Sunday, April 30, 2006

The exquisite frustration of slow food
Generally speaking, my experiences with slow food have been satisfactory - whole wheat bread made from soaked flour is very tasty, soaking oats to make porridge has been a notable success, and so has making my own ketchup, using homemade whey from homemade yogurt - but sometimes things just don't go as well as I'd hoped.

Friday evening: Take a quart of fresh goat milk and decide to make Devonshire cream. Strain it into a clean ceramic bowl, cover and set in a warm place for twelve to twenty-four hours per recipe.

Late Saturday morning: Place dish on wire frame inside of a waterbath canner filled so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the dish. Turn stove on low to begin the long slow process of bringing the milk to a boil.

Saturday noon: Check water temperature and turn up another notch. Repeat every hour or so throughout the afternoon.

Saturday, 5:30 pm: Notice that cream is beginning to undulate as it should.

Saturday, 6:15 pm: Check cream again and realize that it has taken over twenty-four hours to get to this point, but so far it looks like it's going to turn out well.

Saturday, 6:20 pm: Step out of the kitchen for a moment.

Saturday, 6:25 pm: Return to kitchen to find a spoon in the dish and the cream stirred back into the milk.

Saturday, 6:30 pm: Recover from volcanic eruption and decide to procede, hoping it isn't ruined.

Saturday, 8:30 pm: After keeping hot for two more hours, cover and set in a cool place.

Sunday, 8:30 pm: Over 50 hours after the process was begun, take the bowl to the kitchen counter, uncover, and skim off the cream. Inspect. Sniff. Taste. Discover it's a failure.

*sigh* I suppose I'll try again sometime... Maybe next week.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Small children playing 20 questions

Child A: "I'm thinking of something."
Child B: "Animal, vegetable, or mineral?"
Child A: "Mineral."
Child C: "What is it?"
Child A: "Our goats! Your turn."

Child C: "I'm thinking of something."
Child A: "Animal, vegetable, or mineral?"
Child C: "Mama, is the table mineral?"
Mama: "No, it's vegetable."
Child C: "Vegetable."
Child B: "Is it the table?"
Child C: "Yes!"

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Oh Sovereign Lord, give me grace!
We got four pullets today - they're sweet and Chanticleer seems to like them, although we're keeping the hens in the coop, and the rooster out, for few days while they get used to each other.

All of our animals are patured/free range. We believe it's the healthiest way to raise them... in the outdoors that the Good Lord created them for.

But that's not what has me praying for grace right now. We just met our new next-door-neighbors. The husband works in DC.

For the USDA.

The first thing he did when he saw the chickens was to tell Mike about Virginia's newly enacted legislation regarding the bird flu: If even one case of avian flu shows up, all poultry within 14 counties has to be exterminated.

Please pray for us - this has me almost as worried as if a hyperactive social worker had moved in next door. We'll need wisdom as we consider how much, or whether, we should talk to him about research showing that the avian flu is not as serious a threat as the USDA is presenting it, and that the solution is nothing like what the USDA wants - that all poultry be raised indoors.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Adventures in Goat Herding
We knew we'd need two or three does in order to have enough milk for our family of nine to drink, cook with, and make cheese, so we'd planned on buying at least one more doe this year, and that's just what happened. On a Wednesday earlier this month we drove over to a nice Amish woman's farm in Maryland and bought Ella, a five year old doe who had been retired from the herd that Monday, since she's a little hard to milk, and this woman had nearly a dozen does to deal with, so she really didn't have the time that Ella needs. We, on the other hand, figured she would do fine for us. The Amish woman kindly let us milk her before making the decision to buy so we'd know what we were getting ourselves into, and she gave nearly half a gallon of milk.

Well, we brought her home that evening and thethered her inside the pen while we milked Queenie and took care of evening chores, then we tethered her inside the shed when it time to put them to bed. Ella's previous owner had told us to be very careful not to let her get loose for the first week or so, until she has time to get used to us and to her new surroundings and get settled down. Once, Ella had been lent out to a family who needed her milk for their baby, and she broke loose and came home again, so we were trying to be very careful about this.

On Thursday morning, we tethered Ella to a tree beside the garage while I milked Queenie, and then I took a handful of grain to Ella to feed her while we waited for Stephen to take Queenie out to the pasture so I could take Ella to the milkstand. Ella took the handful of grain from me, took a step away and looked back at me and then bolted, breaking her tether!

Mike and Stephen ran after her while I jumped in the van to follow them, but we never caught her. She went down our road to the highway and headed south for a quarter of a mile or so, through a couple of yards, then went into the woods where Mike lost track of her.

We spent the rest of that day looking for her, and with the help of some very nice people (neighbors, animal control people, and even the sheriff were in on the hunt!) we finally caught her late Friday morning and brought her home again. The poor thing - she was scared to death. She had diarrhea for the next week and had to be kept tethered at all times as she still tended to bolt, especially while gazing into the woods from the top of our yard.

We kept milking her, though we had to give her milk to the cat since it wouldn't be wise to drink milk from an unwell animal, and took especial care with her feeding and water, and finally on Monday of this week she was well and we began keeping her milk.

Ella gives about three cups of milk morning and evening, and Queenie gives about two in the morning and one in the evening, which totals a little more than half a gallon a day, just a little more than we normally use in a day. Now, real dairy people refer to the amount of milk in terms of weight - a pint (2 cups) weighs about one pound - but we don't have a dairy scale yet, so we make do with measuring cups.

Queenie's kid isn't weaned yet, so that's why we get so little from her right now. Blue is about six weeks old now and will be weaned in another couple of weeks, just as Queenie should be reaching her peak production, so I'm thinking we'll be getting close to a gallon of milk a day this summer.

Time to order rennet for cheesemaking!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

RSS feed
BBG Valerie mentioned in my comments below that my RSS feed hasn't been working for her. Is anyone else having this problem? (Of course, if you are, I suppose you won't ever know to answer this post...)

I tried several times yesteday to publish this, but apparantly Blogger was down. It saved this one as a draft, but another I tried to publish disappeard into cyberspace. :-(

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Layers of Irony

Something occurred to me in my reading recently. Many of the symptoms or outcomes of the root defects in our culture today involve things like - plastic. So much of what we own is made of plastic because it's just cheaper to mass-manufacture plastic than to pay artisans who work with wood, clay, or stone, or to raise plants or animals for their fibers. We also use plastic in place of ivory, because it's just so mean to kill animals for their bones (instead of encouraging people to be good stewards of the animals that God has placed here), and many fine woods, like mohogany, because it's just Not Nice to cut down big virgin trees in the rain forests (again, instead of encouraging good stewardship of the resources God has given us).

We use lots of almost-plastic ingredients, like propylene glycol and methylparaben in cosmetics and other personal care products as emulsifiers and preservatives, again because it's either too expensive to use animal and plant based products or because of mass-manufacturing we need to preserve shelf life.

Then there's the whole slew of plastics that are used for convenience food storage, and for inexpensive household supplies. Don't get me wrong, now, I love my Rubbermaid stuff. I don't know where I'd put all my stuff if I didn't have plenty of Rubbermaid, or the even-cheaper Sterlite, to contain everything in. I much prefer real baskets, but they're pretty expensive, too, and if I'm buying something from China, I don't know whether I should spend less money and buy something ugly, or more money to get something beautiful. It's a quandary.

And then there's all the products that were created to facilitate factory farming and its attendant problems - the pesticides and herbicides, the antibiotics and hormones that practically all of us are exposed to, and all the products that were originally created to make keeping commercial kitchens and hospitals and such clean, and have trickled down to the household consumer, because really, they do make life much easier in a way. I love my Swiffer, and my Clorox bathroom cleaning wipes.

But the thing that really struck me was the irony... the poetic justice of all this. These things are all toxic to one degree or another and are probably responsible in a big way for the huge jump in various forms of cancer and autoimmune diseases and things like that that we're seeing so much of nowadays.

What's so poetic about that, you ask? Just this, that in our feminist society, the bulk of exposure to toxicity, most of which is practically unavoidable for most of us, comes from various forms of estrogen. That's right. Female hormones.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Hail thee, festival day!
Blessed day to be hallowed forever;
Day when our Lord was raised,
Breaking the kingdom of death.

Lo, the fair beauty of the earth,
From the death of the winter arising!
Every good gift of the year
Now with its Master returns.


Rise from the grave now, O Lord,
The author of life and creation.
Treading the pathway of death,
New life You give to us all.


He who was nailed to the cross
Is Ruler and Lord of all people.
All things created on earth
Sing to the glory of God.


Daily the loveliness grows,
Adorned with glory of blossom;
Heaven her gates unbars,
Flinging her increase of light.


Bright and in the likeness of fire,
On those who await your appearing,
You Whom the Lord had foretold
Suddenly, swiftly descend.


Forth from the Father You come
With sevenfold mystical offering,
Pouring on all human souls
Infinite riches of God.


God the Almighty Lord,
The Ruler of earth and the heavens,
Guard us from harm without;
Cleanse us from evil within.


Jesus the health of the world,
Enlighten our minds, great Redeemer,
Son of the Father supreme,
Only begotten of God.


Spirit of life and of power,
Now flow in us, fount of our being,
Light that enlightens us all,
Life that in all may abide.


Praise to the giver of good!
O lover and author of concord,
Pour out your balm on our days;
Order our ways in your peace.


Words: Venan­ti­us For­tu­na­tus (530-609) (Sal­ve fes­ta di­es toto ven­er­a­bi­lis ae­vo); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by Maurice F. Bell in The Eng­lish Hymn­al (Lon­don: Ox­ford Un­i­ver­si­ty Press, 1906), num­ber 624.

Music: "Salve Festa Dies," Ralph Vaughan Williams, in The Eng­lish Hymn­al (Lon­don: Ox­ford Un­i­ver­si­ty Press, 1906)

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Spring Fever... and a complaint
It happens every year. As soon as the days are clear and warm I experience this overwhelming urge to build and plant, and a thousand more projects than I can possibly accomplish intrude themselves into my thoughts so that it's nearly impossible to stay indoors washing dishing and folding laundry and doing grammar lessons.

We've already planted eight new fruit trees - four peaches and four pears - we've planted our early peas and some early root crops - potatoes, onions, turnips, radishes, carrots... Tomorrow and Tuesday we'll be planting lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes and other things.

But we have building projects, too. I'd really like to build a grape arbor over our west-facing front door and windows, but that will have to take a back seat to two other projects. We built a portable chicken coop during the winter and a couple of weeks ago, a coworker of my husband's gave us a rooster. Chanticleer is a beautiful buff and cream cockerel with greeny-black tailfeathers, but I've no idea of his breed. As soon as we build nesting boxes into the coop, a friend from church is bringing us four Araucana pullets, and she'll be able to tell us for sure what breed our young man is.

We also need to build a goat shed. Two weeks ago, Mike bought a young doe and her first kid, a male, and they've been spending the nights in our smokehouse and the days either in a largish pen behind our garage, or picketed out in various parts of the yard so they can forage. It's working out okay, but the smokehouse will be too hot in the summer so we need to build a permanent home for them, and we need to put up fencing that we can move around to different "pastures" rather than keep them picketed. We've been getting close to a quart of milk a day from Queenie, which is not bad considering how young she is and that Blue*, the kid, is allowed to nurse freely. Her production should peak in June and by then we'll be weaning him, so hopefully we can get a half a gallon or more per day, which would give us enough for drinking and cooking, but probably not enough for making cheese. I've half a mind to keep buying pasteurized milk for cooking with so I can have some to make cheese with.

I also want to build a nice tall fence across the east and south sides of our property and plant some trees there to screen the view. Those two lots were bought by a builder and he's putting up two huge houses. The one to the south of us I think I can adjust to. It's sited next to our house and faces the street as we do, but I'm very disgruntled about the one to the east of us. It's a two-story obscentiy on a raised basement, and it's sitting just behind our back yard right smack dab in the middle of our view of the Potomac. Let me correct that - we no longer have a view of the Potomac. To make matters worse, their drain field is planned to be just a few feet away from our property line and that's where our garden is. I suppose after someone moves in there we won't be growing our food over there any more, since we do our best to grow organically and there's no telling what other people put down their drains.

This kind of thing is going on all over out here - the great American tragedy: Country people selling off their property to developers. Several farms in our county have recently been sold and about a thousand new houses are going up, and they are all of the McMansion variety. An elderly woman at our church told me last week that so many large houses have been built out here in the last couple of years that property values, and therefore taxes, are going up so quickly that many people who have lived here for generations are having to move away. It's very sad.

So, while we are being greatly blessed by the Lord, and feel like we're learning more of what it takes to run a homestead, and giving our children the skills to do so themselves, and enjoying fresh goat milk and looking forward to fresh eggs, we're seeing some of our neighbors thow away their inheritances, and doing so in a manner that makes it more difficult for their neighbors to keep their own heritage.

*sigh* All this work we need to get done and I'm reluctant to spend the time outside with my children doing it, because of the construction workers all around our house... and no privacy.

* A note about Blue's name, especially for Kelly M, since I told her he was going to be named either "Bucky" (that is, let him grow up to be a buck and breed with him) or "Easter Dinner" (heh). Number One Son talked us into having him castrated when he's a little older and keeping him as a companion for his mother - and allowing #1 Son to train him to pull a cart and maybe even a plow. While we were debating what his name should be, the girls took to calling him "Little White Thing with a Blue Collar" and I said, "Why don't we just call him 'Blue' then?" and it stuck.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

This is only my second Easter season in a liturgical church and I can't get over how beautiful and meaningful this annual cycle of presenting the Gospel is.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Church year (or liturgical calendar), the year begins at Advent which is a season that both looks forward to the second coming of Christ as well as remembers the first coming. Then comes the Christmas season, which runs from Christmas day to the 5th of January, during which we celebrate the incarnation of Christ and why that was necessary for our salvation. The Epiphany season begins on the 6th of January, the Day of Epiphany, and the purpose of that season is to see how the Lord revealed the Messiah to all the nations. The principle Scriptural events associated with this season are the visit of the Magi (Christ revealed to the Gentiles, he is to be the savior of all the nations, not just the Jews), the baptism of Jesus (Christ revealed to the Jews as the Messiah), and the wedding at Cana (the divinity of Christ revealed).

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, which is a time of quiet reflection on one's need for a savior and for continuing in repentance and faith in Christ. In our church, each Sunday morning begins with a recitation of the Ten Commandments (the people responding to each one, "Lord have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep this law"), and then confession of sin. The Scriptures that are read during Lent generally relate to our sin and need for a savior, and the suffering that the Lord will undergo for our sakes.

Tomorrow begins "Holy Week" - the week of the Lord's passion, his death, and resurrection. Mike brought me a copy of the bulletin for tomorrow's service and it's so beautiful I wanted to share it here. The first part of the service is called "The Liturgy of the Palms," but the second part proceeds as a normal Sunday service with communion, which we have every Sunday.

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The Liturgy of the Palms
(We will gather at the parish hall, each taking a palm branch, and will process to the church building, singing.)

Pastor (singing): Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
People (singing): Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.

Processional Hymn: All Glory, Laud, and Honor

Now inside the church - the Gospel according to Mark 11:1-11a
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, `Why are you doing this?' just say this, `The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.

Hymn: "Hosanna" sung by the children's choir

Pastor: Let us pray.
Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
People: Amen.

First reading, Isaiah 45:21-25
Thus says the LORD,
Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the LORD?
There is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is no one besides me.
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
"To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear."
Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;
all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.
In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.

Psalm 22:1-11 (sung)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
by night as well, but I find no rest.

Yet you are the Holy One, *
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.

Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.

They cried out to you and were delivered; *
they trusted in you and were not put to shame.

But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
scorned by all and despised by the people.

All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,

"He trusted in the LORD; let him deliver him; *
let him rescue him, if he delights in him."

Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, *
and kept me safe upon my mother's breast.

I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
you were my God when I was still in my mother's womb.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
and there is none to help.

Second reading: Philippians 2:5-11
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Gradual Hymn: Ah, Holy Jesus, verses one and two
(Note: Half of the gradual hymn is sung before the reading of the Gospel, while the pastor walks up to the middle of the center aisle, and the other half is sung after. The Gospel is always proclaimed from the midst of the congregation.)

Reading of the Passion: Mark 14:32-72; 15:1-47
(I'm not posting it here because the passage is so lengthy. This passage will be read in "parts" various people taking the part of the Evangelist (narrator), Jesus, Judas, Pilate, etc., with the congregation reading the part of the crowd. This is very moving because, you remember, we've just declared Jesus to be our King, and here we are calling out for his crucifixion. Oh, how fickle are our hearts!)

After that, we will sing the third verse of "Ah, Holy Jesus," and then the service will continue as usual. You can read the whole service here if you're interested.

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