January 2009

By now, the news story about an elderly man freezing to death in his own home after the electric company shut off his service has drifted to that file we all keep in our head. You know the one I mean. Isn’t that awful? How could it happen? Where were his neighbors and relatives? The file you shut and and forget about. But I just can’t forget. I keep putting a face to this story. It is the face of the elderly man from church and dear old lady who lives down the street. I put my face on those nameless neighbors who didn’t check.

All of this got me to thinking about how we will keep warm in the coming cold days and I do not mean just this winter. I am going to do this post in three parts. First:


Preparedness is aabout a whole lot more than food. In fact, you will be remiss if you don’t consider the clothing you have on hand as part of your supplies. Every member of you household should a at minimum

a pair of long underwear. Do not buy cotton longjohns. Invest in a set (or two) of good quality 2-piece, sweat wicking underwear. They can be pricey, especially if you go to a high end sports store or use a glossy catalog. I always sugest you check out Salvation Army, Freecyclye, resale shops and Craig’slist. I got my daughter’s from a tagsale for $2.00. I got a set for myself on a markdown rack because they were a men’s small (not a popular size). I can wear a youth’s large and those are generally less expensive as well.

socks: You need several pair with wool being your best bet. You will probably need to buy adult stuff new but I got 6 pair of smartwool socks for my Phoebe for free in a box of stuff that a friend was taking to the SA.

Pants: A good pair of wool pants is easy to come buy second hand (are you catching a theme here?)

shirt. Think layers. a wool or flannel shirt with a down or fleece vest will keep you toasty with the ability to take something off if you get too warm

A cap: A wool beanie or fleece hat will be necessary even if you are inside, if it’s really cold.

slippers: A good pair of heavy duty slippers will keep your feet warmer than they will be in shoes. I just purcahased a pattern for slippers from homesew.com. The pattern is doable for beginner sewers and has sizes for everyone from infants to adults. I plan to use some worn out wool skirts with some fleece scraps for liners. I also got some non-slip yardage for the soles. I could see someone who is handy with a needle amking a nice little cottage industry out of this.

gloves: I always buy extra pairs of those thin, stretchy gloves when I find them on sale. They provide some protectection but leave you hands free enough to get some work done.

outerwear: Obviously, you need really good outerwear if you have be outside. I like three piece jacket systems for value although you may need to settle for an ugly color to get a good end-of-the-year deal. Ijust got Bruce a heavy, wool lined canvas coat and he claims it is the warmest coat he has ever owned and this is coming from a guy who down-hill and cross-country skiis.

boot: Waterproof boots with a removable liner are usually your best bet. I pick up extra liners if I find them as the liners wear out before the boots do. I would also suggest stocking up on Shoe-Goo. This a terrific product that we use for repairing sneakers, boots, infact, all foot wear. I stock up on extra shoe and boot laces as well.

The next time you need to get a gift for someone, especially an elderly someone, consider some of these items. They probably already have enough “stuff” but warm clothes coud save their life.


Every bed in your house should have 2 set of heavy duty flannel sheets (I have gotten sheets second-hand when spendthrifts are upgrading to a larger bed) Top with fleece or wool balnkets and a down comforter and you can sleep well in a room with no heat if you wear your thermals and a hat to bed. Two sleep warmer than one and a big dog can help. I buy sleeping bags when I find them cheap enough. I never know how many I will need to provide bedding for and a sleeping bag on the sofa will do in a pinch.


This is hard bit for me to write because there are so many variables and the wrong choice can have disasterous consequences. We lost a couple of folks in Massachusetts during the last big power outage, not from cold, but from carbon monoxide poisoning. Every house needs smoke detectors, CO2 detectors and fire extinguishers. If you can’t afford them, call your local fire department. They can probably provide them free of charge. If not, check with the faith based community. Do not let pride stand in the way. Healthy, properly dressed adults and older children can withstand a good deal of cold but infants, the ill and the elderly are far more vulnerable. Eat higher fat and calorie laden food, drink warm fluids and avoid alcohol. It is easier to keep smaller spaces warm. Hanging a blanket from a doorway may help. Open drapes when the sun is shinning and close them at night.  If the worst happens, you may need to go to a shelter. It would not be anyone’s first choice but it is better than freezing. If you are thinking about alternative heat sources, have a professional walk through the options. Do not ever burn charcoal in the house or to heat a room with you stove or oven.

As things go from bad to worse, community becomes more important and none of us are disposable. Check on your neighbors. If you find someone in need, gather together to meet the need. No one deserves to die old, alone and cold.


When high-speed Internet came to my neighborhood, I’m afraid I became a bit of a blog nut: a particularproblem for one who is a peak oil, economic collapse, climate change, gardening, sustainability, food preserving, wild food forager, mushroom growing, writer, foodie nut. The possibilities for education, enlightenment and entertainment are practically endless. Every site I visit has a list of links which leads to sites with a list of links which leads to sites and on and on. This is not such a problem on a below zero January afternoon when not much else is clamoring for attention but on a more usual day when there is much to do and never enough time to get to everything, I have to be selective. I finally got organized when I realized that I had frittered away two hours on surfing instead of updating my food inventory or carrying the canning jars down to the cellar storage. I made a list of the sites I want to get to every day, bookmarked them, then made a list of sites to get to when I had extra time (like at 2:00 am on a night when sleep eludes me). Here’s the list I arrived at.


This is the Rawles blog that was my very first Internetsite finod. It is probably the most popular, all around site and for good reason. It is easy to navigate and has archives of every possible preparedness subject. I like the fact that a lot of the postings are written by experts in a particular field. There is a good bit of space given over to weapons and communications equipment which I suspect is off-putting to some. I have a confession to make. I generally skip over much of the gun talk but I was motivated enough to sign up for a gun safety course. I bought Patriots (Rawles’ novel) and the Rawles Gets You Geady Course and CD. Rawles posts every day. I usually get up at five and begin my day with survivalblog and coffee.

Urbansurvival is posted by 9:00, 6 days a week. I celebrate getting the last kid off to school with a dose of his doom and gloom.It is a good economic site with a lot of news listed that you won’t get on the morning news. I was a bit skeptical of some of his predictive linguistics but he seems to be right an awful lot.

Life After The Oil Crash: This site usually posts in mid-afternoon. It is a compilation of breaking peak oil and economic news that really pulls together the most pressing news of the day. If I had only one news site to go to, this would be it. Did you read LATOC today is a common question between peak oil types.

The Automatic Earth. This is a terrific site for updated economic and political news. I have gotten lost on this site, reading older posts. I wish I had found it sooner.

Oftwominds (Charles Hughes Smith) ditto.  This guy is scary smart and a good writer.

Clusterfuck Nation. James Kunstler’s site. Most of you know Kunstler’s work.  I was first acquainted with him when I watched The End Of Suburbia. Since then I haven’t missed one of his books. I don’t always agree with him  (I don’t think we can entirely write off the suburbs although we will have to reinvent them) but when it come to Peak Oil, this guy is the bomb. He is also a terrific, compelling writer. I wish he posted every day but his posts are so dense that a little goes a long way.

Americanenergycrisis.blogspot.com Greg Jeffers is a stockbroker, peak oil guy with a well-rounded look at where we are and where we are headed. His postings are erratic but worth the time I take to check several times a day. When Jeffers sounds worried, I get worried.

Act 2: from the wilderness. I read Crossing The Rubicon a few years back andwas pleased to find this blog but be forewarned. Read this with your thumb and security blanket (or a good, stiff drink) at your side. He is very smart and very scary with an eye toward conspiracy theories.

The Oil Drum. The name says it all. One of the best Peak Oil sites.

Sharon Astyk. I love Sharon. Her blogs motivates me to be a better person. She is an elegant writer (check out Depletion and Abundance) with a new book, A Nation Of Farmers due out this spring. I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy and it is terrific. She is a foodie and her blog reflects that. What I admire most is her willingness to put not just her money but her life where her mouth is. This is a must read blog for me.

Dmitry Orlov. This is another blogger who can really write. He stopped blogging for a while andI was bereft. It was such a pleasure to find another post this week. He is so smart. I have a fantasy of a Department of Figuring Things Out in the new administration. Dmitry would be the chairperson.

Peak Oil Blues. It is clear we preparedness types have a lot to worry about so, of course, we need our very own shrink. Don’t expect the Peak Shrink to give you much sympathy for your paranoia. She is far more likely to tell to get off your duff and get to work. She is also a good writer and does her research.

The Woodpile Report: I stumbled on to this site and felt like I had found a kindred spirit. Ol Remus and I may not always agree politically but we share a love of do it ourselves. He has directions for out of the box things like canning butter (I just put up 36 pounds), canning cheese and making a water filter. I plan on making the filter this spring.

Handmaiden’s Kitchen: If you have an interest in wild foods and herbal medicines, check this site out.

Little Blog in the Big Woods. This is just a fun site with Greenpa. Lots of off the grid info that I aspire to more than achieve.

That’s it for the first tier. I also love Stealth Survival, Destiny Survival  and RestoringMayberry but I sometimes have to wait until the weekend and catch up on them.

These are by no means the only good sites. But If I read too much I accomplish too little. That would make me more of an observer and less of a participant which is not what works for me.

I visited Ole’  Remus over at The Woodpile Report and found a recipe for canning butter. Now I know butter freezes just fine but I am, as much as possible, trying to get away from relying on my freezer. The northeast ice storm over Christmas left most of my town without power for the better part of a week. It was a real wake up call about just how much we rely on that pesky grid. I have been gradually working toward canning, drying, salting, cold storage and lacto fermentation for preserving what I grow and forage but fats were a problem. You need them for calories, nutrition and to make things taste good but they have a limited shelf life so I was delighted to find the directions.

The first step was to find both an inexpensive and local source of butter. I put the word out and the brother of a friend offered to get me 36 pounds wholesale. The deal was struck and the butter arrived a couple of days ago.

The process is pretty straight forward.

Slowly melt the butter over low heat. The recipe is for 11 pounds and that just fit in an 8 quart pot. While the butter is melting, wash a dozen pint canning jars and set in the oven in a pan of barely simmering water. Put the jar lids and rings in a pot of simmering water, turn off the heat under them and keep them hot until you need them.

Keep stirring the butter as it melts. Foam will start to rise. I needed to raise the heat a bit at this point because you need the butter to come to a boil. Once it does, reduce the heat and keep the butter at a strong simmer for 7 minutes. Remove form the heat and ladle into hot jars. The trickiest part was wiping the jar rims.  They get pretty greasy. Top with lids and rings. Be careful when you handle the jars. They are, of course, really hot. Now comes the fun part. Every couple of minutes you need to shake the jars or else the butter will stratify into 3 distinct layers. This is hard at first because the jars are so hot. I used some fancy rubber gloves I got for cheese making and that worked well. Just be careful to wipe the jars well because they are pretty slippery. After a bit, the jars are cooler and easier to handle. When they have cooled to just above room temperature, put the jars in the refridgerator and keep on shaking every couple of minutes. All of the sudden, the stuff sets up and you are done.

A couple of notes. Some of the jars lids took about 20 minutes to ping. I was just about ready to get out my canner, thinking they weren’t going to seal when they finally did. I used a white flour sack towel to wipe the jars and I don’t think the grease stains will come out. Not a big deal but I would be careful to wear an apron or clothes you don’t care about. I had some butter left over that wouldn’t fit in the jars and we have used ot today. It’s pretty good-maybe a bit gritty before it melts.

I will can another batch today but I am going to get Bruce to help. I think it would be easier if one person stirred while another ladeled. I love learning how to do stuff like this. When the cow dries up, I will probably miss butter as much as drinking milk, more even because I bake so much. My goal will be to have 50 pints of butter put up. Now I just need to get Bruce to put another set of shelves in the basement and stock on cholesterol medicine.

The dead of winter defines today. The sky is leaden. The temperature is struggling to get out of the single digits. (it was 23 below when I got up this AM) My cherished lemon tree, a gift from my daughter, Neddy, has caught a chill. Her leaves have turned a mottled yellow and are dropping, one by one, to litter the floor. But there is hope as well. Today, my husband, Bruce, found tiny flecks of green in the greenhouse soil. He has devised quite a system out there. He covered the north and west walls with double panels cut from a solar pool cover that was headed for the landfill. This, along with a stone walkway, holds in enough heat to keep the soil from freezing. We can eat  Asian greens, spinach and hardy lettuce until well into December. There is a short hiatus, then the seeds we plant in November emerge. By mid-March, we will have a modest harvest.

In preparedness circles, we often hear about TEOTWAWKI-the end of the world as we know it, usually to describe Armegeddon. I am not foolish enough to believe that those tiny green shoots in my greenhouse will get me very far down the road if the grocery stores don’t open next week. I store grains and beans, powdered milk and canned food, a stock room full of food in fact, to see us through hard times. But I need the hope of the of that sprouting seed to remind myself that TEOTWAWKI holds the potential to know the world in a new way. 

In our new world, we will grow food where we live. We will probably eat less. We will need to share more because real food security means that my neighbors can’t go hungry. I will revive the  “clean plate club” for my kids because it is a sin to waste while others want.

I am new to this blogging thing and I am still trying to piece out I want to do with this site. I will, of course, talk about preparedness. I am, after all, trying to sell a book, but I also want to write about what is like to be me-a middle-age soccer mom with a pile of kids and a mini-van, living in a world that I fear is going to hell in a hand basket.

For today, while the world does appear to be going to hell, I must still feed my kids. So I will use this space, often, to talk about food-what we eat and where it comes from (my backyard is usually the answer).

Blueberry/Rhubarb Crisp

Dump a quart plus a pint of home canned fruit into an 8 by 13 inch pan. You can actually use whatever you have a lot of. For me, it’s rhubarb because I had so much this past spring. Now mix up a topping of 1 cup of ww flour, 1 cup of rolled oats, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup butter with your hands. I usually add some walnuts and maybe some raisins. I often add that last bit of cereal or a broken heal of bread. A crisp is pretty forgiving. Spread the topping over the fruit and bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Try to do this while something else is in the oven.

I usually throw a crisp in the oven if we are expecting a storm. With a cup of milk, a dish of fruit crisp makes a perfectly fine breakfast or dinner.

In my hilltown community, we are used to snow and ice bringing down the power lines and leaving us in the dark for a day or two. No problem. Most of us can manage for 24 hours without electricity. The kids consider it an adventure and the adults an excuse for lying around reading, taking a nap and sleeping in. The birth rate usually spikes nine months after a power outage. Board games come out. We tell stories by the light of the fireplace.
But the power has been out for nearly a week now and the new has worn off. For most families, no electricity means no water, no heat, no phone and no computer. We are sick of canned stew and the freezer is defrosting. The kids are bored and cranky. We would file for divorce but the phone lines are still down. Here’s the truth. Radical change is hard.
As I watch our economy crumble it occurs to me that many families facing foreclosure, unemployment, vanishing retirement and mounting debt, both personal and governmental, are living through the economic equivalent of a grid down situation. Last year we wondered where to go for vacation. This year we fear for the very roofs over our heads. We can’t worry about having the latest electronic toy under the tree for our children when we are worrying about how to feed them, keep them warm and pay the dentist.
I spend a lot of time teaching families how to be self-sufficient in a crisis. Until now, that has meant strategies such as buying hurricane lamps, lamp oil and extra wicks. It meant having a week’s worth of water stored and a way to cook the canned food from your storage pantry. I told folks to have extra sleeping bags on hand and to always keep their gas tanks filled.
As the economy gasps and chokes I fear that buying lanterns is just the beginning of what families need to do to prepare for a new reality. Buy your supplies, of course, but don’t stop there. Make a list of all your toys. Start with the exercise equipment, the boat, the RV, the plasma screen television. Now add all of the gadgets you used once and now only gather dust. You know what I mean. The pasta maker, the bread machine, the massaging foot baths-they all seemed like a good idea at the time. Put them on Ebay or have a tag sale. Sell them and use the money to pay down your debt. Cut up your credit cards. Get a library card and use it. Practice saying no to your kids. Plant a garden. Learn to bake bread. Eat leftovers. Invite your neighbors for a pot luck dinner. Volunteer. Make a community.
Times are changing and after the thrill of the inauguration is over we have to settle down and change too. Come on, elected officials. Say it. We have to sacrifice. We have to make do with less, maybe a lot less, so that there will be enough to go around. We have some hard lessons to pass on to our children. It will be better in this new world to produce rather than consume. It will be necessary to save before we spend. We will have to stay home more and go out less. Work is necessary and leisure needn’t cost anything. It will better to lose with honor than to cheat to win.
We need our leaders to step up and lead. I want to see a victory garden on the white house lawn and solar panels on the pentagon. I want to see a come-as-you-are, pot-luck inaugural ball. I want less glitz and more substance. I want us to prepare for the future rather than let it creep up a nd leave us frightened, cold, hungry and in the dark.