Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The morel of the story.

It is spring in southern Illinois, and that means mushroom hunting. In case you didn't know, finding fungus is a BIG past time in many rural areas. I know some people that spend hours and hours combing through the woods seeking out all sorts of edible wild mushrooms, but the crowning glory of wild edibles is the morel. They have a very unique flavor and texture, and are nearly impossible to grow on purpose. A pound of morels can sell for upwards of thirty dollars around here, but luckily for the average consumer adventurous enough to brave the ticks and snakes they can be found in almost every woods. But they are crafty little things.

It is the perfect excuse to enjoy the woods in spring!

Over the weekend mom and I engaged in this past time, and by engaged I mean she found mushrooms and I found just about everything else...

I found flowers.

And a turtle...

Some Jack in the Pulpit...

Some pretty mystery plant...

And about that time I had just about given up. Mom was walking around with a bag full of mushrooms, doing her "mushroom meditation." Which, though I want to mock, I can't give her trouble for because, you know, I found a turtle and she found a bag of morels. Go figure.

I found a wild Susan in her natural environment!

But the moral of the story with mushroom hunting, farming, and life in general is patience and perseverance! (Also enjoying the journey and not just the delicious and delectable destination!)

Happy hunting!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Barnyard Tales Chapter 6. Death Wish

Have you ever pictured the great moments in your life as if they were in a book?

“The weathered barn wood slipped past her fingertips. The texture immortalized itself in her memory even as the sensation flew past. It was gone in a moment, but that moment lasted forever. The sensation of hand hewn wood would be with her forever; always drifting right past the ridges and whorls, always right out of reach. Her body turned with the effort of reaching for the wood. One leg struck a board catapulting her sideways; saving her life.

Milliseconds to outsiders felt like slow motion to her. Every sense was alive. The air rushing past her face. The delicate sensation of her foot slamming into oak and sending her shoe flying helter skelter. The hard shove of a stair upon her back and the finality of her concrete bed as she gazed up towards the heavens from whence she had come.

The girl was dazed, confused. She stared towards heaven wondering that she was alive. Golden straw peaked around the edges of the gaping space. Like a gilt picture frame on her demise. Pain was distant then; but the longer she lay the more her muscles cried out in agony, the stronger came her bodies cry. Soon it would be insistent. Soon she would not be able to ignore the call. The girl debated lying there longer. But who would come? Who would hear her pleas and cries?

No one. She was destined to be her own white knight. She rose, shakily at first, but more confident with each passing second. Rough barn wood was again beneath her fingers and hands she levered herself up and slowly climbed the stairs. Her jeans were ripped. Her body torn. Her eyes swam with concussive force.

Slowly she walked towards the house. Slowly she climbed the stairs. Slowly she entered and stoically she took what came.”

Actually, no, she didn’t take that stoically. As soon as I told my mother that I had fallen through the barn loft it went something like this:

Mom: “Are you okay?”

Me: “Yeah, I think so.”

Mom: “Is anything broken? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

Me: “I don’t think so.”

Mom: “Well, that was stupid. You won’t do that again will you? I told you to be careful up there. Now get your ass back outside and finish feeding the horses.”

And then I cried. Not the pretty stately crying, but the "is that girl sobbing or beating a dying moose to death with a sick eagle" kind of crying. Because I make a sucky heroine. But I did go find my shoe and finish feeding the horses. And I did become really sensitive to falling off of things, like straw bales, in barn lofts, when there are access holes cut in the floor that lead directly to the barn basement. Because, I LEARN.

Except, maybe not because I fell through another barn just last year. Damn. I really am a sucky heroine. I'm like, hand me the flashlight and let me take a shower by myself in the haunted house with a lightning storm. Nothing bad will happen this time. Really! As much as I go into run down barns it is apparent. Clearly I have a death wish.

An amusing side note: I also only landed one half of my body on the step and I got a hematoma the size of a softball on one side of my butt. My parents both thought it was hilarious to say, “Only Lauren could fall through a barn and do a half assed job. It would have killed anyone else.” *snicker, snicker*

They’re so sympathetic.

DIY Electric Shock Therapy!

Last spring my horse started having problems with coughing. He is a stallion, so we can’t run him out in the pasture with everyone else, and he has some special fencing requirements so I started out building him a pen from steel t-posts and electrified rope fence. I am not a very good fence builder.

After numerous afternoons of struggling to shove the post upright with the post hole driver on it, slam the post into the ground, and drop the driver on top of my head while pulling it off of the post (Okay, until I started driving the truck or four wheeler around to give myself the extra height I needed. Thank God no one saw it and put it on YouTube.) I finished it. Then the heat and drought made the grass die so I took a break.

Another month or two passed and I hung the wire. Then it was winter and well, Moon stayed in his private bungalow through the winter months. It was better than than kill the potential grass this spring. Then about a month ago everything finally fell into place! I was so proud of my gates. I wired the new fence into the existing system and felt so bad ass and accomplished that it was ridiculous. It might be crooked, but it was all mine! So, I tested the fence Saturday and guess what!

Yeah. It didn’t work. So frustrating. I spent my Sunday evening getting it hot, and in the process took down and replaced all of the old electric that had been lining the ladies’ front pasture fence. It was almost dark when I finished so I just threw the old wire in between my two new fences and I went back to get it all Monday.

Hot wire to left of me. Hot wire to the right! Here I am stuck in the midle with you!

Great plan right? Yeah. I tired to pick it all up without turning off the fencer. Because I’m dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

At least the fence is hot? Maybe?

All of the pain for this.
Maybe I can put a lightbulb in it and sell it as a piece of modern art?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The enemy is at the gate.

After letting the cows roam free for a few days we have clearly created monsters. The cows are at the gate, and they are spoiled monsters.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The most beautiful calf in all the land!

 I set out yesterday on a valiant quest. A quest so noble, so crucial that none could deter me.

Susan looking cute? No, I will not fall into your viscious belly rub trap of doom, Susan! No matter how many times you try! I tore past her pleading eyes with an act of will so strong it should hold a record.

A herd of deer grazing across the pasture? Their mesmerizing motions carefully choreographed to drag my eyes away and tempt me ever closer to them? Ever farther from my goal? Their distracting presence calling me to pursue them even as they turned to lead me away in a game of tag I could never hope to win? No! I turned my heart to stone against their beauty.

A charming bull calf just coming into his own stood guard. Could I make it past such a sight? His personality was just beginning to bud as he snorted and nodded a challenge my way. How could I overcome such an obstacle of adorableness? I was so close to my goal, but I nearly stopped. For one fleeting moment I wanted nothing more than to lunge forward and cuddle his dirty, fuzzy face. But still I pushed myself forward.

And then I found her. My purpose. My star. My brand new baby girl. I was victorious! I located the princess! I felt like Mario as he gazed upon Peach, only far less romantic. My mission was complete, or at least as complete as it was going to get because her momma was NOT pleased with my attentions. For a moment I considered touching her, and then as mom lowered her head to charge I settled for a snapshot to commenorate my daring journey across hills and lakes to find this black beauty.

After all, I've already taken one cow to the face. I don't want to make it a habit!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Gardens, Cows, and Wine. What a weekend!

Are you ready for gratuitous cow pictures? I sure as heck hope you are because I have them ready to go.

I had a ball out with some friends on Friday and had to drag myself up to work in the garden on what has to be one of the most beautiful days to date this year. It was pretty enough that the not sleeping was definitely worth it! I let the cows loose in the yard over the weekend while I was out tilling my garden and could keep an eye on them, and boy were they happy. Until it all went wrong and I had to put them back out on their pasture. They are a little pissed now that they are contained in their pasture again, but someone ate some of mom’s butterfly bush. And her lovage. And a couple bites of day lily. And they destroyed a few herb garden markers. I think you get the point. They are heathens. Bad, bad cows.

My friends at Two Amigos in Sonoma, CA heard of my gardening adventure and asked me to take a couple shots for their Facebook page as well. If you are ever in Sonoma check them out! Their wine is phenomenal, and they are great people!

I started out my adventure in photography strong. Picturesque, right?

Then Brisket was like, "Whatcha doin'? Can I eat that?"

And, I was like, "Oh hey, Brisket! How's it goin'?"

And then I was like, "I have such pretty cows."

And then I realized that I had a purpose.
"Dammit! The wine, Lauren! Focus! Don't let yourself be distracted!"

Also, prepare yourselves because we have two newborn calves. I’m sure I won’t be able to keep myself from more cow photos. They are so darn cute!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

I think my plants are teenagers.

Don't they look like they should be getting out of the house to you too?

Let the hardening off stage begin!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So, I made a tiller.

And on Tuesday I looked down at my planned garden and said, “Damn. I don’t want to hoe that.” So, I made a tiller.

I said, I need something to break up the dirt, destroy all the weeds, push past the rocks and the buried walnut shells, take a beating and work it all again and again until the ground is perfect. So, I made a tiller.

I need a tool that will help me out as I try to garden. Reliable enough that I know it is going to work when I need it to, but low maintenance enough that I am not going to have to fiddle with it when I want to use it. Something strong enough to bust through roots and rocks and run for hours on end in crappy conditions until the job is through. So, I made a tiller.

I said, “I need a partner that can have my back and work the clay, loam, and sand with equal ferocity. That can push through compost and spread it through the soil for all those roots to find. To be there for me in evenings and on weekends after I finish my forty hour work week and actually start my work.” So, I made a tiller.

If you don’t get the reference, check out this commercial.

And yes, yesterday I did assemble my tiller. I am not remotely mechanically inclined so I am ridiculously proud of myself. I even assembled it all with the tools that live in the back of the four wheeler, because I’m awesome at farm stuff. Or it was just that easy to assemble. Whatever. It is held together with wing nuts, but I loaded it with gearbox lube all by myself and everything! I feel so bad ass!

Or, at least I felt bad ass until I noticed that the damn cord wrap was in the wrong spot.
So, I made a tiller!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Barnyard Tales Chapter 5. Automatic Truck Wash

Everyone has an enemy. At age 15 mine was an enemy of the most vile sort, an ex friend. We had played together as children. We had ridden horses all over the combined acreage of our families and beyond. She taught me how to ramp four wheelers and do donuts. We nearly died together multiple times. She taught me how to drive.

Alright, so her teaching me how to drive actually involved her coming over to my house and persuading me to take out the truck destined to be mine into the front pasture for lessons while it was loaded up with five hundred pounds of wooden posts and the ground was wet. It ended poorly, go freaking figure, but it was educational! I learned that you can’t really rock a five speed, burned clutch smells AMAZING, and believe it or not cat food does not give traction to F250s. I know. I know. Mind blowing, right?

I also learned that my parents have the world’s best senses of humor in the history of life. They got home and noticed the truck was missing. Panicked. They saw it in the pasture and my then friend and I came flying across the expanse on her four wheeler, arguing and bawling, as I told her that I was not going to lie to them and tell them someone tried to steal the truck. Then they started laughing their asses off.

I’m pretty sure that if I had normal parents I would be dead. If my poor four wheeler driving skills had not ripped the down spouts off the barn with the manure spreader, maybe anyone else would have thought it was funny; but I doubt it. I’m trouble. Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.

Actually, I was a pretty straight-laced kid which is why my then friend and I split up. I wanted to stay home and read. She wanted to go out and drink. It led to some quarrels as you can imagine. Then things escalated. We would come home to find the horses loose. Gates pushed inward so it was obvious the animals did not unchain them themselves. There were flip flop prints! Trees were mysteriously cut down across the driveway. Mischief was everywhere. It ran rampant. We had to bicycle lock the paddocks closed after one particularly bad fight amongst the stallions. But the crowning glory was that poor old truck.

To this day there is some debate about what really happened, but I am telling you the tale as I believe it. Mostly because if I am wrong then I caused even more property damage and should probably be an indentured servant right now.

The old grey F250 was the farm truck. Earlier that day I had loaded it up and taken the trash back to the holler for disposal. I parked it in its place of honor beside the granary as I always did, which is to say in neutral with the parking brake on. (Appropriate parking was not included in my lessons. Give me a break!) I thought nothing of it. It was the same scenario that had played out a thousand times before. I left the truck and went over to a friend’s house until after dark.

About nine pm my dad heard the horses making a ruckus outside and went to investigate. He shone the light around and saw no horses loose and then he noticed it. A faint glimmer from the lake behind the barn. He walked closer. The narrow beam of the flashlight illuminated an empty space where the truck should have stood. With a sigh he turned the light towards the double gates by the barn, as he feared they were standing wide open from the force of a two ton pick-up truck rolling backwards down a slight incline. He walked through the gates, sure now that he knew what the glimmer was in the lake. The silver of the hood was just barely visible through the murky water. The headlights shone through the liquid like blurry mirrors reflecting the fiery anger back at him that I am sure he must have felt in that moment. In the distance an owl hooted. Without a word he returned to my mother in the house.

“That’s something you don’t see every day.” He said with characteristic aplomb.
“What was it?” She asked, expecting another escapade.
“Oh, just my truck in the lake.” They stared at each other for long moments before calling me and telling me to, “Get my ass home.” Because I had to “go swimming.”

Yes, they made me swim out and hook a chain to the truck so that we could pull it out with the tractor. And that is how I learned what a lee spring is. Mom stood on the bank cracking jokes about my failed attempt at a drive through carwash, as I freaked out about shorting wires and being in a LAKE. To occupy my time I took stock of the mushy surroundings and noticed that the parking brake was no longer set. The owl hooted again, and over the sound of the tractor I still swear I heard my former friend's laughter.

This hangs over my dad's desk. Talk about a sense of humor.

And after that the truck still ran. I can honestly say that you can’t drown a F250. There you go Ford. You are built tough, and clearly you are the only brand that can stand up to my abuse. Now you just need to start making some downspouts…

Barnyard Tales Chapter 4. And I don't even like chickens!

The day the chicken died. We started singing! Bye, bye… Actually, no. That day was the last day I ever pointed a gun at a living thing.

I’m a farm kid. Where I am from we have a group called 4-H. It is basically unisex boy scouts with livestock raising and death. We do lots of things like hunting, and fishing (and those things mean learning about conservation, death, and responsibility). We start fires with sticks and learn how to hold snapping turtles. We show projects and sell rabbits, and go to state fairs and milk cows.

Seriously. Milk a cow at the state fair. So cool! And you get free milk!

One fateful summer my esteemed 4-H leader had deemed us ready to hunt things other than targets. We had completed hunter safety courses with flying colors and were able to spin the small metal pig sign around and around repeatedly with our .22 rifles. Skeet shooting? Ha. We had the accuracy of the Remington clay bird team. We were champions. We were awesome. I thought I was that good. I was amazing! I was the best shot in the history of the world. Like, Annie Oakley get your freaking gun because this girl is gonna make you dance. Twice. With finger cymbals. Cha. Cha. Cha. I rocked.

It was natural that I felt awesome. After all my dad had taught me how to shoot the eyes out of my Troll dolls in our basement with a BB gun from a young age. I had shot a few raccoons and opossums out of trees on our family hunts and none of them had come back to life to claw me to death. Well, okay. One of them had, and I may or may not have a completely rational fear of opossums, but that is neither here nor there. Freaking zombie armadillos…

I looked around as my compatriots took down their rabbits and chickens with ease. The creatures stood no chance against our accuracy and firepower. The steady CRACK of gunpowder left my ears ringing and my anticipation growing. Down the line we went. One at a time. One at a time. Our training was strong on that. Safety first. Finally it got to me. My palms were moist with sweat and I aimed the .22 at a chicken 10 yards out. I gently squeezed the trigger. The gunpowder exploded, expelling the bullet through the air with lethal force. I raised my head anticipating glory, but I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

Yeah. My chicken didn’t die. It squawked in a panic and hid. Snickers went down the line. I glared at my peers and got the nod of encouragement from my mentor. I could do this. I stalked my quarry and carefully lined up and fired again. And again. Five times I shot at my chicken, yet it lived. Had I even hit it? Was it a zombie chicken? Was it an undead creature sent from the grave to mock my in front of my peers  with horrifying cries and loose feathers? As my 4-H leader took my gun and cleanly executed the bird I stared into its beady little eyes and knew that no, this bird was not sent to torment me with life. It was meant to torment me with death. Suddenly, at a tender age of nine I knew guilt like I had never felt before. I knew inflicting pain. In that moment I realized the responsibility that a weapon is, and the heavy burden of deciding life or death of another living creature. I knew without knowing that I did not want to cause undue suffering ever, ever again. To anyone or anything. Even a chicken.

I had maimed a bird and I was forever changed.

I avoid hunting and fishing now, as I have ever since. I absolutely refuse to shoot at anything other than a soda can for fear of not killing it humanely.

And I don’t even like chickens. Like they attack me, and I am somewhat convinced that they are demons. We are discussing getting chickens on the farm  for eggs and such. A small part of me is looking at it with so much trepidation. You don't even know. I am haunted by the ghosts of poultry past. I fear the chickens are going to rise up en mass and attack me like that flock of seagulls did. Or they are going to become giant hybrid chickens and chase me like the damn emu from hell did.

Seriously, there are nightmares.