Friday, September 2, 2011

History Visits MHF

It’s a slow morning in the store and there are about a dozen things I should be doing other than writing this blog post, but we’ve had a couple very special visitors this week that I can’t wait to tell you about.

On Saturday, Cornie Belle McCloud stopped in the store. She is the daughter of Hugh Vancel and niece of Curt Vancel, the man who originally owned our store. Her grandfather (Hugh & Curt’s dad) and grandmother raised their children in the house we live in.

She explained the family tree to me, which had been a mystery to me since I’ve heard of all these Vancels but could never figure out how they are all related. Here’s what I can remember: William and Mary Vancel had several sons (5, I think), including Jessie, Curt & Hugh, and a daughter. I should have written down the information while she was telling me.

Cornie Belle & Her Friend, Lon Yeary

Cornie Belle lives in Nashville now and she promised to send me more information about the family and the property. I can’t wait. In the meantime, I have to get my fingers on the book Cumberland Gap’s Hillbilly Preacher, written by Cornie Belle about her father.

This morning a man walked up to our house and introduced himself. To my great surprise, it was Tom Vancel, Curt Vancel’s son. He showed us where the grist mill used to be and gave us a photocopy of the following newspaper article about the mill.

He also explained that his dad started the store, then sold it to Mr. Cline. Mr. Cline moved his store up to the old highway, which is now Blairs Creek Road. It is the house at the intersection of Blairs Creek Road and Harbor Road. Then Shelby Day reopened a store in the original store building.

Curt was also a fertilizer salesman and would finance farmers’ fertilizer purchases until the tobacco crop came in.

Curt built his house across the creek from the store from building materials that he salvaged from the old Tazewell courthouse that burned down. That house is the house that Tom was born in and it is still standing.

Tom confirmed that the door and shutters are original to the store, and he told me that our house was not the first house on this property. The original house was much smaller and right next to the creek pretty much in front of the current house.

He went on to talk about the tobacco allotment, the 100+ acres the family used to own, the raceway and tailrace paths of the mill, walking on the waterwheel, the kerosene generator and glass-encased batteries they used to power the house and store before they had electricity back here, and other tidbits of life “back in the day”.

Tom Vancel

If I’ve gotten any of the facts mixed up, please let me know. I love learning about the history of this property and the people who used to live here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What a Farm Day!

Today was a true farm day. First thing this morning I took our 2 LGDs (livestock guardian dogs) – pups, really – Hans & Franz, to be neutered at the Claiborne County Animal Shelter. I also took Ember, our outdoor cat, but they couldn’t spay here because it turns out that she is very pregnant. I have mixed feelings about that. It is heartwarming to watch her take care of her kittens. She is a good mama. But the last thing we need is more kittens.

FYI – cats can start having kittens when they are 6 months old. Their gestation is only 9 weeks and they tend to get pregnant before or right after they wean the current litter. And they talk about rabbits… If she has her kittens in the next couple days, I am making a reservation for the October 11th spay & neuter clinic.

On the way home from the animal shelter, I stopped at the fairgrounds to enter 2 knit items in the fair. I’ve never entered anything in a fair before. I’ve admired the displays but it never occurred to me to enter until this year when a friend encouraged me to. It was fun to get a “sneak peek” at the entries. There were lots of vegetables, canned goods, flowers, baked goods, and handmade items. I don’t care if I win. It’s just fun to be part of the local festivities.

This afternoon, Ryan and I stopped at Rigsby’s, our local Hunting & Fishing store, so I could talk to the owner about buying a handgun. I’ve never owned a gun. In fact, I never even shot one until last December when we went to the shooting range with my father-in-law. He let us shoot a rifle and 2 handguns. I’m proud to say that I hit the bulls-eye a couple times.

I plan to get a concealed weapons permit. It’s not that I particularly feel like I need a gun. I think I’m embracing my inner redneck and I’ll feel safer knowing how to use one in case I ever need it.

From Rigsby’s we headed out to put up hay, but we had to stop at the vet’s office along the way to drop off a sick kitten. He was an outdoor cat and had diarrhea. Unfortunately, he had to be put down. He had a badly impacted colon.

For the benefit of my readers who are not farmers, putting up hay means we went to the farmer’s field, picked up 189 bales of hay (it took us 3 trips), stacked them on the trailer, brought them back to the barn and unloaded them. It’s the WORST farm job ever! By the time you’re done, you’re hot, sweaty, tired and ITCHY from all the hay dust. It gets everywhere – and I do mean EVERYWHERE!

Fortunately, I am usually the driver. That means I don’t get nearly as tired, dirty or sweaty as the guys doing the grunt work. Today I did just enough heaving lifting to be truly thankful for a shower.

After our first load of hay, I ran back to the animal shelter to pick up the pups and locked them in our bathroom so they don’t get too rambunctious or dirty. You’d never know that they’d had surgery, though. They are happy as ever.

That's when I noticed a bunch of tiny bugs crawling on the wall in our back hall. I don't know where they came from - a feed bag maybe - but I grabbed the bug spray and took care of those little buggers in a flash.

So now we’re done with our work, I am freshly showered and sitting on the couch writing this post. We treated ourselves to ice cream on the way home after the last load. It was a yummy ending to a productive day!

Monday, August 22, 2011

After the Flood

It’s been 2 months since the flood. A lot of people have asked me recently if things have returned to normal. I’m really not quite sure how to answer them. We have a regular routine so, in a sense, things are normal. Or maybe I should say, stable.

One of the things I’m learning is that it takes a long time to recuperate from a flood. Immediately after the flood, Brett took a week off work and we took care of the things that had to be done immediately: moving the live animals, disposing of the dead animals, getting the wet hay out of the barn & deworming the animals. It doesn’t sound like much, but it took the whole week.

We still have a lot of cleanup to do and it saddens me every time I drive by our pastures. What once held our goats is now an overgrown mess. But we are making a little progress.

Last weekend, Brett, Ryan and a family friend were working on the barnyard fence. They deconstructed it and now it is ready to reconstruct. You see, the fence is down but it is still attached to the fence posts. Before it can be rebuilt, it has to be torn off the posts. Not an easy job.

We qualify for a grant through the NRCS to pay part of the cost of restoring the fencing and watering systems. The grant will cover about $4,600, which we are VERY thankful for. However, the total cost of the fencing and watering systems was around $30,000, about half of which was covered by grants. Since we can reuse a lot of the materials, our cost should be substantially lower to rebuild – especially if we can do a lot of the work ourselves.

A couple of weeks before the flood, I was encouraged because it seemed like things were finally coming together on the farm and we would soon be reaping the rewards of our hard work. Now it feels like everything has come to a screeching halt. Projects that I had planned to have done by now are still not started because we’ve been dealing with flood stuff. The ironic thing is that we’ve not gotten much flood cleanup done either. Aside from the barnyard work last weekend, it feels like we’ve gotten nothing significant accomplished in the past 8 weeks, yet we’ve been busy.

Friends have come to our aid and we’ve gotten things done. I think the problem is that there is so much to do, that the work ahead overshadows the work that’s been done.

It’s been hard to ask for help. It’s very humbling to ask for help and I’ve struggled with whether I should even ask. We’ve not had damage to our home like so many others have, and our damage does not severely impact our daily lives. And I don’t like feeling in debt to others. I’d much rather be the helper than the helpee.

I hate that this post sounds so depressing. But this blog is about life on our farm and this is part of our life. In spite of it all, I love this life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I heard this song on the radio the other day and it encouraged me. God is always there to help us through the tough times. You can listen to the song at here.

You must, You must think I’m strong
To give me what I’m going through
Well forgive me, forgive me if I’m wrong
But this looks like more than I can do
On my own

I know I’m not strong enough to be
Everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up, I’m not strong enough
Hands of mercy won’t You cover me?
Lord, right now I’m asking You to be
Strong enough, strong enough
For the both of us

Well maybe, maybe that’s the point
To reach the point of giving up
‘Cause when I’m finally, finally at rock bottom
Well that’s when I start looking up
And reaching out

I know I’m not strong enough to be
Everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up, I’m not strong enough
Hands of mercy won’t You cover me?
Lord, right now I’m asking You to be
Strong enough, strong enough
For the both of us

‘Cause I’m broken
Down to nothing
But I’m still holding on to the one thing
You are God
And You are strong when I am weak
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength
And I don’t have to be strong enough
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength
And I don’t have to be
Strong enough, strong enough
Oh yeah

I know I’m not strong enough to be
Everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up, I’m not strong enough
Hands of mercy won’t You cover me?
Lord, right now I’m asking You to be
Strong enough, strong enough
For the both of us

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Flood

On June 20, 2011, our area was hit hard by a flash flood. I don’t know the official readings, but one neighbor told us he collected 7” of rain in his gauge in 4 hours. Another neighbor told us 9” for the day. We live along Blairs Creek and had at least 4’ of water in our pastures and 3’ in our barn. Yes, feet, not inches.

Fortunately our home, store and vehicles were not affected. However, we lost 7 goats, our pasture fencing was destroyed and about half of our hay was ruined.

I awoke around 3:30 am that morning to the thunderous roar of rain and hail on our tin roof. It was the heaviest rain I had heard since we moved here but I didn’t give it a second thought and I went back to sleep. The electricity had gone off and my alarm didn’t ring so I did not wake up again until 8:30 am.

I realized that something was very wrong the first time I looked out the window. There was water everywhere so I rushed to get dressed, put on my rain boots and went outside. Then I just stood there. What does one do when one finds a creek where the road used to be?

The water had obviously receded from its high point, but there was still A LOT of water. Questions ran through my head: Was it safe to walk in? Could I drive our truck in it? Were the animal OK? Could I get to them? What would I do if I did? Where’s my camera?

The road outside our front door, looking toward the barn

Did I mention I was home alone?

I ran inside and grabbed my keys and camera. The water on the road was about 8” deep so I took the truck and headed down the road but I didn’t even get to the barn before the water was a foot deep and there was a tree across the road.

Our neighbors came out and walked to the barn with me. We saw 1 goat kid and our 2 livestock guardian puppies on top of a wood pile. There had been 8 goats in the barnyard. The gate was wedged shut with debris and the water was at least 2 feet deep in the barnyard. So we left them there momentarily to go check on the bucks.

The barnyard, after the water receded

We walked a few hundred yards down the road until the water was up to our thighs and the current was so strong it almost knocked me over. We could not get to the bucks. Another neighbor who lives on the other side of the creek could see part of our pasture and told us he could see one buck. That was reassuring and disconcerting at the same time. There were 6 bucks in that pasture. Were they OK? Maybe, maybe not. We would have to wait until the water receded to find out.

I headed back to the truck to go check the remaining pasture where most of the does, kids, llamas and sheep reside. I didn’t get far before another tree blocked the road so I turned around and headed back to the barn.

Our neighbor, Charlie, climbed the gate to rescue the kid and pups. Amazingly, he found 3 more surviving goats behind the barn. After moving them to a safer area, I drove down to the girl’s pasture. A neighbor had come by on his tractor and moved the downed tree.

I was thrilled to find all of the animals in that pasture were safe. But the fencing was ruined so I had to find a new home for them quick. It was around 11 am when I called a farmer friend. Within an hour, he sent a large stock trailer and 2 men to help move the animals. With the help of 4 neighbors, we rounded up all the surviving animals and moved them to a barnyard behind our vet’s office, about 10 minutes away.

The hills to which the goats retreated to stay out of the water

We were still not able to get to the bucks but we heard from other neighbors that they could see at least 3 survivors. Brett got home just in time to help me catch the bucks. By 2:00 pm the waters had receded enough that we could finally get to the buck pasture. Indeed, there were 3 survivors but 3 were missing. We loaded the surviving bucks into pens in the back of our truck and took them to the vet’s office, hoping that they would have a place that we could keep them. Thankfully, they had a large empty stall in their barn.

It was 6 pm before we had the animals all settled and fed. Brett and I headed to a friend’s house to shower because our electricity was still out. After we got cleaned up, we went out to eat and headed back home. By then, the electric was back on. Exhausted by the physical and emotional strain of the day, we went to bed after talking briefly about what to do now. We ended the day like I started the day: with more questions than answers.

Settled in their temporary (and dry) new home

Check back over the coming days and weeks as I update this blog on our flood recovery.

Friday, May 6, 2011

We’re Growing

Things are moving and shaking here at Mountain Hollow Farm. We just installed a bus parking lot so we are better equipped to handle large groups. It required 108 tons of stone, that's 216,000 pounds!

Two weeks ago I called Goins Hollow Quarry to find out what kind of rock would be best to use for a bus parking lot. I thought we just had to dump a bunch of rock and level it out. Fortunately, the lady on the other end of the phone was a little wiser. She explained that to build a good parking lot, you have to scrape the vegetation away, compact the soil if it is soft, lay the rock, spread the rock, compact the rock, and deal with possible drainage issues. Oh my! I had no idea that there was so much work involved with creating a stone parking lot.

I was in a jam because I had just pulled out the paperwork for a grant that we had qualified for to cover part of the cost of this project, thinking that we had until May 31st to finish it. I was wrong. The deadline was May 1st.

Fortunately the quarry not only sells stone, they also build parking lots. Dan came to our rescue and finished this parking lot with a couple days to spare.

I believe that God was watching out for us. He knew what was going on even before we did and arranged things so that Goins Hollow Quarry would have the time to do a small last minute project.

I know some of you think that sounds crazy. There was a time when I did, too. But now I have comfort in knowing that amidst all our chaos, there is a God who is in control.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Guard Dogs in Training

We just purchased two livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). They are a mix of Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd. It amazes me that they instinctively know what to do. They are only 8 weeks old but they already show signs of guarding. Especially their food! ;)

We decided to purchase LGDs because we want to run ducks with the goats. Last year we bought 15 ducklings and raised them in a pen near the house until they were big enough to go into the pasture. After we put them in the pasture, half of them escaped underneath the gate and half of them were killed by a predator – one duck each night until they were gone. That is why we bought LGDs.

The puppies are in training in the kidding pen with the new mommas right here beside the house so we can keep a close eye on them, and we have a new batch of 10 ducklings that should be ready to put in the pasture about the same time as the dogs.

The dogs already have experience with chickens so I think they will do alright with the ducks. We’ll introduce them by putting the ducks in a cage right next to the kidding pen. When the ducklings are a little bigger, we’ll put them in the kidding pen. Then we’ll move them all to the pasture.

Are you wondering why we would go through so much trouble and expense just to keep some ducks? Click here to find out.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Our Babies Are All Grown Up

This evening I am home alone because Brett is at work and our youngest son, Ryan, is at the Senior Prom with his friend Karri. It causes me to pause and reflect on the past 18 years with him.

Ryan & Karri

Recently he has started showing signs of adulthood. One of the big changes I’ve noticed is that he is taking his responsibilities here on the farm more seriously. Not that long ago, it was like pulling teeth to get him to do his regular chores. Now he does them (mostly) without reminding and sometimes he does extra stuff without me having to ask.

He is also growing spiritually. We are doing the Experiencing God Bible Study together and he has started reading the Bible daily with the goal to read the whole thing in a year.

Our oldest son, Andrew, has two milestones coming up. He graduates from college in a couple weeks and he is getting married to his wonderful fiancĂ©e, Rebecca, the next day. It is going to be a crazy fun weekend, and I can’t wait!

Andrew has earned a bachelors degree in math in 4 years. I had to mention “in 4 years” since so many students take longer to graduate nowadays. We are very proud of him and we are excited that Rebecca is becoming part of our family.

Rebecca & Andrew

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Leadership Claiborne Tours Our Farm

Ag Day is a special day for the Leadership Claiborne class to learn about local agriculture and it's economic impact on the community. One of the agricultural businesses they visited was ours!

At our farm, students learned how a sweater is made - from the goat to the garment. They also learned about the trials and joys of starting a farm. The most exciting part of the tour for some was holding the adorable 2-week old goat kids.

Beth Bohnert, owner of Mountain Hollow Farm, explained that they are developing an agritourism business, therefore the farm has multiple aspects to it. They raise cashmere goats; offer farm tours, birthday parties, and knitting, crochet, and spinning lessons; and they have a store on the farm that sells yarn, fine handcrafts, loose leaf tea, goat's milk soap, and gourmet food mixes.

The 3 paragraphs above were part of a press release I just sent to the local newpapers. What I did not include in it was that I love giving tours of the farm and this group was fabulous!

Leadership Claiborne class members try their hand
at harvesting cashmere during the “Goat to Garment”
presentation at Mountain Hollow Farm.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Peek and a Glimpse

It's been raining all day and I've done a great job of procrastinating from what I should be doing, which is preparing our tax info for our accountant. I've reviewed my Bible study, washed dishes, looked up cool knitting and crochet patterns on the internet, checked email and Facebook, and a myriad of other little things.

So to further procrastinate (I really hate doing tax stuff!), I am going to give you a peek at our living room and a glimpse into my yarn addiction...

So, how many knitting bags do you see? I'll give you a hint... there's 6. The green one on the ottoman is my purse. Why do I have so many knitting bags? Well... 3 contain afghans that are in progress, one contains a crochet sweater that is almost finished, the paper bag is full of yarn I bought last weekend (yes, I occaisionally shop at other yarn stores!), and one is for small projects that I take with me when I go places that I might have time to knit or crochet.
The adorable cat on the ottoman is Kitty. She's a wonderful lap cat and has learned to respect the yarn!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Upcoming Knitting & Crochet Classes

We've just scheduled knitting & crochet classes for February and March. We'll be offering beginner classes as well as classes on knitting cables, knitting hats, and crocheting hats. And don't forget about Stitch & Spin and Block of the Month Club - both are FREE, except for the materials you need. Click here for more information. We'd love to have you join us!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Just Call Me "Doctor"

Yesterday, I performed my first surgery. Two of them, actually - on goats. That's right, I finally took the plunge and wethered (castrated) two goats. Since I had never wethered a goat before, we took the larger goat, Elvis, to the Harrogate Hospital for Animals to do it under the supervision of our vet. I was quite nervous to make the cut, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and the whole procedure went off without a hitch. That gave me the confidence to go home and wether the other goat that needed to be done.

Our son, Ryan was helping. He held the goats still while I did the dirty work. He did a great job, but he couldn't bring himself to watch. It is a clean and simple procedure with almost no blood, but if I were a guy I would probably be squeamish about it too!

When we got home, I gathered the supplies we needed, caught the goat, cut him open, removed the first testicle, went for the second one and it wasn't there. Oh no! It had not descended. Thankfully, I had my cell phone on me so I called the vet. We took him to the vet and she was able to coax the shy one out.

So it was done. I had not even thought to check to make sure they were both "there" before I started. I won't make that mistake again! Moral of the story: measure twice, cut once.

Both goats are recuperating without problems. They bounce right back like nothing ever happened. It makes my wonder why a vasectomy is such a big deal for men...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Not Your Average Snow Day

It's been snowing a lot here in NE TN lately. Personally, I LOVE the snow, but as a store owner - not so much. Business has been terrible lately. However, we are still busy on the farm.

Brett and Ryan are almost done demolishing the wall around our fireplace. We needed to do it because our fireplaces are old and unsafe so we opted to install a wood stove. The installer told us that he would have to place the stove 16" away from the wall because the wall is combustible. Hence the demolition. We didn't want the stove in the middle of the living room.

We now have the wall down and the entire brick fireplace & chimney exposed. The bricks are dirty and the grouting was sloppily done, but it was probably always supposed to be behind a wall. That's OK for now - our house is an old farmhouse and a fixer upper, so it kind of "fits". We can always reface it later.

I wish I could post pictures but I lost the USB cords to both my cameras. So until I find one of them, this blog will be photo-less. :(

I have been tending a sick goat. She is 8 months old and I found her when I got home yesterday laying in the pasture, nearly dead. Her temperature was below 92* (that's the lowest temp my thermometer will register). The normal temp for a goat is 101* - 104*.

We brought her into the kitchen, called the vet, stationed 2 space heaters next to her, put warm towels over her and heated up 2 rice packs to help warm her up. I treated her with an antibiotic and pain killer. The prognosis was not good. The vet said that it is very possible that her organs began to shut down because of her extremely low body temperature and that she would probably die within 24 hours.

I was delighted that she survived through the night and now she is holding her head up, drinking, eating, and pooping. She still can't stand up on her own though, so we are not out of the woods yet.

Our oldest son, Andrew, spent the morning setting up a Facebook page for our farm. There is a link to it on the right sidebar of this blog. Click on it if you'd like to be kept up-to-date on our farm activities and store specials.

This evening we are having steaks on the grill for supper. I love having a roof over our deck so we can grill in any weather. I think it will be a well-deserved treat for a hard day of work!

So, tell me, what's the most interesting snow day you've ever had?