Quilting, Farming, Variety

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We're on Baby Watch...

We've acquired several animals on our farm over the past couple of years, and the time has come for the cows and the ewes to have their babies. So far we've had three calves -- two little bulls and a heifer. But today we had a new experience - our first lamb was born.

It's a little female lamb, and the funny thing is that she is black when both her mother and her father are white. She makes the cutest little bleating sounds, and her mother makes these soft, low sounds. Lily named the baby "Fluffball," which doesn't seem all that appropriate right now, but maybe some day!

Now we're just keeping our eyes on the rest of the cows - I certainly hope the rest of the babies arrive with no more trouble than these did.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Apple-head Update

It's been a week since the last update and two weeks since Lily started her apple-head doll. The apple has now developed a personality!

When Lily was cutting the mouth in the apple, I didn't want to say anything to discourage her, but the mouth was obviously off to one side. However, as the apple dried and shriveled, the mouth sort of migrated so that now it looks like a twisted smile. Her apple looks like a kindly little old soul!

If we're going to make a doll out of this, we need to put a body with the head. Anybody have any suggestions as to how to do that?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fun Both Before and After

As it turned out, we didn't get any ice, after all. We consider ourselves most fortunate when we see the damage that was done in Northwest Arkansas. Many people are still without power.

Although we didn't get the bad stuff, school was still cancelled two days for my husband and kids (this is Arkansas - sometimes the threat of bad weather is enough to call off school!). As usual on a snow day, my daughter got in a "crafty" mood and pulled out the kids' science experiment books. She settled on the experiment to make an apple-head doll. So I went to the crisper and found a Granny Smith apple that was starting to shrivel a little. And we embarked on the project of making the head for a doll like a little girl Lily's age might have had two hundred years ago.

I peeled the apple for her (she's still a little young for something that takes that much control of the knife). But I let her carve out the face by herself. The mouth was a little tilted off to one side, but that's part of the charm, right? The directions in the book said to paint the apple with a mixture of lemon juice (to bleach the apple's skin) and salt (I suppose to help start the drying process). Then we set the apple aside to dry.

Well, it's been a week, and the apple now looks like this: It's definitely smaller, and the features are more exaggerated. It's quite obvious now that the mouth is off-center! But the lemon juice seems to be doing its job; the apple hasn't turned brown, except for the very bottom. She must not have painted that area as thoroughly.

I suppose we just keep watching to see how shriveled it will become. I'll post an updated picture (if it's worth seeing!)

Monday, January 26, 2009

A World of Pain

(We're supposed to get as much as 1.5 inches of ice tonight and tomorrow. IF it happens - after all, this is Arkansas! - our power will probably go off and I may get a chance to try out my skills of living like someone from a pre-electric age!)

Last night, I was reading a passage from An Involuntary King by Nan Hawthorne in which the king is being treated for an arrow wound he received in a battle. The passage reminded me of two other things I've read: the scene in Janice Holt Giles' Hannah Fowler when Hannah and Tice are treating a wound on her father's badly infected leg, and a scene in a young adult book called The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker, by Cynthia DeFelice, in which Lucas helps the local doctor with an amputation. The thread that tied all these thoughts together in my mind was, "Wow, people back then used to have to bear up under a lot more pain than we have to today!"

I guess what really made me think about that is that the healer in Hawthorne's book gave the king a little stick of wood to put between his teeth so he could bite down on it when the pain got too bad. I'd heard about women in childbirth being given a bit of leather to bite on; I guess I always thought it was just to give the patient something they could transfer the pain to - sort of like the old joke of hitting your thumb with a hammer when your toe hurts. But the healer told the king it would keep him from biting his tongue, which makes a lot of sense. I guess a person could also conceivably hurt his/her teeth by grinding them together while in pain.

I remember when I was reading the scene in Hannah Fowler thinking I didn't see how anyone could bear up under the treatment they were giving him - scalding hot rags applied to the outside of the wound, with nothing more than rum to dull the pain (it didn't work). Hawthorne's book had an even worse scenario - the healer was using boiling hot oil to cauterize the inside of the king's wound to stop the bleeding. The thing is, I trust both Giles and Hawthorne as researchers and believe that what they described must be a real method of treatment they found in records of past times.

I suppose we are a "soft" generation. We use ibuprofen to ease the slightest headache. Codeine is a part of any medicines we take to ease our sore throats, and pain medication is prescribed as a routine practice as a followup to any major injury or a surgery. Epidurals administered during childbirth are so common they've become a stock element in jokes. Don't get me wrong; I'm relieved that we have methods of pain relief that would keep me or those I care about from having to endure the terrible pain of these fictional characters. I do wonder, though, if we are doing ourselves something of a disservice by removing all trivial pain from our lives (if there is such a thing as "trivial" pain!). Does it make us less able to tolerate pain - emotional as well as physical - when it's necessary?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

'Til Death Do Us Part

A man from our church died this week. I didn't know him well, so he may have had a lot of accomplishments in his long life. The one thing I did know about him was that he and his wife had been married for 74 years. Wow! That's a LONG time!

My husband and I just celebrated our 19th anniversary a month ago. We still haven't yet made it to the point where we've lived with each other longer than we lived apart (still about 6 years to go). Still, it's hard to remember (or imagine) living without him. Can you imagine how much more true that would be if you'd been married to someone for a period of time as long as some people's actual lifespan?

When my husband and I got married, I remember joking that we would both have to live to be 100 or more to be able to celebrate our 75th anniversary. (I also remember joking that I might have the tablecloth I was crocheting finished by that time!) But in the 19 years since then, I don't know that we've consciously thought about trying to achieve that milestone -- or any other. We've been too busy with daily life, with going to work and paying the bills and raising the kids. And somewhere along the way, we've accumulated 6,968 of those days. I guess that's how it is for any married couple - the days keep coming, passing quickly or slowly. And one day, if we stick with it, we look up and those days equal 25 years, or 50, or in a very few cases, 75.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Long Winter, Southern-Style

We had a couple of REALLY cold days last week, which happened to coincide with the time when my husband was away on a business trip. That meant I had the responsibility of caring for his livestock (notice I said his livestock!). The main concern was keeping water for them, since the temperature was well below freezing both days. I wasn't so worried about most of the cattle, since they get their water from a running source, which is less likely to freeze. However, the sheep's water was covered with a layer of ice about an inch thick, and the hens' water was frozen solid. The pond the bull drinks from also had some ice, but I don't think it was frozen over completely.

Anyway, I carried water to the hens and broke the ice on the sheep's tank with the splitting maul (like a sledge hammer with an axe edge on one side). That was a perfect tool for the task, and it didn't take much effort. As I was walking back to the house, I remembered reading in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Long Winter about the cattle whose heads were frozen to the ground after a blizzard. The temperatures were so cold that the moisture in their breath froze, trapping the cow in an icy muzzle. Laura's Pa had to go to each of the cattle and break their noses free of the ice. It made me glad to live in the South, where weather is the teens is considered "frigid," and we don't have to deal with blizzards and sub-zero temperatures, and any cold weather we do have is generally short-lived and followed by days in the 50s or 60s!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Definitely not "Easy Mac"

I'm on those last few days before I start back to school, and as usual, I'm trying to cram as much into those days as I can. One thing that I always end up doing is cooking some of those kinds of foods that take a lot of time. Yesterday I decided to cook some dry pinto beans. I very rarely make them, because they have to cook so long. I scooped a couple of handfuls out onto the cabinet, checked them for little stones and withered beans, washed them, and put them on to boil. The first time I lifted the lid to check on them, I smelled that rich, earthy aroma. And it made me reflect on how much different food is now than it would have been back at the time of our ancestors.

While the beans were simmering all morning and then all afternoon, I thought about all the other foods I rarely cook because they take so long. Baked potatoes, for example. I love oven-baked potatoes, but there's just not enough time once I get home from work to cook them in a timely manner before it's time to start getting the kids ready for bed. So we don't have baked potatoes. I know, I could bake them in the microwave, but they just don't taste as good and they get hard quickly. I also don't cook roast beef (except once in a while in the slow cooker, but it's just not the same). I never make hot rolls - they have to rise, not once, but twice. I don't even make homemade biscuits for breakfast; there's just not enough time.

It occurs to me that the so-called "time-saving" devices really haven't given us more time; they've just made it possible for people to fill their time with more stuff. Cooking for the family would have been a major activity of the day for a pioneer mother. Maybe it would have even been THE major activity of the day, given how time-consuming real cooking is. Whether it was making loaves of bread, or roasting and basting a turkey, or peeling potatoes, or whipping up a cake from scratch, cooking a real meal for a large family would take a long time. That was her job (assuming, of course, that she wasn't also helping in the fields and having to cook supper after she came in - which I'm sure happened plenty of times).

But now cooking supper is something that needs to be done quickly between getting home from work and getting the kids to bed at a decent time so it won't be too hard to get them out of bed the next morning to get to school on time. So it's less about "cooking" than it is about "throwing something together." I scanned through my cabinets and found the following items: packaged noodle mix, a taco kit, some Easy Mac bowls, muffin mix in a package, biscuits in a can. All of it can be "thrown together" in 20 minutes or less. Of course, canned biscuits aren't as good as homemade biscuits, and Easy Mac isn't as good as my homemade mac-n-cheese. But I guess we sacrifice some taste for some convenience.

Don't you wonder what a woman from 100 years ago would think if she looked into my cabinets???

Friday, January 9, 2009

Make a Joyful Noise!

I finally gave in to temptation yesterday and bought an mp3 player. It is such a cool little gadget, and I really like being able to listen to my music or podcasts as I go about my housework (I can see it will be helpful while grading papers, too). But as I was listening last night, I couldn't help but wonder what this little wonder gadget that everybody has is costing us as a culture.

One of the books I used quite a bit as a resource while researching my historical novel was Flowering of the Cumberland by Harriette Simpson Arnow. In the chapter titled "Social Life and Diversions," she says, "More widely enjoyed than the keeping of journals, and possibly second only to conversation as a pastime was music, especially singing. Everybody sang: the boatman sang to the river, the teamster to his team, the baby tender to the baby, and even the hunter, rejoicing in his kill, might sing...." She then goes on to catalog some of the types of songs people sang: work songs, play songs, traveling songs, ballads of unrequited love, songs written specifically for special occasions, the hymns of Watt and Wesley.

Thinking about it, I don't recall that I ever hear anyone singing in daily life today, unless it is to add their voice to the song already playing on the radio or CD player. I myself almost never sing outside of church. I remember when I was growing up that my sisters and I sang quite a bit. We sang "Playmate, come out and play with me, and bring your dollies three, Climb up my apple tree. Look down my rain barrel, slide down my cellar door, and we'll be jolly friends forevermore." (I'm sure that's a song my mother taught us, because I remember hearing my grandmother sing it too.) We learned "Polly Wolly Doodle All the Day" and "Chicken crowing on Sourwood Mountain" in music class in school (with Mrs. Stewart playing along on the autoharp). We sang "Blessed Assurance" and "Sing to Me of Heaven" as we were swinging under the mulberry tree, and I remember one occasion when my youngest sister made up a very long and very dramatic song about a little deer. So it's not that I was never a singer.

It's like we've delegated music-making to other people, the same way we've delegated making our clothes (and more and more lately, cooking our food) to others. Instead of singing ourselves, if we want some music, we stick a CD in the player or turn on the radio or poke in the earbuds. I guess there's nothing so wrong with that -- except that the music we're listening to is a "product" that is produced in a corporate studio and shaped to fit a particular market that researchers tell excutives like certain characteristics. And if you're listening to popular music, whether it's rock or country or pop, chances are it all sounds sort of similar with only minor variations. In the Intro to Mass Comm class I taught a couple of times this was called "cultural homogenization," and it's just what it sounds like. Take a country song, add a dance beat behind it, and you've got a hit with the pop crowd.

The problem with homogenized music is that we lose something unique. The problem with recorded music is that we lose some ability to express ourselves. Sure, we can put on particular music that fits the mood we are in, but is that really the same as breaking in to "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" when you are feeling low, or "Joy to the World" when you feel exuberant? There's just something about producing the music yourself - even if it's not perfect! - that makes it seem like more of a expression of what's going on inside.

I have to go hang some jeans on the clothesline now, and I'm going to sing out loud while I do it! I encourage you to sing today, too. Find a place where no one's around if it will make you feel better, turn off that radio, and let fly. It's what our forefathers and mothers would do!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Not ANOTHER Burger.....

This post is one last leftover from our Christmas trip. Since we were traveling in the car and staying in hotels rather than taking our camper, we ended up eating a lot of fast food. That means we had a diet of mainly hamburgers and fries, which we certainly tired of long before the trip was over. That made me think of the type of diet pioneers survived on. While it wasn't burgers and fries, it wasn't much more varied, and I'm sure they got tired of it too.

While I was writing my book, I noticed that it seemed the characters were always eating some form of cornbread - cornpone, hoecake, cornmeal mush. When they could get it, the meal might include some salt pork or bacon. Those two items, cornmeal and pork, formed the heart of the diet for most people, especially poor people. Of course, a garden (if they had one) would supplement that diet with beans, greens, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or pumpkins, and a man could bring in fresh meat by hunting (assuming game in the area where the family lived had not been hunted to the point that it was scarce). Occasionally, an old hen might end up in the stew pot or skillet, but until a flock was built up enough to supply cockerels, the hens were too valuable for the eggs they produced. So for most people, the two most reliable sources of food were corn (which grew readily in the United States) and pork (since pigs are easy to care for and since the meat could be preserved by salting it or smoking it in the era before refrigeration).

Even if they were grateful for the food, I'm sure there had to be a day once in a while when someone looked at his/her plate and thought, "Corn mush? Again?"