Random Notes

Last week Chris and I spent four days in eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia, helping Ron Short with his annual Christmas in Appalachia program. The show is a combination peformance/singalong; we were backup musicians for most of the show, but also had the chance to do three songs of our own. This is the third year we’ve participated.

The four performances were over four consecutive days, which left us at loose ends during the day. We had a few in-town errands to run in Bristol, and one day we had a pleasant visit in Mendota with our friends the Hammonds, ending up an unseasonably warm afternoon with an impromptu performance of Christmas songs on their porch. But there was still time to kill, which we did at the comfortable, posh, and outrageously expensive new library in downtown Bristol. All in all we got by, but it was a good reminder that there are many, many downsides to life as a traveling musician.


Thursday night was the Christmas play at Christ Community Church in South Fork, where we used to attend. This is Jerome Lange’s big production for the year; he works hard to get the kids ready, and is always proud of the results. Our whole family went last year, but this year Debbie stayed home with the younger children while Chris, Maggie, Matthew and I went. Chris and I played music along with Jerome while people ate supper, and I videotaped the play for Jerome after that.

My camera is a Mini-DV camera, which means I can download the contents of a tape directly to the computer. I haven’t used it much in the past few years, though, and the last time I downloaded video was on a computer that has since been retired. But I had the proper connector (Firewire) on the new computer, and thought it should just work. Well, mostly it didn’t, and the couple of times I got it to work it would only download about two minutes of video before complaining.

Finally I remembered that when I bought the camera I had also bought a Firewire/Video card to do the downloading. So I liberated that card from the old computer, installed it in the new, and things started working properly. I might not have been so diligent to get things working just for the sake of the Christmas play, but unless it works the video camera is useless to me.


We still haven’t located a family cow, but the pressure is off for now because some friends from church recently bought two cows and are milking them. So we’re back to our customary 12-14 gallons per week, along with butter when they make it.

We really missed the milk. Chris and I even took a couple of gallons along on our road trip last week, so we could avoid eating breakfast out. And the kefir grains we’ve been using were getting dangerously feeble in store-bought milk, but with the fresh milk they have rebounded nicely.


The revised Cumberland Books website is now live. For the most part you shouldn’t notice much difference, except for a few glitches that need to be worked out. I plan to spend the next few weeks reviewing the contents of the entire site, shoring up some of the inevitable erosion that has taken place over the past few years.


Nina Planck, in her book Real Food, tells of growing up on a farm healthy and happy, then going off to college, falling in with a crowd of enlightened eaters, going vegan, and eventually becoming fat, sickly, and cranky. For reasons I don’t quite understand she fell into starting and running a series of farmers’ markets in England. With access to good, fresh food her eating habits began to migrate back towards the farm—and without intending it she became thinner, healthier, and more cheerful.

Planck’s book makes a strong argument that traditional eating, particularly with respect to animal fat, is good for you. We’ve been testing this out by doing what we can to replace vegetable fat with animal fat in our own diet. In particular, we have started to use lard where it was once common, e.g. in pie crusts. They certainly taste better.

One problem with commercially available lard is that the only stuff we can find is hydrogenated, which is unnatural and bad for you. So we’ve been wanting to render our own, but pig fat, though worthless, isn’t easy to find. After a performance in Virginia I was talking to a fellow about farming, and he mentioned that he occasionally slaughters hogs for friends. I started moaning about how hard it was to find pig fat, and he offered to walk down the hill and get twenty pounds of it out of his freezer. We tossed it in the cooler along with our milk, and soon enough I’ll spend a morning rendering it. 


According to an article in Grit, the APPPA newsletter, broilers were originally a minor byproduct of the egg industry, cockerels that were killed at about 12 weeks and 1.5 pounds. At that time chicken was more expensive than steak. The Cornish Cross breed was introduced in the 1930s, and took more than thirty years to catch on; now customers will hardly tolerate any other sort of bird.

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3 thoughts on “Random Notes

  1. The site looks cleaner and better organized. Congrats on the overhaul. I especially the background behind the right-hand column on the home page, but on the inside pages something is making that column get skinner after the content ends. Not too keen on Century Gothic for on-screen legibility. The Gene Logsdon link is 404. All in all it appears to be in apple-pie order with a lard-laden crust! ;-)

  2. I am trying to catch up on everyone’s blogs. I will be back to read more. Our friends finally moved down there near to you. I gave them your name and phone number like you told me.

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