Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

the kitchen after: a detail

When we moved in, I needed something with which to line the cabinet shelves. I decided to use all those old canvases of oil paintings from college. So where do the clean pyrex bowls go? In the cabinet by the stove, on top of the boobs.

before and after: kitchen part 1

This is what our lovely farmhouse kitchen looked like one year ago. Gorgeous, no? I mean, the cave-like feel, the wagon wheel light fixture, the shake shingle ceiling...awesome.

We've done what we can...including painting the ceiling. That was a horrific experience for Wes, but the result is something we can live with until deciding whether or not to tear off the whole thing at a later date.

before and after: kitchen, part 2

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Gardener

I love to watch
the plants grow,
she said -
her torso draped
in that black t-shirt
and shrouded
by the lingering night.

The sun had yet
to crest
in the valley
below our ridge.

Out of the saturated earth
in the small yogurt cups,
the tender shoots
stretched fragile arms:
broccoli, pepper,
basil, jalepeno.

Tiny miracles,
barely standing
in so much dark,
in the early morning,
in the quiet adoration
of the gardener's heart.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A New Season

March 9th: I slay thee poplar and return thy sage and pale yellow meat from whence it came: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Thus spoke … me. At a quarter to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the splitting axe found the last two hearts of timber, the last to be chopped for this winter.

Choppin’ wood has become a topic of conversation with a few members of our church, and a kind man brought it up in the narthex after the service of worship this past Sunday. He asked me if I was still burning. I told him I was, but the end was near. It was then I, the pastor, made my own confession: “You know, I thought this wood burning stuff was pretty manly in December. But … by the time February rolled around, I was done with being manly.” Once again, I managed to say something that I would never say if I actually possessed forethought. Thankfully, my friend laughed with me, not at me.

I am not the only one ready to disavow myself from winter and its chores. Spring is flirting with our long-buried hopes, and is wooing us with fairer days. This past Friday temperatures reached into the 50’s, and it was its own kind of intoxication. It just so happened that the sublime day was also the day we had committed to being outside and doing work.

Early in the morning, Gramma Lis came by to deliver a heaping bowl of steel-cut oats to our table. We sat mixing berries and syrup into our own bowls, talking and trying to determine what was to be done, who would watch the children, and what we would eat for lunch. Confusion was beginning to sprout, at which point Gramma Lis insisted on taking the kids into town and freeing us to do some work. We were freed by a sacrifice.

Without the responsibility of caring for our children, Anna and I hopped in the truck and in a few minutes we were on Manhattan Road. The chicks are soon to arrive, and we were in search of two necessities: chicken feed and sawdust. After a few calls to grain mill operators, Anna discovered that while Greencastle’s feed store does not carry any natural chicken feed, Cloverdale’s mill does. So it was Anna and I parked our petite 4x4 truck amidst a row of F-250’s and Silverado’s in the chalky gravel lot, and walked into the store looking exactly like what we are: ignorant, eager and overwhelmed. But, despite our foolish searching for chicken feed amidst cat, dog and bird food, we were soon wise enough to consult a man who clearly could help – he decked in Carhartt® overalls and a hat the color of a John Deere tractor and emblazoned with the sort of agri-business logo that stand guard over Indiana bean and corn fields. It wasn’t long after that I was throwing a 50lb bag of Homestead Poultry Developer into the bed of the truck. Do you think me a fool to say I was thrilled … or proud?

It was mid-morning when we returned back home. Still released from parenting, Anna and I stepped out into the yard. I carried a bow saw and pruning shears in opposite hands and headed towards the fruit trees that line a grassy drive between our garden and the eastern field. Anna carried a ladder and a lopper towards the street. For the next two hours we pruned and trimmed bushes and trees – breaking for lunch and then beginning again, this time with Wyatt and Elise playing in the yard and Gramma Lis joining the work.

To me there is such sweet satisfaction in honest labor; it was pure joy to feel an ache in my shoulders as I sawed the tops of the undisciplined and unruly fruit trees – a reminder again of connections so often severed, the vital connections: God, creation, being human.

By grace we now have many opportunities to rebuild and maintain those connections – a work decreed by God, our given discipline in the wide field of grace, mercy and perseverance. It won’t be long for the tiller to be put into action, the hoe to break the ground, the back to bend in the picking of weeds. And, likely, it won’t be long before the thrill of working the land lessens and the drudgery of the work wears me down – like the chopping of wood lost its manliness. Even still, for that first day, there was pleasure in it. Standing in the top of a pear tree, listening to the doves chortling in the near woods and watching Wyatt and Elise chase after each other, I believed that I too could be a farmer, that I could husband the land faithfully.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Spring Chickens

March 2nd: and all of a sudden there is the promise of spring lingering in the air. A week ago, there was still a significant portion of our land covered in snow. Two weeks ago, ice cycles hung in lengths of two and three feet from our gutters. But, today, the snow is only present in remnants, packed hard into ice by tires and feet. Winter’s hold – begrudgingly – is beginning to loosen. I’m sure somewhere a witch has been eliminated and gone too is her ghastly spell.

Accordingly, Anna and I are emerging from the winter doldrums. I was sitting on the couch this past Saturday, consumed with the coming Sunday, when Anna came to me with the calendar in her hand. “Look at this,” she said exuberantly, pointing at one and two word messages written in tangerine. “Monday is March 1st, and you know what that means.” I smiled; if I didn’t know I couldn’t help but see the words “plant peppers” scribbled in that first box of the month.

The entry to our house, which serves as mud room and art room and nursery, now has over two dozen old yogurt cups full of deep dark soil, and in each cup of dirt a seed is planted. They are collected upon a changing table that once used for changing the soiled diapers of Wyatt and Elise, and they sit underneath the warming glow of a heat lamp. Much to the dismay of our neighbors that lamp’s bulb is red, which makes the northeast corner of our home radiate like an Amsterdam brothel. Indeed, there is the promise of sex, but only the botanical kind. Soon – we hope – we will be overrun with the prosperity of life.

Meanwhile, I am afraid that Anna has forgotten her first love. She thumbs through the pages of a magazine that royally displays every different breed and species of laying hens and broilers. She has marked the pages with multi-colored stars, noting special birds like a scout exploring hidden talent. I finally divulged her growing passion the other evening, taking a seat next to her on the couch while she ogled over the poultry. “See, I’m thinking this one will be good for laying eggs, but what’s great about it is that they also can be butchered.” I felt, for the first time, the warm body of a chicken in my left hand, my right holding a knife firm against its ruby throat – trying to steady myself to spill its blood. And I thought digging into the wet muck of a spring garden was going to teach me about the carnality of life!

The chicks are set to arrive on March 28th, which means we have less than a month before we reach the point of no return. The same room that now houses the yogurt-cup planters will eventually house twenty some odd pulsing, squeaking, pillows of fluff. Anna – of course – could give you their names (all derived from our deceased relatives) and their descriptions.

From the day they arrive, we will have essentially two months before we will have to provide them both shelter and forage. The second necessity will not be much of a problem given the open acreage. We also have hopes of using them around our garden – feeding their growing appetites and scratching talons with the bugs and pests that could lay waste to the crops.

Shelter, hopefully, will also be fairly easy to provide. Anna – when she is not looking through the chicken magazine like I use to look at the JC Penny catalogue before Christmas – has been investigating the most efficient, most economical and most resilient forms of movable chicken coops. She has been greatly aided by the experience and tutelage of Joel Salatin, about whom many of you already know and the rest of you would be wise to discover. Anna’s modified design of his transportable coops measures around 10 ft. by 5 ft., and is complete with a back half for the birds to roost and lay in individual houses.

We talked a fair amount about what materials to use the other evening – keeping our mind attentive to both weight and durability. Any of you with experience are welcome to add your thoughts. Actually, that last sentence may as well be applied to the whole of our adventure as we move forward into spring. We are fresh with optimism as the days grow longer and warmer … and very much in need of ongoing guidance, encouragement and wisdom. It won’t be long before those pretty little birds, which have already flown off the pages into Anna’s heart and mind, will land in our laps.