This is a new year.I am somehow silent. For now. I eagerly await the tone of a new voice. Perhaps some more inspiration. Until then I am quiet.
I have a friend. He is charming, smart, handsome and kind. He is also gay and in a long-term committed relationship.
The other night I dreamed that he and I were married. The dream consisted of several unconnected vignettes–us at a restaurant, us walking in snow, us reading side by side–us always connected and smiling, content.
I awoke pondering the dream and its significance. It stuck with me and I noodled it around until it hit me. I know now that the dream was truly about what I miss about being single. Not the sex, although, heaven knows, that can be a wonderful thing. This was not about that. What I really miss is the easy companionship of a life partner. The sharing and caring that comes with a healthy relationship. The ease and softness of knowing someone so well. Of having another being who cares when you don’t feel just right and brings you a cup of tea and a blanket. Who interrupts your reading to share a passage from their book. Who can massage your feet without an agenda of it leading to anything more. Who can walk alongside you on the beach, holding your hand, in sweet silence.
My life is wonderful. I am surrounded by so much love and abundance–and I know that and feel it so very deeply. I remain ever-grateful. And I zealously guard and adore my quiet and solo time. This dream was a reminder, however, of what I do miss.
Twenty-five years ago my then-husband and I bought this land. We had just two little children then and a dream. We built a shed on the wide-open land. We lived there in simple humble fashion for two years while we built our home.
We were at the farm supply store one day and the elderly Japanese grandpa, who spoke barely a word of English, took my hand and signaled for me and the kids to follow him—across the parking to a giant avocado tree. He somehow communicated that these were the best avocados in the world and filled a bucket for us to take home.
After eating several ripe ones, the kids and I took one promising seed and did the tried-and-true toothpick in a glass of water sprouting trick. It worked like a charm. That little tree was planted right next to the shed we were living in, one of the first things planted on the land.
Now, each and every autumn for the past 17 years or so it has produced hundreds of the most delicious avocados in the world. That grandpa was so right. He has passed on. We still trade at that store—the next generation of the same family has taken it over. And, the avocado tree by the parking lot is gone.
But ours lives on. And we are so glad!
When I lived in New York City—an exciting and pulsating time in my life—I worked first, as a young woman in the 70s, in advertising. The work was fast-paced, stimulating and lucrative. In order to balance the intensity of that world, I did volunteer work at the Audubon Society and the New York Botanical Gardens. The time spent at both places was food for my soul, an antidote to the electric world of advertising. Ever since those days at the Botanical Gardens, I have carried a quote by Enid Haupt, the founder of those magnificent gardens. I came across it the other day and want to share it with you here . . .
“ I do what I love and what people will enjoy. Nobody knows
quite how the world is going to shape itself, but as long as people care
about art and books and flowers, the world will be a good place to
live in. I believe—and always have—that things of beauty and joy
Aesthetics have always been important to me. . . being surrounded by beauty makes my heart light. Reading a fine and meaningful book settles my spirit. Keeping joy alive in my day carries me easily into the next day. My very essence is calmed by beauty and joy. I aspire to keep both present in my world, always.
Without my youngest son, Bay, here my supply of quarts of Strauss whole fat vanilla yogurt is taking up too much refrigerator room. For the record, he is currently in Wyoming in the Tetons on a cross-country jaunt in our VW Eurovan, so don’t feel too badly for him.
And don’t feel too badly for that uneaten vanilla yogurt, because I discovered this muffin recipe below in my wanderings on Pinterest (from bakedperfection.com) and I made these muffins today. Man, oh man, they are fabulous! Those who know me, know I have basically burned out on creative cooking. Twenty-nine years of cranking out family meals three times a day will do that to you. Plus, I have a chef daughter, Nell, now and my oldest son, Sky, who does some amazing kitchen magic as well. So, I’m in semi-retirement in the kitchen. But, this recipe I will make again. And again.
Cinnamon Sugar Muffins
2 cups flour (I used 1 cup unbleached and 1 cup whole wheat)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 cup vanilla yogurt (recipe called for low-fat, I used whole)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
4 tbsp oil (I used coconut oil)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400. Line standard muffin tins with paper cups.
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add flour mixture and mix lightly until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Do not overmix. The batter will not be smooth.
Divide batter among the muffins cups and bake until a toothpick inserted in one or two of the muffins comes out clean. About 12-15 minutes.
While the muffins are baking, melt 1/2 stick of butter and place in a bowl just large enough to hold a muffin. Combine 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon in another small shallow bowl. As soon as the muffins are done, dip them one at a time in the butter and then roll them in the sugar mixture. Set on a rack to cool.
This recipe says it makes 12 muffins. Like so many other muffins recipes that I find, it did not. It sadly made only 8 muffins. Rest assured that I will at least double it next time.
Often people suggest expansion as the obvious next step to a successful business such as our farm. I know the decision to remain a small family farm goes against the traditional business model. I actually have a farm which, along with our farm stay cottages, supports us in a very fine way and which I do not seek to expand. I have witnessed farms pressured into expansion as the marketing opportunities increase. The expansion translates into more work, more crew, more delegation and reliance on more wholesale accounts, whose loyalty is fickle at best. If this expansion also led to more profit, more security and more fulfillment, that would perhaps be understandable. Instead, we see, all too often, the quality of the farm and the farmer’s livelihood compromised by the stress that comes with larger work crews, high overhead and fluctuating markets.The experience of the farmer is greatly diminished.
At North Country Farms we have, over the years, grown a small-scale family farm able to produce a living for us, while fostering an intimacy with the land and hopefully having a meaningful impact with the consumers from our community and on the visitors who see our farm in action. The diversity and quality of our crops are ongoing challenges. The complexities of our small farm are providing a lifetime of study as we are constantly learning the strengths and weaknesses of both our land and our business.
Our challenge is the proper stewardship of our little piece of paradise, not on how to expand and do more. Striving to find the balance in each work day between professional and personal space, between the sharing of our island with our guests on the farm and safeguarding all that makes our island home special. Equally important is the fulfillment of personal goals this small farm gives us. In down-scaling we have more diversity of tasks, resulting in less physical and emotional strain that can come with repetition. We are able to enjoy rather than dread the long stretch of a work day, where the work that needs to be done can be taken on at a pace and in a fashion less likely to burn us out. This family farm has grown with my family, all the while involving my now-grown children, whom I was able to always have alongside me while working. That aspect of the decision to remain small cannot be underestimated.
This small family farm is a lifestyle and a conscious choice, not just a job. It speaks volumes about who we are here. I hope that the opportunities for small farmers can grow and become, once again, a vital part of our communities. I hope that this rapidly vanishing way of life can be preserved. In feeding others, we feel ourselves – on so many levels.
Here are some other factors that make it abundantly clear that small family farms are in need of a resurgence.
Source – http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/familyfarms/
- there are 5 million fewer farms in the United States then there were in the 1930s
- of the remaining 2 million farms, just over one half million of them are family farms–the rest industrial factory, often corporate, farms
- half of the farmers are between 45-65 with only 6% under 35
Why are small family farms important?
- these farmers live on or near their farms and have a vested interest in feeding and protecting their communities
- the vast majority of family farms are using sustainable farming methods
- these farms sell mostly locally, decreasing the carbon footprint of the food they grow
What can you do?
- buy locally from your farmer’s market or from markets in your area that sell local produce
- “Shake the hand that feeds you.” Michael Pollan
Amidst all the fine food we grow on the farm are flowers. I cannot imagine life without their rich riot of color and fragrance. They feed my soul. Here are some I wanted to share. Enjoy!
“Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul.” ~The Koran
With the fourth of July just past, I got to pondering independence. How we are so sure that this is a great thing. Well, I am all for independence. But I have some reservations about our push on it. I surely understand the unhealthy aspects of co-dependence. However, I think we have forgotten about fine inter-dependence. We need each other! How lonely and sad would our lives be without each other? How difficult would it be to have to do all the things that need doing? We need our families to surround us with unconditional love and appropriate direction. We need our friends to stand by us and offer laughter and solace, depending on the situation. We need our communities that nourish us and provide support, in all sorts of ways. We are essential to each other, as our breath is to our lives. I, for one, don’t want to ever forget or take those on whom I rely for granted.
I am in the process of an often-challenging, but wonderful, bodywork series of structural integration. The last session was core work, prompting the question: “What are my core values and beliefs?”
Big question. My response was almost immediate and solid — “I am living them.”
And given time after the session to think more on this, I came to the remarkable conclusion that not only was this answer sincere and valid, but to be able to state this so assuredly makes me a very fortunate woman.
I live a life where my belief in the vital importance of family and being a conscious parent has been exercised daily. This has been a heartfelt path, which has tested me many a time. My strong commitment to work that matters is evident in my 20+ years of working this land and providing clean food for my community. The integrity in the treatment of this property with only organic and sustainable practices is central to my core beliefs. The manner in which I present our cottage rentals and attempt to model for guests an honest and simple lifestyle by activism is surely part of who I am and what I believe in. I have faith that all we do is important, even though we might not see it. The ripple effect is fundamental to how I take on each day, essentially believing that my actions can matter in the world, near and far.
My life has evolved to this very special place. To be able to actually know that my core beliefs are in action is very satisfying. It also brings up an overwhelming sense of gratitude in me. I will not take this grace for granted. I will continue to pray in whatever fumbling way I can for the continued blessings that allow me to love and live my core beliefs.
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
from The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Each and every day I strive for just the right mix of doing and being. It is tricky. Take care of farm, family and still take care of me. I know this is not a unique situation. I know most women work daily on this concept. How can one do everything? It has taken me until the ripe and sometimes-wise age of 63 to remember to ask for help. It is readily available and usually offered with a smile. I have managed to mature to the point of knowing that the only way is NOT to do it all myself. I can even sometimes let go of the notion that the only way to get it done right is to do it myself! Or just let go of having it be perfect, settling for just getting it done even if it isn’t ideal. So, with this thought on my mind, I shall finish watering the garden, put the laundry on the line and go to the beach. The work will be here when I get home and I’ll be better able to take it on.
“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” A.C. Grayling
I love to read. I love to read books — all kinds of books — fiction, non-fiction, biography, how-tos — you name it, I’ll read it. And newspapers, the New York Times in particular, can occupy me for hours. In fact, the Sunday Times lasts me a week by the time I am through with the whole thing. And magazines are not out of my realm of enjoyment — from Smithsonian to Vanity Fair — I find food for fun and thought in them all. Oh, and don’t forget online reading — some blogs and websites I have bookmarked for their particular bent.
My mind and my heart get stretched to the far reaches of each article or story I read. My regular life fades away and I enter another world. A world different from my own and its never-ending lists and chores and responsibilities. I’m transported.
I used to feel somehow obligated to read the entire book, even if it was tiresome to me. But, after turning 60, that was one “rule” I quickly dropped. Don’t like it?! – move on . . .there are so many more books to explore and enjoy.
Here are some of my most favorites. You will see historical fiction is perhaps my favorite genre.
“Modoc” by Ralph Helfer
“A Story Like the Wind” by Laurens Van der Post
“Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follet
“A Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks
“Atonement” by Ian McEwan
“The Women” by T .C. Boyle (but I like most of his novels)
Okay, that is enough — I can see this going on some. Do you read? Why? What are some of your favorites?
“He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes,” Barrow
darling photo above by Angie Hill of her son, Braxton.