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Drive-thru safari April 29, 2008

Posted by Joe in Family.
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A few weeks ago while were in Georgia for Robin and Gerald’s wedding, we decided to take a small detour on the way home. We stopped by a “Drive-thru Safari”.

A drive-thru safari is not the latest craze in fast food. It’s something like a zoo. It’s a wild-life area where most of the animals roam freely throughout the park’s many open acres.

Well, in theory they roam throughout the park. In practice they’ve learned that most of the vehicles passing through their homeland are ladened with happy kids doling out food. So, they all but line up along the road side to receive the offering of range pellets.

Some would graciously accept a little affection as part of the meal.

While others were a bit less patient.

Would could have taken our own vehicle through the safari, but we opted to rent one of their pre-loved and customized mini-vans just in case one of the animals became a bit too assertive.

The kids all had a great time.

Lydia got a bit unnerved at times.

But for the most part she seem rather fascinated by the strange animals.

Thankfully Beck was there to lend her some courage.

Of course, they couldn’t let all of the animals roam freely. Otherwise, their number would dwindle until there was just one really fat one.

The strangest looking creature was this Benjaminasaurus we called Ol’ One Horn.

And who could forget the beautiful Rachel RoseBird with her big blue/green eggs?

All-in-all we had a wonderful day trip – definitely a detour worth taking.


What’s on the Menu? April 27, 2008

Posted by Laura in Faith, Farm.

The last frost of the season will soon be behind us. Will you be planting a garden this year? We’ve got some cool season things like potatoes, spinach, lettuce, and peas in the ground and we’ve hardened off our tomatoes. We are looking forward to digging in the dirt again soon.

(New lettuces coming up, right alongside some unwanted weeds which will be soon hoed out).

We are trying to be very conscious and careful about what we are eating. And I don’t mean how many fat grams or carbs etc. Our main goal is to eat nutritious real food. That may sound simpler than it turns out to be.

(Yukon Gold potato before a rain).

As Christian agrarians, we tend to think of things in terms of God’s design. He gave us the plants and animals for our sustenance and enjoyment. He provided a lot more plants than animals. That should probably be a clue to us in what proportion we should eat the fruits and veggies versus meat. He gave us a wide variety of colors, tastes, and nutrients in the various plants, probably to keep it interesting and to provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals. He gave us wonderful spices to enhance the flavor of all the rest, and the system is perfect.

(Spinach after about 3 weeks).

And then human beings come along and try to invent “better” things than God. We take corn apart, get rid of any fiber, concentrate the sugar, combine it with artificial flavors and additives, add some preservatives to give it shelf life, and we think we’ve made a wonderful invention! The grocery store shelves are crammed full of such “improvements “of God’s design.

And so we don’t actually have to eat any vegetables, now we can just take a vitamin pill or buy that box of food that says it’s vitamin fortified. There are health claims all over packages these days. But our rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and so on are climbing. Something isn’t working.

Taking a couple vitamins or minerals out of a natural food and adding them to a package of something concocted in a “food science” laboratory won’t do apparently. God made foods the way He did because He understands them as a whole. Sure, I can swallow a supplement of the nutrients we humans know about, but what if their true absorption and benefits are possible only in conjunction with the fiber or some other elements of the foods in which they are found? For instance, we’ve discovered that calcium is not well absorbed without vitamin D. How many more links are there that we haven’t discovered? To be safe, we think we’ll just try to eat as close to nature as possible.

I wish I could say that we only ever eat really healthy food, but we haven’t quite arrived there yet. We do our best. There are times when we travel or are otherwise away from home at meal times that we eat what is available, though often with regret. Joe and I frequently feel queasy after eating fast food of just about any kind (and after food poisoning from “Chinese”, I’ll never do that again). Is that truly from the contents or from just knowing it’s so far removed from real food that we feel ill? Hard to say.

As part of our eat real food plan, we are looking forward to growing and raising as much of our own food as we can. Eventually, we’d like dig a root cellar and maybe build a greenhouse. All in time. We’ll do what we can for now and keep working toward the goal, which is ultimately good health.

If you are interested in this topic, you may enjoy reading Pollan’s In Defense of Food. He makes a lot of good points and lists lots of supporting evidence, but he totally misses God’s hand in it all. I would heartily recommend it to everyone if he hadn’t completely missed that crucial part that ties it all together. Maybe I’ll write more on related topics in the future. Happy gardening!

Little Kids April 25, 2008

Posted by Laura in Farm.

The goat kids are growing quickly and rapidly becoming a nuisance to their mothers. They are nearly as tall as their mamas yet still want to nurse. And if you’ve never seen a kid request a meal, you’ve missed out. No polite hanging back, waiting to be invited. To stimulate milk flow, goat kids ram the does udders with their horned heads. It’s enough to knock the mama’s back legs out from under them as the kids get bigger. (I’m just grateful human children don’t have the same instinct- I’d give up nursing a lot sooner if they did!). Poor Crackle has two of them hammering on her at once. All the does are still allowing about 3 sips before they starting walking away, ending the meal, but it’s funny to see these tall babies get down on their knees and try to crawl underneath their mamas to nurse. Here are some recent pictures of them.

(Pop is infamous around here for getting her head stuck in the woven/barbed wire fence. We save ourselves a lot of hassle and and bloody fingers by keeping a big stick taped to her head so she can’t get it through. She doesn’t actually mind because it means that she can scratch her own back better since her horns can only reach back so far).

(Snap’s baby Snowball- are we original with names or what?- was born several weeks later than the others so he’s still almost small enough to nurse without looking silly).

(Betsy looks exactly like her mother, only with slightly longer ears).

(Here you can see they have been training under Pop’s leadership. That’s Lightning in front, followed by Cookie, and then Betsy. Yep, the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side).

(Okay, we confess that Snowball is our favorite. But with that cute little face, who wouldn’t want to scoop him up and love on him, which he still lets us do. He’ll sit in our laps for 10 minutes if we’re scratching his back).

We learned the hard way with ‘Mator last year that bucks are really stinky creatures with gross habits. We determined not to go through that again any time soon. That means that the bucklings have to be without certain testosterone-producing parts. We bought an Elastrator to take care of the job. Essentially, its a pair of pliers with 4 prongs onto which you place a special thick rubber band. You stretch it open, navigate it onto the necessary parts, and release the rubber band.

The goats are all fond of me, so I didn’t really want to be the face that they associated with this deed. But Joe is a bit more experienced in this area, so I held and petted them while Joe took care of business. Fortunately for me, the reaction is a bit delayed. It was a good 45 seconds after we left the goats that the discomfort set in. The boys were walking along and then their knees buckled and they sank to the ground. They had a hard time finding a comfortable position for a while until numbness took over, but they are none the worse for the wear now. (Between ourselves, Joe and I now secretly move the “S” in “Snowball” to the end of his name instead. Okay, it’s crude, but you’ve got to admit, funny).

Our Favorite Football Team April 24, 2008

Posted by Laura in Family.

While Joe was on a recent business trip, I found Benjamin and Rachel outside “scrimmaging” in preparation for a game with Daddy when he came home.  Just had to snap a few pictures.

(My mother-in-law Becky saves EVERYthing.  She dutifully kept Joe’s high school jerseys for 20 years in her closet, even moving them to a new house.  The kids have enjoyed wearing them-  good thing she saved them!)

(It’s not the loving embrace it may look like.  This was just prior to Rachel being put firmly on the ground.  Not sure this was a fair match-up but to compensate, Rachel “tackled” by just hanging on to his jersey until she could drag him down).

The Dixie Chick(en)s April 23, 2008

Posted by Laura in Farm.

We’ve made progress in getting our laying flock contained and increasing egg production. We typically get over 2 dozen a day, making folks at church and our elderly neighbors quite happy as we have been giving away our surplus of lovely eggs.

Each hen was carefully screened for egg-eating habits before being added to the movable coops, but some renegades have developed in the ranks. After proudly declaring our storage tote laying boxes a success in a previous posting, I am eating crow. (That will soon change- I will be eating chicken!). The feathered gals have taken to throwing out all the nesting material and fighting over the “best box,” breaking the eggs inside. Once broken, some naughty chickens have begun eating the eggs. They give themselves away by the tell-tale yolk spattered on the feathers around their heads.

(We’ve had 12 laying boxes in our henhouse for years but the boss hens declare 3 to be the only suitable ones and shun the rest. The not-so-cool hens will stand in line with their legs crossed waiting to use one of the “good” ones. Peer pressure is at work even among chickens).

When I collect eggs each day, I also check for ladies with egg on their faces. When I find one, out she goes to a holding cell where she is marked for the gallows.

It isn’t convenient or possible to “process” a chicken right away some times, so that is why I’ve started decorating the naughty ones so we can identify them easily when the time comes. I don’t want to make yet another pen to carry food and water to just for these death row chickens, so the alternative is to let them free range until we are ready to make chicken and dumplings. I had to come up with a pretty permanent way to mark them and we had leftover spray paint on hand. I decided to let them be patriotic in their last days. Here are a couple pictures.

Conservation made easy April 22, 2008

Posted by Joe in Uncategorized.

Dubrovnik, Croatia in July 2004.

My day job sometimes requires me to travel, both within the United States and occasionally abroad.

I’ve been to Europe and the Middle East about a dozen times in the past 4 or 5 years. When I travel internationally, I am struck with how many of the hotels are designed with conservation in mind.

For example, in many European hotels there’s a key card holder attached to the wall just inside the doorway. As you enter the room, you insert your key card into the key card holder. When the card is inserted, the electrical lights in the room are activated. The key card holder acts as a main switch for the lights in the room. When you remove the card, the lights turn off after a delay of 10 seconds or so. This way, while you’re in the room, the lights will work. When you take your key and leave your rooms, the lights automatically turn off, conserving electricity. Pretty neat.

Similarly, some hotels have a cut-off switch for the air conditioner. When the balcony door is open, the air conditioning automatically turns off.

And, it’s not limited to electricity; water is conserved, too. Some of the toilets have two flushing mechanisms – one that simply empties and refills the bowl using as little water as necessary. And a second, more robust flush, for those instances where you need the added umph to carry away the bowl’s contents.

I don’t know the reasons behind these conservation efforts. It could for purely noble and altruistic environmental reasons. Or perhaps its motivated by the pursuit of profit. Or it could be driven by governmental regulations. But the end result is hotels abroad are conserving money and resources without inconveniencing anyone.

Why can’t hotels in America do the same?

Nuptials in the Garden April 21, 2008

Posted by Joe in Family.
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Wedding in the Garden

Last weekend, we went to Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. It’s a beautiful place to visit, especially in the spring.

Robin with her kids, Trey and Sarah Elizabeth, and Dad and Lea Ann.

But we didn’t go for the scenic vistas, as pretty as they are. We went to watch Robin and Gerald promise to each other before God, their friends, and their families, to unselfishly love each other for better and worse, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.

A happy bride and groom – Robin and Gerald.

It was a very pretty wedding.

Beck and Lydia.

You can see more here.

Congratulations to Robin and Gerald, and Trey and Sarah!

Five cousins and a fat dog April 15, 2008

Posted by Joe in Family.
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Here are a few pictures from our recent trip to visit family in Alabama. Our kids love spending time with their cousins, Trey and Sarah Elizabeth. 


Three cute girls watching a movie.



Five happy cousins enjoying their time together.



One fat dog holding down a doggie-bed.


The main purpose of our trip was to see Robin, my sister and Trey and Sarah’s mother, marry Gerald. We’ll, of course, post some pictures from that and other adventures we had during the visit in the coming days.

Treehouse, Stage 1 April 11, 2008

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.

Ever since we moved here, we’ve planned to build the kids a great treehouse. We are blessed with so many beautiful huge old trees and the children love to be outside. We’ve been planning and dreaming about it for a long time, but finally we’ve gotten a good start.

The “blueprints” call for taking advantage of an odd intersection of tree branches that fused together to create a kid-sized opening. The main treehouse will eventually be up there, but that’s 12 or so feet up. The first step was to build a fort-type landing about 7 feet up that would also serve as a mini playground set.

(The previous owners pointed out this interesting formation and mentioned that they too had planned to put a treehouse here).

Amid re-fencing projects, new chicken tractors, animal husbandry, travel for work, and so on, we set the posts for the landing last fall. We managed to get the platform put up too before the weather turned and other things demanded our attention. Recently, we’ve gotten back to work.

(So far, this fort/landing has been a submarine, a house, a space ship, and who knows what else).

The kids eagerly watched and helped as Joe installed a ladder and slide. He then got a railing around it so they could begin using it.

Finally, Lydia’s swing was added so she can play too.

New Chicken Tractor April 10, 2008

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.

Andy Lee and Pat Foreman coined the term “chicken tractor” in their popular books, one by that name and another called Day Range Poultry: Every Chicken Owner’s Guide to Grazing Gardens and Improving Pastures. The basic idea is to allow a chicken’s natural inclinations- to lay eggs, to eat bugs and grass in fresh air and sunshine, and put down fertilizer- work for the hobby farmer.

Typically, once a day the portable coops are moved their length to a new patch of salad. The chickens then convert insect pests and grass (along with the feed they are given) into meat and eggs while leaving their manure to boost new grass growth. Variations include allowing the “tractors” to stay in place for a while so that existing sod can be tilled up naturally and prepared for a new garden bed, complete with all natural fertilizer.

Traditional farming calls for a henhouse, possibly with a small attached yard or completely loose birds. We know first hand that both of these plans have problems. When the birds are confined to small areas the manure builds up, creating an odor problem and a removal/spreading project for the farmer. When the birds are completely loose to free range, they are easy pickings for predators, they can lay their eggs wherever the mood so strikes them, and may leave their droppings in places the farmer doesn’t like them. We have tried all these methods and have settled on this:

Birds who lay well get to live out their days in tractors being brought delicious kitchen scraps, lay ration, and scratch grains while enjoying the great outdoors and shelter.

Birds who don’t lay will go to the freezer. (Cockerels better start sleeping with one eye open).

A couple of favored ones (who don’t pollute the porch) will be allowed to roam free part of the day in exchange for keeping the yard tick-free.

We built our first tractor a couple of years ago with an eye toward durability and sturdy design. It has its good points, but it is on the heavy side and we thought we could improve on it.

(We used strong triangles to form our skeleton, added cattle panels, and then covered them with chicken wire and a tarp over 2/3 of the tractor. The white pieces of wood half way through are left over from discarded wooden laying boxes. They required going inside to get the eggs and weren’t used much by the hens).

Our next design included wheels at the corners and nesting boxes with a hinged lid for easy egg retrieval. It is nice and open. It still wasn’t quite right, though. Since the nesting boxes are made of heavy wood and we have lots of rolling hills and uneven ground, it too is hard for one person to move.

(The ribs are made of flexible PVC and we covered it with 2 x 4 welded wire and a tarp. The far end has a foot-locker type set of nesting boxes. We have them screened off while this batch of White Rock meat birds matures).

(In this close-up, you can see the heat lamps cable-tied to the rib. We used them at night for a couple weeks after moving the birds from the brooder. This tractor is actually in the yard near the driveway so we could run an extension cord from the barn).

Our latest design keeps the higher ceiling (making it easier to get inside when necessary), but eliminates the nesting box weight and the entire end is hinged to open so there is no small door to squeeze through. We have a second one of this design almost finished- we make building these a whole-family project.

Instead of heavy built-in boxes, we are trying lightweight, inexpensive plastic storage boxes with a hole cut in the side. The hens really like the shadowed private space on the straw. So far, they have all used them so no eggs are getting trampled or muddy. We remove the boxes at night and retrieve all the eggs. It has worked well so far.

(We have cut the skid pieces at an angle to help get over uneven ground. There are tow ropes at both ends of each tractor so we can pull it up the length of a pasture, scoot it over one row, and pull it back down).

In places where the tractors were when it rained and the grass is a bit tired and thin now, we are taking the opportunity to sow clover and other good grass seed to improve the forage. We just scatter a handful on the fertile ground and the rain does the rest.

(The Sicilian Buttercup’s number has come up and it’s her turn in the nesting box. She will leave her white egg alongside the blue and light brown one already inside).