Monday, December 31, 2012

A Quiet Christmas of Reflection

Its been a quiet Christmas at the farm with lots of good food, good friends and reflection on how lucky we are. We started the holidays with our little community Christmas parade and chili cook off sponsored by the Lions Club that I am privileged to be president of. This was my first as the President and a lot goes into even this small of an event but luckily we have some hardworking members who made sure I didn't make too big of a a hash of it. We also had a dinner with the Fire Department and families, we had our neighbor Roger over to help make Christmas cookies and decorations, Chris came home for a couple weeks, and even our shopping experience was relaxed and enjoyable.

I got asked by a friends wife if I would be willing to play Santa for a Christmas party they were having for a bunch of 4-6 year old kids. I told here I saw myself as more of a Charles Bronson/Lee Marvin type but she said nope...your more of a softy Santa. Soooo I did my first gig as a Santa and actually enjoyed it.

Every family develops holiday traditions and one of ours has been to decorate cookies and make decorations and we treasure those decorations from Christmas' past on our tree. This year we invited our bachelor neighbor Roger who has dinner with us every Sunday to join us in making cookies and decorations. Just a laid back easy going evening with family and friends. Holly makes up plates of Christmas cookies and makes sure a couple bachelor neighbor farmers get some cookies and we always leave a small box of chocolates from a local chocolatier for the mail lady and our trash man who is one of the hardest working guys in the county. We just appreciate the extra mile they go to be friendly and provide such fine service.

Since making decorations always works up an appetite, we smoked some Cornish game hens over apple wood and they were juicy and full of smokey goodness.
We did have one disaster. Judy's cat Piglet came over for a visit and ran into the living room and launched herself in an effort to "climb" the tree and it broke the stand, fell over and scattered ornaments all over the floor. We have had this tree for about 10 years so it was getting old anyway but when I came into the house poor Holly was in tears, so we hugged and my first thought was...road trip. "But its getting late and its a 45 minute drive to town" said she...."yes but Lowes is open til midnight" says I and "get your coat".

So we got an even nicer tree, and we decorated it together and had it up that very evening and all was well and I only wish everything else was so easy to fix.
Yes that is a pillow strapped to my belly under the suit. One of the kids let out a yell when I approached the door and I heard her say "its the real Santa..look mommy its the real Santa!". They all gave me a hug before I left and to be honest it was a lot of fun.

We long ago gave up on the commercialization that accompanies Christmas for some and instead focus on family, the spirit of the holiday and we  enjoy giving meaningful and sometimes fun gifts. Holly got this one from Jenny and Steve and she got some gardening stuff, some practical clothes, and a new gold chain for her Alaskan gold nugget cross.
While I got a new welding helmet and gloves, some tools, and some cooking stuff...

Chris the wandering trucker who is home for the holidays for a couple of weeks is hard to buy for because he stays on the road but he got some clothes and some kind of gaming gizmo headphones..
And finally Judy got....well Judy stuff. We also got some canned salmon from my parents and a couple sides of alder smoked Copper River salmon from Jay and Stephanie....and its unbelievably good.

We even have snow, not the blizzard predicted but its been in the teens at night and a touch of snow has highlighted the season.
We put out decorations and lights and at least for this one lonely stretch of highway there was a bit of cheer.

 It was so quiet this night with the snow falling (except for a pack of coyotes howling in the distance) and with the wood smoke smell of the wood fired boiler and our knowledge of the warmth and good cooking smells that awaited in the farmhouse we truly felt at peace.
Even the animals had a good Christmas. The cattle got an extra hay ration, the chickens got all kinds of scraps from the holiday cooking and of course Bandit, Boo Boo, Willow, Rosie, Whiskers, Piglet (despite her Christmas tree misadventure), Jake, Eve, and President Grant were spoiled rotten (those are the combined cats and dogs between our farmhouse, Judy's place, and the barn).
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the tragedy that happened in Newton Connecticut and we were not could anyone not be? Sadly, rather than a rational national discourse that could have at least brought honor to their sacrifice and at least some comfort to their families the whole issue has been co-opted by extremists on both sides and the partisan divide that monopolises our society today just continues unabated. It saddens me. Solving complex societal issues takes courage and a selfless maturity that is lacking in our government and fed by a morally bankrupt mass media and we are all the poorer for it. May those who perished rest in peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Driveway Widening Project is Complete

The Missouri Department of Transportation completed replacing the old rotten and too narrow culvert for our driveway and it has made the entry much more usable and most importantly safe. Before it was so narrow you had to swing out into the other lane to enter when heading north and it was really a challenge for larger trucks or when towing a trailer.

We started this process when a friend suggested we contact MoDOT because our culvert was collapsing and so we did and the entire experience with them has been nothing less than impressive. A local representative came out and took measurements and sent a recommendation to the regional office, a highway engineer came out from that office to verify and help us complete the permit application and within a week we had the permit. We then contacted the local office again to schedule it and within a week it was done as you can see below.

These guys were very friendly, serious about safety and when I mentioned how good their equipment looked one of the workers said that they have had serious budget cuts so they have to really take care of their stuff...and besides he said, "we take pride in our work". As a tax payer I sure don't know how you could ask more than that.

You can see we really needed new culvert, this old culvert was too short and completely rotten.
Our driveway entrance ended up about 6 feet wider which makes a huge difference when entering or exiting the drive.

They will come back next week and cut a bevel in the ends of the culvert.
Their vehicles were spotless inside and out (of course I had to check them out...I cant get enough of heavy equipment) and it only took them about an hour and a half to complete the entire job. Someday when I have some extra money I want to get a small dump truck...I mean, every guy needs a dump truck.

So this long planned project is also complete. We are starting to feel like we have made significant progress on the old homestead this year and we get a real sense of accomplishment as each project gets checked off. We have always lived in houses where you had to think of resale value and we knew we would be leaving at some point, and often within a few years so retiring to a place we never plan on moving from has changed a lot of our perspective. We do things to please us and make our place more usable and suitable for us and we just don't care if anyone else would do it the same way or likes what we do (though we try not to do anything that would cause issues with neighbors etc.). We also know we have the rest of our lives to get things done so we are way more relaxed about time lines.
Speaking of on-going projects, we are still extending our fence line to enclose the new pasture that is on the land we bought from a neighbor earlier this year and our hired hand Travis and I set these gate posts yesterday. They were sunk 2.5 feet deep and then set in concrete and there will be an 8 foot gate in the middle to give access to the neighbors pasture where we keep steers on his pasture. The next step will be to put up the H brace and wire cross brace and then string barbed wire up to this point from below the hill in this picture.

We will then sink T-posts all the way to the back wood line in this picture, place three corner posts and braces, then put in a gate to the pasture behind the trees in the back and another gate to our existing pasture in the old fence line. We are leaving the old fence and will use this new pasture as part of our rotational grazing program. Once all this is complete, we will fence off the pole barn shop and maintenance/trailer storage area and do some cross fencing in the main pasture. We are also building a small cabin, deck, and dock at the main pond which will require some fencing so we are not going to be done fencing for awhile but we take our time and Travis is a hard worker who make it possible to get these things done even with my injuries. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Visitors for Thanksgiving

We had a great Thanksgiving and had #1 daughter Jenny and Fiance Steve and #3 son Matt visit for 10 days. They hunted, we toured the area, we played games, and we ate way too much food but we all had a good time. Jenny also found her wedding dress here but she wont let me post pictures lest Steve see it. She had previously looked at home in Alaska and in Seattle and it pleases us to no end that she found her dream dress at a small bridal shop here in the Ozarks where she said the people were so friendly and accommodating and who were thrilled to have a customer from Alaska.

Jenny and Steve with their deer. The pickings were kind of slim around here this year but at least they will be going back with some meat. Jenny has already gotten a moose this year and they also got some cotton tail rabbits while they were here.

Jen Jen doesn't shy away from any aspect of hunting including gutting and cleaning wild game and she has learned a lot from Steve who is a borderline mountain man. They hunt, fish and trap in interior Alaska and they have a nice homestead.
It was 14 degrees below zero when they left their home and it was about 70 here when this picture was taken. I do not miss that cold myself but they like it.

Each night we would play games and the kids introduced us to a dice game called 10,000 and we had a lot of fun playing.
I cook the turkey every year and this 22 pounder came out great. I brine the bird the night before in a saltwater and stock brine with peppercorns, crystallized ginger and sage and rosemary and then cook at 475 for about 30 minutes to give it good color and then I turn it down to about 325 for a slow cook for a couple of hours. I put aromatics in the cavity like garlic, onion, apples, lemons, rosemary, sage, and a stick of Cinnamon. It comes out juicy inside and very flavorful.

Judy had to get this picture right before we carved the turkey.
We had to go to all the obligatory stops while they were here, Amish country, Bass Pro Shops, antique stores etc but we also went to Ha Ha Tonka State Park on a cold and blustery day and it had some spectacular views as you can see behind my sweet heart.

At the park is the ruins of a once beautiful mansion that was built in the early 1900s by a wealthy Kansas City magnate to resemble a castle. It burned in 1942 but you can see from the ruins that it was quite a place with a commanding view of the river hundreds of feet below.
Holly, Matt, Jenny and Judy sure enjoyed it but it was really windy and cold for us (about 40).

Also at the park is a large spring and this natural land bridge.
All too soon they had to return to Alaska but Jenny will have to come back for the final fitting of her wedding dress and we are planning on a trip to Alaska next summer and we have the wedding in Minnesota  next fall so we will not have to wait so long to see everyone this time.

One of our contractors took this picture for us of the whole gang. Holly really enjoyed the visit and she just doted two of her younguns. You couldn't ask for a better mother and we have been blessed with 5 great kids who we are all still very close to even if we are scattered from coast to coast (literally). That's what happens when you raise your kids to be self confident and adventurous and we wouldn't want it any other way.
I meant to show on the last post where we have been hunting since it is so different than how we hunted in Alaska. This is a double tree stand we mostly hunted from this year (nice to cuddle with your wife in a tree stand) and it sits on a hill overlooking a creek and a small Oak wood line and beyond that is a small pasture. I shot my deer this year through the trees looking straight on the right of this picture. It was in the next pasture over and I shot it through the trees at about 180 yards down hill. Yes I am a good shot...thanks for asking.

This is looking straight out from the tree stand and you can just see the pasture through the trees. We had Wild Turkeys strutting around under us, lots of coyotes yipping in the woods and a Great Horned Owl flew right by us at one point and landed in the small oaks in the fore ground of this picture. I would rather be in the woods or outside than any desk job no matter how much it paid.
And this is a picture of Holly in the stand. We are lucky to have friends with large farms where we can hunt and enjoy nature like this in complete isolation and we have come to love the Oak forests of the Ozarks.
Sad Note: As I was updating the blog with this post we heard a screech and a crash out front of the farmhouse and I looked out the window to see debris flying in the air. When we ran outside we found a pickup had left the road at high speed and impacted a tree on Roger's place next door. As soon as I got to the cab I knew it was bad and called 911, identified myself as a First responder and called for a MEDEVAC helicopter. We had to use hydraulic cutters (jaws of life) to extract the driver who had massive trauma but he coded in the ambulance and didn't make it. The passenger was airlifted out with serious but not life threatening injuries and all I can say is please, if you are reading this use your seat belt always and drive defensively and safely.

Finishing the Deer and Final Sewer Project Update

Its been a while since the last post but we have been crazy busy in a good way. So many things have been going on that it will take several posts to get up to date so here we go.
Around here people pay $60-$90 to have their deer processed and all I can say is why? A lot of meat processors are bad to mix up customers deer meat and you really cant be sure your getting your own back. Its a simple but important skill to learn how to butcher your own game and you know its your game your getting and you know how its processed. In hard times it may be necessary to add butchering to your repertoire and I see it as just part of self sufficient living.

We keep the hides of most of the animals we hunt and tan them for use on various projects or to give to others to use. Here I have just removed the tail bone with a pair of pliers (couldn't find my tail stripper).
The next step is to flesh out the hide and get as much residual meat and fat off the hide as possible.

Then I salt the hide heavily and fold it flesh to flesh and let it sit for a day. Then repeat.
We decided to tan this hide with the fur on but you can also tan it without the fur if your looking for a rawhide application.

After the two saltings and a couple days I soak the hide for 24 hours in a salt brine and then wash it in water and dish soap and rinse real well.
The hide is now hanging to dry and it is supple and smells like you would expect a tanned hide to smell.

This is the skin side where I have applied a commercial tanning solution. Once it is dry I will sand it with sand paper and then its ready to be used.
This is the final end result of two years of effort. We have a sewer hookup for the farmhouse and Judy's place and no more worries about how much water we put down the drain or pumping out the septic tank. Our septic tank was small and the leach lines were failing so we are extremely relieved and happy to have gotten this.

The excess fill dirt has now been leveled and smoothed with the Kubota and a box blade and will be the site of the new greenhouse in the spring.
The cleared brush has now been burned and this project is Fin!