"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Friday, December 21, 2012

May you live in interesting times...

I've read somewhere that wishing that on a person is a way of cursing them, of wishing them times of turmoil and trouble.We certainly seem to be in such a time, as a nation, and it's been a bit interesting around the homestead as well.  Nothing major or life changing, just the little things going wrong, or not getting done, that add up and cause trouble.

I leave my Christmas lights in my big spruce tree in my front yard all year long.  (Yes, I'm a Yankee Redneck Woman!)  But the tree is a good twenty-five feet tall, the lights are small, and can't be seen when not lit.  The tree has grown so tall that I can no longer reach the strands of lights in the uppermost branches.  So I simply leave them, and plug them in each Christmas.  This has worked well for years, but when I plugged the lights in a few weeks ago, none of them would light.  So, I spent the time and money and effort, running up and down the ladder, to put new lights in the tree, as high as I could possibly reach.  All was well until the high winds and heavy snows today; now only one strand is lit.

Today I wanted to bake Christmas cookies and went into the pantry only to discover that the mice got into the bags of dehydrated foods I put up earlier.  I hadn't been able to find any more two quart jars locally, and had intended to get to the city for some but hadn't made the trip because I have a tire with a slow leak that won't get that far but I haven't gotten it fixed yet. So now instead of baking cookies I get to empty and scrub my pantry and all of the contents.  I hate mice!!  Not sure yet how much food I've lost.  I had bought caulking and some extra mouse traps, but never found time to go around and seal whatever gaps I could find.

And so it goes.....certainly minor annoyances, compared to what others are suffering, but tiresome nonetheless.  Tuesday's event, though, was the most interesting.  I have my old pick up parked out front for sale, and wanted to start it up and run it for a while to keep it tuned.  The plug wires had gotten wet, so it didn't want to start right away.  A few more cranks of the starter, and and little pump of the accelerator, and.... BAM!!!!  Well I hopped out of that truck a heck of a lot faster than I had climbed in it, heart pounding, eyes wide, knees shaking.  I ran over to the front porch where Brother was standing, curled up on the steps and huddled down in my jacket.  For a moment I was the scared little girl that wanted to climb up in Daddy's arms.  Brother was no help, he was laughing so hard, though his eyes were a bit wide too.  He said he was able to actually see the shockwave from the blast.  At first I thought it was a rod blowing through the engine block, which would have ruined any resale value in the truck.  On second look, though, we saw what had really happened - the muffler had exploded.  And this isn't the little pansy muffler you see on a lot of vehicles; on these older Chevy trucks it's the size of a beer keg.  The sheet metal of the muffler ripped open with enormous force, slamming into the ground hard enough to make the truck crowhop.  I've never experienced anything quite like that and I don't wish to again.

Fortunately Brother was able to install a new set of spark plug wires, and he used a floor jack to press the warped metal back up off the ground.  I was able to start the truck and drive it around, but boy is it noisy now!  I guess I can either drop the price on the truck, or get a new muffler installed.

Today winter arrived with a vengeance, wind and snow and icy roads and closed schools.  I stayed inside.  The local FFA had their annual fruit sale a few weeks ago, so I had a bushel of citrus fruits to get canned.  I'd never done citrus before, and after laboriously hand-peeling the first couple of grapefruit, I decided it was a lot easier to use a knife and quarter them, then cut the fruit away from the peel.  Ten minutes in a hot water bath, and the jars are ready for the shelves.  That is, as soon as I fumigate the pantry.  Anyways, I think they look wonderful in the jars.

The wind is still howling around the house tonight, and the windows are frosted in the corners like a Christmas card.  Our Christmas tree is beautiful, scenting the air with pine, and scattering needles on the carpet.  As I sit here typing this I can hear the lids of my jars of fruit pinging as they seal.  Daughter is done with school until after the New Year, and all the after school events are cancelled due to the weather, so it's a rare treat to have her home on a Friday night. We don't have the cookies baked yet, but that's ok.  We're together, warm and cozy in our living room, dawg curled up next to my chair, and the tv is off.  All is peaceful in our little corner of the world for the moment.  And what more could I ask for?

I wish each of you joy and peace as we celebrate the birth of Our Savior.  Merry Christmas!

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Shut Up Already!

I imagine the title gives it away.  Yep, it's another rant.  If you don't like rants, look away now.  I'm going to be the Grinch for a few minutes.

Are you still here?  Well, then, here's the rub:  no one shuts up anymore.  It seems that respect and courtesy are outmoded, meaningless words and paying attention died long ago.

We've all experienced the transient annoyance of waiting in line at the store, unwillingly listening to a one-sided conversation as someone chats on their cell phone.  And these days parents are well acquainted with the hassle of prying a teenager out off a cell phone long enough to ask about school.

But the epidemic is worse than that.  It's everywhere, and it's driving me nuts.  Daughter plays in the school band, and while I'm glad she does and I encourage her and enjoy listening to her play, I actually dread the school concerts.  The grown-ups, who presumably are the parents that should care about what the kids are doing, talk constantly.  It seems their conversations and phone calls can't wait the four minutes until the song is over.  Not only that, but they let the younger children run up and down the bleachers, thumping and banging and giggling and making it impossible for a parent to videotape the concert.

Earlier this week we drove all the way to the city to attend a professional symphony orchestra concert.  You know, the kind where you pay money for a ticket, and a maestro with a baton waves his arms at the violins.  Even there, people talked through the music.  A group of five or six young men in their twenties sitting a few rows behind us just couldn't stop discussing what they did that day.  At least there I was able to speak to an usher during the break, and she was able to correct the situation.

And the one that bothers me the most?  The behavior of some of my fellow church members.  Since when is it ok to stand in the back of the church and talk during the sermon?  And why wouldn't you turn off the ringer on your cell phone before the service starts?  Bah humbug!

So I'm sending out a heart-felt plea to everyone:  please, please, stop and think and show some respect!  Try listening for a change.  Here's the way I was taught it should be:  when you attend a concert, do not talk during while the music is playing.  If you must leave your seat for some reason, do so only between songs.  If you come back from the bathroom and the band is playing, wait quietly in the doorway until the song is over, and then return to your seat.  When you go to church, sing the hymns, join in the prayers, and listen to the sermon.  There's plenty of time to visit and catch up after the service!  And for crying out loud, leave the cell phone out in the car! 

It's only polite to behave appropriately, it's not really so hard to do, and it will improve the experience for you and definitely for everyone around you.

And if you don't, the grumpy middle-aged woman glaring at you is probably me.  Let's not meet that way!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

First Fire and Not Pulling the Trigger

Time just keeps on flying by.  Here it is the end of November already, and finally today we had our first fire of the season.  I guess it's appropriate, we had our first sticking snow overnight, a nice dusting over the fields and on the tree branches.  Just got it started a few minutes ago, after cleaning out the remains of the chimney swift nest.
There's nothing like the smell and sound of a big ol' wood fire, and the warmth it gives.  I think a wood fire is the best warmth ever - better than forced air heat, better than a hot bath, better than an electric blanket.  It just feels.......better.  Maybe because it's more like sunshine.  I was lucky enough to make a good craigslist find on some firewood, nice seasoned maple that should last us into the first of the year.  Since I don't have my own patch of woods it's a bit of a scrounge and scramble to come up with firewood.  Someday I hope to get to a point where I can barter for firewood.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving with family and friends.  We got together for the usual turkey and fixings, and I took along the pies.  The best part of the day, however, was when my little nephew fell asleep in my lap.  The warm weight and soft breath of a small child, totally trusting and abandoned to sleep, is a wonderful thing.
My contribution to dinner:  apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat.
The third from the top is my green tomato mincemeat pie:
   * 3 quarts chopped green tomatoes
    * 1 1/2 quarts peeled, chopped tart apples
    * 2 cups raisins
    * 1 cup golden raisins
    * 1/2 cup diced candied citron, lemon or orange peel
    * 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    * 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    * 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

    * 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    * 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
    * 3 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
    * 3/4 cup Vinegar
    * 1/4 cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy pan. Let mixture simmer and cook slowly until it is tender and thick, for two hours or more. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. To can, pour boiling mixture into hot, sterile jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace; seal promptly. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Store in a cool dry place.
Makes about 5 to 6 quarts of green tomato mincemeat.

Finally had a chance to go deer hunting, but came home empty handed.  While I still see quite a few deer around, the numbers are down due to a nasty virus that has killed quite a few animals.  I sat in the blind for quite a while, watching low, blue-gray clouds playing tag with watery beams of sunshine and listening to turkeys calling off in the distance. 
 A cardinal and his missus came to visit for a while, their red plumage startling against the dull colors of the landscape.  Finally, just as dusk was settling in, a deer came bounding into the clearing.  I pulled up my shotgun and drew a sight on it, only to realize it was a youngster, probably born in the spring of this year.  It just didn't seem fair to shoot it, and there wouldn't have been much meat to it anyways.
Had a clean shot but didn't take it
So I didn't pull the trigger, but sat and watched as it played around, munching on a twig here, and chewing on a leaf there.  It kept looking back into the brush, so I held still, hoping a bigger one would come in, but as the light faded into a cold and cloudy night the little deer was still alone.  I made the trek back out of the woods and across the field in the gathering dark and headed home for some soup, and while I love venison, I wasn't too disappointed.  Just being out in the woods and enjoying God's creation makes for a good day.
From the hymnal:
"Give thanks, with a grateful heart,
Give thanks, to the Holy One,
Give thanks, because He's given Jesus Christ"

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kablooey Remedy....(or, how to replace a safety fuse on a Mirro Matic)

Some time ago I made a serious error while pressure canning some potatoes, heating the canner too hot and blowing the safety fuse.  Note how you can see daylight where the plug melted and gave way.  So thankful it did!  Could have drastically changed my kitchen layout if the canner had blown up.
I took the entire canner in to my local hardware store to try and get a replacement fuse.  There are hundreds of these old Mirro Matics out there, but they had so many different catalogs and stock numbers that we couldn't figure it out.  They tried to remove the safety fuse with a crescent wrench but couldn't get it to move.  So I did some internet searches, but it seems there isn't a simple "Mirro.com" site, just multiple sites that say they carry parts.  I finally located the correct safety fuse replacement at Amazon.com, and ordered two of them.
I ran hot water over the canner lid for a few minutes, and used a socket wrench.  The old plug came out quite easily.
I cleaned the threads and installed the new fuse.  (While I was at it I made sure the steam tube was clear, too.)
The new fuse fit perfectly at exactly the same level as the old one.  Both the old and new fuses are thicker than the lid itself, by 1/4 inch or so.  This allows enough room to get a wrench on it.  The center of the new fuse appears to be a red compound of some sort, instead of the metallic gray of the old one, but that doesn't seem to make a difference.

The whole operation only took a few minutes, and I'm happy to report it was a complete success.  I just finished canning up five quarts of chicken in my old canner with the new fuse and it's all good.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reflections and a Recipe

It was one of those soft and comfortable evenings as I drove home from work; not cold yet not warm, cool and dim with a diffuse light that rounded and blunted everything like a slightly out-of-focus photograph.  It reminded me of the ‘time between times’ spoken of in stories of Irish ghosts,  standing stones, and time travel adventures.

I dealt with my chores and hooked the trailer to the truck, ready to go for a load of firewood after work the next day while the dawg was happily running about, sticking her nose into everything and rummaging through the old straw in the garden, tail wagging non-stop. It felt good to be out working in the gloaming, wearing old leather gloves and wrassling with equipment while the sunset cast a feeble gold tint on the western sky; echoes of when I was young and strong and walking home in the dusk after my farm chores.

There were no stars, just a featureless sky of deep velvet lit only by the trucks and combine in the field as my neighbor harvested his corn.  I put some dinner on the grill, and sat in my patio swing with my dawg.  A moment of peace, reflection, and quietude.

I rocked gently as I let go of the hurry and noise of the day, slowly becoming aware of the little things around me.  The warm weight of my faithful old dawg  leaning against me, one massive paw on my knee.  The slight creak of the swing, that old familiar, peculiar whine of the combine in the field, the smell and sound of dinner (bratwurst!) sizzling on the grill, the cold beginning to nip at my ears and nose.

How I love living out in the country, in the quiet and peace!  I wouldn't trade it for the most lavish of city dwellings!  The cares and disappointments of the day are still there, but now I can put them into perspective, and spend some time in thought, in reflection, and in prayer for my family, and for my country.  It seems that there are just too many heedless, careless, and selfish people with voter’s cards these days.  Responsibility, morality, and wisdom were the losers this election, and I am gravely concerned about Daughter’s future as she prepares to graduate from high school and move on into the world.  Yet I can take comfort in knowing that God is always in control, no matter what.

Current events also make me even more dedicated to a life of simplicity and self-sufficiency, and to protecting my little homestead.  Am I going to run out next week and buy a thousand rounds of ammunition in fear of the zombie apocalypse?  No.  (Besides from what I hear you can’t stop zombies with bullets, but what do I know?)

But I am renewed in my determination to simplify and do more with less, while spending my money where it does the most good.  At this point in time I'm actually spending more, which I really don't like doing, but it's time to purchase a freezer and a half of a grass-fed beef.  High cost now, but it's an investment in high-quality, drug-hormone-GMO-corn-free meat for the next year.  Looked at over time, not only will I save money over supermarket prices, we'll also be eating much healthier food. The second freezer will allow me to buy in bulk when sales are good for seasonal harvests, and have a place to keep the food until I can get it canned or dehydrated.  As we use things up, I'll consolidate back down to one freezer and unplug the second to save on electricity.

It’s been a good year for stocking up food supplies, even though my garden wasn’t the best.  I've been getting to know people and making contacts, learning to barter and trade - which I think will be even more of an economic necessity these next four years.  I'm learning more about what we like to eat and to tailor our garden and food storage to match; for instance no squash this year, but lots of potatoes instead.  I’ve discovered that canning meat isn't so scary as I thought, and it's great for long-term storage without worrying about freezer burn or electric bills, and it's been fun to develop recipes using my stored foods.

Here's one that we've been using a lot, it's so quick and easy:

Chicken Salad
Pint jar of canned chicken
Most of a half-pint jar of canned green tomato relish
Mayo (home-made or store bought)
dehydrated onion, chopped fine
dehydrated carrot, chopped fine

dehydrated apple, chopped fine
dried parsley
ground mustard
ground tumeric

Drain chicken and relish but don't squeeze dry.  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, using just enough mayo to hold it together, and allow to set for a few minutes to blend the flavors.  This recipe is really adaptable - I don't measure anything, but simply adjust for taste. This can be spread over home-made bread for a sandwich, or mixed with cooked pasta that has been chilled for a quick and easy salad.  

Until next time, may each of you know the "peace that passes all understanding".

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day!

It was a time late in the Middle Ages, when lords lived in castles and serfs toiled in the fields.  The Catholic Church was as powerful or more powerful than many kings, holding sway over lord and serf alike.
Unfortunately, men who lived for themselves rather than for serving others were in control of the church, and the Gospel was overshadowed by the Law.  People were taught they could earn salvation by giving money to the church, performing pilgrimages, penances, and good works.

One man who earnestly sought to earn his salvation was a young German monk by the name of Martin Luther.  He followed, indeed went beyond every edict of his monastic order, punishing himself physically and mentally until he gave up in despair.  He felt utterly broken and destroyed when he realized that no matter how hard, how desperately he tried, he could never be righteous enough to please God and "earn" salvation.  He moved on from the monastery, becoming a professor at the University of Erfurt where he spent much time studying the Bible.

His studies took him deep into the Bible, where, guided by the Holy Spirit, he came to a new understanding.  He realized that salvation is not something that can be "earned".  It is a gift, freely given.  Jesus died to pay the price for everyone, and all are covered by His righteousness.

Luther also realized that the Catholic Church was continuing down the wrong road, and indeed had been making a great deal of money selling what the called "indulgences".  A person could go to a parish priest and buy a scrap of parchment that said his sins would not count.  One could see how the idea was attractive - want to go out and get drunk and rob someone?  Simply buy this piece of paper ahead of time and no problem!  No guilt!

The practice of selling indulgences was just one of the church practices that didn't sit right with Luther, and he tried to work from within to make the needed changes.  Finally, on October 31st, 1517, he wrote the Ninety-five Theses, and nailed them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.  A simple act, a fairly common act of the time when men wished to set up a meeting to debate issues; yet with far-reaching consequences that Luther could not have foreseen.

The Protestant Reformation is a fascinating historical study, but I won't take your time with it here.  Suffice it to say that God used Luther to bring Law and Gospel, Word and Sacrament back to the people, and to this day we celebrate Reformation Day.

Meanwhile, back on the homestead, we've survived the high winds on the edge of Hurricane Sandy with some minor power outages.  So sad to see all the destruction on the coast!  Hope the area recovers quickly.  I've been busy lately, putting up over four dozen quarts of potatoes, a few dozen jars of green tomato relish and hot pepper jam, two dozen pints of carrots, and putting a bushel of apples through the dehydrator.  I'm so pleased to have the carrots!  The first sowing didn't come up this Spring, so I replanted them but thought the entire crop lost to the weed epidemic I had this year.  What a pleasant surprise to find a really nice crop peeking out from behind the tomato plants.

They look even nicer put up in a jar!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Crossing the Line

I'm at a loss. Has it truly come to this? A country founded through a fierce desire for independence, a land of freedom won by sacrifice and commitment, a home where everyone can worship God in their own way, protected and defended by the brave and honorable for over two hundred years, is now fallen so low that the Commander in Chief tells young women that voting for him is like losing your virginity to a great guy.

Yes, it's a real campaign ad.

There's just so much that is so sick and so wrong with this ad that I can hardly express my horror and disgust. I already knew that the current pretender in the White House was an arrogant, clueless man, but now it's clear he's nothing more than a pervert.

Instead of protecting our borders, he's using the Health and Human Services mandates to bedevil faith based organizations.
Instead of guarding the safety and sovereignty of America and our citizens, he parties with celebrities.
Instead of being a leader, he bows to foreign dictators and apologizes for America's existence.

Only a country falling prey to to completely selfish, evil thoughts and desires would be desperate enough to elect such a man to the highest office. Where is honor, faith, respect? What happened to responsibility and hard work?

We're drowning in debt, under attack here and abroad by terrorists, our borders are over-run by aliens, and what do we get? Bread and circuses. Though now it's in the form of cell phones and birth control.

Sadly, it seems too many of our citizens don't care what happens, so long as they get their freebies from the government, so long as they can have sex with whoever and whatever they want and then proudly parade it in public , so long as they can demand their “rights”. And they continue to elect liberal politicians who have no moral compass, who will happily spend us into oblivion to buy votes and maintain their cushy position and benefits while completely failing to do their jobs.

A desperate call for help from an American ambassador in the Middle East? Nope, sorry, have to run to Vegas to schmooze at a fundraiser.
A Christian church run by people who practice what they preach? Oh, can't have that – use government mandates to force them to pay for abortions, and sue them if they won't perform a wedding ceremony for homosexuals.
A sheriff in Arizona actually arresting illegals and sending them back over the border? Court the “latino” vote by persecuting and threatening him.
Time for a vacation? Spend millions of taxpayer dollars to send the wife and kids off to Europe.

Am I the only one who is outraged and heartbroken by it all? God help us! We continue to throw His blessings away in favor of darkness and evil. How long will He continue to show us grace and mercy before He allows our own choices to destroy our country?

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray , and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2nd Chronicles 7:14

Monday, October 22, 2012

"...run around the house three times."

When I was little, and complained of not feeling well, my Mom's first response was always "go outside and run around the house three times".  While at first glance that may seem a trifle harsh, especially in this politically correct age, there was a gem of wisdom there.  If I was truly sick, I would simply look up at her with glassy eyes and wipe my runny nose on my sleeve, and before I knew it I was dosed with a combination of honey, whiskey, and lemon juice and propped up with pillows on the sofa.  If I was just feeling sort of punky and she chased me outside, I would run around in the fresh air and sunshine and usually feel better right away.

Scientists today have all sorts of names for this phenomenon, speaking of endorphins, or getting vitamins from the sun, and so it may be, but really I think it's more a matter of attitude and a sort of toughness.  Fighting through feeling sluggish and out of sorts to get muscles moving is an accomplishment that can make all the difference.  To this day it's still her stock answer, and one I use on my own daughter.  We even use the phrase on each other as a way of motivating ourselves to go do something fun when we're so tempted to just sit on the deck in the comfy chairs.

This evening was another such time.  After spending the weekend putting up fifty pounds of potatoes, canning twenty jars of green tomato relish and another fifteen of hot pepper jam, then rushing through endless files at work, I really wanted nothing more than my recliner.  Mom has a pretty stressful, lousy sort of job too, and was ready to just chill.  But the air was warm, the leaves were gorgeous, and the lake was calling.  We just HAD to get out there in the kayaks!  I mean, how many chances will we have yet before the water gets hard?  So instead of sitting on the deck, we pushed each other to hauled out the 'yaks and trek out to the water. 

Ahhhh, how worth it!  The water was a dark, moody gray, choppy with small waves but with also with flat, smooth areas mysteriously reflecting the cloudy sky.  I could feel the stress just fall away as I dug and pulled, dug and pulled, hands tight on the paddle, shoulders straining, heart pumping.  The wonderful scent of burning leaves drifted out to us as we paralleled the shore, the water gently slapping against our boats.  A dozen deer, a mixture of yearlings and does, barely paused their browsing to watch us float by.  Turkeys moved among the deer, occasionally chortling and cooing to each other, and a couple of mischievous squirrels chittered loudly as they chased each other in circles up and down the trunk of a giant oak.  The deer would waggle their ears at the squirrels, as if to say "quit making so much noise".  Sometimes we paddled and chatted, sometimes we simply sat and drifted, enjoying the peace, the scenery, and each others company.  It wasn't until we heard rumbles of thunder in the distance that we headed in for supper.

By the time I left, we were both feeling better, more relaxed, and quietly energized.  I'm so blessed to have such a wise Mom, who has taught me well and been a wonderful example; and it's so good that we live where we can grab a kayak and put it in the water any time we want.  Having the Great Lakes to play in is truly great!

So remember the next time you're feeling sort of down and out of sorts, go outside and run around the house three times. (Or paddle a boat, ski down a hill, maybe even just go for a walk.) You'll be better for it!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October Surprise! (Or God is Good!)

Yes, I know that "October Surprise" has bad connotations, being a political ploy of politicians looking to be elected in November.  But here it was something rare and beautiful.  It was well after dark when I got home Monday, and once the truck lights shut off I thought what I was seeing was merely the neighbor's enormous combine shining lights up through the dust while harvesting beans.  Then I looked closer...it was actually the aurora borealis!  This makes about the fourth or fifth time I've been able to see them in the last three decades, so it's a rare treat.  Despite the freezing temperatures, I sat on my patio swing for over an hour, enjoying the show. They don't look like the vibrant, sparkling lights one sees on television shows about Alaska; here they are understated and subtle. I've seen some northern lights show pink and red before, but Monday's were white, blue and green, pale pastels flowing over the horizon in gentle waves.  Most of the time I could still see the stars through the gossamer veils, while some waves seemed to drift closer and coalesce, obscuring the stars. One little cloud of light seemed almost to perch on my roof top, perhaps caught for a moment on the eaves, until it could pull free and continue on it's way.  What a peaceful interlude, gently rocking in my patio swing, nestled deep in my jacket, my head resting back on the cushion, quietly overcome by the awesome spectacle of the night sky.   It was a perfect combination of clear air, shimmering northern lights, and brilliant stars.  I do wish folks would turn off the yard lights, street lights, and advertising lights, and take time to slow down and look up.  They may be astonished at what they're missing - a beautiful show, and no political ads!!

We recently took a family trip, and it was a real adventure for us to drive clear across two states, and a lot of fun to explore and see new places.  By the time we got back, we had put over a thousand miles on the van in just three days, and been through big cities, stretches of farm land, across major rivers, through valleys, and over hills. 

The very next day, that same van stranded me in the parking lot at work.  God is so good!!  When I thought about all the places we had just been, so far away from home, all I could do was sit there with the hood up and the door open, laughing.  My co-workers thought it a strange reaction to a broken down vehicle, but I was looking at the bigger picture.  Getting my brother to rescue me from work was a trivial inconvenience, compared to what could have been.  It makes me wonder, how many times does God take what Satan intended as a major, heart-breaking hurt, and instead allow it only as an inconvenience?  How often are we protected by His grace, without even realizing it?

Our October weather has been pretending it's November, with hard freezes and drizzly days.  It seems no Indian summer for us this year - and me still with dozens of chores to do before the homestead is ready for winter.  We'll be making the green tomatoes into relish and pickles, scrounging for firewood, cutting the grass one more time, and getting the screens out of the windows, among other projects.  I certainly wish there was a way to make a full time income, and yet be home with time to get everything done!  Maybe I'll have to look into cloning...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Canning beans

I finally got some beans out of my garden, the lovely "Dragontongue" beans that are yellow and purple and have no strings.  Last summer was the first time I grew these beans, and they quickly became a favorite due to their meaty heft and good texture that doesn't get woody when the beans get big.  I didn't have quite enough beans to make it worthwhile to get out the canner so I bought some nice green beans from my Amish neighbors and set to work. 

I much prefer "frenched" beans to cut beans, so after thoroughly washing the beans and cutting off the ends, I run them all through the frencher.  I have this giant colander that I feed the beans into from the frencher, making it easier to rinse off all the bits of seeds.

(Sometimes the best things can happen simply from being in the right place at the right time.  I was given this colander and quite a few other kitchen gadgets just because I was helping out a woman who was downsizing her home prior to moving.  Fun!)

After the beans are all frenched and rinsed, I stuff the jars.  I pack them in pretty tightly but make sure to leave a one inch headspace.  I cover the beans with hot water and use a plastic knife or wooden handle to make sure the air bubbles are all out.

Then I use a clean, damp cloth to make sure the tops of the jars are clean.

Then it's time to put the lids on, that I've had simmering in warm water to slightly soften the rubber sealant.
I love this little gadget!  Very simple, just a magnet at the end of a plastic handle, but it makes it so easy to get the lid out of the hot water without burning my fingers, or risk scratching the lid with tongs.  I tighten the rings just finger tight, and load the jars into the pressure canner.

The canner has a locking lid with flanges that fit like a tongue and groove when I twist the lid shut.
Not locked
Locked and ready to go
I follow the instructions in the canner manual for venting the steam and monitoring the heat so that the weight is happily jiggling, and process the beans (pint jars) for twenty minutes at ten pounds of pressure.  It can all be a lot of work, but to me it's worth it to have fresh, high quality beans preserved without chemicals and packed in glass instead of cans that may have liners that leach compounds into the food.  There's a wonderful sense of accomplishment, looking at a pantry shelf stocked with food I've preserved!

Sunday, September 30, 2012


The trees are starting to show color, the air is crisp and clean, the sun is warm and gentle - it's really the best time of the year for some outdoor activities!
Here's one of my favorites - and before we go any further, I have to warn you, once you try it, you'll be addicted and your whole life will change.


Have you ever heard of it?  It's been mentioned occasionally in different television programs or newspaper write-ups, but depsite it's popularity, most folks don't know what it is.  Basically it's a high-tech form of a scavenger hunt.  All one needs to play is an internet connection, a GPS reciever, time to wander the countryside, and the gas money to do so.  Someone will hide a container, often food storage like tupperware, in a hollow tree or at the base of a fence post or in a bush or under the cowling of a light pole, places like that, and post the coordinates of the hide on the website.  Other folks will download those coordinates, go find the container, and then record their finds online.  I have around 500 finds; there are actually people out there with over 10,000 finds.  I can only suppose that they are  a) retired, and b) independently wealthy.
There's a cache hidden just off to the right of the path

This was the view waiting at the end of the path

A Catholic shrine visited for a virtual c
Sometimes there are little trinkets in the container; beads, happy meal toys, marbles, etc., called "swag".  Swag can be left, taken, and traded from geocache to geocache.  There's a real competition to be "First to Find" a new geocache.  Sometimes there's a special prize in the container for the first to find, sometimes not, but a FTF is always good for bragging rights.  Some of the containers are tiny, no bigger than a watch battery, and contain only the paper log to sign and claim the find, some can be as large as the giant jugs that pickled bologna comes in.

Finding the containers is fun, but some of the best geocaches are "virtual" caches.  These caches will take you to see something of historical interest, scenic views, building murals, or wild and wacky sorts of things.  Usually these finds are claimed by taking a picture or answering a question about the site.

Some caches are accessible only by kayak, some by 4x4.  Some are educational, where you have to measure the output of a flowing well, learn about cave formation, or study beach erosion; some you have to solve a puzzle to get the coordinates, and some are just magnetic key holders stuck to a guard rail by a bridge.  The variety is almost endless and there's something for everyone.

It may all sound a little odd, which is what I thought when my friend introduced me to the hobby, but once I tried it, I was hooked.
I'm almost standing on a cache at this point
 Within a few weeks, I had purchased my own GPS unit and was out looking for them on my own.  I've been to some great places - some that were close to home that I had never seen - and delved into some fascinating history.  Many geocaches are in cemeteries, and I've always enjoyed the history there so it's even more interesting.  Central Michigan has many caches seemingly in the middle of nowhere; yet they are placed where there are ruins from an old logging town, CCC camp, or even the remains of a millionaire's castle on the banks of the river.
A cemetery with wooden crosses in a national forest miles from any town
The game began in America's northwest, and has since spread worldwide.  There are caches everywhere from Mammoth Cave to the Space Station; from Alaska to the South Pole.  The website is www.geocaching.com.  Check it out sometime - but don't say I didn't warn you!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Apple Peeler Gadget Review

Haven't you always wanted to try one of these gadgets?  I looked at them for years, but never thought it would really work, so didn't buy one.  Then one day my Mom happened to find one at a discount store, and brought it home for me, so here goes.

First apple done!    

At first I couldn't figure out how to work it.  I stuck an apple on the forks, just like in the picture on the manual, turned the crank, and the apple promptly popped off and bounced across the table.  Hmmmm.  I had it exactly like the picture!  Coming to the conclusion that the instruction manual wasn't worth the paper it was printed on, I tossed it and started puzzling it out on my own.  Eureka!  The corkscrew looking part will actually retract all the way to the right if I push this little lever, then when I put the apple on, it fits right up against the blade and doesn't pop off.

It goes really quick - stick the top of the apple on the fork, spin the crank, and the little blade slices away the peel and the circle blade cuts the core right out.  The peel comes off in one long ribbon, and the circle blade actually does get all of the core. The inner blade slices the apple into a long spiral.  It took only a few minutes to finish the bag of apples, and this method was wonderful for prepping the apples for drying, as each apple was easily sliced top to bottom, resulting in a stack of neat, even slices perfect for the dehydrator.

Bowl full just that quick

Slices in water with lemon juice to prevent browning
So prepping my bag of boughten apples for drying was easy and painless with this little gadget, but I can't give it a full five stars. 
The suction cup on the bottom of the unit is useless, it wouldn't stick to any surface that I tried. I had to hold the unit down with one hand while I turned the crank.  I may remove the suction cup, drill some holes through the base, and bolt it to a board for stability.
The apples I purchased came from carefully tended and sprayed trees that were genetically chosen for big round apples.  In a normal year, I'd be using the gnarly, odd-sized apples from my antique Northern Spy tree in my yard.  I don't think this gadget would handle those quite as well. 
My take on it?  If you can find this apple gadget for ten dollars or less (or get it as a gift), and plan to do large, uniform apples, it is certainly worth it.

The strange weather we had this spring caused the loss of about 75% of our local apple crop, so apples are few and expensive.  My tree provided me with three bushels of apples last year; this year it bore not one single solitary apple.  My famous home-made applesauce is in short supply, as only three jars remain of the over seventy I canned up last year.  Hopefully I'll be able to find some more reasonably priced apples and build up a little stock of dried apples and then maybe make some applesauce for special occasions.


The breeze is brisk and happy today, laughing as it whirls around the house, stirring up some early fallen leaves.  Large gray clouds are playing tag with the sunshine, making my kitchen go from brightly lit to dim and gloomy at random times.  Good smells fill the air as I'm busy canning chicken, corn, and beans, and dehydrating the apples.  I love Fall!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kernels and Kablooey

Summer has flown by with swift, trembling wings and here we are on the cusp of Autumn.  Time to be harvesting, canning, drying, and putting food by for the winter.  My poor garden was a victim of drought, weeds, and lack of time, so my harvest has been meager.  Happily, there's a large Amish farm just down the road that does a good business in seasonal produce, and I've been able to supplement my harvest.  If I can't grow it myself, at least I know where it came from!

When traveling to the city I also pass a very large commercial potato farm, where thrifty folks can pull in and get fifty pounds of fresh potatoes for $7.00.  I sliced and dried half of that, and cubed and canned the rest.  I was feeling pretty smug when, after filling one pressure canner with quart jars full of potatoes and starting the timer, I still had another canner to fill.  I figured to be done in half the time!

Alas, it is true, "pride goeth before the fall"....when the timer went off for the second canner, the first was still on high, as the weight had not resumed jiggling (or like a friend says, giggling) after the initial venting and start up process.  Well, it appears that the weight wasn't happy because the pressure was too high and the burner was too high and the temperature was too high and everything built right up and up and up and KABLOOEY!  ...that endless yet instant moment of heart stoppage when my mind tried to rationalize the sudden presence of a jet engine in my kitchen as the safety plug burst open and released a tremendous, hissing, screaming plume of steam.  Tiny metal bits from the plug melded themselves into the bottom of my stove hood and the whole room filled with a steam that reeked of burnt potatoes.

Double Creature Feature (before the kablooey)
Sigh.  So now I'm back down to one canner until I replace the safety plug. I am grateful that the safety device worked as it should have; the alternative is terrible to contemplate!

I did get three dozen ears of corn out of my garden, and decided to can it all up.  The ears weren't very big so it didn't take long to get them shucked and clean.  I've tried a lot of ways to get the kernels off the cob, and through trial and error found that using an electric knife works the best.  I put an upside down jar in the middle of a bowl, balance the cob on it, and buzz away, letting the kernels fall into the bowl.  This keeps them from flying all over the room and sticking to my eyebrows.  I pack the kernels into hot, clean pint jars and process them in my single solitary pressure canner for the full 55 minutes.  I've finally gotten pretty good at timing the cool down period, so as not to lose liquid out of the jars, but also to get ready for processing the next batch as quickly as possible.

Goes quick with the electric knife

Most of the kernels stay in the bowl

So far I have just under 20 pints each of corn and beans, and about two dozen quarts of potatoes; along with several quart jars of dried peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes.  Not much of a harvest, to be sure, but it's better than nothing, and I'm not done yet!  The adventure continues.....hopefully without anymore kablooey.

Until next time, God bless each of you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Random Thoughts

The ups and downs of having a teenager with a driver's license:

Constant worry over deer and large farm equipment trying to occupy the same road space as my child.

Freedom from endless running and fetching for lessons, games, and after school activities.

Insurance costs!!!  Talk about legalized theft!

But best of all, I haven't had to do the grocery shopping in months! 

A ray of hope and sanity in Middle America during the overwhelming discouragement of living through a presidential election year:

The sudden hush that fell over the stadium at the beginning of the Great Lakes Loons ballgame, when the national anthem began and everyone stopped talking, and stood facing the flag with their hands over their hearts.

How is it that the gasoline currently in storage in large tanks under gas stations here in Michigan suddenly becomes more expensive when the hurricane a thousand miles away hasn't even hit anything yet?

I've decided the best smells of late summer are tomatoes cooking in a huge pot on the stove mixed with the sharp scent of peppers and onions in the dehydrator.

I'm waiting for something fantastical to happen on Friday during the blue moon. At least I've read some good stories based on that premise.

*Just in case you were wondering, the moon won't really turn blue.  It's just the name for the second full moon within one calendar month.  The last blue moon was during November 2010.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Time to Fill the Jars!

It's so wonderful to have a circle of good people about; not only do I have a great family but my church family is something special too.  One of my church family arranged for me to trade a bunch of my seedlings I grew this spring for some farm fresh chickens.  I'm pretty sure I came out the winner on this one!  The chickens were raised without chemicals, drugs, or hormones, and their home was only a dozen miles from my homestead.  Eat local, right?

Well these chickens met their end a couple of weeks ago; by the time I got over after church to lend a hand the bloody bit was over, so I got to help a little with the bagging and weighing part.  There were chicken carcasses all over the kitchen, and a lot of gabbing and laughing as the work was done, sort of like an old-time work bee.

Ideally, I would have brought all twenty chickens home and stayed up all night stuffing them into jars and wrassling with the Creature to get them all processed.  However the combination of having to work, and the imminent visit of the small humans known as nephews had me frantically making room in the freezer.

So I pulled out several chickens this weekend, chopped them up, filled my jars, and processed them.  Eight pints done so far, and all sealed.  It seems the Creature and I have called a truce; pressure canning isn't nearly the frightening, nerve-wracking thing that it was.  I did learn a few lessons:  a sharp knife is essential (I'll have to learn to keep them sharp!), it is much easier to cut the raw meat when it is still partially frozen, and working with partially frozen meat can really freeze your hands!

The garden is very sad, mostly overcome by the relentless weeds.  I will have to purchase beans and corn from my Amish neighbors to have enough to can up this season, which troubles my frugal heart, as I should be able to get enough from my garden, rather than using money for vegetables, but you do what you have to do, right?  I do have a few spaghetti squash, peppers, and some tomatoes are finally turning red.  I like to do most of the tomato prep work outside, just because it makes such a big mess.  I do the work at my picnic table, and can simply hose everything down.

I start with the best tomatoes I can pick, and wash them before dropping them into boiling water, using the blancher.  My grill opens up enough to accommodate the blancher and does a good job of keepng the water boiling.  After the tomatoes have been in the boiling water for just a few minutes, I pull them out and plunge them into a bowl of cold water.  this makes the skins loosen, and cools them enough for handling.  I pull the skins off, and then put the tomatoes through my Victorio strainer.  This great little kitchen gadget will crush the tomatoes, pushing all the seeds and tough bits out the end, while allowing the puree to pour into a bowl.  This whole process makes a huge mess, especially when the plunger makes a tomato squirt all over - usually getting the walls, ceiling, and my face, while completely missing the newspapers put down to catch the drips.  The bowls of puree are dumped into my heavy duty stock pot, cooked down to the desired consistency, and then jarred and processed.  This method is great because the puree lends itself to so many recipes - everything from ketchup to soup to dried tomato leather.  Quarts are water-bathed for forty minutes, pints for thirty-five.  While I grow heirloom tomatoes that weren't bred for sweetness, there's no way to be sure how acid they are, so I add about a tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar, just to be sure.
The Outside Kitchen!
There's nothing so lovely as jar after jar of bright red tomato puree lined up on the counter!

Until next time, may God bless you and keep you.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thunderstorms and Anti-Truth

It's a true summer evening in Michigan.  A little rubber duck, left behind after the nephew's visit, floats in lazy circles in the swimming pool.  The smell and sizzle of brats on the grill is punctuated by rumbles of thunder as a small thunderstorm slides in from the north.  The scent of rain is in the heavy, wet air, and a rising breeze makes the cornstalks in the garden rustle uneasily.  I'm sitting in my patio swing watching it all, pleased to be home and lazily thinking I should perhaps get up and close the truck windows.

The truck taken care of, the brats almost done, I wander barefooted through my garden, searching for a ripe tomato to have with dinner.  The garden is very poor this year; weed infested and drought stricken despite my efforts at watering and weeding.  So far the corn harvest has been a total of six ears with only a few kernels on them.  The peppers are coming on, and there's some blossoms on the beans, so perhaps all is not yet lost.  My search finally yields two red tomatoes, and the brats and I make it into the house just ahead of the rains.  That wonderful soft, fresh, clean smell of cool rain hitting warm soil is cause for rejoicing, it's been sorely missed this summer.

I've been doing some reading and thinking; and now that I have the laptop back online I'm monitoring the news and following some stories.  I'm reminded over and over again of the "Stages of Error" described by Lutheran theologian Charles Porterfield Krauth:

“When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of the others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and then only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate the faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.”

Krauth was writing during the 19th century.  As our language has been dumbed-down during the intervening years, his logic may be a little difficult to follow, so here it is in modern terms:  Error, or Wrong, or Anti-Truth starts small, with requests for toleration.  (Don't hate me because I'm different, different is good, and Truth isn't so much fun anyways).  It then moves to demands for equality.  (I'm just as good and valid as anything you claim to be Truth and I deserve equal treatment and equal rights).  And finally when everyone who had believed whole-heartedly in Truth has become inured to the presence of Error, or anti-Truth, and doesn't care so much anymore, it moves aggressively to impose itself as better than Truth, more worthy, more friendly, and of higher importance. 

Our culture is caught dead-on in the third stage, and like the matter/anti-matter reactions described in my favorite tv series, the Truth/anti-Truth reaction seems likely to tear us apart in utter annihilation. 

The leftist media continues to promote anti-Truth, to willfully distort reports of events, to use emotion-laden, misleading words to foment more grief, more anguish, and more controversy.  Take for example, the recent kerfluffle over comments made by the owner of the Chik-Fil-A restaurants.  He said he did not believe that homosexuals should get married.  He has a right to that opinion.  He never said his business would refuse service to those who identify themselves as homosexuals; he never said anything hateful or demeaning, he simply expressed an opinion.

Well, anti-Truth jumped all over that, didn't it?  The hateful, disgusting, vitriolic response was just stupid.  Prominent politicians decided it gave them the right to attempt to shut down his business, and they decided to deny him the right to build new restaurants.  I bet it was a real surprise to these morons when so many thousands of people showed up for Chik-Fil-A appreciation day!  And the media just kept getting it so wrong - the large turnout wasn't to express hatred of homosexuals.  The large turnout was the result of ordinary, hard-working, tax-paying Americans supporting the man's right to Free Speech!  You know, one of those rights that makes this American republic so great?

Then there's the horrible mass shooting in Colorado.  Instead of realizing the trauma of the event, the media instead jumped to conclusions and claimed the shooter was a member of the Tea Party, so of course he must be evil and all guns must be locked up immediately.  Again, irresponsible reporting seeking only sensationalism.  A mild, muttered apology was issued the next day, but the damage was already done, wasn't it?

And let's not even discuss the presidential race.  The current Pretender in the White House has already sunk to new lows in his effort to remain king. 

What can we do?  Well, step one is to always remember Who is in control.  Tonight's storm passed quickly, with a golden, liquid sunlight breaking through, flashing from west to east and striking silver linings on the retreating clouds.  This was the view from my front porch:

God has set the rainbow as a reminder of His promise in Genesis 9:17: "So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth."   He is always there, He always remembers, and He has fulfilled His covenant with the Sacrifice of His Son.  Anti-Truth has already lost the war, despite the battles he fights here on earth.

Step Two:  vote!  Vote with your money.  Vote with your voice.  Vote with your actions.  And this fall, vote with your ballot.

Until next time, God bless you my friends.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Of Power Cords and Priorities

It's been a long time since I've written, though not for lack of things to say.  Perhaps I've been caught in a Barn Swallow Relativity shift, sure seems that way most days.  But the reality is a little more mundane....no power cord.  Ninety percent of my internet time is spent with my laptop, in my recliner, out in the living room.  There I have Daughter to talk to, dvds to watch, candles in the fireplace, windows looking out over the neighbor's fields, dawg curled up next to the chair.....who wants to sit in the back room in the uncomfortable chair with the big noisy desktop?

Not me.  So when the laptop power cord shorted out, I just sort of quit going on the internet.  It didn't take long to start reading books again, and having more discussions with Daughter.  It has been a peaceful time, paying more attention to the life right around me and realizing again that living in the moment is important. I haven't bought a replacement cord yet.  Maybe I'm reluctant to end this 'priorities' lesson.

In the meantime, projects continue as possible around the homestead.  The drought has hit here, too.  The garden is small enough to keep watered, but the grass is toast.  Unfortunately, so are much of my neighbor's crops.  The corn looks stunted and twisted and the beets look sad.  Any gains made by planting a month early have been lost.  Despite the watering, my garden is the worst it has been for many seasons.  I planted four rows of corn and five of carrots; I have about eight stunted corn plants and about half a row of carrots.  The weeds have taken over completely, literally head high when I kneel to pull them out.  The cucumbers turn yellow when just a few inches long, and most of the beans never came up.  So far the tomato plants are doing well, thankfully.  I can't imagine how desperate I would be if this garden was my only source of vegetables for the next year!   Hopefully my Amish neighbors are having better luck and I'll be able to buy some corn and beans to can up for the winter.

Of course, booting up the desktop and going online has also reminded me there is so much to be said and done in an effort to save this great nation from the machinations of wicked men.  More on that later; until then, here's some food for thought: