Saturday, June 30, 2012

The O'Shaughnessy Tree

The O'Shaughnessy Chapel at Kilmacduagh Castle in Ireland

Yesterday was fabulous! We buried my aunt. Actually two very warm employess of St Joseph Cemetery did the actual burying and we are grateful to them. I believe they were equally grateful that we kept the service brief.

It was 102 degrees.

I mean it though when I say it was a fabulous day. My aunt is done with this mediocre world and has moved on to sheer joy. Thank you blog freinds for all your kind words and thanks for all you snail mail folks who sent so many cards. So appreciated. After we said goodbye (My sister Mary did some an awesome reading!) we headed over to a nearby German restaurant to sit in blessed coolness, to eat and drink and tell more family stories.

So wonderful to be with my own family, my sisters families as well as several cousins we had not seen in a very long time. Turns out we had quite a few stories buried inside us and we recommitted to getting together more often. A couple of us are very interested in the formal genealogy of our family and plans were made to share charts, photos etc...

We all realized that we are now IT, the generation responsible for gathering, recording and hopefully publishing our O'Shaughnessy Family history. It's time to get to work.

It's also time for the third shower of the day. This heat stretch is getting tough. Even now just sitting at my computer I have been blinded by the deluge of sweat pouring off my forehead and into my eyes. Every year about this time we re-think our decision not to put AC in this old farmhouse and each year it gets a little harder to hang tough and we find ourselves spending more time with the GK's in their Slide 'N Slide.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Plans progressing with my Aunt Bernie's funeral, thinking about her a hundred times a day. But soon it will be 50 and then 25 and it will most likely stay there. I've known her for 53 years, it's not likely she'll fall off my radar overnight.

So, as I mentioned in my last post. Our farm store was robbed last Wednesday. While I was in Eureka getting more meat to stock our farm store, and Keith was in the house, a individual came into our store and swiped our cash and our digital scale.

It does not appear that any meat or flour or popcorn was taken. All my soap is accounted for. I would feel better if they took some bone-in chops, as at least then I would know they were hungry or some soap, at least they would be a clean thief. Hunger and personal hygiene I can deal with, but taking our hard earned money and the scale we use to weigh our meat, we'll that's pretty low.

The police were called and reports filed.

After a year and a half of doing self serve in our store, we consider ourselves blessed to have so many wonderful customers who not only PAY FOR what they take (imagine that) but sometimes leave a little more. They understand that to hire a full time staff person would mean increased meat prices and none of us want that, and so for now we do not plan to do so.

But we do ask those of you who read my blog to pay by check whenever you can. In fact the day after the robbery, a brand new customer from Chicago came to the store and unaware that we only took cash and check, she had only a debit card.  We told her to take the food and mail us a check. We got it two days later.

We know that 99.9% of the people who crossed our stores threshold are good and decent and honest. As for you other  0.1%?

You stink.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Not a Good Day for Soap

An interesting week has come to a close.

Wednesday a busload of energetic, excited to be on a real farm grade school kids from Chicago came to visit. But I will blog about that latter.  Thursday, a cowardly thief, robbed our farm store, in broad daylight. But no one was injured so I will blog about that later as well. Friday, my dear 93 year old aunt, Bernadette Clare O'Shaughnessy died. I will blog about that now.

My Aunt Bernie with my 3 grandchildren. March 2012

It was shocking but not at all unexpected, not at her age and her heart health, yet we had gotten so used to her being such a big part of our daily lives we just maybe didn't think it would happen so soon.

I was on my way to visit her as I do often, and just as I was getting ready to knock on the door of her room at the assisted living facility where she lives, a staff member stopped me. My first thought was she has fallen but a deeper look into the nurses eyes and I knew it was one of those permanent falls.
They had just found her about ten minutes before I had arrived.

I helped them clean her and put new PJ's on her because I am a nurse and it's what I do.

I called my sister Mary first because she is my right hand sister when it comes to Aunt Bernie. And the rest is Aunt Bernie's history.We cried and laughed and starting packing some of her things and made coffee and tea and decided who would take the coffee maker home. We discussed how tiny our aunt now looked after being such a huge presence in our lives. Coroner came, good to see an old friend again, evening nurse popped in to give us her condolences, I took care of her mother in hospice years ago,funeral home staff came and went.

Mary and I helped move our aunts body onto the stretcher and Mary buckled her in one last time. Safety first you know.

Yesterday she and I met with the funeral home and made the simplest plans. No wake, no viewing. Inexpensive casket and no reason to dress her in new clothes. Her PJ's would serve her just fine, the suit will go to someone living who can put it to better use.

Tomorrow will be phone call day. Medicare, The VA, her pharmacy, etc etc... Tuesday and Wednesday I expect we'll be cleaning her apartment and diving her belongings into those well known boxes marker To Keep, To Throw Away, To give Away.

On Thursday we will gather in the same cemetery her parents and one of her sisters, the one who never grew up due to Down Syndrome, the same sister my Aunt dedicated her life to, are buried. The service will be facilitated by us, her family as she had not developed a relationship with any clergy or priest since she left the Chicago area.

We will share some prayers, some stories and then as is routine for this O'Shaughnessy family we will sugar coat things with a little pie and coffee.

On Friday, the day I most often made my visits to her, I expect I will feel lost. I won't have any laundry to do or meds to pick up or bills of hers to pay. Not that there was that much anyway. She lived a simple life. She would only let us do a few pieces of clothing at a time, a little housekeeping each week. But still, my routine that is Bernie is now gone and what I will really miss is the way she called my GK's "honeybun", they way she always worried about my workload, the way she rarely complained.

My Aunt was amazing. She turned down the proposal of man she loved deeply knowing she would be needed to care for her sister Teresa. She felt if she married she would not have enough time, energy and emotion to care for a husband the way she felt men deserved to be cared for.  But while caring for her sister and her father until his death, she also stayed involved in all of our lives.

She taught me about family finances. If a sibling of hers needed help she gave it freely.
She taught me manners. (Those lessons haven't always stuck with me)
She taught me that working hard was expected and not necessarily something to be rewarded
She taught me that obligation to family was a privilege, not a burden
She taught me to give more than I take (another skill still in the works)
She taught me to laugh at myself.
She taught me humility.
She taught me about Christs love in the way she loved so many others.

She wasn't perfect. She could be sharp tongued and opinionated. She loved to argue, especially about the taboos topics, like politics, religion. She got furious if she heard me being mouthy to my parents.
She was bossy and pushy and stubborn and if my kids are reading this they now know where I picked up those attributes.

She was also the very best aunt in the world.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sweet Thing

Finally, we have honey. Not without some trials of course. We moved the hives (2) in early spring as they were too close to our farm store and too interesting to small children. We did not want  anyone to get stung.

Then about a month ago the hives were hit with a chemical drift. One whole hive died while the other survived, and then finally thrived. Because they are now located very close to our grove of Honey Locust Trees the resulting honey is very clear and very light and so very sinfully sweet.

After Keith harvested the honey and extracted it from the comb, he then bottled it. I came in and labeled them and placed them in the store. Within three days our honey was sold out. but the bees tell us...more is on its way.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fake Farmers

I wish I could let it go but I cannot. Once again I saw a farmer advertising organic meat when I know for a fact it is not. This is frustrating on many levels, with honesty and ethics being at the top.

With the exception of cruel practices, I do believe confinement farming to be cruel, I do not give a donkeys butt how you raise your animals. You chose to feed GMO feed? That's your choice. You choose to feed dumpster leftovers instead of grain and hay? Again, your choice. You collect a load of corn dumped on the road from a conventional farmer? You guessed it: your choice.

But, what irks me, what really angers me, WHAT SETS MY HAIR ON FIRE..*.is when that same farmer, the one  who is feeding all sorts of non-organic feed to their animals, labels his meat or produce or milk or lip balm or chicken feet or whatever as "organic."

In doing so  Mr/Ms. Farmer you are saying so much more.

You are saying that your word is untrustworthy.  If you can call your product organic when it is not what else are fibbing about? The housing your animal has ? The amount of time on pasture? I wonder if your are even aware that the NOP  (National Organic Program) has a minimum number of days cattle must be on pasture.?  The answer is 120 days.

You are saying you believe in price gauging.  Why else would you charge organic prices when you haven't bothered to pay the price yourself as in organic feed, organic pastures, organic processing, organic certification.?

You are saying you believe in lying to customers. Why else would you label your product something it is not? How would you feel if you bought a bag of grain labeled ground corn and discovered it was ground glass? Or purchased a bottle of 100% Fruit Juice for your child and discovered it had less than 10% real Fruit Juice? Or even worse, grabbed a box of Good 'N Plenty fully expecting it to be full of teeth rotting sugar and instead it was now being made with Saccharine?  When you knowingly misrepresent what you grow on your farm...

You are saying you believe your own product is not good enough, not tasty enough, not healthy enough. Why else would you call it something it isn't?  Being certified organic is a choice. If you choose not to pursue this shouldn't you be proud of your choice? Proud enough to honestly label your products using phrases such as "Antibiotic Free" or "Hormone Free."?

You are saying that the relationship you have with your customers need not be based on trust or truth. I must wonder then... what is it based on?

You are saying that our work here on South Pork Ranch is easy, as easy as writing the word "organic" on our labels. Never mind the  hours and hours of hard work in learning the organic regulations, following the organic regulations, keeping records on how we keep the regulations, PAYING over $1000 a year just for the organic inspection let  alone paying for the certified organic feed, packaging and labels (did you know we have to pay 12 cents per meat package just for the USDA Organic Symbol?)

You might also want to take note: some of the fees we pay for being certified are used to pay the salaries of state inspectors who investigate folks who label; their products "organic" when they have not been certified as such. In fact, it is illegal to mislabel your products and you can face heavy fines if you are caught.

But in the end, what really gets me is this, If you think the certified organic program is such a farce, such a meaningless, bureaucratic,  farce then why do you keep putting the name organic on your products?

I'll tell you why . You are saying that you believe organic is good. Why else are you labeling your products as such if you don't think organic is the way to go? If you really had pride in the way your animals were raised, the way your produce was grown then why aren't you promoting it that way? Such as "Chemical Free" or "GMO free seed" or " Raised without antibiotics or hormones"

So please keep your labels honest. Say what you mean, mean what you say.

And now on the lighter and sweeter side, Keith harvested our first big bucket full of honey for the 2012 season. He and the bees did a fabulous job. Me? I ordered the honeycomb bottles. We all have to do our share around here.

* The saying "Set my hair on fire"  must be credited to friend DS,
a very bright nursing student with a wicked sense of humor.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Slip and Slide Saponification Sunday...

With all four kids and 3 GK's here for Fathers Day (plus a healthy dose of rain the night before) we can easily say it was a great Sunday. When Uncles buy little ones things like Slip 'N Slides

And little red wagons (for the not so little ones)

We can also say the day was well spent. When the week was filled with many more soap orders we can say furthermore..."Who's bright idea was this Soap thing?" Mine all mine. But before I move ahead I must back track.

I have been very negligent with expressing my gratuities to several talented soap makers. Over the last few months I have been lucky enough to make some savey soap trades with folks near and far but kept putting off thanking them publicly until my "new" Nikon camera cam back from the repair shop.

Finally, it did. So let the Thank Yous commence. Lets start with the most recently acquired soap trades located at noon, 4pm, and 8 pm in the soap clock below.

Those three artistic bars are the creations of Tina Berryer of Essentially Made Soap Company. Just recently she had sent me several little sample bars of huge variety. Have only used one so far, her really cool Pink Himalayan Salt Bar which lathers like a regular bar. Unbelievable! The bar is mostly gone as I am been hogging it for my filthy dirty pony feet. It has worked miracles on them. If her other soaps are 1/2 as good as that salt bar...I'll remain in sudsy heaven.

Now, at the 1pm setting  ( or more like 12:48) is a sliver of Pear Juice soap from the world famous Jen of Naturalmente Mediterraneo Soaps. She and I traded soap months ago and that sliver is all that remains of several bars she sent. For weeks I would not open her meticulously wrapped treasures with their perfect corners and bars cut more uniformly than gold bricks (like I have ever held a gold brick.)  Finally I did and then used it so carefully. Like liquid silk it was wonderful on my skin, my face, my HAIR.

I will weep when it is gone.

At 6pm and 10 pm is another couple of bars I have had many weeks. Also from Spain they were made by Gingebra Argany Vivo also from Spain. She and I swapped soaps as well and I remember clearly the day her creations arrived. Included in the package were these bars as well as three big soap cupcakes covered with decorative frosting piled higher than most wedding cakes, for my grand kids. Before I could even get them unwrapped the three GK's were begging me for them.

I refused, Why do kids have to have all the fun?

OK, fine. I gave them what they wanted and then kept the rest. On top of all that generosity she also sent me a pink and white Bunny tray which the grand girls convinced me would look best in their room. That will be the LAST time I open any soap packages in front of those thieves.

Finally, we move to the middle. What in the name of  Morocco is that stuff?!?! Well, yesterday at our Farmers Market in Fairbury "friend" CK gave me the pile of brown gooey stuff. She got it from a "friend" of hers who recently  returned from Morocco with what he described as Moroccan Country Soap.

My research revealed it is indeed soap made in Morocco out of Black Olive Oil. It had the consistency of oil heavy soap, you know when your lye amount is too little, and it smelled slight;y tar like. It did not lather much, not too surprising since it was technically a castile soap (100% olive oil) and it smelled a bit like road tar.

It left my skin very soft and in fact my feet were in great shape when I used it AFTER I scrubbed the ugliest garden feet in the world with Tina's salt soap. The remaining smell reminded me of my childhood days when we ran around barefoot on the melting pavement in mid-August.

Back then the exotic foot treatments were free.

In the midst of Fathers Day events, Farmer Market tasks, attending the coolest Barn Dance Party ever (a future post) and the unloading of yet another 600 pounds of meat into our farm store...I squeezed in some saponification of my own.

Having the urge to play with powdered charcoal again, I made the bar in the upper left for my niece's upcoming wedding. I shall call it "Twinkle Twinkle Little Bar"

The soap on the bottom had a top layer of charcoal colored soap which I plunged into the bottom white layer with my uber-expensive and high tech...potato masher. All bars were created from my basic recipe of Olive oil, coconut oil, Castor oil and sweet almond oil along with Tussah silk. I scented them with a new blend for me, Amyris, Lemongrass and Grapefruit EO.

I did not use any black olive oil...yet.

PS, our Estate was infiltrated tonight when  some sneaky neighbor  had the nerve to invade my Secret Garden while I was putting GK's to sleep. I won't name names  (JD) but be warned, tomorrow I am heading to the Chatworth Hardware Store and investing in their best Security System. Yup, all 10 cans on a sting, going up across the Secret Garden Entrance. You, friend, are busted.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Stepping In It" Foot print Contest

Pre-rain Sunset at South Pork Ranch
Chatsworth, Illinois.

First things first...It's going to RAIN!!!  Any second now. The skies are black, the wind is blowing the temp just plummeted, the thunder is rolling and the radar says "warning." Either that or the world is going to end. Whichever, life as we know it will be much better  in the morning.

And now the winner of our most recent contest, ( see my last post) is...MARTHA of Thistle Rose Weaving !! She guessed the critter (pig) the sex (female) and the weight (450). We are not exactly sure about the weight but it would be our guess too.

The prize for Most Original answer given in the timeliest manner is....Tom Stephenson  for his Mickey Mouse Face Down comment. Yeah, I know there was no mention of a "most original" or "timeliest" answer being considered but that's the beauty of writing a blog. You can make up all the rules you want, at least for now. If the goof chumps in New York can limit the amount of pop you drink it won't be long before they limit the number of prizes a private blogger can award her followers.

Honorable mention goes to our GK Wesley who was playing in the sandbox when the big fat pig sauntered past him. He ran into the house to tattle on that sow and later told us "When I saw her Yaya I was freaking out in my head!!"

So Martha and Tom please email me at and let me know your address and your choice of prize, If you recall you can have 2 bars of Artisan Soap. 2 Bars of Your Average Soap made by your Average Midlife Farmwife. a South Pork Ranch T-shirt or a $25 gift certificate to our farm store.

Yes, Tom I will mail items to you even though you live in some 4th world nation.

Yes Martha, if you choose the gift certificate and come to our store, I promise to actually  be here!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Footstep Contest

A couple of days ago we had an escapee. The perp ran as fast as they could but left some evidence behind in the shape of this here footstep in my garden, the scoundrel!

To win, answer as many of the following as you can:  the species of animal who left the print, the sex of the critter and approximate weight, If you are judged to be the brightest contestant, I will send you two bars of my hand crafted soap OR a South Pork Ranch T-shirt OR if you live locally, a $25 gift certificate to our farm store. Your choice of one of the three.

Yes, I will ship outside the US so you far away folk feel free to jump on the game train. And if you are not all ready a follower I would so appreciate it if you became a follower. I'm needy that way. No extra prizes for doing so, outside of my undying devotion.

Now, Ready....Set....Guess.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chicago's Lit fest

While friends and family of mine in my age range are gearing up for retirement in the next decade I find myself waking each morning wondering how I will get it ALL done!

I was in the health care world for 37 years starting as a nurse aide at age 14. Then an EMT, then RN, followed by Nurse Director and then staff RN. In between, under, over and around all those hats we raised four children, the best "job" of all.

A year and 1/2 ago I left nursing to be the Midlife Farmwife full time, except for these other careers that beckon to me. Soap making is a minor business becoming more major while writing is a moderate business becoming a Sergeant Major.

Just like me to leave one job and take on three which when combined pay about half of what the nursing salary was taking three times the hours in a weeks time. Not to mention the learning curve in these new venues which is more twisted that that sister band of the 1980's.

Take the writing gig. I was always the goofy nerdette who loved English Class and thought the essay questions on tests were better than Christmas. You want my opinion? You got it! All my elective classes in nursing school were a similar genre such as Poetry 101, Fiction 202 and Poetry 303 for Those Without Real Lives.  For years I knew I had a novel in me.

Finally the novel has made it past the dust covered synapses,  to the surface, and onto paper. Very soon  (rewrite number three progressing well) I will be taking the leap towards publication  as I search for the Holy Grail AKA an agent to represent me. I've done my research and after attending Printer Row's Literary Fest in Chicago this past weekend I am absolutely sure I am not going the route of self publication.

That is, until I change my mind.

The Lit Fest in Chicago's Printers Row Neighborhood however, was a writers/readers/publishers/agents/revolutionists dream.

Add caption

Several city blocks dedicated to booth after booth filled with new books, old books, leather books, vinyl books, pop-up books and anti-books (those who believe Kindle the new god) Poets were reading and musicians were signing, artists were arting, writers were uh...taking pictures... and of course food was everywhere.

I also was thrilled to get one of the limited tickets for the interview session of Author Gillian Flynn by Elizabeth Taylor of The Tribune. That Gillian, not only is she wickedly talented, but also funny with the right level of edginess. Her latest book Gone Girl, told by alternating view points of the two main characters Amy and Nick, delves into the sticky residue left by a marriage long past its freshness date. Amy, the wife of Nick for what appears to be five very long years, is missing and of course Nick is the prime suspect but other than that, nothing else in the book is predictable.

After listening to Ms Flynn talk about her book(s) without my once thinking she was too over the moon about herself but several times thinking I believe this is my sister who my parents told me died but they obviously lied...I ventured back into the concrete heat of Dearborn Ave and chatted it up with prospective publishers, agents and other writers.

It was very hot. but these two ladies had it covered.

I also bought far too many books, including one written by an ex-nun. She threatened to wrap my knuckles if I didn't. If only $9.95 was all it would've taken to get  me off the hook in 6th Grade.

Chicago, town of Diversity and Zipper Necks

But then again, if these folks are willing to answer some inane newbie writer questions then the least I can do is pluck down a few bucks for their hard work. I believe strongly that to be a good writer you must read read read...and then work an extra job to pay for those books.

Hello ? Any of my kids out there in blog land? If this
typewriter or one similar to it should show up under a
future Christmas tree of mine I would not be displeased.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Saponification Sunday: Glitter Schmitter

I am not a glitter type gal but I have been told by those wiser than me, that the world in fact revolves around the sun, not yours truly. So, with a wedding coming up in our family, and a dear niece the bride to be, I was asked to make some soap favors.

Glitter goes well with weddings I am told so guess what I did ?

Yes, I made my first beer butt chicken on the grill the other night but that's really not the topic at hand is it? I return therefore to soap and my first glitterati sudsy but first must confide, the chicken was fabulous. Half credit can only be given the chef, the other goes to the farmer, Jo Ellen Gehring, who raised the fine bird.

Regarding soap credits...A shout out must go to Celine of  I Am Handmade, in Dublin Ireland, who often sprinkles glitter on her so beautiful soaps. Her artwork inspired me to try the glitter thing for these special occasion soaps.

I used my recipe of Babasuu, Olive, Sweet Almond and Castor Oil but needed no extra colorants due to the Sweet Orange Essential Oil which gave my soaps a wonderful bright lemon color. Having to make lots of bars for the big event, I used the big mold hubby made for me of pine and let it sit in log form for three days before cutting.

Now it sits, curing. In a couple of weeks a group of woman folk who claim no relation to me even though birth certificates prove otherwise, will gather at my farmhouse to trim and wrap soap as a community.

Like that goofy politician once said, "It takes a village."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Rain in Spain Belongs Back on The Plain

Many of the Southern Parts of the US are being flooded. My (wish it were) second home, Ireland, has been especially hard hit with torrential rains yet here we sit in the MidWest dry as a moan.

To cheer myself, I sprayed water on some of my flowers one day when it looked like it would rain, but did not, and pretended it had indeed showered. Usually when you water your garden it rains.

It didn't help. We even left the mower outside and the windows up. Still no rain for over 10 days again. And the last time we got it, it didn't amount to much.

Tomorrow, is Sunday of course so all you get is soap stories but on MONDAY I'll tell you all about Printer Row Lit Fest in Chicago. It was amazing. Much more exciting than the No Rain story. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Worms Unite!

Too excited to write much.

Leaving in a few hours for the Printers Row Literary Fest in Chicago!!!
There will be authors, publishers, agents, writers, book sellers, artists and of course a Farmers Market.

Farmers Markets are so hip.

I am most excited about the workshop I am attending featuring Gillian Flynn, a favorite writer of mine. When we meet, because I am bound and determined we will, I will tell her how much I loved her book Sharp Objects. I will also tell her that I never cared for mysteries until I read that novel. Then I will tell her how I had to read her other books. I will go on to tell her how I admire her pluck and perseverance (How can you not have pluck and perseverance when you are trying to break into the world of Best Break Out Novels?)

One thing I will NOT be telling her...I bought her book for 50 cents at the Etc. Resale Shop in Pontiac.

The weird thing was, I could not put her book down, not even long enough to read the back cover. When I finally did get around to the back page, and read Stephen Kings review I thought well HEY! This author means something to another of my favorite authors, so I googled her and found out HEY! She's from Chicago just like me (and 10 gazillion other people) and then I saw this Literary Fest thing and HEY! My sister Teresa in all her goodness agreed to watch the GK's while my daughter who is working agreed to take the GKS all the way out of her way to Eureka and THAT

is why there is no way my work is ready yet for publication. Did you read that last paragraph?!?!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Swine Relocation Program

Every once in awhile, just for kicks and snorts, we load up the pigs and take them for a ride. They ask to go to Disney World and Mount Rushmore but finances just won't allow such frivolity. Instead they get to go to where all God's creatures really want to go...Greener Pastures

A day in the life of our traveling wilder piggies goes something like this. Piglets who have outstayed their welcome with their mama, at about 8-12 weeks are weaned. Mama is loaded into a metal sided trailer and returned to one of our two breeding groups, Mad Max's Mob or Wally's World as we call them.

The piglets are then loaded onto the trailer (after mama is gone) and put into one of our large barn stalls. After a week or so of getting used to humans feeding them instead of mommy dearest, we open up the stall door allowing them access to a small outside pen with a couple of  electric wires.

Once they learn to R-E-S-P-E-C-T the magic of current the outside pen is enlarged. A couple weeks of that and they are ready for another trip in the trailer to the Big Outdoors loaded with all kinds of green grasses, mud holes and other buddies to romp with.

Shelter for this group is an antique barn on its very last legs. An original building to the farm circa 1895, it was used as a chicken coop for decades. When we took ownership in 1995, it became our goat barn. Many many kids born in that building. In 2008 when we decided to raise hogs year round, the goats were sold and the pigs took up residence. It looks fairly good from the front

But hogs can be tough on buildings. Really really tough

Lets zoom in on that shall we?

Amazing isn't it? Obviously the walls of this shed are not the supporting structure but rather it is the massive posts and beams installed over a hundred years ago that keep this baby upright. Last fall Keith and our intern Aaron worked very hard to shore up the building for one more winter. They used lots of leftover wood leaving the building with a sturdy patchwork look. About as Redneck as one could get but it worked. When they were done there were no gaping holes. Like this one now on the BACK side

At least the airflow is good. Note the fantastic roof Keith put up 10 years ago. Thanks goodness pigs can't climb or I am sure that would be in splinters as well.

So now we ponder when to tear the rest of the building down and what to replace it with. Obviously it will not make it through another winter. We'll be lucky if it makes it through the end of the week. In the meantime the hogs have a lovely picture window view and great fun running through their house without having to open a single door.

The life of Riley.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It's Halloween!

in less than 5 months that is and we plan to be ready. Not so long ago, our neighbor J used to grow the most beautiful pumpkins and then pile them high on a farm wagon at harvest time, for sale to drive bys. Folks from all around knew of her pumpkins and took advantage of the great variety, colors and shape. She quit this practice, a huge amount of work we are discovering, and even offered us her land to grow the pumpkins on if we wanted to continue the tradition. But due to rapid growing stupidity we said No thank you, as felt we had enough on our plates.

Now years later, we have decided to venture forth into the land of the Great Pumpkin after all. Why we didn't do it "back then" when  the ground was well prepared at our neighbors field and ready to go, I cannot fully explain but since it appears we may be here awhile yet until the perfect buyer comes along, we are going to make the best of our blessings. One of them is pig manure.

Yes, I did just say manure is a blessing, natures' perfect fertilizer. Last year the patch behind our goat barn (turned pig barn) was filled with pigs, eating every green thing in its way, except pigweed of course. I'm not kidding, our pigs will not eat pigweed.

This year pigs have been rotated out and about and that area was wide open for a new life, 1000 square feet to work with. (Not so square, more like a triangle)

It had many benefits to offer. Lots of sun. Good drainage. Well fertilized. On the other hand, due to the lack of rain in our area, the limited amount of organic material  like straw and the packing down by lots of little pig feet, the ground is on the hard side.

Actually, it's more on the ROCK HARD of hard side. Note the pigs gathered to give advice in the background. In order to even get the seeds in the ground we had to install dynamite in chosen sections, run for cover and then drop a few seeds in the holes.

It's convenient our neighbors often indulge in target practice with their guns thus any suspicious noises can most easily be blamed on them. Not that we ever would of course. Then we dropped the innocent seeds of various pumpkin types, big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, blue ones, green ones but not PINK ones because my blog friend Miss Effie, never told me about the pink ones until AFTER we planted them, seems she wants all the pink pumpkin business for herself. HA! See if I ever link to her self pick flower business business ever again!

Hopefully, we'll have enough pumpkins to sell on our own hay rack set up alongside our little farm store this next fall. Customers seem appreciative of having several things to choose from when venturing so far out for their raw milk and organic meat.

Because the field was WAY out there, we had to hook up several hoses in order to water the seeds enough for any hope of germination. Look way way out and you'll see the dedicated farmer with said hose. I figure if we get at least 10% germination rate it will have been worth ...not one bit of the time we spent out there.

Will we ever learn ?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Saponification Sunday plus Farm Sale Updates

So, one more soap challenge of Amy Warden's and I must say a very familiar one for me. She asked us to use natural ingredients in our soap making which is how I make mine routinely. In the mood for a scented soap with a jolt I picked Eucalyptus for my essential oil. Yup, that's it, nothing else.

Last week was complicated enough without trying to blend  EO's.

I colored my bars with alkanet root powder, a fairly inexpensive coloring botanical that is easy to find. Ranging from $1 -$3 per ounce it will come in a fine to course powder.

Alkanet Root Powder.

Soapers can leave some in olive oil to "infuse"  (the amount depending on the degree of darkness you want) then drain the root pieces from the oil using  the remaining oil to color your soap (be sure to add the oil amount to your total oil calculations) or you can do like yours fooly, and just toss a few teaspoons in your oil mix prior to adding the lye solution. I prefer the medium fine powder from Organic Creations

Alkanet powder infused in oil.

If you do it my creative (aka lazy) way you will get a color that ranges from light grey to navy blue with various shades of purple in between, depending on the type of oils, the temp of your oils, the temp of your lye mix and whether or not your lye water is made with another liquid like milk or Aloe Vera juice. I also will get some blue, brown or grey spots in my soap from the Alkanet powder but they are not scratchy and just add more character. Just what the world needs, another character.

For this batch  above, I made my basic soap recipe with Coconut, Olive, Castor and Sweet almond Oils, adding some titanium dioxide for whiteness, split it into two and then added alkanet root powder to one half of the soap stick blending it well. I then did and in- the- pot swirl but when pouring it in the mold, I swirled the pot itself in small circles as the soap ran into the mold. Yes, I did indeed get some soap splattered on my kitchen floor which is why I wear plastic gloves on my feet as well as my hands. I let it sit in the mold for 48 hours and then unmolded and cut it 2 more days after that.

Why? No reason. I think I was busy planting pumpkins or was it peppers? Petunias?

If you prefer your soaps to look exactly the same every time a good rule of thumb is to record every stinking step you take in the making of that soap.

Me? I have a beautiful notebook with pre-printed recipe forms I created myself, for each bar of soap I make. I have even been known to actually use this notebook a few times. Primarily though I write down what oils I am using and the lye amount I need on the nearest piece of anything...a post-it, a bread wrapper, my leg.

I do not however screw around with , experiment with lye calculations. Too much lye can ruin your soap and harm a consumer if it is not well dissolved, too little and you get an oily, mushy bar, but I do have fun with everything else. The downside of this; folks will love a soap I've made but because my record keeping was less than stellar, "did I color that bar with Turmeric or Tomato Sauce?" I cannot always recreate the exact bar. In fact I have a very patient lady waiting eons for me to find my notes for my "Hippie Hemp" bar I made last summer.

I know I made it with hemp oil and lye, and as for the rest of it? I got nothing. I of course blame the hemp for my memory issues.


Oh how I wish I could say we have sold the farm and our organic meat business and are well on our way to our next much simpler, homesteading life but alas and Afflack, I cannot. In the last month we had two very interested couples but for very different reasons neither was able to buy the farm. Yes, we were disappointed but at the same time...we got to meet some special people and I get to enjoy my rapidly evolving secret garden that much longer.

In addition, yesterday was BOOMING  at the farmers market we participate in every Saturday in nearby Fairbury, Illinois,  I nearly sold out of soap and the farm store was crazy busy as well. We had over 20  customers in one day with a line at the milk house a couple of times. Folks bought so much raw milk there was barely 5 gallons left in the milk tank when Keith cleaned it last night. We are grateful. So very very grateful.

In the meantime, if you know someone who would love to own and manage a rapidly growing, certified organic farm in Central Illinois please refer them to our sale website   or directly to us at 815-635-3414.or

Many thanks blog friends.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mad Duck Disease

Certainly you've all heard of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy? No ? Where are you living? Under a rock?  Mad Cow Disease people, I'm talking about mad cow disease. But, worry not. The Bovines and their spongiforms are all doing well here.

In fact we all are doing well, with the exception of a couple ticked off ducks. This one in particular.

Apparently he did not get the memo about himself being the trade off for a felting lesson. Farm friend Kiyoshimino agreed to give me some pointers on felting (such as: if I don't jam the felting needle into the soap bar with the force of a construction worker using a jack hammer, I might avoid a few more breaking needles) in trade for a few ducks. Seems that I have decided to expand my soaping business into a felted soap business while Kiyoshi and his wife Emma decided to expand their egg business to include duck eggs.

We had ducks and Kiyoshi had talent so trades were made and a few feathers were ruffled.

Other events on the farm today were not so unhappy. Our weekly Stewards of The Land Farmers Market which started 3 weeks ago was FABULOUS ! The six farmers selling product this morning almost sold out, the weather was super with the exception of a few wind gusts that sent us scrambling for tents to keep them from liftoff, a local news reporter came by to do a story and the number of repeat customers was really encouraging. Yes, even the jokester who loves to yell out his window "Any tomatoes yet?"was amusing.

I think his name was Calvin.

Keith held down the farm while I was at the Farmers Market and he had 12 customers before noon and we had a combined 16 customers by the end of the day. This included our faithful Saturday regulars and several new raw milk customers. In between these much appreciated sales, I was able to do some gardening which was also a source of glee being as we had rain finally and the soil was heaven to work with.

Veggie seeds are sprouting and a flat of annuals were added to the secret garden.

This evening I banged out (literally as our keyboard requires some serious key pounding to work) an article for The Small Farmers Journal about Red Wattle Hogs which left Mad Max in a good mood. All in all a great day.

And now the link to Kiyoshi's Web Site for his beyond talented Felted Wool Art. I couldn't give it to you earlier because you once you see it you'll never come back to me, I just know it.

Friday, June 1, 2012


And now just a little teaser for Saponification Sunday.