Saturday
May052012

Looking Back, Looking Forward

In the early 1900s, a group of families came and settled in the Creston area of northwest Montana. On May 20, 1913, a group of 20 of these people got together and formally established a church. The committee reported that an acre of land could be purchased for $150, and by September 20, 1913, a 24' x 40' building had been built on that acre of land and named The Mountain View Amish Mennonite Church. 

[Let's pause here for a moment and note that an acre of land in that same area is probably now upwards of $50,000.]

Our church—which is now simply called Mountain View Mennonite Church—is going to be 100 years old next year. I've been a member there for 12 years. In even that short time, our congregation has seen a lot of changes; we have lost over a dozen members to death, and now the majority of us who meet on Sunday morning are no longer what I refer to as "ethnic Mennonites," or people who were born into that denomination, but are people who have come to the Mennonite church from other faith traditions. I was a Lutheran for the first 34 years of my life. 

 

Our church is facing a lot of the same struggles that other churches in the US are facing: how to stay relevant in a post-modern, post-Christendom world. For probably the first 70 to 80 years of our church's existence, its rolls were boosted by large families having lots of children. That's no longer the case. Our numbers continue to dwindle, although once or twice a year someone visits our church and likes it enough to stay. 

Our elders have been struggling with this question for a number of years now, and as I came on to the elder board as a newly-elected elder in January, we wrestled with how we might engage our congregation in the process of some self-examination. That's not necessarily something we do well as a corporate body. The elders had already been studying the process of Appreciative Inquiry, which is a model of social theory that looks at what an organization is already doing well and how it might do more of it, rather than focusing on the perceived "problems" of an institution. 

We were led to GRE Consulting in Spokane and a gentleman named Samuel Mahaffy to help us with this process. Samuel has already met with the elders several times, and this weekend he is here to begin the process of discovery with our whole congregation. This morning, a group of 15 or so of us are meeting for a brainstorming and visiong session. Tomorrow, Samuel will bring the message during the sermon time, and then—after lunch—we will spend the afternoon listening to our "stories" about this church and about God's leading through the past 100 years. This has all meshed nicely with the process of getting ready to celebrate MVMC's 100th anniversary, and we want to use this time to look back as well as to look forward. It's really hard for me to convey how excited we elders are about beginning this process. Samuel has a real gift, and I think that after this weekend, he will become a part of our congregation even though he lives 250 miles away. 

I really believe that our church has a lot to offer our community, but in addition to trying to figure out how to make our church relevant, we also face the problem of how to help people understand that we don't wear plain clothing or drive buggies (yes, we still get those questions). In many ways, our church is much more liberal than the Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation I left. We don't have a praise band, because our congregation is filled with people who love to sing and who love to sing in parts, and praise bands just aren't our chosen way of expressing ourselves. We are part of a wider church that embraces diversity (hard to do in all-white northwest Montana, but we try). It's a balance of trying to remember who we are, why we meet on Sunday morning, and how we can be a living witness of Christ in our corner of the world. 

Friday
May042012

I Need an Apron

Making hard-boiled eggs in the oven appears to be a winning method. It beats having to boil water up here at 3300 feet, which takes forever. 

The liquid handsoap also turned out nicely. It's a bit thinner than regular soap, but it cleans just as well. As an added bonus, it doesn't seem to dry out my hands as much as the regular soap. Yay. I have heard great things about homemade laundry soap, as well, so when I use up the supply I've got (bought at Costco with coupons), I may try that. The husband had a recipe on his desk (?) so now it's on my desk. 

I also made a batch of homemade bread (finally) and another Spanish tortilla. It was very hard for me to smell that freshly-baked bread and not eat any, but I resisted. I think my knees and hips will thank me. 

In the midst of all this domestic diva-ing, I decided that I need to make myself an apron. 

[This is always about the time of year that I get hit with a desire to get out the sewing machine. At least this year I am not making a Very Fancy Juliet Dress for my kid to wear in the eighth-grade play. An apron should be much easier. And part of why I like sewing is that it's so much further up the Instant Gratification Scale than knitting. In one afternoon of knitting I might get a couple of inches done. In one afternoon of sewing I could knock out an apron or two.]

I love aprons, and when I am going to be in the kitchen for more than a few minutes I always put one on because if I don't, I invariably end up wearing some of what I am cooking. It's also nice to be able to wipe my hands on my apron instead of always reaching for a hand towel. I have a very serviceable plain black butcher's apron, but wouldn't it be fun to have something a bit more colorful? Sometimes I need one at church when we put on a big meal. It would be nice not to look like I am dressing for a funeral. 

Aprons are also useful when going out to the chicken coop or the garden. I don't always remember to take an egg carton or a basket. I have lots of fond memories of my grandmother wearing an apron. We used to go to her house for Sunday dinner after church, and she would always slip an apron on over her dress so she could mash potatoes without worrying. 

I had to go town late yesterday afternoon, so I stopped at Jo-Ann Fabrics to look at their apron patterns. I found a couple that will work. However, DD#2 was with me and she was hungry, and hungry teenagers bear a striking resemblance to hungry 4-year-olds. I will have to go back another time (by myself) to pick out some fabric. 

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We have to take a picture of DD#2 with the turkey, because apparently she has been telling the other kids at school about it and no one believes her. City kids. 

The clucks are very well trained and now when they see me coming out at lunchtime to give them scratch grains, they get all excited and start purring. Yes, chickens purr. The really funny thing is that the turkey has learned from the chickens, so now when it is time to have scratch grains, the turkey purrs, too. It's all very amusing. 

I am still baffled as to why this turkey thinks it's a chicken and not a turkey. The husband says the turkey doesn't even know it's a turkey. He thinks it just recognizes that it is some kind of bird and so are the chickens. But I don't understand why the turkey would rather live with the chickens than the other turkeys. The husband suggested that it might have something to do with the fact that wild turkeys don't get a daily ration of scratch grains.

Perhaps. 

I think that if we let it in the chicken yard, it would happily go in and roost with the chickens at night instead of perching on top of the coop. But then, as the husband pointed out, we would be spending twice as much on chicken feed every month. What a dilemma. It's a good thing a baby bear didn't wander into the yard, because then I would be in a real quandry. 

Monday
Apr302012

Experiments in Frugality

Every morning I get up, come downstairs, let the dogs out and feed them, make coffee, and sit down at my desk to read the news and take a quick tour around the blogosphere. This morning, I ran across a blog post entitled "The Weeds of Convenience in the Garden of Frugality," that really resonated with me. If you have a few moments, I'd suggest you read the blog post in its entirety. If not, I'll give you a quick synopsis. Basically, the author gives examples from her own life to illustrate how many times we would rather use the convenient option—if it's available—then do the little bit of extra work to use the not-so-convenient option. She talks about buying her family a case of bottled water to take with them on Sundays, a day when they are usually all out running around. Some Sundays they didn't use all of the bottled water, so she brought it home and stored it for the following week. However, she discovered that during the week, her family members would simply take the bottles of water and drink them instead of drinking water from the tap because the bottles of water were there and they were convenient

So I've been thinking about this post all day. The first thought I had—which made up the bulk of the breakfast discussion between the husband and me over our eggs scambled in bacon fat—was that "frugal" often carries with it a negative connotation. Why is that? Why is frugal considered a bad thing in some circles?

[To be honest, I can think of one or two examples where frugal isn't necessarily a good thing . . . I used to know a woman who had a tendency to make coffee so weak that it was if the beans were only allowed to walk through the water. She sometimes uses the grounds twice. I don't think, in that instance, that frugal is a good thing, but I am particular about my coffee.] 

At this very moment, I have a batch of liquid handsoap cooking on my stove. Why the heck am I making liquid handsoap when I can just sally over to the store and pick up a bottle for a mere $3 or so? Mostly because we are about to run out of handsoap in our kitchen sink dispenser, and I won't be going to town for another couple of days. I am not going to make a special trip just to buy handsoap, because then it would be $6 instead of $3. I had all the supplies left over from a soap-making binge a few years ago. The other reason is that I cannot find handsoap that doesn't have some kind of nuclear annihilation for bacteria in it. I believe pretty strongly in educating my immune system, and I can't do that if I am always killing the bacteria before they get into my body.  About the only time I use an alcohol-based sanitizer is after I visit the nursing home on Thursdays, and that is only because I learned the hard way about enteroviruses. But that is a unique case. The organisms that live in nursing homes are the Frankenstein version of what's out in the real world (maybe because everyone there uses alcohol-based sanitizers?). 

So I am cooking a batch of liquid handsoap made up of some grated Kirk's Castile soap, a gallon of water, and some lavender essential oil. It will clean our hands without nuking the bacteria. Later tonight, I am going to make some homemade bread. I haven't been making bread for the past few months, mostly because none of us were eating it, but the husband is back at work and it's just easier if he has bread to put his ham and cheese on. I've been buying sandwich thins for the past few weeks, but the guilt is killing me. Why on earth should I buy bread when it only takes about ten minutes to mix up a batch (and use up five eggs in the process)? 

Believe me, I am not some kind of frugal saint. There were plenty of times when my kids were little that they ate Lunchables (and more than a few occasions when I ate them myself), because that was quicker and less of a hassle than me making lunches to take along. I do not require DD#2 to make herself a lunch for school every day; at the beginning of each month I deposit $100 in her school account and she eats lunch from the cafeteria. She gets up at 5:30 every morning to catch a 6:45 bus for an hour-long ride to school; she does not need to be making herself a lunch, too. 

After our monthly health insurance premiums, food is our second biggest household expense. Cooking from scratch costs less, especially when you grow some of the food yourself. Until the lettuce was up in the greenhouse, I cringed every time I had to shell out $6 for a container of salad greens. But it's a judgment call, because cooking from scratch means trading time for money. There are days when I would much rather buy a package of tortillas from the store instead of spending an hour making them from scratch myself, because I could use that hour to sit and knit. I make them from scratch, though, because they taste better and I know what goes into them. (The few covenience-type foods we do use have been carefully vetted to make sure they are free of high fructose corn syrup and soy.) I can do a lot of this stuff—like cook up a batch of handsoap at 4 o'clock in the afternoon—because I work at home. If I had a job in town, I am sure I would be relying more on things I could just pop in the oven when I got home from work. 

So I've spent most of today turning this all over and around in my head and I don't know that I have come to a consensus. I do a lot of things that other people might think are weird—why don't I just go out and buy some handsoap, for pete's sake?—but little by little I am disccovering what is worth doing the old-fashioned way and what is worth paying for. And the things I think are worth doing from scratch might be the things someone else would happily pay money to have done for them. 

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Speaking of experiments, the husband showed me a Facebook post the other night about making hard-boiled eggs in the oven. Basically, you put a dozen eggs in a muffin tin and cook them in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. I just took a batch out and rinsed them in cold water. We shall see how it goes. Supposedly, this makes the shells come off easily. When making hard-boiled eggs the old-fashioned way, you are not supposed to use fresh eggs, because the membrane hasn't dried out and that is what makes them hard to peel. I have a system of ordering the egg cartons in the fridge such that I mostly know where the oldest eggs are that are suitable for hard boiling, but sometimes my system gets messed up. And the husband hates peeling hard-boiled eggs where the shells don't come off easily. If this works, I probably won't make them the old-fashioned way any more. 

Saturday
Apr282012

The World is Green Again

We had a string of sunny days in the mid-70s early this week, which—of course—was followed by a crash back to reality. On Friday it was cold and rainy. Undeterred, the husband rented a rototiller and got the garden plowed up.

The garlic and shallots we planted last fall are up. 

The rhubarb is growing.

The blueberries and raspberries are leafing out. 

Saturday afternoon, the husband and I put out the broccoli and cauliflower starts. We put in 50 of each and had another dozen or so of each left over. (Yes, I am aware that that is a LOT of broccoli and cauliflower.) They would probably be okay if we left them uncovered, but we put the row covers on them just to be safe. We also planted four rows of potatoes—surely enough to feed most of the neighborhood, because we didn't use up all the potatoes we planted last year. 

We decided that we would see if Susan or our minister want some of our leftover broccoli and cauliflower starts. I know they have plants of their own, but it's good to trade stuff around the neighborhood and then compare notes on what did well where. The husband is keeping a notebook and writing down what we planted and when. 

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The water test results came back from the lab and it is as I feared—there is nothing in our water except an excess of calcium and magnesium. Our water hardness is 194 mg/L. Anything over 181 mg/L is considered "extremely hard." I've now been off tap water for a month, and have had no stomach issues during that time. I drank a glass of water from the tap Friday afternoon as an experiment, and within 30 minutes I had nausea and heartburn again. My working theory is that our water has an excess of calcium carbonate in it. Calcium carbonate can be extremely hard on the stomach, resulting in the following problems, all of which I have when I drink water from our tap:

  • upset stomach

  • stomach pain

  • belching

  • constipation

  • loss of appetite

  • metallic taste

I suggested installing a water softener on the kitchen tap, but that idea is not being met with much enthusiasm by the husband. This morning I boiled a gallon of water, let it cool, and then ran it through the Brita filter pitcher.  (I have to boil the water I use to wash my hair in order to drive the excess carbonate ions off and make the water softer, so this is the same principle.). So far, so good. I seem to be able to drink the boiled and filtered water without problems. It's labor intensive, but better than buying 5 gallon jugs of water a week. 

I have no idea why this has suddenly become a problem after 18 years of drinking the same water, although I noted to the husband that it started at about the same time I gave up eating wheat. Perhaps that has something to do with it. He and the girls have cast-iron stomachs; they can down a jar of pickles in one sitting. I even have trouble with a glass or orange juice. 

Speaking of wheat, I was bad on Friday and ate a biscuit with the beef stew I made for dinner. I should know better. All day yesterday my joints ached, which made kneeling down to plant those broccoli starts much harder than it should have been. 

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The turkey is still here. It doesn't even make a pretense of being a turkey anymore; now, when I pull up dandelions to feed the chickens (they love dandelions), the turkey comes right over and stands next to me until I give it some dandelions, too. Every night it goes up and roosts on top of the chicken coop, and every morning it comes back down and spends the day circling the chicken yard and attempting to engage the clucks in conversation. The roosters have long since given up caring:

Wednesday
Apr252012

Thwarting the Deer

The husband would like to keep the deer out of the fruit trees using a rifle, but as FWP rather frowns on deer harvesting out-of-season, we resorted to something else:

My friend Susan and her husband Jim loaned us these cages.  They used them when their fruit trees were little. We will have to get another roll or two of wire and make more for the trees that haven't arrived yet. This will definitely help, and I won't have to worry about bailing the husband out of jail. 

Susan and Jim have two little Merino lambs. They are only 5 weeks old and need to be fed a couple of times a day, so last night DD#2 and I got to do the honors:

They are each pure black with a white spot on the tops of their heads. One is a wether and one is a ewe. No names yet. They are so cute. Susan is very clear that they are going to be pets and lawnmowers. I imagine I will be visiting them frequently. 

This is how happy my feet are to be in my toe shoes again (very happy):

I realized that we haven't had any knitting updates lately, so I'll tell you what I am working on. I am almost finished with the shawl I started for the Spain trip. It's very pretty and it will be even prettier when it's blocked, at which time I will try to remember to post a pic. I think I am going to publish the pattern for it. 

I also decided to scratch the itch I've been having to design and knit an Aran. Melanie is going to be carrying some new yarn from Imperial Yarn in Oregon. One of the yarn stores near DD#1's college campus carries this yarn, so I picked some up last year when I was there. It's quite nice. I am glad Melanie is going to be carrying it. She ordered me enough of a dark mossy green (yum) to knit a cardigan with a shawl collar. I have lots of ideas percolating through my brain. It's nice to have the luxury of some time to think about a design instead of the pressure I used to feel to produce enough stuff for the newsletter. I do still plan to stick to the "one project at a time" model of knitting, however. That seems to work best for me. 

I think while I am waiting for the yarn Melanie ordered to arrive, I'll use the Imperial Yarn I bought last year to whip up a hat or a scarf, just to get a feel for the yarn. 

And yes, the turkey is still with us. Gobble gobble.