Monday Journals (Posted Tuesday, the Day after Christmas)

December 19, 2017

Yesterday was one of those “days of grace” after a cold snap when the temperature warms up and because of the bad weather previously, seems even warmer than it is.  We had temps dropping into the teens, high winds of 40 mph, and snow in the last week and a half.  Patches of snow remained on the ground in Laurel Fork from the storm the previous weekend.  However, yesterday reminded us that it’s still not quite winter yet (although we are only days away) and Nature blessed us with a beautiful day for one of the last days of fall.  I have not been walking the last few weeks because of all we had going as well as because of the weather we had been experiencing.  I should have been brave, dressed appropriately and walked anyway, as I usually do, no matter what the temps or weather conditions.  However, I seem to be getting lazy since I turned 50 and I just don’t push myself like I use to.  In fact, I took the application off my phone that logs my steps and noticed yesterday that my walk was much more pleasurable not walking to log miles but walking for pleasure.  The scenery on top of our property (what I jokingly call “the back forty”) was stark compared to the last few times I had walked there.  Even a few weeks ago, enough of the leaves were still clinging to the trees to add some color.  This time, all the leaves were down, the grass had lost its color, and everything was muted with grey and brown overtones.  I was eager to see Buffalo Mountain from the vantage point we have at the top of our property but even the Buffalo looked less majestic with the landscape so stark.  The climb up was enough to make me come out of my long-sleeved shirt and just walk the rest of the way in short sleeves.  It wasn’t THAT warm, with temperatures in the fifties, but with the exertion of a vertical climb and the afternoon Sunday I was comfortable.  As I walked I intentionally looked beyond our fence line and over the steep, rolling banks that separate us from the neighbors on the North side of our property.  These neighbors can’t be seen or heard at all from our house and in the summer when the leaves are full, one can’t even see the houses below.  With the leaves completely off the trees, I could make out the shapes of the houses and see smoke from one of the chimneys.  The land between us and them is basically useless except for hunting or logging timber.  I don’t think we have to worry about anyone building right up against us on that side of the property, although I have seen houses built in places that seem very impractical, so I suppose anything is possible.  I would worry more about someone coming in to log the property rather than to build.  However, I don’t think that will happen either.  If it sells, it will probably be bought by someone from out of town or even out of state who wants a quiet retreat or hunting ground.  Along the edge of the woods I came face to face with an Opossum who seemed just as surprised to see me as I was to see him.  We both stood still staring at each other for a bit.  I am always surprised at how frightening and ugly a possum looks.  I wonder if they feel the same about us. 

December 20, 2017

What a lovely time we have had the past week “just living” the day in and day outs here in Laurel Fork.  Mike and I were talking last night in bed about how much we enjoy being together most of the time (something previously we were unable to do and in fact went many hours of many days never seeing or talking to one another with both of us managing different aspects of the farm in Staunton).  The choices we have made to be together, work together, and communicate more have been intentional choices in our life.  We have been blessed that circumstances have allowed us to follow this path but it also took intentional, mutual decisions for us to follow this path.  I know there are some who don’t understand our choices, but there is no doubt in our minds that we have made the best choice for this stage of our life.  When we started this journey, I wondered if the “new place” would soon lose its glow and become a drudgery.  I didn’t think it would, but knowing the commitment that we had to make to make it work, I thought we might get weary.  Quite the opposite.  Instead, we love it more and more and our time here in Laurel Fork becomes more and more precious to us as we put down roots. 

So much of our time at our South West Virginia property is spent cleaning up and restoring the buildings and property.  The farm had been left basically abandoned for so long.  The neighbor’s use of the pasture for his cattle kept that land from growing up, which is good.  However, neither the previous owner(s) or the renter have done anything to maintain or repair the fences.  The cattle go where they will into the woods and back again over the fence line.  There is really no issue with this as there is no where for them to go on two sides of the property where the fence is so bad.  (The fence has been a little better maintained where it adjoins the neighbor’s hay field and where it meets the road.)  Where the fence is so bad is along some extremely steep banks that a mature cow is not going to attempt to travel.  I would worry that calves might become separated and lost over those banks but I guess the farmer who rents has never had an issue with it.  At any rate, those fences will need to be repaired before my Jerseys are introduced to the property.  With the pasture being rented until the end of December and the neighbor’s cattle still here, we have not attempted any fence repair yet.  Instead we continue to work on the barn and to clean up around it and the other outbuildings.  Mike got a couple semi warm days where the temps were above 50 degrees which provided him the opportunity to do some more staining on the barn.  Yesterday afternoon, after I took an afternoon hike, I helped him with brush and trash clean up.  He had trimmed some branches, we moved some old dead wood, picked up some metal and glass that had been partially buried in the dirt around the barnyard, and even found an old gate frame that we can repurpose that was half buried.  Looking at what still needs to be done could be overwhelming but we try to just enjoy the journey and so far, with no pressure to move the animals right away, we have enjoyed the process.  We were very fortunate to have these few bonus days after the bad weather we had last week and be able to get some more work done outside.

I had intended to work on the large, two-story, 1950’s “commercial” chicken house on this trip and try to get it ready so that we can get some birds come February or March.  I have been without chickens now for over a year.  The predators wiped out the last of my free-range birds after I lost my Livestock Guardian dog and with our being in transition, I decided to wait until we were settled before I got more chickens.  I didn’t want the kids to have to lock them up and let them out every night in Staunton and I knew there would be no one in Laurel Fork at times to care for them.  There’s not a lot to do in the upper portion of the chicken house, which is what I will use to house the birds. There’s a nice, big nesting area with metal nesting boxes and the building has water piped in from the spring!  I have never had a chicken house with water that close.    There are some items that have been housed in the building over the years that will simply need to be taken to the landfill or moved to another location if they are salvageable.  The windows will need some work.  Probably best-case scenario is to put in new windows.  (The downstairs of the two-story house is filled with items as it was used as a workshop.  I have no intentions of cleaning it out at this point.)  Best intentions aren’t always enough, and I didn’t touch the chicken house on this trip and it doesn’t look like I will.  Maybe when we return for a few days.  We are actually cutting our trip a day or two short to head back to Staunton.  Mike’s nephew who now rents the home place is putting up commercial chicken houses on some additional property he owns (not the Cupp Farm in Verona) and needs some help.  He has been a huge part of why we are able to leave the beef cattle in Verona/Staunton while we transition and has helped us so much along the way that we can’t leave him hanging.  He is very close to getting his birds and the crunch is on for him.  (Those of you who have followed me on the blog, Facebook, or know me in any capacity know that I am adamantly against commercial chicken houses and the manner in which the birds are raised and that has not changed in any capacity.  I am also mature enough at my age to realize that farmer bashing farmer does not help anyone but only hurts agriculture in general.  The best way for me to promote humane practices are to practice them myself, set an example in how I live, use my votes as an American citizen to promote the causes in which I believe, and use every day opportunities to educate and discuss the issues with others.)  Hopefully the extra two days we have in Staunton will give me an opportunity to do some work at our antique booths which both need to be reworked and have “new” items added to them. 

December 21, 2017

Mostly yesterday I spent my time in the kitchen.  The kitchen in my SW Virginia home is much smaller than the kitchen in Staunton and while it’s easy to whip up a meal for Mike and I in the smaller area, it does slow me down a bit when I am canning, fixing for large groups, or doing a lot of baking.  However, my decision to slow down and try to learn to better enjoy the process rather than just always running as fast as I can toward the goal has transferred to the kitchen as well.  I made Cranberry Nut bread with cranberries left over from our bird tree garland project that we did with the kids last weekend.  I had enough to make four times the recipe and I will give the individual sized loaves away to some of our neighbors in Staunton on Christmas Eve.  I also made a batch of Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge.  We needed to make a run to dispose of a truck load of trash we had accumulated over the last few weeks so we stopped at Red Hill General Store to see if there were any items there that I could use as last-minute Christmas gifts.  I didn’t have any luck.  They had a lot of really neat items, but most were priced higher than what I felt comfortable paying.  From there, we went on into Hillsville where I picked up a few necessities at the grocery store.  Mike spent his time at the barn and burning brush.  It was a good day to get rid of the huge pile of brush that we had accumulated because it was misting rain just enough to keep the ground wet around the fire. 

Speaking of gifts and Christmas gifts in particular, I struggle greatly with giving and receiving gifts other than gifts of food.  I am guessing that it’s in part because gift giving (other than food) was not a big part of my raising and not a priority in our family.  Gifts that were given were most always practical and rarely ever frivolous.  I actually get a certain amount of anxiety when I have to think about getting gifts for people because I don’t have a clue how to buy gifts that suit the occasion or the personal interests of an individual.  Fortunately for me, I have a husband who is much the same and we just agreed years ago to not buy each other gifts for special occasions.  For years, our family (and extended family) did very little in the way of gifts for Christmas and while that still basically holds true, having the grandkids has changed things a bit for us.  We do try to have some gifts for the grandkids to open at Christmas Eve (which is when we celebrate with them) At this age, it’s not too hard to find something they will like but I always struggle with being practical and being frivolous. Mike and I neither one can hardly stand to put money towards toys knowing they already have more than they need.  I do get them something they can play with but I try to focus on games as well as educational and skill building activity type toys.  We also promote books and reading by giving each child one wrapped book per day to open from the first of December until Christmas as an Advent activity.  I can usually pull off something for the grandchildren, but it’s even harder for the adult kids.  This year I have really struggled and here it is just three days from when we will open gifts and I have almost nothing for the adults.  We do typically give them money but I like to have something for them under the tree.  Each year since Mike and I have been together, I have bought a Christmas ornament for each person in our family.  I was happy to get feedback from both of the girls this year who told me how much they look forward to their Christmas ornaments and enjoy looking back at the previous year’s ornaments as they decorate the tree each Holiday Season.  The advent books and the ornaments have become a yearly tradition for us.  I hope to incorporate the decorating of the bird tree as we did this year into our yearly traditions as well. 

We are drawing our time here in SW Virginia to a close for this trip and while we have been able to stay a longer stretch than we usually do, it still didn’t seem long enough.  I’m looking forward to seeing the grandkids for a few days but right after Christmas I have some difficult family matters to which I have to attend and it brings a measure of melancholy to the days ahead.  I’m reminded over and over the major truth I learned after my son passed away which is that joy and sadness can live simultaneously in the same heart.  In my immaturity, I had always believed that I was either happy or sad and could not be both at the same time.  However, when one lives with a significant loss such as the death of a child, one has to find room for joy to reenter their life.  The grief is something that never goes away and abides continuously because grief is a measure of love and love never dies.  The desperation I felt when Josh died was in part because I could not imagine how I could ever live with such grief.  How could I ever smile again?  How could I ever have joy in my heart?  If my heart was filled with grief, then how could there be room for joy?  With time, with experience, with maturity, I came to realize that joy and sadness can live together and that one has to give space for both in order to be healthy.  And so it is with what I must face in the days after Christmas.  I must find a way to allow the emotions to mix and balance themselves out and I must focus on the present and practice intentional living. 

December 26, 2017

Another Christmas Day has passed but for me, my Christmas spirit actually really kicks I when the preparation is done and most of the world has gone to “after Christmas” mode.  Looking back, Christmas was an odd time for me when I was growing up.  Our family didn’t go all out for Christmas (I actually like that approach and try to have a moderate stance towards gifts even now with our grandchildren). The Baptist Preachers and Sunday School teachers at the churches we attended told us that Christmas was the birth of Jesus and of course fast forwarded to the story of his death to make sure that we all had an opportunity to accept Him so we would not go to Hell when we died.  That’s was pretty much it.  It was important to know that Jesus was born so that we could focus on the fact he died.  It wasn’t until I was close to 40 that I began to really enjoy the Christmas season.  The churches we attended when I was a child wanted to be sure that no one would ever think that they might agree with any Orthodox churches on any point and the following of the Church calendar as a whole was not taught or practiced.  There was no mention of advent or epiphany that I can remember.  I remember the thrill of learning of Epiphany and realizing that there were people who acknowledged the “twelve days of Christmas”.  It was at that time I began intentionally leaving my tree up until we had celebrated Epiphany.  We do all of our “celebrating” and gift giving on Christmas Eve with our kids and grandchildren, which frees them up to go to the homes of other family members or in-laws on Christmas Day.  We also have a big meal with Mike’s extended family after which we go to a Candlelight service at the Brethren Church in which Mike grew up.  Christmas really begins for me the moment we sit down with the kids and talk about the reasons we have Christmas.  The feeling swells in my heart as we sing the carols at the Christmas Eve service and I see the glow of the faces that surround the church as each one holds their candle as we stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle around the room.  Then, we enter the quiet of Christmas Day which often means Mike and I are alone together.  It is on Christmas Day that I soak in the Christmas music, the beauty of the season, and reflect on its meaning.  And for the next days, I hold on to as much of Christmas as I can as life begins to pick up pace again.  This year was no different than any other year that Mike and I have been together as far as our routine, other than the fact that after caring for the animals, we loaded the truck and traveled back to Laurel Fork.  The traffic was the last we have seen in the last nine months that we have been driving Interstate 81 twice a week and there were no restaurants open to grab a bite to eat.  We both remarked that we were glad folks were able to be home with their families and how we would rather eat our home raised food anyway.  When we arrived in Laurel Fork, I made hamburgers from our grass finished beef and a side of corn from our garden that I had frozen.  It hit the spot and after cleaning up the dishes and calling grandma, we settled in for an early evening together.  Looking back on the weekend, it couldn’t have been better.  I didn’t worry about the house (in Staunton) and did not rush around trying to clean it.  I didn’t kill myself preparing meals, just fed everyone things that were easy.  We didn’t have piles of gifts or expensive things under the tree, but we shared time with one another as a family.  Mike and Alissa were able to spend almost an hour connecting with our son who lives in Thailand.  The sounds of laughter throughout the day and into the night filled me with joy.  And for a moment, I stood by the grave of my Josh and allowed myself to feel all the pain of his loss, tell him how much I love him, and acknowledge the hole that his absence leaves in our lives. 

Joy and sorrow will abide in the same heart and we can find a way to balance those emotions.  Somehow, that too ties in with the Christmas story.  I find inspiration in Mary, the mother of Jesus.  How her heart must have soared at times with the realization of the importance of this child that she was chosen to mother.  And, how deep must have been her pain at all the things she had to witness as his life unfolded in ways she never imagined.  I could never compare my life or my story to that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but her strength, resilience and attitude are a model for me to follow.  


Monday Journals

To our readers, faithful farm supporters, and friends we wish you a blessed holiday season and a New Year filled with personal peace in spite of the chaos that surround us.  We are thankful for your presence in our life; whether your presence is evident only here online or we are fortunate to know you in person, your encouragement and friendship means so much to us.  

December 14, 2017

Last weekend with our girls and the grandkids was incredibly busy and so much fun.  Seeing the children really enjoy their time with us at Laurel Fork and having all of them there together to spend two nights was just perfect.  We traveled back to Staunton together on Sunday.  Our car is still in the shop (after having hit the deer on Thanksgiving Day) and the truck we have in Laurel Fork is having issues with the brakes.  Mike drove Alissa and her two girls back and I rode with Kristin.  It was great to have that time with Kristin to just talk.  We don’t get a lot of time together like that.  The children slept and we talked for close to three hours as we traveled.  Getting back to Staunton, there was of course a lot to do.  Mike had been gone for two weeks having stayed in Laurel Fork the week before when I came home.  He had to catch up with hay customers, run personal errands, and he helped Matt out with the feeding down at the home place, among other things.  Monday, I had Analia and Rory while Alissa taught at Blue Ridge and I always do all the cooking for the whole crew when I am in Staunton, so I prepared steaks, macaroni and cheese and peas for supper.  Tuesday, I was stuck at the house without a vehicle and was going to attempt to get some items priced for the antique mall, as well as clean and pack some more of our things to move to Laurel Fork.  However, those plans were interrupted when the third beef heifer decided to calve (or should I say try to calve).  (Recap from last week’s journal entries:  We lost two calves due to difficult births as a result of the calves being too large to pass through the birth canal.)  I had been watching her all morning and I called Mike to tell him that she was in labor and very uncomfortable.  Rather than wait and lose another calf or possibly even a cow, Mike decided to come home and pull the calf.  Gabino was with Mike, and the three of us got the cow into the stanchion in the little milking shed (an old box trailer that we converted into an area with one stanchion so that I could milk my Jerseys).  She was still feisty enough, having not tried to the point of exhaustion to give birth like the last one that Matt and I handled, but she still had the calmer disposition that is typical of a Hereford.  Mike palpated and found the calf to be positioned correctly but it was as we suspected: the calf was very large.  Because of the size of the calf, it took a good bit of effort and time to get it pulled.  The head just did not want to pass through the birth canal.  This time, since I did not have a baby on my back and could jump in and get my hands dirty without putting a child in danger, I was able to work with Mike and try to ease the calf’s head through, working my fingers and hands around his nose and head.  He was so big and his forehead was pressed high behind the pelvic bone.  It took some intensive pulling and more time than we would have liked to birth the calf.  When his head finally came through, we got stuck momentarily at his hips, but finally, with a big push from momma cow and pull from Mike, the calf was on the ground.  He wasn’t breathing at first, or if he was, his breaths were shallow enough that we could not detect them.  His eyes were fixed and I put my hand over them to see if he would blink.  He did not.   I began wiping the afterbirth off his face, clearing his nose and mouth and Mike began massaging his heart.  We worked quickly and I was talking the whole time:  “Come on baby calf.  You have got to live.  Take a breath.  Come on.  You can do this.  Live.  We got you this far, you have got to try.”  He just lay there, occasionally taking a short breath.  Mike continued to work on him and I ran to get some towels we keep on hand to use with the animals.  I threw them down beside the calf and began using one to rub him dry, still talking to him.  We had turned the cow loose from the head gate but she was in shock, hurting and wanted nothing to do with this baby we had just forcefully pulled from her body.  (Not an uncommon situation with a heifer who has had a traumatic birth.)  It seemed like forever, although it was just minutes, and the calf began taking normal breaths.  His eyes still looked fixed but there was life there.  We continued to rub and stimulate him.  Fortunately for us and the calf, at that point the sun was shining the warmest it had been all day and it didn’t feel half bad outside.  Momma cow finally came outside but wouldn’t even look at the baby.  We hoped that she would lick him, stimulate him, and talk to him to get him going but she wanted nothing to do with him.  At this point, Mike was able to get the calf to sit up but he had to prop him up with a bale of hay.  The calf was extremely weak.  We quickly decided to try to get momma back in the stanchion and see if we could get some colostrum from her.  She went back into the milking shed but refused to put her head in the head gate.  Mike said, “Just stand there beside her and I will just milk her standing here.”  I retorted sarcastically, “And she is going to kick the crap out of you.  There is no way she is going to stand there.”  Boy was I wrong.  She stood there just as calm as can be and he milked out enough colostrum to get the baby started.  However, baby was not strong enough or ready to really try eating.  Mike managed to get a tiny bit of colostrum down him and then he tucked mom and baby safely in the only building we have with a door on it (as all the other out buildings are three-sided run in sheds).  We got momma cow food and water and bedded them down with plenty of straw.  At this point, the wind picked up and the temperature started turning bitter cold.  I was so glad that the sun had been out and it had not been unreasonably cold while we were pulling the calf.  I still had one Jersey cow in milk, having not pulled her bull calf off of her yet.  I pulled her into the barnyard with the Hereford and her baby in case we needed her milk or needed to try to get her to adopt the little Hereford x Angus calf.  I cleaned up the parlor from the birthing mess and then went to the house and pulled out some frozen Jersey colostrum I kept on hand for emergencies.  After allowing the baby to rest just a bit, we warmed up the Jersey colostrum and Mike got a little bit of it down the calf.  The calf still would not stand and his sucking reflex wasn’t good.  Momma cow was fine but still was not taking an interest in the baby.  Later when we went to check on them, Momma was mooing over the baby and the baby seemed stronger.  He ended up taking a bottle. 

Tuesday evening, I had Rory and Analia while Alissa went to class.  Gabino came after a while and took Analia to a special dance rehearsal for a recital they are having on Saturday.  When they got back home, we had supper.  I had made soup using some I had frozen previously and adding to it from the veggies we had in the refrigerator.  Rory had made a mess eating potatoes and carrots out of the soup, so I gave her a bath in the kitchen sink, and then I cleaned the kitchen.  Wednesday morning found the calf even stronger and very much ready to eat.  He ate aggressively for the first time and was able to stand and walk around on his own, although he was still wobbly.  Mike got him to nurse from his momma as well.  It was bitter cold.  The wind had been howling at 40 mph all night and the ice was frozen thick in the troughs.  I had to work hard to bust it.  I gave all the smaller animals hay (the cows have round bales) knowing that the hay helps to keep them warm in the winter as their bodies digest it.  I knew I would have a time with the milking machine since it was so cold and sure enough, I did.  I had to fight with it for a while and Mike came and helped me adjust the pulsations to adapt to the freezing temps.  I got Promise in and milked her and then turned her back out with plenty of hay.  The water was frozen up in the milk kitchen, so I had to take the milking equipment into the house and clean it up there.  Rory was very interested in the milk bucket and kept sticking her face down in it to look at the tiny bit of milk pooled in the bottom. 

I worked a while in the house and then took care of Rory for a few hours while Alissa took Analia to dance class.  I don’t usually keep the kids on Wednesday but I had offered to keep Rory so that Alissa and Analia could have some alone time together.  Analia has really been struggling lately finding it hard to share her mommy with work, school and Rory.  Rory was good for me and played a little and then took a long nap which allowed me the opportunity to clean the kitchen floor and the bathroom that Mike and I use.  I did some online Christmas shopping as well.  Later, I priced items for the antique mall.  Mike and I took them to the booth later in the afternoon.  I had to go out mid afternoon and break the ice on the watering troughs again so the animals could drink and to take more water to the Hereford who was in the stable with her baby.  Early evening, Mike filled up the round bale feeders, I topped off the watering troughs and broke ice for the third time.  I fed the mini horses, goats and Jersey heifers and I brought Promise in and milked her again.  While it wasn’t warm, the milking machine had been sitting in the warm house and the milking shed was slightly warmer than it had been that morning, so the process went a little more smoothly.  At this point, although we had not seen the new baby actually nursing his mother, it appeared that she had been nursed and his stomach looked full and he seemed content.  He refused the bottle, not being hungry at all.  Seeing that we probably would not need to use Promise as a nurse cow and would not need more milk from  her (and also because I would be heading to Laurel Fork and unable to continue milking her), I turned her back out with the other Jersey cows.  We did separate out her bull calf so that he can no longer nurse her, and we will dry her off and give her time to regain her body condition before she calves again in the spring.  After getting the milking equipment cleaned up, I made supper for everyone, read books to Analia, made my nightly call to grandma and then went to bed exhausted. 

December 15, 2017

We hung around Staunton a little longer this week because we wanted to make sure that the new little calf was strong enough and nursing well enough from his momma to leave him.  We also felt like we could stay longer because we won’t need to return this Sunday in order to take care of the grandkids on Monday, as Alissa is finished with this semester and will be home with them.  We are very much looking forward to this week in Laurel Fork and being able to stay in one spot for a total of nine days before hitting the roads again.  In the past nine months, we have made the trip to Laurel Fork once a week, sometimes for as much as five days and one time, when we had a Jersey cow done, only for a few hours to mow the grass and then return back to Staunton.  For farmers who for years rarely left the farm to travel, we sure have been racking up the miles in the last nine months.  Mike has been a trooper about doing the driving and never complaining about the time on the road.  He has mentioned a few times that he would like to just be able to stay in Laurel Fork and not have to make the trip back, but he has been good about doing what we need to do in order for me to keep my commitment to Alissa and the girls.  With this semester coming to a close, we only have one more semester until Alissa will finish her Master’s Degree.  I am not sure who is more excited about that, her or me……or possibly Mike.  We got a later start back than we anticipated.  Mike wanted to bring some better-quality hay up for the momma cow that just calved, since she is being kept in the barnyard a few more days and doesn’t’ have access to the round bales.  We also needed to go to Staunton and back to pick up some medicine for Mike’s mom who has a bad cold or sinus infection and got a prescription from the doctor.  Then we got delayed by some surveyors who were working at the neighbor’s property and checking the boundary lines for a pending sale.  They had gotten shocked when crawling through our electric fence and wanted to know if we would turn the fence off for them as they worked.  It gave me an opportunity to also warn them about our Jersey bull who can be aggressive.  I had gone inside at Mike’s moms to get some of the potatoes we had stored in the basement to take with us to Laurel Fork and when I returned, I had a missed call from a credit card watch who detected suspicious activity on my grandmother’s debit card.  That ended up being a challenge to get sorted out and took me several hours on the phone as we traveled trying to take care of that issue.  At one point, we had stopped in Roanoke to try to get a bite to eat, as neither of us had eaten all day but I was on the phone with the credit card company and Mike decided to drive a little further before we got something to eat.  However, there’s not really any choices of places to eat once you leave Roanoke and go the backroads to Laurel Fork.  We ran into another problem as we traveled.  When we got to the Parkway just outside of Roanoke, we found that it was closed.  We then had the choice of backtracking to Interstate 81 which would have taken about 20 minutes or find an alternate route.  We decided to stay off the interstate and sought an alternate route.  Eventually, we took some side roads that let us “sneak” onto the parkway.  (There are a lot of people who live off the parkway who have to have access to portions of the road to get to their property and while the main entrances to the parkway are blocked, there is access from the less traveled roads.)  There was still a good bit of snow in the woods and there was ice on portions of the parkway.  Of course, the parkway is not maintained in the winter and we knew we were on our own, literally.  Occasionally we would see a car cross from a side road over the parkway to get to another side road.  One of those cars, not anticipating a soul on the parkway, never even stopped.  However, we were far enough away from them that it wasn’t an issue.  We had made it to Rocky Knob before we had to stop.  We had been hoping to make it all the way to Mabry Mill because from there we could access 58 and would only be a few short miles from home.  At Rocky Knob, we were about 25 miles from home but the gates were shut tight across the Blue Ridge Parkway and we didn’t know any way around other than go back a few miles and get on Highway 8.  We ended up taking a series of backroads, twisting around through areas of the Buffalo Mountain preserve and coming out eventually at Highway 58 just a few miles from home.  With all the detours and route changes, we managed to make an almost five-hour trip out of what should have been a three-hour trip but we did get to see a lot of beautiful scenery and we made it home right before dark.  By this time, we had not eaten in about 24 hours and we made our way down to The Crooked Oak, a little hometown restaurant just a few miles from our house to get a bite to eat.  Once we had been home a while and I had started the laundry (washing bedding from all the company we had last weekend) and put away the cooler full of our homegrown beef and veggies that I had brought with us, I made spinach and artichoke dip and we had that for a late-night snack.  It was good to be home, to find everything in order.  The house was warm with the new furnace and the green light from the whole house generator greeted us assuring us that even if the power went out, we would be comfortable.  We had a house full of food and memories from last weekend and the company of each other along with the promise of more than week just to ourselves.  We are blessed. 

December 17, 2017

Thursday and Friday, we never left the property.  Mike worked some on the interior portion of the barn.  It has just been too cold to work on the outside, especially to do any staining.  I worked to get things in order after our big weekend last week.  Unfortunately, we are having some issues with our new furnace.  We have been able to keep the house warm but we had the system set up so that we could pull hot water that has been heated by the furnace or we can flip a switch and use the electric hot water heater.  We realized that something wasn’t right because the furnace was running constantly to heat water and we switched it over to the electric hot water heater.  When we did, the furnace started cutting in and out and making a terrible noise as it transitioned.  (This is a brand-new furnace.)  In addition, the water never would heat, even after all night switched over to the electric hot water heater.  So currently, in order for the furnace not to run nonstop, we have to go flip a switch in the basement and pull the hot water heated by the furnace when we need it and then flip the switch off so that we are not using unrealistic amounts of fuel to heat water.  Mike is very frustrated, to say the least.  The regulator also is not working and the pressure is building up and has to be released periodically on the furnace system or it blows water all over the basement.  The men are supposed to come back out Monday to take a look at it. 

We have been watching a lot of deer move around the house now that deer season has ended.  I guess the deer are relieved that all the hunters are out of the woods and that they are able to move freely now.  And speaking of deer, we checked on our car that is in the shop after hitting the deer on Thanksgiving Day.  Our total repair costs were already at $4000 but once they started tearing it apart, they have found additional parts that need to be replaced so they are waiting on the insurance adjuster to return and approve the changes.  It is not looking like they may have it another month or more. 

Saturday, we decided to attend an auction at our favorite auction house, D&R Variety Auction in Galax.  It’s about a 45-minute drive for us.  Everything takes a little longer to reach because of the roads here in South West Virginia making things seem a little further away than they would seem in the Valley where one can hop on the Interstate and go 70 miles an hour.  That is part of why we like it so much here though.  I took along two new Mary Oliver poetry collections that Alissa had bought me and intended to read the whole time, but didn’t get far.  I had anticipated being bored and not seeing anything on which I would want to bid.  Or, as it has been recently, if I did see something it would sell for a much higher price than what I wanted to spend.  I got sucked in fairly early but backed down on a good many bids.  After looking around before the auction began, I had seen several things that I wanted to have the ability to bid a little higher on in hopes of getting a couple things I wanted for the house.  (Mostly what we buy, we resell to try to make a profit on it.)  There were some great, vintage dish drainers that I really wanted but I dropped out when the bid went high.  However, I did not back down when the vintage soap holders came up.  There were some that fit over the sides of old claw foot tubs and then some that mount on the wall for the sink or tub.  The brass holders were way out of my price range, bringing over $40 but the wire ones, although still high, were much more reasonable.  I got one to put over the edge of my tub and then four more to sell.  However, when I got home, neither of the type that goes over the edge of the tub would work on my modern tub (oh how I wish I had a claw foot tub!) and I ended up putting both of them and a wall mount in the box to price for the antique mall.  I kept back two of the wall mount type, one for the downstairs bathroom and one for the kitchen sink.  There were also boxes and boxes of vintage kitchen items that I got reasonably enough that I should be able to resell and make a profit on them.  I had fun going through the boxes once we got them home and pulling out a few pieces to display here at the house and then putting the rest in a pile to be priced.  I also got a great deal on some vintage Christmas bulbs and one box of vintage, Italian Christmas lights all in the original boxes.  It’s getting close enough to Christmas that I probably won’t be able to get those items in our booths in Verona in time to really have a chance at selling them this year, but they will store and keep until next year.  At one point, there was a table full of items that were not selling individually, so the auctioneer sold the whole table for one money.  I got the whole table of boxes, most of which I could not tell what was in them, for only $4.  I typically won’t buy large lots like this because there is always so much “junk” that has to be handled and disposed and I really dislike the time it takes to pack it all up, sort it, and then find homes for everything that we can’t use or sell.  However, this table ended up being a great deal.  There was a lot in there that we can use personally as we work around the place, such as new in the box electrical components, weather stripping, and a microfiber mop still in the plastic.  Just those items would cost more than the $4 I spent.  Then, there were plenty of other items that we can sell.  Because of the volume of small items, we had needing to be priced and because the garage was far too cold for us to sit out there to work on them, we decided to designate a room in the basement to process antiques.  Mike worked to unload the truck and I worked to sweep and arrange the room.  It’s a small room and already has a huge, vintage freezer in there (a non-working beast of a machine that no one has the desire to move) but it will work and it is relative warm in there.  Once we got everything inside, Mike was done and ready for a break from all the “junk” but I wanted to see if the Christmas lights I got worked.  Out of nine sets of lights, I got all of them working but one strand of Italian Christmas lights.  I may package them with the working box that are the same type for extra pieces and parts and sell them that way.  I am not one to hold onto and stockpile things and while it probably would be wise to hold onto them myself in case I come across some in the future and need these for parts to repair them.  However, I can’t stand for things to pile up.  That’s one of the hardest parts for me about selling antiques and vintage items.  I want to move it in, price it, and move it out without any residual leftovers.  Mike on the other hand, is the type to hang onto things because we “might” need it someday.  I had also picked up a revolving Santa and reindeer tree topper in the box that retailed for $70.00.  I wanted to put it together and make sure it worked before I priced it and put it up for resale.  That ended up being quite a project.  The Santa in his sleigh can either sit on top of the tree or there is a base so that he can be placed on a table.  There were no instructions to put it together, but it didn’t take too long for me to get the idea of what needed to be done.  However easy the concept, the practicality of getting it together was another story.  Getting the cord through the base and the piece fitted and turned just right proved to be almost impossible.  After trying and almost giving up for a good thirty minutes, I was finally able to get the chord part of the way through, attach the Santa to the base and then ease the chord under the Santa the rest of the way so that it set under the base as it was supposed to.  Then, I could not get the lights to work.  I figured it was a simple matter of replacing a bad bulb and it was, but it took me forever to find the right kind of bulb that would fit in the socket, but after about an hour, I got the whole thing working. 

Analia had her first dance recital on Saturday.  We were not in Staunton to see it and I felt a little sad about that.  Alissa sent pictures and she was precious.  We were worried that the noise and activity of the event might cause Analia to be uneasy but Alissa said she loved it and didn’t want to get off the stage when it was over.  Gabino had taken time off work to be able to go and I think it was so good for Analia to have both parents there and focused on her.  She has felt so displaced with Rory’s birth and all the attention given to the care of a new baby.  This was a special time for her. 

December 18, 2017

It was so nice to be able to relax Sunday and not have to make the trip back to Staunton.  We went to church and then I made lunch.  Afterwards, I priced over 50 items to take to the antique mall the next time we are in Verona/Staunton.  Then, we went back to church for a Christmas cantata.  I hadn’t realized that the ladies were bringing in food for afterwards and didn’t take anything but everyone insisted that there was plenty (and there was) and we did stay.  I typically don’t stay if I don’t bring anything but it seemed the right thing to do rather than run out the door after the musical presentation.  The church was full for the first time since Mike and I have been going there.  They had collaborated with the Presbyterian Church in Hillsville to put on the production and there were a lot of folks visiting from that church as well as family members of people who regularly attend Buffalo Mountain.  The best part was seeing Mrs. Childress so excited about the crowd.  She must have been but a child when Rev. Bob Childress started Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church back in 1929 but she remembers the days when the church was vibrant.  Every Sunday we are there, she tells Mike and I how happy she is that we are there and you can tell that it’s genuinely important to her.  The church also handed out little packages of fruit, candy and gum.  They said it had long been a tradition of the church.  The items were placed in a small white bag and tied around with a ribbon.  Having read the book THE MAN WHO MOVED A MOUNTAIN and knowing a little bit of the history of the church, it was pretty neat to sit there with Bob Childress’ family and the community that he promoted so many years ago and see that although it is struggling, there is still life and love there and Rev. Childress’ dreams for that community continue to live.  When the lights were turned out and the Christ candle was used to light the smaller candles and each person passed light from one to another as we sang Silent night, I got tears in my eyes.  Candle light services always bring tears to my eyes.  There is something so tender about the semblance of our sharing light with one another.  So fragile and beautiful is the flame.  We can share the light or with one breath we can smother someone else’s flame.  Christmas to me is there in the candle light each year surrounded by family and/or friends, not in the hustle, bustle, decorating, buying, giving and getting gifts.  This year, we are doubly blessed with two services, the one this week with our new church family and the one next week with Mike's family. 


Barn Restoration Update

As you can see from the "before" photo posted directly below this photo, the
exterior, loft area of the barn above the shed had not been
completed when we stopped working with the contractors and
took over the work ourselves to cut cost.  (The contractors
were doing quality work but were slow and we were going
over budget so we took over the work ourselves.)  This photo shows Mike
working on the exterior loft section.  He put a vent in for air flow in the loft
and completed the board and batting to this section. 

The contractors had completed the board and batting on the front of the barn,
but the doors had not been made or hung.  Mike used the original hardware from the
old doors to hang the new doors he constructed.  The small sliding door to the
far right goes into the milking parlor.  Mike asked me if I wanted to cover that
up and do away with it all together but it would have meant that I would have to walk all the way through the 
barn and back to the front when I am milking.  It would make it
inconvenient when I am taking equipment in or out or carrying
milk out.  I love the little sliding door.  You step inside and go down a couple of
steps into the parlor.  

In the forefront of  this photo is a huge sliding door that is going to take some special equipment to hang, as
there is no way Mike and I can lift and hang it without a tractor or loader to bear the weight.  Mike did
a great job making the barn doors.  

Close up of the sliding door going into the parlor.  Photo taken before the batting was 
added to the door.

The parlor area had two broken out windows.  They were the old slide in type and we 
just happened to have the exact size we needed.  These vintage window panes came from
the Cupp home place and add a touch of  "home" to this project that I think is
pretty special.  We are not sure if the windows came from the original house
or if they came from one of the outbuildings but they are
the perfect fit for our "new" old barn.  

Now that the weather has turned and we are experiencing cold temperatures and snow, we will turn our 
attention to the inside.  Mike has already started using board and batting to make the interior pretty as well.  We
love the look and smell of the rough cut lumber.  

This is the parlor when we started.  The photo above is a close up of the 
far wall in this photo after Mike installed the
board and batting. 

Two of our grandchildren playing in the snow beside the barn.  The side view
shows the two, repurposed windows that we took from the old
home place back in Verona.  

What better way to accent the new stain on the barn exterior than  freshly fallen, Blue Ridge Mountain
snow?  Mike was not able to get the whole barn stained before the temperature
dropped but he got a lot of it completed and it looks beautiful.  

And just in case you have forgotten, here is the way the barn looked when we started!


Monday Journals

December 7, 2017

I woke up a little after 4 am yesterday morning and decided to go ahead and get up.  I couldn’t sleep because I was missing Mike and eager to get back to Laurel Fork to be with him.  He had stayed at our place in South West Virginia to try to facilitate the furnace and propane installation and to get the whole house generator set up completed.  Every day when we would talk, there would be another delay.  I think the biggest delay was the unavailability of parts.  There are so many times as we embark on this new journey that I draw parallels between our life in Laurel Fork and the life that I once lived in Alaska.  It’s of course not anywhere near as remote or isolated as the places I lived in Alaska and the weather won’t be as extreme, but I find myself being reminded often of life there.  I Staunton, everything we want is available rather quickly should we really need it.  Just like when I lived in Delta Junction, Alaska, we can get all the basics we need here in Laurel Fork if we are willing to pay a little more.  Or we can drive a little further and have more choices.  (In Alaska that drive a little further was 200 miles round trip and in Laurel Fork it’s about 30 miles round trip to Hillsville but to get to a town with a Lowes or Walmart then the drive takes about 45 minutes one way going either into Mt. Airy North Carolina or into Galax, Virginia or to Wytheville, Virginia.  If we are willing to drive 45 minutes we have choices as to which town we want to shop.  We tend to gravitate to Galax.)  At any rate, I guess getting the various parts needed to make major installations or repairs means the parts are not in stock anywhere locally or semi locally and that holds things up, especially if something has been overlooked in the original plan.  So, day after day, the report from Laurel Fork was that the men had run into some sort of hold up that was keeping things from progressing and Mike was trying to keep the house warm with just some gas logs and electric heaters.  It wasn’t too bad until the beginning of this week when the temps started dropping and at one point, he couldn’t get the house warmer than 50 degrees. 

I left Staunton around 6:30 am after packing the car and checking on the remaining beef heifer that is to calve to make sure she was all right.  Of course, as I walked through the pasture using the headlights on my car to see, I first stepped in a pile of cow manure with the left foot and then before jumping the fence, with the right foot as well.  Mike always says if there is one bit of manure available, I will find a way to step in it.  He says he has never seen anyone get as dirty as I do.  Each trip we make south, we load up whatever vehicle we are taking with personal items from our home in Staunton as we continue to try to move our things.  Usually, whatever we are doing that weeks dictates what I bring.  This trip was a typical eclectic mix of items:  an old window out of a destroyed building off the family farm that will fit in our “new” old barn, a cooler full of our grass finished beef and homegrown veggies, a box of canned produce from this past summer, groceries that I could buy cheaper at Sharp Shoppers in Waynesboro, a fold up child’s size table and four chairs for the grandkids, and my Kitchen Aid mixer all gave clues as to what the end of the week held in store for us. 

The beginning of the week had been pretty stressful for me in Staunton.  About 45 minutes out as I was arriving in Staunton (without Mike) on Sunday, Alissa had called to say one of our beef heifers had calved and the calf was dead.  It was a large calf and we are not sure what happened, unless she was just in labor for too long.  We suspect it because Monday brought more of the same.  I woke up early to get a few things done before keeping the girls for nine hours.  The first thing I did was to check on the two remaining heifers that were to calve.  It was a full moon the night before and often, the full moon seems to encourage births in animals that are close to term.  Immediately when I saw the cow,  I knew things were not right.  There were some little hooves immerging as they should but the birth sack was already broken and the nose was peeking out and I could tell that the calf was dead.  It was obvious this was another big calf and would need to be pulled.  I tried to get to the cow and although she is a calm cow, she is not a pet and would not allow me to assist her.  I called Mike to let him know what was going on, and he called his nephew to come whenever he could to assist me.  Matt had two of his kids at home with him, a two year old and a five year old.  I had Analia who is four and Rory who is 8 months old.  It was a few hours before Matt was able to get there and when he did, we headed out to see what we could do with the heifer who had not progressed any further with delivering the calf.  Had the calf been living, we would have worked a lot faster to get her in and get the calf pulled so that we could have saved it.  With it being obvious the calf was dead, we simply needed to get him pulled so we could save the mother.  Alissa has a Tula carrier and I strapped the baby on my back, gave the two older children toy trucks and tractors and put them in a rock pile to play close to where we would be working, and the two year old we had to leave in the car seat of the truck.  Matt and I quickly came up with a plan to get the heifer from the field and into the milking parlor where we hoped to get her in the stanchion.  This is a cow who has never been in the milking parlor before and had never been in a headgate.  This is also a cow who is in a lot of pain and is tired from trying to give birth for many hours.  There are cows that would have been very aggressive under these circumstances, but these Hereford and Hereford cross cows are not aggressive.  Their calm temperaments are one of the reasons why we love the breed so much.  She didn’t know what we wanted but after a few tries, we were able to get her into the head gate.  We lured her in with a little grain, Matt got behind her to push her forward and I latched the head gate.  She stood calmly eating and we got the things together we needed to pull the calf.  Matt really did all the work.  I had Rory on my back and he was concerned that I would fall or get knocked down.  In fact, he didn’t want me in at all when we were trying to get the cow in the stanchion as he was afraid she would hurt me and hurt the baby, but I knew the cow’s disposition and I also am familiar with the body language of an aggressive cow and knew if she showed signs of aggression, I would just jump the fence and get out of the way.  It took a while because the head of the calf just did not want to pass through.  Again, if the calf had been living, we would have pulled with more urgency but at this point, we were trying to take as good a care of the mother as possible.  Matt worked with the contractions trying not to cause tearing or  hemorrhaging in the cow.  Typically, if there are two people working on a cow having difficulty delivering due to the size of the head, I will work my fingers and hands around the vulva and gently stretch the skin around the nose and face of the calf.  It seems to ease the birth process and it’s a trick I picked up from having my own children.  I can remember the doctor first stretching the skin and then making a little snip to give the baby’s head more room to pass.  After a good while, the head finally passed through and the calf was half way out.  Usually, once the head passes through, it’s easy to deliver the rest of the calf.  However, this calf was far too big and stuck again when we got to it’s hips.  At this point we had to get the calf out and I could see that Matt alone was making no progress, so I jumped in behind him and we both pulled as hard as we could until the hips passed through and the calf was delivered.  We couldn’t believe the size of the calf as it lay there on the ground.  It looked like it was half grown already.  Our attention then went to momma cow who had fallen down on the ground during all of this.  We had to stop at one point, get a horse halter and put it on her and tie her off to the stanchion once we opened the head gate.  When she went down to the ground, there was a possibility that she might not be able to breath with the bars pressing against her large neck.  Once the calf was out, we needed to try to get her up.  There was a lot of blood and fluids on the wood floor, so we threw some saw dust down to soak up the liquid and give her some traction.  We tried several times to get her up but she was shaking from the stress of the whole ordeal and from her muscles being weak from so much exertion over such a long period of time.  I tried to give her water and she didn’t want it.  Matt left with his two kids and I took Analia and Rory back inside to feed them.  Rory had fallen asleep on my back and I was able to put her on her pillow in the floor and get Analia some lunch.  Periodically, we would go out and check on the cow but with the little ones right there with me, I couldn’t put a lot of pressure on the cow to get up.  After she had rested a few hours, Gabino got home from work and was able to get her up.  She has recovered nicely and will be fine.  Matt has been subleasing the family farm and running his cattle there along with Mike’s.  Mike sold a lot of his cows last year and we now run about 30 head with the cattle Matt has there.  Mike sold his two Hereford bulls and Matt uses his bulls to breed the cattle.  The bull that sired the calves that are being born now is a new bull for the herd and it looks like his genetics are throwing some oversized calves.  While you want a healthy sized calf, you don’t want a calf that causes birthing issues.  This bull is supposed to be a low birth weight bull but it didn’t work out that way with our two heifers.  As more calves are born in the herd, we will get a better feel for if the bull is throwing consistently large calves. 

Aside from all the drama from the calving issues, we decided that Analia may have in fact had a concussion.  She had been ice skating with friends on Sunday when she fell and hit her head.  Later that night, she vomited while asleep.  I thought perhaps it might be a virus, but she ran no fever and she had no recollection of having been sick the next morning.  No one else in the family got sick, so that makes me think that it might have been from the blow to her head.  I tried to keep her as calm and still as possible on Monday although I don’t know how calming it is to play in the rock pile while watching a calf be pulled.  Other than that, we played quietly and read.  No television or electronic devices.  (We limit her time anyway, but we do let her watch a youtube video or television in moderation.) 

Tuesday I had a list a mile long of things I needed to do and only got about half of them accomplished but I took about an hour and visited with Kristin and the twins who had come to see Alissa and the girls.  The grands all enjoyed being together after about a month apart and I was so happy to have them all at the house.  We ordered pizza for lunch and then I had to leave them to finish my errands before getting back by four to watch the girls for the evening.  Alissa was about an hour late getting home Tuesday night and her cell phone had gone dead.  I am usually pretty calm but for some reason I got really scared when I didn’t hear from her, as she always keeps in touch when she is going to be late.  I was really relieved when she walked in the door. 

So, when I couldn’t sleep and woke up early on Wednesday morning, I was ready to get back to Laurel Fork and get a hug from my Sweetheart.  It had been a long two days and three nights.  I arrived back at our South West Virginia home around 9:30 am, got a big hug and kiss from Mike, and hit the ground running.  The men arrived shortly after I did to work on the furnace.  The house was cold and I ran a little electric heater while I put away the things I had brought back from Staunton, made a double batch of fresh apple cake, and wrapped Christmas gifts.  It was pretty chaotic with the men finally getting the furnace running and then needing to “bleed the lines” at each register in this old farmhouse.  We have a hot water baseboard heating system with the old fashioned registers in each room.  When the men had removed the old furnace, they had spilled oil on the floor in the basement.  They walked through the house bleeding the lines, water squirting over their containers and onto the floor and black oil marks from their feet everywhere.  Fortunately, realizing they would make a mess, I had held off cleaning the house even though we are going to have a house full of guests this weekend. 

Our rental car that we got after we hit the deer had to be returned.  I had searched to see if there was someplace closer we could return it but our choice was either Roanoke or Winston Salem, neither of them convenient.  I had gone right by Roanoke on the way down but when the men coming to work on the furnace, Mike was not able to leave in order to meet me and drive me back.  I had called and begged for a grace period on return time as it was supposed to be returned by noon.  They said since I didn’t pick it up until 3:40, I could keep it until then and they would give me 30 minutes grace period beyond that which meant I had to get it turned in by 4:30 pm.  We didn’t know until the last minute whether I would need to extend the rental agreement due to not being able to get it back on Wednesday.  It depended on whether we could get the furnace men out of the house in time.  Around 2:30 Mike told me just to go ahead and take the car and wait for him at the airport until he could get there to pick me up.  I drove as fast as I could on the curvy back roads and then hit Interstate 81 which was slammed with tractor trailers and a mess.  It was getting later and later and I was afraid I was not going to make it in time.  I also had to stop and top off the tank.  I ended up parking the car and checking in right at the end of my grace period.  We have had the car for 11 days but our insurance won’t pay for any additional days.  Later in the month, we have to make a trip to my grandma’s and will have to rent a car again because the body shop says that it will be definitely after Christmas and possibly after New Year’s before they have our car repaired from the run in we had with the deer on the interstate.  The estimate right now is over $4000 worth of damage but they say there could be more when they get into it. 

Mike brought the one-ton farm truck to the airport to pick me up and we went to get a bite to eat while we were in Roanoke.  We were relieved when we got home and found the house warm for the first time in over a week.  After so much stress for so many days, I had a hard time settling down and the normal feelings of relaxation when I am in our Southwest Virginia home eluded me.  I’m sure the stress of the beginning of the week, all the driving (which fortunately I rarely have to deal with as Mike does all of the driving when we are together because I hate interstate driving), and all I want to accomplish in the next 48 hours made it difficult for me to really relax. 

We are super excited because Kristin and the twins are making their first visit to Southwest Virginia.  We have a Christmas get together planned with all the grandkids, our two daughters (their husbands are working), Mike’s mom, Mike’s sister and her son and his wife and three kids who live in Blacksburg, about 50 minutes from us.  However, with all the workers here my house is filthy, I have none of the food prepared yet, and I don’t have the Christmas trees yet.  I also need to do more grocery shopping.  Today is Thursday and I need to get pretty much everything done before tomorrow afternoon when our guests start arriving.  I’m trying to breathe and remember that no matter what I do or don’t get done, just being together is the most important thing. 

December 8, 2017

Today is an exciting day!  If all goes well, Kristin and the twins will be here by this evening!  When we first began looking at property in Southwest Virginia, we entertained the thought of a small get away cabin.  Well, I entertained the thought of a small get away cabin because my dreams weren’t big enough.  As Mike and I worked through and communicated about our desires and as the area became more and more a part of what we wanted for our future, our dream grew to include a house that was big enough for all the grandkids to visit at the same time.  I think that might have been the single most important factor in all of searching.  When we found our home, it just seemed like such a fun place for kids with plenty of property to roam, a creek, a picnic shelter, plenty of beds, and fun little cubby holes in which to play that one only finds in old houses.  We have filled our Southwest Virginia home with family on multiple occasions in the last nine months since we bought it, but our daughter Kristin and her kids, Hudson and Ella have not been able to make the trip.  Their family have made some changes and have more transitions in their near future as Kristin resigned her job and her husband Nate is graduating from James Madison University next week.  Tomorrow, Alissa and her two girls will join the group.  We are just thrilled to finally have the opportunity to have all the grandkids here and I want so much for it to be a fun time for them.  I worked yesterday to try to get the food started for our get together on Saturday.  I would like to get as much done before everyone gets here, so that I can spend my time with them rather than in the kitchen.  I tried to keep the menu simple so that I I could concentrate on our guests.  We will be having sandwiches, soup, salads and appetizers.  I can get pretty much all of that ready ahead of time.  (Of course, last minute preparation always takes more time than one anticipates.)  Our home is more conducive for warm weather entertaining with a large, wrap around, covered porch and a picnic shelter so that folks can spread out.  It will be a little tight with 15 of us here tomorrow but the house will be filled with stories, teasing, and laughter.  I love these times.

Yesterday was a milestone with the house because everything finally came together with the home projects.  The furnace man tied up all the loose ends with the furnace and the Generac representative got the whole house generator fired up and operational.  These completed projects along with the installation of the 500 gallon propane tank and all the propane lines run into the house earlier in the week means that we should be able to rest easy knowing the house will be safe, warm and we will have power even when the main source is down.  We have always had a generator that runs off the PTO on the tractor but it required Mike to go out in the weather to get everything going and we would only run it long enough to keep the house from freezing up or to complete small jobs (like milking) and then we would turn it off.  We have actually gone multiple days using the generator in Staunton when we have had power outages.  It will be wonderful to have instant power that doesn’t require Mike to go out in adverse conditions and set up the generator.  The whole house generator is something that I had strong feelings about when we bought this property, and I am thankful that project is completed.  (We do not have a back up system to the barn and will have to address that in the future.  We may have to run a small, PTO driven generator at the barn to milk the cows in the event of a power outage.)  I do have to say that with all the difficulties we have had trying to get good contractors to address the projects we wanted to tackle, the company that handled the installation of the generator was the most efficient and professional and the owner was incredibly kind.  We really enjoyed doing business with them.  We also ended up with a good relationship with the company that installed the furnace, even though it took them twice as long to get it installed as they anticipated and we were left in the cold for multiple days.  Mike really liked the owner of the company from the beginning and we feel he was very fair to us.  We had reservations about the gentleman doing the installation because we were not happy with the fact he took the old furnace out before having everything he needed to make the new installation, but we ended up developing a relationship with him over the days he worked here.  He was very concerned about doing the job correctly.  Even though he never mentioned it to me, I knew through Mike that the man’s girlfriend had passed away a few months ago and several years ago he had lost his wife.  I sent him home with half of a fresh apple cake, a jar of pickles, and a jar of jam.  I remember when I lost my son how just putting one foot in front of the other was a chore for so long.  I also remember how difficult it was to work through the fog to be able to think clearly on projects that required planning.  The more I thought about it, the more I could understand how difficult it must be for him to work through such a big project with the grief hanging dark around his heart.  In the end, we had a quality installation and a good relationship with the company. 

We had to stick around the house until mid afternoon when the furnace man finished up and then I had to make a trip into Hillsville for groceries.  I wanted to find a Christmas tree and we stopped at the little Christmas tree farm just a couple miles from us.  This area has a lot of Christmas tree farms, large and small.  However, I could only find three that were selling directly to the public.  One of those had a nice web site and looked like they had a lot going on with their farm, they advertised as being environmentally friendly, using no pesticides or herbicides on their farm, and had a farm store.  However, when I called them, their prices were twice as much as everyone else.  The other tree farm I had heard advertised on the radio was only open on Saturday and Sunday.  I preferred to patronize the little farm closest to us and when we stopped, there wasn’t anyone there.  We went on to Hillsville to do the grocery shopping but didn’t have time to stop again because we had to get home.  When it was getting close to dark, we decided to run up the road to check again to see if anyone was at the tree farm.  We were in luck and saw a truck just pulling in to the lot.  The trees were priced starting at 6 feet and I told the gentleman that I only needed a 4-5 foot tree.  He told me to pick what I wanted and he would cut it for us.  We found a nice little Frasier.  I enjoyed talking to the tree farmer.  He was able to fill us in on a little local history and threw out some family names possible associated with the property we purchased.  I love leads like that and I hope that some day I can spend some time immersing myself in the local history.  When I mentioned that we were working on the barn and that I intended to move my Jerseys next summer, he told me about when he was just a kid and milked two dairy cows and sold the milk for spending money.  He said he wasn’t very old and it was his personal project.  That told me a lot about the man and his work ethic, that even as a young child he was willing to work to earn spending money.  He said he teaches and coaches at the school and then has the tree farm as well.  We enjoyed our short visit with him and it made me feel good that we got our tree from him. 

I broke the news to Mike that I had forgotten to bring a tree stand of which we have multiples in Staunton.  We stopped at the dollar store, not wanting to make a trip back into Hillsville and not having time to do so anyway.  The dollar store did not have any tree stand.  A galvanized bucket and a few bricks later coupled with a lot of grumbling by my Sweetheart and the tree was standing.  I had chosen a small tree so that I could set it on a rustic table and keep it higher off the ground so that the baby can’t pull it over…..or at least it will make it harder for her to pull over.  I am pretty convinced Rory can do anything she sets her mind to and getting into things is high on her list of priorities.  It was getting late and I still had to fix supper and finish up a couple dishes for our event on Saturday so I didn’t decorate the tree.  I  had been up almost 18 hours and was ready for bed. 

December 11, 2017

A winter storm almost kept our daughters and grandkids from being able to make it to our place for the weekend, but when we called and encouraged them to leave Harrisonburg and Staunton immediately and get ahead of the storm, they did so, and were able to make it just in time.  Kristin and the twins arrived before there was much snow on the roads and had been at the house about an hour when Alissa called.  She was about 45 minutes away and stranded.  She had made it to a safe place to wait and Mike and I took the four wheel drive truck to get her.  We put the car seats in the truck and I drove Alissa and the girls and Mike attempted to bring her car.  I made it home with the girls but Mike called me to come back for him.  He was less than a mile from our house but the car would not make the hill, slid, and was nose first on a steep bank.  I turned around and went back to Mike.  He got a strap on the car and I was able to pull him out but when he tried a second time to get the car up the hill, it just wasn’t happening.  We got the car off the road into an unused driveway and went on home.  The rest of the weekend was picture perfect.  We had a beautiful snow on the ground (about six inches or more, I’m guessing) and we were able to get the three older grandkids outside for a good while.  They had the best time sledding down the hill in our back yard.  Then we walked up to the barn and they played in the snow under the old trees and I thought about how I couldn’t have asked for anything more.  Everything was exactly as I wanted it to be with all the grandkids there with us in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It was so peaceful and beautiful and everyone was happy.  We went inside later to warm up and Kristin and I helped the kids string popcorn, cranberries, and cereal to make edible garland for the birds.  We also took pine cones, covered them in peanut butter and rolled them in birdseeds.  Before dark, we went back outside and decorated the little pine tree that Mike had planted for us.  The children were so excited about the project and I was so thankful that I thought to do it with them.  We did a lot of eating (the rest of our company was unable to make it in before the weather got bad), a lot of laughing, and the kids did a lot of playing.  When we first looked at the house and thought about buying it, I could imagine our grandkids all over the house playing and out in the yard running around.  Seeing all of them there together was a dream come true.  They found all the hidden places where children like to play in old farm houses and the house was filled with their shrieks of laughter.  To calm them down from time to time, we spent a lot of time reading new books and playing games.  No one wanted to go home come Sunday afternoon.  The children all cried because they wanted to stay.  The only thing that could have made us happier was if Mike’s son who lives in Thailand could have been there as well.  And of course, I missed Josh and thought of him often.  My heart is filled with thankfulness for our blessings.