakery this morning! I guess it isn't really cold, but 60's feel different than 80's. Reminds me that fall is my favorite season and surely she making ready for her journey to Alpine.

Maggie drove away yesterday after tearful hugs and prayers of blessing. My tears! We will see her again for a few hours on Friday, getting her installed in the dorm. We will get Patrick situated and then come back home to a house that is steadily emptying out.

I was a little testy with Patrick at one point yesterday afternoon, then realized I was sad, and needed to cry. So I did. And ran errands on my bike and sought comfort in a chili relleno burrito made by the nice lady at El Patio. Yes, it was comforting! I told myself that feelings of grief are not shameful, but rather lovely and natural considering the sweet relationship I have with my kids.

Patrick and I sat outside for our dinner last night and talked about important things. We watched the chickens scratch for bugs and eat grass. Little girls, not so little any more, were all out clothes shopping in El Paso, using hard earned funds, seeking their bargains. Thomas was at his apt, probably enjoying tv or the computer. The house does not feel sad at all knowing that former inhabitants are now off and about, growing up. It must be used to that pattern, as the Turners, who built the place had their own blended family with five kids who all went their different directions, too. The house knows that kids come back for holidays and family celebrations, and as the years pass bring partners and babies and new stories to share.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It is August. Past mid-August, and time to say farewell to Maggie and Patrick. We head to Austin as soon as the bakery closes Thursday evening. Actually, we drive to Mom and Daddy's, camp out all over their house, eat a great big, Daddy breakfast, then go to install the two. One in his second year on the campus of University of Texas. The other a few miles south, St. Edwards University.

I am so proud of these kids. They worked so hard, each getting tons of academic awards and grants making it possible for them to get accepted to wonderful universities. Their running discipline has taught them endurance that pays off in many areas. Their work helping on the farm, volunteering here around Alpine, all the meaningful relationships, have been excellent means to prepare them for this next step in their journey.

To tell you the truth, my worries about how they will adapt are next to nothing.

That said, sending off these children who are growing into adult friends makes my heart tender. Ouch. Right about the time we grow able to converse about meaningful things, we are able to understand and appreciate each others differences, off they go. And I lose friends, not to mention amazing help!

I remember the last scene in Nanny McPhee, one of our favorite kids movies. Saying farewell is a tender thing indeed.

How will we manage, our new family dynamic? Rose and Nora and myself, with Thomas coming over several times a week for dinner and dishwasher duty in the bakery? I think we will manage just fine, and probably the girls and I will move into a lovely new way, more time to enjoy one another, less laundry, fewer shoes scattered around the house.

Holidays will become more and more precious as college kids come home and share stories and new philosophies and grand ideas and failures. And we will sit around the table and talk and talk and revel in the truth that family, even when scattered, is still family. We know each others stories, regrets and rewards and love each other deeply.

And just think! Someday it will be just me, and think of how much more time I will have for writing! (I realized a few months ago that my margin had been eaten up, my hours were filled up to beyond normal human capacity. The things that give me joy, like solitary hikes, gardening, writing, were having to be shoved to the side because I was overinvolved. All good stuff. Church leadership, work, friends, kids. I have taken up extra jobs. The bakery continues. I am so thankful that I have options and control over my life. I let go the leadership positions, some of the social stuff, sold the car, ride to shop and odd jobs on my bike, have taken up meditation, and am getting more rest. I am feeling better than I have in a very long time. Somehow that makes me think that writing will happen more naturally because it is definitely a sign of mental health and balance for me. I love the discipline that my monthly food column offers. It is fun developing seasonal recipes and rooting for the local food movement. But there is something about this blog community that keeps me grounded. You guys who read so loyally are amazing. The encouragement you give me is priceless. Thank you!!! More on the journey soon... )


Gardens in May are bright and tender and full of promise. June and July, the picture of vibrant fertility. August rolls around a bit tired, somewhat bedraggled, just about played out around the edges as the heat and the squash bugs take their toll.


The tomatoes and peppers just keep on coming. Ratty green bean vines and squash vines get pulled and manure and straw are spread. Once again a beautiful canvas, ready for garden artists to exercise faith again, trusting that cooler weather awaits and with that swiss chard, spinach, ruffly green and pink lettuces, giant kale and turnips and carrots.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Two days ago we found the first ripening figs on the trees in the backyard.

Each day we go out, seeking little gifts.

If we are patient and careful, we are generally rewarded with treasure, bites of heaven, rich, nutty, decadent proof that we are loved.

We might have to peer under leaves and behind branches. But sure enough, this time of year means quite a few contemplative moments as we steal away into the backyard, seeking a tasty treat.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Trying to start somewhere...

How do I return to blogging when it has been thousands of miles since my last post? Filled with highs, lows, delightful moments, dark, sad gut-wrenching grief moments, garden stuff, recipes, road trips, supernatural provisions, mile posts, celebrations, new recipes, and more?


Today is Thursday. That means we reached peak bakery output in our week. Monday I had some bakery orders for Girl Scouts. Pita bread for thirty and piles of hi fiber, tasty, seedy banana muffins for the same gals who headed out to camp and kayak and hike. Then Tuesday, working on inventory and making ingredient orders, shuffling papers, tending to accounting. Bill paying. Kids' college financial aid loose ends, and unbelievably big piles of ridiculous things I have to sign and send for this and that. Then I come up with a loose list of what I plan to sell on Thursday. Wednesday I scrub and clean and clear away unfinished paperwork and begin to mill. I make cookie dough and stick in the fridge to ripen. I mill more grains with my stone burr mill from Meadows Mills in N. Wilkesboro, NC and then mix warm whole grain flour with coconut oil, yogurt and iced water to form a tender pie crust for fifty veggie tarts.

Three twenty eight am comes early for this night owl. I tried to go to sleep at 8:45, probably drifted off by 9:30pm.

Thank God for ritual. The alarm goes off. I don't think. If I think, I will go back to sleep for another two hours because that would be logical. I get up anyway, shuffle directly into the kitchen. Put on the kettle. Turn on the bakery lights and pull out gallons of local raw milk to warm. Take the french press coffee pot, fill with water and shuffle out to garden to pour the watery old grounds onto whichever plant cries out to me the loudest.

This morning it was the tomato plant in the front bed, on the side by the mailbox.

By the time I have shuffled through those steps, the kettle begins to whistle and the milk is warmed. I grind the coffee beans, pour the water and let the coffee steep while I take warmed milk into the bakery, and begin to perform alchemy.

I have three giant mixing bowls that will occupy several gallons of mixture. Summer sales are down as customers are traveling, and distracted and out and about. So instead of larger mix, I place two pans filled with twelve cups each of warmed milk from Z-Bar Ranch into two bowls. Add a couple of cups of Fain's raw honey to each. A couple of tablespoons of yeast. Into the silver bowl I add around 18 cups of spelt flour. Into the white plastic bowl with a crack I add 16 cups of golden wheat flour. Into the other white plastic bowl I pour 7 1/2 cups warmed water, add yeast and 8 cups of the golden wheat flour to begin the sponge for the italian peasant bread.

By this time, the coffee is fully steeped, and while I am still not having to think or really be awake, I do know it is time to press and pour myself a very large cup of coffee, leaving plenty of room for heavy whipping cream. By now, 3:47 am.

I beat the sponge for the italian bread fifteen minutes or so. The third pan of milk should be warmed by now, ready to be transformed into Grainier Seedier Milk and Honey bread sponge.

At this point, the music is cranking. Dixie Chick station on Pandora.

For some reason, every song seems to make me sad. What the heck? I was hoping for energetic, girl band power music! But there are a couple of songs that really tap me into grief mode.

So I cry. And keep on working. I have a bowl of old grain that needs to be tossed to the chickens, so I walk outside into the dark, pre-dawn backyard, and marvel for a moment at the waning moon, already high in the velvety black sky. I think about the outing Thomas and I made on Tuesday evening. I really wanted to go, then, right before time to drive to Marfa, I told Thomas I was just too tired to head out. He let me know he had his heart set on our excursion, so I went with him, out to the truck to make the 26 mile drive west.

We didn't really know where we were going, but the event had been advertised. A Japanese movie made in 1953. Ugetsu. Subtitled. Free.

We get to the location. Find a big yard with a barn door open. We hear sounds of people milling around. I feel kind of strange and foreign. We don't know a soul. We pick a couple of plastic chairs and I notice an acquaintance who walked in. Ahh. Relief!

The movie is set in 17th century, civil war torn Japan. I find myself delighted to recognize many Japanese words and understand them! The fable is a story of two families who get caught up in the ambitious search for fame and riches, one man wishing to become rich as a potter, the other as a soldier. At the onset of the story, there is a prophetic word given, suggesting that the search for said riches would bring them all to ruin. The sassy wives try to encourage the husbands to live a simple life, but the men are hell-bent on the path to success.

I find that even though the movie is dated, filmed over sixty years ago, Thomas and I are fully engaged in the story. As it progresses, we find ourselves in the middle of a Japanese fairy tale, with the men reeling in their moment of glory, seemingly achieving all they ever desired, with fame and glory and doting women and all. Of course they have a few twinges as they remember their wives and the other life, but assume they will have plenty of time to make all things right.

Meanwhile, we witness scenes where the wives suffer terribly for the foolhardy choices of their husbands. It is painful to watch.

As the story comes to an end, well, I guess most of you will probably never watch an esoteric Japanese film from the 50's, so perhaps this won't spoil things for you too much....Well, the one husband, who becomes a glorious soldier, finds his abandoned wife in a brothel, broken and hard. They somehow manage to painfully reconcile, and return to their farm and the day dreamer finds purpose and joy in working beside his wife. The other husband manages to barely escape a ghost lover who wishes to take him to her kingdom in the other realm, and finds his way back home, where he is greeted by the ghost of his wife who was murdered by desperate soldiers. He repents and finds his purpose in his work and caring for his son.

And we are left to see that some lessons just aren't learned the easy way.

That pain and suffering are most often the only path to enlightenment. Because we are not quick to listen to advice? Because we forget to think of others?

The movie left me a bit stunned and pensive.

And I felt so grateful to share that experience with Thomas! And enjoyed pondering many things while I continued the baking.

After the italian comes the ancient seedy. Then the Spelt Almond Raisin Rye. While the dough mixes and yeast rises I prepare brownie mixes and pancake mixes. Then make a giant pan of almond raisin granola. I boil the syrup, just to the right point, add vanilla, and mix with oats and cinnamon. The aromas are overwhelming!

And so the day continues, the sun rises at some point, the flour and water and yeast turn into bouncy balls of dough, cut out and weighed, kneaded into loaves or rolled into pizza crusts. The oven whines, the heat builds, and steam and amazing smells fill the neighborhood. I send out my email list to customers and post the menu on facebook.

At ten thirty or so in the morning I pause to eat lunch. The kids are up. The girls get ready to go to work. I wash a big pile of pots.

By twelve thirty the bread is all baked, all 75 loaves or so. I get the baby quiches going, make pound cakes and cookies and a giant jar of green tea for me, served over ice. The rain begins to fall and I run outside to catch buckets of water to dump into the fish pond. The rain falls so furiously I get completely soaked! Thank goodness this is right before shower time. I think I collect fifty gallons of water in the five gallon buckets before my break comes to an end.

Thank God for gully washers!! My garden won't need to be watered today!

Customers pop in early and by three thirty I have a steady stream. All are my friends. How lucky am I? They are happy and grateful to pick up their bread and other good stuff. I am exhausted and happy and grateful for my job.

So there you go.

I want to write. I truly do. But I don't know where to begin...

So perhaps if I just start where I am that will help prime the pump. I miss you guys.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Tired of flowers yet?

After spring break I grabbed my priest and we ran down to the park for a day trip. We were ridiculous, oohing and aahing all the way down. Unfortunately, I mean, fortunately, cell service is better than it used to be, and a parishioner was able to reach our priest with a legitimate need which cut our trip short. Instead of a long hike all the way up Lost Mine Trail to meditate, and a sit in the Hot Springs and a peaceful prayer in Boquillas Canyon, we hiked up midway the trail and had a picnic on a saddle point up in the mountains, ate our feast and then drove back to Alpine.

I only felt a twinge of selfishness, wishing that duty didn't call, but thankful for a priest who cared enough about the truly important things that matter.

I was so thankful to share with her a bit of my sanctuary.

A week later, friends from North Carolina who were friends way back in New Jersey came to visit. So what do we do? Load up all the kids, the bathing suits, the picnic, my parents and drive like maniacs down to Big Bend for picnic and swim in the Rio Grande time and sit and play in the rocks and take pictures of flowers and act like tourist time! It was spectacular. We were amazed to see even MORE wildflowers in this desert heaven of ours. While the kids climbed up the sand hill and cavorted in the Rio I meditated quietly, stacking little river rocks into statues and bridges and buildings, managing to set all my thoughts to the side. The sun baked our skin and the sand felt gritty and real and the sound of kids laughing in the river was more intoxicating than any glass of champagne.

We bragged and told stories of our favorite times in the Hot Springs, grabbed our towels and hiked the half a mile or so to the ruins that used to be a thriving health spa run by Mr and Mrs. Langford pre-Pancho Villa. One has to pass the ruins of an old Post Office and store, a few palm trees, some old cabins made of adobe. And then, with a creek on one side and canyon walls on the other, a cane brake to the right, if you are lucky you will notice the petroglyphs, rusty red, thousands of years old, leaving us all to wonder and guess the meaning of the ancient graffiti.

Another bend, past some illegal contraband, I mean trinkets, left by enterprising neighbors from across the knee high river, you will see a foundation made of cement, filled with clear, hot water and sand and probably half a dozen people or more, sitting in 105 degree water up to their chest, watching the cold Rio flow to the side, and rocks and riffles and bats and a brilliant starry sky.

I was so happy to relax in my favorite spa, I strolled right in, cut offs and tshirt, and sat down in the bath. And jumped right up, curse words flying out of my mouth. Can you guess why?

My brand new smart phone, which I recently bought to replace my other broken smart phone, was in my back pocket.

For a few hours I was quite disappointed.

Then all of a sudden I realized I had been given a gift! No texting, no easy email checking, no messages to urgently return. And our friends delighted in the magic and we were so happy to share.

My mom, a professional artist, had a camera glitch. Which meant a trip to the national park in a historical wildflower display with no photos!

Darn. She had to come back a few days later and darn, I had to take the day off to drive down and chauffeur her as she took pictures for painting research.

How much can a person exclaim over wild flowers? For as far as the eye could see we saw blankets of blues and yellows and purples and pinks and yellows and whites and lavenders and more.

Over and over again I felt so blessed. So rich. So thankful to share this moment with my mom. So aware that my life is good.

Old timers are saying that it is the best wild flower display they have seen in their lives.

All those seeds, tucked in the sand and rocks and cactus. Waiting. Resting. Just being.

And then the rains came. All at the right time. And the temperatures were just right. And all of a sudden, there is a feast, an impressionistic wonder, a banquet. And we were able to enjoy it because we didn't do something else, but instead decided to go for delight.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Seize the Day

The girls and I worked most of our spring break. They ran and studied. I worked a couple of moonlight jobs and the bakery. Nora went on a trip with one of her BFF's. You already know how divine my silent retreat was, down in Big Bend National Park. Saturday morning chores not quite done, we loaded up the camp stove, some amazing food, sleeping bags and a full tank of gas and headed toward our mini vacation. Most of the drive Maggie and I exclaimed, over and over and over again about the breath-taking wildflower display.

It must have been getting ridiculous, as Rose rolled her eyes at our exuberant outbursts every five miles along the road, sighing, ooh and aahing over yet another patchwork quilt of wildflowers blanketing the desert floor.

Pinks, purples, oranges, whites, yellows, blues and reds. Silvery green, blue green. Yellow green. Mountains that usually rise up tan and khaki were washed in burgundy and green. Blue skies were loaded with massive clouds, whirling and floating, casting shadows on the hills in the distance. Landmarks as familiar to us as our own backyard, after a lifetime of camping trips to Big Bend, were now strange and new. Exotic and foreign, these desert pavement stretches now covered in colorful vegetation.

We drove down Old Maverick Road, a bit past the Ernst Tinaja turnoff. Roads were fairly rough, but the old pickup bounced along with no effort at all. Instead of 70's music, we sang along with all the contemporary pop artists. As we approached our camp site, Maggie exclaimed that it looked like we were in a scene from Lord of the Rings! The soft, rounded hills were like a bosomy embrace. Truck doors opened up to a crushing wave of perfume. Wow.

I set my sleeping mat and bag up on top of the knoll, with an iconic view of the Chisos Mountains. Maggie tucked her bag at the bottom of the knoll. Rose made a nest in the back end of the pickup.

We cooked up a feast, watched magnificent display of stars, tucked in to sleep and then were nearly blown from the face of the earth by 45 mile per hour gusts of winds! It was pretty awesome, and not in an entirely lovely sort of way. Wow. At one point I raised my head to investigate and the wind blew my pillow far from me!

We survived, and by morning the air was calm and still. The girls and I feasted, drank coffee for a long time, sharing conversation about books, like, friendships, God. We hiked. Lazed around. Ate picnic feasts, exclaimed more over wildflowers, and then shared what might have felt like the most peaceful sleep ever, with no harsh winds, just a simple, friendly little breeze that tucked us each into our beds that night.

Only two nights out, as work beckoned. I really didn't have the time for that quick camping trip. But so glad we went anyway.

How I treasure those moments with the kids. Maggie is about to graduate and I am grieving her departure already. Happy to make the time to share with my daughters and sons when opportunity presents. I am so blessed.


Our yard is filled with an abundance of flowers. Many roses that have not bloomed once in the four years we have lived here. Wild flowers. Bluebonnets that I seeded a year or two ago in faith. A big stand of delphinium? How the heck did that happen? I didn't plant them. I almost pulled them out a month ago when I was reclaiming a grassy, weed filled bed to be used for edibles. Something caused me to pause. A distraction? A guardian angel?

Another plant with silvery green pointy foliage was also about to be yanked. I left it to hit the kitchen or work on church emails or something after only tossing a couple or three. Next day I returned to the bed and found the "weed" with a weird head appearing on subtle stem. Curiosity caused me to leave it be, since there were plenty of other weeds I clearly recognized, like wild mustard and ragweed, that could be attacked in my ten minutes of outdoor, backyard meditation.

A couple of days later I went outside to be greeted by the most whimsical, gaudy, salmon pink pom-pom flower you have every seen! A poppy! I never planted poppies. Several places in the yard, scattered here and there, those silvery green, sharp-toothed leaves popped up, unexpectedly, with no effort on my part, bringing fluorescent delight to parts of my yard I never noticed!

Volunteer tomato plants are emerging around the perimeter of the chicken yard fence, which is sturdy enough to hold onto pine needles, leaf debris and soil, mixed together with a little free fertilizer, thank you, lady hens.

Sometimes life is so hard, so demanding, I feel alone and afraid.

Then these crazy flowers and veggies throw themselves before my face as if to say, "Look! Look! We know how much you needed a smile and a reminder! Hang in there! You are NOT alone! Get It? I mean, really? What more do we need to do?"

And then a friend will call. A hug will be given at just the right time. Kids will offer me the gift of themselves and all of a sudden, courage wells up, and once again, there is enough.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Sometime last month I ran away from home.

Well, it was a calculated run away, with kid care and animal care arrangements made ahead of time. I felt frazzled and hungry and near desperate for some alone.

Don't get me wrong! I love my family and home deeply and thoroughly. But life is full of stress and concerns and medicine to me is alone time.

I took care of church business, took care of kid stuff, loaded up a sleeping bag, camp stove and ice chest, a few books, journals, hiking boots and plenty of coffee and cream, of course, and drove down south to Big Bend National Park, my favorite retreat. The goal was a two night, day and a half silent retreat.

With permit in hand, I drove through the park, turned left at Panther Junction Visitor Center, a few miles down the paved road I made a right turn onto a fairly smooth Glenn Springs Road. I sang with the 70's station, feeling free at last! No cell service, no email, no bills, no worries. Dusk descended and the Chisos Mountains, a sky island with peaks almost 8000 ft high, silhouetted in the darkening sky. Many songs later, I reached Juniper Canyon turn. A dead end road that leads to two significant hikes, but not much else. Besides solitude, big skies, mountain views and peace.

As soon as I turned onto the rutted, 4wd road, my nose was surprised by the most amazing gift! The richest of perfumes, a blend of bi-colored mustard and moist creosote came in and filled the truck cab. It was magical! As if the land was spreading itself out in a welcome to me! "We knew you were coming! Delighted to have you! Come on in, come on in. We were waiting. Do we ever have a feast prepared for you!"

I turned off the radio. Let the sounds of the mountainous desert begin to soak into my bones.

I spread my sleeping bag onto the ground. Well...okay, onto my thermarest pad! and watched the constellations make their appearance. I watched the clouds scurry across the sky. I decided that instead of spending hours working on important stuff, I would spend hours being still, watching the clouds, the mountains, the sun and moon. I would be quiet and explore and dally, and sit and walk and try to just be.

And I did!

I wish everyone had the opportunity, or made the opportunity to experience a little quiet in their life sometime. Quiet, but with background orchestra of perfume, stars and evening bird song. Plenty of effort to get there, but worth the price paid!

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Track meets are in full swing. The fig trees are covered with little green buds and tiny leaves that look hopeful to me. The oak tree in the backyard is covered with tiny little leaves, the size of a squirrel's ear? Tiny threads of baby leeks look a bit more erect. Sunflowers are sprouting up everywhere. The zinnia seeds are just now sprouting. Green washes over trees down the street. Eggs galore come from the clucking hens.

Makes me want to find a cherry blossom tree, take a bento box, and spread a picnic and write silly haiku.

Makes me think matzoh ball soup is in our near future. And Easter vigil. And lamb cake.

Makes me think girls will be dressing in pretty pastels and whatever cold, bitter vestiges of winter that remain will be blown away by powerful winds, sweeping through the region, carrying us into summer and sunburns and short-sleeves.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Buckwheat Crepes with Garden Greens and Mornay sauce

Winter blasts may get in another couple of icy blows the next few weeks. But have faith! Spring is upon us! Just check out the bluebonnets and other wild flowers down south. Take a gander at the lovely pale green emerging in the cottonwood groves. Wild mustard and other weeds are growing like crazy, thanks to all the snow and rain. If you are feeling adventurous, harvest some for a quick saute or salad. Foraging is all the rage these days, and you might feel quite lucky to have organic greens growing care-free in your backyard.

The cool temperatures and moisture that help our weeds grow are also quite helpful for the organic gardeners. Arugula, chard, lettuces, radishes, spinach, turnips and cilantro are growing strong this month. If you are an early riser, or subscribe to a local farmer’s produce offerings, you can find plenty of good stuff at the farmer’s markets this month. The longer hours of daylight make for happy hens. Finally! After long, dark winter, we are back in eggs. Springtime is the season for quiche, omelets, frittatas and crepes. With a fresh tossed salad on the side, what more do we need?

Don’t forget, there are many other offerings at the several markets available in our region. Cheeses crafted from happy cows and goats, specialty baked goods, a variety of locally grown organic seedlings to encourage you in your gardening, jams, soaps, candles, greeting cards, jewelry, pottery, and many other cool things. Plus the added benefit of visiting with your neighbors! People who shop locally and support local businesses are really awesome folks. You will enjoy getting to know your community.

My kids have been clamoring for crepes, so I have a feeling we will be having spelt or buckwheat crepes at our house for supper. You might think of crepes as a sweet treat, covered in fake red strawberry-like syrup and fluffy white stuff. Try to imagine a paper thin pancake, made with savory, organic buckwheat flour, redolent with aroma of fields, baking in the sun, of forests and nuts. The crepe folded around a mixture of barely sautéed spring greens, with some mushrooms thrown in for good measure, a spoonful of locally crafted chevre, and I could be feeling quite transcendent! Mmmm. They taste quite fancy, but aren’t so difficult to make. Be adventurous! The French version of the enchilada. Give them a try. I hope you enjoy. I prefer the savory taste of buckwheat, but spelt flour is a great option, still nutty tasting, but a bit sweeter. I mill both grains in my bakery and am happy to sell you a pound or two of stone-ground flour.

Buckwheat Crepes

1/3 c melted butter
1 ½ c freshly milled buckwheat flour ( or other type of whole grain flour, keeping in mind that each grain absorbs moisture differently, so you may have to adjust amount to achieve best results)
1 ¾ c milk, I prefer whole milk from Z-Bar ranch over in Marathon.
3 farm fresh eggs
½ tsp Redmond’s Real Salt

Place ingredients in blender and mix until flour is fully incorporated into batter. Let batter rest for at least two hours. If you wish to have crepes for supper, blend the ingredients before you head to work in the morning and stash the blender in the fridge. This allows the flour to absorb moisture. Take it out an hour or so before you plan on cooking to allow the batter come to room temp.

Preheat a 6-8in stainless steel skillet or omelet pan over medium high heat. Turn on soothing music. Breathe deeply. Say a couple of positive affirmations, like, “I am adventurous.” Or “I enjoy stretching my horizons, trying new things!” Listen to a Brene Brown TED talk on shame so you don’t become emotionally crippled when the first couple of crepes don’t turn out as you wish.

Place a bit of butter into the hot pan and let it melt. Right when the butter begins to smoke, lift up the pan with your right hand, if you are a righty. With your left hand pour approximately ¼ cup of the batter into the middle of the pan. Quickly tilt the pan around so the batter covers the entire bottom of the pan. This is kind of tricky, but after a couple of tries, you will be delighted to find the crepe making process going a bit more easily. The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream. Any thicker and you will have pancakes. If the batter seems a bit thick, just add a bit of milk or water, one tablespoon at a time, until it is the right consistency.

It shouldn’t take more than a couple of seconds to spread the batter, then place the pan back onto the stove. In a minute or a minute and a half, the crepe should be ready to turn. Using a spatula, loosen the edge of the crepe and carefully grasp it with your fingers, if you have tough fingers, and toss the crepe upside down. If tender-fingered, use the spatula, very carefully as to not tear the crepe. Brown for another half a minute, then set the crepe onto a rack. Keep in mind that most everyone messes up the first couple of crepes. Just keep those positive affirmations flowing. Let the crepe cool a bit while you make the next one, then you can stack the cooled crepes onto a plate or a piece of parchment paper. You might wish to wrap the crepes in a clean dishcloth or large piece of parchment paper, and keep warm in a 300 degree oven.

Depending on the size of pan you use, this recipe should make close to two dozen crepes. Once well cooled, you can wrap them up in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and freeze for up to two months.

Now that you have your crepes ready to go, it is time to think about fillings! Sometimes we like to stack the crepes, with filling in between each layer, cover the whole thing with a sauce and bake in the oven. This is called a “gateau de crepes.” About half an hour before serving, place the gateau into a 350 oven and heat thoroughly, until the creamy, cheesy top is beginning to brown. Serve by cutting into pie shaped wedges. We also like to roll the crepes around the filling, sauce and then pop the whole thing into the oven just long enough to heat it up. You can see what a wonderful meal to prepare partially in advance, ready to be warmed up for your quick supper. A crusty loaf of bread, a giant leafy salad with a vinaigrette and all is well with the world.

Spinach with Mornay Sauce

Several handfuls of washed and coarsely chopped spinach. Any nice green will work here. In fact, the hearty flavor of the buckwheat would be nicely paired with arugula, chard, kale or beet greens.
2 TBSP olive oil or butter
1 TBSP minced green onion
1 clove minced garlic
¼ tsp salt

Cook the green onion in a small saute pan for a moment, then add the garlic. In a few seconds, add the spinach and salt and stir over medium high heat for a couple of minutes as the greens wilt and release some of their moisture. Place greens on crepe, add a tablespoon or so of chevre, or cheese of your choice, roll or stack, then top with mornay sauce, recipe to follow.

Fried Egg Crepe

Spread a bit of goat cheese, try a garlicky herb variety, on a crepe. Fry an egg, sunny side up, and slide that warm, barely done egg, lightly salted and peppered, onto the crepe. Top with minced chives and radishes. Fold the crepe into a square, letting the egg yolk peek out!

Mornay Sauce

5 tbsp whole grain flour
4 tbsp butter
2 ¼ c milk, warmed
½ tsp salt
Pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
¼ c cream
1 c grated cheese, gruyere is classic, but any hard cheese that will melt will do

Cook the flour and butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Beat in the milk and seasonings, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for one minute. Lower the heat and stir in the cream, bit by bit. The sauce should have thickened by now, able to coat a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and taste for seasoning. Add the cheese to the sauce and stir well. If you wish to have a latino flair, skip the nutmeg, add ½ tsp cumin, a few drops of tabasco sauce, and use Monterey jack cheese or a cheddar, and try serving over crepes filled with grilled poblano peppers or slices of avocado.

Use your imagination, depending on what you happen to find in your garden or at the local farmer’s markets. Roasted butternut squash and fresh sage? A medley of sautéed mushrooms, stirred into cottage cheese with fresh rosemary? Don’t forget to treat your inner child with a couple of crepes filled with FRESH berries and whipped cream, the real kind! Or how about spread some Nutella and top with sliced strawberries? Yum.

Here is a bit of trivia! Buckwheat is related to garden sorrel or rhubarb. It is loaded with nutrition, filled with magnesium and fiber. Studies indicate that products made with whole buckwheat as opposed to white flour, are helpful in lowering blood sugar! And it is naturally gluten-free for those who are trying to avoid consuming grains. It is in the fruit seed family, not a grain!


The sun is shining! I have written the column for March's Big Bend Gazette. I highlight the offerings at our local farmer's markets and devise recipes that will use the seasonal veggies. February featured soups that could be cooked over one's woodstove. This month is buckwheat crepes with spinach or other greens as filling with locally crafted goat cheese and topped by a mornay sauce. Perhaps I will get back to posting recipes for you guys. Spring time makes me inspired, especially as the hens are back to laying and green stuff is coming out of the garden. Keep you posted. I can't figure out how to get cut and paste to format in this blog, but will do my best.

Friday, February 27, 2015


The branches, cactus, yucca, weeds are all covered by hoar frost. The temperatures hover in the high twenties. As I wish to sink into self pity my bff calls from West Virginia and tells me the bitter temperatures over there and I regain a sense of perspective! Hands plunged into hot soapy water tackling dirty dishes was always my dad's prescription for a cold, bitter day. Since I have piles of bakery pots and pans waiting on my, I think I know just what to do with today's cold!

Monday, February 23, 2015


I discovered the nutritional benefits of freshly milled grains about 18 years ago. I had three little ones, lived in Ft. Worth, and was a stay at home mom who wanted to give her kids the most nutritious foods possible. I grew up with hot biscuits for breakfast, cinnamon rolls made from scratch and yeast breads. Not to mention the pancakes, waffles, pie crusts and plenty of homemade upside down cakes.

Mom and dad are amazing cooks and I credit them for putting me on the culinary track. Even though everyone at that point used white all purpose flour, Mom knew whole grains were best, and made a point of adding Kretschmer's Wheat Germ to just about everything to add nutrients and fiber. I can still see that jar, sitting in our fridge!

Some gal in Ft. Worth invited me to a lecture on the benefits of freshly milled whole grains. She was a former chemist who worked in the milling industry. She told us all about oxidation, and rancidity of oil. She told us that prior to the industrial revolution, every little village had its own mill, folks got their flour fresh from the mill, enough for their daily or weekly needs. And that after that revolution, the "peasants" discovered how easy it was to eat fancy white breads and cakes just like the rich people, and all the nasty fibrous wheat germ that would go rancid when left in the whole wheat flour on the grocer's shelves was better off tossed to the cattle.

Lucky cattle.

And the human population began to be plagued by world record levels of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many other maladies.

She showed us the numbers on nutrients in flour after so many hours post milling. It was absolutely shocking! But made perfectly good sense when I thought about the difference in green beans straight out of the garden compared to the shriveled ones on the grocery store shelf. Then several of my friends jumped on the bandwagon and started to tell about their poor husbands with chronic digestive problems too embarrassing for us to mention here on the blog, and how the simple change to freshly milled grains made those issues disappear. Meanwhile, I kept thinking about my kids' diet, that consisted of sandwiches made from store bought bread or homemade white bread with a little wheat germ thrown in for good measure, pancakes, cookies, waffles, pasta. Seemed like switching over to a home kitchen mill would be one simple way of adding lots and lots of vitamins and minerals and fiber to our regular diet.

I remember the first batch of flour I milled. It smelled sweet! And the kids, and my husband, were thrilled by the taste.

We never looked back.

Years later, when settling in on the farm, I began to mill and back for customers. First, just a few extra loaves a week. Then twenty extra loaves. Before you know it, I was carting 100 loaves of bread or more, 50-75 pizza crusts, dozens of brownie mixes, pancake mixes, cookies, cupcakes, all to the farmer's markets, all made from freshly milled whole grains. And I remember the day Philip told me that if I were a start up company, he would invest in me, he was so convinced that I was on to something big. He not only enjoyed the benefits of this nutritional passion I had, he believed that I had a viable business model.

Then he died a year later. And we had the opportunity to test his theory.

I guess most of you kind of know the rest of the story. We sold the farm and moved the bakery equipment to a little hamlet in far remote West Texas, Alpine. A college town near the border of Mexico. Elevation is around 4500 ft, with surrounding mountains over a mile high. A region filled with artists, Border Patrol agents, geologists, writers, historians, cowboys, teachers and professors, coaches and adventurers, all sorts of folks who like to eat good bread and are interested in nutrition.

Gambling is not my thing. I did buy a lotto ticket for my sister once. But coming out here seemed a bit of a gamble. Before you know it, I had a steady stream of regulars who appreciated my baked goods, and our family had a steady stream of VERY modest income.

You might remember that when I was a kid I hoped to be a missionary, to go to some far off country and help people in need. At some point I realized that we all are in need, no matter where we live. And while we each have needs, each of us also has some element, some offering that will help the rest survive. I depend on the milk I get from Sally at ZBar ranch. And the plants I get from Pat that always come accompanied by hugs. The teachers and coaches who equip my kids. The free counseling from my friends as we sit with our tea or coffee or wine. The poetry and music and art. The handy help when broken things and chicken butchering and dirty dishes pile up.

I found that we all have the opportunity to be the true Gospel to one another. The good news in being ourselves. Wow. Being a miller and baker of spelt and golden wheat and einkorn and kamut a ministry! Ministry of nutritious good taste. Offered up with lots of free cookies, hugs, tears and prayers.

That said, imagine the frustration and fear that has been creeping in as I see the price of commodities going up and up and up. I had been trying to ignore the trend, lalalalalala, as I had some extra cash available from the sale of the farm. Most of it had gone into an investment purchase, but there was a tiny cushion. Last month I worked on my quarterly tax report and decided to tackle the end of year, taking the shoe box of receipts and turning it into a list of expenses and sales.


Talk about a harsh draft of reality.

And then I noticed the grain inventory, you know, the bags and bags of grain in my ingredient closet, diminish.

I have been working on the best way to acquire chemically-free grains, and the hard truth is, they are hard to find. For one, the shipping costs for a pallet of grain, that would be 2000 lbs of wheat or spelt or kamut or whatever, runs about $500-$750 dollars. And the costs of spelt has gone from $25 to $35 to $45 to now $88 or more a 50lb bag. And I have made repeated calls trying to locate sources closer to home. Texas grains are sold by trucks, not by the bag. Have called countless farmers. And the protein content is significantly lower. Fine for cookies. Not for breads. At least the kind of breads I craft, sans weird additives that help boost consistent results.

And add the issue of global warming, or whatever you would like to call a very real meteorological issue facing us.

Great wheat and spelt are grown in places with pleasant, modest daytime temps in the 70's or so, with cooling nighttime temps that fall below 50 something. The last couple of years have hit Montana with record warm night time temps. You see, it is the stress on the grain that causes the protein content to rise. Sounds like a sermon in that illustration, don't you think? No stress, means wimpy grains. Each of the three major distributors of chemical free grains has been willing to spend a pretty significant time chatting with me, a little baker in the outback of Texas, explaining this phenomenon as I call to ask about the variability in grain I have received. The numbers are dropping significantly below the norm, below what will make decent bread, pizza crusts, tortillas. They are stuck with warehouses full of wonderful, chemical-free grains that are expensive, and won't bake into decent products. With no plans to contract for more crops of certain varieties until this stuff is gone. I could surrender and start adding vital gluten, with its long list of hard to pronounce ingredients, but even if I were to do that, the cost of using this inferior grain would be prohibitive.

So. What to do? First, I said a prayer for those farmers who are trying to do their best and are in a pickle. And for the distributors with their glut of grain that won't sell. And for me and my family, with a calling and a ministry that has looked like freshly milled, chemical-free grains turned into yummy loaves of Milk and Honey bread and Italian Peasant bread.

I got really depressed for a few days. Used up the very last bag of spelt berries. Have one bag of hard white wheat berries that probably won't work for bread. Put on a smile and sent the last loaves of bread out the door last Thursday. Questioned whether I should close the doors of the bakery for good and go get a job that would involve less hours stuck on my feet.

Then somehow, a fresh wind of hope stirred as I realized it would take more than that to make me give up the joy this bakery gives me.

I have several bags of organic khorasan kamut that makes the most delicious pasta you have ever eaten! Not to mention the crispy kamut crackers. And plenty of buckwheat for pancakes and crepes and perhaps brownie mix instead of spelt? Granola keeps flying off my shelves, and I have lots of organic rolled oats and other good stuff to keep that coming. Perhaps I need to start making organic pumpkin doggie treats with venison bone broth? More biscuits?

As soon as I get a pile of money I will order more grain from Montana, or Colorado, or wherever I can get some. And will learn to adapt and hopefully showcase these grains in a way that will nourish mind and body and spirit.

Hope to keep you posted. And offer up recipes and tips that might help some of you other home bakers out there, trying to figure out new ways of using the gifts life brings us.

Navigating the Season

Well, thank goodness for sunny Saturday.

Yesterday I drove to church with the car loaded down with food for our potluck. The air was balmy and moist. Clouds rolling in. After a meaningful worship service, delicious feast, and inspirational annual meeting, I poked my head out the parish hall door and saw that gray winter had come back for a visit.

Most of our guests are welcomed with open arms, hugs, celebratory glasses of wine and feasts.

Yesterday's guest, cold gray winter, was not welcomed warmly. In fact, I shuddered to think of having to settle in with this foe of mine. Wet mist grew icy. Warm house grew cold.

By midnight a layer of ice coated the streets and a thin sheet of snow blanketed the green weeds and grass.

My heart is tempted to despair. Cold this time of year is quite normal. We get lulled into thinking spring has sprung then a blast wakes us up out of our reveries. I remember February five years ago and want to crawl into my warm bed, close my eyes and hope for numbing sleep to take me to warmer places.

Instead, I get up. Drink a few cups of coffee. Make myself venison and eggs. Do some bakery research. Work slowly, but steadily. Plan to schedule some productive solitary meditation. Switch over to herbal tea. Write a couple of emails. Read a poem. Check the weekly forecast a few times to remind myself that this visitor will be moving on by tomorrow, replaced with our sunny dispositioned pre-spring sixty degree normal end of February.

And I will try to allow for some dedicated time to remember Philip, all he brought to our life, all we miss because of his death. And I will spend some time doing some accounting. Accounting of all the amazing blessings that have come our way over the past five years as we have attempted to learn to navigate our new normal that still doesn't feel normal. February 25, 2010, two days short of five years ago, our foe, death, came for a very unwelcome visit. One that delivered Philip from pain, a worn out heart, bad circulation, into the ultimate peace and rest. And us into a very strange plane and realm. We miss him so much sometimes it brings a chill to my bones. To my core. And yet, here we are. Surviving. Thriving. Kids growing tall and wonderful and smart and kind and lovely and witty, despite it all.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


The universe aligned. The stars moved into place. God heard the prayers I didn't know I needed to pray. Somehow or another, all the kids were in different places, with friends, track meets, and who knows what else. My cell phone broke. Just quit working.

I spent the morning taking care of church business then migrated outside. Tshirt weather made my skin happy. I started by picking up pecans with the cool little gadget a friend gave me. Then worked on dog poop. Picked up sticks and brush knocked down by the ice storms this winter. Burned them in the fire pit. Raked. Tossed compost. Fed chickens. Gathered eggs. Made a new garden bed. Planted some carrots, more onions, lettuce, spinach, beets, two kinds of peas. Delighted in the fact that the broccoli plants the chickens consumed are putting on new leaves. Spinach and beets and lettuce seeds planted a couple weeks ago are sending up new leaves. Arugula and cilantro are growing like crazy. A new rooster friend is making himself at home in the hen house.

Then came in and cooked myself a meal from venison harvested by a friend's husband and butchered by myself. Creamed spinach and mushrooms to go with.


Life is good.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bluebonnets! And the birds are singing outside my window in the wee hours of morning...

Several posts are burning a hole in my fingers and mind and somehow or another I think I am ready to get back to blogging. Just so you know, I saw the first bluebonnets Sunday afternoon in Study Butte, down at the gateway to Big Bend National Park. They were tall and proud and made me happy.

Also, I planted broccoli and chard and beets, radishes, spinach, leeks, lettuce and a few other things a week or so ago. And then the chickens' gate got left open. Familiar story? They didn't like the onions, so they are fine! And the arugula and chard will probably come back! I need to craft a lovely sign for the chicken house gate to remind our little friends to close it carefully! Best news out of the whole deal: we are now getting three eggs a day! The longer days of sunshine must make hens feel better, just like it makes me feel better. I look forward to getting the full batch of eggs soon, and then we will be rolling in the quiche and omelets.

Finances are a bit tight these days, but we are rich! Rich in amazing meat. Friends brought me venison, which I butchered and stuck in the freezer. Several deer worth. Another friend shared goat meat. We put up at least 100lbs of chicken or more. How blessed we are.

Kids are well. So much going on, my heading is perpetually spinning.

I have a grain post coming up, but had to stop, mid-write, to fix supper and get to bed. Three am will come early in the morning, but as you sleep, you can imagine the smell of freshly milled whole grains, milk and honey yumminess, and the peaceful meditation of dark, quiet morning in the bakery.

I needed a blogging break, but something tells me that if I get back to writing I might feel a bit more balanced.

Thanks, all, for your encouraging notes. What a great world we live in, with the ability to make friends across the miles via electronic communication.