December 29, 2012


It was November 29, 2006. Nate had been living in England, where he was transferred for work, for almost a year. He and I were best friends until a certain beach trip showed us that we were destined to be more. After not even a year of 'dating', when Nate moved away, we decided to just see what happened. We both figured it was over and planned to move on with our lives, separately. We were surprised, however, to find that we each felt incomplete without the other. We continued our relationship online. It was a hard year and I was lucky enough to visit him there twice.

On that night in November, during one of our daily Skype sessions, Nate asked me to marry him. We both agreed that we didn't want to live apart anymore. It was an exciting time for us. We had a month to plan something, as he would be coming home for a visit over christmas. We opted for a very small family gathering at my mother's home where we were married just after christmas. A week later, I kissed my new husband goodbye as he left to return to the UK while I packed up my life here and made plans to join him.

We lived in a sweet little coach house that was part of a large estate. It was the first time we'd ever lived together and we made it a home. As that first year drew to a close, we made the decision to return to America to start a farm. We didn't know how we would do it but we felt it deep within ourselves as something we were meant to do. So, we came home.

Four months later we found an awesome farming situation which enabled us to get our feet wet on someone else's farm while we learned all we could. This was an amazing opportunity because we didn't have to buy a farm and could take our time searching for the right place once we were ready. We rented the house next door which couldn't have been more perfect for us. It was as if we lived right there, on the farm. We set up shop and got to work farming.

After a year, our landlord told us he needed us to move out so he could renovate the house to put on the market. We moved into a 27 foot camper, parked on the farm, for five months so we could finish out the season with all of our animals. That farm was for sale as the owners had purchased a larger farm in search of more grass for their growing herd of cattle. This meant we had to move on and, well, you know the rest of it.

I'll make this very long story short. If you had told me six years ago that we would become 'nomadic farmers' for the next few years, I would never have believed you. That''s just not the life for me, I would have thought. I need to feel grounded and have some roots. But, you do what you have to do and you become acclimated to the new normal. And so, that's what we did.

Our journey to find the right farm has been long, bumpy and paved with beauty, love and a whole lot of learning. And it's far from over. This trip down memory lane is all to say that aside from our year in England and our year living next to the first farm in 2008, Nate and I have not had a home that's been ours. We've not been able to feel settled or put down roots.

This is a really strange and difficult time for my little family. We have no regrets about anything we've done, or the choices we've made. We're very grateful to have a safe and warm place to stay right now, but we want a home. For the second time in just a few years, all of our belongings sit in storage waiting for us. Our larger farm stuff still sits with no place to move it to. We're feeling so displaced and to be honest, we're losing our freaking minds. We just don't belong here. We belong on a farm, tired to the bone, overworked, with dirt under our fingernails. 

In a way, this time is a gift. Time for us to be helping to take care of both of our mothers when they need us most. Time for Zander to be with family. Time we wouldn't normally have to bond with our son. And time for us to catch our breath and take care of our bodies.

But it's not what we want or what feeds our souls. There is much stress, many tears, and a lot of hoping. It's time for some roots.

Still searching, still waiting. Though I have no doubt this is all happening for a reason, it's still hard.

Now more than ever, we need to find our home.

December 17, 2012

the party

photo by Andy Johanson

We had a birthday party for Zander last weekend. I made "Gracie's Yellow Birthday Cake" from this book for him to eat and it was fantastic. Daddy made a banner, I made way too much food and Zander was surrounded by the people who love him. It was a good day.

Z got a little overwhelmed by all the people singing to him, the flaming cupcake, and the lack of nap. But he quickly recovered and enjoyed the cake.

A good time was had by all. My baby isn't much of a baby anymore.


December 6, 2012

to zander ~ love, mama


A year ago today, you came into my life, changing it forever. You made me a mama. You were even more beautiful than I ever imagined and I felt like I'd known you all my life.

There were days that were challenging and days I wasn't sure if I could do it. But we got to know each other and figured it all out. Thank you for being so patient.

I dreamed of a home birth and you taught me that your birth was about you and not about me. Right out of the gate, you showed us that you were in charge and that you wanted to do things your way. Your birth was not what I had imagined and I felt defeated. It's been a year and your love has helped heal that wound. I know now that none of it mattered and I'm proud of you and proud of the way you entered this world. Here's your birth story. I want you to read it someday.

You're smart, you're funny and you have the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen. I wonder if you'll ever know how happy you make people when you smile at them. It's the best feeling in the world. You are an old soul and I know you've been here before. You're here to teach and we're here to learn.

You make me a better person, Zander Gray. Your daddy and I love you more than you'll ever know. We never knew how much we needed you in our lives. Happy First Birthday!!


photo by Andy Johanson

November 12, 2012

11 months

A certain baby little boy turned 11 months last week. 11 months!! That's almost one year.

This kid is working on his 8th tooth. He stands unsupported and takes a few steps into the arms of mama and daddy. A few weeks ago, Nate and I turned around to see him standing on his own and clapping. A few days ago, we turned around to find him on top of a high piece of furniture. He's quite the climber. He talks a lot, hand gestures and everything - they're just not real words.

And... Zander has his own, very strong opinions. Like deciding that he does not want his picture taken at the park.

I know, it's just the beginning.

November 11, 2012

the search

Everyone thinks they've got the perfect farm for us and you wouldn't believe me if I told you some of the stories about the crazy farms we've seen and the interesting people we've met. I'll have to write a book someday. We've been at this farm searching thing for so long that we know just what we're looking for and we know just which questions to ask. The first question is almost always about gas. If you live in Western Pennsylvania, chances are you're pretty familiar with Marcellus Shale. Farmers, you see, are all too familiar.

I'll save the rant and just say that the shale contains natural gas and is the latest target for energy development. Of course, there are two sides to this, but many believe the methods used to extract this gas, known as hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking', can have devastating effects on the land, water and health of those affected. (Have you seen Gasland?) We intend to grow food on a future farm so clean water and soil are extremely important to us. It is next to impossible to find land around here that hasn't already been drilled, doesn't have a lease signed to drill, or doesn't have surrounding neighbors who have drilled or intend to drill.

Usually, the conversation with a seller doesn't go much further once we ask them about drilling. If it does, we ask for the address and begin our research on Google Maps. In aerial views, we can see the surrounding areas and we can see the existing gas wells and future drilling sites. More times than not, those drilling sites are above the property in question, meaning that the water shed could be contaminated. What good is a farm if you can't, or are afraid to grow food on it? If we get through those steps and the farm still seems like a possibility, we continue further, but it usually doesn't get that far. We have seriously considered leaving the state and trying to find a place where these issues don't exist.

We have in our minds a dream of what our future farm could become. Our dream involves creating a community-oriented sustainable system and growing a little bit of everything. Every property is different and the land dictates what can happen on each particular farm. The land may be hilly, flat, open or wooded. A combination of all those things would be perfect. For us, there has to be a house, though we're not picky at all. The rest of the farm is much more important to us. Outbuildings like a barn and garage are a bonus. Already existing fencing and a pond or stream are even better. Is the size right? Of course, the cost per acre comes into the equation. We need to be able to determine whether or not we can make the farm pay for itself. And then there's the all important question...where would the wood-fired oven go? Each farm we look at encourages us to bend and give a little as we try to imagine the possibilities the land has to offer. 

It is so rare to stumble upon a farm that has all of our dream components, including the gas issue. But recently, we did. We spent countless hours putting together proposals, spreadsheets and business plans, most of which were one-handed while nursing, soothing, or trying to entertain a teething, active, and almost-walking baby boy. We spent weeks on the edge of our seats, holding our breath. All of this, only to find out that we didn't get it. We were either outbid or we were second in line. We weren't dealing with the most upfront and honest person, so it's hard to know. Disappointing, to say the least. Maybe it wasn't meant to be ours.

While going though all of this, another possible farm opportunity presented itself. One that seems too serendipitous to ignore. After all, our entire farming career, however short it is, has been one serendipitous event after another, so it's worth paying attention to. It's hard to not feel that we're being steered or guided somehow by the universe. It feels like we're meant to be there and it's almost as if this farm needs us as much as we need it.

It's all ups and downs, this farm searching business. Mostly downs. We've been here before and we know not to get our hearts too involved...but it's hard. We learn more and more about ourselves each time we get this close to something. We're trying to let go and believe that whatever is meant to be will be, and that the right place will come easily. I know in my heart that we'll find it. Could we be close?

October 23, 2012

the real deal

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle our experiences and I would be upset with myself down the road if I left out major events in our lives. So, enough of the photos, the beach trip and the fluff. Here's the real deal. Here's what's really going on.

We left the farm because we were unhappy. I had been unhappy for quite some time but stayed pretty quiet about it here. I think we felt so lucky to be there, on that farm, that we didn't dare complain. It was a really tough time for me. So tough, that it began to strip me of who I am. Has that ever happened to you? You're so deep in something for so long that it just becomes the new normal. All of a sudden, one day you look in the mirror and wonder who you're looking at. Am I living life the way I want to teach my son to live?

Things started out great for us there. I had always wanted to have a baby and couldn't wait to experience pregnancy. I was so excited when I got pregnant and thought the happiness of a new baby would fix everything. But then things started to fall apart.

I was depressed and I felt like I was being robbed of the experience I so looked forward to for most of my life. Instead of enjoying the new life inside of me, I was worried about our future and the health of our unborn baby. I cried a lot. I used to call my mom from out in the field and just sob. She would say how sorry she was and that she wished she could just scoop me up and make it all better. I wished she could too.

Luckily, Zander was born healthy and perfect. We were happy and so in love with him but there was always a sense of dread as by now, Nate had become unhappy too and we feared the inevitable.

How could this be happening? This was supposed to be it. A place where we could finally put some roots down. We came to terms with reality and finally made the decision that we didn't want to live that way. We'd been in search of a happy and healthy place to farm and raise our family for five years and we deserved to find it. Zander deserved it. Our love for our new son inspired us to strive for true happiness. We've lived and worked with several people in those five years and we've learned so much. It's time, we decided, to find a place of our own. We've carried along this dream of ours for so long and it will wait patiently until we find the right place.

So, we left. We left the animals we loved and moved Zander away from the only home he knew. Now, we've been through some pain and heartache in this farming adventure of ours, but one of the hardest things I've ever done was watch the man I love walk away from the wood-fired oven of his dreams. That oven symbolized so much for him. His unborn son growing in the womb alongside him as he worked tirelessly to build it. His blood and sweat. The dream we shared of starting the business we spent so much time researching, planning and preparing for. Talk about heartache. It's as if a small piece of Nate was left behind, and I often wonder if he'll ever be the same.

Our friends and family were beyond supportive and that really helped. Even though it felt like we were leaving our entire world behind, the happiness and relief we felt once we'd left was proof enough that we'd made the right decision.

There will be another oven, on another farm for this family.

And so the search for a new farm began . . . again.

October 4, 2012

the beach

We went to the beach a few weeks ago for the first time since we started farming 5 years ago. We were never able to leave our animals, so going away was never an option.

We went to the island of Chincoteague, VA, where the wild ponies roam, and it was beautiful. We rented a house with a group of friends and had a great time. We saw the ponies and lots of other native wildlife, went to the beach, did some crabbing, got attacked by mosquitoes (twice), saw an amazing sunset and ate some great food.

Zander was in the midst of teething woes for the first few days of the trip but even then he had a blast. He loved the beach and played in the sand for hours. He got so upset when it was time to stop playing and go back to the house.

We loved spending time with friends and watching Zander experience it all. 

September 29, 2012

fear and doubt

I can't do this.

That's the thought that ran through my head at 3am. I awoke to a whimper and the feeling of a very hot baby next to me in bed. The whimpering quickly turned into a full-on cry . . . and then screaming.

My baby had a fever.

I stood in the dark with my heart pounding, swaying and rocking my son. He was so uncomfortable that he wriggled and squirmed in my arms. He would drift off to sleep only to wake up and cry. I couldn't comfort him and I was scared. He'd had a low fever on and off for a few days but nothing like this. I'm pretty sure it was all teething-related but the dark and early hours have a way of bringing on the fear and desperation. It was hard to think through the screaming and I couldn't believe how stressed I was. To make matters worse, we were at the beach, away from home and without my tool kit of homeopathic remedies and herbs.

I can't do this.

I took a deep breath and tried to focus. Ok, maybe I can do this. I'm his mother and all he needs is for me to love him. He just needs to feel my arms around him and know I'm there. I sang songs and told stories. I tried to come off as being calm, despite the fear in my stomach. I wrapped us both in a blanket and stepped out on the balcony in the cool and salty night air. After a few hours of walking and rocking, he began to relax and finally fell asleep. I was relieved and exhausted. In the morning Nate took a photo of us, still asleep. (I would share it but my boob is hanging out.) In the photo, Z was sleeping with a smile on his face. No more fever and our baby was back to his bright, smiling self. And so was I.

We had made it through the first rough nighttime fever.    

As I walk this unknown path of motherhood, there are times I doubt myself. Times I'm not sure if I can do it or if I'm doing it right. I sometimes feel like I don't want to do it at all. What I do know is that I have a love for this boy like no other and that I love being his mother.

Yep, I think I can do this.

September 26, 2012

another one for the scrapbook

Zander got to meet Joel Salatin at the Mother Earth News Fair! I'd say he looks pretty happy about that.

September 6, 2012

to zander ~ love, mama

You're 9 months old today!

You wake up every day with the biggest smile on your face.  In fact, you smile all the time, at everyone. I wonder if you'll ever know how you make a person feel when you smile at them. It's just magical.

 You are in constant motion these days and just yesterday, much to our surprise, you learned how to climb the stairs. You're already cruising around the room holding onto furniture and today you stood on your own for a few seconds. I'm preparing myself for you to be an early walker. You're growing so fast so I'm trying to soak in every moment. I love nursing you and watching you sleep.

Your favorite things right now are riding on Daddy's shoulders and playing chase with him. I love watching the two of you crawl around the floor. You chase him and he chases you. You laugh and squeal. My heart swells watching you both.

I'm sorry that the last few months have been so hard. We hated having to uproot you from the only home you ever knew but I think you know that we weren't happy there. It's been really hard for us but you've been amazing though it all. You're so adaptable and you make it impossible to be depressed about the situation because after all, we have you.

We promise that whatever it takes, we're going to make our farm dream come true.

Happy 9 months, little one. You've captured our hearts.  

photo by Andy Johanson
photo by Andy Johanson
photo by Andy Johanson
photo by Andy Johanson

August 27, 2012

these days

The weeks leading up to our departure from the farm were hard. Really hard. So now that we're at our new (temporary) home, we've been trying to make up for that for Zander, and for us. The last few weeks here have been full of sighs of relief, exciting and fun times, family, smiles and laughter. And honestly, it's been great.

Zander is like a totally different person here. There was a major mold problem in our living situation on the farm. We knew it was an issue but thought we had it under control. We discovered just how bad it was when we were in the process of moving out. Mold was on everything and many things were totally ruined and had to be thrown away. We know that mold is no joke. Zander had just started really wanting to crawl but we just weren't comfortable letting him crawl around and touch all of the moldy surfaces that were being uncovered as we moved things. We tried to take him outside as much as possible to crawl around but moving is a big job and we wanted to finish quickly. We were trying to pack and move and he wanted to get into everything and unpack all of our boxes. I did a lot of our packing and moving with him on my back. Needless to say, it wasn't much fun for any of us.

Now that we're in a healthy house, Zander has really blossomed. He's crawling everywhere like a pro and loves to walk while pushing things across the floor. He has four teeth, he's talking, laughing and playing drums! He's so much happier which I'm sure has a lot to do with the fact that we're so much happier.

This new change has been especially great for Nate and Zander. It's like they're really getting to know each other. Nate is usually so busy on the farm and not around most of the day but right now, we all have a lot of time to spend with each other. He's growing up so fast and will only be this age once so I'm glad our family has this right now. Believe me, the weight of the situation is heavy. Leaving the farm mid-season was a difficult but necessary decision. We hope this transition is temporary as we hope to find a farm very soon but for right now, we're loving sharing these moments together.

I'll write more about why we left another time but as I said, it was really, really hard. So for now, we're just trying to let it all go and move on.

Who knew the boy LOVES to swing?

And the boy also loves his Opa.


My boys.

Someone had way too much fun hiking with Daddy.

Zander's view of an elephant at the zoo.
Zander's first concert - Jane's Addiction!

Jane Says.