Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pies, witches and religion

This is the chicken pot pie I made for dinner last night using my sister Charlotte's recipe. Charlotte is the oldest of the 14 of us kids, and she. can. bake. She recently stopped dying her hair and let it go all white (I love it and hope mine does that one day) so now she has even more in common with Paula Dean- what with the baking with butter and thick white hair now. When I was a kid I babysat for her. She paid me money but I was equally thrilled to get to eat whatever she'd baked up that day. I probably would've worked just for the cupcakes. I never was much for pies but over the years I've taken a liking to a few... so I finally decided to try making my own crust and got the basic recipe from Charlotte.

Charlotte is somewhere in her fifties (goodness knows I can never keep track of everyone's ages) and happens to know quite a bit more about the extended family than a lot of us because she was old enough to be around before a lot of them passed on. The last time I had a nice long visit with her - 2 or 3 years ago- Charlotte told me that Pappy (my grandfather on my dad's side) taught her how to make pie crust. "WHAT?!" I said. I never really knew much about Pappy except that he was very thin, wore his clothes til they were even thinner, and kept all his cash in two stuffed wallets... oh, and that everyone thought he could put spells on people. I almost forgot to mention that little old thing.

You see, the area in southern Pennsylvania I am from was known, way back when, for its superstition or witchcraft, depending on how you view it. My mom grew up a believing Christian because her grandma, Grandma Brown, was a believer. When she married dad she really didn't know what his family's beliefs were. But when one of my brothers was just a baby, my Aunt Irene visited. After her visit, the baby would not stop crying; and finally Pappy (dad's dad) made the observation that his crying started when Irene held him. He explained that Irene may have hexed him and suggested the steps to undo what Irene did- which involved pinching his diaper in the door, stabbing the diaper, and cursing Irene. Wala. It worked.

I thought I should stop here and give you a little history of where we lived: Rehmeyer's Hollow, the area where the famous Hex murder occured in the 1920s. I typed that into Google and found more than I ever knew at this site just today:

and here in Wikipedia is historical information about the occultism of that area:'s_Hollow

The first link actually has pictures of Rehmeyer's house (exactly like I remember it), which was just down and around the curve from the farmhouse we rented when I was in elementary school. That farmhouse that we lived in, by the way, was very much believed to be haunted by most of my family due to a series of bizarre happenings that would take a whole separate post just to recount. Needless to say, you could often find one or more pairs of underwear pinched in drawers or doors around my house growing up.

Everyone, after the diaper incident, assumed that if Pappy could take off a curse, he could put one on.... so he has literally gone down in history for many of us as Pappy, the warlock (male witch). But when Charlotte told me the stories of sweet Pappy helping in the kitchen and teaching her to bake pies, I thought maybe...just maybe... we had him all wrong.

Mom mentioned recently that Grandma Ruby (Pappy's wife) could heal sometimes. So then I thought maybe Ruby was grossly misunderstood too, and just an old-fashioned herbalist; because I had read in the book Sugar Blues that many herbalists were inappropriately labeled witches during the time that the formal practice of medicine was replacing them in Europe. But, alas, apparently Ruby was a "Pow-wow," as Mom called her (she had recalled hearing the term in passing said about Ruby), because they took my sister to her when she was badly burned once. She performed something to "take the fire out" of the burn. This happens to be described on Wikipedia as coming directly from the book of Pow-Wows (aka The Long Lost Friend)- the very book Rehmeyer's murderers went to get from him the night they killed him.

I guess Grandpa and Grandma weren't really just misunderstood pie-bakers and herbal healers after all. They did, in fact, practice some type of spiritual art. This isn't something our family was ever proud of and, as many of us are now Christians, we reject completely. The one good thing that has resulted from my research was that I have begun to see my grandparents through more grace-filled eyes. The few quotes from the Pow-Wow book on wikipedia included christian references. This was mind blowing to me- that they would use the name of Jesus and portions of the bible in this practice. But then I realized that, though I would probably be burned at the stake if I labeled many of the activities, rituals, practices, or formulas, so prevalent in today's church as witchcraft; it really is not so different from anything my grandparents did. It is all really just people putting together formulas to accomplish what we want without any need of Him (God).

May God have mercy on all of us as we shed those things, until there is nothing left but us in love with Him.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Little discoveries

My dear husband has been telling me for years that things take a lot longer than I think they will. I realized he was right a while back. Two weeks ago, when he was on vacation, we had a list of 12+ things to accomplish and we only got one (1) done. If our friends hadn't showed up with their bobcat and kicked that number up to 4, I think I personally would be in a motivational slump right now. But as it stands, we are steadily making progress and that's all a girl can ask when her husband is working a more-than-full-time job.

This past weekend we had a modest list of 4-6 items to do and we really didn't clear numero uno- fix the fence by redoing it properly...though we got it almost done by 9 o'clock last night. It took most of the day Saturday to measure it, get to Tractor Supply, and decide what we needed... then we took a needed break for a cookout. Sunday Cory worked on it all day- pounding metal t-posts in with a post pounder-which is extremely hard work- into our rock hard clay dirt. I got home from grocery shopping and began helping him around 3. The thunderstorms hit a bit after that. You have to really want your fence to work to stand outside holding metal rods in the rain when lightning could appear at anytime; but after the cow trouble I had last week, we decided to gamble. I have no pictures to share of this because we were too drenched in sweat, wet from the rain, and angry from the merciless assault of mutant horseflies to feel like capturing the moment. I tried to finish it today and caught my foot on the fence again falling, so I left it for hubby to do when he gets home from work.

We did discover yesterday that our "big bush" near the barn is actually a dwarf apple tree! I don't know what kind. It looks like it has some fungus on the leaves, so I am researching to see if there is anything I can do this late in the season about that. It also appears that some of the little apples have spots. I think this is what the orchard sites refer to as "scabs" but I don't know. There are a lot of websites out there about fruit trees and orchards, but it sure is overwhelming to try to sift through them when there is so much to do. Every now and then it's nice when someone who knows what they are doing comes along to offer some guidance. The challenge for my particular generation is that you have to sift through the 98% of the people who advise the use of chemicals for everything to find the 2% that were somehow able to save or rediscover the natural methods. Those people are very prized among those of us returning to natural means and not typically available for personal consulting on premise... so it will be books that will be the river that flows that information to us once again... requiring patience on my part. I will do what I can; and though the tree may be sick this season, I will read through the winter and help her next spring.

The next discovery was our first seedlings discovered today- basil......and later in the day we found a flower seedling and two corn seedlings popping up! But the boys' favorite discovery was this perfect little nest totally camouflaged inside the apple tree. I got the pictures by sticking my arm with the camera way in and snapping blindly; it was the only way to see what was in the nest because the branches are too dense otherwise. Are these robins' eggs? We think so but aren't sure.

One of our chickens has been limping and yesterday couldn't continue to keep up with the flock, so we have her in her own little hospital pen recouperating. It isn't apparent what is wrong- it just seems there is pain in one leg. Hopefully she will heal well and be up and about soon.

To keep the rest of the flock out of the woods, protected from dogs, and on the part of the pasture we want them to debug behind the cows, I made a "chicken playpen" yesterday out of two remnant pieces of horse fence the previous owners left behind (see- not all junk is bad). The idea is to move it as we move the coop- keeping the coop encircled. The holes at the bottom were way too big, though, and they went right through this morning... so I will be wiring a finer weave fencing around the bottom of the circle this evening. If it works, tomorrow will be the first day we begin to get consistent pasture sanitization from them. As it stands right now they just like our yard and woods too much to stay in the field. If all goes well we will rotate them around the field 4 (?-have to check my book) days behind the cows. If both the new cow and chicken fencing efforts are successful, we've only yet to deal with the ducks.

Saturday morning I tried to use the chainsaw to clear a path to the creek so we could take the ducks down, but I quickly discovered that I am not physically strong enough to use one. The fact that my wrist is still healing didn't help, but even without that I don't think I could've done it. Cory needed to concentrate on the fencing, so hopefully next weekend he will be able to take care of that. The first duck got lift off after his morning wing-flapping-on tippy-toes last week. I think it's very important that we introduce them to a sufficient natural water source before their flying improves or they may just decide to go live elsewhere. They are waterfowl so they want to be someplace where they have enough water to keep them content. From what I understand they will actually eat a lot of the mosquito larvae and widen/deepen the creek as they search for bugs and tadpoles to eat. That's a good thing because the creek is really just a few springs and a marsh right now.

That's all for now from the starter farm. Have a good week.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Seeds in compost and toilets in Eden

I have never gardened in my entire life so today was a big day to me- we finally got our seeds planted. I've planted a few flowers in the front of houses before but there is something totally different about planting food and herbs from seeds- it makes you feel strong to sow something. It also makes you feel worshipful, because when you see those tiny seeds you know something amazing has to happen to turn them into the things they are supposed to be. Every little one you place in the ground reminds you that before credit cards and governments, it was just a person standing before the Lord...and with every little seed dropped in and covered up, I imagine that person said in their heart, "I trust you. I trust you. I trust you." Me too. I said it in my heart too.

As a brand new gardener, I was well advised by two friends to read Square Foot Gardening, a book describing how to use raised beds with an ideal soil mix to maximize your space and success. The boxes had to be constructed, painted, positioned on a weeded and cleared spot, aligned, leveled, then stapled with weed cloth on the bottom. So before we even touched dirt, there was a lot of work involved. Kids love to do real things with their hands. They were so excited to plant that I can only imagine what it will be like for them to harvest. The big boast of this method is that after your initial set up and cost, there is so little to do that it really is a joy year after year. I like that. Being my zealot self, I ignored the author's admonition to start small, because we really do want to grow as much of what we eat as we can. We put 5 boxes out front to try to help with our bizarre landscaping layout, and four in the actual garden area to the side of the house. Right now (aside from the strawberry transplants) it isn't much to look at- dirt in a box. But soon, very soon I hope, something will burst its little sprout up!

Tomorrow I need to plant the pumpkins and watermelon in a patch somewhere if I can get to it after addressing some other issues. This evening the cows got out, I tripped over the fence, shocked myself and re-injured the wrist I've been re-injuring for a couple of weeks now. Last week the neighbors' dog attacked one of our chickens. Tonight Cory's vehicle stopped working on the way home. Our truck needs tires and now a $800- $1200 repair. I say all that to let you know, that we aren't in Eden- be grateful for all of your own unique blessings- like properly flushing toilets. (If there is a plumber out there, give us a call).