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.

Perfect Imperfection, a Lesson from the Garden

 

Perfect Imperfection, a Lesson from the Garden
Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

I can sense a resting place
With every lesson learned a line upon your beautiful face.

–from “Get Out The Map” by the Indigo Girls

Something has gotten into the swiss chard a bit. It’s eating tiny holes in a lot of the leaves.  This is not swiss chard they would sell in the grocery store or steam for a fine restaurant. But it’s still delicious, still nutritious, still delightful.  Plus, those bugs are there because we don’t use pesticides.  In some essential way, it’s the epitome of swiss chard.

This time of year in the garden is always a reminder to me that there is so much goodness in imperfection, despite what our culture says. Our grocery stores teach us that a tomato has to be perfectly round, perfectly red, and perfectly blemish-free. Our movies and television shows tell us that people, particularly women, have to be a certain shape and size with flawless skin and sleek hair.  Even our educational system implies that perfection is achievable by testing us all to death.  So much search for perfection when nothing – at least that I’ve ever seen – is perfect on this earth.

So today, when Dad harvests tomatoes, picks cucumbers, and cuts fresh swiss chard, I will relish in those tiny holes, in the way the flesh of that red fruit curves wide on one side slim on the other, because I know that goodness lies in even the most wonky things.

Now, if I could just convince myself of the same beauty when I see a weed. Or myself in the mirror.

This week in the farm stand, we have potatoes, onions, garlic, cucumbers, tomatoes, yellow squash, swiss chard, and kale.  Okra will be coming on soon, too, and some of our sweet corn didn’t get flood in the rain. Plus, this fall, we’ll have lots of ornamental corn, pumpkins, and winter squashes.  Oh, the goodness. 

Daylilies, or The Time It Takes to See

Daylilies, or the Time It Takes to See
Photo by michael podger on Unsplash

This year, for the first time, the orange daylilies around the farm are putting on their full show.  We have a patch over in the memory garden overlooking the pasture that is on fire with their full glory, and by the garden, in the nearly-wild bank, a few others have taken purchase of the hill.  They make me smile.

Yet, it’s only this year that they’ve gotten vibrant. It took nearly four years of tending and weeding, destalking and watch for these beauties to come alive.  Such is, at the risk of sounding cliche, life.

People have inhabited both of the farms we’ve lived on for generations before we got them. This house was built around 1804, so the landscape here has over 200 years of history (not to mention the centuries of nomadic habitation by the Monacans before European settlers took over.)  So the folks who lived here planted and tended, propagated and harvested for a great deal of time before me and my ideas about the yard arrived.

For that reason, Dad has always reminded me that I needed to live in a place for a while to see what comes up without my intervention and to know just how we will abide in this landscape.  His wisdom has served me well as I’ve watched Ms. Tucker’s peonies emerge and marveled at the two parrot tulips that come brilliant by the house-mounting stone.  Now, the daylilies are inspiring a vision of vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds all along the pasture fence.  It’s just taken me that long to see this was possible.

It’s a gift to see what things are, to know them as they exist without us. That’s true for places and for people, too. It’s a truth I’m holding close as I spend my days with Milo.

Sometimes, time is the greatest giver of vision . . . if we simply abide in it.

 

**

Mark your calendars. We’re having our annual craft fair on Saturday, December 1 from 9am-4pm.  We’ll have a variety of handmade items for your holiday shopping needs.  If you’d like to have a table at the fair, we welcome you to join us.  The cost is just $10, and we do all the advertising. Email Andi at [email protected] to reserve your space.

Our Son Milo Has Arrived

Almost three weeks ago, we had the sheer joy of welcoming our son Milo into the world.  He was a plump 8 pounds 8 ounces and a long 22.5 inches, and we adored him, of course, on sight.

We’ve begun the process of adjusting to our new normal, which comes – at the moment – 2-3 hours chunks determined by Little Man’s appetite. We’re sleep-deprived but blissful. The farm isn’t as pristine as we would normally like it, but we’re adjusting to that, too.  We are happy and grateful and simply blissed out.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing – next to Milo himself – about this journey has been the way people have come to support us – from gifts of books to meals delivered, from help cleaning the barn for a big event to the willingness to sit with a baby while I run a few errands, from the gift of laundry and dish washing to the gift of texts of encouragement.  We must say a big thank you to our parents, to Kelly, to Heather, and to Shelva and Marin, whose support got us through those wild first two weeks.

Now, friends, meet Milo. He’s mostly limited to virtual meet and greets at the moment, but soon enough, you’ll see him toddling about the farm with glee.

 

By the way, the farm stand is open and bountiful these days.  Eggs, swiss chard, onions, garlic, kale, and cucumbers.  Tomatoes are on their way soon.  Stop by and get what you need. 

 

The Lenten Rose on the First Day of Lent

Lenten Rose on the First Day of LentYesterday, in the warm of the afternoon when the daylight extended past the evening feedings and Philip was finishing his second day prone from a nasty stomach bug, I needed air. I needed to be outside, to do something productive that no one actually needed me to do.  So I grabbed my pruners and spent five minutes cutting last year’s growth out of our hellebore, our Lenten Rose.

When we first moved into this farmhouse, I had never seen – or at least purposely seen – one of these early-blooming beauties. But quickly, my friend Sarah identified it for me, and I’ve loved this girl ever since, especially since she blooms so early.

Yesterday, as I took out the dying spires of leaves, I found them – purple blooms just waiting, hidden in so much of what needed to be pared away, ready to be seen on the first day of Lent.