Saturday, April 22, 2017

Once a Farmer...

As I ready for bed this evening, I hear the sound of chirpy, purry little voices in the greenhouse, right outside my kitchen window.

I have 20 geese, toulouse and french toulouse, 9 pekin ducks and 24 cornish cross chicks brooding away. They each have their little zone, with feed, shavings, water and warmth. The past two days I have herded the week old geese out to the yard, put them in behind my grapevines that grow outside the bakery window. Grass and weeds were about 8 or 9 inches tall. After a day of munching, the grass was down about 75%!!! And the goslings were purring in contentment, doing what they like to do best.

I bought the goslings to aid me in vineyard management. They love to eat grass. The vineyard I tend has plenty of grass and we choose to avoid chemicals. I am delighted beyond words as I see the adorable creatures go to town on grass eating.

It is a harsh, or perhaps I should say, a wonderful reality that these geese will eventually, at least most of them, become a sustainably, humanely raised source of protein for a family. I give them lots of space in their greenhouse bedroom. I gently and lovingly direct them to their weed eating day school, preparing them for vineyard work. All the weeds and grass I pull from the garden go to them for afternoon snacks. I will work to make them a home at the vineyard that will hopefully protect them from hungry predators. Well. Yes, I guess I am a predator.

I gratefully eat meat. Thankful, as I know that when I go without meat for awhile, I get so hungry. I have tried vegetarian lifestyle for a time, and it is quite hard. I gain weight. I am hungry all the time. When I eat small amounts of meat on a regular basis, I feel less ravenous.

What to do?

I have chosen to raise at least a portion of our meat. Letting these creatures, even in a suburban setting, live a life that is humane, with peace, good food and room to roam. Iknow there is a cost to the meat on my plate.

I like knowing that the vineyard will feed geese and ducks that will feed us. I like knowing that our meat will involve very little extra fuel, compared to feedlot beef or factory chicken. I like knowing that the grapes will be free of residues from gas weedeaters and poisonous herbicides and pesticides.

It feels right to me, anyway.

And having the farm thing going, here in the middle of our small town, feels like a gift.

Who would've thunk it? I was so sad when we left the farm. I thought that all that learning was going to go to waste when we moved to town.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday, not exactly like other Maundy Thursdays in our past, but still quite relevant...

Maggie came home today.

She arrived an hour or so before bakery opened to customers. Tired girl, wishing for a nap after a super long drive, we hugged her hello and suggested she head to bed. I could barely stop to say hello, we were in the throes of bakery prep. The final loaves of italian were kneaded and formed and scored, thrown into the super hot oven with giant splashes of water to create a steam bath. I pureed the vegetarian stock and white bean soup with sage leaves and cream. Counted out the swiss chard pies. Stirred a buttery raspberry glaze for the spelt pound cakes.

Maggie put up her hair and joined Theo, Rose and I in the maelstrom that is bakery day.

I loved how she couldn't resist!

She glazed and topped the adorable poundcakes with raspberries. She bagged and stirred. Theo washed dishes and she and Rose jarred up soup and sourdough starter for waffle mixes. Nora did whatever I asked.

I put on a clean apron, grabbed the cream cheese, a stick of butter, a couple of organic oranges, some honey, and threw them all into the mixer.

Today I launched a new cake.

Sometimes I feel like a machine. I crank out all the favorite breads, never can bake enough, and end up exhausted, done in, content, grateful, but hungry to create.

Last night I scrounged and patched together one recipe and another, finally coming up with something that fit our operation.
A honey rye cake, made with orange juice, coconut oil, freshly milled rye flour, this and that. As soon as I licked the bowl I thought I might have a winner.

After it came out of the oven, I knew it.

We sold pretty much everything. We worked together hard, we worked together well. After the customers were gone and dishes cleaned up, I put out some pizza dough and the girls cooked it up. Some of their friends came over and after the pizza, they found some strawberries and needed to nosh a bit more. Maggie pulled out the leftover cream cheese frosting and we dipped in our strawberries.

We oohed. We aahed. We licked fingers. We said, omg, this is so good. The girls lauded me and praised me and ate more and basically made me feel like a rock star.

We envisioned a future storefront bakery, an adorable space, big glass windows, Mom's artwork decorating the walls. Breads,
omelets, soups, and Orangey Spicey Little Honey Rye cake on the menu, with a pot of that cream cheesey taste of heaven on hand for people who need a little something.

I felt so much joy and love in that tired moment with my girls. Such a sensuous moment. The taste, the texture, the sound of laughter, the flour covered surfaces and sound of the oven in the background.

Truly could not think of a single other thing I would need to make me happy right now.

Oh, and for the record, I had better write down the recipe off the batter stained back of an envelope, in case I should wish to replicate it someday.

Orangey Spicey, Little Honey Cake (Girls tell me I should not add rye to the name because people think they don't like rye, and if they just taste and see, they will love the cake for sure and slowly get over their aversion and prejudicial bent regarding rye, that humble and lovely grain...)

4 c freshly milled rye flour
3 tsp alum. free baking pdr
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt i use redmonds real
1 1/2 -2 TBS cinnamon
1 tbsp powdered ginger (I think to really gild the lily I should mince fresh ginger to add to the dried, maybe a knob the size of a thumb?)
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 c sucanat
1 c organic coconut oil (the refined is okay, butter good also, but extra virgin, with the smell of coconut is worth the expense)
1 c honey, raw, if you can get it
2-3 eggs depending on size
3 tsp vanilla
2 tsp orange extract
1 c freshly juiced oj if you have oranges in season, or good juice from the store. but fresh, with some pulp super good
1/2 c yogurt
1/2 c milk
zest of two oranges

Mix the dry, mix the wet. Beat the wet ingredients until beautifully creamy, gently stir in the dry. To tell you the truth, I add the dry ingredients minus the flour, beat it all well, and then add the flour. Hate to use two bowls, I do enough dishes.

Grease and flour pans, or use muffin tin liners. With this recipe I made six mini bundt cakes, a tin of cup cakes, and a pretty mold pan for our family.

350 until the middle is just set.

Most Amazing Cream Cheese Spread Ever (AKA orangey cream cheesey goodness)

16oz good cream cheese
1 stick butter
juice of half an orange
1/2 tsp orange extract
zest of 1 orange
1/4 c sucanat
1/4 c honey or to taste (the cake is sweet, we don't make this very sweet, but it is fairly easy to taste and test as you go, adjusting. Better to add bit by bit. )
Beat and beat and beat until completely and beautifully whipped. This makes plenty for cakes and leftover to stash in a pint jar in the fridge for late night snacks. Using strawberries. Or fingers. Above cake, baked into layers, frosted with this spread, topped with lovely, edible, in season flowers, might just be one of the best things ever.

I grated nutmeg and more orange zest over our little frosted cakes and they looked so pretty. More importantly, they tasted great. And while not exactly low cal, they were filled with real food. Eggs from the free range chickens, wonderful yogurt, good fats for the brain, and not a single chemical or weird additive in sight.

This recipe is not double tested, could include typos, might not work with your oven. But if you know how to bake a cake, I bet you could make it work. If you wish, you could halve the sweetener, add applesauce to take the place of some of the fat. It is def. not low carb. PLenty of room for improv...

After being a bit bored with my baking, it was fun to whip up a keeper that brought sighs of delight to my daughters. Love my job. Love my kids. Pretty grateful.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A record, or Yes, I believe in the all manner of flavors.

Yesterday a friend dropped off two large bunches of asparagus crowns. Jersey Giants.

I tried asparagus last year but neglected to water the crowns sufficiently. They died.

I dug a couple of trenches this morning. Amended the soil. Watered the new crowns in. Promised to be more faithful.
As I tended the other garden beds, harvested some fertilizer (aka chicken manure), watered the new fig tree and the blackberry vines that survived, I wistfully caressed the raspberry canes I planted last year. A friend gave them to me. A variety that thrives well here in our town. I placed them in a shady area of the yard, acid soil, and then neglected to water them all winter long.

Everyone else's raspberry canes have been leafed out for a couple weeks. Mine were dry and dead as could be. I began to water them a couple of weeks ago, hope is the last to die. I felt remorse, regret and disappointment in myself.

Imagine my delight this morning when I noticed tiny little specks of green, brand new baby leaves!

They are alive!!!

Yesterday I stuck some eggplants into their new home. Daddy and Mom came over to get a bucket of our special homegrown fertilizer. We walked the garden, as is our custom. Jalapenos have blossoms. Two of the six tomato plants have babies, almost the size of a ping pong ball, pale green and firm. Japanese pickling cucumbers have sprouted out third and fourth leaves. The first green beans, provider, are bushy and near blooming. The pole beans are poking their heads out of the ground in the front.
Arugula must not be appealing to the little birds in our neighborhood, I have a terrific stand coming on. As for the tatsoi,
spinach and chard, well. Planted more yesterday, hope the little birds have other things to tempt them this go around. Cilantro, marigolds, zinnias, oh my, they are coming up everywhere. So are the leeks. Pomegranates have lovely blooms making my mouth water for special summertime drinks to go with the baby limes that are bursting forth on the lime tree, happy to be back outside.

Last night Nora and I took Mom and Dad out to dinner to celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary. They have defied the odds.
On many levels. They told us all sorts of stories, we laughed, we ate delicious food, we smiled, we remembered. I count myself blessed on many levels. All levels, really. I remember when Philip and I married, he was 33, I was 25. When things got hard, we reminded ourselves how much we wished to pass on to our kids the legacy my parents and grandparents passed on to me.
We would have passed our 25th past December, only made it to 18th when he died.

I have grieved innumerable things since he died. But last night I realized that my kids get to witness this legacy of long life love as we share stories, memories, as they see the way my parents love each other even now. Not perfectly, as in conflict, trouble free, but perfectly secure and sound. I am grateful. Their move to Alpine makes this so much more possible. I pray that they will know friendships and love, whatever flavor, that will stick around, and when things seem dead, they won't be too quick to give up. There just might be green leaves about to sprout if they just get a few nice long drinks of water...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Gentle Reminders

After a long day taking care of boring accounting and quarterly sales tax for the bakery, I prepared our family dinner. After we finished up, Nora began to tackle the dishes and asked if I were going to go out for my evening walk.

I paused, it was eight pm, I wanted to crawl into bed and read a book.

She gently suggested that if I were to stay home, it would be very easy to get out of the habit of evening fresh air and exercise.


I agreed and headed out the door.

The cooler evening air and gentle breeze greeted me kindly. The pink, rosy wash over the mountains soothed my spirit. The sound of the peepers in the draw on the edge of the golf course made me think of the farm. The sound of baseball bats and kids at practice and the sight of couples walking their dogs made me grateful to be a part of a community.

I breathed in. I breathed out. I felt the cool air as it came into my nose. I smelled all sorts of living smells as the wildflowers are popping out here and there. The sight of a bounding deer made me feel alive. As I neared the end of my two mile circuit I saw the giant moon ascend over Hancock Hill. She was so lovely, I gasped. I had forgotten!

How lucky I am to have these kids who make my world better.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Wind

Occasionally wind blows in and likes our town so much she decides to stick around for a day or two.

I realize she is an important guest. Yes, I do not take her cooling breezes and gifts of weather change for granted.

But geez. How temperamental. She moans, she howls, she pounds my windows and slams my doors.

She blows off a few roofs, knocks down a fence or two, and basically has this way of seeing all sorts of our vulnerable spots. Not just seeing them, to take us aside, discreetly let us know where we might need to focus a bit of work. No. It is as if she takes some delight in exposing those tasks we need to work on, saying, you have procrastinated long enough, gal. Get to it! Fix that roof! Fix that fence! Don't leave pots laying around!

Noisy, brash. Leaving behind a cloud of dust hanging in the air, as we pause and notice the silence and begin to untangle our hair from her stay.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Resilience, Please? Keep Moving Forward, finding moments of delight everyday, feelings don't define me.....

A big flock of little birds ate my swiss chard seedlings.

The chives are blooming purple pompoms. The sage is exploding in purple bouquets. The rogue larkspur shoots out delicate, purple butterflies. They saw the wisteria and grew jealous. She sat back to take a break from center stage to give her companions a chance to shine.

The oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear, at least I think so. I planted a little patch of silver queen corn. Watered it in.

Theo and the kids helped me move giant playmobil world out of the greenhouse. We are preparing the nursery for babies. Cornish cross chicks, that will provide chicken dinners for my family. Pekin ducks to provide bug eating services and future protein sources for the family, and toulous goslings for vineyard weed eating.

When I showed Theo the broken down fence, and cried, she rolled up her sleeves, confident that the two of us could tackle the problem and win.

The big posts that were set decades ago into concrete have thoroughly rotted. The fence first fell a month ago, and kids propped it up with boards until a moment came.

Yesterday was the moment.

Necessity is a catalyst for resiliency. Not enough finances to replace rotten fence, we managed the best way possible. The two of us shoved, pushed and heaved the section into a lovely upright position. I scrounged for wire and we wired the fence up to three big swing posts. I grimaced at our rogue, feminine approach to home maintenance, thinking of the many men who might laugh at our efforts. I defied anyone to criticize our methods. I grimaced, until I saw how sturdily the fence stood. How inexpensive and thorough the repair.

We laughed and clapped hands at our ingenious manner of trouble shooting. And moved on toward more pressing tasks.

Then I spent a good bit of the afternoon sad, weepy and miserable, wishing to return to farm life, hard as it was, wishing to return to cheesemaking and dinner parties and peepers. Knowing there is no going back, only forward, I changed clothes, went to St. James Episcopal for a Taize service. First time in church in months. I volunteered my mom to play the piano for the contemplative chants. Candles were lit. We sung. We listened to readings, from scripture, from Rumi, from an ancient Buddhist teacher, another piece attributed to a Ute leader. We sat in silence. I breathed.

I don't have the wish to return to church full time at this point in my life. Which is a more personal story than I care to share right now. But the Taize service was a gift to me. Sharing music with my mom, giving her some insight into contemplative prayer and chanting was a gift.

Monday, March 20, 2017

We Keep Changing Things Up

As many of you know, St Patrick's Day is a pretty huge family ritual day for our family. The Irish roots run deep and it seemed like a way we could touch our heritage.

And no, not by drinking green beer under a leprechaun poster! Years ago I found a lovely picture book about St. Patrick written and illustrated by one of our favs, Tomie de Paolo. Back in the early homeschooling days, we cut out potatoes into stamps with three leaf clovers and celtic cross. We made a green and gold tablecloth out of an old white sheet. Said tablecloth is still in existence, but we forgot to use it this year. Every year we would invite stacks of little friends over for a big tea party, with cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, fruit, of course loads of homemade soda bread and jam, the special porcelain tea cups, followed by family dinner of corned beef and cabbage. Every year we would read aloud the story of St. Patrick, one of our heroes, and be grateful for his life.

One year we even took our feast and table cloth with us to Big Bend National Park, all the way from Ft. Worth, our home at the time, and celebrated in the Chisos Mountains, savoring our hot tea in the cool spring mountain air.

The past few years we have had kids go different directions and to tell the truth, it always felt a bit painful as we tried to reinvent this tradition.

This year, I was busy at work when I realized I forgot to buy corned beef. Never mind. We had soda bread. We took it and a bunch of fresh brussels sprouts to mom and dad's place. No tablecloth...But we sauteed cabbage with onions and bacon, probably more irish than corned beef anyway! Rose went to the garden with Dad and they picked a huge bowl of kale which I sauteed with garlic and olive oil. A bunch of buttery leaf lettuce and ruby red radishes for salad. We sat at the table, thankful, plates filled with nutritious, beautiful green stuff, grown and prepared with love.

What more could we wish for?

Seemed pretty awesome to me. But for goodness sake! Next year, please help me remember to carry over the tablecloth!!! And for Daddy and Thomas's sake, we had better cook some potatoes!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Few of My Favorite Things

We ran away to Big Bend National Park for a few days this spring break. A site near the Rio Grande, great views of Sierra del Carmen in Mexico and the Chisos Mountains to the west. Shorts weather, a bit breezy, perfect for sleeping outdoors.

The coyotes yipped and screamed in the not too far distance. The remote paths and roads were crawling with visitors from all over the world. Sometimes we locals get a bit impatient when we have to deal with traffic jams in the middle of our special place. Then I think about all those people, enjoying the amazing outdoors, breathing the fresh air, especially all those college kids. They could be sitting in their dark apartments in the city, faces glowing in blue white isolation. Instead, they are climbing, delighting, exploring, sharing days with friends, making real connections.

For years I have had to fight to find desert solitude. Planning, preparing, phone calls, just to get everyone squared away so I could find the space to breathe by myself.

This year I rushed down to the park a day early to prepare base camp. Kids weren't ready to go, they wanted to meet me next day. So did my parents.

No problem for me! I carried down food for two armies, got situated, watched the full moon rise, felt crazy nature energy, read books, slept late.

They all trickled in the next afternoon, we worked together preparing a giant meal. My dad and Rose sat and helped me scoop out seeds from a couple dozen jalapenos. Then they filled them with cream cheese and garlic. I grilled them and some venison fajitas. Along with plenty of red peppers and onions. We made a giant bowl of fresh pico de gallo, see recipe below. Tortillas warmed on the grill, filled with good things. Mom took pictures and breathed inspiration for future paintings.

A hike down to the Rio Grande, rock skipping, rock throwing over to Mexico (Thank God no one has gotten around to putting up a wall yet!) and a sunset that cast pink and lavender glow over the universe as we knew it.

Plenty more fun, but by the next afternoon, everyone decided to go their separate ways. All of a sudden, I found myself alone. And I didn't even have to work for it.

I gave half a thought to going back home to work. Camp site was reserved for two more nights. I decided to stay.

It felt weird.

Not being alone. I have no problem with the quiet.

What felt weird was reality sinking in that my kids are growing up and moving on. They like to go camping with their pals. They enjoy their time with me, but it is as it should be. From me they learned to love the Big Bend, now they love to show it off to their friends.

I get this inkling I won't be fighting so hard to grab some solitude. I get this inkling I will have to fight hard to make family campouts happen. It is a battle worth fighting.

We made some super sweet memories. I enjoyed some time in my healing place and read three books plus quite a bit poetry. Managed to get back home and fit a week's worth of work into four days and still work in my garden.

Tradition. How many spring breaks have we enjoyed in the Big Bend? I don't know, but it feels right and good, no matter what flavor or constellation.

Pico de Gallo, my dad's recipe

*one onion, minced finely. Any onion good, but a red onion is super yummy
*two or three tomatoes, chopped finely
*one or two jalapenos, minced. Here's a little secret: when you shop for jalapenos, we have noticed that the ones with a blunt end are less spicy than the peppers with a pointed end! Why don't you test our hypothesis?!
*juice of two limes, or more, to your taste, we love lime!
*two or three cloves garlic, minced
*one bunch cilantro, chopped finely
*salt to taste

Stir together, try to wait until flavors blend together. If you can. We find that we have to taste for salt, for lime, and before you know it, half the bowl and half a bag of corn tortilla chips has disappeared into thin air!

Friday, March 10, 2017

We Have Everything Inside of Us, even when things look wintery and barren...

Oh my. It has been so warm, the fig trees have leafed out. Baby figs are so adorable. To think, all winter long, those leaves and figs were tucked in nicely, well-hidden in the smooth, gray branches. Seeing them, exposed, vulnerable, makes me worry a bit. A hard freeze would definitely do them in. If I were well prepared, I could cover the large trees with giant tarps, and put a little lamp or something underneath. That might help protect them.

No freeze in the near forecast. Fingers crossed.

Dreaming of Ginger Figgy Tarts in the bakery.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Record.

Evening before last I planted a bed with Provider green beans. An heirloom variety supposedly good for germinating in cooler soils. And planted another bed with danvers carrots. The wisteria are in full bloom and the air is perfumed by the old fashioned scent. I am tempted to take the olive tree and the lime tree to their summer positions on the gazebo, but let's be real! We are in the high desert and frosts hit intermittently until early May. So I know some of my gardening is a gamble, but with sheets, thermal cloth and crossed fingers, plus some global warming trends, I figure a bit of a gamble isn't going to cost me so much.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Medicine. Good Nutrition.

Yesterday I didn't have to go into work until noontime. That left me some morning choices! Clean house, work on paperwork, or garden.

Yes! I made the right choice!! Spinach, tatsoi, arugula, chard, some herbs, a few tomatoes and one jalapeno, stuck in a warm microcosm part of the backyard, as a gamble.

I felt more energized and happy than I had in a long time. Energetic enough to take a two mile walk with Nora, cook dinner, and then clean the kitchen and mop the filthy floor.

Growing food is good for my soul. I am grateful for the window of opportunity.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Happy Bouquets Decorate My House Again (On why living in far, southwest Texas is a good idea for me)

The wisteria, bare branches, a bit scraggly, throw out buds and flowers, in defiance. Defiance of what? she asks. The red bud, stuck in between bare limbed, scraggly pomegranate and naked Rose of Sharon, brags flamboyantly, hot pink buds glowing in the backyard.

Spring takes me by surprise, every year a wonder. Just about the time I think I can bear the dark of winter not one day longer, she gently takes me by the face, turns me around, reminds me, indeed, signs of the resurrection are all around. The red catawba grapevine I planted last spring, along with the two champagne grapevines (not for champagne, but for adorable, tiny little grapes) are now unfurling their bright green leaves. Chives in the herb garden are standing up straight, letting me know they would love to be sprinkled on some deviled eggs. Hens are back in business, thank goodness! Each day I am happy to receive their payment for room and board in a basket of pink and tan and robins egg blue eggs, which will feed me omelets and will make cookies for the bakery, and pound cakes for girls.

I don't really feel like smiling on the outside. But my insides are quite thankful for the friendly seasonal reminder to keep moving forward.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Must Be Spring?

The other day I found a perfectly lovely nest, nestled in the vines I was pruning. Silvery strands of weeds, golden grasses, shredded grocery store plastic bags, all gently woven together into a transitory sculpture that gave me delight.

I called Theo and Rose, we paused our labors for a moment to smile.

A few days later, we continued our work, pruning the vines before bud break. Theo called my attention to a painted bunting, perched on the fence. A few yards away, a large flock, the village, fluttered and danced. I was surprised to see so many of those little gems. They must be journeying from their warm winter holidays. I wonder where they summer?

Tuesday I drove home at dusk from my journey to Odessa for a six month check up with the oncologist. When back, I poured myself a glass of wine and walked around the backyard, feeding the chickens, fixing their fence from foxy marauders, watered some plants. Dozens of vultures swirled and swayed in the evening sky, colorful sunset, dusty air refracting the pink and gold. I called Nora out. She joined me and we sat in the swing, feeling warm and calm.

One night last week I drove home at dark. Something swirled and rolled in the middle of the street. As I grew closer, the headlights revealed a couple of foxes, in flagrante delicto. They were so involved in their moment of delight, they didn't move from the street until I was right upon them.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


For years, I prepared a Valentine's feast for the family. Once we had a few kids and an injured mother in law to care for, it seemed torturous to consider going out for dinner date, facing the masses on a greeting card manufactured holiday created to feed the consumer machine. We love French bistro food, so I decorated the table with tablecloth, candles, the fancy china and silver, cut out red and pink hearts, and lovingly prepared steak, true pommes frites, a salad and queen of sheba cake, a divine, ground almonds and dark chocolate confection.

Philip and I would share champagne and red wine, and it felt like true love, offering the gift of myself to the kids and my husband and the addition of a mother in law occasionally. Nothing contrived, or artificial, just sweet tradition.

The frites were a pain to make, the precision slicing, the twice frying, the mess of the stove afterword! But seeing the faces of my dear ones, my true loves, sitting around a beautiful table, made it worth all the work.

Then he died, ten days after Valentine's day.

I tried to keep up the tradition, but it felt like blackness, as the grief would swirl and none of us would know how to be, without his presence there anymore. We kept trying, but after moving here, we tried to change it up a few years. A couple of times we went to a dance in Valentine, TX on Valentine's day. That was kind of fun, but the kids were miserable, because their orbit felt thrown off by the change. They did something with friends one year, and I went camping to Big Bend by myself for a couple of nights, books of poetry and a cooler of good food, hungry for the romance of the solitude in the desert. That was pretty awesome, and felt good.

This year, my parents are with us.

I felt a real desire to bless my family, different flavor, same love, with our old tradition, a few twists. I decorated the table, set out lovely dishes, the real silver, lots of candles. Rose and Nora are vegetarians. Hmmm. Suddenly the steak frites seems like the wrong feast for this family. I made a pasta spinach alfredo, braised broccoli with lots of garlic the way Nora likes, sauteed green beans the way Rose likes, Rosemary slow roasted chicken legs, the way Thomas and I like.

Mom and Dad came over, the six of us, grateful around the table, love and beauty and Beethoven on the record player. Champagne for me and Dad. Pomegranate juice for mom and the kids.

As a gift, I did the cleanup, Frank crooning on vinyl, peace, hope, joy filled my heart. Very lovely memories of days of yore, all the different flavored ones. Philip memories, memories with the good man I dated here, and ways we tried to navigate the old and new, oh, so complicated, but also rich. And now new ways of making memories with my kids, who are quickly growing up and flying away, and my parents, this tender and vulnerable season in their life, joined up with ours, oh, how good!

Sometimes I want to be cynical about romance. Especially in conjunction with manufactured holidays that leave many of us feeling lonely and alone.

But then I change my mind! I want to embrace the opportunity to show love to my loved ones! Why not? Life is short. It is sweet to give my dear family a moment of romance, even if it isn't the kind of romance based on the pure definition involving eros. I just want to offer them a sensuous meal, rich in the senses, have them feel lavishly offered the gift of beauty and good food, a nice scattering of chocolate.

It feels really good to be where I am in life right now.

Perhaps that sounds crazy, when I occasionally offer up cries of lament. A mixed bag.

I grieve the world of politics and the strife. I grieve the pain of many of my friends in their life situations. I grieve our own losses. Perhaps that is why I felt extra thankful this year as we sat around our dining room table and offered our prayer of gratitude. I can't imagine anything else I could have wanted on that day and moment in time.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Get Me Through February

Winds came in last night. Clear sunny days with temperatures in the high 80s abruptly shifted to weather much more suited to my mood. Gray. Mountains shrouded by dusty cold pall. Howling in the trees, leaving me to grab a sweater.

Seems like most of the entire year is one memory, one season, one painful tradition that is no more, leading up to February 25th.

The day that caused such a rent in the fabric of our life, I still don't know who I am.

We find our moments of joy. I have meaning. Purpose. Love of my children, love of my parents. Work that is intentional. Spiritual riches. And a pain that stays under the surface part of the time, welling during those moments when there seems to be a thinness between this world and the next.

I find myself a bit short with people this time of year. Tears held inside by a stiff, harsh face. Work requires double the effort. I feel hungry. Empty. Don't wish to see people. It just wells up, like a trickling spring, the source buried deep down under all the layers.

So. Seven years. Why the hell did we have to have so many family rituals? So many happy moments all together? Such a confidence in the middle of the hard that we would always be there for each other? Even the bad moments turning into times of redemption.

I comfort myself in the belief that the deeper the ability to feel the pain, the deeper the ability to feel joy. I have hope. It grows dim, especially in February, but stays alive, with little breaths of grace that fan the little ember growing pale.

The pain is raw. Visceral. I guess if you have been there, you know what I am talking about. If you haven't, that seems rather melodramatic and you have no patience for me.

I let myself feel love again after he died. Twice. Am proud for making myself vulnerable and open. Now my love is offered to my family. The constant and true. Working to keep my heart soft, even though it is quite tempting to harden off, protecting myself from the inevitable. Every once in awhile a song come on that helps keep me tender. I am thankful for others sharing their tenderness with me. If you get a chance, take a listen to Allison Kraus's song, Get Me Through December. It is lovely.

And never fear, worry not. We have found that when the pain rolls in, if we give it a name, honor it, it doesn't wreck near the havoc as when we try to ignore it and pretend he isn't in the room. Speaking it out seems to lessen my pain several degrees.

How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain
As the changing of seasons prepares me again
For the long bitter nights and the wild winter's day
My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
My heart has grown cold my love stored away.

I've been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow
where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go
I've taken the pain no girl should endure
But faith can move mountains, of that I am sure
Faith can move mountains, of that I am sure

Just get me through december
A promise I'll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again.

No Divine purpose brings freedom from sin
And peace is a gift that must come from within.
I've looked for the love that will bring me to rest
Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest
Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest.

Just get me through December
A promise I'll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again.

I've been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow
where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go
I've taken the pain no girl should endure
But faith can move mountains, of that I am sure.
But faith can move mountains, of that I am sure.

Get me through December...

Sung by Allison Kraus, written by Fred Lavery and Gordy Sampson

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Furies

So much pain. So much fear. So much anger.

I have a lot of acquaintances and many dear friends. They cover the entire spectrum of the political realm, a pretty large spectrum of the religious world, and as far as gender, sexuality, north or south upbringing, rural, urban, sports lovers and haters, well, you name it.

All these people make for a broad, interesting, never boring life.

We all disagree on at least a few things. I realize I am way too left leaning for comfort for many of my friends from church and seminary days. If they only knew I couldn't even vote for Hillary, she is too conservative for me! (Was happy to vote for Jill, sorry not sorry...)And then I think about how I am too centrist for many of my feminist friends, with whom I actually agree on most things, just don't always speak as loudly.

I wish we could all find a way to feel safe enough to be able to express our feelings.

I have noticed in my own personal life that when I feel the least heard, when I feel the most disregarded, when I feel the most marginalized is when my voice begins to rise, my blood pressure pumps, and peripheral vision dims. What to do?

I can run away, find a place where I don't have to ever speak to anyone, see anyone who disagrees with me, oh, wait! I do do that sometimes, haha! But what I have found that seems to work better is to go find the quiet place first.

It is so hard to hear someone else when I feel I am not being heard. Gosh, it took several years of marriage and quite a few counseling session for Philip and me to learn how to take turns. We learned to recognize if the voice begins to rise, there might be something deeper underneath the disagreement that is connected to some kind of deep pain or shame. We learned to show each other compassion, and while we always found something to disagree on, the kids will tell you that sometime in 2003 we quit fighting. And what is funny, around that time, probably because I felt safe and secure, my politics began to evolve in a direction they always leaned but I was too afraid to go, being in a fundamentalist, southern baptist ministry.

Philip's politics evolved in the opposite direction. We laughed as we would drive to the polls to vote, knowing that we cancelled each other out. And felt safe, respected, loved, and understood.

And wondered how it would all shake out as the kids grew old enough to vote!

I am sad to hear that there are violent protests happening after the inauguration. I am sad to hear so many people write shameful things suggesting that it is time for Obama and his wife to go back to Africa. Wow. It is all bad. It makes my stomach churn and my heart pound. So many of my dear friends are thrilled about this turn in American history, and I and many others are concerned and discomforted by the fact that a racist, misogynistic man who delights in sexually assaulting pretty women, and whom we cannot trust to follow through on his promises is now in office. He is a loose cannon, and the fact is, in a nation as divided and afraid as we are, it is only logical that two rather extreme options were the only true options on the ballot this year. And yes, I realize that many of my friends did not vote the man, but voted the party, and I respect that, even as I disagree.

I trust that as things shake down, life won't go quite as horribly as we fear with this new captain at the helm. I trust that we will wake up, and find that violence begets violence, and peace begets peace.

Perhaps if a few of us will take time to listen, which is VERY hard to do!!!, we might hear the underlying pain that is the reason behind the extreme positions. I am not saying we need to sit down and shut up. Merely offering the thought that pausing to hear the other position might give us some understanding and a way to stop some of the violence. Because hear me well, there are many acts of violence being perpetrated this week and no windows are being broken as a result. Verbal barrages, demeaning, harsh, mocking criticisms can be very devastating, and do nothing but fuel the fire. And I confess there have been moments when, shamefacedly I have to admit, I have been one of the perpetrators...

Oh, how I regret the times I was too hot to listen. Sometimes it seems so unfair to have to be the grownup. But if not me, then who?

The winds are howling and seem to be the perfect backdrop for the howling of millions of people right now. Howling in pain. Howling in fear. Howling because of injustice, because of pride, because of money, because of lost love, lost dignity, lost time.

Oh, please, Holy Spirit, you mysterious, wondrous, inexplicable force, help ME to be a light, to be truth, to know when to speak and act and when to sit down and pause. Not sit down and shut up, but sit down and breathe.

PS in a short bit, the girls and I are going to join a sister Women's march up Hancock Hill. Will try to figure out how to copy my FB post, which stirred up quite a bit of dissension and anger, surprisingly. How is it that everything tied to women happens to end up with violent discussions on abortion and baby dismemberment???

Monday, January 16, 2017

Just Like Old Times

Patrick and Maggie came home from Austin to run in the Big Bend Ultra. This was their sixth year to participate. Rose's fifth. The three of them ran the 30k. They each got medals in their divisions. Most of all they had fun, running in this part of the world we call home, within a stone's throw of the Rio Grande and Mexico, surrounded by jagged mountains that look like the profile of princesses, indian chiefs, and wild animals. Can it be six years? Can it be that this region is home to us now?

The day before the race I begged, or was that ordered? cajoled? asked kindly? the kids to join me on a pecan pickup. We have four pecans trees on our property. The nuts are abundant this year. I told the kids I believed it to be a sin to let the delicious, buttery source of nutrients rot on the ground. I told them I needed those pecans to use in the bakery, and to feed us. I can live off pecans, toasted in a cast iron skillet with a little butter and sea salt if we run out of all other foods.

Back on the farm we had many opportunities to work together as a family in food harvesting mode. Cherry picking, chicken butchering, corn shucking. Even the barn cleaning maintenance was seen as one of many vital steps that brought our food and income to us.

Typically the chore would start with complaining, grousing, shuffling of feet, and a sudden sense of urgency to clean one's room. Eventually we would find our family groove and the job would lead to bonding and closeness.

The kids are growing and going their separate ways and we have few opportunities to do brutal bonding over big jobs. The sunny day morphed into clouds and mist. We gathered buckets. We put on jackets. We dove in, or rather sank to our knees to gather the many nuts.

The work was steady. We quickly covered a great deal of ground, five of us, instead of poor little ole me. An hour later, the ground was cleared of pecans, and we had almost four five gallon buckets filled with brown gold.

Kids went on about their own business but I heard the call of the backyard, and spent the rest of the day gathering trash, raking, pulling out the old zinnias and sunflowers in anticipation of spring. It felt great. Patrick and I burned stuff. We had one rather dramatic moment when he looked at me, I looked at him, we both looked at the small christmas tree drying out on the edge of the yard, and remembered days of yore on the farm. Yeah, I know we shouldn't have. But it was sprinkling outside, no danger of wildfire spreading, and I guess we needed a little drama in our lives, remembering the crazy bonfires out at the farm in the good old days. He poised the small tree, upright in the firepit and whoosh! The flames soared to the sky in a primal, soul stirring rush.

In a moment, flames were gone, and we looked at each other a bit sheepishly, amused by our need to create a little stir, even if only for a couple of seconds. Too bad Thomas wasn't there to enjoy!

Next day we enjoyed our trip to Big Bend State Park. My parents joined. They came down to watch the kids last year. It was a marked difference, this trip. Their health has diminished. My dad is dealing with the shock of dementia, creeping into our life, stealing away his ability to remember how to drive, to cook our favorite foods, to work certain machines. He didn't feel well. But we managed, and were thankful to be together.

Funny how everything changes and yet some things remain the same forever and always. Daddy can remember stories of watching his grandmother age, curious about what it is like to grow old. He was quite young when she moved in with his family. He can remember childhood moments on the farm. He can remember falling in love with mom. He is very aware when he can't remember. And we are all feeling unsteady, wondering if a diagnosis would offer any stability? Would it help if we knew which part of the brain was clearly functioning? And which one was growing weaker?

We are seeing doctors. Working every health angle possible. And adjusting. I told daddy that I remember how to make his special meals, since he did such a good job of teaching me. Mom is learning to adjust to being the driver, the phone caller, the primary cook. We are learning a new dance. Or is it a very old one? I get this niggling thought that we know the dance, it is stored in our DNA. We might stumble a bit, grouse, complain. It isn't always very pretty, this coming together, scrounging for our purpose, whether picking up pecans, driving to doctors, clearing out uhauls and barns. But it is rich. And nourishing. And embedded in the moments are gleaming diamonds of joy. And love.

Oh, now how in the world am I gonna get those kids to help me shell and pick out so many pecans??? And after the big rain and wind storm, I bet there are another five gallons newly dropped. Tomorrow is another day.....

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Tide Has Turned

Monday I went to tend the chickens. It is frustrating to tend chickens during the winter months when they molt and pause egg production. Our ten girls went on a three month hiatus. I had to buy eggs for the bakery! For my omelets! Something told me to give a look in the egg boxes.

Sure enough! Eggs! Pink, tan, olive, robin's egg blue. My omelet this week was dark orange colored instead of insipid pale yellow.

Temperatures rose to the 80's. Work kept me from my garden, but watch out! I will be there soon enough.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Village

Have you noticed how quickly one's body can succumb to a cold or some other crazy virus? I did hard manual labor at the vineyard for a couple of days, so thankful for strong body and healthy mind.

I was good tired, and thankful. Sunkissed, receiving the blessings from being out in creation, etc, etc. As I drove back down the mountain to take my dad home and get to work in the bakery, the exhaustion felt different. I stopped to get some fuel for the truck and fuel for the humans. All of a sudden, every cell in my body seemed to cry out in agony. When we got back to Mom and Dad's house, I was shivering with cold, alternating with hot, stinging waves. So strange.

I drove myself home, fell into bed and barely got out for 36 hours. It felt like I would never walk again, let alone work hard in the vineyard! The girls brought me tea, glasses of water. I tossed and turned, flipped and flopped, moaned and groaned.

How deliciously melodramatic, says she, sarcastically!

I was pretty miserable. And thought about how grateful I hope to be during the moments of excellent health. Which is how my life typically is, excellent health, an occasional headache, a cold every once in awhile, but otherwise just fine, thank you.

Too sick to read. Too sick to write. Too sick to enjoy tv.

What a waste, I thought! And loss of work income, since you have to be able to stand upright, and not share germs in the food industry, at least in theory.

Theo called Rose and instructed her to rub my feet with coconut oil and put sliced onions on them. Eww! I wanted to say no, but Rose was so diligently following instructions, I had to submit to the doctoring. Have to say that my room smelled a bit like a pot roast, about to go in the oven...She and Nora brought me drinks. Another friend left chicken soup on the porch which the girls warmed for me. Mom and Dad ran girls around wherever they needed to go, and fed Thomas. Another friend brought me essential oils to rub on my feet (that smell a heck of a lot better than onions, by the way, haha). Another deposited a dish of steaming hot mashed potatoes to serve as cozy comfort.

How loved! How kind are the people in my village. I feel much better today. Able to read a book, wash some sheets and dishes, stand upright for a little while.

I wish for all beings to know they are loved. And to be surrounded by a village, whether large or small, that will lovingly care for each others' needs.

After tossing and turning most of last night, I am hopeful this evening will be peaceful, calm, and filled with deep sleep and nice dreams.

As I lay in bed, so uncomfortable, I thought about Maggie when I went to India back in 2009. She had come down with a cold, and it was terribly hard for me to leave her as my boarding time arrived. I figured that she would be okay, we all suffer from colds now and again. When I got back, she told me her cold turned into pneumonia, and she felt so lonely and sick, when Philip had to care for the little ones, go to work, and tend my farm chores. I was so sad for her, and yet, of course she got through the sick spell, our friend and family doctor treated her and she was soon brand new. But, oh, how lonely she was, during those miserable, surreal hours.

Many people have to endure significant pain and illness, and do it alone. That makes me sad. I hope I will be awake and mindful enough to help when I can, and that others also will see how valuable their offerings are. Soup. Mashed potatoes, home remedy advice, rides, love. Doesn't have to be a big deal. Just listen to your gut, follow the instinct. I have this feeling that each of us has some special gift to offer, if we humble ourselves and just do it.

On another note, it certainly got cold last night! High seventies plummeted to the teens. Never fear, warm weather is near. In another day or two we will return to the sixties and seventies. Perhaps I should take the hens out of my yard and put them back into their yard? They have been scratching happily for bugs, grass, whatever they could find. Remember, we do live in Texas and it is time to think about planting onions and greens. Perhaps this weekend I will start some plant babies in the greenhouse. Seed packets are catching my eye, I think I better pay attention.

On another note, feeling sick can often feel like depression. When lying in bed, miserable, it is quite easy to think one's world is horrible, one is a terrible friend, daughter, mother, worker, business owner. Isn't that silly? Is it just me?

I continue to practice telling myself that just because I feel something doesn't make it true.

Well, I am rambling with no direction. I think I will shut this twenty minute session down and go pull out the seed packets.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Last Night I Ate a Double Cheeseburger

Today I didn't feel nearly as guilty as I shoveled wood chips into the back of the truck. Delivered them to the vineyard. Shoveled the mulch onto the row of vines. Went back to the Recycling Center and loaded another big pile of wood chips, then unloaded it again.

In fact, I am tired, sore, especially since I also loaded up a few wheelbarrows of rocks and began to patch a couple of washouts on the vineyard road. Seemed like the perfect use of my time and burger energy.

After those chores, I worked, row by row, vine by vine, checking on the little shrubblers, irrigation emitters that frequently get blocked by the mineral build up. I rub off the minerals, twist the little buggers, and work hard to ensure each vine gets the chance to drink.

The air was mild, the wind lay low. I saw a giant scorpion scamper as I shoveled up his rocky home. I told him sorry to be a bother, but he was gonna have to find another place to take a nap.

The vines are going dormant. They don't feel all the way asleep. We have had some real cold snaps, but it takes some time, since we also have intermittent days of seventy plus degrees that keep the blood flowing. I need to do the harsh pruning, but they are not ready yet. In another couple weeks? Early next month? We will work as a team, the owners and I. If we were to prune before the plants went dormant, it would put the vines into shock and they might die. Being dormant means that all the life energy is down in the roots, and we can do our work which will allow healthy growth systems once spring arrives.

Seems like when I was in church work, a lot of talk went on about pruning during hard times. About how it was all for the good.

And yes, pruning is necessary if we wish to see fruit. Hard pruning. Eliminate what looks like almost all the vine pruning.

That said, something is niggling at me. Like maybe there are times we justify harsh actions, call it pruning, comfort ourselves with the hope that the amputation will lead to greater fruit yield.

What if some amputations are amputations? What if we sit, watching our friends or family members bleeding, hemorrhaging, and think that it is all for their good, thank god for the pruning, and wow, what fruit to come...when in fact, what they (maybe we) need is emergency care, binding up of wounds, time to rest, in a quiet place, until we heal or at least adjust?

Hmm. I want to think more on this topic. And hope that I will be careful and mindful. I don't think our creator is an unkind deity, lopping off our vines, indiscriminately. At this point, it is easier for me to think of God as the great, big, mysterious "more" than we can imagine, out there, in here, all encompassing. Not the old man with a white beard flowing, sitting on a big throne.

I love these days of tending the vines as they put themselves to sleep. The leaves are gone, the laterals are twisty, curly, cursive scrawls. When pruning is done, the curls will be gone, all become shorthand. It requires a great deal of faith. After this summer, being constantly behind, feeling like I would never catch up with the tying and trimming, I have a lot more faith. Those vines know how to grow! Especially when we feed them and water them and the sun continues to shine.

By the way, I have two lovely windrows of compost working away. We will sprinkle it, toss it, make compost tea out of it for foliar spray.

I almost listened to a lie I told myself yesterday. Just for a few minutes I started to believe what I was feeling. It didn't take too very long to remember the truth. I had to remind myself several times. The cheeseburger was a hug to myself and it felt great. My son's friend made it for us. I got one for my dad and one for a girlfriend. It didn't fix anything, kind of like a bandaid. They don't fix anything permanently, but there is a place for them! And for yummy, juicy cheeseburgers. Especially when doing hours of hard, farm labor!

Tomorrow, a half day shoveling mulch, a half day working in the bakery.

For now, time to take an ibuprofen and crawl into bed, clean, thankful, and happy for the 20 minutes writing challenge! Tomorrow makes two weeks! Do I have to stop? Crazy. How about 21 days? That would be a bigger challenge. And a good way to incorporate my former practice back into a current practice.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Rest in Peace, but not like it sounds.

Happy New Year!

I was away from internet and computer for a few days, and still managed to keep up with writing, the old fashioned way. In a journal.

I wrote out intentions, thoughts, review of my year, hopes for the next. Frustrations, desires, recipes, lists.

The rest of the time I read books, poetry, hiked, sat, watched birds, meditated.

Maggie contacted me on Friday, hoping I would meet her at the home of our old friends. A mom and daughter silent retreat.

Not perfectly silent. We each stayed in separate houses. We met once a day, midday, shared food, visited for half an hour, then went our separate ways.

I hiked down the river, found a giant cave shelter, walls covered in pictographs. I sat and chanted and meditated, and the quiet time went so quickly! It was quite different than meditating on a cushion in my bedroom. I breathed, I listened. I felt the breeze and sunshine upon my skin, the rocks under my seat.

I imagined and laughed at myself and felt guilty for being away from my family for two nights.

The stars were bright at moments. A soft rain fell at others. Chilly nights turned into short sleeve days. I drank coffee, ate simple food brought from home.

Temptation to work keep tugging at my sleeve. My intention to rest gently, kindly reminded my work ethic to take a back seat. My new years eve was not spent in fancy clothes, with sparkling friends. Well. I had sparkling friends! The canyon walls showed off their multi-colored splendor as they watched the sun go down. Canyon wrens called and laughed and I sipped my champagne and breathed, enjoying the feel of a soft fuzzy sweater all cozy over tshirt and worn out jeans, a pair of slippers warming my tired feet.

Instead of thinking grand thoughts, I enjoyed sitting, watching, just being.

At times I felt my shoulders tense and my face harden into worry. I remembered to breathe, to offer my muscles the gift of a moment of rest.

Two places on the property offered momentary, infrequent opportunities to check text messages, but not email. I tried to slip back into fix-it mode a time or two, thinking that if I were a good mother, daughter, sister, friend, I would navigate and orchestrate a few circumstances. An impossibility out there, on the edge of a canyon wall, in the middle of nowhere. At some point I surrendered, and sure enough, the world survived.

I loved the gift of the tiny butterflies, floating along the rough ground cover that passes for grass. The scent of the desert flowers was better than any perfume I know. A gray fox down below, wandering along deer paths, heard me sneeze. He laughed. Or was it she? And tried to find me. And couldn't as I was far up above. I loved how his lush tail whisked back and forth and plumed behind like a flag. What marvelous coloring, a gray that blended in perfectly well with his surroundings. Deer pounced back and forth in the wild yard, skittering and scattering when I stepped outside to watch the stars. Dozens of vultures roosted in river bottom trees and along the top of the bluffs across the river. At one point, I walked back to the main house to launder my sheets and noticed I was walking in the shadow of dancing vultures. It felt magical. Those wonderful creatures help with a lot of dirty jobs yet seem to have a bad reputation. To be so unattractive, they are gifted with grace and coordination. Their weaving shadows surrounded me on my patch. It was interesting.

I wanted to come home and be with my other kids. Maggie and I were on our own and yet the side by side solitude was very comforting. I laughed when I saw the giant stack of books she carried along for her mini retreat. I wonder who she takes after??? I hated to leave her. And the quiet. And the refuge of wild, desert nature.

Home is good. I love my bed. My kitchen, bathroom, other children, and parents, animals, friends, computer. The Christmas tree is still up and it feels comforting to sit in my library with candles and tree lights flickering.

But I will remember my little mini retreat. I hope to take that restful energy with me into the new year. To remember to pause and care for myself when needed. It is my responsibility. When I care for myself, I can care more effectively for others.

Silence and nature restore my soul.

Going back to work today was hard, and took some revving up, but thanks to that getaway, the wherewithal was there.

day whatever, can't remember now, trying to keep up with the discipline.