Saturday, November 22, 2014


One more day outside and then the garden and flower beds will officially be in hibernation for the winter.  Tomorrow I'll be raking and tucking, stacking and stashing all the implements of my summer labors along with the seeds I've collected for next spring's rebirthing.  

I buy my vegetable seeds from SeedSavers Exchange, a group in Iowa that is dedicated to the preservation of heirloom varieties.  Seed saving was always a part of farm life and so I can't pass by a cosmo or calendula that's gone to seed and not reach out to pull the shriveled,  brown husks from each stalk.  The garage is full of plastic containers and tins brimming with the harvest and sometime over the winter, the kids and I will spend a day separating grain from chaff.  

But for now, I must make that final push toward the edge of winter.  There are clay pots to turn over and bean poles to stack in the shed.  As we head into the drab hues of winter, these rainbow heirloom photos will serve to tide me over...

I don't think I have good carrot soil.  We never get a bountiful crop and I'm not sure why I keep trying.  Maybe because they're so bright and hopeful looking when you dig them up.  The kids don't enjoy them much...too earthy compared to the store-bought ones they're used to.  But it's good for them to know where carrots begin. 

Pictured here is my wedding china, Lenox's Hannah Gold, along with some vintage textiles I found at the local thrift shop.

I tried something new this year...growing our own popcorn.  It's a miniature "strawberry" variety and we got about 25 stalks to grow, each with about 3 little ears.  I shucked them in October and now am waiting for the kernels to dry out a bit more.  I've read that if they aren't dried enough, they won't pop enough to enjoy.  So hopefully over the winter, we'll have a movie night while snacking on our own backyard popcorn.  

I found this pretty daffodil plate at a thrift shop some years ago.  I thought it would be a nice pattern to collect to use in the springtime.  But so far, I haven't found anymore piece to add!  I love the crazing. ~~~ And more vintage textiles that I couldn't pass up. I have a thing for hand-worked cross-stitch designs.

One of our favorite harvests...the durable cucumber.  I was thankful that not many cucumber beetles made it to the vines this year.  Must have been the bottomless pit winter we had that killed them off.  We got a decent crop and the chickens enjoyed a lot of trimmings as a result. 

This is my everyday Pfaltzgraff pattern, Filigree.  I'm so glad I picked a simple white...never have trouble matching it to whatever decor I'm in the mood to work with in the kitchen. ~~~ And more vintage textiles from the thrift store. I'm enthralled with the tiny knots at the center of these flowers.

We grew bush beans on the farm, but my piano teacher grew pole beans and that's where I got my first batch of seeds for this variety.  She lived in an apartment over the drugstore in town, so she had little space for gardening.  But a few buckets on the roof and she was in the bean business!  These easily reach over 8 feet tall and are robust producers.  The kids love to run out to the backyard and grab a few to munch on.  

 The pink glass plate is from my collection of American Sweetheart Depression glass.  I inherited a stack of butter plates from my grandmother.  She had no other pieces to the set.  But I soon fell in love with them and now have all but the most elusive pieces in my collection.  ~~~ This vintage linen is actually a pillowcase. I have plans to someday make it into a tea towel. 

Peas hold a special place in my heart. Since we first learned we were expecting them, the triplets have been my "3peas." I just love seeing how they nestle inside their pod...I can relate!  Peas are also a rabbit's favorite, so I bought a "pea tunnel" this year which allows them to safely grow inside the garden fence, away from nibbling foes. 

This green plate is a singleton in my cupboard. I only have an educated guess that it once belonged to my great-grandmother.  It was found on the loft of our barn many years ago in a box of other kitchenwares that had been stored there after Grandma passed away. I love it's simplicity and soft hue and like to wonder about that chip and who in the family was responsible for it.  ~~~ This vintage linen comes from a friend whose mother made it when she was young.  I marvel at the time time and skill it took to make those white flowers. 

It was a rough year for tomatoes in my garden this year. I'm not sure what the culprit was...poor soil, a wetter-than-usual season, late seed start...but it made me sad because I love nothing more than a good juicy BLT on Sunday afternoon.  We didn't get many tomatoes this year, though the chickens got quite a few green ones after the first frost killed off the vines. I'm thinking I'll move the location to the opposite end of the garden next year and see if that helps. A little more sun would be helpful, too.

This plate stirs strong emotions for me.  I found it at the thrift store (can you tell I spend a lot of my free time there?) and over the years I have picked up a few other pieces in the pattern as well. At Grandma's house, this was called the "George and Martha" plate.  Grandma had bowls, too, and I used to love getting to the bottom of my Cheerios to see the dancing couple under the milk. Grandma's set didn't have the gold edges or filigree design and I think the pattern was quite faded by the end. No matter. As we say here, "The more tattered shape it's in, the more loved it's been." 
~~~ The vintage linen was a must-have when I saw it this summer.  I'm using it right now on a bookshelf with my autumn pumpkins and crows. 

I'll end with the humble zucchini. What can I say about this vegetable? I struggle with knowing what to do with them but feel obligated to grow them nonetheless. It's a right of farmgirl passage to have a bucket of surplus zucchinis in the car at all times, like my mother did, for dropping off at neighbors' houses and the dentist's office. I will admit to loving a good loaf of zucchini nut bread and am looking forward to making a few of those over the winter.    

This plate coordinates with the Depression glass though it's not from the same pattern. My mother-in-law gave it to me after cleaning out the leftover dishes from her mother's house. It makes a perfect cookie tray for Easter sweets. ~~~ The vintage table runner was another thrift store find. It reminds me of the first needlework I attempted as a child.  Nothing fancy, but something to show Grandma and hopefully get her nod of approval. 

 Au revoir for now...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Passover

To Joshua

I’m writing because I want to remember this day for you.  This day when the ordinary trajectory of dust-bound life glanced off the fingertips of the divine.  This day when we got to see the glittering bokeh of Heaven, so often relegated to our daydreams and childhood construations, fall right here in our backyard.  

You talk of it now, with the fervor and delight and peacock-proud strut of your 9-year old self.  How you were sure she would come around.  And how those beetle grubs you went and dug up for her were the tipping point, for sure. How you never doubted and always knew that our prayers and those grubs would surely do the trick.  

I’m writing, too, because I want to recall that night for you.  That night you didn’t see while you were tucked in snug, high up in your bunk, with fingers woven through soft crocheted strands and a sleepy smile cambering across your lips. That night when I took the flashlight and walked with heavy steps through the back yard, fully expecting to find an even darker scene on the other side of the wooden gate. 

I never told you of it.  How I talked steel into my whimpering heart.  How I told her it was OK to go and would she please go before I had to make the hard decisions about how to waft the dust moat of her ordinary life into the realm of ones we once knew.

I had watched her for over 2 weeks grow increasingly more still.  More swollen in her belly and pained in her movements.  Less eager to eat and paled by sloshing breaths that she pulled through her filling lungs like a child sucking up the last bits of a milkshake through a straw.  I had spent several nights searching for online solutions and found only death warrant diagnoses for this type of thing.  A “water belly” was irreversible, caused by one of three conditions:  heart failure, cancer or something called internal laying where the process of egg production got reversed and the eggs were deposited inside her abdominal cavity where they eventually piled up into a mound of septic infection.  It was a matter of when, not if and I began to prepare myself for the inevitable hour of decision when I would have to judge that enough suffering had been borne.

I watched her carefully, those long stretches of dying days.  Going to the coop in the morning and hoping to note improvement but seeing that her bright red comb had turned a darker purplish hue and was cold to the touch.  Taking the leftover apple cores and cucumber skins for an afternoon snack and hoping to see her eyes perk up but sighing at the sight of watery droppings and an empty craw. Checking on her at night and hoping to find her settled comfortably on the roost but finding her hunched over in the corner, belly too bulging to lower herself for rest.

I decided to tell you after school on a Friday that Rebecca wasn’t feeling well and she might not have much time left with us.  That evening, we spent a few hours with her in the back yard.  I made sure you had a picture with her and we talked about whether God takes our pets to Heaven for safe keeping and what cancer would look like if you could see it and what makes a 3-chambered heart suddenly start to stutter and fail.  You came right up on the edge of death, turned it over in your mouth and examined it from all angles but never traded it for the hope-filled words of recovery to which you had decided to firmly fix yourself.

Rebecca wasn’t moving at all, despite the freedom of having the whole backyard to herself and even the bits of chickweed that you offered her were of no interest.  Hunched and puffed out like a soft, black tumbleweed blown up against the fence, she spent most of the evening with her eyes closed and I knew there wasn’t much time left.  Years on the farm with their  countless goodbyes have engraved on my heart a sundial about such things and so I marked shadows of many shades that crept longer toward dusk.

You smoothed her feathers and spoke quietly to her and asked if we could pray over her and, of course, I said surely, yes.  It was telling more than praying, really.  Telling Jesus about your sick hen and how you wanted her to be well again.  Telling Rebecca about Jesus and how everything His hands ever touched was made better.  You never wavered, never hesitated in telling the story both ways, to the brilliance of Heaven’s throne room and then back again to the burden of earth’s dust, even though you’re well aware that avian lifespans are normally counted on one hand and Rebecca’s had already reached your index finger.  

Eventually you wandered to the compost pile thinking that perhaps a worm would cheer her.  You found a beetle grub instead and plopped the wriggling larvae in front of her with high hopes that it would spark a bit of instinctual fight in her body. 

Remember how she devoured it with zest? I was taken aback to see her even attempt to eat one, much less gobble the next half dozen that you found for her.  After all, she hadn’t eaten in days, hadn’t moved more than a shuffle the last week. But in spite of the momentary verve, her breaths were still terribly shallow and clotted with the pressing fluid.  As I gently picked her up for the return to the coop, I felt through my hands the sputtering reverberations of fading life.  With my own heart quavering, I accepted that we wouldn’t likely see her alive again.

That night after you had gone to bed, full of certainty and Heavenly hope, I scanned the internet once again, this time searching for the exit ramps of life that were most humane.  Surprisingly,  the usual path through the vet’s office really isn’t an option for birds. But there were plenty of other exits to choose from.  The kinds I knew from my childhood as I watched my father and grandfather handle end-of-life duties for an ailing cow or Thanksgiving turkey.  Others that seemed bizarre and unnecessary and unchoosable.  All points, however, of departure when the decision had been made to steer away from needless suffering and pain.

I settled on one that I thought I could handle and then I seeped onto the couch in a puddle of tears.  Daddy was comforting and compassionate, knowing how hard this final act of caretaking would be for me.  Even though I’m well-aware that every new pet comes wrapped in a shrouded nod, a day when life comes to the chasm and must pass over, it’s never easy to concede that such a moment has arrived.  Yes, even for chickens. After draining my eyes, I took the flashlight and made my way through the night toward the coop for a final visit though I wasn’t even sure I would find her alive.

That was the night I told her she could go, almost begged her to go before I had to decide her timing.  I made her comfortable as best I could in the straw below the nest boxes and smoothed her feathers for what I surely felt would be the last time.  And I reminded her, just like you did, that Jesus would make everything right and if there were chickens in Heaven, I’d find her on my farm when I got there one day. 

Seems silly, right?  To talk to a chicken about eternity.  To dissipate so many hours lingering on the sentimental instead of marching through the practical.  To maintain hope for reprieve when every single member of the jury affirms the judgement.  I rolled those words around in my mouth as well.  The ones that left a bitter taste in yours.  Cancer.  Heart failure.  Disease. They were like a crushed aspirin on my tongue. Choking like a breath of chalk dust, pungent like a sip of vinegar.  But somehow (I thank God it’s yet true), you knew to spit them out, to refuse them.  And predictably (I pray God teaches me otherwise) I held them in under the weight of a hundred past memories, a dozen search engine results, a single expectation of sure defeat.

That’s how I left Rebecca that night.  Wishfully hoping that she might pull through but conceding in my heart that the death warrant was already being signed and the following day, if she survived the night, would entail a burial after an escort over the chasm.

Because you didn’t know about that night, you’ll never fully understand my shock, my utter disbelief, when I saw Rebecca come slowly stepping down the ramp from the coop the next morning.  Still swollen and somewhat hunched, but alert and curious about what the scrap bucket contained.  She didn’t make an effort to push her way to the front with the others, but more importantly, she didn’t linger in the back corner as she had done the last several days.  Over the next week, she continued to improve, began to scratch and peck about in the dirt and regained her slimmer profile.  The water belly slowly but surely receded and her lungs cleared.  After two weeks, she was back to fighting with the other hens over choice scraps and had returned to roosting with them at night.  She regained her sweet clucking sounds and restored her place in the pecking order with a few swift jabs at bully Charlotte’s comb.  By the end of the second week, it was as though she had never been sick and you crowed rightfully true that your grubs and prayers had done the trick.  Like doubting Thomas, I know you’re right and yet a month later, I’m still in disbelief.

I want you to remember that death passed over the coop that night, Joshua. Just like in the story that you love to read from Exodus where the reaping shadows recoiled at each lintel bearing the lamb’s blood. I want you to scratch our story deep into your heart and make for it a comfortable expectation there, a wide nest of space for gathering more victories of life in the face of death, more confidence in spite of incredulity, more surely, yes in a world of just surrender.  I want you to recount the story over and over to yourself and for others, too. Because all too soon, even now, the press will be upon you to abandon it all.  To join the trudge toward the inevitable.  To swallow the bitter pill.  It happens slowly but surely and rarer than a hen’s tooth is the one who remembers how to only believe

To just believe.  Him.

Keep honing your heart, Joshua.  Realigning your vision to the crosshairs.  Choosing the words that sow life.  Rejecting those that sponsor death.

Remain in the wisdom of a child even as you stride toward your crown.  Your unreasonable, scoffable, inscrutable faith lights wide the path for those of us clamoring in the battle to believe. 

The words of King Solomon, given as wisdom from God:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue
and those loving it eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21