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As I was in the garden this morning, planting and caring for the fall crop of vegetables, hands dirty and soul full, He began to speak to me, yet again, through this farm life we live.

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As I listened and looked around, this is what I saw…

Broccoli, growing with onions. Lettuces, tucked under peppers and eggplant, enjoying the respite of the sun’s heat. Kale, standing tall amongst the broad leaves of giant mustard greens.

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Radish seeds being tucked in for a short nap, as the brussels sprouts wait for their complementary leaves to come forth from the ground. Basil, sage, rosemary and thyme intermingle with it all, purifying with their fragrance.

As my eyes were lifted from the vegetable filled beds, I noticed dozens of Gulf Fritillary butterflies enjoying their breakfast from one of the many varieties of Zinnias growing on the west side of the garden.

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I walked over for a closer look with my camera, intersecting the highway of buzzing bees, making their rounds to all the available basil blooms. Hummers flew from the lantana to the spider lillies, which are so abundantly beckoning the fall season upon us.

Scores of song birds welcomed the morning. Jays, busy bickering amongst each other. Mockingbirds, irritating all the true singers of songs. Cawing of crows in the distant and a squirrel barking at a cat, whom we call Dog.

Wrens, woodpeckers, chickadees, bluebirds… All unseen, but purposefully contributing to the symphony of life on our little sanctuary.

Then the hens chimed in, as if telling the others to come and see the glorious morning. The roosters, and the boy goats, calling to their ladies in grandeur.

The peacock slowly, yet confidently, walked down the hill, his colors radiant. Regal. One simply must stop and respectfully watch him pass.

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As I went on about my work, sowing seeds to bring forth life, the diversity that laid before me and around me… it was abundant, and astounding.

Powerful.

Beautiful.

All of it, despite evident differences, working together for the greater good.

Life, as it should be…

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Shedding Skins

Five.

The number of times a Monarch caterpillar sheds its skin during its lifetime.

That wild concept of “progression” just keeps coming up, doesn’t it?

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I have come to realize, through the raising of Monarchs here on our farm, that the life stage of the caterpillar is one of incomparable beauty and growing wisdom.

An extremely important part of the entire process.

One that, in my opinion, should be considered more deeply, rather than so casually overlooked, as it so often is. For without it, the miraculous transformation to butterfly cannot, and will not, occur.

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From the time the teeny tiny caterpillar emerges from its egg casing, it has one thing on its mind. Food. Milkweed, to be exact. And no, you cannot force feed it whatever you think it should eat.

It knows what nourishes.

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As they tirelessly consume the milkweed, growth occurs exponentially. Hence, the need for shedding of skin.

When the maximum growth for each stage is achieved, the cats rear their heads up, initiating break through, and then walk right out of their old skin. After a moment of allowing the new skin to dry and harden, they turn and consume that which they have left behind.

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As if to say “Our past has the potential to nourish our future…”

Hmm.

Soul Grabbers

We are unschoolers. Simply put, we learn by doing what we love. Every single day.

And for the past six months, a very large part of that learning, albeit not always out of love but neccesity, has been centered around raising four Nubian goat kids and a livestock guardian pup.

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This new adventure did not come on a whim. For months, we, as a family, carefully contemplated all the pros and cons, researched, and respectfully considered each other’s input on the matter.

From barn design, breed research, bookkeeping and bottle feeding to animal dynamics, discipline, disease and death.

The learning has been deep, imperfect and, at times, painful.

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For months there were multiple feedings required each day. Bottles had to be washed. A lot. Milk had to be warmed. Even on those nights when we’ve just wanted to put on our pjs and call it a day, the babies needed our time and attention.

Stalls had to be mucked. Sleepovers away from home had to be rescheduled, for duty calls. One more trip to the feed store because we miscalculated on a bag or two. Stormy days when we reeeeeally didn’t want to trudge back to the barnyard and lock them up for the night. Seemingly endless trips to pick up milk for the growing babies.

Shots and medicines to give. And yes, even death…

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Raising these goats was seeming more like scutwork, rather than fun.

Scutwork is defined as “trivial, unrewarding, tedious, dirty, and disagreeable chores; usually inherent in the operations of a larger project.” I. Love. That.

And I’ve come to learn that the soul grabbers are almost always intertwined with the seemingly mundane. The scutwork.

Like the deep, belly laughter radiating from a girl frolicking with her goat. The goat kids and human kids calling to and answering each other in a language perfected. Heads butted and hearts stolen. The immense knowledge that is gained through experience. Patience and gratitude and grace and mercy abounding through the actions of sisters working together. The selflessness of girls who let their momma sleep in from farm chores on Sunday mornings. And so much more…

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Scutwork, in its most authentic form, is LIFE.

And when we, with humble hearts wide open, take this gift of every day life – the trivial, unrewarding, tedious, dirty, and disagreeable – seeing each and every moment as an opportunity to grow in awareness of a God that marvels in His creation… well… then we are truly living.

And truly learning.

 

The Parable of the Pea Patch

We planted a pea patch this year.

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On a piece of land that belongs to our elderly neighbors, with an old 8N Ford tractor that belonged to my husband’s father, and a John Deere planter that’s every bit as old as I am. The nostalgia of that trio nearly did me in before the peas ever even peaked their heads out of the soil.

As I watched my husband ready that field for planting – bush hogging, plowing and making rows in that sleepy soil – I knew. I knew God had plans to speak to me there, teaching me, us, yet again, many things through this life on the farm…

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The old timers rule of thumb for planting peas goes like this…

“Three days after the full moon, in April, May or June.”

So that’s what we did. Three days after the full moon in April, which just happened to fall on Good Friday this year, under the instruction of my husband, our two teenage daughters climbed on that 8N Ford with the old John Deere planter and began sowing seeds.

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Twenty six rows. Each row three hundred feet long.

I stood there with the youngest girl and watched, with a full heart, longing desperately for my granddaddy, my Honey, to be there witnessing it with me. He would’ve had a huge grin on his face. You know, the kind of grin that makes your eyes water with inexplicable joy and humble pride?

But since he couldn’t be there with me, I wore that grin, on my own face, in his honor.

Three days later, on Easter Sunday, those peas, despite being buried deeply, burst forth from that ground as if they were proclaiming the resurrection themselves.

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The abundant rains this spring fed and nourished that ground. The seed was good and so the plants grew exponentially. Like no pea patch we’d ever seen.

We kept a careful watch on them, for bugs and disease. And while there were a few bugs, as there always are in a diverse, healthy ecosystem, no pesticides were sprayed. The threat of pests proved to be no match for the strength of the plants and their ability to overcome.

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The weeks passed, we waited, and they continued to grow. And grow. And grow some more.

And then, one day we looked out across the field and there were blooms of white and yellow all across the blanket of green. Tiny pods began to form. I began to worry whether bugs would become an increased risk to our newly forming fruits.

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The old timers said to spray the field as soon as it bloomed, because the bugs would it eat up.

But… I just watched the field even more carefully. Walking the rows, inspecting the bugs. Googling pictures of bugs I wasn’t familiar with. Yes, there were some bugs that posed a threat. But there were also tons of beneficial bugs. And I resolved that I absolutely would not spray that field with a pesticide. Just the same, we have resolved not to spray a universal “pesticide” on the lives of our children, but that’s a whole other blog post. (Maybe I’ll get the nerve to write it one day…)

And the pods grew. More blooms opened. More pods grew. And the cycle continued. And before we knew it, it was time to begin harvesting.

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The first harvest was sporadic. Peas ready here and there. I believe we spent most of that morning trying not to trample the vines and consequently harm the larger, plumper unripened peas.

First fruits. Hmm.

The following weekend, however, was a completely different story. The one time field of green had turned into a field of purple. A royal harvest.

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Brad and I were alone in our efforts that morning, as all three farm girls were away the night before. And as I stood halfway down my first three hundred foot row, five gallon bucket nearly full, back slightly aching already from the amount of bending over required, sweat pouring, clothes sticking, I looked over at him and said, “This gives a whole new meaning to ‘The fields are ripe for harvest, but the workers are few’ huh?”

He agreed, we laughed about it and made promises that we WOULD have reinforcement the next morning.

But as I continued down my row, picking ripe pods, I couldn’t help but observe all the stages of growth that were right there in my midst.

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In one glance, there were blooms opening, beckoning new growth. Then there were inch long, bright green baby pods, and right next to them, mid sized pods with deeper shades of green and evidence of developing fruit inside.

There were full size, long green pods, their purple tinted skin taut with growing fruit. And fully purple pods, in their prime and beautiful with the sheen of ripeness.

And last, but certainly not least, there were the duller, drier, wrinkled pods. They retained their royal purple, although their sheen was gone. Yet the promise of future life was still held inside of them.

Yes, this most definitely brings a whole new meaning to that scripture above.

As a gardener/farmer, I’ve come to learn the many, many stages of a harvest. Contrary to what we believe, not all harvests ripen at once. Its an ongoing process. And one that requires different measures, because each is measured differently.

I’ve also come to learn that the workers are few because the work is hard. Very hard. But we are guaranteed that all hard work brings a profit.

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Be it in a pea patch, a marriage, raising children.

All of life, really…

Shall we ponder on that awhile?

 

Farm Livin’ – June

Wow. June is gone? Half the year is gone?

How is that possible??

Those of you who follow along with our adventures via Facebook and Instagram may have already seen some of these photos! But, for those of you who have not, here’s a little look at some of our June happenings on the farm.

It was a full month. Wonder what July has in store?

Blessings to ya’ll… 🙂

Of Okra and Superhero Capes

Our first, albeit small, okra harvest of the year.

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And I remember…

One afternoon years ago, I was visiting with my grandparents and sharing with them the excitement of planting our first garden. During our visit, my granddaddy, better known as our “Honey”, rose from his chair and slowly shuffled to their laundry room. Upon his return, he handed to me a single dried pod of okra. A little perplexed, I took the pod from his wrinkled hand and waited for the story that was surely to follow.

When he was situated in his chair again, he said, “That okra is from Papaw’s garden.”

His daddy’s garden. My great granddaddy’s garden.

The seed was given, by my great granddaddy before he passed on, to a neighbor who continued to grow it and save seed from it each year. The last year that old man grew it, he saved a pod and gave it to my granddaddy, who in turn gave it to me.

As I turned that dried okra pod over in my hands, listening to the crackling of the seeds nestled inside, I realized I was holding a piece of the past and my mind was immediately flooded with memories of time spent in the only garden I knew as a child.

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That’s me in that picture there, with my Mamaw’s garden hat on, proudly displaying my Papaw’s cucumbers.

I loved being there, with my Mamaw and Papaw. In the garden, of course. But also riding my bike up and down their road, donning a magical superhero cape made from a hooded baby towel. Working word finds with my Mamaw. Lemon tea and pecan tassies. Mile long Pal Mal cigarettes in an oversize glass ashtray. Stories of war. I’d give anything to remember what he said on those days I sat at his feet, watching his mouth move but never hearing a word. Homemade Barbie clothes and fried eggs and The Wheel of Fortune. Old pictures of family and Avon perfume. Arguing with my Mamaw over who was cuter – Bo or Luke Duke. An old blue truck with a hole in the floorboard. That superhero cape getting hung up in the spokes of a bicycle tire, allowing me to believe for one brief moment that I really could fly…

{sigh}

I planted his okra seed with great pride that year, and have each year since then. Every time I hold those seeds in my hand, I’m reminded of all the beautiful memories.

And while I’m sure that okra doesn’t deserve a special status in the wide world of seeds, to me it will always, always be an cherished heirloom.

 

Blessings… 🙂

 

 

Living Fractals

Many years ago, before my homesteading days, I read The Shack. The entire book rocked my world, but there was one chapter in particular that spoke to me so profoundly, so intimately, that I read it again and again, marking up the pages with a red pen as the words just seemed to come alive to me.

That chapter being A Long Time Ago, in a Garden Far, Far Away…

“As he rounded the trees, he saw for the first time a magnificent garden and orchard somehow contained within a plot of land hardly larger than an acre. For whatever reason, Mack had expected a perfectly manicured and ordered English garden. This was not that!

It was chaos in color. His eyes tried unsuccessfully to find some order in this blatant disregard for certainty. Dazzling sprays of flowers were blasted through patches of randomly planted vegetables and herbs, vegetation the likes of which Mack had never seen. It was confusing, stunning, and incredibly beautiful.

‘From above it’s a fractal,’ Sarayu said over her shoulder with an air of pleasure.

‘A what?’ asked Mack absentmindedly, his mind still trying to grapple with and control the pandemonium of sight and the movements of hues and shades. Every step he took changed whatever patterns he for an instant thought he had seen, and nothing was like it had been.

‘A fractal… something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified. A fractal is almost infinitely complex. I love fractals, so I put them everywhere.’

‘Looks like a mess to me,’ muttered Mack under his breath.”

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Come alongside, if you will, as I share with ya’ll some of the mess, the fractals, that make up the seemingly simple and orderly life we live here on the farm…

Rewind back to 2004. Two years married, two precious babies under the age of two. Bad decisions catching up with me. With us.

Brad and I lived in town in a little house that my sweet granddaddy had helped me to fix up. Oh how I loved that little house. He and I poured lots of time and energy and love into that place. Many memories were made that will forever overshadow the heartache that would soon follow.

As a result of those bad decisions, we would lose that house in the spring of 2004.

I was heartbroken, for many reasons, and completely unsure of what the future held for our young and struggling family.

We took country rides a lot, always dreaming about what it would be like to have a place away from the noise of town. Brad had a dream of building, with his own hands, a home for us on that land. I thought he was crazy. 🙂

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But one day, as we were riding and dreaming, we happened upon six acres and a tiny mobile home. And God practically threw it in our laps.

It was an escape for us. An escape to peace and quiet and away from the whispers and judgmental glares of those who knew our story.

We immediately branded our new place “the sanctuary”, because that’s what it was. A place of refuge and safety. For me and Brad. For our girls. But we hadn’t the faintest idea of just how far that name would go. And the thought of homesteading? Well, that was nowhere remotely close to even being a thought.

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Upon our move to the country, a sweet elderly couple from across the way befriended us. They began to visit us regularly, bringing fresh eggs, vegetables from their garden and m&ms for the girls. But most of all, they brought us friendship and through that we began to learn what “community” was all about.

In the meantime, our baby girl was born and Brad went to work offshore to provide for our family. I quickly became overwhelmed with being a single mom while he was gone. The amount of time it left me alone with all the duties of being momma and daddy was too much to bear, and to be completely raw with ya’ll, I resented him deeply for his decisions. I had a full time job as well, and could not keep up the house, the kids and with six acres while he was gone.

I wanted to move back to town. Where I had reinforcement. And stores. And convenience…

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But Brad didn’t take the bait.

So, one day while he was off in the Gulf of Mexico, I was walking around in the overgrown yard thinking, “Something’s gotta give…

“What are we doing out here?”

“Why do we even have all this land??”

“I don’t even have a lawnmower, for crying out loud!!”

Actually, I had never even mowed a yard before. Sad, yes. But true.

Sometime after that, this was given to me — “The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land He is giving you.” (Deut. 28:8)

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I remember thinking, “Uh, okay. We don’t have a barn. And right now I just wanna set a match to this place. Move me back to town!!”

And then, “But you were created in a garden for a reason, Erin.”

Hmm. Pullin’ out the big guns now, are ya? Well, I’m not biting. Nope. That’s what we have neighbors for. And grocery stores.

So, in 2008, we built our first garden… 🙂

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It was beautiful and I was hooked. I felt purposeful for the first time in a long while. The garden quickly became my happy place. A place where the world and problems and all my other duties ceased to exist.

That rocked on and one day my sweet neighbor asked me if I wanted to learn how to can vegetables. Yes!! So we canned snap beans. Jars and jars of snap beans in the midst of my tiny trailer kitchen. It was nostalgic, sitting there around the table, the whistling of the canner in the background, her telling me stories of how, when she was a young girl, they canned on a wood burning stove.

The following year, we began homeschooling, got some chickens, and those sweet little neighbors of ours introduced us to fresh cow milk. I never will forget when Mr. Ray called and said, “Hey Punkin’, you interested in some raw milk?”

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Now, I was quickly becoming a country girl, but “raw milk” had me so confused! But, I obliged, and through that I was introduced to another wise woman who would inspire me and grow me tremendously.

One day, in December 2010, upon visiting that wise woman, she asked me if I was ready for a milk cow of my own. Brad and I had talked about it, but we were also about to begin the ever adventuresome project of building our own house, and had decided we should wait. Until after the house was built.

Well, one month later, in January of 2011, we welcomed Bess the Jersey cow to our growing farm. 🙂

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That was the single worst year of my entire life. I had never – NEVER – milked a cow. And SHE had never been milked. She had a two week old calf and fire in her eyes. Talk about a rodeo. I feel quite certain that all of eternity sat around with their popcorn, placing bets on how much milk I could get in the bucket before Bess stuck her foot in it.

Oh, but there were soon many, many things God would teach me through that cow. The first being the memorization of James 1:2-4 – “Consider it pure joy, my sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

I quoted that durn scripture nearly every day while milking her. Mostly through my clenched teeth.

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He taught me how to let go of my need for control, and taught me self control in its place.

He taught me to replace “I can’t” with “I CAN.”

There were a multitude of other lessons learned. Too many to recall. I wish I had journaled them all.

We began building our house, with our own hands, in the summer of 2011, in the midst of Bessie’s first year with us, and would continue building it for the next five years. Much of our blood, sweat and tears was poured into those years. Literally.

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During that time also came a bigger garden, increased knowledge, more canning, more learning, more understanding, more growth, lots of reading, a more vivid purpose to live fully. Chickens have come and gone and come again. Yearly calves have stolen our hearts and we have made the shift to unschooling our girls.

Early this year, through much prayer and consideration, we welcomed four Nubian dairy goats to our farm and said goodbye to our Jersey girl of six years, rehoming her with a sweet family to be their first milk cow.

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2017 has also been our first year to raise and butcher meat birds. We’ve welcome a few hives of honeybees, expanded our gardening efforts and are dreaming of even more ways to encourage and inspire and teach…

The growth that has occurred in our family, through farm life, is exponential. But for myself, personally, it’s simply nothing short of a miracle.

Ya know, many people refer to this life as “the simple life.” The definition of simple being “that which is easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty.”

This life is far from that. We get up before dawn and we work hard. Every. Single. Day. Difficult lessons are learned. We lose crops. Animals get sick and die. Predators attack. Cows repeatedly cross ditches in search of greener, unfenced pastures. Things happen that you are not equipped to deal with and things happen that you just can’t explain. But so goes life.

It’s all part of the fractals…

At the end of that chapter in The Shack, Mack has been helping Sarayu clean out an area of the garden. She thanks him, and he says…

“I didn’t do that much, really. I mean, look at this mess.” His gaze moved over the garden that surrounded them. “But it really is beautiful, and full of you, Sarayu. Even though it seems like lots of work still needs to be done, I feel strangely at home and comfortable here.”

The two looked at each other and grinned.

Sarayu stepped toward him until she had invaded his personal space. “And well you should, because this garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive — a living fractal.”

Wow. A perfect pattern. Emerging and growing and alive.

Living fractals.

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“And when I study the amount of complexity in a fractal — zooming in closer and closer, yet never losing any resolution or altering its appearance in any way — I am reminded that the same painstaking detail went into God’s plan for my life. I break out in praise. And then I want to zoom in a bit more.”

Humble blessings to you all… 🙂