The Mystery and Metaphor of the Sky

The Mystery and Metaphor of the Sky

I have been absolutely obsessed with the sky lately, which you know if you’ve been watching our Instagram or Facebook pages.  The humidity is gone. The almost constant rain is over.  And the skeletons of the trees are starting to show.  I could stare up forever in these days.

Milo seems to have the same fascination.  He lays on our bed and plays a lot while I work nearby at the dining room table. (Yep, the master bedroom is this cobbled farmhouse is off the dining room.) Sometimes, he grows quiet, and I look over to see him staring at the sky through the big picture window that overlooks the barn.  He’s rapt.

For many years, I forgot to look at the sky. I was so focused on the work – student papers, writing projects, reading assignments, meeting minutes – that I simply kept my head down, chugging along. But as I’ve released most of those things, grieving them as they left, I’ve begun to look up more often because the mystery – for me – is often in what goes on over my head, both literally and figuratively.

The science of sky – meteorology, astronomy, cloudology (that’s a thing, right?) – are all amazing, important practices, and I revel in the discoveries there. But for me, it’s enough to sit in the presence of something I do not understand, to marvel at a Creator who set in motion a world that is surrounded by molecules combined in just the right way that I can walk around amongst it, not notice it but be sustained by it.  Ah, the metaphor of air.

So today, friends, may I nudge you to lift your heads. Revel in the autumn sky. Grow rapt by it.  It’s a mystery of gift and life.

 


Don’t forget to mark your calendars and join us for our annual craft fair on Dec. 1.  There’s a firm possibility we’ll have locally-made mead available for tasting. 

9am-4pm in our barn.  Free. Everyone is welcome.

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 Irony of Filling Water Bottles in the Face of Flood

The Irony of Filling Water Bottles in the Face of Flood
Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

In our part of the world, everyone I know is just about done with rain for, oh, the next six months. We’ve had record-breaking rainfall this summer as the mildew on my porch rockers testifies. (Seriously, they are in the open air, people, and still mildew.)

So the fact that we have a pretty good potential for some serious rain – this morning’s forecasts range from 4 inches to 30 inches – is not making even this rain-loving woman happy.  Still, we will be spared the worst of Florence’s lashing, and for that, I am grateful even as I know many will suffer mightily over the next few months because of this storm.

I’m not a worrier though. I don’t really get fearful about a lot of things, this storm included. But I am a planner – give me a slightly different perspective on the world, and I’d be a prepper, go bag and all. I’ve had a list of things to get done – fill bath tubs, make beds for potential evacuees, flip over mildew-stained rocking chairs – for several days now.  Planning is my way of dealing with my anxiety.

This morning, after seeing that the storm could re-curve and pour down on us again this weekend, I began filling water bottles with our well water. We bought some water earlier in the week, and Philip and I will drink that. The animals can drink from our rain barrels and sip from the rivers that will arrive in old spring flows all over the pasture.

But Milo, well, his tummy has only had our water – with one slip on my part – and so he needs our water for his bottles. (And it’s not really recommended to have him drink from puddles.) Given that we have a well and that we might lose power for a few days, I’m stocking up like we’re the farmhouse everyone flees to in all those zombie films.

This small task is good because it gives me something to do to prepare, and when I prepare, I pray.  Seems like a fair amount of praying is useful now.

If you’re in the path of Florence, I’m holding you up. If you need a place to go, we have beds and couches, and if we use all those, sleeping bags on the barn floor would welcome.  No zombies required.

Be wise, friends. Stay safe. Help those who can’t help themselves. Check in when you can.

I’m off to fill another empty milk jug.

Big Happenings Round These Parts This Weekend

Big Doings Round These Parts This Weekend

Big Happenings Round These Parts This Weekend
Mosey knows how to enjoy a relaxing weekend. Come watch him in action.

We are in full-on preparation mode for our Writers’ Retreat this weekend (We still have a few spaces available if you want to join us), so I just wanted to remind you about some great stuff going on this weekend here and in our area.

Tonight – Reading with Kelly Chripczuk

Join us tonight (Thursday) at 7pm in the farmhouse (4975 Orange Rd in Radiant) to hear Kelly Chripczuk read from her delightful and gently challenging book, Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk, and PoultryWe’ll pay our chickens a visit, enjoy some cookies and tea, and appreciate Kelly’s wit and wisdom.  The event is free and open to everyone. 

Saturday – Madison County Friends of the Library Book Sale

If you love books as much as I do, be sure to visit our local library’s book sale on Saturday from 8am-1pm. I can attest to the fact that they have GREAT titles at great prices.

Saturday – An Evening with Novelist Billy Coffey

Then, come hear the lyrical stories of a Virginia storyteller as Billy Coffey shares from his novels, which are set in our very own Blue Ridge Mountain. Billy is from Stuart’s Draft, and so he knows our part of the world.  We’ll get things started with Billy at 7pm, but feel free to come a little early and explore the farm.  The event is free and open to everyone. 

As always, the farm stand is open throughout the weekend with a few special hours on Sunday for our Writers’ Retreat guests.  This week, a kind neighbor donated a wonderful collection of children’s books to the Little Free Library, so come browse. Then, pick up some of the green beans I harvested just this morning.

Have a great weekend, everyone!!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from God's Whisper FarmIn a few hours, we’ll have chainsaws running to take down the trees that the goats have girdled in the back of the farmhouse, and the Macy’s Parade will be playing in the family room.  Another basset hound will join our two, and it will be the kind of delightful chaos that comes when people who love each other gather.

Now, though, everyone but me is asleep, and the coals of the wood stove are glowing orange. I’m thinking of my mom in new, hard ways this year as we try to have a baby. Last night, I dreamed she and I were talking about clothes, sitting at a diner somewhere. I woke up aching and happy. She died six years ago tomorrow, on the day that was then Thanksgiving.

I’m thinking too of the people of Standing Rock, people for whom Thanksgiving may not be – may never have been – a happy holiday.

I’m praying for us all, for a true peace and warmth in our hearts that surpasses both understanding and our own gain. I’m praying for celebration and grieving, sometimes in the same measure on the same day. I’m praying for the laughter of a child to grace this home.

May you have a Thanksgiving that gives you all you need, and if you are alone and can make it to the farmhouse, dinner is at 1pm.

 

The Great Molt

The Great Molt - God's Whisper Farm
This is Turtle. She runs to greet us anytime we walk by the run.

The other day, I stopped Philip outside of the chicken run and said, “Oh no.”  We looked down at the stream of fathers coming from the beside the fence and began the hunt to be sure that someone hadn’t been killed.

No bodies, thank goodness, which could only mean one thing – we are in the midst of molting season.

If you haven’t ever watched a chicken molt, I think I’d be grateful.  They aren’t pretty in this time. Their feathers get all dank and limp, and they start shedding them with abandon.  Right now, our rooster Xander is particularly pitiful because he’s lost ALL of his gorgeous tail-feathers.  He’s also more ornery than usual probably because growing new feathers is a painful process and also because he isn’t able to preen and prance as powerfully just now.

Molting means the girls’ egg production drops because they’re putting their energy into growing feathers rather than into building eggs, so right now, we’re averaging about 13 eggs every two days.  (If you come by the stand and don’t find eggs just now, that’s why.)

In terms of our egg sales, it would be nice if the flock could molt in rotation, but nature doesn’t work that way.  Instead, when the walnut trees begin to shed their leaves, all the birds begin to shed their feathers.  It’s a lesson, for me, in surrender and in having tenderness to creatures who cannot earn their keep at the moment. It’s a reminder of how much I cannot – and would not want to control.

Soon though, Xander and his 31 girls – he is SO PROUD of his entourage – will be looking fit and fine. They’ll have tossed aside any broken feathers and any mites that may have been on them. (We are pretty careful to prevent mites though.)  They’ll have fresh plumage to show off, and those new feathers will help keep them warm in the coming cold months.  It’s a wise system, really, even if it makes the guy grumpy.

Our new girls will start laying this winter, and then we’ll have a couple dozen eggs, we hope, in the stand each day. The funds from those sales will help us pay for farm goods in the months when the produce has slackened.  We finally figured that out this year.

Now, though, we feed our 32 birds and celebrate with them. Right now, Fern – one of our Polish girls – is talking up a storm, and the other gals are letting out the quiet coos of their day.  Even when they don’t feel well, they make music, and I am joyful.

**

Handmade in VA Craft Fair - October 29On October 29th, we’re hosting a craft fair here in our barn, and we are SO EXCITED about all the vendors we have coming:

  • a jeweler who will make you a ring while you wait,
  • a woodworker who crafts beautiful decor from reclaimed objects,
  • a woman who makes wonderful purses,
  • a friend who sews the most exquisite baby dresses and blankets,
  • my sister-in-law who crafts gorgeous wire-wrap jewelry,
  • our friends from For the Love of the Local with their various, wonderful wares,
  • crochet by my step-mom and step-grandmom,
  • Philip’s walking sticks,
  • some whimsical people that he and I have created together,
  • and MUCH MORE!

We’ll have the cider on to share, and we do hope you’ll stop by. Admission is totally free, and Mosey, the basset hound, will be on site for photo ops. 🙂

October 29 – 9am – 4pm 

Hope to see you here!

Writers on the Farm

Writers on the FarmOn Friday, more than 30 writers and helpers will descend on the farm for our third annual Writers’ Retreat.  We’ll read by the bonfire, share meals, talk about the craft and practice of writing, hear a great reading, and connect to one another in the way, I pray, that we have designed this place to be – easy-going, simple, true.

In more ways than I can lay language against, this retreat is the culmination of the work we seek here on the farm and the work I do at Andilit.  We believe in honoring who people are right now in this moment of gorgeous joy and glittering pain, and this retreat will – if we hold true – make space for that experience.

My friends Kelly and Shawn are coming to help run the retreat, and my mamas, Mary Lou and Adrienne, are cooking.  The daddies, Woody and Galen, will be nearby should we need them, and of course, Philip will be on site for goat tours and tent assistance.  In every way, this is a family affair, which is the way we want, of course.

So should you drive by this weekend and see people walking through the fields or gathered by the bonfire, if you notice a splash of color down by the huge cedar at the spring or notice lights in the hayfield, think of us with joy because here we are finding our way and our words.

Saturday night’s reading with Sharon Morgan, author of Gather at the Table and Paris in a Pot and founder of Our Black Ancestry, is free and open to the public, and we’d LOVE for you to join us.  A potluck dinner with Sharon’s own recipe for coconut chicken begins at 5pm, and the reading starts at 7pm.  The event is appropriate for people of all ages, and we’d love to see children playing wiffle ball in the yard. 

 

Introverts and Hospitality

Introverts and HospitalityOne of my dreams for this farm is that it will become a place where people come to rest – for a few days, for a month, for an afternoon.  I long to look out the farmhouse windows and see people fishing in the pond, a group wandering the trail at the edge of the pasture, someone harvesting cut flowers, a huddle of children feeding grapes to the goat through the gate.  Just the image of that nurtures my soul.

But you heard the part about how I’m seeing this all from the farmhouse, right?  That’s an important part, too, because Philip and I are introverts.  Too much interaction makes us unhealthy and tired, and it sometimes makes me unkind.

So while we want to see this space filled with human and animal life, we are having to plan carefully for how we set boundaries that are healthy for ourselves.  Here are a few ideas we’ve had.

  • We will hang a sign on our front doors that says, “We’re so glad you’re here. Knock so we can say Hi,” on one side.  The other side will say, “We’re so glad you’re here. We’re taking a quiet day as a family, so please leave us a note and enjoy the farm.:
  • We will install a gentle gate for the days when we just need the farm to ourselves or want to spend time with our guests who are staying on the farm.  A small rope with a sign that says, “We are so glad you came by.  We’re spending the day just with ourselves on the farm, but please come back soon. We’d love to see you.”
  • We’ll put a sign in the bunkroom that guides people to the things they’ll need here and around the county, and we’ll encourage them to text us or call if they need us but to take this space as their own retreat, to schedule – or not – as they wish.
  • We will have certain areas on our farm that are not open for guests unless we are with them – Philip’s workshop, our bedroom, the pastures.  We’ll keep these spaces closed off to protect our guests, our animals, and our privacy.

We so want to share the bounty that we have been gifted, and yet we also need to honor the people we were created to be by setting some boundaries that keep us healthy and whole.

So if you stop by and there’s a rope across the lane, please know that we love you and that we’re caring for ourselves so we can continue to care for this land, these animals, and this place for us all. And then come again soon.  We’ll wave when you drive up.

What signage, guidance, tools would help you feel welcome on the farm if we, as the caretakers, were not physically present as you visited? 

 

The Farm on the News

God's Whisper Farm on the News
The farm was showing off her best this morning.

Earlier this week, we were honored to have Good Morning Charlottesville’s reporter Tyler Hawn visit the farm to talk with us about what we do here, how we are investing in our local community, and our quest to win $20,000 from the Beekman 1802 Boys.

We talked about the garden, got Xander crowing on film, and even fed the goats. . . . Carmen was especially glad of the extra helping of hay (as if she needs it.)

We are so grateful to have the support of our local community, the people who we seek to serve and who have invested so deeply in our work here.

You can check out the story here – and be sure to click the “Related Link” that says “Farm Contest” on the upper, right-hand corner of the page to vote for us.

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.