This weekend we went fishing. We spent the whole day just relaxing by the river. When it was time to go home I went back to the car to load up. It seemed like it was taking forever for the others to come then finally Two comes out of the woods carrying a bouquet of wild flowers he and Proeun had picked for me. It was such a nice surprise.
Then today we were at the farm weeding. Some the weeds were actually pretty nice looking flowers. So Two says, ” Avril I am picking you flowers.”
She said, “Thank-you.” A little while later and after some thought she asked, “Two, are you my wife?”
“No!” was the quick reply. And he stopped picking flowers.
Avril said, “Aren’t you going to pick me any more flowers?” He said “no” again and she asked, “What kind of man are you?”
“I’m a farmer,” was the confident answer.
“Daddy will you pick me some flowers?” Of course the answer was yes. Once she had the bouquet in her hands she said, “Daddy can I get married with these?”
A few days ago I had a dream that President Obama asked me to be Secretary of State. This came at a time when I was feeling disheartened by the cost and logistics of purchasing land. Even purchasing on Contract for Deed or Rent To Own seemed beyond our financial abilities. Knowing that one day I would want to live in the country, have a lot of animals and room I was feeling like my dream could never be a reality–at least not while the children were young enough to grow up on a farm.
That night I had a dream. President Obama asked me to be Secretary of State. I was so excited. I was to be his right hand and travel and be very influential. My parents were happy and proud as were my in-laws. Then I thought about my children. The long hours they would be without their mother and the exhaustion. I imagined them growing up without me. I thought about my farm. And I turned the President down.
I think sometimes the Lord send us dreams to warn us of a wrong path (I have had these dreams before) but also at times he encourages us. I felt this dream was meant to be an encouragement that the work I am doing as a mother, including our lifestyle as farmers with a focus on sustainable and simple living was vastly important. Even an appointment from the President couldn’t replace the work the Lord appointed for me. I believe that the Lord has our best interests at heart and that he will guide us and bring us to where we should be at the right time. The dream was definitely an encouragement.
This weekend was the Chisago County Fair. I discovered the fun of county fairs a few years ago when doing an assignment for a local newspaper. They have most of the variety of animals you would see at the state fair, a lot of the food and are way cheaper to get into. The Chisago County Fair is free gate admission but you pay $2 to park so load up the car. You don’t have to worry about the wall to wall people at the state fair. Last year when we went to the state fair it was really nerve racking with the 2 little kids running around. The “Miracle of Birth” center was especially hard. Two has a real affinity for animals. His favorite is not surprisingly baby animals. At the “Miracle of Birth” center there were baby animals galore and he was running around like crazy trying to see and touch them all completely oblivious to the crowds or the fact that we were trying to keep up with him.
Friday we made a special effort to go to the Chisago county fair since I knew how much he would like it. I also wanted to do some research about land for rent and possibly moving up to Chisago county. I wasn’t prepared for what a great atmosphere it was. Most people knew each other. When standing in line to buy mini donuts I saw a man surprise his neighbor with a bag just to be nice.
In the animal barns I saw two teenage girls reclining against their cow laughing and talking. I wanted to take a picture of them but I was afraid to disturb them. Most of the animals are brought to the fair by children and young people through 4H. They are open and friendly and proud o their animals. The children were invited right up to baby cows, showed chickens and rabbits from their pens and they could stay with an animal as long as they wanted.
We went through the animal buildings twice, talked with lots of people and found out about some possibilities to rent land. There were many tears on the way home though I explained we had to go pick up Bpa (daddy). Two said with tears streaming down his face, “I don’t want to go back to the city!”
We have spent nearly every morning at the farm this week. That means getting up early, grabbing some fruit or toast on the way out the door, driving a half hour to the farm working for 1 1/2-2 hours and coming back. Eating and showering all before noon when I have to take Proeun to work for his next 8 hour shift. Coming up with quick, nourishing meals is not easy but we are learning how to use what is on hand to make “Farm Fast Food.” Here’s a recipe we make frequently. Starting with the Gravy.
Egg Fu Young Gravy
2 TBS oil
2 TBS flour (use whole wheat or white flour with the germ. Conventional white flour does not thicken well)
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 TBS Hoisin (Chinese Barbeque sauce)
Heat oil and add flour. Cook stirring frequently for 3-5 minutes otherwise the flour will taste raw. Add the broth and continue stirring, it should thicken pretty quickly. Add the Hoisin sauce salt and pepper to taste.
Egg Fu Young
Prepare about 2 cups of 3 or 4 vegetables. Today it was grated zucchini, onion and mung bean sprouts. I also like bell pepper and carrot in it–experiment. Garlic is another great addition. Saute the veggies briefly while you beat 4-6 eggs. We make a real quick, real simple version of egg fu young which is basically scrambled eggs. Pour the eggs over the veggies and cook through, try not to overcook. Farm fresh eggs have a lot of good flavor that is hidden when overcooked. Serve over rice, top with gravy. Serves 2 adults, 2 children and an extra serving packed for “lunch.”
Slowly almost imperceptibly busyness has crept back into our lives. With the busyness I have felt my passion for the moment slipping. My mind always wandered to the next task or tasks I hadn’t yet had time to finish. Writing deadlines loomed, weeds were making steady encroachments, plants needed attention, food needed to be prepared, the house cleaned, the dog walked, the list goes on. I was marching through my days with a goal of getting done and not enjoying the moment.
Saturday night I had a rare opportunity to reflect uninterrupted. Due to a busy day the children had not napped and were in bed early. Proeun had gone to his brother’s house to watch a game on TV and I was alone. Just that day I had received the newsletter from Empowered Living ministries. The main article was about happiness and contentment whatever your lot in life. At last year’s farm conference one of the instructors quoted Gandi saying that “Prosperity begins with contentment.” I don’t know if you noticed but busyness in addition to being a series of physical activities is also a state of mind that doesn’t mesh well with contentment. It is possible to have many things to do yet not feel busy.
Jim Hohnberger, founder of Empowered Living Ministries, shared the secret–make your goal for the day staying close to Jesus and focusing on character development rather then accomplishing a list of tasks.
Sunday there was much work to do at the farm. Proeun and I went with a list, separate lists with separate ideas of priorities. It didn’t go well until we changed the way we worked. Rather then doing separate jobs to maximize productivity we worked together closely and combined efforts on one task. We then realized we were actually multi-tasking, we were having quality time together and working, plus it was easier for us to manage the children in this way.
We decided to make dinner a special event. It took longer to prepare and was more complicated then a normal dinner but so much more enjoyable. And there are enough leftovers I don’t have to cook today. After dinner we went outside. The weather was beautiful. We put the kids in the 2nd hand Burley (bike stroller) we got for free and had a nice leisurely walk. I even got to hold my husband’s arm as we walked. When we returned the kids played in the sprinkler and we gardened. It wasn’t a task that needed to be done but an enjoyable moment. In our home garden we have many volunteer plants including about 5-6 tomatoes. We are anxious to see what variety they are and we are using techniques we learned on the farm to promote their health. After awhile we just sat and talked in the cool of the evening. Occasionally we pushed the kids on the swing or saw a weed to pull or a plant to prune but in that moment busyness melted away and contentment reigned. I am learning it doesn’t take much to be contented, it just takes a mind attentive to the moment.
I suppose it is human nature to get complacent, even comfortable. Those of us who live in the city and rarely see any wild life other then the occasional rabbit or bird don’t know how to look for wild animals or know when they are there when out in the woods. This weekend like many other people camping was our getaway of choice. We have a campground we love in northern Minnesota. 99% of the time this is our destination for camping. People had told us there were bears around and we should be careful. We noticed supposed “bear proof” boxes at surrounding campsites to put food in. But still we hadn’t seen any signs of them. Oh there was the scat, (poop) that looked like it could be bear. There were the occasional, very occasional sounds of large animals fleeing from us as we walked through the woods, but we were sure those were deer, maybe if we were lucky a moose. And we got careless with our food. We had started dumping cooking oil on the ground and throwing watermelon rinds off into the woods–for the animals.
Well the animals came. Most of my life animals have been only for companions, no real jobs that they were supposed to do. Then we got the chickens They obviously had a real job of giving us eggs. Next came the cats. Though they were gifts for the children and companion animals their job was ridding our home of mice. But Hiro, our Brittany seemed only good for a companion. He was intended for a hunting dog, but he needs training and that takes time and a location where he can be off leash and not distracted all of which are at a premium.
But on Sunday morning he did his job. All of a sudden at 6:30 in the morning he starts barking. Hiro does not bark so this was an unusual event. We started getting worried real fast. My mom was the first one up to look about the window of the trailer, she had the forsight to put on her glasses and there sitting by the fire pit was a black bear. it was about 250 lbs. It ran when it knew it was discovered, but not too far. We didn’t really feel like getting up after that so we stayed in bed. About 7:30 my dad was up and looked at the picnic table. The bear was back and standing at the table digging in our tupper tote. It had a jar of peanuts in its mouth when I saw it. It again ran off when it was discovered. But not far, only about 15 feet off in the woods where it not so quietly ate its peanuts. At that point Proeun and dad decided they should go outside to keep it from coming back. Luckily it didn’t .
Looking back we realized that Hiro had been acting strange a lot the day before. I guess we will have to learn to pay attention to our animals. And they all have a job.
My sister-in-law and I both love to cook. I remember fondly the day when I was around 11 and I saw a dish in a magazine I wanted my mother to try making for me. When I asked, “Can you make this for me?” she loving said, “Why don’t you try?” Apparently she had decided it was time for me to try my wings. And it probably was. Within a year I was doing the majority of the weekly cooking for the family, including making grocery lists and menu planning. My parents would come home from work to a completed meal.
Luoth, my sister-in-law has also shared a majority of the family cooking duties. Even now at family gatherings she is the one who spearheads the majority of the dishes. I am not too ashamed to say she remains my husband’s favorite cook.
For me writing, reading and cooking have always gone together. I decided what to cook based on what someone else had written about a dish. Sometimes I would be tempted by a picture or just the list of ingredients. Luoth grew up without books. I remember how stricking it was to me to visit my soon to be in-laws for the first time and realize there were no books anywhere in the house. Her first experiences with food were watching her mother cook over an open fire the fresh food of the day. Later in the refugee camp she learned how to make do with meager rations. After coming to America, the land of plenty, the food still did not flow freely on to their table, (which was really a mat on the floor). Proeun has a unique view on maternal love. He remembers that when there wasn’t enough food to eat and the children were more hungry then not his mother would chose not to eat so the children could have enough.
When I came into the family I struggled to learn how to cook to taste, how to just make up dishes off the top of my head with whatever I had on hand. Add to that that I was cooking with ingredients I had never heard of. If I was going to the store by myself my sister-in-law could occasionally struggle to remember the English words for an item.
Now I find myself with a much expanded culinary repertoire. Today I attempted to make stuffed bitter melon. I was surprised at how bitter they actually are. Not many cuisines use bitter as an taste to strive for. The taste sensation didn’t go over well with the children but I did pick up some brownie points wIth Proeun who often worries about his family’s culinary traditions being lost.
I have to credit Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang for their cookbook, Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America for helping me along. Many of the dishes are similar to my husband’s family kitchen and it helps those more used to learning to cook from books along the way. Proeun is now suggesting that Luoth and I write a similar book for the Cambodian kitchen.