Meet Sophie, Serafina, Bitsy and Lucy

Two Rhode Island Reds, two Buff Opingtons

Two Rhode Island Reds, two Buff Opingtons

Maria is with us on a visit that will stretch longer than we had originally anticipated.  We brought her up for a few days because the initial information we got about her transfer to BARC was that the paperwork would take about a week.  She has a 45 ‘overnight visit’ quota each year and we have so under-utilized that checkout privilege that we decided to enjoy our girl as much as possible before I headed with her to Ft Lauderdale.  Of course, the best laid plans and all that:  we are going to have to petition the court in Leon County (Tallahassee) and have a hearing to get the transfer approved.  We are doing what we can to avoid having to take her back to TDC in the meantime.

We had already been planning to get 4 biddies in March, the beginning of our small brood of egg-laying hens who will ultimately live in the Avian Palace.  With Maria here, needing to keep busy, we decided to bump up the arrival date.  A quick round of Facebook recommendations for where to purchase biddies yielded no results.  They don’t start coming into the local Farmer Coops until the middle to end of February.  Craigslist, though, pointed us to Hamilton, GA, a small hamlet nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians.  We saw an ad for female chicks of the breeds I’ve been wanting to get–Rhode Island Reds and Buff Opingtons, both good egg layers and fun birds to have around.  Yes, Google Maps said the drive was 2 hrs, 11 minutes but what the hay–I can work early in the morning and late at night right now and this was a nice adventure for the family.

Chuck and James from the Prattville Farm Center

Chuck and James from the Prattville Farm Center

Yesterday, Maria and I went to the Prattville Farm Center. James, pictured on the right, greeted us when we came in and helped us find the feeder, water dispenser and heating lamp that we needed, along with 5 lbs of starter chick food to get us started right.  PFC is family owned and I don’t have the words to paint the picture of our time with James.  It wasn’t just that he knew a whole lot about chickens. He was the opposite of a slick salesperson wanting to sell us a bunch of stuff.  What I could tell was how much he enjoys his job, how quick and generous to share  what he knows about biddies and what he knows about folks like Maria and I, who don’t really have a clue what we are doing.  No artifice, no pretense, no polish.  The real thing.

The four chicks we’ve brought home are beyond deliciously cute.  One seems a little more tired, a little more fragile than the others, but they run around the plastic bin that for now will be their brooder, chirping, peeping and keeping Maria and me fascinated.  Maria and I already had the conversation about the possibility that one or all may die.  Part of what I appreciate about living in a farming community is the forthrightness with which death is fit into life.  I am trying to share that with our girl in this time we have together. If all goes well, though, we will have a set of hens that will look like this:

Though we have had a couple of rough patches this week, dealing with the disappointment and letdown of the delay with the move to BARC, we are so incredibly grateful for the wonder of this day. One more shot of pure awesomeness:




Last week I went to see Selma with my daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, and perhaps I will write about that experience one day. This week, the news is that Obama is going to be here to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. I drive by the memorial in honor of Viola Liuzzo very, very regularly. And on my way into town to do my grocery shopping most weeks, I read the signs that mark the places where the marchers stopped to camp out and sleep along the way, 50 years ago.

I’ve written and preached elsewhere about my own efforts to live with the truth of how intractable and complex race issues are in our country. It seems like the most faithful, honest thing I can do for now is live with the tension and profound un-easy-ness of constant, mostly silent, reminders all around me of profound human brokenness. It is hard to fight the impulse to try to figure out a way to “fix it”—such arrogance on my part!

I went to Eucharist at Church of the Good Shepherd in Montgomery this morning. Good Shepherd is a traditionally African American parish and I sat in a pew made by former slaves. Here, as at St. Paul’s in Lowndesboro, I was acutely, almost painfully, aware of the weight of history. I was also aware of how comforted and nurtured I was by the music we sang from Lift Every Voice and Sing, a hymnal of the Episcopal Church that collects the traditional hymns and sacred music of the African American community. I have been in need of kindness this week, and the music and people at Good Shepherd were just that—kind.

I sat in the same pew as a beautiful little girl named Genesis who smiled shyly and was as curious about me as Ella, who is another absolutely precious little girl I have come to know at St. Paul’s. And I prayed for my own daughter, Maria, who, even as an 18-year-old, has that same kind of inquisitiveness in her eyes.

I am the white mother of a young woman of color. The history of her people is different, but also marked by enslavement and suffering. When we adopted Maria, she received a whole lot of beautiful—and blond and blue-eyed—dolls. At the time, I still had my fancy job at FedEx and FAO Schwarz had a store close to our house in Ft Lauderdale so I was able to afford to buy a doll that looked like her. Maria loved Baby fiercely during her childhood and as she moved into adolescence, put her aside. She did not want to take her to BARC or TDC and I am still secretly thankful because her decisions continue to allow me to stop and look at Baby, and even lift her into my arms, whenever I find myself aching for my girl.


For reasons that have nothing to do with the color of her skin or her ethnic background, I have had to learn, stumble, stand up, forgive, and try again to learn how to love my child. I no longer even pray to get it right—I just pray for the strength to never, ever quit on her or my own capacity to learn some more about love. None of that work has been easy. It is also the most beautiful, meaningful and important work I have done in my life and it has drawn me deeper into God’s love in ways I can’t even begin to describe.

Perhaps. At best, this is only an extraordinarily frail possibility. But perhaps, what I have learned about loving Maria is what we all have to learn about loving each other across our differences, across our failures, across all the intractable complexities that deceive us when they insist that true kinship is impossible for humankind. I don’t know. But I do know this: On the days when I got to celebrate Eucharist in Spanish with a community where my daughter could look around and not feel like a stranger, my heart sang. I loved being at Good Shepherd this morning. It has been pure grace and gift to lead worship at St. Paul’s. This work of vocation and ministry is as messy and unclear and unsettling as all get out. But, God above, what an amazing new way in faith I am finding here in Alabama…

Just for today

If there was such a thing as magic, it would mean I could hold my breath and that thing we call time would stop. For forever, I would be where a cup runs over.

Last night our crew got in late, bleary-eyed and stiff-Charlie and Penny, Robert, Gracie and Maria up from Tallahassee for a visit for the long weekend. I lay next to Maria as she told the stories of the past couple of weeks and slowly fell asleep, her hand in mine in the dark.

This morning, Sherod and I are sitting with our coffee and our friends, Daisy and Spot, staying warm by the fire. We can hear our girl Maria’s deep, even breathing as she sleeps in her room nearby. Upstairs, the rest of the fam is also asleep except Charlie, who left way before dawn to go hunting.



We had about 4 hours of sunshine on Saturday. Otherwise, it has been a full week of grey and dreary days.  Low of 28 tonight.

Buck having an early dinner

Buck having an early dinner

Hard to capture just how grey it is

Hard to capture just how grey it is

Old Selma Road

Old Selma Road

The bales start looking worn out

The bales start looking worn out

It will be nice to see the sun again–they say tomorrow.

Letting life speak

I tried to write the letter this morning as carefully as possible. It feels awkward and uncomfortable, even if necessary. Many of the folks at TDC, and especially the Executive Director, have worked with us for 7 months in ways I appreciate. And yet, the final, undeniable reality is that we simply do not trust that our daughter, so vulnerable as it is, has or will receive the care she needs. It is hard to say to a very nice person, “this isn’t working.” It is hard to mediate that reality to the state agency folks who then have to approve a transfer for Maria, without just blasting TDC out of the water, or, on the other hand, not laying out clearly all the issues that brought us to this point. I think I’ve done the best I could and I will need to live with the remainder. As soon as we are able to finalize the paperwork, Maria is returning to live at BARC in Fort Lauderdale.

We’ve agonized over this decision. It’s been so hard to consider we’d have to live with even more geographic distance between ourselves and our daughter. Fort Lauderdale is a part of Sherod’s and my past, not our future. If it were up to me, and meaning no offense to the good people we served and knew there, I would never, ever again set foot in Southeast Florida if given a choice. Some changes are just healthier managed that way. But BARC is a truly remarkable ICF, Maria is joyful at the prospect of being back there. I remain convinced it was the first place our daughter ever felt truly safe–safe in a way she could not feel even with us. She lacked the verbal skills to express the cost of leaving such safety but it is writ large in the language of despair spelled out by the scars of her self-injury all up and down her arms. She will carry those scars the rest of her days.

We are working out a plan for her to have regular visits with us here at the farm and allowing ourselves to let faith and hope carry us through all the fears. We are also allowing our new life to speak its truth. Today, Sherod and I spent over three hours doing yard work, none of it fancy or special, and all of it so wonderfully satisfying and energizing. After a week of grey days followed by a bitter cold snap, the sun was out and we worked hard enough to break into that light sweat that means you don’t have to wear so many layers, even if it is still in the 40’s and very low 50’s outside.

Turns out that the small wagon we can hitch up to the tractor makes the tractor into a little dump truck. Today, we spent time moving the pine straw closer to where we will use it on our flower beds. My job was to take off the wagon’s tailgate, operate the lever that tilts the bed of the wagon and give the Mallowman the signal when it was time for him to carefully move the tractor  forward so the rest of the load could slip down and out on the ground.

When we were children, my older brother Hans very occasionally allowed me to play with his Tonka dump truck. This is waaaayyyyy more fun.   Early this morning I also ordered the seeds for our garden and as we worked, we saw how some of our bushes and trees are beginning to show hints of budding. In 2014, the last freeze date was March 1. That means we are somewhere less than 2 months away from those early days of spring.

There will be more grief to find our way through. But maybe not so much as at other points in this journey. And now, at least, there is a life that is bigger and broader and filled with fun along with the sorrow of the moment. For that too, I am grateful beyond words…


A pretty big load


Tailgate off? Check


Pull the lever…


And we have lift-off!

At “La Finquita” today

Today I am thankful for flannel-lined jeans, wool socks and lots of layers. I suspect I will be even more glad tomorrow and the next day. I have to go to a meeting at the Diocesan offices in Birmingham on Thursday and with wind-chill thrown in, forecasters are are calling for single-digit temperatures around the time I need to leave from here.  I have had to bring my antique roses that are still in containers in and Dot will sleep in the garage the next three nights.

Preparing for the meeting on Thursday has used a big part of my day. Nonetheless, I was able to work on ‘’, choosing the plants we will grow this summer and laying out the beds using a gridded scale model of the garden plot we are preparing. After I had completed both steps, I was given the option to allow the program to recommend a plan for the layout of the garden. In part, the program considers crop rotation over a 4 year period, something important for maintaining the health of the soil. I am planting flowers (marigolds, sunflowers, lavender and chamomile), a few herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil, cilantro) and about 18 different kinds of fruits and vegetables, from okra to yellow watermelon, to eggplant to pole beans and jalapeños.


Not only have I been given a schematic with detailed instructions about spacing and depth for each type of plant; I will also get a weekly to-do list for the entire growing and harvesting cycle. I will begin to plant seeds in our ‘semi-hothouse’ week after next!


This evening, the sunset was spectacular as I walked



And at journey and day’s end, home was waiting…


A farm dog in Alabama

Farm life is beyond wonderful for Ms. Daisy.  Every morning finds hope brimming in her heart once again:  “by golly, today is the day I know, I just know,  I’m gonna catch a squirrel!”

We open the front door and she tears out in hot pursuit, only to end up at the foot of our big oak tree, convinced she might be able to exercise enough Jedi mind control on at least one squirrel to get him or her back down for another fun chase.  After a while, it’s off to roam a bit, partake of the veritable smörgasbord around her: so many different kinds of poop–cow, horse, cat, squirrel–the choice is limitless, so little time.  When she comes back and sits at the front door and barks to be let in, her breath is nasty, nasty, nasty and she is happy, happy, happy.

Cold days aren’t a problem.  You just snuggle into the coats and cushions in one of the chairs close to the fire and sleep the day away, opening an eye only if there is the kind of rustle that suggests a truck ride might be in the offing.  It takes no effort at all to drift back to sleep.

Is that me you're talking to?

Is that me you’re talking to? I’m about to have my beauty nap before going to bed…

The only time it is less than heaven is when those human companion/farmer types decide to leave and leave one behind.  But even then, all is not lost.  The altar of death is a great place to visit on those occasions and God help the kid who decided to leave her stocking candy at nose level, or forgot to put away skivvies; even pocket change is fair game.  It’s puzzling why the humans would express dismay–after all, this could all have been avoided with some inclusiveness…

The Scene of the Crime...

The Scene of the Crime…

Yes, life as a dog on the farm is mighty fine…

Gifts and a groan

Ozark. Alabama, Jan 1, 2015

Ozark. Alabama, Jan 1, 2015

Starting on the 29th, we noticed some ‘precursor behaviors’–the kinds of behaviors that serve as an early warning that our girl is going to a not-so-good place. None of it was ramped up enough to require a lot of response–mainly, we had to find ways to redirect her and that strategy worked.  By the 31st, though, my own ‘early warning system’ had kicked in; it’s a small but distinct tightening of my muscles and hyper-vigilance.  Again, though, it wasn’t so bad that either Sherod or I felt we had to have a powwow  to review how things were going.  Maria has been sleeping until 9 or 10 most mornings so yesterday, when she woke up at about 6:30, I became even more attentive. By 7:45, she was sitting on the sofa in our den looking like the darkest, most ominous cloud imaginable.  At first, she sat there in stony silence.  Then she started trying to start a fight and about half-way into that, when we wouldn’t bite, she said, “Fine!  I don’t care. I want to go to Tallahassee today”.

Out in the country on the morning of January 1st, you don’t mess around.  Within half an hour of that conversation, we were loading her and her gear into the car and heading down the road to Tallahassee.  In the meantime, she had moved to a very different place emotionally.  As I packed her things and she got dressed, she stopped and looked at me, apologized because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings and asked for the reassurance that she was doing the right thing.  It was easy to reassure her. It took steely resolve on my part not to weep.  There is enormous progress in her ability to hit a wall and not lose control and become either physically or verbally abusive with us.  We were able to have her with us for two whole weeks–the longest we’ve had since we placed her at BARC in Ft. Lauderdale back in June of 2012.

A little less than four hours later, as we were turning into TDC, Maria said, “home, sweet home.”  Before we left, she was insistent that we come to her room because she had forgotten her Christmas presents for us–a funny Christmas mug for Sherod, a set of Christmas-themed potholders and dishtowels for me. As soon as she had given us those gifts, she was ready for us to leave. Usually, one or the other of us makes the trek to Tallahassee and back. All my resolve sustained me until Sherod and I walked out of House 4, where Maria lives.  And then, I could only thank God that both of us had made the trip, that Sherod was there to lean against because I basically fell apart.

Along with resolve, these years have built up our resilience so it didn’t take me long to pull myself back together, climb in the car and not play the game of looking back as we pulled out of the driveway at TDC and headed home.  The drive gave us time to talk.  The irony that the new year found us back in Florida and then headed right back out, was hard to miss.  There was precious little traffic on the road so it was an easy drive in both directions and we got home in time to be able to catch the Alabama-Ohio State game.  We make the drive so regularly now that we know the sights well.  Yesterday, it was particularly redemptive and graceful to get to groan at this sign. It never fails to amuse me.