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.

On Brawling Bunnies and Ornery Goats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 “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 Daily Goodness of Farm Life

The Daily Goodness of Farm Life

Outside my office door right now, the greens are becoming yellows. I can see the tips of the apple tree leaning round the color wheel, and the corn is drying off perfectly for the time of year when it shines.

We’ve just had two minutes of rain that rode in on this blessed cold front, and right now, both our roosters (Mike travels with two of his gals to his new home tonight) are singing in a call and response that would make many a Baptist preacher proud.

Last night, our gang gathered with our neighbor Paco at the fence line, and Mosey laid in his favorite position – legs straight behind him – to bear witness. (See the photo above.)

Yesterday, Dad worked through the what we hope is the last of the hot, humid days to do some restoration work on my office. He cut away rotted wood and installed fresh, sweet-smelling lumber to stave off water.  We’ll need to dig out and do some creative stonework to keep the water away, but if there’s one thing we have here, it’s stones.

And again, the gift of rain has begun.

It is not all easy gift here now – we’re struggling through some pains that are personal and hard – but this place, even when the workload is mighty, comes to me each and every day like a big present adorned with dawn-heavy bow of morning.

**

Be sure to plan to join us on September 10th for Abbye West Pate’s concert. She has a guitar and a gift of a voice, and she’ll be filling Radiant with her song.  The cost for the show is pay-what-you-will, so come add what you can to the hat and enjoy the night.  Abbye will be joining us for the potluck at 5pm, so come early and break bread with us. Then stay for the show at 7pm and then s’mores by the bonfire after. Everyone is welcome.  

The Gift of Again on the Farm

The Gift of Again on the FarmJust right now, I have one of our front doors open in the front of the house, and the air conditioning on in the back . . . and we’ve hit a summer morning equilibrium that makes my ankles chilly.  Fall is coming.

But not before it hits 100 degrees this weekend.

A couple of days ago, I read Terri May’s beautiful words about living the seasons on her herb farm, and I was reminded of the moment during a thunderstorm on Tuesday night when I saw the first tiny hint of autumn as the walnuts began to shed their early leaves.

On Monday, I planted pumpkin seeds, and now I’m waiting for their tiny heads to come forth. . . the first promise of orange and white gifts that will come in October.  (White pumpkins, y’all, I can’t wait.)

But we are not yet done with summer here, the lessons it has to give . . . don’t plant the squashes at the bottom of the garden because the squash bugs find them too quickly; buy stronger tomato cages or stake the cages, too, because the gift of all this fruit is tugging them to the ground; invest in dog trimmers to make it simpler to get the Great Pyrs comfortable and avoid mats. . . we are still learning the gifts of this time.

Perhaps, today, that is what I’m most grateful here – the opportunity to do it all again next year, to do it better. . . to slide into learning with each year’s passing.

Sometimes, it’s appealing to think of life as a continual linear progression toward better, but most days, I’m quite content to imagine it as a slowly-rolling wheel that turns its way toward new and old at every moment.

What is your favorite part of the season where you live? Do please share in the comments below.

By the way, I just started a great new book, The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg.  It reminds me in beautiful ways of my friend Christie Purifoy’s book Roots and Sky. Both delve into the seasons of life in a rural, land-oriented space.  I highly recommend them both. 

A GWF Animal Primer, Just in Time for our First Wedding

Our New Farm Sign
We got a new sign for the farm. Keep an eye out for it when you visit.

On Saturday, we’ll be hosting our first wedding here on the farm, and it’s a special one – my dad, Woody, is getting hitched to his beautiful bride, Adrienne.  We couldn’t be more happy for them, and if they give permission, we’ll be sure to share some photos from their special day.

We know some of you will be coming to the farm for the first time this weekend, so we wanted to give you a little primer to the critters here, just in case you are as big on names as we are.

The Chickens

Xander – Our Plymouth Rock rooster

Ruby, Vermilion, Magenta, Crimson, and Maroon – Our Campines

Turtle and Fern – Our Polishes

Curioser, Onyx, and Ebony – Our Andalusians

Hollyhock, Hyacinth, and Hibiscus – Our Cochins

Daffy, Lemon, and Gigantor – Our Easter Eggers

Dingbat – Our Plymouth Rock hen

Weirdo and Not Weirdo, Dean, and Genius – Our Hens whose breed I have not yet identified.

The Goats

Wilma and Carmen – Our Fainting Goats

Olive and Acorn – Our Nigerian Dwarf Goats

Bliss and Elvira – Our Cashmere Goats

Our Dogs

Bella and Boone – Our Great Pyrenees

Meander and Mosey – Our Spoiled-Rotten Hounds

Our Cats

Jelly Roll – Mouser Extraordinaire

Emily, Charlotte, and Oscar – Our Barn Cats

You can see pictures of most of these beauties over at our Facebook page or on Instagram.  We’d love to see you there, and stay tuned for details about how you can come spend some time in our new bunk room.  It’ll be ready for guests in June.

 

The Barn Site, Destruction, and Community

Be joyful because it is humanly possible. – Wendell Berry

As I write, Dad is on the skid steer that we were graciously allowed to borrow. He’s putting the final touches on the site for the barn – a 40x60x12-foot structure.  The farmyard looks a bit destroyed right now.  As Philip said, “It looks like there was a major tractor trailer accident in the front yard.” Yet, sometimes, progress requires a bit of tearing open first.

Goat Feeding Stanchion
Philip made this stanchion for the goats. It allows us to trim their hooves and feel them, and come spring, we’ll shear the cashmere girls here, too.

I’m loving it.  Every time we take a few steps closer to the dream, I get giddy. 

Later today, Dad will double-dig our garden patch, too, saving us hours of work as he preps the asparagus and strawberry beds and does the final touch on the main garden patch.

Yesterday, he moved two quince bushes over by the garden edge, and today, we’ll prep the space, too, for the place that our rows of sugar maple will line the driveway.

This morning, when Mosey woke me at 5:40 and Dad woke early, too, he and I sat in the reading room and talked – racism, his childhood, farming.  We chatted about how we’ll open the farm store and how he might make some furniture to sell there, and his support has sparked me again.  From the moment I had this dream, he has not only gotten behind me, but he’s jumped into big machines and prepared the way.  I could not be more grateful for him.

And Philip, well, the man worked himself to achyness yesterday – disassembling the fence so Dad could get to the barnyard, taking down the old swing set the previous owners left because it was unstable, and gathering then splitting firewood.  Today, he’s sore, but he’s already headed out to get diesel for the equipment.  A remarkably good man there, the best one, I know.

Bella and Boone, our Great Pyrenees
Bella always reclines to eat. Boone is a little too anxious for that option.

Some farmers build their places without parents and partners, but no farmer I know does this work alone.  We NEED other people to support us, to help us, to speak words of support and enthusiasm into what we do.  I am so thankful for all of you, the Whisperers, who have dreamed this place with us, who have sent gifts and bought plaques for the goat fence, who recommend our Etsy shopWe would not be able to build this place without you. 

In a bit, Heather and Henry will come to have brunch with us, and Philip’s parents may stop by with Dexter (Mosey’s littermate) later today.  Our community of presence sharing our space.  We hope you’ll join that part of the community, too.  Stop by, sometime.  I’ll make you tea.

 

On February 21 from 1-4pm, I am teaching a crochet class here on the farm.  If you’ve always wanted to crochet or just want to join us for a bit of conversation while we stitch, you are most welcome.  I’ll provide the lessons and the materials.  You provide the fingers and the presence.  $15.  Comment below to reserve your space.  More information is available here.