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 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.

Our Neighbors - Beloved Ones

The Neighbors – Beloved Ones

This morning, as I walked around the house tidying up, I kept gazing out the back windows, the ones that look out over our pasture into our neighbor’s pasture.  Sometimes, she has cattle there. Sometimes donkeys. But just now, two horses are calling that space home.

One is a tawny beige color – I’m sure the horse people among us know the proper name – and the other is like an Oreo or a panda or a Holstein – black and white patches that stand out strong in the faded golds and browns of winter in Virginia.

I love these neighbors of ours – both the animal ones and their human owners. I love the cattle that spend time on our land to the west of the farmhouse and Glen, the man who owns them. . . and these horses and their owner Karen. I love our neighborhood chickens and the roosters down the road that we only hear. I love the hound dogs that bay nearby. I love the alpacas we pass, and the big fluffy sheep that look like barrels near Philip’s parents home.

Our Neighbors - Beloved Ones
The sky one evening here.

Here’s something else I love – from where our house sits, we can’t see any other houses. I can see the top of the silo at the farm across the way, and this morning for the first time, I saw the lights of the house next door through the bare trees in the woods. From time to time, Karen rides her four-wheeler to check fence lines and her German Shepherd runs beside her. Most mornings, I see Glen carry a spiked bale of hay to his cattle. Sometimes, I see our neighbors in the old schoolhouse doing a bit of work around the place (and I keep hoping those bee hives will mean they have honey for sale soon.)

But mostly, our neighbors are animals, and I love that. Don’t get me wrong – I love the people, too, care for them, want to be sure they are well, am eager to lend a hand.  But part of the reason I hold such deep affection for all these people is that I don’t see them often. Call it antisocial if you will, but I know that I am a better friend and neighbor when I spend most of my time alone. It’s my nature, Philip’s, too. We need solitude to live well.

Some of us are called to live close to our neighbors, to walk with them and by them and beside them every day. I love that. But I also love that some of us are called – are built for – solitude, for the creativity that comes in isolation, for the ways of wonder that come when we are alone.  No way of being neighborly is better so long as we answer needs when we know them (and we need to try and know them). Each of us gets to live our gifts and making the best way we know. I find that beautiful.

So this morning, as I watched Karen’s horses, I gave thanks for them, for this great blessing of a place Dad found for us to live, and for the neighbors who trust us enough to have only the thinnest of wire fences and a lot of open air between us all.

We have restarted our monthly newsletter, and we’d love to have you get it in your inbox. Each issue will include a bit about our lives here, announcements about coming events, updates on what’s in the farm stand, and some photos from about the farm. If you already get these blog posts via email, you’ll get our newsletter, but if not, you can sign-up here. (You can also alter your subscription anytime to get just blog posts or the newsletter whenever you want. 

Firsts, Christmas, and Joy

Firsts and Joy

This morning, as Milo was cuddling very close with me in our pre-nap time with a book, he put my finger in his mouth, and I felt a ridge of bumps, just ever so slightly above his gum line. Tears sprang to my eyes – his first tooth!

This thing has arisen like a mountain range, working its way up through the tectonic shifts of months to emerge, here, in these days just before Christmas.  Oh, the joy . . . and also the fussiness.


Milo in his high chair with a purple bow on his head.
Milo is ready for Santa

Milo’s first Christmas. Goodness. I can’t even believe it. Last year, I felt tenderness in new ways for Mother Mary as a pregnant woman. This year, I marvel at what she managed as a mother to this tiny baby in a time when men were not expected to help much at all. I imagine Joseph was a good father for his time, but did he ever take the night shift (as Philip does every other night) or bring Mary soup when she got a cold during those first months (as Philip did this past weekend)?

I want to be doing all the things for Christmas time with this little, no-longer-toothless wonder, but most days, we do well to keep us all in clean clothes, food, and a bit of laughter.  Next year, maybe, I’ll have the capacity to add in advent traditions. . . and he’ll appreciate them more then, I expect. Right now, a recycled Christmas bow is his favorite toy, so I’m celebrating that as festive.


This week, I watched my dear friend Kelly preach an Advent sermon at her church. It was called Signs of Joy, and her wisdom about how joy and grief are often intertwined was rich for me as was her exhortation to look for joy. So today, in my sleep-deprived state – because after Philip cared for me, both he and Milo got my cold, so I’ve been on duty for a few days now – I’m finding joy in the gentle click of the wood stove, in hound dogs asleep in their corners of our couch, and in a first tooth, barely pushed into light in the body of a human being we ached for years to hold.

Joy and sorrow. Light and dark. There is a reason we celebrate Christmas at the Winter Solstice – a reminder of both.

This holiday season, may the joy outshine the sorrow in your days.  Happy Holidays, Dear Ones! Happy, Happy Holidays!

Starting in January, I will be sending a monthly newsletter (much as I did before pregnancy and Milo’s exuberance took my attention). That newsletter will include an update about what’s happening on the farm that month, some photos of the critters, farmhouse, and landscape here, a recipe that I tried, and regular discounts about upcoming farm events. If you are already subscribed to our list, you will get that newsletter automatically. But if you aren’t subscribed but would like to be, you can join in here.

(Note, if you’d prefer to get less emails or more emails, every email from us provides you the opportunity to adjust your email settings or unsubscribe.)

When The Holiday Season Is Hard

When The Holiday Season Is Hard

Yesterday, a dear friend told me about how hard it is to leave through this season of so much family stuff when her family of origin was the source of intense, prolonged abuse and a continued world of denial.

Someone else I love feels a profound level of anxiety associated with the travel that often comes this time of year.

Others of us – me included – miss people so intensely that even the best moments come with an ache of absence.

We miss people. We wish our families were different, more healthy, more complete, more like Hallmark.  We ache for partners or children. We want to slow down or speed up just to get past the first of January.

So if this is you this season, may I be a small voice of affirmation. May you find the space you need to grieve, to ache, to wish, to rest, to seek, to find, to hope, and even to fear. May you be surrounded by people who give you this space and who trust that your hurt doesn’t need to dampen their joy. May you see light in the tiniest of candles, and may the shadows grow smaller in that light.

Most of all, may you know you are loved, deeply and richly, for all of who you are in these hard days.

We are doing a little holiday giveaway on Instagram and Facebook. You can win a set of our farm mugs, a packet of seeds from our garden, an electronic copy of my book God’s Whisper Manifesto, and a code for a 30% discount at our Etsy shop.

A Giveaway from God's Whisper Farm
Meander, the reluctant model.

Just click these Instagram or Facebook links to get all the details. 

Hand-Carved Bowls, Hand-Stitched Scarves, Hand-Painted Gourds

Hand-Carved Bowls, Hand-Stitched Scarves, and Hand-Painted Gourds: Our Annual Craft Show

We’ve begun to prepare the barn for Saturday. The cider has been purchased. The hound dog greeters rested. The crafts shaped.  Now, it’s time for our holiday craft fair, and we so hope you’ll join us.  We’ll be open rain or shine with a warm fire in the wood stove and hot cider to share. Come shop and enjoy the spirit of the season with us here on the farm. ALL ARE WELCOME!

Carved by Philip

Hand-Made Gourd at God's Whisper Farm on December 1
Burned and Painted by Galen and Mary Lou

Hand-Crafted Walnut Coffee Table at God's Whisper Farm on December 1
Hand-Crafted by Woody

On Freezing Rain and Shifting Suns

On Freezing Rain and Shifting Suns

This morning, the walnut outside the dining room window where I’m writing is starting to be glazed with ice. We’ve had freezing rain for several hours now, and this tree has made the call to stop warming its tips, it seems.

Freezing rain is one of those between things – not quite rain and not quite snow – and today, it has slicked the deck and grass enough to really slow me down. That’s a gift, a hard one to see but a gift nonetheless.

I’m a fan of the between – the liminal as the romantics would call it. I love the time around sunrise and sunset, the way the light slants then, the gentle shifting of the sun around our planet. I’ve never liked waking to the bright of morning or going to bed in the dead of night. I prefer to walk through the transitions and take them as my cue.

But that’s not true, always, of the way I take to the shifting of life. I bristle against the way Milo’s needs challenge my own comfort, and I did the same when Philip and I married. It takes a lot for me to let go of my selfishness and understand that I will probably not have many days when I can simply binge watch anything I want for an entire afternoon.

I learn, though, when I stop resisting and let the shifts carry me, that those betweens, those moments just after our early sunset when Milo is so sleepy that even a sigh can make him laugh, those are the precious times. The way he leans his cheek against mine when I lift him from the crib before sunrise. The gentle settling back in as Philip returns from loading the wood stove.  Those moments, the small ones that exist almost between the things we notice, they are the breath of life.

So today, as the walnut grows every more decorated with ice, I am celebrating the between of this water that is not yet snow and not still rain. I am taking it as all things are intended when they come from good hands – as gift.

May the gifts of the between reach into your soft spaces today, friends.

We hope you’ll join us for our Holiday Craft Fair on Saturday, December 1 from 9am-4pm. Dad made coffee tables from beautiful walnut, and our friend Sue from Thistle and Stag Meadery will be here with samples. Plus, we have lots of handmade bowls, boxes, scarves, and walking sticks that are perfect for someone in your life.

Holiday Craft Fair at God's Whisper Farm
A live-edge coffee table handmade by Woody Cumbo

The Things We Say We Will Not Do: On Feeding Sweet Potatoes to Milo

The Things We Swear We Will Not Do: On Feeding Milo Sweet Potatoes

This week, we began a new adventure – vegetables for a five-month-old. He did not love cereal, and he clearly has no issues with digestion (the thighs on this kid). So we thought we’d just go all in.

For the record, Milo is not a fan.

But I am determined that this kid will give foods a hearty try because I want him to eat healthily and not pick up some of the bad habits (sugar addition anyone) that his dad and I have.  So we persevere.

The parenting experts I’ve most connected with over the past few months are Magda Gerber and her protege Janet Lansbury. They’re teaching about respecting babies as full people has been very helpful to me, especially since at first I was telling Milo things like “people wear pants” as if he wasn’t a person. (Those biases and beliefs we don’t know we hold slip out in language often.)  So I’ve found their advice very helpful and resonant with who I am and how I want to care for our son.

So when they said that we didn’t need to do airplane sounds or play games to get Milo to eat – that we needed to respect his wishes about food – I was totally on board. I had visions of calmly spooning food into Milo’s mouth or even letting him pick up only what he wanted with this chubby fingers. It was beautiful.

But this boy doesn’t want to eat anything but formula, and I will not be feeding him from a bottle when he is four.  Thus, out came the funny faces and the weird noises (he’s particularly fond of a noise I make that reminds me of how a cartoon would portray a giant’s footsteps), and lo and behold, that baby eats sweet potatoes. (He also dribbles a good portion down his chin.)

If parenting is teaching me one thing, it’s this – the things I swear I will never do or always do are forced to the wayside. Idealism bows to larger goals – like peace of mind and health and the calmness of spirit both Milo and I need to make it through the day.  

For an idealist and quasi-perfectionist about my dreams, this change is healthy. Healing even. More and more, I’m learning to revel in the mess. To leave the edges wild. To demand less of each moment so that I can embrace the more that is always there.

Tomorrow, we are tackling some new pureed vegetable. (Recommendations welcome in the comments below.) I look forward to it.

Giant footfalls and baby steps, friends. It’s all glorious and wild.

We are so looking forward to our Holiday Craft Fair on December 1. Dad has made some gorgeous, live-edge coffee tables, and friends of ours are planning to bring home-brewed meade for all of us to sample. They’ll be hot cider and a fire in the woodstove. Plus, lots of shopping to do.  Come on by – 9am-4pm in the barn. 

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.

The Mysterious Ways of Goats and Babies

The Mysterious Ways of Goats and Babies

This morning, I looked out our bathroom window and saw that our small goat herd is wandering amongst the Trees of Heaven at the back of the pasture.  They’re grazing there, so I assume there is some mineral exuded by these trees that they need.  Plus, they collared all our other trees of heaven at the front of the pasture when we first moved them here.  Sometimes, goat-raising is a practice of pondering the mystery.

Parenting, I am finding, is much the same. Does that cry mean he’s hungry, he’s tired, he’s bored?  Or is he just shouting because he can? (This seems to be a particular favorite these days.)

The researcher in me wants to hunt down answers – and my smartphone feeds this tendency is some not-always healthy ways. But the writer in me, the journeying woman, the person who has learned that much of the hard days of her life have not yet brought reasons – that woman wants to settle into the mystery and let it abide around me.

There’s a bitterness that gathers on my tongue when I try too hard to know, when I push to understand things that are beyond me.  I’m learning to savor the sweetness of beauty in simple observation, in watching the wanderings of goats and the vocalizations of babies and doing what I must do to care for them but not more.

I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Interview this week, and I’m still letting her words slide into the cracks of myself. Here is what her words reminded me about who I am and who I want to be – I want to be the person who leans close into everything – even the hard, brutal things. I want to ask questions without expecting answers. I want to trust the journey is carrying me where I need to go. I don’t want to avoid anything. I want to embrace it all . . . and trust the outcome to One who holds it all.

May mystery revel around you, friends, and may you revel in it.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for our Holiday Craft Show on December 1. It’s going to be a wonderful day.