Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In The Garden After 8 Inches of Rain - and the Deer Fence is Still Working!

We have had torrential rains for the past few days. It has been wonderful - all the tanks and ponds are filling up, the trees and gardens got a good drink, and even the lakes from Brownwood to west Texas have received a good amount of runoff. It bodes well for a good summer. Thank you Father God for giving us rain in due season!

We got about 8" total at our house over the course of several days. Although my garden is on a drip irrigation, nothing will make it grow like a good rain. My dad says rain water is full of nitrogen. Seeds I planted a month ago never sprouted until the rains we had about 10 days ago, despite having been watered consistently with the drip.

I wish I had been able to plant more before this rain, but I needed to do some major weeding before anything new goes in. So...  I spent about an hour this morning pulling bermuda grass in the garden. YUCK Pulling weeds with tap roots is kind of satisfying, but pulling grass is just drudgery. I may lay carpet over it this winter to kill that patch that does not want to die.

The ground was still awful squishy but I wanted to get after that dumb grass. I got the front half of 4 rows done, need a couple more hours to finish getting the grass out, then I can move to the regular weeding. Hopefully I can finish before it dries out again. Daddy gave me my grandfather's cultivator which works great between rows and has helped a lot, but there are still a lot of careless weeds and such within the rows that have to be pulled.

The tomato plants mostly look good, with many blooms but I don't see many fruiting yet.  Yellow and White onions are nearly all ready to cure, and in  fact most of the yellow ones are laying out drying right now. The purple onions are still bulbing.

The chard and beets are finally getting going. My chard plants have done famously, and I was able to take some to the Farmer's Market on Saturday, but the chard seed waited on the rain to sprout.

My Deer Mesh Fence has been WONDERFUL! Can you see it in the photos? This plastic mesh fencing is almost invisible, and I tied strips of mylar along the top. Before I added the mylar, deer ran through it nightly - actually, they would jump the mesh, then get scared and run through it to go out. So I put a piece of mylar every 4 or 5 feet. Since then, they have not bothered my garden at all.  It crackles in the breeze and makes a noise which probably helps keep them out too.  That is pretty impressive because they LOVE swiss chard!

I used Easy Gardener DeerBlock brand - made in Waco Texas - and just attached it to T-posts with zip ties.  Some of the extra hangs over at the top to flap, and I let some excess puddle at the bottom because I have read that loose net barrier might keep snakes and small animals out. Seems to be working there too.  So for about a hundred dollars I have a good solution. I will take the mesh down at the end of summer and save it to use again next year.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"If You Break Faith With Us Who Die" : Memorial Day Thoughts on What It Means To Keep The Faith

"If you break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep...
I learned the poem "In Flanders Fields" when I was in 7th grade, and can still, like most Americans, recite it by heart. Nearly a hundred years after it was written, it is a concise imperative to remember our war dead, and carry forward the battle for freedom.

What does it mean to keep faith? How do I keep faith with someone who sacrificed their very life - for me, for my own, for mine? I am a Christian, and have been since I was old enough to try to comprehend the universe. It is impossible for me to think about the sacrifices American soldiers have made without knowing it as a very real calling-forth of the One sacrifice that Jesus made when He died to make me free.

And I've come to understand that thinking about it in that way IS keeping the faith with American fighting men all the way down through history. Because without Christ, America would not exist. Because whether our fallen soldiers as individuals were Christians or not -  most were Christian, but others were Jewish, Hindu, Athiest, Buddist, Moslem, Pagan, Agnostic - no matter their faith, America never could have, never would have existed at all had Jesus Christ not risen from His grave for us.

It is because of this that America IS and always has been a Christian Nation. I include Israel in the list of "Christian nations" because Israel as a nation would not exist if it were not for the Christian nations that demanded its creation as a modern political entity to restore the ancient homeland to Jewish people everywhere. Christianity is the extension of God's relationship with us that began with Adam and continued through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through the twelve tribes of Israel.

Only a Christian nation will allow complete freedom to hold and practice any faith. No nation that was not majority Christian in its basis has ever existed that affirmed true Freedom of Religion.

Only Christian nations allow you the freedom to Think For Yourself and follow your conscience.  Moslem nations demand that everyone born into a moslem family must remain moslem. You are not allowed to be an atheist in Afghanistan. All such nations discriminate against anyone who is not moslem.  Communist nations promote atheism and hereditary succession. Where they allow churches, it is by license under control of the State and they are not real churches but propaganda arms for the State.

No nation that was not majority Christian in its past has ever promoted Freedom of Speech to hold and share one's honest opinions about government leaders or religion or the police or anything else.  This freedom is under attack now, in great part due to the fact that it is incredibly rare in the world. Many Americans do not know that the United States of America is one of the last bastions of Free Speech anywhere. Europeans no longer have free speech: when they gave up Christianity, they started imposing laws prohibiting the people from saying particular words or discussing particular subjects. Our media is attempting to push us in the same direction, and we must stand against it.

No nation that was not majority Christian in its governance has ever legally and morally protected Freedom of the Press to report the truth without fear. Un-Christian nations jail, torture and execute reporters who dare to publish anything that looks bad for the leader, the party, the prophet, the god. This freedom is under attack now, but the fact that everyone outside the Obama Administration is outraged by abuses highlights how important all Americans still understand this to be.

No nation that was not majority Christian in its legal philosophy has ever existed that applied the Rule of Law to its highest, wealthiest, most powerful citizens along with provision of legal mercies for the least and the poorest. This primacy of existing law is also under attack right now, and needs robust defense: no one is above the law in America, and no one can be if our nation is to survive.

No nation that was not majority Christian has ever adopted equality at birth of ALL people as its first creed. Without Jesus Christ's mandate for personhood, all non-Christian countries who have attempted this have not succeeded, but eventually devolved into classist societies in which heredity privileges the few at the expense of the many.

No nation that was not majority Christian has ever abolished slavery in all its forms. Oh a few are making noises like they will do so now, but that is only because the still-Christian-majority Western nations are pushing them to do so in this age of World Bank Remittances. Some like to beat America over the head for the hateful practice of human slavery that existed before the civil war, but this was never a practice accepted without conflict and in the end, the devout and ancient interpretation of Bibilical and Christian scripture won out.

The slaver governments of the Barbary States declared war on the United States at our beginning, and America sent the Marines to the shores of Tripoli to put an end to the kidnapping and enslavement of Americans like Robert Adams on the seas. We keep trying to declare peace with such agents of evil but they keep declaring war on Christian Civilization again.

It was Christians who led the fight against slavery in Europe and in the United States. Today, it is still Christians and nations with a majority Christian heritage who lead the fight against slavery. Today, involuntary human bondage is still actively practiced in legalized and tolerated forms in almost every nation that does not have a Christian heritage. Saudi Arabia, Thailand, China, India, Pakistan, and nearly every moslem nation are all examples of modern nations that continue to tolerate active slavery. Open borders policies and refusal to demand adherence with our laws only aggravate this by opening up transportation avenues to the modern slavers and their vile partners.

No nation that was not majority Christian has ever managed to establish governmental systems that are not based on bribery and patronage, but that put everyone in the same line for the same services under the same rules.  This is a very simple way to keep corruption out of our government. Every so often, we have to clean house and imprison some governors and representatives and senators, but for the most part, the American system is free of outright individual graft.

We have only to look around at the remains of those places that have never been Christianized, or that were overrun by any government that is not Christian, to understand what the world would be had Jesus Christ not come and saved the world.

So, I try to keep the faith with our hallowed dead by trying to keep The Faith. To stay in touch with God, to follow Jesus, and to practice Christian Americanism. What is Christian Americanism?

To Keep Faith is to pray in public, not as a way of showing off or being "holier than thou", but as a way of humbly helping others know they are not alone, that "it is good, and right, and our bounden duty to give Him thanks and praise".

To Keep Faith is to think about the consequences of silence, and to be willing to speak up - and to use words that mean what they have always meant. To say that abortion is evil, and those who promote it are engaging in evil. To call the brutal dismemberment of babies in their mothers' wombs a holocaust. If you have had an abortion, or led others to do so, and you now understand the truth,  please come now to our loving Father God, ask for and accept forgiveness.

To Keep Faith is protect young men and women from the abortionists' seduction by cultivating the true knowledge that Babies are Good. To rejoice in every pregnancy and cheer for each mother-to-be, no matter her age or circumstances. To renew the holy & natural understanding that babies and happiness go together.

To Keep Faith is to pray for courage and words to preach the Gospel of Jesus where ever I am, at work or at play, in public or in private, to try to use my voice as a Christian to offer Jesus's own redemption to all, and thus give others the choice to want it. To tell those who were deceived, and who now repent that they ARE forgiven.

To Keep Faith is to learn to be quick to forgive, and not to ever try to "get back at" anyone for any reason. To never allow myself personally to get away with gossip or revenge. To treat with special loving care anyone I am tempted to hold a grudge against.

To Keep Faith is in working hard to be sincerely ethical in spirit as well as in "the letter of the law". To "be no respecter of persons" - not just to outwardly treat everyone the same, but to inwardly care just as much for everyone. To try to be good to people who are not members of my party or faith or family, just as I am to those who are. To try not give one better service because I am intimidated or impressed by them.  To try to go out of my way for the meek who will not ask. Not to suddenly be a stickler for rules as a way of getting back at someone who was annoying to deal with.

To Keep Faith is to refuse to hand out political favors, or political punishments. To not be impressed or led by celebrity or wealth. To pray for the courage to think for ourselves, without regard for popularity, and to stand up for what we believe.

To Keep Faith is to take responsibility through our own free will, not under compulsion from the mob or the government. To know that whatever it is, it is our job to do without needing permission or reward. To accept our own consequences.  That is ultimately the heart of America: the freedom to make our own decisions, and to try to do so in ways that enable others the moral health to make their own decisions, too.

To Keep Faith is to try to protect our own little part of America against any threat to the peculiar American liberty that respects EveryMan as his own governor, king of himself.

To Keep Faith is to Choose for ourselves - and not demand others like our choice. That is American freedom in a nutshell: not to accept the default false-choices of the latest political marketing campaign, but real choices. The choice to do better or not, to become better or not, to change my own life, to make my own living.

In America, just like in Christianity, that means we do not have to be defined by our past or our ancestors or our race or our income or anything else. That we can start over, that we can freely choose a new path toward our personal best.

That is Christian Americanism. And that is how we keep faith with those who died, that we - and those Americans who come after us - might live free.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Other Dame Julian: The Mother of Fly Fishing was a 15th Century English Nun

I first read about Dame Juliana Berners a few weeks ago, and I am still enthralled with this quaint little fact from "A Brief History of Fly Fishing":

"The first English book on fly fishing was written by Dame Juliana Berners in 1496: Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, which contained a wealth of practical angling advice and details on equipment. As the Abbess of the Sopwell Priory, Berners cast flies and wrote between prayers. She described the rod as having two parts: a ‘staffe’ or butt, and a ‘croppe’ or top. The butt was made of hazel or rowan, cut between Michaelmas and Candlemas (that is, in the winter), and was six feet long or more."

She also contributed a middle-ages how-to book on hunting, in "The Book of Saint Albans".  For a letterpress printer, it gets better, because the second edition of her Treatise was published by none other than Wynken De Worde, and has never been out of print in 450 years! Here is a link to the full "Treatise on Fishing With An Angle".

Those crazy Medieval nuns! I have always been fond of the eminently quotable  Dame Juliana of Norwich, whose record of her Visions of Divine Love in 1373 remains a breathtaking work of faith in Jesus Christ that inspires to this day. By happenstance, or perhaps the Grace of God, it is also the earliest surviving book written by a woman in English.  I have read her in several translations, and once even started a translation of my own, working from the original Old English.

And now to read about another ordinary soul who surprises and upends our assumptions and the "expert" guesses about the lives of Religious in those so-called dark ages following the Black Death. Something tells me their lives were quite livelier - and perhaps much more like ours - than we have been taught.

Isn't it interesting how different history looks when you let the facts speak for themselves, unpainted with fictional anachronisms or modernised disclaimers.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How To Make Gumbo Using Browned Flour - In A Hurry and On A Budget

I have seen articles claiming that it is now "cheaper to eat out than to cook". That is simply not true, and this recipe is a great example. While the McDonald's "Dollar Menu" may have a lot of $1 items on it, you are not going to be able to feed yourself for $1. But I cooked this recipe at home, and we enjoyed real comfort food for a total cost of about one dollar per person for the entire meal.

In the days before fast food, people had shortcuts they used to make it easier to get dinner on the table. One of those tricks was to make up some things for the week in advance. My first mother in law made tortillas fresh every morning, but she cooked one pot of beans on Monday, put it in the fridge and dipped out of it each day to make frijoles refritos.  Many Louisiana cooks made up several days' worth of roux at one time, saving themselves about half an hour of stirring at the stove each day.

A trick we had not seen before is to brown flour in the oven to use as a base for the roux. I tried this and when I put it into the hot oil, it browned up beautifully in about 5 minutes.  Wow. This gumbo turned out great, and only required about an hour to make. Paul gave it two thumbs up. Ethan and Chelsey left the rodeo to come get a second bowl to take back and eat in the stands!  So without further ado, here's the recipe. And below the recipe is a breakdown of the cost.

How to Make Browned Flour:

Line a baking pan with aluminum foil and sprinkle two cups of white flour over it evenly. Place in a 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. It won't look very dark but it is done by then. Remove from oven and cool. Break up any clumps with a fork or sifter. Store in a jar until ready to use.

Quick Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Recipe 

1/2 cup of bacon grease, shortening or cooking oil
3/4 cup to 1 cup of browned flour
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 cup of chopped celery
2 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 to 2 quarts of water
1 pound german sausage, sliced and browned
1 rotissery chicken, removed from bone and chopped (or 1 to 2 pounds cooked chicken)
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Thyme
1 1/2 pounds sliced okra, fresh or frozen (two 12 oz bags if frozen)
2 cans diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups dry white rice, cooked
Creole Seasoning or Hot Pepper Sauce

If you use a rice cooker, get it ready with the two cups of rice and turn it on now. Mine requires 51 minutes to cook that amount of rice, and it holds it hot for a good half hour. Don't be tempted to cook the rice in with the gumbo - it will turn into a goopy mess. The rice must be cooked and stored separately.

Have vegetables chopped before starting on the roux. Also, make sure the little ones are safely occupied somewhere out of the kitchen during this first phase so that you won't have to stop stirring until it is done.

Heat grease or oil in a deep pot, then stir in browned flour. Cook on high and stir constantly until the mixture is a rich caramel color. Don't turn your back and don't stop stirring! This took me about 5 minutes.

 When the color is right, put the onions, pepper and celery in and stir it all together. It will be thick and clump up. That is ok, don't add liquid yet, let it cook for about 3 minutes.

When onions and pepper have softened up, after 3 minutes or so, slowly add a quart of water and use a whisk to incorporate the flour mixture well.

Add Bay Leaf, Garlic, and Thyme. DO NOT SALT - the Tony Chachere's and other creole seasonings have salt in them and can be added at the table to taste.  Of course you can season while cooking if all of your bunch like it hot, but sadly I can't handle the heat, so our hot peppers get added at the table.

Brown the sliced sausage in a skillet and pour it and the pan drippings into the gumbo.  Add the coarsely chopped, cooked chicken.

Bring a quart of water to a boil in a kettle or pan and add it to the mixture. Cover with lid ajar and turn heat down to low. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add Okra, frozen or fresh, return to a simmer and cook 5 minutes.  Now add the canned tomatoes and their liquid. Simmer for another 10 minutes or until rice is done.

To serve: Put 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup rice in each bowl, and ladle gumbo over it.   C'est Bon!

It is even better the next day. This batch of Gumbo made about 15 big servings, and cost less than a dollar per person.

Here is how I managed that:

I could have reduced the cost even more if I had cooked my own chicken, but I wanted this recipe to save time as well as money. Most of us can manage an hour after work to cook dinner, and knowing we don't have to cook a chicken makes the prospect much more appealing.

I buy rotisserie roasted chickens at our grocery store when they are on sale and use them for things like this. This small one cost $5 and weighed about 2 pounds. You can either use all the meat in this gumbo, or use the dark meat and bits in the gumbo and save the breast to make chicken salad for a nice lunch.

The sausage was on sale. In this case, Eddy Brand, a regional Texas brand, was $2.50 for the one pound link of either all beef or beef/pork (I won't buy sausage with chicken in it). This is a great way to use leftover sausage after a cookout, too.

Bell peppers are expensive! But they are still perfect for cooking with even if they are starting to get a little wrinkled. I watch for them in the "reduced" bin, cut them in half and remove the seeds, then put them in a baggie and pop them straight into the freezer. Pull them out as needed and chop while still frozen.
So this whole large bell pepper cost 50 cents.

Frozen okra, store brand, was $1.00 per 12 oz package at regular price and I used two bags . I figure about 50 cents worth of onions, a quarter for celery, 80 cents per can of tomatoes, maybe a dollar's worth of rice, and 50 cents for oil and flour.  We fed six adults supper with no extra courses or accompanying dishes, two more bowls for Ethan and Chelsey later that night, supper for me and Paul with seconds the next day, and I finished it off last night.

Altogether, it cost about $14 to make, and we got 15 meals out of it. Nothing beats homemade in price OR flavor!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Something to Remember If You Work In The Oil Fields.....

I lived in West Texas before, during, and after the boom this comment talks about.   Do not believe anyone who tries to tell you that "This time is different", "This time we won't have a bust", "This time this town is big enough to generate money without oil".   In a comment on Belmont Club,  a user by the name of "Charles42" sums up WHY this time is no different than it ever was:

"In 1980 oil was equivalent to about 106@ barrel in current dollars. Reagan took off price controls and eliminated the excise profits tax in 1981. That knocked the price of oil down to $60@barrel in today's dollars. In 1985 he talked the Saudis into increasing their production. That knocked the price of oil in today's dollars down to roughly $30@ barrel in 1989. That falling oil price bankrupted the soviet union and gave the USA a strong eonomy during the 1980's and 90's. The price of oil bottomed in 1999 in today's dollars at 19 dollars a barrel.
The same thing is going to happen 10-15 years from now as fracking increases supply of oil and rising sales of natural gas trains trucks and buses and electric cars curb the demand for oil....."
(Click through the link to read the rest)

Those who are wise will save their money and avoid debt, will live as frugally as is possible in a boom town, and will be very careful about buying real estate at the boom-economy's grossly inflated prices. The oil business is a good business, and there is room for hard workers in it, but work smart, and look out for yourself - and remember that oil is always a boom and bust gamble in the end.


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