Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Memorial day is where we honor the fallen and celebrate those who served and are currently serving and I wanted to take a minute to show my respects to some who have been in our family.

There has been so much loss over the years that I have chosen Marine Sergeant Denton to represent them all in my respects. Sergeant "Chesty" Denton USMC was killed outside of Zaku in northern Iraq during Desert Storm operations in Kurdish held territory. He had an abnormally protruding lower jaw and his fellow Marines affectionally nick named him "Chesty" after the Marine Hero and legend Gen Chesty Puller. Sgt Denton never complained and though he would not ever be described as a poster board Marine, his favorite saying was "Can do easy" and I liked him. He was assigned to run security on a water truck resupply mission which should have been routine and I never thought the assignment would be his last and his death affects me even today. I was a young Marine First Lieutenant at the time and had the honor of escorting his body from northern Iraq to the Turkish port of Iskenderun and when I returned the Battalion they had moved into a former Iraqi Regimental HQ in Muqbal Iraq and named the camp in his honor where I am standing in this photo. Sergeant Denton was from New York state if I remember correctly and had only a father as his next of kin but Sergeant are not forgotten and though I think of you often....I honor you today.

This is my grandfather Captain W.I. Swanston USCG, pilot and veteran of WWII who had so much influence on my life. My interest in serving was largely due to spending summers with him in Michigan growing up and he has been gone now for 15 years but not forgotten and I was given the honor by my father of being presented his officer's sword when he passed and it hangs next to my own in our farmhouse.

Master Sergeant Bob "Popcorn" Hudgins is my former father in law and he passed about a year ago. He was a quiet man who had a simple dignity that will not be forgotten and we miss him.

And we honor those who served but are still living. My ex-wife and still friend former Army Specialist the former Mary S. Lankes. Anyone who knows Mary knows she is a gentle soul and its hard to picture her in the Army but she served and she sure looked cute in her BDUs!

We honor favorite daughter Jenny's partner and former Sergeant Steve Schafer veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We are very glad you have come into our family.

And those still serving. Our oldest son former Staff Sergeant Andrew Swanston, veteran of the Hurricane Katrinina emergency response and Operation Iraqi Freedom....who is now..

Tech Sergeant Andrew Swanston and a C-17 Load Master

And our youngest son former Specialist and currently Senior Airman Alex Swanston, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a very interesting deployment to Japan (you would have to ask him about that one!)

The three of us served in Operation Iraqi Freedom at the same time and I was priviledged to see them often and be proud of their fine soldiering. I can think of nothing in my life that could top that and I am very proud of both of them.

And finally, I honor my beloved wife and partner Holly who encouraged me to quit a high paying job after 9/11 and re-enlist at the age of 42 and who encouraged our two boys to do the same when they made that decision. She was left taking care of the homestead in Alaska during a winter of record breaking snow and cold, she had the worry of the three of us in a combat zone at the same time, and though I sent these small tokens on Valentines day while we were in Iraq, she faithfully persevered through that 18 months and to me the families of our service men and women are serving along side their Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine and are vitally important to combat effectiveness.

In this family we have not forgotten the fallen, those who have served, those who are currently serving or their families.

Semper Fidelis

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fresh Chicken Sandwich For Jenny

This is for favorite daughter Jenny who like us likes to cook and is always looking for new ideas. We got a couple of freshly butchered free range chickens a couple days ago from a neighboring farm....and I mean fresh in killed the day we cooked them. You cant imagine the taste difference, we roasted one last night and decided to have a gourmet chicken sandwich tonight and for you Jen....this is how we did it:

Start with homemade crusty french bread....air filled, chemically enhanced, tasteless white worthless bread just wont do...I mean you need to taste the yeast and have a crust that thunks when you hit it with your finger.

Left over roasted fresh chicken,,,it actually has flavor. It was moist and had a bit of wild flavor and was just....sooo good.

Slice the breast meat thin...

Use green leaf lettuce...fresh of course from your garden, and take out the tough white center. This needs to be cold and one wants limp lettuce.

Toast the bread slices just so under the broiler on both sides. You want it a bit browned but not hard as a rock or burned.

Fresh sliced cucumbers...we like them peeled but they dont have to be unless you buy them from the store where they are coated in wax.

And we add sliced avocado....look for the ones that still have a bit of green and are just soft to the touch. You dont wanbt them too hard or mushy. Take a knife and slice it all around like in the picture, whack the seed with your knife and twist and the seed comes right out (you can put the seed in a glass suspended with toothpicks and it will grow..just like we used to do).

And we like to add the leaves of celery...DO NOT THROW THEM OUT. Celery leaves ad a nice flavor and they are great in salads, on sandwiches and in soups and stews.

If you dont make your own this is the next best thing...and I will repeat...Miracle Whip is not the same as Mayonaise and it is un American to use it on a chicken sandwich.

Swiss cheese is the best on a chicken sandwich though Provolone works too....cheddar...not so much.

I like lots of mayo...

Serve with Kalamata olives and the other half of the avocado with a squirt of lemon juice and you have a feast.

And finally....unsweetened ice tea is the proper accompaniment to such a culinary masterpiece...water is a close second. Soda just masks the flavor and should be strongly discouraged. We didnt have them tonight but sprouts and raddish slices would also be good on this sandwich and I should also add we put a little salt and pepper on the chicken as we are assembling the meal. So there you have it. The chicken carcass will now be used for stock.....not canned salty yuck stock but good homemade chicken stock that will enhance any meal.

Maybelle gets New Digs

Our bottle baby Maybelle the spoiled Simental calf is getting bigger so we decided to expand her horizons a bit and we finally finished the enclosed fence line behind the barn. When we moved here the place was pretty barren and there was only a perimeter fence around the back pasture but nothing for animal handling and absolutely nothing to enable us to use the barn so we have improvised, we have planned and changed our plans and what was a blank slate has now become a useful barn yard. In retrospect we are glad we could start from scratch and do it the way we wanted it...but it has taken a lot of work and if you have looked at the price of anything made of steel you know it isnt cheap. We ended up doing cattle panels on the far side of the barn to match the panels on the side closest to Judy's trailer and we added a holding pen made of corral panels out in the lower pasture that connects to the barnyard pen behind the barn. Confused yet? It took us a bit to figure out how we could get animals from the pasture to the barn in winter or bad weather and we had to consider septic leach lines, buried electrical lines, and aesthetics. We like what we have come up with.

We connected the lower pen with the upper pen with a couple of corral panels so now Maybelle can move from the upper pen to the barn with no issue. She immediately started running from lower to upper and jumping was really fun to see.

This is Maybelle behind Jesse's headstone (he wont mind I am sure) and she now has an oak grove to play in, she is close to the other calfs and she has lots of room to run and play.

She is such a fine looking young lady.

We are in the process of weaning her but Judy is a softy and keeps giving her the bottle.

We have taken to just sitting on the porch of the pole barn and just enjoying our little homestead. We can see the orchard, the truck garden and of course as you can see...Maybelle in her new pen.

We dont have much, dont need much but what we do have is very peaceful and we like it.

Rose the Farm Dog and Maybelle are playmates and Rose keeps good watch on her.

Judy has a good view of her calf from her living room too.

And while we were doing all the fencing we found this patch of wild asparagas....

And this patch of wild asparagas next to the barn (yes its edible)...

And this Rhubarb patch we never knew about before.

We added another sorting corral further in the pasture so we can treat the cows and segregate them if needed.

We found these panels on sale and got a further military discount...its never expected and I dont look different at businesses that dont give military discounts but when they are available its very much appreciated. We live in a very patriotic and pro military part of the country...we like that.

We anchored the panels with T-Posts wired to the corral panels and we are pretty happy with how it came out.

There was zero fencing here when we moved in a year ago......

Thursday, May 26, 2011


We dont live too far from Joplin and the past couple weeks have been stressfull. We have had storm after storm with tornados and high winds to the north, south, east and west of us and we stay glued to the NEXRAD radar display. We have had hail and heavy rain and the temps today didnt get out of the mid 50s but compared to the folks in the communities that got hit by these terrible storms we are doing well with little damage other than an over soaked yard, pasture and garden. I am proud of this part of Missouri for their giving spirit, their perserverance, and the way the entire area has come together in this time of great destruction and loss. People are lending their time and giving their blood (literally) and what little money they have to help their fellow Missourians of which we are proud to be in that group.

Our phones were out for days and we learned that its not enough to have a storm shelter, a well stocked pantry, reserve water and backup generator....we need a means of communication to the outside world (SATCOM or my preference HAM radio) and we need a more sophisticated weather station on site since we cant rely on our ability to receive communications. And some simple things (I know starting a sentence with "And" is a no no but its my blog and I am tired) like having important papers in a heavy waterproof safe are equally important. We hope to never experience any calamity like what has happened to Joplin but we live in uncertain wise, economically, and politically and we strive to be as self sufficient and prepared as we can be. The last couple weeks has shown us we have work to do in some areas and though we are well prepared for the economic and social uncertainties; money and our ample supply of weapons and know how does nothing to deter mother nature.

So we plan on doing to following:

1. Obtaining our HAM radio license and equiping ourselves with the equipment to maintain communications in the event we lose commercial or grid tied comms.

2. We have alreay been studying weather and we are fairly competent in our observations but we need more sophistication which means a better barometer, an anemometer that doesnt twist itself into scrap at 50 mph and a non-grid tied weather radio. But frankly that is a remote backup to knowledge on how to read the various radar arrays currently available on line. Knowlege is power but you have to have the power and connectivity and this will be an area we will remain vulnerable as the weather here is more regional than local and storms move at 50 mph or more.

3. We will be installing a heavy safe chained to the floor of our storm shelter to house important documents like birth certificates, military discharge papers, family photos etc. None of this stuff is financially valuable but its loss would be heartbreaking and in some cases would hinder our ability to recover.

Its supposed to calm down for a week or so and  we all need a break. Our thoughts remain with those in Joplin, Tuscalosa, and the other communities that will never be the same.

Friday, May 20, 2011

May 20 Garden Update

This spring has been cold and wet and like most around here our gardens are suffering. The pasture is looking good (though next year we will need to lime and fertilize) and the flowers, trees, and bushes are thriving but the vegetable garden is hurting and we are way behind in planting. We even had a frost a few days ago that damaged our sweet potato slips. We cant plant corn or sorghum yet because its too wet, its been to cold for the pumpkins, watermellon, honeydews and squash and what we have planted is often awash in water. But at least we arent suffering the flooding that many places around here are. Just an hour or so to the east of us whole houses are under water so its hard to complain too much.

Holly and Heather planted the sweet potatoes but they have since been frost damaged (in mid May no less) so they may have to be re-planted.

We compost everything and generally have three or four piles going at any one time. One thats about ready, one that is mixed brown and green, and one thats mostly raw hay and cow manure.

The piles steam when we turn them and the gardens love the stuff.

We have soime blue berries forming but they are still a bit stunted.

The grape arbor ir doing well despite the weather.

We plan on planting more Viburnums as they have great foliage and a nice flower and they seem to like our soil.

We have seven or eight Iris patches and will have to start thinking of dividing them next year.

The Yuccas seem to be blooming. We have never had them before but they didnt bloom last year and we are really curious as to what they will look like.

We have blue, purple, while, blue and white varigated, and these interesting yellow Iris' that Judy planted.

These old school roses only bloom once a year but they have the old time fragrance.

We have lots of Peonies as well. Pink, red, white and a deep purple.

This Clematis looked like it was dead a couple weeks ago and then bloomed on the new barn fence.

We are also still feeding the birds and they go through about 80 lbs of seed a week.

These Wild Roses are all over our pasture fence line and though the blooms arent very spectacular they leave huge rose hips that are good for tea and tinctures.

Holly, Heather and I started this other side of the barn fence while she was here and if the weather ever breaks we will finish it and give Maybelle a bit bigger pen.

Maybelle just keeps getting bigger and she enjoys playing with Rose the Farm Dog and the barn cat Eve. She thinks she is a dog.

We really havent had time to do much with the new pole barn yet....another project in waiting.

This time oif year we also have hundreds of pasture Daisies and they seem to like all the rain (have I mentioned its been raining every day for weeks?).

The cole crops are slowly gaining but are often soaked and we arent sure how that will affect them.

Just one of our potato patches, the potaoes and onions like the rain.

We so want to pull up one of these to see how big they are but have resisted the temptation so far.

And the poor tomatoes are just seeking some sun but they are hanging on.

The grape vines are loaded with grapes and this particular vine is a very sweet Concorde variety that has the most grape flavored grapes you can imagine (if that makes sense).

We dont know why, but our grapes are thriving and we are thinking of making wine eventually.