"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

May 21, 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Ecstasy of Saint Catherine of Sienna by Batoni
This whole Rapture thing has been endlessly fascinating. Of course, any Bible reader knows that no one is supposed to know the day or the hour, "not even the angels in Heaven." There have been doomsday predictions throughout history––this is nothing new. Lives have been ruined when people sell their worldly possessions in advance to follow some mortal person and their convictions. The difference with this Rapture date is that it was widely hyped in a massive PR campaign of billboard, websites and media attention. It is probably the first "viral" Rapture following.

The Ecstasy of Catherine, Self-Portrait, 2011
The idea has made for jokes among pundits and even on Facebook. There is almost a "what if?" amidst the snickering, however, and a "oh, you can have those self-righteous people of the Earth" mentality––we don't want them here any more! There are even pet services for non-refundable pet care after you've been raptured. [I maintain that if my pets can't come, I'd rather stay behind with them. Then again, I firmly believe that there is a soul or spirit in every living thing.]

I can not find a source for this image––it seems like something Ken Brown would do.

I'm sorry that this whole Rapture thing for May 21, 2011 has made non-believers make fun of Christians or of anyone who has faith in something greater than themselves. Like so many things, it's the squeaky wheels that get all of the attention and Pastor Camping and his followers (and so many of the conservative Christian base) do not represent all Christians, just like Osama Bin Laden did not represent all those of the Muslim faith. The problem with this false Rapture stuff is that it gives faith a bad name, too. It also makes people think that perhaps other religions or paths to God are wrong, and that's just not so.

© Anne Taintor
Our youngest son, surely destined to be a poet or philosopher or perhaps even a man of the cloth, said to me today, "I think that Jesus will come back in 2012 and show everyone how to live here––not to destroy the Earth. It will be like a new world for everyone." He worries a lot and thinks a lot. He also has a wicked sense of humor, a prerequisite of everyone in my family. He shares my sense of "storm hype" and I have to be careful of what we say to him. All day he was asking about when the Rapture is happening––fortunately he knows my sense of humor enough by now to know that I can be sarcastic with the best of them. But then he came out with his little pearl of wisdom for his sometimes cranky mother.

© Anne Taintor
But what today's "Rapture" hype has done for me––and, I admit, it's still not 6pm yet (an hour away) so I suppose I shouldn't rule it out––is that we should live each day as if it is our last one. Embrace the day, find joy in it, and do what you can to make it productive for yourself and others. Practice kindness and good deeds. Treat others as you want to be treated. Be compassionate to all people and animals. Forgive, make amends or move on. Remember the stillness, walk in the light and truth and avoid the shadows, and take time to listen to the birdsong each day. And try to laugh your butt off as much as possible!

Above all, love and live. And like the changing seasons, each day is a chance to begin all over again. Tomorrow, May 22, will dawn. And there is rapture and gladness to be found in every day––if you seek, you shall find.

You come back when you're ready!


PS It's 5:20PM Eastern Time––I just spoke to my husband and suggested that he and the boys be home by 6PM. "For supper," of course, but, well, just in case. There's a large bridge between us and Somerset, 12 miles away, and I'd rather we all be on the ridge together, you know, "for supper."

May 19, 2011

Homemade Strawberry Jam

If you've never made it before, jam is one of the easiest things to do with strawberries, especially if you want to enjoy their beauty and flavor year-round or tuck a jar into a holiday gift basket. The trick is to make it in small batches [although next time I'm going to double this and see what happens]. The recipe also has the classic 1 cup of fruit to 1 cup of sugar ratio which is standard for jam-making.

I often turn to my well-worn copy of The Joy of Cooking [1975 edition] whenever I need an easy, tried and true recipe. This recipe for "Red Red Strawberry Jam" is practically fool-proof. Don't skimp on the amount of sugar, as tempting as it is, because you need it to set the jam. I tend to use small to medium berries so they preserve whole but you can also mash them up a bit, too, to release some of the juices (or all). If you use fresh local berries you usually don't have to hull them! At least I don't.

Red Red Strawberry Jam

• 1 quart berries (cleaned, hulled, and dried)
• 4 cups sugar
• juice of 1/2 lemon (optional, but enhances flavor)

Makes 1 quart (or 2 pints).

Step 1
Step 1 –– Put berries in a 10" heavy pot (I use enameled cast iron) and cover with sugar.

Step 2
Step 2 –– Stir gently with a wooden spoon (not sure why it has to be wooden but I'm not about to argue!) over low heat until it starts to juice up. From mixing to juicy should take a few minutes.

Step 3
Step 3 –– Once it reaches the juicy stage (after the sugar melts), set heat to moderate, stop stirring and cook until it is nice and bubbly.

Step 4
Step 4 –– When the mixture reaches a full "bubbling mass," set timer for exactly 15 minutes (17 if the berries are really ripe) and leave on moderate heat. Leave pot uncovered and do not disturb. You may run your wooden spoon back and forth across the bottom to make sure it is not sticking (another reason why a good heavy pan is helpful).

Step 5
Step 5 –– After the timer goes off, turn off the burner and set pan aside to cool.  The jam should now coat your spoon while it is still hot. Add the lemon juice, if desired. Scrape off jammy bits from side of pan and stir in gently. Cool.

Step 6
Step 6 –– When cool, stir lightly and pour mixture into sterilized jars and seal. Can according to canning instructions or store in refrigerator. Makes 1 quart (or 2 pints) of luscious strawberry jam.

Now to find some good whole wheat bread and some peanut butter!

What do you like to make with strawberries?

NOTE: The strawberries in this jam were from local grower Mose Shirk who sells his berries at the Casey County Produce Auction. They are also now available at Wilson's Cedar Point Farm (on 837 South in Pulaski County) and Hettmansperger's Greenhouse (straddling the Casey/Pulaski County line on 837 South).

You come back when you're ready!


May 18, 2011

Tea and Friends at Chickabiddy

Addie made her first batch of scones from a recipe from an old family friend.

A friend brought homemade blueberry jam!
I haven't thrown a tea party since the summer of 2008 in our old house in New Hampshire. A fellow writer and I hosted it and had great fun putting together the menu, preparing the food, setting up the party and adding just the right Emily Post touches. The premise was that it was to have been a chapter in a book that did not materialize––however, I more enjoyed the many friends who were gathered, as well as the preparations. It was a last "hurrah" in the house that had been our home since our marriage in 1996 (and in my husband's family since 1959). [You can read my "Tea for Forty With Emily and Friends" blog post here.]

Lemon squares are still my favorite tea party item to make.

Post-party posing on May Day with some leftovers!
Our daughter, who will be 23 in June, visited us for a nice month between resort seasons. She "left home," in that ubiquitous sense, a few days before we moved to Kentucky on July 31, 2008. It was our last time altogether in the New Hampshire house, which we closed on a few months later and to which my husband returned in early September to finish packing. So we all not only left home in all ways, we left our daughter (and sister) behind and each of us left our familiar. Talk about Empty Nest hitting with a vengeance! That first full year, settling in here, was a bit brutal. I felt disjointed and strange. This would morph and change for the next few years (perimenopause likely hasn't always helped things, either).  I finally know in my bones that this is home––that our new roots are starting to take hold and spread into the earth.

Almost three years later, Addie has made her own life for herself. She has held several seasonal jobs and just returned to a full-time, year-round position (with benefits!) at the resort where she works. She has her "family" in and near her workplace which is reassuring because she lives 1,100 miles away from us, entirely self-supporting apart from the occasional gifts we send her way. We are immensely proud of her. This visit reconfirmed for us that we are still a connected family unit, despite the distance and our separate worlds now.

As a mother and a woman, this visit was so reaffirming to me––to all of us––and for our daughter it provided a more rooted sense and picture of our new home. It is hard to leave your physical home at twenty and never have that same home to return to again. Here we have been able to improve and build upon what we once had: our gilded cage, in many respects, has been replaced by what matters and the comfort of each other. Families are so complex and I hold fast to my husband and children while knowing I can also stand as an individual, too. That my daughter can do that and be on her own, even better than I could at her age, is one of the most gratifying things I have experienced.

If one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams, and endeavors to live the life that one has imagined, one will meet with a success uncommon in common hours.   ~ Henry David Thoreau

I love my Anchor Hocking "Lido" set.
Our month-long visit (oddly from April 12 to May 12!) as a family was so cohesive and good, with only a few bumps of reentry, and the tea party that we prepared together was one of many highlights. I never did make a pot of hot tea this time around, but we enjoyed lavender lemonade and iced, sweet tea with some of Ida's mint that grows near the back door. 

I'd been planning this event for many months as a celebration of the cottage being finished (more or less––of course, I didn't show anyone my unfinished office and many books have not been unpacked). Also, I knew my daughter would be here to meet everyone and I wanted to celebrate May Day! It just seemed the right time before hay and produce season when we, and so many of our friends, are busy on their own farms.

Nasturtium blossoms make a fine, edible garnish for tea sandwiches.

Each one of my friends, even those who could not attend the party, spoiled me rotten with a very lovely cottage gift. I am blessed, and appreciative, beyond words! Chickabiddy Cottage is now well-christened. Besides, a party is always a good excuse to have your friends visit and to use your best stuff. Some were even able to stay until the wee hours of 9pm, when they realized it might be a good idea if they headed home again to their own families (my husband Temple provided excellent cab service for our Mennonite friends).

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.  ~ Kahlil Gibran

For one suspended and quite rainy Sunday afternoon on May Day, apart from the world and its troubles, we gathered around a table at the center of our cozy small cottage parlor on a ridge in Kentucky. [That table––if you'll allow me a Hyacinth Bucket moment––once belonged to Queen Victoria's son Prince Arthur, who was transferred to Canada, or so the family story goes.] We spent the time eating, talking, laughing and just being together. It doesn't get much better than that––I even left the dishes for the next day.

You come back when you're ready!