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When I first got to college I had one of two majors in mind – chemistry or chemical engineering. (Why I picked those majors, in particular, is a whole other why-I’m-not-so-smart story.)
I arrived on campus in the fall of 2001 with big, successful, break away, American dreams. After the tearful good-byes and the settling in, I went to a lecture hall to take a simple test. This test would tell us our aptitude for all things mechanical and spatial, for those of us who were undecided about engineering.
So I plunked myself down, took that test, and walked away with the confidence only an 18 year old who has never actually had to do anything of substance can possess. And of course I failed, and not just a little bit. Welcome to college and the foreshadowing of what the next four years will feel like.
Mechanically speaking I was a toddler, and yes, this story is getting to the agrarian point.
The other day held a blissfully sunny and cool (for Texas) afternoon. There was bean-picking and melon-collecting and finally planting that bed in the kitchen garden. And then there was the chicken wire.
As you may have read, Stewart has been out of commission for most of the last two months, off and on. He has done everything he can, within his physical limitations, to pick up part of the burden. But some of the “extras”, like planting the fall garden, were up to my discretion.
And in many ways it has been a wonderful process of learning and letting go. I get up, make breakfast, tend to the home and the children, get all other kitchen work out of the way, write during nap time, and then if there’s any time or energy left it goes towards whatever seems the most needful.
I’ve let go of my (already fairly low) expectations for homemaking. The garden is no longer something I have to get done, but rather gets tended to as the Lord allows. It has forced me to let go, to surrender, to submit my time in a way I haven’t in a while.
To just keep working for work’s sake.
But it’s also challenged me in ways that I’ve probably desperately needed for a long time. Look, I love to work the soil and plant seeds and nurture vegetables; but most of that work has been on Stewart. And it’s worked out really well that way because, frankly, he’s way better at it than I am, and I’m more needed elsewhere.
Now, for the first time maybe ever, there are things I’ve got to do myself if they’re going to get done at all. The results of these endeavors are nothing short of ridiculous.
Let me halt here before I get to the next scene and say that I know, as an American, what I’m supposed to say next. I’m supposed to say that I rose to the challenge, that I found out that I was made of tough stuff when the rubber met the road, that I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and showed that chicken wire fence who was boss.
That is not what I’m about to say. I failed at engineering, remember.
No, the scene was quite different. I’ve worked with chicken wire before, but mostly as an assistant to Stewart, or on a smaller scale. I realized just how low on the learning curve I was when I looked over at Stewart, resting in the shade, and asked the following question:
Me: “Should I put in some of those metal pokey thingies to hold it down?”
Him: (blank stare) “You mean wire?”
Me: “No, I mean those pointy upside down U-shaped staple-like things.”
Him: “You mean wire?”
Me: “Um, I don’t think we need them.”
I’d like to say he was impressed. I’d like to say he had all of the confidence in the world that in his absence I had it all under control. But I saw the look on his face underneath his straw hat, a look that was only punctuated with long blinks of disbelief.
At this point it was well past supper time, the boys were running around the kitchen garden, shooing the chickens away in one frantic way or another. Annabelle was covered in mud from her bonnet to her diaper, seemingly cursing in toddler at the chickens as she flailed her arms about.
And there I was standing next to the chicken wire fence, having completed my task, saying things like “Look, honey, I did it! (just don’t look too close)” and feeling like an utter failure. Because people who know how to do things don’t feel the need to say that they’ve actually done something.
He smiled and that was enough for me.
Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be all Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sarah Plain and Tall but let me tell you one more story to solidify my place outside of that company.
One day a snake was spotted in the chicken coop eating eggs. And so the gun was taken out because that thief was going to pay for it. I had Annabelle, still a babe, in one arm and was holding the .22 with the other. I’m sure it looked as though I was born to be a homesteading, baby-having, pie-making tough-as-nails kind of gal.
Stewart was coaxing him out of the coop and I said “Do you want me to blow him away?”
Again, people who really know how to use guns probably don’t say things like that.
And then I laughed, and then Stewart laughed, and he said “Why don’t you give me that thing before you hurt somebody.” Lest you think he was being patronizing or condescending, let me tell you that no one was more aware of the inaccuracy of that whole tough-as-nails picture than me.
It’s just not the truth.
With Stewart being unwell, these past two months have been a good opportunity for me to see just how I might be able to do on my own, to try to make it as a strong independent woman, to find out what I’m really made of.
Apparently it’s the weak, weepy, bottom-of-the-homestead-learning-curve kind of stuff.
Now, I know what you’re about to say because I’d say it too, as one American to another. But I don’t need that “don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re a tough cookie” bull crap.
No, let’s just be honest. I’m no Ma Ingalls.
Sometimes Normal Isn’t Normal
Do you ever have one of those days where a string of events happen and you are left pondering what is going on? For me this happened about five weeks ago (+/-). I started my normal morning routine feeling very tired, which had been a pattern lately. I let the chickens out and decided to take a detour into the garden. While in the garden I noticed a chicken had gotten in so I decided to chase it down. Of course, the chicken didn’t just sit still so I had to corner it and reach around some pallets to grab it and get it outside the fence. Mission accomplished.
When I got back to the cabin I noticed a small chunk of wood lodged in my thumb, probably from some pallet wood where I had knicked myself. It wasn’t a normal “thorn”, but it kind of looked like one. So I pulled it out while my mind made a mental note. At the time, I had no idea why.
Fast forward to a little later in the morning. Still fatigued, I decided I should start unloading our 5’x8’ trailer. I had picked up a load of wood mulch a prior day after dropping off some trash at a nearby land fill. Shannon came out a little later with the children to help and we took shifts shoveling some mulch. Of course, life is never quiet for long, even on a simple task like unloading a trailer. Our oldest son Elijah was in the process of cleaning out the cooler back at the cabin and reported he had found broken glass in it. What!? Of course that made no sense to me, so I told Shannon I would go investigate. I had been watching Annabelle while she was on a shift of the wood chip shoveling, and in a split second made a decision that would impact the rest of the day.
Rather than walk or carry Annabelle all the way back to the cabin I decided to leave her with mamma. I picked her up and put her inside the trailer where Shannon could keep an eye on her. The trailer wall was higher than Annabelle’s waist so she seemed safe enough.
I did in fact find a broken quart jar in the bottom of the cooler, with its contorted and jagged edges in many directions. Thankfully, Elijah had not cut himself on it. But alas, my heart was not thankful at the moment. I was irritated. Irritated at being bothered, as I usually get when I’m fatigued, and I could only imagine the scenarios that led to something like a broken glass jar in the bottom of a cooler. I took the cooler outside in front of the cabin and noticed Shannon walking up the road towards me. She was holding onto Annabelle in what could be described as a protective and perhaps desperate way… and tears were streaming down her face. As she got closer I could see a single line of blood running down Annabelle’s leg from what appeared to be a single point, along with a few other scratches.
Of course, I happened upon this scene at a point in time where Annabelle was already telling her story of how she had launched herself over the trailer wall (4’ high and probably 5’ off the ground) and had narrowly missed hurling herself into the barbed wire about 1.5 feet away. Although, she hadn’t missed completely, as the blood now indicated. Of course, I had no idea this is what happened yet, because Annabelle can’t really talk for the most part other than one word attempts and rants of, “Dat da dat!!! Dat da dat!!” with the accompanying flailing arm motion. So Shannon’s translation of events, through tears, informed me of the course of events in which one moment Shannon saw Annabelle as fine when she turned to toss some wood chips over the fence and the next Annabelle was gone, over the edge, and screaming.
I promptly began cleaning out the wound where a metal man-made thorn (barbed wire) had punctured her skin. After some peroxide and water it appeared clean, and thankfully not too deep. She had some other scratches as well, but they were minor in comparison. Shannon also had one long scratch up her arm and several rips in her dress sleeve where she had squeezed between the trailer and barbed wire to grab her screaming daughter.
Shannon and I both realized how much worse it could have been. Had Annabelle been over a few inches more in her downward trajectory, or had it caught her eye instead of her leg…
After things calmed down a bit I got back to getting all the glass out of the cooler. When I thought that was done I started rinsing it out with water. I used my hand to wipe around the edges and down to the part in the cooler where water collects before exiting the drain when it happened. A small glass shard, sliced effortlessly through one of my fingertips. I instinctively pulled my hand back to see a thin, almost paper-cut like, line of blood about a ¼” long. Enter wound cleanup number 3.
I found the attacker, a small splinter like glass thorn, submerged in the cooler drainage section. By now all of the events seemed more than just “events”. What was going on? Being tired, I rested a lot in the afternoon.
That night, the final event happened that would take me off my feet for almost a week. I woke up around 3 a.m. with a blood sugar crash. I was extremely weak and felt as though life itself was draining out of me. I went to the bathroom and also tried to eat some food. It is at these moments of weakness, when we are at the end of ourselves that short prayers come forth to the mind, “Lord, do unto me what seems good in thy sight.”
After trying to eat some more I went back to bed. I could not sleep right away, but eventually energy came back so that I did not feel like I was dying. For the next several days the extreme fatigue continued. I’ve had similar occurrences of no energy in the past that were related to what we thought was adrenal fatigue. This seemed to be that plus a new twist of blood sugar issues. I began taking some supplements for my pancreas and adrenal glands and saw some slow improvement.
A Time to Grow
Even though I was suffering from extreme fatigue there were nights where I would wake up and could not sleep for several hours. During those hours I thought about all the events that had happened and that is when this blog post started to take shape in my mind. I thought a lot about thorns and I saw many blessings in everything that was happening.
- Annabelle was not seriously injured
- I didn’t cut my finger too badly on the glass
- I was able to make it through the blood sugar crash night
- We were able, by God’s provision, to get some good supplements to help me heal
Yet these were all physical blessings. But there was so much more that God provided. I greatly reduced the time I normally spend on the computer/internet working and reading. I got a chance to dive into A. W. Pink’s Gospel of John Commentary, and it was like a refreshing glass of water. Page after page was filled with spiritual insight into the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Page after page was filled with his majesty, his grace, and his perfection towards us in his earthly ministry. The state of Israel during the time of Christ: religious, and yet unbelieving was unveiled. The parallels to the church today are numerous. In examining the interactions of Christ with people he encountered I saw my own unbelief in so many things.
Back To Those Thorns
A week or so after I went down for the count, Elijah came inside limping. He had apparently stepped on a thorn that had gone through his shoe. His foot was hurting him to the point where he was hobbling around for the rest of the day. I thought about what had happened to him and saw things in a different way. What had he been doing when he stepped on the thorn? Running. What had he not been doing? Paying attention. Oh what a spiritual lesson! If God would give us eyes to see, what spiritual lessons would fill each and every day. And yet these spiritual lessons are available if we would but ask and wait on the Lord.
The Blessing in the Thorn
Thorns come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. In that single day I chronicled earlier in the blog post I witnessed the impact of four different types of thorns: a wooden splinter, barbed wire, glass shard, and the unseen thorn in my own health.
It got me thinking. What if there were no thorns? What if God had not given us ground that gives forth thorns as a result of our sin against him back in Eden? To ask it a different way, what if there were no reminders of our fallen state of rebellion against God? How dreadful of a place that would be! Man committed a terrible crime against God by disobeying the perfect, holy Creator of all things, yet God was even merciful in the thorns! The thorns, especially for those of us that live in Central Texas, are a needful reminder. And the thorns that come into each of our lives can be viewed the same way.
By God’s grace, thorns can also build faith by helping us see a need and realizing we can’t fix it. If we poke ourselves on thorns they hurt. If the ground brings them forth naturally we are forced to wonder why. And yet we can’t stop the thorns from coming back permanently physically or spiritually on our own. We can’t prevent bad things (which can be for our good) from happening in life. We don’t have control. But there is one who does have that power and he was willing to wear a crown of thorns for his people. Therein is hope.
Maybe you or someone you love has a health issue. Perhaps you know someone you thought was a friend who has turned on you and now appears to be a great adversary. It could be the job you thought was stable has disappeared and you don’t know how you are going to make ends meet. Or, it could be the opposite and success in working or saving up is carrying you away and putting you in danger of pride and comfort in the flesh. Maybe you are seeking to know things that can’t be known and it is tripping you up. Perhaps you are getting carried away and distracted by the thing of this life. It could be you are just trying to control something that you can’t, and in the process are not trusting who you should. Each of us can probably list something different. Thorns and dangers come in thousands of varieties but are characterized by what they point out in us: weakness. Through the eyes of faith, all of these thorns, no matter what they look like to our senses, are a blessing and opportunity to trust and believe in the creator of all things. Sometimes we just need to cling to the Lord to get through. Sometimes we need to repent and turn away from something that has ensnared us. Sometimes both.
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…”
2 Corinthians 12:9
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
So that is what I’ve been pondering. May God allow each of us to see the blessing in the thorns. And may he draw us to himself and never let us go.
This post was originally meant to be a stand-alone post, which I drafted several weeks ago before we left on a trip to visit my ill grandfather in Missouri. Our trip to Missouri did not go as we expected and I continued to have health problems, which got worse. Lord willing, there will be a second part that continues this story when I am able.
To be continued…
Note: Through Monday 9/23 you can find 36 books on such topics as fermentation, making fire, cooking and storing food without a refrigerator, keeping goats and chickens, food storage, gardening, and more in what I’m calling a Traditional Practices Bundle.
This is my fourth pregnancy and every single one has been different. Morning sickness has been a little easier with each one. The foods that I can keep down during the first trimester and the ones I crave through the rest have been a bit different every time.
But one thing I have consumed through all of these pregnancies that I greatly appreciate is this herbal tea for pregnancy.
You can never really say for sure what makes one birth easier than another, and certainly in the end God is sovereign over all. In general, though, I have found that drinking this tea all throughout pregnancy, getting plenty of walking and squatting-type exercise, and eating well helps me to get through the usual fatigue, soreness, and anemia that is all part of these blessed nine months and thereafter.
The backbone of this tea is red raspberry leaf, a well-known helper to women, pregnant or not. It is purported to help prepare the body for a more effective labor, and supports a woman through all of her specific needs, pregnant or not. Like many herbs, it also contains a great deal of needed vitamins and minerals.
Along with red raspberry is nettle leaf. Nettles is known to be helpful for building the blood and helping with any water retention or swelling that can go along with pregnancy. Like red raspberry, it also contains a whole host of vitamins and minerals.
Another addition that many women make to these basic herbs is alfalfa leaf. Again, it has a great array of vitamins and minerals to help supplement the mother and baby. It has also been shown to help prepare a mama for nursing, if that is something she has struggled with in the past.
Along with these I have added a couple others that help with my own personal hormonal imbalance. One of these is spearmint. Any mint can be added to this tea to provide great flavor, but I specifically choose spearmint because it has been shown to lower androgens and is safe during pregnancy.
The other addition I make to this tea is red clover blossoms. This also specifically targets my own personal need for hormonal balance and preparation for supplying the babe with a good milk supply, which I am in need of.
Outside of the red raspberry leaf and nettle leaf, I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone use the same mix of herbs. If you have a need in one area or another it is best to find some herbs that will compliment that, otherwise sticking with just those two core herbs may be all you need.
And, of course, I don’t claim to be a doctor or an herbalist or a midwife or any type of specialist really. I’m just very grateful for these amazing plants that have given me energy, prepared me for a new arrival, and nourished me when I have needed it most.
What herbs do you lean on during these wonderful months?
Here I am, back before you know it, gushing about this dirt. Thank you all for your comments and emails on my last post.
Many mornings start with the letting out of the chickens and the checking of the gardens by Papa and whatever little helpers happen to make their way out in time.
Sometime after breakfast and chores I often wander out to check on things, harvest what needs harvesting, and water anything I might have the gumption for. It’s usually slow-going for us, as is the case with many activities involving anxious little helpers.
But it is a sweet, sweet time of work, questions, answers, and discussions that would probably never happen otherwise.
If we’re being honest, and I hope that we are, Stewart does most of the work behind these rows. I plant fun little plots of carrots and beets and potatoes and three sisters and herbs and greens. But the big, long, massively planted areas are all his handy work.
All while wielding that shovel or rake and carrying bags of compost and topsoil on those shoulders of his. He, of course, gets a hand or six from eager little men and ladies. This slows things down but makes those rows all the richer in sweet potatoes and lessons and stories.
If the afternoons are cool and he’s up for it, he might head out to plant some trees, add some fencing, or work on whatever needs fixing. And there is always something that needs fixing.
And then after supper it is usually Abram who requests a garden walk. We all head out, however many we can gather, and move from the chicken field to the fruit trees to the food forest and back to the pallet garden. We look, we taste, we talk about what worked and what didn’t, and sometimes we water or plant.
At least that’s how our days usually go.
Right now we are away. There is no garden, no dirt, no seeds, no gates to tend or pass through several times per day. It is only in this absence that I realize how this soil, this process of propagation and physical and spiritual conversion, is a part of our days… our life, really.
It often starts and ends and fills the day. It teaches our children the things we could never put into words for them, the things that can only be had by doing and digging and toiling.
And while it is only here and there that I dig in, mix, and mend, I miss it. I miss all of it – every last hard clump and shovel full of clay and patch of ground that needs a serious dose of manure. Every heart-changing, dirty fingernail-washing, deep breath-taking moment in this dirt…
I miss it.
I sit down, laptop in hand, breakfast by my side. Stewart is manning the children, breakfast, and the morning school activities and I am in a quiet room with enough coffee to float me down a river.
I guess that’s what it takes to bang out some photo editing and key strokes these days. But it wasn’t always this way.
Once upon a time I started this blog with a toddler and a new baby. I wanted to share some of the things I had learned as a wife and mama and homekeeper and fledgling homesteader. I wanted other people to benefit from the things I benefited from and I thought that if I shared them on the internet, maybe someone might.
But I also started it for a very selfish need of my own. I was looking for something that I hadn’t had since I became a mama in a place where I was a bit of a fish out of water. I was looking for something everyone needs that us extroverts might crave all the more and that those long days of talking to no one over two-years-old had starved me of.
I was looking for community.
Because we were unable to find that and all that it truly entails where we were, I began to reach out through this space and the other ones that came before it.
And I found it, or at least the version that the internet can provide. Those who were dabbling in food fermentation, natural parenting, dirt-loving, or homesteading started emailing me, or vice versa, and a bond, however virtual these things are via the internet, was formed.
But somewhere along the lines a shift occurred.
This place became a platform from which I began to work-from-home after we quit a corporate job and moved across the country to really delve into these concepts called community and homesteading that are so important to us. I knew the Lord would provide, I just didn’t envision this as the how.
Community has become a real, tangible way of life now. It doesn’t take away from those dear friendships I’ve made here through inboxes, but there is nothing quite like walking down the road to share a melon from the garden, someone stopping by and saying “Sure, I can baby-sit!”, or partaking in a sweet time of fellowship over a shared meal.
And life has become full. So incredibly rich in relationships, long in to-do lists, and sweet in the every day that I find my head hitting the pillow hard every night with ten things not checked off the absolutely-have-to-get-done-today list. There’s just nothing left for my heart to desire except to give thanks for the blessing of it all.
Just now I can hear a set of red headed pigtails yelling “Mama” not too far outside this door and I’m spending a lot more time on our children’s education.
No longer is it just a matter of teaching these loves of mine numbers and letters and colors and shapes. Now I’m talking geography and history to a seven year old who corrects me on the many details I might have wrong and our second child is learning to read. Our second child.
I’m not quite sure when all of this happened.
One minute I was waking up at 5 a.m. to sneak out into our living room and pour myself into this space through keystrokes, the next we live in a space the size of that living room and I am in the thick of it as a homesteader’s wife, work-at-home homeschooling mama, and on the precipice of being the mama to a “large” family.
All of this, the time-consuming, too important to miss moments that are right now, fills me passed brimming. The time that I do allot to punching out keystrokes is heavily prioritized, and with several projects in the works, most of those keystrokes end up in a format that will go towards buying water tanks and feeding our chickens and improving this soil that needs some loving care of its own.
Sometimes life is so full in the doing that the sharing has to slow down.
So, I don’t know how things in this space will look going forward. I have many, many posts drafted and in some stage of ready-to-be-published, so in my usual self-contradictory nature, I will probably go forward as usual with more words and pictures than ever.
Or, maybe not. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to publish anything else here before letting you know.
What I do know is that a certain five-year-old comes in for squeezes every couple of hours while I’m hiding away working, and that’s something to close this laptop for.
my (grain-free) cookbook
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