Saturday, April 20, 2019

On Beauty for Ashes

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Beauty for Ashes Reading for Incanta Easter Concert 2019
By Saydi Eyre Shumway

This week we watched in agony as Notre Dame was engulfed in flames.  We feared the worst, watching from across the world, hearing commentary about its seemingly inevitable destruction.  In the darkness of those unknown hours it seemed likely that the priceless art and relics would burn up into the black Paris sky.  That we would wake to a heap of ashes where, for centuries, beauty had stood.

In Isaiah Christ promises us that He will give us Beauty for Ashes.

He doesn’t promise us that things won't burn.  He doesn’t tell us he’ll simply sweep away the ashes after the fire.  

Jesus doesn’t ask us to come to him only if some walls are still in tact, or before our rose windows melt or our spires fall.   He doesn’t run to fix us only after we’ve squelched a bit of the fire and crafted something presentable for Him to work with.


He tells us that he will give us beauty for the ashes. The promise is that He will take the most burnt up, dark, nasty, horrid things in our lives and souls and somehow grow not only something worthwhile, but something beautiful from them. He will turn what appears to be the very substance of our ruin into something beautiful.  

This might be easier to believe if He said He’d give us beauty for something like clay or bricks or stones.  We could imagine how He could make something beautiful of those unformed, and potentially useful things. But ashes?  How can beauty rise from ashes?

Just as hope felt lost on Monday night in Paris, so it is with our lives.  In the middle of the destruction it often seems our situations or our souls are burned to nothing but worthless ruin. There are moments, sometimes weeks and months and even whole seasons where we feel stuck, sitting in piles of ash, mourning, weighed down by the spirit of heaviness.  In these dark, lifeless, burnt up moments it’s hard to imagine how the mess will ever be cleared away, let alone flower into something worthwhile and redemptive.

Surely it was so on Good Friday for those who loved Jesus and believed in His power to deliver them.  Mary at the cross, lamenting with exceeding greif, the disciples weeping bitterly, the sun and moon hiding their faces from the starless sky.  In that moment they could only see the ashes: the dead Christ, the loss of hope.  They couldn’t see three days ahead to Easter dawn, the breaking of the tomb, the stone rolled back, the Christ rising with healing and restoration and beauty in His wings.   

Ashes, distress, loss, brokenness: this is the Redeemer’s pallet.  These are the materials Christ uses to create beauty. Just as the dark contrast and shadow make art into a masterpiece, it is the cracks in our lives and the holes in our hearts that make us deep and real and alive, that allow Christ to transform us.

It is when our plans come crashing down that God can start in with His plans, which are far more glorious in the end than anything our limited human minds can dream up.  

So when our lives feel burnt up, when it looks as if there is nothing redeemable in our situations or our souls, let us take our pile of ashes to Christ to see if He’ll make good on His promise.  This may mean we have to work through our anger or doubt, or muster up faith we don’t think we have. We may have to wait longer than we thought for a transformation, and it might not look like the one we had envisioned.  But drawing near to the Lord, handing Him our ashes and waiting and hoping for the transformation is better than sitting still and stuck in the wreckage.
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In Isaiah Jehovah says:

The Lord hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to comfort all that mourn; to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

Jesus loves broken things.  He is glorified when we allow Him in to restore us.  We can be of good cheer, Christ has overcome the world.  His light shines best through broken things, like our Notre Dame, still standing, with all kinds of love pouring into Paris to redeem that holy artifice.

For Christ, nothing is beyond redemption, He reaches our reaching and sanctifies to us our deepest distress.  If we draw near unto Him and hand over our grief and fear and loss, He will draw near to us. His reclamation will regenerate, refurbish, restore us. He will salvage all the good we have and raise us up. He WILL give us beauty for our ashes.  
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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

on gratitude and guilt and compassion and action.

Wow, it's been a while, but I have something to say this I need to write it out somewhere.  So here goes.

This thanksgiving season I've had refugee stories and image in my head and have been working through the striking difference between all the cushy luxuries and blessings I'm thankful for and the basic needs that millions of the world's population goes without. I've been especially tugged by the plight of the world's refugees, more than half of which are children. What am I doing with my self actualized life? Worrying about what color to paint my bathroom? What stamp to put on my holiday cards? How I can minimize my wrinkles? What can I do here in my suburban existence, sitting plush at the top of Maslow's triangle?

A friend sent me this prayer by Samuel Pugh today and in it's wisdom I found a piece of the answer to these life long questions.

The answer isn't denying all you have, the answer is recognizing it. Me sitting in my warm house feeling spoiled and guilty and sad isn't going to help a child who's parents have been killed by the Taliban. But recognition and gratitude might. Gratitude that drives me to awareness of others, and awareness that then shatters my complacency and bestirs my compassion, that is a powerful and moving force. It's easy to shy away from gratitude the minute it starts to feel a bit uncomfortable. Having your complacency blown away is no picnic. But those heavy hard feelings are important to sit with. I'm trying to welcome them in and sit with them long enough to let them stir me into action.

Recently a friend recommended this book to me, and now I recommend it to you. It is stunning.

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It's been sitting on our coffee table for a few weeks, calling to us, still running through our heads when we're not reading it. It's a heavy book, full of unfiltered stories of devastated lives. My kids all have been picking it up, almost daily and reading and takeing in the words and images. They are still and somber as they do. Peter has been especially touched by the stories, reading aloud to me the "saddest" ones. It has given be pause and called me to help them understand this complicated, weighty and compelling feeling of compassion. We've talked about how compassion feels akin to sadness, but somehow, since it's sadness for someone else, it is laced with light. It feels heavy and beautiful all at once. It is a huge driving force to push us into paths of discipleship and ministry. If we listen to it's soft compelling, though sometimes a little bit disturbing, beat we find ourselves with more awareness, a bigger picture, more gratitude and more fire and fuel to lift hands that hang down and strengthen feeble knees.

Compassion has been one of the most beautiful and strong forces in my life, and I want my kids to know how to tune into it.

Right now our focus is on trying to help refugees in Greece. LIsa Campbell, a friend of one of our family friends, is running the Oinofyta Community Center which fills in the huge gaps that the government run camp can't fill in the lives of 600 refugees (more than half of which are children). The work she is doing is critical to these 600 lives. The Center is their only real resource for medical/emotional/nutritional and legal help. Despite the incredible work that this Center is doing it has no sustainable source of funding and need our help.

To that end, my kids have decided to hold their annual Children for Children concert to raise money for the Center.

If you want to do something low effort that can make a big difference this holiday season, please consider donating to the Do Your Part Oinyfyta Community Center. Or have people donate in your honor instead of giving you a gift! Click here for more info.

But, beyond this little event, I'm trying to brainstorm ways our family can open our hearts to compassion and let it change our ways. Should we sit down as a family and figure out where we can save in our budget and who we can give to? Should we mix up our consumer habits to buy less and share more? Should we pledge to raise awareness and funds more often? What should we watch and read and listen to? How can we keep this gratitude and remembrance alive enough that it will keep us from complacency? What can we do right here in our immediate little world? I would love to hear how others have wrestled with this question and what small (or big) things you're doing in your worlds to make a difference to those who "cry out for what we take for granted." I'm hoping to compile some ideas and post them here soon.

We are little. We live on the other side of the world. We can't solve all the problems. And sometimes it's easier to silence the gratitude before it swells enough to 'shatter our complacency." But this season we are trying to sit with this disparity, let it bestir our compassion and see what goodness it will lead us to.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

happy thanksgiving!

We wrapped up our life on the farm last week and already time is doing its magical thing where the hard and gross and uncertain and dirty parts of our life over the past 11 months are mixing together with the glory of it all and making the whole glisten.  

This Thanksgiving I'm finding myself more grateful for ordinary things, things we have gone without while on the farm.  Things like clean water coming right out of the tap and dishwashers, heating that you don't have to split and carry and build, schools, grocery stores and neighbors close by, clean organized spaces free of rats and toilet seats free of banana slugs.    

But even more than that, I'm finding myself more fully thankful and aware of how amazing life is, such a perfect package of experience and adventure all designed to challenge us and propel us forward in our progression.  The learning curve was steep on the farm this year.  We gleaned lots of useless information that we may never need again, but in the process we learned how to solve problems and work and be together and learn from life and, perhaps the most priceless lesson of all, that we can do hard things.  

This experience wasn't easy.  The farm work was a stretch for us city slickers. But even harder was the intensity of it all, the non-stop pace of homeschooling while trying to figure out how to do countless things we'd never done before, all without some of the support and conveniences that we've learned to rely on.  But it was also full of time and space and beauty and togetherness and adventure and challenge.  I'm thankful for all of it, really, I am (and that's kind of saying something).   It has taught me (again) that you have to have the hard to have the good.  That life that just rolls along swimmingly doesn't have the power to change us.  Life needs the dark shadows to provide contrast and beauty to the light. 

It really is the whole of life, the good and bad and hard and easy and dark and light that makes life the glistening adventure that it is.  

Friday, September 08, 2017

how to milk a goat–by emmeline


In May we drove our truck up north and bought two mama milking goats and 4 more babies.  Before we got them we had to build a red neck camper on the back of the truck.  And we had to build milking stands.  Hazel and Dad built them.  Then we came home and we figured out how to milk them and we milked them.  It was kind of hard the first time.  But now I can do it all by myself with a sibling.

There are two different ways to milk a goat.  One is to milk it with a machine.  and two is to milk it by hand.  First I’m going to tell you how to do the machine.  First you have to make sure the goats have something yummy to eat otherwise they kick while you’re milking them.  What you do is you put hot water on a paper towel and soap and clean the udders.  They are very dirty and you don’t want that in your milk.  And then you put the suction cuppy things on their teats and you let it pump for about like 5 minutes until there udders are wrinkly and there is no more milk pumping out.  Then you take the things off the teats and you get the goats off of the milking stand and put them outside.  Before you put them outside you spray their teats with a special spray so that they don’t get sick. 

Then you have to clean the machine.  That is the hard part.  So what you do is you fill two buckets with clean water and you put the suction cup things in one of the buckets and you let it pump until it pumps out half of the water.  Then you put in boiling water and a little bit of soap. You let that pump up all the rest of the water.  And then you put the suctions in the other bucket of water and you let them pump out all of the water.  This rinses out all the soap out of the tubes.  Then you let everything dry.

Now for the fun part. I wish I could show you but I’m going to try to explain it.  To hand milk what you do is you get the goats on the stand and clean them and make sure they have a LOT of food.  Then you sit by them and you put your thumb and your pointer finger around the top of the teat to trap the milk in there.  Then you squeeze the milk out finger by finger until you get to your pinky.  And then you let go to let it fill up again.  And then you do it all over again until the teat is wrinkly and no more milk will come out.  The teat feels kind of like skin, like cold skin, but it is warm.  Sometimes the goats step in the bucket so you have to feed that milk to the animals.  To avoid that you have to hold onto the bucket and whenever they kick you pull it away.  Another trick is to lean your head or your shoulder into the goats side and that lets them know that you’re there and you’re in charge.

After we milk the goats we make cheese out of the milk or we just drink it.  Peter likes to drink it straight from the goat’s teat.  That seems gross to me.  But Peter thinks it’s yummy.

I am the only person that likes goat cheese except for my mom and my dad. And Peter is the only one besides my mom who likes the milk.  And Hazel and Charlie don’t like anything with goat milk in it.  They say say it tastes too barney.

So if you ever want goat milk, come here.  We have too much!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Updates on living stuff

HI! Hazel here! Life on the farm is becoming a little bit more ordinary. There aren’t as many times in the day when I gaze around and think “WOW!”
The fields are turning ‘Golden’ as they call it (but really it’s brown), and big cracks are forming all over the dry ground! But still, beauty can be found anywhere here! Only this morning I found droplets of water beautifully formed on a thistle!
Our baby goats are growing! We have stopped feeding them milk and formula from bottles. This has made me and Emmeline's morning animal trip much easier. Now all that we have to do is lead the goats into their pasture with plum leaves (which they absolutely love) and let the chickens out to free range. The plan is to get milking full- grown goats to add in to the herd soon!
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These goats are still adorable! They faithfully run after us wherever we go! 

Our chickens are full-sized , and we are expecting eggs any day now! As it turns out, we also have a rooster! He makes hilarious cocka-doodle-doo sounds. It is making us feel a lot more farmy!

Mochi is growing up and becoming less puppy, but still has her playful flare-ups where she will jump or nip.IMG_8940
And she is helpful, she barks at deer and KILLS GOPHERS!! ^^ this is her pulling a gopher out of it’s hole.
Also, we got 30,000 bees in three different hives. I absolutely love  checking on their progress through the little windows outside of the hive! At first I was nervous about them, but I haven’t been stung once!
I feel like my mother is understating our farming progress. We have had 4 full salads made from our garden, we have been eating our own peapods for snacks, and a lot of other plants will be coming out with produce like tomatoes, onions, berries, and other stuff soon. But who knows, maybe everything will die. IMG_0019IMG_0020IMG_0024IMG_0026IMG_0027IMG_0028IMG_0029
Any way, life's pretty good here, things are growing, things are dying, but I guess its all part of the adventure.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Peter's life on the farm right now

Hi, it's Peter.

I am getting dirt bikes.  It will be very very fun.  I might make a book.  It will be about the bridges place that I live close to.  The bridges place is where there are lots of bridges over a river.  The bridges are made out of trees that have fallen over the river.  One is very skinny and has trees growing out of the other tree.  Which I think are branches.  But they are too big to be branches, so they are trees.  But they don't really have any roots.  They are using the nutrients from the tree that fell down to grow.

Back onto the dirt bikes.  Now the dirt bikes are gonna be pretty fast and pretty complicated, but I'm not going to ride them, so that's good.  Me and my sister Emmeline are going to get some that are electric that are simple.  We are saving up right now.  They will both be electric.  My mom has a thing that is a bank and it is called bank of mom and we put money in our savings and we save up for it.  They are both $100.   Right now I have about $40 saved up.  I am earning this money by points called Jolly Rancher Points and that gives me money.  To get jolly rancher points I get all my home school done and my practicing and my chores.

I'm still doing my watering chores every day.  Because my mom and dad say that if I really like water a lot, which I do, then I should water the plants.  So I do that.  It's very very hard.  I have a brother that helps me though, named Charlie.  I have five grape plants and I have to water one with the watering bucket because it's too far for the hose.

I am going to Hawaii in one day.  I am going to a hotel that has three swimming pools, one has a water slide, but none else.  It will be very very fun.  I am staying there for one night cause it costs too much money for my mom.  She got it with free points.  I am going to stay with my cousins there.

I have a teacher named Ms. Tunemaster, she is my piano teacher.  She is a lot like my mom.  She dresses almost the same as my mom.  She is very nice.  I am getting very good at piano.  I really want to be an author of books sometime.  Or someone who writes songs.  Piano songs.  I already made one up.  That was fun.

Remember Mochi?  My dog? She is a great Pyrenees.  She is very big, like you saw in my other blog post.   She is very jumpy.  When I first got to California I was scared of dogs, but I got better at being around dogs.  She has been going to our neighbors house who owns a place and she doesn't really like to have Mochi there so we have to keep her in the property.  That's hard.

We have a neighbor named Mark.  He really likes the car Porsche.  My brother named Charlie does too.  I like Mark, but I've never seen his Porsche.  He as a barn full of them.  He also has a tractor that he has let us borrow. It's very big.  WE have planted two acres before.  Of cover crop.  Cover crop is something you grow and then you till it back in and it makes good soil.  We might make a corn crop that is two acres.   How we put all the seed in the two acres is we just threw it around the two acres and then tilled it with the tractor that we borrowed from Mark.

Well, I better go.  I am going to a Mexican gas station right now.  It's a very yummy gas station.  Mexican food gas station.  Then we are going to pick strawberries.

Bye Bye.  Have a good life.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Snapshot of Farm Life.

I had visions of lots more blogging in this life, but alas, another blog post with an intro full of excuses about why it’s hard to keep up with this blog.  I guess that’s just the nature of the way I navigate my life.  So I’m going to skip all the excuses and jump right in.


Life here is full throttle.  Non stop.  While disconnecting from our old world and taking a step off the gird has slowed down our life in all the ways I hoped it would, the steep learning curve that comes with a whole new homesteading lifestyle has made us feel up to our necks most days.  Couple that with this great new challenge of homeschooling and you have a mom who is stretched thin again.  But I’m happy for the stretching.  It’s exactly what I had been craving for so long.  Lots of family time, lots of mom time, lots of one on one with kids.  I’m drinking in so much of it that I almost feel like I’m overdosing at times, but then I realized how fleeting it all is.  And I drink it in even deeper. 

Even though this life is hard work and dirty and full of new challenges and covered in kids and needs and logistical mazes, most nights Jeff and I fall into bed tired but happy that we’re here.  This adventure is giving us most of what we hoped for, and lots of great (gross, amazing, stretching, glorious, terrifying) surprises.

IMG_1229IMG_1250We’ve had a LOT of guests.  There were 6 weeks that were pretty much back to back guests.  It was so great to share this place with so many people we love.  Suddenly all family members have an interest in coming to visit (Boston was becoming a bit blasé)!  It has been fun to see different peoples reaction to our life here.  Everyone is blown away by the beauty of where we live, the coast side, the ocean, the cliffs, the green rolling hills, the vastness of the property we get to take care of, the redwoods.  But not everyone is quite as enamored by the dirt, the makeshift décor of our house, the lack of dishwasher and filtered water, the work, the things we have ‘let go’ like brushing hair.  I think lots of people think its a cool thing we’re doing, but most aren’t envious.  IMG_7857

We tried to maintain most of our routine through all these guests, but over the past few weeks with everyone gone things are really starting to gel.  And that feels good, most of the time. IMG_8678

Here’s a little snapshot of our lives right now.  It’s just going to be what comes to the top of my head so I can get something out there. I want to remember this life.  I know that when it’s over I’m going to ache for it, probably forever.  I don’t think I’m going to ache for the dirt or all the work or the dishes, but I’m going to long for these long days, all of us smoshed together by work and play and challenge and seclusion. 

I get up first.  Not at the crack of dawn because we’re on a pretty late schedule here.  But I try to get myself up before 7.  And I do, I wake up, without an alarm.  I’ve decided that I’m going to spend the rest of my life waking up to an alarm, so I don’t use one here.  The lack of imposed schedule is glorious and difficult.  I’m the one who has to make things happen through out the day.  There is no other schedule than the one I make, and if you know me, I’m bad at making schedules.  But I’m getting better.  Learning.  And also trying to let myself enjoy the lack of a ridged structure.  Who’s to say that’s really the best way all the time? IMG_8699

This morning time is glorious. The only time I have alone all day.  The farm waits out the window, still and serene and vivid green as I write my morning pages and study scriptures and plan the day.  (These morning pages – a brain dump -  are part of a program I’m doing called the Artists Way….maybe more on this later).  I then try to make it up to the platform.  A 15 min hike up and up, enough to get my heart pounding and my body alive.  I’ve been trying to do yoga up there most mornings, and it is truly glorious.  I love starting the day up high, with green as far as I can see.  IMG_8946

I intended to bring the “kid of the day” with me up to the ridge in the mornings.  Sometimes this happens, but only if they’re up and asking  So I have a nice balance of time alone up there and one on one time with a little buddy. IMG_9026

I come down to kids playing, waking up with each other, starting their adventures early and sometimes actually being on task getting their farm work done.  They each have different inside and outside chores that they have to complete before we start our morning meeting at 9:15.  These chores have shifted as farm work has shifted.   They feed animals, bring in wood, start up the wood stove, fold laundry, sweep and tidy boots, put goats out to pasture, chickens to free range, water plants, feed bees.   They’re getting pretty good at these jobs.  But we’ve seen the gritty work cycle play itself out over and over again.  Work is fun, work is hard and horrible and then work is gratifying.   IMG_8107

We’ve had lots of very heated, loud, shouting arguments about how these morning chores should shift around as they wax and wane between easy and hard.  I’m still hoping that one day my kids will magically be the hard gritty workers that envisioned farm kids to be.  They’re getting there, but it’s slow and bumpy.

Morning meeting is supposed to start right at 9:15 and I think we’ve hit that maybe 60% of the time.  The other 40% I’m late in getting us started because I’ve gone out to help a child with a chore and gotten caught up in getting other little things done….time ticking on. 

We start morning meeting with some scriptures and a prayer.  Then we go over family business, what is happening that day, family farm projects that need to get done, weekly assignments and points earned (maybe more on this later….this motivation system is constantly evolving).  Some weeks we talk about a composer or a philosopher or artist.  I hoped to do this more often, but man, there are a lot of idyllic things to do.  Can’t always get to all of them.

Then I read aloud.  This has always been one of my very favorite parts of being a mother and I love that it is so firmly built into our days here.  We have a goal to get through 120 books before the end of the summer.  Not all read alouds, this includes any book that anyone reads.  That might have been a bit ambitious because I think we’re only to 45, but we’re working hard on it and we all love it.  Lots of days it’s warmer outside than inside our house so we sit on the front porch, or out on the grass and read until it’s too hot and we have to go back in.    

After reading we head to the school room for writing.  I put on a ten minute classical song and the kids are supposed to write in their journals, quietly at their desks until the song ends.  Just whatever comes to their minds.  Kind of like my morning brain dump.  Mind you, this is what is supposed to happen.  In reality, most of the time people are snickering, fidgeting (especially now that the fidget spinner has appeared in our lives), worrying about what the other is or isn’t writing.  I’m trying to scramble to get the rest of the school day figured out, while also trying to keep them all on task.  It isn’t perfect.  But one of my mantras for this life is that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfect.  We are doing it and everyone is getting at least a few sentences in a journal most days. 

While we’re all at our desks in the school room Peter goofs around or does some handwriting worksheets while I do some dictation exercises with the three bigger kids.  We’ve been using a program called “Brave Writer” which I LOVE.  It has given me so much great direction in helping my kids think about writing in a new way.  What I love about Brave Writer is that it’s not really a curriculum, more of family lifestyle that helps develop the writing side of the brain. I love that one of it’s goals is to just help kids to not hate writing before their 12.  In the early years it focuses a lot on helping kids think in a way that will  help them write well.  Maybe more about this in a homeschool post that I hope to write, but may never get around to.

And this is when our day sort of falls into craziness.   Kids go off on their own to do math and to practice, but there’s usually lots of “breaks” taken in between and lots of mom hounding kids to get back on task.  My brain gets so flustered that sometimes all I can figure out to say to them is, “come on! do the thing! stay on task!” 

Some days work great.  The kids stay on task and get their stuff done by our late lunchtime because they know I'll give them a “jolly rancher” if they report back to me that they are done.  Other days there are too many exciting things waiting for them outside and they don’t get to their practicing or math or their jolly rancher.  I’m trying to roll with it all. Remember that we don’t have to get it right all the time.  IMG_8572

And ‘right’ is really relative.  If you look at things from my kids perspective, days that they don’t get it ‘right’ are usually full of getting lots of other things ‘right.’   A huge chunk of the ‘work’ of childhood is play, and they are sure getting that right here.  There are huge chunks of unstructured time and no screens.  They are alive, fully engaged, coming up with new things to do every day.  New ways to play, new things to build, new places to explore. New ways to be together.  I can see such strong friendships forming amidst the tension and grime.IMG_8639

Afternoons are usually filled with play and work.  Sometimes we all work together on a project, like planting trees or weeding or creating and moving mulch. But most days I’m lucky if I can engage one little helper.  And lots of times one little helper is much more enjoyable than a whole tribe.   Emmeline, surprisingly has been my best little worker.  She craves the one on one attention and has learned that she can get it by sticking by Jeff and I through a farm task.  I’ve loved the talks I’ve had with my kids while working.

We are learning all kinds of things here.  Most of our learning seems propelled by problems.  When problems come up we are trying to engage the kids in helping us find the solution.  We have to enlist them.  There are too many problems for Jeff and I to handle alone.  What is eating our plants? How can we create more mulch? How do we catch the gophers?  How can we get Mochi to stop killing chickens?  How do we help May well again?  When do we wean the goats?  How can we fix our horribly clumpy clay soil?  Of course, our kids don’t always take these problem solving responsibilities and run with them, but sometimes they do, and we’re just aiming for sometimes.  FullSizeRender 2

Our house is dirty.  Not just messy like our house in Malden usually was, but dirty.  There are mice.  And spiders.  And spider webs. And it’s so hard to keep ants out.  And our toilets don’t sit square on the floor so they often stink more than they should.  Sorry if this grosses you out.  We try to keep it clean, but life is just dirtier here.  Our standards have slipped, which I worried about for a little while, and then I realized that in order to get what I want to get out of this life I need to embrace it.  All of it.  Dirt and all. IMG_8698

The goats are getting bigger.  No more bottle feeding.  Now our task with them is to get them to stay in the pasture we made for them.  We built our first fence when uncle Dan was around, but they keep finding ways out.  IMG_7980

The chickens are growing, and should all start laying any day.  We have one Americana who is laying beautiful blue eggs.  It is thrilling still to find her egg each day. IMG_7804

Mochi is getting better at doing his job.  She’s barking a lot at night, I think just keeping the deer away.  But it feels nice to have such a loyal guard.  She’s also taken to killing gophers instead of chickens, so that’s good. IMG_8940

Before embarking on this adventure I hoped to have lots of time to be present with my children. Check. We are together every day, all day.  This has taken a little getting used to, and there are lots of times that I wish I could send them all away for a few hours, or a few days, or maybe a whole month.  But then I remember that they are not going to be little forever.  And this slow, secluded life isn’t going to last forever for us.  In fact, it is likely going to be over before we know it.  And I try to just drink them in.  Drink and drink until I’m saturated and then drink some more.  One of the main things that drove us here to this adventure was this realization that kids grow up.  Fast.  IMG_8749

We’ve tried to get into San Fran as much as possible.  Having guests here has helped with this.  This is a city that I’m falling in love with.  Maybe it’s the fact that I can have green rolling hills in the morning and a city sunset in the evening and drive along the coast the whole way in-between the two.


I’m loving our little field trips into the city.  Especially loving the MOMA. IMG_8782

We’ve had a lot of really great grandparent time.  The Shumways come here to help us with projects and enjoy the peace and beauty of our spot on earth.  And we head to their beautiful home to enjoy the peace and beauty of cleanliness and a dishwasher.  Each kid has had their own special little sleep overs at grandma and grandpas and I can feel such strong, important bonds thickening up.  IMG_7689We are keeping bees here!  No honey yet, but lots of adventures getting the bees into the hive and putting on bee suits.  Only four stings….IMG_8835

The two big kids have learned to drive the ATV and the riding lawnmower and they are always eager to do any kind of work that involves anything with a motor.  We have banned any joy riding on the ATV, it is only for doing farm work.  I am quickly realizing that whenever they are begging to do work it’s because they think that they need to use the ATV to accomplish it.  I’ve gotten good at detecting this and helping them realize that they don’t need an all terrain vehicle to bring shovels back to the barn and such.  I do love it that they are learning to drive these machines.  They’re getting to be pretty good drivers.

Peter and Emmeline are thick as thieves here.  They spent the first few months in separate rooms until one day they BEGGED to share a room again.  Em reads aloud to Peter at night and then they stay up laughing and talking until I yell at them from downstairs to go to bed.  They play and play and play all day and are usually so pleased to do jobs together.

All four of them spend lots of time playing all kinds of things together.  This is a magical little window of time in our lives, when all four of them can engage in imaginative play.  Hazel isn’t too old for these things yet.  She’s just teetering on the edge, but has expressed to me that she knows that this might be the last era in her life when she can really be a real kid, and she’s milking it for all its worth.

The kids have really gotten into “survival” packs and have little bags or backpacks full of what they think they need to survive out there. Peter’s has a few stuffed animals, a water bottle and a sweater. No one really ventures too far to explore because they’re still all a bit nervous about mountain lions.  But there is a lot of afternoon exploring that happens.  And tree climbing and hole digging.  This is the stuff of childhood, no?IMG_8707

We’re trying to keep everyone going on their music.  Everyone is taking skype lessons aside from Peter who is taking from ‘Ms. Tunemaster.’  She looks an awful lot like me, but talks in a little higher voice.  Amazing how he responds so much better to his teacher than he does to his mother.  Skype lessons have been interesting, mostly working, sometimes the delay is a little hard.  But I’m glad that we don’t have to trek an hour away. 

Jeff has been traveling at least a week out of each month.  And boy is everyone thrilled when he returns.  He is a super hero around here.  IMG_8711

When Jeff’s not traveling he is off at the crack of dawn to work so that he can be home with enough daylight to get some farm work done. He works outside with the kids while I throw together some dinner and the sun sinks down.  We eat late on these nights, trying to scrape as much out of the daylight as we can.  I love looking out the window to the orchard, Jeff working on some project.  He is in his element as a farmer.IMG_8880

But, sadly, it turns out we’re not too great at farming.  Peter said to me the other day that we’re not really farming, we’re more like gardening.  I asked him why and he said it’s that we’re not really growing  a lot of one thing.  Good observation.  We are trying lots of things and have been encouraged by our friend who owns the place to fail fast.  So we’re throwing it all out there, experimenting, trying to solve some of the problems.  Some things are working, but some are failing.  We’ve planted things in the green house, in the ground, we’ve mixed our clay soil in with sand to try to make it less clumpy, we’ve worked the ground with tractors and hoes and roto tillers and our bear hands.  We’ve added compost to some places, and manure to others, we’ve tilled in cover crop to improve the nitrogen in the soil.  We’ve put out slug traps and snake traps and gopher traps. We’ve built hoop houses and put up bird netting and deer fencing and cd’s to scare away stuff.  We’ve transplanted so many beautiful plants from the green house that have been eaten up and withered the next day.  I’d say about a third of our hard work is turning into something that we can eat, but 2/3’s is just turning into great experience and knowledge to put in our back pocket.  IMG_8886


I listened to a great talk by Liz Wiseman that talks about the power of not knowing.  How there is a rookie advantage when you really don’t know what you’re doing because you enlist the help of others,  you ask questions, you try different things, and ultimately you can end up at a different place.  I’m hoping that’s us.  IMG_7704This is a lunch I made myself with a farm fresh egg and micro greens from our garden.  It was a little gritty with dirt, but oh so satisfying to eat from the fruit of our labors.  Hoping for more of this. 


Turns out the Shumway Family Farm academy is teaching all kinds of things.  Even gun safely.  Dan has some guns and taught the kids to shoot, which was almost as cool as the ATV.  I’m hoping to get Hazel to write a post about all the strange and memorable things we’re learning here at the academy.

At night we usually have a late dinner, after all the animals are safely in and counted and the chores have wrapped up.  We sit in our slanted dining room (one end of the table is about 6 inches lower than the other end) and we talk.  When Jeff is around the conversation usually consists of him answering all kinds of random questions that the kids have.  That Jeff knows a little bit about everything it seems like.  The conversation gets too geeky for me pretty fast.  And I love it.  I think dinner time might be the most informative part of the Shumway Family Farm Academy. 

We’ve all come a long way cleaning the kitchen together.  Jeff is the task master and keeps everyone going, feeding me dishes to wash by hand.  I really like being the dishwasher.  Something so routine and cathartic about it.

We read together at night.  All snuggled close.  Even on the weekends.  The internet here is too slow to stream movies and we don’t have a big screen anywhere, so instead we pop popcorn on weekends and read our read aloud.  There are lots of times that we all (maybe especially me) really long to just watch a movie together.  But I’m soaking this reading time in.  Like I said, it’s my favorite part of mothering.  The time when I feel for a second like I’m being the mom I thought I'd be.   There are plenty of other times when I feel like a witch I never intended to be.  So I try to stretch these idyllic moments out, lay them carefully over all of our minds, wrapping up our memories in them.

It isn’t perfect here.  It’s farther from the general perception of perfect than I think we’ve ever been.  It’s messy and unstructured and bumbling. But it’s closer to my kind of perfect.  It’s perfectly imperfect.  Full of flaws and real living.  Full of open spaces and time and togetherness.  It’s a rough rocky road at times, but these are the things that are undoubtedly pulling us all together.  I am loving the mark this is making on all of our lives. IMG_8883


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