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.