We’ve begun to prepare the barn for Saturday. The cider has been purchased. The hound dog greeters rested. The crafts shaped. Now, it’s time for our holiday craft fair, and we so hope you’ll join us. We’ll be open rain or shine with a warm fire in the wood stove and hot cider to share. Come shop and enjoy the spirit of the season with us here on the farm. ALL ARE WELCOME!
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 day. For 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.
Recently, 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.
In just over two weeks, our farm will be full of artists for our annual Writer’s Retreat. We’ll eat good meals and share our words and relax together.
Then on Saturday night, we open wide the invisible gate at the end of the lane and invite in anyone who wants to join us for an evening of words and community. This year, novelist Billy Coffey will be our guest. Billy lives over the mountain in Stuart’s Draft, a place where hollows are homes. His novels are set in small spaces but are expansive in the stories of every day people living amidst the battle of good and evil. I love his books because they are haunting (and sometimes haunted) and because they tell the stories of the mountain places in which I grew up.
The reading begins at 7pm, and it’s FREE and open to the public. Our time together will be a great family event, and if the weather is willing, we’ll have a bonfire and cook some s’mores after Billy’s time. (If it rains, we’ll gather in the barn). He’ll have books to sell, and you’re welcome to come a bit early to visit with him, spend some time with our animals, and just relax on the farm. We sure do hope you’ll join us.
Reading by Novelist Billy Coffey
Saturday, June 24 – 7pm
Free and open to the public.
Rain or Shine
For sale, we’ll have some jewelry, some household goods, a lifting recliner chair, a wicker love seat, and much more.
The sale begins at 8am and runs until 4pm, rain or shine.
Plus, while you’re here, meet our rabbits, visit the goats and chickens, and pick up some strawberries in the farm stand at the end of the lane.
Hope to see you here.
The beautiful girl in the photo above is our goat Bliss. On Monday, she and her herd with guardians went on an adventure. Thanks to the kindness of our neighbors, we were able to bring 5 of the goats and our 2 Great Pyrenees home, but Bliss is still missing. If you see her, will you please let us know by emailing us at [email protected] THANK YOU
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.
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
Today 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.
When I was younger, my mom used to make dried flower arrangements – beautiful ones – and then sell them with her friend Susan at craft fairs around Virginia. Their business name was the Statice Symbol, and they enjoyed themselves, even if they never made any money from their work. They broke even – maybe – and that was more than enough.
I have one particularly vivid memory of Mom and Susan at the Walton’s Mountain Museum. Their booth is set up, and they are both in folding chairs, laughing. Those days were some of the ones that gave Mom the most joy, I think.
I’m the same with the things I make from yarn. I want to break even, and I want to find joy. I want to use my relaxing time to create things because that work is, itself, quite relaxing. Something also happens in the making of objects, artifacts, something sacred that I don’t know quite how to put to words. To shape something into something else, that’s holy work, restoring work, healing work.
Thus, when fall arrives, I am eager for the craft show season. I love walking aisles of stalls and seeing handmade work. I love studying a case of rings lined in black velvet and running my fingers over the soft yarns of scarves. These shows are one of my great joys.
Now, we have the privilege and honor of being able to host one of those shows ourselves. On Oct 29, our barn will be filled with artisans selling the things they have shaped with their singularly-fingerprinted hands. My sister-in-law Juliana will be here with her wire-wrap jewelry that is GORGEOUS, and our friend Shaun from Louisa will be here to make rings for you on the spot. We may have a homemade candle company on site, and we’ll definitely have By Hand Designs here with his reclaimed furniture and decor. My newest mama and her mama have been crocheting up a storm, and I may just have a slew of hedgehogs, cowls, and cozy, warm shawls to sell. Plus, Philip has been crafting walking sticks from saplings around the farm. Add to that, a beautiful woman who makes handmade purses, a friend who hand-sews baby clothes and blankets, and a representation of the wares available at our friend’s store in Louisa – and we’re set for a GREAT show.
My prayer for that day is that people will make some money, maybe even do more than break even because I want to be supportive of people’s art and because I know the joy of bringing livelihood from what we love.
So I hope you will stop by between 9am-4pm on Saturday, Oct 29th. We’ll have the hot cider and hot cocoa flowing, and the wood stove will be giving us the perfect, warm heat. Meander and Mosey will be our official greeters, and we’ll gather to celebrate handwork and hard work.
I have a few things left that Mom sewed herself, and because I know her wish was for those to travel into the world wrapped in her prayers, I will be sharing those that day, too. And I’ll be thinking of her laughter.
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.
- 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!
The past two mornings, Meander, Mosey, and I have risen before 5am. (It’s hard for a human to sleep when a certain basset hound is licking her calf.) I pass from the bedroom to the bathroom, where I don my glasses. Then I head through the kitchen to unlock the side door, turn on a tiny light over the stove, and move to the front door to let the hounds out.
There, I stand at the door and see what time of night we are now in. This morning, we were in purple night, and a low-flying plane or helicopter disguised itself as a planet for just a moment.
Yesterday, this first glimpse of day brought me umber, with the hue of light coming. Each day, the night is fuller when I rise.
I suspect that as a child I noticed the way day changed her outfits every 24-hours, but through most of my adult years, I let human light dictate what I did. That’s not possible on the farm – or if it is, it comes with certain costs – the expense of buying electricity, fatigue chickens who are worn out of their eggs faster by lights in their coops, the loss of knowing how many shades of purple night has in her wardrobe.
Mornings, I’ve said it before and I’m sure I”ll say it again, are my greatest gift here on the farm. To sit in the quiet before birds sing, to know that autumn is striding over the Blue Ridge because these first breaths of day tingle the tongue with crisp, to begin again before the fatigue weighs me down in the evening light, these are the blessings of morning.