Saturday, August 22, 2015

A day at the fair!

Those 16 seconds about sum up our Wednesday afternoon and evening, only multiply the noise and number of people and level of over-stimulation as the evening progressed, as well as the parental exhaustion as the hours ticked by.

It's been a yearly tradition for the last 4 years or so to go to the fair the week of Kali's birthday.  It couldn't be more different than how we spend the other 364 days of our year and even Kali admitted this year that she wouldn't want to do this every week; once a year is enough.  We get our dose of noise, an update on the latest fashions (wow, they are so unappealing), an overwhelming exposure to all sorts of interesting and unhealthy smells, and for those that ride rides a good shaking up!

Thanks to the summer reading program, we get into the fair free. But the armbands for rides are $20 each and so it easily becomes about the most expensive family outing of the year.  It was not a hard decision for me to watch others get shaken up this year (even if most rides hadn't noted that they weren't recommended for pregnant women - we were chuckling while envisioning what our midwife would say at our next appointment if I had done some of the rides and Spark was in a very odd position upon her examination). I actually think I got the better end of the deal, as it was more than a little entertaining to watch Jason ride around in tea cups and bananas and a caterpillar train, usually the only adult on the ride.  I didn't have to pay anything and was quite entertained.

We went early this year as I'm a sucker for "getting our money's worth" out of something.  There is no doubt we did as the girls more or less rode rides constantly from before 3:30 p.m. until after 10:30 p.m. with only a short break to see some animals during the one rain shower and then for a birthday picnic supper along the sidelines of the frisbee dog show.

There was only one moment of sadness the whole evening, which was when I neglected to check height restrictions before the girls got excited about the bumper cars.  Alida's tears quickly dissipated with a ride all by herself in a banana. That opened the flood gates to her riding rides all by herself while the older crew took in some of the "more advanced" rides.

We were joined for dinner by the Tangly Woods crew and Jason got to have some adult company on rides for the post-dinner fun.  I had a brief renewal of energy after filling up on picnic foods, but that energy tanked around 11 and we finally were able to pull the girls away.  Alida fell asleep on the last leg home and we all tried to join here as soon thereafter as possible.

As I watched teenage couples walking around hand in hand, I felt so glad that those kinds of events weren't a part of Jason and I's courtship.  I'd hate to feel the need to frequent fairs and win crappy stuffed animals to rekindle the early spark we felt around each other! We named the area that you have to walk through full of games you play to win prizes "harassment hollow" this year.  That is definitely up there with my least favorite aspect of the fair.  I really can't imagine how much money some families spend for an evening out, and where they go with the large stuffed crocodiles and plastic blow up bats when they get home!

We came home with tired feet, fun memories, and a bunch of dirty picnic dishes.  And we'll look forward to next year!

And, last but not least (before I bring this blog posting marathon to a close), a Spark update: She's growing!  She's head down!  We are at 33 weeks today!  She gets hiccups and seems to host daily dance parties and aerobics sessions.  She gets kisses from her big sisters.  The excitement to meet her is definitely building in our home and while my daily discomfort grows I'm not wishing these days away.  I have always loved being pregnant and the feeling of a little person moving around inside me is like no other. I hope to savor the weeks remaining and by October we will be ready to welcome her with opens arms (and we'll be wishing for a frost to put a stop to tomatoes!).

Celebrating a decade!

I just came outside and am sitting on our front porch while Kali and Alida decorate the walk with colored chalk. The evening air is cool, the birds are singing and the bugs are making their various evening sounds.  The sky is clear, the mountain beautiful, the sunflowers making a splash of color on the landscape.  We do live in a beautiful place!

We were happy to have many join with us this past Sunday to celebrate all that the last ten years have held for our family here on Fruit Farm Lane, as well as to celebrate the gifts of land, home, and community (which can be found in many ways and in many places).

On this post you will find the reflection that Jason and I pulled together to share at the morning service.  The process of pulling together pictures and thoughts was a good one - and one we would not have engaged in had their not been an event to prepare for.  So we were grateful for a chance to set aside time for reflection, rather that have August fly by in the made rush to fill jars, dehydrators, freezers, and bellies.

Here's to the next ten years!!

Sharing for service August 16, 2015

Janelle: As Jason and I talked about what we might like to share with this gathering of people regarding the last decade spent here on Fruit Farm Lane, it became apparent to us almost immediately that any attempt to be comprehensive or offer a succinct sermon with wisdom embedded throughout was going to be nothing short of impossible.  If we’ve learned anything from this last decade it is that life is full of paradox: successes and failures, joys and sorrows, times of challenge and times of relative ease; lessons learned and re-learned and un-learned; seasons of discontent and times of deep peace; hard work and pure bliss; agonizing grief and celebrations in abundance; moments of questioning what in the world we are doing here and then in contrast feelings of being exactly where we need to be in the world, doing exactly what we need to be doing for our greatest joy to meet the world’s greatest need. So instead of trying to preach or summarize, we will give you a few brief glimpses into and a feel for some of what we’ve been up to this past ten years through the sharing of a handful of written memories interspersed with some of Jason’s poetry. We’ll start with a poem Jason wrote about 3 years before we moved here.


Breaking open the soil

I know I will cry my tears into it

I know I will think often

      of  hurting, forgotten people
      of the gaping mouth of pain

      of horror and suffering.

As on my knees I plunge my hands into it

      grasp the root of a weed

      --the moist and living gritty flesh—

                                          my heart will know

of the many things that cannot be uprooted

      before being felt

                  and understood by caring hands.       

And when I stick a spade in deep

      and strike a deep shoulder of rock

      hear it ring in my spirit

      an echo from the center of the earth

I’ll understand that though I searched to find this land,

      it is I who have been found.

Janelle: The restlessness that especially Jason felt during our two years on East Wolfe street compelled us to keep looking for a place in the country, and very importantly one that allowed chickens!  The actual process of procuring this piece of property is like no other real estate transaction I’ve heard of. Jason worked next door for Samuel and Margaret Johnson at the time and we got wind that maybe the owner would be open to selling, as she had been managing it as a rental for a dozen plus years from out of state.  We wrote her, but then after a while gave up hope of hearing anything. About that time we got word that she had interest in selling and wanted to meet and talk with us.  The renters at the time, now good friends Rachel and Mike Herr, had been given first option to buy and decided it was too much work.  How right they were!  I came to look at the house for the first time with Jason and my parents.  After walking around and through the house, I sat down in the then dining room and cried.  I cried because I knew we were going to buy it and it was so ugly and there were few places in sight that didn’t need work.  But we hadn’t found anything else in the country even close to our price range.  This was right next door to wonderful friends and Jason was already talking about the vast potential of the place.  What stands out most to me, though, was sitting with Pam (the owner and builder) and talking about what we could afford to pay for the place and what she needed to get for it and then, with tears added to the mix, deciding that we would take the plunge and she would entrust this precious piece of land to us.

A Mirror in the Woods

I have stepped out the back

door and am about to breathe

the autumn air
                  when I hear it:  Dink,

dink,  dink,  Cheep!,  dink,  (flutter)  dink,  etc.

There is a mirror leaning

against the wood pile, and

the cardinal is there, once again, attacking

his persistent opponent.

                                This pains me.  Oh,

the futility!  Oh, the piteous bravado!  My

air is spoiled.  I move on to my next task

and sigh as I go, for

it is I who have placed the mirror there!

I could remove it, but

then we would just have

cardinal poop streaks all down the

car door again.

Janelle:  Jason noted the following in reflecting on that poem. “Part of the reason some of us choose to live close to wild things is to in some way escape the reality of constantly being reminded of ourselves…it’s refreshing to also be reminded of what lies beyond the realm of human activity.  But one of the ironies of this lifestyle is that you can’t live in a wild place without making it less wild, or at least without introducing human disturbance to the rhythms of the place.  The effects this has on me are multiple:  disappointment, angst, alarm, claustrophobia, wonder, comfort, anger, acceptance, and lots of amusement.”

One of the important and difficult lessons I am continually faced with in our life here is the need to get in touch with my impact on the world around me.  For me, the little girl who stubbornly said she would never eat meat again when her father and sister were boiling crabs on a beach trip, this happens most keenly in my interactions with wild and domesticated animals.  I won’t quickly forget the day I was hauling wheelbarrow loads of old composted chicken litter to spread around when I came across a nest of baby mice. I had accidently destroyed their home with my shovel and the squirming helpless little pink things were strewn about waiting for the next predator to come along.  I struggled with what to do and eventually made the hard decision to feed them to the chickens (rather than leave them to die on their own or wait for whatever animal would come along and consume them).  And then there’s butchering days.  We raise ducks and chickens. We can’t possibly keep all that hatch – there’s already plenty of crowing around here.  We enjoy eating them and consider them a good source of nutrition for our family.  For me it feels important to be part of the process of raising and butchering animals if I’m going to have any sense of integrity within myself in eating them. But I wonder if I will ever become comfortable with the power we have to choose when an animal’s last meal of fresh grass will be.  I kind of hope not.


The old stone pile (which has
outlived by far the farmers who 
--sweating, sweating--
heaved the noxious cherty chunks into
a heap to be rid of them) was hard
to get to.

Requiring stones, I got my tools and wheeled them
down, down the slope and through the
[trees grass rabbits soil wire birds ants vegetables berries rock water] we
call our land.

This is me now moving brisk among the trees, this is me now
staring for a moment, once deciding, next destroying
limb after limb, and
branch upon branch
the pile grows:
space after space
the way opens.
As evening falls I lift with aching arms
the tools, return them
to their places
on the wall.

So here’s the honor granted me today:  Though I am not, all told,
the artist, for this time I was privileged
to handle the brush; marks
by each of us (farmers family cardinal body trees)
may be found here, all our pulls and pushes, dents and bulges making us
a space
the land remembers ever fainter, the form (color texture shape)
ever changing, never forgetting.

This to me is love, and this is peace: to know
this stretch of earth, my home; to feel
my family’s needs compel me; to find
a cardinal’s nest and leave it be; to move
my body there, now here; to make
a difference to this place—a work of

Janelle: The summer after our daughter Nora died, we began constructing our parking space.  The brush clearing Jason refers to was required to make the old stone pile in the woods accessible by car and trailer for this project.  This was both a community and family project, as initially we had some help with the large rock hauling, for which we were grateful.  But the times that stick out in my mind were the many evenings we deemed Family Work Nights where we hauled load after load of stones from the woods to the future parking space site.  Sometimes we talked, sometimes we were silent.  For me it was about the best grief work I could do – being with those closest to me who experienced the same loss, working outside on a project that was more or less straightforward and predictable, and, well, it felt really good to throw some rocks around! As a continuation of our “grief work”, the following poem describes the preparation of the garden we created in memory of Nora.


A father’s love ignores the border
death presents. I worked for you in every way I knew, now
what to do with this: my aimless drive to help, my hoeing the abyss?
There’s nothing you could need from me; I’ll turn my hoe toward earth
and let the rocks and soil absorb my effort, and I'll wait for birth among the
blooming celebrations. I can work on these reiterations.

And so we put together what we can: we scrape
the weeds aside and mark a place where, when it needs to huddle
with the memories, a heart may hide. We’ve caught a hold on changes
in the calendar and seasons, have made spaces full of time: ad hoc
creations. We’ve established these reiterations.

I think it helps a little. Do I need to see reflections of my baby
girl out there exposed to wild, swirling air to keep me from forgetting? Maybe not, but there is satisfaction in the knowledge that in moments when I need to whittle down into the quick of loss, or glory in parental, proud elation, I can turn to these reiterations.

Thank you, child! You never read the clock to know the shame
of dallying too long. Your fingers never curled around a cent. When it was time
for you to go, you didn’t worry, you just went. Your heart and mind and palms were full of room; your presence was a balm for wounds we couldn’t feel. How many repetitions of your memory will be required for me to heal? What is my hurry? If I sit awhile in a place, perhaps an insect sipping from a bloom will show the way to freedom from the hectic expectations. I’ll depend on these reiterations.

I didn’t know I feared a fading of your presence, but I found that when I cleared
the soil space I knew relief, anticipating sprouting seeds. Your memory’s alive, and here is how I know: I’ve seen it grow! How can this be: while thinking of the years ahead, a smile? I’m eager to be watching all you were to us becoming what it is, what it will be, and relishing your place within our family. Our love is strong, so time will find us living out a leafy incarnation, still repeating these reiterations.

Janelle: As the first anniversary of Nora’s death was approaching, Jason and I wanted to invite family and friends to join us in the creation of Nora’s garden (which I’m standing by here), since so many people had been part of supporting and sustaining us during Nora’s life and following her death.  Many brought divisions of plants from their own garden beds and together we created something beautiful.  It was the kind of evening that is so fulfilling for me.  We, a community gathered of all ages, worked together, remembered together, ate together, and played together.  The aspects of that evening are the very things that have defined many of the highlights of the last ten years for me.  We’ve enjoyed hosting house concerts, neighborhood potlucks, Tangly Woods community meals, baby showers, butchering days, work days and digging parties and demolition weekends, work events, food processing parties and, as of today, a church service!  All of these events, and more, contribute towards making our home feel like the kind of gathering space we dream of it being.  And now, referring back to paradox, the next poem, which is the last poem for the morning, represents a change of tone:

Animated Me

If someone had been watching me
this evening, seen me tracking down
the slope to shut the chickens in, they
might have also seen the tawny form dividing
weedstalks, nearing me.

They might have seen akimbo me—my chore
accomplished—in the dimness turn my head
to face the sound of gentle hoofsteps.  They might have
seen, through pulsing galaxies of firefly swoops, the velvet
buck along the treeline edge, pacing up the slope towards the

They might have seen me lift a foot, have seen him turn
to stare at me and then, deducing my ignorability,
move on.  They might have seen me smile, stoop and
stalk him.

They might have seen him take deliberate steps up to
the brick walk, might have seen him turn and move
between the house and me.  They would have seen
the furtive me

bolt into motion, giving chase to the extent my silly
slip-on rubber garden shoes allowed; the wheezing
snorts, the thudding hooves, the flying leaps could not
have been ignored.  Would they have seen the few surprising
others, haired and breathing, which joined him in pounding up the
hill?  The woods that rang their fading snorts was dark:
it’s doubtful.

But if they peer into this lighted kitchen now, they
will have seen me enter, stop, and speak. 
They will have seen my child’s eyes
go wide, her smile wider.  They will have seen my grinning
lover at the sink, her glancing at our faces.  They will have seen
an animated me, my flailing arms, my leaps, my pointing
finger.  They will have heard reverberating waves
of laughter.

Janelle:  Not only has our home here provided us with ample hard work and good exercise, it has been the source of many humorous moments. In a conversation Jason had with a friend, it came up that we don’t have a TV or a personal computer. In a state of trying to absorb this information, the friend asked what we do for entertainment.  Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the amount of entertainment available to us on this mere 6 acres of land.  We work here, we play here, we eat and sleep here, we love here and grieve here, we take part in the rhythms of the year and the natural cycles of birth, life and death. Over the past few years when we have gotten to the end of the year, I’ve had this amazing realization that we get to do this all over again!  Of course eating the last sweet potato of the year comes with some measure of sadness. But it is hard to stay sad when the next thing is coming ripe and we get to look forward to the first sweet potato harvested just months down the road. We are so grateful for the gift this land has been to us, providing us with a space that feels real and in which we feel so alive and connected to life processes and forces much bigger than us alone. As we look to the next decade, we hope to continue to explore ways of more fully and deeply engaging the broader community in which we find ourselves.  The thrill of what we are doing quickly feels hollow if it is done in isolation from those around us, so we welcome your engagement with us as we seek to live authentically in this time and place.

Mom to a 12 year old...

As our newest little one flip flops around inside of me (my goodness she's an active little gal), my thoughts are also with our oldest daughter.  Among the many recent celebrations was her 12th birthday (am I really old enough to be her mom?).  Parenting has been the wildest ride of my life and, while it has its rough spots, the most exhilarating and transformative.  Over the past year or so, I have been thrilled to be in a front row seat watching and benefiting from the beautiful growth and maturation in our eldest.  She's just an absolute delight about 98% of the time (her worst moments seem to be when Alida pushes her buttons, to which I can fully relate!).  There are so many things I love about what I'm seeing in Kali, but I'll just name a few here that stand out to me on a daily basis (and things that sadly are in contrast to my own lived experience at the same age).  

I am thrilled to watch her continued love of learning and desire to engage the world around her fully and be an active participant in our homestead (she never wants to miss anything!). This translates into all sorts of wonderful traits, not the least of which is that she is so incredibly helpful.  Multiple times a day, she asks me if there is anything she can do to help.  Often there is and she happily heads off with the compost to empty, with a laundry basket to bring wash in, to get a knife to snip beans, or a story to read to Alida.  Only at times when I say I can't think of anything right at that moment (I clearly need to beef up my delegation skills) does she say she'll read a chapter of her book (but I should let her know if I think of anything).  What a kid!

I love her active mind and active body.  She is thinking constantly.  She'll ask for hard spelling words to test her abilities or algebra problems to do (so there I can relate as that was the one subject I'd do problems "just for fun" and not for the grade).  Regarding her active and healthy self, the other day she wanted to join me on a "nappy walk."  I well remember the times when I was disinclined from her coming along because she would get tired and slow me down. My goodness how times have changed. I could hardly keep up with her. Granted I'm moving more slowly and have grown out while she has grown up; her long legs had me huffing and puffing.  

I learn a lot by watching her relationship to food and her body.  She is not driven by the many external messages that plagued me from even earlier than 12.  She is such a model of a healthy approach to eating - she eats when she is hungry and stops when she is full.  She enjoys both the process of eating her food, but also being part of growing, harvesting and making it.  Yes, I'm more than a little bit impressed and at moments even slightly envious as I still feel like I have both some learning and unlearning to do on that front.  I'm grateful for her good modeling!

So now to the celebration! A few main highlights included family and some good friends for pizza pockets over the fire, watermelon seed spitting contests, a sleepover, a birthday breakfast and more game playing that we fit in most weeks let alone one day.  Before her birthday when I asked what she wanted, she couldn't think of anything in particular that she needed or wanted. But she could not contain her excitement when a new sewing machine from my folks showed up.  She and Mom put it to good use right away making a curtain for our bathroom sink.  
She seemed very happy for how her year of life was marked and got to enjoy a party on her actual birthday and the fun of looking forward to the yearly trip to the fair (haven't gotten to that post yet).  The attention did shift on the afternoon of her birthday to getting ready for the 10th celebration the following day.  Her birthday always also reminds of our transition to Fruit Farm Lane, which took place just days after her second birthday.  She has grown in so many incredible ways in this place.  We are still pretty much head over heels in love!


I believe that our gardens deserve a post 100% dedicated to them!  As I looked over pictures of the last number of years to pull together a 10th anniversary slideshow, I was only moderately surprised at how often we photograph our food.  I kind of knew it, but looking at folder after folder only confirmed my suspicions!  We do get a whole lot of satisfaction, entertainment, exercise, fulfillment and fabulous nutrition out of growing, harvesting and eating food from just steps outside our doors.  And, my goodness, does the flow of stuff coming in those doors keep us hopping at this time of year.

While I have been the main "author" of this family blog, Jason has worked on a few pieces for our website.  In addition to his extensive and interesting history with chickens, there are now reflections on spinach and onions at  Check them out if interested...  I need not say more about either of those two crops, as he covered them more than adequately, but in general it seems worth noting that one of the aspects of what we do that we enjoy so much is being part of the full cycle of this food-growing thing!  At this time of year the back counter is full to overflowing with bowls of seeds from the best of what we are growing (watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, dried beans, etc...).  And the shed and garage are taken over with bundles of drying seed heads or beans that need shelling or stomping and then threshing and winnowing.  It's a messy and somewhat time consuming process but for us it more than pays for itself.  We see the rewards in improved seeds and plants that are well suited to our particular environment.  And we, including our girls, get to be intricately involved in all the steps that it takes to grow our food here in this place.  It saves a little money to not buy seeds every year but that reason alone is likely not worth the effort (though my frugal tendencies would probably push us to do it even if that was the only factor)...  There are times that seed saving also feels just a bit like tithing.  It's not always easy to pull out the very best that we have grown and set it aside to commit it to the soil again for seed.  Some crops (like garlic and onions) are harder than others (you plant the whole thing so you don't get to eat any of it). Others are really fun - like our current, almost daily, watermelon or cantaloupe taste tests.  We get to eat the whole thing and then decide which specimens to save seed from.  

It's not that we never buy or acquire new seeds.  Each year, somewhere around January, the seed catalogs are just a bit too tantalizing with their photos and descriptions.  And we hit on winners sometimes.  We grew a new kind of cantaloupe this year and will be doing it again!  When we cut open and tasted the first one, it was definitely one of those "we couldn't have possibly grown this" moments. I still think it is funny that I have those moments - as if the "store-lopes" I've eaten over the years weren't also grown in the soil on someone's land.  But it still sometimes seems too good to be true that one of those little seeds bears such an amazing delicacy.  Jason, the guy who has often said cantaloupes taste something like dirty socks, even swooned over it (ok, maybe not quite, but almost...).

The rains have been good this year and we have had to irrigate so little compared to some previous years.  The popcorn is happy!  We are starting on some of our larger harvests now.  Jason just clipped and brought in all the pinto beans.  On the docket next is to dig potatoes.  And Jason noted at lunch today that Kali's spaghetti squash is looking close to ready (good timing since I can never seem to make a small batch of pasta sauce).  While the ground hogs took some nibbles out of our delicata squash, it seems that for now they are going elsewhere in search of food (after catching several, even cantaloupe and watermelon rinds are not securing any more for our freezer).  In addition to the larger harvests, about every other day is considered a "harvest day" (likely from now until about frost).   Currently on those days whoever does the rounds picks the following: okra (which we get in small amounts, chop and accumulate for gumbos this winter!), pole beans, bush beans (are now out as of yesterday and carrots/beets planted), red/white raspberries (they never made it to the freezer), black berries, trombone squash (I sometimes almost hope I won't find too many...), peppers, tomatoes (just starting to flood in - more salsa here we come tomorrow), cucumbers and melons (both are petering out rapidly).  The other regular harvests including mint teas, parsley, basil, oregano and other herbs for pesto making and tomato sauce and to add various dishes.  As we often say, we could never afford to eat like this if we didn't grow it ourselves.  Yum!

This time of year...

One of the most daunting things on my agenda for this weekend is to "catch up on the blog."  August is as it always is: FULL!  Kali always has a birthday. We are always in the middle of the food processing crunch.  It is always my busiest work month.  The unique features of this particular August are that I'm 7+ months pregnant and we decided to squeeze in a 10 year celebration of our time here on Fruit Farm Lane.  For the above reasons, I haven't taken even a few moments to update this space with the various mundane, exciting, new and routine things that have filled our days.  I hope to get to some of that between today and tomorrow, because come Monday we start orientation week and my full attention will turn towards working with our incoming cohort of graduate students and getting the semester off the ground.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying a few days at home.  I think I canned the last pickles and beans yesterday and the first of many rounds of tomatoes.  We are swimming in squash, so I'm working to incorporate it into every meal (breakfast was squash sauteed with eggs; lunch is pasta, meat and sauce with more squash than tomatoes; haven't come up with dinner yet!).

But before I get too sidetracked, the thing on my mind as I sat down to write was the ways that this time of year is often reminiscent of the time leading up to our daughter Nora's birth.  It was in the days leading up to new student orientation that we learned that I would need to go onto bed rest (where I remained until her birth in late October).  This year the memories feel a little closer at hand for a variety of reasons:  Alida is a similar age and size as Kali was at that time and is wearing many of the clothes Kali wore that year; I'm pregnant again and while this baby is already larger than Nora was at birth it still brings those memories back in a more distinct way; Jason and I's preparation for the 10th anniversary (both going through pictures and writing a reflection to share with those gathered) was marked with many memories of that year (in many ways I think of our 10 years here as the time before Nora and the time after).

A few months back, Dr. Noreen Crain (who worked with us closely during the last week of Nora's life and with whom we have stayed in touch over the years since) contacted us asking if we would be ok with her using Nora's story as part of a TedX talk she had been asked to give.  We enjoyed the back and forth we had with her then, as we do all our interactions with her.  It brings the beauty of that time with Nora to the forefront, as her care for Nora and us was so powerful and a part of making our grieving process easier and in the end something that was in many ways life giving and empowering for us.

Last evening Noreen sent us the link to her sharing and so that is part of where my heart and mind are today.  For those that wish to listen to her talk about her work in pediatric palliative care, and in that line of work her intersection with our family, here is the link:

And now things are breaking down on the home front (it's been a long week/month for this family and our kiddos have managed it all amazingly well overall!), so I better turn my attention to finishing up lunch. More later...