Farewell Nancy Mae

I know she can hear me…

Her eyes closed, pressed into drug induced coma.  The air from the oxygen clashing with the rattling rasp coming from her throat.         The death rattle.  I recognize it.

So much I want to say but as I go to speak my words catch and my eyes well and the words cannot tumble out without the crashing of tears inhibiting my sentiments.

So I stay silent.

She taught me to be a woman.  A good woman.

A good wife, calming and agreeable.  No matter what grandpa says, even if it is terribly obvious that she knows that bit of information, she looks grateful and sweet and nods.  Everything he says is fascinating.  Ever caring, every meal made with love, every thing taken care of for him.  The looks they share.  A love affair of seventy-something years.  To be a wife like that.

A good mother, adoring and loving.  Her children make up the fiber of her essence and she would have done-or did do- anything to help them.  Across the miles or next door, her love for them never failed.

A good grandmother, ever supportive and beloved.  Beloved.  Cookies in the cookie jar and hot coffee at the ready.  Even if we were six years old.  Always there for us.  Always cheering us on.  Like we were the most important people in the world.  Grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother.  She has lived a life of loving.  I think she waited until my second granddaughter, Ayla Mae, was born a few months ago, on their 70th wedding anniversary.

Every piece in me she filled, that of mother, grandmother, friend.

There was room in her house for anyone who needed a place to stay.  Always ready with a handout or a smile.  Her generosity extended endlessly.

She taught me to sew, to crochet, to cook eggs.  Every Tuesday for years as an adult I would pick her up and we would go to IHOP or a new restaurant (usually IHOP though, she loved the pancakes) and then shopping.  We talked about anything and everything.

She grew up on a farm.  She married a dashing cowboy at the age of sixteen.  Grandpa.  She was a waitress for many years because, in her words, she had nice legs.  Oh my goodness, I will miss that woman.

I know she can hear me.

Goodbye Grandma.

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Grandma and Grandpa used to take me and my cousin, Helen on many fun adventures.

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My first crocheted blanket that Grandma taught me to make.
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My grandparents with their great, great granddaughters. So much to be thankful for. A life well lived.

Nancy Mae Horner

May 26, 1932-February 18, 2009

The Enchanted Friendship and Birthday Wish

Did we all have that friend when we were kids?  The one that was intertwined with our very self evolution?  The memory we keep with us forever?  I have written about mine a few times over the years.  Her name was Susan.  I watched her through the windows of my classroom that looked out on to the courtyard of my old Catholic school.  She walked in with her mother to the office to register.  I just knew she would be my friend.  I prayed that she would be my friend.

She had mousy brown hair, and big glasses.  She was very short and was athletically built, even at twelve years old, because she was a competitive figure skater.  And sure enough we were fast friends.  Her mother said to me one day that she always knew when I was on the telephone because Susan didn’t hang around and chat but would respond quickly, “Meet you in ten minutes!” and would dart out the door.  We would meet at the park, ride our bikes, take buses downtown, or just hang out at her house before her parents got home from work.  We would watch foreign films and drink too much coffee.  We would dance around the living room and stay up late to gaze at the moon.  She loved classical music and was intelligent and so, so confident for a teenager.  She inspired me to be better.  And we made some really great memories.

Then we go through those decades of marriage and raising children and working to make ends meet and before we know it we are middle aged.  Oh, we had the kids’ friends’ parents, we have friends we met at work, or we have the couple’s friends.  We have old friends and we have family but I always longed for another friend like I had when I was young.  I sent up a prayer about it.  You can do that.

Well, for the first eight months of our friendship when I would describe her to my kids or tell them what we were up to, I would say, “Oh, she’s like Susan.”  My children do not remember Susan- she was their godmother but our fallout was when they were far too young to remember- but they know what I mean because of all the stories I have told to them over the years.  Not that she is like Susan, but that our friendship reminded me of the carefree relationships of youth.

Tina took my herb class and that is how we first met.  I don’t really open up to many people.  So many times I am not what people expect.  I must have decided a long time ago that I really didn’t want to be hurt.  I started a women’s group at my husband’s recommendation to get me out of the house and meet new people in our new town.  One month five of us went to a nearby small town and shopped in the old main street shops.  We stopped and had coffee on a patio, our faces to the sun.  Tina had offered to carpool with me and as we drove down the mountain she asked me if I wanted to see the house she was building.  I was surprised but delighted.  I loved the second floor loft of her new home that looked down upon the river and the wildlife.  “It’s an Anne of Green Gables room!” I exclaimed.  And she knew what I meant.

“Meet you in ten minutes,” one of us will say.  To the coffee shop or to the mall or the Riverwalk or to each other’s house.

I was first astounded by her generosity.  I have met few people with such a big heart.  She and her fiancé (now husband) brought us over a whole truckload of chopped wood, barely knowing us.  She is the only one I know who owns all of my books, though I am certain she has little use for them!  I officiated their wedding.  As we walked down the path along the river talking about this and that and everything, a large owl swooped down in front of us.  The trees were filled with leaves and the water from the river was cool.  And all was enchanted.  Just like when I was young.

Tina is lovely and petite and gracious and funny.  Intelligent and kind and heartfelt and authentic.  She listens.  She talks.  She is wonderful to be around, whether in silence or in rapid conversation.  I can be myself.  She is herself.  We are at a stage of life where we can meet in ten minutes.  Being older, I appreciate her friendship so much more.  I am so lucky that she was sent to be my friend.  That she wants to be my friend.

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It is her 50th birthday today.  I hope you will join me in wishing Tina a very happy birthday.  Those friendships that define us and help inspire and build us get better over time and it is never too late to wish for a new best friend.

Six Years of Farmgirl School (and the adventure continues)

1005625_697090816973051_350125397_nSix years ago today I sat down and wrote my first blog post.  I had just recently heard of blogging.  I was writing regular columns in a few local newspapers but I was excited to take my words onto a bigger scene.  Even if I didn’t get any followers, I would enjoy typing away in the morning while watching out my window, holding a cup of coffee and watching the chickens play.  We were still fairly novice at everything from chickens to growing lettuce so the blog has chronicled our vast and adventurous journey and the life of a family, and inadvertently has become a comprehensive site to find out how to do everything from making witch hazel to milking goats.  My “How to Make Chokecherry Wine” has had thousands of views over the years.  Tomorrow, we will bottle homemade mead.

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This photo was used in an article in the Washington Post about our family.

I remember seeing a blog that had five hundred followers.  I could not believe it.  500!  I wondered what that would be like.  This morning I have one thousand, one hundred, and two followers.  Over 142,000 people have read my blog since I began this journaling journey six years ago in a rented farmhouse with nary an idea of how much to water crops.  We’ve come a long way!

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Maryjane
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Ayla

Six years ago I was preparing for my first granddaughter to arrive.  Today my second granddaughter is twelve days old.  Many people watched as we moved to what we thought was our forever farm, only to become homeless.  You cheered us on as we got back on our feet and purchased a home of our own with a third of an acre and a chicken coop.  You have watched me make friends, mourned over deaths with me, read as we created new businesses, patted us on the back as they closed, shared holidays with us. laughed with me, and befriended me.

Turns out that folks don’t keep blogs going for very long, maybe just a few years.  I love blogging.  Anyone who enjoys writing ought to start a blog.  It is easy and so restorative.  I just want to thank all the readers out there right now for giving me an ear, a place to be, for following along on this Farmgirl adventure.  It is far more fun to write for an audience.

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I read through the November posts from 2012.  The first ones.  Man, that’s some funny stuff.  Typos and all.  (Amazing how much one can edit and still overlook typos!)  Thanks for purchasing my books. (AuthorKatieSanders.com) I have seven, but Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101, which covered our first few years and my memoir, The Making of a Medicine Woman are near and dear.  I will have a second Farmgirl School book out by the end of next year.  We have much to discuss about urban farming and lots of projects to do!  (Let us turn the back porch into a greenhouse.  Should we get ducks?  Let’s make a walk-through arbor with pumpkins and twinkly lights!)  Oh friends, six years later, we are just getting started.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Sleepover with a newborn goat at Grammie’s house.

If you have been a follower since the beginning please make a comment.  Here’s to another six years of living the good life.

The Grand Arrival of Ayla Mae

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She would be induced at 10:00 that night.  Not wanting to be two hours away, we checked into a hotel with our granddaughter, Maryjane, near the hospital after packing bags and finding a pet sitter.  We went swimming and snuggled in for the night, checking my phone every few hours.   Maryjane and I had coffee and then went to the hospital while Pa checked in at work.  Maryjane’s other grandma came to pick her up.  The soon-to-be big sister was nervous and excited and emotional.  My daughter, Shyanne, arrived and we all settled in for the seemingly long arrival of a little girl.  Pa came back a few hours later.  We drank tea, and watched the clock, and talked to relatives on the phone, and tried to help Emily.

Being her second baby, Emily knew what to expect and what to request.  She was amazing during her labor.  New daddy, Reed, was nervous and doting and sweet.

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The nurses all knew that we hoped the baby would arrive that day, November 14th, for it was the fervent request from the new baby’s great, great grandmother.  November 14th was my grandparent’s 70th wedding anniversary.  Never mind silver or gold, Grandma and Grandpa wanted a baby.

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And then quite suddenly it was time.  Within thirty minutes a very small little girl with curly, black hair arrived into the arms of her mother.  Daddy swelled with pride.  Pa and Auntie Shyanne cried.  Mama sobbed with joy.  I smiled and welcomed the new little one to our family.  We are ten now in our tribe.  Over a hundred in families that we gained through the children’s partners and our own extended families.  There is truly nothing more important to me than our family.

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And Ayla Mae was born.  A new little medicine woman in our line.

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Maryjane bounced into the room accompanied by her grandma.  She held a stack of papers that she had composed a song in scribbles on and immediately went to singing to her new baby sister.

Those near and dear came in to call.  Ayla has our family birthmark.  She has her daddy’s ears and nose.  She is so beautiful.  I caught my breath and held her close through the night letting mama and daddy sleep some.  And in the quiet of that dimmed hospital room, that precious heartbeat next to mine, I felt the immensity of it all, the blessings that fill my life and this family that we have helped create.  A Thanksgiving gift. (And an anniversary one as well!)

Ayla Mae Thompson

November 14, 2018

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The Beloved Family

There is a very large photograph in Aunt Donna’s basement of her as a young woman, dark hair, slim figure, standing primly in a beauty pageant.  Her forties hair swirled perfectly and her lovely face and smile… my Shyanne looks very much like her.

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Aunt Donna is my grandma’s sister.  I say ‘is’ even though she passed away on Halloween.  She is mentioned throughout this blog many times as my gardening guru, my insight to family history and spirituality, and my friend.  At eighty-nine years old, she left behind a family that she had helped keep together over decades.  The matriarch.  I shall miss visiting her.  I shall miss her home.  I shall miss asking things like, “What do I do with Jerusalem artichokes?” after a day of harvesting sumac and Oregon grape root, or apples, or grapes or Jerusalem artichokes.

Family is beloved.

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My own beautiful family. (From left: Reed, Emily, me, Maryjane, Doug, Andrew, Bree, Shyanne, Jacob)

Family looks differently to different folks, indeed, but a family is a family.  Even though the actual definition is of blood and descent, I feel the dictionary ought to update.  I was born into a very large family.  As I grow older in the line, the family line changes and we all take different places.  My grandmother is now the matriarch.  There are many pieces missing in between, either from death or distance or apathy, they move away or fall apart or come closer and evolve.

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Maryjane’s beloved Aunt Pat (my dear friend)

My granddaughter, Maryjane, knew Aunt Donna.  She knows my grandparents on one side.  She also called my friend, Kat, grandma and calls Rod, grandpa.  She calls my great friends, Auntie and Uncle.  The harsh lines of lineage change and soften.  Maryjane’s Pa adopted all my children when they were very small.  There is no question that he is their father and his entire side of the family can be found penned into Ancestry.com as such.  My lovely, dark skinned sister and brother are as much my brother and sister as my blond brother and sister.

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Four of the five of us. (From left: Patrick, Vanessa, Joel, me)

And to Maryjane there is no difference between anyone.  If they are in our lives, they are family.  Community and family and friends intertwine and become stronger.  Find those that bring you joy and choose to spend time with them.  Call once a week, pen a note and send it off.  Be there.  Be present.  Be kind.  Be thankful.  Because family, made up of the kindest and those that love us, is beloved.

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My world.

The Tale of a Novel (Cherokee Home)

An artist’s craft does not come from their own mind, but rather from somewhere indescribable.  Authors often talk about when inspiration hits, the dishes pile up, things get set aside, and they just write before it leaves them.  Writers certainly incorporate their own experiences and their own knowledge.  Writers will double check dates, facts, history, making sure that everything works together.  But the writer will be surprised and delighted as they actually jot the story down on paper or wildly type to keep up.

Ever since I received a spiral notebook for Christmas in 1984, I have been writing.  Inspiration and the Beyond have been good to me this year.  Three books in one year.  (I am smidge exhausted!), including my very first novel which came out this last week.

Many times ideas will not wait for the writer.  If you don’t take advantage of the gift of inspiration, it will flit on to the next writer and it won’t be long before you see “your” idea in a bookstore near you.  I was lucky this one waited for me.

Two and a half years ago I sat in my apartment researching my genealogy looking for the names and tribes that my mentor had mentioned to me while we were working together.  Medicine people are usually quite clairvoyant and he had told me names and places of my Native American ancestors.  I found the name of the grandmother on the side that I knew was Cherokee (before I found the line on the other side as well) and pieced together her history.  Her son had killed himself while gathering corn for supper one evening around 1930.  His widow’s brother came from California to retrieve her and her three children, the youngest of which was my grandpa George.  I did not know he was born in Oklahoma.  In Chickasaw territory.  During the time when Natives were being killed for their land by the oil companies.  During the time that Cherokees were flocking to California, by force or by promises of riches, at that very time.

As family silence would have it, or I suppose most of the time families just don’t know, I will never really know what happened but a story so beautiful and thrilling filled my mind utilizing all the ceremonies and language and happenings of that era and swirling them into a fictional tale.  My love of Little House on the Prairie and of history came painting forth.  Several chapters too long and an unknown ending caused me to put it away.

Shyanne, my lovely daughter, was the only one that I let proofread it, and she inquired suddenly a few months ago about the book and where it was.  I decided to open it up and see if the inspiration was still there.  And to my great joy it was.  Having forgotten most of it by this time, I was enthralled as I read it.  Most of the latter chapters were scrapped, a new ending unfolded, and a smaller sized novel was created.  I love this book.  I am so thrilled to be the one to write it and bring it forth to the world to read.  It is based on true events because of the history of the time, most of the herbalist events were actually my own true stories, and the ceremonies and many memories of how things were are transposed from my friends’ tales to this book.  All caught together in a synonymous web of truth meeting mostly fiction.  It could be classified as either teen or adult fiction.  I think the prose would suit anyone and will certainly educate and entertain.

I am so pleased to present to you my first novel, Cherokee Home.

Click Here to see it on Amazon!

Act Two: Chapter 17- My Life

There are many blogs out there that stay on point.  They do not veer into private matters or personal life.  This, my dear friends, is not one of them!  Geez, I even freely give out my address so folks will send me a Christmas card.  Now, I try to stay on subject, I really do; decorating, recipes, gardening, chickens, gatherings, et cetera.  But, this blog also acts a bit as my journal and sound board.  This is my network of international friends and loved ones.  I respect your notes, your thoughts, your own writings and lives.  I credit the success of this blog to the realism that comes from it.  You know me as well as anybody, even if we have never met.  This blog is about the real life of our family.  So, come on in and sit and spell and let me know your thoughts.

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Ah,  it was a beautiful day yesterday as Doug and I traversed three or so miles of rugged landscape through sweet smelling spruces and pine.  Across ledges looking out into the vast expanse of valleys and the city nestled below.  Crows veered ahead and the scent and feel of autumn was present on the warm day.  Last time I was there it was so dry you could hear the oak crying for the contents of our water bottles.  Since monsoon season, things have perked up and new growth was eminent and joyful.  And that, my friends, is where we are in our life at the moment.

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“You always panic when things are going really good,” my straight-forward cousin, Julie noted.  The beautiful ebb and flow of life freaks me out.

It didn’t used to.  Why, I used to taut go out on a limb, fly baby, fly!  Now, that we have lost everything a few times over and are settling into a rhythm, I tend to panic when not in survival mode.  Decisions become much bigger than they should be.  I plead to the universe for a clear and precise answer, preferably with details of the future, so that I can make a good decision that won’t land us destitute.

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The answer floats back from beyond…”what do YOU want?”  Do that, Sister.

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My incredibly hard working, intelligent husband got a huge promotion/job offer at work this week.  HUGE.

Our next act begins.  The next chapter.  Now, I have the amazing opportunity to be a homemaker.  I excel at this work.  We save a lot of money when I am home taking care of everything.  I am happy here.  Content.  Except that I desperately want to go back to school.  And I am all set to do so in January.  English and Anthropology to finish a degree from a long time ago.  I want to teach college…maybe high school.  I have always wanted to teach school.  Okay, so go back to school then, yes?

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To the tune of forty plus grand, y’all.  Now, last time I had a full scholarship.  I am a diligent and good student and can very possibly again get scholarships.  Will I like teaching?  What if I spend that much money and then don’t like it?  What if’s sound through the air like mischief in the making.

…what do YOU want?….

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I will be fifty when I get a job as a teacher.

I tell this story often, but when I was working as a caregiver a long time ago I took care of a lovely older woman who told me while I was trying to figure out if I should go to school or not (because I would be the ripe old age of 38 coming out), that time flies and I will be that age soon enough so why not be doing what I want to then?  Well, here we are again, just a different age when I get done.  I hate to add so much debt to us.  I hate the unknown.  (will I even be able to get a job?!)

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Our monsoon season has come and new growth is all around us.  I have the great gift of a being a woman in a free country, with a beautiful family, and a husband who wants me to be happy and follow what my heart says.  Of course, shutting off the chatter is half the battle.  Can’t hear a damn thing.

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…what do you want to do?…Let’s do that.

 

Close Two, On With the New

They closed with little fanfare.  New opportunities only come from shut doors.

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One shop that had been in place for years transfers to my daughter, Shyanne, and she will have more success without the overhead.  The new shop space is left better than it was before.  No one came and the fates have spoken.  I did get a new piano out of the deal.  The abandoned beauty was left in the back of the shop covered in years of plaster and dirt.  Restored and tuned, it sits in my living room ready to be played.  So, silver linings all around.

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It’s never a mistake to follow your dreams.  I always encourage folks to take the leap.  Sometimes I fly, sometimes I fall pretty hard, but I dreamt, I tried, I lived.  My house is now filled with boxes and furniture from both shops and a thin path leads all around.  That is my task the next few days (or weeks).  I still have taxes to pay and accounts to close.  I think I am done with shops and tax accounts and juggling and no pay.  Ah yes, and no overhead.

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I have a job interview tomorrow to go back into caregiving.  I don’t necessarily have to work but the tight budget thing is gets old and I have big plans for this lovely house and yard and y’all know that takes a little cash.  So, all good things ahead.  Blog posts about redecorating, renovating the kitchen, landscaping the gardens, recipes, and a simple life are still to come.  And my new grandbaby will be here soon.  I am relieved, overwhelmed, inspired, and grateful.  Thanks for following along on the ride.  This is indeed a very good life.

Pumpkin Hollow Farm Homesteading Supplies and Classes (a shop is born)

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Wednesday: The idea came swift and clear as a starry night.  Or perhaps it resurfaced.  Or perhaps it was whispered in my ear by the homesteading spirits before me.  Either way, it has been seven days since then and we are already planning our grand opening.

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Thursday: I ran the idea by my youngest daughter to see if she wanted to be a part of it.  She was in.  We went for a long hike and discussed why we wanted to start a farmgirl store.  I did not want to start something rashly with just money in mind.  It needed to be meaningful and enjoyable.  We came up with a list of why the homesteading lifestyle is important to us.

  • Helps environment
  • Healthier
  • Creates better mental health
  • Satisfying
  • Affordable
  • Homesteading creates more family time
  • Great for children
  • Creates community

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It was five and a half years ago that we stood in Nancy’s kitchen making goat’s milk soap, creating label ideas, going through seed catalogs and beginning “The Five Farmgirls.”  Emily held a few-month old Maryjane on her hip as she and Nancy’s daughter, Faleena came up with product names.  We laughed as we sarcastically came up with our own catch phrase, “It’s Farmgirl Good!” as we shook the cold milk trying to turn it into butter for two hours.  Our friend, Lisa came over to help make soap and we sat outside on an early spring day and had a picnic lunch.  A year later Nancy would suddenly and quietly cross over the veil.

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Saturday: Doug and I had lunch with Lisa and Lance Saturday and I told her my idea.  They raise humane meat on their ranch and we could have a pick up point at our shop.  We could do the same for milk.  We laughed and talked for three hours and discussed ideas.  Still, with not a lot of dollars and no idea where to get an affordable retail space, it still felt far off.

So certain that this was going to take off, Emily and I started picking up usable antiques (that are sturdier and still work better than modern versions!) and items for our store.  I bought material to make aprons and farmgirl style pillows.  We came up with a name, Pumpkin Hollow Farm (of course); Homesteading Supplies and Classes.

Sunday: Doug and I drove around and gathered phone numbers for retail spaces.  None of them were quite right.  They also were way out of our price range.  I wanted an old space that looked like a general store.  And it had to be ridiculously affordable.  (They are cleaning it up…I’m keeping the piano for the shop!)

Monday: I call on a shop that people had said would be hard to get.  Many people had inquired on this space and had either been turned down or never called back.  The manager picks up, says she will call the owner and call me back.  Five minutes later she calls me back, the owner loves my idea.  She will rent to me.  For a ridiculously affordable price.  Ten minutes later I am at the shop to see it.  The building is over a hundred years old and it sure looks like a general store.  It is in a great location.

Tuesday: Dad brings a box to my apothecary that says my name on it.  “Mom wanted you to have these,” he says wistfully as he hands me a large bag along with the box.  My friends Kat and Rod are like parents to me and Kat died almost exactly two years ago.  I have a collection of her grandmother’s things.  Hilda is alive and well in my home.  A box and bag of homesteading items and china were the new gifts to me to carry on.  A whisper from above that there are many friends helping this come together.

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Wednesday: Yesterday morning we signed a lease and shook hands.  A private loan came through.  I registered my name.  We have held on to our beloved name since our early farm.  Our farm and homesteading school took a devastating turn a little over three years ago when we had to suddenly leave our rented farm and all of my beautiful homesteading items and our lifestyle was lost.  In a twist of irony, as I searched for my name in the Secretary of State, the name expired three years ago to the day that I re-registered it.

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Mission Statement: To increase happiness, health, and well being for people and Mother Earth by offering quality, second hand, homemade or sustainable objects that bring back the charm of an old fashioned, simple life.

Pumpkin Hollow Farm Homesteading Supplies and Classes coming in early September!

“It’s Farmgirl Good!”

 

 

A New Farmgirl and the Family Farm

A new little farmgirl is joining our family this November.  During Emily’s ultrasound yesterday I watched in awe as the little skeleton baby moved her knees into her chest, moved her arms, and turned her head.  Is there anything more amazing than new life?  My daughter is five months pregnant.  Her five year old, our beloved Maryjane Rose, is overjoyed to have a sister coming.  We have so much to show her!

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New life is everywhere.  My garden beds overflow and bees, goldfinches, and hummingbirds delight in nectar as a baby squirrel eats walnuts from the tree.  I am not sure if there will be any left for us again this year.  There were plenty of mulberries to go around though.

No matter what new endeavors I take on, no matter where my life and studies take us, I always end up back to this place.

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“I keep asking myself what I do I want to do now?  What are my goals?” I told Emily while we were waiting for the doctor.  “And all I want is to be able to live on a big family farm, take the grandkids to see what is growing in the gardens, check on our general store and restaurant, and be together living sustainably.”

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“That’s all I want too,” she responded.

At dinner the other night, my son has it all planned out.

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In the end, all I want is to live close to the heartbeat of the earth, surrounded by family and community, and live sustainably.

It is time to can peaches today.