March 2009


I met with our new community preparedness team last night to firm up our plans for a crisis management plan. We decidedon a very short survey-basically, name, address, phone number, number of people in the home, ages and any disabilities that might make a family more vulnerable. We also ask whether the family would take advantage of a shelter if one were offered and whether they would need transportation. The survey will be printed on card stock. Red dots will go on the first tier homes. Those would be the homes of the elderly and the disabled. Yellow dots will mark the second tier homes. These are the families who are very isolated or the homes of single people who may need to at least be checked up on. We are planning a survey day when the fire department, council on aging, police department and the crisis team will be canvassing door to door. Our hope is to have 100% compliance and get this all done in one day. We plan to sit with folks to fill out the cards and take them back with us. If a family chooses not to participate, that’s fine with us. We are keeping the cards at our safety complex. They will be filed in three separate boxes. The reds, the yellows, then everybody else. The rest of the plan is very specific to our town. It involves communication, transportation, food, water, sleeping arrangments, sanitation and clean up.

We contacted both FEMA and MEMA (our state emergency managment agency) and got a lot of terrific hand outs. One of the things we recieved was a DVD for children on family preparedness. We will be handing one of these out to every family with children when we do the survey. We are also distributing a list of necessary supplies, and info geared to the elderly, people with pets and the disabled.

This was a pretty easy process for us for  a couple of reasons. There are only a few of us on the committee so reaching consensus is easy. We only have about 300 families to reach. Our town is pretty civic minded. Lots of people vote and volunteer. A lot of people have deep community roots. The street they live on may be named after their great grandparents.

If you are looking for crisis info, go to the FEMA website. They really have a lot to offer.

Bruce wants to go over my post on tools. He has a much longer (and better) list of essential tools.

I try to avoid much political talk here. I am no economic expert but I have a fair amount of common sense. I hope you are all getting stocked up on necessities now. I fear our dollar will be worth much less in the coming months. I know I went to town yesterday and then this morning. Gas had gone up 4 cents overnight  and by the time I returned home this morning, 2 hours later, it had gone up another 7 cents. Food is the place that inflation will hurt most people first. Stock up on essentials, seeds and canning equipment.

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We are nearly ready for our first harvest of greens. Our greenhouse is small but we get quite a bit of food from it. Like everything else, there’s a learning curve. We are learning the intracacies of insulating it, planting schedules, appropriate plants and timing as well as insect control (aphids love the asian greens) and fertilizing. A greenhouse may be a good place to put your income tax refund. We are looking to put any extra cash into tangibles like food sources and energy efficiency. I hope we get enough of a thaw to pull some of the carrots and parsnips we left in the ground last fall.

Bruce is going skiing today and I plan to spend the day getting my early seeds planted. We have been so diligent about eating up the stuff in the cellar. I now have a list of what I ran short on and what I am giving away because I put up more than we ate. That list will help with my garden plan.

I put an ad in our little paper looking for greenhouse frames. I see a lot of them cluttering up backyards. If I could find a frame for free, I could reskin it for not to much and come up with more winter food space. I am wondering if I could keep it warmer if I raised rabbits or chickens inside. I fear that when inflation hits, it will impact food prices hard. The more I can raise, the better I eat and the more I have to share.

I made chicken and dumplings last night. It was so good. I can make dumplings in my sleep. They are one of those things that everybody loves. I am going to make more tonight, add some sugar and cook them on top of some stewed peaches. I plan to put together a bunch of my favorite recipes for my girls. I do so much by memory and feel but a hard copy is needed if I’m out of commission.

Dumplings

2 cups flour

4teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

You can whiz all this in a food processor but then you have to wash it. I think it takes less time to use a hand-held pastry cutter.

Add a cup of cold milk and mix lightly with a fork. Cook in barely simmering liquid for about 20 minutes. Keep the pot covered the whole time so the dumpling steams.I stick a skewer in mine. When the skewer come out clean, the dumpling is done.

Tools fascinate me. I could spend all day wandering through Home Depot pining after stuff I have no idea how to use. It’s a sickness. I generally exercise admirable restraint and only buy a tool when Bruce, who does know how to them, has requested something specific as a gift.

We have quite a supply of both hand and power tools and I hope you do too. If you are just starting out. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Tools are expensive if you have to buy them new. If you find cheap, new tools, pass them by. A cheap tool won’t do the job properly and can be dangerous. If you are on a budget, look for second hand tools from Craig’s list or at estate sales. I would much prefer a well-cared for, used tool to a new on made in China. Once you have a tool you have to take care of it. The requirements are different for each tool but in general, you need a dedicated storage spot. You need to get in the habit of returning a tool after every use. A good tool left out in the rain is a travesty. Don’t do it. Many tools need sharpening. If you have one that does, either learn how to do it from an expert or pay to have it done. Many tools need to be kept oiled. Use the recommended oil and do it religiously. Do not use a tool to do a job it was not intended for. Please, do not buy one of those silly sets of tiny tools designed for the lady of the house. If I was that lady, I’d poke you with them. They’re useless.

Every house needs some basic tools. A set of screwdrivers, both Philips  and flat head will come in handy. You need two hammers, one regular and one ball peen. An all-metal  hammer with a heavy rubber handle cover is best. A wrench, some pliers and and some wire cutters will round out a beginner’s tool kit. There are hundreds of other tools that are nice to have. As you learn to do more of your own home repairs, and you should, you will need more tools. Purchased one at a time, they won’t break the bank. Properly cared for, they should last a lifetime.

I have a lot of city friends who wonder just how on earth we don’t all die of boredom, living out here in the sticks like we do, without benefit of museums and concerts and shopping centers and all. I have to say, I am generally so busy I don’t get to take advantage of everything my little town (800  folks) has to offer.

If the world slows down the way I expect it to, we may all be going back to this kind of entertainment so I thought I would share just how we spend our free time. We actually have a museum. I think a lot of small towns do. Historical museums are a lot of fun and if you have one, support it. Ours has bunches of old time tools. It is interesting to see how families did things 150 years ago and figure out how you could do those things again. I am paying close attention to the tools that were used to harvest ice. If we had no refrigeration, ice houses would come back into fashion pretty quick. I visit our museum a couple of times a year. The kids love the general store and the old toys.

We have a lot of terrific amateur musicians and concerts are pretty common. I am a big fan of Dick Kitchen and the Appliances. Not only is the music wonderful but Dick Kitchen is an amazing artist. He welds old farm and kitchen equipment into the most amazing creations. He has an exhibit on the library lawn right now. I wish I could afford to buy one of his pieces but they are way out of my price range.

Auctions are another fun diversion. A lot of our local organizations hold them as fund raisers. People donate the most beautiful and original stuff. You can bid on a quilt or locally spun yarn, syrup, art, furniture or a load of compost( the biggest bids go for the compost). Our local cooks bring platters of their best goodies, peanut butter bars with gooey chocolate sauce, lenom bars with confectioner surgar topping and home made eclairs. There is no alcohol served but we always have gallons of cider and pots of hot coffee.

Contra and square dances are the most fun you can have without breaking any laws. 3 year olds dance along side of grandmothers and teens. I have never noticed a generation gap at a contra dance.

If you have a town softball league you have all the Sunday afternoon entertainment you need. Add in a couple if fire department pig roasts, home coming picnic, agricultural fair and a church sponsered ice cream social or two and it’s a wonder we ever get our gardening done.

I have just scratched the surface. We have book clubs, play groups, knitting guilds and 4-H. Ten Our little grocery store and deli, the Creamery, holds and open night mike on Tuesday’s, monthly tastings of chocolat, vinegar or olive oil. Just going for coffee is fun. We get to sit a bit and catch up with local politics, complain about the government and check the bulliten board to see if our neighbor had their baby yet.

Most everybody who lives in the country likes to watch birds, hunt, collect mushrooms, garden or find some way to spend a lot of time outside. We go for a lot of walks.

Tonight, a bunch of us from the Sustainability Group are getting together for dinner. It’s just soup and bread and we will all contribute something delicious.

I hate the whole idea of “going out”. Most times, the noise is unbearable and there is this frenetic energy, like people have spent all this money and they are determined to have a good time. The laughter feels forced and the smiles look pasted on. It is too much for me-too much make up,too much alcohol,too much food, too much screeching laughter, too much money. A peak oil world will be hard for a lot of people and I don’t want to be insensitive to the people who have been hurt by this economic crash but there is another way to live. It’s slower than that other life. It may lack the big HURRAH factor of  a night in the big ciy but it’s a good life. It works for me.

Last night, Bruce and I went to the Mount Holyoke greenhouse bulb show and then to our area bee keepers meeting. The bulb show was amazing, I live up  in the hills of Massachusetts and we are at least two weeks behind the valley in terms of spring melt. The bulb show gives us a hint of what’s in store for us. The smell of Hyacinth is only slightly more appealing than the smell of rich dirt.

There were a couple of interesting moments at the bee meeting. The first had to do with colony collaspse disorder. Seems it is just not happening this year. Bees are plentiful and hives holding up well. There is, however, a bee shortage. It seems that so many people have taken up the practice that if you haven’t ordered your new bees yet, you probably won’t get them unless you find a private party to sell you some. There was also a lot of weather talk. It seems that the California drought is so severe that almond growers are pulling up trees because they don’t have the water for them. The report from Florida is that the center of the that state is also in drought. It is easy to forget that a lot of California would be desert without irrigation and if the water goes, the crops go. Unfortunately, a whole lot of the country depends on the salad bowls of Florida and California for food. It could be an expensive food year. I hope you all have your seeds ordered and your canning jars and lids stored up.

We got so motivated by the flowers last night that we are putting in our first seeds today. We will start tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and a few other things that need a good start before heading outside. I am also starting carrots in their little toilet paper roll homes and beets in egg cartons. The spring cleaning is done and I have a long list of things I need to replace for my preparedness program. I am nearly out of shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash and lots of other toiletries. Nearly out means fewer than 6 bottles or tubes of each. I do not like to get that low so it is off to the dollar store today, then to the nursery for potting soil, then home to get dirty. YEAH!!! I love the first day of spring.

I am not a cocktail party kind of girl. I like small gatherings of people who lead interesting lives. I loath the kind of big party where one has to define onesself by what kind of car one drives, what college one’s child attends and what one does for a living. I drive an old car, believe the value of a college education is highly overrated and neither Bruce nor I have been employed in the formal economy for years. In a group of Lexus driving, Harvard graduates who head off to corporate jobs every morning I stick out like a tabby cat at a dog show.

It seems to me that are two distinct kinds of people out there. There are the folks who think this economic downturn is temporary and that the government is fixing everything. They tend to believe that technology will solve our environmental and energy problems. They often think a rise of 3 or 4 degrees would make life in Massachusetts a bit more pleasant. They have never heard of Hubbert’scurve. They buy organic produce from California and think that people who store food are wacko doomers. They think it is quaint that I can and dehydrate food and grimace at the thought of looping off a chicken’s head themselves while chowing down on a Cordon Bleu prepared with factory raised poultry.

Then there’s my kind of people. We don’t necessarily think the government has it all together. We don’t see that technology has any idea where to go from here as far as environmental and energy problems are concerned. We think that a 3 degree temperature rise will mean game over for some of the global population. My kind of people think we are at the top of the curve now and want point of origin labeling for all food. Canning food is work, not a quaint hobby. If you are going to eat meat, you should know what it went through to get to your plate and be willing to be part of the process. We waco doomers with stored food get annoyed at people who say they don’t store anything but will come to visit if the grocery stores don’t open.

Fortunately, I no longer have to attend cocktail parties very often (another benefit to being unemployed) but I still have to interact with people who think I’m nuts. I know I am not alone in this dilemma. If you are reading this blog, chances are you grow some of your own food. You store supplies for use during a crisis. You are most likely an independent thinker. I am taking a kind of survey. What do you say to to the uninformed? I am curious about what you say at family gatherings and to people who ask if it wouldn’t be cheaper to buy vegetables rather grow them. Do you admit that the mushrooms they are raving about were gathered from the side of the road? Do you discuss the finer points of gutting a hen in polite company? Do you admit that you have a firearms permit?

I think this is an important conversation to have. Having written a book on the subject of crisis preparedness makes this a moot point for me. The subject will come up. I do want to hear from the rest of you about your own experiences. Write soon. I have a party to go to.

The economic news continues to go from bad to really bad. In spite of some happy talk when the markets rise a bit, there is no doubt the fundamentals are not strong and we may not be looking at recovery this year. If you have not already done so, the time has come for you to take a look at the “other” economy. This is the place where a lot of transactions take place that wall street will never calculate into the GDP numbers although, for a lot of families, it is the economy that puts food on the table. Let me give you an example.

Bruce lent some sap buckets to a neighbor who wanted to boil some sap with his kids. The neighbor found some more buckets on Craig’s list and not only returned the original buckets but gave us another 15 or so. Bruce then brought over the little wood stove we picked up in the fall from a different neighbor who was not using it. Now our first neighbor had a way to boil outside. He and Bruce have begun to talk about a small sugar house and sharing equipment. Earlier in the day I picked up my daughter’s birthday cake from the Creamery. They gave her the cake because she drops by the store 2 or 3 days a week to wash dishes, sweep floors, bus tables and generally help out. She started doing this when she was home schooled as part of a vocational curriculum. She continued after she returned to school because she loved the work and knew she was a valuable part of the team. I needed someone to walk me through some computer stuff and a friend spent an hour of her valuable time helping out. Last night yet another friend stopped by to borrow the key to the church. We have set up a couple of donated sewing machines there and people use the space to sew reusable shopping bags that are donated to local businesses. I gave some of Bruce’s honey to a friend who was needing to get rid of some eggs. Happy to oblige. No money changed hands during any of these transactions (Oops-not true. We paid for the little stove, but not much.)

Do you have a skill? Is there something you can do well and with some word-of-mouth advertising turn into a business. If you sew, maybe you could repair clothing. Do you have a green thumb or a way with animals? Can you tutor or give classes in something?

It is hard to know exactly sometimes, where the informal economy ends and being a good neighbor begins. Not everything should be about what you are likely to get out of it. If I bring soup to sick neighbor, I am not keeping track of what is “owed me”. I just know that when I was laid up this winter, a lot of meals appeared on my counter. When a friend gave me a bushel of tomatoes, I don’t think she expected to be rewarded with a couple of quarts of sauce (but of course she was!). Shared garden produce and child care and the proverbial cup of sugar are what makes the world go round. Lets, hope the feds never find a way to tax being a good neighbor.

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