Crofting, Fire and God Thoughts

We had a flue fire a couple of days ago. I was in the kitchen and first heard a strange sound, as if the refrigerator compressor was in overdrive. I went to look. Then I noticed the smoke coming out of the joints of the stove-pipe, and an ominous glow at the juncture of stove and pipe. A flue fire. I had never had one before, and it was distressing. My husband came in at my call and turned all the drafting vents closed while I called the fire department. I gave location, name and phone number and the 911 dispatcher (who is in Fredericton) immediately connected with the Perth-Andover Fire department. A few questions later, and it was obvious to me that the fire was out. I said so, but my contact at the fire department said they were coming anyway, just to make sure nothing was happening further up the chimney.

In the interval, Nicholas went to the barn to feed the animals and I cleaned the kitchen. I had bread and cinnamon rolls in the oven of the wood stove, so I transferred them to the electric oven. I did the dishes in the sink. I called my landlady and explained what had happened. I moved some furniture I thought would be in the way. I had windows and doors opened, and the dog shut in the bathroom. The trucks arrived before Nicholas was done in the barn.

Two trucks and an auxiliary car pulled into the driveway and yard. The house was suddenly full of firemen. (I know, I should say fire fighters, but they were all men.) It is a small house, and five firemen quickly fill it. They  had a good look at the stove and stovepipe, brought in equipment to measure stack temperature, and unloaded ladders.

“It doesn’t smell like a flue fire,” one said. “It smells really good, like cinnamon rolls.”

It wasn’t necessary to take a ladder up to our steep, metal-covered roof, but they did take a thermal imaging camera to the attic. No hot spots. Cutting off the draft had put out the fire, and it was obvious that it had been quite hot as the stove-pipe was discoloured. I asked if it was still safe to use. “No problem,” said the fire marshal. “This happens all the time. We’ve had some weird weather, and that damp, heavy air drives the gases back down the chimney. You said you cleaned it.”

“Yes, we did it ourselves, with the nylon brush.”

“Oh, that Selkirk flue did its job then. That’s what it’s for – to insulate the hot gases from your walls. Good installation, too.”

Then they all stood around for a minute or two, commenting on the nice baked bread smell coming from the oven and on the virtues of our Amish-built Suppertime Stove. “I wish I’d bought one like that for my house,” one said.

They left a good deal of wet snow and mud behind on the kitchen floor, but I didn’t mind at all.

I got to tell the carpenter who installed the stove about the incident, and how the fire department complimented his installation. I also passed on that I had written to John Tschirhart in Ontario, who sold us the stove, and he said the installation sounded like a good one as well. Bob was pleased. He’d made a small error in the installation, which was that the hearth in front did not extend far enough out from the firebox door. His solution was to add a bright steel sheet in front, secured under the stone hearth, and held in place with level head screws. This works nicely, looks good, and doesn’t catch feet or extra dirt. He snipped the outer corners so that they won’t get caught on furniture or boots and curl. The shortage was only two inches, but he added seven inches and I am pleased with the way it looks. Bob had considered the same stove for his house, and perhaps regrets it a little that he didn’t get it now that he has installed mine.

The firemen and the carpenter were kind and interested in our concerns. Their visits were almost pastoral. Bob and I shared news of health and home since we last saw each other in the spring and he made a fuss over my Australian shepherd, Ash. She remembered him and was joyous to see him again.

I have not been shy to say that I anticipate a difficult winter. We are living on the edge financially. We do what we can to get by, and we know that there will be more sacrifices. Still, God has opened the hearts of many to lighten our burden. A neighbouring pastor brought us vegetables form his garden, and we are still eating those beans we froze. Other friends have helped in getting us settled in our barn; one is planning a trip soon to bring hay and leave with wool I still have from my Shetlands. She shipped me muslin when I couldn’t get it locally, and lots of fabric pieces. Another friend has given us needed lentils and wheat, herbal medicines and little treats, as well as delivering other herbs, and garden seedlings when we lost ours in a storm. Many friends sent me garden seeds this year, and we are blessed yet with pumpkins, squash and preserves from that harvest. A friend downriver brought me a seedling elder tree. A friend in the US mailed me two boxes of cotton dresses and skirts; I layer them on the cold days. Books have come from a friend in England. My landlady and her sister stopped by to give us a 10 kilo bag of flour, tangerines and potatoes.

You know who you are.

Today I received an unexpected box of organic rice, herbal teas, and other useful products. The sender was anonymous. I’m fairly sure I know who it was by the postmark. Still, it was great fun – and the maple hard candies are delicious and soothing. Our church warden was running the bazaar end of the church luncheon and bazaar today, where I dropped in for a few minutes; I mentioned that I needed a new bobbin case for my ancient machine, and it would be a few days yet to get it. She said, “I have an older machine in my garage – it was my mother’s, and it was Dorothy’s before that. I don’t know how well it might run, but you are welcome to it.” I said I would pick it up tomorrow after church.

In the ancient ways of Israel, once a generation, every fifty years, a jubilee year was declared. Food that had been stored was distributed so that the fields could lie fallow. Debts were forgiven. Inequities were amended. Land was returned to its original owners if they had leased it out or sold it from economic necessity. Slaves were released. It was a year of thanksgiving and celebration.

In Luke 4:19, Jesus proclaims that He is there to announce a jubilee. It is the time of the Lord’s favour. As the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary says:

“(On 4.19.) acceptable year-an allusion to the jubilee year (Le 25:10), a year of universal release for person and property. (See also Isa 49:8; 2Co 6:2.) As the maladies under which humanity groans are here set forth under the names of poverty, broken-heartedness, bondage, blindness, bruisedness (or crushedness), so, as the glorious Healer of all these maladies, Christ announces Himself in the act of reading it, stopping the quotation just before it comes to “the day of vengeance,” which was only to come on the rejecters of His message (Joh 3:17). The first words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” have been noted since the days of the Church Fathers, as an illustrious example of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost being exhibited as in distinct yet harmonious action in the scheme of salvation.”

Salvation has come; it is an everlasting jubilee.The enslaved are free, the debt forgiven. The goods are distributed and none is to be in want. Yes, from that day forward. And this is God’s creation, just as heaven is. Are we not to realize that jubilee now? Our sins, our debts before God, are forgiven. Are we forgiving others? Are we restoring what was taken unjustly? Are we distributing the bounty of God’s earth? Are we letting the land and water rest so it too can be revitalized?

image from young and catholic

It had been a Protestant teaching that the kingdom of God is yet to come, and our trials will be rewarded eventually. But Jesus came proclaiming “The Kingdom is at hand” – it is now. He proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favour – now.

Rather than gratitude for what we have received bountifully, we are acting like the wedding guests who would not come to the banquet. When I served communion in the church I would say to the people, “Come to the Lord’s table, for all is made ready for thee.”

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Storming the Gates

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you will know that I have been waiting to be reinstated into licensed ministry for a long time. My last parish work was in 2005. I did not expect to be out of the cassock this long.

I have looked for parish work all over the world. There is one big obstacle: my bishop has to give me letters of good standing. In effect, he has to sign my license over to another bishop. He has not done that, and does not want to do that, but also has not met with me in the last year to discuss what I may do.

I am called back into parish ministry of some sort. I need to know if it is going to be here, in the Diocese of Fredericton, or if I may now be given letters of good standing, or if I am just out of the Anglican Church. I am insisting on knowing.

I am storming the gates. I’ve been quiet and polite long enough.

I have much to offer: I am well-read, I have the classical languages under my belt, and I am a good speaker. I like people; I like visiting people. I am always willing to look for the lost sheep, or find better pasture for the flock. I am earthy and grounded. I don’t have airs. I am not above the people, I’m just ne of them with a different role. I am not ambitious. I believe I am authentic and genuine.

I am called. That is the important part. I am called by the Lord to serve His flock, to be the sheepdog to His good shepherd.

I like my bishop. He likes me. This is a ridiculous situation.

So I am storming the gates – not to conquer, but perhaps to liberate. Perhaps to free myself, perhaps to free the church, in a small way.

Bishop Medley, first bishop of Fredericton

What This Earth Loses

"Sheep may safely graze" photo by shetland-sheep.org

 

We lost another silkie hen today. Nicholas said it looked as if she went to sleep beside the grain pan, but she was cold when he touched her. That is four out of six; a friend thinks, as I do, that there was something wrong genetically with that clutch. We will see if the two survivors make it through the winter. I don’t blame the breeder. It may have been something new for her, too, especially if there had been some inbreeding. Suddenly a double recessive fault can show up. I had wanted the silkies for both breeding and brooding, but if these two survive, they will not be bred.

Nicholas was melancholy about it all day, and I was subdued as well. I’ve lost a lot of young animals over the shepherding years, and I’ve lost others to storms, old age, illness and predators. It’s the way it goes on the farm. We do the best we can, but there are so many factors of uncertainty that we can never do it all perfectly.

This is what I find reassuring: The Great Creator of this universe did not intend to lose any of His creation. While the molecules and atoms of our substance go back to whence they came, the life He puts into all His creatures will return to Him. While as Christians we believe that we humans, made in His image, will have a sense of Being in life after death, we can also be assured that the wee creatures are loved by Him and are of Him. C.S. Lewis wrote of this – that the animals we called friends, who were loved by us, will have their Being in the Creator, too. So when we lose these sweet little friends, and even when the life of a farm animal is sacrificed to feed us, God is watching over them, and takes back the essence of their being.

At the last day, when our Lord shall stand upon this earth, and make it over to the perfection God intended – the new heaven above, and the new earth under our feet – all that we have known and loved, companion animals, farm animals and even the trees and flowers that enriched our lives, will be there, too.

I hope this is a comfort to others as it is to me.

"Peaceable Kingdom" by Edward Hicks

A leopard with a harmless kid lay down

And not one savage beast was seen to frown

The wolf did with the lamb can dwell in peace

His grim carnivorous nature there did cease

The lion with the fatling fawn did move

And a little child was leading them in love
Long ago there was a young painter

Who had a dream that every creature came

And stood assembled by his side

And he painted the sight that had sweetened his night

For the one hundred times before he died

A kid lion and a snake and a child

Wide-eyed and formal and smiling like the sun had stopped

And time had ceased to move

And the wolf and the lamb

Came and ate from his hand

And a man-child was leading them in love
Friend have you seen all the lines and the spaces

The colors that the old painter sees

In the peaceable kingdom that shines in the faces

Of people from more gentle times than these
I find myself adrift these days

An endless maze of ends and ways

And worlds seem so crazy to be here

But look away look away

Back or forward from today

To the visions of either fools or seers
Oh my friend have you seen all the lines and the spaces

The colors that the old painter sees

In the peaceable kingdom that shines in the faces

Of people from more gentle times than these
Such a beautiful place

Full of joy full of grace

It was bathed in a saintly yellow light

To what learning to know that such things can’t be so

He could only believe that they might
Oh my friend have you seen all the lines and the spaces

The colors that the old painter sees

In the peaceable kingdom that shines in the faces

Of people from more gentle times than these
Friend have you seen all the lines and the spaces

The colors that the young painter sees

In the peaceable kingdom that shines in the faces

Of people from more gentle times than these

(Lyrics by Billy Gilman; I would have posted the link, but the publisher’s site was quite awkward and horrible with advertising things like gambling, quite out of keeping with The Quaker Painter, Edward Hicks. So, Billy, I apologize, and I hope you understand.)

The Cost of Eating

It is midway through the month, and I have run out of eggs and potatoes. We have three hens, but at this time of year, they don’t lay every day, and sometimes I need more than three eggs in one day. We have food enough to get through, unless I want to bake a cake or cookies. Potatoes are a staple here in the River Valley. They are grown on all sides of us. So why are they so expensive?

I am out of white flour, which means I am using whole wheat flour from the big supply I bought last year. If I want finer flour, I sift the whole wheat and dump the millings left in the sifter into a bowl for the next batch of bread. I am waiting for flour to be marked down, but it is still $10 for 10 kilos – about 22 pounds – on sale. Apparently potatoes and flour will not drop below 22-25 cents a pound this year. If I had a bigger capacity hand-mill, or one with a finer blade, I would grind my own wheat. I may have to resort to it by next year, as I can buy unprocessed wheat fairly cheaply. At present,  it is a nuisance and a lot of handwork to turn it into flour. The good mill is $500 shipped, but when we can grow our own corn and oats for feed, it will be worth it.

I am looking through the supermarket sales fliers today. I will have to make a trip to Grand Falls sometime this week, swinging by my landlady’s house to return their flue brushes and pick up the cedar firewood she got for me in Plaster Rock; there will be packages at the post office to pick up. I will drop into one of the markets for the essentials we need, but the non-essentials – which many people depend on because they don’t know how to cook from scratch, or they think they don’t have time – are much too high in price. Most of our meals are vegetarian, or rely on broths made from the leftovers or bones, so we do not count on having meat every day. I buy potatoes, onions, carrots, apples and turnips 10-20 pounds at a time, and sometimes 50 pounds at once of potatoes, if they are deeply discounted. Apples were available as “deer” apples this year locally, mostly windfalls and cosmetically blemished fruit. We ate the good ones and the goats and chickens the rest. Some got made into applesauce. I will use at least 100 kilos of flour in a year, as I don’t buy bread or baked goods; I buy flour in quantity when I can. We have canned and frozen vegetables from the garden, as well.

attractingwellness.com

I always make sure I have several pounds of beans and lentils in the house,  stored in glass jars. It is cheap protein, and if we have a shortage of gas money or a surplus of bad weather, we know we have food. I supplement them with barley and brown rice. I used to be able to get amaranth and quinoa cheaply, but not here.

Here are the latest prices on food locally: Bread is running $3-$4 a pound; beef is at least $4/lb for ground chuck. Bacon is never selling for less than$3/lb for the generic house brand. If soft drinks are on the menu, a 2 litre bottle will be at least $1.25. That seems to be a lot for water, sugar, flavouring and a label. As for snack foods, chips are $2.50 for a quarter pound bag, snack crackers are $2 for about the same weight. Sweetened breakfast cereals are about $4/lb.

The grim fact is that prepared foods are a terrible waste of money, low in nutrition and high in fat, sugar, additives and cost.

I think the best thing to do is to cook and bake at home; I know how hard it is to get started. It also means it is time to cut back on sugars and refined fats. I don’t think I need to say much about those non-food substances, additives and preservatives.

My husband had to learn to eat properly. For years he had lived with microwave meals, take-out fast food, salty and sugary snacks, pop or beer every evening in front of the tv, and refined carbohydrates in commercial white bread and cereals. Despite a calorie-intense athletic schedule, he was fifty pounds overweight. He had lost all his youthful stamina. When he started eating a low-fat, high fibre, protein-moderate diet with me, he dropped the excess fat his body was carrying and gained back his stamina. (His later stroke was the result of a blood clot from a deep bruise, not high blood pressure or cholesterol plaques. I try not to think very often of how bad it would have been if his health was poor.)

The grocery store or farmer’s market doesn’t have to be the enemy.  (Oh, yes, I know the temptations of a farmer’s market well – everything from fat-dripping barbecued sausages to butter-laden French pastry.) Think of it as a sly old grandmother who has set aside the best food for her favourite – you – and this granny isn’t the chocolate chip cookie kind, but the garden fresh salad kind. Poke into the obscure corners of that supermarket and you’ll find the locally grown seasonal produce, the high fibre grains, the lower fat cuts of meat, the beans and rice and whole grains that bring out your creative side.

Market at Easton, Maryland

 

Crofting – Chim-Chiminee-Chim-Chim-Charoo

The guilty party

I swept the chimney today. We have been waiting for days for a sweep, since we developed a problem with smoke and creosote almost a week ago. I stopped using the wood stove, which meant keeping heat on in the rooms where there are water pipes, and sort of living in the kitchen, with a blanket hung over the door.

I was worried that something horrible had been stuck in the chimney – a crow, a starling or a bat. Since it was a mild day, we decided to go ahead with removing the stove-pipe and at least clearing that.

The Baker’s Choice stove has good clean-out points, one under the oven, and one in the stove top. It also has a rectangular scraper, which removed soot cake and creosote nicely. I scooped it out with a big steel cooking spoon and a paint scraper. I wore gloves but my sleeves were rolled back a bit, so I was black gunk almost to the shoulder by the time I was done.

We found a huge ball of creosote – a hardened, glassy tar-like substance – in the join between the stovepipe and the stove. Apparently we had damped down the draft too much on a night or early morning when we had an inversion along the river, a blanket of damp, heavy cool air. The gasses that would normally rise and dissipate condensed and mixed with the moisture in the air, running back down the flue and into and through the stove as a tarry liquid. I am in the process of cleaning up a thin puddle of it from behind the stove. Of course, it smells terrible.

I borrowed the sweeping brush and extension rods from my landlord, and with a little instruction from him, (he was off to clear beaver dams on his lower property today, a circumstance that is worse than creosote), I stood on the thick steel stove top and swept the chimney.

Sweeping a chimney means forcing a cylindrical brush (of plastic bristles in our Selkirk flue) up a seven-inch wide opening. The rods screw into each other as extensions and are flexible fibreglass, like fishing rods. It takes a bit of strength to do this, but my husband is just a wee bit too tall to get his arms under the rod and push from the leverage of the stove top. It can’t be done from floor level because the stove-pipe is too close to the wall, with the stove intervening.

I was reminded of a Dorothy Sayers’s book, Busman’s Honeymoon. Lord Peter Wimsey and his bride Harriet have just bought an ancient house in the country, and the sweep has come by to clear the old chimneys of “sut.” If I remember correctly, the sweep says, “It’s ta farce behoin’ ta rods.” Or some such like. And it is indeed the force behind the rods.

The mess was incredible – soot and shards of creosote, ash from the firebox as I emptied and cleaned that. Then Nicholas had to fit the stovepipe back in, and that is his strong suit, having been a mast rigger in his youth. But he was a bit worn out by all the effort, and still has one joint to align and fit with screws. Since I didn’t plan to build a fire tonight, I let him off that duty until tomorrow.

And I think I won’t challenge Mary Poppins’s friend Bert for his job as chimney sweep.

Health and Fitness – a Gift from God

I grew up in a teetotalling Baptist church – to this day I feel guilty if I have a second glass of wine. Well, not too guilty, but somewhat guilty. I don’t want anyone to read this and feel guilty about the second brownie – unless that second brownie is, in fact, ruining your health.

If your health problems and problems with controlling weight gain are a result of metabolic disease and you are struggling to do what you can, then this is not meant for you. It is for people (like me) who have a tendency to distort the natural goodness of food.

I need to speak frankly about the obesity and poor health epidemic in what we call the “First World.” Our misuse of food resources contributes to the poverty and malnutrition elsewhere in complex ways. It isn’t so much that we burn corn for bio-fuel in our cars instead of improving mass transit or simply staying home when we can. It is the consumption of plastic, the growth of agri-business, the insatiable need to be informed of all the buying opportunities before us. We find our natural tastes spoiled by artificial foods; we crave comfort in carbohydrates.

If it is sinful to overindulge in alcohol, it is equally sinful to overindulge in food and underindulge in healthy activity. The more weight we carry, the less we want to move. The less we move, the more weight we gain. Excess weight contributes to heart disease, cancer, joint stress and damage, depression and mood swings.

The worst of it for me is to see people enabling and encouraging others to continue in the unhealthy trend. My realization of how strong that enabling behaviour is came through facebook. If anyone in my group of friends posts a recipe that calls for butter, cream, chocolate or icing sugar, everyone wants to try it. Broiled fish and a salad? No, thank you. Discussion of Christmas cookies? Eighty people join in. Discussion of exercise? Two people contribute.

Do I need to say we have substituted relationships with foods for relationships with people, sensual pleasure in taste and consumption, for pleasure in communication and even for intimate physical pleasure in our marriages?

I don’t need to outline a diet for anyone – there’s plenty of information available. I would suggest that everyone who is struggling to overcome food-related or emotional-eating issues consider keeping the Advent fast to some degree.

God did not give us life so that we can waste it and abuse it. As our Lord said to his disciples “Eat what is put before you.” He did not tell them to eat beyond what they needed. So eat what is put before you, in reasonable amounts, remembering to leave resources for many who otherwise will do without. Enjoy the meal, and do not make the meal your sole enjoyment.