"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

December 24, 2012

Peace on Earth - Good Will to All - Merry Christmas !

"The tree, too, is a symbol
. How good the scent of pine, how bright the fragile gold and blue glass balls, how shining the tinsel and the delicate glass icicles! But this tree, this year, as the tree my mother used to trim on long-ago Christmas Eves, has a meaning beyond any individual tree. It is a symbol of the rich growth which Nature gives us all—out of the dark and frozen earth under the snow came the seed, comes the lifting spire of green. Unless we destroy her, the earth will grow green in spring, bear in summer, glow in autumn and dream in winter. The seasons with their infinite splendor will roll on; the glory of the sun and moon will be vouchsafed to us. This is the promise of my Christmas tree."

~ Gladys Tabor, Stillmeadow Seasons, 1947

You come back when you're ready!


December 19, 2012

Joy in the Morning

I was struck by this passage when I read it last week. If you haven't discovered the joys of Gladys Taber, I highly recommend that you run to your nearest used book store or library and read anything that she wrote. She was a columnist and magazine writer and was most famous for her "Stillmeadow" books which chronicle the seasons on her farm and her observations about the world. What resonates with me about this passage is how, although it was written during the World War II years, it is still relevant today. I read this the day before the tragedy at Newtown and I read it again today to remind myself that this, too, shall pass. I just pray that the people directly affected will be able to find some peace over time for what seems unanswerable.

I hope that you have a blessed, quiet and beautiful Christmas and holiday season. I know that I'm feeling grateful for so many things right now and glad of the moments that I often take for granted––and the people in them.
"We live in parlous times. Nobody can deny it. With the divorce rate skyrocketing, and foreign troubles sitting like gray wolves outside the door, and politics a shambles, and unrest in every industry, and the economic situation unstable, we know that life is grave. Our country is full of underprivileged people; we face crises not once a month but every week. I know all this. I know we are bigoted and narrow––and I read many letters from women who say they will not bring a child into this world because they are afraid.
But oh, as Christmas comes again, I know an inner security about life that I wish I could share. The old tired earth is most beautiful and lovely. As long as men come home from work and children from school and women put a sprig of parsley on the platter so the steak or the chicken or the spaghetti may look festive, so long as the church bells ring in the frosty air, we may have a world worth living for.
And Christmas is the time when we can understand this; even if we are sad or lonely or in trouble as so many people are in this scrap of whirling matter-in-space. For this is the season of living as deeply as we may, of loving, and of the expression of the values of life that we can believe in...any loving deed or word, this is the magic of Christmas!"
~ Gladys Taber, Stillmeadow Seasons, 1947

You come back when you're ready!


December 10, 2012

Joyeux Noël

This month I read a short, delightful Christmas story by Donald Hall (with beautiful woodcuttings by Mary Azarian). Christmas at Eagle Pond is the author’s imagined holiday with his grandparents over the stretch of Christmas week in the early 1940s at their New Hampshire farm—a Christmas he never shared with them because he only came up with his parents from Connecticut each summer. Hall has carried these memories with him, over 70 years later, of his grandparents’ farm: their routines, the foods they ate (his grandmother’s pantry!), the daily chores and the many country experiences and conversations that he shared with his family.
When I was a child I dreamt and daydreamed of my grandparents’ own New Hampshire farm throughout the winter: where we too would only visit in the summer. I imagine that their Christmases—after their children and grandchildren lived elsewhere—were quiet and marked by the early morning service at their Episcopal church, a few simple gifts (most likely books to each other or favorite plants tended in their own greenhouse), an easy dinner, and quiet moments around the fireplace after chores.

My grandparents, despite their illustrious upbringings around New York City, spent their last thirty years together on 1790s New England farm where they raised their six children amongst an assortment of animals—including milking cows, horses, chickens, geese—and acres of produce. They were among the first wave of “back-to-the-landers” and their farmhouse contained the scattered—and often delightfully tattered—remains of generations: old portraits, assorted silver and china, rooms full of old, well-loved books and even the precious porcelain “courting cups” that had been a regular gift from my great-grandfather to his future wife. There was a cavernous barn with an attached annex and summer kitchen—evocative of the “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn” motif that was predominant in many New England farmsteads—and fragrant pinewoods, fields and brooks surrounded it. The farm was a magical place, despite the sorrows that did occur there, and will be forever a part of me. We had our own Christmases there after my parents divorced, my grandfather died, and we moved from Ohio with my mother in 1974.

Eli's creche scene (2011).
My mother’s Christmases were probably a bit more elaborate than those of her parents or her own childhood—but still with an infused simplicity and beauty. The tree was the focus—filled with handmade ornaments from friends and older glass balls and tinsel. We brought out favorite decorations from our Ohio days but mostly it was the greenery that I remember: the red winterberries, the boughs, and bits of the forest that my mother gathered from the pinewoods and assembled with her own flourishes. We attended the midnight Christmas Eve service and spent the entire next day in our pajamas—even having our Christmas feast that way (a tradition I continue today where flannel is de rigueur at the dinner table). The sounds of our Christmas were the constant low music from the hi-fi (usually Andy Williams, the Kingston Trio, and other favorites) and the crackle of the fire in the woodstoves. In future years, before I was married and when I was working in Boston, I would return back to the city, open my suitcase and welcome the cold, fresh air and pungent wood smoke that had been encased with my belongings. It was the tonic of home.

Gertie, Emmet and Cora at Christmas (2010) • They are now back in the wild.
Last year's tree (2011) at the double-wide.
There will be fewer gifts this year, by choice.
So here is to a Merry (quiet) Christmas or whatever your tradition at this time of year—we are hoping to light a large bonfire around the Winter Solstice, too. And these words have meant much as we've simplified things a great deal in our holidays this year. [And be sure to check back in a few weeks for a special New Year's greeting, too.]

You come back when you're ready!


NOTE: Donald Hall, a former United States Poet Laureate, has written many books over the years including my favorites String Too Short to Be SavedOx-Cart ManLucy’s Christmas (the former a memoir and the latter two for children) and some recent memoirs about his life shared with, and after, his wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon (I highly recommend her poetry, also). Since the mid-1970s he has lived on his grandparents’ New Hampshire farm where he continues to write.

November 13, 2012

Glad Tiding and Salutations!

And a happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

I might not be on for a while––not only do I still not have ready Internet access at home (which is kind of a good thing) but I'm working on my next book(s). This, too, is a good thing!

In the mean time, you can read my archives here at this blog and at my former blog, In the Pantry.

You come back when you're ready!


October 29, 2012

"I like to shimmy, kick, stretch and KICK! Because I'm 50! Fifty years old..."

A vibrant summer sunflower in my garden...before the frost, of course.

I just had to get on here and crow and sing about reaching this milestone in my life. Dare I say that I feel younger because my heart is warmed by the love of dear family and friends today? That it has been a grand fifty years so far? Or because I have been blessed with not one but two trips back to New England in the past few months (one with each son) to reconnect in "real time" (this lack of Internet on the ridge is going rather well except for one thing: I'm not blogging as much as I'd like––but writing more for publication, yes!)? Because I'm feeling blessed that my daughter's health is back on track after a difficult year for her? That, with her leaving for the next part of her life––at almost twenty-five––in a few more days is a liberation for her, and for me, too, however bittersweet it will be? Because our farm is chugging along and I'm feeling more rooted and more content in the world? Because I seem to be at last heading out of perimenopause? (Sparing you those actual details...but the timing is interesting.)

Yes, there are so many reasons to crow and sing and to be blessed in this life. I embrace the next part of it full force and with every conviction to put my health and writing first for a change.

I will blog more in the coming months as it is that more inward part of the year––something that I also embrace with all of my heart and soul. I no longer dread the darkness and the quieter months. Sometimes I welcome them. And now I welcome the next decade as a time to really shine on and to prioritize what is important.

You come back when you're ready!


September 24, 2012

Do Not Name Your Livestock if You Will Kill Them

"Big Red," front and almost center, in a recent photo of Eli for a project he did on oak trees for school.

Let me tell you about Big Red. He was a handsome steer, filled out, solid, sweet and kind. Last summer one of our boys had named him and, over the past few months, I had grown fond of him, too. He was among the cows we were keeping, because they will make fine bulls, like Edgar (whom I named after my husband brought him––cold, muddy and abandoned––from the knob pasture after Christmas), or "39" (because of her ear tag), Tess or Angel Clare who are all, or will be, great heifers. "39" will even let us pat her and come up to her in the pastures. These traits are good in cattle, especially if you are developing your own herd. You don't want a cow that is skittish or fearful or who might charge you, unprovoked, in the pasture. You also don't want a cow that will all too easily abandon its calf. Turns out, there are great mothers in the bovine world just as there are really lousy ones. You can never trust a bull entirely but if you have a gentle heifer or steer and continue to treat them well, you can maintain a kind of trust.

Big Red developed into a 968 pound beef cow in the past year just as his temperament was unusually kind and friendly for a pastured cow. There is no saying what kind of bull he would have made but I expect, as with Edgar, that he would have been fairly mellow. At first Big Red was being raised for our own freezer but then I got involved, and attached, and, well, to be honest, we all did. He was such a presence, even ham-like for photographs.

Last month a beef buyer was on the property and made a comment that Big Red would fetch a good price at market. We went back and forth as a family and last week my husband broached the idea again. I said, no matter what, I can not put him in the freezer and transform him into our simple farm cuisine. 

"Well, let's let the boys decide, they have raised and named him," I suggested, not willing to decide myself. So my husband did. 

While I was away at a few days respite and the Kentucky Women Writers' Conference in Lexington, I got the phone call.

"We put Big Red on a truck today."

I was digesting a lovely meal and about to see (what would be an unsettling few hours of cinema) The Master at the Lexington Theater with our daughter. The irony was not lost on me.

As the hours, and movie, went on I could not stop thinking about Big Red. What was he thinking? How was Edgar taking this? Why can't we keep them all?

Tess and Angel Clare, a female calf born on the Summer Solstice in 2012,
both have stays of execution on our farm because they can reproduce––and, I named them.

As our oldest son Henry said, with rhetoric and wisdom beyond his years, "Are we operating a cattle farm or a 'friendly' farm, Dad?" He has a point. We can not keep all of the animals that we raise and we clearly can not name them or pet them all, either. No wonder kobe beef is so expensive: all of that personalized pampering and attention.

Back at the hotel, I called my husband, now even more troubled by a strange and haunting, excellent, movie. I asked if he could reconsider Big Red's fate, knowing it was too late. You can't really buy back your own cow at an auction. You can, of course, but think of the scrutiny and the paperwork. Besides, Big Red would never reproduce and would be a 20 or so year commitment to feeding. Even if he and Edgar had seemed to form a relationship, it was not to be.

My husband said that Edgar let out a long moan as Big Red went up the road in the cattle trailer. I don't doubt it. We've heard cows mourn their dead on our farm in long, low, pitiful wails.

Cows are curious, sometimes friendly creatures, and more intelligent than we realize.

Raising cattle for meat, no matter how humanely they are treated and how free to roam our pastures, presents a great conundrum for me. I can not eat what I befriend and so most of the cattle are just that in my mind: cattle, livestock, black and brown dots grazing on pasture. It's a schizophrenic proposition. Unlike many women who raise chickens, I have not named one of my own. But some of the cattle I have named and if I've learned anything about farming it's that you do not name your livestock if you will kill them.

Big Red commanded $1,100 dollars at auction. I know he will help pay for many things on our farm but I can't help feeling like a mercenary meat eater, a master of destiny, a fraud.

You come back when you're ready! 


September 1, 2012

Ordinary Time

Anna's laundry takes her the better part of the day to do: meanwhile she is doing other things,
none of them electronic or wired in to the larger communications matrix.

A month ago, to the day, we had a small, rogue thunderstorm travel across our ridge. It happened as we were getting ready to leave for a funeral in Tennessee and just as quickly as it started, it was over. In the meantime, the rain was ferocious and lashing and the lightning and thunder clapped on top of our ridge farm. Before we ran to the car in the pouring rain, a terrific bolt of lightning hit just behind our house and there was a snap, crackle and pop. It took out our phone for several days, our solar light on the driveway, and, alas, my (very expensive) satellite internet system.

After a few mini-fits I realized a blessing had occurred. Make that a small miracle. First of all, this has been The Summer of Visitors: 25 days of June-August were spent entertaining friends and family alike here on our Kentucky farm (and this doesn't include the days spent back in New England on a wonderful visit with my eldest son, our daughter, my mother and various friends). Our daughter also returned in July for a few months before moving on to other things.

So this self-admitted recluse-with-occasional-social-inclinations has had plenty of "face time" (vs. Facebook) and real-time connections to sustain her through a quieter fall and winter. Each visit has been special and unique and now part of our arsenal of cherished memory. These visits, and more to come when I return to New England for a stretch in October, have been the greatest gift of my 50th year.

I've learned a lot in this month without Internet at the ready, just off my bedroom. Some of my reasons for not having a new satellite internet dish installed after the repairman said I had outdated equipment have to do with this article in The Atlantic ["Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?"] as much as it has to do with the expense and frustration of it––not to mention that DSL is supposedly coming to our ridge this fall, although I now have to question whether I will even bother.

So here's what I've learned about myself and the way I have been spending my time:
  • The Internet is a luxury item and an exorbitant waste of time (most of the time);
  • I do not need to be checking Facebook several times a day or for great lengths of time (I've probably been on it an hour total in the past four weeks);
  • I do not need to be reading everything on the Internet (including stupid blogs and websites);
  • I do not need to "Google It" because, chances are, I really don't need to know it after all;
  • Real-time conversations trump virtual ones any day, even if they take more effort (eg. going off-ridge or having people stay with us or visit);
  • The phone is still a work in progress for me but I'm relearning the art of a quick note or letter (besides, I really don't want the US Post Office to become obsolete);
  • Emails can be short, sweet, or just deleted if they don't require a (short, sweet) personal response;
  • The Somerset Public Library completely rocks: both in its architecture and in its comfy chairs, expansive library tables, and free wifi;
  • My dusty Mac PowerBook G4, while slow and outdated, is a wonderful thing: it travels well, I can write on it, and my ear buds provide blissful musical interludes when the library (or other places) are too noisy;
  • Portable Internet devices are also wonderful things for photos and documents and things that need to be emailed to editors; and, finally (huge light bulb moment),
  • My domestic time is better spent without the distraction of the Internet.

My friend Anna can multi-task like no one's business: here she is canning peaches
with a grandchild on her left hip (not shown) and laundry on the line outside.
Our Old Order Mennonite friends don't use the Internet, something which seems
to tap my own focus and less intrinsic domestic abilities at times.

This is what I've done to offset the reality that I do not have the Internet at my finger tips:
  • I don't feel inclined to check Facebook now, and do so briefly when I log in off-farm;
  • "Google It" is no longer in my vernacular;
  • My house and guest-writing cottage is more organized than ever before;
  • We tend to eat more meals together, at the table;
  • I've gone walking a few times (more to come when it's not so hot);
  • My head space is clearer and less ADD-addled;
  • I've read more books and magazines, cover-to-cover, in the past month than I have in six;
  • I've been visiting more off-ridge;
  • I've been eating less;
  • I've been watching much less television, too (that might be the next thing to depart the house); and, finally (drum roll, please),
  • I've been writing more for publication (and upcoming writing workshops).
Obviously I've been blogging less in general and even gave up a blog, more or less, [GROW Casey County] when I realized, with our boys in school in another county and various other things, including time, that it was just too much. I need to focus on paid writing assignments and personal projects––and our own farm––more these days. Our boys are in a new school with increased homework demands, also, so there is that. It's all good. 

I try to recall the days when a big deal was clearing off my answering machine after a day at work or time out with friends: who called? Do people like me? It's really all about validation, or not feeling the need to be validated or connected. I still don't have a cell phone, either. And I guarantee, if you write me, I'll probably write back. And I always love lunch out with friends, too. So call me. Maybe?

The last of the summer hay––being pulled into the farm by our son Henry.

You come back when you're ready!


August 13, 2012

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation

We watched a lot of sunsets.

My mother––Bamma––came to visit us!
We watched as a broody hen raised her seven assorted chicks. 
We broke bread with visiting friends and family.
We tended cows and calves.

We visited our cows on the knob.

We visited dear friends back in New Hampshire.

We visited Bamma (and Lewis)
in New Hampshire.

We posed for lots of photographs (and yours truly took them).

We saw our favorite mountain––Henry and I visited New Hampshire
on our first solo trip together and his first time there in four years.
We went swimming in a clear New Hampshire lake.
We drove by our old New Hampshire house and were a wee bit sad.
We played in the creek with our visiting cousins.

We had homemade lobster rolls
with dear friends...
and pie. For breakfast, too.

We stayed in the best guest room on the planet.

We went to a great restaurant with The Bills.
We road horses with our cousins.

We moved our daughter to Kentucky for a bit.
We sat on our porches and sipped sangria.
We visited "secret" gardens [English Garden at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens]
We ate at Swenson's in Akron, Ohio.

We always come home again.

You come back when you're ready!