Hog or Honeybee?

On Saturday the Lord blessed us with a much needed warm, sunny day. After much of the rain that we have received, contributing to very wet conditions on our farm, the ground has been saturated. Our pond is as full as it’s ever been, nearly overflowing from capacity. In light of the recent events in our world, our minds are overflowing with capacity as well, and most likely with information that is not valuable and is fueling the fires of fear and doubts.

In one section of our property that is comprised of the “three-acre wood”, we have the area segregated into three main pens, one for the dogs, one for the sow hog and her recently born piglets, and another area for a couple of our older goats and the boar hog. Each one of these groups of animals is enclosed in a large perimeter fence around the whole area and their smaller areas are divided by an electric fence that they have a healthy respect for. Prior to the installation of the electric fence and the recent birth of the new piglets, they were all allowed to roam the woods through the winter. One of the side effects of their roaming, along with all of the moisture from the weather, has created an area that is muddy and undesirable.

In one section we had accumulated a pile of old worthless boards that have been waiting for a day to be burned. With all of the dampness and the nice day at home, Saturday seemed like to the best day for me to get out, set the burn pile on fire, and get some fresh air. Another appropriate opportunity afforded itself: I will use all of the junk mail I’ve been accumulating to start the fire, a win-win! So, I put on my boots, took the junk mail and matches with me and set the pile on fire.

As the fire was burning, I couldn’t help but notice the fact that a significant portion of the swampy part of our woods seemed to resemble a scene of devastation, especially the areas where the dogs and hogs had been digging. A wet winter, lots of mud, two large hogs and two Great Pyrenees dogs can make for quite a messy area. I took some time to check in on the mother hog, finding her in the nest she had created laying on her side allowing the new arrivals to eat to their heart’s content. As they wriggled and fought for their access to fresh milk, they clamored over each other, fighting and squealing for more. Some of them would fall asleep with the milk source still in their mouth, only to be awakened by one of their siblings nearby jostling them, at which time they would squeal and begin sucking again.


A little later in the day, on the other side of the farm, I took the time to walk around the yard a bit as I continued my rehabilitation of fresh air and sunshine. Birds were everywhere busy as ever. All of our fruit trees were happily emerging with leaves and blooms and our entire yard was white with flowers which I normally call weeds, though I was glad to see them. As I wandered across the yard, I couldn’t help but notice the whirring sounds of the honeybees. As I heard them buzzing, I took the time to stoop down and watch several of them taking nectar from flowers. One by one they continued to work, continually gathering and industrious.

After my stroll through the yard I took a walk to the pond and sat down on the pond bank to drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the view from the water’s edge. As I sat down, I carefully chose a spot to ensure that I would not sit on an anthill. Our property is also “blessed” with an overzealous ant population, so being mindful of that as you roam about or sit on the ground is much to your advantage. Sure enough, I saw many an anthill, very busy with their work on a beautiful spring day.

So, what did I learn from my journey through the farm?

  1. Hogs are destructive.

While the hogs are acting on their God-given instincts to root the ground, if they are confined in a small area, they will destroy the very space they are in. Like most farm animals though, when you rattle the bucket of feed, they all come running. In fact, a goat can be standing in the middle of one of their favorite foods, honeysuckle, and if you show yourself with some feed, they will abandon the food they love for a morsel of man-made “food”. They only think with their belly.

This is what we are seeing in America and our world today, people consuming everything in sight to please themselves.

Additionally, everyone is sitting around in the muck and muddy mess of the news media, Facebook, text messages and the like, sucking into their brains what the “farmer” is feeding them, unaware that their brain is getting soaked down with a load of gunk that is of no value to them.

  1. Honeybees are industrious and busy with their work, producing.

God’s holy word references honey on multiple occasions, but also warns us to only take what we need, for to do otherwise would be detrimental. One thing that bees and ants do, however, goes beyond the ability of the typical farm animal. They store up food for the winter. As they go in their hives and under the ground, they work diligently throughout the year to not only prepare for the immediate time, but also for the future and future generations. They have limited lifespans, so they know that if they do not produce, they will not survive, immediately or into the future generation.

As we go about the days that are immediately in front of us, let us not put our focus on the survival of our bodies. As believers in Jesus Christ we are to live victoriously, shining His light in this dark world. At times that will mean opening the door and stepping outside. Someone must do the work of gathering the pollen and bringing it into the storehouse. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, that someone must be you. Practically, yes, we must get to work and stay at it. Spiritually, we must continue on our knees in prayer. We must continue meditating on God’s holy word. And then we must get up and go, go to a world that is dying, not from a virus and their immediate death, but from the virus of sin that the only cure for is Jesus Christ.

Are you weeping and fearful for those dying in the world because of the loss of life and the fear of yours, or because of the loss of their soul?

Written by David Steen, Almost Home Farm

Posted in Animals, Church, Faith, God, Spring | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Small Child

Several years ago our family began attending a newly established congregation of local believers, which was a big step for our growing family to move out of our comfort zone into a new place.  All of our younger children had been at our previous church home for all of their lives, so this was a big deal.  But God always blesses obedience, and He sure did this time as well.

Spring and summer come and go each year, then fall arrives followed by the cold of winter.  Much like the weather, God also sends us through seasons of life, changes which bring different types of “weather” our way.  While days of weather can challenge our moods and emotions, so can the different journeys God takes us on.  Storms come and go, and the sun rises and falls, bringing new opportunities each day to serve Him in His glory.

Our little church grew immensely after our arrival, not because of anything we did mind you, but because of what God did through us and others.  We were introduced to many new members of God’s family, experienced many lives changed, and made many new friendships.  As we celebrated the birth of our Savior each year, one of the songs our family fell in love with at our church during the Christmas season was “One Small Child”, now one of our favorites.

Our blessed little church saw many folks come and go, and as time went on, many in our congregation moved on to other places where God directed them.  As summer came to a close this year, the remainder of our church family determined that it was time to move on to other opportunities, other “seasons” to serve Him.  The doors closed.

While finalizing some of the details at our church on a hot August day, I walked into one of the small classrooms and happened upon a little manger scene, all intact and assembled nicely across the top of a lonely shelf.  Nothing else was there, just our Savior, surrounded by those in awe of His grand arrival.  I suspect one of the children in our congregation (perhaps even one of mine!) had taken the time to make sure this small band of Jesus followers was properly assembled together.  I’m glad they did.


This simple yet grand event that happened so very long ago is a simple reminder that Jesus is bigger than whatever you are facing today, bigger than the strife you may have with others, and He is able to bring healing and safety, and ultimately lead us into eternity if we would only trust Him.

As you go through this Christmas season, give the gift of kindness.  Forgive someone.  Lend a hand where it’s needed.  More than anything else, remind everyone as you go that Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  It’s His birthday.  Celebrate it!

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:11

Written by David Steen, with God Smiling, November 30, 2014.

Posted in Birthdays, Christmas, Church, Faith, Family, God, Holidays, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

In Awe of His World

Wet Leaf 1God’s world is very big, but He works at a very detailed level in all of the things that are around us.  His complexity is amazing if you pause to ponder, stop to study.  Don’t blink, you might miss it.

The rain has been drizzling down on us the past few days, sometimes even by the bucketful.  Is it not funny how we attempt to describe God’s activities in human terms like “bucketful”?  We compare the brilliance in the sky of a vast sunset as something God has “painted for us”, as if He were sitting on a stool with an easel, paintbrush in hand.  Our feeble minds can’t conceive the manner in which He could place or scatter things all around us any way He wishes.

Wet Leaf 3He decorated our leaves yesterday.  I reckon He’s probably done it lots of times and I’ve just not been paying attention.  Like many of the little things in life such as a child’s hug, a nice gesture from a friend, an unexpected card in the mail or a cool breeze on a hot day.

Oh, yes, back to the leaf decorating.  Hundreds of droplets of water, like pearls elegantly arrayed on a wedding gown.  All shapes and sizes, placed there by the Creator of Creation, thought out in vivid detail long before my arrival on the earth.  How many times has He decorated a leaf, just waiting to add it to the bouquet perfectly displayed for us across the whole tree, against the backdrop of an entire forest.  Yet we don’t stop to notice.

He is good.  In fact, one of the miracles He continues to accomplish, just when you least expect it, is the transformed life of a lost sinner.

Wet Leaf 2The extravagant beauty He displays on these watermarked leaves is much the same as the extravagant grace displayed in a changed heart for Him.  Fresh, new and vibrantly alive.

I’m glad He came in and changed mine.

Written by David Steen, with God smiling, October 13, 2014.

(Artwork provided by God, pictures taken by me)

Posted in Faith, Fall, Gardening, God, Outdoors, Plants, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sunday Morning Buffaloes

Ever experience that magical event that occurs when you place a yard sale sign in front of your house?  The sign seems to act like a homing beacon of sorts, emitting some kind of bargain hunter attractant and suddenly, ten cars appear out of nowhere.  Pouring out of the vehicles emerge gangs of folks ready to give you next-to-nothing for everything you have on display.

Another similar “alarm” that goes off in our house is when I turn on the shower in the master bathroom on Sunday mornings as we get ready for church.  For some reason the squeak of that knob turning in the shower causes children to begin congregating just outside of where I am trying to maintain some level of privacy (and decency!).  The mirror in our bathroom seems to be the only place in the house that can be utilized for the brushing and combing of hair and doing all manner of preparations for departing the premises.  As the water trickles down my backside thoughts begin going through my head such as, “Didn’t we build this house with multiple bathrooms for a reason?”  Soon the completion of my brief bathing experience necessitates the herding of children away in order to protect their innocence as well as provide me the remainder of my privacy.

Shortly I emerge with partial clothing on and make my way to the sink to finish the job I’d started of making myself presentable to the outside world.  Word gets out that Daddy is out of the shower and the gathering of souls resumes as some of the little people make their way back to the family reunion.  I then begin the wonderful process of shaving, a ritual that I strongly dislike.  I smear on some shaving cream and get down to business.  As I hurriedly remove whiskers as fast as possible so as not to be late for church, Olivia curiously observes as usual.  Watching intently, she said, “Daddy, when you do that it makes you smell like Daddy.”  That seemed to make perfect sense to me.

Gathering socks and shoes to complete my wardrobe I had to say excuse me to the crowd a time or two more prior to departing the preparation room.  With my smooth face and completed outfit intact I began assisting my lovely wife in going down the checklist regarding those gathered around to make sure that all hairs were in place and loins properly girded.  As the official time checker I began the routine of notifying everyone regarding how many minutes remained until departure.  Soon we all made our way down the stairs and loaded up the van, ready to be happily on our way down the road.

On that particular Sunday, as we were scurrying along on our way to church I made my way down our usual route.  Taking a left turn off of the main highway onto the small county road that we travel down, Holly blurted out, “Daddy, did you see that buffalo squashed on the side of the road?”  That brought a moment of concern to my mind as to whether I was going blind and missed a giant beast on the side of the road, or whether Holly knew what she was talking about, so I replied back to her with my usual, “Huh?”

Holly then replied, “Yeah, there was a buffalo on the side of the road squashed, you know, one of those things that has the shell on it.”

The lights came on for me as I connected the dots and pictured Holly’s buffalo in my mind, the usual armadillo that is seen frequently, feet upward, as we travel about in the summer along the rural roads of Arkansas.  I said, “Oh, you mean an armadillo?” to which she replied, “Yeah, that’s it!”  Laughter ensued.


Armadillo, buffalo, what’s the difference?  It’s easy to get lost in the translation.

Written by David Steen, with God smiling, summer of 2013.

Posted in Animals, Children, Church, Critters, Family, Road Trip, Summer, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cake for Dinner

Birthday CakeAhh.  Nothing like the smooth taste of a piece of white birthday cake smothered with a heaping helping of butter cream icing.  As it passes through my cake-hole, leaving a film of grease along my palate, a couple of swigs of hot black coffee clears the way quite nicely…for another bite.

As the day came to a close and the dust settled on another birthday celebration, the kids seemed quite disinterested in having dinner.  Their bellies were full of cake, ice cream, strawberry soda, M&Ms, and no telling what else.  I’m not really sure why I was thinking of dinner either, given all the junk that has passed through my gullet today, but when my belly clock agrees with the wall clock, it surely must be dinner time.  I asked my better half if we should just have cake for dinner, and she seemed to be in agreement.

Maybe I really should have just had cake for dinner!  It may have been less detrimental on my long term health than the ham, turkey, and double cheese sandwich I ate, topped with a generous portion of mayo, followed by the aforementioned piece of birthday cake, my second of the day.  I’m a mess, but my stomach sure feels full now.

We attempted to trick the kids tonight, but not sure how that’s gonna pan out.  That wonderful time of year has arrived when we get to “spring forward”, as they say.  Katrina and I agreed earlier in the evening that we should just go ahead and set the clocks forward, and then just go to bed extra early.  The kids seem to be going along with it so far.  Does that mean we don’t lose an hour of sleep, or that we just get to lay there wide awake for an hour longer?  Well, I don’t know about everyone else in the house, but I’m feeling a butter cream coma coming on, so I should snooze quite nicely.  I think this time change business is for the birds, but since my eyelids are getting heavy and it’s technically only around 8:30, I’ll….have…….to……..finish..(yawn)….this in………the morning!

It’s morning.  After a wild night of storms which delivered a generous portion of thunder, lightning and rain, the sun somehow knew how to come across the horizon.  Although shielded by thick cloud cover, the light of day certainly did arrive.  It didn’t care what the clocks said.  It just came as God ordered it.

“The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose.”  Ecclesiastes 1:5

The trickery of this time change madness has cast a spell of sorts on the five little people of the house.  I’ll have to prod them along soon enough to let them know that their body clock does not seem to be in agreement with the one on the wall.  While they may not really appreciate it this morning, I’m sure they’ll be tickled tonight when they have an additional hour to roam around the hillside.

Time to get ready for church!

“Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing.”  Psalm 100:2

Written by David Steen, with God smiling, March 9-10, 2013

Posted in Birthdays, Children, Coffee, Faith, Family, Food, God, Spring, Time, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Roaring Tormato

Front Porch Wind Chime

Our Audible & Visual Wind Indicator

Our home is affixed on a hill.  Stonebridge Hill to be precise.  In the many years that we have made our dwelling here, we have gotten quite accustomed to some certain things associated with our property, not the least of which is how the weather comes and goes across the hill.

Last evening we sat down to our feast of Mexican turkey.  My lovely bride and I were excited.  Others were not.  Usually this blessed concoction consists of a mixture of chicken, broth, tortilla chips, cream of chicken soup, and diced tomatoes with green chilies, topped with a generous layer of shredded cheddar cheese.  Leftover gobbler from our Sunday meal stood in as a substitute for the prescribed poultry.

When “It’s ready!” was proclaimed by the queen, it was music to my ears and I abandoned my bill paying and rushed downstairs to be the first in line at the trough.  The little people trickled in slowly from the outer reaches of the property, punishing me for arriving too early and having to prolong my anticipation to dig in.  As Olivia and I sat on our perches at the table, awaiting the arrival of the others, we admired the roar of the wind as it rushed up our driveway.  As it made its way through the trees and around the red brick corners of the house, it moaned “oooooohh, OOOOOHHHH, OOOOOOOOHHHH!” as it blew around the corners and crevices.

I turned over to Olivia at my left and did my best verbal impression of the wind a couple of times, pointing out to her the sound and power of it.  Her eyes were wild with the same excitement and fascination that I was feeling.  She looked at me with all the seriousness she could muster and proclaimed, “Yeah, it sounds like a tormato!”  Laughter ensued from me and the rest of the small crowd that had gathered.

I can’t help but wonder if that is what it felt like to Elijah when he hid in that “cleft of the rock” as the Glory of the Lord passed over in 1 Kings chapter 19?

“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”

When the windy storms pass over our house it’s rather exciting to stand on the second floor and gaze out the window in amazement as the tall slender trees whip back and forth like blades of grass in a summer breeze.  God’s magnificence is much the same way but a hundredfold more.  Yet, as exciting as those moments are, I covet those times in which God isn’t like a roaring mighty wind at all, but a whispering still small voice that causes my heart to quiver and draws my soul to Him.

I long for more of those days.

Written by David Steen, with God smiling, February 19-20, 2013

Posted in Children, Faith, Family, Food, God, Weather, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Grandpa Santa

Silence is golden.  I’m thankful that Katrina added water to our large fish aquarium in the living room last night before going to bed.  Yesterday the sound was atrocious, as if I were on a white water rafting trip while trying to concentrate on my reading.  Perhaps at times it is nice to hear that sound, but when I am basking in the golden glow of solitude it is less than desirable.

Snowy Hillside Dec 26 2012On the other hand, the wind chime outside is delightful.  As I look out the French doors and see the remaining leaves on the trees waving in the cool breeze, the melodic sounds of the wind chime provide secondary evidence of the blustery winter outside.  A few large oak branches display what is left of the white Christmas God blessed us with, which has still not completely melted away.  Yes, winter came with the vengeance this week.  Perhaps the Mayan calendar got it wrong predicting the end of the world last week, but our calendar on the wall was quite right when it predicted the first day of winter.  It’s here.

What is the matter with me?  Now that we have gotten near the end of this never-ending feasting binge, my body is asking me what I am doing to it.  My head has been pounding, which I attribute a great deal to my sinuses.  My stomach has not known the feeling of emptiness for quite some time.  I suppose I am suffering from junk food overload.

Yes, Christmas is over and done with again, at least the main part of the gluttony, gathering and gift-giving.  The aftermath has still not been dealt with, such as collecting all of the decorations and packing them away.  I’m not sure what we taught the kids about not getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of it all again this year, but we certainly tried to tone it down a bit from previous years.

We came to the conclusion last year that we would no longer participate in the Santa lie.  There, I said it.  Yes, it’s just a big hoax.  Having intellectual children who continue to age and challenge why we do things the way we do was no small contributor to that.  Not to mention that we have gone to great lengths to teach them the real meaning of Christmas, which is about the birth of our savior, The Lord Jesus Christ.  However, our youngest is still trying to put it all together in her wee mind.  Then again, maybe I still am, too.

Olivia and Santa 2012On the Sunday before Christmas we spent the day with my family, enjoying the fellowship, gift-giving and feasting there.  The moment we arrived we were greeted by Santa (Grandpa), and Mrs. Claus (Grandma).  Santa was sitting in his chair, and Mrs. Claus had her camera in hand, ready for everyone to line up for photos.  The most excited of them all was our little Olivia.  She was all aglow with excitement and wonder, ready to see what Santa had in store for her.  One had to wonder what was going through her mind as she sat on the lap of Santa and Grandpa all at the same time, listening to his cheery voice and seeing his real, very white, winter beard.

After everyone had their turn with Santa (even some of the reluctant big kids), we turned to unwrapping scores of presents, and then the feasting began full swing, although most of Olivia Santa Hat 2012us had already been grazing like cows in the trough.  One plate after another we gobbled up a plethora of sweets and junk food until we settled into an afternoon slumber, asking ourselves “what have I done to myself?”  After we had all but given up on the food, Olivia and Grandpa began what seemed like a contest of who could do the best Santa impression.  Olivia donned a Santa cap and began doing her best rendition of “Ho, Ho, Ho”, and as everyone looked on with laughter, it seemed to fuel her energy to do it more and more, with Grandpa throwing in his version every once in a while.

The excitement eventually died down as it neared time to return home, and the kids were given the orders to get more to eat if they wanted it, because as I always say, “You better eat now.  This is dinner and we’re not eating when we get home!”  They seem to always comply, which they did, and hugs and thanks were exchanged and we were on our way.

On Christmas Eve morning we woke up and began preparing for our second day of celebration with Katrina’s family.  With no reduced amount of excitement the kids were all ready to make the short trek to Nana’s house to fill their stomachs with all manner of goodies once again, not to mention open a present or two there as well.  After a full afternoon of feasting and fun with Nana and Papa, we finally arrived home to settle in for our own Christmas.

It was quite nice to sit down at home on Christmas Eve and know that most everything was in place, including our donuts that the kids and I had traveled to the bakery to retrieve that morning.  The chocolate milk was on hand in the fridge, right next to the turkey thawing for the Christmas day feast.  What more could you ask for?  A fire.

As everyone else was pillaging through things they had gotten from all of their grandparents, I began stirring through the ashes in the fireplace to get a warm fire blazing.  I went through my usual routine, rolling up old newspapers, adding the kindling, and then adding a stick or two of small pieces of wood.  With the perfect combination of combustible materials, I struck the match and stepped back.

One problem.  We noticed that the living room began filling with smoke.  As the fire caught on rather quickly, I had but a moment to figure out what the problem was.  I’m kinda lazy when it comes to closing the flue once we build our first fire of the season (which we already had), so I didn’t think that could be the problem.  Nonetheless, I reached up quickly and gave it a yank, and to my surprise, it had been closed.  “Hmm, that’s odd”, I said to myself, as the smoke began charting its course up the chimney.

I quickly got the ceiling fans running at a low roar to evacuate the smoke, and then began asking who closed the flue.  I knew that most of the kids probably didn’t even know there was one, but being the one to always want to get to the bottom of things, I asked around and got no immediate answers.

After giving up on the “Whodunit” game, I sat down in front of my blazing creation and enjoyed its magnificent warmth.  Soon, Olivia came and sat down beside me, happy to have the fire as well.  After sitting there for a moment, she leaned over to me and said in her little quiet voice, “I closed it, Daddy.  I was scared that Grandpa would come down the chimney and get burned by the fire.”

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Written by David Steen, with God smiling, December 29, 2012

Posted in Children, Christmas, Faith, Family, Food, God, Holidays, Parenting, Weather, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Buried Treasure

Boys like to dig.  I suppose I did my share of it when I was once one, and have done plenty since, but there is just something inside of most boys that make them want to dig in the dirt.  Grandpas are no exception.

The notion of buried treasure comes to mind.  Something inside of us wants to strike it rich.  When you get right down to it, good old fashioned greed is probably the culprit.  Just ask those poor saps who fling a dollar down at the quick-pick occasionally to buy a lottery ticket and you’ll hear the same notion—the idea of something for nothing.

A few weeks ago my dad and I, along with my nephew and my two youngest boys, set out to find our buried treasure.  Now I’ve spent most of my life hearing tales of those who have been to the only diamond-producing site in the world that is open to the public, but I’ve never actually been there.  The Crater of Diamonds State Park, located in Murfreesboro, Arkansas, a couple of hours from home, was our destination.  We had digging on the brain, and figured our boys did, too.

On a warm Sunday afternoon, we joined up, loaded our treasure hunting tools, and set out to find some diamonds.  We didn’t particularly want to spend all of our time driving there and back in the same day, so we had planned in advance to drive down the day before our expedition, stay in a hotel, and hit the ground running early the next day.  Maybe if we got there early we would beat the crowd to “the big one”!

After leaving the river valley and enjoying a leisurely drive through the Ouachita Mountains, we arrived in diamond country, checked into our hotel, and focused our mind on one thing, eating.  We had predetermined that pizza was the food of choice, and with all of us famished we invaded the local Pizza Hut.  Soon our starving appetites were being fed with loads of cheese, meat, and dough, and it wasn’t long before we had certainly had our fill, and then some.

Arriving back at the hotel, the boys, who had probably not overindulged as much as Dad and I had, were giddy and anxious to hop in the indoor pool.  I think Dad and I would have probably been content to lay on the bed in our grease-overdosed misery, but we went along for the ride.  We all suited up and headed for a swim, which the boys enjoyed thoroughly.

With bellies full of pizza and worn out from our swim, we all settled into the room with visions of diamonds on the brain.  When we asked the boys what they would do if they found a diamond, they all insisted that they would keep it.  I have to confess that my greedy mind was contriving a picture of me sitting across from a jeweler in a nice suit, watching him count out stacks of money as I cashed in my large gem.

On Monday morning, bright and early, we gathered up the boys and our overnight gear, loaded up on breakfast (as if we needed it), and headed down the road.  As we drove toward diamond country we passed through the thriving metropolis of Hollywood, Arkansas.  While it was not exactly overflowing with the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood that most think of, it seemed ironic that we would be passing through Hollywood on our road to riches.

Arriving at the Crater of Diamonds state park, we were amazed at the crowd of prospectors that had beaten us to the scene.  Although we had anticipated warmer weather, there was a bit of a nip in the air that sunny morning, along with a steady breeze.  We all gathered a load of buckets and shovels and walked up the hill to the entrance of the “mine”.  Greeted by a friendly staff in a very nice visitor’s center, we looked at the diamonds they had on display and got a good picture in our mind of what we were looking for.

Down the hill from the visitor’s center was another building where a park attendant was giving a history lesson about the volcano that had blown up there 95 million years ago, which is what created the scattering of diamonds throughout the park.  I wanted to interject to let her know that that was impossible, because according to biblical history, the earth had only been here for about 6,000 years, but I held my tongue.  She did a grand illustration of how to use a set of screens to dry sift for diamonds, as well as how to sift them through water to really get to the good stuff.

With shovels, buckets, and a set of screens we rented from the park, the five of us headed to the diamond pit—a 37 ½ acre field that looked as though it had been lacking of corn seed for quite some time.  With plenty of dirt to dig in, we laid claim to a spot and commenced to excavating.  We dug and sifted, sifted and dug.  Somehow, we didn’t hear any loud shrieks of “eureka!” but we kept on digging.  Not long into our digging venture our five prospector team had diminished to two—me and Dad.  The boys had become disinterested in diamonds and soon began wandering up and down the rows of dirt seeking other forms of entertainment.

A few hours into our adventure we had found nothing beyond of a bucket full of fine gravel.  The lady had told us during the training session that this gravel was likely the source of a good diamond, especially if sifted through water.  So we set out to wash our gravel and find the big one that way.  A huge station of sifting troughs were set up near the field, and we stood shoulder to shoulder with some other folks, sifting gravel in cold water as a stiff breeze blew.  The cold water and breeze heightened our desire to get done and get out of there.

A trained specialist was ready to review our potential finds as we exited the park.  We had our doubts regarding the specimens we had picked out, but we had them checked nonetheless.  The lady confirmed what we had suspected—we had found nothing more than a few bits of worthless rock.

Cold and hungry, we left the park around lunchtime as hoards of other visitors/prospectors headed for the dirt pit.  They had not yet discovered the joy of digging as we had, but they surely had a good afternoon that was starting to warm up for them.  Our team, on the other hand, was ready to get out of there.  With souvenirs in hand that Grandpa had purchased for the boys inside the visitor’s center, they were quite happy.  We grabbed a snack in the van and then headed down the road homeward.

Not long into our journey home we found a local greasy spoon and had some lunch to top off the snack we had already eaten.  With our appetites for food, as well as digging for treasure, satisfied, we headed back north toward home.  Our journey had not produced a grand treasure, but the real gem of our trip was the time that we got to spend just hanging out together.

Written by David Steen, with God smiling, April 16, 2011

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Outdoors, Road Trip, Swimming, Travel, Vacation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blowleafers and Snooternoodles

Some folks sure make a big fuss over aliens.  I’m not talking about the illegal kind that are hopping fences or digging tunnels under the border.  I’m referring to the ones in flying saucers, the ones with the big heads who look for those crop circles that “mysteriously” appear in fields, some kind of signal that says “Land your spaceship here”.  Sorry I’m not buying it.  It’s utter nonsense.

On the other hand, I reckon if there were such creatures out there, they might find some similar markings in our hillside.  Now these markings would not be from any crop circle up here on our hillside.  We couldn’t get a healthy stand of crops or grass to grow on this hillside if our life depended on it, unless we would happen to chop all of our trees down.  We love our hundreds of trees and the shade they provide us, so we haven’t sacrificed them for the sake of any grass yet.

The leaves are the problem.  These hundreds of trees produce piles and piles of leaves, thousands of them.  Those dandy green hanger-ons waving on every tree in the spring and summer around here eventually crumple up and turn brown, turning our forest floor into a crunchy carpet.  Because we have so very many leaves, I usually start raking them in the fall, work through the winter, and about the time Easter rolls around each year I somehow get them to a manageable level.

The method is simple—burn them.  I’m still waiting for one of those geniuses to come up with an effective way to use all of these leaves for fuel to keep me warm in the winter and to keep the lights on.  Since I’ve not seen anyone come up with that yet, I reckon we’ll just keep ridding ourselves of them the old fashioned way by burning them.

The burning is what causes the temporary scars all around our hillside.  I have several locations that are somewhat cleared out in the trees that enables me to burn the leaves.  While I still have to carry loads of leaves a short distance, I generally try to burn them as close as possible to the area from which I am raking them.  These multiple burn piles cause the markings on our hillside and keep me from having to cart the leaves all over creation.  If the aliens come, they will see these large ashen circles from above spotting the landscape.

With yesterday being a beautiful spring Saturday morning, I got out of bed before the crack of dawn and commenced to taking care of our overpopulation of leaves.  I raked and hauled and hauled and raked using my typical method of filling an old plastic trashcan and hauling them to the burn pile.  I had been at this for some time when the little people inside the house began coming out of the woodwork, excited that Daddy had a blazing fire going strong outside.  I almost always get the parent of the day award for being the one who strikes a match under any ‘ole pile of leaves and sticks.  I guess that’s comparable to the times that Mommy gets the award when she’s in the kitchen making cookies or a cake.

After being at it for several hours and starting to feel cramps in my arms from raking, the kids were faithfully staying by my side, especially Olivia and Joshua.  Joshua has a real love for wanting to constantly throw stuff into the fire, so I really have to watch out for him.  Olivia does not seem so brave around the fire, which is really a good thing, but she wants to just stand around where I’m working and talk my ears off.

After I had already been working at it for more than half the day I was nearing an area in which my leaf blower would really come in handy.  I went to the garage and fetched it, and after a little bit of struggle I managed to get it fired up and roaring.  I used it to blow off our driveway and the steps leading up to the backyard, which are quite a challenge to clean out without the leafblower.

As I came to a stopping place on a portion of leaves that I was blowing, I shut off the leafblower when I saw Olivia approaching.  She was as happy as she could be seeing that I had shut the loud beast off, knowing that she could get back to talking.  She did.

Olivia looked at me so very intently and said, “Daddy, you got your blowleafer?”  Amused, I let her know that yes, I had been using my leafblower.  Olivia’s “miscommunication” reminded me of a time when some of our other “little people” have either had an inability to pronounce what they were trying to say, or just got it plain backwards.  The following happened a couple of years ago when Joshua was a little older than Olivia is now:

Katrina and the kids had made cookies one night, and the next day our oldest daughter Reagan was home spending the day with us.  After lunch, in their usual fashion, the kids wanted dessert.  Reagan had not been involved in the baking the night before, so she was unaware of the homemade cookies.  Joshua, in his most sincere voice, looked at Reagan and asked, “Reagan, do you want some snooternoodles?”  Reagan and I both looked at each other like he was crazy, and then finally figured it out.  They had made snickerdoodles.

Over the past several months, as Olivia has worked on her speaking skills, I’ve had to sometimes rely on the translator, Mommy, or even one of the other younger natives of our clan.  Many times I have looked Olivia in the eye and asked her, “Do you speak English?”  That usually gets a giggly response from others around.

Someday, when the aliens identify our ash pits from the sky and land here, we may have to send Olivia or Joshua out to speak with them first.  These aliens may encounter some variation in the English spoken around here and may be able to better relate to the kids than me.  I can even picture the kids bringing them in to the kitchen and offering them something to drink from the fridgalator.  Now that I think about it, I reckon my Southern drawl could also count as an additional language as well.  Perhaps we are more bilingual than I thought.

Written by David Steen, with God smiling, March 13, 2011

Posted in Children, Outdoors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Farewell to Soapy

Most of our Sunday had come and gone.  It was a leisurely one for a change, the way God intended it, our day of rest.  We had attended church that morning, come home and had a simple lunch, and then retreated to different parts of the house to rest.  Joshua, our two year old son, and Holly, our three year old daughter, were taking their naps.  Hannah and Bradley were watching an old Shirley Temple movie, Heidi, that I had checked out from the library.  I took advantage of this calm time and settled in for an afternoon nap, which was rare for me.  I knew that I should get some rest, as we were on the verge of having our ninth child, Olivia, at any moment.

A couple of hours passed, and I woke up and strolled down the stairs to make some late afternoon coffee.  The kids were still asleep and in TV land, and Katrina had retreated to the hot tub.  It had been unseasonably warm all weekend, especially for the second day of March, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  I poured myself a cup of coffee and went out on the porch, taking in the view overlooking the valley.  I was in my happy place without a care in the world.

A scream of terror penetrated our exterior walls and entered my ear canal as I finished my cup of coffee.  I sauntered through the front door to see what the noise was all about, but I was too late, as Katrina had already made the ultimate sacrifice, left her hot tub, and rescued Joshua.  He had awakened from his nap and somehow locked himself in his room trying to turn the doorknob.  I was thrilled that she was in control of the situation, which gave me the green light to head to the kitchen and pour my usual second cup of coffee.

As the evening rolled on, we cooked hamburgers and hot dogs along with tator tots and fries, and enjoyed our greasy cuisine.  It’s hard to beat a good greasy hamburger with melted cheddar dripping off of it.  I’m getting fatter just remembering it.  After dinner, I went upstairs to the master bedroom, sat down at my desk, and began sifting through some bills and papers that I should have already taken care of earlier in the weekend.

Off in the distance, somewhere else in the house, I could hear Katrina talking on the phone, and the kids screaming and playing.  I was engrossed in planning my week, making to-do lists, and reading mail that needed reading.  It all came to an abrupt stop when they all entered my utopia.

This was one of those moments that they would put in slow motion on TV.  I could see Katrina first, coming through the door to our bedroom, carrying some sort of white fluff under her arm. “What was that?” I wondered to myself.  As she and her four little minions came through the door, I could tell they all had something up their sleeves. Then I saw it move! AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! It was a dog!  This was not just any old dog. I was quickly informed that it was a soft, cuddly, cute dog, and was just the one Katrina and the kids had been wanting, minus the dirty fur. And by the way, we HAD planned on getting a dog this spring, remember? They had backed me into a corner, all five, make that six, of them, counting the dog.  I was done for.

I immediately did what any good father would do.  I got that “we have to get rid of that thing” look on my face, while scrambling for phone numbers of neighbors who may know where this mutt belonged.  After making a phone call to one neighbor, then going door to door to a couple more, we learned that this dog had been lurking all day near our neighbor’s down the street, and that it was her opinion, as well as ours, that this vagrant had probably been dumped off by someone.

The dog appeared to be a Pekingese type of breed, and after quick observation, looked as though she had given birth very recently.  There was no sign of any puppies, though.  This little white dog could, however, have been mistaken for a small milk cow, as a great deal of engorgement was already underway on her underbelly.

Much to my disgust, Katrina and the kids had already taken the intruder to the laundry room and began rounding up things to give her a proper bath.  You would have thought the Super Bowl was going on in our laundry room as the crowd gathered around the utility sink.  Bradley climbed up and stood on the washer for a bird’s eye view.  What a show!

Katrina scrubbed and scrubbed, and the dog, as predicted by me of course, slung water all over the audience.  They didn’t care.  Somewhere along the way I had failed as a parent to teach my kids that dog drippings were disgusting.  Maybe someday they’ll be enlightened like me.  As the bath time drew to a close, I tried my best to stay one step ahead of this indoor car wash.  I arrived with an old towel, just in time to head Bradley off at the pass, as he had already made his way to the bathroom to retrieve one of our good towels.

Katrina dried the dog off, and then went off to find the dog brush we had in the garage while the dog wandered around our dining room floor in search of crumbs.  While I was grateful for the fact that the dog was cleaning the floor, I couldn’t help but cringe at the idea of having a dog running around in the house.  Naturally, I went outside to make arrangements for the dog to sleep outside in the pen we had out back.  It was the least I could do.

When I came back in, Bradley sat in one of our dining room chairs holding the dog as Katrina brushed her thoroughly.  After I heard the words “Isn’t she pretty” from Katrina for the 50th time, they turned her loose on the floor again to contaminate the house.  I just sat there in a daze taking it all in.  I could visualize myself lying in bed at night, suddenly waking up coughing as I was being smothered to death by piles of white dog hair covering my face.

While I was observing the dog, Bradley, and I suppose everyone else, was observing me. Bradley said “Why don’t you pet her, Daddy?  You’re the only one who hasn’t pet her.”  I had no immediate response to this, but soon I bent down to pet the dog, and as she quickly warmed up to me, she decided to roll over and show me her udders.  Fighting off the urge to run and get a bucket, I told the kids that maybe we just needed to milk her since she seemed to have such an abundance of it.  Bradley seemed to think it would be a good idea to gather some milk for our soon to arrive baby, Olivia, but Katrina didn’t go for that.

Bedtime had arrived for the kids and the dog, and while Katrina got the kids ready for bed, I took the dog and a bowl of water out back, glad to have the excitement subside for awhile. After we got everyone in bed, Katrina and I sat down for a breather and a late night snack as we listened to our new little friend yapping in the backyard.  I asked Katrina what we were going to name the dog, and for some reason the name Sophie came to my mind.  Being the wise woman she is, she quickly agreed with me, knowing this would be a way to get me on board with this whole adoption process.

The next day brought a slight reprieve from dogsitting, at least for a little while.  Katrina had to go to her doctor appointment to see if baby Olivia was ready to see the world yet, but came home disappointed.  No changes.

The weatherman had been forecasting a terrible winter storm to arrive later that evening, which was predicted to bring very cold temperatures, snow, and a chance of animals being brought indoors.  When I arrived home that day, thankful that Katrina’s sister had donated some dog food to our cause, I was greeted in our dining room by our daughter Hannah, followed by our little white fluffball, complete with a pink bow in her hair.  Someone was on a campaign to win me over.

Hannah led the dog around the dining room on her leash as she kept saying “Come on, Soapy. Come on, Soapy”.  I gave Katrina the “I know what you’re up to” look, and she just smiled, very pleased with herself that the name Sophie, which I had suggested, took hold so easily when she mentioned it to the kids.

As I surveyed the situation, I said “The dog sure looks clean.” Katrina said, “Yeah, she was soaking wet from being out in the rain and mud all day (where you left her), and besides, it’s supposed to snow tonight.  She’ll freeze to death out there.”  After more observation, I discovered the nice doggy bed that Katrina had made on the porch for Sophie, complete with a warm blanket.  The basket was inside of our giant fold-out play yard, which we had acquired for the kids when they were babies.  What I couldn’t understand was why the dog was in the house, since she had such grand accommodations on our front porch, but I guess my logical brain just can’t figure out such things.  We settled in for the evening, enjoyed our warm fire, and waited for the blizzard to arrive while Sophie barked at us through the French doors. The loud noise that this dog could produce was amazingly more apparent to us since she was within two feet instead of two-hundred.

One of the blessings of being with Katrina during her late pregnancy is getting to hear the incredible sounds of a sawmill next to me in bed, due to the constricted air flow she has from the baby.  The challenge of the past month has been to get to sleep first, because once I’m asleep the noise doesn’t seem to bother me.  The blessing of it is knowing that Katrina does not normally do this, which will mean that things will be back to normal soon.  On this particular night it was a double challenge for me to beat Katrina to sleep and to shut out the sound of the dog yapping below, but I finally managed it.

Around midnight I must have been having the most peaceful sleep, along with everyone else, inside and outside the house, until something woke me up. I leaped out of the bed like a jackrabbit, and when I did, I somehow fell flat on the floor, which inflicted a terrible carpet burn on my left knee. Since I was now awake, I figured I would go downstairs to see how deep the snow was from the impending blizzard.

I walked downstairs as quietly as possible, walked over to the front windows, looked out, but could not make out any snow.  I then walked over to the garage and flipped on the outside garage light in hopes of seeing the snow.  It was coming down very hard, and a considerable ground cover of the white stuff was forming as well.  I was then reminded of what a stupid mistake I had just made when the yapping machine outside got wound up to a high pitch.  I might as well have just walked into the middle of the house and cranked up the leaf blower.  I quickly turned off the light and went upstairs and back to bed, dozing off quickly as if nothing had happened.

My alarm went off promptly at 4:30, and I trudged downstairs to begin my day.  I got my coffee started, and as I headed across the dining room to go upstairs for my shower I heard the sound of scratching on the garage door. I had no idea how the dog had magically transported itself from the porch to the garage, but I didn’t care yet as I was not fully awake.

After completing my wake-up shower and getting dressed, I came downstairs to the sound of Sophie barking, and barking, and barking.  I poured my cup of coffee, set it on the countertop, and then headed out to the garage to show Sophie that my voice had some volume as well.  It worked for a moment, but she indicated quickly that another dose of my yelling was needed, for which I was happy to comply.  After this dose the barking subsided, and I went back into the house, wondering how she had gotten in the garage.  I guess Katrina had gotten up in the night, felt sorry for her because of the cold outside, and took her in the garage.

As I settled into my first cup of coffee and my daily Bible reading, I was pleased with myself that Sophie and I had come to an understanding, so it seemed, that she would be quiet.  The house was tranquil for a little while, but as I went about my business completing my morning routine, the thought occurred to me that not only was the dog in the garage, but that my car was too.  I would have to somehow manage to get my car out of the garage while keeping the dog in.

I finished gathering my things for work, and in my usual fashion, made two trips to the car.  I had this routine to near perfection by now, knowing that I couldn’t juggle my cup of coffee and my other things at the same time without spilling my coffee.  I went into the garage and somehow managed to keep Sophie from coming inside, and then opened the garage door.  It was snowing pretty hard, and I was glad to see that Sophie wasn’t wanting any part of that.  I put my laptop and lunch in the passenger seat and then went back to retrieve my coffee and bagel.

Upon returning to the garage, I managed to step in a nice fresh pile of Sophie poop, just as I looked up to see her in the driver’s seat of my car, as if she had done this lots of times.  Once was enough for me, and I quickly removed her from inside the car.  After putting my coffee and breakfast in my clean car, freshly soiled by paw prints, Sophie and I went outside to have a chat while I scraped poop off of my shoe.  After we got finished with our one-sided conversation in the snow, I got in the car, backed out of the garage, and headed to work.  When I saw Sophie staying in the garage as the door went down it gave me flashbacks of our last dog, a beagle named Buddy.  When the garage would open, Buddy would bound out the door like a runaway train, happy to be exposed to the freedom.  I drowsily drove off to work with the excitement of Sophie in my rear view mirror.

Katrina and the kids got up a little later, and the kids quickly took up with Sophie where they had left off the night before.  Katrina had to clean her up a little to let her in the house for a few moments, and then she put the dog back out on the porch for the rest of the morning.  Apparently Sophie did not understand this arrangement, because she continued to bark incessantly all morning.

Shortly after lunch a couple of neighbor girls came to the front door, as school was out because of the snow storm, and asked if anyone had seen a little white dog.  At last, Sophie’s owners had come to claim her, and rescue us from anymore turmoil.  One of the girls quickly identified her dog, whose name was actually Tabby.

Katrina carried her to the girl, removed the hair bow and collar, and proceeded to let the kids tell her goodbye.  The kids didn’t seem too interested in bidding her farewell, but were a little more encouraged to know that the girl said they could come over and see Tabby whenever they wanted to.

As things seemed to get back to normal that evening, Katrina and I were both relieved that we would not have to worry about a dog as our new baby arrived.  The kids were relieved that the dog had revived their hopes, as they knew we had promised them a dog in the spring.  Perhaps there is a Sophie out there for us somewhere.  Soon we will see.

Written by David Steen, with God smiling, March 3, 2008

Posted in Children, Critters, Family, Lost and Found, Pets, Weather, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment