June 2009


This will be my last post for a week. We are heading to Virginia to spend some time with my son. We will be media free during the trip. I am already shaky at the thought.

I hit the jackpot today. I went to pick strawberries and found that the oyster mushrooms had flushed. I got a big bunch that I fried up and got in the freezer. I found a beautiful hen of the woods too but it was inside and electric fence so I had to leave it. I found that several trees I usually pick from were gone. Our severe ice storms did a lot of damage to our old maples (an oysters favorite home) and the road crews removed them. It is so sad. I feel as though I have lost an old friend when a tree comes down.

I am already homesick and all I’ve done is pack. I love my house and my garden. I am worried that my peas will fill out while I’m gone and I will miss the first ones. All right. So it isn’t like missing your baby’s first steps but it matters to me. Our neighbors, Tom and Heather, (faith,funand family blog) will come over and pick for us but I still would rather be home. If I didn’t miss my son so much I would not be going.

My best to all of you. I will post as soon as I get back and catch up on  all of you as well. Be well.

Fondly,

Kathy

I just made the best supper and it was pretty made from stuff that in another life, I might well have thrown out.

You know how there always seems to be a bit too much pasta? I never need an entire box. Lasagna noodles are a particular problem. I use to cook them, then let the extras sit in the back of the fridge until they went bad. Now I try to cook only what I realy need and save the rest in a plastic bag. This goes for the broken pieces too. We eat a lot of past and it adds up quick. Today, I was trying to come up with something for dinner and I hit on the idea of garbage lasagna. I cooked a bunch of broken noodles and set them aside. Then I sauteed a half an onion and some garlic, both of which were just getting ready to sprout in some olive oil. I added a cup of peppers I found in the freezer. They were a year old and a bit freezer burned but not bad. In went the last of my spinach and some kale. The kale was the base of a vegetable platter from the lunch we served for school spruce up day. Somebody was going to throw the leftovers out but I grabbed them first. I made a fabulous stock out of the vegetables and saved the kale. I also had a handful of dried out shitakes. I also found some I forgotten summer squash in the crisper. All of this simmered while I heated up one of my last two jars of spaghetti sauce with the first of the summer basil and some oregano. I layered the whole thing with three kinds of cheese. It tasted great!

There were some other great things about this dinner. I not only used up some food that was still good but would soon not have been but I had my girls help with cooking. I think they take away some good lessons, not just in how to make lasagna but how to get creative in the kitchen. If we have to cook with our stored food, creativity will spell the difference between good and, well, I guess we have have to eat something.

I put up the last of the asparagus today and 2 more meals of sugar snaps. It is hard to get enough to freeze as the kids love them and munch them like candy.

I am heading to the pool. Bruce was working with the bees and didn’t wear his whole bee suit. He is one hurting puppy with probably twenty stings. Cold water and some benedryl will help but he will have a rough night.

I am feeling more than a bit out of the cultural loop. I turned on NPR yesterday and the entire top-of-hour broadcast was about Michael Jackson. There was special on about his life last night and the story has lead every news show since it happened. Am I missing something here?

I keep hearing about his talent and his gentle soul and how so many will miss him so much. I’m sorry for the personal loss but has everyone forgottenwhat else he’s done with his life? The poor guy was, to be blunt about it, a train wreck and there is a fair amount of evidence that points to some really inappropriate behavior with children. He was a  talented, even gifted, musician and he could dance but I am not sure that rates him this kind of coverage.

All of this gets me to thinking about heroes in hard times. When I see what people are doing to save the planet, protect the environment and educate about peak oil I am amazed. My good friend, Leni, started a program a couple of years ago aimed at eradicating the use of plastic shopping bags. She began a bag sew and share project that has mushroomed in to a movement. It incorporates out local prison population as well as any other group she can get to sew. She has collected more sewing machines than I can count and what must be thousands of yards of fabric and huge boxes of notions. Every week she goes someplace for a sew. This involves loading up her tiny car with machines and fabric and giving up her free time to get a new group going. When our local store went bagless, Leni had us sew hundreds of bags. The estimated savings in plastic bags for the Creamery alone was 49,000 per year. Leni makes no money for this and shuns any personal publicity. It is all about the bags.

Sharon Astyk is an inspiration. I have thought about a bumper sticker that asks, “What would Sharon Do?” I think about her every time I am making a hard environmental decision and just thinking that I would not want  her to be disappointed in me often helps me do something hard but right when easy but wrong is what I might otherwise lean toward. Of course Sharon wouldn’t let us make a bumper sticker because of the wasted resources and she wouldn’t want any publicity that had to do with an automobile.

Storey Publishing is heroic to me. They have stayed so true to themselves. They have kept their offices in beautiful down town North Adams rather than move to NYC and continue to publish books that no other publisher would be likely to touch. I’ll bet every small scale homesteader who comes to this site has a shelf full of Storey publications.

This subject is not as far from the topic of preparing for emergencies and coming hard times as it might seem. We are going to need new heroes to replace the passing ones. I hope that, as a culture, we will let go of elevating in status people whose only accomplishment is making money or making trouble. It often seems that the morning news shows are scraping the bottom of a pretty yucky barrel to come up with people to interview when there are such interesting people out there doing inspiring and important work. Instead we are polluted with stories about Joh and Kate and the lastest celebrity to get the boot from the jungle. The only positive thing is that it makes it easier to watch the weather, then shut off the TV and get to work. If there was something interesting to follow, I might be tempted on these rainy mornings to get a cup a of second cup of coffee and watch. Right now, there is no danger of that.

Today’s post is both short and late. I was up all night with a sick kid, then spent all morning at the pediatrician’s office and at the hospital for lab work. I am struck sometimes by how blessed we are. Excellent health care is a given for my kids. I live in a state with universal health care. A lot of blogs talk about how entitlement programs are driving this economy into the ground. On an economic level, I can see what they mean but as the adoptive parent of two kids with significant special needs, I am mighty glad to be able to get my kids what they need. They are both terrific kids, happy and productive and a joy to  live with. Both would be either dead or in long-term care facilities without the care. It is impossible for me to be objective about it.

As I was exhausted by lunch time, I made a preparedness lunch of mac and cheese and 2 of the last 4 jars of our canned peaches. That is another preparedness argument. When time is short or I am not able to cook, it is lovely to be able to pull out something the kids can fix and have a meal on the table in minutes. The mac and cheese is too salty for everyday use but on occasion is acceptable. The canned peaches are simply fabulous. I put a little brandy in some of the jars. This makes an elegant dessert when served over vanilla ice cream.

I put up snap peas last night. I steam them for 3 minutes, chill in ice water, wipe dry and freeze on a cookie sheet. When frozen solid, I packed them in food saver bags. Now I can pour out what I need and put the rest back. I am considering switching entirely to mason jars for freezing. I got the food saver attachment that pulls the air out of the jars. It would mean practically no waste as you can reuse the canning lids. The problem is obvious. This is going to use up a serious amount of space. I need to buy a second freezer this year. If I switch to jars, I will have to get an upright which will use more energy but make getting out the jars a lot easier. I sure wish there were more no-brainer decisions for this sustainability stuff. Every thing has pros and cons. No wonder some people give up and opt for convenience.

We are taking a trip next week. My son’s in laws have invited us to visit at their summer place in Western Virginia. I have not seen my Ben and his dear wife, Maggie since last Christmas. Maggie’s family is Mormon and I am sure a lot of talk will be around food storage. We are not Mormon and while we disagree on many things both theologically and politically, we agree on food storage. These are very nice folks and we are looking forward to spending more time with them.

I spent a little time yesterday sorting through my emergency lighting.  While researching Just In Case, I purchased all manner of lighting to determine what worked and what didn’t so I have quite a lot of it. Here is my synopsis, the good, the bad and the expensive.

Candles: I have very few candles. I have one box of emergency candles that I picked up years ago. With a house full of kids and an annoying cat, candles are a very poor option for me. An adult always has to be, not just in the room, but withing arm’s reach. In addition, the light quality is poor. The one good thing is that candles are cheap. If you spend a bit more you can get globes which helps with safety. If candles are placed in front of a mirror more light is dispersed into the room. If you have to use them put them up high and keep them well away from floaty fabric like curtains. Because we have bees, I will be making candles this year but they will be for ambiance, not function.

100 hour candles: These are not actually candles but tiny globes filled with liquid paraffin. I have a couple of these and they work pretty well. They are not expensive and store well. I keep one in my bug our bag and a couple here at home.

kerosene lanterns: I hate kerosene. The light is a nasty yellow and the smell can trigger headaches and asthma. I have one only because I don’t know how to get rid of the kerosene. It sits on a shelf, mocking me. The lantern itself is beautiful. I really want to get rid of the fuel and the wick, clean out the lamp and refill it with liquid paraffin. Kerosene is inexpensive and stores well.

liquid paraffin lanterns:  I love my LP lamps. The light is bright, the lamps pretty, there is no odor and the paraffin is actually easier to find than kerosene now. It is more expensive but this is one place where you will probably be glad you spent the extra money. Make sure you pick up extra lamps and wicks. Read the instructions and follow them and don’t put paraffin in a lamp already holding kerosene. I am not sure what will happen but I prefer to believe the instruction manual and assume the lamp makers have a reason for telling me not to do it.

hand crank lanterns: I have a couple of these. The good news is that the led lights throw off a fair amount of light and will last a long time, you have no fire danger kids can safely keep one in their bedrooms. The bad news is that they are pretty expensive, the light tends to be very directed and the charge doesn’t hold long. The claim is for ten minutes of light for a minute of cranking. the truth is that the ligh begins to fade after five minutes and they are talking vigorous cranking. It gets old fast when the power is out for days. There are bigger lights out now than the one I have. The technology will probably continue to improve and the cost come down.

Flashlights: You can’t have too many. I have a ton of hand crank models. I got some cheap ones at a big box store. They did hold up well. In fact, the handle fell off one after just a few uses. They require a lot of cranking but my kids like them. I do dot use those next to our beds as the charge doesn’t hold. I don’t want to have to be cranking a flashlight if I have to get out of my house in a hurry. I do keep a couple in my car so I don’t have to worry about the batteries going bad and leaving me in the dark.

battery flashlights: I have a lot of these. I like the led bulbs as the light is really bright and the bulbs have a long life. I have both regular batteries and rechargeable. I picked up a solar recharger. It works pretty well but we have times like this past month where we haven’t had enough sun to charge batteries. Regular batteries must be rotated and are hell to dispose of from an environmental stand point.

I hope I haven’t left anything out. Light is so important during a crisis and deserves some thought. Make sure you store your emergency lighting where you can find it in the pitch black. Keep a flashlight next to every bed in the house and keep one for every family member in the car. Pick up extras when you can; they are good for charity and barter. My kids know to expect a flashlight in their stocking every Christmas. I use my lanterns as table decorations. They look nice and are right where I need them. Don’t forget matches.

I have seen kits for making lanterns out of mason jars using olive oil for fuel. I am not sure why you wouldn’t just buy a lantern. Lehman’s has a huge selection of lanterns. Some use mantles. They are terrific lanterns. They throw off a ton of light. The problem is the cost; $100.00 plus is a lot of money for me, and the mantles are really fragile. If you decide to splurge, you will need to stock replacement mantles and use the appropriate fuel. If I was relying on non-electric lights on a daily basis, I would spend the money.

I have a big box set aside with the makings in it for a generic birthday party. It isn’t much of a much, just some candles, balloons, wrapping paper and bows as well as some gifts. The gifts are also generic, a few craft kits, some books, a deck of cards, hair stuff. I stuck to things that would do for a broad range of ages. I will keep my eyes peeled this summer for puzzles and games to add to the box. These are things I often find new at tag sales and can get for under a dollar although I have noticed a change in tag sales this year.  There are many more sales but the prices are higher. It is a sign that people are trying to make money as opposed to cleaning out clutter.

Rituals define our lives, especially if we have kids. One of the tragedies of life is that we have let Madison Avenue steal our rituals and turn them into reasons to spend and spend big. The days of making a Halloween costume out of your rag bag and coming home with a bag that included popcorn, apples and home made cookies are over. I know parents who begin their kids costumes in August and throw out any treat not commercially wrapped. We won’t even get into what has happened to Christmas.

A changing world may well have us redefining our rituals and that can be nothing but good for families. We can keep the elements that work (family gatherings, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, coloring eggs, potato latkes, lots of wonderful things don’t require a lot of money) and dump the things that don’t (expensive gifts, elaborate decorating, outdoing your sister). We can also decide what we want to celebrate. There are many events that are not tied to existing structures, religious or otherwise, that are open to the creation of our own rituals.

I am a big fan of moon phases. A quick on-line search of moon names will call up a list of Native American moon names that open up a world of possibilities. July’s moon is the Strawberry moon in  many cultures tied to earth cycles. We always plan a day of picking at our local organic, you-pick place followed by an afternoon processing the fruit into jams, dried fruit, fruit leather and frozen strawberry sauce. I don’t can strawberries as they turn a very disturbing shade of grey. That evening we feast on strawberry shortcake for dinner. Nothing else, just strawberry shortcake. It is one of my favorite days of summer. For us, it is ritual.

Every month has a moon and all can lead to ritual. Cross-county skiing on the night of the January moon, volunteering at the homelsess shelter during the Hungry Moon in March. During the full moon in February we always read Owl Moon to the kids. None of these things cost money and not one can be hijacked by the advertising kingdom.

As important as family rituals are community rituals. Homecoming picnics, parades, talent shows, church pageants, all are at risk and all should be supported. We never miss our agricultural fair, our tiny July 4th parade and the ice cream social we have at out school to mark the end of the school year. If you have a local ball team, go to a few games. Never miss a school concert or the Christmas pageant at church. If you don’t have a community ritual, make one up. Pick a day for a block party, a pot luck supper, a seed and plant exchange or a marshmallow roast. Have some fun. Create something special.

We tend to think of car preparedness in the cold weather but it is just as dangerous to be stranded unprepared in the heat. A few preps could mean the difference between comfort and misery, even life and death.

Of course, all of the basic car stuff still applies. Make sure you keep your vehicle in  good repair, fill the tank at 1/2 or even 3/4 full and take good care of your tires. Know your route and stick to it. Carry a cell phone and a GPS as well as a hand crank radio that will charge both. Let someone know your itinerary. Have a clue how to change a flat and make sure you have some emergency flares and a couple of flashlights. This is preparedness light for your vehicle.

A few other things are good ideas when the weather gets hot. Water, of course. A case of bottled water will last indefinitely as long as your kids don’t pilfer it. Check it from time to time. I also carry an umbrella (for protection from the sun, not the rain) a rain poncho, bug repellant and sun screen. I let go of my organic dreams for the bug repellent. I need something I know will work and I won’t be breaking into it unless there is a real emergency. I always have my leatherman in my purse and my regular emergency kit in the back so I am covered for everything else.

This is a short post so I can fill in with an observation. A lot of the words that come up as misspellings on my computer are funny to me. Canner always pops up as does blog. Prepper is no surprise but canner? It is a real thing. I just think it’s funny.

Okay, so you may not be a father but any time you can wish anybody a happy something, grab it.

We are looking at another full week of rain in Western Mass which follows the previous two weeks of rain. There have been a couple of sunny patches mixed in but darn few. The rain would be hard enough but the cool weather is a killer for the plants that need heat like tomatoes and peppers. I was just reading Chilichew’s blog. She is from the hot and dry Southwest and the difference between her posts and mine are pretty remarkable.

Bruce went to a bee conference yesterday. He came home with a lot of good information but confessed that he was more interested in the experimental farm that was on the property than he was the bees. He saw several patches of wheat, looked at a grazing program and saw some other plant stuff that looked really cool. I am going to do the research tomorrow and try to find out the particulars of the farm and see if there is some way we could be involved. It is affiliated with a university so there might be a way to volunteer some time. I am also going to be talking with the extension service that is located at the same university and see if there is some way we can revive the food preservation program that was dissolved years ago. I know the interest is there and may just need a spark to get it flaming again.

We ate our first sugar snaps last night. There were not many and I am feeding an army of kids again (a couple of kids I used to have in foster care have returned for a bit) so I steamed them lightly, chilled them, added some tiny carrots and served them with a ranch dip. They were so sweet it brought tears to my eyes. I am making a lasagna today with the first of the local zucchini and summer squash, tiny spinach leaves and the last of the dried shitakes. I have one jar of spaghetti sauce.  I had expected a pile of my own kids today but now I don’t think they are coming (the golf course call, I’ll bet) so I will be stuck with a ton of leftovers. Looking on the bright side, another chance to use the food saver.

My daughter, Karen, was home schooled for several years. During that time, she developed a recipe for granola. It gave her an opportunity to use fractions and  multiplication, learn about volume and temperature, work with time and money as well as discuss nutrition and marketing. She designed a label and sold her granola at a local farmer’s market. She developed a customer base who still call her with orders from time to time. She finished a big order last night and it got me thinking about how important a good granola recipe could be in an emergency. Granola contains protein, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and is calorie dense. It’s portable and once cooked, can be eaten out of hand.

Granola is a flexible recipe. If you don’t  have one ingredient, you can generally substitute something else. The only trick is to be sure you don’t burn it. Granola for storage should be drier than the following recipe which is quite moist. That doesn’t matter around here as we can go through a batch a week without a problem. Cooking it longer at a lower temperature would result in a drier, longer keeping cereal.

Mix together in a large bowl:

4 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking or instant)

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup walnuts, broken into pieces

1/2 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup brown sugar

Mix this well and set aside. In a two cup measure mix together:

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup honey

Pour this over the dry ingredients and mix well. Bake it a 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Let it cool and add:

1 cup dried cranberries

If you want a drier, cruchier granola, dry it in a dehydrator for 3 hours at 145 degrees.

We like a little vanilla and cinnamon in our granola but Karen doesn’t add that to what she sells because both are really expensive to buy organic. As she sells under the label of Karen’s Organics In The Hilltowns, she can only use organic ingredients in what she sells.

Karen isn’t going to get rich selling granola but that really isn’t the point. Learning a real skill as well as learning the importance of following through with a comittmant and customer service is. As the economy continues to deteriorate, the kinds of jobs kids used to be able to count on may not be there. Developing a home based business can be a good option.

Short post today. Bruce is off to a bee conference and I am going to hit some resale shops when I take Karen to deliver her granola. I am looking for a couple of metal coffee pots to  use in melting beeswax. I hope to learn how to use our wax to make soaps and balms.

I am like a kid with a new toy. All of the attachments I ordered for my food saver came in and I have been sucking the air out of everything.

I started with my first big harvest of lemon balm. I dried it, then crumble it, put it in a mason jar and used the lid attachment to seal the top. It was so easy. I have an oxygen absorber order that I need to pick up next Thursday. When I get it ,I have a plan. I had stored some seed last year but the germination rate was only about 60% . I am going to purchase a year’s supply of seeds now. I can still get most of what I need . Then I am going to put the seed packets in mason jars with an oxygen absorber packets and seal them. If I store the jars in a dry, dark place that stays cool, the seed should last a long time.

If I could get myself organized, I could do a real experiment and track the germination rate next year and compare it with the rate of seeds that were just stored in a drawer with no special treatment. Truth is,  life is going to interfer and, in spite of my good intentions, that is never going to happen. I am going to store the seeds and if they don’t germinate well, I’ll replace them.

A whole lot of my life is like that. I could do a lot so much more efficiently if I just didn’t have to feed people, keep the house in reasonable order, earn a living, take a shower, answer the phone and sit on the porch swing with a cup of tea and a good book. Real life.

I am sitting here looking at my living room wall. My stupid cat pulled down the huge quilt that hangs behind the sofa again. Putting it back up is a monumental job. If I was a truly organized person I would realize that I am beat at this game ( the cat loves to swing on the quilt) and I would take it down and replace it with a nice print.  But it is real life. I love the quilt more than I love my wasted time and the quilt is going back.

It looks like we are done with the rain, at least for a day. I need to get out to the garden and see what needs weeding (everything) and what needs thinning (beets and turnips), what got eaten by cut worms(beans), what has insect damage (squash) and what needs to be harvested (lettuce, asparagus). Real life.

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