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.

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Well, actually, sometimes you can. I just got my new pressure canner yesterday and I gotta admit-I’m happy. I had a Presto canner that worked just fine but it still had a toggle pressure gauge that is not really accurate. It was also not large enough for my needs. On a busy canning day, I can use both and get  a lot more done in less time. In addition, I got a new stainless steel canning funnel and another stick magnet. I also got some accessories for my Food Saver that will make it possible for me to store dried fruits and vegetables in canning jars with the air sucked out.

This buying stuff is so tricky. I am really trying to think before I hand over cash. Do I need this or do I just want it? Is it a transient pleasure or does it have lasting value? Is there a way to meet this need with something borrowed or do I have an alternative at home that will work as well?

So here are the things I buy. Books. Especially resources on farming, bee keeping, food preservation, animal husbandry and the like. I also buy books that I know will be passed around and finally land in our sustainability lending library. I buy tools. Hand tools for the garden and food preservation tools are high on my buy list. Good quality clothing is a good investment. Boots, shoes, snowsuits, gloves, all outwear in fact as well as woolen sweaters and jeans are things I look for in resale and thrift shops. I will pay full price if the item really matters. Leather work gloves are something I can not have too much of. Sewing supplies are worth the spend as are home schooling supplies.

What I don’t buy are many electronics. I have one cell phone that the family shares. I played with a friends iphone the other day and I must say, it was really fun. But was it $500.00 fun? Probably not but if I could have bought one on the spot I might have done it and regretted it later. That’s probably the biggest danger with credit cards. They don’t give you a time to reflect. The wish is followed by the purchase. Credit card companies count on your impulsivity. They also hope you won’t pay off the balance each month. They further hope you will be 20 seconds late with your payment so you get a late fee on top of interest. If things go according to their plans, you buy an item with a short shelf life, stretch the payments out over several months and pay the bill late. If they are really lucky, you will need a new whatever before you pay off the old one. Toys, meals out and cheap clothing are good examples of the perfect spend if you own a credit card company.

I like to buy things like trees. Talk about a long term investment. And my pigs. I will be eating the results of that spend long after the $50.00 dollars is a memory. One meal out could run that much. My blueberries are going to have a banner year but it has taken  5 years to get to that point. I think I spent $12.00 on my first bush.

Sometimes I think having a mom or dad, used to living on a shoestring, on the Presidential cabinet. We could call it the Department of Common Sense. We would have fewer bridges to nowhere and and more small schools, fewer bombs and more protected wild spaces. A few people would maybe end up in time out (big people time out tends to have bars on the windows). We would hear words like sacrifice and responsibility. Ah well. Not likely.

Back to buying happiness. I was watching my kids play this morning. They never touched an actual toy. They played a made up game of mommy and child that involved chasing each other and they rolled a ball to the kitty. They did color for a few minutes and they looked at books too. I don’t think this is unusual. I think most plastic toys are clutter. My kids do play with their dolls, the blocks and tinker toys and puzzles. Most everything else sits on the toy shelf all day, mocking me.

In preparation for today’s interview, I straightened out my cellar storage. I made a few discoveries. I have a lot of stored butter. I wondered why that was as I am usually good about rotating my food. I realized that we don’t like the stored butter for general consumption. It has a slightly grainy consistency and tastes just a bit off. It cooks just fine but we all avoid using it when it’s in the fridge. The other problem is that, contrary to what I expected, it get really hard when it’s cold and really runny if left out for long. I have some commercially canned butter that I would love to try but it was dreadfully expensive and I hate to open it. I am afraid that when I die, my kid will throw out the expensive storage food and make terrible remarks about what a nut job mom became in her declining years. to avoid that, and to see what the commercial stuff tastes like, I am going to bite my frugal bullet and use it. Oh, the pain of it all.

I found 6 ( 6!!!!!) jars of applesauce in the back of a cabinet so all of the work moving things around was well worth it. We love my canned sauce and hate the bottled stuff from the market o this was a great find. The secret to fabulous sauce is to add some of those little cinnamon candies while it’s cooking. It gives a little zing to the flavor and turns the sauce a lovely, deep pink. I don’t know what happened with the apple butter. I must have been loaded with apple and sick of making sauce because I still have a dozen jars left. I am giving it away to anybody who will take it.

I have yet to put in my cucumber plants and I need to get to it. We adore bread and butter pickles and I didn’t have anywhere near enough this year. My dills were not great. I need to find an expert to help me out this year. The dilly beans were fine and the pickled beets fabulous so I don’t know where I went wrong.

I had to do a big shop for toiletries yesterday. One of the hazards of storing essentials is that it is easy to get spoiled. I always have toilet paper and shampoo and such-until I don’t hop for a year (really) and then notice that I only have a couple of packages left. I am stocked up again and it feels really good. A whole year’s worth of soap, shampoo, toothpaste and such takes up very little room and cost less than a night out. The toilet paper and sanitary supplies take up a lot of space but is well worth it. I talked to my daughter about using reusable sanitary napkins and she had the kind of fit only a 15 year old with major OCD issues can throw.

The sun is shining today. Thank goodness. I fear my beans may have rotted but I can replant them if necessary. BTW. I visited chicky bit’s web site yesterday. i am so jealous. She is so far ahead of us here in cool, damp Western Mass. Her plant are beautiful. One other BTW. I visited with Heather (faith,funand family blog)> Her new son, Florian, is one of the prettiest babies I have ever seen. My kids were tiny (4 1/2 pounds when I took my youngest home) and looked like gnomes for the first few months. Florian is round and pink and perfect. I can’t wait to hold him.

Last night was our second annual Hill town Sustainability Foraged Food Pot-luck Dinner. I ate so much, I waddled. I had dandelion Tempura, Steamed Milkweed Pods with Hollandaise Sauce, Knot Weed Crunch, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Burdock Root, Bishop’s Weed Sauteed with Garlic, Lilac Infused Yogurt, Fiddlehead Pickles,  and Chive Butter. There were a lot of local greens in a couple of salads too. We drank Lemon Balm/Honey Tea, Wild Grape Juice and Knot Weed Ade. There was a lot more I am forgetting. People brought plant identification books, recipes and, in many cases, the plants themselves.

It was a terrific evening with lots of laughter and community. The church vestry where we held it was magically cleaned up and most people contributed a dollar or two to pay for the use of the room. The amazing thing was how good the food was. With few exceptions, we tried to stick with food we gathered as the main ingredient and food produced locally for the rest. There was some rice and a few spices that were bought from outside but at least they were purchased in bulk. The variety of food and the creativity of the cooks was astounding, especially when you think that most of what we ate would be considered weeds. It’s all in perspective. I just think of all the people who have gone hungry or complained that they couldn’t afford fresh vegetables when the makings for a cheap, healthy meal were in their backyards.

I contributed a Nettle Soup. I am including the recipe. I hope you will try it. Nettles are springing up everywhere right now. Just be sure to wear heavy gloves when you harvest. They aren’t called Stinging Nettles for nothing.

Saute 1/2 cup wild leeks or onion in 1 tablespoon butter until limp but not brown

Add about four medium potatoes, cut in chunks, and 6 cups of stock, chicken or vegetable and boil for 12 minutes.

Add 1 pound washed Nettle leaves. This is a colander full if you pack it tight. I did not have quite enough so I added 8 stalks of asparagus. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Lift the solids into the bowl of a food processer and pulse until smooth, then return to the pan.

Add 1/2 cup heavy cream. 1 teaspoon salt, some ground pepper and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and heat through. Do not let it boil.

Serve with a swirl of yogurt or sour cream.

This was a fabulous soup for a cold night. I think it would be excellent chilled as well. I think it could also include a handful of Lamb’s Quarters with no change to the flavor.

Saving money is a big part of our ability to refrain from actual, full-time, gainful employment. I get a lot of questions about how we do it so I thought a post on the subject might be useful.

Let’s take coffee. I really like a good cup of coffee in the morning but it is an expensive indulgence. I could do away with it and save the $9.00 a pound I spend. That is strategy #1. I could switch to herbal tea that cost nothing as I grow the herbs and harvest our honey to sweeten it. Strategy #2 is to drink less coffee. Rather than 2 cups a day, I could have one cup of coffee and 1 cup of tea, cutting my expenditure in 1/2. #3 is reduce the amount of coffee I put in the coffee maker. I use to put 10 scoops of coffee in a 10 cup coffee maker. I cut down to 6 scoops of coffee to 8 cups of water. This is actually strategy # 4 as well as I almost always threw out the last cup of coffee left in the pot mid-day and  not wasting coffee saves money. I buy free-trad, organic, shade grown coffee. Strategy #5 would be to buy a cheaper brand but there are environmental and social reasons why that doesn’t work for me so, while I don’t do that with coffee, I would with something that didn’t matter.  

One of the surest ways to save money is to make things from scratch. Now coffee isn’t an option but I am saving considerable money by making my own laundry soap. I needed to clean out a plastic bin this week and tossed in a 1/4 cup of my laundry soap and found it worked just fine. I stated using 1/2 cup of the soap for a load and reduced that to 1/3 a cup for a large load of not-dirty clothes and found there was no real difference. I will reduce to 1/4 cup and see if that works. The goal is to use as little as possible to get the results I want.

There  are nearly always positive social and environmental results to using less, making do, doing without, using things up and thinking about how you spend money. I put less waste in our landfill, my kids learn valuable skills watching me build, grow, concoct and figure out how to do things. My life is more interesting than it would be if I spent my time working a job  in order to earn money in order to buy stuff in order to do stuff that I can do myself because I don’t go off to work every morning.

In a crisis, the best preparedness thing you have is your own skill set. Creativity will be more important in the long run than a lot of what you will spend money on.

Last night, after a fabulous dinner of local chicken breast stuffed with fiddle-heads, the first asparagus, the last of the mushrooms and cheese, a salad from the garden, a loaf of fresh bread, our canned peaches and, to drink, one of the last jars of home canned grape juice, I was speaking to my friend, Helene, on the phone. She gave me what I think is a terrific idea, one I am going to steal and expand upon. She pulled out an old day planner. Each day she keeps track of what was planted, foraged, and preserved, along with the location and other garden and food details. I plan to take this one step further. I am thinking of turning this into a kind of journal. I have a full size day planner that I never used because it was too big for me. It has room to record all of the above information alongwith some other things like weather, yields, animal and pest sightings. If I treat it as I do this blog, with a dedicated time for posting each day, I can put in preparedness information such as weather and flu alerts and odd supplies used. If I start today, on May first of next year, I will have a book that details life on the farmstead. It will provide an inventory of what food I have put up and what I have used. It will keep track of what we build and what we still need.

This won’t work for a lot of people but for folks like me who like to write and like to be organized, it will be fun and informative. What I will record today is that it is raining (finally!!!). The mushroom logs were soaked yesterday and have begun fruiting, the rest of the turnips will get planted between raindrops, I purchased quinoa seed for storage, we will eat another garden salad, the fiddleheads are poking up everywhere, the trillium is out and gorgeous and a lot of my herbs are out and looking very healthy.

My other project has been to design permanent row and plant markers.  I printed out the names in a lovely font on heavy photo paper and had the sheets laminated. Then I cut out the labels and stuck them in the tines of some old stainless flat-wear. You have to cut the labels into individual pieces before laminating so each is sealed on all four sides. These made really cute markers for my herbs especially. I am so motivated to get out there and start planting and weeding but I can not begrudge the rain. It has been dry and the hand watering is awfully time consuming. I am just thinking that markers like these would make terrific, low cost gifts.

 The feds just announced that they will be purchasing 17,500 new hybrid cars from the big three to replace an aging fleet of cars. The funds will come from TARP.

I applaud the sentiment. Fuel efficient vehicles are a good thing. Buying from an American company is a good thing. So why does the idea bother me so much?

I think it is because the program so clearly defines what I see as a huge problem in this world which is that, if you have a problem, you can buy and spend your way out of it. The idea of fuel efficiency is a false one. It will take far more energy to make and ship those cars than will be saved by their use. And what happens to the old cars? Somebody will either have to buy them (no fuel savings there) or crush them. A better policy decision would be to cut down the amount of miles driven by the current cars or to cut the overall number of cars they keep on the road. As for supporting American auto makers, 17,500 cars sounds like a lot of cars but it is a drop in the bucket, certainly not enough to stave off bankruptcy.

I think this is the way we approach a lot of problems. We assume that there is a consumption based solution before we look for a free/inexpensive/simple one. Take gardening. If you want to expand your current gardening space to include a blackberry patch, the consumption based solution would be to purchase a roto-tiller and break up the sod, purchase a load of compost to enrich the soil, then purchase  two dozen blackberry canes form a company located halfway across the country. The other solution would be to cover the existing grass with a piece of black plastic. We actually used a discarded pool cover to kill grass. After a season of no sun, the grass is gone and the soil ready to till. Now we get blackberry plants for free from a neighbor who is thinning hers. We give her some of our honey in exchange. We add lawn clippings, leaves, chicken sh… oops, manure and our own compost to the soil and plant the canes. We mulch with lawn clippings all summer and in the fall, enjoy blackberry jam on our breakfast toast.

This method takes a little longer. It’s messier and more work but the results are the same with little environmental impact and no cash outlay. In fact, it puts to good use some things that might otherwise wind up in the landfill.

I have seen any number of garden cloches for sale. They are mini green houses for tender, heat loving plants like tomatoes but I have good luck using recycled milk jugs. They last for many seasons, are free, work just fine and now we have a pile of jugs that do not end up in China for recycling. Win, win, win.

I’ll bet everybody has their own favorite tip for making do. As we face real challenges with energy and the economy in the future, the ability to find solutions for everyday problems that do not require a trip to a garden center or big box store may spell the difference between doing well and doing without.