Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days Unvarnished Day 31 {Appropriate}

At the beginning of this little series, I promised a story so outlandish and revolting it can hardly be true.  I would like to take credit for how appropriate it feels to post this on Halloween.  Seems awfully well timed to tell the grossest, most expected event ever on our farm.  I'm delighted I only have to share what happened it; that I didn't have to suffer a single drop or drab of the indignation.  

I didn't write the blow by blow of what transpired on this particular summer morning, my Daddy did.  I did however stand in shocked horror reading it in my kitchen just a few minutes after it all happened:  

When I got to the barn, both doors of the blue Ford pickup, aka, Papa Smurf, were standing open.  I thought that was a little odd.  Odder still, our farm helper, Chris was standing there, wet from his neck to his shoes, and laughing.  My son, Wright, was also wet, and grumpy.  Curious, I asked for the explanation.

The cool morning of 30 August 2011 promised the autumn to come.  Early in the day Wright and Chris were out in Papa Smurf.  So were the buzzards, those notorious early risers.

Wright was driving Papa Smurf with a load of pig buckets in the back, filled with swill.  Of course, they drove with windows open in the cool morning air.  Beside the road, buzzards were feeding in the cool morning dew.

Without warning, a buzzard took off on the passenger side, lost his way, and flew clean into the Papa Smurf’s window, practically into Chris’s lap.  At this point you must bear in mind that buzzards have only one way to protect themselves.  Not claws, not beaks, not beating you with their wings, only projectile vomiting.  It usually works.

Judging from the pink & white patches of stuff still clinging to the inside walls of Papa Smurf, this particular buzzard projected quite a bit of vomit.  At this point, you must also know that Wright has a very sensitive gag reflex.  He can’t even change a diaper without gagging. Suddenly into his lap jump clots of odoriferous buzzard vomit.

Which set Wright to vomiting, erasing all benefit of his breakfast.

Really odd.  I never heard of a buzzard doing that before.

Wright was not amused hours later when I asked him to recount the entire event, again. 

I dare say, even your #1 worst morning ever cannot come close to an encounter with vulture vomit.

more 31 days posts here


Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 days Unvarnished Day 29 {convenience food}

When you live as far as out in the country as we do, convenience food takes on a whole new dimension.  There is no way a pizza delivery guy would drive this far out; I can only imagine what we'd have to tip the guy if he actually found his way through all the twists, veers and unsigned roads.

It doesn't come by the slice or with dipping sauce, but must be picked.  And washed.  Because it can be cooked in the same amount of time a trip to town would take, it qualifies as convenient. 


The hardest, most inconvenient part of readily available kale, mustard and turnip greens is  getting the 8 year old to eat it. 

more unvarnished posts here

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days: Unvarnished Day 26 {Date Night}

I chose 
{without guilt}
a Date Night Manicure

a Preschool Fall (aka faux Halloween) Party

Another day, another story,
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31 Days Unvarnished Day 27 {dissonant}

Have you ever listened to a kid practicing a new song on their instrument known immediately when their hand slips onto a key or string that wasn't intended?  

That dissonant sound is very similar to the unvarnished conflict in real-time life that involves unforseen dental work and keeping up with 31 days blog posts.   I'd planned a post yesterday on the intricate naming system we have for animals on our farm.  I wanted to introduce you to milk goats named Cherry Cola

and Sprite; pigs named Turnip Green, Sambo, Shaliquehandra and Kavaseeay and cows named Wanda, Lorna, Gloria and Victor.  I didn't have a picture to share,  but we once had a well-named Banty rooster named Supersonic.

All my planning went the way of hours in a dental chair.  Real, unvarnished life sometimes means Open Wide, this is going to pinch...

more 31 days posts here


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 Days: Unvarnished Day 26 {Zipper Jeans}

4 years 2 months and 22 days:
Number 4 is thrilled about
1st pair of actual "zipper" jeans

Another day, another story,
want more 16balls reality?
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31 Days Unvarnished {intruder}

The hard part of raising laying hens is keeping them alive and safe from marauding intruders until they are big enough to actually lay.  After my keep-them-in-the-house plan disintegrated into a keeping them-in-the-basement plan they were thankfully moved into a drag pen in our well fenced backyard.  We just had to keep them alive through the squawky teenage months and then we'd be knee (or at least dozen) deep in eggs.   

I've mentioned that I love sleeping with my bedroom window open.  It opens out to the backyard, and I love the sounds of spring peepers and crickets and the occasional moo lulling me to sleep. No matter the weather it's always open at least a bit.  

One cool night in early May, the breeze blowing through the trees, I heard the unmistakable sound of chickens rustling around.  I was chatting about the day with mainbain and suddenly stopped to listen carefully.  Yep, the chickens who are early-to-bed-early to rise kind of girls, were distressed and clucking away at 11pm.  I had never heard a peep from them at night, and knew something was either trying to get them or was already in the pen. 

I knew we had to act quickly.  There are some intruders who only like to eat the heads off chickens, which means they could blow through our little flock of 10 layers in about 10 minutes.  Still in my pj's, I threw on my rubber boots and ran into the kitchen to grab a flashlight.  As I was hurriedly assembling a new flashlight, Mainbain wearing nothing but boxers and flip-flops rushed in to load his .22 rifle clip. 

I asked what he was doing with a gun, and he looked at me incredulously.  What do you think?!  We're going to have to kill whatever is out there, Liberty.  Hello, adrenaline surge.   I'd been so intent on finding out what the intruder was, I'd forgotten we would have to "take care of it" as well. 

The chicken pen was about 30 feet from our back door.  I could hear my heart pounding harder with every step, wondering what we were gong to find.  I hoped it wasn't a coyote.  I was positive no pioneer had ever felt more protectively fierce than I did at that moment.  

I shined the bright beam of the flashlight into the pen from about 15 feet away and saw all the chickens crowded together in one corner.  I felt a surge of relief. They seemed fine, but we decided to get a closer look, since they certainly weren't resting.  We were supposed to have 10 layers all together  (10 white and 10 brown) but could only count nine.  A white one was missing from their corner huddle.  

The pen had a tarp around one end and as I shined the light into the opposite corner from the live chicken huddle we saw a skunk.  Jaw deep in the missing white chicken.  Just munching away.  He (I assume all skunks are male) froze.  We froze.  And just looked at each other.  This was not part of the plan.  Not that we had much of a plan, but a skunk!?!?!  Don't they spray when you kill them?  

I'll hold the light on it and you shoot it! I hiss-whispered vehemently to mainbain.  We were both preparing to run at the first whiff of spray, but had no choice.  That intruder was killing and enjoying part of our egg supply for his dinner.   

POP! The skunk staggers and drops the chicken.  Mainbain thinks he got it.  Shoot it again! I say, training the flashlight beam on the now staggering skunk. POP! POP! POP! Some of the pop's miss and bing off the inside of the pen, but most thud with close range accuracy into the skunk.  Even after the .22 clip is emptied and we run back inside to escape the spray we know must be imminent, we're not positive he's dead.  

We were beside ourselves as we ran back into the kitchen.  Could we really have just done that?  I've never felt more like a real do-what-needs-to-be-done-farmer than that victorious moment.  

We went back to get ready for bed,  again.  The window was still open.  Mainbain wondered if we should go back and make sure the intruding skunk was dead.  Going back over the events,  we agreed no animal could survive 7-10 shells being pumped into it.  

And right then, the unmistakable stench of skunk spray wafted in the open window. 

It's rare night when that window is closed. 

more Unvarnished 31 days posts here

Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days: Unvarnished Day 24 {Chili Cheese Goodness}

It was a sad, sad day when I realized that our local Sonic no longer served my fave Chili Cheese Wrap - a yummy warm, melty, cheesy, Frito chip laden, chili-oozing goodness wrapped in a tortilla.  I attempted to make one at home - just not the same. Then I remembered an oldie but goodie recipe from WAY BACK for Chili Pie. Bonus: It combines my love of Crescent Roll dough WITH yummy warm, melty, cheesy, Frito chip laden, chili-oozing goodness. 

Chili Pie
1 pound ground beef
1 can tomato sauce
1 package taco seasoning
Frito Corn Chips (LOTS)
1 pint sour cream
Shredded Cheddar (LOTS)
1 package Crescent Rolls

Brown meat, then add tomato sauce, taco mix,
a handful of crumbled Frito chips.
Shape rolls into a pie plate to form crust.
Add meat mixture.
Smooth layer of sour cream on top.
Add layer of cheddar cheese on top of that.
Add layer of Frito chips.
Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Another day, another story,

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

31 days Unvarnished {Layers}

As crazy as it may seem,  we've never had our own family layers until this spring.   There have been lots of eggs lain throughout the years, but keeping chickens in the barn in the hope of finding an egg or 12 when you really need it is a losing proposition.  Unpenned chickens like to hide their eggs in the most out of the way places and after sending the baintrain to the barn to clamber around on hay bales or climb into lofts just looking for an eggs I finally caught on. 

It only took 10 years.  We needed our own laying hens, in our own back yard.  No more impromptu egg hunts;  when we wanted scrambled eggs for breakfast, they'd be just a few steps away. 
My plan was transparently simple.  In the spring, we would purchase fluffy, one day old chicks and keep them in under a heat lamp in a large cardboard box in the dining room until it was warm enough to put them in a drag pen in our backyard.

A perfect plan in theory.  Except 10 chicks in one box can go through chick starter faster than your 5 year old can roast a marshmallow.  And water.  They need lots of it to grow.  And by grow I mean double in size every 5-7 days which means they'll need more chick starter and very quickly more space.  Don't forget the by-product of all that food and water.  You guessed it.  In a box, in my dining room.  Within 2 weeks my simple plan a dependable egg supply was disintegrating.

Even with all my 10-year old farm experience, I didn't stop to consider if my plan had any holes.  Until we'd already purchased the chicks and my dad mentioned they'd be laying in 6 months.  And wouldn't survive outside for at least 8-10 weeks. 

If the windows were open, you could smell the chickens from the front porch.  The boys were as helpful as possible: changing the cedar shavings regularly and making sure the chicks were well fed, watered and played with. 

But, the smell; stench really.  Just a few hours after changing the cedar, the house would start smelling like we were intruding on their territory.  I've never burned through so many candles in such a short period of time.  An added (non-planned) bonus: they were growing wing feathers and escaping the confines of the sweet, comfy cardboard home we'd provided.  One thing you don't want to hear as you're chopping onions for supper is a teenage chicken cluck-chirping around behind you!

Mainbain and I realized the chickens had to be evicted from the dining room.   But if we took them to the barn all that we'd already sacrificed for egg convenience would be at stake.  They might get thrown in with the general population, forget all about us and become hay-bale layers.  

So, we sacrificed further.  We had a pen dragged into our basement garage. We put lots of cedar shavings down on the cold concrete floor, rigged a heat lamp and moved the now pubescent chicks down below.  I'm not going to say it was an odor free solution, but the dining room was fit again for humans.

I felt like a proud mother the day they were moved out of our house and into the backyard. I'm pretty sure the rest of the family was just relieved that the hard and holey part of my plan was over. 

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

31 days: Unvarnished Day 22 {Fall Break Exotic Un-Vacation}

A.) Disney? 
B.) A Cruise? 
C.) The beach? 
D.) None of the above

Exotic Dining at Schlotsky's Deli

Exotic Fun at
 The Children's Museum of Memphis

More Exotic Fun at
The Children's Museum of Memphis

Exotic Fun at Shelby Farms
Discovery Playground

Exotic Dinner at Hibachi restaurant 
Number 2 TRIED sushi

Chopsticks can be guns, knives, lightsabers, tusks...

"Best chicken nuggets ever!"

Exotic Haircut for Number 3 
"The Fro-Hawk"

And last, but certainly not least,
Number 4's idea - family bowling
Totally exotic, right?

Another day, another story,
want more 16balls reality?
here's the link to all of our unvarnished-ness

Friday, October 21, 2011

31 days: unvarnished day 21 {Ready to use}

You might wonder what you do after a 300 pound pig gets turned onto pork.  Contrary to Little House on the Prairie, we don't spend a day salting the meat into barrels, playing volleyball with the pig's bladder or standing over a cauldron rendering lard. It comes back from the processor in neatly labeled, ready-to-use packages.  All except the fat back: I don't call huge slabs of fat delivered in vacuum sealed bags exactly ready-to-use.  Getting it ready for cooking usefulness is up to me.

Fat back is just the unrefined term for Lard: the frying fat of the gods.  I know it sounds awfully old-fashioned, but before you freak out about me likening lard to something a god would make pie crust with, go on and read that linked Food and Wine article.  Or come on out here and I'll fry some popcorn or chicken for you.  Or you can Google how much vitamin d3 is in lard and then maybe you'll be persuaded try it as a non-burning butter replacer when making omelettes.

The best way I've ever found to get the fat back into it's lard-licious state is leave it in huge slabs (think gigantic reference books of fat) put it in the biggest crock pot you can buy.  A friend gave me one so big it's considered a portable oven.  Fitting for a 300 pound pig, don't you think?

No cauldron here, I simply leave the crockpot on low overnight, and wake up to the mouth-watering smell of roast pork and that slab melted down to nothing but liquid.

I ladle all the now liquid lard into jars and it's ready-to-use in all it's refined glory.  Makes me want to fry something, or at least make BBQ nachos with the rest of the neatly packaged pork!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

31 Days Unvarnished Day 19 {pig into pork}

If you're a city dweller, living on a farm is a romantic idea.  An out of the rat race, plenty of time to sip lemonade on the front porch and watch your veggies and animals grow kind of idea.   

Andrew Lytle said "A farm is not a place to grow rich, it's a place to grow kids and corn."  I would add pigs to his list.  There's nothing in this world that will make you feel as rich as your own fresh, pastured pig that's been transmogrified into pork

In practice, farm life equals work.  It's work you enjoy because you signed up for it.  But, in the beginning it's full of chasing milk cows of of your garden in the pouring rain in your pj's and husband's muck boots and lots of steep learning curves.  

One of our steeper hills in the Learning How to Farm saga happened to be how-to-kill-a-300-pound-pig.  We were just a bit cocky, having enjoyed smooth success castrating the pig with over the phone instructions.  I'll testify right now that castrating a 30-40 pound shoat and killing a full grown hog are not comparable life experiences.  Again with the steep climb.  When you're just beginning, and something that should be really difficult goes off without a hitch, it's possible for your confidence to overly inflate. 

Since we'd been able to follow phone directions for castration, everyone (6 adults) agreed that reading a 'how to kill a pig' article would be ample instruction for our first time.  I mean, people had been doing this for thousands of years, right? Just because we were all from the city and had never killed anything to eat before, didn't mean we couldn't handle whatever was next on the the Learning How to Farm list.  Pig into pork; we were ready. 

Monday morning dawned; we put on our long johns and boots, tucked our copy of 'how to kill a pig' in our pockets, and headed out to take care of the pig.  I hope you're envisioning Barney Fife sniffing and hiking up his pants right now.  

The written instructions were so clear - there were even two or three diagrams.   The article was short, but delivered concise, how-to bullet-points: 
  • Step one: Shoot the pig between the eyes using a bullet; it would instantly fall over dead.  
  • Step two: with the 300 pound pig on it's back, one person would hold it's front legs and another would cut the jugular. 
  • Step three: connect it to the tree-hoist, where it would drain and then take it to the processor to be butchered and packaged. 
So incredibly simple.  On paper. 

There may have been some last minute conjecture about being sure we could/should do this based on nothing more than a brief article. There was nervous laughter as everyone signed up for their particular job. 

One of my brothers was assigned to be the bullet-deliverer, mainbain the leg holder, another brother the jugular-cutter, I was the video-grapher.  We were all supposed to help hoist it up in the tree.  We all gulped and decided there was no backing out. 

I switched the camcorder ON.    

The pig was already standing there, so brother #1 shot it.  And nothing happened. Had to shoot again.  Slight deviation from the plan, but we'd handled it well.  

Pig dead. Diagram deviation, it's slumped over on it's side.  Through quick discussion, everyone agrees that it must be turned over onto it's back.  Mainbain and brother #2 hop over the fence.  

That's when the holes in the paper plan appeared.  The pig began shaking violently - something the article hadn't mentioned at all: rigor mortis.  The jugular still had to be cut, though.  Now, mainbain and brother #2 were faced with how to handle 300 pounds of dead shaking pig, cut it on the neck, then hook it to the hoist.  Of course there was lots of shouting modified instructions from our side of the fence - "hold on to it!"  "go ahead, cut it now!"  As the shaking continued, our (insanely unhelpful) suggestions escalated.   With determined, jaw-set strength,  mainbain held on tight enough to the front legs to keep the pig still while brother #2 managed to make the cut.  

We noticed Mainbain's cheek bleeding while we were hoisting the pig up to drain.  In the rigor mortis melee, he'd been knicked.  

We were all left shaking.

All of our cocky we can do this, how hard can it be? ideas were just that.  Ideas. Hypotheses. Notions.  Inexpericed romantic abstractions that needed tempering with a steep maybe-more-homework-humility is in order kind of learning curve.  

All future pigs have been professionally turned into pork. 

more 31 days posts here

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

31 Days: Unvarnished Day 18 {Dance Party}

Sorry no photos today.

The powers that be, aka The Boys Numbers 1-4, won't allow me to take photos of their epic ipod-blaring-hip hop music-fueled dance parties. (Last night's in the grandparent's driveway included an illuminated Star Wars toy as the "disco ball".)

Trust me, if you need joy; if you need cheering up; if you need a break in the monotony, just turn on some Bieber, Usher or Ludacris full blast and dance around your living room. Or just sit back and enjoy the show. Foolproof mood enhancer.

Another day, another story,
want more 16balls reality?
here's the link to all of our unvarnished-ness

Monday, October 17, 2011

31 days Unvarnished {the front porch}

I may have said something about the Clampett's when I mentioned my front porch in the first Unvarnished post.  If we lived in the 'burbs, I'm sure the Homeowner's Association would shun us.

This is like a Highlight's hidden picture: can you find the baseball helmet, birdhouse, and bag of potting soil? How do you like the English ivy that's going kudzu and growing on concrete?  I asked my 8 year old to water my flowers - that presented no problem. Selective deafness hit full force when I reminded him the hose doesn't live on the front porch.   
Taken from the other end: not pictured, the kitty litter box that lives under that wooden bench,  FIVE cats I'm not allowed to "thin out," and a few old broken flower pots with good (expensive) soil I can't seem to throw away.  I keep adding colorful, seasonal flowers, hoping to detract from the far less-than-perfect vibe you'd get if you drove down our long,  gravel driveway.

I think the only thing those Clampett's had that we're missing is a hounddog.
Who knows that's probably on somebody's Christmas list...


Sunday, October 16, 2011

31 Days Unvarnished {Suburban Haiku}

Just because I drop
the boy off at the movie
doesn't mean he's grown.

Another day, another story,

want more 16balls reality?
here's the link to all of our unvarnished-ness

Saturday, October 15, 2011

31 days: Unvarnished {Astonishing}

There are things in life I will never get my brain to wrap around.  Like how astonishing it is that I gave birth to a real, live human boy 14 years ago today.  

After gaining way more than the prescribed 35-40 pounds, enduring a countless hours of labor that ended in a last-minute c-section, this perfectly healthy show-stopper first baby was given to me. 

He's been a headline act since day one: hope you enjoy his birthday performance:


Friday, October 14, 2011

31 Days: Unvarnished Day 14 {Strategic Arms Treaty of 2011}

High-level diplomacy being sought.
Wonder if
Mr. Clooney is available?

Another day, another story,
want more 16balls reality?
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

31 Days: Unvarnished {public transporation}

You've probably already given your Little Tykes car away.  

If we lived in a neighborhood,  and I had to store the thing somewhere other than our side yard, it would have been kissed goodbye a long time ago.

We inherited ours and it was used as intended for a (short) while.  Recently utilized as second base during our Sunday afternoon kickball games.   Just recently, though mexicanjumpingbain turned it into something else.  Don't know how much longer the wheels will hold up on our gravel driveway, but his clever 'invention' is the epitome of our farm life: 

Leave things lying around long enough and farm boys will re-purpose them.

Asking a quarter per ride, he will take his passengers as far as they want to go.  Or as far as his legs can peddle. It's now parked in our front yard...


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

31 Days: Unvarnished Day 12 {BBQ}

I meant to take a picture of the BBQ Chicken Nachos
 I made last night... but we ate them too fast.
This picture is of the ones at Central BBQ - our
very fave Memphis BBQ restaurant.

Recipe for my version:

Cook chicken in Crock Pot on low all day
with a bottle of BBQ sauce.
Shred the chicken and top a giant plate
of tortilla chips with shredded
meat, store-bought cheese dip AND
shredded cheddar cheese. Jalepenos if you want.

Another day, another story,
want more 16balls reality?
here's the link to all of our unvarnished-ness

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

31 days: Unvarnished Day 11 {quittin' time}

Having a farm is like having another child.  Except bigger.  and way more demanding. With countless curve balls. And way more demanding. Oh, wait I already said that...but there is always something urgent to be done.  

Take quittin' time yesterday as an example: at the hour when most people were preparing supper, we all donned overalls and workboots and rolled out into our field of non-gmo corn.  Since our main crop is grass for our organic animals, the only equipment we've got for picking a field of corn is man-power - uhh, boy power. 

do you see the neighbor's peacocks keeping us company?
of course we can't just pick the corn...have to recycle the stalks into pork!
Not bad for an hour and a half
Of course, Mexicanjumpingbain throws himself into the picking
We only got about 1/5 of the field picked, but did enjoy driving home under the light of the milky white harvest moon.

And just like a laundry, today's afternoon agriculture activity is more picking...


Sights and smells from Sunday



This fall, my brain is in constant see-saw mode between these two adjectives.  It seems like all of life, even in the ritual dying, is tingling with His presence.  I want to remember it.  Just these regular days when I can choose to live in the glorious, vibrant grace I've been given...on a Sunday in October.

The glorious day began with the smell of Mainbain frying fresh pork sausage, and dabbling around with a vibrant new smoothie recipe.

The morning was punctuated by the five year old's vibrant need to accessorize his fashionable church duds with a shark tooth necklace.  And allowing me to inhale one of life's most glorious scents: freshly shampooed boy-hair.

Church is full of glorious sights and smells: 
fluttering flame altar candles, and vibrant prayers you can smell as well as see: Incense.

The glorious comfort of ritual: kneeling for prayer. And the vibrant smell of old books mixed with generous amounts of furniture polish.

 Vibrant spiritual food: taste and see (and smell) that He is gloriously good. 

Where the  glorious, vibrant see-saw intersects the grace I've been given...


Top Ten {Tuesday}

holy experience


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