necessities


It is not a good news day. Between the auto industry and AIG the markets are getting hammered. I had a notion of writing a piece about small pieces of good news like my tomatoes popping up in their little greenhouses and the taste of a just pulled carrot but I just can’t pull it off. These are real people losing jobs and homes and dreams. The feds are going to send in disaster recovery teams to communities that will be decimated by the restructuring of the auto industry but, in spite of their best intentions, you can’t create any job without the demand for that product or service and people who are out of work don’t demand more than the bare essentials.

Most of us are familiar with Kubler/Ross’s work on the stages of grief. Essentially, we all go through a similar series of emotions when we have a major life loss. First there is denial followed by bargaining, then depression, then anger and finally acceptance. I hope that, as a country, we get through these stages very quickly and move on to acceptance. We need to accept that a life of credit funded consumption is over. The feds can make all the promises they like, but ultimately, we are going to have to take care of ourselves. That means prioritizing your needs.

You need shelter. You don’t need fancy shelter. You need a roof over your head, even if you have to share it with family or friends. The best shelter will have space to grow some food and be something you can keep warm. It will be in a place where you have the support of people who care about you.

You need food. When things are desperate, you need to treat the acquisition of food like a job. You will probably need to use multiple food sources rather than simply heading off to the grocery store. That may mean buying clubs, co-ops, farmer’s markets, the woods behind your house and the planter on your deck.

You need to be warm enough. Fleece jackets and wool socks, closing off rooms that don’t absolutely need to be heated, getting used to sleeping under quilts in cold bedrooms could  all be necessary.

You need a reason to get up in the morning, a sense of purpose. Even if you don’t have a job to go to, get up and make a plan. Set up a neighborhood pot luck to discuss how you can work together to grow some food or work with your children. Start a scout troop of set up a 4-H program. It will take some doing to wean your kids from video games and structured programs and teach them to have fun and learn something without spending money.

Take care of you health. Take care of you marriage. Take care of your neighborhood. Take care of yourself.

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I read a piece this morning about a couple who did a food stamp challenge. They ate on $67.00 a month for 2 months. It was a pretty interesting article. At the end of the challenge they went out for lunch and had a tough time enjoying their $14.00 bagel sandwiches.

I am always pleased when I read that someone, anyone is giving more thought to how he or she eats. Peak oil is going to affect everybody and food may well be the place that the average family feels it most acutely. The sooner we learn how to eat better with less environmental impact, the easier the shift will be. I was struck by one comment in this piece that I think is problematic. A friend was going to join this couple in the challenge but opted out when he realized how restrictive the diet would be. I wish he had tried even part of the challenge. Maybe he could have eaten that way for a week or spent slightly more money. It is a clear example of how we tend to be all or nothing about life changes. Until I can spend $3000.00 on a prepackaged storage system I won’t prepared at all. Until I build an off-the-grid cabin, I won’t bother cutting my energy usage with some simple reductions. Until I can afford to eat all organic produce, I’ll keep on eating at Subway.

Most of us can’t do it all. We have to make choices and make do. I usually opt for local and organic but sometimes I will buy a turkey on sale. I generally watch my hot water usage but sometimes I splurge on a long, hot bath. I walk to the store when the weather permits but when the wind is howling I drive the single mile.

It is important to see adapting to a changing world as a journey, not a destination. Every step matters. Today, you may put up a clothes line and make a public promise to never use your dryer again. If you get the flu or it rains for 10 days straight, trust me. You will be forgiven for slipping. Just don’t let the slip rob you of the will to keep on keeping on. Every step we take towards a more sustainable life matters. Try to take a a least one step each day.

My step for today is make a menu plan that includes 3 grain and bean meals each week. I took a class on cooking with grains and beans last week and now I need to put the information to good use. Nothing is cheaper to buy, easier to store or as versatile to cook with. It does take advance planning however. Tomorrow, I am making veggie grain burgers for dinner so tonight, I have to soak the black beans. Bruce is a meat and potatoes kind of guy and he likes these burgers so much, he will request them rather than a hamburger. The recipe is a bit long but is isn’t al all difficult.

Saute 3/4 cup of diced onion in 2 tbls olive oil. add 1/2 cup red pepper, 1/4 cup carrot and 3/4 cup mushrooms and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add 1 teas of dry sherry, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 teas dried basil, 1 teas salt and a grind of pepper. Now add 1 1/2 teas tamari and as much balsamic vinegar and saute for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and scape it all into a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/4 cup rolled oats, 2 tbls tahini, 1 egg , 1/2 cup mashed black beans. Mix this all together and form into patties  and fry in a bit of canola oil. I find that coating the patties with some cornmeal gives them a nice crunch. Serve these like you would any burger.

This may sound like a lot of work and I suppose it is, at least compared to stopping for take out or pulling something from the freezer but this is what I am talking about. Eating well in the future will almost certainly be more work. You may not do this every day or even once a week but don’t let that keep you  from trying at least once.

If you are interested in reading about the food stamp challenge, the link can be found on today’s survivalblog post.

I have been thinking a lot about the importance of communications during any crisis. When our power was out in our small town for 10 days this past winter, checking in on neighbors was made more difficult because so many people only had portable, plug in phones that do not work without electricity. Our cell service is spotty at best and, of course, once the batteries died, the phones quit working anyway. I have a cheap wall phone next to my bed that works as long as the phone wires are up. A lot of people also lost their list of phone numbers as that is stored in their phone memory. They couldn’t call family members who had only cell  phones because there was no way to access the number. It’s crazy just how dependent we are on that pesky electrical grid.

Take an evening and update your address book with essential phone numbers and addresses. Get yourself a phone that will work without electricity. If you have a cell phone, make sure you have a hand crank charger. I have one attached to my emergency radio.

I was think about getting a set of walkie talkies that would allow conversation between us and a few neighbors but we live in a very hilly area and I guess they only work  in line of sight. My next thought is CB radios. It may seem like overkill but I really don’t think so. Our power grid is so fragile that I can see sporadic blackouts becoming more common. The ability to reach neighbors could be lifesaving.

I am the editor of a small (small as in 80, 4 page papers a month) newspaper. The phones may stop working, but The Messenger will go on. The Messenger will tell you who was born, who died, and who got married. We run a couple of adds for local businesses, a town calendar and news from the school, library, town boards and sustainability group. You can sell home made quilts or look to buy some laying hens. You can advertise your tag sale. We also let folks know the wildlife news like when the bluebirds show up and who got an early frost. The cost is ten dollars a year if you can afford it but lots of people send in more so anybody who wants a Messenger can get one.

I can see these small town papers making a comeback. As the world gets more complicated and we become increasingly disconnected, there is a place for celebrating the Harper’s new baby and mourning the death of old Mr.Willis. There are a lot of days when the fate of the Creamery, our local grocery store, matters a while lot more to me than the fate of CitiBank.

I have to laugh. Every news station is running stories on the new frugality. I have seen segments on gardening, barter, coupon shopping, buying used clothing, you name it, it’s being covered. One would think that the idea of living within one’s means is a totally new concept.

Years ago, I used to subscribe to the Tightwad Gazette, a 4 page newsletter devoted to tightwaddery. Maybe it’s a rural thing. Everyone I know thinks of getting something for nothing as a lifestyle choice. I know one or two people who have always spent like there was no tomorrow ( there was and it’s today) but we felt sorry for those poor souls, the way we would if we learned that he was bit simple. To bad but these things happen.

One thing I have noticed is that there is still an emphasis on getting essentially the same lifestyle (food, clothing, car) as before but not spending as much money. They are still not getting it. We can’t have the same lifestyle. We will need to eat differently, more locally, fewer calories, less meat, dress differently, practical, warm, durable, live in different houses, smaller, more efficient, closer to where we work, drive differently, shared autos, fewer miles, drive until the car becomes so old it is almost car vapor. That old life is over for most of us. The new frugality is the new reality. It is not a phase or a fad or a hobby. Get used to it.

One of the more enduring pictures of the depression is that of bread lines. I fear that we are beginning to see a different incantation of modern day bread lines. Food stamps applications have soared and what are food stamps but invisible soup kitchens and bread lines. Private donors are handing out food in places like Elkhart where unemployment has reached 20%. My husband volunteers at our food pantry where donations are down but usage is up. The demand for subsidized lunches and breakfast at my daughter’s high school has surged to the point that they can no longer afford to offer a hot breakfast and have switched to a selection of cold, presweetened cereals and milk.

We all need to think about food security, not in the abstract, isn’t it awful what is happening in other places and to other people, but in the sense of personal security. What will you do if food becomes too expensive for your budget?

I looked over several years of checkbook ledgers last night, pulling out what I spent for food. The numbers are difficult to figure as, at times, I have had a houseful of teenage boys to feed and other times when it has been just me, Bruce and the three girls. Still. I think I have a pretty good idea of where my food money has gone and why we seem to be eating a lot better for a lot less money today.

I rarely go grocery shopping any more and I almost never shop for the ingredients for a meal.  Rather, I shop to restock my pantry. One week, I will put in a co-op order for dried fruit and nuts and maybe a fifty pound sack of grain. Another week, I might buy a bulk order of chicken. I take a trip to a big box store 6 times a year and get things like sugar and case lots of the fruits that I can’t get locally. I hit a buy one get two free sale to restock my juice supply. If I didn’t get to the market for a month, I might have to pick up local milk or cheese and maybe a bit of fresh produce at the the general store here in town but I could manage quite well  even if I couldn’t get there as I have a large supply of dried milk and all the supplies for making cheese. My goal is to use at least 2 jars of something I preserved last summer every day. Last night, we ate a ham and scalloped potato casserole. The potatoes and onions were from our garden and the ham was local. The milk was local and the salt from storage. We also had canned applesauce (ours) and bread and butter pickles (ours). I made canned green beans which no one likes but they ate them because they could smell the rhubarb/blueberry crisp in the oven.

Not everyone has the space to grow as much as we do but I think we shortchange our ability to grow something. There is a terrific web site called path to freedom you should check out if you think you can’t grow food in you back yard.

Put out the word that you are interested in growing and foraging more food. I got 50 pounds of peaches last year from a woman who was swamped with them just through word of mouth. We are still eating those peaches and will have them until the new crop comes in. If the crop fails, I have cases of canned peaches in storage to hold me over until the next harvest.

Food has been rationed by price for many years. If you had money, you could afford fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and good bread. Poor people ate peanut butter, white pasta, and kool-aid. I see food rationing by price as something that will get a lot worse. Prepare for that time by figuring how and where to grow food. Learn how to preserve it and cook it. Plan to enjoy it during the lean times that are already here.

This past winter, the power was out in my town for 10 days. That is very long time if you aren’t ready for it. If you have a gas stove that work without electricity, you can cook very acceptable meals on your range top, as long as the propane holds out. I have several alternative cooking methods at my fingertips. The are pros and cons to each.

Solar oven

I have a very good solar oven. In the summer, I use it a lot. The temperature gets up to 350 degrees on a sunny day. Keeping the oven oriented to the sun and out of the wind helps a lot in keeping the temp up. Mine has an electric back up in case the sun goes in. I can’t cook anything too tall this way as the oven body is not high. It is best for things like stews and casseroles that need long cooking. Plan on 50% more time than in a conventional oven.

sterno stoves

I have 3 of these little one burner, fold flat stoves.  I keep one in each vehicle. They are cheap, and actually put out quite abit of heat. It works quite well for boiling water and heating soup. I wouldn’t try use it for anything else. The biggest benefit is for the apartment dweller with very little space or someone with very little money.

propane camp stove

These are the 2  burner stoves that a lot of keep with our camping supplies. We cooked on this while our power was out. I was surprised at how efficient it was. Again, one can be had for very little money and the propane canisters are also inexpensive. I store about 25 fuel cylinders.

gas grill

I guess if you have no other option you can cook on your grill but you have to heat the whole thing, even if you only want a kettle of hot water for tea. Not very effiicient. You also have to cook outside which isn’t much fun in a blizzard.

hibachi

Same as above but uses charcoal instead of propane. I have one, just in case, and I store a couple of bags of charcoal, along with lighter fluid and matches.

Obviously, if you have a wood stove, you will cook on that. Bruce got me a stove top oven for Christmas. You set it on a range top or on top of the wood stave and You have and instant oven. It is not large but you can cook up muffins or meat loaf. i tried out a couple of home made stoves from cans. They use paraffin for fuel. They were smelly and smokey and not at all efficient but you might want to make one with your kids. I like to know how to do things which explains why we spent a couple of hours making a pizza box solar oven with the kids, then another larger solar oven out of some big boxes. I worked pretty well considering it was made from junk we had lying around the house.

The point here is that you never know when you might be without power. Sharon Astyk did a very good post today about all of the scenarios that might leave us in the dark. All are possible and some, quite likely.

If I remember correctly, Hobbits used to give Mathoms instead of gifts. A mathom is an item that is passed from one Hobbit to another in place of a purchased gift. I hope I have that right. It has been many years since I followed the escapades of Bilbo Baggins. Anyway, as I clean out my kitchen cabinets, I am finding quite a stash of mathoms. Bruce just came home from a bee meeting with one-a set of swan shaped, silver plated candle sticks in the original box. They were some sort of a door prize. Thank you. I will pass them on ASAP.

This got me to thinking about gift giving and how it relates to sustainability and preparedness. When we got married, 36 years ago, a shower gift was a nice set of pot holders or some glasses or a cookbook. Often, the item was handmade. I still use the aprons a favorite aunt made for me. An acceptable wedding gift was a small appliance like a toaster or blender. I actually got married in the era of the fondue pot. I got 4 of them. How things have changed. Most wedding gifts now seem to fall in the $100.00 dollar range for friends and $200.00 range for family. I have gone to a couple of kid’s birthday parties where gifts cost an easy $25.00. Call me cheap (Please! I consider it a compliment) but I think this is plain silly. Most gifts, especially gifts for kids, become landfill clutter about 2 hours after opening.

I think we should become Hobbit gift givers and turn to mathoms. As the economy deteriorates, we need to think about what gifts are saying. Are they conveying a message of I love and care about you or are they saying I don’t have a lot of money but I am willing to run up my Visa card to keep you from knowing it?

Last year, a friend who really was not obligated to give me a gift, never-the-less got me a seed sprouting set up for my birthday. It wasn’t expensive but it was perfect for me as I hate cleaning the cheese cloth after a sprouting session. I gave him an extra set of canning jars I had in the basement. Again, not an expensive gift but one I knew he would use. For kids, I tend to pick up  drawing paper, crayons and markers when I find them marked down and keep them on hand for the forgotten birthday party (There is a preparedness connection. I knew there had to be.) The markers may have Easter Bunnies on them in October but do kids really care? I would like to go a step further and say that used books make a good gift as do the ingredients for cookies in a jar with the recipe attached.

We have given up giving gifts outside of the immediate family for everything but weddings and new babies. Bruce has 8 brothers and sisters and I have three and we have a pile of nieces and nephews and now a new generation. We would go broke trying to buy for everybody. If you can’t give up gift giving entirely, can you convince your family to turn to mathoms? The only rule is that the item has to be entirely useless and cost less than $2.00. Free is better.

This may seem like a silly thing to waste time writing about but there is a serious side to it. This country has to rethink how and why we do things. Trying to impress people with what we have rather than who we are has driven people to bankruptcy. The hot tub culture has to be replaced with one that honors honesty and responsibility. Taking back our country starts with taking back our own lives.

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