December 2011

It’s that time of year. I love clean slates and January 1 is the best for fresh and new paper to write hopes, dreams and wishes for the future. I have learned that only about 10% of what I plan will actually come to fruition but the other 90% matters too. It provides the seeds for those any spare energy and time.

1. I want to get more involved in the political life of my community. I think it was Jim Kunstler who said that who your select-person is may matter more than who your president is. There are a lot of decisions made at the local level that end up direction what you grow, harvest, produce and sell. Think about the power of an ag commission to determine the role of GMO corn growing next to your heirloom Red Dent.

2. I’m 59.5 and I can now remove money from some of my retirements accounts without paying a penalty. What I do with this admittedly tiny amount of money matters. I plan to invest in my house infrastructure and in plants and poultry. I think sheep may be on the menu as well.

3. I have my apple tree available for grafting and pruning. This is a skill I plan to master in the coming months. Master may be a bit strong. I want to be able to care for my own small orchard and arbors.

4. My summer kitchen has to pay for itself so I have to begin work on planning, publicizing and conductiing classes and programs that bring in some income.

5. I really need to work on some mushroom propagating. We love them and we have some great locations. They are so carefree and the more I can get started the better.

6. I will learn to navigate my computer so I can get to work on my alternate website, Preserving Abundance. I have to learn to post pictures and videos without calling for help. Bruce and I plan to make that a priority.

So what’s on your bucket list? let us know what you want to accomplish in the next year. I know I need all the inspiration I can get.

I’m not a very big person. I’m 5’4″ and 138 pounds and I have a lower back problem. I’m certainly not sedentary but I don’t lift weights unless you count pound cake. But on Saturday, I found out just how strong I can be when I have to step up.

Bruce had moved the bee enclosure and needed my help moving the hives. They sit on 6×6’s which sit concrete blocks and when full of honey and bees for the winter they weigh well over one hundred pounds each. With one of us on either side, moving them is a challenge but doable. Our plan was to lift and slide each hive onto the garden cart and wheel the bees to their new home. But somehow, as I picked up the first hive the cart rolled forward just enough to make me lose my balance. I banged my shin into one of the 6×6’s and shaved a 3 inch flap of skin into a dandy little scroll. That threw me off even more and I fell forward which pushed the cart even more. This threw the weight towards Bruce and we were in real danger of dropping the hives. You have to picture that our faces were inches from the hive top and dropped bees are pretty nasty. I knew in that instant that I COULD NOT LET GO!

I am probably not doing a good job of conveying just how hard it was to hang on. The pain was intense. We had bees flying around our heads and I was at a crazy, uncomfortable angle. Bruce managed to nudge the cart forward with his foot while I held up my end and we managed to slide the hive forward enough to enable Bruce to relieve some of the weight from me. The whole mess only took about twenty seconds but it was mighty long twenty seconds.

My leg looks awful. I have a big bruise and a lot of swelling along with one of those scrapes that oozes and hurts just to look at. Still, I’m feeling pretty darn proud of myself. I think we all wonder just what we could accomplish if the chips were down. I’m betting we are stronger than we think.

There are times one does have to admit failure and later that night we had such a moment. Bruce loves the holidays, especially things like making gingerbread houses with the girls. He is also a night person. He’s the kind of guy who can announce at 9:30 PM, a time when sensible people are getting into bed that it’s time to wallpaper the bathroom or rip out a wall. It’s a miracle we’re still married. Anyway, we decided that Saturday night was the time to put together the gingerbread house. He did not decide that reading the directions was necessary. After all, just how hard could it be. I’ll tell you how hard. Impossible is how hard. After an hour and a half of collapsed roofs and tottering walls we gave up. The whole mess looks as though it has been through some apocalyptic disaster. That’s my Christmas decoration. The “after picture” of the Mutant Zombie Bikers. It’s still sitting on the kitchen island waiting for a Christmas miracle. I’m guessing that the miracle will come in the form of one of us getting sick enough of the mess to toss the whole thing to the chickens. At least it isn’t filled with angry bees.

I was so busy doing the 33/34 days prep that I didn’t have time to write. Let’s see. I had morning tea with some dear friends and we discussed just about everything that has to do with resilient communities. We talked a lot about preserving pork. Now, of course, I want to build a smokehouse.

Next we got the hay bales picked up for banking the church and the greenhouses. I spent hours going through my clothes. Sometimes you just have to admit that the days of being a size 8 are over and those too-tight shirts are heading to the thrift shop in the morning.

The big thing was moving the bee hives. They didn’t go far, just far enough to free up my one mature crab apple tree. This matters because I want to graft the tree with some scion wood and get a good crop without the wait that comes with planting tiny trees. We plan to harvest crab apples for making pectin and get a good crop of cider apples too. My morel mushroom patch is under the tree too. Getting those harvested meant crawling around under the hives which is probably not a good plan, no matter how docile the bees are. This was heck of a job and one I’m grateful to have out of the way.

This our first year with the wood stove going in the basement and we are finding it a bit too hot. We’ll see what it’s like when we get real winter weather. 45 degrees just doesn’t count as winter in my book. I actually harvested oyster mushrooms yesterday. The girl’s bedrooms are still pretty chilly. I made some hot sacks from scrap fabric and old rice. Phoebe lies to take one to bed with her.

Did you all see the news story about the genetically modified flu virus that is not only deadly but easily passed by casual contact? I don’t usually get cranky but sometimes we are just too stupid to be believed.

Space, for every person who believes in having supplies put away for a rainy day, is always at a premium. That’s why organization and consolidation is so important. I’m pretty good at this stuff but I do have places that I would be ashamed to have anyone see. My closet is one of them. On the floor is this horrible conglomeration of photographs. I have thousands. Some are in albums but most are just lying around in bins that take up a lot of valuable real estate and don’t provide what I want which is the ability to pull out pictures to pass around and enjoy on occasion. Yesterday, Bruce and I tackled those photos. It took all day and we aren’t finished but we made a good start. That hardest part was getting started. The second hardest part was throwing out orphan pictures. If they are doubles, out of focus, random people and places we can’t identify, if they just don’t matter, out they went. I made an album. Each page is devoted to part of our lives. I started with dating and I’m up to the adoption of the girls. There are only a few pictures on each page with a few lines that talk about what was going on. It seems minimal but the pictures do jog our memory which is the point. I have one album devoted to awful school pictures and one devoted to the children who have lived with us in foster care. I pulled out several that I can pass on to children who have been adopted and will appreciate them. The rest I sorted out into piles to pass on to each kid. They can do what they like with their pile. At least they will have a choice. This a project I have started before. This time I plan to finish. I picked up a shoe rack and the floor will now hold all of my shoes and sandals. What a concept.

DH and I are catching up on medical, dental and eye care for us and for the girls. I cannot stress just how important this is. I always have an extra set of eyeglasses as well as an eyeglass kit handy. I can’t see without my glasses and I can’t afford the surgery so I put the spare specs at the top of my “gotta have it” list.

Have you all done a winter care check up? I have an appointment on Tuesday to change the oil, top off fluids and replace the wipers. I have already checked out the car kit and replaced worn tires. Every year, people find themselves stranded with no supplies. Nobody wakes up and plans to get lost or have their car break down but things happen. Don’t let it happen to you.

I got this little book for free on my Kindle and had a wonderful time reading it over the weekend. It was written in the early 1800’s and is certainly not intended as an actual resource. In fact, if people actually used some of the home remedies it would go a long way toward towards explaining why people died so young. That being said, there were a lot of gems in it and I would recommend that you pick up a copy if you can find it.

I try not to waste food but I have nothing on these folk. When you read that the pigs head is done when the eyeballs fall out you know you’re in an entirely different league. Most kids I know don’t want to east the crusts on their bread and these ids ate scrambled brains. I was struck how, in very old fashoined language, she extoles the virtues of doing the same things we talk about here. Buying in bulk, making from scratch, wasting nothing and teaching your children skills are all things we know are important. It was also a bit funny to read her critisims of youth. Some things just never change.

I had a really busy weekend. In one day I had a Chrsitmas gift bag sew, a craft fair, a church pot luck and an art opening to atttend. Fortunately, everything happened in one place ( at the community house) and it’s acroos the street from my house. I so love a walkable community. I’m out the door but I’ll try to post my days of prepping later along with a a recipe and the directions from one of best sellers at the craft fair.

Like many people, I do a good clean-out, reorganization after the holidays. In fact I already started and I found something that surprised me. I did a huge medical stock up several years ago. I went to a close-out store and bought a lot of things in large quantity that never go bad. Things like band-aids and aspirin, salves and ointments and thermometers and ace bandages aren’t expensive and have long shelf lives. Over the years, whenever the bathroom supply ran low, I would just go to the storage area and pull out another box or bottle. Imagine my shock when I went looking for a box of band-aids and found nary a one. It turns out that I was not the only one grabbing supplies and somehow, I just didn’t realize just how many we went through. I actually had to go to a pharmacy and purchase a box to get me over the hump until I find a cheap place to stock up.

Running out of basics is expensive, not just in terms of money but in terms of time and inconvenience. I live a good 1/2 hour from a shopping center. Our little grocery carries a good deal but the prices are sky-high and I don’t want to pay a premium for things where quality is not paramount. My milk matters. Whether my band-aid is name brand or not really doesn’t. In fact, the name band-aid has gone into common usage when it’s actually a brand name. I believe the proper term is self-adhesive bandage. Anyway, I can’t afford this kind of oversight.

The first step in getting a good kit together is to pull out what you have and do an inventory. When I did that I found that there were any number of things I would have sworn I had that were just not there. I get the occasional cold sore and I’ve found that Abreva, used for just a few days puts a stop to them. Guess what I’m out of. The Bacitracin is down to one tube but big bandages are in good supply. We seldom need big bandages so they last a long time. I have lots of tape and gauze, plenty of adult pain reliever and lots of stomach remedies but our pediatric supply is depleted, in part because I have given a lot away to people who found themselves with a sick kid and no children’s fever reducer. I have a good supply of oral rehydration therapy but my stash of heavy-duty pain pills is getting mighty slim. Again, this is not because we’ve used them but because we have shared with folks who found themselves short at a time they couldn’t get to town. So, while the rest of the world is out redeeming gift cards and exchanging gifts, I’ll be hunting the aisles of big pharmacies looking for BOGO deals on band-aids and aspirin.

The next step in putting together a kit is figuring out what you tend to go through and what you would really hate to be without. Hardware like tweezers and a stethoscope last forever. Do you have them and can you lay your hands on them? What about a magnifying glass for finding slivers? You can’t buy mercury thermometers any more. The digital ones are pretty cheap and they work well but you know how I feel about things that rely on tech to work. I do have one mercury thermometer left that I guard with my life. I shudder to remember that we used to play with the balls of mercury when we broke a thermometer. Most gardeners know that cuts must be kept clean and bandaged to avoid infection. A squeeze bottle for irrigating wounds is important and so is an antibiotic ointment. I use an aloe plant for most things and find it works quite well. A eye cup for rinsing foreign objects from your eye should be on your shelf.

I was looking over my first aid book and realized it was pretty old. While a lot of the information was good, some of it, like the burn section and the CPR stuff was out-of-date. I also realized that I was out-of-date too. I haven’t taken a first-aid course in a few years. I put that on my to-do list for January.

I have an up-draft machine from my years when Phoebe suffered from asthma. The machine works well but the hoses are pretty yellow. I need to replace them and ask for a new prescription for the medication as that is now expired. Every neighborhood should have one of these. Asthma can kill and kill fast.

My Epi pen needs to be tossed. Because we raise bees and have a kid with a shellfish allergy, I keep a pen on hand. I would sure hate to have to decide to use one. I have plenty of gloves, hot and cold packs and more pressure bandages than I’ll ever need.

The best first-aid is good health and common sense. Keep you hands clean, eat right and get enough sleep and enough exercise and you’ll likely keep well. I’m planning to take aback class in january. My health center gives a class in the proper way to lift and carry and will demonstrate the exercises that support the muscles that cause pain. As I age, back care becomes more important.

I’m sure you all have your favorite medications and health tips. Feel free to share. There is much to learn and a lot of information out there.

I’m having a lot of trouble with my blog. Some approved comments are not showing up and I’m finding it nearly impossible to post my own comments. I fear it’s the computer, not the blog as it’s acting up across the board.

I did nothing yesterday but play Candyland, read Dr. Seuss and hold my grandbabies. I know I shouldn’t brag but they are seriously the cutest dang kids. Now on to the blog.

We chose to replace the windows after 25 years of reglazing and making do. I love these new windows. I can wash them and for the first time since living here we aren’t waking up to a coating of frost on winter mornings. It’s money well-spent IMHO.

We thought about doing our Potlatch on Black Friday but so many people were out of town for the holiday that we moved it up.

Animal husbandry. On Sunday, I’m taking Phoebe to her first 4-H meeting. She is joining the Little Shepards group. I’ll be starting the homemaking group right after the holidays. 4-H is an often underrated way to get into keeping livestock. I have no experience with sheep. Going the 4-H route will allow me to learn right along with Phoebe. There’s a lot of support and resources available for beginners and a great community with a ton of knowledge to share. Of course, If you don’t have kids it will look a bit odd if you just show up… I know that when I did past groups, the organization had books and equipment and some good curriculum. The other point is that a lot of these old organizations like the grange and scouts are having a hard time recruiting members and leaders. We can not afford to lose them. They are often the only repository of the knowledge we will need in an energy and money constrained future.

This whole 4-H thing has gotten me thinking about community. I talk a bit about giving but we need to take as well. By that I mean participating. It’s easy to hibernate in the dark days of January but it isn’t good for us and it isn’t good for our communities. We now have a group playing basketball at the school a few nights a month. I’m not up for basketball but I’m thinking that I should join a book club. Our towns need their backbones rebuilt and that takes participation. Yesterday, I found that I had misplaced my granddaughter’s only bottle. I was getting a bit frantic and thinking I would have to drive to town to purchase one. Then someone mentioned a group called “It Takes A Village”. One phone call and a neighbor stopped by with a box of bottles. I didn’t know that this group that was formed to support families even existed! I’m glad I was in a position to take this time and you can be certain that I’ll be giving in the future.

I wanted to post my recipe for whole wheat crescent rolls. They’re light and fluffy and, although they take a while, the recipe makes 24 so they will last through several meals.

Warm up 1 1/4 cups milk and add 1/3 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons salt and 4 tbls melted butter. Sprinkle 2 teas yeast over the top and let it stand for a few minutes. Then add an egg and 2 cups of flour and beat for a couple of minutes. Add more flour (about 1 1/2 cups) until you have a manageable dough. Turn it out and knead for a good 6-8 minutes. Let it rise then punch down and cut the dough in half. Roll each half into a circle and cut each circle into twelve wedges. Roll the wedges from the wide end into crescents and let them rise again. Now bake at 425 for 15 minutes. These should be eaten warm with lots of butter.

Days 23 and 24 and I feel fine. Well. Sort of. My back hurts from all the lifting and toting but other than that the Potlatch was a huge success. Lots of coming and going, lots of homemade goodies and a wonderful sense of community made for a fabulous day. I got a lot of “shopping” done. Phoebe will get a CD player and a wonderful box of school supplies. This will be her big gift as she and her friends spend hours playing school with their dolls. The added benefit is that it gives her a chance to practice her academic skills. A few home schooling families brought in all of their leftover supplies. The stuff is in perfect shape and, when put in a bin, will be just the ticket. I also got a tall stack of easy readers and a big bag of sweet dresses. Karen got a big bunch of romantic comedies on DVDs and one of those luminesque disks that responds to sound. By far the best part of the day was seeing people delighted with a find; the lady who walk out with a boxed set of Jimi Hendrix experience CDs or the gentleman with the leather-bound backgammon set. There were “like new” toys that found homes and some great decorations and housewares. The coats and hats all went to Share The Heat, a local program that distributes outerwear and sleeping bags to the homeless. Take that SuperMall! Next week we’re holding a community gift bag sew to avoid wrapping paper. It’s combined with an art opening, a pot luck dinner and an “under $20.00 and homemade” craft fair.

I made one of my cheap eats meals last night. A simple potato soup was fabulous with onions and bacon and a side helping of whole wheat crescent rolls. I’ve noticed that all complaints of “too much whole wheat” have stopped. I use fresh ground Prairie Gold wheat in my baked goods. My kids used to complain that my bread was too dense if I used more than 50% whole wheat but they seem to have gotten past that although it’s possible that they have just given up the fight. I can get away with a lot of simple food if I serve warm bread. I followed up with a very basic molasses/ginger cookie for dessert. It’s one of those recipes that isn’t. I think the Fannie Farmer Cookbook is where the original recipe came from and I fiddled with until I liked the results. I do know that I don’t cook it as long as it says too, maybe 7 minutes instead of 8 as we like chewy cookies. I hope you all have a good potato soup recipe to draw on. I carmelize some onions in a mess of bacon and add celery in the last few minutes. Set that aside and cook potato in chicken stock. You can use a good vege stock if you don’t eat meat. When the potatoes are cooked, puree them with an emersion blender and add the onions and crumbled bacon. Then pour in some very rich milk and shred some cheddar cheese over it and heat it through. Delicious and low fat (not!). I often add a bag of corn to this. I just forgot last night. If you swap clam juice for the stock and add a can of clams, you get a passable chowder. Unfortunately, Karen has developed an allergy to shellfish so the clams are out of the question.

I’m feeling a bit philosophical today. I was talking with a friend who is feeling as though she makes a lot of sacrifices for the good of the planet but that, in the end, they will have been for naught and what was the point. Here’s what I believe. If I know better, I have to do better. It may not matter one whit but how can I jack up the heat or buy an SUV when I know better? How can I purchase plastic crap when I know the results in the refuse chain? How can I enjoy iceberg lettuce in January when I know how much oil is in every bite? And how can I complain when I don’t see any of what I do without as sacrifice (most of the time)? I have been blessed with some amazing models. Sheri and Barbara and Leni and Sharon have all taught me so much about consumption and abundance. I don’t live up the high standard they set very often but I always think before I act and my choices are more responsible every day. I hope I pass that on to others in my writing and by example. I can’t bail out the whole boat but maybe I can hand out a few more pails.

PS I am having problems with my blog. Spellcheck is not working well and I keep finding comments that I approved are not always showing up (I think I fixed that) so if you made a comment and it wasn’t posted, check again. I was also having trouble posting my own comment but I think that’s resolved too. I read and approve all comments (unless it’s spam) but this computer is making me crazy. I may just switch to the desk top and forget the laptop. It’s a pain for word processing.

Thank you for keeping me up to speed on this.

This is Potlatch weekend, our annual attempt tp derail the holiday train. We send out the call for people to come to the church vestry and drop off gift quality items and take home the same. We also take holiday decorations and outerwear as well as good quality household things. The biggest problem is that some people see this a sway to clean out junk before the holidays and we get stuck getting rid of it before Sunday services. Puzzles with missing pieces and electronics that don’t work are not gift quality but we always get some of them. The junk is a small price to pay for keeping a lot of useful stuff out of the landfill and helping folks provide gifts without spending any money. In the midst of taking donations I snagged a bookcase and a carpet for Ben and Maggie’s new place from a woman who was downsizing.

I’m on an apple rant today. I had been reading about arsenic in apple juice so I got online and did some research. It turns out that upwards of 60% of our apple juice originates from China! The problem is that China allows some arsenic based pesticides that are banned in the US. It just boggles the mind that we are importing apple anything. This country has an embarrassment of apples. I find it impossible to believe that we need to rely on some other country, a long, oil soaked boat trip away, to grow or process something so adapted to our ecosystem. The solution is to buy only organic juice but organic juice in my little market is nearly $5.00 a quart. I can get it for less if I buy a case but this still leaves most poor people, and lately that seems to be most people, out in the cold. They are forced by economics to purchase juice they know is unhealthy.

The only solution is to stop buying juice at all. I know that going juiceless would be hard for me and I can imagine for many others. I still have nearly 50 quarts of home-pressed cider and cran-apple juice as well as some grape juice in the basement. I am committed to canning much more next year. I’m delighted every time I open a jar of the canned cider. The flavor is wonderful, the process easy and the price unbeatable. For those who don’t remember. I heated the cider to 160 degrees, held it there for 60 seconds, then bottled it in sterile jars and capped it with sterile lids. They all sealed and the resulting juice has none of the cooked flavor of commercial juice. My summer kitchen will be perfect for this kind of assembly line food production.

I made a chicken for dinner last night and, while we ate, I cooked up a stock and thickened it while I did the dishes. The chicken was really expensive and I don’t want to waste a shed of meat. I did the math and turkey is much better value. I am hoping I can order a few more but I’m betting that I can’t. I think the farm I get them from only does birds for Thanksgiving. Part of food prepping is figuring out value and attacking waste. A simple calculator and a few minutes is all it takes.

Bruce replaced two more windows last night and now the whole upstairs is finished. The windows were in terrible shape and this will help keep the girls’ room a bit warmer. I’m still going to add a layer of plastic film as these windows are on the north side of the house. Doing the widows one or two at a time is a pain but it means that we can do them as we have the money to pay cash and the time to get it done. Doing all at once would have meant taking out a loan (I don’t think so) and hiring help (again, I don’t think so). Patience is a virtue. I keep telling myself that.

I did some thrift store shopping and came away with some nifty educational stuff for Phoebe. I have a used bin and I’m putting all of the school things in there and that’s Phoebe’s big gift. She loves to play school with her dolls and she’ll be delighted with this. I also picked up some sleds for kids and grandkids as we have a terrific hill. A lot of the younger kids end up sliding here as the hill is safe and extra sleds are always welcome. My criteria for gifts is to buy used whenever possible and to concentrate on things that promote health and well-being. That means few things that pug in although I an on the look-out for a small CD player for Phoebe. She loves music and loves to dance but has no way to play music in her bedroom. I saw one in the potlatch and if it doesn’t find a home it just may do.


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