I spent the whole day yesterday preserving food. I made 24 pints of bread and butter pickles, started some sauerkraut and froze what I think will be the end of the broccoli. I gave some jars of the things I have put up to friends; Heather and Tom got some applesauce, pickles and tomato sauce and so did Sheri and Barbara. I love swapping preservedfood. You never know when you are going to receive a treasure from someone that will turn into a family favorite. Sheri gave me some Bulgarian yogurt starter so I know what I am doing today. I want to make cheese too as I am anxious to try some lacto fermentation with the whey.

Today looks to be another winner weather wise and it is time to pull out more spuds and get the cured ones in the basement. This is time of the year we eat potatoes and onions every day. Our favorite way to cook them is together. I saute a lot of onion and some minced garlic in olive oil then add cut up potatoes. If the are taking a while to soften, something that often happens with new spuds, I may add a bit of water. My girls are big fans of caramelized onions. They can hardly believe it when they hear other kids say they don’t care for them. I will sometimes put a bunched of slivered onions in the crock pot with some butter and olive oil, start on high until it gets simmering, switch to low and leave it overnight. The onions are beautifully caramelized the next day and make the most remarkable onion soup, especially if you use three or four different varieties of onions. This is another good pantry meal as all of the ingredients are just sitting there. I use a beef consume base and pour the soup over slices of toasted French bread and top with whatever cheese I have around. Gruyere is our favorite. I have some leftover potatoes from dinner so breakfast is going to be potatoes and eggs.

I am hoping to get more corn picked today. One of the wonderful things about eating in season is that I get to feast on something until I am sick of it. You know fall is here when the idea of corn on the cob is no longer exciting. I am craving salad again just as the new plants for the green house are poking up. All of the green house starts look good. I am anxious to get them planted but I have one lone cantelope taking up space in there like the mean, rich uncle no one likes. You hate to kick him out because the rewards are so immense but one has to question weather it’s worth the bother.

I just got a new book (I’m generally frugal but books are my weak spot). Fresh Food From Small Spaces is so much fun! I have large spaces but there is so much information about indoor gardening that it is still useful.

My grandson is being baptised in Pennsylvania at the end of the month. We are thinking we should take the girls out of school for a few days and visit the Dutch country while we are there. These are the times I miss home schooling. I will need to ask permission to take my children out of school and it could be denied. It won’t be but I find it hard to believe that I could be fined for not sending my kids to school for a few days for a family trip that will be educational as well as fun. I occasionally make noises about home schooling again but I must confess that being home with no kids for the first time in 34 years is really fun. I can get an amazing amount accomplished and I do enjoy getting to be a grown up for these 6 hours a day. When my kids are home I always have an ear cocked and an eye peeled. My mind can never be fully engaged elsewhere.

For all who have asked about Phoebe Jean-she is much better. She had no fever last night and didn’t cough much. I am keeping her home today as I know there is a tummy bug going around too and I don’t want her exposed to anything else while still recovering. With the Monday holiday, she will have a change to recoup before going back to school. My Phoebe is a sleeper. She can go to bed at 8:00 and sleep until 9:00 the next morning. I am glad not to have to rouse her today. I just checked her and she looks like an angel. I sometimes sit next to her bed and watch her sleep. In the quiet of her room, the sight of her flushed cheeks and the steady rythym of her breath are like a meditation. I can sometimes not believe my luck, that I should have been given the opportunity to parent these particular children at just the time they needed families. I does make one question fate and what is meant to be. I know there are many who would question our decision to adopt a child with special needs, especially at this stage of our lives. I will never forget what Bruce said the first time he saw Phoebe. She was a funny looking little thing, not even able to hold up head at 7 months old. She was wheezing and smelly and clearly atypical but she smiled up at Bruce and he melted. “I do believe the God has dropped and angel on our doorstep”  We have cared for dozens of healthy, beautiful, bright babies over our years as foster parents but we were able to say goodby to most and feel good about what we had given them and where they were going but Phoebe was different. Phoebe was ours.

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.

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.

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.

Okay. So I don’t actually have a peck of peppers. I have the anticipation of a peck of peppers and I have been giving much more thought to how I will preserve them. I have canned and dried and frozen tons of food over the years but my pickling has pretty much been reserved for dill and bread and butter pickles and dilled green beans. I have made sauerkraut too although it is not a favorite around here. I think I probably made a mistake in not brining more vegetables. The nutritional value is enhanced, the shelf life long and the flavor terrific. What’s not to love?

The other useful attribute of pickling is that it is possible to use up the bits of vegetable you have around that are small to justify doing anything else with. I found this recipe in my mother’s old kitchen book. I remember eating it as a kid, cold and crispy. On a hot August afternoon, it tasted better than a Popsicle.

The main ingredient was cucumbers, 4 quarts of them along with 1 quart of thin sliced onions, a couple of peppers, both green and red and a head of cauliflower, broken into florets. Put all of this in a very large bowl and add 3-4 cloves of garlic and 1/3 cup of pickling salt. Cover the whole thing with ice cubes and lest this sit for 3 hours. Drain and put the whole mess in a large pot. I remember that there were also green beans and zucchini chunks but the recipe doesn’t mention them. Mix together 5 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons mustard seeds and 1/2 tablespoons celery seeds with 1 quart of vinegar. Pour this over the vegetable and bring the whole thing to a boil  then ladle into hot, clean canning jars. This will make about 8 pints of pickles. I process pickles for 15 minutes. My canner only holds 7 pints. The extra jar will sit in the refrigerator for a few days and then get eaten at our next cook-out.