Goin’ Fishin’

The pond.

At first, it was a source of anxiety for me. As a mom of several young children, none of whom are proficient at swimming quite yet, living with a body of water just steps away from the back door is rather nerve wracking. But now, I consider it one of the most peaceful spots on the farm, and we’ve been spending our Sunday afternoons out on the dock fishing!

As far as we can tell, our pond is home to largemouth bass and bluegill. Big T has proved to be quite the fisherman with his homemade bamboo fishing pole. He digs his own bait, and lands several fish in just the first half hour he’s out there. With Dad’s help, they catch dinner for the family in an hour or two! Most of the bass are about 11″ long, but T hooked one that was at least 15″ long. Must’ve been heavy, too, because the line snapped and he got away…. Nathan has honed his skills filleting the fish, which cook up quite nicely with butter, fines herbes, and white wine. Then, it’s out for an afternoon swim -er- well, for Nathan anyway. I’m a little nervous about snakes and such, and still can’t trust the children in the water.

Talk about living off the land though; it’s days like these that I have to remind myself that though it might feel like it, we really aren’t in Heaven quite yet. 🙂

Peepers!

We have hardly gotten (relatively) settled and we have started getting the barn populated. Nathan outfitted one of the stalls in the barn as a brooder. He put in a short plywood wall (removable for ease of cleaning), attached hinged frames with hardware cloth for lids, and hooked up two new electrical outlets to the wall. Instead of using the traditional heat lamp, we decided to go with a large heating “plate” for the birds to nestle under to keep warm. It works well so far, and a good thing too – it’s getting cold at night these days!

Add some pine shavings, feeders and waterers, and we were ready for our new chicks! Here we have 75 new baby chicks; 50 Cornish Cross and 25 Rhode Island cockerels for meat. What excitement there was to go to the post office and pick them up! You can just see it on the kids’ faces. C and Princess #2 especially love holding the “baby chickies.”

The Brooder Box, sans chicks

Of Churches and Chickens

So, we were thinking we’d order chicks the first week we got to the new farm. God had other plans, as you can see from the pictures! Long story short, Nathan’s mom was having a rough run of it with her birds, and had just listed them for sale on Craigslist in PA, (her current home state) when we came for a visit. Nathan heard that, and we adopted them straightaway! 15 “red” hens for laying eggs, and 1 rooster affectionately named “Steve”. And 27 Cornish Cross meat birds, only a few weeks old!

The layer hens in their new pasture

You know your mother loves you when she endures a 5 hour car ride with 43 stinky chickens in the back, just to move them to your new place.

Moving our 27 meat birds into a larger home

It was the feast of the Assumption before we got them out of their temporary housing and into their barn/pasture living space. You can see a video of that process, and our adorable chicken – herding toy poodle, here. With barely enough time to get ready for Mass, I said a few hasty prayers that they would be safe (since we hadn’t really predator-proofed everything perfectly).

Remy, the excited chicken-herding toy poodle

What should we find when we returned, but that four chickens were missing! It was with great consternation that Nathan and I confirmed the count. Four were gone. Flown the coop, as they say. But, Mother Mary is such a tender mother, she could not let us be discouraged for long, especially on her day. Tarsus quickly located them in another barn close by, all huddled together. So much for the excitement of that day. Nathan clipped their wings to prevent another such occurrence, and that was that.

The layers like their new feeder!
Steve the rooster and his hens

Eventually we’ll be building a mobile home for them (and I believe a few hundred other laying birds) on this, an old mobile home trailer which Nathan found for sale near Cinncinati. God provides!

The future foundation of the “Egg-Mobile”
The ‘Pieta’ carved out of the stump of an old tree in front of St. Nicholas Church

And now – the churches! Our first Sunday here was the day after the move. In the midst of all the chaos, we had a welcome breath of peace as we attended St. Nicholas Church in Sunman for the first time. It is a warm and inviting sacred space – exquisitely carved wood throughout, eye-catching statues of some more recent saints (i.e. Gianna Molla, JPII, and Mother Teresa), and a most intimate Perpetual Adoration chapel patterned after the Divine Mercy chapel in the convent in Poland where St. Faustina lived.

St. Nicholas Church, interior, at Easter

And what is the first thing I notice but a small plaque on the side where the priest and servers sit, which reads: “Delight in the Lord, and he will GIVE you the desires of your heart.” Another small sign of God’s favor, for Nathan had told me that when he discerned out of seminary, all he wanted was a wife, a big family, and a farm. God had seen fit to give Him the first two, but Nathan had pretty much given up on the third “desire”. But God knows the plans he has for us; all we need to do is delight in Him! 

Furthermore, the Gospel reading was none other than St. Peter walking on the water. I had often thought of this reading prior to our move, as many times it can seem intimidating, daunting, terrifying, petrifying (you catch the drift) to start up a farm from scratch, and attempt to cover the mortgage on the farm to boot. But all we need to do is have faith! “Lord, save me!” Maybe, if we never doubt in Him at all, we will never even begin to sink?

Another sign of encouragement from Our Lady came to us on her big feast, the Assumption. We went to church at the St. Joseph campus of All Saints Parish in St. Leon. And what should they have inside but a beautiful grotto to none other than Our lady of Fatima, the special patron of our farm! Statues of Our Lady and the three Shepherd children sit amidst an exquisite setting – a mural of the countryside on the two corner walls, and flowers and stones decorating the floor and above it all- as Tarsus noticed – a representation of the Miracle of the Sun, for which our farm is particularly named. I think it will prove to be a special place for us to take the petitions we carry most near to our hearts. 

The representation of Our Lady of Fatima (sun didn’t quite make it into the photo)

How We Got Here

Unexpectedly moving – with hardly any preconceived ideas of how, when, or where – from a small house in semi-rural Southern Maryland to a 40 acre family farm in Southeastern Indiana in what seemed a blink of an eye, without even visiting the new property before signing on the line – why? Who does that? Read on to discover how God spoke to our family and gave us the grace to step out in faith and follow His plan for us.

The Southern Maryland House, our first home

Our Road to Indiana

In June, we began to announce to our friends “We’re moving!” And the first question that came to everyone’s mind, family and friends alike, was “Where?” Indiana. “What? Why? So suddenly?” was the next response. Our quick answer to the latter questions has been “God told us to.” That’s really the best way to describe it in a nutshell – but here’s the longer answer I have promised so many of you. God has spoken so clearly to us through many signs – if He hadn’t, we would have bailed on this process long ago! 

Why Indiana?

First off, we knew that we’d most likely grow out of our present home. I wanted to keep the option of adding on to the house open, and Nathan usually leaned more towards the idea of moving to a larger house with a larger property. After all, he wanted goats and chickens and a large garden for our family. Nathan in particular has always had a passion for gardening and the farm life. 

But then, Nathan had also been thinking of moving out of state; partly because of the ongoing development of Southern MD and a desire to be in a more rural place where land was not so expensive. A very good counseling friend of his from MN invited him to come and check out the Catholic community and the area near Sleepy Eye, which he described in glowing terms. Nathan and he could set up a counseling practice out there together, land was inexpensive, and the community was small and faithful with a gorgeous church, just what we wanted for our kids. 

We were excited about the idea– until we realized that it was much, much too far away from our extended family in PA. Since keeping those relationships close is very important to us, we eventually with difficulty decided against MN. But the door had been opened, and now we began to really discuss in detail what our ideal place to live would be like. Nathan would have to be able to procure a counseling license (which limited the number of states). Again, wishing to be close to family, we limited ourselves to the Midwest. Homeschool laws would have to be non-restrictive. Home birthing would have to be legal. A reverent, faithful Catholic homeschooling community would be a must. And so forth and so on; hence ere long we arrived at the idea of Indiana, and possibly moving in a few years if it seemed to be God’s will. It was now the summer of 2019.

Now, about this time, we bought our great big 12 seater van from a great Catholic family that was relocating to Italy. In the course of conversation, the owner happened to mention in passing a rural Latin Mass community in south eastern IN, near Batesville. “Interesting,” we thought, but not much more than that. That was around September. Also, in searching online for rural Catholic communities, Batesville again popped up, dubbed as the “Catholic Mayberry.” Nathan made contact with someone (Cathey) from the local Catholic homeschool group and began asking about the churches in the area, to see where we might be a good fit. It was in this way that we learned of three reverent, faithful Catholic parishes that were near each other in southeastern IN.

On our trip to PA visiting family for Thanksgiving, Nathan pointed out a semi-truck we were driving by. “Look, Batesville Casket Company, IN. That’s near the rural Catholic community we’ve been looking at.” ‘Interesting,’ I thought. Weeks later, as I was driving away from St. Joseph’s, having kept a Holy Hour, I saw a Batesville Casket Co truck drive by. ‘Interesting,’ I thought,  ‘I wonder if God is trying to tell me something. I’ll keep it in mind.’ Another week or two later, I happened to be stopped at an intersection, and lo and behold, what should the truck in front of me be but ANOTHER Batesville Casket Co truck! ‘Third time,’ I thought ‘Some say God speaks in threes sometimes. Maybe we’re supposed to go to Indiana.’  Now, I still didn’t actually think we were going to move. It was still just an idea to me (though in preparation, Nathan had set up a real estate search in the Batesville area to get an idea of the property values). And maybe, seeing the trucks was all coincidence since we live somewhat near the Archdiocese of Washington’s cemetery HQ down here. But, I’d never seen the trucks before, and strangely – I’ve not seen one since.

Now bear with me as I relate an important aside. About this time, we began having more play dates with a family (the Fishers) whom we had known for a while, but hadn’t really spent a lot of time with. I drove up to their house one day, and there was a ‘For Sale’ sign out front. Long story short, they had really had the strong feeling that God was urging them to put their house up on the market. So they did, for 40 days, just to see what would happen. And on the 41st day, it sold! Sami (the wife) had also had a ‘dream/vision’ experience where she was standing in the middle of some house she had never been in before, and felt that God was telling her “This is where I want you to be.”  They began searching for the house, and found it in La Plata (!!!)  but then, in a twist of events, the sellers accepted a different offer. Sami was naturally very confused, because God had so clearly shown to her that this was the house for them; why would it go to someone else? “Don’t worry,” I assured her, “God sent you a dream – I bet that deal is going to fall through.” And it did – the sellers came back to them, and they bought the house. It was more than they had wanted to pay, but because they truly believed God wanted them there, they made the finances work out. This story is significant to us, because, as we were about to see, our own story would have many similarities. It was almost as though we were meant to be with them through their ‘miracle move’ to their ‘Promised Land.’

Why Now?

Sometime in March, Nathan was prompted to begin praying a novena to St. Joseph for direction for the family. 

On Holy Thursday, I listened to a Holy Week Bible study of Jesus’ prediction of the Fall of Jerusalem; in it, Dr. Tim Gray spoke of how the Jerusalem Christians took Christ’s words seriously, liquidated their property and laid it at the feet of the apostles. They were preparing for a move! As Dr. Gray quipped “Talk about the real estate tip of the century! No stone will be left upon another.” He also explained Our Lord’s reference to fleeing before winter. Winter is the time when the Jordan River would typically flood, making it impossible to leave the city. Something struck me in my heart, and I began, for the very first time seriously considering the possibility of moving, though I had been at varying degrees of resistant to indifferent about the whole proposal until this time.

The same day, Nathan’s Exodus 90 reading prompted him to very seriously consider moving, and soon. He came home from work and we began talking about what we had experienced during prayer, and both of us were astonished at how we had come to the same conclusion separately.

The same day, what we call the ‘N Dearborn property’ came on the market for the 2nd time. It was absolutely perfect in every way. It was as though we had custom ordered it, from location, size, price, amount of land, right down to the back porch! Next day was Saturday – ninth day of novena. The house had originally been placed on the market 40 days earlier. Convinced this one was for us, we contacted the listing agent, got a preapproval letter and made an offer. We started packing and fixing up our house to sell.

The listing agent refused to put in our full-price offer for four days, however, and when he finally agreed to do so and we called to set it up, he told us that someone else (who had previously made an offer but which had fallen through) had just contacted him, and the owner wanted to go with that person instead. 

Why would God lead us to the absolute perfect place, and then take it away? We had only a few guesses: 

  1. He wanted to get us moving on the sale of our own home, and nothing but the perfect place would have gotten us started, and/or
  2. He has something better in mind (maybe a farm that came with the farming equipment, I joked!)
  3. Somehow He wanted us to develop some virtue through that experience that would become apparent later.

Really, it began to occur to us how incredibly good the timing was for a move – booming housing market in SoMD, really low interest rates on mortgages, a slowdown in work due to COVID regulations enabling us to get our house ready… We decided to keep praying, packing, and preparing the house, full of trust  (ok, trying hard to trust!) that God knows the plans He has for us (Jer 29:11). We began a 33 day preparation to consecrate our family for the first time to the Immaculate Heart. We also added another novena to St. Joseph, to end on his feast day May 1st, and Nathan also found one to pray to St. Isidore. We also began to look more earnestly at the real estate market in IN, but to no avail. There was really nothing out there that was even remotely close to what we had in mind. Except for a farm on Stevens Rd in Dillsboro, which was a bit too far away from the Catholic community we were interested in, and which needed substantial foundation repairs (yikes!) and remodeling. 

Because we believed God really was revealing a plan for us, we anticipated that something was going to happen on the day of our family’s Consecration to the Immaculate Heart, which was May 13th. Or on the feast of St.Isidore the farmer,  which, interestingly,  we noted was only two days later, May 15th. “Whichever feast day the farm is shown to us, we have to name it after that saint!” I laughed. But, since we were impatient, we asked for St. Joseph to give us a sign that we were doing the right thing in pursuing this course of action.

Now I mentioned before that Nathan had found a novena to St. Isidore. Well now, this was not your typical novena. Each day had a theme, and included  a hymn, a psalm/antiphon, short reading from the Bible, a special prayer to St. Isidore, and concluded with a reflection on the vocation of the farmer. While it can be found in its entirety online, Nathan noticed that it came from a prayer book entitled ‘The Rural Life Prayer Book.’ So he decided to order the book. However, it was out of print, and most copies were exorbitantly expensive ($150 on the cheap end). He did find one site where it was listed for about $30, but after ordering it and receiving an order confirmation, someone from the company contacted him and said they actually hadn’t updated the website and they didn’t actually have the book in stock. There was one last place where he found it for a reasonable price – it was a long shot, but he ordered it, and the order went through, but he never received a shipping confirmation. COVID -19 closures being in full swing, he assumed that they didn’t have it in stock either, and that no one was in the office to let him know they could not fulfill the order.

May 1st came around – the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and the end of our second novena to him. Eagerly, we awaited some sign… and our faith was rewarded! We received two signs; “one for each of us,” I joked. First, a brand new, gold embossed holy card of St. Joseph simply appeared on the piano, a place where I couldn’t possibly miss it. I had never seen it before, and it was in pristine condition (I am very familiar with all holy cards in our household, and most of them are quite worn from use by the children). And the prayer on the back? 

“O glorious St. Joseph, who have the power to render possible even things which are considered impossible, come to our aid in our present trouble and distress. Take this important and difficult affair under your particular protection, that it may end happily (mention your request). Dearest St. Joseph, all our confidence is in you. Amen.” 

“Wow,” I thought, “that prayer sure is appropriate for us right now! Impossible certainly seems to be the right word. We got our sign!” 

But St. Joseph had another sign to give us. The Rural Life Prayer Book arrived in the mail that very day, long after Nathan had completely given up on it even coming at all! It also came with a magazine from the Catholic Rural Life organization, in which was an encouraging article about a Catholic family’s story of moving from an urban townhome lifestyle to one of farming. Coincidence? Perhaps…

Jubilantly, we continued preparing the house, and looking further at the Indiana market to see if maybe we had been limiting ourselves too much in terms of geographical area. Maybe we weren’t supposed to be in that Catholic community? Though there were a few possibilities, none were just right, and we didn’t receive any Divine confirmation when we pursued them. A few days after St. Joseph’s feast, I hesitantly proposed to Nathan that perhaps we should contact the lady from the Catholic homeschool group out there to see if they might know anyone who is thinking about selling their farm. It was a long shot, but he figured it couldn’t hurt, so he sent off an email to Cathey (but we really didn’t expect anything). 

We could only wait on God, as we had exhausted all the options we could think of. (We took great solace in the story of the faith of Abraham at this point). Finally, May 13th arrived, the day of our family Consecration to Mary! That morning, after returning home from Mass, Nathan found that Cathey had written him back, and there were two properties that she had to share with us. One was an auction of a very large farm into separate parcels that she had heard of, but didn’t know the sellers. The other was a 41 acre farm owned by a family that she knew – a Catholic family whose daughter had joined a religious order in Massachusetts. Located right near the three churches Cathey had told us about months before, and just four minutes away from a perpetual adoration chapel, all cleared land, barns all set and ready to go, a pond, good sized house for our growing family, what could be more perfect? They were even selling their tractor! Of course, it was a bit larger than we had originally planned and – – Oh, wait a minute. It was already on the market… “There’s a reason their property hasn’t come up in my searches,” Nathan remarked, a bit deflated. “It’s probably too expensive.” He wasn’t kidding – it was $200k more than what we had planned on spending. “Let’s see what happens on St. Isidore’s Day,” I suggested. But was it possible that Our Lady wanted us to buy this one?

St. Isidore’s Day came and went, and nothing happened. And, surprisingly enough, we crunched some numbers and discovered that if we committed to working the farm for profit, it would be within our means. We just had to look at it as though we were buying a business, not just a house, or a homestead. So here we go – we are taking on the challenge of trusting in God to provide for us completely, even to the point of buying a farm and expecting Him to pay for it. After all, this is the one Our Lady has given our family. We’re even naming it ‘Sundance Farm’ after the miracle of Our Lady of Fatima. May God bless us as we try to steward this little bit of His good earth!

The Sundance Farmhouse, a few days after we moved in

What are we going to farm out here?

‘Beyond organic’ cattle, egg laying chickens, and meat birds for starter livestock. Sheep may be in the future, too. But Nathan is most excited about the prospect of his own ‘beyond organic’ market garden!

PSALM 115: Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but your Name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness

PSALM 127: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.

But God isn’t through with us yet! We left Maryland on Aug 3rd, and that night, terrible storms from Hurricane Isaias flooded much of St. Mary’s County. Country Lakes was even flooded to the point where no one could get in or out of the neighborhood! The major intersection leading to our old neighborhood was closed off. The pictures were astounding. Then, it struck me – Our Lord’s warning to leave Jerusalem before the winter floods came…And it floods our area so much to make roads impassible the very evening of the day we left? This couldn’t be just a coincidence.

The story continues…here in Indiana. Keep up with us on this journey here at the blog!