Two really huge projects are coming close to their completion. Because we want our cattle to remain in pasture all year long (ideally) and rely on feeding hay as little as possible, we found it necessary to fence several more acres of our property, and run water lines to several different locations to make it easy for the cattle to access while strip grazing.
It has been a bit of a race against time and the weather. At first, the ground was much too hard to even think of driving fence posts into it. There hadn’t been rain for months! Then finally when we did get a little rain to soften up the ground, there weren’t any fence posts available thanks to the recent economic upset. When finally the fence posts arrived and were driven in, there had been several rains, which was good for the fence posts, but which made it impossible to run a trencher for the water line installation! So we ended up pushing that back three whole weeks till the ground dried up. We were running 2100 feet of pipe 3 feet deep and installing 9 water hydrants at various points. Several places needed to be hand trenched with a shovel and a pickaxe, because we couldn’t run the trencher near power lines, gas lines, etc.
I think Nathan and I are getting just a little taste of what hard labor really means. Not to mention that we have often been thinking how spoiled we have been our whole lives never having had to work that hard every single day. In the pictures, you can see the trenches Nathan dug by hand with some help from a neighbor. “C” is standing in one, and the others you can tell are inside the barn. For the long stretches, Nathan rented a ride on trencher, a big powerful machine that went a whopping 5 ft per minute. Operating that turned out to be really quite boring, and a bit maddening since we wanted to be done in a hurry!
We have also been racing the cattle’s appetites. We need to get this pasture fenced and hydrated before they run out of grass in their current pasture. Will we make it? They have about six days of grass left. The fence is still not complete, as we still need to add about half the line poles and install the gate, but the water hydrants are set and ready to go and the water line has been buried. I’m proud to say becoming quite adept at installing high tensile electric fencing. In one picture you can see my ” jogging stroller turned mobile workbench”, complete with shotgun, in case any turkeys should waddle my way (it is hunting season after all!)
These projects actually, became a family affair, with the baby in the carrier on my back, children running back and forth carrying tools or sliding hardware along the fence lines. They were a great help, and were happy to do it, too. And that is one of the biggest blessings of farm life: the whole family can work together, and get a huge amount of satisfaction from the fruits of our labor!
It’s November! Most of the country kicks it off with a celebration of Halloween and Thanksgiving planning, and prepping for the Christmas season that follows right on its heels. We actually don’t celebrate Halloween in the ordinary way; what we celebrate is All Hallows Eve. That refers to the day before All Hallows Day, or All Saints Day. Don’t get me wrong, I love dressing up in costumes, having had my fair share of dabbling in theater throughout my life. The kids still dress up, but we just save it for the All Saints Day party on November 1st, when they choose a historical saint to dress up as. This year we had Saint Joseph, Saint Isidore, Mary Queen of Heaven, and Saint Therese, the Little Flower.
But November 2nd brings All Souls Day, where we pray for the souls of the Faithful Departed who are in purgatory. I almost forgot it this year, but for some strange things that began happening around the Farmhouse.
Nathan and I always like to get our house blessed as soon as we can after we move in, and this house was no exception. You can think of it along the lines of casting out any evil that may have been associated with the past, and asking God’s grace and peace upon all those who enter and dwell here. So, as soon as we were relatively settled, we asked our new pastor to come on a Tuesday afternoon to pray over the house and sprinkle it throughout with holy water. That night however some odd things happened.
Just as Nathan and I were going to sleep after having put the kids to bed, we distinctly heard a sound as though someone was bumping the toddler potty around in the bathroom upstairs next to our bedroom. Less than a minute later it was repeated again. All the kids were asleep in bed, the doors were locked, there were no signs of an intruder.
Odd, and unsettling. But I dismissed it – that is, until about 4:00 in the morning. I was awake (on the baby’s sleep schedule) and all of the sudden the toilet lid in the same bathroom slammed shut, waking the baby up. I had not heard any of the kids going into the bathroom, nor anyone leaving after the noise, but just to make sure I went and checked all the kids and they were sound asleep. I said a Hail Mary and a Memorare (and I think a St. Michael prayer too!) and left it at that.
The next night, my 2-year-old woke up in the middle of the night crying and asking for milk. She wasn’t fully awake, so I suspected it was just a bad dream. But when I went to get her a drink, I noticed that one of the lights on the first floor was turned on. This was around 11:30 p.m. I had been the one to turn it off before heading upstairs to bed. I checked with Nathan – he had not turned it on and again, all the other children were asleep and the two-year-old can’t reach the light switch, even if she had been able to go downstairs and through the baby gate in her semi- sleep state. Again the doors were locked and no one else was in the house.
Then, the night after that (or rather early that morning), the baby woke up to nurse as usual. When I went to get him, I noticed the upstairs bathroom light on (the same one where we heard the noises the first night). Now, the kids don’t use the bathroom at night; all but one of them are in some version of Pull-Ups or diapers overnight. And on the extremely rare occasion that they do go, we have night lights bright enough so that they never need to turn anything on (and I would hear them passing by). Again I confirmed with Nathan that he hadn’t turned on the light (I had been the one to turn it off that night as well). “What is going on?” I wondered.
There are two explanations the Church gives for paranormal events that I know of. One is that there is a demonic presence causing these things to occur. ( I have to be honest, one of my first thoughts was: “But we just had the house exorcised and blessed – did we somehow ‘leave out’ the bathroom?”) The second is less concerning. The Church has found that for some reason, departed souls that are in Purgatory can sometimes be allowed to do unusual or unnatural things in the natural world in order to get attention and hopefully thereby prayers, which will aid them in their purification, and ultimately hasten their entrance into Heaven. There are many stories about this sort of thing; there’s even a museum in Italy documenting such occurrences and housing artifacts relating to the souls in Purgatory.
With the events at the Farmhouse, there has not been anything sinister involved ( no dangerous materials, fire, etc). Nor was there ever a sense of fear, dread, loathing, disgust, or anything that might be associated with a demonic presence. And the fact that it began after the house blessing (during which the priest used the exorcism prayers) leads me to believe it was not a hostile spirit. My belief is that it was a troubled soul asking for prayers.
Supporting this theory, the previous owners had told us of some issues they had had in the past in the house with what seemed to be troubled souls needing prayers. “P” thought that it might even be related to one of the sudden deaths that occurred on the railroad tracks which cross our (very long) driveway. The house was built in the 1840s, and so has a 180 year long history of people living and dying in and around it, including at least two men who were killed on the tracks. “P” told us that many years ago, a young man had just proposed and become engaged to his love, but tragically was struck and died on the tracks that same night. When a strange presence made itself known to them (they heard footsteps on the stairs in the middle of the night, and even saw a silhouette of a person in the house), they prayed novenas and had a prayerful procession for the repose of any wandering souls in the house. After that, they had no more manifestations.
I was getting a little uncomfortable with the different unexpected things happening around the house, and I didn’t like wondering when or what might happen, and I also didn’t want the poor soul to get desperate. So, we had a Mass prayed for the repose of any troubled and wandering souls; since then we have had no more strange occurrences. Knowing the power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I now have great hope that there is a soul happily in Heaven, praying for us here on the old farm!
This has been a great motivation for us to continue to remember all the Poor Souls in Purgatory in our prayers every day. “Do unto others…” says the Golden Rule, and I dearly hope others will do the same for me!
Meet Bosco, a five month old (yes, I did say “month”! )Great Pyrenees-and-possibly-something-else mix.
I had been wanting to get a farm guardian dog for security reasons for some time after we moved. It would guard the chickens in their various locations, and warn us and the cattle if predators or intruders were in the vincinity. While we are in the country, our farm is actually right in the tiny downtown area of Sunman, so we really aren’t in a terribly remote and inaccessible (meaning, unnoticeable) place.
I spent far too much time on the internet reading about working dog breeds (and coming to the conclusion that there was no possibility of affording one, let alone two, as is usually recommended, from a good breeder). There were weeks that I agonized over all the working dogs available in the nearby shelters, trying to ascertain if they would be a good fit. I filled out applications three or four times, but to no avail, since many pet rescue operations do not give dogs to people who will be keeping them in a barn. We even visited a breeder an hour away to see if one of their older females who had not bred in a while would work for us. Finally, I gave up. I was tired of getting my hopes up about a dog and then realizing it wouldn’t work for one reason or another, or searching breeds everyday and finding puppies available but only several hours drive away or priced at a premium. So I gave it over to Mother Mary one day as we were praying the Rosary. I told her: “No matter how much I think we need a dog, I don’t want a dog if God doesn’t want us to have one. I know only His Will will make us happy and only He will make things work out right. So I’m not going to look for a dog anymore. Besides, I don’t think we’re supposed to get one, since it hasn’t happened yet.”
It was a big let go moment for me, even though it seems trivial to simply write it. But I think that was all Our Lady was looking for – she wanted to drive home the point that everything comes from God, and not from our own effort. That very afternoon, Nathan was looking on Craigslist for something completely unrelated, and he happened to notice a Great Pyrenees puppy had been listed just hours before! Great Pyrenees had been one of the breeds that stood out to me as being gentle, great with children and seemingly intuitively taking care of their flock, while having a very strong protective urge when danger is present. When we looked at the location, it was in Cincinnati – closer than we had yet seen, but still a good drive. But when I called and asked about him, they gave me an address that was only 20 minutes away from us! That settled it. Not only was it a puppy, who could grow up on the farm with our kids, but it was also a very reasonable price. Turns out, he was owned by a Christian family who have their own homestead with goats, chickens and lambs, so he was already used to being around livestock. Another one of God’s providential miracles!
And so Bosco came to Sundance Farm. He really is an amazing dog. Loves the children, loves to play, and has an incredibly deep bark. He seems to have a bit of a hunter in him too, as he seems to enjoy pouncing on crickets and grasshoppers and eating them for snacks! He is also still very much a puppy, despite his large, 40 – 50 lb size- we have caught him running away with rubber boots left out on the porch, chewing on everyone’s toys but his own, and eating the inedible.
I was satisfied with that, but we kept hearing from multiple experienced sources that really you ought to have at least two guardian dogs in order for them to work effectively. “Coyotes will send out one of their pack to distract the guard dog while the rest attack the flock,” we heard numerous times. Now, we do have electric fences around the livestock which would hopefully serve as a strong deterrent for predators. And I was absolutely sure we wouldn’t ever find another Great Pyrenees puppy that we could afford, so we decided that we would just have to do our best with one dog.
Enter Rosie, a (now) 12 week old Great Pyrenees puppy. One of two left from a homestead with goats, and very reasonably priced. Again, Nathan found her on Craigslist, not even looking for one. And think of all that time I wasted searching…! I must learn patience. He gives all in His time…. but boy is it hard to wait when I get my mind on something!
She is the sweetest little thing, but oh so shy when we first got her. It took two days for her to really get used to us and start playing with the kids, but now she can’t get enough of their attention. To my surprise, Bosco was actually quite shy around her at first. He didn’t go bounding up to her as I thought he would; but very gradually approached to meet her. You can see their meeting in the video below.
Now, Bosco and Rosie seem to be the best of friends, playing together, teasing each other (Bosco playfully steals Rosie’s stick in a “come and get it” attitude, and Rosie oftentimes parades around in front of him with the same object). The size difference is a little much at times, so I intervene in their play fights occasionally, but mostly it’s very sweet to watch. The only time Bosco has ever growled at Rosie was, predictably, at feeding time when she approached his bowl instead of her own. Gradually we have lengthened their time off their leads together (we are in the process of installing an electric fence to keep them on the property) and Bosco roams around looking like a great prince surveying his land with a rather floppy, roly poly, distracted protege at his side. Rosie never lets him get too far away, though, no matter what might be holding her interest!
“Mom! Mom! Come look! We caught a mourning dove!” C burst into the house excitedly.
“A mourning dove? Really?”
“Yes! Come see!”
Well, it turned out it wasn’t a mourning dove, but a baby sparrow. Apparently it was trying out its wings in the driveway and the boys decided it needed help.
This highlights one of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the property – there are so many birds! A great number of barn swallows, sparrows, bluebirds, mourning doves and more swoop and flit about every day. They love the pond, they love the trees… The children have been finding nest after abandoned nest to add to our growing ‘nature museum’ (inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Men’). So far, we have a large turkey feather, a hawk feather, a mourning dove feather, three or four nests of different kinds, a monarch butterfly, three intact cicada shells, and a grasshopper.
This highlights one of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the property – there are so many birds! A great number of barn swallows, sparrows, bluebirds, mourning doves and more swoop and flit about every day. They love the pond, they love the trees… The children have been finding nest after abandoned nest to add to our growing ‘nature museum’ (inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Men’). So far, we have a large turkey feather, a hawk feather, a mourning dove feather, three or four nests of different kinds, a monarch butterfly, three intact cicada shells, and a grasshopper. It really is amazing; my children have grown quite adept at catching grasshoppers (of which we had a plethora this year) with the sole motivation of feeding them to the chickens!
The little ones love finding all these little bits of nature that I overlook. In the midst of all the big projects we have on our plate getting the farm infrastructure just the way we want, the preparations for the animals for winter, etc, it is so necessary to take a moment or two to revel in the excitement and wonder of the tiny things God has made.
Back to the sparrow: we at first thought we ought to try to get it back to its nest, but it turned out to be much too high in a pine tree to attempt that. So, we did the next best thing. Bringing out one of our “old” nests from the museum, we put it in the crook of a tree and laid the little sparrow inside it. After a while, he started peeping loudly and expectantly… and then were answering tweets! Satisfied that his relatives would soon find him, we left him to his own devices. And when we came back later that day, the nest was empty once again.
Another day, I happened to notice a mother mourning dove on her nest; something moving behind the nest beneath her tail caught my eye. It was a baby dove – shivering outside in the wind! “Poor thing,” I thought. It must have been neglected for some time as it seemed much smaller than the other fledgling that the mother bird had been keeping warm. You can see the difference in the photos below.
Well, whether it would help or not, I decided to get the little bird back into the nest to give it a shot at survival. I really don’t know how this one ended up. He is so blurry in the picture because he was shivering so much!
Now of course Fall has come, and with it has brought an unusually high number of black and brown fuzzy caterpillars, to the delight of toddlers C and S, who run around many days catching them to put in a jar. Apparently these “teddy bear” caterpillars turn into tiger moths, which are rumored to be bad for the garden, so we may have to be on the watch come Spring. I toyed with the idea of possibly keeping one through hibernation to watch it make a chrysalis, etc. But after finding out about that last fact, I’ll save my energy for that sort of thing when we come across a monarch or other such critter. Maybe I can convince the kids to feed these to the chickens instead…
God told us He wanted us to move here. So we held our breath and “jumped into the deep,” trusting Him to take care of everything. Somehow, I thought that was going to be the end of it; we’d settle in, start the farm out small (ish), and life would be different, with lots of hard work, but God wouldn’t present us with any other unexpected plans.
I was wrong. We jumped once, and apparently, He wants us to keep on “jumping.”
This is the story of the biggest jump we’ve made yet: acquiring a herd of cows. I’m still getting over the idea. 😀
Nathan had been checking craigslist in the area to keep an eye on cattle for sale, and lo and behold, a listing popped up – a herd of Red Devons was up for sale only 30 minutes away from us. Red Devon, by the way, was one of only two breeds Nathan had picked out for our farm prior to moving here. They do well being grass fed, and have the benefit of being good for meat or milk.
We went to go see the cows. Now, we know next to nothing about cattle. We don’t know what questions to ask or what signs to look for to tell whether it’s a good, healthy herd, or not so much. We hardly know what a good price for a cow, a bull, or a heifer is. But we went – and found out that the man who owned them goes to our new parish! He was selling his herd because he and his wife were getting older and it was time to start downsizing their responsibilities a bit.
The cows were beautiful, and I’ve always been partial to that particular reddish-brown color they have (says the girl who chose to learn to play the flute because it was shiny silver…). Not terribly good reasons to buy a cow… but as we left, we both wanted to buy the whole herd!
So of course, we prayed, asking St. Isidore to intercede for us.
We also asked the advice of a few local farmer/rancher friends, who both discouraged us from buying expensive cattle to start out (they were priced a little on the high end). Buy some cheap stocker cattle, start with only a few while you learn the ropes, make hay with your fields this year and sell it instead. That way, they said, you won’t lose too much if one of the cows happens to die on you.
But I think these new friends underestimated the level of commitment we have to getting this farm up and running, and the amount of time we would be spending with the animals. And my thought was, if a cow or two does die, wouldn’t it be better to have a herd that can replenish itself, rather than simply taking the loss and trying again next year?
Nathan took it to prayer; during his Eucharistic adoration, believing that “God’s word is living and effective,” he opened the Bible and laid his finger down on a verse. It happened to be the part of the story of the Prodigal Son where the father orders the slaughter of the fatted calf! Well, if we bought the herd, we were going to raise them for beef…maybe this was a green light?
Asking God to please intervene and not let the sale go through if it was not His will for us, we went ahead and told the owner we were seriously interested. Nothing happened during any of the proceedings finalizing the sale; instead, the owner generously threw in all kinds of extras: an old cattle trailer, electric fencing and energizers, a feeding trough, a stanchion, and three books on getting started with cattle. We are grateful to no end!
There were 14 head of cattle to be moved to our pastures: 9 bred cows (meaning they are pregnant), 2 heifers (females that have not yet had a calf), 2 young bulls (not yet mature, only about 6 months old), and 1 mature bull.
The process of moving was definitely a job. Nathan went to meet the owners at the ranch, and spent most of the day helping to round up cattle and load them into the trailer. It ended up taking four trips. The most difficult was not the bull, as we would have guessed, but the unhappy mommas who were separated from their calves temporarily. Since they were being so stubborn, I looked up who the patron saints of cattle are. There are a few, actually! I ended up begging the intercession of St. Eligius ( a former goldsmith/jeweler who had a miracle involving cows attributed to his prayers) and St. Perpetua (an early Roman Christian martyr who was killed in the Coloseum by a mad heifer). Our prayers were heard, and the mommas arrived – though one of them had so much difficulty getting out of the trailer once she arrived, we had to ‘tip’ her out by lifting up the front end of the trailer with the tractor.
The kids were incredibly excited, of course. “S” heard them moo for the first time, looked at me excitedly and said “Cow say ‘Moo!’ It can works!!” I guess when you teach them that ‘cows say moo’ from their earliest years, that would be the definition of a functional cow that comes to mind, I suppose!
And of course, Remy the Fearless was right in there with them, barking and telling them who was boss in no uncertain terms. I was surprised, the cows actually backed away from this bouncy, noisy little dog!
Since they’ve arrived, we’ve learned a lot more about cows. Not all bulls have horns, and cows can have horns. Actually, our bull, Red Bull, is without horns, and two of our cows do have them. One we call ‘Curly Top’ and she has the sweetest little calf we call “Blondie” because of her much lighter color than the rest. The other is named Penny, and one of her horns is a little twisted. The leader of the herd is not Red Bull, as one might imagine. It’s a big female named Tuesday – she gets the water when she wants it, butts others out of the way when we come around with alfalfa cube treats, and is the most vocal. Her pal, and the friendliest cow, is Gemmy, who loves her alfalfa cubes, too. We are still trying to distinguish the other cows from each other, as they don’t have such defining traits, and are less likely to approach us if the others are there first!
The chicken operation expands! Here’s the count as of today:
26 Cornish Cross (meat birds) living in the Salatin style chicken tractor; ready to process in a few weeks. They are filling out nicely, putting on both weight and feathers, and so have become much less awkward looking recently.
14 Red Sex Link layer hens (and Steve the Rooster) living in the barn with a door to the an enclosed pasture. We got our first egg a few days ago, and one every day since!
46 Cornish Cross and 24 male Rhode Island Red living in the newly built “Wheely Coop” in the pasture the cows just vacated.
Nathan also bought 20 layer chicks from Tractor Supply because they were on clearance. 10 Americana (“I can’t wait to have blue eggs!” says he) and 10… of a mystery breed. No idea what they gave us. It’ll be fun to figure out! These twenty birds are currently completely free range, since they need to be integrated with the other flocks at some point, and weare running out of places to put birds (fancy that). Their ‘homebase’ (a dog crate with water and food for them) is located in the Red Sex link pasture, but they are left free to be able to escape any hostile advances of the older birds by hopping through the non-energized electric poultry netting. It’s so fun to see them jumping through the tall grass after grasshoppers and crickets!
50 Rhode Island Red pullets (baby hens) and 25 Cornish Cross males just arrived a few days ago and are living in the “brooder box” with the heating pads keeping them nice and cozy.
We’ve lost a few of the chicks we ordered from the hatchery, which is always a bit sad. One of the larger meat birds wasn’t doing well for a while; he seemed smaller than the others and lethargic, unable to muscle through the other birds to get food for himself. So though we put him in his own little spot with food and water, and he hung on for a little while, he finally succumbed to whatever ailed him.
Another of the meat birds somehow got a scrape under its left wing. We treated it with peroxide and antibiotic ointment so it wouldn’t get infected, and he seems to be doing just fine now.
Total the final count is… 206. Though this seems like a LOT of birds (and it is!), we’ve got a bit larger plan for next year: 300 laying hens at any given time, and a goal of about 2,000 meat birds processed throughout the year, God willing!
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. 🙂
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.”
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!
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.’
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:
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
He has something better in mind (maybe a farm that came with the farming equipment, I joked!)
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!
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!