Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Swine Pickle

The jury may be out on swine flu treatment & prevention, but here on the farm our Mothers of Invention have already taken some important steps.

You've heard the saying, "think global--act local." Well, thanks to my three adopted Asian siblings, I was trained early to pay attention to what was happening in other countries--especially Taiwan and Korea. My interest in my own heritage actually developed much later. (When I learned my first words of Gaelic and tasted my first haggis, I'd already been humming Korean folk songs and eating rice with chopsticks for fifteen years.)

Remember the Avian Influenza scare a few years ago? Scientists in South Korea found that kim chi, a potently-spiced Asian variant of sauerkraut, sped the recovery process for infected birds and showed distinct promise as an overall immune system booster.

So, in the service of public health, we offer this educational song:

(sung to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean")

My bovines are giving me notions.
My livestock I must oversee!
For swine flu demands potent potions--
I'll feed all my critters kim-chi!

Kim-chi, oh kim-chi, bring strong kim-chi to them--and me!
Kim-chi, oh kim-chi: feed kin, kine* and swine with kim-chi!

For centuries, Korean grannies
Have boosted their families' health;
With crocks of kim-chi they've been canny.
Now--can some and come share the wealth!


The scientists fed it to chickens
when studying avian flu:
They perked up and thrived like the dickens--
Guess we'd better try the stuff, too!


Shred cabbage, add garlic and ginger,
salt, scallions and hot pepper flakes.
We'll learn how to be kim-chi bingers--
Oh, what a fine pickle we'll make!


My sisters both came from Korea.
From Taiwan, a brother came too.
I love them--and their kitchen wisdom
Might just save us all from swine flu!

Kim-chi, oh kim-chi: it's good for our critters, for you and me!
Kim-chi, oh kim-chi, a life-saving pickle, kim-chi!

(image sources: &
*kine=Scots word for cows)

P.S. Happy Birthday, Brother Zach!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Egging Us On

Today, the eggs go in. Now, that may sound like a reversal of the natural order of things, but we're giving nature a little, um, assistance.

Our Old English Game Bantams are fine little chickens. They're great for comic relief, insect patrol, and the occasional adorably-wee pale brown eggs. Nobody keeps bantams specifically for egg or meat production unless they have a very, very small appetite. What bantam hens are best at is brooding.

When a hen goes broody, her mind and body tell her it's time to hatch some eggs. She will sit and sit and sit on her clutch of eggs--or any other hen's clutch of eggs--or a bunch of wooden eggs--or perhaps even a few egg-shaped rocks. Bantams are famous for their brooding abilities. Many farmers and poultry fanciers will keep a few bantam hens on hand to hatch the eggs of other species, such as guinea fowl, that go broody only rarely or poorly if at all.

Once the chicks--or, in the case of guinea fowl, keets--are hatched out, bantam hens tend to be fairly reliable at mothering. They'll protect and fuss over the baby birds, teach them basic survival skills, even keep them out of wet grass and distract potential predators. (I say FAIRLY reliable because one of our bantams led her entire brood repeatedly into wet grass last year, and we lost four chicks. Now we've learned to keep the chicks and broody hens in the barn for a few more days after hatching.

Well, the bantams will be getting broody soon, but they're not broody yet, and we have folks asking if we'll have chicks for sale. Last night, we went into the Black Hole--I mean, the storage room--and brought out the egg incubator. With a soft brush and a bleach-water sponge, I dusted it off and cleaned it inside and out. Tonight we'll plug it in and check the thermometer a few times until the temperature seems stable. Then it will be time to add the eggs.

Now, some incubators are fancy. They have automatic turners and forced-air fans and all manner of special gear to create the ultimate hatching environment. All those extras cost money, so we have a basic "still-air" model without the turners. That means that we have to be the mama hens, turning the eggs a few times a day so that the yolks don't get stuck in one position and prevent the chicks from developing correctly. Each egg will be marked with a faintly-penciled "x" on one side. Each time we open the incubator and turn the eggs, they will gently be rotated: x-side up, then x-side down. As you can imagine, it's a pretty x-siding process.

This morning I dispatched two more meat birds. Tomorrow morning we start incubating eggs. I'm having homegrown ham and carrot soup (from the freezer) for lunch. This afternoon, I aim to get the first batch of this year's carrot and beet seeds into the ground. Yep, must be Spring on the farm!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Five: Bucket List

SingingOwl over at RevGalBlogPals suggests that we offer our personal "bucket lists" for the traditional Friday Five. I never saw the Bucket List movie, so the words brought something different to my scattered mind:

"There's a hole in the bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza..."

I loved that song when I was a child. It seemed endlessly funny, the way each problem on the ol' homestead sent Liza and Henry farther into the Slough of Despond...all 'cause there was a dad-blamed hole in the gosh-darn bucket.

Now that I live on a homestead myself, the song ain't so funny--just achingly familiar. In my life, a "bucket list" is likely to involve an actual bucket, and if'n it don't have a hole, well, the side may be split or the handle near to coming off.

Och, but enough whinging and whining. The sun's come out to warm the weary earth, and I shall plant peas in the garden today. This morning I said goodbye to The Piper's Son, who is headed off across the country to a new job and the unfettered freedom of young adult life. I'm thankful, today, for the extraordinary gift of his help this past year as we turned our old woodshop into a genuinely lovely little house. I'm also excited for him, fresh-faced and ready to discover his place in the world. Oh, and this morning, after he left? After wiping away a few sentimental tears, I got out the utility knife and the drill and put up the last piece of drywall in our bathroom, bringing the house that much closer to being done.

Now, about that bucket list:

1) Restore this old farm and open a Bed & Breakfast with a Celtic theme.
I'd cook sumptuous Celtic breakfasts, all ingredients homegrown and/or fresh from other local farms. The Bagpiper would provide evening entertainment and, for those who request it, an unforgettable wake-up call! Instead of being isolated and exhausted by the hard work of farming, we'll be constantly invigorated by the stream of vibrant visitors who come to appreciate this farm's unique blessings and gifts. We'll hold Celtic Spirituality retreats for church groups, Farm Discovery weekends for armchair homesteaders, Writers & Artists retreats for weary professional women (BTW, I count caregiving of any kind as a profession, so just about all women would be qualified)...

2) Become fluent--or at least comfortably conversant--in Scottish Gaelic. (I started learning this beautiful, soulful language several years ago, but had to end my classes when I left for seminary.) Of course, to continue my studies, I'd need to spend a fair amount of time in, well, SCOTLAND! Ah, home of my ancestors and my Spirit's Other Home... Tir Mo Ghraidh! There I would sing with the seals, wander the moors, caper at the ceilidhs, wrap myself with the mountain mists and eerie, ancient peace of the isles...and the Bagpiper would travel along, sometimes choosing a different path for her own musical pursuits, but always joining me to bless moonrise and sunrise, to share our stories at the start and end of each day.

3) In keeping with #2: Make music such a central & powerful part of our shared life that it continues to heal & energize us. Ideally, it should also open opportunities for us to travel and make music in the places--and with the people--we most love. (Also, ideally, we would develop a corps of sturdy & steadfast farmhands, available to mind the farm when we depart on occasional musical jaunts!)

4) One other journey: to travel and explore some spiritual, as well as cultural roots. I'd like to see some of the Continental Celtic strongholds and archeological sites in Brittany, Austria, and Galicia. I also want to take a side trip to Ravenna, Italy, to see the church mosaics there--especially the one where there's a lifesize procession of the Church Mothers. I've been intrigued ever since I heard of these mosaics. In one, there's supposedly a woman with the title "bishop" above her head!

5) I've been a caregiver--to siblings and other people's children--much of my life. There has always been a bittersweet element of release in this work. The children always return to their parents at the end of the day, and my guidance and gifts have always been secondary. That can be a good thing--to leave the "hard part" to others--but still I'd dearly love the chance to "have a wee bairn or twa" all my own. There is so much joy and mystery that I'd love to share, as well as the shared work and earthly delights of this beloved farm. I'd like to raise up a child who sings freely, works earnestly, laughs readily, and lives fruitfully.

Speaking of being fruitful, ain't nobody gonna be fruitful around here if'n I don't get out to the garden and plant those peas!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beyond a Shadow: a sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

(This is the sermon I preached on April 19th, 2009 while serving as "guest" preacher at the U.C.C. church I attend. It is based on the assigned lectionary readings for "Easter 2B," Acts 4:32-35 and John 20:19-31. Portions of these scriptures are quoted in the sermon using the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.)

Excerpt from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
by Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

This poem was written two years after I was born. The poet, Wendell Berry, was a tobacco farmer in the midst of losing his livelihood, in the midst of a national energy crisis, in the aftermath of an unpopular war. Almost forty years later, the words seem freshly written. “Practice resurrection” the poet says. What a ridiculous, impossible thing. If you watch the news, Easter never happens. If you read the newspaper, we live in a Good Friday world.

It is true. All is tattered and broken: the health of our bodies, the health of our relationships, the health of our communities, our world. In our own families, the losses are deep: the cuts to our work hours, the wounds to our pride and self-respect, the loss of sleep over words spoken, roads not taken, choices made… the sudden grief of an unexpected death and the slow deprivations of chronic illness and aging. The shadows loom large around us. Where is the Easter in all that?
We catch ourselves looking for signs of seasonal cheer. The store displays beckon. They promise our own personal stimulus package… but how can new shoes or a foil-wrapped chocolate rabbit expand our sense of grace? In our mouths, the taste of ashes lingers. The cold metal bite of anxiety drives us away, wincing, from the longed-for feast.

Thomas was searching, too. There in Jerusalem, the feast of Passover had come to an end. So, too, had his beloved teacher’s life. Where there should have been an air of well-fed seasonal goodwill, the city was trembling with fear and mistrust. Where there should have been songs of freedom, there were women weeping and wailing their terror and their grief. The Sabbath candles had been snuffed out, and the shadows kept growing, kept reaching…

The shadows of death and destruction loomed upon all the apostles. Locked in that upper room, hiding from the soldiers and the crowds, they mourned, raged, and cowered. They wrestled with betrayal and denial—both from others, and the parts they’d played, themselves.

Yet Thomas wasn’t there. When did he leave, and why? Did he stroll down to the marketplace to pick up some take-out for the disciples’ dinner? Did he move from one shadow to another, on some secret mission?

Nobody knows where Thomas was, when Jesus first appeared to the others. One thing we do know, though: his absence doesn’t suggest a man of doubt. It suggests a man of purpose. Thomas was the only one who stepped out of that dark little room, the only one who wasn’t paralyzed with fear. Like his beloved teacher, he was an active man who refused to separate the life of the spirit from physical life’s demands. His faith was fully embodied.

So when he returned and heard the others telling wild stories, he was not convinced. He understood that grief can twist the mind and too much wine—or too little sleep—can affect the clarity of the senses. A vivid dream—a ghostly vision—these things were common enough. And so Thomas blazed back at the rest of them, huddled in their dingy corner:

The other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!”

Here is Jesus, revealed in ultimate incarnate glory. Here is our Christ, triumphantly embodied. Thomas is not there to sulk or play the fool. Thomas is there to help us reach into the story. Thomas is there to point the way. Like a glass prism, held up to catch the light and send rainbows dancing, Thomas offers his rough edges to reflect God’s glory. This sharp-edged man brings an entire gospel into focus for us, then scatters and spreads the shimmering truth.

For hundreds of years, the Church has worked to scatter the light. Faithful friends and followers have worked to drive the shadows away and bring light into even the darkest corners of human life.

During Lent, I read a book called, Saving Paradise. It’s written by two women who traveled the Holy Land, looking for the creative traces of the earliest Christians. They found carvings in the catacombs, among generations of quiet bones. They found faint hints of frescos among the crumbling ruins where sanctuaries once stood. And then they went to Italy, to a place called Ravenna. There they found churches built within three centuries of Jesus life. They expected to find raw, stark images of the crucifixion, still fresh in everyone’s minds. After all, isn’t that the central story, the focus of our faith?

What they found caught them by surprise. Stepping in, beyond the heavy doors and shadowy arches, they found high-ceiling rooms ablaze with colour. Glass mosaics decorated every surface, catching and refracting the light so that the images seemed to shimmer, lit from within. Where they expected suffering martyrs, they found parades of women and men, large as life, their clothes sparkling like jewels, arranged in adoration. Where they expected stations of the cross, they found the flung-open gates of paradise, with lambs leaping on vibrant green hillsides and birds perched joyfully in the trees. Jesus and the saints were shown alive and whole with arms wide open, ready for a welcoming embrace. The only cross was an empty one, floating high and far away in a sapphire sky studded with blazing golden stars. “He is not here” the shining pictures seemed to say, “Blessed are you who see, and believe!”

The two women traveled farther. They climbed high mountains and made their way to remote valleys, seeking the crucified Christ. All they found were images of Jesus radiant and alive, often in the midst of paradise. Their confusion grew. They sought out scholars and ancient writings to see what the early Christians told each other about their faith. What they found were people like us, struggling to make sense of God’s relationship with humanity. They argued about big things and little things, just as the church does now: was Jesus really God, or really a man, or was he somehow both? And for communion, what should we eat: milk and honey, fish and bread? Maybe some fruit and cheese?

They actually put a lot of thought into that communion feast, because communion was what mattered most. Nourishment mattered. Pleasure and Beauty mattered. In a world of persistent injustice and suffering, a world that needed God’s life-changing grace, they did not dwell on the ugliness and evil of the crucifixion. It made no sense to focus on something they already knew. Instead, they depicted the beauty of paradise, so people could come and experience a life of hope and possibility—so they could perceive a new way to be. And they shared a feast. Because God was embodied—and creation renewed—every single time people shared such earthly blessings. Communion was literally heaven on earth.

In some places, the sharing of goods brought great wealth to the church—and because they were focused on building God’s kingdom, they did not hoard their treasures, but scattered them like seeds in a garden, knowing they’d take root and add to the abundance of paradise. They helped war refugees, widows and orphans. They started schools and soup kitchens, some that served thousands of people each day. They cared for the sick, for local people in poverty and needy travelers.

In the year 372, when a famine hit the Syrian city of Edessa, the church organized hospitals and systems to gather and share out food so that the whole city could be fed. Ephrem, one of the church leaders, not only organized these drives, but also wrote poems and songs to encourage a new ethic of care. His creative works became widely popular. Even today, the Eastern Orthodox Church remembers Ephrem as “The Songbird of Paradise.”

“Even Christ had need of human care,” he proclaimed. “Our need for everything binds us with a love of everything.”
“One person falls sick—and so another can visit and help;
One person starves—and so another can provide food and give life;
One person does something foolish—
but they can be instructed by another and thereby grow.
In this way the world can recover:
Tens of thousands of hidden ways are to be found,
Ready to assist us.”

Even in Jerusalem, which at that time was a broken-down backwater of the Roman empire, this ethic of care was lived out with powerful results. In spite of the destruction of war, the burden of high taxes, widespread poverty and dilapidated buildings, the church worked to mirror paradise and build heaven on earth. In the Book of Acts we read:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

“There was not a needy person among them.” What makes the church in Jerusalem different from the place we live now? We, too, know war and taxes and poverty. We, too, struggle with buildings that have decayed. What would it take to focus our vision and scatter the light of heaven in this time, in this place? We already have been touched by beauty—the hand-polished, smooth-worn wood, the joyful sounds of organ and song, the fragrant offerings of flowers, the radiant coloured glass that catches the sun. We cannot fall prey to the lie that beauty should soothe us, make us sleepy and comfortable. This beauty should stir up our hearts! Beauty should make us hungry for more: the beauty of peace, the beauty of compassion, the beauty of healing, the beauty of justice. Heaven has touched us, not to calm us down, but to help us rise up, with Christ, from the dead!

Now Easter has come. Now Jesus lives again in our midst. Now we, too, must reach out with boldness and touch the marks of earthly suffering. Now we, too must practice resurrection. Unlock the doors of that safe, musty little room! Step out of the shadows of despair and doubt! Come out of the tomb! Christ has risen. Our beloved teacher has opened the gates of paradise and prepared a common feast. Go, and do likewise!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hope Springs!

Spring Peepers and bullfrogs heard under a full moon, daffodils and daylilies sprouting in the yard, garlic up in the raised beds, tomatoes up in their cozy indoor flats... Spring has finally come to Maine, and the "working part" of the farmer's year begins. Happy Easter! Happy Passover! Spring Blessings to One and All!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Hope of Things Unseed

Things Unseed
(a Lowland Scots poem for Holy Week)

The wairld's naethin but mud, the day.
The greetin mist (greetin=weeping)
skirls roond ma wrist
an draws me doon
tae cauld, cauld clay.

Nae Paschal lamb lowps on oor brae: (lowps=leaps, brae=hillside)
The yirth's sae bare (yirth=earth)
an strewn wi care;
the slaistered stanes (slaistered=muddy)
girn whaur they lay. (girn=complain)

Smoored is the licht. (smoored=smothered)
Smoored is the yirth.
Lead's in the veins an the hairt, the day.
Faith? Ah've mislaid it.
Hope's gane grey.

Och, Hush yersel, lass. That'll dae.
Bend yir knee.
Hush. Can ye hear it?
Lean tae the loam, lass.
Dinnae ye see?
Wee roots doon in the dairk are singin.
Wee blossom-buds amang thorns are springin.
Wee leaf-hauns tae heaven are flingin!

This mingin yirth reeks wi life, the day. (mingin=filthy)
Tho mist micht writhe,
The greenfolk kythe. (kythe=recognize, understand)
Doon in dairk hairts an fertile grief
We leaf. Och, help oor unbeleaf:
These things we pray.

--copyricht Mainecelt, April 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Five- time out edition

Being a farmer is part of my calling, but it is only one of my vocational passions. I have recently been working to reweave the threads of a rather tattered call to ordained ministry, a call I plan to pursue in the United Church of Christ. (This is a rather new denomination for me, but I've worked in a wide range of churches before, including United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, and Mennonite congregations.) Now I am struggling to reconnect the different aspects of my vocational life. I've recently joined a webring full of wise, wild and wonderful women--and a few men--who inspire and support this process. Today I'm doing my first official "RevGalBlogPals Meme."

Sally over at RevGalBlogPals writes:
"Holy Week is almost upon us, I suspect that ordained or not, other revgal/pals calendars look a bit like mine, FULL, FULL, FULL.....

Jesus was great at teaching us to take time out, even in that last week, right up to Maundy Thursday he withdrew, John's gospel tells us he hid! He hid not because he was afraid, but because he knew that he needed physical, mental and spiritual strength to get through...

So faced with a busy week:

1. What restores you physically?

Singing. It is one of the most healing pursuits I know. It helps me breathe. The sound moving through my body shakes loose my grief, releases my joy, and awakens a resonance in my bones. I don't sing often enough, but when I do, every part of my being is energized. They say the same space in the brain that processes music also serves to modulate the space between ourselves and others. When we are worn down by community stress and difficult relationships, no wonder there's such healing power in singing together!

2. What strengthens you emotionally/ mentally?
My friendships with strong women and gentle men, and the laughter and understanding that move back and forth between us. Another source of strength is my sense of rootedness: in my American pioneer and Celtic immigrant heritage, in the multigenerational wisdom and stories of my mentors and kinfolk, and in my own sense of calling and connection to the sea and the land. I grew up on an island and have learned that my emotions and thoughts have their own tidal rhythms. It is only when I forget to attend to these rhythms that I lose my balance.

3. What encourages you spiritually?
Gardening! When I plant and tend and nourish and harvest in the garden, I do these things for my soul as well. The garden has always been a safe, restorative spiritual space for me, even with all the weeds and pests and the chickens pecking holes in the tomatoes. I grew up gardening, and even when my mother and I quarreled and misunderstood each other, we always spoke gently and lovingly together as we shared the work of gardening. When I neglect the garden, I often find I am neglecting myself as well. When I'm angry and despairing, there's nothing like a session of weed-pulling to settle my spirit. The herbal scents, the touch of wind, the feel of dirt on my hands, the hoped-for "just desserts" of ripe fruit, the satisfaction of wrongs immediately righted... ahhh!

4. Share a favourite poem or piece of music from the coming week.
Gerard Manley Hopkins is, for me, the ultimate Holy Week poet, but I'm hard-pressed to choose between "Carrion Comfort," "Peace," "God's Grandeur," and "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire..."

5.There may be many services for you to attend/ lead over the next week, which one are you most looking forward to and why? If there aren't do you have a favourite day in Holy week if so which one is it?
I have always had a deep appreciation for Maundy Thursday and the Tenebrae service. How many other rituals allow us to name, accept, and embrace the shadows that haunt us and surround us? So much of Christian worship--and pop culture--is focused on light and brightness and "being of good cheer..." I find myself hungry for these rare opportunities to acknowledge the darkness--the blank emptiness of despair and the gestational, dream-filled fullness of the Soul's Dark Night.