Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Follow-up to prayer request

Here's a WONDERFUL follow-up on yesterday's prayer request from reader Prepared Grammy:

Praise God! She's coming home! A's blood counts have improved so much that her oncology team canceled the biopsy! She slept well and has an appetite for the first time in five or six days. Patrice and her prayer warrior readers have been such a blessing to me and A's family. I want to thank each of you from the bottom of my heart. Please keep the prayers coming for a complete recovery. May God continue to bless each of you.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Prayer request

Reader Prepared Grammy sent the following:

Patrice, I know this has nothing to do with your article, but I'm desperate for prayer for my best friend's little two-year-old granddaughter. She's in a major children's hospital and will be tested for cancer tomorrow. I ask that your and your readers pray for little "A." Thank you.

C'mon folks, let's cover little "A" with some serious prayer!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Consider the Appalachians

The following is a rant. My position appears first, Don’s position follows.


Patrice’s position:

Yesterday Don stumbled upon what looked to be an academic paper published in a periodical called "Education and Culture," Spring 2002. The paper is titled "Culture, Poverty and Education in Appalachian Kentucky." Seldom have we read anything so breathtakingly condescending.

The Appalachian culture stretches back centuries. Ever since reading the Foxfire books (documenting Appalachian culture in the 1970s), I've admired the people for their self-sufficiency and rural skills.

But the author of this piece (Constance Elam) seems to think it an almost willful act of defiance that the Appalachian people like their culture and don't want to alter, change, or leave it behind.

Dr. Elam writes: Appalachian Kentucky has a long history of poverty and subsistence living that has permeated the social structure and culture, including public education. Consequently, poverty has actually postponed or delayed the development of public education, as well as contributed to nonparticipation in the education system by much of the population well into the 20th century. … "Livin's more important than schoolin'" is a powerful statement by one mountain woman that condenses a complex socio-economic situation into the priorities of mountain life.

The author cites reference literature which "describe a multi-faceted culture that includes geographic and social isolation; the relationship of the people to the land; the value of kinship ties; the relevance of schooling; a stagnant economy; distrust of outsiders and government; powerlessness and reluctance to change; fatalism; and the results of political and economic exploitation."

Elam notes: "Settling into wealth, comfort, and the benefits of a regulated society was not the mountaineer dream or preference. ... The settlers in the mountains were rugged, ingenious, and wanted to be left alone."

Speaking as a "mountaineer" (though in Idaho), I've got news for Dr. Elam: Not everybody wants your definition of wealth, comfort, or the "benefits" of a regulated society. Some of us like to live life on our own terms and – get this – be left alone, particularly by condescending liberal do-gooders who think they know best.

Elam seems insulted that the Appalachian people are "existence-oriented" rather than "improvement-oriented," without the least consideration that her types of "improvements" often result in destruction of family unity, church participation, the barter economy, ties to the land, and other indicators of self-reliance. In short, not everyone thinks it's a step up to live alone in a condo in New York City.

Elam continues: "This traditional status quo held a certain comfort, and change was undesirable. Fatalism and religious fundamentalism developed to deal with the harshness of the land, the consequences of poverty, and the physical isolation."

(Does this remind you of someone sayings how "bitterly" rural people cling to their guns and Bibles?)

Since this paper was published in an education periodical, Elam focuses on the shocking and frightful neglect of educational opportunities for the Appalachian people, particularly in public education (which, presumably, excludes the people from the possibility of employment at a Fortune 500 company, apparently a fate worse than death). Frankly, with the state of public education lately, maybe this "neglect" isn't such a bad thing.

Elam writes: "The mountains and hollows isolated the people from the rest of Kentucky and the rest of the country, creating a kinship system of shared work, support, and recreation. All family members were needed for tending crops and farm animals, hunting and fishing, and taking care of younger children, performing household duties, and providing continuity."

So in other words, everyone is valued and needed. Families take care of each other. Work is shared. No one’s shunted off to an Old Folk’s Home to rot away. Moms don’t dump their kids in daycare while pursuing high-powered careers. Dads don’t have an hour-long commute. And this is bad ... how?

Elam seems particularly affronted by the poverty of the region. She points, over and over, to poverty as the deciding influence in all things, from religious beliefs to the standard of living: "The close kinship ties prevented many from leaving the area to find work for fear of leaving the security of family and comfort of the mountain lifestyle. Thus, poverty persisted."

But here's the thing: Sure, by urban criteria, the Appalachian people are dirt-poor. But to cope, they've developed a rich culture, strong family ties, a strong faith, and the "rugged individualism" that seems to offend Ms. Elam so deeply. I dunno, it sounds to me like these people are wealthy beyond belief in everything but money.

Since the article focuses on education, I should remind Ms. Elam that not all education takes place within schools. Somehow, since the dawn of human civilization, children have managed to become educated enough to survive, learning skills at their parents' knees and applying them as adults. Appalachian culture clearly prefers this method of education, not that espoused by Ms. Elam.

This reminds me of conversations we had with our kids on the subject of animal intelligence during our homeschooling years. "How intelligent are animals?" they would ask, and I would reply, "As intelligent as they need to be to survive."

The same might be applied to Appalachian culture: "How educated are they?" "As educated as they need to be to survive."

I do find it interesting that a more recent article reprinted in Scientific American asks, "Are people in Appalachia deprived of the benefits of technology, or are they protecting themselves from harmful effects of its misuse? ... It’s unfair to brand Appalachian skepticism as ignorance – particularly when it questions the corporations who are selling full-time surveillance of the general population for a considerable profit. ... Resistance is not ignorance."

In NYC, you might need a Ph.D. in Victimology just to survive. In Appalachia, you don't. Deal with it.

I'm not claiming Appalachia is a flawless paradise without any problems. What I am saying is solutions offered by people like Ms. Elam are not what the people want – or need.

Elam concludes her paper by essentially hinting the Appalachian people are hopeless when it comes to modern standards of education, technology, and cultural benefits.

Good for them. I say, keep it up. Ms. Elam can go suck an egg.


Don’s position:

First off, let me say I think Patrice is a little hard on Dr. Elam. I say "Dr." because I came across a reference to Elam's doctoral dissertation from the University of Texas in Austin titled "That’s Just the Way It Was: Teacher Experiences in Appalachian Kentucky, 1930-1960." I'm assuming her dissertation committee found her work acceptable and granted her a Ph.D.

When I say I think Patrice is being a little tough on Dr. Elam, it’s because Dr. Elam is simply a product of her environment and her education. She says in her dissertation she is native to eastern Kentucky, and I've no reason to doubt her. In reference to her husband, Dr. Elam wrote: "We are both Kentuckians and share not only love for one another, but also a love for the Appalachian Mountains and the Appalachian people. Because he dreamed bigger than I, our journey took us out of Kentucky and into an exciting and wonderful world."

Into an exciting and wonderful world. Huh. Sucks to be you, Kentucky.

If there is a single word that I could use to describe Dr. Elam, that word would be "elitist." I don't mean to be insulting when I use that term, however. Most of us are elitist in one way or another. As an example, I'm a country-boy elitist. I fully believe the self-dependent rural lifestyle that Patrice and I share is superior to living in a Metroplex.

Now Dr. Elam doesn't exactly say she was one of those po’ folks living in the hollows of eastern Kentucky, so I don't really know whether she has ever really shared the life experiences of the hillbillies she writes about so condescendingly.

But I have. True, I've never lived in Kentucky; but I've lived in large cities, small cities, large towns, small towns, and far enough back in the sticks that the nearest small town was hours away. And it should be telling of my own elitist preferences that, at 61 years of life, I'm back in the sticks.

In the above-referenced article, Dr. Elam seems to be truly confused. She simply cannot understand why, with all the Golden Opportunities modern society presents, the people who inhabit the Appalachian region don't really seem interested in reaching out to grab the ring. But I do. During the urban phases of my life, I've lived in places where I didn't know the names of the people in the apartment next to me, one door down. I've lived in cities were making eye contact could be dangerous. I've lived in places where you needed to check out the park grass before you sat down to make sure you avoided the used needles.

Conversely, today I can walk down any street – at midnight – of the largest nearby town without any trepidation whatsoever. My daughters could (and did) go for all-day hikes in the woods and fields that surround our home with no fear of the two-legged predators that infest cities like New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Dr. Elam quotes one country woman who says,"Livin's more important than schoolin'," and she is obviously horrified at that opinion. But here's the thing: Livin' IS schoolin'.

Both Patrice and I have advanced degrees. However, our many years of college education made absolutely no difference in the life we've come to lead. Quite truthfully, we both wasted a lot of time in higher academia (except of course that I met her while going to college, so there's that going for it).

Dr. Elam's biggest sin, in both her article and her dissertation, seems to be she cannot recognize that being happy with one's life is far more important than whatever letters you can stack behind your name. She lists concepts and beliefs shared by the people of the Appalachia (such as pride of place, strong family relationships, religious beliefs – which she refers to as fundamentalism – and a work ethic), but she fails to recognize what she's actually listing are the ingredients for a happy life. I know this because I’ve seen far too many people who have none of these things … and they are rarely happy. Living is far more important than schooling.

As I said earlier, elitism is common. I'm a true elitist when it comes to country living. But there is a difference between Dr. Elam and myself. Dr. Elam would want to find some way to change my life, the lives of my children, my friends and my neighbors; but I have no interest in changing hers. She's welcome to live in the cities. Her urban preferences – no matter how vapid, shallow, and soul-killing – are none of my business.

Dr. Elam does seem rather disheartened near the end of her article. One gets the impression she feels like her enlightened words are mostly falling on deaf (and dumb) ears. She laments the Appalachian people are a "culture evolved from both the physical and social isolation of the people, which led to such cultural characteristics as strong family ties, reluctance to change, distrust for outsiders, acceptance of poverty, and little need for schooling."

Could be. But as one of those hill folk, let me leave this with Dr. Elam, a quote from a portion of a song from my youth, sort of an anthem for us hillbillies:
'Cause I ain't askin' nobody for nothin'
If I can't get it on my own.
If you don't like the way I'm livin'
You just leave this long haired country boy alone.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

More snow pix

Now that the snow conditions have stabilized -- all our trails are blazed, the roads are plowed, and paths are shoveled to the barn, chicken coop, and shop -- we can start enjoying the scenery.

I'm guessing we received about 30+ inches of snow in one week. I beat a trail around the perimeter of one of our pastures on snowshoes, which makes taking Mr. Darcy out for his walks much easier.

My paths are just along the fence lines. Mr. Darcy's paths are everywhere else.

When he's not following my snowshoe path, he has to LEAP and bound through the deep snow, which makes him very tired very quickly.

Notice no vegetation is poking up, except in rare instances. Everything is buried.

Yesterday morning we had another snow dump, unbelievably heavy. We got about four inches in one hour, enough to convince everyone to postpone the neighborhood potluck (it was our turn to host) until next week.

Sometimes it's just better to curl up and watch the weather than to try and drive in it.

Here's an Oregon junco sitting on a snow-covered branch. I did manage to buy some birdseed, so I feel better knowing these little ones have full bellies. Hard to find food when it's buried under 30 inches of snow.

Early this morning we had a rare bit of sunshine peeking through fog, which resulted in a glorious display.

The camera couldn't do justice to the sun rays.

Yes, we live in a pretty place.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Self-reliance is the secret to happiness

Here's an interesting article I came across a couple weeks ago: "Self-Reliance Is The Secret Sauce To Consistent Happiness" (warning, some bad language scattered throughout).

The author, a Dutch productivity specialist by the name of Darius Foroux, points out how society hasn't changed much over the course of history in that "And one of those problems is that we are needy. VERY needy. Why is that a problem? Without self-reliance, you can never be consistently happy. And even though the purpose of life is not happiness in my opinion, being happy is still something that’s important to us. Happiness determines the quality of your life. No one wants to live a [expletive deleted] life."

Foroux seems to define "self-reliance" as emotional health: the confidence of not needing the approval of others. He writes:

"Let’s look at how self-reliant you are.

• Do you expect your romantic partner to make you happy?
• Do you think your friends should always be there for you?
• Do you expect that your boss will always give you money?
• Do you say people are stupid when they don’t buy your products or services?
• Do you find it difficult to be alone?
• Do you feel like a nobody when people ignore you at work?
• Do you feel hurt when someone doesn’t invite you to a birthday or any other social event?

In life, we always turn outwardly for everything: Happiness, advice, affection, love, approval. We ask experts for advice. We use drugs when we’re in pain. We expect others to solve our problems. ... Being part of society is great and all. But never take it too far. ... It’s one of the paradoxes in life. We want to be liked and loved by the ones we care about. But the moment we lose ourselves and our identity, we can no longer be the person we want to be. When you’re needy, you only damage your relationships in the long-term."

Foroux urges this emotional self-reliance "because when you’re self-reliant, you can enrich the lives of the people around you much more."

I couldn't help but compare the emotional self-reliance this writer discusses with the homesteading self-reliance quest Don and I embarked on so many years ago. In this regard, Foroux is correct: self-reliance is the secret to happiness. We can't imagine living any other kind of life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Winter WHOMP

I apologize for the blog silence. As it turned out, I have five -- FIVE -- writing projects due this upcoming Friday. Fortunately the weather has been wholly cooperative for getting computer work done. How, you say?

Unlike January (when conditions were as mild as April), February has roared in like a lion. We've had a winter WHOMP. We can get lots of writing done when no one wants to be outside.

It all started last Friday (Feb. 8) when it snowed, heavily and prettily. Everything looked like a Christmas card.

Even Mr. Darcy.

Temperatures were mild on the 8th, but on Saturday the 9th, we were expecting more snow and worse, a bitterly cold north wind. Our prevailing wind direction is from the southwest, so a north wind is not only a "contrary" wind, but it means the livestock don't have the protection they normally do.

So we spent Friday preparing for Saturday's wind. I opened up and cleaned out Matilda's old pen, unused since she passed away. This would offer them some shelter from the wind and snow.

Don also installed an OSB wind break across the gate into the awning (which worked surprisingly well).

Notice the snow depth for the cows. What is it, ankle-deep? That didn't last, I assure you.

Every day I've been taking Mr. Darcy on a walk to the mailboxes, a three-mile round trip. That Friday's snowfall made the landscape look very pretty.

Though it looks like I ran my camera through a black-and-white filter, doesn't it?

There's just nothing lovelier than walking through a gentle snowfall.

Needless to say, Mr. Darcy enjoyed it too.

We got about eight inches of snow on Friday Feb. 8. So much, in fact, that if not for the heroic efforts of a neighbor with a snowplow on his truck, we could not have risked driving to the neighborhood potluck (held that day at a friend's house a few miles away).

As promised, Saturday roared in with wind so bitterly cold that it defeated even me. I'm famous for doing barn chores in shirt sleeves in 20F weather, but I couldn't even take Darcy for a walk that day. I tried, twice, bundled up as if for an arctic expedition, and got blown back to the house within five minutes.

We opened up the barn stall for the cows, and they hung around a bit but not as much as I thought they would (they're tough beasties). Still, I'm glad they had the option.

On Sunday, Feb. 10, the snow came back in. It snowed and snowed and snowed.

Temperatures were still bitterly cold, so Don bundled up when we took Darcy out. (That's Darcy on the right in the distance.)

And I mean bundled.

Like all good dogs, Mr. Darcy was completely immune to the weather. To him, the snow was nothing more than a giganto play toy.

Between Don's efforts, and our neighbor with the snowplow, the driveway stayed open. Every time it was scraped, flocks of Oregon juncos would descend to see what edibles were available. Make a note: pick up birdseed next time I'm in town.

Monday, Feb. 11, dawned windy and snowy. I get up early, when it's still dark, and when I stepped outside to get firewood for the woodstove, I was startled to see the whole porch drifted over and the wood buried. Hello, where did this come from?

Drifts built up by the chicken coop.

The wind was coming from the southwest (prevailing direction), which meant the cattle had shelter; but eddys had blown fine snow into the barn opening and coated the feed boxes.

Looks tasty, no? I gave the cattle fresh food.

Everything was coated.

The chickens looked suspiciously at the drifts and refused to set foot outside the coop.

Here's a pair of red crossbills hanging around.

Handsome birds. Here's the male:

And the female (zoomed and cropped so she's blurry):

Canada geese.

Pine cones.

Garden tires, Monday:

Garden tires, Wednesday:

Garbage cans, Monday morning:

Garbage cans, Monday evening:

Garbage cans, Wednesday morning:

Okay, time for snowshoes. There was no other way to take Mr. Darcy out.

The wind sent little snowballs rolling across the top of the snow, getting bigger as they went.

Don, pushing snow out of the driveway on Monday.

Don, pushing snow on Tuesday.

Don, pushing snow on Wednesday.

Tuesday, temps had risen just enough to start sending snow sliding down roofs.

This is the view from under the front porch. Don left me a valentine. Can you see it?

This morning -- Wednesday, Feb. 13 -- we woke up to heavy snow. My valentine had collapsed.

Altogether another eight inches or so fell overnight and during the morning. I'm guessing we have about 24+ inches of snow on the ground, maybe more.

The snow is so deep it's anchoring the lower branches of some trees.

Notice the curl of snow off the right side of the chicken coop? It makes a tunnel.

Between snowfalls, drifting, and snow sliding off the roofs, snow is piling up four or five feet in front of the windows.

We're running out of places to put it.

When I went to check to stock tank this morning, the barn door was blocked by snow. I had to wade through thigh-high drifts, climb a fence, and shovel out the door from the outside.

Got it open.

By afternoon it was blocked again (from snow sliding off the roof), but at least it's blocked open.

We're having a winter's worth of weather in one week.

(Notice the snow piled near the fence tops at the bottom of the photo.)

Backyard doghouse. The backyard is a bit protected from the wind, so the snow isn't quite as deep.

Orchard trees. You can hardly see the tires in which they're planted.

This morning I took Darcy around the field on snowshoes. Walking was so difficult that I stayed along the perimeter and held onto the wire to keep upright.

Eventually Darcy decided it was easier to stay behind in my path (sorry for the weird camera angle, I was reaching behind me), which often meant putting his paws on the backs of my snowshoes. Imagine how much more difficult that made walking.

About the only way he could get around was to LEAP and bound over the snow.

Here are some of his tracks from LEAPING and bounding.

That's him waaaay off in the upper left corner of the photo, by the fence.

This is what he did when he got home.

Snow was sticking to his backside in great big jingle balls, as we call them.

He chewed them off when he got inside.

This afternoon the temps rose to a dazzling 43F and the sun came out briefly. Don had scraped a path to the chicken coop, which the birds appreciated.

What a mess!

This afternoon I heard a thwack against the kitchen window. This poor little junco...

...smacked himself so hard he left feathers behind on the glass.

But evidently he only gave himself a headache, for he flew off shortly thereafter.

So that, dear readers, is what our week has been like. Now ... back to writing.