Do the Next Thing - Image is of a woman writing in a garden journal

Do the Next Thing

Last night, at 4:30am, after sleeping for almost 7 solid hours (Glory!), I woke up with the weight of all that I wanted to do on my chest.

I’ve got a book coming out in April and a lot of promotion and prep to do there. I’m working on a new project researching the enslaved community at Scotchtown Plantation in Hanover County, VA. I’m eager to get those veggie seeds started (I held off because of this super-cold spell.) Milo is starting to pull up, and I want to walk around all day with him. I have a stack of books as high as my shoulders I’m eager to read. SO MANY good things and not enough time (or energy) in the day to do them all.

I expect you can relate.

But as I lay there, my mind racing with what to do first, I felt this gentle nudge, this reminder – “The next thing, Andi. Just the next thing. You do what the day can hold.”

I fell back to sleep them – for another TWO HOURS – and while my dreams involved Meander jumping off (and landing safely) a 4-story balcony and the need to buy dog food while trying to evade capture, I slept hard and work rested. More rested than I have, well, since a certain four-toothed wonder took his first breath.

So this morning, when Milo’s first nap didn’t come easy (and involved reading him a chapter of Martin Walker’s Bruno), when the laundry needs doing and the dishwasher unloading, when I have a dozen images to transcribe and three client projects to edit, when I want to make some decisions about repairing the roof on my office and buying sunflower seeds for the field by the farm stand, I am doing one thing at a time.

And taking a deep breath in between. May you do the same. The next thing, friend. Then, the next thing.

If you enjoy my weekly blog posts, I hope you will consider signing up to get my monthly emails that are full of farm stories, photos, recipes, and updates on the happenings on this 15 acres of quiet. You can sign-up here.

The Lenten Rose on the First Day of Lent

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

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

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

 

 

Beauty Abounding

It’s been a busy week here, and I’ve used up a lot of my words finishing up a book draft. (More details to come soon.)  So I hope you’ll enjoy – as I did this morning – these images from around the farm today.  Such simple beauty is so powerful.

May your day be full as you notice the beauty that dances all around you.

Beauty Abounding on the Farm
My office in the minutes before sunrise. The golden glow comes from my mom’s lamp.

Sternbergia (fall crocuses) blooming in the memory garden that is dedicated to the people who were enslaved here.

Dad is building us a deck.

The garden at first light.

Zinnias in the garden
Zinnias I planted very late are showing their colors in these cooling days.

Sunrise at the farm.
Just a taste of the sunrise over the pasture this morning.

 

Hunting for Okra

Hunting for Okra
Photo by Neha Deshmukh on Unsplash

It’s hard to find them at first. They’re exactly the same color as the stalks I’ve been watching grow for several weeks now. The blossoms – their precursors – are more visible but still not flashy in their cream-colored petals with a rose center.  Still, when I see those, I know I must begin to hunt.

I start with the end of the row and push back the lily-pad leaves, and I peer at the clusters, the place where branch and leaf and blossom meet.

I don’t find any on the first few, but then, there, small as the tip of my thumb, an okra pod. I study its shape, the point of its tip, the ribs on the sides. I look for the angle at which it swings out from its stalk. I’m trying to memorize what I need to look for.

Every year, I must learn to see these pods again. The few weeks I spend as their gatherer are not enough to train my eye for the latent days. I have to re-see again and again.

I am grateful for that gift . . . for the chance to see new each day. . . to notice a new angle on Philip’s sweet face or another gray hair on Meander’s muzzle. To watch for a new way that Mosey acts when he is fearful or the gentle lift of Elvira’s hooves as she jumps to the stantion.

I often left myself go complacent in my gaze, think I’ve seen this road so many times that there can be nothing new. It’s a lazy way of living. It’s easy, too.

But when I look, when I see, I know I’ve never been down Route 20 at just this time of day and year. The light has never looked quite this way to me before, all rosy with glow on the dew. That field of wild flowers is going to seed, and I think of the field’s owner who has to live through these grainy weeks of spindly, dry things in order to see months of beauty next year.

Again and again, this farm life teaches me to look, to gaze, to study. To be grateful for seasons and shifts of sun. To wonder at even the smallest thing.

I harvested two okra pods yesterday, and I expect I’ll get a handle more tomorrow. Soon, it won’t feel like a hunt to find them – my eyes will be trained – and then it will be a new kind of seeing I have to learn again.

 

Surprise Tomatoes

Surprise Tomatoes
Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

This morning, I was in the wellspring of inspiration – the green bean rows – when I noticed the rugged edges of yet another volunteer tomato plant that had sprung of its own volition right in the middle of the beans.

We have these volunteers all over the garden, and I’ve begun tending them as much as I do those in the greenhouse because I have learned that the opportunities that arrive unbidden in life are often the richest.

A few years back, I made a decision in my writing business. I was weary of the striving and the hunting, the constant battling to find new work. Instead, I decided I would look for the invitations that came my way – either directly or in my spirit – and take them.  I needed to cultivate trust. . . I’m still tending that planting.

So these tomato babies that are coming to life in our soil, in the walkways and amongst the green beans, I know what they are: they are promises of gifts yet to come. 

 

A History of Good Gifts

A History of Good GiftsYesterday, a woman we’ve never met lay herself down on a table for us. She allowed doctors to enter her body and take things, all for people she doesn’t know.  Yes, she was paid a bit, but the financial compensation would not be motivation enough for most people to give so generously. Rather, she did this as sacrifice and help, love for people she will never know.

The doctor retrieved 31 tiny pearls that are the half of life from her body, and they are now ours in every way.

If ever I understood gift, it is now.

***

Five years ago, Dad and I walked onto 10 very overgrown acres in Nelson County, Virginia and fell in love. He gave me the money to buy that place, and then he continued to give – hiring a crew to help us clean it, spending time to help me remodel the bathroom and get cabinet doors, using a chainsaw to cut cedar logs into raised beds. My father gave me my first farm, and it was glorious – a gift that gave to me in profound ways and that, I think, gave to him in his grief also.

Two years later, he would find this place that we now call home, a gift of seeking for us once again.

***

Four and a half years ago, I stood in that first farm and watched Meander scoot up and down the driveway after a ball. The moon was drenching us in her silver light, and I prayed: “God, I will try one more time, but if this time does not work, I will be content to be alone.”

I called Meander in, and when we settled on the couch, I opened the laptop and the online dating page to see Philip’s face for the first time. Gift, even the mountain man costume he wore that made me smile so.

***

Yesterday, worn thin by treatments and hormone injections and the very weight of those 31 tiny eggs, I bent over the strawberry patch and picked quarts and quarts of red sweetness. I planted those 12 tiny crowns when we moved here two and a half years ago, but since then, we have done only the most minimal thing – pine straw in the fall – to keep them alive. Now they are feeding us and our neighbors for a month, I predict.

The garden is, by every measure, gift and miracle in all ways.

***

More than $28,000 from people who gave, who bought, who prayed.

***

On Monday, I will lay myself down on a table, and our doctor will take one of those pearls that now thrives with Philip’s beauty and place it inside me. I will carry the gift of two people inside me, we pray, for nine months. Then, we will, we pray mightily, be given the gift of a new life to tend, as soft as sprawling as a pea shoot, as sweet as a strawberry.

Of course, all these gifts come from the One who gives them all, good and loving in every way. Even in the hardest of my days – when grief threatened to push me right into the darkness of a torrent that would never allow me to be grateful again – I was gifted with the glimmers of hope that come through friendship and the whisper that gave this farm it’s name.

The Giver of Good Gifts indeed.

The Healing Work of Baby Animals

The Healing Work of Baby AnimalsA few days ago, I put in this year’s order for chicks. We order our hen chicks from McMurray Hatchery, and they will arrive in the mail – a fact I see as amazing – during Easter week.  I ordered them for that week on purpose of course.

I’m also beginning to look for angora rabbits, a doe and a buck, for us to raise here.  So far, my search hasn’t led me to any bunnies close by, so I keep searching for their wild fluff nearby our farm.

This summer, we will also be building a paddock for two male goats, I think, so that we can breed our girls right here on the farm without the concerns about introducing animals from outside our herd.  The paddock will need a double-line of fencing to keep “baby goat accidents” from occurring through the fence line.

Last week, Dad and Adrienne started our first seeds under grow lights in their home and gave our garden – and new greenhouse – a kickstart for the spring. The table beside our sofa is stacked high with seed catalogs, and I”ll be ordering the rest of our summer seeds soon, including some purple potatoes because, well, I just want to.

It’s time, just in these days of growing light, for us to focus on how we grow our life and the lives we tend here.  It’s how I am healing from the deep blast of news about the ineffectuality of our fertility treatments.  Baby chickens will help, I hope, heal the heartbreak about the slim odds of a baby human in this place.

We will likely need some help around these parts in the coming months – fence-building, gardening, goat snuggling – so if you’re interested in dropping by for a few hours on a Saturday or one weekday evening, let us know. We’ll gladly put you to work and take your presence as a gift of healing, too.

The Promise of Empty Window Boxes

The Promise of Empty Window BoxesI don’t know if it’s the way of every gardener to build the anticipation of months of hard work in the dark, cold days of January, but it’s my way. I’ve ordered and received our first packs of seeds, and today, I will order our irrigation kit from two Mennonite brothers over in Harrisonburg.

On the rare evenings when I come down the drive after dark, the greenhouse glitters at me like headlights or fairy lights, and I can see that space full of plants and dancing in the warmth of a summer breeze.

Just now, I’m looking at the empty window box outside my office and wondering what I will plant there this spring. Last year it was marigolds and sweet peas. This year, maybe I’ll try lobelia and zinnia.

I’m not wishing we were at spring yet – don’t let my planning deceive you there. I’m waiting for the snow that may come in the next few days with great anticipation, and I still love the nights by the woodfire.

But there is a gift in anticipation, in time to plan, in looking ahead while firmly rooted in the joy of now.  Imagined sprouts that become forests of okra. Cabbage heads that I can’t palm. Patty Pan squash that make it to maturity without the tearing teeth (or whatever insects have) of squash bugs.

Empty window boxes and fallow gardens are promises, and I treasure them.

Garlic: Hope for the New

Garlic: Hope for the New
Juliana waters in our new crop.

A few years ago, I happened to stop by Blue Heron Farm, a beautiful cut flower farm near our old place south of here.  One of the owners was in the midst of braiding his garlic crop. . . they sold hundreds of pounds of that fragrant goodness every year.

So it gave me an idea. I wanted to grow garlic – not to that scale – but for our own personal use as well as for sale in the farm stand.

Last year, I wasn’t as pulled together, so I only got a few cloves in the ground, and they produced some nice heads, but we didn’t have enough to really make a garlic showing, if you will.

This year, though, I was a little more organized, and I took advantage of the catalog garlic sales and order about 5 pounds of organic garlic.  It arrived last week, and I watched the box all weekend, waiting until we could get it in the ground.

This Monday, my sister-in-law Juliana and I broke open about 75 heads of garlic while Dad tilled the patch and raked out the grass I’d let in.  Then, we opened 7 long furrows and tucked these precious cloves into the earth. We covered them first with a layer of newspaper to help keep back the weeds and then topped them with good sawdust/manure from the local cattle auction.

Now, we wait.

Come spring, I hope we will have both late and early white, softneck garlic as well as elephant garlic, shallots, and hardneck Russian red garlic.  I plan to perfect a white pizza sauce and make homemade alfredo, and of course, we’ll have lots of heads available in the stand once they cure.

There’s something about setting out for the next year still firmly in this one, about planning and starting things that don’t need much tending but will still bear fruit – or cloves if you will. Maybe garlic is a way of holding out hope in the dark, cold days of winter, a reminder that sometimes we just need to begin things for them to take to life.

 

 

Leaves Flung Skyward
A photo by João Silas

I’m reading this incredible book that was gifted to me by my friend Bryan.  It’s called The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg.  Basically, it’s a really artful journal of Klinkenborg’s reflections on the rural landscape through each month of the year.

I love books like this – including Christie Purifoy’s Roots and Sky – because I’m so very much more aware of the natural landscape, the passing of days that seems both like a stroll and a very fast spring across the hillside.  I’m reading quickly now because I’m almost to September, and I’m eager to walk the days with Klinkenborg’s descriptions inside me.

Take this passage from his August chapter:

In the dense river-bottom fields along the Mohawk River, all that corn is nearing a biological climax. It won’t be picked for another two months, but it’s now coming into the last of the green, those final weeks before the leaves and stalks begin the slow browning of autumn. Every field looks like an army of aspirants, leaves flung skyward in a kind of hosanna.

I know this landscape. I have seen it for the past few weeks. I see the backside of it now, here in Madison County, where the corn has turned like it’s been steeped in tea.  Outside my office now, the jewel corn is getting scanter, more thin each day, and soon I will go out with the bushel basket Sarah gave us and harvest the ears before I spend an evening popping the kernels free for friends.  (We’ll have some baggies of kernels for sale in the farm stand soon.)

Then, those stalks will be harvest and laid in bundles for our neighbors to take home, and we’ll see them and their sisters adorning houses all round here in October.

The landscape shapes everything about how we live in a rural place, and I’m grateful to Klinkenborg for reminding that is truth, hosanna-flung and wild.

This Saturday night, Sept 10,  Abbye West Pates will be here to give her blessing of voice and guitar to the farm.  We’ll start the evening with a potluck dinner with Abbye at 5pm, and then relax around with walks and visits to the animals until the show begins at 7pm. After, we’ll light a bonfire and make some s’mores. Join us for any and all of that time, and just bring what cash you can for the show – it’s pay-what-you-will.  Everyone of all ages is welcome.