Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Just Do It

Okay. I am back again.

And totally bored with writing. Perhaps I need to get out in nature tomorrow for some inspiration.

The idea is to practice. I do not have the goal of wowing anyone with amazing words of inspiration. The goal is to write. Sit down and write. I remember back in high school I took a journalism class and helped make the yearbook a couple years. We carried around our cameras to snap shots. Our teacher would often tell us it is necessary to take hundreds of photos to find the one true piece of art that captured a moment.

Hundreds. Maybe even thousands. The idea was to get out there and shoot. To practice with lots of apertures, levels of shadow and sunlight, to just do it. Kind of like cooking.

I started a marvelous course early this year on happiness. I went to see a counselor for a few visits to work on a couple of areas. Depression related to the weather, the loss of a couple of significant girlfriends, spiritual stuff, relationship navigational help. You know, the stuff the average middle class person has to deal with at various points in life. Along with helpful EMDR sessions, some wise words suggesting what i have been going through is fairly normal, and homework that involved meditation, she recommended a course on Coursera called "A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment."

It was great! Okay, when I started to feel happy again, I quit the class. Perhaps in the dark days of winter I will pick it up again!
What I am getting around to is that one lesson was centered on mastery. The professor cited studies done that show one needs about 10,000 hours to reach mastery in most subjects. 90 minutes a day for 20 years or something like that. As I listened to the professor, I thought about how certain things in the bakery require less brain effort than others. I have over twenty years experience, learning to work the dough. I don't always get it right, I still have fails, especially when I introduce new things. But the basics, well, they are pretty consistent, unless other variables get in the way. And at this point, I have seen enough to typically catch the variables. And at least recognize them. After twenty years.

The lesson brought to mind the sage advice from the high school journalism teacher. I thought of my mom and her painting, and piano. It isn't effortless. She still puts in hours of work each week. Well, she did, before they moved here. Now a broken arm (daddy) and a pulled, torn tendon and boot (Mom) and new home, adjustment, etc. has wrecked her schedule. But it will take very little time to regain lost ground, after the decades of constant practice.

Sometimes we only want to do when we can do well. When we can shine. When we are inspired.

It is rough, not just rough, but occasionally humiliating to show the rough stuff to the world. It is hard to be vulnerable enough to let someone else see the practice sessions.

Philip used to talk about how valuable baseball was to help one learn to live a rich and full life.

Haha! I tried to see it, and since I was sort of a Yankees fan, due to my Oklahoma dad who loved Mickey Mantle, I pretty much got the drift, even if a full nine innings felt like torture to me.

He would call up batting averages for different players spanning decades of baseball games. How do people store that information and then be able to recall it???? He would marvel, saying that batting in the 300 range was fairly normal. Which meant they would miss 700 pitches for the 300 they would actually hit. Or something like that. Baseball taught a person how to fail, and not give up, since there was much opportunity to fail. It was expected. No one got it right all the time.

Why do we think we need to get it right all the time?

I certainly have an issue with crappy, mediocre output. Whether in my gardening, my housekeeping, my parenting, my baking, my writing, whatever.

It makes my stomach clinch to think of a job poorly done.

I do many things in a half-baked, get it done fashion. I am a widow, a single mom with five kids, a son with special needs, some parents and friends and family in my community, animals, a business, etc, and consequently, like millions of other men and women in the world, to get anything done at all, I have to surrender a lot of quality and perfection.

But the things I care about, the food, the parenting, the writing, these things occasionally leave me feeling quite anxious when I consider I am not working and performing in what I consider an excellent fashion.

For this reason, the blog is a good medium for me. The idea is to practice. Not to edit, perfect. Just get those hundred photos shot. Knock it out. Knead a few more thousand loaves of bread to find out what the good ones feel like. For my mom, get the paint on the brush. Again. Sit down to the piano. Again. And when the whatever emerges, the photo, the loaf, the column, and it is good, may we recognize it. And be willing to keep on allowing mediocrity as our practice. Even great big, giant fails.

A thought comes to mind.

What if the practice is the whole point anyway? What if reaching excellence serves little purpose, but a daily practice helps me to remember who I am? I guess that is worth it.

Well. The timer went off twenty minutes ago.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Creamed Spinach and Steak are a couple of my favorite things.

Tuesday evening.

Thomas and I went over to Daddy's house. We grabbed Theo to join us. She brought an eggplant and some fresh shiitake mushrooms. I carried over heavy cream, onion and a big bag of fresh spinach. Daddy had steaks thawing out on the counter. Theo chopped up the eggplant, I found a red pepper in the fridge and we sauteed the eggplant, onion, garlic, mushrooms, red pepper with olive oil. I melted butter in a skillet, gently sauteed garlic, added a ginormous glug of heavy cream, let it simmer for a few minutes, salted it, threw in some cheese, more cream, and then as much raw spinach as would cram into the pan. I stirred and stirred. A slug of dry vermouth would have been divine, but as I have none at the time, we didn't miss it too much. As the spinach melted into the creamy cheese, I added more. And more. And more. Generous with the black pepper. Let the whole thing bubble and meld, then placed a cast iron skillet on a different burner. Daddy seasoned the beef with his favorite, Montreal Steak seasoning. I threw steaks onto the pan, cooked to a medium rare, and we sat down to a carnivore's delight.

The plates were colorful, the conversation sweet as Daddy shared stories of his growing up, when his mom would make the house full of kids and cousins, and other assorted relatives, 100 biscuits a day, to go with a big bowl of oatmeal, and warm milk, straight from the cow. He mentioned the size of the can used in the making of those biscuits, but I can't remember right now. As big as his hand could spread! Oh, I can imagine the smell that greeted the nose of those young siblings as they marched back to the house after doing their chores. Mmm. And jars of jam and preserves and fruits and all sorts of things in the pantry preserved from the garden. I was happy to have baked eight biscuits for my kids this morning!

He mentioned his work in the fire station, and how he would be elected head chef of the station, making meals for his colleagues who would stay the night in the bunks, at the ready to slip on their bunker boots in a flash when the lights came on, activated by a dispatcher. They would slide down the pole and head to the truck, ready to serve as EMT's, or help in accidents or house fires,whatever duty demanded.

We ate so much, I am quite full right now.

After doing the dishes and visiting for a bit, we hugged and kissed goodnight. Thomas and I drove Theo to her home, then I dropped Thomas at his. The air is pleasant. I thought about taking a walk, decided to put on my nightgown and write instead. One new discipline at a time, please!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Day Six rambling thoughts, a practice, how boring...

It is hard to sit down and write over the holiday when there are many needs, many distractions, many reasons to not write.

Especially when my writing is so out of focus. The lack of precision, the raison de etre.

Well, I guess I have a reason for writing. A practice. A reminder. A way of helping my mind and my fingers to remember what to do.

This afternoon I cried when I realized, for the umpteenth time, I could not please or bring total satisfaction to everyone I love. I couldn't serve one without neglecting another. I couldn't care for a need without having to let go of a wish. I realized that I let a couple of people down, I neglected to get half prepared Christmas boxes mailed to people we love, I neglected calls to relatives and friends dearer to us than anything.

The big kids have to go back to big city and work and life tomorrow and we feel like we have barely started to Christmas. We had the mindset that we would have another week to find time to hike, to prepare Japanese food, to laugh and tell stories and make stuff.

To tell you the truth, we have had beyond wonderfully rich times together. Just not quite enough. And there are still hurting places for us over the holidays, dammit. And those places tend to ooze out around the edges every once in awhile. Not for longs. But I am learning to recognize it in my kids, after how many years?

Something inspired me to grab Maggie and Thomas and stream Julie and Julia on the tv tonight after my tears. The kids love Julia Child. They remember being woken at night by their dad and me laughing so loudly watching the vintage cooking shows. We watched. We laughed. Patrick and Nora joined us. I remembered the first time I saw it, in the Grandin Theater with my friends. My heart hurt a bit as I thought about friendships that were that now aren't, due to the passing of time, the miles, the worries of the world. And then we got busy watching the movie and were caught up in two worlds for a couple of hours.

I know that some people would suggest a family could not bond over screen time. But this time was rich for us this evening. We were inspired. And delighted. And we shared a moment, a story, that wove together into ours, as the kids definitely recognized the Queen of Sheba cake on the screen, hell, we just ate some of that leftover cake after leftover ham and turkey tonight. They recognized my cookbook, which is splattered around the edges, but not because I have cooked every recipe in it.Mostly just a sauce or two. Beef bourgignon, of course, Queen of Sheba, dozens of times.

It feels like a relief to write now. I think at some point, I got a bit of stage fright, when I realized others were reading my blog, and were having little tiny insights into my life. It was very frightening for this introvert. I had to run away for a time, let everyone disappear.

Why? It seems a great paradox. It is my choice to write in a public blog, rather than a yellow lined legal pad or journal. I do write in a journal, but not daily. I have one for private thoughts, hopes, confusions, prayers and wishes. It gets filled around the edges with recipes, dinner party menus, bakery lists, budgets, to do lists, kid calendars and garden maps.

The blog is a habit. A source of accountability in a weird way. And a way for the kids to check in on our life from afar. They like for me to write. As long as I am careful about how I write about them!

I wonder if I will find a reason for writing over the next couple of weeks as I discipline myself? Seems strange talking to myself via this laptop. Ding.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Where is our old record player? Did it get lost in the shuffle of the move? Get taken to thrift store? Thrown or tossed?

A year or so ago I started searching, thinking it was stuck out in the shed or something. No such luck. I think I tossed the old speakers ages ago in a purge, thinking we would never have need for them, now that we listen to streaming digital music all the time.

Pretty much any type of music, any era, available with a wifi connection.

For some reason, we were drawn to get a record player for Christmas. Perhap it was walking through Urban Outfitters in Manhattan this summer? I think we were wishing for a record play for the last three years or so. UO just reminded us that it wasn't really that difficult to get one if we really wanted one.

I bought a Charlie Brown Christmas record, as it is my favorite music for the season. After our traditional breakfast, this year, cinnamon rolls made by Maggie, Woo! Woo! we opened our gifts, enjoying time with my parents. We set up the record player and realized that I bought one that needed speakers. Darn. We nearly panicked, until we discovered that Patrick's little cube speaker would attach and work just fine.

It felt wonderful to see the arm drop the needle onto the transparent red vinyl disc. The music welled in my living room and I was content.

We filled the day with gifting, lots of food preparation, cleaning up, more food preparation, more cleaning up, lots of family time. Not much sitting down relaxing time. Which is why I am sitting here at 11pm, diligent to fulfill my self challenge to write, every day, even if I just sit here and type nonsense...

After 7pm, I lit the candles, put on the record, sat down in our cozy, pretty, holiday home, and began to read a book. A friend came over with gifts of some more records for the kids. Happening Hits, John Denver, The Irish Rogues and the Beatles. Oh. My. Goodness! Quiet time ended, and all of a sudden, most of the family settled into the living room, laughing, singing, dancing, enjoying music. Together. I plan to find some old speakers somewhere. I imagine I could probably buy ours back from the thrift store! Even with the small speaker, it felt quite magical to have some time, faces on each other, not a screen, old nostalgic music, memories, all together.

Almost three hours, listening, laughing. I like our Christmas present. We have a record store in town. Ringtail Records. I bet we will have a good time digging through the stacks to find treasure. I want an Eva Cassidy. Some Emmylou Harris. Perhaps some old cowboy music for when Daddy comes over. We have classical in the shed. Tomorrow will be a good day to bring it back to life.

How in the world did someone invent the record? And isn't it amazing, that with all the technology available, our family can still find a delightful moment together, with a needle running along a groove in a vinyl disc? Pretty neat.

On another note, it certainly was special being spoiled by my kids today, as they presented me with gifts bought with very hard earned money. I loved seeing the things they picked for each other, and their grandparents. Very obvious they thought things through and took joy in the gifting ritual.

The day was warm, no snow, no white. Our first Christmas in Alpine was white. I don't mind, I will take the variety. Most of all, being around my kids, my parents, certainly is a gift to me. I cherish it. Maybe tomorrow will offer a bit more rest and quiet sitting time? We certainly have enough leftovers to enjoy easy meal prep for a few days!

Day five......

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Not Gonna Take It For Granted.

Christmas Eve. All is calm, all is bright.

I wanted to sleep late after staying up into the wee hours, but the sun shone and I decided I have plenty to do today anyway, why not enjoy the quiet for a bit? Besides, I gave myself this crazy four.

We almost had a political fight break out at the feasting table last night. A couple of feelings were hurt here and there. There weren't enough chairs, the silverware didn't match. I didn't get the gravy made. But we had enough, people shifted, ruffled feathers were smoothed.

After guests went home, the kids and I perched in the kitchen and talked and talked. They asked me about me. We talked about important things. As usual, I revel in family. Gosh, we are so imperfect. It is so rough around the edges. But, oh, how I love them. Us.

I remember as a kid going to the grandparent's home for the holidays. Whether western Oklahoma or northwest Arkansas, we girls would lie in bed, giggling and talking, with the comforting sounds of parents and grandparents talking into the night. If we went to the Rowe house, kids would keep piling in, into the late night. Every bed would be filled, every couch covered. Almost every spot of floor in the living room would be covered by blanket pallets, cousins lined up like firewood. One bathroom for dozens, a modest kitchen. We played outside as much as possible, to avoid the grownups, to play, climb trees, ride Grandma's big three wheel with a basket down the red dirt road. Grandpa would get up at five or earlier, turn on the 12in. tv to the morning news. The newscaster voices crackled to the sound of Grandpa shuffling around, harrumphing over us layabeds. He would start the percolater, the smell of strong coffee mixing with his Prince Albert roll your own. Cold Oklahoma no match for the paneled gas heater and the piles of sons, daughters, grandchildren spread out. Grandma's big, veiny, wrinkled hands would hold my hand, massaging gently, she would look me in the eyes, and I knew she loved me dearly. She would play her piano, and encourage us kids to play as well. I can still hear her voice yelling out the door, "Har-wooooood!" hollering for Grandpa to come back to the house. Food would be piled everywhere, the wives working away. The men smoking, talking, arguing outside. Paper plates stacked, grab it and find a place to perch.

If we went to the Conner house, we would be greeted by the smell of trees and rotting leaves and moss and a camp fire with a giant coffee can of hobo stew bubbling away. Oh, that smell was like heaven! Probably some divinity and fudge cooling on the screened in porch. Things were a lot calmer at the Conner place. Papaw would give us great big hugs. Mamaw was shy, but always smiled tenderly. They would break out the box of Nilla wafers, and pour glasses of milk or tiny glasses of orange juice out of a small glass jar from the fridge. Their house was two story, built by my mamaw's grandpa, a master craftsman. We loved the dark wood, the creaky stairs, the parlor. Things were tidy and not nearly as loud as the Rowe house! We girls would make up plays, and put them on in the parlor or on the big front porch. We would swing on the porch swing as high as we could go until a parent reprimanded. Beautiful meals were served around the dining room table, special plates, the jewel red glasses filled with iced tea. We were guaranteed a trip to the lake or the hills, with a box of Kentucky fried chicken, paper plates and wet ones. My grandpa was a pastor, artists, photographer, and he and my mom loved to tramp about. So did we kids.

No matter where, we were surrounded by hugs, love, laughter.

Sometimes anger, fights, quick harsh words. Not perfect. Not at all.

But all covered over in love. Secure. The broken parts were not always so pretty, and at times I was quite resentful. At some point (probably after a good bout of counseling, haha!) I grew to understand things a little more. And was able to see, to remember, the good. Grandpa Rowe kicking the football with his prosthesis, and all of us laughing! Mamaw setting up the tv trays in the living room, cottage cheese and fruits, iced tea in small glasses, the soap operas her entertainment. Can you still hear the sound track from As The World Turns? My Aunt Linda, the youngest of the Rowe clan, Down's syndrome, running to the car to great her dear brother, singing "Big, Bad John!" My Aunt Janet letting us sleep over at her beautiful house, Daddy taking us into the cave by the spring that used to supply water for the family when my mom grew up. Icicles as long as our arms. Cousins for running around crazy.

The sound of moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas talking late into the night. Laughter. Sometimes tears. Mostly love.

Okay, kids up, I better make some more coffee!!!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Day Three...practice makes perfect.

I set the timer on my smart phone for twenty three minutes and turned it face down on the bakery table so I would not be distracted by notifications, texts, and other important business.

It is rather hard to be disciplined to write when it is two days before Christmas, a bunch of people are coming to dine at my home, a cake needs to be baked, mounds of gifts need to be sorted and wrapped.

Will twenty five minutes upset the wagon too much?

It feels a bit silly to be sitting here, typing random thoughts, as a practice, an exercise. But exercise it is. So. Here I am.

The sky was blue when I woke, but cool and brisk. I am watching an ominous blue gray mass of impending weather move in from the west, and a breeze gathers. I have yet to deep clean the bakery, so a dusting of spelt flour covers the place, trays are stacked, crumbs and a rolling pin still sit on the stainless steel table. chickens scratch outside the door, grumbling a bit, asking me to toss them the crumbs. After the timer sounds, I will.

Yesterday in the bakery was so weird. I had two batches of cookies completely fail. No recovery. All the spelt gingerbread people. I used the regular recipe. I added plenty more spelt flour, since it reacts so differently, let the dough refrigerate for several hours, chilled the cookie dough before throwing it in the oven. The nuss eckern wouldn't set up. No matter what.

At some point I realized things were not going as I wished. The caramel sauce I make on a regular basis just wouldn't incorporate. It seemed like there was an unknown factor in the chemistry of all things and consequently I grew very frustrated. I felt a deep sense of anxiety well. All those ingredients, so expensive, becoming gourmet chicken food. All that time, to yield nothing but exasperation. And then all the income from cookie orders lost.

I snapped at the girls, steamed, and felt a bit of panic, as my orbit felt wobbly. Isn't it strange how small things can trigger such reactions? Maybe not for you, but then again, we all have some triggers, don't we? I tried to ask myself what it was I really feared, and why did it stir me up so much. The niggling voice in the back of the head told me I was afraid of running out of money, and the loss of income touched a nerve. I told myself the truth, being that a couple hundred dollars here or there was not going to send us to the poor house. That I am in a comfortable place financially, and when stretched, can pick up side work here or there that will cover the gap. About 45 minutes after the surge of panic, I was able to tell the girls that the fail of a couple of recipes was no big deal (thank you, Pema Chodron for the no big deal teaching), and we hugged, i said my I'm sorry for snapping, and we were all able to smile as we finished up many other good things for my customers.

The girls set out a platter of treats, we had glasses of wine and perrier, Christmas music on the ipad, and wonderful smells of the many successful bakery goods. Customer friends stood around, shared laughter, a few tears here and there, conversations, love, real community. My mom and dad came over and met neighbors. We laughed about the epic fail, and one of my friends confided that she felt glad when I shared my fails with them. That authenticity gave her hope. We talked about perspective, and how there are some things in life that are not no big deal. Having your house burn down, losing all your possessions is a pretty big deal. Having your child die is a super big deal. Mental illness is a big deal. But many other bumps in the road are just that. A bump. No big deal.

I am trying hard to let the time between onset of stress, anxiety, panic, whatever you want to call it, and "no big deal" grow shorter. I would like to say I had it made, and was able to catch myself before slipping down the slope. Practice makes perfect.

Time's up. Ding!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bakery Life in the Here and Now

A young couple from Dallas popped into the bakery yesterday afternoon. They had been camping in Big Bend National Park, were back in civilization and hungry for fresh bread.

I was making out my list for today, working up the plan for Christmas week in the bakery. They were mesmerized by the mill and slightly confused by my hours, Thursday afternoons, between 4 and 6pm. Crazy, right? I think it is a bit odd, and wonderful. We laughed about all the restaurants in Marfa that are often closed. How tiny communities in this region can be sustainable with mindful, careful hours that allow owners and employees to pick up other jobs on the side.

At times I have dreamed of having a bakery in a real building, with a pretty window and glass cabinet to display my wares. I have even looked at a place a time or two. So tempting! But the business woman/mom in me kept seeing other small businesses crater, unable to sustain the costs of building maintenance, employees, insurance and more.

The other day I took my mom on some errands. We remembered the dream. Now she is here, I have this vision of a building, great big chalkboard, vats of soup, trays of frittata, loaves of bread lined up, plenty of crazy good muffins and croissant. My mom's paintings on the wall, as this would be gallery/bakery. A nice fantasy, as small is working so well for me now. I get to work at home three days a week. The kids come home to warm, cozy fresh bread and cookies. May not be much else to eat, but there is always good toast! I can stumble out of bed right here, no driving.

The costs of running a business connected to my home are so much more manageable.

Even so, there are dreams. This winter's dream is the addition of croissant to the menu. Sourdough has been an astonishing success. Except for my fails, as I learn to drive the new vehicle! I let the starter die once. And another time I used the whole vat and forgot to save some for future batches. But it has been fun doing something old and new. Freshly milled spelt sourdough is the coolest, my customers appreciate it, the kids love it.


I want to make the best spelt croissant in the region.

I have been researching for some time, and most bakers of croissant, the from scratch ones, not the ones buying the dough prelaminated from Ben E Keith, say that it is an unsustainable product to offer to their customers. Way too labor intensive. The ones who managed to keep it up in their businesses invested in a dough sheeter. You know, the thing Meryl Streep uses when she and Steve Martin make croissant in her bakery after a crazy party in the movie It's Complicated? Which, by the way, is hilarious, and left me laughing out loud a few years back.

I have been waiting for winter and cold to experiment with the process. Butter has to be stone cold. Not easy to do in a steaming hot bakery. In West Texas.

So. Maybe I should send a letter to Santa? Not for a building to maintain, but maybe a smallish sheeter? Actually, I occasionally check out craigslist, typically things become available about the time I need them.

In the meantime, I am enjoying some new things today. Along with the gingerbread people, I am making one of Philip's favorites, nuss eckern, nut corners, a german cookie made for us by our friend, Chris, an English teacher who lived in the same town as our family back in Tokuyama, Japan. Haven't made that cookie in years. Will let you know how it goes! And a spelt toffee date cake.

The sun is rising, the coffee is hot. And here I am, day two of challenge. The smell of molassesy sucanat and roasted hazelnuts perfumes my air, chickens peck outside the bakery door into the backyard, hoping I will find some scraps of stale bread or crumbs to share with them this morning. I probably will. The early morning light catches in the translucent seed pods of the cardinal vine that threatens to overwhelm the grapevine arbor. It is so pretty, like suspended drops of glistening ice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas is Coming

The temperature was 59 this morning as a cat climbed through her door, aka my window, and onto my chest. 77 is the predicted high for today, which is why I will head out to spend a few hours in the vineyard. A girl has to soak up the sun when she gets the chance.

We are moving the vineyard into biodynamic agricultural production. Organic, with specific methods, using minerals and practices taught by Rudolf Steiner and others. The vineyard has been a real saving grace for me. By now we have had several freezes, the vines are no longer covered in leaves. But leaves there were this year! A beautiful canopy. Very few grapes, as the vines are not yet ready to produce. Early in the season we walked the rows, trimming off the baby clusters, helping the vines put more energy into root development. We hope for a small harvest next year, and more the following.

It is rather shocking to see, up close and personal, the cost of a glass of wine. Hours and hours of hard labor, whether the digging, the planting, the watering, the weed eating, the pruning, the tying, the trimming, the feeding. Oh, and the researching, the reading, the dreaming, the hoping, the crushing failures due to drought, bugs, floods, viruses and late freezes.

At some point this fall, I thought I would never operate a weed eater again. After weeks and weeks of constant weed whacking, I grew fed up with the noise, the vibration, the blisters, the bruises from flung rocks and pebbles. Things are finally manageable in the vineyard, I have a couple of large compost windrows working away, and decided to trim down the high mountain grasses the surround the vineyard and home of the owners. After a break, the work didn't annoy me. The noise and physical exertion took my mind off the worries of the world.

I will go back and do it again today, after working on compost preparations.

Today I am writing whatever comes to mind as a result of a challenge I received last night. I began to read a book I picked up from our local book store, Front Street Books, owned by my friend, Jean Hardy Pittman. It is my Christmas tradition to go and spend a pile of money on used books, new books, a journal or two, whatever strikes my fancy. I feel so happy to go in and use our funds in this local economy. Yes, I also order thing online, not a purist, but things feel better when I buy them from my friends. I saw the book Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett on the used shelves. I have read other pieces by Patchett. Her writing touches me. Lately I have been watching streaming tv to numb myself a bit at night. Or I will listen to audio books as I drift off to sleep or drive. You know, me and the dark days of winter.

Last night winter solstice came upon us. As I came home from work, I felt a stirring to welcome the dark as if I believed the light was surely going to return. I went for a jog walk around the golf course and park next to our home (first in months). I lifted my arms to the sky and said thank you for the many painful lessons of 2016. Damn. We had a lot of painful lessons. I said I would attempt to make good use of the education. But, please, could we have a break? As I lifted my arms to the dark sky, I offered out prayers of comfort and consolation to the many others whose lessons have been way more painful than ours. And attempted to share nourishing love and grace and hope to the world in pain.

When I got back to the house, I was tempted to set up my evening tv watching. Good tv, well written, poignant, truthful stories that bless me, but passive, numbing for sure. I decided that on this solstice, I would allow myself to be in the real moment. Then I remembered the bel canto book. I did a quick search on Ann Patchett on my phone (see how hard it is to loose myself from that electronic grip?!) to place it in chronology. One of her earlier books. And while searching, I came upon some of her advice to writers: "If you want to write, try this: Pick an amount of time to sit at your desk every day. Start with twenty minutes a day, say, and work up as quickly as possible to a much time as you can spare. Do you really want to write? Sit for two hours a day."

That little challenge grabbed me. I felt a twinge of sadness for a moment, thinking that I used to think I was to be a writer. And how sad that I don't get to do what I thought I was made to do. And then, in a heartbeat, I thought to myself, why not? Who has a gun to my head telling me I can't sit down and write? Surely I can carve out some time typing, instead of scanning Facebook, the news, the weather, recipes, etc, etc.

So, I had one of the better sleeps I have had in weeks. I woke up rather refreshed, and was ready to get busy with tasks, when I saw the book, remembered the challenge.

I feel rusty, somewhat silly. But here I am. I remember myself when I write.

Today is December 21st, 2016. The twenty first birthday of my son, Patrick John Hillery. Conceived in Japan. Born in Austin, on a cool, clear day, at St. Davids. A few blocks from where he lives today, a student in his junior year, studying philosophy of politics. He loves to run, ride his motorcycle, explore, travel, learn, be in nature, be with his girlfriend, eat and cook good food, argue, debate, work hard. He is tender and strong and lovely. He is a bit of a procrastinator, but knows how to work a deadline!!! He was the best gift on our wedding anniversary those 21 years ago.

Today is December 21st, 2016. What would have been the twenty fifth anniversary of my wedding with Philip James Hillery, 1991, in Ft. Worth, Texas. We chose each other. We knew each other, the good, the bad, the ugly. We believed it was all worth it, the hard, the fun, the crazy, the broken. We were naive, but brave. And hopeful. Thankfully we had no idea how much it would cost, the making of a marriage, the growing of a family. Little did we know that after all that hard work, about the time we had a few years of good history beneath the belt, he would die. Really? All that counseling and learning how to love and live together using healthy communication? Seriously? So now, almost seven years with him gone, being single, dating, a long term relationship that ended up broken, dating here and there, now feeling quite, well, pretty much content with my single status, I think of who I am because of being married to that man on this date, 25 years ago. I have a clue what secure attachment is, thanks to that marriage. I know what it is like to be known, to be accepted, all of me, even the not so nice parts of me, thanks to decision to marry 25 years ago. I had a lot of crazy fun, exploring and travelling places we shouldn't have been able to afford to explore. I learned that money is convenient, but there are way more important things out there than financial security. Because of that day in time, I had a fan who believed I was something special, who believed there were things I could do that would change the world. He was crazy about supporting me to go and do what I needed to do, whether that meant running away from home for a few days to write, recharge, be still, or start a business feeding people, or homeschooling the kids, or whatever. And I like to think that he was pretty happy to have a fan who believed in him, too.

We truly experienced family as a result of that day in time. My children each know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what it is to be loved by their father. A gift not all get to receive, sadly.

I get a bit teary on this day. And tender-hearted. And filled with joy and memories, and delight.

I am now going to go to work. Tonight I will drink champagne, just as he and I used to do, as we celebrated each other. I will toast the giver of good things who miraculously brought me to that time in history. Our ignorance was a good thing. Sometimes I am sad I am so aware of the costs of good things. It just might keep me from taking those leaps that lead to riches and fame and glory! Like starting a vineyard, growing a good garden, getting married, having children. Or maybe not. I did move to Alpine and start a business here, verdad que si? And now look, Mom and Dad, living down the street, five minutes away, family dinners, hugs, and great gift, Daddy and I will sing our favorite, Oh Holy Night, in their church this Christmas Eve. My children will come around me, we will laugh and delight and bask in abundance.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Synchronicity. Or Beautiful Dance

I forgot one of the reasons I write this blog. Well, one of the primary reasons, actually.

Maggie checks in with the blog every once in a while from her college. It gives her a little window into home.

Things have been harried, as per usual. And each thing merits a blog post or two or three. A son with mysterious collapsing episodes and the subsequent ambulance ride, dr. visits, specialist referrals, all requiring 3 plus hour drives one way to take care of testing. A missing young woman in our town, disappeared without a trace, attends the local university. Helicopters, searches, frightened kids, a daughter in my bed, locks on doors locked. Parents entering a new chapter of life. Decide to sell and move to Alpine. Best news ever. With some of the hardest adjustments ever. Parkinsons and research. A daughter hit by SUV. While on her bike. Another ambulance trip. And all okay, minimal injuries, no broken bones. All our painful problems seem to be the easy version.

But they add up, don't they.

That said...

We live in a butterfly sanctuary. Remember that post on wild, unruly gardens? Those gardens have paid amazing dividends in the butterfly department. There are hundreds. Maybe thousands, of butterflies on our property. They hover and dip, drink and flutter. Sulfurs, monarchs, swallowtails. I have yet to sit outside and count. I should do that tomorrow! What an exercise in mindfulness. Honey bees, flies, wasps. Moths. More butterflies. When I walk out to the garden, they swell up in a cloud.

I feel so lucky.

My own sanctuary.

I am feeling a bit of self pity, in what feels a bit like a desperate need to escape into a personal silent retreat in nature.

Now is not the time. A time will come. It always does, because I work to make it happen.

But sometimes you have to press through for a bit. I am praying and meditating more than normal. A bit crispy and hard around the edges, pressed down a bit hard. My attitude is not so gleaming right now.

Oh, but the moments.

Butterflies, more than I have ever seen in my life!

Tender moments with my parents, more than I have ever experienced in my life. I was thinking about how I have probably shared more tender kisses on the lips and sweet hugs with my mom and dad the past few months than in the last 20 years! Maybe more.

I get to have conversations with my kids that are meaningful and rich. We eat stuff out of the garden. Not a lot, but enough. I have a couple of friends who don't judge me when I am frazzled and at the end of my rope.

The zinnias are tired, and frankly, I should cut them all back. They have bloomed and bloomed and bloomed. Not as fresh as July.

But the butterflies are thirsty, and those blooms, and that of the marigolds, the calendula, the coral vine, the red vine, whatever that is, and the sunflowers, well, they might be tired, but they are giving those lovely butterflies the boost they need to make it a bit further down the road. The butterflies don't seem to mind that the flowers are not quite at their peak. They are just happy to see them. And to get a great big drink of nectar.

Oh! And, I was hoping to get a bit more creative in the bakery. The past few weeks I have been adding some new things. Sales are up. I feel happy to bake, even if I am tired. I raised my prices enough for the now. Sourdough is bubbling. i have some vision.

I think we are surviving over here. And hopefully thriving. My new moon wishes all start out with a wish and prayer to get back my creative, joyful spark. Not quite there. But the moments make me think it is in the works, just like that sourdough starter!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


The other day I was working in the bakery. Sirens were sounding, first responder vehicles rapidly passed my place. I have three walls of windows in the bakery, so I see the mountains, the golf course, and a lot of passing traffic.

A friend raced to my door and asked if my kids were okay. Friends from other states began to call to check in with me.

All the schools in town were in lockdown, there was a shooting, a death, perhaps multiple shooters, bomb threats, helicopters, law enforcement and newscasters from television stations racing to get the breaking info.

All of a sudden, we were one of those places. Painful circumstances rocked our little town like a 7.8 on the richter scale earthquake. Lack of information, multiple sources of bad information, fear, shock, horrible truth, all rolled our town and a sense of security and peace collapsed just like a shaky building, one moment standing tall and firm, the next a pile of rubble, with dust plumes rising to the sky.

We all turned on the local radio station. Cried. Hugged. And breathed a deep sigh of relief upon finding out that teachers were okay. That there was only one shooter, not multiple, targeting several campuses at once. That the young woman who was shot was in the hospital, but was okay. The wound was minor.

But that still left us with the harsh truth. A fourteen year old girl was dead. She felt so hopeless, so painful, that she decided that day to do something drastic to alter her reality. A daughter, a sister, a granddaughter. A quiet, straight A student who had friends.

Our town is small. Most everyone knows most everyone. In these kind of situations, we all try to make sense of something that doesn't make sense. We each create our little narratives, trying to force chaos into some kind of order.

We think that if we can understand, we can later prevent another tragedy.

And I guess at the end of the day, understanding is about the best we can aim for, even though it seems rather impossible to find any understanding in a world where a 14 year old girl feels that much pain.

My kids were not close to that event at all. At least physically. But they are good friends with the girl who was shot. She is in our home regularly. And they are friends with friends of the young girl who was killed. We have spent time everyday praying for all the families involved. And when I accidentally veer into creating a narrative about the situation, I am grateful that Rose reminds me that we do not know all the story. And that creating one doesn't help anyone. Of course she doesn't use those words. But she gets the concept.

We acknowledge the pain. We pray for grace. What do you pray in a situation like this? Grief is hard to bear under normal death circumstances. I pray that all people who are in shock, in grief, in pain, will know grace, compassion, and eventual healing.

Why is it that grief can be so horrible, and yet it doesn't seem to kill most of us.

Just leaves everyone with giant piles of rubble, messed up water systems, roads that disappear into nowhere, and us, left to start cleaning up the mess, one pile at a time.

I remember the earthquake in Kobe in January, 1995. It woke us up, rolling the floor of our apartment. We woke, but went back to sleep, until my sister called from Texas, an hour later, asking if we were okay, alive, was our town destroyed?

We watched the news in shock. Just as we did on 9/11, safe ourselves, but reeling, because the truth is, if we let it, the hurt and loss of others is damn sure going to affect us. At least, I hope that we will remain tender enough to feel a bit rocked by the loss of others in our human family.

When you see the complete upheaval of those places, you might wonder if they could ever be functioning cities again.

And yet, here we are.

The eggplants have decided to produce. They are healthy and lovely, I picked a giant purple orb the other evening and with basil, that is thriving, and a tomato from a friend's garden, some peppers from our garden, and lots of onion and garlic, made a most amazing caponata.

The pomegranates are red and juicy.

My yard is filled with such an amazing amount of blooming flowers, it is an embarrassment of riches. They are crazy beautiful. I don't deserve them. But they give me joy, everytime I go out. My house is filled with bouquets.

I feel pretty rolled right now. Muscle memory? Grief? Pain for my fellow man, my neighbors? I truly don't feel like smiling at all these days. But history reminds me that we will all smile again, because that is how we were made. Resilient, capable of surviving earthquakes somehow.

Oh, how I pray that all humans in severe pain will find the help they need. And that people in deep and tragic grief will be surrounded by kind people, not mean judgmental ones. How can I pray for comfort for people who are feeling inconsolable grief and confusion? I guess I will pray they will be comforted by a soft blanket, they will be provided clean water when they need it, and in the mean time, that a numbness would help them get through the next weeks and months until they are strong enough to adapt to new stage of life, post earthquake.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Efforts...Maybe a hint?

Funny. The garden I worked hard to establish was rather mediocre this summer. Higher than normal heat index, an occasional chicken break out, and probably more than anything, a very busy gardener, focused on other things than her garden, meant only a handful of tomatoes, a few squash, no okra or much of anything else. Funny, the hot peppers have done well. Chickens don't like them. The plants don't mind the heat. Good for us. We love chilies of all sort. The jalapenos are the most prolific. Shishito, a japanese variety, come in second. Green chilies, the NM variety, are slow but steady.

The garden I didn't work to establish, the front bed, has some Japanese cucumbers in it, growing on the front fence. I threw the seeds in the bed as an afterthought. Basically ignored them. They were late. Somehow survived the heat blast. And the chickens. The late rains came right in time. They are going crazy! As are the zinnias that planted themselves, and the purple beans that planted themselves from last year's dried out leftovers.

As I picked some tender, juicy cucumbers the other day, I thought perhaps there might be some spiritual conclusions I needed to draw. OR a poem that might need to be written. Or a psalm of gratitude?

Scattered Clouds and Drizzly.

College kids have flown away for now.

It is weird to think that from here on out, these lively, curious, adventurers will likely be back home for very limited visits. Which is as it should be.

They are wonderful young adult humans who bless me greatly with their visits home. They help me with projects. They sit with me around the table and happily visit for hours. They are independent, intelligent and kind.

I always feel a bit bereft after their departure. But not too much. Less shoes scattered about, less dirty towels, dirty dishes, smaller grocery budget.

The weather is a bit weepy, fallish, cool and moist. Perfect for transition time.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Keep Calm, Carry On, and don't forget to say Thank You.

The temperatures are cooling off. Late summer monsoon rains have washed over our high mountain desert and instead of shimmering burning tan, blue green greets the eyes.

Midway through August.

Quite a few goals met, or on the way to being met. I find myself increasingly grateful for my lot in life. I work hard. Every aspect of my work gives me pleasure. Well. I don't know about washing those giant dough bowls! But the pleasure I have when seeing them stashed in an orderly bakery, with a clean kitchen to enjoy is pretty nice.

With enough moments scattered amongst the duties when I remember to say thanks, breathe, look around, feel.

Plenty to blog about. Just wanted to say that today, as I work, I am thankful.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wild and Unruly. Yep. That Would Be Us...

I almost chopped down the giant sunflowers that were coming up as volunteers outside the bakery door to the backyard.

They are wild. Unruly. No giant picturesque flower heads here. Dozens of happy little flowers that great the sun, shine happily a day or three, then dry into a scratchy mass of mess. These are not the sunflower seeds we like to snack on.

The plants tower over me as I exit the sliding glass door to the yard.

Maggie caught me as I mentioned my desire to tidy things up. She reminded me we like unruly wild things.

What a girl.

So the scratchy mass of messy, over ten foot tall plants grow outside the door. And gift me daily as they gift many of God's little creatures with their treats.

Some days my meditation/prayer moment consists of pausing for five or ten minutes at the bakery door. I watch the gold finches, usually a pair, male and female, sometimes three or four, come to feast on the nodding, dried up heads of tiny little nutritious seeds. They land on the head, it bobs a couple times. Sometimes more if it is windy. Upside down, their little beaks bob quickly back and forth, pulling out the seeds that are worthless to me.

Except for them.

The lemon curd yellow bellies bounce. I wonder that God gave me Maggie to help me remember the important things.

PS During one of my meditation/prayer moments the other day as I attempted to still my mind and be in the glorious gift of my life at the moment, I noticed a cloud of what appeared to be monarch butterflies sipping from the nectar of the volunteer hot pink zinnia blooming her heart out by the dead damson plum tree that no matter how much water, still couldn't survive the stress of our extra hot summer. And tiny yellow sulfur butterflies danced around the patch of tiny yellow flowers that will turn into godforsaken awful, horrible goatheads if I neglect to tend to them....And another couple of varieties of butterflies danced with the goldfinches, swallowtails, a brown and gray variety that looked like bark and maybe something else. The dove flew here and there, a loose chicken scratched around the edges.

PPS other kids, not mentioned: I will try to squeeze in some mention of the significant ways you have been speaking spiritual truths to me this summer. Wow. Feeling stressed. Upheaval and concerns and distractions that attempt to drag me away from my true center. But somehow they bring me back, even if for just a moment at a time...

Monday, May 23, 2016


Last night a friend brought Patrick and Maggie home from their Austin college home. Backpacks, suitcases, boxes of shoes, lots of the running variety. Stuff galore, carried in through the bakery. Siblings all around. Of course the first thing we did was tour the college kids around the yard. They oohed and aahed over the baby raspberries. Delighted in the new grapevines and plum tree that is sporting new green leaves. Marveled over the fig trees, with the biggest load of figs we have had in our five seasons here in Alpine. Perhaps they like the generous feedings of chicken manure the past two years? They said hello to chickens, to baby peppers and eggplants and ignored the unmowed yard, commented on all our hard work this spring. While everyone finished getting things together, I sat at the table, exhausted from a long weekend of work, and Maggie massaged my head, played with my hair, and loved on me. Oh, to soak up that tenderness and physical affection.

Then everyone moved into the kitchen, and all my five children, mostly taller than me, and pretty much on their way to adulthood, sat around the same table. Six of us. Family. We feasted on a giant pork roast, cooked all day long while I was at work. Roasted cauliflower, crispy around the edges. Green beans from the farmer's market, sauteed with red peppers and garlic. A giant pot of mashed potatoes, cooked by Thomas.

I am not exactly sure what we talked about. Not politics. Not religion. We just laughed and felt the absolutely refreshing joy of being. I hope you know what I am talking about. The comfort of being in a place where you don't have to be any particular thing, because you are known and have been known, and can't really pretend anyway. Maggie left the table to spend time with her dear friend who happens to be home for a visit. Rose went to finish up some homework. Thomas took off to his apartment, sated by the meal and icecream. Patrick and Nora took on kitchen cleanup, and when I went to bed, I smiled to hear them chatter away as they cleaned up the dishes.

In a blink, everyone will be off and about for summer adventures. I do not wish for my kids to all stay home and sit at my table everyday! But oh, the delight I experience when they come back and we share garden, and stories, and food and love.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I can't help it.

By the way, sometimes the most amazing ideas for blog posts pop into my mind. Other times, well, I just feel tired, dried out, in need of a serious watering. So I write what I see, the most boring of things. But it is a catalogue of sort for me. A reference point. A farm girl's almanac. A reminder of the beautiful everyday stuff.

If I didn't worry about sharing intimate heart details, or get stage fright, or just plain ole, introverted scared when I think other people besides my mom might read this, I have all sorts of things to say about grief, mid-life dating, parenting as a single parent, working, over working due to security issues. I could write about learning to navigate all sorts of different, but universal situations that seem to hit most of us in some form or another. I am tempted to write about my temporary and continued journey away from church life. Or the terrific, but wobbly faith journey I am on, that is not exactly as orthodox as many of my potential readers might wish to see, but is rich and good, and definitely spiritual.

But that would be scary. Not like there are tons of you readers out there now, anyway. I know mom reads. Maggie. And by the way, it makes me so happy to share a taste of the everyday with you, Maggie, girl who gets my heart. And some of you other crazy hangers on.

I still haven't yet quite figured out the whole new identity thing, post Philip's wife and homeschool mom of a bunch of kids on a farm. I am still the same gal. Had he not died, I would still be learning to navigate this evolving era.

Just want to keep it real. And who knows? Be forewarned. One of these days I might let you know what is truly going on! HAHAHAHA! Or perhaps tell you some funny anecdotes related to my tendency to say never. Please, never say never. Perhaps a few words about last year's catastrophic fall apart, the many painful break ups that resulted from that pit period, a trial run on antidepressants that left me more depressed than ever before in my life. And how having what felt like all the props pushed out from under me, all seemingly at the same time left me in the perfect place to heal and seek help and grow in some rather amazingly beautiful ways. Personal studies on attachment theory, to help me navigate the whole new relationship scene, helped me uncover some areas where I needed to improve with my kids. And made me aware we have some pretty amazingly secure attachments, all things considered, and I give God thanks for that. A back and knee injury led me to get worried and scared and then proactive as I determined that full time hard labor might not be the best thing for me over the next ten or twenty years. So I have enrolled in the local university, to seek a masters degree in counseling. A path I began 24 years ago, and was put on hold when Thomas came along. And then Patrick, Maggie, Rose and Nora.

I am still waiting on the gentle rain to fall for me. A few drops have been sprinkled, and I see clouds in the future. Promising ones. Not scary ones. The girls and I have reinitiated read aloud at supper time. Tuck Everlasting. I have gotten back into a walk around the loop evening practice. Am cutting the caffeine intake and working on bringing balance into my world. Evening meditation, being still, soaking up sweet moments and remembering to hug the girls, long hugs, not just quick ones, have also been quite beneficial. Just as I have had to spend an inordinate amount of time watering the garden with the hose, am trying to water my soul in every way I know how.

Hope you will remember to do the same. And in the in between times, I try often to say Thank you, thank you, thank you. To the God I can't quit believing in, even though I quite often wish to.

No Such Thing As a Free Ride... or, I Love My Garden

A couple days ago I planted two kinds of sweet potatoes, some purple ones, and some Beauregard. I tucked some around the okra, thinking that the leaf growth would offer a bit of natural mulch and shade. I planted some in the front bed, where last year I had zucchini and peppers and a couple of tomato plants. I put japanese cucumbers around the bamboo structure used by pole beans last year.

Changing it up a little! White potatoes are in the other front bed.

Four, or was it five? rows of Panther Edamame, a heritage soybean variety, got tucked into the bed that produced many pounds of onions last year. My first time to try soybeans! Radishes, turnips and spinach got planted in front of the chicken yard fence, a shady zone that might be perfect for those cooler weather loving plants. I tried climbing things on that fence last year, but the shade got in the way. Gardening means experimenting for me! Figure out what works. Change and shift when something doesn't.

Let's see. I am finally getting a break from watering, although that is one of my mindfulness practices. We have had afternoon showers for a few days, and the ground is moist. Raspberry canes are taking off! One is covered in little babies! Blackberry bushes are making their way into our world. We have to have faith! Plum tree is enticing me with the hint of green buds that should manifest into leaves. Grape vines are poised to leap! Flowers are blooming all over our property, little rain drop flowers, lantana, cactus, esperanza, larkspur. I bet cenizo, aka purple sage, will be full on by this weekend.

Okra is double its size from last week. Yellow squash is covered in thumb-sized babies. May have to eat them this weekend! Butter. Salt. What more does one need? Eggplant are covered in blossoms and we have baby peppers and tomatoes. A grocery store in the backyard that demands payment of a little love and attention. I think I can afford that price.

The floors are swept, the laundry done, the spare room cleared and ready for a college kid. But the dust that covers every single surface of my house, minus kitchen and bakery, is a good indicator that I have been investing in our food future!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A record.

Damson plum tree planted. Also two champagne grapevines, no, not for champagne, but for eating out of hand! They are tiny and seedless and originated in Greece. Also a red catawba grapevine. Because, well, you know! And a Zinfandel. All situated outside my bakery window, a place with plenty of sun, and in my line of vision, so I will tend them. A pineapple guava planted, in the corner of the yard, where the rain comes off the carport.

More okra. Some potatoes. Another batch of onions. I noticed a bloom on one of the raspberry plants. Squash are forming little buds. So are the tomatoes and peppers. Am having to water because we are terribly dry. Conserving in other areas so the water can go to the plants.

Oh, here's something nifty! I let our fountain get filled with gnarly moss last fall. As the water dried up and evaporated, a lovely, mossy carpet was formed. I lifted it out in sections and used it to mulch different parts of the garden.

I hope the plants will be happy here. I welcomed them with love. We are hopeful. Oh, what nice memories of damson plum jam on the farm. Mouth watering now.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Temporary Cold Snap

We drove to Abilene the other day to watch Rose and her pal run in the regional track meet. Before we took off, I went around the yard, offering water to the new blackberries and fig tree. The desert willow on the other side of the fence had one blossom and millions of buds.

When we got back, to cold, gray, wintery weather, the willow tree grabbed me by surprise! She is decked out, delicate orchid-like blooms, waving proudly and defiantly in the weird little cold snap. As if to say, "Bring it on, North Wind! I just bought this new outfit and I'll be darned if I am going to cover it up with a gray woolen jacket."

The yard is crispy dry. The grass is dormant. But somehow around the fringes, flowers keep blooming like crazy. Lantana graces my kitchen window sill.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Surprise! OR Look What the Full Moon Brought Us!

A couple of days ago I was tending the bunnies and had the sense I should prepare Petunia's nest box. Checked the calendar. It was still significantly early. If you set the mama's box up too early, they just eat the hay in the nest, instead of create a nest in it.

Saturday, I told myself. Plenty of time.

Yesterday was crazy! I had a couple of kid things happening, school, the launch to some work being done on a little house I own. Special bakery orders. Lots of multitasking and coordinating. Thomas and I were just about to head over to the little house when I saw the chicken and bunny food waiting to be delivered to the coops.

We ran the bags over to the coops to feed the troops. I noticed strange movement in Petunia's duplex. Four squirming, mewling, VERY COLD little baby bunnies!

I chided myself for a second, excitedly greeted Petunia and Prince Charming, wrapped the little things up in my t-shirt and tucked them in, next to my body. Ran to the rent house, tended that business with babies by my tummy. Got back home, set up their nest box, rubbed them with bunny fluff, and tucked them in. Evening came and all seemed well. Still alive.

I try to pay attention to that still and quiet little internal nudge. Yesterday was a good reminder! We can see more than we can see if we just let ourselves!

Happy Birthday, bunnies!

PS Black Beauty and little BunBun, Petunia's first baby, now live with our friends in their backyard. I had great ideas we would integrate rabbit meat into our locally grown protein source list. So far, we haven't been hungry enough. But the manure has already enriched the gardens. And the bunny care has enriched the lives of me and the kids!

PPS this morning the nest box was fully fluffed out by mama. One baby didn't make it through the night. Mama had separated it from the bundle. The rest were warm and safe, deep in the fluff.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Track Season

A few years ago, I watched Thomas run and leap in Special Olympics track meets. Then Patrick and Maggie, their long limbs stretched, gliding along, like music.

Rose jumped into the scene in middle school. Now a sophomore. We watched her run today at the area meet in far away Denver City. Good grief? When moving to far West Texas, I had no earthly idea I would have kids in the Athletics program at the public school here. Let alone how many miles they would cover, by their own minimally-soled feet, and by the school buses, as they covered practices and run club and cross country and track meets.

My one season of high school track consisted of a somewhat overweight coach yelling at us to "Just go run! Do those hills!"

I pretty much always came in second to last. Choir and yearbook were pretty much more my speed.

Our homeschool physical education program was directed by my late husband. He loved to run. He found an old Navy Seals exercise book at a Goodwill in town. Led the motley crew through their calisthenics by the back door on the milking pad after morning chores, then across the back field, over a felled tree, up and over a fence, down the hay meadow, over and around the barn, finally to the house, huffing and puffing and ready, well, somewhat ready, to hit the books.

Who would have guessed? The day we moved in, a couple of running neighbors saw the kids pile out and suggested we contact Rick Keith, the high school long distance running coach. I guess the kids contacted him.

The rest is history.

That man has been more than a coach to my kids. They have probably spent more waking hours with him than with me the past five years. He explained to me that his philosophy involved teaching kids to enjoy running for life. Not just a high school competitive sport, but a lifestyle. He would drive them to gorgeous ranch roads for high desert sunset runs. He would run with them to Dairy Queen for Sundae runs. He would buy them shoes, probably knowing they were well beyond a single mom's budget. He taught them how to glide and not injure their knees. To run for themselves, to compete against their times, to set reasonable, achievable goals, and then coach them, step by step, week by week, in the how to reach those goals, just a bit more challenging than they thought they could reach. And sure enough. Walked them step by step, rather, ran with them, stride by stride, along the way.

For the past five years, that man has encouraged, cheered, consoled, scolded, taught, and more than anything else, has loved my kids.

He doesn't drive alongside, yelling at the kids to run. He works right by them, teaching them nutrition, giving them books, showing them inspiring videos, basically, has been as spiritual a leader as any priest.

College kids still come home to run with him on their vacation. And love to brag on the runs they do for fun, as they run for their life! Yesterday Maggie was so stressed by her rigorous course work at St. Edwards and her jobs that she paused to take a ten mile run. The other day, Patrick joined the UT cross country run club and they ran from Austin to San Jacinto, all night long, 200 miles, for the Texas Independence Relay. They and Rose ran in the Big Bend Ultra 30k this winter.

And now, Rose, a sophomore, after making it to state twice in cross country and so far once in track, ran again in the area meet today. I decided to close the bakery and go to watch her run, all the way up in the Texas panhandle. She got first place in the two mile. Her friend was right behind her. Watching those kids run fills my heart with such joy and delight. I remember seeing Maggie conquer exercise induced asthma, striving harder than any kid should have to, training her, not for athletics, but for the real life hard stuff that requires some grit. Some go for it. Some push and drive.

You have to understand... I don't really care about athletics. Or competitions. I yell for pretty much every kid that runs along that track or across the finish line. Just ask my poor embarrassed kids!

It is the back story. The farm. The wet tennis shoes and panting kids and dad. A journey. A coach who is so much more than a coach. I will owe him my whole life through. And thank God for him regularly, as I see his fingerprints all over the lives of my kids as they fly away from here. And continue to see his gift as he offers up his presence. What more does a young, tender, growing teenage girl need if her dad dies? A young man, missing philosophical discussions and hikes? What more than a kind, devoted, dedicated, hard working man who not only believes in her, or him, but runs alongside, giving strategies for making a way into the world that awaits.

I am not sure how Rose did in the one mile this evening. I have to work tomorrow, and was afraid I would be too tired to do so if I stayed for the final event and had to get home by one oclock tonight. I know she loves the two mile and I cheered like a crazy fool. Coach Keith will be riding home with them on the bus, late and exhausted after a full day in the sun, directing his kids. And will be back at school in the morning to teach.

I don't care how she did. I am proud. And thankful.

So very thankful.

How Rich Am I?

The tomatoes are set out. Some cherry, thanks to seedlings gifted by my dad. Brought home Easter weekend in a yogurt container, tender little babies. Some yellow cherries. A few Early Girls, just cause. A couple heirloom varieties. A Solar Fire, because we live in the desert!

The peppers are set out. A couple of shishito, a japanese pepper, great for the grill. Jalapenos, of course. Several New Mexican varieties, because, well, we all know how much my kids and customers love green chili quiche. A thai pepper, because they are beautiful. And super hot. And just right for a Thai stirfry. Am thankful for a giant yard with many little cubbies. The thai one is on the other side of the house, so hopefully all the other peppers don't cross pollinate and turn super spicy!

Cucumbers nestle against the trellis. I think I saw a couple of okra seedlings pop up to say hello. Eggplant, the asian variety and the italian are tucked in their special spots. Yellow squash, near the Early Girls. Zucchini over by the okra. Green bean seeds to plant, some on one side, some on the other. Potatoes, very late, but better late than never. Dill is up. Basil growing. Chives aflower. Stevia nestled near the mint for kids who like tea. Mexican Mint marigold for moms who like tarragon. The cilantro and arugula are bringing in plenty of pollinators. Roses and irises are blooming their sweet little hearts out. Sage is begging to be browned in butter. The lime tree and olive are tucked into the gazebo, along with all the other green house plants. Leeks continue to offer savory compliment to meals. Wild sunflowers provide tasty salads to bunnies.

The established fig trees have babies the size of my thumbnail. The new fig, Chicago Hardy, is unfurling velvety leaves. Two varieties of blackberries, planted a couple weeks ago, show a tiny swelling on bare stalks, I have faith. Two years of sheet composting along a fence. Please God? A friend brought by six raspberry plants. I found dry soil along south fence to be surprisingly rich and deep. They will live in dappled sunshine in between the pecan and the neighbors giant pine.

I had the vision of berries for several years. Every vision takes a few steps, some waiting. Faith. Hope.

Claret cup cactus smile at me. Prickly pear stick out their hands to wave, ready to offer bouquets in a week or so. The desert willow is poised. For something. A party next week? The purple wildflowers my sister planted two years ago. Why? Because she said I needed them. Are giant happy greetings to me, every time I step out the bakery door. I think they were very happy to have some of the ashes of my friend, Peter, from Ontario, laid to rest among them, right by the door, where he and his wife came to inhale and devour my breads on their twice yearly visits. Honeysuckle, gifted and planted by Patrick, was it last year? Year before? Right outside my bedroom window, for obvious reasons, is sweetly surviving its desert life.

Others, so many, I am too tired to look up their sweet names, yet they give me delight as I look at them and honor their beauty. They give the pollinators great delight too!

Quite rich, says she, enjoying the bouquets, whimsically scattered about the house.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Red Skies by Morning Bakers Take Warning!

My mornings typically begin long before day breaks. Especially bakery days! Don't get me wrong, on a day off, I dearly love to let the late morning sun wake me.

This morning, a half hour before sunrise, the sky was washed with a pink glow. Rising sun painted the clouds preteen hot pink, not red like the old saying. But with the colorful early morning came a damp, cold chill. Maybe those clouds will deliver some rain? Please? Please?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

One more thing... OR a lovely kettle...

I forgot to mention the exquisitely choreographed dance Thomas and I witnessed on our walk the other day. I counted at least sixty buzzards, slowly, gracefully, an act of worship it seemed, in measured swoops, no big hurry, drifting in and around one another, honoring the moon. The creator of the moon. The evening sky, and their tribe.

I never knew buzzards to be graceful. Now their evening dances are lovely to me, as they celebrate the end of the day and move in to roost.

Yesterday, after hours of blustery wind, the air was filled with sandy particulate from the Sahara desert or somewhere dusty and dry. I could see no periwinkle skies turning purple. But the buzzards danced anyway.

PS I realize many folks are not so fond of the vulture, but they are quite helpful, taking care of highway cleanup. I don't plan on adopting any, or having them roost in my trees! But really, you should check them out. A group of dancing vultures is called a kettle. Did you know that?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Is it full yet?

Thomas and I took Brownie and Blackie for a two mile walk after dinner this evening.

The air was balmy. The wildflowers were subtle but precious, tissue paper yellow, pinks white and lavender, scattered here and there along the path. The setting sun shone through the trees along the creek as we crossed the bridge. Fluff from the cottonwood trees floated, glowing in the evening sun. It looked like fairies, flying off to a party in the woods.

Things are very dry here, so instead of blankets of flowers this year, there are meager patches here and there.

I wonder if I might appreciate them more when they are so rare.

We paused to admire the giant full moon make her way up and over the university campus mountain east of our neighborhood. Broad and generous, with a glittering star hanging directly overhead. Of course I made a wish! Rose and Nora tell me that it was not a star, but probably the planet Venus. I don't care. I think my wish counted anyway. And no, of course I can't tell you.

Pink cotton candy clouds stretched across the sky. The trees are now dressed in green. As the sun dipped further below the horizon, blue sky turned purple, mountains turned grey. The dogs were delighted with their stroll, and so was I. Thomas and I don't talk a lot, but his quiet companionship is quite comforting to me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Purple Haze

Smells like purple!

The wisteria are in crazy full bloom. The fragrance permeates our yard, both front and back. Old-fashioned and pungent, cloyingly sweet. The mountain laurels are in full flower tilt as well. They fill the chicken yard with the smell of grape soda! My mouth waters, remembering the fizzy stuff that filled our summer trips to the filling station with my dad in the early seventies. Purple irises wave their school spirit flags, and smell like Easter to me.

Walking around my yard is an aromatic, sensual experience these days! And perhaps the source of my scratchy throat and itchy eyes?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Dare we Hope for Early Figs?

Fig trees are leafing out and covered in little baby figs. The oak tree is sporting what looks like a chartreuse veil. Red buds are gaudy and tucked in the back, neglected part of the yard, partially hidden by our guest cottage (I mean, pop up tent trailer), a kerria japonica tries her hardest to grab my attention, and succeeds regularly, as you can tell, since I have sprays of her beautiful blossoms decorating most of the rooms in my house.

Wisteria that was frozen last year is now covered in an extravagant display of fragrant clusters, just poised to open this weekend.

Have you noticed how easy it is to be optimistic in springtime?

The flowers keep shouting and whispering, clucking and whistling to get my attention. "Hey! We did it! We made it through the dark days and can lift our heads up high once again." So I tell them thank you for the reminder, and let them know I am absolutely blown away by their beauty, and am really proud of them. And gather armfuls of sweet joy to bring into the house.

I read a Mary Oliver poem the other day, depicting another side of spring I like very much: Out of the Stump Rot. Not so frilly. Quite raw and real. And also wonderful in its life. So if you are not feeling the flowers and fragrance, check out her poem!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Seasons. The Calendar. Mile Posts. Row Fourteen. I love you, beautiful world!

Late morning, the sun came out and the skies became blue again. For a moment. All of a sudden, I turned around, and an ominous, almost frightening gray mist stealthily poured over the hills and into the vineyard and orchard where I worked yesterday and today. The wind gave it a boost, and it felt cold. Cold-blooded. Definitely not trustworthy.

I pulled out the agribon to cover the garden beds filled with tender peas, radishes, lettuces, turnips, spinach, beets and chard. I go out two or three days a week to manage the vines, weeding, mulching, whatever they need. I tend a few veggie beds. Today I was worried about the fruit trees in the orchard. Yesterday I noticed they were covered in blossoms and buzzing honey bees. The forecast predicts the low to be 30. Up there, in the little saddle, at one mile elevation, 30 in town means 23 or lower. Not good for the fruit.

You might have laughed to see me struggle with the giant sheets of protection, hoping for the wind to work with me. She did not care about my predicament. Not one bit. I tossed, wrapped, contorted, using metal poles to push and shove. Had hot tea for lunch, then went back to the vineyard.

It is a small, privately owned little vineyard, fourteen fifty yard rows. Seems small until you walk out to row one with a hoe. And see how far you have to go.

After one row, I wondered if I should go ahead and quit. It seemed rather unlikely I could ever manage to get to the end. Especially when I hit the Johnson Grass.

Today I finished one side of row 14 and am partway down the other side. I can see the finish line. Sometimes I dream about the rhizomes of the johnson grass, entangled among the roots of the grapevines, at times they are so stubborn, they choke and strangle. Sometimes they untangle like magic.

Definitely different from bakery work, but maybe not so different after all. Just as I have a very living and breathing relationship with the grains and honey and milk and seeds I use in my bread, I also feel an intimate relationship with those vines. And the rocks and grass and weeds. When I walk into the vineyard I say hello to everyone, and ask them to let me know if there is anything in particular they need on that day. Sometimes they ask me to weed a bit larger circle around the plant. Sometimes they ask me to go a bit deeper. Sometimes they merely tell me they love me, and I tell them I love them back. And let them know even though it might take a couple of years before they bear a nice harvest of grapes, they are worth the effort right here and right now.

So much work to bring about a delicious glass of red wine. Is it any wonder the scriptures are so full of stories and metaphors regarding wine and vineyards? Can you imagine what it would be like to tend your vines so diligently for years, only to have robbers come and steal the grapes right at the time of harvest?

I have worked in the sun, peeling off layers, toasting my skin. I have worked in cold, hat and sweatshirt, coat and extra socks. The sun and clouds and Mt. Ord down the way provide the most interesting entertainment. The sound of the birds and the sight of thousands of ladybugs gives me delight. There is not a time when I do not leave grateful for my job.

Grateful yes. But those vines have been witness to more tears than about anybody I know has ever seen. Heartbreak. Loneliness. Fears. Major breakthroughs. Grief. Sometimes I sob out loud, and I guess that sounds scary. Of course I might be laughing again in about ten minutes. Because allowing myself to feel, to be still enough to recognize what I am feeling, to allow it, to examine with compassion, to nurture myself and offer compassion to the hurt places, seems to allow more room for joy.

I have been wishing to laugh more. So I let the tears flow out, instead of shove them inside. A paradox, isn't it? I remind myself that those who sow in tears will reap in joy. Perhaps I should paraphrase and say that those who weed in tears will reap in joy? I let the wave flow over me, and tell myself that I might be sad but that is a temporary emotion. Legitimate. And worthwhile. The work is medicinal.

Can you believe that this week will mark the sixth anniversary of my husband's death? That we will now embark on the sevens? The seventh birthday without Philip. The seventh Easter. The seventh mother's day, the seventh Father's day. The sevens. How can it be? Nora has almost lived more life without her father than with her father. Definitely more life without than she and Rose can remember with him alive.

We have had three of five kids walk the stage and graduate with all sorts of honors.

When Philip died, the grief support counselor would repeatedly tell us you don't get over the death of a loved one. You adjust. You adapt. You move forward. But the loss and pain doesn't disappear after an appointed time. In fact, it can often pop up at the most inopportune time.

We often laugh about Philip memories. I smile and remind the kids how proud their dad would be of them. I smile and remind myself how he adored me. How he would woo me and make the kids laugh and help us be ever so secure in our awareness of his love. Even in the most annoying moments.

The other day I had a dream. In it, Philip came to me and said it was about time for him to say goodbye. That it was time for me to move ahead, and that he was leaving and wouldn't be able to communicate with me anymore. He said it would help me to move forward.

Ever since that dream I have been washed over with pain and grief. I have been working to let him go since I had a dream he would die. Two months before he died.

We are surviving here in Alpine, and not just surviving, but thriving. We have purpose. Joy. I can't imagine wishing for much to be different. I love our home, our little backyard farm, our bakery, the kids and their friends. It is hard to imagine I could have any type of work I could find as satisfactory as the work I have now. Truly, I feel like I am one lucky gal. And after six years, recognize that this wave of pain will pass. Again. And the misty gray will be washed away, the sun will come out, and spring will rise again on the horizon.

I just needed to write about it. Surely there might be someone else out there who knows what I am talking about?

PS I should mention that over the Christmas holidays Maggie and Patrick came out the vineyard and helped me get past the middle when I thought I might never make it. And they work so much faster than me! What a boost. They would be proud to see me at the end! Now to mulch. And to remove rocks. And to fix the drip water system. And to prune the vines.......And start weeding all over again!!!! Hello, Row One! I missed your shining faces!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Thomas James Hillery

February 17th, 1993, I was a mere child myself, haha! And here came Thomas into the world.

He came. And everything changed.

I know that being a parent is not the end all or be all. But for me, when he came to join our family, I became more of who I was meant to be.

It was hard. I had no clue what to do! But certain things came instinctively, like, if baby cries, check him! He might be hungry, sleepy, need a hug and change, or a change of scenery. Thomas liked to hear me sing. He appreciated books from early on. Bike rides in the basket, trips around the country and the world. Easy to please. Happy to go on adventures.

Not too into hiking and camping, but definitely into travels and food, movies and theater. And video games and computer stuff.

He loves to cook. Not too into dishes, but washes them for me quite frequently.

Sometimes he chats my ear off, sometimes he won't speak for days. Being on the autism spectrum has been a challenge for him sometimes, as the world can feel so noisy and bright and overstimulating. Sometimes the words are hard to come by, when he has a physical challenge, he might not know how to articulate his symptoms. But oh, the things he has taught the few who take time to get to know him. He is a great bowler for the special olympics team and makes his gang laugh a lot.

I love that kid. I love him a lot. We drive each other crazy, over silly things, like bathing, and apartment cleaning, and tv choices! Well, I drive him crazy. But we laugh a lot. He occasionally lets me give him a hug. We know we love each other so very much. And that's what it is all about, right?

Okay, I Admit It. I See Things.

This past weekend all the kids had plans.

I had none.

I considered doing some household organizing, some yard cleanup.

I gave a half a second thought to working on tax prep for home and bakery and rent house.

For a fourth of a second I considered heading out to a nearby musical event where there would be hundreds of acquaintances and dancing.

Then I called a couple of friends for bunny, chicken, dog and cat backup, made up a big pot of venison curry, half for me, half for Thomas who would come over and check things for me, threw my pillows, a sleeping bag, thermarests, propane camp stove, french press coffee pot, a bit of food and hiking boots and gleefully headed down south to Big Bend National Park.

First stop, Panther Junction, to renew my yearly membership pass and seek a permit for a backcountry camping site. First time ever, I was told by the Ranger that there were no sites available in the national park. None. Even 4 wheel drive access sites were taken. But should I wish to stay, I could try zone camping.

Definitely wishing to stay, after the 108 mile one way trip and effort, I said, "Sure!" with animated voice, but heart filled with trepidation.

Driving back towards one of our favorite hikes, quite a few miles off road, I looked at my stuff and looked at the hills and gullies and cat claw and lechugilla and almost berated myself for not bringing a big backpack! But remembered that I am not that much into backpacking, pulled up my bootstraps and started the adventure of seeking out a sleeping zone a half mile from road and hundred yards from the trail and definitely out of sight.

When I mentioned I was going camping over Valentine's Day weekend without the kids, folks asked if I were to have a companion. I mentioned Rumi. And Mary Oliver. Well, in my imagination I mentioned the poets, as I had a couple of books of their poetry. But no, no human companion. I was hungry for solitude. Hungry to think my own thoughts for a few hours. Hungry to sit for an hour and look at the same pile of rocks.

No agenda. No work. No vision casting, or spiritual expectations. Just openness to be in the moment and enjoy.

I sat and ate my supper, noticing in depth, for the first time, the interesting ridge opposite the Pine Canyon parking area. As the sun went down into late afternoon, I laughed as the rocks transformed before my very eyes into a recumbent nude, lying on her belly, hand resting on cheek, rubenesque rump, roundly rising into the sky, and the other hand, finger pointing coyly, seemed to say,"I see!"

My warm venison and cauliflower curry tasted heavenly. The warm, pre-springtime desert air felt like dessert. Even though I was tempted to pick up a book and read, I kept reminding myself to be here. To be now.

A quarter hour later, the ridge transformed. Now a gigantic toddler, perhaps four year old, lay on her belly, wearing little overalls, feet entangled in the air, face looking down, as if watching a line of ants. Where did the model go?

I put away my cook gear, made some herbal tea, and sat to watch my ridge. The sun was almost behind the Chisos mountains behind me. The rocks were warm and alive with color. Now the ridge morphed into a woman, lying sweetly with resting face tucked into her arm. And as I looked at the other rocks, even more figures appeared in the shadows. It was delightful.

Camping for me is magical. Camping in silence offers room for a different magic to arise.

I did see a fleeting meteor. I heard the wind as she came to greet me. Sleeping bag spread under canopy of stars, the waxing moon cruising the sky, a mysterious band of cloud that was pushed through the sky by occasional cool breaths of breeze. It was weird. Sometimes the wind whispered down the gully, and I felt nothing but stillness. Sometimes she would silently touch my cheek.

Each evening, each morning I ended and began with poetry. The words were so tender, so rich, at times I wept. They made me feel human. Alive. Hopeful. Rich beyond measure.

I had all intentions of writing. I did none. But I hiked around. Sat still. Meditated. Drank lots of coffee with heavy cream. Made and ate amazing food. Read much poetry, two books, watched stars and felt wind be gentle and still. Wished for about two weeks more, and never felt lonely, knowing that my kids and work awaited me when I returned.

Somehow I think the camping trip was the perfect choice for this year's valentine's day celebration! Should I offer you my stew recipe? Well, here it is!

Camper's Fish Stew
one piece of bacon or a tablespoon of oil
Frozen Cod or catfish or any other kind of fish you have frozen, 1/2 to 1 lb
celery, chopped
onion, chopped
garlic, two or three cloves, minced
fresh ginger, one knob, chopped
one or two jalapenos or mild green pepper
sm. can green chilis
tomato paste, two tablespoons or two fresh tomatoes
bunch of cilantro
bunch of fresh spinach
can of coconut milk, full fat
a bit of curry powder if you happen to remember

In a medium to large sauce pan, fry up bacon until it releases the fat. Add celery, onion, and saute until almost tender. Add garlic, ginger and peppers. When they begin to release their aroma, stir in the curry powder if you have it. Add the fish, the tomato, the coconut milk and some water if you need, and bring to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and several twists of freshly ground pepper. Cover, continue to simmer for twenty minutes or so, while you sit and watch the rocks as the sun begins to set. Remove the lid, stir the stew. When the fish begins to break apart, add the spinach and cilantro. Taste for seasoning. Cook for another fifteen or twenty minutes without a lid to meld the flavors and reduce the liquid so the stew is thick and creamy. I prefer to use whole cream coconut milk because it gives such a creamy mouthfeel. A bit of canned corn might be nice if you like. Or some potatoes. I kept mine scant on the starchy side, you know, the whole low carb thing, and it was rich and beyond delicious! I even ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day!

Friday, February 12, 2016

My friend and teacher, the moon.

Last night after I wrapped up bakery hours, helped Rose and her friends practice for their history fair project, enlisted Thomas's help with dishes, oversaw Nora as she prepared for a weekend trip with a church group, I kind of wanted to fall into bed or collapse in front of a glowing screen.

But the day was so beautiful and my body needed to move in the evening air.

Somehow I managed to find the wherewithal to put on a jacket and go for a 2 mile stroll. The early evening pastels slid down into the west and the blues and grays of evening took over. The moon hung in the sky, a happy smile glowing in the sky. Almost tilted grin, and I couldn't help but look at her most of the way around the loop. I paused, for just a moment, and said, "Okay! Okay! I get it! Smile!" And made my face into a silly mask, mimicking her, and then found the silly face manifest into a real and genuine, tender smile.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

History Lesson

The other night I was having dinner with a friend, recounting the difficulty I had in gathering the kids around the table these days.

I had made a roast chicken dinner, with one of our big fat chickens, baby turnips from the garden, a few other delicious vegetables. Set the table.

And then there was only Thomas, Rose and myself.

It felt awkward. Like we had forgotten how to sit still around the table. Like we had forgotten how to make conversation on a Sunday afternoon. Just the three of us. When you have a family of five kids, plus many assorted friends and family, the table is often filled with ten, twelve plates. Not just holidays.

And then Philip died. And then we left the farm and interns and friends. And made a bunch of new friends. But then kids started graduating and moving away.

It is weird, adapting to new and different. Instead of homeschool and farm life, the kids public school and are involved in running and karate. Instead of homeschool and farm life, I am a single mom with several different off-site jobs, including the running of the little mill and bakery here.

Sometimes we gather in the kitchen at different times, grabbing whatever there is to grab, quesadillas and beans, and omelet, venison and a cream sauce, practically eaten out of the pan.

There is so much to be experienced around a supper table. And when one kid has a practice that ends at 5:45 and the other begins shortly after six and I get home exhausted and dirty, it is hard to make it happen.

So, I got rather teary eyed with said friend, and with the tears, made an intention in my heart. An intention to diligently work to make supper time happen more regularly in our house. Even if it means being a bit creative. And included in the intention was a great desire to read to the kids again, even if there are only two of them home these days and they are busy being a teenager and a preteen.

The world is hard. Their time left at home is short. I desire greatly for them to know attachment and emotional connection, and living off the farm makes that aspiration a lot more difficult.

But not impossible!

Yesterday we enjoyed gyoza and fried tofu and cabbage, in honor of the Asian New Year! And had young friends join us, and we all ate with chopsticks. We made our New Moon wishes. The other day we read a couple of chapters of our book, My Side of the Mountain, while the girls ate bowls of potato soup and I enjoyed broth from that Sunday dinner chicken. Tonight Nora made mac and cheese for herself and Rose and I ate leftover cabbage. Then we looked over the new edition of the Big Bend Gazette and I showed them this month's food column, written by their world famous mom (HA!). Rose and I enjoyed remembering last week's Asian Slaw recipe made with farmer's market kohlrabi and beets. And Nora suggested I write a book.

One thing led to another, and next thing you know, the girls and I are sitting on the edge of my bed, scrolling through this blog, looking up early February posts, from every year since February 2008.


I read out loud. They listened and murmured and laughed. Nora gave me the best compliment a writer could ever receive, telling me that she loved my writing, and that it was interesting and she liked to read it, and thought that other people would enjoy a book written by me. And she should know, since she reads good books all the time, every day! I didn't tell them the posts were unedited, and grammatically rough, and that it was primarily therapy, and that they and about eight other people are the only ones who really care to read these silly musings! (that would include you, mom!)

We scrolled through history, them reading over my shoulder, listening as I read the words with my voice. I couldn't help choking up as we remembered Zackie, our cat. We shivered a bit as we remembered the snow and the cold of the farm. It was hard to believe I had little Rose out there learning to milk when she was how old??? We remembered Julie, the fairy godmother, taking the kids to DC. We remembered my post written in Gopalpur, India. We remembered baby goats and GGGRACE with growly moms who are cold and tired of winter. Crepes in the backyard. Scorpions at campsites.

Yesterday was the new moon. On new moons these days I like to make my wishes as we enter a new phase of the calendar. One of my wishes was that we would know contentment in our family. That we would have emotional connections. That we would remember who we were and grow into the bigger who we are.

I feel rich beyond description, and more grateful than I could ever write for the life I have. Setting that intention has brought us back to some sweetness we truly needed. How lucky I am. I love my jobs. I love my kids. I see miracles most every day, in one weird form or another.

Oh, and we have bunnies, in the backyard, in a hutch behind the chicken coop. Petunia has pulled her fur to make a fluffy lining for her little nest box. Black Beauty has not, but maybe tomorrow? The Amerecaunas keep flying over the chicken yard fence and ate the new broccoli and brussel sprouts I set out. Nothing new there, since that seems to happen most years for the last seven or eight years! The Johnson grass in the vineyard continues to be my guru, and I wonder if maybe this week? Next month? I will try the puff pastry recipe Holly gave me on Facebook the other day. The sun is clear and bright, and with the troubles that come our way, the heartbreaks and the loneliness, we are given such a sweet cup.