January 11, 2018
We are back in Laurel Fork and the thought foremost in my mind is how wonderful it feels to not be cold. Last week was so reminiscent of my days in Alaska. The temperatures, of course, did not compare to the 50-60 below zero we had there during a cold snap, but the cold that radiated from the walls and windows and the winds that drove the cold into our poorly insulated farm house sure did remind me of those days. Today it was in the 50’s and raining and it just felt so good not to have that debilitating cold. I finally got the Christmas tree down today. I always leave my tree up until after Epiphany but because we had that whole section of the house blocked off as we tried to keep the rest of the house warm, the tree sat untouched until we returned to Laurel Fork this week. With it being warmer outside and comfortable inside, I was able to tolerate the closed off portion of the house and get the ornaments put away. (I had already taken down all the other decorations in the rest of the house.) Mike worked inside the barn as it was much to nasty to be trying to do anything outside. The ground was just saturated, soft and slimy. Anywhere we didn’t stay on gravel, cement, or blacktop, we simply slid or sunk into the mess. There’s a huge, attached shed on the back of the barn and it has a long, wooden, feeding trough in it that needs repair. We decided to take down the back section of the trough so that the cattle can have a lounging area in inclement weather and so that we can get a loader in there to clean it out. It was a quiet day and a day to get down to the nuts and bolts of all the little things that need to be done. Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday were busy days as we were in Staunton to catch up on things there. Mike always has things to do around the farm (home place in Verona where his mom lives and where his nephew is leasing now). When in Staunton Mike still eats breakfast with his mom, helps her around the place with anything she might need, helps Matt feed the cattle, catches up on delivering hay to customers, often helps Gabino cut wood so that we have wood for the outdoor boiler that heats our house in Staunton, works on equipment (this week it was brakes on one of the farm trucks), runs errands, and such. The winter routine is slower but still busy. (In the summer he is busy making hay and tending to the garden as well.) Monday was the first day of Alissa’s new schedule which keeps her away from home for about 14 hours. The girls were really good for me and Rory did well. She is much easier to keep now that she is walking and able to eat and drink well rather than just relying on nursing. (Neither of Alissa’s girls would take bottles hardly at all. Instead, they would just scream from hunger and wait for momma to get home to nurse them, which meant a long day for me as their caretaker.) I think they both really missed Mike and I while we were away from them for two weeks. Their being happy to have us home was part of the reason they were fairly content Monday with Alissa being gone. Tuesday, I spent half a day at the Antique Mall in Verona working on rearranging the booth and taking inventory. I anticipate needing another two, full afternoons to complete the inventory in that store. Sales have been really slow the last of December and first of January, but they were slow last year at this time as well. Alissa goes in to class later on Tuesday evenings than she did last semester which is good and bad. I had enough time to get supper made before she left which made it a little easier on me but it means she gets home later. After supper and baths, I took the girls downstairs to play where they could interact with Mike as well as he watched a ball game on television. Wednesday morning I packed another load of things to carry with us back to Laurel Fork and I caught up on the paperwork that had been sitting in Staunton waiting on me over Christmas. Gabino was late getting to the house to watch the girls because he was helping Mike. Alissa had to leave to teach her classes at Blue Ridge Community College, so I watched the girls for a while until they got back. The girls played well and I was able to get the downstairs swept and mopped. Rory likes to chase me around as I sweep and mop, so it’s always a circus, but the floors were at least a little cleaner. With all of us in and out so much, keeping the floors up is almost impossible and with a baby who likes to put everything in her mouth, it provides a real challenge. I think we finally got out the door around two on Wednesday. That last few minutes when we are trying to get everything packed up and remember to take everything we need is always the worst time of the week for us as far as our attitudes are concerned. It seems Mike and I inevitably snap and fuss at each other the whole time. Trying to stay organized and keep up with two different places that are almost three hours apart in distance can be a real challenge. It never fails though, once we get in that truck and head down the road we are able to get over whatever we have been fussing about, release the stress and usually get a laugh out of our stupidity. Maybe someday we will finally learn to just roll with the stress and stop biting each other’s heads off as the days in Staunton come to a head and we prepare to travel south. The traffic on Interstate 81 was as nasty as usual on a late Wednesday afternoon and we had not been on the road more than a few minutes when I realized I was absolutely starving. I am so busy when we are in Staunton, that I don’t stop to eat breakfast or lunch and typically just eat the evening meal. I had not had a bite to eat all day and had only had two meals in the last 72 hours. We stopped to eat when we got to Lexington. I inhaled my food! We got to the house after dark. We were hauling a very long cattle trailer. Mike had some supplies in it for the barn and he wanted to park it as close as he could to the house rather than leave it down along the road. We have a narrow bridge that goes over a lively stream right as you turn into our driveway and getting the truck and trailer in is not an easy task. I stood in the dark and watched the trailer as Mike pulled in the driveway. We had to start over a couple of times and I was a nervous wreck thinking that the tires would slide off the edge of the narrow bridge, but we made it over, and up the drive so that we didn’t have to carry everything so far. We unloaded the truck and settled in for the night. Every night I call my grandmother to check on her and to talk to her. Getting through to her can be a real challenge because she doesn’t always hear the phone. We have a system where if she has not heard from me by a certain time, then she calls me. This works well when I am in Staunton with good cell phone service, but it can be a challenge when I am in Laurel Fork. Often, calls do not even come through and when they do, there is only one spot in the house where I can talk and I have to stand very still so that I don’t lose the call. I never fail to get in touch with grandma one way or the other though. It is an important part of her routine and she depends on my calls and panics if she thinks she can’t get in touch with me. It is a way for me to know that she is ok before she heads for bed. In the event I can’t get in touch with her, I can call someone local who can go by and check on her. It is also a way for me to see how her day has gone. Some days go really well for her but a lot of days she gets confused about things. She likes to go to McDonalds on Tuesday and Saturday mornings with my cousin who sits with her. Many days now she gets confused and will be up well before dawn and ready to go to McDonalds on days that they are not schedule to go. My cousin, Lou, is so good to try to make my grandma feel comfortable and she will often go ahead and take her even on those days. Being a pastor’s wife for fifty years, church has always been a major focus for my grandmother, and she worries about getting ready for church in time and will often get up at 3 or 4 am and get ready on Sunday mornings. She told me this week that she called her pastor’s wife and asked her if they forgot her because she had been ready for so long and they never arrived to pick her up. It was not a Sunday and my grandmother was just confused about the day. My calls to her each evening give me an opportunity to hear from my grandmother about her day and to witness her frame of mind. Some days I can tell that the anxiety is greater. I know that as she struggles to remember things, she is aware that she is struggling, and this only makes it worse. We want her to be able to be comfortable and keep her routine as long as possible. It is so important to her to be able to remain at home, but it makes it a challenge for us to make sure that her needs are met. This is why I make frequent trips to check on her and keep her affairs in order as well as call her each night. My brother checks in on her multiple times a week and my cousin is there with her during the day except on “church days” when her pastor and his wife are checking in on her and taking her to church with them. We are working on possible funding from the Veteran’s Administration to provide her with an additional care giver for some afternoon and evening hours as well. Grandma gets upset and agitated if memory issues are mentioned and on one hand often tells people that “Tammy thinks I have dementia but I don’t”. She will turn around and tell them that she is unable to handle her business affairs anymore and that “Tammy handles all my business. It’s nice to have your own bookkeeper.” I don’t often write here in my journal of all the difficulties we face in caring for an elderly family member. Because there are a number of people who feel a personal connection with my grandparents who were mentors, surrogate parents, and adoptive grandparents to so many people over the years, there are those who feel they must try to step in and take over when they don’t really understand the full picture. It’s hard for those who only see a part of the picture to understand all the dynamics, and our family has suffered from interference of those who evidently thought they were helping but in fact were making certain situations more difficult for us. Sometimes, I feel very strongly the pull of being in the middle with trying so hard to take care of the grandchildren who are three hours to the north of us and trying to take care of my grandmother who is almost six hours south of us. Both generations are a blessing and I am tremendously thankful to be able to give of myself in both situations. I also get tired. I’m only human. I also often miss my mother, in a very selfish way, even after all these years. (I was seven when she passed away.) My mother was an only child and my brother and I her only children. That leaves us to look after my grandmother and while I am thankful for that opportunity, I often wonder what it would be like of my mother were here to guide me and show me the way.
January 12, 2018
I’m truly thankful that the folks who built our farmhouse put it on a bank ABOVE the creek rather than sitting down next to the water like so many of the old farmhouses I see in this area. These hills are full of springs and streams and many of the old homes, including ours, get their water through the use of a gravity feed system directly from the springs. I believe easy access to water is why so many of the homes were built on lower ground, coupled with the fact of easy access from the roads which at one time in the not too distant past were little more than one lane, gravel paths. Our home is definitely “in the holler” and a huge ravine sits to the side of the house that can become quite a stream when the conditions are right. In the front of the house two, spring fed streams come together to form Roades Creek. Our home sits on a knoll up above the creek where we can hear the sounds of the water and the frogs in the summer when the windows are open. This morning, that stream is rushing full force as all the water meets and swirls after a night of heavy rains. Had all this moisture met the cold from last week, we would be digging out from under a snow storm but with the temps in the 50’s this week, we are getting rain instead. I brought a pile of papers with me to organize and file and today will be a good day to work indoors. Of course, the rain always reminds me of my Josh who would never miss an opportunity to walk in the rain. His presence is always near but rainy days bring back precious memories of my special child.
January 13, 2018
Yesterday it rained, and rained, and rained, and rained. We had well over an inch of rain as we went into the evening and it continued raining well into the night. We could hear the creek rushing even with the windows closed and the competing noise from inside the house. The temperature began to drop as night fell and the winds continued to gust as they had been doing all day. Several times the power flickered and I wondered if we would end up using the generator that I insisted we have. We did not lose power and sometime in the night, the rain ended. In the upper 50’s yesterday, the temperatures have fallen into the twenties overnight, the wind is gusting up to 40+ miles an hour with wind chills below zero, and we are under a winter weather advisory as all that moisture is now frozen into ice on the roads. Yesterday was the first day that I felt a twinge of seasonal depression that I struggle with each winter. I kept busy and tried not to give into the winter doldrums. I was able to get a lot accomplished around the house and Mike worked inside the barn. It’s nice that he is able to have a dry place to work and he seems to enjoy the process. We have been somewhat relaxed about the whole process but are starting now to feel the urgency of getting things done. The winter will go by quickly and we really want to be able to move the animals by summer. I’m really trying to use up some of the preserved food that we have had around for a while. We have had so much excess in the last few years that the freezers are full of fruit, some of which is four years old. The quality of frozen food is so greatly diminished even within just six months. The only thing that kept any of this fruit even edible is the fact that a lot of it was vacuum sealed. I do run across some that wasn’t vacuum sealed and if it’s too old, I just have to throw it out because it is beyond edible. I came across a bag of blueberries while digging for fruit and made a cobbler with them in my iron skillet. It was so good and our grass finished burgers tasted especially good last night as well. We also had corn that I had cut off the cob and frozen back in the summer.
January 14, 2018
We twist and weave our way along the back roads between our place and Christiansburg where we catch the interstate. The first thirty minutes of the trip I look intently out the window, taking in the details, recognizing what is fast becoming familiar, as well as adding new details to memory. Since I was but a child, I have had a habit of staring at houses with curiosity. It’s not the houses themselves that intrigue me, although I do love the architecture; it’s the stories that are told within the walls. Even as a very young child, I would look at the lights shining from the windows at night from various homes we passed, and wonder about the people inside. So many of the houses we pass in the economically depressed areas of Southwest Virginia are abandoned. Others look like they should be abandoned, but are in fact, inhabited by folks obviously just trying hard to hang on. In my own way, I attempt a form of necromancy. Of course, I don’t actually attempt to “contact the dead”, but in my head, I try to experience the spirit of the people who once lived in these mountain homes. The abandoned buildings are clues that help me to conjure up a bit of the past. I’ve read books about the area and scrounged for information online. I’ve read some historic documents about the people who settled this place, and I see remnants of their spirit in those descendants who remain. In researching Carroll, Floyd, and some of the surrounding Southwest Virginia counties, I have found the fortitude, determination, individualism, independent spirit, and devotion to family that defines so many of the individuals that once lived in the area reminds me of my own Northwest Georgia Mountain heritage.
January 15, 2018
We have rolled around to another Monday. I have been up since 5 am. In Staunton, the house is heated only with wood by an outdoor boiler and with the temperature at only six degrees this morning and a house full of adults who use a lot of hot water (also heated only with wood), the first one up must tend to the fire. I was hoping to sneak buy and not have to go out in the cold to tend to the furnace, but when I got in the shower and the water was cold, I knew I was out of luck. I raked the coals to bring life to the dying embers and found a few small pieces of wood that would burn quickly, laying them in a pattern that would encourage them to burn quickly. I looked for some small logs I thought would burn well and placed them over the smaller pieces of wood, shut the door to the furnace and made my way inside the house where I waited about a half an hour before heading back out to make sure the furnace was burning properly. There was a nice fire burning and while I was out, I added more wood and then settled down with a cup of hot coffee and my computer to wait for the rest of the house to stir. Alissa will soon be headed off to work at Blue Ridge Community College and the Little Girls will be awake and ready for adventure. Today will be a short day of only nine hours of babysitting as Alissa’s classes at James Madison University have been cancelled tonight in honor of Martin Luther King Day. It is Gabino’s birthday, so we will all be here to celebrate with him, which will be nice. As we start a new week, even with the cold and the short winter days, I can’t help but recognize my blessings.
In a world filled with distractions, it’s easy to find things that keep us from being connected with what is happening “right now”. Unfortunately, I must admit that I have spent a lot of my life being distracted and often distant from the things that really matter. In 2017, a series of events occurred that caused me to challenge myself in this area and begin a journey towards what I call “intentional living”. I am quite sure the term intentional living is not an original term, but I am not certain where I first heard it. My personal interpretation of this phrase is: “intentionally making choices that allow me to fully experience the wide range of opportunities that life provides, by letting go of anything that unnecessarily distracts from or inhibits that goal”. This process includes giving space for feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, boredom, grief, stress and other emotions that we might consider negative, for too often I have found that we distract ourselves in a myriad of ways from these feelings. Even what we consider more “positive” emotions such as joy and peace can be cut short when we allow things to distract us from allowing the emotions the time to reach maturity. In other words, we develop habits of distraction that keep us from intentional living. Being creatures of a critical nature, we are quick to point fingers or talk about people we know with drug or alcohol addictions, but these are certainly not the only ways we dull our senses, dodge reality, and keep ourselves from experiencing life fully and while we are critical of others, we often are dealing with our own issues that are just as addictive as drugs or alcohol. While I could make a list of things we use to distract us, I really don’t think that’s necessary. When life gets difficult (or mundane), just pay attention to the choices being made during those times. Ask yourself questions like “When I am sad, angry, or bored what do I do? How do I occupy my time, or to whom or for what do I reach?” The answers to these questions can be very revealing. What I really want to address in this personal essay is one of my own greatest distractions, how I came to walk away from that distraction, and the lessons I have been able to apply to my own life from that experience.
Towards the end of May 2017 there was a situation that occurred in my personal life that caused me to take a step back and reconsider my use of Facebook. In the past, I have taken relatively short breaks from Facebook but was always eager to return and reconnect. (My short-term break often coincided with Lent for a season of personal reflection.) My most recent break from Facebook was a sudden, two-fold decision to offer some security for our family during a time of transition as well as to offer greater security and less interference in the life of an elderly family member. Did I lose anything when I shut down my Facebook page? Of course, I did! I lost direct contact with a lot of people and the convenience of an application designed to make keeping in touch an easy part of daily life on the go. Probably the most significant impact was that by completely deactivating my personal page, we no longer were able to maintain our business page for the farm. No one can argue that running a successful business requires constant advertising and social media provides the perfect way to keep the farm and farm products on the minds of the consumer. At the time, even knowing how not having a business page would affect our means to communicate with the general public, it seemed the best way to protect our family.
What I have gained from leaving Facebook, however, has far outweighed any loss. I would like to just share a few of the benefits:
1. Greater Peace
There is of course the simple truth that one witnesses a certain amount of negativity on social media, but the peace I experienced once I made a break from social media was more than just shielding myself from negativity. Once I began to quiet my mind from the constant barrage of information, I began to experience an inner quietness. This, in turn, has opened many doors for me to address areas of my life that I needed to address which promotes even more inner peace.
2. More Time
A glance here, a glance there, and a few minutes on Facebook was evidently adding up to a lot more time than I realized. The time I have saved by not looking at Facebook has meant more time to do other things, many which I had been neglecting. One example is that I never had time to sit down and journal or to keep up with my blog. Now I find that on most days I have plenty of time to find a quiet place and write to my heart’s content. For me, writing something on Facebook was like a diet of mostly fast food. It gave me a quick fix , but a constant diet of it wasn’t healthy. Giving myself the time to sit down, digest my thoughts, and write them for a week at a time before publishing them on my blog, has meant that the process has been a lot more satisfying to me.
3. Improved Relationships
We can use social media to encourage a friend, to comfort the grieving, to promote a cause, or to become aware of political situations that need our attention. In this manner, we do a measure of good. However, when actively using Facebook, I found that my time and attention had been spread too thin. I was giving attention to a lot of matters, but I was not giving enough attention to the things that matter most. Spending less time on the internet has helped me build stronger relationships. Unfortunately, I am limited in the number of friends and family that I can reach on a regular basis. Compared to a Facebook post that potentially reaches hundreds of people, my outreach efforts are minimal, but the connections I have been making have been more meaningful for me and I believe for my friends and family as well.
4. Personal Growth
By being more focused and having more time, I have seen personal growth in areas that I had been neglecting. This falls back to what I mentioned at the beginning of this essay when I stated that we often use things to distract us from the business of life, especially the things in life that we consider ugly or painful. Facebook was one of my biggest distractions that kept me from personal growth. I really turned to social media after my son’s death as a way to distract me from the pain of his loss. Whatever the situation is that we find difficult to handle, distracting ourselves from it is not the way to handle it. I realize that grief (and other issues) are ongoing and that there are times when we must step away from the pain and a little distraction is not a bad thing. However, when the distraction becomes the way we handle our life, then we are no longer dealing with the things at hand.
5. Less Room for Interference and Misunderstanding
We think we are being clear, precise, loving and that there is no way that anyone can misunderstand our words or our intent. We believe that everyone on our friend’s list understands our heart and knows that we only want what is best for our friends, family, and even the world in general. We think that there is no possible way that anyone would use what we have written against us or use information they glean to try to interfere in our lives. It just wouldn’t happen to us. Unfortunately, I found that attitude to be very naïve. There are people who want to hurt us and who will hurt us intentionally and there are people who don’t intentionally want to hurt us, but who do. And, we unintentionally hurt others as well at times with the things we say and do. That’s true whether we use Facebook or not, but it only stands to reason that the more we post and the broader our audience, the more likely we are going to hurt or be hurt by something that is written. There’s a time and a place to share information and to share our hearts. However, sometimes, it’s just better to step back and take a break.
6. Learning to Live life with less validation
Did you ever stop to consider that every time someone “likes” a post on Facebook that it’s actually a form of validation? One of the things I have been working on since I left Facebook is learning to live without the need for validation from others, living my life as I see best whether anyone understands, cares, or agrees with our choices. Validation is nice but freedom from needing validation is even nicer.
7. A Better Night’s Sleep
With all the positive affects of less screen time, it only makes sense that I found my sleep to more restful. I really began to recognize this when we would travel to our home in South West Virginia where cell phone service is very poor and where we did not have any internet for about six months. (We now have internet service in Laurel Fork but it’s about as reliable and fast as the old dial up service we had 20 years ago and our cell phone service is even worse than internet service.) Getting online is almost more trouble than it’s worth when we are there and I have found that I put my phone down for half a day or more without even missing it. That’s simply not the case when I’m in Staunton, as I have my phone with me every second in case someone calls or texts or I need to retrieve information. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder if leaving my devices alone when in Laurel Fork was actually a key element in my sleeping more soundly.
After I began to see the affects that less internet time was having on my well-being, I began to do a little bit of research and found that scientific research actually backs up many of the things above that I have learned from taking a social media break. Rally Health has this to say:
- Vision. Staring into a screen for extended periods of time can cause “computer vision syndrome.” You’re probably familiar with the symptoms: strained, dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches. Poor posture can also cause neck and shoulder pain.
- Sleep. Studies link heavy computer and mobile phone use to more sleep disturbances. University of Gothenburg psychologist Sara Thomée, one study's lead researcher, says the blue light from digital devices suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, keeping us from having restful sleep.
- Addiction and reward seeking. Dopamine, the “feel-good hormone,” is part of the brain’s pleasure and reward circuits. Playing video games turns on similar brain regions as those linked to cravings for drugs and gambling, Ditto for social media — every time we see a new post or get a reaction to ours, it’s like a hit of brain candy.
- Weight. Even two hours of TV a day can increase the risk of weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease in adults. (Computer use doesn’t seem to have as strong a link.) There are probably several factors to blame, including less active time, less sleep, and seeing more ads for unhealthy foods.
- Overall health. Most of the time we’re on our screens, we’re sitting down. Sitting for hours at a time boosts the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. One study found that spending more than four hours a day in front of a computer or TV more than doubles your likelihood of dying or being hospitalized for heart disease — and exercise won’t reduce the risk.
The following article from Huffpost provides additional information on the affects screen time has on our sleep habits:
Screen time at night keeps adults from falling asleep and sleeping well due to cognitive stimulation and sleep deprivation. Your brain’s electrical activity increases, neurons race and divert you from calming down into a peaceful state of mind for sleep.
In addition the physical act of responding to an email, text, or video increases the tension in your body which results in stress. Your body then produces the stress hormone cortisol released by the adrenal gland aversive to sleep.
Fuethermore, the brain naturally creates the hormone, melatonin, that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Too much light from video screens at bedtime affect the melatonin production giving the body the impression you aren’t ready for sleep. In addition the screen emits light that suggests to the brain that it is still daytime which contributes to insomnia and sleep deprivation. Holding a device such as a smartphone close to one’s face increases this effect giving the brain the wrong signal as if it’s not time to go to sleep. The best advice is to stop watching TV or using smartphones and other screen devices an hour or two before bedtime to give your brain a rest and the correct signal that it is time for sleep.
Harvard Medical School scientists concur that specific wavelengths of light suppress the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin in the brain. The National Sleep Foundation in Arlington, Va surveyed 1500 randomly selected adults in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Britain, and Japan showing that at least two-thirds of those people who watched TV in the hour before bed didn’t get a good night’s sleep on work nights. The circadian clock, the body’s biological time keeper that is synchronized to the 24-hour day is thrown off by this interference with the light -dark cycle. This light exposure delays the melatonin that should surge forward.
So limit your screen time and get a good night’s rest. You’ll be happy in the morning
If you have stayed with me on this essay and have made it this far, I want to stress that I am not judging anyone for their use of Facebook or any form of social media, nor am I trying to convince anyone to make changes they don’t want to make. I am simply sharing the benefits I received unexpectedly with my time away. I intend to return to Facebook at some point in the future but I hope that this blogpost will serve as a reminder to me to do so with moderation and not to forget the things I have learned. Most of all, when Facebook or any other distraction keeps me from living fully and embracing all aspects of life that make up “intentional living”, I hope that I have the wisdom to step back, take a break, and focus on the present.
January 1, 2018
And this is 2018! It’s hard to believe that another year has passed but here we are and I love the quiet way we started out the New Year although I do feel for the kids back in Staunton, struggling to keep the animals fed and watered in the extreme cold. Gabino works three, twelve-hour days at Target distribution. On the four days he is off, it’s relatively easy for him to make sure that all is taken care of at the house in Staunton. On the days he is away for 13 plus hours, the responsibility is left to Alissa. When the weather was nicer, it wasn’t a big deal, because all the chores could be completed in thirty minutes or less. However, now it’s a lot harder. The ice in the watering troughs was so thick that she couldn’t break it. The hose was frozen even though it had been drained. Fortunately, the hose bib itself was not frozen and she was able to use five-gallon buckets to haul water to the three Herefords, a young bull calf, and a Herford x angus calf that we have in a back field that don’t have access to the fountains. The horses and goats also have to have water. In addition, the fountains had frozen up and she had to bust the ice on them. This is a good experience for Alissa and Gabino and will help them know whether they really want to try to farm for themselves in the future. However, I can’t help but feel badly that they have to deal with the animals in the extreme conditions, knowing full well how hard it can be. Meanwhile, in Laurel Fork, we are trying to keep the old farmhouse warm. The propane furnace is running a lot to keep up with the 9 degrees we have outside right now and we have a fire in the fireplace. I am thinking that getting that woodstove in the basement to supplement needs to be done sooner rather than later. We are warm and safe but it’s just a whole lot different than the toasty, draft free, well insulated house in Staunton heated entirely by our wood boiler. There we can combat the psychological affects of the cold by simply turning up the temperature in the house and being toasty warm because we always have plenty of wood to burn and it really doesn’t cost that much more to heat the house when it’s colder outside. We found out real fast that we aren’t going to be able to leave the washing machine in mud room/enclosed back porch area where the former owners put the hook ups when they renovated. We figured it wouldn’t work and found out today without a doubt it won’t. So, we will be moving the washing machine to the basement sometime in the next few days where it won’t freeze up. We did leave the house for a while today and attended an auction at our favorite auction house in Galax. Our friend, Al, was up with his son Eli and went to the auction with us but we all left early. We knew the prices would be high on things and didn’t expect to be able to buy anything. We ran by the grocery store while we were out as well. We try to plan it so we don’t have to make a special trip for groceries since it is about forty minutes round trip for us to get to the nearest real grocery store. (There are places closer like Dollar General and a gas station/general store but the selection is very limited other than basic necessities and the prices are generally high.) Mike and I talked about how quiet New Year’s Eve was here with no traffic, no sirens, and no fireworks. The only sound we heard when we stepped outside was the creek and a screech owl. It was perfect.
January 3, 2018
This cold snap has shown us just how ill prepared we are here in this old farmhouse for these type of conditions, at least under the standards that we are use to living. No matter how much the propane boiler system runs, it just can’t keep up with the cold. We have been working diligently to seal off any place we feel a draft…..windows, doors, and such. We have hung blankets over the exterior doors we don’t use and stuffed insulation around the basement door. We never made it above 65 degrees in the house until yesterday after I spent the afternoon canning apples in the kitchen, cooking our supper in the oven in cast iron skillets, and keeping a roaring fire going in the bedroom all day. We actually had the temperature up to just over 70 degrees in the main part of the house last night when we went to sleep. It was about 85 in our bedroom and we laughed about it being “summertime” in our room. As the fire burned down during the night and the temperature dropped again outside, the house cooled back down to around 65 in spite of the furnace working overtime. I got up around 4:30 and stoked the fire, put some more wood on it, and got it blazing again. It’s toasty in our bedroom again at around 70 degrees, but cool in the rest of the house. Still, there are no complaints on my part. We are safe and warm, although a bit cool from time to time. We will just have to keep plugging away and see how we can be more efficient and conserve heat here in this old house. The extreme cold has kept us from working a lot outside but we have had plenty to do inside. We moved the frozen washing machine from the enclosed porch to the basement and Mike got it set up. That was a job but I couldn’t help much other than moral support. We find that what we need in Staunton is usually in Laurel Fork and what we need in Laurel Fork is usually in Staunton. That was true again yesterday as we did not have a hand cart to move the machine. Mike put it on a rug and he pushed it across the floor to the steps that lead downstairs. I was worried that the machine would not make the turn at the landing but Mike said it would just fit. He moved it down the steps, one step at a time. It wasn’t easy getting it turned at the landing, but eventually, he got it, and finished taking it down the second set of steps. After it thawed, it seemed to be no worse for the adventure. We got this machine off Craigslist for a bargain. It’s an old agitating, top loader washer and I love it. I will never return to a front loader again. The front loaders simply don’t get close clean, take forever to run, and I don’t like the fact that I can’t let clothes soak. When your clothes get as dirty as ours do, an agitating washer is the only way to go. I was happy that the old machine still worked once we got it thawed and moved because it’s getting harder and harder to find those old agitating washers. The kids have been having a time of it back home. The water froze at the hose bib and the tractor wouldn’t start. Gabino is going out multiple times a day to break the ice so the cattle and mini horses and goats can drink. He needed to put another round bale in the feeder but had a hard time getting the tractor started but eventually was successful. They are going through a lot of wood to keep the boiler going and the house warm, but they are comfortable and doing well. We are so fortunate that they agreed to move into the house and keep things going for us there. Folks like to come to their own conclusions and make up what they don’t know and there have been some assumptions that the kids had financial difficulties and had to move in with us. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The kids graciously agreed to move because it benefited us. They rent out the home that they own and they pay us rent for living in our home in Staunton. The situation benefits us all as I provide child care when Alissa is working and going to school and she doesn’t have to drag them out to go to a sitter as they can just stay in their routines at home. We all give and we all receive the benefits from our multi-generational arrangement. Of course, it also provides it own sets of challenges, but I feel that mostly it provides benefits to all three generations living in the home. Without their help, we would not be able to make such a smooth transition to our SW Virginia home. Their involvement means that we can work here on getting the outbuildings and fencing in place before moving the animals which is a real blessing.
January 5, 2018
We, like much of North America right now, are just trying to stay one step ahead of the cold weather and also deal with the unexpected situations that arise because of the extreme temperatures. Maybe they aren’t so unexpected, because we just expect cold weather to be difficult, but they are the problems we hope we can avoid and sometimes are not able to do so. We really can’t complain, and we are not, because we realize how blessed we are to have safety from the brutal cold and to have all our physical needs met. We did anticipate the issue with our washer being out on the enclosed porch but had hoped that we wouldn’t have to move it. We were not too surprised when we did. What I didn’t anticipate was my refrigerator/freezer going out that also sits on the enclosed back porch. I am assuming it may run properly if moved to a warmer area of the house but it is old and could have just decided that it was done. Knock on wood, my vintage refrigerator in the kitchen is still going strong. I have to defrost it every six to eight weeks, but it just keeps on keeping on. Everything I had in my refrigerator freezer on the porch was thawed out and slimy and everything in refrigerator compartment was frozen. I had to throw out a lot of food and that makes me sick. I wish that I had hogs or chickens here in Laurel Fork to fee it to, but instead, I will just have to dump it in the compost pile and let the birds and wild animals feast on it. My only consolation is that in this cold weather, maybe they will feel like they are being especially blessed. I think Mike was up most of the night trying to keep the fire going in the fireplace. We found that by shutting off the areas of the house we are not using, covering up doors and windows that were leaking or radiating cold air, and by keeping the fire going along with the propane boiler system, we can mostly keep the house around 68 degrees. At night, when we sleep, we lose ground and the temperature drops down in the house so that it takes us until late morning to get the temperature back up to a comfortable level again. With single digit temps last night and the wind chill below zero (with each gust driving that cold into this old farm house) I am sure it took constant tending to the fire to keep the house comfortable last night so that we didn’t lose too much ground. Once I got up at daybreak, I took over tending the fire and have been letting Mike get a few hours sleep. He has been the one going out and cutting the dead wood around the house, splitting it and bringing it in so that we have it to use. He doesn’t seem to mind and has been really sweet about it. I have to smile because the original plan was that we would just use the propane so that it wouldn’t be necessary for him to cut wood. We do miss our outdoor wood boiler in Staunton that works so efficiently and is so economical to operate. Putting one in at the farmhouse in Laurel Fork was not an option because we are not here all the time to keep it running and a wood boiler has to be constantly tended. If one is going to not use the wood boiler, then all the pipes must be drained each time it is left and with our traveling back and forth so much, it just wasn’t practical to put in a wood boiler as our primary source of heat. We will be looking into options for wood heat in the house. The fireplace has burned well. The flue draws well and the fire burns well. We think there is probably another fire place in the living room (the currently used fireplace being in the bedroom) that backs up to the one we are using. We are pretty sure the folks who renovated the farm house covered it up and put gas logs there. We may try to uncover that fireplace and put an insert in there eventually. We also will probably look into installing a wood stove in the basement or, at the very minimum, put in a wood cookstove. I have dreamed of having another wood cookstove every since I had to leave mine in Alaska. A wood cookstove in the basement will not heat the house but it will go a long way to help. And of course, a big issue is simply just finding the drafts and filling them as well as insulating everywhere we can find to insulate. Mike really doesn’t like cold weather and he is use to having a well-insulated and well heated house. I’m just so proud of how he has tackled the things that arise with the old farm house and together we just move forward. My entire life I have mostly looked at the things that arise as an adventure. I think my grandparents instilled that attitude within me. They were the ones who moved to Alaska the first time when I was just five or six years old. Their stories were full of adventures and it didn’t take me long to understand that their approach was what made life either an adventure or an obstacle. Their influence or their genes (or both) instilled in me that attitude and that quest for seeing each situation as a scene from a story that could be written as a tragedy or an adventure. The circumstances remain but how the story is written depends on us. I am forever indebted to my maternal grandparents for their influence in my life.
Our little mountain farm is eerily quiet this morning. I am just not use to having no cattle around and today is the first day that the farm is vacant of anything but the wild animals and birds that make it their home. The neighboring farm has had beef cattle on this property for a number of years, and we made arrangements with them to have the cattle out by the end of 2017 so that we could work on fencing and move our own cattle here in the summer of 2018. As the year came to an end, the neighboring farmer’s son in law who actually owns the cattle approached Mike about just buying the small herd. They came to an arrangement on the price and Mike agreed to buy them, but we didn’t intend to keep them on the property in Laurel Fork. Mike’s nephew has been wanting to get some additional cattle and decided that he would buy the herd and put them with our combined cattle on the home place in Verona. Yesterday the wind was blowing something fierce and the wind chills were below zero but it was the only day that Matt and his friend could make the drive from Staunton to pick up the cattle, so they arranged for the neighbor to corral the herd. I did not bother to go out in the bitter cold as there were four men who were perfectly capable of getting the cattle loaded. I did hear later that the first of the cattle went on the trailer with ease but the second group and the second trailer didn’t go so well. There is a high-strung Angus cow in the herd and she got all worked up and they had quite a time with her. She was one of those cows who can be quite dangerous when she feels pushed in a corner. They eventually got her loaded and the cattle made there way back to Verona without incident. For now, I will just have to enjoy the mules across the road and wait for my cattle to be moved later in the year.
January 6, 2018
Our time here in Laurel Fork for this trip is winding down. When we return to Staunton tomorrow, we will have had seven full, uninterrupted days here at our South West Virginia home. We have had to deal with the cold and have found the house to not be as winter worthy as we would have liked, and have spent a lot of time bringing in wood and tending to the fire, but it has still been an amazing week. When we began looking for a little place just to spend an occasional weekend, I wanted what I termed “an artists retreat” where I could lose myself in reading and writing without distractions. This week our home here has been just that. Our already poor cell phone service has proved to be even more incompetent. Our limited internet service has been even more limited. The quiet has been welcomed. I took advantage of both the fire and the slower pace to play with my cast iron dutch oven yesterday by cooking a blackberry cobbler on the open hearth. That was fun. It had been a few years since I had last used it on a campfire when we were camping along the river at the back of the property where Mike’s mom lives. I’m definitely out of practice and the fire wasn’t ideal because I needed less flame to offer the best cooking scenario but Mike kept insisting on adding more wood to the fire because he wanted to keep the temperature up in the house (which I completely understand) so I just did the best I could with the current situation. If I had been able to set the dutch oven actually over the coals and then heap some coals on top, I would have had a more even cooking scenario. Since I couldn’t do that, I put the dutch oven in front of the fire where there was plenty of heat and rotated the dutch oven from time to time so that it would cook evenly. I was pleased with the final results. I only had a small part right around one edge where the crust got a little extra done and the rest of the cobbler was perfect. I removed it from the heat towards the end and kept the lid on so that the cobbler continued cooking and got done in the middle. I was happy with the slightly browned crust on top and the consistency of the cobbler. It was nice to know that I still can cook on an open hearth, even it was something simple like a cobbler. I guess we will venture off the property today and go to our favorite auction. I’m not much interested in going today but Mike has been sticking around here for days and probably needs to see some other faces other than mine, so I guess we will go. I would still much rather stay here, keep the fires burning, read books and write but I will probably enjoy the outing just as much as him once I get started.
January 7, 2018
We are headed back to Staunton and to the routine that we have kept since last March of the back and forth between our two homes. Christmas gave us a bit of a break from the routine but it’s time to gear up and finish up. I have mixed emotions because this next semester for Alissa is the end for her as far as her Master’s Degree is concerned and it’s the end for me of almost five years of watching grandchildren. Of course, I will watch them in the future, but the plan is that it will not be weekly and will not be on a routine schedule. I have been so blessed to have this time with my grands. It has been incredibly hard with three the same age and a 5 day a week schedule in the beginning when they were infants, but I am so thankful for the time we had together. I am looking forward to not being tied down to a weekly routine of child care after May, but there is so much I will miss about being able to spend so much time with our Little People. The next five months bring a lot more transition for us and for the farm. I just have to keep reminding myself to take one day at a time and enjoy each day without being anxious, fearful, apprehensive or even allowing eagerness and anticipation for what comes next to rob me of today.
We ended up not going anywhere on Saturday and that suited us both just fine. It was just so incredibly cold and we couldn’t justify going out in the extreme cold to travel 40 minutes one way to sit in a drafty, cold building to attend an auction. Instead we just worked to keep the fire burning and the temperature up in the house. When I look back on this past week, our week was consumed with just trying to stay warm in the drafty farm house, but it was an adventure and a time we will never forget. This morning it was two below zero outside when I got up but by afternoon it was in the 20’s. It felt so much warmer compared to the single digits and wind chills below zero that we have been experiencing.
We made our way down the mountain roads to Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church this morning. It always feels like we are coming home when we walk in the door. I hope we never lose that feeling. There were only 18 of us there this morning. Some of the older people just didn’t try to get out in the cold and I can’t blame them. There was a carry in meal after the service and I brought along food and we stayed for that. Never have I been anywhere that I actually wanted to stay for carry in meals, but I love visiting with the people there after church and getting to know them. After the meal, we worked to take down the decorations in the church left from Christmas and get them put away. Some of the larger decorations were carried to a door at the back of the kitchen and when we went through, it was basically an unfinished storage area that had been dug out under the front part of the church. There at the front, we could see the foundation of the rock church sitting on a huge boulder, not visible above ground, but massive and visible from our vantage point underground. It was just amazing to behold.
When everyone else left and it was just Mike and I and Allen and Ginny Childress, we stood for several hours in the kitchen and talked sharing all kinds of stories and experiences with one another. It was such a nice time of sharing and I especially enjoyed the stories that Allen told about his grandfather, Bob Childress, the man about whom the book was written that I mention so much in my journals, THE MAN WHO MOVED A MOUNTAIN. I asked Allen if the book was an accurate depiction of his grandfather and the events that took place and he thoughtfully shook his head yes. He said, “It’s hard to believe that things changed so much in such a short period of time, but they did.” Allen told us how the church had been built in 1929 completely by volunteers, how everyone in the community had come together, how people had brought field stones they gathered to build the church, and how the scaffolding was built strong enough and wide enough that a wheel barrow full of rocks going on way could pass a wheel barrow coming back for more rocks. He said two young boys per wheel barrow would move the stones, one at the front pulling and one at the back pushing an estimated weight of 400 pounds per trip. In one year’s time, the church was built from the ground up. Just an amazing testament to what a group of people can do when they all have the same dream and a testament to the man whose example and encouragement brought these people together.
“Winter came in days that were gray and still. They were the kind of days in which people locked in their animals and themselves and nothing seemed to stir but the smoke curling upwards from clay chimneys and an occasional red-winged blackbird which refused to be grounded. And it was cold. Not the windy cold like Uncle Hammer said swept the northern winter, but a frosty, idle cold that seeped across a hot land ever lookung toward the days of green and ripening fields, a cold thay lay uneasy during during its short stay as it crept through the cracks of poorly constucted houses and forced the people inside huddled around ever-burning fires to wish it gone.”
~ Mildred D Taylor from Let The Circle Be Unbroken
I have a prism that measures about four inches in length and it has a tiny chip out of the corner. For years, it set in my dining room window in Staunton and as the sun rose and began to make its way around our octagonal house, it would find that little prism in the window and the refracted light would make rainbows around the room. I have always loved prisms and remember even as a child, reading a story with pictures that showed a room full of rainbows made by multiple prisms. I thought even then at the tender age of six or seven that I would love to have a room full of rainbows. Before she was even a year old, my granddaughter Analia would chase those rainbows around the room, reaching out to touch them with her tiny little hands, only to find that she could not feel them. Often, her body would put a shadow on the wall making the rainbow disappear in front of her as the colors draped her little body like a mantle. She would look so surprised and I would smile at her perplexed look as she tried to figure out where the rainbow had gone. Shortly after we bought our new place in South West Virginia, I moved the little, chipped prism to our bedroom there. It takes a little longer for the sun to arrive in this “holler” as it must make its way up above the mountain ridges first and then work hard to shine down into this deep ravine where our little, white farmhouse sits. The rainbows made by the prism aren’t as plentiful here, but are perhaps even more beautiful, for with each reflection of color comes more memories.
About eleven or twelve years ago, that chipped piece of glass was given to me as a gift. It was damaged and dirty when I received it. I was happy to get the prism, even in its condition, but had no clue at the time what it would eventually come to mean to me. I remember clearly the prism passing from one hand to another, the smiles on the faces of both the giver and the receiver, and the look of satisfaction on my son’s face as if he had just given me the greatest gift ever in spite of the fact that he had found it in the parking lot at Fort Defiance High School. There’s no way that I could have known then just how valuable a gift that chipped prism was to become to me until after Josh’s death. At first, those rainbows dancing around the room seemed somehow cruel in the days immediately after his passing. How could there be so much beauty and brightness when my world had fallen apart? How could life continue when my heart was breaking into tiny little pieces and I couldn’t find my way out of the darkness. Eventually, those refracted colors of light became something that I anticipated and sought out. That little bit of color in my dark world gave me some measure of hope. It gave me something tangible, however fleeting, to hold onto. Days, weeks, years went by and still I would cling to the sight of those rainbows as if they were sent directly from heaven from my son. Slowly, I began to learn to make friends with my grief. We grieve because we lose something that is precious to us and we mourn that loss. Love is the very basis for grief and the intensity of our love is often mirrored in the intensity of our grief. Grief is not something that we can fight against and win. It is not an enemy to be conquered but rather, I think it is like a needy child that must not be ignored but also must not be allowed to call all the shots. Some days, the grief child needs to be wrapped up snuggly in a blanket and rocked while being held close to our hearts. On other days, that child needs to be sent to the next room within hearing distance to occupy itself while we do the things necessary to live a happy and fulfilled life. Finding that balance is most difficult but one of the greatest lessons I have learned in my grief is that one can allow space for two conflicting emotions. In the beginning, I somehow subconsciously felt that if I allowed joy to interrupt my grieving, then I was somehow dishonoring my son’s memory. Later, I subconsciously felt that if I allowed grief to interrupt the joys that life brought to me, I was somehow not being as thankful as I should be for all my blessings. Finally, I began to learn that allowing room for both those emotions at any given time was the correct and healthy way to not only honor my son, but also to honor all of those I love. It was only when I began to understand this balance and practice it that I began to really live again. I’m no longer afraid to give into the grief and allow myself the intensity of the pain for I know that I can handle it. I have survived nine years living with the loss of my son. I can survive one more day, and then one more day after that, one breath at a time. On the other hand, I am no longer afraid to give myself over to the kind of joy that sweeps over my heart and makes me forget my pain for a few precious moments as I look into the eyes of a grandchild, watch my children practicing being happy, find comfort inside the arms of my loving husband, watch the birth of a new calf, catch snowflakes on my tongue, breathe in fresh, mountain air, listen to the gurgle of the creek, taste cold spring water on my tongue, or watch rainbows being made from a chipped prism dancing across my bedroom.
January 11, 2018 We are back in Laurel Fork and the thought foremost in my mind is how wonderful it feels to not be cold. Las...