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.

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.

When The Potatoes Sprout Just Before Frost

When The Potatoes Sprout Just Before Frost

After dinner each evening, Philip, Milo, and I have begun a routine of spending a bit of time outside in the cool. The fresh air is good for all of us, especially a certain baby who sleeps better with some crisp oxygen in his lungs.

The other night, we strolled around the garden to look at the compost pile and the fence Philip mended when the neighbor’s cows broke through to get our decrepit corn stalks.  We needed to make some decisions about the pile – how we were going to access it with the new tractor, how many square feet of the garden were worth the sacrifice, what kind of fencing we needed. But I was distracted.

Behind us, the potatoes that had gone undug this summer because of Milo’s arrival were now sprouting after Philip tilled the ground . . . a few dozen new plants, just days before we are due for our first frost.

I felt so sad for these beauties, sad that the cold of the winter will kill them before they can produce. Sad for the squash and pumpkins that have pushed from the earth in these unseasonably warm October days. Less sad for the ornamental corn that refuses to give up.

Sometimes, moments come too late. Sometimes, we wait too long to try, and sometimes, the days of life keep us from the timeliness of certain experiences. Sometimes, we flourish at the wrong moments.  Sometimes, frost will kill all that has sprung with such hopefulness.

But sometimes, in those rare golden days, we are graced with a gift that felt it would never come – that amazing job, a partner long awaited, a baby who has learned to shout into your life when you are almost 44 years old.

Tonight, these shoots of hope will die back in all likelihood, and I will be sad for their passing. And still, I will remember the promise that nothing is wasted – not pain, not young life, not even a late-sprung potato. It all is made whole and well. Every bit.

 

 

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.

The Wonder of Nature’s Chaos

The Wonder of Nature's Chaos
Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world would be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength. – Rachel Carson*

Yesterday, I watched the yellowing leaves of the black walnuts in the grove below our house dance in the breeze.  Just then, in that quiet moment without distraction, something I might describe as my soul stirred. I felt it in my chest: a lift, a wish, a settling too. Oh, the wonder.

My eyes focused a little closer, and I saw a single bird on the power line that runs to our house. A gray, round fellow that I could not name. He sat. He sang. Alone.

I look at Milo, the way rolls of beautiful, luscious baby fat cover his legs. I remember the marvel of seeing him on a screen when he was just five-day-old cells in a petrie dish, and I stare at him now – formed, chunky, vocal. Oh, the miracle of him.

Just now, I find myself preoccupied with the dishevelment of our yard, the way the weeds take the garden back to lawn, the seed heads on the grass around our laurels, the yellowing stalks of the irises that I need to cut back.  I want more control of the chaos, both in the yard and in my life.

I know though – with both my mind and my heart – that chaos cannot be tamed, only appreciated, only accepted. And I know, too, that beneath chaos there is order. Nature speaks peace through her golden ratio, her fractals, the way seasons cycle each year.

So I’m choosing Carson’s antidote these days. I’m leaning forward into wonder and watching each leaf of those walnuts dance her way to the ground.

 

*This quote comes from a beautiful book that my step-mother recommended called The Sense of Wonder.  You can get your copy here.  If you follow the link and place an order, the farm gets a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks, friends.

Lavender, Cut Flowers, Dreams, and Checkbooks

Lavender, Cut Flowers, Dreams, and Checkbooks
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

10 years ago, I couldn’t have dreamed this farm would actually be.  I was teaching English at a college in Maryland and living in a townhouse with a yard as big as our front porch. For years, I had wished for this farm. My parents and I had looked at land. I had read all the books, including Jenna Woginrich’s Made from Scratch.* But the way to the dream, well, that was harder.

But then there was Mom’s death and Dad’s generosity, and suddenly, it was there, chickens and all.  Now, my husband – who signed onto the dream when he chose me – and my son – who has no choice but will hopefully love it – are here, too, and it’s hard and gorgeous and perfect and flawed in all the ways the best things of life are.

So now, I’m finding myself in dream state again. Sometimes, my dreams are a sign of discontent, a sign that I am resisting something in my life as it is now. At those times, I’m learning to settle in, stay steady, celebrate what already is.

But sometimes – and I think this is one of those times – my dreams are about next things, about how the times now are good but they are not all, about how there is more waiting at the edges of what is. Do you know what I mean?

So these dreams are of fragrance and color, of flowers purple and golden, of bunches and stems and photographers and a weekend full of delight. Lavender, sunflowers, some dahlias maybe.  The start of a new thing here – flowers for you (and for me, too,).  It’ll be a small start, a few lavender plants this fall. A patch of sunflowers in the garden next year.  But I hope – I pray – the dream will grow roots and get bigger.

So much could stop us – too much realism, too much concern about checkbooks, too much fear. But I believe that all things work for the good, and I believe workloads shift with dreaming. And I believe tiny boys grow into wild children who love playing while their mother tends a field of purple flowers. I lean into dreams, and I trust that mighty hands hold me because those hands gifted me the dream.

Here’s what I hope the dream looks like someday. You and your family and friends here during a weekend of the summer to get lavender and sunflowers, to stand in fields of golden light and smell the purple fragrance of relaxation, to dream lemonade and toast a marshmallow – and to breathe deep the breath of life, friends.  That’s the dream.

Now, we get to live into it. And friends, oh friends, I so hope you are living into your dreams, too.

*This is an affiliate link, so if you follow it and then make a purchase, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Every bit helps in building the dream, friends.

The Dog Days and a Secret

The Dog Days and a Secret
Photo by Marcel Black on Unsplash

This time of year, most of us are growing a little weary of the mowing and the weeding and the tending of the gardens we love so much.  In this year of SO MUCH RAIN here, I find myself especially weary of the way the wire grass isn’t even slightly stilled by drought.

It’s the dog days. The days when humidity curls my hair through the windows of the farm house, and the squash bugs almost win the battle for that yellow fruit.  The days when the black-eyed susans are going to seed, and the wild flower meadow is falling to her side, tired from so much glory.

Soon, we will turn toward autumn, and I’ll smell that first bit of crisp on the air. I will, without a doubt, be too overjoyed for Philip on that day.  So for now, I hold my tongue when the sauna of August hits my face as I open the front door and let this man I love enjoy his favorite time of year.

I watch the okra blossom and the tomatoes give their last push and the late-planted zucchini put out her first blossoms. I try to revel in the humidity, at least until I sweat through my clothes.

But really, I’m watching the secret pumpkin that sprouted from last year’s decorations behind my office and waiting with so much anticipation for the day I can put it on our front stoop and declare it officially autumn.  (Don’t tell Philip.)


Placemaker by Christie PurifoyMy friend Christie Purifoy has a new book coming out in the spring, and I CANNOT WAIT to read it.  It’s called Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Beauty, Comfort, and Peace, and in every way I can imagine, it’s going to speak to my heart about this place here.  Maybe it’ll speak to yours, too.  You can pre-order the book here*, and know that when you pre-order, you are helping out a writer and country-living lover by supporting her work both in words and in places. 

 

*This is an affiliate link, so if you visit Amazon and buy anything, we get a small commission at no extra charge to you.

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.