Monday, July 30, 2007

Why Have Two?

Are you kidding me? Just look at them.

Twice as much beautiful all in one place... and they live in MY HOUSE!

There are times, like when I watch them sleep or make up stories together, I wonder how I lived without them as long as I did.

I'm so grateful God chose me to be their mommy.

"I must have done something good..."*

*You know... from the Sound of Music? Von Trapp and Maria... Singing to each other in the garden when they realize they're in love...?

Oh, never mind. I'm in love with my kids. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Forty Years to "Getting It" - Part Three

The last (?) in a series of long-winded expressions of gratitude.
Okay then!! Hopefully the pictures will stick this time.

Read on, Folks...

Before I even start, I want to apologize to my friends and family for the amount of time it has taken me to assemble this post. It's big. It's important. It took time to (hopefully) get it right. Your patience, and your presence in my life, are greatly appreciated.

WARNING! This is the longest post to date. If you plan to read it in one sitting, you may want to clear your schedule and grab yourself a hearty snack... and maybe a beer, too, just to be on the safe side.

It all started at Grace's Fifth Birthday Party in May.

During the course of the evening, the inevitable topic of my impending chronological progression cropped up. When you're nearing a benchmark year, it's to be expected.

The subject of The Party was soon raised and I informed *my gals* that James had asked me if I wanted a big party or a romantic getaway. When your husband asks you that question in a rare moment of quiet solitude together, of course you say "romantic getaway." However the spoiled little brat inside my head was jumping up and down screaming, "I WANT BOTH!!" (I lovingly refer to her as "Veruca.")

My sister-in-law, Dawn, piped up and said, "I don't THINK so! James can do the romantic thing. We'll throw you a party!" Veruca and I hopped around, clapping like a preschooler.

Beth chimed in with, "Hey, I want in on that!" and I'm pretty sure my sister-in-law, Betsy, and maybe Renee (it's hard to remember between my heightened state of excitement and a couple of glasses of Pinot under my belt, not to mention my advancing age) responded similarly.

I immediately began feverishly looking forward to this party!

These girls know what they're doing.

The next several weeks were shrouded in mystery. There was so much going on in our family, namely Dawn's family, that, had the whole event ended up getting scrapped in favor of a frustration-fueled kegger on my in-laws' pool deck, I would have totally understood.

Then, one glad morning in June, the email I had been so eagerly awaiting finally arrived.

It was from Dawn and she was asking for a guest list.

I was not allowed to ask questions, just fork over the names and contact info for the people I wanted to invite.

A few weeks later: my instructions plinked into my in-box.

"Saturday morning....just wake up, shower, get dressed in nice casual type clothes, and be ready by 9:45. At that time you will be notified of what to do next!" ("Saturday" meant the 7th of July. Yes, my birthday was June 20th, but like I said, folks were busy and that was the soonest it could happen. And, besides, 07/07/07! Common!! Postpone away, Dear People!!)

A couple of days before The Day... another email from Dawn. A list of (seemingly) random *getting to know you* questions. I laughed out loud. The woman has *known* me for 20 years. I figured it was mostly her way of finding out what coffee drink to order for me. So clever!

When the fateful day arrived, my beloved nephew, Jacob, Dawn's 17-year-old son, showed up on my doorstep at precisely 9:50 AM and presented me with two gift bags. One contained a glitter-encrusted tiara with the number 40 in a heart at it's pinnacle (which I was instructed to wear the entire day). The other, a pair of black, Nike flip flops (see opening photo).

He informed me my ride would arrive in about five minutes, hugged me, and dashed back out the door.

I was totally stoked! What a way to start this day!

Shortly before 10:00, Dawn, Betsy and my mom-in-law, Fran, picked me up and took me for... you guessed it... PEDICURES!! (My mom had planned to come but, sadly, wasn't feeling well and stayed home to rest in hopes of joining us later... which she did. Yea!)
Our toes hadn't been soaking more than five minutes when Jacob arrived with coffee drinks all around. How cool is that?!

We sat there and frantically attempted to arrive at a good name for our little group... well I did, anyway... I do stuff like that. We came up with a few really funny ones... none of which can I remember with any reliability at the moment, dang it.

I sure hope I'm not already having "Senior Moments!" YIKES!

But, I digress...

With toes polished and calves amply massaged, we piled back into the van and headed to Fran and Doug's back yard for a beautiful brunch.

Fran's homemade raspberry jam from just a day or two before, scones, three kinds of chicken sausage, juice, fresh fruit... it was heavenly.

Before we could dig in in earnest, my little brother, Kelly's wife, Laura, peeked around the corner, and gleefully joined in the proceedings.

Sister-in-law (I have a *lot* of sisters-in-law), Linda, who had been quietly working behind the scenes, and Jacob, enjoyed the delicacies with us until it was time to head out once again.

This time, Jacob offered me his arm and handed me yet another gift bag containing two organic dark chocolate bars and a magazine article I was not yet allowed to read. He escorted me back to the van, very gentlemanly open the passenger door and deposited me inside, then took his place at the wheel. At this point, he's reeking of "Designated Driver" and I have a pretty strong feeling that we're going wine tasting! YESSS!

Laura, Dawn, Betsy, Fran and I continued the festivities with our first stop at Domaine Serene. Jacob dutifully escorted us to the tasting room, took some pictures, then planted himself in the shade while we sampled expensive wine on the majestic hill-top.

It was all quite a lot for me to absorb. Such an open and genuine expression of love and affection had me rather overwhelmed. Tearful.

It hit me, with full force, exactly how much love surrounds me every day of my life. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I've felt *unloved* or on the outside all these years, but I never, fully *got it,* to the marrow of my bones, until the drive to the first winery.

I felt sick to my stomach. It was almost like I couldn't accept such an outpouring directly focused on me. And, I think the thing that was as hard to absorb as anything was that my 17-year-old nephew chose to be such an integral part of this day. He had to work later and could have chosen to do anything else with his precious free-time. He wasn't coerced or guilted into it by his mom. He wanted to be there and expressed to me his sincere disappointment at having to miss everything that would come after he left for work.

I love all my nieces and nephews like they're my own, but Jacob has always had a very special place in my heart. On this day, I definitely felt like I also have a special place in his.

I banished the thoughts and feelings of unworthiness, claimed my gift from my amazing family and, finally, the acute nausea that threatened to undermine all their efforts subsided. We then carried on, with great relish, to the next stop: Wine Country Farm.

Here we enjoyed a vast array of wines in a more casual, unpretentious venue. The setting was warm and relaxing as we tasted about 10 different wines... everything from Pinot Gris to Pinot Noir and a Late Harvest Müller Thurgau that really caught my attention.
Just as we were wrapping things up, I thought, buying wines we liked and getting ready to move on, Jacob, once again, offers me his arm and hands me an open bottle of the Pinot Noir upon which I had, only moments ago, commented favorably.
He escorted me to a most beautifully vine-enshrouded gazebo that had been *mysteriously* well-appointed with a host of wine-friendly delights. Triple-Cream French Brie (my favorite!) crusty bread, huge, sweet grapes, chocolate... so many things I like enjoyed in the company of, and thanks to, a good sampling of my favorite people on the planet.

It was mind-boggling.
Once again, I was nearly moved to tears.

It was hard to leave such a pastoral and soothing scene when it was time to go, but there were more joy-filled experiences to be had.

Jacob and the gals deposited me back at home with instructions to take it easy and cool off for a couple of hours while preparations were polished off up the hill at Doug and Fran's. I was to report in at 5:00.

As I rested in the semi-coolness of my bedroom and listened to the kids playing in and around my house, I continued to attempt to comprehend all the effort so many people had exerted to make a party, that actually was more on the scale of a bridal shower and wedding reception, for me.

In the days leading up to the event, I remember observing my father-in-law string-trimming the edges of their yard where the juniper bushes meet the front field and recognizing why. "He's getting ready for my party" I realized to myself with a broad smile and a very warm feeling.

James was given assignments by the crack team of party planners known as Betsy, Dawn and Fran, which he dutifully carried out to his usual level of precision and expertise... in addition to the things he already had in mind to do.

A veritable banquet was planned, prepared and laid out by many, many loving hands.

The pool was cleaned and treated and cleaned again to make sure it was at its pristine, refreshing best by the time the guests arrived.

Game courses were set up and meandered across acres. Lights were strung, flowers snipped and floors mopped in a flurry of preparation...

... All because I made it to 40 and they love me.


At the appointed hour, I strolled leisurely up the hill to see the guests from my list begin
slowly trickling in. My brothers and their families, my folks, Uncle Monte, the Foxes, the Skaggses, Londons, Phillipses, Havleneks and the whole Umfleet clan... everyone who could be there, eventually, was.

Friends and family played together, talked, laughed, swam and of course, ATE with rapturous abandon.

All together, there were 40 people in attendance, the number a coincidence, I can assure you, but a fun bit of trivia nonetheless.

As the evening wore on, all the planning and execution of culinary perfection reached its moment of glory. Dinner was served!

When this group gets together, you better be packing an empty stomach and a clear artery or two because we know how to cook.

There were *five* chickens and a spiral-sliced ham roasted on Dawn and Jeff's Traeger grill, two kinds of potato salad, bruschetta and mushroom caviar on crusty bread, baked beans... oh, goodness, there was so much amazing stuff I can't even remember it all. My apologies to everyone whose contribution to the loveliness my lagging mind is omitting. It was all phenomenal!
The sunset was one befitting such an awe-inspiring day, the surrounding hills and trees striking sharp silhouettes in its vibrant pinks, oranges, and pale blues.


Eventually, there was, of course, dessert! Five or six kinds, as I recall. And me with only one stomach. DANG!
Farm Girl does like her sweets.

Beth's Chocolate and Vietnamese Coffee Tart, or "Chocolate Porn" as I dubbed it, was this chocoholic's highlight of the dessert buffet... which is saying something next to Fran's Spelt Chocolate Cake. (Spelt flour makes *the best* chocolate cake ever. You should try it.)

With sugar comas at full tilt, it was time for gifts... and there were some great ones!

My brother, Doug, and his wife, Paula, (yes, *another* sister-in-law) gave me a very clever gift of forty little pieces of paper with different facts about my birth date written on them, each one rolled around a one-dollar bill. Topping it off was the brilliantly chosen card that played "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight!" Sweeeeeeeet.

There were candles, and pasta bowls and bottles of wine and bath salts, a kickin' purse, home-canned preserves... each item as well-thought-out and appreciated as the last.

The unavoidable, core-jarring truth here is: These people *get* me.

No matter how loved, accepted, protected we feel, how often are we actually convinced that the people in our lives really know what makes us tick? I mean, are they really tuned-in to what's knocking around inside our cranium?

Well, this event and all the days since May leading up to it have crystallized for me, in no uncertain terms, that my people do know exactly what I'm all about.

I could not have planned a more satisfying experience had I spent weeks on the endeavor personally. But beyond the amazing events of the day, I am most grateful for finally *getting it* myself. The *spiritual two-by-four-upside-the head* realization of the depth and breadth of how much I am loved. There is no better gift.

For all the words the English language lays at my disposal, I still run out of all the right ones to express my gratitude. I use that word a lot as I feel it is one that best expresses my perpetual state of being, but it never seems to communicate quite enough.

How do I tell so many people in a few feeble syllables that your verbalized and wordless expressions of love have reached those dark little pockets of my soul that I never quite realized needed filling until you touched my life?

I can say, "I am finally glimpsing how much God loves me through your unending support and continual demonstrations of kindness and generosity" but the words can't ever fully transmit how it feels in my being.

All I can do is live in hope that you all grasp just how much I love you and how grateful I am for you and all the things you do. Great and small.

Now, at the end of all the celebrating, and about *ten pounds fluffier* for it, I will carefully guard the "Tiara of Forty-Tude," until the day in the not too distant future when I can dutifully bestow it upon Dawn...

...It may be hard for me to part with, though. It goes so smashingly with my overalls...

I only hope I can recreate for her the kind of experience she orchestrated for me. She's one tough act to follow.
07/07/07 was as perfect a day as the number would promise. It was, in a word, transcendent. I will cherish the memory until the day they plant my thoroughly-spent carcass in the good, sweet earth... after which, I can only imagine, there will be yet another great party.

So, now you know why I so confidently assert that "I am the luckiest girl in the world..." though, "blessed" might be a better choice of words...

It only took 40 years, but I'm glad I finally *got it*.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Farm Girl Does Créme Brulée

Farm Girl like blow torch.

Blow torch goooooood.

Even if I didn't absolutely *love* custard with a crisp, candy crust, I would have to get myself one of these! EDIT: This one is currently on loan from my father-in-law.

Recruiting something from the shop into useful service in my kitchen renders me giddy... especially if it involves an open flame and potential spontaneous combustion.

Pliers? Super!

Wire cutters? Brilliant!

Air compressor? Fabulous!

Fire extinguisher? Not so much!

What's even better?

A recipe made for Engineers!

I am NOT joking! I got this stellar recipe at and it totally rocked.

One of the main reasons I love Alton Brown's show "Good Eats" on the food channel is, not only is he very smart with a brilliant sense of humor (and I have a very tiny, highly-secret crush on him *shhhhhhhh*!) he explains WHY stuff does what it does when you're cooking it. I'm a girl who likes all the information I can get my greasy little hands on so I know exactly, in excruciatingly precise detail, how things are going to work. I want to know enough about what I'm doing to decide whether or not to follow the recipe to the letter (which I almost NEVER do). I'm spontaneous and like to improvise with the best stuff I have on hand. More importantly, however, I DETEST FAILURE AND WASTE! I buy/grow super-good ingredients and I cannot abide wasting my time, effort or money on inedible disaster.

The Cooking for Engineers recipe had pictures, great, detailed explanations and even a super-cool flow chart...


I totally geeked out.

My Créme Brulée is different from the recipe in two ways:

1) I only had about a cup of heavy cream so I had to use some very heavy whole milk to round out the two cups of liquid. To rescue the richness from the lacking fat content, I used a smidge less milk than called for and threw in another egg yolk.

2) Into the two larger dishes I tossed those fresh berries from the last post.

The result?

Absolutely, THE BEST FREAKIN' CUSTARD I'VE EVER HAD! Not a lump. Not a grain. No "custard sweat" to dab off the top!

Sprinkled with some organic cane sugar and torched to kingdom come, they were a thing of beauty so irresistible I couldn't keep my girls off 'em long enough to get a picture of the plain ones.

You want Créme Brulée, Beth?

I'm aaaaall over it, Sister!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pastured Primadonnas and Produce Porn

Alright, Angelina, I am here to prove myself a woman of my word.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's BOSSY!

She got that name because she IS.

Bossy is the mother of the calf we lost back in May and, I'm reasonably sure she holds me personally responsible for her tragedy. I was, after all, always doing *something* with her baby every single day for about six weeks.

Must be my fault.

Even if she doesn't think I killed her sickly offspring, I still feel guilty about it. It's the first calf I've lost on my watch and that's really hard for me to take.

Even though she can be kinda grumpy, I still think she's just beautiful.

I eagerly await the arrival of her next calf in February. I hope her new baby is much sturdier than the last and perhaps she'll find it within her big bovine heart to forgive me.

This is Princess MaMaKau.

She came to us with the name "Princess" but my mom-in-law can't bring herself to call a cow by a royal designation.

We added the Hawiian-inspired spelling and pronunciation to give Fran the ability to call her just "Mama Cow," but still have at least a little flair to go with her "pedigree."

Princess is quite a nice cow and is *very* pregnant with her second calf which she will deliver around the end of August.

She's SO round! I remember those days. UGH.

Right now we have to keep her separated from her nearly-year-old heifer calf, Sparky, who insists on continuing to NURSE!

Little piggy.

If we keep them together she'll suck up all the new baby's colostrum and we'll have another sickly calf on our hands. Been there. Done that. NOT doing it again!

This means we get to endure a LOT of bellowing from both sides of the fence. Thankfully, it seems things are beginning to quiet down.

Meet Sparky, who also came pre-named. It was kind of like "fate," though, that these two came to live with us. Grace is *very* into princesses and James's pet name for me, on good days, is "Sparky." Cute, huh?

And so is she. I just love her.

She's very bouncy and fun to watch.

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!"

OH! And, don't worry. We won't be eating any of these ladies. They are strictly for making more baby cows... and eating garden scraps and lawn clippings...

Luscious and Divine

WARNING! If you find the sight of succulent, dewy expressions of fertility offensive... look away NOW!

These are my mom-in-law's Marionberries.


Hey. You were warned.

She also has raspberries and blueberries...

...right next door.

One of the MANY reasons I LOVE living so close to my in-laws!

The last of the potato blossoms.

The FIRST of the potato harvests!

I can't get enough zucchini flower shots.

This little baby stopped me dead in my tracks.

Look at that precise, simple beauty.

Again with the bean tendrils...

... and their loving embrace.

Ohhhhhh... do I have future plans for YOU babies!

A little olive oil, some fresh basil from just over there... cool mozarella...

... wait a minute... do I hear Barry White?

Red-cloaked vigilance.

This is something we are very excited about and proud of every single Summer.

We call it our "Home Grown Meal."

The steak, potatoes, lettuce, green onions, and garlic ALL came from our garden, raspberries from my in-laws'.

One day, we hope to add the wine to our gleeful demonstration of self-sufficiency, but for now, vino from a couple miles down the road will have to do.

Life just doesn't get any better than this.

We are so blessed and so VERY grateful for our amazing, bountiful life.