Culture, Family, Farm, Religion, Summer

Running on Empty

I think I’m well on my way to becoming the Maysville Call Center. My grandparents keep walking in with phones that won’t work. Last week, my grandma walked into the office holding her flip phone that had finally died. It just so happened that on the same day, her wi-fi went out, leaving her completely unable to contact anyone. So, she walked in, needing to use the phone. Of which I was able to offer her 5 options. A few days later, my grandpa walks in. Carrying his own flip phone (haven’t all of these disappeared yet?) Says: my phone won’t work, can I use one of yours? I didn’t even ask any questions. I just handed him the cordless and let him make his calls.

VBS week has me feeling like the kid in the blue. I think I’m having fun, but I’m also slightly terrified and confused. Basically, I’m just rolling with life at this point. Should I mention that I took orders for 3,596 shirts last week? Actually, I didn’t. I took orders for more than that. But, I stopped counting there. Because I got a little too overwhelmed to even keep count any more.


I planned VBS in my usual fashion. We talked about it a few weeks before in May and decided that the second week in June would be good. So, I waited until the first week in June to remember that it was the first week in June and we had tentatively planned to start at the beginning of the second week in June. Everything got lined out really fast. AKA: other people took over and assumed their roles and I hastily put together our schedule and it came together.

Scavenger hunting


Treasure hunters

So, we’re in VBS week. And we’re printing 4000+ shirts. And, it just so happens, we don’t have water. Not in the Al Gore, global warming, type of way. More in the our well system isn’t really working type of way. Apparently, when you have a hole in a water pipe, it doesn’t matter how much water you have access to. The water isn’t getting from point A to point B. Calling a company to come out and fix it was helpful too. They said they would come, then called the next day saying that someone had an emergency in a tiny town in Missouri, so they wouldn’t be back in town for a few days.

I don’t know what this other person was going through or what constitutes an emergency these days, but I feel like me not having access to drinking water is a little bit of an emergency too. Not to mention that we have no water to make coffee with. I mean, that seems a little emergent. Yes?

So: VBS week + piles of shirts + no water. Don’t worry, I issued an emergency bulletin to all (3) of our staff that read: “Warning Notice: Skyline Printing and Merchandising is officially in a state of emergency as water levels are reaching an all time low. Please be advised that conditions may worsen. Updates will be provided as this situation unfolds.” I think I was the one who was the most amused with my antics.

Luckily, a different company came to the rescue and fixed the water situation the next day. We’re back up and running. Literally.

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America, Culture, Family, Funny, Summer, Travel

Fly By Night

Last weekend, I went to NYC. It wasn’t planned. Here’s the story. 

When my brother says be ready to go, you best heed his warning. Remember how I just wrote about his crazy ideas? He must’ve wanted to prove me right because he got another one. He decided he needed to get out of town for the weekend, so he found a flight and booked us both one way tickets to NYC. 

I’ve come to expect this type of behavior from him. So, it didn’t surprise me when he told me to pack a bag. I just asked what weather to pack for. 

I hate packing. My carry-on stays packed anymore. It was actually right in the spot where I set it when I got home from Laos. So, I don’t ever have to think about what is in it, I can literally just grab it and go. 

Which is what happened.

He scheduled an evening flight for us so that we could work all day. First thing in the morning, I got a text saying that the flight had been delayed a little bit. No problem, it gives us more time to get things settled before leaving. Later in the day, another delay. Great, I still have time to get the things done that I need to do. Direct flight, everything is going well. 

2:45 pm: text- Flight to New York: cancelled 

2:47 pm: phone call to the airline- “no other flights available til tomorrow, let’s see how we can re-arrange things..” Cue annoying hold music. 

I am at my desk, still in work clothes with my hair in a ballcap. Because I had plenty of time. So, I was going to get ready to go later. Because I had plenty of time. 

2:48 pm: Jake (on hold with the airline) tells me to go grab my bags and throw them in the car immediately. There’s a flight leaving for Chicago at 4:30 pm that can connect us to New York. 

2:56 pm: I’ve thrown on different clothes, grabbed my bag, no idea what I’ve got and what I don’t. My hair still looks a mess. I’ve got a coffee and keys in my hand, and we’re headed to the airport to see if we can make the flight. 

Should I mention at this point that we live an hour from the airport and we currently aren’t even booked on the flight that is leaving at 4:30? We’ll have to park, run in, and beg a desk person to let us on the flight because online booking is no longer open. 

When you need to get somewhere fairly quickly, putting me behind the wheel is a good bet. I’m cautious, but efficient. 

4:00: we arrive at the airport and make a run for it. No line at the desk, so Jake starts pleading our case. We have 20 minutes til boarding. That’s 20 minutes to get booked, boarding passes printed, through security, to our gate, and boarded on a plane. 20 minutes. 

4:03: the desk guy is on hold. He can’t do anything. Impatience is setting in.

4:08: the minutes are ticking by. Still on hold.

4:09: he’s on the phone. From this side of the call, we can tell the flight is full. Stand by is an option… They’re doing stand by. 

4:11: he’s trying to print boarding passes. Invalid city. Invalid airport code. Invalid city again. Make something valid! He’s going in circles and I’m going crazy. 

4:14: Jake pulls up boarding passes from his mobile app. We make a run for it. I’m halfway up the escalator when the desk guy comes running with Jake’s ID that he left at the desk. 

4:16: security, shoes off, liquids out, shoes on, liquids in, grab and run fast. 

4:21: boarding gate. Group 1 is through. Group 2 is starting. Our names are on the standby board. Not cleared. We’re here and we still don’t have seats on the flight. 

4:26: everyone is boarded, we’re at yet another desk, hoping someone can make something happen for us. There’s one seat available. Just one. Hopes dashed. 

4:27: desk lady is mad, who approved us for this flight? She closed the standby list before we were put on it, how did we get on here? What’s she supposed to do with us now?

4:28: Jennifer isn’t here. She had seat on this flight and she might not be on it. Come down to the door of the plane. We’ll check and see if Jennifer is on. If she’s not, one of you can have her empty seat and one can have the other empty seat. (Silently begin praying that Jennifer was late to her flight. Sorry, Jenny!) 

4:29: Jennifer, are you on here? Oops, Jen apparently slipped by. She’s here. Hopes dashed again. There’s only one seat, you’re at the door of the plane, you’re gonna have to decide what to do. 

4:30: wait, there’s a pilot on board as a passenger. And there’s one extra seat in the cockpit. He can sit up there. You can have his seat. Go ahead and get on. You’ll know what seats are yours. They’re the only empty ones. Literally. 

NYC, here we come, ready or not! 

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America, Asia, Food, Funny, Missions, Summer, Travel

Dear Passenger

Dear Passenger:

• to the person with their window shade up on the 7 hour flight, how do you not know that is inappropriate? Everyone else has their windows closed. The lights in the cabin are turned off. It’s nap time. 

• to the lady boarding with her family and acting like she’s settling everyone in for a week at church camp, while announcing personal family instructions loudly: I appreciate your enthusiasm, I really do. However, I don’t really need to know when everyone needs to be taking their medicine. If you do need me to help you remind certain family members of their duties throughout this flight, I will be more than happy to do that for you. Just give me a copy of your schedule and I will keep an eye on the clock. 

• to the screaming child: it’s tough, I know. I’ve been up since 3:51 am too. It’s a long day. You’re hungry, I’m hungry. We’re all cramped up on this plane together. I feel your pain. And if it were socially appropriate for me to be screaming and crying right now, I might consider it. But, it’s not really “in good taste” for me to join you. Also, thank you for the reminder that I am, in fact, still not ready to have children of my own. I knew that already, but you’re really helping to nail down that point. Thanks, kid, message received. Loud and clear. 

• to the sweet Japanese flight attendant who keeps bringing me water: thank you for recognizing the fact that I am drained and dehydrated and semi-miserable at this point. I wish you would do something about the annoying person with their window shade still up. But, you won’t because you’re too nice and too busy bringing me water. So, I’ll choose to be thankful for hydration instead. 

• to the business man, clacking away on your laptop, I am glad you are using your time productively. However, I am currently on hour 4 of the Hunger Games movie trilogy and you’re just a little distracting. I’ll let it slide, but try to keep your vigorous typing to a minimum. Please and thank you! 

• to the singles posted up by the galley, I know you’re both trying to get your game on at 30,000 feet. It’s a good time to chat because you have nothing else to do. I know that. However, I need immediate and direct access to water and coffee. Which is in the galley. So, could you move your little meet and greet to another location? 

• to the person choosing the meals to serve on these flights, can I lock you in a closed in, airtight container in the middle of the night and open a tray of lukewarm fish over rice? Can I let you experience that smell? It isn’t pleasant. Who is designing these meals?! Who thinks this is a good idea? What happened to a simple sandwich? Maybe some chips? I don’t understand. 

• to the girl who got too little sleep and is overly ready to be home, take a chill pill, It’s going to be okay. The baby will quit crying, the sun will set, the stench of the gross airplane food will fade (slightly), you will eventually pass out on your tray table from sheer exhaustion, you’ll get where you’re going. And when you do, you’ll soon be ready to go again. It’ll be okay, Brittney. Sit back and enjoy the ride. 

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America, Culture, Farm, Food, Garden, Health, Summer, Travel

Leading the Whey

I’ve been a lot of places in the world, but I’ve yet to find a place that I like better than home. 
I don’t know if it’s the people or the place or a combination of both, but there’s just something special about the place I come from.

This time of year is especially beautiful because everything is green and growing. I left a few weeks ago, with freshly planted seeds in the ground (literally, I planted the watermelon, cantaloupe and squash the day before I left) and came back to a pretty little garden developing. Also, my sweet potato slips are in full growth mode, in case anyone was wondering. 

That first row is my baby sweet potato plants that will soon take over everything

The people make our little corner of Arkansas pretty unique too though. I’m not just talking about my family. They’re definitely unique, but when you come from a tiny farming community, you know most people like family. Farm people are a special breed. They’re raised on hard work and sweat and a little bit of gossip.

I love the barter system. They talked about it in history class like it was an ancient thing. The trading of goods or services for other goods or services. But, the barter system very much lives on. People around here trade work for work, milk for eggs, garden produce for fresh bread, the list goes on. Last night, we traded one of the neighbors some fresh raspberries for some work on my car. Not kidding, that’s really the way it works. And, we’ve learned to trade t-shirts for just about everything.

My brother and I come up with crazy ideas just about on the daily. If I haven’t thought of it, he definitely has. Generally, he’s the one with the idea and I’m the one he convinces to go along with it. I could list a million of these day dreams: buying a hot air balloon was one we thought about for a few days, starting a farmer friendly barber shop (that one is possibly still in the works).. Starting a screen printing business was one that he came up with about 10 years ago. And, we all see where that’s taken us. 


So, when he said he wanted to try cheese-making, I got on board fairly quickly. Any way to produce farm fresh food is pretty much a sure deal for me. The cheese making supplies arrived in the mail a few days later. 

We’ve been getting raw milk from our neighbors for awhile now. Everyone tells me: don’t drink that, it’ll make you sick! However, I’ve been drinking it daily and feel strong as ever. See, the pasteurization process destroys some of the raw milk’s antibodies in the heating process. So, it’s technically healthier. And, I think it’s pretty safe. It’s how our ancestors drank it and generations of humans have survived since then, so it can’t be that bad, am I right?

Anyway, raw milk. In reading about cheese making, it is the cream of the crop. Pun intended. It makes the most curds, which in turn yields the most cheese. So, since our neighbors milk 21 gallons a week, we have access to excess raw milk. 

Side note: let me tell you a little history about where this milk comes from. These neighbors got a blind dairy cow from another neighboring commercial dairy farm, so they were going to milk it by hand. But, the cow “got down” and wouldn’t get back up. So, these neighbors called us to use our “hot shot” (an electric prod) to get this cow back up. Which is how we ended up in the free raw milk exchange. 

When we decided to make cheese, we knew we’d need extra milk, past our regular weekly gallon. So, we called and they said to come over and get a couple extra gallons. 

Now, it’s country rules that if you ask something from your neighbor, you don’t go without giving something in return. Well, Jake had just baked a few loaves of fresh bread.[He currently has a sourdough starter, for those of you who know what that would be. So, it’s producing three loaves of bread weekly right now] I had some homemade mulberry jam in the pantry, so we decided to take that. But, I also had some raspberries from the garden and Dad caught some catfish, so we took fish and berries too.


When we arrived, the exchange was happily made. We got our raw milk, they got their farm fresh goods and we went on our way. But, not before I got to meet their pet squirrel. I can’t make this stuff up, ya’ll. 

I’m a little sad to say that no one knows how to make cheese any more. I asked both of my sets of grandparents if they’d ever made cheese or seen it made and none of them had. I thought they were supposed to be the ones teaching us how to do this type of thing?
I really thought it would be much more difficult than it turned out to be. You start with a gallon of (preferably raw) whole milk. The cheese process essentially takes all of the milk solids (read: fat) out of the liquid. You will typically yield about a pound of cheese from one gallon of milk. 

(Side story: In Laos, I asked my nutrition training participants what was the first thing they thought of when they heard the word “fat”. Their answer? Cheese. Looks like they were right.) 

You start with citric acid, vegetable rennet, and your milk. Mozzarella is the simplest cheese to make (because it doesn’t have to be aged), so that’s what we decided to start with. 

Note: the cheesecloth was not used in this process. I’m told it’s for “cheddaring”


I’ll condense the cheese making process for you. You dissolve a little citric acid powder into a little bit of water, pour the milk over it, heat to 90 degrees, and watch the milk curdle a little bit.

Then, you pour in a little bit of rennet and water. Wondering what rennet is? I was too, so I did some really official internet research. It’s actually an enzyme that is produced in the stomachs of mammals that consume milk that helps us digest it. Apparently, in ancient times, they somehow harvested the rennet from the mammals stomachs to use. However, these days we might consider some of their methods a little barbaric. So, they figured out how to engineer vegetable rennet, which is essentially molds that mimic the process of breaking down milk. Sounds tasty, right?

Anyway, rennet goes in. The milk gets stirred gently for 30 seconds, then left to set for 5 minutes. It gets to a custard consistency, then you break it up a bit, cook a little longer, and you officially have your curds and whey. 

And yes, I do feel like Little Miss Muffet. Really though, what was she doing eating curds and whey? After seeing this process, there would be no way that I would want to eat curds and whey. 

This is the point at which things become really interesting. You separate the curds and whey, using a slotted spoon and a strainer. And your goal is this: get as much of the whey “water” out of the cheese solid as you can. You can squeeze it, heat it slightly, squeeze it again, whatever method works. 

I thought it would be really delicate, but it isn’t. You pretty much knead it like bread, until it forms into a solid little disc. You yield just about a gallon of whey water out of the process. Which, I didn’t throw away, of course. This is a really protein rich liquid that has multiple uses. The Swiss actually bathe in this water because it makes your skin really soft. I won’t be bathing in it, however I will attest from handling the cheese, that it does make your skin incredibly soft.


We made the first disc of cheese and it was so easy that we decided to make a second one. The first one took a little bit longer, but by the second round, we had it down to a science. All you need is 30 minutes to go from milk to mozzarella. 


Maysville Mozzarella, coming to a store near you!

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