My first attempt at digital storytelling. I see the appeal.
When we moved to the farm, we packed all our books in boxes, and then had the first flower season. It was after that, in October, when we realized that the farm house had no place for books. Or rather, that the one place it had for books was better used for the wood stove.
So we installed the wood stove, not the book shelves.
And our books sat in the barn for five years, collecting dust in their raccoon-urine stained boxes.
Occasionally, we’d go through them, looking for a specific title, but mostly, we’d just look longingly at them.
So when, last night, we finally got the shelves assembled, installed, and anchored to the wall in the new house, it was like beams of light from heaven shining on the whole enterprise.
In our old house, we had one living space. That space held the wood stove, the TV/Entertainment Center, and the computer desk. Our new home is not huge by most peoples’ standards; however, it has a living room upstairs, which now houses the piano that our neighbors gave us and no electronic screens, a living room downstairs where the TV now lives, and a separate office/library.
It’s so much luxury.
I don’t think it’s like this for all farmers, but our specific brand of small farm required us to give up so many other parts of ourselves just to hold it all together, like the part that believes books are the absolute heart of a home.
We knew we were sacrificing while we were there. But I don’t think we knew how much until we were suddenly able to have all those pieces of ourselves back at once. Even Matty said, while we were walking the dogs last night, that he hadn’t really realized how many parts of himself he’d had to suppress to try to fit into that life.
And you what? We still have a garden. We’ve kept a piece.
I guess I’m just marveling today, as I have been for most of the summer, how free and simple and sweet life without that damn farm is.
I read a novel (one of many!) this summer called Motherlunge by Kirstin Scott. I’ve taken it back to the library, so what follows is not a direct quote, but there is a line in the novel where the main character, addressing her future child, says (again, not a direct quote), “Don’t be someone who doesn’t chase your dream. But don’t be someone who never gives up, either.”
This, friends, is good advice for life.
I did not plant any squashes this year. Not summer, not winter. No squash.
It was a mistake. I miss zucchini, if you can even believe that.
But my friends and neighbors have tons, and I have some great sweet zucchini recipes, which I am kind enough to share today. Happy baking, fine gardeners!
Both of these recipes are from a cookbook called “Simply in Season”. It’s worth buying, this cookbook.
Cream together 3/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar. Add 1 egg and beat. In a separate bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. ground cloves.
Shred 1 1/2 cups zucchini, and add to creamed mixture, alternating with dry mixture.
Add 3/4 cup raisins and 3/4 cup chocolate chips. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes.
Combine 1 cup all purpose flour, 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1/3 cup baking cocoa, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Stir in 3 cups of shredded zucchini. In a separate bowl, combine 1 egg, 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup oil, 1 tsp. vanilla.
Stir wet ingredients into zucchini mix. Spread into 9X13 pan. Add 1 cup dark chocolate chips and 1/2 cup nuts. Bake at 350 until toothpick comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.
“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud
turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade,
water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.”
— Luther Burbank (American horticulturalist and botanist, 1849 – 1926)
We are so thankful for generous friends and a weekend in the mountains. This is why we stopped farming. And it is good.
Our former farm volunteers, Ian and Darci, just had their first baby. She’s tiny and beautiful; like all newborns, she’s simultaneously fragile and strong. Like an egg.
Here is something about Ian and Darci. They are the most energetic people ever. They are indefatigable. They volunteered for hours on our farm every week for three years, and we were but one of many causes they held dear.
Like all new parents, however, they are also simultaneously fragile and strong, like eggs.
We found these two tireless superhumans exhausted and beat down by an ordeal that had them in the hospital for days and days.
They have a large community garden plot, and when their little egg arrived early and not-at-all-as-birth-planned (as so many decide to do), their garden suffered a bit of neglect. There were some weeds.
Because both their mothers were in town and they didn’t need baby or meal type help, we offered garden type help.
The kids and I drove over on a Saturday morning and got after those weeds.
The boy declared (I swear I’m not making this up): “It feels good to have my hands in some soil again.”
The girl wanted assurances that next summer’s garden in the new house would be better than this year’s, which is tiny and a bit disappointing.
They worked with me for an hour and a half or so, and then went to explore the city park that houses the community garden.
I finished up and found them climbing trees by the pond, observing a family of ducks in the reeds.
It felt good to repay help we’d been given with help we could give. We weren’t as reciprocal about that as we’d like to be during our years on the farm. Now we can, and I’m glad that we are able to make it happen.
Our life without the farm is wonderful. We are blessed.
But there are days that it feels a little too big-sky, too free. Without a farm to drive us, there are days I worry that we have no real sense of direction left.
And then I remember.
Get your hands in the new soil. Help people. Reconnect. Grow something.
It’s not that different, after all.
Most healthy perennials, like rhubarb or bearded irises, after happily growing for three to five years in one spot, stop thriving.
They become rootbound and crowded, and you have to dig them up and separate their roots into clumps.
One plant yields the rooty, earthen starts for many other plants. Often, you have to give some of these starts away. There’s not always room to keep everything.
Before you replant the tender, fragile root clumps that you have kept, you have to make sure the soil is healthy. You add amendments, check for pests and disease, maybe even decide to relocate. You don’t have a lot of time, because those tender little plants need the shelter of loam and compost to keep them from drying out completely.
So you find good soil, or make some, and then you replant.
It takes deliberate, focused attention to get the new starts to root, once more, deep into the soil. It’s like a new infancy. The plants, shocked and dependent, have to muster their resources to start over.
But if care is taken, eventually, inevitably, they take off and thrive, and their roots grow even stronger.
I understand this cycle. I believe in it. It is the entire reason we (farmers, gardeners, humans) grow, this belief that we can make the next season even better.
This summer we are like divided perennials. We are rhubarb. We are irises.
We are in rich, fertile soil, and we are taking care of our tender roots.
It does look better. There is no denying that. Still grumpy about it, though.
The farm did not appraise for sale price. Not even close. In fact, the difference between the appraisal we got 6 months ago and the FHA appraisal we got last week was more than $40,000.
Appraisals are, apparently, not super objective devices. An FHA appraisal stays with a property for 6 months, so from now until almost the end of the year, if anyone else wanted to buy our farm with FHA financing, they would be tied to that same appraisal.
We were, initially, disappointed. Shocked. Reeling. All bets were suddenly off. We couldn’t possibly sell for that much less.
Then we realized that maybe we could. We called the bank, and found that even with this much reduced down payment, we could still qualify for and afford the home we had under contract in Loveland.
We love that house. We negotiated a great price on that house. We have a great interest rate locked in for 45 days. We are tired of living in the “going to move” limbo and are ready to just get it done.
These things are real.
The $40,000 that we had, on paper, in one appraisal and in a solid offer on our house, well, maybe that was always just imaginary money.
Maybe if we wait six months, the farm will be worth that much more. And maybe it won’t. And maybe we can drive ourselves crazy sitting here waiting around for that imaginary money to materialize.
We are choosing the things that are real. We agreed to sell at the lower price. We are bird in hand people.
Then, to add insult to injury, the FHA came back with a list of improvements we will have to make before closing. . .paint the house trim and the garage, remove “debris” piles (which on a farm includes useful things such as tomato stakes and wood bark mulch), and whatever else they decide after they review things more closely on Monday morning.
I am more upset at having to do this stuff than I am at losing the imaginary money.
We scraped and prepped the house and the garage yesterday. We raked our “debris” into a giant pile and had a nice bonfire. We made s’mores. Today we rented a sprayer and will finish the painting. And then we will wait to see what nonsense the FHA adds to the list tomorrow.
It’s not so bad, really. I’m trying to have a decent attitude about the repairs to set a good example for the children. After all, last year at this time, we were pretty sure we were going to lose our shirts completely. There are plenty of people who have, since 2008, ended up in far worse situations than this.
Believe it or not, as long as we can still close and move into our new home, I feel pretty good about how it’s working out.
I mean, I would feel better if we could sell for the original sale price. I’m not going to lie about that.
But we have a lot of good things happening, things that are real. I’m going to focus on those things and just hope that the end of May finds us hanging art on the walls of our new home.
Off to paint with somewhat manufactured cheerfulness. Happy Mother’s Day, all.
We have been, slowly but surely, cleaning up the corral and the barn and everything, trying to get ready in case this long shot that is our appraisal comes in where we need it to.
Filling that dumpster has been really hard.
Not literally. There is a lot of junk lying around out here. We have been junk collectors for years now, since on a farm, everything has the potential to be useful. It’s very easy to actually fill that dumpster.
However, that dumpster is a very obvious metaphor for the end of this era of our lives.
We have joked more than once that we are throwing our dreams into that dumpster. There goes the materials for that unfulfilled plan. Here are the obsolete pieces of that season.
We laugh every time. Like sad clowns.
I’ll be happy when they haul that dumpster off the farm. It’s hard not to see it as a giant reminder of everything we couldn’t quite achieve.