The first photo was taken in January 2011, the day after Nathan gave his 8-week resignation notice. We would become full-time farmers dependent on our community to support us. The evening before had been filled with anxiousness, but on this morning we walked the gardens and dug the first radish.
These brightly colored veggies, in contrast to the many greens we had been harvesting felt like a miracle. Radishes, a vegetable few people enjoy a miracle. We hadn’t even learned to dream about carrots and rutabaga and beets. Little did we know about fennel, celery, and Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts!
I spoke this story recently the day after my dear friend Susan gifted me this icon as a birthday present. An icon, I’ve heard it said, stirs something inside you. An inner knowing of God’s love. A love that replaces anger and guilt with the creativity to transform power into goodness.
This icon of Mary gently bringing Joseph a cup of water stirs up memories of transformation inside me. We had four children in six years and during that time I learned to sit in silence. A painful learning that I didn’t I understand and often questioned. Nathan took on similar learning as he became not only a full-time farmer but father.
We learned to work with children underfoot and as Nathan learned that farming was more than just production: breaking ground, planting, and harvesting I discovered that motherhood: carrying, birthing and feeding babies had nurtured wisdom inside me that held answers to our nervous questions.
In what was messy at first, but eventually became commonplace, we learned that Nathan needed more than a cup of water for sustenance. He needed my centering presence as he labored. He began to pause his work for my careful guidance. In what was very unexpected we discovered that I carried the knowledge he needed and when I offered it with patience there was a peace that fell over us.
The gift has been more than the harvest of many vegetables. It has been Nathan’s ability to connect to a more gentle nature and my strength to speak truth to the right thing even when it’s difficult.
We quickly snagged this photo at the Embassy Suites in Lexington. We were missing Sterling who was here the last three years when I could keep him in arms or stroller and Lilah who skipped her first Fruit & Vegetable conference in her decade on earth.
If you are a mama you’ve likely got spaces where you have carried, fed, rocked, strolled and kept your babies occupied while something bigger and beyond yourself carried on. I did my time here in this space.
16 years at this hotel, every year, right after new year, one baby at a time. Hidden in the room and at the pool most of the time.
This year I stood on stage during the opening session and shared the fruits of my labor as mother, wife, and farmer.
While Nathan was learning both in the field and among his peers I was learning in silence and solitude. There in the quiet moments while babies nursed and napped, or poolside while kids played, I contemplated and questioned until answers slowly made themself clear.
Now, more than ever, I feel committed to becoming increasingly inclusive to voices that aren’t often heard, but are relevant to the circumstances at hand.
“You’re making me tired, mama”, Sterling has started saying when that inner voice of resistance is challenged.
What a beautiful expression of what it feels like in the body when our ego doesn’t get it’s way.
His shoulders get heavy. His face somewhere between anger and tears. A soul begging for something to break inside. Tired.
If we stay in either the ego mind or the tired body too long we risk narcissism or depression. Either one makes us sick.
What Sterling needs more than avoidance or criticism is encouragement to get out of his head, to get outside, play, jump in muddy puddles.
In a moments time the voice of resistance is gone and he’s not tired anymore.
Mama makes a cup of tea.
I committed quite a bit of time in 2019 to contemplating deep work strategies that prioritize those things that matter most and allow decreasing time spent on the less important easier. As I look back on my life it's easy to see that distractions can easily creep into my day and keep me from focusing on the things that will help me meet my goals.
I started with making a list of the things areas that I want to prioritize in 2020. Those things that at the end of the year I'll be thankful I invested the best parts of my day to. Food, Faith, Marriage, Motherhood, Friendships, Writing, and Movement. Then I listed how I would invest my time daily and the big goals I hope to accomplish within the year.
Prepare 3 Meals a Day, as often as possible, using the food we grow
Spend 20% less on groceries and eating out
One hour spent in prayer, study, and reflection each day
Become an oblate of Mt. Tabor Monastery (October)
Spend 15 minutes in deep conversation
Spend 36 hours uninterrupted time together every month
Face to face time with each child every day
Help each child reach a new goal for themselves in 2020
Check in via email and text with closest friends
Face to face time with at least one friend a week
500 words a day
Publish The Farmwife Paradox by November
10,000 steps a day
Run a 5K (April)
My hope is that by focusing on real and tangible goals rather than vague and overly optimistic plans I'll end the year having actually accomplished them all. To keep me focused I've made a list of each goal in. the back of my day planner so I can use it as I plan my day, week and month.
My farm kids have been blessed beyond measure. Born into arms ready to move slowly and steadily, in a home where the real work of growing and preparing food is folded into the every day.
That life can also be lonely in a way, even in a home full of people. Young in’s’ on a farm learn how to be bored, to stand in wait, sit in silence.
It’s boredom, silence, and wait that breaks a person open to creativity and presence.
None of us want it, but once it happens we find ourselves finally thankful for sunlight or muddy puddles, front porch sitting and weather watching, an elderly neighbors story and a slow & steady evening.
Farm mama’s watch their children struggle through the boredom in hope for the moment of light waiting on the other side.
Found this picture on my laptop. Taken three years ago with this message written to myself: “Say no so often that these common and ordinary moments at home have time to offer you uncommon gifts of creativity.
Then, when you do say yes, show up ready to be all in, in little ways that surprise people. Listen to the people who rarely speak up. Let other people say yes and then cheer them on. Dream big, but act gently. Commit boldly to the things that matter most, but in ways that let you hurry right back home to the front porch.” I like that.
Nathan and Carter took the morning off from market to hunt the opening day of deer season. They've not been able to do that in years, and the excitement on their faces to wake up at 4:00 am could easily be lost on me if it weren't for paradox.
Nathan grew up fishing and hunting. I'll never forget one of the first times we were visiting his parents in Hart county, and his dad got up from the couch, picked up a gun, went outside, killed a bird, and came back inside to dress and fry it up. He was hungry and bird sounded good, simple as that.
I, on the other hand, get nervous around guns and it's taken time for me to get acquainted with them. The thought that an animal is living it's best life one minute and dead the next has always made me sad. Ignorant bliss provided by commercial agriculture.
Raising our children to be safe around guns, to respect the harvest of animals, and to appreciate both their life and sacrifice has been a significant lesson for me.
At one point, not very long ago, Nathan and I were living on an extremely tight budget with four kids to feed and one with severe food allergies. Store-bought meat wasn't an option, for price and additives, and it was the hunt that fed us. I learned to wait in anticipation that they'd come back with deer or crappie or rabbit. I found myself learning to freeze, process, season and can wild game.
That time in life gave me an entirely different viewpoint on sustainability, resiliency, and hunger that I will always be thankful for. Kentucky is rich with knowledge and natural resources that I hope we will protect.
Now, as we have access to the beef, pork, and chicken around here that doesn't make it to market we find ourselves with friends and neighbors who depend on this deer meat like we once did. I can think of others who not long ago, were hungry and needed food, and the lessons found in the hunt and meal gave them just what they needed to find new success.
Nathan’s smiling because he had the chance to hunt this morning, thank you Leslie and Elizabeth, and harvested 3 deer that after we take our part he will share with neighbors that will be overcome with thankfulness to receive them.
Some lessons and gifts are priceless.
Every year, during lent and advent, I take a break from the things that I've been practicing so often and that I've gotten so good at that my priorities, values, and quality of life are starting to feel compromised. Those things that in moderation offer comfort and connection, but in excess start to build stress that can lead to overwhelm.
We become skilled at what we practice and we practice what we value, but we live in a world that easily takes advantage of that. For example, my fast will include social media, negative thinking, unhealthy and processed food. I get really good at those things because they are designed, marketed and available in ways that make me feel good, really fast, with very little thought or effort. The reward is so artfully built into them because someone, somewhere, has something to gain from our ritualistic practice of what they are selling.
Because EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING THEM there is a layer of connection built into choosing them. Before I know it, I am getting better at those things and less skilled at healthy eating, intentional reading, positive thinking, time in silence and listening to the needs of my self, family, and the people I care about.
My 40 day break, twice a year, allows me to practice those more meaningful things without distraction. They slowly become more common and habit place. My brain begins to change as my favorite healthy recipes, daily lectio, and positive thoughts come flooding back to me. My farmwife sabbatical always leave me more creative, grounded, and present to my life.
”I can't wait to continue to grow up with you” is what I wrote in his scrapbook on his 1st birthday, and I have. He was the person that challenged me to shift from the desire to always strive for more to the ability to sit still and appreciate what is right in front of me.
Right after his 1st birthday, while I was away for work, he learned to walk. When I left he was a baby in arms, and when I returned, he was a toddler to chase.
At the time, I was the primary breadwinner, and my sense of self was incredibly wrapped up in my career. How could I give up financial stability and ego just for him?
The call that had been there from the moment he was first in my arms and never left me, and now it was haunting every thought.
The math didn't make sense on paper, and the idea didn't settle well with everyone, but a few short months later in an act of faith, I woke up with a new role, keeper of the home & full-time mother.
That became a season of rest and renewal for me that I didn’t even know I needed. Layers of protection pulled around me like a warm blanket. I hadn't just done it for him; I had also done it for me.
We had more kids, again and again and again and later, once again. I had done it for them too.
My marriage was strengthened in ways that allowed Nathan and I to become coworkers. I had done it for us.
We would be called as a family to use our farm in service and Carter would commit to full-time farming, knowing good and well how hard it is. I did it for community and the future of our food system too.
It’s only now that I can clearly see all the things the sacrifice was for, but I'd do it all again, just for him.
The first time I was told to, “go home” was when I was the child of a single mother in a culture where the good people were measured by certain outward appearances and the rest of us were labeled as “bad”. My mama tried everything. I was always dressed nicely, my hair was brushed, I obeyed, we showed up and were helpful. In the end, I was always still the child of a divorced woman. When girls had sleep overs, when people gathered or when they were chosen to participate I was told, “go home”. It was too risky to include a child that might lead other children to sin.
All the while, I knew. I knew my value. I knew what the other kids were doing when their parents weren’t looking, but never told. Places of faith were hard for me.
Later, I could remember being told to, “go home” again. It was at a Food event. I had poured my heart and soul into that day and there at the end my friend Amanda with the tamales and other women working to lean into their calling were told that it wasn’t going to be enough. I cried. I was vulnerable.
Deep inside, I expected everyone around me to see how strong I was, instead they said, “Go home and we will take it from here. Thanks for gathering these folks and helping us see this opportunity, but you need to go home to your family and rest.” That was part true.
I did need to go home. I did need to rest. But only to gather up strength to show up again, over and over again, and that’s what I’ve done. It’s there at home that we find our power.
We need the folks on the margins to gather up their strength and show up. They are the ones that know what we need to know. They make things work. They use common words in common ways to do common things that make life worth living.
Some of you may feel strongly about the words “go home” used against Beth Moore recently. Some of you may have no idea why those words matter, but those of you like me, know. Those words hit you to the core and your response might be, "I’ll keep showing up. Watch me. I’m just getting started.”
This is a portrait of Michelle Howell, a hardworking farmwife, mother of five, author, and advocate. On the left side of the bust you can read text from the poem “Anyway” that was on a wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta, India. “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.” “The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.”
Leslie Nichols, Artist