January 18, 2018
This winter will be remembered as “the cold one”, at least until another winter comes along. We tend to forget and think our current situation is “the worst it has every been” in most instances. The past few years have been so mild that I think our perspective is a bit skewed this year about the cold. Of course, the battles we have had first with getting a heat source installed and then with fighting a poorly insulated farm house have made the situation feel a little more desperate. Then, there is the contrast of being back in Staunton in the well-insulated house with more than adequate wood heat where the kids keep the temperature turned up past 70 degrees. This makes our little farmhouse in the mountains seem even colder after being more than toasty in Staunton. We are back to Laurel Fork and working hard to keep the temperature at a comfortable 65 degrees while the wind blows with a chill of about ten below zero last night. The good news is that it is supposed to warm up some today. We had a mere dusting of snow on the ground in Staunton when we left Wednesday afternoon. We had several stops to make, including stopping in Salem to pick up our car that was finally repaired after our incident on Thanksgiving Day when we hit the deer. After 10+ weeks, almost eight thousand dollars (all but the deductible paid by the insurance company), and a wait of two of those weeks for the insurance company to determine whether they wanted to simply total the vehicle, we finally have the car back. From Salem, I drove the truck and Mike drove the car on to or home in Laurel Fork. The further south we drove, the worse the roads got, and of course by this time it was dark. I’m never overly comfortable with driving in winter conditions because I am much to practical to assume that nothing can go wrong. However, having lived in Alaska and out west for a number of years, I have enough experience driving in winter conditions that I don’t panic. As we were driving last night and passing only a car here or there along the way, I thought about how I would much rather take my chances out on these back roads with only an occasional car than to be out on the interstate or on the more travelled roads in the Valley. I know I would feel differently if I went off the road and a car didn’t come along and I was without cell phone service, which could definitely happen, but I figure I am less likely to have an accident here. Ever since moving to Virginia, I have said that it’s not the bad roads that make me fearful but rather the inexperience of people who are not use to driving in those conditions. When we finally arrived at our house, there appeared to be about five or six inches of snow on the ground in our little “holler”. We didn’t have a lot to unload this time. I have been going through boxes of small things at the house and sorting lots of paperwork, throwing away what I can as we try to downsize and organize slowly as we move. This trip I only had one box to bring where I had consolidated several boxes into one unit. We were able to get into the house quickly and start the job of trying to warm the place up. We cut the heat back on the propane while we are away and attempt to use the fireplace to help supplement when we are at the old farmhouse. This morning, Gabino called to tell us that the electricity had been out several times during the night, was currently off and the house in Staunton was getting cold. He was working towards getting the generator running there but the electricity did come back on before he had to fire up the generator. With the milder weather and no major weather events the last several years, we have not had to use the generator in Staunton. The generator there runs off the PTO on the tractor and there have been years when we had to use it quite a bit, but thankfully, this time it wasn’t necessary.
January 19, 2018
We had to go into Hillsville to conduct a little bit of business and also pick up a few things at the grocery store yesterday. Mike also ended up buying a new chain saw while we were in town. He had been price shopping and found that one of the local businesses was competitive with the prices he had found on the particular model in which he was interested. He and Gabino have been struggling with the chain saw that he had, and so far, no one has been able to repair it. While Mike was checking on the saw, I sat in the truck and made some calls to get information on some bills I needed to pay for my grandmother. Our cell phone service is so poor in Laurel Fork, that it’s difficult to have a conversation on the phone. I feel like we are prime candidates for those cell phone commercials where the guy keeps saying, “Can you hear me now?” I never mind the lack of service though, because it means that things are quiet for us when we are here. Most texts come through eventually in their own time, so that’s our most reliable way of keeping in touch with the kids back home. In an emergency, they will text and tell us to call and then we can find that one spot in the house where we have phone service, or we can go outside and take a hike to higher ground where service is more reliable. Mike said something today about advertising that we have steers ready to be butchered. I know the time is coming soon when I will need to reactivate my farm page on Facebook and try to re-establish some connections through that page for our business. It definitely hurt us in some ways for me to shut that page down, and so abruptly. (I wrote about my break from social media in a recent, stand alone blog post.) There was a time when I would even dream of leaving social media and my connections there through Facebook. I had worked so hard for so many years to build and establish those connections, starting with a mass email list that was sort of like a farm diary, then becoming involved in an online forum that supported family cow owners, and on to the start of my blog with a very simple post in July of 2008. I believe it was a couple years after that I started the farm page on Facebook. At the time, I started it kind of “tongue in cheek” as a way to poke fun at the popular online phenomenon “Farmville” and later realized I had tapped into something that worked to promote our small, family farm. Of course, as time went on, I found more and more people utilizing Facebook as a means to promote their farms. Walking away from ten years of “self-advertising” of our farm and the products and livestock we had to offer was a little bit disconcerting to me but at that moment when I made the sudden decision to leave social media for a while, it seemed like the best option for our family, and indeed, it has turned out the sabbatical has been a real blessing. It feels like now though that we need to return sometime in the near future and begin to build again what we so abruptly left. Because of the changes we have made, the transitions that are taking place, the fact our focus is different, and because the nature of people seems to be if one does not keep the momentum going then they lose interest, it just feels like things will be different when we return to our social media connections. Whatever happens, it will be ok.
I was able to spend some unhurried time in the kitchen today. I don’t know who is happier when that happens. Mike loves to eat, although one would never know it by looking at him, and I love to cook. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than using the ingredients that we have set aside to create a simple meal. I used our ground beef and some canned pizza sauce made from ingredients from our garden to make homemade pizza. Using the oven helps to warm the old farm house and I decided that I wanted to make a Hot Milk Cake to go along with some of the strawberries from last year’s garden that we had frozen. I made the cake in a cast iron skillet and the skillet lended itself perfectly to that particular recipe.
January 21, 2018
Some mornings when I wake, my mind is so full of things I want to journal and this morning is one of those times. However, the thoughts I have don’t always evolve into words, try as I might. Overwhelmingly this morning I am just feeling a sense of gratefulness. I have lived, at 50, twice as long as my mother lived and over twice as long as my son lived. I use to wonder if I would live to be thirty. I don’t think those feelings were odd for I have heard of others who experienced death of a close family member at a young age, and they too wondered if they would die young. It wasn’t something upon which I dwelt, but I did think of it from time to time and hope that I would have the opportunities to experience my children lives and possibly even my grandchildren. Here I am, middle aged, and more than ever I am faced with the reality of the brevity of life. And those thoughts, though they sound some what melancholy, are in fact what makes me grateful. I am grateful that although my body is aging I am still well enough and strong enough to do the things I enjoy. I’m slower and lack the energy that I had even two years ago. I feel the signs of aging and I see the signs of aging when I look in the mirror. But, I am still strong and healthy even if I am slower, and slower and less energetic is not always a bad thing. I have gained so much by slowing down and choosing what is important, rather than just trying to do it all.
With warmer temperatures the last two days, the snow in the mountains started to melt. It’s not completely gone and it’s still very wet, but a lot of it has come off the ground, and patches of brown grass can be seen everywhere. The nicer weather made it comfortable for Mike to work in the barn. He was even able to do some staining on the exterior yesterday afternoon. The temperature was borderline for staining being in the low 50’s and it was very windy, but he did get the one side of the barn itself painted. He still has to stain the back side of the shed that is attached to the barn and hopes he might be able to get that done today. While Mike worked on the barn, I worked on the chicken house. This particular house was what I would term a “commercial” house for probably the 1950’s era. It is two stories with the upper half mostly being used for storage and the bottom half being used as a shop in recent years. I am going to clean out the upper portion of the chicken house and use it for my birds. I got a lot done, but there is still a lot to do. The folks had stored remnants of carpet, probably from the 50’s and all kinds of wire, tongue and grove flooring, wall trim bundled together, shingles, pieces of ceramic tile, cardboard, old hoses and inflations from the milking parlor, glass jars, cans, old pieces of stoves, wire racks and the list goes on and on. I made piles on one end of the large chicken house: scrap metal for salvage, garbage to go to the landfill, vintage items that might sell, and items we can repurpose. And, I carried out piles and piles of wood scraps, old lumber, old boards and trim to be burned in a huge bonfire. I uncovered a section of the flooring that will have to be replaced along the edge of the building where a large vent meets the metal roof and where the rain has been coming in and completely rotted out that small area. I swept up a lot of dirt, pieces of broken glass, and small pieces of trash. I was covered in dirt and dust by the time I had put in half a good three hours of work in the chicken house, but I was happy to see the progress I had made. One of the things I enjoy about being in Laurel Fork is taking the time to do things that I enjoy even if it takes a little extra time and effort. I decided that since we had a nice fire going in the fireplace, I would cook split pea soup in the dutch oven over the coals. I got so carried away outside working in the chicken house, that I didn’t go in to check on the soup for a while and I did burn one little portion of it where the dutch oven didn’t get rotated away from the heat. However, the soup was delicious. This is the second time I have cooked on the hearth in the last few weeks and to me its just so much fun. I’ve always enjoyed dutch oven cooking over an outdoor campfire, so it’s kind of neat to be able to do that right on the open hearth inside our home. There’s just something satisfying to me about keeping a fire going and using the fire to cook. In Alaska, I loved to use my old wood cookstove. It took some dedication to start the fire, get the oven to the right temperature and fix a meal, but to me it was a skill worth practicing and I did it because I enjoyed it. I feel the same way about cooking on the hearth. I wouldn’t want to have to do it all the time, of course, but it’s fun to do every once in a while. While keeping the fireplace burning has taken up a good bit of our time while we are in Laurel Fork, it has been fun using it to supplement our propane furnace. We heat with wood all the time in Staunton, but we don’t get to enjoy the view of the flame. It is much more efficient to run that outdoor wood boiler though! We left Laurel Fork late this afternoon after going to church and then hanging around the house for a while. Mike or I neither one wanted to leave and I always see that as a good thing. I took a short hike up to “the back forty” with the weather being so nice today. The ground was soft, slippery, and muddy but the air was warm with temps near sixty and the view of Buffalo Mountain never disappoints. On the way back down, I startled a fox who wasn’t expecting to see a human obviously, slipped around the tree and down into the woods where he felt safer.
January 22, 2018
It’s Monday and the Little People and I are well into our day even though it is not quite nine o’clock. I was up a little after five, showered, dressed and picked up the house a bit. Since the girls have been up, we have made breakfast and cleaned up, washed the big window on the door and wiped down the stainless-steel refrigerator, cleaned the high chair, made the beds and gathered the laundry for washing. It’s always fun to see the joy on the faces of the Little People when Mike and I arrive back to Staunton and I am always thankful we have the opportunity to make these day to day kinds of memories with them. One thing I really enjoy about being in Staunton is the gorgeous sunrise that greets us most every day. With wide open spaces here, we get the views that we don’t get in our little holler in the mountains. I love both places and today just feels like we have a balance in our lives and have the best of both worlds in so many ways. I miss my animals when I am away from Staunton as well and it is nice to be able to view them from the windows and spend time in the barnyard petting them. I remarked to the kids this morning how round and fat the Jersey girls are getting. The good hay and the babies growing in their bellies along with their winter fur makes them look plump. I love to hear the sounds of the goats calling when I open the kitchen door which sets the turkeys to gobbling. The young heifers come running when they see us, thinking they are going to get another flake of hay, even though they don’t need one. Life is good.