November 2010

I have lived in Massachusetts all my life but I am still surprised by the first flakes of snow. I never feel quite as ready as I should be. Phoebe’s hat is still among the missing; I haven’t tried her boots on yet, that sort of thing. Actually, I have many other hats and a good selection of boots. I just can’t be sure that they will all match. Not that Phoebe (or anyone else) will care but  it does bother me to know I have put something off.

I received a post from a new reader asking how I get to take so many classes in such a small town. I thought I would put in a step by step guide of how we got where we are here.

Step one: The commonality

For us, it was a series of movies. We watched The End of Suburbia first, then several others that had to do with energy depletion, the growing concern over GMO’s and our fragile food system and climate change. The first films were hosted by our town’s only grocery store/food co-op/deli. A similar event could be a book club hosted by a church group or neighborhood association. It needs to be well promoted and there has to be food.

Step two:

 Set up a time for follow-up discussions. This does not have to include a lot of people but you do need enough to get something going. Ten people is a good start.

Step three: Know thyself.

 Our particular bunch of participants was predictably independent. We never did get into a real structure. There were no rules except to be polite and we broke that one pretty often. Your group may prefer a structure. Groups, like people, have personalities and what works for one might not work for others.

Step four: Work.

 This is where the classes came in. We did not want to just  talk; We wanted to prepare to live in an energy constrained world so we planned events like an alternative energy tour where we visited the homes of people using alternative energy so we could see what was possible. We knew we all had a lot to learn and we wanted to stay away from paying for things so we looked into our own numbers to see who knew what and who was willing to share a skill. We had classes on raising chickens, making cheese, growing mushrooms and pruning fruit trees. We still have learning opportunities and they are always well attended.

Step five: Allow the group to evolve.

 Some of us were more interested in energy, some in food, some in environmental issues. There is a lot of crossover but nobody is stuck doing things that just don’t work for them. We still do a monthly check in but there are a 1/2 dozen other groups of people meeting more or less often.

With this kind of loose structure, we found out what we needed to know and researched until we found someone to teach us. I don’t know how it is where you live but around here, nearly every town has some functioning body addressing the challenges facing us. There is a huge pool of talent out there. You job is to tap into it.

I think a lot of us are reluctant to put one more thing on our schedules. I get that but for me, preparing for an uncertain future is a priority. I can’t think of anything more important. Whatever you call yourselves, transition, relocalization or sustainability groups, communities, families, clans or tribes, we need each others skills and talents. There is much to learn and much to teach.

So it’s 33 degrees and pouring and I have a turkey hangover. My thoughts are hopscotching around and coming up with a topic is just not happening. I was asked by a reader about making vinegar. I put the apple leavings in a 1/2 gallon jug, added about a cup of organic cider vinegar with the mother floating around in it, then filled the jar up with water (non-chlorinated) and waited. It doesn’t taste strong enough to me. I still need to pick up a box of ph strips. This does not a topic make.

The hit yesterdays was my lemon meringue pie. I made it with the lemons from my lemon tree and our own eggs. It was really good but, like all pies, disappeared way too fast for the labor involved. If this day doesn’t improve, I am still thinking another pie just might brighten things up.

Something good did happen. A friend of mine was selling a fabulous wood stove that cost $1800.00 a few years ago and has never been used for $200.00. I bought it and we got it moved to the basement yesterday when my boys were here. I would be a chore but if we needed to, we could move the propane stove out of the living room and put this one in. It has two cooking surfaces and is large enough to heat the downstairs and keep the upstairs warm enough for sleeping. The only thing we would have to do is shut down the upstairs bathroom. As we have one downstairs, that would be nothing but a minor inconvenience.

The stove was the final preparedness piece I needed to address. We have lots of cast iron cookware and a stove top box oven and a supply of wood. My son says that he will take care of getting the wood once he moves in. I  would be willing to switch the stove out now but I understand my DH’s point. We love the ease of the propane parlor stove. It’s clean and safe, it doesn’t require electricity and we will use it as long as we can.

I think this wet weather is up and down the East coast. I am thinking that it might discourage a lot of people from standing outside to wait for a door buster special on a flat screen TV. One can always hope anyway.

One final thought. I am really grateful for the many faithful readers I have.  I know you have lots of options  for things to read and I am always moved when you choses me. Thank you.


I can not believe that I have to go to the mall today but my girls both need shoes. I don’t mean they need shoes as in they want shoes; I mean Phoebe’ssneakers have a hole in the toe and Karen’s don’t fit. I would love to wait but this is the only day they are both home from school. I don’t drive at night if I can help it so it’s now or after the holiday and neither kid can wait that long. I also have to go to the market. I hardly ever have to go to a supermarket but I want ( want, not need) two oranges to make an orange/cranberry chutney and I need (okay, want) come celery for my dressing. I have a lot of dried celery and it is adequate for most things but not my stuffing. At least I can go through the 12 items and under line. I do want to restock some food items but I don’t think the day before Thanksgiving is the time to do that.

I was asked about my Perogie recipe. As you can probably guess, recipe is an overstatement. I use a basic pasta recipe (1 cup flour to 1 or 2 eggs, a bit of salt and maybe a splash of oil if the dough is a bit too dry and another egg is too much) and fill it with leftover mashed potatoes. I add some grated cheddar cheese and some sautéed onions and sometimes some leftover spinach or cooked cabbage. It’s a very forgiving dish. I also keep a big bag of frozen perogies on hand. Everybody loves them, they’re cheap and filling and sometimes I can’t get any more creative than that. It beats fast food.

I’m making a side trip to Salvation Army and Goodwill today. Phoebe needs new snowpants and my supply of hats and mittens is low. When I was little, our mittens were always strung through our coat sleeves on a long string of yarn. We had one pair of mittens and they lasted all winter. I am shocked at the stuff in the lost and found box at school. Expensive jackets and gloves, very nice sweaters and sweatshirts. Often, stuff stays there all year and then gets tossed by the janitor. Phoebe has lost her best hat. I got it from a thrift store and it only cost a dollar or two but it was hand-made and beautiful. I could cry over that hat. I’ve looked everywhere and it’s just not here. I sure hope I can find another as cute and warm.

It’s been a scary week. The North Korea thing has a lot of folks freaked and most of the preparedness sites have threads on what people are doing in response. I understand that thinking but it misses the point. Preparedness means never having to make a mad dash to the store in an emergency. Rising tensions overseas are no unusual. It’s the new normal just as expensive energy and a declining standard of living are for a lot of people. My goal is to soften the descent, to find ways to live a happy, fulfilling life and continue to be of service in spite of the challenges. I read books about the depression to remind myself that ingenuity and creativity can replace money and that it’s more important to be loved and respected for my integrity than to be envied for my stuff.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. A day set aside for gratitude and family is a good thing.

I store citric acid but I think I’m going to get some more. I get mine from my food co-op. I t comes in nice little mylar bags and it’s one of those inexpensive things with a ton of uses. I use it to set color when dehydrating, to increase acidity in my tomato sauce when canning, in winemaking and in cheese making. I get mine from my food co-op. It comes in dandy little mylar bags and stores about forever. It takes up very little room and it’s lightweight.

I got to thinking about citric acid because I made cheese this weekend. I have a standing order for a gallon of raw milk each week. Raw milk makes the best yogurt and cheese ever. I made mozzarella this time. The process is so easy. I warm a gallon of milk to 55 degrees and add 2 teaspoons citric acid powder dissolved in a 1/4 cup cool water. now bring the temperature up to 105 degrees and add 1/4 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water. stir very gently until the curds separate from the whey. This will take about 3-4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and ladle the curds into a microwave safe bowl. Pour off they whey, then microwave on high for 1 minute. Knead the cheese (I use a couple of wooden spoons but you can use heat proof gloves too) them microwave again for 35 seconds. Add a teaspoon of salt and microwave for 35 seconds, then pour off the whey. The cheese should be like taffy in texture. Don’t toss out the whey. My chickens love it and I use it in bread baking.

We ate ours with a couple of our last tomatoes, french bread and olive oil. Bruce ate 3 and he’s not a big eater. I’m going to try to increase my order to 3 gallons a week of raw milk. At this rate, a Jersey seems like a good idea.

I made bread with the whey. The loaf was very dense and rich. Actually, last night’s meal was amazing. I made pierogies, carmelized onions with oyster mushrooms in a sherry cream sauce, apple sauce, pickles and butternut squash. We had cider to drink. Nearly everything came from my backyard. This is my favorite time of the year, food wise. The butchering  has been done so the freezer is full; the root cellar is overflowing and the pantry sparkles with the colors of summer. I never forget to be grateful.

A busy week lies ahead. Most of my kids will be home for the holiday, then we have our potlatch on Saturday. It is a pure pleasure to know that I have no obligations that require travel. As the days get shorter and the cold weather settles in, my chair by the stove in the living room is favorite place to be.

I break all the rules and keep a lot of commercially canned food in my damp basement, the theory being that, as I rotate so often, the food will be used and replaced before the cans have time to degrade. The only problem is that we are growing and home preserving so much, I am a lot slower about the rotating than I use to be. I mean who wants canned pineapple when you have delicious home canned peaches and applesauce? So when I went to the basement to defrost the freezer and tidy up the jar storage, I peaked on the shelfs of commercial food and found that a can of pineapple had sprung a small leak. The juice had come out and the fruit inside completely dried out. The can weighed nearly nothing! The can itself was covered with a fine powdered mildew as were some adjoining cans. Now I have my work cut out for me. I’m going to have to make some changes. All of the canned food will have to come upstairs. Where will it go?????

I  have an upstairs closet that is quite large. Right now I store the lamps and lamp fuel, the solar oven and the unit that sits on top of a wood stove to make an oven in that space. I guess all of that could go downstairs. Another option is to run the dehumidifyer but I hate to use that much electricity. I have a lot of space in this house. There has to be a solution. I just haven’t thought of it yet.

I have been reading the headline news (I know, I know but I’m an addict). Federal fuel assistance has been cut by 47% and unemployment relief  has not gotten an extension. It may be a tough winter for a lot of families. I know that governments can not continue to spend money they don’t have but I’m not one who can hear about old people and little kids being cold and hungry and not be moved by it.

I’m going to rant a bit because I do feel as though what’s in the news today (or not as the case may be) has a lot to do with preparedness.

First: I hope that the planned rebellion that is to happen in airports over the Thanksgiving holidays happens. Having just been through this nightmare myself, I only wish I had an opportunity to participate.

Next: Today, the Food Safety bill is coming up for a vote. The bill is supposed to protect us from unsafe food. They will do this by hyper-regulating all food and suppliers. The Tester amendment will exempt small producers. If the amendment is not included, look out for regulations that may cripple small farms, orchards, apiaries and people selling a couple dozen eggs a day.

I find it beyond crazy that the news is leading with the story of a royal wedding rather than the assault on our food supply. We can live without royalty and the bread and circus of a ceremony in country in the midst of a financial crisis but we can’t live without a functioning food system.

From a preparedness standpoint, it the Testa amendments is not included in the food safety legislation, I will be looking to make some major investments in my land. I’m usually pretty conservative and try not to bite off more than I can comfortably chew but I will consider this a call, not to arms, but to shovels. I will consider every calorie I produce to be a patriotic act. Keep one thought in mind. If they feed you, they own you.

I have a food security kind of day going on today. We are picking up pork from the butcher for a friend who can’t get there today. Bruce is picking up turkeys for the food pantry and in between, I’m defrosting the big freezer and organizing my jar storage area in the basement. It’s amazing just how cluttered that space can get. I will keep you posted on the vote and if you hearing anything please post it here.

I am back home from my Florida/keynote speech trip. It was a miserable return trip with delayed flights and a looooooong layover in Baltimore. My son is graduating from college in April. I want to see the ceremony but I am determined not to fly again so I have some things to figure out.

Orlando is a different kind of place. From my hotel room I could see scores of hotels and shops and eateries but not much else. I saw a lot of families and, for people who were in what is touted as the happiest place on Earth, there was an awful lot of whining going on. Everyone in the airport looked cranky and exhausted. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the stuff in the bags they were hauling around would actually give them real pleasure when they returned home and how much would just turn to clutter, then tag sale wares, then come to rest in a landfill without ever fulfilling any useful purpose.

Bruce and I have a good day planned. We are mapping out the new beds for the strawberries and blueberries as well as harvesting the last of the mushrooms. I got an order of seeds for sprouting and I have to get those packaged. I also found a source for raw milk so I’m going to make cheese today too. I have asked DH to look for plans to build me a cheese press. I like hard cheese and with a good milk supply, I will finally be able to work on that process.

I need to spend sometime in the house. I have been so busy getting my presentations done that other things have fallen by the wayside. I have a lot to do before the holidays to prepare for all my company.

One other thing Bruce and I are doing is updating our plot plan. We don’t have a huge piece of property and we need to make every square foot work for us, either in producing food, supporting wildlife including pollinators or surrounding us with beauty. It’s time to order new trees and bushes. I want a permanent plan before I do this. We can see that our blueberries are not doing well in their current location. We’re moving them which will leave us with an empty space for something else. I would love to grow sassafras. I think I’m going to give it a shot.

I have been bust this week with presenting a couple of keynote speeches and some trainings and I now have a nice little purse. I have been putting together a shopping list. The list is a good idea as it’s really easy to make impulsive purchases and regret it later. Here’s what I have so far.

Heirloom seed collection: I just ordered a catalog for Baker Seeds because they sell some seed collections that I have seen and liked. I could certainly spend less if the seeds were purchased separately but these seeds are packed for long-term storage in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. The selection is excellent. I have used Baker Seeds in the past and the germination rate was fine. It’s a big spend but I think a good one.

Tattle lids: I have very mixed feelings about these lids but I still think they are worth the investment.

Volcano Stove: I like the looks of this stove and the reviews are good. I’m not getting the propane attachment as I have a good camp stove. I have good stash of charcoal but I will get more of that as well.

Nails, screws, fasteners of all kinds.

Quality outerwear.

The rest of the Foxfire series.

More winemaking and beer making supplies including corks, a corker and a very large carboy.

More cheesemaking supplies and equipment.

Trees and berries (I really want Sassafras but I’m not sure it will grow here)

I will probably add to my store of wheat berries and sugar.

What would you do with a windfall?

How does it happen? One day everything is neat and tidy, all organized and running smoothly and the next, it looks like I let a bunch of preschoolers and monkeys loose in my kitchen. I spent nearly all of Saturday organizing the cabinets AGAIN!!!!  How did I end up with 3 opened boxes of corn starch? Most of what I did was consolidate. The good news is that I have a lot more room and I can find what I need but I suspect that this is going to be the way it is around here. I get busy, I cook with kids, I do three things at once and the mess takes over. With my kids coming home, I’m really committed to keeping better order around here but ask me next month how it’s working out for me.

We had one busy weekend. On Saturday, we attended a barn dance/wedding reception just up the street then returned home in time to walk over to the community house for a concert. Radio Free Earth ( I LOVE RFE) and Evelyn Harris from Sweet Honey and the Rock played. It was great music to sing along with and dance in the aisles to. We had the girls with us and they had so much fun. I think Phoebe danced all night. Sunday morning we went to church, then returned home to rack the wine and help friends with some cider pressing. They ended up staying for dinner and a visit. It was a lovely, productive day.

The question was raised about what we would do with a windfall of cash. Would we buy more land or what? That led to a conversation about how one is best situated for the coming hard times. The pro for buying a more isolated spot is just that. Being off the beaten path has some advantages but, for me, they are outweighed by the convenience of living in a place where I can walk everyplace that matters to me. A typical New England village like the one we live in was designed for the kind of living that will be necessary in a resource depleted world.

To get back to the wine; the grape was good, the dandelion fair and the goldenrod was fabulous. Even before it has aged enough it was good enough to drink. I got 9 bottles in total and I still have another gallon of grape to rack which will give another 5 bottles. Not a bad haul when you consider that All I had to purchase were some raisins, some sugar and the yeast. I need to sit down and do some calculating. I could substitute honey for the sugar. I can make yeast and I can dry my own raisins so, with a little fiddling I should be able to make a completely local wine. Sometime I need to add some citrus to a wine. Now my little lemon tree has 6 gorgeous lemons on it. That will do nicely. I am actually thinking that I may pick up a few more citrus trees. They won’t keep us in daily juice but they will give us enough to do a project like winemaking and the occasional treat.

I had a  Christmas apple this week. It’s the oldest known cultivated variety in New England (that’s what the sign said) so I saved the seeds. Have any of you ever grown a tree from seed? I haven’t but I want to try. We have so enjoyed our apple press and the idea of expanding our orchard is really appealing. My kids could make a decent living with an orchard and a press.

Regardless of how you feel about the election, there were a few bright spots. Around here, a town near us is allowing the keeping of backyard chickens for the first time. I overheard some conversation about at a class I’m teaching. It was really interesting to hear how excited people were although the excitement was tinged with worry about rising food prices. I did one woman say that getting permission to keep a few goats was the next thing she was hoping for.

I helped a neighbor clean her barn out this week  to make room for a new milk house. As we are buying a share of the cow I felt it was only fair that I participate in the work. In the midst of hauling out many year’s worth of junk, I found a box of books. In going through them I found a three of the Foxfire series. What treasures! I haven’t read them before. Now I have to get the rest of the series. They are full of Appalachian wisdom, folklore and instruction for just about anything you might need to know how to do someday. I was very  interested in food preservation, especially the smoking and salting of pork.

Next week is going to be a tough one for posting. I have to be out-of-town for a couple of days (thursday and friday) and then I have wedding and a fundraiser to attend. After that, my life settles down. I have turned down all other speaking engagements and I’m concentrating on food security trainings that are within 100 miles of home. If I have to fly, I’m not going. If I have to be away over night, I’m not going. If it doesn’t matter to me beyond the paycheck, I’m not going. If Bruce can’t come with me, I’m not going, That makes it easy.

I spoke with a few families last night and worry rising is just as fast as prices. What are the things you will need, no matter what? What could you buy ahead that will hold value? I’m thinking tangibles here beyond food. How about shoes, socks and underwear? Nearly all are made overseas and will be affected by rising fuel costs. I have coats for my girls for several years. Bought second-hand, these set me back very little (as in under $5.00 for Columbia parkas and LL Bean boots). Work gloves and long underwear, sheets and blankets, bikes and umbrellas, toothbrushes and shovels. Nothing on my own list is exotic. It’s just the stuff of my life that I want to have. It makes holiday shopping pretty easy as all of my adult kids are getting a box of necessities this year. My grandkids have plenty of “stuff”. They are also getting boxes of necessities like shoes and shirts, mittens and bathrobes. They will never miss another toy and may well be mighty glad for the warm sweater.

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