Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday Walkabout July 2019


The midway point of the year. The halfway point of the Market season. And, the arrival of back-to-school sales that means it can’t be long before we are hurtling headlong toward what has become “hallow-thank-mas”, with one holiday observance flowing right into the next.


When the to-do list seems to grow exponentially overnight. When the abundant harvests can be overwhelming. And, the kitchen table has suddenly sprouted a crock of pickles, a box of pears and a bowl of tomatoes. Not to mention the zucchini that are multiplying as I write.

Yep, it is definitely July!
cicada shell on fence post
My grandmother used to call them "hot weather bugs"

It’s been hot. 
apparently Sissie melted from the heat
Oh, so very hot. And, we won’t even get into the humidity. A friend said she felt “like a damp, used washrag” and I though that was a pretty apt analogy. That would also describe my energy levels most days.
garden dilemma
yellow zucchini?
green zucchini?
do you see a face on this?
  have I been out in the heat too long?

But, hot or not, energized or not, there’s work to do. 

freezer inventory
We’ve hauled lambs and picked up lamb chops. (sold ALL the lamb chops and had a personal best Market, too!) There are more lambchops waiting at the processors. 
We’ve picked and planted and re-arranged. 
In the past week, I picked well over 100# of zucchini. Better start digging out all those recipes! 
The fall crops have been started, and the late crop of potatoes is already coming up. The old ewes will be heading to the stockyard this week and it’s almost time for Otis to “meet the ladies”.

...and the hay guy called...

the first heirloom tomato

July is also when anticipation for the big stars of summer---sweet corn (not to be confused with field corn) and tomatoes---reaches a fever pitch. While the tomatoes are starting to trickle in, the corn here on the hill won’t make its appearance for another couple of weeks. Presently it tempts and teases as first the tassels appear, then the tiny ears with their oh so delicate silks. As the silks grow into what looks like wild, glorious hair, the pollen forms on the tassels, its unique scent filling the morning air. (the smell of corn pollen is both sweet and sultry---it would make an amazing perfume) Once the pollen falls onto the silks, the tiny kernels within the ear are pollinated, begin to swell and in two short weeks the corn is ready. I read somewhere that the cornfield is all about sex, but, I probably shouldn’t tell you that since it just makes the conversation all weird and awkward. Honestly, farm life…all of agriculture...revolves around, depends upon, the “facts of life” and “the birds and the bees”. However, we’d all feel better if I just leave that one right there and move on to safer subjects.

unfurling corn tassel

corn silk
isn't that pretty?

corn tassels in sunlight
look close
you can see the corn pollen flying in the sunlight

pollinated cornsilk

more corn pollen

dewdrop on corn leaf

So…ahem…moving right along…

(but, you must see... pollination is happening everywhere!)
cucumber beetle on cucumber blossom

bumblebee cucumber blossom

honeybees in squash blossom

okra blossom
unknown pollinator

hummingbird moth in butterfly bush

While I suppose farm work could become the entire focus of our lives, I actually think it’s important to do other things…like EAT some of this good stuff we’re spending so much time growing.

To that end, we were enjoying some awesome tomato sandwiches the other day when a great commotion broke out in the backyard. Gus and Karma were sounding an alarm about something. Since it was getting more insistent, and enjoying a quiet lunch was out of the question, I went to investigate.

Their barks have different meanings. There’s the “oh my god, something woke me up…better sound an alarm and look like I know what's going on” (this often happens when we can hear the reverse indicator on the firetruck down in M’brook) Then there is the “get out of the yard, you intruder!”  (this one happens about 2am when deer, foxes or rabbits pass through the vicinity) Then there is the “I hear you varmint…and I am a big, big dog! Go away.” (this is for the coyotes that yip along the ridges on clear winter nights---it is accompanied by a low rumbling growl---and it is intimidating stuff) Then, you have the all-purpose bark. This covers anyone driving on the lane, in the driveway or a half mile down the road if they need an engine tune-up or new tires. The UPS driver gets a special bark. There’s the squirrel bark and the daytime deer bark, the “we found a ‘possum and don’t know what to do now” bark. I swear there is a “butterfly bark” and an “I dunno, just felt like making some noise” and “mama, where ARE you?” bark.

But, this didn’t seem to fit any of those. It was kind of a hybrid ‘possum, varmint, mama bark.

Outside, both dogs were staring at the cellar door. The cellar is only accessible by this little door that is down in a hole at the back of the house. It might behoove me to mention here that we never use the cellar (or the door). At all. I should probably tell you that story, but it will interrupt THIS story, so…some other time.

Gus on one side

Karma on the other

Anyway, down by the door to the cellar is a groundhog. A fairly good-sized groundhog. I suppose he/she fell in the hole in an attempt to flee the giant dog attack. It is too deep for the dogs to get down to reach the groundhog and too high for the groundhog to jump out. Thus, the chaotic barking.

Groundhog dispatched and crisis resolved thanks to the Boss and his sharpshooter skills. Karma apparently wanted groundhog for her lunch, so she carried it away. Later, we realized she simply wanted to torment Gus, and we (the Boss) disposed of the mess. 

Now, before you feel sorry for the “poor woodchuck”, groundhogs are nuisance animals and relocating them in Virginia is illegal. So, good riddance. Oddly, Facebook reminded me that Gus and Karma ran a groundhog up the tree in the backyard exactly one year ago. (how weird is that?)

It’s been an interesting month for animal sightings. There was a deer in the back field with the lambs. I could have sworn that one had antlers and snorted like a buck. Then, there was a big doe in the orchard on the Fourth of July. We had never had one so close to the house because generally the dogs keep them at bay. However, the dogs were cowering under the shed since we had the double-whammy of fireworks and a thunderstorm in a single evening. (they finally emerged just before daylight…to bark at something else)

Then, I was outside processing veggies after supper and the hens started making some weird noises. Now, quiet life in the country is a misnomer, there is always something going on. The hens keep up a near constant “conversation” but this was far more insistent. When I went to check, I found a little red fox looking at me from the other side of the fence. (thankfully OUTSIDE the hen yard) He or she must have had a hankering for a chicken dinner. With no weapon or even my phone, my only option was to scream like a crazy person at this small, wet fox. It turned tail and disappeared. I set up a trap (baited with a piece of fried chicken), but never caught anything, or saw the fox again. It has probably retreated to its den, so highly traumatized that it will never return (constantly recounting to the other foxes the story of its horrifying encounter with a human who behaved like a lunatic) or even attempt to eat chicken.

Last Saturday, when I was putting stuff in the car for Market, I noticed something in the orchard…this time it was a smaller deer. I didn’t think Karma was going to notice her, but when she did…! That deer took one look at the big white thing coming at her and …whee…she sailed through the air… over the fence…through the field…over another fence… she was long gone…before Karma even got to the trees.
just a deer eating fruit on a Saturday morning

Karma doesn't stand a chance

But, with the deer pressure increasing, we are doubly glad we’ve cut down on the garden spaces.

I just realized this post has absolutely no rhyme or reason. No purpose or theme. And, I can’t do a thing about it. (I suppose I could start over…but, ain’t nobody got time for that)

So. Here are some equally random shots from around the farm for your viewing pleasure.
misty morning
Mr. Hummingbird

Mrs. Hummingbird

getting a drink

morning glory
common checkered skipper
this one is so cute!

dewdrops on a spiderweb

another hot day begins

early morning queen anne's lace

indigo bunting
(he really is that brilliantly colored!)

butterflies feasting on the remains of an apple

monarch and bumblebees
(I know, they're pollinating a noxious weed
check out the pics below)

Goldfinches LOVE thistle seeds!

they eat the seed and let the down fly away
limenitis arthemis on the fence


on the way to Market

apples after the rain

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by. Come back and “visit” us again soon.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


"Pale shafts of early morning sunlight filtered through the pines, tickling my eyelids ever so slightly and causing me just enough discomfort to rouse myself from the mattress where we had fallen in an exhausted heap the night before.

The presence of early morning light, however dim, was oddly disorienting after six months of somewhat subterranean dwelling. After a brief moment of utter confusion, I remembered that this was where I was.


Leaving Tom still sleeping in the still darkened room, I headed for the kitchen where I hoped to find everything to make that all-important first cup of coffee. I could only hope I’d remembered all the essentials in our mad dash across the county the day before. But, as I turned the knob to quietly close the bedroom door, I was struck by the significance of simply shutting the door. I shut the door. I admit, I stopped and gave thanks for that door. And the doorknob.

For six months we had no door, no interior walls; we had no privacy whatsoever. Our temporary home in my parents’ basement was one fairly large, but completely open room, dissected by the stairs that led to their living space above. It was ours free of charge for the duration with one caveat…no permanent changes. With no interior divisions, any “rooms” came from some creative furniture arrangement. One corner was divided off for the girls’ shared bedroom by creating a “wall” out of bookcases and dressers. There was a kitchen space at the other end as well as a bathroom in the corner. We hung a quilt to serve as a wall at the bottom of the stairs, screening the light from the bottom of the stairs and the kitchen. That way we could at least watch television after the children’s bedtime. Otherwise, everyone would have had to go to bed at the same time. The kitchen was small and cramped and mice were a constant issue. When we first arrived, there was no sink and we washed the dishes in the bathtub. And, there isn’t much I can say about 4 people sharing one bathroom.  To top it off, the only way to their garage storage was down the stairs and through the basement, so “visitors” were always a possibility as my parents went to feed their dog. There was never a threat of being alone, although the loneliness I felt was overwhelming.

In addition, there was just one small window up near the ceiling. This window was at ground level on the outside so all you could see was earth. If you looked straight up, you could catch a glimpse of a tiny patch of sky. There was no way to gauge the weather without actually going outdoors. It could be dark and oppressive unless you turned on every single light fixture. And, that was certain to warrant some sort of complaint as electricity usage became an issue.

To say this was less than ideal would have been an understatement. But, we went in with our eyes wide open because it was supposed to be temporary. And, you can endure anything for a short time when you think that the fulfillment of a lifelong dream is within reach.

But, when everything changed with my father’s outburst in the Florida room that day and the basement apartment began to feel like a prison. We began to refer to it as “the dungeon”. Suddenly it felt smaller and darker, stifling in its oppression.

Everything we did (or didn’t do) came under constant scrutiny. The children were too loud in the house, but it was preferred that they not play in the yard. Tom’s work ethic was questioned as well as my own housekeeping practices. And the laundry became a bone of contention and the bane of my existence. If I did the laundry when anyone was home, he complained that I ran the dryer for the entire day. If I waited until no one was home, he insisted that I should come upstairs and visit once in a while. By the end, the situation was completely untenable, and the relationship strained and awkward.

But, we had survived it all. The horror, the heartbreak, the stress of construction was all in the past.  I kept reminding myself of this fact.

In time none of it would matter…the important thing was…We were HOME!

Finding the coffee essentials and mentally praising myself for my foresight, I set the coffee to brewing and looked around this house that we had created. A sense of peace washed over me.

Once the coffee finished brewing, I headed for the front porch. The dog roused when I went out, as if sensing that something, everything, was now different. She and I sat in companionable silence, savoring the early morning by watching the world awaken and I reveled in the first light without waking the rest of the family. I wanted to soak in the quiet stillness of this morning before we jumped into what promised to be another busy day of hard work. I thought of my sleeping family inside. I had no way of knowing if the hard times were completely over (are they ever?) but I knew in my heart of hearts that no matter what happened, we would get through it…together.

From our vantage point high on the hill, I could look down to the creek and the road beyond, I could see the neighbors’ backyard gardens and cows grazing across the way. It was peaceful and quiet, offering the perfect place to think over the events of the past and consider the future.

The building inspector had given his final approval the previous afternoon. The workers had collected their tools and were long gone. Tom gave the contractor that final check and in return, he had released all liens against the property. Somehow, after the heartache and worries of the past six months, it all seemed incredibly anticlimactic.

As the contractor examined his check before folding it and putting it in his pocket, he looked at me quizzically, “so…Barbara, are you happy now? I did what I said I’d do. 120 days…we did it in 120 days.” he looked at me rather pointedly as he awaited my answer.

I couldn’t disagree with his assertion. He had done it in 120 days. That might be some sort of construction record. He was indeed a man of his word. And, I admit it, I had most definitely had my fair share of doubts. Serious doubts. But, happy? Was I happy? Could happiness exist in the current circumstances? Again, I had my doubts. But, I was relieved. I was grateful. Although he knew our story better than most, he still couldn’t possibly understand and there was no way to ever explain. My heart had shattered into a million teeny, tiny pieces on that awful February day and I still couldn’t bring myself to think about what had happened; it was just too hard. To top it off, I was most uncertain about what the future might hold. Truth be told, I was worried and stressed and more than a little scared…but…happy? Pretty sure what I was feeling wasn't happy. But, what to say? His eyes bored into me as he waited for an answer. Figuring less is more sometimes, I thanked him for keeping his promise leaving the rest unsaid. There would be time for soul searching later.

I suppose that satisfied him, because he hopped in his big dually and headed off to the next project without so much as a backward glance. But his question would stick with me long afterward…was I happy? I honestly didn’t know if I could ever be truly happy ever again, from time to time the grief and heartbreak seemed too much to bear, but that was a problem for another time. There was far too much work to do to spend any time lost in contemplation and sad regrets.

As soon as he left, we rounded up the children and headed back to “the dungeon” to gather the essentials for our first overnight stay in our new home. Our Home!

After feeling like we were in a holding pattern for weeks, the  real adventure had begun. We were going to treat the past six months as a bump in the road, a small hiccup, a slight detour, nothing more. We had somehow survived the tragedy, the horror and the heartache. It was time to get going on the plan. Do this thing. Make it happen.

Mattresses, the kitchen table, some chairs and that all important coffee pot. We crammed as much in the trailer as was humanly possible. We would come back for the rest later, but for now, all that mattered was getting HOME.

A glance at the sky revealed the very real possibility of yet another challenge. Big, black, ominous clouds were forming in the west. Because, what would a July afternoon be without the chance of a thunderstorm? Watching the storm clouds build along the ridge of the Alleghenies, we could only hope that our belongings wouldn’t get inundated on the 25-mile trip across the county. Because once we were loaded, there wasn’t much we could do besides hope, pray…and drive.

25 miles may seem a short distance, for many folks it is part and parcel of a daily commute. But, this particular drive was the trip of a lifetime. A fresh start, a new home and a completely different life. A lot was riding on this trip. And, the impending thunderstorm certainly added to the intensity.

With the dog tucked into the camper cap on the back of the pickup, we hurried down the still unfamiliar twists and turns of Scenic Highway. The beauty of the trip completely lost on me as I worried over the trailer load with every bump and turn. I kept trying to watch the sky out the windshield while checking the load in the rearview mirror. It is a wonder I didn’t end up dislocating my neck.

The plan was to pick up some supper at the only fast food restaurant between here and there. Unfortunately, FAST is a complete misnomer when it comes to this particular establishment.  It took them forever to fill the order and tempers were beginning to fray as the clouds built even higher. The dog growled and barked the entire time we waited. The children were cranky, and we were all well on our way to being overcome by some sort of “hangry” meltdown.

With an eye on the menacing clouds, we made the decision to drive first and eat later. I have no idea why we didn’t consider munching during the trip. Driving with fresh French fries that one cannot eat is somewhat akin to torture to small children, not to mention their frazzled parents. For this (and a good many other things) I owe my children a much belated apology.

Finally, we began the ascent to the hill. That turn into the drive should have been a triumph. We should have stopped and given thanks, let out a cheer, sung the Hallelujah chorus, or at least acknowledged the end of the ordeal in some way. However, we had not yet won the race with the thunderstorm, so any sort of celebration was out of the question. Everyone piled out and got to work, keeping one eye on the impending storm.

Everything was unceremoniously dumped in the living room floor prior to sitting to eat the soggy supper. Even the new microwave couldn’t salvage those sad French fries and the limp hamburgers. But, we got everything in the house before the first rain drop fell. At which point the heavens opened. While the first meal in our new home was less than stellar, it served its purpose. The family was fed. We hauled mattresses and blankets up the stairs. The girls were tentatively settled in their respective bedrooms, the dog secured to the front porch, and showers taken, at which point we all fell into exhausted sleep.

My last coherent thought before I drifted off was: “We made it! We are finally HOME.” We had survived facing a horrible, hurtful situation. Together. They say that tragedies and hard times either make you or break you as a couple, as a family. For better or worse, here we were, still together. Tomorrow would be a whole new day. A new life.

And, now I was drinking coffee with the dog high on our hill in Middlebrook, savoring the beautiful inspiration that is early morning.

This wasn’t what we planned. It certainly wasn’t what we expected. But, here we were. We could make this new version of our plan work. I knew we could. However, the contractor’s question remained unanswered. Was I happy? I honestly had no idea. I hadn’t taken the time to unpack our belongings and settle into a new routine. I didn’t even want to consider how long it would take me to make sense of my tangled emotions and mend my broken heart. Purposefully tucking the painful memories away for some other time, I began to daydream about our new life.

Our original plan of a homestead complete with garden, livestock and a home business was still a viable option. The location may have been different, but the dream remained the same. We knew how to raise our own food and could be fairly self-sufficient. We had dramatically down-sized and eliminated all our debt. For additional income, Tom was going to start a woodworking business. He is a talented craftsman, having taught himself the finer points of woodworking and built much of our own furniture. He had inherited tools from my Granddaddy’s upholstery business, so it seemed a matter of time before he could get his shop set up in the garage. That small home business would provide for our few monetary needs as well as offer him a creative outlet.

We envisioned and idyllic life for our daughters. Schooled at home, they would have ample opportunity for play and exploration, learning important life skills by actually doing things, not just hearing about them. They would have their own animals either for pleasure or profit and learn the skills involved with animal husbandry.

I saw myself following in the footsteps of a traditional pioneer wife. Teaching the children, tending the garden, preserving food, sewing, quilting. Uncomplicated but fulfilling, I could see it all in my mind’s eye. Tom had already made arrangements to purchase the milk cow I had always dreamed of having.

Looking forward we saw a future of satisfying work, deep familial and community ties and pleasant experiences and memories that would last our children a lifetime. These hopes and dreams were enough to make up for the disappointments of the past. Possibilities abound as the dew on the grass shimmers in the early morning light and those rose-colored glasses made it all seem so easily attainable.

As I sat contemplating the future, it suddenly occurred to me that if I could see the neighbors, they could see me. And, my bathrobe and unkempt hair wouldn’t make the best first impression. Besides my coffee was cold. I headed back inside, leaving the dog snoring softly in the morning sunshine.

The rest of the family was awake and eager to get started with the day. After months of being cramped together either in the truck cab or our basement apartment, everyone was ready to get outdoors and revel in exploring our new surroundings. Tom had a host of projects vying for his attention, first and foremost to tackle the pile of lumber destined to become the barn. The girls had all sorts of adventures planned that involved a lot of imagination and much running with delighted abandon. My task was turning this place into our HOME.

We spent one day settling in before we arranged a quick sortie back to the basement to pick up the rest of our possessions. Our newfound church fellowship friends had offered time, vehicles and muscle. The promise of lunch and dessert guaranteed the help of a bevy of teen-aged boys. With vehicles and volunteers in place we headed across the county to retrieve our belongings.

My father had chosen to stack all our boxes of belonging around the edges of his pool house. This made the boxes fairly inaccessible during our stay and was a constant source of worry. We hadn’t seen many of our belongings since we first moved in. But, I kept reminding myself this was the last time that I would have to deal with any of it, so today I was trying not to be overly concerned with the combination of children, open water and the transport of innumerable cardboard boxes.

“WOW!” one of the younger helpers exclaimed as we entered the pool house to assess the job at hand, “Look at this place! They must be SO rich! I would just stay here. So, why don’t ya? What did ya want to move for?”  And, suddenly, I was right back in that Florida room…seeing the raging hatred emanating from my father’s every pore, the recollection causing near physical pain. There was no way I could face that memory at that particular moment. I bit my lip to stop the replay inside my brain. How long was I to be haunted by that one experience? I had yet to find any sort of explanation of the event for myself, so an attempt at explaining it to a teenage boy was impossible. I tucked my feelings aside, turned the conversation to other things and moved beyond the awkward moment. Fortunately, the mountain of boxes needed far more attention than his random question.

Now, it is a humbling experience to watch your earthly possessions being loaded into an ancient dump-truck. But, between that and the other pick-up trucks, we managed to pack everything (including the chest freezer and its contents) without either children or boxes taking an inadvertent swim.

We truly looked like the Beverly Hillbillies as we made our way across the county in a ragtag parade of random farm vehicles. The convoy only came to a halt once as we rattled along through the countryside, when the top to the charcoal grill came loose bounced off and landed in someone’s driveway. One of the helper-boys hopped out and retrieved it and the “parade” continued on its way after the momentary hesitation. Although the scars on the grill lid served as a reminder of that day for years to come.

Once on the hill, it didn’t take long to empty the trucks, utilizing a variation on a bucket brigade. The eager young helpers delivered the labeled boxes to their eventual homes with the air of adventure and fun.

The serious business of making this a home would come later. For now, we were just thankful to have a place to call HOME. And, we were particularly thankful to have found a group of friends to help us in our hour of need.

One of the ladies provided a chicken barbeque lunch for everyone. I made sure there were cookies and brownies to go around. The house was full of laughter and camaraderie as we all exulted in a job well done. As the work crew relaxed, I glanced around the room and felt a sense of community for perhaps the first time in quite a while.

This was it.

We’d found our niche.

We’d found our tribe.

We'd weathered the storm, made a new plan, and we were executing it nicely.

We were HOME.

Surely everything would be just fine.  It would be nothing but smooth sailing now. We had earned some time in the green pastures by quiet streams spoken of in the Psalms.

…but, then again, EVERYTHING is subject to change…"

You just finished reading part of my current WORK-IN-PROGRESS…the memoir entitled Subject to Change.

I hope you liked it! And, I hope you will keep an eye out for the finished product sometime in the near future. You can keep up with my progress (and read the odd and random) at Or “like” Barbara Womack-Writer on Facebook.