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.

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.

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.

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. 

Come Talk Chickens with Kelly Chripczuk on June 22

A Reading from Chicken Scratch by Kelly Chripczuk - June 22, 2017Next week, the farm will be abustle with writers, and to kick the weekend off, my dear, dear friend Kelly Chripczuk will be giving a reading from her beautiful book, Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk, and Poultry.  Kelly’s memoir is full of the kind of life lessons that settle into the soft parts of you. Her work is never preachy, never pedantic, but always honest and rich. . . . and so funny.

If you enjoy chickens, appreciate the way a rural life ties you to the daily, or just love a good book, I hope you’ll join us on Thursday in the farmhouse for some time with Kelly and her book.  I’ll make some hot tea and have some fresh cookies (from a local bakery because I can’t eat raw cookie dough in my pregnancy, so what’s the point of baking them), and we’ll relax and talk about what makes our every day beautiful. We might even visit our chickens for inspiration.

Join us?

An Evening with Kelly Chripczuk

Thursday, June 22, 2-17


4975 Orange Rd in Radiant, VA

Free and Open to the Public

A Day on the Farm

A Day in the Life of the Farm
Our Great Pyrenees, Boone and Bella, have taken on these little buddies as their charges. Here, they greet Indiana with such gentle attention.

Sometimes, people ask us how we do all we do, and most days, I make light of the question, talk about how things just take a few minutes here and there, and say something about how “everyone is busy.”

And all of that is true.

But it is also true that the life we live here, particularly this time of year, takes a great deal of work and time, and since so many of you have asked what our days look like, I thought I’d share.

Our Daily Schedule

Every day, EVERY day, I wake up at or before first light. I start the coffee pot, pack Philip’s lunch if it’s a week day, put the eggs in the cooler for the farm stand, let Mosey and Meander out and then feed them. Then, depending on the time of year, I either read for a bit or I go out to do the morning feeding.

The morning feeding begins with letting the chickens out of the coop, filling all three of their feeders, and being sure they have water. Then, I cross the farm yard to the barn and feed the Great Pyreenes while also being sure they have water. Finally, I head into the barn and clean out the barn cats litter. (We keep praying they will learn how to use the cat door and take advantage of 15-acres of outdoor bathroom, but they have yet to do so. Sigh.)  I give them food and water before visiting with our new bunnies. I check their water bottles and fill their hay troughs before giving them what they really want – a small portion of pelletized food. It doesn’t look appetizing to me, but they climb the walls to get it.

In fact, if you ever need to feel wanted and loved, come do a feeding with me. The frenzy of enthusiasm for my mere presence is a good start to every day.

Most days, Philip and I then head to our respective day jobs with Philip opening the farm stand on his way out the lane. I do my day job at home, of course, so it’s sprinkled with farm chores – like opening the greenhouse and returning a stray chicken to the run – but mostly, we are working to make the incomes we need to support our lives.

But this time of year, the garden and the animals need a bit more tending. So today, for example, I will:

  • prep another bed in the greenhouse for planting.
  • plant Chinese cabbage and pak choi.
  • perhaps plant spinach, carrots, and kale in the outdoor garden beds, depending on the forecast for the next few days.
  • begin the very lengthy process of grooming the Great Pyrenees for warmer weather.
  • spend time pulling cashmere off of our goat Bliss since she is beginning her spring shed.
  • and weed the garlic bed and hunt for the hints of asparagus spears.

Fortunately, my day job is light today and tomorrow, so I should make good progress on these things. But if I had lots of editing or coaching to do, this would all need to be done in the brief evening hours before sunset.

At the end of every work day, Philip closes the farm stand on his way in, and he and I do the evening feeding. We feed all the critters and check their water levels. Plus, at this feeding, we get to gather eggs. (We’re averaging a dozen a day just now, so the Farm Stand is chock-full of eggy goodness. Come pick up a dozen or two.) And we get to take the rabbits out to their run for a bit of exercise and the joy of sprinting bunnies.

Then, we eat dinner before doing final chores – closing up the chickens at dusk, doing a final hay-fill for the rabbits before bed, performing maintenance on our vehicles and farm equipment, washing the day’s eggs in apple cider vinegar and packing them into crates, and crocheting projects for friends of the farm who support us by buying what I make.

Finally, at about 8:45 or 9pm, we settle in for an hour or so of television together before we send the hound dogs out for a last bathroom visit (we should probably have them train the barn cats) and settle ourselves into bed by about 10.

The Weekends

Like most other Americans, we spend the weekends doing the things around the house that we didn’t have time to do during the week.

  • We clean out the chicken coop and the goat room.
  • We make a run to the dump with our trash and recycling.
  • We spend a lot of hours in the garden – this weekend, I’m getting snow peas into the ground.
  • We work on fence repair.
  • We clean our house, which as you can imagine sees its fair amount of farm dirt.
  • I bake cookies for the week and try to prepare a good dinner.
  • We organize the books in the farm stand and give it a bit of cleaning, too.
  • Sometimes, we splurge and get a movie to watch from the Redbox for Saturday night.
  • And on good weekends, there’s a NASCAR race to watch on Sunday.

These are long days, yes, but they are good, rich ones. This lifestyle ties us to this place in a way that I appreciate more and more for its gentle, settled rhythm.  There is something to say for a home where this much life relies on us and where all the animals greet you with their voices and enthusiastic scampers every time you walk by. 

Come visit sometime. We’d love to show you around

The Healing Work of Baby Animals

The Healing Work of Baby AnimalsA few days ago, I put in this year’s order for chicks. We order our hen chicks from McMurray Hatchery, and they will arrive in the mail – a fact I see as amazing – during Easter week.  I ordered them for that week on purpose of course.

I’m also beginning to look for angora rabbits, a doe and a buck, for us to raise here.  So far, my search hasn’t led me to any bunnies close by, so I keep searching for their wild fluff nearby our farm.

This summer, we will also be building a paddock for two male goats, I think, so that we can breed our girls right here on the farm without the concerns about introducing animals from outside our herd.  The paddock will need a double-line of fencing to keep “baby goat accidents” from occurring through the fence line.

Last week, Dad and Adrienne started our first seeds under grow lights in their home and gave our garden – and new greenhouse – a kickstart for the spring. The table beside our sofa is stacked high with seed catalogs, and I”ll be ordering the rest of our summer seeds soon, including some purple potatoes because, well, I just want to.

It’s time, just in these days of growing light, for us to focus on how we grow our life and the lives we tend here.  It’s how I am healing from the deep blast of news about the ineffectuality of our fertility treatments.  Baby chickens will help, I hope, heal the heartbreak about the slim odds of a baby human in this place.

We will likely need some help around these parts in the coming months – fence-building, gardening, goat snuggling – so if you’re interested in dropping by for a few hours on a Saturday or one weekday evening, let us know. We’ll gladly put you to work and take your presence as a gift of healing, too.

The “Burden” of Keeping Everybody Warm

The "Burden" of Keeping Everybody WarmToday is the first really cold day we’ve had this winter, and so we’ve spent some time preparing everyone.  Last night, Philip prepped the heated chicken waterer, and this morning, I kicked off the thin layer of ice that had formed on the goat and Great Pyrs’ water tub and plugged in their water heater.

I made sure the cat door to my office swung wide so Jelly Roll could sneak in to sleep on the dog bed there, and I laid a brand new bed heater out on the couch in the barn for the three cats there.

The chickens will fluff themselves up and snuggle to stay warm, and the goats are wearing their finest winter coats.  Bella and Boone are frolicking in this Arctic blast. Tomorrow I expect I’ll find frost on their coats, and they will be giddy with it all.

Of course, Meander and Mosey have beds by the woodstove so they are MORE than fine.

In the house, we are trying our very best to keep our electric bill low as we work to save for fertility treatments again in January, so we are heating exclusively with the woodstove unless absolutely necessary. That means the back of the house is about 53 degrees most days, and tonight, we’ll have to cave and turn on the space heater in the laundry room to keep the pipes from freezing there.

I may also have mercy on Philip and turn on the heat pump in our bedroom. 🙂

It is a fair amount of work to keep farm animals safe and warm, but it is a work we are blessed to be able to do. We have the means and the time to tend these animals, and that is not a minor thing. Not at all.

Sometimes, doing the things we need to do can feel burdensome, so much weight in an already weighty world, but I am reminded today that there is great blessing in being able to bear that weight – maybe that is the lightness of it all.

Stay warm, friends.  Stay warm.

The Great Molt

The Great Molt - God's Whisper Farm
This is Turtle. She runs to greet us anytime we walk by the run.

The other day, I stopped Philip outside of the chicken run and said, “Oh no.”  We looked down at the stream of fathers coming from the beside the fence and began the hunt to be sure that someone hadn’t been killed.

No bodies, thank goodness, which could only mean one thing – we are in the midst of molting season.

If you haven’t ever watched a chicken molt, I think I’d be grateful.  They aren’t pretty in this time. Their feathers get all dank and limp, and they start shedding them with abandon.  Right now, our rooster Xander is particularly pitiful because he’s lost ALL of his gorgeous tail-feathers.  He’s also more ornery than usual probably because growing new feathers is a painful process and also because he isn’t able to preen and prance as powerfully just now.

Molting means the girls’ egg production drops because they’re putting their energy into growing feathers rather than into building eggs, so right now, we’re averaging about 13 eggs every two days.  (If you come by the stand and don’t find eggs just now, that’s why.)

In terms of our egg sales, it would be nice if the flock could molt in rotation, but nature doesn’t work that way.  Instead, when the walnut trees begin to shed their leaves, all the birds begin to shed their feathers.  It’s a lesson, for me, in surrender and in having tenderness to creatures who cannot earn their keep at the moment. It’s a reminder of how much I cannot – and would not want to control.

Soon though, Xander and his 31 girls – he is SO PROUD of his entourage – will be looking fit and fine. They’ll have tossed aside any broken feathers and any mites that may have been on them. (We are pretty careful to prevent mites though.)  They’ll have fresh plumage to show off, and those new feathers will help keep them warm in the coming cold months.  It’s a wise system, really, even if it makes the guy grumpy.

Our new girls will start laying this winter, and then we’ll have a couple dozen eggs, we hope, in the stand each day. The funds from those sales will help us pay for farm goods in the months when the produce has slackened.  We finally figured that out this year.

Now, though, we feed our 32 birds and celebrate with them. Right now, Fern – one of our Polish girls – is talking up a storm, and the other gals are letting out the quiet coos of their day.  Even when they don’t feel well, they make music, and I am joyful.


Handmade in VA Craft Fair - October 29On October 29th, we’re hosting a craft fair here in our barn, and we are SO EXCITED about all the vendors we have coming:

  • a jeweler who will make you a ring while you wait,
  • a woodworker who crafts beautiful decor from reclaimed objects,
  • a woman who makes wonderful purses,
  • a friend who sews the most exquisite baby dresses and blankets,
  • my sister-in-law who crafts gorgeous wire-wrap jewelry,
  • our friends from For the Love of the Local with their various, wonderful wares,
  • crochet by my step-mom and step-grandmom,
  • Philip’s walking sticks,
  • some whimsical people that he and I have created together,
  • and MUCH MORE!

We’ll have the cider on to share, and we do hope you’ll stop by. Admission is totally free, and Mosey, the basset hound, will be on site for photo ops. 🙂

October 29 – 9am – 4pm 

Hope to see you here!