In case you were wondering…

Breakfast Bunny was surprisingly tasty

Breakfast Bunny was surprisingly tasty. A little weird, but very edible.

We had a blast visiting our Ohio family. We got a chance or two to be helpful, and we learned a lot from their systems, dreams and schemes.
Here’s a photo version of a day at the farm, beginning with morning chores.

The cows provide milk, cream and butter for the family, but my understanding is that most of the milk goes to the pigs, providing them with a great source of (relatively inexpensive) protein.

The cows provide milk, cream and butter for the family, but my understanding is that most of the milk goes to the pigs, providing them with a great source of (relatively inexpensive) protein.

The golf cart pulls the chicken tractors! It's a whole lot easier to move their three than it is to move our single tractor by hand.

The golf cart pulls the chicken tractors! It’s a whole lot easier to move their three than it is to move our single tractor by hand. The chicken tractors are moved every day to provide the Cornish Cross broilers with fresh grass and a new supply of bugs to eat.

The draft

The draft horses graze ahead of the chicken tractors to clear a path in the tall pasture. Genius!

Sean is the pig whisperer

Sean is the pig whisperer

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Pumping water is one of the big electrical draws at the farm, and patching hoses is a big draw on manpower. These pigs are helping to create a pond that will provide livestock water with no hoses and no electricity!

Pumping water is one of the big electrical draws at the farm, and patching hoses is a big draw on manpower. These pigs are helping to create a pond that will provide livestock water with no hoses and no electricity!

Behold! The pond-makers in action!

Behold! The pond-makers in action!

They are the prettiest, happiest, muddiest snurflepigs I've ever seen!

They are the prettiest, happiest, muddiest snurflepigs I’ve ever seen!

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We went out looking for a group of lambs that had an appointment with the butcher. These appointments are made months in advance.

After chores, we went out looking for a group of lambs that had an appointment with the butcher. These appointments are made months in advance.

The pastures at the farm are gorgeously in bloom this time of year. Where are those sheep?

The pastures at the farm are gorgeously in bloom this time of year. They’re also very tall and easy to hide in. Where are those sheep?

Sean is sad because there's a lot of work ahead of him. The lambs we were looking for escaped and got mixed in with the flock!

Sean is sad because there’s a lot of work ahead of him. The lambs we were looking for escaped and got mixed in with the flock!

Baaa! We had to herd the entire flock through a narrow gate. They walked in circles for a while before they noticed the opening.

Baaa! We had to herd the entire flock through a narrow gate. They walked in circles for a while before they noticed the opening.

Once the sheep got going, it was mostly a matter of keeping up.

Once the sheep got going, it was mostly a matter of keeping up.

Jesse, Sean and Dante are separating the desired animals from the rest of the flock and sending them down a chute to the trailer.

Jesse, Sean and Dante are separating the desired animals from the rest of the flock and sending them down a chute to the trailer.

Get in there!

Get in there!

It was a beautiful day for a lot of work.

It was a beautiful day for a lot of work.

After a long day, Jesse, Fezzik and Sean teamed up for evening chores

After a long day, Jesse, Fezzik and Sean teamed up for evening chores

The pigs and chickens graze together. Pigs make good predator protection for the chickens.

The pigs and chickens graze together. Pigs make good predator protection for the chickens.

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Carnivory in Ohio

We all slept poorly last night. It was hot, and the ticking ceiling fan and open windows couldn’t cool our dry skin. Chelsea and I rose from our sleepless beds at sunrise and ran down the farm’s long gravel driveway and then to the end of the road.
“Good morning moo cows. Good morning hounds. Good morning sheep. Good morning chickens.”
The dawn spilled over the hill that cradles the farm and sopped into the clouds that had carpeted the sky overnight. The breeze was cool and it left a chill where it lifted the sweat from our necks. The sky was soaked in a watercolor purple, and the birds were chirruping in the blooming weeds that filled the ditches. My legs hurt. As we started the jog back up the driveway, the world brightened and began to glow in Technicolor. I let a smile stretch my face.

The countryside in this part of Ohio is idyllic in mid-summer. The roadsides are overwhelmed with queen anne’s lace and something that flowers purple, the trees are blushing green, and the rollercoaster hills are spread with sunny pasture and crisp shady forest, and sprinkled with weathered barns and cattle. When we arrived yesterday, I went for a long run in the heat of the day. The heat billowing off the pavement and the gluey, humid air could have been Arkansan, but there was no mistaking the ambience of Midwestern Americana. When I got back, dinner prep was in full swing. We ate ribeyes from right here at the farm to kick off the inevitable week of carnivory that’s to come. We could hear cows mooing from our table on the patio.

Before the sun was fully up, Sean, Chelsea and I were weeding raised beds in one of the hoophouses. Jesse brought out steaming cups of coffee, and we surveyed our progress, listening to the beginnings of rain on the plastic roof.

Breakfast was Ohio eggs, potatoes and sausage with Arkansan tomatoes and cucumbers. Lunch was all Ohio: raw zucchini pasta with basil and nasturtium flowers, beet greens and crispy onion crostini, and broccoli raab. Not home-grown: bread flour, lemons, olive oil, balsamic vinegar. Summer is the best time of year. I forget what grocery shopping feels like for days or weeks at a time.

We accompanied our friends to the farmers market this afternoon. They sell grass-finished beef and lamb and pastured pork and poultry, in addition to eggs. I listened with pride as they fielded questions about the humanity of their farming practices and the quality of their meat products and eggs.
“Is there an agency that certifies that your animals are raised humanely?”
“Our certifying organization is our customers. We’re happy to give farm tours so that you can satisfy yourself that our animals are treated humanely.”
“Are these eggs free-range?”
“Free-range can mean that the hens have access to a concrete slab. Our hens are pastured. They eat plants and insects in addition to their organic feed, and their access to the outdoors is unlimited.”
This is a business to be proud of, and those eggs are worth every penny their customers pay for them.

Sean and Jesse hamming it up at the market

Sean and Jesse hamming it up at the market

Tomatoes are just coming on up here in the North. Sean selected this luscious beauty at the market.

Tomatoes are just coming on up here in the North. Sean selected this luscious beauty at the market.

Dinner was Thai food. Sean and I enjoyed the extraordinary luxury of ordering dishes that incorporated quality meats. My (droolworthy) masaman curry featured locally raised beef! I was swooning all through dinner. This was easily the best Thai food I’ve had in years. The four of us stopped at the grocery store on the way home and picked up two pints of Jeni’s ice cream for dessert, which is locally made and incredible. In the checkout line, we realized that we had no spoons and no way to transport the ice cream home without excessive meltage.
“Where’s the metal cutlery?” Sean asked.
“Aisle nine or ten” replied the cashier.
We looked, but couldn’t find it. We looked again, then met up in toiletries, befuddled.
“I’ve just had an idea,” Sean stated. “Let’s find cones and get an ice cream scoop. It’s better than plastic spoons that we’ll just throw away.”
So we did.

Sean scooped us each a cone and, as the ice cream began to melt, scooped us each another. We rolled over the hills in the dusky evening sunshine in a perfect, blissful, ice cream silence.

“Aw, shit!” Jesse exclaimed as we crested a hill. He swerved, but caught the rabbit anyway. It lay still in the road behind us, receding as the truck charged on.
“Go back.” Sean said.
“What?”
“Go back. We can take it home and skin it.”
“What?”
“We could eat it for breakfast if it’s in good shape. Keely can at least tan the hide.”
“Yeah! I absolutely can!” I said
Sean grinned. “We’ve been in Arkansas for… two years now?”
Laughter.

Skinning game animals might be an Arkansas thing, but eating roadkill is decidedly a liberal hippie environmentalist thing. We had late night beer floats not two days ago with two young intellectual-type people who had broken their vegetarianism on roadkill.

Meet Breakfast Bunny!

Meet (Meat) Breakfast Bunny!

The rabbit was in good shape when we picked it up. It had been hit only in the head. It had bitten through its tongue and one eye was lolling out of its socket, but the hide was completely intact and no damage was done to the internal organs. I got the rabbit skinned and gutted with a minimum of fuss, though I lost the tail. Fleshing is proving to be the hardest part of the process for me. I tore the hide in several places and didn’t succeed in removing all of the fat and membrane from the skin. I did, however, wind up with a perfectly respectable attempt at a clean hide, which was conveniently sized and shaped for a brief puppet show.

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2nd annual End-of-School Homestead BBQ

Friday was the last day with students for Ms. O (that’s me!) and it was marked by some very special moments that I will save for a later post. One of the best parts of Friday was first thing in the morning when my principal slipped a grocery bag of red plastic cups and a copy of the lyrics for the song “red solo cup” into my hand, saying “you’ll need these.”

Folks started arriving shortly after Sean and I got home from school. We built a fire to start making coals to fuel the smoker and to heat a barrel of water for scalding the pig. After a week of rain, though, we didn’t have much dry wood or much luck. It took us hours to get the water hot enough.

Our neighbor, Butch, came over with some of his helpers (rising ninth graders: my future students!) to guide us through the process. He was invaluable to us at last year’s barbeque, when we were slaughtering our very first hog. We’ve been through the process a few times now, but his experience is indispensable. He’s butchered hundreds of hogs in his day.

We had intended to heat water for scalding over our fire, but we wound up digging a hole for the barrel and building a fire around it.

We had intended to heat water for scalding over a fire, but we wound up digging a hole for the barrel and building a fire around it. After some trial and error, this method proved successful.

When the water was hot enough, Sean shot the pig with the .22, then stuck it under the breastbone to bleed it out.

When the water was hot enough (not boiling, but too hot to touch), Sean shot the pig with the .22, then stuck it under the breastbone to bleed it out. Dillon dragged it to the top of the hill and the crew dipped it in the hot water to scald it.

After scalding, the pig is scraped to remove hair and the outer layer of skin.

After scalding, the pig was scraped to remove hair and the outer layer of skin. It was surprisingly white under all that red hair.

Sean and M hung the carcass from an old swing set that we found in the yard.

After scraping, Sean and M hung the carcass from an old swing set that we found in the yard.

I don’t have any good photos of the evisceration process, but it’s fairly simple. Make an incision in the lower part of the belly, cut down toward the head and back toward the hip bones. Be careful to tie off the bung. When you are ready for the organs to spill out, cut through the sternum. On a hog this small, you can do this with a knife. A friend asked us to save the liver for him, and Sean saved most of the other organs to dissect in class. We buried the intestines to keep from attracting critters. Sean halved the carcass and we laid the halves, skin-side-down, on the smoker.

Using the coals from our hardwood fire, the team kept the smoker between 200 and 250 degrees all night.

Saturday:

Sean was still tending the smoker at dawn.

Sean was still tending the smoker at dawn.

The night watch looked tired but happy.

The night watch looked tired but happy.

We kept roasting all day, and Jesse heroically weed-whacked a bocce court. We laid plywood over the worst mud puddles, made a mountain of slaw and set out tables and chafing dishes, borrowed from another generous neighbor. At around 2:00 we pulled the pig off the smoker.

Dan and I helped turn the whole smoked hog into pulled pork for sandwiches.

Dan and I helped turn the whole smoked hog into pulled pork for sandwiches.

Folks were arriving by then, and the party was underway. People hung out in lawn chairs and ate and talked. Groups of folks wandered down to look at the pigs or the garden and congregated at the bocce court. One friend brought 50 pounds of crawfish and boiled them up to share. They were spicy and delicious, and we got some great carapaces to feed to the pigs and add to the compost. At one point, the weather laid down a little bibbity bobbity boo and gave us a rainbow.

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Sean rocked shorts and cowboy boots, and Shannon turned up in an outfit to match.

Sean rocked shorts and cowboy boots, and Shannon turned up in an outfit to match.

 

I wish you could see the rainbow in this photo.

I wish you could see the rainbow in this photo.

Unfortunately for us, the rainbow came before the rain. It started pelting and people grabbed dishes and papers and cameras and dashed onto the porch, laughing. A pot of crawfish was left boiling on the cooker, just like Pompeii.

Everyone wound up a little soggy

Everyone wound up a little soggy.

Some brave souls went out in the rain to bring in the keg, and we finished it before dark. Some folks stayed out on the porch, drinking and watching the clouds, some sat in the living room, chatting, and others shucked crawfish in the kitchen, making a dent in the not inconsiderable bounty in the bottom of a fortuitously rescued cooler.

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Eventually, everyone went home. We stayed up for a while, talking to friends from afar who came down to stay with us for the weekend, then crapped out, absolutely exhausted.

Sunday Night:

We spent Sunday recuperating and tidying up the sodden and abandoned yard. A red velvet cake, soaked in the sudden shower, had bled all over the table, and we discovered a pot of crawfish still on the cooker. In the evening, we ran to town for Game of Thrones and Pizza Night, a Marianna Sunday tradition.

We packed our friends in the back and rolled up to the park for a pre-dinner walk.

We packed our friends in the back and rolled up to the park for a pre-dinner walk.

Can an Arkansas experience be complete without a little wind in your hair?

Can an Arkansas experience be complete without a little wind in your hair?

The pizza bros did it again: yet another delicious Sunday night dinner to fortify us through our journey to Westeros.

The pizza bros did it again: yet another delicious Sunday night dinner to fortify us through our journey to Westeros.

On the way home, I rode in the back with Sarah and watched the indecisive clouds skid back and forth over the silver treetops. We stopped for a swim under the star-littered, rain-laden night sky and dried off as best we could in the humid night, watching the fireflies glitter in the fields along our dirt road. It’s the best show on earth, folks.

My New Hat

Last night I got into bed, all ready to have an early night. Sean was just about to climb in with me, but he heard something out front.

“Chunky’s on the porch. I’m going for it”
“If you get him, what are you gonna do with him?”
“he’ll be too blown apart. I’ll just throw him away. It’d be a different story if we could get any .22 bullets.”

From bed, I heard that shotgun noise (ch-chk), then a while later, BOOM. Sean came back inside.

“It was a clean kill. I kinda feel like I should do something with it”
“But you said —”
“I’d feel bad”
“okay. Let me get dressed”

five minutes later I was kneeling on a tarp in the middle of my kitchen floor, helping Sean process a raccoon. The entry wound was small, just the size of a quarter. The sternum was shattered and the lungs were full of shot. Chunky didn’t suffer, and most of the meat and fur was in good condition.

I’ll be honest. Sean and I are amateurs when it comes to this stuff. I’m sure any of my students could have gutted and skinned this thing faster than we did, but we’re learning, and at least we have the gumption to try.

Sean froze the head separately for me. When I get home tonight, I’m going to thaw out the hide and scrape it, then wash it and tack it to a board to dry. When it’s dry, I’ll try my hand at brain-tanning. If all goes well, I’m going to try to make Chunky into a hat. We messed up the tail a little, but it’s a first try, and skinning a tail isn’t easy. The head skinned out nicely though.

Raccoon is edible, though my students don’t recommend eating it in the summer. I need to do more homework on that subject before I make a decision. Right now, I don’t know whether we’ll eat it. If we don’t, it’ll go to the chickens, circle-of-life-style. We don’t kill for sport, but to control pests, and we try to make sure that every part is used somehow. We even saved the Arkansas toothpick.

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kind of a sonnet to a pig

Hey, this What Would Jeeves Do stuff really works! My kids were killin’ it today. Here’s what I did:

  1. I rearranged seating so that my kids are now in groups of three instead of five. This cut down enormously on unwanted chatter.
  2. I gave a really fun bellringer: I drew a piecewise graph with axes distance and time and the title “Sally’s Adventure” and directed the students to write the story of the graph (including speeds) within the three minutes after the bell. My favorite had Sally running from the Mafia. My second favorite had her walking her pet fish to the lake.
  3. I explained my expectations for them clearly and told them what they could expect from me.
  4. I skipped the whole-class lesson and worked with each group of three as they needed me. Their retention was waaay up, and so was my energy. I think I spent 8.5 hours at a sprint today, less the forty-five minutes of C-time. We’ll chalk the energy up to endorphins. My 3rd period commented on it, saying they’re going to see to it that the 9th graders act right from now on, since I’m so much nicer when they’ve been good.
  5. I had another mathematically literate adult in the classroom! Our math consultant is hanging with me one day a week now because Algebra is the only tested subject left. YESSSS!
  6. I came up with a badass new way of teaching the logic version of finding slope between two points.slope between two pointsThis is just a modified slope-formula, but I think it really brings home the meaning of slope and the thinking behind the formula. Instead of relying on identifying x one and x two, my kids are thinking about the change in the x coordinate from one point to the other. Sean was extremely unimpressed by my innovation, but it has allowed me to bypass big sources of confusion in my class, which is critical right now.

Freckles’ family is doing well. They’re all snuggling in a nest-box at night. The babies have no problem getting up to it, which I assume means they’re flying significant distances already. I love this zero-maintenance chicken-motherhood business. No stinky brooder to clean out, just little cuties to love on. IMG_2031

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Here’s my Pinkie sonnet from yesterday:

a chill cracked the air
and a gunpowder smell
that caught in my hair
as the massive beast fell
no silence, no still
for the great fallen hog
just the knife and the kill
and the gathering fog
in the trust in the eyes
never trembles or shakes
as the animal dies
and the heart in me breaks
though the blood’s on my hands and not on my breast
my compassion is stuck like a blade in my chest

Farming and teaching both use and abuse my compassion. I wonder whether compassion eventually runs dry or is strengthened by strain. I’m sure it withers if it is never exercised.