Maybe Go Outside?

No, we’re not going outside much these days: the outdoor thermometer read -20F this morning, and it was in that same range yesterday. I tried to get the old carbeurated 4×4 Bronco truck started, but it refused to turn over. Fortunately, the roads are clear enough for our other vehicles, so I’ll try the Bronco again once things warm up.

The upstairs of our barn is so large, it has plenty of room for both hay and a gymnasium-like play area (including a basketball hoop, and space to ride bikes). But when it’s this bitterly cold out, the kids are only allowed to play inside. They’re beginning to bounce off the walls a bit, but cabin fever hasn’t hit with full force yet. We will be visiting two different sets of friends later today, and both have large kid-friendly basements; hopefully that’ll burn off some of their energy before the weekend.

Needless to say, in weather like this, one’s thoughts turn to parts of the country where kids can actually go outside to play in mid-January. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Hawaii would sure be nice right about now (and I don’t blame the President-elect a bit for vacationing there last month). But Hawaii was back in the news yesterday for a different reason: they are the first state to make the total conversion to digital television that the rest of the nation will be undergoing next month.

How did it go? The AP has this report:

Even before the change, residents lit up special TV help center phone lines set up by the Federal Communication Commission and broadcasters. More than 300 calls came in Wednesday, and 10 lines were lighting up Thursday.

On home screens, the shutdown message flashed for about a minute in white text on a blue background. Then, a seven-minute announcement video began a broadcast loop that will continue for several weeks on major island stations.

Technicians are calling it the “analog night light.”

Officials at the call center made last-minute checks with some 20 TV stations around the islands, with all reporting they were ready.

“The calls we’re getting now are from those people who are waking up and saying, `Oh my God, what do I do?'” said Lyle Ishida, the FCC’s Hawaii digital TV project manager, just before the switch.

Yes, you read that right. People are waking up and saying, Oh my God, what do I do?

In Hawaii, of all places. How about, uhm, maybe going out and enjoying the beach? Taking a bicycle ride? Planting a backyard garden with all the cool things we can never grow on the mainland?

I couldn’t help thinking of a classic Simpsons episode, from all the way back in Season 2, called “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge.” In it, Marge goes on a crusade against the violence in a popular cartoon show. When the cartoon is transformed into a non-violent version, the kids of Springfield all get so disappointed they turn their televisions off. I searched in vain on YouTube for a clip of that scene, but long-time fans of the show will remember it well. Here is a detailed summary of that scene from the SNPP fan website:

Marge: Aren’t you going to watch the rest of your cute cartoons?

Bart: Naah. Come on, Li.

Lisa: Maybe there’s something else to do on this planet…

The scene is repeated in TV rooms all across town, and (to the strains of the first 53 bars of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony) the kids step outside, rub their eyes, and proceed to do wholesome childlike things. Krusty meanwhile, tapes his show.

Krusty: Hi, kids! [laughs] [sees empty studio] Huh? Is it Saturday?

At dinner, Marge asks the kids what they did. Bart and the guys went fishing, and Lisa and Janie went bird-watching. They excuse themselves to work on the soapbox racers. Homer is amazed.

Of course, by the end of the episode, the violent cartoon makes a return and the kids are again all camped in front of television sets. But the episode is an interesting social commentary nonetheless.

Some folks, including the President-elect, are pushing to delay the conversion to digital television. But I think the situation in Hawaii demonstrates something that most of us (especially those who have taught school) already know: some people procrastinate and will not take action until they have no other choice. As the AP reported:

“It’s really amazing how many people wait until the last minute,” said June Gonzales, a member of the FCC team.

It’s not as if television is a life-or-death service, the way telephones are. I say do the conversion as soon as possible, and leave the procrastinators with dark screens. Perhaps they’ll come outside and see how bright life can be without television.

And it’ll be interesting to see what happens in pockets of the country with heavy concentrations of newly dark screens. I bet Robert Putnam is already preparing to study the impact on social capital.

Endless Soup Pot

This year’s winter has been particularly harsh, and this morning was the coldest by far of the season. We awakened to temps in the -10F to -15F range. Needless to say, all the livestock water tanks in the barn are frozen fairly solid. (We know there are electric heating units that can be added to these tanks, but at the risk of sounding irrational, the idea of anything electric sitting in a tank of water kind of spooks us.) At least the barn is tight enough, and has enough animals in it, so the livestock area remained about +20F overnight. The downstairs portion has an 8ft ceiling, which is perfect: high enough so I don’t hit my head, but low enough to keep livestock body heat near the livestock.

On days like this (and we’ve had months of days like this now), all I can think of is: Soup. And more soup.

Since mid-to-late November, I’ve had soup more or less constantly either in the fridge or in production. When we have our lambs and goats butchered, and when we buy a half a beef from the neighbor up the road, we end up with a lot of neck bones and other odd pieces. I make sure the butcher saves these for us; it’s amazing that some people don’t bother asking for them. Once or twice a week, I remove one of these packages of soup bones from the freezer and let it thaw. I then put the bones in a large stock pot, fill it about 3/4 full with warm water, and add about 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. When I have them, I’ll also add a couple of turkey feet (when we butcher the turkeys, I wash all the feet and freeze them together in gallon freezer bags), and an onion and a carrot. I let this sit for a few hours, then I bring it to a boil. If there’s any scum on the surface, I skim it off. And then I reduce the heat and let the pot simmer all night. This gives plenty of time for extracting all the marrow and nutrients from the bones, and extracting all the gelatin from the turkey feet.

In the morning, I find that the simmering soup pot has helped keep the kitchen warmer than usual — a nice additional wintertime benefit. I’ll then pour the rich contents of the stock pot through a colander and into a second stock pot. As I bring the second stock pot back to a full boil, and allow the meat and bones to cool in the colander, I cut the ends off of three or four pounds of carrots (purchased in bulk from a warehouse club), and run them through the food processor’s slicer disk. Less than a minute later, I’m adding all these sliced carrots to the stock. I then peel and clean up several pounds of rough potatoes, run them through the food processor, and add them as well. (We buy “unclassified” grade potatoes from a local produce store, where a 50# bag costs just ten bucks. They have more bad spots than the pristine supermarket potatoes, but all those scraps we cut off get fed to the chickens — so it’s no big deal to us.)

I next add seasonings to the pot: basil, oregano (purchased in bulk from a warehouse club), dried chives from our garden, cayenne pepper, and sea salt. By this time, the meat in the colander has cooled enough so I can break it apart into small pieces and add it back to the pot. The bones become a treat for the dogs, and the boiled-out turkey feet are simply discarded. As the pot finishes returning to a boil, I clean the kitchen. Then I reduce the pot to a simmer and let it go for a couple of hours; I turn the heat off at lunch time, have a couple of bowls for lunch, and let the pot cool all afternoon. Around dinner time, I put all the remaining soup into quart mason jars and stash them in the fridge.

I’ll warm up anywhere from a quart to quart-and-a-half on most days for lunch, but on days like these I find myself going through it even faster. On cold winter days, there is nothing as wonderfully satisfying as this kind of rich, nutrient-dense soup that warms you from the inside out.

I think I could eat this for nearly every single meal.

Yeah, Kind of Like That

Even without video games or cell phones of their own, and without exposure to kids at school who have video games or cell phones, it’s remarkable what our children have been able to pick up from their cousins and other relatives.

Homeschooled Farm Boy (HFB) has been reading a book about Guglielmo Marconi, who of course was an early pioneer in the development of radio. Naturally, the book details the history of various forms of long distance communication that led up to radio.

Anyhow, this morning HFB beamed as he informed us of a conclusion he had drawn from the initial forty pages of the Marconi book:

“The telegraph was sort of like the first text message!”

Yeah. Kind of.

We Hate Barbie

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have never allowed Homeschooled Farm Girl to play with Barbie dolls. Part of the reason, admittedly, is that Barbie has struck us as the epitome of glorified blonde/white sexuality; we don’t want our beautiful mulatto daughter thinking there is some kind of arbitrary standard she is falling short of. But even if one opts for the dark-skinned version of the doll, there were other things that gave us pause: Barbie’s impossible proportions, and the endless parade of accessories, and…and…the pure commercialism of the entire franchise.

No one ever pressed us to justify our opposition to Barbie, so the whole thing remained largely a non-issue. Few of HFG’s friends even have Barbie dolls, so she never asked if she could have one. And we certainly never raised the subject. As a result, we never really thought through or formulated an over-arching explanation for our discomfort with Barbie.

Fortunately, Mary Anne Moresco has done our work for us. In a brilliant article at Catholic Exchange, she puts words to the subconscious thoughts that had been troubling us about Barbie — and adds some details and additional considerations that never would have occurred to us. In part:

In the late 1950’s Barbie became the first “adult” doll for children. She was copied from a German prostitute doll name Bild Lilli, who was a character in an “adult” cartoon. The prostitute Lilli doll was sold, not to girls, but to men in bars and tobacco shops. Unaware of her prostitute background, Barbie’s American creators used the prostitute Lilli doll as a prototype for the first Barbie doll.

Barbie’s wardrobe was and still remains indecent. The 2008 Holiday Barbie wears a silver gown with a more than plunging V-slit that goes straight from neck to navel, as she poses with gobs of thick black mascara and hand on hip. Barbie recently debuted as a “Happy Birthday Gorgeous” doll-with her shiny teal blue dress slit up the side of her entire leg. Modesty is decency (CCC 2522). How are girls to learn modesty, if they are, almost from infancy, bombarded with an assortment of over-sexed immodestly dressed indecent dolls?

Although America may be blinded by the indecency of Barbie, other countries are not. The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia stated that: “[B]arbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures… are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West.”

Barbie is unhealthy for girls, not just because she is immodest, but because she is so impossibly thin, with a figure that does not conform to normal human proportions. The International Journal of eating disorders has reported that if Barbie’s dimensions were projected to human size, they would be 38-18-34. Barbie dolls can cause girls to dislike their own body shape, and lead them toward eating disorders. …

Barbie is not only indecent and overly-thin. She is a narcissist. She herself could write a book on self-absorbed excess and acquisition. With disturbing ease, Barbie spreads this debilitating mentality of acquiring and excess to young girls. One look at the magnitude of Barbie’s paraphernalia will show you why. Barbie owns just about everything. This includes over forty pets from a lion to a horse to a zebra; multiple vehicles from a Corvette convertible to a “surfs up cruiser,” Volkswagon, Mustang, Ford, Jeep, “Hot tub party bus,” and a “Jam and Glam” bus; and a mountain ski cabin, a 3-story “dream house,” and “Barbie Talking Townhouse.” And this barely touches the surface of Barbie’s possessions and what has helped make her worth $3 billion a year to Mattel.

Go read the whole thing. Especially if you have a daughter you love.

How Much Have Gun Sales Increased?

An interesting notice was recently sent to all holders of Federal Firearms Licenses. I am not a FFL holder, but found the notice on the BATFE website:

January 6, 2009

Notice to All Federal Firearms Licensees
Regarding ATF Form 4473 Shortage

As a result of an unprecedented increase in demand for ATF Forms 4473 (5300.9) Part I Revised August 2008, inventory of the form at the ATF Distribution Center is running low.
As a temporary measure, ATF is allowing FFLs to photocopy the form 4473 in it’s [sic] entirety until they receive their orders from the ATF Distribution Center.
A notice will be posted at the expiration of this temporary authorized change.

For those not familiar, Form 4473 is the one that the gun dealer must fill out at the time a firearm is purchased, so a background check on the purchaser can be performed. If there have been so many gun purchases in recent weeks that the BATFE can’t even supply FFL holders with forms to conduct background checks…all I can say is, “Wow.”

But I am left a bit taken aback that the authorities entrusted with determining who is qualified to purchase a firearm seem to be having difficulty determining whether a contraction (it’s) or possessive (its) construction is appropriate. And I’m not just picking on the BATFE. Long-time readers will recall that I made the same point about our local hospital in Illinois.

As I said in a post a couple of days ago, misuse of apostrophes drives me crazy.


The AP is up with two stories about political scandals this evening: one about the impeachment of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, and another about the indictment of the mayor of Baltimore.

Here’s what’s amusing: the Blagojevich story has 816 words. You have to get to word #202 before the word “Democratic” appears in connection with his name. Apart from five references to lawmakers with “D-” after their names, that’s the only time we see the D-word in 816 words.

The Baltimore story has 1006 words. We have to read all the way to word #335 before we learn that Mayor Sheila Dixon is a “Democrat.” That word appears exactly one more time, in reference to her predecessor.

If the scandal involved an official from the other party, does anyone want to take a guess as to where in the story, and how frequently, we’d see the word “Republican”? Click here in case you’re curious.