Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve Traditions

Watch Night in the United States dates back to at least 1770, when St George Methodist Church in Philadelphia held this New Year's Eve service. Charles Wesley had adopted it from the earlier practice of the Moravian Church. Snopes.ccom has a great article on the history of Watch Night services. In 1855, C. H. Spurgeon gave a powerful sermon (click here to read it), for a Watch Night service in a Baptist church.

The Fisherman's Chapel, an interdenominational church in Port OConnor Tx holds a Watch Night service on New Years Eve which we went to when we lived on the coast. It was a great and happy way to spend the evening and ring in the new year! Many other churches (especially small or non-denominational ones) have renewed this tradition and will be holding services tonight.

Fireworks on New Year's Eve is also a huge tradition in Texas. When the boys were little, the family gathered over at Mom and Dad's house, the men built a small bonfire in the driveway and the kids popped firecrackers and shot off fireworks as long as they could stay awake. One year, a whistling spinning firework stayed low to the ground instead of shooting up high. It somehow got behind Nicolas and chased him for several circuits around the drive before shooting off into the street! From then on, we called those "Nicol Chasers"! There will be community fireworks at the rodeo arena here in Blanket tonight - and I am sure the Volunteer Fire Department will be standing by just in case!

Paul bought Pickled Herring, which was his mother's traditional New Years Eve supper. My family ate Black Eyed Peas for dinner (lunch) on New Year's Day. Collard greens are a "must have" New Year's food for many southerners.

My favorite tradition, the one Mama taught us, was to sing Auld Lang Syne. This old teapot seems to carry a lesson for us. It was made by Copeland (Spode), and was expensive when it was made, 130 years ago. High quality, and worthy of sitting on a fine table. It's been cherished and used a lot in the intervening years.

The spout broke off and has been rebuilt. The handle snapped at some other time and has been glued back on. The lid was lost, and has been replaced with one that doesn't fit. It's crazed, chiped, stained and shows its age in wear. It could be in worse shape I guess - but it's hard to see how!

But it is still beautiful. If we wanted to use it, it would still steep a nice cuppa tea. And we can still read the words written on it so long ago - and they still are just as moving as when Robert Burns first wrote them:

"Let's take a cup o' kindness yet
For days o'Auld Lang Syne."

Let us remember, tonight and in the year to come, that the old things we have - and the old ways, habits and patterns of life - still have a lot of happiness to offer. Let us be thankful tonight.

Happy (Old) New Year! A Naturalist's Vintage Calendar

Did you find a vintage calendar for the upcoming year? Here are the first pages from a beautiful weekly one of John Burroughs quotes. It was for the year 1926, and is accurate again for 2010.

The page for January 1 and 2 reads "The longer I live the more my mind dwells upon the beauty and the wonder of the world.", from "The Summit of the Years".

Week two, January 3 through 9, has this "A severe artist is Winter! No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel." from "Winter Sunshine".

In a previous post, there's a list of the calendars that correspond to 2010, and a link to information on which of the 14 calendar grids are applicable to any particular year. Jot down years from your favorite eras and take the list shopping with you.

"What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun."
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (New International Version)

Happy (Old) New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Garden Fresh Under-the-Bed Tomatoes in Winter

Remember those green tomatoes wrapped in newspaper we put in flats under the bed before the first frost (Nov 2nd)? This is what they look like now!

They also have excellent flavor. Not quite the same as vine ripened, of course, but still much richer than store bought. These taste like real tomatoes. A few of them didn't keep, but most of the ones I have pulled out so far were perfect. We enjoyed them sliced with salt, and I made a salad of them.

I had great fun playing "Guess what's under the bed?" with visitors over the holiday. Heh. There are still many more wrapped up under the bed, so I will post again in another month or so to see how they are doing as we get farther into the winter.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Angel said: "Fear Not! I Bring News of Great Joy For All People!"

Thank you Lord Jesus for coming to us.

May God bless you and yours with love, warmth and peace in your heart this Christmas. Fear not, and rest easy, for because Jesus came, and died, and arose: all shall be well.

Luke 2:8-20 (King James Version)

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cardinals: Red Birds in the Winter

Cardinals tend to flock in the winter, and this week they've been in our yard. Devin pointed out this tree full of them and I was able to get some pictures.

Cardinals mate for life. I don't know if they stay together all year, but they do come back together each Spring to raise their annual family. There were females in this flock. The little ladies don't show up in this photo, but the beautiful red birds have decorated this tree themselves.

Mema saved a baby cardinal that fell from its nest before it had feathers. This would have been back in about 1952 - now we know that it would be ok to put it back in the nest, and if unable, we'd need to take it to a licensed wild bird rehab person. But at that time, it was not illegal for her to rescue the baby bird, brush the ants off of him, and raise him to adulthood.

Junior loved Mema. He thought she was his mother, I suppose. If she talked to him he would sing for her (and cardinals have the most beautiful song - you can listen to it if you click here then click the "Listen" icon on the eNature page). Nandy made a large cage for him, and they often let him out in the house to fly around. Because he didn't eat bugs, his coloring was more subdued than the wild birds.

Junior lived to be 16 years old. He passed away peacefully and naturally while I was still in elementary school. It's unfortunate that he didn't live wild, but he still had a very good life, warm and well fed, and we all loved him.

Cardinals are delightful wild birds. They LOVE the water sprinkler on hot days and will come bathe and play in the falling spray. They like to nest in hedges, and will come back to the same yard as a nesting pair if you keep a good habitat for them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh It's A Wonderful Life! Still!

Guess who the two newest fans of Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" are? That would be a 10 year old boy, and a 12 year old girl, who each sat glued to the tv all the way through the movie.

We didn't really expect either to sit through it, and didn't make a lot of fanfare when putting the movie into the dvd player. Our grandson watched it first, and didn't fidget at all. He loved it. So we tried it again when our granddaughter came to visit. She pronounced it her new favorite Christmas movie.

This movie still makes my eyes well up with tears at certain happy moments. Each year that I watch it, one or another little detail will have a bit of special meaning. Whether it is ZuZu's petals, or George Bailey hitting the cigar lighter, or the tinkling bell, or Auld Lang Sine, the story is always fresh and new in some way. Gosh I miss Jimmy Stewart (James Stewart, the actor who played George Bailey). Remember The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? Now THERE was a movie - James Stewart, John Wayne... oops, that's another post... heh!

We were surprised, that sophisticated, tech-savvy children were as enthralled as audiences have been for the past half century. I don't know if either of them have ever seen a black and white movie before, but it didn't matter to them - they were caught up in the story.

"It's A Wonderful Life" still makes magic. Watching it during the Holidays is one of our little traditions. The grandkids are really glad we shared it with them!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Lovingest Season: Sending Christmas Cards

For years I prepared to send Christmas cards. Often I bought them. Sometimes I got as far as addressing them. I hardly ever got around to mailing them tho.

Sending Christmas cards does not have to be an ordeal, nor does it mean sending dozens. Once I understood that, I finally accomplished my goal. Write a few to friends farthest away. That done, write a few more to next door neighbors. A few at a time is the way to go for me. Simple signatures inside, no attempt at writing a letter. Keeping it simple keeps me from getting overwhelmed with good intentions. The past couple of Christmases, I have succeeded in actually sending them.

As a result, we get more cards too. It is a nice thing, to get a card in the mail. Each is a little bright spot in the day. A little more love in the Lovingest Season.

I bought our cards the other day. A bargain at $5 for a box of 18. We've had trouble the past couple of years finding traditional cards but this year they were plentiful. That is a good sign!

One cute place I found online, for printing your own cards, is Jan Brett's website, with adorable hedgehogs and mice. Just click the "Cards" tab. The envelope templates are there too. All you need is plain white printer paper.

If you find vintage cards, they are wonderful to recycle with a note of your own added. I used some 1950s greeting cards as markers for Bunko last time I hosted it and people loved them. It's a kick for a collector! Double the reason to pack the card away with the ornaments to enjoy again next year.

The vintage Christmas post cards in the photo above are from 1913, and are embossed with glossy color, as was common for the time. Two are actual Christmas messages. The third, with the meaning of Cedar in the language of flowers ("Cedar: I live for thee"), was mailed in October 1913. If you find or make blank ones, postcards cost only 28 cents to mail in 2009.

Christmas cards give us a chance to reach out to people we might otherwise feel shy about approaching, and to those we think of fondly. It's a small way to be a good neighbor, and a good friend.

Small traditions, like Christmas cards, add up to preserve a good way of life.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vintage Waste Collection: Hot Cider on Trash Day

When I was growing up, razor blades and broken glass weren't just put in the trash, they had to be wrapped first. They told us, when we asked why, that it was so it wouldn't hurt the trash haulers. They had to lift the cans and carry them all the way down the driveway to the truck and dump them - then they carried the empty cans back and put them up at the back of the houses.

Plastic can liners were unheard of at that time, so trash was loose in the outdoor bins. Then as now, people looked out for others in practical ways. Razor blades were disposed of in a closed container with a slot in it - actually called a "blade bank" - which could be thrown away when full by wrapping it in a paper sack so that it wouldn't break. Nandy kept his blade bank in the medicine cabinet. It had a picture of a funny old man on it and a legend that read "For old blades, by crackey!" Same with broken glass: it was put into a paper grocery sack, folded over, and then into a second one before it was put into the trash.

Thoughtful people would bury spoiled food, rather than dump it, to help keep from attracting animals to rummage in the cans. "Garbage disposals" had not been heard of. It was easy to bury a bit of food with one quick push of the shovel, and this added nutrients to the earth.

Of course, there was far less food waste back then because we cooked all meals, ate leftovers, used things up, and most of the rest was fed to pets. If people didn't have their own pets, they would pass their scraps to their neighbors' dog, put it out for the alley cats, or save it for a friend's chickens. Stale bread not used for cooking was thrown out on the lawn for the birds. Chicken bones went into the trash, because they are dangerous for dogs (they splinter), but that was all.

I find that knowing who is picking up my trash makes me more careful of it too. I freeze chicken carcasses and put them out the morning of trash day so that our garbage won't smell bad. One of the haulers once complemented me on how tidy our trash is!

Before we moved here, we used to tip the guys who collected our trash - there were 2, one who rode the truck and one driver. A small tip of $10 each is a nice thing. One year I was unprepared and only had twenties so they got a "double" tip. We didn't expect it, but after that, they brought our bin all the way back up to the house after emptying it for the entire next year!

Blanket, where we live now, is so small that the City trash pick up runs one day each week, starting at 8 am and is finished by 4 pm. We have small individual can dumpsters that the truck can lift to dump, but the guys also will dump regular cans and pick up whatever else is left out for removal. It is very much like traditional trash collection always was.

They stop for a break at mid-day in warm weather and sit in the shade under the pecan tree in our side yard. We keep chairs out there for them - it's a nice cool place to rest in the hot summertime.

So, since we know these guys - we go to church and socialize with them and their families - they get cards at Christmas, like all our friends, and instead of a tip, they get a mug of steaming hot spiced apple cider on a cold trash day during the winter season. It is cold today so this was a great day for it. We drank hot cider in the cold sun and chatted about pecans. I really really like being able to know all the people that make our world such a nice place to be.

There's one nice cup left, steaming in the carafe, for Paul when he gets in.

Merry Christmas to All!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Fear not! For Your Prayer is Heard"

Jesus wasn't the only surprise miracle baby of that first Christmas year.

Another couple also received a visit from an angel, announcing they would have a baby. This couple, Elisabeth and Zacharias, were old and had never had any children. They were so old, in fact, that it was almost as unbelievable as a virgin birth.

The angel said "Fear not, Zacharias". He told Zacharias to name his son John, and that the baby would be filled with the Holy spirit even before he was born.

This baby was John the Baptist. He who prepared the way with his preaching, and to whom Jesus would come to be baptised.

Elisabeth was Mary's cousin, as well as her friend, and she was six months along when Mary visited her, at the advice of the angel, to seek support for her own unexpected pregnancy.

When Mary walked into the house and Elisabeth heard her voice, baby John "leapt in her womb": in other words, the unborn baby jumped for joy when Jesus mother came in. He already knew that Jesus was near.

Two women, both with untimely pregnacies. One too young. One too old.

Two men, both faced with the unbelievable pregnacies of their ladies. One impossible, one improbable.

Let us thank God for Elisabeth and Zacharias, Mary and Joseph, that they believed the angels and rejoiced, despite their fears, in these babies: John, and Jesus.

Let us, too, believe the angels and rejoice in each baby conceived, no matter what. Fear not, for God is with you.

Luke 1 (King James Version)

7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

36 [And the angel said unto Mary] And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Texas Gardening: The Pepper & Onion Lady

I started gardening 2 years ago, planting bell peppers and onions because those are vegetables we use a lot and the cost at retail had gone through the roof. $1 for a bell pepper! $1.29 a pound for onions, which we use every day! Paul said "If you are going to garden, raise things we already eat" which was great advice and got me off to the right start.

So after two years of raising peppers and onions under my belt, and having enough to give away both years, I feel like an old hand when it comes to this two thirds of the cajun trinity. Heh. Just call me the Pepper and Onion Lady. And remind me in a couple more years that I thought I knew a lot in 2009! LOL~

I've been buying my peppers as seedling plants, rather than starting from seed. I will probably continue that this year, but I might try saving seed just in case there comes a time when I can't find plants in the varieties I like.

Some varieties of peppers did famously this year - just like those same varieties did last year. But other varieties were miserable, both the ones here and the ones at my friend's place. After planting perhaps 8 different varieties of bell peppers, Emerald Giants are The One for me. Six plants produced a couple hundred peppers both years, while other varieties made lovely shrubbery for months and finally produced an only pepper or three at the last minute. For you - and even for my neighbors - it might be a different variety that succeeds. But, for me, Emerald Giants can't be beat.

Ditto for the Anaheim Green Chiles. Although they didn't do as well this year as last, they still produced a nice heavy crop of mild peppers for chile rellanos and general cooking.

I raised Poblano peppers this year for the first time and they eventually made a crop but it took them all summer to do it. I didn't get any peppers until the last minute when I gathered right before the frost. I covered the plants to see if I can baby them through the winter (not likely but oh well) in case getting a faster start in the spring might help them produce earlier.

I don't eat hot peppers but was thinking of raising some this year. However, I'm reading that they will cross with mild peppers and turn them all hot, so I will probably stick to the mild ones. And now I understand why my green chiles are so reliably mild. It's about the variety to start with, but also about polination, since the seeds of peppers is where most of the heat is concentrated.

The successful peppers produced in both full sun and in half-day sun. The difference was that those in full sun turned red faster so I had more red ones as a bonus as well as baskets of green. I also learned that I can leave green peppers hanging on the plant until I am ready for them. They just grow larger or get ripe.

Last year I planted onions as the little round bulbs. My friend said "Oh no those will never make, you need to put out the little plants", so I bought little bunches and put them out too. He was right. The little bulbs were great green onions but never bulbed. The sets, little plants, did great! I planted more this year and grew enough onions that I may not have to buy any all year (we use onions every day).

My Dixondale Onions catalog (they are in Carrizo Springs TX) just arrived and I will be ordering my onion plants now so that they can be shipped to me in January. Later on, in February and March I can buy plants locally at the feed stores and the produce market but I want to be able to choose my varieties and be certain they are "short day" types. Those of us in the south need
"short day" types in order for them to produce bulbs, since onions bulb based on the length of the daylight hours. Varieties grown up north would never make bulbs down here.

Last year I planted onion varieties "Candy" and "White Bermuda". They both did super, and have kept really well. This year, I'm planting more and adding 1015 Texas SuperSweet and Hybrid Southern Belle Red to my order.

I only fertilized once last year, toward the beginning of the season, and they did not get very large. This year, I am going to try fetilizing regularly and see if they get bigger. I don't mind them being small but Paul says it is hard for him to handle the little ones.

My favorite thing about growing onions is that they are so easy! They don'have to be set deep, and you can see when they start bulbing because most of the bulb is on top of the ground. You know when they are "ripe" because the tops magically keel over, all at once. I thought something was wrong the first time I saw this - went out and the tops of two whole rows were lying faint on the sand (I raise them in what used to be a kids sandbox).

After the tops have started dying, you pull them up and let them lay spread out to finish drying and curing. Then gather them up, brush them off, and store them in bags. I saved all my citrus mesh bags all year to use. I've been very pleased at how well they have kept, stored at room temperature (and not even in the dark).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seed Catalogs: Planning a Central Texas Garden

Oh my the seed catalogues have started to arrive. Just at the time when I am regretting that I didn't plant a fall garden. Just at the time when it is too cold to get out and finish picking up the pecans from the later-dropping trees that I saw all over yesterday when we were getting the Christmas decorations out of the garage. Just at the time when it finally froze hard and killed off every remaining green leaf.

Except for the Swiss Chard. Not only our New Favorite Greens but also a very pretty plant, especially in the Bright Lights form with neon colored stems. The ones in the back yard, hidden from the deer who took turns with us getting the front yard crop, are frozen at the moment but will thaw and survive, ready to be picked when we get hungry for some fresh food in the deep winter. Chard was a happy discovery this year, that will always be a part of my future gardens.

This year was my second year to have a garden. I've learned so much this past couple of years - I always loved reading about gardening and thought I knew a lot. But the most important discovery has been that gardening is something one must do to really learn. Actual experience makes all the difference.

One thing I did this year that proved a big eye opener for me (and really bolstered my confidence), is that I planted *two* gardens, miles away from each other, and got to see the differences and similarities between the two. One I planted at home, like I did last year, but the other I planted in a borrowed plot of a friend who is no longer able to garden. So I had her knowledge to draw on. The two areas have very different soil, micro climates and even water.

Of real significance in success was in which varieties of vegetables I planted. Some varieties did great (Emerald Giant peppers), while others languished (California Wonder peppers). Some types produced to beat the band (snow peas), while others made little more than some green manure (edible pod peas and english peas). I'll post more about the varieties I like over the next few weeks.

So as I look through the seed catalogues this year and begin planning next spring's garden, I'll be mindful of that. My "My Space" blog proved very useful as a gardening journal, and I was fairly responsible about posting planting dates and varieties (and locations because I tend to forget what I put where). I also kept the empty seed packets and labels, so now I can refer to those and MySpace to help me plan this year's purchases. I am learning that the key to being a good gardener is experimenting and learning from experience. Keep trying and each year there will be more successes to repeat from the year before, and more fun new successes to discover. It's always a "Victory Garden" in more ways than one!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cottage Industry, Vintage Christmas Toys, and WWII

Before WWII broke out (for the US - it had already started in Europe) with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States imported vast amounts of the goods in our stores from Germany and Japan. Once we were at war with these countries, suddenly there was a dearth of products. US factories that might have picked up the slack were diverted to production of necessary items and defense material.

Retailers around the country began looking closer to home to source toys, dishes, printed items, novelties and other non-essentials that, then as now, made up the bulk of their profitable sales.

This created an opportunity boom for families everywhere. Then as now, families were always looking for ways to bring in extra income, whether by taking second jobs or producing sellable goods from home businesses.

Some bought small printing presses and set up businesses doing custom printing of business cards, Christmas cards, and wedding invitations out of a corner of their house. New potteries sprang up in areas that had good sources of clay in the ground. And some, like Nandy and Mema, used their home workshop to build toys.

With metal rationed, the raw materials available were perfect for small-scale manufacturing: wood, cloth, paper. Nandy started a business building small wooden toys that he sold to Kress Department Store, which was located downtown on Main Street. I don't think Kresses was still in business when the boys were little but if you have ever been in an Alco or a Dollar General, it was a lot like that. These stores were a mainstay and everyone shopped at them. Kress, Woolworths, Ben Franklins were the Walmart/K-Marts of their day.

So Nandy and Mema made little cars, trucks, trains out of wood. Nandy would cut out the pieces at night after work, and Mema would help paint and assemble them.

Do you remember that Mema was missing part of one of her thumbs? She helped with cutting some of the parts while Nandy was at work and one day the saw went through the wood and cut off her thumb, and into her pointer finger. She always told that when she called the hospital, they asked "Are you sure you cut it off?" to which she replied "Yes I am sure, I am in the house and my thumb is laying out in the garage on the saw!" Her first finger was always stiff after that - and Nandy did all the cutting with saws after that too!

Mama still has a few of the toys Nandy made at that time: a black Locomotive, and a little army jeep. The toys that the boys made with him in his workshop were from the same kinds of patterns, and same materials. These toys were a big success and, along with renting out the other half of their duplex, helped them pay off their mortgage ten years early.

Other people all over the country made toys and souveniers like this too. Some mixed glue and sawdust to form a "composition" material that they molded into toys, like the little battleships and planes pictured above. Some items were decorated with paint and others were woodburned with heated pokers or special woodburning tools.

These little items are readily available still in antique shops and flea markets - since they were unbranded, they have never been "hot" as collectibles. True to their era, they have an enduring charm and lasting appeal.

They also remind us of the unbounded creativity that allows us to find and make what we need in our own back yards.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Not By Bread Alone"

I buy Sunbeam bread because it is very very soft, which is a requirement in white bread, and also because it is reasonable in price. I was touched by the image of Little Miss Sunbeam praying - and then I was stopped in my tracks by the unobtrusive phrase on my loaf of bread. Click the picture to enlarge it enough to see it. It quotes our Savior, who answered temptation by saying "It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God."

Little Miss Sunbeam was drawn from life by artist Ellen Segner in the early 1940's, according to the back of the package. That would have been within the WWII era. What a hopeful image and message this company is sharing with us still today.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Save That Hambone: How To Make Split Pea Soup

Split Pea Soup is not hard to make, and if you have a hambone left over from the holiday, it's a perfect thing to do with it. The better the ham was, the better the soup will be.

Trim your hambone to remove excess fat remaining on it. A little fat is nice to add richness and flavor to the soup, but in balance. Same goes with the meat. Some ham meat in soup is excellent, too much is not.

Sort your dried split peas before cooking, just as you would sort dried beans. Remove any small rocks or bits of stems.

Put the hambone in a pot with one or two packages of dried split peas (depending on how much soup you want) and add a bay leaf. Cover with water. Don't add any salt - the hambone will be salty enough. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down. Simmer until the peas are soft. It will take about an hour to an hour and a half.

Remove the hambone and set aside while you prepare the peas - you'll come back to it later. Remove the bay leaf and throw away. Leave the broth in the pot.

This next part is VERY important. The hulls of the peas don't have a good texture for the soup so they need to be removed. Once I got a bright idea to just run it all through a blender to puree it. This was very bad - it just made the hulls too small to strain out, and we didn't like the soup. I had to throw it away.

Using a slotted spoon, dip the peas out of the broth into a cone shaped colander (sometimes called a "chinois") or jelly sieve and mash to separate the pulp. This is easiest if you do a few spoonfuls at a time and just keep adding until you've mashed all the peas. Scrape the last bit of pulp off the outside of the sieve and throw away the hulls that are on the inside.

If you don't have a chinois, you can use a large mesh strainer, or even a cheescloth bag - that would be messy but would suffice in a pinch.

Put the pulp back into the pan with the broth.

Trim the ham meat from the bone and cut into cubes. Add this to the soup.

Bring to a simmer and the soup is ready! Stir and ladle into bowls. Serve with homemade croutons. Lots and lots of croutons! It would also be great with garlic toast.

This is an old fashioned dish that deserves to come back to our tables. Paul taught me how to make this. We never had it when I was growing up, but Mama did say that some neighbors made it when she was a little girl in the 1940s. It's a wonderful way to get the last bit of flavor from a good ham bone!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Don't be afraid! God is pleased with you, and you will have a son."

Today is the beginning of Advent: The Coming Of the Christ. This season leads up to the universal celebration of Jesus' Birth at Christmas.

Mary was a very young unmarried woman, perhaps even a teenager, when she learned that she was pregnant. In her culture this might be thought of as almost "ruining her life". But: immediately when she discovers she is going to have a baby, she is told that she is blessed and that this particular baby is God's Own Son. She is also told she will get support from her cousin Elizabeth, who is also expecting a miracle baby.

Because she is told that this pregnacy is a good event, she is able to let her natural feelings of joy bubble up with confidence.

When any woman, at any time, or any place, announces that she is pregnant, the first words she should hear, no matter what the situation, are excited congratulations of great joy. Because the baby who is born redeems the circumstances of his conception. Because the life this baby lives will redeem the circumstances into which he is born.

I usually prefer to read and quote from the King James Version of the Bible, but today I am going to post from the "Contemporary English Version" for this particular passage, because this version makes plain exactly what the situation was.

Luke 1:26-38 (Contemporary English Version)

An Angel Tells about the Birth of Jesus

26 One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee
27 with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David.
28 The angel greeted Mary and said, "You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you."
29 Mary was confused by the angel's words and wondered what they meant.

30 Then the angel told Mary, "Don't be afraid! God is pleased with you,
31 and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was.
33 He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end."

34 Mary asked the angel, "How can this happen? I am not married!"

35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God's power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God.

36 Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son.
37 Nothing is impossible for God!"

38 Mary said, "I am the Lord's servant! Let it happen as you have said." And the angel left her.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Immigrants Holiday: Thanksgiving and The Original Melting Pot

The main historical storyline we celebrate is that of the pilgrims who came to Plymouth in search of religious liberty. Different factions of Christians were fighting each other in Europe at that time, and many people of new conservative beliefs sought refuge to live their faith in the ways their personal reading of the bible told them they should.

Many of these groups emigrated to the east coast of the United States, and formed one of several nuclei that would eventually lead to the founding of the first nation ever built from the ground up on Christian principles of liberty, equality, and faith.

We honor and remember those people, and why they came here - looking at the history as we have received it, rather than the new revisionist versions. To that, we can also expand our knowledge to learn about other thanksgiving feasts that were held during these early days.

Thanksgiving is called a secular holiday, but that does not mean God is not involved. The very word "Thanksgiving" means "Praying to God in Thanks". The very word "holiday" means " Holy Day". The reason it is called "secular" is because it was not a holiday mandated by a church or celebrating a specifically religious event. But it was and is no less a Holy Day of giving thanks to God.

The practice of offering a feasting day of Thanksgiving to God upon the arrival at a new land was a common practice of the Christians who explored and colonized America. These thanksgiving prayers and feasts were held by Catholics and Protestants alike, and where relationships had been established, all included the local native Indians as well as the travelers.

One of the earliest was held in what is now El Paso Texas. Don Juan de Onate led an expedition of soldiers and settlers along El Camino Real in a three month journey north through Mexico, crossing the Rio Grande and setting camp at El Paso. de Onate named the land "New Mexico" and claimed it in the name of Jesus Christ, and King Philip II of Spain. The feast of Thanksgiving was held on April 30 1598. It began with a Catholic Mass, and included ducks, geese and fish.

Other early feasts of thanksgiving to God for safe arrival include:

Captain John Woodlief's arrival in Virginia on December 4, 1619. This feast was planned before the group of settlers had left England, and was stated in their charter thusly: "Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perputually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."

Pedro Menendez de Aviles celebrated a feast of Thanksgiving on arrival with 400 people to Florida, in September 1565. The Timucua Indians brought those native American foods we call "the three sisters": corn, beans, squash, as well as game and shellfish and joined the thanksgiving celebration. The Spanish cooked a big pot of stew with pork and beans cooked with onions.

And there are many others. All brought what they had, and tried new foods, together. The act of surviving an ocean voyage was a lot to be grateful for, and still is. The arrival upon a new continent, with the prospect of a hopeful, happy, prosperous future stretching out before you is a lot to be thankful for.

That this sense of thankfulness was celebrated by combining food offerings from all of the cultures gathered together laid the groundwork for the melting pot society that America became. America still is the great melting pot, despite the best efforts of elitists to try to impose various class systems and "cultural" schemes on the ordinary people. We The People invariably rise above that.

Because not just the pilgrims, but all of the immigrants to the New World were seeking relief from the settled ways of their old country that doomed them and their children to persistent persecution, poverty and servitude. This has continued to be true throughout our history.

In America, now as then, there is no peerage, no royalty, no caste system, no serfdom.
In America, now as then, it does not matter where you came from or who your parents were or where you got your education.
In America, now as then,you can choose where you live and how you make your living.
In America, now as then, you can convert from one religion to another without permission from the government.

That's a lot to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

to merciful Him Whose only now is forever

i am a little church(no great cathedral)

i am a little church (no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

ee cummings

Cummings was inspired to write this poem about the local church in the Madison, New Hampshire town where he lived. They say he was inspired by the sight of the overflowing crowds at church in a service of thanksgiving on VE Day 1945. The poem was first published in 1958.

The photo is one of the churches in my town, where the Church of Christ worships. I took it one morning recently, when the sunrise painted the sky from east to west.

Regular "going to church" envelopes us into a community of love and shared life that transcends the everyday world and brings us into focus on "the only now" that is forever.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Who said Owls? Hatching a New Collection

I've been on a bit of an owl kick lately. I didn't intend to collect them and will not admit that I do (so, family, please do not be buying me owls, because I have all I am going to have (and besides I only like certain ones)). But I have almost accidentally acquired a few really cute ones.

This pitcher is not marked, but I am guessing it is English, and probably dates from the turn of the last century or thereabouts. Maybe a little earlier. They look at you no matter the angle at which you view them. It was for sale in our shop for long enough that I couldn't stand it any more, and well, I mean, it's blue and white... flow blue, even!

This owl is Belleek, made in Ireland, with a green mark. He is a vase, and matches perfectly in our bedroom. For whatever reason, this little owl vase is not nearly so pricey as most Belleek.

Who could resist this little Beswick guy? Neither could I! Of course, he may end up being a sort of "cross collectible" because gosh now I keep thinking about one of Mrs Tiggywinkle.

This one is marked "c1988 H.D.C. Miller", and is numbered on the bottom. I don't know anything about this little sculpture of a brownie (I think he is a brownie, might be an elf or gnome - or even a leprechan with his red whiskers. where is my Field Guide To the Little People?) wearing an acorn cap for a hat, and his friend the owl sitting next to him. Isn't it sweet? If you are familiar with this artist, please share what you know!

Funny isn't it? How you pick up things you like from here and there, and one day realize you have a grouping of them. :-)

PS I nearly forgot: if you go here on eNature (link to the main site is on my sidebar), you can listen to the calls of many different kinds of owls, and learn more about the real birds.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Autumn Colors: Wooden Book Bindings

I had intended to write a post about autumn-themed book bindings. Time is short, the leaves are falling, but these pretty wood-bound books have a special place in any collection or library. They can also inspire us today, as we look to our own neighborhood for the things we want in our lives.

Most popular during WWII and the post-war period of the 1940s into the 1950s, this kind of binding gave heft to small editions of poetry and recipes. The wood was usually thin plywood, sanded smooth and given a coat of varnish or orange shellac (I love orange shellac) in the home workshop. As you can tell from the pictured examples, the hinges ranged from carefully worked copper to leather cord to metal rings. Covers would be decorated in a variety of methods, including wood burning, paint, stencil, and silk-screen.

The pages were often printed on a mimeograph or duplicating machine. In other cases, the printing was genuine letterpress - again frequently from a home print shop: either a hobby press, a home business, or perhaps a local printer whose main work would have been printing everything the town needed, including business cards and forms, stationery, books by local authors, and personalized Christmas cards.

"Geese Flying South" is a volume of poems by a local author from May, Texas. "Here's How" is a souvenier book of bartender's recipes from Asheville NC, and "Welcome Stranger" is a recipe book that was given out to newcomers who had just moved to Pompano Beach Florida.

The open book is a bound notebook that Mama made for my birthday. She and I had learned to sew these books together during one of my visits to her home. After she made the book, she pasted pressed flowers onto each page. The flowers were wild flowers she had gathered on a walk we took together when she was here visiting. Leafing through the book takes me through a full year of memories with her.

Whether it was a self-published book of poems, a small printer who printed and bound in his printshop on weekends, or the church cookbook that local craftsmen put together, this is just one more way in which people used to - and still can - rely on themselves and their neighbors to produce the things they needed, or wanted.

Imagine the possibilities if we stop wanting uniformity and recover our delight in our own handiwork and that of our neighbors!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rejoice! An Upcoming Wedding

We had some wonderful news this past week: Nick has proposed to Lani, and she said yes! So I have a new daughter on the way (they are planning for next autumn), and we are so happy.

Daughters-in-law are some of the best things about having sons. When the boys were little, I prayed only that my future daughters in law would like me. It never mattered whether I would like them, because I couldn't imagine *not* liking someone my boy loved. This is the heart of love isn't it? That we love the ones our loved ones love.

We've been blessed so much by these beautiful girls.  I should call them all "daughters in love" because we love them so, and they are part of our family forever after, no matter what.

Lani, welcome to the family! You and Nick are perfect for each other. We love you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

God Bless Our Heros

We love you, all of you. May God forever bless your service and the sacrifices you and your families make for the cause of Liberty.

Pictured: our son and daughter in law: Marine DI Sgt Ethan Duncan Arguello and his lovely wife, Valerie, shortly after graduating a fine new class of Marines, Platoon 2038 , at Parris Island in June 2009. Midland Texas

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Empty Bowls" Event For Food Pantry

Good Samaritans Ministries, the local food pantry where we volunteer, partnered with Howard Payne University students to sponsor an "Empty Bowls" fundraising event last week. Local artists and potters made and donated bowls and local restaurants donated soup to fill them. People who attended the event got to keep their bowl, each one-of-a-kind.

I had first heard about Empty Bowls a few years ago and was excited one would be held here. I did not get to attend, but I sent a donation with a friend and she picked out a lovely pottery bowl for me.

For this event in Brownwood, 90% stayed local and a 10% tithe was given to Heifer International (even Christian Organizations practice tithing in grateful thanks for their blessings). I haven't heard the final totals yet, but know it was in the range of several thousand dollars raised!

Empty Bowls events raise money to fight hunger and increase food security. You can learn more here. They have a list of events so you can see if there is one coming up near you.

You could even help put together an event for your town. As unemployment climbs, local needs for food are also going to rise. The lovely thing about Empty Bowls is that it isn't a beaurocratic thing: you can host an event and have all the proceeds stay local, for your Salvation Army, Community Food Pantry or Angel Food Ministries or other local way of helping make sure everyone has enough to eat.


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