December 2009

Well, I did it. I spent the afternoon at the mall. My girls were very wise and made good shopping choices. “Third and final markdown!” was our battle cry. I did not spend all of the gift card I had. I could not find enough that called to me. I did not find the cast iron dutch oven I wanted so I may have to get it on line or from Lehmans but I am going to check out the camping supply store first. They carry a lot of cast iron cookwear. I did get the measuring cup and a cookie scoop as well as a turtleneck and a new pair of jeans. The jeans feel great. I have to acknowledge that the ten extra pounds I have been carrying are maybe not going anywhere. Jeans that are not too tight are a very good thing.

I came home to find more seed catalogs as well as the catalog for the 2010 Storey book list. It is nirvana to sit next to the fire with a cup of Earl Grey and my catalogs and dream of spring.

I got a lot great responses about the switch from plastic to glass. It is a problem for sure. Plastic is light weight and will not break. It stacks well and can be found for pennies at yard sales and thrift shops. Glass does not retain odor, does not stain, is non-toxic, can be bought from made-in-america sources and looks great.

After a lot of planning, I am ready to tackle some of my drawers. I have a lot of drawers. The two I am getting to today are the one I keep my tools in and the one that stores all of the electrical cords and chargers. I am willing to bet that the phones and such that those chargers belong with are long gone but I am afraid to toss one and find out that I need it. I will follow the advice of putting the orphans in a box in an out-of-the way place. If next New Years Day rolls around and I haven’t needed one, out it goes. The waste and the consumption that is signified by the pile of wire is appalling and I pay attention to what I purchase. I do have a pile of adult kids who have left stuff behind but still. Here is my thought for the chargers. My girls each have cell phones and iPod. If I stitched up small bags for each of them, would they put their chargers in the bags when they finished with them? I tried to have them wrap the cords with twisty ties but it was a losing battle. I think the bags would work better. My goal is, as always, to have things function well and look presentable. I some ways, this does relate to sustainable living in that I believe we spent a lot of time on hunting for things. This is time that could be put to better use such as cooking from scratch or reading to our babies. (or perusing seed catalogs) I would love to claim to be a purist, one whose teenagers did not want cell phones or iPods but that is just not true. Granted, they listed to country music and we don’t get cell service up here anyway so the phones are rarely used except to call home to let me know they have arrives someplace safely but still. Sustainable living is a journey, not a destination. I might never take another step if I felt the only success would be in the arrival.

I am looking forward to getting to the tool drawer. I am running down the street to our little hardware store and looking for some better quality tools. Those little, pink tool kits are useless. I want a real hammer and a couple of good screwdrivers as well as a set of pliers. I have a good collection of various tapes and adhesives. I keep a baby food jar with some screws and nails in it and that should be refilled. I keep an eyeglass repair kit in this drawer as well as a good magnifying glass and a tape measure. For big things like saws and wrenches, I use My DH’s tools. Bruce has a good set of tools but he keeps his in the basement workshop. I like to have a few my own tools right at hand. I consider my mouse traps tools too and keep several on hand. That is a preparedness item that is sometimes overlooked. We live in the country, next to a river and mice, as well as the occasional rat, are a fact of life. They would be a far bigger problem if the trash compactor was out of commission for a while. I have tried every rodent control on the market. For my money, an old fashioned trap works the best. I have had no luck with adhesive traps and I think they are cruel in any case. For places where little kids might get snapped, I use the traps where the mouse has to get inside in order to trip the snapper. My complaint with those is that they are single use. I have use some regular traps dozens of times before the wires weaken. Does that make up for all of those orphaned chargers?


I am hoping to spend some more time in the kitchen today but I have been promising my girls I would take them shopping and today is the day.

I hate shopping, I hate malls and I am no fan of the teenage girl/shopping mall combination but my girls actually do need to get some things. Both are finally full-grown (I think) and really do need some new clothes as they have grown out of much of their stuff. I am grateful for what good shoppers they are (amazing how good when they are spending their own money). They are also willing to take my advice and they don’t get nasty when the answer is no. Well, they may get a little nasty but not for long and they always apologize. While they get some jeans and shirts I will be in housewares. My oldest son gave me a gift card for Christmas and I am going to spend it on kitchen equipment. I looked over my notebook and I see many things I would like. I need new pot holders but I can make those. I need some rugs for in front of the sink and stove, the two places I stand most. I can see the floor is wearing and I want to protect it. I need a glass, 2 cup measure as I shattered the one I got for a wedding gift 36 years ago. I also need a new pepper mill. Something is wrong with mine and it no longer grinds. The last thing I want is a cast iron dutch oven. I want the kind that is designed to hold charcoal in the lid and has an internal chamber, rather like a bundt pan. What I  have read is that it works a bit like a pressure cooker/crock pot as the lid fits snugly and the chamber directs heat to the center of the food as well as from the sides. I am thinking that I can save a good deal of energy if I get the oven and pan really hot and then turn off the heat. I am sure I will need to fiddle with it some. I am hoping it will work well for beans, stews and less tender cuts of meat. It can be used on a wood stove as well as sit in a fire pit so it’s versatile. I found one in the Lehman’s catalog but the shipping made it prohibitively expensive.

I suppose my son thought I would buy clothes or something but clothes hold no fascination for me unless I get them second-hand or make them myself. I do enjoy finding some excellent outer wear on a 75 % off sale but beyond that, clothes to me are just not that interesting. But put me in a restaurant supply store and I am a happy girl. I have to laugh at my daughter, Karen. She will ask me very gently if that beautiful bowl I am drooling over is a need or a want. Will it give lasting value or just become clutter when the new wears off? Honestly. I don’t where she learned to talk like that.

I have been asked about my plan to rid my kitchen of as much plastic as I can. I am concerned about the plastic leaching chemicals into my food but a good part of the reason has to do with aesthetics. I love the look of glass. Convenience plays a role too. I like being able to see what’s inside without removing the top. That brings up a final word about organizing your kitchen. I have found several containers that have no label. Kidney beans are easy to recognize but a powdery substance could be any number of things. An indelible maker will write on a canning jar lid and not wash off without a bit of scrubbing. I also use a lot of stick on mailing labels although they tend to peel away from glass pretty quickly. What holds better is medical adhesive tape. It doesn’t come off until I want it off and I have many rolls of it.

As I cleaned my cabinets I saw that my supply of juice is running low. I used a lot when Jackie had the flu and I gave some to the food pantry. I will have to make a run to the market and restock. In addition to the cider I have in the freezer, I usually keep 30 cans of fruit juice concentrate, 20 big cans of pineapple juice and several cartons of things like Tang on hand. Tang is not real food but it will last for a very long time, provide some vitamin C and make stale water taste a bit better to children. I usually make my own fruit juice concentrate but it was a terrible year for wild grapes and I didn’t get any juice put up except for some elderberry concentrate. That’s all gone too as we used a lot for tea during flu season.

I enjoyed reading about your kitchens.  It felt like I had been to visit.

The kitchen is truly the heart of the home. It is that beating place that nurtures us, sustains us, call to us. My kitchen does not have a lot of the things that Martha Stewart might consider necessary. I don’t have a work triangle, granite counter tops or all stainless steel appliances. What I do have is a lot of light, tons of cabinets and a huge sink. As I got out my notebook yesterday and began to look at my space with a critical eye I found a lot more to recommend it than to criticize.

What I needed most was to reorganize. I am getting rid of all the plastic in my kitchen. I can store nearly everything in mason jars. I have a good supply of 1/2 gallon mason jars and other 1/2 gallon jars. I spent some time yesterday saying some (under my breath) bad words as I emptied cabinets and moved shelving to accomodate the larger jars. Passing on most of my plastic containers freed up a whole cabinet. After thinking about it for a while, I moved the appliances I don’t use every day to that cabinet. The plus is that I have a lot more space on my counters. The minus is that I have to get them out before I use them. Some things. like my food saver, I use a lot. We will have to see if I am willing to get it out and put it away after each use. If not, it will go back on the counter.

I store a lot of rice, beans and wheat. I can dozens of jars of tomato sauce each year too. These food need spices to keep them interesting. I spent a good deal of time on my baking/spice cabinet yesterday. I tossed some outdated spices but, for the most part, I go through them so quickly, that seldom happens. I have been collecting baby food jars to store the spices herbs I grow or buy in bulk. Bruce is working on the plans for a tilted shelf that will hold the jars on their sides. Right now, I have spices and herbs in several different kinds of jars and tins and I sometimes have to search for what I need.

Today I tackle the drawers. I am heading to town first. I will hit the Good Will and look for some drawer dividers or shallow baskets to keep my huge supply of kitchen gadgets organized.

I have learned some organizing lessons over the years. I used to try to do a whole room in a day. Now I break up a big project like my kitchen into manageable chunks. My fucus is to make the space functional with an eye toward needing it to work well in a crisis when I might be feeding a lot more people with minimal energy available.

Good morning and welcome back. A week off was just what I needed to recharge my depleted batteries. I find myself with lots to write about (a lot to do myself) so I am going to jump right in.

After a lovely and quiet Christmas, I got up on Saturday ready to begin my new year’s cleaning. I started with my mudroom. I first spent about 20 minutes with my notebook and pen just looking around, figuring what was working and what was not. I looked with eye toward both convenience and safety as my home’s main means of egress is through this space. I realize that my problems won’t be just like yours but my problems and how I solve them might give you some ideas for your own space.

My mudroom is long and narrow. As you walk in the back door, the washing machine and drier are on the short wall on your left. Bruce built a set of deep shelves over the washer and hung a clothes rod over the drier. I had let this area get cluttered with built up ironing and a basket of unmatched socks. I went through the cleaning supplies I keep on the shelves and made a list in my notebook on what I need to replace and resources for finding more sustainable cleaning supplies.  I cleaned the appliances really well, matched the socks and caught up on the ironing then moved to the long wall.

There I found the reason for my lack of ironing. I have a very old, really heavy ironing board. It is such a pain to pull out that I only do it when I absolutely have too. On the list went a small, portable ironing board. I want one small enough to fit on my kitchen table and light enough for me to easily carry. Next on the long wall is a hanging wooden bookcase that Bruce built to hold hats, mittens and scarves. The top of the cabinet held some small stoves I built when I was researching Just In Case. I tossed those out and went through everything, matching mittens and mending hats. I pulled out a lot of the extras, washed and dried them really well and packed them away in an upstairs closet. With fewer things to keep together, I hope we can keep this area neater. Next on this wall are two rows of ten coat hooks. These were a mistake from the very beginning. They are cheap and light and did not hold up well at all. What I really want are the kind you used to find in school, heavy and indestructible. In my notebook went a reminder to stop at the hardware store and ask them to order new, heavy-duty hooks. I went through the coats, removing the out-of-season coats, mending a couple that needed new buttons or hems redone. I am lucky to have a huge closet upstairs to put the things I won’t  need until spring.

Now on to the next short wall. Here is the door to the kitchen and next to that, our small freezer. Bruce hung a very nice cabinet over the freezer that was supposed to hold my year’s supply of jelly and pickles but, with the shelving we put in the basement, I no longer need for that purpose. I cleaned out the cabinet and now it holds my supply of kitty food. That matters because it gets those bags off the floor and freed up some space. On the final long wall, the same wall with outside door is a wierd closet.  Bruce built it when he put in a shed and rebuilt the basement bulkhead. It is just large enough to hang the heavy coats. I have always had a problem as some of our wool coats and big, canvas barn coats were always breaking the plastic hangers and falling off wire hangers. I replaced all of the hangers with good quality wooden hangers and that problem was solved. I finished up by washing the floor and the doors. The room looks fresh and clean and functions a lot better. Bruce took the measurements for building a small wooden bench. Now we will have a place to sit and remove boots.

We have decided to make our house a shoe free zone to keep so much dirt from being dragged inside. In my notebook is a reminder to look for a pretty basket to hold a bunch of slipper socks for people to wear if they like. The bench and basket will sit in the spot we used to keep the cat food bags.

Keeping your means of egress free of clutter really matters if you have to evacuate in the night. I was always searching for my pocketbook as there were so many coats, it was always getting buried. If I need my car keys in a hurry, this could be a real problem. Now I have a dedicated hook and can find it when I need it.

When I begin a big cleaning project, I find it helpful to begin with a space that is smaller and easy to finish in a day. It is so motivating to see the results. I am going shopping on Wednesday. One of my sons gave me some gift card and I am going to use them to purchase the things I listed in my notebook as well as a can of paint. As soon as the wather improves I plan to repaint the space. I am also going to buy a wireless doorbell as people who don’t know that they have to walk through the mudroom and knock on the kitchen door often assume we aren’t home as we can’t heat them when we are in the living room.

With end of the year fast approaching, take some time and breath. Now go get a notebook. I use a big three-ring binder. Mine has a plastic sleeve on the front that you can slip a picture into. I am going to find some 2009 calendars and cut out something beautiful for mine. You can probably get filler paper and some pens at the dollar store. You will need some notebook dividers too. Label a divider for every room in the house and then label another for inventory and one for needs.

 I like to start with a clean slate after the holidays. Most people clean well in the fall and spring but I don’t so much. In the spring I am in my garden and in the fall I am preserving food. January works for me. It suits my need to begin anew. I am starting in the kitchen. I will clean every cabinet and drawer. I have learned that having shelf liners seldom work well. I spent a lot of money on those thick rubber liners and found they bunched up and were more trouble than they were worth. It is back to lining with wallpaper. On my to-buy list goes wallpaper from the dollar bins at the hardware store. I am getting rid of all of the plastic in my kitchen so I am putting glass storage jars on my list too. I rarely shop at Wal-Mart but they have made-in-America jars that are just what I need. As I look over the kitchen I can see I have not been using my dried vegetables as quickly as I should. I will make sure to use them twice a week for the rest of the year. The dried fruit is nearly gone. The pears and cherries were big hits. I could use three times as much next year.

The space in my kitchen could be put to better use. I have too many jars on the floor. I need to get the vinegar racked and put away and put the 6 gallon buckets of flour and sugar someplace besides under the windows.

I won’t do anything concrete today. It is Christmas Eve. The children will be up soon and we will bake some more goodies and set the table for our big holiday feast. Church is at 7:00. My son and his two children are coming to spend the night so we can open presents together in the morning. My son is a single dad and has sole custody of his kids. He would have a hard time making a festive holiday on his own and I am glad to be able to do this for him.

As I said, posting may be sporadic for the next week. I want to sleep in and spend time with my kids and begin preparing for my big clean. I send out to all of you my wish for a blessed holiday.

I am so touched. I really had no idea how many folks were coming here. I have had emails and phone calls and all of these lovely posts. It was like Christmas morning for me. If you are all not sick of me, I will certainly continue although I can’t guarantee that every post will be about preparedness.

Did any of you catch the 60 Minutes episode about Wilmington, Ohio? It is a town in the grips of what can only be called a depression after DHL, the town’s only big employer, left for good. Of, course, the loss of the big employer also impacted the small businesses and many have lost their homes. This led to a loss of tax revenue which has impacted the schools and the loss of health coverage has led to the closing of medical clinics. It is a truly awful situation.

Now, I am no economists but I don’t get this whole mess. I don’ t see the usefulness in banks foreclosing on people’s homes in such an instance. Would it not make more sense to rewrite those loans and keep roofs over families’ heads? It isn’t as though the homes will be sold. Nobody is buying. They sit empty and falling into disrepair as families sit in shelters or double up with relatives. It is hard to get up the energy to look for or create work when you are living in a shelter. Your kids can’t do their homework properly, there are more health issues and there is no way for folks to take steps like growing food or working cooperatively within a neighborhood to take care of each other. Relationships dissolve and self-esteem crumbles.

If you have a home, cherish it. Even if is not in the house of your dreams, in the location you long for or as fine as you wish, care for it and be grateful for it. It is more than many have. I lived in a tenement slum when I was small. We were very poor but I remember that my mother always kept our house as neat as a pin. There were always pretty things to look at and good smells coming from the kitchen. No matter how restricted our circumstances, she always made sure our houses were made into homes for us. I think my attraction to adoption and foster care came from my desire to provide the warmth of home and family to child who had neither.

People may need to get creative about keeping their homes. Share your space, cur expenses to the bone, eat from the food pantry, do whatever it takes to keep that roof over you head. With a home, you can put in a garden, even if that means growing sprouts on a windowsill. You can insulate windows with bubble wrap and sleep together in one room on the coldest nights. You can gather your friends and neighbors for potluck dinners and fill your house with music and laughter.

I am angry beyond words that banks have made out so well when so many hardworking people are suffering. A pox on those responsible. Shame on those who think they are too big to fail. When you deprive a person of their home while you live in splendor, there should be no place for you to hide, no place for you to lay your head.

Yesterday was my day for trying out some of last fall’s apple harvest in the form of vinegar, hard cider and brandy. The brandy is excellent and ready to be racked into bottles with some put in the basement to age a bit more and some bottled for gifts. The had cider was a flop for me. I had some great stuff from my friend Jennica. It was light and fruity and delicious but mine was just vinegar. Not to worry though. I saw organic cider vinegar for sale for $18.00 a gallon. I do a lot of pickling so having an extra gallon of this good stuff is no tragedy. The vinegar I mad from the pomace left over after our cider pressing made a lovely vinegar. All I did was fill quart mason jars with the pomace and the added as much water as would fit. It has been sitting since October. Now I need to pick up some litmus strips so I can check the acidity. It has to be between 5 %and 6% to be safe for pickles. I need to start stocking up on pretty bottles for storing. A simple gift of vinegar looks a lot better if the bottle is special. I am thinking that a small jar of vinegar and a small jar of honey would be nice to give together as I drink a cup of hot water with vinegar and honey each morning as a tonic. My oldest foster chid works at our trash compactor and brings me home all of the pretty bottles and jugs she can salvage from the recycle bin. Teach them early is my motto.

I got a new catalog yesterday. One Green World is a fruit catalog with a lot of varieties I have never seen. I think I could be a crazy lady with this stuff. I am going to have to be scrupulous about my record keeping so I know how much fruit I need to preserve to get through the winter. I am certain I can sell any surplus locally but I want to be sure I don’t sell what I could eat. I am finding that I made too much jam again. I love to make jam and jelly. It is so satisfying but we don’t eat as much as we use to when we had 7 kids at home. I am wondering if I would have better luck selling unusual varieties of jam or it I should just stick to the reliable varieties. Who doesn’t love blueberry jam?

I will be posting only sporadically between now and the new year. I have a number of projects to tackle and very few extra brain cells to spare. I am also wondering if I have outlived my usefulness here. I love the blogging but I feel as though I have said all there is to say on the subject of preparedness. I fear I have hurt some feelings and angered some when I have strayed into philosophical discussions rather that sticking to simple sustainability and preparedness subjects. Maybe I should encourage some of you do guest postings for me. There is a wealth of talent on this blog and I have made friends I treasure. Part of what I will be doing over the next couple of weeks is some soul searching about just where to go with this.

My very best wishes go out to all of you and your families. I hope for a new year of peace and joy.


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