“It’s A Wonderful Life”
( It's A Wonderful Movie)

Dateline: 30 November 2006



One of my family’s Christmas holiday traditions is to watch the 1946 Frank Capra movie It’s a Wonderful Life. We have done this for many years. I suspect most of you who read this are familiar with the movie. So I won’t introduce it but I do want to make a few observations.

One of the things I love about the movie is, of course, the overriding message that the life of one common man (or woman), has the power to positively influence so many other people’s lives. Which is the same as saying, one life can change the world.

When I think of that theme, my grandmother, Mary Kimball, comes to mind. I suspect you can also think of people who have, by their influence in your life, made a big difference—hopefully for good. As the movie points out, there are also people, like Mr. Potter, the “meanest man in the county,” who can, through the life they lead, influence the lives of others in a negative way.


There are other themes worth noting in It’s a Wonderful Life. The whole concept of living life simply while being a good neighbor is clearly communicated in the movie. George Bailey (the central character, played by Jimmy Stewart) lives with his family in the old, rundown, Granville house. The house is in better shape than it was when he and his new wife, Mary, spent a rainy homeymoon night there. But it is still in disrepair, as indicated by the top to the staircase’s newel post that annoyingly comes off in George’s hand every time he walks up the stairs.

George is far from wealthy. He supports his family and widowed mother on a modest salary of $45 a week. He does not subscribe to voluntary simplicity in the midst of abundance, a way of life many these days are choosing to pursue. But it is, nevertheless, simplicity. And simplicity (voluntary or otherwise) is, I hasten to add, a central tenet of the Christian-agrarian life I so often espouse on this site.



It is interesting to note that, from a young age, George Bailey dreamed big dreams. He wanted to travel the world, experience foreign cultures, go to college, become an engineer, and build great things. Staying in his little home town of Bedford Falls is clearly not something he wanted to do.

But those big dreams were never realized. It isn’t that George didn’t have the capability and opportunity to achieve his dreams. The “problem” is that, time after time, he sacrificially puts the welfare of others before his own self interests. He is a man compelled by responsibility and compassion for his family and friends. The situations he faces in life indicate that Providence has other, less grandiose, but not less important, plans for George Bailey.

George is not an overtly Christian man. But he clearly acts like a Christian man. And as a Christian man, we find George battling not only his own worldly desires, but evil itself as personified by the wealthy Mr. Potter. While George is the epitome of self-sacrifice, and generosity, Potter is the epitome of selfishness and greed. It is George alone who stands in the way of Potter's consuming quest to dominate and exploit the working class citizens of Bedford Falls.



And do take note of the fact that George’s father battled the nefarious Potter for many years before he unexpectedly died. Then, when his father is gone, George steps into his shoes. George Bailey honored his father and his father’s vision by carrying on his work.

Another thing worth noting in the movie is that George Bailey’s life and work revolve around the community in which he lives and works. The closeness of his community stands in stark contrast to the average community in America today—some sixty to seventy years after the time setting of the movie. The destruction of community was well underway back then as the corporate-industrial machine steadily restructured our culture to suit its Potter-like purposes. But many small towns were still close communities.

The whole concept of community, of people not only knowing each other, but living and working in close proximity (often for generations), sharing common values and beliefs, and caring for each other, appeals to deep yearnings in the human heart. Indeed, we were created to live in community and when it isn’t happening, our lives are less fulfilled. That being the case,when we see it played out in this wonderful movie, especially in the end, it is a joyful and emotional experience.

And then there is Mary. George’s wife, Mary, is far from a modern woman. She has no desire to strike out on her own and be an independent woman. She isn’t interested in seeing the world or pursuing a career. Her great desire is for home and family. Mary serves as a helpmeet to her husband and a mother to her children. She does not complain about the drafty old Granville house—she works to make it a home, a blessed place for her family. Mary is a picture of every godly mother who loves her family by sacrificially giving to them of her time and attention.



George Bailey is, indeed, a blessed man. But he just doesn’t see it. Though his life is full of simple joys, he is continually frustrated, disappointed, and discontented. His childhood friend, Sam Wainright (Hee Haw!) has achieved great material success in the plastics business. George’s kid brother Harry has achieved fame in college football then as a war hero. But George struggles along in relative obscurity.

George is, however, far from a failure in life and, before the movie is over, he comes to realize that. You know how the story plays out. If you don’t, if you are one of the few who haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it to you. Do not let this Christmas season pass without renting or buying It’s A Wonderful Life

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I invite you to check out my Hardest "It's a Wonderful Life" Trivia Quiz in the World

Cider Making 2006
(Introducing My New Apple Crusher)

Last year around this time I borrowed my friend Ken’s cider press and we made apple cider. I posted about the experience in my blog entry titled, Cider Pressin’ 2005.

Ken’s press is a Happy Valley kit that he bought a few years ago and assembled himself. It has an attached hand-crank apple grinder. Last year, in an effort to make the process of grinding apples easier and faster, I bought a garbage disposal.

The garbage-disposal-for-an apple-crusher was an experimental thing and it worked exceptionally well. While hand cranking an apple grinder is laborious and slow, machine grinding is fast and fun. What’s more, the disposal-grinder rendered a much finer apple pulp (it is the consistency of applesauce), than the hand grinder. The finer the grind, the more juice you get from a given amount of apples.

But the disposal grinder had one big drawback. Continuous feeding of apples into the unit put a strain on the motor and caused it to overheat. When that happened, the internal breaker tripped off. We had to wait for the motor to cool down then push the reset button. But after it heated up and tripped off once, and we waited for the motor to cool down, it would trip off again relatively soon. So the grinding action was beautiful but the motor just didn’t have enough uumph to do the job.

As this year’s cider season was approaching, I decided to try modifying the disposal to get better performance. And, instead of mounting the disposal in a scrap of ½” plywood clamped to the work bench in my shop, I built the grinder as a freestanding unit with a tabletop.

Last week, on Thanksgiving Day in the morning, my sons and I made cider. We put the new, improved apple grinder prototype through the paces and, to my great delight, it worked perfectly. Fact is, the machine worked so remarkably well that there is absolutely nothing more that I can think of to make it any better. It is, unquestionably, a Whizbang Apple Crusher!

Whizbang is a dictionary word that means conspicuous for speed, excellence, or startling effect. It is a word I’ve awarded to the Whizbang Chicken Plucker, the Whizbang Chicken Scalder, and the Whizbang Bar Soap Display—three products I’ve developed and then put together how-to plans for.

I do not give the Whizbang title to every idea I get and bring to fruition. I’ve had my share of bad ideas and some partial successes that have not been worthy of being called a Whizbang. For example, I developed what I hoped would be a homemade Whizbang Powerflush Lung Remover to help remove chicken lungs when processing. The idea has merit but it isn’t a Whizbang. Nevertheless, I hope to share the Almost-A-Whizbang idea with you here one day soon.

The point is, when one of my homestead experiments actually works like I dream that it will, that is a very satisfying thing, and very satisfied is how I feel about my new apple grinder. I’ve told you all of this as an introduction to telling you about Thanksgiving morning when we made cider. And I’ve got some pictures to show you……

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The picture above is of my friend Ken’s Happy Valley cider press. You can see the hand-crank grinder with a hopper attached to the top of the press frame. I sure do appreciate Ken letting me use his press but I will not be borrowing it again. That’s because I don’t need the grinder and I’m currently working on what I hope will eventually be a Whizbang cider press. It will be much different from the Happy Valley press.

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The photo above shows a top-down view into the Happy Valley apple crusher. The mechanism consists of a hardwood cylinder with several rows of stainless steel teeth. Crank the handle. The toothed cylinder turns. Apples are crushed. They fall into the press basket below.

If the handle had a weighted flywheel, it would be easier to crank. Even still, hand cranking is the weakest link in any home cider making system. Now here’s where I’ll introduce you to the Whizbang Apple Grinder…..

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The grinder is shown in my kitchen. I put drop cloths on the floor in case the grinding was messy. But there was absolutely no mess at all. Bits of apple did not fly out of the grinder as happens with a typical hand-crank apple grinder. And, as you will see shortly, the ground apple pulp exits the grinder without any mess. The square frame visible on the bench in the background fits on top of the grinder stand and acts as a curb to corral a supply of apples as they are being fed down into the grinder.

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The above picture shows several elements of the grinding operation. On the table in the background are washed apples. I washed three bushels at the kitchen sink and piled them on the table before we started grinding.

The apples have to be halved or quartered in order to fit into the mouth of the grinder. A cutting board and a big knife makes short work of the apple-cutting process.

Then the apples are fed into the grinder, which will take the fruit as fast as you can feed it in. Occasionally, the apple chunks will get jammed in the grinding chamber. When that happens, a stick is used to poke the apples down. The poking action will easily dislodge the jam and the grinding action will gobble the apples right down. I believe we could have fed apples into the grinder all day without any problem.

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They say the proof is in the pudding. In this case, the proof is in the pulp, as the above photo shows. Quartered apple pieces are easily and quickly macerated to applesauce consistency. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.

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With our bucket full of apple pulp, we headed outside to the press. The slatted press basket is lined with a tough nylon filter fabric. The pulp (notice that it has oxidized and darkened from the previous picture) is scooped into the basket and the juice begins to flow immediately, even without pressing.

My son James is holding a glass under the tray. He is getting a first taste of cider, straight from the press. It is a smooth, pure, wholesome, liquid-apple drink. Unlike the store-bought cider, this juice is not pasteurized. No chemicals have been added to “preserve freshness.” And there is no soapy residue flavor like I often taste in store-bought cider. Homemade is always better than store-bought and apple cider is no exception. Our own home-pressed cider was a special treat with our Thanksgiving meal later in the day.

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Once the pressing tub is full of pulp, the fabric is folded and the pressing plate is set on top.

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When the 1” diameter Acme pressing screw is turned down, the juice really flows. This is when everyone stands around, watching and waiting while the press does its work. As the pressure under the screw eases off, the screw is tightened down more. That tighten, wait, and tighten again procedure is repeated until the juice is squeezed out.

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The above photo provides a down-view showing the parts of Ken’s press. Unfortunately, the Happy Valley press is not, in my opinion a Whizbang cider press. It has several flaws but the biggest drawback (aside from the difficult and inefficient hand-crank grinder) is the traditional-style pressing tub.

I love the look of a traditional cider press but I’ve come to the conclusion that a slatted pressing tub is not the most efficient way to squeeze juice out of ground apples. It just doesn’t squeeze the pulp as dry as I’d like to see.

So my efforts are now being directed towards building a small (homestead size) cider press that uses alternating layers of filter-cloth-wrapped pulp (known as “cheeses”) separated by racks. This is the pressing method utilized by many large pressing operations.

I am close to achieving my goal of developing a complete Whizbang cidermaking system. The grinder is done. The press is almost done and needs testing. I may need to do some tweaking to fine-tune everything. When I reach my goal, a Whizbang planbook will follow. Stay tuned….

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P.S. I will not, at this time, share specific details about how I built the Whizbang Apple Grinder. It isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t a patentable idea, but it is somewhat proprietary and, considering the time and investment I have in developing the machine, I have decided to guard the details until the planbook comes out.

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UPDATED INFORMATION....March 2009
A lot has happened since this essay was first posted. I experimented with a rack & cloth "cheese" instead of the slatted pressing tub and decided that the tub was a better approach, primarily because the stacked cheese can be "tippy" when pressure is put to it. That is not a problem with the slatted pressing tub. But the tub can be more complicated and expensive to make. It can also be argued that the cloth-wrapped cheese layers squeeze out better than a tub with all those slats in the way. In any event, three years after this essay was originally posted, I have published the "Whizbang Cider" plan book. I invite you to go to www.Whizbang Cider.com for details about my book and lots of other useful home cidermaking information.

John Calvin: Father of The Industrial Revolution

For the past twelve years I have been compiling information for a book that, God willing, I will write one day. It will be a book on the subject of work.

Such a book will not make me much money. It will be, like my most recent book, “Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian,” a book that I feel I must write and self-publish for reasons other than personal gain. So my book on work is upcoming, but not before I produce a few more how-to volumes.

This blog is, however, not about a book I hope to write someday. It is about something that I “uncovered” in my research into the subject of work. Namely, that John Calvin, the 16th century Christian theologian, challenged long-held beliefs about the subject of work and, by so doing, I believe John Calvin became the “Father of the Industrial Revolution.”

Such an assertion is something of a paradox. That’s because I think John Calvin’s theology was God-honoring, edifying, and generally good. It led to the founding of America (See my previous post here: “John Calvin: Father of America”) and the spread of Christianity. But I do not feel so warmly about the Industrial Revolution. The more I understand about what the corporate-industrial machine has done to the home, family, church, and God’s Earth, the less I like it.

That isn’t to say I think life was perfect before we had modern dentistry and other beneficial technological advances. What I’m saying is that something very, very good was lost when industrialism destroyed the agrarian culture of this nation. I think we need to see and understand what was lost and how it was lost (the root causes) so we can better order our lives.

That is why I embrace the concept of Christian agrarianism. I see it as a way of reclaiming home, family, and church from the destructive influence of our industrialized culture. But I’m getting ahead of myself… let’s first look at John Calvin and the subject of work…

Prior to Calvin, work was not considered a good thing. It was something the lower classes did. Anyone who was anyone didn’t do physical work. They lived lives of leisure and contemplation. They devoted themselves to music and poetry and literature and art. Such was their "higher calling." The lower classes did not aspire to much beyond their laborious lower class callings. That is something of a simplification, but it is, in a nutshell, the way it was.

Calvin and the other Protestant Reformers of 16th century Europe challenged all that. They postulated that work, physical work, was good, that God created man to work, that all men, regardless of their position in society, were called to work, that there was dignity in work, and that work was a form of worship. This teaching is best summed up in the term “Protestant work ethic.” It started with the Reformation Protesters. It started with John Calvin.

In my library I have the book, “The Work Ethic in Industrial America: 1850-1920.” Chapter One is titled, “Work Ideals and the Industrial Invasion.” Here are a couple quotes from the chapter:

“The taproot [of the new work ethic in America], as Max Weber suggested long ago, was the Protestant Reformation. Universalizing the obligation to work and methodizing time, the Reformers set in motion convictions that were to reverberate with enormous consequences through American history. At the heart of Protestantism’s reevaluation of work was the doctrine of the calling, the faith that God had called everyone to some productive vocation, to toil there for the common good and His greater glory.”

and...

“Protestantism extended and spiritualized toil and turned usefulness into a sacrament. Zwingli’s benediction put the point succinctly: In the things of this life, the laborer is most like to God.”

Brought to American shores by the Pilgrims, Puritans, and Quakers, and applied to the fertile and resource-rich new land, the Protestant work ethic bore tremendous fruit. America was a place where a common man, through his diligent efforts, could not only do well for himself and his family, he could, through his tithes and offerings, build the church. Advancing the Kingdom of Jesus Christ was the original driving force behind the Protestant work ethic.

All of that is, in my opinion, good and right. But something went wrong. The Protestant work ethic had proven it would elevate quality of life. Unbelievers adopted the work ethic without the Protestant worldview. And, I'm sure, many Christians were led astray by the love of prosperity and the "good" things is brought. When the Industrial Revolution started to power its way onto the world stage, it was fueled by the Protestand work ethic.

Industrialism was embraced by the northern states beginning in the early 1800s. By the mid 1800s it was about bring revolutionary change to America . As the northern culture became more industrialized and wealthy, it started to move further and further away from its Christian-agrarian roots. The southern states had a different mindset. The southern culture rejected industrialism and held to it’s agrarian forms. This was a recipe for disaster. The rise of industrialism and its political self-interests led to a clash between the industrial north and agrarian south. Such was the original genesis of hostilities that led to the Civil War.

I know you and I were taught in government school that the Civil War was all about slavery. Well, it was not about slavery at the start. It was about a clash of cultures, agrarian vs industrial. Slavery became a central issue later in the clash. The Industrialized north won the war. The industrialized north instituted radical political and cultural changes.

My point here is that John Calvin’s Biblical theology of work changed the world. It changed it in a good way. But the seeds of his theology, improperly applied to work and business, fed the Industrial monster. As a result, America has gradually but surely moved away from its Christian roots. It is ironic, but that is what happened.

Can this industrial evolution that is taking us precariously close to cultural self-destruction (and that is exactly what we face) be averted? I think so. I pray so. The more important question is how do we stop the cultural decline before it leads, as it inevitably must, to the destruction of the nation?

The answer is found by going back in history—back to where we came to a branch in the road and went the wrong way. Back to before the Industrial Revolution, when people lived together and worked together and worshiped together in community, when families worked together and cared for each other (the family economy). In short, I believe we must go back to Christian agrarianism. It is the starting point for cultural renewal. It is the beginning of restoration.

If someone has a better idea, I’m open to hear it.

John Calvin: Father of America

I have been interested in the early American history since my mother encouraged me to go hear Peter Marshall speak at a local church twenty eight years ago. I then read Marshall’s book, “The Light and the Glory.” Being a product of the government school system, I had never before heard anything about the influence of Christianity on the founding of America. When I saw the hand of Providence was clearly and unmistakably involved in the founding of this nation, the whole subject became incredibly exciting.

From there I found out about a fellow named Marshall Foster and bought a big set of his tape-recorded lectures on American history. Those recordings were awesome. I still have them and occasionally listen to them. Other great speakers and teachers have come along since then. David Barton and Little Bear Wheeler come to mind.

Then, a couple years ago, I bought the book, “Christianity and the Constitution,” by John Eidsmoe. It is a good book that opened my eyes to something new. It had probably been communicated by the other speakers and writers, but I had not really picked up on it until I read Eidsmoe’s book. That something new was the influence of John Calvin on the founding of America. I am going to quote from Chapter One of the book:

“Colonists came from many lands and arrived at many different times to build a new nation. Some landed at Jamestown in 1607; others landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620….. In 1630 the Arabella arrived at Salem with a group of settlers. Throughout the 1600s shiploads of eager settlers arrived at various ports to begin a new life.

Some colonists were wealthy; some were slaves or indentured servants. Other colonists owned nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Although many colonists came empty-handed, they did not come empty-minded. They brought with them the heritage, culture, and ideas from the land of their birth.

In forming a new nation and developing its Constitution the following century, the delegates at the 1787 Convention did not intend to put into practice new and untried ideas. The framers of the American Constitution based their political concepts on the tried and tested ideas of the past. These men were intelligent, well-educated, and widely read. They combined the best ideas they read about to establish a government for the United States.

Therefore, it is appropriate to ask: What influenced the founders of this nation? Which books did they read? Which thinkers did they respect? To which theological, philosophical, and political systems did they subscribe?

Their ideas came from a variety of sources but one source stands out above all others. Dr. E. W. Smith says it well:

If the average American citizen were asked, who was the founder of America, the true author of our great Republic, he might be puzzled to answer. We can imagine his amazement at hearing the answer to this question by the famous German historian, Ranke, one of the profoundest scholars of modern times. Says Ranke, ‘John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.’'

Dr. Smith continues:

These revolutionary principles of republican liberty and self-government, taught and embodied in the system of Calvin, were brought to America, and in this new land where they have borne so mighty a harvest were planted, by whose hands?—the hands of the Calvinists. The vital relation of Calvin and Calvinism to the founding of the free institutions of America, however strange in some ears the statement of Ranke may have sounded, is recognized and affirmed by historians of all lands and creeds.

Dr. Smith is not alone in his assessment. Bancroft, probably the leading American historian of the nineteenth century, simply called Calvin the “father of Ameriaca.” Bancroft, far from being a Calvinist himself, added, He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.'

Eidsmoe’s book goes on to provide more support for the claim that the teachings of John Calvin were the undeniable and primary influence on the founding of America. Then he explains how Biblical principles as espoused by Calvin were incorporated into our government system.

Knowing that John Calvin (a man who died in 1564) was used by God to impact so many lives, and even to the founding of a nation, I decided to learn more about him. What I found is that modern-day evangelical Christianity doesn’t think much of Calvin. That’s because for one thing, he believed the Bible taught predestination, and evangelical Christianity does not.

Well, I’m not going to go into a discussion of predestination here. I’ll leave that to people like R. C. Sproul, who has a taped lecture on the subject.

Suffice it to say that John Calvin was a deep thinker and a remarkable man. His exposition of Biblical theology, applied to individual lives and the culture of a people, birthed the concept of freedom from oppressive government and eventually grew an independent republic founded on Biblical law.That republic being the United States of America.

In my next blog entry I’ll tell you something else that I believe John Calvin’s teaching’s birthed. It is something that few people would associate with Calvin. I think you'll be surprised,

Giving Thanks & Thanksgiving

Dateline: 20 November 2006



Thanksgiving is, by far, my favorite holiday because it is a day set apart to give thanks to God for His blessings. As far as I know, Thanksgiving is the only purely American and purely Christian holiday. It has Pilgrim beginnings and Biblical validity. It stands as a historical check against those who would remove America from it's Christian foundations.

I may be wrong (and you may correct me if I am), but I do not see anywhere in scripture where we are told to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (Christmas). Nor do I know of anywhere where it says to celebrate his resurrection on a special day (Easter). I don't say that to downgrade either of those holidays because both of them are edifying and, if properly celebrated, give glory to God. My point is that the Bible is chock full admonitions to give thanks to God.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
Psalm 100:4

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto his name.”
Psalm 92:1


In 1 Chronicles 16 we find this event:

Then on that day David delivered first his psalm to thank the Lord......

Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.


The Thanksgiving holiday is a good time to take a journey of thanksgiving through God’s word. Look up the words “thanks” and “thanksgiving” in a concordance and read all the verses. There are many. You will find mention of the sacrifice of thanksgiving.

And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with thanksgiving.
Psalm 107:22

A holiday like Thanksgiving is hard to commercialize, as is done with Christmas, but that doesn’t stop the commercializers of our modern culture from trying. Such is to be expected. Let them do as they will with the holiday. In my home, in my family, we will follow the lead of scripture as given in Psalm 18:49...

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.”

Last Sunday, my pastor, Dale Weed, spoke about having an "attitude of gratitude" and the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and we sang songs from our hymnals about thanksgiving. One song, written by Swedish-born August Ludvig Storm in 1891, was my favorite. Each line of verse begins with the word, “Thanks.” You will notice that the author does not limit his thanks to God only for the pleasures of life. This song, this poem, is truly a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and dreary fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace the none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav'nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks thru all eternity!

I think that giving thanks to God is almost as natural as breathing for a Christian who understands his place and purpose in this life, who comprehends even a little about the nature of God, who embraces the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and who, in the midst of a troubled world, rests in the promises of the Lord.

May God bless you, my dear reader, with a thankful heart this Thanksgiving day, and every day thereafter. Let us be mindful to give Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving that He so richly dererves!

In short, Happy Thanksgiving!

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P.S. Last year around this time I wrote an essay titled Pilgrims And the Christian Agrarian Exodus of 1620. If you have not read it, I recommend it to you.

My Youthful Experiences With “Easy Money”

When I was probably around 12 years old, the Catholic church just outside the housing development I grew up in had a bazaar. Along with games like throwing a baseball to break rows of real plates, they had games of chance.

One such game involved a man rolling a big square dice-like block with different colors on each surface. Around all four sides of the game booth was a surface of plywood with painted segments in colors that matched the colors on the block. People put their money on a color. The man rolled the block (or had someone in the audience roll it). If the color your money was on turned up on the block, the man doubled your money. If your color didn’t win, the man took your money.

I watched for awhile and it looked like people were having fun, especially the people who got their money doubled. It looked easy enough to play so I plunked down a quarter. I lost, but I could just as easily have won (or so I thought) so I tried again. My color won. It was exciting, and a real thrill to win. The game was, indeed, fun to play. But, before long, all my money was lost to the game. So I went home quick and got some more.

I actually sold some of the coveted Morgan silver dollars that my grandmother had given me. The kid next door gave me a little more than a dollar for them. With more money to gamble with, I jumped on my bike and pedaled furiously back to the bazaar. Time was short. I had to recoup my losses. But, before long, all my money was gone again. And I felt pretty bad about it.

Around the same time in my life, I went to Boy Scout camp for a week. My parents made sure I had some spending money for camp. One night, a bunch of older boys I knew were crowded into a tent playing poker for money by flashlight. They encouraged me to play. I never played poker before but they let me watch and it looked like they were having a lot of fun. I soon joined in. Shortly thereafter, all my money was gone. And I felt pretty bad about it.

Nowadays, gambling has been given the more respectable name of “gaming.” Oh boy! That sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Let’s play the game. It’s exciting because maybe, just maybe, we’ll get lucky and make a lot of money. Easy money. Maybe we’ll hit the jackpot. This hope motivates so many people to hand over money to casinos or the dispensers of colorful lottery tickets. The possibility of easy money is a powerful lure.

I have that Catholic church and the Boy Scouts to thank (no offenses intended) for teaching me about the reality of gambling. I learned my lessons as a boy and I have not repeated them as a man. I have never been to a casino. I was invited to speak at a convention in Las Vegas several years ago, all expenses paid. I politely declined. Las Vegas is the last place on earth I would want to go to. I have never bought a lottery ticket. I refuse to buy into any of the many sports pools and other gaming schemes that float around my factory workplace.

I know of people who are, in my mind, addicted to gambling in its many forms. They go to casinos on a regular basis. Some are regulars at off-track betting parlors. Many buy lottery tickets. Some buy lottery tickets every single day—lots of them. They explain it away as entertainment. They tell of the time they won money. They are in bondage to a false hope.

I have explained to my sons that gambling with the money God entrusts to us is wrong. I have told them that there are two Biblical ways to acquire wealth. One is to earn it; to use the physical strength, the knowledge, the talents, the opportunities and the time God blesses us with to increase our wealth. And all the while, never forgetting that it all belongs to Him. Our responsibility, as children of the King, is to be good stewards of the gifts He gives to us. Money, and the ability to earn it, is one of many gifts He entrusts to us.

The other Biblical way for individuals to increase wealth it through inheritance. But that never negates the Biblical admonition and responsibility to work.

And I’ve explained to my sons that the lure of easy money through gambling of any kind is a snare that the ungodly culture around us employs on the lazy and unwise among us. Christians are not immune to the snare.

It is a good analogy for a country boy to hear. My sons, like so many other country boys, are well acquainted with trapping of wild game. They know how a trap works. They know it appears harmless. They know a good trap is inviting. And they know that it is a pitiful sight to see an animal caught in a trap. So many men and women these days are caught like animals in the snare of gambling.

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I have written this story here for a reason that will become more clear in an upcoming blog. I felt compelled to write about gambling several months ago after reading what Lynn Bartlett wrote over at hher blog. She told the story of driving by land in Minnesota where her grandfather once farmed. An indian casino is now there.

That brought to mind a lyric from that old Joni Mitchell song: “They take paradise and they put up a parking lot.” It’s worse when they take good farm land and put up a casino. Much worse. How incredibly sad.

Free Range Children

The current issue of GRIT magazine contains an article about the book, Last Child in The Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv.

A picture with the article shows a boy sitting in a field that is scattered with freshly-baled hay and a tractor with a baler in the distance. The caption reads:

“Few children today share the sensual experience of this Idaho boy watching his father haying.”

Here’s a couple quotes from the GRIT article:

“Nearly 8 million children in the United States suffer from mental disorders. Obesity rates in children are soaring; children are being diagnosed with depression, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at alarming rates...”

“At the same time, children are increasingly disconnected from the natural world. While children of decades past spent summers building tree houses and forts, and winters sledding and building igloos, children today are stressed, over scheduled, and wired to television and computers and television.”

The point of Louv’s book is that exposure to nature is necessary to a child’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

We who live and raise our children within a rural setting, who encourage them to get involved in the natural world about them, and who delight in seeing them do so, understand that what Mr. Louv is saying is true. In fact, it seems rather obvious. But I guess the obvious is not always obvious to everyone. In any event, I’m glad to see the book addressing such an important issue, and getting some attention.

This matter and Mr. Louv's book strike me as further evidence, further validation, that life lived within the agrarian paradigm is not only well and good, it is the way life was meant to be lived.

My only thought about that boy sitting by the edge of the field is that I hope he is not just a passive observer. He should be involved and working right along side his father. That subject would be fodder for another good book.

Make Your Own Whizbang Soap Display Stands

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The picture above shows my wife Marlene’s handcrafted soaps on display at the New Hope Mills store in Auburn, N.Y. You’ll notice that the bars of soap are arranged neatly on special little wooden soap display stands. I designed and made those stands for Marlene earlier this year because she needed a simple but attractive display that would be easy for people at the store to restock as needed.

I was inspired to make the displays after seeing other handcrafted soaps so poorly presented at other stores. It’s a shame to put all that care and work into making soap and have it languish on the shelf because people don’t notice it or don’t give it any serious consideration. A proper display invites shoppers to take a closer look and learn more. These display holders do exactly that. They have worked out so well that I’ve decided to affix the coveted Whizbang name to them. Better yet, I’ve also put together a plansheet telling other home crafters of soap how to make their own Whizbang soap displays.

Here are some more pictures of the Whizbang soap display stands:

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close up showing front of Gentleman Farmer
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Whizbang soap display stands are a nifty little solution to the problem of easily organizing and presenting your handcrafted soaps.

The pictures above are all some people will need to make their own display stands. But if you would like an actual sample stand that you (or a woodworker you know) can utilize as a pattern to make your own stands, you can purchase one from me.

To order a sample display stand, go to the Whizbang Books Online Catalog

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Please excuse me now while I take care of some business. I think I shall post a few soapmaker search words:

Soap making, soapmaking, handmade soap, hand made soap, artisan soap, crafted soap, hand crafted soap, home soap business, selling soap, selling more soap, soapmaking supplies, sell more soap, marketing soap, sell soap, soap display, soap tools, soap supplier, wooden soap holder, soap holder plans, soap display plans, learn soap making, increase soap sales, learn soapmaking, professional soap maker, selling soap to stores, Whizbang soap display, saopmaking , soap, soap and more soap!

FREE Chicken Feed

The October/November issue of “Backyard Poultry” magazine has an article by Harvey Ussery titled “Feeding the Flock From the Homestead’s Own Resources.” In addition to pasturing the birds, growing green forage (like comfrey), and mangle beets, and feeding surplus milk, Mr. Ussery’s article discusses the feeding of earthworms, Japanese beetles, and maggots.

Maggots.

The idea of feeding maggots really captured my imagination and I have been greatly inspired by Mr. Ussery’s homestead maggot production system, which he describes in the article, and which I am tell you about here.

To fully understand how the system works, it helps to understand the life cycle of a common fly. Adult flies lay eggs on garbage sources that will provide food for the “baby flies” when they emerge. Cow patties in the pasture are prime material for flies to lay eggs in, as is any manure. If you are familiar with Joel Salatin’s pastured poultry methods, you know that he free-ranges his chickens a few days after his beef cows have grazed a section of pasture. He does that because flies lay eggs in the cow patties, then the eggs hatch out and the chickens scratch out the manure while feasting on the “grubs” (as Joel calls them).

Spoiled feed or most any garbage will also suffice for flies to lay their eggs. Dead animals too. When a fly lays eggs in something, that something is said to be “flyblown.”

When fly eggs hatch, the “babies” are called larva. The more common term for fly larva is maggot. Maggots are hungry, squirming, little creatures that disgust us humans, but to a chicken, they are delicious, nutritious, high-protein morsels. Mmmm, mmmm, good!

Oh, by the way, it may interest you to know that maggots do not eat and grow by the chew-it-up-and-swallow-it-down method. Instead, they eat by secreting a chemical substance that dissolves the food and then they take the liquid into their little larval bodies. So you’ll never have to worry about getting bit by a maggot. Dissolved, maybe, but not bit.

Anyway, the adorable (to their mothers, maybe) little buggers are designed by God to eat and grow only to a plump but small stage. I find the “small” part of that statement reassuring, don’t you? After that, it is time for the maggot to “pupate, “ which means to become a “pupa,” (the plural of which is “pupae”).

According to the dictionary, a pupa is “an intermediate, usually quiescent stage of a metamorphic insect that occurs between the larva and the imago. The pupa is usually enclosed in a cocoon or protective covering, and undergoes internal change by which larval structures are replaced by those typical of the imago.”

Or, in other words, the pupa, is what the maggot turns into before it becomes a fly. It is much like a caterpillar turning into a cocoon, from which it later emerges as a butterfly, only the end result is not nearly as pretty.

But wait... I can’t let words like “quiescent” and “imago” get by me without looking them up in the dictionary too. When I was a little boy and I wanted to know what a word meant, my mother would tell me to look it up in the dictionary. I never wanted to do that. But now I do. Funny how that worked out.

“Quiescent” means, “marked by inactivity or repose: tranquilly at rest.” The word comes just before “quiet” in my Merriam Webster and, in fact, you will notice that “quiet” is contained in “quiescent.” Making note of that will help me (and maybe you) remember what it means. Now I’ll try to use it in my writing, and most everyone will wonder what I’m talking about (except you, maybe).

“Imago” simply means an adult insect. It will make a great Scrabble word.

Getting back to the life cycle of a common fly, when the maggot wants to pupate, it stops eating and squirms away from the food. It wants to get to the ground and burrow in where it can safely pupate. After the pupation period is over, an adult fly emerges, and the cycle repeats.

Now that you are an expert on the life cycle of flies, you can grow a crop of maggots.

Mr. Ussery does this by drilling a lot of 3/8” holes in the side, bottom, and top of a big plastic pail. Then he stuffs a skinned beaver carcass in the pail, puts the lid on and hangs it off the ground, under a little lean-to made out of old steel roofing. By the looks of the picture in the article, Mr. Ussery had a few of these maggot-generators hanging in the lean-to.

Adult flies are attracted to the buckets and “blow” the dead meat with eggs. A short while later, the eggs hatch, the maggots feed away, and grow plump. When the time comes to pupate, the critters migrate away from the meat, through the holes, and drop to the ground. That’s when the chickens gobble ‘em up.

The concept seems so incredibly simple and effective that I’m going to try it this next summer. In fact, I can’t wait to grow maggots!! Maybe I can improve on the system. Maybe I can grow and collect maggots and save them for winter feeding. Maybe, through my extensive experiments with growing maggots, I could become a recognized authority. I could be a maggot guru. I could even write a book about it. People write books about all kinds of things. There is even a book out there that tells people how to build an automatic chicken plucker. Why not maggot culture?

On the other hand, I'm pretty busy with so many other projects. I guess I'll just have to grow some for for my own use and let someone else be the maggot guru. But I'll be glad to review the book.

As far as I can determine, the only drawback to this idea is the foul smell that comes with dead and decaying meat. But if the prevailing winds are in your favor, and no neighbors will be offended, the smell is probably not that much of a problem. It’s kind of like: “If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a noise?”

Well, of course it does, but so what?

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I have had city relatives visit and ask me “What is there to do around here?” Country life strikes them as boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is only boring to people who are lazy, or unimaginative, or uninterested in living around and learning about the natural world. In short, it is only boring to people who are, themselves, boring.

There is so much to do and experience and learn in the agrarian setting. For example, you can make your own chicken feed by growing maggots on dead animal carcasses.

:-)

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P.S. If you have not yet read my other poultry-related essays, I invite you to do so. Here are the links….

Backyard Poultry Processing With My 11-year-Old Son

My Whizbang Plucker Story

Frequently Asked Questions About The Whizbang Plucker

Introducing My Deluxe Homemade Chicken Scalder

Talkin’ Bout My Chicken Tractors

Talkin' Bout My Chicken Tractor (Part 2)

Getting Started With Turkeys

Turkeys in Tractors & Comfrey For Feed

How To Butcher A Chicken

The Next Best Thing To A Whizbang Chicken Plucker

My Chicken Plucker Parts Business

The Best Place to Buy Plucker Fingers

The Deliberate Agrarian Christmas Gift Guide

The thought of Christmas shopping at local malls fills me with dread. Nevertheless, it seems that I always spend at least one day of my life each year immersed in the perverse cultural phenomenon of modern-day Christmas shopping.

Last year Marlene and I went on a shopping “date” in late November. I even took a day off from work so we could do this special thing. We drove 40 miles to a popular shopping destination outside Syracuse, New York. First stop was a department store named Kohls, which I had never been to before. They were having a sale.

I dropped Marlene off at the front door, found a parking spot in the crowded lot, and walked into the brightly-lit store full of stuff and people. I stopped just inside the door, put on my openmouthed, wide-eyed Gomer Pyle face and looked around in mock wonderment. Marlene saw me from a rack of clothing she was rifling through. She rolled her eyes and smiled.

She will tell you I’m no fun to shop with. Big stores with lots of stuff are an insult to my anti-materialistic, anti-consumeristic, anti-modern sensibilities.

So I walked around that day in shock and awe, not shopping as much as observing and enduring. What I observed was so much soon-to-be junk and so many Moderns milling about and actually buying things. I was imagining how much of the store’s wares would, before long, be in a landfill or a garage sale.

If you go mall-shopping this year, look around and ask yourself how many if the items you see are really a necessity. Then imagine what each item will look like and where it will be in a year, or maybe two. It’s a sobering exercise.

Marlene and I slogged our way from store to store all day, occasionally buying something, and exhausting ourselves in the process. But it was not the kind of exhaustion you feel good about. If I split and stacked firewood all day, I’d be exhausted and it would be a good exhaustion. The same would be true if I worked in my garden all day, or my workshop. I’d be tired but I’d feel good about it. I’d sleep good too!

But shopping all day leaves me feeling lousy.

All of which brings me to an alternative; the simple and sensible antithesis to hectic store shopping... shopping from the comfort of your home, at your leisure, using the internet. Now there’s an example of putting modern technology to good use!

Aside from convenience, the internet offers a far, far larger selection of unnecessary things to buy. But we’re talking Christmas gifts here—such gifts don’t have to be absolutely necessary. Practical or uniquely special will suffice. Inspiring is good. And if the gift can be enjoyed for more than a few minutes or even a couple hours, that’s really good.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest six uniquely special items that will make great Christmas gifts for you to give your family. This is The Deliberate Agrarian 2006 Christmas Gift Guide:

1. Sugar Creek Gang Audio Series

If you have boys to buy for (ages 8 to 12, or so) I strongly recommend volume one of the Sugar Creek Gang audio series. The stories are God-honoring, family-strengthening, and exciting. I have written about the audio tapes here. You can purchase them from Beloved Books.

My boys now have the entire tape series. They have actually listened to a couple of the tapes so often they've worn out (CDs are also available). Someday, Lord willing, I will buy these audio stories for my grandsons.

By the way, I put this gift guide selection first because this was one of the best Christmas gifts I ever gave my kids.

2. Dandelion Leek Miso

I learned about South River Dandelion Leek Miso from a woman who buys my homemade garlic powder. She adds the tiny, wholesome garlic granules to a cup of hot dandelion leek miso broth. She raved about the earthy combination so I bought the miso and it is something special. If you’re a miso enthusiast, you simply must experience this dandelion version. And if you’ve never tried miso before, this is the place to start. We really enjoy the drink around here during the cold winter months. (The 3-year barley miso is good too)

3. Herrick’s Homegrown Stiffneck Garlic Powder

You probably knew this was coming, didn’t you? A jar of Herrick’s Homegrown stiffneck garlic powder (grown and processed by yours truly) makes a unique little gift. Not only is my powder the perfect addition to a cup of dandelion leek miso, it is right at home, and particularly good, on hot buttered toast.

Gift jars of Herrick’s Homegrown garlic powder are $10.50 each. For no added cost, I’ll pack each jar in a gift box with an informational sheet telling all about the powder and what makes it is so special. The box makes it easy for you to wrap and give. Shipping is a flat rate of $5 for any size order. Send payment to: Herrick Kimball, PO Box 1117, Moravia, NY 13118

One more thing... my supply of garlic powder should hold out to the end of November, but not much more than that.

4. A Good Garden Hoe

Frankly, I can’t think of a better gift for any occasion than a good garden hoe. I’ve got a bunch of ‘em (an agrarian can never have too many garden hoes, you know.). One of my favorites, the one I reach for most often, is an Amish-made hoe that I bought from from Lehman’s Hardware.

5. Little House DVDs

My family owns a television set but it is rare that we ever watch any contemporary television programs. However, we do watch some movies and other tape or DVD programs. Two years ago, I bought the first season of Little House On The Prairie DVDs.

Little House on the Prairie featuring Michael Landon as Pa Ingalls is, in my opinion, one of best television programs ever produced. It focuses in a wonderfully pleasing way on family, community, the Christian faith, and agrarian life. Our whole family has enjoyed watching the DVD’s, and have done so many times.

After seeing how good the DVDs were and how well my kids enjoyed them, I bought a couple more seasons. This Christmas, I’ll buy another.

By the way, I have also bought season one of the Walton’s television program, which I recall watching and enjoying as a boy. I have to say the Little House programs are much more edifying and therefore better for children and families to watch.

6. Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian

Every Christmas gift guide must have a literary selection, and an agrarian gift guide should have an agrarian book. Well, what a coincidence— I just happen to have written one! :-)

My most recent book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian is all about faith, family, and livin’ the good life.

It is a unique book because it is the only book I know of on the subject of Christian agrarianism. Some think the book is too religious. Some think it’s not religious enough. Some think it’s not religious in the “right” way. Some just don’t know how to take it. But, near as I can tell, everyone who has read the book has enjoyed it (even the ones who disagree with some of what I say). You can read some reader comments here.

You can find out how to get a signed copy of the book here. If you would like to purchase the book in quantity (several people have done this for gift giving), I sell 5 copies for $45 (postage paid). My address is at the link I just gave.

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So there you have it. Those are my suggestions for six unique, memorable, and relatively inexpensive Christmas gifts that will bring a lot of enjoyment into the lives of the persons you give them to. All but one (the Little House DVDs) are NOT going to be found in your local shopping mall. All can be purchased without any hassles from the comfort of your home. Now THAT’S the way to get your shopping done!

Yeoman Furniture and My New Woodbox

Back in the days when agriculture was the predominant culture, when entire families worked together on their land to provide for themselves, when there were no WalMarts or supermarkets or Toys-R-Us to provide our every necessity (and an endless supply of non-necessities), back in those days people simply produced almost everything they needed themselves. And what few things they didn’t produce, they procured by trading with someone in their community.

The people who lived like this were the yeoman farmer, farmsteader, and homesteader families. They cleared and planted their land. They harvested crops for food and trade. They raised animals for food and trade and transportation, and to help them work the land. They put up their own food and cooked their meals from scratch. They heated their homes and cooked with their own firewood. They made their own clothes and quilts, and ox carts and toys and musical instruments. They were craftsmen of necessity. They built their own barns and homes, and furniture too.

Though I am far from a yeoman, I am inspired by the example of the yeoman’s approach to life. I love the idea of learning different skills, and of working with my hands to create things that my family needs. I love the idea of not needing the supermarkets and the department stores. This idea of using the time, strength, mind, and abilities God gave me to provide for myself, for my family, and, at times, for my community, without needing the help of government agencies or the industrial providers is the embodiment of freedom. It is the outward expression of Paul’s admonition to the church at Thessalonica, as written in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

All of which brings me to my new wood box.....

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I built an addition on my home over the past two years. It is finally finished and the wood box in the picture above sits in one corner of the new room.

Just around the corner on the other side of the wall, is our woodstove. It’s an Old Vermont Castings stove I bought used 20 years ago for $250. That stove has been, and continues to be, the only source of heat in our house.

If I had sufficient woodland, I would cut my own firewood. I love to cut firewood. As it is, I cut some when it is available but purchase most all my wood from Kevin, a bachelor neighbor who has a small diary farm and firewood business. Every year I buy 10 face cord of firewood from Kevin. He delivers it with his old Allis Chalmers tractor using an old manure spreader converted into a wagon.

If I’m home when he delivers the several loads, I’ll go help him throw the wood off into a big pile in my side yard. Then I pay him cash. For the last several years he has charged me $35 a face cord. This year he upped his price to $45 and I was glad to see it.

Some of my friends and neighbors will spend more than $450 a month to heat their big houses with fuel oil or kerosene or propane, or electricity through the frigid New York winter that is quickly approaching. But my family will be warm and snug in our small home for substantially less money. We are not dependent on any foreign country for our heating fuel. We will not need any furnace repair man to keep our heating system operational. We will not need to buy a new furnace when the old one gets obsolete or run down; the woodstove should serve us just fine for another 20 years. And, incredibly, that $450 of firewood will not only last us through the winter, it will fuel the woodstove in my workshop when I need to warm it up, and it will be sufficient to fuel our makeshift maple syrup evaporator when we boil down a few gallons in the backyard next spring.

But I am heading off on a rabbit trail. This story is about my wood box....

Outside the window that is right next to the wood box is our winter woodpile. Kevin’s wood is split and seasoned for a year, but much of it is in big split chunks. So I pay my son Robert $75 to go through the pile and re-split it into more-convenient-to-handle and easier-to-fit-into-the-woodstove pieces. We used to rent a hydraulic wood splitter and the whole family worked together to get it split in one day. But two years ago, Robert asked me if I would pay him what it cost to rent the splitter if he did the splitting himself with a splitting maul. As you might imagine, such a request was like music to my ears. It brought joy into the heart of this pseudo-yeoman father!

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Robert splits the wood, and the rest of us stack it into a makeshift firewood lean-to that I built a few years ago using a bunch of cheap pressure treated 4x4 posts and 2x pine boards (priced cheap because the wood was so warped that the lumberyard couldn’t sell unless it was cheap) and some galvanized roofing that came from my dad’s barn, which fell down several years ago. It was never intended to be a permanent structure, just a cheap and adequate place to stack firewood and that is what it has been.

So we have the firewood just outside the window and the wood box just inside. (Oh, by the way, the window was also purchased from the local lumberyard at a reduced price—$40—because it had once been a display model.) Our system for getting firewood in the house is for one person (typically my son James) to go outside and hand it through the opened window to another person, who places it in the wood box. The inside dimensions of the box measure 18” deep (firewood lengths are 16 to 18 inches) by 38 “ wide by 36” high. That much wood is enough to last us for several days even in the coldest part of winter.

I made the wood box two weeks ago using 1 x 10 pine boards. My son Robert helped me and got to see that a man doesn’t have to go buy furniture from a store. He can just make it. I told Robert that there was no reason why he couldn’t make most all the furniture in his home someday, not to mention the house itself. And, I told him that the furniture he made would be more unique and special to him and his family, not to mention future generations.

I confess that I have not made all the furniture in my house. But I have made quite a few pieces and I plan to make more in the days ahead. Fact is, I’d like to start a home business making furniture. That was part of the plan I had in the back of my mind for the big old Grange hall we had hoped to buy last summer (see previous posts for the whole story on that). Frankly, I’d like to start all kinds of home businesses, but I already have several part time home businesses! What a dilemma.

Anyway, Marlene and I like furniture styles that fall into the country, shaker, or primitive category. That should come as no surprise, Such furniture is, essentially, agrarian. I like to think of it as yeoman. That is the name I wanted to give my home and hand-crafted furniture company: Yeoman Furniture. Maybe someday yet.

Yeoman furniture is far easier to build than, say, Federal, or Queen Anne. Those high fallutin’ furniture styles require special woods and finishes and joinery skills. Yeoman furniture is built using very basic materials and tools and skills. And the beauty of yeoman furniture is that if it gets a little banged up, it looks better. A little “distress” is actually preferable. If a board cracks from expansion and contraction of the wood, that’s okay too. It doesn’t mean the piece will fall apart. Not hardly. Yeoman furniture is solidly built. Oh, but it is attractive too! Functionality and durability without being attractive to the eye is not my idea of good Yeoman furniture.

Years ago, when I was writing how-to books for The Taunton Press, I had an idea for a book that I wanted to call, The Practical Cabinetmaker. It was an anti-big-tools-and-fancy-shop how-to book. It seemed to me that every cabinetmaking book on the market required the reader to own expensive tools and a big shop. My book would tell people how to build beautiful cabinets without a lot of expensive shop tools. The book never happened.


The fact is, you don’t need a jointer, or a planer, or a radial arm saw, or even a table saw (though a small, portable, inexpensive, table saw comes in handy). The fact is, you can build real nice cabinets using nothing more than basic power hand tools— power saw, an electric drill, and some basic hand tools would pretty much get you going. In other words, the same tools you’d use to build your barn and your house.

And you don’t need a fancy shop either. I built the cabinets for my kitchen in the kitchen when I built the house. I’ve build other cabinets outside under the roof of a shed I once had. Now I have a shop but it is cluttered and cramped, yet I can still make cabinets there.

The same applies to furniture. Maybe someday I’ll make a video or two showing myself making furniture with basic tools and basic techniques in my very crowded shop. It would, no doubt, be comical as I tripped over the junk around my work table. I would be the furniture making contrarian. Furnituremaking purists would laugh and howl insults at me. But your average unskilled person would love my instructional videos because they show how to make beautiful and useful pieces without all the stuff and bother. There I go again, Walter Mitty-like dreaming of another home business. I just can’t help myself. :-)

Back to my new wood box.... Like I said, I built it out of 1x 10 pine boards. I built it to fit in the corner by the window. I built it in less than 8 hours over a period of several days. I built it without any plans; just a vision in my mind. When I was done I decided to finish it with milk paint. That’s the finish that many a yeoman might have used. I’ve used it before and I absolutely love milk paint. My understanding is that milk paint is made with milk, lime and pigment. It is incredibly durable. I bought powdered milk paint mix (just add water) from an internet company. Lexington Green is the color. One of the really nice things about milk paint is that it has no volatile solvents. it’s very natural and safe to use (though it can be caustic with the lime).

I painted two coats of milk paint on the box (the inside was stained because I wasn’t sure if I would have enough paint to cover the inside and I like the color contrast anyway). Milk paint is very dull and drab looking and it goes on kind of lumpy— very unlike modern paint from a can. It could be left that way but I decided to take the finish a step further. After the paint was dry (it dries fast) I poured boiled linseed oil (You buy it that way. I did not boil it.) on each surface and rubbed it with some very fine wet/dry sandpaper on a sanding block. This step smoothed the painted surface, sealed it, and darkened it. The sandpaper also distressed the surface by rubbing paint off in some areas, as shown in this next picture.

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Thus finished, the outside of the wood box is now silky smooth to the touch. James told me that Pa Ingalls used to use linseed oil to finish furniture followed by some bees wax, but I’m going to leave it as it is.

For my next project, I’m working on the room seen beyond the wood box in the first picture above. I need to put a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling and wallpaper the walls. In fact, that’s what I’m going to go do right now.......

Quirky Things

One meaning of the word “quirk” is a peculiarity.
“Peculiarity” is the quality of being peculiar.
“Peculiar” means out of the ordinary; odd; strange.

Now that we have that settled. I’d like to share with you a few quirky things....

Francis P. Quirk

He was my 6th grade government-school teacher. The year was 1970. School was different back then.

I remember the day my classmates Mike Burke and Jeff Sims got in an argument over something and wanted to fight. Upon seeing this, Mr. Quirk told them to sit down. Then he had the rest of us rearrange our desks to make a cleared out area . He called the two boys up to the front of the class. They were standing there side by side. Mr. Quirk took a seat and and told them that if they wanted to fight, this was their opportunity. Have at it.

They were on the spot and it didn’t look much like they wanted to fight any more. But Mr. Quirk spoke some words of encouragement. He told them that if they really wanted to fight, they really should fight. So they did.

They started throwing punches. Mike punched Jeff in the face. Jeff punched him back. There was a flurry of blows. Jeff grabbed Mike’s shirt and pounded him and the shirt ripped and Mike started crying. Both had had enough. Mr. Quirk stopped the fight. It all happened pretty fast.

I don’t remember anyone ever wanting to fight in Mr. Quirk’s class again after that.


Chickens Saved George Washington’s Life ( well, sort of)

I came home from work yesterday and my son, James, informed me of a quirky event in American history that I had never heard of before....

A man named Thomas Hickey poisoned General George Washington’s peas at a dinner he was eating at the tavern of Samuel Fraunces in New York City. The tavernkeeper’s daughter Phoebe knew the peas were poisoned and agreed to serve them to G.W. But as she served him, she whispered a warning.

Washington threw the peas out a nearby window. Some chickens came along and ate them. The chickens died. Washington’s life was saved. He went on to win the Revolutionary War, preside over the constitutional convention, and become our nation’s first president.

That information comes from a Reader’s Digest book titled, “Strange Stories, Amazing Facts of America’s Past.”

Chickens Love Rat Poison

Speaking of chickens, one of my coworkers recently told me that he once had a neighbor with chickens. The fowls free ranged over into his yard and he didn’t much like it. So he put some rat poison pellets out for them to eat. The chickens ate the pellets right down and came back the next day for more.

This went on for awhile and my coworker said he was amazed that the birds didn’t die. He told his father about it one day. His father wondered about the eggs the chickens were laying, and the neighbors were eating. After considering that, he stopped feeding the chickens.

A New Way To Butcher Pigs

The same coworker mentioned above told me the same neighbor with the happily rat-poisoned chickens raised a pig one year. When it came time to butcher the fattened porker, he fired up his chainsaw and used it to cut into the live pig’s neck and bleed it out. As he told me this he made the motions of starting a chainsaw, and chainsaw sound effects too.

When I questioned the veracity of the tale, he assured me that it was true. And he added that if I knew his neighbor, I wouldn’t doubt the story.

That’s wild and quirky.

Eatin' Coon

I was speaking with a friend of mine, who happens to be a part-time, certified-organic farmer, about trapping critters the other day. He said his uncle once told him that no animal will eat a raccoon. Not even a crow or turkey vulture. Is this a quirky fable or is it true?

Quirky Word Question

Here’s a question for the more erudite among us....

I have been informed that there is one word in the english language that contains all the vowels (a,e,i,o, and u). Do you know what it is?

Quirky Cosmic Coincidence

I was driving my new (to me) $600 Nissan Sentra home from work yesterday, listening to the immensely popular blogger, Amy Scott, being interviewed by Rick Saenz on a Plain Talk CD.

At one point in the interview, Amy is speaking about something and she says the words, “fall like dominoes.” Well, at the exact moment she uttered the word “dominoes” I was looking at the word “Dominoes” on a pizza joint I was driving by.

How’s that for quirky?

Whizbang Plucker At The North Pole

It’s true. Tomorrow, I am sending a box of parts to build a Whizbang Chicken Plucker to the North Pole.

That’s a quirky place to pluck a chicken.

(Well, it's actually going to North Pole, Alaska)

My Take on Santa Claus

North Pole? Hmmm..... makes me think of You-Know-Who.

We are getting close to Christmas, and that means I’ll have to go through the torture of looking at pictures of Santa Claus and of men who dress up like him. We got a catalog in the mail the other day that was selling Santa Claus toilet seat covers. They are so cute!!! (I’m being facetious) (By the way, that’s a hint).

I don’t like Santa Claus because he takes the focus off celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. This portly fictional character serves no purpose but to rob God of His glory.

Because of this, we do not do the Santa thing in our family, and we never have. I told my boys right from the start that he is a fraud and a thief. I told them that if you rearrange the letters in Santa, you get Satan.

In the midst of our modern, materialistic, and predominantly godless, modern culture, this way of thinking qualifies me as quirky.

The Quirky Mars Program

The United States has spent billions and billions of taxpayer dollars in the effort to send an unmanned spacecraft to the planet of Mars. Now they want to spend many more billions (probably trillions) to send men to Mars.

Several months ago I listened to a radio interview with the head of the NASA Mars program.

The interviewer asked a wonderful question: “Why are we spending all of this money and effort to go to Mars?”

The answer.... “So we can better understand our origins.”

I think it would have been a whole lot cheaper and easier to just read the book of Genesis and take a close look at the natural world around us.

That’s enough quirky stuff!

~~~~~~

P.S. If you read this Mr. Quirk, drop me an e-mail. It’s been 36 years. I’d love to hear from you. hckimball@bci.net

Aroostook's Wood Prairie Farm

A couple of blogs back, I told you about Aroostook county, Maine (where my family roots run deep), and harvesting potatoes. My cousin Billy, who is from up there, sent me the following speech which was recently delivered at a Slow Food conference in Italy by Aroostook potato farmer Jim Gerritsen.

Jim Gerritsen and his family operate Wood Prairie Farm, a successful small-scale organic operation just down the road from my Aunt Irene in the town of Bridgewater.

Mr. Gerritsen strikes me as a very intelligent man. He not only knows how to grow good potatoes, and make a living at it, but clearly understands the history, the current status and the serious problems currently facing agriculture in America. This is evident in the following speech which I recommend to you.

Anyone who aspires to make all or part of his living in small-scale agriculture can learn a lot from Jim Gerritsen’s perspective and his example, which includes internet and mail order marketing of his farm’s products.

(Thanks cousin Billy for sending this my way!)

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Good morning. I'm Jim Gerritsen. We have a family farm and raise organic Certified Seed potatoes in the State of Maine in the United States.

I'd like to thank the folks at Slow Food and our hosts here in Italy for the opportunity they have created in bringing together this wonderful group of farmers and producers.

Let me tell you a little about our corner of the world. Wood Prairie Farm is located in Aroostook County, the northernmost county in Maine. Maine's biggest farm crops are potatoes followed by milk, eggs, and blueberries. Maine has the second highest ratio of organic farms to conventional farms in the United States.

Aroostook County’s history has been heavily influenced by two factors: potatoes and its isolation from populated southern New England by a couple of hundred miles of forested wilderness.

In the early 1800s the first white settlers to Aroostook County started carving fields out of the forest and immediately began planting potatoes. What they found was that unlike the marginal soils covering most of New England, the geologically distinct well-drained fertile loam soils of Aroostook along with the cool northern climate were perfect for growing potatoes. Over the next one hundred years farmers made steady and massive efforts to clear the trees from hundreds of thousands of acres in order to grow potatoes.

The big revolution occurred when the railroad arrived in Aroostook County in the late 1800s. With good soil, climate, transportation, 40 inches of annual precipitation, and relative proximity to East Coast population centers, Maine's Potato Empire was created in Aroostook County. Through the early 1950s Maine’s annual crop of almost a quarter million acres made Aroostook County the leader in United States potato production.

In the last fifty years Maine's Potato Empire has seriously waned. Among the factors:

*Shifting consumer preferences away from fresh potatoes and home cooked meals to factory processed foods such as frozen french fries and potato chips.

*Successful standardizing marketing campaigns that convinced recent generations of American consumers that an “Idaho Russet” is the only potato worth eating.

*Competition from producers in the American West who benefit from federally-subsidized irrigation and hydroelectric projects

*The transformation of the traditional potato to a generic commodity with a capital intensive / highly mechanized / increasingly concentrated system of large scale factory-like production.

*And finally, decade after decade of low farm gate prices.

While Aroostook County still produces more potatoes than any other county in the United States, our production is now just a quarter of its peak.

Despite this steady decline, Aroostook County still has a potato-based culture much as it has had for the last 150 years. Going back may generations everyone in Aroostook has worked in the fields picking potatoes. Many former farmers and non-farmers schedule vacation time so they can help family harvest their potato crop. We are one of the last areas in the United States where schools are still closed for Harvest Break so that kids can help farmers get their crop in. Often the teenagers that we hire are taught potato picking technique by their parents and grandparents who they themselves learned when they were young pickers. In our potato culture there is universal belief that hard work and thrift are best learned at an early age by working in a potato field. This is an endangered tradition as increased potato mechanization reduces opportunities for both hand work and younger workers.

Now, a little about Wood Prairie Farm. We have been farming organically for 30 years. We own 110 acres. Like most Maine farms, half of our acreage is in forest. We farm 55 acres, including 48 acres in rotated crop production. We have a 4-year rotation: Year 1: Potatoes; Year 2: Spring Wheat or Oats underplanted with Clover and Timothy grass. The clover sod from Year 3 is plowed down in Year 4 and the field is then planted first to plowdown Buckwheat, then to plowdown Rapeseed as a biofumigant. Year 5 is back to potatoes. Our rotation allows us ten to twelve acres of potatoes a year. We also grow lesser amounts of other root crops like carrots, beets, parsnips and onions. We plant in May, harvest by early October and ship from underground storage until June.

We sell seed potatoes certified as seed by the State of Maine to home and market gardeners across the US through a mailorder catalog and website. We also wholesale to mailorder seedhouses who sell our organic seed potatoes in their catalogs.

In my remaining minutes I’d like to talk about the question of scale in agriculture. Within the Maine organic community our ten acres of potato production would be considered average. However it is very small compared to the 200-700 even 2500 acre potato crops of our non-organic neighbors. Yet the size of the thousands of farms back in Aroostook’s golden age were also small by comparison to today. Clearly, as average farm size increases there is an even greater decrease in the number of farmers remaining. Fifty years ago our four mile long stretch of road had thirty potato farms. Twenty years later our entire town was down to thirty potato farms. Today there are just six potato farmers left in town. One economist has projected that if current trends continue Maine’s 60,000 acres of potatoes will one day be grown by just twenty farmers each growing 3000 acres.

This upward trend in scale is similar across American agriculture. Two factors contributing to this trend are the short-sighted acceptance of genetically modified (GMO) crops by American farmers and the unrelenting rise of American corporate consolidation and domination, first within the US economy and now within the national government.

Historically, it is worth noting that subsequent to the Populist Movement of the late 1800s, the American farm economist Carl Wilkin in the 1930s concluded through his work developing the economic model known as Farm Parity that restrictions upon the size of large farms was necessary in order to ensure proper functioning of the economy, economic justice for farmers and broad benefits to the whole of society. Thirty years ago American writer and farmer Wendell Berry published his landmark work The Unsettling of America which expressed serious reservations to this then unquestioned trend within American agriculture of hyper growth, mechanization and consolidation.

The harvest we are now reaping from this modern scale is liquidated family farmers, crushed rural communities , an unstable food supply and an at risk democracy.

Since its inception, the organic community has been a safe harbor for the American family farmer. However, corporate entry into organic production and marketing is now occurring at a rapid rate and its influence is being felt nationwide. Go into an American chain grocery store today and you will likely find corporate organic vegetables which have been shipped in from thousands of miles away with no local products to be seen. This development is harmful to family scale organic producers due to loss of market opportunity and downward price pressures.

Will organic family farmers succumb to the same forces of scale, consolidation and control that have led to the demise of other family operations? Three reasons for hope come to mind.

*First is the spirit embodied in the Slow Food dialogue of honoring food that is good, clean and fair.

*Second is the developing concept of an “Organic Family Farmer” certification system that identifies family farmers in the marketplace aiding co-producers seeking authentic goods and protecting real family farmers from corporate imitators.

*And third is the dawning on Americans that local is in fact better as reflected in the growth of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and Farmers Markets.

Thank you.