Old Home Farm

The Lost Art of Hibernation


farm signDecember 21st is the Winter Solstice and officially the first day of winter. Usually here in the Ozarks, fall begins in October when the leaves turn beautiful reds, golds, and browns and the squirrels start scurrying for nuts to store up for winter. Our resident black bear passes through foraging one last time to increase his fat content, and ground hogs begin to insulate their burrows with dried grass and some hay stolen from our barn. All of this is in preparation for a long winter's nap, which usually begins around Christmas time.

When my father was growing up here on the farm, people were more in tune with the rhythm of nature than they are now. Electricity didn't arrive here until the 1950's, so evenings were spent with the glow of kerosene lanterns and light from the fireplace. Daylight savings time kicks in somewhere in early November here, so my family began to settle in to bed around 6 or 7 o'clock and rise again just before sunrise the next morning to gather up the cows for milking. By the time the sun was up, most of the cows were milked, hogs were fed, chickens were turned out and fed, and Granny had breakfast on the table. The men ate a hearty meal of bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits, gravy, oatmeal, and maybe some stewed fruit which had been canned in the fall. Occasionally, instead of the bacon and sausage they had pork chops or fried chicken.

old farm chores

After this nourishing meal, the men left to carry on with the rest of the day's work. Grandpa went to his forge, and Daddy might walk the fence line to check the wire, or go to the barn to mend harness. If the weather was bad (which it usually was in those long ago winters), Daddy and Grandpa settled themselves in the living room close to a cozy fire. Daddy would read or carve on a block of wood, (he loved to make yo-yos and wooden cars, or maybe a new sling shot). And after cleaning, Granny would join them with some sort of sewing project. When my Aunt Alta was still living, she might sew doll clothes or challenge her brother to a game of marbles after she helped Granny with the meals and cleaning up. The day would pass quietly. They would visit some, amuse themselves, and Grandpa would doze before the fire. Lunch would be a light meal – soup and sandwiches, and dinner might be the same.

granny grandpa and lamp

As the sun began to set, the men once more moved outside to put up the chickens, milk the cows, check on the hogs, and bring in fire wood and water in from the well for the next day. Then, as darkness settled in once more, they bestirred themselves for bed.

This doesn't sound like your typical farm does it? Today, we are in a constant rush. Up early to do farm chores. Grab a bite of something on the way out of the door to drive to a job miles away. Home do more chores, grab a simple dinner, and park ourselves in front of the television for the evening. Around 10:00 or 11:00 we 'hit the hay' for a short sleep to awake bleary eyed the next morning to start the process all over. On the weekends, its even worse. Women are trying to catch up on all the cleaning and laundry and men are out doing all of those things they haven't been able to get to through the week. Put in that new fence post, put a cover over the hole in the chicken house, run to the feed store or hardware store. And again, grab-what-you-can for meals.

modern chores

If you don't work outside of the homestead, we still seem to feel that every waking moment must be gainfully occupied. A long list of projects is posted on the refrigerator and we tell ourselves that these must be completed as soon as possible. In the evenings, we might settle down to watch some television, or turn to the pile of DIY project books, farming magazines, gardening books, or even novels, and find ourselves up late into the night, or falling into bed early from exhaustion.

The old time farmer knew the value of winter time. He watched nature constantly for signs of some sort. Woolly caterpillars meant a cold winter ahead. He took note of migrations patters, the phases of the moon, the activity of woodland 'critters'. And he also saw the value of hibernation. An old preacher once said that God made the winter as a time of rest. A time to stay indoors, read, sit quietly to listen to God's voice, and rest up for the spring to come. As I grow older, I'm inclined to agree with him. Rest is a very important requirement.

We will leave patches of ground to lie follow over the winter, so why not us too? What is there really out there that cannot wait until Spring? There will always be those emergency situations where wire breaks on a fence, the pig pen must be drained due to excessive rain, barn roofing is loosened by the wind or extra feeding must be done during snow and ice. But if that is not the case, then why not relax and rest as the rest of nature is doing? Sit in the quiet and listen to the silence. Drink a cup of tea or coffee and listen to the rain fall, or watch the snow come down in gently swirling mists. Read those farm magazines, garden books, or set yourself down and study for the afternoon.

enjoy the day

Then go to bed early, so you can get up with the sun and enjoy a brand new day. When spring comes the days will grow longer and warmer, and there will be a thousand things to accomplish. New lambs, calves, piglets, and poultry will be arriving and demanding your attention. It will be time to turn over the garden and begin planting. Then there will be weeding and watering and harvest time. Not to mention canning, drying and freezing those crops. Repair work will be needed around the farm, and with the long days you will forget the time and work later than you intend. Nights will be shorter, and you will rest less.

spring chores

So for now, join me in hibernation. Lets move slower, do only what is necessary, and let our bodies and minds take a much needed rest. You will be surprised what a difference it will make come spring.

just hibernate




I Love Carrots!

farm signI love carrots. Not the anemic tasteless ones you buy at the grocery store, but the real ones that come fresh from the garden. Once you've eaten one of these, you will never eat any other kind.

Daddy tried to grow carrots when I was a child, but had no success. The ground was too hard and rocky for them to grow properly. So we got our fresh carrots from the Mennonite family up the road who had sandy soil in their garden spot. Because loose soil is one of the secrets to growing carrots. They need room to expand. And sandy soil means you can 'over winter' them by leaving them in the garden and picking them whenever you need them all winter long, as the ground will not freeze.

carrot patch

I over wintered my carrots this year, and it has been such a pleasure to harvest a basket full whenever I want. Not to mention the joy of watching the grandchildren eagerly pulling them from the ground. Early in December when my kids came to decorate for me, the youngest ones went to the garden and harvested nearly a whole bed. It was like a treasure hunt for them. And once they were washed, everyone dug in. My daughter asked her youngest girl “What are you dong? You don't even like carrots!” to which MJ replied, “But Momma, these are real carrots!”

the harvest

And that is the thing. Real carrots have taste. Greg was always the same way. He hated carrots. He didn't even like carrot cake. And he always complained because I only bought carrots from the Farmer's Market, or the Truck Patch stores and they are more expensive than the supermarket. Then, last year, I planted carrots for the first time. He still didn't take much notice, until the kids picked their big haul. Curious, he washed and ate one himself. The look on his face was priceless. A few days later when I made a roast, he ate over half the carrots.

Last week, he asked me what all I could do with carrots. Could I make soup? So out came the cookbooks, and I made carrot soup. There were no left overs. My soup is cream of carrot, and instead of running it through the food processor, I cook it in cast iron until it is really soft, then puree it in the pot with an old fashioned potato masher. Works like a charm!

carrot soup

Since Greg decided he loves carrots too, I have been happily cooking with them many times a week. I brought out one of my favorite cookbooks put together by my good friend Donna Couch and made an old fashioned carrot cake. This time I did use the food processor to mince my carrots instead of using the hand grater. It turned out perfect, and the cream cheese icing just finished it off. Greg was in heaven.

carrot cake

Last night, we had stir-fry pork featuring carrots. As we were eating, Greg asked me if I had ordered new seeds yet. I assured him they are on my list. Atomic Red Carrots from Baker Creek Seeds. The beauty of raised beds is you can mix your soil for any plant requirements, and sand is cheap. We are actually thinking of expanding the carrot beds this year. When you have something this tasty, it only make sense to raise a good crop. And I know with the grandchildren around I will have plenty of help harvesting.

stir fry


Photos Property of Leah McCallister

Starting the Countdown

planning the garden

farm signThe New Year has begun! While Christmas is by far my favorite holiday, I always look forward to January. This is the beginning of a brand new year and a chance to start new things, and to improve on old ones. For me, January means the countdown to garden time! This is the month I bring out all of the seed catalogs I've been saving, my gardening journal, my diagram of the garden plan, and settle down with a cup of tea, a calendar, and my notebook to begin to plan for the spring.

I bring out my seeds from last year for inventory so I know what I need to order. I study and compare vegetables I've never planted before so I can choose the one new plant I will try out this year.


I read through my journal to check my notes for improvements for this year. I decided I will not plant peas again or lettuce. Three years of failure is enough. I will start my cabbage seeds at the end of February this year instead of at the beginning, and will start tomato seeds in March instead of April.

The new type of spinach I tried did not do well, nor did the turnips. I will be looking for different seeds this year. But the green beans and carrots were an amazing success and I will reorder those.

I discovered that I need to move the squash into more shade this year and will redraw my garden plan to accommodate. And I make a note to buy new timbers to deepen a couple of the beds this year. They will be added to my shopping list of soil additives, and I will be checking to make sure my containers of lime and oyster shells for calcium are not depleted.

The big thing for the garden is always the compost. We compost all year long. I start with a small pan in the house where I put my tea bags and empty the Keurig cups. This is dumped into the compost can on the back porch which gets the vegetable waste that does not go to the pigs, then into the big compost barrel in the garden. In the summer Greg adds grass clippings to the barrel and dead leaves in the fall. And I clean out the chicken house every 2 or 3 months and that goes in as well.


Gardening, I have discovered, is not just a nice little hobby that yields benefits. Its a long involved process that takes months of preparation and planning. The actual process is time consuming and tiring. But the end result is always worth it. And it makes the long winter months enjoyable. So grab a cup of tea or coffee, dig out those gardening magazines and seed catalogs, and join me in making your dreams into reality. There's just nothing like it for lifting your spirits during the gloomy days of winter.

Photos Property of Leah McCallister

An Old Fashioned Christmas


farm signI live in a rural area that is made up of several small communities only a few miles apart. Once large thriving places, they are now reduced to one or two remaining buildings of what once could have been called a village. Depression, recession, and technology can be blamed for their demise. But many 'old' families, including my own, still reside in these by gone little places, and we come together at different times of the year to greet each other and to remember when the world was a simpler, kinder place.

the church

One such gathering is the Old Fashioned Christmas held at the Old Anderson Flat Church. When the community set about to restore and remodel the church, two sisters remembered special Christmas gatherings there and made it their mission to revive the old time Christmas way. Indoor plumbing and a kitchen were added to the building and the first Christmas it was finished, people gathered to celebrate.

It begins with a pot luck dinner. What is it about food that draws people together? Everyone brings their finest, most savory dishes to line the tables. We eat, laugh, catch up on each other's lives, share recipes, and find out all the local news. Then, when we're done, we settle back to watch the program.

the crowd

It always begins with the play. I live in the bible belt, so if you say “the Play”, it naturally means the nativity story, followed by the joyous songs of Christmas sung mostly by the youth.

the play

Following the play is always a variety of entertainment presented on a purely amateur level. There are puppet shows.

puppet shows

And lots of musical solos. Piano, ukulele, and even the psaltery.

the music

We even have special visitors. This year it was a couple of Elves and even the Grinch stopped by. The children clapped and cheered to make his heart grow larger so even he could enjoy the season.

Grinch & Elves

And then the most important part of all. The Christmas message, given by a young minister who grew up among us. His messaged was simple, yet had such depth and spoke to all of our hearts.

the message

The evening ended with gifts for all of the children, and door prizes for the adults. Memories made to keep in our hearts and treasure, until next year when we will gather again to celebrate an Old Fashioned Christmas.

the gifts


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.

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