Monday, March 30, 2009

Elliott's Graduation Letter

Written by Elliott, March 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

As I begin this new phase of my life and look back over the last 18 years, I feel a deep sense of appreciation for all of you who have helped shape me into the young man I have become. First, I would like to give God the glory for everything that He has done in me, and then I would like to thank Mom and Dad for training me up in the way I should go. Also, I would like to thank so many of you who have been good role models for me throughout my life. Thank you for your continual support and prayers.

I feel that the Lord has led me to pursue a career in natural farming. I find this to be suitable for the future as it is my desire to work alongside my children in an environment that cultivates entrepreneurial spirits.

Right now I oversee a goat herd and laying hen operation and am raising 200 grass-fed broiler chickens each month which I will butcher and sell at local farmer’s markets. I plan to add more enterprises to these in the future.

I currently own three wooded acres and once I have a house of my own, I will seek a godly young woman to marry. Eventually I hope to buy 25-40 acres that are close to a large city where I can sell my farm’s products. These plans are subject to change as the Lord reveals more of His will in my life.

I appreciate your prayers as I seek to do the Lord’s will.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

25th Anniversary Celebration

More often than not, my entries on the "blog" serve as my guilt-free scrapbooking replacement. For about a decade I faithfully cut and pasted pictures, while meticulously writing comments beneath each, for the worthwhile purpose of telling my children the details surrounding the events that make us a family. With the arrival of the blog though, my zig-zag edged scissors have gone to the kids' craft bin and I instead enjoy the speed of recording the special moments in cyberspace where the pictures will never fade and I can always return to correct a misspelled word without the use of white-out.

Tonight I want to "scrapbook" our 25th wedding anniversary vacation....

Although we talked about a trip for our upcoming August anniversary, we knew a summer trip would never be possible because of the increased warm weather demands on the farm. However, some very generous shareholders (milk customers) gave us free flights to anywhere in the U.S. for Christmas so it made a winter celebration an excellent alternative.

The older kids gave us their complete support, offering to take over all our responsibilities in our absence, and very cheerfully encouraged us to enjoy a relaxing get-away. This in itself was a priceless gift to see such selflessness and willingness to serve their parents in a way that would be very difficult for them. We are blessed beyond words by the young adults God has placed in our lives. What unspeakable joy they bring to our days!

Hoping we had covered all the important details, Meredith dropped us off at the airport in Raleigh, NC on Sunday, February 22nd. We flew first to a wonderful resort in Breckenridge, Colorado. The accommodations were perfect, allowing us ski in/ski out access and beautiful views of the snow covered resort.

We were resolved to eat inexpensively so many meals consisted of cheese and crackers or sandwiches. We had packed enough of Meredith's chocolate chip cookies to only ration one per person per day. We did learn however that every day around 4:30 pm the resort would put out some freshly baked cookies at the front desk to greet all the skiers as they returned from the slopes. In order to disguise our hidden motive, especially as Meredith's cookies disappeared earlier than the set guidelines, we would take turns thinking of unique questions to ask at the front desk in hopes of timing it just right to get lucky and grab a cookie. "What is the mailing address of this resort?" "What does the blinking 'message' light mean on our phone?" I suspect they had us figured out by the last day of our stay!

We enjoyed talking with all of the children often while at the resort and checked in on them frequently, asking how the milk deliveries were going, how the cows were doing, and if the vehicles were holding up well. In the first few days Elliott had to quickly learn how to replace a front headlight on the truck and had to call on the farm vet regarding one of the sick bull calf. Meredith later said he handled it all with such skill and maturity.

Timmy and I haven't skied alone for many years since we've been skiing as a family for quite some time. The last ski trip several years ago involved 3 older kids learning how to slowboard - I meant snowboard - and 2 little ones skiing between our legs with Timmy and I hunched over them. So, we didn't really know how we'd do as "middle-aged" folks on the slopes.

Surprisingly, we skied more miles of mountain than I thought possible! Our most memorable run took place on the morning of our last day. Tim had researched the black diamond, expert trail above the timberline and assured me we could master it after a warm-up run on an intermediate slope. With much hesitation I moved toward the intimidating T-Bar lift that is simply a metal rod that pulls you up the mountain to the expert slopes. Once at the top and full of fear about the terrain, we realized that the slope we had come to master was closed. A worker casually said, "Sorry, it's still closed for avalanche bombing." Timmy then asked, "Is there another way to get down? ...A slope that is equivalent and not double black diamond?!" The guy shook his head in disgust and said, "I dunno. Maybe you'll find a way over there somewhere..." He obviously had no compassion for middle aged folks who he knew had no business on the big hills! Amazingly, we found an intermediate (but HARD) slope and cautiously skied down. Timmy let out a loud, "Thank You, Lord!" when we both made it safely to the bottom.

Challenged still, Timmy kept waiting for the avalanche bombing to stop so we could try the well researched expert slope once again. I remember him mumbling something about his rolling down that slope as a 17 year old and his desire to master it this time as an old man. Well, I'm happy to report that we did it! Cautiously, but none the less, victoriously we skied like bandits down that treacherous slope. Surely the generation-X onlookers wondered what all the hoopla was about when we found ourselves safely at the bottom!

Is there anything as absurd as walking in the snow barefoot and in a swimsuit to sit in an outdoor, snow-surrounded hot tub to ease the aches and pains of a day of skiing?!

We had so much fun skiing together and on Saturday, Feb 28th, we flew from Denver, CO to Los Angeles, CA to begin the second week of our anniversary celebration. We boarded the Norwegian Star headed to the Mexican Riviera for a 7 night cruise.
Suddenly, the cheese and crackers and sandwiches of the ski resort were all but a memory and we were feasting! Salads, fruits, sushi, seafood, and lots of weird international foods filled our plates frequently - real frequently!!
Our first stop was in Cabo San Lucas. The beach would have seemed beautiful, I'm sure, but this is where we decided to call and check on the kids back home. Meredith said they had almost a foot of snow overnight, the low temperatures were breaking records from 1925, and there was no electricity. Meredith's next words were, "Mama, can you hear me? Are you still there?" All I could do was cry! I could barely utter, "Are you cold?! Do you have food? I'm so sorry, Meredith!" I was a wreck. Meredith, in her very nurturing way immediately began to console me and assure me they were completely fine. She tried to comfort me by saying that when the power did come on for a small time, she was able to make lunch for everyone. No one was hungry, she assured me. She said the boys had the wood stove burning super hot so they were all toasty warm. She encouraged me to "have a good time and not worry about them one bit!" I wish I could say I quickly put it all in the Lord's hands and jumped in the sparkling surf for a dip, but I didn't. It took a while to process all my worries and I just sat with my head in my hands crying as the Mexican vendors combed the beach, so common in that area, begging tourists to buy their trinkets. Needless to say, I didn't need to convince them that I didn't want to shop.

The next stop was Mazatlan - another chance to get off the boat and call the kids. This time, everything seemed a bit better as the older kids were telling us their ingenious ways to manage the animals in the cold, deliver the milk, and take care of their many responsibilities. Tim and I just marveled at their creativity and determination.

Because Tim is so brilliant with geography, he always provides us with so much more than the standard foreign inland tour. No taxis for him, no sir! He's already studied this town on Google Earth and he knows where he wants to go. Since I love to get off the beaten path of tourism, Timmy navigates our way up and down streets where the locals look at us like we've surely lost our way. With his pretty good Spanish, he stops to ask a vendor what she's cooking. She gladly hands him a sample of cooked pig fat that he quickly gobbles up while I reluctantly nibble as so not to seem offensive to the vendor. It was in this town that we found some great hats for Sullivan and Harrison and Timmy really impressed me as he was double checking the Mexican's peso/U.S. dollar conversion during the transaction.

With Tim as my tour guide, we were able to see how the locals really live. We have an almost sickening amount of wealth in this country - even now when our economy is so depressed.
In this candid shot, I captured the pastime of these 3 toddlers as they play in an alley, batting an empty plastic bottle between them.

Before our trip, we had made arrangements to visit the local orphanage at the next destination - Peurto Vallarto. Refugio Infantil is an orphanage for 55 children ages newborn to 12 located in one of the overwhelmingly poor towns. How our hearts ached for those beautiful, Mexican children - all homeless because of the same sins that plague the adults in our country - drugs, immorality, and alcoholism. My heart was touched as Timmy spoke Spanish to a sweet, little girl who quickly befriended him.
In the foreign ports, there are always constant reminders of the unrest in the world. Military men carry machine guns near the cruise boats while others stand guard overlooking glass embedded concrete walls. One might be surprised the lengths some couples go to in order to bring home a sample of contraband sand from each of the port beaches without drawing the attention of these armed guards.
During our time away we spent many hours enjoying some books we never seen to have time to read when home. I gathered a lot of great notes while reading Carolyn Mahaney's "Feminine Appeal", then dove right into "What He Must Be (If He Wants To Marry My Daughter)" by Voddie Baucham. Great stuff! Tim worked on "Salad Bar Beef" - an organic farming book by the super popular Joel Salatin, and "In The Father's House" - a book about church membership. He also worked on a book whose title inevitably raised an eyebrow from one girl on the plane after having just passed through the security-dense and stress filled atmosphere of the airport. "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal" is another book by the "beyond organic" farmer - Joel Salatin and is about FDA regulations and such but sure does sound suspicious in light of the current unrest in flights. As we were boarding, the young girl seeing Tim's book title said, "Are you enjoying your book?" He only replied, "Yeah," so of course I had to quickly tell her it's about organic farming and completely harmless even though the title would make you think differently.

We were amazed by the joyful attitudes of the more than 1000 foreign workers who served on the cruise boat. They all spoke of their 10 - 13 hour work day, 7 day work week, 10 month deployment term with such thankfulness and gratefulness. We rejoiced with one server who had received news that day onboard that his first baby had just been born. We were inwardly sad to hear of our room steward who was so grateful for his cruise job of 10 years yet has to endure 10 month absences from his wife and 2 and 4 year old sons. I was convicted as I thought of the many times I've grumbled about my work load when I have the joy of working all my hours with my family gathered around me.
After lots of sun, lots of fun, and way too much food, we finally arrived home Sunday around 3am. I quietly went from bed to bed touching each child that I had missed so badly, and scooping up little Sheridan and putting her right in the bed between us. As I could barely fall asleep following the whirlwind of activities and events that surrounded the last 2 weeks, I couldn't help but praise the Lord over and over. He gave me such a good man for all these 25 years. God gave me these 6 wonderful treasures here on earth that I call children. I like the story God has written. If the last page were written today, I'd say, "It was a really, really good book. Thank You, Lord."

Life Is Back To Normal

Although Timmy and I returned from our extraordinary 25th wedding anniversary vacation just yesterday and there is much to do in the way of catching up, I feel I must steal some late night moments to record my thoughts before they slip away. Today was like most days in this new life of farming and pulls my mind in so many directions that if I don't preserve memories quickly, they'll fade into oblivion.

Our first day home began as eventful as many others. Meredith and Oliver chose to bless me by delivering the milk but before they had driven more than a few miles, Meredith called to say the truck was overheating and she was turning around.

As they quickly moved hundreds of pounds of milk from the truck to the van, I attempted to readjust the delivery schedule to facilitate what would be a late delivery. (Meredith later commented that this ended up being a blessing in disguise because somehow one of the jars had broken before they ever returned to switch vehicles and they had no extra milk. So when they did the vehicle switch, they were able to grab an extra gallon.)

Soon after details were ironed out and the kids were back on the road, Meredith called again. She began the conversation, "We're okay, but...." (This is never good, is it?!) She continued to explain that she and a dump truck grazed eachother on a very narrow road and both shattered their side view mirrors. I tried to compose myself and simply said that we can only thank God for their safety and we'd discuss the damage later.

Calling a bit later, Meredith said that the commercial fridge where she was delivering couldn't hold all the milk this week since we added on another shareholder to that drop site. I scratched my head as I tried to figure out what we'd do with the shareholder's milk that wouldn't fit this week. A solution found, they continued on the route and finally arrived home safely.

We enjoyed a quick, late lunch, then rejoiced with Elliott as his birthday present arrived.

Within an hour or so, we hung our heads as we learned that one of the puppies ran under the van wheel and was in the process of being buried.

Oddly enough, this is a normal day for us - trials mixed with laughter and happiness.

The day closed with a pan of Meredith's delicious brownies, little ones staying up later than they should, and Oliver playing tunes on the harmonica as I relished God's goodness in allowing us to all be in the same family.

This is a good life God has chosen for us. Hard, but good! I am so blessed to spend my days with the precious people in which He has surrounding me called "family".

Monday, March 9, 2009

Happy 18th Birthday Elliott!

Yesterday Elliott turned 18!
For a combined birthday and graduation present, he got a very nice chicken scalder! It will help him a lot with chicken processing when that starts back up in early May. He has recently taken over the poultry operation of the farm, and is investing his money into the chicken expenses, deciding how many to raise throughout the year, choosing which farmers markets will be best for his products, and a host of other responsibilities related to the chickens, in addition to his other jobs around the farm. Also, he is working hard finishing up his school work since he is graduating this year. Elliott is such a hard worker. He never complains about work. I have never heard him complain about milking the cows, and he has to do this job every morning and every evening nearly every day of the year.
Happy Birthday Elliott!