Is is easy to be a good person?

I just read a news story stating that 60% of the people of the United States (based on a PEW survey) believe that people can be good without religion.  Of course, this survey is done in a time when participation in religion is decreasing.   So, is religion really needed for people to be good?

Well, let’s look at our current social environment.  Religious participation is decreasing and there is a steady increase in the number of people who consider themselves to be atheists.  At the same time, suicides among youth are at the highest levels since records have been kept.  More than half of marriages end in divorce.  Violent crime is increasing.  Drug use is a continuing disaster across our nation.  Sexual offenses are rising in all areas of society.  Movies are a constant stream of violence.  Television has become a mindless stream of inane trivia spiced up with sex and violence.

The list of these negative changes could go on but people have become accustomed to them and accept them with a shrug and say, “that’s life”.

I would propose that today, the idea of people being good without religion is based on lowering the standard of good.  It seems that the measure of “good” is how much fun I get from something and “bad” is anything that I don’t like.    Suicide is good, it releases people from bad situations – as long as it is not me or anyone I care for.  Divorce is good, why force people to live in an uncomfortable situation – as long is it’s not in my family.   You might even find someone who says murder is good as long as I am the murderer rather than the murdered.

I pray that people can think beyond their own desires long enough to understand the importance of religion in human society.


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#notmypresident – really?

It seems people across the country are out in the streets protesting the election results.    It is perfectly reasonable to be unhappy or happy with the results of an election, but to deny the result without any claim of fraud or impropriety in the election is denying the American public their right to vote.

Neither of the major parties were able to get a majority of the votes so it is clear that neither candidate was seen as good by most people.  I think it is fair to say that most voters saw both candidates as very bad choices and voted for one primarily to ensure the other one did not get in.

In any case, the election was held properly and the winner was Trump.  He is now our president elect and protests won’t change that.  I did not vote for him (I did a write in for a new startup party) but I will recognize him as my president and respect the office if not the person.  Had Clinton won, I would have had to do the same.

It’s time to be Americans rather than partisan democrats or republicans or libertarians or whatever other party it may be.

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Making Rhubarb wine

My garden produced a bumper crop of rhubarb this year.  After using all we could and giving away as much as we could, there is still a small forest of rhubarb.  Because I hate to waste anything, I searched the internet for ideas and found that rhubarb and elderberries make a good wine.  I have some elderberries left from last fall so I decided to give it a try.  I have equipment for making wine but only in 5 gallon batches.  This will a big trial.

Step 1 – gather the materials

 I went out to the garden to get the 15 pounds of rhubarb I needed.  I picked as much as I could carry, trimmed off the leaves and the bottoms, and brought the stems in.  Just to be sure that I had picked enough, I weighed them – just over 4 pounds.  I was going to need three more piles as big as this one. 

Back to the garden and pick more, much more, rhubarb.  Finally with 15 pounds of trimmed and washed rhubarb, I started cutting it into ¼ inch slices.  Now this pile of rhubarb would be about a tenth of a mile laid end to end.  Clearly, this will be a lot of slicing – approaching 25,000 slices.  About two hours later I put the last bag of slices into the freezer.  I am now ready to start step 2.

More tomorrow –

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#Truth in Politics

I’m not sure where I first read this but it seems like it was written for the election  this year.

To me, truth is not some vague, foggy notion. Truth is real. And at the same time, unreal.  Fiction and fact and everything in between, plus some things I can’t remember, all rolled into one big ‘thing’.  This is truth, to me.”

Unfortunately this bit of wisdom applies as much to the voters as the candidates.

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Thank God Someone is Honest

The big news story yesterday was Pope Francis and Donald Trump in a “war of words”.

After reading the background to the glaring headlines I must say, “Thank you Pope Frances for being a person to call a spade a spade!”

The headlines blared that Pope Francis said Donald Trump was not a Christian.  However, the exact quote, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian”,  never included his name, only the actions Mr. Trump said he would take if elected.   “Admonish the sinner” is one of the spiritual works of mercy that ALL Christians are called to do.  This is an act of love and mercy, not a condemnation.  Mr. Trump should thank Pope Francis for the loving guidance he offered.

It saddens me deeply that so many Americans see the plans of Donald Trump as being good for America.  Every Christian in this country should let Mr. Trump know that they do not believe he is ready to be the leader of a country.

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Finally, after 2 months of fermenting and racking and waiting, I bottled my wine.

In my last post, I described a first racking.  A couple of weeks after that, I racked again and added four ounces of medium roasted American oak cubes.  This then sat for a month undisturbed.  Today was the day to transfer it to bottles.

Now, putting the wine into the bottle is easy enough but corking the bottle is quite a process.  I bought a two handed corker that gave me a lot of leverage to drive the cork into the neck of the bottle, but…

I filled the first bottle, put a cork into the device, set it on top of the bottle and gently pushed down on the handles.  Nothing happened.  It felt like I was pushing against a solid piece of wood.  I pushed harder, a lot harder.  The handles moved ever so slightly but it looked the cork didn’t move.  I set the bottle on the floor, grabbed both handles and put my full 220 pounds on them.  The cork sloooowly slid into the bottle and stopped.

Thinking the cork was all the way in, I lifted the corker up and the bottle came with it.  The cork was about half way into the bottle and half in the corker, locking them together.  I set them back down, grabbed the handles and began bouncing on them.  Each bounce moved the handles a little further, driving the stubborn cork down millimeter by millimeter.

After several bounces the corker clicked and felt loose.  I lifted it up and there in front of me was my first finished bottle of wine.

The process was repeated 21 more times before the remaining wine was almost down to the lees.  With less than a bottle left, I decided to fill a glass and try my new wine.  Everything I read said the brand new wine will not be good yet but I had to try.

The wine looked just a little cloudy but it had come just off the top of the lees so I wasn’t worried about that.  It had a unique aroma, pleasant like a grape wine but not exactly a cabernet or rioja.  So I took a sip expecting it to be sour and bitter.

It was good, dry but not sour, full of fruity goodness and with just a hint of oak.  So I sat down and admired all of those bottles of wine while I sipped my first glass.  I think I will call this project a success.

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Making #wine – fermentation

I did all of my research, gathered the fruit, prepared everything and dropped in the yeast.  Now it’s time to sit back and wait, almost.

There are two stages of fermentation according to the recipe I am following.  The first stage has all of the fruit in the must and the second stage is just the wine.  So I have a large plastic bucket of fermenting wine with a big bag of fruit, stems and seeds in it and in a few days I need to transfer just the wine into a five gallon container with an airlock.  Easy, right?

Well, the instructions indicated that it would ferment vigorously and heat up in the process and peaking at about 80 degrees.  The day after I started the fermentation, I checked on it and I got a little worried.  When my beer ferments vigorously I have to use a large hose going into a bucket of water for an airlock because the fermentation blows all of the water out of a regular airlock.  The wine however, was very still and had just a trace of foam around the edge of the bucket and the temperature was 64 degrees, the air temperature of the basement where it is fermenting.

Is something wrong?  Did the yeast die?  When I prepared the yeast I followed the instructions that said I should start the yeast in a small container of warm  (100º F) water and let it sit for several minutes before adding it to the juice.  But it also said that if the temperature of the juice was less than 60° to let the yeast sit on the top of the juice to adapt to the cooler temperature.  My juice was about 65° so I poured in the yeast and stirred it in.  Or maybe I didn’t wait long enough after adding the potassium metabisulfite and I killed all of my good yeast.  Or maybe everything is fine.  I would just have to wait to find out.  So I stirred the must covered it and left it until evening.

That evening I went down to stir the must again and I saw that the bag of fruit had inflated like a balloon and was up above the top of the bucket.   It looks like there is some fermentation happening.  However, the must was still just room temperature.  I squeezed the air out of the bag, stirred the must and left it until tomorrow.

For the next three days I stirred the must twice a day and every time the bag was full of air.  It looks like it’s fine but with the extreme amount of sugar in the mix it seemed that the yeast would never convert it all.  I guess I won’t know for sure until it’s finished.  Oh Lord give me patience.  And do it now!


Tomorrow – transfer the wine





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Making #wine – starting the process

On my last post I described the convoluted process I went through to get enough fruit.  It had to be all wild fruit, nothing from the store, I know it’s silly but I am doing this for fun as much as for the end product.

So, now I have my fruit.  I had frozen the elderberries as I picked them and the grapes I was using fresh from the picking.  I found a tip that if you covered the fresh grapes in water and heated it up to boiling. the grape skins would split and crushing them would be easy.  It worked!  I just hope that heating the grapes up won’t affect the quality of the wine.

I bought a big filter bag, large enough to hold all of the fruit and put it into a six gallon bucket that I use for making beer (yeah, I make beer too).  Then I put the frozen berries into the bag and poured the hot grapes, stems and water on top of the frozen berries.  I tied up the top of the bag and added water to nearly 6 gallons assuming that taking the stems and seeds in the bag out of the wine would bring it back down to about 5 gallons.

I then followed my recipe carefully and added the pectic enzyme to the juice, stirred it in and covered it up.  According to what I had read, this was necessary to ensure that my lovely juice didn’t turn into jelly before it fermented.  Later I added the potassium metabisulfate and stirred it in.  Again the recipe said that this was necessary to kill any wild yeast that might be on the fruit before it ruined my wine. Now I had to leave it sit undisturbed until tomorrow.

Early the next day, I went back to the winemaking.  Using a hydrometer, I tested the juice for sugar content.  I used the calculation I had found for determining how much sugar I needed to make the perfect wine.  The juice measured 8 on the scale and I needed to get it to 24.  Using the calculation it indicated that I needed eight more pounds of sugar!

Wow!  Eight pounds of sugar added to fruit that naturally had sugar in it seemed impossible.  So I put in just four pounds, stirred it in and let it sit for a while.  I measured it again and the reading was up to 14.  It looks like I need even more than another four pounds to get to 24.  I added four more pounds and tested again.  Now it was 22.  I read that the measurement can change if it sits overnight so I covered it up and left.

The next morning I checked it again and the reading was now 23 so I added just half a pound of sugar and stirred it in.  Then I couldn’t resist any longer,  The juice looked exactly like a beautiful clear red rioja wine so I took a sample and tasted it.  Yikes!  It was sweeter than Kool Aid.  It was so sweet that the sugary sweetness completely overpowered the taste of the fruit.

I find it hard to believe that the yeast will be able to convert all of that sugar to alcohol and make a nice wine from sugary sweetness.  But I can only wait until the yeast has finished it’s job to see if it worked.  With a resigned sigh, I added the yeast, covered the must (It’s called must after the yeast has been added to the juice) and left.


Next – fermentation



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Making #wine – the Berry Hunt

In my last post, I described how I got started with this wine making craziness.  Now, after all of my careful preparation, I discovered that I would not have nearly enough elderberries for a five gallon batch of wine.  Instead of 30 pounds from my bushes, I will only get 5 or 6 pounds and it will require 3 1/2 to 5 pounds of berries per gallon.  I need to find a LOT of elderberries.  For those who are not familiar with elderberries, they are about the size of a BB.  I need millions and billions of them, well, thousands at least.

So, I set out on a search for elderberry bushes.  These bushes grow wild in open areas along the edges of woods and along fence lines.  They are everywhere; I should have no problem finding another 15 pounds, right?  Wrong!  After searching a large wild area near my home I found a couple of bushes but the clusters of berries were even sparser than mine.  Some clusters had only five or six berries left.  Time to go back to Google to see why there are so few berries.

It turns out that elderberries primarily spread through their roots, the seeds in the berries count for just a small portion of new growth.  The bushes don’t need to produce the massive number of berries they would get if all of the blossoms developed into berries.  So, if the fertility of the soil is a little low or the sunlight is a little less than ideal, they compensate by dropping the berries to a number they can maintain.  They also have shallow root systems and they don’t compete well with weeds.  Most wild bushes, it seems, produce big showy blossom clusters but just a few berries.

So now I focused my search on open areas where the bushes would get a lot of sun.  However, we were well into the ripening season and lots of birds just love elderberries.  So, the bushes were big and healthy but the berry clusters were heavily picked over with some clusters completely bare.  But the birds took the easy pickings and left the hidden clusters alone.  With some searching and some fighting with nettles, I filled my collecting bag and headed home smiling with satisfaction.

I guessed that I had about 6 pounds of berries from my bushes already and I thought my bag full of beautiful dark berries would finish it off.  There had to be at least 15 pounds of berries there.  Unfortunately, I developed my weight guessing skills as a fisherman.  After removing all of the stems I weighed my treasured berries and found I had collected only about five pounds on that trip and the berries from my bushes came to just 2 pounds.  I made another trip to the best area with my daughter.  That made it a good day even if we didn’t find any berries.  But we did find another 2 pounds.  But even with that,  I had only half the berries that I needed!

Back to Google!  I didn’t want to expand my search for elderberry bushes so I started searching for alternatives.  It seems that the wild grape that grows everywhere in the north country can make a pretty good wine when mixed with elderberries.  I already had 9 pounds of elderberries so I could pick 10 or 12 pounds of grapes and make elderberry/grape wine.  I had wild grape vines growing at home so I thought I could just pick them and start my wine.

I never really looked closely at the wild grapes before but now I saw that the clusters are small – about 10 to 20 grapes in a cluster and the grapes are small.  I picked every grape I could find and they weighed in at just over six pounds including the stems and I am guessing the stems are a third of the weight.  I am still short by at least another 7 or 8  pounds.  But the grapes were easy to find in the wooded areas and I quickly picked another 8 1/2 pounds.

I now have enough fruit to start making wine.  I can see it now, sitting on my deck with some cheese and crackers and a nice glass of elderberry/grape wine, mmmmm.

Tomorrow – start the winemaking

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Making #wine

A long time ago – before the web and Google had answers for everything, I tried to make wine.  With no direction, my experiment came out even worse than you might expect.

I made that wine entirely by guess and by gosh.  Someone gave me a big pile of rhubarb and, not knowing what else to do with it, I decided to make wine.  I cleaned up the rhubarb, cut it up into small pieces and put it into a five gallon jug.  I would guess there was probably five pounds of rhubarb in there.  That seemed like plenty.  Then, knowing that rhubarb was really sour and sugar is needed for fermentation, I put in a couple of cups of sugar.  Then I thought it over a bit and added a couple more because it was really sour.  I then got a packet of baking yeast from the grocery store and poured it into the mixture and stretched a balloon over the neck of the jug as an airlock.

Then I sat back and waited for the delicious wine to appear.

Now, for those of you who know nothing about making wine, there were a couple of little tiny  mistakes in my recipe.  First, to make 5 gallons of wine I needed between 15 and 20 pounds of rhubarb so there I was with one third or one fourth of what I needed and thinking I had plenty.

Second, nearly every rhubarb wine recipe includes adding grape juice or grapes or some substitute for grapes.  The only thing I added was my imagination.

Next, I got all carried away and put in possibly a whole pound of sugar.  For five gallons of rhubarb wine I needed at least ten pounds of sugar.  That wine was so dry, the glass jug started to pucker up.

And then, the yeast used to make bread is not the same as the yeast used to make wine.  However, with all of the other problems, I don’t think it made a bit of difference.  It actually did ferment and the balloon inflated a bit so the tiny trace of sugar that was there was now alcohol.

After recovering from the shock of my taste from the first bottle, I promptly poured all of it down the drain and threw the bottles away.  They were forever corrupted.  I never tried to make wine again for more than thirty years.

But this spring I noticed that I had several elderberry bushes growing around the yard that were covered with big bunches of blossoms.  There should be many pounds of berries in the fall and I could make some great wine with them.

To get ready for my winemaking, I googled “How to make elderberry wine” rather than winging it again.  Google brought me about 133,000 results to search through to find the perfect recipe.  This time the wine will be great, I just know it will, maybe, I hope.  With the whole summer to prepare, I read many recipes and compared the ingredients and processes.  I gathered all the helpful tips I could find and prepared for every possible problem.  I was going to do it right this time.

I eagerly watched as the blossoms began to fall and the tiny new berries began to grow.  Then I began to notice that there were fewer berries in each cluster.  As the weeks went by, the numbers continued to drop.  By the time they ripened the big, thick clusters had turned into sparse samplings of berries with perhaps a fourth of the original number in each cluster.  Instead of having twenty or thirty pounds of berries I would only have five or six.  This will never do; I had to find more berries quickly.

Tomorrow – The elderberry hunt.




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