We had dinner with some friends last weekend. We have know each other since our kids were babies.They are witty, charming, terrific cooks and,  for the most part, clueless about peak oil or anything other crisis that might change their comfortable lifestyles. Only one other in our group of ten wanted to talk about the future and what it may hold for us. Jim is a really smart guy. He is making plans for living in an energy starved world. He even came equipped with a photo of the electric panel truck he just ordered. He had all sorts of plans for converting his home to solar and photovoltaic and installing heat sinks.  It was pretty impressive I must admit but there was something fundamentally flawed with his thinking. It wasn’t until I got home and really started to ponder his plans that it hit me. Jim is trying desperately to design systems that will allow him to continue to live exactly as he always has. He wants to drive as much, be as warm, eat the same food and consume in the same way. I know I often recommend that people buy something as they prepare. I really hope you all will call me on that when I am out of line as I I believe that preparedness is as much mental as anything and it is buying too much that has caused an awful lot of the world’s woes.

If one has unlimited resources, I suppose a photovoltaic system makes more sense than a boat but I still have to wonder. These systems require big energy inputs, not just in the manufacture but in the replacement of the battery arrays. Solar panels work well but they don’t last forever either. Electric cars have a lot of advantages and while no one wishes more than I that every car on the road was powered that way, that sad truth is that the electric car idea is a ship that has already sailed. It would require enormous fossil fuel inputs to manufacture a fleet of electric cars to replace all existing vehicles. Then we would have to build the recharging stations and figure out what to do with old cars. It is not as easy as just having the will. You also need the money and the gas and oil to pull it off. If one is building from the ground up, I would put in every energy efficient system I could manage but most of us are not in that place. We are trying to cobble together a life that works.

Rather than investing in an electric or hybrid car, it will make more sense for most of us to plan on driving less. We are carpooling some, biking some, walking some and staying home some. I am in need of more refrigerator space as I am getting all of my milk for the week from a local farmer and those gallons take up a lot of space. I could spend the money on a top of the line energy star fridge but I could also use an existing cooler and replace the ice in it daily as I run a big freezer anyway. I am thinking about a wood furnace to replace my inefficient gas furnace. Until I can afford one, we are turning down the thermostat and putting on sweaters. Our upstairs rooms get really hot in the summer. We used to run air conditioners so the kids could sleep comfortably. This year, we put a fan in the back bedroom to suck the hot air out and kept basement door open so the cool air was drawn up.  On the few nights that it was really hot, the girls slept downstairs in the living room. The actually enjoyed the pajama party and we saved a lot of energy. I could get a new washer and dryer that would be more efficient than the ones I have or I could put a clothes rack in the spare bedroom and dry our clothes inside in the winter. I want a solar hot water system but until I can get one, I am turning down the temperature control on my hot water heater.

We have a mindset in this country that we can always throw money at a problem and make it dissapear but that won’t work this time. All of the bailouts and stimulus pachages are not going to change the fundamental truth of the impossibility of infinate growth in a finite world. Preparedness is only going to allow us some breathing room when the next big catastrophy happens. Real preparedness, long term preparedness is about mind set changes.

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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.

As most of you know, thanks to the miracle of adoption, I have seven kids. Two still live at home, three are across the country and two are local. The two local, one a single dad with full custody of two children and one married with a wife and toddler, would most certainly land here in the event of a major event. When I plan for storage, I do keep that in mind but I think I have made an error in not asking that they be more responsible for their own preparations. I have been working on a list for each family that outlines what steps they should take in a disaster. A disaster is defined as something that disrupts food supplies or causes civil unrest for a period of time. I would not consider an impending winter storm a disaster (they could all ride one out here without a problem) but a collapse of the US dollar, a  terrorist attack that involved biological weapons or a dirty bomb or a severe pandemic that closed down most commerce would be. I think they need a list of what they should pack because, if something serious enough to warrant leaving their home happened, they would likely be fighting panic and need some clear direction so they do what needed to be done without hesitation. I already harp on the car theme. Keep the tank half full. It’s an important point. If electricity was out, they could not stop at a filling station and get gas. The pumps won’t work. A half tank minimum would make it possible to get home.

What would I want them to pack? Not much actually. Their clothes and any medication of course, concentrating on foul weather gear and work clothes. I hope they have irreplaceable pictures on a flash drive or in an album they can grab. I would want them to bring bedding and sleeping bags and towels as well as food and toiletries. I gave my daughter-in-law a canner for her birthday and I would want her to bring that and hand tools would be a good idea. That’s really it. They would certainly know to take back roads here and to come first and worry about looking foolish and over-reacting later.

I am also talking to them about contributing to our family preps. If I give them a list, they could pick up a couple of items each time they shop. They could leave them at home or bring them here and we will store them. I do the big things that are bulk purchases like wheat, oats, sugar, salt, oats, rice and corn but some of the other stuff is inexpensive and usually purchased in smaller quantities. I would suggest canned juices, baking supplies, peanut butter, cooking oil, canned milk, toilet paper and things that are shelf stable and often go on sale at 10 for &10.00 like canned fruit, tuna and soups.

My son is self-employed and works from home. He hires out people to do his shopping usually (plus he is the typical absent-minded professor type) so I would not expect him to do this but he easily give me $300.00 dollars a month that I could put towards food supplies. I am looking at canned beef and chicken form Lehman’s. It is $100.00 for a case of 12, 2 pound cans. This is not cheap and it’s not local so I would ordinarily not consider it but if my son wanted to pay for it, it would be a way to get a good supply of shelf stable protein. The money could also help with the purchase of more six gallon buckets and gamma lids. They are usually a  lot more expensive than whatever I store in them.

This may seem a bit over the top, even for me, but I think it is important planning. How many times have those of us who prepared hear the same thing. If  anything happens I’m coming to your house. No. Actually, you aren’t. I have a large family that I’m responsible for and a limited amount of room. I can direct you to the nearest shelter but I can’t take in every friend and relation who could have prepared and didn’t.

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 had to take one of my girls in for some minor toe surgery yesterday. I was sitting in the office, chatting with the podiatrist when I happened to glance down at my hands. The fingernails were grubby all around and the nails themselves broken off. I always think I am going to wear my gloves when I work outside but I never do. I think I will be just picking a couple of beans for dinner when I end up pulling all the weeds in the beet patch. The nest thing I know I am up to my wrists in dirt. Real farmer’s don’t get manicures.

At my last doctor’s appointment, my physician asked me if I got any exercise, especially weight bearing. Have you ever lifted a full canning kettle. I will have to weigh one some day. Then there’s the pig food and the buckets of compost. I tote and carry all day. Cardio? Bruce and I spent the morning pulling off the potato tops and stuffing them into black plastic bags. It took 3 hours with a couple of breaks for running back and forth to the house to refill the water jug. I was up and down the cellar stair 6 times, back and forth to the pigs and the garden and up and down the house stairs with laundry. Real farmers don’t join gyms.

My doc also had questions about my diet. She hoped I was watching my consumption of eggs, bacon and cheese and bread. Sure. I raise pigs, have great, local free range eggs, make my own cheese from local whole milk and bake bread. Of course I don’t eat any of that. I eat nothing but lettuce and tomatoes. Oh wait a minute. I DON’T HAVE ANY TOMATOES. I guess that means I will have to eat the pork. Real farmers love great food.

My pants all have dirt stains on the knees. I know the value of a broad brimmed hat. I watch the weather forcast religiously but have no idea what’s going on in the lives of celebrities. My kids know better than to complain over beets for dinner.

I am actually not much of a farmer. I have a small place, less than three acres. I grow a lot but by no means all or even most of what we eat. But, after this week, I am feeling like a farmer in a community of farmers. That we are all interested in preparedness and none to optimistic about the economic future of our country is often lost in the forest of our love for our land and our food. We have commiserated in our misery, given freely of support and information. I have mourned with you. I have said this often. The reason I don’t keep my preparedness private is that I could not eat while my neighbors were hungry. If there is that silver lining to dark cloud of blight it is this. We are in this together. Our extra produce gets sent to our food share. If one of use has just put up apple sauce, there will be sauce to share as well as store. There are plans to get to a local orchard this weekend to pick peaches. I hope we will share in the canning of those peaches and in the joy of the cobbler this winter. We are strong. We are invincible. We are together. We are farmers.

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.

I have been thinking a lot about food security lately. I am anticipating a tough fall on the economic front and expect the cost of food to rise sharply and the availability to be reduced. It is making me look at my gardening from the standpoint of providing the most bang for my preparedness buck.

We are in full swing on the harvesting front. I put up 2 weeks worth of veges yesterday. I got a great haul of string beans, the last of peas up and I froze the most beautiful broccoli I have ever grown. I had a real treat when I weeded. We rotate entire beds so the garden that help our spuds last year is this years main vegetable bed and the potatoes moved over a bed. I put the tomatoes in a new bed hoping to avoid blight. Corn has it’s own place as do the wanderers like squash and pumpkins. Herbs are scattered around.  Only the perennial beds for asparagus and rhubarb are fixed. Anyway, I had a number of volunteer potatoes that sprung from some I missed last year. They had shot up these spindly little tops and didn’t look like much of anything so I pulled them out yesterday and was thrilled to dig 18 pounds of potatoes. My stored potatoes had long ago gone bad so this was a real find for  me.

Now I need to think about what to plant in the place of things I am pulling up like cabbage and peas. I am thinking of plants that will tolerate the cold like more cauliflower and broccoli. I am also going to start some beets and carrots in toilet paper rolls and get them ready to transplant into the greenhouse when the cantelope comes out. I have not had luck with spinach as it always bolts on me but I am thinking I will make a cold frame and try for a cold weather crop.

If I do it right, I think I can have some fresh food year round. That means growing herbs and some greens in the house, making good use of row covers and cold frames and finally understanding the limitations and intricacies of my greenhouse. In our climate, it is a real boon but it has a learning curve. Now that I am getting it, I would consider a second one. The next thing I need to consider is my cold storage. I am going to offer my sons a good meal and childcare if they will spend a day helping their dad build a cold cellar. They would get the meal in any case and child care means the grandkids spending the day in the pool which they would also do so it’s not much of a deal for them but it will mean a dedicated day as opposed to a possible day.