Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A year end tid-bit

Well, this picture really has nothing do do with anything, I just like it. No, it's not my clothesline, either. However, I have been wishing it were nice enough outside to hang clothes on the line. But alas, 'tis winter.

I found my fruitcake recipe. Today. Stuck in between some cookbooks that I KNOW I moved and looked through. So I'm wondering what kind of lesson I'm supposed to learn here. I did call mom and got the thing made. Good as always.

Had a nice Christmas. Kids got way too much stuff from family, as usual. My daughter has some money she's been saving and it's burning a hole in her pocket. She had plans to go spend it on this or that, but she got everything she wanted to buy for Christmas, including a digital camera. So who knows now?

We're puppy sitting for some friends who went out of town for the week. They recently adopted two Chocolate Lab/Huskie mix puppies. They're really adorable dogs. Toby (our Golden) is kind of perplexed, but seems to enjoy the company. I think it'll be good for him.

My blood pressure has been up lately. I'm not on medicine or anything, don't need to be. But I do need to learn to relax, and I need to drop some weight.

Speaking of which... most people seem to make those silly New Year's resolutions, especially about weight loss. I never do. Don't make the first resolution. Why? Because, statistically speaking, probably a good 90% of resolutions (and I think that's being cautious) get broken soon after they're made. Having made resolutions in the past, and broken them, I decided a few years ago that I don't need that kind of guilt and disappointment with myself. So... no resolution, no guilt. Works for me!

Hope this post finds you all well and enjoying the 'interim' before life really gets back to normal next week. Me? I have a list of errands as long as my arm to do this afternoon. I have a tree to take down and decorations to put away. I need to study for a class I'm teaching for k-1st grade boys at our Co-op starting next Monday. And I need to do laundry. Which brings me back to the picture at the top of the page. Hmmm, I guess it did have something to do with this post.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Crisis

HELP! I CAN'T FIND IT! Time is slipping away and I can't find my fruitcake recipe. No, this is serious. I can't find it. I know I had to have taken it out to make the shopping list, but now I don't know what I did with it. I'll cook just about anything on the stove, mix things together, create my own thing... but baking, NO WAY! There's just too much to screw up. Somebody please say a prayer that this empty headed lilly-muggins finds his stupid fruitcake recipe.

Melora says that if I don't find it, it'll just be a chance for me to make my own cake and make it better. No, huh-uh, can't do it. If I don't find it this morning, I'm gonna have to... (dum, dum, duuuuummmmm) Call my mother and ask her if she remembers it all. Oh help.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Baby, It's cold outside

"In the deep midwinter, frosty wind made moan.
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone."

Those words, from the old carol "In the Deep Midwinter", pretty well describes what it's like around here. Wowza it's cold. Woke up this morning to 1... that's ONE... degree with some serious windchill. Went out yesterday and filled the bird feeders, poor souls. I about froze my hands off in the process even with gloves. High today is predicted at 18 degrees. Snow moves in tonight and may leave us with 2" and 1/4" of ice. Fun, fun!

Been slow around here... gotta bake and do laundry today... probably need to wrap some presents, and I have yet to get in my yearly viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life".

Busy, busy, busy.... Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I think this is just FUNNY!

I had seen this comic a long time ago and thought it was amusing then. Now, after having discovered my affinity for poultry, and having recently helped kill and clean some, I think it's hilarious!

Actually, what got me looking for it again was my need to send a thank you to the guy that 'took me under his wing' and showed me how to process chickens. I thought of this picture and knew I had to find it. It just says it all.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Twas the Week before Christmas

Well, here it is a week before Christmas. Not a lot going on around here but I thought I'd write something anyway.

We've broken into several jars now of the homemade applesauce. It's really good and the kids devour it.

I have a little bit more shopping to do for my wife and a friend, but otherwise, we're done. Yeah! I used to enjoy getting out in the crowd and mess and shopping for presents, but I guess I'm getting older and now I just think it's ridiculous. I don't have much patience anymore as well. I suppose my kids take all I have, so when I do go shopping, be it for groceries or gifts, and the line is a mile long and there are only three lanes open and another 24 closed - at 6:00 p.m. - I get a little testy. Most of the time these days, I try to psych myself up and remind myself not to get in too big of a hurry.

This weekend I'll be making "The Fruitcake". Yes, a real bonafide fruitcake. No rum flavor. It's full of dates, pecans, and candied pineapple and cherries. It has a boatload of sugar and just enough liquid and flour to hold it all together. Truly, it's more fruit than cake and it's very good. "WHY on Earth," you ask, "would I make fruitcake?" Well, it's my mom's recipe. She used to make it especially for my grandfather. But after he passed away some 10 years ago, she decided she couldn't do it. Didn't even want to look at the tin she put it in. Well, my sisters weren't going to do it and I wanted to. So she handed the recipe to me - the original piece of paper! She no longer has the recipe in her possession, it's mine. It really is good and does a fair job of redeeming the bad rap that fruitcake gets. I'll probably also make Santa's Thumbprint cookies. No, not peanut butter cookies with a kiss on top. These are the real thing, too. A sort-of oatmeal cookie with almond flavoring, melted chocolate on top and a pecan half. My personal holiday favorite.

I'll be singing next Wednesday evening as part of the worship team at our Christmas eve service at church. Check out my church at www.mccth.org. Melora and I attend the Exchange service on Sunday evenings. To get an idea of what we 'put up with' sometimes in our pastors... check out http://reson8.org/stuff/video/. Here, you'll see a selection of some really fine acting and general goofiness. Really funny stuff, especially if you know the people in the videos. But I think even without that familiarity, you'll find them pretty humorous.

Hope all is well with you and yours. Take some time and enjoy the season. Watch some of those favorite Christmas movies, listen to some old Christmas music (or some new), eat unhealthy stuff - and enjoy it.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Peachy Eggs

For those who don't know, I organize a local fresh-egg group (for lack of a better way of saying it). It's kind of like an egg CSA (consumer supported agriculture). I'm writing this post for those in the group that would like to know a little more about where their eggs come from. But of course, anyone can read along.

We get our eggs from an Amish man and his wife in Parke County, Indiana. There's a pretty good sized community of Amish up that way. His name is Mr. Peachy. So yes, they are literally Peachy eggs.

Mr. Peachy has approximately 320 Golden Comet hens. That's one in the picture above. Isn't she pretty? Golden Comets are a decent sized bird, known for their cold hardiness, and prolific laying of large, brown eggs. These birds belong to a breed of chickens known as sex-link chickens. Ok, before you get worried, this is totally on the up and up... Sex-link chickens are breeds of birds developed by crossing two different breeds for various reasons. One reason may be simply to obtain the best characteristics of both parent bird breeds in the new breed. Another, more common reason for developing sex-link breeds is that you can tell a pullet (female) from a cockerel (male) just about as soon as their down dries after they hatch. The sex of the bird is linked to their down color - sex-linked. These chicks are born with the males and females having different colored down. This is a great thing if you work in a hatchery and need to fill orders for nothing but pullets. It saves both time and money. Most non sex-linked chicks all look the same, so you have to pay a professional chicken sexer (how would you like that job?) to look at each chick to determine it's sex. And that's not an easy thing to do! So, Golden Comets are a cross between a Rhode Island Red and a White Leghorn - or 'Legern' as some country folks might say.

Mr. Peachy uses very organic, sustainable methods for raising his chickens. During warmer months, the chickens are pastured on grass by means of a chicken tractor, sometimes called a chicken ark. A WHAT? Yes, a chicken tractor. Here's a picture of a dad moving his nice looking tractor....

Chicken tractors come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are quite small and one person could move them easily. Some are very large, have wheels, and require a real tractor to move them. The purpose of these contraptions is to house the birds safely, while being able to provide them with as much natural food as possible. This usually requires that the tractor be moved a couple of times a day for smaller models, to only two or three times a week for larger models with more 'pasture' area. Mr. Peachy has a larger tractor and movable electric poultry netting (solar powered I'm sure). Yes, there is such a thing as electric poultry netting and it works the same as electric fence. The voltage is lower, but then again, the chickens aren't as big as a cow. Mr. P. says he moved the birds a couple of times a week. For more pictures of chicken tractors, click here.

Now that winter is setting in, our farmer says he's moving the birds into a large greenhouse he has. It has a dirt floor that he'll cover with wood shavings or other bedding. This is the first year to try this, but there are several benefits to it. Chickens need sunlight in order to lay eggs. During the winter, they typically slow down their egg production simply because there isn't as much sunlight. But in a greenhouse, what light there is will be completely available to the birds. Further, it will help keep them warm. Yet another benefit is that, though they won't have grass to eat, the warmth will encourage insects to work their way up through the ground and the chickens will eat them. Any other feed the chickens get is organic as well. Mr. Peachy assures me that the birds will each have several square feet per bird to move around. More than in a traditional egg production CAFO.

For anyone who's never had one of these eggs... wow, are they something! Golden yolks that make your food look like you surely must have added food coloring. They're rich and very delicious. Of course, this color might not be as bright during the winter, as the birds will have fewer, if any, greens to eat. Mr. Peachy thinks the chlorophyll in the grass is what gives the egg yolks their deep color.

Mr. Peachy also sells whole chickens, ready for the roasting pan or the freezer. Organic, pastured, healthy, no antibiotics.

So now you know a little bit more about where our Peachy Eggs come from and the methods used to get them. Hope it's been informative and helpful!

Slouching Away From Prosperity: Dan's Perspective, Part 2

I suppose it's probably a good idea to define what I mean by prosperity, since it can mean several different things. Prosperity isn't all bad. But what I mean in this context is the more general understanding of the word in American culture. The gaining of material wealth and symbols of our financial prowess (does anyone have any of that right now?). Truly, prosperity can mean other things. A person can certainly consider themselves prosperous as they view the shelves full of canned food from the harvest. They may feel prosperous as they see the new lambs in the pasture each Spring.... but alas, these notions aren't typically shared by most of our culture. No, the prosperity I'm pointing to is the mindset that traps people into thinking they need more, must have more, should work longer to afford more, can't go without more, have to keep up so someone else doesn't get more. In a word, materialism - the pursuit and acquisition of 'stuff'.

Christmas, since it's almost upon us, can be a time when materialism can really run rampant. For example, a Wal-Mart employee was literally trampled to death in a mad stampede of people rushing the store on Black Friday, all trying to get a deal. Sad. No pun intended in this paragraph, by the way.

My wife and I have a Christmas Club at the bank. Each paycheck, a certain amount is set aside and we get a check along about October to spend on Christmas. Really, it's just a built in safeguard against going broke at Christmas, since we're not disciplined enough to set the money aside ourselves. The bank does it for us. Ehh, nobody's perfect. Anyway, our Christmas Club isn't huge, and we buy presents for everyone on our list with that amount (ok, plus a little more). But it's still less than some people we've spoken to spend on just one of their kids!

So here are some ways we're slouching away from prosperity this year.

We're doing something different with Christmas this year. To avoid the 'glut' of presents on Christmas day, we decided to help our children appreciate the season a little more and mix things up. Each Sunday of Advent, I gather the family around, talk about one aspect of the Christmas story (last week the Angel and his messages, this week Mary and Joseph's obedience), light an Advent candle, say a prayer, and then the kids get to open one present. On Christmas day, they'll have stockings to open, and two or so nicer gifts we're saving. But they'll enjoy the season more as we go along. PLUS we're taking the focus off of 'stuff' and putting it back on the true reason for the holiday.

Another step, and a big one, I think, that we're taking this year is as follows. My family (Mom, sisters, etc.) have gotten to the point where buying for everyone is really more of a chore, than a joy. We don't need anything, and our 'wants' are pretty expensive sometimes. We've decided that we're going to spend the money on a needy family this year. For whatever reason, the rest of the family thinks they still need to buy for my kids "because they're little". We've bought mom a little something too. Otherwise, we're buying presents for a mom and her two daughters who live with the mom's mom. That's more like it. Something real, substantial, helpful.

Those are just a few ways we're working on removing the materialism from life this holiday. No, we're not perfect. The wife and I spent more than we intended on the kids, but we're not broke, either. We're working on it. I challenge you to try it too.

More to come....

My Neck of the Woods

In my memory and way of thinking, this has been an unusually cold late fall/early winter here in mid-western Indiana. Usually the bottom doesn't fall out of the weather bucket until January. But this year, after a late autumn (I still don't have all the leaves raked in my yard because the trees took so long to disrobe), winter seems to have come early. Ok, maybe the bottom hasn't completely dropped out, but at this time of year, we're used to high temps in the upper 30's most days. For a few weeks now, it's been averaging ten degrees lower. AND we've had snow. The most we could normally expect is a light dusting before Christmas. But here in the past few weeks, we've had probably two or three inches. Yes, it falls, melts some, then falls again, but still... Now I know some of you up in the great frozen north are laughing at me now because you're already sitting on eight or ten inches of the white stuff. But for us here, it's kind of unusual, this early in the season.

The other day, my daughter had a friend over, and despite my feelings about cold weather, I took the four kids (my three plus one) into the woods behind our house. I caught some of it on 'film'...

Sadly, this small woods is slowly being overtaken by Chinese Honeysuckle. That's it above with the green leaves and red berries...

It was pretty chilly... about 25 degrees or so.

This is my water garden - well, what's left after the flood this past summer. It's frozen on top. Notice the impression of the oak leaf in the ice after one of the kids took it off the top? And the little blob of orange in the lower right corner... that's the head of one of the goldfish, very much in a state of torpor.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I'm So Crafty

And by that, I don't mean sneaky or conniving. I mean "crafty", you know, I make things. For example, my wife saw a picture of a wreath in a flier recently and said she'd like to have something like that. Could I make it? Um, yeah. Quick trip to Hobby Lobby and voila!

Also, being that I shave my head, it sometimes gets a little chilly in the winter around the house. I have a nice fleece hat for outside, but it's just too hot for indoor wear. So I made one. Knitted it in just a few hours and had it done. It fits great and I like it quite a bit. As a matter of fact, I'm going to knit one for the older of my two sons in a camo green. Here's my hat:

I'm pretty doggone pleased with myself. The wife loved the wreath and I'm keeping warm!