America, Celebration, Family, Farm, Garden, Health, History, Summer, Uncategorized

Potatoes, Po-tah-toes

My mom wanted me to write another blog post, so here I am.

She was sitting behind me in church yesterday and leaned up and whispered in my ear that it had been too long since I’d written a blog post. Opportune time, mom.

She, apparently, doesn’t think I need some creative burst of inspiration to produce any sort of written materials. I just need her suggestion and that is enough.

I guess it is enough, because again, here I am. Maybe sometimes all we need is for someone to believe in us and tell us what to do. Maybe that’s the secret to life I’ve been missing.

Anyway, back to my mom. She obviously loves to see me practicing my hobbies, but there is one thing that comes around every Spring that she is not a huge fan of.

I love to grow sweet potatoes.

I love growing everything, but sweet potatoes were really my first love of gardening. I think it was just the fact that I’d never grown them before and I researched it and they were successful in the first year. This is really no thanks to me, as sweet potatoes are super easy to grow and do so without much coaxing.

But, in order to grow sweet potatoes, you have to have sweet potato plants. They don’t come up from seed or sprout in the ground like other potatoes do. They’re a different breed altogether.

Now, you can go to your local greenhouse or feed store and find the plants. But, you can also grow them really easily in your own kitchen and then transplant them outside into the garden once they are ready. And, the first year I grew them, I wanted to grow varieties that I couldn’t find pre-grown plants for, so I tried the kitchen method.

It looks like a bad effort at a science experiment at first. Which is what my mom dislikes about it.

You take half of a sweet potato, put toothpicks in it, pick out your favorite mason jars, fill them up with water, and set the potatoes in them.

And, you wait.

And, when you have guests over, you politely explain to them why you have mason jar, water potatoes adorning your windowsill.

It’s a weird process, I’ll admit. But, it’s effective.

About a month or so later, you’ll start seeing plants emerge from the potatoes, both underwater and above water. Eventually when they get a little better established, you cut them off the potato, keep the plant still in the water for a few days while they produce roots, then plant them in the ground outside and let them go all summer long.

I started my sweet potato project a little earlier this year and I’ve had two potatoes sitting in the windowsill for about two months now.

About a month ago, my mom said: I think this one isn’t going to do anything, you probably just want to scrap it. Which I knew was just her way of trying to clear out atleast one of the offenders from the windowsill. Nice try, mom.

What she didn’t know is that one of the sweet potatoes growing in the window is a white sweet potato. If you’ve never tried one, try them! They’re really moist and have a lighter flavor than the typical orange ones. The other potato growing in the window is a regular orange one. The white ones, I have observed, are much more prolific than the orange ones. This one was almost sprouting already when I put started it in the jar. The orange ones take more time.

If you compare only those two, side by side, it looks like the white one is much further ahead and that the orange one is a dud. But, if you study closely, with a sweet potato trained eye, you can see where the orange one is just barely barely barely getting ready to break through with a sprout. I also know this because I have some sweet potatoes growing in the window in my office (what can I say, I’m obsessed) and the white one there is further ahead than the orange one.

I’ve heard all my life that comparison is a killer of joy. If you spend your time looking side by side at other people’s lives, timelines, accomplishments, you’re going to be miserable and not be able to see the great place that you’re at yourself. These two potatoes are the same in almost all regards. But one is designed differently, it blooms faster. Not because it’s necessarily better, but just because it was time for it to bloom. In this age of social media, it is so easy to get wrapped up in the lives of others, to compare, to try to rush, to push to get ahead. But, maybe it’s not quite your time to shine yet. Maybe there are great things in store, just about ready to break ground. Maybe you shouldn’t scrap the plan, thinking it’ll never work. Maybe you should just sit where you’re at, keep growing and changing day by day and wait for your time.

Maybe we’re all just potatoes.

Update: today’s progress with the white vs orange

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Auto, Celebration, Culture, Family, Farm, Outdoors, Summer

Give & Take

Teaching children is one of the great joys in life. Or so I’m told. 

I have friends who teach children daily and I don’t know how they do it. But, I teach a class at church once a week and for the most part, it’s joyous. Sometimes the teaching isn’t as joyous, but the learning definitely is. 

That moment when one of the kids is actually able to remember and apply what you’ve taught them, that’s the moment I think any teacher has to live for. 

Recently I’ve been teaching the class I fondly refer to as “the littles”. They range from 4 to 6 years old. They’re at the age that they soak up everything, the good and the bad. We’ve been learning about Job for awhile and they’d never heard the story before. 

For those of you who haven’t been teaching about Job lately, I’ll update you on his story. He was a good man. One of our first memory verses was “Job was an upright and righteous man who feared the Lord…” (part of Job 1:1) This is a memory verse that some of the kids can still quote, even weeks after they learned it. Proud moment. But the Lord allowed Job to be tested. Job lost everything. His riches, his family, his home, his livelihood, all his worldly possessions. Finally, he lost his health. 

As many of you know, my grandpa passed away recently. And I miss him. He, much like Job, was an upright and righteous man who feared the Lord. 

He was born on the farm we currently live on and grew up well below a poverty line that was not even defined yet. He got an 8th grade education before he had to start working. But, he could read the King James Version of the Bible out loud more eloquently than anyone else I’ve ever heard. 

He raised a son who loves the outdoors and that son raised me in the same way. I have more memories than I can even begin to number from hunting, fishing and farming with him. 

He was raised in a small country church that he went on to pastor, a position he held for most all of my life. He taught me for years, which is probably how I find myself now teaching the next generation in the same church. 

The memory verse the kids learned about Job being an upright and righteous man who feared the Lord is a good verse for them to know. But, it isn’t the verse that comes to mind when I think of Job. 

Job suffered. I’m not sure exactly how long he suffered for, but the Bible devotes 42 chapters to his life, so my guess is that the suffering was anything other than temporary. But during that time, he never denied God. He never blamed the Lord for what happened to him. He continued to be upright and righteous. In all of it, Job is recorded for having said this:

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b)

This. Said by a man who suffered failing health, the death of his children, the loss of everything. He’s blessing the name of the Lord in his times of receiving and in his times of losing.

It’s really easy to bless the name of the Lord in our times of receiving. To say thank you for good things, to feel like God is blessing us. But what about in the times of losing? 

What happens if what you lost and what you gained joined hands and became the same thing?

We focus on our loss in death, but what if we look at what the Lord gave us? 

I was given a grandpa who I saw 2-3 times a week for my whole life, who loved me and told me so, who taught me the right way to live, who made such an impression in my life that I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without his influence. 

My dad and his sister got a father who was involved, who was present, who prayed before meals, who worked hard to provide for them. 

My grandma got a husband for 55 years, a man who was faithful and loved her in a way that is rare to see in today’s world. 

There were countless other people who gained from my grandpa’s existence. A church family who got a humble leader, a host of family that he loved in so many different ways, and hundreds of others. His funeral was the largest I’d ever been to, filled with people I had no idea he’d affected so profoundly. 

There’s a popular worship song that uses this verse in Job as some of its main lyrics.  

“You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name.”

Today, we have a choice. In our trials and in our rejoicing. In our times of blessings and in our time of loss. The choice is left to us. But, I know what my heart’s answer will be.

Lord, blessed be Your name. 

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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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Culture, Farm, Food

Afternoon Explorer

Looks like I’m the proud new owner of a black baby calf. Should I say baby calf since calf kind of implies baby in the first place? Should it be either calf or baby cow? I’m not sure, but either way, Ellie just had her baby and he (72% sure it’s a he) is really cute.
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As I said before, it has rained pretty relentlessly here lately. Which means a lot of things. 1) it means that my sweet potato slips are still in the windowsill, not in the garden because the ground is too wet to put them out 2) it means that the hay hasn’t been put up yet because we can’t get enough dry days in a row to let it dry out. 3) it means my raspberries are growing abundantly and 4) it means that the water gaps may or may not have washed out with the influx of so much rainwater.
Latest bounty

Latest bounty

What is a water gap, you may ask? Well in my own terms, it is a fence across the water to keep cows from passing through to land they shouldn’t be on. I’m fairly sure that’s an accurate description, but you’d have to ask someone more technical than me to be sure. We have land that has a creek running all the way through it, so after a big rain, checking the water gaps is one of the essential duties. After visiting my grandparents, my dad was going to check them and I decided to tag along because why not? And also because, while I love my grandparents, they can be kinda loony sometimes. I walked into their house the other day to see them both in a dither because my grandpa had committed to preach a funeral on the same day, at the same exact time that my grandma had committed him to preach a different funeral. Phone calls were being made frantically, calendars were pulled out, and in the midst of the commotion, my brother off handedly commented that it was strange to have two at the same time because it “wasn’t even funeral season yet.” To which my grandma agrees. Because apparently, around here, we have a funeral season. [It is true though, it isn’t funeral season right now. It’s wedding season.] My grandpa preaches a lot of funerals and weddings, in case you couldn’t tell.
Water Gap

Water Gap

Back to the water gaps though. I’ve been a lot of places in the world and done a lot of fun, crazy things. But I think what is best is when you can walk out your door and have adventure at your fingertips. Traveling is good, but home is really good too. I’m reading the Adventures of Tom Sawyer right now (I’m on a classics kick) and I think this is a scene straight from the book.
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You know how sometimes you think of something and think that it is a good idea until you try to execute said idea and then it becomes apparent that it wasn’t a good idea? That’s usually how my brain works. So, I saw this tree that was down across the creek and thought it would be a good idea to climb on it. Why I think things like this, I have no idea. I like climbing. Anyway, when I saw it and thought it, then I had to do it. There was no turning back. So, I waded out into the water and discovered that instead of the 4 foot height I thought it was, it was, in fact, quite a bit taller. Making it nearly impossible for me to conquer. Emphasis on the word nearly. After jumping on some slippery creek rocks and coming close to falling down, I finally managed (with some expert maneuvering) to find a place in the trunk that looked like it was made for me to sit down on. Which confirmed (after the previous few moment’s doubt) that this was a good idea after all. Plus, it made for a cool picture. And, to add a final bright note to the day, the water gaps were in good condition. Looks like Ellie and her new little Elliott won’t be escaping to greener pastures any time soon.
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Farm, Food, Garden

Sweet Potato Dreamin’

I graduated college exactly two year and two days ago. And, I had no idea where life would take me. Well, so far today I have: tracked down and ordered 865 specialty dyed t-shirts, planted 64 sweet potato slips (17 of which were grown in my kitchen window) and cooked 1 vat of smoked chicken stock. This is an improvement from yesterday, which was spent sewing 125 koozies together to send out to a band in Omaha. Although, yesterday did include baking a chocolate cake made with bananas and applesauce. Pretty sure this is not where I would’ve guessed life would’ve taken me in two years. But, what can I say? My life is weird.

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Did you know that you grow sweet potato slips in water? Last year was my first year to grow sweet potatoes and they were a huge success. Literally. These potatoes came out of the ground and some of them weighed 2 and 3 lbs per potato. They were giant. I purchased the slips from a local feed store. But, this year, I wanted to try growing the slips for myself. So, I read about it online and saw how to grow them, but to be honest, I was a little bit skeptical. I bought my potatoes (organic varieties from a food co-op) and put them in mason jars in the window sill and let nature do it’s thing.

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A month later and here we are. These things are crazy! The leaves sprout out of the potatoes and will grow under water. I am pretty fascinated by them. I did buy 50 sweet potato slips from the same feed store this year. I was reluctant, but my dad claimed that I needed them as “insurance”. I assured him that my window sill experiment would yield us as many slips as we needed. And, it has. So, in short, we should have an abundance of sweet potatoes come Fall.

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My great grandpa farmed sweet potatoes on the same land that I am now growing them on. He grew so many that he was known in the area for growing them and would have people stop by to buy them from him. I’m thinking I might follow in his footsteps if this harvest turns out. I always dreamed of being a sweet potato farmer. Sometimes dreams do come true.

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Farm, Garden, Medicine

Pinky Promise?

How often do I even write anymore? Not often enough. I have the stories to tell, just not the time to get them written. Well, I guess I just haven’t been making the time. In between delivering t-shirts all over the tri-state area (we literally drove around 500 miles just in delivering last week), it’s hard to keep up with much. The garden is coming up nicely, though. I’ve managed to get almost all of the “small” garden planted, which are mostly root vegetables and tomatoes. I have a couple rows left to plant, then it’s time to move on to the big plot. That’ll be for potatoes (mostly sweets) and squash, melons, peppers, and any other random seeds I find in my collection. The last to be planted in the small garden were the carrots. I ordered an abundance of colors (carrots come in red, yellow, orange, purple, I even found a black variety) I like all the different colors because they all offer different phytonutrients. The motto for my major in college was: “Eat a Rainbow”, so all the different  colors are important, people! But, in my effort to get just the right blend of seeds, I missed the staple: a plain old orange carrot. So, who do you call when you need something? Mom.

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Everybody always tells me I look like my mom. Which I do. And sometimes I act a lot like her too. We both share a love for too many details, cantaloupe, and digging in the dirt. Here we are picking green beans together last summer. (By the way, the greens that are on my side of the picture that look like fronds are the tops of the carrots we grew last year, they were pretty huge)

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Anyway, back to the matter at hand (it’s a pun, you’ll see) I called her to see if she’d stop by a little store in town to get some carrot seeds. Harmless, right? Well, apparently, as she was walking out of said store, she was looking at some tomato plants and tripped, catching herself with both hands right before she face-planted into the concrete. I’ve talked about how graceful I am, so this is just a testament to where I get it from. She decided when she got home that her hand was just sore from the fall and it would be better in the morning. Wrong.

Post Fall: Day 1

Post Fall: Day 1

She woke up to it looking like a blown up surgical glove and after some coercing from me, we headed to the emergency room. Where we spent a beautiful Saturday getting seen by doctors and nurses and sitting in waiting rooms.

Peace, Love, & Pinkies

Peace, Love, & Pinkies

The verdict: she broke it. The bone on her pinky finger was smashed together in the fall, so she got a cast on her right arm. And, she got to sign her name with her left hand, which looked like the work of a first grader. (See previous blog post where I had to arrange first grade signatures on notecards for a comparison)

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The good thing about spending the day with your mom in waiting rooms is that it leaves a lot of time for photography. Actually, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a well arranged selfie. The ER seemed like just the right place.

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Her original cast was white and after being seen by the orthopedic surgeon, she got a permanent blue cast (now decorated with flames due to the artistic talent of my cousin), which she will wear for four weeks. No surgery necessary. And no pinky promises. At least for awhile.

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Farm, Food, Garden

On Guard!

I have a cow. Her name is Ellie. Because she had an L on her head and I bought her when I was 14, so that seemed like an appropriate name. Actually, it still seems pretty appropriate.

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Growing up on a farm gave me the opportunity to learn a lot of different things. And when I say opportunity, what I really mean is necessity. As in, I was an extra set of hands, so I was just told what to do and how to do it. Which, I guess, is a pretty effective way to learn.

The other day, dad decided to teach me about fencing. Not the medieval, stick a fake sword into you kind of fencing. Like fixing fence. So probably no one else calls that fencing, except for me. After he showed me how to clip the barbwire to the posts, he decided to impart some knowledge to me. “A cow can get their head through there if they find a slick spot, but these barbs are gonna cut a little bit.” Well, yeah, they are.

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I proved him correct, two seconds later, after the wire popped back and caught my cheek. Luckily, it’s just a scratch. But, I’m pretty prone to incidences like this. If I can spill it, drop it, lose it, stain it, trip over it, hit my head on it, it’ll happen. You get the vibe. I walked through my door the other day and managed to get one of my belt loops stuck on the door knob. How does this happen? I have no idea. But, I about fell down trying to get myself unlatched. The fence did get done though, not much thanks to me.

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Leave me in the garden and I’ll be good. There’s not much to hurt yourself there, just me and the dirt and the seeds. I currently have snap peas and cabbage seedlings coming up. And, a load of raspberry offshoots that I am trying to transplant to everywhere else. Basically, they’re taking over and I’m in the process of reallocating all the land to make a raspberry farm. Newest additions to the seed startlings? Parsnips, rutabagas, radishes, and beets. I spent all winter picking out exactly what I wanted to plant and it’s finally time. Things are starting to get serious around here.

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