Queen of the Garlic

By Mary

Doc Menn loves to collect things. He collects circles of family members and friends. He collects farm houses, land and decrepit rental units, he also collects old cars, well bred horses and western memorabilia. And he is notorious for collecting new business ventures and projects.

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I think that it is more than fair to say that I have been collected by him. I’m his daughter’s best friend, his son-in-laws sister, his extra hand working cattle on Saturdays at the ranch, and now I am The Queen of Garlic, or so I am labeled under the contact list on his cell phone.

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The title as a Queen of Garlic has come from one of the most recent projects that Jeff brainstormed. The history behind it goes back several years to a specific piece of land that Jeff bought about 7 years ago and has been interested in using to grow produce on. Last August we decided that we wanted to put the piece of ridge-land into something sustainable that has the potential for a solid profit. After about a month of research, spreadsheets, and phone calls, I decided that garlic was indeed the right pick for the project. In October I shelled about 300 pounds of hard neck cooking garlic that got dropped into cold furrows of ground before the snow came. Those planting days were busy ones with I felt like were too short and too cold. However, in November the last of the seed garlic was dropped into the earth and covered.

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After lying dormant all winter the garlic is up. It’s a vast project to say the least because it spans over an acre of ridge soil under layers of old mulch.

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I have been out weeding this last week while juggling the care of my sister-in-laws 5 kids as she takes a three day vacation which she does about once every 11 years. It’s been a delight to spend hours weeding, thinning, and uncovered shoots of garlic from thick heaps of mulch. The neighbor kids who live next to the field like to come out and help.

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They don’t weed nearly as much as they talk, but all the same they are enjoyable company while I work.

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Spending so much time outside gives me time and space to watch the sights that surround me. Sometimes I see Amish horses and buggies pass, at other times I catch a glimpse of brightly colored birds swooping about, or a vole and a dog playing cat and mouse. My mind tends to wander a lot as I muse of internal thoughts, ideas and questions that I often reflect on.

The other day I came up with a question that I will have to ask Jeff: If I am really the queen of garlic, doesn’t that mean I should have an legion of servants to carry out my work?!

Until next time!

Mary

Blossoms

By Kate

I sat beneath an apple tree in bloom the last time I nursed my firstborn daughter. Sunlight streamed through petals and tears streamed down my face. In May, in Wisconsin, the world is in bloom. Spring comes with a particular force and sweetness after the long harsh winter. That year I feared the shift in seasons, watching the snow melt away and knowing that the beginning of spring meant the end of my pregnancy and the arrival of the parents who would adopt my baby.

I wanted to stay pregnant for as long as I could, holding tight to the intense intimacy and ability to care completely for my child within. I sang lullabies, read aloud and cried. I prayed. I played music. I spoke to the child within constantly, telling her how much I loved her and the reasons I had decided that adoption was the best, albeit hardest, decision. I asked her to forgive me. My due date meant the end of my pregnancy and felt like the end of the world.

On my due date, I was weeding peas on the hillside of my parent’s ridgetop farm when I went into labor. I gave birth to a baby girl that night. She was perfect, of course, in the way all beloved children are. I was raw, stunned, and in awe.

The adoptive parents flew across the country to meet their new daughter. We, the birth parents, had one week to meet her and to say goodbye. I stared hard into my child’s eyes as I nursed her, pondering the mystery between us.

The adoptive couple, who were and are extraordinary people, gave me space and brought me roses. They walked hand in hand with my youngest siblings across the farm fields, broke bread with us, gave my parents a tree to plant. We didn’t know what open adoption meant, exactly, but we knew that we were doing something new, planting the seeds for a new and different relationship. Our lives were growing intertwined, tentative and soft like the tendrils of pea vines.

A week passed and the court date arrived. We stood up, birth mother and birth father with baby between us, and spoke the words that renounced all claim upon our child, removed forever our legal role as parents in her life. We fought hard to speak clearly, to keep tears at bay. We wanted so badly to retain our dignity. We left the courthouse and drove to the concrete block office where we would give our daughter to her legal parents.

Outside the office was an apple tree, where I sat in sunlight on the deep green grass, with apple blossoms cascading as I nursed one more time.

Then we went underground, to a basement office which was dull and stuffy and so prosaic a place to do something as vast as handing your child to another couple. There are pictures of that moment. They are hopeful and strong, joyful and united. We are broken. We all clearly, fiercely, love that child.

We climbed those stairs back into the light without a baby, bereft. We walked away somehow, and kept climbing. We found the highest hill we could. Somehow it was still spring. The world was still beautiful, still in bloom. It seemed impossible. We looked out over the town and the world, feeling a vast emptiness. The enormity of our grief was beyond believing and yet, we shared a strong conviction that we had done the right thing. We had passed the test. We simply could not offer our child the life we wanted, so badly, for her to have- and those hopeful, faithful, and incredibly generous people holding our daughter at that moment? They could. They did.

The first year after the adoption was a blur of grief and darkness. Light returned slowly to my life. At first it was like the visible beams of light you see streaming down from dark clouds, sun piercing through shadow. My daughter was a constant presence in my mind and in my life. There were pictures, letters, and eventually visits. I saw their home, their family growing, and the trees they tended in the desert. They returned to my parent’s farm, braving a blizzard to do so. We gathered with our whole extended family around the table. I watched my daughter- our daughter- singing in the choir of our country church, snow falling softly outside. The roots of the relationship we were building, the family we were created, continued to grow.

Time passed and light poured in. I fell in love with tall and handsome man with an extraordinary soul. We met in the beginning of May. Our romance quickly blossomed, and a year later we were wed in the country church on the ridge. As we emerged onto the stone steps outside the church a group of girls threw blossoms in the air. My daughter, attending the wedding with her family, was one of them.

I believe in grace. The story of my adoption is beautiful. It’s also a huge part of who I am, intertwined with my life and being. The presence of this part of my life has become much more natural over the years. My husband and I have three beautiful children. The couple who adopted my daughter have seven. They are a continual inspiration to me.

In an adoption, something is rent, and mended in a way beautiful beyond imagining- but oh, there are still moments where you feel the tearing. The thing about grief, though, is that you can’t outrun it, or hide from it. A wise woman once told me that sometimes, you just have to be sad.

Each May when the world is in bloom, the world celebrates Mother’s Day, and I celebrate the birth day of the daughter that I gave away. Each year, I struggle.

This year, I was sad. Then a gift arrived- a picture of a beautiful girl, with blossoms in her hair, dressed for the May crowning of Mary. She is graduating from eighth grade and full of grace, suddenly blossoming into a beautiful young woman.

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The picture was a reminder that the story of my adoption is not about what was lost but what has been made whole, in a manner beautiful beyond my wildest dreams. It filled me with gratitude for the blessing and generosity of God who made the blossoms and the fruit trees, gnarled roots and spreading branches.

Something Old, Something New

By Mary As I type, my hands are sticky from super glue that I was working with to make a pair of earrings. Initially the earrings were a pair of cuff links that my mother’s father owned. The cuff links were later given to me as a birthday present many years ago by my mom. image Grandpa died when I was a young girl, just weeks before my birthday in October. However, I still feel a connection to this man who was known for his love of farming and his deep faith. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It was a joy and an honor to gather a few tools and turn something old into something new that I can wear in honor of him and well, just because I love horses! image Recently I was reflecting on how fascinating it is to recreate things that have a past, and a story of their very own into something new, that holds meaning and is useful. Stores like Ikea and Wal-Mart don’t interest me in the least. Mass productions of things that come off an assembly line and will eventually end up in a landfill strike me as empty. That’s not to say that some of the things manufactured aren’t useful or good in their own right. It’s just that for me, I delight in turning old things into new things. This spring I have had so much fun refinishing furniture. It takes quite a lot of time to strip, sand, and add coats of new paint. I am semi addicted to using a power sander that may or may not have been confiscated from my carpenter brother. I have enjoyed the process start to finish. Power tools are a blast! I am always amazed at how ambiguous DYI projects are as they manifest. Whenever I do needle work it’s such a jumbled mess of embroidery string until eventually an entire tapestry manifests. image Quilting is similar to needle work. What starts off as a mess of fabric odds and ends can really transform into something uniquely individual and that patches together beautifully. Looking back at my life, it is truthful to say that I have quilted the most when everything had seemed really hard and like nothing was coming together in my environment. image All those miss-matching pieces end up coming together over time both in the quilt and in life. image The end result is a special  work of color and collaboration that signifies meaning. image Speaking of special, look at this wreath that I made just the other day! I figured that the pages from old books didn’t need to be wasted. Really, with a hot glue gun book pages can go through some major plastic, um, I mean * paper surgery! image The last endeavor that I have been working on recently is removing flesh from a stack of sheep skins and carefully salting them down before lying them out flat to dry. Last week I sent a heap of them to a tanning company to get backed in buckskin and dry cleaned. It should be interesting to see how they turn out! It’s rewarding to be able to see the beauty in things that don’t seem to have a use or make any sense. Oftentimes, the cost of doing so is very inexpensive, and the best part is that old things become new things with both a past and a future- just like you and me.

Take your Child to Work Life

by Kate

We were talking about our day in the kitchen last night, when my husband mentioned that it was Take your Child to Work Day, and a couple of his co-worker had brought a child along to work with them.

Interesting, I said.

I didn’t hear about the nationwide celebration of the day because I’d gotten up early, packed three children and three bags of accessories into my battered van, and headed out to the farm for a photo shoot which, for once, found me on the opposite side of the lens than usual. Instead of shooting I was shot, high on a wind swept ridge with my hair whipping in the wind. I was wearing a summer dress, vintage boots, great big earrings, an armful of bracelets, and a baby in a sling. The wind was cold and it was a long climb up that hill with three small children, a fashion photographer in tennis shoes, and a stylish magazine editor from the city, but the whole crew had more or less cheerfully followed me through mud and cow, pig, and chicken manure up the steep hill to take my picture where the ridge met the sky. It was too cold up there to take more than a few shots, but hopefully I’ll look halfway decent in the June Issue of Whirl Magazine.

I know the baby in the sling will look great. She always does. In fact, she’s a big part of the reason we were up there on that hill in the first place.

A couple weeks ago I strode into a meeting in a real magazine office downtown, complete with glossy covers on the wall, exposed brick, and fancy lighting. It was the perfect opportunity to do something I’ve always longed to do, which is wear pleather pants to a business meeting. I was also wearing a five month old baby, dressed for the occasion in a fetching vintage outfit. I tucked her into the sling, threw a glittering printed scarf over her, and sailed into the meeting wearing bright lipstick, smelling like French perfume… and nursing a baby.

I was lucky. They loved it. It was bold, it was interesting, it was different- a six foot tall woman in pleather pants wearing a baby and representing a farm? Perfect for their monthly Style File feature.

Taking your baby to a business meeting is definitely different- but with this baby, I’ve done it over and over. I could never have done this with my first, but this is a peaceful little one, and I’ve gained a much larger degree of competence and grace and confidence in my ability to care for a very small sleeping baby worn against me while having an important conversation, which is what meetings are for. That’s why I keep scheduling them. There are conversations to be had! Deals to be made!  I have to be there in order for these things to happen, and my baby needs to be with me in order to have her needs met. I’m not taking a stand on an ideological level but trying to address a practical need for all concerned- and you know what? The short term presence of a smiling baby in an office generally brings delight.

So, weeks later, there we were, children and chicken manure and chill wind, shooting for the Style File. Finding something different, something edgy? Well, that’s fashion! So said the sweet Style Editor who cheerfully clambered through the muck holding the hand of my five year old. She also asked me some interesting questions after we’d begun to warm up, settled into a booth at the Sandwich Shop.

Who inspires your style? Who are your style icons?

It was a tough question for me, so I opened a book and showed her a picture that has been inspiring me lately.

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I love this picture. I love it because the prints are fierce and the woman is strong and the child is sleeping. I love that there are mountains in the distance, because this is how I feel in my life right now. I feel like my broad shoulders are carrying my children forward in life on a great adventure, climbing towards distant mountains, visible on the horizon but not yet known.

I do not believe that work must be separated entirely from children, kept in a separate place where children can visit once a year. I do not believe that caring for my children is not work. I am disturbed at the nature of our current conception of work/life separation and what it means for women, and men, and children, and the greater society.

On a farm, and for most of human history, work and family life are intertwined. While of course some tasks are not appropriate for children, they are a part of the work life of the farm from an early age, and they provide valuable assistance and gain self respect as they begin working. Small children want to work! They want to do what their parents do, and especially as they grow, to exile them to a life devoid of exposure to anything but rigidly structured and enforced play is a disservice. This may simply mean allowing your child to help sweep the floor or fix a bike- or you can go whole hog, tie a baby on, put on your pleather pants, and head to a business meeting.

Taking children to work is inconvenient. It’s embarrassing, and it can be maddening- but I’m going to keep doing it, because it’s hugely rewarding and so important. There are mountains to climb!

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Weathering Storms with Family

By Mary

Yesterday I took home a pair of overalls that had been left on my sister-in-laws clothesline for about a solid week. Perhaps it’s a good thing that they had so long to dry. After all, they had been drenched in a spring hailstorm that touched down one morning while Patrick, Gabriel, Aurora and I were out looking for new calves and trying to move a group of cattle.

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That particular morning I spent a lot of time with my head down because the rain wouldn’t stop pelting my neck and face, and I didn’t have a hat on to block it. However, glancing forward I was able to see the silhouettes of two of my brothers looking rather comical in long rain slickers as well as my sister in law Aurora who is still out riding and working cattle while six months pregnant. I was jolted out of my discomfort at the sight of the three of them in the harsh spring rain working alongside each other. It’s good to be able to collaborate with siblings to tackle jobs and life.

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The sight of them reminded me of something I haven’t spent enough time being grateful for. It’s a wonderful gift that grown siblings choose to still stay involved in each others lives. That spring moment in the rain, I knew all sorts of funny idiosyncrasies that each of the people I was working with exhibit because all of us have spent so much time together as siblings and more or less, as closest friends. Do we fight? Yes! And sometimes often, but when push comes to shove, each of us has one anothers back. With the rolling black sky up above me, and my nervous horse who was skittish due to the storm underneath me, I knew that the morning rainstorms would let up and that within hours I would be dry and able to get on the road. The van I was driving that day was my brother Robert’s because he was borrowing my car to drive to for a family wedding. We decided my car was a better option because his family van has been having some issues which I can attest after my hand got burned from getting shocked while trying to jump-start it in the pounding rain late the night before. That day I knew that Robert would probably be busy with his family and in-laws in Moore, Oklahoma, but he also would probably be calling me to remind me that I had to get my taxes in because he knows how I am about filing taxes and my total horror of having to do them by myself. Due to this and the nearing tax deadline date I was getting reminders and encouragement that I needed in order to file by the 15th.

This support system is in a way how we operate frequently. What one sibling cannot do, another can. It’s a useful way to live and also a rich one. For that I am grateful! I was especially grateful that cold Thursday morning to end up at a friend’s cabin leaving a pool of rainwater on her floor and having Patrick arrange for a trailer to come pick us and our horses up.

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Life has many storms, but in the end they always let up and no matter how difficult they may be, family is always there help weather them.

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April 16, 2015

By Mary

With my green eyes I see beauty and with my green thumb I like to nurture and create it. One of my very favorite things to do is to spend hours lost silence while gardening. Growing flowers never bores me. I have an appreciation for the flexibility of flower gardening because first and foremost, it offers me a creative outlet that is beautiful, as well as in constant motion. I really do despise sitting still, so it’s wonderful to be engaged in projects that keep me busy and moving, Plus growing flowers is such a flexible way to have a fun niche market.

Yesterday I picked up flats of baby lupines that I had started at an Amish greenhouse back in February. While at the greenhouse I spent a few minutes looking around at what’s available, which made me ponder new ideas for this season. Later last night I was able to look back at some of the pictures from last summer which made me remember times, colors and designs that were a joy to experience during last years growing season. Here are a few memories, designs and projects from 2014.

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Last February the world seemed to as if it would always remain in a cold state of below zero frozen doom. Lisa King from the GAC show Farm Kings sympathized with my state of winter misery and was able to brighten my spirits by showing me the first shoots of new life inside her greenhouse. As a side note: Lisa is an amazing flower gardener and does some amazing and gorgeous things with flowers. For some great inspiration from Lisa, checkout some of the clips that are available from their show or Freedom Farms Magazine.

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After coming back from Pittsburgh, I was able to put together some lists of records and start planting.

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Writing for the Freedom Farms magazine challenged me to spend some time coming up with articles that gave potting a new twist (just like the twisted grass in the globe pots I made that resemble my unbrushed hair!). To make these, just up-cycle an old globe, slit it in half, drill holes for drainage, and plant inside before attaching rope for hanging,

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Last summer I was able to burn out a stump and turn it into a flower bed.

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Burning out a tree takes a lot of time, and in my case one very heated argument…. but I liked the end result!

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Last year I recycled old bottles that had labels I liked and used them as vases. The price is right to reuse them. This gave me a great inspiration to buy bottles of wine that had horses on the labels, I mean, I bought them for my flowers, right?

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When it comes time to fill buckets with bouquets to take to the co-op for market, I am in my zone!

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This year I will have new colors and plants to work with. I am really looking forward to seeing what I come up with. My hope for this post was that it provided some inspiration to think creatively, and most importantly, encourage you to get out and get your hands in the dirt. Happy gardening and don’t forget to get lots of dirt on your hands!

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The Switch

By Mary Slattery

Last month I called my brother, Patrick at about 6:30 in the morning in tears and told him that I thought my 4Runner was totaled. In the middle of me wailing and explaining that my car had slid over a rock wall, off an embankment, and into the woods he interrupted me and said “Praise be to God the piece of junk is wrecked. You are a Subaru girl. Get one.”

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Patrick is a pretty direct guy who I lean on a lot. He is the one who told me nearly 2 years ago that we should both sell our cars and get something cheap. Both of us ended up doing so. He got a jeep and I ended up the owner of a 22 year old 4Runner. Ironically, we then went into competition over who could have the highest SUV. After 2 tries at purchasing lift kits he won, and proceeded to win because his jeep has been for the most part problem free.

Unfortunately, the 4Runner has kept my life exciting in a chaotic messy way that makes for many stories, but has not been such a fun trial.

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Within the first week of owning a rear tire randomly detached from the entire wheel well. Since then the problems have continued at a steady clip.

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That solid stubborn streak that flows in my veins campaigned for the thing even though it sucked up gas like a suburban, was extremely difficult to shift and in more recent times it needed a lot of yanking at the wheel because it leaked power steering fluid on a regular basis. Most recently it became stuck in 4 wheel high on a daily basis which drove me crazy but I was informed by my brother that it was a “safe gear” for me to be in constantly. Drive I did, often and slowly with at least one rosary hanging off the rear view mirror and endless amounts off coffee that fuels my energy throughout the day.

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There were a lot of things that I really liked about my white mess of a SUV. I liked how it was 22 years old, rust free, and still running with a good engine. I liked how I could off road in it at the ranch and not car how banged up it got. This summer my brother smashed into it with a gooseneck trailor full of horses and the dent didn’t phase me in the least. I liked how much space I had in the back of it to store whatever I had on hand like saddles and flats of plants, or buckets bursting with beautiful flowers blooms and splashing water all over the interior. There were a few times that I was able to move sheep, goats and my huge Akbash sheep dog from point A to point B.

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However, the novelty of my rugged and ancient vehicle really wore off this winter after the back door and window stopped working completely which put a kibaosh on my eccentric transportation endeavors. Worst of all the heater that runs off a light switch (I kid you not!) has never really worked which makes driving in my both cold and radio-less car pretty grim at this time of the year.

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Yesterday I got a Subaru. How I hate letting things go. But I think it’s time to switch things up… and let go of my old heater switch.

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Tomorrow I need to pick up a buck to breed my goats. I promise I won’t try to put him in my new car’s trunk because after all, this car is not that kind of car. That’s okay, I’m a Subaru girl now!