When Baby Birds Die

When Baby Birds Die

Yesterday, our new flock of baby chicks arrived. I could hear them peeping – along with their other boxed campadres – in the post office when I went to pick them up.

But when the clerk brought out the tiny box that snugs them all up, she looked a little grim. “I don’t know about one of them,” she said. And sure enough, not just one but two of the babies had died in transit.

The first year we got chicks, I fretted, well, like a mother hen. I checked on them every 15 minutes. Philip and I worried about pasty butt with vigor. We gave them fresh water on every visit. And when, a few months later, our dog Meander got into the run and killed several birds, including our favorite Snowman, I stood in the middle of that chicken yard and sobbed with cries so intense I’m sure they were heard up the mountain.

This time, I thanked them for being here the time they were and set their box up and out of reach of our cat Jelly Roll until I could bury them. When Philip got home, I took the box, dug a small hole behind my office, and dropped the little bodies in. I want to say I placed them in, but I didn’t. I dropped them right from the box to the earth. That alone speaks of the change in me.

Five years ago, with those first babies, I was still deep in grief over Mom’s death. I was still feeling her absence like a wide, sharp hole around everything. Philip’s entrance into my life began to heal that wound, to help it scar over, but then, it was still big . . . and these chicks, they represented a dream she and I had shared – of land and space and respite for me and for others.

But more, I had not yet learned to understand with any depth that suffering is often far worse than death. As my friend Shawn says in his lovely book The Day the Angels Fell, “there are things worse than death.” It took me years to know that about Mom – that her suffering any longer with the cancer that ravaged her bones would have been far worse than losing her entirely.

So now, more than eight years after Mom died and five years into raising chickens, I take gifts where they come. We didn’t have to watch these babies suffer, and likely, their deaths were quicker than they would have been had they been here since we would have tried to save them but might have actually prolonged their suffering in the process. I’m grateful for the 13 peepers in the brooder inside my office and for Milo’s tiny finger petting a bird head yesterday.

Farming hasn’t made me callous – at least I don’t think so. But it has made me honest, honest and hopeful, hopeful that beyond all this we all get to wander free and healthy in all ways, aware of our belovedness and content in our being.


Don’t forget to stop by on Saturday, April 27th for our BIG OLE YARD SALE. Lots of housewares. A couple of pieces of furniture. A working air conditioner. And more. Doors open at 8am, and we’ll be here until the crowd thins.

See you then!

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.

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.

We have restarted our monthly newsletter, and we’d love to have you get it in your inbox. Each issue will include a bit about our lives here, announcements about coming events, updates on what’s in the farm stand, and some photos from about the farm. If you already get these blog posts via email, you’ll get our newsletter, but if not, you can sign-up here. (You can also alter your subscription anytime to get just blog posts or the newsletter whenever you want. 

The Mysterious Ways of Goats and Babies

The Mysterious Ways of Goats and Babies

This morning, I looked out our bathroom window and saw that our small goat herd is wandering amongst the Trees of Heaven at the back of the pasture.  They’re grazing there, so I assume there is some mineral exuded by these trees that they need.  Plus, they collared all our other trees of heaven at the front of the pasture when we first moved them here.  Sometimes, goat-raising is a practice of pondering the mystery.

Parenting, I am finding, is much the same. Does that cry mean he’s hungry, he’s tired, he’s bored?  Or is he just shouting because he can? (This seems to be a particular favorite these days.)

The researcher in me wants to hunt down answers – and my smartphone feeds this tendency is some not-always healthy ways. But the writer in me, the journeying woman, the person who has learned that much of the hard days of her life have not yet brought reasons – that woman wants to settle into the mystery and let it abide around me.

There’s a bitterness that gathers on my tongue when I try too hard to know, when I push to understand things that are beyond me.  I’m learning to savor the sweetness of beauty in simple observation, in watching the wanderings of goats and the vocalizations of babies and doing what I must do to care for them but not more.

I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Interview this week, and I’m still letting her words slide into the cracks of myself. Here is what her words reminded me about who I am and who I want to be – I want to be the person who leans close into everything – even the hard, brutal things. I want to ask questions without expecting answers. I want to trust the journey is carrying me where I need to go. I don’t want to avoid anything. I want to embrace it all . . . and trust the outcome to One who holds it all.

May mystery revel around you, friends, and may you revel in it.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for our Holiday Craft Show on December 1. It’s going to be a wonderful day.  


Marking Time for Dreams on the Farm

Marking Time for Dreams on the Farm
Photo by Beth Ireland on Unsplash

Years ago in another life that I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the night song of fog horns, I had an inkling of an idea. A house (a timber frame to be specific) with room for guests to come and tend their weary souls.  Not a bed and breakfast or a retreat center where I would provide meals or workshops or massages, but my home big enough for others to come, have their own space, and find restoration and sanctuary.

That image, that dream, that calling lived long through some very hard days of divorce and finding the career I’d always wanted wasn’t what I wanted at all. It lived long enough to get a name gleaned from a sermon at a Tailgate Sunday service at Oxford Mennonite Church where Jesse Johnson taught me that the “still small voice” is more fully translated “God’s Whisper.”

It lived on through Mom’s death and a tiny, overgrown farm on the side of a mountain, where my dad and I mended our hearts as we restored a home. It lived on through meeting a slim, quiet, funny guy on OkCupid the day after I told God, “One more time and then I’m single” to this online dating thing, and it lived when that man said he couldn’t do this three hours in the car each day to and from work.

Now, it lives here at this place where writers gather and neighbors stop by to get eggs and produce in a building that was once the place where only white people could vote. It lives in craft shows and concerts and readings* by friends. It lives in chickens and goats and big, fluffy white dogs. It is what I have always dreamed, and it is also becoming.

In these days, though, when a bleary-eyed baby is doing his best to put himself to sleep beside me and where I will, probably, spend the bulk of my hours holding him while he dreams, the life of this place seems far away, almost unattainable, even though it is structurally just steps away. I can let myself be frustrated by the fact that we don’t have the energy to have many events or that the driveway entrance isn’t landscaped the way I’d like or that the bunk room we made for people’s respite sits empty most days because we simply can’t even manage the work of hosting guests just now.  I do let myself be frustrated by that sometimes . . . and that’s okay because frustration is life’s way of telling us we need to persevere. I see that every day as a certain three-month-old tries to crawl.

In these days of lots of watching and waiting as the person I’ve waited for so long gets his feet under him, I am so grateful for women who teach me that the ordinary daily of now, even if it doesn’t look like what we call “ministry” or “service” is just that. For Shannan Martin and her reminder to see what is before me each dayFor Jerusalem Greer and her farm that reminds me that calling is sometimes about Just Living in a place and loving the people who neighbor it. For Christie Purifoy and Lisa-Jo Baker, whose podcast “Out of the Ordinary” is singing health and dreaming and contentment into my tired, mama soul.

Some days, it feels like this farm and this woman are just marking time, going stagnant, sitting empty. But then I am reminded that empty spaces are the ones that can be filled again, and I wait, here in the daily of maintaining and watching, to see what gift of “next” comes when the time is right for it to arrive. Maybe it will be alpacas.


*Stay tuned for more information about an exciting night of music and words with author and gardener Christie Purifoy and singer-songwriter Jason Harrod this spring.

Community and Creativity: Farms You Admire?

Community and Creativity: Farms to Admire
Etta On Watch

I am a farm junky. I get this tendency true, straight from my dad who has been known to drive the back roads of Lancaster County, PA just so he can sit and watch the mule teams work and talk to all the Amish farmers.

I’m interested in the lifestyle and community of farms. I admire the places that treasure beauty and slowness, where people come to rest and find goodness in food and flowers. I’m looking for places to emulate, spaces where farmers have found creative ways to make their living and invite their neighbors into that living, breathing energy.

I love CSAs and flower farms. I love pick-your-own berry/peach/apple/kumquat establishments. I love farm tours and hay rides and stages set against corn fields. If a farm has a way that it invites people in – and still maintains the quiet and solitude of the farm life – I’m on board to watch and learn.

So today, I’d love to hear about farms you love and why. I’d love to know what inspires or feeds or rests you in those places.  Post a link in the comments below or let me know if we can find them on Facebook.  We’re continuing to dream big for our this little piece of land that we steward, and we’d love to know about the places that shine a little extra light into your world.  Thanks.

Over on Facebook this weekend, I asked folks to weigh in with some thoughts about a potential lavender farm here. I’d love to hear what you think, too. You can find that post here.

Pecking Orders and My Discomfort

Pecking Orders and My DiscomfortEvery morning, when I go out to feed the chickens and break them free from their coop confinement, the roosters burst forth from their captivity with a very strong drive to mate.  If you’ve never seen the forceable nature or heard the disgusting squawking of chicken mating, then, I’d say be grateful.  It’s a brutal act, and when I don’t remember that chickens are not human beings, I can get really disturbed.

The same is true when I watch our goats ram each other with all their force their tubby bodies can exact. They slam each other into fences, down hills, and against the feeders, all without a care for the harm of the others who are, incidentally, rarely harmed at all.  But now that our puppy Etta is in the mix, I’m even more sensitive to their establishment of the hierarchy.  She yelps every time they butt her, even though they are significantly less rough with her than with each other, and it breaks my heart.

But again, I must remember that goats and dogs are not human. These acts are not personal. In fact, they are necessary because they establish an order of authority and, therefore, protection that serves the whole herd, dogs included.  Recently, the Nigerian Dwarf goats, our littlest ones, have become Etta’s playmates after a few weeks of butting because now she is almost their size and, thus, their equal.  The same will be true as the puppy becomes a full-grown dog who equals the size of our cashmere gals.

Still, it’s hard to wait for these days.

So I focus on the joy that Etta and Boone, her partner in guard duty, play. He has always been kind to her, but now, he’s begun to play with her, responding to her CONSTANT jumping and hopping at his face with bounces and bounds of his own.  Their relationship, too, is evolving, and it is beautiful.

It’s so easy for me to assume that my way – in this case the human way – is the right way, but again, our animals remind me that my way is not the only and nor often the best way.  It’s a good lesson for each day, a gentle nudge to trust, to look for the good, to remember I don’t know it all.  (Dad, don’t be too shocked. 🙂 )

May your days be full of gentle reminders of goodness and a soft trust that all will be well.

On Brawling Bunnies and Ornery Goats

On Brawling Bunnies and Ornery GoatsRecently, animal care has required more energy and time than usual.  The extreme cold was part of that, but now, just as the temperatures warm a bit (of course), we finally have heated waterers for everyone, which makes us ALL happy.  Between keeping everyone in water, our own pipes freezing for a day, and being sure everyone’s shelter was draft-free and relatively cozy, we had a busy week last week.

This week, we are sorting out other issues that arose in the cold temperatures – namely animal grumpiness. First, our female rabbits started fighting. If you haven’t seen two rabbits fight in a 3×3 hutch, then you’ve missed a true dervish of ferocity. We bought a new hutch and moved Marty into her new digs.  Immediately, the tension eased. . . . although Cindy, the instigator, is getting less outdoor time now because she keeps picking on Marty and trying to start something. Last night, I felt like an English teacher in a high school cafeteria – “Stop it.” “Cindy, knock it off.”

Then, yesterday morning, as I was feeding those grumpy girls, I heard Etta yelping loudly and continuously, so I ran – literally, which is a sight when I’m not pregnant – to the goat room and found Wilma’s horn caught under Etta’s collar.  The poor girl was being choked. I freed the pup, disciplined the goat, and escorted our 10-week-old fluff ball to her kennel, where she promptly began to eat.  Scary.

All is well now. Etta is being wise to avoid the goaty gals until she’s a bit bigger, and Boone is watching her carefully, even while she eats his food.  The rabbits are content in their separate apartments with their new climate-controlled water bottles.  And we are enjoying the relative peace and above-freezing temperatures and calmer temperaments are bringing.

Never a dull day around here, of course, but the chaos is limited, which is pretty much perfect for us.

Mark your calendars. Our BIG yard sale will be here on April 28 from 9am-4pm in the barn. Rain or shine.  

The Gift of Small Beauties

The Gift of Small Beauties

This morning, as I stood filling the goats’ water trough, I looked up to see the fading super moon foregrounded by walnut branches.  I put my hand on my belly and reminded Baby Flobo – and myself – that we often need to look up to see the beauty.  It’s something I hope we can teach this little life . . . to let go of the need to do and the list of chores and to settle in to really see the beauty around us.

This week, I am reading my dear friend Kelly Chripczuk’s new book of poetry Between Heaven and Earth, and I keep finding my breath caught by amazement in my throat. Her poems are accessible and clear, set all around the farmhouse where she, her husband, and four children live.  They are poems of moments, poems of the daily; they are the poems I need to read just now when everything feels like it’s leaning toward anticipation.

I hope you will consider picking up Kelly’s book for these darkest days of the year, days when it can feel heavy and hard and that nothing new will ever come. Let her words light your evenings,  the quiet of your mornings, the breath of your lunch break with soft glow. Let them teach you to see anew, even in the dark of the daily.

You can order Kelly’s book here. 

Unlatched Runs and the True Freedom

Unlatched Runs and True Freedom
Photo by Meg Kannan on Unsplash

Yesterday, I came home from being in Louisa County for a few hours. I let Meander out to use the “facilities,” and I took a brief nap.  When I woke, I couldn’t find Meander, and Mosey was acting strange.

That’s when I saw the feathers – piles of white feathers right near the coop . . . and then I saw the door to the chicken run swinging free.

I had forgotten to latch the door after the morning feeding, and Meander had gotten one of our chickens. I found the dog and the chicken, and I brought the dog in. I texted Philip to let him know.  I sat silent for a while.

I felt stupid. I felt negligent. I felt sad.

So I breathed deep, remembered that, as my friend Kelly says, “things happen to chickens,” and I got back to work.

In the earlier years of my life, I would have looked for some purpose in this event – some moral lesson that God was trying to teach me, like a celestial Aesop. But this time, this time, I took it for what it was – a sad moment.  And I committed to checking the latch.  No lingering guilt. No over-analyzing. No moralizing or trying to make good on something sad.

It’s a lesson hard learned for me – that sometimes bad things happen and they are just hard.  While I do believe good is made of all those things, I no longer believe I need to or can figure out what that good is.  Instead, I’ve learned that I simply need to witness the moment and do the best I can from there.

My mom died. I miscarried. My dog kills chickens, and chickens die for no reason I can figure.  These are the hard facts of life. . . and I must carry them because, well, that is life.

But thank God that I have been made whole enough to know that I don’t need to carry the weight of the meaning of those things. Thank God that is beyond my tiny, tired fingers.

May you feel the freedom of knowing you are asked for only today’s attention and hope and not the weight of all the world.