Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Clothes

Sorry readers, for the weird transition to italic in the previous post. I don't know how I did it, or how to remedy it, and frankly, Scarlet, well, you know the rest!!!

Dust blew away and now spring is in full force. The fig trees are unfolding tender green leaves, Cottonwoods are looking as fresh as a brand new chiffon easter dress. Red buds are shedding their extravagant pink dresses to don something more casual and practical: green leaves.

Our baby chickens are no longer babies. The broilers are looking more like dinner every day! They and the pullets enjoy my garden and yard offerings and seem quite happy in their little world. A friend of mine told me she found a source of non GMO, all natural, organic feed out of a mill in Central Texas. She is making the journey to purchase for her flock and for our and anyone else who wishes to feed their poultry real food. What a joy. Makes me remember fondly the drive up to Stuart's Draft to buy feed from Sunrise Farm. The guys were always friendly, it was a true family operation, and I felt thankful and happy about the food we gave our livestock. I am thankful that my friend found a source we could be proud to use.

It is making me a bit nervous thinking about butcher day. We had worked out a pretty good system on the farm. It was a true community effort. We don't have a whizbang chicken plucker here. We don't have a full crew of friends who are happy to bring their chickens and get to work eviscerating. To sum it up, everything is different now, and can you believe I am still trying to figure out a new normal? I will keep you posted.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014


The skies are pale gray. Taupe colored.

The mountains ringing our little town are shrouded. A fuzzy silhouette with smudgy edges.

I have a catch in my throat and my eyes are gritty.

A newscast shared that drought in eastern Colorado and western Kansas was causing dust storms that went down the Texas panhandle, through eastern New Mexico and down to our part of west Texas.

I wonder if there are fields being plowed right now by large production farms in that part of the world?

Not too long ago we had a similar dust storm. The dirt in the sky was red. Coincidentally (?) the timing was right about when the fields were plowed up in and around the Texas panhandle.

Every time I get a mouthful and eyeball full of dirt suspended in our air, I am reminded of a little book I read while researching sustainable farming. <i>Plowman's Folly written by Edward Faulkner and published in 1943.

His book was revolutionary, and you can imagine that people who lived through the dust bowl might have been paying attention to his "revolutionary" ideas regarding soil husbandry. I remember that as I read that book, I was astounded by how pertinent, how relevant the material was, and how I wished we could see those ideas implemented more here in the US. I thought about that book a couple of springs ago when we drove through Lamesa and saw acres and acres of bare, red soil, plowed and ready to be sown in monocrops of cotton.

Thankfully, many people have woken up, and realize that we cannot keep on sucking things out of our soil, in return for a handful of isolated nutrients. We cannot keep on plowing up the land, watching it blow away and land on my windowsills, my glasses, my car. The other day my parents told me about their friend who has wheat farms up in Kansas. He doesn't use a regular plow. He tends his fields, using equipment he invented, working to save his topsoil.

It isn't all bad. There are others like my parents' friend. There are government initiatives, working to educate farmers to help improve their soil, not watch it all blow away. There are more and more farmers going small, since going small might be the only way they can survive. Heck, going small might just be the only way our earth is going to survive.

Hmm. I can smell the roasted turnips from our SMALL garden roasting away. I can hear the SMALL flock of birds growing by the minute, out in our little greenhouse. And I have big ideas that nibble around the edge of my brain, and small amounts of sit down time to fully think them through. But maybe if I sketch out some of those thoughts, I can come back to them later.

Maybe I will watch the Ken Burn's documentary on the Dust Bowl tonight. And hope that our little baby steps will amount to something. And pray one of the wonderful prayers in our Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

By the way...

You know those chicks I just mentioned? The ones who will be five weeks old tomorrow?

One of the pullets is not.

A pullet that is.

I heard a warbling little preadolescent crow this morning.

Do I smell chicken and dumplings?

Little Miss Sunshine

Almost everyday I go out to the garden to harvest chicken food. They love the armfuls of tender green grass, chickweed, dandelions and other verdant weeds.

This morning I saw the first dandelion bloom! Spring must be here for certain.

I hope.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lady Bug, Lady Bug

Yesterday afternoon my priest came by for a visit. I was finishing up a project so she went out into the sunny backyard to wait. I found her crouched in the garden, speaking to a brilliantly garnet ladybug, making her (his?) way around the flowering bok choy. What a treat! The first sighting this spring.

Honeybees buzzed and hummed around the sweet yellow flowers of the bok choy and the perfectly formed white blossoms on the arugula trying to go to seed.

Heartfelt conversation, warmed by afternoon sun and pollinators.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Chicken Little

On February 6th I got a call from the post office.

7:45 in the morning, and I was several hours into a busy bakery day.

It was one of those crazy little cold snaps we get, the 80 degree temperatures dipped down into the teens and the trees were glazed with a frozen fog.

Poor little chickens. The loud peeping from the back of the post office sounded frantic, but the little things warmed up just fine once I got them situated into their new home, a large box by the kitchen, toasted by a glowing red heat lamp.

Isn't it funny how some things feel just like home?

The baking did manage to get done, but barely, as we were all quite distracted by our new charges, 14 birds designated for meat, and 10 for laying hens. The fluffy little balls of cheepy looked like supper to our housecats, but you will be pleased to know that they are all still alive, unfortunately the cats have been made aware that this was not a present for them.

Three weeks later, the cute little fluff balls are now gangling teenagers, not nearly so cute, and are temporarily living in the greenhouse until the nights are consistently warm.

Raising chickens makes me happy. When I weed the garden, every bit of the tender grass and dandelion plants go straight to the flock. When we have dried out bits of bread, I soak it in Sally's cows milk, then give it to the chicks with a bit of blackstrap molasses. Seems like our property's productivity has increased exponentially! We plan to butcher the meat chickens in another five weeks or so. We don't have lots of grass in the yard. I have decided that we cannot afford to raise a grass yard here in the desert. Actually, I think most people in deserts can't afford the long term costs of keeping grass green in the desert. But that is another topic! Nevertheless, grass does seem to grow well in my garden in the sections I don't mulch deeply, and it makes great organic chicken feed.

The chickens are already producing lots of fertilizer that will make its way into our food production. We will age the manure and then use it to feed the fig trees, the pecans and our veggie garden.

So, no more Full Circle Farm for us out in the Catawba Valley of Virginia, but it does seem quite right and good to see the principles finding their way into our chihuahan high desert life here in Alpine. The garden feeds us and the chickens. The chickens feed the gardens. Cool. Doesn't take much to make me happy!

And by the way, thanks for keeping in touch and for continuing to read my sporadic posts. I have much to say, but sometimes it is hard to get the juices flowing. So here I am, trying to discipline myself to get back to writing. Afraid to put myself out there. Maybe if I can "just do it" I can find my words again...

Springtime in Texas

Last week we were working outside in shortsleeves. I walked home from church without a jacket.

This morning the temperatures were in the low 20's and for a minute I wanted to slide downward into a depressive funk, crawling under my quilts for another few weeks.

Then I remembered that we will be back to the 6o's and 70's tomorrow and the rest of the week. So while my toes and fingers begin to thaw in the warm bakery, the smell of a yummy lentil and quinoa stew makes me think surely I can survive one freezing cold day this week without falling totally apart. The sun is shining, the laundry will dry on the line, and a warm stew bubbling in the crockpot will taste might fine tonight.

Here's the recipe, hope you like!

a bit of olive oil or coconut oil
1 onion, chopped finely
5 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 knob of ginger, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 butternut squash, seeded, peeled, cubed
1 whole jalapeno
3 small, colorful sweet peppers that were shriveling up in the back of the fridge, chopped up, should be fine
2 cups dry lentils
1 cup red quinoa
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 or 2 tsp cumin powder
1 or 2 heaping teaspoon sweet curry powder
1 or 2 tsp balti curry powder
1 or 2 tsp garmam masala

salt and pepper to taste
water to cover everything

one bunch cilantro
one bunch fresh greens, whatever you have, I will pick arugula, kale, bok choy, swiss chard and spinach out of the garden.

I rarely use a crock pot, but am waiting for the plumber to get here to put in a gas line for a new stove in the kitchen (Yay!!!). In the meantime, the crock pot has been a helpful tool. It is ok to dump all your ingredients, minus the green, into the pot, turn it on. However, I like the way flavors develop if you cook the fresh veggies a bit first (minus the greens). I turned the pot on high, poured in a little glug of olive oil, and then placed the onions in to begin cooking while I chopped everything else. It took awhile for the pot to heat, but eventually, as I worked on some paperwork, paid a couple bills, mixed up some homemade chicken food, washed some clothes and made a list, the onions were transparent and the squash was beginning to caramelize. I then added the lentils and quinoa, the spices and enough water to generously cover the whole thing, put the lid on, and walked away. I use a variety of curry powders from Penzeys. They are so flavorful, and each has a slightly different nuance. But when I don't have those spices, a basic curry powder from the grocery store works as well.

Since I am working here at home, I will keep an eye on the pot, and if need be, will add a bit more water as the day progresses. When the lentils and quinoa are tender, I will add the chopped cilantro and the greens and let them cook for a half hour or so. If I use turnip greens, I will put them in a bit earlier and give them a chance to become nice and tender.

My house already smells warm and cozy, and that makes it a lot more fun to deal with a little cold snap.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bigger Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankful for the little things...

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel

This evening I sit in my bakery, feeling guilty for wasting time at the computer. The strand of Christmas lights run around the entire room. The are mirrored and reflected in the many glass windows, and to tell you the truth, it feels kind of magical. I used to decorate in mostly white lights. They are so lovely. But these days, I am hungry for color.

Yesterday morning I felt a bit under the weather with a mild cold. Rose was down and out as well. So Maggie and Nora went with our church friends to the Nature Conservancy on the other side of Fort Davis to cut a tree. They searched and searched and Maggie found the most lovely tree. So tall it bends at the top of our vaulted library. Maggie and Raymond set it up in the stand. While they did that, I scrounged outside to gather greens and pine cones and beautiful red berries of some sort to decorate our bare bones Advent candles. Maggie strung the lights and then the rest of us joined in on hanging the ornaments with Elf playing in the background.

The kids have done a great job decorating trees the last few years. And, truth be told, the whole process has been more than painful for me the last several years.

But, you know something? As I got pulled into the decorating, the act became meditative. I quieted myself and delved into the search for the perfect spot for each ornament. So high, some on the edge, a few great big ones hanging into open gaps.

Our organic, locally grown wild tree is gorgeous, and offers a generous canvas for our decorations. Some ornaments I remembered getting for my first Christmas in my first apartment. I picked them up in cute little stores in Eureka Springs, Arkansas on a visit to my grandparents' home. A little goose with a blue ribbon tied round his neck. A cute little ceramic teddy bear. A reindeer made out of old fashioned clothespins. I can feel the Novemberry air, and smell wood smoke and remember Thanksgiving dinner at the home of my Arkansas grandparents, the pretty red glasses and fancy plates and aunt, and cousin, and sisters and parents and Mamaw and Papaw, all brought to mind by those sweet little ornaments.

Other ornaments were a bit more scraggly, and every bit as precious. Made by little peoples' hands, over the last almost 21 years. I don't know what happened to many of them. Who knows where the old snowflakes are? I guess they will have to make more. But each little ornament brought to mind a special time. I remembered our big old historical home in Fort Worth, and all the renovating, and the lovely mantel, and friends and family recreating the Nativity story in the living room, and the fancy dinner, and the glow through the french doors. A warm glow. The glow of greens brightly burning from the candle that caught them on fire! That was a pretty dramatic Christmas Eve moment, and one that taught me much about how to decorate mantels with candles and greenery, and gave a vivid example to the kids about why we never leave a candle lit in an unattended room!

I tucked the giant angel made by Patrick into one open space in the tree. I love the smiling toothy face! Memories of New Jersey and snow and Christmas carols and little boys who were so little and now so tall!

I have pretty handmade ornaments made by my mom with fimo clay, they look just like old fashioned candy, the kind they handed to us on Christmas Eve at our tiny little Baptist church in Paden, Oklahoma, along with an orange. And a handful of nuts. I can feel the bitter cold and remember driving around, with socks on our hands for gloves, all riding in the back of an old pickup truck, going to visit the "shut-ins" to sing them Christmas carols.

As we put on the great big plastic, shiny red and purple ornaments, the ones that don't get broken by the climbing, crazy cats, I remembered the fun trip into the big town last year with Rose. We had to go somewhere in mid January. Target had all Christmas items for sale at 75% off! We had so much fun, getting those silly, not necessary things on that trip. Along with cute kitty and doggy Christmas neck ties, which are adorning our animals even now.

I have ornaments made of popsicle sticks and glue and polaroid photos. Some of that plastic, colorful foamy stuff well loved by Sunday schools of most every denomination, framing digitally printed out photos of kids. Some remaining shiny glass balls not nearly as many these years, thanks to the cats.

Probably the same stuff the rest of you have decorating your trees. Ours isn't very organized. It doesn't really match. There is absolutely no theme at all.

But you know something? As I teetered on a wobbly chair, and stretched and searched and hung little pieces of memory, I realized that for the first time in a long time, a very long time, I was truly delighting in the experience of Christmas preparation. Christmas used to be my favorite season. The last few years it has been a raw, painful time filled with memories that made me bleed. I didn't bleed at all yesterday.