April 2011


Nope. Not that end. Just the end of the trip for my kids. They are making a last big push and hope to arrive late tonight. Fresh sheets are on the bed. The bathroom is clean and stocked. I’ll be making a grocery run today so the refrigerator will look all lush. That part is necessary as the winter stuff is sadly depleted and the summer food not yet here. Late spring would be a very bad time of the year for the real EOTWAWKI. We wouldn’t starve but we would get mighty sick of our limited diet. I look every day for the first asparagus.

One of the upsides to getting ready to house two more people is that it has made me rotate and restock some of my supplies. When you buy things like shampoo and toothpaste in bulk, it’s easy to get complacent. I really needed more shampoo, toothpaste and sanitary supplies. As i cleaned out my own bathroom I found that my little one has been having a blast with the band-aids and I was down to weird sizes and only two boxes that are untouched. That is nowhere near enough around here where band-aids are part of our daily outfits. Little cuts left unattended or allowed to get dirty can spell big problems. I’m still good on latex gloves but I need to resupply the antibiotic cream. Maybe this is a good place to talk about cut care.

I cut my finger this week. It wasn’t a bad cut but it was in a bad place, right on the tip of my index finger. I first washed ir with hot, soapy water and rinsed it out well. Had I still seen debris I would have asked Bruce to remove any that couldn’t be rinsed out with clean tweezers. Good quality tweezers are a must in your first aid kit. I added a good squeeze of bactriban and covered it with a band-aid. The next part was harder. I wore latex gloves under my gardening gloves while working in the dirt. I rewashed the cut several times a day and paid close attention to hygiene, especially after using the toilet and such. Three days later the cut has mostly healed and I can dispense with everything but the gloves in the garden. there is still a bit of an open wound and infection is still a possibility. Needless to say, I am up-to-date on my shots.

This may seem like overkill but an infected finger would be a pain on a good day. On a bad day, it could be deadly.

I want to thank everyone for their continued interest and support. I think about retiring the blog as it seems as though I don’t have much new information to offer but I would really miss hearing from all of you. Starting my morning with a post is by turns motivating, humbling and inspiring.

Best wishes,

Kathy

My son and his wife are on their way home. They made it into Nebraska last night, chosing the longer Northern route to avoid the long, expansive desert stretches. Wise I think as their cars are old and there are places that you just don’t want to break down. We hope to see them drive in either late Friday or early Saturday. They had hoped to take a month for the trip, stopping to visit all of the National Parks on the way but the rising cost of both gas and food put the cost of such a venture out of reach for a couple with limited savings and no job waiting at home.

I have had a parade of visitors this week. We relocated our strawberry patch and have been giving away several hundred healthy plants. We had no problem finding homes. A couple of the young people who are homesteading about a mile from here have offered to swap labor for plants. We just might take them up on that. We have bee balm, fiddleheads, raspberries and strawberries to offer and a mess behind the neighbor’s barn that needs to come out so we can yellow raspberries to our patch. There’s a good market for berries. The asking price is obscene but the delicious little things are so fragile. They must be carefully picked and sold immediately. It’s one of those labor intensive crops that justifies the price for the grower if not the consumer.

We have had a couple of other young homesteaders stop by to check out our bee operation. Once again, I think many are surprised by just how labor intensive the work is. You don’t just buy some bees, pop them in a hive and gather honey in the fall. Bees have to be managed. Bruce spends many hours a week in the summer and keeps very accurate records so he knows just how much a pound of honey cost him. He hasn’t yet figured out a way to price in the cost of the stings. The initial outlay can be high unless you get everything used. That has its own pitfalls as you need to diligent about not bringing diseased home. A used hive is no bargain if it introduces mites or foul brood into your apiary. Around here, bear protection is a must. Electric fencing is a must and even that is no guarantee.

All of this talk about labor intensity is on my mind today. I read a bit on a preparedness site about foraging for food. The writer may have been well-intentioned but he was also nuts. I went out to get ramps last week. It took me a good 1/2 hour to fill a grocery bag. You have to harvest in a way that respects the integrity of the patch, taking only a few specimens and leaving the best behind. Ramps love steep, wet inclines and a lot of leaf litter. It’s cold, muddy work. I took them home and cleaned them up which took another 1/2 hour. I had about two cups of food for my trouble although I used the greens for stock. By the time I carmelized them, this had reduced to a little over a cup. They were fabulous but they were a treat as opposed to food. It’s mighty hard to get too far down the road on a foraged diet and you really can’t calculate a price. One of the tricky parts of operating outside a formal economy is going be figuring out just what things are worth. Plastic pumpkins are one thing. Ramps and honey are another. What an odd society it is that has people willing to plunk down chunks of their life energy for something that has no real value and huge environmental costs but complain about the price of something with real value, both to the consumer and to the ecosystem.

We have been in a planting frenzy around here. All I need for motivation is a quick glance at news stories about rising food and commodity prices. Food is going to be problematic, maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but soon. You can’t keep oil abouve $110.00 and not see it reflected in the cost of everything from beans to band-aids. My son and DIL are leaving Utah for Massachusetts this morning. The plan was to take their time and cross the country by way of the National Parks. They hoped to do some camping and rock climbing before returning here to job hunt and settle down to real life. Plans changed as they crunched the numbers for fuel and food on the road and they have decided to drive straight back here. Neither kid has health insurance eithe.r It stopped as soon as they graduated and Ben is too old to get it through us. I think they were worried about what an accident or illness on the road would mean. I’m sorry for the lost opportunity but I respect their decision. Goodness knows, we can use the extra help around here.

Back to the gardening. We put in a load of strawberries and I have been researching guilds for them in all of my permaculture books. It looks like chives and borage are good companion plants, providing insect protecting (chives) and mulch (borage). Spinach is a good intercrop, providing a food source while protecting the soil between strawberry plants. I dried a good bit of spinach last year and will dry a lot more this year. It dries in just a few hours and made a great addition to tomato sauces and soups. I alsoadded it to scrambled eggs and stir fries. It’s good stuff to have on hand. Three gallons of dried spinach goes a long way although I must add that it takes a mess of spinach to fill up a gallon jug. I will probably have to get some from the farmer’s market to be sure I have enough.

We also planted the pear trees, the elderberries, the blackberries and the blueberries. Bruce built raised beds for everything. They look nice and are much easier to mow around than irregular shapes. I love to see lawn disappear as the food producing beds fill up the space.

I hope to make a trip to the thrift shop this week. This a great time of the year to pick up coats. They are all marked way down. I have gotten some good deals on gently worn outerwear. I want to look for stuff for Ben and Maggie. They will need barn coats as well as new Muck boots, gloves and coveralls. I will also be looking for down blankets and good wool yarn. That’s the kind of thing that will be on sale.

My raw milk co-op is up and running. The milk is amazing. It makes the best cheese and yogurt. I have to add that, as I’m doing more and more, the hours in a day are getting eaten up at a rather alarming rate. I hope Maggie likes to bake bread. At $4.69 a loaf, I really can’t afford to buy it. The plastic packaging is obnoxious and it’s hard to find without some ingredient I want to avoid. I will need to bake 4 days a week with two added adults in the household. That means extra wheat grinding too.

I am a bit of an armchair economist groupy. I was never a numbers girl in school but I find a certain satisfaction in trying to figure this stuff out now. I wish I had a better head for it but I am getting so I can make sense of it if I give it time. One of my favorite pastimes is reading the predictions. You know the ones I’m referring to. The system will collapse on this day or this month. This stock or commodity will soar. Inflation will rule, unless of course it’s deflation or stagflation or some mutant combination of all three. If I had the time, it would be fun to keep track of all the predictions and then read what the prognosticator had to say when he or she was wrong.

So here is my investment advice based on my all I have learned in the past five years.

1. My house. Every dime I spend to make my house more comfortable or more energy efficient pays big benefits now. I think the benefits will only increase down the line. Every one minute I spend keeping my home orderly and organized is two minutes not wasted looking for stuff. Today my house is a cluttered mess. I feel out-of sorts and unproductive. I hate that.

2. My health. I’m not a kid anymore. I can’t afford to neglect my body. I just don’t recover like I used to. I want bacon every morning but I eat the oatmeal. I would rather not be tied to cholesterol medication but I have a family history of deaths from hearth attacks in late 50′s or early 60′s. I’m not taking any chances. I walk when I would rather read and refuse seconds on the pie. I have no self-control when it comes to junk food so I just don’t keep any in the house.

3. My community. Church and PTO, town meetings and small businesses, they take time and money but small towns run on volunteerism and sacrifice. If I want this town to work post peak, I need to do my part to lay the ground work now.

4. My family. Be nice to your kids and your partner. The family picture of blown kisses as you all rush out the door to spend your day apart is not likely to hold up. Quality time is important but quantity matters too. Working together, playing together, even fighting together is necessary for a family to work.

5. My friends. I have the best friends in the world. I have trouble separating friends from family. When the chips are down, I want friends I trust around me and I don’t think you learn that trust if all you do together is shop or party. I think you need to work and laugh and sacrifice with and for each other.

I have no idea when TEOTWAWKI is going to happen. Maybe today and maybe never. I do know that I have a limited time on this planet and I want to enjoy it. I have some financial investments and I hope they will provide me with a comfortable retirement (assuming comfortable involves shoveling chicken s…t and harvesting vegetables) but those investment could disappear any time. My house, my health, my community, my family and my friends have staying power. That’s where I put my energy.

We preppers are famous for those big old buckets of rice, wheat and beans and #10 cans of freeze-dried butter. Powdered milk and cans of pineapple, our shelves bow under the weight. Today, I spent hours on my hands and knees in the mud and the rain, planting blackberries, strawberries, elderberries and a gorgeous cranberry bush, I could have shot off an impressive order to Emergency Essentials for about what I spent on all of my plants, season extenders, rock amendments and such but what I would have ended up with was short-term security rather than long-term sustainability. Don’t get me wrong. I will always buy grains and such in bulk as well as the occasional #10 can of freeze-dried butter but it feels really good to be doing the work that means my kids and grandkids will eat well.

The weather has been so dreadful here. It’s cold and wet and windy. The sun is random, breaking through just long enough to tease us but not long enough to do any good. I’m fortunate that my soil drains well. I’ve seen some gardens that are nothing but mud puddles. I am hoping that we aren’t looking at another miserable garden year. The summer of blight is still fresh in our collective memories. Last summer, the summer of heat and drought was nearly as bad. This unstable weather has got me thinking about season extenders. I spent too much money this week and bought some Wall O’Waters. I want to give them a try to see if I can get enough extra grow time to maybe avoid the blight. Early planting also makes it possible to have corn or squash flower before my neighbors. That way I can save seed without cross breeding.

I suspect we will all have to figure out how to make growing food work during coming hard times. The curve is steep and I’m not getting any younger. That’s the most appealing thing about permaculture. Once established, the asparagus and the raspberries just keep producing. The chickens eat the garden wastes and provide eggs and manure. The bees pollinate and give us wonderful honey. I really urge you to get a copy of Gaia’s Garden or any other good permaculture book. The day may come when I can’t afford to experiment with expensive Wall O’Waters or buy those pulverized rock amendments. I need to know how to regenerate my soil.

Nature note: The ramps are up and so is the rhubarb. The turkey vultures have returned. The climate may not be stable but the earth does go on.

What I’m stealing here are ideas and information.

First: Eggs. Any of you trying to hard boil a fresh egg knows that it’s darn near impossible. My neighbor and egg partner suggested I steam the eggs for 9 1/2 minutes. I put a dozen fresh eggs in my steamer basket and it worked perfectly, as long as I peeled them while still hot. Another advantage is that is uses less water.

Second: Cheese press. I’m anxious to make hard cheese but I don’t have a cheese press. My friends, Barbara and Sheri made one out of a #10 can, a steamer basket with the handle removed, a small cake pan (like what you would use for the top of a wedding cake) and hand wights. I am absolutely going to make me one of these.

Third: Grain grinder reviews: There is a blog out there called The Good, The Bad, The ugly, Comparing Hand Grain Mills, that gives excellent information on grain grinders.

Fourth: Soil blocks. Read the information of these things. I spent the morning yesterday making my first soil blocks and planting the seeds for my herb garden. It’s pretty cool and the science is compelling on the benefits for using these as opposed to commercial potting soil.

It was a productive weekend. I took a gardening class in the afternoon that presented excellent information that I will put to good use. I’m going to try the Wall O’Water on my tomatoes. Our season is so short and the benefit to early tomatoes is the protection you get from late blight. My blueberries, cranberries, elderberries, blackberries and pear trees arrived this week. It’s planting time! YEAH!!!!! Strawberries arrives as well. I got a new variety called Seascape that looks good.

No. Not time until TEOTWAWKI, just time until my son and wife come home, the garden gets going, the tree and bush order arrives and so on and so on. After a long, sleepy winter spring is here in full force and I don’t feel ready.

Projects: The new beds for strawberries and blueberries are 1/2 prepped and waiting for plants. We are enlarging the potato/squash beds and putting in a second greenhouse too.

We are getting the chimney relined to take the wood furnace in the basement. We also need to find someone who can inspect it and repair if necessary.

Replacing the downstairs windows.

Replace the flat roof and reinsulate.

Replace the back wall in the living room. I think the insulation has gotten wet from the flat roof leak. It’s a big, messy job.

Figure out the plan for the back pasture.

Get the farm stand up and running. This means a daily schedule of baking.

That should do it for now. There are always the small jobs like log inoculation, minor repairs and tree planting. The Fedco order has arrived and I can’t remember what I ordered. I know there are some elderberry trees and maybe a cherry too. Anyway, I’m off to work. Posting may be sparse during the next few week, at least until the garden is in and the house cleaned and prepped for two more adults. I’ll try to chronicle how it works as I think a lot of us may find that we need to double up to manage our coming economic problems. It makes sense but it won’t be easy to rethink what family structure looks like. Flexibility and planning are going to matter. The first order of business is to sit down and figure out the basics. Who cook when? How do manage project time? If this is Maggie’s home she needs to feel free to treat the kitchen as hers. I need to let go of control. It needs to be our space rather than mine.

It seems that I’m always needing to make decisions. Do I do the easy thing, the cheap thing, the fast thing, or the right thing? And why is it that the right thing generally takes more of something I don’t have enough of. Either time or money or energy is always in short supply so I’m always making compromises.

Take something as simple (HA!) as strawberries. If I want a year’s supply of strawberries I can go the easy (but expensive) route of buying a case of #10 cans of dried strawberries. It works if you don’t mind paying top dollar for berries of uncertain origin that have been grown and shipped from who knows where. Another option is to purchase a couple dozen bags of frozen berries and pop them in your freezer. Less expensive, still easy but there’s the pesky problem of origins and plastic bags and supporting an agribizz system. You can always buy local berries and put them up yourself. It will still cost you but at least you know here they came from and you can put them up in any fashion that suits you. By far, the most complicated way to get your berries is to grow them yourself. It means preparing your soil, amending, mulching, weeding, buying stock, learning about the various cultivars, picking, processing, putting your bed down in the fall and preparing it for the winter. You need to know about diseases, garden pests and how to fend off the birds who want a share of the harvest. You also need to fend off friends and relatives who expect baskets of berries when they stop in for a visit. You can understand why the #10 can holds a certain appeal.

I’m thinking about all of this because I spent way too much time today feeling guilty. I needed a new strawberry bed and I know I should have prepared it last year. I should have laid down the cardboard, the hay and the compost to make a no-till bed. This is better for the soil but it takes a lot of time. I found myself needing to get the bed prepared and resorted to the noisy, polluting, bad-for-the-soil rototiller. My point here is that perfection is the enemy of accomplishment. We all want to do the right thing but sometimes, the best we can do is the best we can do.

I got a cold back in December and have been battling a sinus infection ever since. I tried all of the natural remedies like nettie pots and elderberry tea and steam and anything else recommended to me by well-meaning friends. Today, I went to the doctor and came home with an antibiotic. It’s been only 12 hours and I’m already feeling better. Like I said. You have to do what you have to do.

I had a very interesting question in my comment section last week. What would I do if I knew I had just two left before a major dislocation occurred? Two years is a good time frame for me to consider. It’s close enough for a sense of immediacy but far enough away to give me time to make real changes. So here goes.

Location. I would be looking at where I lived. If I had long been planning to relocate, now ould be the time. Maybe I would want to be closer to kin. Maybe a place with a more stable climate would work. I might be looking at a walkable community or someplace more rural. If my relocation plan included moving to Aunt Sally’s farm, now would be a good time to ask Aunt Sally what she thought about that idea. I know I have family and friends who still joke about coming here. I have 7 kids, 3 kid-in-laws and 6 grandkids. Sorry. No more room at this particular inn.

Systems. Now would be the time to get the windows replaced, the chimney repaired, the roof patched and the wood stove hooked up. How will you cook? Will the toilet flush? Look at everything you do and ask yourself the “what if” questions.

Water. Where does it come from and what would you do if it come from there anymore? What would you need to access local sources? Filters or containers, a hand pump or collection system; the time to get them is before the grid goes.

Food. Where you get it? Do you need to grow more of your own? I’m learning about seed saving just now. Like most things, there is more to it than meets the eye. Get your soil analyzed, get the tools and the skills Start today. #10 cans come and go but a good hoe is forever.

Transportation. How will you get from point A to point B. Do you need a bike. How about some spare tires and a bike pump?

Health. Get the tooth filled, the glasses updated and that tetanus shot you’ve been putting off. Get healthy. Meet your local herbalist and chiropractor. It will be easier to trade for an adjustment than to get a disk fused.

Communications. How will you get your news and connect with your family. Make a family disaster plan so you know who’s picking up the kids and where you will meet.

A one year supply of basic food. Not that you should plan to eat just that but you do want to have a back-up if we get hit with late blight or a deer gets in the corn patch or you break an arm.

Stuff. Shoelaces and wicking, socks and band-aids. Man does not live by bread alone.

Skills. Learn how now. I do not want to be trying to read the directions to my oil press in the cold and dark. Those preparedness library shelves should be overflowing with how-to manuals.

With whom. I can preserve the sauce but not set a bone. I can raise the bees but not the dairy cow. Bruce can build a shed but not-well there’s not much he can’t put his hand to but you get my point. We are not self-sufficient. We’re co-dependent. A community matters unless you’re planning to hide in a cave and eat raw squirrel. I’m not. I need people to do what I can’t.

I’m sure I’ve left out lots of things but this covers the basics. What other ideas are floating around out there. Herbalpagan. I’m counting on you.

Just an aside. I’m going to pick up canning jars today. An elderly neighbor is moving to Florida and offered me two hundred canning jars if I will pick them up. Tomorrow I am getting my car repaired. We just got new tires and now want to replace belts and hoses as well as get a tune up. On Tuesday, I’m getting my yearly physical and setting up an appointment for an eye exam. There is buy one get a pair for 1/2 price sale at the opticians. That will give me three pairs of good glasses. I can’t manage with out my specs so extras are a necessity.

I heard an NPR piece today about happiness and England. It seems that the Brits are using an IPAD app to track just how happy people are, where they’re the happiest and what activities make them happy. And this has what to do with preparedness??? Trust me. I’m getting there.

A couple of decades ago, we took the kids to Disney. It was a pretty good time but the happiest place on Earth? I don’t think so. The lines were long, the prices high, the forced gaiety a little too forced. I often think about measuring and evaluating happiness. It occurs to me that even considering this is a function of two things; advertising and cheap stuff. One would not exist without the other. Prior to the age of TV, I would guess that people were not particularly concerned with how happy they were. They had to be satisfied with good relationships and meaningful work as hot tubs and flat screen TVs were decades in the future. Take away television cheap stuff to judge ourselves by (we are always found wanting BTW-that’s the point) and we would once again have to look inside ourselves for satisfaction.

Big changes are coming. Our lives will not always be defined by Madison Avenue. They will be defined by the company we keep and the work we do. Stockpile shoelaces and toothpaste, canning jars and garden seeds but don’t forget to store up some social capital and solid confidence in your ability to contribute something to the common good. It’s going to matter sooner rather than later I think.

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