Old Home Farm

A Hunting We Will Go

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As I've said before, country people live by the seasons, both natural and man-made. Its hunting season here in the Ozarks. One of the favorite times of the year.

I was hunting long before it was really acceptable in my neck of the woods for a girl to hunt. I grew up in the '60s and '70s, and at that time girls were still treated like porcelain dolls. We were not allowed to play baseball, full-court basketball, or any other strenuous sports. And we certainly were not encouraged to hunt! But I was the only child of a wonderful man whose best friend had been his sister. So he taught me all the things he would have taught a son, including how to shoot and hunt. In her younger days, my mother was Daddy's hunting companion, but when I got old enough, I took over the role.

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Daddy and Mom with a brace of squirrels

Daddy was a crack shot. He was so good in Army basic training that they wanted to make him a sharp shooter, but he declined. He became an anti-aircraft gunner instead. His first rule of hunting was kill it with one shot. My Daddy loved wildlife and could not stand for anything to be wounded and in pain. He also told me that stray bullets were a dangerous thing. At age 11 he gave me a .22 and told me to learn to bull's-eye every time. Then I could go hunting.

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It took me nigh onto a year, but I finally got good enough to satisfy him, and we went on our first squirrel hunt. That's when I learned Daddy's second rule of hunting: Don't kill more than you will eat. We always had excellent hunting dogs (trained by Daddy) and they would hunt squirrels all day. Of course I was carried away by the experience and after we had bagged half a dozen squirrels, I was surprised when Daddy called the dogs and said lets head for home. When I protested, he explained that a good hunter is one who respects the wildlife and never takes more than will be eaten. Then he explained his third rule of hunting: Don't kill it unless you are going to eat it, or unless it is a threat to your livestock.

When we weren't hunting, we would go for walks in the woods, and Daddy showed me borrows and told me what lived there. We looked for nests in trees, tracks on the ground, and he told me the importance of leaving brush piles for things like skunks, and other small "critters" to make a home in.

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Besides squirrels, we also hunted rabbits, and Daddy hunted quail. I never shot at quail because the shotgun kicked too hard. We never hunted deer. At that time hunters ran deer with dogs. There was no sitting in a blind or tree stand and patiently waiting. Daddy hated the practice of running deer, and was greatly relieved when it was finally banned in our area.

Daddy was 76 when we went on our last hunting trip. He missed his squirrel and had to kill it on the ground. He stood there just looking at it for a few minutes, then handed me his gun and said “I'm done.” He died a year later from a brain tumor.

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I haven't hunted since that time either. My husband is also an excellent shot, but he grew up hunting elk in Colorado, so Arkansas deer just haven't been a challenge to him. But my daughter has carried on the tradition. She and her husband hunt every deer season, and all of their three children have bagged some really nice bucks. They also live by Daddy's hunting rules. Daddy would be pleased.

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Veteran's Day – A Family Affair

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Have you ever noticed how certain jobs are often "passed down" through generations of a family? Even if the coming generation doesn't intend to follow, somehow they find for reasons they never expected, to be employed in the same way as the older generations of their family. My grandfather was a blacksmith, and my father became a mechanic — the next logical step from smithing. My father also worked at a well-known boat factory installing motors for a time. Now my son works at that same factory, only he works in the warehouse — the same job his father does in a different factory. My husband thinks that it is a type of security: You grew up with a family member working a specific job, so you know it will provide well for you, too. Whatever the reason, it seems to be the norm. Especially in military families.

I come from a long line of military families. It started with my great grandfather Lewis Roberts, my father's grandfather. At the time he lived in Virginia and when the civil war broke out, he went against the rest of his family and joined the Union Army. The Roberts are of Welsh decent and very patriotic. I only have one faded photograph of Grandpa Lewis, but I do have his army pension certificate. He was in the battle of Pea Ridge and was wounded there.

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During World War I, my mother's uncle William Rich was a doughboy in the trenches of France. He survived, came home, married a distant cousin, and moved to California where he lived the rest of his life on disability due to his service.

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When World War II came, my father and his brother Carl were both drafted. Uncle Carl was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after he completed basic. He was honorably discharged and went to Washington state to work in an aircraft factory. My father went on to take part in the Normandy landing on Utah Beach and fought in every major battle in the Allied offensive.

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My uncle Carl had two sons who were both drafted into the Vietnam War. Gary served in the Marines and Richard was in the U.S. Air Force. I remember as a child receiving presents from them — coins and dolls and seashells. But I didn't understand how much danger they were in, or how brave they were until many years later.

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Greg's father also served during the Vietnam war. Larry McAllister enlisted in the Air Force to further his education and have a career. He went to school to become an officer and was posted to the island of Guam to work in personnel at Anderson Air Force base. A squadron of B-52 bombers were stationed there, and the family watched them take off to lay down carpets of bombs in the Vietnam jungles. It was always nerve-wracking waiting to see if the big birds would return safely from their mission. Later, Larry became a general's aid and was sent to the Pentagon in Washington D.C.. There they witnessed first hand the protest marches on the capitol and the many confrontations between the protesters and the police. Larry was given a medical disability discharge in 1973 and retired as a Captain.

In 1980, Greg's brother Brian McAllister achieved his lifelong dream and was accepted to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Brian trained as a pilot and during Desert Storm he was on the island of Oman where he flew missions in a C-130 cargo aircraft. He retired as a Major after 24 years of service (including the four years at the Academy) and is now a pilot for Southwest Airlines.

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Greg also followed his father into the Air Force in the summer of 1979. He started as a Security Policeman and was stationed at RAF Lakenheath, England, UK for three years. He guarded the F-111 fighter bombers there. In 1983 we returned to the states and Greg cross-trained to become an Imagery Interrupter reading satellite imagery over the Soviet Union. In 1985 he left the Air Force and we came home. Later that year, he joined the local National Guard HHB, 1st /142nd Field Artillery Battalion, first as a Track Command Post driver for Fire Direction & Control, then he became a Chaplain's Assistant. In 1990 his unit was sent to Desert Storm where they became attached to a British Armored Division. Greg retired from the National Guard in 1999 after 21 years of military service.

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Back on my mother's side of the family was my cousin Terry Eddings. He was also drafted during Vietnam and served in the Navy. He was stationed a Norfolk, Virginia, where he worked in Encrypted Communications. Such messages were highly classified, and Terry was always aware of the great trust placed in him. Years later one of his nephews, Todd Swartz, also served in the Navy and was stationed in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay where he ran the ship-to-shore ferry. The latest member of the family to join the ranks is Dallas Roe, Terry's great nephew, who just graduated from Marine basic training. He hopes to train for the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations, but failing that he will train to become a gunner.

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My daughter-in-law, Brittany (Hill) McAllister's grandfather Benny Joe Matlock served in the Korean war in the 6th Division known as the Arrowhead Division. He was taken as a prisoner of war and remained one for 32 months and 25 days. He was released at the end of the war, and was given a disability discharge. In later years, he was a proud member of the VFW and the Disabled Veterans.

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A real example of family service is the family of my friends Mary and David Stevens. David served in Vietnam in the 261 Transportation division. When David returned, he was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington where he met Mary Trusty, a member of the Medical Corp stationed there. They fell in love and were married three weeks later. They have been married 49 years now. Their son Charles served in the Navy during Desert Storm, and his grandson, David Jr., is still serving in the Navy today.

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But the military is not just for men, as Mary proved. My dear friend Chelsie Kowalsky also served in the Navy from September 2001 to September 2003 aboard the Aircraft Carrier George Washington DVN 73. She refueled the fighter aircraft for missions, a hazardous job to have. And planning to carry on the family tradition is Chelsie's stepdaughter Destiny Kowalsky, who is currently enrolled in the ROTC program and planning on joining the Navy after graduation.

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Thank you to ALL veterans — past and present — who have served your country. And may God bless and keep all veterans and future veterans in His care.

Bea's Big Adventure

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Having a bum lamb about the house is a bit like having a 2 year old. They are everywhere at once and everything they find goes right into the mouth. Thankfully, I have my dogs for baby sitters. Beauregard and Huckleberry are very protective of her. And she adores them. Which is a real blessing, considering what happened over the weekend.

It was late afternoon and some friends came to visit and have dinner with us. It was Chelsea (whom I helped to fix her chicken pen) and her husband, Joe. As this was his first time to visit the farm, Joe wanted to walk to the barn to see the sheep, and I foolishly let the dogs and Bea come along.

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If you remember from my blog about sitting on the porch at night, I mentioned I heard a fox in the woods. Well, its a big gray fox. He ran right up to the fence one morning and took my favorite hen right in front of me. Beau went wild, and has been wanting to go into the woods ever since. And that is exactly what happened. One moment Bea and the dogs were with us, the next I looked around and they were gone. Vanished! I didn't know Beatrice could move that fast, and I never imagined she would leave me and follow the dogs.

We ran back to the house just as Greg arrived home from work. I could faintly hear Bea bleating down in the woods, so Greg and Joe crossed the fence and went after her. They were gone nearly half an hour, but came back empty-handed. Now, we knew we had a fox down there, and our neighbor who we allow to hunt in our woods has seen a bear down in the hollow. I saw a big bobcat cross the road just at the edge of our property a month ago, and we hear a pack of coyotes nearly every evening. So the big dark woods are just loaded with predators who would like nothing better than a little lamb for a snack. And being farm people, we are realistic, and gave Bea up for lost.

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We made a pretty gloomy dinner party that evening. Every so often, Greg would go to the door and call for the dogs, but without much hope. All of this happened around 4 p.m.. It was dark by 5. Around 7 p.m., Greg made one more trip to the door and suddenly dashed out of the house. Across the field just visible in the light from the front porch he could see an amazing sight: Beauregard and Huckleberry were coming across the field with Beatrice between them. They were walking slowly and protectively by her. Huckey left them and came running to meet Greg as if to say “We're home and we've brought her back,” but Beauregard never left Bea's side until they came into the yard.

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That was one tired and hungry little lamb! And my two heroes were praised and petted and given treats and everyone slept in the house that night. Beauregard is half German shepherd and half Great Pyrenees, so the herding/protecting instinct is very strong in him. But Huckleberry is half Basset Hound and half terrier, so he is usually torn between napping and bouncing. And while I believe that instinct played a big part in this adventure, I also believe that God looked down on a little lost lamb in the big dark woods and told the two big dogs to take care of her and see her safely home. After all, He is well-known for seeking lost lambs and returning them to the fold.

Have Hammer, Will Travel

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I love chickens. They are so sweet and relaxing to have. I love to sit on the back porch and watch them puttering around the backyard scratching for bugs or taking a dust bath. It is truly one of the joys of farm life.

A few weeks back, I spent the afternoon with a friend helping her fix up a chicken pen. The house they are hoping to buy has many outbuildings, including a former chicken run with coop. She was asking my advice on how to restore the pen so she could have chickens, and I offered to come help.

I gathered up my tools (I keep my own toolbox) and some leftover supplies from repairing my own coop this spring, and headed out to my friend Chelsea's. The original pen was in pretty good shape, it just needed to be braced up a bit, and the wire firmly reattached. It also needed new netting over it.

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We replaced a board, and worked on the wire. Then we began the netting. Most people simply pull it together with small wire ties in a few places, but I have a different method. I like to take strong twine and "sew" it together all the way down. It keeps it from sagging and makes it harder for predators to get through.

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Cheslea sewing the netting

Once we were done, we cleaned and refilled the nesting boxes inside, and also covered the floor with straw. Chelsea's husband, Joe, will make a door before the weather turns cold.

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A few days later, Chelsea's first chicken arrived. A very handsome rooster named Mr. Doodles. His girls are still too small to put in the pen yet, but Mr. Doodles is quite happy right now on his own. He's very gentle and runs to meet Chelsea when she feeds him. He even flies up and perches on her arm. There is nothing quite like having chickens to make you feel like a real hobby farmer. They are fun, affectionate, and provide a good breakfast of eggs!

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Beatrice the Bum

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I made a mistake last weekend that every good shepherd knows not to do. I moved a mother and her twins before I should have. You see, when an ewe lambs, she must first clean the lamb thoroughly and expel the afterbirth before you can move her. To do so before either of these things happen is to risk confusing her and having her reject the lamb. Which is exactly what happened. Sheep are not the brightest of animals (as I have mentioned before) and are easily confused and distracted.

My ewe Evie had twins in the upper shed near the feed trough. Instead of waiting as I should, I thought moving her away from the trough would be best to prevent the new lambs from being trampled by the other ewes. In doing so, I caused her to reject the smallest of the two lambs. So now I have a "bum." That is the term given to lambs raised on a bottle. In days past, when a lamb was rejected, it might survive by darting in and stealing milk from other mothers (or bumming milk from them). Shepherds with big flocks did not have time to devote to a bottle baby, so if they did not put it down, they left it to fend for itself. A surprising amount of them lived to adulthood by doing this.

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I am not so hardhearted. When I realized the lamb was not nursing, I brought her home. Then I was off to the Marion County Feed Store for powdered lamb starter and then on to my friend Nancy's for fresh goat milk. I like to mix the two for the first few weeks. The lamb starter gives the lamb all the necessary nutrients a newborn needs, and the goat's milk is wholesomeness all on its own.

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The first lamb we had, I asked friends on Facebook to suggest a name for her. Her mother is named Honey and I had several suggestions, Molasses and Beatrice among them. At first I went with Beatrice, but then this little one came and the name just seemed to fit her better, so the other became Molasses.

Beatrice is a darling little girl. She seems quite happy on her own, as long as she gets her bottle at the proper time, and some loving attention now and again. She has chosen my dog Huckleberry as her companion and wants to be as close as possible to him.

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Bea stays in a pen outside once the sun is full up and the day has warmed. Beauregard and Huckleberry are her guardians. She bounces and kicks up her heels and sleeps in the warm sun. When I go out to give her a bottle, I let her out to run and bounce around the yard a while. She loves to chase chickens.

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At night Bea comes in. She sleeps in a dog kennel and Huckey sleeps next to it so she is never alone. We do allow her some freedom in the house. All baby animals need physical contact to grow properly, so we pet her and talk to her and let her follow us around for a bit. She is particularly fond of Greg.

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Bea also takes the morning walk with the dogs and me. We go to the barn to feed the sheep and she gets a chance to interact with the other lambs. Once Beatrice is old enough, we will put her back in the barn with the sheep. When lambs reach 3 to 4 weeks old, they begin to bond and sleep together in a pile and the mothers take turns "babysitting." I will still walk to the barn about three times a day to give her a bottle until she is about 4 months old. Then the lambs will all become "creeps" and be weaned. They will be fed in a "creep feeder," which means they will be fed grain in a special place that only they can get into. After about three months of this, they will be allowed back with the rest of the flock. And I will have a valuable lesson to remember about moving my lambs too soon.

Lambing Season

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There is nothing like sitting in a barn on a still, cold night watching a new mother and her lamb nestled in the hay in a warm circle of lamplight. No matter the temperature, you feel warm inside. You can see your breath, and hear owls calling softly in the woods. It seems as if this is the only place in all the world and you are enveloped in a golden glow of magic. I never fail to think of Christ's birth and I wonder if this beautiful, snug feeling of peace is one of the many reasons He was born in a lambing cave.

In the year 2000 we were given a mixed flock of sheep and our great adventure began. As time passed and we learned how to manage them, we culled and bred down to a flock of almost pure Suffolk sheep. Suffolk are wool sheep, and require a lot of maintenance. We did our own shearing, and had to keep up with hoof care, which meant foot baths and regular trimming. Foot rot was our worst enemy. If not treated properly, it could leave an animal lame for life.

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We had very little trouble with lambing. Our girls were healthy and strong and we only had to pull two or three lambs in all the years we had them. But we always had to be on hand for the birthing, or soon after because of all the extra care. The mothers had to have shots of calcium, B-12, and plenty of water with electrolytes and molasses. The lambs also got a B-12 shot and a paste called Pro-Bias, which is a compound of mostly yeast to "jump start" their digestive system. We also put little wool coats on them for warmth for the first 48 hours. Hypothermia was always a concern.

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When the lambs were a week old, we would band the tails to make them shorter. Long tails on a wool sheep can lead to all sorts of problems during the summer months due to flies and other insects. Also, we sold lambs to 4-H students for showing in the local fairs, and the rules were very strict about the tails.

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I loved my Suffolk dearly. They were gentle, loving and fun. I had my special pets who would eat out of my hand. Greg and I worked with them together and it was some of the best days of my life. But, the climate has begun to change, and we began to have serious health problems with them due to the weather. Wool sheep are not suited for extreme heat, and we lost several due to diseases. At last, we knew we could no longer keep them. So, last year we sold the flock, and began again with another breed.

Our new sheep are hair sheep, which means they shed their wool in spring like a dog. We now have a Dorper/Katahdin mix with a little Jacob sheep thrown in. Jacob sheep are wool, so one of my new girls never quite sheds all of her wool and we have to shear off her back every spring.

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We have always had lambs beginning in January and going into February. But this year, we had lambing season early. The weather has been so odd with cold days here and extreme heat there that nature has gotten a bit confused, and my sheep have lambed early. So far we have had one lamb, with at least two more to follow in the next few days. Hair sheep are much more resilient than wool. The mothers only need the electrolytes and molasses in water, and the lambs only need Pro-Bias. They are thick and furry and have no need of little coats. And there is no need to be on hand for the births.

Kaydence and new lamb

We have discovered that the dreaded hoof rot doesn't seem to apply to our new sheep. We check and trim their hooves whenever we worm them, but so far there are no problems, even in really wet weather. And they are very friendly. They all eat from my hand and follow me wherever I go. But I still miss my Suffolks, and those cold winter nights in the barn attending to new mothers and lambs.

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Moonlight Serenade

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I love moonlight. There is just something magical about the way it lights up the world, and yet it is still dark. Everything takes on an extra dimension, and the whole world seems alive.

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When I was a teenager, my room was at the back of the house with its own door to the outside world. On moonlight nights I often slipped outside as my parents slept and went for a ramble. I had a German shepherd dog who was my constant companion and protector, so I was never afraid. And as I've said before, I was one of those teens who thought I was invincible.

I would wander the open fields, or plunge into the woods without a care in the world, but simply rejoicing in the beauty of the night and the world my God had made. I remember clearly the moonlight filtering through the leaves creating little pools of light among the trees. Or in the winter, looking up at the stark branches outlined in three dimensions against a full harvest moon. I would sit on a log and listen to the music of the night. You see, the night is alive with sounds, especially when the moon is full. The bugs, the squeak of bats, the night birds. When we were in the Air Force this is what I missed most. The sounds of the night on the farm.

I was never afraid. I gave no thought to snakes, spiders, or predators. Nick, my trusty dog, was always by my side. These were my woods. I knew them like the back of my hand and I could walk them with my eyes closed. One night, we did have a brief encounter with a coyote who was hunting for mice in the leaves. Nick chased him a few yards, then we continued on. We often encountered bats, the hoot owl who lived in the big hollow tree, and once or twice skunks. Skunks are very curious and gentle. If you don't scare them, they will just look you over and go on their way. Nick was wise enough to leave them alone.

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My dog Nick

A few nights ago we had a full moon. Greg went to bed early, and when I finished cleaning the kitchen, I turned off all of the lights, slipped out the back door and sat on the porch. Near my chair was Buffy, one of my chickens who insists on sleeping on the porch. I sat very still, waiting for the music to begin. Before long I began to hear the bugs, frogs, and the old hoot owl down in the hollow. I heard my screech owl, who's ancestors have lived here much longer than I. Nearby in the chicken house, I could hear my hens muttering and rustling about on their roost. Do chickens dream, I wonder?

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From the field on the other side of the garden I heard a snort, and knew that Bill the mini horse was sleeping close by. And then from down in the woods I heard a fox bark. I've suspected for a while we had foxes, but now I know for sure. Beau, who patrols the yard fence all night, barked in reply, warning Mr. Fox to come no farther. Closer to the fence line I heard rustling sounds and wondered if the raccoon family was about. Or maybe an opossum, or the family of skunks I know live in the brush pile below the house. Beau marched back and forth barking to let them know his yard was off limits.

The Siamese appeared and took the chair opposite of me and settled down to listen, too. I'm sure he heard much more than I. Presently, I saw the bats swoop by, hopefully eating any mosquitoes lingering in the unusually warm weather we are having. Finally, I looked at the clock on my table and saw that it was 11:30 and realized I needed to be in bed. As if in confirmation, I suddenly heard the rooster crow. Fred is a strange sort of fellow. He crows at all hours of the night. Maybe he's responding to sounds he hears, and wants to make sure his flock is tucked up safely for the night.

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So taking his advice, DC and I went in to bed. But the next full moon, we'll be on the porch again, enjoying the music of the night. And maybe I can even get Greg to join us.