Change Is Sad But Good

Oh, friends, I’m sitting here in the farmhouse kitchen before 5am, awake extra early because Milo woke . . . and because I knew I needed to tell you all something today.

We have decided to sell the farm. We have poured our hearts, souls, and quite a bit of sweat into this 15 acres of beauty, and we are so sad to leave it. But it is time.

We are sad. . . it’s never easy to let go of something you love . . . but we are also excited about what this new margin, these new pockets of nothing, will mean in our lives. More writing for me. More car adventures for Philip. More outings and activities for us as a family.

Making Room

Lately, I’ve felt – Philip too – simply overwhelmed by the work that this place requires when that work is stacked with our full-time jobs and the delight (and challenges) of raising an almost one-year-old. We have decided to scale back, to seek a place that requires less upkeep, and to let the business of farming be something we tried.

We will be in the area, and we will be praying that a farmer buys this place and loves it well. It happened at the first God’s Whisper, and I’m confident it can happen here again.

Finding New Homes

One of the hardest parts of this decision is that we know we need to find homes for some of our animals. If you know anyone who would like to buy a small herd of six goats or might want a pair of Nigerian Dwarf, Cashmere, or Myotonic Fainting Goats for their farm (to be bred and milked, raised for fiber, or simply as pets – we won’t sell to a meat farmer for obvious reasons), we’d love to hear from them. We will only sell the girls in pairs, and of course we’d prefer to sell the herd together. Let me know if you’d like more details.

We are also looking to find good homes for the 12 pullets we have just added here. They are healthy, beautiful girls. (All girls, we’re pretty sure.) They are heritage breeds and all good layers. Some of them even have feathered legs, so you can enjoy chickens in chaps. Again, let us know if you’d like more details.

Plus, of course, we need to find our new home. We’ve contacted a real estate agent to help us with the process of buying and selling. Hold us up during this process, will you?

What Will Continue

The writer’s retreat is still happening here in less than a month. (We have 10 spaces left if you’d like to join us.) And I’m hopeful we may find a new location and continue it for many years to come.

The farm stand will remain open until we need to pack it up, and we’ll have eggs and produce as available. However, we are no longer accepting book donations. Please donate them to the local library, donate them to the MESA thrift store, or take them to the Share Shed at the transfer station, where they find great homes.

Ways You Can Help

We have a BIG task ahead of us, so we could use your help in a few ways:

  • Please let us know if you hear of anyone who would like to buy our goats or pullets. (We are taking the full-grown birds with us.)
  • Please come get books from the Little Free Library and enjoy them.
  • Please join us on June 8th for a massive, massive yard sale. We’ll have some furniture, lots of housewares, and more. Milo will be one day short of a year old, so he’ll be receiving his adoring public all day, except during his nap. Doors open at 8am, and everything must go.
  • Accept our deep, deep, deep gratitude for the ways you have rallied around this few acres of quiet. We will miss you all so.

So much love to all of you. So much love.

BIG YARD SALE SAturday

On Saturday from 8am-4pm, we having one of our classic multi-family yard sales. Kitchen goods. Decor. Baby items (who’s going to come buy Milo’s first toy? And yes, I did tear up). Jewelry. An air condition. Dehumidifier. More notebooks than you can imagine.

Really nice baking supplies. A wonderful pressure booker. An almost new coffee pot.
Lots of amazing costume jewelry.

Hope to see you Saturday!

4975 Orange Rd in Radiant, VA

Bearing One Another's Burdens

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

In college, my friend Sarah and I took a class on the Inklings, that wondrous group of English writers that included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton. (Those men really liked their initials!) We were assigned (noticed I didn’t say I always read) Sir Gibbie, Gaudy Night, That Hideous Strength, The Lord of the Rings and more.

(In a rather comical underestimation of the time involved, Sarah and I actually tried to listen to the BBC recording of Tolkien’s trilogy. Several hours into book one, we abandoned that plan.)

While I loved the books, especially Lewis’s work, it was a lesson from one of the other books – which one I can’t remember now – that has stuck with me. It was the idea that we are to help bear one another’s burdens. In that class, Sarah and I made a commitment to do that for each other, and now more than 20 years later, we still do that. *

She came, went to the hospital for my procedure, and watched episode on episode of Lost with me after I miscarried. Talk about bearing one another’s burdens.

**

Last night, another friend picked up some of my burden when she paid the licensing fee for the use of Rhiannon Giddens‘ lyrics in my new novel, Silence at the Lock. The cost was beyond my means to cover, and she offered – as she has with so many other things in our family’s life – to help us pay the expense. I am overcome with gratitude to her.

**

I could keep listing the ways people have helped me bear my burdens – the friend I’ve never met who gifted us the jogging stroller they didn’t need, the kind souls who leave books in our Little Free Library, the neighbors who give us plants and overpay for eggs and vegetables, the grandparents who watch Milo often so this mother can work. The list is truly endless.

So today, my hope and prayer is that I have been at least one-tenth as good at helping other people carry their burdens as they have been at helping me carry mine. If I have done that, then I have done well.

May you each have all the help you need to foist the burdens of your days, and if I can be a part of that help, please, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

*Also, yes, this idea is in the Christian Bible, but I often grasp things more thoroughly in story than I do in sermons. You?

Cover of Uncluttered by Courtney Ellis

Drinking Deeply – A Guest Post by Courtney Ellis

Early in our marriage my husband Daryl and I lived in southern Wisconsin, where the soil is so black and rich it seems like Narnia—you could plant even a lamppost, and it would grow.

We grew a garden—our very first—astounded by the fat cherry tomatoes that burst from the ground, the jalapeños spiky with spice, the mint that threatened to take over it all. We bought a compost bin and churned our kitchen trash into new soil, eggshells and coffee grounds and potato peelings dissolving to feed next season’s harvest. Our toddler son watched spiders and ate dirt and laughed and laughed. After stressful meetings at work, I’d kneel amidst the greens and pull weeds, nature’s best therapy.

Gardening is easy, we thought. Growing things is simple.

A handful of years later we moved to southern California with a postage-stamp-sized patio. We sprinkled herb seeds into a pot and called it a garden. I gave the whole thing a good soaking. Then, running from one meeting to the next, one activity to the next, one errand to the next, we completely forgot all about it.

Anemic basil sprouted halfheartedly. Rosemary wilted. The mint never even made an appearance.

Gardening is impossible, we thought. Growing things is silly.

Between Wisconsin and California we’d jammed more and more into our schedule until we were spinning like tops with barely a half-hour to microwave fish sticks for the kids (now there were two), much less tend to slower, greener things. Our marriage, our family, and even our miniature garden showed the strain.

It’s a humbling thing to admit you’ve come to the end of yourself. That you have limits and you’ve reached them. That there is simply no farther you can go, no harder you can push, no thinner you can stretch.

Daryl and I looked each other in the eye and said, “We have to stop.” Slowly we began to detox from an overpacked calendar, learning to say no, to make scheduling sacrifices, to listen to our souls.

In the middle of our uncluttering journey, we moved to a little house with a backyard, its soil as hard-packed, hot, and arid as I imagine the surface of Venus to be. I hammered together raised beds. The kids and I scooped soil into them, sowed seeds, watered, and waited.

Gardening is slow, we said. Gardening—like anything rich and beautiful and important—takes time.

Those little raised beds became for us a symbol of choosing to do less so that we could hear from God and one another more. As we watered and waited and watched, we began to hear the ancient pulse of an earth set spinning in motion millennia ago by a God who loves us enough to offer us deep, slow, lasting joy in an instant gratification world.

My son, now six years old, wandered through the backyard yesterday, paused for a second at a raised bed, and raised his voice.

“Hey Mom!” he yelled. “Look! Kale!”

COURTNEY ELLIS writes and blogs at CourtneyBEllis.com. Author of Uncluttered: Free Your Space, Free Your Schedule, Free Your Soul, she lives with her husband and three littles in southern California. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Return of the Eggs

The Return of Eggs

Last night, Philip came to the kitchen door with his left-hand full. He held three eggs – a white one, a brown one, and a green one – like the girls had planned to show off their gorgeous individuality.

I took a paper towel, wet it, and gently wiped off each beauty. Then, I took the carton out of the fridge, added two – one white, one brown, and then slipped the third into a carton from under the counter.

A dozen eggs. We have a dozen eggs to share with our neighbors. It’s been a couple months since we could say that.

Learning to Love the Fallow

This was the first year when we really saw the full fall-off of egg production because we don’t add light to our coop. (Hens need 14 hours of daylight to make one egg, so many people put lights in their coops in these short days.)

For each of the past few years, we’ve added new hens to the clock in the spring, and so come winter, they didn’t molt and, thus, continued to lay even in the short days. But this year, given that I was pregnant and couldn’t bend over to check on baby chicken butts, we didn’t order new birds.

So each evening, when we checked the laying boxes and found one solitary egg or, often, no eggs at all, we sighed and contented ourselves with weekend easy-over fry-ups.

Each week, someone would write to ask if we had eggs, and I had to keep saying No. I didn’t like that.

But as each week passed, I settled into the small grace of not having to wash eggs and handle the cartons each day. I took those few minutes and watched Milo laugh. . . fallow gifts.

The First Dozen

Today, though, we are putting this gorgeous 12 in the stand for neighbors to pick up, and we hope to have more and more cartons available for sale (always at the price people can pay even though we suggest $3). It feels nice to slide back into this offering, to handle these fragile gifts and pass them along, brown, green, and white orbs of goodness.

Asphalt Chunks and Unexpected Gifts

Asphalt and the Blessing of Unexpected GiftsLast week, just after Philip got home and we were beginning the dinner process, a truck with all the accoutrements of construction came down our driveway.  A man walked up to our door, and as I met him on the porch in my bare feet, he said, “Do you all want some asphalt crumble?”

I’m sure my face looked puzzled because when I hear crumble, I think dessert! I couldn’t quite compute how asphalt became edible, but I knew better than to say so. So I called Philip. “Do we want asphalt crumble?”

My savvy husband said, “Yes, Yes we do.”  And he proceeded to give the man direction on where to dump it.

About then, I realized they were talking about the tailings from the rumble strips they were putting into the middle of the road at the end of our driveway.  Now, it made sense.

This is how we have a big pile of double-yellow-line tinted asphalt in our driveway.  And every time I see it, I get giddy because gravel is expensive, y’all, and when you have a quarter-mile of driveway plus a barn that is graveled all the way around and a parking area by your farm stand, it’s no small thing to get a HUGE load of free gravel.

Plus, now we have a tractor to spread the stuff, which makes it all gift and almost no burden.  And we are keeping a pile of tar-caked mess to end up who knows where.   All goodness.

Life still feels overwhelming as we continue to adjust to life with the most joyful and cutest baby on the planet, but sometimes gifts of grace come in really unexpected places.

May you get unexpected gifts that you didn’t even know to ask for this week, friends, and may they give you joy.

 

Friends, if you haven’t gone over an liked our Facebook or Instagram pages, I hope you will. We post lots of great stuff there regularly.  🙂 

Locking Eyes with the World We’re In – A Guest Post by Shannan Martin

I have been reading Shannan Martin’s writing for a few years now, starting back when she went by the moniker, “Flower Patch Farmgirl.” So I am THRILLED to bring to you an excerpt from Shannan’s forthcoming book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places.  As you’ll see, Shannan has the ability to spin pictures from words and to see in ways most of us are blind. If you like what you read, you can pre-order her book here, and when you do, you get some GREAT bonuses including discussion guides, a piece of art, and a calendar with photos from Shannan’s neighborhood.  Plus, of course, you get her book, which is the biggest gift of all. Locking Eyes with the World We're In by Shannan MartinThe paint was already flaking off the baseboards before I realized it was time to stop calling our house new.

The signs were everywhere. Mature grass finally blanketed the postage-stamp yard. The tree we’d bought with 2013’s tax refund was large enough to produce a spot of shade exactly wide enough for one person to enjoy. And the clincher—we had returned home from an out-of-town trip and the house didn’t smell new. Somewhere along the slow rush of time, when we were distracted by other things, the lumber, paint, and drywall had absorbed the precise essence of us.

 My new reality still took me by surprise.

 I had evolved from the fresh-faced farm girl living my version of the American Dream with a side of Jesus. I’d become the gutsy, subversive, city-loving advocate. The new neighbor. My kids went to a new school. We lived in a new house.

 On and on it went, my fists closing around this latest rendition of my identity, just as they had before.

But as people came into our lives and left us, as the carpet wore down in the sorry way carpet is prone to disappoint us, it became harder to ignore. We were no longer new. We were just here. The headline had faded. The sparkle dimmed.

Our earlier questions—Where are we going? Why are we going? and Will we ever fit in?—were replaced with just one: Now what? Surely God did not lead us here just to live. Surely spending our lives for his sake would mean more than attending PTO meetings and allowing the neighbor kids to conspire with ours in tearing up the yard. Wasn’t there some grand, specific thing he wanted and needed me to do here?

One late August morning, right in the middle of this heightened spiritual unrest, I decided to walk my kids to school rather than driving the short distance. I’m not sure what flipped the switch. It might have been the hissing shame that I was modeling an odd brand of privilege and laziness for my three young kids. But I had seen enough to understand that growth often requires death, and sometimes death looks like losing that extra fifteen minutes of sleep. Sometimes it asks us to surrender our softest pajama pants and lace up our walking shoes for the greater good, even if we’re not quite sure why it matters.

We set out with no grand or holy awakening in mind. I simply wanted to be a more positive presence for the three quirky kids who greet each day with gusto and would surely benefit from their mom at least trying to do the same.

And so we began. We walked almost every morning that year. Day after day, my feet traced the path south, then home again. Rain, shine, under what was often still the cover of night and through the driving snow that makes us ask deep, philosophical questions like, “Does summer really exist? And if so, why does it allow winter to happen to good people?” We walked like a small assembly of sturdy postal carriers saddled not with junk mail, but with backpacks, a violin, and widespread concern over the daily cafeteria menu.

I still didn’t know what was next for us here on Fifth Street, but my feet had committed a three-block stretch of it to permanent muscle memory. At the point that you instinctively know where the sidewalk buckles like a compound fracture, existential crises about belonging begin to evaporate. Though I enjoyed the slower start to our day, it would take months before I began to see this routine as significant. In what seems to be a defining pattern of my faith, God was disguising his heaviest lifting toward the health of my soul as mundane, repetitive grunt work.

My Now what? was answered in the wail of the train, in the whip of the wind, in the storm-weary oak tree jutting like a mangled arrow straight into the sky: Pay attention.

Two little words, light on action, or so I thought. I scanned my perimeter, certain the back half of the message had slipped into a mud puddle or gotten lost in the leaves. Pay attention to what?

Our first few years in our neighborhood had proven that love in action is the natural outpouring of the weighty grace we have been given. My joints were still a bit creaky from the impact of this truth. I waited for a to-do list, an ironclad set of instructions, complete with cross-referenced scriptures.

I trusted God to clear a path, then sat shell-shocked when he showed me my seat.

I asked for a shovel, or maybe a hammer. He handed me binoculars and my worn New Balance tennis shoes.

God got busy shrinking the world as I knew it down to a pinhole, one solitary shaft of light. “The soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness,” wrote Mary Oliver. Rather than feeling stuck in a problem-sodden world I would never be able to fix, God was caring for my soul by pointing me toward my corner of it and asking me to believe it was enough.

For a while, life became uncharacteristically quiet, and I was forced to slow down. I thought about growth patterns, observed the life cycle of decay and rebirth, and drank endless cups of tea. I searched for the story existing on the underarc of everyday life, where sizable change so often goes unseen. I noticed battered things and contemplated shadows, secretly judging God for his questionable time-management skills when there was so much work to be done.

Under the light of each new day, I walked. And I saw.

**

Two years later, this unspectacular, all-weather walk continues to give depth to my desire to love God more and put skin on his command to find kinship among my neighbors. Observing the changing of the seasons, I came to see with certainty that this daily practice was holy, a liturgy cut into busted sidewalks as we followed the clouds and thanked God for the trees. The larger world still felt impossibly complicated and overwhelming. But I was beginning to realize that it wasn’t my concern in the first place. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, “It is not necessary to take on the whole world at first. Just take the three square feet of earth on which you are sitting, paying close attention to everything that lives within that small estate.”

Simply put, we cannot love what we do not know.

We cannot know what we do not see.

We cannot see anything, really, until we devote ourselves to the lost art of paying attention.

Shannah Martin - The Ministry of Ordinary PlacesShannan Martin, author of The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You and Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted, is a speaker and writer who found her voice in the country and her story in the city.  Shannan, her jail-chaplain husband, Cory, and their kids, live as grateful neighbors in Goshen, Indiana.

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.

A Few Images from Around These Parts

We’ve been bustling and working to prepare for our son Milo’s arrival and to tend the farm as spring arrives, so apologies for our absence here.

Life continues with wild abandon on these 15 acres though, and here’s some of the joy we’ve experienced.

Etta is always a little silly.

swiss chard
The first swiss chard. In the farm stand today.

One of the many daffodils planted in memory of Andi’s Mom.

Boone and his CONSTANT sidekick.

Xander, the rooster, loves yogurt.

A little beauty over the hay field.

 

 

Come join us on April 28th from 8-4 for our BIG (and getting bigger every day) yard sale in the barn.  Visit the animals and pick up a few goodies.  Rain or shine.  

7 Things We’d Like You to Know about Rural Life

10 Things We'd Like You to Know about Rural Life
Photo by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash

Lately, it’s come to my attention that a lot of people have a pretty profound lack of awareness of what life in a rural place is like.  From conversations about how rural spaces are all politically homogeneous to shock that we don’t have a bus or subway system to surprise that it’s 20 minutes to a hotel, I’ve been surprised (which shows my own ignorance, I guess) that people really have no sense of rural life.

So I thought I’d share 7 things that we’d like you to know about living in a rural place.

  1. We are diverse politically, ethnically, socio-economically, culturally, religiously, and in almost every other way you can imagine. One of our neighbors is politically very conservative, another very politically progressive.  Our neighbors are African American, Latino, Native American, and European American. Many of us go to Christian church on Sunday, but not all of us do. Some of us live in tiny houses that have been the homes of our families for years, and some us live on compounds with electronic gates and thousands of acres.  We are not one thing, no matter how the media may portray us.
  2. We don’t always have the kind of access that people in more populated areas have to some things. For one, we don’t have high-speed internet except by satellite, which means our data is limited and, thus, we can’t stream things. We also don’t have public transportation except for people with disabilities and the elderly – and even then it’s very limited. No restaurant here will deliver food, not even pizza.
  3. Because we don’t have public systems that support us as many people in urban or suburban places do, we have learned to rely on one another quite a bit. We bring each other meals when there’s a medical crisis. We check on each other when we haven’t seen one another in a while. We share plants and recipes, child care and transportation. We call each other when our cattle have calves in fields we cannot see, and we bring each other’s dogs home when they run away. We create our own personal systems of care to replace the public ones.
  4. We are as smart and wise and informed as people who live in more populated places. We read or watch the news. Some of us hold degrees from formal educational institutions, and some of us have the education of decades of life. We take part in political endeavors and volunteer at our local organizations. We vote.
  5. We like that things are far away, even our neighbors’ houses. From where I sit now, I can only see one house, and it isn’t occupied anymore. Sometimes at night, we catch the glint of the pole lights in our neighbors’ yards, but only in the winter when the trees have lost their leaves. We appreciate having a view that doesn’t include much human stuff, and we also accept that having this distance around us means we have to travel more for every day errands like groceries. Thus, we make intentional choices about when we go out and try to cover all our needs in one trip. (For the record, it’s 30 minutes to the nearest Target, and that’s nothing for many rural places in America.)
  6. The stereotypes about rural people hurt us, just like those about suburban and urban people hurt others. We get bruised by the assumptions of ignorance or backwardness. We feel unseen by the assumptions about rural America’s whiteness. We feel defensive when someone assumes our politics without asking us. We grow weary of being ignored by statistician or social groups unless we are going to be used as a negative example. We are people – complex people – just like everyone else, and we wish people would get to know us, spend some real time in rural spaces, and change their stereotypes about us.
  7. We love where we live. Most of us – teenagers aside – love where we live and have chosen this way of life intentionally. We find strength and healing in the open spaces around us. We like to see tractors in fields and drive by tiny churches. We enjoy that our neighbors wave at us when we get the mail at the end of our long driveways. While some of us – again teenagers especially – may wish to go to a more populated place, if you ask, I think you’ll find that most of us prefer the solitude and interdependence that rural life gives.

If you live in a rural space, I’d love to here what you love about where you live and what you wish people from more populated places knew about it.