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.

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