Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gifts from the Homestead - the List

Last year, about this time, I started thinking about how abundant my homestead is, and yes, even with my miniscule quarter acre nanofarm, I do feel that we have an incredible abundance. So much so, in fact, that I'm embarrassed by the sheer amount of waste we produce. We throw away and/or fail to take full advantage of a lot more of what our farm produces than I am even comfortable sharing.

We. have. so. MUCH!

It was about that time that I started looking at homemade gifts. Over the years, I've spent a lot of time making things for friends and family. One of my favorite gifts was the travel pads I made for our friends' children. It had a dry erase board on one side and a chalkboard on the other and a handle so that it could be suspended from the back of the car seat. I've also made my share of board games, wooden puzzles, rice packs, "mixes in a jar", and my other favorite Dammit Dolls (although the pattern I use for mine is very different than the ones I've found online - the poem I have is different, too).

Last year, though, I started thinking about things we could make from stuff we either grew or produced right here, right on our homestead, and I came up with an impressive list, actually.

The list included:
  • maple syrup (although this is a pretty precious commodity, of which we get only a little, and so we're not as likely to share)
  • honey (see maple syrup)
  • wine and custom, non-hopped beers
  • popcorn
  • dried herbs
  • herbed vinegars
  • herbal tea
  • rabbit jerky
  • knitted items from dog fur
  • soap (although we'd need fat that we don't produce here)
  • beeswax candles
  • salves, lip balm, and hand creams
  • potpourri
  • incense
  • grapevine dream catchers

There are other things, too. This year, we made Dandy Kahlua, using a recipe a friend gave us. The recipe called for coffee, sugar and vodka, but we substituted our own roasted dandelion root for the coffee. We also bake gifts, using some things we've grown and some things we've purchased (or bartered for) - like canned pumpkin bread. I can sew, and I could make gifts from old clothes (like a bath mat or some pot holders or a quilt or cloth bags) or something like pajama pants or a poncho from an old sheet. I have an old copy of a Physician's Desk Reference, which would make an awesome treasure book.

There are dozens of ideas for homemade/handmade gifts, and for me, there is nothing quite like making something special for someone special. I like giving homemade gifts AND I like receiving them. To know that someone took the time to make something for me ... for me ... well, there's no feeling quite like that. One of my favorite gifts from last year was a couple of bottles of hot sauce made by a family member on their rural-suburban farm. We used it all up and savored every drop. And the jellies ... oh, my! This year, I can't wait to crack open the jar of lemon drop habanero jelly I received. I LOVE hot pepper jelly!

The best, unintentional gift, is that my children have caught the fever. This year Precious made for me my very own rice pack - hand sewn. It was a pretty awesome gift!

We gifted some of the items above this year, and all I can say is that I really enjoyed making every single thing that I made, and plans are already in the works for future Gifts from the Homestead.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Capturing December - Scarf

I have this scarf. It's one of my favorite articles of clothing, and I wear it everywhere I go, all winter long - not because I like scarfs, because the fact is, until I got this one, I never really wore scarfs. Scarves always felt kind of cumbersome and in the way.

Not this one. It's special, and having it has made me appreciate how warm a scarf actually is. It's more than an accessory. In fact, when we're out and one of my girls has forgotten that we live in Maine and she should dress for the weather, I'll give her my scarf, and she warms up enough to be comfortable.

I don't know if it's just the magic in this scarf or scarves in general, but I do know, I love this scarf, because it's actually more than just a scarf. It's a friend.

Ha! I know you think I've fallen off the deep end, but let me explain - and how I acquired this particular scarf is actually one of my favorite stories.

Many years ago, through a series of very interesting events, Deus Ex Machina and I found ourselves driving across the country in a little 1989 Honda Civic with our two-month old daughter, a green Iguana named Prometheus and an eight-month old black chow named Yoo-Hoo (the only one of the three that we named was the daughter ;)).

Fast forward many years, and we are living in Maine. The iguana lived to the ripe old age (for iguanas) of twelve, and the daughter and the dog were both nearing their teens. Chow-chows are one of the several breeds of dog that have a double coat. They hail from Northern China, where they were bred for many different purposes, including being used as sled dogs, and they are particularly well-suited to Maine's climate. The flip-side is that they tend to shed - twice a year blowing their whole coat, and during those shedding seasons, we'd end up with bags full of dog fur.

We never knew what to do with it. Sometimes we'd keep it, and sometimes we'd grumble as it clogged up the vacuum cleaner.

This one year (about three years ago), on Mother's Day, my daughter brought a carefully wrapped package to me. Inside was a brown scarf.

The story is that Deus Ex Machina has a friend who spins. He brought a bagful of YooHoo's fur to her, which she spun into yarn. He, then, brought this ball of yarn home and gave it to Big Little Sister, who knit this scarf for me.

It is the most amazing gift, and it has just gotten more beautiful and warmer over the years thanks to a phenomenon specific to pet fur products called "blooming", where the fur gets fuzzier the more one uses it.

I've had people ask me all sorts of questions about my scarf. One woman wanted to know if it "smelled", presumably like a dog. "No," I said. "It doesn't."

We have two new chows, and since we've discovered the amazing quality of dog fur yarn, we have been keeping fur from our new puppies with every intention of having the fur spun (or doing it ourselves when we're more proficient) into yarn to knit into scarfs and/or other knitted gifts for family and friends.

In the meantime, I have my scarf, and I cherish it. I even named it "Yoo Hoo", and when it ends up where it's not supposed to be, and I ask, "Where's Yoo Hoo?" everyone in my family knows what I mean.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Capturing December - Tradition

Every year, around the Solstice, I make "Wish Bread" (a.k.a. monkey bread). Basically, it's a sweet, pull-apart yeast bread. I make a bread dough, which we roll into golf ball-sized pieces, dip in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and then, layer in a bundt pan, drizzling melted butter and sugar over each layer.

Wish bread is not something I make by myself, though. It's a family event, as each dough ball represents a "wish." Some years, we just roll the balls, make a wish, and put them in the pan. This year, our "wish" was a nut or dried fruit we pushed into the middle of the dough ball.

The bread is delicious even without all of the wishing, but that little added something makes the process of making this bread - and then eating it - a little more special.

It's one of my favorite winter traditions.

Friday, December 20, 2013

If Poverty is a Disease, Preparedness is the Antidote

I was a very poor college student - married with kids and never, quite, making those ends meet, no matter how hard I pulled at the strings. I don't really know where I fell in the economic spectrum, but income-wise I was probably well below the mark that divides people who are (supposedly) financially independent and those who aren't making enough money to subsist at any level. It was, literally, a matter of shuffling the bills and paying the one that was most urgent (like paying the past due rent so that we wouldn't get evicted and letting some other bill lag).

As a full-time college student with children and a job, I didn't have to time to sit at the social security office waiting for a case worker who would scowl at me, ask me a lot of very personal questions, and then, decide if I was worthy (or unworthy) enough for assistance, and frankly, I didn't want to. It was bad enough applying for food stamps, which I did, once, as a graduate student, when a promised summer job fell through and I was unemployed for a few months.

Being poor is demoralizing, because, as a culture, we tend to take a pretty negative view of those who can't seem to take care of themselves or their families. We always assume that they're poor through some lack of moral fortitude that enables the rest of us to hold down a full-time job.

Unfortunately, since the 2008 housing market crash, the face of the poor has been changing. Our middle-class perceptions of who and what poor people are were never entirely fair, but what's happening now, as discussed in this article, entitled The Growing Problem of Suburban Poverty is that previously middle class people, those who formerly had steady jobs and incomes, some savings, and a 401K plan, are the new poor.

Sadly, however, unlike those who were living just above the poverty line, the average middle-class suburbanite is woefully ill-equipped to handle poverty-level incomes. Perhaps the worse is their own perceptions of poverty that don't allow them to seek the help they need early enough for that help to be useful, but rather begin to draw on their personal resources (which prove to be horribly inadequate), including a positive credit rating that allows them to try to borrow their way out of poverty. Of course, when we're thinking logically the notion that incurring more debt will somehow, magically, help us get out of debt, is ridiculous, but when faced with mounting financial issues and no income ... we do what we feel we have to do.

My daughters and I enjoy a weekly visit to the library, and Precious really likes borrowing movies. Recently, she found the movie Ramona and Beezus about a third grader, her older, high-school aged sister, and their family. The movie is based on the Beverly Clearly series of books, drawing heavily from two of the later books in the series.

In the movie, Ramona's family is a typical suburban family living well, but slightly above their means (I am assuming that they live above their means given that there is a mention of how many bills they have and how overwhelming those bills are). The dad, a Vice President of something well-paying and important, loses his job when his company is bought-out by a competitor. Ramona's mother takes a part-time job at a doctor's office to help stem the tide of bills, but her income isn't nearly adequate to cover the standard of living they have come to expect. Couple that with the fact that they've just applied for and been approved a home improvement loan, believing that the dad's job was secure.

It's a kid's story, and so while the whole economic crisis part of the story is downplayed for the audience, the fact is that things aren't good in the Quimby household. We get glimpses of the seriousness of their troubles: a chat with Ramona's friend whose parents are divorced, reportedly because of similar financial problems; the dad sleeping on the pull-out couch; rumors that they might lose their house (and Ramona's ill-fated attempts to earn enough money to keep that from happening); the car breaking down; dad's continued failures to find a job.

The problem with the average suburbanite, and what gets them into so much trouble in situations like this is the idea that things will get better, and that this little problem is a very short-term and temporary problem. Like in the movie. Ramona and her family don't make any real changes to their lifestyle. The dad keeps going on job interviews and keeps not getting the job, and the whole time, their bills keep mounting, and they keep digging further into that hole.

So, what could they have done differently?

Well, for starters, the Mom should never have taken a job. She was the primary care provider for the kids, and while the dad did an adequate job taking over for mom (in his spare time, i.e. when he wasn't actively seeking employment), their family dynamic was to have one, full-time care provider at home. With the loss of his job and the subsequent employment of his wife, the dad became responsible for more of the household responsibilities, which caused a lot of problems. But here's the thing - if that family intended for the dad to be the primary wage earner (which they did), he needed to have the freedom and flexibility to find a job without having to worry about the safety and security of his children. Because his wife was working, he didn't have that freedom or flexibility, and it cost him a few interviews.

Second, they should have canceled the home improvement loan, or at least changed how they were using it. Instead of employing the contractors to do the work, maybe the dad could have enlisted the help of a few friends to do the renovation, and paid for just supplies, rather than supplies and labor. DIY is a lot cheaper than having someone do the work, and that applies across the board - not just in construction.

Third, the dad made the classic blunder of trying to find a comparable job. He should have listened to his eight year old daughter, who had a wisdom no one seemed to notice. She kept suggesting jobs she thought he could do. Perhaps with some training (which can often be paid for through reemployment programs), he would have been eligible for some of her more radical suggestions (like fire fighter, a job the dad, rightly, said he was unqualified to do - but the fact is that EMT training can be completed in a matter of weeks). Or better, he could have taken the opportunity this job loss afforded him to seek employment in a field in which he really wanted to work - like art. To them, this job loss was not an opportunity, but a hurdle. Reframing the problem in a different way would have made their situation a lot different.

Fourth, the family should have started, immediately, cutting back, and the movie didn't show whether or not they did this, but it is common, in similar situations, to try to keep up the ruse that nothing has changed. Too often when faced with a job loss or other economic SNAFUs, the people involved will just keep living as if it will all be better when they wake in the morning. The day the event takes place is the time to sit down and start making changes, cutting everything from the budget that is not, absolutely, essential. The fourth is the hardest, because so many of our day-to-day activities, we see as being very much a part of who we are, and it's hard to give those things up, but it would be imperative.

I think about this possibility all of the time, and it's not that I don't trust Deus Ex Machina's ability to financially support our family, but that I know anything can happen - and it usually does. Given that situation, the only bill we would continue to pay would be ones related to our housing - like a mortgage and property taxes. As I've said dozens of times, as long as we have our house, our basic needs for shelter, food, and water would be met.

If the family had tightened the belt, immediately, anticipating that there might not be a job for a while, then, they would have been, potentially, better off (although, as a kid's movie, things never really got very bad, and of course, there was the requisite happy ending).

Preppers have become the butt of a lot of jokes. Between the Doomsday Prepper television show and myriad of bloggers and authors speaking on the subject, there is, perhaps, some fuel for the comedy train. If nothing else, preppers are certainly passionate about what they're doing, and the need for it. The problem is that because some preppers (and survivalists) are seen as radical and fringe, and perhaps a bit ... fanatical, the average person, like Ramona's family in the story, aren't listening. They're not listening, because they don't want other people to look at them and laugh. No one wants to be the butt of a joke.

So, most people don't prep, at all, and when they are visited by hard times, they also don't share what's happening - for fear of ridicule.

For many preppers, though, it's not about preparing for Lucifer's Hammer or nuclear war or an EMP strike or the oil running out. It's about preparing for those things that happen every day to ordinary people, like the suburbanites in the article linked above.

There is nothing radical or fringe or fanatical about having food available and in one's home. I can't imagine having only enough food to get me through a day or two. With as busy as my life is most of the time, I can't imagine not being able to whip up something from my cabinets or storage for dinner without having to visit the grocery store first. Other prepper suggestions are similar. There is nothing radical or fringe or fanatical about having a Berkey container of filtered water (and it tastes better, too) on the counter, a few extra blankets (don't you ever have company?), and flashlights with batteries that work.

It's true that a three-day supply of food or a 2 1/2 gallon pitcher of filtered water on the counter won't help if one is unemployed for six months or more, but it's also true that beginning to think in terms of it could happen to me gets us thinking about how to make things less of an emergency when it does happen. It's a difference in mind-set more than a difference in what one has in one's garage.

Some news reports are claiming that The Recession has ended and the economy is on the upswing, but from what I see around me, from jobs reports, from prices at the grocery store and the gas pump, from listening to my friends and family, even if the Recession is over, we have a very long way to go before things return to normal, and rather than reliving what got us here, I think there's going to be a new normal.

Certainly, in much of Suburbia, there is a new normal. It's called poverty, and it's not a lack of moral fortitude, and it's not a shameful horror that we should hide - because the reality is that friends and neighbors usually know there's trouble a long time before that foreclosure sign ends up on the front lawn.

The antidote to poverty is not more money or better jobs, but rather independence. There's that saying, "Make hay while the sun shines," and the gist is that if we squander the happy days, when the bad days come, it's too late. In real terms, a farmer who does not hay his field while the sun is shining will lose the hay, which could be a devastating blow and result in a loss of livestock.

In the same way as the farmer, if we don't prepare the possibilities, we stand to lose it all. The sad fact is that we don't have to.

Capturing December - Tree Topper

Father Christmas

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Capturing December - No Stockings

I decided I didn't want to put a picture of candy canes on the blog, and so I chose a different picture ... one of me, getting firewood for the woodstove.

I've found that my feet don't get nearly as cold anymore ... since I started walking outside in the snow ;).

Monday, December 16, 2013

Capturing December - Outside Lights

Not my lights, because I don't decorate the outside, except with a wreath. I tried, once, but I didn't have enough lights and my extension cord wasn't long enough to reach the outlet. Now, I just don't bother.

But the lights are pretty.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Capturing December - Favorite Christmas song

I don't have a picture for this one, because I didn't bring my camera to the City Theatre's Rock and Roll Christmas Show so that I could take a picture of our friend and member of our Theatre Family (Papa Duck, Peter! ;)) singing my favorite song, "Silver Bells" in his outlandishly amazing Christmas sweater!

I love that song. It reminds me of my Grandmother. I have no idea why.

Sometimes, it makes me cry - in a good way :).

Thanks, Peter, for the gift of you singing my favorite Christmas song.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Capturing December - Christmas Tree

I will admit that we do not, yet, have a tree inside the house. We'll (probably) get one, because I do like having a tree to decorate and put gifts under. I love this holiday season, and the huge snowstorm we're having is just making it that much more "Christmas-y" to me.

For now, though, I will enjoy my neighbor's beautiful lights and their snow-adorned trees.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Capturing December - Family

Every year for the past three our friend, Crystal, from Capture the Moment Photography has followed us outside on some cold December day to capture some amazing moments with our family. It's always in December, for our annual family holiday photograph, and it's always cold - some years more than others (the worst year was 2012, and I swear it had to have been single digits ... and it was snowing).

This year we started at "Indian Jane Rock" and ended at the Scarborough Salt Marsh. We're so thankful to Crystal for her willingness to endure bitter cold temperatures and wet feet to capture these special moments for us. They pass too quickly.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Capturing December - A Beautiful Sight

I love the way the sun spills across my yard first thing in the morning - the play of shadow and light on the fresh snow. It is, to me, an incredibly beautiful sight.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Capturing December - Green

Underneath the snow, the kale is still - kind of - green. It's amazing how hardy this particular plant is.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Capturing December - Wrapping paper

And lest you think I'm kidding, here's a whole blog post about our use of catalogs and newsprint for wrapping paper ;).

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sneak Preview - Handmade for the Holidays

Here's one of the gifts we're giving this year.

I've made rice packs before. It was a lot of fun, and what a great gift! We use ours for all sorts of things. In fact, any time there's an injury, the first thing we ask is, "Do you need a cold thing?", and by cold thing we mean, one of the rice packs we keep in the freezer. We have a whole assortment of them, from a tiny one shaped like a mitten and the exact size of my daughter's hand when she was ten - because it was made especially for her, to ones that go around shoulders.

We keep ours cold, in the freezer, but they can also be warmed. As discussed in this blog post from last summer a rice pack is a good thing for helping us stay cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather.

My youngest daughter's favorite rice pack is her "boo-boo buddy", and it has a teddy bear face. We keep it in the freezer too. It's not one I made, but one we purchased from the physical therapist. When I got to looking at it, I thought, "I can do that."

This year, I'm making Boo-boo Buddies for my grandchildren. We found some Ty Stuffies at a thrift store. They were half off their usual $1 price tag. We took out the insides and replaced them with rice that was infused with lavender essential oil and mixed with lavender flowers. The nice thing about lavender is that it's calming, which will make these boo-boo buddies great for soothing aches.

It's not, exactly, a gift we made from things we grew or produced here, but it is one of those wonderful repurposed ideas that I adore. And it was easy and inexpensive ... and I think makes a pretty keen gift.

Capturing December - Something I'm Reading

I know I let a couple days pass on this project, and I won't go back and try to recapture them - mostly, because the day I learned about the tragedy the "capture" was shopping, and it just didn't seem right to, not only be shopping, but to be capturing it for posterity on a day when such an event happened.

I will continue with the project, though, and today's capture is actually something that makes sense to me. It is "something I'm reading."

With thanks to my friend, Anne, for recommending the book.

Friday, December 6, 2013


The Internet is a pretty amazing thing. I know it will seem very superficial, but I think a lot of us bloggers will be able to relate. I've met a lot of people here, on the Internet - through my blog and through Facebook, and in a lot of ways, I feel like we are friends. I feel like we've made connections.

There have been a lot of times, when the contact extended beyond the blog or beyond posts on Facebook. We private messaged each other. We sent little gifts to each other. We connected and communed. When things were good, we shared our successes. When things were bad, we supported each other.

But we never met in person.

What we knew of the physical person were the pictures that we shared.

I'm reeling today from the loss of one of those Internet friends. She was an amazing woman - struggling to give her children an exceptional life in circumstances that were less than ideal. She had been dealt a pretty lousy hand in life, but she was trying to make the best of it, and I had a lot of respect for her.

What really enamored me to her was her very strong desire to be self-sufficient, and even in very less than ideal conditions, she worked very hard to teach her children that they can grow food, that they don't have to settle for less than what they want or need. Like I said, she was pretty amazing, and so strong.

She was killed yesterday, and I'm just stunned. She was too young, and she had so much left to offer. When we talk about tragedies, this fits the definition.

If you knew Chris, or followed her blog Adventures of a Thrifty Mom, then you've probably heard already.

At the moment, any little petty complaint or inconvenience seems very trivial.

If you knew Chris or knew of her, a Memorial Fund has been set-up for her three surviving children.

More Gifts from the Homestead

Here's another sneak peek of what's happening with the gift giving.

I've spoken many times about the sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes) we grow here at the Wyvern Heath. They can be incredibly overwhelming, because they grow so prolifically, but that is, in fact, exactly why I cherish them so much. Reading about things like the potato famine in Ireland in the 1800s and other starvation times, I appreciate the sunchokes even more. It's a lot of food in a little space with almost no effort. And they're native to North America and were a food favored by the natives who lived in this area.

I dug two pounds today, which is pretty cool, I think. I dug two pounds of food from my garden, today, at the beginning of December.

In December, in Maine, I still have food I can harvest from my garden.

I just think that's pretty remarkable.

Sunchokes can't be stored without processing for very long (I dehydrate them and make chips or flour). I've kept them for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. As long as they stay cool and moist, they're okay for a bit, but unlike other tubers, like potatoes, they can't be dug at the end of a season and stored for months on end. They wouldn't keep well in a root cellar, for instance, and really, the best place to keep them, is in the ground. Which makes them a perfect food for preppers, because most people (like the Doomsday Preppers band of marauders) don't know what they are and won't be looking for them. They can't be used in the middle of the summer, because the root gets kind of mushy as the plant puts all of its energy into making the stalk and flower, but in the spring, before and just as the shoots start to appear or in the late fall, when the showy yellow flower dies back, the roots are crisp and delicious ... kind of like water chestnuts meet a carrot.

The sunchokes I harvested today will end up as one ingredient in a special gift I'm planning. It will be the first time I've made this particular item, and, as is typical of me, I will be modifying the original recipe to accommodate the substitution of sunchoke flour.

And for those of you for whom it is an issue, this treat will be gluten-free ... and goes well with tea (a special blend of which I'm also planning to make).

Happy sunchokes!
Picture taken before the first frost.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Handmade for the Holidays

Last year at this time, I was overwhelmed with whatever was happening in my life, and so I didn't spend much time thinking about making gifts. We ended up buying most of the things we gave, which isn't nearly as much fun for me as spending the time and energy making things. I like to give gifts, and I don't really mind spending the money to find something nice, but buying gifts at the store always feels less personal and a lot more spur of the moment. We go to the store with a list of people we wish to buy for, and then, we find things we think they'll like. I'm not much for shopping anyway, but the whole experience usually leaves me feeling drained, whereas the creative process involved in making something for someone is invigorating.

So, after the holiday, I spent some time surfing around on the Internet looking for ideas for homemade gifts for the future, things that would be easy to make. I found Martha Stewart's website where there were dozens of ideas for handmade things - some that were kind of chintzy (in an, "Aww, that's cute, but not terribly practical" kind of way), but many that were kind of nice. The list I liked the most was entitled "Gifts from Martha", and featured items that were made from things that were produced her farm - like a sweater from her sheep. I scrolled through the list, all the while thinking, I can make that. We have that. We grow that.

It was just what I needed to get those creative juices flowing, I started making a list of things that we produce here on our homestead, things we can make out of things we produce here on our homestead, or just things that we can make from bought, found and/or repurposed items, here on our homestead.

The list is divided into three categories: food we raise or grow; non-food from items we raise or grow; other gifts. There are at least a dozen items in each category. That's over three dozen potential gifts. Thirty-six plus unique and creative gifts from things we have, right here. And the list doesn't even include some other things I've thought of since I made the list, like an herbal tea blend I could make from things we grew and/or things we foraged, or the drinking glasses we can make out of repurposed bottles, because we have invested in some pretty cool tools over the years.

For the past two nights, my family and I have been working on making gifts for friends and family. Painting, cutting, punching, "un"sewing, melting, filling ....

In the days to come, we'll have some mixing, carving, scoring, baking, blending, grinding, gluing, and sewing happening and then some packing and mailing.

I never get nearly as excited about the shiny, new, store-bought gifts we occasionally give, as I do about the ones that we make (or even the ones we find second-hand at the thrift store or flea market), and this year, with the willing help of my wonderful family (who seem to be just as excited about the plan as I am) and my list, our gift giving - especially the part where we spend the evening listening to music and crafting together - will be an incredibly joyful experience.

Here's a sneak peek of one of our projects.

I was also inspired by the book Handmade Home by Amanda Soule, who is not only an incredibly creative person, but a real-life friend of mine. Her book was a gift to me from a dear loved one, and a reminder that giving of one's creative self is part of what makes a home ... home.

Capturing December - Joyous

RIP: YooHoo Kaye Brown

She enriched our lives more than we knew when she was with us, and we're better for having known her.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Capturing December - Red

Two of my favorite red things.

My goal for December is to decrease our electricity usage by cooking on the woodstove. With my red enamel Dutch oven and our red teapot, it shouldn't be too hard.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Capturing December - Favorite Holiday Movie

After three decades and with hundreds of choices, A Christmas Story is my all time, favorite, Christmas movie.

Like all good films, lines from the movie have permeated our culture, and there are few people who don't know that "fragile" is Italian and an official Red Rider, carbine action, 200 shot, range model air rifle is *the* thing to get for Christmas, but be aware, you'll shoot your eye out
The popularity lies in the fact that it is a story of our culture - Hope. Disappointment. Victory ... and Family.

And Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant ;).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Capturing December - The View


For the month of December, my goal is to post a picture a day.

Gratitude - Wrap-Up

I almost made it 30 days of daily Gratitude posts. I know most of my posts were kind of mundane and superficial, but that really was my goal - to look at those little things, that maybe we forget are pretty important and remember that I am thankful for those small blessings.

I am incredibly thankful for the big blessings, too, and that's what I spent the last three days of November remembering.

We spent Thanksgiving Day at my sister-in-law's house, where she and her family cooked an amazing dinner. I am incredibly thankful to her, because every year, she tries really hard and works really hard to keep the family tradition of a family gathering on these holidays a tradition. Grammy would be very pleased with her efforts. To my Sis-in-Law: Thank you so much for all you do. I may not adequately express my thanks and appreciation in the moment, but I really do appreciate what you're doing.

Friday, I did not go shopping, nor would I ever. In fact, I spent the day at home, with my family and Facebook, and I posted a lot of stuff about books and adopting animals (our local shelter was having a Black Friday deal on cats - adopt a black cat and all fees were waived). A friend mentioned that she liked the content of my posts - books and cats ;).

In the evening, I took two of my daughters and seven of their friends to see Catching Fire. I read the books, and while I'm not typically a fan of YA fiction, these, I liked, and I think the story should be a warning to us, because it's not too far removed from what we're seeing happening in the real world. The fact is that the book illustrates very well the ways governments keep citizens under control: through fear and intimidation, controlling movement, controlling the food supply. It asks the question: how long do we let them starve us and use us for their entertainment before we fight back?

The last day of the month, we spent with friends. Our daughters' dance team is participating in a parade today, and we helped build the float on which they will ride. It was a lot of fun - my first, ever, float building experience. I'm happy to have spent the day in the company of so many wonderful people, and I'm reminded of how blessed my life is.

These last three days, I've been reminded of how abundant my life is. I have an abundance of amazing people who share this life with me, even if just on the sidelines. I have been blessed with an abundant home, filled with everything I need to stay healthy - emotionally and physically.

Life has been very good to me, and I'm incredibly grateful ... every day.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gratitude - Day 27

I am thankful that I can listen to these old songs that I used to love, because they meant something to me ... they had a message that was relevant to my life at the time, and the message was change something, now, before it's too late.

I heeded that message, and here I am today, listening to these old songs, and playing them for myself on the ukulele, and they are just songs I like ... just songs.

I am thankful for the music, and that today, it's just music.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Planning to Steal and Kill is not "Prepping"

It's always pretty incredible when events in my life complement each other - even when they aren't related to me, specifically. That's what happened a couple of days ago - two things that just fit together and got my wheels turning.

The first was a discussion I heard about a recent episode of the National Geographic television show Doomsday Preppers. I will not link to the show - first, because I think it's a typical example of sensationalist television that does a disservice to people who are concerned and wish to be prepared for emergencies; and second, because this particular episode is particularly offensive to me as a person in the former category. Regarding the television show, in general, let me say that I'm surprised it's still on the air at all, because it's a silly, stupid show ... wait, maybe I'm not surprised. Because the show is still on the air, I guess I'm not surprised that the featured "preppers" are getting more outrageous. It is, after all, entertainment.

Preppers are already on the fringe. The average prepper does not have much faith in our culture. We're pretty well convinced that we're in some sort of overreach, and that something is going to happen, because ... well, it's kind of like we feel we're teetering on the edge, and there's really no way to get back our balance. At some point, we're going to tip. So, we try to be ready, for something.

Most of us are working at making sure our basic needs will be met, including food, water and shelter ... and maybe other supplies, like toilet paper and toothbrushes. Preppers have become, kind of, notorious for storing weapons and ammo (in fact, in those "How prepared are you?" quizzes, anyone who doesn't have the usual security preparations will have a shorter life-expectancy than those with a wide assortment of weapons and "bug-out" options).

A recent featured prepper was a guy who isn't hoarding or storing, and his supplies consist, mostly, of weapons and armor. If he's learning any skills, most of them are combat related (from what I've been able to find out - not having watched the show), because his plan is not to be a survivalist prepper living in a cabin in the woods, but rather to attack those who have stored provisions and take what they have. He doesn't plan to do it alone, however, and he is - according to reports - amassing a small army of fellow marauders.

I know you have thoughts, but hold on and let's fast forward a few days ...

... and I'm having a lovely conversation with a new friend about homesteading and what led us to this lifestyle. I didn't get the chance to share my whole story with her, but our reasons were very similar and had to do with personal economic situations. I've never been the sort of person who just trusts that because things are good now, they will always be so. Anything can happen, and it usually does.

The reality is that TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) happens all of the time. We just don't recognize it as such when it's happening, and so we tend to think that TEOTWAWKI only means those less likely events that we read about in novels, like the EMP strike from "One Second After" or the comet hitting the earth in "Lucifer's Hammer." Fantasy is all well and good, but the reality is that TEOTWAWKI will happen to us, whether we're prepared or not, and while it may not look like Mad Max, it won't be all that much easier.

I'm a huge history buff, and I tend to read a lot about extreme situations. When we watch old WWII movies or read stories based during that time, we don't think of it as being a TEOTWAWKI event, but if war is not the end of the world as we know it, then what is?

In addition, world-wide economic collapse, which happened as recently as the 1930s (and didn't end until the whole world was, again, at war) is pretty life-changing, too. While there hasn't been another world wide economic collapse (yet), there is a long list of countries around the world that have completely collapsed over the last fifty years, and some of those survivors look at the state of affairs here in the United States and see similarities between where they were pre-collapse and where we stand today.

Even mundane events, like winter storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes - things that happen all of the time all over the world - can be considered TEOTWAWKI for those who live through them.

Or how about a very simple, very personal life-changing event that is affecting millions of Americans ... nay, billions of individuals worldwide ... as I write this? What about a simple loss of one's job? For those accustomed to having a certain amount of income, suddenly not having that income anymore can very much be the end of life as they knew it.

When I first started on the idea of prepping, I was reacting to the fear of a global catastrophic event resulting from either climate change or peak oil, but the more I delved into the topic, the more I learned about how our world works, how interdependent we are, and how ill-prepared the average person is for just minor upsets, the more I realized that the best reasons to be prepared have very little to do with the potential for an EMP strike, solar flares, a massive caldera volcano explosion, a comet hitting the earth, or a zombie-virus pandemic. Sure, these things could happen, but they simply are not as likely as one of the more locally concentrated catastrophic events.

So, back to the doomsday prepper whose plan is to attack and pillage those who are prepared - if that's his plan, he is really wasting his time, his energy, and his money, because he's more likely to end up homeless and living in his in-law's basement, because he's lost his job, than he is to be performing an emergency C-section on his wife and battling the neighbors for a 5 gallon bucket of wheat berries.

A real prepper's goal is not to be ready for THAT event, but rather to become as self-sufficient as possible, because things happen - things happen all of the time that throw us into a tailspin and bring an end to our comfy, secure lives. But if we have a secure place to shelter ourselves, and if we can feed ourselves, and if we can provide for most of our basic needs without depending on the government or some other fragile system, we can consider ourselves prepared. Anything other than that, and we're just playing games ... which can be entertaining, but isn't very useful otherwise.

DISCLAIMER: I did not watch the television program I reference, and so I have no actual first hand knowledge about what was said or done during the program. My thoughts about this person's "prepping" are based on other's comments and pictures and commentary on the show's website.

Gratitude - Day 26

Fellow blogger at Wandering Quail Road posted a link to a program through Meyer Hatchery.

They call it the Meyer Meal Maker, and basically, they will give each person who orders chicks, either for meat or for eggs, an extra chick for free, if that person agrees to raise the chick and donate the products to a local family or charity.

I think it's a pretty awesome idea. Like the hatchery says, image if all chicken-keepers kept one extra meat bird and one extra layer. One meat bird is three to four meals for my family (and could be more if I really got creative), and a dozen eggs can be stretched into a pretty impressive number of meals, also. With some milk, vegetables and cheese, a dozen eggs could be four quiches. That's four, easy, nutritious meals.

Even better, one of my favorite meals when I was a poor college student with not a lot of time, was microwaved egg scramble. Basically, I scrambled an egg in a bowl and microwaved it, stopping every few seconds to stir the egg. Easy. Fast. For those with limited cooking facilities (which often include a microwave, but little else), eggs are a great choice - inexpensive, easy to store (will keep at room temperature for up to three weeks), and incredibly nutritious.

I have a couple of extra laying hens we raised this year, and I'm thinking, I might know a family who might like to have a dozen eggs from my backyard flock each month.

I'm thankful for programs like this, that give the power to make positive change back to the grassroots level. Neighbor helping neighbor is the way we were meant to live.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gratitude - Day 25

I have over 900 published posts on this blog right now. That's a lot, I think ... or perhaps not so many, considering how many years I've been blogging.

I also have three years' worth of archived posts on my computer that are no longer on this blog, but I don't know how many posts are there.

I've been blogging since 2005, and for the most part, my topic hasn't significantly deviated from the topic of self-sufficiency. This blog has been a chronicle of my family's changes in lifestyle, and it's been quite a ride, really.

What's very cool is to be able to go back and see what we did. Specifically, it's fun to look back at previous years' posts for things like: our first fire, the first snow, home-made gifts, when we started sugaring, when we planted the garden. It's a record of what was happening on that day, at that time, and more times than I can count, having this record has been incredibly useful.

I am thankful to my friend, Judy, who got me into blogging way back in the day, and I am thankful to all of those of you who read my posts, and I am deeply grateful to those of you have left comments and shared your stories and have become friends of mine over the years.

I often comment about how blessed I am, and this part of my life, this blog, and those who have shared in our adventure, even just virtually, are part of my enchanted life. Thank you for being there.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gratitude - Day 24

I am thankful for our lifestyle.

In truth, it wasn't much fun to have put off doing all of those winterizing chores we've been needing to do, and then, be forced into the frigid day to get them done, because we waited so long, but I'm thankful, because even though we waited as long as we did, we didn't wait "too long", and everything got done.

And even though I (might have) complained (a little) about being sick and feeling like I should get a pass to lay around all day, the reality is that, being outside, in the fresh air (and wicked cold! No lie. It was like 27° out there!) probably did me some good.

I'm incredibly thankful for productive days.

Now, we just need to fix the gates.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gratitude - Day 23

I really needed a day to stay home and sleep, uninterrupted. I am thankful to Deus Ex Machina for his willingness to give that to me today.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Gratitude - Day 22

If you've been reading my blog or following my life (via my books, interviews or magazine articles) for any length of time, you know that I can be pretty passionate about certain things. Topics related to lowering our dependence have become regular fodder for this space, and much of what I discuss is actual life experience - not just theory. We do have a, mostly, local and seasonal diet. We do raise some portion of our own food. We do line-dry our laundry - all of it, all of the time (because we don't have a dryer).

And the reason we don't have a dryer is that it uses a lot of electricity. Really. Don't believe me? If you have an electric dryer, try not using it for a month, and then, use it as per usual, and note the difference in your electric bill.

At some point, I decided to attack our usage and reduce it as far as we can. I'm sure there are things we could still do much better. Like, we could be a lot more careful with turning off computers every time they aren't being used. We could replace every electric clock. We still have some light bulbs in little-used light fixtures that probably aren't the most energy efficient varieties.

Mostly, though, we have picked all of the long-hanging fruit, and our usage is just about down as far as we can get it, without making some HUGE and drastic changes. For instance, I'd love to replace our electric stove/oven with a gas model, but then, there's the whole fact that we'd simply be trading one non-renewable energy for another, and that's not how we like to do things around here.

So, the alternative is to not use the electric stove, unless we have to, and this time of year, we don't have to. We have an alternative that costs us nothing extra, and really, depending on how we've acquired the fuel, costs nothing. This time of year, we have the woodstove, and make no mistake, I take every opportunity to use it for cooking, rather than relying on electricity.

My daughters are participating in a class sponsored by the Maine Energy Education Program (MEEP). It's been very interesting. A portion of the last two classes has been an opportunity for the kids to explore their household's actual energy usage, and what's really cool is that they can see graphs that show usage by month, week, and day, and they can see when the usage spikes and try to figure out what happened on that day, at that time, to cause the spike.

I'm probably liking it a lot more than they are.

And it's made me want to work even harder to cut our usage.

What's disturbing, however, is to note how much electricity we're using, even when we're sleeping, and that's what I'm attacking right now.

We're using around 14 kwh/day on average. We use less than a kwh per hour, except when I'm cooking with the electric oven, and so we know what the biggest user in the house is, and it's something we will have to address, because, at some point, we want to make all of our own electricity, but doing so, with an electric stove, will be unrealistic, unless we cut our usage during the day significantly. My original goal was to reduce our usage to 6kwh/day, and we're using just over twice that now.

While it's frustrating trying to figure out how to reduce even further, when we've already come so far, it's exciting - like a logic puzzle - trying to figure out things we can do to get those numbers down even further. During the month of December, I'm planning to cook more on the woodstove and see what a difference it makes - and if it goes well, that might just been all the incentive we need to really work on a summer kitchen.

I'm thankful to the mom who organized the MEEP class, because she got me back to thinking about this issue in a more action-oriented mindset than I've been in for a long time, and I'm very thankful for the tools the class has given me that will allow me to really monitor what we're using, and to see where we're making gains, and where we're failing miserably.

It's going to be fun ... and we'll probably be eating many fewer baked goods ... unless we (finally) build or buy an oven to go on top of my woodstove.

I wonder if I know anyone who knows anyone who works with sheet metal ....

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gratitude - Day 21

Not feeling so great, but ever so thankful for soup cooked on the woodstove ... and a hot toddy before bed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gratitude - Day 20

In 1995, I PCS'd to Fort Hood, Texas. For non-military people that means the Army moved me there, where I would live and work until the Army decided to move me someplace else. The hard part about being in the military is all of the moving, because, often, people who were influential are left behind ... or they leave sooner than you do.

Before I lived in Texas, I lived in Germany, and while there I met this amazing female sergeant. She was smart and sassy, a single mom and an E-5 in an MOS (military occupational specialty) that didn't do a lot of promoting. Promotions in the military are based on a numbers system, and basically, the Department of the Army figures that it needs a certain number of people in a certain military specialty and of those people x need to be each rank. From E-1 to E-4, promotions are based solely on time in grade and time in service. The highest rank possible without earning points is E-4, which is a Specialist in non-combat specialties and a Corporal for combat arms MOSs.

In order to be promoted beyond E-4, one must earn promotion points. Points are earned a number of ways: basic readiness training (APFT scores and weapons qualifications); awards received; military training courses; and civilian training. Because I had a college degree when I entered the military, I had maxed out my civilian education points. I always did pretty well on my physical fitness tests (usually maxing out the two mile run and the push-up portions), and I earned points for weapons qualifications. PLDC (Primary Leadership Development Course) was worth points and was a requirement before a promotion would be considered.

A certain number of points was required before soldiers could even be considered for promotion and that number of points was determined by the number of people needed for that MOS in the next rank. For most of my military career, promotion points for my MOS remained at the maximum level, which was nearly impossible to achieve. I never did, and by the time the points dropped, I knew I wasn't reenlisting, and so I didn't even ask to go to the Promotion Board.

All that to say that getting promoted in my MOS was no easy thing, and the fact that she, a fairly young female soldier, had done it, spoke volumes as to the kind of driven and motivated person she was.

At any rate, I had this sergeant in Germany who was an E-5, and she was everything I wanted to be in a soldier - hardcore, but fair, and smart and savvy. She never shirked her duty, and she knew her job. I really admired her.

We both moved around the Battalion to different jobs, and I lost contact with her, and then, I left Germany, and figured I probably wouldn't see her again.

Fast forward two years, and I'm at my new duty station in Texas. We're having a company party, and there she is, with another sergeant I remembered from Germany. They had dated, and finally (apparently) tied the knot. She had ETSd (which means she got out), and they had a new baby. She was a stay-at-home mom.

I didn't grow up in a generation of women who stayed home. We went to college so that we could get jobs and have careers and be those Super Moms who "brought home the bacon, fried it up in a pan ... yada, yada." And, indeed, as a young adult, that's what I did, but it wasn't good for me. I was always good at my job, and I am a very good mother, but I wasn't very good at doing both - at the same time - with any level of proficiency.

So, after I met and married Deus Ex Machina and we started talking about a family, I became reacquainted with my former boss, and she was a stay-at-home Mom. I considered, probably for the first time in my life, that being a stay-at-home Mom could be something I could do. I could.

A year or so later, I did, and sixteen years later, I still am.

I have been a stay-at-home/work-at-home Mom since 1998, and I'm not sure I would have even considered it a possibility for me, if it hadn't been for that NCO, who had made a huge impression on me as a soldier, and an even greater impression on me as a woman, who chose to be an at-home mother, even though she could have been anything she wanted to be.

I am so grateful that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be home with my children and to work at home doing what I do for the amazing people I work for, because if not for those two things, I might not be homeschooling (and from everything I read about what's happening in schools these days, I can't imagine my children there); without this reality of my life, I might not have discovered my desire to homestead my property, and I would not have felt the need to write my books, thus, missing the opportunity to satisfy my life-long goal of being a published author.

I am thankful for such amazing opportunities ... and to that sergeant in Germany who showed me what's possible.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gratitude - Day 19

She's been planning it for weeks, but things were kind of crazy at the beginning of the month. Today is the day. Precious is having a sleepover with her two best friends. One takes horseback riding lessons with her, and the other is her dance buddy. The three of them get along beautifully.

They are here today, and then, there's an extra - Little Fire Faery's friend is hanging out today, too.

We have a full house, and there's lots of music and laughter and dancing and just kids chatting it up with each other. It's wonderful and magical ....

And I am incredibly thankful today for my daughters' friends. My girls have chosen well, and we're blessed to have them in our lives.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gratitude - Day 18

I am thankful that I have never known true hunger - that even when the pickings on the pantry shelves were slim, and there was nothing I wanted to eat, there was always something I could eat.

There is plenty of food to go around in this world, and we - all of us - waste an enormous amount of food ... even when we think we're being very careful. When it comes to hunger, the problem isn't scarcity, but rather that there are too many people for whom food is simply too expensive to buy. I've been reading about the Irish potato famine and the great horror of the tragedy was not that the potato crop failed and left millions of people with nothing to eat, but rather that in the midst of this food shortage, hundreds of thousands of pounds of grains (barley, rye and oats) and livestock were being exported out of Ireland and to other countries. Millions of Irish people died because the food they were growing was sent somewhere else to be eaten.

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink ....

We produce plenty of food in this world, enough to go around, and yet, there are millions of people who spend the day wondering about and worrying about food.

Food stamps could be a step in the right direction, but they are woefully inadequate at addressing the real issue, which is that there is no security in depending on others for one's sustenance, and we have to stop giving people fish, and switch to helping them learn to get their own, to become more independent.

I don't have an answer, except that we, as a culture, should work very hard to give people a place to live where they can grow some food, and if that means an apartment building with a community garden ... well, at least that would be a start.

Wouldn't it be very cool if our towns would purchase a few of those "foreclosed" homes - ones that have sat empty for six months or more - reclaim them from the banks and use them as low-income housing? Dozens of families would, not only, have a place to live, but since many of those homes include a yard, they'd also have a place to grow a garden, or raise a few chickens.

I have never known true hunger. I've been hungry. I've been, by definition, impoverished and homeless, and I've even been the thankful recipient of food stamps, but I've never been starving, I've never gone a day without food for myself or my children.

I know this makes me incredibly fortunate, and I am very thankful.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gratitude - Weekend

I don't think I was even on the computer at all on Saturday. My day was that filled with other activities. We're marking an event this week - a wonderful, family event - and so this weekend was spent with friends and family in celebration.

And so, for Days 16 and 17 - I am incredibly thankful for the people in my life who give me something to celebrate, and who make the celebration so much fun.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gratitude - Day 15

I was recently witness to an incredible act of kindness. Without going into details, I just want to say that it was an amazingly selfless thing I saw one person do for another, simply because the one person couldn't imagine wanting to be able to do a thing but not having the tools to do it.

It makes me misty just thinking about it, because I see too many people grumbling about how horrible people are, and I read so many horrible stories, but the reality of my life is that more often than not what I see of people is that people are good and kind and generous and thoughtful.

I am so thankful that the people I know in my real, everyday life are, mostly, good people, who strive, always to do, mostly, good things for themselves, for others and for the world.

I am humbled by them and incredibly thankful that I can be witness to their acts.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grateful - Day 14

So often, when I hear about people stocking up/prepping and I see what they are buying for their stockpile, I cringe. Most of those things, I won't eat now, because they are hazardous to one's health in the best of times. Perhaps, not worse than the effects of starvation, certainly, but couple long-term systemic damage from toxic food with half starvation, and it's a really bad combination.

I saw a suggested list for building food storage on $5 a week. The problem is that I wouldn't eat the kind of food that was suggested on the list now, because most of it, we just don't like. Things like cream of chicken soup. Bleh! In addition to the several canned soup varieties (lots of salt and the plethora of unpronounceable ingredients), the list was very carb-centric with a lot of sugar and things like macaroni. There were no fruits or vegetables and very little protein (no meat, eggs, or cheese, although there were cans of tuna and peanut butter), which is okay, if we assume that the people storing the food would be supplementing with wild foods or a garden and some hunting.

The other suggestion, which seemed incredibly unrealistic and impractical and probably not a real smart way to invest one's money, especially if that $5 is going to be tres cher and difficult to part with, is wheat berries. The problem is that unless one has the equipment and/or the knowledge to use them, in a TEOTWAWKI situation, wheat berries are going to be kind of useless. How many people really know what to do with 500 lbs of wheat berries (which is what one would have after a year of spending $5/week on stored foods)?*

The problem is that, while we could get a general understanding of how to use those wheat berries, there is always a learning curve when one goes from theory to application. I can explain how to use the wheat berries, but if one isn't already using them regularly, an emergency is a piss-poor time to start learning how to use the food one has stored up over the course of several years. Also, the $5 per week storage list has yeast as one of the items, and I should point out that bread made from ground wheat is very different from bread made from that lovely unbleached white flour that we all love. Just sayin'.

Let me stop right here, though, for a qualifier. Storing food is never a bad idea. Not ever. There are too many real-world, real-life examples of people going through significant hardships. In fact, as most of my regular readers know, I'm a voracious reader, and one of my favorite genres is historical fiction - especially dealing with extreme situations, like the Great Depression or war-time survival stories. Right now, I'm reading The Siege by Helen Dunmore, about the Siege of Leningrad during WWII - and yes, people died. If more people in Leningrad had had a three or four month supply of food, lives would have been saved. If the only stored food one can conceive of having is wheat berries, by all means, store wheat berries. Absolute worst case scenario, it would be an excellent barter item, and/or it could be used for animal feed.

That said, let me emphasize, if the things on the suggested food storage list are not things one would normally purchase and use, don't store them. At best they'll be unfamiliar in an emergency situation. At worst, they'll be a $260 mistake that sits and is wasted - like a lot of the food people stored for Y2K. One would be better off with the grocery-store sized plastic bag full of Taco Bell seasonings we jokingly referred to as our Y2K soup base.

There's a second list that's been developed - actually in response to the $5 one mentioned above. It's the Real Food Storage on $10 a Week list, and I really like most of the items on the list. What might give some people pause is the need to further process some of the food, like week 24 is "cabbage to turn into kraut." For me, though, it would be an issue of time of year. For instance, if I started the food storage this week, by the time I got to week 24, it would be the end of April - a bit too early to find cabbages here in Maine ... well, except for the ones grown who-the-hell-knows-where and shipped here on trucks. I'd have to juggle the schedule a bit to fit our local foods diet.

But it's a much better list and is, quite frankly, more representative of the kinds of foods everyone should be eating. It's also a much more balanced diet, and really, if we end up in a worst case scenario and find ourselves eating our food stores, I want this kind of food in my cupboards. I loved all of the spices (a total of $20 worth, which, depending on where and how it is purchased, could be quite a lot). I was particularly intrigued with the idea of waxing my own cheese, and as soon as I read it on the list, I started looking for information about how I can do just that.

The first list I wouldn't even start, because the diet is bland and not very nutritious (in fact, one of the storage items is vitamins, but if the food stores were of higher quality, vitamins wouldn't be necessary), but with some modifications, I could see the second food storage list as being something we all could benefit from starting.

How is this related to being grateful? I mentioned, above, that I'm reading The Siege by Helen Dunmore. I recommend it. The writing is good, and it's a gripping story. One of the best things about reading a very good book is when that book really makes me think. This is one of those books.

What if? What if we were completely cut off from the rest of the world, and we had only what food was left in our community and/or in our house to live on? Starting in 1941, the German army encircled the city of Leningrad for almost three years. In the book, the siege starts in the fall, and three months in, they are starving ... to death. They are given a ration of two pieces - not loaves - of "adulterated" bread (that is, mixed with "cellulose", which is wood pulp). They are starving, and they are freezing, because there's no electricity, either. Pipes have frozen, because there's no heat in the buildings, and so there's only the water from the river for drinking. Forget about bathing or other cleaning, as they are too cold and too weak from hunger to even think about that. Imagine winter, in Russia, with no heat. Imagine.

I read about what the main character had stored at the beginning of the siege, and I read about how they are - just barely - surviving, and then, I see lists like these, and I think, even if I had nothing, right now, and I started storing tomorrow using the Real Food Storage on $10 a week list, by the new year, having spent only $60, I would have dry beans, oats and chicken, some salt and coconut milk, and about six pounds (or three kilos) of raw cane sugar, which, in the book, becomes more valuable than gold - quite literally. Six pounds of beans would be 72 servings, and stretched could be at least a week's worth of food for my family. For $10, we could have enough food for a week.

I am incredibly thankful for my full freezer and cupboards. I don't know if we could survive for three years without access to the outside sources of food we enjoy, but I know that our diet would be incredibly flavorful and varied, at least for a couple of months ... and probably into next summer, when I could plant some seeds I happen to have stored.

*What to do with wheat berries:

Grind them into flour for: pancakes (leavening agent, egg and water); dumplings/biscuits (butter, leavening agent, salt, milk or water); noodles (egg and water); crackers (water and salt for flavor); and bread (yeast, water, honey, salt).

Boil them for porridge.

Sprout them.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gratitude - Day 13

This evening, Deus Ex Machina and I were invited to do a book talk about our recently published Browsing Nature's Aisles. In addition to just talking about the book and our adventures in foraging, we also offered some foraged foods (the soup turned out really good, by the way).

It was such an amazing event - a small gathering of friends and new friends. We made some wonderful connections, which I hope will be maintained. Community is so important, paramount, even. And I feel incredibly blessed each time we are able to strengthen and expand our circle.

It's not abut selling books or whatever. It's not about my being someone who knows something ... but about sharing, and that's what this evening was. Yes, Deus Ex Machina and I were standing at the head of the class, but the amazing part of it is when others start to share their stories, too, and there was that, as well.

I am so, incredibly, thankful for wonderful times, like this was, whether I'm standing up there or whether I am sitting and listening to someone else sharing their stories and knowledge. We all have so much to give. The challenge is to be open to those gifts.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gratitude - Day 12

It's just a test. And they're not going to actually knock-out the grid. I think.

It's a simulation - like those field exercises that we did when I was in the Army. You know. Practice. Just in case.

We do all sorts of practices for all sorts of things that probably won't ever happen, right? And the fact that our government is working on the potential problems, and how they plan to respond should (probably) be a relief. I mean, I just read the book they mention One Second After that describes an EMP attack on the US and what happens. It was disconcerting - mostly because people were (are) incredibly short-sighted.

Of course, I think most people would be short-sighted, in a case like that, because, for the average person would not believe that things wouldn't go back to normal fairly quickly. When the power goes out following a storm, for instance, there's never any question that it will be coming back. It's not "if" that we question, but "when", and of course, the longer the power stays out, the more irritated we get, and the more thankful we are when it's restored.

This planned simulation is in response to that understanding - the understanding that our society needs the power grid to keep operating smoothly, and without it .... Well, just say that One Second After paints a pretty bleak picture of human nature and the response to a catastrophic event that makes life a lot less comfortable. What surprised me most, probably, were the food issues and the fact that no one did enough early enough to mitigate the eventual starvation (which, considering that it takes place in the spring in North Carolina, really bothered me, because they could have started planting things and subsequently harvesting things a lot sooner - at least I want to believe that, with better planning and preparation, it wouldn't have been so bad).

I'm not really concerned that this simulation will go bad, because I don't think the intent is to really shut down the grid, but if it does, I'm thankful to know about it ... and to also be comfortable that we are, kind of, prepared. I mean, the reality is that one can never, truly, be prepared for a change that happens instantaneously - kind of like becoming a parent. We think we know what to expect, but the reality is that we don't have a clue, until we live it, and even with five children, each one was different, each time was different.

I'm not concerned, but just in case, we're making sure everything is charged ... and we'll probably make sure to fill up our vehicles so that, worst case, we'll have a bit of gasoline for the generator. I'll probably fill up the water filter systems.

I know it sounds like not much to be thankful for, but I am thankful that we've been moving closer to self-sufficiency, because while nothing probably will happen, if it does, I'd rather be where I am today than where I was seven years go.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gratitude - Day 11

Every year there comes a day when it's just cold, and we've dealt with the chill in the house long enough that we just don't want to deal with it any more. It's usually when the night temps drop below freezing. That day we start a fire in the woodstove, and that fire stays lit - usually being rekindled in the morning using coals from the previous days' flames - until the spring.

We held out, this year, until almost Hallow'een. Our first fire was October 25, and we thought that would be the day that it stayed lit until next year.

It's been a weird season. The days are actually warm - relatively. Today, I don't have a fire in the woodstove. It just doesn't make sense to use that fuel when it's not terribly cold in here. It's not terribly cold out there, actually.

My girls found a short video, called a "Vine". It has two guys talking, and goes something like,

Guy One: "Temperature check."

Guy Two: "It's 60°. You know what that means."

Guys prop their booted feet up on coffee table and in unison declare: "Ugg boot weather!"

Personally, I think 60° is a bit warm for Ugg boots, but I'm certain that I would have been happy for the lined warmth of them when I was in junior high and living in the deep south.

Now, though, I am thankful that, after a decade and a half of living here in Maine, I am finally acclimated to the environment enough that I can live in a house with no heat when the temperatures outside dip into "Ugg-Boot" weather ... and I'm too warm to consider putting those Ugg boots on ... unless I'm not wearing any socks.

Google Translate

My comments are moderated, because I started getting a lot of spam messages.

Here's one, and it's a wonderful example of what happens when someone who does not speak the language uses a dictionary or computerized translator.

Wow, marvelous weblog layout! How lengthy have you been running a blog for? you made blogging glance easy. The entire glance of your site is wonderful, let alone the content!

Being a native speaker, I know what was intended, but I'm amused by the results.

I wonder what language the writer speaks.

**The comment won't be approved, because it's obviously an attempt to boost the author's website ranking, and I don't think the author really reads my blog ;).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gratitude - Day 10

I am incredibly thankful for the abundance in our lives.

A week or so ago, we learned that the undeveloped area behind our house, which has been on the market for a very long time, was finally sold. We're disappointed, because (very selfishly) we would have preferred that it stay unsold, or at least, undeveloped, forever. It is such a beautiful piece of land, and over the years we have strongly connected to its wildness.

But it's not ours. It never has been, and as much as we would have liked to have owned it, our pockets just aren't deep enough - and even if we had been able to buy it, the taxes on that much land in our community would have been too much for us to maintain without selling off bits and pieces of it ourselves.

We knew it would, eventually, happen. We adore the woman who owned the land and certainly do not fault her for selling it. It's what she needed to do.

While it remains undeveloped, we hope to still enjoy walking the paths. Today, we walked back through and were greeted with some wild life we don't always see. We also harvested some wild carrots and Staghorn sumac for a wild food tasting party we are having next Wednesday.

I've looked at satellite pictures of the subdivision where I lived in Alabama as a kid and am disappointed by how much the area has grown and developed since my family moved away more than three decades ago. I was very sad to see the Wal-Mart within shouting distance of my old haunts.

While there really is no place for a Wal-Mart - or any other mega shopping center - in my current community, I don't doubt that a lot of great big houses on half acre lots will, someday, surround my little suburban paradise. I don't know how those people will feel about our homestead. Most likely is that most of them won't care, since we're just far enough away from where the closest house will be that they won't see, smell or hear us. Even if some of them do catch wind, I'm sure there will be more than a few who end up doing what we do themselves. I've seen plenty of McMansions surrounded by lush edible landscapes and a few urban chickens.

In the meantime, we will be incredibly thankful for the bounty of the land around us. We found a bagful of wild carrots and are very excited that our "wild soup" will be a lot more wild than we had originally thought.

We harvested our last three roosters today. One of them went into a pot and slow cooked on the woodstove until the meat, literally, fell off the bone. We had chicken noodle soup (with homemade egg noodles) for dinner.

For that, I am incredibly thankful.

Today was my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. We weren't able to be there in person to celebrate with them, and so we bought them dinner and had it delivered to their house. We found a restaurant called Hugh Jass Burgers.

Try to say that out loud ... without giggling.

My parents have been married and endured a lot of really difficult times for five decades, including two very difficult pregnancies (because my mother is Rh- and my father is Rh+) two daughters who ended up hospitalized because of vehicular accidents, a twenty year military career including two tours in Vietnam and numerous long-distance moves, RIF, near poverty, several recessions, and a lot of those little every day shit happens life events, and yet, they endured, through it all. There aren't a lot of people who can say that.

I am so humbled by their commitment to one another, and inspired to learn what they know about how to keep a relationship honest and growing - as theirs must be. One doesn't simply stay with a partner, not in these disposable times - without there being some reason to hang out. They are pretty amazing people.

They called to let us know that they enjoyed their Hugh Jass Burgers and all of the side dishes, and that we bought them way too much food.

I am thankful that giving them this tiny recognition of their great accomplishment was possible.

Gratitude - Day 9

Deus Ex Machina and I spent the whole day Saturday with our two granddaughters. Our girls were in dance class all day, and my older daughter and her husband had to work. So, the grandbabies came with us on some errands. We returned bottles to the redemption center, went to a local restaurant for brunch, and then, zipped over to Smiling Hill Farm to return the couple of dozen half-pint bottles we had built up ... and get some ice cream.

At the restaurant, an elderly lady was sitting in the booth behind us, and as she was leaving, she made a point of stopping at our table to compliment the grandbabies on their behavior. She was surprised when we told her that they were our grandchildren and not our daughters. We look a bit young to be grandparents - although I'm sure we look too old to have such young children.

It was such fun, very low key, nothing fancy or spectacular. Just mundane errands and dinner out with grandpa and grandma - but I know they had fun, too.

In our very mobile, very spread-out culture, where children leave home, and often never go back (not necessarily by choice, but just by happenstance), it's not unusual for children to grow up never really knowing their grandparents. I'm thankful that those girls know us, and know us well enough to joke with Deus Ex Machina in the manner he jokes with them. Ask the oldest, and she'll tell you - he's a "rotten grandpa" - said with a sparkle in her eye and a chuckle in her belly.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Gratitude - Day 8

Homeschooling doesn't mean that we are isolated from the real world. In fact, because we don't spend our days holed up in a classroom, but rather out in the world, even if just virtually, we get a lot more "real" world than the average kid, I think.

I say that, because my children see things and know things and are able to process things in a very safe environment, where they can ask questions or formulate opinions about the things they see and discuss these things with someone who is (probably) a bit more experienced than they are, but who won't pass judgment. Yeah, that's me.

I'm making these observations, not to say our way is the best way, or to make any disparaging comparisons between our homeschooling and public schooling, but rather, because our very different lifestyle gives my children the opportunity to view peer behavior a lot more objectively. It's not unusual for us to have a discussion about how someone they know behaves - badly - and sometimes those who are the most ill-behaved are the ones who should know better. It's interesting to hear their thoughts when they've witnessed an adult have, what is basically, a tantrum, or worse, when an adult supposes some superiority over them and treats them with the unwarranted disrespect that some adults feel is their right, solely because they are adults and my children are ... children.

I also love how they are able to express themselves - at least to me - without fear, and I love that I can have thoughtful conversations with them. They're smart, and I don't have to work hard to remember, because they are really, very smart - not in an arrogant I know more than you teenager-angst way, but in a I've thought about this, and read some stuff about it and have a fairly well-informed opinion kind of way. I've learned to listen to them. I mean, really, really listen.

I have never been an authoritarian parent with them. Once, when we were hiring a new doctor, I had to fill out a questionnaire. One of the questions regarded how we discipline. I answered honestly. I don't. We don't discipline. Today, we were standing in line at the coffee shop. It was the middle of the day, right around lunch time, and they were really busy. We waited, chatting amicably about what we wanted, or some other silly thing we were discussing ... oh, wait, it was the clothespin game, I started with them, and so we were laughing and joking with each other - not raucously, but just having fun and waiting our turn - no hurry. The woman in line in front of us commented, mostly to my children, "You're being very patient", and she had observed that three or four people had, essentially, skipped line in front of us and gone to the other register. We hadn't noticed or didn't even think about it, actually. We were just waiting and laughing about being tagged with the clothespin.

That's the way it is for us, most of the time. I get a lot of compliments about how well behaved my girls are, and if I said that I don't discipline, that they don't throw tantrums, that they don't get out of sorts, like I hear of other children doing, most parents wouldn't believe me, but it's true. Yes, they get angry, and so do I. We're not perfect, but never could I honestly complain about my daughters' behavior or call them "bad." Never. They are never bad.

We are unschoolers, and what that means is that I have had to let go of my need to control and trust. The paradox is that the more I trust them, the more trustworthy they become. The trust had to come first. It was never something I expected them to earn, but rather, like believing that all people are innocent until proven guilty, I just always assume that they are being honest, and they don't disappoint me.

I am thankful that, when Deus Ex Machina and I had a decision to make, we were in a position to choose homeschooling, and that we took the time to explore our options and found unschooling, because unschooling just flowed so naturally from where we were as parents. I am so thankful for our lifestyle and that my children have blossomed as intelligent, thoughtful, kind (mostly) and conscientious young women. I couldn't wish anything more for them than what they have.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Gratitude - Day 7

I am on cloud nine right now ... and it's not the coffee, I swear.

Deus Ex Machina and I are doing a book reading/wild food tasting event next week, and I've been mulling over what to serve for the past few weeks. There are so many options, but this time of year, so many things are unavailable. We have some stored things, like maple syrup and some jams we made from wild foods. There are acorns and wild apples.

'Round and 'round the little wheels have been turning, and I've thought about and then discarded several ideas.

Today my friend, Julie, from Windy Field Farms posted a recipe on Facebook from her friend, Meadow Linn's new cookbook.

I read the recipe, and I'm just over-the-moon ecstatic, BECAUSE this recipe can be easily adapted to wild foods, and it sounds amazing! I'm a huge fan of squash-type soups, and this one looks just like pumpkin soup. I'm drooling just looking at the creamy texture, and imaging how delicious it must be.

In fact, I think I'll make it for dinner tonight, to try it out ... and I'm so excited to offer it to our guests at our upcoming Literary Snack Party.

I am so thankful, right now, for this blog and even for Facebook, where the recipe was posted, and I was introduced to Meadow Linn, the creator.

Yay! For soup! Life is good :).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gratitude - Day 6

I am thankful for the opportunity to take a nap when I feel like it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gratitude - Day 5

Gratitude is a practice. It's like learning to play an instrument or cooking. The more one does it, the better one gets at it, but even better, the more one does it, the more one learns to hear those very subtle tones in the music, or to blend different flavors - both producing a sensory explosion of delight.

In doing this month of gratitude over the past several years, I've always strived to find very simple things for which to express gratitude, not to focus on the obvious, big things for which we are all grateful.

Of course, I'm thankful for my family - shouldn't we all be? I have an amazing partner. In spite of flaky Gemini-ness (which must be very difficult for his solid Taurusness to endure), he stays. I don't deserve him, and I'm well aware of that fact, but the truth is that he seems to feel the same as the author who penned the "Marriage Isn't For Me" story that's floating around Facebook right now. It's not about him. It's about us, and for that lesson he's taught me, I'm eternally grateful.

And my children .... They are all amazing, and they surprise and delight me Even my older two, who went through some pretty significant shit being raised by a couple of people who should never have been entrusted with two innocents ... and, yet, they have both matured into a couple of pretty remarkable people. I'm not proud, because pride connotes that I have the right to take credit for who they are, and I don't. They did that all by themselves. I am humbled, and I'm awed, and I'm thankful that they have chosen to allow me to be a part of their lives. Both of them allowed me to perform their wedding ceremonies, and my son even let me plan it. So much trust. I don't deserve it, but I am eternally grateful.

Regularly, Deus Ex Machina looks at me and says, "We have a good life." The fact is that we do. We have an amazing life, and yes, shit happens. The roof leaks. Our cars break down. Jobs often suck. People get sick. Our pets die. The garden doesn't produce. The washing machine breaks. The freezer door is left open. Shit.Happens.

But through all of that, there is this practice. This practice of feeling how amazing and wonderful LIFE IS, in spite of the stuff that happens.

Perception. It's all in how one looks at it.

And what practicing gratitude - not just here, for a month, publicly expressing these things, but in my daily life and practice (because I do express gratitude on a daily basis - even for those days when I'm not publicly proclaiming my thanks) - has done for me is to give me a different outlook, to change my perception.

I'm not thankful in a at least it's not X happening to me kind of way, or in a I have it better than so-and-so kind of way, because to me, that would be insincere. That kind of gratitude means finding ways to make myself feel better by making another person seem worse - you know, looking at someone who seems to have everything going for him/her, and then, looking very, very closely to find that flaw so that we can feel better about ourselves by making them seem not so perfect.

I'm not thankful that I have it better than someone else.

I might have been at first, but practicing gratitude every day has shown me that I don't have to be thankful for my life because it's better than. I can just be thankful because it is what it is, and it's good, even when it's not.

I am grateful, extremely grateful, that I can be grateful.