gratitude

WHEN MAMA VISITS

 

I have joined a troupe of millions of others: those of us who have Flown The Nest. Sure, sure, this isn't news. I've been far from the Midwest, absent of the daily comforts of my truest true home,  for many moons. Seasons have blossomed and gone dormant. It's not often that I get a taste of home, though it does happen. The allure of this Vermont dairy goat farm is enough to bring our Ohio family + friends our way. Likewise, I remain prepared on a moment's notice for the chance to head westward — straight into my grandma's arms, directly onto my parents leather sofa, or swiftly into my mama-in-law's garden. To convene with any of our seven siblings over food + shared memories of childhood; honestly, is there anything so good? Rejoining physically with our two families is a desire that all but consumes Mark's and my thoughts. Farming together in Vermont is one step along the way to our enormous dream of creating a haven of animal + earth where we all live. Yes, all of us. A family compound, not unlike the sort that still exist the world over. While we work towards that someday reality, we (try to) accept the necessary distance and give thanks to God for the occasions when we are reunited. Reunited like we just were with my mama, who spent four blissful days with us. How to speak of the joy to be found when mama comes to town . . . 

I have written plenty about my mom, the undisputed queen of my heart. And still it is not enough. I could share a recipe for a cake or write about the farm, but all I want to write about is my love for the woman who raised me. Do you know this feeling? Is there someone, or many someones, in your life for whom you are eternally thankful? From the moment I picked her up at the airport, we resumed wherever it was we had left off. Over the course of four days, I learned about all the happenings of our extended family. We baked a rhubarb + black raspberry tart, plus an almond raspberry cake, and we ate a whole bag of jolly ranchers . . . for good measure. She cooked potato soup + her impossibly good buttered rolls to share with our friends. Every morning we'd have tea and coffee with broccoli + cheese omelettes that I'll never be able to make as well as her. Our last supper together was a pork roast from one of the farm's pigs, along with heaps of homemade sauerkraut. For us spoonful-of-peanut-butter-on-the-way-out-the-door folks, these four days of home-cooked goodness were divine. But vying for my favorite part was the afternoon where mama and I curled up on the couch and watched The Man from Snowy River while it snowed outside the windows. Several nights we prayed the Rosary together, a blessed experience of mother and daughter and Mary that my words could not possibly illustrate. She even woke at 5:00 a.m. to milk the goats with us! No moments of potential togetherness went missed.

She left traces of herself everywhere, as she is oft to do. She and I share a love of gift giving, so when she wanted to gift Mark and I a vintage copper skillet, we lovingly accepted with the knowledge that it will become a family heirloom. Now each time I use it, I think of her visit. I picked out a vintage chrome toaster while out and about with her that we put to use straight away with butter + jam toast. Similarly, when I look at the handstitched clementine quilt at the foot of our bed, it can almost feel as though she is still here with us. Almost. These are just objects, true, but they are objects with special meaning. I would be remiss if I did not praise my incredible husband, who went so far as to sleep on the couch so that his mother-in-law could sleep in our bed. In his words, "we all just really took care of each other." His love of sharing can stop me in my tracks. But, then again, we're dreaming and working towards a family compound, so togetherness is non-negotiable.

It feels important to chronicle the visit, a visit that we desperately desired and were divinely afforded. But I also write this with the hope that it sparks in you a keen appreciation for the ones you love, be them near or far. It's never going to be a bad idea to tell them so, or to hug them tightly. 


—S

A NICE SPOT FOR A REST

 

Having emerged on the other side of kidding season's busiest week—still standing, if a little wobbly—we decided that our only day off together in weeks would be for one thing only: Rest. We slept until our bodies woke us at the luxurious hour of eight (!); and then parked ourselves, along with our trusty french press, on the couch for the remainder of the morning. A hot water bottle (outfitted in Sam's latest woolen creation: a turtle-neck cover, knit with yarn that she bought from a sweet, elderly sheep herder at the Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference) made a worthy companion for our sore muscles. A little later, a berry tart from a beloved cookbook provided more comfort yet. 

Even after a particular difficult stretch of work—during which we welcomed more than one hundred kids onto the farm, tended to several goats with health issues, and saw our days routinely stretch well over twelve hours—it is easy to be called to gratitude for all that we have. The work that we have to perform is meaningful to us, and this temporary state of weariness comes with an enduring sense of satisfaction. We are humble witnesses & facilitators of a rush of new life into the world and into our lives, and the challenges that manifest during that process are cause for even greater appreciation of when things do go well. 

This all goes without mentioning how incredible it is that we, as farmers, are even able to enjoy a day of rest together during a busy time. We are oh-so-aware that a consequence of realizing the dream of farming your own land is the death of the day off, as well as any other workplace-related benefits, for that matter. But the skilled hands around us now, together with the people who had the vision & gumption to start a farm-creamery business that employs people like us, make possible each treasured day of rest such as this. That such an occasion takes place alongside a warm fire, with food in the pantry, in a home that we love . . . it calls to mind a blessing that Sam's dad says before nearly every family meal:

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"


—M

TO OHIO, MY BELOVED HOME

 

If by chance I have not made clear my devotion to Ohio despite leaving its comforting embrace for snowier, goat-ier, more mountainous pastures, allow me to reaffirm to myself and to you that Ohio—my home—is a supreme gift to me; it is a place where my fondness will never wear thin. Sure, I don't care for the billboards (there is a law that forbids billboards in Vermont), and in my opinion Vermont has Ohio beat on landscape, but oh to speak of what this Midwestern home does have. I am tempted to capitalize the H in 'home' because it is a living, breathing, undulating thing that I can liken to a proper noun. In perpetuity, Home. 

Returning to this place is surely something Mark or I have written about here, there, and everywhere, yet with each profession of my unwavering enthusiasm for Home, I hope to be illuminating more about myself, more about the place that grew me. I should be so lucky to tell the story of the locale, and of the people, that has made me the woman I am. And that is the purpose of this blog, really—connecting ourselves to you by writing on the authentic facets that foster Mark's and my "jointly cultivated life". This time of year is especially reflective. It is generally in these weeks that I find myself flipping through my journal and Field Notes writing pads, that I am remarking on how much we've adapted, changed course, fallen, gotten up, thrived, loved, given, received. Through all of it, Home remains. It endures. Having grown up in one place my entire life is an immense gift. As my hometown develops a well-worn patina, my love for what and who it holds seems only to brighten. On the part of these photos, I tried to form words but I'm not convinced words matter much in this case. Do you know this feeling? One of total appreciation for what is, with no need for explanation. For these people and this home, I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful. 


—S

FOR MY SISTER, THE SAINT | SO GO I

 

Last weekend, my sister, Erica, and dad came to stay at our “campsite.” We could not offer them a bathroom on-site, or hot water, and my dad would need to sleep in a tent with my husband in order for Erica and I to stay up too late talking. Goats might get out unexpectedly, and all of our meals would have to be cooked outside. We explained that we would enlist their help in feeding the goats, chickens, and pigs. In their words, it sounded like the authentic New England bed + breakfast experience and they wanted in. Everything about the weekend was restorative; beautiful. Family arrived, and with them the comfort of our Midwestern home and the absolute magic of reunion.

This particular reunion was predicated on the understanding that it would be the last of its kind. True, no reunion can ever be replicated. But when your sister is entering a convent to enter into religious life (what I mean is she is becoming a nun!) time feels especially of the essence. Where do you even begin? When you're talking about your sister—who doubles as your best friend—how can three days possibly be enough to say all of the things you want to say, do all of the worldly things you want to do, and cry all of the tears you need to cry?
Well, in short: it can't be enough, and somehow it is.

For just shy of a decade, Erica has been discerning the possibility of religious life. Some call it their calling, some their vocation, others still their True North. Entering into religious life as a priest or sister (sister = nun) is akin to marriage. It is equal, in fact. Except instead of marrying a man or woman, they marry Jesus. Yes, marry. How very complex. How very confusing, I wager, if you have not had the opportunity to speak with a priest or sister. In the case of my own journey through Erica's discernment, I have spent nine years asking questions, feeling frustrated, confused, desperate, joyful, open to it, not open to it, and finally: grateful. Recently, little else fills my mind. My sister will be a new woman as I was a new woman when I married Mark. I have given myself a long time (and I do mean a long time) to contemplate how her decision makes me feel. How difficult it's been for me to pull out those feelings that are True and unmarred by Emotion.

What is True with a capital T?

In my young-but-full life, I have stockpiled a few nuggets of understanding and translated them into deeply rooted beliefs. Some are beneficial for daily level-headedness (example: Dessert Is To Be Eaten Everyday), while others are critical if I am to avoid becoming a self-loathing narcissistic pile of a person. Every day, I work on stepping out of myself. I have found this task strenuous of late. Mentally, physically, and spiritually strenuous. It takes practice to overcome the unfortunate tendency of all human beings to succumb to sadness and self-absorption. As is true in my own life, the times that I succumb to those ill-developed and illusory feelings are the times I experience a dearth of peace in my life. Those are the times that I wail about the woes of This and That.

Throughout my teens and early twenties, I have felt the dearth I described as a result of my reaction to Erica's actions. Action: Erica is visiting convents and sisters around the country. Reaction: I'm going to lose the sister I knew and my life will never be as good as it was. 

Ah, but! Life is compromised of more than Action and Reaction. It is also the minutiae that exists between. That is where I believe Truth is to be found—in life's minutiae. In the quiet spells. As luck would have it, where there is truth, there can be peace. It is in the quiet in-between where thunderous peace can permeate your personhood. I hope you have felt this peace. In my experience, it calls us to gratitude. 

In a decade-long and very roundabout way, I am feeling gratitude for Erica's choice. I am grateful to know a person who possesses so much bravery in her heart. She is the first to tell you the bravery is God-sent and not of her own volition. I wonder if she recognizes that acting on accord of something other than oneself is the bravest of all! She, like a little flower, is sprouting forth from the soil to give to the earth her gifts. I am grateful that she is calling on our family to become more bonded, not less. Rooted, not shallow. Finally, I am grateful that Erica's choice to accept her vocation, no matter the odds, has taught me what can transpire when we surrender to the will of God. There is Truth to be discovered in the unknown; she is headed there, and so go I.

Together the four of us stared up at the night sky—spellbound by the Milky Way and the International Space Station zooming past the Big Dipper. Tears streamed down my face as I experienced the magnitude of creation. A clear night sky might be the quickest ticket to believing there is a master plan for the universe.

Where the profundity of Space once evoked panic in my mind, these days it fills me with deep peace. Curious, that “Space” thing. I can recall expressing to Erica my fear of Space. She is what I will confidently call a hobbyist astrophysicist-bioethics-theologian, and so her response was something to the effect of, “There is no real emptiness in Space, because the entire universe is full of Action and Reaction and stars that we cannot see and xyz . . . The darkness we see is not actually devoid.” At the time, I felt even more overwhelmed. Now, I use that knowledge to guide my faith in all that is to come with Erica's new life as a Daughter of Mary of Nazareth.

Inevitably, I will long for my darling "big little" sister. Selfishly pleading for her to remain as she always has been—I've already done it. Thank God, then, that mercy is our collective human inheritance.
Now then, what untold blessings lie ahead for each of us? 

“And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke


—S