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Old Home Farm

Wheels of My Own

farm signWheels of my own. The magic words for every young person. These days it usually means a car, if not a skate board. But in my day, bicycles were the big thing.

Even in the country, we all wanted to have a bicycle. All we had were dirt roads and cow trails through the field, but we were all wild to have those wheels, just like the city kids we all read about in books, or saw on T.V.

Daddy thought bicycles in the country was a silly idea. He was content to let me play on Old Jack the donkey if I wanted to go somewhere. But mother had been a city kid in California, she remembered having a bicycle and wanted me to have one too.

mom with bike
Mother at 12 years old on her bicycle.

My first bicycle was given to me for my 8th birthday. It came complete with training wheels — which didn't work so well on grass and dirt roads. But I rode it anyway, 'round and 'round the house.

Being tall for my age and rather long-legged, I soon out grew my beloved bike. Since money was tight, I had to wait four years for the next bicycle. I got "Old Blue" for my 12th birthday and I still have him today, though he's a bit rusted and worn. My daughter actually used my bike when she was little. One day soon, I hope to restore Old Blue to his former glory.

my bike

This bicycle did not come with training wheels, so I had to learn to ride the hard way. I took the bike to a side road and spent all afternoon, having wreck after wreck until I mastered keeping it upright and moving. I still have the scars on my knees.

I had such fun on that bicycle! We couldn't afford a basket, so I wired an old dish drainer to the handle bars and carried things like books, a lunch and my cat, who actually enjoyed the rides. By now, I was big enough to really go places, and I rode for miles down the side road, stopping to say hi to relatives and neighbors along the way.

I wiped out a few times in the gravel going down small hills, but that was just part of the fun. And I learned very quickly I DID NOT want to go down the Bruno Hill on my bike. Too steep, too fast, and too easy to wipe out.

I took my bike to one of my best friend's house and together with her little brother we traveled for miles down her dirt road, often winding up at the Bruno Store where we would buy a cold bottle of soda and rest before going back again.

I also rode my bike across our fields, following cow trails and into the woods, following the roads Daddy kept cut for the tractor. I put a lot of miles on that bicycle, and loved every minute of it.

Today, my granddaughter Kaydence carries on the family tradition. Her bicycle is also blue, and she rides all over the field following sheep trails and the tractor road down to the woods. Unfortunately, it is no longer safe for her to ride for miles alone on the highway, but there are biking trails at the town parks and she often goes there with the family.

kaydence with bike

Roads change, civilization changes, but the need for 'wheels of our own' is always there in one form or another. Even for country kids.

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

A Shave and a Haircut

farm signGreg was on vacation last week. Not only did it mean some fun down time, but it was also a time to catch up on some overdue projects around the farm. We extended the clothes line, bush-hogged some pasture, and did a little sheep shearing.

Our girls are a mixed breed, mostly hair but with a little wool in their background. That means when spring comes, they have what looks like a Mohawk hairdo down their spines. So out came the generator and shears and it was time for a "Shave and a haircut!"

shave equipment

Greg uses the tried and true method of all shepherds to catch our sheep, with a good old fashioned shepherd's staff.

shearing sheep

It only took a few moments to take the excess off the top, then while the clippers cooled down for the next job, Lacey went over and informed Honey that it was her turn next!

shearing sheep

Greg trimmed up all four girls, then opened the gate and let them have the main pasture again. Boy did they feel good! They bounced and galloped around like lambs. Shearing can be hard work, but sometimes hard work can be enjoyable, especially when you see the out come.

shearing sheep

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Hand Me the Kerosene

farm signI am just recovering from one of the worst bouts of flu I've had in years. As I sat quietly on the porch this morning eating breakfast for the first time in several days I thought back to my childhood and all the times we had been ill or wounded. And I began to remember how Mother and Granny handled it.

Times were much different back then. We were very poor, and didn't just run to the doctor for any old ailment. It had to be life threatening, before we drove the 30 miles over that dirt road with some emergency cash taken from the fruit jar buried under the wood pile. As country folk, we had different methods of dealing with sickness on the farm.

My great-great grandmother Elizabeth was an herbalist and had acted as a sort of doctor and local midwife for this area when Granny was growing up. She had passed down to Granny many recipes for herbal remedies, which Granny kept made up either by her own hand, or paid the local pharmacist to do (Eucalyptus is hard to come by in Northwest Arkansas). She never wrote any of these down and I wish she had.

I know we used Mullen plant in the cough syrup, and some sort of tree bark for headaches. But I was very small and, while I remember helping Granny to gather things from the woods, I didn't take much notice of what they were. Later on, as it became easier to get medicines over the counter, these remedies were left to fall by the wayside. Now, fifty years on, I am beginning to question the wisdom of that.


Of course, there were other remedies that should have been abandoned. Usually, the first thing my family reached for in a time of crisis was kerosene. Yes, you read that right.

Have you ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? In it, the girl's father believed the cure-all for everything was Windex. Well, Daddy believed the cure to all major wounds was kerosene.

Kerosene was different back then. It was a pure clear liquid and mostly we used it for lighting brush piles we wanted to burn, or soaking stumps to burn them out. It was used as weed killer, wasp spray, and paint thinner. But let some one get a deep cut, step on a nail, get snake bit, or develop a rash and out came the kerosene can.

kerosene can
Sketch by Greg McAllister.

Kerosene does "draw." And I think that was one of the main reasons it was used. I could actually feel the "pull" as I sat with my foot in a pan of the stuff after stepping on a nail, or had a rag soaked in it wrapped around my arm where I had deeply cut it. Tetanus (or lock-jaw as we called it) was a real fear here on the farm, and I think the idea was that the kerosene would draw out all the impurities and keep that from happening.

It never seemed to occur to us that we could just go to the doctor and get a shot that would last us up to ten years. As it was, none of us ever contracted Tetanus, and we never seemed to suffer ill effects from using the kerosene. We even tried it for bee stings, but decided chewing tobacco worked better.

Another stand-by was Iodine. Pure Iodine purchased in a gallon jug. After soaking in kerosene for a time, the wound was carefully washed and then iodine was applied.

Iodine was guaranteed to kill what ever germs had survived the kerosene. If it didn't kill you first! I know of nothing save a real flame that burns worse than Iodine. And trust me, it will clear up poison ivy in 24 hours time.

My mother was a trained nurse, and she was absolutely appalled by these primitive methods. She relied on Epsom salts, Pepto Bismuth, Merthiolate, Milk of Magnesia, Vicks Vapor Rub, Camphor Oil, Black Draft, Aspirin, and Alka Seltzer. She also approved of the Iodine and it was her idea to use it on the poison ivy.

My mother on the far left.

While there was a doctor we could turn to in times of emergency, we had no local vet. So the medicine for our animals was similar to ours. Iodine was put on all cuts and scrapes.

Ever try to put Iodine on a cat? DON'T! Trust me, their battle wounds will heal just fine without it, and then you won't need the Iodine for yourself.

We kept baking soda at the barn to drench with in case of bloat. If a cow lost her cud, a rag was covered in lard and stuffed in her mouth. She would chew it, swallow it, then bring it back up, usually with the actual cud stuck to it. Daddy would keep a close watch on her until she did that, then remove the rag.

Mother, being a nurse, understood the digestive system, and made up her own scour remedy, which I still use today. One egg, some yeast, molasses, and raw milk. I've yet to see it fail.

Looking back I am quite thankful for modern medicine, even though I rarely see a doctor. With this flu, I simply followed my mother's example. Pepto Bismuth, Ibuprofen, Gatorade, and some Ensure until I could keep solid food down. Sometimes the simple methods are really the best.

Stepping Into the Shoes

farm signI put on a pot of beans this morning, and as I let them run through my fingers as I "looked them over," I found myself thinking of my mother. How many times did she do this exact same thing in the mornings before starting her daily chores?

And I realized I was using the exact same old tin colander she had used and would be setting it in the exact same pan she had used to rinse her beans. And at dinner time, I will be frying potatoes in the same cast iron skillet she had used with bacon grease I've saved from breakfast — just as she used to do.


I also did a load of laundry this morning, and while I did not use a ringer washer, I did hang them out on the line. And again, I thought of my mother, hanging out her clothes and singing hymns while doing so.

And I smiled as I heard my playlist of hymns blaring from the open dining room window. The music is somewhat different, but it is joyous songs of praise and I know my mother would approve. I could almost hear her shouting, "Turn your stereo up," as she used to do when I was a teenager and I played the Carpenters, Bee Gees, ABBA or Dottie Rambo in my bedroom.

hanging laundry

The chickens were clucking about under my feet as I worked, and I remembered how mother loved her hens. She would scatter grain under the trees in the backyard and talk to them and call some of them by name. Exactly what I do every morning.

mother and chicken
Mother and her chickens.

So I made a cup of tea, and sat down on the porch to consider my life. Every morning when I rise, the first thing I do is make my bed (as mother taught me to do), then I make breakfast for Greg, do chores, wash the breakfast dishes, sweep the floors (and porch), and look at what needs to be done for the day — whether its laundry, prepping for the evening meal, making a fresh loaf of bread, doing some house cleaning, studying for Sunday School lessons, or working in the garden.

All things my mother used to fill her days with. I even mend and patch Greg's work clothes on occasion, just as she used to sit and patch dad's overalls.

I have never realized before how much like my mother I have become. And how nice it is to know that. I am living much the same life she lived, but with better modern conveniences.

And yet, I still cherish and value the same morals and principals she did. And my home is filled with music, just as hers was. Mother had a beautiful voice when she was young and she sang all day long with or without the transistor radio. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I have a Bose Wave for my CDs and a mp3 player for outdoors.

Willia Roberts.

Without intention or design, I have stepped into my mother's shoes and am carrying on the life she lived as a farm wife and homemaker. And it was a natural thing to do. Part of the legacy of farm life.

I wonder when I am gone if my own daughter will suddenly find herself stepping into my shoes and fondly remember all the things I did everyday as a matter of course. I hope so. Because she will have the old tin colander, the pan, the cast iron skillet, and my CDs to carry on with.

me and aubry
Me and my daughter, Aubry Dilbeck.

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Meanwhile, Back on the Farm...

farm signThings have been busy on Old Home Farm. Two sets of twin lambs were born last week. Mothers and babies are doing fine. I learned my lesson from last fall, and gave the mothers plenty of time to bond with the new arrivals. So far I have one ewe and three rams. Evie has yet to lamb (she's always late at everything), so I'm hoping for a couple of more ewes from her.


We've also been working on the garden. I set out several plants I've been bringing along in the mini green house.

the garden

Greg is making me a rock "terrace" to set the herb pots on. Its not quite finished yet as we are still collecting rocks to fit together, but its far enough along to start using.

herb garden

One major project was fixing the chicken tractor. We had an old one that was given to us a few years back and it needed major repairs. Greg spent an afternoon working on it (with Hucky's supervision) so we could put the new butcher chicks out. Their cage was getting a little too cramped.

chicken tractor

While Greg worked on the chicken tractor, I brought the fairy garden out of hibernation. I have two cedar trees that have grown up together, and over the years I have collected enough pieces to make a whole fairy land surrounding them. But they have to be fenced in. Hucky has been known to swipe a piece now and then and bury it somewhere in the yard.

fairy garden

Life is always busy here on Old Home Farm. That's what makes it so special. Every day is a new adventure. And at the end of the day, you can look back and see something accomplished. And isn't that what life should be all about?

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

From the Fleece to the Loom

farm signThis morning as I was giving Everest, our ram, some water, I noticed huge chunks of his wool in the floor of his shed. It reminded me that this is shearing time for owners of wool sheep.

For about 15 years we had Suffolk sheep. I loved them dearly. They were friendly, funny, and beautiful. Suffolk sheep are one of the few breeds that truly "flock." They travel in a "V" pattern with the lead sheep at the point of the "V" and the ram at one of the ends.

Wool sheep are time consuming. We spent many long hours in maintaining the flock. Every three months or so you have to run them through a foot bath of chemicals to help prevent foot rot. My son works at a boat factory and he was given an old mold that we adapted for this purpose.

our suffolk flock

After the foot bath, Greg would have to trim the hooves, much as you do a horse's. We had a sling chair to put them into for this. Sheep can not lie on their backs or they will suffocate, so the chair kept them upright, but immobile.

sheep maintenance

And then, there was shearing. In order for a professional shearer to come to the farm we needed 30 or more animals, but we only had about 14. So Greg bought shears and learned to do it himself.

It was hard work. At first he sheared them lying on the ground, but soon developed a method for shearing them while they stood.

shearing the sheep

We didn't coat them, or take special precautions for the wool since we didn't have enough sheep to make selling it profitable. But then an old family friend asked if she could have it as she was wanting to learn how to process and spin wool.

Mary Patrick is an amazing woman. She weaves baskets from grape vines, does stained glass, has one of the most fabulous gardens around, and has completely remodeled a single wide trailer into a magnificent house.

Mary Patrick's many talents

Mary's house

Mary took our wool and began by washing it in her hot tub. Then she carded it, and spun it on her spinning wheel. Once it was spooled, she wound the threads into a usable hank. From that she would sit for hours at her loom working the natural fibers into lovely patterns for horse blankets and wool rugs.

processing the wool

Eventually, the physical stress of shearing sheep took its toll, and we sold my beloved Suffolk flock and bought hair sheep. They are much lower maintenance. We check their hooves a couple of times a year, and they shed their coats much like a dog.

our new flock

I love my new hair sheep, but I still miss my lovely flock of black and white Suffolks. I am glad Greg no longer has the hard job of shearing, but I will always miss the days of working with them. It was hard work, but very rewarding. I think it was probably some of the best days of my life.

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Cooking With Cast Iron

farm signAs you know, I love cast iron! It is durable, easy to clean and care for, and brings back warm memories of my childhood. I cook just about everything in cast iron.

Last week, we had smothered pork chops and roasted asparagus — both cooked in cast iron in the oven. I fry, bake, broil, and even poach in cast iron. And of course soup, chili, stew, or beans just doesn't taste right if they aren't cooked in my cast iron dutch oven.

different pots

Last Christmas, I was looking though one of my favorite magazines and found something I didn't have. "Oh look!" I 'hinted' to my husband. "Here's a cast iron pie pan! I didn't know they made these." I wasn't sure he took the hint until Christmas morning when I hefted a large heavy box wrapped as only a man does, and my hopes soared. Sure enough, my wish had been granted and I had my pie pan.

A few days later we stopped by a feed store we normally don't go to, and there was a display of cast iron with something else I didn't possess. "Oh look," I cried to my loving husband. "A cast iron loaf pan!" He grinned and added it to the feed bill.

cast iron pans

There is a reason my husband is perfectly willing to meet the desires of my heart with cast iron. And it isn't just because he loves me. He likes to eat.

I immediately put that pie pan to good use making him his favorite quiche. I even sauteed the onions and mushrooms in it before lining it with the pie crust. I made him a chess pie, raisin pie, and even a Victoria sponge cake.


The loaf pan does double duty as well. In the morning I bake bread, and in the afternoon, we have meatloaf. I stand up stuffed green peppers in it, and bake pound cakes.

The only thing you have to remember when baking with cast iron is to shorten the cooking time by about five minutes or so, depending on your oven. Everything comes out easily and there is hardly any clean up necessary.

bread meatloaf

There are lots of books out there on cooking with cast iron, and I've read a few of them. But really you can cook anything you want to in any way you desire. I saute everything for Shepherd's Pie on top of the stove, cover it with the mashed potatoes and transfer the whole thing to the oven. I cook a roast in the over, take everything out, sit the dutch oven on the burner and make gravy in the same pot.

I actually do use some Corning Ware casserole dishes occasionally, as well as some of Mom's stainless steel pots and some stoneware from Pampered Chef, but my cast iron is usually the fist thing I reach for. If you have never used it, I recommend you start with a small skillet and see if you don't get hooked. Now, if I can only find a cast iron muffin pan...

Photos property of Leah McAllister.