The Glamorous Life of an Urban Farm Wife (and the realities of death)

I tucked my Christmas pajama bottoms into my bright purple galoshes and tightened the belt of my fuzzy bathrobe that covered my nightgown.  I sighed, mouth askew in a grimace, and pulled my work gloves on while balancing the shovel.  Poised over the dead creature I tried to hold my breath while finagling the blade underneath the hardening body of a skunk who did not see it coming.

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I love ignorance.  It’s the best.  Kind of wish I could get back to it.  Ah, the mystique of becoming a farmer.  The love of the land, the fresh air, the bright dawn, the sound of a baby goat, the feel of a newborn chick, the taste of fresh eggs with gorgeous orange yolks.  The urban farm with the front yard completely gardened.  Beds filled with corn and pumpkins, rows and rows of chilies and tomatoes, and dozens of other herbs and beans and cucumbers and other delights fill the space where a lawn ought to be.  A rooster crows from the backyard.

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I guess what I never prepared for, and what no one could really express to me, is that death and cycles of life were going to become quite apparent to me.  The emotions that one might feel day to day in the suburbs would morph into much more intense versions of joy and grief.  That becoming a farmer means becoming privy to the real natural world.

See, in a high rise apartment or other such place, one might see a fallen bird from a nest or a cat that has been hit by a car.  We sniff and pout our lip and then move on with the day.  Styrofoam cartons and air sealed packages line shelves neatly labeled.  Beef tip.  Short ribs.  Chicken breast.  (Where did the rest of the chicken go?)  Away from a farm is an easy place for Utopian ideas to thrive.

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Last night the skunk was apparently on his way to have appetizers and cocktails in the chicken coop with the ladies when he was swiftly taken out by a monstrous being, that at first sight might not be taken for a swift sort of creature at all.  But the massive bite to the spine without being sprayed proved that Gandalf was on duty and was not allowing frolicking with the chickens past curfew.  The chemical, nauseating smell permeates everything but the dog.

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Now, if the pup was not there, the skunk would have made quick work of the chickens without a smidgen of remorse.

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The Cornish chickens can barely stay alive as it is.  Since my post three days ago, another chicken’s legs are breaking and one of the hens that seemed fine died of a heart attack.  They are scheduled to meet their maker in two weeks (because it is the humane thing to do) but we will see if they even make it until then.  My own Utopian ideas of compassion and living in a world without death backfired with meat chickens that were never meant to live this long and are suffering.

Over the years I have held a screaming goat as she died.  My cat, two chickens, a robin, a sparrow, and my dear friend’s ashes are buried in my yard.  A dead skunk is in a plastic bag in the alley until I can think of something to do with it.  Death is real and it is not necessarily not compassionate.  Not necessarily unfortunate.  It just is.

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But where there is death, there is new life.  New baby chicks, and wobbling ducklings.  Baby goats taking a bottle, and finches learning to fly.  A farm- whether in the city or in the country- teaches us what working in a temperature controlled office after driving in a temperature controlled car, after picking up a quick breakfast could never teach.  That life in its whole is a natural process of birth, delight, strength, illness, sustenance, death, grief, reality.  And in every cycle, it is beautiful and sacred and real.

 

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

Death and Laughter

steve and lisaI can see her still, pixie sized, with soft blond hair just brushing her shoulders, and compassionate, smiling eyes swirling her wine glass.  I can see her in the vineyards, on the boat watching the whales, in her home watching inspirational television, in her Fiat driving around dressed smartly.  She was one of the wisest women I have ever had the great honor to be friends with.  She crossed the veil, with grace and hopes of not returning, last week.  She was in her late fifties.  Her husband, Steve, my friend for many years, will be driving through and stopping in to see me.  We shall cry and reminisce and drink wine in her honor.

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If you have followed me for awhile, they were the couple we used to visit in California every few years.  I wrote many notes and added many photographs of our adventures through wine country, the Red Wood forest, to the ocean.

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Our society doesn’t like to speak of death.  We are fearful and clearly do not want to accept it.  But telling your loved ones what you want can help ease the decision making in a bereaved spouse and children.  It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom.  Death is the next great transition, the next path, it is all beautiful, and it can be spoken of with humor.

When my daughters were young I remember them clearly arguing in the back seat as we drove somewhere about my remains.

I will put her ashes in the compost pile so that she can grow into flowers and trees! The other retorted, No, I am putting her ashes in the lion cage at the zoo.  You know she always wanted to be near a lion!

“Excuse me, I am right here!” I said, all of us laughing.

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Saturday as Doug and I were driving, we thought of Lisa.  I told him when I die call Lauren!  She is a friend of mine who specializes in green funerals.  The last thing I need is to be filled up with chemicals and shoved into Mother Earth with a final “screw you” inside of my veins.  No, just put me in there as is so I can feed a tree and microorganisms without killing everything.  Or cremate me and put me in the lion cage.  That could be fun.

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Doug chimed in,

A deceased woman was seen floating on Minnequa lake on fire this morning in a Viking funeral.  Two men in kilts were arrested for disturbing the peace and public drunkenness.  The bagpipes were confiscated.  Three police officers- friends of the deceased- were arrested for drunkenness and attacking a police officer with a sword.  The deceased’s children were seen fleeing the scene. 

We laughed at this vibrant scene in our imaginations as we made our way to my brother’s St. Patrick’s day party.

My friend, Nancy, who was a great part of this blog as well, died at fifty-four years old and in her final decisions wanted a green burial.  She was buried on her land in a beautiful ceremony right in the path of the easement where the oil companies were going to come through.  She had the last laugh!

I turned to Doug and asked him seriously since he doesn’t speak too much of it, “What do you want?”  He was silent for a moment and then replied thoughtfully,

I have just one request.  I want you to prop me up in the first row and see how many people notice!

Well, that sent us into another round of laughter.

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We may not have written down exact plans, but we have the gist of it.  Death is not scary.  It is just another journey.  Save a little money for your burial, write down what you want, and then maybe plan a great reception in your honor complete with Mariachi and margaritas or your flaming corpse on the nearby lake.  Send yourself off proper.  And love those around you fiercely while they are alive.  I will sure miss Lisa.

 

The Crone and the Ants

20171103_092307We named her the Crone upon first seeing her, for her lengthy limbs and wide trunk seemed to tell stories of old.  It was obvious she was coming up in years and wouldn’t be around forever.  Sawdust fell at her feet and pieces of her skin fell off in the dust.  Her scant leaves held firm.

The tree men came and took down just the limbs over the electric wires and noted that the Crone was hollow.  “Carpenter ants,” a shrewd one said.  You have to go get ant killer.  Bayer.  It’s at the hardware store.  It’s the only way to save the tree.”

Doug hopped in the car and started for the store.  I had a sudden realization, like a deck of cards filing out quickly in front of me of what we were about to do.  I called him and told him to come back home!  No poisons.  That is not how we have ever done things.

“Then your tree will die,” the tree man shrugged.

I had him put corn meal into the hollowed ends.  I put the wood ash around her base.

The thing to remember here is that the ants are there because the tree is dying, not the other way around.

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I watched the wood pecker the next day with his lacy wings and red head pecking at the tree.  Several friends joined him.  Sparrows and finches burrow into her limbs.  Squirrels play among her arms.  We would have killed them all.

I planted twenty trees in her place.  She will fall when she falls.  Then she will return to my garden and to the wood stove.  All in nature’s time.  No poisons necessary.

Compassion For Even the Smallest

 

tinyTiny Timothina had a bad day.  When we returned from our show last night we thought she was dead.  The other chicks were running over her.  Her wing and one leg were stretched out.  “Mama, I think we lost the runt,” Doug said sadly.  We saw her move though and there was life and hope.

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She was smaller than the other chicks and just wasn’t thriving.  We put her in her own small box with mini bowls of food and water and turned the light on her.  The next morning she was still alive though still laying on her side.  I put her in my shirt and rocked her as I had my coffee and checked emails.

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When we came home from our show tonight she was laying in her water dish and not well.  I held her again until she died.

That happens, it is hit or miss with chicks.  They are hatched then shipped all over the nation within twenty-four hours and sometimes for no reason we find that the chick (or grown chicken) has died of Sudden Chickie Death Syndrome (we made that up, don’t google it).

Each and every animal that comes through our farms is precious to us.  A live spirit.  A soul that came from the same universal energy source we did.  Their life is important.  Many an experienced farmer might just throw the chick away or put them in another box and walk away.  But we have brought many a chick back from the brink of death.  Ginger was practically decapitated when we found her, various chicks brought back by sitting on my lap watching television lived long lives.

So, do not give up hope on your weakened animals.  They may die, but you can hold them as their spirit is released.  We send love to each and every creature we have the honor of being around.  And this returns to us.

Dawali and the Reusable Mug

 

forestWe stepped into the old stone house, its dark hallways lightened by small windows.  The older man with the white beard welcomed us, tall and Sean Connery-esqe.  He offered us a free farm, his kind eyes gazing softly at us.  We giddily agreed to see this beautiful place that we have dreamed of.  We had to take a small plane to get there.  It seemed to be a quick trip.  The lush green around us was welcoming.  Herbs and plants, grassy fields, tall mountains greeted us.  Vibrant green and fresh.  A group of sheep preceded by two small dogs approached us gleefully.  They stood before a large fenced garden patch waiting to be tilled and seeded.  That was when we realized it.  They weren’t real.  They were almost robotic in movement.  The animals were copies of the ones we fondly raised on our last farm.

Confused we went for a walk in this strange place.  We kneeled near a cliff and looked down at the shining waters, deep and mysterious as fish swam through the clear waves.  Suddenly several cars and RVs came driving over the water.  The water was not water after all but a copy.  A water-like surface that was actually hard and became a parking lot as the artificial fish floated mechanically.

I opened envelopes.  One from my sister.  One from my grandparents.  They contained photos.  Photos of our life.  Of things on earth so that our future generations would not forget what it was like on earth.  Someone yelled from a cave.  “Don’t tell anyone else know about this place!  Too many people are coming here!”  No birds could be seen.

We had destroyed Earth.  The animals, the plant life, our lives had been destroyed and now rushes of humans came to occupy this new planet called Dawali.  I was sad.  We cried.  We desperately tried to get back to Earth so we could warn everyone.

I awoke.

The sun shone through the window illuminated by the newly fallen snow.  The mountains in a cloudy mist.  Doug was making coffee and the gas fireplace created an artificial glow.

I thought of the waste created from one commercial store, the overflowing dumpsters near our apartment complex and times it by a billion.

On a homestead I felt secure with my wind powered clothes line.  My hand washed clothes and dishes.  Our carbon neutral wood heat.  Our huge gardens and preserves.  How can I make an impact from my third floor apartment?

I firmly believe in the power of the elements and that we will not destroy Mother Earth but rather we will feel the impact of our mindless decisions.  Cancer, illnesses, natural disasters, whatever it takes to lower the population and protect our resources are out of our hands.  I must be more mindful.  It is far too easy to throw out a bag of trash for the valet trash service.  Or to drive when I can walk.  Or not take a reusable mug around with me.  What are some things we can do to help sustain our Mother?  Our food, our medicine, our life stems from her chest, our bodies return to her soil.  We must become more respectful of our Mother.  I intend to be more mindful.  I hope you will join me.

 

 

 

Samhain (remembering and new traditions)

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I am intrigued by history.  Fascinated by it.  I learn from it and am entertained by it and live by it.  So many modernized things were not for the best, in my humble opinion.  Of course with my long flowing skirts and aprons I, myself, look as if I skipped out of another time period.  There is so much to be learned from the history of our people and so many lovely things that if added to our life would make it all the more sweet, meaningful, magical.  Samhain is one of them.

Now I do not consider myself wiccan or pagan.  If I were to put my spirituality in a box, I am Catholic.  A Catholic married to a Jew.  We raised our children in a Christian church and they are now oddly Atheist.  One of my best friends is Catholic married to a Buddhist who used to be, along with his parents (also our dear friends) Mormon.  Our family and friends are all different races and religions and in the end we are all connected to one source.  I am fascinated by the similarities in religions and histories across the world.

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If you are like me and had most of your family come over to America in the 1700’s you will find that you are missing customs that would have been brought over.  I am a bit saddened that we have zero cultural ties left.  Most of my DNA will lead back to a strong Celtic heritage mixed in with some Dutch, Yeopim and Cherokee Indian, and Black French, but what they used to celebrate has been lost.  So we create our own customs.

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Samhain (pronounced Saw-win) dates back long before the Christian festivities (and the Hollywood made festivities too) and was an agrarian holiday.  Now that we are homesteaders we understand these holidays so much more.  Homesteading has become our lifestyle, our day in day out, our entire life is marked by nature and the seasonal shifts all around us.  Instead of a smart phone, the changes in the natural world around us make our schedules.

Samhain is the end of the calendar season.  The beginning of rest.  The livestock were humanely butchered, the pantries were full, the fields were empty and the weather kept farmers indoors more.  The folks that died over the past year were now mourned.  Agrarians kept so busy during the late spring and summer that once things slowed down things really started to sink in.  That is the case with us as well.  And if we were all honest it is not just losing folks to death that bothers us, it’s any regrets we feel too.  My friends and animals are in a better place, I know this.  I am heading their same direction.  It is the natural cycle of things.  Not a new phenomenon for things to die.  But I feel bad that I didn’t return Rollie’s phone call.  That I nitpicked everything with Nancy so much during our time together pursuing our Farmgirl business, that we didn’t achieve her dream of a large farm to table dinner, partially because of my attitude.  I feel bad that there are two more young widows out there who lost husbands.  That I didn’t hold Loretta when she was dying.  That I was so frustrated with my old dog.  That I chose to put to sleep (so feel as if I murdered) my beloved cat.  These things start to settle in as I spend more time on the homestead with less to do.  If I knew they were going to die….or that I was responsible….these things set heavy on the soul.

Samhain was a time to light the bonfires as protection from evil spirits, the veil was thin between October 31st and November 1st and you could talk to your lost loved ones and perhaps they could communicate with you as well.  It was a time of contemplation and respect.

In our modern world we do not take time to contemplate anything.  The crafts and chores that were done that created a methodic rhythm have been replaced with fast shortcuts, things that do it for us, and no time to actually think.  If we could take some time to work out our sorrows and talk to those that left, we could free up our hearts and minds and allow more joyful living to take place.

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I will spend Halloween day with Emily and Maryjane trick-or-treating at a local mall then in the evening I will light candles.  I will commemorate and talk to and say goodbye to those I have lost.  My animals are our roommates, farm mates here.  They are my people.  Their loss, even the farm animals, is just as sorrowful to me as losing an old friend.  They are included in my festivities.  I will set some extra plates and invite them all to dinner along with Doug (who is thankfully still with the living) and give thanks for my life and ask that my friends and animals that left say a prayer for me, forgive me, and that they be at peace.  I will be thankful for the harvest, all those still here, my own life, and for the year ahead.

Who will you light a candle for?

My friend, Nancy, my partner in crime in many of these blog posts, passed away suddenly from cancer.

My friend, Nancy, my partner in crime in many of these blog posts, passed away suddenly from cancer.

Our fun friend, Ken, died way too young of cancer.

Our fun friend, Ken, died way too young of cancer.

A friend from middle school high school, Rob, died in a car accident.

A friend from middle school and high school, Rob, died in a car accident.

Our friend, Rollie, who lost his battle to cancer.

Our friend, Rollie, who lost his battle to cancer.

 

Our sweet goat, Loretta, and baby.

Our sweet goat, Loretta, and baby.

My favorite chicken who used to like to sit on my lap, Shirley, along with Ethel and Mahalia and their crazy antics are missed.

My favorite chicken that used to like to sit on my lap, Shirley, along with Ethel and Mahalia and their crazy antics are missed.

My sweet cat, Snuggles, who I will forever miss.

My sweet cat, Snuggles, who I will forever miss.

Windsor, our eighteen year old loyal farm dog.

Windsor, our eighteen year old loyal farm dog.

 

Transition, Exhaustion, and God’s Great Canvas

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We are moving to our dream house.  This is the scene looking across the goat pens and chicken coop.  It is breathtaking and inspiring.

We are so very tired, I’m afraid.  We have been taking loads out to the new house every day along with our regular farmer’s markets, farm chores, and household chores, and fixing up the new house.  I have great muscles I haven’t seen in some time and even though we are fatigued, we can see the end of the our current transition.

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The end of this transition has been a long year full of more friend’s passings and animal losses (another friend and my favorite cat this week) and this year has been ever so arduous.  It has been full of fantastic joys though as well.  Like being able to watch Maryjane so much and having such a close little bond with her.  Like finding the exact homestead we prayed for.  Our son getting married, and our daughter graduating.  Watching them all work and grow up and find their passions, healthy and beautiful children.  The homestead angels that have come to our rescue out of the blue.  Friends that have taken time to come help us paint.  To help us move a load or two to the new house.  To help us finish tasks that have us exhausted.  To come teach us how to use our stove.  Our friends are many and we are so blessed.

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I am looking forward to being able to sit on this bench, perhaps with a cup of coffee and a writing book, or maybe a sketch book, and exhale.  To look out upon this amazing canvas and breath in the beauty and rest quietly and whisper words of thanks.

Time Travel With An Old Farmdog

Can a dog represent an entire era?  Walking down the halls of memory, he is behind every door.  In the corners of every reminisce.

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The warm sun takes the chill out of the breeze as we sit around the freshly shoveled soil, soft and disheveled.  We are sitting on the cool ground fondling the green weeds coming up slightly through last year’s carpet of leaves.  Music is playing from Emily’s phone and Maryjane dances in place.  She attempts to shove handfuls of dirt in her mouth and laughs at the baby goat’s antics.  Andy sits against the large fallen tree trunk.  He smokes his cigarette, methodically remembering every event with Windsor.  I smile too.  When we picked him from the pet store, Andy barely three.  The small, white dog running about the front yard with the children, wild with youth, jumping over rocks.  Joining Emily on a sixteen mile walk to my Grandparent’s house.  A night I stayed up, eyes pried open, a baseball bat in hand, fearing for my life as my ex-husband got out of jail, a shaking, small dog that never left my side.  The year he won a pet costume contest as a vampire.  Picking him up from doggy daycare after vacations and finding that he was in front with the employees, always a favorite.  Wagging his tail when the chickens passed by.  Cuddling with the cats.  Emily meticulously paints the downed log.  In script writes Windsor’s name and dates.  The log sits in front of the newly dug soil.  Shyanne was working, but had given her good bye kisses the night before.  All the children gathered around the living room on an evening that was not a holiday to reminisce and cry.

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From such youth, early twenties, a mother of a toddler and a newborn to sitting beneath this tree with my grandchild by my side.  Wisps of grey start to show and light wrinkles quietly descend upon me.  It is surreal to be here in this place.  Watching the clouds crawl across the sky I see my life, an era passed.  The children grown, my youth gone, my dog gone.  Time in front of me.  But the end of an era nonetheless.  Time traveling with a wonderful family dog.  Now, we look forward and see farm dogs (real ones), family dogs, but none shall replace the dog of the past era.  Windsor Wizzer Sanders, 12/15/95 to 3/3/2014.  Rest in Peace.

Merry Christmas

As a lot of you know, I wanted to be a nun when I was a teenager.  I love the portrayal of nuns in the movie, Trouble With Angels, and I have always liked the nuns I knew growing up.  But, God intended for me to be a wife, mom, and grandma.  Which is great, I am happy with that!  I started school to be a pastor some eight years ago, but again, it was not meant to be.  I was meant to be a farmer and a healer.  Not bad gigs.  I’ll take them.  I have studied a fair amount of religion though, and many different religions.

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After death the Catholics believe that we head to Purgatory to work through things we have done and move towards heaven.  In Judaism they believe they must work for however long it takes to get through everything they did on earth that was wrong as well.  In many Native American religions it is believed that when we pass we become keenly aware of the effects of what we did on Earth.  How it affected people.  What we really did here.  I am sure it is an eye opener!  We learn to forgive ourselves and work through the healing process.  This is why we pray for our loved ones.  So that they can heal, forgive, work through what they need to, and move towards total peace and sanctity in heaven.

You see, most religions have the same underlying basis, the same ideals, the same God.  We are all the same.

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When Mary was appearing in Medjugorje (a scientifically proven phenomenon) she said that the most people enter the gates of heaven on Christmas.  That always delights me when I think of it.  I will light a candle for our loved ones that we lost.  I can see them dancing through the pearly gates now.

Doug and I have collectively experienced six miraculous healings.  We have seen miracles on our travels.  We are in awe that we cannot explain everything.  Christmas is a time of awe.

This is a time of great joy.

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From our farm to yours, from our family to yours, we wish you miracles, healings, and the sense of peace and awe that comes with Christmas.  Merry, merry Christmas to you all.