I got up early yesterday, planted some seeds for the fall garden, then got busy pulling all my onions and preparing the bed for next year. Bruce and I took a look at the corn and it hit  us at the same time. We need to get the new freezer! Right now as in we should have done this weeks ago.

I don’t care for canning corn. It takes a really long time and the result are only acceptable. Without electricity, I would but I have electricity so I don’t. I dry some and it actually tastes a lot better that way but again, it takes a lot of time and space and the corn all seems to be ready at once. Well, three at onces. We plant three varieties and have it over a long season but we have a lot in each season. The pigs will be ready soon too. I got on line and did the research to find the model I want and made some calls to find out who had one and would deliver within the next day or two.

We settled on the 24 cubic foot Kenmore. It’s huge and expensive but it has some features I wanted. It’s Energy Star and actually uses less power than some of the smaller models, has a quick freeze option so I can freeze large amounts at once and has a pop out lock and lighted interior.

This will give me three freezers. The one on the top of the refrigerator, the small upright in the mud room and now the huge chest in the basement. Bruce and I rearranged the food storage and he built a small freezer room yesterday. He framed in three walls and a floor and painted them up. The walls and flooring are insulated now and they will protect the freezer from some of the basement moisture. Eventually, the whole basement will be sealed from moisture and insulated but we won’t get to that until winter.

This whole project, as tough as it was on back, served the very useful purpose of making me take stock of my inventory. I went through a lot of food last year! I need to do a big shop this week and fill in around the edges. I have very little left in the way of canned juices and nearly no pineapple, the only canned fruit I purchase other than mandarin oranges when the are on sale. I got rid of some canned food that we are not going to eat like outdated green beans. The reason they were outdated is because nobody here can stand canned green beans. The pigs got those.

The other thing I did since I was down there and cleaning anyway was to rearrange my canning supplies. I had way more rings than I will ever need as I remove them as soon as the jars cool. A lot were rusty too. I took a rubber band and a paper clip and made a kind of bungee cord that I slipped through canning rings in groups of seven (a full canner load). I did this for 6 sets of large and small rings. I put these and all of my canning equipment like jar lifters and funnels in one 6 gallon bucket with a gamma seal and twist off lid. Now I have everything I need in one place and none of it is cluttering up my kitchen drawers. It will stay clean in the bucket and I can stop searching for a good lid in a bag with hundreds of  lids. I love getting organized. Systems are our friends.

I will do a whole post on this later this week but Bruce questioned the number of jars I have. I see his point as there are many extra but here is my reasoning. I pick up jars at tag sales and occasionally when I get to the market. They don’t deteriorate, I have the space and they are one thing I would really need if the grid ever collapsed. I could set up an outdoor kitchen and can all of the meat and frozen vegetables. We would have to work round the clock and use both pressure canners and it would take days but we could do it. If I ended up with some of kids at home, we would have to enlarge the gardens and can a lot more produce as a matter of course. Jars are alos a great barter item. I keep a couple of new boxes on hand and donate one to the occasional raffle along with a copy of my book. I am also trying to rid myself of most of the plastic in my house. Now that I have the space, I will be freezing many vegetables and fruit in jars. I will be able to reuse the lids and extract the air with my my food saver. This will save the money I would have spent on plastic bags and keep those bags out of the landfill. Win, win.

My good friend, Susi, dropped off 40 pounds of peaches for me yesterday. They are lovely peaches, drops from trees that have only been lightly sprayed with an early fungiciede. As I peel the peaches before canning, I worry less about the spraying than I do about sprayed apples. I hope no one writes to tell me about some hideous thing that will happen to be as result of canning the sprayed peaches. The peaches are not quite ready, goodnews for me as it is another scorching day and canning is not what I want to do. I will probably chose a cool evening for this hot project. It is hours of work but the results are so worth it. My goal is 360 quarts of fruit, one for each day of the year if I was feeding the current family members as well as visitors. That’s a goal, not a reality. As usual, my preps are a work in progress. I will still need to depend on my purchased canned fruit to get to a year’s worth. I can peaches, seckle pears, applesauce, cherries, blueberries and apple slices. I no longer can strawberries as they turn grey and unappealing with the heat.

I have 12 chickens coming from my friend, Kathy and all of the pork from the 2 pigs. I am canning stew beef and hamburger, maybe 12 one pound jars of each.  Next year, I am hoping for lamb. The only problem with the lamb is the cute factor. I have the 3 girls at home and they find the pigs disqusting but I am sure they would fall in love with a dear little lamb.

I am looking over my co-op catalog. I need to fill in my wheat again. Can i just remind everyone to check out their inventory? I was shocked at how much wheat I have gone through this year. I am getting another 500 pounds of wheat and another 100 pounds of oats. I am running into space problems. If anybody spends the night with us, they have to share the room with about 20 6 gallon buckets. The chiffarobe holds the stored cooking supplies and the bookcase is home to stockpiles of pasta. I always hope for the best but I plan for the worst and the worst for me is a run on banks which will lead to a run on supermarkets.

I had a friend tell me that she was sure she could feed her family for 6 weeks just on what was in her cabinets and freezer. Wanna bet? A family of 4, man, woman and 2 kids would need about 7000 calories a day for optimal heath. They could get by on 5000 for a while but they wouldn’t like it, especially if used to considerably more. Once the Cheerios and Eggos run out what will they do for breakfast? I go through about 10 pounds of flour on a week when I bake a lot. How many people have more than a 5 pound sack of flour? What about oats and dried fruit. Most people think of lunch as a slab of sliced lunch meat between two slices of white bread along with some margarine and mustard. The bread would be gone in a day or two and the lunch meat before that. Then what? How many cans of tuna, chicken and ham spread will they have. Can they bake the bread? Do they have yeast? How many cans of soup do they have? Will their kids be willing to eat food they aren’t familiar with? At supper time, when they can’t send out for Chinese or pizza, what’s for dinner? How many potatoes do they have? Five pounds?  Ten pounds? Not enough if they eat them every day. How much rice do they store? How many bags of vegetable? When they pull  out that last sack of freezer burned peas they will be left with a couple of cans of string beans and some artichoke hearts. If all of your food can be stored in your kitchen cabinets, you would be hungry before a week was out.

I am watching the news as I write this. Hurricane Bill is a catagory 4 and heading up toward the east coast. It looks like it will miss us but I trust a hurricane like I trust a telemarketer. Today I am checking out my power outage preps. I need to make sure I have enough rabbit feed and that both vehicles are gassed up. Bruce will get the chain saw ready and make plans for protecting the pigs and bees.

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.

Yesterday was both busy and productive. We headed out early on a quest for a stove, broccoli and cauliflower sets and some rosemary plants. I could not find the rosemary I had planted. Really. I looked everywhere and decided I had thought aI had planted it and just hadn’t. The stove was easy. I found just what I wanted. A gas range that does not require electricity to operate. I am glad to be getting rid of my glass top stove. I can finally use my cast iron cookware again, cook when the power is out and use my new canner without worrying about ruining the stove. The new stove has 5 burners and a super burner for things like my canner. This was a big spend for us but I think well worth it. There were a lot of really expensive options to consider. I saved a lot of money because I did not want a stove with a computer or one that was so complicated you needed a manual every time you wanted to turn on the timer.

The broccoli and cauliflower were another storey. There were none available at any of the nurseries we stopped at. I did find some cabbage sets that were so sorry looking that I got 6 of them for a $1.oo. I planted them and will give them love and fish emulsion and hope for the best. We picked up some beautiful multi-colored daisys from a free table. They looked pretty sad too but maybe we can revive them.

I had a treat last evening. Our sustainbility library showed the movie, Juliet Of The Herbs, a lovely little film about the life of Juliet de Bairacli Levy. There was much to recommend this film but one of the images I can not shake was that of the animals on a factory farm. I defy anyone to watch this stuff and still be able to eat factory meat. If the filth doesn’t nauseate you the cruely should. I would rather eat a lot less meat and have what I buy be in line with my values.

I am not sure how it happens but my kitchen is cluttered again. I need to straighten out my baking drawer and pots and pans. I hate to begin a baking or preserving project when my kitchen isn’t neat.

I have two preparedness items to see to, one important and one not so much. The first is laundry. I pine for a hand washer and wringer but the cost is prohibitive, more actually than a new washing machine. I have a notion that I can use a regular toilet plunger (a new toilet plunger) and a mop wringer. I can get those things very inexpensively. I know I won’t use them all the time but I would like to commit to two loads a weeks so that, should I be without electricity, I would be familiar with the process. That’s the important project. The less important thing is to think about sanitation. We have our own septic system and do not live in an earthquake zone that would break our pipes so the odds of not having a flushing toilet are pretty low but, again, one should have a back up plan. I have an old toilet seat that I can set on a 6 gallon bucket. I also have a supply of sawdust and heavy duty contractor bags. I can line a bucket with the bags and cover waste with sawdust after use. It would not be a perfect, long term solution but it would get us over the hump should we not be able to flush for a while. I should mention that we also have a swimming pool so if the pipes were intact but the water not running, I could flush with that water. Lots of preparedness is about being creative and willing to work hard. I would do pretty much anything to remain in my home, no matter what the emergency.

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.

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.

If you are lucky enough to be getting a tax rebate this year, you may be thinking about what to do with it. I was speaking with two woman down at my daughter’s school today and both are planning trips to Florida over the April vacation even though money is clearly tight for both families. The rational is that they are already in so much trouble that it doesn’t really matter. They also feel that the value of their dollars is slipping so quickly that they might as well have some fun while they can.

I understand how they feel but I certainly hope you will make better choices. But what is a better choice? Alternative energy or a reliable car? A freezer or a new furnace? Pay down debt or stock up the pantry? I sure hope you aren’t expecting me to have some magic answer. I have just come into a small amount of money and Bruce and I are struggling with our many options for spending it. We are lucky in that we have no debt so we have more choices. If I owed money to anyone, I would in fact, pay that off, especially if the debt was a high-interest credit card debt. We know we will invest in our home infrastructure. We will probably put in a new double-flue chimney. This will make it possible to install a wood stove in the basement which will significantly decrease our heating bill. We have a wood lot and with proper management, we will be energy sustainable.  I just ordered a new dehydrator. Drying food  is much less energy intensive than canning and the food takes up a lot less speace in storage. We are going to build a small barn too. We need space for pigs, a couple of goats and a flock of chickens. If we build it ourselves and use a lot of salvage for materials, the cost won’t be too high. Our final spend will be  for a better cold cellar. We need a spot for the crops that like it just above freezing like the carrots, apples beets,  and cabbage. Bruce came up with a terrific plan. We have a hatchway with steps leading from the yard to the cellar. It stays really cold in that space. Bruce is going to rebuild the steps and hinge them. He will then drop insulated boxes under each step. The stuff we store there will not freeze but will be protected from the warmer temperatures of the the cellar. It was wasted space and the steps were falling apart anyway.

That’s pretty much going to eat up the money. I am writing this while I listen to the Obama press conference . I sure wish I felt better about this bailout. I am afraid that the government is doing the equivilant of taking a trip to Florida with our money. It will feel good for a bit but then the bill comes due and somebody is going to expect to get paid. With what? I know that in my house, if we got into money trouble, we would do without and suffer until we got out of trouble. I don’t know if the American people would be willing to suffer through bank and auto companies failing. He sitting there talking about credit so folks can buy RV’s. I just don’t see RV sales ramping up anytime in the near future. I’m pretty sure that the life we used to have is not coming back. I hope you spend your dwindling resources on things that will ensure your family’s ability to stay warm and fed. We have all been dancing and the fiddler is standing there with his hand out.