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Archive for the ‘Christmas, December Holidays’ Category

Will gave me one of the nicest surprises just now. He is a wonderful scavenger, and when on a construction or handyman job, has a good eye for noticing what is stored in other people’s Quonsets and barns. At a recent job, he noticed a small, Swedish-style wood heating stove, new in the box. He bartered for it (he loves bartering). He installed it while I was gone, and when I came home, we had a cozy bedroom for the first time ever.

Wedding and Family Camp 007

(My apologies on the drowsy lighting of the photo.) It is a Vogelzang brand…not particularly high quality, but serviceable. It is a sweet-feeling little stove (you can see by the size of the bricks and fire shovel that it is not very tall), and, like most wood stoves, has a temperament and personality. In spite of the appearance that one can effectively cook and or heat a pot or kettle on top, most of the heat radiates out the sides. (This picture was taken some months after installing the stove, and you can see where the sometimes extreme heat has faded the paint.) This stove takes a bit more babying on the draft creation, during ignition, than some do, and doesn’t burn heavy logs particularly well…but is a steady little workhorse, all the same. It tends to be a heavy feeder, and the fact that it does not shut down air intake as completely as many stoves do, can be a drawback when burning lumber with much sap (southern yellow pine makes an inferno). The slide on the front is the main air-intake, and if one needs to limit it further than the closed slide allows, a coin (quarter) or similar object can be placed over the hole on top of the slide. The cleaning process is easy, though it can be messy removing the firebricks lining the bottom of the burning chamber. (The bricks that are beneath the stove on the floor have since been removed, as they turned out to be unnecessary – not much heat goes out the bottom, even with a moderate load of wood.)

We burn mostly elm and pine scrap lumber here, and this means that the fire may need coaxing and feeding three or more times a night, as elm doesn’t burn well above a smolder on its own, and other available woods tend to disappear rather quickly. But this is doable.

All in all, I am happy with my beautiful little Christmas present, and am comforted by the fact that I can have a quiet – and warm – place in mid-winter to play my violin.

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The breaking waves dashed high

On a stern and rock-bound coast,

And the woods against a stormy sky

Their giant branches tossed;

 

And the heavy night hung dark

The hills and waters o’er,

When a band of exiles moored their bark

On the wild New England shore.

 

Not as the conqueror comes,

They, the true-hearted, came;

Not with the roll of the stirring drums,

And the trumpet that sings of fame:

 

Not as the flying come,

In silence and in fear;

They shook the depths of the desert gloom

With their hymns of lofty cheer.

 

Amidst th storm they sang,

And the stars heard, and the sea;

And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang

To the anthm of the free.

 

The ocean eagle soared

From his nest by the white wave’s foam,

And the rocking pines of the forest roared, –

This was their welcome home.

 

There were men with hoary hair

Amidst that pilgrim-band:

Why had they come to wither there,

Away from their childhood’s land?

 

There was woman’s fearless eye,

Lit by her deep love’s truth;

There was manhood’s brow serenely high,

And the fiery heart of youth.

 

What sought they thus afar?

Bright jewels of the mine?

The wealth of seas, the spoils of war? –

They sought a faith’s pure shrine!

 

Ay, call it holy ground,

The soil where first they trod;

They have left unstained what there they found, –

Freedom to worship God.

 

– by Felicia D. Hemans, from The Family Book of Best Loved Poems, ed. by David L. George

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Here is an interesting article I ran across while exploring the possibility of making mincemeat for my family (something I’ve often thought about but never actually done). I have read of women of the past making over 60 mincemeat pies over the holidays, which they stored in an unused bedroom or other cool room in the house, to be used over the winter. I have seen recipes for mincemeat cookies, and all sorts of tasty treats beyond pies. So here goes! Wish me luck! (Though I’m not going to make 60 mincemeat pies this holiday season. One or two will be a good start.)

Here’s the article, with recipe variations. Tell me what you think, and you can tell Patty (the author), too. She’d appreciate it.

To me, mincemet belongs in that somewhat mystical place along with headcheese and homemade cider, shelves full of sewn-up, buttered cheeses and barrels of homemade beer. It comes from a place I’d love to visit, and see how everything is done, and taste and touch and smell, then go home and duplicate the most pleasing parts for my family.

If you wish to share your thoughts about mincemeat, or your favorite recipe for mincemeat, my comments section is open.

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Since I can’t stop the phenomenon, the above is about all I can say about the insistent winter weather we’ve been having since October. Really, I guess I wouldn’t mind, except that we haven’t been able to get moved out to the farm house.

Somehow, it’s very difficult to cure paint and make other such improvements in 20* F. weather. Such temperatures are also not that convenient for washing down walls, scrubbing floors, and cleaning hundreds of glass jars which we inherited with the house. Not that I’m complaining about the jars – anyone who gardens and uses canning as a food preservation method will know that it’s hard to have too many jars.

Still, I wish that the snow would melt, and that grass would once again grow. I’m not asking much. Just four or five days of fifty to sixty degree temperatures would allow us to do wonders.

Sigh.

But it looks like we’ll have to do without those wonders. Last July or thereabout, I vowed that if possible, I would not spend another winter in our present house.  It was cold all summer long. It’s been at times downright miserable this winter, even with both wood burners going at full capacity.

So I have decided that I don’t need new paint right away. I don’t need re-finished floors. I don’t need a lot of things. But I need to get out of this house, and out of this town. I need to have room to let my kids play, and room to enjoy being human. This town doesn’t allow that sort of thing.

For Christmas, Will gave me a very special gift. Do you like the wrapping?

He managed to pick up two wine glasses.

This photo was snapped amid all the hubbub on Christmas Day. I was going to get a better one, but decided against it, for this reason – the electronics and pretty little night light (Tyger’s) are part of the wonder that needs worked at the farm house.

There’s been no electricity out there for nearly 20 years. We finally got a guy from the Highline Association to come inspect the wires and general situation. He determined that they need to replace the wires, and add a pole, before they can safely hook things back up.

Darn.

Delays, delays, nothing but delays.

Still, I guess I wouldn’t so much enjoy being out there if I couldn’t connect to all my internet junkie friends (all two of them), and add trash like this to the glut of blogs clogging the internet. And, really, it’s not much of a delay – Highline’s supposed to put in that pole and replace the wires tomorrow.

Then we can move!

And Will and I can use those wine glasses to celebrate our new phase of life. He won’t let me touch them until then.

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On New Year’s Eve, we borrowed a few sleeping bags, and stayed overnight in the farm house.

It was a very good experience. We got there just at dusk, and ran the generator a few minutes while we set up our supplies and made sleeping arrangements. Three of us camped in the kitchen, with Billy migrating around on the dining room floor. (He’s a restless sleeper.) We had recently installed a 30-gallon barrel stove in the kitchen, to provide warmth while we were working to clean things up, and it kept us cozy all night.

This was quite a big deal, as we are rarely very warm in our present house, even with the cookstove and a second large wood stove running to capacity. (I’ve had my dish soap freeze on the counter when we leave for more than a few hours. It looks very pretty with all those little crystal-stars in it.) But here, at the farm house, we kept warm and comfortable. Oh, did I mention that we have a windowpane out upstairs, which had just fallen out? Yeah, even with a window out, and us sleeping on the floor, we managed to keep warmer than normal.

The next morning, I knew I wanted to move in permanently ASAP.

The morning dawned sweet and wintry-clear, shining golden through the tree row, and making the kitchen cabinets glow. While I tidied up the sleeping bags and stacked them in the pantry, Will built a cooking fire in a trash barrel outside. (There is not enough contact area to use a frying pan on a barrel stove.) I grated potatoes for hash browns, and Will cooked them, and fried eggs and leftover Christmas ham.

We dined in the kitchen, which had risen to a very comfortable 60* F. (We’re pretty sure it stayed above 40* F. all night, though the outside temperatures dipped to 14* F.)

I can’t describe for you how nice it was to stand at a truly sunlit sink to wash dishes, and how easy it was to sing and be cheerful with the children! I never thought doing dishes could prove so sweet a task. It was pleasant to picture working here each day, teaching and mothering the children, making goat cheeses, and tending to meals, projects, and hobbies.

I should mention that we’ve not yet gotten any plumbing put in. I had to dump the dish pan outside, and heat the water in a stock pot over the cooking fire. But that’s a small price to pay for a sense of peace and being surrounded by such beauty.

We spent part of the morning working at the house, then took off to a birthday party for my dad. I’m not sure he likes sharing his birthday with the new year, but all the same,  it was very good day indeed.

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I was hoping I had managed to get a picture of Christmas Dinner…but I didn’t, so Christmas breakfast will have to do.  Will took charge of much of the food for the day, and really outdid himself. It helped that we had a food box from a local church given to us on Christmas Eve, so we had something besides venison to work with. 🙂

Not that I dislike deer meat…it’s just it gets old in a hurry when it’s the only meat on the table. Thank the Lord for last year’s garden harvest! – at least we have had vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains to enjoy with the venison.

For Christmas dinner, we made dinner rolls, and whole berry cranberry sauce with sweet spices, and lentils with carrots, garlic and herbs, besides the loaf ham and desserts.

I also unwaxed a hard cheese I made last spring. It was supposed to be a Colby, but I accidentally over-aged it. It is therefore a very strong Colby, and a little goes a long way. (My pressing method does not allow for a very smooth cheese, so this appears quite lumpy.)

The cheese was supposed to be aged for two to three months. Well, I got mixed up on just what I’d made, combined information from two varieties of cheese, and aged this for eight months. Oops.

But it is wonderful. I think I’ll make this mistake again.

This partial wheel lasted a week, and the initial hunk I broke off for our Christmas Day dinner lasted but a few hours, once Tyger discovered it.

I’ll let you know how the original recipe turns out, aged correctly, when I know – but I’m pretty sure I’ll be over-aging a few more cheeses.

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I was listening to this version of Good King Wenceslaus last year…

… and began to wonder, “What does the Feast of Stephen involve?” I must admit, I am naturally attracted to superstitions and traditions, and, while I know who St. Stephen is and what he is famous for, I was not so clear on how his day was and is celebrated. I therefore googled “Feast of Stephen”, and found some general articles dealing with a long list of saints, feasts, holidays, and traditions.

At the time, this turned out to be one of the better pages.

However, this one (from Hubpages) gives a different picture of the holiday, and explains about the tradition involving a wren. “Strange,” I thought to myself – but who am I to say? After all, I’ve never tried it.”

If you do celebrate this day, or have other traditions or aspects you think I should know about, please comment. I look forward to learning about this holiday.

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