Swiss chard with bright, red stems and dark green/purple leaves. - Farm Dreaming

Farm Dreams

Once, my step-mom Adrienne asked me, “What would your ideal day look like, when you think of the farm and writing?”

I paused a minute and said, “At least half time on the farming. Maybe 60/40 farm to computer.”

I hadn’t really thought about that before, but once I said it, I felt that vibration of truth first spoken, and I knew I needed to lean into that dream.

When I think about getting to spend 60 percent of my time working on farm things, I imagine:

  • A field of lavender in front of the barn.
  • Swaths of cut flowers intermixed with the lavender.
  • A beautiful, tended vegetable garden with flowers blooming by the cucumbers and beans.
  • A farmyard that is largely self-sustaining in wildflower meadows and meditations gardens with a patch of lawn for Milo to play and big beds of flowers and shrubs to give color and cover to our bird friends.
  • A vivacious farm stand with eggs, flowers, and vegetables for sale at the price our neighbors can pay, and a Little Free Library that gives free books away by the hundreds each year.

When I pair that vibrating glory of a dream with the other dream of my life – to write books and read books for living (something I already do) – I get such a sense of wonder and hope about the future that I can hardly wait.

To get us further toward that goal, I’m devoting a great deal of time and energy to writing books and promoting those books. Right now, my income from editing and coaching is what supports the farm, so if we want to expand what we do, my income needs to expand. (Philip’s salary covers our day-to-day living expenses and keeps Milo in teethers, which are SO necessary right now.) So I’m going to write more books more quickly – while doing my very best to not sacrifice quality or truth in the pages.

Cover of Silence at the Lock shows a young, white woman standing in front of a canal lock in spring.

My newest book, Silence at the Lock, comes out on April 2. It’s the final book in my Steele Secrets trilogy and tells the story of Mary Steele, a young, white woman, who meets the ghost of Sarah, a young, black woman who was murdered when trying to stop her mother’s lynching. It’s a book of magical realism and history, a book about justice and truth-telling and community.

Anyone who pre-orders the book gets some great bonuses, including:

  • a free copy of the first book in the series, Steele Secrets.
  • a chance to win one of three signed sets of the whole series.
  • an original illustration by Corey Egbert that was inspired by my book.

If you or someone you love might enjoy the book, I’d be so grateful for your pre-order. You can get all the information about the book, see a sneak peek of Corey’s image, and find links to pre-order here.

Dreams, friends, they are powerful things. I’ve followed them for years now, and the life I live is a result of obedience to the gift of the dream. I’m dreaming hard again, and I’m so grateful that you have travelled with me all these days of dreaming.

The cover of Christie Purifoy's book Placemaker.

Lessons of Placemaking

The first farm we owned – south of here in Nelson County, Virginia – was much younger than our current place, younger by like 100 years. But it was still old – 100 years of living in a space changes it. There, the changes weren’t great. The sewer pipes came out right under the back porch. The previous owners had used the hill below the farmhouse as a dump for, maybe, generations. The hillside above the house had been timbered but then never cleaned up, so tree tops were lying everywhere.

In short, it was a mess, and on the days when I spent most of my time outside carefully picking up broken bottles and digging sheets of aluminum foil out of the dirt, I was angry. This place had not been stewarded well.

So we made it our mission to leave it better than when we bought it. We cleaned up all the trash we could, and when our goats arrived, we unleashed them on the underbrush and overgrown pasture so that they could bring it back to health. We did MASSIVE burns – I’m sure you could see them from space – of the felled tree tops and discarded logs, and we dug out the discarded oil cans and car parts that littered the side yard.

In the three years that we called that place home, we cleaned it, landscaped it, and tended it as well as we could. We built a chicken coop and a matching workshop. We added a lean-to with a green roof (and we got married under it). We put in raised beds and fenced out the deer. We planted hollys as a natural screen between our house and the neighbors. We leveled a place in front of the house and added a shade garden with bleeding heart and variegated fern under the silver maple.

The day we sold it, I cried. Hard. But I knew we were making a good move, and most of all, I knew we had done well by that mountain homestead.

**

In Christie Purifoy’s book Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace*, she tells the stories of all the places she has lived, particularly her settled place – Maplehurt, a century-old farmhouse in southern Pennsylvania. She waxes lyric about the trees she has loved – and reminds me what I really want a deciduous magnolia for our yard, and she laments the amount of time and money it takes to care for a place well.

But most of all, she minds me that placemaking is an honor and a blessed responsibility. To beautify a piece of land or an apartment or a rented house at the back of a farm, that is to do holy work.

“Who are the placemakers? They are the ones who gaze out over emptiness and, sometimes through tears, see shimmering possibility.”

— Christie Purifoy

**

At my first-ever apartment on Second Street in Harrisburg, PA, I built a garden in an nearly-abandoned courtyard behind our building. As far as I could tell, the only use the space got was when the tenants took our garbage out, wanted to smoke, or wanted to sunbathe in privacy.

We didn’t really need the space to be beautiful, honestly, because we lived two blocks from the park that ran the length of the Susquehanna, but I needed to beautify it.

So I asked our landlady if I could mulch it and tend her roses – I knew NOTHING about tending roses but got a lesson from Dad – and I went to work. I carried bags of mulch down the narrow alleyway. I stripped out weeds and seedlings dropped by sparrows. I planted a few flowers along the side of the neighboring building.

It wasn’t much – not what it could have been – but the place looked tended, and soon, I saw people sitting out there to just talk or read. A little seclusion in a busy city.

**

This spring, my big task is to build – by hand-digging – permanent raised beds in our vegetable garden. This space has been garden for nigh on 200 years. I saw it when we first visited this new farm – I knew it was home instantly – and I have been dreaming that garden into fruition for years. This is the year I make it happen.

I’ll start in the greenhouse, digging out the good soil and piling it to the edges to help with drainage and weed control (The ground ivy is laughing already). Next, I’ll build two center beds, leaving the dug out rows as pathways. Then, I”ll wheelbarrow in the wood chips the tree trimmers have gifted us before I plant some cold crops.

After, the bulk of the garden will get the same treatment. It’s going to be an immense amount of work, and it will mean the sacrifice of lots of other things, especially on weekends when Philip is home to help me wrangle the wild man that is our 9-month-old. It will mean fewer outings, and a lot of hot baths to ease my aching body.

But it will be worth it in every way because this is what it means to be a placemaker. To see the potential in a place and to love it – as best we are able – into being. I can’t wait to begin.

If you’d like to read Christie’s book, Placemaker, I’d love to give someone a copy. Just comment below with a story about a place you’ve lived and loved, and next week, I’ll randomly choose one winner to receive this gorgeous book.  

Join us May 18, 2019 for a night of story and song
Also, Christie and Jason Harrod will be here on our farm on May 18th for a night of words and song. The suggested donation is just $20, and the evening starts at 5pm with a potluck supper. The show will begin at 7. I hope you can make it. 


Taking Joy for Ourselves

Taking Joy For Ourselves

[M]aking and tending good and beautiful places is not a dishonorable retreat. – Christie Purifoy

When I first began talking about this dream of a farm, I was on fire with it – the visions of gardens and animals, the quietness of the space, the rooms of the farmhouse that shifted in feel as the sun passed overhead. I had sketched a timberframe with a huge great room and a wing that was for guests and a space of my own across the house, aware I needed a retreat even in my own home.

I always knew this place would be for other people, too, but mostly, then and now, I knew it was going to be a place for me, a place for my family, a place God was giving us to cultivate and tend, to steward . . . a place for us.

But when I began sharing this vision, a well-intentioned friend told me that my dream was beautiful, was good only if it was extended to a place of service, that it would only be selfish if it was just for me. She was sharing the wisdom that so much of the Christian church that we were both brought up in shared – that good is only found in service to other people. I believed that lie for a long time.

In the past few months, though, I’ve found myself reminded that God wants to give me good things simply because God loves me. This place  – this fifteen acres of quiet – will always be for other people, too, but first and foremost, it is God’s gift for Philip, for me, for Milo. There is no selfishness there. I am not hoarding the gift or hiding away in it. I am relishing it, treasuring it, living it in as I fully am – introvert, lover of silence and solitude, nature walker, contemplator.

One of the ways I am being gentled back into this truth – this truth that does not demand I be a constant host and, thus, less than I am actually made to be – is through Christie Purifoy’s amazing book Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace.* Her words are reminding me that hospitality does not have to be about hosting, about having people in this space all the time. Her words are reminding me that hospitality can be about beauty for the sake of itself and beauty shown and shared but not always physically.

This morning, I am going to order pounds of sunflower seed so that when the warmth comes, Philip, Milo, and I can plant them in a wide swath of golden up by the road. It is our hope that everyone who drives by will take joy in that ephemeral beauty as they drive by.

We will host our annual writer’s retreat in June and open the bunk room for guests come April. And in late April, we’ll invite everyone down for our annual yard sale and look forward to greeting our neighbors, especially those of you who have always waned to come down the lane but just needed a reason. On May 18th, Christie Purifoy and Jason Harrod will be here for a night of music and story, and you are all invited. Plus, of course, there’s lots of opportunities to sit at the dining room table over tea. (Get the details on all our events here.)

But mostly, we’ll be here – the three of us – watching the chickens get closer and closer to trying out their swing, tending the tiny shoots of dill in the basement, and walking the land with our hound dogs. We’ll be taking joy in the gift we’ve been given, my friends. We’ll be taking joy.

As you show up to your joy, your work will come to you.

Don’t be scared that Joy is selfish. She has gifts for the whole world in her pockets.— Laura Jean Truman (@LauraJeanTruman) January 24, 2019

Every day, I try to post a picture – or three – from the farm over on Instagram. A little way to share the beauty we’re cultivating here. We’d love to have you join us there.

The Gift of a STeady View

This image above, it’s what I see from the recliner where I work each day while Milo naps. I look out over our bed from my grandmother’s auto-lift chair and see the branches of that walnut, the white roof of our barn, and the woods beyond.

It’s a simple view, not flashy except when our friend the pileated woodpecker dances by, his red cap shining. But I love this view. I love the gentle shift of light on the walnut bark, the way the white roof shimmers back even the grayest sky, the dance of the trees beyond as the wind invisibles past.

This, also, is the place where I can go deep and focus in these days of constant motion and tiny hands. A glance at the monitor to see that Milo is comfortable and resting well, and I’m diving in to words – mine, clients’, the books that continue to accrue on the trunk beside my chair.

Each morning, after Milo goes to sleep, I settle into this space. I almost don’t think about coming here anymore – it’s that much a part of my day. I pick up my computer or read some pages, and between I look out at this view, steady, true.

Sometimes, our culture pushes us to do more. Travel. Attend. Visit. Experience. I love all those things, but I am only able to love them because here – on this 15 acres, in this 215-year-old farmhouse, from this gift of a chair – I get to see the same thing. The branches, the roof, the dancing trunks beyond . . . they ground me even as they soar.

It’s not a view I’d trade for the world. Not for a whole world of experience. Here, now, this is enough.

**

Just decided, we’ll be having a BIG yard sale (in the barn, so I guess it’s a barn sale) on April 27 from 8am until . . . If you’d like to come set up a table, we welcome you to join us. Just message through the comments here, and we’ll get you all the details. Hope you can come to sell or to shop.

Bearing One Another's Burdens

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

In college, my friend Sarah and I took a class on the Inklings, that wondrous group of English writers that included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton. (Those men really liked their initials!) We were assigned (noticed I didn’t say I always read) Sir Gibbie, Gaudy Night, That Hideous Strength, The Lord of the Rings and more.

(In a rather comical underestimation of the time involved, Sarah and I actually tried to listen to the BBC recording of Tolkien’s trilogy. Several hours into book one, we abandoned that plan.)

While I loved the books, especially Lewis’s work, it was a lesson from one of the other books – which one I can’t remember now – that has stuck with me. It was the idea that we are to help bear one another’s burdens. In that class, Sarah and I made a commitment to do that for each other, and now more than 20 years later, we still do that. *

She came, went to the hospital for my procedure, and watched episode on episode of Lost with me after I miscarried. Talk about bearing one another’s burdens.

**

Last night, another friend picked up some of my burden when she paid the licensing fee for the use of Rhiannon Giddens‘ lyrics in my new novel, Silence at the Lock. The cost was beyond my means to cover, and she offered – as she has with so many other things in our family’s life – to help us pay the expense. I am overcome with gratitude to her.

**

I could keep listing the ways people have helped me bear my burdens – the friend I’ve never met who gifted us the jogging stroller they didn’t need, the kind souls who leave books in our Little Free Library, the neighbors who give us plants and overpay for eggs and vegetables, the grandparents who watch Milo often so this mother can work. The list is truly endless.

So today, my hope and prayer is that I have been at least one-tenth as good at helping other people carry their burdens as they have been at helping me carry mine. If I have done that, then I have done well.

May you each have all the help you need to foist the burdens of your days, and if I can be a part of that help, please, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

*Also, yes, this idea is in the Christian Bible, but I often grasp things more thoroughly in story than I do in sermons. You?

Do the Next Thing - Image is of a woman writing in a garden journal

Do the Next Thing

Last night, at 4:30am, after sleeping for almost 7 solid hours (Glory!), I woke up with the weight of all that I wanted to do on my chest.

I’ve got a book coming out in April and a lot of promotion and prep to do there. I’m working on a new project researching the enslaved community at Scotchtown Plantation in Hanover County, VA. I’m eager to get those veggie seeds started (I held off because of this super-cold spell.) Milo is starting to pull up, and I want to walk around all day with him. I have a stack of books as high as my shoulders I’m eager to read. SO MANY good things and not enough time (or energy) in the day to do them all.

I expect you can relate.

But as I lay there, my mind racing with what to do first, I felt this gentle nudge, this reminder – “The next thing, Andi. Just the next thing. You do what the day can hold.”

I fell back to sleep them – for another TWO HOURS – and while my dreams involved Meander jumping off (and landing safely) a 4-story balcony and the need to buy dog food while trying to evade capture, I slept hard and work rested. More rested than I have, well, since a certain four-toothed wonder took his first breath.

So this morning, when Milo’s first nap didn’t come easy (and involved reading him a chapter of Martin Walker’s Bruno), when the laundry needs doing and the dishwasher unloading, when I have a dozen images to transcribe and three client projects to edit, when I want to make some decisions about repairing the roof on my office and buying sunflower seeds for the field by the farm stand, I am doing one thing at a time.

And taking a deep breath in between. May you do the same. The next thing, friend. Then, the next thing.

If you enjoy my weekly blog posts, I hope you will consider signing up to get my monthly emails that are full of farm stories, photos, recipes, and updates on the happenings on this 15 acres of quiet. You can sign-up here.

Starting Seeds and Fostering Hope - Image is of green and red bell peppers in a pile

Seed Starting and Fostering Hope

Last weekend, we got the grow lights set up in our basement. The dirt flow and temperate climate make it an ideal space. Now, if I can just remember to duck each time I go down to check on the seedlings. . .

This weekend, I hope to get the seeds in the ground. I’m starting with some herbs from seed for the first time – rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano. Then, I’ll get some other things going – tomatoes and cucumbers for the greenhouse, peppers too. I bought some jalepeno and “wonder bell” pepper seeds, and I’m eager to see those grow. Hopefully, we’ll have seedlings of these to sell in the stand, too.

I’m holding these seedlings as hope because I can feel myself sliding toward a bit of hopelessness about all the prep I’d like to do in the garden itself. All this rain means we haven’t been able to get the tractor down to amend the greenhouse soil, and while we got the gift of two big loads of woodchips for the garden walkways, the soil is far too wet to work as of yet. Maybe we’ll get a few days in a row of sun – and really cold temperatures might be nice, too – so that the ground is hard enough to roll over.

Yet, even as I ponder seeds in that old basement kitchen where an enslaved woman cooked meals, even as I set my hope on prepping the greenhouse soon, I know that so much of life in this world is beyond my control. I rail against that sometimes – trying to wrangle things far beyond the breadth of my arms – but I always come back to the fact that I can only do my best and trust the rest to larger arms.

So this weekend, as I fill trays with soil and as I press tiny seeds into it, I hold faith in the Love that holds us all up and presses us gently into who we are made to be and trust that the soil will be prepped in the right time.

Cover of Uncluttered by Courtney Ellis

Drinking Deeply – A Guest Post by Courtney Ellis

Early in our marriage my husband Daryl and I lived in southern Wisconsin, where the soil is so black and rich it seems like Narnia—you could plant even a lamppost, and it would grow.

We grew a garden—our very first—astounded by the fat cherry tomatoes that burst from the ground, the jalapeños spiky with spice, the mint that threatened to take over it all. We bought a compost bin and churned our kitchen trash into new soil, eggshells and coffee grounds and potato peelings dissolving to feed next season’s harvest. Our toddler son watched spiders and ate dirt and laughed and laughed. After stressful meetings at work, I’d kneel amidst the greens and pull weeds, nature’s best therapy.

Gardening is easy, we thought. Growing things is simple.

A handful of years later we moved to southern California with a postage-stamp-sized patio. We sprinkled herb seeds into a pot and called it a garden. I gave the whole thing a good soaking. Then, running from one meeting to the next, one activity to the next, one errand to the next, we completely forgot all about it.

Anemic basil sprouted halfheartedly. Rosemary wilted. The mint never even made an appearance.

Gardening is impossible, we thought. Growing things is silly.

Between Wisconsin and California we’d jammed more and more into our schedule until we were spinning like tops with barely a half-hour to microwave fish sticks for the kids (now there were two), much less tend to slower, greener things. Our marriage, our family, and even our miniature garden showed the strain.

It’s a humbling thing to admit you’ve come to the end of yourself. That you have limits and you’ve reached them. That there is simply no farther you can go, no harder you can push, no thinner you can stretch.

Daryl and I looked each other in the eye and said, “We have to stop.” Slowly we began to detox from an overpacked calendar, learning to say no, to make scheduling sacrifices, to listen to our souls.

In the middle of our uncluttering journey, we moved to a little house with a backyard, its soil as hard-packed, hot, and arid as I imagine the surface of Venus to be. I hammered together raised beds. The kids and I scooped soil into them, sowed seeds, watered, and waited.

Gardening is slow, we said. Gardening—like anything rich and beautiful and important—takes time.

Those little raised beds became for us a symbol of choosing to do less so that we could hear from God and one another more. As we watered and waited and watched, we began to hear the ancient pulse of an earth set spinning in motion millennia ago by a God who loves us enough to offer us deep, slow, lasting joy in an instant gratification world.

My son, now six years old, wandered through the backyard yesterday, paused for a second at a raised bed, and raised his voice.

“Hey Mom!” he yelled. “Look! Kale!”

COURTNEY ELLIS writes and blogs at CourtneyBEllis.com. Author of Uncluttered: Free Your Space, Free Your Schedule, Free Your Soul, she lives with her husband and three littles in southern California. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Return of the Eggs

The Return of Eggs

Last night, Philip came to the kitchen door with his left-hand full. He held three eggs – a white one, a brown one, and a green one – like the girls had planned to show off their gorgeous individuality.

I took a paper towel, wet it, and gently wiped off each beauty. Then, I took the carton out of the fridge, added two – one white, one brown, and then slipped the third into a carton from under the counter.

A dozen eggs. We have a dozen eggs to share with our neighbors. It’s been a couple months since we could say that.

Learning to Love the Fallow

This was the first year when we really saw the full fall-off of egg production because we don’t add light to our coop. (Hens need 14 hours of daylight to make one egg, so many people put lights in their coops in these short days.)

For each of the past few years, we’ve added new hens to the clock in the spring, and so come winter, they didn’t molt and, thus, continued to lay even in the short days. But this year, given that I was pregnant and couldn’t bend over to check on baby chicken butts, we didn’t order new birds.

So each evening, when we checked the laying boxes and found one solitary egg or, often, no eggs at all, we sighed and contented ourselves with weekend easy-over fry-ups.

Each week, someone would write to ask if we had eggs, and I had to keep saying No. I didn’t like that.

But as each week passed, I settled into the small grace of not having to wash eggs and handle the cartons each day. I took those few minutes and watched Milo laugh. . . fallow gifts.

The First Dozen

Today, though, we are putting this gorgeous 12 in the stand for neighbors to pick up, and we hope to have more and more cartons available for sale (always at the price people can pay even though we suggest $3). It feels nice to slide back into this offering, to handle these fragile gifts and pass them along, brown, green, and white orbs of goodness.

Our Neighbors - Beloved Ones

The Neighbors – Beloved Ones

This morning, as I walked around the house tidying up, I kept gazing out the back windows, the ones that look out over our pasture into our neighbor’s pasture.  Sometimes, she has cattle there. Sometimes donkeys. But just now, two horses are calling that space home.

One is a tawny beige color – I’m sure the horse people among us know the proper name – and the other is like an Oreo or a panda or a Holstein – black and white patches that stand out strong in the faded golds and browns of winter in Virginia.

I love these neighbors of ours – both the animal ones and their human owners. I love the cattle that spend time on our land to the west of the farmhouse and Glen, the man who owns them. . . and these horses and their owner Karen. I love our neighborhood chickens and the roosters down the road that we only hear. I love the hound dogs that bay nearby. I love the alpacas we pass, and the big fluffy sheep that look like barrels near Philip’s parents home.

Our Neighbors - Beloved Ones
The sky one evening here.

Here’s something else I love – from where our house sits, we can’t see any other houses. I can see the top of the silo at the farm across the way, and this morning for the first time, I saw the lights of the house next door through the bare trees in the woods. From time to time, Karen rides her four-wheeler to check fence lines and her German Shepherd runs beside her. Most mornings, I see Glen carry a spiked bale of hay to his cattle. Sometimes, I see our neighbors in the old schoolhouse doing a bit of work around the place (and I keep hoping those bee hives will mean they have honey for sale soon.)

But mostly, our neighbors are animals, and I love that. Don’t get me wrong – I love the people, too, care for them, want to be sure they are well, am eager to lend a hand.  But part of the reason I hold such deep affection for all these people is that I don’t see them often. Call it antisocial if you will, but I know that I am a better friend and neighbor when I spend most of my time alone. It’s my nature, Philip’s, too. We need solitude to live well.

Some of us are called to live close to our neighbors, to walk with them and by them and beside them every day. I love that. But I also love that some of us are called – are built for – solitude, for the creativity that comes in isolation, for the ways of wonder that come when we are alone.  No way of being neighborly is better so long as we answer needs when we know them (and we need to try and know them). Each of us gets to live our gifts and making the best way we know. I find that beautiful.

So this morning, as I watched Karen’s horses, I gave thanks for them, for this great blessing of a place Dad found for us to live, and for the neighbors who trust us enough to have only the thinnest of wire fences and a lot of open air between us all.


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