To say these last few weeks have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. The shop has been hopping like Santa’s workshop. We have shipped out over 400 Christmas orders and packed countless baskets for customers in the shop! We have been truly blessed. Our community has shown great support this holiday season and we are exceedingly grateful!
One undertaking that was particularly exciting was the need to make over 300 jars of jam in one day. You read that right. 300! Everyone told us it couldn’t be done but with the jelly queen in the lead nothing much is impossible so we sat out to do it one morning. As we pressed on through our jelly task we talked of Christmases old. We remembered our Grandmother, Ruby, who was quite a jelly maker herself. Ruby didn’t care much for the Christmas season and the silliness that came along with it. She often wouldn’t allow the tree to be put up until just a couple of days before Christmas. Then it was to be promptly taken down after Christmas lunch. We laughed through our memories of Ruby making gingerbread men for us. I think the grandchildren brought out a softer side in her that her children had not known. She would let us help in the kitchen, she would bring us snacks on a “magic plate” and always had a reason to make us a special treat. It was during this reminiscing session that we got onto the topic of Christmas candy.
Now I am NOT an experienced candy maker. I have seen it done. I have practiced once or twice and it certainly tastes good but as far as candy experience I would rate myself as novice. There was a tale long ago of a spicy peanut brittle that had been created. The recipe had been lost. Like so many good recipes if you ask 2 people how to do it, you will get 3 opinions. All that remained were people who raved about it! As the jelly queen and I made jam we talked about trying to recreate this for a special Christmas treat. We tossed around ideas. If you haven’t tried it, the kitchen is the absolute BEST place to toss around ideas. It must provide clarity or maybe the smells are inspiring but either way we hatched a plan to attempt Holler Jalanero Peanut Brittle. So. It. Began...
Amazingly as we tried it out on people there began to be a little buzz. People loved it! We couldn’t make it fast enough. It was as though the brittle was touched by a Christmas Angel. As soon as we sat it out, it was gone. There were phone calls, emails, waiting lists and even texts from random numbers asking where they could get the buttery, spicy, nutty, Christmas delight. We have been truly honored by the response to our brittle experiment. Even as we have been tired and struggling for the Christmas finish line, it has added excitement to talk to people about their brittle experience. We have loved hearing from each and every one of you and can’t wait to see what surprises await us in the New Year!
If you are wondering, we did indeed get those 300 jars of jam made in one day. 301 to be exact! We have enjoyed Christmas stories and gifts from customers all brought on by brittle mania. We have heard from out of town travelers who stop in at Christmas time each year for hot sauce. People who have been sending sauce across the country for almost 20 years. We even sent a box to the North Pole! Yes my dear people a little piece of Fayette, Alabama went to the North Pole. I guess Santa likes hot sauce! Thank you for the treats and love. I was even presented with a special kind of old timey peppermint that is apparently just the right kind for soaking in whiskey to cure a cough or bad cold. NOW, I don’t know where this peppermint is manufactured or why I haven’t heard of this before but it would be rude not to try it! Whatever your Christmas brings to you I hope that peace, love, and joy are a part of it. Alabama Sunshine has been truly blessed by our customers this Christmas season and we send each and every one of you a heartfelt thank you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Now, as for me, I feel a slight cough coming on…..where did I put that special peppermint????
Somewhere along the way I realized something very interesting. I could mark the next major event in my life by when the milk expired. I walked past the cooler at Wal-Mart and exclaimed to my youngest, “OMG the milk expires before your sister’s birthday!” Not that I had forgotten the birthday at all. I knew it was coming. I knew the date. Something hit me that day about the date printed on that milk. It was stamped there, unchanging, no negotiation, time stood its ground and demanded my attention. I don’t know exactly when this started to happen but then I really began to look. The new year, birthdays, anniversaries, trips, Easter, Halloween, Christmas. Each time I looked at the date I would wonder at the passing of time. Time cannot be controlled. One of few things that man cannot take ahold of. No matter what happens in our lives there is one thing for certain, TIME is marching on. Sometimes this fact relieves me. Sometimes it seems cruel and sometimes it scares me.
I find myself at the doorstep of my second Christmas as a small business owner. I marvel back at the lessons I have learned and the knowledge I have gained. Some lessons I would rather forget although sometimes those are the most important kind. We have had days of great triumph and days of despair but time knew no difference. Someone asked me the other day if I was tired of the struggle. My reply after I thought a minute was “I don’t know if I am or not but time marches on just the same” The point is, whether we choose to try or choose to give up time knows no difference. Just as the milk is going to spoil by the date on the jug with or without our help we must decide what we will do each day not worried about waiting on time.
Eventually I let the expiration date on the milk inspire me instead of stressing me. Now I look at the date as a reminder that there are things to do and events to celebrate and one day doesn’t make or break us. What event in your life will happen before the milk expires? I encourage you to look. I almost always think of something when I glance at mine. Act today. Don’t wait, time isn’t waiting for you. Make this Christmas the one where you take full advantage of time and all it has to offer. Drink it in. every moment. This holiday season let the expiration date on the milk remind you what wonderful opportunities we have if we don’t fear time, but use it. Use your time wisely. After all, drinking the milk after the expiration date never tastes good.
It’s an interesting phrase. We teach it to our children quite young. When they are impatiently waiting for something children are often quite noisy and wiggly. “Be still!” Mothers will proclaim in an attempt to quiet a child who needs patience. As a grown up it’s a darn sight more difficult. In our own journey, in our own life when do we know when to just be still? The past year has been a trial. There has been learning, there have been ups and downs but a trial just the same.
As Alabama Sunshine attempted to purchase a new building that would allow us to triple our capacity we met road block after road block. Now when you keep running into road blocks you begin to question yourself. After a while this is very frustrating. Now I was taught as a child to NEVER, I mean not ever to pray for patience. You see, if you pray for patience you may be sent all manner of unpleasant lessons to help you learn it. So I will admit at some point about June or July, a good 9 months into an attempted purchase of a building, to screaming “Did I accidentally pray for patience??? I mean REALLY?!?!” The past few months have not been my finest moments. I am tired, and I show it. I know I show it, because everyone in Wal-Mart tells me. “Honey you look plum worn out.” Thank you, random woman in the bread isle for removing all doubt that I am a mess. So, at some point I decided to stop worrying about the building and the move. I went about my day and just did the task in front of me. People would ask if we had given up on moving…. “well, no but I can’t control a process that has nothing to do with me so I am not sure when that will happen”.
I was tired. I had fought and struggled until I had nothing left. So one night I promised I would just Be Still. Now that was hard. It was a point of surrender. After a few weeks though, it was freeing. I can’t say the exact time I felt the weight of the future lift off my shoulders but slowly it did.
I imagine I should have used this tactic in many others areas in my life before but it takes us a while to find our way sometimes. We were fortunate enough to close on a new building 2 weeks ago and we have begun work! It’s not in the time frame I wanted but I have learned I can’t control everything and I gained a great deal of peace by being still.
I hope I can use this experience the next time I am encountering a situation that is literally bringing me to the edge of my sanity. I also hope this speaks to you today. Whatever situation you may find yourself in today I hope you can find peace. As we enter this holiday season remember to take time to just be still.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”~Psalm 46:10
As I sat completely frustrated that the internet was down a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me how much things have changed in just the past 30 years. I was at the shop. I was being productive. Answering emails, filing invoices, organizing and most importantly paying the bills. I was moving right along until suddenly the dreaded “No internet” message appears. *HUFF* Now what? I have got to get this done, I mean what am I supposed to do now?!?!?
My mind started wandering. I remember riding to town with my grandparents to pay bills. It never seemed strange at the time. We would travel here and there. They would go in, pay the bill and head to the next location. Now it seemed so foreign. What on earth do I do, where would I go? I gathered the bills and looked at them. Sure enough, as I figured out where each place was, they were all within walking distance. I could literally go out and PAY bills. I mean, who does that? Nevertheless, I remembered the basic principal so I was certain I could pull it off.
With my checkbook and bills in hand, I slipped on my tennis shoes and sat out to pay bills. I started down the street. The first thing I noticed was that the morning air was beautiful! I breathed deeply and was overjoyed to find we were getting a welcome break from the summer’s heat. Where should I go first? I started with the rent, the power bill, the water bill, the bank, the post office. It was so ENJOYABLE. I talked to a dozen people about various things. I didn’t rush, I didn’t say I was in a hurry. I asked people how they were and updated them on all things Alabama Sunshine. I saw a stray kitty. He was orange and wonderful. I talked to the lady that feeds him every day. He meowed and rolled at her feet although he stills shies away from human touch. She joked that I should take him. “he seems perfectly happy with you, I said smiling back at her.” She shared that he usually comes later in the day, but she was so glad he came early today because the homecoming parade later in the day was bound to scare him. I passed the flower shops and local clothing shops. All proudly announce upcoming showers for those getting married or having a baby. I talk to a person about a recent death in their family. I watch as the local female inmates decorate the streets with Fall décor. They do a WONDERFUL job. I say hello but somehow wish I had time to hear their stories.
My heart was smiling as I strolled back toward the shop. I decided, since I had extra time, to make a couple of extra laps through downtown. It was a truly enjoyable journey. I thought how blessed I am to live in a place where I could walk and pay bills. I connected with my fellow human beings. I didn’t stare blankly at a computer screen and furrow my brow at my dwindling bank account. In fact, I paid the bills without much worry at all. It was people I thought about as I headed back to the shop. Life and REAL people. It reminded me that some of the old ways were probably a pretty darn good idea. So, my advice to you is this. Step away from the computer. Take a walk. Talk to a human. It is completely refreshing and I almost forgot.
Somedays I forget how perfectly lovely it is to live in a small town. Walking to pay bills certainly reminded me of that.
Growing up in the south you become accustomed to all sorts of phrases. Whenever you are a fixin to do something you might go on over yonder before you start. Make sure when you get there ya’ll tell ya mama an ‘em hey before you travel on down the road a piece. It will take you by surprise at times if you happen upon a stranger that stares at you blankly when you proclaim yuns better head on in, there’s a bad cloud on hand!
It’s true, I figured out quickly, in farming that you will be confused many times. I imagine our adventure into farming must be like that of city folk from up north that move down here and can’t quite figure out what the heck we are talking about!
We are in the middle of another bountiful pepper harvest. It has been quite a trial with all the rain. We have fought fungus, pests and grass to a level I can’t explain this year. I mean, if grass were a weapon we would be witnessing the apocalypse!! Despite it all, we keep getting peppers galore.
In the middle of all the farm chaos, a remodel of the old farmhouse my grandparents lived in began. The farm is coming to life again. I have stopped many times to wonder what my grandparents would think about their little home place being turned into a bustling pepper farm. My grandmother was a housewife all the years I remember her. She cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. She kept the home and fed my pony. A pony I had mostly for the reason that I was the only girl grandchild and I am sure I stated that I wanted one.
I remember spending the night at my grandparents many times. I would wake to the smell of bacon, eggs, biscuits and tomato gravy. Now tomato gravy is a science….. I am still trying to get it right #failsofar. We would eat breakfast and Grandma would gather a separate plate for the pony. I would follow her out to the pasture. Patty Pony, as she was affectionately known, would gladly greet us. My grandmother would talk to that pony and feed her biscuits, eggs, tomato gravy and cantaloupe! Now, as unbelievable as this sounds the pony loved it. Every morning I spent there as a child started that exact same way. Now you may ask me if that is a proper diet for a pony and I can tell you that it is NOT. However, nobody told Patty Pony that and she lived a long happy life.
My Grandmother filled my Grandfathers tea glass for him, fixed his plate and always cleaned up after the meal. I never thought to ask her if she wanted to do something else. If she did, she didn’t show it. She lovingly did the same chore as long as my Grandfather was alive. My Grandfather known to all us kids as “PA” was quite a character. You didn’t have to wonder what PA was thinking because it was coming out of his mouth in about 2.3 seconds. He was a veteran of the Army, a cabinet maker, a cattle farmer, gardener, a deacon in his church and a barber. Yes, I said a barber. In back of my grandparents’ house was a shop. In that shop, amongst the wood working tools sat a barber chair. Every Saturday morning a strange phenomenon would occur. Early every Saturday morning lines of trucks would start filing down the driveway. Men would drive to my Grandfather’s shop in search of a haircut.
Now to say my grandparents lived down the road a piece, is an understatement. It’s a place you are not going to happen upon. Nobody ever comes there by accident. If you drive down that driveway, you have gone to some effort and you intend to be there. I watched the haircut parade out the window. They arrived in trucks. My Grandfather would get up out of his chair and walk out to meet them. Now I never once remember PA advertising his “haircuts on Saturday” business. He had no facebook, no Instagram, not as much as text or a tweet. Nevertheless, they came. For several hours he would cut hair and the men would stay and talk. I witnessed this many times. I would quietly play and watch PA cut hair. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversations. Only that most of them revolved around community goings on or church. Now the best part was when the last haircut customer had gone. I would sit in the barber chair and spin! It was amazing. It had a hand pump on the side. What an amazing chair. A wonder to a small child. You could go up and down and spin around and around!
I never asked PA where he learned to cut hair. He always had a job he was working on. Cattle always needed tending to, the big gardens required constant maintenance and many people in the community still have “Victor cabinets” in their house. He was practical beyond measure and it was common to hear him use the phrase “There ain’t no sense in that” when he witnessed extravagance of any type.
I find myself thinking about him a lot lately. When everything is hitting the fan around us I often try to think what PA might say or do in a similar situation. We are going full steam ahead. Business is growing, peppers need picking and there are new bigger places we hope to take Alabama Sunshine in the near future. We hope you will join us as we travel down the road a piece into the future. Who knows, we might even learn to make tomato gravy!
When you plant something it seems natural that you would think it is going to grow. I mean why would you plant it and expect nothing? So, all those many weeks ago when we planted 3,587 pepper plants I knew there would be peppers at some point. Right? Yes, sure I did….I mean sort of.
So I confess my frustration at my own reaction when I gazed out at the fields a little over 3 weeks ago. “Crap! We need to pick.” A flood of panic washed over me. You see the great harvest brings with it a multitude of challenges. The change in schedule. It is approximately 105* in Alabama from about 9am to 9pm SOOOO, you wake before daylight to begin picking AT daylight. We work early, we work late, we don’t have time for all that needs to be done. It is dirty, hot and difficult work.
I am thoroughly convinced that I could put an end to most of the foolishness in this world by putting some people in the pepper patch. I have tested this theory with my own children. It proves 100% effective at ending foolishness and backtalk. I mean I should charge other people for that service! I have thought of ways to spin this, “Agricultural experience available! Cures sass mouthing kids, trouble makers and cures boredom” seems like the right way to word it.
When you pick peppers you have to find a place where you are fully committed to getting the job done and completely willing to ignore discomfort. That hold true in life so many times I think. When we face something uncomfortable we have a decision to make. Commit and move forward or stand there and site 100 reasons why you can’t. Now at times in my life I have done both. So, I understand the struggle.
Agriculture, it seems, has a way of stripping away the excuses and saying “choose… either move now or lose out in the future.” Harvest waits for no man or woman or tired pepper picker. We face this new harvest with more knowledge. We have learned a little, listened a lot and hold on to the hope that we might still yet be worthy of the title “Farmer” If I would ever be so lucky to earn that title I would count myself blessed. I have gained so much respect for those who farm and feed this country. I fully admit that a reading of Paul Harvey’s “So God Made A Farmer” will dissolve me into the ugly cry. So obviously that is a step in the right direction!
I look forward to what this harvest brings us and can’t wait to share it with you.
Well, it’s been a year. Exactly a year. We have gone around the sun once as owners of Alabama Sunshine hot sauce company. We’ve seen 365 days and nights and what a journey it has been.
I am reminded of the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” as I think back on our journey. Although we weren’t prisoners as they were in the movie we were certainly chained together in a sort of journey, an odyssey. Though we might not be in search of a treasure per say, the treasure, in a way was to grasp the knowledge of a small farming business, take it by the reins and guide it to new destinations and heights. Just as in the movie we have faced many a startlement along the way!
In farming, you can face many a trial all at once. Too much water, not enough water, pests, crops that under produce, crops that over produce and you can’t keep up with. In a busy kitchen, you can boil over a 40-gallon kettle of hot sauce in a hot minute (no pun intended) if you aren’t careful. Yes, we did it, yes it was a huge startlement and an utter MESS to clean up! We have laughed at a call from a customer who has bought the same product for over 20 years who states “send me that stuff you always send.” Ummm, WAIT, what stuff? What does it look like? Can you describe the label?? It’s a dance in a way to run a farm, run a business, cook, market and stay in touch with customers. A journey, I will admit dear friends has reduced me to tears on both the drive TO and FROM work several days. I have moments of thinking “we’ll never get there. I’m lost on this journey!” It seems at those moments on your journey that just the right person is sent into your path to guide your way. We have come up against bigger and better funded campaigns and often felt like the underdog fighting the incumbent. However, we have stayed the course.
There is something about a year that makes you reflect. We can take a deep breath, look back, and say WOW! We came we journeyed, we learned and we continue to press onward. It is with great and humble thanks we appreciate all of you have been so supportive and spread the word about Alabama Sunshine. We thank those who have come along side us to work. Many hard days without much OR ANY pay and keep coming back to offer help day after day. SO, we look to the future with great hope. We have on the horizon a new facility. Room to grow and expand to 3 bottling lines. We have new product ideas! Stay tuned for that……(SUSPENSE ADDS STYLE). We haven’t yet seen a cow on the top of a cotton house. Although you never know what you might see around here! We face the future unafraid of the obstacles in our path. We have seen things wonderful to tell and more than once proclaimed “who’s the leader of this here outfit?!?!?!” One thing we know for certain is we can’t wait to share the future with YOU!!
“You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first... first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a... a cow... on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.” ~ Blind Seer “Oh brother where art thou”
I realized after moving back to small town America how often the directions we give are quite confusing to others who aren’t familiar with the area. We start out with phrases like “You know down there where the Jack’s used to be?” or “turn right down yonder passed so and so’s Grandma’s house” It makes perfect sense to those familiar with the area and of course the giver of the directions knows perfectly well where they mean. However, to the unfamiliar traveler or someone who isn’t sure who so and so’s Grandma is, it can be quite confusing.
So it is with most things in life. When you are familiar with your circumstances and know your way it is much easier to take directions. It is not so easy to understand directions on farming when you are an ex preschooler Special Ed teacher turned farmer/business person. I found myself in yet another unfamiliar situation as I observed a broken part on the tractor.
I have never known such a fragile piece of equipment as a tractor. In my observation something is always broke, or fixin’ to break at any moment. This is a complete mystery to me. I suspect a plot hatched up between tractor salesmen and tractor PART salesmen but that is another story… As we stared at the broken piece on the tractor it is described to me as a link adjustment. “Ok. Well, how do we fix that?” the process is described and the “run to town” made and the part purchased. Now for those of you who don’t live out in the country let me explain how this works. A tractor never breaks at a convenient time or in a convenient place. While you “run to town”, a trip that takes at least an hour because we are 25 minutes from ANYWHERE, the tractor remains smack dab in the middle of the driveway. Now a broken tractor is something like a beacon to other farmers in the area. It seems to call out, “come look at me being broken! Give advice on how to fix me and parts to buy!” So before getting back with the part at least 5 people had come by to make sure the problem was diagnosed properly. Each on looker gives an opinion and advice until you are utterly confused. Now as we began trying to get the old part off it becomes apparent that there is about 60 years of dirt and grime that are most likely holding the tractor together and most of that will end up on your shirt.
I will readily admit, I was mostly an observer in this process. My dad describes how to properly replace the part, my brother grunts and struggles and hands me bolts to hold. I was pretty good at that part………Eventually we get the part replaced and up and running once again. I add the instructions on how to replace a link adjustment on a tractor to my skill set and we continue on.
I am getting more comfortable with farm life as we go and the directions and instructions get less and less confusing. I suppose it’s like anything else in life. If you are in the middle of a driveway with a broke tractor in your life, fake it ‘til you make it!! Hang in there because eventually it will all make sense! Even if you have to figure out where the old Jack’s used to be before you start.
Except I don’t know how…….
I have found over the past year I have used this phrase a lot. “I don’t know how to do that.” You see, when I bought a business with my brother I was excited about the BUSINESS part. I didn’t realize all the OTHER bits that came along with the business. I quickly realized that small business owners are mostly super heroes with concealed capes. They fix their own broken equipment, they repair leaks, toilets, doors, windows, tractors (YES, tractors) and anything else that could possibly break and break things have. At least something once a week…. (Insert sigh.) This week was no exception. As I walked back through the kitchen I slipped and slid ice skater style, “OH CRAP!” now dear ones, you may be saying to yourself “she said something besides crap.” You might be right but I’ll never tell! There was water spraying into the air, across the three compartment sink as if we were trying to do an impression of the fountains at the Bellagio!! I rushed to turn it off, no luck. I twisted and turned hoping the spraying would stop. NOPE. As I stood in front of our latest challenge the thought occurred to me how many “I don’t know how to…” have turned into “I know how to….” I have been faced with every challenge you can think of. Each situation was unique. I have gained skills I never thought I would have or even that I wanted but now that I DO have them, they are valuable. When I think of it that way is frustrates me less and makes me a little proud. It’s the kind of knowledge nobody can teach you. Life has to teach it to you. Experience has to teach it to you. So, now when I face a new challenge I find myself thinking, “I have to figure out how to.” That’s a good thing. It’s sometimes a scary thing, but I have found that the growth and learning doesn’t really occur in the comfortable places. It occurs in the uncertainty. In the scary places. When I was looking at our new “learning experience” spraying water all over the kitchen, I started brainstorming ideas. I am not afraid to ask for help. Yet another thing I have gotten better at this year. My dad is a good problem solver. An engineer for over 30 years, he tried to help me repair it first. No luck…so he instructs me to start looking for something that can deflect the water down. That would be great since we are about to be swimming! We fiddle with this and that and get the spray slowed down from Bellagio level to annoying level. Next step, deflect downward instead of upward and floorward! We settle on a funnel over the hose and slid down to cover the leaking bits. HA! Success. My dad chuckles that he has an engineering degree and just had to fix a sink with a funnel. I chuckle because we solved the problem and saved the budget for at least one month because faucets for industrial sinks are PRICEY! We both smile and move on to the next task. So stay strong fellow humans! We are all struggling to find solutions for the day to day. The point is, whatever you face in your day start finding a way to say “I have to figure out how to…” I bet you can figure out a solution. Even if it’s just a temporary one that gets you to the next month!
We had a chance once again last week to debut a new product on Talk of Alabama morning show! Sassy pineapple jam. It is delicious. Everyone who tries it has given rave reviews. It was the wonderful creation of our beloved jelly queen, Janet. As I found myself prepping Friday morning for our t.v. spot I was missing my jelly queen. The message she sent me the night before read as follows, “love you more…you go sell that sassy pineapple!” You see, there are some days that are great and some days you wish you could forget. A week ago, the Alabama Sunshine family had one of those days we wish we could forget.
In the past year of owning this business I have had several of both. I find life whizzing by me at the speed of light and for a while I would say things to people like, “ok, when I can.” Or “when work slows down I will try to” Then I realized the place we live is in the midst. In the midst of the chaos and the busy is the extraordinary. The everyday special will pass you by if you don’t take time to enjoy it now. When I look back at this year I see times I have recognized that and times I have been completely blinded by chaos and let precious moments pass me by. We have celebrated triumphs and suffered defeat but at least we’ve done it and we are still hanging on. We have laughed and we have cried and somehow in the midst we manage to live life.
So I leave you with this. Do the things you think you don’t have time for. Go, be bold, tell others you care, love BIG. Because you see, our time here is short. If you lose yourself in the midst you will miss the best parts. This week we remember one gone far too soon and we let it be a reminder to us all. Life is precious and never to be taken for granted. R.I.P. Mike, you made our jelly queen smile and for that we are eternally grateful! We know you are looking down on us and probably already passed along the recipe for sassy pineapple in heaven’s kitchen!