Monday, May 23, 2016

Bacon, Part 2

Last year, a friend of ours turned the side meat from Princess into bacon for us.  This year, after finding a good deal on a grill/smoker, we were able to make our own.

First, about the grill/smoker.  We've never actually owned a grill before.  We've always just used our fire pit with a grill grate on top.  Now that we seem to be routinely having pigs butchered, Jamey started looking into purchasing one that could also smoke meat.  The Big Green Egg is a popular brand but they are also quite expensive. We were lucky to find a similar style ceramic grill (by Vision Grills, similar to this one) at a discount store in our area.  It has several small nicks in the ceramic that makes it imperfect but does not effect how it functions. 



Our friend generously shared his bacon rub recipe with us.


The sides were thawed and the dry rub applied to the meat.  It is very important that the rub to meat ratio is correct in order for the bacon to turn out well.



Next, Jamey placed the bacon on wooden slats in a fridge (we have a small, spare fridge we were given by friends that we plug in when needed) for two weeks.


It was then smoked on our grill/smoker at a dome temperature of 250 degrees until the internal temperature of the meat was 150 degrees.  This took about 3-4 hours for our sides. We used hickory as our smoking wood.





Are you drooling yet?

Once cooled, Jamey sliced the bacon and packaged it for the freezer.

We hope to try other pork cuts in our new grill/smoker.  Any recommendations?
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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bacon, Part 1

Possibly their last group picture (this is the most sentimental I'm going to get).


It was February and it was time. Two pigs needed butchering- the large male (Spock) and a female who we were raising for a neighbor.  It had been so easy to lure Princess onto the trailer at butchering time last year.  We were hoping for similar luck this time.

Jamey had asked a friend to come assist.  And, bless his heart, he came.  Sam was in charge of picture-taking and videoing since I was inside with the baby.  At one point, Sam came in and I asked, "They have them loaded already?" to which Sam replied, "Um, no.  Can't you hear them squealing?"  I opened a window and yes, indeed, I could hear squealing and quite a ruckus going on in the barn.

Tactic #1 was to drive the trailer into the pig yard and lure them onto it with kitchen scraps and feed.  This did not work.




Tactic #2 was to get them into the barn and funnel them down this hallway and toward the open door you see below.  The trailer had been backed up flush to the open door, so when the pigs stepped out the door, they'd step onto the trailer.  Seems like it should work, right?


The pigs did not like this tactic either.  Jamey and our friend tried using boards to herd them out the door (by making the space smaller) but they simply pushed pass the boards.  They tried the bucket method.  A pig who has a bucket placed over their head will back up to get their head out.  The idea is that you can back them up in the direction you want them to go.  This eventually worked but it took a long time.  They'd get one on the trailer and as they tried to back the other one into it, the one on the trailer would push past and into the barn once again.  We used up all our kitchen scraps and feed.  They were not having it.  Finally, they decided to transport one at a time.

At one point, 420-pound Spock shot under Jamey's legs heaving him up into the air.  It was sort-of a miracle that neither of them got hurt.  Oh, except for a sore foot.  Spock stepped on Jamey's foot.  "Take that", he thought.

During all of this, Turk was a mess.  He had to be put on a leash. He didn't like that these pigs were wrestling with and squealing at his owner.  Eventually, he had to be brought inside with me but he just cried and barked at the door.  He spent some time in his crate that evening until he could finally calm down and relished cuddling with Jamey on the couch after it was all over.


It wasn't in the initial plans but we ended up buying a grill/smoker so we could learn to process some of the meat ourselves.  Stay tuned for Bacon, Part 2, and be glad you don't have to heard pigs on a trailer today.  Unless you do.  In that case...good luck. Pin It

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Loneliness in Foster Parenting

I wrote this a couple weeks ago during a particularly difficult spell.  I've hesitated to post it since these feelings are not as intense currently (although they wax and wane).  I offer it up anyway.

I have a little time to write.

I should write about the swarms of bees Jamey caught and the two pigs that did NOT want to go the butcher but did and then about the bacon Jamey smoked himself on his new (and first ever) grill/smoker.  I likely will write those posts sometime soon but instead I find myself needing to write about the loneliness that can come from being a foster parent.

We have GREAT friends and family and an AMAZING support system that includes a WONDERFUL church family and supportive neighbors.  I don't want any of them who might read this to feel the least bit like they're not doing an amazing job of being there for us.  YOU are and I can't imagine how much harder this would be without them.

That said, it's hard to explain how these last few months have really been.  When folks ask how he's doing, we can talk about how he's sleeping. We can talk about what a good baby he is, how he's laughing, loves his doorway jumper, and is starting to roll over.  We can talk about how much he's taking by bottle and the goals for getting him off the tube...but there's so much left unsaid- right under the surface.  And if I opened those gates of thoughts and feelings I wouldn't be able to stop them and I'd likely end up in a pool of tears on the floor.

Okay, that might be a bit dramatic.  I don't feel like that all the time.

But there are times that I do.

There are times that I know I'm the only one out of all our friends who is still changing diapers. Somehow, this sets us apart and seems to undo some of the other things we have in common.  I wonder if many people know what to do with us.  What else to ask us about.  Whether they can invite us over. Whether they can come over to our house.  I feel like we're weird in an accepted but awkward sort-of-way.  Just to be clear- we are actually weird (who isn't?) but this has added a new dimension to our weirdness.

Sometimes I feel like I've gone backwards in the child-rearing progression.  Many others are plowing ahead- beginning to look at what their lives might be like one day when kids move on and out.  And I'm looking at bottles that need washing and birth parents who have so far to go before they're ready to take this precious boy home with them.

This large part of my current world is, in many ways, off limits to others.  It needs to be to preserve confidentiality and the respect due birth parents going through a very difficult time.  This world is full of family visits, home visits, home-health visits, speech therapist visits, pediatrician appointments, specialist appointments and follow-ups...all of which I can't discuss or process in detail- except with the professionals and Jamey.  Oh, how I thank God for Jamey.

{This precious boy just nodded off to sleep by bouncing himself gently in his jumper.  I cannot convey the sweetness that is his little face.}

I hear others plan island vacations, talk about the sports and other activities their kids are involved in, lament about possible presidential candidates, or about redecorating their home (ALL fun and worthy topics of conversation!) and yet they leave me feeling alien because I have no room in my head or heart to really dwell on such things.  But I want to hear about them!  Because I do care about my friends and family and what is going on in their lives.  I seem to be wearing some sort of tinted lenses on my heart- everything is slightly colored by how this foster placement impacts us.

And all this leaves me feeling lonely even at home with my great kids, even surrounded by my congregation, even at the park with other homeschool families, or even sitting in our living room with good friends. Don't get me wrong- foster parents don't have dibs on loneliness.  If you're struggling with depression, health issues, marriage issues, children struggling with emotional issues, or just the demands of the everyday...you KNOW, likely even better than I, of this loneliness.

I just didn't expect to experience it in foster parenting.

I'm not complaining.  We chose this and we'll likely choose it again.  I just wondered if folks knew about this other challenge that foster parents sometimes face.  And while encouragement is always welcome, if we're praised over-zealously that, too, can make me feel set apart. And we shouldn't be.  We're right here with everyone else just trying to do the best we can.

There are a few things that help.  One, in the midst of loneliness, I know that in reality I am not alone (turn your volume up).  Two, I know that my loneliness ensures that the little baby in our home will not experience loneliness for the however many days he's with us.  Three, occasionally I talk with someone who discloses in whispers that they are considering foster care...and, oh, how my heart soars when I hear this.  Because despite all the challenges, it's worth it all.  And if they choose this path, I look forward to walking beside them- knowing what it feels like and ready to accept their pools of tears and mess when or if they open up.

Time and time again, God answers our loneliness through song, His Word, notes of encouragement, etc...all timed perfectly- lifting us, strengthening us and sustaining us.  If you feel so moved, take time today to write a note or place a phone call to someone you think might be feeling alone.

And if you're a fellow foster parent, I'm right here with you.  We are not alone. Pin It

Monday, May 9, 2016

Catching Spring Swarms (With Lots of Pictures)

I'll say it again- we are in no way experts at this.  Read to be entertained and to learn about bees, NOT to learn how to be the best beekeeper :-).

Last week, while Jamey was outside, he spotted it hovering in the air over our yard not far away- a swarm of honeybees.  It didn't matter if they came from one of our hives or not.  We wanted those bees so he leaped (quite literally) into action.

He grabbed a top bar nuc (short for nucleus, a small hive) and tried to set it up in a nearby tree but couldn't get it situated securely.  He wanted to lure the recently departed colony into it so we could keep our runaway bees.  The nuc's colony had died this past winter, but it was still full of comb left behind (the honey left behind had been licked clean by our other bees).  Wanting to quickly find a safe spot for the nuc, he set it on top of the end of our chicken coop.  Within seconds, there were scout bees checking it out- no doubt attracted to the comb inside.  Soon, the swarm which was drifting the opposite direction, started drifting toward the nuc perched on the chicken coop roof.





 




Within thirty minutes or so, almost the entire swarm had tucked themselves into their new home.  Had Jamey not been outside at the time, all those bees would have been lost (to us).  The next evening, he moved the nuc into our bee yard along side our other hives.

Just a reminder- if you see a swarm of honeybees, don't panic.  Just stand by and marvel at it.  They will not bother you unless you actively provoke them.  They are too concerned with finding a new home.

But then!  The very next day, Sadie spotted another swarm- hanging on a branch of one of our peach trees.  Jamey was at work so that swarm got away.  I do not catch swarms.  I take pictures of them.


A couple weeks later, yet another swarm was spotted in a peach tree and Jamey knocked this one into a bucket and placed it in one of our empty hives with some bars of brood and food.  No sooner did he have that one tucked away and he spotted another swarm (this one was large) up in a tree at the edge of the woods and couldn't let it get away.  I'll tell you what happened in pictures...








I didn't get a shot of him pushing the bucket up and knocking it against the branch hard, causing the swarm to fall into the bucket but that's what happened next.










Bee Math: 

6 colonies going into the winter of 2015 - 2 died over the winter + 3 swarms caught in the spring =  7 colonies going into the summer of 2016 (for now)

Below you can see trimmings from overdue hive inspections.  This bowl was placed on our front porch.  Once the bees went home that evening, we took the comb inside to strain giving us a mini-harvest of almost a gallon of honey.


sticky bees that fell from the bowl, cleaning themselves

If hives are properly managed, this many swarms shouldn't occur.  We've had a busy spring and hadn't divided the colonies as we saw there was need to, so the colonies raised new queens and divided themselves.  This is obviously not ideal because you lose the bees that leave.  Sometimes, though, you're able to get a few back.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Life Flows On


Four out of the six colonies survived the winter which we find pretty miraculous.  We will harvest honey this year.  We've already lost (and captured!) a swarm- more on that to come.

Easter pies- sour cherry and blueberry 




swine decimation 

Two of the culprits.  The other two are no more.  Stay tuned for more on this- we made our own bacon.

 
The adoration goes both ways.




guarding his yard (from squirrels, that is)
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