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.
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...
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.
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.
"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.
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.
After a two month break I reopened the bakery yesterday. I was a little nervous, since it doesn't take much to tire me out. But oh, how wonderful, to be back in the saddle again. My grain shipment was delayed, so there was no bread on the menu. I have quinoa and plenty of oats, so I milled the quinoa into a very fine, earthy flavored flour, and made sweet stuff. Vegan quinoa and oatmeal cookies, quinoa banana nut muffins, quinoa oatmeal muffins, quinoa brownie mix and a bunch of our usual almond raisin granola.
Quinoa is not a grain, but a seed, related to swiss chard, beets and spinach. It originated in Central and South America and has been used in those cultures for thousands of years. I found a website that said Quinoa has been nominated the grain of the year. Cool, huh? It is considered a complete protein and is quite nutrient dense. Quinoa has no gluten, so it is not suitable for making yeast breads, but works well for cookies and quickbreads. It is quite costly, and because of the current gluten-free food fad (I'm certainly not talking about folks with celiac, but our culture does seem to flow from one food fad to another, and currently gluten-free is the one), the demand has taken a toll on supply. I have heard that folks who have used this as a foundational part of their diet have been having a hard time purchasing it because of the inflated prices.
Don't know what the answer to that problem is. I hope that as its popularity grows people will find the increase in demand will be good for local economies. And that we won't complain too greatly as the cost of this wonderful, nutritious food source increases, so that producers will be paid a fair wage.
I don't care to offer gluten-free products in my bakery since I mill all sorts of grain in my mill and don't want someone hurt from cross contamination. But it is fun to tinker around with alternative grains and seeds, creating nutrient dense snacks that are high in fiber and protein. Not to mention lots of vitamins.
Oh, by the way, it sure was great to see customers coming back to my door. Yes, I was pretty tired at the end of the day, but felt better than I have in quite some time. Thankful to be on the mend.
The other night I had a dream. Philip, my late husband, was in it. I was delighted to see him. It was a joyful dream. So bizarrely vivid. Next day, yesterday, I was doing paperwork, listening to Pandora, the Eva Cassidy station. A song caught my attention, but I continued to work. As it continued, the lyrics stopped me cold in my tracks.
"My love is like a red, red rose," a song from her Somewhere album.
I had never heard that song before in my life. But I had heard the words often enough. The lyrics are words to a Robert Burns poem. Philip would often memorize poetry and quote it to me during our courtship, and for the duration or our marriage. Two poems in particular were often on his lips, one, Love's Philosophy, by Shelley, and the other, Red Red Rose by Burns. He would dramatically recite, a devilish grin on his Irish face, and he knew, and I knew, that he must have kissed the blarney stone at some point in his life, but he made me smile. And he won my heart.
I found the song on YouTube and listened to it a couple of times. I cried a little. But I felt happy, in a weird, sad, poignant way, as I sensed his hug from a far and distant land. I could hear him tell me he was proud of me. That he was proud of the kids. I could hear him tell me how grateful he was for Raymond, being a true love of my life, and the lives of our children. I truly sensed his wink and grin as Eva soulfully sang about returning again, "tho it were ten thousand miles." I could imagine his ironic laugh, telling me that where he is is a lot farther away than ten thousand miles, but it was worth it to say hi and remind me I am loved.
Oh my luve's like a red,red rose
that's newly sprung in June;
o my luve's like a melody
That's sweetly played in tune
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
so deep in luve am I
And I will luve thee still, my dear
till all the seas gang dry
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun
I will luve thee still, my dear
while the sands o' life shall run.
And fare thee well, my only Luve
and fare thee well awhile
And I will come again mu luve
tho' it were ten thousand miles.
Robert Burns, 1794
How appropriate to have such a nice dream and memory right at Halloween, and right before All Sts Day, a time when we lovingly remember those who have gone on from this world to the next. I hope that in the middle of your fallish festivities, regardless of denomination, religion, or lack thereof, you would take some time to remember the special ones in your life who have died. It is a good thing to give space for those memories. Isn't it funny, the things that trigger memories? Have you ever been caught by surprise by a song or poem?
PS I sure hope my kids get some chocolate tonight somewhere and leaving it laying around...
PPS If you like, you might enjoy Eva Cassidy on YouTube. She is one of my favs. Be sure and listen to her sing Danny Boy for another wonderful treat.
The leaves on the apricot tree have supernaturally been transformed into bright yellow butterflies, fluttering down to the earth, lighting on the yard.
The sky is gray and when I went to pick some peppers from the garden I noticed the leaves on the fig tree are beginning to turn rusty around the edges. Fall is subtle here in Southwest Texas, quite unlike the crazy wild display we would get on the farm come October.
Subtle or no, it is my favorite season.
The other day I ran away from home for a couple of days of rest and recuperation. Those of you who know me well know that my favorite place to run away from home has been Big Bend National Park for about the last 30 years or so. Due to many unusual circumstances, it had been almost four months since I made my way down South.
Kids had good friends to care for them so I gathered my things and hopped in the car with my dear one. We drove into the sunset and relished the wide open space. I putzed, napped, baked a cake and read while R. went back to work. The next day we decided to take a short canoe ride down the Rio Grande. I felt like a true princess watching someone else do the hauling and rowing, since I was being so good to follow doctor's orders!
The river was down from flood stage. The banks had been scoured clean by all the rainwater. The river carried us along and I felt peace. Perfect peace. No traffic. No bills. No calls. No planning or inventory or orders or laundry or meals. Canyons, instead. Calm flowing water, gurgling along, occasionally the ripple of a little rapid or the sound of a canyon wren or crow. The sun toasted my arms and I was glad for a hat.
The riverbanks were a beautiful terra cotta, smooth as could be. When we made our way around a bend, I saw a cluster of bright yellow flowers and wondered how in the world could they have survived the flood when all the other growth had been washed away? We neared the bank, and all of a sudden the cluster of flowers rose up like magic, fluttering around us! Thousands of bright yellow butterflies, taking a rest on the cool, moist riverbank.
I felt so lucky! So blessed! We were part of a magical yellow butterfly globe! Seeing the apricot leaves this afternoon makes me remember that sweet moment on the river and just thinking about it takes my blood pressure down several notches!
One Sunday afternoon in August, post diagnosis, but before heading to Dallas, I moped around, thinking I should just surrender and go to bed. But first a quick walk in the backyard. I saw yet another new garden bed, built for me by Raymond earlier that weekend. It was so lovely. Inviting. A blank slate next to the other vibrant beds, filled to overflowing with flowers and veggies.
I paused. Gazed at the lovely new spot. Marveled at how much I felt loved, knowing that R. had gone to all that trouble without my even asking. My sad, worried thoughts got crowded out by gratitude. I thought about how much effort he had put into that enlarged garden area and then thought about the seed packets that were stashed in a box a few feet away in the shed.
Something in me stirred and I decided that instead of going to bed miserable and depressed, at four in the afternoon, maybe, just maybe, I could put in a few minutes effort and throw some seeds in to the freshly raked soil. I mean, really. If he had gone to such effort, surely I could muster up a little gumption.
So, within a half hour or forty five minutes or so, I had a couple of short rows of snow peas tucked in the ground. A few yellow squash. A couple rows of golden turnips. Lots of radishes and lettuce and arugula and cilantro.
I wiped the dirt of my fingers, stood up and felt whole. Picked a mess of green beans and jalapenos. Said a little blessing over the seeds, watered them in and hoped.
Fast forward a couple of months! We are now eating meals of turnip greens, arugula salads, lovely yellow squash, and eating snacks of fresh peas, right out there in the garden. And after we got back from the hospital, the green beans had played out. So had most of the tomatoes and cucumbers, so Raymond planted all sorts of new things in the original garden beds, under my instruction, sitting like a princess on the side of the beds! Broccoli, brussel sprouts, beets, spinach, chard, purple topped turnips, bok choy, lettuce, carrots. Everything came up! And they are growing beautifully in the temperate high desert, nice cool fall temperatures! We made a delicious soup out of chicken bones, all the usual ingredients, plus mushrooms, ginger, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and our fresh bok choy!!!