This week has been, quite literally, a blur.
I spent almost 48 hours straight in a fever induced delirium not really knowing or caring my location.
Most of my week can be summed up in those moments of confusion.
I like to try to organize things in my house, things in my barn, things in my purse.
I like to organize my thoughts into words and organize those words into stories with meaning
Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense and you have to go with it. Sometimes you just have to let the house go, and the barn go (except for basic animal care) and my purse is always a mess.
And sometimes, life gives you a fever so that you are forced to just let the mess go inside your head.
My journal entry this week is written differently in style in an effort to reflect my thoughts as I slipped back and forth between consciousness and fever induced sleep.
July 13, 2018
Ninety something degrees in Georgia. I’m not sure how hot it is and I don’t care enough to find out. I am falling into the car for a long trip back to Virginia after spending some amazing quality time with Nan. I have had to cut my time too short, not been able to complete everything I wanted to accomplish and been unable to risk telling my grandma goodbye after promising her I would be back. Since I came down suddenly with a fever after visiting with her on Tuesday evening, I can’t take the risk of having something infectious that she can catch. It’s sweltering outside but I am shaking and can’t get warm. I cover myself with a blanket and instantly drop off to sleep. Not once do I get out of the car or do more than wake up for a moment to try to get comfortable for the six-hour drive home.
Back in the mountains of Virginia it is cooler and I am freezing. I grab a few things from the car and fall into bed. I don’t know what time it is. I don’t care. I am burning up with a fever. No other symptoms at this point. Just a tremendous headache and a fever. I shiver and shake and sleep. Losing all of Wednesday and most of Thursday, I finally start pushing fluids when I am conscious enough on Thursday afternoon. I wake for a short while but soon give myself over to sleep once again. The fever is kicking my butt, but with Tylenol, I can get the fever down for a while. Having not eaten since Tuesday evening I decide on a handful of frozen blueberries. Wrong choice. Whether nerves or the fact that whatever I had was affecting my digestive system too, the blueberries go straight through me. Literally. I later try a piece of toast. It goes down but I can only force myself to eat half of it. I just have no appetite.
Sometime Thursday night or Friday in the wee hours of the morning I wake and think I might be nauseous. I tell myself it is my imagination and try to go back to sleep. I get up to go to the bathroom and come back to bed only to realize that I am going to be sick. I find myself dry heaving having not eaten only a couple yogurts, a handful of blueberries and a half a piece of toast since Tuesday. The violence of my revolted stomach gives way to a measure of peacefulness and again, I sleep.
I awake later in the morning on Friday, again lying on a bed of sheets and blankets drenched in my sweat but thinking to myself that I feel better. I am trying to sort out what has been real and what has been a dream about the last few days.
The baby birds nesting in my hair and the delightful shivers that sent down my spine, that was a dream. The warble of the parenting pair of Carolina Wrens outside my window and the sounds of their hungry babies, that’s reality.
The darkness that crept into my delirium taking shape and moving slowly across the landscape of my mind, was part dream and part reality. This month is Josh’s birthday and rather than move in during consciousness, the deep sense of loss that swells during the months of his birth and his death moved in while I was lost in a deep sleep. The dark shape that walked across the landscape of our yard, witnessed by both Mike and I during one of my awake moments, was also reality. The large bear had returned and made its way confidently from the edge of the tall pine grove, across the fence line, crossing over the fence and making her way to the back forty once again.
Dogs. Dogs were in my dreams but they must become a reality. I have to get well enough to find some livestock guardian dogs and I must find a way to be stable enough to give them the time and attention they need to get them settled, but how do I do that? I need to be in Georgia with my grandma and I need to be in Staunton with my grand babies. I can’t be training and acclimating livestock guardian dogs to their new territory if I am not at home. Analia has a birthday party soon. All the grands will be there and in one month we will have a new grandbaby to welcome into the world. I have to get better.
Am I a dying? It’s July and the green leaves are fluttering off the huge old Maples in the yard. In my delirious state I must have wondered dozens of times if it would not be ironic if “young and heathy” I would be the one to see our loved ones on the other side before Grandma. She and I had talked about the gathering of our family all together in one time and place. She asked me if I thought Jesus gathered all of us together in one place. It took her a long time to get the question out and I had to struggle hard to hear and understand what she was saying. I told her that I did believe that. I assured her that it would seem like just a moment in time for those who have gone on. It only seems long to those of us who remain.
My time with Grandma was so intense. Was I so connected to her that I was getting a taste of what she was feeling and what she was experiencing? Had I not even told some of those closest to me that I would never want to have dementia but that I wish there was some way that I could get inside the minds of dementia patients and understand how their minds are working? Wouldn’t it be amazing if one could get inside and unlock the keys that would set all of those with dementia free? Was I losing my mind too? I have been so forgetful lately and made mistakes I don’t usually make. Mistakes that could have cause great harm to myself or others were it not for what I believe was Supernatural Intervention.
Was that one of my cows in the neighbor’s meadow? It must be, but how could they have gotten through multiple fences to get over there? It must be a deer but it couldn’t be a deer because it was too big. It had to be a cow. No, it couldn’t be a cow. A deer. I am sure now. One of the biggest buck’s I have ever seen positioned in such a manner that from my bedroom window as I lay on my bed, he looks like he is staring right at me. Is he trying to tell me something?
No. He’s gone.
It’s Friday. I’ve lost two full days but I am determined that I am going to be better. I get up and eat a piece of toast. Well, I manage to choke down half and then decide to just concentrate on fluids. I do feel better. I am communicating. I am on the porch sitting and watching the birds and even taking some photos. No baby birds nesting in my hair like I dreamed, but I can hear them chirping inside the bird house just a few feet away from where I sit. Their parents keep bringing in food for them to eat.
I watch my cows through the kitchen window. I binge watch a few programs on TV. Rarely do I watch anything. I wash some clothes but by late afternoon the fever has returned and I am sleeping again. Mike has joined me on the sofa. I have no clue what time of day or night it is. I sleep part of the night on the couch and then move to the bedroom.
Saturday morning, I feel better. I feel a lot better. I am planning an easy day but hoping to accomplish something when Mike comes in from checking the cows and tells me that the fence (electric netting) we have used to create addition space for the momma cows has come down and that small group has escaped to the back forty with the rest of the herd. This time it’s not a dream, the cows really did get out of their fence but are in fact still safely contained within permanent perimeter fencing. The calves are big enough now that I wouldn’t worry about the escape except for the fact that the very pregnant, milk fever prone, Princess is with them. Mike says he’s going up on the Kubota to find them and asks if I want to go along.
Weak from not having eaten in so long, I still want to go. I dress, grab a water bottle and my camera. I must be better because I grab my camera. There have been no words and few pictures all week and my mind craves pictures, words, stories.
I am back. The need to create means I am back.
My naughty cows are doing what they have done for me time and time again, bringing me back from an abyss of darkness whether that darkness was grief, illness, loneliness, depression, confusion, or anxiety.
We ride and find the cattle with heads up looking as we approach. I shake a small bucket of feed to entice them and the whole herd begins to follow the Kubota as we slowly make our way back down from the farthest corner of the back forty. I look behind us at the beauty of those trusting faces following along. My soul is instantly filled with peace.
I hear Grandma’s weak and shaking voice whispering out words and I recognize she is quoting the beloved Scripture she has spent hours memorizing but what is she saying. I lean closely so I can understand and feel her breath against my cheek. I smooth back her beautiful white hair, much longer than she typically keeps it, but it suits her. I recognize the well-known verses commonly used to comfort those who are hurting.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
I swallow a lump in my throat, hold her hand gently and find the strength to join her.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Nan’s voice is still faint and I can’t hear every word but I can tell she is not missing a word. I use the strength of my voice to help her along but falter at the next part as my heart breaks in a million pieces.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”
She is calm. Big, silent tears are streaming down my face. With all my strength I reach inside myself and find my voice again.
Together we continue:
“I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
Nan’s voice is very weak now and knowing how the passage ends I draw my own comfort for Nan and from Nan in the final verses. My voice is steady and strong now and together we finish:
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
I left Nan resting peacefully on Tuesday night, her heart and lungs still amazingly strong but her mind growing weaker and her soul growing weary.
As the Jerseys followed me trustingly over the hills and through the valley back to home, it was easy to understand what was real about the past week: all of it. Every muddled, messed up, fever induced, crazy thought that swept through my head. Every emotion from deep anxiety to perfect peace. Every sight, sound and smell from the confines of an adult memory care facility to the rolling hills of the back forty of our Blue Ridge Mountain home. All of it was real. It might be not easily organized, categorized, or defined and maybe a whole lot messy, but it was real and it was meaningful.
It’s what I was given.
July 3, 2018
Here comes the sun, and the heat. But for this moment, both are partially blocked by the ridges that surround this “holler” and I am enjoying the coolness of a mountain morning. That is one thing I love in particular about this place. While the days do get hot, night promises relief. I took advantage of the cooler indoor temperatures yesterday and for most of the day, cleaned my dirty house. I like to keep things in their place with a sense of order but as long as everything is tucked away where it is supposed to be, I can overlook dust and dirt for a while. Meticulous to the point of driving everyone, including myself crazy before Josh’s death almost ten years ago, I left that cycle of being tied to having a perfect house behind in favor of enjoying my life. I probably average “a good house cleaning” about once a month anymore, and even that doesn’t begin to compare to the way I use to clean. Yesterday was the day with Mike away, having gone back to Staunton to make hay, and me without anything particularly pressing. Besides cleaning house, I made multiple trips to check on the animals to make sure they still had a good water supply, I milked , and then later in the day along towards nightfall when it was slightly cooler, I walked around the spring and then to the highest point on our “back forty” where I could get a view of Buffalo Mountain. I was thinking about last week’s visiting bear when I walked and I was very aware of my surroundings, but I wasn’t afraid. I can’t let the presence of a visiting bear keep me from being outdoors and enjoying life, just as I can’t let the presence of snakes in the basement keep me from going to the root cellar or washing my clothes. Life is full of figurative “snakes and bears” and I refuse to stop living, laughing and enjoying life because things might be a little “scary” or difficult. There’s too much living to do and too much happiness to be found. On the way back to the house, I stopped to gather wild flowers (Mike would call them weeds) that I cut short and arranged in a McCoy pitcher that Nan had given me years ago. The Daisies, Black Eyed Susans, and Queen Anne’s Lace on my dining room table reminded me of my barefoot days back when I was just a young girl, when I would gather wild flowers from the meadow just beside our small, pink house on Mt. Olive Road. I gathered the same things then: Daisies, Black Eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s Lace. My mother told me their names when she put them in a mason jar with water.
July 4, 2018
While so many people are struggling with summer’ dose of extreme weather conditions, I feel a little spoiled here at our mountain property. It is not that it isn’t warm here too, and that folks are not affected by extreme weather conditions, but the human tolerance of Nature’s moods seems to fluctuate with what we expect and to that which we accustom ourselves. When I lived in Alaska, the cold and dark of winter did not affect me much, if at all, because I was acclimated to it. Now, having lived in Virginia for so many years, the cold seeps into my bones and I complain about 30 above where I use to think 30 below was nothing. While some of that is because I am 20 to 30 years older, it is also because my body has adjusted to a warmer climate these days. I found the same thing to be true on my visits to Guatemala. I suffered in the extreme heat, being careful to not over exert myself, constantly trying to stay hydrated, while the locals didn’t let it affect their daily lives. At night in central America when the temperatures would “cool down” to a more manageable temperature, the natives would don jackets, sweaters, and long-sleeved shirts while I was thankful to just be comfortable in a loose fitting, sleeveless dress. While the temperature here in our section of the Blue Ridge has reached near 90 degrees the past few days and working in the direct sun has been uncomfortable, I have managed to keep the house very comfortable even without air conditioning. (That’s not true of our place in Staunton where Mike has been unable to sleep well at night due their not being a cooling breeze and the house never cooling down at night.) With evening mountain temperatures dropping below 70 degrees, the temperature in the house has been perfect for sleeping. Then, as the sun finally makes its way over the ridges and begins to burn hot, there is only one section of the house where it directly hits and that is our bedroom window. Around 8 am I pull the curtain and block the heat from the sun in that window while the rest of the house is shaded either by the covered porch that wraps around two sides of our house or by the huge, old maples that cast their shadows and offer adequate shade in the heat of the day. By the time the sun begins to burn the hottest, it is already making its way behind the mountain ridges to the west and the grove of pines that stands tall beside the house filters the light of the sun in its descent. By running the ceiling fans to circulate the air, keeping the windows upstairs open as heat inside the house rises, and keeping the windows on the main section of the house closed to trap in the cooler air, the living area of the house has never gotten more than 74 degrees even when the thermometer on the side of the house registered 110 in the sun (with actual temperature being right at 90 degrees). So, in the winter when I complain about the cold of this old farm house, I hope I remember to be thankful for summer blessings and the pleasant, cool, shelter this house provided in the heat.
July 5, 2018
While Mike has been taking advantage of the few days of sunshine and dry weather to make hay in the valley, I have been making the most of my quiet time in the mountains. I think I am an individual who does very well on my own and I don’t mind the long hours of solitude. In fact, I seek out the aloneness. But I also know myself well enough to understand that I need the balance that Mike brings to my life and this particular time of being separated has been harder on me than last time. Without Mike, I would probably become a hermit and living entirely inside my own head would, no doubt, make me stranger than I am already. Mike and I can certainly find communication and compromise difficult at times, but as true soul mates, I think we are also capable of an honestly with one another that allows each of us to be able to give and accept loving, constructive criticism from one another which helps to keep me more level headed about life in general. I tend to be a dreamer and idealistic. I need the practical balance that Mike offers me.
Yesterday being the fourth of July, I guess a lot of people were attending celebratory, public events or family get-togethers. Some of Mike’s family got together at his mom’s place. I was content to be by myself, caring for the animals, mowing the grass, hanging clothes on the line, and sewing. I didn’t’ see a single person all day except for vehicles that passed as I was mowing the grass in the front of the house. I struggle with the patriotic holidays anyway. Not that I find them difficult, because I completely understand the importance of remembering our national history and honoring those whose sacrifices mean that we live in a better world. However, I find it a little awkward in my own head as I balance my love of country, freedom and the honor I genuinely feel for those who have sacrificed in the various ways they felt were necessary to preserve this Nation in which we all find so much privilege and take so much for granted with my own personal convictions. I do not know if God calls all of us to the same convictions or if somehow God or Life offers each of us different choices and calls us to different things. I am sure that argument with stories and Scripture could be given to support various theories. And, I am sure that my unrelenting Baptist background would argue that right is right and wrong is wrong and there are no gray areas. But still, I tend to lean toward the “blasphemous gray area” when it comes to personal convictions for we must each live with our own conscience and while some feel strongly that God calls men and women to lay down their lives for the good of their country, there are a few of us who understand and respect that calling but have a personal conviction that for us, the taking of life is wrong no matter what the circumstances. I cannot answer the questions, or the openly defensive attitude that comes from so many “patriot” Christians who seemingly appear ready to take up arms and fight for their rights. I can’t specifically answer the questions as to how I expect to remain “free” if I am not willing to pick up a weapon of mass destruction, or at least support those who are willing to do so. I only know that for me personally, after studying the Scripture and the life of Jesus, paying close attention to “the letters in red” (the words we see as direct quotes from Christ), I feel that we are offered a different way to approach life that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but is the way of Love. The way of Love while offering peace, doesn’t guarantee us a peaceful ending to our stories. Jesus whose life modeled the Way of which I am speaking died a horrible death at the hands of those whose political agenda was diabolically opposed to all that He taught. Whether “liberal” or “conservative” everyone likes to lump folks into categories so that we can neatly and efficiently hurl insults at one another and verbally wage war, especially it seems on “patriotic” holidays. As with much of life, I find myself in the middle, understanding the passion of “both sides” and mostly quietly holding to my own convictions realizing that very few are going to understand my thought process on this subject. (And as a side note, for those who always want to throw out that the “liberals” are prolife when talking about war or the death penalty but not when discussing abortion, my convictions encompass all of these and while I can compassionately find understanding for the reasons others don’t agree with my stance, I can’t deny my own moral convictions no matter how unpopular they might be.) My reality is that I am not Jesus and as much as I wish that I were like Him and could live up to the ideals that He gave His followers, I fail a million times every single day. But, as someone who strongly believes that the way of Christ is a far cry from what is being taught in the majority of today’s churches and that our Western mindset and modern Christianity in fact takes us further away from His intentions, I will just have to follow my heart.
Nan is always heavy on my mind. My brother texted me and said that he was with her yesterday and that she was asleep. Neither he, nor my cousin Lou who had been there earlier in the day, were able to wake her. He was there for close to an hour and she never became responsive to his presence. The nurses were weighing her when he came in and they said she has lost another nine pounds. My heart hurts and when I think of the inevitable, I am torn between wanting to see Nan slip into that eternal peace where she will know no more suffering and wanting to keep her here with me forever. Mostly, I am unselfish about it and simply want to see her have the peace that she is seeking. I believe that she has given up on this life and is just waiting for her body to release her spirit. When she rallied last week enough to reach out to those she loves and express herself and share her love verbally with us, even though she struggled with finding the words to express what she wanted to say, I think that was her last real effort. Now I believe she is just biding her time. Ultimately, I just want her happiness and comfort and I know that this world can no longer provide that for her. But, there is still a small, selfish side of me that rises up and rebels at the thought of my living any part of my life without the woman who has been my comfort, my strength, and my hero. I had moment yesterday when I thought the grief would overtake me and I had to remind myself that in spite of how I feel, the reality is that I will somehow learn to manage my pain. I remember when Josh died, my overwhelming thought over and over again was “I just can’t do this” and I learned that I had to take “just one breath at a time” in order to manage. I understand now, with almost a decade having passed since Josh’s death, that joy and sorrow are perfectly capable of mingling within one’s soul and that giving space for both is what keeps us open to life’s lessons and experiences. I don’t want to go through yet another intense grief and learn to live without yet another person whose life is so much a part of mine, but there are things in life of which we are not given a choice. I am coming to think that life is not so much about what we achieve or gain through the years, but rather that life is summed up in how well we learn to let go.
July 8, 2018
I went form the peaceful solitude of my alone time to a whirlwind trip to the Valley where I worked my tail off to get things done, make a doctor’s appointment, meet Alissa and the girls at a restaurant where I could spend a few minutes with them and then leave about 24 hours later to head back to Laurel Fork. I accomplished a lot but I also came unglued during my time there. I am going to blame part of it on the fact that I couldn’t get an early morning doctor’s appointment and had to fast until almost 2 pm and did not have one sip of coffee all day. At any rate, my day ended horribly and while I can’t write about what happened on Friday night until things are sorted out, the events about left me undone. But, things could have been much worse, I finally made it back to Laurel Fork, and Saturday and Sunday have been two days of my trying to pull myself back together.
Saturday, Mike and I went to an auction, but I ended up sitting in the car for several hours talking on the phone and texting while I had reliable service. After the auction, we took a few items, priced them and put them in our new booth at Briar Patch Antiques in Galax. We had only been there a week but have started off well and we like the facilities a lot. We talked to a man who started out in the same booth we are in downstairs and he did well there and eventually moved upstairs when a space opened up. We have been promised a space upstairs when something opens ad we were happy to hear of his success in the downstairs booth. So many people don’t visit booths that are upstairs or downstairs, sticking to the main level.
Afternoon and evening we worked hard and got caught up on things around the house. Mike mowed the steep banks that I was not able to mow earlier in the week and he moved the electric netting to give the momma cows some new grazing area. I was able to get multiple loads of laundry caught up and the house picked up as well as make us a good meal.
Today (Sunday) I just wanted to hide in a hole at home and not come out but I got ready and went to church and I was glad that I did. We have such good speakers and I always am refreshed when I leave. I feel so blessed to be able to get to know the people in the church and to realize that after a year of attending there, they are every bit the community I thought them to be when we first started attending. After church we came home and I made steak, gravy, green beans from the garden, a salad, and sliced tomatoes from the garden. The food was delicious. There’s just nothing like homegrown, fresh food. Afterwards, I took a much-needed nap that helped to calm my nerves.
Mike and I took a drive over to Floyd and walked through an antique mall there. Afterwards, we walked down to Floyd Country Store and listened once again to the group of musicians who had gathered for a two-hour jam session. The group had a couple of the folks who had played the last time we were there, but there were a lot of new faces there. Two very young boys played with the group and were fun to watch. They were both very serious and somewhat timid about their involvement but did a great job. On the way home, we saw a juvenile bear that probably had just been recently weaned. He was starting to cross the road but hesitated when we approached and then went back under the guard rail and into the woods. We took an alternate road no knowing where it would come out but thinking it would bring us close to home and it did. We both enjoy seeing new scenery. Along the way, I saw a heron in the stream. As we got close to our house, I saw another heron actually sitting on the roof of a neighbor’s house and looking at the stream. I see herons a good bit, but I have not ever seen one perched on top of a house before.
It was a quiet day and I was thankful.
June 20, 2018
The sound of my alarm going off at 2:30 am left me wishing I could turn it off, roll over, and stay in bed but I had promised Mike that if he would let me stay in Laurel Fork Sunday, that I would do whatever it took to get up and get going Monday morning. I finished up the last-minute preparation for us to head to Staunton, and we were on the road somewhere around 3:30 am. I dozed some once we got on the interstate, continuously jerking my head back into a position to ease the pull on my neck. There’s just no comfortable way to rest while riding in a vehicle. When we arrived in Staunton, I immediately went down to check on the animals, came back and unloaded the car, and then went to work on sorting things in the milk kitchen while Mike headed off to make hay. I went through every drawer, cabinet, and box in the milk kitchen sorting things into piles: one to sell, one to donate, one to trash, one to keep in Staunton, and one to take to Laurel Fork. We intended on bringing the rest of the Jerseys to Laurel Fork when we returned and I needed to have all my bovine medications and milking equipment. I have always had access to good vets and built a relationship with the large animal vets at Westwood Animal Hospital. Leaving my comfort zone of knowing I can get a good vet out to the house within a reasonable amount of time leaves me feeling a bit anxious. I am trying to be prepared but not worry. I didn’t go anywhere Monday, choosing to stay around the house and get as much done as I could. I cleaned pens and watering troughs in the barn yard. I spent some time with Analia, Rory and Area, a two-year-old whom Alissa babysits.
The weather was so hot and humid and the house in Staunton does not have the shade or the breeze that our place in Laurel Fork has. Neither place has air conditioning. Because we have always worked outside so much, we have felt that having air conditioning would make it hard for us to acclimate to being outside in the heat. Mostly, even in Staunton, we can be comfortable at night without air conditioning. But on those days when the sun shines hot, the air is humid, there is not breeze blowing and the nights don’t cool down, sleeping can be miserable. That’s what it was like on Monday night. Even with a fan in the window, we could not get comfortable. We tossed and turned and I even slept with my head at the foot of the bed for part of the night, trying anything to get a better position.
Tuesday brought plenty more work for Mike at the farm and I had a bunch of errands to run. Since we only spend a short period of time in Staunton and especially since this time I had been away 2.5 weeks, there is usually a lot to accomplish when we are there. Towards evening, Analia and I went outside and hosed off the compressor for my milking machine, washed up some buckets from the barnyard, and washed out a stainless-steel double sink that Mike had saved for me from the milking parlor where he, his brother and dad had milked for many years at the dairy started by his grandfather. I tried to gather everything together that we were going to take back to Laurel Fork and have it conveniently located. Every time we leave Staunton, our nerves seem to be shot and we end up fussing at each other. The more I have organized and together, the better things go. They still rarely go well, but I think it takes a little of the stress out of it. I still can’t figure out why we are both so edgy by the time we leave Staunton. Maybe it is because we try to do too much while we are there in such a short amount of time. Maybe it is because we feel the pull of “others” wanting us to stay when we want to go. Probably a lot of it is that Mike and I have to work hard to effectively communicate with each other, each of us having such a different thought process and in the moment, when we are stressed and need to communicate quickly and clearly, we end up having difficulties try as we might. And, that is where we were this morning as we got ready to leave once again for Laurel Fork. I woke up at 2:30 again and got everything done I needed to do by 2:45 to finish getting our things in order. Mike had told me to wake him at three, so I sat with a cup of coffee in hand for just a few minutes and thought about my time with Rory last night. I have watched Rory frequently from the time she was born, but she has always been a difficult child to keep. Never have I kept her without having Analia as well. Last night, Alissa wanted to take Analia to a movie and spend some alone time with her, so I kept Rory at home. Rory and I had a great time. She laughed and played and we spent a lot of time outdoors where she walked and walked. When we came inside she was exhausted and fell asleep. I loved the one on one time that I was able to have with her. I expressed to Alissa shortly after Rory was born that I was afraid I wouldn’t have the relationship with her that I had with the three older grands, because I didn’t keep her 3-6 days a week like I did the others. However, I don’t think there is any question that Rory is my girl.
After Mike got up around 3 am, we loaded a few things in the truck and then went to load the two momma cows with their calves and Princess who is very pregnant at this point. The cows did not cooperate, in part I think because it was dark. Mike was not happy and of course, I couldn’t do anything right to “help”. I resolved to keep my cool no matter what, which I managed to do. Rarely do we make it through working cattle or moving them when I don’t either end up angry or crying. I already knew it was coming and had just decided I wasn’t going to let it set me off. Eventually we got the cattle on the trailer. Mike had rigged up a gate about ¾ of the way back. We have a divider on the cattle trailer but it is in the middle and we wanted to give them more room while still having an area in the back to haul some hay and equipment. Things were a little shaky at first with the gate arrangement because the cows were worked up and kept trying to stick their head through and over the gate. Finally, we got a large board and the stainless sink up against the gate so they couldn’t stick their heads through it anymore. Packed with cows, hay, and equipment we finally got loaded and headed down the road.
As I write this, the sun is coming up and we are near Roanoke and stopping to get fuel. I checked on the cattle and they are well, settled, and taking the ride in good stride. I will admit that I prayed a little prayer asking for grace for our trip. It never hurts to say a little prayer. The day hasn’t even started yet for many people and I am already tired, hot, hungry and looking forward to reaching our home in Laurel Fork where we can get the cows settled in and I can get us some breakfast.
June 21, 2018
Today is Summer Solstice. Mike complained last night as we were talking that he had more work to do than he could possibly get done in a day and I reminded him that he would have extra daylight. He was not too amused, but I thought it was funny. I know he is overwhelmed right now, and I am too, but things are coming together. The grandkids call Laurel Fork our “Vacation House” and while in a lot of ways it has been that for the last year, it is now a working farm. It is just so exciting to see this place come back to life after sitting dormant for so many years. The folks who flipped the house used it on occasion while they were working on it but previous to that, it had sat empty for many years. While the bones were good, the house needed so much work to become a home again. The property had been rented out to a neighbor for his beef cattle, but they ran wild on the property with little human interaction, eating the grass down to nothing. The barn, while still structurally sound, was at a critical stage where decay would have brought it down in the coming years had we not poured ourselves into saving it. Having the whole Jersey herd here at Laurel Fork and tying all the pieces together to make this a working farm is a dream come true to me. I continue to thrill at the thought of bringing life to this place. We still have so very much to do and the list will never end. Farming is just like that. I know there will come a day when we physically won’t be able to keep up with the demands and will have to make decisions about what to do. For now, I am so happy to have this opportunity and I am only half joking with Mike when I tell him that when we are too old to live in the holler and keep up with the animals, that perhaps we can build a small home that is senior friendly at my favorite spot on the back forty where we have an amazing view of Buffalo Mountain. For now, I don’t want to think about how age limits our possibilities and strips us of our dreams. I just want to live so that I have no regrets when I am no longer able to physically do the things I want to do.
After getting up at 2:30 am two days this week, I could hardly keep my eyes open yesterday. I felt like I was in a mental fog the entire day. Mike was tired too. We had Roma II green beans from the garden that I blanched and froze. I froze them in two cup quantities and had half a dozen servings for Mike and I for the winter plus a small “mess” of beans for us to eat. We had enough peas for a meal and I was able to freeze enough for two meals. It still feels strange not having massive quantities of produce to handle, to sell, to try to preserve. But, I like this much better. It all felt so overwhelming when we were selling produce and I was always too tired and stressed to really be able to enjoy any part of it. Smaller quantities for just us brings me great joy in the whole process. Mike totally tends to the garden in Verona at his moms. He has been struggling against multiple issues there. First there was so much rain he couldn’t get the garden out. (They are still having frequent rains and flooding in areas close to Verona.) The tomatoes have some sort of a blight probably brought on by all the damp weather. We went from too cold, then too much rain, to very hot and still too much rain. The cool weather crops suffered from the heat (peas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower). Our potatoes don’t look that great for the second year in a row. Partly, I think, Mike just has not had the time or energy to devote to the garden like he has in the past. We will have enough for us and that is all we need, but it is a change for him. In Laurel Fork, our two raised beds are doing well. The plants look healthy and we both baby them. It is great to be able to keep weeds out with minimal effort. I really enjoy the raised beds. We are planning in putting in more for next year and growing more and more of our produce here. With the steep terrain and very little flat ground, raised beds are the way to go.
We had packed the loft of the cattle trailer and the area behind the cows with items from the barn and milk kitchen in Staunton when we made the trip yesterday. I tried to be thorough and bring everything I need to set up the milking machine and have spare parts, to have all the medical supplies we need in case an animal gets sick or injured, and to just have the basics that I am use to for milking and caring for the Jerseys. I am sure I will find that I have forgotten something. We also hauled feed and hay. The trailer was packed full and it took a good bit of time to unload it. I spent a lot of the day organizing things so that, hopefully, I can find them when I need them. It was a very busy day and we were ready for bed when the time came. It was nice to have the cool, evening air that is characteristic of the mountains to make sleeping more comfortable.
June 22, 2018
Yesterday was a dream come true. In fact, I am still numb and unable to comprehend that I am actually milking in a real dairy barn. It did not escape me that the weather was hot and yet I was milking in comfort in the coolness of the old barn rather than dealing with the extreme heat from the sun beating down on my little milking shed in Staunton, a “temporary” arrangement that has suited me well for close to ten years. The shed was actually a box trailer taken off the back of an old truck. It cost us nothing and worked well and I was thankful for it. The draw back to it was the fact that it was 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature in the summer with no ventilation and with no insulation and thin walls, no way to heat it in the winter. And, it sure wasn’t pretty like my “new” old dairy barn! When we first looked at this property, I fell in love with so many aspects of it, but when I saw that beat up, old dairy barn, I had a yearning rise up within me to see that barn put to use again. Yesterday, that dream came true.
Mike worked incredibly hard for a very long time to put the barn in shape and we are by no means finished with what we want to do inside. Even yesterday, he was busting his backside to get tools and trash out of the barn as well as get the milking area set up so that I could use it. The barn has six stanchions and right now, the line is not operational, so we will have to milk one cow at a time. Eventually, we hope to be able to get the old system running again so that we can milk more than one cow at a time. Wouldn’t that be a luxury!
The girls did really well their first time in the stanchion at the new place. Shar just walked right on in following Mike with a bucket of grain. She is such a good cow. She is strong willed but doesn’t mind being milked. She is a cow of mixed lineage with a quarter Charolais (thus the name Shar), a quarter Angus and fifty percent Mini Jersey blood lines. She looks like a miniature angus but she has the production of a Jersey. We have alternated between having her in the dairy herd and leaving her with the beef herd. At times she simply raises her calf and we don’t milk her and at other times, she willingly shares her sweet and delicious milk with us. Promise, a little more shy and hesitant, took a little longer to lure into the barn but once she stepped through the gate and into the shelter area of the barn, she followed us right in and went to the stanchion. She’s also an easy cow to milk, never lifting a foot and standing still for milking. I milked the girls into separate containers so that I could inspect their milk and know which milk belonged to each cow. Having only left the calves on them while we have been traveling and while I have had extended stays away from Staunton, I wanted to make sure that neither cow had developed mastitis and that their milk was sweet and tasty. I got almost two gallons, a gallon a piece from each girl. That’s plenty for us and considering the cows have healthy two-month-old calves on them 24/7 and the fact they have not been grained since calving, I was pleased with that amount. I am graining now. Shar is in good shape and doesn’t need any grain. She tends to be quite the chunk, but she is built like a beef cow with wide hips and a stocky figure. Promise, on the other hand, is more standard Jersey in appearance and conformation than any of my cows. She is only 50 percent Miniature by bloodlines and 100% Jersey. With the calf pulling on her and my not being around to watch her condition carefully, she has gotten a little thin. I am watching her carefully and going to be feeding her grain to build her body condition. I will have to be careful milking her that she doesn’t pour all of the additional feed right back into making milk and continue to lose weight. That is why I got a lower percentage of protein in the grain mix. She needs carbs for body condition, not protein to make more milk.
I am so incredibly thankful for this gift that Mike has given me in this home, property, and all the outbuildings, but especially the old barn. He has worked hard and been dedicated to making things beautiful and functional once again in a place that had been neglected for years. I don’t take for granted the blessings that are mine or the effort and sacrifices made so that we can enjoy this piece of God’s earth for a while. I am thankful.
While Mike worked on last minute details of readying the milking parlor, I mowed grass and pulled weeds. I love our beautiful, steep, mountain yard but I do wonder as we get older how we will ever manage it. Guess we will cross that bridge when we get to it. I was only half joking when I told Mike that we needed to fence in the yard and turn goats loose in there or “flash graze” the yard with a couple of cows from time to time. For now, mowing is good exercise and I don’t mind it at all. Mike has to get the steepest banks because I can’t manage the push mower on them, but I can get most of it. All but one little section of our house is surrounded by a mulched flower bed and I try to get the weeds out of it every other week. I don’t mind pulling the weeds. It is kind of therapeutic to sit on the ground with my shoes off and take my time pulling weeds. It gives me plenty to do with my hands while allowing my mind to destress.
Instead of cleaning the cattle trailer out in Staunton, Mike had the great forethought to bring it to Laurel Fork with the extra manure in it and clean it out here so that we could put the dirt/manure mix from the floor of the trailer onto the raised beds. We are so spoiled by good and plentiful soil in the Shenandoah Valley and have learned to appreciate it more as we deal with a sandier, less fertile soil on our place here in the mountains. There are farms here with great soil and good fertility but the farmers have managed the land well to achieve and maintain it. No one for at least half a century as worked to make things better here at our little homestead in the mountains until we took on the project. We filled the beds with mountain soil from our property and then top dressed it with potting soil we had purchased. We have been putting Miracle Grow on the plants for the last few weeks but it was fantastic to have the rich dirt/manure mixture from the bed of the trailer to mix into the soil. We have been eating green beans, peas and squash from the valley garden and getting cucumbers from our raised beds in Laurel Fork.
My grandmother weighs heavy on my heart and is always on my mind. My cousin who now goes to the nursing home to be with grandma on a regular basis and my brother who sees Nan most every day keep me updated on her condition. Lou, my cousin, sometimes will call me from Nan’s cell phone and let me talk to Nan. Nan is not able to have much of a conversation but she hears me when I tell her how much I love her and she always responds back that she loves me too. I hate so bad the way she is suffering and wish that I could make it better for her. My brother feels the same. We lament that we are unable to take away the pain, confusion and anxiety that now rule her days and nights. All we can do is stay on top of her care and love her through this. That feeling of helplessness is heartbreaking. I know for myself, the questions regarding dementia are never far from my thoughts these days. I think of the horrors of being “trapped” inside one’s own mind and unable to express adequately what is going on there. I have witnessed the extreme anxiety, not just with Nan, but with other dementia patients and I while I don’t ever wish to suffer from this disease myself, I can’t help but wish that there was a way that I could somehow get inside the minds of these beautiful people and see what they see but with the ability to “come back” and take what I learned while there and make things better for them. The details I heard and saw of the lives of the residents I met on the dementia wing are making their way into that portion of my own brain that mulls things over and sorts them into the bits and pieces that come together to coherently form a story. I don’t know enough of these people or their disease to adequately share the pain and beauty of their lives, but I must write what I know and give my thoughts structure. Ironic isn’t it that I want to sort and order the stories of minds in chaos? As futile as it seems, I have to share. Just as I had to share so much of my heart regarding the death of my son through writing about my feelings, my mind must sort through the confusion of the grief associated with losing a loved one to dementia by putting words together and sharing stories.
I know the names of some of the residents on G wing where specialized care is given to patients with memory loss, I have assigned them nicknames for anonymity. My friend whom I interacted with the most I will call Middy for it seems that she is always finds herself “stuck in the middle”. Middy is one of only two residents in the memory loss unit who can walk. Everyone else is either bed ridden or confined to a wheel chair. Middy always appears tidy, is pleasant, conversational, but typically wringing her hands both physically and figuratively. The first time I saw Middy she was trying to get out. She told me that she tries and tries but just can’t get past the door. (The door is locked as a precaution to keep the residents from wandering away and getting lost or hurt.) Middy was able to tell me about parts of her life. She showed my sister in law and I a watch and told me that it was made out of cotton. Of course, it was not made out of cotton but I figured she must have grown up on a farm, so I tried to redirect her to something that would make sense and allow her to share the parts of her life that she remembered. I asked her if she grew up on a farm and she shook her head vigorously, eyes bright and proceeded to tell me about growing up on a farm not far from the facility in which she now spends her days. She was a “middle child” and had a lot of siblings. Although life must have been somewhat difficult, the children working hard alongside their parents, her memories seemed to reveal a loving childhood albeit not permissive. Each child was expected to do their part to help the large family unit and farm run efficiently. Middy, it was evident, accepted her responsibilities with grace. The stories she told with a seriousness of someone use to taking care of things but interspersed with smiles and gestures that indicated she was a nurturer at heart as she talked about caring for the younger siblings that came along. Then, Middy’s tone and stories changed and she began to wring her hands and talk about her momma. She expressed sadness that “momma” had been left at home with the babies and there were so many of them. She said that momma was getting older and taking care of the babies was hard on her. At first, I thought Middy was talking about her younger siblings, but eventually I came to realize that she was perhaps referring to some nieces and nephews that were left in her aging mother’s care. These memories were a source of worry to Middy and she explained that she was not able to get home to check on momma and the babies. She implored us with eyes gazing deep into ours to please go by and check on momma and the babies for her and let her know that they were all right. I tried to reassure and redirect Middy the best I could. Thinking she would forget that she had made such a request of me, the next day I was surprised when as soon as she saw me, she ran over and asked if I had seen momma and the babies. I simply replied to her that all was well and she didn’t need to worry. The relief on her face was evident and she kept repeating her joy at the fact that momma and the babies were fine. Of course, her joy and peace were short lived. It wasn’t too long until she once again began to fret and seek out people who would check on them because she “wasn’t able to get out”. Just like I wanted to take away Nan’s hurt, I wanted to take away the worry that Middy felt, and while I saw joy on her face for a moment when she was comforted with the thought that her momma and the babies were fine, the worry soon returned and there was nothing I could do about.
Middy’s “partner in crime” as I like to call her, was a slight woman whom I did not talk to personally. The only other person on the wing able to walk unassisted, her mannerisms and the things I heard her mumbling made me think that she had spent many years assisting in an office setting. Shortening the word assist to something catchy to remember her by, I simply refer to her as Ssis. Dressed neatly in slacks, a button down shirt and a tailored sweater wit hair with thick, long, grey hair pulled back into a pony tail at the nape of her neck, I had no problem seeing that Ssis was a beauty. I could envision her in the tailored clothes of the 40’s with hopes and dreams for the future with the ending of the second great war. Perhaps I am letting my imagination get away from, as I don’t really know her age or occupation but her businesslike attitude encourages such thoughts as I wonder about her past. She held something imaginary in her hands and kept mumbling to herself that she had to get it to someone. I don’t remember exactly what she was saying but it made me think that she was imagining a stack of important documents that needed to be delivered to her superior. She was working so hard to deliver and was getting frustrated at her inability to make a connection and make it happen.
Amigo, as I will call him, was confined to a wheel chair. Appearing younger than a lot of the residents, he never said a word to me but just kept smiling and waving. I would return the favor with smiles and vigorous gestures of friendship from my own waving hands. I remarked to Mike that I had made a new friend.
I did not dub her the Auctioneer. She was actually given that nickname by the staff, her words so repetitive and fast that one had to listen carefully to distinguish what she was saying. She was completely disengaged and in her own world.
The staff told me about the Teacher and that she had spent many years educating children in the area. In fact, my sister in law was in her class in elementary school. Teacher’s mannerism and inquisitive nature made evident that before the cruel disease of dementia had confused her brain, she surely approached her occupation with zest. I thought she looked younger than she must be but perhaps that is because she still seems to have a spark and zest for life. She stays in the activities room all day working on projects and interacting with people. She is quick to catch one’s eye and calls out with a friendliness that makes one feel as if she is welcoming one into her world. “Come on in to my classroom,” she seems to say, “I have much to teach you.” Her eyes locked with mine on more than once occasion and my heart responded, “Thank you, Teacher. I am ready to learn.”
And I am ready to learn. These are lessons I would never choose and classes I would never take but they are necessary. I will never be the one who finds the answers to preventing or curing this horrible disease, but I can learn to live better and love better through the lessons the Teacher, the Auctioneer, Amigo, Ssis, Middy and my grandmother have to share as they struggle through this difficult time in their lives. I wish there was some way I could relay to these precious folks that this time of their life is not wasted time because I for one will not allow it to be. I will live my life more aware of THIS moment and the gifts that each moment brings. I will not take for granted this fragile and beautiful mind that I have been given. Just as I came to the point in my life where I realized that the greatest tribute I could give to Josh was to live my life as fully as possible rather than shutting down and drowning in the grief I felt over the death of my son, the greatest tribute I can give my grandmother is to make the most of each moment that I am given, fully appreciating the cognitive abilities that we just take for granted. I think Nan’s life exemplifies the concept of moving ahead with a sense of adventure and wonder while pausing from time to time to reflect on life’s beauty. Embracing this at a time when she is no longer able, gives me the ability not only to open my heart to the joys that life still has in store for me, but it also allows a part of Nan to go on living inside of me. In this way, we never “lose” our loved one but they remain forever and always with us.
June 25, 2018
I am blessed with many friends who touch my life, each in different ways, and each of those friends are invaluable to me. Each one brings to the relationship something unique and each friendship blossomed under different circumstances and remains because we have a common bond that connects us. Those with whom I become close, have to accommodate my introversion and the anxiety that causes me to shut down and go inside myself when I am feeling overwhelmed. While I try to reach outside my comfort zone and participate with others in ways that allow growth in a relationship, the people who are the closest to me just have to accept my need to be reclusive for long periods of time. Even my family is subjected to this peculiarity of my personality. I am not sure if it is an inherent part of my being or learned behavior brought on as a self defense mechanism. Perhaps it is some of both. I have that one friend, my dearest, closest friend who completely understands that my need to be with someone is as strong as my need to be alone and respects wherever I am in that process. Not only does she accept it, but she seems to know when I need her the most and her unconditional love and support that is coupled with complete honesty when she feels that I am wrong or need a different focus have helped to get me through the hardest parts of my life. We have share a history of living in the same community in Alaska, working together, going to church together, and then both moving to Virginia although in different areas of the state. We have both lost an adult child. But our friendship and bond is deeper than circumstantial similarities. It can’t be explained why with time, space, and all that life has thrown at us that we have remained the dearest of friends other than the fact that some deep and abiding friendships are simply a gift given to us in spite of all our hang ups, failures and oddities. And there it is, the key that makes a friendship so special is the fact that there is a bond between two people that doesn’t require anything in particular but because of a deep love and understanding between the two, the friends continue to feed each other’s souls. All relationships require effort but if one is fortunate enough to find that one friend with whom nothing that is done together feels like effort, but rather it feels as natural as the next breath of air, then one has truly found a treasure. My closest friend and I live about two hours apart but with life being as busy at it is for both of us, we don’t get to be together as much as we would like. Friday, my friend Liz and her husband Mike took time to drive the two hours one way and sit with us. We didn’t do anything special. We ate leftovers and we sat on the front porch drinking iced tea and talking. In this time of sorrow over my grandmother’s condition, just her presence was a great comfort to me. She remarked to my Mike (as I refer to him when the two Mikes are together) that she cried over Nan as we sat on the porch but I didn’t. That’s the way it is for us. Sometimes she cries. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes we cry together. And we have the ability, together, to laugh through our tears and to see the humor in the most difficult situations where others might just see horror.
Saturday, Mike went to pick blueberries and I remained at the house with no real plan when the day started. I soon found myself cleaning off the back porch (which is enclosed) and turning that room which sits just off my kitchen in to an area to store milking supplies. Just as my Jerseys like a routine and are thrown off by anything different during the milking process, I have found that having an established order for my milking equipment and a routine to follow when I milk makes the whole process even more enjoyable. I am not a person who does well with details ahead of time and trying to figure out exactly where to keep my milking equipment prior to milking for the first time in the new barn, didn’t amount to much. I have to run through the process a few times to determine what works best. My kitchen is very small and I didn’t want the milking equipment, cannister for carrying milk, and jars for storage to take up space in my cute but small space in the kitchen. I had thought I might try to get the water set up in the barn so that I could pour up my milk and wash my equipment right there. Eventually, we may do that, but for now with such a small volume of milk, that seems a bit of overkill. It just seemed to make sense to extend my kitchen out to the back porch and take advantage of that space. Already, I have an extra refrigerator there that we use during the summer when we have an abundance of eggs to store and garden produce in abundance. My little vintage refrigerator in the kitchen simply won’t hold everything with summer’s flux. But, we had been using that space on the back porch as an overflow space of tools, supplies, and all types of miscellaneous overflow that we lazily had left there instead of finding it a permanent home. With a counter cabinet sitting beside the refrigerator, I was able to hide the curious mixture of items that found their way to the back porch and thus appeal to my need for things to give the general appearance of order even though underneath is pure chaos. Mike would ask me for a hammer, screwdriver, or tape measure and I would have to dig through the mess hidden inside the drawers to find what he needed. I have to have things in the same place every time and establish a routine and a sense of order to my life. I do not have the precise perfectionism of my maternal grandparents but I function best with a general sense of order and routine. Because Mike and I approach things so differently, it has always been easiest to establish areas where his things can be kept in the manner he likes to keep them and then I have my spaces where I can keep my things the way I like to keep them. The common areas can be tricky because my need to have things “put away” can often conflict with his need to have things out where he can see them. The back porch had become a perfect blend of a million items tucked away in drawers because I couldn’t stand to see them laying out as well as all the larger items I could not find a place to tuck that I just tried to ignore giving myself over to the fact that maybe I could just pile them all in a certain corner to try to establish order. The back porch was quite a project to tackle, at least to my mind, with so many unrelated items in one space and the need to find them a home. I sorted, tossed, and packed the items into various storage containers. The one container I heaped high and carried to the garage knowing full well that bits and pieces of those miscellaneous items will find their way back to the back porch with time. Other items I assigned a spot within the house. When I was finished, I had a small cabinet space where I put a couple of wire racks where I could set me milking equipment to drain after it had been washed each day. I kept the top drawer for basic tools we need frequently such as tape measures, screw drivers, and hammers. One drawer I had for my old towels that I use to wash my cow’s udders before milking. The final drawer held all my cheese cloths, flour sacks, and extra dish towels. To the left of the drawers was a small space where I could keep not quite a dozen half gallon jars and their lids. Next to the refrigerator, where Mike had been hanging some caps, I had a hook where I can hang my hoses to dry and the claw for my milker. Perhaps I will find a deep utility sink that I can hook up in the corner where the stackable washer/dryer hook up is located. (We had a washer there but the lines froze up during the winter months and we moved everything to the basement.) Since I milk seasonally, having a sink in that space (and draining the hoses in the winter) would give me an area to not only wash my milking equipment but also wash up produce when I am canning/freezing it. Even if I don’t get the utility sink, the area is conveniently located to my kitchen and I have a large farm sink there where it is easy to wash my milking equipment and then return it to the porch for drying and storing. It is a far cry from my spacious milk kitchen that Mike built me back in Staunton that was dedicated solely to the milking process, cheese making and food preservation. At that time, I was milking twelve cows and sharing 90 gallons or milk or more a week with my share members. This arrangement works well for Mike and I and the smaller volume of milk and produce that we have now.
During this whole process of cleaning the back porch and making it functional, I kept making trips to the basement to get storage containers. As I walked down the steps, I thought I saw movement and my mind actually registered “snake” but dismissed that idea as fast as it came. Every since we bought this house I have had in the back of my mind that eventually I would find snakes in the basement. We live in the perfect environment between woodlands and wetlands and old houses are frequently known to harbor snakes. I am not one of those who screams in fear upon seeing a snake. I have a healthy respect for them but I am not terrified of them. I also know they hold tremendous value in the eco system. Giving the idea that I saw movement and that it might be a reptile only a passing thought, I hurried over to sort through the storage containers to find one with a lid of the right dimensions. As I was focusing on sorting containers and finding lids I felts something tickle the top of my bare foot and looking down, I saw a small snake slithering across quickly. I jumped back in surprise and uttered an unintelligent noise somewhere between surprise and disgust and then when it all registered, I started laughing at myself. By this time, the small snake had slithered off and under the door, hiding in the root cellar somewhere. I determined to try to find it later and relocate it to a safe space outside my house. At this time, that plan has not come to fruition because I have been unable to find the snake. I had not seen a snake like this one that almost resembled an oversized earthworm and when I began researching it, I am fairly certain that it is the reclusive worm snake that is not seen very often. Why it was slithering across my foot and the basement floor, I have no clue because their habitat is typically under logs and leaves where they dine on earth worms. I could be wrong about the type of snake it was because my glimpse was so fleeting, but the similarities of the snake to an overgrown night crawler leaves me wondering if I perhaps I did get a glimpse of this hard to view creature.
My organizing and cleaning of the back porch naturally led to my needing to organize other areas. As I put things away in cupboards I decided to reorganize some things in the kitchen as well. For me, it takes a little bit of time to know how I need to lay things out for optimal function. With such small and very full kitchen, the more organized I can be, the better things flow when I am trying to cook or prep and preserve produce. I was happy with the results at the end of the day while realizing it wouldn’t be long until things were out of their rightful place once again. At least for a while I will feel “put together”.
Evening brought milking, gathering of the eggs, supper and clean up. I wonder if I will ever get use to the idea of not calling grandma each evening? After establishing a routine of calling her every night for six years, it is hard for me to forgo that part of the evening. My cousin Lou has called several times and given the phone to Nan so she can talk to me and hear my voice. Nan is unable to really communicate but I know she still loves to hear the sound of my voice and it is an opportunity for me to tell her again that I love her. Our service being so poor in Laurel Fork, I missed a call from her one day and she left a message on voice mail. I didn’t even get the notice that a voice mail had been left until two days later when I happened to be in another county with good cell phone service at the time and the messages finally came through. I started sobbing when I heard how much effort it took for her to say a few simple things. She struggled with every word. Mike tries to console me at times like this but I don’t know that there is anything he could say or do that would make it better. I just need to feel the emotions that well up inside of me, and work through them. He doesn’t want to see me hurting and wants to be able to fix it. I exclaimed through my tears that “it wasn’t fair” knowing full well even as I said it that life isn’t fair and none of us are immune to pain and suffering. I didn’t mean it wasn’t fair for me. I meant that my sweet, loving, grandmother whose whole life was dedicated to serving God and His children and who had never, that I had seen, ever spoken an ill word, been critical, or unloving towards anyone would have to suffer this horrible, crippling end to her beautiful life. Never would I have ever imagined this for her and I am still horrified by the rapid decline and the crippling affects the dementia have had on her and the changes it has made in her actions and behaviors. It is almost more than I can stand to see her suffer and to know there is not a damn thing I can do about it. I fluctuate from quiet acceptance of the situation knowing there’s nothing I can do to make it better to internal rage that there is nothing I can do about it. I cry out to God for peace for her, not for me. In the midst of all this pain there are people whose love and support are a continual source of comfort to the family. Then, there are those others who continue to seek for ways to find fault, criticize, and demonize those of us who love Nan the most. I am reminded of the quote by William Paul Young from the book THE SHACK where he says, “I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.” I try to remind myself that for every person who attempts to tear us down, intentionally or unintentionally, there are dozens more who want only to build us up and support us.
Sunday, I woke early, my hip hurting so badly that I couldn’t rest anymore. For several hours I stayed awake, finally dozing off again and then oversleeping. I got up just after 8 am and had to rush to get ready for church. Our church continues to have various clergy fill in and several of our “regulars” are no longer able to be with us for now. One man, a retired Presbyterian minister lives locally and is taking some time off until closer to fall. Another, a seminary professor at King’s College in Bristol, is on sabbatical in Germany for at least one year and possibly longer. Yesterday, we had a “new to us” minister who spends part of his time in Florida and part of his time in the Blue Ridge. He was ordained in the Methodist Church, spent 20 years in the military as a chaplain, and has now been ordained (not sure that is the correct terminology) as a Episcopal priest and serves in various Episcopal churches in Florida as well as filling in for churches of various denominations along the Blue Ridge. I greatly appreciate the variety and different perspectives that each speaker at our church brings with them. It is as if we get a fresh look at some familiar passages with each perspective. We are truly blessed to be such a small congregation and yet to hear such wonderful speakers share their knowledge and experiences. After church we stood around talking for close to an hour and then came home and had leftovers. I had found a couple of puppies I wanted to look at in Floyd County. I didn’t realize it was quite as far away and we had to drive almost an hour. The drive was beautiful, mostly along the Parkway, and then on some one lane back roads until we eventually ended up at a very nice sheep farm. There were two pups left and I wanted to take them both home with me but decided to sleep on it. Of course, once I got home, the man sent a text and told me that one of the puppies had sold and there was just one left. I still have not made a decision on the final puppy. I will probably procrastinate until he is gone too.
June 26, 2018
Late Sunday afternoon on the way home from looking at the puppies, Mike and I stopped at Floyd Country Store to listen to the folk who gather there to sing and play. We have been there on a Saturday as a band was finishing up and the place was packed. We were not sure what to expect on a Sunday afternoon but found the store relatively empty compared to last time we were there when it was standing room only. We found a seat right behind the musicians. Normally I want to hold back a little bit and be further away while I observe but remembering how crowded the place was the last time we were there, I wanted to leave space at the tables for folks who were eating. Things started off a little slow and the few musicians who were there seemed worried that some of the other folks who normally play with them were not going to show up. A jam session is opportunity for anyone to show up and play and I guess they just never know what kind of a mix they are going to get. About the time that I was thinking things were not going well for the group, a vivacious middle-aged lady walked in lugging a huge base. I could tell instantly that the party had now started. She was the undesignated spokesperson and leader of the group, friendly and in charge. As we have attended these jam sessions in various places, we have noticed they are all the same in the fact that they go around the circle of musicians giving each one of them the chance to pick a song they want to sing and/or play while the rest of the group accompanies them. I have been to sessions at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the parkway where things seemed a little more reserved and less welcoming toward those who were not part of “the click”. They didn’t discourage new folks from joining in, but it didn’t seem like they welcomed it either. This group of musicians was more free spirited and welcoming and soon drew in the “visiting” musicians encouraging them to participate. I really enjoyed the atmosphere. We ended up staying for the entire two hours.
Mike had intended on leaving Sunday evening and going back to Staunton to work on making hay but we got reports from several people that the area received yet another substantial bit of rain. Mike decided to wait a few days to give things time to dry out again if possible. We had no set plans for Monday but it was overcast with a good bit of rain in the forecast for Laurel Fork. Mike decided to use his time Monday morning to make another raised bed. He attached it to the end of the first one he made that sits in the yard area outside our picnic shelter and between the board fence and the driveway. Now the raised beds sit together in an L shape with the new bed being a little longer than the first one. He asked me to come monitor the cows while he moved dirt from an area in the section I refer to as “the back forty” although where he was going wasn’t far from the barn. He had to go through two gates and with the cattle separated into groups and the one gate opening up to the yard and then the road, we didn’t want to take a chance of the cattle getting out. I decided to put the momma cows in the barn with their babies. They were happy to go inside as they anticipated getting a treat. In fact, as soon as they see me coming now, they think they are going to get milked and head for the barn for their treats. That left one gate free to be unmonitored and I could just watch the top gate. Jerseys are so curious and they were all over us as soon as we started going through the gate. The first time through for Mike, one of the cows followed the loader and slipped by the gate. I got her back with the others and they stood around a few minutes trying to figure out what was going on until they realized that Mike had left the door to the shed that attaches to the back of the barn open. We typically keep that closed and they were excited to find new territory to explore. They trotted off together and didn’t come back to the gate the entire time. I stood and opened the gate over and over as Mike hauled dirt and I could not figure out why it was taking so many trips until Mike explained that he was filling dirt in beside the big maple tree along the driveway. He has been slowly working on problem areas where the banks erode by adding dirt, packing it down, and then planting grass.
Once we finished that project, we cleaned up and went to Hillsville. Mike wanted to look for a few seeds and I needed a few things from the grocery store. We also needed some tags to price some antiques. I usually buy the tags at Staples but there was nothing closer than Mt Airy and we didn’t want to drive to Mt Airy. We hit several different farm supply stores, one has choices even in Hillsville and we went into a little office and church supply store “downtown” Hillsville and got a handful of tags. After leaving Hillsville, we drove out to Vesta, which is a lovely drive along the parkway, to pick up some tomatoes and an onion from a local farm store. We enjoyed chatting with the owner for a while and finding out that he used to have a dairy in Laurel Fork, not too far from where we now own property. He had gotten out of the dairy business when he started growing produce back in the mid 1980’s. Now in his early 70’s, he doesn’t grow the volume of produce that he used to grow and relies on other farmers to stock his store.
As we approached home, the sky got darker and darker and I was fearful that we were going to have a bad storm. Typically, I am not too worried. We just “hunker down” inside of the house as these heavy thunderstorms spring up seemingly out of nowhere in the mountains and dump rain on us while the streams roar outside our doors. We have an in-house generator for those times when the electricity goes out. But this time, I knew that I needed to be in the barn with the cattle because it was time to milk. We do not have an automated generator set up for the barn, and while it isn’t critical that I milk the cows every day (since they have such hearty, healthy calves on them taking most of the milk), I really wanted to continue so as to establish a routine with them until they are use to the new place. I quickly carried in the groceries, putting the refrigerated items away, and then putting the milking machine together. As I ran to the barn, it was starting to rain and the sky was black all around us. The limbs on the big maples and elms were blowing and the cows were hurrying to the barn. It seemed as if everything was in motion and there was the eerie look of a storm that means business. Mike wasn’t far behind me and we had all no sooner gotten under cover than the sky opened up. Mike worries about the two, old elm trees that sit next to the barn. The old trees offer shade but present a real threat to the structure. If he had a way to bring those trees down himself without them falling on the barn, he would have already cut them. He talked to several people about cutting them down, but everyone is afraid that the trees will fall on the barn when they cut them. So, we are left holding on to hope that they don’t cause damage during storms. I love the old trees and don’t want them cut down, but I am very aware of the danger and harm they can cause during a violent storm. Once inside with the cattle munching away at the feeding trough, the sound of the rain on the metal roof, and the mountain streams rushing past the back of the barn, there was something joyful and comforting to me as we hung out in the dim glow of the barn lights and listened to the storm outside.
June 27, 2018
My grandma is always in my thoughts. Often, the tears flow but just as often, the sweet memories flood my mind and I smile at some thought. Grieving the loss of someone while they are still living is hard. Grief is hard no matter what the circumstances and we just have to do the best we can. That’s what I am doing. I think most of the time I am handling it in a healthy manner but I have struggled a bit this week. It is so hard for me to watch my grandmother suffer. I just never would have dreamed that her last days would be like this and the reality of it just breaks my heart. In the midst of that, there is the knowing that we are doing all we can do and it just isn’t enough. Yet, it is all that we can do. That knowledge is frustrating and hard to accept. My mind just keeps going through scenarios to try to figure out some way to make it better, only to come once again to the conclusion that this is it. The tongues wag and people still don’t get it. I am so shocked at the blindness of people and their inability to show compassion at times when it is needed the most. Are we as a people so caught up in ourselves that when pain and suffering are blatant we can’t even recognize it? Are we so caught up in our own world that we can’t see the needs of others because we are too busy with our preconceived ideas and our own individual need to manipulate situations to our own liking or agenda? Or does the suffering of others cause us to run in fear and hide away from it, as if it will go away as long as we don’t look? Do we criticize and seek to crush those who are doing all they can to make the best of a difficult situation? These questions and more must be considered when we encounter suffering of any kind and feel our own uncomfortableness at unpleasant situations. We are all guilty of handling things incorrectly and I am not immune to being critical, judgmental, or turning my head away from the pain of others. I like to think that I am empathetic and kind, a person who recognizes the needs of others and tries to respond with wisdom and compassion. Yet, going through each difficulty that life so carefully wraps and presents to me, I peel away the layers only to gasp at myself in life’s reflective mirror. I would like to point fingers and say that the anger I am feeling is vindicated, but when I look closely into that unwrapped package I see that it all comes back to just me. The words and actions of others will only bring scars if I allow them. Learning to accept difficulties as a gift sometimes seems impossible to me. A situation occurred over the weekend that I at first dismissed and tried to tell myself that I just didn’t care what that person said or thought but I couldn’t get the situation off my mind. Wrought with the hurts from previous misunderstandings and mishandled scenarios in which this individual was involved, I tried to console myself with the fact that grandma’s condition meant no one can ever manipulate or misguide her again. But the more I thought about the way this individual dismisses those closest to Nan, seeks out information from other sources, and then twists the facts to their own liking, the angrier I became. When I tried to talk to someone close to me and their response was, “I thought you were doing better with this, but I guess I was wrong”, I shut down. I felt inadequate and “wrong” for having the feelings that I have. Those repressed feelings then made me deeply sad and depressed. I awoke with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that I simply could not shake. That feeling of all encompassing and debilitating depression only lasted for about 24 hours and I am thankful that I am surrounded by people who love me as well as a beautiful and comforting lifestyle that brings me peace. Standing in that barn Monday evening as the storm threw itself furiously against the building, those old elms twisting and turning in the wind, as the rain beat down on the metal roof and the water rushed down the typically passive stream just outside the barn’s back door, I could feel the storm’s force within my soul. But I was tucked safely away inside an old building that had withstood many storms with my cattle safely around me and my husband within reach. In that moment, the fear, hurt and anger I had been feeling were subdued as I gave myself to the storms presence and just allowed myself to be.
Yesterday was better. The storms that raged inside and out had washed the eyes of my soul of just enough of the hurt that I could see clearly again. The importance of not allowing disappointments to rob us of inner peace and joy is delicately balanced with allowing ourselves the freedom to not suppress our feelings but to rather find ways to address them each time they arise. I am not sure I will ever get the balance “just right” but I also don’t have to beat myself up because I am not perfect.
I got the news last night that Nan isn’t eating. She hasn’t opened her eyes in a couple of weeks, now she won’t eat, and she doesn’t assist the staff as they try to move her and care for her. Our cousin, Lou, continue to be with her as much as possible but is unable to assist her by herself now. It takes three nurses to move Nan’s mere 130 pounds because she doesn’t assist in any way. I don’t know if it is the dementia that has taken complete control of her body or if Nan has just given up. I couldn’t help last night after I learned of this news to think that Nan has given up on this life but is still maintaining the control that she has fought so hard for over the past few years. As her mind has slipped and she has struggled against it, she has fought harder and harder for control over the things she could still manage. While at times that made our task of caring for grandma quite difficult, I am glad that we found every way we could to allow her to maintain her independence for as long as we could. I know we made the right choices in that, no matter what anyone else thinks. I can’t help but think that now she is exerting herself in a manner that gives her the only control left over what happens to her. She shut her eyes tightly to this world almost two weeks ago and absolutely refuses to open t hem, even though the doctor says there is no reason why she couldn’t see if she would just open her eyes. She refuses to move those arms and legs to assist the staff in finding ways to engage her in this world she no longer wants to be a part. And now, she simply doesn’t want to eat. I do not fault her or judge her. Something inside of me says this is her final battle and she will find a way to face what life has dealt her not on our terms, but on hers. It rips my heart out but I am so very proud of her for all that she is. Her mind and body might be ravaged by age and dementia but her strong spirit will find its own way to fight to the very end.
How fitting that while my soul struggled with all of this, an unannounced visitor made her presence known just outside my kitchen window as I prepared a late supper. I was making chicken fried steak and milk gravy when I glanced out the kitchen window and just a few feet away was a dark colored dog. I had to lean up over the sink and peer over the window seal to see it better because it was close enough that I couldn’t see it otherwise. It was then I realized it wasn’t a big dog, but rather a bear! Not wanting to scare it away until Mike could witness it, I ran quickly to the top of the basement stairs and whispered loudly, “Mike, Mike, come here, come here quick! I have something to show you. Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up.” I couldn’t contain my excitement and together we looked out the window again to see the bear headed toward our back steps. I feel certain she was probably after the hummingbird feeder but when she heard us, she turned and strolled further into the back yard where I had hung a bird feeder. Standing on her back legs, she stretched out long and tall, took the top of the curved post that held the feeder and pulled it down to the ground where she sat and licked the feed enjoying her snack. I had grabbed my camera and was taking pictures through the window. It appeared she was going to stay for a while, so Mike and I decided to step out onto the back porch where we could see her without glass and walls between us. I remarked to Mike that if she started towards us, we needed to go back into the house. This is not my first bear adventure, and having lived in Alaska for so many years, I am aware of how quickly they can move. There was only a few yards and some porch railing between us and the bear and I knew she could cover that ground quickly if she wanted to. We talked in quiet but normal voices trying decide what to do about the bear. My amusement over her presence began to change to worry as I thought about the cattle, the chickens and the fact this probably would not be her last visit. We decided we should discourage her from eating the food from the feeder and Mike threw his hands out and raised his voice a bit and told her to get out of here. She looked at us for a minute and then ambled off quickly across the yard and into the undergrowth beneath the pines. I worried that she would circle around and get into the chicken house, which was open, and where I had feed stored in plastic tubs. I knew that she could easily and quickly open the tubs and feast on the food and wreak havoc. In Alaska, I have seen our camp destroyed by bear and know their capabilities. I would have taken a gun with me to the chicken pen, having been trained to never face a bear without a weapon, but Mike took off despite my protests empty handed to lock up the chicken house. When he returned, he told me he saw the bear walking up past the springs and across the back forty headed towards the nearest neighbor’s place with her nose in the air.
I smiled when I thought about the bear. I know the danger perhaps even better than many having seen the destruction a large bear can make and knowing personally people who have been attacked by bears and lived to tell about it. I am a cautious person and will take steps to protect our livestock and ourselves knowing we have a curious and busy bear in the neighborhood. But, I could not help but smile at the bear, and the memories it brought to me of Alaska. I wanted to be able to call my grandma and tell her about the bear but I knew her ability to follow my conversation was gone. Instead, I thought about the sense of adventure she and my grandpa had instilled in me and the passion for life that they always exhibited. I can’t imagine anyone’s grandparents being more fun than mine were and I was privileged to share so many adventures with them during my lifetime. Those times together played a major roll in molding me and making me who I am today. Later, as I soaked my aching bones in the hot bath water, I prayed for grandma’s peace. I asked God to give her visions of Pa, my mother Beverly, my son Josh, Nan’s mother and Father and a glimpse of heaven in her dreams. I prayed for her to rest and not struggle through the night as she has done now for years. She’s tired. She’s been tired a long time. I talked to God and then I talked to her knowing she could not physically hear me but believing in my heart that there is a bond stronger than the physical that allows us at supernatural times to connect with someone we love. Call me crazy, but I experienced that when my son left this earth. Before I received word of the event that claimed his life, my son’s spirit connected with mine and I knew he was leaving this world. Sitting there in that tub I made a conscious effort to speak my heart to my grandmother. I told her how much she meant to me (as I have spoken to her and written to her a million times before) and I told her that I was ok with whatever time she decides is best for her to leave this world. There was at time when I was a little girl and even as I grew into a teenager that I was terrified to think of losing my grandmother. I had lost my mother at the tender age of seven and just the thought of ever losing my grandmother would make my heart spasm and big tears run down my face. I don’t want to lose her even now but I love her too much to see her suffering and I know that she has been her long enough to make sure that I will be ok. Maybe I will get the chance to “let her go” in person. When I return to her soon like I promised, providing she is still with us physically, I will tell her again how much she means to me as I do each time I am able to speak to her on the phone and write to her in notes and letters. I want her to know she is loved and how much she has meant to my life. And, I want her to know that when she is ready to go, I will do my best to be brave, strong and carry on the things that she has instilled in me.
June 28, 2018
We opened a new booth in a new location yesterday. We have debated for almost a year as to whether or not to expand. We can be so indecisive about things at times. I can see every angle of every situation usually. I pick things apart in my head and think about the pros and cons. Mike isn’t any better. He debates and debates about a decision. Finally, after a year’s worth of discussion, we decided since we are covering our rent and the cost of merchandise every month, and since we are gluttons for punishment and enjoy providing labor for free, that we would go ahead and rent a booth in Galax at Briar Patch Antiques. We spent almost all day on Tuesday pricing items for sale. What we had was pretty much a conglomeration of “left over” and “odd” items from here and there to get started. We had a lot of small items or “smalls” as they are referred to by dealers. It takes a lot longer to price all the small items, assign them an inventory number and make the tags than it does to price a few larger items. We worked quickly but still it took us about five hours. It did feel good to get things cleaned up and free up some more space. Our garage begins to look like a flea market after a while and we have to purge every few months. It’s always a little tense because I want it all to go, one way or another. Whatever isn’t going to sell, I want to take and donate. My ideas of what will sell and Mike’s are different. I look for eye appealing and unique novelty items. Mike has an eye for a lot of the salvage items, tools, and vintage equipment. Together, I think we balance each other out and do all right. However, when I want to toss, he usually wants to save and as the things pile up in our garage, I just close my eyes and remind myself that is his space. I think we were both relieved to make some space in the garage and to finally make a definitive decision about opening another booth. Since we are in Southwest Virginia now more than we are in the valley, I am looking forward to being able to work this booth and get it going. It has been my experience that booths evolve. This one is certainly in the evolutionary process, but it has good bones. The one thing we don’t like is that the booth is downstairs and there just isn’t nearly the traffic downstairs. A lot of folks simply won’t go downstairs to shop. Yesterday we were in Galax by 8:30 unloading our trailer before traffic and on street parking got bad. Everyone was super nice including the owner, the manager and the parking enforcer walking the streets who told us it didn’t matter that we had taken up five parallel parking spaces with our truck and trailer and not to worry about it. I had been a little nervous about getting things from the street to the booth, going down two flights of steps, but everything went exceptionally well. Mike just let me do my thing and assisted by putting up shelves and moving the heavy items for me. Again, we usually have such a difference of opinion in how to display things, neither of us being right or wrong, but just having a different focus. One thing I love about this booth is it has an L shaped divider that looks like the corner of a house with a window. We were able to set up an area outside of that for the galvanized buckets, gas cans, handmade wagon, vintage tools, etc. It kind of gives us one space but with and area for the more rustic, outdoor things and then the other section for the vintage homemaking type items. While the booth has a long way to go to be what I envision, I felt we made a great start on it. Galax is 45 minutes away, and unlike Verona where I can run over from the house in about five minutes, getting there will have to be more planned than spontaneous. We do attend a variety auction quite often in Galax and our plan is to go straight from the auction house on Saturdays to the booth, stocking and straightening it while we are in town. Selling in Southwest Virginia will be a learning curve. The seasons are different here with late spring through fall being peak. It seems opposite in the valley, with summer being a slump in the antique business. Also, while some things sell across the board when priced right, some things seem to sell better in one location than the do another.
When we got home yesterday afternoon, I worked around the house and vacuum sealed blueberries for the freezer. Mike worked on trimming the weeds and setting up electric netting fence so that we can turn the momma cows out with their babies into a larger area for a few days until they eat that area down. Then, we will move the fence and give them another area. In this manner, we can use the abundant grass cover rather than feed hay. We don’t want to turn the cows I am milking out with their babies to freely roam the back forty. There’s just too much space for them to roam making it difficult to get them in for milking and potentially predators that could harm the calves. This gives us more control and allows them new grass to graze. Mike is hooking up the solar charger today and we will turn the cows out. We didn’t’ want to do it at dark so that we could watch them the first day. There is no real fear because even if the cows get out of the electric netting, they are still contained within the permanent, perimeter fencing. It is amazing, in just one week, how much grass the three cows have eaten on their one-acre lot around the barn.
I don’t usually drink coffee in the evening, but I made a pot of coffee last night and sat on the front porch sipping coffee and rocking, watching the deer in the meadow across the road. The neighboring mules have been moved for the summer and will return in the fall leaving the area across the road all to the wildlife. It is not unusual to see deer, turkey, geese and sometimes a heron, all coexisting and partaking of nature’s bounty in that meadow. Just the other day we saw three adult deer and a fawn running and playing in the same manner my Jersey calves run and play, darting here and there across the field and back again as fast as their legs will take them. As I sat and rocked I laughed to myself as I thought, “Hey, I’m a granny sitting in my rocking chair on my front porch watching the wildlife and how did I get to this place in my life in such a short amount of time?” It seems like just yesterday that I was a teenager, eager to take on the world and confident that I would do things differently and better than my parents. I wouldn’t make the mistakes they made and my life would easier, more fun, and better overall. And here I am, half a century of life complete, and I realize that while I maybe avoided some of their mistakes, I made my own, and life wasn’t any easier. It might have been better at times, but it was worse at times, and the only thing I can say for sure is that I have had a lot of fun living out so many adventures and doing so many of the things that I really wanted to do. There were a few things left undone but at this point in my life, I don’t look back with regret. Besides, although I don’t know how many days I have left on this earth, each day gives me an opportunity to achieve more of my goals and live my life fully. The difference between the child and the “granny” is that I have a clearer picture of what is actually important and I am able to strip away a lot of the expectations I took upon myself that were not my own.
June 29, 2018
I have been reading a book I picked up at Nan’s house that I had given to her many years ago. I read it before, maybe several times, but it is fun going through it once again at this stage of my life. The book, LITTLE HOUSE IN THE OZARKS written by the infamous Laurel Ingalls Wilder, is a collection of articles that were published individually in agricultural magazines and other periodicals. Mostly she writes about farming but she also expresses her thoughts and opinions on life in general in the small community in which she lived in the Ozark mountains. Almanzo, her husband, had suffered from poor health and they had moved to Florida only to find out that Florida did not suit either of them. They moved back to Missouri and bought a small farm, later buying additional acreage. Together, at what we would consider “middle aged”, they took the farm from neglect and abuse to thriving and productive partnering together throughout the process. I doubt there are any books I have read more than Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. I started them not too many years after I learned to read and read them multiple times for my own pleasure, always dreaming of having my homestead someday. When my children were born, I began reading the books aloud to them before they were old enough to read. I think they might have been two and three years old the first time I began reading the books aloud to them. A while back, someone gave me a huge compliment when they said to me that my writing style and stories reminded them of Laura’s. While I was extremely touched that my writing reminded the reader of someone as wonderful as Ms. Wilder, I did not see it in my writing (but was thankful for the comparison). While I can’t begin to accept that my writing abilities would match that of this famous author, I was a little shocked to pick up the book by her that I am currently reading and recognize some similarities in writing style. In her short articles, she chronicles different improvements that she and her husband have made to their farm, often describing things in detail to give the reader a clear picture of the process. One can feel the thrill of each goal accomplished as they tried to make improvements to the land. She writes with strong desire to preserve the land for future generations and with the knowledge that the land is only “ours” for a short amount of time. She also draws parallels and observations of farm life and life as a whole, giving way for personal reflection and her opinions. I was shocked as I read one night and thought “This passage could have been plucked from my journal” for the sentiments and expressions were so typical to my own. I suppose noting that my writing holds in some way the influence and similarities of an author from so long ago is not only a testament to the type of literature on which I feasted from a young age, but also gives validity to the fact that as far back as I can remember, living a homesteading/farming lifestyle has been my dream. My goals met with obstacle after obstacle throughout the years but the desire within me was as compulsive as taking my next breath of air. Each time I was delayed in reaching my goals, I felt as if I were suffocating. And while it is true that my ex husband and I purchased a small piece of remote Alaskan property on accessible by boat in the summer and by crossing the frozen river in the winter, the personal conflict between us and our deteriorating relationship kept us from ever building on that land and living there. I lived out pieces of the dream in rented cabins and homes from Alaska to Wyoming to Montana and Colorado. The dream was often set aside so that I could care for my children and try to get by in a relationship that was challenging and abusive. So much of my dream came together for me when Mike and I married. I had a loving husband who treated me well and whose family for generations had farmed. The wild element of “taming unclaimed land” was no longer present, but I was more than happy to settle down into the arms of a man whose love offered me the stability I had never known. Because Mike and his family had been in that location “forever”, it never crossed my mind that we would do anything different with our lives other than farm the family property. Life has a way of surprising us when we least expect it and sometimes those surprises bring us full circle. So here I am, a woman in the second half of life, with my little homestead situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. At 50 years of age, for the first time in my life, I became co-owner with my husband of a house that I had just as much say about choosing as my partner. Instead of having regrets that I was not able to experience my dreams in full earlier in my life, I am extremely thankful for all the adventures I had along the way, the lessons learned, and the gratitude that I feel having had to wait so long for those dreams to come to fruition. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t look around me with thankfulness for the opportunity Mike and I have in this place. Can I compare my writing to that of Laura Ingalls Wilder? Not with good conscience because of my deep respect for her life and work. However, I am not ashamed to admit that I still admire and enjoy her work. Finding similarities to which I can relate brings me great joy. That is what the written word does: It offers a means of connecting minds and hearts. When one reads something that resonates, it is as if our own thought process has been validated. Whether it is reading of the Wilder’s gravity feed water system, the reclaiming of their neglected Ozark property, their attention to preserving the forests and wild life, Laura’s wise insights into various aspects of human nature, or just the telling of a good story as she did with her children’s series, reading the words of Laura Ingalls Wilder has never failed to stir my heart and stimulate my mind.
July 2, 2018
Friday I mostly worked on windows, cleaning, and organizing around the house and outside. I spent several hours weeding the flower beds and mowing the easier portions of the yard. Mike spent a few hours picking blueberries and then worked on outdoor farm projects for the rest of the day. We decided to attend an auction on Saturday but first went by a small, locally owned business where Mike had seen a Kubota RTV for sale and had previously spent a good bit of time talking to the man selling it. Mike’s dad had bought a Polaris before he passed away and Mike and his nephew use that on the farm back in Verona. I never had the use of one at our house in Staunton and always put my milking equipment on a child’s wagon and pulled it back and forth from the milking shed to the milk kitchen. Pulling the wagon with milk and equipment always gave me a good work out. We knew when we bought this mountain property that an all-terrain vehicle would end up being a necessity. While I love walking and seek out occasion to do so, with cattle on the “back forty”, the need to check fences on a regular basis, and just the steep terrain in general making it difficult to access the property, the functional, four-wheel drive Kubota is going to be a real asset. Besides, as I get older and it gets harder to pull the wagon with equipment and milk up and down the steep hills, having the RTV will save my back. In addition, the lightly used vehicle came with a snow plow and we can use that to break through the snow on our driveway in the winter time. With our tractors and big equipment still being used in Staunton by Mike and his nephew, the little vehicle and blade will be perfect for our mountain property. We pulled a trailer with the Kubota to the auction house and spent the morning there. We didn’t buy much but I got a couple of good deals on some shelf lots for $5 each. (A shelf lot is when they take all the remaining small items and lump them together and sell them to the highest bidder.) Shelf lots usually require a good bit of work, as there are less than desirable items that need to find a home either in the trash or at a thrift store. The remaining items are usually small and require a good bit of time to sort out and price individually. Such was the case with the two shelf lots that I won at the auction. I also got canning jars for practically nothing as well. Mike bought an adorable, hand crafted mailbox with wooden shingled roof shaped and hand painted as a little red barn. He gave it to me as a gift and even installed it as soon as we got home. My not so great purchase was a set of Pyrex nesting bowls that I didn’t inspect before buying (because I didn’t see them until the auctioneer held them up for bids). The largest bowl was nicked along the edge. The other bowls should bring in value what I paid for the set, but I will most likely only break even on that purchase due to my being unobservant in this instance.
Saturday evening, I really wanted to get some things done around the house as I felt that I had “wasted” my day sitting at the auction. I am a very goal oriented and progress driven individual. Mike, however, really wanted me to just spend the rest of the evening with him, piddling around and doing odd jobs outside, including mounting the new mailbox. So, I just set aside what I had planned for the evening and spent the time with Mike. We also took a ride on the Kubota to the back forty. It was a nice day and a nice evening and I didn’t accomplish a darn thing other than spending time with my husband, but that is, in fact, accomplishing a lot. I am thankful for these times. I am thankful that we can make our relationship and our time together a priority. For so many years, everything else came first and I don’t take for granted that we are able to be together both in work and in recreation.
Sunday was church with a meal afterwards. I have honestly never been to a church that let more like “community” than this one. Never have I wanted to stay for meals or hang out with the people I attended church with, in all the years that I have lived and all the churches I have attended. This church is different. I look forward to the once a month meals and the gathering of friends. I have enjoyed so much learning to know the sweet people at Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian. I was thinking yesterday that I feel that I have made more solid connections and friendships that will strengthen and grow with time in the last year here in Southwest Virginia than I did the twelve years of living in the Valley. I’m not sure exactly why that is and I have not given it enough thought to really sort it out. I am sure the reasons are varied and within the equation lies my own hesitancy to open myself up to close relationships with anyone until I feel safe. My own isolation after Josh’s death and all the grief that I was processing definitely played a part as well in my not being able to connect with others. Here, all the pieces have come together allowing me to feel safe and loved as well as to have easy connections to these dear people who love these mountains as much as I do. Some of them have lived here all of their lives and others have moved to the area because they too were drawn to its simple charms and natural beauty. For all these reasons and more, Sunday feed my soul, and that is what Sundays are meant to do.
Mike looks to me to plan things. He is a doer and can get more done in a day than three men half his age. But, he is not a planner so to speak. He knows what needs to be done but his approach is to run full speed towards one thing and then divert to another that draws his attention only to be pulled to two or three more jobs before he darts back to the original and juggles them all expertly but with a method that appears haphazard and confusing to someone like me who needs more order. When explaining the difference in our approach, I usually cite the example of working in the garden together. When gathering produce, I start at the first row, gather the produce to the end of that row and then proceed to the next row until I am finished. I can’t stand to not cover every inch of the entire section, wanting to gather it all in an orderly fashion. Mike may start in the middle of the patch and in the middle of a row. He may pick half a row and then jump to a different row. Or, he may go to another area of the garden altogether and pick something different for a while. He will call, “Come over here! There’s lots of beans (or whatever we are picking) in this spot.” I will reply, “No, I don’t want to mess up my order and I want to finish this row.” I tease him about it and we laugh. Mike’s spontaneity and ability to keep multiple projects going at the same time have served him well and I love him for who he is. I need him to balance out my tendency to become rigid and overly focused and to help me to be more flexible. On the flip side, when not juggling all the farm work, Mike tends to get lost without clear cut direction as to what we are going to do with our day. Thus, with anything that requires scheduling or planning, he looks to me to make it happen. I had thought that we would go back to Floyd Country Store and enjoy again the musicians that we heard last week and Mike agreed that would be fun. However, when we got home from church, Mike dozed off. Typically, Mike doesn’t sleep well or long whether it is at night or the occasional nap during the day. After a while, it was evident to me that he was getting some much-needed rest and I just didn’t want to interrupt that. I knew that he had a busy week ahead as he returned to Staunton to work on getting up 50 acres or more of hay. I let him rest and I changed course, by pulling out lots of small items that needed pricing for our booths at the antique malls. It ended up being a quiet evening at home and I accomplished a good bit and felt like I had a jump start on the week ahead.
Reading quickly over what I have written these past few weeks, I gasped when I read the section where I had poured out my heart and soul in prayer, seeking to connect with Nan's spirit and asking the Father to grant her visions of heaven, Pa, my mother, Josh, and her loved ones. Within a few days, my brother texted me, not knowing of the frantic cry of my heart, to tell me that Nan told him Pa had come to visit her telling her he couldn't stay but that in a few days she would go where he was. We know not how long her days are on this earth or how much longer she must suffer, but the peace that this "encounter" brought her is tangible. Thanks be to God.
Reading quickly over what I have written these past few weeks, I gasped when I read the section where I had poured out my heart and soul in prayer, seeking to connect with Nan's spirit and asking the Father to grant her visions of heaven, Pa, my mother, Josh, and her loved ones. Within a few days, my brother texted me, not knowing of the frantic cry of my heart, to tell me that Nan told him Pa had come to visit her telling her he couldn't stay but that in a few days she would go where he was. We know not how long her days are on this earth or how much longer she must suffer, but the peace that this "encounter" brought her is tangible. Thanks be to God.