Cowboy Boots in Cambridge

I pulled on my cowboy boots yesterday for the first time in probably two years. The last time I distinctly remember wearing them was the End-of-School-Year Barbecue in Marianna, but I probably wore them a couple of times since then. For the last year or so, they have been collecting dust in storage. Then yesterday, I gave them a brief trial on my bike and decided they were suitable for a ride across the Charles to see Ian in Cambridge.

While I was riding, I thought about something my mom and Granddad would occasionally say, “You can take the man out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the man.” Aside from my family whom I love dearly, I have had a lot of negative associations with Texas. When I visit them we drive through the terrible urban sprawl of DFW; strip malls essentially line the highway the entire drive up North from the city to my Grandparent’s house, near the Oklahoma border.  I think about the hubris and “Everything’s bigger in Texas”, and the consumer culture. And, of course, all my favorite politicians are from Texas. “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

But walking around Cambridge and Harvard, I proudly sported my boots, smiling as they reminded me about my connection with the Lone Star State. There were all types of people from all over the world, taking pictures, touching John Harvard’s gold shoe, but I was the only one in boots.

Still having the Texas in me, I now believe, means taking pride in what makes me unique. It means taking on big projects, big ideas, and actually doing something, not just talking. When I got back to Ian’s apartment, it was a physical struggle to take the boots off. On each baby toe, there was a huge blister.


A few weekends back I embarked on my first solo Italian adventure. I had been at Spannocchia for a few weeks and decided it was about time that I got out and saw the sights. The idea of travelling in Italy by myself was making me a little anxious, so I dropped some subtle, open-invitations to the other interns. I was okay going alone, but if somebody else was stoked for a weekend in Florence, I was happy to take the easy way out.

Nobody over enthusiastic. Vato solo. I go alone. I caught a ride to the ‘burbs of Florence with the intern coordinator from Spannocchia, and then hopped on a train to the city center. Florence is conviently a little over an hour away. Of course, when I get off the train at the main station it is pouring down rain. I suited up with rain jacket and daypack rain cover and walked into the unknown, hopping to find my AirBNB before I missed the check-in time or my pants soaked through.

Mission accomplished. I crossed at the bridge adjacent to Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) and made it just in time.


Ponte Vecchio (litterally old bridge) during the day.

Earlier that week, I booked a shared room after having no luck finding a couch surfing host. I was hoping to find a friend by default to spend some time with. Well, when I checked in, my host said with an unreadable smile, that my roommated was out “dancing the tango.” So I went out for dinner alone. It was kind of a sad affair. I felt inept negotiating the restaurant process. I knew enough Italian to feel I should be able to do better, but still struggled to communicate, in English or Italian. The other less than thrilling part was the tripe. I had an open-mind, in fact, was excited to try a new, weird food which I understood to be a Florentine specialtiy. It was okay, but it tasted reminiscent of the fresh casings we bring back from the slaughterhouse to clean and then fill with Buristo (blood sausage). So, meh. Mediocre dinner experience.

Get back to the room: still no roomie. I made some plans for the rest of the weekend and crash, hoping that mystery roomie isn’t too disruptive when he returns… at FIVE in the morning. Very impressive. I figure he must be a pretty hip guy to be out dancing all night. I try to-not-so-creepily sneak-a-peak while he is asleep, and it looks like he has a gray   hair cap on. He must also be super fly if he is that careful with his hair. I reckon he isn’t going to be up for a while, so I don’t wait around. Made some espresso and embarked out into the city. No real rain that morning.


Some statues near the Uffizi Gallery.

My plan was to head to the Galleria degli Uffizi (literally, the Gallery of the Offices.) The museum is housed in a gorgeous old government office building, with the gallery rooms being situated on the outside of a grand U-shaped hallway on the third floor.


A not very good picture from my cellphone of the hallway. I need to work on my cellphone pic skills.


Another bad cellphone pic.

There was a lot of Jesus and Virgin Mary. Some of it was interesting, especiall with the added context provided by the Blue Guide (thanks Tara and Kevin), but it got a little repetitive. A lot of the masterpieces were stationed in an impressive octagonal room that was topped with an impressive, highly ornate dome. Only bummer, you can’t actually go into the room.


Let me in! I want a better look at Venus!

I got to see work by all the Ninja Turtles, which I guess is what one is expected to do in Florence. My favorite parts would have to be the grand hallway. It seemed like such an appropriate venue for all of the art. Also since the art was almost exclusively from one region and time period, it was arranged chronologically by room in a very cool way. You could see how the style changed over very small amounts of time.

After the museo, I stood in a very Italian “line” for a panino. The little lunch place was packed wall-to-wall with people slowly moving in the direction of the counter in the back. I scarfed down some porchetta, and headed back to my room to rest a bit.

I got back to my AirBnB and the party animal himself was up and ambulatory. And he was old! The gray cap was actually his gray hair. He kind of looked like a skinny Albert Einstien. AND, he was hanging out with a very young women, probably around twenty-one. I don’t know what their relationship was, but it didn’t come off as obviously familial. The young women spoke to me for a second, (I don’t think he spoke much English), and then they left.

At this point I was feeling a little down. The Uffizi was great but I had spent the last twenty-four hours by myself, only muttering the bare minimum required to make vital transactions. I had very little human interaction. So, in something of a last-ditch effort, I logged into my CouchSurfing account to see if anybody had replied to my requests. Better late than never, I thought. Maybe we could just hang out and get a drink or something.

No replies. But, a “Tuscany Wine Tasting Tour” was listed under the events for that night. I was a little nervous about going to meet a group of strangers. Merely speaking out loud seemed intimidating when you have barely talked all day. But I did go, and it was wonderful. I met people from all over the world (India, Italy, Argentina, United States, Portugal) and we drank wine and talked about life in different places and travelling, until around midnight.

The next day, I went to the Galieo Museum. It was super cool. They had about 400 years of scientific intstruments, mostly from Florence and Tuscany. They even had some of Galileo’s fingers preserved in a jar. Weird. It was a pretty small museum, but I spent hours there.

The rest of the afternon I spent wandering around the city. I stopped in an ethnic grocery store and got some Thai and Mexican ingredients, which are really hard to find in Italy. Italians really like to eat mostly Italian food. And just food specific to their particular region. I had an arduous search for a good piece of pizza by the slice, which ended in hunger winning and me spending way too much money on crappy pizza. The cherry-on-top, though, was painting the Duomo, the main church in the town, on a postcard. An Italian man came by and watched me paint for a few minutes, and then complimented my work. It was pretty cool. Somebody out there should be recieving the postcard in 3-5 weeks because the mail leaving Italy is painfully slow.


The inside of the dome. Apparently my dad walked around up there when he was here.


My postcard perspective of the Duomo

Sorry if this post was a little verbose. I need to practice a bit and hone my blogging skills.




Bonus Picture of Alec from my time spent writing this post:


One of my fellow butcher apprentices has a habit of falling asleep wherever.

How to Sprout Grains for Animal Feed

The library is a wonderful thing. There, I found Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, and within, inspiration. I read about Parma ham and the special diet these pigs eat (including lots of acorns), that some say is the secret to the extra divine end product. I spent the next few hours researching everything from acorns to peanuts, looking for the perfect addition to our finishing ration. The perfect something to give our pork it’s own regional-specific je ne sais quoi . What I settled on was a mix of sprouted grains and sunflower seeds; the grains produced and sold locally here in the Arkansas Delta.

Here is a rough guide to doing what I have done here for the pigs. I’m not really sure how much they like the sprouts, but between the pigs and the chickens, they’ll all get eaten.



Five gallon bucket

Grains and or seeds to sprout

Some sort of trays to keep your sprouting grains in

My makeshift sprouting set up.

My makeshift sprouting set up.

1. The first step is soaking the grains. Put the desired amount of grains in your bucket, add water to more than cover (the grains expand when they absorb water) and add a splash of hydrogen peroxide to help prevent mold. The first couple of times you might want to measure your grains into your sprouting container. The ideal is to have a layer a couple grains/seeds thick. Mine starts out typically about an inch thick. Soak seeds 8-12 hours. You can experiment with soak time to find the ideal for your specific grain and climate.

I mix everything together, but if you soaked and sprouted things separately you could have more control over how much foliage you get from the different components.


2. Pour your seeds in water into a perforated container in which they can sprout. I used metal pans (3 gallon?) from Tractor Supply.  I took the stack of six that I bought and drilled about 50 holes in the bottoms, all at once. Rinse them thoroughly with fresh water.

3. Store sprouting grains in an “ideal” location. Various internet sources would have me believe that you want relatively high humidity (around 75%), and air flow for good success. I leave mine on the porch where they can get some light.

4. Rinse sprouts a couple of times a day, roughly every 8-12 hours. This keeps them hydrated and clean.

5. Soak a new batch of seeds. If you want to have a batch of sprouts ready to go every 24 hours, start a new batch to soak that often.

Here are some pictures of the sprouts in various stages of development.

Sprouts just barley popping out. This is 24 hours after soaking.

Sprouts just bareley popping out. This is 24 hours after soaking.

You can clearly see the little sprouty. Two days after soaking

You can clearly see the little sprouties. Two days after soaking

3 days in.

3 days in.

Five days in and there is lots of green.

Five days in and there is lots of green.


Lots of green after six days. This is what the pigs and chickens will be eating for dinner from now on.

Close up of the roots and shoots

Close up of the roots and shoots

This is what our steps will look like for the foreseeable future.

This is what our steps will look like for the foreseeable future.

You can see a pretty solid root mat forms. Also, a good view of the drainage holes.

You can see a pretty solid root mat forms. Also, a good view of the drainage holes.


The pigs ate a good bit of it. They seem to favor the grainy bits, believe it or not. They sure had a good time tossing them around though. Given a little time and hunger, the pigs would eat anything.

The pigs ate a good bit of it. They seem to favor the grainy bits, believe it or not. They sure had a good time tossing them around though. Given a little time and hunger, the pigs would eat anything.

A few things to consider:

Mold can be an issue. Make sure you clean out your trays and bucket. I clean the bucket every few days with a bleach solution and do the same for the trays in between uses. Also, if you don’t have enough air flow or too much moisture, mold can take hold. I tried using some old flats for starting transplants. They had drainage and seemed sturdy enough, but I was too lazy to clean them out. The corn I had in these puppies got nasty. It was moldy, slimy, and eventually full of maggots. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Seed cleanliness (how clean it is in the bag) can also be an issue, but since I don’t have many options or any control over the matter, I don’t worry too much.

Mold can produce myotoxins which can be harmful to pigs (and probably other critters, but I haven’t done much internet research about them). Myotoxins can kill small pigs and reduce growth rate/feed conversion rates and cause other more serious health issues. Do some research. With my current system, all my sprouts have looked and smelled fresh enough for human consumption, though I wouldn’t recommend it.

Know that everything you buy will not sprout. Some grain is heat dried, which may cause it to not sprout. I had no luck with the Tractor Supply Oats, but great success with the sunflower seeds I bought there. Also, when selecteing grains/seeds, think about what season those things typically sprout. Some things like it warmer, like corn.


It has been a great experiment. It feels awesome to take more control over what we are feeding our animals. If you have any questions, post them in the comments or do some googling. There is plenty of info out on the net, but I would be happy to reply with a more personal touch.

Good luck, and happy sprouting!

Silly Pigs

Due to user error, the pigs are taking refuge from tonight's storm under our front porch. We can't lure them out into the rain to bring them back into their enclosure. They get to sleep extra cozy tonight, but be prepared pigs, we come at dawn!

Due to user error, the pigs are taking refuge from tonight’s storm under our front porch. We can’t lure them out into the rain to bring them back into their enclosure. They get to sleep extra cozy tonight, but be prepared pigs, we come at dawn!