"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china."

Charles Dickens

April 16, 2017

April 14, 2017

Under the Lilacs

Today I was a wee bit wistful  because already the lilacs are fading, having bloomed early this year after a very warm winter, and a very warm spring. We brought some inside and I made certain to admire and sniff them whenever possible outdoors, too.

Later in the afternoon when the sun has gone behind the shed, some of the cats have been lying like lions in the part of the yard where we planted several lilacs about eight years ago. Slow growers, you know you have a prized specimen when it is large and full and high–likely even 100 years old or more. Our newer bushes have the fullest blooms they've had yet and are now almost as tall as I am (which isn't a huge stretch!). Sadly, an older lilac in front of the house on the bank that goes down to the road has died out completely. Not sure why as you don't really have to do much with lilacs to keep them happy. But I hate to see an old plant fade.


One nostalgic reminder of old cellar holes in New England is that you often come upon vast, towering lilac bushes in the woods near the edge of a field or by an old roadside. We had one such place near our New Hampshire farm. Sherwin Hill had been an old hill farm settlement about a half mile from our farm with several farmsteads that were abandoned at some point in the nineteenth century. The land is protected, the fields are still mowed, and the old road passes by the cellar holes belied by ancient lilacs and patches of day lilies. Behind our nineteenth-century barn at the farm there was a magnificent, huge white lilac (I haven't seen one since) which had been planted there easily a century or more ago (and it's one of those things I wish I had a photograph of–but that was well before digital when I didn't shoot everything I saw!). Here in Kentucky an old house site is often found by the amount of daffodils nearby. [Seems I've waxed on about lilacs before over at my old blog at InthePantry.blogspot.com.]

At the doublewide, which we're selling soon (we have an offer), there is an older bush that was probably put there by the Dicks. They had a dog-trot house on the same site as where the doublewide was placed. I picked some from there, which are more lush, for the last time. There are some peony clumps that I will leave but I do want to dig up some of the applemint around the birdhouse that I brought down from New Hampshire. It is the grandchild of my grandparents' mint patch at Gray Goose Farm–which must have been dug out at some point as I don't remember it. Ann Sawyer, a neighboring farm wife and a great friend of my family, along with her husband Peter, gave me a clump from which my grandfather had originally given to her. Another friend has some Gray Goose Farm rhubarb, which doesn't do so well here, but I think I've found the right spot for it so I may beg for a clump next time I'm back in New England.

Spring has become one of my favorite times of year here–not only with its length (an actual three months) but with all of the wild flowers that emerge in stages. Blood root comes first (around the time that the morel mushrooms poke through the forest floor), then violets by the road side where the grass is shorter, then miniature iris on rocky and sandy banks, and trillium and Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and so many others. By the end of April the pageant of spring wildflowers is fairly much through.

It is Good Friday today. Have a blessed Easter or Passover–or just enjoy your weekend–everyone!


You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

April 11, 2017

"This is going to be some day..."



Much has been written about mindfulness and there are various books, blogs, and classes out there in the ether, and in reality. For some it is a daily practice and complete lifestyle. One of my favorite books is World Enough & Time by Christian McEwen (Bauhan Publishing) and certainly worth another read–I can't recommend it enough. A favorite blog is called "Zen Habits" published by Leo Babauta and I had to laugh when I read his recent entry, "Three Habits for the Overwhelmed, Stressed, Anxious" because that fairly well pegs it right now. Then there is anything written, or said, by Jon Kabat-Zinn (who happened to be the colleague of a family friend, who was also doula for my first child back in 1988, **Ferris Urbanowski. But that is another story...), and certainly Thich Nhat Hanh who composed the lovely Zen calligraphy that I've shared here (a small representation of his work).
Lately I've been struggling with accomplishing basic every day tasks and larger ones related to my writing and potential writing projects. Putting my health first is also a challenge and I've never been very good at "giving myself oxygen first." As I answer to no one, except myself or the flow of the day, this is harder than it might seem. While my time is generally my own––if not involved with making a meal, overseeing a medical issue for a family member that can be all encompassing (like right now), or taking kids to school and back––it would seem that I should have no excuse. I really don't because I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to time management. Even the 2-4 round trips to our boys' school (18 miles each way), which used to translate into 2-4 hours a day sometimes, have been removed because one of our boys is now driving his own car and his brother, too. You'd think with all of that extra time I've have MORE time but it just seems like it's falling through a sieve. [Bouts of depression do not help, either, but fortunately there are pills for that.]

I blame this fleeting time/time wasted phenomenon that I am now experiencing partly on my age and circumstances. A person in their mid-50s has easily lived more than half of their lives and there is no guarantee on the rest. The old adage about "it's all down hill from here," after one turns 50 is apt: after all, one accelerates as they go down hill, while trying not to trip or crash, and time certainly seems to be doing that, too.

I also have two very independent young men in the home–one of whom will be off to college in August and the other with two years still in high school. Yet I hardly see either one of them! Between school, and activities, and driving themselves now, and their after school jobs, it can be a revolving door and they don't need me so much. I'm on the edge of empty nest all over again having gone through it once before when my daughter stayed back in New England, at 20, when we moved here. Then another mini-bout of it in 2012 right before I turned 50 and when she lived here with us for about six months and then headed out west for a new job and new life.

It was Ferris, actually, who said to me something I have never forgotten. When my daughter was born, Ferris said, "She is no longer yours and the rest of your life will be a continued journey of 'letting go'..." That resonated then and even more so now. Empty nest is a real thing but so is each milestone of a child's life: eventually we let them go into the world, but every day when they leave the house we are letting go, too, and hoping that they will be alright. Then one day you wake up and realize they are almost grown, and gone.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, 1931, MOMA
So there's that. Meanwhile, in my 20s, life seemed limitless and boundless and that I could do anything with it. At some point the reality creeps in that maybe you can't do everything you want, or wanted, to do. As someone with so many different interests, and an innate attention deficit issue, this can be cold comfort.

I have often written about my Old-Order Mennonite friend Anna who has been my primary glimpse into the world of a certain kind of mindfulness. She lives very much in the task–whether it be laundry (no electricity), baking, quilting, or gardening. Yes, she ponders but she primarily lives in her hands and is rarely idle–much like the Shaker saying of "Hands to work and Hearts to God." I get that but like so many things that I fully understand it is often the practical application that is the hardest. My mother is another person who always likes to be doing something–like gardening–and I have few memories of her actually sitting down except at the end of a long day. Both women are productive "do-ers" and it never ceases to amaze me that my mother worked on her feet five days a week as a nurse and then came home to care for three teenagers and her mother. And here I am, with no full-time job, fewer mothering tasks, and nothing but time all around me.

Well, that's enough pondering and "living in my head" for one day. Only so much we can do in the world (and what a world it is becoming) so it's always best to focus on the home front and what's right in front of me. Life is good and I am very blessed, despite the occasional glitch or hurdle (like getting in my own way).

Back to the spring cleaning! And it helps me to listen to a favorite album like "Big Science" (1982) by Laurie Anderson while doing so. One thing at a time, one moment at a time. It is all that we have.

"This is going to be some day...this is the time and this is the record of the time."


You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

PS I have often thought about **Ferris through the years and have not seen her for almost two decades. She was a big part of the lives of my family for many years as she worked with my mother, a former nurse, at Whole Health Center in Peterborough, NH where Ferris was a counselor. In the 1970s, not far from our family farm, Ferris built a small off-grid cabin in the woods along with a like-minded community of other cabin builders well before it was the trend. She drove a school bus while putting herself through graduate school and raising two daughters, one of whom went to school with one of my brothers. She even put in a good word for a great job in public relations at Antioch New England back in the day, where she had studied (yes, it is about talent but I've also discovered it can be about connections–which is probably one reason it has been so difficult for me to get non-writing jobs in Kentucky).

She was also right beside me, and my mother and former stepfather, when I had my daughter, all naturally, on a hot June day in 1988. Long before her work in counseling and mindfulness, Ferris was featured in the natural childbirth Lamaze work of Elizabeth Bing when she lived in New York in the 1960s. I knew she had struggled with a brain tumor in recent years and could no longer find her website when I looked last year. I just Googled and found this video that she posted last fall. I can't tell you how it means to hear her voice across the miles, to hear about her struggles and continued triumphs despite obstacles, and to realize how her words mean the world right now. I encourage you to listen, also, to the video below and you, too might find magic–and more mindfulness-in your life.

"May we come home to our hearts."




April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

Last night, in the wee hours, I got up as I often do when the air changes or the moon is full. I had not realized it was waxing until I saw it setting in the west around 6 am, in the same exact place over the cattle sorting building, where the sun now sets more than 12 hours later at this time of year. Realizing it was Sunday morning, I went back to sleep for a blissful lie-in. I've had off and on vertigo this past month and find that sleep helps.


As it happens, the moon will be full in two more days on April 11th, Tuesday--so it is now a waxing gibbous moon and hard to detect by the eye. If you garden by the moon phases, this is the perfect time to plant above ground crops and I hope to get my broccoli plants and peas in tomorrow or Tuesday. The week ahead looks lovely and in the 70s with cool nights, but no frost–maybe one day of rain on Wednesday. Great time for catching up on garden stuff that I failed to do last fall!


Tonight Temple and I went out to the pasture behind the cattle sorting building to call the cows in for a bit of grain and mineral supplement. The cows are mostly pastured but we give them a bit of supplemental feed–more like a snack–every few days.






He hadn't called the cows in for a long time and when the cows are used to it, they come charging down to the grain trough. When you call a cow you say, "Come Boss!" and they generally come running. Today it took them a while and by the time I was back at the house they had arrived and it was too dark to photograph them. We have a much smaller herd right now that we are rebuilding in the next few years.

The sunsets have been beautiful lately, a bit past 7:30pm. By June the sun will set right over the small winding road that passes our farm (more of a lane, really), but right now it sets over the sorting building.



You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

March 31, 2017

Spring Planting

A photograph from my latest article at RethinkRural
on "
How to Plan and Plant the Southern Spring Garden."




I can't wait to get out in the garden this year. The boys have spring break during the first week of April and, in between rain drops, I plan to get the broccoli starts in, peas planted, some radishes and beets, and maybe some other "cole crops" if there is room in my four galvanized steel garden beds (which are repurposed water tanks for cattle).

I also need to start some annuals that you can't easily get around here: some heirloom tomatoes (mostly those can be found in nurseries here in Kentucky but not my favorite, "San Marzano"); lots of unusual zinnias; and a few other unusual heirlooms.

There is also an adjacent garden shed nearby which needs a massive clean out and complete reorganization. I'm hoping to corral at least one of the boys to help, even if I have to bribe or pay them–they are so busy these days with school and after school jobs at a nearby farm that we've hardly seen them! Every time we do, they seem to have grown another inch.

Despite our warm winter and early spring–which has faltered a few times with numerous short cold spells–the garden still waits for me. This is our tenth spring in Kentucky and I look forward to it every year: it is prolonged, often warm but not too hot, a time when we can open windows and turn off the HVAC altogether until the real heat comes in mid-late May.

There is a succession of emergent wildflowers along the roadsides and fields. There are wild storms which bring literal excitement to the air (and I have had a lifelong storm obsession). In May we are rewarded with several weeks of local strawberries and my rhubarb is in full-on pie mode (the old timers didn't call it "pie plant" for nothing). Mid-May is also the end of the boys' school year here (which starts again in mid-August) so then it really starts to feel like summer.

[And there is always spring cleaning... It was supposed to take place in March, but as our oldest son is graduating from high school in mid-May and plans to have all of his friends here afterwards, and other family, it's time to get serious, folks!]

How will your garden grow?

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine