These are the last photos I have to share from my time at Pike Valley Farm in Kentucky.
Although Kristin was on light bed rest, her active soul was going nearly stir crazy. She wanted to show me the lake. You get to the lake from the top of the hill, climbing down steep stone steps to the little cove and dock owned by the farm. She says during the hot summer, they came here almost every day. I can see why. It’s cool and soothing, and awakens your soul the way only nature can.
And of course, our sons, Zeke and Jax, were in heaven. The sunshine, the grass, the fall leaves, the shadows, the light. It was cool in the shade and hot in the sun. Perfect.
These, and the photos of Kristin playing the piano, are the closest I got to maternity portraits while I was there. I think she looks beautiful pregnant. In fact, I think pregnancy makes all women prettier. New life is being generated, and it’s visible.
I never got posed portraits of the family…. Daniel would come in after dark many days. And sometimes, posing for pictures just isn’t what you feel like doing. So instead, I tried to capture as many of the candid, daily-life happenings that occurred constantly while I was there. To see inside their beautiful life, and cozy home, and deep, deep love for each other.
Honestly, I think these are the best kind of photos. The ones where you dress everyone up in coordinating outfits, and stand awkwardly in positions you’d never assume in real life, smiling your fake smile – they’re fine. But they’re not always alive. Sometimes they can be, if everyone can somehow relax, and the jester of the family cracks a good joke, and the baby cries so the momma kisses her on the forehead. Then the alive part of the life gets captured. I was thrilled to see, and photograph, everyday life in the Pike home. I think the photos truly reflect who they are, and it’s something beautiful and treasured.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to visit, and call folks like this friends.
Kristin’s dad came to visit for an afternoon. He brought scrapbooks and treasures from a grandmother who had recently passed away. Some jewelry and mementos in a little box. Extremely old letters with handwriting and vocabulary so antiquated it was difficult to make out.
We celebrated Zeke’s belated birthday and Grandpa gave him the BEST gift. A giant box full of crayons and paper and various art supplies, plus skiens and skiens of rope. Zeke loves to tie things up, and Grandpa gave him enough rope to tie to his heart’s delight.
Then, because he is a musician and a music teacher, Grandpa played the ukelele. He made up silly songs involving Zeke and Jax and various animals. Zeke kept begging for more and playing along with his kazoo. He made us all laugh. Jax was enthralled.
And then there were tickles and giggles galore.
Giant container for chicken feed (stood about least two or three stories high).
Queen Anne’s Lace or Poison Hemlock?
So many beautiful things to see. Wild flowers. Seedling plants. Free-roaming animals. Rustic country charm. Many of those living on the farm are not too far from poverty-level income. It’s hard to start something like this, hard to build and grow it into something profitable. But they make it beautiful. And you forget that some live in the milking shed so their house is always full of flies and smells like cow, and doesn’t have a toilet or a laundry room. Instead you hear the sweet cow chomping on her hay, smell the fresh green plants growing all around and outside, and see the hand-washed clothes billowing away on the line, and it all looks beautiful. There’s something about being immersed in the land and the sunshine that God created that makes everything peaceful and pretty.
The three milk cows grazing.
Baby calves grazing. The one with white mark on the forehead is a cross-breed of the brown/white cows and the black/white cows. I thought it was beautiful, as cows go.
Flo. One of the milk cows. Her milk was delicious.
Tiny baby chicks.
Larger baby chicks. Almost large enough to be moved to the outdoor coops where they can eat grass and bugs and chicken feed to their heart’s delight. These are meat chickens.
Pigs. Eventual pork.
When I shot this photo, I only saw that it focused on the fence. When I got home and enlarged it on the computer, I saw there was a cobweb on the part of the fence my camera focused on. Classic Charlotte’s Web!
Baby piglets, out in the field with their mama. She’s a dull color from rolling in the mud. Daniel told me pigs are one of the few mammals with no sweat glands. So when it’s hot out, they roll in the mud to keep cool and prevent overheating. Aside from this they are considered clean animals. As a group, they choose a toilet area within their large fenced space, and everyone uses it. This is distinct from animals like horses, cows, chickens, deer, and many others, who just poop wherever, whenever, even if it’s near where a fellow animal is grazing. These pigs were also very friendly. The momma came up to me and rubbed up on my leg like a cat. Which means I had mud all over my pants in a very short time.
Piglets a little older. Old enough to be brought into the barn.
Jax and I carried a boxful of rotten tomatoes over to the piglets. They’re used to momma’s milk, so they nuzzled and licked at the tomatoes, but didn’t consume them completely. I should have saved some for the larger hogs, as they would have gobbled them right up.
One snoozing in the corner.
Another checking us out.
On a different day, the morning was cool, and they were huddled together, end to end, for warmth.
Others lapping up milk.
I love how baby girl’s sonogram photos can be seen here, hanging up on the wall next to the piano. That same baby girl, showing through her momma’s belly, listening to the music.
How beautiful it is, the body that carries and nourishes a child.
Zeke. Eating a peanut butter sandwich. The staple that always gets a kid by. Good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and dessert. He had one at least daily. Also, you don’t appreciate the beautiful light that a window over your kitchen table lets in until you see a photo like this.
Mayah and Hudson with their beautiful smiles. She is all giggles. He is all energy.
Archer (two years old). Sometimes you run. Sometimes you fall. He wore those cowboy boots every. single. day. In fact, he even wore them while he ran around naked. I snapped a photo of that from behind, because I couldn’t resist his cuteness. However, I don’t think his mom would appreciate it being public.
But you can imagine. Or perhaps you have a little boy in your life who loves to run around naked wearing just his cowboy boots. Those tiny white butt cheeks are priceless I tell you.
Terry and Natasha’s middlest child and second son. I caught him lost in thought. Or perhaps, lost in his nothing box.
Kristin, my dear friend. Baby girl hiding inside her. Jamie, Kristin’s sister-in-law, and mother to Hudson, Archer, and Lennox. Lennox is the bald one.
Archer again. So expressive. Running, falling, hiding, laughing, squinting, pouting. Two.
Zeke. He pushed this shopping cart around every where. We went on a long walk down the drive one day, me and Zeke and Jax, and Zeke insisted on pushing the shopping cart over the rocky path. On the way back, he said it was too heavy, and could I please carry it for him? We left it in the grass instead. It will get picked up again in a few days by one of the kids. They play outdoors for hours each day, even more since the fall weather was delightful while we were there.
Oh the things we don’t know about the meat we eat.
One of the first few days we were on the farm, they were castrating bulls. I kind of freaked out. I was expecting this ugly, nasty mess, and the mooing sounds of a cow in pain echoing across the fields. It wasn’t that way at all. In fact, it was kind of a party and the bulls didn’t make a peep about it. It’s done very humanely, and doesn’t hurt the bulls, which is why they don’t mind.
First they gathered all the one-year old bulls. The juiciest steaks come from a 1.5 to 2 year old bull, so these poor guys don’t have much longer to live. It is industry standard to castrate them at one year old, because it sends them into a giant growth spurt. They put on weight, so they can make even more juicy steaks. A bull any older, especially one heading into the three-year old plus range, can only become ground beef. They have one wild bull in the herd they’ve been trying to catch. The saying would go something like this…. “That cow? He needs to become hamburger.”
The part the cows didn’t like was being herded, one at a time, into this little corral. They are free-range cows, and they love it. Being chased into this pen was not their kind of fun, even though any beef you eat that’s not from a free-range farm, they’re kept in little pens or super tight quarters their entire life.
This is Daniel Pike. He’s the middlest of three sons who, in some form or other, live and/or work on Pike Valley Farm. He spearheaded taking over the farm from his father, just a year or so ago. These one-year old cows were all born since he’s been running things. They know how old the cows are from tags they put in their ears (which the cows apparently DO make a bit of a fuss about).
This is Michelle. She and Bob (red hair further down in post), run the raw milk part of the business, and the vegetable CSA (community supported agriculture). They live in a tiny, tiny concrete building that is connected to the “milking parlor” where the milk cows are brought in twice daily to be milked.
The whole time I was there, I never saw Michelle without a smile and a cheerful spirit. How beautiful that is.
The guy with the hat is Terry. He and his wife Natasha live on the farm, in a single-wide trailer, with their three kids. They operate the egg-laying chickens part of the business. Natasha homeschools their children, who are all extremely sweet. Unfortunately, I never captured a photo of Natasha, which is a shame because she is very warm and friendly, and has to-die-for long curly blond hair.
Herding the cows up from the field and taking care of business was an all-hands-on-deck affair. So even though these folks do many other things on the farm, they all showed up for bull castrating day.
This is Bob. He is kind of an even-keel, quiet type, but if you ask him about his milk cows or his vegetable gardens, his passion shines through. He spent some time talking with me, educating me about various things, answering my endless questions with calm grace.
The kids came and went from the party. The oldest one took video of the bulls. It was a homeschool field trip day! This car was ADORED by the kids, especially Hudson and Archer. In this photo, Hudson (three years old) is driving. He was an expert at maneuvering this thing ever where. When he would go in reverse, he would throw his arm over the back of the seat and crane his head around behind him, just like an adult would. It was the cutest thing. Ezekiel (Zeke) is Daniel and Kristin’s son. He’s riding next to Hudson. Behind them is Mayah, Terry and Natasha’s daughter. She’s the spitting image of her mom. Next to the car in the Gap shirt is one of Terry and Natasha’s sons. I don’t remember his name, because we didn’t see them too often while I was there.
Here you can see the back of the cow inside the pen. Terry and Natasha’s oldest son is in the foreground in the blue shirt. He is nine, and was taking video of the event.
Here you can see the head of the bull sticking out one side of the corral. Several of them mooed quite loudly once they were in here, and the gates closed around them and their head was held in a small space. They could still move their head and body, but less than a foot in any direction.
Michelle is standing inside the corral, up above the cow, holding its tail up in the air so Daniel can have access. He had a small hand-held device a bit larger than a hand gun. This is how he explained to me that it worked. Imagine wrapping a rubber band very tightly around your finger. It wouldn’t hurt at first, and you might not notice it too much. But it could be tight enough to cut off circulation from the tip of your finger, and slowly make it turn purple. It’s the same concept. His device wraps a tiny bit of rubber, like a rubber band, tightly around the top of the bull’s testicles. It is just tight enough to cut off circulation. Within three to four days, the testicles shrivel up from lack of circulation, and literally fall off into the fields somewhere. The bull never really has a clue. There are other ways of castrating the bulls that do involve some cutting, but that’s not what they do here.
This bull got lucky and will become a steer. I photographed him before I knew it, so it was ironic that of all the cows, I captured his face. He avoided castration by having very even, well-formed testicles. Apparently a lot of bulls have uneven, misshapen ones. The bulls whose parts hang evenly and are appropriately sized will breed daughters whose udders are also even and well-formed, thus becoming good milk cows. Crazy that farmers have figured this stuff out. Out of about twenty or so bulls, they saved two to become steers. In the below photo, everyone is checking out the bull’s balls to be sure he’s a keeper.
This wide shot shows Michelle and Terry in the corral with all the bulls awaiting their fate. The beautiful dog has white hair and amber orange eyes. It is long-haired and about twice the size of a golden retriever. They have four of these dogs, and they are trained to guard the chickens from predators.
This is Madden. He’s a stray who has anxiety issues but is super lovable and took a liking to Jax.
Day’s work done. Madden and Trevor following Daniel everywhere. The kids heading home.
This is the family I stayed with in Kentucky on the farm. This is their 600 square-foot trailer.
These images show the heart of their home. Love, laughter, play, togetherness. It was a home full of peace, full of joy, full of light.
It’s a true joy. The kind that comes from Jesus. And knowing what really matters. Because it’s not for lack of hard times that they have joy.
In the five or six years I’ve known them, they have been through more major life tragedies than most people will experience in a lifetime. While here in Texas, the place they were storing most of their belongings was broken into and ransacked. Every valuable thing, including some of Kristin’s expensive instruments, was stolen. They bought their first house, and because of problems caused by developer, it ended up being in a flood zone and becoming nearly worthless. A minor car accident turned into litigation and financial chaos. In the midst of all that, they miscarried several times. The baby they finally kept was born at twenty-seven weeks and spent months in NICU on the edge of life. He is now four years old, and if you can’t tell from the photos, the light of their lives. They left San Antonio, and purchased beautiful farm land with the goal of starting their own farm and filling it with their children. But a dam past their property was modified, turning their property in a lake once a year. The first time it happened, they were living in a tent on their land, and lost most everything they owned that hadn’t been stolen before. Now they owe more than the property is worth. A few more miscarriages occurred. The family farm business they are trying to start has been a rough road with little income and much work. Their second son was born at eighteen weeks and didn’t make it. Thankfully, their third baby is still safely in-utero at thirty-six weeks after trying to come into the world at twenty-eight weeks. Her sonogram photos can be seen in these photos, on the wall next to the piano.
But if you didn’t know these things, you’d never guess. There’s no “what if’s” or “poor me’s” or living in the sadness of the past. There’s just peace and joy. And now, there’s hope too. Hope for this precious baby to come, who is getting bigger and stronger every day. Hope for her to arrive safely and peacefully. Confidence that together, they can hang on through anything. Security in knowing Jesus has been there, and will be there, and our hope and peace and joy lies in Him. Peace that passes understanding, as the phrase goes. Joy despite the sorrows. Hope to see a future that is bright. Embracing simplicity. Hanging tightly to family. Making a life and home that is a refuge for others.
I felt overwhelmed in a way, being there. Overwhelmed by the Lord’s goodness. Overwhelmed by the simple peace. Overwhelmed to know a family like this, who have been courageous and resilient. Whose spirits glow with the strength and beauty of the Lord. It was a gift. I came home changed. And grateful. Grateful for the gift they gave me.
He’s been making this squinched up wrinkly nose expression for some time now. He does it sometimes when he’s frustrated. Other times when he’s being silly. I was so glad I caught it on my good camera.
Jax learned to sit up on this trip to Kentucky. Probably because he almost ready, but needed to be left alone sitting, to practice. At home, that would result in him bonking his head every time he lost his balance. But here, with a rug layered over the carpet, he never once cried when he fell.
The four photos above remind me of the infatuation with dogs, especially small dogs, that I discovered Jax has. These two strays taken in by my friends Daniel and Kristin, hadn’t ever been around babies before. Jax was a good testing ground for the baby they are expecting in November. He pulled hair and twisted ears, and neither of them snapped or growled. I would always immediately go over if I saw the dogs near Jax, to be able to keep his strong fingers from hurting them and getting anyone in trouble, or hurt worse.
The bigger one, Trevor, is part beagle (last photo), and eventually learned to sit far enough away that Jax couldn’t bother him. In that photo, Jax had been gently patting the dog’s back, but just as I took the photo, Jax fell over (thus the crinkled expression on his face). He didn’t cry since the carpet was soft enough, but I missed the photo of him patting the dog. At least this one reminds me.
The top photo is Jax looking at a book with photos of dogs. He was entranced by the book, since the photos are of real dogs, and are easy for him to recognize.
The middle two photos are him with the little dog, Madden. The very last day we were there, Jax got a hold of Madden when we weren’t looking, and we suddenly heard Madden’s pained yelp. I rushed over and unwrapped Jax’s fingers from Madden’s scruffy ear, and all was well. Kristin and I looked at each other and said, “Well, at least we know what happens.”
The funny thing was, Madden really liked Jax, and Jax really liked Madden. Madden would come sit in Jax’s lap, or right next to him. Even though he knew he was going to have his hair pulled a bit before I removed Jax’s fingers, he still came and stayed.
This is a better photo of Madden.
And two more of Jax, in winter garb. It got down to forty three Farenheit one night while we were there, and after that, the mornings were cold enough for pants and sweatshirts. I had brought mostly shorts and tee shirts for myself, and rompers for Jax (because they’re easy). Luckily, I packed two pair of pants for me, and three for Jax, a couple sweatshirts, some baby legs, and a couple hats. He ended up wearing the hats during the night while he slept because otherwise his head and ears were so cold.
In this photo, he’s wearing plenty of layers: a long-sleeve onesie, a romper, baby legs, pants over the baby legs, socks, a sweatshirt, and the hat. I bought this hat on clearance from Lands End about four years ago…hoping one day to use it on my son. It’s navy with white stripes and will fit him perfectly this winter.
Expression one: Mom’s got that toy again. The one she won’t let me play with.
Expression two: (Me: Hi, Jax!) Hi, Mommy!