March 2009

Yesterday, Bruce and I made a stop at one of the two stores in our tiny town, an excellent hardware store that we visit often. I don’t care for jewlery except my wedding rings. Maybe that’s why I enjoy looking at hardware. I love tools and gadgets, even adhesives are interesting for me. I looked over the stock with an eye toward stocking up from a preparedness standpoint and found a pile of things every family should have on hand.

Rope: Cordage of all kinds will come in handy.  It is probably no possible to have too much on hand in a variety of weights. You can always trade it if you have more than you need.

Fasteners: Think nails and screws, heavy duty staples and a staple gun, nuts and bolts.

Adhesives: There are so many kinds of tapes and glues. Not all of this keeps well but it is great to have for trading. Duct tape and electrical tape are  as is wood and all purpose glue.

Plumbing supplies: Think about keeping enough on hand to replace the pipes under a sink as well as repair a toilet or a leaky faucet.

Tools: I mentioned the usual hammers and screw drivers but you also need a crow bar, level, a variety of saws and blades as well as wrenches and pliers. You can go a little crazy with tools.

Wood: If you have a dry place to store it you should keep some exterior grade plywood and as much general lumber as you have room and money for. Some Sheetrock is also a good idea for storage as well as tape and mud.

A good home repair book is a good storage item, even if you have some skills. Bruce can turn his hand to most home repair tasks but, from time to time, needs some guidance before tackling an unfamiliar project.

We tend to think of preparedness as food and security but in truth is is so much more. Preparedness is the ability to meet all of your needs for an extended period of time.

It is not a good news day. Between the auto industry and AIG the markets are getting hammered. I had a notion of writing a piece about small pieces of good news like my tomatoes popping up in their little greenhouses and the taste of a just pulled carrot but I just can’t pull it off. These are real people losing jobs and homes and dreams. The feds are going to send in disaster recovery teams to communities that will be decimated by the restructuring of the auto industry but, in spite of their best intentions, you can’t create any job without the demand for that product or service and people who are out of work don’t demand more than the bare essentials.

Most of us are familiar with Kubler/Ross’s work on the stages of grief. Essentially, we all go through a similar series of emotions when we have a major life loss. First there is denial followed by bargaining, then depression, then anger and finally acceptance. I hope that, as a country, we get through these stages very quickly and move on to acceptance. We need to accept that a life of credit funded consumption is over. The feds can make all the promises they like, but ultimately, we are going to have to take care of ourselves. That means prioritizing your needs.

You need shelter. You don’t need fancy shelter. You need a roof over your head, even if you have to share it with family or friends. The best shelter will have space to grow some food and be something you can keep warm. It will be in a place where you have the support of people who care about you.

You need food. When things are desperate, you need to treat the acquisition of food like a job. You will probably need to use multiple food sources rather than simply heading off to the grocery store. That may mean buying clubs, co-ops, farmer’s markets, the woods behind your house and the planter on your deck.

You need to be warm enough. Fleece jackets and wool socks, closing off rooms that don’t absolutely need to be heated, getting used to sleeping under quilts in cold bedrooms could  all be necessary.

You need a reason to get up in the morning, a sense of purpose. Even if you don’t have a job to go to, get up and make a plan. Set up a neighborhood pot luck to discuss how you can work together to grow some food or work with your children. Start a scout troop of set up a 4-H program. It will take some doing to wean your kids from video games and structured programs and teach them to have fun and learn something without spending money.

Take care of you health. Take care of you marriage. Take care of your neighborhood. Take care of yourself.

Well, we just got home from our weekend at a ski resort. Bruce’s brother gave us the use of his time share as he couldn’t make it up this year. It was a generous and loving offer for which me and mine are very grateful. Now I’m going to gripe.

First of all, I hate to travel. I get so homesick I could die after the first hour or two. But, as we were only going to be gone a couple of days, how bad could it be? Not bad at all except I couldn’t sleep and I spent the whole time looking at this beautiful place from the perspective of peak oil, climate change, food shortages and economic collapse. This is not the attitude one needs to bring to this kind of experience.

Is there anything as wasteful as the idea of making snow for the purpose of skiing? Only the further idea of heated indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs and in-room Jacuzzis. There were a pile of college kids there. I watched several of them check in and it seems their main food group is beer. Their other food group was Cheetos. They were an over -ed, over-induldged rude bunch for the most part. Maybe in their real lives they helped the needy and composted and were majoring in sustainable agriculture but I didn’t see it.

We brought in most of our own food but we did go out to eat one night. My plate of food was so huge, I ate part that night, more for breakfast this morning and I still have a sizable bit for lunch. Our plates were not plates at all really, more like platters. Even my teenage girls couldn’t finish their food and trust me, my girls are serious eaters.

The trash situation about killed me. There was no place to recycle anything. We had to sort and cart it all out but I am willing to be we were the only ones doing that. Compost was certainly not happening. I threw out the dregs of the coffee thinking how my blueberries would have loved it. I actually threw away coffee grounds!!! I had no container for getting them home. The kids were making fun of me for bringing home all of the soap that only been used for a shower or two. Perhaps that was the hardest part for me. In two short days, I could see them falling for the lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. They expected to be entertained every minute and were plotting how to get us to take them back ASAP.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been reading Dies The Fire while I lounged by the pool. Post-apocalyptic literature is better saved for a day when you are setting out the tomatoes or foraging mushrooms. All I could think of was the collapse of the Roman Empire. Even with the cold rain, I am happy to be home.

I am feeling just a tad guilty complaining like this. There are millions of jobless people out there right now who would have been glad to trade places with me this weekend. I know that and I really did enjoy myself for the most part. Maybe I had more fun than I am willing to admit. Luxury is a lovey thing and I wasn’t too high on my horse to accept now, was I?

I  just came inside and washed and ate my first carrots of the season. I pulled enough parsnips for dinner and got enough bronze lettuce and the first of the lamb’s quarters for a small salad. Nothing feels better than this. I could win the lottery or find out that global warming, impending food shortages and peak oil were all just urban legends and I would still grow my own. It’s a lot like the way I felt when  I had my first baby. There is this incredible sense of creating in tandem with the universe. Forgive me for waxing euphoric but I do so love spring. The sun is shining and I have shed my coat. We are off for the weekend. I would rather stay home.

I have been sorting my seeds this morning. I purchased a number of seeds from Fedco. They come in packets marked by weight, not number so I find myself with an excess of several varieties. That’s good news as I am going to a seed swap next week. Seed swaps are wonderful things. People often have favorite plants and order or save those seeds every year. That means that particularvariety is hardy in our climate and a reliable producer. Swapping gives me the opportunity to try out the seed myself. Chances are, it will become one of my favorites too.

Indian woman beans are one example of this. I tried them a couple of years ago and found they worked well for us. They dried easily and my kids liked them a lot. I started saving the seed and now I have enough to swap. I am looking for orange Hopi squash. Sharon Astyk put it on her must have list as it holds for a full year without getting soft. I haven’t found it yet but I hope to. My favorite squashes last year were Delicata and red Kuri. Both have wonderful flavor, stored well and Delicata needs no peeling. I have a lot of those seeds saved and hope to swap with someone for a terrific broccoli. My broccoli last year was terrible. I bought Arcadia this year and hope for better luck.

This swapping thing is adictive which is a good thing. I suspect that the next few years will see a lot of us bartering and swapping rather than using money. When you think preparedness, think about what you can store that will retain value. Cloth diapers and pins, shoe laces, nails, canning jar lids, you get the idea.

It’s funny how the idea of value changes with circumstances. I used to think of a car as having value. I still have one but I consider it a necessary evil and a drain on my finances. An auto is the last thing I would “invest” in. I keep the car and the truck we have in excellent repair, will drive both until they refuse to budge another inch, then pay cash for another second hand vehicle when it can’t be avoided.

If you live in the northeast as I do, inspiration is a must. I can look out my window and see great mounds of dirty snow and the kids still trudge off to school in parkas, boots, hats and mittens. The calendar may say spring but my yard says no way. So, I have been looking for things to get me motivated and I found it in a couple of places. First, I stuck a stick down deep in my garden and found that the ground is soft down as much as six inches. That means I will will be pulling parsnips and carrots next week. Then I pulled some of the mulch off my herb bed and found green growing stuff. I will have to get out my herb book to identify everything but it sure looked pretty. My next stop was at our hives. The bees were busy as, well, bees and looking healthy. My final stop was at the bookstore. I was just looking as I had some time before picking a kid up at driver’s ed and what did I find but Carleen Madigan’s new book, The Backyard Homestead. Carla is a friend of mine, an editor at Storey, my publishing house, and a neighbor. This is one of those “gotta have it books”. It reminds me of a scaled down version of Carla Emery’s book, An Encyclopedia Of Country Living. Carla’s book was my first homesteading book. It looks like it has been through two wars. The spine is duct-taped together and the pages all dog-eared. When I found out Carla had died, I wept. I never met her but I felt like I knew her.

A new generation of backyard homesteaders will still want Carla’s book but I hope they find a place for Carleen’s too. The illustrations show these fabulous, tidy layouts for yards of different sizes. I love those pictures. Of course, they bear no resemblance to the reality of a small scale homestead. Chickens and rabbits, gardens and tools, honey and canning stuff are not neat things. The creativity required to grow and nurture food stuff is messy by nature. I would not trust too neat a farmer. But the idea of that perfection feeds my soul.

I got the tomatoes started last night. I have 72 starts going. Now I just have to keep the cat out of them. I got the broccoli, cabbage, leeks, and lots of peppers going to. I am worse than a woman expecting her first baby when it comes to my seeds. I will be checking them constantly, waiting for the first green shoot that signals life. The carrots and beets will get started today. The rest of the seeds sit there, little packs of possibility.

I made one other purchase at the book store. A kind reader suggested I read Dies The Fire by S.M. Stirling. I know I crab about all of us spending too much money but as a writer, I depend on people plunking down hard cash so I can make a living doing what I love so I do but books when I can. I love the book. We are going away for the weekend (no post until Monday) and Dies The Fire is going with me. It’s crazy but I love post-apocalyptic fiction.

Last night was stored food for dinner night. We had instant mashed potatoes, apple sauce, pickles,canned corn, biscuits and a scrambled hamburger with onions, peppers and lots of spices. I made the hamburger because I had thawed it for a meal the night before and then made something else. To be a totally stored food meal, I would have used canned roast beef.

There is a reason the Native Americans called February/March the Hungry Months. The pickles are getting soft, I am nearly out of potatoes and what I have left must be saved for seed. The only applesauce left has a slightly burned flavor and canned vegetables are vile. To add insult to injury, I opened up my last jar of canned blueberries this morning thinking I would serve that with the leftover biscuits and found mold ON MY BLUEBERRIES!!!! I can deal with the pickles. I will live with the applesauce. But my blueberries are my babies.I consider onions (starting to sprout), garlic(all gone) and peppers (at least I have a lot of dried left)to be cooking necessities. I am going to have to put out actual money to buy enough to get through until harvest.

I could eat for a long time on what I still have stored but the truth of it is that food fatigue would surely set in without some of the good stuff. I am so glad I planted more than double the garlic last fall as I did the year before. I can use wild ramps and early bunching onions until harvest. I hate canned vegetables. I have cases of them in the cellar pantry. At the slow rate I can get my family to eat them, I will not need to restock the case lots for years.

There is always the pull between preparedness and eating local, healthy food. Canned food is cheap, accessible and it will last a long time but we all hate it and it’s terrible from an environmental perspective. Fresh produce from own garden is amazing but I live in Massachusetts and, even with the greenhouse, can’t eat fresh all year. Frozen, dried and pickled work for different foods but nothing keeps forever and I can only put up so much. It’s easy to say that if we are hungry we won’t complain but I bet we do complain, especially the kids.

One of my many goals this year is to work on my cooking skills so I can make better use of all my food. We need to eat more dried beans for sure and I have to incorporate more sprouts. I also have to grow a lot more inside. I have a room upstairs that we use as a storage space for the bulk food as well as a spare bedroom. If guests already have to sleep in a room with wall to wall 6 gallon buckets of sugar, salt, wheat, oats, flour, corn and rice, I suppose they can get used to pots of tomatoes and green beans. Until I can get this food thing right, we will be eating canned corn (not terrible), canned peas( pretty bad) and canned green beans(simply hideous) at least once a week. It’s a good thing I make great biscuits.

I met with our new community preparedness team last night to firm up our plans for a crisis management plan. We decidedon a very short survey-basically, name, address, phone number, number of people in the home, ages and any disabilities that might make a family more vulnerable. We also ask whether the family would take advantage of a shelter if one were offered and whether they would need transportation. The survey will be printed on card stock. Red dots will go on the first tier homes. Those would be the homes of the elderly and the disabled. Yellow dots will mark the second tier homes. These are the families who are very isolated or the homes of single people who may need to at least be checked up on. We are planning a survey day when the fire department, council on aging, police department and the crisis team will be canvassing door to door. Our hope is to have 100% compliance and get this all done in one day. We plan to sit with folks to fill out the cards and take them back with us. If a family chooses not to participate, that’s fine with us. We are keeping the cards at our safety complex. They will be filed in three separate boxes. The reds, the yellows, then everybody else. The rest of the plan is very specific to our town. It involves communication, transportation, food, water, sleeping arrangments, sanitation and clean up.

We contacted both FEMA and MEMA (our state emergency managment agency) and got a lot of terrific hand outs. One of the things we recieved was a DVD for children on family preparedness. We will be handing one of these out to every family with children when we do the survey. We are also distributing a list of necessary supplies, and info geared to the elderly, people with pets and the disabled.

This was a pretty easy process for us for  a couple of reasons. There are only a few of us on the committee so reaching consensus is easy. We only have about 300 families to reach. Our town is pretty civic minded. Lots of people vote and volunteer. A lot of people have deep community roots. The street they live on may be named after their great grandparents.

If you are looking for crisis info, go to the FEMA website. They really have a lot to offer.

Bruce wants to go over my post on tools. He has a much longer (and better) list of essential tools.

I try to avoid much political talk here. I am no economic expert but I have a fair amount of common sense. I hope you are all getting stocked up on necessities now. I fear our dollar will be worth much less in the coming months. I know I went to town yesterday and then this morning. Gas had gone up 4 cents overnight  and by the time I returned home this morning, 2 hours later, it had gone up another 7 cents. Food is the place that inflation will hurt most people first. Stock up on essentials, seeds and canning equipment.

We are nearly ready for our first harvest of greens. Our greenhouse is small but we get quite a bit of food from it. Like everything else, there’s a learning curve. We are learning the intracacies of insulating it, planting schedules, appropriate plants and timing as well as insect control (aphids love the asian greens) and fertilizing. A greenhouse may be a good place to put your income tax refund. We are looking to put any extra cash into tangibles like food sources and energy efficiency. I hope we get enough of a thaw to pull some of the carrots and parsnips we left in the ground last fall.

Bruce is going skiing today and I plan to spend the day getting my early seeds planted. We have been so diligent about eating up the stuff in the cellar. I now have a list of what I ran short on and what I am giving away because I put up more than we ate. That list will help with my garden plan.

I put an ad in our little paper looking for greenhouse frames. I see a lot of them cluttering up backyards. If I could find a frame for free, I could reskin it for not to much and come up with more winter food space. I am wondering if I could keep it warmer if I raised rabbits or chickens inside. I fear that when inflation hits, it will impact food prices hard. The more I can raise, the better I eat and the more I have to share.

I made chicken and dumplings last night. It was so good. I can make dumplings in my sleep. They are one of those things that everybody loves. I am going to make more tonight, add some sugar and cook them on top of some stewed peaches. I plan to put together a bunch of my favorite recipes for my girls. I do so much by memory and feel but a hard copy is needed if I’m out of commission.


2 cups flour

4teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

You can whiz all this in a food processor but then you have to wash it. I think it takes less time to use a hand-held pastry cutter.

Add a cup of cold milk and mix lightly with a fork. Cook in barely simmering liquid for about 20 minutes. Keep the pot covered the whole time so the dumpling steams.I stick a skewer in mine. When the skewer come out clean, the dumpling is done.

Tools fascinate me. I could spend all day wandering through Home Depot pining after stuff I have no idea how to use. It’s a sickness. I generally exercise admirable restraint and only buy a tool when Bruce, who does know how to them, has requested something specific as a gift.

We have quite a supply of both hand and power tools and I hope you do too. If you are just starting out. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Tools are expensive if you have to buy them new. If you find cheap, new tools, pass them by. A cheap tool won’t do the job properly and can be dangerous. If you are on a budget, look for second hand tools from Craig’s list or at estate sales. I would much prefer a well-cared for, used tool to a new on made in China. Once you have a tool you have to take care of it. The requirements are different for each tool but in general, you need a dedicated storage spot. You need to get in the habit of returning a tool after every use. A good tool left out in the rain is a travesty. Don’t do it. Many tools need sharpening. If you have one that does, either learn how to do it from an expert or pay to have it done. Many tools need to be kept oiled. Use the recommended oil and do it religiously. Do not use a tool to do a job it was not intended for. Please, do not buy one of those silly sets of tiny tools designed for the lady of the house. If I was that lady, I’d poke you with them. They’re useless.

Every house needs some basic tools. A set of screwdrivers, both Philips  and flat head will come in handy. You need two hammers, one regular and one ball peen. An all-metal  hammer with a heavy rubber handle cover is best. A wrench, some pliers and and some wire cutters will round out a beginner’s tool kit. There are hundreds of other tools that are nice to have. As you learn to do more of your own home repairs, and you should, you will need more tools. Purchased one at a time, they won’t break the bank. Properly cared for, they should last a lifetime.

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