November 2009


How was your Thanksgiving? When people found out I was going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving, they were shocked. The queen of make-it-from-scratch frugality was going out to eat on the most food centered holiday of the year. Well, it was terrible! My son treated us to the dinner which was nice but the food was, maybe not terrible, but bland and boring. Where were the pickles and the stuffed celery and the candied turnips and the baby peas? Where were the hot dinner rolls and the sweet potato pie? Not on our table. Bruce and I held hands and without saying a word, each knew what the other was thinking (this happens after 37 years together). I don’t care if we have to go door to door to find people with no place to go for the holiday next year. We will gather up a bunch of strangers if necessary, just so long as I have somebody to cook for.

Out Potlatch was big success. Several families were able to find enough gently used gifts to give their kids a holiday without dropping a dime which was the point. When I watch the news footage of Black Friday shoppers looking crazed as they rush the doors of some retailer after spending hours sitting out in the cold, I get a bit nauseous. It is just scary that stuff matters so much to us.

My friends, Barbara and Sheri, dropped off a whole bunch of little sugar pumpkins to us. I am delighted as pumpkin bread and muffins are a staple around here and we had only a couple of little pumpkins survive the cold, rainy spring and the plague of woodchucks. I think I will process them, three of four at a time. To do that, I bake them whole until soft, then run them through the Squeezo. The result is a nice thick puree. I will dry some and freeze some.

I can’t believe I left out the coolest part of my weekend. Sharon Astyk came to visit! It was a lovely visit but way too short for all the talking we wanted to do. Her husband is just the nicest guy and her kids are beautiful. My Phoebe had a wonderful time running through the back field with them. We were joined by Kathy McMahon (the peak shrink) for tea. What we all think is that the Northeast is just crawling with peak oil and relocalization experts and we should have a conference! How cool would it be to have a place that brought together all of that expertise in one place. The big drawback for all of us is than no one likes to travel and we would want a zero waste event. Planning would be a chore but it is the kind of thing that should get a lot of attention to the cause. If enough people were moved to live a more self-sufficient life as a result, it would offset the energy usage.

I know this is a busy time for most of us but if you can come up with some extra time to scout out farm stands and markets, it is the perfect time to stock up on local produce like turnips, potatoes, onions and squash. Even without a garden, you can save a lot of money and eat better if you have a cold room, porch or garage that is protected from freezing and dry enough to store those winter foods. As we had such a bad squash year, I am heading out today to get a bushes of butternut and acorn squash to get me through the winter. Do any of you have a good recipe for a squash soup? Would you share?

Each year, I order my turkey from the Creamery as they get their birds locally and they are amazing. I went to pick mine up yesterday and got a wonderful surprise. I had ordered a 16 pound turkey but all that the farm had left were giant birds, all over 20 pounds so I got a 21 pound turkey but only had to pay for 16 pounds. Then, it turned out that three extra turkeys had been delivered and the store had no place to store them and no one who wanted such big birds. I was able to get all three for costs. I walked out with four huge, organically grown, free range birds for $100.00. I put one in the oven before bed last night and got up at 3:30am to get it out of the oven. By the time I got up for the day at 5:00, it had cooled enough to pull the meat off the bone. It is beautiful! I put eight meals of meat in the freezer and have two big pots of soup and stock simmering on the back of the stove. It looks as though I will get at least 10 substantial meals out of each bird.

I have a busy weekend ahead. I had my permaculture group meeting last night. I learn so much each week. I can’t wait for spring. On Friday, Sharon Astyk is coming by for a visit and on Saturday, I will be spending the day at our Potlatch. The used gifts are already coming in. Somehow, I need to pull a couple of hours away from the Potlatch to go to a class on making medicinal herbal infusions and tinctures. Fortunately, all of things I go to are withing a mile of my house. If I had to travel, there is a lot I wouldn’t do.

I hope for a wonderful holiday for you all. We have much to be grateful for. Near the top of my list will be the friends I have met through this site. I am the last person I ever thought would have internet friends but there it is.

My best wishes to you and yours.

Peace,

Kathy

I am always a bit embarrassed to have anyone see my basement storage system. I have many cases of commercially prepared, bought from supermarket, canned food. Whenever I see one of those sales like “20 cans for $10.00″ “full case for $7.50″ I stock up on a few staples. What’s down there? I have beans, brown bread, tomatoes, pasta sauce, fruits, vegetables, tuna, crab, chicken, soups, stocks, stew, chili, mushrooms, olives, juices, condiments and stocks. I am sure I have other things but it’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m not going to go look. At least a couple of times a week I try to use up some the storage foods just so I can rotate through them.

I don’t like supporting agribiz in any form so I do try to purchase in the least loathsome way possible but still, it is not in line with my values to get this kind of food. I do it though because you never know. I checked out my applesauce this week and discovered several jars that had lost their seals. Then I smelled something rotten in the root cellar and found the cabbage had all gone bad. This kind of stuff happens. I like to keep redundant sources of  food just in case. If the power was out for a long time,  I will be able to can a lot of our meat but not all of it. Having canned meat as a backup makes good sense. In a bad tomato year (like this one) I rely on my purchased sauce. If I had to depend solely on my own canned fruit, I would not get through a year which is why I store canned pineapple.

Redundancy is a good idea for many things. I have many more hurricane lamps than I need to cover breakage and to have some to lend.  I can cook on my stove top or my camp stove or my sterno stove or my wood stove or in my solar oven.  I have extra boots and gloves and coats and socks. You just never know when one system will break down or when the 5 people you planned for will balloon into 9. You never know when you will need to give some of your supplies to your community to help the many who are not prepared.

Today, I am off to our little farmstand to buy some redundant supplies. The cabbage will need to be replaced and I need winter squash to make up for the dozens that were eaten by the woodchucks. If I can’t get them, I will be very grateful for the 50 cans of pumpkin and squash that are sitting in my basement.

I volunteered at our school’s flu clinic on Saturday. It was bit like locking the barn door after the horse was out as most of our kids have already had what appeared to be the flu a month ago. Still, on the off-chance that that was some other random virus, a lot of people opted to get the vaccine anyway. I found one thing disconcerting. The signage for the event was from FEMA and said: Medication available, Free, and We are here to help. I’m not sure why that was creepy to me but it was. The signs were obviously meant to be generic and cover any mass medication or inoculation event. I guess it makes it pretty real that the Feds have geared up for something major.

Bruce and I brought home the bacon yesterday. Our hams, jowls and bacon were all smoked and ready for the freezer. The farm where we picked them up is only about a mile from my house and has been on the market off and on for a few years. It’s a beautiful place but way out of our price range and probably more farm than we really want to deal with. Still, I indulged in a bit of dreaming.

I am an old stick-in-the-mud when it comes to change of any sort. I have always composted in a heap but the permaculture book I am reading suggests that you should just toss your compostables right on the garden bed you are creating with sheet mulch. I get the premise but it just feels wrong to put my garbage in the back yard. I’m doing it with vegetable wastes, coffee ground and egg shells and hope I get good soil and not rats. I suppose the rats would be as likely to come to the compost heap as anywhere else. This does bring up a good preparedness point (thank goodness because, as you might have noticed, I’ve got nothing this morning).  We are really creatures of habit. I think that people who are assuming they will change their ways of living if they have too are in for a shock when they see how difficult that is. My sister, brother and respective spouses came over for dinner on Saturday. I proudly showed off our wine and brandy jugs, pickles, applesauce, bread, pork and vegetables as it all came from our land except for the flour, yeast and salt. I suppose I wanted them to be interested in the process and see it as a realistic way to live. They raved about the food but I think they see me as their slightly quirky little sister, cute, but silly, even though they can acknowledge that their own futures are not as rosy as they had anticipated they would be. They are not likely to make any changes until they are dragged, kicking and screaming, into a world of declining resources.

It’s pouring here and I feel like I need to start the day with a smile. So yesterday, I was going to UMass to speak to a class on Media and Public Policy. For a change, I was dressed like a grown up, in an actual skirt and hose and dress shoes. As I drove down Rt 9 I saw this big old flush of mushrooms off in the woods. I found a place to pull over and tramped through the brush over to the tree. It was a decent sized flush and I was congratulating myself on my find when I realized I had wandered into a bramble patch and I was good and stuck. Those prickers were clinging to my skirt and my stockings and when I bent over to untangle myself, they even got in my hair. I could just see the headlines. “Preparedness expert starves to death in the woods”. I finally escaped but I will leave it to your imagination to think what my hose looked like.  After all that, the mushrooms were well past prime.

A friend dropped by a big box of patterns for the sewing center. I went through them all with her and found one for shorts, skirts and summer tee shirts in Phoebe’s size. I can’t wait to go through my fabric and get busy making her summer clothes.  I think I am going to stiffen the patterns with some clear contact paper. If you only plan to use a pattern once, the flimsy tissues paper is not a problem but these are patterns that we hope will get a lot of use and they need to hold up.

I did a quick look over in the root cellar yesterday. The vegetables are doing quite well. I have lost a good deal of the fingerling potatoes to blight. Thank goodness we ate a ton of them right away. The Yukon Gold don’t seem to be affected at all, nor do the red potatoes. The carrots are still gorgeous. I am sorry to say that the sauerkraut I started did not do well. It is covered with a mold and smells nasty. Some bad bacteria got in there so the kraut is headed out to the compost pile.

We got new tires put on the car this week. Next week, we are taking it to the shop for a complete once over. We have over 100,000 mile on the van but it still runs well and is completely reliable (not to mention paid for). We want the hoses and belts replaced and the engine tuned up. In my experience a cared for vehicle will last a good long time. I would love to think that I will never buy another car. We have given some thought to getting a new truck with a king cab and cutting down to just the one vehicle.

I am struggling with a decision today. By now you may have figured out that I am a bit frugal. I rarely spend money on new when I can get used and I seldom succumb to the lure of the catalog.Well I got one of those incredible expensive kid’s catalogs with $100.00 wooden trucks and lovely organic cotton clothing and what did I find but a set of woolen pajamas. They were way out of my usual price range but they are beautiful and can be worn under clothes for outdoor play or under a jumper on those bitter january days. If I could find the soft wool fabric I could maybe make them but these darn PJ’s seem to be calling my name. $86.00 is crazy for what they are but Phoebe is  tiny and we usually get more than our money’s worth out of the few clothes we do buy. I suppose the urge to buy will pass but I can not believe how much I want them. Some marketer really knew her stuff.

I was supposed to write a new book. The topic was interesting and the publisher (not Storey) is a good one. I could certainly use the money. But, for some inexplicable reason, every time I sat down at the computer, my mind froze. Well, not froze exactly. I could still do on-line Sudoku and play free cell.I could look up recipes and catch up on all my favorite blogs. What I could not seem to do was get out a coherent sentence. The worst part was not the lack of focus when I should have been working. The worst part was how having this cloud hanging over me sapped a good deal of the joy from the rest of my life. I could be pressing cider or baking bread or just having tea with a friend and this nasty little tattle-tale of an angel was constantly whispering in my ear, “You should be working”. It was awful and the more I tried to work the less I accomplished.

I finally took my problem to Bruce as we went for our morning walk. I told him what I was up against and he looked at me like I was nuts, a common occurence I must add, then followed up by saying, “So don’t write it!” It was really that simple. I don’t have to write this book. I went home and shot an email off to the publisher and to a friend who has been encouraging me and that was that.

The phrase about the weight of the world is so accurate. Removing the weight made me feel light and free and energized. All of the projects I have been doing with guilt and shame have become a joy again. I have plans, real plans, and energy that I have not felt in months. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I had a couple of half done craft projects sitting in my work basket. I had liked them when I started but they fell out of favor and there they sat. I didn’t want to start something new without finishing what I had started but I didn’t want to finish. Then one day, I gave both projects to a friend who admired them and was happy to finish. She got two new wall hangings and I got space to fill with something that mattered to me.

I grew up with the lessons of finishing what one starts but I think it was a bad lesson in some respects. Life is so short and so precious. Where exactly is the virtue in plugging away at soul sucking jobs or relationships or projects when there is world of interesting out there. Now I am not suggesting that anyone should quit anything just because they have hit a rough patch but I am saying that one needs to prioritize. What are the things that truly matter and what is just flotsam? Your relationship with your spouse matters. Your monthly support group meeting when you no longer need the support nor have any to offer doesn’t. Getting your income tax forms in the mail matter but getting Christmas cards done is optional.

So much of my interest right now lies in my garden, my community and my personal preparations. I know I am on the right track when I look forward to a full day of hard work that feels like bliss.

She was old, maybe in her late seventies and tiny, like she had not gotten enough to eat when she was small. The osteoporosis was apparent in the hump under her well-worn coat. Her glasses were thick and her fingers knotted. She dropped her bag while waiting for the pharmacist to bring her prescription bag and seemed so grateful when I picked it up for her. The pharmacist looked at the slip stapled to the paper sack and her lips set in a grim line.

“Mrs. Powers. Do you know how much this costs?”

“Well, no. Is it expensive?”

“It’s $263.00.”

The old woman clutched her chest and asked in a shaky voice, “What about my insurance?”

“Medicare only covered $30.00 of this”

“But that’s a third of my benefit check. I can’t pay that much.”

The old lady walked out of the drug store shaking her head and muttering, without the medication.

I thought about that poor old lady throughout the day. I wondered what the drug was and if not having it meant that she would be in pain or get sicker or lose more mobility. I wondered if not having the medication would put her in the hospital or in a nursing home or destroy the quality of her remaining days. I wondered if the executive of the blood sucking pharmaceutical  company who decided how much to charge for that drug would have cared at all.

I worry a lot about insurance. I have two kids who depend on state sponsored insurance for medication that keeps the alive and gives them both a decent quality of life. It is easy to preach about Darwinism and write off those who are cursed with an unfortunate gene sequence but the reality is, it could be any of us, any time, who find ourselves ill. In an effort to keep myself as well as possible, especially as I am no longer 21, I take supplements every day and I also take steps to keep myself as fit a possible. Being ill or out of shape will make any crisis much more difficult, not just for you but for the family who has to care for you. I am hoping for another good 25 years of productive life and a few more to sit on the deck and watch the birds go by while I bore my grandchildren with stories of the old days when everybody drove private cars whenever they liked and ate strawberries in January.

I eat a very good diet. Fortunately, thanks to the greenhouse I can get leafy greens several times a week. Because of the freezer and the root cellar, I eat cruciferous vegetables often. We eat almost no red meat. We eat a lot of whole grains and a ton of orange vegetables. Ido eat more sugar and fats than I should as I love to bake and we can’t get the cow to give skim milk. It doesn’t help to skim off the fat if you then use it to make decadent mashed potatoes and creamed soups.

I prefer to get my vitamins and minerals from my food but there are some things I know I need that my food does not supply enough of. I live in the Northeast so I take a vitamin D supplement as we don’t get reliable sunshine here in the winter. I also take calcium as I am small, slender, blonde haired and blue-eyed and have already broken a couple of bones. I take fish oil for brain and heart health and lutein as I have an early macular degeneration. I take a good quality multivitamin too and I take zinc and C during cold season. I try to buy my vitamins when I find a BOGO deal or when I have a coupon. I walk a lot and I am active anyway. I sometimes have trouble sleeping but I try for 8 hours a night. I don’t smoke and I never drink to excess. I have just given up drinking coffee as I like it with cream and sugar and I don’t need the fat or the calories. The cost was also an issue. Buying shade grown, free trade was expensive. I would rather just do without. I had a couple of days of headaches while my body adjusted but I find I am sleeping better without it. I switched to green tea which has important health benefits and I only miss the coffee on occasion.

Even with all of this and living in a place with clean water and wonderful air quality, I know that disaster could strike at any time. I tend to think we are all too reliant on societal safety nets but it seems as though there are a few things we ought to be able to count on when we get old. We should be able to keep our homes. We should be able to put food on the table. We should be warm enough. We should have access to health care. Is that really asking too much in the country?

 

My seed order from Richter’s arrived yesterday. This was a double present as it was touching to have Heather remember my birthday with a gift certificate for herbs and so cool to have a preview of summer arrive just as the days are getting shorter and winter is clearly going to arrive, with or without my permission. I spent a totally unproductive hour (when I should have been making bread) just arranging and rearranging my garden to be. I have come to the conclusion that the space is too small by half. I got a lot of seeds.

I did get something productive done today. I cleaned out my kid’s toy cabinet in preparation for donating to the Potlatch. I realize just how much stuff I still have, in spite of my ongoing attempt to make do with less. I swear my useless stuff gives birth to more useless stuff in the dark of the night. I have no idea where some of this stuff came from. I certainly didn’t buy it.

I want to share something I am so pleased about. Bruce is spending Saturday at a barn raising. My son’s best friend has built a barn for his grandparents and needs help getting the walls up  and the roof on. He thinks a group of 8 can do it in a day. I think this is about the best thing I have heard in ages. I think we have gotten used to the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness. We so value our independence that we would rather pay a stranger than ask a friend for what we need. That is something that needs to change, not just for economic reasons but for preparedness ones. Changing times will require co-dependance. I am not free to ask for your help if you won’t accept mine. While building your pantry, don’t neglect building your relationships with your neighbors. Most of us will never own a doomstead. A community is a much better bet.

What if you…..

committed to eating no factory farmed meat? Could  you do it? What if you could change your eating habits just one day a week?

refused to buy any wrapping paper this year? Would anybody really mind if their gift came in a cloth bag?

ate one vegetarian meal a week? Rice and beans and macaroni and cheese are vegetarian.

took one day and claimed it as car free? Could you not drive at all for one day? How about two?

turned off the television for one day? What would you do with your time?

gave a used gift to a relative? Would you be embarrassed or proud?

spent not one damn dime for a full day? How about two days? Could you? Would you?

instituted a family night for playing games or reading aloud? No media allowed including telephone.

turned off the power for three hours. Could you manage?  How well?

I am just thinking here. These are all thing I suspect will be necessities in the future and I wonder about practising now. I think that adrenalin gets you through a crisis but after a few days boredom and frustration set in. That was what I saw during our ice storm last year. At first, there was a big rush to get squared away and then people got angry and started to complain and point fingers. If many of the behaviors a crisis makes necessary are ordinary, that would be less of a problem.

I think that a lot of unemployed people are going to have to have leaner holidays this year. I am willing to bet that depression will be a major problem for people living with a new reality. If that’s you, prepare now by turning off the television (the better to avoid commercials) and getting your family on board with creating new rituals. Plan a carol sing, a sledding party and family jigsaw puzzle night. Get the kids in on the deal and make them part of the process. They will be less likely to mind if they know what to expect.

This new reality will not be easy but it may turn out to be a gift. I, for one, appreciate a simple holiday. It’s less work and more fun. I won’t let any economic Grinch steal my joy.

I have a day with nothing on the horizon but bread baking, laundry and straightening the house. It seems like the perfect time to tackle a project. I think sorting my seeds sounds good. I have a lot of them, some saved seeds and many I bought on clearance at summer’s end. There are some holes. I have no haricot verde green beans and I know I need a few varieties of winter squash. I will most certainly need several tomatoes varieties although I do have several packages of heirloom seeds I am anxious to try.

I may also try to do some plot plans. I am going to do a new type of planting next year called keyhole plots. The idea is to minimize the amount of space devoted to paths by planting in a circle with a small path in the middle. This is done with companion planting and a lot of mulch which I would do in any case. I am thinking of tomatoes with basil and marigolds. We have had to move the bed completely because of the blight . We usually just rotate but this time we are going far from any of the other garden beds and we will use only certified blight free seed. This new bed is a bit lower in elevation than our usual plot and I suspect we will need to use row covers to protect from early and late frost. The upside is that the soil is gorgeous down there. Still, I may bring down a truck full of compost and a few bags of leaves to sit over the winter. That, along with some shredded newspaper, is a combination the worms love.

Just a couple of side notes here. I went out last night to speak at a foster parent training and saw 5 people pulled over by police officers and a couple of other police cars lying in wait. I never see this kind of action and I wonder if budget shortfalls are being addressed by ticket writing. At least this is a tax you can chose to pay or not by driving under the speed limit.

The second thing is a meatloaf note. I mentioned to someone that I was making meatloaf for dinner and they confessed they had never made one although it was a meal this woman had enjoyed as a child. She said that she rarely had time to actually cook as she worked full time. I consider meatloaf fast food. How long does it take to mix 1/2 pound of ground pork, 1/2 pound ground beef, some chopped onion, celery, peppers, garlic, an egg, bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl, shape it in a loaf and pop it in the oven? I keep a bag of the chopped vegetables in the freezer so I don’t have to chop every time I need them for a recipe. You could easily make up a meatloaf and get it in a loaf pan the night before of first thing in the morning. I’ll bet it would take less time than stopping for fried chicken or pizza on the way home. The real time is spent in cooking as it does take an hour and half or so but kids or spouse could put it in the oven for you. I am probably being unnecessarily critical here. It’s too easy for me to judge when I am not the one facing meal preparation after a hard day but it does seem that the making of a meal is a kind of sacrament. Food, family, the soil, our daily bread as it were, deserve a reverence and relevance in our lives that a box of pizza is just can’t provide. When Leni and I gather apples we always give the trees a shout out when we leave. It may seem silly on the surface, these two middle aged ladies yelling out thank you to the trees for giving so generously of themselves but it doesn’t feel silly. It feels right. It feels like saying a joyful grace.

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