Old Home Farm

Exercising Country Style

farm signI grew up on the farm. My childhood was spent climbing trees, sliding down pond banks, riding my bicycle over dirt roads, fishing, throwing rocks, hunting squirrels, riding horses and taking care of the stock which was Holstein milk cows, then Herefords. Needless to say, when I married I was in great physical shape.

After marriage, I spent the three years in England traveling mostly by foot or on bicycle. I walked miles to shops, or just for the view with no thought about how far I wandered. When the kids came along (only 13 months apart), I pushed a pram with one child lying down and the other in a little seat that fitted near the handle bar. On the bottom of the pram was a basket where I frequently loaded groceries, then pushed it several blocks home.

In Denver, Colorado, I spent many days with the kids at the zoo (often walking up hill and down with a child on each hip) and on weekends we went hiking in the mountains or to the park and the Natural History Museum. At the Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska I played on my Church's Women's softball team. In short, I was very limber and active in my youth.

Then came 20 years behind a desk answering phones and working on a computer. Not to mention several years adding numbers to my age. When I again came home to the farm, I discovered to my chagrin, that I am no longer able to move like I used to. Where once I could heft a square bale of hay with no thought, I now cut it open and carry an armful at a time. A five gallon bucket of water in each hand has become one three gallon bucket ofttimes carried with both hands. And my miles of fast paced walking has become a round or two along the fence line of the upper field.

My mind does not acknowledge the limitations of my body. I still forget and try to climb that fence or stack of lumber. I grab a 40 pound bag of dog food, or sack of chicken food and try to lift, and am immediately shocked back to reality. But all is not lost. I have figured out an exercise program, with the help of my husband and farm critters.

Greg keeps a road mowed from one gate to the other across our upper field, approximately a quarter mile. Both my daughter-in-law and I walk this daily, though she power walks and I amble. The dogs go along of course, and always run down the slope to the fence and threaten to go into the woods. By refusing to come when called, they ensure that I walk down the slope to get them, then drag them back to the top thus making good use of my leg and arm muscles.

Now that my ewes are once more expecting, I feed them and creep feed my lambs every morning. They always push me about as I work my way to the feed troughs making sure that I am using my balancing skills and the muscles needed to keep from falling.

Gardening is also good for exercise, but only seasonally. During the spring I am digging, hoeing, bending over to plant, and dragging bags of soil from one place to another. Summer brings lifting watering cans and holding them aloft over the plants. Then comes fall and harvest season, where I further hone my arm muscles picking produce.

In the 'off season' such as these winter months that are upon us, I must rely on indoor exercise. Sweeping, polishing furniture, and doing dishes by hand keep those fingers and arms supple. Greg does his bit to contribute to my workout--by leaving his clothes in a pile on the floor by the clothes hamper--ensuring I bend over several times a day to work the back and stomach muscles. And hanging laundry out on the line is great stretching exercise.

After all of this wonderful activity, DC the cat is always at hand to give me a good rub down, massage, and even use acupuncture if necessary. So by degrees, I am working my way back to limber limbs and good health. And who knows, by next spring I might even be able to climb that fence again!


Recycle – Repurpose – Reuse

farmIts funny how society views things. When I was growing up, we reused everything possible because we were poor. Very little was wasted or thrown away. Soda bottles that were not turned in for the 5 cent refund were used for drenching live stock and storing used motor oil – which was used to weather proof fence posts. Plastic margarine tubs were reused for left overs and storage of all sorts. Granny's snuff jars were washed and used for drinking glasses, as were store bought jelly jars (usually given to us as Christmas gifts since Mom made her own jelly).

In my Granny's day, flour sacks were cut and sewn into curtains, table cloths, and clothes for my Aunt. Anything bought in a wooden or metal container was greatly prized and saved to store other items in.

Remember the new fad a few years ago that encouraged people to take plastic crates and stack them with boards between for shelving? I was doing that with milk crates and barn boards back in the '70s because we could not afford to buy a book shelf.

What was necessity then, has become chic now. Furniture made from pallets is sought after and very expensive to purchase. The same goes for hand made rugs from bread bags or old cloth. Where once quilts were made from worn out clothing to keep the family warm at night, now quilts are the 'in' thing made from silk, satin, velvet, and machine stitched in all sorts of patters. And the prices are increasingly high.

Here on the farm we still recycle and reuse as much as possible, both out of necessity and just plain habit. Every time we go to the dump I find myself scanning the 'free' pile to see what is there that I might have a use for. You'd be surprised how you can re-purpose things.

We use pallets for making gates, sheds, and repairing barn walls.

freezer storage
An old freezer has become a storage container for grain, medicines, and lambing supplies. 


Old tires are used to keep the barn roof from being loosened by the frequent storms, and my dad used to weld items to old wheels to anchor them. 

gate and trough

An old industrial sink has become a water trough and a broken gate becomes part of a corral.


Pieces of an old crib insure that new lambs cannot go through a gate and get lost while another part of the same crib has become a hay feeder. 

seed spreader

We took the rusted hardware off of an old seed / fertilize spreader and now it is a garden cart. 


Even my son and his wife have learned the value of re-purposing. Their old bathtub has become the swimming pool for their ducks.


Because of our willingness to reuse, we only go to the dump once every couple of months. And then it is usually to deliver the recycle items we do not need to reuse ourselves such as aluminum cans or glass and plastic containers. But the strangest part of it all is that we are naturally living a life the wealthy want to imitate. They want their furniture to look like old pallets and their curtains to look as though they were made from flour sacks. And they pay absorbent prices for this luxury. So we find that we are now the trend setters, and those who are much better off are scrambling to keep up. We have suddenly become the 'haves' and the wealthy the 'have nots'. Such a strange world...

Photos property of Leah McAllister.


Roads Once Traveled

farm signI have two best friends I've known nearly all of my life. One I met in 1964, the other in 1967.

The latter came and spent the day with me last weekend. We packed a picnic lunch and set out to drive the back roads of our youth.

It was a gorgeous sunny fall day and the leaves have finally begun to turn here. We started our trip by turning up the road behind the old Bruno School and driving up on Pea Ridge and on towards Tomahawk Ridge.

My father was the bus mechanic/bus driver for the old Bruno School, so I know most of old the bus routes in the area. Renee Loftin Wiley's dad was the principal of said school, and she also traveled many of the roads with him on visits.

fall colors

Our first stop was the old Pea Ridge School House. According to my Daddy, this building was multi-functional.

Monday through Friday it housed grades 1-12 as a school. On Saturday nights, community dances were held there and folks from all over gathered to socialize and enjoy good fun. Then Sunday morning it became the local community church.

Nearby is an old cemetery full of ancient grave stones, including one that surely must be the first as it leans against a tree just outside of the fence. The building itself seems to still be in use for special activities, as there are pews inside and an electrical cord hanging on the outside ready to plug into a generator.

fall colors

From there, our travels took us back down towards Bruno and we stopped at Renee's old home place. Sadly, it burned to the grown many years ago, but the foundation is still there as is the old barn. We walked about taking pictures and reminiscing about times spent here and how the house seemed so much bigger when we were children.

The barn held many memories too. It once was full of hay and we played for hours there, as well as down by the creek, which runs nearby.

Now the barn is empty and in need of repair. It is full of discarded items and an old rocking chair that seems to be waiting for someone to sit down and read a story to a group of children.

fall colors

From there we swung back down into Bruno proper. The old store is no longer there, having been torn down to make way for the church parking lot.

We remembered riding our bikes down there to buy sodas (kept in a cooler filled with water provided by Coca-Cola, with a bottle opener attached to the outside) and candy bars. It held a post office in one corner and a big pot bellied stove around, which many of the locals would gather to visit and exchange gossip. Out front were gas pumps serviced by Mobilgas with a sign bearing the symbol of a red Pegasus.

fall colors

Behind the store, you can still see an old house where the owners of the store once lived. And behind that, just a little up the hill, you can faintly still see the remains of another house where my grandparents lived when Grandpa shared a blacksmith shop in the town.

fall colors

The Bruno church is still standing, and still in use. It has been well cared for and added to over the years. Renee attended this church every Sunday as a child, and we both went to bible school there every summer. We spread our picnic lunch on the porch and ate there, waving at the few cars that passed.

fall colors

Then we were off again, going slowly down dirt roads asking each other "Didn't _____ live there?" and "Remember going to this house for a sleep over?" Some house are gone now leaving either empty foundations, or having been replaced by larger, more modern homes.

Some are still occupied by family members, some have been sold to 'new people' in the area, and a few were bought by local cattlemen who have made good use of the pasture land.

And then we made a really cool discovery. By this time we had wondered up into the Eros area and Renee asked me "Isn't there a creek around here with a swimming hole? I was baptized there and I want a picture."

The only place that met that description was the creek at Patton Cemetery, and that is the same place I and my other best friend Sharon Martin White were also baptized! We laughed to think that all these years we never realized we had been baptized in the same place, just at different times.

You see, around here when people want to be baptized, we go down to the local creek or river and hold a baptizing service — no matter what the weather. Some old fashioned traditions never change. We drove down to the creek, and sure enough Renee recognized it.

fall colors

Then it was time to head home. A lovely day full of wonderful memories, and leaving us with more memories to cherish.

Prince Albert

farm signI love my chickens! I think that is a sentiment most farmers and homesteaders have. I've had chickens all of my life, and they have always been a source of great pleasure and entertainment to me.

When I was small, I remember playing in the back yard making mud pies or building cities with small stones. The chickens were always there, scratching, clucking, and coming over to observe and critique.

Chickens are friendly creatures and curious by nature. They actually make very good companions.

We've had several roosters over the years of various breeds. My favorite seems to be the one we have now. He's a short, stocky little guy I call Prince Albert.

I named him after Daddy's favorite tobacco. I'm not sure what breed he is, as I usually buy chicks for their appearance rather than specific breeding. But Albert is a real treasure.


Many human husbands could take lessons from my Albert. He is protective, responsible, and loves his flock very much.

All day he struts about the yard, watching the sky for predators and the ground for goodies to feed his girls. If a shadow crosses the ground, Albert is running and crowing and calling the girls up under the trees, or the back porch.

If I throw out food, Albert comes running. He clucks and does a dance until the girls gather around.

Then he stands back while they all have a share. Only when everyone else has eaten, will Albert help himself to what remains. I have even seen him pick up a piece and lay it before one of the girls who has been repeatedly pushed back by more aggressive hens and hasn't yet gotten a bite.

albert and his girls

But that is nothing compared to Albert's sense of duty. One day, shortly after I let some young hens join the flock, Albert brought one up onto the porch where I sat reading.

I have two steps leading down from my back door onto the porch and the hens have made nests there. Its quite nice because I can just step out of my back door and have fresh eggs.

Albert brought one of the new young hens upon the porch, went to the nests, did a little dance and looked at her. She looked back as if to say "So what?" Then Albert climbed into one of the nests, clucked, danced and hopped back out.

The hen looked into the nest, looked at Albert, and waited. Albert repeated the performance, and the little hen climbed into the nest and settled down.

Albert, in turn, settled down on the porch to wait. After a time, she began to cackle and exited leaving a nice brown egg.

Albert followed her off the porch and I returned to my book. But in a few moments, Albert was back with another new hen and again showed her the nest.

This time the hen went right in, and Albert settled down to wait. Eventually, Albert introduced all four of my new little hens to the nests under the steps, and I just sat there in amazement at the intelligence of my rooster.

Gertie in her nest

Albert truly is a Prince among roosters. If only all humans were as intelligent and thoughtful!

All photos belong to the author.

Fall Has Come

farm signOctober is nearly over, and so is the growing season. We have yet to do a fall/winter garden.

We do have plans to set up cold frames and have a go at it. But not this year. So, this last week, we began the 'bedding down' of many things around the farm.

The last of the garden produce was harvested before frost. I had a few banana peppers left on the vines, a couple of fall squash, some large sunflower heads, and the end of the tomato crop. I even had a hand full of strawberries that became my breakfast!

last of garden produce

I put away the Fairy Garden and laid down new ground covering and mulch to keep the ivy and weeds from coming up next year.

fairy garden

I cleaned both chicken houses and lined them with cedar bedding. Cedar not only prevents mites, but it generates it own heat.

It's essential to keeping the chickens warm in winter. And the muck from the chicken houses went to the composter so we can have more good soil for next spring's garden.

cleaning chicken coop

Then we started 'putting the garden to bed.' I always find this time of year a bit depressing.

The days are getting shorter and the garden always looks so sad and worn. We cleaned out all of the dead stuff, either putting it in the composter, feeding it to the pig, or in the case of nightshade plants dumping it into the woods.

removing dead plants

Then we laid down the straw, stacked up tomato cages, re-mulched the paths, and cleaned and stored all tools in the green house.

mulched beds

There is a bright side. I still have carrots, which I will winter over, and I left one fall squash that is still producing tiny squash. We'll see if they make it.


Now I will 'hibernate' with my books, my writing, my cups of tea, and my dreams for spring when the Fairies come out again and I can start all of my new plants.


Going Retro

farm signWhen one is young, the whole world seems endless and new. Especially today with such advanced technology.

When I was a teenager, we were still anchored to landlines, clothes lines, TV antennas, and record players. Blow driers were the new rage, as well as curling irons — no more pin curls or big plastic rollers for me! I was planning my marriage, and wanted only the newest and best the world had to offer.

Now, being a couple of years shy of 60, I find myself appalled by technology and all the modern world has to offer. Now, much to my own amusement, I find myself going as far 'retro' as I can.

There is a lot to be said for the 'old ways'. Much of what was 'new' in my day is now old, and I find it is still the best, as well as the things of my mother and grandmother.

My grandfather was a blacksmith, but he wasn't a bad carpenter either. He made a lot of their furniture, and one piece I still have is the pie safe he made for granny.

I keep all the old items of hers and some of Mom's in there. One day as I was dusting, I stopped to admire all of these things and it suddenly occurred to me that Granny's porcelain covered cake tin was still useful.

So I hauled it out and baked a pan of brownies. It was wonderful! The brownies baked evenly, and nothing stuck to the pan. So I put away Mom's glass pan and loaf pan, and began to look around for other old useful items.

Of course my beloved cast iron is retro, and is my basic cookware. But then I found another deep porcelain tin with a lid at a flea market that is perfect for lasagna and the lid fits both pans.


From there I began to dig out or replace items I remembered from my childhood. Mom's flour sifter, soup ladle, the jar marked with measurements she used in stead of a measuring cup, and the baker's coconut tin she used for cutting biscuits and cookies.

I bought a hand grater, potato masher and wooden rolling pin. I found a retro look clock to replace the digital one that gave up the ghost on the stove. I hauled out the sugar bowl and Greg bought me a salt pig like Granny used to have. And I realized my hand mixer I bought back in 1979 (which still works by the way) is also an antique now!

additional items

The sugar bowl reminded me of daddy's favorite coffee cup, which came from the Bruno School cafeteria. Ebay supplied all the extra china I could want to match.

This particular china was manufactured for airplanes, trains, cafeterias and restaurants. It is heavy duty and makes great everyday serving ware, and even goes in the oven.

Out went the old plastic plates from Wal Mart and now I only use my retro china for every meals. I do have a set of china from Guam my Mother-in-law gave me for company and holidays, as well as the china we bought in England.

everyday china

Going Retro not only means putting old items to good use, it is also a way of life for me. Every morning we make a pot of hot tea in my Brown Betty tea pot from England.

I keep my teabags in a tin, and while I now use an electric tea kettle Greg bought me, I still have and occasionally use my stainless steel tea kettle that heats the old fashioned way on the stove top.

tea pot & tin

I love tin cans! I remember as a child seeing rows and rows of them in the pantry filled with all manner of good stuff. Mon threw out her tins when she moved into her new house and bought class canisters.

I have hunted flea markets and replaced many I remember from childhood with a few extras I just like. I use all of my tins and fill them with the appropriate items, or use them for something similar.

retro tins

When we were first married, I had a dish washer. With two small children and a busy life style, it was more convenient and just really 'cool' to be able to fill it up and have a machine do all the hard work.

When we last remodeled, I left the dish washer out. There is only two of us now, and there is just something so satisfying about doing my dishes by hand.

Often I remember standing on a stool beside my mother rinsing the dishes and begging to be allowed to do the actual washing up. We used to have 'rights of passage' as we grew up, and getting to do the washing up was one of them for girls.

dishes by hand

My modern washer and dryer I do love. As much as I enjoy my retro lifestyle, some modern conveniences I could not live without. And yet, one of my favorite chores is hanging laundry out to dry.

It brings such a sense of peace and nostalgia to look out and see the clothes flapping on the line. And nothing can match of the smell of fresh laundry air dried.

That really sums up the reason for going retro. Nostalgia. A feeling of peace and remembering quiet, by gone days when the world was a simpler, kinder and gentler place.

laundry on the line

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Laundry Soap – The Old Fashioned Way

farm signI grew up in the 1960s and '70s on a very self-sufficient farm. We made nearly everything we ate or used, including laundry soap.

As I've said before, Mother did laundry in a wringer washing machine on the front porch in all kinds of weather.

For detergent, she used homemade lye soap grated fine mixed with 20 Mule Team Borax. White clothes were soaked in a wash tub of water with a cup of Clorox, then rinsed and washed with plain borax.

Our laundry was spotless and bright. In the 1970s, as the economy became better, Mom and Dad began to buy more from the store and we began using Ajax laundry detergent.

Over the years, I have used a variety of store bought detergents, but I never quite forgot that homemade powder. As I became older, and detergents became stronger and more perfumed, I developed allergies and began looking for a better alternative.

My daughter gave me a recipe for laundry powder that brought back all of my cherished memories and I gave it a try. Now it is the only detergent I use.

Homemade laundry powder

The ingredients are simple. Arm and Hammer washing soda, 20 Mule Team Borax (I was surprised and pleased to find it is still a staple), Zote (my personal preference) or Fels Naptha bar laundry soap and Oxi Clean.

homemade laundry soap


  • 2 cups washing soda
  • 2 cups borax
  • 1 5.5oz bar laundry soap finely grated
  • 1 cup Oxi Clean


  1. I mix it with my hands to insure it is thoroughly even.
  2. homemade laundry soap

  3. I usually double the recipe and store it in an airtight container. This will last me 6-8 months.
  4. homemade laundry soap

  5. Some people add water and let it set for a couple of days to make more of a liquid, but I like the powder. It lasts longer and reminds me of home and the old ways. And aren't the old ways the best after all?

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

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