Monday, January 31, 2011

Going On

     This January marked the 92nd anniversary of Boston’s Great Molasses Flood. It sounds implausible but on January 15, 1919 it took 21 lives, injured 150 people, killed horses, destroyed buildings and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. At that time molasses was a top commodity. A tank had been built on Commercial Street near Keany Square to hold over 2 million gallons. It was a huge tank and it provided a great financial advantage for the Purity Distilling Company. Tragically, its construction was rushed. For a few years after it was built groaning noises could be heard coming from it. Fermentation of the molasses on an unseasonably warm day caused the tank to explode and a wall of molasses 30 feet high rolled through the streets at an estimated 35 mph. The force of the explosion knocked a nearby house off its foundation, took out an overhead railway and shattered windows for a mile. People drowned in a wave of molasses. All for a company’s greed and pride.

     I don’t remember learning about this event in school. I read about it last year in an almanac that Marie got for Christmas. I later read a book about it, “The Dark Tide,” by Stephen Puleo. I’m not sure what intrigued me most about the event: the bizarre tragedy or the sadness of the loss of life. Perhaps it was the reminder that life can change in an instant.

     Ever since my late husband’s death I have been aware of the fragility of life and of our plans. When asked about my thoughts on the end of the world they come quite easily. Regardless of the second coming or the apocolypse or the end of the world, all we truly have is now. We don’t know if we’ll die tomorrow or next year or in thirty years. We don’t know how much time we have left any more than we know when the world will come to an end. Even if someone’s prophesy were correct and the date was set, our time is uncertain.

     What is important is how we live the here and now. To seek truth, to love as God loves us. To live prudently and wisely. To teach our children the same…to be moral, giving and forgiving people. As Christians, to live as Christ taught us.
     Invariably, we’ll fall short. But we must try. Apathy or dispair are not good options. Tragedy and loss are difficult. I have lost close loved ones, I know the pain and the difficulty of going on. My late mother-in-law lost her son. I saw her pain. I saw her faith and the strength that came from it. Years later after more terrible losses and multiple, serious health problems, people asked her how she kept going. She answered, “I could give in and become depressed and be of no good to anyone. But there are people who still need me, and I have to look at the blessings that God has given me, what I have, not what has been lost.”

     Ninety-two years ago the world changed suddenly for many Bostonians. Some lost their livelihood, some their homes, some lost their loved ones. I pray that God gave them the strength to go on. I hope that they were able to see blessings and to live to see more.

Through our losses or suffering or difficulties, I pray that we are able to see all of our blessings, too.
God bless you,

The Abbey Farm

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Goat Theology


      Have you ever wondered why goats get such a bad rap in the Bible? I guess I didn't really either until I owned them. We have a herd of Nubian goats on the farm. My friend, Christy, owns Providence Farm, an amazing family farm that produces goat milk, cheese, goat milk soap, artisan breads and more. Christy is from Alaska and is one of the most fascinating people I know. Her goats are fat and beautiful and healthy. Of course I would seek her help when we decided that we wanted a healthier milk alternative. Goat milk has a smaller protein which is better metabolized by humans than cow’s milk. I was interested in trying something that had no hormones and that would be fun to produce. Marie and Susanna were game and Christy helped us get started.

     Goat milk is very creamy; it is naturally homogenized. If you want cream you have to have a special cream separator. I defy anyone to sense a “goaty” (caproic acid) smell in the milk, as long as the goats are healthy and NOT kept with a buck. Does (females) have an almost lovely lanolin smell. Bucks--well--not nice. We do own bucks and they are usually kept separate from the does. When we went to Christy’s to pick up our first goats I fell in love with a different kid, “Starbuck.” His name had nothing to do with the company or coffee. His mother was “Star” and he was a “buck,” and that’s how he earned his name. Fluffy and cafĂ©-au-lait colored, small and snuggly and sweet, I did think of a warm, creamy cup of coffee. I was taken. He’s big and stinky now, but still sweet and quite a character. We had him pastured with the horses for a while. He was very affectionate with Snowball the pony. Snowball was barely tolerant.

     Thanks to Starbuck, we’ve had kids born on the farm now, too, and they are really adorable. They are such affectionate animals, really more like dogs. They call to Marie as soon as they hear her coming out to feed. Susanna soon lost interest in the work (it can be demanding when they‘re in milk), though still thinks they’re "cute." Marie is the goat farmer. Really, she gets the credit for any aspect of The Abbey Farm being called an actual farm. She feeds all the animals and manages their care…horses, goats, dogs, cats, chickens, assorted strays and injured wild. As to the latter, she has successfully rescued birds, turtles, bunnies and even a fawn.

     So back to my original question: Sheep vs. Goats. Lambs, I know, relate to Jesus in the Bible. He was the Pascal Lamb. He was innocent and loved by His Father who sacrificed Him for our salvation. In the Old Testament God promised Abraham, who for so long was childless, that he would have descendants that would "number the stars." Yet God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Of course God stopped him. The typology to Christ is all throughout the Old Testament. The Jews sacrificed lambs on Passover and at other times. They were instructed to pick the finest lamb of the herd and then have it live in their house for two weeks. Can you imagine how attached the children and even adults would become to this soft, adorable creature? The sacrifice, when made, was not easy. Christ’s sacrifice was not easy.

     Lambs are as cute as goat kids, but grown sheep to me are kind of flighty and hard to get close to. The goats are perhaps not as cloud-like or stuffed-animal-like, but just have more personality and affection. So why are they “separated from the sheep” like “chaff from wheat” in the Bible?

     I asked Christy. I figured she’d be a little indignant, too. She surprised me. “It makes so much sense, Suzy.” She wasn’t offended. Here’s the Theology lesson she taught me: “Sheep stay out of trouble by staying with the herd. They’re much harder to single out by predators. They listen to their master.” Hmmm, I had to think about that. “Goats, while more inquisitive--and maybe because of it--get themselves in trouble and sometimes don’t want to be together. Separated, they’re an easier target.”

     Made total sense to me.  I thought of the allusion to human behavior. Intelligence and inquisitiveness and passion are strengths. It is the desire to put one’s pride above caution and self above others that can lead to problems. There’s fuel for a year long course in Theology about this one. God made us capable and intelligent and quite amazing. We can change our world for the good or for the bad. The important thing, it seems to me, is foresight, caution, caring for the world we have, love of every person, and the consideration of God’s intention and design.

     All that from goats! I never thought I’d own them, but they’re pretty special here on the Abbey Farm. Good for milk and fun and affection and lessons in life and love.

God bless you!

The Abbey Farm

Monday, January 24, 2011

Memories of Batavia

     We all have favorite childhood memories. Many of mine took place in Batavia, Ohio. Aunt Irma and Uncle Carl managed a tobacco farm with a big farmhouse, a beautiful lake, a large barn and lots of outbuildings. In any given year there were hutches of rabbits, dogs, and cats with litters of kittens. We drove each year from Maryland to visit for a week. It was kid nirvana. Especially the lake. The men would go frog-gigging at night and the Moms would fry up the legs for a feast. It probably sounds awful, but they really were tasty. I always wanted to go along with the men but was told it was too dangerous. Flashlights, darkness, tipsy boats, deep water and long spears called gigs--did make for a haunting image in my young mind.

     We spent idyllic hours fishing from the bank of the lake. My cousins Steve and Jeff were a lot of fun. Other cousins came to visit while we were there. Along with my brothers we’d fish, play in the old tobacco barn, run around like nuts inside the farmhouse, and play wiffle-ball or Sunday-ball in the yard. There was a long gravel lane with grass growing in the center that headed up to the farm. A screened-in porch wrapped around the frame house. One of the doors had an old-fashioned doorbell that you would twist like a wind-up music box, only it was bigger and made a very loud, brassy sound.

     I can’t remember exactly why the house had two kitchens, but one had to be entered from the outside. There was a second refrigerator in it and (sorry, Aunt Irm!) we would sneak in and snitch food and soda pop. Grandma Breiner would make the family’s favorite dessert, Dobos Torte, and store it in the extra refrigerator. Nothing escaped our kid eyes. Dobos Torte was and is far better than any dessert. Created by Hungarian baker Jozsef Dobos in 1906, my Grandmother’s version had about a dozen thin sponge cake layers filled with chocolate-coffee buttercream and iced with a thick Hungarian chocolate frosting. Sliced thinly, it was an experience like no other. It melted in your mouth and left you smiling for hours.

     When the smiles wore off and clarity returned, we snuck into the second kitchen. We were stealthy. We’d open the refrigerator as softly as we could (back then they had big clunky latches). With a knife slipped from the main kitchen we’d make precise, surgical cuts so that no one would ever know we had been there. I can imagine the taste now.

     As a young adult I baked Dobos Tortes for a local restaurant. At that time there were no warnings about using raw egg in dishes; the buttercream and icing incorporated them. Thankfully, no one was ever reported ill. It was the hit on the menu. Later I adapted the recipe and stopped using raw eggs. Not exactly the same, the buttercream a little softer, but still pretty heavenly. A couple years ago I sent one in to Bruce’s office for the Christmas Party and Dessert Contest. I knew it would be a shoe-in. I told Bruce to be sure to refrigerate it until about an hour before serving. I arrived late to the party, the judging had been done. The Dobos Torte was slumped and resembled pudding squishing out of the sides of a stack of askew pancakes. It didn’t win. Bruce was sure I told him expressly not to refrigerate it. It was okay. A lot of people still came up and said it tasted really good. We still laugh.

     We’re due for a Dobos Torte. I wish I hadn’t started Weight Watchers just yet, or that I’d thought to make it a few weeks ago. It must be about 157 (plus) points on the PointsPlus Program. But then, some things are just worth it; I’ll make it soon and post pictures and the recipe.

     My children will have some of the wonderful memories I had from my childhood. They are growing up on a farm with a big house, a barn, a pond and lots of animals. Though I don’t think their mother will fry up frog’s legs, I will make Dobos Torte for them. And, no doubt, they will try to sneak thin slices when no one is looking. I know I will.

God bless you with good memories,

The Abbey Farm

Thursday, January 20, 2011

History of The Abbey Farm

     Long ago in the mid-1800’s Benedictine Monks came to Atchison, Kansas. Determined to spread the Gospel and to serve God in their work and prayer, they built a monastery and a church on the bluffs above the Missouri River. By 1890 they started work on a farm that would produce most of their food and supplies. Self-sufficiency wasn’t  trendy as it is now, it was necessity. They carved huge blocks of limestone from the property and built a house and barn. They planted a vineyard, built fence, started beehives, stocked cattle and hogs and chickens, tended a large garden, and settled into a laborious and virtuous routine.

     The monks and brothers ran the farm for a couple of decades and then decided they needed a farm manager. Over the next 50 years a succession of families inhabited the place but it was always worked by the Brothers. Charlie Wagner, now an octogenarian, was a child of one of the families. His father managed the farm for some 15 years in the thirties and forties. Charlie visits us from time to time. It is always a treat. His mind is sharp, his eyes bright and his tongue spins tales of boyhood adventures. He remembers the Brothers coming to work every day from the monastery in the horse-pulled cart, milking dairy cows, slaughtering hogs and working the fields. He remembers galloping on horseback with his brother Bert, ducking through the narrow, low bridge that went under the farm road to round up the cattle from the south pasture. He says they were amazing days, and I believe him.

     Charlie's mother worked hard. There were ten children. There were usually boarders in the house, hired farmhands. She worked to cook and clean and wash the clothing for all of them. Water was funneled into a cistern that was used for household chores and washing. A hand-dug, stone-lined well about 75 feet deep was used for drinking water. Charlie says his mother was very generous. One day about a dozen migrant workers showed up on the property. He wasn’t sure if it was fear or caution in her eyes, but she had Charlie sit them down under the shade of a tree and sent out trays of sandwiches and fresh, cold milk. Rested, fed and obliged, they continued on their way.

     Years went by. More families lived in the house. The monks said Mass in the upper room of the house, the children played in the spacious third floor. The farm produced all that it could until the day of the supermarket, when the fields lay fallow and the last of the livestock was sold. In the sixties the Galley family rented the farm and lived not in the main house, for it had become inhabitable, but in what was formerly called the “Bee House.” That was a frame house, originally attached to the main stone structure, but moved farther back on the property early on. The Galley’s were a large, prolific family, active at St. Benedict’s Church and the local Maur Hill School. The Monks sold the farm in the seventies and the land was subdivided.

     The Benedictines continue to own an adjacent parcel of a few hundred acres, leased to a local farmer. The Abbey and Monastery in Atchison are thriving. Benedictine College has earned a reputation of one of the top ten Catholic Colleges in the nation. Thirty acres remain with the original house and Bee House. In the nineties it was sold to a couple who truly infused life back into the place. The Denney’s were visionaries and took the house, which by now was damaged and populated with snakes, and renovated it into a beautiful, livable home. They decorated it with antiques and treasures they’d found at auctions and markets and opened a Bed and Breakfast. People came to get away from the city or to have a tranquil stay when visiting the historical events and attractions of the area. It was a unique experience to stay in a one-time monastery. The grounds are peaceful, the house still has its original crimped tin roof and cupola with bell tower and cross on top.

     We were blessed to purchase the farm in 2004. We were asked if we would run it as a Bed and Breakfast; we said only for our growing family of eight. And grow it did. Four more children have been born, an even dozen in the house. Benedictines are hospitable and when we bought the farm we made a promise to God that we would be, too. Yeo Joo from Korea lived with us for a year, Renata from Brazil for four, Johanna from Germany for a semester of school and currently, Bobby from Thailand. The Bee House has been home to four college girls and two families since we moved here. All have contributed richly to life here on the Abbey Farm.

     There are many more stories I’ll share over time. I wanted you to know the history of the place. It has been populated by Godly men and women. The cloud of witnesses over this place is great. It is comforting to know that people who dedicated themselves to God in work and prayer and service and hospitality filled these walls for over a hundred years. With God's grace, we’ll try to live up to their example.

May God bless you,

The Abbey Farm

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happy New Year!

      Hiatus over. Wow, what a busy month. We took the family to Branson after Christmas and for the New Year. Branson, Missouri is hailed as the Las Vegas of the Midwest. There are many performers, shows and acts. Our family took in the Chinese Acrobats, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, the Titanic Museum, the Dinosaur Museum and more. My highlight was discovering Table Rock Lake with Marie. It’s hard to get the ocean out of the East-Coaster; I love just about any water and this man-made lake was gorgeous. The Corps of Engineers built the dam to protect surrounding areas from seasonal flooding and with the idea that it would provide boating, swimming, fishing and recreation for the locals and future tourists. It was beautiful even in the middle of winter.

A peaceful moment

Bruce and Max, Christmas

Christmas Morning

She's a Roeder; telling how she see's it

Playgrounds are a good thing, even on vacation

They didn't tell Mom that the Dinosaur Museum was dangerous!

A lone island on the lake

Marie on Table Rock

Jim keeping up with his big sisters!

18 month olds don't need Branson, just a faucet...

Bobby's first real snow. Of course, we put him to work!
      Since coming home we’ve been kept busy by a winter storm, three snow days which the kids loved, wedding planning, the Settlers of Catan/Cities & Knights edition, the “Roeder-Roto” (Margaret had a stomach bug, probably a roto-virus…bad stuff!), and the general happenings of your basic farm with 12 people in the house.

     Time. Where does it go? Why can’t there be more of it? How do we get all that we need and want done? I’ve been stressing over these issues. My brother had me read a book called, “Getting It Done,” by David Allan. I highly recommend it. My files and office are in much better order and I’m slowly getting better with the general management of the place. I’ve also been reading, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Body,” by Daniel Amen, MD. Lots of interesting info on brain chemistry, neurotransmitters and health. I hope he’s not a quack. I don’t have time to waste!

     I wondered this morning how I'd feel about time if I found that I didn’t have much of it left? What if the last days involved pain and suffering? I realized in a split second that the suffering would then be a given or a constant, so that my attitude and interactions with my family would be paramount. The right thing would be to choose to go out being an inspiration to them, letting them know how loved they are--more than my life itself. But really, I don’t have to have a fatal diagnosis or suffering or pain to make those choices now. Life is hard. We’re living in a time where gratification is instant and we expect it to be so. Where people are dealing with cyber-community more than real community and are, in truth, less and less nice with each other. There are more and more decisions and demands on us. So, what is most important? How I live the here and now, trying to do right, and searching for truth.

     This morning I read a quote from St. Augustine (Sermon 169, 18):

     “On earth we are wayfarers, always on the go. This means that we have to keep on moving forward. Therefore be always unhappy about what you are if you want to reach what you are not. If you are pleased with what you are, you have stopped already. If you say; ‘It is enough,’ you are lost. Keep on walking, moving forward, trying for the goal. Don’t try to stop on the way, or to go back, or to deviate from it.”

     I felt relief in knowing that my feelings that “I should be a lot further along at this point in my life” are perhaps okay. We’re all works in progress. May you progress steadily in 2011!


The Abbey Farm