Cooking With Myra: Musings of a weaver
By Myra Starkey
May 1, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.
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I spent last week in a weaving class at the Homestead Heritage Farm north of Waco. This is a religious community of about 1,000 people.
They have chosen to live a life that is quite different from the self-centered, modern, busy existence that most of us consider normal. Our usual lives may involve jobs that we sometimes struggle to find meaningful or fulfilling but they "pay the bills."
We busy ourselves with shopping for just the right outfit or the latest gadget, playing sports, watching television or just running our kids from place to place. We shop at our local grocery store, giving little thought to the source of the vegetables, meats or all the other items that are neatly packaged in metal cans, plastic jars or cardboard boxes.
We eat cheese made somewhere, but we are not exactly sure what is even in the stuff. We buy clothes that are often made of artificial material that comes from petrochemical plants. I am not saying this modern life is all bad, only that it is not the life I saw demonstrated last week.
The members of this group strive to live in a simple, sustainable way. They remind me of an Amish community in their behavior and dress, except they are not Amish, just non-denominational Christian.
They don't shun modern conveniences such as cars, appliances or electricity. They live in modest, comfortable country homes on small tracts of land that they own that are generally near the main farm, which is owned by the group as a whole. The men dress like regular guys except for nothing flashy.
They have normal jobs such as construction work, running businesses, teaching, farming or practicing medicine. The women dress very plainly and modestly, preferring not to attract attention to themselves. They don't wear make-up or jewelry.
Members of the group don't watch television or play on computers, but prefer to spend their free time gardening, raising animals or doing crafts.
In the middle of their scenic farm is a village, open to the public, that has a restaurant, a shop where they sell very fine handcrafted products such as furniture, rugs and pottery, and then various workshops where these items are made.
They offer two- to five-day classes so that people can learn woodworking (without power tools), fiber crafts, animal care, organic gardening, ceramics or blacksmithing. The people there are so kind and industrious that it makes you want to take a class.
They seem immensely content as they quietly work with their hands. When I visited the weaving shop about a year ago, I decided that I would return someday and take a class. I wanted to learn to weave, but I also desired to find out why these folks seemed so much at peace.
Awhile back, a very special lady in Victoria gave me an advanced loom and although I have attempted several times to make something on it, I failed. I knew I was in need of a professional teacher, hence I signed up for a five-day course at the Homestead Heritage.
I booked bed and breakfast lodging owned by Teresa and Brent Heath, as they are well known for their gourmet breakfasts. I figured I might as well be well fed as I learned to weave.
My teacher was a beautiful young lady, Rachel, who has been a member of the community since she was a young girl. She is single and lives with her parents. I started off embarrassing her by telling her maybe we could find her a husband when she was not teaching me to weave.
There were several other teenaged girl students in the fiber art studio who are members of the community. I inquired about their schooling. They told me that all of the children in the community are home-schooled in the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic, but also take classes in sustainable living.
Rachel is a master weaver. She would not readily admit this since she is humble and modest. Her work is proof of her excellence. I was the only "public" student during the week, so I took advantage of the individual instruction, soaking up as much of her knowledge as possible. She is slight of build with long, brown hair, secured in a bun.
The women in the community actually never cut their hair and all wear it the same way. She wears Teva sandals since I assume she does a lot of walking, but like most weavers she weaves barefoot. Her nature is kind and patient, and I am sure she needed both of these traits during the time she was teaching me to weave.
One cannot walk through this farm without feeling the peace, love and grace of the members of the community. They have chosen to live and work together bound by their beliefs in God. They don't seem to feel the need impress or to compete with each other. They look different, but it is intentional.
During the week, I pestered poor Rachael with question after question. I hoped to figure out why almost everyone I met seemed joyful. Their beauty is on the inside and is not cluttered by what most of us concern ourselves with on a daily basis.
When I talked with Rachel about some of these things that she has "given up" to be a part of the community, I began to wonder why I concern myself so much with looking a certain way, having a specific haircut or wearing just the right clothes and makeup.
They spend their time working on their faith and spirit. As Rachel patiently explained her faith, I found myself being convicted of spending so much time on Myra. This community occupies themselves with loving their neighbors, and yet find time to grow their own food, milk cows and do a myriad of other skills, like weaving yards and yards of fine fabrics.
I also was able to weave with an older teacher named Kay. She is a retired ethics and philosophy professor from Baylor who lives near the farm and is part of the community.
Sitting with her and listening to her tell me stories of her life, growing up in England, and now wheelchair bound because of multiple sclerosis, was like sitting at the knees of a wise sage as her wisdom is vast and her joy deep.
I was able to spend several evenings after class with our son, Spencer, who is a student at Baylor. He was happy to go out for a free meal. He couldn't spare too much time because he was studying for finals, so I would go back to my bed and breakfast. There was no TV.
At first I admit I was lonely, not used to finding myself in a strange place without Taylor. But as I filled my nights with reading, knitting and writing, I became aware of how much "evening" I had and grew to covet that time to just relax and be still. I missed my husband, friends and co-workers, but I decided to be present in the stillness that the week allowed me.
My bed and breakfast, The Pecan Tree Inn, is run by Brent, Teresa and their daughter, Angela. The breakfasts were amazing.
Each morning I arrived around 8 a.m. and was seated in their family dining room, while I was served at least four courses starting with the most delicious homemade yogurt. They were kind enough to give me their cornmeal waffle recipe and a few others.
Gourmet is a word many hotels and lodging establishments use loosely, but Teresa's breakfasts deserved four stars. Their kindness was notable, and they shared the same joy I saw at the farm. I toured Brent's garden and left with plans for a moveable chicken coup.
Like many families there, they grow their vegetables and they explained that their meals include only what is fresh for the season, adopting a farm-to-table concept.
I came home with several weaving samples and a small blanket I made, but I also brought home peace, joy and a sense that there is a lot right with the world.
Some people choose to live in a way much different than I do, and when I get a chance to glimpse into their world, I can understand why.
I am sure that their community occasionally experiences turmoil because, after all, they are made up of people who are not perfect. I am so grateful for the week spent with women who love each other and chose to love me, too.
Sources: homesteadheritage.com; All recipes compliments of Teresa Heath, Pecan Tree Inn, Waco
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.