Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winter Mornings - A Memoir

Beep, beep. Beep, beep. It's 4:45 am, I awake. The cold wind howls through the window panes. I know that it isn't a good idea to stay in bed because I know that I'd quickly fall back asleep. I quickly get ready and head downstairs. I open the wood-stove and stir the fire with a fire poker. I'm glad to see red coals. The wooden crate next to the wood-stove is empty so I step outside into the cold. I slip on rubber boots and walk through the freshly fallen snow to the woodshed. I turn the latch and open the door. I take several logs out, carefully, so I don't cause an avalanche of wood to fall and cover me.

Dawn is just under two hours away. The stove is crackling and the new logs that I added to the fire are catching fire. It is 4:55am. I take a saucepan and a large pot out of the cupboard and fill them with well water. After setting them on the stove and placing their lids on, I quickly mix flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and butter in a large bowl. Then, I add warm water from the saucepan to the bowl and knead until it's a good dough.

I wipe down the counter backed by a huge picture-window. As I watch the snow gently falling in the darkness outside, I gently sprinkle flour on the counter. Our solar-powered light in the kitchen illuminates the rail-road ties that keep soil away from the house outside. I can see around an inch of snow collected. This is quite a bit for Tennessee, but because I grew up in Wisconsin, it isn't much at all.

As I roll out the dough, I see our small gray, black, and white bob-tailed cat walk through the snow along the rail-road ties. The cat stops and peers in at me. I take a dry cup measure and press it into the dough. Our kitty walks away as I cut out all the English muffins. Then I cover them with a towel and leave them to rise.

It is 5:20. I walk over to the shelf near our table and take my precious Bible. I have around twenty minutes before I need to do more with breakfast. Meanwhile, upstairs is starting to stir as some of my siblings are waking up to milk the goats and take care of the chickens. Down here on the main level, my father is awake and working on our family farm's website, getting it set up for the new growing season around the corner.

At around 5:45, I add another log to the wood-stove. Then, I go down to the root cellar to get a jar of home-canned blueberry jam made from our own blueberries. I also bring up a dozen eggs and a stick of butter from our solar-powered refrigerator. Our chickens are producing less eggs now that it is winter but they're still laying enough eggs for our family's use. After coming back up from the cellar, I wipe off the wood-stove.

Now it's time to carefully transfer the risen dough onto the surface of the wood-stove. As I place the English muffins on the stove, I see that the pot of water is boiling. After I put all the English muffins on the wood-stove, I walk into the pantry. I walk past jars of homemade feta in olive oil and spices to jars of dried mint leaves and I bring a jar of mint out to the kitchen. My two-year-old little sister comes running to me as I put mint leaves into the boiling water for tea.

I hold my little sister as I return the jar of mint to the pantry. The pantry air is cool because we keep the door closed and the warmth of the wood-stove isn't able to enter. My little sister and I can see our breath in the air. We turn off the solar-powered light and return to the kitchen.

It's 6:10. The sky is showing hints of the coming daylight. The fragrance of mint tea and cooking English muffins is filling the air. I hear my older brother using a chainsaw bucking fallen trees on the near-by hillside. The light layer of snow doesn't keep him in; he is dressed in a wool jacket, wool mittens, and a woolen hat.

The underside of the English muffins are light brown and the sides facing up are really puffy. I gently flip them one-by-one. Then I place the stick of butter on a plate and set it on the shelf above the wood-stove, near the eggshells that we're drying to feed to our chickens as their calcium supplement. One of my younger brothers is nicknamed the “chicken man”, he makes sure that the chickens get everything they need, including these eggshells.

The front door opens, letting in a gust of brisk, cold air. I hear my siblings come inside from milking the goats. The “chicken man” also comes inside with a basket of eggs. He leaves the eggs inside and takes the dried eggshells outside and brings them up to the chicken coop. My little sister is contentedly cutting paper into a bowl with a scissors. Meanwhile, I take a pan out of the cupboard and set it on the stove to warm up a little. I then add some butter to it and let it melt. Then I begin cracking eggs into the pan.

Sunrise is approaching. The English muffins are almost done, I have them on the coolest part of the stove so that they don't brown too much as they finish cooking. The eggs are on the warmest part of the wood-stove; right over the firebox. I dash some salt into the eggs. My siblings are straining the milk, and I hear them talking about our new Great Pyrenees puppy that is going to be a guard dog for our sheep. She was growing quickly and had already made friends with one of our goats' new kids. We named her Sheleg, which means snow. She has a beautiful fluffy white fur coat.

I try to remove the blueberry jam's lid with my fingers, I can't. This is actually good, I was just making sure that the jar is really sealed. Now I take a jar opener and pry the lid off. I hear air rushing into the jar as the vacuum breaks. I quickly set the jam on the table and then go to stir the scrambled eggs. They are almost done. The English muffins are done also and I remove them off the stove onto two plates.

In our family, we each wash our own plate after every meal and put them back on the table, so, I don't have to set the table. I place the eggs and English muffins on. It's 6:58 am. I step outside into the chilly air. The fresh white snow is glimmering in the sun's first rays. A brilliant red cardinal is sitting on the bird-feeder, singing cheerfully. I call everyone inside for breakfast. They head toward the house, talking all the way.

After everyone takes off their snowy boots, we gather around the table. We are very blessed indeed.