I went to the market yesterday and only spent $50.00 which is pretty good. I was hoping to do a yearly chart that would track my spending on food ( I wanted to see where we ranked on the USDA table of food expenditures) but you can’t compare apples to oranges. For instance, if I look at my food budget I would have to include seeds but what about the freezer and the rototiller? How do I charge off a box of donated tomatoes or the gift of a crate of cucumbers? Where do vitamins fall? I don’t generally buy toiletries in the market but I do sometimes. They don’t count for the food tally but I don’t have time to go over each receipt and redo the math. I finally decided to forget the whole idea. We eat like kings some of the time, get by on some pretty pedestrian soups other times and I know I spend less than most people.

Last night we had tiny pork chops with boiled potatoes, applesauce, cucumbers in sour cream, beets and home made bread and butter. The only things we could not get locally were the salt, cinnamon, olive oil and sugar. I store all of the above and next year will use a lot more honey than sugar. It is a lovely thing to eat a meal that came mostly from one’s back yard.

I have been trying to catch up on the comments. I hope I have not neglected to welcome any newcomers. I try to comment when I can but on busy days it is all I can do to get them approved. Please know that I read and appreciate every one. I get really excited when they come into my inbox. Reading them is my reward when I come inside for a break.

My Excalibur is going full tilt. I have a bunch of mushrooms and celery drying nicely. Today I am drying corn. Bruce is working hard on the cold cellar. We need to do some rearranging to make better use of the basement space but it means emptying out this huge pantry cabinet full of home canned food. What a chore that will be! I think Bruce was surprised by how much food I put up.

We visited friends last night who are selling their house. We were checking out the basement and I was a bit taken aback by how much food they have. Moving my one pantry will be a breeze compared to moving that basement full of food. I have been in markets that were not as well stocked. I have gotten a few emails recently asking my about what I think will happen and how long I prepare for. As for the first question-I have no idea. I am no economist. I do look at what is happening on the economic front and I know it can’t be good. Common sense tells me this but as to inflation, deflation, stagflation, I think it’s anybody’s guess. I just don’t see how printing money on a whim is a good idea and I know my home could not run on debt. On the flu front, again, who really knows. This whole flu season could turn out to be a lot of sore throats and fevers and pass into Y2K history. On the other hand, a totally new virus could emerge tomorrow. Terrorism and nuclear accidents, grid collapse or EMP attack, maybe today, maybe never. I don’t spend too much time worrying about any of them. I prefer to take the example of my grandparents. They were too busy working to worry about what could happen and with a full panty and a wood stove, it didn’t really matter anyway. As for how long, it depends. My goal is to be prepared for a year but I know that in March, my selection of food would be pretty limited. We would eat but not the way we do in September.

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I always get motivated this time of the year. The cooler temperatures and crisp air give me a burst of energy. Yesterday I got a big batch of beans in the Excalibur and my peach brandy racked into a jug. I also got into the attic to begin my preps for winter by looking over the winter clothes. I found that we are all in good shape for many things but Phoebe does need new boots. I like to start looking now so I can find a good deal. I have a lot of boots but just not a pair that will fit her this year.

I have actually been thinking a lot about feet as one of the girls had suffered with an ingrown toenail for months and didn’t recover until some minor surgery removed the problem. The infection she had didn’t respond to antibiotics and could have been life threatening if we had not seen to it. I have had Plantar warts a few time and now my youngest has an ingrown toenail too. I went over my medical kit and found I didn’t have many of the thing needed for emergency foot care. I just made a list and plan to pick up these things I am missing in the morning.

Heavy duty nail clippers, emery boards, small surgical scissors, wart remover, pumice stone and mole skins are good things to have on hand. The mole skin will protect feet from blisters. I am also going to purchase more socks. Our heavy wool sock stocks are good but cotton socks do not hold up and need to be replaced every year. If  you wash them every day and keep them out of the dryer they last longer. I also have an old fashioned sock egg and yarn so I can repair wool socks that get holes. I have mended cotton socks but the repairs are only fair.  If the hole is caught early it works but larger repairs leave bumps that are uncomfortable. Socks are cheap enough. Get several extra packages when you can. Slippers are important when the floors are cold. I like slipper socks as the kids sleep in them when it’s really cold. I found a pattern for slipper boots. i tried to make them but they were pretty funny looking. My friend Barbara is an excellent seamstress. I am going to ask her if she would look at the patterns and help me out.

I store lots of shoe stuff like mink oil for waterproofing and shoe goo for repairs. I have extra shoe laces too. We aren’t an army but we still run on our feet as well as our stomachs. If your feet hurt, gettin anything done is really hard and cold feet make it impossible to keep the rest of your body warm.

One of my dreams is to have a community sewing center and clothing and boot exchange. I would love to have a place families could go to get minor clothing repairs made and learn to sew as well. We could even recruit a cobbler. Sewing machines are another of those big-ticket items that not everybody needs. Sharing resources and skills are key to healthy communities.

First, let me whine a bit. I am apparently not as yong as I used to be. I spent yesterday putting up peaches. This involves lifting not just the peaches (40 pounds) but a canner full of water and all of the jars. I also picked beans, cucumbers and broccoli as well as made the beds and toted around my grandson. Today, I am a hurting puppy. Hurting as in I could use some major drugs. The drugs are out of the question. I actually have a some left from some surgery I had earlier this year. I didn’t take them then because I hate the way they make me feel, all spacey and disconnected. If I am still feeling this bad later I may break down but for now I would rather muddle through. I have a couple of big projects I want to tackle and I need my faculties for them.

After some household, mommy type stuff like cleaning out my youngest child’s drawers in anticipation of school beginning soon and getting the canned peaches in the basement (directing my girls on this one I think) I want to work on an idea I have for another cooking option. We use propane for everything. In an emergency, we would want to make the fuel last as long as possible. Heck, even with no emergency, we want to make our propane last and cooking, especially long, slow cooking like stews and soups can use up a lot of fuel. I had read about hay box cookers and was intrigued but, as we get several feet of snow around here, one seemed impracticle for winter use. I had already decided to use Sharon Astyk’s idea for expanded refrigerator space by using a cooler with a big ice block in it. She actually doesn’t have a refrigerator at all. She just runs a freezer for the ice which she would do in any case. Well, I am thinking of adapting a cooler to a hay box oven. I need to find a good metal one, used of course. I am also investing in a cast iron Dutch oven. Lehman’s has one that looks very neat. It has a tunnel up the midddle, rather like a bundt ban, that heats food with the efficiency of a convection oven. The lid is so heavy that it makes the pan perform like a pressure cooker as well. If I get the pan and food really hot on the stove, I could put it in the cooler, surround it with some old quilts and let it be for the day. By supper, the food should be cooked and my energy expenditure much lower than usual.

A lot of brain power is invested in talking about the history of energy use, the multiple theories behind economic systems  and what collapse looks like. A lot less energy is spent where it counts, in figuring out how to make do with less. I find that I am annoyed by web sites that I used to read faithfully. They all seem to say the same thing. The markets may go up or they may go down. The crash may be fast or it may be slow. Governments are inherintly evil and people pretty stupid. It may be climate change that kills us or it may be disease. Enough already!

I am more and more drawn to sites that offer me some solutions for living on less and living more lightly. Don’t harp about a looming food crisis. Tell me about your experience growing grain on a small acreage. Don’t tell me that pandemic will spell the end of civilization. Give some information about using elderberry extract to combat the flu. I don’t want to hear about any more about how our wasteful lifestyles have caused our promblems with energy. I want to learn about how I can heat my house and cook my food without using so much fuel.

I sound crabby this morning. Pain will do that. But it has been brewing anyway. I feel like we have whined enough. Most readers of this blog and others like it are already on the right path. I was following a conversation thread on another site and I was so annoyed I just logged off because ther were so many who felt that growing food and doing with less was a waste of time. TEOTWAWKI was coming and there was nothing to be done about it. Nonsense! There is plenty we can do about it. Now that I have stepped off my soap box I will have to take my own advice and do something about my back besides whine. Something like stay off my feet for a few days, stop lifting more than I can comfortable carry and slow down in the garden. Everything does not have to be done today. I can’t do everything I want. Sometimes the answer is no. Advice for me. Advice for the planet.

I went to the city yesterday to participate in an upcoming docu-drama about the world after a pandemic decimates society. I was interviewed primarily about food, evacuation and community building. There are some pretty strange ideas out there about how one would get food if forced to leave one’s home on foot and unprepared. The reality of a man needing 3000 calories a day is hard to wrap your mind around. One thing for sure. You won’t get it by foraging wild greens. I don’t think it reasonable to expect that some city guy, who spends his day pushing paper is, all of the sudden, going to turn into Wilderness Jones and snare a couple of squirrels a day either. And water. Did you ever try to carry a gallon jug for any distance. Water is heavy and awkward and most ground water in the US is not safe to drink without being treated. I asked about things like shoes, shelter and security. The security is especially important because, in a real apocalyptic scenario, it won’t be just nice guys and theirfamilies on the road. It will be desperate, frightened people and many will not be nice.

Then there was talk about how much land a family would need to feed themselves. Again-plain silly to think a paper pusher becomes Mr. Green Jeans without any experience farming. Just this year, with the blight problems, a lot of us would be hungry if we were depending on that crop to feed us through a long winter.

The next question was about bunker living versus finding a community. Here is the truth of it. Man is a herd animal. We are not designed to live in isolation. We need each other. None of us can do everything. In a community, the soap maker will swap her wares for honey and the bee man swap his honey for milk. The dairy farmer will swap for wine and the vinier swap for shoes. The shoemaker will give a pair of boots for help with birthing his first born and the midwife swap for soap.  Pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents will matter less than a real thing that you need to keep warm or fed.

I  came away from interview with a renewed commitmant to some preparedness principles.

Bloom where you are planted as long as you are not planted in the middle of a big city with rampant crime. If you are, start today to make plans to get out.  Make your home the place you escape to. Get it paid for ASAP and spend the money to get it energy efficient. Know it, love it and care for it.

Know where your food comes from and keep enough stored to get you through a time when leaving might not be safe or wise. Learn now how to grow and preserve what you harvest. Store seeds and tools and plant perennial food plants like berry bushes and fruit trees, asparagus and rhubarb.

Make community service a priority. Know your neighbors and treat them like family. You don’t have to love them. You have care about them. Those are two very different ideas.

Get a skill. Practice until you become expert. Don’t expect to make a living as a potter or winemaker. But do learn all you can and build a customer base as your skills improve. Offer a quality service and be honest. The best investments you can make are in yourself, your home and your community.

I have gotten a couple of private emails directing me to an article that is linked at the survivalblog website about a family on unemployment in Elkhart, Indiana. I suppose it could make you angry (it did a lot of people) because this family is losing their rental home while still purchasing beer, soda and cigarettes but it just made me sad. These guys thought they had a contract with America for a specific kind of life and somebody broke the contract. Pointing fingers won’t help.

This got me to thinking about a couple of other emails I have received asking where I thought families should begin in starting a preparedness program. These were people less concerned with big disasters and more concerned with recession depriving them of their livelihood. Yesterday, I spent some time looking over what I have and trying to prioritize  in terms of real usefulness. For instance, I have a bottle capper because I like to make soda but I would not give that a high rating. Making soda is fun but not necessary for survival. What follows is my “gotta have it list” for preparing to live on less.

Water bath canner: I start here because water bath canning allows you to glean and gather fruit and process it with very little effort. You can buy a couple of bushels of tomatoes and put up quarts and quarts of sauce. If you have some land, and by some I mean ripping out the roses if necessary, you can grow tomatoes and your sauce will be nearly free.

Pressure canner: Meat in bulk is a lot less expensive but you need to be able to preserve it. Freezers and electricity cost a lot more than a quality canner and the meat is there, able to be turned into easy, stove top or outdoor cooked meals. I would start by learning to can hamburger, chicken and stew beef.

Dehydrator: Today, I am buying bags of frozen vegetables at the big box store and drying them for long term storage. They are cheap right now and I want to avoid buying another freezer so drying is the way to go. Drying herbs and fruit is easy and requires less electricity than any other method of preservation.

Food Saver: Having a vacuum sealer makes it possible to keep dried food in optimal condition. I dry larger vegetables and grind them up for soup base.

Canning jars: You can never have too many. Check out yard sales and Craig’s List for the best buys but if you must pay cash, consider them an investment.

Weather proofing: check out every program that is available to help you reduce your energy consumption. Sell the big screen TV to buy insulation.

One good, basic cookbook: You need to know how to prepare real food. Every time you are tempted to buy fast food, put those dollars away and make biscuits and gravy and a simple vegetable dish. Follow up with a fruit cobbler.

Community: Got friends? If you have friends, you have people to share expenses with and people to learn with. That canner is less expensive if you buy it with your sister or your best friend. You half the cost and double the fun. Instead of spending money going out to eat or to the movies, pick a couple of bushels of apples and put up apple sauce. You will have so much fun and be eating great food in January when the stuff in stores is expensive and shipped in from Chili

Land: By land, I mean garden space. Maybe your church or synagogue will put in a garden if you get the ball rolling. We have a garden on our school grounds this summer. Families are taking turns caring for it. Go to the library and check out books on self sufficiency on small spaces. There are lots to chose from and they are full of ideas. Check out books on thrifty living. The Tightwad Gazette books are a good place to start. I have all of them and read them often for inspiration.

This recession is far from over. The people in Elkhart would call it a depression. If only they had prepared for this time, there lives would be so much better, so much healthier. We all need to be preparing for a life of less. It is up to us to make decisions now that will keep our families healthy and happy, no matter the economy does.

Over the weekend, in my constant quest for free things to do that require little or no driving, I went to visit one of my town’s two historical museums. It’s a dandy museum, set up to show how life was lived in a New England Village from the 1700’s through the 1800’s. This is not just a decorating exercise with art and furnishings but a terrific collection of the tools and equipment that made life livable before the advent of the age of oil. Naturally, my preparedness thinking turned my mind to how this stuff could be resurrected to meet the needs of a community should the apocalypse happen. It was an interesting intellectual exercise.

The first thing that struck me was how creative and intelligent the minds were that thought of these things. I think many people tend to think of problems as things we solve by throwing money at. We also assume that somebody, somewhere is working on whatever it is which gets us off the hook for putting energy into designing solutions, at least at a community level. For instance, there was the problem of snow removal. I live a hilly area of New England with frigid, snowy winters but even in the 1800’s people had to get to town and to school and to distant fields. Pushing snow aside was not an option so the snow was instead rolled with heavy wooden rollers pulled by teams of horses. This left a hard packed surface that could be walk on or that a horse and sleigh could easily navigate. In later years, kids went to school in horse drawn buses so a storm did not mean shutting down the schools for weeks at a time. Kitchen equipment was beautiful and durable and meant to be used daily. There was no room in those days for the glitzy clutter that defines many current American kitchens.

The second thing that occurred to me was how much community effort there was. Many tasks such as cider making and cutting ice for the ice house was done as a group. The cider presses were massive as were the the grain mills. People brought their apples and grain to the mills and took home cider and flour. This is a far more efficient way to use equipment and had the added benefit of providing community gathering places.

I also noticed how local the world was. Our town is small by any standards, only about 800 people, which is the same population that existed 200 years ago yet it supported several schools. First the cider mill went up and then the school. There might have only been a dozen kids but having schools so close to home made sense when most kids walked in what was often terrible weather. I wish the proponents of large, central schools could think in such concrete terms.

I am not going to pretend that life was perfect in early America. Old cemeteries are filled with the grave of little children, sometimes several in one family who all died withing weeks from diseases that are now just history. Life demanded constant, hard work as the pictures of hunched and weather beaten men and woman give testament to. I have no desire to return to those times (well, I do actually but I know I would miss a lot of conveniences of this life). I like easy access to medical care and my computer and telephone. Still, I think it behooves us all to remember that we didn’t always have those things and lives were live that were full and rich and rewarding. Every chance you get to visit these places that hold and preserve our past should be grabbed. New England has many and I expect that the rest of the country does as well. It will help illustrate that we don’t have to buy but rather innovate our way back to the future.

I was asked yesterday about the skills I thought were necessary for self sufficiency. It is an interesting question. Does one need to know how to tan leather and butcher a deer?Is it a good idea to be able to remove your kid’s appendix with hair clips and hypnosis ala Alas Babylon? I guess my point here is that I am never going to be entirely self sufficient. I doubt many people are. We depend on each other to a greater or lesser degree. My goal is to reduce my dependency, particularly in the area of food, and learn to do as much as possible for myself, knowing that if I need a tooth pulled, I am heading straight to the dentist.

I believe that the journey towards greater self sufficiency is a mind set, a way of looking at the world around you. Start with water. It is not enough to store some bottled water. The water will run out and then what? Do you know where your comes from, how it’s delivered to your home and what the vulnerabilities to that source are? Do you know where else in your neighborhood you can access ground water? Can you carry it? Do ou know how to treat it?

Medical care is so easy for a lot of us but by no means is it easy for everybody. If the medical system broke down, even temporarily, do you know how to treat minor accidents and illnesses and do you have the supplies to do so? Do you know the medical practitioners in your neighborhood? Do they know you? Could you call on one in an emergency? Do you have some cash or barter items on hand to pay for care if necessary?

Do you have a plan to heat your home if the power is out? Can you provide lighting and can you cook? Once the propane runs out, can you cook with wood or a solar oven? Have you actually done it? Do you know how to build a rocket stove?

Do you have the proper clothing for a life that entails more labor in very hot or cold weather? Do you have proper foot wear? Do  you have the means and ability to repair clothing and shoes?

Do you know where your food comes from? Can you grow it? Can you preserve it? Do you have the tools and the techniques down to a science? Can you bake bread and will your family eat what you make? Do you know the basics of putting together a casserole, soup or stew?

Can you entertain yourself and your family without tickets to Six Flags? Do you have books and games and puzzles and does your family use those thing regularly?

Do you have hand tools and the knowledge to make simple repairs? Do you have to run to Home Depot every time you need an adhesive, nails, screws, caulking and such?

Do you know your neighborhood and your neighbors? Who has what skills? Do you feud over every little thing or are you a true community? Do you know what grows where and what is edible? What animals are plentiful?

I know I have forgotten as much as I have put in here. My point is that, while most of us need to depend on each other, we also want to be someone others can depend on. I want to have something to bring to the table when times get tough but I want lots of others at the table with me.