IceStormSo, I’m not much into the holidays. If it were up to me, I’d leave the country the day after Thanksgiving (which is my high holy day because, ahem, it’s all about the food and company) and go someplace warm until March 1st, and just skip the whole debate about whether we should put Christ back in Christmas. (If this holiday has significant religious meaning to you, I genuinely respect that. I’ve read some really moving pieces on the four weeks of Advent this year. Just leave me out of your “lets see how far we can get people to share this” messenger messages.)

Because we don’t have kids a home, our decorating attempts have continued to wane over the years. I’m a sucker for the smell of a real tree in the house, and lots of twinkly lights and tinsel (yup, I’m in the pro tinsel camp). But the putting up, and more importantly, taking down, the cats knocking the tree over, the endless pine needles…not so much. So, we cut a few fir boughs and call it good.

TurkeyChristmas

I didn’t weigh the whole bird, but the beast/leg/thigh parts came out to be about 9 lbs.

This year, because we were gone for Thanksgiving, we had turkey for Christmas. A three year old tom who was one of the last survivors of my old flock as I slowly lost turkey hens and wasn’t able to replenish my flock. (Thankful to say that I still have one younger tom, one hen, and four younger hens this year from my friend Lauri – so should have some new babies in the spring – and very much looking forward to eating turkey eggs again – SO good). I brined the heck out of the turkey, and we pressure cooked the legs/thighs and smoked and slow roasted the breast. While you still knew you were eating an older bird, the flavor came out well, and we’ve enjoyed a lot of turkey sandwiches.

TurkeyFeathers

Rather than gut the bird, since we knew he would be tough, we just dry plucked the breast/legs/thighs before removing them. Dry plucking. The ONLY way to go. Much easier than dunking a 20 lb bird in 15 gallons of hot water – which is a several hour undertaking just to get the water up to temperature.

We had a white Christmas, and then the weather warmed up JUST enough to give us rain coming down and ice as it hit. This proceeded to weigh down trees all over the valley, and we lost power for a little over 36 hours last week. We have a wood stove for heat, and a gas stove we can light with a match, but when the power goes out, we lose our water well pump. We keep some 6 gallon containers of water stored for just such an emergency, but still, no fun to cook when its super hard to do dishes. I DID catch a lot of melt water off the back porch for flushing toilets, which was a good trick. Thankfully, all of the freezers (we have 3) remained unopened in garages and unheated rooms and the contents fared well, with next to no thaw. Though the whole experience once again makes me determined to finally buy a generator and get our well wired so that we can run it off a generator when needed.

PowerOut

I actually had “soot boogers” the next morning from this. Next time I’m just firing up the coleman lantern. This many candles gives off a LOT of smoke/soot. Imagine what our ancestors houses and lungs looked like.

PuzzlePowerOut

What to do when the power is unexpectedly out for a day and a half? Puzzle by candlelight, of course.

OregonTripBefore all of THAT, I did a whirl wind tour over to the west side to take a class in Acidified Foods from Oregon State University in Corvallis. It’s also offered from Washington State University in Pullman, but I have a couple of cousins in the Corvallis area, and really, I just wanted a road trip. I visited cousins, drove up to Portland to visit our step son and do some shopping, then up to Tacoma to meet a fellow soap maker in person before heading back. I was gone for 5 days and had some lovely alone time (my husband and I are both introverts, and both enjoy solitude, even from each other, on occasion). It snowed the day AFTER I got back, which was just about perfect in terms of timing. And I’m now officially edumacated in acidified foods, which is a required step should I ever want to pursue making barbecue sauce or relishes to sell. While the vast majority of the class did not actually apply to me (it was primarily dealing with large commercial operations) I did find it really interesting. Kind of like an in-depth episode of “how its made” when it comes to shelf stable food products.

As a gift to us for Christmas, I signed up for a month of Ancesty.com AND ordered a DNA kit from 23 and Me. While I know my heritage is primarily English and German, its been fascinating to dig in and flesh out some of the details. Things that have struck me:

  • While I may not be particularly religious in any traditional western sense, my ancestors certainly were. My father’s side was very devout catholic, including two nuns, going to church multiple times per week, deep fear and sadness when a baby died before it could be baptized, and at one point, an uprooting of the entire 9 child family, while mom was pregnant, to drive from middle Montana to middle Missouri in the mid 1920’s in order to enroll the children in a Catholic school. They stayed three years. I have a book put together by an aunt in the 80’s in which she interviewed or solicited essays from all of that generation’s kids. This is perhaps my favorite passage.

I was struck by my father’s tears over the loss of this infant son, and I too, felt crushed by the loss of the baby [Mildred – later Sister Madeleine – was 10 at the time]. This might have been one of the number of reasons why my parents decided that we would give up our little farm in Missouri and return to Montana where we still owned a ranch.

Other reasons were the congestion of relatives invading our “space”, our family’s privacy; and the intensely “old country” atmosphere kept alive by church and community. My parents had ventured out into the world where different nationalities and different denominations had learned to tolerate each other. They no longer felt threatened by that world. Even the atmosphere of the public school had its merits. [Access to a Catholic education was the primary reason for moving back to Missouri]. It was a broadening experience to associate with people who had much in common besides (or other than) religion or nationality. My father especially became aware of this as he pondered the future of his six sons. Montana was a far more open country with far more choices of land and occupation. He looked forward to bringing his family back to it. – Sister Madeleine Kleffner (my aunt – my father’s sister).

Certainly a sentiment we seem to need more of in these polarized times.

On my mother’s side, my relatives were some of the Mormon converts who made the trek across the country in the 1850’s to Utah. One was converted in England, much to his parents dismay, and left the home country for Utah, never to return.

Both sides (Catholic and Mormon) were very prolific, though this was probably as much a circumstance of the times as it was religious.  Women simply didn’t have any control to speak of over their own reproductive life. Families of 10 or more children were not unusual, and in many cases, there were multiple wives to one husband, or if a husband died young, multiple husbands – sometimes related to the original. The number of relatives one can trace back quickly becomes mind numbing, like tracing the branches of a tree out to the tiniest leaf. It gives me a whole new perspective on the idea of praying to ones ancestors. That’s a LOT of people at your disposal, should it work that way.

  • Love, as a motive for getting married, is rarely mentioned. Heck, even a genuine affection for the other person is rarely mentioned. Just endless back breaking labor. And all I can think of is oh my God those poor poor women, who’s lives consisted of trying to keep everyone warm and clean and fed and healthy while hauling water from a spring down the hill, with no refrigeration. One story talked about diapers being frozen solid by the next morning when removed during the night. Babies died at the drop of a hat, from diarrhea or any of the myriad childhood illnesses we easily treat or vaccinate for now. Women’s bodies were wrecked from all the childbirth and back breaking labor and their lives were often spent in ill health. They frequently died in childbirth, sometimes on the ninth or tenth child. Given the conditions, one can see why they might have turned to religion.
  • Education was important to both sides of my family. On my mother’s side, it was more of a point of pride and status, but both my uncles on that side finished college, and my mother did about a year. On my father’s side, it seems to have been more of a deep curiosity about the world and a  wish to improve themselves. Of my dad and his nine siblings, all born in Belt, Montana, (current population 588), six went on to some kind of higher education, and one ended up with a masters degree. All but one (the oldest) finished high school. In all cases, college seems to have been self motivated, as encouragement or support from their parents is never mentioned.
  • Farming and teaching is a common thread in my family. And mechanical ability. I come from a long line of farmers, teachers and carpenters.
  • When there is a better opportunity (or the current situation becomes untenable) you move to take it. Missouri, Nebraska, Utah, Montana (not to mention Germany and England). Pulling up stakes, often with large families and farm animals and equipment in tow, you pulled up stakes when you thought a better situation was out there for you and your family. Interestingly, some family moved out of Missouri due to the end of the civil war and the ensuing political tensions.
  • Divorce is a thread on my mother’s side. My great grandmother divorced her husband when he wanted to join a more fundamentalist sect of the Mormon religion and take on additional wives. She told him no, and that if he left for the sect’s settlement, to not bother coming back. When he left, and then did come back, she basically said “what part of what I said before did you not understand?”

My grandmother divorced her husband after 40 years. Her kids were grown. She was able to support herself financially – first as a teacher and then as a business owner, owning a florist shop. Grandpa became more and more religious as time went on, and Grandma less and less so. They had been desperately poor for a very long time (my grandfather’s draft card, from 1942, lists his height at 5’7″ and his weight at 125 lbs. He was 44 years old), and now that they had a little money, he wanted to tithe it to the church, which she felt had not helped them when they needed it. She was done with that. She left him in 1960.

My mother was married four times (my father was the third, and the longest lasting. She used to say that they brought out the worst in each other, and she left him when I was 4, after eight years of marriage). She clearly had a thing for older men. All husbands were at least 8 years her senior.  She passed away when I was 13, so I’ll never be able to ask her what that was all about, though I suspect she was seeking security, having grown up with stories of being desperately poor and being pretty poor herself, given that she was born in 1931 during the depression.

Anyway, it’s all interesting stuff to contemplate as you go about collecting eggs, feeding sheep and trying to keep water from freezing. That we are not alone, but a product of all who have come before us. Yet our lives are what we make of them. It only takes one decision to have a completely different life. To pick up and leave England for Utah or Missouri. To pack up the farm animals into a train box car and move to Montana. To join the Navy and see the world. To do the hard thing because it seems like a better choice than the status quo. Stuck is not a word that I would use to describe my family, on either side.

I’ve certainly made those “left turn” choices a time or two. And haven’t regretted it once.

QuirkBar

Out for a beer at the local Quirk Brewery, late December 2017

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2018, where we’re miles away from making any major changes in our life, but relish knowing we have the strength to do so if needed. And where we are wishing you a happy new year and a deep connection with your ancestors, whether that helps to give you strength, or as a role model for what NOT to do and how NOT to live. Grin.