Quiet Days and Barn Dreaming

I’m sitting in the reading room now, the Christmas tree lights on, the stove pinging, a clock ticking.  This quiet rest has been a few weeks coming now.

Maybe a barn like this?

My dream would be to have a two-story bank barn like this one. Like it?

We’ve been pretty quiet about this blog and on our Facebook page of late. . . farming, work, living . . . they sometimes make words about those things need to sit silent for a while.  But we are busy here, gestating, maybe. Thinking through our next thing.

We are talking about building a barn here on the farm – a place for the animals to stay out of the weather – the dog houses we have will only work for so long – a shop for Philip to do woodworking and work on cars, a hay storage area, and a performance space – big enough for readings and concerts.

Last year this time, we were talking barns, too, back at the old farm, and while we’d still be thrilled if Ramsay Restoration could do our work, we realize that our dream may have to be scaled back a bit – reclaiming material is a beautiful but very expensive thing. So we dream anew – a bank barn, a one-story barn? We’re just not sure yet.

But we do know that a barn will be here . . . and we do know we’ll need help with it, your help if you have it to give.  My vision is that we have a virtual barn raising for this building, a fundraising campaign that culminates in a giant potluck dinner, reading, and concert in the new building.  What do you think? Would you like to help us throw up a beam and hammer in a nail by donating a few dollars?

We may be moving that route in the spring, so stay tuned. . . Meanwhile, Xander is crowing in the day, and Meander is under a blanket in my grandfather’s chair.  Philip is still sleeping, a bliss for us both on this quiet Sunday of Advent.

May your day be full of quiet moments and HUGE dreams. 

 

Our Hardest Week Yet

If our week was written in diary form, it might look something like this:

A kitten naps on a Great Pyrenees

Sabeen and Bella, a reminder of why all the work is worth it.

Monday – a 3-story hemlock falls into the goat yard, missing goats, dogs, house, and fence by inches.  Philip spends Monday evening cleaning up (while Andi has a speaking engagement) so that we can get to animals and so that they don’t eat too much hemlock.

Tuesday – Philip is sick from the strain of Monday and yet prepares for work anyway only to see the dogs loose in the front yard.  He returns them to pasture, and then, they escape again.  Philip captures them again and has to take to the couch because he’s not feeling well. Later, our neighbor tells us that the hemlock Philip carefully placed in our burn pit might injure his cattles, who graze nearby, so they move all the hemlock for the second time.  Philip feels awful; yet, he and I must  capture the dogs and patch the fence 4 more times that day.

Wednesday – Dear friends are here for the night, and P goes to work until snow closes his office.  The dogs escape again, this time in snow, making their location harder to ascertain.  They are reinstated into the pasture, and we commence patching the fence more and more – tools used – boulders, boards, fencing, briars.

Thursday – I wake Philip because the dogs have escaped again.  We patch more and manage to keep them in the pasture while we enjoy a lovely Thanksgiving with them. Also, we watch Dumb and Dumber. 

 Friday – I wake Philip again when the dogs come over the gate in the front yard. I’m able to contain them but need Philip’s help to mend the gate.  Despite our boycott of Black Friday – in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and because we think it’s a little nutty – we head to Tractor Supply to buy the necessaries to put up electric fence.  We are about half-way done with the fence when we hear a ruckus in the chicken run and find Meander chasing and carrying our chickens.  We lose Rose to fright or injury.  Meander spends the day inside, and we spend the rest of Friday hanging the electric fence. I am asleep by 9:15.

Saturday – I wake Philip again because this time Boone is trying to squeeze himself into a space about as wide as my thigh and has required that I lift all 140 pounds of him so that he doesn’t break the paw he has gotten stuck in the gate slats.  We spend the morning building a 5′ gate out of solid oak that he can not climb, squeeze through, or push over.  A few hours escape to a local craft fair and lunch with Philip’s Mom.  Then, we return to install the invisible fence around the chicken run only to find that we don’t have the necessary battery for Meander’s collar that makes the fence effective. We visit 4 stores to get the battery and come home at 9pm.  We are both dead asleep by 10pm.

Sunday – I wake at my usual 6:30 and find everyone sound in their pasture.  Meander tests the invisible fence and quickly finds it working.  I feed and water everyone while Boone tries to nose past me out the gate.  He does not succeed. Everyone is safe and sound. . . . although Boone put forth his best effort to climb that fence.  Now, I’m on the couch with Meander – who is wrapped like a burrito. Philip slept until he awoke naturally, and Xander the rooster is crying victory, victory, victory.

Sometimes, I suppose, it takes a great deal of strife for us to be grateful for the rest, huh?

By the way, if you need advice on electric fencing systems, gates, or predator protection, let us know.  We have knowledge we never wanted to gain, but we’re happy to share it.

 

When Puppies Bring JUST the Right Kind of Distraction

4 years ago today, my mother died.  My dear, beautiful, compassionate, wise mother took her last breath.  I still cannot think of her absence without breaking into sobs that hurt my ribs.  My Mom

I suspect Mom is watching us this morning – here on the farm – with her unique perspective built on humor and empathy.  P isn’t feeling great – perhaps a bit run down from chopping up the giant pine tree that snapped and fell into our goat yard yesterday – and I’m sad, of course.

So we should have expected to find both our Great Pyrenees running free in the yard  first thing this morning.  That’s how these things go, right?

I’m writing over at my other blog today. I hope you’ll stop by to read more.

The Hard Days

On Sunday, Dad and I took a quick jaunt up to PA to manage some affairs for my grandmother.  We had a great trip – lots of talking and laughing together, and a trip around my grandmother’s old homeplaces. The business stuff went smoothly, too, so it was all good.

Snowman, our Polish hen who died.

Snowman as a baby.

Except that while I was gone Bella, our female Great Pyr, squeezed herself under two fences and killed two of our chickens – Violet and Snowman, one of my favorites.

I spent most of yesterday in that fog of shock and grief that comes when I lose a living creature that I love.

This morning, I was hung over with sadness, weary from the long days’ drive.  I got myself out, though, just after dawn to feed everyone.  The chickens didn’t charge the door like usual, so I guess they were a little weary, too.

Bella was subdued, aware – in the way only animals can be – that she had done wrong.

I carried our kitchen kettle of hot water to each set of animals, watching the steam pour as the ice gave way, and I cried.  Just a little.

Sometimes it takes tragedy to remind us of the crucial things:

  • Secure boundaries protect us all.
  • Tomorrow will come, and we’ll still need food and water.
  • There is always more love to be had.

Now, I’m going out to feed everyone again, another kettle full of hot water at hand and a fresh 50 lbs of sweet feed for the caprine gals.  I’ll pet Fern, who must be missing her buddy Snowman, and I’ll nuzzle Bella close.

Because if there’s one thing farm living teaches me it’s this – sometimes we do each other harm in powerful, unintentional ways . . . and the only way to live again is with a good snuggle and a great heap full of grace.

The Gift of a 40th Birthday Party

Last night, friends and family gathered at our new firepit at the edge of the pasture to celebrate my 40th birthday.  I sat on a bench left here by the previous owners and watched fire lick the stones that once formed the original chimney of this house. On my lap, the four-year-old son of my dear high school friend, bent and doubled with the joy of movement that only a child can remember, and behind me, my precious college friend laughed and smacked her teasing husband with her mittens.

my birthday serenade

I was serenaded as I stared at THREE birthday cakes!her mittens.

Jelly Roll the kitten gave us all a show – and me a skipped heartbeat since something about the firelight made me think she was a bobcat – and Meander spun herself in wide circles of joy around us.

It was perfect. The first fire, the first large gathering, the first party here on the new farm.

The other part of the evening – before the wind died down and the fire lit up – we wandered through the farmhouse, all 15 of us, scattering into rooms with beer and wine, talking . . . filing all the corners with the light of conversation.  It felt so lovely to be able to have people inside together.

So today, when we make a trip down to the old farmhouse to pick up something we forgot, I’m sure I’ll be a bit nostalgic, but really, I’ll be grateful for the lift that place gave and the way this one has made room for so much more in our lives.

Don’t forget to stop by on your way through Radiant.  We’re just across from the post office.  We need your voice to live in this space, too.

The Lessons of a Blustery Day

This morning, when I went out to feed the animals at first light (the end of Daylights Savings doesn’t mean an extra hour on a farm.), the wind was coming in billows from the field behind the farmhouse.  If an illustrator was drawing the scene, she would have sketched a woman in a Doctor Who bathrobe, goats bucking up on hind legs, white fluffy puppies spinning in circles, and chickens with fluffy feathers.  Two kittens would have been tucked on the porch with 3 feline heads in an upstairs window, and a red-headed dog would have peeked out from the inside of the dining room window.  The wind would have been spirals dancing with leaves.   Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day

Some days it really does feel like idyllic here.

***

This week, I joined our local Chamber of Commerce, and the staff person there – Tracey – and I are fast friends, swapping road names and the sad news of a terrible car wreck over by Oak Park.  At the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office, the clerk takes our agricultural land use documents and cautions me, “No copies when you turn them in for the future,” and smiles as she says it.

As I leave the county offices in my long skirt, hand-crocheted sweater, and yarn-covered Dankos, I walk by the cluster of old-timers who farm this land.  They nod  and ask where I live.  “The Old Tucker Place in Radiant.”  It’s like the small walls of difference disintegrate when they smile at me.  They know from where I hail.

I feel more at home in this community than I have in any I’ve lived in – except perhaps at home with my dad – for many, many years.  Here, I feel like I can be my own quirky, artistic, farmerly self and that my way of being in the world will not only be respected but also cherished.  Here, history speaks in the very home in which we sit and on the roads on which we drive.  The faces and names of this place are hundreds of years old, and because the families are long-lived on this land, their stories carry forward, too.

***

Yesterday, we began work on the space that will become my office and that was, I believe, the original kitchen of the house.  As I swept the wide pine boards of the floor, I thought of the enslaved women who cooked there, and I wondered if their descendants still live nearby.  As Dad tossed down antique shoe after antique shoe from the attic above, I tried to picture the cobbler – enslaved or free – who saved those shoes for future use.

We treasure those shoes, those memories, those imaginings here because they are – already – part of who we are.  We honor them even as we make our own stories in this place.

It’s a hard thing, sometimes, to live firmly in the 21st century with a wide heart and open mind, to honor the old ways without honoring the old prejudices, to embrace new technology (solar panels?) while also respecting a homesite that already speaks to security and the windbreaks of surrounding hills.

This morning, I was reminded of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and all that makes those stories so precious – personalities respected, homes carved into that which makes us most whole, and friendships deep and long despite differences.  If God’s Whisper can be a bit like Pooh Corner, we could do far worse.

 

House Becoming Home

I don’t know if you have these moments, but I get them from time to time – where everything seems just right in the world – even when so much isn’t right.  I had one of those moments last night as I rode Vulcan on his first turn to mow around the new farm.

Our Outdoor Cats on Our Indoor Bed

Jelly Roll and Sabeen are supposed to be outdoor cats. When they snuck in last night, they quietly settled on our bed. Not dumb kitties, these.

He and I were mowing in our orchard – oh, how I love that we have an orchard – and I thought how remarkable that I am now living in this place, calling it home.  How did I ever get so blessed?

***

Yesterday afternoon, friends came by.  People who were dear friends of my mom’s, people who I have known for many years. . . and as we told them about the sale of our old farm, about how it sold in 8 days for more than asking, about how it was bought by a farmer who would use all the work we had done. . . “it all works out.”  That’s what I said.  And it does. Every time.

***

Last night, Philip and I stayed up quite late, doing our best to put those most difficult of things away – pictures on the walls, memorious objects on the shelves. (I don’t really like to call them knick-knacks because they carry more memory than kitsch.)  I stood long and stared at walls, listening to what story of our lives we wanted to tell just here.  Over our coach, we hung a picture of two dogs in a canoe, a print of a mausoleum against paint-blue sky that I bought in New Orleans on a trip with Mom, and the printer’s box that I fill with tiny objects, each wrapped in memory.

On the mantel in the Reading Room, we have candlesticks that Philip’s grandfather made, a plaque that says “You are living your story” that my dear friend gave me, and two pieces of copper that I remind me of Mom (she loved copper) and Dad, who brought me one of them.  Between them all, a painting of an abandoned rowboat hangs – a painting by Philip’s grandmother.

It does not take a great deal of time to make a house a home it seems.

***

Just over a year ago, when Philip and I headed north for our honeymoon in Maine, we drove up through this part of the world, and the whole while I thought, “This might just be the most beautiful place on earth.” Farmsteads scattered over rolling hills that lead to the bluest of the Ridge.  Long quiet roads where you can see for miles but not around the next curve.  The way that roadlines trace stories and houses carry the families that have lived long before them.

Now, here we are – in a house we saw once and knew was ours, the house my father suggested we consider, the house where Berrys, Yowells, Tuckers, and Rudds before us have lived soft and steady.

It is amazing, really, how “it all works out.” But then, well, when you are loved who all of who you are by One who knows all the history behind and before, how could it not?

Come visit, all.  Be a part of this story in this place with us.