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Easter Memories

Easter was Daddy's favorite holiday. It was always a special family time for just the three of us. Daddy enjoyed the other holidays, especially Thanksgiving, but we always had lots of relatives about and it got pretty noisy and crowded.

Daddy was a quiet, rather solitary man who enjoyed the simple things of life and valued peace. Easter was the one day a year when we celebrated on our own and spent time together. It was also the one day a year that we didn't go to church. While most people only darken the church doors on Easter, or Christmas we chose to celebrate Christ's resurrection in a different way.

The day before, Mom would cook a big pot roast, boil potatoes whole in their 'jackets', and make macaroni salad and deviled eggs. Sunday morning we were up early getting chores out of the way and packing up a picnic basket with roast beef sandwiches, dill pickles, whole potatoes (cold from the fridge), and containers of salad and eggs. There was a big jug of sweet tea, and a thermos of ice water to wash everything down and peeps for desert.

We would leave the house around 9:00 am and strike a well worn trail through the woods below where we live now. For two miles or so we would meander along the trail taking our time and enjoying the woods. We looked for squirrels, birds, wildlife tracks, and Mom might mark a place with wild flowers that she would dig up on the way home to transplant into her yard.

We would stop by the creek for a cold drink, and Mom would often sing hymns as we followed Daddy through the cool, peaceful woods. Finally, after about an hour long hike, we would end up at a cave in the side of a hill. We called this place the Sand Hollar because the ground was heavy in sandy soil and there were chunks of sandstone about.

I was never allowed to explore very far inside, but the entrance was big enough to make a small child feel like I was in a cavern. Actually, the cave was rather small. My Daddy was 5ft 10in and he couldn't stand up in it. But it had some large rocks inside and we would sit on them and enjoy our picnic. Then Mom would bring out the bible and read the part where the women came and found the tomb empty and Christ appeared to Mary. Sitting in that cave listening to those words made it all seem even more real to me.

Mom always brought an old quilt, so while I played in and around the cave entrance, Mom and Dad would relax and enjoy the solitude of the woods. Daddy would lay back and smoke his pipe and look up at the trees and point out different birds to Mom. Mom would sit beside him and read the bible, or work on some crochet she had brought along.

Finally, it would be time to pack up and head home. The trip back always seemed to go so much quicker. Before I knew it, we would be home and the magic of the day would be just a memory. And I would be anticipating next year's pilgrimage.

This year, our Easter was a bit reminiscent of those long ago Sundays. Greg has started work on a remodel project, so he stayed home from church to work. I went to teach Sunday School as usual, then came home instead of staying for the pot luck. In the afternoon, I put a leg of lamb into the oven rubbed with garlic and fennel, deviled eggs, and steamed asparagus. When Greg finally quit for the evening around 8:00 pm I had everything ready. We ate on the back porch by candle light, and gave thanks for all our own food. Our own lamb, asparagus fresh from the garden, and Hollandaise sauce homemade with our own eggs (thank you, Julia Child). And of course we had peeps and Cadbury eggs for desert.

Easter Dinner

We sat and ate and enjoyed the peace. We watched the birds come to the feeder as well as the squirrels, and laughed at the chickens who couldn't decide which roost to take for the night. As darkness came, we listened to the sounds of the night and remembered the blessings we have been given. And I thought about Daddy and how much he would have enjoyed this Easter evening. Just quiet, solitude, and time together. A perfect ending to a blessed day.

The Ants Go Marching

Does anyone else out there have an ant problem? I am totally infested with the little guys. I used to like ants. As a child, my Daddy helped me make an ant farm with an old fruit jar and black paper. Fill the jar 3/4 of the way with dirt, find ants to add, put a lid with holes on the top, and cover it with black paper. Feed the ants twice a day with sugar, fruit, almost anything really, and after a couple of weeks, you can take the paper off and see all the tunnels they have made creating their new home.

Ants are fascinating. They are a whole community with workers, street sweepers, a queen, a nursery complete with nurse maids... In the wild, they will catch aphids, bring them home, put them in their 'milk room' and milk them like cows to feed their young. They even make a room strictly for trash.

I teach Sunday School, and I once did an entire less on Solomon's sage advice to one of his sons: Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise - Proverbs 6:6. Solomon obviously did not have an ant infestation, or he would not have commended them to his son. It is one thing to be a wise and willing worker, but another to become a terrible pest!

I have them everywhere. In the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the garden, in my greenhouse! I really want to stay away from chemicals because of where they are congregating, and because I have pets. DC, the infamous Siamese, loves to find a line of them trailing across the floor and just settle down and lick them up as fast as they come. But no matter how many he eats, there are always thousands more.

I wash my counters and floor with bleach. I keep dishes washed, food in air tight containers, and still they appear magically every time I cook or open a container. By the time I get my honey, cream, and tea in a cup, they are climbing up the sides headed for a watery grave.

Last week, I saw on Facebook where someone had taken sugar and borax, mixed it in hot water, soaked cotton balls in it, and set them out for the ants. The theory is that the ants will come for the sugar and take the borax as well, poisoning the entire nest. So I tried it. I didn't have any cotton balls, but I mixed it in a saucer and set it near the sugar bowl.

sugar and borax

SUCCESS! In no time at all the bowl was full of the little critters. Many drowned on the spot. Others made it out alive and headed home with their new found food source. I still have some, but they are diminishing with each foray. Now I shall hit the greenhouse and bathrooms.

One of my favorite childhood songs which I have taught all five grandchildren is The Ants Go Marching One by One. Now I may have to add a last line to the song. The ants go marching 10 by 10 Hurrah! Hurrah! The ants go marching 10 by 10 – they took home borax and didn't come again. Hurrah! Hurrah!

Be Stihl My Beating Heart

farm signIt is a widely acknowledged fact that the surest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But there are other things that sets the old ticker to palpitating. Especially if he is a country farmer.

First came the stock trailer. We had an old horse trailer, but it was narrow and difficult to load many sheep into, so Greg had a friend custom build a cage for our trailer. It is just the very thing to haul sheep, or a nice fat pig to butcher.

1 stock trailer

Then came the tractor. We inherited my Dad's old 8N Harry Ferguson, but it reached a point where it needed a mechanic to keep it running and we had to part with it. For years we traded work with our neighbor so we could borrow their tractor for our own use, as we were unable to afford another one. Then our dear neighbor had a debilitating stroke, and we were offered that very tractor by them.

2 the tractor

Next item on the wish list was a tool shed. We did a lot of looking and finally chose one made by a Mennonite family. If you want a big ticket farm item, it pays to buy quality.

3 tool shed

What is it with men and pickup trucks? A woman will 'moon' over a new dress, great shoes, stylish handbag, diamonds, or a classy car, but show a man a pickup truck of any vintage and he will start to drool. We looked long and hard for an fordable pickup truck with low mileage that had been well cared for. Greg's Dad solved the problem by selling us his, so he could buy – you guessed it, a new pickup truck.

4 pickup truck

And now has come the chainsaw. This is a standard necessity for any farm. Greg has been through several of these which have not lasted but a couple of years each. And as with the tool shed, we decided if we wanted something that would last, we had to go with quality. Top of the line quality is anything made by Stihl. Top price too. So I began to squirrel back a little here and there planning to take him to Lowe's for Christmas and let him get that premium chainsaw. But God's blessings continue and our neighbors decided to sell their 10 year old Stihl as they have hired a firm of landscapers and have no more need for their own chainsaw. So, once again, we could afford a premium used item.

Greg was like a child with a new toy. Even after sitting idle for 10 years, the saw started up first tug on the cord. He cleaned it, oiled it, put in fresh gasoline, and began trimming trees. He spent three hours wondering around the property looking for things to cut. I don't think he's had so much fun in years.

5 the chainsaw

There is another old adage I've often passed along to new brides. You get your first child when you say “I do”. He comes fully grown with very expensive toys. And I wouldn't have him any other way.

Splitting Tomatoes

farm signI love gardening. It is peaceful, relaxing, exciting, and lots of hard work. Thankfully Greg does the lion's share of the heavy lifting, and physical labor. I do all of the planning, planting, harvesting, and tedious work. And there is nothing more tedious than splitting tomatoes.

Every year I start my seeds in my mini green house. I use bio-degradable cups and litter pans for trays. I start the seeds in February and by April the pots are crowed with little plants needing some space of their own. If you've ever tried to plant just one tomato seed in a pot, you will understand how this happens. I usually wind up with 5-6 seeds together and then have to thin them out.

1 tomato starts

The books say to choose the best two stems and gently pull out the rest and dispose of them. But I've never been able to do that. I've planted the seeds, nurtured them, and whooped with excitement when they begin to poke up out of the soil. So I take the pots out to the garden shed and have a go at transplanting all of them.

Greg found me a really nice cast-off work bench so I gather all of my paraphernalia and go to work. First I mix some soil for the new pots. My no fail recipe for tomatoes is adding calcium to the soil. Crushed oyster shells from the feed store meets this need. I mix one scoop shells to two scoops Miracle Grow potting soil. Then I carefully separate the tiny plants and bury each one in a new pot up to the bottom leaves. Tomato stems will put out roots when buried and this gives the plant a really firm root system. When I transfer them into the garden containers, I will again bury them up to the bottom leaves.

2 work table

This year I planted True Black Brandywine and a free gift from Baker Creek Seeds – Purple Russian Tomatoes. I tried a couple of the True Black Brandywines last year and discovered I like them better than the Purple Cherokees. So now well see how the Russians do. So far all of my little seedlings have survived the split. If they all do well, I will be able to fill all of my containers and then have some left over for friends. And for me, that's what gardening is really all about. Being able to share plants and produce with friends and family.

3 finished plants

 

Trails

farm signIn his book The Shepherd of the Hills, Harold Bell Wright referred to “the trail that is no one knows how old”. Growing up in the Ozarks myself, this passage spoke volumes to me because I had spent my life following trails.

I whiled away many hours in the woods as a child and young adult — squirrel hunting, rock collecting, or just rambling. And I usually followed a well worn trail when I did so. The trails were often made by either our cows, or some sort of wild life. Though as a child I pretended they were Indian trails.

There had been actual Indian trails through our woods many years ago. I found arrow heads to prove it. My Daddy talked often of following trails when he went hunting that had supposedly been made by Indians. Of course, he himself made trails through the woods when hunting, or going visiting. Roads were pretty rough in those days, and it was usually easier and faster to follow a trail through the woods either on foot or horseback to go from one house to another. Folks around here didn't mind back then if you rambled down a clear cut path across their woods. Everyone did it.

Right across our field is the remains of what I've been told is an old wagon road. Daddy kept to this road when driving to the barn, or feeding hay during the winter which added to the deep ruts. When we moved over here, we kept using the road for our drive way, and to reach the gate at the opposite end of the field.

Old Wagon trail

When the state put a road through, they ran it parallel to this old wagon trail, and the paved highway is still in use today.

road runs parallel

The other morning on the way home from the barn, I discovered that the sheep have begun to make trails of their own. The Suffolk sheep we had were truly flock animals and traveled in a V shape with the lead ewe at the center. Hair sheep, on the other hand, travel single file following their lead creating a well worn path as they go. They have a path directly to the barn, and others through the field where they find the best grazing.

sheep trails

Even the dogs, cats, and chickens leave their mark on the lawn following a path around the house that leads to the water bowl and best shade trees.

trail around the house

We humans also leave trails, but we usually cover them with cement or rocks to form a sidewalk.

the front sidewalk

And then, there are the trails that no one can see. These are secret trails left by visitors in the night. But Hucky's hound dog nose can always find them and follow them to the maker. They say that life in general is full of roads and trails. But the best ones are always found in the country.

trails we cannot see

 

Chick Days

farm signThere are many signs of spring in the country. Robins and Meadow Larks, Easter Lilies coming up on the old house place, the roar of motorcycles traveling in convoy down the country roads (I've always thought that must be such fun!). One of my favorite signs is chick days at the local feed store.

the feed store

Every spring, the local feed stores bring in chicks of all breeds for sale. They put them in big bins, or metal stock tanks, and everyone has a chance to replenish their flock as well as purchasing butcher chickens. Sold in lots of 6, you can mix or match to meet your needs and preferences.

Thanks to my friend Pat King who posts notices on Facebook, I always have a heads up when the chicks are due to arrive. This year, I went for Barred Rocks. They are dual purpose chickens. They make great layers who are also good meat birds. I bought 16, and the girls at the store helped me to box them up.

catching chicks

A few years ago, I bought a rabbit hutch that works perfectly for a brooder. I can take the mesh floor out and just put them in the bottom with pine shavings until they are older, then replace the floor and keep them clean and healthy.

When they have their feathers, they are transferred outside to the bigger rabbit cage on the porch. We installed a little roost for them, and one end is boxed in to give them warmth and shelter. They live there until they are old enough to move to the chicken tractor.

The cages

I will be keeping 4 of these chicks for new layers, and butchering the other 10 for the freezer. The grand kids always love to help with this activity, and I also have someone Greg works with who wants to come and learn the process. Now I am anxiously awaiting guinea days in June!

A Thief In The Night

farm signIn cold weather my dogs like to sleep inside. They usually don't stir at all until morning, but a few nights ago, Huckey woke me up around 2:00 am. I thought it was just the call of nature, but when I opened the door, I heard frantic squawking from the chicken yard.

Huckey shot out and Beau nearly knocked me down following. I jammed my bare feet into my mud boots, grabbed my gun and shells and followed.

In the chicken yard I found a small pile of feathers, but no body. I entered, carefully locked the gate after me, and looked around. There was no evidence of a body, and all the chickens were crammed into the top level of the nesting tower. I thought about chicken predators and which ones do not leave a body behind. Foxes, bobcats, coyotes, owls, and here I was locked in the pen with them in only my PJs and mud boots.

pile of feathers

I shined my light around the perimeter to look for signs of egress and when I found none, I took a deep breath and opened the chicken house door. From the other side of the gate, Beauregard silently watched and shook like a leaf. He is terrified of guns, but for my sake he would not leave. Huckey had no such qualms. I could just see him peering out from under the back porch. He had done his part by raising the alarm and that would have to be sufficient.

I carefully entered the chicken house and shined my light around. Nothing obvious presented itself, so I began to shine the light in hidden areas. And there he was, Mr. Possum, hiding under a shelf that used to hold nesting boxes, but now serves as a roost.

possum under shelf

I'm not a big fan of opossums They are nasty, evil tempered, and eat their prey alive. So I had no qualms about filling him full of lead. The next morning when Greg came home, we drug him out to dispose of the body. He was one of the biggest opossums I've seen around here. We figure he was the one who was living with the pigs and free loading off of their slop. If he had been content with that, he would still be alive today.

a really big possum

Huckey served as County Coroner and pronounced him dead, and Greg removed the body.

disposing of the body

I then began to count my chickens. All were present and accounted for, but Fluff was minus her tail feathers. Narrow escape. There were 'good dog' praises and treats all around. As for DC? He never even woke up.

chickens dogs DC







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