I awoke to a very sad morning. It’s mid May and last night there was a hard frost. The apple tree in our backyard was laden with beautiful, fragrant blossoms that all froze. The apples from the tree aren’t very large, but are packed with the flavor of a Macintosh apple. When they drop and bruise the apples make delicious applesauce and apple butter. Sometimes the frost is scattered, but last year the whole area was hit with a frost. Rocky Ridge Orchards in Kane, Pa. cancelled their annual Autumnfest of cider making, apple butter simmering in a copper kettle and hayrides through the orchard to pick apples. There weren’t any bushels of Northern Spy to keep for the winter. Caramel apples at Halloween were sparse. Apples shipped in from out of state just didn’t taste the same. For us, not having apples is akin to not having Christmas
When I moved here twelve years ago, there were two old apple trees in the yard. They were fairly close together, so we cut the tree that shaded the garden down. There’s not a lot of sun in our yard and we also needed more light. The remaining tree had quite a few dead limbs so we had it pruned at 75.00 a clip a few times. When I sit on the outdoor porch swing the apple tree is within a few feet of the porch and is home to quite a sparrows, chickadees, blue jays, cardinals and finches who visit the feeders filled with black sunflower seeds, hanging on the porch and under the tree.
Every cloud has a silver lining and I try to look at the positive side of things. For the past two years when the frost killed the blossoms I thought about how we wouldn’t have to rake up all the drop apples in the fall. That thought process isn’t working so well anymore as I’m starting to miss the annual chore. Cliff rakes up the extra apples to give to the turkeys and goats. He’s sad because Sweet Pea, his favorite Alpine has never tasted a fresh apple before. The other positive is that whenever the apples don’t mature to fruition the tree is saving its reserves for a bumper crop of large, juicy apples for pies, crisps and apple sauce. Maybe next year.
Last week I planted a row of carrots and some mesclun lettuce seeds in our outdoor vegetable garden. Basil and parsley seeds are growing in a clear plastic container that I bought organic leaf lettuce in. The basil seeds germinated and I’m waiting for the parsley seeds to come up.
I unearthed the electric sprouter I purchased a few years ago at That Natural Store in Kane, Pa. I prefer to sprout alfalfa, red clover and a broccoli-radish mix seeds. I seem to crave sprouts in the Spring when lettuce from the store doesn’t taste so fresh. There is something miraculous about seeing a little tiny seed break through it's hard shell after a long winter. The alfalfa and red clover seeds are tiny sprouts that I snack on right out of the trays. I like the crunch of the little seeds. The radish-broccoli mix is a little bitier. They are delicious mixed in with a salad. Sprouts can also be layered in a sandwich in place of lettuce. My first taste of this was a few years back at a little deli we discovered while at a Mary Chapin Carpenter concert at Lake Chatauqua . For lunch I ordered a veggie sandwich that was made with a hearty grain bread, cream cheese, shredded carrots and sprouts. Today I tossed some of the sprouts into a black bean salad with a lime, red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing.
I first tried my hand at sprouting in the 1970’s when I was in my early twenties. It was a cool hippie thing to do and I liked the fresh sprouts in my salads. I used mung beans that I bought from Genesse Natural Foods Co-op. They were the only seeds available at the time. My sprouter was a quart glass mason jar, cheese cloth and a rubber band. I soaked the seeds overnight and drained them in the morning. Then I shook the jar while it was sideways so they were dispersed in the jar. I covered it with a towel and rinsed them a few times a day, which I sometimes forgot to do.
Once the seeds sprouted I would put the jar in the sunlight so the sprouts would turn green. The result was I had fresh bean sprouts, albeit a little soggy. Sprouting was a little messy, but got better when the plastic rings with screens came out and I didn’t have to fuss with the cheese cloth. You could also purchase rings with fine screen mesh to sprout the alfalfa and red clover seeds, although a lot of the seeds stuck to the screen or didn’t sprout.
In the 1980’s I bought a layered sprouter from Cooks’s Garden. Along with the new sprouter a variety of seeds, such as radish and clover were available by the ounce. It was about 10 inches in diameter and had three trays that were stacked on top of one another. Water was supposed to drain down and humidify the bottom layers. I didn’t have much success with it.
Well, the electric sprouter is the cat’s meow. It has five removable white ridged trays with small drainage holes that fit into the rectangular greenhouse type container. In the back of the container is a water reservoir that holds almost a gallon of water. I have it on the counter next to my kitchen sink so I can attach a hose to the faucet and fill it without spilling water all over the place. The same kind of motor that was used on the the old type humidifiers is stationed above the reservoir and is set up on a timer to turn on three times a day. When it turns on, a fine mist sprays the seeds for a few minutes and then turns off. The excess water drains into the kitchen sink via a clear plastic drain tube at the bottom of the sprouter. Within a few days I have beautiful fresh sprouts that are well drained without having to remember to rinse the seeds every few hours. Now I can buy a whole array of seeds by the pound via the internet. This sprouter was a good investment!
Sprouts have been used for thousands of years and are known for their high nutritional value. They are antioxidants, high in vitamins A and C along with a bunch of other nutrients and minerals. A sprout possesses all of the energy, vitamins and nutrients and power that enables it to be transformed from a small seed into a strong plant. At this stage its nutritional value is at its highest for instance, sprouted seeds can contain 400% more protein than lettuce and over 3900% more beta-carotine. Studies have also shown that broccoli and other types of sprout contain exceptionally high levels of a natural cancer fighting compound called sulforaphane (20 – 50 times more than in mature broccoli) which helps support antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E. http://www.energiseforlife.com/sprouting_benefits.php
Also, due to their size and taste you are able to eat hundreds of sprouted seeds at a time. In so many sprouts, you are eating the equivalent of hundreds of fully grown plants all at once – when else would you be able to get the goodness of one hundred mature plants in one meal?!
It's was a long winter this last year. We had snow on and off from November up until March. The wood burner was fired up all of April. Although the cross country skiing was decent this year, I've never been so grateful for warm weather, spring flowers, green grass and songbirds visiting the feeder. This time of renewal reminds me of why I love living in rural Pennsylvania. Cliff and I have been busy cleaning up the property, burning up old wood piles, cutting the grass, weeding the garden and cleaning out the chicken coop. My son Caleb stops by now and then to give us a hand. The house needs a new roof and we need to get a water and electric line to the barn. The goat pens will need cleaned out soon. It’s a laborious job hauling the bedding to the compost pile, but we do it one wheel barrow at a time. We are considering getting a couple of pigs to help expidiate the process. The composted goat manure is free to anyone willing to come and get it. It’s great for the garden, if you don’t mind a few extra weeds in the garden. The house needs a new roof and we need to get a water and electric line to the barn. There's an old larch tree next to the house I would like have cut down, but Cliff doesn't like cutting down trees. Perhaps our friend Craig will stop by with his chainsaw one of these days.
We've lived here for 12 years now and I guess it's time to spruce up the place a little. I just read that life goes in 12 year cycles and we are really feeling it. The old mailbox's green enamel paint was peeling and the white painted Little Mill Creek letters were fading. I put up a red hard plastic barn shaped mailbox I found at a garage sale a few years ago . I thought it would make a neat toy for the grandchildren to play farm with. They only played with it a few times. It was probably a silly idea as they have a real farm to play on. My grandson Jeremy started using it for target practice. It's now being used for the intended purpose.
Over the winter two government employees from the Department of Ag came by to inspect my kitchen and update the license to sell food products from our home and the local farmer's market. They were mannerly and seemed like nice guys. One of them had a businessman look with short haircut and clean shaven face. He had a laptop computer with a portable printer and was up on the rules and regulations. He was on his way out of the job and was training a more rustic looking fellow with longer hair, beard, wire rimmed glasses and wearing a plaid woolen overcoat. He told me he was also a sheep farmer downstate and looked like he would have been happier in the barn taking care of sheep rather than sitting in an office filling out paperwork for the government.
Cliff and I decided we didn’t want to update the license since we now have Tasha, our little corgi living with us and our rescue cats, Simba and Bobbi Cat wandering in and out of the house, keeping the rodent population at bay. We also don't want the government visiting us any longer. I told them wouldn't be selling food products at businesses any longer. I asked if people can come to the house to buy products. Even though you can ask me how I process my food and what ingredients I use, inspect my kitchen, I guess you can’t decide what’s good for you and what’s not. We’re pretty transparent here. They told me I should take down the Goat Milk Fudge sign in the yard, so people wouldn't think I was selling food.
The Goat Milk Fudge sign was put up six years ago to bring a sense of nostalgia to people as they were traveling Route 948. Whenever I told people we had goats many of them would say "I remember years ago we traveled here or there to buy goat milk fudge. " Even though I wasn't good at making fudge I put the sign up. In this fast paced and ever changing world I wanted people to feel a sense of groundedness. I always feel connected to the people and earth when I see "Fresh Brown Eggs" and "Honey" signs while traveling. We've met a lot of wonderful people and forged a few friendships with folks who seen the sign stopped to buy fudge and sometimes goat milk or even a goat. I’ve mastered fudge making and people come regularly for the smooth, creamy, summer taste of goat milk fudge. Some customers tell me it’s the best. I had Cliff take down the forest green hand painted sign and put it in the basement.
I bought a quart of brickyard red paint at the local hardware store and painted over the green paint. The sign now says "Goat Milk Soap.” I think the red paint reflects our anger at the unconventional drilling that is taking place all around us. There are at least three wells within a few miles of Little Mill Creek. Hopefully, the "No Fracking" sign on the front of the barn will catch your attention also. If you want to stop and vent about the corporations that are running the world or your ire at the decimation of our water, land and air, we will be happy to talk with you. No one has got our goat except the government.
If you stop by to buy soap we have quite a variety in our little store front. If you haven’t tried Goat Milk Soap before, it’s worth a try. Milk is a natural moisturizer along with the natural oils in the soap. The bars are long lasting and are non-irritating to your skin. You can choose from our tried and true lines such as Lavender, Patchouli, Bay Rum, Cranberry Ice, Pomegranate and Sage, Lemon Grass and Sage, Shepherds Pride, Sandalwood, Country Christmas, Clove & Coffee, Cucumber Melon or the new lines of Endless Love, Kara's Karma, Aloe and Green for 4.00 a bar. People from as far away as Maryland stop by to buy Little Mill Creek Goat Milk Soap. The soaps are also available in Ridgway at The Shop On Main and The Clarion River Trading Post.
If you have a craving for chocolate, chocolate walnut, peanut butter or butter pecan goat milk fudge it's available for a donation to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. www.celdf.org
. (The government guys told me that was ok to sell homemade food without a license if the money was being donated to a non-profit organization) Same goes for the canned goods Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, Hot Pepper Mustard, Red and Green Hot Pepper Jelly and Apple Butter. If you want samples of feta, chevre or provolone goat milk cheese they are available for a donation to CELDF also.
We have fresh brown eggs for 2.00 a dozen. Our cookbook, Little Mill Creek Recipes
is available for 15.00 and we still have a few copies of The Goat Farm
by Dennis Glover. If you want goat milk to bathe in, feed to your pet or make soap it's 3.00 a quart. Or you can buy a goat share and pay us for taking care of your goat every week and pick up your milk and then do whatever you would like with the milk. The fudge, eggs and milk are in the refrigerator in the barn in the summer months. Everything is self- serve. If we aren't here, there's a coffee can by the fridge in the barn and a stainless steel milk can in our little store to deposit your money. We are here by chance or appointment. Thank you for your friendship, old and new.
In April we welcomed six baby goats to Little Mill Creek. Sweet Pea had triplets, Petunia had twins and Pansy an only childd. The three boys and three girls were born in three successive days and are all happily eating and playing together.
They arrived in time for my friend Marianne's visit from Maryland. I met Marianne at the Bethany Retreat Center in Frenchville. Marianne is a registered nurse and wanted to be a mid wife earlier in her career. Although she didn't arrive in time to help deliver the goats, her and her little dog Moxie arrived in time to bottle feed the six little kids three times a day. We had a nice visit together and reminisced about the retreat we attended.
The three day retreat was about finding your Passion in Life and was based on Carl Jung's archetypes. It was a little too analytical for me. I was expecting a relaxing weekend of prayer and silence. The retreat was conducted by an eighty year old woman who was a Dominican sister. There were about eleven other participants and we all came with our own expectations and agendas but none of us left disappointed.
It's been a couple of months since the retreat and I'm still processing what God presented. One of the activities was putting together a circular mandala using pictures and words from magazines. A mandala can represent the dreamer's search for completeness. One of the pictures on my mandala was a little girl writing with the quote "Be the Voice for those who have no voice." I've always had a penchant for writing, even reporting for a local newspaper as one of my first secular jobs. Unfortunately I don't take the time to write consistently.
Last summer I took a four week writing class at the University of Pitt at Bradford. I wrote a creative piece on Nests, which is in one of my previous blog posts. The article received accolades from my peers and the instructor. One of the things I learned at the writing class was to loose the critic voice inside my head. Not being critical of my own writing freed up my fingers and my mind. I found the memoir Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck at a second hand bookstore and picked it up for fifty cents. I read it cover to cover in one day and was encouraged to begin writing my memoir for the umpteenth time, but stopped. Sometimes the memories just seem too much. Or maybe the critic was back.
In March I was wandering around a second had shop and the book Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss caught my eye. The owner gave me the book along with some others because they were “religious. ”I realized their value and gave her a donation. The other night I was reading about pursuing things that we love and read about a man that said when he doesn’t pursue the things he loves it’s like an abortion of himself. That's how I feel about myself when I don't write. I feel lost, tired, bored and hopeless, like something in me is dying.
I finally decided to listen to the little voice inside that was pleading to write. It is imperative that I write not with a goal to complete a book or to have anything published. I need to write to be a voice and express myself. In my meditations I've been doing some chakra clearing and have been working on the fifth chakra that represents the throat. I prayed that God would help me with the writing. This morning I woke up at 5 am and heard a voice telling me to write. I replied "I don't have anything to write about." I heard "Write to Joanne."
I also met Joanne at the Bethany Retreat Center. She is from Lancaster and was interested in my goat farm endeavors and I was intrigued in her shepherd apprenticeship. While we were explaining our mandala's to the class, Joanne expressed the need to embrace the shadow side of herself. Through a little mishap, I want to believe that we embraced the shadows of each other so well that we became friends quite readily. After the retreat we exchanged addresses and have been corresponding back and forth via email. She surface mailed me a great book The Barn at the End of the World that I thoroughly enjoyed. I mailed her a book on sheep herding that I'm hoping she will enjoy.
I crawled out from under the flannel sheets and my warm wool blanket from Topsy Turvy sheep farm in Canada. With a cup of green tea I sat down to the computer and wrote Joanne a lengthy letter. The words flowed. On my way to work I delivered the book and letter to the post office. I told her about my writing endeavors and asked if she would be my sounding board as I need to feel like someone is listening. I hope she agrees. When Marianne was visiting she told me she read my web posts and said that I was a good writer. My confidence is back and with some good friends to listen, the little girl inside is writing and smiling ear to ear.
On May 2, 2013 I attended the National Day of Prayer on the Ridgway courthouse lawn. Meaningful prayers were said by the clergy for our community, country, social services, armed forces, police and fireman, schools, the arts and others. Hymns praised Almighty God. Since only a handful people in the community were present I would like to make a request that we all get down on our knees and pray specifically for Ridgway’s water.
Water is the lifeblood of civilization. I do not understand how or why our community leaders and members allowed a Marcellus Shale well pad to be fracked 3300 hundred feet from the reservoir. According to a three retired workers, there are abandoned wells under the reservoir. “Abandoned wells provide pathways for methane gas to seep to the surface, where it can, under the right settings, trigger explosions. Active drilling near unplugged abandoned wells is dangerous, too. In June, the intersection between a Shell fracking operation and a forgotten well drilled in 1932 likely led to a 30-foot geyser of methane and gas.” Perilous Pathways from State Impact website
New York State has a moratorium on unconventional drilling because it was to take place near their watershed that would affect millions of people. Who are we in Ridgway to think we know more than millions of other people that are questioning the safety of this practice? What concrete structure lasts indefinitely? Presently 9% of the wells fail. Who has tested them beyond thirty years when our children could be drinking tainted water? Are we guinea pigs here in Ridgway? I don’t understand why more people aren’t outraged at this “clandestine” activity. People say there’s nothing we can do.
Along with prayer, there is something we can do! A community based ordinance can be passed to ban any further drilling. www.celdf.org
Since the drilling at the reservoir is in Ridgway Township “We the people” need to attend the township meetings and urge the supervisors to pass an ordinance to halt further drilling. We need the support of our elected politicians, county commissioners, borough council members and Ridgway borough citizens. One reason the township supervisors hesitate to sign the ordinance is because they are afraid of being sued, even though not one lawsuit has prevailed. Since when do we not do what’s right because we are afraid of being sued?
I propose everyone to enact the following prayer: Dear God, Without (Ridgway’s) water, we would die. Water is essential for life on earth, not just human life but all life. Water is needed for drinking, cleaning , washing, and making crops grow. There is no substitute for this precious resource, and yet we waste it, we pollute it, and we even COMMODIFY it! Let's start anew, and begin by thanking the Lord for the gift of water.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water who is so useful, humble, precious,
and pure. The Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi
On a warm spring morning I was walking to the rough cut hemlock pole barn to milk our small herd of goats. As I brushed past the blueberry bushes full of blossoms, a fully developed nest tucked in the branches caught my eye. I gently lowered the branch to examine the nest made of twigs, strands of goat hair, tufts of lamb’s wool and lined with light brown down feathers from our chickens. Four eggs as blue as the sky above rested inside. In a nearby pine tree the mother robin scolded me with her incessant chirping.
The sight was picture perfect so I ran back to the house to get my digital camera. I focused the camera above the nest to capture the moment. Daily I would check on the nest to check the progress of the eggs. After a couple of weeks I noticed tiny balls of feathers and was delighted to see that the eggs had indeed hatched. To my dismay, the next day they were gone. The nest was empty. The mother robin’s scolding was replaced with a deafening silence.
In the spring of the year we find many nests on our four acres of land located six miles north of Ridgway on route 948. The property is a haven for song birds such as robins, sparrows, cardinals, blue jays and finches. It’s bordered by hemlocks and Pennsylvania red pine, cherry and apple trees. Little Mill Creek flows behind our homestead, providing the birds with a running water source and wet land that is lush with earthworms.
Sometimes we find nests that are interrupted. One such nest resting on the ground underneath the boughs of the apple tree caught my eye. The beginnings of the fragile nest were made only from fine twigs interwoven together. Did a gust of strong wind blow it out of the tree? I gingerly picked it up and thought about nests that get interrupted.
In the late fall of 1960, when I was three years old my father passed away leaving me and my six siblings orphaned, bereft of parents. My mother suffered from mental illness and wasn’t able to parent her brood, leaving us in the care of an orphanage. I am grateful to have had a roof over my head, clothes to wear and food to eat. The separation from all that I knew was unbearable.
Like a fledgling from an interrupted nest, I grew up without parents to guide me and teach me how to fly. There were mishaps along the way. I experimented with drugs, married in my late teens and had four children. I relied on my God given instincts to parent my children.
When building nests eagles put thorns in them so the baby birds will be sure to leave the nest when they are older. Perhaps I had too many thorns in my nest because when my second daughter was seventeen she became pregnant. Her dad and I were recently divorced and she was reeling from the effects. This young girl didn’t seem to have a maternal bone in her body. She was sassy, independent and taking risks with her life. Her main concerns seemed to be friends, shopping for Aeropostale shirts, LEI jeans and having her make-up applied perfectly. Her black eyeliner shadowed the deep sadness in her brown eyes.
I had since remarried and my husband Cliff and I were renovating a house that had been abandoned by a divorced couple. The roof was leaking leaving the wallboard wet and moldy. The pipes were frozen due to the unpaid electric bill. Loads of dank wet wallboard needed removed from the structure. As we were gutting the house my thoughts would often wander to what my grandchild’s life would be like. Would she survive and if so, how? As I was gazing out the window, enjoying the peaceful scenery of pine trees that surrounded the property I noticed a robin building a nest on the windowsill. Why did she choose the open windowsill when she could have built the nest in the safe confines of the tree branches. Was this for me to see? My question brought to mind this scripture verse: “Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, Lord of hosts.” Psalm 84:3
As Cliff and I worked on the house, hanging wallpaper decorated with blackberry brambles, building the confederate blue stained pine kitchen cabinets, installing the century old porcelain green wood cook stove that would bake homemade loaves of bread and hanging the six light polished nickel chandelier that would light the eight foot long pine, trestle table I noticed blue eggs in the nest. It wasn’t long until there were four beaks wide open waiting for food. The mother diligently delivered the hungry baby birds fresh earthworms she pulled from the soil every day. Shortly thereafter, they outgrew the nest and left one by one.
It was then that I quit fretting about what my grandchild’s life would be like. If a bird by instinct knew how to care for her young, then I had faith that my daughter would be able to care for her baby. To my delight my daughter began gathering infant clothes. In her home economics class at school she made a patchwork pastel blanket quilted with pink yarn. We found a nice brown spindle crib at a yard sale and set it up in the corner of her bedroom. On a cold wintry day in January, Paige Elizabeth, my namesake, was born. In the beginning months her mom did well caring for her while finishing up her high school education and soon had an apartment of her own.
I’ve observed that when birds are learning to fly sometimes they fall out of the nests. When Paige was two and half years old she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Her mom and dad separated and weren’t able to care for her so we took her into our home to live. She had a little white toddler bed tucked away in the back bedroom that was painted lavender and trimmed with angelic border wallpaper. At night we would read books and say prayers together. We had fun cooking, playing, dancing, singing and sometimes crying together during the day.
It wasn’t long before her mom got on her feet and was able to care for her again. Paige is now ten years old and is nothing short of a miracle. We’ve had some frightening moments with the diabetes. One time her blood sugar dropped to 15 and she was rushed to the hospital in the ambulance. The medical staff pumped her full of sugar and when the nurse checked her blood sugar level and told the doctor she was ninety, Paige sat up on the bed and said “No I’m not, I’m only three.”
She now sports a bubble gum pink insulin pump and knows how to calculate carbohydrates. Her mom takes her to ballet, jazz and tap dance classes. Paige is a straight A student and received an award for creative writing in her fourth grade class. She loves to sing and when she visits me on weekends and vacations she always has a song in her heart.
“Be like a bird, that pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give away, beneath her and yet sings knowing she hath wings
About a year ago I was called to a vocation of caring for the elderly. For six months I worked at a personal care aide helping care for over 30 residents, many in their 80’s and 90’s. In March of this year I started working for Community Nurses as a personal care aide, assisting people with personal care and light housekeeping.
I also applied to volunteer for hospice. I’ve wanted to volunteer for hospice since helping my friend’s sister come to terms with dying two years ago. Kathy was 49 and had stage four lung cancer that had spread to her brain. I would visit her on a weekly basis. We would go out for lunch, shopping or have a cup of tea. I listened to her thoughts, fears and dreams. Before Kathy passed away she would tell me how much my visits meant to her. On the year anniversary of Kathy’s death her sister called me and needed to talk so we went out to lunch. Mary Lisa expressed her deep appreciation for my presence and it was then that I realized I had a gift to offer. I enjoy listening to and being with people that are dying. I think it’s because they have a spiritual awareness and are so open to God, something that is very dear to my heart.
When I tell people what my vocation is and that I volunteer for hospice, the usual response is “It takes a special person to do that.” I’m not sure why but my guess is that people haven’t come to terms with dying themselves. I feel comfortable talking about death, planning for death and dying. Perhaps my thoughts about death would change if I found out I only had a few weeks to live, but presently I am not afraid of death. In fact I would welcome it. My greatest desire is to be with God. And this comes from a person who embraces and cherishes life. I eat healthy, don’t smoke, exercise and pray, not so much to extend my life, but to enhance the quality of the life I have. I believe strongly that our bodies are a temple and it should be pure to house the beautiful soul God has gifted us.
As much as I enjoy being with people that are dying, it takes it’s toll and can be draining. It was this year at Easter that I realized how invigorating new life is. In March my husband Cliff decided to incubate some fertile turkey eggs from the flock of heritage turkeys we raise. He’s been talking about doing this for some time and finally borrowed a Styrofoam incubator from his friend. The daughter of one of my clients is an elementary teacher and has 33 years of experience incubating eggs. Not having a lot of confidence in our first try I asked if she would incubate some eggs for us. She agreed, but had to go away a week before they were due to hatch. I built up enough courage to bring them to our house. The eggs required being turned three times a day and to be kept at a consistent temperature of 99 degrees. I’m not always good at doing this on a regular basis so I put them on the kitchen counter so I wouldn’t forget to turn them. I did so religiously for the next week and three days before the due date for them to hatch I had to stop turning them.
Two nights before they were due to hatch I heard a faint peeping sound coming from the incubator. I was surprised at my astonishment. I texted my friend and she told me this was “pipping” and they would hatch soon. There was a little chip out of one of the eggs and when I went to bed it felt like Christmas Eve. On Holy Thursday when I woke up I immediately went downstairs to inspect the eggs. They had large cracks so I removed the tape plug as instructed and soon a crack all around the egg was being made by a little beak. My friend warned me not to help the chick out of the egg because they needed to build up the strength in their limbs to live. I patiently waited and before I knew it a black wet little chick was making it’s way out of the broken shell. Within 12 hours 5 more peeps hatched and I patiently watched each one. It was my day off work and I didn’t get much done around the house. I didn’t care because I was elated at the new life in my house. I now understood why chicks, peeps and rabbits are part of the Easter celebration. Their presence was resurrecting my spirits. I thought about resurrections that take place every day such as the resurrection of the garlic bulbs we planted last fall.
After the eggs were hatched I walked outside to check on two baby goats that were born a few days earlier. Birds were singing and I had a new reverence for each one as I had just witnessed the struggle of a peep coming out of a shell. I had a new admiration for the minute size of a robin and sparrow eggs and the miracle it takes for them to hatch at just the right time and right temperature. I had a new appreciation of life after spending almost a year with people who are sick and dying, but entering a new life nonetheless. After all, “what the caterpillar perceives as the end, to the butterfly is just the beginning.”
Today I picked up a hitchhiker on my way to a Lenten luncheon at St. John’s Monastery in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania. I was traveling from Ridgway mid morning. It was beginning to rain with a cool chill in the air. The hitchhiker didn’t have an overcoat on. He was tall with a big frame wearing a plaid flannel shirt and tattered blue jeans. A worn blue and gray Starter baseball hat covered his shaggy brown hair and large eyes. He was carrying a red plastic bag and a large black umbrella.
I’m no stranger to picking up hitch hikers. Back in 1970’s and when I was in my early twenties, I bartended at the Elks in Ridgway and picked up a guy who hitch hiked back and forth to work from St. Marys. I try to be discreet about who I give rides to. Just a few minutes earlier on my way to the luncheon I passed a man walking by the low income housing project. He was an extremely overweight man walking and was only a few blocks from town. I considered giving him a ride, but thought he could use the exercise. After I passed him I glanced in the rear view mirror to see if he indeed was headed to town. He was walking toward the apartments. I felt good about my decision not to give him a ride.
As I pulled over to give the hitchhiker a ride my thoughts began telling me this wasn’t wise. “What if there’s a gun in the bag? What if he tries to accost you? He’s a lot bigger than you, how will you get him out of the car if he attacks you?” Then I heard different thoughts saying “St. Francis would give him a ride. He seems poor and might be homeless. It’s cold and rainy and he needs a ride. He’s at least ten miles from the nearest town.” I pulled over and unlocked the passenger side of my grey mini-van. He opened the door and had a difficult time fitting his large frame and baggage into the front seat that was moved forward.
I asked him where he was headed and in a kind gentle voice he told me “I’m going to St. Marys to help with a fund raiser for the K of C. They are having a gun bash. Not that I would ever have anything to do with guns, but I am good at fundraising.” I thanked God for clearing up the gun fear for me. I introduced myself and he told me his name is Chuck, where he lived and that he had been in a car accident that resulted in a brain injury. That explained his directness and loud voice. The conversation was familiar and I recalled giving him a ride a few years ago.
With most of my fears allayed I told Chuck I was going to a Lenten lunch at the monastery and asked if he would like to join me. He told me he didn’t have any money. I said “Lunch would be my treat.” He replied “That would be great. I didn’t have any breakfast and a warm bowl of soup sounds delicious.” He told me he was Catholic, had spent time at a monastery and had desired to be a priest.
When we were nearing St. Marys I told him I had a stop to make at the hospital to visit my elderly friend Marcella who has dementia. I explained that whenever I am in St. Marys I stop to say the Lord’s Prayer with her. Since Chuck and Marcella share the Catholic faith I suggested that perhaps Chuck could say the Hail Mary with her. He happily agreed. While we were walking into the hospital he told me about his near death experience. He seen the Golden Throne and told God he wanted to be with him. God told him no two times. He was to go back and tell others about what he had seen.
When we entered the hospital we took the elevator to the second floor. I suggested Chuck lower his voice so as not to disturb the patients. We found Marcella’s room and she had a new roommate. The elderly woman that lay in the bed was extremely frail. A delicate sterling silver cross adorned her thin neck. After saying hello to Marcella I introduced myself to her roommate. When I asked how she was doing she replied in a low whipser “Poorly.” I asked her what her religion was and she said “Catholic.” We asked both of the ladies if they would like to say the Lord’s Prayer. Marcella said yes and her roommate nodded her head. The four of us held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer together. Then Chuck led the Hail Mary. Afterwards he began ministering to both of the woman in a loud voice and reassured them that God loved them and wanted them to be with him in heaven. I felt the heavens open up and God’s angels ministering to us. Chuck and I asked them both to pray and intercede for us when they got to heaven. They smiled and said they would.
I went over and talked to Marcella’s new roommate and told her it was OK to let go. She whispered she didn’t want to leave. I told her heaven is a much better place than here and everything would be ok. She asked us not to leave. We assured her that God was with her all the time and with our blessings said good bye. I was in awe at how God used Chuck’s loud voice to minister to the deaf. They had no doubt what he was telling them. When we got back to the van, Chuck repeatedly told me how inspiring this was for him and he never imagined what God had in store for him today.
The monastery was a few blocks away from the hospital. I desired to attend the luncheon because I’ve been reading about monasteries throughout history. I shared this with Chuck and he told me he spent some time in the abbey where Thomas Merton resided. The dining hall was on the bottom floor of the monastery and had a 60’s style décor. Chuck recognized the priest and said hello to him. There weren’t any empty tables so we seated ourselves with an older woman who was sitting by herself. She told us she was expecting guests but they may not arrive. She didn’t look happy with my guest’s shabby appearance and loud voice. I wondered what she thought Christ or John the Baptist would look like if they arrived at the luncheon. Within a few minutes my friend Rev. Mary Norton arrived and joined us along with the guests the first woman was expecting. Our table was full.
I was expecting a monastery luncheon to consist of hearty bread and soup, but instead we were served a ham and cheese sandwich on a hardened a white bun from the store, turkey and white rice soup in paper bowls that cracked when we passed them and a carrot muffin. Rev. Mary doesn’t eat gluten so graciously shared her sandwich and muffin with Chuck. The women across from me didn’t eat rice so gave her soup to Chuck. He was very grateful to have the extra food and wasn’t as particular about the food as I was. In fact, he was extremely grateful. After we were finished eating the Father gave a message that was somewhat confusing to a non-Catholic. A beam blocked my view and I had a difficult time relating what was said to the Lenten season. If it hadn’t of been for the company of providential people at our table I would been quite disappointed in the day.
After the luncheon Chuck asked if I could give him a ride to the K of C in St. Marys. I pulled into a parking space in front of Ivan’s Men Shop to let him out. Before he left I wanted to know why he never became a priest. He told me that when he was thirty three years old he was hit by a car and that’s what caused the brain injury. At the time he was in formation to become a Franciscan priest. I had a hard time containing myself. For the past year I have diligently been studying the life of St. Francis. I desired to join a secular order of St. Francis, but couldn’t find one in the vicinity. In lieu of joining an order, I decided to live a Franciscan life to the best of my ability. Living naturally and simply come second nature to me, but I felt the need to serve people at the basic level of humanity. This desire led me to taking care of the elderly. Sometimes it’s been a lonely walk, not knowing others who are deeply familiar with St. Francis, other than blessing pets at church.
I showed Chuck a medallion on a necklace that I received for Christmas from my beloved Cliff. Chuck and I talked about the stigmata and St. Francis embracing the lepers. He told me about the lauds, prayers and chants at the monastery. In the background I had a Franciscan CD titled “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” playing. I ejected it from the player and had Chuck showed it to Chuck. We then began talking about books on St. Francis’ life and I showed him the copy of Little Flowers of St. Francis that I carry in my purse. He looked at me and said “You are definitely a Franciscan.” I showed him another book, Lessons From St. Francis by John Michael Talbott, that Rev. Mary returned to me at the luncheon. He hadn’t seen the book but was familiar with Talbott’s Gregorian Chants. I gave him the book to read and we exchanged phone numbers. I don’t know if our paths will cross again, but for a day I was blessed to have been in the presence of another Franciscan and a servant of God who is clearly a saint in my eyes.
I started a new job as a personal care aide with Community Nurses last week and enjoy my work. I visit people in their homes and help them with housekeeping, meals, socialization and personal care. The people I’ve visited thus far are elderly and I find it rewarding to help them stay in their homes. Previously I worked six months in a personal care home that served about thirty five residents. Many of the residents sat in their little rooms most of the day and just wanted to go home. One woman would sit in the lobby with her coat and asked everyone that came in to visit "Please take me home."
Yesterday I received a call from the scheduler at Community Nurses to go visit a 95 year old woman in her home. When I got to the address the house was no more than a shack. There was a mangy looking dog tied out front. I thought about getting back in my car and going home, but thought this is the kind of people Mother Theresa would of served. This was my Calcutta. I slowly got out of the care and approached the dog with my hand open so she could smell me. I sighed a breath of relief when she began wagging her tail and was friendly. I knocked on the door and slowly opened it when no one answered. When I entered the house there was a Pomeranian and a Poodle secured to the legs of chairs with leashes. They were yipping, but also seemed friendly.
I said hello and introduced myself to the woman sitting alone on the sofa. She told me she lived in the same house for over 50 years and asked how old I thought she was. I guessed 85 and was corrected. She replied, “I am ninety five years old.”
I asked “Did you expect to live this long.” She answered "With God all things are possible." She told me she could sing hymns and asked if I would like to hear her sing. I retrieved a tattered hymnal from the Methodist church from a drawer and she sang with pride "How Great Thou Art." When she came to the refrain: When Christ shall come, With shouts of acclamation, And take me home, What joy shall fill my heart” she raised her hand and was smiling ear to ear. She then sang two of my favorite hymns, "The Old Rugged Cross" and "In The Garden." I listened in amazement as she sang with pride not caring whether or not she was singing in tune.
At noon I warmed up a TV dinner in the microwave for her lunch and did some light chores. We played the board game Sorry together according to her rules. After each of us won a game, she said she was ready for a nap. I helped her put her feet up and covered her with a white, blue and pink afghan she crocheted. I asked her if she would like me to read to her from the Bible that was on the stand next to the couch. She requested that I read Psalm 1, 23 and the last. While I was reading she closed her eyes and once in a while would look up at me and smile and then close her eyes again.
When I began working with the elderly, a friend told me that older people are like babies, they eat, sleep, eat and sleep and I found this to be true. I thought about the contrast of taking care of one elderly person verses trying to attend to 35 residents. I rarely had time to spend one on one with any of them. It was heartwarming to see how content this woman was compared to the elderly residents at the personal care home, all because she was home, sweet home.
Today as I was outside walking our my dog Tasha around the yard. Under the apple tree I noticed a little bird nest on the ground. I gingerly picked up the beginnings of a new nest and was fascinated how the fine little twigs were circularly enmeshed with goat hair to create a soft bedding. Perhaps the premature nest was blown out of the tree branches by a strong wind. I thought about how often we start nests and they don't come to fruition.
I was mourning the loss of two events that I gave birth to about six months ago that didn't turn out as I planned. One was bringing my childhood Vita and her nine year old daughter Crissy from California to Ridgway to make a better life them. The other was working at Ridgmont, a personal care home where I began working to serve people at the basic level of humanity. It looks like Vita will be returning to California and I resigned from Ridgmont due to unfavorable working conditions. I believe God appreciates my efforts at beginning something new and trying to help people and that he understands when outside forces such as strong winds alter things. Maybe next time, the bird and I will be wise enough to build nests in a place protected from the wind and outside forces. I do know that neither of us will give up on building nests.