The Farmer's Lot

The farmer’s hands-

grease-blackened,

deep cracked splits

running with dirt, blood and rain-

unclog irrigation pipes

caked with the muddy detritus

of the flood’s reign.

He trails the field

with the weight of his shovel

dressed in Sunday best

longing to cradle the emerging, beating

fruit of life

to his chest.

Digging in with dirty hands

he feels when the soil is dry

and for all the sweating

and waiting for spring

new life emerges with a sigh.

Today I'm joining a Lenten poetry link-up at my friend Amy Peterson's blog. Check out the other poems and add your own!

Gorgeous violence

DSC_0019 There is a gorgeous violence to farm life.

Imagine a five-year-old witnessing with enthusiasm the full-scale butchering of three dozen geese in one day. It's enough to make PETA hunt us down with truckloads of paint.

You would think a child fascinated by such gruesomeness would become a serial killer one day.

But that's the strange beauty of farm life. This same child raises ducklings, chicks, and geese as if they were her darling babies. She sings to her new ducklings, telling her father that these are not to be butchered. They are hers.

She will spend hours in the basement with them, teaching the yellow tufts to follow her.

Though seemingly incongruent, perhaps it's these things she experiences in farm life that teach her that we must cycle through the dirty, muddy, mucky, painful, violent parts of life along with the joys, nurturing, and love. It's an introduction more profound and approachable than a violent movie or video game. It's something she can handle.

I recently read an interview with Joel Salatin at motherearthnews.com, a celebrity in the organic farming world (don't laugh, we do have celebrities) who describes himself as "a third generation-Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist lunatic." Salatin's version of farm life, where he raises, butchers, and sells pork, beef, and chicken in a manner that he calls "beyond organic" is actually therapeutic: "In a word, this is all about healing: healing our bodies, healing our economies, healing our communities, healing our families, healing the landscape, healing the earthworms. If it’s not healing, it’s not appropriate."

Salatin doesn't mince words. He believes that children can handle this kind of gorgeous violence better than adults:

"This is why we enjoy having our patrons come out and see the animals slaughtered. Actually, the 7- to 12-year old children have no problem slitting throats while their parents cower inside their Prius listening to “All Things Considered.” Who is really facing life here? The chickens don’t talk or sign petitions. We honor them in life, which is the only way we earn the right to ask them to feed us — like the mutual respect that occurs between the cape buffalo and the lion."

Maybe one day when creation is made new, the lion will make friends with the lamb and the farmer will no longer need to slaughter her animals. But wouldn't it be amazing (and perhaps ironic) if this new kingdom came just a little bit more by the healing farming practices of those who respect death just as much as they respect life.

Texas and Oil Paintings: I Am From

My grandmother's painting I am from Nana’s oil paintings imitating the Impressionist masters from Russian matryoshka nested dolls and Great Aunt Laverne’s tea cup collection

I am from a house atop Cat Mountain with the best sunsets and the sound of cars on the highway below lulling me to sleep at night

I am from the Hill Country and roads cut through limestone populated with cedar trees whose bark peels off like an old skin

I’m from eccentric introverts and too many gifts at Christmas from Heatherly and Elena who made me the middle sister from dad traveling overseas too much doing lots of good things for other people.

I’m from “this too shall pass” and “we have not earned any of the things we have” and "if the Lord wills and you see me again" before every parting From “Where are you going my little one” sung every night by Mama before bed til I cried from the grief of leaving her one day.

I’m from every song, even commercial jingles, sung together in tight harmonies

I’m from Connecticut and Scotland but not really because I’m from Texas Texas Texas down to great and greater grandparents  who gave birth in one room houses in Cleburne and made sweet potato biscuits and black eyed peas at New Years.

From Anna Christie’s drowned husband and Otis from Sweden whom she raised as her own when his mother died in childbirth From Papa who left home at fourteen, spent three years as a POW in Java and went back to Japan after the war to be a missionary

From diaries written with pre-teen tears about how I'm too fat, fears of death, glass miniature bric-a-brac, rock and shell collections displayed in wooden cubby shelves on my bedroom wall, from the only time I ignore Mama’s call for dinner or food on any kind is when I’m reading in bed

Now I am from uncaulked baseboards, grimy from years of bringing the outside in from the smell of fertilizer and fish immulsion mixed with cooking tomatoes Now I am from the maple trees tapped every year for syrup and boiled down in a black cauldron in the white winter woods from poems written at the narrow creek that bends round from here to the wider streams

Now I am from a tanned farmer whose tender loving hands are often cracked and running with dirt, blood and rain from a fairy who feeds the chickens in her princess dress and muck boots from a cuddly Tom Sawyer who waves at Daddy driving by in the tractor while holding his dinosaur to his chest

Now I am from a community of idealists, hippies, peace-loving Mennonites And I am not one of them but I am because I am also from Jesus. And he has been there from the beginning.

I am synchroblogging with SheLoves Magazine today with their series on "I am From." You can read more or link up here.

Top five cookbooks

As with many of us, my food journey has been complicated.  My relationship with food is still mending but it has gotten healthier as I've focused less on appearances and more on good nourishment.  That has involved reading about food as practical theology, growing and preserving our own food and finally learning, relatively late in life, how to cook. My college friends gave me a hard time when they learned I could barely boil water.  My time in graduate school introduced me to sauteing meat and vegetables.  And later, my husband encouraged me in expanding my recipe repertoire.

Now, I cook most of our meals.  My husband often cooks when we have guests or on the weekends. This isn't possible for everyone and I'm only able to do so because it's my full-time job and because we live in a place where good restaurants are hard to come by.  But my cooking style is pretty simple.  Except for special occasions, I don't use complicated recipes.

Here are my favorites cookbooks:

Simply in Season.  A Mennonite affiliated collection of recipes divided into seasons.  If you grow your own food, try to eat in season or get CSA boxes with bizarre vegetables, this is the book for you.  My personal favorites are Winter Squash Bars, Green Enchiladas and Vegetarian Groundnut Stew.

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More with Less.  Another book in the Mennonite series of recipes. The premise of this collection is teaching us to cook more sustainably, both for our earth and for our neighbors.  Meat is used more as a garnish than the main course and there are some helpful bulk recipes for pancakes and sauces.

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How to cook everything.  This collection appeals to my lazy side.  Each recipe has an approximate time from start to finish.  And I've learned how to fix different cuts of meat, experiment with spices and dress up rice dishes.  It really does have a little of most everything.

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Moosewood Cookbook.  From the kitchen of a famous restaurant of the same name in Ithaca, NY.  This collection is totally vegetarian.  Their recipe for brownies are the best I've ever tasted.

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The New Best Recipe: from the editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine.  This is my husband's favorite recipe book.  He's a great cook and he likes the fussy details.  I can get overwhelmed by the information accompanying each recipe but when I take the time to read it, I always learn something.  These people are food scientists and each recipe has been tested numerous times by their editors.  The results don't lie.  Their cupcakes are amazing.

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What are your favorite recipe books?

An open letter to small town America

Please don't be offended rural/small town America.  You see, I have fallen in love with you and I don't know if I ever want to go back.

Having been weaned on big city life, I had no idea of your charms.  And I want to share them.

Do you remember the first time I went to your bank to deposit a check and take out cash and no one asked to see my ID?  Yes, that was unexpected and a bit wonderful.

What about the time when your librarian called me at home to tell me my books were overdue and did I want her to renew them?  That was truly awesome.

Didn't we laugh together when I first said I was "going to town" and that meant the place where Walmart had spread out its talons, where the population is 7,000?

I can still recall the first time I went to a children's tractor pull on the weekend, not because it was the only thing to do but because it was an exciting thing thing to do.

And oh, what about your children's rodeos?  Where everyone from every small town in the county congregates to thumb their noses at PETA, to watch little kids chase greased pigs, unsuspecting chickens, calfs with ribbons tied to their tails and ride muttons.  Yes, the mutton rides, where heavily armored 6-8 year olds attach their bodies to terrified sheep that are let out of the gate at breakneck speed until said and sad child can no longer hold on.  Didn't we watch with joviality as the child ran crying from the mutton to her parents?

I feel the rhythm of the seasons in your life, where everyone knows the weather because their livelihood or their neighbor's livelihood depends upon it.   Your people gather together with gusto at festivals year-round.  And some would say it's because there's nothing to do in a small town.  But really, it's because your people know how to have fun without all of that big-city hullabaloo. They know how to fight isolation and commit to community.

Small town, I love you.  Farm life, I don't ever want to leave.

My children love you too.  Right now, they're watching their Daddy load hay into the barn.

Who needs television?

Add to the beauty

Sometimes things that are beautiful take a long time to become so.  And sometimes we don't see their true beauty until we love them. I long for beauty.  I always have.

But it hasn't always been a search for things of meaning.  I've been caught in the ugliness of that search before, crippled by worry about my physical appearance, sucked into a glossy view of beauty only to be shocked at the dirtiness that soils its underbelly.

For a while, "beautiful" was a word worth spitting out.

But now, I see that beauty is something of God.  It is sometimes hidden underneath the grime of years, buried beneath pain.

Real beauty reveals itself gingerly. Sometimes it looks ugly at first and sometimes it takes years and lots of love to discover.

My effort is thankfulness and joy: to have my sight, my hearing, my taste and my heart changed to see beauty where God sees it.  I long to "add to the beauty/ to tell a better story/ shine with the light that's burning up inside."*

I want to share the obviously beautiful things I encounter, like music, writing, photos, art.

But I also want to highlight those things that don't always get recognition.

So, here is where I see beauty today:

In a husband who plants and waters, who mows and grows, who provides good, traditional food when that's a scarcity.  Who cares for the earth by doing the inconvenient, the counterintuitive, spending days planting an acre of strawberries that could be planted by a big machine in twenty minutes. Who serves by doing something meaningful for very little in return besides the satisfaction of witnessing the earth doing what it was created to do. Who uses his free time to serve on leadership teams and prepare a sermon for Sunday. Who fights for truth and honesty.  Who loves his children. And loves his wife.  And serves those around him.

He adds to the beauty.

*Sara Groves' song "Add the beauty:"

We come with beautiful secrets We come with purposes written on our hearts, written on our souls We come to every new morning With possibilities only we can hold, that only we can hold

Redemption comes in strange place, small spaces  Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty To tell a better story I want to shine with the light That's burning up inside

It comes in small inspirations It brings redemption to life and work To our lives and our work

It comes in loving community It comes in helping a soul find it's worth

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty To tell a better story I want to shine with the light That's burning up inside

This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful This is grace, an invitation

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces Calling out our best

And I want to add to the beauty To tell a better story I want to shine with the light That's burning up inside