Bountiful blackberries

WHEW!  The blackberries are really coming in now – I thought last week was pretty decent, but this week they’re bigger and more plentiful.  Last night I picked right around two gallons; tonight I need to get one more gallon, so we can start a batch of wine.  It’ll be about a year before we’re drinking it, but I know it’ll be worth the wait.  🙂


Peas and jelly

I have been on the search for a peahen friend for Bill since last fall.  I’m specifically looking for a hen of 2-4 years of age, but I’m not particular about the coloring.  I have yet to find one available in our immediate area; I’ve got my eye on one that’s about 1.5 hours away.  Just need another reason to travel to that area, and I’d gladly buy her!  In the meantime though, I did find someone locally who had two peachicks for sale.  While it will be a long time before they’re big enough to get out in the yard, at least he’ll have some friends.  I wonder how long before I’ll be able to tell if they’re male(s) or female(s)?

IMG_7173 IMG_7177

We’ve been doing some blackberry picking around the pastures, which is pretty awesome!  Rob used to have to go out and pick next to roads and highways, but we have many mature blackberry canes growing on the fence rows.  They’re thorny as can be, but the fruit is juicy and sweet!  Made the first of hopefully many batches of jelly yesterday:



Farm life isn’t for sissies

So, I’ve mentioned before that our garden is pretty darn big, right?  As I recall, the plan was for 100′ rows – and they were overshot a bit.  We started out with a good 6′ path between each of the eight (I think) rows, plus three rows of corn.  It’s big, and there’s a lot of green out there – quite a lot of which are weeds.  However, for as weedy as that garden is, it’s pretty productive too!

The potatoes seem to be coming in well, we’ve dug up a few taters to check on them.  The brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, and onions are doing poorly.  Okra is growing well, we should begin harvesting in a week or two.  We put down 40 Roma tomato plants, and if only half of them produce we should be overrun.  It’s looking as though they will all produce.  😉  The cherry tomatoes are coming ripe, a few each day – that’s a bit disappointing because there’s just not enough to actually do anything with (other than eat them while still warm from the sun).  The cucumbers are doing fairly well, green beans and wax beans are starting to produce – we’re quite happy with those!  Now, the squash and zucchini – we can grow the heck out of them.  We’ve cooked, baked, frozen, given away, and donated quite a lot of them, and they still keep on coming.  I’m thinking in probably a week or so though, they’ll be done producing.  Our green peppers are rather small, but overall not bad.  I’m really looking forward to some butternut squash, and corn.  🙂

Doing anything outside at this time of year is so taxing, the heat is relentless.  I’ve gotten used to it, but I still don’t much care for the heat.

In other news….

This past Friday, we apparently had a visit from a nasty dog.  At least, I suspect it’s the same dog that killed the neighbors lamb, and has been generally terrorizing animals in the ‘hood.  Long story short, I found one of Abby’s ewes (Hershey, I later found out) had escaped the pasture, presumably by jumping the fence panel and entering the barn.  She was hiding in a stall, behind a bunch of scaffolding.  Poor girl had a sizeable wound on her leg, that was bloody and oozing.  Ew, right?  I got her cleaned up as well as I could with what I had, then Rob helped me doctor her again the following day.  What really stinks is that whoever this dog belongs to isn’t doing their job – keeping their pet safe and at home.  Ultimately, it won’t end well – either for the animals it encounters or the dog itself.


HalfAst Update

Being true to the farm name has been easy – we’ve been quite half-assed about updating the blog!  It’s time to change that, though.

Last year around this time, we signed a contract to purchase a home.  The sellers were an ordeal in themselves, but we were steadfast and we survived!  We really love the new homestead, and the location is perfect.  We had been admiring this place from our old house the whole time we lived there.  There’s a lot of work to do, always, but we are grateful for our new home, and enjoying the space and freedoms it allows us.

The garden:  It’s the largest we’ve ever had; we’re looking forward to a bountiful harvest for canning, freezing, eating, and sharing.  Night before last, we had the first zucchini of the season with dinner.  It was delicious!

The animals: The new house came with a beautiful India Blue peacock we call Bill, and numerous Guinea fowl.  I’m in the market for a peahen lady friend for Bill, if you know of any available.  We still have the New Zealand meat rabbits, hens, and honeybees.    We’ve added more pullets (two of the kids are participating in Chick Chain with 4-H), current could is 19 for the kids and 7 for me, in addition to the 4 remaining hens.  Abby recently took an interest in the 4-H sheep project, so last month we bought 4 lambs – 3 ewes and a ram.  This past weekend we purchased 2 young calves – a red Angus and a baldy (Hereford / black Angus cross).  We’re looking forward to adding more calves and possibly swine to the homestead.

So that’s it for now – we’ll try to be a little less half-assed with updates!  😀

bill calves rabbits sheep

Guinea fowl

This was written by our eldest daughter on November 1, 2014:

As you may know, our new house came with 9 ginneahens. They mostly roam the property and the neighbors property eating bugs and stuff. We had no idea which were girls and which were boys.

Well, mom picked me up from school and said the usual “what we sold”

and who bought the stuff. Mom said “As the couple who bought chickens went down the driveway, they were taking a long time. We went down to see what was up, and they found 6 little ginneahens chicks!” (I don’t know what they are actually called)

The wife wanted one, so my mom handed her one in secret and kept it in her pocket. (Shoutout to her husband: I wish I could have seen your face when you found out) We now have 5 on their second day of life.

Two are gray and three are brown and black. They are extremely noisy, they are incredibly fast, they have little fuzzy feathers, and are eating chick starter by their first day. At time of writing, they are doing fine.

We have a heat lamp in a horse trough with wood shavings (same as rabbits).

So, we now have 14 ginneahens, 1 dog, 1 peacock, 7 chickens, 9 and one pregnant rabbits, some occasional sheep that wonder into our yard, and countless bees.


That morning

It started, as they say, as a normal day.  Rob was up very early and went out to go hunting.  I got up around 6 am, and sat down with my coffee and Hay Day app (what a fun time waster that is).  Our three daughters (ages 11, 9, and 9) were up around 6:20 and began their school day rituals – the elder one showered, the younger two lazed around wishing it was Saturday.

Just before 7, the girls started to get their breakfasts.  Typical morning – reheating homemade frozen waffles, getting juice, etc.  We noticed an odd smell.  An electrical smell.  I shut off the heat (it had been a very cold night, but I had turned on the heater a few times that week so it wasn’t that ‘dust on the coils’ smell), and went down to the basement to do a ‘sniff test.’  I didn’t smell anything unusual down there, so I went back upstairs.  I sniff tested the two upstairs bedrooms, and found nothing odd.  The girls were concerned about the smell, so I opened the top portion of the window near the kitchen table.  I kept going around the living room and kitchen area looking, and I remember motioning with my hands in the air saying, “it HAS to be right around here, but I can’t find it!”

I wish I had taken it more seriously right then and there.  I keep thinking that if I had, I could have saved more.  I could have gotten my cat out.  I could have done….better.

Right after I said that I couldn’t find it (the source of the smell), we saw smoke coming up from the corner heating vent in the living room.  The smoke alarms started going off, upstairs and downstairs.  I believe that was the point when my cat ran for the basement….his favorite hiding places were all downstairs.

I told the girls to grab a coat and get outside and get in my truck.  It was around 32 degrees that morning, I think.  One of them asked, “should we get our shoes on?”  Emily, 11, yelled, “NO!  We have to GO NOW!”  And out the kitchen door they went.

I went to the corner of the living room, and realized that smoke was now also coming up through the vent next to the door.  I ran out on the porch and saw that the girls were indeed in the truck, then ran back into the kitchen.  I saw flames coming up through the vent in the corner.  I said, “oh SHIT” and grabbed the fire extinguisher from beneath the kitchen sink.  Thank goodness the use of an extinguisher is simple and ingrained: pull the pin, extend the nozzle, squeeze the handle.  I aimed for that corner vent, thinking what a mess this was going to be to clean up.  I got the flames down, then saw flames coming up through the vent next to the door (both vents were located on either end of the couch in the living room).  I started using the extinguisher on that vent; then looked over toward the corner.  Flames had come back up and the living room curtains were on fire; it looked like the couch was starting to smoke.  I realized then that I could not possibly get this fire out with the extinguisher.

I grabbed the phone from next to the table, called the dog out with me and went out the kitchen door to the porch, to call 911.  The phone was dead.  I put the extinguisher down and ran back in, and got my cell phone from the kitchen counter and dialed 911.  I quickly told the operator my house was on fire, the address, and please hurry.  I know I kept saying that…please hurry.  Please hurry!

While on the phone, I went back inside and made it as far as the kitchen table.  The black smoke was awful, and was hanging in a thick cloud several feet down from the ceiling.  I turned around and got my purse off the hook by the door, and picked up a large envelope from the top basement step.  It was full of documents I had needed earlier in the week for an appointment, and that I meant to return to the bank safety deposit box: passports, vehicle titles, birth certificates, and so forth.  I remember being on the porch, kneeling in the kitchen doorway.  Watching the smoke and flames consume our home.  I wish I had the presence of mind to call my cat, to try to get him out.  But I couldn’t think.  It was so awful.

The 911 operator told me to get away from the house, and when I got to my truck and put the dog in with the kids she said that a first responder was on site.  There was a woman at the bottom of the driveway, and she told me to move the truck down on to the road and away from the house.  When I did that, we could see flames shooting out of the corner of the living room.  The girls were in hysterics, and I wasn’t any help to them at all.  All I knew then was that they were safe, my husband was presumably safe in the woods, and I had my dog with me.

I’m thinking that was probably around 7:10 am.

In retrospect….

I sent Rob a text after I moved the truck.  I didn’t call him because my thought process was that he was in the woods, and therefore he wouldn’t answer the phone.  But I should have called, so there would have been no question in his mind that the kids were ok, from the first minute.

It all happens so quickly.  Have a plan.  It isn’t pleasant to think about something like this happening, but if you talk about what to do ahead of time then you’ll be better prepared to react IF it does happen.  No….my going back in the house wasn’t a part of the plan; the plan was to get the kids safe.  After that I was winging it – and not very well.  It was a stupid move to go back in, but this was our home and I had to do SOMETHING.

Good Lord, I miss that cat.  He was my fat buddy, and I fervently hoped and prayed that he ran back upstairs and out the kitchen door, and was hiding someplace.  Over the next several days, we searched the barn, we called for him whenever the kids were not with us.  Rob and I both so badly wanted Spooker to have gotten out alive.  I am thankful that Rob continued to search the rubble until he found Spook.  It was such a heartbreak for us, but at least then we knew.

Our little house wasn’t perfect, but it was home.  It’ll be a long while before someplace feels like home to me again.

I have always loved our daughter’s school – the faculty and staff there are wonderful, and I knew that before.  However, that morning several people from the school came to check on us, give us hugs, and encourage us.  They genuinely care about our children and our family as a whole, and I appreciate them more than I know how to express.

So many others also came to see us – neighbors, friends, strangers.  All came with condolences, kind words, hugs, and offers of assistance.  The amount of support we have received from our community has been amazing.  Our kids have all recognized the kindness and caring of our community, and have expressed gratitude to be a part of it.  From 9 and 11 year olds, that’s pretty awesome.  God has shown us a lot of wonderful things during this experience!

While we have lost a much loved family pet and all our possessions – we have so much for which we are thankful.




In an Instant

Ten and a half years ago Melissa and I bought a quaint little fixer upper in Loudon County TN. We worked day and night on our little investment until we had turned it into a home fit to live in and raise our baby girl. Some time after, despite having very limited funds, we decided that two young children could share a bedroom until we could afford a larger home and so tried for another child. Although our logic was sound, we were thrown a wonderful curve with news of twins, thus a hurried renovation of our two bedroom bungalow into a three – so Melissa and I would have a place to sleep. Over the last 10 plus years as time and the budget have allowed, we’ve taken on all kinds of “do it yourself” renovations, even some not for the faint of heart. We’ve proudly installed a new roof, windows, entry doors, floors, walls, interior doors, wrap around decks, planters, rainwater collection set up, window well, foundation waterproofing, security system, surveillance system, attic access, insulation and countless others.

On a Friday morning just over three weeks ago, I got up way before dawn, grabbed my hunting gear and headed out to the woods leaving myself plenty of time to be in a tree overlooking a newly discovered deer trail well before the sun had a chance to come up.

I settled in just before 6:30 a.m. and my mind raced with the anticipation of at what might come down that trail. I sat quietly as the sun’s first light revealed my surroundings, this would be a good day for hunting. I was already trying to decide on venison stew, or tenderloin with fried potatoes and eggs…. but as it’s been said before in so many stories, “and then”.

“And then,” for me and my family means that while perched nearly 20′ high in a tree, in the dense woods, down a narrow trail, across two hay fields, around a lake, through one electric fence gate over 30 miles away; I receive the following text from Melissa.

“The house is on fire. It’s burning”

My initial response “Ours?” (as in, it can’t be ours… right?)

Response “Yes. Please come home”

“On my way, kids?”

Now insert a very long period of time between the question “kids” and  any response…

“Here with me” (along with pet status info.)


I cannot tell you the range of emotions that I went through as I franticly abandoned my post and ran back to my truck, nor will I apologize for my actions as I desperately tried to close the physical distance between where my family needed me to be and where I was. I will, however, make these few comments:

My 03 GMC 1500 appears to be missing the “Rev” limiter .

To the woman traveling in front of me for approximately the last 6 miles to my destination (burning home):

  • Bless you.
  • Bless you for having the resolve to stay out in front, to travel well below the posted speed limit, to exercise your right not to yield a right of way, or make the slightest effort to pull off to the side and allow someone to pass.
  • Bless you for sticking to your guns even though the vehicle behind you has their 4 ways on, flashing lights at you, blowing the horn, and has made multiple attempts to get by you in an obvious attempt to respond to some sort of an emergency.
  • And, Bless you, especially, for taking the time to stop in the middle of the street some 20 yards from the final turn off for my house, so you could watch my house burn… while I unravel at the seams.


Once I “parked” my truck in the ditch, and after visual confirmation that my wife and kids were safe (along with several hugs and kisses) Melissa tells me what happened:

Melissa was preparing lunches in the kitchen for the girls as they finished breakfast at the table when they began to smell something burning (like plastic).

Melissa turned off the heat although it didn’t smell like the typical dust on the coils smell then went downstairs to check but found no evidence the smell was from downstairs. She returned upstairs to continue her investigation but could not determine the source.

Melissa decided that the smell must be close to the dining room (where they were) and opened the top part of the window next to the table to try and let the smell out. She told the girls, “it HAS to be right here”.

Just as she finished stating that the smell had to be right there, thick black smoke and flames began coming up through an AC vent in the living room.

Melissa told the girls to grab a coat and get outside and get in her truck.  (It was bitter cold outside) One of them asked, “should we get our shoes on?”  Emily, 11, yelled, “NO!  We have to GO NOW!”  And out the kitchen door they went.

Melissa surveyed the situation, went out and checked that the girls were safe in the truck, then returned back to the house. She grabbed the extinguisher from below the sink and tried to keep the furniture and curtains from catching but realized it was too much for her with the addition of flames from a second register on the other side of the couch.

She grabbed the house phone and tried to call the fire department from the front porch, but the phone was dead.

She went back into the house and got her cell phone from the kitchen table and called from it.

On her way out, Melissa was able to grab her purse and an envelope that contained documents that were to be taken to the safe deposit box on our next trip to the bank and our dog.

She turned at the door, kneeled down and looked into the house as the fire consumed it and the smoke bellowed. (I think she went into shock)

The operator on the phone told her to get away from the house and she went to the truck to find the girls hysterical, a first responder called to her from the bottom of the driveway to mover her truck down away from the house so the fire truck could get in and not block her which she did.

By the time the fire trucks arrived, the house was “engulfed”  – a term that conjures up new imagery for me.


Since the fire, just over three weeks ago, and in no particular order:

We’ve rented a beautiful temporary home not far from our house from a very understanding family.

We’ve decided that our house is still our home and we intend to rebuild there… maybe a bit bigger though.

Being prideful people, we’ve had to come to terms with “donations”.

Donations of clothing, furniture, housewares, shoes, hats, gloves, food, money and so much more have poured in and we are grateful – Thank You so much. Melissa and I are able to laugh about the movie “RV” quoting the line “we don’t know why they like us so much, we’re not even that appealing” – seriously though, Thank You.

Melissa has talked about “if she’d taken it more seriously” at this point that she “could have saved more”  but I think she is just now starting to realize that things could have been much worse. I am so blessed she had the presence of mind to get the kids and herself to safety.

We’ve had several self appointed advocates: Tina B., Angie H., Stacie G., Stephanie M., Laurie “B”, Stephanie H., Larry & Kay & Katie C., Pat F., Sheila B., Lyssa M., along with so many more; we can’t thank you all enough.

My mom and dad were actually travelling down to stay with us for the weekend and stopped in Bristol the night before. As a parent myself, I cannot imagine how helpless my mom and dad felt when they arrived that morning to find our world turned on it’s side. Many thanks to them for holding us up while we tried to get our feet under us. That’s not to say we are any less grateful for the long distance support from all those that couldn’t be here – we love you all.

We’ve tried to come to terms with how closely we came to losing the things that really matter, we are so fortunate. From the outside, it may appear we’ve lost everything, but that’s simply not true and we realize it.

Our children have their own issues to contend with (apart from mom and dad hugging and kissing them even more than before). They don’t like having to go to the house, it depresses them and I totally get it – it’s difficult at best. I can only imagine what they went through watching Melissa go back into the house to try ad save it. And, to sum up, they lost the only home they’ve ever known along with all of their possessions.

We talk, we laugh, we cry – together.

The best explanation: We as a family have decided that life for us right now is kinda like if you were on an extended vacation. Yea, it’s a nice place, it’s quite, and beautiful, but no matter what the amenities are, it’s just not home and we can’t go back to what we had before.

Everyone has told me good things about Farm Bureau Insurance. We are not through our claim process, however, they SEEM to be on the up and up. Only time will tell. In my mind though, insurance money is there to “make you whole”… but that’s just not going to happen now is it?

I lived the first 18 years of my life as a military dependent stationed at one time or another in what seemed like every base on earth. To a small degree, I should be a bit more  “used” to putting my belongings into a suitcase and starting over, after all, we did it every few years…. but this is much different. That accounts for why I’m so impressed with Melissa and the Girl’s attitudes to move forward.

It’s said that military families “take care of their own” but to be honest,  that level of care and generosity pales in comparison to that of Tennessean’s, especially Loudon County. I’m not sure I will ever want to leave Loudon County, TN.

We miss our cat terribly and no, I’m sorry, but a kitten is just not the answer.

I admire our kids. While I stood there that morning talking to some ladies there helping us I looked past them to see my kids who were allowed to come back to the house only after the fire trucks left and saw in the face of a tragedy they are able to keep things in perspective, pointing out to everyone that the half charred stuffed animal laying in the front yard is “still good”. Not at all like one of those little shits at Wal-Mart screaming at his/her parents because they don’t have “latest” I-Phone or game console, they deserve spankings every dam one of them… the kids too. It makes me want even more to be able to give my kids their heart’s desires because they freakin deserve it.

My faith in God remains unwavered, but my faith in humanity now has promise. All too often, we have to see the worst that people have to offer…

Lots of people want to help and we are grateful. The truth is there really isn’t much anyone can do at this point. We need to demo the remaining portion of the house and clean up the property to get it ready to rebuild but, it’s simply too dangerous for volunteers. We certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt, never mind that Melissa and I get distracted with the sentimental aspects. So we’ve decided to hire out the cleanup portion by a professional company so we can get it done quickly and close the wound. Then we can concentrate on a new home.

We do have an alternate idea though; if folks still want to help when we are building maybe they would like to come and help then… like an old fashioned house raising. We will have to see on that one.


Things we’d like to pass on – lessons learned, advice:

  • Gun safes work, spend the money.
  • Preppers: Spend time thinking about a cache of supplies readily accessible, not just a bunker 2 hours away. You may need to stay local, but not have a home and you may not have your “bug out bag”. A storage area, outbuilding or a wood pile with cash, firearm, clothes, water etc right there on your property but not in your house.
  • Take pictures of everything in your house. Include model / SN’s and receipts if you have them. Then store those pictures, original important documents and scanned documents elsewhere (safe deposit box maybe). Copy digital pics and scanned doc’s and put a copy of them elsewhere – like a safe deposit box.
  • Water damage is easier I think to recover from than fire. thus a residential sprinkler system is probably in our future.
  • Seconds count – have a fire escape plan and talk to your kids about what to do.
  • Don’t underestimate how quickly fire can spread – we were shocked.
  • I told Melissa I’ll not sleep in another basement like the one we had. I watched the fire fighters try for over 2 hours try to gain access to where our bedroom was while the house was on fire.


Back of the House
Back of the House
A&S's Bedroom, Bath, E's Bedroom
A&S’s Bedroom, Bath, E’s Bedroom


A&S's Bedroom, Bath, E's Bedroom
A&S’s Bedroom, Bath, E’s Bedroom


Girl's belongings
Girl’s belongings


Back of the house
Back of the house


E's Bedroom and back of the house
E’s Bedroom and back of the house


E's Bedroom (Left), Living Room (Right)
E’s Bedroom (Left), Living Room (Right)


Living Room window
Living Room window


Living Room
Living Room


Standing at the front of the house, looking through living room and E's bedroom
Standing at the front of the house, looking through living room and E’s bedroom


Front Door
Front Door


Dining Area Collapsed Floor into the basement
Dining Area Collapsed Floor into the basement


Front Porch
Front Porch


Dining Area (Left) Kitchen (Right) Looking through Hand Rail of Front Porch
Dining Area (Left) Kitchen (Right) Looking through Hand Rail of Front Porch


Front of the House
Front of the House


Under Front Porch
Under Front Porch


Kitchen, Kitchen Door, Stairwell to Downstairs
Kitchen, Kitchen Door, Stairwell to Downstairs




Kitchen Door
Kitchen Door





Homesteading – Chicken Tractor #2

OK, so we built Chicken Tractor #1 and really liked it. While we waited for chicks to become available, I know right – we actually got it done before we needed it, we decided to list it on CL to see if anyone else would be interested it, as it turns out we met and sold it to a really nice couple.

After we sold #1, we looked over the design again and decided to make the next one a little different. Here is what we came up with:


6′ x 14′ Chicken Coop/Tractor.

6′ x 6′ Coop features easy access from end via hinged side panels (coop itself is rotated 90 degrees)

  •  9 nesting boxes
  • Full width roosting bar
  • Hinged and screened ventilation window
  • 2″ x “2 1/2″ roofing supports
  • Cedar plank and screen floor (1/2 & 1/2).

6′ x 14′ Run features

  • Heavy gauge ½” square wire for night time safety from predators.
  • Run also features an access gate for “free range” activities during the day.
  • Can be moved regularly to provide fresh grass & bugs and fertilize the lawn.

IMG_2289 (Large)

IMG_2278 (Large)

IMG_2240 (Large)

IMG_2239 (Large)








Homesteading – Chicken Tractor #1

A while back Melissa came to me wanting to try to raise chickens again…. ugh.

She did say that she had seen something called a chicken tractor that would make for a better experience with the chickens (wouldn’t take much to be honest). I studied the designs she found, put our own spin on it and built our first one… we liked it so much we decided to list it on CL to see if someone else might be interested. Turns out, there was. Be sure to check out Chicken Tractor #2


4′ x 8′ Chicken Coop/Tractor.

Coop features easy access from either side via hinged side panels

  • 7 nesting boxes
  • Full length roosting bar
  • Hinged and screened ventilation window
  • 2″ x “4” roofing supports
  • 7 ply flooring.

Run features

  • 2″ x 4″ and 2″ x 6″ PT lumber and heavier gauge ½” square wire for night time safety from predators.
  • Run also features an access gate for “free range” activities during the day.
  • Can be moved regularly to provide fresh grass & bugs and fertilize your lawn.










Homesteading – Casa La Bun Bun

Built this new rabbit hutch for the girl’s rabbits.

Left side double doors and elevated mezzanine, black “Poop Deck”, right upper is Bedrooms, bins below slide in like drawers for food and bedding.


Removable shutter for inclement weather


elevated mezzanine


Upper and lower bedroom entrances