Sunday, November 30, 2014

It snowed

On Thanksgiving Eve much of the northeast was pummeled with a huge snowstorm. I say that with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, because only a few days before this, parts of Upstate New York really were pummeled with snow in a storm that put more snow on the ground than most people are tall. They had an emergency. With less than 12" in most places, we had a bit of inconvenience.

What made this snowstorm seemingly newsworthy was the fact that it was a very heavy, wet snow - which is actually kind of typical for this time in the season. The first few snowstorms and the last few snowstorms are always that heavy, wet stuff that no one likes to shovel, and it's the best snow for making snowmen and snowballs, because it's the kind of snow that really sticks together.

I heard, once, that the Inuit people had multiple words for snow, which makes sense, because snow has different characteristics depending on the time of year, the temperature, and the humidity in the air. But I digress.

On Wednesday night, our electricity blipped off. No one panicked, because, well, there's nothing to panic about. It's just electricity. It's not like the roof caved in.

We lit some candles, stoked up the woodstove, and pulled out the Scrabble board. No electricity? Family game night! Woot! After an exciting hour of word-smithing, I decided to see if I could get the mobile hotspot on my phone to work and was able to successfully connect my laptop to the Internet. I didn't stay on for very long, because I wanted to save my batteries.

Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery treated us to some music. What's that commercial? Instruments = $$. Music lessons = X dollars per month. Private concert = priceless. Beautiful voices raised in song accompanied by an acoustic guitar with the fire in the woodstove crackling the background was perfect. It's exactly what every summer camping trip is all about - getting off the grid and just enjoying the moment.

Thanksgiving morning, we woke up and there was still no electricity. We made coffee and fed the dogs and cats. The girls went out and took care of the animals outside. I turned on my laptop and connected up to the Internet for a couple of minutes.

Then, I cut a squash in half, took out the seeds, put one half in the Dutch oven with a bit of water, and put it on the woodstove to cook. I took the cranberries out of the freezer, put them in a pan with a bit of water and some sugar and put it on the woodstove to cook.

Deus Ex Machina plugged our on-demand propane water heater into the jumpstarter (ours is similar to this one, but not this exact one), and we took hot showers.

Big Little Sister had volunteered to walk dogs at the animal shelter on the holiday, and so Little Fire Faery, Big Little Sister, and I hopped in the car and drove up to the animal shelter. We charged our phones on the drive up and back. While Big Little Sister walked dogs, Little Fire Faery and I sat in the multi-cat room and petted the cats.

While we were gone, Deus Ex Machina prepared the bacon-wrapped rabbit, which we planned to have for dinner. Also on the menu was the wild turkey Deus Ex Machina took with his bow back in October. We decided to spatchcock it and cook it on the grill. He got that ready while the girls and I were at the animal shelter.

The grandbabies showed up around dinner time. We lit the oil-lamp wall sconces in the living room and a table top oil-lamp in the dining room.

Plus, we had some candles, which I've been collecting and purchasing whenever I find them at Goodwill. Another item that I've been collecting, partly for situations just like this one, but also for when we have our family parties, are "glow sticks". I can usually find them on clearance right after Halloween, and I buy as many as I can find. They're a lot of fun for the kids when they're playing nighttime hide-and-seek (also called "Manhunt") during the summer or when we have power outages. I like to have them for use in the bathrooms rather than leaving an untended candle, and they put off a surprisingly bright light.

We had our Thanksgiving dinner and cleaned up the dishes using water we heated on the woodstove. The girls ate all of the ice cream in the freezer, because it was starting to get soft. The girls played some games and drew some pictures. I did some reading by oil lamp. We all went to bed early. The grandbabies stayed the night and really enjoyed their glow-stick bracelet night lights.

Friday morning we woke up without electricity. We made coffee and fed the dogs and cats. The girls took care of the animals outside. I put the cast iron skillet on the woodstove and made some breakfast sandwiches. We went to music lessons. We stopped by the library. We came home. The girls folded clothes. I swept the floors and cleaned up the kitchen.

The electricity came back on around 2:00 in the afternoon on Friday. We had been electricity-free for about thirty-nine hours.

And nothing, really, about our daily lives changed. There was no emergency, and we didn't sit, fearfully huddling in a cold house and waiting for someone to save us.

We joked with the librarians that, of course, this power outage wasn't an issue ... and since I wrote the book, if it were an issue, they would have to induct me into the Preppers Hall of Shame. The reality is, though, that even if I hadn't written the book (which is, really, just about how we live our lives anyway) that this power outage wouldn't have been any different for us than it was.

The power grid is fragile, and most of us have experienced a power outage at some point in our lives. Most of the time it's a blip and then the lights come right back on, but on more than one occasion, in the seventeen years I've lived here in Maine, the power has been off for more than twenty-four hours. For this reason, we have created a lifestyle that allows us to easily transition when the power goes out.

But it's not about having a 72 hour Bug Out Bag or emergency supplies. These things we have are things we use, and not *just* when the power goes out (except for the oil lamps, and pretty much, we only use those when there's no power). We heat with wood and during the winter, we often cook on the woodstove to save electricity. We use the jump starter battery to inflate our car and bicycle tires. We always use a French press for making coffee.

We have consciously moved away from complete dependence on the electric grid, because we have seen how fragile it is, and we wanted our home to be that safe place we could go to - no matter what.

It snowed on Wednesday, a typical, heavy, wet late fall snow that bowed the power lines and caused them to snap. We lived, our normal, every day lives, without electricity for thirty-nine hours.

And on the other side, with the exception of no longer rationing computer time, not much has changed.

**I linked to several products in this post - not as an advertisement, but to show those who might be curious what the things I mention look like. I am not an affiliate of any of the vendors to which I linked, and I will not get compensated if you choose to buy those products. If you're interested in purchasing any of them, I would recommend that you shop around your local area and find a local source ... barring that, find the best price you can ;).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Best Survival Food ... ?

At the moment, we have five does and one buck. He's getting a bit long in the tooth, and so we're thinking, we might find a new buck in the spring and let EJ retire - the grand old father of many, many litters. Of our does, one is also retired. She had five or six litters (I forget) and was a good mama.

Overall, we've had a lot of luck with our rabbits. We just harvested our spring kits (we were a little later than we should have been), but the bonus of having waited was that they had much thicker hides, which makes tanning a little easier, and they were preparing for winter and had a really good store of fat. If we hadn't decided to jerky most of the meat, we could have made broth, as described in this blog post, and it would have been good with just refrigeration (or back in that unfinished room that is turning into our cold storage) for the entire winter.

There's a lot of talk these days about preserving and storing food. The prepper/survivalist groups have lots of advice about what to store. In the survival class I'm teaching at our homeschool co-op, there was a lesson about storing food. The recommendation is that there should be X pounds of food per person in each of several categories. There are also more abbreviated lists, like this one that lists the TEN BEST SURVIVAL FOODS.

I like reading the lists to see how well my family stocks up, and to be honest, sometimes I'm quite embarrassed to note that, if those figures are right, in a worst case scenario, my family would be in trouble.

Except that, we have never intended to be fully dependent on stored foods. Our goal is to have enough food to do us until the next growing season - so essentially, we need enough to get us through the winter. Every summer, we raise enough chicken for the year. Forty chickens at three meals per chicken for my family, will feed us for the entire winter, even if we only ate chicken, but that's not all we'd have.

A few years ago, we were gifted with several volunteer squash plants. I didn't know what they were, and so I just let the vines grow. By the end of the season, we had 180 lbs of Hubbard squash (which are a long storage winter squash with a texture and taste like very sweet pumpkin). Between the chicken and the Hubbard squash, if that's all we had, we would not have starved that winter.

Which is, pretty much, how we approach the whole storage thing. We try to store up enough stuff in season to get us through until the next season, and then, we supplement with treats from the grocery store.

The ten items to have is a good list, but when I see those lists, I always think, " ... and then, what?" What if those things are never available again, and once the items have been used up, they're gone? Then, what? If one has become dependent on that food item, and one can not replace it, then, what will one do?

My answer is to find replacements - things that I can use to replace the items that I may no longer be able to find in the grocery store.

Using the list provided, here are my 10 items to be able to grow or find in the wild:

1. Canned meat. The list recommends canned salmon, but since I don't live in Alaska, I would not have that as a staple on my list. Instead, we raise rabbits and chickens in the backyard. Instead of stockpiling cans of meat, I might be better served by stockpiling rabbit feed and hay so that I can feed my herd over the winter, and worst case scenario, I could put them out to pasture in the spring/summer and harvest winter feed for them while they're enjoying grazing. If I bred all five does in the spring, by fall, I could have - at least - twenty-five rabbits to harvest, which would be around 30 quarts of canned meat and, at least, twenty-five quarts of broth.

Instead: I don't recommend stockpiling foods that one can not readily replace without buying it. So, for me, stockpiling home-canned rabbit meat is a better option. That may not be the option other people take. My recommendation would be for you to look at what's in your area, and what you can, personally, procure in a worst case scenario. In addition to rabbit, living near the ocean means that we have access to a myriad of ocean creatures (including clams, which we learned to *correctly* harvest this year - and we have a great story in our book about the wrong way to harvest them :)). Use what you have.

2. Dried beans. Beans are cheap in the grocery store. Did you know that sometimes you can take those beans you get for $1/lb and plant them and make more beans? Try it. Take a bean from the package and put it in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel. If it's a viable seed, it should sprout. I do, actually, recommend beans, but better than stockpiling ones from the grocery store, is growing them. Black turtle beans are a bush variety, which means that they don't grow up a pole or need a trellis ... which means that even people who live in an apartment can grow them in a sunny window. One bean can yield as many as twenty pods of three to five beans each.

Instead: Don't just stockpile them. Grow them. Next to lettuce, beans are probably the easiest thing in the world to grow.

3. Brown Rice. I wouldn't stockpile rice, for a lot of reason. In particular, brown rice is not a long storage item, as it can go rancid. If one is planning to stockpile rice, white rice is a better option. Unfortunately, white rice has very little nutritional value, but it is good for bulking out a meal and it's incredibly versatile. I'm not saying don't have rice, but unless one lives where it can be grown (and there are, actually, some people who grow rice in Vermont, and so, "where it can be grown" could actually be amended to read "where people are actually growing it").

Instead: There are some grain options other than rice, and when determining what to stockpile, again, keep in mind your personal situation. Instead of rice, we stockpile (and grow) corn - not the sweet, corn-on-the-cob corn, but rather field corn or popcorn. This is the corn that's ground into Masa Harina and made into tortillas, or popped for eating with butter and salt.

4. Bulk nuts. I don't know how many times I have to say it. Here's the rub. I love almonds, especially roasted and salted. I also love pistachios, and pistachio is my favorite ice cream flavor. Unfortunately, neither of those nuts are particularly hardy where I live, and so, I don't stockpile them. They're good to have - for a while - but then, what?

Instead: I made a discovery, quite by accident, last fall. I discovered that black walnuts can grow and thrive in my climate. I discovered this, because the animal shelter, where my daughter volunteers as a dog walker had this tree I couldn't identify that was dropping these odd looking pods. As I am always on the lookout for wild foods, I took a bunch of pictures of the tree's leaves and picked up several of the fallen pods. As I walked around the tree, I found a few of the pods that had been broken open, and I realized it was black walnut! Very cool! We also have hazelnuts, and roasted hazelnuts, we discovered during our Starving Sundays ... er, Foraging Sundays ... last summer, are D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S.! Roasted hazelnuts turned out to be one of my favorite foods last summer, which is good, because we have a plethora of wild hazelnut bushes around our suburb, and we planted two in our yard.

5. Peanut Butter. Oh, what a messy can-of-worms! My daughter's favorite food is peanut butter. I love peanut butter, too, and it's a good food. Unfortunately, peanuts don't grow where I live, and so, we could buy dozens and dozens of jars of peanut butter, but ... well, you know.

Instead: There are some really great options for nut/seed butters. Two really excellent options are sunflower butter and pumpkin seed butter. Not only are both packed with vitamins and minerals, but they are also easy to grow in small spaces. Instead of stockpiling peanut butter, I'll grow a few Hubbard squash, and after I've saved a few of the seeds (from the biggest squash), I'll take the rest of them and either roast the seeds as a snack, or grind them up for a delicious alternative to peanut butter.

Oh, and pumpkins, while not native (exactly) to my area, grow well here and have a very, very long history as a food by the indigenous people of the northeast.

6. Trail mix. Actually, this one feels redundant to me. Most trail mixes I've seen are about 60% nuts and 40% dried fruit or other (chocolate candies are popular). If I'm already stockpiling bulk nuts, it doesn't make sense to stockpile trail mix, too.

Instead: While I wouldn't stockpile commercial trail mix, I would make my own, which means I would want dried fruit, but instead of buying a lot of dried fruit, I would dry it myself. Here in Maine, we have a huge wild blueberry crop, cranberries are native, and wild apples are just about everywhere we look. We can gather and dehydrate all of those for use later. Apples are also a long storage crop and depending on the variety can be kept fairly fresh for months. Other fruits can be pureed and dehydrated into fruit leathers or made into jams - like blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

7. Energy Bars and Chocolate Bars. I have no argument against storing chocolate except to say that chocolate bars are not really a long storage item. I know it's crazy, but I've actually had chocolate that is old in my house. Crazy, right? Who keeps chocolate bars around long enough for them to be considered old? It's still edible, but since aesthetics is a good percentage of our appetite, it's just not as good once the chocolate bar starts to bloom.

Instead: I like chocolate as much as the next person ... well, maybe. I like it, but I also recognize that it is a real luxury, and also that real cacao is nothing like that sweet confection we call "chocolate." In fact, historically chocolate was not a sweet, but a savory. Unfortunately, milk chocolate is a stable in the American diet, and it is one of those feel-good foods. Some people even claim to crave chocolate. Of course, food experts will tell us that a food craving usually doesn't mean we need that food, but rather that we are deficient in some vitamin or mineral. Chocolate cravings indicate a magnesium deficiency. Luckily, the "cure" for chocolate cravings will already be in your stores if you follow the other six items above, because you'll have: dried fruits, seeds and beans. So, while we might like to think we need chocolate in our stores, the reality is the "then, what?", because in most of the world, chocolate is not a native plant species, and we'd just be teasing ourselves having it around.

8. Beef jerky. Again, no argument, but I will take umbrage with the idea of buying commercially made jerky.

Instead: Buy a cow share or buy a large, reasonably priced roast and cut it into thin strips. Marinate it and then dehydrate it yourself. It's cheaper and infinitely healthier than buying commercial jerky. My favorite marinade is the Taj Mahal flavor from this site. As a side note, one can also safely jerk other meats, including rabbit.

9. Coffee/Instant Coffee. Um, yeah. If the world turns upside down and Dunkin' Donuts goes the way of the DoDo, Big Little Sister is going to be in a bad way. Me, too, actually. I like my coffee (not necessarily Dunkin's, but, you know, my French press coffee in the morning). Unfortunately ... yeah. Are you asking, what in the hell will grow in Maine?

Instead: You know what grows in Maine? Dandelions. Lots of dandelions, and not only does dandelion root tea really and truly taste like coffee (I wouldn't lie to you), it's actually much better for you. In fact, the whole dandelion plant can be used. The original article talks about coffee as a barter item, and I won't disagree, except that if I have coffee, I'm not trading it. I will suggest, however, that dandelion wine would also make a very good barter item, and I have also made dandelion Kahlua. Just sayin', coffee = good, but not as a long-term TEOTWAWKI storage item. Stick with what you can replenish.

10. Sea vegetables/Powdered Super Greens. I think most people wouldn't even know what to do with these if they did have them stored, but I will suggest that they be considered as a potential storage item with the caveat - DON'T GO OUT AND BUY THEM. Good grief! I could just gnash my teeth at all of the suggestions of things we need to buy for our food stores. The incredible bounty that is all around us ... often FREE for the taking ... is just astounding.

Instead: See, I'm not going to argue that dehydrated greens really are a super food, because gathering and storing greens is actually a regular part of our routine. We gather and dehydrate a lot of wild greens, but we also grow (or buy from local farmers) kale and chard and other greens that we dehydrate and then store in a jar. This is added to soups over the long winter. I'm not going to say don't have stored greens, but I am going to suggest not paying health food store prices for something one can easily produce in one's kitchen from harvesting dandelion greens, nettles, and kale right outside the door.

I highly recommend storing food. In fact, everyone should always have a minimum of three weeks of food - six months is better - not because the zombie apocalypse might happen tomorrow. Not even because we live in Maine and a snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow (although the 3" to 6" of snow won't even keep us housebound - not like the basketball-player height snowstorm in Buffalo recently). One should always have some stored food, because anything can happen, and does. There might be a snowstorm. There might be a riot. There might be a pandemic with mandatory quarantine. We might just find ourselves unemployed for a few months and unable to spend much at the grocery store. Or, we might just want to eat local food and the best way to keep our diet more interesting and most healthful is to learn to preserve and store food when it's in season.

The last one is the motivation I have for storing food, and it's always why I seldom recommend the buy-canned-food-by-the-case method of food storage. First, since my family doesn't eat canned foods, it doesn't make sense for us to store large quantities of it; and second, in a worst case scenario, once I use up all of those cans of Campbell's chicken soup, if I haven't figured out how to make my own (and an emergency is not a good time to start learning those skills. Just sayin'), things might get dicey.

When it comes to storing food my recommendations are:

1. Eat what you store and store ONLY what you ALREADY eat.
2. Store only what you can replace without having to depend on the grocery store.

It's that simple.

Now, excuse me while I go hide those chocolate bars ... just kidding. Maybe.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Simple ways to reduce dependence on oil

I've been reading and listening to the Peak Oil Crowd for a very long time, but it's not just that I've been mislead by a group of doomsayers. I've also read reports by organizations, like, the Energy Commission and other reputable sources who talk about things like, the fact that worldwide oil reserves are decreasing.

One doesn't have to read those reports, however, to understand that our days of having an over abundance of this amazing stored energy are limited. Look at the great state of Texas and witness the vast numbers of dry oil wells. Witness the fact that our geologists found the Bakken Tar Sands in the Dakotas decades ago, but the cost of extracting oil from tar sands is too high to be profitable when oil is just gushing out of the ground and can be collected in mason jars.

There's no more oil gushing out of the ground and easily collected in anything that will hold a liquid. All of those vast reserves that made millionaires out of share-croppers and spawned such television classics as The Beverly Hillbillies and gave rise to the wish, "when I hit oil in my back yard", which was the yesteryear way of saying, "when I win the lottery", are used up now, burned up in our cars and consumed like candy on Halloween.


We can't get it back, and while the tar sands are providing a usable product, the extraction process is both more environmentally degrading and much more costly. In fact, in order for it to be profitable for the tar sands developers, the price of oil per barrel needs to stay around $60. The days of sub $1 per gallon for gasoline are very much long over, and in fact, if the tar sands developers have their way - which they will - the price for gasoline will go right back up to $3/gallon, $4/gallon or higher. As long as we are dependent on oil - either foreign or domestic sources - we will be at the mercy of those people who bring it to our door.

And the Keystone XL Pipeline will do nothing to reduce our cost for gasoline at the pump. The only ones who will benefit from the pipeline are the 50 people who will have full-time, permanent employment and the developers/owners of the tar sands operations - probably the same people. There will be, an estimated, 47,000 jobs available during the construction phase, after which, those 41,950 who aren't part of the group that gets to keep their jobs, will be out of work. Worse, communities through which the pipeline runs will have to provide support for the workers in the form of housing, retail outlets, education facilities, utilities, and other infrastructure. During the build-out, communities will grow exponentially, nearly overnight, as workers relocate to their new jobs, and almost as quickly all of the *new* put into place to support the increased population will be left to rot as the people move on.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've lived in communities where finite resources were mined as if they would last forever, and where employment was always feast or famine - one has a job making $40,000 a year for three months, and then, the rest of the year, that person is on unemployment or other welfare benefits. The private companies do not cover the cost of those benefits. The community does. YOU do. Can we really afford to foist that Yo-Yo economy on those communities through which the pipeline will run?

Regardless of that, however, everyone knows that the oil supply is limited. We all know, and if we don't, we're being willfully ignorant of the facts of what oil is. There is a limited quantity, and when it's gone, it's gone ... kind of like my bank account balance. I can't spend what isn't there.

I am completely against the Keystone XL Pipeline, and not just because of the guaranteed environmental degradation. I'm against it, because it is simply one more Band-aid solution to a much greater problem. In proposing this pipeline, the proponents hope to continue this masquerade that our oil-centric lifestyle can simply continue indefinitely.

Or, they just don't care about the future, as long as their present is warm and cozy and they can keep driving wherever, whenever, they wish.

The Iroquois Nation followed the philosophy that what they did today would have a direct impact on seven generations into the future. Their actions were guided by this principle, and when they discussed building projects, they would keep that in mind.

How will this Keystone XL pipeline affect seven generations into the future? If we start with my generation, it might benefit us, the forty-somethings, by giving us a few more years of what James Kunstler calls "Happy Motoring." My children will see a very rapid decline in available resources (because we're already seeing it, now, if we're paying attention - and it's not just oil, but also water and arable land ... and even air, in some parts of the world). My grandchildren (and I already have four of them) might need to ride bicycles most places.

That's three generations, and while we will all, probably, more or less still be living much as we are, there will be less of everything, and there might be a lot more conflict over the fair division of what's there than we are seeing now. There are already resource wars being waged on the African continent, and while not (yet) violent, we are even having wars - of a sort - over water resources in the United States - and not just in the arid southwest.

Five generations from me, my grandchildren's grandchildren, will live in a very different world than we live in, and what we do today can make it much better, or much worse. It's up to us.

The first step is to reduce our dependence on finite resources, and perhaps funnel the use of those resources into something that will benefit the whole, rather than the few. Unfortunately, most of us average folks have very little control over what happens to those resources. We can't all change the world, but we can change our tiny piece of it, and one very simple start is to remodel our lives so that we use less.

Following are 5 steps for reducing our personal dependence on oil.

1. Grow more food. The agricultural industry uses an incredible amount of oil from use of petroleum-based fertilizers to needing to operate machinery to irrigating huge fields of monocrops. By having a garden, even a very small, container garden and composting kitchen wastes to build organic soil, we could eliminate half the fuel needed to operate these farms. Grow anything. It's easy, it's healthier, it's a lot of fun, and it's incredibly empowering.

Oh, and it increases one's food security, which is very comforting.

2. Drive less. The transportation industry here in the US (which also includes transportation of food and other goods from one corner of the continent to the other) accounts for more than 80% of the fuel we use in this country. Right now, Deus Ex Machina and I are sharing our one car between two drivers and five people. In the past, having two cars, meant that, if we just wanted to run to here or there, it was really easy and thoughtless. Having one car means our trips out need to be a lot more careful. We were able to cut back classes/events for our daughters to three days a week, which means that we have to take Deus Ex Machina to work on those days, but on the other days of the week, he takes our one car, and if we have to go somewhere, we have to walk or bike. We're still transitioning, but it's actually kind of exciting to figure out how to juggle our schedules to make it all work.

3. Buy Local . This goes with #2 above (and probably #1, too). By purchasing local goods - and I don't mean goods shipped to local vendors, but goods that are actually produced locally, we eliminate some portion of cost of transporting stuff. It may mean that we don't have as many choices, especially of food items (because certain things don't grow well in certain environments - folks down south will have fewer apples, and folks in the north won't have oranges - we'll all adjust), but really, not having oranges all year long, on a whim, is a very small sacrifice to make for my grandchildren's grandchildren.

4. Buy Less. Most of us have everything we will ever need for the rest of our lives with very few exceptions. Things do wear out and need to be replaced - even in the most sustainable traditions - but none of us need as much as we have. Especially this time of year, there is a huge temptation to purchase. more. stuff, but none of us need it. Instead of buying stuff, maybe we could make an effort to give memories in the form of experiences. Our local theater offers Flex Passes, which would make a wonderful gift. There are so many things people can do, instead of the things they can get, and I guarantee a ticket for some event the recipient loves is going to be a lot more cherished than another silk tie.

5. Reuse. We all have as much stuff as we will ever need, but too often we don't see the potential in an item we no longer feel has a use. The other day, I was preparing for a literature class I'm teaching. The pattern has been to discuss the book and do a project based on the book we read. In a recent book, the character's mother operated a small store where she sold handcrafted items made from repurposed or reused materials. For the project, I had the girls make friendship bracelets from an old pair of pajama pants I cut into strips. Just because they couldn't be pajama pants anymore doesn't mean they no longer had value.

Anything we can do to reduce our personal consumption is a step in the right direction, and the five actions above are really low-hanging fruit. There are dozens of other things one could do, that might take a bit more effort, to use less.

What's your favorite way to plan for the 7th Generation?

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Sustainable Kitchen

I read this article on 13 Kitchen Rules You're Probably Breaking. Sometimes the articles, like this, are almost condescending in their very simplistic recommendations. Sometimes, I wonder, who still lives like that.

That, and also, it seems like they're really stretching to get in more "rules." Like, sometimes, it seems like they could combine rules. #11 and #12 could just be "Check appliance filters." #8 just seems like fear-mongering. The problem cited in the article with dish towels and dish sponges was pretty much the same.

Based on the assumption that people might, really, be making these mistakes and in an attempt to make the suggestions more eco-friendly, I decided to write my own version, but, unfortunately, I don't have 13 items. I only have 9.

Here are my Nine Tips for Avoiding Common Kitchen Mistakes and Making One's Kitchen more Eco-Friendly.

1. Don't have a dishwasher (while there is still a debate about water usage in hand washing versus machine washing, the fact is that dishwashers still use more electricity than hand washing, which makes the latter more eco-friendly in the long run).

2. Eggs, actually, don't belong anywhere in the refrigerator - at least 'fresh' eggs don't. Eggs have a natural coating when they come out of the chicken's oviduct that keeps bacteria from getting into the egg, and it's only by washing them that the bacteria gains access. A newly laid, unwashed egg, will stay fresh on the counter for three weeks.

3. Toss the sponge and use a washcloth for dishes and general cleaning in the kitchen. Knitted ones from leftover yarn or from repurposed old t-shirts are both eco-friendly and sustainable.

4. Knives and every other dish should be hand washed in warm, soapy water ... and, actually, some kitchen tools should never be put into soap - like wood cutting boards and cast iron cookware. Wood does not harbor bacteria, and as long as the food is scraped off (under hot running water), there's no danger of contamination (but for the squeamish, it might be worthwhile to have TWO cutting boards - one for meat products and one for foods that will be eaten raw). Soap degrades cast iron.

5. While dish towels may harbor bacteria and washing them frequently is a good idea, seeing bacteria as our enemy is foolhardy. The fact is that there is such a thing as good bacteria, and contrary to what this article would like us to believe, eliminating all bacteria from our lives is not possible, and probably not advisable. In fact, we want some. We can minimize the risks associate with bad bacteria by making some smart choices. Air drying dishes is a good start. And just say no to bleach. Just. say. no.

7. The debate over the best way to brew coffee proved manual coffee brewing techniques to be superior to automatic coffee brewing methods. As such, how to clean the coffee maker is somewhat moot, and plus, a coffee press using water heated on the woodstove is far more eco-friendly than even the most efficient method of automatic coffee maker. If you want a good cup of coffee, hand brew it. You'll never put water in that automatic drip coffee maker again. Guaranteed.

8. Fix the leaky faucet, because it leaks and it's wasteful. Is there really need for a different reason?

9. In the interest of being sustainable and eco-friendly, maybe NOT using cleaning products at all is a better solution. Vinegar and baking soda are multipurpose, eco-friendly, and safe cleaning/sanitizing solutions.

If you were going to write an article about errors people make in the kitchen, what would you add/omit?

Gathering In

Even though we've had one snow event (a few flurries and some very light accumulation on grassy surfaces, already gone), it's not truly winter until the ground freezes hard. There is still much to do and still time to do it ... but we have to hurry.

We're looking forward to this quiet, contemplative time ... and hoping that things slow down a bit.

What is your favorite "getting ready for winter" chore?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Around the Homestead

The kitty is very happy that we started to woodstove.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Firsts for 2014

My blog often serves as a kind of public journal (and, actually, that's exactly what it is, right? A web log), and so many times over the years, since I started this journal, both Deus Ex Machina and I will scour one or the other of our blogs for information like, when we tapped the maples, how the garden did, or when we had our first fire.

I won't remember this information, and so I put it here.

The "first" fire is usually the day that we fire up the woodstove for the season. We've had a couple of fires this fall, on days when the house was damp and chilly, like when we had several days in a row of sub-50° and rain. It wasn't cold enough to start filling up the wood box, though, and mostly we've been burning scraps, foraged wood, or getting rid of the plethora of junk mail or documents we no longer needed to keep, but that should not just be thrown in the garbage.

This year has been odd, though. Usually, we'll hold out starting our first fire until right around the first frost. It's usually right about then that we need the fire regularly, because once the temperature dips, it usually stays low, for the most part.

Our first below freezing night was just a few days ago, and it wasn't terribly low even then, but since it's been raining for a few days, we filled the wood box and started the woodstove, and it's been burning since. We'll probably keep it going until spring.

We had our first snow of the season on November 2.

It's supposed to get back up into the 50's next week, which is good ... because I still need to finish painting the trim on my house.

And then, Jack Frost can move in until March ... with no complaint from me.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I'd Like Change for my Dollar

Most people who've read my blog for any length of time know that I'm a stay-at-home mom. Well, actually, I guess technically, I'm a work-at-home mom.

A dozen years ago we called ourselves WAHMs. Lots of books were written about us, and we were considered the fastest growing industry in the country. I was even quoted in The Entrepreneurial Parent: How to Earn Your Living and Still Enjoy Your Family, Your Work, Your Life, and for a time, I had an online bookstore with a niche focus on offering information, articles and low-cost books that focused on working from home. It was one of my many home-based entrepreneurial projects.

I was so determined to stay home with my children that I worked really hard to earn, at least, what I would have earned, minus expenses (like childcare, transportation, extra food, clothing etc.) if I had an outside-the-home job. For the most part, at least for the last ten years, I've had a pretty steady income working from home, but even if I didn't, I would still be here, because over the years, we've developed a certain standard of living that is only possible because I am home full-time.

The problem with being home full-time, however, is that society often has a fairly negative view of us SAHMs/WAHMs. I've personally experienced the insurance industry's opinion when we applied for life insurance. I've written about it before, and we were able to find an insurance company that didn't care about my income, but was more than willing to take our monthly premiums and insure me at an amount that actually reflects our need.

It's not just the insurance industry, however. Last week, our President gave a speech to a group of Rhode Island college students in which he espoused those very ideas - that legislation should be passed to allow women to be "full and equal participants" in the economy, i.e. that women should not be penalized for being mothers (maternity leave), that wages should be more even between the genders, and that "quality, affordable daycare" should be made available so that women can get out there and make money without worrying about whether their children are receiving good care.

What bothers me most about the speech is that, whether intentional or not, President Obama is espousing the exact same mistaken idea that the insurance agent expressed - mothers who choose to stay home are not as valuable to our society as mothers who work.

This morning I found this article, and from the first few paragraphs, I began nodding my head, and by the time I was finished, I was nearly giving myself whiplash.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

All of the things that the author of the article cites as being beneficial to her family, but also more.

Because I'm home full-time, we were able to explore alternative lifestyles, like suburban homesteading. I was able to learn skills I would never have thought needed to be learned if I were working full-time, or even if I wanted to know those skills, I would have had less time to work at them. Soap making? Yeah, right.

My being home also improves our personal economy, because we can heat with wood, which would not be possible if we were gone for ten hours a day, five days a week. We would not be hanging the laundry on the line. I would not be cooking, from scratch, five nights a week, and our daughter, who cooks, from scratch, the other two nights, would never have learned that skill.

All of that aside, the problem is not really about my need to defend myself, but rather this continuing battle between those who work and those who don't. Having someone as influential as the President of the United States saying that we need more programs for working mothers (so that women can be "full and equal participants" in the economy) just encourages the idea that non-wage earners are less valuable.

More of the same old rhetoric of "more money will make everyone happier" is tiresome. As a veteran stay-a-home/work-at-home Mom, I know the value of having parents be home with their children, of finding a true work/life balance, of finding meaning and value in one's life outside of the need to make more money.

My being home may well be a luxury, for both me and Deus Ex Machina, but maybe, instead of wasting time trying to force legislation that makes more workers, we should be focusing on encouraging one-income families in which one parent stays home full-time (and it doesn't have to be the "mom". Dads can be awesome stay-at-home parents, too!). Maybe the answer isn't to put six million children in day care this year, but rather to find a way to allow six million parents to be home with their children.

Here's the video of President Obama's speech in Rhode Island.

For the record, this post isn't a defense of SAHMs or a criticism of working mothers, but rather a commentary on the fact that by placing all of our emphasis on the need to work, we are stripping ourselves of our independence and choice. Independence isn't having a job, an apartment and a car, but rather the ability to meet one's own needs, and I would never have cultivated the skills necessary to be truly independent, if I had worked a full-time job and put my kids in daycare.