A Merry Little Christmas

This Christmas wasn’t been “as planned” in any way, shape, or form. Initially, I was quite disappointed that I’d be having to work on Christmas Day, especially with a new fiance, a sister about to get married, and almost-inlaws to spend time with. I’ve been feeling pretty worn out and run down with work lately, and I wasn’t looking forward to a holiday week, during which I would be exhaustedly trying to keep up the energy to see people and share in the fun and joy of Christmastime while recovering from 24 hour shifts on an ambulance.

Well, a week ago I started feeling puny and got tested for Covid, at the request of my work. Sure enough, I had Covid and was promptly put on quarantine. My family wanted nothing to do with me, since there’s a wedding in two weeks, but my fiance also came down with Covid, and in God’s graciousness it was mild for both of us. We spent our first Christmas together after all.

We’ve already begun making traditions that we will carry into what we trust and pray will be a Christ-honoring marriage. We have been reading an Advent devotional since December 1, which I’m sure will become a tradition for us. We cut and decorated a beautiful spruce tree. We’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life, and listened to a radio theatre adaptation of Charles’ Dickens beloved Christmas Carol. We’ve baked, and cooked, and worked on a wintry puzzle, a birthday gift to me from his mom. And our Christmas Day, though not what either of us would have chosen, was likewise delightful.

We made crepes for brunch, with homemade yogurt and the last jar of my homemade plum jam from a few summers ago. We also had homemade ricotta cheese and sausage that my rancher man and his brother-in-law made. It was a lovely start to the day. We finished our puzzle, drank coffee, exchanged gifts, went on a walk, made wedding plans, and ate a wonderful dinner of pork roast, grilled cabbage and sweet potatoes, and rice pilaf. We finished the day watching Murder on the Orient Express, an excellent movie for a winter evening.

This Christmas and holiday season is challenging for a lot of people right now. So many people are sick, and beloved Christmas plans and traditions have gotten sidelined in an effort to keep people as healthy as possible. But if those temporary disturbances distract us from the truth of Christmastime and steal our joy, we have repenting to do. The fact of the matter is that the God of the Universe willingly gave up the comfort and perfection of Heaven to stoop to become a mortal man, for the express purpose of dying a grusome death on our behalf, to give us a salvation we could never earn. Don’t let either the enjoyment of this time of year, or the disappointment either, distract you from that.

In spite of everything, this was indeed a Merry Little Christmas.

A Hand to Hold

My heart has always been drawn to and touched most by those simple things. Those moments of pure sweetness. Those sights of pure beauty. A flower just so in the sunlight. An arrangement of old lanterns and colored glass on an end table. One single brightly-colored autumn tree in a sea of pines. A summer hike. A starlit snowy night. A warm cup of coffee and a cat on my lap. Wild fruit on tangled branches. A shelf lined with bright, sparkling jars of hand-harvested, homemade jam. The smell of sweat or the pages of old books. A well-lived-in home. The comfortable, worn seats of a dusty old work truck. A simple, nourishing, homemade meal.

Sin has complicated our existence. It complicates everything. It complicates love.

Compromise complicates love. Selfishness complicates love. Desperation complicates love. Fear complicates love. Mistrusting God complicates love. We strive and weep and lust and wallow in our loneliness, and think that a relationship born out of those things will bear good fruit.

But this is key: God is a God who loves us. And He is a Father who gives good gifts. He doesn’t always provide what we want or think we need. And He often uses waiting as a tool to cultivate our dependence upon Him and His goodness. He tests us with loneliness, with waiting. Will we thank Him for what He does provide, or will we be angry for what He doesn’t provide? Will we trust Him in joy and not in sorrow?

God is a God who loves us. He is also a God who doesn’t owe us anything. Any good we receive from God is good we haven’t earned, given by a Father who loves us. And any pain we receive from His hand is meant to make us more like Christ, from the hand of a Father who disciplines those whom He loves. And that pain of waiting, the pain of loneliness, the growth and humility and triumph of contentment and Christ-dependence, all serve to make God’s blessings, both the expected and the unexpected, that much sweeter. I wouldn’t know how to truly appreciate the sweetness God’s gifts if I didn’t also experience the bitterness of want. The best things wouldn’t be recognized so clearly if I hadn’t also seen those hard things, loneliness and isolation and disappointment and heartache and loss.

And so when God withholds something, we are to rejoice, and trust that He is withholding the desired object out of love for us. And when He provides, we rejoice…And then marvel at His provision.

My heart is so thankful. I am thankful that God saw fit to replace my loneliness with companionship, and my longing with love. What God provided, He provided in lavish simplicity, in abundant peacefulness. Without confusion, or question, or complication.

And it would make sense, wouldn’t it, that this simple country girl would love a simple country man?

God brought love in those best things, those simple things. Seven gallons of chokecherries picked together. A freshly cemented stock tank and a little sunburn on a hot August afternoon. Countless home-cooked meals on chipped dishes. Laughter over a game of cards. Bushels of apples from my grandpa’s apple trees. Baking pies for a pie auction. Arms wrapped around me and a peck on the cheek while I’m washing dishes. A hasty cup of coffee together out of his battered Stanley thermos, with the sun just cresting the horizon. Lively banter. Tears of sorrow and of joy. Companionable, comfortable silence. Tuneless whistling from under my car as he changes the oil. His smile at me over the backs of a hundred cows. His voice beside me singing hymns in church. The warmth of his strong hand in mine, that calloused, work-weathered hand.

So this simple country girl said Yes.

Yes, to a simple rancher man. Yes, to the best and kindest man I know. Yes, to a strong, gentle man. To a peaceful man. To a Godly man. To a flawed man with a perfect Savior. To a man who offers me his shoulder to cry on, his arms to hold me, his heart to love me, and his wisdom and faith to lead me. To my favorite person. To my best friend. To a hand to hold.

What simple love. What a kind God. What undeserved abundance.

Recipes | Ricotta Cheese

I was leafing through a book I picked up at a shop in Custer, titled The Essential Guide to Self-Sufficient Living, by Abigail Gehring. It is a beautifully curated little book, full of excellent, simple recipes and project ideas. Due to a positive Covid test yesterday, I’m now in quarantine with some time on my hands, so it was the perfect opportunity to try this easy recipe for ricotta cheese! Ricotta cheese is pretty pricey at the store, so I rarely buy it, but it is my favorite filling for crepes. Homemade crepes and ricotta cheese will be the perfect Christmas morning breakfast!

Ingredients:

1 gallon of milk
1/3 cup plus 1 tsp. white vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:

In a large saucepan or stockpot, combine the milk and salt and heat it slowly to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I used a candy thermometer to watch the temperature. When it reaches 180 degrees, remove it from heat and add the vinegar, stiring for about a minute. Curd will begin to form and the whey will start to separate out. Cover the pot and let it sit for about 2 hours. After two hours, ladle or pour the milk mixture into a cheesecloth-lined collander. Allow it to drain for about another 2 hours. After that, it is ready to use!

Tips and Notes:

This was a very fun recipe to throw together, especially with some time on my hands, and yielded about a quart of ricotta cheese. The resulting fresh ricotta cheese has a very nice mild flavor. However, I should have drained it for less time. I think I let it sit a bit longer than 2 hours, and the curds are much firmer than I was expecting. Next time, I may let it sit for as little as 10 minutes, just to get the bulk of the liquid off, but to keep the cheese softer.

I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Recipes | Slow Cooker Yogurt

Okay, it is finally time to share this recipe. I grew up eating quite a bit of yogurt, and discovered Greek yogurt sometime in highschool. This recipe has forever spoiled me for store bought yogurt! Add a little bit of homemade jam or jelly, some fresh fruit, or granola, and it makes an excellent and healthy breakfast or snack.

Ingredients:

1 gallon whole milk

1 cup plain Greek yogurt with live cultures

Instructions:

Heat milk in a crockpot on high for 3 hours. Turn off the crockpot and let it sit for 3 hours. Whisk in the cup of yogurt and wrap the crockpot in a towel to keep it warm. Let it sit for approximately 8 hours. At this point, the yogurt is edible, but will be pretty liquidy. If desired, line a collander with a cheesecloth or floursack towel, place it in something to catch the liquid, and ladel the yogurt into the collander. Let it sit until enough whey has drained out that you like the consistency of the yogurt. Spoon finished yogurt into jars and store in the fridge. Recipe yields approximately 2.5-4 quarts of yogurt, depending on how much whey you drain off.

Tips:

When I make yogurt, I prefer to cut short the fermenting time to about 6 hours instead of 8 and then put the whole thing in the fridge until I can get to the next step. Cutting short the fermenting keeps the yogurt sweeter, rather than tart or bitter. It will still thicken up a bit, but the flavor will be milder.

When I’m ready to drain the yogurt, again depending on how pressed I am for time, I’ll let the yogurt drain in the fridge or on the counter. The longer it drains, the thicker the consistency. This batch, I let drain for about an hour on the counter.

I wish I could remember where I first got this recipe, to give them credit, but it is a recipe I have enjoyed for probably close to 7 years and I don’t remember where it came from. Hopefully you enjoy it as much as I do!

Prettying Things Up

This old cast iron skillet has hung on the front of the Miner’s Cabin for as long as I can remember. It was an excellent choice for wasp nests, so it got left alone by human hands. It has been on my mind for a few months that it would be fun to clean it up and actually be able to use it, and today happened to be the day for that.

After scraping out the remnants of wasp nests and dead wasps, I gave it a good scrubbing with baking soda and an abrasive pad. There was less rust on it than I had initially thought and it cleaned up pretty well. A coat of oil and about 15 minutes in the oven at 250 degrees, and it is well on its way to being a serviceable and seasoned skillet. Just a fun little afternoon project.

I tend towards sentimentality, but especially practical sentiment. How many other people have cooked meals on this beautiful piece of cast iron? And what fun to get to pretty it up and put it back into service.

I love those echoes of the past that are useful and lovely today.

Song Dog Journal

This has actually been in the works (in my mind) for a long time. An embarassingly long time. You may even recall a blog post to the effect that some interesting changes were coming down the pike…Well, two years later, I finally took the plunge.

I really resist change. And even something as simple as changing the name of my blog from “Homestead Diaries” to “Song Dog Journal” took a literal two years to make happen. It might not seem like a big deal, but it really is, at least to me. And I’m thrilled.

The intent behind the name change is multi-fold, but the main intent was to broaden the feel of the page to fit the scope of the content I write. A lot of times, my content has nothing to do with the “homestead,” per se.

So welcome to the Song Dog Journal. I’m so excited to get back to doing something that I love, and which hopefully blesses others half as much as it blesses me.