Sick & Thankful

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Old man winter is on his way.  With the fall weather changing from cold to warm, and back again, my body doesn’t know quite what to think.  RIght now it’s decided to cough, sneeze, and make it hard for me to breath.  This is a little inconvenient, but while I was lying awake coughing about 2:30 last night, I realized something.  I realized, that when I’m sick, in a funny way, I appreciate things a whole lot more.

For instance, when I’m well, I never seem to notice just how wonderful it feels to turn my pillow over and find a nice, cool, spot on my velvety-soft, worn, flannel pillowcase.  I never seem to think about how good it is to draw a clear breath of air without having the urge to cough or hear a rasping breath.  I never notice how truly blissful it is to soak in a hot bath, and then put on my favorite, old, flannel nightgown.  The steam from a cup of hot tea and the sweet taste of our farm honey (that I generously drizzle in my cup!) just seem a little richer when I’m sick.

Of course, after I’ve been “puny” as my grandma would say, it’s such a joyful experience to begin to feel better.  Have you ever noticed how good food tastes when you begin to get your appetite back?  It’s like everything you eat has been cooked to perfection!  When I begin to get well, I can’t help but celebrate a million little victories, like sleeping through the night, taking a walk outside, or reading aloud with a clear voice, that I wasn’t able to do while I was sick.  

Even though it’s not much fun to be sick, it sure does put things in a different perspective.  It always makes me especially grateful that I only have a cold or a virus.  There are so many people who live every day with chronic pain and illness.  Chronic pain and illness play no favorites.  They can attack both the young and old.  I am always amazed at the strength and faith of those that live with illness every day, especially those that are shut in and are unable to leave their homes.  

This time of year, there is much talk about being thankful.  We have so much to be thankful for, especially our health.  Stop for a moment today and consider what a blessing it is to be healthy.  Think about how much it means to you, when you are feeling “puny”, for someone to fix you a nourishing meal, give you a needed break-time, or just offer a few words of encouragement.  

A great way to show thankfulness this season, or any time of the year, would be to take some time to help someone that is struggling with pain or illness.  Look around you.  I bet you can find a co-worker, next door neighbor, fellow church member, or friend that could use some help.  Not sure how to go about it?  

I think the best way is one I’ve learned from my mother-in-law Beth.  Surprise attack!  Don’t ask, just do.  Step out in faith and be bold.  Many times, I have seen Beth fix a pan of cornbread and a pot of soup for someone and just drop by their house with a ready made dinner.  She’s also notorious for taking plates of cookies to people and stopping by, “just to check on them”.  I’ve been with her on several of these impromptu visits and have always been richly rewarded to see the smiles and sometimes happy tears that can be found when true friendship is shown.  

So often, when we are healthy, it is easy to forget how isolated and miserable you can feel if you are sick or in pain, especially if the illness or pain is chronic.  Let’s remember the famous words found in Matthew 7:12, “so in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” and in Matthew 19:19, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  

 

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The Simple Joy of Sponge Rollers

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The last few weeks have been hectic around the farm.  It’s always a little unnerving when school starts and our household makes the change from Mom being at home, to Mom being at work.  We’ve eaten way more prepackaged food than we’d like to, stayed up just a little to late doing last minute things, and also managed to attend the county fair and a performance by the Chinese acrobats. 

This week, it seems like things have finally calmed down a little bit and we are getting into a “school year” routine.  Things are a little slower and a little simpler when we get in our groove.  Most of you know that I think the simple things in life are some of the most joyful.  Last night, some sponge rollers brought that idea back to the forefront of my thoughts. 

It really all got started because Dot is here.  Dot is my grandma and, most of the time, she lives in Kansas.  But, this weekend, my Aunt and Uncle brought her down to visit.  My little girl, Elizabeth, was beyond excited!  When Elizabeth was very small, Dot lived close by, and would spend hours watching and playing with Elizabeth while I was teaching school and Joey was working on the farm.  Dot (the queen of clean) taught Elizabeth to fold and sort laundry, dust, say the books of the New Testament, and many more things.  Needless to say, Elizabeth is completely enamored with Dot.  Elizabeth was thrilled that Dot was visiting for the weekend, and even more thrilled that Dot was going to drive over and come to our church on Sunday.

Because of these thrilling events, Elizabeth decided that she needed to have her hair rolled, so it would look extra pretty for church.  I smiled when she asked me to roll her hair and agreed that it would look beautiful.  I got down the antique cookie tin that we keep the rollers in, waited for Elizabeth to get positioned on the edge of the bed, and then began to comb. 

As I combed the long, wet, clean-smelling hair and listened to Elizabeth chatter on, I began to smile and think about how good it was to be engaged in such a simple and old-fashioned activity.  My mind wandered back through the years, and I caught glimpses of all my grandmas and great-grandmas with rollers in their hair, bustling about in their kitchens, or doing some odd bit of housework while they waited for their hair to “set”.  My memories moved on, and I saw myself as a little girl sitting very still while my mom rolled my hair.  I remembered how hard it was to sleep in the rollers, what high hopes I had that I’d look like a glamorous movie star, and how I’d taken the rollers out in the middle of the night and decided that being glamorous wasn’t worth sleeping in uncomfortable rollers. 

My mind snapped back to the present as I snapped the last roller into place.  Elizabeth ran to look in the mirror, and I thought (for the hundredth time) that little girls in sponge rollers are just adorable!  That night as we snuggled in bed reading a bed time story, I thought again just how rich and full life can be when we slow down and think about all the joys that surround us each and every day. 

We have so much to be thankful for, but it is so easy to forget that, as we get caught up in the latest “right now” project.  Stress washes over us and we forget that the good things in life are still there. All we have to do is take the time to slow down and enjoy them.  Whether it’s rolling hair, reading to your child, savoring the taste of homemade bread, or being thankful for how good your favorite chair feels when you sink down into it at the end of day, we all need to stop and remember that we are richly blessed with the simple things.

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Elizabeth and Great-Grandma Dot

A Glimpse of Market Day

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Today was market day.  Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we go to the local Farmer’s Market to sell our fresh vegetables, fruits, jams, jellies, and such.  Each market day is a little different, and you never know what might happen.  Here’s a glimpse into how today went.

We woke up to the alarm clock at 4:45.  Joey was already up and going, and Elizabeth and I hurried to get dressed and do our morning routine.  By 5:25, we were in the truck with aprons on (except Joey!) and ready to head to market.  

After a short 30 minute drive, we pulled into the town square at 6:00.  We got our pop- up tent put up, and unloaded tables, boxes, veggies, canned goods, our signs, and all the things we need to make a market morning run smoothly.  Then, Joey, Elizabeth and I started working as quickly as we could to get the vegetables sorted and set into boxes for display on our table.  

Around 6:30, the customers started to stop by.  Elizabeth and I waited on folks while Joey kept boxing.  The morning passed like a blur.  It wasn’t unusual to have 4 or 5 people at our table waiting to buy veggies.  We hurried to fill orders and answer questions.  

Many of the people that started out as customers have become old friends.  It is such a joy to see them each week and catch up on what’s been going on in their lives.  When we are especially busy and haven’t been able to get everything boxed and displayed, sometimes these wonderful people pitch in to fill their own orders!  This morning, I found myself handing a peck basket of okra to one of my favorite customers and telling her to fill a box with what she needed.  I jokingly told her it was pretty bad when she had to fill her own order!  We both had a laugh about that!  

Our 6 year old daughter Elizabeth also helps with customers at the market and is learning how to make change this summer.  She loves helping fill orders and working with the money.  The folks that stop by our booth are so patient and encouraging to her.    They always have a kind word or a joke to tell her.

As I said earlier, you never know what will happen at the market, and today we got a big surprise.  One of our sweet customers brought us a wonderful cookbook (which you all know I loved!) and a fabulous homemade soy candle!  She just brought them because she knew we would love them.  That really touched my heart.  Another lovely lady thoughtfully brought us an envelope with seeds that she had carefully saved from the tomatoes she had bought from us the week before.

It is such a blessing to be able to build relationships with the folks at market.  We love helping them learn about canning and preserving, growing a garden, drying herbs, and saving seeds.  It’s also a blessing to be able to learn things from our customers.  We have heard so many great gardening tips, recipes, and household ideas.  

It’s also fun to visit with the other vendors that sell at the market.  When we have a lull in the crowd, we like to slip over to another tent and spend a moment with some of the talented folks that bake, craft, and farm.  We have a really nice group of folks that sell at the market.  

The market, like any business, has it’s busy and slow times.  Of course, the end of July is a busy time with tomatoes, peppers, and all the summer veggies being in full swing.  Today went by like a blur.  We were sold out of vegetables and ready to load up by around 10:00.  We packed the truck and headed home.   

I have to admit that sometimes when the alarm goes off at 4:45 on market day, I am reluctant to get out of bed.  I think about how nice it would be to just sleep in and worry about those vegetables later.  Of course, I never do, and by the time market is over for the day, I am so glad I didn’t.  On the drive home from market, Joey and I are always so humbled and amazed at the wonderful people that we call our customers.  

Whether it’s seeing the look of delight on someones face when they spot their favorite kind of tomato, or being able to share with someone how easy it is to can green beans, or getting to hear a cherished memory of someones life on the farm, market day is so rewarding.  

I know I say it all the time, but I am so grateful that Joey and I are able to live on his family’s farm.  I am thankful for the market, for the wonderful people we meet, and for all the blessings that make up our life on the farm.  Market comes around every Wednesday and every Saturday.  Stop by and see us and get your own special glimpse of market day.

Here is a picture I took last year of our Market Day table.

 

Rendering Lard

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I rendered lard for the first time this summer.  It all started when my wonderful friend Rachel of Jersey Knoll Farms offered me a bag of fresh pork fat.  At first, I was hesitant to accept.  I had visions of spending hours over a huge cast iron kettle full of hot popping oil.  Fortunately, after a short talk with Rachel, I learned that rendering lard is easy, fairly quick, and (I think) fun!  Here’s how I did it.  (At this point, I have to throw in my standard disclaimer.  If you render lard, or think about rendering lard, and something goes horribly wrong, I am not responsible.)  Also, if pictures of pork fat bother you, you may not want to read this post.

Now, let’s get started.

First, I placed the fat into my stainless steel cooking pots.  I turned the stove on very low heat.

 

Here is a close up of what the fat looked like before I turned the stove on.

 

 

The next steps were very easy.  Keeping the heat on low, I just let the fat slowly start to melt. Every few minutes, I gave it a stir to make sure it wasn’t sticking or burning on the bottom of the pan.

You can see it is starting to turn to a liquid in this photo.

 

It cooked a little longer, melted a little more, and it looked like this.

 

Annnd…..I cooked it a little bit longer, it melted a little bit more, and it looked like this.

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You can see that by this point, the pieces that are left are pretty small.  At this stage, I could have kept cooking it down, but I since I wanted to have bright, white, clean-tasting lard, I decided to stop and drain off the liquid.  

Here is my set up for draining off the liquid.  I used a canning funnel and a wire strainer that I lined with cheesecloth.  By doing this, I was able to pour the liquid directly in the jar.

 

When I first poured the liquid in, it was a yellowish color.

 

But, when it was completely cool, the lard was a beautiful, pure, white!

 

In all, the whole process took me around two hours.

After the lard cooled completely, I put it in the refrigerator for storage.

 I have really enjoyed cooking with lard.  We fried okra and new potatoes in it, and I am looking forward to using it to make a pie crust for a blackberry pie!  The best thing is that I know I am using a product from an animal that was properly cared for, fed good food, and raised on a local farm.  It is so important to know where your food comes from.  Rendering my own lard with locally grown pork is one way I can do just that.   

A Mother’s Song

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As a little girl, I remember lying in bed early on Saturday mornings.  I’d be in that drowsy state where you’re half awake and half asleep.  The covers would be so warm and snuggly.  The beautiful rays of morning sun would be shining in through my window.  Inside the house, I’d hear the sound of the washing machine chugging away, and I’d hear Mom singing as she worked on cleaning the house. 

Singing…. At the time, I never thought much about it.  That was just the normal thing.  When mom cleaned, mom usually sang.  She didn’t just sing any old tune, but beautiful old hymns.  The song that I remember her singing most frequently is “Blessed Assurance”, especially the lines that say, “This is my story.  This is my song.  Praising my Savior, all the day long.”  

Lately, I’ve read several articles and books that have suggested that women should be purposeful in singing songs of praise and worship as they go about their daily chores. These articles and books have pointed out that singing has many benefits that I’d never even thought about.

The ideas that intrigued me most were that:

~Singing songs of praise and worship to God is a wonderful witness to other family members.

~Purposefully singing songs of praise and worship is a wonderful way to brighten your day and raise your spirits.

~When often heard, songs of praise and worship will more readily come to mind in times of worry or trouble.

~Singing songs of praise and worship helps to make even menial jobs, like doing the dishes, a fun and special time to draw closer to the Lord.  

Who would have thought that something as simple as singing a song could have such a impact in our day to day lives?

I don’t know if my Mom was purposeful in her singing, or if that was just a way for her to spend a few minutes of praise and worship with Jesus in the midst of her busy life.  Either way, it really made a difference to me.  I find myself singing her favorite lines from “Blessed Assurance” when I’m throwing in a load of laundry or doing some dusting.

Mom may not have realized it at the time, but her sweet, simple, singing during Saturday morning chores helped to start me on a precious journey with the Lord that will last through eternity.  Now that’s something to sing about!

 

 

Making Fresh Butter

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Our Jersey milk cows Star and Speck finally had their calves a few weeks ago.  Since then, we’ve been enjoying their fresh milk and cream.  Last night, we decided to use some of the cream to make some fresh butter.  If you’ve never made your own butter, it is easy to do, and tastes delicious!  Here’s how we do it.

After milking, we strain the milk and put it in the refrigerator overnight.  The cream will rise to the top of the milk jar.  Using a ladle, we scoop off the cream and put it into the churn.  You don’t have to have a churn to make butter.  You can use a mixer, or even a simple glass mason jar.  (If you use a mason jar, you will have to put a lid on the jar and shake the cream.) We prefer using a hand churn because it’s what our family has always used.

Elizabeth and her Churn

 After the cream is in the churn, we let it sit until it gets close to room temperature.  The cream turns into butter much faster if it’s a little warmer.  It won’t hurt anything if you want to churn it while it’s cold, it just won’t turn into cream until it warms up.  When my Dad was a little boy, he liked to turn the handle on the churn so much, that he’d get in some extra turns while the cream was cold, just for the fun of it!

After the cream warms up a little, churn away.  After a little bit of churning, you’ll notice golden flecks appearing in the milk.  That’s the butter!  Keep churning, but slow down a little to allow the butter to collect.  It’s almost magical to see the large golden clumps appearing in the jar!

Butter floating in the churn.

After the butter has collected, it’s time to take it out of the churn, separating it from the milk (which is now yummy buttermilk!).  We use my Great-Grandma Bessie’s wooden butter paddle to do this, but you can also use a spoon.

My Dad scooping out the butter from the churn.

After we get all the butter out of the churn, we pour the buttermilk into a pitcher and put it in the refrigerator for later use.  The next step is to wash the butter.  We pour ice water over the butter and work it through the butter using a spoon.  At first, the water is a milky color, but after several times of pouring on water, working it through, and draining it off, the water will be almost clear.  The cold water will also make your butter much harder.  Washing the buttermilk out of the butter helps it to stay fresh longer.  We also add a little salt.

When the butter is clean, the next step is to put it into a butter mold.  If you don’t have a butter mold, don’t panic.  You can also shape the butter with a spoon.  We just happen to have several butter molds that we like to use to make the butter look pretty.  The one we’re using in the photo below is a glass mold with pictures of cows.  My favorite mold is my Great Grandma Bessie’s wooden mold, which has a lovely picture of ferns on the top.

Here is what the butter looks like in the mold before we’ve smoothed down the bottom with a spoon. You have to pack it tightly so it will take the shape of the mold.

Once the butter is tightly packed in the mold, we pop it out onto the butter dish.  You can also use a plate or waxed paper. In the photo below, we only made enough butter to fill half the mold.

Pushing the butter out of the mold.

That’s all there is to it.  Once the butter is off of the mold, the only steps left are to put the lid on the butter dish, and put it in the refrigerator.

Oh yes, there is one more step…eating the delicious fresh butter!  This morning at the farm, I’m going to use some of the buttermilk to make some piping hot buttermilk pancakes.  Then, we’ll top those with some fresh butter and homemade blueberry syrup that I made with our own blueberries.  Yum!  Life on the farm is delicious!

Butter in the butter dish!

Disclaimer:  If something goes horribly wrong while you are making butter, eating butter, or thinking about making or eating butter, we are not responsible.

It’s So Fun To Live On A Farm!

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“It’s so fun to live on a farm!”  I hear this comment quite a bit from different people.  They then proceed to tell me that they wish they could have a simple, easy, relaxed, life-style just like me.  In fact, it turns out, that they usually are planning to do it someday…

Well…..Ahem….I just think I may need to say a few words here….

I love my busy, unique, old-fashioned modern life!  Between home-schooling, teaching public school, being a farm wife, being a “modern working woman”, writing blogs, picking vegetables, playing music, and the million and one other things that I love to do, there is definitely never a dull moment.

It’s always at this time of year, however, that I feel like my busy, unique, old-fashioned modern life revs up into high gear and wildly catapults itself into warp speed.  At this time of year, instead of staying in their separate places, different parts of my life seem to combine themselves into the crazy dance that is known as….Springtime….

The tilt-a-whirl of this time of year usually starts about March when the market opens back up for the year.  It’s then that I realize Joey’s going to need my help working at our Farmer’s Market booth selling the wonderful plants and veggies that he’s grown.  About that same time, I also realize that he’d probably like a hand with some of the harvesting if I get home from school early enough.  

“Well, okay”,  I think to myself.  “That’s not so bad.  I can give up Saturdays to help at the market and a few hours during the week nights to help harvest.”  

All is well, but then, the thought strikes me that Elizabeth still needs to finish her lessons for the school year.  Fortunately, a little extra scheduled school time with Joey during the day helps with that.  But wait!  I almost forgot…  It’s the time of year for Elizabeth’s dance recital! So, a few extra dance practices get thrown in.  

Well.  Now, I’ve got everything set.  We’ll just stick to this schedule and hang in there until summer.  Only three more months, right?  Hold on…what did you say?  Asparagus is ready to be picked and frozen?  What?!  Broccoli is ready?!  The strawberries are coming on?  Guess I’d better work in some time to put some things in the freezer.  After all, what good is living on a farm if you can’t put your own food up for the winter?  

NOW…we are finally ready to just settle in and hang on until summer.  

Oh…hold on a second…I think….hmmm…I think that I still have a second grade teaching job to do.  You know, it is springtime.  The kids have been awfully good all year.  I really ought to do something special for them to celebrate the end of the year.  And then, there’s always report cards, conferences with parents, papers to grade, end of the year lessons to plan, a classroom to pack up for summer, and all those wonderful ideas that I’ve got stirring in my head for next year.  Guess I’d better add all those things to the schedule.  

If you haven’t already guessed, at this point, the schedule is no more.  It has disintegrated into a ragged, folded, ink stained, tiny, scrap of paper.  And honestly, I’m not even sure where in the house it is…. (My purse?  The greenhouse?  The refrigerator???!!!! How did it get in there?!)

Can anyone else out there relate?  I’m sure there are a lot of busy moms (and dads) that are saying, “Amen sister!”.  Springtime has a way of getting out of control.  

Even though things do get crazy around here, I try to keep focused on how richly blessed I am to get to do all of these amazing things that make up my life.  God has given me so many opportunities to share my talents and blessings with others.  

Even though I get tired (and sometimes ran down), it is so rewarding to get to talk with people at the Farmer’s Market about how to save seeds, cook a delicious recipe, can food, or plant a garden.  

I am also fanatical about teaching school.  I love teaching little ones that are eager to learn all the wonderful things about our amazing world.  Whether it’s sharing knowledge with my own little girl at home, or teaching a public school curriculum to the 23 children in my class at school, I am thankful that God has given me a chance to work with his precious little ones.

As for being the “farmer’s wife” and “Elizabeth’s mom”, well, those are the greatest blessings of all.  I am so thankful for my husband Joey.  I have never seen such a hard and diligent worker.  His honesty and perseverance inspire me every day.  As for Elizabeth, of course, I think she’s sweeter than sugar and twice as nice! I am so thankful for my little girl.

SO….when I have days like today, where I got up before dark, drove to Mountain Home with Joey and Elizabeth, delivered strawberries that we harvested last night to some wonderful customers, then went and put on a old-fashioned music show with our bluegrass band for 29 classes of school children at our school, then went back to school with the children and taught their lessons to them, then came home and took pictures for the farm website, then got fresh broccoli and things ready for supper, then went to town to deliver more strawberries, then really wanted to write a blog to share all of this….

It’s THEN… that I have to stop, be still, and remember that,honestly, it really is fun to live on a farm.  Even though it sometimes seems overwhelming, life on the farm is amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

  Playing Music

 

Our Group Playing Music for the School Children