Tuesday, October 31, 2017

500 years ago today

It was 500 years ago today that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door on Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

According to this column, "Martin Luther didn’t intend to create a new movement outside of Catholicism, but rather to reform the Church from within. Nevertheless, his revolt certainly morphed into far more than a protest."

I'd say that's the understatement of the millennium.

Some people mistakenly believe Luther was the first to question the church's orthodoxy, but that's not correct. In the 14th century, John Wycliff agitated for translating the Bible into the vernacular and opposed the abuses of the church associated with wealth. Doubtless there were others that had some early influence as well. Luther didn't so much spark a revolution as cement the grumblings that had been going on for several hundred years.

Luther's big advantage is he had the power of Gutenberg's printing press. His 95 theses spread like wildfire.

Certainly the translation of the Bible into the languages everyone could understand had an astounding impact on Western history.

Arguably Luther's actions were ultimately beneficial to the Catholic church as well, which had its own counter-reformation that cleaned up many of the abuses Luther found so objectionable.

While these reforms were doubtless necessary, Luther was no saint, particularly regarding his position on Jews. His horrific anti-Semitism, while echoing the prevalent attitude in Europe at the time, exacerbated conditions and likely impacted relations with European Jews for centuries to come.

But Luther’s bravery in the face of his convictions cannot be minimized nor dismissed. He was willing to face excommunication at best and a tortuous death at worse for his principles. When he faced Emperor Charles V and defiantly stated, “Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.” – he was well aware of what might happen.

(The famous words "I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen" - appear to have been added to Luther's speech after the fact.)

Love him or hate him, Luther's actions on this day 500 years ago ignited a firestorm with reverberations still felt today. He was a game-changer in the religious development of the Western world. I wonder if he had any idea what he was starting?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Guess what guess what guess what!!!!!

Here's some exciting news to share -- I'm going to be blogging with Lehman's!

That's right, Lehman's -- the incomparable store and website that specializes in products for off-grid people, including the Amish.

You might remember I had a chance to visit Lehman's back in 2015 when I took Older Daughter to Ohio to drop her at her nanny school. I actually delayed my trip back by one day since I so desperately wanted to visit the store, which was worth every minute.

So a couple months ago I gathered up my chuzpah and, using a contact given by my cyber-friend Tim Young at Self-Sufficient Life, sent Lehman's an email with my writing credentials, asking if they had room for another blogger. What followed was some gratifyingly prompt replies, a charming phone interview, and an invitation to participate. I simply cannot get over the honor.

Their schedule is fairly full through the end of the year, but hopefully I'll be blogging more frequently after the new year. In the meantime, please hop over and read my first blog post, an interview with YouTube vloggers Doug and Stacy.

I urge you to leave comments on the Lehman's blog. The whole thing is well worth reading.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mr. Darcy meets a friend

A couple weeks ago, some old friends unexpectedly dropped in. They brought with them their seven-month-old Husky/Golden Retriever puppy.

Oh my, Mr. Darcy was one happy canine. The animals romped for hours.

This friend's pup was absolutely fascinated by Lihn, Younger Daughter's Quaker parrot. Let's put it this way: It's a good thing Lihn was in a cage, or she would have been snack food.

Naughty puppy! Get down!

The other puppy was much leggier than Darcy, and fast as lightening. We took them out in the field and she left poor Darcy in the dust.

It didn't matter. They played and played and played.

And so, as another old friend used to say, a good time was had by all.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Nine years and still spoiled

Amazingly, it's been nine years since we brought Matilda home from the commercial dairy herd where she had become a burden. They sold her off because she had scabs on her teats and a raging case of mastitis. Because of these issues, Matilda had a rough start here with us; but throughout the subsequent round of unpleasant treatments, she remained sweet and gentle, a true Jersey in disposition.

I blatantly admit she's far more of a pet than livestock. Matilda taught me more about animal husbandry and dairying than all the rest of the herd put together. Nowadays I prefer Polly's milk to Matilda's, but Matilda remains my favorite. We don't hesitate to butcher any extraneous animal on our farm, but Matilda? No way. Oh, I know her day will come, and it won't be too far in the future, but on that day I will absent myself from home and when the meat comes back, it will all be donated to our church's food pantry.

And even after all these years, I continue to spoil her, especially in winter.

Consider this peaceful scene: All the animals, tucked under the feedbox awning. At the time I took this photo, it was spitting rain and chilly, and everyone was cozy under the shelter.

Except Matilda, who has always been at the bottom of the totem pole. While the other critters enjoyed the shelter of the awning and the abundant food in the feedboxes, Matilda stood alone a few yards away. Her gentle, undemanding nature means she never argues back against anyone who wants to push her around.

This is why, every winter, I tuck Matilda in the barn each night with her own food. This way I am assured she's warm, dry, and well-fed. Sure it's a bit of extra work to make sure the pen stays clean and stocked, but my peace of mind is worth it.

Each evening, just before Don feeds the rest of the beaties, I poke my head out the back of the barn and call, "Matilda!" She's waiting for this call, and starts ambling her way toward the stall.

Her 18-month-old steer calf, Sean, follows. Sean doesn't need the food or shelter, but Matilda likes him with her, so along he comes.

I don't close the stall door behind them; I close the corral gate. That way Matilda and Sean have room to move around the corral without being confined to the stall (plus they have access to the water tank).

Sunday morning, when I took the photo below, it was pouring sheets of rain blowing horizontally in a 30-mph gale. I delayed releasing the chickens since they would just be blown away, but I fed the cattle and horse, all of whom were happily protected from the weather by the awning. Had Matilda been among them, she would have been out getting drenched in the pouring rain and howling wind.

Instead, she was cozy and dry in her stall. Yes.

Matilda is due to calve in late January or early February. She loves, loves, loves raising babies, and she produces beautiful calves, so her life's purpose happily continues.

I'm not sure how old Matilda is. I know she's at least 15, maybe older. If she'd stayed on the commercial dairy, even if she'd remained healthy enough for them, her useful life would have ended years ago. But here on our farm, she has a purpose and has enjoyed life a decade longer than she might have otherwise. She won't be with us forever -- in fact, probably not much more than a year or two -- so I'll spoil her while I can.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Requiem to a bread machine

Way back when Older Daughter was about a year old, and even though our finances were very, very tight, we bit the bullet and brought a brand-new bread machine. Don loves sandwiches and eats a lot of bread, but my breadmaking skills have always been marginal, so a bread machine seemed like the perfect answer.

We did our research and purchased what was, at the time, a top-of-the-line model: The Regal Kitchen Pro. As I recall, it cost somewhere on the order of $180. That was a tremendous amount of money for a penniless young couple with a new baby and a startup woodcraft business, but we did it.

And oh my, what a machine it's been.

That breadmaker has turned out hundreds upon hundreds of perfect loaves over the past 20 years. Let's see, if I make an average of three loaves a week, times 52 weeks/year, times 20 years, that amounts of about 3,120 loaves of bread.

I made bread last night, but this morning when Don went to take it out of the bread machine, this is what he saw:

In other words, the ingredients were there, but nothing happened.

We fiddled with the wall plug, thinking perhaps it needed to be reset. Then Don fiddled with the machine, wondering if a wire came loose. But no, it appears after 20 years of faithful service, my beloved bread machine has finally bit the dust.

But wait! It just so happened Don had found an identical model a couple years ago at a thrift store, in excellent condition (in fact, it looked like it had never been used). At only $15, he snatched it up. As it turned out, shortly thereafter the bucket on my old machine sprang a leak, so I just transitioned to the new bucket from the thrift-store machine.

This morning I hauled the thrift-store machine out, dusted it off, slipped in the bucket with last night's ingredients, and less than four hours later a beautiful loaf came out.

I tell ya, folks, a bread machine -- if you actually use it -- is one of the handiest and most reliable of household appliances. I hate to see my faithful old machine go, but at least I have a new (to us) replacement which, I hope, will last for the next 20 years.

UPDATE: Some readers have been asking for our standard bread recipe. This is what I usually make (ingredients added in the order listed):

1 1/4 cups warm water
1.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1.5 cups wheat flour
2/3 cups oatmeal
1.25 or 1.5 teaspoons yeast (kinda depends on how strong your yeast is -- this will take some tweaking)

I use the "2" setting ("Large-dark") on my machine.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This post got mentioned on SurvivalBlog!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Real-life zombies: Fascinatingly creepy

Found this guy (gal? -- probably) on our woodpile last week.

Notice how well she blends in with her surroundings.

Praying mantises are fascinatingly creepy. Everything about them -- from their lightening-fast, powerful arms to their propensity to eat their mates to their opportunistic grabbing of prey even as big as hummingbirds -- makes me glad they're only a few inches long.

You know all those zombie movies that are so popular? Well, to me mantises are the zombies of the insect world. They want brains, man. They're slow and fast at the same time. They're relentless in their stalking.

Yep, zombies. "Braaaaaiiiiinnnnnssssss....."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Stacking UP

Don and I have been cutting and splitting lots and lots of firewood lately. Winter's a-coming, after all.

We've traditionally stacked wood on the front porch.

Trouble is, the front porch will only hold so much -- maybe a cord, if we really stuff it. That's one of the reasons we always cut wood throughout the winter, rather than stacking up a winter's worth of firewood in one spot. (I guess we could always build a woodshed, but it just hasn't happened.)

So this year Don started stacking firewood on the side porch. This is a fine idea, except it too can only hold so much. In large part this is because there are no side supports to hold up the wood, so we can only stack it a few feet high before it wants to topple down.

So, smart guy that he is, he simply installed some 2x6s braced against the porch roof, and voila: vertical wood storage.

He put in a 2x4 under the roof awning where the 2x6s are braced, making them secure. The boards are slightly angled in and the bases are held in place by the weight of the firewood. The beauty of this arrangement is the boards can simply be removed as the wood is used up.

As we split more wood, he added more boards.

Like the front porch, this side porch faces against the prevailing wind, so it will be largely protected from snow.

He has room for just one more board, then that side of the porch will be filled.

I must say, all this extra wood gives a very nice feeling.

Vertical firewood stacking. What'll they think of next?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lament for my hometown

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Lament for my hometown."

I am stunned by the devastation of these fires in Wine Country. The whole catastrophe is tragic beyond belief.

If this map is accurate, the house I grew up in has been incinerated. Thank God my parents are safe -- they retired to Southern California several years ago -- but the rural neighborhood where I grew up apparently is gone.