The big news here in October was that my eldest son graduated from Army basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I am greatly pleased that he made it through basic training! Marlene and our other two sons flew out for the graduation. I kept the home fires burning. Everything went well with the four day trip. Here is mother and son:
And here is a picture of our three boys together:
Now our son is in the Army artillery and learning how to operate a MLRS
My Op-Ed In The Times
In a first for me, I decided to write an Op-Ed article for the New York Times. I put quite a bit of work into it and mailed it off three days ago.
I understand the Times gets 1,200 unsolicited Op-Ed articles a week. Supposedly, they read every one. If they publish your Op-Ed, they pay you $450 for it. According to their web site, if I don’t hear from the Times within three days after they get my submission, I can safely assume they are not going to use it. In other words, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”
This is Saturday, so I should get a call or e-mail from the Times on Monday, or maybe Tuesday at the latest.
Hope springs eternal in the heart of every writer who submits an article for publication, even when the odds are entirely against you. If they print my piece, a lot of people will be introduced to a countercultural perspective on the subject of individual freedom and how to get America back on track as an independent nation. And if they don’t print it, I’ll still be able to say I once wrote an article for the New York Times.
My inspiration for the Op-Ed came from the following Thomas Jefferson quote, which I read this past month in Jefferson’s book, “Notes on Virginia.”:
“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”
If the Times does not publish my piece, I may send it elsewhere (any suggestions?) or just publish it here next month.
I Started Another Project
While my family was in Oklahoma, I tore out our one bathroom. It was 25 years old and in embarrassingly deplorable condition.
When Marlene and I built our home, I had very little building trades experience under my belt. The house was framed good and solid, but I didn’t fully understand venting of drain pipes. As a result, our bathroom drain system has been problematic over the years. So, with portions of the floor ripped up and walls removed, I corrected that situation.
The tub I bought way back then cost me all of $39. It was made of thin pvc plastic, surrounded underneath by Styrofoam. That tub is now history. I installed 320 solid pounds of enameled cast iron tub in its place. No more flexible tub for us.
My plan was to get the bathroom mostly done while everyone was gone. It didn’t happen. But I made good progress. It might be half done.
Back In The Day
I used to be a professional remodeler. Kitchens and bathrooms were my specialty for the last ten years of my career. Those were the self-employment years. I’ve remodeled hundreds of kitchens and bathrooms in my life, and I was once very efficient at it.
I had inventory checklists and bins of plumbing and electrical parts. The idea was to have everything needed on hand when the job started and not have to run to the store for anything during the work day. The objective was to quickly tear out the old and install the new with minimum mess and maximum quality. My help and I pretty much attacked every job. But that was over a decade ago.
This past month, working by myself, remodeling my own bathroom, I was forced to come to terms with a new reality. At 51 years old, my capacity for work is not what it once was. My productive ability is in decline. It occurs to me that I am a lot like America these days. It’s enough to get a guy down.
The biggest blow was when I had to drive to the hardware store four times in one day to get plumbing parts. I still have the skills, but I’m not a professional remodeler any more, and I don’t suppose I ever will be again.
The above picture, taken two days ago, shows the section of land we want to buy. The post in the right corner of the picture is our property line. 300+ feet of road frontage up the road (a road is on the left) beyond that post is what we may buy. Our new property line would be this side of the clump of tall pine trees in the distance. It is not a sure thing yet. Negotiations are progressing slowly. We think there may be an agreement this next month. But maybe not. If not, we will continue to be thankful for, and content ourselves with, the 1.5 acres we now have.
But if this land does come into our possession, I will be planting a small apple orchard along the top of the new property line in the spring. And there will be blueberries too. Marlene is reading up on hogs. We think we see a couple of homegrown (and home-processed!) hogs in our future. In short, we will proceed to expand our subsistence lifestyle and continue to lessen our dependence on the industrial providers.
I Lost My Bible...
The picture above is of my well-worn Bible on top of my well-worn $600 Nissan Sentra. I’ll tell you about the business card shortly.
Last Sunday, I drove the Nissan to church and when I got there, I couldn’t find my Bible. Then I remembered that I had set it on top of the car back home. I figured that it fell off along the road somewhere. So I drove home after church looking closely, but I didn’t see my Bible and I figured it was gone.
A couple days later, a lady in Auburn, NY called. Auburn is a city about 1/2 hour away and it is where my state prison job is. She had my Bible. My name was not inside and no church bulletins or other papers were inside, but there was a business card.
The business card was for a pastor from Village Missions, a ministry devoted to “Keeping Country Churches Alive.” The minister had come to our church a few months ago. The woman called Village Missions, they figured out what church in the area their pastor had visited, and gave the woman the name and phone number of a contact person at our church. The woman with my Bible then called and they figured out that it was probably mine (because it was found on the road I live on).
So the woman called my house and spoke with Marlene. Her husband had found my bible on the road as he was putting up snowmobile trail signs that Sunday morning. He was compelled to pick it up because “You can’t just leave someone’s Bible laying in the road.”
I stopped by the woman’s home after work this last week. It was a very nice home in a development on the outskirts of the city, and she was a very nice lady. In the process of thanking her for what she had done, she mentioned the business card. I commented to her that she did a lot of “detective” work to locate me. Then she said something that really touched my heart: “Well, it really looked...loved.”
This dear woman had gone to considerable effort to track me down and return my old, worn Bible because “it really looked loved.” How’s that for a nice story!
A Remarkable Splitting Axe
My son James (who turned 15 while in Oklahoma) split our supply of firewood this year. He used a new splitting axe I bought based on the recommendation of a man I work with. It is a Fiskars splitting axe with a 4.25 pound head. Item #7854. I bought it brand new for $43.20 (shipping included) on Ebay.
This splitting axe is—without a doubt— the best hand tool for splitting firewood that I have ever used. It is light, comfortable, and amazingly effective. The 28” handle is a tad short and takes some getting used to but the splitting ability of this axe is awesome. My friend raved about how great the tool was, and he wasn’t kidding.
An Old Agrarian Mystery Tool
The same man who told me about the Fiskars splitting axe also told me about the tool pictured above. he says he used it on the farm when he was a kid. Another older guy I work with said he remembered his father using such a tool on their farm back in the 1940s and early 1950s. Before I provide details (in the comments), I’m wondering if any of you readers can identify it?
Whizbanged Applesauce (Part 2)
Last month I referred you to my newly-posted essay on the subject of making Whizbanged applesauce. This month I want to let you know that I have posted the second and final essay in the series. Whizbanged applesauce is made using a Whizbang Apple Grinder, which you can see at work in This Whizbang Cider Photo Gallery. Now here’s the link: Whizbanged Applesauce: The Delightful Conclusion of The Matter
More Yeoman Furniture
My bathroom remodeling project this month involved tearing out some built-in cabinetry. The new bathroom will have a piece of Yeoman furniture—a freestanding pine cabinet sized to fit in the spot where it will be going.
I expected to have the cabinet all made and finished before starting the bathroom but, once again, I overestimated my ability (actually, my ability to do these things is impaired to a great degree by the demands of my Whizbang Books business). So the cabinet is now in my workshop (as seen in the picture above) awaiting it’s finishing touches.
The finish I have planned will consist of a base coat of red milk paint, followed by a layer of crackled black milk paint. Then I will distress the wood a bit and apply some rubbed-in layers of boiled linseed oil.
Marlene is not enthusiastic about my idea of a cracked black finish with red showing through. But that’s my vision for this family-heirloom-in-the-making, and I think (hope) it will be okay in the end. I’ll have another picture for you next month.
Making Cider Vinegar
We decided to make three gallons of apple cider vinegar this year. I have written about homemade cider vinegar here in the past, back when I was first learning how to make it happen. Check out this essay if you are interested:
My Cider Vinegar Experiment: The Remarkable Final Report
The picture above shows this year's batch of future vinegar up on a shelf a few days after filling the jars. You can see that a layer of sediment formed on the bottom. Here is a picture of a single jar:
To make the vinegar, we simply filled the one-gallon jars with homemade whizbang apple cider. Then Marlene added two tablespoons of vinegar from last year’s fermentation. Even without adding this “starter” the vinegar will make itself. Introducing some live active culture just helps get the process going faster. Then I simply tied a piece of nylon curtain material over the top. That’s it. Now we allow nature to take its course.
The picture above shows the vinegar as it is now (a month after the previous pictures). Biological activity has caused the cider to froth up in the past couple of weeks, as evidenced by the dirtied cloth. Hmmm.... let's take a look underneath:
Oh! Wow! That's nasty looking! That pile of "crud" (that's the best word I have to describe it) you see in the picture is soft and dry and floating on the liquid. Around the perimeter of the floating crud mass is a clear, gelatinous formation, which I would say is the developing vinegar "mother." The jar smells like wine.
I will report on the progress of the vinegar (and show a picture) in next month’s letter. It will be two months old then.
Potato Harvest 2009
Marlene and I dug three 50-foot rows of potatoes one pleasant afternoon in October. I manned the fork. She assisted by grabbing the spuds as they were revealed. After two rows my back ached so I laid down on my back on the lawn by the garden. It felt good and Marlene laid down beside me, her head on my arm, our eyes closed, the bright autumn sun warm on our faces. Rest always feels better after you’ve done physical work, and I am fond of reclining directly on the earth.
After awhile, our two dogs came over to investigate. Looking up into the face of a 12” high (at the shoulder) beagle sniffing over your face is a perspective I had never experienced before.
Those potatoes, some red, some white, all beautiful, are now stored in the basement of our house. It’s a good feeling to have a few bushels of potatoes in cold storage for the winter. Here’s a view from the basement stairs.
Not visible in the picture are net bags of Copra onions hanging from the floor joists. LOTS of onions.
By the way, I’ve always wanted to boil down a pot full of onions and make onion butter, but I’ve never done it. Has anyone reading this ever made onion butter?
Planet Whizbang Wheel Hoe Sale
From today until the end of the year I am selling Planet Whizbang wheel hoe metal parts kits at a significant discount. Since introducing my FREE internet wheel hoe plans back in May of this year, many people have made their own wheel hoe and you can read some of the feedback at www.PlanetWhizbang.com.
For details about this unprecedented sale, CLICK HERE. Also, while you are at the PlanetWhizbang web site, be sure to check out the custom engraved wheel hoe handles that Todd Macijauskas makes. Todd’s handles, along with a Planet Whizbang wheel hoe kit, would make a great gift for any serious gardener.
If you are a member of a gardening group on the internet, or have a blog, and could mention the completely FREE wheel hoe plans, I’d appreciate it. Thank you!
I Made A Clamp
I was reading in Nancy Bubel’s excellent book, Root Cellaring, about storing root crops in an outdoor “clamp.” The idea of keeping carrots and beets through the winter without lugging them into the basement or canning or freezing them appeals to me. So I have made one carrot clamp in my garden, as shown in the picture above.
The clamp consists of a shallow hole (maybe 8” deep and 36” around) dug into the soil of my garden. I put a layer of leaves from my yard into the bottom. In the center I stood up a bundle of dried goldenrod stalks. Around the base I placed four beets and a bunch of carrots that I had just dug from the garden. Over the vegetables I placed more leaves, along with some straw I had on hand. Then I heaped a lot of soil over it all and smoothed it off.
Peasant and native people throughout history have stored various foods in such clamps. I think I am something of a peasant. Hopefully my clamp will work.
Come January or February (mid winter) I intend to open my clamp and see how well my vegetables fared. Stay tuned.
America, God Shed His Judgment On Thee
I feel compelled to add a bit of social and economic commentary this month...
I heard someone on the radio the other day say that the recession is now over. Oh, really? It would appear that hope for financial recovery springs eternal in the hearts of modern Americans, even when the odds are entirely against such a thing.
Anyone who thinks that we’re going back to the ersatz prosperity of America’s recent former days is not looking at reality. Sorry. It’s just not gonna happen. That doesn’t mean we can’t be optimistic. There are other, more important things to hope and trust in, and be optimistic about. But the return of “American-style” prosperity (characterized by extravagance and waste) is not one of them.
America has been a prideful and arrogant nation. Pride comes before a fall. Now we are falling. A lot of people saw this coming and took it seriously. I was writing about it four years ago.
So this is a time of humbling for America, but I’m not sure this country realizes that yet. I fail to see much humility in America these days. The pride and arrogance is still there, but it is now mixed with a measure of fear, and masked with anger. This is, I suppose, the beginning stages of the unfolding new world reality we are heading into.
I know what it is like to be humbled by God. I’ve experienced loss, helplessness, on-my-face-before-Him surrender, and sincere humility. It is not pleasant. But I’ve also experienced a realignment of my heart and mind and life as a result, and that was a positive, life-changing (for the better) thing.
The way I see it, America has now seen some loss and a little helplessness, but we still have a long way to go. In the end, I don’t know if God will preserve this nation (He owes us no favors), but I do know, and I am very thankful that His grace and mercy most certainly flows into the lives of individual people who humble themselves before him. After humility comes repentance. Then comes a spirit of thankfulness—for even the littlest of blessings. And there also comes an optimism grounded in wisdom and truth, not selfish lusts and desires.
My garden is desolate (as you could see in the clamp picture above) but I planted a small patch of swedes and they are still green and growing. "Swedes" is an old word for rutabagas. Swedes are often mentioned in the old farm almanacs (circa 1850) and I had no idea what they were talking about for awhile. It so happens that most every farmer in the northeast grew swedes as winter food for their cattle.
My mother always cooked a rutabaga for Thanksgiving dinner. Only Thanksgiving dinner. This is my first year growing swedes—just a small patch. I hope to have homegrown rutabaga for Thanksgiving dinner next month.
Old Farm Almanacs
I had great plans for my blog at www.OldFarmAlmanacs.com but, alas, I have done nothing with it after a flurry of postings. I still love and collect the old farm almanacs and have a stack of them by my bedside. Here is a short excerpt from one of them for the season we are in. This is from the "November" page of Thomas's 1857 Old Farmer's Almanac:
Now see that all your loose boards, clapboards, and shingles, are tacked fast, for old winter begins to to scowl upon us. Secure your potatoes from frost. Many potatoes were ruined last year for want of warm cellars. Thrash out your barley. Take in your cabbages. Rack off cider, and mind to have a clean cask to put it into, and don't drink too much of it.And here is another tidbit, this one from the November entry in Thomas's 1856 almanac:
...But hark! from another part of the forest we hear quite a counterpart to it. High cocked upon some limb with brush upraised, sits the little malapert squirrel, making the neighboring wood resound with barking and saucy clamour. The most provident is he of all quadrupeds; and why not copy his example, as well as that of the ant? He is no sluggard, no loafer. Both his meat and drink are such as nature provides for him, and he never fails to lay them up in store against a time of need. He seeks no dainties, visits no grogshops, or loitering-places. He rises early, and goes to bed in season. His digestion is easy, and he is free from dyspepsia.They sure don't give advice like that in farm almanacs these days!
Lord willing, I'll see you here again next month.